RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapter 10

To be honest, this chapter left me a bit confused. Cooper addresses assessment reform on the school, district, and individual teacher level, but to me it sounded like standardizing assessment. I agree that teachers should be collaborating on issues that directly address specific needs or learning outcomes for students, and that they should be consistent in their grading and reporting practices; however, introducing a standardized assessment practice across the school or district doesn’t really resonate with me. How could the assessment strategies used in an above average class also be used in a high needs classroom?

In the case study presented in this chapter, Jennifer Adams, Superintendent of Curriculum, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board states that:

“Through this policy statement, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has encouraged teachers to find creative ways to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of curriculum expectations.”

To me, this is what assessment comes down to. In almost all the success stories I hear about including the most recent one at Rideau High School, success emerged mainly because teachers and leaders used their professional judgment and found creative ways to address issues and improve student achievement. Hardly ever do I hear of major success stories, specifically in urban schools, that are due to properly implementing “the system.” I really believe that teachers, especially those working with high needs students should be given more room and time to find new innovative ways that work best for their students without worrying about being held accountable for implementing standardized strategies. Yes, of course there should be a guiding practice and essential collaboration between teachers on all levels, but it shouldn’t be as time-consuming and demanding.

Juggling-quote-20141I felt the ideas Cooper presented in this chapter would be more practical in schools that already have some sort of base level to work from and are interested in “improving” rather than “establishing” student achievement. All the ideas Cooper presented seem logical and backed by strong research, but when it comes to working with students who are struggling with extreme learning disabilities and at times their learning targets are pretty much all behavioural based, I feel that these strategies are a step ahead of the current situational demand. Earlier in his text, Cooper mentioned that instructional design should not be based on a “one-size-fits-all” approach because students have different needs; similarly, I feel that no one-way assessment approach could possibly address the different needs of all the classrooms in one school, equally. In some classrooms teachers could afford to invest time working on the assessment reform demanded by their school or district, while in others, the bulk of time should be dedicated to establishing some sort of base level to even begin working from. As a teacher, I should be fully aware of all the current changes occurring in the assessment practice, but I also should be able to prioritize my time in accordance with the essential needs of my students.

RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapter 9 + Growing Success

Grading can be a scary subject for both student and teacher, but it doesn’t have to be the case when careful planning and effective communication are set into place. Cooper offers several different approaches to tackling this subject, but in the end, it comes down to exercising professional judgement. Which approach will I use, and will it accurately reflect my students’ achievement?

Initially, the task seemed overwhelming, but after taking a step back and approaching it the same way I would an instructional design—with the end in mind—organizing grades by learning targets seemed to be the perfect fit. First, clear and concise communication must be developed between the teacher and the student with regard to the essential learning targets to be acquired—whether the student is on an IEP or not. In this sense, the student is aware of their expectations and the teacher knows precisely which learning targets to assess. Second, assessment tasks are then planned and organized in such a way to provide achievement evidence based on the grading categories developed by the teacher (e.g., Application of Learning). This approach is both simple and effective because as highlighted by Cooper, “Data organized in this way provides critical information about the success and, more importantly, about areas requiring immediate attention.” (pg. 195).

When it comes to assigning weight, my view is that the emphasis should be placed on more recent evidence because it seems logical, fair, and inline with reality. Whether applying for an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree, or even a job, special emphasis is always given to the most recent work experience/grades. Similarly, when students work hard in the course and show improvement over time, this should be acknowledged and accurately reflected in their final grade to provide them with the necessary motivation to continue on this path.

Careful consideration should also be given to separating behavioural and attitudinal data on report cards to more accurately reflect student achievement. Progress report cards, on the other hand, “show student’s development of learning skills and work habits during the fall of the school year” (Growing Success, pp. 40). This concept was new to me and I often heard this term tossed around during my CSL placement and while watching the movie, Entre Le Murs, without really understanding the full idea. In a recent experience, when it came to incomplete work, instead of assigning a zero, my Associate Teacher asked the student to take out his progress agenda and noted the incomplete work. He then politely asked the student if it would be ok to phone home and let his parents know that he might need help with the assignment. The student agreed and issue was resolved without the need of assigning a zero, which in the end, is of greatest benefit to the student.

RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapters 7&8 + Teaching with Rubrics by Heidi Goodrich Andrade

The ideas presented in these two chapters provided a very practical step-by-step guiding approach on how to deliver differentiated learning and design/choose appropriate assessment tools. Chapter seven also provided a deeper meaning to understanding the motivation behind a lot of the ideas presented earlier on in the text. More specifically, it addressed why the greater focus is placed on teaching students with special needs. Cooper highlights that delivering a “one size fits all” instructional design is no longer inline with the realities faced in today’s classrooms (pg.136). Classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse as they now encompass students working at, above, and below grade level, which further stresses the need for differentiated learning.

While I was in agreement with Cooper that the goal of a learning environment “is to have students develop understanding, proficiency, skills, and independence” (pg. 145), I was initially at odds with the idea of “modifying” the learning targets for a specific student or a group of students. I felt that by assigning them tasks from a lower grade level while their peers—within the same classroom—continued to work on higher level tasks might negatively impact their self-confidence and hence their academic performance. I think my initial strategy when faced with this situation would be to provide these students with a platform that allows them to display their special abilities in other areas in front of their peers in an effort to empower them with self-confidence.

confidenceIn my current class, my Associate Teacher provided one of the students who has a behavioural exceptionality the opportunity to showcase her creative talents by offering her class-time to deliver her own art lesson. I watched in muted amazement as she firmly negotiated her “allowed” time to deliver this lesson and the eagerness that followed as she walked around the classroom guiding and answering her peers. The confidence level that was instilled in her following this task definitely impacted her performance throughout the day. From my simple observation, she seemed to be more focused on her work and almost instantly absorbed in the leadership role. Linking this experience and that of a similar outcome presented in Sean’s Case Study in chapter four, I envision myself taking on a proactive planning approach that offers differentiated learning with a special emphasis on confidence building.

keep-calm-and-make-a-rubric-1Rubrics: To be honest, I’m still not a big fan of rubrics, more so from a student’s perspective. In her article, Teaching with Rubrics, Andrade states that “Instructional rubrics help my students understand the goal of an assignment and focus their efforts.” This “focus” is the main reason I don’t like detailed rubrics. They limit my freedom upon approaching and exploring an assignment in a relaxed manner. I feel that if the “goals” of the assignment were clearly stated and openly discussed in class, then rubrics should just serve as a simple reminder instead of causing, in my case, anxiety of whether or not I presented “this point” well enough. From a teacher’s perspective, I’m sure I will get the hang of them soon enough and that they just seem overwhelming because it’s pretty much an introduction to a new major concept. I did however appreciate that Cooper provided a starting point for their design as I recently faced this problem during the creation of my first rubric in another class. I had no idea which performance level to use as my guiding point and found Cooper’s suggestion of starting at the Proficient performance level to be very helpful.

RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapters 5&6

First, the fact that I am now able to envision the ideas presented in this text and link them to an actual classroom setting, definitely allowed for a much deeper understanding.

Second, given that eleven of the students in my future practicum class are on Individualized Educational Plans (IEP’s), I must say, I was a bit relieved to learn that “differentiated instruction” does not mean “individualized instruction.” Rather, it is determining how the material will be taught in a way that best takes into account all the different learning needs in my classroom. The main idea I took away from this reading is that teachers are researchers. They are continually gathering information on their students’ learning experiences to be able to plan, modify, and improve their instructional strategies, and find ways to accurately instil in them the idea of taking ownership of their own learning.

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I first heard the term “teachers are researchers” during Math Camp here at UofOttawa just before school started. Our professor was conducting her research on the methods employed by a very passionate and dedicated teacher who basically put to action a lot of the ideas discussed by Cooper in these two chapters. On a daily basis, she would spend an hour or more writing in details important information that occurred during the day about each student. She literally studied her students to be able to account for their learning needs in her forthcoming instructional design and accurately follow up on previously discussed issues. Additionally, she also requested that each of her students take ownership of their own report card. They were to conduct their own self-assessment and produce their own copy of the report card to officially take home along with hers. The students took so much pride in this idea. They would approach her to make sure that her copy was inline with theirs and discuss the reasons they felt she over/under graded them on specific items. We were able to watch a lot of video footage on the methods she employed in class which really allowed the meaning behind these ideas to resonate.

