What Do You Do If They Burn the Bread?

I love cooking and have thought about the possibility of enrolling in some culinary courses when my career in education concludes. What I really enjoy is the freedom that comes with creating a dish and, if it is a success, the reaction of my family. In the past, I have created wonderful meals for myself, but there is something more satisfying when someone else has that positive reaction. Of course, not every meal is a success. I recall when I was 14 or 15 my dad and I were alone for the weekend, and I volunteered to cook supper. I thought pasta with chicken, vegetables and a creamy sauce would be a great meal. I thought wrong. What I created was a pot of glopity-goo that looked terrible and tasted worse. I also learned a little about my dad that day when he powered through a bowl full before offering to take me out for a burger, fries, and milkshake at our favorite local cafe. Talk about feedback!

While dad did not say what he was likely really thinking, my kids are not as gentle when my meal misses the mark. They are quick to tell me if it is too salty, too spicy, or just gross (their words, not mine). This happened this past Friday when the chicken pad thai that I created was tried by all (a family rule) but rejected by some. As we sat together, the feedback began to flow freely. Charlie was the first one to say that it didn’t really look like something he would enjoy, but he did try it. It was a little too spicy for him, but he ate enough to satisfy his hunger. Maggie was not as willing, and after two bites, opted for the plain noodles and chicken, versus the batch coated in the peanut sauce. Eva, the pickiest of all of our eaters, had a try, but like Maggie, chose chicken, raw vegetables, a few noodles and a lot of peanuts. Then there was Bobby or iron gut as we affectionately call him. He dove in, and his only comment was that it needed a little more spice, so he grabbed the hot sauce that he had received as a Christmas gift from his grandmother.

Pad thai is a favorite dish of ours when we have the opportunity to enjoy Asian cuisine, and this was not the first time I had prepared this meal. I had an idea of what it would look, smell and taste like, and this helped guide my preparation. Along the way, I continually sampled the elements as they came together. I tested the noodles, I tried the chicken, I tasted the sauce and checked the vegetables. While doing this, I considered what else was needed until a final dish was presented, crushed peanuts, chopped cilantro and all! It was an enjoyable meal, and all that was left to do was tidy up the kitchen.

Creating a meal for others is very similar to what we are asking our students to do on a daily basis, and if we think about our home ec program, it is exactly what we are asking our students to do. When I think about the process of preparing a meal I think about the ongoing assessment that is involved. The formative assessment as I sample and adjust, and the summative assessment as I set a final dish in front of my family. I think about the elements and key attributes of our division’s shared beliefs on assessment (found here) and how I experienced these on Friday during supper time.

  1. Collaboration: when I cook, I cook for my family, not just for myself. If that were the case, this dish would have contained shrimp and fresh bean sprouts. In doing this I am inviting feedback from them, it is a collaborative process. When you think about the products your students are creating, what are some ways you have used a collaborative approach? I think about the opportunities I missed as a teacher when I did not spend time allowing students to turn and talk about their learning. This would be like me preparing the pad thai, eating my portion, then serving my family only to walk away and not engage in their feedback. How would this improve my dish for next time?
  2. Communication: with my supper the communication was instantaneous, starting with Charlie asking, “what smells so good?” There is a trust that exists within our family, and they are not afraid to tell me what they think of my cooking, be it good or bad. How does communication sound and feel in your room? How have you built common understandings and language for your learners? In what ways do you ensure your feedback is timely and shared in a way that allows all of your learners to maintain their dignity? At our table, my family knows they can be brutally honest, but they also know how to behave when they are a guest.
  3. Clarity: while I may not prepare pad thai again for a while, I was able to identify ways this dish was better than previous attempts. I also knew that my creation was not nearly as tasty or attractive as versions I have had at restaurants. How are you providing clarity for your students? Rick Stiggins (@RStigginsposits that students can hit a target that they know about and that stands still. How are you ensuring the students know what the goal is, and how are you ensuring you are not unintentionally shifting it?
  4. Consideration: this certainly was not the best meal I’ve prepared for my family, and if they were basing their opinion of my culinary skills solely on this one dish, they would feel their dad had a lot of room for growth. Fortunately, they do not only think about my last meal, but they also remember the spaghetti and meatballs, the Greek chicken, the steak and potatoes, and the homemade burgers. Of course, they also have to consider the terrible soups, or burnt grilled cheese sandwiches of the past as well. Overall, the kids would likely say their dad is a pretty good cook based on the many meals they have enjoyed in the past. In your learning environments, what are you basing your assessment on? Are your students judged by their very best, and only their very best? How are you considering growth and how are you capturing evidence of this? Every so often I get distracted and burn the garlic bread, but does that mean I have not demonstrated proficiency in preparing this in the past? What do you do when kids burn the bread in your lessons? Do you hold it against them, or invite them to throw it out and try again?

