Saturday, November 02, 2019

Making teaching/learning programs better

Yesterday two fifth grade teachers including myself, a special educator, and the assistant superintendent met with MA Department of Education leaders, education consultants, and teams from across the state to look deeply at how we evaluate the programs we teach. That worthy process led our team into deep discussion and debate about our hands-on environmental science program that we teach in partnership with MA Audubon's Drumlin Farm naturalists and environmental educators.

As we spoke, we talked a lot about our main objectives with the program which are to teach specific standards-based content, inspire students' interest and stewardship of the natural world, and building the social emotional learning goal of collaboration or teamwork.

How do we measure objectives like that?

For the content, we'll use an assessment; for collaboration skill, a survey, and for inspiration in the topic, a qualitative interview. As the consultants emphasized, we are essentially evaluating to see what's working and who is it working for?

In the meantime, we have a somewhat unique position since we are building the program while we're evaluating it--this is not a static program, but a program that's continually changing. So I imagine that during the next few weeks, we'll carefully look at the main content we're teaching to make it more precise, meaningful, and memorable. I also know that we'll work with the greater team to think about how we can build collaboration and teamwork in more successful ways for every student. Right now collaboration works for many, but not all. What has helped this collaboration is modeling via video and in real time, explicit conversation and surveys about specific collaboration attributes and actions, and coaching. What else can we do to grow this skill for all students, and help those students who struggle the most with it do better? And with regard to inspiration and motivation, it's important that we model that inspiration and motivation with positivity--if learning outside is fun, children will gravitate to it. If students understand the importance of this study for their lives today and into the future, they'll like embrace it more.

Simply targeting our goals, as we did yesterday, is a good initial step towards evaluating what we are doing well, and what we can do better. There are more steps to come, steps that the consultants will lead us through. This is one of the many worthy and deep learning opportunities the state is providing to help school systems work as teams to better what we do. I honor this work, and love the way it makes what we do better, deeper, and more impactful with regard to students' overall success and interest in school and beyond.