Friday, December 2, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #3

Preparing the Project Proposal and Literature Review


I thought I had been going along so well, but these tasks hit me hard. I had been watching/listening to Dylan Wiliam's webinars, reading bits and pieces I had sourced and trying so many new things in the classroom. All these things were good, but I needed to do so much more to actually pull everything together. It was due today, and (spoiler alert) I managed to upload it to my collection in time.

I think part of the struggle lies in the fact that the due date falls right near the end of term, while reports are still being proof read and prepared to send home. I thought my time-management was on track, but it has been very tight to get reports completed and then flow straight into the ETA requirements.

I started with the Project Proposal because I knew it had to be finished about a week in advance in order to get it to my Head of School for signing. My first attempt at this was a bit of a brainstorm event, where I just jotted down my thoughts about what would go in each section. When I returned to it, I padded out the initial ideas. I was very pleased to see that I could have a main question with sub-questions, as I had been really struggling with how I could cover all the things I wanted to explore with just one question. This is what I came up with as the main idea for my project.

Growing our Minds through Formative Assessment and Feedback

What is an effective process to enrich student learning through formative assessment and feedback?
What actions can a teacher take to help students develop a growth mindset?
How can formative assessment be used more effectively to inform teaching and provide students with relevant feedback?
How can peer and teacher feedback (aligned with a growth mindset) be used to progress student learning?

Something I really struggled with when completing the proposal was the section on the collection of data. I feel that there are two purposes at play with the Action Research Pathway. One is to provide evidence of the achievement of Experienced Teacher Standards and Descriptors. The other is to collect data for analysis in relation to the questions of the Action Research project. And, while action research provides an opportunity for a teacher to demonstrate the descriptors, the data collected for the purposes of the project will be quite different to the evidence collected to demonstrate competency. I felt that these two forms of data needed to be separated for the purposes of the proposal, so ended up creating a table with data for the descriptors split under the headings: "Evidence of Standard" and "Data for Analysis". I'm hoping that this will help me to keep track of what I'm collecting and the real purpose for the collection.

Something else that I struggled with, just a little, was considering the difference between "expected benefits" and "expected changes". I'm hoping that my responses were different enough to meet expectations.

Given the nature of my project, I sent my proposal to the Staff Development Coordinator at my school for some feedback. She saw things that I didn't see, and struggled to understand what I meant in some of the sections. She made time to sit down with me to discuss things and I was able to make some changes. I feel that I could have continued to make more changes, but given the time restraints, I needed to get the document into internal mail so that my Head of School could sign it, and turn my attention to the Literature Review.

In the lead up to writing the Literature Review I found myself really loving all the reading, but terrified about putting the first words on a Google Doc. The blank page taunted me so much that I avoided it for quite some time, opting instead to mind-mapping and note-taking. In hindsight, I believe these were important for helping me to gather my thoughts, I just wish I'd started the whole process even earlier! For me, I was concerned about understanding the topic fully and making the connections.

Eventually I sat down and forced myself to begin writing, but even in that moment I was hesitant. I wanted a "sizzling start" that I push so hard for from my students. How do you write a sizzling start for a literature review? And then I re-read Inside the Black Box, by Black and Wiliam, and realised that people don't want to read something dry and academic. We all want to be drawn into what we read. I had a false start that went for three paragraphs, and then, finally I got my idea:

Oliver goes back to his desk and opens his English book. He knows the teacher will be doing the rounds in a minute, but he wants to take a moment to flick through to the next blank page. As he does, he smiles to himself, reading a sentence here and there as he sees the work he has done throughout the year. Wow! I remember writing this, he thinks to himself. I’ve come so far this year. He glances at the feedback at the bottom of the page…

And that's where I left Oliver's story. Full of questions about that feedback.

It probably took about 15 hours of writing and reviewing to finally get the review finished. I got sick toward the end with a cold, and was pleased when I finally got to the end. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to have my peers read over it and offer their feedback. We are all so busy trying to get our reports finalised and everything prepared for the end of school, so I just didn't feel right asking anyone else to read my writing. I also didn't have time to make adaptations based on any feedback they might have given me. I struggled with this since I have been seeing the power of feedback in my classroom, and learnt a lot from the feedback I received on my Project Proposal.

For both of these documents I had a guide for what to do, but no real guidance in terms of what is counted as a pass or fail. I feel I used a little poetic license on the literature review, but am not too sure whether it was too much. It's either my first literature review, or my first in quite some time, and I'm not entirely sure what was needed!

This experience helps me to understand some things about my own learning that can be generalised to my students and how they learn:
  1. Students need to have a clear idea of what is expected and to what level
  2. Feedback is definitely helpful, but not always practical when tight for time
  3. While deadlines are important motivators for completing a task, some students may not produce their greatest work within this timeframe. Some may be interested in polishing their work further after the due date.
  4. What ends up on the page is not necessarily all the writer knows about the topic. A lot of information is filtered along the way.
I'm really excited about what I've been learning through my reading and experiences in the classroom, but will save those for another blog. For today I really just wanted to share my journey with the Experienced Teacher Accreditation in terms of completing the necessary documentation by the deadline.

I am a lone ranger in my school as far as the Action Research Pathway goes... Is anyone else doing it??? Please leave a comment if you are.

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