Monday, September 21, 2015

My Marking Hacks & Things to Come

(Sorry my American #flipclass friends, but whenever you see "mark" you will have to think "grade"..It's a Canadian thing)

There are two main things that I do that contribute to (hopefully) speed up marking a bit.

1. Using EduCanon to embed questions and note-taking suggestions into video lessons. This app is connected directly to Edmodo (and also to Google if you use Classrooms, so students only need one login) and I can log in to look at my "monitor" page and can see how my entire class did on one screen. I immediately see which Ss are struggling on an individual topic and/or if a Q gave a whole chunk of the class issues. Students can also go back and write explanations that I can read and give them credit for. Love that added communication piece.

2. More discussion, less grading. Evaluation comes later. During the semester verbal and written feedback is much more valuable than marks themselves. I do everything in my power to get kids to stop thinking about the mark and start thinking about the learning. This is where I want their focus to be, and when I have to do something with an actual mark they will hopefully be better prepared (and, as a result, do better). If I could throw out grades entirely, I would.

Then there are the things that I want to do. I have (what we call in Ontario) my AQ (additional qualification) in assessment & evaluation. I am a bit of an assessment nerd, but my practiced do not yet match my beliefs/values (I am working on it).

Ontario has a policy called Growing Success that was published in 2010. Apparently we were one of the first provinces to have such a document and it is both vague and detailed. There is a lot in there that we should/have to do that we are still working to put into practice.

I am currently working on making better/more accurate use of Overarching Learning Goals (OLGs, this is a board term...they are similar to what some books call Big Ideas or Enduring Understandings) and learning goals in my classes. On my lesson plan (that is posted online for all to read) I give a learning goal (and am working on shifting them to more student friendly "I can" statements) that Ss can use to self-assess. Last week I had release time with some department colleagues and we created OLGs for Gr 9 and 10 science. I am planning to reveal these to my Grade 10s and make a point of referring back to them often.

Here is the ultimate goal - all assessment and evaluation will be developed with the OLGs in mind. In other words, the OLGs will serve as my starting point for backwards design. One of my colleagues has switched her "tests" in one of her courses to be much less traditional. Instead of having a bunch of (potentially insignificant) questions, she only has 4 questions on each test. One for each OLG as it relates to that "unit" of study. I love this idea. It seemed like the biggest issue was training Ss to answer the types of Qs she was using. Basically to UNtrain them of their previous habits of "studying content" to making connections and communicating well.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Cracks at Accountable Talk, Note-Taking, and Video Watching

I have some relatively significant goals this semester and have tried to get them going as early on as possible. I am going to try to reflect on them as often as I can to try to keep myself on task. Here are my thoughts after the first week:

Day 1: I set out to accomplish two things the first day of school. 1. Make use of Accountable Talk strategies to start to work on collaborative, effective discussions between students (student to student, not teacher to student) as I continue to seek a more student-centered classroom. 2. Start the semester off with someone that would make students want to come back tomorrow!

I created tent cards for student groups of desks to help introduce a variety of Accountable Talk strategies and tried to model a couple of them while I was introducing the ideas. So far students seem to have a mixed reaction to them. But I will continue to try to get them to focus on self-improvement in communication as a life skill, not just a classroom skill.

I used activities from Spark101 that were scientifically relevant and engaging to each course to use for the first day. Students seemed to have a lot of fun in those discussions and got to attempt to solve a real-life problem using their current knowledge and info shared in the video.

Day 2: Another goal for this year is to do a better job of helping students become better note-takers (and by extension, better at watching educational videos for my flipped class). I found a College Geek video that introduced effective strategies for note-taking and create a note-outline for students to use to take their first note (that was a model of the first strategy mentioned).

I also modeled a strategy for video watching by pausing thee video after each note-taking method was shared to allow them to record their thoughts/ideas. We also discussed pros and cons of each method and where different people might choose to use each one. I also stressed one of the lines in the video "You are a STUDENT, not a dictating machine!" and the importance of actually PROCESSING information while you are learning (so that you are learning not just writing down something to learn later).

