Category Archives: Reflections; Personal Connections

Going Back to the Start

I look back by assessing myself with how well I did this term by taking a post test on time management, which was the first thing I did at the start of the term. My score was better than the last time!

You’re managing your time very effectively!

Goal Setting: Your score is 14 out of 20   

Prioritization: Your score is 30 out of 35   

Managing Interruptions: Your score is 11 out of 20   

Procrastination: Your score is 6 out of 15   

Scheduling: Your score is 9 out of 15   

I still have a lot of room for improvement, but somehow this term was more manageable than the last time. I could have done a bit more better, but being so swamped with work (my workload is quite unbelievable), I find myself finding less time than I would have wanted allocated to studying. I met and shared a insights with more students this term, than the last time. I wished I could have had more interaction with them through the discussion forums. But having the opportunity to interact, even if it was required, was a good experience. It finally felt like I wasn’t alone struggling to find time for school.

Learning about assessments made me reflect about my own views on assessments as well. It opened my mind to new possibilities of dealing with assessments for school, or for work (or for my life). In particular, the realization that assessments happen all throughout the learning process, and not just at the end of a term, made me more aware of what I was bringing into the learning process, what my learning objectives are for this class, and gauge how well I was doing. I also learned to respect traditional assessments, after several discussion posts arguing against it in favor of alternative assessments. I realized the relevance of traditional assessments while working on rubrics. I guess I have more appreciation for the teaching process now, because setting out learning objectives and preparing assessment rubrics is not that easy!

On a more personal note, working on the assignments, especially on our chosen topic on literacy made me reflect if teaching literature and languages to younger kids is really something I want to do in the future. I am also glad that I was able to work for a bit on adult learning, because it’s something I indirectly deal with for work on a daily basis, and the skill in developing rubrics is very handy too when developing new projects on training adult learners. I would have liked as well to have completed all the modules set out for this course. For some reason, it was cut short. Not that I am complaining, but learning about them would have been fun.

All in all, despite the setbacks, this class has been fun to learn with. Thank you Teacher Malou and classmates! Hope to learn with you again next term!

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Adaptable Assessments

With our country right smack on the typhoon path, and right within the Pacific Belt of Fire, we are no strangers to natural calamities. With the advent of climate change, natural disasters such as excessive flooding, extreme typhoons, and landslides are becoming more frequent than ever. Man-made calamities such as conflicts and wars are often just as destructive.

Whenever natural or man-made calamities occur, classes are often disrupted.  Classrooms are designated as evacuation centers, and there are incidences where school property is damaged as a result. The constant class disruptions has led to more than missing a few days in the total school calendar. In instances when a community and its infrastructure are heavily damaged whether by a strong typhoon, earthquake, or warfare, class disruptions go for weeks or months at end, making schools and teachers cope up by extending their school calendars or starting their lessons all over again. This is on top of low attendance rates due to after-effects of such calamities such as illnesses. It is the students who suffer most, as shown by school drop-outs, low retention of lessons and the like. According to an article by the World Bank (2013) on the impact of climate change in education, reports from organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF, “the cumulative effect of these disturbances on students’ education performance is not well-known, it is certain that interruptions in attendance can only have detrimental consequences for learning outcomes.”

In the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, the law allows for the development of “programs for learners under difficult circumstances (Section 8.5)In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the Department of Education (DepEd) allowed student transferees from affected schools to unaffected areas. Meanwhile, an alternative means of learning for students is through module-based learning called the Alternative Learning System (ALS), as a way for students who are not able to attend school regularly. However, there is still a need to improve the design of ALS to address the needs of students in primary and secondary levels whose education has been disrupted by calamities. The IRR also does not specify programs that can be implemented by the government in “difficult circumstances.

It seems that for a country like the Philippines who experiences an average of 18-24 typhoons a year, our educational system is not yet adaptable for climate change, or even man-made calamities. There is still a strong preference for classroom based learning, even if previous experiences have shown that it takes a longer time before schools, students, and teachers recover and hold regular classes.  In particular, the assessment of ALS is primarily geared towards assessing the promotion of a student from one level to the next. But this may not be an appropriate measure of learning if the entire educational system in a particular province or region is disrupted, as with the case of Leyte and some parts of Samar after Typhoon Haiyan.

