The Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

The Feedback-Friendly ClassroomThe Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are so many hidden gems in this unassuming book. McCallum uses gentle prompts to stir up thinking about how we build trust, reliance and collaboration in our classrooms with the ultimate tools of feedback. If we could write the follow up to this book using some of the rich technology in education that we use every day, this book would take on new significance.

McCallum has reminded me to worry about depth of thinking and not breadth of curriculum coverage.  Her book has reminded me to make feedback part of my teaching practice every day.

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Best BITs: The role of the teacher

In secondary school we often see teachers as subject specialists.  In elementary school we see teachers as generalists but facilitating many activities that cross subject boundaries. Authors Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case outline 3 contrasting foundational beliefs about teaching and learning, and the role of the teacher is listed in the discovery, didactic and thinking forms.  I feel that I have been more of a teacher that teaches through discovery working in English, drama and media arts before I was a teacher-librarian.   I often didn’t know the outcome that I would get and would help the students discover their creative work through various workshop-type activities.  I had two major problems: a) the discovery process made it sometimes difficult to return to the curriculum, especially in senior grades after 2 years of discovery in grades 9 and 10, and b) students often chose safe or known topics for discovery which made for shallow learning. Now as a teacher-librarian, each day that I help teachers and students with the inquiry process, I feel stretched to deepen the thinking and to help them find a way through the next stage in their process.

How would you describe yourself as a teacher…more discovery or more didactic?  Can you see yourself becoming more of a choreographer?  What are the challenges with moving in this direction?

Mackenzie Sayers started us off with this thoughtful response:

“As a teacher (who’s been out of the classroom for four years) I believe that I was introducing my students to a discovery classroom after putting up a fight because I initially was instructing in a didactic classroom.  By putting up a fight I mean, after I returned from maternity leave there were changes that I wasn’t familiar with and fought them until I finally realized how beneficial things were for my students and me.  I was the teacher who needed to have perfectly printed anchor charts and unfortunately after not giving what I now feel is a suitable “wait time” for students to give an answer, would correct their errors without waiting.  In my last year of having a classroom I was exploring learning through students voicing their interests.  I felt more confident in the reasons why I conferenced, why I let students introduce ideas, and how experiences and experimentation could be implemented more in the classroom (then what I was doing previously).  I think choreographing a thinking classroom is possible and that despite me not being in my own classroom I hope to facilitate and support this mentality.  I believe I see educators within our own school community experimenting with this and that when we collaborate with teachers at this “choreographing” level we can learn from them and eventually try it in our own classrooms.”

Is your experience the same?  I look forward to your thoughts.


Reflection: on entering the library

E contacted me today thinking about career changes, or sidesteps moving from classroom teaching to some of those rarer positions in schools like teacher-librarianship, and asked what are the differences between being a classroom teacher and being a librarian.  Moving into my fourth year in the library, I had a lot to say.  Here’s my response:

I’m doing my M.Ed. right now with a focus on teacher-librarianship. To my knowledge, there are only 2 programs of this calibre and distinction in all of North America…the one I’m in at the University of Alberta is completely online. The other is at the University of San Jose …and I don’t know much about it except that in my program we reference a lot of the work being done there.

I love being a librarian. Doing my M.Ed. I’ve discovered that I could happily move into educational research for the rest of my life. I’m actually going to be teaching one section of media arts (back with real students of my own!) this coming semester. I really miss being able to plan curriculum and I really miss developing relationships with students. However I love the autonomy of working as a teacher-librarian and I love the diversity of the topics and questions that come at me all day long. There’s an awful lot of psychology in the library that I hadn’t anticipated … coaxing students and staff to try new things all day long and building their confidence to go for it. I’d say my job is 3 parts: advocacy, collection and technology. I have a blog if you want to check out my process in learning how to be a librarian, and I’m also really really into Twitter. So do I take my work home? Yeah…reading and information and sharing it is totally addictive and I pretty much do it every waking moment of every day. It’s a total obsession.

However, the role of librarian is completely morphing and you have to be prepared to go there with it. It’s exhausting trying to be the change agent all the time and I feel like my persona is now “that quirky girl with all those crazy ideas”. I’m not sure that they’re taking me seriously. I stimulate a lot of thought maybe, but change takes forever to happen. I have let go of the need to be the expert in the room and I hear myself saying “I don’t know but let’s go find out!” all day long. I read professional reading with breakfast, listen to an audiobook on the car to and from work, and read a third book again before I fall asleep at night.

And most of the work I do is never seen and I have to be ok with that. Going from teaching English/drama/media arts where there were shows and accolades and contests to library meant putting down a lot of ego. I’m trying to get comfortable with servitude but I humbly accept that I may never get there. Like teaching, it’s really busy and always different, but there’s a reliable structure to my day that makes it all possible.

Not sure if I inspired you or scared you, so ask anything.