Sunday, February 6, 2011

Assessment and Feedback

Teacher Musings:
There are many people in the education world who believe (and have examples to support) that the best teaching actually looks more like coaching. As a former high school athlete and former coach myself, I can really get behind this idea. At it's essence, coaching is about immediate one-on-one feedback and meeting the needs of every individual learner. For example, when I was playing basketball, we would all work on fundamentals like free-throw shooting and the coaches would work with us one at a time to help us improve. We would get immediate feedback and then get to try again, right away, which made it more likely that we would get better, or that the coach could explain any misunderstandings.

As an English and Writing teacher I spend a lot of time grading. The reality is that my students need to read and write A LOT in order to get better at both. However, they also need to get immediant feedback and a chance to improve right away, which is hard to do with four classes of 25 kids. Take my reading logs, for example. I used to have my students write reading logs three nights a week. These reading logs served a number of purposes - they provided the opportunity for students to summarize what they read, analyze a passage closely and make some inferences about their reading. However, I didn't collect reading logs every day - I literally wouldn't be able to keep up with them. So, I would check them briefly for completion and then read a few of them every few weeks when I collected notebooks. I found that reading over the logs helped me see gaps in my student's understanding of what they read (or even if they read at all) but often it was too little too late - giving them feedback two or three weeks from when they read just isn't helpful. I finally got tired of writing comments on reading logs that meant nothing, and this term I'm trying something new. I set up a class wiki, and students are writing reading logs (only once a week now, so that they can deal with internet access) and putting them up on the wiki. This weekend I read the first set, and I commented on them, right on the students' wiki page. I timed myself, and the reality is that I'm not saving a ton of time - it still takes me as long to read these logs as it did when I collected notebooks. However, grading them this time was not nearly as painful as it has been in the past. I was able to make suggestions for ways to improve the logs (or suggestions for reading strategies for the students to use) and I believe that my feedback might be helpful since they are going to read it before they continue with their next reading assignment tomorrow. Additionally, when a student shows real depth of thought, I put them on the "wiki page of the week" section, and other students can read what they wrote.

My student wiki assignment is only in it's infancy right now, and I have already run into some issues, mostly around the discussion section. But we are moving forward in a mostly positive direction, and I am really happy to spend an hour this weekend feeling like a reading coach instead of a grading machine!

Yummy Stuff:
I wanted to share some of our quick vegan dinners, so I thought I would start of with the royalty of quick dinners: pasta! This recipie is basically from Colleen Patrick-Goudrou's Color Me Vegan - an AMAZING cookbook that everyone should have. Her's is called Garlic and Green Pasta - I just call it quick and yummy :) This can be made in 30 minutes if you don't have to chase a baby while you make it.

Garlic and Greens Pasta - L-P style:
3/4 lb of pasta such as penne, rotini, farfalle, etc. (we make 1 lb and save some off to the side for baby dinners)
1 bunch of collard greens
3 TB of olive oil
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes

1. Pour 4-6 cups of water in a large saucepan, cover and bring it to a boil.
2. While the water is heating up, lay all the collard green leaves flat, then slice them down each side of the stems the long ways. This should take out most if not all of the tough stems and leave you with two sections of leaves. Slice each section in half the long ways so you end up with four strips. The, slice these strips horizontally so that you end up with lots of collard "squares." Put the collard pieces in a bowl and fill it with cold water. Swish the greens in the water, drain then and fill up the bowl with water again. Let it sit while you do step three.
3. Peel and mince the garlic. This goes faster with one of those slap-chop things or a food processor, but you can also use a good kitchen knife.
4. When the water is boiling, drain the collard greens and put them in the boiling water. Turn the heat down to medium and partially cover. Let the collards cook for 10 minutes.
5. When the collard greens are about 1 minute from being done, heat up the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
6. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to pull the collard greens out of the water and into a bowl (you can use the same one from earlier if you want). Then, bring the water back up to a boil and pour the pasta in (yes, the same water as the greens!) Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
7. About 5 minutes before the pasta is done, put the garlic in the olive oil and stir it. Let the garlic cook for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, and let it brown a bit (but don't let it burn!). Add the red pepper flakes for about 30 sections, then, add the greens to the skillet.
8. When the pasta is done, drain and then quickly pour it onto the greens and garlic. Stir it up until the pasta is coated with the garlic and olive oil and serve!