The primary purpose for all assessment and evaluation experiences is to support and improve student learning while informing teacher instruction.

-PSSD

When you think about your practices, how are you doing? Over the next few weeks, we will begin discussing our staff learning presentations, and I am very excited to hear your celebrations along with hearing about what you are still wrestling with. Sandra Herbst (@Sandra_Herbst ) speaks about the importance of closing the knowing-doing gap, and this makes me think about the great work we are doing as a staff at #WaldheimSchool. I believe that the learning we are involved in is continually closing that gap.

Here is what is on the horizon for our final week before the February break.

  • Monday:
    • K – 4 staff learning meeting (agenda)
  • Tuesday:
    • Business as usual
  • Wednesday:
    • Business as usual
  • Thursday:
    • PSSD Pride Party in Warman
    • Bruce away (pm only)
  • Friday:
    • 4 – 12 ski trip
    • K – 3 fun day

As always, create a great week!

 372 total views,  1 views today

Moving the Ring

As I peeled the wrapping paper off, I began to realize what the gift was, and I started summoning my inner acting skills. Once again my in-laws had bought me a puzzle to solve, not a jigsaw puzzle, but one of those ring on a string with a block of wood, puzzles. I hate these things! I think my in-laws know this and secretly chuckle about it, after all if you can’t antagonize your son-in-law, who can you antagonize? I needed to let them know how much I ‘appreciated’ this gift. This memory is from a few Christmases ago, but I was reminded of it after watching this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeaaYXBkUVE

As I started watching this video my hands actually started sweating as the sight of this puzzle immediately heightened my anxiety. If this had been gifted to me, I’d likely have employed the use of a big pair of scissors while muttering several colorful phrases. But I enjoyed this video, it was so satisfying to see an ‘expert’ demonstrate the steps required to solve the puzzle, but what I really liked was the sound of the people watching. There were ooo’s and aaah’s as his hands deftly maneuvered the rope and slid the ring. The solution was unfolding before their eyes, and they could see the way before he actually finished. The excitement was building. Then there was the payoff, the sound of the ring clinking on the red ball. The looks on the men’s faces were priceless, but the very best was yet to come. The elderly man, who had spent years trying to solve this riddle grabbed the puzzle and began solving it for himself. What an achievement!

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to speak with a teacher about some of the work we are doing at #WaldheimSchool as we wrestle with the big questions associated with assessment of and for learning. One of the comments this teacher made was that these questions have been around for a long time, and it was that question that gave me hope because of the following:

  1. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe it is important, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  2. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe we can come up with a ‘solution’, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  3. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe that it will be together, not alone, that we find a ‘solution’we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”

I use the term ‘solution’ with trepidation, after all I think we can agree that there is not a one size fits all solution to assessment of and for learning. In fact, I believe that trying to implement such a solution in the past is what has brought us to our current state. As a result, we are in the process of moving away from one singular type of assessment towards practices that honor our learners and our teachers. I believe we are moving towards assessment practices designed with and for all learners, including methods that inform teachers of their impact.

