When thinking about my future classrooms, my mind always goes to the circle of courage. I believe in having my students build themselves into well-rounded individuals. I expect them to strive to be the best versions of themselves. My classroom will be a place where students know that they belong and value the relationships of those around them. My classroom will be an environment where my students can challenge themselves to practice their independence and will not be judged for failing, but will be celebrated when they succeed. My classroom will be a setting for collaboration with one another. Most of all, my classroom will always be a place for growth.
Growth is my biggest overall goal when I am teaching my students. I have always said that I do not care if the student can recite Pi up to 1000 digits, I care how they use it. I remember learning, back in the 8th grade, that remembering facts is the lowest skill in blooms taxonomy. Remembering and regurgitating information surely has its place, but does it matter the most? I firmly believe that it does not, and I have heard many teachers, instructors, and professors say the same. So, why is that we are tested so heavily on our lower order thinking skills? Perhaps because it is the easiest way to assess; multiple choice unit tests, final exams, and standardized tests being the most common forms of assessment. It is the easiest to cross reference with the curriculum to make sure an indicator or an outcome is crossed off the list.
I do not mean to knock tests, though I think that there are better ways assess student’s understanding. Peters (2008) explains that
“forced choice assessments, such as multiple choice or fill in the blank, do not [fully] allow students to express their understandings, multiple types of assessments, such as oral reports, diagrams, or role playing, can be used to help students find a variety of ways to express their ideas effectively to a variety of audiences” (p. 31).
Peters (2008) goes on to explain that there are three important factors when it comes to planning for effective assessment in the classroom which parallels the same themes discussed in ECS 410. Additionally, although Peters (2008) was writing from the context of scientific inquiry, I value the overall message of their work. It is explained that teachers “need to provide mechanisms to allow students to show what they know” (Peters, 2008, p. 31). Students need to have the freedom to ask questions, research them, and present their findings. These presentations may come in the form of oral or written work such as, oral presentations, portfolios, journaling, etc. Next, Peters (2008) illustrates that there needs to be multiple types of assessment. This factor plays directly into the first as it allows students play to their strengths and passions. Furthermore, using a variety of strategic assessments will aid in the reliability and validity of the said assessments. This allows students to express creativity in the things that they are doing which, hopefully, results in an amount of effort that the students can be proud of. Peters (2008) then explains that having multiple feedback loops for the students and open communication is essential in the process. Students need to hear from the teacher and their peers if they are performing extraordinarily or if they are way off the beaten path. This may come in the form of oral feedback, anecdotal notes, self-assessment, peer-assessment, etc.
Peters (2008) paints a great picture of a classroom that is full of intrinsically motivated individuals looking for answers to questions that are deeper than base level. I believe that these students would be given the tools to learn the required information, find the answers to personal questions, communicate with their teacher where they are performing well or not so well, and are allowed to create an end product that is special to them. This is the ideal idea for me, though is something that will take years of fine tuning.
In my pre-internship I was given the freedom to work with a grade 4/5 class where I had attempted to implement my philosophies. They did not fall flat on their face, though my beliefs and the way I thought running a class would look was drastically different from what actually happened. My cohort was asked to create a unit that employed the backward design strategy. We came up with an essential question that was tied to the outcomes we had chosen. There was always a connection between what the students were doing and the essential question. My essential question was “How do we work smarter?” and was in the context of simple machines. From there, the students got to experiment with different simple machines, watch videos explanations, and view teacher driven demonstrations. For my formative assessment, I always made sure they had a worksheet that they filled out as they went along. They would record the weights we were using, draw pictures of the simple machine setup, record the amount of effort we used to move something, and the record the lightest trial of a given machine.
Just like always, my overall goal is growth, hands on experience, and conceptual understanding. Though, what I found by the end is students needed more time to ask their own questions. I found the students were trained to wait for the answers rather than explore on their own which impeded their ability to recall the concept of a simple machine at the end of the unit. This is not me blaming anyone in particular, though in reflection, I would like to figure out a way to have my students ask themselves “What happens if I change this?” then observe, record, and repeat. In a perfect world, this is exactly what my students would be doing while they record their thoughts, observations, hypotheses’ so that I could have open communication with them. To take that a step further, I would still like them to write a formal test so that I have documented proof of their understanding. Furthermore, I would like the students to end with a project in which they create some sort of simple machine from scratch. I think that this form of learning would be the most beneficial as it would hopefully be significant in the students eyes, not just a series of run in the mill science lectures.
I said, a few times, during my pre-internship that I do not remember learning about simple machines in elementary school. I learned what some of them were along the way, mostly through real life experiences, though I never formally learned any, except for levers during my Kinesiology degree. I have no idea whether I was exposed to it or not, though the ten year old in me is jealous of the grade 4/5 class that got to actually play with and experience simple machines working first hand. I believe that that is something to be proud of because I feel the students should, at the very least, remember that time when they distinctively felt a weight get heavier as they increased the distance of a lever from their hand. They will, ideally, be able to remember the experience that they had in their science class in grade 4/5.