Pondering Peer Feedback

There are many benefits to peer feedback, just like there are benefits to using multiple choice questions. However, like for MCQ, my motive for using this more in my classroom was Grade 6. Four sections of Grade 6. Ninety-nine students. Which is a lot of rough drafts. Which is a good reason to delegate some of the feedback burden.

But there are other bonuses to using peer feedback. The students can read the work of their peers, to give them ideas for their own writing. And, by leaving comments, they can reflect more on the characteristics of quality work. However, I was not going to operate under the assumption that my middle school students would know how to write good feedback. I was going to train them.

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Blog Post Round-up: May 9, 2017

I was absent from the country, and my laptop, for a while, and came back to an RSS feed full of new posts. A delight, but also a lot to get through, especially when the internet is too slow for quick loading and browsing. But, finally, with much delay, here is a round-up of my favourite blog posts from the last few weeks.

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Moments of Joy, or Finding the Motivation to Keep Going

It has not been an easy last few months of school. I found myself, on short notice, job hunting for next year. Enthusiasm is winding down among colleagues. I returned home to Canada for a week for a family situation. And, of course, the end of the year is approaching and the students are getting restless. It can be hard to find the motivation to plan, grade, attend meetings…

But, in the infinite wisdom of Dory, we need to keep swimming.

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Reflecting on a Read-a-Loud

Just a week ago I finished one of the larger experiments I’ve undertaken in my courses this year: a read-a-loud, with my four classes of Grade 6 students. We were working on our unit on culture and migration; at the end of each lesson, I would read a portion of the book to them. For those unfamiliar with the book, here is a brief synopsis and the reading level on Scholastic, and reviews on Goodreads.

I had two main purposes for this. The primary one was for the story to serve as a mentor text for their project, which was to research two countries and write a story about someone who immigrates from one to the other. The other was to create a connection between what we were learning in our lessons and a piece of literature.

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Further Meditations: Multiple Choice

I didn’t use to like multiple choice. They’re based on recognition, not recall, and thus (I thought) were not cognitively demanding. They don’t require higher-order thinking. And, so, they made infrequent appearances on my assessments. Now, every quiz I create is predominantly multiple choice and they feature largely on unit tests as well.

There are three main factors that lead to my change of heart.
Grade 6: I teach four sections of Grade 6, for a total of 99 students. If they were spread across multiple courses it would be different, but because it’s the same course, for every assessment, I (ideally) have 99 come in on the same day. The assessment burden is, well, burdensome, moreso when I aim to get grades back in a timely fashion. Multiple choice is quick to grade; for quizzes, if I’m focused and organized, I can grade the previous set while the next class is writing the quiz.
Cognitive science: Regular quizzing improves retention of information. If I’m going to quiz more frequently, I want to do so in a way that does not significantly add to my grading load.
Blog posts that challenged my views: This is not to say that the blog-o-sphere is uniformly in favour of multiple choice. Some think that multiple choice enhances retention more than other question types;  others cite evidence that suggests the use of multiple choice questions can create false memories.  Multiple choice does allow a teacher to assess a wider breadth of content, such as in subject areas like history, while essays typically assess depth of one or two topics; this is why I balance my Grade 11 Asian History quarter tests between a section of multiple choice and an essay. It is possible to write questions that require students to apply the information, to compare and contrast, and to generally use higher order thinking skills. If carefully designed, they can be used to pinpoint areas of confusion for students. Of course, some of the best-designed tests use multiple choice. Basically, multiple choice can be a useful classroom tool if the questions are well-designed.

I want to write well-designed questions. So I chose as my first micro-credential ​Designing and Evaluating Multiple-Choice Items.

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Meditations on Micro-Credentials

I recently stumbled upon micro-credentials, an interesting new approach to professional development. One thing that has stood out to me before about professional development is the lack of follow-up; to have, say, two days of workshops on holding reading conferences and using mentor texts, but never returning to that idea again. How can a school ensure that teachers get the most out of professional development? That money spent on PD is worth the opportunity cost? That teacher time spent listening to presentations improves student learning more than that same time being spent on designing instruction and reviewing assessments?

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