This is the third time I have begun my blog post. It took me awhile to decide on a topic. Finally, in a flash it came to me. I want to share the “YES” that is becoming more common in my daily work. I have been in many classrooms in both schools, actually probably most classrooms. In the last little while, I have revisited some classrooms for check-in and follow-up make observations of both students and the teachers’ practices. Through these observations, I have had the most remarkable insight and consequently, heart-warming conferences following the observation period. During our debrief, I have been able to point out to the teacher that the work they have put into implementing strategies we have previously collaborated on are, in my humble opinion, successful and require only a few small tweaks. It is clear to me that over the last few months, these teachers have made changes to their practices rather than trying to change the students. Their dedication to improving their craft to meet the students “where they are at” has resulted in improved student engagement and learning. It is so satisfying to go through a list of successful strategies rather than a list of “suggested” strategies. It is so heart-warming to affirm for the teacher the awesomeness of their work. Many teachers are taken aback as they are in the moment and too close to see how far the students have moved. I tell them it is like being an athlete who never accepts a personal best as the best they can be. Always striving for more is what athletes, musicians, artists, and yes, teachers do; it is in our nature. Once they see their way past the haze of the moment and look at the big picture, these teachers recognize their success at nurturing the best learning environment for their students and that sometimes, our best is letting our search for perfection go and accepting that what may be perceived as a small change is often BIG for the success of their students.
Just in my first year in the Learning Coach Role, I often reflect on my effectiveness and my ability to assist others to change their practice. Earlier this week, I was affirmed that I may be doing just that! As mentioned in my previous post, I am working with a grade three teacher with a student blogging project. I have modeled using the placemat strategy as a means to ensure all students are engaged, have a voice, and are able to assess their own learning, specifically to develop criteria and requirements for Powerful Blog Entries (yes Diane, we discussed the difference). Rather than speak about the actual lessons again, I would like to speak to the wonderful “aha” moment both the teacher and I had. After being away from the school for a week, I did a check in. She related a story about how she “just” about used the placemat strategy for another lesson, separate from our project. However, she was reluctant to “do it wrong” so she went back to a familiar, but less effective strategy. I was both excited and a little saddened by this. Excited, because she was looking for ways to incorporate the strategy into her practice and saddened, because I wondered if I hadn’t given her sufficient information, support, or something (?) so that she felt confident enough to go forth on her own. We spoke further about using this as a universal strategy and that she didn’t need my “permission” to expand on its use or worry about doing it “wrong”. This is a learning process for everyone! Imagine my delight when, later that day, I walked into a room in which she had been teaching to see this display (see picture above) on the board. Just like the Grinch, my heart grew bigger and my smile grew wider! She had taken initiative and used the strategy with a whole new group of kids to brainstorm for a writing assignment. Later that day, we had our second team teaching experience and I noticed her increased confidence and comfort level in using this teaching tool. She was effusive in her enthusiasm and its effectiveness to promote “thoughtful” thinking (is there such a beast?) in the classroom. We have plans to work on more Cooperative Learning Strategies in the New Year. I feel one small seed has been planted; I am looking forward to the garden blooming.
It is amazing how 45 minutes of class time can make such a difference in your teaching practice and for the learning of your students. I have been team-teaching with a grade three teacher at Brookwood School. We are working on assisting the students to develop blogging skills, using IPads and Easy Blog Jr., as a way to sharing their learning, assessment as learning, and assessment for learning. After introducing the mechanics of blogging, setting up their personal blog sites, and writing a practice entry, the students jumped into creating a blog entry with both writing and a form of media. The purpose of the blog entry was to demonstrate their learning of how the human ear functions. The task, given by the classroom teacher, was to make a model of a human ear, using items brought to the classroom. Following this, they wrote a description of the model and how the parts of the ear worked. My interactions with the children began when I assisted with adding the media. As I observed the children making their videos, or talking about their picture, it struck me that they had no idea of how a good blog entry should look. After consulting with the teacher, we came to the conclusion that they needed to learn this concept and agreed to complete a session on building criteria for a “Powerful” blog entry. This is what we did:
- First we made exemplars of weak and more powerful videos and writing posts
- We wrote a lesson plan using the “Placemat” strategy for developing criteria (in brief below)
- Discuss purpose of their blog entries
- Discuss how the quality of their entries may affect how others view or perceive their knowledge, or how it does or does not demonstrate their learning
- Discuss the meaning of criteria (activated prior knowledge from work done in previous school years)
- Described Placemat Activity that was going to be used to help us develop criteria for ALL or ANY blog entry they may make this year on their classroom blog:
- Think individually about the blog exemplars
- Write their individual ideas onto the placemat
- Share with their partners and record commonalities in centre of the placemat
- Each had a role: first person to share, recorder of ideas, reporter
- Showed blog exemplars – asked students to quietly reflect on what they thought of each exemplar and what made each strong or weak (individual reflection) then follow the procedure outlined above. Of course they were monitored and encouraged by the teachers; time limits were set etc.
