Modern Educational Practices and Thoughts

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I have struggled with feedback and what it means for the majority of my career.  I always thought that it was limited to when I handed back a test and we went over the answers, or during an essay when I would mark them on a 6pt rubric and offer written ideas on how to improve or think of other points to include.  I am now rethinking how and when I do feedback.

Feedback, I have learned, is more powerful in the moment (as long as I do not interrupt them “in the moment”), that it is often more powerful if done verbally and in the form of an inquiry question to make the student go deeper.  I have also found collaborative feedback among classmates is often more beneficial for learning than anything I could every say/do (peer review/assessment or simply inquiry based learning).  Try some of these tips that I have found on Pinterest and Twitter and challenge yourself to provide meaningful, growth focused feedback.Formative feedback

Lessons to Empower Students

Please go to Classroom Life to read more


Must Reads for Re-Energizing your Teaching

  1. George Couros – The Innovator’s Mindset
  2. Dave Burgess – Teach Like a Pirate
  3. Don Wettrick – Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level
  4. Dan Pontefract – Flat Army
  5. Paul Solarz – Learn Like a Pirate

Creating Meaningful Feedback from Students

I always seek student feedback.  I ask for feedback on a specific project and also do a teacher feedback survey at the end of the year.  After reading Couros’ book (and the section on how he would do teacher pull-outs) I went back to my feedback that I did last June which I still had and a few of them commented that they would have liked to have done this mid-year so that some of what they said they would change could have been changed or addressed for the rest of the year.  So I put 2 and 2 together and back in November/December I created a binder divided into 7 sections for all my classes.  Each section is nicely divided with a coloured tabbed divider and each section starts with a class list.  I created a series of 17 questions divided into 3 sections for the 3 terms we have at school (See link below).  So now I have a binder with 184 pieces of paper with each student’s name on the top.

During a purposely planned day of engaged group/seat work, I pulled the students in groups of 5-7 to an office or vacant classroom.  They all thought they were in trouble and this was going to be a stern talking to.  I had to laugh as I started to tell them where my head was at for this pull out.  I told them that it was threefold – first – to get feedback on me, my class, my teaching style and the content; Second – to get feedback on the school and their lives in and out of school; Third – to try to make their lives simpler and try to help make school more engaging and possibly make some meaningful changes around the school based on their feedback.  A sense of calm came over them and they freely opened up to me as I broke the ice with my planned questions and then ensured I gave them an opportunity to provide any other feedback about me, the course or the school.  A lot of them went off and started to talk about other subjects and as they did I told them I was more than willing to hear what was happening in other classes but did not want to hear specific names associated with those classes (and if there is only 1 teacher teaching the subject I asked them to be vague about it and only give me the overarching subject – for example I’m the only Law teacher at my school so they would have said Social Studies if they were referring to Law).  Some of the findings were eye opening – such as most are working 20-25hrs per week in grade 11 and 12.  They all love our new Flex block schedule – see for more info on that.  A lot of them feel that they cannot talk to or approach their teachers.  That many teachers, although passionate about their subject fall short of actually engaging their students in the subject.  And the list goes on.

I took this feedback, pondered what it all meant and have made some innovative and meaningful changes in my teaching (see Making Student Life Simpler – Creating an Assessment Calendar).  I have taken a lot of what I read recently (see the Must Reads for Re-Energizing your Teaching) and modified for my purposes.  I have revised lesson plans to empower my students to take ownership of their learning (see Lessons to Empower Students).  I have touched bases with some of my students and asked for feedback on how I have changed things this week – all have said 100% they love the changes, look forward to what we will do next and are engaged for a longer period of time in the class.  One student did say that they were always engaged with my powerpoints, stories and humour but feel that this way she actually remembers the content as she found it and had to understand it, versus me giving it to them.

So I think the value of taking 7 hours of my instruction time, 25 mins of a students instruction time, to get meaningful, authentic feedback has paid off for the positive.  I encourage everyone else out there to try to do the same.Student Check in Sheet


Making Student Life Simpler – Creating an Assessment Calendar

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.Screenshot 2016-01-08 18.09.21

Make education SIMPLER – not easier

We want to challenge our students but not overload our students.  Try these ideas to make teachers and students lives simpler:
1. Collaboration within subjects by setting up shared resources – use Dropbox or Google Drive
2. Set up a school wide calendar so teachers can share when major projects, tests etc are happening so we don’t overload our students
3. Take the time (and trust me it takes time – 7hrs for my 7 blocks) to have one-on-one or group conversations about specific topics or anything on the student’s minds.  You will be awakened by what they say and what they want
4. Innovate – how can you make this lesson more student centred and one where you, as the teacher, can participate and facilitate instead of being bearer of information

Brain Rule #4

From John Medina’s book “Brain Rules” we have only seconds to get ones attention and only 10minutes to keep it.  What are educators doing to regain attention of their students after 9 min 59sec? Try some PIRATE techniques and brain breaks

Classroom layout

What does a collaborative classroom look like and what furniture, technology and supplies should be in it?

Check out more on classroom design on my Pinterest Page