This year I had the privilege of teaching a History 12 class at our school. I get the course about once every three years. Our school is shrinking and this means we often don’t have enough students to run a section of the course every year.
In BC, this course is 20th Century World History. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 which brought WWI to a close and arguably launched WWII. The Russian Revolution and communism. The Depression, especially the impact in the US and Roosevelt’s New Deal. The rise of fascism and totalitarian governments. This year we focussed on the Spanish Civil War. WWII and the rise of the Cold War. Korea, Vietnam, Apartheid, India. The Middle East. The Civil Rights Movement in the US. It is great history, with little time to dig deeply into everything, so choices usually need to be made about where to skim along the surface, and where to dive. I prefer the diving.
During the year, I provided opportunities for students to write and discuss ideas together on our class blog, to research, to do the basic textbook work, take notes, and write essay exams. But I kept thinking and thinking about the final assessment. I wasn’t sure what to do, or how to tie it all together and get a sense of how the students had really integrated the information, ideas, patterns and essential questions. I wanted to step outside the box and see what might happen.
In the end, I decided on a trial run. I couldn’t guarantee that the test would work, and I also didn’t want to throw the group into a tailspin in June of their graduating year. I ran it as a seminar conversation, but didn’t assess the students at all. I just asked them if they would help me see if the test would do what I wanted it to do.
I worried unnecessarily. I think the assessment would work, and better yet, really get at the big picture. Here’s what I did:
The essential question I asked was something along the lines of, “The 20th Century was a clash of social, political and economic ideologies.” I asked them to consider the material we had covered and examine the Left vs Right political ideology chart from Information is Beautiful.
I centred the image on a piece of flip chart, and we sat around and discussed the image in relation to the topics we had covered. I recorded as much as I could as we chatted, but only in very brief detail as I was also facilitating the conversation.
At first, the students weren’t sure they had anything to say, but as we examined the chart, ideas started to flow. They started to see the logic of the assessment. I got some feed back that they would enjoy the style of test.
They could see both where ideology had played a role in conflicts, but also when the chart fell apart and the motivation of nations and individuals was more about nationalist or autocratic goals rather than ideology.
They were applying the chart to historical events, as well as considering again where their own ideology might best fit. Early on in the semester we had taken a political ideology test, so it tied back into that conversation as well.
I liked it. We had aha moments, and I could tell the students had learned a great deal. What I really love is to watch students see their own brains work, and to be excited by it.
If I get a chance to teach the course again, I’ll do it.
The students would know what the exam is from the beginning of the course. I would give them a two hour assessment slot, and they would be allowed to bring a sheet of notes.
I have some work to do in terms of the actual assessment rubric and the essential question needs work, but I think this would be a great final.
Here’s hoping I get to try out!
I appreciate this description by Noah Finklestein of why it is important to tailor good ideas to meet the needs of a community. It creates ownership and is more likely to succeed because it is shaped by the people who know the students and their needs.
As usual, the twitterverse led me to various places of discovery and thought in the field of education this weekend. On the one hand, I was exhorted by Grant Wiggins to back off, to teach less, in order to give students the autonomy they need to apply what we have taught them.
Then again, E.D. Hirsch Jr. tells me that I should not be spending valuable time on how-to-ism. Instead, increasing domain-specific knowledge and vocabulary is the best way to improve learning and increase equality.
Sigh. Both of these articles posit assertions that make complete sense to me, and I am quite certain we need to be doing both, not one or the other. Nor am I suggesting the articles are diametrically opposed.
Essentially, I don’t think that we should allow the pendulum to swing away from intense, domain specific study. In order to think, students must have something to think about. However, they also need time to apply what they have learned, and see how it informs areas of their world that we did not get around to ‘covering’.
Both are right. There is no time to waste at school. What we do matters. Each decision, each lesson, each student, each time.
Looking for an authentic writing experience for your students? Here is the information on the BCTELA contest:
I was unable to upload these documents onto the BCTELA website this morning, so I am temporarily linking them here so we can get the contest going:
2012-2013 Voices Visible Rules and entry form - REVISED!
The Provincial Specialist Association of BC Teachers of English Language Arts puts out a publication of student writing. The contest is free, and the deadline for submissions is April 30, 2013. We’d love it if you would help your students publish!
I have been sitting and staring at a blank page, and toggling back to Twitter, Facebook, and BBC news for the past thirty minutes. Let’s be honest; I have repeated this useless process several times in the last couple of months.
