Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tell us your story

I signed up for #clmooc this year but I wasn't really sure why other than "I want to learn more about the maker movement." This is my reflection piece prior to maker cycle 1.

One of my big pushes this year (actually a professional learning goal) was to involve my students in social media. My stated rational and goal was this:
For many AAC communicators, due to the delay inherent using the device, seeing the pay-off of using their device to communicate can be difficult, which can decrease motivation to communicate. By opening up the world of social media, where all communication is text and image based, AAC users are on an level playing field when it comes to communication, and need little or no accommodation in order to participate. This fact, combined with the motivation of seeing their words get real-world responses beyond their immediate world of family and teachers, is a powerful tool for motivating and engaging AAC communicators at every level.
So far, my students have had limited interest in using our class twitter account. They've enjoyed participating in the twitter projects we've done (e.g. #mathphoto15) but no particular care for posting their finds to the account, and even less for seeing the reactions their posts have gotten. They have less than zero interest in responding to posts from other classes we follow or for checking out what other people participating in the projects have posted or responding to those posts.

I'm normally a very student-lead educator. My instruction is driven by my students' interests. So why do I keep coming back to social media when my students so obviously don't care? (Other than the obvious need for data on my professional learning goals for teacher assessments.)

The hardest thing about teaching my students is not the lack of formal language; it's not the physical needs; it's not the behavior challenges either. The hardest thing about teaching my students is that they do not create product. Interaction with the physical world itself is a barrier and challenge for my learners. It's hard for me, because I have nothing to show to point to my learners' achievements; it's hard for my learners' parents, who want to see what their child is doing/can do and who cannot simply ask their child to tell or show them what they know and can do.

And so I turn to twitter. To digital portfolios. To blogging. To the maker movement. To find a way for my learners to share their stories: with me, with their families, and, yes, with the world. It doesn't have to be Twitter just because that's where I like to tell my story. I will keep looking until I find someplace that works for them.

 I do it also in the hope that other teachers who have learners like mine in their classes will dare to tell their stories too. So we can change the story of education for learners traditionally labeled severe/profound. Because that's my story.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Assessment Review

On Friday, one of the staff I was working with was asking me about ABA: what it is, how it's used, why I don't teach that way. This isn't that post (I may or may not write it) but the conversation got me thinking about data collection and assessment. Then Mark Barnes posted this challenge on Brilliant or Insane. Whenever the #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) discussion comes up, I usually proudly declare "I've never given a grade in my life" and move on, because, after all, IEPs require written progress notes not report cards. Recently though, it's been nagging at me: is the data collection I dutifully report in my progress notes really any different?

I started my career working with students with challenging behaviors (many of whom were on the autistic spectrum) which means I have been given significant training in ABA. I don't agree with their teaching methods - but that's not the point of this post. The piece of that training that has stayed with me, long after I have rejected the rest, is the data collection. I still dutifully take data on the accuracy and independence of everything my students do related to their IEP goals. I sum that data every week, adjust my instruction accordingly, and it is those numbers that I report in my progress notes. I feel an obligation to use them to show how the students are progressing to meet their year-end goals (which have a numeric accuracy and independence target.)

Massachusetts state alternative assessment requires that data collection, so I can't throw it out entirely. As part of those state alternative assessments, I have to include 2 student work samples for each area being assessed. The best feedback I get from parents on those portfolios are from what are called "teacher scribed worksheets" which usually look something like this:
Parent feedback also tells me that the most useful reports I give them about their child's progress are not those data-filled progress reports I write each quarter (I never hear a word about those) but the pictures and videos I send periodically of their child in action. 

One of the biggest things I hear from parents is that they want to see what we do at school so they can carry it over to home because their child "won't do it for them." I am wondering what engagement and feedback would look like if my progress reports were made more out of pictures and the worksheets above and less out of the percentage filled paragraphs I am used to reporting?

There is an important stakeholder missing from the conversation here: the students. Under neither system are my students getting any meaningful feedback about their progress. (What they tend to get is far too much meaningless praise and platitudes: about their smile, their outfit, how cute they look, their chair, how good they look in their stander... things they have no control over.)

Last month, I introduced a digital portfolio in my classroom, to give my students some agency in the pictures, videos, and work that gets shared with their parents and to give me some feedback on what they value in their education. Our student driven schedules also give me feedback about their academic interests and motivations. Getting feedback is a challenge when students have very limited formal communication skills (as mine do.)

What isn't happening, and needs to, is a better way for me to give feedback to my students about their progress. I can do better than noting if they answered questions or used vocabulary accurately or not. I can do more than modeling correct answers and language use. It's not so straightforward when you can't sit down and have a conversation. I think rubrics might be a good place to start. Another idea is to use the same teacher scribed worksheet charts that parents value and re-scribe them with symbol supports as student feedback. I need something that is generic enough to be re-usable, (because it is impractical if not impossible to be creating new symbol supports to give feedback to each student on each lesson in real time) but specific enough to provide useful feedback.

I believe that feedback needs to augment not supplant my data collection. My data drives my instruction. I also need it to report to districts and the state. At this stage in the game, at least, I am not sure how feedback is more than putting a student/parent-accessible face on the data I am used to collecting. I think that is extremely important to be doing, and that I'm not doing it enough, but that by itself it is not sufficient to track progress. Maybe I will feed differently after I have been doing it for a while. I also need to figure out how to expand feedback beyond the accuracy and independence on IEP targets that I am used to tracking. I think I'm getting closer to more clearly defining my professional learning goal for next year....