In a way, we are trying to move the ring from the green ball to the red ball, and it is very difficult work! This makes me think of a discussion Ellen (@ellen_verityand I had last week about an assessment task she had her students complete earlier this month. The kids were learning about electromagnetism and were given the choice on how to demonstrate their understanding. They could build a project, complete a test, or write a scientific paper (I think those were the three choices, I’m sorry if there were more that I missed). A challenge for Ellen showed up when a student, who typically demonstrates her learning to an extremely high level, opted to write the paper, and struggled with it. Ellen was faced with an opportunity, either tell the student, “too bad, so sad, you chose this route, you get what you get” or she could look for ways to help the student try again. She chose the latter. I believe she did so because of the three things listed above: it was important to her and the student, she felt there was a ‘solution’, and she believed that speaking with her colleagues would lead her to the right decision.

Every difficult moment we face in our work provides us an opportunity to make a choice; shout “unsolvable” and move on, or we can pause, reflect, and connect with our colleagues in search of the answer. The elderly gentleman worked on that puzzle for ten years until he had help solving it. We will be working on our assessment practices for our entire careers, with the understanding that we will never discover the ‘solution’. This is what makes me so proud. It isn’t the ‘solution’ that matters, it’s the journey, the collaboration between peers and the belief that it is what’s best for all learners that matters. It’s about learning! And while we may never have a 3:48 video on YouTube ending in cheers, we will have something better. We will have the knowledge that everyday we tried to get a little better, and never threw our hands up and shouted, “unsolvable!”

Here’s what is on the horizon for this week:

Monday:

Tuesday:

  • Business as usual

Wednesday:

  • Gr. 7 & 8 field trip (Regina)

Thursday:

  • 10 – 12 final exams begin
  • Bruce away (pm only)

Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

 476 total views

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!

 237 total views

We’re Not Even Getting Marks for This!

There was a quiet anticipation as we made our way through the old, winding corridors. I could hear the conversations as the students trailed behind me, this was a new experience for most of them, and it was clear they were in awe of their surroundings. This learning activity was set up by their Physics teacher, @ellen_verity , and the students only knew one thing, and that was that they would be completing a learning lab studying inelastic collisions. I was along as a chaperone and was just as excited. Part of the excitement was in the wonder of what we’d be learning, the other was the flood of memories as we walked by old classrooms where I had studied mathematics as a University student many years earlier.

We were met by two men, a lab instructor and a graduate student, and they took us to the science lab where we would spend the next two hours creating collisions. After an introduction and a brief discussion outlining the lab the students would be completing, the work began. The students were busy determining mass, calculating velocities, and wrestling with formulae that first-year university physics students would normally encounter. It was a treat to watch the students learning together as they completed the 90-minute lab experiment. One of the comments that stood out to me above all the others was from a grade 12 boy who had been struggling to determine the energy loss in the experiment. He had repeatedly tried and failed to calculate the correct answer, his only support was from the facilitator who encouraged him to “check his math” as his answer fell outside of the acceptable range that the instructor had told the students to keep in mind. He turned to his lab partner and said, “I can’t believe I’m still working at this, it’s not even for marks”. The boys laughed and then returned to their work. Eventually, they had found the error in their calculation, and when they had succeeded they could not hide their pride. They had persisted and were rewarded for their hard work. This ‘stick-withitness’ was demonstrated at all the stations, not a single group dropped their pencils and said, “that’s it, we’re done here”. It made me think about why, and I have a few theories.

1. Environment: the students were working in a different environment than they were used to, and it seemed to be a big change for them. In reality, there was not a lot of difference between their school lab to the one they were in on this day; the tables were similar in height, the stools looked and felt the same, the lighting and temperature were familiar, and one student even noticed the laminate on the counter tops was peeling, just like back at school! So while the different setting surely had an impact on their mindset, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

2. The lab facilitator: the students commented on how smart the lab facilitator was. One student marveled at how he would manipulate different formulas with ease, while another student found it interesting how the facilitator could predict the mistakes students would make. It was apparent to me that the students wanted to do well for this facilitator, and wanted him to know that they brought with them a solid understanding of high school math and physics. While this desire to impress was apparent, like the environment, I do not think this was the greatest influence either.

