Online & Blended Learning

Here is my planner for Cycle 1 of the new Literature and Social Justice course that I will be teaching this year:

Lit Social Justice Cycle 1

What action(s) might you take in order to prepare for online and blended learning? 

I have four preps this year, and three of the four preps are new courses for which all of the teaching resources, assessments, etc. still need to be developed.  I will definitely have my work cut out for me.  Working together with team members should help, but I will need to be very organized to ensure that I have all units up and ready to go on DX, along with the eight-day cycle posts for all four classes every eight days.

Considering your previous experience with online learning, what are your instructional strengths & areas for growth? 

Reflecting on last semester’s experiences, I would say that my strengths include a willingness to take risks and try new things, maintaining rigor, finding ways to hook and hold student interest, providing students with detailed feedback on their learning, and taking the time to meet with students individually to discuss their progress and learning goals.  Areas for growth include increasing opportunities for student interaction during synchronous Zoom sessions, creating engaging videos/screencasts, learning how to take full advantage of the affordances of DX, and simplifying/reducing content so as not to overwhelm learners.

Using the 5Cs of online learning, what goals might you set for yourself in anticipation of future online instruction?  

First, under “Care,” I want to start the year off right by building a strong learning community at the outset; I really emphasized this aspect in my planner, above.  Second, under “Clarify,” I want to work on developing effective content on DX for each of my classes, including the creation of engaging videos/screencasts to introduce myself and the course, model key skills, introduce important content, and introduce major assessment tasks.  Third, under “Captivate,” I want to work on structuring Zoom sessions to include more opportunities for student interaction.

How might you achieve these goals? Who might you reach out to for support? 

I have already signed up for Zoom sessions on “Making Better Screencasts” and “Screencasts vs. Zoom Sessions.”  Hopefully, additional training in DX will be provided during orientation.  I know that I can always reach out to Clint, Laura, and others if I have questions related to DX, Zoom, and other tools.  I plan to ask students for feedback on a regular basis and to make adjustments accordingly.  As mentioned previously, working together with the members of my team to create content and resources will be essential.

If you had a magic wand, what might the 5Cs of online learning look like in your classroom? 

All content and resources for all four courses up on DX and ready to go; kids maintain their initial back-to-school enthusiasm throughout the year; high levels of attendance and participation in all Zoom sessions; positive feedback from students on their learning experiences in my class; and high levels of collaboration amongst the members of my team, making this experience easier on all of us and providing a greater level of consistency for our learners.

End of Year Reflection

My goals this year related to “Confer.”  My action plan follows.

Action Steps: Resources Needed Evidence of Completion (deliverable showing completion of action step) Will be completed by (date)
Interest surveys – beginning of school year Time, survey Survey results End of September 2019
Opportunities for choice – what, how, when they learn Time, revise assessments Revised assessments Ongoing
Individual conferences Time Notes Ongoing
End of unit surveys Time, survey Survey results May/June 2020

I had some hits and some misses when it comes to achieving each of the above action steps.  First of all, I did not manage to get interest surveys out at the beginning of the school year.  The reason for this was that one of the members of our department ended up leaving suddenly, and I was covering two (and eventually one) of her classes and doing five (and eventually four) preps during the first several weeks of school.  It was an extremely hectic time.  This is still something that I would still like to try at the start of next year, however.

In terms of opportunities for choice, I think that this was addressed to a certain extent in almost all units of all of the courses that I taught, though there is definitely still room for more here.  As an example, here is how choice was incorporated into all of our English 9 units this year:

  • Unit 1 – choice in terms of topic for literary essay (how they demonstrated they learning)
  • Unit 2 – choice in terms of propaganda poster and political cartoon (what they learned), choice in terms of final persuasive written task (how they demonstrated their learning)
  • IDU – choice of inclusion issue and final product/solution (what they learned and how they demonstrated their learning)
  • Unit 3 – brand new inquiry-based unit designed by me that involves choice of play, choice of poetry, and choice of pace at which they worked (what they learned and when they learned)
  • Independent reading throughout the course of the school year

I succeeded in carrying out individual conferences with every student in every class that I taught during both the first semester and the second semester – even during the period of eLearning:

  • In English 9, first semester conferences related to their final literary essays. Second semester conferences occurred after Quarter 3 progress reports came out and just as they were working on their persuasive written tasks.  We used this opportunity to reflect on progress during eLearning, set goals for the final quarter of the course, and to receive feedback on their proposals for the persuasive written task.
  • In IB Language and Literature, first semester conferences involved receiving feedback on their extracts and outlines for their first practice individual oral. Second semester conferences occurred three times – first, to receive feedback on their extracts and outlines for the second practice individual oral; second, to receive feedback on their lines of inquiry for their Higher Level essays; third, to receive feedback on the first drafts of their Higher Level essays.
  • In Theory of Knowledge, I conferenced with every single student twice during the first semester – first, to discuss my feedback on their outlines and second to discuss my feedback on their first drafts.
  • Another thing that I did during the first semester of English 9 that was very successful was set up a regular extra help session during Dragon Time, once every 8-day cycle; many students took advantage of this opportunity to receive help – especially my Grade 9s, but my other students as well.

