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.

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