PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Engaging Games

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When teaching Language Arts a number of years ago, one of the choices I often gave students was to create a board game as a means to visually demonstrate their understanding of characters and events in a novel.  I remember the rich learning and enjoyment experienced not only by the student who created the game, but by the students who participated in playing with the game once it was completed.  Although I observed and assessed these projects, I was never involved in the process of building a game- until this year.  I have had the pleasure of working with teachers and groups of students, creating board games based on regions of Alberta (grade 4) and now regions of Canada (grade 5).

Starting with setting criteria for powerful questions, students then proceed to create questions based on grade level appropriate information. Each student chooses a specific aspect of the region they will focus on.  Initially students try to seek my approval for the questions they create, but once they realize that I will always  refer them to the criteria to determine whether a question “makes the cut” or not, they will invariably self assess based on the criteria and feedback from their peers.  Working as a group, students then determine what type of game format they want to use. They brainstorm possible ways to make it visually appealing, and ensure the game is challenging yet achievable for those playing. It’s amazing to watch students dig into the information so that they can find creative ways to provide participants with potential learning opportunities while playing.

The first game created was a Chutes and Ladders style game that was based on the Rocky Mountain Region.   The group that created the game was tasked with the responsibility of establishing the rules for the game and explaining those to the rest of the students.   They renamed the game “Waterfalls, Chairlifts and Trails” and used shiny paper, stickers, and other embellishments to make it visually appealing and align with the characteristics of the region.  Needless to say, the rest of the students thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and provided effective feedback to the students who created it. I’m now working with two other groups of very excited students who are in the process of creating games based on different regions.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project idea, don’t hesitate to ask.

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

High Expectations From Future Employers = A New Focus On Cross Curricular Competencies

Most recently my teen-aged daughter got her first part time job.   Although this is an entry level position (her very first step into the world of work), I was amazed at how complicated the whole process was.  Two things stood out to me as she navigated her way through the application and interview process.  Firstly, I was surprised at the depth of knowledge, skills and attitudes that she was expected to possess in order to be considered for her position.  Secondly, I was amazed at the process itself, which was highly digital and time consuming.  She literally had to answer hundreds of behavioural questions that would reflect her ability to problem solve, make quick decisions, work collaboratively, be flexible, learn in a fast  paced environment, manage her time and so on.  This was a far cry from the application and interview process that I went through in my youth when I applied for my first job many years ago.

As with many of my children’s experiences, I tend to view them through my “teacher’s eyes” and this new development in my daughter’s life was no different.   Looking over her shoulder as she navigated her way through the digital process of completing her applications, uploading her resume and working through the behavioral questionnaires, many questions came to mind:

  • What skills and attitudes are missing in my daughter’s development? 
  • Are the areas where my daughter needs to improve her development of work knowledge, attitude and skill reflective of those in other youth? 
  • How do we as a school system effectively prepare our students for their future employment? 
  • How can I use my daughter’s experiences to help me as a Learning Coach to support teachers in moving their practice forward, so that they are supporting students to effectively prepare for their future? 

My daughter is what I would consider a 21st Century Learner and her most recent experience into the world of work is confirmation for me that there is most definitely a shift happening in what employers are expecting, even from their most junior employees.  This is also reflective of the transformation that is happening in Education today.  With the most recent changes brought about by the Ministerial Order, we are moving away from a content focused curriculum, to focus being placed on using the content to teach the Cross Curricular Competencies.    The 10 Cross Curricular Competencies focus on supporting Alberta’s students in becoming engaged thinkers, ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.  They are an “interrelated set of attitudes, skills and knowledge that students will be able to draw upon and apply to a particular context for successful learning and living.”  The Competencies include:

  • Know how to learn
  • Think critically
  • Identify and solve complex problems
  • Manage information
  • Innovate
  • Create opportunities
  • Apply multiple literacies
  • Demonstrate good communication skills
  • Demonstrate global and cultural understanding
  • Identify and apply career and life skills

When I think back to the behavioral questionnaires that my daughter had to answer in order to even be considered for an interview, it is obvious to me that she had to draw upon her own development of the attitudes, knowledge and skills that closely relate to the competencies in the Ministerial Order.  These employers wanted to know:

  • If she did know how to learn
  • If she was able to manage information in a fast paced, sometimes stressful environment
  • If she could work as part of a team and communicate effectively, not only in a digital format, but in person as well, and so on.

