I want to be one of those teachers that inspires his students. Not quite Michelle Pheiffer in Dangerous Minds or Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, but somewhere in that vicinity. Someone who makes a difference. I know I’m not the only one.
It’s cheesy, I recognize.
The point is, I want to have high expectations of my students. I want to set the bar high and I want to help each kid get over it.
I want be a consistent positive force.
Every morning, that’s my goal. Make a student believe and move a student forward.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been very cognizant of the feedback I give my students. I try to tailor the feedback to be positive, to be constructive, to remind them of the successes they’ve achieved.
But upon reflection, upon sitting down and talking with students, I realize I’ve been glossing over the honest feedback. I’m trying so hard to polish my message, that the truth is being washed away.
This unsettles me.
Where is the line? Where is the tipping point between positive, constructive feedback and honest feedback? Because they aren’t the same thing.
In a discussion with some colleagues, the idea of “tough love” came up. Is there room for tough love in schools anymore? Some teachers felt that there really wasn’t. They felt that the expectations now (with credit recovery, credit rescue and all manner of student success) lead to a sanitized feedback loop where no one admits there is dirt anywhere to be seen. I’m not sure I fully agree, but I can see where they are coming from.
So, I ask you, how do you balance being positive and constructive with providing honest feedback?
“Often children –and adults– need external incentives to take the first steps in an activity that requires a difficult restructuring of attention. … But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow.
And so it exists, that place in between. The fulcrum point of getting learning going and maintaining momentum.
We need to be in pursuit of the perfect balance between externally incentivizing learning at the beginning, without making the external reward the only reason to persist, while creating a system to remove the external incentive when a student’s skills have made learning intrinsically rewarding.
Presumably, every student is different. Every student reaches that place of equilibrium at a different time. The seesaw of their motivation finds that perfect place at a different time depending on parental influence, ideas of achievement, use of punishment, etc.
I’ve been a strong proponent for getting rid of grades in school. I still think this is important. Marks are inauthentic. However, Csikszentmihalyi has got me thinking what external incentives should/could replace grades to get the learning started.
Are there authentic incentives that we can harness in schools? Views on YouTube, likes of Facebook? I don’t know, but maybe we need to spend more time thinking about these things.
I have no use for statistics and numbers that mean nothing. That goes for grades, literacy test results, credit accumulation, etc. They rarely tell me anything of value about a student.
They don’t tell me her story. They don’t tell me where she’s been, the view of the world she holds or the magnitude of her dreams. Truthfully, they don’t tell her that either.
It’s the time of year when grades and report cards become the bittersweet taste on everyone’s tongue.
I’ve made my position clear on quantitative data for learning. But then something happened today.
A colleague, for whom I have the utmost respect, pointed out how often I use quantitative data to achieve my creative and qualitative goals.
Every time I step outside the door to run, I start my watch. I upload the GPS data onto Strava and relentlessly track my progress. I can tell you which kilometre of the last seven runs was my best, the elevation of my typical training run and I can track myself against my friends. But running isn’t about the number.
As I sat down to write a novel in these past four months, I used a word-count tracker that gave me real-time results based on my intended “delivery” date. I knew how many words I wrote each sitting, how many times I’d used the word “stillness” (7 times) and how many pages per chapter. I watched these numbers regularly to fulfill my need for discipline. I knew when I had short-changed a writing session and that I’d have to make it up tomorrow. These numbers helped me achieve my creative goal.
So you see, I have a data dilemma.
I use data to help me pursue my learning, improving, achieving, but I hate when it is forced upon students and teachers. Especially in saying this is the “important data”.
As I was out running, trying desperately not to look at my watch and become data dependent, I considered that I like the data I self-select. The data that is important to me. The data that fits into my goals and my definition of what I want to achieve. I’m not looking at my time and thinking it’s not as good as Craig Alexander, instead I’m thinking, “Man, I’m really off the pace I want, I’ve got to pick it up.”
Therein lies the rub, self-selection.
We need a system that allows students to determine what data matters to them. Then allows them to access that data, track the data and use it to achieve. We need a system that allows teachers to determine what data matters to them. Then allows them to access that data, track the data and use it to achieve. Each for their own means.
Maybe we don’t track enough data, real data. Data that matters.
Where this sits with my thoughts on standardized test data, I don’t know.
That’s why it’s my data dilemma.
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas at the ECOO Conference 2012. My presentation was geared around my assessment and evaluation methods and madness.
I was proud to speak in front of such an intelligent, engaged audience who asked so many great questions and provided some varied perspectives. I have embedded below the slides from my presentation.
