May 31, 2009

Leaving a Paper Trail

If somebody asked me "what is one thing you need to work on as a teacher" I would probably say assessment.  Most teachers might agree - assessment is a very difficult area.  I was talking with Gary Ball a little while ago about the benefits of PD.  One of the questions among our division seems to be: how do we, as teachers, grow through PD but not be out of our classrooms too much?  I am not sure there is a definite answer to this question.  Well, yes there is.  If we did PD on our "own time" rather than class time...but then there is the question of "do we get paid more?"  Anyways, I am a bit off topic.  I have missed a lot of school this semester, mainly due to PD.  And while I have grown immensely as an educator because of this PD, I feel my classes have maybe suffered a bit.  Gary simply asked me: has what you learned transferred into higher learning for your students.  I responded a most definite yes!  And here is my do I prove it?

One of my flaws lies in feedback.  Translation - I am horrible at handing assignments back in a timely matter.  But flawed as my system may works incredibly well.  I monitor student's progress throughout the year.  I note which skills they have mastered, which skills they are having trouble with, and factors that may have inhibited or encouraged success in the past.  I have regular conferences with my students.  I remember everything they have done and constantly "refer back" in our discussions.  We have an open forum in which assessment and success are constantly discussed.  Yet, when it comes to paperwork - I fail drastically.  However, I am finding that if I do "paperless" assignments (e.g. online learning), I am much more efficient.  So I have started to explore this further.  Although my system does need a lot of work, it at least is starting to achieve what I am aiming for - for the students to be focused on learning rather than grades.  

And I  guess this is a problem that I have struggled with - the way we traditionally think about assessment.  Assessment should not attempt to have students complete assignments - it should attempt to allow students to demonstrate their skills through numerous ways.  The biggest problem I see: grades.  I would rather not give them.  Assigning grades is too subjective and realistically, not meaningful at all.  What is meaningful is an in depth analysis and discussion of student's demonstrated skills.  Teachers focus too much on marks, and so do students.  Again, I don't want students to focus on their grade - I want them to focus on their learning.

Last week I attended a "First Steps Writing" training program.  We were given examples of students work and then told, in groups, to assess and classify students into their writing ability group (based on a rubric).  For the most part our groups agreed - but sometimes we didn't.  While we were doing this exercise I realized something.  This is what I want assessment to look like.  Even assessing in groups, the rubrics were still subjective.  But I believe we did a better job because we collaborated.  I did not take the papers back to my classroom to "mark".  Instead we discussed the student's skills.  It was the collaborative discussion focused on learning that was meaningful.  We did not assign grades.  We simply wanted to figure out what skills students had demonstrated, and what skills they needed to work on.  This is the kind of report card I want to hand out.  And this is the process that we need to use.  Just one more positive aspect to PLC's I guess.  One problem, students still need marks to go to University - I am not sure what to do here.

Final thought: I enjoy using sports analogies for assessment.  Professional hockey players practice certain things.  They, and their coaches know exactly what they need to work on.  They have goals.  More importantly, they receive constant feedback.  They watch footage, they conference, they collaborate, and they either get more or less playing time.  A player always wants his/her coach to let them know where they stand - what they need to work on.  This is what I should be doing with my students.  I need to get my students to, like the hockey player, take a deep interest in their learning...and I need to provide constant feedback.  Which I do.  But I am not good at maintaining a paper trail.  So maybe my problem is not so much assessment, but accountability.  I don't know - your thoughts?  Feel free to be blunt and honest.

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