A Visit with Dave Cormier

#tiegrad was lucky to have a late night chat with Dave Cormier. He was passionate about the ideas he shared and gave us a lot to think about. He began by sharing his thoughts on rhizomatic learning and equating it to invasive plant species. His explanation and his blog post helped me to have a better understanding of this. I have heard this term, and have had it explained a few times, but I didn’t have the connections needed to truly understand it until I looked at the ivy in my side yard. It is successful in taking over new places and popping up unexpectedly. It has no beginning or end, just like the learning process – as Dave states in his blogs.

What really stuck with a few of us is Dave’s explanation of his assessment practices. He speaks of an “open syllabus” in his blog post and shared a copy of his syllabus during our meeting. The importance of the open syllabus is that it allows learners to find their own paths and language of the learning process. To assess learners as they navigate these varied paths, Dave only assesses their effort. He asks his students to view the syllabus as a learning contract where they are required to participate in learning and reflection. Dave describes the lecturer as the “content expert”, but acknowledges that the learner is the one who decides what they would like to get out of participating in the course. The syllabus outlines what success looks like, and sets the tone for life-long, self-valued learning.

Negotiated assessment is an excellent goal. I try to use it in my own practice with my Middle School students. I give them a similar template to the report card that they will receive and ask them to provide feedback on whichever parts they would like. Some students assign letter grades, others reflect on their learning in words. Some provide feedback in all subject areas, others prefer to report only on areas of strength. I give them the same report card and ask for feedback on the same areas again, but this time with the focus on my teaching. Some students complete this form anonymously, others attach their names.

But, there are issues with self-assessment. I saw it with my own completion of the self-evaluation we were asked to do for our EDCI 569 course. I hesitated until the last possible minute to hand in the feedback. I struggled with the same things that some of my students do: self-doubt, honesty, humility, and comparison. Even when given a rubric (like the Masters level grading scale) it is difficult to assess your place on it without comparing yourself to other learners, past and present. And, comparing yourself to your best days and your worst times. Where do you fit in on that scale?

My highest achieving students regularly rate themselves lower than they should because they have become overly effective critical thinkers and as such, they over-think the reflective process. They would always like more time to polish their products, because they truly know learning is ongoing.

Self-evaluation is something that needs to be scaffolded for learners. There should be choice and dialogue built in and assigning numbers or grades should be optional. Maybe even the format of the self-assessment should be fluid, so that learners could customize the method of reporting? With tools such as Google Docs available, the teacher could list the outcomes of the project/unit of study/term and provide some structure for self-evaluation with the invitation to edit the evaluation as desired. If we are speaking of assessing effort, as Dave suggests, we need to also realize that the process a learner undergoes in reflecting upon their effort may vary. If you assess effort as part of your practice, please share your methods below.

I loved learning about Melody Watson’s assessment approach in her school, where the parents, teachers and students sit down together to complete the reporting process.

I imagine that this process would take a great deal of time, but having all voices present for this reflective time would provide a wealth of information. Parents would be able to provide more context for the discussions and time spent on informal learning beyond the classroom walls and the student would be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on their learning process. This dialogue can be extended through the use of digital portfolios – something that Melody already does with her learners. The portfolios allow all parties (parents, student and teachers) to comment on uploaded artifacts of learning. This would ensure that the meetings are focused and that nothing comes as a surprise to any of the participants.

Things are moving in a wonderful direction in education: honouring student interests, inquiry-based learning, and authentic assessment. It will be messy finding our way; but we are so lucky to be doing this in a time when sharing our practice, being transparent with our efforts (both the successes and the failures) are a part of the collective journey.

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#tiebc Chapter 4 The New Literacies

One chapter from Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think that brought about a vigorous discussion was Chapter 4: The New Literacies. Many teachers have used Wordle or have seen it used. Wordle creates a cloud of words by sifting through a selection of text. Frequently used words appear larger than words that appear less often. In my school, several teachers use it to sort key ideas in class discussions or to generate or organize ideas for student writing. A great idea from Bryan Jackson at the start of this term as we were working towards solidifying our Masters project topics was to drop all of our Masters blog posts into Wordle to help us visualize where our focus might actually lie. If we hadn’t lost our blogs in a security breach over the summer, this idea would have helped many of us!

The author shared a way that Wordle was used during the 2008 American Presidential election, where people used Wordle to find the big themes in campaign speeches. Wordle became a data analysis tool! This action revealed that one candidate was focusing on oil and energy and the other candidate’s main words were “children”, “Americans”, “make”, “care, and “need”. (Thompson, 2013) One possible president was sharing an urgent need to drill for oil as soon as possible and other contender had a more general focus addressing the needs of many.

Our book club was inspired by the idea of using Wordle to seek themes within text. Someone suggested that we take a look at the new BCEd Plan as viewed through Wordle. It is reassuring to see “students” at the heart of the plan! Wordle is not a perfect tool, as capitalized words or words with punctuation are recognized differently than the root words. However, overall, I believe that this word cloud represents the BCEd Plan fairly accurately.

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

I would really like to see particular words have a greater emphasis. For example, “personalized” is quite small, yet a lot of the language of teachers revolves around encouraging students to explore topics that they are passionate about in order to develop their skills as learners. “Interests” is about the same size as “personalized”, yet the two ideas feed each other to make learning more relevant for our students.

Another word that is missing emphasis for me is “authentic”. Teachers all over the province are striving to provide meaning for their students by providing real-world relevance to their learning experiences. In my opinion, “authentic” should appear quite heavily emphasized in this document, as the learning experiences and the assessment practices should be reflective of the opportunities that are available in this digital age. Students are constantly learning beyond the classroom and are finding strategies to learn what they want to know using the various tools that are available. Teachers are working to support students in developing digital literacies and smarter searching skills. Our assessment practices should be a source of feedback that feeds ongoing learning, supports further inquiry, and opens opportunities for more questions. In my experiences as a learner, authentic assessment has inspired more learning and conversations as opposed to ending my learning (for example, end of unit tests).

