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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
We have all heard about growth mindset and the power and importance of having growth mindset to move forward. At the same time, through various discussions fixed mindsets are what create some of a coaches toughest encounters. Recently, I shared with the cohort about the MOOC course I had registered for and I have to tell you it really has provided some really grounding information and clarity of the coaching role and how to work through fixed mindsets. I would actually encourage anyone and everyone to look at taking this course not just to develop their skill set in coaching but also for reflective purposes. As I worked through it I set some goals for myself and identified some target areas in my practice.
The course identifies four ways that teachers with fixed mindsets react to feedback: “You’re right, I suck”, “Your’re wrong, I rule”, “Blame it on the Rain”, and “Optimist without a cause”. These are actually referred to as the 4 Horsemen of Fixed Mindset. I find that this has really helped me when going into a conversation where I know there is a fixed mindset as I now can label it (in my mind) and begin to understand where that person is coming from, what they are maybe feeling insecure about and structuring my support, wording and plan accordingly. We, as coaches, do need to work with these fixed mindsets, identify our own fixed mindsets and then move forward.
I am one of those people who never watch scary movies, do not like conflict..and talk of the 4 horsemen would make me squirm usually. But now I have a new perspective. The 4 Horsemen are attitudes/mindsets that we do encounter in our work and in ourselves. I can deal with that! Now that I have a deeper understanding I have open my mind up even more to those fixed mindsets…with understanding and vision.
And this Halloween, …I will be looking at the 4 horsemen at the door a bit differently! LOL
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.