Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Blended Learning - Student Voices

 I have surveyed my students a few times this year to ask them how things are going in blended learning and what I can do to make it better. I thought that this next post should be their voices. They explain it best as to what this means to them. Recently I had a student stay at lunch to finish their narrative because, as he stated, "I am on a roll." When he finished and was leaving he said, "I never realized how much I enjoy writing when it is something I am interested in."  Ummm... shouldn't we as teachers try our hardest to make this the norm for our students? We need to listen to their voices when facilitating and managing our classroom.  When I read their voices I realized that I can't go back to a traditional classroom. I need to continue to listen to their voices. Will my classroom stay as it is now in my final few years of teaching? Probably not. Why? Because each year I will have a different group of students with different skill sets and needs. I will listen to what they need and form my classroom from their voices. Their voices are POWERFUL. Have a listen....

One of the first questions I asked them in the first couple of months was "What is Blended Learning?"  I wanted to know two months in what they felt the program was and see how they were interpreting this. It was neat to see their responses. Here are some of their responses:

* You can work at your own place. Whenever you finish something there is always work for you. You don't have to hold yourself back if you work faster than others or have to catch up if you work slower than others.

* doing some subjects at your own pace

* It’s a fun class where you get to decide what you work on each day and we get to do fun activities as a group
* Working independently at your own pace, with teachers checking in randomly.
* Working independently at your own pace with no pressure or stress for work very well done.
* Blended learning is a classroom where you can work on anything and finish your work in other classes. It’s a class for student athletes who can balance school and sports to do their work
* an opportunity to meet new people and it is well run by friendly people and it is an opportunity to up your grades and do hard work to get good feedback from the teachers
* A self paced class that goes through the whole year.
* In blended learning, you are able to take multiple classes at once. The majority of work is done online, and you are also able to "blend" outcomes, so if something you're doing in ELA also applies to say, Social Studies, you are able to do one assignment that will cover both outcomes.
* A learning environment that allows you to work at your own pace.
* If you join Global sports academy you will be in blended learning where you do some of your school courses like ELA, math or any other subject your teacher decides. So part-time when you're not working with Doan, you'll be with Mrs. Lehner in blended learning.
* That it’s a fun learning class that lets you work at your own pace
* Everyone works at their own pace on different things.
* blended learning is where you get to work at your own pace and choose what you want to work on. It will give you a better opportunity to become more self-discipline
* Work at your own pace

I then asked "What do you like about blended learning?"  Here is what they said:
* I like how I'm able to work at my own pace.
* That I'm not held behind and I always have work to do.
* Working independently and at your own pace.
* I like that we have a lot of time to do the work and it is not being piled on me.
* Being able to just work alone.
* That I get to work at my own pace.
* I like how easy it is to choose what I want to work on each day.
* The independent aspect.
* I like the freedom that we have with our work capacity.
* It's easier to get help.
* To work independently on the things you want to work on.
* Being in class with my friends and still being able to focus.
* Simple and not complex.

The next question I asked was "What have I learned about myself in Blended Learning?" This was really interesting for me.  It wasn't all about academics. Many were life skills that we hope students are learning but do not measure. Here are their responses:

