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.
I’m not a real risk-taker. That’s not to say I don’t try new things or that I don’t push myself out of my comfort zone. I do. But I generally don’t seek out risks. Since becoming a learning coach, though, that’s exactly what I have tried to encourage teachers (and students) to do. I realize that sounds hugely hypocritical, but in the process it turns out I have actually started to take a few more risks myself. It hasn’t always been comfortable and it definitely hasn’t always been successful, but usually I am happy for the risks that I have taken. Occasionally, though, it ends with, “That was a bit of a disaster. Why did I do that?” Not too long ago I had one of those days, but by some crazy coincidence, I received this post “How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks” by A.J. Juliani the very next day in my Inbox. I can’t say the title really grabbed me (and again, I certainly wouldn’t say my life is full of “consistent risks”), but I read it and I’m glad I did. Juliani not only acknowledges that with anything new comes criticism, he encourages looking closer for the feedback that might actually help make you better, and he supports the use of that criticism as a motivator for newer and better things. One more thing: he feels that sharing your “criticism stories” might help others. It turns out he was right. I’m not done being uncomfortable just yet.
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!
So excited to share with all of you another amazing speaker that I was fortunate enough to see this year. I have followed Paula Kluth for quite awhile and have used and recommended her resources and strategies over and over. It was the practicality of her ideas that got me hooked, but seeing her at the Special Education Conference last month gave me a whole new admiration of her and a whole new inspiration going back to my schools.
She spoke of inclusion in a way that makes so much sense to me and I think will make sense to the teachers at my schools. She said, “Inclusion is not about the space, it’s about the spirit” and she broke this “spirit” into 3 helpful Habits of Mind (which happen to fit into Parkland’s Commitment to Inclusion quite nicely…).
See Inclusion as a Process, not a Place – (find a way or make a way!)
Teach Up – (presume competence and expect more)
Seek Benefits for All – (all students learn about themselves and their learning)
She spoke extensively on “changing the learning state” through strategies such as brain breaks and focused on “building on strengths” to inspire learning. I won’t go through her hundreds of specific suggestions, because many are on her two sites, but I will highlight a couple because they are just too good!
Brain Breaks Jar – Each stick has a different “brain break” idea, colour-coded according to length of time they each take.
Question Jar – Stop 2-3 times during a lesson and have a child pull from the question jar and ask the question. This enhances focus and engagement, while allowing greater opportunities for communication in a “safe” way for students.
One thing that has really stood out to me in the first two months as a Learning Coach is how often numeracy has been neglected due to a strong focus on literacy. The most common request from teachers is for a benchmark assessment for math, ideas on how to strengthen students’ math skills, or what to do with a student who is two to three years behind in math and has no real number sense. It’s shocking to see how many students in grades 5-9 don’t have the necessary foundation to be successful in math in later years. So how do we fix this?
One school is implementing EMI (Early Math Intervention) to go along with their ELI (Early Literacy Intervention) that they’ve had running for years. Another school implemented both a Leveled Literacy program and a Leveled Math program at the same time school wide where students were grouped according to their abilities, not their grades. They saw a huge increase in student understanding and improved PAT results. Other schools have left it up to the classroom teachers to figure out how to keep the students at grade level moving forward while teaching those below grade level the missing pieces, all at the same time. Some teachers are using Daily 3 to meet these needs, although this seems much more prevalent in elementary classrooms.
We really need to be aware of this and find a way to fill in the gaps for students who are already so far behind. But how? In a tight schedule with others in the class at grade level, what is the solution for teachers who are now expected to go way back in the curriculum to help these students? Is pull out the best option? Or is that defeating the purpose of Differentiation and UDL? Should we be grouping students by ability instead of grade when there is a large discrepancy in our schools with many students falling behind? What IS the best way to determine where students are in math? Is there a quick assessment out there for teachers to use with their classes?
I invite your input.
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!
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the AAC Fall Conference (thanks Leah!). I left with a full head, to say the least. Even the title of the conference “Assessment to Inspire Learning” gave me so much to think about. I couldn’t possibly go through it all here on the blog (although I’d love to talk later with anyone who is interested), but I would like to highlight the keynote speaker, Ron Ritchart.
Mr. Ritchart spoke on the importance of making thinking visible and offered several examples of “thinking routines” to use across grades and across the curriculum. Using thinking routines regularly in classrooms will promote engagement, deeper understanding, and development of thinking skills, and hopefully eliminate the stress-inducing, time-wasting question, “What does the teacher want me to do?”.
To see several of these “thinking routines”, check out Mr. Ritchart’s website visiblethinkingpz.org. They are thoroughly described and ready-to-go for classroom teachers. My favourite has to be the “CSI” routine. It stands for Colour, Symbol, Image and has students explore and share their own understandings by designating (and justifying) a colour, symbol and image that “best represents or captures the essence” of an idea. Not only does a routine such as this make thinking extremely visible for the teacher, it makes it visible to the students and promotes a great deal of reflection and critical thinking.
If we truly are using assessment to INSPIRE learning, routines such as these are invaluable. I can’t wait to share them with staff.
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.
There are very few articles that I feel should be shared out on a large scale: “Making Differences Ordinary in Inclusive Classrooms” is one that I would love to know that colleagues throughout education have read and discussed. It is essential on this road to inclusion that we build pedagogy and vision together. We need to really assess our practices as teams and consider alternatives with open minds and embrace change in practice. It may mean asking the tough questions of ourselves.
Many of us have said in past posts and I will restate in conversation and in this post that we are at an incredibly exciting time in education. We are seeing differences as ordinary and qualities to supported and recognized. With UDL/RTI/DI we are recognizing that not only are supports and modifications good for some students but need to be accessed by students who feel they would benefit from it as well: what is available to one is available to all. Moving from creating boundaries and skill grouping to allowing students to have input and set goals and being mindful of social isolation and creating stress in a student’s schedule.
We, all of us here in Parkland, are committed to our students. You can see as you watch the year begin. So what can we do to continue on our journey? Collaborate!
McLeskey and Waldron state: “There seems to be little doubt that neither general or special education teachers alone have the knowledge and skills to achieve this goal but, rather, that meaningful change will require that these educators collaborate “to reinvent schools to be more accommodating to all dimensions of human diversity”(Ferguson 1995, p 285)
I hope you have had the time to read through this article and I look forward to our further discussion on Thursday! See you all then.
Last spring I was asked to join the committee organizing our first-ever EdCamp in PSD, and I’m so glad I did! I have never before been to an EdCamp, but as I learn more and more about it, I love the idea. It aligns perfectly with my role of learning coach and with the vision of Inspiring Education, by embracing the values of Choice, Opportunity and Excellence.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with EdCamps (like I was until very recently), they’re often referred to as “un-conferences”. September 27 will not be your run-of-the-mill conference with scheduled speakers at specific times – in fact, none of us will know what the day has in-store until about 9:30 in the morning!
So this is how it works:
– You register (FOR FREE) on the EdCamp PSD70 website https://sites.google.com/a/psdblogs.ca/edcamppsd70/
– You come to Spruce Grove Comp on September 27 at 8:30am.
– You enjoy coffee and networking with colleagues.
– You provide input about possible topics for the day (those you would like to share about and/or learn about).
– You hear a keynote speaker (this is the only scheduled speaker) while we furiously plan the day.
– You choose 4 sessions that are relevant to you, your classroom and your school.
– You might just win one of several door prizes (fingers crossed).
– You leave at 3:30, inspired by the collaboration and learning of the day.
So please pass on the message to your staff and consider joining us on the 27th!