October 15

Ask, Don’t Tell: The Classroom Environment

The classroom is a very unique concept. Students and a teacher are in a room together for 7 hours every day, which can be longer than some students spend awake in their own homes each day. What does this mean for the teacher, and more importantly, what does this mean for the students?

Hopkins (2011) and Ayers (2010) introduce us to the world of positive environment creation, in relation to our school classrooms. Hopkins presents five key themes that every classroom should account for:

  1. Everyone has their own unique and equally valued perspective
  2. Thoughts influence emotions, emotions influence actions
  3. Empathy and consideration
  4. Needs and unmet needs
  5. Collective responsibility for problem solving and decision making

Not only do these themes encourage the development of an accepting and student-centred classroom, but they also promote the well-being of the students. This can be either social, emotional, cognitive, psychological, or otherwise. All of these themes are key to creating the highest functioning future generation.

Ayers complements these themes by discussing the multiple purposes that classrooms face and the challenges of incorporating all of these needs into one classroom environment. The following quote struck me from this reading:

image1
We as teachers have our own ideas when it comes to creating a learning environment, but sometimes our “adultness” removes our focus away from our students. We must consciously remind ourselves that the classroom is a shared environment and that we must hear from our students in regards to what environment they learn best in; we must ask, not tell our students where they want to learn.

In was regular during my time in elementary school that I would walk into a classroom on the first day of school and leave on the last day without the classroom environment changing. This meant that the same store-bought posters defining “perseverance” and telling us to “stand out and be unique” stared back at us for 10 months straight. Did that poster encourage me to persevere throughout the year? Not really. Would the concept have had a larger impression on me had we all created a piece of art that defined what perseverance meant to us, and then had them posted around the classroom? Probably. Why? Because the classroom would have been my environment for learning, a product of my creativity and learning.

This is exactly why the teacher must learn to step back from their authoritative role when it comes to creating a positive and enriching learning environment. The classroom might be home for the next 10 months to 31 people: 30 of which are students and 1 being the teacher. Who, then, is the environment truly for? Let students create their collective learning environment. Allow them to collaborate on the rules and goals of the classroom. Most importantly, ensure the students feel at home and included. The more comfortable the students are in their environment, the more enriching their learning will be.

October 14

Report Card Wows and Woes

Some kids get a laptop.

Some kids get grounded.

Other kids get a pat on the back. (… me)

In a child’s educational career, report card season can be one of the scariest and most dreaded times of the year. Every student wants to do well in school, but when it comes to report cards, their successes or shortcomings are in plain view for their teachers and parents to see. Can, then, the stress that comes along with distributing report cards be overshadowed because of the importance they contain?

Report Card2
Many teachers would probably say that report cards might be the least favourite part of their job. No, not because they take a very long time to write. Rather, it is difficult for teachers to represent months of a student’s accomplishments and experiences on a single sheet of paper represented by a single grade. If not analyzed properly, students and teachers might only see the grade and pass judgement based on that. However, it is almost impossible to paint a complete picture a months of work for anyone under those circumstances.

Despite multiple criticisms about the process, report cards are essential for informing parents of student progress, as they traditionally serve as the overall measure of assessment of a child’s success in school. Growing Success, albeit a government document, discusses the purpose of report cards:

“The report card grade represents a student’s achievement of overall curriculum expectations, as demonstrated to that point in time” (page 39).

This information can be used to communicate to students, parents, school administration, psychologists, and even college and university admission departments. So, yes, report cards do serve a useful purpose in the educational development of a student.

But back to my initial question: Can the stress that comes along with distributing report cards be overshadowed because of the importance they contain? I think the main problem with this whole situation is that there is stress, period. I understand that some students may not be proud of a particular mark they received, nor do they want to share it with their parents. Cooper had a great response to this topic, as one of his Guiding Principles states:

“A report card grade should not be a surprise to the teacher who determine it, nor to the student and parent who receive it” (page 212).

