Category Archives: Reflecting About Teaching
I had an excellent Professional Development Day yesterday, on assessing writing. I’ve got so much work to do this weekend now! Don’t you just love it when that happens? You attend a PD session and by the time you get to the end, you have more questions than answers? Well, that’s the kind of afternoon that I had (in a good way).
We started off the session with reading a chapter from Assessing Writers, an excellent book from our Literacy Library by author Carl Anderson. Everything was made so simple in that first chapter- confer with your students, gather evidence on what individual students need in their writing and plan your writing lessons and mini-lessons accordingly. Sounds easy, right? In theory it is, and I’m planning on giving it a shot!
Toward the end of the session, I was able to score a few minutes alone with the Literacy coach to pick her brain about a few things that I’ve been concerned with in my classroom around our new ELA resources and how I’ve been using them. I feel (and have felt for a while) that I am not as focused in my Language Arts teaching as I would like to be. (My strength is Math – that’s no secret.) Therefore, I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to teach reading and writing to my students. And, each year it’s like I start from scratch again, hoping to “figure it out” this year.
Our conversation turned toward another topic of concern for me as well - evaluation and marking. It’s not so much the gathering of information that I have the issue with. I know how my kids are doing and I assess them with rubrics, checklists, observational data, conferencing etc. However, the subjectivity and somewhat grey area that can creep into evaluating a piece of student writing, has given me a feeling of dissonance for a while now.
We operate on a 100 point scale in my province, and I truly feel as though I am working within a flawed system. Even when I use a rubric, mathematically the results don’t always convert to the percent that is most appropriate for the piece of work. On a four point rubric, if a student is meeting expectations across the board, he will receive a 75%. Did he deserve a 75%, though? Was his work a “strong three” and therefore more worthy of an 85%? Or perhaps, he met expectations, but just barely and since a pass is a 60%, he should receive a mark closer to 60%? Realistically, what’s the difference between an 87% and an 88%? I would love to give letter grades a try. Having a range of marks that is suitable for a piece seems so much more appropriate than the system that we’re currently using here.
Anyhow, we chatted for a while and it was so nice to get some of these things off of my chest and to come up with a plan of sorts for how to best work within the system. I’ve been teaching based on the themes and resources that we received 2 years ago when we got a new program. As the Literacy coach reminded me, they are the resources, not the curriculum (although of course they are based on the curriculum outcomes). She suggested that since I seem to be searching for a better way to organize my ELA program, that I do so by writing form, rather than theme. I’m willing to try anything and after talking to her, I’m quite excited to see what this may look like for the remainder of the school year.
The current book club writing focus is poetry, which works out perfectly, since we haven’t covered it much yet this year. This weekend, I’ll be looking at the other forms of writing that still need to be covered before the end of the school year and finding reading selections within our program resources that support/are examples of each writing form. That way, if we are doing Descriptive Report writing, for example, we’ll only be reading examples of descriptive reports so that we can really get a feel for how a report is written and the text features that authors may use such as captions, diagrams, headings etc. Even though this mid-year plan reorganization is going to take time and a lot of effort, I am SO okay with it if it means that I will be more focused in my teaching and my students in their learning. The thing is, I know without even beginning, that it will be! The Literacy coach also gave me some ideas for how to make my rubrics aimed more precisely at what I’ll be covering – so that’s great! Although she’s supposed to be just for the K-6 teachers, she has been wonderful to do her best to support me as well in our K-7 school.
As for my other issue, with the 100 point scale – I know that this is a shift that will have to come from above (or within). I am doubtful that things will ever change within my career – but who knows! Perhaps I’ll spearhead a crusade for letter grades and finally release us from the shackles of this ridiculous system of evaluating students once and for all!
How do you mark where you teach? Percents? Letter grades? What kind of assessment tools do you prefer?
