It’s that time of year. Teachers of Year 12 around Australia are scrambling to varying degrees to prepare students for final assessments and exams, which inevitably involves a whole lotta marking.
Of course, all teachers have to grade student work. And they are engaged in doing this all year. But nothing beats the pedal-to-the-metal feeling of marking Year 12 practice tasks in a last ditch effort to refine their examination responses.
In particular, nothing beats the hellish pressure that exists in states like NSW and Victoria where the HSC and VCE exams respectively loom over teachers and students alike. And out of all these teachers and students, I argue that subjects that are writing-intensive (e.g. English and History) have it the toughest; if you have a class of 25 for Year 12 and it’s coming up to an assessment, teachers in these subjects are spending their nights and weekends correcting pages and pages and pages of long form expositions.
Which can leave your eyes (and soul) feeling kinda like this:
I was prompted to write this blog post after watching my friends Justin and Alex tweet about their marking yesterday:
I’ve taught for the HSC three times and this slavish marking routine is the only part I do not miss…having said that, the jolly task I have now of marking as a university lecturer has involved marking binges that certainly rival the pain of HSC workload.
The question is – what can we do about it?
Is there anything we can do about it?
Some ideas that I threw out into the twittersphere yesterday seem promising, but without a class to try them on I’m at a loss, not sure if they would work. The ideas I bounced around with Justin and Alex were:
- Focussing on writing just the introduction, or a body paragraph. This would make the task smaller and more focussed for students, and more manageable to mark 25-30 of them.
- Setting a paragraph writing challenge. To address Justin’s problem of the student that only writes about ‘tone’, each week set a different language feature/form for students to write a paragraph on. By the end of the term they will have a bank of paragraphs on different elements.
- Gamify the writing process. This could be done by putting students in groups, getting every student to write a paragraph (or essay), then each group submits it’s best one (as judged by the students in the group) for marking. This means you only have to mark one essay/paragraph per group, not per student. Keep a chart of which group wins each week and award them a prize at the end of the unit. Change the groups around for each new unit.
- Peer assessment. This can only be used in a limited way, as students don’t have the capacity to grade work to a Year 12 standard. However you could use the ‘medals (feedback) and missions (feedforward)’ framework that Bianca draws on to give students a direction. I think the main benefit is that they read each other’s work and discuss their strengths, not that they actually give each other a ‘grade’.
- Find an authentic audience. Partnering up with another teacher/class would provide an avenue for students to share their work with another class on a platform such as a wiki. This would give students someone to perform for besides their own teacher, which could prove motivating. The teachers could also arrange to do a marking-swap, and grade each other’s student essays…this may get you writing less comments, marking more objectively (?) and just plain old provide a change of pace as you get to read a different set of handwriting!
I really hope these ideas are useful to someone out there.
If you have any other good ideas for getting feedback to students without going through so much of the eye-bleedingly painful million-essay marking process, I would LOVE to hear them!
Thanks to Justin and Alex for inspiring this post and helping me brainstorm ideas
Images: Cropped screen still from True Blood, Season 5; Screen shot of conversation on Twitter.com
Postscript: If you liked this post, you may also like the post Matt Esterman wrote today, ‘The home stretch for Year 12′. Looks like we all have Year 12 on the brain this weekend!
In most English Curriculum units I run an activity where students work in groups to design their ultimate English classroom.
Here are some of the elements that come up in many of the designs:
- Really big bookshelf
- Reading area/chill out zone with bean bags
- Lots of windows
- Blackout curtains around the room for cinema viewing & drama background
- ‘Drama blocks’ that can be used as seating or a stage (or a dedicated stage area)
- An indoor plant
- Projector and screen
- Moveable tables (though note often teacher-centric as default)
Some groups, but not too many, also include:
- Interactive whiteboard/s
- Posters on the wall
- iPad/laptop chargers
- Student work display board
- Different ‘zones’ in one big room
- Coffee/tea making area
- An outdoor area e.g. verandah
The inclusion of a coffee/tea area is slightly worrying, given the adolescent age range of the students in mind!
Other than that though, I can see very good reasons for most of these design elements.
The only problems is…I know that these aspiring teachers have buckleys of fitting all this in to a traditional school classroom space. Until we knock down the walls and invest in new, flexible, comfortable furnishings, these dream rooms will stay just that. A dream.
What do you do to make your classroom more like your ‘ultimate room’? What else would you include in your ultimate classroom design?
Today I attended a whole-day symposium on ‘learning and teaching in collaborative environments’, aka the LATICE program at QUT.
At the start of the day I was really excited to hear some of the speakers referring to the new learning rooms in the uni as ‘PBL rooms’. I had previously known these rooms as ‘collaborative work spaces’, or ‘CWS rooms’, but I was all too happy to change my terminology – how handy, I thought, to suggest PBL as a recommended pedagogy for such rooms!
Unfortunately, as the day went on it became clear that most people using the term PBL were referring to ‘problem based learning’, not to ‘project based learning’ (which is my preferred teaching style). I say unfortunately not because I have any beef with problem based learning – I think it’s great, in fact. But PROBLEM based learning is just one way to organise learning experiences.
And the ‘which PBL do you mean?’ problem doesn’t stop there:
I have written a little before about the nature of ‘play based learning’, and think it’s important to draw on ALL of the above PBL models in a balanced teaching approach. I’m open to hearing how this may not be the case in other disciplines/faculties, but in the Education sector we certainly have to be across all three approaches.
The issue of nomenclature here is far from trivial. As frustrating as it is, I think we may need to complicate the cute ‘PBL’ acronym to enable practitioners to distinguish between the approaches. I could suggest:
- PmBL (problem based learning)
- PjBL (project based learning)
- PlBL (play based learning)
…fully realising that this just looks clumsy to some!
Any other suggestions for a way forward on this?
See, problem- and project- based learning differ importantly in the sense that a learning project should not have a pre-determined outcome, whereas a learning problem often does (imagine here a student working through a well-worn math problem). The difference between project- and play- based activities is also important, as learning projects do get assessed, whereas play is supposed to be low stakes and, well, playful.
One thing is for sure – we simply ought not go on giving presentations where we drop the ‘P’ term without qualifying which one we mean!
So…which PBL do you mean when you say PBL?