As climate change becomes a glaring reality, with storms becoming more ferocious and flooding a regular occurrence, schools and the learning curriculum should be more adaptable. Psychosocial activities are often incorporated by schools into their lessons during the aftermath of disasters and wars to help school children cope with their experiences. Often this has been through a form of art therapy, wherein students are encouraged to draw or paint their emotions. However there is less information on how schools should tackle alternative assessments in the event of a school interruption/disruption in an event of a disaster. While there is a lot of momentum for DepEd, the schools and the teachers to explore how to measure learning in such adverse conditions, in light of the recent catastrophic events,  this also means that designing learning and learning assessments should be more flexible and less traditional. It should also give a particular focus on students’ ability to adapt to their changing environments and experiences.

A Typical Reaction to Traditional Assessments

I have a confession to make…I am allergic to traditional assessments.

I realized this while taking exams in college (and much recently) that I am not really the type to study. When I was in college, I find it easier to remember the lessons being taught in class when I listen to the lecture and participate in discussions. Most of our assessments then were through term papers and class participation because of the nature of my course, so I rarely get to encounter traditional exams that require me to define, enumerate, choose between test items and the like.

But of course, when taking exams to assess proficiency in another language, or subjects like math, for example, traditional assessments are the necessary to gauge learning, but as I mentioned, I am not really the one to study…and I am fond of cramming. Of course, this works to my disadvantage, as I realized recently.

I had to take a completion exam for one of my subjects for PTC. I think I somehow breezed through the essay part. But when I came to the itemized test questions to define and differentiate commonly used terms, and identify acronyms, my heart dropped to the floor and my mind went blank. I remember my brain racing for answers, but I couldn’t find any. I tried the tricks I learned when preparing for the UPCAT to answer questions that I am sure of answering, and I only answered less than 50% of the total questions.

I think I could imagine the red marks on my exam paper, when I re-read through the course materials and found the answers to the questions I fumbled answering (big time). I could only groan in frustration and bite my nails in anticipation of my final grade (huhuhuhuhu). It was a very humbling experience.

I remembered in the discussion forums there was a heated discussion over traditional and alternative assessments. I most likely waved my way to the alternative assessments camp because I am not fond of studying, and I tend to relate my understanding of my learning with my experiences (the tendency of adult learners). But one cannot discount the advantages of traditional assessments, because for a lack of a good description, it grounds the student to the basics. How can a student defend his/her answers well if she/he does not master the basics which traditional assessments best assess?

Assessments through the use of Rubrics

There was a particular question in Assignment 2 that I am not sure if I was able to answer properly. The question was on the value of the course itself to learning about assessments.

In most of my years in a formal school, I am only familiar with one or two grading system. That is getting grades in a form of numbers. I am happy when I get a grade better than 85% or 2.25. Then when the going gets tough, I am happy when I get a passing grade (better than nothing, right?). I am quite aware that there are a lot of other assessments behind those numbers. But being very young and carefree, I don’t really care about it that much. For me then, it’s the final grade that matters.

In my professional life, I encounter rubrics at work due to our regular performance assessments. We also develop our work plans at the start of the contract, and this gives us and our boss basis to review our work performance and outputs. Our HR also regularly gives out the proficiency rubrics to assess our growth in the career ladder, which will eventually be used to assess if we need to move a step up in salary grade.

Learning about alternative assessments, however, made me understand the critical functions of rubrics.  While it took me just a day to work on the reflection portion of the assignment on alternative assessment, it took me a week to think and re-assess the development of rubrics. I find it easy to work on developing a “rubric” for traditional forms of assessment. But it was “trickier” develop rubrics for alternative assessment. I cannot just rely on number of missed answers. I have to be careful on the language I use, lest I miss out on the objectives. What a heavy responsibility it is to develop rubrics that would allow a teacher to properly assess a student’s performance, beyond test scores.

Learning is not a Competition

I recently came across a blog post by Alicia Bayer in her blog Magical Childhood. She wrote that  there is a societal pressure for parents to make sure that their kids do well in school, even at 4-years old, often through comparing it with the achievements of other people’s children. She argues that kids develop in their own pace and that

“…being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.” – Alicia Bayer

I admit that I do have this tendency to compare myself with other moms my age, whenever I see their status messages in Facebook that their children can speak at a younger age, or if they are doing well in school, etc. Though I am trying to calm myself every time I  catch myself doing that with the notion that every child is different and will eventually develop at their own pace, so there’s no need to stress myself over it.

