Testing, Testing, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I promised in yesterday’s post, we’ll wrap up that list of assignments and assessments I’ve been using in my face-to-face classes this year, and we’ll also take a look at ways that such assignments might be adapted to an online environment like the Tres Columnae Project.

As I write the first draft of this post on Thursday evening, I’ve just sent a welcome message to the participants in the fall session of that online professional-development course about Differentiated Instruction that I teach for my face-to-face school district. Even though it can be time-consuming, I really enjoy working with the participants in the course. Over a six-week period, we typically move from a group of strangers (many of whom are “just fulfilling a requirement”) to something very much like the Joyful Learning Community that the Tres Columnae Project hopes to build. I’ve never known exactly how that happens, but I think it’s because we form a metaphorical circle around a truly interesting, engaging Subject (to borrow a term from the work of Parker S. Palmer that will be familiar to truly long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī). As teachers and learners ourselves, we all want our students to be successful, and the course is all about what successful learning looks like and how to make it happen in a face-to-face classroom.

Perhaps that’s another reason why I enjoy teaching the course so much: it gives me an opportunity to learn from the participants in the course, just as I get to learn every day from my face-to-face students. As teachers, we sometimes forget how much we learn – and how much we need to learn – from our students. Obviously we have to learn something about them as learners so that we know best how to reach them, and sometimes we learn about connections between their lives and the subjects we teach. Sometimes we even get great strategies or lesson ideas from our students – if they trust us, they’ll suggest that we try something that worked well in Mrs. X’s or Mr. Y’s class. Just the other day, one of my Latin I students asked if there was a song we could use to help her remember “how verbs work.” I can’t think of an existing song, but developing one is going to be an option for her class as they review verbs over the next few days.

Allowing and encouraging students to develop their own assignments and assessments is a “growth area” for me at the moment. I’ve always been committed to the idea in theory, and as you know, I’ve sought student input and suggestions for a long time. But only this year have I really started letting go of my Ownership of my Latin I classes in particular. For the past few years, I had been striving to develop the “perfect” set of Latin learning materials – and then the idea for the Tres Columnae Project came to me. As I’ve worked on it, and as I’ve seen the implications for my face-to-face teaching, I’ve realized that “perfect” learning materials are an elusive goal. Every class is different, every student is different, every day is different, so the “perfect” materials, even if they could be developed, would immediately be imperfect for the next group that worked with them.

Instead of striving for timeless, unchanging perfection, I’ve been learning to seek a good balance or fit between students and materials, and I’ve re-learned and re-learned the importance of learners’ Ownership of the process as well as the outcomes. Hence the song idea for my Latin I classes … and hence a very directed, closed-ended review of subjunctive verbs for my Latin III’s on Thursday. We’d done more open-ended work, but they were struggling with too much freedom and too many choices, and they were delighted by a more structured, less open-ended task today. My Latin I students are actually more comfortable with open-ended tasks than the III’s at the moment, but even they needed and wanted a more structured, closed-ended task today. And all the groups have been asking for specific work with vocabulary during class, a request which surprised and confused me at first! For the last several years, most of my classes had not needed or wanted to do vocabulary work in class; they liked studying by themselves. But for whatever reason, the current groups love to practice and check vocabulary in class … and the more work we do with it, the better their reading-comprehension skills. That has often not been true in the past, which is another reason I’d been avoiding vocabulary work in class for a while. It was very frustrating to see and hear students who could perfectly define a word in isolation, but would look at me in utter confusion when that same word appeared in the context of a reading or listening passage!

Aside from student-driven work in general, and vocabulary practice in particular, the other area where I’ve been challenging myself this year has to do with formative and informal assessments. I have used these for a long time, but for most of that time I moved too quickly to “put a number” and check for accuracy … which is sad and ironic, I suppose, given my publicly-stated disapproval of teachers who “check homework for accuracy.” But there I was, checking classwork for accuracy before my students were ready! 😦 I’ve started listening to them, paying closer attention to informal self-assessments that I described earlier this week, and giving feedback without numeric grades more often, especially when we’re in the early stages of working with a new concept.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of my list of assignments and/or assessments?
  • What do you think about formative and informal types of assessment?
  • And how do you suppose these qualitative measures could be adapted to the quantitative, number- and data-driven format of an online environment?

Tune in next time for some preliminary ideas … and for any responses you’re willing to share. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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