Category Archives: RTC 11 – Assessment
Last year I lamented the process of making my first set of Overall Teacher Judgments. I would like to say with a year of experience that I would be a lot more at ease of the process but instead find myself more uncomfortable assessing students as being ‘up to standard.’
The problem is that while National Standards deal in absolutes learning does not. Two different reading tests showing a clear mismatch in data on a number of students while I also had the displeasure of sitting through a learning conference where the National Standards judgements of the previous school didn’t match that data I had in front of me. Does my experience show that teachers and schools judgements are just ‘ropey’ and we need to spend millions of dollars and countless hours on moderation or even worse move to a system of national testing.
Ultimately too many variables that effect students performance on standardized tests. They could have had a bad night’s sleep, a disagreement with a friend and just being in an unfamiliar classroom which might throw kids off their best. Ultimately I found the most effective assessment I conducted over the course of this year was when I sat down and did a GLOSS or PROBE on the students. I could hear them thinking and see them struggle. There was no guess work, and the observation aids how I approach teaching the child far more than having them fill in multichoice bubbles.
Because in the end I’m more interested in where to from here than where the kids are now. However as has pointed out on twitter more and more the levels do matter. Reporting to the Boards and the Ministry demands robust data however in the search for robust data there comes a point the kids’ disappear into numbers.
Yet we know each child is different.
When children learn to walk, we accept that they do so at their own pace and might not crawl before they learn to walk. As adults we can model, guide and encourage but in the end it’s up to an individual child. Some are walking at 9 months while others might take up to 18 months to master this physical skill. We accept this as a difference which has nothing to do with a child’s future yet when it comes to complex mental tasks like reading, writing doing maths, we now demand that our kids progress uniformly.
To counter some of this standardization I’m getting the kids to document their year on video. Twice a term I’m getting the kids to interview each other and the story gained from this will tell a far deeper story than any report. Instead of worrying about tests and where they are the first few weeks were about getting to make friends and worrying about their teacher.
This week has been dominated by assessment. If I haven’t been giving assessments, I have marking assessments and then spending time moderating assessment. What I am not looking forward to is the ranking that students inevitably do to each other once the assessment is returned.
Half way through last year, I got so fed up with the kids ranking each other after every test that I grouped my students by height for the first two weeks of the third term. I was so brazen that I even called the groups giants, tallies, shorties and dwarves. During that time the most amazing thing happened. Kids who often pulled back from class conversations were suddenly talking. Kid who usually dominated pulled back. ‘Ohh I never get anything right’ a tall child who was always in the ‘bottom’ literacy groups muttered incredulously.
I started playing games. I let the shortest child in the class choose a game to play against the giants and vice versa. The students quickly developed a group identity based on their height. They liked the feelings of power that came when their team got to decide on the system which tended to favour their own physical characteristics.
It took a few days for the kids to twig to my system. Some were outraged at the suggestion that I was grouping kids by physical features. After all, kids can’t control their height but they can control their learning through hard work. An excellent point. They also pointed out that some kids might find the work too hard or too easy. Another excellent point. However I asked my class this, why is me grouping kids by height any different from what students do to each other when tests come back?
This provocation led to an interesting discussion about learning. Why it was that knowing someone else scored lower on a test make you feel better? What does it feel like to be at the bottom of the group? What about the top? How come the middle felt left out? Most importantly why we feel the need to rank ourselves at all?
Do levels actually matter?
As my students found out letters and numbers don’t really mean anything at all until there are privileges associated with them. Scoring Stage 6 on NuMPA doesn’t really mean anything (and is certainly gibberish to many educators outside New Zealand) until a Stage 7 comes along and passes judgement on your inferior number. If you are lucky you won’t be the one with the lowest number in the class in which case you get a boost from knowing you’ve done better than someone else.
How often does this academic ranking by students go unchallenged by teachers?
Is this helping students succeed?
