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Assessing Group Work

The first week of school, I gave my students a survey about how they can best show me what they are learning, and a large majority suggested group work. Now, I’ve never been much of a fan of group work. I remember scrambling to draw a picture about a Jack London story in 9th grade because my partner decided not to do his part; I’ve been the “victim” of the group paper with plagiarized material twice…I just hate group work. However, it’s only fair to listen to my students when I ask for their input.

My journey into preparing group work has been ok at best. One on hand, I’m thankful for the group work because some ELL students that speak the same language can work together and help each other. Also, it means less work for me to grade! However, I know that I need to really learn more about group work before I expect my students to learn effectively from it. A google search revealed the following article, and it gave me some insight as to how I could be presenting and grading these projects.

The article is titled “Assessing Group Work” and is an excerpt from “Assessing Learning in Australian Universities” written by James, R., McInnis, C., and Devlin, M. So here are a few things that stood out to me. Some may seem pretty simple, but important nonetheless!

  • students should be clear on the purpose and objective of the assignment
  • worries over group work often come from the assignment not be assessed or graded fairly
  • do not overuse the group project-type assignment
  • ensure that groups are working well together – students should spend time working on the project, not figuring out how to get along!
  • pros and cons of different grading methods: the article contains several charts showing the advantages and disadvantages of different grading methods (i.e. self-assessment, shared group grade, averaged grades, and so on.) Some of these I had never heard of…some I did not like at all, and others seemed rather interesting.

Bottom line for me: I’m going to work out something with my students to figure out what works best for them. I think I would prefer for them to use a combination of strategies where, for larger projects, students do some self-reporting and comment on the group as a whole (with the opportunity to mention if someone did more work than others). I will also assign a grade and average them together or combine them in some way. For future projects, I will be sure to include a rationale on why I chose this method of assessment and I will be sure to include a clear objective of what I want them to learn.

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Reflections

One of my goals for this semester is to take time to reflect on my class. This can be difficult because it’s not always fun.  However, in an effort to become a better teacher and to push myself beyond what is comfortable, it is definitely a necessity! I will probably use this space primarily for reflection and research, as another one of my goals is to research and implement new assessment strategies and projects. My PNW class is made up of 13 students,  8 of which are international students with limited English proficiency. I want to bring things into the classroom that will help them learn best. The class has expressed interest in doing group projects, so I have been trying to set up activities in a way that they can work together. My hope for this class is that I will be able to give them assignments that will allow them to “discover” the history of the Pacific Northwest rather than simply hearing me prattle on about it (which I could easily do – I love my home!)

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Student Teaching: Week 10

This week was a good opportunity for me to exercise my new-ish and improving classroom management skills. On Monday, things were a bit hectic. The juniors were gone on a field trip, and I was once against asked to sub for the freshmen English classes. This meant that I spend all day with the same students, and I am proud to say that I stood my ground in the classroom management area! There were several times in which students were acting in ways that I felt inappropriate, and I had to follow through with consequences for their actions. It was an improvement over last week, that’s for sure!

Wednesday though Friday went well, again considering the fact that we are rapidly nearing the end of the school year! I have begun to modify my lessons to include less lecture and note-taking and more group work with some sort of assignment due at the end of the period to hold the students accountable.

One thing that I have continued to think about from last week’s reading is the fact that the students should be doing, essentially, more work than the teacher. As a result, I tried using different activities this week that gave students the opportunity to work together to learn while I walked around the room, keeping students on tasks and answering questions. I’ll admit that I enjoyed it very much; the students enjoy interacting with one another and I enjoy the fact that I am not at the front of the room the entire class period telling students what to do!

While last week’s readings were helpful, but I cannot exactly say I feel the same way about this week’s reading from The First Days of School. Quite frankly, I did not think it “the most important unit in the book for [me] personally.”[1] Many of the ideas either seemed like broad generalizations or rather restrictive categories. Either way, it is important to analyze our behavior and reasons behind our actions. I think much of that can be done through self-reflection and input from others around you. In addition, it is important for teachers (both old and new) to seek to better themselves through more education and keeping up with new information.


[1] P. 271

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Japanese Internment in World War II: Lesson Plan

I wanted to share this lesson that I created for the American history class. I felt like the lesson went really well; students were engaged and shared some very meaningful responses to the lesson afterwards. As I planned this lesson I tried to focus on having a variety of activities to keep students interest throughout the period. By starting with a song by an artist that most of the students would know, I could tell that they were eager to hear more about how the song related to our topic for the day. The reading excerpt that students read in class and finished as homework details the life of a Japanese American girl living in the Seattle area during World War II. As the students read about her experience, they could recognize landmarks and cities from their own area, which helped them make more personal connections to the story. Finally, in the PowerPoint lecture I tried to include pictures that would show students how severe the situation was for many people. The pictures were also helpful in showing students how the city of Seattle was affected during this time.

The attached documents include the lesson plan, song lyrics, PowerPoint, and reading excerpts used in class.

