Sunday, August 19, 2018

Midterm Conferences & Term Reflection 2.0

Another overdue blog entry! Better late than never.

I wanted to share the new experience with midterm conferences in second semester (as students were more involved with the learning map and I made some tweaks to the reflection they were doing).

Student Reflection

This time around, students were better able to make use of the learning map. Since they had since it since the first week of the course they had a better understanding of what the map meant and how to use it. This meant that student's evaluation of themselves was generally more realistic. It also meant that students were better able to identify what they were doing well, and what they needed to set out as a next step (which meant that the report comments they helped me write were more meaningful).

Student Conference

Conferences were close to student-led conferences. More of them were prepared to show me evidence of their learning and defend their self-evaluation. Some were still under prepared, but there were a lot fewer that needed to go back to do the reflection before re-booking their conference.

Overall there was still some separation between where students believed they were and what I had seen, but it was a lot easier to ask them for evidence of the learning, which led to students doing some reflection in the moment and often realizing that they had not yet shown me something. They were productive conversations and students sometimes expressed they wanted to have more of them (they are time consuming, but I hope to find more and more ways to give students this individual time that they need).

Term Reflection

Some student feedback and personal reflection led me to realize that the reflection I was having students do was not as productive as it needed to be. At midterm I still had students identify a strength and need for each OLG and then evaluating using the learning map. Problem was, they were not engaging enough with the evidence of learning they had identified (and it was a little redundant), So I changed the first chart they were willing in to look like this: (note, you can see the previous version here)

Feel free to borrow and tweak this if you are interested!

Send me a tweet or comment on this blog if you have any other suggestions, ideas, or questions. Would love to hear from you :)

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Gradeless" Math 2.0

Well the blog updates got pushed to the bottom of the to-do list in second semester (not unusual) so this is a tad overdue, but I wanted to share some of the changes that my reflection on first semester lead to.

Some context:
- first semester did not have a learning map with descriptors until after midterm (I did not find I was able to write clear descriptors that I liked until I had evidence of student learning to use to write them)
- the learning map was not clear to students and since they had not engaged with it during the semester having them do final reflections and self-evaluate their course mark was difficult for them
- students relied heavily on the teacher for feedback

And so I set out in the second semester to make some changes. As many of you will be able to relate to, my thought process was more ambitious than life would allow for.

The new iteration (Gradeless 2.0):
- I added to my deconstruction of curriculum to include the learning map (read here for a description of the first week of class in Semester 1, I kept the math processes part and then the grades 10s did the following instead) by cutting up the map into pieces and giving it to them to put together (this forced them to read at least parts of the map and start to become familiar with it)
- Trying to spend more time modelling the use of criteria and feedback for students and giving them more dedicated time to do assessment as learning (trying to help them be less reliant on the teacher)
- Having students engage in the learning map by self-evaluating at the end of each set of summative evaluations (admittedly, this happened after the first set but did not get done in explicit class time after that)

New reflections:
- The new iteration was time well-spent. Students definitely had a better grasp of what the map was intended to do and were more comfortable using it (not all of them, there is still some work to be done, perhaps a more pointed effort to conference with students more often)
- I want students to refer to the map more to increase their focus on identifying where they are and what their next steps might be (keep the focus on noticing and naming the learning and reflecting on their progress)
- Students seemed to appreciate the transparency. One going as far as to say "I finally know what it means to be a level 4 in math" and used this as a way to help himself set goals
- The feedback at the end of the course from my students shows that even the ones who rated the learning map on the low side liked the idea of it, they just found it confusing at times

So it seems like the learning map is something I should continue to pursue and should put a focus on helping to make it more student friendly - I am just not sure what that would look like yet. I wonder if there is  way to make it a bit more interactive so that students can see examples of some of the more confusing parts or read explanations of terms.

If you have any suggestions they would be welcome!

Happy summer!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

JALI Assessment As Learning Reflection

As many of you who have read one of my blog entries already will know, I am have been on a journey to improve my understanding and use of assessment in my teaching practices over the past few years. In semester 1 of this year I had the opportunity to participate in one of my school's "mini courses" offered for teachers. This one was lead by one of my colleagues and was to work on our use of assessment AS learning.

This is an area that I feel I have continued to struggle with but know that I need to tap into better. In order to survive in my quest (see recent post on this quest) for a feedback-focused math classroom I need to tap into the skills of my students to give themselves (and each other) effective feedback. Students deserve feedback, and getting them involved in the process engages them in the learning better, makes evaluation more transparent, and makes teacher workload a bit more manageable.

I was able to be exposed to some strategies I had not considered in my classroom before the JALI course and am now trying some new things in semester 2. My goals are for students to:
- engage in the learning map more regularly
- do more co-construction of criteria
- explicitly use criteria to give each other (and self) feedback on their work
- (and by extension) for students to better self-identify their needs

I am grateful for colleagues who are so willing to share their experiences and expertise with others and found sharing with the other course members was a reward in itself!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reflecting on "Gradeless" Math - Modelling Life-Long Learning

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

As the title of this entry may suggest this entry is serving as a place to express my thoughts around how last semester went and the changes I am hoping to make. My desire is that this "public diary" will help me to be accountable to my goals, will inspire someone else to take a risk, and will model that we (teacher) practice what we preach - we are all learners.