* I have learned I am a skilled writer, a proper writer, and have good writing stamina.
* Something I have learned about myself in blended is that I am very good with my time management, yet I stress myself out for no apparent reason.
* One thing I've learned about myself in blended learning is that I hate being behind. I try to get my work done as soon as possible so I can relax in my spare time. The same goes for my Physics class, which is self-paced as well. I was able to complete a day's worth of work in half a class, which gives me some freedom to do other things as well.
* One thing I learned is that goal setting helps with trying to complete tasks
* I learned how to be a better student in the class.
* There is one thing I have learned about myself in blended learning, It takes me longer to really get something.
* One thing I have learned about myself is, that I feel like I work better at my own pace. I think I focus better when there is a little less pressure on me.
* One thing I have learned about myself is that I am very organized when it comes to prioritizing classwork.
* These past few months in blended learning I have learned that I can get a lot of work done in class if I am focused and work hard.
* Something I have learned about myself in Blended Learning is that I have a love-hate relationship with self-paced learning. I like it because I can go ahead, but sometimes I hate it because I am scared of falling behind (even though I know I won’t.)
* One thing that I have learned about myself while being in blended learning is that I am getting better at managing my time and putting a better effort into every assignment.
* one thing that I have learned in blended learning is that I like to switch up a lot and don't really like staying on one subject for too long because it gets very repetitive.
* I have learned that I can read a 300 page book in 3 weeks.
* One thing I learned about myself in blended learning is that I’m getting better at ELA.
* I have learned that I work better in groups.
* I work a whole lot better at my own pace.
* One thing I've learned in blended learning was that I'm a pretty fast worker during class.
* One thing that I have learned about myself in blended learning is how hard I work and how respectful I am of other people and myself. 
* From starting blended learning I have learned that I am actually good at ELA. I always thought I was horrible at it and I didn't like to write in ELA. But after getting all my assignments back and them mostly being fours I can see that I am good at it.
* I’ve learned so far that it’s good to do the same tasks as someone at the same time because it makes me want to finish at the same pace as they do
* Through Blended Learning I have learned that I enjoy doing English on my own but find math and science require more effort and motivation. I am going to work now and use English assignments as a reward for completing math and science assignments.
* That I can work when I am around my friends.
* I learned that I work really fast compared to others.
* I can work well around my friends most times.
* That I am actually good at writing, I always think I'm bad. 
* I can work pretty well with less guidance.
* I can finish work if I just focus
* I need to work on setting deadlines for myself.
* That in math I like to double and triple check myself to make sure I understand it.
* I have learned that I am a naturally stressed person.
* I work better when it is quiet.
* That I can be organized when I actually try to.
* When I work independently I can get work done fast.
* I work good while listening to music.
* I"m smarter than I thought.

The one last question I asked was "What is something you feel could be improved in the Blended Learning Experience?"  I wanted their honest answers. I tell them I want the experience to be positive for them and if they don't tell me what is or isn't working I can't fix it for them! Here is what I got:
* Nothing I think everything is good so far.
* Nothing I think it's perfect
* I would have to say nothing everything is perfect.
* Nothing right now!
* Nothing really it is working great for me.
* Not much really, I enjoy it.
* Nothing really
* Nothing
* Just need someone there to answer questions which there usually is
* Maybe have another teacher to help out. Working with Mrs. Lehner is awesome. Just sometimes there's a lot of questions to be answered so sometimes it takes a little longer to get help, which I completely understand
* Sometimes I just wonder if I'm ever behind because there's never any due dates, but that is super minor!
* Nothing I can think of right now, I really like the way it is right now.
* I can't think of anything I want to improve
* It's hard to do a lot of math in one week so maybe ELA one day and then math the next.
* I like how it is can't really think of anything to change
* Having more ELA work posted
* Nothing

I will survey them again with these same questions at least one more time, if not two more. There is more to an education than the curriculum and we need to make sure we are meeting the needs or our students so they can be successful in life!   

I love my job.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Blended Learning

I have mentioned how excited I am to be teaching this year, and that I am doing something new, and I love to talk about it, however, it is super hard to put into words what I am doing!   Ultimately I have a group of 31 grade 9, 10, and 11 students in a classroom working on a variety of courses!   If you would have told me I was going to teach a multi-grade classroom three years ago I would have said no chance in hell!   Now I don't understand why we don't all look at this for our future classrooms!  How did I get here....

When we returned to school in Sept 2020, our school's pandemic response was, in my opinion, strong.  I was very nervous to return as there was such an unknown about COVID.   I am in an older age category and didn't know how it might affect me.   Our school moved to half capacity every second day and a 5 block system instead of 2 semesters.   We also then got hit just before Christmas, with an outbreak in our city, and were moved to online learning.   All of these things pushed teachers to "do" different and "be" different.   I get that everyone is at a different place in their learning and that it was a very stressful time for many, however, I described my experience as a "fun busy."   I always said I wanted to find ways to incorporate tech into the classroom, but then never found time to do it.  Now I didn't have a choice.  It had to be done.   Our math department was very fortunate, as we had created a bank of video lessons over the past number of years, so we were already ahead of the game and ready to move online a little easier than some.   Our school staff was also very fortunate to have a forward-thinking Admin team, who managed to find time to free up some staff to set up courses online so that they could be easily shared with other teachers.   