When I view the Cross Curricular Competencies in light of my daughter’s work experiences and her future career expectations, I honestly believe that we are on the right track as we shift towards a competency focused approach to teaching and learning.  In light of this, I have many more questions that I ask myself as a Learning Coach:

  • How do I support this shift? 
  • How do I support teachers in not only deepening their understanding of the Cross Curricular Competencies, but in shifting their focus from teaching content, to using the content to teach the competencies? 
  • How do I support teachers in designing authentic and engaging competency focused experiences in order to ensure optimal learning? 

Right now I feel like I have many more questions than answers and many of these questions are complex and will keep me busy for a while; but I am excited to work through this process collaboratively with my not only my Learning Coach Cohort, but my teaching colleagues as well.  I am also glad to have my daughter’s experiences as a lens to look through when working through this process.

Using Cooperative Learning in the Classroom – When We All Get to Share Our Ideas, We Learn More!

 

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I love to learn and keep telling my students that we will always be learning throughout our lives!

Over the past couple of months I have been taking PD based on Cooperative Learning (Kagan Structures).  Cooperative Learning is not an entirely new concept, it was also done several years ago, but Kagan refined a way to teach the structures more explicitly and purposefully.  He recognized that the more students speak and share their ideas, the more that they learn.  The structures allow for equal participation during the lesson.  These strategies are not tied to any specific content, but may be used across all curriculum areas.  Cooperative Learning also helps to develop the students’ social skills.

I recently had the pleasure of team teaching some collaborative learning lessons in two Junior High classes.  The Math teacher and I modeled and then scaffolded Rally Coaching first in a Grade 6/7 Math class and then later in a Grade 8/9 Math class.  Word Problems based on the outcomes that the students were learning had been developed for each group.  Students had to coach their partners towards exhibiting a way of solving their word problem.  It was very important for the “coaches” to give the right amount of encouragement and to lead their partners towards the correct solution without telling them the answer.  The classroom teacher and I walked around doing a formative evaluation by listening in and modeling various words for the coaches.  The students had the chance to explain their own thought processes as well as to hear their partner’s thought process during this cognitive activity.  Word Problems are often very difficult for some students; this cooperative learning structure allowed more successes to many students who may not have had success on their own.  After the lesson, when the classes were asked to reflect back on the process, all but one student expressed enjoying the chance to share their ideas and ways of solving their problems.  As teachers reflecting back on the lesson, we recognize the need for movement and discussion which the Rally Coaching structure allowed.   We also spoke with the student who did not enjoy the activity and have some ideas of a way which we can accommodate that student’s needs as well.

 

                   

                 http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/                                  http://claudiacaino.weebly.com/

Four Corners, and a Placemat activity were tried out in a Grade 4/5 class.  I modeled a Four Corners cooperative learning lesson which started as a team building activity for fun, but also ended up incorporating Social, LA, Science, and Math – which the students were able to verbalize at the end of the lesson.  The students all participated eagerly and shared their thinking with their classmates.  The movement was valuable for those students who need regular body breaks.  Later in the day, I team taught the Placemat Structure during a Health lesson with the classroom teacher.  Once again, the students were able to share their thoughts with each other while the classroom teacher and I walked around doing some formative assessment.  Those students who may not have been able to come up with ideas on their own were able to peek at their neighbours’ ideas and develop their own or rephrase what their neighbour had written.  When the group was doing a Round Robin of their ideas during sharing time, each student was given equal time to share their thoughts letting the students know that everyone’s ideas were important.  The process also allowed for the students to use consensus to come up with their top four ideas.  Everyone in the group was given the chance to explain why they felt one concept was more important than another.  Listening to the students’ thoughts was valuable for recognizing their level of understanding.