3. The challenge: this lab involved shooting a 60-gram steel ball into an apparatus that consisted of what I would describe as a cage attached to a pendulum that would swing up using the momentum of the shot. The challenge was to use simple measurements (i.e. height, distance, gravity) to determine the initial and final velocity of the ball. From there the students were challenged to use this information to calculate momentum and eventually determine if there was a conservation of energy. All of this flew straight over my head, but it was fun to watch the kids work through a lab that was not too difficult, yet not too simple. It was a task that was just right in terms of rigor. While the task, was in the Goldilocks zone, much like the environment and the facilitator, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

4. A sense of pride: above all else, I believe the students wanted to successfully complete the lab for their own sense of pride. It was wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when they had correctly calculated the velocity or the momentum. It was wonderful to watch them work together to compare their calculations and discuss what they had learned. It was wonderful to watch them traverse the highs and lows that are typically associated with deep learning. I believe it was this sense of pride that was the greatest motivator for the students, after all, like that student indicated, they were not getting any marks for this. This was truly learning for the sake of learning, and I could feel the engagement in the room.

Given that we are currently immersed in looking at and talking about our assessment practices, I could not help but think about how closely engagement is tied to our assessment work. In her book, @KatieWhite426  writes,

engagment is strongly connected to assessment. Not getting the best effort from our students and feeling like we are working harder than our learners are symptoms of a system not grounded in authentic learning” (p. 153).

Reading this took me back to many times in my classes when the kids were not as “in to” the learning as I had thought they would be. I felt like I had created a highly engaging lessons only to see slumped shoulders and partial efforts. I would have chalked this up to “kids being kids”, however there also numerous lessons when the exact same students were highly engaged and motivated. I had to come to terms with the fact that it was me, not them. I also had to be gentle on myself and forgive myself when a lesson fell flat. I had to have the belief that I could learn from it and improve on it.

This also makes me think of our mindset, as Katie’s quote invites us to view engagement as something that is within our control versus looking at it as something the students consciously choose (either they want to be engaged or they don’t). Of course, going one step further, this also takes me back to our school goal, every adult at #WaldheimSchool will develop a deep and thorough understanding of every student they work with as learners. If we really know our learners we can then begin to craft engaging learning opportunities which in turn will lead to authentic assessments. I’d invite you to think about this the next time it feels like you are working harder than the students are.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our final week before the Christmas break:

Monday:

  • 9 – 12 staff meeting (any 5 – 8 staff are welcome to join us as our meeting last week was cancelled)

Tuesday:

  • Final preparations for Christmas concert

Wednesday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert matinee performance

Thursday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert evening performance

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 locker clean up (schedule to be posted Tuesday to assist with your planning)
  • K – 6 Christmas classroom activities
  • 7 – 12 Christmas activities (pm) lead by the SRC

As always, create a great week!

 434 total views

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!

 326 total views

There Will Always Be Waves

Floating in the cold, northern waters, I struggled to keep myself upright. My life jacket kept my head above the water allowing me to focus on the challenge that awaited me. Ski tips up, rope between the skis, knees bent, grip secure. Dad waited patiently, watching me over his right shoulder, the smoke from his ever present cigarette circled up and around the brim of his navy Detroit Tigers baseball cap. With a deep breath I bellowed the two words I knew I would have to shout, “hit it!”

The motor roared and the boat reared up like a bull leaving the chute. The rope snapped taut causing me to lurch forward, I thought my arms would be pulled from their sockets. The boat pulled me against the water, and as I began to pick up speed it became obvious this was not going to work out well. Falling forward my skis fell off and I was being pulled through the water head first. “Two words” I thought to myself, “dad said remember these two words”. As the green waters of Waskesiu lake began to fill my mouth, nostril, and eyes the two words popped into my head. Let go!

