In George Couros’ book “The Innovator’s Mindset”, he talks about having faculty pull-outs where he would seek feedback from teachers in groups of 5 or so. A lot of George’s book is about leadership and creating a culture of innovation in the school. I read the book with both my Teacher and Department Head hat on. So I took George’s idea of these pull-outs and applied it to my classes. I created a series of questions for each term that I could start these conversations with and recorded their answers. At the end I gave them a chance to “vent” and share some frustrations. One of the common responses from my Grade 12 students was that we overload them with up to 8 subjects at once giving tests, quizzes, essays, projects etc. within the same week or even within days (see my blog post on Creating Meaningful Student Feedback to see how these conversations happened). I thought about how I could help my students make their lives simpler. What could I do to show them that our conversations were meaningful and could bring about change in their lives?
Then it hit me as I read a few books over the winter break (Pure Genius, Teach Like A Pirate, Learn Like A Pirate). We needed to try to create a calendar that was live to the staff that we could consult and input our assessments. So I collaborated with a colleague who knows how to use Google Calendar a lot better than I do and we created a shared, by invitation, calendar that will hopefully be used by the majority of staff to input major summative assignments. We have colour coded it by grade, with the idea that when we are planning major assignments we can consult the shared calendar and see what others in the the building are doing (See Link Below). If nothing else, the goal is to allow staff to start conversations with each other and the students about work loads and ensuring we are not overloading the students with test after test. So the calendar has been well received so far but a few staff have come and commented that we are not doing students justice – especially the seniors – who they say it is our job to prepare them for university – the argument being that we should be teaching them time management and organizational skills instead of changing when we do these assessments. Universities don’t care when tests/assignments are in other classes, it is the student’s job to sink or swim. A few years ago I would have agreed with this argument. However, I think we need to make things simpler without making things easier. I would argue that the new BC curriculum is doing this too – making things simpler. So why shouldn’t we change the way we are doing assessments and trying to get the most out of our students without overloading them. Teachers always argue for authentic assessment. What is authentic when students are not capable of giving us our best if we are overloading them.
In Couros’ book he asks the question – would you want to spend an hour in your class if you were a student? My simple answer, when the week is full of assessments – NO. I would also argue that university tests are not multiple choice and regurgitory…they are more synthesis based. So maybe along with the calendar we need to consider how we are testing. Let me know what you think.
Jan 14th – Follow up – I had a teacher come to my room and said I see you are planning a Socials test next week. I am planning something but I can’t change it – can we work together to make sure we don’t overlap. This is exactly what my goal was in creating this calendar – start a conversation and realize that students have 7 other subjects beyond mine/yours that often we don’t think about.