My problem isn’t so much with the labels themselves, but when the labels become the defacto feedback. I have deliberately not written the levels, nor have I fixed errors on the students writing samples I am about to return. I want the students to do the heavy lifting on their work before we sit down and talk about what level I think they are and where they need to go next.
In fact as I was sitting in a moderation meeting I silently wondered if the people that needed to learn how to moderate writing are the kids themselves.
What is it about this piece of work that makes it outstanding?
What does the writer of this story need to do go to the next level?
Those questions lead to more interesting outcomes than the more popular refrain heard in classes, ‘is it good?’
When I first became a stepparent one of my friends remarked that once you become responsible for a child, the days are very long but the years are short.
I was reminded of that comment as I was grabbing my belongings in my empty classroom and realised that although there were some very long days, this year has been incredibly short.
If the first session of the first day was the longest hour of my life, the lead up to the final day of the school year just seemed to pass in a blur.
Like my many of my students I couldn’t wait for school holidays to start. I counted the weeks, marked off the days on my calendar, and went down my list of things to get finished in the final hours. But now that the end of the school year has gone I’m winging my way to
Bangkok Burma I feel sad that I didn’t take more time to be in the moment with my first group of students.
As we watched some of the crazy videos we made this year, I looked out and felt very fortunate to have taught such a great group of kids in my first class. We’ve had our shares of ups and downs, messy projects that never seemed to run to schedule and yes there have been times of frustration we’ve I’ve wondered if I am actually making a difference. Sometimes in those long days progress can be hard to measure. But as one year ends another is just on the horizon and I’ve learned that empty classrooms are bookends, it’s what you do in between that counts.
Over the last week or so I’ve been gathering together all the photos and videos that I had on my hard drive and was staggered at how much digital content the students have created over the year. So much I couldn’t fit it onto a single DVD.
Putting together the content for my students reminded me that despite my many meltdowns into misery, my class has had quite a year.
We produced two awesome assemblies, had some fun with the Daily 5 in literacy blocks, set up individual blogs, we’ve read two novels out loud, made a youtube submission to parliament, redesigned our learning space, built an igloo, went to camp, had a go at some real-world maths, completed an impact project and a bar camp.
On a professional level, I really enjoyed participating in the educamps, ignition2012 and making a contribution to Teachers Council Social media guidelines. I wish I had more time and blog and my attempts at getting an educamp in Wellington were a bit of a F.A.I.L.
Next year I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at SocCon on the work that the class did on the digital learning submission. If feels good to be giving something back to the education community that has supported me in the last few years.
Over the last year I’ve had labels like, techie, creative or innovative attached to my teaching and frankly I don’t get it. Nothing I’ve accomplished this year has been as the result of any inherent talent of my own. I’m forever pinching ideas off people and adapting them to suit my needs. If anything this year has taught me the importance of nurturing those connections.
My main problem is that I seem to have far too many ideas and far too little time to implement then. As a teacher I often feel like I am being pulled in two opposite directions. Between those messy and crazy projects and all the must dos that need to be checked off. While I appreciate the importance of those signposts sure schools must be more than factories that spit out kids with NCEA credits at the end of it.
Because when all is said and done the students aren’t going to remember my lesson on inferencing or using place value to multiply decimals but I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the igloo or the day they showed up to find that half the desks had been removed or the year that they caught the reading bug.
It has been a good year.
Hello my name is Stephanie and I’m an iphone addict.
I use my iphone in conferences, in meetings and *gasp* even in the classroom but I’m not using it to play angry birds.
Here’s 10 ways I use my iphone to make my teaching more effective:
1. Video – capturing learning as it happens
The main reason I got an iphone was for the video capabilities I’ll often walk around my classroom with my phone capturing student learning. Video can be used for students to check in on what they actually did versus what they really did. For instance, do students give each other time to talk or do they butt into conversations? I will frequently use interviews as an alternative for pencil and paper tests making assessment far less intrusive on the student. Moreover video is an effective way to put friends, family and sometimes even parliamentarians right into our classroom. Using an iphone means footage can be edited on the spot and then shared potentially with the whole world in a few minutes.
