Community Service Learning (CSL) is an academic program and form of experiential learning where students contribute to their community by participating in placements related to course objectives.
At Ridgemont, students in the Equity and Social Justice (HSE4M) class are knitting Izzy Dolls for the Syrian refugee children that will be arriving in Ontario. Izzy dolls were inspired and named after Master Cpl. Mark Isfled who handed Izzy dolls to children he came across on war missions. All the students in the class are new to knitting, but my AT is taking her time to teach them how to create an Izzy doll so that they can later donate it towards this cause. The goal of the course is to develop and apply research skills as well as designing and implementing a social action initiative relating to an equity or social justice issue. Thus, this class has decided to work as a group to comfort refugee children. While knitting, they also communicate and reflect on a current world issue. It has been really interesting to see how frustrated they were when they first started this project and now, how happy they are to be starting their second Izzy Doll.
Check out this article regarding an Izzy Doll initiative in Ottawa:
Re-Placing the Arts in Elementary School Curricula: An Interdisciplinary, Collaborative Action Research Project:
Allen Trent and Jorge-Ann Riley's research illustrates the impact of art-integrated education in an urban 4th grade classroom and its success on student learning in meaningful ways. Art-integrated education has shown benefits such as increased academic achievement and cognitive development. Trent and Riley mention a few interesting notes in regards to their research:
Trent and Riley's aim was to bring quality arts integrated education to urban students. They implemented their research practice in Riley's fourth grade class at Denver Public School in Northeast Devner, Colorado. Three research questions were posed to guide the inquiry of the project: 1) What are the student specific impacts/outcomes of integrating visual art curricula with other academic content areas? 2) What approaches, strategies, and practices support the implementation of arts integrated curricula? And 3) What does quality art integrated education (in elementary classrooms) look like?
The collaborative unit plan created was intended to engage a variety of texts and research related topics aligned with Denver Public School standards. One lesson that really stood out to me in terms of artistic design and thought was the artwork illustration of privacy rights (posted below):
The artist who composed this piece states: "My artwork is about someone trying to steal privacy from someone else. My message is that you don't always have absolute privacy."
There were several findings about integrating the arts in this research. Here are some I found particularly interesting:
Trent and Riley emphasize the importance of integrated curricula in both K-12 and teacher education. They also believe that in order for integrated teaching and learning to be more prominent, there should be an increase in professional development for educators at all levels. Finally, Trent and Riley conclude that the regular practice of providing students with multimodal forms for exploration is essential for knowledge and skill development and that quality art-integrated education should be "an educational right for all students, not just for the wealthy, White, or otherwise privileged."
Cooper's Talk About Assessment concludes with chapter 10, Implementing Change. In this chapter, Cooper discusses the need for change in educational practices. Cooper begins by mentioning the four conditions he believes are necessary for sustainable assessment reform: focus; support and accountability; collaboration; and staying the course. The chapter concludes by summarizing the need for assessment reform at the district, school, and individual teacher level.
I found the pages discussing focus were interesting. Focusing is meant to identify the most pressuring needs. I remembered the film Entre les Murs and how teachers in the staff room decided to start talking about more important issues like the coffee machine. For this school, there was no focus. But how does one identify what the most pressuring needs are? Using data, of course. But data shows that assessment for learning does nothing to improve achievement. Thus, Cooper says that the data for what teachers are doing between tests is more important than test scores. Focusing on instructional and formative assessment strategies is better informative data. Results from this data identified through the Designing Down model will create a focused plan for addressing the need of reform.
The Designing Down model starts at a system-wide level (principals and administrators collaborate by collecting data in their schools), moves to a school level, and ends with the teacher-level (communicating with teachers in order to work together with principals and administrators to reach the best solution for assessment reform).
Overall, Cooper has identified major aspects of teaching throughout his book, which including the Big Ideas, different types of assessment and their use, lesson planning, differentiated instruction, different types of students (IEP, ESL, ELD), technology in the classroom, reporting and grading and methods of assessment reform.
Chapter 9: Grading and Reporting:
This chapter focuses on big idea #8: grading and reporting student achievement is a responsive, human process that requires teachers to exercise their professional judgement.
On the first page of chapter 9, Cooper states the following: ''There was an implicit acceptance that, as a secondary teacher, I had been anointed with the ability to determine marks and grades in a reliable manner" (Cooper, p.182). I found this specific line to be amusing because it is true. The mark that is given by a high school teacher is magical, unquestionable, and final. However, Cooper quickly states that times have changed and now standards that fluctuate from class to class and year to year are unacceptable. Instead, teachers discuss standards for quality work, called performance standards. This chapter revolves around the relation between grading and standards.
Cooper discusses how teachers can ensure that performance standards are communicated to students by provided pieces of work that replicate the level on a rubric. For example, teachers should show the class a 'level 3' and 'level 4' sample of work so that students have standards not standardization. This seems very obvious and most of the chapter is common sense. Why wouldn't a teacher give students an exemplar? This helps guides students on the right path and it only makes it fair to provide an example to the class.
