Tag Archives: teacher stories

A blast from the past or back to the future?

Some time ago, my past caught up with me and it was both a pleasure and a shock.

In 1968, at the ripe young age of 22, I was a chemistry teacher to a group of Secondary IV students. Teaching was how I paid my university fees.

It turned out to be a very special group, mainly because these young people were interesting, curious, and antsy yet mature for their age. There was also a very special dynamic in the class that year because the students were assigned to groups which meant they shared all the same classes. This helped create cohesion and a wonderful sense of community that we don’t see as much in today’s teaching environment.

They had, among other things, decided that they needed representation and so, proceeded to elect a very competent president and vice-president. They then took the initiative to publish a class newsletter called “D’un bureau à l’autre” which I printed for them on a good old copy machine. I think that only baby boomers remember this machine which always left your fingers blue with ink and smelling of alcohol!

This part of the story is particularly important because what was printed in one of these newsletters with that machine came back to haunt me after all these years.

Recently, one of my students decided to plan a 50th anniversary reunion in September 2018. He was intelligent, resourceful and hyperactive fifty years ago; he hasn’t lost anything with age. Together with a few of his friends, he managed to retrace all their classmates: thirty, young, 65 year-olds!

Polycopier
Polycopier

But there is more. He had kept a copy of ALL their class newsletters, including the very last issue published after a long weekend spent at a camp in Mont-Rolland, an outing which these very resourceful students had organized for themselves and by themselves. At the time, they needed an adult presence, and so, as their home room teacher, I accompanied them. I admit that I don’t really remember much about it, but I do remember that I was more a willing participant than a chaperone. You can imagine the pleasure I had when I re-read that newsletter and rediscovered all that we had done together! But I had forgotten that I had contributed a text, an op-ed of sorts, to that issue, and it’s what I wrote 50 years ago which surprised me the most.

At age 22, I was an inexperienced teacher but I was already feeling a discomfort with teaching as I saw it then practiced. This is what I wrote:

Impressions

Trying to describe and report on the experience that some of you have been fortunate enough to live would reduce to its simplest expression a complex set of facts, relationships, and friendships. Such a simplification could never account for the richness of this extraordinary weekend. So I prefer to let each one enjoy his or her personal experience. What I can only try to do here is put on paper some of the thoughts which it inspired.

For me, the most unforgettable result of this weekend is the collapse of two images reflecting a very specific type of relationship, that of “the pupil” and that of the “teacher”.

D'un bureau à l'autre
D’un bureau à l’autre

The free, cheerful yet serious relationship that developed during this long weekend contrasts strangely with the distance that characterized our school year. One may ask “Why the change?” Why had the questions that you asked about life, its meaning, and its purpose, not been discussed before? Why did your organizational skills and your varied interests not manifest themselves in the classroom as they were manifest this weekend?
(ED. Today I would nuance this by saying “manifest themselves as much”)

Will you tell me that in class “it’s different”, that it’s about “school subjects”, that there are exams, and that you have to “pass your year”? On this point, I couldn’t contradict you but, on the other hand, I have to ask whether “school subjects” and exams have meaning in and of themselves? What is a “school subject”? Should not all science and philosophy that we study be, above all things, the science and philosophy of life without which they are just sets of meaningless concepts?

I have bitterly felt that we all put our lives on hold while we are in school not because learning, knowing and understanding are of no interest to us but, to the contrary, because this interest, this curiosity is starved by what awaits us at the end of the semester or the year: the exam that must be passed.

The teacher then becomes the purveyor of what is required to pass the exam and not the one who, through his experience and knowledge, satisfies your desire to know and understand the world in which you live. All that remains is the “stereotyped” teacher standing before a mass of students no less anonymous, without singular personalities, whose only purpose is to pass the exams. This may seem exaggerated to one who has not lived what has been for me a genuine relationship between equal and autonomous individuals. But if that person should take the time to think about it, he will certainly be able to see, as I do, that all else is, by force of circumstance, fake and artificial.

-Christiane Dufour at age 22

So, I leave you with this question: is our teaching still driven by exams or have things fundamentally changed since then?

P.S. In contradiction to my statements above, their Latin teacher (yes, in 1968 they were taught Latin) was an exception to this rather dark vision. He did not so much teach them Latin, as discuss with them, through the great classics, important issues of our humanity. They remember it and him still.

Christiane Dufour at age 72

Effective Science Teaching: A Tale of Two Teachers

scienceOver many years of teaching science myself and working with science teachers, I have come across many great teachers who guided their students to be successful learners and often inspired them to become scientists themselves. One thing has become clear to me – every one of these teachers developed their own pedagogy – their personal way of making their students science learners.

“Mr. Allen is a good teacher, but he doesn’t know much”

When I was a science consultant in the 1990s, I often visited John Allen, a Chemistry teacher at Riverdale High School. He was very effective at getting his students to learn successfully and enjoy Chemistry. He embraced cooperative learning, becoming popular in science classrooms at the time, and had his classes organized in structured learning groups for almost all of his classroom activities. When a student would approach him with a question, his first response was always to suggest they go back to their group and figure it out for themselves. He recounted to me that one day he was walking down the hall behind a couple of his students and overheard one say to the other, “Mr. Allen is a good teacher, but he doesn’t know much”! He smiled to himself, feeling confident in his belief that the teacher should be a facilitator and not the source of all knowledge and that students should play a major part in constructing their own knowledge and understanding.

The right amount of challenge and hands-on action

Sharon Lamb at Lindsay Place High School believed that real learning comes from building your own understanding from active classroom experimenting – and believed it was important for students to develop their own methods to conduct an experiment. She realized that this can be messy and time-consuming but that it is an effective way of ensuring deep understanding. I agree. I have always found that if students struggle with their understanding, and persist through it, they are more likely to really get it.

One activity I observed in her class was “the constant velocity car” “The company calls this a constant velocity vehicle”, said Sharon as she held up a small toy car for the class to see. “I want you to find out if this is honest advertising.” After questioning their understanding of speed of an object in motion and how to calculate it, Sharon pointed to a table with meter sticks, stop watches, masking tape and toy cars. She challenged them to figure out a way of not only measuring the speed of the car, but also finding out of the speed is constant over a certain distance. Soon, in groups of two or three, they were in the school hallway measuring set distances for their cars to travel and marking different lengths with masking tape. In hushed tones (most of the time) they discussed and argued with each other, conscious of not disturbing the other classes. “How can we get it to go straight?” “Will the battery hold up?” “How far should the car go?” “How do we calculate the speed?” “How do we make sure it’s constant?” were some of the questions overheard among the animated conversations going on.

