Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Gory World of Gladiators? Students explore the lives of gladiators.

Over the last four weeks, students in Adventures in World History (CHM4E1) have been working on the creation of a website, using Google Sites, to share their learning about gladiators.

You can check out the site (still a work in progress) by visiting A Closer Look at Gladiators.

Tomorrow we are having a launch party to celebrate the website and their hard work. Below is a copy of the speech I am going to deliver:

Congratulations on the creation of an informative and engaging website about gladiators.  Instead of simply consuming information, you came up with questions, searched for information, asked for guidance, found pictures, and created an information source that you and others beyond the class can use for learning.

I am impressed by your ability to work well independently and with your classmates.  I loved hearing you ask each other questions and give each other suggestions.  What I loved about this was that you used each other as resources and didn't depend on “the teacher” for help or the “right” answers.

I am also impressed with your willingness to give each other effective feedback via the “Stars and Wishes” activity on each web page.  Your acceptance of others’ constructive input about your work is also testament to your maturity and commitment.

I look forward to exploring your finished products and reading your final paragraphs.


Friday, 4 October 2013

Blogging in ENG3U1

Big Ideas (specific to ENG3U1 at ODSS)

Through blogging, students will demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the following two big ideas:

  • A person’s message is best understood by an audience when it is communicated in a clear and concise manner.
  • Considering multiple viewpoints allows people to better understand the world around them.


My rationale for blogging can be found in this presentation.  I do this presentation with students so they understand WHY we are blogging in class.


  • Summative

Students open their own blog and write posts over the course of the semester.  Additionally, they are required to respond to others’ blog posts.

I used this rubric last year to evaluate student blogs.  Essentially, I printed off one rubric for each student, alphabetized them in a duotang and as I read students’ blogs and responses, I put check marks in the appropriate boxes.  At the end of the year, I looked where most of the check marks fell and assigned a grade.  Throughout the semester, students could come take a look at their rubric to get a sense of how they were doing.

This year, I am going to open a folder on UG Cloud entitled “ENG3U1 Blogging Rubrics”.  I will share each student’s rubric with him/her.  This way students can see how they are doing at their leisure.  Additionally, I have re imagined my rubric, so that each post and response will have its own assigned mark.  

Last year, students were required to write 10 posts and respond to 15.  The focus was too much on quantity instead of quality.  This year I don’t have an explicit number of blog posts and responses that need to be completed.  I want the students to focus on writing a few really strong posts that spark discussion and for students to intelligently reply to and continue discussions on others’ blogs.

  • Formative

The first couple of posts and responses will essentially be formative.  Like last year, my responses to the first blog posts will focus on giving them feedback.  Similarly, I will respond to each student’s first response to give him or her feedback about leaving a blog comments.

Furthermore, as students start blogging, we are also having chapter seminars on The Kite Runner.  Students are responsible for leading their classmates through discussion.  My goal is for students to make the connection between having a face-to-face discussion and how it can be translated to an online environment.

Sequence of Learning

There are only three days of formal “lessons” about blogging.  After that, blogging is something that will happen occasionally as a group activity, but mostly students will be expected to blog at home.  Additionally, as we work our way through the novel study and ISU, I will have a couple of Chromebooks available so that students can choose to blog in class, instead of work on their other tasks.

  • Lesson 1

This lesson focuses on the WHY of blogging.  I share with students the presentation I linked to in Rationale.

We also get into the HOW of blogging.  Students actually set up their blog and add me as an author.

  • Lesson 2

In this lesson, we look at digital citizenship.  I really want to avoid the lecture style of “do this” and “don’t do that”.  I developed an informal presentation to help guide discussion.  We also discuss picking a profile picture, because they need to do that in this lesson.

From there, we look again at the course big ideas that blogging gets to and I show them examples of blog posts from last year.  I already have shared the document with them so that they can access it for future reference.

Students have the remainder of the period to select a profile picture and customize their blogs.  They should be able to start writing their first post.  While students can essentially write about anything, some students require ideas.  I have two prompts prepared for them.

The first prompt looks at costumes and culture.  This article about Halloween costumes generated a lot of discussion last year.

The second prompt looks at Grand Theft Auto V.  Students can read Grand Theft Auto V designed deliberately  to degrade women.  

  • Lesson 3

This lesson happens once most students have written a blog post.  Students go back to their first post and read my feedback.  They are then required to respond to my comments and suggestions about their blog post.

Afterwards, we look at Bill Ferriter’s Tips for Leaving a Good Blog Comment.  Students now have the opportunity to read their classmates’ blog posts and respond to them.

Concluding Thoughts

Last year was my first year experimenting with blogs.  I am trying individual blogs this year, which is a change from the collaborative blogs I did last year.  Below are links to my reflections about blogging last year.

Improving the Blogging Experience for Student

Thursday, 3 October 2013

It's Only Once Every Five Years...And It's Scary

I haven't been subject to had a Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) since I was a new teacher.  This year is my first TPA as an "experienced" teacher.  When I got the email telling me it was my year for a TPA, my nerves went crazy.  There is something scary about having your performance closely inspected that is stress-inducing.  Fortunately, after the information meeting, the EVENT didn't seem so bad.  I really liked how my principal framed it: the TPA is more like professional development rather than an evaluation.  I like professional development, especially when it is about me and my interests.  (I know...sort of self-centred.)

