Archive for Student Learning

Reflections on Creating a New Music Program – Mat Pechtel, Music/French Teacher

Thanks, Mat, for sharing the learning from your year!

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This year has been a whirlwind of activity and learning. I feel like this year has flown by, and I have had many challenges, successes and failures throughout the year. Having never taught purely music before, I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this year with the task of starting a music program. I went to a wonderful PD in August that was all about teaching elementary music, and that was a HUGE help, not just for the resources I received from it, but to get myself into the mindset of a musical educator, including gaining confidence in my singing abilities.

The beginning of the year was a little bit chaotic. The music room was occupied by 2 grade 5 classes as they waited for the portables to be completed, so I was traveling class to class with my computer and speakers, trying to sing songs with students and teach them musical concepts. Doing this in their usual classroom space was very challenging, especially for the students in grade 7, who had not had “music” class since they were in grade 4.

Once I moved into the music room, things started to feel like a real musical space. I left the space wide open, with no chairs unless they are needed, and have tried to create a welcoming environment where students are able to express themselves musically without judgement. The acoustics in the room are wonderful, and I am able to hear every voice in the room while we are singing. Having a dedicated musical space has also helped students with their musical learning, as they aren’t in their “usual” classroom, and are instead in a space filled with instruments, posters, and things that are all focused on one thing: Music.

After doing primarily singing and working with dynamics for the first few months of the school year, we were lucky enough to order a class set of Ukuleles for the music program, and a few weeks after returning from Christmas Break, we began to learn the Ukes. I chose Ukes for the playing portion of the instrument for a few reasons. Firstly, I play the Ukulele and had used it in the music room before to accompany songs we had sung. Secondly, I feel that recorders are overused in music classrooms and don’t really translate into future learning unless the student decides to join the school band and play a wind instrument. Ukuleles are easy to pick up and learn, inexpensive (many students have purchased their own and bring them to class), easy to maintain, and are something that students play outside of the classroom. Not to mention 30 ukuleles playing at the same time is much more tolerable than 30 recorders.

My biggest challenge this year was developing effective ways to assess student growth. Music is a very performance based subject, and I don’t think that paper and pencil tests on musical concepts is the best way to do it. I would rather students demonstrate for me their understanding of a concept through singing or playing, than be able to write down that they know that “forte” means loud. I began to record videos of every class singing various songs, and have used these as my assessments of each student. During class time try to listen to every student as they sing or play, and have the video as evidence for the future. Also it is a great way for the students to have instant feedback on their singing and playing, because we are able to watch and listen to what they have done seconds after they finish the song.
Assessing Ukuleles has been a little bit different, as they are starting from scratch in learning them. I would teach a few notes or a song to the students, give them time to practice and then they would come play for me when they felt they were ready. No “playing tests” or anything, just showing me what they were working on so I could track progress. I ensured that I saw every student at least once every 2-3 classes, and then could track their growth throughout the term. By the end of the Ukulele unit, I had students lined up waiting to play for me, some even multiple times per class, when they figured out a part of the song we were working on. They really surprised me and bought into the music program, taking ownership of their own learning in the musical environment.

Overall, this year I have taken chances, made mistakes, and grown in many different ways. This year has reinforced my love to teaching, and music, and I am looking forward to taking chances and growing the music program at Greystone over the years to come.

Reflections on Student Ownership of Learning & Wellness – Derek Heale, LC7 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Derek!

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Team Goal
Are we ensuring student success by creating clear and purposeful learning intentions and shared success criteria?

