This is reposted from my i-Biology.net blog. To comment, please go there.
Over the last two years, My IB Bio class have been keeping individual GoogleSites as records and reflections of their learning. Based on this experience and their feedback, I have tweaked the project to try to make it more effective as a learning tool.
With the bulk of our resources online (here on i-Biology.net, Slideshare and elsewhere), as well as a 1:1 laptop and GoogleApps environment, it doesn’t make much sense to be using too much paper. The aim of this project was to empower students to build skills and knowledge connected to the IB Biology course, whilst making their thinking visible to me as a teacher. Through this process, students are able to track their progress, stay on top of their grades and prepare at their own pace (especially if they are working ahead).
I built the template site, giving students all the information they need. This is in place of a printed course handbook. The template includes:
- Course overview, schedule
- Details on assessment, both for the final IB Diploma and for the school’s internal semester reporting (and GPA)system.
- Details of assessment criteria and expectations
- Content pages including the assessment statements, presentations, space for reflections, etc.
Once I was happy with the template, I made a copy for each student. The sharing settings were private, so only that student and I could see, edit and comment. This was important – the students need to feel confident that they can make mistakes and seek guidance, without being publicly ‘judged’. There are plenty of opportunities for group work and discussion in class time; this is personal.
Students were shown how to use the site, and throughout the course were expected to update and reflect on their learning. Significant class time was given for this every couple of weeks. Their tasks included:
- Highlighting and learning about the command terms in each assessment statement
- Editing the page to add links or notes that helped them learn
- Completing formative assessment tasks such as Quia quizzes, for each subtopic
- Updating the page with corrected versions of a weekly 8-mark extended response assessment task
- Reflect on their learning, noting difficulties, strategies and solutions as a reminder for their review.
Each month (or so), their work here was assessed and formed 1/3 of their grade for ‘Knowledge Skills’, an internal criterion used in Powerschool for grading and reporting. This is matched by 1/3 each semester for the weekly 8-mark questions and any unit tests. All together, these three components contribute 3/4 of the semester grade, with the remaining 1/4 coming from lab work.
Students were generally very positive about the project and could see their progress. Some were excellent in their organisation, having completed pre-reading tasks and coming to class with the right pages open/ updated. Others were rushing to complete their reflections on the due date. All could see the benefit of having such a highly-organised and thorough piece of work come review time. Some students did prefere to make paper notes, which they scanned and uploaded. Eventually these students stopped uploading the notes and instead left a note in the page to see their book, which collected at the same time.
As a teacher, there was a great deal of benefit to carrying out this project. Most of all, it allowed time to be freed up for work on higher-impact learning (see Hattie’s Learning Impacts).
Learning outcomes are clear and explicit.
Putting time into a resource like this before the course makes the teaching much easier. We all know where we are and where we need to be. Students get used to the assessment statements and command terms, and can easily access resources.
Feedback, both formal and informal, is timely and focused.
Using an explicit rubric and modeling the process early on helps students see the expectations. Students are able to accurately self-assess their progress, reflect on their learning and take action on their deficits. The rubric included on the current example has been modified and simplified as much as possible, showing evidence of students meeting my expectations in terms of product and process rather than behaviour.
Students get feedback on the rubric, as well as comments on each page completed and their updated 8-mark question. This allows them to build a personal portfolio of model answers. If they comment on their page themselves, I get an email, so I can respond in a timely and directed manner.
There is a lot of opportunity for differentiation.
Faster students, in particular, appreciate the opportunity to get ahead and then make more connections across the course. IB Biology is so content-driven that a good student could self-study to success, given the right structure (other than labs). If a student is struggling, we can each see their work on the site and build from there.
The learning train is derailed (a bit)
In class we generally have very little lecturing, and certainly never a whole lesson. This process gives me the ability to pre-assess students and form readiness groupings. As needed we can have short whole-class discussions/ lectures or more focused micro-teaching sessions with groups. I can identify students who have mastered concepts and use them to peer-teach others. Unless it is a lab lesson, students will be engaging with the content in their own sites, though they will usually be working collaboratively, helping to build a positive learning relationships. By freeing-up the time from lecturing, there is more time for students to engage with content, concepts, labs and case-studies.
Students have ownership.
Students are responsible for this work, and the various levels to which they engaged and made it their own was interesting. Many did the minimum required, still generating a good resource, where others really put a lot of effort into it. This also gives a lot of evidence of student engagement in learning when it comes to reporting and talking to parents.
This is a time-intensive process, especially in creating the resource and getting into the habit of grading the sites. However, once a good workflow is established it is natural and easy to give feedback to students. I will use it again, most likely with Hapara as a management system to more easily see when updates are made. Occasional technical glitches occur as students make mistakes on editing the page, but these are generally easily fixed. If I spot an error and want to correct it, I need to open up every student’s site and correct it there – this can take some time.
The site linked will be copied and shared with the next intake of students (the last group on this subject guide). As we go, I am in the process of restructuring units and the 4PSOW to better reflect concept-based teaching and learning, and plan to develop debatable, conceptual and factual unit questions for each unit.
With a bigger class next year the more streamlined rubric and cleaner organisation of the resources should make the feedback process more efficient.