The document that accompanies the BCEd Plan is our new BC Curriculum, where we look at assessment through the lens of competency, yet the word “competencies” is very small in the actual Ed Plan document.

The Wordle reveals that the BCEd Plan slogan matches the text of the document: “Students must be at the centre of their learning”. “Students” are indeed at the centre of the Wordle, surrounded by “education” and “learning”. This document withstood the 2008 campaign speech test.

Using Wordle this way made me think about my own teaching practice. If I were to record my own words with my students for a week, what would the Wordle reveal? What words would be emphasized and what would that say about me? What bad habits do I have in my speaking? How is my tone? Wordle can force me to be honest about my word choice.

How have you used Wordle? What did you learn?

 

References:

Thompson, C., 1968. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. New York: The Penguin Press.

Reflective Teaching – Day 20

Te@chThought‘s Day 20 Challenge is: “How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Ah, this is the dream! The unfortunate answer is that I don’t curate student work. Our province has very strict rules about student privacy and we don’t yet have a plan for storage. I dream of eportfolios in my future!

We curate in limited ways. Before parent conferences, or reporting periods, I have my students identify works showing improvement, showing areas of strength, showing change. I have students self-select items for assessment. We use Social Media carefully in our class, and sometimes we share out moments or artifacts of learning that are meaningful.

I think that Middle School aged learners should be encouraged to curate their own personal learning artifacts. They can select items for their own purposes, and we should be listening to their reasoning about why they selected particular pieces. Curation can be on a large scale, such as eportfolios or on a smaller scale, such as scrap-booking or archiving. Sharing can be global through Twitter or blogs, or can be private between students/families/teacher.

Reflective Teaching – Day 19

Te@chThought‘s Day 19 Challenge is: “Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

Three ways students can reflect on their own learning are:

  • in discussions with partners, parents, peers, or teachers
  • in writing: blogging, journaling, tickets in/out the door
  • self-assessments: pre/post activity, using similar language that the assessment tool will use.

I usually use the first two methods together for student reflection. Sometimes a students can be too critical of their work or have tunnel-vision about one element requiring attention. By discussing their thoughts (usually with a friend) first, they can check their reflection against someone else’s perception. I don’t get to meet with every student every day, there just isn’t time, so by having students complete tickets in/out the door, or blogging or journaling, I can have an ongoing conversation with them. I can not ask a student to stay late every day to continue a conversation about learning, but I can take all of those pieces of paper home with me and read and reflect on their thoughts. Then, I can take the time to respond to what they have shared. It takes time! A lot of time.

I am always impressed when students begin including more reflection as part of their other work. We complete a Math Problem Solving activity during the week, and several students this year spent more time reflecting on the process they took individually or in groups to solve the problem. They began to place more emphasis and importance on process rather than product.

I am curious about how others manage to build in time for reflection for their learners. How do you teach the value of this skill? How do you model it?

Reflective Teaching – Day 17

Te@chThought‘s Day 17 Challenge is:”What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

I would like to see the issue of class size addressed. I usually have 30 students in a class and it is difficult to meet the needs of all learners each day. There are usually students who require more support, and others are very independent. And, occasionally students are in crisis and needing a great deal of time and attention. Effective pedagogy requires flexibility and a willingness to try new things, and be prepared for tangents. It can be difficult to even find enough resources to support all learners in a variety of academic pursuits.

My ideal class size limit for Middle School would be 21. Teaching grade six in our district means this is the first year for Middle School, a terrifying and exciting prospect for many learners. Middle School also marks the start of enormous class sizes for the first time for many students. With 30 students packed into a space designed for 24, there is not a lot of flexibility in how you lay out the space, how you proceed with transitions, and how regimented your “unstructured” time becomes – for safety reasons alone!

21 students in a class would encourage:

  • more one-on-one time for each learner
  • face-to-face meetings for feedback
  • opportunities to personalize programs
  • time to connect
  • flexible groupings
  • collaborative space design
  • every student could have a voice
  • partnerships in the school/community/global village
  • easier access to field trips
  • reduced anxiety and deeper sense of community and belonging

Our current model still seems to hold fast to the Industrial model of lecturing pupils sitting in neat rows. In reality, learning has become dynamic, messy, loud, and student centred. To do this effectively, we need to use our space and manpower respectfully.

 

Reflective Teaching – Day 14

Te@chThought‘s Day 14 Challenge is: “What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Feedback for learning feeds student learning. Using it effectively allows students to check their own progress as it relates to learning targets. This type of feedback provides suggestions about strategies or directions to pursue next. It is an honest conversation between people who are interested in learning.

I am still developing skills in this area. Some of my beliefs support this type of feedback, for example, no test/quiz in my room is ever “over”. Any learner can redo any assessment at any time without any penalty. I don’t average marks.

I give better feedback for learning in language arts than I do in math. In language arts my students write responses to what they are reading, and I write back to each student. I ask questions and seek deeper thinking. We maintain a conversation about great books, and students quickly realize that they need interesting books to read in order to participate in interesting conversations!

In math, I find that I am able to give feedback in problem solving, but in all other areas my students and I are dependent on the numbers: what did I get out of 20? I have asked them to identify strengths and weaknesses, and always give opportunities to improve, but for most students it becomes just a score, not feedback.

I am hoping that as our reporting process moves away from letter grades and into portfolios or reflective practices, feedback for learning will be better understood and become an expectation in our schools.