Monday, 16 June 2014

Marking: From Loathing to Loving

Earlier today, I read a couple of blog posts (including this one) about 'common language' and its pros and cons. I then sat down to continue checking my Year 8s writing corrections and realised that I was actually enjoying it; definitely progression in my attitude toward a task that I met with procrastination more often than not.

What's the link?

In the past, when I've annotated a learner's writing, I have struggled to give them enough direction to self-correct without a. 'telling' them the 'correct' answer (and thereby robbing them of a learning opportunity) or b. being so vague that the learner really doesn't know where to start with how to improve what they originally penned.

However, over the last couple of weeks, I've been trialling a resource from Laura Randazzo on TeachersPayTeachers and it has been transformational for both me and my learners. The idea is that there is a shared set of codes used to annotate texts - nothing new there - but the feature that separates it from the rest is that the reference sheet gives technical guidance on the error, using authentic concise and accurate terminology. I like to think that my editing of the reference sheet has also enhanced its efficacy as I inserted shortened urls (using Bitly) linking to further guidance and self-tests.

The first 'win' with this resource occurred after I asked learners to go through, and note in their workbooks, the error codes. Lots of mental sweat visible here! Next, they wrote out the guidance, followed by the corrected version of the extract. At that point, I did an anonymous feedback survey and the results were most encouraging. While a couple (surprisingly, not more) of the 24 surveyed mentioned they hadn't enjoyed the physical wrist tiredness they'd experienced in writing out at such length, every single one (yes, without even one exception) gave positive feedback. They said they felt it made them more aware of their errors, how to correct them and that the exercise meant it was less likely they'd repeat the errors in their next writing task, partly because of their raised awareness and partly because they would proofread more carefully so as to avoid such onerous writing out of corrections again. (At the point of writing this post, this remains to be seen, so I'll be back to update on whether this is indeed the case or not.) I had explained to the class that I would make a decision on whether to continue using the system or not based on their feedback, so a positive response was effectively the class telling me, "We want more!" 

The next victory came as I sat down to mark their corrections and realised that having this common understanding of technical terms made it so much easier for me to mark up their work. As learners had already corrected themselves following guidance on aspects such as 'preposition', 'tense shifting', 'fragment', 'subject', 'verb' and a range of punctuation terms, it was effortless to concisely note where their focus should lie for future proofreading. 

Furthermore, an added bonus was that the learners I would usually worry most about understanding my feedback found they had an advantage over the rest of the class: my EAL learners. As they have all experienced learning English with regular exposure to grammatical terminology - especially around tense formation - I was able to be even more specific in my feedback to them, using terms like 'past participle', 'present perfect' and other such terms the rest of the learners (and many English teachers) would baulk at.

The enjoyment factor for marking now comes from the strong sense that it is a constructive, collaborative experience that is visibly building the learners' skills, while being differentiated, personalised and putting the onus of learning where is should be: with the learner.
"If I had to reduce all of the research on feedback into one simple overarching idea, at least for academic subjects in school, it would be this: feedback should cause thinking." (Dylan Wiliam (2011)
A massive thanks to Laura Randazzo for this resource; I receive nothing for promoting her materials, monetary or otherwise, but I do wholeheartedly recommend a look here.

Friday, 13 June 2014

From 'Good Teacher' to 'Effective Teacher'

My last post reflected on my thoughts at the start of the Coursera MOOC on Coaching Teachers, and as it draws to a close, I have to say it has been some of the best PL I've had in a long time.

One of the big things it's prompted me to think about is how a teacher moves from being a good teacher to being an effective teacher. Good teachers are often judged on their classroom performance, implementation of school policies and respected pedagogical approaches, but effective teachers are judged on the outcomes achieved for their learners, plain and simple. So the guy that regularly gets his guitar out in a lesson for a singalong and the teacher who requires absolute silence for most of a lesson might have different approaches and classroom environments, but to judge their efficacy, it's the learners we should be focusing on. Do they learn and retain that learning over time? Can they apply the learning in appropriate contexts? Does learner feedback indicate high levels of engagement with intellectually stimulating learning experiences? Only the answers to these questions (among others) will indicate if the teacher is effective or not, regardless of what we can observe in a one-hour session plucked at random from the school year.

This post from Class Teaching (a blog I recommend to anyone who'll listen) reinforces the idea and adds to it. Consider this graphic (taken from the same blog) for a moment:

A common complaint among teachers is, 'I taught this last year and they've forgotten it. They don't remember anything!' but if we are regularly teaching 'in a spiral' with revision and revisiting being prominent features, that would surely be less of a feature. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many curricula from around the world are so dense with content that many feel it's nigh on impossible to touch upon many standards more than once a year, but I'm thinking that the key is to prioritise according to individual learning goals and go from there. I'm not talking about unmanageable IEPs for the thirty or so kids you have in every class, but as you get to know your class through formative assessments, the areas that need more attention should become clearer and allow for a sharper focus on what's most needed. 

What is referred to as "spaced retrieval practice" is supported by research as an extremely effective method so click through to the original post for guidance on starting points on implementing this in your own classroom.