This pre-internship has been a hectic (and incredible) three-weeks where I have learned so much about my philosophies as a teacher and was able to practice, reflect, and reassess my own beliefs.
Before beginning my pre-internship, I had a fairly established philosophy of assessment that has been developed based on what I have learned from other teachers, from classes taken and from theories studied. At the centre of my philosophy is the notion of providing students with as many opportunities as possible to practice and demonstrate their learning. I believe it is worth noting that I use the word “opportunity” as opposed to the word “chances,” which is a word that I now have come across many times during my practice. Using the word “chances” to me suggests a gamble however, as a teacher I am not gambling with student achievement. I will work to provide opportunities for my students to ensure that success is achievable and guaranteed. What this looks like to me is providing students with diversity to provide evidence of learning, using formative, low-stakes tasks, and making students a part of the assessment process. All three of these elements of assessment I have developed as a result of theories I have studied in several classes. Author Anne Davies in her book Making Classroom Assessment Work makes notes on all of these, but especially on involving students in assessment. Davies states “when teachers involve students in setting criteria, they learn more about what the students know, and students come to understand what is important while they learn” (pg. 55-56). This is important if we expect quality evidence of learning. You have to provide a direction for students to go in before you can ask for them to demonstrate their learning. Of the three elements stated above, the one that I most strongly believe in is the formative, low stakes tasks; a theory which comes from author Peter Elbow, which I believe are crucial to achieving student success. Students need time to practice what they are learning and through formative assessment they are given that opportunity. In addition, formative assessment provides the teacher with a gauge to determine where students are at with the learned concept. If teachers are only using high-stakes tasks (aka evaluation) students will never be able to fully learn and are more likely to feel like failures. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. And while we can never expect perfection, practicing with low-stakes tasks means working towards learning and higher achievement when it becomes high-stakes.
On a more technical side, where numeric evaluation of learning takes place, my philosophy rests on the foundation that a grade must be justifiable and not used as a reward or punishment for student achievement, or lack thereof. The most prominent part of my philosophy in regards to evaluation is that I do not believe in assigning a grade of zero to students. A zero, as it has been discussed both in theory and in practice, suggests that no learning has taken place. Zeros are often assigned as a sort of “punishment” for students, either to those who did not hand work in or to those who participated in academic dishonesty. For those who did not hand work in, I would not use a grade as a punishment because it does not encourage students. There is the idea of any grade being better than a zero and I fully agree. The student has (or hopefully has) learned from the teaching but has been unable to provide evidence of that learning and therefore has not met the standard, making it an incomplete. Failure is an integral part of learning so we should not be punishing our students for “failing.” I believe that assessment becomes a simple task when we focus on providing students with as many opportunities as possible to learn and grow towards success.
Assessment in a variety of forms was an integral element to my pre-internship experience. I was able to assess 5 different outcomes (Three major ones and two smaller ones) during my fieldwork and was effectively able to put theory to practice when it came to my philosophies. For my assessment purposes, I used the following tools: writing assignment, representing assignment, speaking/writing project, quick writes, study guides, Kahoot/PearDeck, opinionnaire, and group discussions/debates. On day one of my teaching, I was able to implement a diagnostic assessment tool, which was an opinionnaire on the major themes and topics in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This allowed me to see where the students were at with the play and the themes we were going to be dealing with. I think it was a good way to start the three weeks because it also showed the students where we were headed. I used quick writes as my form of low-stakes writing task throughout my three weeks, starting just before we began reading Act 1. For my purposes, the quick writes got the students thinking about the topics that were going to be discussed in what we were reading each day. For example, when the topic of arranged marriage was being brought up in the play, I had my students do a quick write that explored their opinions and understanding of arranged marriage so that they were prepared to further discuss it once we had read about it in the play. As my formative assessment, I utilized technology-based tools such as Kahoots and PearDecks as well as observations made during the group discussions we participated in. These tools allowed me to assess the students’ understanding of what had been previously discussed in a fun and engaging way. They love to use their phones at any possible opportunity so I did my best to incorporate that into my planning by using Kahoot as my choice formative assessment. My first big assignment that I gave was a writing assignment, which asked the students to summarize their understanding of the final scene in Act 1 of the play through a creative lens of a news report. In terms of the effectiveness of the assignment, I would say that most students understood the goal, based on the evidence that was given to me from my students. I would perhaps change this assignment for future use by making it an “options menu” type to give students the opportunity to choose how they show their learning. I actually ran into an instance of academic dishonesty for this assignment where one student had plagiarized off of another nearly word for word. After having some conversations with these two students, I took it as a form of feedback for myself that she was disengaged and slightly confused by the assignment. Therefore, I need to address her feelings and consider that others might feel the same. The second assignment I gave my students was a representing assignment that required them to represent a character of the play creatively rather than write me a description. I feel this assignment was really effective! It appealed to many of the students who did not like to write and therefore I was given more quality assignments that demonstrated engagement and effort. My students understood what was expected of them from this assignment and enjoyed being able to show off their more creative talents. My favourite assessment, of all that I used during my three weeks, was the final assessment which required the students to work in groups, write their own scene to “add” to Romeo and Juliet, and then perform the scene in front of the class. What made this my favourite assignment was the level of engagement that I received from my students. They loved the opportunity to get creative and some took it above and beyond. They were easily able to demonstrate that they understood the implications of the previous readings and create accurate and engaging performances.