Being allowed to self-reflect is so important for our students.  It often allows them to recognize their own areas of strengths and needs.  Sharing those thoughts with a peer helps students to hear their thought processes.  Kagan Structures supports that learning!

45 Minutes of Discussion = 8 Months of Self-Assessment

Criteria on Placemats

Criteria on Placemats

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:

                                                       1. Informative

                                                       2. Meaningful

                                                       3. Interesting

                   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!

 

 

Find a Way or Make a Way

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

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…).

  1. See Inclusion as a Process, not a Place – (find a way or make a way!)

  2. Teach Up – (presume competence and expect more)

  3. 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.

Check her out at (http://www.paulakluth.com/ and http://differentiationdaily.com when you get a chance!

 

Highlight

When I reflect on this past year, one of the highlights for me has been overseeing the Precision Reading Program.  This started as a result of a conversation with some grade 6 teachers back in the fall.  These teachers were very concerned about the reading level of several students, particularly two students who were reading several years below grade level, so differentiating instruction was becoming increasingly challenging.

I had heard about Precision Reading as a method of improving reading fluency and decided to investigate.  Diane Lander came to the school and trained most of our grade 5 and 6 teachers.  Part way through the training I realized that although teachers were willing to work one on one with students, our need for this work surpassed our teacher availability. Fortunately, I was able to find 4 outstanding parent volunteers who were willing to commit to coming in daily to read with students.  By November we were in full swing and by January were up to 19 students who participated in the program.

The results exceeded all expectation.  Although the degree of progress varied greatly between students, all made significant progress in reading fluency.  What was amazing to observe though, was the relationships that developed between the students and volunteers, and the friendships that grew between some of the participating students.

Prior to our wrap up celebration last week, I had students make thank you cards for the volunteer that read with them.  Genuine appreciation came through loud and clear as students articulated what this program meant to them.  Comments such as, “I actually like reading now!”  “I have so much more confidence now.”  “I can keep up with reading in class and understand it so much better.”  Needless to say, the teachers have really appreciated the support this has provided and gave me an “in” to classes as well as insight into what was up and coming in the curriculum.

The overwhelming feedback from students, parents and teachers is to continue this program next year.  Although my role in this program is likely to change over the next year, I’m very excited to be a part of it.  I really appreciate Diane Lander’s support in helping us to get it off the ground.

Celebrating the Efforts

As the year winds down, people are exhausted yet excited. Students are busy completing assessments, enjoying year end field trips, looking forward to vacation plans over the summer.   Staff are gathering and marking assessments , preparing final report cards and looking forward to vacation plans as well.  It’s time to celebrate our efforts.

Teachers are reflecting on how learning takes place in their classrooms more and more.  As we have conversations informally in the halls, talking about the next year, people are excited about trying a new strategy, introducing a new activity or reviewing a new resource.  The best part about this process is that people are sharing their ideas.  Casual conversations as colleagues or formal conversations with a learning coach, people are communicating about best practices as they see things today.

As I reflect on my own learning this year, I am reminded that every adult and student that enter our schools are doing the best they can with what they have today.  That looks different for each and every one of us.  With a culture that focuses on fixing environments, recognizing strengths, encouraging independence and having high expectations for all, its natural to remember that all kids are special. Staff and students are moving forward in PSD 70.

Two Heads Are Better Than One!

Everyone keeps saying how computers make the world smaller…I knew what they were saying and in small ways I had joined in their journey, but today I feel like I made a leap.  After sending out an inquiry, Katia replied with some interest in joining me on my mission to create a monthly coaching memo for staff.  Quickly I was thinking about ways for us to connect and work together, brainstorm, create lists of ideas and develop a document to share out.  That is when Google Documents came to us!

Hello Katia!   Hello Patricia!…we connected to begin our work, to collaborate, to support each other in a professional capacity.

