By Joanne Eloho~ Werklund School of Education Bridge to Teaching Program
It was quite the experience partnering with Ms. Pereverzoff at the Connect Charter School, (formerly Calgary Charter School) to teach her seventh grade class in my first practicum as a Bridge to Teaching student from the Werklund School of Education. As an internationally trained teacher, I expected to find significant differences in Alberta classrooms and there was no surprise there, however, I have found that learning through inquiry is such an extreme deviation from my more traditional practice of teaching. For the first time in my practice, I was actively encouraging students to assume more responsibility for their learning and they were working to meet that expectation. I was stepping back and allowing them the opportunity to expand their knowledge by exploring the curriculum through their interests. Inquiry, from what I have experienced in five short weeks, is indeed an innovation in how we want our students to learn; ultimately as teachers our aim is to help students develop as independent, critical thinking citizens of society, inquiry not only initiates the process, it affords every student the opportunity to be independent and think critically by stressing the importance of the “Why” in whatever it is students are learning.
Less focus on facts, as in the case with inquiry, means therefore, a different method of assessment. It is easy to measure how well a student is doing when all they have to do is recall facts, but assessment works differently when students have to research and make connections to their world as any practicing specialist in that field would. Assessment will continue to be an art that requires skill and constant adjustments on the part of any teacher.
The grade seven classes started a unit on historical significance while I was at Connect, I got the opportunity to help develop the unit, the assessment rubrics and work with students. That work included formative and summative assessments as students developed their ideas to show their learning all through the unit. I learned the importance of making students a part of the assessment process. When students get the opportunity to express what their understanding of ‘excellent work’ and every other level is, they are better able to work toward achieving those levels. They feel a confidence in their understanding of the expectations.
As we worked on this unit, we were able to develop criteria for judging historical significance, the final three criteria that students came up with were essentially the same as the criteria that historians use, except this time students decided this for themselves and expressed it in language they understood and were comfortable with. For any teacher a huge part of the work is done, students
already know how to direct their research and final presentation. When I had to give formative feedback it was quickly understood and whatever work needed to be done was taken care of, of course as with any class there were students who required support during the process but this does not in any way detract from the benefits of engaging students in the assessment process.
I will acknowledge, after my time at Connect, that I am a proponent of the importance of using rubrics in assessments, such benefits as being able to provide very clear instructions and extremely useful feedback and giving students more control in their learning cannot be overemphasised. Having said that however, I must note that even with rubrics, teachers cannot completely remove the challenges of assessment. I found those shortcomings, those situations where the rubrics falls just shy of fitting the situation and I was left wondering if I should make changes in that moment, if I did, then how? Would I make changes for the one student or for all? As a teacher, I know I will continue to encounter situations like these, but it is worth remembering that each student should be assessed based on their own growth as a learner. A lot depends on what student you are working with.
Inquiry is worth experiencing, I do not pretend that every teacher will buy into it, there will always be the proponents of the strictly structured school, and maybe that has its place, but for any internationally trained teacher who has never heard of or seen inquiry in practice, it is worth the experience because, as teachers, we are never done in our learning. I would like to thank the Board and the staff of Connect Charter School for the fine work you are doing to promote different ways of educating students and a very special thanks to Ms. Pereverzoff for being open to having a guest teacher in her class.