Percetange grades and letter grades are also mentioned in this chapter. Cooper argues that performance standards provide more useful information than a percentage grade, which is true. He also mentions that converting letter grades to percentage grades is hard since teachers will move from a four or five point scale system to a 100-point system. At first, I disagreed with him because I am accustomed to percentage grades. I like receiving a percentage because I like to know whether I am closer to one letter grade versus the other. For example, receiving a 78% means more to me than receiving a B+ or a "7". This is because I know that if I push myself harder, it is possible to receive an 80%, which is then equivalent to an A-. I also disagree with Cooper when he states that a zero must not be factored into the computation of a summary grade. Well then what do you assign a student? If they haven't completed the work then they receive an incomplete. An incomplete is equivalent to zero, is it not? How could you give a letter grade or percentage to a student who hasn't submitted anything? I understand that teachers and educators are trying to make school an engaging process and attempting to make it friendlier, more fun, and seem less like school (because this seems to make students more interested in their schooling). But this doesn't mean that we should start eliminating letter/percentage grades. I feel that this is unfair to not only students in the same class, but to students who dealt with this system and received zeros during their schooling. I feel that it's unfair to 'contact parents and document' the issue for not completing their work. I have also been in classroom situations where students like this receive extra projects that they could complete in order to boost their mark. But this isn't fair either. As educators, we shouldn't assume that students know a certain amount of information. Students should prove what they know by submitting work. Not submitting work = a zero.
Chapter 7 Teaching and Assessing Students with Special Needs:
This chapter was interesting and discussed three groups of students: those with learning disabilities, students with behavioural disorders, and English Language Learners. This chapter is useful for any potential educator because many students are misidentified with behavioural issues or learning disabilities. I feel as though the classroom environment has a huge role in regards to how students learn. For example, placing desks in rows versus placing them in a semi-circle so that everyone can see one another can better help the learning process. Students who aren't able to focus due to 'behavioural' problems may be able to learn better. I do remember that after I graduated from elementary school, the public system incorporated 'nutrition breaks' which I believe is an excellent idea because students will be able to take a break from 40 minutes of instruction. This was placed for all students because all students need a break from instruction, not just special need students. This chapter makes me feel that it is really hard to teach special needs students since many articles and readings are trying to find ways to teach 'regular' kids. This chapter (and many of Cooper's chapters) tend to state scenarios that have better outcomes. They are written in a way that the situation is not so bad, and that the solution is easy. I found that this chapter didn't provide specific answers, but rather repeated many of the suggestions that have been mentioned earlier, i.e., differentiated lesson planning, assigning specific tasks to students, and paying more attention to students by getting to know them.
So far at my CSL placement, I have been able to sit in on a Literacy class. This class enrols students who have failed the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) at least two times. Although I wouldn't consider these students having a learning disability, it would be interesting to read about Cooper's point of view in regards to where he would classify this group of students.
Chapter 8 Assessment Tools and Technology:
I see the value of rubrics- they are important as a general guideline for students. But that is the keyword- guideline. This chapter and Goodrich Anrade's article discuss how often rubrics generally fail to accomplish their purpose in accordance to student achievement. When reading a rubric, the only difference between any of the levels tends to be one word. Terms like "some", "good", and "poor" are really the key words that make the difference between a level 1 and a level 2, or a level 3 and a level 4. What do these words even mean? It's up to the teacher to then decide where to place a student. One thing I hate the most is hearing educators say "he's a level 4 student". In my grade 10 math class, we were only allowed to complete problems that we thought were appropriate to our 'level'. For example, if you were a 'level 3' student, you were only supposed to complete the level 3 questions. You were allowed to try the level 4, but it was not marked. I remember that my friends and I would complete only level 4 questions on purpose, even if we knew we couldn't answer them. We did this because then the teacher would be forced to mark our level 4 answers. I really hated this form of testing because those who thought they would never be able to answer a level 3 question properly always started and stayed with the level 2 questions and never had the chance to grow.
Honestly, we might as well walk around with a level stamped to our foreheads.
Goodrich Anrade's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, talks about rubrics (snooze), but when you read the article you notice that the 'bad things' that are mentioned are things that you would typically agree on too. Issues like validity, reliability, fairness, and the quality of rubrics should be revised. One sentence that really stood out for me was, "rubrics are not a replacement for good instruction" (29). I hate and love rubrics at the same time. When I used to have assignments, I only used the rubrics so that the teacher was happy with what I handed in. I would look at the rubric and make sure that I was meeting the right standards just so I can get the grade I wanted. I hated rubrics though because it didn't allow for 'thinking outside the box'.
In Chapter 5, Cooper discusses the importance of having a diagnostic or initial assessment prior to assigning work and teaching students. Identifying the scores to these assessments is crucial for the teacher so that they are able to understand the comprehensive level of the students in the class. Leaving the initial assessment stage out of the teaching process may inhibit learning as students will struggle. What is great about these assessments is that they are not graded. I understand where Cooper is coming from in regards to implementing diagnostic assessment, however I do not believe that it is practical for every teacher to conduct this type of testing with each and every student they may have. Although it is helpful to the students, I believe that it is time consuming. As a teacher candidate, I would agree completely with diagnostic assessments because I know it will help the students learn better and I will be able to instruct in a way that is more useful to them. But again, the amount of time that is required for this step is quite a lot.
