PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Making Thinking Visible

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Over the past few weeks, I have been working with our learning communities on using a variety of thinking strategies during the implementation of inquiry projects.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Ron Ritchart’s work on “Making Thinking Visible” focuses on the following

  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners’ thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners’ attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the “dispositional” side of thinking).
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

One thinking routine that was very well liked by our students and teachers is Chalk Talk.  In Chalk Talk, the students are asked to think about ideas presented to them, make connections to others’ responses and then question the ideas and responses of their peers. It is very easy to implement and is an excellent way to stimulate some great “silent discussion” in the classroom!

Key Thinking Processes from Chalk Talk

  • Makes room for all learners to have a voice
  • Makes learning visible by focusing on reactions, connections, and questions
  • Encourage reflective thinking.

This specific Thinking Strategy was implemented by our LC5, LC6 and LC7.  It was exciting to see is our grade 7 students who had already worked through the process became experts and went to our LC6 classrooms to coach the students through the process and provide feedback.

Student Reflections on the process of Chalk Talk

“I enjoyed the Chalk Talk experience.  Everyone cooperating and sharing ideas.  Even people who don’t usually answer questions participated.  This learning experience gave me an idea about what was to come, as well as making it interesting.”

“This was good to do because people who don’t speak out in class got to answer here.  Everyone has a chance to answer. Also, you can bump off of peers’ ideas.  You can answer questions put out by others and agree with them.  This makes our thinking visible in class.  This also helps with collaboration.  We work together to create good ideas but we are doing this silently as well, we don’t say anything! We should do this again!”

“I liked the Chalk Talk because it gave the people who don’t usually speak up in class a voice.  It pushed learning because we could feed off of each other’s ideas and ask questions.  We could look at what everyone thought, and answer questions or add to everyone’s’ thoughts”

I would highly recommend taking a look at Ron Ritchart’s work on Thinking Routines.

Claudia Scanga

Student Engagment

Student Engagement

“What Are We Doing at School Today?”

This is the question we asked ourselves at Greystone and what we should expect to see as we walk into classrooms.  As we continued to develop our students’ skills in inquiry and strong instructional practices with our teachers, we still felt we needed to see more active intellectual engagement by our students.  Using our Professional Development Days, our staff worked collaboratively to help define what intellectual engagement is.  There were many discussions such as, what are the students’ actions within the classroom that help define it and what are the strategies and practices that teachers should be doing with the class to help foster and develop intellectual engagement within our students.

As we continued our work around student engagement, we continued to revisit the big question:

“What do we believe about Learner Engagement and what is the evidence we are getting it right for our learners?”

As teachers shared specific projects, experiences and practices that exemplified successful engagement, we then collectively put the ideas into words and processes which would guide our practices.  This is what we came up with:

Risk Taking: Learners are persevering to grow outside their boundaries.

Creating:  Learners are thinking, acting, and engaging with ideas to discover possibilities.

Collaborating: Learners are open-minded to different perspectives in order to build an interdependent learning community.

Questioning: Learners’ natural curiosity is leading them to explore deeper learning.

Ensuring Authentic Learning: Learners are emotionally and intellectually invested in work that is personally relevant and deeply connected to the world in which they live.

Providing Evidence:  Learners are an active part of the assessment and feedback process and therefore move their learning forward.

For each of the six components, examples were given of how students and teachers would demonstrate them and what it would look like within the classroom.  As learning coach, this document is helping me guide my work with teachers in terms of providing criteria for planning and reflective feedback, common language and examples, and moving our staff’s learning forward in a similar direction.

Claudia Scanga

More Hours In A Day

More hours in a day! As I started the year in my position as learning Coach and teaching grade 6 for the other .5, I found it to be very manageable and a refreshing balance.  As the year progressed and I became more comfortable in my role as Learning Coach, the scale began to tip and maintaining a balance is becoming more difficult.  Being in classrooms and team teaching or modeling certain instructional practices has filled my learning coach blocks with the reflection of lessons or strategies happening after school.  This is working fine but keeping up with my teaching partner and own teaching team is challenging.  There are times when I felt that I have not given my own grade 6 100% of what they deserved.  I am extremely pleased that staff members want me to come into their classrooms and collaborative plan or problem solve.  As stated in some other posts, teachers are understanding our role of Learning Coach and beginning to value and support it.

