What’s On Your Playlist?

The school had been buzzing all week as students asked each other if they were going to show up Friday night. It was time for a school dance, and this was the Winter Formal. The SRC had been feverishly planning the event for weeks, ensuring they had lined up enough chaperones, bought the right decorations, found the best lighting, prepared delicious snacks, and of course, created a killer soundtrack for the night.  They spent Friday afternoon transforming the gym into a space many of us hardly recognized, complete with a winter wonderland themed photo booth, where kids could get a Polaroid with their friends or favorite principal (spoiler, I wasn’t invited for any pictures!).

The group planning the event had no idea how the students would respond to the theme of the dance. Would they show up? Would the kids dress up? Would those who showed up have fun? As the clock struck 7:00 pm they started getting their answers. A steady stream of students in amazing outfits began making their way through the doors. Girls in beautiful dresses, boys in shirts and ties, all of them looking their best. This dance followed the usual patterns of a #WaldheimSchool dance. The kids assembled in groups with their friends, some of them moving to the music, but most of them cautiously waiting to see just how safe the room was. The speakers continued thumping out great songs, many of which I could not identify, as more students began to join in the dancing fun. Eventually, the floor was full of students moving in unison, somehow knowing when to throw their arms in the air or when to shout out specific lyrics. The committee had their answers. The dance was a tremendous success as a large percentage of the students remained until the last song, at which time they filed out, red-faced and exhausted, but all smiling and laughing.

What did the students learn? They spent all afternoon creating an event for their peers, and during the process, I could see MPSC in action. I saw the side-by-side learning that was going on as kids of different ages were bringing to life a vision they had created together. There was some teacher involvement, initially, but for the most part, the teachers were merely there to help them access supplies. This was learning that was created by the students to develop an event that was for the students. They will have discussions with their friends about the dance seeking feedback as a form of assessment to inform themselves of next steps for the next dance. They will be involved in the assessment process, just not using words and phrases in the same way their teachers and EAs do.

What is exciting to me is the fact that learning events like this are not an unusual occurrence in our school. I think about the work students put into planning events like dances, hockey tournaments, SmashBros. tournaments, Tasty Cause fundraisers, the yearbook, Mug ‘n Muffin mornings, Remembrance Day ceremonies, and pot luck meals. I also see this with our elementary students as they create games at recess, make fun videos using iMovie, and plan events like birthday parties or teacher farewell parties. All of these events will be informally assessed in a way similar to how the students assessed the effectiveness of the dance (they are conferring!). Students are really good at this, and it causes me to wonder, “why is this type of assessment so tricky to capture and measure in class?” (maybe it’s not, that’s a topic for another blog).

I wonder how the students would have responded if the school dance was actually an assignment that would have been used to calculate marks. Would they have been continuously checking with the teacher to see if they were ‘doing it right’? Had they been ‘marked’ on their attire would they have dressed differently? Would the conga line have looked different if they knew they were receiving a grade for their part in it? I wonder if the music would have sounded different had a teacher created a rubric to help ‘guide’ them with their choices? How would that have impacted the event?

I realize that your class can’t be a dance every day, but can the learning opportunities reflect the processes described above? Could students learn about the elements of poetry in a different way? Is there a way to invite students to own SOH CAH TOA in their own way? Are there opportunities for students to learn the fundamentals of sewing and cooking in a way that reflects their style and tastes? Are there ways to learn about the characteristics of strong, stable structures while understanding that learning and play go hand in hand? Are we letting the difficulties of measuring and reporting such learning stand in the way of events like this in the classroom? How are you already overcoming these difficulties in your setting?

Maybe the best learning opportunities are the ones designed by the kids. Perhaps they need to create the playlists.


Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Jade & Dwayne have relocated to their new rooms, we will move other classes on Monday
  • K – 4 staff meeting after school at Departures (please bring Softening the Edges and a pen and paper, I’ll bring the agendas). As always, the meeting is open to any and all staff who may wish to attend.

Tuesday:

  • Bruce at ALT (pm only)

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits: the fun in learning

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits: the fun in learning

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: the fun in learning
  • Subway lunch

As always, create a great week!

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I Played My Best For Him…

“I thought my heart was going to come right out of my chest”

These were the words Bobby whispered to me in the church on Saturday afternoon at his piano recital. He had just finished playing The Little Drummer Boy for a room full of people he had never met before, and in his words, he ‘nailed it’. Every day for the past three weeks Bobby had been practicing in preparation for this moment. I remember when he was told the title of the piece he was learning, and how excited I was to share that that carol was his mother’s favorite Christmas song. With dogged determination, he practiced over and over and as the days passed we both began to hear the improvement (I wrote more about this here.) I recall the day when he went mistake free, start to finish, because all he did when he was done was let out a quiet, “yes!” with a subtle fist pump. All of that work led up to his performance, a solo that barely lasted one minute from start to finish, including his shy bow before heading back to my side. He did a great job, and I could not have been more proud.

In our work we often talk about learning and assessment in terms designed to help us wrap our heads around what is considered best practice. We talk about ‘practice time’ and ‘game day’ when we refer to formative and summative assessments. As I watched and listened to the kids playing their pieces at the Christmas celebration, I could not help but think about how I was seeing the results of authentic learning in it’s purest form. This was ‘game day’ for those kids, their guests, and their teachers. The students were given a piece to practice over a period of time, coming back weekly to their teacher to demonstrate their progress. It was during these lessons that feedback was given to the students and next steps were set up based on where they were at that moment. The students then went away and practiced some more, and the cycle continued. During this entire learning journey there was not one mark given, only feedback. Some of that feedback occurred in the moment beside the teacher, some of it was in written form in their journal. It was simple process; work with the teacher, practice at home while self-assessing, demonstrate growth for the teacher, receive feedback, practice with teacher, repeat.