The conference moved this year from one where the tool was the principal focus to the pedagogical shift taking shape in education. Obviously, I like this move. I think too often we spend time worrying about the what and how of teaching, and too little time is spent wrestling with the why. This conference enabled that wrestling.
However, it also enabled something else for me, it forced me to focus my thinking around assessment, which ironically I spoke about. I realized, with more clarity than I had before, that assessment is right now the linchpin to the shift in education.
John Seely Brown, Michael Fullan, and even Nora Young, all addressed the shift in instruction, but none of them offered the insight into the shift in assessment and I fear that is underlooked.
Frankly, assessment and evaluation may be the structure of the system that slows down change the most.
I see it as there are two main cogs in education, instruction and assessment, and while instruction is slowly coming to life, assessment is still in a state of disrepair. It’s rusted over and will take some serious elbow grease to get it moving again.
And we can’t disregard it.
We’ve made cosmetic changes to evaluation, however, at the end of the day will universities and colleges accept our students if they haven’t jumped through the hoops of GPAs and averages. What then becomes of the innovation, creative problem solving, and imagination?
The ECOO experience has focused in my interest in assessment and evaluation, it has left me with more questions than answers and has enabled me to connect with other educators asking those same questions. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.
While sitting having lunch with some progressive, insightful educators, the ideas around assessment were being bandied around. The struggle between the quantitative and qualitative, the balance between formative and summative assessment, and how to find a balance of assessment that most benefits students.
This idea came to my head: A student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark.
I said it, knowing it may sound crazy, explaining that I hadn’t fully thought it through. However, here was my logic:
A student’s quantitative evaluation, according to Growing Success in Ontario, should be based on “observations, conversations and student product.” (39) Nowhere in Growing Success does it explain the necessity to calculate a student’s numeric mark. In fact, if you read through the document enough, there is considerable evidence to suggest that teachers should be considering what students do as demonstrations of their learning.
And this brings it back to my idea.
As the year progresses, a student can not un-demonstrate their skills. They can not un-demonstrate their knowledge. This is where it gets tricky. I believe that Growing Success wants us to look at the curriculum as stated and evaluate where each students’ skills are at that moment, thus “most recent, most consistent”. What that means is a student’s numeric mid-term mark, should be looking at that student’s demonstrations against all the skills necessary for that credit.
The idea that a student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark is contingent on the idea that the teacher is determining that mid-term mark against the entire curriculum, not just an isolated part of it. I know the English curriculum and I would suggest that this idea works. Students at mid-term surely have demonstrated the various elements of reading, writing, oral communication and media studies. A more content driven curriculum, does not fit into this notion.
The one hitch: Growing Success still implies that a student’s final evaluation be determined from 70% of their term work and 30% from a summative. Therefore, at most, a student’s mark should only drop by 30%. However, Growing Success also states, “Determining a report card grade will involve teachers’ professional judgement and interpretation of evidence and should reflect the student’s most consistent level of achievement, with special consideration given to more recent evidence,” (39) which implies that summative evidence may be taken with more consideration.
I leave it to you. My question, considering the ideas, as outlined in Growing Success, is my idea accurate. Or is it the random nonsense of a radical?
Is a mid-term mark, the first instance of our counting to mastery and therefore an indication that a student has successfully demonstrated a specific level of the skills?
Should a student’s final mark ever be lower than their mid-term mark?
Please comment, question, challenge, and be part of this conversation. I’m wrestling with this notion and would love to hear your thoughts.
I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback about my last two posts. It has me thinking about what these two posts are really saying.
Sure, they look like a list of things about which I’ve run my mouth. Not an uncommon response: “Boy, you sure know how to screw up.”
But, that’s not the underlying theme.
I think the underlying themes is the idea that we should constantly re-evaluate what we value.
Our professional philosophy should be challenged by others, by the system, by the research, but more importantly, by ourselves.
As a learner, we need to be self-reflexive. That’s where the gold lies.
It is not enough to establish your values. It’s not enough to establish what you value.
Learning comes when we re-evaluate our values and what we value.
My question is, “Is there a professional ethic in re-valuating what we value?”
I like the Growing Success document.
In fact, this document demonstrates a trust in teachers that is often not present in the political rhetoric of education. The document outlines an ideal that teachers are able to assess and evaluate according to their best understanding of the needs and skills of their students.
Two words stand out:
These two words are used repeatedly throughout the document. They rely on a teacher’s ability to take consideration of student demonstrations, be it in product, process, conversations or observations. They also rely on a teacher’s ability to interpret the evidence as gathered by the teacher.