How does any of this lead to my blended learning experience?    Well, having obstacles in front of us, with some students afraid to come into the school, some in isolation, some sick, etc. opened the door for teachers to think outside of the box.  I am so incredibly fortunate to work with some outstanding colleagues!   A couple of these amazing human beings had a brainwave of setting up their math and science classes as self-directed/self-paced classrooms.   You would have to ask them how it came to be, I can't answer for them, but they inspired me to seek out different ways of teaching!   Ultimately their students worked at their own pace, using the teacher-designed videos.  The teacher simply monitored and assisted as necessary, working one on one with students.  This allowed students to be absent and not feel that they were missing out on anything.   It was really a brilliant concept!   Over the past year a few more teachers have jumped on board to try this in a variety of courses.

So how did this lead me to a multi-grade, multi-course classroom?  In the 2020 - 2021 school year our school had the opportunity to partner with Global Sports Academy to create a hockey training program.   This was a year-long program where elite-level student-athletes were offered sport-specific training and mentorship as part of their school experience.   However, with a block system, this was hard for scheduling purposes.   With the every second day attendance, they figured out a system where these students did their sport-specific training on their off-school days, and were pulled out of their classes for the classroom portion.  This worked for that year, but with a full-time return to classes in 2021 2022, it wouldn't work there.  One day, while in conversation about the self-directed classes, all of a sudden it was, "wait, why can't we do something similar for the Global Sports Academy program?"   What if we put these students into one classroom in the morning, for the entire year, and they simply work on the courses they need to when they don't have their "Global" time?    Hmmmm.... ding ding ding!!!!   

The conversation continued, ideas were tossed around, planning was looked at, and a name was given to the idea... Blended Learning.    I jumped in with two feet.  I begged for the opportunity to be this teacher!   I put a proposal together with what I envisioned it could look like!   The admin team, myself, and a couple other colleagues brainstormed this idea.   In the end, I was given the opportunity to teach this class for this school year.   It was also broadened to include our band program, which also doesn't fit well into a block system!   Another teacher ended up assigned to that group of students.   

So back to my class of 31.  I have students in grades 9, 10, and 11.  They are working on a variety of curriculums - ELA 9, Arts 9, PAA 9, ELA A10, ELA B10, Math 10W, PAA Survey A10, Social 10, ELA 20, Psych 20, PAA Survey 20, Math 20F, Math 20W, and Math 20PC.  Our French Immersion students have an opportunity to work with a French Immersion teacher during this time to earn the credits they need there.   I do not explicitly teach content in a traditional way.  I provide an opportunity for students to learn the elements in a variety of ways.   As we continue to reflect and adjust what this looks like, we have come to learn that a better name for the class/program may have been Personalized Learning.   Really, that is what it is.   Personalized.   In many cases, I try to provide choices for the students.  I have told them if an assignment doesn't engage them and they would like to suggest an alternative to please let me know.   If they do something in another class that they feel meets an outcome in ours, they are to inform me and we can look at how it can be incorporated.  I had a student early on this year, open up an assignment and say to me "I did something similar to this in grade 9 and I really don't think it would benefit me to do it again."   Instead of saying "too bad, it's what needs to be done" I said "Okay, but we still need to do something from this curriculum, so here are the outcomes and indicators, which one sticks out to you as interesting and how would you like to show me you learned it?"   She came back with an amazing product!   The learning was more meaningful for her in this aspect!   This is just one story that excites me about what I'm doing!  For the ELA novel study, I provided students with an opportunity to choose their own book!    At the end of the day, what is the purpose of a novel study?   To all read the same book, answer a bunch of common questions, analyze it to death, and then what?   NO!!!!!   My WOW for this came this past summer when I thought I should do some reading of typical novels that are used in the ELA classes so that I would have an idea of what some of them were about.   Another teacher recommended one book, said it was their go-to and that students loved it.  They said it was an easy read.   I started to read it multiple times and could never get past chapter 2!   I love to read!  However, that story did not engage me at all!   It made me wonder how many students suffer through this year after year!  No wonder many hate to read!  We give them a story that speaks to us without asking if it speaks to them!  In a class of 30 students, you aren't likely to hit one that fits all!   So I let them pick.   I had a few students tell me this was the first book they had read, or that it was the first book in a while that they had read.   I asked why.  They said it was because it interested them.    Let students have the choice and they will engage!

