Tag Archive | Student

Marks or Learning?

Part of my teaching load this semester is Pre-AP English 9. This group of students is highly motivated, and I love teaching them. They are very good about completing their homework, they are outstanding when it comes to participating in class, and they are ultra respectful. They are also keenly interested in their grades. They are driven by attaining a numerical standard, for which I have no reference point. What constitutes an 83% versus an 81%?

Part of what got me thinking about this again was a few weeks ago when report cards were due. I have one student who has failed a few assignments and does homework about half the time. I was expecting a grade in the high 50s or low 60s. After I entered a few grades, I decided to check to see how everyone was “doing.” I was shocked to see a high 70. Based on the quality of work I’ve seen, this grade seems disproportionate to the skills the student has demonstrated. Another student, on the other hand, had about the same grade, yet has showed significantly more ability. Needless to say, I was puzzled and dismayed.

Another complexity that has me thinking about this is the issue of getting on the honour roll. For the most part, my English class students are pretty much all on the honour roll. They get their grades back, quickly do a an average and figure out if they attained the above 80% standard or not. I don’t know if I am completely able to justify what makes a student less than an 80%, especially when some of my students with lower grades work harder than the students with the highest grades.

To complicate the issue, I have been living in a strange vortex with my teaching load as well — I also teach Modified Science 9. My science crew are pleasantly happy when I return passing grades, but otherwise have no vested interest in the number that appears on their report card. They operate on a pass-fail mentality. As long as they have 50.0 or higher, they are doing great in their minds.

Both classes are leaving me with a bit of a dilemma. I am working to create valuable learning experiences, only to slap a number on it and shatter dreams if it isn’t the number they want. I have a few solutions for how to remedy this situation, because I’m feeling like a terrible teacher for not instilling a better sense of wonder and excitement about learning (rather than an obsession with numbers).

Firstly, I tried out outcome-based grading last year in math, and it worked fairly well for everyone involved. I was able to translate exactly what a number meant, and the students knew where they stood exactly. I am grappling with how to use this technique in English right now, since everything we do seems to be covering 302378039843238 different outcomes and indicators. Currently, I’m thinking that it might be best to design a series of general rubrics for each strand — reading, writing, representing, viewing, listening, and speaking. I am weary, however, because I don’t want to short-change my students by over-generalizing their work. I would be remiss to only score an essay based on one strand, writing.  Each writing piece also has so many intricacies. Would I, however, be able to score an essay on writing, representing, and reading, depending on the content of assignment? I haven’t worked out the fine details, but I’m considering this my Christmas project to iron out some key points of how to implement this assessment in an English classroom.

The second remedy I’ve been toying with is self-assessment. I had the blessing of taking two classes from Dean Shareski in university. For the second course I took with Dean, he implemented a self-assessment plan. He gave use lots of great assignments with a wide-variety of choice. I can honestly say that I worked my butt off for that class. I knew that I wanted to get a 90% in his class, so I worked hard to make sure I got it and deserved it. I know that self-assessment can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Some students will give themselves more than they deserve after slacking off and some students will give themselves less than they deserve after working really hard. I don’t know exactly what my self-assessment piece is going to look like, but I need to build one in to add a sense of ownership for my numbers-driven students.

I won’t ever be able to undo their love of numbers. I probably won’t ever be able to escape it, though I will try. What I can do, though, is tie a meaning to a number, rather than it being an arbitrary digit with no significant meaning beyond “I’m passing” or “I’m failing.”

Here’s where I’m at right now: once I get some outcome-based grading rubrics set up, my students could use them as a scale for formative and summative self-assesment. Their thoughts might sound like this: “I want to get a 5. Today, based on the rubric, I think I’m sitting at a 3. This is what I need to do to get from 3 to 5.” Of course, this won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen in a semester either, but I am going to try.

Of course, it would be unfair to my students to walk into class tomorrow with a brand new grading system. I want to get it right, so I will likely begin to develop different assessment resources for myself (and find a bunch too) to begin testing them on student work to help iron out the kinks. I can’t say what my teaching load will be next semester, but if I can figure out how to make the jump from math to ELA, I think I just might be able to make it work for any subject.

How have you implemented Outcome-Based grading in your classroom (or SBG if you’re from the states)? Any tricks of the trade? What do you do to alleviate the pressure students put on themselves for a grade?