Japanese Internment lesson plan

Kenji lyrics

Japanese Internment

Nisei Daughter

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Student Teaching: Week 8

This week was short for me due to the fact that the students had two days to work on their research papers in the computer lab and the World history class took a test. However, this was a good week to reflect on having a well-managed classroom after reading The First Days of School. Among many things, this week I was encouraged to think about the objectives for each lesson and to make sure that students understand the main objectives for their learning as well. Maybe that sounds obvious, but a good example of this would be the activity that I did the with World history classes on Wednesday. As a wrap-up for our Ancient Rome unit before a review day and test, I decided that the class would work in groups to create skits that portray various aspects of daily life in Rome. As the students were working, one student asked me if they were being graded on this activity. It got me thinking that sometimes students do not understand the purpose of an activity and it is my job not to convince them that it is important, but to show them how it helps them learn.

On the other hand, I feel that another class this week proved to go very well and the objectives and student achievement were much more obvious. On Wednesday, the American history class talked about Japanese internment during World War II. I used a number of instructional strategies during the class session, and I saw more clearly than ever before how a compelling or interesting curriculum is the best treatment for classroom management issues. During the class I used a number of different activities including using music, reading aloud, lecture, discussion, and photographs to keep students interested and I don’t recall ever having to ask a student to stop talking (which is a usual occurrence!)

It is my goal to continue to work on these practices in order to create a classroom where students can always expect to be engaged and ready to learn!

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Student Teaching Week 3

This week was a good mix of observing and teaching. I had the U.S. history classes for Monday and Tuesday and spent the rest of the week working on our unit for next week on World War I. It’s funny how some days you can be completely prepared to give a lecture (PowerPoint up & running, worksheets copied, etc.) and yet somehow feel so mentally unprepared for the day! However, Monday actually felt really good. I forgot a few things (like asking for one section to turn in their homework.) I gave students an assignment this week that I thought they would actually enjoy, but a lot of them didn’t get it turned in. This was kind of disappointing, but I know that spring sports started this week AND the students are all pretty distracted due to a party that a bunch of them got in trouble for going to…(oh, the drama.)

Other than that, it’s been nice getting to know some of the students better and I’m looking forward to starting this unit next week. I’ve created the PowerPoint and assessments (with the exception of a DBQ that I found in a book.) Part of my plan is to ask the students at the end of next week to give me some feedback on how they felt about it all.

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Student Teaching Week 2: I’m a substitute?

My reflection for this week could be broken down by day; I’ll highlight my two days ALONE in the classroom though! I wrote out a much lengthier reflection but felt like it did not need to all be posted! On Tuesday I found out before school that I’d be on my own that day; Deb was sick! So she gave me the assignment and asked me to have the students work on their homework for the class period. I’ll be honest, I was really scared to be all alone, but after a week of observing, I felt like it would be okay.

In all of the classes I briefly introduced myself so I was more than the girl sitting in the back of the room watching them. I treated different classes slightly differently in that I allowed one period of U.S. history to sit wherever they wanted to in the room, but by the next period I realized that regardless of the grade level, expecting students to A) work quietly for 50 minutes on bookwork B) while sitting wherever they want to in the room C) and  being told that they may talk quietly all for a substitute may not go the way I had planned. All in all, the day was fine. I told the students that if they were talking too much I would assume that they had finished their work and I would assign them more for the weekend. Evil? Nah. Effective? Yes! There were some “disciplinary issues” (I think that’s the nice thing to call this…) I had been forewarned that certain students would try to “test” me, and this was certainly true. One student in particular would not sit in his seat, talked constantly (most of the comments were inappropriate and/or disruptive to my class and people outside—he was literally hanging out the window yelling at the elementary kids next door.) After going to the bathroom several times, I had him stay in the hallway (where I could see him.) However, I think he may have been even MORE of a disruption in the hallway! I wasn’t comfortable sending him to the office because I didn’t necessarily understand the procedures that went along with that (turns out there’s not much to it…) I made it through the period, but it was a bit of a challenge. All things considered, I felt like it went well for my very first time alone with the students asking them to sit quietly for 50 minutes to work on some textbook questions! (And this was only Tuesday!)
I knew that I was going to be alone with the kids again on Thursday, but this time I had to finish the lecture notes from Deb. Again, I felt really good about the end product of the day! I told the World history students that if we could get through the notes, we would watch the beginning of a movie. (“Yes, a real movie, not a documentary” – my response to the many questions that the students had!) As part of our unit on ancient China, I showed part of the movie “Hero” with Jet Li (how could that go wrong? The kids practically turned into zombies 30 seconds into the movie. It was amazing.) For the U.S. History class, they had enough notes and book work to keep them busy; they are also better at keeping themselves appropriately entertained enough that they choose to do other homework or talk quietly through the end of the class.

Having to take over the class for those two days made a HUGE difference in my comfort level in the classroom, meaning I’m starting to feel like a part of the class and it feels good!

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