Monday, October 24, 2011

Gold Nuggets from Pro-d Day: Think Big and Start Small

I attended an inspiring and energetic presentation today in my school district titled "Show What You Know" The focus of the presentation was on how to provide students opportunities to both learn new information and  show their knowledge in ways in addition to traditional reading and writing and how to properly assess these opportunities.  In other words, it was a great reminder of what good teaching practice looks like.

Here are some of the big ideas that were discussed:

1. Think big and start small.
I'm an idea person and I have no shortage of things I want to accomplish in my role as a DL teacher. One slide "Think big and start small", resonated with me. I need to list and outline my projects, prioritize and then take one action, however small, towards reaching my goals.

2. Create communities.
Students need to feel a part of a community to feel comfortable to take risks, to be part of something that would be less without them. Despite my students being primarily online, creating a sense of community is vital yet obviously a challenge for a number of reasons.

3. Get students out of their comfort zone but not into a fear zone.
Too often in the distributed learning world, we start with trying to give the students what they want, but not necessarily what they need. In a DL course student can be in the fear zone because of the computer technology itself. Good design should take away that fear and make way for learning to occur.

4. Bring attention to learning outcomes and assess based on those outcomes.
This is an example of good practice that can be overlooked. In an online course, Ministry standards dictate that the learning outcomes be visible. Many of the older courses can have up to fifteen objectives for one lesson! This is overkill for the students for sure. In addition the criteria for assessment is often based not on the learning objectives but vague things like effort and creativity. I like the example given "The poster title" where a student can work for hours on a beautiful poster but not actually include the necessary content and therefore not earn a good mark. A good point was made that a different rubric does not have to be made for every choice in a project assignment if the assessment reflects the required content. In an age of limitless online free tools, I think we need to be careful that we are still assessing what we want our students to know.

5. Choice that doesn't overwhelm.

While the learning outcomes should be the same, the way a student can show their learning can be in different ways. Singing, drawing on windows, filming, modelling and movement are all choices. I have incorporated some assignments in my online course where there is more choice. Ironically, I have seen where too many choices can be overwhelming. Especially for students working online and mostly independantly, I need to provide exemplars, and clear criteria for these choices.

So thank you to Judith, Erica, Anita, Jeff and Naryn for providing focus to my ongoing goal of providing quality online learning as a choice for students in our district.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Call for Bonus Assignment Ideas

Here's a problem I bet every teacher wishes they had: A friend of mine (a math teacher) is continually getting asked by his students for bonus assignments so they can get extra marks. He recently put out a request on Facebook for help with some ideas about revamping his bonus assignments so that the assignments would contribute to his students becoming well-rounded citizens rather than just high achieving math students (thanks to his brilliant teaching I'm sure ;)).

So in response to his "contest" (who can't resist that?) here are my ideas for his prompts:

1. "Read a thought provoking inspiring book"
The Little Prince, The Alchemist, Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, The Phantom Tollbooth are all "quirky" yet thought provoking reads.  Here's a great list of books I just came across,  many of which I've read and have found inspiring and many I see that I'd like to still read (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for one). 

2. "A movie that illicts thought, reflection or emotion"  The Green Mile, Life is Beautiful, Gran Torino and Amelie are a few that come to mind.

For 3. "Attend a Cultural Event" and 4. "Learn or demonstrate a life lesson"  maybe add "....that is out of your comfort zone".

While these bonus assignments I'm assuming are to give students a chance to bring their mark up as much as possible (most likely to fulfill the expectations of parents and future educational instutitions), I love the idea that along the way they might just stumble upon an experience that is rewarding in itself. Good luck with that Mr. W!

...and if anyone else has some good ideas, let me know and I'll pass them along.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Grammar Instruction Within the Writing Process in a Moodle Course

I have been struggling for awhile to work toward implementing grammar instruction that is differentiated for individual students and is incorporated into the writing process. The following is what I plan to implement this year rather than including a comprehensive grammar workbook that is completed without any connection  to the rest of the course. 

Background: It is important to note that this is an online teaching environment and therefore limits and defines certain "best" practices.
The courses I teach include online asynchronous high-school English courses 8-12 using Moodle.  A wide range of students are enrolled in the program for various reasons (eg. At-risk, traditional “homeschoolers”, gifted and students travelling, or in a dedicated sport). Enrollment is small for each class and students are usually at different points in the course so group activities and collaboration is difficult.

Course: My English 8 and 9  courses are contributed to a consortium of districts,where a DL teacher in a small program often has a large number of courses to manage.

