Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reflection - EDUC 6713

First, let us take a look at each of the two parts of my G.A.M.E. plan established early in this course, followed by a reflection on the plan, lessons learned from each portion, and near-term changes to instructional practice because of those lessons learned.

I am selecting NETS-T standard 1a “promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness” to strengthen. For this standard, my G.A.M.E. plan is:

  • Goal: Increase student innovation by providing choices in formative assessment situations.
  • Action: Develop 3 rubrics for assessment of student mastery, to foster creative solutions while maintaining the integrity of department-wide assessments.
  • Monitoring: Success will be marked by an increase in non-traditional student work on assessments. Such work may be different in format from the traditional paper tests that students may see in high school math, but the students will still demonstrate mastery of the same State of Michigan mathematics standards.
  • Evaluation: Quantitative data can be collected from State MME/ACT scores from successive years to determine if achievements on State standards trend upwards, downwards, or remain unchanged.

Formative assessment can be a difficult topic due to the fact that such assessments are often not quantitative. For a classroom teacher, qualitative assessments happen continually as such teachers assist students in their work. These small judgments help determine when a teacher has spent sufficient time with a student to enable productive work on a new topic, or when to stay with a student or small group for just one more problem.

Due to the nature of formative assessments, it is punitive to assign grades to them. Students should not be penalized for non-mastery of topics when the sole purpose of an exercise is to assist in the learning of said topics! This was the rationale and motivation for me to create new rubrics for formative assessment, allowing me to remove some of the subjectivity from the process.

Many times, I present the assessment rubrics to students at the start of an assignment so that they are kept informed as to expectations and personal progress. However, I quickly learned that because formative assessments happen in quick instances, it is unreasonable to create a separate rubric that can be published for each and every milestone. This is why my new rubrics are for my own mental use, allowing me to formalize the process of assessment without placing a burden of points or grading scales on the students.

Some immediate instructional and procedural changes that have already taken place include the use of small quizzes on vocab terms. For our current topic of study, students need to be good at distinguishing among several related terms when they appear in a drawing. So, before students are formally assessed on those terms, I am giving them small "mini-quizzes" on the material. Students need to earn 100% on one of those quizzes before they can continue on to the next part of the lesson. Each time a student turns in a quiz, I grade it immediately, and we quickly talk through any mistakes. I simply circle any that are incorrect, and students fix those errors as we look at the quiz together. Then, they take a new mini-quiz and I grade it. Once they can do an entire quiz perfectly, they are able to continue on in the lesson.

Students are actually getting excited about the prospect, because they are guaranteed a 100% quiz grade! I am excited because I have a mechanism for 100% mastery built into our class time, and it is very attainable for all students. Plus, that differentiation among the various terms is a foundational piece for our work later in the chapter. When students have attained that level of mastery with the essentials, it makes the likelihood of success in later sections much higher.

The second portion of my G.A.M.E. plan deals with empowering students to drive their own education.

I have selected NETS-T standard 2b “develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to purse their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress” as an area to be strengthened. Due to the current emphasis and new State laws surrounding “merit pay,” the stakes are increasingly high for teachers. If teachers are to be paid based on measurements of student achievement, then we simply must give students more tools for improving their own education. I cannot push information into their heads, but I can work to inspire a greater love for learning and an enthusiasm for high performance.

The G.A.M.E. plan for standard 2b is:

  • Goal: Increase students’ ability to drive their own learning experience through the use of technology.
  • Action: Modify existing classroom methods for student self-reflection so as to include technological enhancements. Some modifications may simply be to go “paperless” with some forms. However, new activities such as developing a video log of learning, maintaining a wiki site for shared classroom knowledge, or other student-created options are more likely.
  • Monitoring: Successful implementation will include an increase in the number of student-generated personal reflections on their learning.
  • Evaluation: Much of the long-term impact of such reflection will not be fully realized until much later. In all likelihood, the true effects will not be seen except for those few anecdotes from students as they make their way in the world. Our global market has caused a great demand for students to be able to self-monitor, self-assess, and create new pathways based on their analysis.

Much of the groundwork for this portion of the plan does not deal directly with technological solutions. It has required a major shift away from a typical teacher-centered classroom model filled with passive learners to a student-centered model where students are instrumental in their own learning and achievement. Because of this, much of my efforts have been on classroom management and curriculum development to establish the new mode of operation.

