Stories of Learning

All week Eva talked about the trip she was going to take. She was so excited about the upcoming adventure that would see her and her friends from Girl Guides head to Calgary for a few days of fun and learning. She wondered what the bus ride would be like. She imagined what she would see at the Calgary Zoo. She was curious about the different displays at the University.

I wonder what she is painting?

We dropped her off at Venture Heights on Thursday morning, and I was barely able to get a hug goodbye as she grabbed her gear and bolted from the van. The girls were talking and laughing as they anticipated the arrival of the bus and as I drove away I could not help but think about the fun and learning that awaited them.

As I write this, Eva will be enjoying her breakfast and will be getting ready for the long trip home. When she arrives home I know she will have souvenirs and stories from her adventure. I’m excited to learn about her trip.

This sharing of evidence has me thinking about the phase of learning we are in right now as a division and more specifically, at #WaldheimSchool. We have been on another amazing journey this year with our colleagues and with our students. It is hard to believe we are a mere forty days away from the end of the school year and we are entering the story telling phase of our adventure. This has already started with our staff presentations, and will continue this week in BC as Brenda and I proudly wave the Waldheim School flag, sharing our learning story at the CAfLN conference. In the division, the annual Learning for Life stories will soon be shared, and I am anxious to watch as Jesse and the learning team share the amazing work that has been happening in our building.

This process will also continue as we begin telling the story of our students’ learning to wrap up the year. As we do this, I wonder about…

Triangulation: when we talk about the learning that has occurred for our students this year, how are we going to incorporate products, observations, and conversations in our summation? In our transition meetings, how will you share this valuable information with your colleagues? In your reporting, how will you capture this in an efficient and meaningful way for parents? In your year-end conversations with your students, how will you share this with them to help them think about next steps in their learning journey?

Student Voice: Just as my daughter will have a story to share with me about her trip, our students have a story about their learning journey that they have experienced from their perspective. We may have observed their learning, but they lived it. As we enter into the final phase of our year, how will student voice be invited? How will this inform you of your effectiveness? How will you respond? How will this inform the teacher(s) they will have next year? How will this reflective process help students understand their own next steps? What are some ways to collect this (FreshGrade, SeeSaw, SurveyMonkey, written reports)?

Click to enlarge.

Next Steps: we know that ending a school year can be bitter sweet for both the student and the teacher. So much work has gone into the planning, delivering, and assessing of learning. There is always so much growth that occurs and it can be hard to say farewell to students that may be moving on to a new teacher, a new school, or leaving us after graduating. Even though it is difficult, we have the opportunity to provide our students with the gift of next steps. As you prepare for sharing the students’ learning story at the end of the year, where do next steps fit? How can these next steps inform future planning? What message is sent about the continuum of learning if we do not include next steps?

What is the plan going forward?

Effective Efficiency: When teaching, I always struggled with year end reports that were balanced. I wanted to inform parents and students, but how much was enough? How much was too much? When I had a class of 36 grade 10 industrial arts students I needed to find a way to effectively communicate learning while not needing to take a week off to write all of my reports. I needed to be effective while being efficient. When you think about how you will create these year end reports, what message do you want to share? Why is that message important? When will you begin crafting these? How will you find a balance that honors your students, their parents, and yourself? Who will you trust to give you critical feedback on what you have created?

Are these the whole story or just one piece of a larger picture?

It may seem early to be thinking about year end procedures, but we also know from experience how fast things move in May and June. As you reflect on the year you have had with your students, now is a perfect time to begin thinking about what each learning story will look, sound, and feel like. Just as I get to experience part of Eva’s learning from her report on her trip, I hope each parent will get to feel as though they have a deeper and more thorough understanding of their own children as learners after they hear your stories.

Here is what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • first day back from the break, enjoy the stories the students bring with them

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (am only)

Wednesday:

  • I’d like to have dates for 3-way conferences, progress reports, and days in lieu sorted so we can work with Laird and Hepburn to ensure they work for everyone. Please have any feedback to Jesse and/or I by today (see e-mail sent outlining these dates)

Thursday:

  • Brenda & Bruce in Vancouver at CAfLN Conference sharing our school learning story

Friday:

  • Brenda & Bruce in Vancouver at CAfLN Conference sharing our school learning story

As always, create a great week!

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Why We Are Successful.

Something caught my eye this morning, and it was something that made me think about creativity. My wife had done our weekly grocery run yesterday, and at one of the stores they were giving children pictures of a bunny and eggs to color. The idea is simple, yet cunning at the same time. Spend pennies on photocopying coloring sheets and invite the children to bring them back to display in the store. This way the business achieves a goal; getting people in the building. Well played grocery store. Well played. It isn’t the stores business model that had me thinking, it was the uniqueness of each picture that my children had finished. Every picture was colored the way they wanted it to look, and each product highlighted their favorite colors.

At the exact same time the kids were showing off their art work, my wife was tending to the little seedlings that were growing in the egg cartons by the window. She is preparing for our garden, and something that stood out was how each little sprout looked the exact same. The little plants were all leaning towards the window at the same angle, all growing at approximately the same rate.

This contrast had me thinking about the way we are educating our students. Are we inviting the uniqueness that I saw in my kids’ art work, or are we asking our little seedlings to grow at the exact same rate, giving them the exact same thing?

Walking the halls of #WaldheimSchool, I know the answer. Here are some of the things I’ve seen lately:

  • an Instagram post from our home ec class celebrating the churros that two boys chose to create
  • a wide variety of projects that our industrial arts students are busy creating
  • numerous different small businesses that our grade 11 and 12 entrepreneurship students are managing as an assessment task
  • several unique creations in our biology class that our students made to identify and define the parts of plant and animal cells
  • a library full of individual cultural celebrations that our grade 1S students shared with the school
  • displays on the wall and in the art cabinet of distinct projects created by our students as they combine art with mathematics
  • phys ed classes being designed and lead by students who are bringing their own passions into gym class
  • grade 5 students planning their genius hour presentations
  • ELA students voicing and supporting their opinions in class either through spoken or written word

And that was just last week!

All of this creativity and choice reminded me of a terrific TEDtalk I saw a few years ago. Sir Ken Robinson shares in his presentation (below) the three important things we need to remember when we are dealing with learning:

  1. People are naturally different and diverse, and therefor they will all have different needs and motivations. It is our job to learn about our students and understand what it is that they require to succeed.
  2. Children are naturally curious, and are natural learners. It is our job to ask ourselves, “are we allowing this to flourish, or are we unintentionally stifling this”?
  3. People are inherently creative. We see this everywhere and I always chuckle to myself when I see films depicting a future where we all have the same ‘space-age’ outfits and all drive the same type of floating cars. We are all creative, so why would schools want to limit this?

If you have a moment to watch this video, I’d invite you to think about your role in our school. What resonates with you as you watch? Are there some things you think you could do differently? If so, could tomorrow be the day to take that first step?

I believe we are well past the time when we would view every student as needing the exact same thing, and if they could not learn the way they were taught, they needed to change how they learn. I am excited that we are on the leading edge, that we are a group of adults that understand that if a child does not understand then it is the teaching (not the teacher) that needs to adapt.

I will let you all in on a little secret. I know why the adults in our building are successful. We are successful because like our students we are:

  • Naturally different and diverse
  • Curious
  • Inherently creative

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Staff meeting, presentations continue with Ellen, Mitchell, Chenile, and June sharing their learning celebrations

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT
  • 7 – 12 progress reports due to office

Wednesday:

Thursday:

  • Locker clean up (schedule set this week, Jamie will have supplies available)
  • 7 – 12 progress reports available to students today (paper copies by request)

As always, create a great week!

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Why Would Students Want to Practice?

“Now, in the small group character representations, group 925. Give it up for Working 9 to 5!”

This was the moment we were waiting for, our 8-year-old, Eva, had been rehearsing with her group for weeks and today was performance time. Krista, Maggie, and I sat in the front row, anxiously awaiting the routine, while, unsurprisingly, Bobby and Charlie opted to stay home and play monster trucks. The music hit, and out came the girls in their matching outfits. They looked incredible and performed very well. Of course, my eyes watched Eva’s every move, and I was so proud of her as she danced and lip-synched her way through the song. The routine finished with the troupe standing together, smiling brightly and bowing to rousing applause. With pride filling my heart and tears filling my eyes I watched as my little girl marched off stage with her friends.

Ready to perform!

The performance, which started as a choreographer’s idea, had become a reality, and I think about all the preparation that went into making it a success. I think about the first time they heard that music, and the first steps they tried to master as a group. There were countless days of watching Eva practice her actions in the living room as Dolly Parton’s famous song played on the computer. Eventually, Eva learned her entire routine and was ready to go! She shared with me that she was a little nervous about the performance, saying how it will be different in front of a large crowd. We talked about nerves and discussed how it’s just our bodies getting us ready for a stressful moment. We talked about how it’s normal to feel that way.

