Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Thing About Tomato Soup

I recently presented to a group of principals on the topic of OSSLT and Critical Thinking. One of the activities I asked them to do was to unpack an OSSLT question (2012 test) and reflect on the skill that students needed in order to answer the question correctly.

One question, in particular,asked students: "Which product matches the definition of “value-added” in paragraph 3?"

The choices were:
a whole fish
b leaf lettuce
c tomato soup
d green grapes

The question is obviously ambiguously worded. The answer, "tomato soup," isn't what we traditionally understand as "value added" and can be perceived as misleading. And so, the discussion very quickly led to the fallability of standardized tests, how much money is spent on them yearly, how our students with special needs can never pass such a test, etc...which are valid to some extent, but quite beside the point.

You see, every person in that room was able to answer the question correctly but had to take a few minutes to think through it.

What I find startling, after having spent many hours pouring over OSSLT data is that students really struggle with those questions that require thinking--if students can skim and scan to find the answer, then they do well. This observation was reaffirmed by Damian Cooper in a video series, About Assessment  published by MISA Barrie. He says that "EQAO data is screaming" at us that students need to be taught how to think. He also posits, "Do teachers in Ontario know that their fundamental job is to teach kids to think?"

Don't get me wrong; in an age where we know that differentiated assessment and instruction is key, I am not necessarily in favour of standardized tests to mark literacy achievement. What I do think, though, is that we can glean much information by looking at EQAO questions and trends.  This might lead us to look carefully at the kinds of things we are asking our students to do daily to determine if these tasks are pushing their thinking.

This is no small feat. How do we teach thinking? How can we change the questions we ask to promote further inquiry? What small changes can we make so that kids are solving problems and thinking through ideas rather than answering low-level questions?  

If we don't challenge students to think, not only will they continue to struggle on those kinds of questions on the OSSLT, but so too in life, when they are faced with complex situations that require problem solving.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

The wonders of using a Q-chart

I think that the Q-Chart (question matrix chart) is by far the most powerful tool we can use in the classroom. How often do we give students reams of questions to answer which they can generally complete quite easily and without thought?  I know many of my former students even bragged about the fact that they were able to answer all of my questions without actually reading a book!

With a q-chart, students create their own questions and thus spur their own curiosity. They need some help getting started of course, but the beauty of a q-chart is that ANY student can use it. Q-Tasks by Carol Koechlin & Sandi Zwaan provides a comprehensive perspective on student questioning.

The q-chart can help students refine their research and set a purpose and path for web searching. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Teaching Applied English

In recent months, I have really been reflecting on my teaching English. I think of all the good things I did to be flexible and to support my students, but then I really face the fact that in many ways, I enabled non-reading in my class.
I knew that there were various levels in my class, and yet I taught everyone the same novel at the same time for sometimes WEEKS on end. Did I really support my students' reading? When the expectations are so very open in Ontario for English courses, why do we insist on teaching the same old things in the same old ways? When we do integrate technology, do we ask students to connect with others in the world? Create authentic products for authentic audiences? Or are we doing the same things with a computer? These are the things that make me go hmmm.

Inspirational Video

Saw this video on Twitter and think it's awesome! What do you think?