Another wonderful piece of this classroom is that we look to cross over between curriculums.  Do you remember when elementary schools taught subjects together?   Many do not anymore and I now question why?   Why do we have to chunk everything?  Why does a student have to do resumes in three different courses?   Why do students write fictionalized journal entries in social 10 and in ELA B10?  No wonder many kids hate school!  Are they really learning anything besides compliance?  Why not streamline what they are doing and go deeper into learning?   Let them find their passion!   For the research essay, I provided numerous options and told them if none of the options were of interest to them to provide me with an alternative.  The quality of the essays have been strong in my opinion.   You need to make the assignment meaningful and purposeful!   Times have changed.  Kids have access 24/7 to google so we need to work with this as opposed to fighting it.  

Do I have this perfect?  Heck no!   It is messy and I am learning on the fly!  Some days it is a struggle to stay ahead of the fast-paced student!  As we go I find new curriculums that could have been worked in.   I can't wait to do it again as I want to make it better!   I keep saying "next year I will be able to do this, or next year I will be more organized for the students!"   I am so thankful to our administration for allowing me the opportunity to try this outside-the-box opportunity.  I am so thankful that my administration recognizes I won't have it perfect the first time and that I will make mistakes.   I am thankful to my students for allowing me to learn alongside them!   One day another staff member jokingly asked if the student was teaching me and the student said "Mrs. Lehner learns with us every day."   It is true!   

This has been so positive that we are now looking at expanding it so that students who aren't in Global or band have an opportunity to learn in this aspect.   I have no idea where this will end up, but I am super excited to be a part of this process!  The pandemic has not been great in many ways, however, I know we would not be where we are today if it weren't for the pandemic.   This is definitely one positive that has come from it.    

There are so many more stories to share and pieces to talk about, but I will leave them for another time!

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

My Reboot

Every year our division requires us to fill out a teacher survey basically indicating what we would like for the following year - stay in the same position, teaching change within the school or division, etc.  Today when I completed mine I was super excited to talk about how much I love my job.   It made me realize once again, that I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of very timely and important "reboots" in the past couple of years.    Here is what I said...

Although I have been at Carlton for a number of years, I have held MANY different roles there and have been provided opportunities for growth. Most recently I have become involved in piloting and developing our blended learning (Personalized) program and am LOVING it. I am teaching ELA for the first time since my first year of teaching. I realize why I initially wanted to major in it, yet changed to something more practical for job opportunities (math). I am also enjoying the other areas that students want to explore and I am excited to work with colleagues to learn other courses that may blend with ELA as well. I am excited to see what this program may grow to and I hope to have an opportunity to continue with it for at least another year or more! This is the first year in a long time that I have been excited to wake up and go to school EVERY SINGLE DAY. I used to enjoy workshop opportunities as a break from the classroom, yet this year I absolutely hate being out of the classroom. These students brighten my day and I hope that I, in turn, help contribute to a positive educational experience for them. I could go on and on and on about how excited I am about what is happening and what I am learning from colleagues and students! This was the reboot that I definitely needed at this point in my career. I joke that if I continue to love my job as I am this year I could imagine going past my retirement date...

As I was writing it many things popped out to me - I truly am loving my job again.   I loved teaching when I started out in my career - I remember a student in my first couple of years asking me if I ever stopped smiling.    Over the years this has often crossed my mind when I realize I'm not smiling enough in the classroom.   Why?  I know there have been reasons, but I also realize it is so incredibly important to be present for these students in a positive manner.   If you don't love what you do, or at least have the energy to pretend to enjoy what you are doing it is important to reflect on whether it is time for a change.   These kids need us.  If we can't be there for them, as hard as it will be for us, we need to find our "reboot", whether it means a change within the school, division or even career.    

This past year I stumbled upon the following quote from Haim G. Ginott:  

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

This has become my motto in the classroom.   This year with my "reboot" it has been easy to follow.    

I look forward to talking about my blended learning (personalized learning) classroom soon!   It's just a little overwhelming to know how to start!

Monday, December 27, 2021

It's been a while...but I'm back!

 Wow, it's hard to believe it's been 7 years since I've made a post here!   A co-worker recently encouraged me to write about what I am doing this year in my classroom and it reminded me of this blog!   I had forgotten about it!   She is right, it is time to start writing again.   It is a good reminder for me as to why I am doing what I am doing!   I wonder why I ever quit blogging.  I don't really remember what kept me from moving forward.  Did I plateau with my growth at that time?   Was I tired and didn't feel I had anything to share?  Was I simply too busy?   I'm not sure.   What I can say is that when I read back over my posts I realized how long ago it was that some colleagues and myself decided to push the envelope of what was traditionally done and some of my beliefs are still here and some have definitely changed!    Recently some colleagues (one is still the same as in the initial "push") and I have been pushing the envelope once again!    Over the next while I will share some of what we are doing in our classrooms.   But first I will reflect on what led us to this point!