PS: In case you haven’t heard – HUGE SUPER SALE at TeachersPayTeachers THIS SUNDAY – tomorrow! TPT is offering 10% off of all purchases and most sellers will be having sales in their stores as well. Everything in my TPT Store will be on sale at 28% off (the most I can do). If you have any items on your wishlists – it’s time to get them off of there!
It’s report card time here in PEI, and we have parent-teacher interviews tomorrow and Friday. I have a few years in at this teaching gig, but P-T interviews still give me those little butterflies in my stomach. Until I get going, that is. Once I’ve spoken to a few parents, I always loosen up and relax. It’s the pre-interview time that I’m a little anxious.
Anyhow, with report card time, comes assessment. This is generally assessment of our students – how are they doing? Where do they need to improve? If you’re a follower of my blog, then you know that at the end of the school year, last June, I asked my students for some constructive feedback of my teaching. I asked them to anonymously write some things that they enjoyed or that I did well and ONE thing that I could work on (because ONE thing x 25 students is a lot to work on!).
So, being that I’ve assessed my students and given them feedback on their report cards, I thought I’d let them have a crack at my teaching and give me some feedback. The great thing about doing this, is that you always get some warm fuzzies from the comments: Good sense of humor, I liked the read aloud that we did, you don’t assign to much homework, I like the Math games that we play… and so on. With the good comes the ugly. So far, it looks like my class would like to do more hands on projects, art work and it looks like I’m doing a good job of teaching math, but my social studies needs some work. (Go figure, guess what my favorite subject to teach is?)
Feedback is how we improve – students and teachers alike. Seeing it in black and white from the minds of the students who sit in front of me now, is extremely empowering! Of course it’s a little scary to ask them what they think of your teaching, that first time. It’s such a great exercise though. Just think, how many times have they put themselves out there to do something for you this year (read in class, do a presentation, post their artwork – the list goes on.)
The end of the week is approaching, why not make a point of asking your students for some feedback. You might be surprised with what they come back to you with! Good luck:)
Okay, you’re about to learn to what extent of nerd I am – if you didn’t already know. I love PD. I know, I know….what a geek! But you know what? I’m 30 and I can be a geek if I want to!
There’s something about professional development that makes me feel…. well…like a professional! Now,
I’m not talking about the “jumping through hoops” or “developing for the sake of developing” kind of PD. I’m talking about the really good stuff! New and inspiring ideas, fresh perspectives, and practical strategies that make me want run to my classroom to show my students. THAT’S the kind of PD I love.
We have our 2 day Teachers’ Convention tomorrow and Friday. Every teacher in the province will be there – all 1500 of us, all under one roof. I think that’s so cool! No other province in Canada can house all of its teachers in one ballroom all at the same time, but because we’re small – we can! I love the conversations and connections, the lunch time chat (not having to shovel my food before duty) and feeling like I belong. I only ever wanted to be a teacher and our Annual Convention reaffirms my chosen life-path and career (although my students do that most days, too).
Oh, and one of my teacher-friends and I have a room booked in the hotel where the convention is being held, which means some well deserved ME time in the evening. So, that’s a bonus! All in all, I’m pretty excited about the next two days.
So tell me, who else out there is a “closet PD lover”? I promise I won’t tell;)
Guided Math, by Laney Sammons, was the second professional resource that I added to my reading list for this summer. It was quite a quick read and I’m ready to share with you what I have taken from the book. I’m not going to completely review the book and give away all of the good stuff inside, as I don’t believe that the author would appreciate that. However, I’ll share with you my three “take-aways” that I’ll hopefully be able to incorporate into my room this year.
1) Use more small group instruction for math.