In terms of end of unit surveys, I completed one at the end of the Grade 9 IDU unit, which I reflected on here.  I also sought out student survey data during the period of eLearning from all of my classes (though I did not have time to write a reflective blog post related to it, unfortunately).  This is definitely something that I would like to do more consistently next year, as per my action plan above.

Based on these reflections, I can say that I was most successful in terms of individually conferencing with every student on a regular basis about their learning.  This is obviously a time-consuming undertaking, but it paid great dividends this year and it is something that I will definitely carry forward into the year ahead, whether we are learning face-to-face or online.  Something that I would like to focus more on moving forward is providing students with choice based on their interests.  This focus is in line with our school’s new mission, which involves learning that is not only “challenging,” but also “joyful…with the freedom to explore.”  I succeeded in providing students with more choice to some extent this year, but here is definitely room for more, while still ensuring that we are preparing our students effectively for the rigor of the IBDP courses that we offer.  As I will be teaching the new Literature and Social Justice course next year, this will be another area in which I can further explore the power of student voice and choice to enhance learning.

Student Survey Data Results – Grade 9 IDU

The grade 9 team (all science, social studies, math, and English teachers) recently completed an interdisciplinary unit (IDU) focused on the theme of inclusivity.

Last year was the first time that we offered the IDU, and one of the issues that we noticed was that teams tended to leave everything to the last minute, and teachers were unclear about the nature of their responsibilities towards the various teams.  To help ensure that all students felt supported throughout the process, we paired each team with a mentor teacher who was responsible for checking in on them throughout and for providing them with timely feedback – this is related to my “conferring” goal.  While the system was not perfect, it was a vast improvement over last year.  I checked in with the teams that I was assigned to every second day and tried to provide them with as much support and feedback as possible.

One of the challenges that we faced, however, were many teachers being out of school at various points during the 2.5-week unit, interrupting their ability to support the teams that they had been assigned.  Hopefully, this issue can be resolved through more careful scheduling this year.  Another way to improve the system would be to clarify at exactly what points mentor teachers need to check in with their teams, along with a central place for us to document that these check-ins are actually occurring and any interventions that may need to take place as a result.  With such a large group – approximately 20 teachers and 150 students – keeping track of everything and ensuring that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities are major hurdles.  This year we made many changes and improvements to the unit and also had a high degree of teacher turnover; next year we plan to run with a similar model and will likely have less turnover, helping to ensure continuity.

At the end of the unit, we issued a student satisfaction survey, collecting 86 responses – also related to my “conferring” goal.  Here are the results to the quantitative questions:

These results are encouraging overall, showing a few areas for further improvement:  more focus on presentation-giving skills, helping students make explicit connections across disciplines, greater focus on the various steps of the design cycle that we use at our school, tightening the organization of the unit, ensuring that all students are challenged, and tweaks to make the unit more fun.

ISB’s Design Cycle

In terms of the qualitative responses, the following themes emerged:

  • students learned more about the theme of the unit – inclusivity as well as about how to analyze survey data, how to deliver an effective presentation, and how to design a viable solution for a real-world problem
  • students valued the opportunity to learn more about and practice how to collaborate with others effectively
  • things to improve upon include greater clarity in terms of the schedule and individual assignments amongst all teachers; more time for teams to work together – possibly through more condensed lessons devoted to the collaboration meta-skill; more feedback throughout the process; improving the structure and engagement of the science, social studies, math, and English lessons offered throughout the unit

Here are a few quotes that stood out related to the theme of the unit, the focus on collaboration and presentation-giving skills, and the unit’s structure:

  • “We have SO MUCH to work on as a community!! We need to be more inclusive and understanding, kind, and empathetic! Kindness is so important and we all need to be grateful for our privileges (because of this unit, I realized my top value is kindness).”
  • “We have SO MUCH to work on as a community!! We need to be more inclusive and understanding, kind, and empathetic! Kindness is so important and we all need to be grateful for our privileges (because of this unit, I realized my top value is kindness).”
  • “The theme of inclusion was very meaningful. Since ISB is such a diverse school, including minorities is huge priority.”
  • “The idea of improving upon our school is very good, I think that having students share their ideas is a good idea.”
  • “Teamwork – this was the biggest team project I’ve done so far.”
  • “The ability to collaborate with other people I would not have otherwise.”
  • “The best part is working with my group because I did not know them from before, and we got really close during the course of this project.”
  • “Learning about collaborating with others and how to speak in front of people was probably the best part because I can see how it would be used in anything anyone does for the rest of their lives.”
  • “The individual assessments and the large amount of free time given were the best part, because of how it gave us a lot of flexibility regarding how and when we do our project.”