A few years ago I sort of hit a wall with education.   I was tired.  I was counting down how many years I had left and questioning whether I wanted to stay at my current school or whether I should finish out my career in another school.   I wasn't really happy.  I knew this when September rolled around and I wasn't excited to return to school.   This had never happened before.   I was usually ready to be done in June but then excited for the new year to start.   Not this year.   I have always been one who needs change every 3 - 4 years.   This is evident if one was to look at my career - 3 years at ND, 3 years in Shellbrook, 1 year in Groton, then a mat leave 4 years into my time at Carlton, a mat leave 3 years later, a secondment to the Ministry a couple of years later, work with SPDU.   However, a few years ago I was at my longest stint without a substantial change and knew something needed to happen or it would be a long last few years until retirement!  I thought about ending my career with middle years - I enjoyed teaching grade 9's and figured grade 6 - 8 would be a welcome burst of energy that I needed to spark some passion once again.   However, my principal came to me and suggested that I replace one of our FTV (Following Their Voices) Facilitators who was going on mat leave.   I straight up told him I didn't think I was the right person for the job.   However, he didn't listen and I was scheduled to take over in a few months when she left.   Little did I know that this would be the change that I needed to start another journey into pushing the envelope of education....

I took over this role in November 2019.   It involved observing teachers in their classrooms for data collection for the Ministry Initiative.   I learned so much from my colleagues!   I would try to incorporate things they had tried in their classrooms into my own.   I was seeing alternative ways to approach students and it was exciting!  I still didn't feel I was the right person to be facilitating the initiative, but I was appreciative of the professional growth opportunity it gave me.   However, all of this was short-lived as in March 2020 the pandemic was just getting going and the schools were shut down.    Although I realize that for many, this has not been positive, for myself, the pandemic so far (it's still not over and I could feel differently by the time it's done), has been what I needed to find my passion again.  For years in my professional growth plan, I would say I wanted to find new and creative ways to reach students and incorporate technology into the classroom.   However, I would never really have the time or I wouldn't take the time to do this well.    COVID 19 didn't allow for it to not be a priority.  We had to jump right into moving things online and learning how to use technology and be innovative to reach students who were no longer in front of us.   I LOVED this!    I LOVE planning.  I LOVE learning new things.   I now had to MAKE TIME to do this and I LOVED it!   While others were stressed (and rightfully so) I was stressed but having a blast being stressed.   I found my "group" of other like-minded colleagues and we have fed off each other and are flying to challenge ourselves to be better for our students.   We have been encouraged by our Administration to think outside of the box and we are supported to try new things and the flexibility is there to try, revise and try again.   The culture has been created that it is okay to not get it right the first time.  At the end of the day, if our purpose is for the betterment of the students, we have the green light to try almost anything!   I can not wait to share what we are doing!  However it is so hard to explain all at once, it's messy, it's not perfect, and some days I don't know where I'm going, so it will take a while to put into words what it is exactly!  What I can say is that the passion is back.   I LOVE my job every day again.   Some days I think I could go past my retirement eligibility.....LOL.  I won't, but I think I could.  It's that much fun for me again!   