This is to say that teachers should be aware of all of their student’s progress, the student should be a self-reflective learner and know where they sit in terms of their achievement, and parents should be active members of their child’s education, thus getting involved with their learning and having check-ins with the teacher along the way.

And if parents or students are still scared about the upcoming report card distribution, you could always send home this letter a few days before they’re released:

Report Card

October 8

Rubrics: A Teacher’s Best Friend or Worst Nightmare?

Something that seems as straightforward as outlining four varying levels of accomplishment is far more complex than most people may expect. With the pressure of having to justify a given mark to students, teachers, or administrators, teachers have to be sure that the rubric provides adequate and accurate information about what is expected of the students’ work. All that work just to let a student know what mark they achieved? It’s far more than that. As Andrade states in her article Teaching With Rubrics: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly:

“We use them to clarify our learning goals, design instruction that addresses those goals, communicate the goals to students, guide our feedback on students’ progress toward the goals, and judge final products in terms of the degree to which the goals were met” (page 27).

Rubric
We all know how busy teacher’s are, which is why I found comfort in the fact that rubrics are not just simply statements of student achievement; rather, they are a product of the planning, implementation, and assessment processes. But what happens when we have students learning at different levels in our classroom (i.e. IEPs)?

When it comes to instructing students at varying levels, Cooper encourages everyone to adopt “differentiation”:

“[…] beginning with the same unit plan, lesson, or assessment task and then differentiating each of these according to the needs of groups of students in a given class” (page 136).

In Cooper’s text, we also learned that it’s not necessary to create rubrics for each individual student. As long as the content standards are in line with what is expected of each student, then the rubric can remain the same; the requirements of whatever is being graded will be the only thing that actually differs.

In conclusion, rubrics are a great tool, not only for the teacher but for students as well. Rubrics outline what is expected of them and what is required to achieve each specific grade level. Perhaps more importantly, rubrics answer the common question, “Why am I learning this?” by display to students the various learning outcomes that are clearly outlined.

October 7

Student Voice: A Response to “The Class”

The Class/Entre les murs introduces us to a year of teaching in an intercity school in Paris. With a group of unmotivated and disrespectful students, teachers are not able to take a regular approach to teaching; they must create their own style that targets the students within their classroom. Throughout the film, the audience questions the topic of “student voice” and whether or not M. Marin and the school are providing their students with enough opportunities to achieve this. Student voice involves providing students with a platform to share their input and be heard in a receptive way. While the concept seems great, just how valuable is student voice?

Student Voice2
I often catch myself asking the question, “What is the ultimate purpose of education?” Is it simply to learn a bunch of different things that the government deems valuable? Is it to prepare students to find a job and work? Is it to teach students to be contributing members of society? What I’ve come to find is that the purpose of education is far more complex, proving to have more purposes that I could ever define. But how much more could the students gain if they were contributing to their own education?

Students learn about issues in the world (pollution, racism, etc.) and people who are remembered for something great (Laura Secord), but are students being prepared to tackle these issues and be remembered for their contributions? I believe that teaching students about being a leader and a contributing member of society isn’t enough; we must provide them with the tools and characteristics to become that leader. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them.

Edutopia provides us with three reasons why student voice is key:

  1. What students have to say matters in how learning happens.
  2. Students have untapped expertise and knowledge that can bring renewed relevance and authenticity to classrooms and school reform efforts.
  3. Students benefit from opportunities to practice the problem solving, leadership and creative thinking required to participate in a decision-making school community.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/sammamish-2-including-student-voice-bill-palmer

As a teacher, we must learn to share the power of the classroom with our students, allowing them the opportunity to hold the reigns of their own education. Not only does this make students more engaged in their learning and learn more content because of their engagement, but it prepares them to be the best person that they can be. This is all we can really hope for as teachers.

Student Voice3

 

September 29

Self-Assessment and the Self-Reflective Learner

How great would it be if students were able to assess their own work? Even better, how great would it be if students assessed their own work throughout the completion process, allowing them reflect on the quality of their work and set goals for improvement?