The recital could be viewed as their summative assessment, a culmination of their hard work where they had one shot in front of the crowd to show what they know. Of course this does not mean that Bobby is done playing the piano, nor will he now put The Little Drummer Boy away. He has already talked about how he will be playing this for his relatives this Christmas, and we’ve discussed the possibility of creating a performance tying the songs he knows together in a longer performance. Summative assessment should not mean over and done with, it should be a snap shot in time. Katie White (@KatieWhite426) writes, “summative assessment is the way we verify learning and determine proficiency. It is an essential  part of the learning cycle” (p. 153). Note how she says it is part of the cycle, not the end of the cycle. Saturday afternoon was a verification of what Bobby had learned and an opportunity to show his teacher he is ready for the next challenge.

What about the cycle in our classrooms with 15, 20, 25, or 30+ students? It is through the art and science of teaching that you are making this happen at #WaldheimSchool. I’ve seen the creative ways teachers are carving out time in the day to listen to students read, to sit beside students as they wrestle with concepts, or to simply stand back and watch them work together to deepen their understanding. One of the best examples of this is watching the home ec students, especially when they are in their cake decorating unit. I love watching the students experiment, collaborate, and then seek feedback from Marla and Krisinda. I also secretly hope for a slice of cake when they are done! Assessment is not easy, and when I reflect on how I used to teach, particularly my math classes, I am embarrassed by the steps I failed to take. Here was the normal learning cycle when I taught:

  1. Tell the kids what they’d be learning (I’d post my objectives by writing, today you will learn…..)
  2. Have them copy notes off the board
  3. Demonstrate two or three examples from their upcoming assigned work
  4. With about 25% of the class time remaining I’d assign several questions for homework
  5. Get frustrated the following day when the kids hadn’t ‘figured it out’ on their own
  6. Move on with the next lesson because we didn’t have time to stop
  7. Get more frustrated when the kids failed their tests
  8. Repeat…

There were so many opportunities for me to do a better job with my teaching, and looking back now I have to pause, understand that I was doing what I thought was best in the moment, forgive myself, and move on. I wonder how well Bobby would have done had he learned how to play piano the way I taught math. Imagine him showing up for lessons to sit and listened to his teacher play The Little Drummer Boy so he would know how it should sound, but not getting to touch the keys for 75% of the lesson. Imagine the frustration he and my wife and I would have when he came home to practice, only to have us fail to know how to help him. Imagine him returning for lessons having experienced little or no growth. Now imagine how he would have felt in that church getting ready for his summative assessment.

I’m glad Bobby learned how to play The Little Drummer Boy the way he did. I’m glad he ‘nailed it’.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting (hopefully you’ve had a chance to view the agenda and think about the reflective questions)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT, Katharine is acting admin

Wednesday:

  • Tentative relocatable classroom walk through with contractors and facilities

Thursday:

  • Ellen & Bruce in Saskatoon all day for 11 & 12 math/science learning trip

Friday:

  • Laird Christmas concert (matinee & evening performance)

As always, create a great week!

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What Language Are We Choosing To Use With Our Kids: Feb 5th – 9th

If you are a fan of football, or frigid weather, this weekend was certainly for you! I’m not a big NFL fan, and as such I’m not sure if I’ll catch the game tonight or not. I will likely tune in to try and see the halftime show, those are usually quite enjoyable, if they can stick to entertainment and leave politics on the sidelines. We had a wonderful weekend as the kids are getting used to our new dog, Bella. They are busy learning how to live with a pet, how she reacts to things like running in the house, or dropped pizza on the floor. Like I’ve been saying, getting a new pet is not so much about training the animal as it is about training the kids.

Our new friend Bella.

Last week I indicated that during my classroom visits I’d be curious about big ideas, and how these ideas were being made explicit to the kids. Some of the things I saw involved inviting kids to expand their thinking as they developed machines in grade 6, or how the kids were using their imagination through words and pictures in grade 2/3, or how the kids were relating perimeter and area in math. These were just three of the many things I saw, and that was during a short week with final exams kicking things off! As we head into our first full week of the second half of the school year, I find I’m reflecting on some of the words from Choice Words that Steve shared with us last week.

…the language  that teachers (and their students) use in classrooms is a big deal…[t]hese words and phrases exert considerable power over classroom conversations, and thus over students’ literate and intellectual development

-Peter Johnston

This week when you engage with students and are trying to be aware of #20/80, what are some ways you can be intentional about the words you choose? What are you hoping the students hear? Is it the same as what you are saying? As I visit classrooms and pose questions I will try my best to be intentional in the words I choose as well.

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Steve away marking provincial ELA exams
  • Classroom visits: how is our language intentional?

Tuesday:

  • Steve away marking provincial ELA exams
  • Classroom visits: how is our language intentional?

Wednesday:

  • Brenda & Joanne away at SERT meetings
  • Classroom visits: how is our language intentional?

Thursday:

  • Grad photos in the library all day
  • Classroom visits: how is our language intentional?

Friday:

  • High school career fair (in gym all morning)
  • Bruce away (am only)
  • Classroom visits: how is our language intentional?

As always, create a great week!

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