So far, the results have been mixed. For some students, the change to a student-centered approach has allowed them to accelerate their own achievements and has thereby provided them with additional freedoms in the classroom. Other students have worked extremely hard at avoiding any sort of responsibility, and their grades and freedoms have suffered as a consequence. This is an example of the typical "implementation dip" present in the introduction of any "new" system.

However, partly due to the 100% mastery mentioned in the above section, there is an increasing level of student buy-in, and grades are starting to rise because of it. While the class is structured in such a way as to provide many levels of support and multiple paths to achieving success, that success simply will not happen with a totally passive learner. For those students, the change is being accomplished with increasing levels of intervention and a "will not let go" approach on the part of all teachers involved.

One of the biggest lessons illustrated in this venture is that technology cannot simply be thrown at the situation to improve it. Without the necessary skills in self-management and personal reflection, it does not make sense to immediately apply technological solutions. In fact, the initial modification of student expectations needs to happen in a very personal way with conversations between teacher and student. However, once this baseline has been established, then some of the pencil-and-paper mechanisms can be replaced by technological enhancements.

Immediate changes in daily practice have included: an increased focus on classroom management and clear behavioral expectations, an increased emphasis on personal communication, and repeated modeling of effective personal reflection. This last focus has been achieved through the daily writing of quiz logs that describe in detail what went well, what went wrong, and appropriate steps toward fixing those mistakes. It is planned that students will then carry these skills into an electronic format where they can journal about their successes and opportunities for improvement.

Next steps for both aspects of this G.A.M.E. plan will include additional electronic resources for students to use in their own learning. Some of the planned enhancements include: access to online virtual manipulatives for exploration and discovery, online PenCasts for both direct instruction and remediation, open forums for online discussion of math concepts, and the electronic journals mentioned above.

So far, I would call the implementation of the plan a success, though it still has a long way to go before it reaches my personal vision. Fortunately, I have a colleague with a similar vision so we both have collaborative assistance in charting our course and developing the needed materials. This partnership has proven to be highly successful as we are able to talk frankly about issues, concerns, and possibilities, without worry of offending each other or impacting our personal success in the endeavor.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Using the GAME plan with students

As much as I would like to, I do not anticipate directly addressing my students' use of technology with the GAME plan in the near future. Instead, I will be using the GAME plan as another tool to help students take charge of their own education.

This fall in partnership with a colleague, I have radically changed the way I present material in my geometry classes. Now, it is highly student-centered, and the responsibility per student is much higher than it has ever been previously. While this makes a good model once students buy into the idea, it is a massive shift for many, and it has not been a smooth transition for some.

Our student-centered approach relies heavily on personal reflection; each student writes a log of their performance on quizzes, making specific notes about what they did well and what needs improvement. Along with that second part, students are writing specific skills they need to improve and specific steps they will take to improve those skills. We then use a different personal reflection at the end of each chapter so that students can view their progress.

After several weeks in this model, some students are really seeing the benefits of diving into the material and have made great strides. However, other students fail to see any link between their actions and the outcomes and insist on placing blame anywhere they can find. For those students, it takes dedicated conversations around their actions and relative levels of success, and the GAME plan can be an active part of those discussions.

Using the GAME plan is a good way for students to get in touch with the realities of their situation since it closes the loop. Not only are there goals, but also specific actions to take toward those goals. So far, that part of the plan is not much different than the personal reflections that my students are already doing. However, the "monitor" and "evaluate" portions of the plan help to show students exactly what is going on and whether it is working.

As a facilitator of those discussions with students, the GAME plan allows me to place the focus on their actions, not on the person. All too often, students with difficulties in school already feel poorly about themselves, and many have all sorts of defense mechanisms already in place. Blame placing is one of those mechanisms that serves to remove the focus from the student. By relying on what the student writes in the GAME plan, the conversation can deal directly with the issues, without placing the student in a position of vulnerability, and without making the teacher an antagonist. Instead, the plan speaks largely for itself, and the student's actions either measure up or they do not. This is one way of making reality more concrete for students, allowing them to deal productively with uncomfortable truths.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

game plan update

The personal electronics usage policies currently in place at my school are not showing signs of changing. However, many recent events have caused the matter to be brought up for discussion in several circles. Because of an upcoming bond vote, there is a lot of formal discussion about technology and classroom usage, so I am participating in some of those meetings for the purpose of planting ideas about personal electronics policies. However, before my input will hold much sway with our leadership, I need to be able to present documented educational successes that apply technology in that manner.