In terms of gearing my assessment towards my students and making things equitable, I did several explicit things. One comment that I received from my co-op teacher was that she was impressed with the variety of tools I was using to reach all levels of interest in my classroom. I did not just focus on one form of assessment, such as writing. Instead, I appealed to several different student strengths and as a result was able to gauge student learning much more effectively. I did my best to include my students in the assessment process. Due to time, I was unable to do a student generated rubric for my assignments but as an alternative, I set aside time with my students to project the assessment criteria, ask them to read over it, and suggest any changes they would like me to make to better suit their needs. This ensured that all students understood my expectations of them when assessing their work as well as informed me of what was important to them in terms of determining their learning. It was actually a very beneficial process and something I will further explore in the future. In regards to equity, I feel it was a major element (as it always should be) in my planning, especially because I was teaching them Shakespeare for the first time in their high school careers. The text was difficult enough for the best of readers so I could hardly expect my students to fair well on their own. I had the luck of my students being fairly high achieving but I still tried to differentiate for everyone. The most evident form of differentiation that I did was provide all of the students with a tool called “No Fear Shakespeare” which translated the original language into modern English. This allowed them to better understand the play and as a result they could do better in terms of summative assessment. I also implemented the use of graphic organizers and detailed guidelines to help students organize their thoughts easily, among other strategies. In addition to the general differentiation techniques, I also had the opportunity to implement an ROA for one student, giving him an extension on an assignment. It was an interesting experience and made me consider others as well.
Turning theory into practice was a challenge at times when aligning my philosophies to real world teaching. For the most part, I was able to stick to my philosophy of assessment, providing opportunities to students to succeed. There were however, times when my philosophy was challenged. Two major incidences come to mind. One issue that challenged my philosophy of assessment was the case of plagiarism that I discovered from a student. This was a very good experience to have because it made me consider my views on the issue and the way in which I would deal with it. In my philosophy, I do not believe in using grades as a reward or punishment towards a student. That belief was very much challenged in this case. Due to my position as a pre-intern, I did not get the final say on what happened to the students who were involved but I was able to participate in the conversations about the proper action to take. As a result of the academic misconduct, my co-operating teacher made the decision to have the student re-do the assignment with different guidelines and then deduct 25% from the final grade of that re-do. I agreed with having the student re-do the assignment to show that they had learned something but I struggled with the decision to reduce that grade by 25%. If this were to ever happen again in future, I feel that punishing the student with a grade reduction is ineffective because it makes it seem as though they do not fully understand the learning taking place. I would alternatively suggest that the student must do the “new” assignment under supervision to prove that they do know the material and have shown evidence of learning.
The second part of my philosophy that was challenged on a large scale was my belief in the no zero policy. I have discovered through my experience that I believe in the policy but to an extent. I am all about giving my students the opportunity to provide evidence that they have learned something. However, my students had plenty of opportunity to provide me with their assignments so I can assess their learning but blatantly did not take the opportunity. I did what I could to support them, offered my help and time, gave them plenty of notice and reminders, etc. and they continued to show severe lack of effort. I had a conversation with my co-operating teacher about this afterwards and she was very helpful in reassuring me that sometimes that zero is what they need. Sometimes it acts as a wake-up call to jolt them into getting their assignments in. Unfortunately, on my last day, I did not receive all of the assignments and therefore some students would be “assigned” a zero mark. In preparing for internship, I am going to have to further explore my view on this topic and determine my own set of “rules” for addressing the issue.
In terms of key learnings, I have had many that have resulted from my time in ECS 410 and from my pre-internship. Playing off of what I just said above about challenges to my philosophy, one of my key learnings is that you have to be flexible in your beliefs. I have learned that you can’t go into something without the expectation that things will not go always as you have planned. And in addition to that, I think the phrase “you can’t save them all” is relevant. You never want a student to fail an assignment for a completely unjustifiable reason such as they didn’t hand it in. I tried my best to encourage my students to demonstrate their learning and to complete their assignments. But I think I have learned that I cannot spend all of my energy trying to give it to them when they are not willing to reciprocate it. Another key learning that I have come out of this experience with is that student input is key to success. That comes both from my time in pre-internship as well as in class. The students know more than we think they do in terms of learning. They understand that we have standards that we want them to reach. But by including the students in the assessment process, we are inviting them into the “other” world, the world of the teacher and the assessor. They can evaluate themselves just as effectively as we might when they know what it is that is being assessed. The more they are involved and understand the process, the better the quality of evidence will be and more learning will take place. It makes them accountable for their own learning which is what we really want. Finally, the last key learning that I wish to highlight is that, as teachers, we are constantly assessing our students day in and day out. We cannot just assign one grade at the end and be done. Assessment and evaluation is a process that requires assessment and evaluation of its own. If we are not reflection on our own practices and beliefs of assessment then we cannot expect it to be effective within a classroom. Students are constantly learning and reflecting, even if they don’t know it. My job as a teacher is to provide the pathways for them to take to show that they are growing and learning and understanding. It also happens beyond your classroom. The ultimate evaluation of learning is when you can see that they have taken what you have taught them and moved beyond one context.
I have loved every minute of my pre-internship and cannot express how valuable of an experience it has been.