Month: June 2017

Walk-n-talk revisited: the adult learner

woodsToday I’m going to write you a story about a discovery I made during a lesson for which only three students showed up.  (Do you have that problem?  Writing lessons for students who don’t show up?  I hope not.)  Anyway, it was warm, we were tired, and half of my activities were no longer useable, needing more than four people to make them work.  So there I sat, wondering what to do.

I decided to change things around: it was lovely weather, so I decided to go outside.  We put our bags into my locker, and off we went to the park just behind my school.  As we walked, we talked in English about all sorts of stuff.  At first, the students thought it was funny to speak to each other in English, but within minutes they got into the swing of things, talking about their everyday lives.

As we walked, I moved from student to student, asking questions, providing new words, and correcting verb tenses as needed.  We talked about work, school, student teaching, living on their own, plans for the weekend.  Every story provided new opportunities for learning as students discovered the words they needed to express themselves.  We walked between the trees, crossed a tree-trunk bridge, discovered a geocache, and explored a local neighborhood garden, all of which provided opportunities for practice as we connected these new experiences to others in our past.

While the students walked, they relaxed.  As they relaxed, they practiced more and more English.  And as they practiced, they made verbal forays into areas of English they’d never yet attempted.  I gave them words and encouragement, giving them space to experience success.  This succes allowed their self-confidence to grow, allowing them in turn to learn more and make more progress than I had ever dared hope.

I’ve adopted this form of work into my regular teaching, making time for a short “walk-n-talk” while the rest of the class works on its own.  Even in the space of fifteen minutes, students develop a certain fluency that I couldn’t hope to achieve in the regular lesson.  Those who wish, may join me for a kilometer or two, and those who don’t, are free to tackle the other tasks I assigned.  Afterward, I check back with the entire class: what did we learn?  Which task worked well, and which didn’t?  In that way, everyone is allowed a certain amount of choice, while being responsible to actively participate in the lesson.

What do you do in order to help your students learn?

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Rubrics: a basis for qualitative feedback

Rubric-1

This is one of those things I wished I’d learned about years ago, because it would have made my own life as a teacher so much easier.  I’ve learned about them now, however, so I’m shouting my joy from the rooftops.  Hurray for rubrics!

What is a rubric, one might ask.  A rubric is a means of giving detailed, qualitative feedback to students regarding a given product.  It contains concrete descriptions of the criteria for a well-completed product.

There are different sorts of rubrics.  I’ll explain two sorts of rubrics, using generic sample rubrics I wrote for this purpose.  The first one is a criterion-referenced rubric, and the second one lists success critera for different levels of ability.  I wrote these rubrics for a group project in which the children had to create posters demontrating what they’d learned during the last unit of learning.  They were to use the new words they’d learned in correct sentences.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ve omitted criteria for layout and presentation.  I’ve only included the very basic criteria of content, language, and process.

The first example here shows a criterion-referenced rubric of the sort most people might use.   For teachers, this is an easy form of marking, since the standard for the work remains the same, no matter the ability level of the child.  Also, the criteria for success are clearly described, so all children can know ahead of time what he needs to do in order to pass the assignment.  Another positive aspect is that children get differentiated feedback per criteria heading.  On the downside, it’s perfectly possible for a child to fail the given assignment, as the criteria for success are of the one-size-fits-all variety.  There is no way to allow for differences of ability when using this sort of rubric.Rubric01

That problem can be solved by using a different setup.  The example shown below demonstrates a way to differentiate feedback per ability level.  For instance, if you work in a classroom with a broad difference in language ability, then it might be nice to set up the assessment so everyone has the chance to succeed.  At the same time, this rubric also allows you to set up minimum success criteria per ability group that are just above the actual level of the children so that each child is pushed towards a higher level of ability.  This is called differentiating in output.

In this case, the children should know ahead of time what group they belong to, and they understand that they each have a choice: to succeed at his own level, or to work towards success at a higher level.  The term minimum success criteria is critical here: children should reach the minimum level indicated, but may also choose to work towards a higher level.  Sometimes, if a child needs, he may choose to work at a lower level, but that is a pedagogical decision that you and that child can discuss.  In this rubric, the indicators for ‘process’ are the same for all children, since it would be reasonable to expect all children to work on their social development irregardless of their language development.

Rubric2

Rubric for differentiating in output.  Note that success criteria for the ‘process’ are the same for all children, regardless of ability level.

Of course, no matter what kind of assessment format you use, it’s important that children be aware of the criteria for success so they know what they need to work toward.  As a teacher, I post my rubrics on their electronic bulletin board at school, so students know what they can expect.  It helps them focus their work and gives them the space to make informed decisions when it comes to their own learning.  It also means they have no surprises when they get their grades back, which makes a big difference for everyone involved.

For more information on the use of minimum success criteria and rubrics, feel free to have a look at this site: http://www.assessmentforlearning.edu.au/professional_learning/modules/success_criteria_and_rubrics/success_criteria_landing_page.html

What other topics would you like to see covered on this blog?  Please let me know!