What worked well that I will continue:

  • Having students engage in deconstructing curriculum (specifically the math processes and instructional language)
  • Making students reflect on their learning (often!)
  • Having a grounding document for evaluation (learning map with overarching learning goals)
    • evaluation is based in criteria
  • Having students analyze their evidence of learning to determine their grades (and conferencing about it)
  • Constructing success criteria with students
What I will strive to do better:
  • Engage in curriculum deconstruction more frequently (not just at the beginning of the course)
  • Doing more explicit instruction around reflection (how, when, why)
  • Helping students understand where they currently are (map was not ready until midterm last semester, students did not know how to use it or make meaning from it) so they can better match evidence of learning to the map and, therefore, determine a midterm and final term grade
  • Teaching students to self- and peer-assess and give appropriate, meaningful feedback
  • Spending time getting students to co-construct criteria for types of questions or tasks (and for daily topics)
  • Getting students to self-identify as needing help and committing to getting that help (perhaps with a simple Google form)
  • Collecting student feedback on my practices
What I will do differently:
  • Provide a copy of the completed learning map from the start of the course to each student
  • Engage students in the use of the map frequently
  • Scaffold student note-taking based on investigative learning (i.e. in the early stages I am publishing a "note outline" that asks prompting questions indicating that there is something they should take note of/think about
Future goals and desires (that are just not realistic right now):
  • Have a usable learning map for the other course(s) I am teaching 
  • Engage same-subject colleagues in work around assessment practices [we are engaging in some "department" professional learning time in the coming weeks that may help with this]
  • Be better at recording observation and conversation assessment data of student learning

Seeking "Gradeless" Sanity

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

It has been awhile since my last entry. Life and work got a little overwhelming, in retrospect. The midterm part of the semester contributed to that (you can read about it here) on top of having 3 straight days of PL/a conference to attend to and I was well behind where I would have liked to be in terms of giving feedback to student. Summative evaluations began to pile up, the essentials had to be prioritized and returned first. No matter what anybody tells you, 84 students is a lot.

But too often this number of students for a secondary educator is a normal reality. So we need to make this better. We need to find ways to meet student's needs, give them the feedback they need and deserve, and still come out sane on the other side. I wish I could tell you that this reflection was going to provide you with the magic answer. But...I don't have it...


I am determined to find a way. I am determined to figure out how to be able to leverage students to become effective self- and peer-assessors, despite having a curriculum that is loaded so heavily with content. There must be a way. I have spent time reading (and even talking to) Starr Sackstein and reading books about descriptive feedback. I have spent time talking to other educators, in various subjects, who are on a journey to better feedback (many of whom are on a journey to "gradeless" - or at least "grading less"). And I am sold - I have "drank the kool-aid" (as many have put it). I believe that what I am trying to do is good for kids - that it leads to improved learning and skill building, better self-confidence, ownership of learning, and is more likely to lead to growth mindset of life-long learning. What I am not able to find, is anyone who can help me find solutions that work in a content-based subject/curriculum. I believe that what I see now would make for some amazing learning in language classes. But I am still struggling to wrap my head around how it is possible to meet with provincial policy (i.e. cover the expectations of my course) and still be sane at the end of the school year.

Here is what I know:

1. Overarching learning goals and my learning map provide:
  • Focus for my course
  • Direction for students
  • Clear, transparent assessment & evaluation that is rooted in curriculum & policy
  • A third point for conversation around evaluation and reporting
  • Something tangible for students to deconstruct and make meaning from
  • A way for students to engage in self- and peer-assessment (descriptive feedback)
  • A way for students to self-evaluate (know where they are)
2. Overarching learning goals and my learning map do NOT (yet?) provide:
  • A way to help students see that sometimes the skills are hindered by the content knowledge (i.e. why they are meeting expectations in this area when studying trigonometry, but may not be when studying quadratic relations)
  • the ability to "spiral" material in a course that has curriculum strands that are not related in any obvious ways (but this is also something I could see working on in the future)
  • A way for students to give themselves and others feedback around individual content criteria needed (and honestly, I would love to de-emphasize this in my head as I honestly believe that mathematical thinking skills are the most important part)
  • An effective way to record evidence of learning so I can track student progress (I am finding recording to be much more time-consuming than in the past)
3. Giving descriptive feedback helps:
  • Students focus on learning
  • Teachers focus on what is the most important at the time
  • Students to identify potential next steps
  • Students improve their learning
  • Show students what you really value
4. Giving descriptive feedback takes:
  • Time (giving "out of" marks is definitely faster, but I still very much believe has little real value)
  • Effort
  • Additional thought
  • You to an uncomfortable place (so much cognitive dissonance!)
5. No matter how many times I am kicked down, I love what I do. And I will bounce back. I will accept my short-falls in the past, set goals for the future, and keep coming back for more.