Students measured distances, timed their trials and calculated speeds. They ran back and forth from group to group comparing their methods with the others and asked Sharon how to deal with obstacles as they arose. She encouraged them, but at the same time challenged their thinking. “That’s cool how you’re testing for speed using a 2-metre track. How are you going to record the time for the different distances?” she asked two girls. The mood of the groups varied from excitement to frustration to satisfaction and pride as they progressed through this activity. With Sharon’s guidance and a collective sharing of understanding among the students, they all came up with some form of conclusion about the honesty of the company’s claim.

Photo: The Constant Velocity Car
The Constant Velocity Car – photo by K.Elliott

As a two-day Applied Science and Technology activity, Sharon used it to reinforce and give personal meaning to the calculation of constant velocity. She gave them control over the procedure, all the while keeping a close eye on them to nudge them in the right direction when frustration set in or when she saw them going in an unproductive direction. All students were thoroughly engrossed in it. It had just the right amount of challenge and hands-on action.

 

In my blog posts, for instance, this one, I have been making a case for inquiry-based science education as the most effective way for students to learn science and technology. Visiting different classrooms and talking to many teachers, however, it is clear that there are many ways to approach the teaching of science – and that the different approaches are the result of the many situations that teachers face on a day-to-day basis. Some of the factors that influence their pedagogy are

  • demographics and special needs (who are the students?)
  • curriculum requirements and number of concepts to tackle
  • philosophical bent (I think students learn best when…)
  • exam requirements (teachers want students to succeed)
  • administrative considerations (scheduling, number of periods…)
  • how teachers were taught themselves.

Mixing the research findings supporting inquiry-based pedagogy with the reality of today’s classrooms and a teacher’s own path through their professional learning – that is the challenge of science teachers everywhere.

La ludification d’une classe de FLS

graffiti
photo by Mocks 108 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

L’autre jour, j’écoutais un baladoweb de la série Freakonomics au sujet de la motivation, plus précisément, au sujet de comment éduquer les gens à faire des bons choix en terme de santé et d’obéissance aux lois. Ce n’était pas une émission du domaine de l’éducation, mais plutôt du domaine du marketing. Mais le marketing et l’éducation sont des cousins assez proches — les deux visant principalement la modification de comportements des gens à qui ils s’adressent. Ce billet se veut donc un hommage à l’espèce humaine, cette espèce qui est telle qu’elle est, peu importe les théories idéalistes sur lesquelles on s’appuie souvent pour l’expliquer.

Au printemps 2014, j’ai présenté dans un billet mon entrevue avec Avi Spector au sujet de la ludification (gamification) en apprentissage du FLS. Ce qui suit est mon entrevue avec Catherine Boisvert, l’enseignante qui a expérimenté cette approche dans sa classe de français, langue seconde entre janvier et juin 2014. La ludification, selon Avi et d’autres, c’est l’utilisation de stratégies et d’approches qui sont propres au domaine des jeux, incluant les jeux vidéo. Ça ne veut pas dire qu’on joue à des jeux en classe, mais plutôt qu’on puise certaines approches ou structures de jeux connus pour les mettre au service d’un contexte d’apprentissage. Le projet d’Avi et de Catherine avait comme fondements les 6 principes suivants :

  • Les notes : les notes sont structurées en fonction d’un gain de points et non la perte de points;
  • L’appropriation du parcours : il y a une transparence quant au programme et les élèves ont le choix des parties du programme qu’ils vont travailler. Les élèves connaissent d’avance les travaux à remettre et peuvent choisir l’ordre dans lequel ils les font;
  • L’échec vers l’avant (failing forward) : l’échec est perçu comme façon de progresser;
  • La rétroaction : une rétroaction ponctuelle et fréquente est donnée à l’élève pour lui permettre d’ajuster ses démarches, ses stratégies et ses travaux.
  • La différentiation : les élèves peuvent choisir différentes démarches, différents outils et différentes façons de démontrer le développement de leurs compétences, selon les aptitudes de chacun;
  • Les défis sur mesure : dans une classe individualisée, l’élève progresse à son rythme et ne progresse qu’après la réussite d’une cible d’apprentissage. Les nouveaux apprentissages se construisent sur des bases solides à chaque étape. Dans les jeux vidéo, on appelle cette démarche  « levelling up ».
C_Boisvert
Catherine Boisvert, CQSB

Enseignante : Catherine Boisvert, CQSB
Contexte : classe individualisée de FLS en éducation aux adultes (16 à 24 ans). Les élèves sont de secondaire 1 à 5 dans une même classe.

Qu’est-ce qui t’a amené à expérimenter la ludification dans ta classe de FLS?

Avi a déjà travaillé avec moi. Il cherchait un cobaye pour voir comment la ludification pouvait se dérouler en classe. Moi, personnellement, je préfère appeler ça de la « gamification » parce que mes élèves, ce sont des « gamers ». J’étais aussi à la recherche d’une façon d’essayer de jazzer un peu mon cours. J’ai un petit groupe et on est dans un petit centre. J’ai des élèves récalcitrants, qui se mettent des étiquettes, qui commencent leur première journée en disant : « Ah, non, mais moi j’suis pas bon en français. » Je voulais qu’ils aillent chercher cette espèce de combativité qu’ils ont avec les jeux. On a parlé des jeux auxquels ils jouent. Je leur ai demandé ce qu’ils font quand ils ne réussissent pas un tableau dans Candy Crush Saga. Est-ce qu’ils se disent : « Ah, non, moi j’suis pas bon »? Comme si c’était un jugement, comme si c’était fini, une sentence. Au contraire, ils essayent encore et encore! Ce qui m’a attiré vers cette approche de gamification, c’est ce qu’on appelle en anglais Failing Forward (l’échec vers d’avant), cette espèce de persévérance, qui fait que les élèves puissent se dire : « C’est pas grave, je me relève puis j’essaye une autre stratégie ». Je voulais qu’ils s’amusent dans ma classe, qu’ils essaient, qu’ils se disent : « Je me suis planté, c’est pas grave, je me relève puis je continue ». Je trouvais que la gamification était une façon d’amener cet aspect-là dans ma classe.

Explique-nous un peu la logistique de ton approche.