Sputtering, coughing, and searching for my skis, I watched as dad came back around in a large, slow circle. Leaning over the side of the boat, with a smile I’ll never forget, he simply said, “you forgot to let go”. As we laughed, I prepared myself for my next attempt. The cycle continued. I’d yell, “hit it”, dad would open the throttle, and I would struggle to get myself up and out of the water. It only took a few attempts, but eventually I was being pulled behind the boat, feeling like the king of the world. Knees shaking, arms aching, I was doing it. I was water skiing! I felt like nothing could stop me, I felt like I could do this forever. That was until we encountered the wake created by another boat. With knees buckling and arms flailing, I went down in a glorious crash, causing water to fly everywhere. It was incredible, and I couldn’t wait to do it again!

How you think you look.
Reality!

As I have been reading Softening the Edges, with a particular focus on self assessment, these memories of first learning how to water ski came flooding back. My dad had supplied me with all the tools I needed, from the boat to the skis to life jacket to the rope, everything was in place. He had asked my uncle Jim (an avid water skier at the time) to share some words of advice with me. In the end, learning how to water ski came down to me and me alone. I was the one that had to live the experience, making quick adjustments in my grip and stance on the fly. I had to signal to my dad to speed up or slow down and I had to have the ability to predict and prepare myself for hazards that were coming my way. Eventually through a lot of practice which involved multiple spills, I developed into a pretty good water skier, even learning how to navigate a slalom course on one ski. I thought I was pretty good, until my friend convinced me to try ski jumping. Then it was back to step one….hit it had a whole new meaning!

Every day we are asking our students to engage in learning. Every class, at some point we want them to say to themselves, “hit it!” and let the learning begin. Writing about self assessment, Katie White (@KatieWhite426) helps us reflect on the importance of a safe environment where students are free to be vulnerable. She reminds us, “(w)hen students leverage an understanding of themselves, they can strive to achieve their personal and academic goals through purposeful actions designed to lead to a desired outcome” (p. 112). It caused me to reflect on how we are creating these environments. I thought about the discussion circles I frequently see in June, Cara, Sharlene, Shantel, Bobby Jo, and Brittney’s rooms. While sitting together on the carpet in a circle seems to suit students in K to 4, would it also be a powerful practice in grade 10, 11, and 12? I’ve seen Jesse do this with his grade 11 & 12 students in his History classes. Ask him about the impact it can have. If we believe that we are here to serve every student on their learning journey, what intentional moves are we making to create the safe environment these students need to take the risks associated with self assessment?

Katie also writes, “(t)o honor the whole person and soften the edges of assessment, we must invite students into the learning cycle. This includes daily reflection alongside teachers” (p. 113). As I read this I immediately thought about the way we view everything we do through MPSC and the importance of #side-by-side learning. However I also thought about my dad’s words, “you forgot to let go”. As I reflect on my time teaching I recall being guilty of either giving too much or too little feedback, and in the end not giving the students what they really needed in the moment. This week, as you are presented with opportunities to walk alongside your learners during their moments of self assessment, how will you ensure you are in the Goldilocks zone of support, not too much and not too little? After all, we can provide the equipment, but in the end it is our learners who need to develop those skills needed to survive the waves that will inevitably come their way.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday

  • K – 4 staff meeting (Monday, Dec. 3, 2018)
  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

Tuesday

  • Bruce away (pm) for a classroom environment planning meeting
  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

Wednesday

  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

Thursday

  • EA meeting
  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

Friday

  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

As always, create a great week!

 1,580 total views,  1 views today

Is It Just an Illusion?

 

I’ve always loved optical illusions, the way you think you see one thing, when really it’s just a trick your eyes are playing on you. Magicians use it all the time, and for me, there is nothing better than seeing an illusion, knowing that what I just saw could not have really happened. Yet I saw it, with my own eyes, and I have no clue how the performer pulled off the feat. Of course, if something can trick the mind, you can bet that there is an advertising firm looking for ways to leverage that into increased sales.