2. Posting pictures to the cloud
I’ve easily taken thousands of photos this year of my class. Some of them are the generic photos of kids at school events and on field trips but I also use the photo function as way to capture student learning and thinking. What makes the iphone awesome is that these photos can then be easily be shared even if I’m away on camp. I use flickr as my cloud storage of choice and will sometimes email stand-out pictures to students families.
3. Texting parents
You don’t need a fancy phone for sms and so this hardly seems worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I’ve found the best way to engage with my previously hard to reach parents, parents who don’t have email or might work odd hours, has been through text messaging. 160 characters keeps communication short and to the point. The asynchronous nature of text messaging also gives the parent time to think and then respond at a time that suits them.
4. Professional learning
I’ve got twitter, feedly, diggo, facebook, pinterest all on my phone. I often use my commute in the morning or my lunchtimes to scan my social network feeds for readings and ideas in the classroom. Professional learning for me isn’t a once a week meeting, it pretty much happens from the minute the alarm goes off on my phone.
5. Timers and reminders
The phone has a handy stopwatch and timer available. I’ve used my phone to time students speeches and also a countdown for tidying things up at the end of the day.If you are a bit like me and are so engrossed in teaching that you forget that your student needs to go over to the teacher aide room or need a prompt to photocopy something for class when you arrive at school, the iphone will send you reminder at a certain time or place.
Although I much prefer paperbooks to the electronic version. If I’m desperate for a book and New Zealand shops don’t stock it I’ll make a quick trip to Amazon and hey presto the book was there on my phone. Granted it’s a bit tough on the eyes and I wouldn’t recommend reading the entire of Moby Dick on your phone, but if a student is borrowing my ipad and I want to read a passage from a book, the iphone is great second option.
You are watching a news story with a reading group about kid’s school lunches. One of the students pipes up,” hey why don’t we see what things are like in our class?” The student takes photos of a quick survey, which is then posted to your blog and then let the journalist know via your class twitter account all from your iphone. No more mucking around waiting for the computer to load and finding the right cords for the camera, the sharing is seamless and the ability of my classroom to connect with the outside word is so much simpler.
8. Anecdotal note taker
If you are conferencing with a student or group of students, instead of writing down the conversation or taking a bulky laptop, you can use your phone to quickly record that conversation. I use Evernote which is an easy way to sort each child into folders and the app also has a nifty audio feature. When I’m talking about a child’s reading progress with another teacher, that teacher can hear the child read. The notes I make on Evernote are easily accessible from any device I’ve got the programme installed.
9. What the heck is that?
When I was out on duty when a group of kids spotted a rather interesting looking spider. I had no idea what the said spider was so I whipped out my phone a quick google confirmed the species of the spider and that it wasn’t dangerous to even if poisonous spiders aren’t exactly a huge problem in New Zealand. Point is we can access the information right then and there
10. Augmented reality
One of the most awesome features of the phone is augmented reality. Apps like wikitude, skyview etc. give kids a heads up display of what they are seeing in front of them. If you are on field trip you can learn point your phone in front of a building or a landmark and get a detailed history from wikipedia. Better yet, get the kids to start entering details for their area or make artwork come alive with aursama.
In reality there are hundreds of ways to use your iphone in teaching. What I love about my phone is that I mostly use it for a specific job and then *gasp* put it down again. It is the quick functionality of the phone, the unobtrusive nature of recording, the seamless sharing between channels and the fact it is small enough that I can put it back in my pocket when I am done which makes the iphone an indispensable teaching tool.
Moreover the ipod touch is the most common device students in my class own. Through using my phone, I better know how to help my kids learn effectively with the technology that in too many classrooms is at best sitting in a student’s pocket at worst outright banned from school.
So the next time you see a teacher hunched over their iphone in the staffroom, ask them how they are using it in their teaching and learning.
Whoops I better go, my phone is ringing.