En éducation aux adultes, on fonctionne avec le Programme de formation pour le premier cycle du secondaire et avec le vieux programme pour le deuxième cycle du secondaire. On est en train de vivre la réforme un peu en retard. Donc, il y a 4 compétences pour le FLS au deuxième cycle. Chaque compétence fait l’objet d’une SAÉ — les élèves sont évalués en fonction de chaque SAÉ qu’ils me remettent. Les SAÉ sont évaluées avec des étoiles. Une étoile, c’est le minimum pour passer, c’est l’équivalant de la note C. Deux étoiles, l’élève est capable de réaliser la tâche sans problème. Trois étoiles, l’élève va au-delà des attentes. Pour chaque compétence, il y a la possibilité d’avoir jusqu’à trois étoiles. Je n’ai jamais, à date, reçu un travail qui ne méritait pas au moins une étoile. Pour passer à une prochaine étape (l’idée du Level Up) et pour ainsi accéder à l’examen d’étape, il faut avoir au moins 8 étoiles, sur un total de 12 étoiles possibles. Le jugement de l’enseignant entre aussi en jeu. Le but des élèves est de terminer leur scolarité au secondaire le plus rapidement possible. Donc, ils peuvent passer des examens d’étape ou de fin d’année en tout temps. Je veux par contre m’assurer qu’ils ne vont pas échouer les épreuves, donc le système des étoiles fonctionne bien pour concrétiser le cheminement des apprentissages. Les élèves peuvent voir s’ils sont prêts à tout moment. Le parcours est transparent.

J’ai choisi de fonctionner avec des SAÉ, même avec le vieux programme. J’ai vu que mes élèves en secondaire 1 et 2 étaient plus actifs et que le programme leur était plus pertinent, donc plus motivant. Ils étaient plus engagés dans les tâches. Mon but est toujours d’accroitre la motivation des élèves. Ce que je trouve le plus difficile, c’est de travailler sur les savoirs essentiels dans ce contexte, parce que les élèves trouvent des façons d’atteindre leurs buts qui peuvent des fois contourner les savoirs essentiels. Dans le fond, ils arrivent à travailler des stratégies de communication sans le savoir, mais pas forcément ce que je veux qu’ils travaillent. Je trouve aussi qu’ils ont une réflexion métacognitive quand ils argumentent pour avoir plus d’étoiles : « j’ai été capable de comparer — regardez, j’ai écrit plus quemoins que et après ça j’ai écrit autant que ».

Quelle a été ton expérience avec l’idée de l’échec vers l’avant?

L’échec vers l’avant, c’est intéressant. Les jeunes qui jouent à des jeux vidéo, quand ils sont confrontés à un échec, ils recommencent en se disant : « qu’est-ce qui a marché? Qu’est-ce que je peux refaire? » Dans le fond, l’aspect ludique des étoiles que j’ai utilisées, comme dans Angry Birds, ça semble avoir un effet dédramatisant. Les tâches que l’on fait servent d’évaluations formatives. L’idée est que les élèves sont tout le temps en évaluation, à tous les jours. Donc, quand arrive une formation sommative, les élèves sont habitués et ils sont à l’aise. J’ai aussi remarqué qu’ils savent aussi à quoi s’attendre. Je les sens outillés, et ILS se sentent outillés. J’avais des élèves qui ne fournissaient pas tellement d’efforts et dans une classe individualisée, chaque élève est responsable pour lui-même. Donc, si je ne faisais pas la police, ces élèves ne faisaient pas grand-chose. Une fois que j’ai commencé à expérimenter avec la ludification dans ma classe, ce sont ces mêmes élèves qui étaient presque tannants tellement qu’ils me demandaient si j’avais corrigé leur travail! Là, j’avais le problème de ne pas fournir moi-même assez vite! J’avais jamais eu autant de correction à faire, mais en même temps, j’étais contente parce qu’ils venaient me voir pour me demander combien d’étoiles qu’ils ont eues. « Hein, comment ça, deux étoiles? Ok, alors je vais le refaire! » Ils ne voyaient plus ça comme des évaluations. Ils ne se voyaient plus comme des étiquettes qui leur collaient dessus. C’est comme s’ils prenaient le contrôle, qu’ils sentaient ce « sense of agency » dont Avi parlait.

Selon toi, quels ont été les principaux succès du projet?

Les élèves savent mieux ce qu’ils doivent atteindre en français, ça représente le QUOI. Ils savent ce qu’ils doivent être capables de faire en français. Ils savent mieux lier des savoirs essentiels à des situations. Ils ont plus de choix — au lieu de suivre un courant. Ils peuvent se dire : « je vais montrer cette compétence de telle façon ». Ça leur offre un contexte plus ludique — la perception qu’ils jouent à un jeu. Ça rend la communication plus naturelle, comme des enfants qui jouent et puis qui apprennent en jouant. Je sens que les élèves ne voient plus de barrières, qu’ils perçoivent les buts à atteindre pas comme une note, mais comme être capable de faire quelque chose. Dans le fond, la note, c’est pas aussi important que d’être capable de communiquer en français, surtout à Québec, où j’enseigne. On travaille des situations concrètes, issues de leur vie, comme par exemple, échanger un appareil qu’on a acheté. C’est aussi beaucoup moins dramatique. Je sais que j’insiste beaucoup là-dessus, mais je crois que c’est l’aspect le plus important de la gamification/ludification des apprentissages en FLS. Si un élève est habitué de penser à l’évaluation comme étant une chose punitive, une sanction négative, il va éviter de s’investir dans son apprentissage pour ne pas vivre trop d’émotions lors de l’échec éventuel. « Tu ne peux pas dire que je suis pas bon, j’ai même pas essayé. »  L’idée du Failing Forward, de l’échec vers l’avant, rompt ce cycle de démotivation. Dans un contexte individualisé comme celui de l’éducation aux adultes, c’est très facile de ne pas se rendre compte qu’on fournit pas le même effort qu’un autre, parce qu’on n’a pas les mêmes tâches. Mais avec un système de gamification en place, les élèves peuvent comparer leurs efforts de façon très concrète — « t’as combien d’étoiles? T’as combien de tâches de faites? » Et enfin, être bon en français, langue seconde, ce n’est pas nécessairement très cool. Il faut lui ajouter du cachet, pour que les élèves fournissent l’effort requis — ce projet a contribué à rendre le FLS un peu branché dans les yeux des jeunes.

Quels ont été les principaux défis pour toi et pour tes élèves?