Part of finding my passion again was having the opportunity to try something new.   Outside of my very first year of teaching, I have been teaching the subject of math.  Along the way, I had a few favorite math courses - I liked Foundations 30 as it wasn't just formula-based.  There is a lot of statistics and probability, set theory, financial math - all of which allow for creativity.    I enjoyed math 9 where there was time in the curriculum to allow for some "fun" activities.  I enjoyed the workplace and apprenticeship pathway, which again, had a curriculum that was applicable and allowed for conversation and engagement.   What I have realized is I'm not a teacher because I love the curriculums, I am a teacher because I love interacting with my students.  I want them to enjoy their school experience.   The funny thing is, the FTV Initiative is about following "their" voices, a.k.a. building relationships with students.  Jody Carrington's new book "Teachers These Days" focuses on building relationships with students.   Other educational gurus will also speak to forming relationships with students being key to success in the classroom.   When I think back over why I would say those were my favorite courses, it is because they all allowed the freedom to have some fun with students. I have always known I wanted to be a teacher, but I originally wanted to major in English and minor in Phys. Ed.   My Dad talked me out of those to pick something that would be easier to get a job in, so I majored in math and minored in computer science.  At the time he wasn't wrong - there were three times the English majors and math majors so I had no problem finding a job.   However this year, as part of my change, I am facilitating the learning of ELA 9, A10, B10 and 20 to my students and am LOVING it!   I realize why I likely wanted to major in English.   There is so much room for creativity and flexibility and personalized learning!    It's taken 26 years but I am doing what I initially wanted to do!   I do realize that had I done it all along, I may not feel the same - sometimes change is simply what a person needs at that time!   

Regardless of what caused me to get where I am ("forced" facilitator role and pandemic!) I have passion again!   I look forward to sharing what my year looks like and I hope to continue to learn so that I can be the best teacher for my students!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Flex Groupings

Last semester at one of our division math PLC meetings, our math coach talked about Daily 5/Flex Groupings that some elementary teachers were trying in math.  The idea was adapted from the Daily 3 or Daily 5 that is done with reading at the elementary level.   I was intrigued by the idea, so researched it a little more and thought about how I might incorporate it into my math 9 class.  I decided that I would try it in semester 2.  I looked at the outcomes I had left to work through and decided I could afford to use Mondays as a flex grouping day.  I figured we could use that time to review outcomes that needed work, based off of the data I was collecting.

So this semester I have started to use flex groupings in my math 9 class.   The students are split into groups, and these groups are flexible, so each week they will be with different people.  It depends on the outcome we are going to be reviewing.  I use the data I have collected from assessments to group the students for that week.   The different groups I may use are:  math with a teacher, math with a partner, math on your own, math in a group and math with technology.   Depending on the topic to review and the time necessary, I may have 3 – 4 rotations in a day.   I will always use math with a teacher as one of my groups.   This is the most beneficial one.  I will usually group students based off this group.  Whichever outcome we are working on, I look at my data and take the three or four “weakest” students based on their data, and put them together, then the next three or four in another group, etc.  For the 12 – 15 minute rotation that they are with me we will work through one question at a time and I can see what they are misunderstanding and we can talk about this and find a way to help them understand better.   It has been amazing how impactful this has been.  I have discovered with a couple students, that what I deemed as “rushing through the work” and being careless, was actually a misunderstanding about double negative signs.   With other students, just having me sit there as they worked through a couple of questions, discussing with them what they are doing right and where they are making mistakes has helped them to understand.  

When they do math with a partner, I have deliberately grouped them so that one partner is able to help the other partner.   For the math by myself and math with technology, it is more about reviewing and becoming more consistent with basic math facts.   The math with a group is about problem solving and logical reasoning. 

In order to do this, you need to teach the students how each group is supposed to work.  If I need that 12-15 minutes with my students who are with a teacher, I can’t be monitoring the rest of the class.  As a result, we “practiced” each group before we formally started this process.   The guidelines we set up as a class are:
*          Gather & set up materials quickly and quietly
*          Get started right away
*          Work quietly
*          Stay in one spot
*          Be respectful of classmates
*          Work with math the whole time
*          Build your math stamina
*          Grow in your understanding of math
*          Put materials away quickly & quietly

The students have been following these guidelines pretty well.  They seem to enjoy this strategy and when I missed a Monday (the day I have chosen to use this),  they asked me on the Tuesday if we could do “Monday math”.  So as a teacher I am seeing improvement with the students understanding, and they are enjoying the process as well.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Communication with Parents

This year a school goal of ours is to send out "group" emails to the parents of the students in our classes.  We can pass on information that way.  Our PLC has decided that we will send out a minimum of 4 group emails each semester.  I hope to send more.  It is so easy once you have your contact list made up.   I'm sure there are some parents who don't want to hear what is going on, but I bet there are more that do enjoy hearing these things.  I wish I received emails from my kid's teachers.  I actually sent one to them this year telling them a little about each of my kids.