At the beginning of the year one of the first things myself and my team did was sit down together and make our schedule. Some of us were thinking about how many hours we needed to teach certain subjects and who was going to teach what subject and when. Others were stressing the importance of being flexible and allowing the learning to happen and being able to change something later in the year if needed. All very valid points to take into consideration when building a schedule. We talked with Carolyn and Jesse and they both shared their opinions however, neither told us what we had to do. Instead they encouraged us to think what would be best for the kids and the learning. I loved this bottom/up approach. I realized at this time that Greystone encourages their teachers to take risks, try new things and through trial and error we will truly be able to make the best judgments and understand what is best for the kids, learning and our learning communities.
I wanted to set a goal for myself at the beginning of the year to ensure student success by creating clear and purposeful learning intentions and shared success criteria. This was an area both myself and my team wanted to grown in. I have always allowed my students to have a say in their learning to a certain extent. This year I wanted the learners in my class to take more ownership and have a clear understanding of what they were learning and how they were going to be assessed. With advice from my team and other staff throughout the year, I received a lot of great methods and ideas of how to best achieve this. By modeling expectations students will be able to understand what learning is intended to happen. Checking in at the beginning of the class and underlying important learning topics brought up in our previous class was also a great way to establish the intentions of learning. I would sometimes just talk about what we learned the previous day and why it was important and how we can apply this information to everyday life and then move on to the next concept. I find this review time sparks the conversation and allows them to think back on conversations we had and information learned in a previous day – it ties it together nicely and it sets the intentions for learning.
Another area I wanted to tackle this year was co-created criteria. I have done this in previous years of teaching but not to the extent I was able to do at Greystone. Utilizing my team, learning coaches, administration, and PD sessions I really came to the understanding about how IMPORTANT this is. If students are involved in the process of building the learning intentions the quality of work will, and has proven to drastically increase. Giving the students the ownership for building rubrics, setting criteria and discussing what exemplary looks like when compared to beginning is a beautiful thing. Let them put it in their OWN language – make the learning intentions clear, visible and understanding. Continuing to do this throughout the year has truly paid off. Not only does it allow students to see why what we are learning is important it makes the entire learning process very clear. Students know what the end product should look like because they established it.
Another way which we ensured the learning intentions were always very clear was by establishing feedback loops regularly where they would have guiding questions to focus on. It was a bit of a struggles establishing what a feedback loop between peers should look like. We modeled this and had many discussions in regards to what this type of feedback should look like and sound like. Eventually the students improved in this area. I strongly believe that by continuing to have peer feedback loops students were able to find areas for growth for their peers and themselves. They came to eventually truly value the opinions of their peers. I also enjoyed the time that I could give immediate feedback while conferencing with students whether it was individually or as a group. It was during these times I was able to check in with the learners in our homeroom and ensure they have a true understanding of what is being learned.
During my time at Greystone I have come to the conclusion that making learning intentions clear and understandable for students is a very important concept. To continue to constantly review what is being learned and why it is important is crucial to the learning. It has been so nice to have this set as personal growth to work on because it kept me accountable to ensure my students were “in the know”. However, I still have growth to make in this area and will continue to research other ideas that I could use to ensure this goal is being met regularly. I would like to keep this concept in mind next year while attending PD sessions and as I plan for lessons. I was surprised by the amount of self-dependence that was built by establishing clear learning intentions and shared successful criteria. Whether it was creating criteria for specific assignments or carrying an academic conversation on with their peers it was very rewarding to see what my students are capable of on their own, when given the chance to learn independently. It was also great to see these skills learned in everyday conversations and situations outside of the classroom.

Personal Goal

How can I maintain a work life and personal life balance?

Being in the profession that I have chosen for myself I struggle with this question. It is a question I find myself pondering every year (some more than others). How can I make more time for Derek?

I would like to think that I made some progress in regards to this goal this year. I will say this year in Greystone has been a learning year for me. I learned so much while working at here. I took risks and tried a lot of new things. Sometimes this did not always allow much time for myself. Along the way I picked up some very beneficial learning strategies that I will apply throughout my years of teaching.
I spent a lot of time this year coaching and helping with other extracurricular, this too was very important to me especially being new to Greystone. I wanted to have opportunities to get to know kids outside of the classroom and I genuinely like sports and staying active. This too, took up a lot of time outside of school, but I would not have done it any other way. I had a great time coaching and getting to know kids and their families outside of the school. It was great to see them achieve success whether it was in volleyball, Rabbit Hill or at the Vancouver Sun Run.
I did make it a goal to ensure I was spending time with my family and friends often this year. This was a huge reason I moved home from Vancouver. I do think I could improve in this area. I made sure to sign up for races this year and attend different sporting events or schedule times I would go to the mountains. I am glad I made more of an effort to do this throughout the year.
I think this goal is something that a lot of teachers struggle with. I would not say I fully achieved this goal this year and I am sure I can find other strategies to make sure I am taking care of myself more next year. I need to remember that although teaching is much more than a career to me, I still need to take time for myself and do things that make me happy with people I care about. Time and life is too short not to.