How do you use your mobile device as a teaching tool?
We hear a lot about 21st century learning in education.
About how computers are going to revolutionize and personalize teaching and learning. In fact there’s even been a government inquiry into digital learning yet the elephant in the room is assessment.
Last month North and South ran an article boldly stating that kids needed to take more control in the classroom from those pesky know it all teachers. The article argues that public school trained teachers are so wedded in the current system that they cannot or will not change their practice to meet the new century.
Yet I often wonder if the problem might not actually be with our teaching practices but with our assessment practices. The article noted that in the early in the 1990s, senior New Zealand pupils had more qualifications in the world. Post implementation of NCEA, New Zealand still has more external testing and qualifications than anywhere in the world.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that the current crop of teachers aren’t innovative, but it is our national obsession with measuring learning that is squeezing innovative teaching practices. Because simply put what gets measured gets done.
In an era where schools have their NCEA and National Standards results put up for scrutiny, I’m sure I’m not on teacher feeling the pressure between that amazing engaging curriculum and ensuring achievement gains as measured by standardized tests for students.
I’m not disputing the importance of qualifications, my own life has been enriched by gaining them. However if in the process of pushing as many students as possible to gain qualifications as possible we’ve turned vast numbers of kids off learning, something is wrong with our school system.
I sit here pondering this as I’m making my reading OTJ on one student. Last year the student didn’t read any books last year, this year the student has read over 30. We have conversations about what book the student is reading, what book the student wants to read next. The student knows exactly which type of books they like to read and will devour them in a few days. I’ve turned a non-reader into a reader yet I’ve spent hours ruminating about getting the OTJ right. The testing points to being just below standard and doubt sinks in. Instead of getting the student to read should I have spent more time on worksheets to get better results? Is that joy and love of reading going to be killed by being labelled below standard?
And that makes me wonder how ever can we have a student-centred personalized education system if we keep insisting on assessment system which is not. We test primarily through pencil and paper. We tell students to sit by themselves, we cut them off from information sources so we can check how much information has been retained and the ones who can retain it the best win.
It all seems so very 1900s in which we used education to sort out who got the manual jobs from those who would go off to run the empire.
So what does 21st century assessment look like?
Is it getting students to sit a multiple choice test on a computer. Surely that is no more an example of 21st century assessment than typing out a hand written essay on word?
Is it using an app to help them sit a pencil and paper exam? Why can’t the kids bring the phone with them? Or even better yet send off their best piece of work to the examiners?
Instead of teaching kids to meekly ask ‘is this good?’ we need to getting them to proclaim “this is my best!”
It was bound to happen I suppose.
In one sense it was relief.
Project-based learning is unbelievably draining. It took an inordinate amount of creative energy to see the submission through to completion and I know I needed a break and to fall back to some familiar routines for a while. In the classroom I had a productive week getting through reading groups and maths groups and some other work.
Outside of teaching my hours were spent freaking out about getting learning portfolios ready for conferences next week. I don’t particularly enjoy this aspect of teaching. To me it highlights the massive disconnect between the juicy learning of the last few weeks and the things I report on. To be sure I understand that literacy and numeracy is important, but it isn’t the stuff that gets me jumping up out of bed in the morning.
Which is perhaps why I struggled to get out of bed a lot this week.
Throw in August 22 falling mid-week and a stressful situation in the later part of the week to deal with and you have one horrible week. Sure enough, Friday afternoon I started getting visual disturbances announcing the arrival of nasty migraine to end the week.
That point in the term where the amount of work between now and holidays seems huge and my energy levels seem oh so low. As I look on the school calendar, I realize I have a few more late nights coming up this term and not much gas in the tank to get there. I am kicking myself for not budgeting my energy as it’s been over a month since I had a proper weekend and I’ve gotten back into the habit of staying at school until after five doing stuff.
So I head into the this week with the mantra ‘this too shall pass’ hopefully that should distract me from this horrible nagging feeling I’ve been dragging around all week that perhaps my greatest success as a teacher is already behind me.
