Making sense of #cue13

Awesome Apps and descriptions for your 21st century learners! Take a look!


It must be a sign that change has to happen

I had the privilege to observe Ms. P during my pre-internship. Love her perspective! I truly believe we need to adapt our education system to meet the needs of our 21st century learners. There are lots of positives but lots of things that we can improve upon, such as comprehension vs. application, assessment measures, technology, etc. It is a daunting task to try to prepare learners for jobs that aren’t even invented yet, but each day we can make it our goal to take a step in the right direction (no matter how tiny that step might be)!

Perspectives: Blogging About Autism

Wonderful perspective! Give this a read!

The Blog

Back on Autism Awareness Day, Katie Tackettwrote a post on Thought Catalog to share her feelings and raise awareness of what it’s like to parent Aubrey, her three-year-old daughter who has severe autism:

How can we expect that snotty woman behind us in line at the grocery store to know that our daughter is not just an out-of-control three-year-old, and it’s also not us just being ineffective parents? The truth is, we can’t expect people to take autism seriously unless they know what it’s like to love someone with severe autism or be someone with severe autism.

Living With Autism

Over at Living With Autism, blogger, teacher, and poet Liz shares the challenges and celebrations of caring for her adult son Dylan, who has autism. Liz reflects on early interventions for Dylan and the risks and rewards of new experiences.

Through her poetry, Liz considers how…

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Assessment Philosophy and Learnings ECS 410

Philosophy of Assessment and Evaluation:


I believed in a system driven by grades. I thought zeroes were fair game and by removing them we were making 50’s become the new 0’s. Furthermore, I thought that pass/fail classes were a joke and learners would not try without an extrinsic motivation (grades). During the first class when you asked if we should mark behavior, I was all for it! I thought that marking behavior prepared students for the real world!

After reading for the learning journey blog posts, I have changed my mind. As Todd Rogers, a psychologist from U of A, suggests, “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). I believe that 0’s mark a behavior. They punish students and give them the chance to opt out from completing the curriculum outcomes (which is the purpose of them being in that course). Often zeroes are a result of late marks, and in the “real world” time is flexible. It is important to note that“the no-zero approach puts the onus on the teacher to do everything possible to ensure students are learning what’s in the curriculum” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Students are still held accountable to do their work but their behavior is rated separately. If students do not do the main assignments in the term they cannot get a credit.

Fun fact: A newspaper article about cholesterol and wanting to get a zero to avoid a high cholesterol rating was what changed my opinion!


Redo’s were something I was against. The first time we talked about this in class, I thought “How is that fair to the top students who got it the first time? Wouldn’t everyone have high marks then?” After some reflection I thought, “But wait, Kourtney, the goal is not for students to compete against each other for marks. It does not matter if they all have 80s. The goal is for everyone to get it at any time that they can.” Now I think that everyone deserves a second chance; Guskey notes that we can ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for redo’s, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p, 87-8). Shepard also shares this idea and states that redo’s allow for fair evaluation (2008, p. 44).

Student role in assessment process:

Before reading Making Classroom Assessment Work and attending ECS 410, I never considered letting students be part of the criteria-building process or informing them about what outcome they were trying to meet. I did not feel right about students coming to parent-teacher interviews.

I believe that students need to be part of the learning process! They need chances to self-assess, compile their own learning (portfolio or blog), and should always be present at conferences/interviews. This is because learning is lifelong and for their benefit! I also think students should get a chance to decide the weights of assignments because they know themselves best. Students should be aware of the outcomes.


  • Laurie Gatsky noted that “assessment should not be a secret.”
  • “Students can reach any target that they know about and that holds still for them” – Anne Davies
  • Students should be involved with “the process of preparing and presenting” because it “gives students the opportunity to construct their understanding and to help others make meaning of their learning” (Davies, 2011, p. 86).


  • We must show students “what is expected and what success looks like” (2011, p. 30).
  • Anne Davies notes that students need specific “descriptions of what needs to be learned” or referenced (2011, p. 27).
  • Kelly Gallagher also highlights this idea in Chapter 3 of Teaching Adolescent Writers.
  • Samples and models are needed for student success.

Practice Time/Descriptive Feedback/Less Grading:

       I have always believed strongly in descriptive feedback and practice time!


  • Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73).
  • Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2).
  • Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86).
  • Anne Davies also emphasizes descriptive feedback in Making Classroom Assessment Work. She notes that “evaluative feedback gets in the way of many students’ learning” and students only “understand whether or not they need to improve but not how to improve” (2011, p.17-8).
  • “Increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (Davies, 2011, p. 3).
  •  “The more specific, descriptive feedback students receive while they are learning, the more learning is possible” (Davies, 2011, p. 58).


