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.
A Useable Achievement Chart for the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies, 2015
If you're like me, you often find yourself wishing the Ontario Ministry of Education provided a more user-friendly version of their curriculum documents. The Achievement Charts found in our curriculum guidelines are certainly no exception. These charts tend to be excessively wordy and repetitive, to the point where they become so dense and cluttered that students and parents can find it difficult to comprehend the relationship between the various categories of knowledge and skills, the achievement levels, and all of the associated descriptors. Moreover, the document is long (usually two pages), and is published as a Adobe Acrobat file, which is dreadfully difficult to copy and paste from.
Thus, I often take it upon myself to produce a streamlined version of the achievement charts found in our curriculum documents so that I can use the charts in my work.
Linked to the bottom of this page, you will find such a streamlined version of the 2015 Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies achievement chart. This version of the chart is a one-page document that teachers can readily use for assessing their students.
A Few Points to Note:
The original achievement chart in the 2015 Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies did not include a Level 0 to specifically address a non-existent level of skill or application. I have added this level because, otherwise, when entering an actual mark that is between 1 to 4 in a grade manager, the lowest level of achievement (a Level 1) would be calculated as a 25% grade. I found that adding a Level 0 to be necessary when actually recording these marks in a grade manager for my Classwork Portfolio, and so I highly recommend employing the five-scale version of the Achievement Chart.
I should also point out that Page 41 of the 2015 Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies states that specific “qualifiers” are used with the descriptors in the achievement chart to describe student performance at each of the four levels of achievement – the qualifier “limited” is used for level 1; “some” for level 2; “considerable” for level 3; and a “high degree of” or “thorough” for level 4. Hence, achievement at level 3 in the Thinking category for the criterion “use of planning skills” would be described in the achievement chart as “[The student] uses planning skills with considerable effectiveness.”
Examples of the various categories of knowledge and skills:
The original achievement chart in the 2015 Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies contains a number of examples within the chart itself. Those examples were removed from the version of the achievement chart that I have made available here in an effort to both streamline the chart and to more clearly delineate the connection between the various categories of knowledge and skills and the descriptors associated with the various levels of achievement.
Nonetheless, I do present the various examples that were originally contained within the achievement chart. I have simply separated them out from the chart itself and then presented them on the back of the page. The examples I am speaking of are presented below:
Thus, I have modified the achievement chart in an effort to produce a highly useable, one-page achievement chart that acknowledges all levels of skill and achievement from 0% to 100%. Moreover, I have distilled this modified version of the achievement chart into both PDF and MS Word files. These files are linked below. Please feel free to use and modify them as you see fit.
A Design Thinking Approach to the Problem of Learning: Using a Learner Profile Study to Gather Data and Revise Instruction
I've blogged before about the importance of gathering student feedback for improving program design and delivery. However, the methods that I discussed in that earlier piece made use of anonymous online class surveys and suggestion boxes to gather student input. These anonymous tools are great for obvious reasons. The security of anonymity allows students to speak frankly and provide input that they might not otherwise be comfortable giving. Having said that, these approaches lack one key feature when observed from within a personalized learning paradigm: namely, the ability to get to know students on an individual basis.
Introducing the Learner Profile
A learner profile is not necessarily a new innovation, but its use is gaining popularity amongst educators, especially in the current pedagogical era that is placing increased emphasis on personalized learning. A learner profile essentially asks students to discuss their interests, their goals, and their learning preferences. However, from the standpoint of getting to know each learner on an individual basis, the learner profile's benefit would be completely negated were it to be anonymous. Thus, getting students to provide genuine input that can truly help educators develop their programs does represent a bit of a challenge, but it is a challenge that can certainly be addressed when approached with sensitivity, tact, and a clear mandate to help each and every student.
Attaining an Understanding of Student Learning Preferences
I think it is both fair and reasonable to suggest that students know best how they prefer to learn. While learning preference may or may not be correlated with learning success, I think it is also fair to say that we could not begin to examine this correlation until we first obtain an understanding of learner preference. I set out to do this at the beginning of the second term of the 2016-2017 academic year. I did it partly out of inspiration from a PD session that I attended during our beginning of term startup, and partly out of inspiration from my students. At that time, my students were somewhat adrift in a veritable sea of learning styles, approaches, and pedagogical ideologies. As someone who not only relies on research to guide my practice, but who also teaches research methods to my students, I naturally set out to apply a field study approach to my analysis of learner preferences. These days, this particular approach might be described as a "design thinking" approach. Call it what you will... I was pretty happy with the results. So happy, in fact, that I repeated my learner profile study this year at the exact same point of the academic year - the first class of our second term. Again, this effort was triggered by an inspiring PD session that kicked off our second term.
Learner Profile Methodology: A Two-Pronged Study
My learner profile study consisted of two diagnostic tools: a survey, followed by an interview. After these two phases were complete, I attempted to code my findings with no particular view to shape or influence the results. I will briefly describe each phase of the study below.
Phase I: The Learner Profile Survey
To implement my learner profile study, I created a short, open-ended Learner Profile in a Google Doc that asked five fairly straight-forward questions. I then shared this document with all of my students over Google Classroom. The Learner Profile asked my students to tell me about themselves, their interests, and their learning preferences. The profile featured the following areas of investigation:
The learner profile was introduced with the following description:
Help me get to know you as a learner: The Learner Profile
Phase II: The Interview
Students were asked to complete the learner profile at home or in class if they failed to complete it at home. I then sat down with each and every student to go over their learner profile with them. I did this primarily to clarify their feedback and to probe deeper into their feedback as well. For example, if a student said that he liked a "hands-on approach" to learning, then I would typically ask that student what he means by a hands-on approach. In that case, I would often ask for examples of what the student has experienced in terms of hands-on learning at any point in his schooling.
I then set about coding and categorizing the feedback that I gathered from my students into the various themes that emerged.
Phase III: Analyzing the Findings
A comprehensive analysis of the data that I collected from this study is definitely deserving of its own blog post, which I will provide in the future after contributing the data gathered from this year's study. However, it is probably safe to divulge the general themes that emerged from last year's study. In no specific order, they are as follows:
A Final Word:
The learner profile is a particularly valuable tool that can be used by teachers to help DIG for student feedback because it can do more for a teacher's professional development and program design than almost anything else a teacher could do. The DIG philosophy highlights the fact that the data gathered from a learner profile can help to i) diagnose problems early on, ii) identify areas of strengths and weakness in students, and iii) generate new approaches for both instruction and assessment. In the final analysis, I feel strongly that the learner profile must serve as the foundation of any genuine attempt to pursue personalized learning in the classroom. Moreover, I believe the profile itself must be followed by a diligent analysis of, and honest reflection upon, the knowledge gained from the effort. The data is right there for the taking - just as long as one is open to gathering it, listening to it, and acting upon it. The learner profile invariably honours the student while informing the teacher, and that, in my view, is a win-win proposition.
If you're a teacher who has an interest in personalized learning, then I would encourage you to explore implementing the learner profile in your program. At the very least, you'll get to know your students better, and, at the very best, you may just reinvent your practice - helping you to become an even more effective teacher. If you would like to give the learner profile a try, you are welcome to use the learner profile document attached below as a starting point. Please feel free to use or revise this document as you wish. If you do give it a try, please do drop me a line to let me know how it goes.
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.