Squirmy Yoga and Differentiation

I started taking a yoga class that one of our staff members has arranged for our school. I’m definitely not the “yoga-type” by any stretch–I like live a fast-paced, jam-packed life, and I can hardly sit still, let alone breathe with intention. I told my self at the start of the semester that I had to sign up and give it a solid try–that meant attending every week and trying REALLY hard to like it. It worked for olives, so it will hopefully work for yoga. I am now three months into the experiment and I can honestly say that I look forward to our practices. During practice, I do my best to be mindful and enjoy the session, which is kind of tricky when you are playing twister with yourself (right foot to left hip, right hand to right foot from around the back, left hand to the left foot, don’t fall over!). Each practice, our yoga instructor asks us to set an intention for the practice. I’m not entirely sure what I should be intending, but  without fail, I always set the intention of “I am going to relax and enjoy this.” Once it’s solidified with a wavering “ohm,” I do my darnedest to make that happen.

As I mentioned before, I’m not great at sitting still. I am a way bigger fan of the “moving and grooving”-type exercise, so the static nature of yoga is unfathomably difficult for me. I usually get into a pose, hold it for a bit, then start squirming. I don’t squirm because I’m not enjoying it; rather, I squirm because it’s tricky and I like to move.

I hadn’t really noticed just how squirmy I was until yesterday morning. I was especially tired from staying up too late working on report cards, so my concentration, balance, and ability to keep my eyes open were a little bit limited. About midway through the practice, I was flailing violently in a grand effort to not fall over whilst twisted up in the latest maze of a pose when I realized that everyone else either calmly put their foot down (how, I don’t know) or didn’t even waiver (again, how, I do not know). As I was about to wipe out, the instructor magically appeared by my side to steady me while the rest of class was statue-like.

This got me thinking about how much I appreciate my yoga class, especially the instructor. I go to class each week and I am greeted with a smile. I fumble my way through class, yet I always receive positive praise and little help when I need it. No one in my class gives me dirty looks for doing yoga “wrong.” I am in a wonderful learning space where I am exploring my own abilities. No one has ever told me to try something easier, to stop wiggling, or to try harder. Everyone accepts that I’m doing my best, and because of that I work to be better.

While we were in our last pose, my favourite “lay on the floor and relax so that you could almost fall asleep,” my brain got thinking about whether I was doing this in my own teaching practice. While I don’t teach P.E., I still want my students to be comfortable to explore their own abilities within each subject. As of late, I’ve been working hard to keep up with prepping and marking, so my differentiation for students who are not fitting into the mould has not been up to snuff. My students are learning, but are they learning their best? I am giving them lots of varied activities, but am I encompassing all the talents and hidden talents of my students? Am I asking my students to sit in their desks far longer than they should when many of them are kind of squirmy to begin with?

I’m certainly going to be asking myself these questions over the next few days while I’m planning my upcoming units. What tips or tricks do you have that help with building in movement into high school classrooms (without causing a huge raucous)? What sort of activities are your “go-to’s” for differentiation and exploring creativity when you are in a time crunch?


“Miss Thibeault! I Have to Tell You Something!”

I hear that a lot lately. It is not limited to bad jokes, either.

I have been teaching Career Ed since September, and every term (half semester) I get a new class. I’m currently teaching my third Career class. I have to say, third time’s a charm!

I started my first class out with wordpress blogs, but my students found them confusing, and I had a hard time finding/orchastrating them. I was actually quite surprised at how difficult my students found it, as I was expecting them to have a better grasp of the technology than I did.

In my second go around, I moved over to Weebly (and completely overhauled my course). This solved a few problems for me. Firstly, it allowed me to create the usernames and passwords for my students, which solved the “Miss Thibeault! I don’t know my username or password” problem. Secondly, it had a better drag-and-drop-style interface that my students liked using. Once their sites were up and running, things went really smoothly. Lastly, it also let me move my class websites to one location. Previously, I’d been using wikispaces, but weebly seems to make more sense. I now have several pages that I use to keep track of daily work, as well as other classes. I’m still developing my site, but it is certainly user-friendly.

Now I’m on my third batch of Career 9 students. I reorganized my course even more than I did, and I also booked into the computer lab. I am trying to run this class without paper. I goofed and printed out a course outline on the first day, so I am on a mission to not printout another thing. We’ve even done tests without paper!

What is really inspiring about this though is the ownership this third class has over their sites. I give them their assignments, and they quite often do not have homework. However, a handful of students go home and post their own stuff on their sites. I now get a report from excited students the next class (it usually goes something like “Miss Thibeault! Did you read my blog last night??!?!?! I posted about this really cool thing! [Insert explanation almost word-for-word of what they posted]). I usually haven’t had a chance to check out their blogs the night before, but I always make a point of stopping what I’m doing to go see what they’ve been up to.