Feedback Promotes Growth for Both Students & Our First Year Teacher – Courtney Albrecht, LC5 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Courtney!

Professional Growth Plan – Year End Reflection
Posted on May 27, 2015
As the end of the year draws near, it is time for me to reflect upon my personal Professional Growth Plan goal.

My admin has asked for me to please comment on the following:

How did you do with the goals you set for yourself at the start of this year and/or what unexpected learning happened for you?
What questions do you still have about this?
In thinking ahead to next year – what might you do to continue to push your learning in this area?
Personal Goal
Goal: To become a reflective practitioner in order to demonstrate personal and promote student growth.
TQS Reference: Teacher’s ongoing analysis of the context, and the teacher’s decisions about which pedagogical knowledge and abilities to apply result in optimum learning by students.

1. At the beginning of this year, it was an overwhelming experience to meet a new team who was getting to know each other and for half of us getting to know the school at the same time. As a teacher new to the profession, this was a moment for me to really stop and think about what I needed for success this year. In setting the goal for myself to become a more reflective practitioner, I did not realize how important things like blogging would become for me. Weekly class blog posts and personal blog posts became a way for me to look back and plan for my class and professionally. I started participating in weekly Twitter chats and a book club via Voxer and Twitter. It was an amazing way for me to receive immediate feedback from peers across the globe. I started to connect with more people and built my self-confidence to take the risks my students needed me to take for our classroom and their learning. I started to reach out to my grade level team and share my ideas. I also started to seek feedback from my teaching teams – LC 5 and French. I became confident and aware of myself as a teacher and as I pushed myself, I also pushed my students to grow as learners. I see such a difference in their ability to reflect and self-assess.

As I became more comfortable with my team and my teaching, the students started to show their own confidence in their learning by pushing themselves to deeper levels in their thinking and appreciating the opportunity to collaborate. Most importantly for me as an educator, I now have my own reflections to look back upon and share and I have shown my students the importance on reflecting as well. Together we tried new things and when they didn’t work, we stopped and looked back at how we could fix them or how we could move forward from them. As one of my students said recently during a project “just because it didn’t work out the way we planned, we still learned from it and if we were to redo it, we could fix it or we can remember what we learned for the next project”.

2. My biggest question is how can I take the culture of feedback and collaboration I have built-in my class and bring it with me into my teaching and working with my colleagues? I would like to find a way to build in opportunities for professional feedback from other teachers on different grade level teams. Feedback is such an important part of who I am as a professional. While I appreciate the feedback I receive from my PLN outside of the school/district, the value of receiving feedback from someone who understands the school context is priceless to me.

3. I’d like to find ways to collaborate more with different grades and different schools, which is something I have started to look into lately. I’d also like to strive to share best practices with more people by finding times to connect with other teachers from different grades or schools.

Greystone Hosts Our First Learning Day

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We stepped outside of our comfort zone at Greystone as we opened the doors to our school and our classrooms for a day of learning together last Friday. Our students and staff “walked the talk” of making our learning public, transparent and meaningful as we invited educators from our School Division and beyond to co-create a day of shared learning. Fifty teachers, administrators, district superintendents moved in and out of our classrooms talking to our students and staff about how learning is being made purposeful, deep and intellectually engaging at Greystone. We shared our practices and asked for feedback around the following topics:

– Formative Assessment through feedback loops, co-creating criteria, sharing learning intentions
– Thinking Strategies including Questioning, Socratic Circles, See-Think-Wonder, Chalk Talk and Debate
– Inquiry Projects that embed the Alberta Education Competencies
– Team Teaching
– Innovation Week
– Teacher Collaboration and Planning Time
– Flexible Block Scheduling
– Looping
– Alternative Classroom Design & Flexible Groupings of Students
– Mindfulness
– Bring Your Own Device Initiative

The day included sharing and conversation from our guests, too, as they joined and/or facilitated informal “EdCamp Style” discussions in the afternoon.

