EDS 113 Module 3E: My classroom realities on differentiation

So many teachers have dreamed of differentiating classroom assessments, and one can imagine the clamor to incorporate such into formal curricula, but the perceived disadvantages seem to continue to outweigh the benefits. What really is the current state of our teachers and classrooms that something as beneficial, even exciting, as differentiated assessments cannot penetrate most class instruction? or, if implemented (or attempting to), what are the struggles in differentiation? Let me make my own classroom as a case study.

I work at a numeracy and literacy enrichment center, which is short for an after school facility. The owners are very amiable and generous, but as teachers there, I and my coworkers understand that there is always a business side to things. Two to four students are accommodated at a single class, regardless of level, with only student and teacher availability as basis for the placement. Students come in for an hour’s worth of session, multiple times a week, with usually the same classmates. Which means our number one enemy is the time constraint. It is not a joke to actually be concerned about student progress and care how every student may benefit from their 60 minutes if a single teacher is constantly bombarded by a five year old on one side of the desk, and then a 14 year old, and then an 11 on the other. All three clearly needed some type of attention, and for the most part, it is impossible to speak to more than one at the same time (we wish we can, and we sure tried).

Second is the lack of rigid scheduling. Although like I said earlier, we are trying to understand this as it is one on the business side, and at this point, the center has decided that we cannot afford to refuse a student only because the teacher only cared to admit same- level pupils at a given time slot.

Third and last is the lack of preparation time. Teachers at our center prepare for their classes during their lunch hour, or force themselves to report to work very early. Sometimes, as much as we dislike doing so, we are forced to prepare some materials during another student’s class, and we hate to be in this position. But it’s better than no preparation at all. Management seem to scrimp on this because again, it is hard to lose a whole hour, which again meant losing business.

Me and my coworkers continue to seek a solution somehow on how to reconcile issues on differentiation of instruction and of assessment and the lack of allowance on matters of resources and time, so for now, we continue to do our best and multitask by rehersing talking to two people at the same time.

EDS 113 Module 3D: Teachers’ problems with self assessment

There is a serious lack of alternative forms of assessment in today’s classrooms that could be blamed on the unpopularity of creative approaches in teachers. Perhaps the latter are forced to resort to less than creative means due to institutional pressure and tradition. An example of an yet widely used measure is self- assessment.

Lack of knowledge about alternative forms of assessments such as this possibly hamper its usage in classes. Teachers (and students) may have a good few concerns about leaving highly prized final grades to students, while some students lack the confidence to rate themselves or their classmates.

Intellectual independence and a critical mind ties closely with the ability to accurately asses the self. while teachers may claim that such learner traits are developed in their classrooms anyway, then what seems to be the problem? A huge and hard to penetrate hurdle is the culture of distrust between institutions and students. Students may feel the same way, but teachers generally aren’t too confident either of their students’ capability to critique and analyze.

Personally, I think teachers need to get exposed and professionally educated on other types of assessments that are pragmatic, applicable, executable and sustainable. It is only deserving of students to be offered the best possible form of incorporation in their classes through the practice of more practical but intelligent testing and measures such as self- assessments. Not only does it foster higher order thinking, but could actually be exciting, too. Win- win.

EDS 113 Module 3C: Living in academic utopia (where alternative assessments reign superior)

In my ideal world, the schools are clean, not because there are many janitors, but because students have self-assessed and they have decided that cleaning up after themselves is the best learning environment. They may not be as prim and proper, but they sure have the ability to regulate their behavior, after much reflection.

Parents are not distrustful of teachers, in fact, they respect what they do. They have realized that enrolling their children at a school is tantamount to granting trust that the administration knows what they are doing. Petty complaints are scarce, bickering against teachers and staff very uncommon. That is the parens also know the importance of peace and a harmonious environment as conducive to teachers and students being able to deliver their expectations. They also respect students and their youthful, sometimes illogical reasoning, but the difference is the parents do not dismiss them as nonsense. Youthful views are welcome, and they are equally welcome to be dispelled by the new and growing knowledge they receive in school.

Teachers are learned, knowledgeable, strategic and fun. They are lifelong learners, they are hungry for more. They receive periodic professional development from the school, encouraged to eat healthy to avoid that 2pm slump, plenty of fruits and good snacks in the pantry so they do not need to drown in refillable coffee. They are not forced into anything but they readily choose a lifestyle that reflects what they preach. They garner the respect of their colleagues as well as students.

But most of all, it is common knowledge that teaching and learning could be fun. It is not all fun and games every day but the students can see the advantages of what they work hard for in school. They persevere not only to pass an assessment but the end of their school life is deemed as important as the means. Assessments are not limited to pencil and paper, but there is much freedom to enjoy in performances, collating work, debates, round table discussions. In fact they enjoy their chit chat with the teachers and do not think of them as someone who will readily judge at the drop of a hat. The students welcome being corrected because their teachers have created an environment of friendship and trust. There are still summative tests, though, but it resembles so much more like the agora than a local public high school.

Grades are not reflections of their weaknesses but a reflection of what the students need to adjust in themselves. Parents do not punish for a low mark, instead they seek a dialogue with the grown friends the students call Misses and Misters.

EDS 113 Module 3B: How high are the stakes we put on assessments of learning?