In preparation for the classroom visit, I got to sit down and decide which competencies in each domain I wanted my principal to focus on.  I put some thought into the competencies I wanted feedback about, but I want to reflect by myself about my performance in each of those areas before getting specific feedback.

Commitment to Pupils and Pupil Learning

The teacher is dedicated in his or her efforts to teach and support pupil learning and achievement.

Being completely honest, it can sometimes be difficult to remain dedicated to pupil learning and achievement when attempting to learn with a less than enthusiastic class.  I am struggling with my afternoon class, and in my head, I have decided numerous times to just stop trying and just give them videos and textbook work.  It seems so simple in my head, but I know that it isn't professional and my job is to teach and support my students' learning and achievement.  I don't try my best just because it is my job, but above all, it is my responsibility.  I am responsible for helping students learn the material, but even more importantly, to learn and practice skills they will need in the future.  Furthermore, it isn't fair to stop being dedicated because some students are frustrating.  I have to remember the students in class who want to learn and do well.  I need to maintain my efforts to meet their needs.  It's just so much easier when a class is pleasant and eager.

The teacher treats all pupils equitably and with respect.

This seems rather straightforward to me.  Obviously, a teacher enjoys teaching some students more than other students, just as a student will prefer one teacher over another.  As a professional, this natural occurance needs to be kept in check.  All students deserve to be treated equitably and respectfully.  I believe that I treat my students equitably, as I institute accomodations to support different learning needs and remain flexible about due dates and tasks based on students' lives outside of the classroom.  I think that when a student is treated in an equitable manner, he is being treated respectfully.

Professional Knowledge

The teacher knows a variety of effective teaching strategies and assessment practices.

I attempt to use a variety of teaching strategies over the course of a semester.  For example, in ENG3U1, we have used small groups to delve into texts, worked as a large group and worked independently.  Additionally, our study of The Kite Runner will go beyond reading and answering questions.  Students are going to become the teachers and lead their colleagues through seminars.  When we get to Macbeth, we will use Twitter to get into the heads of characters and tweet as they would tweet.
I also try to use a variety of assessment strategies, knowing that students need to demonstrate their learning in difference ways. To review rhetorical devices in ENG3U1, we made use of Socrative, an online tool to complete formative assessments.  Students will work on formal essay writing skills, as well as writing short pieces of text.  They will also have the chance to demonstrate their learning through presentations and passage analyses.
In CHM4E1, students showed their learning through the creation of an online photo album.  We're currently working on the creation of a website about gladiators and will soon start a classroom museum about the Holocaust.

Teaching Practice

The teacher conducts ongoing assessment of his or her pupils' progress, evaluates their achievement and reports results to pupils and their parents regularly.

I regularly informally and formally assess students' learning.  For example, in ENG3U1, before the first summative piece of writing is due, students are required to complete a practice analysis for feedback.  This allows me to address individual and group areas of concern.  Furthermore, I will informally check on students' understanding with individual meetings.  Students get one-on-one attention for feedback about their tasks and assignments.
Additionally, I found using Twitter last year in the Macbeth unit to be helpful.  It was a quick and easy way to check students' understanding.  For example, one student tweeted that Macbeth was upset that his dad (King Duncan) died, which is completely inaccurate.
I regularly make contact with parents.  By the second week of school, I had already sent home progress reports and emailed parents, both good news and bad news.  In fact, I am upset that I will be missing parent-teacher interviews this semester because I am presenting at ECOO13.

The teacher adapts and refines his or her teaching practices through continuous learning and reflection, using a variety of sources and resources.

Despite entering my seventh year of teaching and teaching a couple of courses upwards of five times, I almost never do anything the same.  I always think that I could do something better.  I think this is part of my reflective nature.  Previous to last September, my reflections about lessons and assignments were just simply my thoughts in my head or quick discussions with colleagues.  I was encouraged to start blogging and I took the plunge.  I find having a place to write down my thoughts useful.  This lets me to reflect more deeply and I have the ability to now reread my thoughts and remember what I wanted to change or keep the same.

Leadership and Community

The teacher collaborates with other teachers and school colleagues to create and sustain learning communities in his or her classroom and school.

I think this is one of my strengths.  I often work with other teachers to improve learning.  Last year, I participated in Powerful Learning Practice, where two other teachers from my school and three from another high school worked on making learning visible.  Additionally, I make use of the teacher-librarians to enhance student access to their services.  Beyond PLC time, I am the "course leader" for ENG3U1.  Last semester, we worked on bringing the course into line with the other courses.  This required me to talk to the ENG2D1 and ENG4U1 teachers to see what their summative tasks and final exams entailed.  Additionally, I met with my teaching partners twice over the summer to refine the course and we are in regular email contact and share over the Cloud.  We plan on getting together face-to-face to discuss some tasks further.

Ongoing Professional Learning

The teacher engages in ongoing professional learning and applies it to improve his or her teaching practices.

Everyday I engage in professional learning simply by checking out my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter.  It was via Twitter and face-to-face discussions with colleagues that got me thinking about making learning visible and using technology to do so.  This is why I am now experimenting with blogging and Twitter in the classroom.
Furthermore, last year I participated in Powerful Learning Practice, which is year long PD.  I attended webinars about a variety of topics such as TPACK and PBL.  It was helpful to engage with educators from all over (mostly the United States and Canada) and teachers at different stages in their careers.

While having a TPA done can be stressful and nerve-wracking, I am trying to focus on the positive in that I get to have one-on-one discussions with my principal and will get feedback to improve my practice.