This is a copy of my verbal submission that I made to the education and science select committee into digital learning. I was inspired to make a submission after attending the ignition unconference at Albany Senior High earlier this year.
Firstly I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.
Today I would like to highlight five key points from my submission which I believe are important priorities to aid the evolution of 21st century learning.
- Initial Teacher Education
- Personal Learning Communities
- Agile Learning Spaces
- Moving beyond cyber-safety
Although the graduating teachers standards mention that those entering the teaching profession should be proficient in the use ICT that is not the same as being a competent e-learning classroom practitioner.
I think there is some what of a dangerous assumption that because younger teachers as a group tend own gadgets and have social media accounts they automatically know how to implement e-learning into the classroom. This is not the case. So much of my e-learning practice has been developed through interacting and observing other teachers particularly through social media. However I don’t feel that this kind of learning is valued within a university context.
In my experience initial teacher education in New Zealand has not evolved with the times. Trainee teachers spend too much time filing paperwork in ring binders and if they are lucky they might get a lecture or two on e-learning before they graduate. Thus e-learning at this level is reliant on a student teacher being placed with an associate who understands how to use technology in the classroom.
Once teachers get out into the workforce, they need ongoing professional learning. 21st century learning calls for active participation yet how many educators are still consigned to sitting politely in rooms and conference theatres listening to experts, some of whom may not have been in the classroom for many years. Educators need time and space to develop personal learning communities that go beyond their staffroom to help bring new ideas into their classroom.
With the help of my iphone I can pinch an idea for lesson from a classroom blog in Australia, save a professional reading from a teacher in the UK and have conversation about teaching with someone in the United States during my 20 minute train ride to Tawa. We need to broaden our thinking about where and how learning can occur not only for students but the teachers tasked with educating them.
Most of our learning spaces were designed in an era with the dominant pedagogy was that students need to sit in one place, ideally in front of board soaking up knowledge, in order to learn. Learning has changed and so too should the design of our classrooms.
Rather than talk about flexible spaces I prefer the term agile. Agile means that the classroom can be constantly being configured and reconfigured to suit the needs of the students within it. Over the last set of holidays I quietly stashed half the classroom desks in various nooks and crannies around the school and replaced them with a couple of round tables, buckets for students to put their gear, some cushions and a couple of bean bags creating a huge amount of space.
If the students want to collaborate they can do so, if they want to curl up in the corner to read they can do that too. The creation of our modern learning spaces can be done with a modicum of cash, a bit of creative thinking and school leadership that supports innovation in all its weird and wonderful forms. Am I a supporter of team teaching? Absolutely teachers need to be learning from each other.
One of the elephants in the room is assessment. We cannot build and educational system for the 21st century while using 19th century tools to assess student learning.
In selecting their representatives to talk to you today my class didn’t tell their peers to sit an examination on the content of their video. Instead they asked their nominees to give a speech in front of the class and invited the principal along so they could assess nominees’ public speaking skills and how well they could handle pressure. In short my 11 and 12 year old students have already figured out a critical flaw in our education system: our tools for formal assessment frequently don’t test all the qualities we wish to develop in our learners.
Given the amount of bad news we hear about cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of technology, I can understand why it is so easy for those in education to put up walls and demand that devices stay in bags. However within this context the computer is just an overpriced pencil. It is the interaction between people whether they are sitting beside each other half a world a way which for me makes e-learning so amazing.
Just like in Maths and PE, students need their teachers to guide and model good behaviour. By taking a hands-off and punish approach we deny our learners the chance to develop as cyber citizens.
E-learning is not just about bringing the world into our classroom but bringing our classrooms into the world. The submission project that Room 15, my fabulous group of learners, created is an example of the power of what technology can do.
My students got a chance to create work for an authentic audience, they were able to connect with experts outside our school community through my learning network and share what they have been doing so that they can inspire others. 21st century takes students beyond the role of being passive consumers of knowledge and enables them to be confident creators as well.
