A Caring and Inclusive Classroom Climate
All students, regardless of their varying abilities, deserve a right to an education that is both challenging and supportive. Students of all socio-economic classes, races, religions, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, family structures, etc. deserve to be represented (displays, lessons, and resources) and included in their classrooms. Since students learn as much from watching their teacher as the explicit Saskatchewan curriculum, the teacher must act as a positive role-model. This can be done by greeting all learners with a smile and providing opportunities for students to voice their opinions in a non-judgmental and democratic environment.
Students should be held to high expectations, as everyone can succeed albeit in their own way and at their own pace. It should be explained that equal is not fair. Choices can and should be given as to how students represent their mastery of a topic and what interests they explore. I believe in a structured classroom. Students need to know what is expected of them and what the rules are; they should also get a chance to create these rules and expectations so there is a shared responsibility and understanding. I believe in using positive classroom reinforcements, such as marble jars. I believe these motivators allow for better self–reflection and accountability.
I believe that a caring and inclusive classroom environment is not only created within the four walls of the classroom but through community supports and extra-curricular involvement. Teachers need to be professional lifelong learners who are invested in their students’ lives. This may involve coaching a team, supervising a reading club, bringing fruit into the classroom, and keeping an open door. Community and parent involvement is key to a holistic educational experience. This may include inviting parents into the classroom, collaborating with an outside agency to assist those students with varying abilities, or co–teaching with an LRT/SST. Finally, teachers cannot invest in their students’ lives without investing in their own passions, successes, and knowledge; attending professional development and using research-based strategies are two ways teachers can support students. When teachers commit to lifelong learning they allow for more creative, inclusive environments, more attainable IIP goals, and better teaching and assessment practices.
Philosophy of Assessment
“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).
No two learners are the same due to interests, readiness, life situations, abilities, and talents, and therefore, assessment needs to be as diverse as our learner population. All students are intelligent and need to have opportunities to showcase their abilities. This involves diagnostic/pre-assessment, assessment for learning (formative) and assessment of learning (summative). I believe that the process is just as important as an outcome and my experience in early childhood education has validated this – they do not seem to care if their clay sculpture turns out looking like the dinosaur they intended to create or a monster because they value the learning time.
Involve students – Students should be involved in the learning process. This can look like an “I Can Statement” on the board, co-constructing a rubric, collaborating to create an example, student-led conferences, or a student-directed portfolio of learning. As educators, “we must show students “what is expected and what success looks like” (Davies, 2011, p. 30). Anne Davies notes that 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” (2011, p. 86).
Feedback – Feedback must be descriptive. Anne Davies in Making Classroom Assessment Work 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). Therefore, educators must increase the amount of descriptive feedback they provide for students to grow. Furthermore, students should be allowed to try again, or re-do their work, until they have achieved mastery.
Differentiation – As educators, we need to differentiate our assessment to allow for higher order of thinking skills (analyzing, evaluating, creating, etc.). By utilizing the gradual release of responsibility, and student choice (activities, environment, and resources) we can provide an assessment practice that is both supportive and challenging to all learners.