The grade 9 team will take all of this data into account as we begin our planning for next year.  Overall, we addressed a number of key concerns from last year’s IDU (which dealt with the theme of Islamic Art) – the unit was focused on a more relevant topic, it was more inquiry-based, and students were provided with an authentic audience for their work.  As well, even though there is still room for improvement, we were able to provide more structure and support for students this year than we did last year.  I am looking forward to reflecting with the team and will try to blog again once that meeting happens.

 

Survey Data Reflection

It is always interesting to look at student survey data.  I plan to share a short summary with the students along with my plans for improvement.

The key areas for improvement are:

  • checking in with students regarding how they are feeling, including but not limited to how they are feeling about what and how they are learning
  • summarizing learning each day

These are not necessarily surprising results.  I could definitely make more time for regular student check-ins, whether through individual conferences or through surveys.  Explicitly planning for time to consolidate learning at the end of each lesson is another thing that I still need to work on, though I will not necessarily be focusing explicitly on that this year.

My plan remains to focus more on conferring with students on a more regular basis as well as seeking their input and feedback more frequently via surveys, as per my previous post.

2019/20 Professional Growth Pre-Survey Reflection

Confer  

I give students opportunities to share their thoughts about how learning activities should happen.
I seek feedback from my students about the effectiveness of my learning activities.

Why?   

I seem to recall that my survey results from last year were lower on this than I would have liked them to be.  I also know that I don’t always ensure that I am making sufficient time for this, even though I know its value and importance, particularly in IB classes where it can sometimes feel as though the time available is never enough.

Action Steps: Resources Needed Evidence of Completion (deliverable showing completion of action step) Will be completed by (date)
Interest surveys – beginning of school year Time, survey Survey results End of September 2019
Opportunities for choice – what, how, when they learn Time, revise assessments Revised assessments Ongoing
Individual conferences Time Notes Ongoing
End of unit surveys Time, survey Survey results May/June 2020

 

Goal Setting Post #3 – Narrowing In

Reflecting on the survey data even further, under Care, I have decided to focus specifically on “My teacher seems to know if something is bothering me.”  Recommended practices here include the following:  “The teacher shows sincere interest in students’ lives” and “The teacher pays attention to students as individuals.”

My plan here is to regularly incorporate some activities into my classes that may not be directly related to our learning objectives that day but which are more aimed at finding out what students are up to and how they are doing on a personal level.

Under Clarify, I have decided to focus specifically on “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not.”  Recommended practices here include the following:  “The teacher checks regularly for understanding using techniques such as questioning, quizzes, exit slips, and monitoring student work.”

Many of these things I am already doing, but I intend to incorporate more quizzes, exit slips, polls, and other quick, informal methods of formative assessment into my classes each week.

More to follow…

 

Goal Setting Post #2 – Survey Data

I have completed the first round of survey data collection and had a chance to examine my results.

The students in this particular class rated me “about average” in the majority of areas, while identifying the following areas as “strengths”:

  • My teacher wants us to share our thoughts. (Confer)
  • Students speak up and share their ideas about class work. (Confer)
  • This class keeps my attention – I do not get bored. (Captivate)
  • My teacher takes the time to summarize what we learn each day. (Consolidate)
  • My teacher makes us explain our answers – why we think what we think. (Challenge)

No areas were identified as particular areas of weakness, but overall I could do better in any of the 7Cs if I wanted to.  This seems fair enough 🙂

All of the dimensions of Care, Clarify, and Class Management were rated as “about average.”  The Class Management one in particular really surprises me.  From my own perspective there is no issue with that; perhaps it is just differing cultural expectations, not sure.

In any case, looking through these has convinced me to maintain my initial area of focus – Care – and to switch my second area of focus from Confer to Clarify.  I still need to focus in more on what exactly I would like to do to try to improve in each of these two areas, which I will save for a future blog post.

 

 

 

Goal Setting Post #1

It was interesting reading through the 7Cs and accompanying questions for reflection, particularly at this point in the year.  There are so many things that I could be doing better, but I have identified two that I would like to focus on:

  1. As I am new to the school this year and have six classes along with a very large extracurricular activity, I am finding it a challenge to get to know all of my students on a personal level (Care).
  2. I am also very interested in providing students with a maximum amount of voice and choice in their learning (Confer). I would love to focus on building in more opportunities for that throughout the Grade 9 English (and every) course that I teach.

I look forward to reading my students’ responses to the survey to see whether they agree or disagree with me that these are areas that they think I need to work on.

 

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