I believe that we need to asses students on many things!


  • Anne Davies (Making Classroom Assessment Work) expresses that teachers must “gather evidence from a variety of sources, and that they gather evidence over time” (2011, p. 45).
  • Observations, products, conversations are some of the sources!
  • We can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number” – Peter Elbow.
  • Bernhardt (1992) states “that it is unreliable to base [evaluation] on a single sample of student writing” (p. 333). Thus, it is also unfair to evaluate students on “a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 333).
  • When students are faced with exams, or one time to shine, they are more worried “about what will be on the test rather than thinking about learning” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Grades, which are extrinsic rewards, “can reduce intrinsic motivation” (Shepard, 2006, p. 42).


Anne Davies notes, “students learn in different ways and at different rates” (2011, p. 43) and I believe our teaching/assessment needs to reflect this. This includes differentiation, oral and verbal instructions, assignment choices, etc.


  •  “Many teachers teach every child the same material in the same way, and measure each child’s performance by the same standards… Thus, teachers embrace the value of treating each child as a unique individual while instructing children as if they were virtually identical” (Mehlinger, 1995).
  • Lillian Katz’s quote “when a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it and the remaining third won’t.  So, two-thirds of the children are wasting their time.”

Use of Assessment and Evaluation:

Diagnostic Today’s meet, exit and entrance slips, quick-write questions: what is going well? What needs to be changed? How do you feel out of five about your understanding of the novel.  

Formative- Thumbs up (instead of mini whiteboards from  “Classroom Experiment”), talking to students one-on-one and asking for their understanding or feedback on my teaching (idea from “Classroom Experiment”), bell work, paragraph responses, jigsaws, think-pair-shares, class discussions, group work, carousel activity, talking circle, Venn diagram on gender, cold call (instead of lollipop strategy from “Classroom Experiment”), jeopardy review, homework checks

Summative – Island art, presentations, worksheets (story plot line) and questions, inquiry letters, vocabulary worksheets 

Student Involvement – Student choice on dates and schedule of assignments. Student choice on assignment representations. Students got to self-assess their efforts and debate marks. Students were aware of the curriculum outcomes (orally and verbally introduced). 

Accommodations/Differentiations – I had to give certain students extensions. I was supposed to give zeroes but I did not do this. I would talk to them individually and then see what dates worked for them. One student had an anxiety disorder so her presentation was done individually. She only had to do it in front of three teachers and a friend instead of the whole class. Two students had to do an island art assignment on their own (missed the class day so they missed the group work) and I gave them extra time to accommodate less people.

4 Key Lessons



2. Beginning with the end in mind:

  • Did this on the unit plan and for the class. Started with the outcomes and what my weekly overviews would be.
  • Students engage when their interests are reflected. I intend to find out about my learners and match their interests to the curriculum outcomes. Taking a book and making outcomes fit is almost impossible and doing it the other way around makes more sense.3. Rubrics:
  • Rubrics are vital and allow you to mark students based on a standard/outcome, instead of compare each other
  • Students also figure out what they need to do
  • Make rubrics with 4 boxes (so they do not always get put in the middle)
  • Rubrics should not have numbers, letters, etc.

4. Finally we must slow down “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). I would rather have my students’ master two things than touch on 800 poorly. This is reflected in the curriculum and will guide my instruction/assessment. We do not need to hit every indicator to get to the outcome. Give students choice so they can hit the outcome really well in one or two ways!

 Challenges and Further Questions:

  • I found grade reporting to be difficult (especially since I had to mark everything). I wonder how I can do this in a more efficient manner.
  • I found that catching-up missing students was hard. I often got them to get the materials from their friends but they still missed out on instructional time. I have been researching flipped classrooms and I think this might be one way to work around this problem. This is because the instruction/lecture is posted online in a video or multi-media format that students can access at any time. Then when students are in class they do their work, meaning students can all be working on different things. This also ensures that homework is being handed in! What other strategies are there for welcoming students who often are missing back into your classroom?
  • How do we balance the fine line between helping/supporting and enabling/encroaching on independence?
  • How do you motivate students without the “mark threat?” I know this is terrible but often students are so focused on marks, it seems like the only way to get them to do their work. Maybe this is a sign that more engaging explorations need to be made in class so that students want to learn!
  • I am still unsure about co-constructing rubrics. I am not competent enough to do this… yet.
  • I believe in self-assessment. However, many professors have told me not to do it because students end up giving each other the wrong answers. How do you teach students to self-assess appropriately and make this activity beneficial? How much time should be set aside for self-assessment?
  • How does a teacher decide what summative assessment is more important than others? How are weights applied and how should this be determined?
  • I am still unsure of our no-failing policies. I have yet to find articles that say failing Grade One is detrimental and I feel like repeating grades should not be looked at as a bad thing. If you need an extra year to learn to read, then so be it! However, I know that professors and some educators have a different perspective that cannot go uncredited. I want to find more information about this topic so that I open myself up to both perspectives. Do you know of any resources, specifically about repeating grades?
  • When is it best to mark students? How long do you wait to do summative assessment?
  • What method can be used to replace the grading system?
  • How do we implement a consistent grading system that provides all students with an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?
  • Reporting under outcomes seems like a great idea! If your gradebook is set up under outcomes and an assignment covers more than one outcome, where do you place it?
  • Would you make one rubric per outcome? Would that work if students were exploring the outcomes through various indicators and choices?
  • Another thing I struggle with is not comparing students to each other. I agree that students deserve to be held to a standard and that their learning is not a competition. But this is easier said than done. I found myself comparing work so that I could ensure myself that I was being fair. I really hope I get more confidence and skill with grading so that I stop doing this.

How to Flip the Classroom

During my pre-internship, there were a couple classes that were running on the new, flipped model! I have so much to learn about this and have attached some how-to’s and descriptions. I think this may be the step in the right direction for our globalized economy and 21st century learners!

Turning Learning on It’s Head Blog

Teaching for Tomorrow: Flipped Learning: Mentions that this started because he was recording lessons so students who missed class could consult info. on their own time. Then he decided all students should access information on their own time. This allows slower and fast learners to go at a rate they need because in class, everyone is working on different things. He also does not make students do his tests if they can show their learning in a different way. This has helped failure rates.

I Flip, You Flip, We All Flip: Setting Up a Flipped Classroom: This does not just talk about what a flipped classroom is but how you can do it and make the videos! Highlights inquiry-based learning!

Preparing Students for the Flipped Classroom: Discusses the shock to students who are good at the “game of school.”

Introduction to Our Flipped Classroom: This provides an overview that could be given to students and it features an ELA classroom.

Flipping The Classroom With FIZZ: Katie Gimbar’s & Dr. Lodge McCammon’s TedTalk

Please feel free to share resources that you have about the Flipped Classroom or share your thoughts! 🙂

Vocabulary through College Talk and Participation through Talk Moves

College Talk: Improving Students’ Vocabulary”

The College Talk strategy from the Teaching Channel allows teachers to use complex vocabulary words in simple phrases. For instance, instead of “stop talking” it is “stop socializing.” Students eventually repeat this over time. Although this is gauged for younger students, I think it is something to try in secondary classrooms. Vocabulary walls are also important!

What ways do you improve students’ vocabulary? How is grammar instruction implemented in your classroom?

Improving Participation with Talk Moves

To make sure students do not check out as another student answers the question, this teacher calls on students to repeat the answers. This means that all students must listen because they never know when they are going to be called on! This  is not used as punishment or to embarrass a kid for talking; anyone could be called. They also use a silent signals (waving their hands) to show that they have the same answer or idea. This encourages the student who is speaking because they can see that their classmates have a similar idea. However, no interruptions are made. Students get a chance to revise their ideas when they are confronted with new information. Students learn that coming to a new understanding by merging information is normal and expected. This, once again, shows an elementary school class but I think the same strategies can be applied in secondary classrooms (ie. Cold Call).

What other strategies can you think of that foster participation?

Lord of the Flies Unit Plan B30

Diversity and Education: EAL Learners


This reflection explores the issues related to diversity and education. English as an Additional Language Learners (EAL) are one diverse population of leaners. EAL education poses many challenges, both professionally and educationally, to our current structure of education. Things like student placement, labels, and support or resource allocation are things that need to be considered. EAL learners bring with them a variety of stories, strengths, weaknesses, and language experiences that need to be addressed and reflected in the overall school environment and classroom. This involves a high level of differentiation and the implementation of various assessment measures to ensure academic success and confidence with the English language. Like any students, EAL learners are shaping their own identities as adolescence and need environments that provide a safe place to grow. Within our current structure, tensions between stability-change and diversity-uniformity need to constantly be addressed when considering our diverse population of EAL learners.