We are ⅛ of the way through the 21st century, isn’t time 21st century learning became the norm not the exception?
Of all the accomplishments I’ve made in my second term of teaching the one I am most proud of is building a reading culture in my class.
This may sound weird as most people seem to assume that geeks eschew books in favour of gadgets. While I have proclaimed my love for my iphone, I also understand the power of books.
There’s something magical about cracking the spine on a brand new book or the smell that comes from picking up a treasure found in the back of a second-hand bookstore. I know my own life has been enriched by reading. As a child I loved the Alex Quartet that my mother gave me for my 12th birthday while First they Killed my Father prompted me to visit Cambodia a few years ago and thus began an obsession with that part of the world.
Towards the end of my course last year I felt woefully under-prepared to teach senior literacy when @Kathryntrask reviewed the Book Whisperer on her blog. I immediately requested a copy from the library and was entranced by the impassioned plea of Donalyn Miller for children to spend less time on busy work and more time reading student-selected books during classroom literacy blocks. The central thesis of the book, teach the reader not the book, really resonated with me however I had no real idea how to implement this in a classroom which is where The Daily 5 and CAFE books come in.
The Daily 5 gave me some concrete classroom management strategies in order to build the classroom environment which supports the student-selected reading. Each day my students spend time reading to themselves, buddy reading, listening to audio books and I also read a book a loud to the class. In short my literacy book is a text-rich environment in which the expectation is that students will read 30 books of their own selection before the end of the year.
As part of the challenge each week the students write a letter reflecting on their progress. I’ve been amazed how many students are now starting to evaluate the texts they read. One mentioned how the Lemony Snicket series was great for finding wacky words while another decided that Roald Dahl’s rich vocabulary and imagination were the reason why his books were perennially popular.
As I read through the end of term reflections by my students, I was staggered by how many kids mentioned that they read more books in the last 10 weeks then they did in the entire of last year. Almost all of them have a better relationship with reading now then they did prior to beginning this term. But what has been most powerful is how many of my students have mentioned they’ve started reading a book based on a classmate’s recommendation.
I frequently overhear classroom conversations which are now peppered with what books kids are reading or giving opinions on books or authors. These side conversations are so rich in opinions on writing style, plot and characterization that I wish there was a way I could capture those conversations without intruding on my students. The most beautiful moment for me as a teacher was seeing a group of my Year 7 boys huddled together in the library sharing a book. So often we hear of boys in particular turning off reading in favour of computers yet based on my limited experience boys will read if they are encouraged to and are given the tools to develop as readers.
I followed Donalyn’s recommendation of 40 books a school year which I reduced to 30 as my class started 1/4 of the way through the school year. Miller points out that this hefty target means that students need to always have a book on the go if they are going to succeed. Not all of my students completed 10 books this term but even just having a large target gave kids some success. One of my Year 8 boys who readily admitted to finishing only 2 books in the entire of last year read 8 books over the past 10 weeks including a 500 page tome from the CHERUB series which is a huge achievement for a dormant reader in such a short space of time.
As is inevitable when you set a target, in this case 10 books in 10 weeks, there were some short cuts taken by students looking for an easy way to meet the challenge. Even with the genre requirement, some kids were seeking out easy reads however within a few weeks boredom quickly set in and the students started selecting better fit books. This is where Daily 5′s I-PICK comes in because it starts to give kids a language to finding books that are a good fit for them.
Activities like speed dating where a pair of students introduce the book they’ve been reading to their classmate in 30 seconds before finding a new partner is a quick way for kids to find out about books. I was a bit iffy about introducing a class of 11/12 year olds to the term speed dating so called the activity speed sharing. The students didn’t buy the ‘speed sharing’ euphemism for very long and I learned an important lesson, just be upfront with the kids.
