As regular readers know, I’m a big advocate of having students complete anonymous evaluations of their teachers – though not as part of a formal evaluation system. I’ve written a lot about the topic, and for many years have posted the results of my own evaluations (see The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers)).
This last semester, though, I decided to try something different. Instead of my usual evaluation forms, I created one that I used in all my classes that had five questions:
1. What did you like about this class?
2. How could this class be improved?
3. What did you think of Mr. Ferlazzo as a teacher? Give him a grade and make a comment.
4. What class activities helped you learn the most?
5. How would you grade yourself as a student? Did you work hard, help Mr. Ferlazzo, help your classmates? What could you have done better?
I thought it would be interesting to see what students would write without the prompting provided in past evaluations.
Responses to the last questions were interesting and, I thought/hoped, ended up being a useful self-reflective exercise for students.
Responses to the first four, however, were no where near as helpful as the results of past evaluations.
Almost universally, all students said they loved the classes, thought I was a fabulous teacher, and wouldn’t change anything about the classes.
I am very confident in my ability as a teacher, but I am by no means perfect and, in fact, if anything, because of some specific challenges that came up in class this year, I don’t necessarily think I did as good of a job as I have done in the past.
The more targeted questions and responses that I generally use have provided me with much more nuanced and critical responses — generally favorable, but certainly not universally positive.
I still think there’s value in seeing what students can write in response to less-scripted evaluation forms, so I plan on trying-out this year’s form again next year. However, I plan on doing so with two additions:
* One, immediately prior to having students complete the evaluation form, I think it will be worth spending a short time reviewing the different learning activities we did during the year. I think that’s one useful aspect of the more detailed forms — they basically list many of them.
* Second, I will create two examples of completed evaluations — one “good” and one “bad.” The “good” version will include critiques and positive comments with specificity. It will be a version of the the concept attainment instructional strategy.
I don’t know if those two changes will produce a significant difference or not in the quality of student comments and, if not, I’ll return to the old forms.
The title of this “The Best…” list is pretty self-explanatory. What you’ll find here are blog posts and articles this year (some written by me, some by others) that were, in my opinion, the ones that offered the best practical advice and resources to teachers this year — suggestions that can help teachers become more effective in the classroom today or tomorrow. Some, however, might not appear on the surface to fit that criteria, but those, I think, might offer insights that could (should?) inform our teaching practice everyday.
For many, the headlines provide enough of an idea of the topic and I haven’t included any further description.
“Grit” is all over the news lately, and I’ve previously shared a number of related resources (see The Best Resources For Learning About “Grit”). In fact, there’s been so much written about it, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start or who to believe. But that won’t be a problem anymore because Dan Willingham has clearly written the best (and most accessible) analysis of grit that I have seen – and, believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them! (and this is one day after he gave the best advice you’ll see on students listening to music in the classroom!). It’s in this summer’s issue of the American Educator under the title of “Grit” Is Trendy, but Can It Be Taught? and it’s freely available online. He provides an excellent analysis of the research, along with reviewing common critiques.
Education Week has just published one of their typically excellent special reports, and the title of this one is Next Draft: Changing Practices In Writing Instruction. It’s composed of eight separate articles, including “As Teachers Tackle New Student-Writing Expectations, Support Is Lacking,” “Remodeling the Workshop: Lucy Calkins on Writing Instruction Today,” and “Students in My Math Classes Next Year Will Do a Lot of Writing. Here’s Why.” I’m adding it to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.
One of my most popular posts is The Best Places To Get The “Same” Text Written For Different “Levels.” It’s filled with free sources where you can get the similar versions of the same text that have been edited for different levels of readers. For some reason, however, I have neglected to put the modified readings from the great British Council on that list, and I am fixing that oversight now. They have a number of readings in three or four levels each. They seem to have them in two different places — stories in three levels here and four levels here.
Ways to Help ELLs Learn Pronunciation is the headline of one of my Education Week Teacher columns. In it, Wendi Pillars, Paul Boyd-Batstone, Ivannia Soto, Judie Haynes, Diane Mora, Eugenia Mora-Flores, and many readers offer suggestions on how to help English Language Learners develop good pronunciation skills.
The online publication Quartz published a piece about an amazing new interactive ad campaign that encourages people to repeat phrases as part of an online video story. Fine, you might be thinking, so what’s the big deal? Well, the recorded phrases then go into a VoiceBank that supplies audio for people who must use a device to communicate. Can you think of many other things that could be more motivating to an English Language Learner to try to get as close to perfect pronunciation as that? All you have to do is go to the Voice of Goldivox and follow the story along. The phrases are short and very accessible. I wouldn’t use it with Beginners, but would think Intermediates and Advanced could do it with a little practice. Here’s a sample video, though you have to to the Goldivox link to watch it all and record:
NPR has been run a three-part series on how “gifted” English Language Learners, particularly Latinos, are overlooked for admittance into advanced classes in schools. Of course, that’s no surprise to most of us — it’s common that even many teachers confuse not speaking English with not being intelligent. It’s great that this problem is finally getting some public attention. We’re lucky at our school that some of us who also teach English Language Learner classes also teach courses in the International Baccalaureate program so, for instance, I recruited four of my ELL students for my IB Theory of Knowledge class this year and have twelve slated to attend next year. Why Gifted Latinos Are Often Overlooked And Underserved is the link to one of the stories.
Reader Susan recommended I check-out the Big Learners site, and I’m glad she did. It has thousands of worksheets for elementary grades that you can print-out for free with no registration required. The English ones I looked at seemed pretty decent and could certainly be used with Beginning and Low-Intermediate English Language Learners to reinforce concepts that have been initially taught in more engaging ways. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Free ESL/EFL Hand-Outs & Worksheets.
Let’s Learn English is a new course for English learners. It’s a series of 52 lessons with online resources, student printables and teacher lesson plans and is from the Voice of America.
WordSift came out several years ago as a great tool to help English Language Learners develop academic vocabulary knowledge. Mary Ann Zehr wrote an excellent description of it at Ed Week, and I put it on The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary. It was created by Stanford Professor Kenji Hakuta. Then, it seemed to disappear. I started getting requests from educators for alternatives. Now, it’s back! WordSift 2 has launched. Paste in a text, and you get all sorts of stuff in return — word clouds sorted in various categories, images of words to enhance understanding, sentences showing the words in context, word webs, and more!
ASCD’s monthly “Educational Leadership” magazine is usually great, but it was even more special in February with a special issue titledHelping ELLs Excel.Usually, I provide a brief review of a few of the articles that aren’t behind a paywall and which I think are particularly worth reading. However, I’d recommend you go and read all the ones that are freely available AND pay a few bucks to read all the others (if you aren’t already a subscriber).
It’s composed of eight separate articles, including “As Teachers Tackle New Student-Writing Expectations, Support Is Lacking,” “Remodeling the Workshop: Lucy Calkins on Writing Instruction Today,” and “Students in My Math Classes Next Year Will Do a Lot of Writing. Here’s Why.”
One of those features that makes Pagamo a bit different from similar sites is that it apparently allows you to “gamify” your assignments. I didn’t have time to explore that aspect, but it does sound intriguing.