Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A Morning with Dr. Katz

This past Friday was a PD Day, and Dr. Steven Katz came to speak at my school about professional learning in order to improve student results. I've been in sort of a "funk", and I really was not looking forward to being "talked at" for an entire morning. I'm glad I went in with the mindset that I was going to make the most of my morning and take notes, because I felt motivated and challenged in a positive way by Dr. Katz.

Dr. Katz discussed how the path to improvement was "adding value to where you are". I felt this was powerful, because the message was hopeful. The goal isn't to go from okay to awesome, but rather, to make small improvements to eventually get to excellence. This also translates into the idea that "small wins have enormous power". Just as we should be celebrating the small successes of our students, we should celebrate the small successes in our own learning as teachers.

I also appreciated the message that "together is not always better" in terms of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). There are times where I am with my PLC, and we are being professional and a community, but learning isn't actually happening. This is probably because learning is the hardest part of a PLC. As Dr. Katz reminded us, cognitive dissonance is essential to new learning, and that is uncomfortable. The questions remain, how can PLCs be effective? How can PLCs be places where we have "focused learning conversations", not simply "great discussions"? I think one important factor is the necessity to check our egos and be vulnerable...two really difficult tasks. Another key to making PLCs successful, if I understand correctly, is to Plan, Act, Assess, and Reflect. I think we are working on the Plan and Act, but don't always see the Plan through to the end to what may be the most important part of the learning, Assessing and Reflecting.

Overall, the morning with Dr. Katz was worth my time, as I have new ideas to think about and I felt supported and challenged in my teaching.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Marking essays: One of my least favourite weekend activities

One of my least favourite aspects of teaching is marking, especially the evaluation of essays. It is often time-consuming (one class set can take at least five hours), and nothing seems to come of it, except a mark. It can be frustrating to take all of that time for students to continue to make the same errors again and again. One reason for this is that students simply don't review and think about the feedback given. I am attempting to cut down on the time it takes to evaluate essays, as well as make the feedback worthwhile for the students.

You can see the comments alongside the student's essay.
Notice that the comments aren't all "stock", but there are times
that individualized feedback is required.
With the goal of reducing my time spent marking, I developed a feedback document where I have compiled a list of the comments I find myself using frequently. I have organized them by areas of assessment for easier reference. As I evaluate a student's essay, I simply copy and paste the appropriate document into the commenting section of a student's submission.

There was one glaring negative I noticed about feedback: it is overwhelmingly critical. It is focused on things that students need to improve on. As a student, it would be really disappointing to see all of my hard work so critically looked at, even though the criticism is constructive. I need to be conscious of commenting on the positives of the student's work.

In addition to cutting down marking time, I want to ensure that students are actually reading and using the provided feedback. For the first essay, I dedicated approximately 40 minutes to returning essays. Students were provided with a sheet entitled "Next Steps to Improved Writing", developed by my colleague, Scott Jordan. Students were required to review my comments and highlight the areas (from Scott's handout) they needed to improve on for next time. This was great, because students actually had to go over the feedback and many took the opportunity to ask for clarification. For the upcoming essay, I will return each student's "Next Steps to Improved Writing", so that they can ensure they aren't making the same errors.

Overall, I am hopeful that as I become familiar with my own feedback document, time spent marking will be reduced. Additionally, I am hoping that by providing the necessary tools and time, the feedback will actually be used by students.