I have always wondered why learning stops at the end of a unit. Let me be more specific. When following a framework or guide, we group strands into timeframes. For example, three weeks will be spent on probability in math or this month we are writing narratives. Where I really struggle with this is early on in a year or term. That first strand or unit.
As I am getting to know students in September, it is imperative to start curriculum immediately. We have a lot to cover in ten months. As students are adjusting to new routines and people, they are expected to demonstrate an understanding of concepts from the get go on that first strand – and then never again. Let me explain.
I teach elementary school. Grade 7 & 8 to be exact. We don’t have many tests and we never have final exams. The reality is any marks given to students in that first strand will stay for the term one report card. No opportunity to re-visit. Strand is over, we have moved on – this is what you got – and it is only September.
The question I have is: Why can’t “marks” always be upgradeable? My good buddy Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek) discusses his ideologies at the secondary panel here: http://mrorr-isageek.com/?p=3423. I want to encourage learning without interruptions and to re-visit concepts after that final exam. After all, exams and marks create fear. Fear doesn’t create out of the box thinkers or problem solvers. Fear creates a prescribed notion as to what students are expected to demonstrate to get the grade. Fear makes students “play school”.
On the contrary, I love frameworks. They provide a rough guide for new teachers (and experienced ones) to set mental targets and goals. Keep the ship on target, if you will. Stay the course. The reality is this chunked approach to learning doesn’t imply room for upgrades. In a ten month school year, students should be able to demonstrate their understanding of concepts the entire time, not just during those units. I have never read a framework that says to stop assessing a strand or unit at it’s conclusion, we tend to make that interpretation as teachers.
My second issue with frameworks, units and guides is the narrow focused learning. I understand some units of Science are completely independent of each other, but what about math? Why do we study probability – and only probability – for those three weeks? What if we taught students the rules for adding and subtracting fractions & BEDMAS during a probability strand instead of in isolation?
Mastery of skill often takes longer than a two week unit, and that is OK. As we get closer to June, I will revisit concepts and continue making observations and having conversations with students providing them opportunities to close any gaps from any strand or unit from the entire term.
5 Responses for this post
Brian, I guess my question would be, why do we have to teach in this way? With inquiry and/or play-based learning, there are multiple opportunities to group strands, come back to ideas, make connections with old ideas, and always upgrade (even if not for marks, for learning’s sake). Even just the other day, we were looking at folding a paper in half, and a student made a connection with symmetry. Then we started to look back at symmetry and how these two topics connect. We’re always going back again to topics explored before and making links with other topics. Usually every lesson that I teach and every activity that students do, connect with multiple strands in multiple subject areas. I think this is essential. Nobody dictates that we must teach topics in isolation, so why must we? Thanks for getting me thinking!
These are the questions that need to be asked, continually. Speaking from my personal experience in our board (lkdsb) we have been following a designed math framework for my short career (8 years). The framework organized big ideas into units and linked them with supporting documents (mainly Nelson math, Supersource and TIPS4rm). A helpful idea and resource for sure, but I think the problem became that it was the only resource being used. Became an organizational crutch for me and others. The perception of some might be that it is more difficult organizationally without the framework, especially with how effectively it links to the reporting framework. Personally, I am really enjoying working with big ideas as a guide and connecting them to interesting content/current events. Great convo that needs to continue…
I think for novice learners it is advantageous to have ‘structure’ in their learning. By structure I mean distinct divisions (by subject, or by math strands for example). This allows for easier consolidation of new facts, and helps promote neural pathways for recollection in the future. I believe that it is important for students to see the big connections, and to see how certain ideas are intertwined, but I also know how having some clear-cut boundaries can promote the learning/consolidation experiences for our novice learners too.
My colleagues at the junior highs in MB have wondered the same thing as you: how do we go back and revisit the earlier learning outcomes. They have devised multiple assessments that revisit the big ideas from previous strands. So if a student doesn’t ‘get it’ the first time around, he/she will have more time to show they can meet the big objectices from that strand and potentially upgrade their scores.
The more familiar I get with the math curriculum, the more I see it as having connections in many applied areas. Art, architecture, building, music. Shifting the focus from isolated skills to giving students a real reason to use these skills makes all the difference. As a student many years ago, I played school quite well. Later as an adult, in my development as an artist I learned to understand things through experience. As a teacher it is now my goal to nurture my students abilities. The more I honour the process of letting students express themselves honestly through reading, writing and math, the more we have been able to nuture a growth mindset. This can happen even amidst a very traditional looking day plan. I am excited however, to look towards the future and see the possibilities for a much more practical, useful and engaging way of teaching.