Classroom Reflections

Testing out new strategies

This year, I identified one of my challenges being that students are not always utilizing feedback in the most effective of ways. My students shared with me their favourite types of feedback and we worked together to develop a variety of strategies to ensure they were getting the most out of each learning engagement. I wanted to come up with some strategies that were realistic in terms of not taking an abundance of my time and also encouraged the students to take more ownership in their own learning. Some strategies that I tried out this year:

1. Google Docs with Google Read&Write – I have enjoyed using the add on because it allows me to leave voice memos to the students with my comments for their work. This means the students have to actually process what I am saying and translate that into an improved product rather than perhaps copying and pasting what I have written in the feedback.
2. Conferencing – I used to conference with my students in a very informal way. This year, I have asked the students to bring something to write with (computer/pen&paper) and they have to write down three pieces of guidance that they recieved from me during the conference. This actually must be included in their reflection for the final product and explain how they used the guidance to enhance the product they produced.
3. Docappender – I just started using this and look forward to beginning the next school year using this. This is an addon that can be used with google forms to track feedback over the year in one google doc. I think collecting all of their feedback in one spot will make it easy for students to refer back to when they are working on any task.
4. Single point rubrics – I have been using these in a variety of ways. I have been able to use them for daily tasks as a check list and also have been able to get the students to determine their own areas of growth and strength. It has made them more aware of the skills they are developing on a day to day basis.
5. See-saw – Students have been asked that when they are doing their homework, they select the most challenging question that they are really proud they were able to complete on their own. They need to tell me in the video why they struggled with the question to begin with, they have to explain how they were able to overcome the challenge and then explain how to solve the problem. This has had them have to really reflect on their homework strategies and has provided them with an excellent resource for revision when preparing for a test.
6. Generalized feedback – For some tasks that I feel that I am making the same comments repeatedly – I have decided to create one single document with my overall feedback for the assessment. Describing many of the things the students did well in certain aspects, but some of the major challenges that I came across. I would also provide examples of the best work and some resources that they can access to improve in these aspects.

From all of this it has led me to my action plan which I will share in a later post! Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about what I have posted above. I have just found reflecting on all of these strategies has been really helpful for guiding me to my next steps.

Genius Hour

I have made it a part of my practice to do my best to share with students the real-world significance of learning the concepts we cover. I used to believe, that this alone, would be enough to keep students engaged in the course and curious about learning. For example, we recently were learning about isotopes in my Grade 11 Chemistry course and I gave the students an opportunity to explore one way that we use isotopes and write a short article about it. The students chose topics that were incredibly fascinating and we had a roundtable discussion sharing what we learned. At the end of this activity, after all of the wonderful discussion, a student pauses and turns to me to say “is this going to be on the test?”. Now this question didn’t surprise me, but it made me think – ‘do our students often get the opportunity in our class to learn something, just for the sake of learning it’. Something that has been digging at me for years has been, how do I get my students more curious and engage in their own independent learning in my subject? I try my best to model it, sharing articles about things I had read the night before, which led me to a journal of the month activity that flamed out miserably. I teach with enthusiasm and get really excited regularly about things, that only gets me engagement in that moment. So I am taking a risk this year. I have decided to try a “genius hour” with my students. I will dedicate one period a month where they can explore any topic in chemistry they are interested in.

To guide them through their first solo exploration, I had them visit Science News for Students. They were asked to choose an article and conduct a close read on this and write about what excited them most about it and what their next steps might be if they wanted to learn more. With one of my sections, the activity went off without a hitch. My heart was bursting with pride and excitement. Some were so amazed they couldn’t hold in their “WOW!”, and even would tap a classmate next to them to say “look at this!”, or ask “is this related to that concept we learned the other day”. With another section, I felt they were just going through the motions. They wanted to make sure they completed the “assignment”, but didn’t seem to get into the spirit of the lesson. I am trying to consider some other options for running an activity like this with the second group that would change the dynamic. Part of me thinks if I pull a couple of students aside before the class starts and get them to pump up the atmosphere this could help. Or, if I provided them with a few other types of media to access the information. Maybe they can read a magazine, listen to a podcast or watch a youtube video? I have seen the power of giving them an opportunity to explore a topic of their choosing while also building critical skills for engaging in technical content. I will keep at this until I find the winning recipe with this other group, but I am very excited to continue allowing students to explore more about their interests in my subject and learning WITH them.