Thankfully, self-assessment is a thing!

Self-Assessment
As educators, we can do so much than simply teach students the curriculum; we can teach them how to be independent, self-reflecting individuals. These qualities will prove to be extremely beneficial in all areas of the student’s life, extending beyond their time in the classroom.

By including students in the evaluation process through self-assessment, they develop the habit of self-reflection. They learn to define the qualities of good work, how to differentiate pieces of work against these qualities, how to step back from their work to assess their own efforts and feelings of accomplishment, and how to set personal goals. Ultimately, self-assessment teaches the students to be active learners, being alert and constructive during the entire process of learning.

Additionally, self-assessment teaches the student that the idea of assessment doesn’t have to be scary, related to grades on projects, or administered by a teacher. Rather, it shows students that assessment can be a useful tool in the process of work-completion, allowing them to reflect on what they have done so far, what they still need to do, and how they will get there.

Both Cooper (2010) and Gregory & Chapman (2013) provide us with various methods of completing self-assessment. Two of the methods that I find to be most beneficial, as presented by Cooper, are the survey and the checklist. The survey provides teacher with an indication of where the student’s attitudes and skills fall on a continuum. This can be a great tool prior to the beginning of a new unit or project, as it allows the student to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviours while also priming the teacher with areas that might need more attention.

Self-Assessment4
Checklists are a great tool in that they clearly define steps and tasks that must be completed, as outlined in the rubric. This is a great tool because it encourages the student to be self-reflective of their work, ensuring that every step and criteria has been met while also allowing them to be critical of the quality of their work.

Self-Assessment3
Gregory & Chapman show us that self-assessment is not only possible for individual work; it can be conducted for group work as well. The students are able to reflect on their own contributions, they effectiveness of their collaboration skills, and outline areas of improvement that they will strive for during future group activities.

I’ve had many opportunities for self-assessment throughout my education, specifically in high school and university. As a teacher, I am going to strive to implement reflection into all areas of learning, despite what grade I teach. It is never too early to begin working on bettering yourself as a learner.

Self-Assessment5

September 27

Hometown Poem

Waterloo

Wandering Waterloo
Flat like a meadow
Smells like success, opportunity, education
Hustle and bustle of people going to work
Everyone seems to have an idea that changes the world
I wanted to teach ever since I told my Kindergarten teacher so
Leaving Waterloo meant I got to start the rest of my life
I hope to be a teacher that changes many lives
Approachable yet confident demeanor which commands much respect
One smile can change someone’s life
Constant and unmeasurable growth

September 24

Motivating Students to Complete Assessments of Learning

Being an educator means more than just teaching your students the standardized curriculum administered by the government; rather, they seek to understand their students in a holistic sense in order to best support them in their learning. When the topic of late or incomplete assignments is mentioned, many people who are not a part of the education system feel like the “fail” label is appropriate for the student. If the work isn’t complete, then they get a zero and that’s that. But does that approach truly stem out of an unconditional support for the education of our younger generation?

Homework2
In Cooper’s text Talk about Assessment, he discusses the topic of students failing to complete assessments. He also addresses the threat of punishment approach to this topic (i.e., you don’t do the work, you get a zero). Cooper quotes Guskey & Bailey as they point out:

“No studies support the use of low grades or marks as punishments. Instead of prompting greater effort, low grades more often cause students to withdraw from learning (p. 64)”

What, then, is the proposed solution to this issue? How about addressing the problem before it occurs? Would teacher have to give a student a zero if the student was more inclined to submit their work?

This idea led me to think of a few ways that I would be able to adopt a proactive approach to this topic, especially given the urban setting of the school that I am currently doing my placement in (my Associate Teacher warned me that the students received very little support in their academics after school hours). After looking into a few different solutions, I have chosen two that would be easy to implement, yet affective in their approach.