I have been somewhat distracted by… work.
I know I have a lot to write about, but whatever it is, it has yet to make itself clear. And yet, I miss writing. It is a hole, an ache, even.
I am going to use the “write anyway” strategy and see what pops up.
One thing on my mind is the issue of audio books and whether they ‘count’ for the independent reading portion of our courses.
I was thinking about it the other day when I ran into a blog, Caution: Use as Directed, a blog by Jane Kise about the reading of, rather than the viewing of, Shakespeare.
It got me thinking about the audiobook as an art form, and the telling of story as an oral language activity in its own right. Of course, I have always read to my high school classes, and I am a good reader, so my son tells me. He’s pretty good himself.
I also use audio books for anchor texts in my classroom. One the favourites at our school in Grade 9 is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Alexie reads it himself, brilliantly, and we all read along because of the funny and brutally honest comics that are scattered through the book. Another author who also reads some of his books is Neil Gaimon, and I have used all or parts of Odd and the Frost Giants and The Graveyard Book.
Audio books are so gorgeous these days. They are sometimes acted (read?) by an ensemble cast, as in Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori series where the male role is read by Kevin Gray and the female role is read by Aiko Nakasone. Sometimes, the voices of many characters are acted by a single narrator, as in Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider read brilliantly by Brendan Fraser.
But. When we get to our desire to have students read independently, do we ‘count’ audio books? My book-lover, story-lover self says, A book, no matter whether the student reads it her or himself, is still a story that got told, a story that got heard. The reading teacher in me says, They have to read. They have to read. How else will they learn to read?
Where are you on this one? What are your favourite audio books for high school?
Now, I better go make breakfast. And, truth-be-told, get on with my semester-end assessments that are waiting and the real reason for this Sunday morning procrastination!
It’s been a while since I took the time to write. I have been swamped since I decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge with a few of my Grade 8s.
Our school recently switched to a linear Humanities in Grade 8. Because I get the students all year for English and Social Studies, I felt that the class time I would devote to the project would be worth it. I wanted them to commit to trying to write (almost) everyday, figure out a word count goal for the month and then experience the process of sticking to it. Four students agreed to the challenge, although a few others were tempted.
The rest of the class carried on with our usual routines and work, although I planned content that would allow me to teach mini-writing lessons. I delivered a short story unit and assigned a creative writing project for the whole class. The “Nanos” would stick around for writing lessons, or pick up homework they would do at home and then go find a computer in the library or lab.
Here is the link to the Young Writer’s Project. There are some great writing resources and lesson plans here. There are tons of resources if you plan to bring the whole class along for the ride.
Next time I would plan a smoother set of lessons. I wasn’t entirely happy with the flow, but we aren’t done yet. Regardless, the project was worth it. Two students decided to co-author a novel based in the Middle Ages. Each of them took a character to write. Another student is working on a dystopia. and another is writing a zombie story. They will continue to work on the writing for the rest of the year.
I decided to take the challenge, too, although it was a very last minute decision. Teaching does not afford a lot of extra time and while the young writer’s can set their own word goal, mine was pre-set at 50 000. But, if not this year, then when? Sometimes you just have to leap. So I leapt. Creative writing is something that I usually do in small bits, mainly for modelling a strategy or genre in class, but I never really tried to do it in a serious way.
We felt pushed, and like we were doing something real. We were able to cheer each other on, and talk like ‘real writers’. They are pumped for next year!
My idea was that I could share my writing with them, however, I was not really able to pause long enough to think about what and how. Now that the challenge is over, I can pull some pieces and get them to help me make them better.
I have ordered us t-shirts. We are recovering from the hard work and have set aside our writing for now, but we’ll get back to it and see where it leads the rest of the year.
As far as authentic learning, for authentic audiences, this one is a keeper!
Here are the links I have received so far for discussion today:
Assembly of First Nations AGM 2010, Murray Sinclair and the Truth and Reconciliation commission speech.
If you read my final blog post of the last year, you will know that I am struggling with assessment, and how assessment can shape learning.
I want assessment to be for learning, not of learning. I ran into this blog this morning, and loved the description of ass-ass method of teaching writing. The rest of the blog post is worth reading as well.
Assessment of learning, if that is all that is ever done, implies that students can’t grow intellectually and that they can’t develop greater skill.
It’s a fixed mindset, and in my view has done untold damage to broad range of students.
