Monthly Archives: March 2015

It’s Spring-Try Something New

Teaching is the only profession I know where every year is a “do-over”.  Every year we get a chance to reflect upon our practice, and change up the stuff that we didn’t like the year before.  I always found that when spring came around, I was already starting to think about the next year.  What I have also discovered is that spring is the very best time to experiment in our teaching practice.

  • You have the classroom management down pat. You know your students and they know you.  They will be forgiving.  If you try something that bombs it is fine with this group.  But if you try something brand new in September then it may take weeks to get back on track.
  • You have a pretty good idea of the academic achievement of your students right now. If you had to (but you don’t and you will get more data) you could write the report cards.  So, if you try something now that doesn’t work too well, it isn’t going to make a big difference to your understanding of what your students can and cannot do.  In September you are busy with diagnostics and trying to get a good enough feel for the students that you can write the progress report.
  • It’s spring! The weather is good and everyone is in a good mood.  Mixing things up right now fits with the season.
  • You might be a bit bored. The kids might be a bit bored.  Try something new and everyone is fired up again.
  • You know your colleagues. When we try something new, it is good to have support.  You are part of the staff and you have friends here.  As you delve into something new, your colleagues will support you.  Plus, they already know that you are a good teacher so they aren’t judging you.  Your teaching partner might even join you.
  • You can work out the bugs. Because you know your students and they will be forgiving, you can get them to help you work out the organizational bugs of whatever it is you are trying new.  They might be able to offer feedback.  They will be honest with you.  When you implement this new idea in September there will be a better chance that it will work.

So, what is that you are thinking about doing differently for next September?

  • More observations and conversations to support your assessment? Try out some organizers for that.  Maybe plan to observe 5 kids in each class every day or every week..
  • Change how you give feedback? Purposefully plan for 10 minutes of individual conferences per class.
  • More choice in student assignments? Try genius hour for a few weeks.  Change up your next assignment and allow for greater choice while still maintaining the same learning goals and success criteria.
  • Greater parent contact? Try to make one “sunshine” call every week until June.
  • Play-based learning?  If you are a primary teacher, build in an hour of play with some specific provocations.  Do your students still learn?  Can you observe this?
  • Inquiry-based learning?  Try a short inquiry.  It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
  • Pick up the pace in your teaching?  Could your junior or intermediate students read a novel in 2 weeks?  Try and see.  Talk less and let them read more.
  • New ways to differentiate for at-risk students? Book some time with your special education teacher to look at the next unit you are going to do to see how you could make it more accessible.
  • Using technology a different way? Try out a new ipad app or use google drive if you haven’t done so.  Have you tried Kahoot?  Padlet?  Today’s Meet?

Teaching is an exciting profession.  Use the spring time to energize your practice and try out some of your ideas for next year.  If you wait until September the business of the fall will get in the way.  You will be busy with getting to know new students, IEPs for kids you don’t know and progress report cards that loom eight weeks in.  But now is the perfect time to try something new…no one will die.

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Assessment in a collaborative inquiry model

Of course good things (like having kids collaborate in groups) often cause us to rethink a whole bunch of other things (like assessment).  In traditional teaching models assessment was pretty straight-forward.  I taught and each kid wrote their own test, did their own essay or project, and then I marked it.  Check, done.  I knew what each kid knew.

Now we are having kids collaborate to inquire, research and create.  How do we assess these final products?  What is the role of peer and self assessment?  How do we help kids to be effective listeners during group presentations?  We know that the grade we put on the report card needs to be a reflection of what an individual student can do independently.  How do we figure that out if students have worked collaboratively on the final product?  Let’s look at one possible example:

Students are working together to create an iMovie as a final assessment to demonstrate understanding of the topic covered in class.  You have co-created a rubric so that they know what determines a successful iMovie.

As the students are working on their iMovie your observations and individual conversations of how each student is participating and understanding the process of creating the iMovie can provide you with some summative assessment data.

Before submitting the iMovie or the final showing, each group could show their iMovie to another group and receive feedback on their movie, using the rubric as a starting point for the conversation.  This peer assessment is used for students to be able to make changes to their iMovie before it is finished.  The peer assessment is not part of the final grade.  This process of looking at another movie may also help students to make revisions to their own movie.

As the group of students submits their final product, each individual student could mark the rubric for their iMovie and provide specific reasons or examples from the film as evidence for how they rated the film.  You could use this as part of your summative assessment to see how well individual students understood their product in relation to the rubric.  You cannot use the self-assessment of the rubric only—it is the individual student’s ability to provide specific rationale for their rating that provides you information about their understanding.

The iMovie can be shown to the entire class or handed in to the teacher.  Only the teacher can mark the rubric for iMovie and return it to the group of students.  However, this mark CANNOT be used as part of each individual’s mark as you cannot be certain who contributed what.  However, students do need feedback on how well they collectively completed the task.  It is important to recognize that individual group members may have varying degrees of understanding about the final product.

If the iMovie is shown to the entire class, you could ask each individual student to fill in a graphic organizer as they watch that would demonstrate their understanding of the media piece.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify effective angle shots or how music was used to enhance the iMovie.  Perhaps the GO asks students to determine what the overall message or theme was.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify key concepts included in the iMovie.  This could be used for your summative assessment as students are providing you with their understanding of the media presentations.  It is not a peer assessment.  It is not an assessment of their iMovie.  It is however an assessment of their understanding of the process of creating the final task.

You do need to have individual students explain about the making of their iMovie to demonstrate their understanding of the process, and content.  This could be written or through a conference.  This will be the main part of your individual assessment for this final task.  Students should know ahead of time that this will be part of the assessment.  These questions allow you to know that each individual student had an understanding of the process and the final product. Perhaps you ask questions such as

  • How did your group decide which scenes to include?
  • Which scene in your iMovie is the most important to your overall theme?
  • What were the key concepts about the topic that your group decided to include? Which concepts did you decide NOT to include?
  • How did your group decide to choose the music?
  • Give examples of three different angle shots in your iMovie and explain why they are effective.

We want students to collaborate and work in groups.  We know this is engaging and deepens student understanding.  The trick is determining, at the end, the individual understanding of each student.  In all collaborative endeavours we need to understand that collaboration is a tool FOR learning or FOR doing.  At some point students must demonstrate their individual understanding of the content, concepts and skills.

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