J’ai découvert que pour certains de mes élèves qui venaient d’autres pays, l’école c’est supposé être sérieux. Donc s’ils s’amusent, ils ne sont pas en train d’apprendre! J’ai dû confronter cette idée-là — on a tous grandi et découvert ensemble. De plus, c’était difficile d’instaurer le nouveau système et de faire embarquer tout le monde au mois de janvier. Dans le fond, commencer dès le début de l’année scolaire fonctionnerait beaucoup mieux. J’aimerais consolider et développer le projet pour qu’il soit prêt pour le mois d’aout et pour que tout le monde puisse commencer avec une plateforme comme Edmodo. De plus, je suis dans un contexte d’apprentissage individualisé, dans lequel j’ai les cinq niveaux dans une même classe, donc je me sens des fois comme un gardien de but — celui-ci a une question, l’autre à besoin d’explications… Même avec la gamification, j’essaye toujours de trouver des moyens de composer avec cette réalité.

À quoi réfléchis-tu présentement?

J’ai des élèves qui parlent français comme moi, mais qui ont plus de misère à écrire, d’autres élèves ont des troubles d’apprentissage comme la dyslexie. Ces jeunes doivent alors travailler des stratégies de lecture. J’aimerais trouver une façon de jumeler les élèves afin que les forces de chacun puissent venir aider avec les faiblesses de l’autre, peut-être avoir certains élèves dans le cadre d’une même SAÉ travailler des compétences différentes. J’ai des élèves qui s’expriment très bien en français, presque comme des francophones et j’ai aussi des élèves qui viennent d’autres pays et qui ne parlent que très peu et pour qui le français est la 3e ou 4e langue. Souvent, ils viennent d’une culture d’apprentissage très traditionnelle, dans laquelle il y a beaucoup de répétition et de pratiques écrites, mais très peu de communication spontanée à l’oral. Donc, j’aimerais les jumeler avec mes petits Québécois « slackers ».

Dans le fond, je veux amener les élèves à déployer cette même combativité que je les vois déployer quand ils jouent à un jeu. C’est sûr que c’est plus facile si la tâche est aussi liée d’une certaine façon à leur vraie vie et non pas juste « conjugue-moi 20 verbes ». Le jeu à lui tout seul, c’est sûr que ce n’est pas assez. Mais, c’est le jeu qui soutient l’apprentissage et qui ajoute à leur motivation. Il est certain que je dois adapter les SAÉ pour qu’elles soient assez ouvertes pour qu’un élève puisse se retrouver dedans. Un élève qui tripe sur la planche à neige pourra mieux écrire un texte explicatif sur le « snow » que sur un truc scientifique qui ne l’intéresse pas.

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Avez-vous des questions pour Catherine Boisvert au sujet de son expérience de ludification? Utilisez les commentaires pour lui en faire part!

 

 

Portrait d’un enseignant : Une entrevue avec Jean-Pierre Dubois

JeanPierre_Dubois
Jean-Pierre Dubois (photo par K. Thibeault)

Nom : Jean-Pierre Dubois
Commission scolaire : Western Québec
Niveaux : secondaire 1 à 5
Matière : FLS
Années d’expérience : 25

Cette année, je me suis lancé le défi d’écrire mon premier billet pour le blogue en français. Je tiens à vous dire que je suis non seulement une apprenante et enseignante de français comme langue seconde, mais une francophile pur sang!   Alors, je suis toujours à la recherche d’enseignants, de programmes, d’outils ou de ressources pédagogiques qui inspirent ma pratique professionnelle ou qui facilitent mon perfectionnement langagier. En mai dernier, j’ai eu le grand plaisir de m’entretenir avec un ancien collègue. Celui-ci avait relevé un nouveau défi : développer et enseigner un cours de français intensif à des élèves de secondaire 1 à 4. Voici la transcription d’un extrait de notre conversation.

Parlez-nous un peu de vous et du début de votre carrière.

J’ai commencé à enseigner à Whitby en Ontario, il y a vingt-cinq ans. Pendant deux ans, j’ai enseigné le français de base de la quatrième à la huitième année. Mais j’ai bientôt réalisé que le primaire n’était peut-être pas le niveau pour moi et je voulais aussi revenir au Québec. Alors j’ai fait des demandes dans toutes les commissions scolaires anglophones de la province et c’est la Western Québec qui m’a engagé comme enseignant de FLS. Ça fait maintenant vingt-deux ans que j’enseigne à Pontiac High School. Ah! Que le temps passe vite! Présentement, j’enseigne aux secondaires 4 et 5 le plus souvent. Mais l’année passée, notre directeur m’a demandé si j’étais intéressé à développer et à enseigner un tout nouveau cours.

À Pontiac High School, nous avons plusieurs élèves francophones de mariages mixtes, dont un parent est anglophone et un parent est francophone, qui ont fait leur primaire en français. Et, nous voulions donner l’occasion à ces élèves-là de ne pas perdre leur français et de faire un cours qui était plus à la hauteur de leurs possibilités. Le cours que j’ai créé est donc basé sur le programme de français langue maternelle, mais puisque la plupart des élèves dans la classe ne parlent pas le français à la maison ou très peu souvent, et n’ont parfois pas exactement les mêmes compétences langagières que des vrais francophones, j’adapte le matériel pour eux.

Avoir des élèves de plusieurs niveaux dans une seule classe fait partie du quotidien pour un enseignant de FLS, mais vous enseignez à vingt-neuf élèves qui sont dans quatre années d’études différentes. Comment est-ce que vous gérez ce groupe particulier?

Et bien… c’est un peu de l’acrobatie! C’est vrai que pour cette année-pilote, l’école a combiné des élèves de secondaire 1 à 4 dans une seule classe. Alors, au début de l’année, j’ai dû évaluer les compétences des élèves et j’ai ensuite divisé ma classe en deux groupes : maintenant, je fais du secondaire 1 et du secondaire 3 en français langue maternelle essentiellement. Comme ça, je n’ai que deux planifications différentes. J’utilise le matériel de langue maternelle Matière Première I pour le premier groupe (les secondaires 1 et 2) et Réseau 1 pour le deuxième groupe (les secondaires 3 et 4). Quand j’enseigne au premier groupe, le deuxième groupe fait du travail individuel, soit de la lecture, de la grammaire ou de la recherche et… vice-versa. Ça fait beaucoup de gestion et il me semble que j’ai toujours mon tableau divisé en deux! Parfois, les élèves travaillent sur une activité commune. Par exemple, depuis novembre, nous lisons le premier Amos Daragon dans la suite de livres d’aventures fantastiques de l’écrivain Bryan Perro. C’est toute la classe ensemble qui le lit et nous travaillons le nouveau vocabulaire et les expressions en grand groupe. Mais, lorsque vient le temps de faire le travail écrit après chaque chapitre, les deux groupes différents ont leurs propres questions de compréhension à faire. Et, si parfois les questions sont les mêmes, j’en demande toujours plus aux secondaires 3 et 4. Les grilles de correction sont semblables, mais plus exigeantes pour les élèves du deuxième groupe. Je les oriente constamment et je précise mes attentes dès le début.

