Change Should Be Manageable

The following two statements have proven to be very helpful to me whenever I consider making a permanent change in my practice.

“Good for students.  Manageable for teachers.”
Damien Cooper

If the change adds to my overall workload then it is not sustainable.  The change can move the work to the front but overall the amount of work needs to stay the same or drop.  Recent changes in my teaching practice have involved a lot of front-loading but the overall amount of work has dropped and the nature of the work has become more enjoyable.  Plus, the changes have been positive for my students.  Note: whenever you are doing something new for the first time you should expect it is going to be more work.  Personally, the more front-loading I do the first time, the more manageable the overall work AND when I have worked with a partner, the more manageable the overall work.

If you are going to start doing something new, you need to stop doing something old.”
Faye Brownlie

The danger is that we keep adding things to our plates and evidently we are doing way too much and feeling overwhelmed.  I immediately think about reality TV shows where people are awash in cluttered homes because things come into the home but nothing leaves it.  Faye’s statement is reminder that there is a finite amount of time in each day and we have a finite amount of energy to give each day.  If I am going to add something to my classroom/lesson/unit then something has to go.

Note: In my experience, in some cases it is not so much something new displacing something old, but rather something old being done in a new way.  The changes can be subtle but the effect dramatic.

Example: Writing in Science — Lab Reports

A few years back, feeling overwhelmed with marking, I thought I might have students mark each others’ lab reports.  Shudder!  My first foray in the world of peer & self assessment:(

  • Evaluating/judging each other’s work (not good).
  • Assessing each others’ work and giving descriptive feedback which the students takes and uses to improve their work (good).

Aside:

  • peer & self assessment = good
  • peer & self evaluation = not so good

I realized students needed some criteria so as a class we brainstormed the criteria for a good lab report and I recorded it on the board.  Students found a partner who exchanged reports with them for marking.  After the marking they returned them and had and defend the mark they gave it.  Another shudder!  The defense of the the mark was good because it gave descriptive feedback to their peer but the assigning of the mark was inappropriate because of its evaluative/judgmental nature and in some cases blocked the transmission of the feedback plus students should never grade each others’ work.  (assess yes, evaluate no).

BUT, even when done poorly (which is how I did it the first time) the overall effect was that quality of the next lab report (which I collected and I graded) went up dramatically.

Was there more front-loading work for me to do?  YES both in my professional learning about AfL and in the process I used in my classroom to help my students become better able to ASSESS their work and the work of their peers!

Was the GRADING of the next set of labs (handed in once they had incorporated feedback from their peers) less work for me? Absolutely.  They were much better written and much more pleasurable to read.

Did my students learning improve?  Yes.  By Christmas they were writing the quality of lab reports that I used to only see by June.

Disclaimer: in the years since this experience I have made many changes in the way in which I teach science and the ways in which students monitor and demonstrated their learning.  I still have students write lab reports but we tend to do more labs & less formal reports.

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About J Martens

Educator living and working in Vancouver BC Learning how formative assessment, literacy, inquiry, and technology serve to improve learning and increase engagement (for teachers & students).
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6 Responses to Change Should Be Manageable

  1. Frank Noschese says:

    This year I want to give students detailed feedback, more than just a grade on a quiz.

    But that would take more time than I have. So now I have kids leave themselves feedback using a colored pen (orange, pink, etc.) immediately after the quiz. They are practicing self assessment and know exactly what you’re of detailed feedback they need. It doesn’t take any more time than when I would give back graded quizzes, and now kids are moreengaged in reviewing the solutions.

  2. Pingback: Accommodating in Science « Renovating My Classroom

  3. J Martens says:

    Frank:

    Sorry for the delay — still figuring out how this blog fits as I work in a new role. Love your “manageable for teachers & good for kids” approach to feedback. Do you have the students contribute in building the criteria?

    Anne Davies, a BC gem and leading education researcher has some great writing/thinking around this. She has great framework for generating something like this (http://blog.annedavies.com/2012/06/co-constructing-criteria.html) in 15-20 minutes. Here’s a link to a short book that outlines the process (http://connect2learning.com/store/publications/setting-and-using-criteria-second-edition).

  4. Altitude says:

    Wow, this is exactly what I needed to read today! Thanks for the post!

    • J Martens says:

      You’re welcome. Appreciate you leaving a comment — let’s me know who’s reading. Appreciating your writing on Altitude. I’m still struggling to find my voice — caused by a combination of self-censorship and too many partially developed ideas.

  5. Altitude says:

    I enjoy reading your posts and the insights therein. Despite your struggle to find your voice (which I also totally understand!) keep on writing – you’ve got good things to say which I have really benefited from!

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