- Group Sharing consisted of sharing their centre ideas with the class. These were recorded on a giant whiteboard placemat. Commonalities were put into the centre and then transferred into “Criteria” language:
Each of the criteria includes descriptors to help the children understand the components. These descriptors come from the language they used when generating their ideas.
- Reflection on how their previous posting met the criteria that was just developed.
- Next steps are to develop the “requirements” for their blog postings, such as correct punctuation, organization, clear speaking, focused media, etc.
Why all the time spent on this? Well to put it simply, 45 minutes of discussion equals 8 months of self-assessment! The payoff is already coming for both teachers and students. As teachers, we are able to look back on our teaching and see that we needed to do more to optimize this learning strategy. The students are already using the criteria to reflect on the next post entry and planning so that it best reflects their learning and becomes as “Powerful” as they can make it. The classroom teacher is so excited because this is now a powerful tool (no pun intended) that can be used right across the curriculum for any blog posting!
I found the Oct 9 session on Assessment AS Learning to be a reflective event. Part of me was wishing to be back in the classroom to see how I can do better by my children and my professional practice. Sometimes, it is hard being out of the classroom as my inspirations do not get to become aspirations and I can only hope to use my enthusiasm to inspire other teachers! Hmm, which is the more difficult task?
It was wonderful to work so collaboratively all day with Claudia and Valerie. The professional conversations were very stimulating and thought-provoking. In designing our visual, we were looking at creating a poster that could possibly be printed and hung on a wall for frequent reference. While it was titled Assessment As Learning, in reality, it could be entitled, Effective Coaching. Our rainbow themed poster was meant to portray improved student learning as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…ahhh to dream!
My first month as a Learning Coach has been an enjoyable, but steep learning curve. I am frequently asked how my new position is going and I often answer, “It’s like getting paid to go to university, without the stress of exams!” At my age, one worries about keeping the synapses firing and connections fresh, with this position, there is learning happening each and every day. I recommend this position for those wishing to stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia!
One trend I have noticed is that there have been a few requests from teachers regarding developing specific programs or projects within their classroom or grade level. As research and discussion moves forward, I am finding that these small projects, in consultation with my administrators, are moving towards becoming a school-wide initiative to fulfill our mandate of universal supports for all students and teachers. Specifically, I have been researching some reading remediation strategies for those students with significant reading delays. Additionally, I am in the process of supporting a grade level PLC as they work towards developing an Inquiry Based Learning Project.
I am currently researching Precision Reading as a program to assist students with significant reading delays. It began as a request from a grade level. Now, it is being looked at as a means to assist students throughout the school and to address a need that is not currently being met as well as it should be. It is exciting to imagine that this work can lead to a school-wide program that will not only improve programming for the students, but give teachers a valuable tool to reach the needs of all children. At the other end of the spectrum, my work in Inquiry Based Learning is now growing into a what may become an more authentic Enrichment Program to support students and their teachers as we move to ask each student to work to their highest potential. Both these projects are in the early stages, but have the potential to enrich and support all students and their teachers. I will keep you informed as we move forward and share as the projects develop.
Thank you to all! I feel tremendously supported by the LC cohort. My email requests for information have been generously responded to. As I tell (told) my students every day, “Smart people don’t know everything; they just know where to look.” I know I am smart because I can look to my cohort for those answers I don’t know. Thank you for making me feel smart.
I am excited to be joining the Learning Coach cohort! I enjoy taking on new challenges and this is going to be a big one. I am hopeful that I am able to quickly assume the role and fill Laura’s shoes. I would like to be able to take small, but meaningful steps towards helping teachers to make a difference in their classrooms with their students.
I want to thank Laura for spending time with me so that I don’t walk into this blind. She has shared some great information and tools with me that I am planning to use next year.
The learning curve is going to be steep, but I have learned how to climb steep pitches with the same “rest-step” they use to climb Everest. Metaphorically, I am hoping I can use a “rest-step” in my new role to make little changes over time.
I look forward to working with everyone in the upcoming year.