Quels sont les défis importants auxquels vous avez fait face durant l’année?

Un défi majeur pour moi comme enseignant cette année a été que les élèves aient toujours l’impression d’être dans une classe de français à leur niveau, adaptée à leurs besoins et capacités. Le but du programme est que ces élèves puissent conserver les acquis de leur français et le garder actif dans l’absence d’un programme d’immersion. Un autre grand défi a été de gérer toute cette gang. Heureusement, j’avais vingt-quatre ans d’expérience derrière moi! Pour cette première année du programme, les élèves écrivent l’examen final de FLS qu’ils réussiront sûrement. Mais franchement, la réussite dans ce cas ne peut vraiment pas se mesurer par une note finale. Ultimement, je veux que chaque élève quitte au mois de juin et se dise : « J’ai appris quelque chose! »

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Vous connaissez des enseignants qui font preuve d’initiative ou qui font des projets intéressants… écrivez-nous!

All Fun and Games: Gamifying a Language Classroom

Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0

In February, I attended a session at the LCEEQ conference given by Avi Spector on Gamification. I was skeptical, as gamification is getting a lot of press from corporate training and marketing folks, and we don’t always see eye to eye on classroom practice issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Avi presented an action-research project that he had undertaken with an FLS teacher in the Adult Ed. sector at CQSB, Catherine Boisvert. Now, before you say to yourself: “Oh no, Adult Sector is not for me, that’s not my reality, I teach kids”, remember that the Quebec Adult Ed. sector is geared towards students over the age of 16, so many students are actually not much older than those in regular secondary classrooms. Moreover, I discovered that the gamification model is so universally applicable across ages, that its principles are valuable no matter what level you teach. If you have read the blog before, you might know that I am a BIG proponent of action-research as a model for professional learning. We learn and grow as educators when we try sound pedagogical approaches, reflect on our experience, adjust and try again. So, without further ado, here are some key points from my interview with Avi Spector:

What is Gamification?

Avi discusses his definition of gamification and how it compares to game-based learning. Important distinction!

*Note: currently, the videos are only available on a computer. We are working to have them available on mobile devices shortly!

Reasons and Motivations for the Project

I spoke to Catherine Boisvert, the teacher whose classroom was the laboratory for the gamification experiment, via Skype last week. She works with teenagers and young adults whose pathway through traditional schooling was not always successful. Catherine had this to say about her reasons for agreeing to participate in this pedagogical innovation in her classroom:

C_Boisvert
Catherine Boisvert, CQSB

I was looking for ways to jazz up my curriculum. I work in a learning center with a small group of very disparate students, all working at varying levels of French language ability. I wanted to make my classes more dynamic and to move away from the self-perception about their abilities with which the students were coming. I get a lot of students who come into my class the first day and say to me: “I’m not good at French” – they label themselves as not being good students right off the bat. I wanted for them to have this gaming spirit, the same perseverance that came through when they talked to me about the games they played. I was really inspired by the idea of failing forward, of using mistakes as opportunities to try another strategy, or a new way of doing. I wanted to take the drama out of mistakes and have students say to themselves: “It’s ok, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to try again”. I also wanted students to feel as though they had all the tools necessary to pass the exam, and for this, I needed them to do a lot of practicing. I didn’t want this work to feel like a burden, I wanted it to be fun.

The Six Principles of Gamifying your Curriculum

These are the guiding principles that Avi and Catherine followed when designing the gamified learning environment.

 

The model used by Catherine and Avi

Avi provides an overview of the setup in Catherine’s FLS classroom.

Outcomes of the Experiment

Catherine talked to me about her ongoing experience this past school year:

I had students in my class who really didn’t put in very much effort before. Less than the minimum, in fact. After the gamification model was put into place, these same people would submit work and demand feedback so they could win stars. When I would say to them “Well, I’m hesitating between one and two stars” their reaction would be “What do you mean? Give that back, I’m going to change it so I can get two stars!” They never would have said that before! It’s as though they weren’t taking the evaluation so personally anymore, it wasn’t a label that they felt they had to stick on themselves – I’m good, I’m no good. These labels are so immovable and students really feel powerless when they buy into them. I see that students feel more in control of their learning – they feel that they have the power to get one, two or three stars. As Avi would say, they feel a greater sense of agency. I noticed that even when they are trying to convince me to give them more starts, they are actually referring to their work and the clearly stated outcomes: “What do you mean I didn’t use enough comparative language. Here, I wrote ‘more than’, and ‘as much as’ and ‘similarly'”. So the learning is actually very deep and metacognitive.

Students are also more clear about expected outcomes, because the outcomes are part of the ‘game’. They are better able to make links between essential knowledge and the situations in which you apply that knowledge. This also gives them more choice as to the ways that they can demonstrate competency growth, within the LES structure that I’m using. My students no longer see tasks and objectives as obstacles to getting a good grade. They see them rather as opportunities to ‘level up’.

My biggest challenge was a cultural one. I do have students who come from cultures where school and learning are a serious business. It was more difficult to get them into the spirit of the ‘game’, because of the perception that if you’re having fun, you can’t possibly be learning. Also, next year, I won’t be starting the project in January. Starting right away in September will mean that there won’t be a disconnect midway through the year.

(Stay tuned for a blog post featuring my whole interview with Catherine Boisvert from CQSB en français, bien sûr!)

Are you working on a Gamification project in your classroom or network? I would love to hear about your experience.

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Avi Spector is a pedagogical consultant with the RECIT FGA and the Riverside School Board. His provincial mandate is to support General Adult Education teachers from the nine English School Boards. You can tweet him @a_spector

All of his Gamification workshop materials can be found on his Pinterest board www.pinterest.com/avimspector

Catherine Boisvert is a French Second Language / Francization teacher at the Eastern Québec Learning Centre in the Central Quebec School Board.

 

Teacher Profile: Jody Meacher

jodyName: Jody Meacher
School and Board: Parkview Elementary, Eastern Townships School Board
Subject: all – Level 1, Cycle 2 Elementary

I met Jody over the years, probably first some years ago when I was doing some training for Apple at the ETSB and later our paths would cross at conferences. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her session at Springboards in 2013: A + B + C = D.

I recently spoke with Jody over Skype. When I asked about her years of experience as a teacher she said that teaching had been in her blood for a long time, first when she was a soccer referee and skiing instructor and later as a classroom teacher. She started in the teaching profession in 1998 and has been with the Eastern Townships School Board since 2001.