Keywords – EAL, diversity, education, English Language Arts (ELA), educational assistant (EA), response to intervention (RTI), sheltered program, mainstream, modified, differentiation, belonging, academic achievement, 21st Century learners, globalization, technology, tensions, stability-change, diversity-uniformity, fair and equitable treatment, advanced placement English (AP)

 Diversity and Education

I had the privilege to observe Ms. P’s Grade Ten English as an Additional Language Learner (EAL) English 10 class, while pre-interning at a Regina High School. This was a new experience for me and the diversity of these learners was overwhelming. The learners included three Caucasian students, fourteen students from the Philippines, a refugee from Sudan, a refugee from Afghanistan, three exchange students, and three students from Africa. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “immigrant students represent one of the largest categories of ELLs in our schools” (2013, p. 7) and this proved true at this school. The class is structured or administered as a “sheltered” English course. Ortmeier-Hooper explains sheltered instruction as classes where “subject matter instruction is organized to promote second language acquisition, while teaching cognitively demanding, grade-level appropriate material” (2013, p. 15). This means that students complete the exact same outcomes as a regular class. However, a regular English 10 class would complete more indicators. Since the completion of outcomes is what matters, this class appears on a transcript just like any Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) course would.

The purpose of a sheltered program is not to teach English per say, but to allow students to adjust and function to our Canadian school system. Students are familiarized with our western teaching practices, such as persuasive writing, rubrics, presentations, rules, and group work. This highlights the tension between uniformity (maintaining the current structures and traditions) and diversity (adapting to incorporate diverse learners and learning styles). Ms. P’s sheltered EAL class is a pilot project for all Regina Catholic schools. Since it is a trail, other EAL learners in the school who require explicit English instruction are placed in separate or modified courses. Other EAL learners work alongside their peers in mainstream courses, which is a more progressive and inclusive practice. However, these learners often struggle academically and face a daunting workload, due to the lack of supports and modifications that are usually present in mainstream classes. Ortmeier-Hooper recognizes that although mainstream classes are the ideal, we need to remember that EAL students need to balance “school and home expectations and struggles, [learn] a new language” and create their identity as an adolescent (2013, p. 9). Whether or not an EAL learner is placed in a modified or mainstream program is based on testing results from the Welcoming Center or an EAL consultant. I view “sheltered” EAL English courses as a way around structural tensions of change-stability and uniformity-diversity; sheltered courses allow students to receive the supports they need, while working on the same curricular outcomes. This structural adaptation is an attempt to balance stability and change because we are adapting our current system to incorporate a third placement option.

Even within a sheltered classroom, the needs vary; some of Ms. P’s students have been in Canada for years, while others have just arrived within the past month. Furthermore, some students are learning English as a third or fourth language. Each student has their own distinct experiences and educational backgrounds, regardless of a shared EAL label. As an inclusive education minor, I am very aware of the necessity and value of labels. However, I often find that labels – which serve a structural purpose of determining instructional choices, supports, and resource allocation – are the very things that undermined students’ distinct experiences, linguistic diversity, and educational backgrounds. Beyond the label is a learner with their own strengths and weaknesses but these labels often “shape [educators’] understanding of these students” about what they can and cannot do (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 6). Labels can limit educational opportunities for students. I find that when students have a label, educators have a “tendency to look for deficits, focusing almost exclusively on concerns and challenges in teaching them” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 94). Furthermore, the labels we use continually change, causing some confusion. The current term is EAL but recent textbooks often use terms such as English Language Learner (ELL). The tension between our need to identify our learners and the tension between treating each student as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses is one of the main structural challenges.

With our desire to label students comes the issue of determining whether or not an EAL student has an additional disability. It is hard to decipher between a lack of language proficiency and extensive learning challenges. Within Ms. P’s classroom, four of the students require their own individualized programming; however, they are not officially on individualized program plans (IPP) but are on the waiting list to meet with an educational psychologist. These students require instructional and assignment modifications, as well as, extra supports. However, an educational assistant (EA) had not been assigned to any of the students and the community EAL consultant only showed up twice. Instead of in-class supports, Ms. P will be sent to SIOP training in April. This lack of support puts a lot of onus on Ms. P, who is a new educator with no formal EAL training. Sadly, a lack of supports is a reality in many of our schools and illustrates the gap that remains between our ideals.

At the end of the day, it is our job as professional educators to try our best to differentiate instruction and collaborate with our colleagues to help our students succeed, regardless of structural flaws. Although differentiation is important in all classes, I found that it is vital within a sheltered English class. Ms. P meets with eight colleagues to discuss the direction of sheltered EAL English classes on her own accord. She also varies the reading levels of her materials. When studying Macbeth, three different graphic novels at various reading levels were used. She also modifies exams. For instance, one of the refugees just arrived in Canada this month. She let this particular student use their graphic novel to write the test. Another student did not think this was fair, showing the tension between fair and equitable treatment. Ms. P handled the situation by saying,“You’re telling me that when you just came here no one ever made accommodations for you?”