On of my students is into video games and animation. He asked me what my favourite animation program was. I really can’t say I’ve ever animated, so I told me all about his favourite sites. He and a partner used xtranormal for a presentation (they made it in under half an hour). He did a review on his site about the pros and cons. I have to say, it is pretty cool.

These conversations really drive how we are learning in the class. For instance, his xtranormal presentation got me thinking about how we can use that sort of technology in a productive, meaningful way. We are now going to be doing a mini-project recreating a video I have about resumes and interviews. I bought the video at Dollarama, but the quality is, well, AWFUL. What can you expect from a $2 movie? The information, however, is invaluable. I think I’ll split my class into small groups and get them to remake parts of the film (condensed), then splice them together to make one awesome video!

I am so grateful for my very engaged class. They are certainly making my job a ton of fun, easier, and more creative!

Infographics In the Classroom

As awesome as an infographic about infographics in my classroom would be, I think it will be easier to just write about it. Here goes..

In my undying enthusiasm as a first year teacher, I decided that we should make infographics in my Psych 20 class as our last project before finals. All in all, I’m happy with the result, but I wanted to dig a little deeper so that I can figure how to do it better next time.


My Psych class was not a “testy” class. The curriculum was very broad, so we covered a lot of ground quickly. Each unit left great opportunities for student to dig deeper into a specific topic of interest. I never had two projects on the same topic even. We had four units, and with a couple mini-projects and a major project with each unit, my students did it all. They made commercials, they conducted research, they made posters, they made game boards, some made social networking pages, some made powerpoints,… well you get the picture. For their final project, I was starting to feel exhausted as I was writing up their assignment. I was dreading marking 25 things, and I really didn’t want them to just write an essay. After staring at my computer for probably 30 minutes, it hit me: INFOGRAPHICS! I quickly googled some infographic sites, found a couple great resources that I posted for my students, and found some infographics on making infographics. We had a quick lesson on what an infographic was, and then I set my students free.

The Students

The students were pretty open to whatever I threw at the all semester. They were a little leery of this, since it was uncharted waters for all of them. They found a couple of sites online, and hovered over their computers for a few hours over the course of the week. A few students opted to make one by hand (I even received a 3D infographic), but the majority of the students went with the online option.

I could tell that they were happy to not write a paper, but they were frustrated with the technology. The sites were slow to load with our internet connection, and the netbooks we had were a little bit too tiny to work easily on.

On the whole, they were happy to have a new medium to deliver their content, but frustrated with the newness of the task and the technology.

The Technology

The sites my students used were okay. They were good about getting a basic layout, but they certainly didn’t lend themselves to really branching out. My students didn’t find them overly user-friendly for customizing, and their publishing options were blocked by our school firewall. I would not recommend using pikochart or infogr.am if you have a slower connection. Piktochart had more freedom, but was significantly slower to load. Infogr.am loaded better, but it was more rigid in design.

Since the students couldn’t publish their work, they ended up giving me their username and changing their passwords to the one I assigned the class. That way, I could access them without having the students log in. It was pretty cumbersome, and changing passwords took up 20 minutes of classtime.

The Products

Once we got through all the barriers, I have mixed reviews over the quality of the infographics. Since the design was pretty rigid, a few students opted to take the easy way out by throwing down five interesting bullet points and picture.

Several students listed off several interesting facts, a few pictures, and some citations at the end. Good content, but not the execution I was looking for.

A few students really dug into this project, and I got some great results. They included data, pictures, and developed a logical argument visually. They did a great job, despite the tech challenges.

I had one student in particular who was away for the last part of the project. She emailed me her link, and it was outstanding. She chose a topic that was really meaningful to her, and she just went to town. It was outstanding. If I could have, I would have given her 500% over the 100% she received. I could see that I found something that she related to (both the medium and the topic), and she gave it her all. I got choked up reading it, as I was so proud of her.

The Marking

Marking was a breeze, but frustrating. Since it was a psychology class, I tried to limit what I was marking solely to psychology, but it was hard to not get distracted by the flash that some infographics had. Some of the bullet point/picture mixtures score higher than the ones where the student clearly put in extra time at home to add flash and jazz. I’m glad I stuck to my guns, but it was hard. I know that I wanted my students to learn about psychology with this assignment, but I also wanted them to learn how to make infographics, as they can be a really useful way of getting a lot of information across in a compelling, efficient, and visually pleasing manner.