This one is VERY important to me, but I’m already overwhelmed with how much work this is going to be. Of course, there are heaps of research supporting using small groups for instruction and I am looking forward to trying to modify my main teaching style, which is definitely heavier on the whole class instruction side. The book did a great job of explaining how different small groupings may work and I related a lot to the idea of feeling like I’m failing by not being able to challenge everyone at their level, neglecting those at the top and those just floating by, while trying to get the whole curriculum “covered”. It’s overwhelming to think about how I may possibly get to everyone more effectively, because their levels vary so much. That being said, I know that I am ready to try to spend more time working in small groups with my students. I know that it’ll be a learning experience, because of the class management systems that must be in place to not be interrupted and so on – but I know it’ll be worth it!
2) Start the day with a Math activity.
Well, the last literacy book I read suggested starting the day off with independent reading! I can’t do both…or can I? I’ve decided to flip-flop independent reading and morning math activities. Three days of the cycle they’ll start the day with reading and the other three days, I’ll have a quick math activity for them to do. Actually, I’m QUITE excited about this! Every year, I get students who still struggle with basic facts (I teach grade 7). It’s hard to find time to practice math facts, since the expectation is that they have their facts by now. You know what? They don’t. Some of them just haven’t gotten them yet – for whatever reason, and this makes learning the grade seven concepts more of a struggle. Providing morning math activities that target basic skills and problem solving two or three times a week, will be super-helpful and might just give students the boost that they need!
3) Give choice.
In Math? This one, really got me! I give lots of different options in Language Arts and Social Studies for projects, topics, book reports, posters – whenever I can. But Math? I have NOT been giving choice in Math. I’ve given projects, played math games and created stations. However, I have NOT said – you can complete this activity OR this activity. Why? Not really sure, to be honest. However, this totally fits in with my goal (from a previous post) of using Bloom’s taxonomy more effectively AND working menus into my classes. I’d like to try to use menus for math – giving choice to my students and building in differentiation. It can be done. I’m sure of it! Even though I’ll inevitably fall on my face, trying to get it all done – I’m excited to try!
Guided Math is a great resource – especially for elementary grades. I focused in on just three things, so as to not be totally overwhelmed by all of the ideas that it offered. I think that I’m going to start with the morning math activities and then the math menus. Finally, I’m going to try to do more small group instruction, but I think that this one is something that I’ll be working toward all year – and not just in math! I’d like to spend more time with small groups in the other subjects that I teach as well.
There was a book study on Guided Math this summer, that I’d mentioned in a past post. If this book sounds like something you may be interested in, you may want to check out some of the conversations and comments that teachers made with this book study. Here’s the original post for the Guided Math Book Study.
So, over to you: Those of you who are already using small group instruction or guided math effectively…. How are you doing it? Class management issues? How time intensive do you find it, preparing the different tasks for the different groups, versus one activity that you modify for the class? What tips for time management could you offer?
Please share your thoughts and questions!!!
A teacher here in Canada has recently been suspended for giving zeros for unsubmitted work, which is against the school’s policy. I know people have strong opinions on topics like these and so I’d like to open things up. Here’s the link to the full article: Teacher Suspended for Giving Zeros.
I think we’ve all been frustrated when we seem to care more about a student’s learning and grades than they do. When we’ve catered to their learning needs, extended deadlines and then extended them again. When we’ve turned tests into “take home” assignments with the hopes that some work will get completed and submitted…when we’ve done all of this… at what point are we actually setting our children up for failure, when they realize that the real world doesn’t work like this? The real world has deadlines and we don’t get to choose those deadlines. In the real world, if I don’t write lesson plans, or sub plans, or tests – for that matter, I’ll get reprimanded. My behavior will be met with a consequence. I’ll be in big professional trouble!
I know that giving a zero doesn’t truly give me a picture of what the student has or has not learned. I have every student’s best interest at heart and I try my very best to make sure that all of my students have success – as I’m sure most of you do. However, I just can’t help but wonder what sort of citizens and work force we are creating, with the “no zero” type of mentality – if there is no other policy in place, such as “incompletes”. I am conflicted by the story of this teacher, because I can see both sides. What are the policies in your schools? What do you think about this whole thing?