Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Assessment; An Open Letter

Last weekend, I wrote up lesson plans for my intermediate ELD class for the week and I sent them to my master teacher to review. I was kind of disappointed when she sent them back with a ton of corrections, but I was also really happy that she took the time to help me improve, too. Apparently a lot of master teachers are less helpful.

I realized a couple things both about what I thought I knew and about how little I've learned from this credential program. Let's talk credential program first. This program taught me a lot of "strategies" for things to do in class. Graphic organizers! Pre-reading activities! Group work! but it really failed to link all of those concepts together into a cogent way. So, I was planning my lessons in terms of "we are going to do an activity. Then there will be another activity." It was all activities for their own sake. Activities are not an end in themselves, rather a means to an end. In the notes from my master teacher, she told me that I have to have measurable objectives and I have to measure them to make sure that the students actually learned something that day. I wish the credential classes had made this point more clearly. After thinking it over for a bit, it dawned on me that that's what all that crap we did at school was for. Activities are not just for the students to learn, but for you as the teacher to assess how they're doing at it.

Today then, for example, they were learning vocabulary about natural disasters and how to identify and use foreshadowing. To assess if they learned anything, I had everyone write a two paragraph beginning of a story where they were supposed to foreshadow for the rest of the story. Then we played a game called "password," wherein one person doesn't know what the word is and the rest of the class has to describe it to them. From watching them play the game and from reading their essays, I have a pretty fair idea of what they understood today. They knew what all the disaster words were (floods, earthquakes, tornadoes), but they had a hard time describing it. The writing proved more interesting. I provided a model for them to go off of, but I did not realize how much they were going to take from the model. I wanted them to write about a time when either they experienced a disaster (my model was about trying to get home when it snowed and the buses stopped running) or just any story. Now that I think about it, there is absolutely nothing surprising about them adhering strongly to the model, but I didn't expect it at all.

My lesson today went a lot better than the ones I did last week and I'm sure that it's because I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted the students to know at the end of class, rather than just "We are doing this chapter because we need to get through this book," which is a silly way to run class (I knew it was a silly way to run class, but I hadn't yet figured out an alternative). The frustrating part is that as soon as I improve one part, I realize that there were still other things that need improving. Unfortunately, this process is one of slow calibration to figure out what all needs to happen on any given day.

And now, an open letter to everyone who uses juggling in metaphors and similes while talk to me:

Dear everyone who uses juggling metaphors and similes while talking to me,

I know you're trying to pick a topic that you think I will relate to. In a way, I appreciate that. It's a little better than the constant comparisons I hear between teaching and parenting at school. So, good effort. However, since I actually juggle and teach juggling, even, on a regular basis, it is difficult for me to consider juggling on the level of figurative language. Also, juggling does not work the way you imagine it does. Yes, I know that to you, juggling represents a lot of things going on at once, but it does not represent that for me. I can juggle and do other things at the same time. It doesn't take too much of my focus to juggle. Teaching is much scarier. And children are too heavy to juggle anyway.


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