Ms. P also utilizes Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1 interventions as a way to make inclusive modifications for the entire class. For example, she utilizes culturally responsive practices, immerses technology into her regular instruction, and creates various groupings. Currently, the desks are together on either side of the classroom with a space in the middle and working tables at the back. This allows students to assist one another and work through the English language together. They often sit beside peers who share a similar language background so that they can translate together. Although this allows them to succeed academically, it creates an issue of students being segregated into racial groupings. Thus, Ms. P changes the seating plan on various occasions.

Another important consideration for EAL learners is creating a positive environment and sound routines. This can be hard because our current structure is not formed around EAL learners. However, Ms. P’s classroom and routines have been structured with her learners in mind. Posters with the writing process, parts of speech, and new vocabulary words act as extra supports. As students read or hear new words, they get added to the chalkboard. “My Journey” posters were on the walls around a map of the world. Each student’s background, culture, family, and experiences with the English language were represented.

Not only did the environment foster support and belonging, but so did the daily routines. On Monday and Wednesday students read silently, alongside their teacher. Tuesday is #talktuesday and students get a chance to speak informally to their peers about their lives. On Thursday they have #throwbackthursday where students share stories about their childhood, culture, family, and past. Friday is #phoneticfriday and it is dedicated to grammar instruction. Ms. P constructs these lessons based on the grammatical errors that the class is making as a whole. For instance, students learned about when to use dashes, ellipses, and brackets after they misused this punctuation in their previous writing assignment. Students benefit from this explicit instruction. The routines allow them to express themselves and work on skills – speaking, writing, and reading – that they may be insecure about. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “as students get older, the most valuable gift we can give them is a sense of confidence in their voices and their written expressions” (2013, p. 163) and our routines in EAL classrooms must encourage voice and belonging.

Before this experience, I thought the biggest concern with EAL learners would be academic success. However, it is surprising how much EAL learners are capable of if the expectations are high. The main thing that Ms. P had to do to ensure the academic success of her students was vary her assessment. Students write, act, create videos, draw, etc. She also found out that comprehension questions are not as challenging as application and opinion questions for EAL learners. Since comprehension questions are things that 21st century learners can simply Google, these activities are completed as a class, before and during reading. After reading, students are evaluated on their ability to use their comprehension of a text as a springboard for their opinions and inquiries. This type of instruction is the difference between looking up a definition of a word – instigator, for example – versus being asked to apply the term in a sentence – Do you think Lady Macbeth is an instigator?.” On exams, Ms. P provides more writing opportunities rather than less. This means that fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions are almost non-existent. This helps students get rid of their insecurities about writing and develop their vocabulary. Furthermore, as Young et al. point out (2007), “writing is a means of self-expression, creativity, and a way to tell a story or explain our thinking” (p. 16). This is a vital skill to have in our globalized and technological economy (p. 4). These types of assessments allow students to draw from their own personal experiences, knowledge, and thoughts rather than their ability to regurgitate answers. This is a prime example where modernized teaching practices take precedence over traditional methods.

Our current educational structures seem to be slow to change but “more recently there has been an increasing, though by no means universal, tendency to allow greater diversity in the schools” (Young et al., 2007, p. 90). I believe that Ms. P’s sheltered English class is an example of breaking away from the stability and past traditions of our schools. Although learners are still expected to assimilate to our current system of education in many ways, we are slowly adapting our instructional practices, assessment measures, routines, and environments to accommodate a more diverse group of leaners. I believe that this sheltered program will only continue to improve and receive supports. Some improvements that I would like to see are a buddy system between EAL learners and advanced placement (AP) English learners. This buddy system could be structured as a tutoring system or even through collaboration during extra-curricular activities such as, yearbook, school newspaper, book clubs, writing clubs, or research programs. EAL learners would benefit from extra exposure to the English language – as many of these students do not speak English at home – and native English speakers could also benefit from extra writing and reading time. Ortmeier-Hooper (2013) notes that “learning to write [and read] in a second language is a lifelong process” (p. 158) and I think there are many opportunities to expand beyond our English classrooms and create environments that foster belonging and academic achievement for all students grappling with the English language, whether as their only language or one of many. Our population of learners is very diverse and we need to create an educational structure that is flexible enough to meet these needs and balance the tensions.


Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press.

Young, J., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2007). Understanding Canadian schools: An introduction to educational administration. (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson.