PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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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!



Making Thinking Visible

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

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  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.

Let Them Lead!

I graduated with my degree in education a few years ago – 19 in fact. I know for certain that not one of my classes taught differentiation, not one class presented the struggles and challenges of balancing the diverse needs that today’s classrooms present – and I have a Special Education focus. I am not sure what the classes offer today. I have had a few discussions with professors from the UofA and with student teachers, only to be let down with how little the content has changed. So as I reflect on this, I applaud Parkland School Division for providing teachers with support through Learning Coaches.
So as we work in the coach capacity,  along side of teachers in their classrooms, How deep are we differentiating? is what I would love to ask.

I am fortunate as I get to work in some diverse programs – Stony Creek, Connections for Learning (CFL), Brightbank (BOSCO), Forest Green (EYALT) Stony Plain Central (MYALT) and I really get to think about diversifying programs and differentiated instruction way outside of my former comfort zone. Today I watched a video that was shared to me and it has me thinking even more deeply.
Please watch Suli Break as he has some thoughts that could help us in our focus and our discussions as we move forward in education.  What do we need to be providing students so that they are not standing frustrated, unheard and without passion in their learning?

Assessment beFORe Learning

I have had a few conversations lately about assessment before learning.  We hear a great deal about assessment FOR learning and OF learning and an area of focus for one school project could be classified as assessment beFORe learning.  The whole idea of finding out what the children already know before the actual teaching/learning has begun is a powerful tool.

A small group of teachers have been considering ways to differentiate instruction and meet the learning needs of their students.  They wanted to rethink ways to group the students at their grade to provide instruction at varying levels of complexity.  Assessment tasks were developed and administered to all of the students.  It became quite clear which students had already mastered the skills and would benefit from enrichment activities, which students were ready to learn the skills for that curriculum and which students had gaps in their learning and would benefit from some pre-teaching.  Pre-teaching sets these students up for success when new concepts are presented in the classroom.

There have been many positive spin-offs from this project but one in particular is worth mentioning.  When one of the beFORe learning assessments was  administered and analysed, all but a few of the students had a high level of understanding of the skills.  What would normally have been a three week unit was no longer necessary.  A quick review project was all most students  needed and a little pre-teaching for a small group was warranted.  We all wondered, ‘Why would we teach a unit to students when they already knew the material?’

The assessment beFORe learning process is not something that is new to me or others but for this project it changed the way we looked at student learning and our teaching.  I challenge other educators to investigate their students’ level of  knowledge before proceeding to teach and then challenge yourself to differentiate instruction to meet the students where they are at and move them  to where you want them to be.

Laura Meyer

A Shared Experience

Today I had the opportunity to team teach a lesson on co-constructed criteria in two different classrooms.  I worked with two teachers at different grade levels to plan, teach and reflect on using a rubric for narrative writing that was co-constructed with the students.  The goal for our project was to improve narrative writing by having the students co-construct criteria for a “good” story.  After the classroom teacher read a piece of literature to the students, I worked with them to generate and sort their thoughts on what made this story a “good” story.  The students in grade one and two came up with words and phrases that were meaningful to them and that they would be able to use to help them write a story.  (good details, describing words, interesting ideas, it make sense, uses capitals and stop dots, uses word wall words, etc.)

Working with outstanding colleagues such as these was an amazing experience. As a team we were able to engage the students in developing their skills as authors. Using a modified Lesson Study approach, we took all of our best ideas and incorporated them into this lesson.  Would we make changes next time? Most certainly!  When we teach this lesson again we will know what worked and how we might improve it.  We are all on a learning journey.

As a part of the reflection process, we were able to determine what went well.  I have to say that this was the most rewarding part of the process.  The positive comments that we were all making, made us all realize that we were on the right path.  I am looking forward to continuing on this journey and seeing the results in student learning.

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