The highlight of the day was definitely our students! Our guests shared feedback with us about how well our students were able to speak the language of their learning as they described the work they are doing and the purpose behind it.

Congratulations to our Greystone Family for creating a day of memorable learning for each other and our guests. Thanks to all of our guests for joining us. Here are a few tweets from the day:

Bridge Building – An Inquiry into Structural Engineering and Design

“If I didn’t have to go back to my work at the University, I would be working here in this school…it is amazing!”

This message was shared with me by a guest to Greystone, the Communications Director from the University of Alberta Engineering Department, who was writing a story about the partnership between University Students and Greystone Students for the University’s newsletter/website.

Sometimes I forget how amazing it is to work in a school where the energy is contagious, the commitment to student engagement and deep, meaningful learning is pervasive and the network of support and collaboration among colleagues is a priority. This was evident throughout a recent project undertaken by our Learning Community 7 team of teachers and students who came to the end of their Bridge Building Inquiry today. The work culminated with a final visit from University of Alberta Engineering Students, who served as experts to our students by providing them with ongoing feedback on the bridge structures they were designing as their “companies” developed proposals for the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton.

This inquiry process highlighted the critical components of a successful, student driven, inquiry based learning experience as it included the following:

-guiding question to create student engagement in the learning
-immersion in the topic through exposure to a real world context for the learning –>the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton
-opportunity to connect with experts in the field–>architect from the Walterdale Bridge Project met with our students and students asked powerful questions designed to deepen their understanding of the bridge being built in Edmonton; Structural Engineer came to speak with students about bridge construction and his company offered cash prizes to student “companies” that could meet the criteria for bridge design; University of Alberta Engineering Students who mentored our students through the project
-ongoing feedback loops embedded into the design of this project to ensure students were meeting the criteria for the various components of the project (blueprint design, budget, invoice, process reflections, planning and delivery of presentation, proposal, bridge construction)
-multiple check ins with students to ensure each member of the Bridge Project Team was fulfilling his/her responsibilities
-field trip to the site of the new Walterdale Bridge to gather more information using direct observations

The 125 students and 5 teachers celebrated the end of a challenging, collaborative effort to go deeper into their understanding of structures and bridge design that proved to be about much more than “covering” Science outcomes. Through this project, students developed skills in goal setting, organization and planning, budgeting, collaboration and teamwork, persuasive proposal writing, presentation development and public speaking, gathering research, reflection, time management and perseverance.The culminating activity was a final visit from the Engineering Student Mentors who assessed the top Bridge “companies” on their ability to deliver a bridge design that had excellent aesthetics, demonstrated strength and was cost efficient. Seeing the enthusiasm as students came to the end of a successful process AND final product was inspiring – congratulations to Learning Community 7 for raising the bar on the work we do to provide deep learning at Greystone.

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Innovation Week5 at Greystone

 

 

 

Our Retiring Teacher ~ A Lifelong Learner

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I have had the privilege of working with Dale Johnston for the past nine years at Greystone Centennial Middle School. Dale has set the bar high for what it means to be a collaborative, team player and lifelong learner. During the time I have known Dale, he has demonstrated enthusiasm for learning from his colleagues and has been highly reflective in his practice, continuing to grow and become stronger each year as he pursues powerful learning for his students. Dale has also contributed to the learning of his colleagues. He is someone who staff regularly seek out for advice. Students love Dale as he is always ready to coach a team or provide an opportunity for them to get together in his room and just hang out. We will miss Dale at Greystone but I am sure that no matter where he goes or what interests he pursues next, he will continue to be a keen learner along the way.

