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Trials and Tribulations

So, it's been a crazy few weeks since my last post and now it's time to just sit down with a hot chocolate and type...

I'll start with the highlights which include completing some course specific PD, meeting Starr Sackstein, and having some epiphanies about my own practice. Then I'll end with some next steps for myself (got to model what I preach, right?).

Within my department, there were concerns that we were not ready to deal with grade 9 gradeless. I wanted to do it justice - I figured that my two years of dabbling with gradeless was some background compared to my colleagues who may be dealing with gradeless for the first time. I approached my principal (Jim Kardash) and he was extremely generous in giving us three full days of release - two of which were with the Board's Instructional Coordinator (Kristen Clark). As a course group, we first conferred to create common assessment practices and assignments. That one day was a whirlwind of productive collaboration with some great educators willing to take risks (especially Adriana Campolongo and Shannon Johnston). Then we met with Kristen Clark who gave us further strategies and suggestions to tackle the gradeless beast. I felt armed and ready to do battle; I was ready to charge forward and challenge traditional assessment.

Meeting and conversing with Starr was inspiring - a total game changer for my practice. To this point, gradeless was mainly theoretical and I was making attempts to incorporate it into my classroom, but here was a real-live person who experienced all that gradeless meant. Starr is a pioneer and her struggles in the classroom made me want to be better - from giving more specific feedback to thinking about assessment in revolutionary ways. It all comes back to the kids and how this type of assessment will help them be better learners.

This week, I am proud of myself for pushing out of my comfort zone to help out my Instructional Coach (Chris Hill) and present to the four visiting high schools on single point rubrics. It was an uncomforable experience for this introvert to share her limited knowledge to others. The beginning was very awkward, but I spoke by drawing on my passion for teaching and the mood became more accepting by the end of the day.

It's hard looking at your own practice and be critical about what you've been doing for the past 15 years to come to the conclusion that you may have been doing things wrong. As a person who prides themselves on working hard to be on-top of curricular and Ministry expectations, it hurt to think that, by using traditional assessment methods, I was doing my past students a disservice. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying I'm a bad teacher. I love what I do and I love teaching skills to students which lead to success, but the use of feedback focussed assessment and how quickly students benefit from this type of assessment is mind blowing. The past few years of gradeless has meant a much stronger bond to students and, more specifically, to helping them learn. More recently, the direct feedback that
I have been giving students in individual conferences has shown immediate learning. Seeing a student change their minds about "not being good" at something because they have learned to do something new is so rewarding.

My desire to learn more and improve my use of gradeless assessment has me frantic for professional readings like Mark Barnes' Assessment 3.0 and Starr Sackstein's Teaching Students to Self-Assess. These readings have made me reflect on my notions of assessment and feedback - how do I record oral feedback, am I giving enough specific feedback, how do I make the feedback more constructive and accessible to students ... the questions go on and on and on. Maybe it's the fact that I haven't invested a lot of time into my personal development as a teacher since becoming a mother or maybe it's the stagnant environment that I have been steeping in, but I'm now looking for ways to improve, change, and try - taking risks and ignoring naysayers around me. Maybe I've reached a point in my career where I don't feel like I have to account to my colleagues anymore, but must be accountable to my students and myself. Maybe ditching my cynicism and opening myself to new experiences, like I ask my students to do every single day, has helped me grow as a professional.

My next steps are more like gigantic leaps. I'm looking to challenge my department's traditional learning materials (such as the need for students to read two classic novels independently, and needing to teach Hamlet) and replacing these prehistoric ideals with more in-depth analysis of fewer multicultural and indigenous texts. I am encountering resistance in my department, but I am resolute in my desire to focus on developing quality work, giving useful feedback, and creating rich tasks instead of dumping extra reading on my students and covering materials in a superficial manner. Depth of analysis and the skill to think critically about literature can only be achieved when students and teachers are given time to explore and exchange ideas about texts; that cannot be done under the pressure of reading an arbitrary list of works or through forcing kids to complete meaningless assignments - that will only create haters of the English classroom.


  1. This is such an honest post - thank you so much for sharing! I am also feeling the 'moral imperative' to change my practice, and it is difficult to do it in an environment where you are the only one. I have a couple of colleagues who are interested, and there is a general interest in improving feedback, but somewhat less interest in moving away from traditional teaching methods. Change is not easy. I am glad that you have support from others in your school board, and happy to hear that you are sharing your learning with others; everyone should know about single point rubrics - awesome first step towards something new! Your environment isn't stagnant anymore. :) I hope you will continue to share your journey. You are not alone!

  2. Hi Amy! Thanks. I have definitely found kindred educational spirits in my journey and am thankful for them. I love your idea of the group learning exit ticket. I will have to try that soon.


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