My top three cool learning moments (from last week)

Today I felt like writing. I didn’t feel like writing the overdue chapters for the latest edu book I’m writing. It’s not the creative type of writing I felt like doing. I enjoy writing this blog because I am free from the gaze of the editor. Maybe I need to have an editor in my mind to focus or censor me … I guess Freud would say that I have my Super-Ego, but sometimes I think it lets some crazy stuff slip through … or is that the Ego that chooses to let the stuff slip through? Only I’m not conscious of it, right? Oh I digress … sorry.

So I didn’t know what to blog about and (of course) I asked Twitter. My new Kiwi mate Christine Wells suggested this: ‘Maybe a blog on your top 3 cool learning moments?’ I tell you what, she’s a fountain of great ideas, that one! So this is my post about three cool learning moments from last week.

Cool learning moment 1: Monday … period 6. Year 8 have been watching Tim Burton films in order to discover what makes his style distinctive and thus earn the title ‘auteur’. It’s part of our current project. I’m pretty sure I posted that on here a little while ago. Anyway, as a way of summarising what they have discovered, I got them to write a collaborative essay. Basically each team of three is responsible for writing one paragraph of the essay – that’s one paragraph per team. These paragraphs will all be smooshed together to make a collaborative class essay that I will post outside our classroom for the world (or at least passing students) to see. Teaching paragraph writing to students is hard and that’s why I set them an attainable, collaborative goal.

On Monday afternoon last week, Year 8 were tired. Despite this I had my mission – to teach how to write a great statement to begin a paragraph – and I was determined to achieve it. After about fifteen minutes of instruction/discussion (e.g. what is a subject, object, verb; what is a clause, a dependent clause, an independent clause) my students got to have a go on their own. Each team had three different pieces of coloured paper on which they needed to write the subject/verb/object of their statement addressing a question (e.g. What is distinctive about the characters in Tim Burton’s films?). The result? Well it was mixed. Learning the ‘parts’ of a sentence had confused the ‘natural’ writers and had empowered the struggling writers. My learning? We all need to have a basic understanding of the building blocks of language, even if writing comes naturally to us. My mission? To spend more time discussing the parts of language with my students to empower them all.

Cool learning moment 2: On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting an English teacher from another school. She was visiting because she wanted to ‘see PBL in action’. I was terrified when I read her request via email … I’ve never had anyone watch me ‘do’ PBL. I talk a lot about it – on my blog, on twitter, at presentations, during workshops – but is it all talk? I kinda felt like it was and the impending visit was making me belly-sick. Luckily Jessica is a gorgeous, calm, lovely person and made me feel at ease straight away. She came into my Year 9 class and my Year 10 class. I introduced her as Jessica – it’s my dream for my students to call me Bianca. I hate titles. They are silly. Anyway, knowing her first name seemed to calm my students too. Both lessons went really well and I was stoked that they weren’t staged lessons … they were real lessons. Students were still silly with me, I said good bye to a student leaving and I just felt comfortable.

Chatting afterwards to Jessica about the lessons, she was really positive and enthusiastic about my approach. She said she was surprised by how structured my lessons were but also by how self-directed and engaged my students were. Even the ones pretending to shoot each other in a mock duel knew what we were doing for the project and could explain what this lesson was for, what the last one was for and where the project was heading. That was pretty cool – their awareness of why they were learning and what they were learning … even the seemingly boring basic stuff is purposeful in PBL. My learning? The best things I learnt from this experience was the growth of my students’ understanding of PBL (one student had told Jessica at first he thought I wasn’t doing my job properly but later he realised how important it is to control his own learning) and how much I know about this crazy PBL stuff. My mission? Keep in touch with Jessica and open my classroom to other teachers who want to visit.

Cool learning moment 3: If you’re one of the people who has read my feedback post from a few weeks ago, you’ll know that I’ve made a big shift away from quantitative feedback to qualitative feedback/feedforward. Recently students had their yearly examinations. For the writing component I used a checklist – a series of criteria written as questions and a yes/no column for ticks. E.g. Did the essayist establish a personal voice? Yes/No. I also used code annotations (read the post and this will make sense). That was the only feedback/feedforward given. No numbers. When I gave back the papers to my students, they were desperate to know their ‘percentage’ … and I directed them to the criteria checklist and told them to read through the feedback and then allocate themselves some ‘medals’ (what they did well) and set some ‘missions’ (what they need to improve on’). Then I told them that was all they needed … our focus in English is on learning, not on catergorising each other as a number or rank. One girl asked, ‘What do I tell my mum when she asks how I went in English?’ and I said, ‘Show her your medals and missions. If she doesn’t understand, tell her to call me.’ I haven’t had a call yet, but maybe I’ll get one this week. We’ll see. My learning? Students really need to be ‘unschooled’ … they are programmed from Year 7 to expect numbers as feedback and they will align themselves (and their fragile egos) to these numbers. Scary stuff. My mission? Start using this feedback/feedforward method at the beginning of the year.

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5 thoughts on “My top three cool learning moments (from last week)

  1. Firstly…. Great blog post… I always think about doing this and sort of check it off in my mind… But never write it!
    Secondly…. My senior students call me by my first name! It builds a really nice relationship between me and them!
    Thirdly…. I am soooo with you on marks. I have taken them out of my GATS class… And they learn for the love of learning. As for my other classes, at times I have been behind on marking this year- while this is bad- it has also meant that I can just talk to my students about the work they have submitted…
    By the time they get a number back, they already know how they have gone and learnt how to improve. Grades are not the answer but are something that people can grasp…
    We will have to learn them otherwise! Haha

  2. I agree with missjessm and yourself on the badness of grades. My question, re your marking of the yearly, is did they get an ACTUAL mark that goes toward their yearly report? I can’t imagine myself being allowed to just give the feedback (even though it seems to be the best thing at improving students’ results, and being graded is so negative) without there being a mark allocated that is then used to create a grade for a report.Kudos to you!

  3. Love this! Particularly: Students really need to be ‘unschooled’. Perhaps the adults ‘in charge’ also need a little poke in that direction…

  4. Hi Bianca! Stoked to hear that you also profited from my visit the other week. Thanks again for allowing me to intrude upon your great classes! I’m currently marking some Yr10 exams that were hastily shoved under their noses in a panicked attempt to have more across-grade data for the BOS. Students have already been asking for their marks, and I’m cringing ‘cos they’re going to be so disappointed…and it’s a completely useless piece of ‘assessment’ that will serve only to discourage and promote student self-misconceptions. Tra.Ge.Dy.

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