In a blog post for EDS 103, I also wrote that we are teaching kids to fear failure at a young age by enrolling them in special classes for math or English even before they enter formal schools.  I think because parents tend to be so competitive in terms of their child’s achievements we are also sending the wrong message across that for a child to excel in life, they should get good grades and supplement their formal education with all sorts of after-school tutorial activity.  I don’t think that tutorial activities are wrong, it’s just that sometimes a lot of parents tend to overdo it.

Sometimes I observed that formal and traditional schools tend to propagate such perspective as well. In some schools, students are ranked according to their grade averages, which somehow affects how students perceive themselves. If they belong to lower-ranked sections, the students are labeled as slow-learners compared to those in higher-ranked sections.  While learning interventions may be necessary for “slow-learners”, such segregation and labeling could affect a student’s sense of self.

What would be good alternative? Some schools have done away with labeling sections according to numbers (e.g. students with higher grade average are in the first second, and so on). Students can be ranked heterogeneously based on other learner-centered characteristics.   Alternative assessments other than grade averages should also be used. Schools and teachers can also give PTA conferences that would change parent behavior and attitudes towards grades and parenting competition.

Reflections on the Collaborative Exercises

I am very lucky to have a good collaborative partner in Rain because our discussions have taken us deep into thinking about readability and measuring fluency in young readers. Admittedly, because I am not a professional teacher, Rain and I had to look for resources to back up our discussions. And we did manage to cover a lot of ground in our collaborative exercises. However, because we have full-time work commitments, we’re still not done with our collaborative exercises.

The choice of topic for our collaborative exercise was my choice because I find reading an interesting subject to teach. My mother, a reading and literacy major and ESL teacher, taught me and my siblings to read even before going to school at 5 years old. When we were in kindergarten, we would have reading drills with my mother. While I used to find this a chore, I like going through the reading drills with her and listening to my voice “at, bat, cat…” while reading out loud.

I guess the reading drills somehow made reading easier for me. My father is a voracious reader and that instilled the habit of reading. I got high marks in reading comprehension and I took pride of filling up my library cards when I was in elementary. In high school, I was in search of more challenging reading materials, and I had to learn “speed-reading” in college to catch up with the required reading materials. I read when I feel bad or when I have something on my mind. Somehow reading clears up the clutter and gives me eureka moments.

And now, because of the collaborative exercises, I may be following my mother’s footsteps and taking up her interests in teaching reading and literacy. For several years I’ve done development work and I tried to finish (but failed) my masters degree in Urban Planning and I’ve thought of pursuing Public Health because of my current work and interest. But the passion to read, and the responsibility as a mother to pass on reading habits to my son has somehow been slowly taking a front seat. I have an undergraduate degree in literature that I’ve wanted to put into use. Reading makes me happy, why not pursue it full-time? I may follow my mother’s footsteps and take up reading and literacy for my masters degree. I may teach reading to small kids in my spare time when (and if) I finish PTC. I don’t know. Let’s see where the discussions on reading in this class’s collaborative exercises and my reflections on it will take me.

Aligning GE Subjects

In the forums, a question was raised by one of my classmates, Pons Santos, on which of the learning components should be changed if despite of a well-aligned objective, teaching strategy and assessment, learning outcomes are still not achieved. I answered teaching strategy citing my own experiences of teaching strategies often failing to live up to its purpose.

The question though reminded me of my general education (GE) classes in when I was in college in UP Diliman. During my time (it was not so long ago, but long enough for a lot of changes in the GE curriculum to be implemented – from the OLD G.E. program to the “new” REVISED G.E. program), we had to take required GE subjects wherein there would be 30-40 (or even maybe more than 50!) students from various departments and colleges in the university sitting in an auditorium listening to the lecture for an hour and a half. The objectives of the course were noble and true to the university’s commitment to academic excellence, the readings were quite exciting for a freshman who is willing to dive into 12 inch thick photocopied reading articles. It looked like a scene from Hollywood movies set in hallowed Ivy League campuses in the US.

