Crowdsourcing a Lesson Plan

I would really have preferred to title this blog post “Pimp my Lesson Plan” but then I figured it might be considered inappropriate by those who are not familiar with this particular usage of the word “pimp.” If you’re still confused see “Pimp my Ride.”

Anyhow, so yesterday I started teaching my grade 12s about different schools of literary criticism, beginning with Reader Response.  I always feel like I need to do a really good job of explaining the purpose behind literary criticism right at the beginning of the unit. In the past, I’ve used analogies. Here’s the analogy I used to use:

That works, but this time I wanted to try something a little different, so instead, before I even started discussing literary criticism, I had two students come up to the front of the room and close their eyes. Then I gave each of them an object to hold and describe. One student got this:

while the other got this:

Then I asked them to describe the objects while keeping their eyes closed. As you might expect, they focused on the tactile features of the object. The matryoshka doll was hard and smooth and the student even felt the ridges of paint. The boa was light, soft, and flexible. Then I had the students open their eyes and describe the objects. This time the doll was “feminine, colourful, curvy” and the boa was … well … “red” (upon reflection the boa wasn’t the best choice). The point was that the object didn’t change, just their perception of what was important about that object. I explained that when we study a text, our perception of what is important about it changed depending on the lens we use to view it. These different lenses are different schools of literary criticism.

Then I went on to the slide with the cat. After that, I did a four corners exercise where I presented statements that either represented a “reader response” attitude toward literature, or the complete opposite. Students decided to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statements and explained their reasons.

Finally, we did a short note explaining some of the key features of reader response theory.

In short, I’m happy with this, but I’d like to know what you’d do with it to make it better. I guess what I’m asking is, will you pimp my lesson plan?

Procrastination or process?

When I’m planning for something new (a course, a big paper, etc.) I tend to spend a lot of time doing what looks like unproductive work. I beat myself up about it and it fills me with anxiety and dread, particularly when I have a looming deadline. I stare at the computer screen or blank piece of paper and berate myself saying, “Come ON! Just DO something! MAKE something! Stop wasting time!” I click through links on Twitter, check Facebook, end up with 15 different tabs open on my browser, spend time that later seems completely unnecessary writing things on post it notes and scattering them all over the desk top, wall, cat….

But eventually the inspiration hits. The flow starts. I create stuff.

So is it procrastination or part of the process?


My thoughts on “Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools

Confession time.

I am a nerd. I love talking about assessment and evaluation. I love reading about it, debating about it, writing about it, thinking about it, planning for it, and sometimes doing an interpretive dance about it. My favourite A and E guru is Damian Cooper who I had the pleasure of meeting last year thanks to my good friend Heather Jakobi. I like him because while his philosophy is grounded in all the best research into good assessment and evaluation practices, he is practical enough to recognize the challenges and limitations that teachers and administrators face in their day to day lives.

My basic assessment and evaluation philosophy is this:

  • The primary role of assessment is to promote student learning
  • Assessment should inform and drive instruction
  • You need to begin with an idea of what students must know and determine what sufficient evidence of this achievement will look like.
  • There are many different ways to demonstrate learning and students need to be exposed to a variety of assessment tasks and when possible and appropriate, be given choice.
  • Students need to develop an awareness of how they learn best and should learn how to effectively self-assess.
  • Students should have multiple opportunities to demonstrate they can meet expectations
  • We should not use academic penalties (deducting marks) for behavioural/learning skill issues

I could go on. And I often do. But I think those points cover most of my thoughts about this topic. The last point on that list is a contentious one, and one that I have not always believed. I used to say, as many teachers and parents do, if teachers don’t deduct “late marks” then students won’t be properly prepared for the realities of college/university or the work world. But here’s the problem with that:

The college/university argument: Our students do not all go on to post-secondary education. Also, educational philosophies and mandates of post secondary institutions are not the same as those of elementary and secondary institutions. We shouldn’t emulate practices that we don’t feel are beneficial to students in order to “prepare” them for bad pedagogical practices they might encounter in the future. That’s like saying to a hockey player, “I’m not going to give you pointers for improving your slap shot because in a real hockey game, you’re not going to have me there to coach you.”

The work world argument: The previous analogy that I used works for this too. But also consider this: While it’s true that you may get fired for not submitting a project to your boss on time, it’s a faulty analogy to compare this to school. In the work world, you perform a service, and in return you receive money. In school, completing assignments is not providing a service, and grades are not money. The purpose behind completing assignments is to learn and demonstrate your achievement of specific curriculum expectations. Grades are not rewards, but an evaluation of how well you’ve achieved those curriculum expectations.

