Friday, 4 April 2014

Co-Constructing Criteria with Students

An amazing group of teachers have been coming together monthly to explore classroom assessment. It has been great to be involved in the conversations as we collaborate and share ideas about how to use assessment to improve students' learning.

Last night, we discussed how to set and use criteria with students. Research strongly supports involving students in the assessment process. Setting criteria with students is a great way to begin involving students. When students understand what the learning target is, and they understand how to get there, learning improves. This holds most true for our learners who struggle (Davies, 2011).

In Making Classroom Assessment WorkAnne Davies shares her 4 step process for setting and using criteria with students. This is a process I have found particularly powerful in my own work, both in working with students, and when working with teachers in setting goals for improving student learning.

The process is:
  1. Brainstorm 
  2. Sort and categorize
  3. Post a T-chart
  4. Revise and refine
We made paper airplanes, and set criteria for assessing our work by using this process.

First we brainstormed a list, and then sorted and categorized. If we were working with students, some of the criteria on the list, particularly around "teamwork" would have to be further unpacked, as some of the language is vague.

You can see how we colour-coded the like-criteria into categories.

While participants went about using the criteria to build their planes, I went about transferring our criteria to a t-chart. As you can see, the criteria needed further discussion and refinement as we discovered that some criteria were either not applicable, difficult to measure, or incompatible with other criteria.

I love the iterative and reciprocal nature of this process as we work through it with students in the classroom. It is messy and takes dialogue, negotiation, and much consensus building. The fact that it is messy, to me, is the best reason to engage in the process. As a teacher, what better opportunity is there to model how we think about and work with multiple perspectives and sources of information?

What are your thoughts? What do you do to involve students in the assessment process? What do you want to try? Who do you have who can help you, that you can reflect on the process with?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Attendance - A Few Thoughts

As a district coordinator for Aboriginal education, I am confronted daily with the issue of attendance and Aboriginal students.

First, I want to state up front, that I do not believe non-attendance to be an Aboriginal issue, per se, though we sometimes (frequently) perceive it as such. Non-attendance, at the risk of over-simplifying, is a symptom of much deeper social and economic inequities.

I understand fully the frustration felt by teachers at the secondary level regarding student attendance. For many teachers, they feel the failure of a student as a failure of themselves as an educator.

As we continue the journey of re-imagining secondary schools, a significant part of that re-imagining has to involve how we measure and communicate student learning. For those students who are often referenced as not attending, what incentives are there to attend, when attending means being reminded of their “failure”?

From our very best of intentions we aim to “catch-up” those students when they do attend, often with little success because those same students lack the prerequisite skills to be “caught-up”. So long as we are stuck in the paradigm of courses and grades, we will be stuck in the paradigm of pass and fail, which, from my point of view, contributes directly to the attendance problem. Furthermore, what consideration are we giving to those students who feel deeply alienated from their schooling, who have checked-out emotionally and spiritually, though they are not physically absent?

Consider an Ontario study (2005) that found students who failed courses early were much less likely to complete school: 89% of students with no failed courses in grade 10 went on to finish within 5 years. That number dropped to 75% with a single failed course, 59% with two failed courses, and 28% with three or more failed courses.

That’s not to over-simplify the issue—as course failure is a single risk factor among many—but designing for differentiation across our schools, rather than just within courses, needs to be on the table.

What about multi-access and asynchronous design? We see such approaches in many of our alternate settings. However, for many of the students who access alternate programs, they have already experienced the "failure" of school. These methodologies need to be built-in, and available to all students, before they experience school "failure".

Perhaps we need a provincial task force on student attendance, with a focus on making attendance a viable alternative to non-attendance for our non-attenders…