Goal: Personalize each student’s writing goals using a system that is realistic for a DL teacher of many students and many courses to manage. 

Create a repository of grammar and mechanics mini-lessons in a moodle book module. Each concept would include a definition and an opportunity to practice the concept (eventually in a choice of modes like printable worksheet, interactive game, audio etc.)

Have students complete a pre-assessment of grammar skills (moodle quiz) and do a writing sample and survey questions (assignment) at the beginning.

Using a Personal Editing and Revision Template (PERT), create individual checklists and revision criteria based on pre-assessments and writing samples.  This would be added to throughout the course. Each student would have roughly the same number of items to focus on, although each student’s list would be personalized for that student.  

Process: (Moodle Instructions in grey)
  1. Student submits draft of a writing assignment after referring to rubric which includes specific grammar and usage outcomes.
(label file to be uploaded as draft+assignment title) 
  1. Teacher gives feedback on assignment and updates and attaches PERT
           (attach to assignment)
  1. Student revises and edits based on checklist.
  2. Resubmits assignment
(label finalcopy+assignmentname)
  1. Final mark assigned based on:
    1. Evidence of revision based on outcome of assignment
    2. Evidence of editing checklist being used.
    3. Summative assessment based on rubric
  (put in mark and attach completed rubric)
As a final writing “exam” in the course the student incorporates all items on checklist.

Although I know grammar instruction can be approached many different ways, I would love some feedback as to how well  my plan outlined above would meet my objective of differentiated instruction within the writing process WITHOUT this being too complicated and onerous for the teacher. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Top Ten "Tears of Laughter" Resources for Destressing

The Canucks lost. There is rioting in Vancouver.  My report cards are barely started. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. For various reasons professionally and personally, everything seems to be coming to a head at once.  I am in need of some good old-fashioned humor to get those endorphins going and remind me of what is most important: Sometimes you just have to laugh.

So in the spirit of extreme procrastination for getting my report cards doen, here's my collection of  top ten feel good video clips:

The first  was emailed to me today by a colleague. Thanks C. :)

When you need to remember that it's all relative:
Ultimate Dog Tease

When your job is just frustrating. (Only funny for BCESIS users probably)
Hitler tries to use BCESIS

When your spouse is driving you crazy:
Man Cold

How to turn something so negative into something positive:
Ching Chong Song

When you just need to dance:
Dancing Through the Ages what should I put for the next five?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Delivering Content Through Critical Thinking

Today I had the opportunity to attend an online session titled, "Embedding Critical Thinking In Online Courses", by Roland Case, Ph.D.

This session resonated with me mostly because the presenter did a marvelous job of  using the very method he was teaching us about. How refreshing and effective for me this was! From the first slide that we were asked to read (and then found out it was scrambled and were asked to reorder it), to the concept examples that we were asked to categorize and then create our own, we were continually asked to evaluate and assess the content.

As a result, I found that my attention was focused on the tasks required, having to solve problems by practicing some of the same strategies that might be given to students. This led to a much better understanding, which I internalized immediately. And here's the kicker. The critical thinking activities did not come with flashy video clips or interactive games or require pretty flashcards (although all of these could be used). Further, these were not huge, culminating project type lessons but smaller activities and strategies that could be required in response to a reading for example.

Here's a summary of what I learned:
Almost every topic can use a critical thinking approach to delivering content.
If the content is "problemized", then student will more readily remember the content.
Critical thinking in this context is meant to enhance the curriculum, not add to it.

Examples of questions or activities  that might be in included in a lesson were categorized as
(1) factual, regurgitation "Where's Waldo" type questions 
(2) personal response, opinion questions where there is no wrong answer 
(3) questions that require analysis and judgement based on clear criteria (Critical Thinking)
I admit that I had previously thought of those column two type questions as being critical thinking type questions but I now see the difference, for the most part. I can see that what I learned today is the tip of the iceburg, especially after I visited the website of the Consortium of Critical Thinking that Roland is a part of.

This session has also caused me to think about activities that I have in my courses that I would consider "higher level" thinking but upon reflection, I see that many don't require much rigour in the responses as they are simply requiring an opinion with no "right answer". Moreover, if I do require a response that involves a judgement or analysis there is often not a clear criteria upon which to base an assessment of  a situation, reading etc. 

For educators, I think there is no doubt that critical-thinking should be taught and practiced in school, but without a clear understanding of what that should look like and perhaps the perception that this is another add-on to the curriculum it doesn't seem to be happening as prolifically as it should.