In most modern education facilities everywhere, the culture of assessing the learning of students by way of a single moment of performance is something that scares me, both for the teacher and for the students. If being judged by an isolated test devoid of context is not daunting enough, it seems to me that people who advocate a sole yardstick such as a summative assessment to determine a student’s future genuinely believes that our learning in any area of knowledge is something applied in isolation, staring down pages upon pages of test questions. I had to say that this is almost never the case. Even engineers and people of science simply do not perform science for the sake of it, but is applied math and science that they do.

Personally, I think it is hurting our chances of coming up with real and pragmatic solutions to the issues of our society and the world as well if we continue to put our biggest eggs in the traditional testing basket. To come up with genuine answers to these problems is to surround us in different gray areas, a color not seen in an examination paper. It takes a real sit down, brainstorm, exchange of ideas and in depth synthesis of current and background information to be able to solve issues. And see, talking is illegal (and sharing of ideas) in a testing room.

This is not to say that summative assessments are never necessary, because they are. But to put such weight on it and constantly bombard young minds that they can never be more than anything of what is written on a marked paper is a grossly misled belief. In the classroom, why not advocate for more reflective self assessments within a safe environment, than be busy dishing out worksheets and scary term exams? What about more well- rounded tests in various forms and activities to aid evaluation?

EDS 113 Module 3A: Preschool instruction: Informal assessments in action (in restrospect)

My kindergarten teaching job in Hanoi was one of my favorite, if not it, jobs I have ever held since I began my teaching years. As much as I have loved the pay, the working hours, the local celebrity status I have enjoyed in our small suburban district (yes, teachers can be famous), I especially loved learning so much from my students. They have taught me more than I have taught them, and I love each one of their tiny selves in tidbits for making the part of the teacher I am today. Now when I say I loved learning about them and from them, the former meant learning about young students’ learning process, while the latter meant in the pedagogical sense. Looking back, I now understand that there is a name for the evaluation and endless
observations I performed on them (while of course, toying with hand paint and running around in the play ground)– that something is called informal assessment.
Let me name some of the methods I have used.

First, observation is key in child assessment. They reveal so much about what kinds of personalities they possess. Are they a sharers? Inquirers, curious and the like? Can they handle delaying gratification? Do they like singing, acting, writing, making pictures, talking? Are they the type to feign incompetence when trapped in an embarrassing situation? Do children even know the concept of embarrassment? I speak to all of them or have some type of individual interaction on a daily, as well as with their parents who pick them up or drop them off. Speaking to parents is a normal occurrence and these parents are the type who are very curious about how their children are outside their watch. I was happy to report new discoveries each day and this has also kept my record keeping for each of the students sharp, fresh and updated.

Running records are generously mentioned as a popular form of informal assessment, especially in preschool education, and for a good reason. My records are peppered with anecdotes and I am never short of them every day, and while entertaining to some, it served as basis data when a behavior is taking shape in a child. If one consistently displayed out of character behaviors in a certain span of time then it could be a sign of something else, perhaps toddler stress.

Having keenly observed and took notes on these behavior, I felt that I could contribute to how to prevent them in the future. I hoped to harbor positive energy in my classroom to be able to bring about learning: to better appreciate causalities and effects, among others.

Other informal (and indirect) methods that I used were interpreting their paper output such as doodles, pictures even speech. They all helped me assess where they are in terms of our school life activities, which all are consolidated in our semi annual reports.

Now that I have realized that these methods were actually a form of genuine assessments, it has been helping me in handling my current students. Back during the day when I thought of them as less than formal– but necessary and valuable– it has remained in me to make sure that I assess my students, young or old, in the same fashion I did before in that school in Vietnam: accurate and analytical.

Morrison, G.S. (2013). Informal Methods of Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/informal-methods-assessment/

EDS 113 Assignment 1: Correcting lesson (and human) misalignments

Two thousand and twelve was the year I began making a living teaching teachers how to write lesson plans, objectives and assessment creation. I thought, it could not be that hard for people if you are someone with a bit of sense of pedagogical direction. In those few years of observation, I have seen how some new teachers struggle with determining objectives, while some breezed through making teacher- made assessments. But somehow after Module 2 and assignment 1, I have visibly seen how and where a lesson can fall apart.

Misalignments can occur at any point of the lesson, and it is not always easy to spot them (even experienced teachers falter in this area). Until your student comes admitting to you that he does not understand what to do with the activity.

Your student’s inability to proceed is a huge red flag for teachers and curriculum developers that an instructional misalignment may have occurred. If you teach typical classroom kids with a healthy sense of perception, a properly scaffolded instruction should yield overall comprehension (if the instruction is well rounded, considering Bloom’s taxonomy).

In this course task, our team has suffered through some misalignments in trying to come up with the final objectives, possibly due to some colleague–maybe– misalignment. Both the set of objectives and the set of assessment activities were edited back and forth, while some more were being debated over the fictitious students age group . In the end, some had to give way to the majority, and then some ideas were killed while some ideas prospered.

Here are some takeaways from the task:
1. Learning objectives is not an easy concept to some;
2. Rubrics- writing looked like a challenging task, especially if you do not have years of experience teaching. It requires serious student data;
3. Instructional misalignment can be avoided if you know three things by heart: your students, your content and your school;
4. It is important to know what you want out of any session from the get go and articulate that in the objective at once, as it is difficult to align then re-align assessment if you are being fickle about the former;
5. You cannot always win; it is important to understand where a colleague is coming from.