What a whirlwind the last 4 weeks have been. From finding out my placement to prepping for teaching to jumping in to the classroom with both feet, and now back to university classes for a few days before ending the semester. It was an amazing, challenging, frustrating, exciting, hilarious, successful time. I was blessed with an amazing cooperating teacher and a genius of a teaching partner. Their guidance and feedback helped me grow so quickly as a teacher in these 3 short weeks. I am so lucky I was surrounded by the colleagues that I was, because my time in the school was a wild ride of emotions, but their support was unmatched.
I went into the pre-internship block hoping for the very best experience but bracing myself for the inevitable stumble and fall. When it comes to assessment and evaluation this means that I had hundreds of ideas floating through my head in the weeks and days leading up to the 3 week block, and it was narrowing those down and creating a realistic plan that was the challenge. My focus was formative, and allowing my students to grow into the learning that I was teaching. I wanted understanding more than I wanted product. I was only there for a very limited time and I decided that my success, and the success of my students, would come from finding ways for them to learn and relearn the important understandings that I was presenting to them.
So I narrowed my ideas down into a few basic, realistic, and effective methods. Exit slips, journal entries, graphic organizers, and timelines all helped to formulate the basics for the topics I was teaching. I taught grade 9 Social Studies and a 10/20 Native Studies split. My 9s were far more willing to get involved, and try new things when it came to content, and my Native Studies students were resistant to anything that wasn’t textbook readings with questions. This difference was frustrating, because the NS were the student that were not engaged and needed to revisit work more to fully develop their understanding, but any attempt a creating those feedback loops that Anne Davies discusses in her book were met
with blank stares and “We already learned this, lets move on” sentiment.
So the ideas I wanted to implement most, specifically peer-assessment, were not taken up well by the Native Studies students. They were too worried about being wrong in front of their peers to even attempt to share or put effort into discussions and activities in class. This made formative assessment incredibly difficult. I felt disheartened to see my students, who I know have incredible potential and are obviously bright, insightful learners, be wary towards sharing their ideas and understandings. I found the most effective evaluations came from conversations I had with students one-on-one that lead to motivated ideas and excitement in learning. I wish there was a way that I could have had these conversations with my students consistently and have them as formative assessment for each of them, because I saw significant changes in the students once I really pushed them to think about why we were learning what we were, and why they were there.
I feel like the three weeks really hindered the success I saw from my students because they were so cautious towards me and the ideas a prese
nted, but they had obvious interest in contributing once they slowly opened up to my style and direction. All three of the classes that I taught were not used to having formative assessment. The first question out of each students’ mouth was “Is this for marks?” and if I said no, then the motivation evaporated. I found myself temped to make everything for marks because students seemed so uninterested when things were just for the sake of learning. However, I resisted.
Throughout the three weeks I was able to give my students ample opportunity to interact with the content, on multiple levels, from multiple perspectives. Teaching Social science included dates and history and a bit of a stale taste in students’ mouths if we are not careful, so I presented resources from various perspectives that focus less on the when and who, but more on the why and how. This allowed my students to attempt to connect history to current events and struggles and answer the age-old question: “Why are we learning about this?”
One important aspect of my assessment philosophy that developed in the three weeks was the ability to turn every question back to the students. Instead of stressing about the content and what I may or may not have known or been able to explain, I allowed and encouraged my students to answer each other’s questions. This was useful during my teaching time, as in when I would say something and students would have a question, but it was also useful when I used things like exit slips or journal responses. I would read through the responses I got to whatever the topic was, and then I would be supplied with new questions that students had, and ask their classmates if they had any answers or explanations. Although the students did not always have an answer, the process was helpful in assessing students understanding and also allowing students to prove what they had learned by explaining things that I had already gone through with them. This process was the closest I got to creating those feedback loop for my students since peer-assessment was unsuccessful with this group.
My Three Key Learnings:
- Revisit, Relearn, Remember.
I know from my own experience as a student that the more I read and write and engage with content, the more I know and understand. This obviously is true for my students as well, and I have quickly adopted the belief that you can never say or do something too much. If you want your students to truly understand any topic or idea, they need to have the opportunity to interact with it multiple times, and to see the perspectives, complexities, and importance of a given topic. If we do not present these aspects of a topic, then students wont necessarily embrace what we are trying to teach them, and if we do not revisit ideas later on, and relearn what we once knew, then we will not remember the perspective, complexities, or importance of the topic.
- Flexibility in route, not in destination.
Being in tune with what your students need from you and from their surroundings in order to succeed is incredibly important. As teachers it is our job to see and solve problems and situations that arise in the class that are hindering a students’ success. This obviously has a wide range of manifestations, but the basic point is the same: When a student needs certain supports or has a certain way of doing things, differentiation means changing the path, but keeping the destination the same. This means that we do not need to change the end goal for a student, but we need to be willing to find fixes and supports that work for that student in order to see them be successful. Also, I think its important that although the destination may stay the same, it may be seen from a different viewpoint or may look a bit different from one student to the next. Allow yourself opportunity to create student specific learning will create a more effective classroom.
- It will not go as planned.
While starting out as a teacher I have quickly realized that my best laid plans will falter and the things I think are small, less vital practices shine as the best part of the week. I know what not all lessons (in fact very few) will go as planned, and I have to be ready and willing to allow this to happen, and find opportunity to change and fix on the fly. When I plan an hour of group work that involves student research and ends with sharing of a vast array of findings and great understanding, I have to keep in mind the possibility/probability that the students will be distracted, the topics will be boring, the intercom will interrupt 7 times, and the lesson will be a flop.
So many times in my three week block I wanted to just forget a lesson had even been attempted because it felt like such a flop. Then my cooperating teacher would point out that one student made a good comment and another had a few good questions and they mostly got the point, but maybe did not get the big picture. Its moments like this that you realize a “failed” lesson is never truly without some form of success. You can go back, emphasize the parts the students missed or you skipped, and you can salvage the important aspects of those situations and cement them in the students understanding more permanently.