The first idea came from reflecting on my own education experience. Why did I submit my work? Well, for a number of reasons:

  • To appease my teacher
  • To avoid a phone call home to mom and dad
  • To be viewed as smart by my peers
  • For self-affirmation in my own work ethic
  • To earn those stars in Mr. Devine’s Grade 5 class so that I would be one of the top 5 students that he would take out for lunch to Pizza Hut’s buffet

Yup, that last one was a huge motivator! Rewarding students for their efforts in completing homework and assignments is easy and effective. No student would pass up Pizza Hut, so they complete all their work in an effort to earn that reward. If we expect students to complete assignments, it has to be worth their time; there has to be some type of incentive to encourage students to complete their assignments.

Another idea would be to record the occurrences of late or missing assessments. This provides students, parents, and the teacher a tangible reflection of the work ethic and completion rate of the student’s work. No matter what the reason, if the assessment is not complete, the students would have to record this in a stationed “Incomplete Work Log”, outlining their name, the date, what was incomplete, and the reason. This forces students to truly reflect on why the task was incomplete while also making them accountable for their actions.HomeworkAs educators, we must continue to teach students in all areas of their life, even if that means teaching them the skills of time management, accountability, initiative, and homework completion. The curriculum is one half of education; the student as a person is the other.

September 23

My First Day of Community Service Learning

(It still blows my mind that I am now considered a teacher-candidate…)

Today officially marked the first day of my 8-month placement at Pinecrest Public School in Ottawa! Despite prepping my belongings the night before, waking up extra early, and grabbing a large regular coffee from the Tim Horton’s around the corner from the school (convenient, right?), I was still fairly nervous for my first placement of my Bachelor of Education.

Name Tag
The day started with a tour of school and its many resources. Albeit an “urban” school, Pinecrest is gifted with a massive property, featuring two soccer fields and scenic green spaces. What’s even better is that the classrooms have large windows that let in a great deal of natural lighting, which is something that not many schools can brag about. The school has two gymnasiums, one of which has a stage that the school performs plays on. Another amazing feature of the school is that has a woodworking shop – yes, Pinecrest is a K-8 school with a tech shop. Needless to say, I felt like I was in a high school! That is, until the bell rang and the students came inside…

Pinecrest3“Was I that small in grade 7?” was the first question that ran through my mind. But after that thought left my mind, I was excited to see the diversity of the students that walked through the halls. I was very impressed with the sense of inclusion that the student population exuded, proving yet again that the younger generation is the best example of how we should accept and celebrate each others differences.
Pinecrest2As the day continued, I jumped right into the role of a teacher, assisting students understand various concepts in Math, Language, and History. I also got to see the class in action as they had their music class. They were all learning how to play the ukulele – how awesome is that?! (Shout out to the recorder I got to play in grade 7…) I will admit that one of the biggest challenges I will face, no matter what class I teach, is remembering names. That skill just wasn’t a gift I was graced with, but I was proactive and requested a class list so that I could practice before next week!

Among the many programs that Pinecrest offers, about 6 students from my immediate class utilize the ESL (English as a Second Language) and ELD (English Literacy Development) programs. The ELD program is a new concept for me, but I am amazed with each new success story that I hear from the program. I am very interested to learn more about what goes into the program and potentially spend some of my CSL placement there.

The first of many projects that I will work on during my time at Pinecrest involves the school’s playground. Unfortunately, the playground was torn down 2 years ago when it was deemed unsafe, but has yet to be replaced. That being said, the kindergarten and primary students are left with a sandbox where the playground once stood, the extent of their “play area”. In an attempt to be awarded a grant from the Aviva Community Fund, I have taken on the task of creating a video of Pinecrest’s playground situation that will be submitted. Needless to say, I’ve been brushing up on my video editing “skills” and will be collecting footage next Wednesday, just in time for next Friday’s deadline. Fingers crossed that my video submission lead to Pinecrest being considered for funding!

Ideas are flowing, passion is ignited. I’m looking forward to round 2 next week!