This lead to a fun start to the next day because I got to show them some electronic note-taking apps and organizers. A couple of students have even started using a couple of the apps and trying one of the note-taking methods already!

Day 3: Continuing the goal of helping them become good video watchers (and needing to introduce them to one of my main reasons for switching to a flipped class) I had them watch a video as an entire class, while taking notes, without touching the pause button. The effective one was a Crash Course I picked for my Grade 10s to watch. He speaks pretty quickly in general and it was introducing some things that they did not know yet (but was related to something they did last year).

The frustration in the students was very evident. Some gave up entirely. Some were madly note-taking the whole time. Some gave me exasperated looks when I just smiled at them when they said "can't we pause???" Afterward we shared some feelings/adjectives to describe the experience and I promised them that they should NEVER have to feel this way again because their learning would be in their control. A point a used to remind them that this involves them communicating with me - a lot (I can't read your minds, really!) - if they do find themselves feeling this way again.

I think some of them were annoyed that the "note" ended up being futile, but most of them appreciated the resulting honesty and seemed to feel like they would be in the driver's seat in my course. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part though.

Day 4/5: I have now started to introduce students to watching educational videos individually and taking notes effectively. We are using class time to watch lessons at this point in the year and I am making sure they are taking notes and trying to give them feedback about the notes themselves. This is probably the hardest part for me...I do not feel like I am an expert myself. But I am trying. I am doing my best to encourage them to (at the very least) have examples/visuals when possible, and to show they processed by taking NOTES not recording every word.

My Grade 10s are being introduced to EduCanon right away so I am trying to use the embedded questions to get them to focus on important things and forcing them to pause at various points. Hopefully we can work together to pare back on my forced pauses by the end of the semester knowing that they will do it on their own. Fingers crossed.

Any advice/ideas/etc that you have for me on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Still to come (i.e. something I have not started yet but hope/plan to) - student ePortfolios and reflections

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Teachers Need to Fail

As teachers, we are constantly asked if we are ready/looking forward to going back to work. I usually say that I have "mixed feelings". I mean, of course I like summer and (if the weather would stay nice) I could live with a few more weeks of "free-time"....but I actually love my job. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about my classroom, year-round. And I'm not alone. Just venture to the many education blogs out there...the thousands of teachers on Twitter, learning on their own time...the Staples locations where teachers are spending their own money on the "little things" that make a difference - and I guarantee you will find them.

What September gives us is a new start. A new year to try new things, to tweak old things, to wonder out into the vast world that education is becoming and to take a risk failing. There has been a lot of talk about grit, perseverance, and mind-set over the recent years in education - a discussion hoping to find a solution to the need for change in education, to remedy the apathy we see in our classrooms. I think the answer lies within the system - the system that needs to change, if only in its own mind set. A change to finally believe, that it is okay to fail.

Isn't this what we want our students to learn? We want them to take risks with their learning. To "guess" answers based on what they know, even if it might be wrong. To take a chance on something new, because what is new might just be what they are looking for (even if they don't know it). I do not claim to think that this is a novel idea. I am sure many people have had it before me - in fact there is research to support failure as the backbone of learning. I do not even claim that I am the first person to believe that teachers need to start failing to learn to get students to do the same, I have just realized that this is the easiest way I can express my feelings about what education needs right now.

We need to try new things. We need to start failing. So that we can learn. So that we can truly embrace the 21st century as educators (and learners). So that students will care. So that students will learn to fail, too. So that students will not just come to school to "get knowledge", but will come to school to work on problems, to learn from others, to actually "Forget what you know" and start thinking

It's funny, I initially titled this entry "A New Beginning" and I was going to share how I am going to start my first week of classes - but this is what evolved. Sometimes taking the time to write helps us find some clarity. Maybe it will even spark a discussion that will help evolve my thinking even more. If you would like to participate in this discussion feel free to comment below or to reach out on Twitter.

Have a wonderful 2015-2016 school year! May it be filled with risk, failure, triumph, and laughter!

[The link is to a boys TED talk address about how some of the worlds most influential minds have stopped learning so that they can start thinking. I highly recommend that you watch it, in entirety]