In terms of student rubrics for better self-assessment, that process continues to evolve. One tool that I am applying in class is a personal reflection model that continually asks students questions about their own mastery of content and classroom skills. It is not enough merely to ask about content-- grades give a general picture of that measurement. We must also actively discuss with students the amount o personal investment they have in their own learning. At the level where I teach (9th-12th graders) students have been in school long enough to be able to have a reasonable idea about their own learning styles and habits. I rarely surprise parents or students at Conferences, as they have been hearing the same sorts of things for many years. However, having students write about their actual participation, effort, and mastery of content can help solidify for them the specific areas in which they need assistance.

What have you learned so far that you can apply in your instructional practice?
What goals are you still working toward?

One of the important things that this course has demonstrated for me is that Blogs, Discussion Boards, and Wikis all end up being the same when approached from the same standpoint. Our current model of a weekly Discussion Board post with follow-up comments is essential the same model that has been applied to our Wikis where we are assembling three parts of a unit. These required blog postings also follow the same model, and do not leave a great deal of room for interpretation.

The take-away for me from the experience is the fact that simply changing to a different technical word is not enough to change the experience for students. It really does not matter whether I have students maintain their own blogs or dialog on Moodle if my assignments are not fundamentally different in those different environments.

Based on the NETS-T, what new learning goals will you set for yourself?
If you are not ready to set new learning goals, how will you extend what you have learned so far?

At this time, I am not setting specific goals beyond continuing to improve my access to and awareness of available tools. I have a large set of tasks set before me in order to improve the technology utilization of my students, and incorporating those additions into my academic year is plenty to keep me far too busy!

To extend my current learning, I will be developing interactive events for my students in their study of geometry. Some of those events will involve physical modeling of geometric concepts (like area and volume) but others will involve virtual manipulatives and other online tools. Through both casual and formal observations, I will assess the effectiveness of those activities on student involvement, engagement, and acquisition of knowledge.

What learning approaches will you try next time to improve your learning?

Collaboration has proved to be a highly valuable tool this academic year. I am working with a colleague to present material to students in a much different way, and the paradigm shift has been tough for some students. They are finding that they need to be far more involved in the process than they ever have been previously, and they are realizing how much their own success depends on their engagement and initiative. Additionally, in our PLC discussions we are able to compare the effectiveness of this new methodology with more traditional classroom environments, as there are two other teachers also teaching the same material. This sort of intentional game-changing has created a far better measure of individual student performance than any of my previous efforts. I anticipate that even more collaboration with that same colleague and others will be fundamental in future developments.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

g.a.m.e. update 10/6/10

Today, student discipline referrals marked another setback for using personal technology in the classroom. Students in two different classes used their phones to take photos of their tests and sent them to other students who had not yet taken the tests. To make matters worse, the students who received the pictures chose to hold a loud public conversation about the test in the hallway where it was overheard by the teacher who was giving the test.

Several students spent a large part of the day in the office as principals dealt with the matter. It will mean many hours of parent meetings and phone calls, as well as the time lost in dealing with those students in making up the work missed from their time in the office. One principal commented to me in passing "are you sure you want them to use their electronics for class?" indicating "I told you so" about my inquiries into possible changes in policy.

On a more positive note, I have created a couple of resources for students that help them self assess their behavior and participation. One resource is a bulletin board and handout combination that includes the types of questions that I want students asking themselves on a regular basis. These include questions like "am I on schedule?", "am I on task?", and "do I understand *why* my answer is incorrect?" It is not a perfect solution, but it underlines many of the classroom expectations and provides a starting point for some much-needed frank discussions.

The second resource is a paper dialogue based on the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP). For the last 3 years, we have worked to implement an RTP system throughout our high school, providing students and teachers a graceful way to get out of conflict situations. However, due to a long story involving the say the State counts particular discipline data, we have been told that we cannot keep the system in place. I made the determination that I would keep the better parts of the system for use in my room, even if the building-wide system was no longer running.