Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Mystery Skype: Inviting in an Expert

After attending two sessions at ECOO13 (one by Cathy Beach and another by Andrew Campbell), I worked up the nerve to try Mystery Skype.  Over the last two weeks, two of my classes participated in two different types of Mystery Skypes.  I'm just going to detail one experience here.  (Once I have the photos from my other class's Skype, I'll share!)

Dr. Adara Goldberg "visiting" our class.
 Photo courtesy L. Unger.
My first experience in facilitating a Mystery Skype took place in the course Adventures in World History (CHM4E1).  For this Skype, I invited my friend, Dr. Adara Goldberg, into the class.  She is the Education Director at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre--so quite a distance from our school in Orangeville, Ontario.

In the case of this Mystery Skype, Adara knew where we were located, so it was just my students trying to figure out where she was.  In the days leading up to the Skype, many students speculated that she was from Europe, since we were discussing the Holocaust and they knew that our guest was an expert on the subject.  The first 10 minutes of our Skype was the students figuring out her location via "yes/no" questions.  It is very important to ensure that your guest doesn't have her location on her profile, because some students saw it!  It is also important not to make mention of your guest's name (even if it is just her first name), because one bright student simply Googled "Adara Holocaust" and up popped her location.  Amateur mistakes!!!  Fortunately, those students confided to me that they knew her location and promised not to spoil it.

Students getting prepared.  Photo courtesy
either L. Unger or Cody F.
For our class's purpose, determining our guest's location was just for fun.  The real reason for our meeting was to give my students an opportunity to speak with an expert about the Holocaust and gather information for the museum exhibits they are creating.  Previous to the actual Skype, students worked on researching their area of interest, in addition to the background work we did in class.  We took some class time to come up with a list of questions to ask Adara.

List of Jobs.  Photo courtesy L. Unger.
Also before the Skype, we decided on jobs for the day of the Skype.  In an attempt to keep things organized, students were responsible for various tasks during the meeting.  For example, Nick was in charge of welcoming Adara and explaining the process.  Jake and Mason were our questioners.  Cody F. was key in taking photos of our adventure.  Additionally, numerous students jumped aboard to add the information Adara shared to our common Google Doc via the Chromebooks.

I got the job list from various sources, but I don't think I need to be so formal.  My students were able to maintain organization without needing certain jobs, such as the boss or runners.  For future Skypes, I think we will be good with some specific jobs, like greeter, closer, and photographer.  I think we will be fine with students taking control of asking questions without them being funneled to a single questioner.  I feel the same way about the note takers.  I think I will have many students take on that role.

The following day, I asked my class for some feedback about the Skype.  Overall, the students were positive.  They said they enjoyed getting information from sources other than the Internet, videos or me.  They also said that they benefited from having specific questions answered.  One student noticed that they needed to improve some of their questions, because they already knew some of the information that the questions focused on.

Overall, the experience of inviting in an expert was a good endeavour and a different way of accessing information for the students.

My next post will detail the Mystery Skype my ENG3U1 class participated in; it was a very different beast than this one.

Friday, 15 November 2013

I feel duped by a student

This is a conversation (paraphrased) that a student and I had yesterday.

Student:  Mrs. Le, can I tell you something?  I only read up to chapter 7 of The Kite Runner.

Me:  What?  But your participation in the seminars was great.  How did you do it?

Student:  I just listened to the summaries at the beginning of each seminar and based my participation on them.

Me:  <visibly shaken and upset by the revelation>

Student: I wish I had never told you this.  You think differently of me now.  I'll make it up to you.  I'll give you three hundred dollars.  I'll buy your daughters wardrobes from the best baby store.

Me:  I don't want any of that.  What I want is for you to actually complete the reading.  Please actually read your ISU novel.  That is all I want.

The confession and conversation made me feel small and stupid.  How could a student write an essay on a novel he didn't even read?  Where had I gone wrong in my teaching?  I gave class time to read.  The novel was broken down so that we only read a bit at a time.  The essay was written entirely in class.  How could this have happened?

Then I talked to a colleague and did some reflecting.  Perhaps this student just worked smarter, not harder.  He figured out that the regular seminars dissecting each chapter gave him the information he needed to understand the novel.  He was still able to come up with a decent thesis and write a decent essay.  I wonder how much better he could have done had he actually read the entire novel.

I don't know what other conclusions to draw from this experience, except that it hurts when a student doesn't fully complete his work.  I know that students don't always do their work, but it's different when they actually confess.

I don't think poorly of this student.  He has made me think about my teaching and the way students learn and that's a good thing.

I've made a mistake

As the title suggests, I have made a mistake.

At our recent PD Day session, Eric Twaddell came to speak.  I loved his message about learning and assessment of that learning.  The idea that learning is an ongoing process that shouldn't end when a grade is assigned really resonated with me.  It affirmed my belief that students should be able to fix, fix, fix until they really understand.

In my grade 11 English class, many students were upset about their first essay mark.  Upon meeting with a few parents, I assured them that their teenager had the opportunity to demonstrate their learning with the next essay.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I uttered the words, "If the second essay is a better mark, I won't count the first essay."  When I said it, I believed it.  Why would I keep a grade of an assignment that may not demonstrate their true learning, when I have an assignment that is more recent, shows improvement and assesses the same skills?

Then midterm report cards came.  I just couldn't drop the first mark.  Not yet.  Maybe by the end of the semester.  Instead I played around with weighting.  The most recent essay was worth 100 marks and the first essay worth 50 marks.  I felt professionally comfortable with this.

Then a student asked me about his mark.  His mark reflected a combination of the first and second essays and the seminar.  To be blunt, I felt stupid.  I explained to him that I just couldn't get rid of the first essay mark, but I couldn't elaborate.  If I could redo our conversation, I would explain to him my initial thinking and my concern that, professionally, I couldn't use one essay mark to determine a midterm grade.

I feel dishonest and pedagogically confused.  Dishonest, because I said one thing (with the full intention of following through), but then I just couldn't.  Pedagogically confused, because I'm struggling the idea of grades and what they represent.

My only consolation is that I believe the marks are the ones the students earned and midterm marks aren't the be all and end all.

In the future, I will take more time to reflect about and put into practice my new ideas before talking to parents and students about them.