Tuesday, 21 April 2015

March Break Reflection

This is a collaborative post Alana, David, and Jennifer started to develop during lunch on our field trip to the aquarium in downtown Toronto right before March Break, on Thursday March 12th. Following is our reflections on the progress of our project after one month.

Student Engagement

We're excited to see student engagement from our kids, but especially from several who have been struggling. Mind you, this project has NOT been a panacea (nor do we expect it to be). A few students who were not working to their potential previously are still avoiding work, and it is easier for them to do this (in a sense) because we as teachers are not exercising the same kind of top down control you would see in a traditional classroom. However, in our place, peers of these students are more rigorously calling them to account. Effectively, in some sense, we've been replaced, or at least our roles as teachers have shifted.

Recognizing Unique Skill Sets

On the positive side, we are amazed how students appear to be engaging in the project on their own free time without firm direction (by student choice). We have assigned one of four jobs to each child within their company (group), based on the job application and resume they submitted, and what we know of their skill set. The jobs (as you can see on the blog here) are CFO (Project Manager), CTO (Engineer), PR Director (Communications) and Creative Director (Designer). Amazingly, as each student has been recognized for what their strengths are, they have shown more positive energy and personal investment in the tasks they are doing! In other words, when we give them complex and demanding tasks they are rising to the challenge!


In our experience, we have noticed that some gifted classes keep to themselves and choose not to interact with other classes (except maybe gym class and occasionally during lunch). This year we've seen some really neat interactions between our two classes (one gifted and one non-gifted) throughout the project thus far. We are looking for this to improve and develop over time, though we're not sure what that will look like! (We have left room for the children to surprise us!) We will continue to make a concerted effort to encourage companies to build relationships within each class and between classes to be non-competitive and supportive each others' strengths, both face-to-face in person and online.
The power of the internet is to connect people and ideas outside of the physical limitations of space and time. We are excited about the real world skills of networking students will be developing in the weeks ahead, including real connections with business and industry via the internet!
We would also like to have parents in to see what their children are doing! We are not afraid of transparency and accountability, and we wonder how best to communicate with parents and share student learning with them. So far we are considering a parents night, a weekly email, twitter, or student video blogs.

The Big Issue - Assessment

What we are struggling with is how to individually evaluate? There is SO MUCH LEARNING going on it is a raging torrent! One only needs to look at our project Twitter Feed to see that things are happening. However, the learning is happening outside of our grasp, and we feel out of control! As teachers we were trained (and so we feel obligated) to control and measure - how to do we let that go a little bit? We are reflecting on this in the context of Sir Ken Robinson’s popular TED talk about creativity in classrooms and the way our school system has been set up to meet the needs of the standardization of the industrial era. Can we have enough faith in ourselves to attempt innovation divorced from this industrialized model? Can we count on the faith of our colleagues, administrators and parents as we make attempts at innovation and experience failures of varying degrees?
Things are very organic right now in our classrooms, and they are not easily split into subject areas. We find ourselves asking the question - is a certain thing a language item or a math item? Perhaps it’s both! And how do we go about evaluating an individual's progress within the group context IF we believe that the group is more than the sum of its parts? And then there’s that age old group work problem: How do we assess kids who are slacking and letting other kids take the lion's share of the work?
We've tried to put our own "real world learning" lens to use, asking for example: "How does assessment and evaluation work in the real world? How does this artificial school world compare to the world of performance reviews? Frankly, we’re not sure how to answer this question, given that we know of only very few formal kinds of assessments for employees in the workforce.
Even if we come up with a good answer to this, we're still stuck with the question how do we get the feedback to the students and parents. How does this content get into report cards? Our current system tries to deal with this dilemma using the "currency" of marks. The only problem of course is that some students have learned to game this system! We also know that marks are the standard with which parents are generally familiar, and we know that parents will trust us if we have a mark, but we have circled back to this same question: how to GET that mark...

The Box

We feel torn because we are saying to each other and our students: "be innovative, be creative, but do it inside the box". The system wants us to MEASURE quantitatively, but we are working in a highly organic environment -- kind of like the real world -- and it is a struggle!
How do we put outside the box thinking INSIDE THE BOX???