Do you see the hidden symbol?

The power of illusions had me thinking about what our students see on a daily basis in our school. I believe every adult in our building has the same underlying belief that our kids are worth the effort that this job takes. I see it when you stay after school to help kids learn, I see it when you lead an extra-cur program, I see it when you allow students to push your floor cleaner, I see it when you sit beside a student and ask, “how are you doing”, I see it when you stop in the hallway and listen to kids, I see it when you spend hours before and after school planning and co-planning, I see it when you Tweet about the amazing things happening in your room.

Do the kids see it?

Do the kids see how much you care, or are their eyes playing tricks on them? Ellen and I were speaking with her pre-calculus 30 class last week about the reason she is setting the bar so high for them. It’s not to show them how smart she is, and how they could never attain the level of mastery over mathematics that she has. No, it’s because she knows the vast majority of those students in her room will be moving on to post-secondary institutions and she wants them to be as ready as possible. Do the kids see that she cares, or are their eyes and ears playing tricks on them, seeing a teacher that is making things tough for them. I’m sure many of them understand why she is doing what she is, but what about those who are tricked by the illusion?

The kids I really wonder about are those who think their teacher does not care about them. Some kids may be under the illusion that, in their teachers eyes, they are not really that special. Are you okay with that? Are you okay with a student in your class thinking you don’t really care about them? If you are not okay with that (and I’m assuming you’re not) how do you make sure they are getting the real message, and not the illusion? In his article, Dr. Ken Shore writes,

A student’s self-esteem has a significant impact on almost everything she does — on the way she engages in activities, deals with challenges, and interacts with others. Self-esteem also can have a marked effect on academic performance. Low self-esteem can lessen a student’s desire to learn, her ability to focus, and her willingness to take risks. Positive self-esteem, on the other hand, is one of the building blocks of school success; it provides a firm foundation for learning.

-Dr. Ken Shore

If there is a correlation between a student’s self-esteem and their willingness to engage in learning, who would not want to take advantage of that? If we all want the best for our kids, what possible reason would there be that we would ignore the importance of self-esteem? I’m not so naive to think that alone we can completely repair all the damage a student’s self-esteem may have experienced over their career as a student. But, that does not mean we don’t have a role to play. Do we want to be the people who strengthen the illusion, or do we want to be the one’s that slowly chip away at the false narrative?

I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now, given the hard work we are engaging in as it relates to assessment. In a recent tweet, Katie White (@KatieWhite426says,

Assessment processes have to leave our learners with optimism. They have to see how assessment leads to growth and success. How might we shift our assessment decisions to make this happen?

-Katie White

It’s not too great of a leap to think that an optimistic student is one who will develop the ability to repair a fractured self-esteem. How are you using assessment to help fill our students with optimism, thus helping them see how much you care? This makes me think about how Briane is doing this with her WorkPlace Math 10 class. She has developed different ways of assessing that still hold students accountable to the curriculum, but so with a softer edge (to borrow a line).

As you approach the new week, I’d invite you to think of ways to let every student know you care about them, and believe in them. I came across this video, and love looks on the kids’ faces as their teachers tell them how much they care.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Holiday

Tuesday:

  • K – 8 Staff Meeting

Wednesday:

  • Gym closed (am only)
  • Fire drill (we’ll have a close look at the forecast first)

Thursday:

  • EAs and Corinne in Vancouver (Zones of Regulation work)
  • Bruce & Jesse will be taking on EA roles on Thursday

Friday:

  • Bruce away all day

As always, create a great week!