Claudia Scanga

Putting it into Practice

In the past few months, I have spent a lot of my coaching time planning inquiry projects with teams of teachers.  Working with a common planning template and an inquiry rubric that  has allowed myself and teachers to bring strong instructional practices to the forefront and embed important inquiry components.  Our Focus was on students formulating worthy questions to investigate and research then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge.  That knowledge was new to the students and used to answer questions, to make discoveries, and to support a position or point of view.  The inquiry rubric is the framework we used to support the planning, assessment and reflection of our inquiry projects.

Our LC8 Renaissance Project

I believe the success of this project was depended on the following:

  • Collaborative  planning with the LC8 teachers using our planning template and inquiry rubric
  • Co-creating criteria for powerful questions, jot notes and visual representations
  • Scaffolding the assignments to accommodate the different levels of learning
  • Embedded feedback from peers and teachers throughout the project
  • Team teaching of the various skills
  • Voice and choice of the students to choose their area of interest
  • Continually making connections to the generative questions and  present day
  • Performance based assessments
  • Making the student work public
  • Reflection from teachers to inform their practices

Since our cognitive coaching training and implementing my role as learning coach, I felt I genuinely integrated certain skills that we learned and practiced.  Being able to work through the LC8 Renaissance project in its entirety has been most beneficial. Having a morning together to plan collaboratively with the teachers gave me the opportunity to ask the good questions and intentionally make adaptions for all level of learners.  Following the planning stage, I spent a great deal of time in the classrooms both teaching lessons alongside the teachers and working with students.  The next valuable learning opportunity for me was putting the reflecting planning template in motion.  We would reflect/debrief  after each lesson in addition to written reflection by the teachers.  The following were some of their insights

What was the biggest shift in my own teaching?

–          Relinquishing control of the classroom

–          Having their inquiry questions lead the direction of the project

–          Not having a set outcome but allowing kids to explore what they        believe  is important… the why?

–          Being available to assist students when they need it

–          Not marking everything at the end but doing regular assessments throughout the entire process =AWESOME

What instructional practices were the most beneficial to the students and their learning?

–          Allowing the students to create big questions and not give them the research questions

–          Teaching students how to write good jot notes

–          Regular check ins for learning

–          Daily self-reflections/evaluations on individual and group tasks

What were your main successes in this project?

–          Allowing students choice in their research topic

–          Allowing students to focus on their area of interest

–          Allowing students to work at their own pace independently and groups but doing regular check in and mini lessons to make sure the understanding was there

–          The end project

What would you do differently in your next project?

–          We would have talked more about what makes a good exhibit and the final presentation at the end.

–          Have exemplars to have students to look at (took pictures of these projects so that students will have an opportunity to look at examples)

–          Have students really think about the group members they are working with… friends are not always the best choice

Implementing this project did not come without challenges, one of the biggest for me was scheduling.  I did have to do some juggling with my own classroom teaching schedule in addition to receiving additional release time from our administrative team.  I am looking forward to carrying out a similar process with our LC7 team in a few weeks.




Goal Setting

How should we roll it out? Was the question that our admin team and I continued to revisit and have  had numerous conversations about this past month.  Using our planning mode, we began with the vision of our school and how are we going to continue to move forward.
Not wanting  the role of the learning coach to be fragmented and disconnected from the goals of our school and the division goals and initiatives, we felt it important for staff to make the connections.  At our PD day, we asked staff to work with the big idea of student engagement because engagement is the key ingredient in the learning of all students.
It was a valuable day of reflecting, sharing and learning from each other as we focused on our big theme/overarching question “What do we believe about engaging our learners and what is the evidence that we are getting it right for our learners?”
My next step is for me to work with each learning community to narrow their focus and choose a goal to improve on and refine in their classrooms.  We discussed how the process may look with the key features being:
-Working with 2 teachers in the planning and reflection of their goals
-Continue planning for  strong inquiry work with critical thinking embedded in the projects
-Feedback and our feed-forward loop to inform our practices and improve student learning
I am excited about the direction our school is taking and to begin goal setting with our teams.
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