The quality of our writing, especially in professional contexts, is actually quite important. The fact is, whenever we write, we always reveal two things about ourselves. Naturally, we communicate the explicit message that we are intending to write, but we also convey an implicit message: the story revealed by our writing ability.
Truth be told, writing ability is invariably associated with a host of other traits, such as one’s ability to think, to learn, and to communicate. Our ability to write, at any given age, reveals how much effort we have directed towards mastering our language up to that point in time. Poor writing reveals either a poor effort in learning one's language, or a poor effort in applying one’s ability toward a particular piece of writing. Either way, poor writing does not speak well of a person’s ability or attitude.
In poker terms, we could say that a person’s writing is a “tell.” Writing reveals something about ourselves that we may not intend, or even wish, to convey. Indeed, a writer’s skill will often belie their words. As uncomfortable as it may be to believe, we always stand to undermine even our best efforts if the quality of our writing indicates that we are perhaps less capable, less intelligent, or less responsible than our words might suggest.
I know I've said it before, but teachers in Ontario are still scratching their heads over the question of how to collect evidence of "observations" and "conversations," and then integrate that evidence into a final grade for a student.
The confusion stems from a paragraph found on page 39 of the Ministry of Education's Growing Success policy document. The paragraph states:
Evidence of student achievement for evaluation is collected over time from three different sources – observations, conversations, and student products. Using multiple sources of evidence increases the reliability and validity of the evaluation of student learning.
Sadly, teachers have not found much guidance from the Ministry on the implementation of this directive. In particular, teachers are left wondering about two critical questions:
Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that teachers cannot find a great deal of consensus, even amongst themselves, about one crucial point. Namely, how do we actually differentiate between a "conversation," an "observation," and a "product"?
To be sure, in our own minds we are all quite clear on the distinction between all three, and we would scarcely imagine any particular debate in the matter. It is only when we subject our individual perceptions of these elements against the scrutiny of our colleagues that we come to realize that there is indeed a great variety of perspectives regarding products, conversations, and observations.
Invariably, most teachers probably like the spirit of triangulation, but just because we like it, doesn't mean we do it. In fact, a recent NewLearnerLab Twitter survey revealed that most teachers do not collect evidence of observations or conversations at all.
Personally, I have developed and experimented with two distinct triangulation systems that would both collect conversation and observation data, and then integrate this data with a student's final grade. I called my first system the Ongoing Triangulation Index, and my second system the Classwork Portfolio.
I have discussed the logistics of each method in separate articles, but after spending a good deal of time implementing both systems in my program, I felt I was now in a better position to present a comparative review of both methods.
Ongoing Triangulation Index
The Ongoing Triangulation Index is a value that is based on recorded observations and conversations that are generated in class. The OTI depends on the ClassDojo application to capture observations and conversations and then curate these observations within a single record for each student.
Each observation or conversation is time-stamped, dated, and accompanied by a brief explanation of the observation and the curriculum associated with the observation. Within this index, students can accumulate both positive and negative observations, the sum of which will determine their overall Index value.
The OTI counts for 5% of the overall mark in a course. Thus, a number of OTI observations are recorded each term.
Allows the teacher to capture demonstrations of learning, understanding, appreciation, etc. that occur spontaneously within the classroom.
Generates a comprehensive record of observations and conversations for each student.
This record can contain detailed information regarding the specific learning goals associated with each observation. Example: “Demonstrated a deep understanding of how Keynesian fiscal policy could be used to fill a fiscal gap using the balanced budget multiplier.”
The above record is updated instantly and can be made accessible to both parents and students.
The OTI system uses the ClassDojo app, which lends itself to capturing evidence of observable behaviours. Thus, this system can potentially be criticized as assigning a mark for learning skills and/or work habits.
This system must record both negative and positive observations in order to generate a meaningful value that can then be translated into a mark.
While the OTI facilitated the recording of both conversations and observations, conversations never figured into the index value.
The Classwork Portfolio uses Google Classroom, Kahoot, and Edvance (an online student information system and grade manager) to generate a portfolio of the various activities, exercises, and check-ins that are pursued in class on a day-to-day basis. Each activity is assessed and given a mark between zero and four based on relative quality.
For those in-class activities and exercises that require deeper qualitative assessment, a streamlined Canada and World Studies, 2015 Achievement Chart is used to assess the varying levels of achievement.
The Classwork Portfolio counts for 5% of the overall mark in a course. Thus, a number of portfolio marks are recorded for each student within each reporting period.
The CWP allows the teacher to capture progress that occurs in class on a daily basis, and then record the observation of that progress in a way that impacts the student’s mark immediately.
Students come to realize that they can effect a positive influence over their mark during each and every class.
The CWP tends to focus more on the manifest result of a student’s learning than it does on student behaviour or learning skills. (Although, depending on one's perspective, this could be seen as a weakness.)
The teacher can include detailed information regarding the specific learning goals associated with each observation. Example: “Achieved the 80% threshold on today’s check-in on using Keynesian fiscal policy to fill a fiscal gap using the balanced budget multiplier. Silver medal... well done!”
As this information is recorded in an online grade manager, it is made accessible to parents and students immediately.
Regular check-ins are designed to more readily allow students to effect a positive influence on their mark, while limiting the potential for a negative impact.
The CWP system can generate a large quantity of micro-assessments that can rather quickly outpace a teacher’s ability to mark. Teachers are therefore advised to limit CWP items to activities and exercises that can be assessed rather quickly: preferably, during the class in which they are assigned.
The CWP generates a rather disconnected record of observations and conversations for each student. This record is brought together, somewhat loosely, within our online grade manager.
I'm a heavy user of Google Classroom, and I quite enjoy the various posting features offered within the Google Classroom stream. They're all great. But I can tell you from a teacher's perspective, however, that the main thing I actually use Classroom for on a daily basis is issuing lesson plans to my classes.
So what's the problem?
Sadly, Google Classroom doesn't actually offer a "lesson" option. The available posting options currently made available within Google Classroom include questions, announcements, or assignments.
Thus, for the teacher who wants to post a lesson, one of the three available posting options needs to be adapted to this purpose. Personally, I find the "assignment" option to be the best fit for a lesson because it allows me to give the lesson a title, and it allows me to associate the lesson with a date (which is a must). The main problem, however, is the fact that using the "assignment" option gives the impression that the student has something due for every single class... and this isn't necessarily the case.
Moreover, when I do issue an actual assignment, it invariably finds itself hiding amongst dozens of previously - and subsequently - posted lessons. As a result, parents and students do not pay nearly as much attention to my assignments as they likely would if my assignments were not hiding amongst so many other similar looking postings.
I hope that Google Classroom enthusiasts everywhere will join me in encouraging Google to create a "lesson" posting option in Classroom. In my view, such an option could be very similar to the current "assignment" option: it could simply be titled "Lesson" as opposed to "Assignment."
I would also point out that the utility of such a lesson posting option could be increased if the "lesson" post could give the teacher the option of associating a submission with the post. I say this because some lessons do indeed require students to submit some work, while other lessons do not require anything to be submitted at all.
If such a Google Classroom feature were to be made available, then students and parents would be able to clearly delineate between actual assignments and the lessons that teachers such as myself post using the current "assignment" option. In other words, parents would no longer mistake daily lessons as overdue assignments, and overdue assignments would no longer find themselves camouflaged as old lesson plans.
Google, if you would consider doing this, then I think you would not only increase the utility and usability of Google Classroom, but you would bring Google Classroom one important step closer to serving as a full-fledged course management system.
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.