So here’s the problem: many students and their parents view grades as rewards for hard work. Parents praise students for high grades. Grades are requirements for admission to colleges and universities. Until we have a society that values descriptive feedback over percentages, I really don’t see how this can change. So, in many cases, the only penalty that is meaningful to students is the deduction of grades for what is in reality a behavioural problem.

Now some might argue that we need to have meaningful behavioural consequences then for failing to submit assignments on time (or at all!). The aim of these consequences would be to help students learn the importance of meeting deadlines. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with disruptive behaviour and other types of classroom management issues, it might be a tough sell to tell teachers that they also have to assign lunch hour detentions to the students who didn’t submit their homework assignments. Don’t get me wrong. It makes perfect sense to me to say the consequence of not doing your work is that you will sit with me until you have done your work, but it’s just not always practical. That being said, I am considering assigning a lunch hour detention early on in a given course to students who fail to complete a homework assignment or other small formative task to see if it sends the message that “not doing the work” is not an option.

All right, so now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s get to the point.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has just released a document called,“Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools. The policy document is meant to guide school boards in developing their own A and E policies. The biggest thing that I think teachers are going to jump on and perhaps do a happy dance about is page 43. On page 43 at the end of a long list of suggested interventions for late and missing assignments it suggests:

deducting marks for late assignments, up to and including the full value of the assignment.

This calls for a dramatic chipmunk moment

Now let’s move on.

That strategy is at the bottom of the list for a good reason, and since many teachers will laugh gleefully at that final strategy and ignore the next page, I would like to add that the document has a very interesting bit of text after the list, where the ministry seems to try to justify the change of heart. Here’s what it says:

There are strong and often divergent opinions on the issue of how to deal with late and missed assignments. Many stakeholders, including many parents and students, believe that marks should be deducted when assignments are late and that a zero should be assigned when a student does not submit an assignment…. Proponents of this view believe that unless students face academic consequences for non-performance in school, they will not learn to be accountable to themselves and others and will not be prepared to meet the requirements of employers or of postsecondary educational institutions.

But wait! There’s more!

On the other hand…

See. You had to know that was coming.

…many experts in the field of assessment and evaluation discourage deducting marks or giving zeros for late and missed assignments, arguing that such measures do not make students change their behaviour or help them succeed in the long run…

You get the picture. So here I am reading between the lines: “People who argue that we should deduct late marks don’t really know know what they’re talking about because they’re not experts, but they are taxpayers so we need to listen to them.”

Hmph. I’m not so sure how I feel about that wording.

Here’s what I think:

Until we have a system that does not require teachers to report within strict time frames, and until post-secondary institutions value learning skills as much as grades, we will have an imperfect assessment and evaluation system and teachers will have to do the best they can and use their best professional judgement when it comes to determining grades. I think sometimes that will mean doing things that don’t always jive with what the best educational experts promote as best practice.

What is most important is that we remember that as teachers our primary goal should be to promote student learning. We’re teachers, not evaluators.

One more time!

Digital Natives?

“Digital natives” “the Net Generation”… these are terms I hear a lot. I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I blog. I text. I create content and upload it on a regular basis. I’m not online constantly, but I do feel a need to stay connected, and I get excited about the possibilities for sharing and collaborating that exist because of web 2.0. I keep reading that this is what my students do too. It’s what they want from teachers. So when I was planning for this year, I thought about how I could make my teaching more representative of the world they experience outside the classroom. I thought about authentic writing tasks. I thought about anywhere anytime learning and created blogs and edmodo classes. I even started to think about how to use cell phones in the classroom. My new principal was so excited by this that she scheduled 2 of my senior academic English classes in a computer lab! I was so psyched! I even made a funky intro movie for my classes.

And then, at the end of my first class on the first day, it happened. A polite and friendly student said to me, “Um, it’s kinda weird being in a computer lab for English.”

My heart started to race a bit as it does when I get anxious.

“Weird good? Or weird bad?” I asked hopefully.

She smiled, not wishing to offend. “Kind of weird bad. Like, it’s English class. I don’t really think there’s a need for technology.”

My heart sunk. Literally. I found it in my left shoe at lunch.