Professional Growth Plan Reflection

For Dale Johnston

June 2014

This year I had the benefit of working with the same team and students which limited the transition at the beginning of the year, and allowed me to quickly draw on the strengths of my team members. Our team time focus this year was more on collaborative planning on larger projects.  We tried to spend less time on discussing daily lessons which had its trade-offs. Due to the increased distance between learning spaces we did not congregate for short informal chats after school like we did in the first year of our loop. Those chats allowed us to share daily successes and challenges and clarify the various shared lessons we were using. Although we knew each other better due to our looping practices, I think we missed out on the intimate communication that should be done face to face to allow for clarification and confirmation of next steps. It was one of those informal practices that only gets noticed when the opportunity disappears.

My primary focus for growth this year was to continue in the use of inquiry and establish practices that would make student understanding more visible. My hope was to gain a better understanding of what student strengths were, demonstrated through daily shared learning in class and confirmed on assessments.  I could then revise my own teaching strategies, to support the areas that students demonstrated were in need of growth, in a timely manner.

During my previous PGP meeting I shared my concerns about multiple choice assessment questions that did not encourage my students to show their thought process. During the discussion that followed, it was emphasized how I needed to instil the motivation required, to encourage students to show their thought process.  I was provided with advice on how to ensure that students would make their thought process clear for these types of assessment tools. Since assessment drives instruction and learning, it was necessary for me to adjust the scoring of questions so that the answer was only one of many possible marks for each question. The result was students responded to the changes by drawing tables and charts or images to demonstrate their thought process. They also displayed equations that were used at various stages in the solution process. Since marks were available for demonstrating the problem solving strategies used from start to finish, students also got into the habit of highlighting or underlining the important information in the problem. So what was the result of all of this?

  • Students were given credit for understanding various decisions that went into the problem solving process. This motivated them to demonstrate even a partial process (rather than simply estimate an answer without any evidence). Overall scores improved and students engaged in conversations about how their results improved.
  • The demonstration of process allowed me to recognize where instruction had been successfully grasped and provided me clues on where my instruction needed improvement.
  • Follow-up after the initial assessment allowed students to respond to alternate strategies and methods, prior to writing a similar assessment.
  • Re-evaluating their ability to solve multi-step problems provided in a multiple choice format on re-writes afforded me the chance to compare instructional strategies to utilize in upcoming lessons.
  • Students were encouraged to show their own unique strategies derived from connections they had made with previous learning.  Sometimes these strategies were embraced by the class since they had all been exposed to the previous learning.
  • This example of interdependent learning was encouraged but credit must be given to the students who took the risk to expose their unique problem solving process.

Showing process was not a goal limited to Math only. During our Evidence and Investigation unit in Science, students were provided opportunities to carry out finger printing, hand writing analysis and chromatography experiments. Throughout the experiments it was reinforced that the process of testing each criteria was the critical piece and that the final answer was simply the conclusion of the process.  Students who demonstrated these steps, were reward on their performance based assessment. The performance based assessment that had been created earlier by our team and revised from previous use to focus on process and inference was carried out in a collaborative setting.  This allowed students to ask new questions based on their initial results (an important aspect of Science we refer to as focus). Students who bought into the process and demonstrated their step by step analysis were rewarded with exceptional marks. This effective assessment tool still needs more revisions though since some students did not recognize the need to show the necessary analysis of all measurable evidence to come up with their conclusions (and it showed in their marks). Prior exposure to the detailed score sheet I utilized would have encouraged more students to show their process (but unfortunately it was not ready to share until after the assessment was completed). This was an opportunity lost and is a tool available if others choose to use this effective assessment.

In addition to the focus on demonstrating process, our team continued the school-wide focus on Inquiry. Inquiry was evident in three of the core subjects as projects in Humanities and Science provided students the opportunity to create their own guiding questions and then create meaning from the resulting research. Current Events and Greek Week were used to promote inquiry in Humanities. Sky Science afforded two opportunities for our students to present research on constellations and a planet of their choosing. My use of additional structure in these projects this year (regular feedback, rubrics and exemplars) was evident, since most students responded to the concepts we were measuring. The Sky Science projects had been used in the past with success and were ideal platforms to utilize inquiry. Unfortunately I was absent for the final days of Greek Week and missed the showcase and the stories students shared about their projects. Earlier projects in Science (Forest Management Project, Planet 11 Project) utilized inquiry and were excellent opportunities to engage in inference.  The Forest Management Project offered us the opportunity to engage in collaborative assessment since students were shifted to various classrooms to interact with other student groups. Collaborating during evaluation on LC wide common assessments is a topic I would like to reflect on next.

