Originally I was incredibly reticent towards changing my Biology class to 21st teaching because of fear. Fear of it not working, but also fear of the departmental exam that’s attached to my class. You see, at the end of the semester my students were required to write an exam to assess their learning. It’s created, distributed, and scored by the Ministry of Education.
The exam is 50 multiple choice questions taken from 100 hours of material and worth 40% of their mark. And to make matters more ambigious, in parts of the curriculum it’s difficult to ascertain the depth and breadth to which you’re supposed to teach. You can likely understand why I was afraid.
In addition to this, my students wrote very few exams during the semester. Most of their knowledge was applied, instead of memorized.
But I will never be afraid again. I received the departmental results on Friday. It was shocking. Not one student failed. Beyond two or three exceptions, their marks did not move more than 5%. Most moved only up or down by 1%. And the majority of the marks were well above 70%. The student with the highest mark in the class went into the exam with 98% and finished the semester with 97%. Amazing.
One of my colleagues joked with me, “I guess you think you’re a pretty great teacher now, huh?” Nope. But my students are really great learners. And I couldn’t be prouder of them.
But here’s the success story of the semester. One of the students in the class was modified and actually working on a Science 21 credit, instead of a Biology 30 credit. Here’s the thing, because all of our work was in groups, and the knowledge in the end was applied to problems or projects, she ended up doing the same work as everyone else. Sometimes she had friends or group members help her with things. However, I don’t consider that cheating; It’s called collaboration.
As the departmental approached, she spent the last two days in class preparing for the exam. I asked her if she wanted to try to write the departmental and earn a regular credit. She did. So she wrote the Bio 30 departmental. Her final mark, 71. I’m ecstatic and so is she. This is a victory.
I truly believe in the power of inquiry, collaborative and project based learning to teach and develop skills in my students. As teachers, we need to advocate for what is best for our students. We may need to do it loudly. Furthermore, we need to teach our colleagues, administrators, and parents, who don’t know, that there are better ways for our students to learn. For them to experience success. It’s called 21st teaching and learning and it needs to happen now.
YEAH!! You go!! I don’t want to be you when I grow up, I want to be you TOMORROW! I don’t teach a tested area, but I am a teacher who wants to make every classroom successful and your thoughtful, loving, and innovative approach to learning is so inspirational! I salute you!
BTW: I have pics of my valentines, how do you prefer that I share them? My students were so upset about the human trafficking/abuse that goes into making chocolate. Thank you for opening my eyes and my students’ eyes.
I would love to see pics of the valentines you guys made!! I’ll send you an email and you can send them to me! It’s been my experience too that students become really angry when they find out the truth, and they want to help. Great work!
Interesting that you write this blog and I just read another http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2011/02/answer-to-teacher-retention-find.html about moving from inquiry-based learning to teaching to the test.
You have proven what I long believed to be true. That kids can do well on the test if they do inquiry-based learning.
Thanks for your blog.
Thanks for the link. What an incredible resource; I’ve bookmarked it!
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This absolutely puts to rest the claims that teachers cannot adopt 21C due to the requirements of provincials. I’ve long believed that if inquiry-based projects are organized to cover the curriculum properly, then the final exam shouldn’t be a problem at all. You’ve proved it! Thanks!
This was a real affirmation for me. Thanks for reading!
Yay! Congrats to you and to your students! I’ve really enjoyed reading through your changes this year.
Hi, Shelley, I have been reading your blog for a while now and really enjoying your journey into new ways of teaching and learning. I am teaching grade one after many years of teaching kindergarten. I really like your comment in this post about collaborative learning being just that and not cheating. That is one area where I differ in viewpoint from some (not all, thankfully) of my colleagues. Keep up the great work you are doing, your students are very lucky, and so are we, since you are so willing to share your journey via your blog. Thank you.
It’s so encouraging to hear that you believe in collaboration with such young students! I think if our students started learning in K & grade one, they would be incredibly adept at working with others by the time I got them in high school. Your students are incredibly lucky!
I can see how the “fear of the assessment” can drive us to doubt our instincts for teaching a certain way. And I especially like your last comments about standing up for what we know is working! Listening to our peers and administrators can often challenge us to try new methods, but at the same time we SHOULD speak up for what we know is working in our individual classrooms!
Fear of my students not succeeding is also a concern of mine, as I am trying to incorporate some inquiry based learning activities. It is not that they aren’t smart enough, at the moment they are not motivated to learn.
I am encouraged by your enthusiasm, creative spirit, and unbridled energy!!! What an inspiration to those of us on the journey to make our classrooms a vibrant environment of collaboration, inquiry, and fun:-)!!!!!
I think most teachers know what their students need to be successful and learn. Collaboration is vital to all students, at all levels, because that is what is required of them in the real world.