Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Today's PD--More about 21st Century Skills

I attended round two of PD with Allison Zmuda, but this time I was with the Canadian and World Studies department.  I thought that the sessions were supposed to be the same, but I found them to be quite different.  Allison's approach today was different in that our discussion seemed to be more concrete and delved more deeply into the various 21st century learning skills. 

The skills became clearer as we applied them to authentic tasks that can be used in the history classroom.  For example, our department decided that key skills we want our students to have by the end of high school are: critical thinking, communication, information literacy and self-direction/initiative.  I believe that we always knew that we wanted our students to have these skills, but we didn't have clear language or a continuum to articulate exactly what we wanted.  We also knew that these skills were important because when we went through the variety of authentic tasks, the tasks we chose lined up with these skills. 

Our next step is to look at the great tasks we have already developed to ensure that they align with the authentic tasks we selected.  For example, one of the authentic tasks that we selected is a performance or product.  The law course culminates in a mock trial.  It seems obvious that the mock trial is a performance, but we have to ensure that it meets the skills associated with a performance or product task.  Another example is the document analyses completed in CHC 2D1 and CHY4U1.  We have to ensure that our students are actually analysing the document to develop an explanation or interpretation.  It isn't a matter of reading the document and answering questions about it.

At the end of the session, Lisa and I stayed behind to talk with Allison a bit more.  The discussion came to effective rubrics.  I often struggle with making rubrics student-friendly.  In fact, I find that rubrics can also be teacher-unfriendly.  It is hard to qualify limited, some, considerable, effectively and many other adjectives used in rubrics.  Allison gave some clear examples of friendly language, such as "The mistakes are so annoying it is difficult to focus on the ideas."  (I'm paraphrasing.)  But the point is this,  that is a clear Level 1. It is much clearer than "Spelling and grammar are used with limited effectiveness."

By the end of the day, I was so overwhelmed by all of the information and by all of the tasks I want to complete.  I am going to set small goals for myself to improve my assessments and rubrics.  For example, I need to develop an assignment for CHC2P1.  I am going to focus on designing this one assignment and rubric using my new knowledge and not beat myself up that I want to work on so many more assignments and different rubrics. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Yesterday's PD--21st Century Skills

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a PD session with Alison Zmuda with my English department colleagues.  (Tomorrow I'm with my Canadian and World Studies colleagues).  The topic of conversation was 21st century skills.

I thought that many interesting ideas were brought up.  For example, Zmuda stated that 21st century skills are a reinterpretation of skills from the ancient world.  Skills that were important "back then", including effective communication, critical and creative thinking, and collaboration, are still important today.  What has changed, though, is the way people do these skills.  To explain, people need to be cognizant of the variety of ways to communicate and how to effectively utilize and manage these ways (tools) of communication.  Additionally, critical and creative thinking is even more important today, I would argue, because of the vast amounts of information that we are exposed to on a daily basis.  Collaboration has also changed.  We have new tools to help us collaborate.  No longer do we need to be sitting in the same room with our collaborators.

Another interesting idea was the belief that learning needs to be personalized.  As educators, I think that this is so important.  If students have an interest in and a connection to their learning, they will be more successful.  The learning has meaning for them.  I also think that it is interesting that we are encouraged to personalize learning for our students, but oftentimes, teachers aren't afforded the same opportunity.  We are told what we need to be learning in order to become better teachers.  Many teachers wish that they could be supported in developing their craft.  They also wish that they could be afforded the time to pursue their own personal learning.  Fortunately, I have the right balance.  I am afforded the opportunity to participate in PD that is important to makng ODSS even better and I get to participate in PD that is of interest to me and supported by my school and board.  (I'm sure I will have a few blog posts about my PLP experience!)

Zmuda posed a thought-provoking question (paraphrased), what does the Ontario Secondary School Diploma signify?  I find this question very challenging to answer.  If you listen to some folks, the OSSD isn't worth the paper it is written on.  They argue that students are simply pushed through the school system to satisfy a government initiative to graduate x-number of students.  I wonder if the reason these people don't value the OSSD is because students aren't graduating with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in today's world.  This is where I struggle.  We know what skills we want our students to internalize, but how do we teach our students these skills?

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Kids are All Right

Oftentimes people complain about younger generations, teenagers in particular.  They are selfish, lazy, inconsiderate, insert any other negative generalization.

Today I had three examples of proof that the kids (teenagers) are all right.

Example #1:
A student in my Grade 12 history class emailed me to let me know that he had strep throat and would be missing most of this week.  He wanted to know what work he could complete at home, so he wouldn't be behind.  This is proof that teenagers aren't all lazy and irresponsible.

Example #2:
I was walking down the hall carrying four or five heavy textbooks, a binder, my agenda and pencil case.  It was a heavy and awkward load.  A student (who I only know vaguely) noticed my struggle and offered to help carry some of my load.  This is proof that teenagers are not the self-involved beings that people often rail against.

Example #3:
A student in my grade nine class walks past my desk every day, at the end of class, on the way out to lunch.  He always pauses, smiles and says "Thank you."  This melts my heart.  His "thank you" makes my day.  He probably doesn't realize how awesome this make me feel.  This is proof that teenagers can be considerate.

These three examples happened on a Monday BEFORE lunch.  What an awesome way to start the week.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The First Week

I was quite nervous to be returning to teaching after having 14 months off.  Colleagues told me that it would be like riding a will come right back.  I doubted them.  I shouldn't have.  The first 15 minutes of Block A were kind of awkward, then I was right back in the groove.  It was like I didn't leave, except that when I go home, I have two babies to look after instead of just myself.

The first week was exhausting, but fun.  I feel so fortunate that I can say that my "job" is actually fun.  I'm teaching two courses that I've never taught before, which stressed (stresses?) me out.  So far I'm really enjoying the content of the classes.  It also helps that my students seem to be eager to learn.  So far.