I can relate to the pros of the diagnostic assessment based from my personal experience. I had the opportunity to teach 4 grade 5 students whose first language was not English. I was to translate the given lesson (whether it be in math, science, or history), and teach the lesson in Arabic, but was encouraged to use English so that the students can be accustomed to the language. The first issue I had was that the level of English comprehension in all four students was at different levels. One of my students did not speak any English, and the other three had recently immigrated to Canada within the last 7 months. Although it would have been difficult to complete an assessment because I was not a teacher at the time, it would have been useful to have some sort of document (perhaps from the homeroom teacher) discussing an initial assessment. At least this way I would have had an understanding of where each student was comfortable in regards to speaking and learning English.
In Chapter 6, Cooper discusses assessment for learning. This form of assessment attempts to inform students how and where they can improve while attempting to make the learning a fun experience. The assessment for learning includes self and peer assessments, allows oral questioning, and clearly communicates learning goals and the required performing standards. I liked the snowball activity because I feel that it is an activity that can be applied to all age groups. This activity allows students to write down their ideas, which is great, because not all students are willing to share their ideas in front of others.
I really liked the six strategies that were highlighted in the text, which included:
Chapter Three of Damian Cooper's Talk About Assessment: High School Strategies and Tools, the chapter introduces the concept of The Backward Design Model. Essentially, the model is as follows:
In Chapter Four, Cooper elaborates on Big Idea # 1 and 3. Big Idea #1 (Assessment serves different purposes at different times) and #3 (Assessment must be balanced, including oral and performance as well as written tasks, and be flexible in order to improve learning for all students). In regards to Big Idea #3, Cooper writes that many teachers focus on written assessments rather than oral assessments because they have to prepare students to this type of assessment. What struck me when reading about the university expectations is when the text mentions that only between one-quarter and one-third of Ontario graduates go to university. This is surprising to me because in high school, university was glamorized and everyone wanted to attend university versus college or the workplace. What I found most important in this paragraph was the following:
"Perhaps, most importantly, high schools must prepare students for life beyond university, college, or apprenticeships... Since the challenges of daily life require us to perform and to communicate both orally and in writing (do, say and write), classroom assessment must be balanced accordingly" (Cooper, 50).
This statement is utterly obvious, yet the balance is not implemented in schools. We graduate from high school not knowing how to complete life basics, like filing for taxes, yet knowing that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. This chapter reminded me of a picture I once stumbled upon (located at the end of this blog post). I agree completely with Cooper in regards to preparing students for life rather than primarily focusing on post-secondary studies.
In both chapters 1 and 2 of Damian Cooper's Talk About Assessment High School Strategies and Tools the eight big ideas of assessment are discussed and seem to be very obvious protocols for assessing students. I like that Cooper included these ideas because it allows teachers to focus on the general concepts and benefits all students.
In chapter two, Cooper mentions that due to the advancement of technology and with it being fully accessible at our finger tips, teachers are now 'facilitators of learning' rather than being the main source of knowledge in the classroom. This is interesting to note because technology is constantly changing, which means that classrooms will constantly be changing as well. Because of the constant change in technology and updating of systems, teachers are unable to keep up with all the information that can be captured in textbooks and on the internet. Thus, I think teachers should definitely use technology to their advantage and help facilitate classroom discussions. This can be done by allowing students to look for lesson-related information and bringing it back to the rest of the class.
I also liked how Cooper differentiated the norm and criterion-referenced approaches. Personally, I remember attending school and being assessed based off of the norm-referenced approach. That is, the grading procedure that is used to compared student's achievements to one another. However, the criterion-referenced approach allows for assessment to be in regards to meeting an expected and known standard. I think that this is a much better approach, but some teachers disagree because they believe that this approach will not prepare students for university or college. Cooper provides an excellent example to respond to these opposing statements, which has changed my perspective on assessment:
"High school is preparation for college, university, or work- it is not college, university, or the workplace. So when teachers say to me, 'Why should students get to do work over if it doesn't meet the standard? If an Airbus pilot blows a landing, he or she doesn't get to do it over' - I reply, ' Actually, the pilot does get to repeat the landing-not once, but hundreds of times- in the flight simulator at flying school.' In short, school is the flight simulator, not the Airbus' (Cooper, 17).
In Too Cool for School? No way! I noticed that one of the methods that Mishra and Koehler mentioned was used by one of my teachers in high school. In the article, they refer to 'microblogging'. They used Twitter as an example to complement face-to-face discussions in a classroom and found that microblogging actually enhanced the classroom discussions in engaging ways. This method was used in my grade 12 English class where class discussion about The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini occurred on Twitter using '#plewis4u'.