I feel we missed out on some valuable opportunities including ongoing collaborative evaluation by our team. This would include follow-up revisions to assessment practices based on patterns demonstrated in student results. The rare times that we did collaborate for evaluation purposes (team time used to evaluate the Language Arts Part A test) the team was afforded the opportunities to reflect on common assessment standards and what constituted proficient verses approaching proficient. Even with the use of exemplars and rubrics, there was plenty of dialogue requesting second opinions to verify our decisions. This is a time consuming process but one I felt was valuable for my own assessment practices. I believe it is essential for us to use assessment and results to drive our instruction and any meaningful dialogue we can have on common assessments is time well spent.

Although our team had many successes, I think that many new challenges came to our attention and will be addressed in the near future. What I have really appreciated over the past few years is the mindset in our building that seeking help with teaching practices is an opportunity for shared growth. Our teaching staff has consistently demonstrated enthusiasm when we come to them for guidance or simply a second opinion on learning strategies. It helps me reflect on my own practices when people consult me and I continually find better ways to improve the learning environment in my classroom. It makes a difference since we are constantly challenged to guide our students through more meaningful learning experiences.

Seems like a strange time to retire with so many opportunities to grow as an educator, with the necessary support network in place to ensure success.

New Role ~ New Teams ~ New Learning

 

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Trish Spink joined our school Leadership Team this year as she took on the role of our Inclusive Education Lead Teacher. In addition, Trish demonstrated her incredible flexibility and collaborative spirit by team teaching in Learning Community 6. Trish and her teaching team re-designed our Media Centre to accommodate two classes of students. Working more closely with Trish this year and seeing her non-stop enthusiasm, proactive and supportive approach with students, families and colleagues has been a real highlight of my year!

Reflection – Trish Spink 2013/2014

 The Risks I Took:

Taking the Inclusive Education position was a risk for me.  I remember when I was approached with this opportunity my initial thought was that I could never do this alone and I now know that I was right. What I learned this year is that I didn’t have to do it alone, and with the support of an amazing team I loved this position.  The constant communication and collaboration made it so I always knew the direction to take and had confidence in my ability to do what was best.  I also appreciated and grew from the encouragement for ongoing professional development and learning.   A highlight has been working closely with Administration, our Learning Coach and outside services to provide students and families extra support.  I have seen the benefits of how wrap around services can improve learning and promote health and wellness.  By taking this risk and with the amazing support, I realize that I am thrilled to continue this career path.

What I Loved:

This year I had the chance to work with and on many different teams.  A highlight has been team teaching.  Not only did I share a classroom space but I also shared my students.  In the beginning I struggled a bit with giving up control but I soon saw the benefits and realized that we were a natural fit.  I believe that being able to utilize flexible groupings allowed us to better meet the needs of our students and support all types of learners.  We were able to build upon each other’s strengths and this was evident in our student’s growth and in the supportive learning environment within our classroom community.  My students have become more independent and their thinking skills have matured as a result of this environment.

What I am Proud of:

The past two years part of my professional growth has been having my students develop good questioning skills. This year my students continued to develop this skill and I am proud of the quality of their learning.  We have been very conscientious to start each learning task with questioning and there has been a natural progression to where our students are now more capable of coming up with good questions.  Collectively our team has created dynamic learning tasks where the students have interacted with various skills in order to reach their end learning product. I am also very proud of our progression with technology because we have made it meaningful for the students and it has enhanced their learning.

What I Learned Along the Way:

I have learned many important things and have once again been reminded not to take anything for granted and that my life and my work is a gift. I love to work hard, play hard and “not sweat the small stuff.”

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