Sunday, September 25, 2016

Cultivating Thinking in the Classroom

Reflecting upon the first few weeks of school has helped me purposely and precisely decide what is important in my classroom. It has allowed me to shed the burden of teacher guilt about not doing enough content, not grading enough papers, not being successful in the application of new teaching strategies. I'm letting that go as I work on modelling patience, perseverance, using mistakes to revisit tasks.

I'm spending more time thinking about what I am doing and how this will be visible in the learning of my students. And because I want to see the learning, I'll need to track some of the details from day to day.

I've used two tools to help me with this and both tools require complete transparency with the students. I want them to own their learning and to value assessment as a tool for improvement.

One tool is my Observation Template:
I'm using this tool for looking at the process of learning that is visible in the classroom.

The other tool is Feedback:
I'm using this tool for looking at specific skills. One of the most useful articles that I've ever read about feedback is here. If I'm honest with myself, I've been doing this feedback thing all wrong.

Once a mark goes on the work, the learning is over. Feedback, on the other hand, gives students information that the task needs changes before the learning is evaluated.

I am going to let my students know that the comments will be about the work and not the person. I still value praise and encouragement, but I won't give this on papers. I will give it in person so conferencing will become a regular part of my class routine. For each assignment, I'm going to check in with the student and give them targeted praise and encouragement.

Cultivating thinking in my classroom will take time. It will take more than observations and feedback. But for now, I'm shedding the guilt and focusing on making positive changes which visibly promote learning and deepen understanding in myself and my students.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Change takes time and care

I started teaching at a new school two days ago. It's always a challenge to learn the new rules: where's the photocopier? where's the bathroom? who can fix my computer? which printer?

But, this week, I tried to see this change through the eyes of a grade 9 student at South Carleton and I realized that my anxieties are small compared to theirs. Watching the fear on their faces as they entered the gym to meet their cheering Link Crew members, nearly brought me to tears. Some of them needed some quiet, some space, more time for such a big change in their young lives.

I feel fortunate to have two classes of grade 9 students and the four days of this week will focus on making them feel welcome, and creating a caring environment where they know they will be supported in learning.

I started my classes sharing information that I thought they should know about me.

I then asked the students to complete a few short questions on a handout. I asked them what they felt I needed to know (do they play competitive sports, or music, or travel between their parents' homes). I also asked them what they would study if they could study any topic possible, what they are concerned about in English, and what they are really good at.

Most had difficulty answering questions about themselves, and even though this task is not directly linked to an expectation in the curriculum, the observations gave me information that will shape my practice around meta cognition. It's the first time that I have used this questionnaire, and I'm glad that I did it. I'm glad that I decided to follow the Finnish model and take time to learn about my students. All change takes time.