This year I sent one of my emails out prior to the first day of school.  The email simply introduced myself and the class I had the student in.  It reminded them of the schedule on the first day and the remainder of the year.  In the last paragraph I gave a brief overview of the course.  One of the other paragraphs I borrowed from another colleague:

"I would like to invite you to send me an email introducing yourself and/or your student to me.  I would love to hear about things that interest them, their strengths and weaknesses etc.  Be sure to include their name in your email."

Some of the responses I received were really neat.  I learned some interesting things about both the parents and the students.  I was surprised at the detail some put into their responses.   Although I did not receive a lot, the ones I did receive I enjoyed reading and was sure to thank the parents for their email.   This is something I will continue to do each semester.  I'm hoping more parents will start to respond.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My opinion on standardized testing

Last semester I had an opportunity to be seconded by our Ministry of Education to help write questions for the math departmental exams.  My students do not write these as I am an accredited teacher.  However I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn from others and see where our Ministry is headed with standardized testing.  In the last year our government (Saskatchewan, Canada) has pushed out an initiative to give standardized tests to students starting in grade 3.  I have to say I was not a fan of standardized exams prior to my experience, and after it I am even less of a fan.  It is not that I am afraid of the test as some will say teachers who are opposed are.  I do have a number of reasons for my opposition and would like to share.  These are just my opinion.

My first reason is fairness.  I am struggling with the lack of uniformity for terminology and notation.  The curriculum is not specific enough in many of these cases.  Resources use different notations and terminology.  The pathways have used different terminology and notation!   The curriculum states that students do not have to know all strategies, but they have to be able to do one of them consistently.  I may show all strategies, terminology, notation in my class, but allow students to focus on what makes the most sense to them.  Now they write a standardized test where the developer has picked a notation that they may not have focused on.  Yes, they may have seen it, but it doesn’t mean they understand it, yet they may very well understand the concept, but be unable to answer the question because of the terminology.  I think of domain and range and interval notation vs set notation.  My studdents are split among those two notations.  Yet do they understand domain and range?  You bet.  But on an test like this some may get it wrong, not because they don’t know domain and range but because the notation is not familiar to them.  This is a huge concern for me.  If I had to give a standardized test I would lose the flexibility in my classroom to allow the learners to learn what is best for them.  I would still show all forms, but would say that “this will be what you will see on the standardized test so be sure to know it”.  That so defeats the purpose of our new curriculum and our learnings about learners. 

My second reason is the format.  I do not believe you get a good indication of what the student has learned through a multiple choice format.  There is too much guessing that can occur, or working backwards, or redoing until an answer matches (trial and error).  No one is looking at the work to see what has actually been understood.  How will the results be distributed?  Indication is they will go to the parents and teachers.  Will there be one score?  Question by question results?  Outcome results?  What outcomes will be assessed?   The indication is that they have to be able to be computer scored so the results can be returned asap so that these are deemed as "formative".   What outcomes then will be tested?   How will this be communicated to parents?  Will parents be told that this is simply a snapshot and that the score may be inflated or deflated?   If the test is given towards the end of the year then they are not formative in nature. 

My third reason has to do with the move towards standards (outcome)  based assessing/grading/instruction.  In a standards based classroom, every assessment is done according to the outcome.  It is assessed by level of understanding, with the same rubric each time.  It is not about accumulating points, but in growing the understanding.  In our classrooms, we do not assign a weighting to the final exam.  The students know that if they show growth of understanding they receive that level as their final.  If they do not maintain their previous level of understanding, their overall level will drop and they may even have to come back in for more learning.  We do not allow a student to skip/ignore/leave blank any questions at a low level of understanding or they will have to come back for a conversation.  As a result, the majority of our students actually improve their levels after the final.  This all changed when we took away the percentage weighting on the final.  At that point many students were simply calculating that they had enough “points” to pass or get the mark they wanted.  Now they have to demonstrate understanding on everything.  I think the standardized test will really hinder classes trying to do standards based grading.  They are not set up by outcome, using a common rubric, and assessed by outcome.  There is one score assigned.   This is not an effective assessment method.
I get that we are living in a world where accountability has become a huge issue.  However I do not believe that these will make teachers "accountable".  I do not believe the data will be an accurate indication of what is going on in the classroom.  I think that if the government wants to improve teachers and learning, they need to think outside the box.  Dylan Wiliam’s philosophy is that we can’t get rid of the poor teachers, but we need to work with them, support them and help them become better teachers.  I do not believe standardized testing is going to do this.   This is just my opinion.