Next year, we’re planning on implementing a new SIS and gradebook at our school. Groundbreaking news, eh? The kicker is that our new gradebook supports individual assignments for individual students.
Think about that for a second.
For the first time, I can build assignments that are specific to an individual student, and not have to worry about the hassle of reporting said assignments in a gradebook designed for assignments given out to the entire class.
This makes me excited. Thrilled, even! I’ve been differentiating for a few years now, as best as I can, but my efforts have been hampered by the need to create the same assignments for each student. Sure, Tracey’s got an essay and Mark’s working on a short story, but they both need to be out of 35 and according the gradebook they’re both due on the same day, even though that’s not true and the short story shouldn’t really be out of 35, anyway. No more! It also means that I can lessen the impact of competition in my class. I handed back a set of essays today, and instead of the students listening to me about how they can make their next essay better, they spent most of the time quietly asking each other who got the highest mark, and slipping a calculator from one hand to the other to figure out what the score at the bottom of their detailed rubric meant. Yes, real learning was happening today in my class, folks.
So, here’s the question, and one of the reasons I’m posting today: how do I make individualised instruction, true individualised instruction, work? I teach English Language Arts and I’d like to pilot this process with a single group of senior high English students. I’d also like students to be exploring texts which interest them instead of assigning a single book for an entire group of learners, for instance, as well as allowing them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in forms they choose.
This is my first draft:
1) At the beginning of the year, I photocopy and hand out the ELA outcomes to students. Together, we spend a week ripping these apart: I help them to understand them, and they come up with ideas and suggestions on how they could meet these outcomes. Instead of coming up with specific assignments and giving them to them over the course of a semester, in other words, they understand exactly what their outcomes mean, and then build their own “program of studies”.
2) Students then spend some time figuring out what they want to learn and trying to mesh that with what the government requires them to learn. They negotiate, with my help, this rocky terrain in order to come up with texts to learn and assignments to complete to show understanding of curriculum.
3) Then, students do it: they work independently (I’ve got a great bunch of learners in this class who will relish this opportunity!) over the semester to meet outcomes for the course. I help students to find texts, meet with them one-on-one and mentor them as they complete assignments, read books, do research, and so on. I schedule learning meetings with them on a regular basis (once a week?) where they show me what they’ve learned, create deadlines for assignments they’re completing, and give them feedback on assignments already turned in. Students are also collaborating in the class and online in a forum that I’ve created to teach and learn from each other, both in and outside of the classroom.
4) Over the semester, I conduct seminars and mini-lessons on creative writing, essay writing, poetry analysis, and so on, acting very much like a teacher. These mini-lessons take no more than fifteen or twenty minutes and can be on-demand, meaning that if a group of students is struggling with a particular concept, I step in and teach the entire class. Mini-lessons are recorded and put on YouTube so that others in the class (or students from other classes) can watch these lessons later.
5) By the end of the semester, students will have completed a portfolio of learning with assignments that are directly tied to the program of studies. Students have pursued learning that’s of interest to them, and I’ve acted as a learning coordinator instead of a teacher — the veritable guide on the side instead of sage on the stage.
It seems perfect in my mind, and that’s where you, oh Cooperative Catalyst, get to pop my bubble with a multitude of shiny little pins. I’d love to hear some feedback on the above: where am I going to go wrong? What do I need to adjust? What am I not seeing right now?
I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities afforded to me by, of all things, a gradebook. For the first time in a long while, I’m seeing the transformative power of technology in a very real way. Here’s hoping that it’ll actually work out as planned, and for goodness sake, please do give me some feedback!