Being in the ETSB, she is fortunate to have a technology rich environment. By her choice she has a variety of devices in her classroom: iPads, iPod touches and netbooks. She herself has a MacBook for her own use. She has enough devices so that each student can be using one, but not enough of any one for the entire class. Jody talked about how her journey from  1:1 laptops in 2003 to her current situation was a move from teacher control of everyone doing the same thing to more autonomy for the students and with more variation in what is happening in the classroom. Jody likes to have a mix of tools – it allows for each tool to be used for its best purposes. As she put it, “I don’t always need a hammer. Sometimes I need a screwdriver.” For example, the iPod touches are easier to use as cameras than the iPads, so students can easily use them for photography especially when walking around the school. The netbooks are easier to use for typing, while the iPads, with bigger screens than the iPods are more appropriate for certain apps. There is also overlap as all devices can be used on the Internet, for example. Jody wants her students to be critical users of technology, thinking about the most appropriate device for the purpose they want. The variety of devices also reminds Jody that not everyone needs to be doing the same thing at the same time. Some students can be working on a script while others are doing stop-motion animation and still others are manipulating puppets… All students can be working on different aspects of a project with the appropriate devices. Not all parts of the project need to include technology. For example, students may be working on paper for their storyboards.

Using technology is not without its challenges. Jody is still searching for the best way to transfer files from one device to another so that projects can be pulled together smoothly.

composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license
composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license

It is not just technology that pushes Jody’s students to think more deeply. Her approach: A (apps) + B (because) + C (collaboration) = D (deeper talk) is not about the technology, but about thinking more deeply, communicating clearly and negotiating around ideas. Whatever the students are doing, the because, being able to explain the process and the why behind their thoughts. is always in the forefront.

Jody’s students often work in pairs. It encourages talking to learn. They may be creating a video (Explain Everything or Educreations) to capture their thinking  such as the process of how they solved a math problem. They may be creating a teaching video. Jody puts a big emphasis on “Because Statements”. Students need to be able to justify their thinking, their ideas, their strategies. They need to be able to support their reasons / reasoning. When taking on roles such as iPad operator and solution director, the latter needs to be able to justify what s/he asks the iPad operator to do and explain it clearly enough for the him/her to understand.

Whether working in pairs or as a class on a large project, it is the justifying and negotiating that moves projects forward and deepens the learning. One person’s “because” may lead to another person’s rebuttal “because” with each step moving the thinking forward and leading to much deeper thinking and understanding. It takes work to convince others of ones ideas and it takes listening to, as a class, come up with the best solutions. The students learn to make choices based on reasons and not on the popularity of a particular student. Consensus building and negotiating take time, but the results always lead to a stronger production.

With this approach Jody’s students are on their way to becoming critical thinkers and good listeners and communicators.

We chatted a bit about apps and the need to think about the because of why you would use one. She recommended Richard Byrne’s blog: Free Technology for Teachers, BECAUSE he always puts the emphasis on how to use his recommendations in education.

You can listen to the full interview.

Teacher Profile: An interview with Cycle 1 teacher Mary Ellen Lynch

me3Name: Mary Ellen Lynch
School and Board: St-Johns School Riverside SB
Level: Cycle 1
Subject: General (All)
Experience: 30 (15 yrs USA, 15 years QC)

 

 

I met Mary Ellen a few years ago in the context of an Action Research initiative. At the time, she was actively using Concordia University’s Learning Toolkit and beginning to explore goal-setting in ePEARL. When I discovered her blog and saw what she was doing in her literacy classroom with her students, I knew I had to find out more about what motivates her to do what she does. The following is the result of my interview with Mary Ellen – part transcript, part summary, with plenty of photographs and links to her projects thrown in for good measure.

ME_Lynch_class

What is your favourite thing to do with your students?

I’m really interested in anything that will help kids with their literacy development. Right now we’re working with folk tales and I love folk tales! There are so many things you can do with them – they are repetitive, so they can be retold easily, you can do puppet shows with them, you can do writing with them. I’ve had my students write apology letters to their favourite character, because, of course, there is always something bad that happens to the characters in folk tales. We’ve been reading The Three Little Pigs, Henny Penny, The Little Red Hen to name a few, and the next thing my students will be doing is retelling a folk tale that they’ve chosen.

I introduced storyboards with The Little Red Hen. I have 9 boxes on chart paper and in the first three boxes I have the characters and where the story is taking place. Then, we have what happens first, next etc. We draw in stick figures and each part of the story is a picture. You can use the storyboard to help them retell a story, and then to help them write a new story! We used the Little Red Hen story as a springboard for a story about preparing for the holidays: we brainstormed the kind of things that the Little Red Hen might do to prepare for the holidays, like getting and decorating a tree, making cookies, etc. Some kids wanted to change the setting and have it be set in the Arctic. Well, they figured out that a Little Red Hen couldn’t really live in the Arctic, so the story had to have different characters!

The puppet show is also a retelling, but we didn’t use a storyboard. It came out of just knowing and reading the ABRA stories so well. The students were just able to retell the story without a script or prompts or anything. They just told the story, they were able to do that.

Puppet Show 6 from Mary Ellen Lynch on Vimeo.

 

Mary Ellen’s first foray into Action Research was through the lens of two questions, one of which was how to get parents more involved in their child’s digital portfolio. I asked her to share her views on the role of parents in Cycle 1.

How do you get parents involved?

In all my years of teaching, I’ve learned that parental involvement is very important. I just want parents to be a part of their child’s education. My experience tells me that kids whose parents are involved in their child’s schoolwork in some positive way are more likely to be successful. The parents who help with homework, the parents who listen to their child read, the parents who are commenting on the blog. Those are the parents of the top kids.

One of my biggest issues is getting parents to read to their children. It’s still an issue today. Over the years, I’ve done different things to make it easier for parents, like the Book Bag – once a week, kids would take home a bag of books and a reading log. But parents STILL were not reading to their kids. I did have a section of parents who were reading to their kids, and of course these were the kids who were also reading well on their own. So I really believe that parents who read to their kids grow readers, and parents who don’t read to their children, well, those children struggle with their reading. This has been absolutely apparent to me. I would talk to parents at the first open house of the year and tell them how important their involvement was. When I started using ABRA and ePEARL, there is a feature in there for parents to leave comments for their kids. Same thing – I got three of four parents commenting, but the majority of the class parents would not get involved. So I realized that parents needed to be taught how to go in and leave a comment. I made up How To’s sheets for parents to have at home, I conducted a survey to ask about technology issues such as whether there is a computer at home or at work and an Internet connection. My last step was during the parent-teacher conference in February for those parents who STILL had never left a comment. I had a computer with me and had them leave a comment during the conference!

