Archive for April, 2012

My schmick new assessment design!

Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.

Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.

After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order. 

Background:

Students used to do:

  • Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
  • Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
  • Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans

All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.

From this semester onward, students now do:

  • Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
  • Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
  • Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!

The New Task:

Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.

Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:

“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)

What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.

After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning.  But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.

Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.

Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.

The Challenges:

OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:

CLB018-CLP408 challenge portfolio task

A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3. 

Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed: 

  •  4 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = PASS
  •  6 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = CREDIT 
  •  8 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = DISTINCTION 
  •  10 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = HIGH DISTINCTION! 

CHALLENGE TASK peer assessment sheet

Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.

Reflecting:

The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.

One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…

There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post :)

If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!

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What Giroux said…

…in his address at the launch of the Werklund Foundation Center for Youth Leadership Education in Calgary.

Before coming to the 2012 AERA conference I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Inaugural International Youth Studies Congress at the University of Calgary.

As well as hearing from distinguishes scholars, teachers and students on issues relating to youth studies, the major highlight for me (and tbh, the carrot that helped me decide to attend in the first place), was the keynote address by Henry Giroux.

#whatgirouxlookslike

#whatgirouxlookslike

If you consider yourself a ‘radical’ educator and have not yet read Giroux’s work, I highly recommend it! He is doubly awesome in my book, given his commitment to getting his scholarly thoughts out into the wider-read public domain. I thought it very fitting, therefore, that I should tweet the ideas from his talk that stood out most for me.

You can read the gist of his talk in this op-ed article: The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth.

(NB: I accidentally tweeted the term ‘suicide state’ instead of ‘suicidal state’. Oops…)

I used the hashtag #girouxsays to mark the tweets…given the fickle, temporal life cycle of hashtag searches, I’ve collected them all here for y/our convenience and later reference:

A big shout out to Shirley Steinberg, the Werklund Foundation Chair in Youth Leadership Education, for hosting this inaugural event. She’s kind of a big deal in the fields of #radical_education #freire_project #critical_pedagogy – loved hearing more about this work! (my radical itch was in need of a scratch…)

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Finding my Threshold Concepts

This semester I have been engaing in the final cycle of my teaching and learning action research project – part of what I do here at QUT as an ‘Early Career Academic’.

‘Constructing a community of practice in English Curriculum Studies 1 – online and offline’

Action research cycle:

  • Planning and fact-finding: 2010, semester 2
  • Phase 1 action: 2011, semester 1
  • Phase 2 action: 2011, semester 2
  • Phase 3 action: 2012, semester 1
  • Report findings: 2012, semester 2

The buzz term for how to ‘do’ curriculum planning here at uni is constructive alignment. Anyone else having to use this term?

Basically, constructive alignment is what you do when you make sure your assessment tasks match your learning objectives, and that your lesson materials feed into this productively. (OK, so I slipped the word ‘productively’ in just there…can you tell I’m living in Queensland? Productive pedagogies, anyone?)

So, the first two phases of my action research have been all about getting the assessments to work for me and my unit, English Curriculum Studies 1. I inherited a bunch of learning objectives when I took on coordination of this unit, but in the end I found that the assessment tasks weren’t engaging students in the ways I knew could happen. In the ways I was sure could happen, anyway. All of the assessment pieces have now been modified or replaced (not allowed to change the learning objectives) and things are aligning much more constructively…

The last piece in the puzzle that I was really hoping to nut out in this third cycle is the establishment of threshold concepts for this unit.

A ‘threshold concept’ is the kind of concept that, once learned, cannot be unlearned.  Once we grasp a piece of threshold knowledge, we pass over a barrier into new territory, where everything is seen anew with different eyes.

In the (bazillion) Powerpoint presentations I sat through last year as a new academic, I picked up the importance of using a few well-chosen threshold concepts to drive a unit of work.  For teachers like me that prefer to use project-based and inquiry-based learning approaches, having a set of threshold concepts in mind that you want students to ‘get’ by the end of the experience looks to be an excellent anchor for lesson planning.  Although these concepts are related to the official learning objectives of the unit, they do serve a different kind of function…and I really want to settle on what mine are!

Until this week I was still struggling to come up with suitable concepts.

But now, I struggle NO MORE!

I have been working on a summary video for students to watch at the half-way point in semester, while I am away at a conference.  In the video I want to recap the main points learned from weeks 1-5 of the unit.  The process of trying to identify what the ‘big ideas’ were amongst all of the super important stuff we learned wasn’t easy.  But the process of having to present the ideas to my students (not just to my academic review panel at the end of this year…!) has really helped.

Which I guess just goes to show that even teachers need an authentic audience for their work.

Trying to keep the video short (under 5 minutes) also forced my hand – left to my own devices, I’m sure I could find plenty of threshold concepts, but you only need a few. The wording of what I’ve chosen isn’t quite right yet, but these are the six big points I have chosen:

  1. Your personal teacher identity is unique and reflects your personal experience, but will inevitably draw on many established philosophies and practices.
  2. In ‘English’ we study: semiotics, text and context.
  3. Language codes and conventions are socially constructed.
  4. Verbal/linguistic language is just one semiotic ‘code’; we also learn/teach audio, visual, spatial and gestural language.
  5. Literacy involves more than code breaking – we also make meaning, use texts functionally, and critique texts.
  6. Multiliteracies pedagogies are currently favoured in English curriculum theory.

I suspect this is still too many for 6 weeks, but there you go.  We’ll see.  Once I’ve finished the video I’ll post it up here on the blog. I still have to add the narration, but most of the images are in. I’m using Movie Maker and Audacity as my tools of the trade…I hope the students have time to watch the bloody thing! But even if they don’t, I’m glad I went through this process and am happy that I’ve found some threshold concepts to settle on, for now. And, with any luck, a shiny new resource at the end I can be proud of. Fingers crossed!

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