Now I know, I know. It was just one student. I know some of them were as psyched as I was. But I got the impression from a number of them that this idea of a 21st century English class was just as threatening for them as it must be for some teachers. I really didn’t expect that.

It made me wonder. Where is this coming from? My current theory is that most students probably are digital natives. I’m not sure they’re as savvy as we’d like them to be, but most of them are comfortable using technology (that’s what they told me on the survey anyway). But I think that some of them have gotten the message from parents and teachers that technology is bad. It’s a distraction. It’s a toy. It’s something you ban. It doesn’t have a place in a serious academic classroom (maybe?). And these students are the “good” students–academic, disciplined, polite, respectful. They really listen to the messages they get from adults. And they’ve gotten the message that this is bad.

I’ve had to change my mindset about technology in the English classroom. Instead of it being the expectation, it is an option. It is another way for me to differentiate my instruction. They don’t have to post comments on the blog (but I wish they would). They don’t have to submit assignments on edmodo (but it’s usually more convenient that way). I’ve told them I never want to get an angry phone call from a parent saying, “You told my son he HAD to submit his assignments online.” It’s an option.

It’s so strange for me because, yes I’m interested in technology, but I’m doing this because I thought it would be good for the students. I thought they would prefer to learn this way. I thought I was making life easier for them–not harder.

Sigh. It’s still early. And I think some of them are coming around. The girl who spoke to me on the first day made a wordle and shared it with her classmates via edmodo. That’s kind of weird good.

ENG4C Unit 3

Feeling a little brain dead after this unit, so I’m not going to provide much of a rationale except to say that this is a continuation of the previous unit in that students will be continuing to explore the issues and themes from their book clubs. The focus is on the writing strand, but there is also a media creation component. I just wanted to also add that these are not the lesson plans. These plans are to lesson plans as essay outlines are to final essays. They will change and evolve over time. I haven’t even met my students yet so how do I know exactly what they will need to learn!

ENG4C Unit 2

The big idea for this unit is “Relationships and Identity” or “Relationships and Choices”. It is based on the fantastic Fourth R curriculum that is a joint project by TVDSB, CAMH Centre for Prevention Science, and The Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (UWO). They have created curriculum for a number of different courses including a book club for ENG4C that explores issues such as eating disorders, mental health, sexual identity, bullying, violence, peer pressure, and substance abuse.  I have supplemented the book club lessons with lessons on reading strategies and media connections. The culminating task is a reading portfolio where students select evidence from the unit to demonstrate their mastery of (I hope!) a variety of reading strategies, speaking and listening strategies, understanding of content, ability to make connections, etc. They will explain their choices in an informal report that will serve as practice for the report the write in the next unit.

In the next unit, students will be completing a research report connected to one of the themes in their novels.

The overall focus for this unit will be the Reading and Literature Studies strand of the Ontario ENG4C curriculum.

Again I invite your questions, comments and suggestions!

One more thing: When looking at this on the blog, you can choose toggle full screen by clicking on the square in the right hand corner of the document below. It will make it much easier to read.

Eng4c Unit 2

ENG 4C Unit One

Submitted for your approval: Unit 1 of ENG 4C, Barker-style. This is just the outline of course, but my plan is to make each strand a major focus for each unit. The first unit is mostly diagnostic but the focus will be on the Oral Communication strand. I’ve included links (wherever possible) to the resources I plan to use and I have also attached my course outline (planning version, not official version) so you can see how this unit fits into the whole. I know the last thing my teacher friends want to think about right now is planning but I’d love any feedback you’re willing to provide.
ENG4C Unit Plan 1

ENG4C Assessment Plan



Instructional Intelligence

Just attended a great PD session today by Barrie Bennett. Dr. Bennett has been working with our board for a number of years now, and I’m always amazed by how much I learn every time I hear him speak. He’s an inspiring speaker and a very likeable individual who never makes teachers feel guilty for not knowing or doing enough. I’m picking him up tomorrow to take him to a session where he will be working with a group of teachers from our board, helping them with their action research projects.

My brain is very full, but there were a couple of big ideas that I can’t wait to try when I’m back in the classroom. One is team analysis, the other is synectics (see my notes that I posted for more on these).

Barrie also really got me thinking about planning with the end in mind when he talked about the difference between an outcome and an objective and how you turn an outcome into an objective. Great stuff!

Also got a chance to talk to my husband as a colleague which was strange and fun at the same time.