I have to confess that I am a recent convert to the idea of professional collaboration. As a perfectionist by nature, my initial experiences with collaboration were characterized by the frustrations of “group work” in my own school career, and the results were consistently disappointing. My first positive encounters with collaboration occurred when I went to theatre school the summer I was fourteen. I approached the idea of working in groups with the same dread – but my teachers approached things differently than I had ever experienced! After teaching us about the purpose of collaboration, they introduced us to the types of roles (both problematic and helpful) that we might play in our groups, and offered us numerous opportunities to produce “imperfect” work… with the focus always on our process, rather than on our product. But truthfully, it was the product that sold me on collaboration. I saw results that I knew I could never have produced if I had simply created the project without the input of others, and my perfectionist tendencies were so impressed that I learned to trust others  to contribute. Over ten years later I still appreciate the lessons I learned that summer, so when Patricia approached me to collaborate, I was excited to jump on board!

Google documents has allowed us to begin to build and share ideas and collaborate despite our different schedules and locations.  We inspire each other to take our practice further to look for new ways to encourage colleagues and support professional learning and growth.

Two heads really are better than one…just look at this post!!

“Thanks Katia!”…”Thanks Patricia!”

Happy New Year

As we move into 2014, it is a great time to reflect on the past year, as well as look forward to the year to come.  Many of us have come up with a New Year’s resolution or two, and I am no different.  As I reconnect with staff after the Christmas break, I am again reminded of the exciting and challenging times we are facing in Education today.  This makes me think of the important work that we need to continue to do in creating inclusive environments for students in Parkland School Division.  It also brings to mind my own role as a Learning Coach within the Division, reflecting on how the past year and a half has gone and what personal goals I need to set for myself for the remainder of this school year.  Keeping all of this in mind, I have started 2014 by looking again at the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements and started my own personal reflection process.

PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion:
Move from:

  • the idea of fixing students to the idea of improving environments
  • dependence on staff (teachers and EA’s) to a focus on independence
  • “Special Ed” to ALL students being special
  • a deficit model of thinking to a strength based model of thinking
  • having high expectations for some to having high expectations for ALL

A big part of my reflection process has started by not just looking at the commitment statements, but honestly reflecting on each one of them by asking myself two things:

  1.  In my role as a learning coach, how have I used the Commitment Statements to guide my behaviors and decisions in supporting a cultural shift in the schools that I work with?
  2. What barriers might I personally have that could be slowing down my ability to support change?

Reflecting on the relationships that I have built with staff and the projects, supports and collaboration opportunities I have initiated in my role as a learning coach, has been a validating experience.  Often we don’t realize how much we have done unless we take a moment to reflect on it.  What is great about reflecting is that it also provides the opportunity to build onto what has already been put in place and set goals for the months to come, as well as ask deeper questions.  As I have reflected on how things have been going, more and more questions and ideas have come about and this has also inspired me to start discussions with staff, which has made this whole process a richer experience…. as we all know….collaboration is always key to growth!

Looking at the my second question has been a little more challenging as I really have needed to critically examine my barriers; and, I have to admit that I have actually come face to face with one or two that I myself have created because of my own discomfort/comfort level, perceptions and beliefs.  Owning this, at first was difficult for me, as like others, pride myself on doing my best work.  The interesting and motivating  thing  is that once I took the opportunity to look critically at these barriers, the process of setting new goals for myself and coming up with strategies to remove these barriers has been a powerful experience.  Like with my reflection on how I have supported change, my reflection on barriers also has brought about other, deeper questions.  I don’t necessarily have all of the answers to these questions yet, but working through this process will I believe, be big part of my growth.

As the first weeks back to school move along and I continue to work through my reflection process, I feel I have a deeper sense of where I have been and where I need to go next in my role as a learning coach.  Using the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements have been a key part of this process and asking key questions has taken my self-reflection to a deeper level.  I am excited to start the New Year with some well thought out “resolutions”, both personal and professional.  Wising everyone all the very best in 2014!

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