Many of my students suffer from the perception that there are smart students, and they get As and Bs. They have this school thing cracked, and there is nothing to do but keep raking in the marks.
Then there are other students. They ‘understand’ they are ‘dumb’, and will stay that way, and will probably pass and even often graduate, but what we are doing in school actually has little to do with them.
All my jumping up and down, and motivating, and cajoling, and sometimes crying is just amusing (and sometimes alarming) and mostly they humour me, but everyone seems to know where they fit.
There is no fix. The game is fixed. Our minds are fixed.
It’s all wrong, and I want to get off this train-track to nowhere, or kinda-somewhere.
As per my previous post, I have been implementing a lot of the strategies recommended by the assessment for learning research. We make learning intentions clear, we are focussed on skills and essential questions, we examine exemplars, students construct rubrics, we assess exemplars.
I have stopped giving grades until I have to, and use description instead. I ask students to self-assess, but the results have been underwhelming.
My practice has changed radically and I have learned a great deal. I need this to be true for students.
The next area of improvement, I had decided, was student portfolio and student self-assessment. I am working on integration of that process. But, the other day, via Twitter, I ran into this Sea to Sky Learning blog on the science lab write-up. The teacher has been struggling with making descriptive feedback on lab write-ups matter.
The key to Karen’s process is that all labs will be in a Lab Duotang. The feedback will also be placed there. Then, when the next lab is submitted, the student must write a cover letter in which they explain what areas they sought to improve, based on the feedback from the previous lab. The letter is in the form of ‘please notice that I worked on….’
I love this and I think it will make the routine feedback vastly more … routinized. I can use the doutangs to talk with students and parents, to write interim reports.
How to make this work in my Humanities classes? There are two key areas where I would like to see students be more self-evaluative, as a start.
First, I want them to ‘own’ the information we learn. The only way to do this is to show their thinking. This is personalized learning for all students. I want to hear their voices, and I want them to hear their voices. I want them to inquire, and see their brains on fire. We learn when we write (it’s happening to me right now), so I want to see them write more frequently about what they think about when we consume information, and why it matters, how it connects to their lives, how it expands their understanding, and so on.
Secondly, I want them to think about themselves as learners and as members of a learning community.
So, for starters, two sections of the Learning Duotang, one for Voice (response to information, response to literature) and one for Participation. This word, participation, is a very loaded term in assessment. What I am trying to express is the idea of active involvement in learning, whether it is taking place in a full-class setting, in a group, or as an individual. What is a phrase or word that can capture that? Active involvement? I want to students to become aware, if they have not already, of the absolute necessity of their active involvement in the learning process. Oral language assessment is part of it. Social responsibility is also a part of it.
I’d sure love some help thinking this through.
As the year progresses, I would think that students could pick an area in which they want feedback and improvement. The learning goals could become differentiated by student in a more specific way.
I glanced at next week’s calendar and was shocked to realize my interims for the first four weeks are due on Wednesday, by 8:30. It’s too soon, but there it is on the calendar.
When I read the date, I had this frisson of panic. Did I have anything to report? Numbers, I thought. How will I have numbers by Wednesday??
Geography 12 -relatively easy. We finished a unit, we had a unit test, but the writing we are working on is only in the development stages.
However, my Humanities 8 and 9 classes are really only starting to roll toward a product I could assess. We have been working on building community, we went on a field trip to the local Historic Park, we have lost a few blocks to school-wide events, we have been setting up routines. Of course we have been working on content, as well. We have dealt with some great content, as a matter of fact.
These are full-year courses, so there is not much to say yet.
I thought to myself in panic, I have two days to get some kind of number!!!
Wait a minute.
This is a trap, an old, rusty, and dangerous trap.
I remind myself that I have said to the students about five times, “We are not filling in pieces of paper, we are becoming educated!!” I know this, I believe this, I am completely confident with how the classes have been running, and yet, all of a sudden I am wishing for neat stacks of filled-in pieces of paper with numbers so that I can press a button and get some data.
Sigh. Real change is hard. Thankfully, during a lunchtime read through my Twitter feed I came across Chris Kennedy’s blog, and it reminded me that I am on the right track.
We are not filling in pieces of paper. We are not doing busy work. We are learning, and we are getting to know each other. There will be information on the interim about how the students are doing. However, numbers will have nothing to do with it, not this early in the process.
How I wish there would never be numbers.