Understanding most important for students’ learning

As children try to make the most of the last fleeting days of summer vacation teachers are ramping up for the school year.

As children try to make the most of the last fleeting days of summer vacation teachers are ramping up for the school year.

Teachers with Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) took part in the school division’s Summer Institute Aug. 26 and 27 at Ecole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School. The conference was mandatory for all certified staff to learn more about the tools teachers have used in their classes that have worked.

There were 70 classes teachers could choose from, the majority of which were taught by WCPS staff.

One course provided teachers a way to assess students’ learning and performance with tasks. These projects give students an involved way of education, says Janice Rarick, Grade 1 teacher at Ponoka Elementary School. She and Lois Spate, principal at the school, showed how creating a performance task can help students understand certain principals.

A performance assessment can anchor a teaching unit with a fun project that gets students active and engaged in a project, explained Rarick. “We want their interest and their enthusiasm sustained.”

The role of the performance assessment gives students a meaningful and real life task they need to accomplish. Usually there is an audience — real or imagined — who can listen to a final presentation.

“One of the things that’s really key with this definition is that it simulates how people do their work or things they will encounter in the outside world,” explained Spate.

One of the most important results of the task is students have a strong understanding of the project. Having students feel they are presenting to a final audience helps drive their engagement.

“You have to make it meaningful for the student,” Spate explained.

Criteria for project understanding differs from what some teachers may be used to; students need to show they understand their role, audience, product performance and the authenticity of the content.

A neat and tidy presentation is important, says Rarick, but should not be the difference between a fail and pass.

Teachers still want students’ work to be well presented but “will they be penalized because it’s not neat and tidy?”

“For me it was a really new concept at looking at that outcome,” she added.

What teachers can do to ensure proper understanding of a project is provide formative feedback as the project continues. Rarick uses the question “What is it you need to show me?” as a guide when determining if a student understood a project.

Spate feels involving the student in the learning process promotes the ownership of learning. These performance tasks are used in conjunction with WCPS’s Excellent Learning Environment (ELE) program.

Rarick and Spate started to develop the ELE with other teachers and administrators about eight years ago, which is in a continuous state of change.

“It combines everything we need for teaching,” says Rarick.

There is no right way of showing understanding of the task. “Not doing it isn’t an option.”

The ELE gives teachers ways to deal with different learning styles.

Spate and Rarick gave teachers some examples of tasks they used for their classes and suggested the tasks available to teachers can be adjusted to suit their needs or new ones can be designed.

Support is available to teachers considering a performance task and Rarick suggested they seek support from other teachers who are instructional coaches in the school division. “It takes small steps.”

Spate advised teachers try out a task to see how it works and adjust their learning by sharing their experiences. “That’s how Janice and I started.”

For Nick Morrison, Grade 2 teacher at Clive School, the class gave him a better understanding of how the tasks operate. “It’s real easy to hit every outcome with that one task.”

It also gives him a tool to determine if he was able to teach the objectives of the course.