Until you get to sit beside a bored senior college student who was catching up on his/her GE courses to graduate. Or that is until you get to hear your professor speak for the first time. That’s when you realized that your freshmen illusions are shattered and that this GE class is just an academic requirement you need to pass. The fact that a lot of professors in most of these huge-auditorium type classes are simply there to talk for an hour without caring so much (or maybe they do, they just don’t show it maybe?) as long as their students pass the departmental exams, was enough to make me wish that I would be qualified enough to get out of the GE rut and take up my majors. Is this a failure on the teaching strategy or the objective? Is the objective not aligned with the assessment? I think it’s a failure on its objectives.

This brings us to a question as to what are GE classes really for? According to the iskWiki! website of the UP Diliman Interactive Learning Center (2013), GE classes makes up for the “liberal arts education that makes the U.P. student a well-rounded person and ready for lifelong learning skills.” Further, the same website mentioned the following objectives for the GE Program, “to broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons, to foster a commitment to nationalism balanced by a sense of internationalism, to cultivate a capacity for independent, critical and creative thinking, and to infuse a passion for learning with a high sense of moral and intellectual integrity.” How lofty is that?

I do have several fun GE classes, like Humanities 1 & 2, Social Studies 1& 2, my Communication 1-3 classes, even my Math 1 and Nat Sci 1  & 2 were somehow fun. We had a lot of exciting projects that made it interesting to perk up general interest and made me conversant in topics pertaining to arts, psychology and social sciences, public speaking, geography and biology. Though there were some GE subjects where I can’t remember a thing more than a decade after college. It seemed that time spent inside the classroom attending to those subjects were a just a blur. I do have some funny anecdotes about STS or PI 100, but they were really all I remembered in class, though in fairness to STS, I managed to read the abstract on Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” because it was required.

But how much of the GE subjects went beyond appreciation?  Humanities and Communication subjects were somehow a pre-requisite to more survey courses and eventually our major subjects in Anglo-American Literature, so it helped me a lot in terms of enhancing reading comprehension and writing skills, as well as a general understanding of arts and humanities which were required for the course. And maybe to some extent Math 1 and Philosophy 1 in terms of logically arranging my ideas. But how about STS? PI 100?

During my time in college, maybe right before I graduated, there were already too many disgruntled students who had the same opinion that some GE classes are just not worth their time. Department heads were scrambling around trying to find the solution to classes wherein students attend simply for attendance purposes and maybe get a passing grade to be able to graduate. Eventually the university managed to pass a Revised GE Program in 2003 (not without protest, as this is UP. People protest everything and you can never please everybody). According to a page from UP Baguio – College of Science (2013), RGEP still have the same objectives of ensuring that every UP student becomes a “well-rounded person, with lifelong learning skills” and still focuses on 3 main subject domains in the (1) arts and humanities, (2) social sciences and philosophy, and (3) natural sciences and mathematics. But it has a very specific statement on the competencies that a U.P. student should develop after completing 45 units of GE courses, “oral and written communication skills, independent and critical thinking, and creative thinking.” And unlike when I was taking up GE courses, students can choose which subjects to take, as long as they meet the required number of units per subject domain.

While I do not have access to studies assessing the implementation and outcomes of the RGEP, it was reported by The Philippine Collegian in 2011 that based on a study conducted by the UP Diliman Office of the Chancellor “students score an average of 1.25 in GE subjects.” This may have to be correlated with other UP units, and if students were indeed able to demonstrate higher levels of independent, critical and creative thinking in other subjects, more aligned to their major subjects, as well as in opinion-making on general issues, among others. However the article also pointed out the problem in logistics. Take for example, STS classes are the bane of a lot of UP students simply because the student to teacher ratio is too high. Teachers are not very effective because its really difficult to manage a class of 30-50 students from different departments and colleges.

In conclusion, the GE program has some very lofty and well-meaning objectives. In my experience, with having too lofty objectives, it fails to translate into appropriate teaching strategies and assessment. However, taking up GE subjects, based on my experience, somehow contributed to my personal and professional development by opening up whole new subjects I would have never read or understood beyond my own major. It would be interesting to know how UP (would) assess implementation of the RGEP and introduce innovations to the program based on the results. And as any UP student and alumni would tell you, taking up GE subjects and the anecdotes in relation to it is universal to any UP student and somehow (for better or worse) defines them when they step out of the university’s confines.