Ok, so the School Holidays are over again for another Term. I always start the term bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, keen as to get into my classroom.
School hits me in the face.
We started with this great workshop and discussion at Staff Development Day on middle schooling pedagogy. Middle School is those awkward years from Year 6 to Year 9, when a lot is happening developmentally and socially, but learning and engagement is not first always first on their agenda?! We were discussing some effective strategies to support our students to achieve success and learn to love learning. Some great ideas were popping up: more community involvement, more acknowledgement of achievement, more PBL. I was excited to be having this discussion with my colleagues.
So, I then added to the discussion, and suggested that one problem is the pressure with assessments… Especially at this time of year. Reporting. Because when all a students teachers are writing reports, they need results. These results are collated from assessment tasks… So for Year 7, at the beginning of Term 2, they will probably have at least 10 assessment tasks due to align with all their subjects. This was clearly not a popular statement, and was told I should organise myself better and that reporting was our obligation as a teacher.
So wait…. I never said I didn’t want to report- I love giving kids feedback…. But the question I had was the why are we pressuring kids with so many assessments (often due at the same time) just for the sake of a mark on the report?
Then something wonderful happens in my own classroom…
I have my GATS students finishing a project where they were divided into 4 groups. They were randomly chosen groups and allocated 4 real world projects to achieve by the end of Term 1. Now, some groups finished…. and some didn’t. One group organised a very successful popcorn stall where they raised awareness and money for the Black Dog Institute. Throughout the project (especially at the beginning), I explained how hard it was to work collaboratively, and that you really need to identify your ‘leader’ at the beginning. I said you would always have a ‘slack ass’ that you would need to constantly tell what to do, and I also told them not everyone was equal and jobs needed to be allocated if you hoped to be successful. I saod you needed a goal and a plan as to what to achieve in every lesson. I gave students some great goal setting and project management sheets that I adapted from BIE.
As the project progressed, I watched as some groups fumbled and as the term ended, some had even lost their direction completely.
At the beginning of this project, I told them that many groups would
fail. This is the GATS class, so they looked at me horrified – these are high achieving kids who would rarely ‘fail’! As predicted, some groups just couldn’t get it together to finish the project.
I smiled at them.
This is what I wanted. I wanted them to learn from their mistakes.
At the end of this project, the only thing I really care about, is the self-reflection that the students submit to Edmodo. I asked a few questions of them and told them their group members weren’t reading it, so you should be honest.
These are the questions:
1. What was the criteria to achieve success?
2. What have you learnt from this task? Describe the purpose of the organization/theme that your project was based upon.
3. Do you think that you have made other people aware of the ideas and issues that are explored by your organization/theme? Explain why/why not.
4. We always learn from mistakes and failures. Show how failure, mistakes and accidents have led to the discovery of worthwhile things.
5. If you were to do it again, how would you do it differently? Evaluate solutions and answers in terms of their consequences and implications
6. Describe your role in the group. Were you a team player? Did you achieve the learning goals you set for yourself?
So how does this link to my frustration at the beginning of this post… and the title of FAILURE equal SUCCESS?
I think sometimes we are so consumed by a system that grades and assesses students for numerical outcomes that we forget that learning can be about making mistakes. It is not always about getting 100% everytime. I get frustrated that I can see the benefit of less grading and classifying and wonder why it can’t always be this way. But I also know realistically, that is how the school system works – that is what the HSC is after all. It is much easier to control this model of examination equalling success. So many people have become accustomed to associating a number with the amount of knowledge a student has about a subject. I don’t think 76/100 tells me anything about the students I teach. I love talking to my students about their successes and failures and asking what they enjoyed or hated about a unit of work.
So, I leave you with some of my students insightful self reflection statements. Because these made me smile, gave me goosebumps and a little tear in my eye… Cause I realised what I believe in does work, and it DOES make a difference.
* I liked when everyone just got the job done and we worked as a team. When we did, we had great out comes. The task was definitely challenging, but I really learnt how to try and communicate with others and how important planning is to working as a team. I actually think that by not getting a complete finished product, we all learnt that teamwork is really important and makes a big change to how things turn out.Overall I thought this project was fun and interesting, but it certainly had its up and downs!
* Yes I did enjoy it. I found it challenging working in a group and I learnt a lot of group skills and a lot about filming. It was also good at the start of last term when I was new and we were all new, I got to know some of the other people in my class because it was grouped randomly.
* Not everyone was motivated the same amount. If each person in the group was motivated to the same level, we wouldn’t have been distracted as easily and we might have better achieved our goals. The different level of motivation of the group members contributed to what I considered as disappointing outcome.* What did you learn? I learnt a lot trying to achieve a project as part of a group. I learned that planning in this situation is very important. I used to think that planning was not needed all the time, but now I think you should always plan, although sometimes you need more planning than others. The most important things I learn were:1. Planning is one of the biggest building blocks of group work and you will fail without it.2. Everybody needs to be motivated so they don’t get distracted.3. You have to listen to everybody and be prepared to compromise your ideas to make everybody happy and to get the best ideas.4. Sometimes despite your best efforts you will be disappointed.
Was there a time that you have made a mistake or failed but learnt so much from it?