Final Verdict

I’m glad I used infographics in my class. I will do it again. I will definitely keep looking for better creating sites. I will also remember to book the computer lab rather than the netbooks. I think I will also go through more examples of what makes a good infographic (tells a story, follows a logical flow, proves a point, etc.), as well as what a bad infographic looks like (now that I sadly have some examples). Hopefully infographics will continue their rise in popularity so that they will be more common place when I try it again.


Learning Is Uncomfortable, Until It Works

I want to push my students in their learning. One of my biggest and most harped-on topics is making mistakes and learning from them. A lot of times, my students are quite resistant to this, since it is uncomfortable. However, that’s my job — to make them uncomfortable and push them to learn. It’s not fun sometimes, and often times, it is downright unenjoyable for them. Then they figure it out. And it’s not so bad after all.

What’s got my goat lately, as my students would say, is that I hadn’t really figured this would apply to me. I’m all for being a lifelong learner, and I strive to be a “reflective practitioner” daily. I’m not entirely sure why I figured that learning shouldn’t also put me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t really realize it until Wednesday this week.

On Monday, we began analyzing budgets. I partnered with my friend who teaches math in Ituna, SK, and we created a budget swap. Each class prepared budgets, then we swapped budgets to analyze. If we were in university, we would have totally gotten A’s. No doubt.

Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

Sometimes Learning Can Be Uncomfortable — Not Just for Your Biceps
Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

On Tuesday, I handed out the budgets from Ituna. The students whined and complained. They were a bit of a disaster. They didn’t know where to start (despite my awesome handout). They didn’t want to work. They didn’t want to exist in a productive fashion. To say the least, I was really rattled. I nearly scrapped the project on Tuesday, but I thought I’d give it one more day.

Wednesday rolled around, and just as the bell was ringing, I could feel myself cringing at the thought of what was to come. If Tuesday was any predictor, I was in for a hell of an hour. I took attendance, then asked the class if they had any questions before they got to work. The only question was, “Miss Thibeault, I think we should just talk today. Can we not work at all?”

Ugh. Weighing the options, I cut a deal. “You can have a ten minute break to talk/text/whatever so long as you work hard for 30 minutes.” To my surprise, they all agreed.

Surprise number two followed shortly. My students started asking me really good questions about budgeting. They were going to town on the budgets they’d received. Here I was thinking that I’d failed them as a teacher, that they hadn’t learned a thing about budgeting and were destined for homelessness, and they start working together to reconstruct and revise these budgets. They were commenting that some people needed to “re-examine their expectations for their life.” I may have laughed out loud, since many of them overlooked that key piece in their own budgets.

Surprise number three happened 31 minutes into class. I glanced up at the clock. No one even noticed that the most productive thirty minutes of their lives whizzed by without them noticing. One student noticed ten minutes before class was over. I agreed to let them take a break for the last few minutes, but to my surprise number four, almost no one packed up. Their conversations revolved around the budgets they were analyzing.

I guess that was a really long-winded way of me saying that it was really uncomfortable for me to learn the lesson of perseverance in the classroom. But, boy oh boy, did it feel fantastic when I learned it. My friend and I invested a lot of time and energy in creating this wonderful learning experience for our students. I’m so glad I stuck with it. Maybe I really do know what I’m doing, even if it isn’t comfortable all the time.

New Teachers Bring Chocolate

I’m on the home stretch. Only 14 instructional days left until finals begin. Looking back at the semester, I have to say it is a blur. Looking ahead, I’m pleased to say that I am ahead of schedule in two of my classes. The other two are on schedule. I have to attribute this to the acceptance and willingness at my school.

My students are fantastic. There are days where I know I’ll think back to writing this and wonder “What the heck was I thinking!?!”, but all in all, they’ve stuck with me. My students all know that I am a first year teacher, despite my best efforts to hide it. I think this is a good thing, because inexperience, aside young teachers bring a lot to the table.

Firstly, I think I bring a sense of exploration. This is the first time I’m fully teaching these classes. I’m exploring too. I know where I want to take my courses, but I have no problem stopping to smell the roses on the way. I found this especially in my psychology class. Going into it, I thought it was going to be lots of notes with me preaching daily. Yes, that happens, but I try to keep it down. Why? Because my students offhandedly ask phenomenal questions. These questions almost never arise after I ask if anyone has any questions. To be honest, they usually arise from a student challenging what they’re learning, which means that we are getting far more out of the course than we ever would with boring old notes. While I always feel like I’m in the hot seat, I know they are pushing me to be a better teacher too.