What remains a challenge for you in your practice?

Assessment is a challenge for me. I’m retiring soon and that’s one of things I’m not going to miss – trying to figure out how to assess kids. I use a lot of different tools. To assess reading, I found a book called Three Minute Reading Assessments from Scholastic that has passages for kids to read and I time them and do a reading record. I use rubrics with my students that I create myself for our different projects. So for example, we’re doing Folk Tales right now and I have a rubric for the retelling activity, in which students tell the story in their own words. I’m always reading and buying books on teaching ideas and these are what inform my assessment practices most often. I wish that we had more models of rubrics in Quebec that are tied to the QEP so that we could adapt them to fit what we’re doing in our classroom.

What advice would you give to a teacher just starting out?

Start buying books for your classroom. Join projects, pilots, workgroups. They often come with perks like extra technology or other resources for your classroom – and you end up learning and being inspired.



A glimpse into Mary Ellen’s classroom

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Mary Ellen’s classroom blog is where you can see into her creative literacy classroom. Many of her projects involve technology and she often shares rich classroom processes on Vimeo.

Getting Creative With Practical Science Assessments

Hand-ons labs or inquiry-based activities are the most engaging ways to learn about science. The Quebec Education Program guides us that the main steps involved in developing practical skills are: defining a problem, developing a plan of action, carrying out the plan of action, and analyzing the results. Harry Keller, editor of Science Education @ etc Journal, says:

“Ideally, science labs should allow students to inquire, explore, and discover. Even when this goal is only partially realized, the labs should advance the goals of understanding the nature of science and of developing scientific reasoning skills.”

In order to meet the QEP expectations, students should be provided with many opportunities to perform these types of activities.

The unfortunate reality is that in many schools, there is inadequate access to lab equipment. For example:

  • School A has a limited amount of glassware, tools, and measuring devices available in the lab due to to financial constraints.
  • School B has no lab technician and therefore equipment isn’t maintained or is underutilized because teachers need assistance in preparing for their experiments.
  • School C finds it difficult and costly to ship the standard chemicals and other specialty materials because it is in a small, remote community,.

As an online teacher for LEARN, I simultaneously teach students that are in multiple locations around the province. Some of them are in remote communities. Some of them are in small urban schools. Students are doing labs without me being physically present to support and supervise them. Fortunately, there are many creative solutions to providing students with authentic lab experiences even in the face of these challenges.

Virtual labs:

There are a number of engaging, interactive, virtual labs available to students and teachers. Some of my favourites are ExploreLearning and PhET. My Science and the Environment students use ExploreLearning to investigate the effect of temperature on the solubility of a salt. My Chemistry students use the PhET simulations to investigate the effect that temperature and concentration has on the rate of a reaction. Students are involved in predicting the relationships and can even design their own investigations to discover what types of chemicals are electrolytes. Both websites have inquiry-based student guides already designed for teachers to use with their classes.

Pre-recorded labs:

My colleague Andy Ross recorded several physics labs that may be used with classes where lab equipment is scarce or unavailable. They include brief introductions to each investigation, an overview of what materials are being used, and footage of Andy actually doing the lab. Real values are given, so students can take this data to perform required calculations analyze the results, and form their own conclusions. Ray Venables, a teacher with ESSB, also recorded a collection of videos that may be used for such investigations as identifying physical vs. chemical changes, classifying substances as metals, metalloids, or non-metals, and performing acid-base neutralizations.

Using readily available materials:

There are often creative options to science labs that use relatively simple materials. Kitchen science is engaging for many students; after all, it involves materials that they are exposed to every day at home. For example, my chemistry students have predicted the amount of carbon dioxide produced when sugar is broken down and tested it using very simple materials (sugar, water, yeast, a small water bottle, and a balloon).

Three books that I have found very useful for gathering ideas are:

What are the challenges for providing authentic labs or inquiry-based activities at your school? Do you have other ideas for creative solutions to these challenges? Please add a comment to share!

A Mentoring Model for Professional Development

Beakers
photo credit: Amy Loves Yah

I’ve always been interested in the way professionals learn (or fail to learn) in practice. As far back as 1998, when I worked with the South Shore School Board (yes, before the linguistic school boards!) on technology integration projects, we joked about One Day Wonders – you know, the one day workshops that are the usual offerring of teacher PD. You might get Portfolio one day, IWBs another day, Understanding by Design yet another day. These one-shot workshops are easy to organize and are a good way for a teacher to get a general sense of how something might work in his or her practice. But if you’re looking for true, lasting changes in professional practice, you need to simmer up something in the best laboratory of all – your classroom.

The Mentoring Project

I’m privileged to be working with a group of teachers who is doing exactly this in the Montreal area. When the funding for PD ran out at Concordia University’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP), researchers Larysa Lysenko and Vanitha Pillay suggested to veteran research participants that they could apply for their own grant to pursue professional development in the area of self-regulation and increasing literacy. Teachers Mary-Ellen Lynch (RSB), Tanya Bell Beccat (EMSB) and Irene Tsimiklis (SWLSB) submitted a request for a Professional Development and Innovation Grant (PDIG) called “Yes We Can: Facilitating the Use of Evidence-based Tools to Increase Cycle-One Student Literacy” with a view towards sharing the experience and expertise they have gained over time and thus building capacity in other teachers through a mentorship model.

This is the key part of the grant – the mentorship model. Teachers learn best through the experiences of other teachers AND their own experimentation. Mary-Ellen, Tanya and Irene have each found other teachers in their school or board with whom they will be working on integrating the Learning Toolkit (LTK) into their literacy practice. These teachers will also become familiar with, and hopefully use, the classroom practices associated with self-regulated learning that underpin the software suite. The grant funds will be used to release teachers to meet as a large multi-board group, as smaller board- or school-based groups and also for visiting each other’s classrooms. This means that participating teachers will not only have the opportunity to visit the classrooms of their mentors to see how things are organized, but will also benefit from classroom visits themselves at key moments when an extra pair of hands and an extra voice are needed. This model of professional development has a lot of sticking power because of the creation of shared knowledge and interdependence that are built into it.

A note about PD

The best professional development initiatives are those that rely on iterative cycles of teacher practice and reflection that are in tune with what matters to teachers, what sound research tells us and also what matters to society as a whole. We are fortunate in Quebec to have good structures in place, such as the PDIG grants, that for the most part foster such initiatives. The current professional development discourse coming from south of the border is often quite bleak, and even here flavour-of-the-month crazes take root. This is why this project makes me so happy!