The word most glaringly absent from the document is calculate. The MoE has done away with the notion that a grade, as found on a report card, is a straight calculation of marks. I believe that this is a telling sign that education is slowly, albeit too slowly, systematically moving to a more individualized, student-centred learning environment.
It is now our job to start effectively using this responsibility and communicating the way in which we are looking for success.
This is scary for teachers. Calculating leaves no room for error. Interpretation and consideration can be misused and we’re going to need to defend it and that’s worrisome. I get that. When a parent calls asking about a mark, it is sometimes a tough conversation to begin. That said, when we engage in the conversations of interpretation and consideration we are more likely to engage in conversations of learning, which ultimately, are what we’re looking for.
“There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them” -Lawrence Welk
Some days you aren’t on your game. You feel like you are missing a beat. You feel like you never quite get to that gold standard.
Today was one of those days.
One of those days you wish you could have back. It was full of those moments you wish you could redo. It was my fault, a combination of poor sleep, restless thoughts, building frustration and the feeling of isolation.
I’d love to pinpoint the minute the day got away from me, but I can’t.
But it is today that I question my reactions the most. Which student of mine was having that day? Who will have it tomorrow? How many students try to tell me it is that day and I don’t hear them?
I think I might learn the most from my inability to perform at my peak today. I take the opportunity to recognize my “areas of need” and build upon my “next steps”. Today will stick with me, as a learning opportunity, but that’s because I get to choose. I’m not stuck learning by someone else’s schedule. I’m not being assessed on what I couldn’t do today.
You realize on these days that all the bluster of consistency, achievement, assessment is all awash in inconsistency, failure and judgement. That mastering learning may be about minimizing these days and taking advantage and creating more of those days.
You know, those days when you are on your game. When the right word is right there. Those days when the rhythm is your soul and everything you touch turns to gold.
Some days are like today where my learning is personal, my growing is optional, and my ability to decide what I demonstrate is my own.
The thing about conferences is that it is rarely the presentations that promote the most learning.
Yeah, they are good in stimulating something in the brain, but it generally happens in the times between sessions around the lunch table, coffee breaks and, in the case of ECOO, around the iPad where learning becomes something more than a PowerPoint presentation.
I was lucky enough to have attended the ECOO 11 Conference in Toronto last week. On top of that, I was privileged to deliver two presentations so I could hopefully stimulate some conversations for people.
But the real luck is in the time. I had so much great collaborative time with my co-presenters and others, that I was able to really push my learning.
So, then what did I learn:
- I learned that there is a need and desire for taking technology conferences and including less about the tools and more about the underlying philosophy that moves education. I heard multiple times over the days, how we talk so much about the how, we don’t spend enough time on the WHY. This has me thinking that an un-conference held in Kitchener/Waterloo might be what we need, a sort of companion to ECOO.
- I learned that the narrative form of video games is far more complex than I originally would have thought. I need to spend time “gaming for a purpose”, which I have not done.
- I learned that nodding during a presentation is incredible helpful. It made me so much more at ease when I saw someone nodding to the gibberish that was running from my mouth.
- I learned that technological hardware is fairly stagnant and that the real power is how the software/social media can address so many of the educational revolution ideas. The changes in software matter more and more.
- I learned that facilitating a discussion as your presentation, looks messy and may make you question your being there, but it is essential to moving the ball.
- I learned that authenticity might be my new favourite word when describing where education should be going.
Here are a few of my tweets from the conference:
Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 9:30am with Anne Doelman, Christy Wood, Dave Lambert and Emily Schmuck
Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 1:45pm with Daniel Ballantyne
I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have my days where students leave thinking they can conquer the world. I have days where my students leave feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Despite my best attempts, I’m definitely not consistent.
I’ve taught certain courses year after year. Every year different. Every year the students in the class picked up on different elements. They fell in love with different elements. Despite the class having the same course code, the class wasn’t the same. It definitely wasn’t consistent.
Sure, they all learned the curriculum. They got to a point where their skills had improved. They achieved what they needed to to get the credit. But some worked harder than others. Some worked more creatively than others. Some learned more than others. Some started behind others, some started with the skills already in tact. They definitely weren’t consistent.
And there it is.
Consistency doesn’t happen from day to day, year to year or student to student. Consistency in education is a myth. Consistency is about connecting to the curriculum. Consistency is about recognizing that teacher to teacher things are different.
We need to start explaining this to parents and to students.
Things are different in this class. Not just the methodology of instruction, but assessment, and that’s because the students are different in this class. If we can learn to embrace student-directed learning, we’ll understand that learning isn’t consistent. It is messy. It is inefficient. Learning doesn’t happen the same way, ever, so why are we creating the myth that it should?
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