Thursday, 25 July 2013

Would getting rid of grades make for happier students?

On Monday night, Dean Shareski (@shareski),  who everyone on Twitter should follow, tweeted the statement below.  I have thought a lot about his tweet, especially because I retweeted it immediately upon reading it, then I began to question it.

When I first read the tweet, my gut reaction was "Of course, being happy is incredibly important, more important than often meaningless letter grades."  But then I began to think about the ramifications of failing every class in high school (the context I'm familiar with).  If a student doesn't earn a high school diploma, opportunities in life become rather limited.  I can't help but think that the happiness experienced while failing school will be short lived.

Gord Holden's response to the tweet (above) helps put into context what I believe in my heart.  I agree with him that education is "learning how to achieve satisfaction in life".  But Shareski's response that "folks...focused on things they can easily measure" brings to light the struggle in education.  How on earth can you measure "achieving satisfaction in life"?  It is much easier to give the students a literacy test to determine if they are literate.

I think the problem--and why I might prefer students to fail and be happy, rather than be miserable from the stress of earning A's--is that we celebrate the students who get the A's, even if they really haven't learned anything.  Students who are failing might actually be learning more than the students who are getting A's.  I've only been a teacher for a short time, but I am finding it irritating that the criteria for winning the subject awards at my school is simply to have the highest grade.  Most students are focused on getting good grades and not on actual learning.  When we celebrate mostly students with top marks, we send the message that what we value most are A's, not learning and not happiness.

There is most certainly a shift towards fostering learning for learning's sake, but the stumbling block of determining grades is still predominantly present.  I wonder if we got rid of grades if we would have happier students who are learning more and who will see greater success.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Hardest Class I Ever Taught

CHC2D1--Semester 2, 2013

Three weeks after finishing teaching this class, I am confident in saying that it was the hardest class I ever taught.  I honestly thought the hardest class I ever taught was a credit recovery class mixed with students who had been removed from their classes because of disruptive behaviour and students on in-school suspension.  In this class, I dealt with a student who pulled out a beer in the middle of class or another student who was so high and shouting a string of curse words that I didn't even know existed!  I dealt with uncountable discussions of rolling blunts and fights on Saturday nights.
Nothing quite like
a student
having a leftover
 beer in her backpack.

Dealing with those issues seem a breeze when trying to engage the disengaged.  I understand that many people think Canadian history is boring...but I am trying to make it engaging and interesting.

The first couple of weeks were rough because the class was so quiet.  The quiet was uncomfortable.  It wasn't just quiet when I attempted discussion, the classroom was quiet even when working in small groups or when classrooms shouldn't be quiet...when the teacher is trying to get the technology to work or in the last five minutes of class when waiting for the lunch bell.  I realize now that the quiet was probably the result of boring discussion questions and boring tasks.

Another history teacher, Erin (@erinharrison20) and I discussed our issues, because, while her class was the opposite of quiet, both of us had difficulty with engagement.  Erin came up with a great inquiry-based task for the unit looking at the creation of model society via Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau and Quebec.  Students were in groups to research one of the topics with the question "What is the ideal society for Canada?"  Students needed to create a way to share their learning with the other groups.  The culmination of this inquiry was the creation of a podcast, which was my favourite assignment.  It was developed by Lisa Unger (@l_unger) and James Bryson.

Things weren't perfect.  Students weren't used to taking control of their learning or being responsible for teaching each other and learning from one another.  I think this can be remedied by using an inquiry-based approach throughout the entire course.  My goal for next year is to look at each of the summative assignments and figure out how to create inquiry-tasks so that students have control over how they're learning the material and developing their skills.  It is also important to note that I have to let go and accept that students don't need to learn EVERYTHING about Canada from 1914-present.  First off, that's not possible and secondly, that's not important.  It is more important that students have control over uncovering content and concepts that connect to the big idea that "Canada's identity is revealed by its past".  Nowhere in this big idea does it say that students must learn about victory bonds or the dust bowl or NATO.

Now the hard work can I create engaging inquiry questions so the students want to learn about Canadian history?