Practice, practice, practice, performance. This sounds a lot like the work we are doing with our students, and it seems a lot like our assessment practices. After their routines, all the groups that performed were called back on stage, and the adjudicators came out and offered words of wisdom and encouragement as they handed out the awards. Our girls did not win in the overall competition; however, they did perform to what was deemed the ‘Gold Standard’. To my surprise, that isn’t the top award as the best routine went to a large group of teenage performers who were awarded the ‘Supernova’ award. I still do not entirely understand what the judges are watching for, but trust that they have some idea what they are doing.

When I think about the way we assess our students, I’m reminded of practice versus performance. What used to be the common practice of grading everything and then calculating an average has given way to a more accurate measurement of only grading the summative, or performance, task. I wonder what Eva’s mark would have been had her instructor averaged all of her practice into her final grade? I wonder how all of the missed steps, or stumbles along the way would have impacted her mark? Yet we used to do this with our students. I can recall times when teaching where I would take in piles of marking, plug the scores into an Excel sheet, apply a weight to specific tasks, add them all up and average them out. In the end, I thoroughly sterilised the marks, and even worse, I felt I had the professional latitude to adjust the scores to reflect how I felt the student had performed.

With this change comes the challenge. Why would a student feel practice is essential in certain subjects? It’s not that the notion of practice is lost on them, you see it daily when they are on their skateboards, shooting hoops, playing video games, or drawing pictures. They understand the importance of the practice in those situations and are willing to spend hours perfecting their craft. So how do we get them to mimic that passion and commitment in our math classes? In our science classes? In our shop classes? In our ELA classes? I have a few thoughts:

First, it’s not easy! What motivates student A may not motivate student B, and as we know we have classes comprised of students from A to Z! So our first challenge is understanding each student, figuring out what motivates them, and then leveraging that to our advantage (remember, we have the gift of hindsight the students may not yet have).

Second, it’s a long season! There will be struggles along the way, times when students are either reluctant or downright defiant. We need to understand that in this is a message, and I believe it is usually the same: I’d rather look reluctant than unable. I think it is a choice students make to ‘save face’ and one we see so often in the middle years. How do we support those students? How do we create a safe place for them to ask for help and to be vulnerable? How have we done this for each other in our adult learning this year?

Third, it’s about how they learn, not how you teach! This was so difficult for me to wrap my head around. For years I believed it was my job to teach and the students’ job to learn, and if they did not learn the way I taught, they needed to change. In my fifth year of teaching, I was introduced to differentiation by our head of learning in the Cayman Islands. I recall how it made perfect sense to me but scared the heck out of me at the same time.

Finally, it’s possible! I genuinely believe we can get to a place where students are motivated to practice their skills leading up to an evaluated performance. I reflect on the work I got to do with our drama class this year. They were tasked with memorising a 20 to 30-line monologue which they would perform in front of their peers. They were given ample time and were given clear criteria for how they would be evaluated. They understood that for two weeks they could practice and fail miserably without any fear of their marks being impacted. They realised that their practice would affect their performance and thus influence their scores. Did they perform flawlessly? Nope, not one of them. But, they all memorised a large portion of their lines, and all stood in front of the group and performed. To me, that was a success.

Now, how do you apply this in your setting? How do you help students see the importance of practice with a clear understanding of how they will be assessed? Again, I have some thoughts on that:

  • Co-create the criteria for evaluation with the students. If they own it, they will understand it
  • Begin with the end in mind. If you know how you will assess your students, you will be less likely to dedicate time to superfluous learning
  • Share the assessment with the students. This does seem a little radical at times; however, when I think about letting students see the test BEFORE they write the test, it will allow them time to think about what they know and what they need to learn. If you are worried about kids simply memorising answers to a test, you may want to re-examine the test itself and ask if memorisation is synonymous with learning.

I understand that teaching is much more than 9-to-5; however, it is what we do, and as I shared recently with some senior administrators and board members, it’s what we do very, very well at Waldheim School. I know I’ve only brushed the surface of engaging students in learning, but I do believe it is something we need to discuss continually, and without too many spoilers, believe it is something that will undoubtedly guide our adult learning in the future. I think it is the teamwork and commitment to students that will help us take our work from the gold level to that of supernova!

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