Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Working with secondary teachers and Trillium Via

Introducing our board’s new assessment tool across the whole secondary panel has been a bit of a whirlwind: many email questions, full days of support every week at the high schools in my area, lots of consultation with my colleagues in the Ed Tech team…
What is Trillium Via? In really simple terms it offers a day-to-day teacher info and assessment tool that links to all the data in Trillium and also to the web-based report card tool.
But what interests me the most is the discussion that has arisen, the assumptions that are made about high school teachers, and the role of Via.
(I will leave aside any chat about our tech “bumps in the road” - fine-tuning the product and improving connectivity; teachers are providing a lot of constructive feedback, and the issues will be resolved anyway I am sure.)
As an assessment tool, Via is unique at the moment because it uses the concepts and terminology from Ontario’s Growing Success policy document.
In creating an assessment task in Via, the teacher is prompted to select from For, As, and Of Learning, for example. Other panels in the task creation screen allow the teacher to choose and mark the Ontario strands for their course, mark learning skills, mark assessment categories and choose between numerical marks and levels. Very cool.
There has been pushback from teachers because, plainly speaking, Via is not Markbook. Who ever really wants to change something that is integral to their teaching practice, that was easy, and worked?
But Via has been promoted as way to get teachers to be more in tune with the concepts in Growing Success, as Markbook is now regarded as not aligning with Growing Success.
Because our colleagues in secondary did not get as much PD on Growing Success as those of us in the elementary panel, there was supposedly a marked lack of knowledge about the concepts. This assumption was made based on the teachers’ expressed lack of familiarity with the terminology.
And I actually bought into this for quite some time.
But now that I have been working in person with these educators for a month or two, I have totally changed my views.
What I have seen is that there is a heck of a lot of good, pedagogically sound, up-to-the-minute teaching going on, whether Growing Success terms are used to describe it, or not.
Markbook evidently does not engender bad or outdated teaching.
Via does not automatically result in good, up-to-date teaching.
Teachers have been doing assessment for, as and of learning all along; their questions and my personal observations of their pencil and paper markbooks bear this out.
Virtually every teacher I have worked with on the basics of creating an assessment and entering marks has diligently brought a paper class marking grid with a series of marks, beginning with some sort of diagnostic, and often several of this type of task. Assessment For Learning.
Using the comment column in Via, teachers are transferring written notes about tasks completed, with certain questions being resubmitted, after feedback was provided. Assessment As Learning.
And of course, a variety of quiz, test or assignment marks. Of Learning.
It may well be that there are teachers who do not have a balanced approach to assessment, but that is a matter for the principal to address with PD.
Via alone will not change their teaching practice.
It does offer an online method of documenting existing good practices, and the links back to Trillium and forward to the report card should result in convenience and efficiency. Which is not the same as good teaching. We already seem to have a lot of that.

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