Thursday, January 23, 2014

Add Calculus To Your Workflow

This weekend past was the one where everyone was working on their report cards.  I know this because:
1) I was working on report cards, and
2) my entire Facebook feed seemed to be updates on where everyone was at on their report cards.

I got to thinking about teacher workflow.  Our work is usually more incremental, period by period, day by day, unit by unit, that larger projects such as report cards tend to throw us off.  Stress levels go through the roof.  I am not immune to this, myself, but I have reflected on when I feel the best, and why.

In reading Ian Stewart's In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World, I just read the chapter on Newton (and Leibniz, almost simultaneously) discovering Calculus.

Calculus is often defined as the math of change, and one thing it allows us to do is calculate rates of change. Another is integrating to find the area under a curve.  We might imagine the area under our curve as representing all the work that needs to be done on a given project.  Now imagine this example for your typical teacher during the report card period:

On our work vs. time graph, if we were to take any unique point on the line, we might not feel like progress is being made.  But if we divide up our workflow into enough unique points (for example, making a day by day plan for the entire reporting period), then it may seem easier.  As long as our rate of change is positive, we should feel as if we're making progress.  As we get to the end, momentum applies, and we may feel like we're accelerating our rate of work, simply because there is less to do, and as we get toward the end of the project, things will kind of taper off, and we get to relax.

This may seem obvious, but looking at how much work we have to do all at once is a sure mood and morale killer.  We may just give up, and not start "climbing the curve" until it's too close to the deadline, and stress and panic set in.  Instead, check where you are at any given point in time.  Set manageable time goals, and meet them.  Planning day by day for a week ahead may give you enough data slices to feel like you're making progress.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Assessment Should Not Be An "Event"

In working on IEPs this week, I found that the categories for "Teaching Strategies" and "Assessment Methods" were blurring in my head. If I had to pinpoint why, it's probably because I see them as so closely connected as to be near indistinguishable.  Things that would fit in one category, would also fit in the other, in many cases.  It is very clear that "conversations", for example, fit into both categories, especially when you consider that conversation is one of the 3 pillars of assessment from Ontario's Growing Success.

We've heard a lot about assessment for, of, and as learning.  We know the importance of diagnostic and formative assessments, and we still use big summative tasks that connect to big ideas and units of work.  But here's the thing:  assessment IS learning.  Provided I am not going to fall back to a lecture style, in which I talk too much, and completely bore everyone, including myself, then the daily life of the classroom is constant discussion, observation, negotiation, sharing of ideas, and the continued blurring of lines between teacher and learner.

I say "blurred lines", in this case, because we all learn together, and if I didn't see myself as a co-learner, then what am I doing this job for?  I learn and am taught things everyday by my students.  I may hold a higher level of math knowledge that I need to share, but that's just the job of a coach.  (I did get schooled on the value of 0/0 the other day, but I digress)

It may also be that I have come to consider "evaluation" as the least of my three roles (the other two being talker, and observer).  We do big projects sometimes, and we are proud of them.  But they are but the final step on a long journey. Percentage wise, we spend much less time working on them as well.

There's one more thing:  evaluation, necessary though it is, often occurs on artificial timelines.  I NEED to finish Geometry now, therefore the evaluation must happen, or I NEED to get to the next unit in Geography, or report cards are due next week, is my Drama unit done?

Real life doesn't work that way. Nor should it.  Learning is our main work.  We talk and learn and explore, and I coach, but mostly I learn too. In #cdnedchat the other day, I responded to a tweet from @DanaAriss, as you can see below.

How far along have we come in changing our thinking about assessment and evaluation?  What do you think?