Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Assessment For Learning- Asking Better Questions (5P42)

Reflecting upon my pre-service education in the drama classroom I realized how often I considered how to actively engage students with their own AfL (assessment for learning).

Assessment for Learning - "An ongoing process of gathering and interpreting evidence of student learning for the purpose of determining where students are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. The information gathered is used by teachers to provide feedback and adjust instruction and by students to focus their learning. Assessment for learning is a high-yield instructional strategy that takes place while the student is still learning and serves to promote learning." (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010b, p.143)

There are many different activities happening in the drama class over the course of the semester, which can make routine and traditional learning difficult. At least once a period, a focus of mine was to bring everyone together in some way in order to reflect and expand on the work we
were doing. I found that these group meetings were either very productive for influencing higher-level thinking and inquiry or the meetings were unfocused and disruptive to the day's tasks. My goal as a dramatic arts facilitator is to encourage students to make connections and think beyond the immediate relation the work has to their day-to-day lives. The way in which I have been able to do this is by asking better questions.

Chapter 3 of Interweaving Curriculum and Classroom Assessment focuses on backwards design with assessment in mind. Assessment across the curriculum can look very different depending on the strategies and tools each teacher chooses to use with their class. Part of the chapter reminds us that assessment can sometimes be informal and does not always have to take on such a concrete and regimented place in the classroom. Teachers have an opportunity to identify what level of knowledge or processing a student is using. Teachers can pose questions that guide students towards making connections and grasping more complex understandings. 

A resource that I have thankfully picked up over the course of my education has been a book written by Norah Morgan and Juliana Saxton called Asking Better Questions which provides cross-curricular examples of including this kind of assessment for learning. You may access a PDF put together by the authors to provide you with a printable document called Asking Better Questions: Models, techniques and classroom activities for engaging students in learning to inform your question asking practice.

I would like to highlight one activity from the book that enhanced my understanding of HOW to use the technique of asking better questions.  There are six levels of questioning that in sucession, can lead to higher order thinking and contributions from students. The authors use the example of a teacher whose plan is to show a big poster of a busy harbor scene in New York City.

These are the questions she would ask broken down into the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives;

Lower Order
1.  KNOWLEDGE: recalling what we already know
"What do you see in this picture?"
2. COMPREHENSION: demonstrating what we understand through negotiating what we know into different patterns of information
"What do we call places like that?"
3. APPLICATION: applying what we have learned to other situations
"Do you know any other places that look like this picture?"

Higher Order
4. ANALYSIS: reasoning our ideas into logical patterns of understanding
"Why are there so many policemen in the picture?"
5. SYNTHESIS: constructing new ideas from what is known 
"What if there were no policemen?"
6. EVALUATION: valuing what is implicit in our thinking
"Would you rather live in a city that size or in a small town? Why?"

FOR YOU THE READER: try using the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives to ponder if there are times when NOT to ask a question! Can you think of some examples/ scenarios?

Yours truly, 
Ms. Monica Taylor

Monday, 15 September 2014

Back to Basics: Things to remember along the way (5P42)

A book that has sat untouched on my coffee table for many years landed in my lap one day this summer when the power went out. Mr. Fred Rogers, of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, over the course of three decades on television became an indelible American icon of children's entertainment and education, as well as a symbol of compassion, patience, and morality. This book “Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way” included a variety of quotes, songs and poems that he collected over his journey through education that has carried weight or significance for him. To begin this journey through the MEd process, I was able to take some comfort in his selection of material.

“All I can say is, it’s worth the struggle to discover who you really are and how you, in your own way, can put life together as something that means a lot to you.”

This quote resonated with me and my ongoing discovery of what this education path I am on really means my career as an educator. I am constantly in a state of self-discovery, meta-cognition and change. This combination of skills, I have learned, has been crucial to my understanding of the world around me. I have spent so much of my student life desperately searching for all of the information available on as many topics as I could squeeze into my brain. I am realizing now that this approach to education (seeking existing answers and information) is just the tip of the iceberg that is all potential education.  I am now on a new stream of understanding where I am consistently looking for the gaps in knowledge, for the questions that have not already been answered. I believe it is this desire to learn and desire to inquire that will allow me to continue to make sense of my journey through education.

My mother would always point out this one poster to me in the grocery store as a child. In an attempt to get local businesses to hire high school students, a poster was created with the following slogan; “Hire a teenage while they still know everything!” It seems to be true that teenagers really do think they have the answers to everything! Reflecting on myself in my adolescent whirlwind of education and socialization I realized that I felt comforted when I thought I knew most if not all of the material being presented. In no way did I actually know it all, but I truly felt like I did. For a short while I was able to ride this ‘education/information high’ until I realized this was certainly not the case. It did take a while to wrap my brain and ego around the fact that I did NOT know everything. In fact, I would NEVER know everything. It took a while before this understanding became commonplace and I was able to accept that this was how the rest of my education journey should be framed. 

In an article written by Martin A. Schwartz called "The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research" reflects on how stupidity is essential in higher learning environments. He writes that "the crucial lesson was that the scope of things I did not know wasn't merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through the best we can." I am hoping that if you are on a similar journey as I am that you find comfort in this idea that ignorance is infinite and that our understanding and acceptance of that will strengthen our educational inquiries. 

I am looking forward to this process of blogging and reflecting on all aspects of this MEd process at Brock University. For those of you who are joining me, let us muddle on!! 

Yours truly, 
Ms Monica Taylor