Sunday, June 04, 2006

How do you know your students are learning?

What signs do you look for in the classroom or from the students?
At our last faculty meeting I asked Peter Kadar, our Director of Teaching and Learning, to get us thinking and sharing about our teaching and this is the question he asked. He stressed that he didn't mean us to judge from tests, assignments or exams. After a bit of thought there was a slow trickle of answers, such as whether the faces have a blank look or not, and comments about the kinds of questions the students are asking "what do we have to do, Miss", or comments they're making "I don't get this", the meeting really got under way when Gill, one of the year 8 teachers, talked about her class work on Goodnight Mr Tom. When she asked them what they had learnt from the reading and study of this class novel, she got a lot of answers: facts about the Second World War, the Blitz in London, the experiences of evacuee children in England during the war, child abuse and the characteristics of abused children, mental illness and specific elements like Anderson shelters (a type of bomb shelter), gas masks, rationing and regional dialects in English in the time of the war. But it wasn't until she put it together with the idea that the students in groups role play the things they'd learned that she really saw what they'd learned. In a way the students sharing their learning with each other made it so much more concrete. Gill's sharing of this gave other teachers ideas that they could adapt for their classrooms, and enabled other teachers to continue the sharing.
In a way the learning of the students and our formative assessment of the learning are happening at the same time. This brings up my dissatisfaction with the Progression Points that the Victorian state government has come up with. As we complete our government mandated report cards we are to put the students on a progression point as if they are on an assembly line jerking from one progression point to another. Real learning is not like that. As Wesley Fryer says "learning is messy" and not linear. But enough of the ranting. I really love meetings when they are sharing, not only what the students are learning, but when they are opportunities for us to learn as well. So thanks Peter and Gill.

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