February 26, 2009

The Mysterious Pink Yogurt

Just got back from today's sessions...and by back I mean back to my hotel room.  So far I have only travelled vertically...I have yet to go anywhere that requires horizontal movement.  This conference could be in Big Beaver and I wouldn't know the difference...but that's okay because the conference is proving to be really interesting.

This morning we listened to Thomas Many, whom I've already mentioned, and then had lunch (I had the Havarti Turkey sandwich...which was a lovely blend of crisp and smooth palettes).  Included in my lunch was a small container filled with a mysterious pink cream.  Yogurt, I thought, and saved it for desert.  Weird, why didn't they give me a spoon to eat my yogurt?  Oh well, I'll just use this knife.  Took a knifefull and oops, it's mustard.  Has anyone ever seen pink mustard?  Trust me, it exists.  Anyways, it was off to Cassandra Erkens to hear her talk about Transformational Learning.  Was really excited to hear how I could incorporate Transformers into my classes.  So Cassandra started with a big question: how can we use grades and assessment to promote student learning?  Oh great here comes the theories...wait...what is this....she actually has advice and suggestions?  Ok, what are they...here we go:
  • We need to teach students to be wise - to know what they know, what they don't know, and in some cases - what they cannot know.
  • We need to teach students to think diagonally - to understand other's opinions even if we do not agree with them
  • "We really have to rethink grading: If I put a grade and a comment on a student's paper what is the first thing they look at - the grade...and then their neighbor's grade...but not the comment.
That last quote is quite interesting.  If students are only focused on grades is that a good thing?  Wouldn't it be better to focus on comments and improvement?  Well here is what Cassandra offered: Some PLC's are not giving grades until that grade is an A or B.  Once the student gets to that stage they let them know...but until then they provide feedback to help them get there...failure is not an option.  This demonstrates that these teachers truly believe that all students not only can learn, but will learn.  She also talked about individual learning.  For instance, rather than teaching all students adjectives why not study their writing and have them work on what needs improving (e.g. "Little Johnny, I really loved your piece on the different smells of flatulence...and I think you would benefit from adjectives...) Get the point?  Finally, she offered this: "We are a bunch of professionals that eats our own...if you take an innovative teacher and put him into the staff room what's going to happen - we're going to chew him up and spit him back out".  Not exactly encouraging words but somewhat soberly true.  We are not literally going to eat that teacher with knives and forks...but spoons and toothpicks...just kidding.

Finally, in the panel discussion with who's who of the PLC world this advice was given: inviting people to be collaborative does not work (there goes my New Year's collaboration party).  You need to build it into your day to day school structure.  The question was asked: "how do we collabor vs. coblabber".  Panelists suggested those involved in PLC groups need to find the group relevant.  This can often be a problem for positions such as Special Ed. or within a small school where there may only be one Grade 11 English teacher.  However, we need to find others to link up with in order to create relevant group...perhaps this means creating a group with other teachers from other schools (too bad we abandoned the Division wide PLC's).  The Dufours added an exclamation to this point by stating that they will always be advocates for collaboration but will NEVER be advocates for artificial collaboration - meaning we need to make our PLC groups relevant to our teaching assignments.

Below is a video featuring snippets from Rebecca and Richard DuFour as well as Robert Eaves and Cassandra Erkens at the panel discussion.  My favorite quote comes from Robert Eaves discussion of changing your school's schedule: "One thing I often hear is 'our scheduler won't allow it'...who is this Mr. Schedule; I mean, he must be one powerful dude!".  Oh, let me know if I am going to to to jail for breaking some sort of copyright law...not too sure about this kind of stuff.  Just a note...it will need to be quiet in order to hear everything...turn your volume to 11 (all the way for those of you not familiar with Spinal Tap)

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