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Senior 2 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 2
Planning, Teaching, and Learning with Learning Outcomes - Part 2

Getting Started: A Planning Vignette

The following vignette sketches the planning processes of one Senior 2 English language arts teacher at the beginning of the school year. Any linear description of planning inevitably simplifies a dynamic and complex process. This vignette is offered as an example, rather than a prescription of how teachers should plan.

August

When Leslie sits down in her quiet classroom in August to plan the Senior 2 English Language Arts course, she begins by listing the units she would like to use, drawing on activities and materials that she has used with success during the six years she has taught English language arts, and aiming for a list that will allow the class to address all the Senior 2 learning outcomes. The first list she creates is too long. Nevertheless, Leslie clips it into her planning binder. Once she has gathered information about her students, she can prioritize and select the most useful ideas from it.

What Leslie needs to plan in detail at this point is what will happen in the classroom during the first few weeks. She has three purposes in mind:

  • to learn as much as possible about the students’ present levels of performance. Did they attain all the Senior 1 English Language Arts learning outcomes? How do they perform with respect to the Senior 2 learning outcomes? What are their strengths and weaknesses? To plan effectively, she needs to know the dimensions of the job she faces.
  • to choose activities that will help her build a relationship with students, and help them learn about each other. Knowing how the months of a course fly by, she wants to begin the process of transforming a list of names into a supportive learning community.
  • to provide a range of activities and assessment strategies to ensure that the first weeks are as positive as possible for every student. Leslie wants her students to discover that Senior 2 English Language Arts will be stimulating, demanding, and enjoyable.

Leslie decides that her initial assessment will be global: to determine the direction and priorities of the course, she needs to learn about the strengths and needs of the class as a whole. Rather than attempting to assess specific learning outcomes at the outset, Leslie decides to assign tasks around the five general learning outcomes. This will give her broad information about the knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes her students already possess with respect to exploring ideas, comprehending and responding to texts, managing ideas and information, generating and revising texts, and working together.

In the past, Leslie’s students have responded well to a unit she calls "Generation Next" — an exploration of the experience of adolescents. Leslie decides to develop a sequence of assessment tasks from this unit to enable her to assess students’ current knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes and habits of mind. She turns to the maps of the general learning outcomes (these can be found after the divider page for each general learning outcome), and reflects on the sorts of tasks that she could develop related to each of the general learning outcomes.

This means selecting tasks that will involve her students in listening and speaking, reading and writing, and viewing and representing to

  • explore thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences (General Learning Outcome 1)

    Talking and writing about their own experience as adolescents is potentially an engaging opening for students. Leslie decides to launch journal keeping during the first class. This will signal the key role that reflection will play in the course, and will provide her with information about her students’ thinking and writing. She needs a text that can serve as a catalyst for this exploration of the adolescent experience. After considering a number of possibilities, Leslie recalls that last spring one of her students made up a composite of headlines about young people. She locates it and decides that it is still pertinent, that it will be an appropriate stimulus for student discussion and journal writing.

  • comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print, and other media texts (General Learning Outcome 2)

    Leslie needs to select additional texts through which she can assess her students’ skills in responding personally and critically. She chooses a short story as the primary text for this assessment sequence, and decides that she will develop a quiz to assess students’ reading comprehension. Student response to the story can also be the basis for a personal essay. In addition, Leslie will ask students to locate, select, and read articles related to the experience of adolescents. To learn more about their experience with texts, Leslie decides to ask students to complete an inventory that surveys reading, viewing, and listening habits, strategies, and interests.

  • manage ideas and information (General Learning Outcome 3)

    Observing the way students locate the articles in the library will inform Leslie about some of their information-accessing and library skills. Leslie decides to ask students to write two-column notes on the articles they select. From the left column, she can assess their skill in reading for salient information and in summarizing. From the right column, she can determine their skill in weighing the suitability of each article for their purposes.

  • enhance the clarity and artistry of communication (General Learning Outcome 4)

    Her observations of student discussion will allow Leslie to assess students’ informal oral communication. Both the journals and the personal essays students write in response to the short story will provide Leslie with information about their processes in generating texts. Leslie decides to ask students to work with partners to revise and edit these essays. Asking students to submit all their work, from prewriting to final drafts, will provide Leslie with information about their processes. Leslie wonders whether oral presentations would also be appropriate in this sequence. She looks at the learning outcomes from General Learning Outcomes 4 and 5 that could be assessed through oral presentations.

  • celebrate and build community (General Learning Outcome 5)

    Ultimately, Leslie decides to ask students to self-select groups, and to share with their peers the content of one of the articles they located in the library. Students will then plan a short oral or visual presentation (e.g., a drama, monologue, dialogue, poster, tableau, radio play) called "Generation Next," portraying either how society views young people or how young people view themselves. Assessing these presentations will provide Leslie with information regarding students’ skills in selecting and using various forms for a particular purpose and audience (a learning outcome from General Learning Outcome 4). The main focus of her assessment, however, will be determining the collaborative skills students use in preparing the presentations.

Leslie runs these ideas through a list of screening questions to ensure that the sequence of assessment she has planned is balanced and congruent with the curriculum.

 

Checking an Instructional Unit for Balance

  • Does this unit use a range of texts in transactional and literary forms?
  • Does it provide experiences in listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and representing?
  • Does it use a variety of instructional approaches?
  • Does it provide students with the opportunity to work individually? In small groups? With the whole class?