Overall, after reading these chapters and recalling on this example I was motivated to start observing and recording in detail how the students I’m currently working with learn best, and at which level of difficulty. I am very happy with this “researcher” role I assigned myself 🙂 It definitely helps to make me feel more prepared as it directs me to which areas to focus on.

RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapters 3&4

Introducing the idea of a backward design early on in the reading, especially to a novice student teacher, proved to be a great starting point. This week’s readings literally answered the “where do I begin” question which was really starting to build a comfortable environment around my thoughts. Cooper’s simple and straightforward solution, which he referenced to Wiggins & Mctigheto, 1998, will also be a defining cornerstone to my teaching approach. That is, asking oneself: “by the end of this unit, term, or semester, what is essential for students to understand and be able to do?” (pg.26).

Stemming from this question is an idea that really stood out for me—asking why? Why as a teacher do I feel this concept is essential for my students to learn and why as a student do I need to learn this. On so many levels, whether drawing upon my previous in-class learning experiences or lessons learned in life, I found that knowledge never really resonated with me until I had a full understanding of the motivation behind it. From an educator’s perspective, I feel that the former why question will help me stay on track and allow me to filter out unnecessary information when developing my essential learning questions. Similarly, from a student’s perspective, I always appreciated the educator who invested time into discussing the learning objectives, explaining where they stemmed from, sharing the reasons that distinguish them as essential, and answering the big why question. In an indirect way, this conveyed the idea of shared respect in the classroom. As a student, I automatically viewed myself as an individual partaking in this learning experience rather than a student sitting on the receiving end of the classroom. I would definitely like to take this approach in my classroom and add to it student-formulated inquiries through facilitated learning as introduced by Cooper.

Overall, the practical ideas that cooper introduced in the third chapter allowed me to feel as though I’m finally getting a grasp on things and know what it is I should be looking for when going through the curriculum documents. Although this also allowed me to walk into my placement feeling pretty confident, I was left wondering: “How am I going to incorporate eleven individualized learning plans into one lesson design?” I was happy to find my answer in chapter four when Cooper highlighted the write, say, and do approach. I think my focus will be on creating a balanced learning environment that caters to my students learning abilities by incorporating a variety of tasks that can accurately display their understanding of the learning objectives.

RE: Talk About Assessment; Chapters 1&2

Damian Cooper’s opening chapters offer a very insightful and mind stimulating introduction on the topic of assessment. He was able to map out the ‘bigger picture of assessment’ and introduce the eight ‘Big Ideas’ that form the foundation for building a coherent assessment system in secondary school settings. Cooper also addresses the fundamental shift taking place in Secondary Education to better meet the needs of students living in this new digital age. To encompass this change, he brought forward the idea that teachers should no longer be viewed as transmitters of knowledge, but facilitators of learning. This point really stood out for me although I felt that the democracy example he used to demonstrate this approach through inquiry-based learning was missing in some detail. In my opinion, the primary focus should be on choosing intellectually stimulating topics that students can relate to or are passionate about and hence expose them to the art of knowledge-discovery first. Irrelevant or uninteresting topics may lead young students who are digital-natives yet novice-researchers to a limited Google/Wikipedia-based type of inquiry learning.

Cooper also highlights the idea that the standard for student achievements should be constant and time variable, thereby allowing students extra opportunities to demonstrate their learning. I strongly support this idea and find that it may also be of greater benefit to inform students of the assessment design to be used in evaluating their understanding (a case study question, for example). Going forward, I would like to further explore this idea in my studies.

With reference to the case studies, I found that Rebecca’s Art Class case was a clear example of a failed assessment evaluation. I think the teacher failed to provide proper communication in warning the student of the resulting consequences from her continued absence. To quote Damian Cooper: “The power of teachers to influence the self-image of their students cannot be over-emphasized. Students tend to live up to or down to the expectations that we have for them.” Rebecca did indeed live ‘down’ to her teacher’s expectations when she decided to drop out of school.