First Meeting

The whole team held its inaugural meeting on October 30th at Concordia University in Montreal. At least eight teachers, along with pre-service teachers doing their practica, the three mentors and assorted consultants gathered for the first meeting of what promised to be an exciting project. Although teachers knew their mentor and possibly the other teachers from their school or board, it was the first time that they met as a larger group to chart the path ahead. It was an exciting day, with all teachers highly motivated to get started and to learn from their mentors and from each other’s experience. Just as Mary-Ellen, Tanya and Irene learned from each other over the years through discussions, meetings and at least one classroom visit, these teachers will also be sharing their new emerging expertise and their passion for literacy with other teachers. They will be implementing changes to their practice and seeing how these changes work in their classrooms and with their students. Adjustments will be made, new ideas will form and new understanding will emerge – a perfect storm of professional learning.

Each teacher received a laptop computer to take away to their school, courtesy of the CSLP. They can use these computers to gain expertise with the LTK software suite, to track their students’ work and to provide feedback. For group knowledge-management technology, the group decided to use SkyDrive (a Windows product) as a repository for files and meeting notes – so far, Tanya and I have both uploaded files to the shared space, and some of the teachers have joined it.

 

Your Turn

So maybe you are ready to jump in with the LTK teachers, but don’t have a group of people nearby for meaningful collegial conversations and shared plans of action. Letting consultants from your board know that you are interested in working on a long-term project is one way of making sure you are asked to participate when grants are being written. There are also many ways to reach out to a larger community of professionals nowadays. Some teachers choose to have their own blog, where they write and reflect about their practice – you can do this too. The best ones have an active comments section (for more on how to comment on blog posts, click here). You can also participate in virtual conferences such as the K-12 Online Conference, where you can connect with other educators from around the world. What other ways do you engage in meaningful professional learning? I’d love to hear from you about this or anything else that you’d like to share.

Sylwia Bielec

Related Posts

Telling it Like it Is: Action Research & Asking the Right Question

Continuing the Conversation: The Art of Commenting on Blogs

Links in this post

Teachers Should Lead Professional Development, Not Researchers
http://thenotebook.org/blog/125274/teachers-should-lead-professional-development-not-researchers

Learning with Blogs and Wikis
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/Learning-with-Blogs-and-Wikis.aspx

Best Teacher Blogs according to Edudemic
http://edudemic.com/2011/12/teacher-blogs/

K-12 Online Conference
http://k12onlineconference.org/

Teacher Profiles: An Interview with Julie Greto

Julie Greto

This year, we will be featuring on our blog talented and committed educators from our community. I hope that the personal paths and ways of doing of individual teachers inspire you as they do me.  Enjoy this first teacher profile! – Sylwia Bielec, ed.

Teacher’s name: Julie Greto, M.A. Art Ed.
School: Marymount Academy, EMSB
Subject: Visual Arts
Levels: Sec. I – Sec. V
Experience: 20+ years

Q: How do you decide what to do in your Art classroom?

Julie Greto answers: My approach has always been, regardless of whether I’m teaching adults or younger people, that I “workshop” what to do in the classroom. I start with whatever interest there is in the classroom and I build on that. So, if there are different things that students want to do in the context of a project, then I am fine with that. I am following their interest and they are going to be more interested in what they are doing and more likely to follow up on what I want them to do! It also deals with looking at the strengths and weaknesses of any particular group or individual. If you go with what THEY want to do, then I think, and I’m not 100% sure on this, but I think you are starting with the strengths of the group or the individual. I haven’t tested this mind you! This year, with my sec V class, we are choosing a theme or an idea unanimously as a class, and then each group chooses a way to approach the idea, which includes the materials and media they choose to use.

Q: What is your personal philosophy about teaching Visual Arts?

Julie Greto answers: Authenticity. Process. Whether the work stems from a person’s background or a person’s interest, it has to be true to them and their experience! I also want a person to really understand THEIR process. Very difficult! It took me a long time to understand my process, so it’s no easy thing.

Q: How do you make sure you cover the curriculum with such a student-centered approach?

Julie Greto answers: At Marymount, we have a school curriculum that we created several years ago as a PDIG (Professional Development and Innovation Grant). It was difficult to do, because the department kept changing, but it allowed us the time to sit down and ask “How DO we want to carry out the curriculum as it is set out in the QEP, how DO we set it up so that it makes sense for the teacher?” We looked at the skills that we needed to develop, and the elements of art that we had to cover. Designing a curriculum also allowed us to cover different materials and techniques over the five years of high school, because what was going on before was that a student would do one thing in sec. I and then do the same thing or a similar project in sec. III – because there were new teachers or because teachers did as they wished without consulting each other. Now we have the progression of learning, which is new, but I haven’t had the time to really digest it and the impact it will have on what we came up with. It’s not an easy thing to do, making sure you cover the whole curriculum, and I’m still working on it.

Q: How do you handle evaluation, with so much group work?

Julie Greto answers: I’m the Rubric Lady in town – not that anyone actually calls me that! I use rubrics a lot and always share them with my department. I just find it so much easier when I have a rubric for a subjective subject such as art, where my own tastes can get in the way of a fair appraisal. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, what matters is whether someone has fulfilled the criteria for the project! And a rubric helps me see that. I also like to use the same rubric from year to year – for example, my presentation rubric is the same no matter what grade I’m teaching because the elements of presenting something are the same at any level. It is the knowledge content that changes and the rubric is structured to evaluate that as well.

Many of our projects are done in groups but there has to be an individual component to this type of learning and evaluation situation. Otherwise, there are students who have a tendency to rely on the strongest students in the group…and other group dynamics issues surface. And that’s how it can be: one or two students sustaining the group and everyone else going along and the product never getting completed in the manner one would wish. Ideally, the individual develops and also learns to work in a group. In the animation project we did last year, I had each student make their own storyboard, and that, along with the contents of their sketchbook, combined to create their individual mark. I used another rubric to evaluate the group work – the actual way in which the group operated. Within that, they self marked their contribution and product and also marked the group’s progress and process. I average the group marks and get rid of any obvious outliers. The group work evaluation contains questions about problems encountered and solutions proposed and enacted. It’s quite easy to see if someone did not engage in the process, because they tend to say that there were no problems at all!

 

Final remarks

After spending time in Julie’s classroom, it is also clear that authenticity and process are what Julie brings to her students. She sets up the learning environment to encourage authenticity and authentic creation by placing the onus on students to come up with topics or ideas that interest them. She engages her students in a process and values the various milestones and other evidence of process as much as the product being worked on by according time and value to that part of the project.

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