I have also found that book selection is something that requires teacher guidance and feedback. Last week I noticed one of my students had picked up his 10th Geronimo Stilton book. After a quick reminder from me about what his reading goal was, the student decided to select a more challenging book. For me as a teacher this is the kind of conversation I want to have with my student. I didn’t attack the student’s taste nor disparage the book, I simply guided the student back to his learning goals and let him make the decision.
There is a downside to all this reading.
My students are a lot more discerning with the texts I use during guided reading sessions and will tell me if they don’t think the text is a good fit. I think this is a good problem to have; kids being able to articulate that the text isn’t working for them. Certainly I’m going to have to be a lot more careful in the future with what I put in front of my students as their identity as readers matures.
I’m very aware that intermediate school is really the last chance that kids ‘learn to read’ before they enter high school and they are assumed to be capable of reading to learn. As always, there’s a few students I’m worried about. I’ve also got this nagging feeling that I am not preparing my students for high school where they will be expected to read a set text.
Moreover the increased fluency of my readers and the enjoyment my students have for reading might not show up in the assessment data even though research shows that reading for pleasure has immense long-term benefits not just for my students’ academic achievement but for them as people.
This term has been really challenging but I’m proud of my students. As I looked out over my class during Daily 5 last Thursday, I was amazed to see a quiet, purposeful classroom full of students on task when at that point in the term the kids should have been sliding into holiday mode.
What I’ve come to realize over the last 10 weeks is reading is a highly social activity. By giving my students time and space to read as well as share what they are reading with others, the kids have started to support their classmates’ reading progress not just in terms of book recommendations but also fluency, expression, comprehension and even vocabulary. I doubt this would have happened if I had continued with the more traditional literacy programme where I chose the texts and my students time is filled up with ‘response’ activities that I tried during the previous term.
I’ve also realized that there isn’t much point in teaching kids reading strategies if I also didn’t give them authentic opportunities to practice them. I know some teachers see recreational reading as something that kids should be doing at home while school is for work. While I don’t dispute the huge role that parents have in supporting children’s reading, by devoting time in the literacy class for reading, I am telling my students that I think reading for pleasure is a worthwhile activity which needs to be supported.
There are some drawbacks to this sort of ‘free range’ reading programme. The biggest one is that it is very labour intensive. Although rich in data, the reading notebooks take a lot longer to mark that the more traditional worksheets as I follow Donalyn’s example of writing a letter back to each student.
You also need to invest in books for your classroom library. Alongside our regular library trips, I’ve become adept at sourcing cheap books in bargain bins and Trade Me to have on hand in the classroom when the kids don’t have any or don’t like the book they selected. As a teacher I try read at least one young adult book a week in order to walk the talk with my kids as a reader and it’s the best professional reading I do all week.
I don’t consider myself a literacy guru by any stretch of the imagination. In reality my literacy block is merely a mediocre copy of the master teachers out there including the 2 sisters, @donalynbooks and of course my wonderful PLN including @kathryntrask, @judykmck, @annekenn, @heymilly as well as @kathleen_morris and @kellyjordan82 whose ideas for teaching literacy I have shamelessly stolen.
Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge.
Time of year where we are sending home statements about what our students learning goals for the year are. As these are reports going home, they must include a statement about National Standards and be in plain English. Personally I prefer my English in pink and purple polka dots but I digress.
I’ve had a number of problems National Standards in the past but now I’m having to make an overall teacher judgement about whether I think my kids will be at standard by the end of the year I’ve run into a huge set of ethical dilemmas.
There are a few kids in my classroom who without any real input from me are already at standard right now. If National Standards measure success, then what is our system telling the kids who are already there? You’re deemed to be at where you should for your age now put your feet up and watch the year go by. At the other end of the spectrum there are a few kids who even with a herculean effort are unlikely to be at standard by the end of the year. I can’t think of anything more demoralizing for a kid, or anyone really, then being told at the start of the year that even if pull out all the stops and work harder than they ever imagined, you’ll still be below standard at the end of the year.