Secondly, my students see me make mistakes. More than I would like, I goof up. I do my best to be honest with my students, in order to model the behaviours I would like them to exhibit when they goof up too. I think this is a pinnacle part of a relationship I have with one of my students. He is on the bubble of passing one of my classes right now, because he got quite far behind. He is a very passive student normally, but when he feels wronged, he gets absolutely aggressive. The first time he had an outburst, it scared the bananas out of me. But, I learned to deal with it. A few days later, after he had calmed down, we had a long conversation about what he is doing in my class, and what he and I can do to make sure he is successful. The conversation was a two-way street — we negotiated with the behaviours that bothered us. There were somethings that I wouldn’t budge on (and he understood), such as him dropping the f-bomb, and others where I was really flexible on (we organized an assessment plan for him that he found manageable and not overwhelming; we talked about what I can do when he is feeling frustrated that will calm him down rather than agitate him, yet still let me get my point across). The conversation(s) — there were a few, since we didn’t get it quite right the first try — taught me a lot about what it means to be a good teacher. I have a great deal of respect for him, and he know shows a great deal of respect toward me as well.

I cannot believe how appreciative my students were when I brought chocolate toonies from my grandmother. She means the world to me. My students mean the world to me. Does life get better?

I cannot believe how appreciative my students were when I brought chocolate toonies from my grandmother. She means the world to me. My students mean the world to me. Does life get better?

Thirdly, new teachers bring chocolate. This one is a bit of a crapshoot, but I like things to come in threes. I’m the youngest in my family, and my Gramma is quite proud to have all her grandchildren through college and onto their careers. As the last one to convocate, I think I got a little bit of extra pride spillover. At Christmas time, she slipped me three little bags of chocolate toonies (for non-Canadians, they are our $2 coins, except made of chocolate) to handout to my students. She knows how much I love teaching and chocolate, so this is one of the most meaningful things anyone has ever done for me. I almost cried in class today when a student, who normally is a chatty-Charlie looked up from munching on his toonie and ever so sincerely said, “Miss Thibeault, please thank your grandmother for us.” Call me mushy, but I might be choked up right now.

Gosh. I cannot believe how much I’ve learned in the last four months, despite the blur they seemed to be. I have my students to thank.


What the “Flip” Do I Do Now?

No. I am not using flip as a curse substitute. I am starting to wonder if flipping my classroom is really worth it.

Pedagogy says, “Yes!” My own reasoning says, “Heck, Yes!” But everywhere else I turn seems to say “Why are you deviating from the norm?”

I decided to flip my ninth grade math class. It’s a year-long course, so there is plenty of time for different instructional methods to be used and experimented with. What’s been getting me down lately is all the negativity I’ve received in response. It hasn’t been an entire class, but it has been just enough students and just enough parents to bother me and make me question my teaching ability.

As a first year teacher, I am well aware that I have made (and will continue to make) mistakes. It’s part of my learning. Mistakes are where the real learning happens. Unfortunately, my students hate making mistakes.

I’ve set up my Math 9 class so that the videos are like an appetizer to the lesson. They do a few easy examples or maybe explain a few processes. Nothing earth-shattering, but certainly less information than I would give during a “regular lesson.” Each assignment that follows is carefully crafted to progress from easy questions to difficult questions, in an inquiry-style format. Students are more than encouraged to work together in teams to figure out the processes.

Some students hate this. They don’t like change, and they don’t like making mistakes. Perhaps it’s that I’m getting tired and need a break, but I am having a hard time tolerating all the student-criticism. When I was in school, I would never have dreamed of criticizing the teacher’s teaching style. I may have complained to my mom, but it certainly never left my home. My mom would always tell me that the teacher knows what he/she is doing, and there is are reason for how they teach. I always left it at that.

I have also had a few parents recently who have asked if I would mind “teaching normally.” They weren’t rude about it or anything, but it is frustrating. I am trying to teach their students how to learn independently rather than regurgitating math examples. They don’t seem to see the broader picture.

Perhaps who I am frustrated with is me. One of those mistakes that I was talking about earlier is not communicating with the parents about this change in teaching styles. Next semester, I will send home an email highlighting the exciting changes to my classroom.

I guess the bottom line of this is that I want students to be able to make mistakes, then learn from them. Just as I am learning from my mistakes, I want to afford my students that opportunity too.