Presentations of Learning…so much more than content

As I’m listening to my 35th presentation of learning (POL) this week, I have to remind myself that it’s probably the first presentation of the week (if not the only one) for this student and reset my mind to be open to what they have to tell me. “Be present, Bacon!”

So many students (at least 75%) have chosen to demonstrate their learning by creating a POL instead of write a comprehensive exam and, for the most part, it’s a positive and rewarding experience for both of us.

When I ask them why they chose a presentation over the exam and/or what their biggest take away is I get some surprising and revealing responses. Here are some quotes and representations from some of my students.

 

 

I have learned a lot from taking this course. This course isn’t for everyone and there are a lot of people who say Sustainable Resources is easy but it’s not. It’s not a course where you sit around and hope you “just pass” (Like me). I have learned multiple things and some of them are that if you want something you have to get up and do something about it. Also that fish can be a fertilizer for plants and you could grow plants with their poop . Also I learned that gardening is pretty hard and you have to maintain your garden and take care of it almost everyday.

I’ve learned that a lot of things aren’t given to you like if you plant something it’s not gonna magically grow like you want it to, I’ve also learned that this course is a good one to show you who you really are and that you can become someone better. I have now made a garden at my house since I started this course and my garden now is growing strawberries and turnips and it’s booming and i couldn’t have done it without the knowledge of sustainable resources.  ” V.S.

 

“Learning how to grow plants has helped me grow as a person.” V.S.

 

” The reason I chose a presentation of learning was because I believe education is only valuable when you can interpret it and use it to your needs. By connecting my learning to the outside world and problems today, I could figure out how education can be a solution. If you are just learning or memorizing without connections, I don’t think it can be later used for real problems. 

This semester, I learned that my interest was chemistry out of the three sciences. I found chemistry the easiest for me, and I was really glad that I could narrow down the path to what I want to become. However, I chose to present on biology and physics instead because I wanted to challenge myself since I felt like I didn’t understand these two subjects as much as chemistry. I thought of my presentation as an opportunity to dig deeper into these subjects. I’m quite pleased with the results because I feel like I’ve gotten closer to these subjects through my presentation.” S.J.

 

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” When I chose POL, aside from the initial thought that it was easier I also knew it was an opportunity to present what I know. To prove that I took something away from this course, rather than simply receiving a grade on an exam to show I understood the material, I want to expand on that by displaying what I knew but also reflecting on how I felt, the challenges I faced and how I overcame them or maybe I still struggle with them. In closing, I felt the Presentation of Learning was overall a better experience for me, over sitting in an exam room and writing an exam for an hour or two. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did making it.” A.M.

 

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This is Important: Reflecting on Valuing the Person More than the Content

The context: Chemistry with my Grade 10s, last period before a 4-day weekend, with a hoe down in their pockets. My student receives a phone call. I’m like ” REALLY!”
I hear him say, “Can I call you back because my teacher is going to blow?”
I ask him… “What is up with that?”
He says, ” She’s a really nice person and she’s stuck. Her car’s broken down and she called me for help.”

So I said, “Go ahead outside and call her back.” He looked at me in disbelief and called her back.
15 minutes later, having missed some big ideas, he came back in and got back to work. He talked to me after class and thanked me for letting him call her. Her car had broken down on Hwy. 3 on the way to Princeton. She was on her own. My student is 15 with an IEP. He struggles with written output but is bright and loquacious/ chatty. He was able to tell his friend how to figure out what was wrong with her vehicle. He sounded mature beyond his years, valued and respected. I’m thinking that some things (many things) are far more important than being able to draw a Bohr model of an ion.
Happy Easter!

Etc.

I’ve been learning about assessment, both formative and summative, for many years now. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend different conferences featuring my assessment gurus, John Hattie, Dylan Wiliams, Ken O’Connor and Myron Dueck. I am constantly online reading posts by Alfie Kohn, Starr Sackstein, Thomas Guskey, and Jennifer Gonzalez.

I post daily learning targets, my assessments are organised by targets/standards and I use performance standards for all of my assessments. I don’t give zeros, I allow rewrites, I embrace any demonstration of thinking and learning and learning from mistakes.

I still find myself thinking about summative assessment, its importance and whether I am doing the right thing. I don’t want learning to be limited by test taking.  I resent the time it takes away from learning.  I hear teachers worrying about end of year comprehensive exams being replaced by alternative ways of student demonstrations of learning. They sound threatened by anything that is not their 2-3 hour comp. exam, as if they can’t justify the semester or their job without this traditional trial by fire.

I wonder how can you not know what your students understand if you are assessing formatively on an ongoing basis? Why do you require an end of term comprehensive exam to maintain rigor?

I keep trying new things. Last week I  had students complete a model of succession as a group rather than individually and we did it outside using chalk rather than on paper. I could walk around and hear their thinking and ask questions to clarify their thinking.2017-03-31 12.48.56

 

And while I don’t usually assign text questions, this time I assigned review questions to one class individually and to another class as a collaborative endeavour. The former required lots of  walking around trying to get kids to stay on task while the latter involved lots of listening to kids thinking and questioning. It was so refreshing and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before.

Finally, a different way to summatively assess: choice.
4 choices in fact…students could create a learning summary or a letter to the editor or an infographic or take the traditional test.
After class one student asked, “Can we do the same thing next time?” #assessment

Your #TinPod Shuffle for Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017

Tincanland

Welcome to the launch of a weekly playlist for your Sunday afternoon batch cooking, laundry folding, general puttering – or just sitting. The selections have nothing to with anything in particular; it’s simply an hour of songs I must have liked well enough once to save to my iPod.

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Do We Really Need a Final Exam?

My colleague and I did this last semester and we love it but it’s exhausting. Much more work for all but, at the same time, so much more rewarding than reading the score on a Scantron.

Going Gradeless

In his article in the British Newspaper The Telegraph titled “Intelligence cannot be defined by exams,” Peter Tait argues that, “The problem of measuring intelligence per se is that it is an inadequate guide to human capability, and that many of the ways we use to measure working intelligence are woefully inadequate.”  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/11678216/Intelligence-cannot-be-defined-by-exams.html

I would argue that one of these inadequate measures is the final exam.

I listen to teachers in the staff room complain about students who think the final exam will dramatically change their mark.

Yes, it occasionally happens, but more often than not a student’s mark is essentially the same before and after the exam.

Other teachers wonder what to do with a student who performed poorly on the exam, but demonstrated excellent understanding throughout the semester.

And yet, we are still required to give exams at the end of the semester.

Or administrators who, in…

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Dear Ms. Bacon,

What follows is a transcript of a letter written to me by one of my international students. It’s a constant reminder of why I teach.

Dear Ms. Bacon,

I have to tell you I was so happy to get Biology on my schedule my first week here. But I also have to tell you that on my second weekend here the only thing I could think about school was, “Oh no, biology!”

I was afraid of talking, I was afraid of making mistakes, I was afraid of trying. The day of my first presentation in this class, I showed to be weak, but you showed me I was wrong.
You helped me transform my weakness into strength.

The moment that I was standing, facing the whole class, and everyone was paying attention in my words, I realized that biology is not just about cell, muscles, bones, plants animals. As the word says, Biology is life. The study of life. Biology helped me to face my fears.
And you Ms. Bacon, you helped me to climb the biggest mountain I have ever faced. That was my first mountain in a long time, and I know it will not be the last. Thank you for all biology, and more than that, thank you for teaching me how to face my mountains using my own weapons.