Yes I realize that standards are supposed to be aspirational and I should have high expectations of all my students, but this needs to balanced by principles of honesty and fairness. Yet even the principle of honesty must be couched. When I hear of stories of children in tears about being labelled below standard and how distressing this must be for some kids and some parents I know I need to be careful when giving those cold hard facts. And it this judgement without context which is the reason why a lot of teachers loathe national standards.
Yet I realize that these feelings aren’t the same for parents.
Last school reporting season I watched my facebook feed light up with friends proudly mentioning that their kids are above National Standards to know that the standards do mean something to parents. A safeguard that yes my kid is doing ok, or no my kid needs help.
But the parents aren’t the only people who read school reports.
As I’m writing my comments and making my judgements on these statements I’m very aware of my student audience. That audience is the reason why I’ve spent more time this weekend worrying about whether or not the kids in my classroom will meet National Standard at the end of the year than I have on identifying their next learning steps or even planning for next week’s classes. In short I’ve spent more time worrying about where the kids are according National Standards than I have working out where they need to go and how we are going to get them there.
I know I shouldn’t over think these judgements but it is such a big call to stick a label on kid.
People outside of the education sector seem to assume that there is a definite line in the sand between the kids that are achieving or not. However even with the wealth of assessment information my school has on each child I still feel like I am performing nano surgery with a sledge hammer when it comes to making a judgement on national standards for some children.
For a number of children the weight of the previous teacher judgements weights heavily on my mind especially if the evidence I have supports an entirely different conclusion from a child’s previous report. The previous teacher might well have made a mistake. I know despite asking for the advice of others, there will be kids I have made an error of judgement on. This doesn’t make them or me a bad teacher. In fact it doesn’t make us any different from any primary teacher in New Zealand.
Because the bigger mistake that has been made is thinking of learning as a product rather than a process. And it worries me greatly that these labels are detracting us from the conversations we need to be having over a child’s next learning step. Despite arguments to the contrary, assessment isn’t a science and should not be treated as such. A guide to be sure, but ultimately like all measures of the human mind entirely fallible by our innate individuality.
I have students.
29 of them to be exact.
When people talk about raising class sizes as if just a couple of kids won’t make much more of a difference I wonder if they have ever actually experienced what is like to mark and analyse the results of 29 students. Don’t get me wrong I’m the sort of geek who loves playing around in e-asstle generating reports and find spending an evening entering the data oddly soothing after a busy day in the classroom.
However when it came to assessing my students’ writing samples I’ve spent hours reading and re-reading their work trying to get a fix on where the kids are at and trying to group them into ability groups.
Because I do so much writing I thought that would make the process easier. In fact I found it so much harder. I write mostly for pleasure and when faced with having to write something within a certain space of time ie. an exam or a work deadline any enjoyment I derive from writing goes straight out the window. And I know that for some students when they are faced with having a directive from me, their teacher, asking them to write there will be a few that will struggle to say anything let alone anything profound in the time allowed to. It worries me that there may very well be a couple of kids who are brilliant writers but I’m missing them because of the pressure to produce something in the time allowed.
However what ultimately helped the most with making a call on the students writing wasn’t the rubrics but spending time on a field trip with the students. That might sound counter-intuitive but spending time with the kids enabled me to see that little snippets of themselves that came through in their writing. The turns of phrases, how they talk. Some of those details I completely missed when I first read their work. Had I not had those interactions I might of missed those details of their writing and saw the students’ work only as writing levels rather than the product of emerging writers.
The further people get away from the classroom, the easier it is to reduce not only teaching and learning but the lives of children down to nothing more than a number on score. The kids are so much more than that. Yet how often do we hear people talk about raising academic achievement levels as if assessment is the master of our education system rather than the servant of teaching and learning.
Our understanding of what it is to be educated should not be based simply on what is present, but also on how the spaces between what is given are seen, named, unnamed, ignored. Because ultimately the kids are so much than the sum of their academic parts.
And when we see only the parts we miss the spaces in between.