The most apparent weakness she observes is the lack of viewing and representing activities, and of text forms other than print. Leslie decides to replace the headline composite she had previously chosen as a catalyst for discussion with a film clip. She also checks that the list of forms students may use in their final presentations includes visual forms such as posters and a Gallery Walk of artifacts.


First Class

Leslie expects to have 40 minutes of instruction time after the first day’s administrative tasks are finished — enough time to introduce the sequence of assessment activities, and to observe her students’ interactive skills and their skill in exploring ideas. This first class will serve to activate students’ prior knowledge and thinking about adolescence, in preparation for the short story they will read. She sets out a class plan on a four-column planning chart. Because the purpose of this class is assessment rather than instruction, she labels the second column of the chart "Assessment Tasks."

Initial Assessment Sequence: First Class Plan

Learning Outcomes
to be Assessed

Assessment Tasks

Assessment Tools
and Methods

Learning Materials
and Resources

General Learning Outcome 1: Explore thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences.
  • Students view film clip and write responses in journals (1.1.1)*
  • Two-minute talk-back (1.1.1)*
  • Redrafting of initial responses
  • Whole-class sharing and responses
  • Assignment for next class: Read short story on the same theme
  • Read journal entries for information about student writing and attitudes
  • Observe students’ prior knowledge, listening skills and speaking skills

  • Sociographic (1.1.2)*
  • Discussion catalyst: Selected film clip
  • Selected short story

* This strategy is found with this specified learning outcome in the four-column section of this document.

At the end of the first day, Leslie looks over and reflects on the information she has gained:

  • The students have strong opinions, and express them powerfully! Most of the writing in the journals draws on personal experience. Only five students refer to the way adolescents are portrayed in the media, although the film clip invites this sort of comment
  • Students’ reflection on their partners’ ideas in 12 of 26 journals is cursory or non-existent. This may mean that students have difficulty summarizing ideas, or that they have not developed the mental habit of expanding their understanding through reflecting on others’ ideas. It may simply mean that they feel reluctant to share their views during the first class. She will have to observe further.
  • Students moved readily into pairs and talked freely during the two-minute talk-back. Indications are that they have had practice in working in groups. During the whole-class discussion, however, the arrows on the sociographic indicate that over half the responses in whole-class discussion came from the same five students.

To connect her observations to the learning outcomes, Leslie photocopies the maps of learning outcomes (these are found at the beginning of each general learning outcome in this document), and uses highlighter pens of different colours to identify learning strengths and particular needs that she has observed in her students. At this stage, several of her notations are question marks and explanatory notes. Later, she decides, when the information she has gathered is more conclusive, she will post the maps and discuss the highlighted areas with the students in order to help them focus their energies in attaining the learning outcomes.


First Week

Leslie sets out a plan for the first full week of assessment tasks.

Initial Assessment Sequence: First Full Week Plan

Learning Outcomes
to be Assessed

Assessment Tasks

Assessment Tools
and Methods

Learning Materials
and Resources

General Learning Outcome 2:
Comprehend and respond personally and critically to… texts.
  • Short story was read for homework.
  • Students select and demonstrate prewriting strategies
  • Students write first drafts of personal essays
  • Peer revision of drafts (in pairs)
  • Students submit final drafts of essays
  • Observation of task completion
  • Reading comprehension quiz
  • Teacher observation
  • Introduce marking rubric for self-assessment
  • Teacher observation
  • Teacher assessment with rubric
  • Short story

During the next class, Leslie notes that four students came to class unprepared. She arranges for them to come in for a goal-setting conference. The reading comprehension quiz contains open-ended questions that provide Leslie with information about students’ skill in making inferences, interpreting text patterns, and exploring how language affected meaning. Marking the quiz later, Leslie observes that in reading narrative, most students demonstrate "at level" or "above level" skills. As "strengths," she highlights aspects of learning outcomes 2.1.2, 2.1.3, and 2.2.3.

The next day Leslie asks students to choose their own focus in writing a personal essay prompted by the short story. Rather than instruct students in prewriting strategies, she invites them to demonstrate the prewriting strategies they normally use. She assesses these strategies both through observation in class, and by asking students to submit their work at all stages. Several students ask to confer with others. Others brainstorm a list of options. Only one student clusters ideas in a graphic form. Half the students begin writing on the first draft with no preliminary work. On the map of General Learning Outcome 4, Leslie highlights the first three learning outcomes as "needs."

The following day Leslie’s students move into pairs to revise drafts of their personal essays. Leslie’s observations, and her later comparisons of first and second drafts, reveal to her that most of the work that was done was editing for surface errors. This editing was effective, and Leslie is able to mark some "strengths" on the map of General Learning Outcome 4: learning outcomes 4.3.1, 4.3.2, and 4.3.3. Students’ lack of both prewriting and revision strategies is evident in their final products, however. Many of the essays are unfocused. Others are poorly organized, and show little attempt to engage the reader. Leslie marks learning outcomes 4.1.3, 4.2.1, and 4.2.2 as "priorities for instruction."

Although her primary purpose in this initial assessment sequence is to gather global information that will identify priorities for subsequent instruction, assessment, and student learning, Leslie is aware by now of three students whose work was "below level" in the reading comprehension quiz and in the personal essay. She is beginning a roster of goal-setting and strategy-development conferences with students. She determines to see these students the first week, and begins to plan ways to offer them extra support.

(To be continued)

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