Report Card Day

Today reports went home for my Grade 8 students, so I thought it was appropriate to ask for some feedback from them on how I have done this past term.  I base my questions on the Onario College of Teachers’ Ethics and Standards of Practice.  The point is really formative – to help me set some goals for the coming term.  My students know that I value their insight.  I am committed to having them assume some responsibility for their learning, so soliciting their input was an easy decision.

I used a google form to create a short feedback survey that included several rating scale questions, as well as a “stop, start, continue” section.  I called it Mrs. Smith’s Report Card and gave students several minutes in our weekly computer lab time to complete the survey.  Over lunch I reviewed the results.  For the most part, I was not surprised by the responses – I have worked hard to get to know my students this term – but there were some exceptions that caught me a bit off guard and really made me think.  Of course, those responses are the most valuable, aren’t they?

Responses Worth Considering

Below are a few of the constructive comments that surfaced and made me reflect on how I might adjust my teaching to better meet the needs of my students:

Set Specific Due Dates:  I have stayed away from setting concrete due dates this past term, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, anything that I will evaluate must be completed during class time.  I do not believe in sending home assignments and projects to be finished for homework and then evaluated.  Also, I want every student to take the time they require to do a good job on any given assignment or project.  I don’t like to see students rushing to meet a deadline, thus producing less than stellar work.  I would rather students know that they may take as much time as needed in order to finish something.  Once most students have submitted an assignment, I offer time at recess to complete.  I am rethinking the whole “no due date” line not in terms of my philosophy, but rather to recognize that some students appreciate a deadline and like to know when an assignment is expected.  It could be that this helps them stay organized.

Give More Feedback:  This is one that I have to admit I have not been as good at as I would have liked.  I am firmly committed to the importance of timely and informative feedback as part of the teaching/learning/assessment cycle, but I think that I need to make a greater effort next term to provide feedback in the form of notes, conferences and comments on student blogs.

Give More Options:  Again, I thought I was doing this, but a couple of students felt that I was not offering a wide enough variety of assignments.  I admit that I require my students to write quite a bit – daily, in fact.  Reflecting on the Multiple Intelliegences surveys my students and I completed at the beginning of the term, I realize that I did not do enough to explore their areas of comfort and strength.  I will have to spend some time over the next little while thinking about and learning about other ways for students to present their learning. 

Less Technology / More Technology:  There was a very interesting and fairly even split in my students when it came to our use of technology.  Several felt that we use it too much and would prefer less.  An equal number of others felt that there was just the right amount of technology or that we could even increase the amount of tech. in the classroom.  This one really made me think.  I am quite happy with the amount of technology that we use to facilitate our learning.  I am very committed to using technology and exposing my students to the wide variety of tools available to enhance our collaborative group projects, as well as our individual inquiry.  I think that what I might need to do here is alter my approach by offering better support for students using technology that is new to them or that they might find intimidating.  I think I might have overestimated some of my students’ comfort levels with regards to the technology.

I was very happy to see that almost all of my students gave me a high rating on my level of caring – for their emotional well-being and for their academic progress.  That was a very deliberate goal for me over the past term and I feel that, through a lot of hard work and a ton of reflection, I succeeded.

A Renewed Committment to the Learner

Recently, I have been reflecting on the importance of Digital Literacy Skills.  I believe more than ever that if we don’t model and scaffold for our students the appropriate and responsible use of technology, including social media and collaboration tools, we are putting them at risk.  To use the often-cited analogy, I would much rather jump in the deep end with my students and teach them how to swim than lock the gate and pretend the pool doesn’t exist.  When the gate is up, it offers a false sense of security.  Without the skills to navigate the water, students are at serious risk because, let’s face it, they can all hop the fence.

If the web is the pool, I think it is my responsibility to ensure that my students know the dangers and risks, as well as how to stay afloat and how to protect themselves.  When it begins to appear as though they will spend a great deal of their adult lives navigating those waters, will I be able to say that I did my job if they don’t know how to swim?  If I believe that the locked gate is going to keep them safe, am I not in fact putting them at great risk for diminished meaningful literacy skills?

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2 Resolutions and 3 Moments

2 Resolutions:  Only 1 Counts

Despite my skepticism, I made 2 resolutions for 2009.  Maintaining this blog and learning more about digital literacies is one.  The other is more typical and therefore doomed to failure, allowing my treadmill to return to its previous function as drying rack sooner than later.

3 moments that made me say “Woah!”:

Three separate, though related, moments in late 2008 prompted my commitment to think more deeply about how our students have changed and how we, as educators must change to meet their needs.   These moments held up the mirror in which I saw reflected what Marc Prensky calls “The Digital Immigrant”.  In all three moments, I was struck with the slightly uncomfortable feeling that I was indeed foreign to the digital world.  I felt old and, despite my best efforts, my ‘accent’ was showing.

The first moment was when I was counseling a student who was having difficulty being at school.  He said to me, “My online life is better than my real life.”  After I got over my initial reaction of “Woah!”, I started to ask what made his online life better and his answers revealed that he felt empowered and in charge of his online identity.  This led me to want to learn more about social networking, online identity, engagement and authority.  I wanted to know how to use his online experiences to help make things better for him at school.

The second moment occurred when a student looked at me earnestly and said, “I don’t typically read text in .doc format.  I use .doc only to edit.”  This same student, along with two of his peers, used the collaborative Google Docs to work on a group project – without any instruction from me.  Woah!  I realized that I needed to know more about how students interact with and produce digital text.

The third moment, and closer to home, was when my 6 year old son told me that he had “skyped Santa.”  Woah!  I couldn’t help but wonder how different his way of processing his environment is compared to my own.

So, here I am, a mom and an educator, with my plan to deepen my thinking about learning and learning about thinking …