 648 total views

Feedback Makes Us All Better

I’ve always loved music and that love of music has never been restricted to just one genre. I enjoy country, jazz, pop, rock, blues, soul, reggae, classical, and yes, even rap music. To me, it’s not the genre, it’s the song. One of the bands I really enjoyed in my youth, and still do to this day, is Queen. They have a unique sound that was defined by the iconic voice of lead singer, Freddie Mercury. While they are one of my favorite bands, some of their songs do not strike a chord with me, like Another One Bites the Dust, or, ironically, Bohemian Rhapsody. It is ironic because that is the title of the movie documenting the evolution of the band, and it is the recording of that song that is such a pivotal moment in the arc of the story. In one of the most touching scenes in the movie, Mercury shares with his band mates the reason he feels their band is so successful: feedback. He talks about their greatness as a result of their ability to collaborate and to push each other to be one of the best bands of all time (#52 of the top 100 artists of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine).

I thought about this scene as I was reading Softening the Edges this weekend. The author (@KatieWhite426 ) invites us to think about the importance of feedback as part of our formative assessment practices. In the movie, Mercury talks about how feedback helped create beautiful music. In her book, White talks about how feedback helps create beautiful learning. She quotes John Hattie, who says,

The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback’

I like the term dollops of feedback. Phrasing it in such a way allows us easier entry points for our feedback, simply because we are doing so in dollops. I think about how Shantel offers dollops of feedback during her LLI time as she invites students to ponder things. I think  about how Krisinda offers dollops of feedback as she invites her students to ‘taste the soup’ in Home Ec class. I think about how Steve offers dollops of feedback as he engages in conversations with students who are thinking about why Saskatchewan has the highest teen smoking rate in Canada. I think about how Glen offers dollops of feedback as he stands beside a grade 9 girl who is turning a piece of wood on the lathe. I think about how Ellen has adopted a “thinking classroom” based on her work with Peter Liljedahl (@pgliljedahl) and how she offers dollops of feedback through the questions she asks her students as a response to their own questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Corinne shares with students who seek her guidance on a daily basis as she offers a quiet ear and a few timely questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Leah offers Sam through their work together as cooperating teacher and intern as Leah asks questions that allow Sam to formulate answers for herself versus simply telling her what to do. 

So many terrific examples of the dollops of feedback I saw just last week alone.

As you head into the week, I’d invite you to think about what Katie White writes in chapters 3 & 4, especially in the area of formative assessmentAs you approach your work this week I wonder how you’d answer questions like:

  • what did I learn about my students last week that will have an impact on how I teach them this week?
  • if there was only one learning goal that I had to accomplish this week with my students, what would that goal be, and how would I know if every student achieved it?
  • which student(s) have not benefited from the gift of feedback lately, and how will I make sure I have a learning conversation with them?

Heading into this week, I am going to use those three questions to help guide my thinking. What did I learn last week about leadership that will impact how I lead this week? What is the one leadership goal I get to accomplish this week? Who have I not engaged with in learning conversation, and how will I ensure I do so this week?

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K – 4 Staff Meeting (please have chapters 3 & 4 completed. See agenda for information)
  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT meeting

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Thursday:

  • Remembrance Day ceremony
  • 7 – 12 Progress Reports sent home

Friday:

  • Teacher Preparation Day

As  always, create a great week!

 297 total views

I Wanted to be a Comedian.

Waiting for the bus

My twins are absolutely loving Kindergarten, and it’s only been a couple weeks. Stories and samples of work are shared on a regular basis, and Charlie loves to ask me questions like, “dad, what does B stand for?” I play along, of course, and reply, “no, what does B stand for?” With a smile he says, “buh, buh, buh. Ball.” He’s been having fun learning all sorts of interesting things, some he learns at school, other lessons he learns on the playground and on the bus. One thing he has learned is that the bus ride is not what he had thought it would be. He tells me it’s loud and it smells funny.

Something I’ve noticed with my twins is that so far making mistakes does not really bother them. When they print their names, if they reverse or miss a letter and we help them fix it, they do not get upset. I see this a lot in our youngest learners at #WaldheimSchool. There is no fear or hesitation as they learn a new song or dance in Kindergarten, or create a unique pattern or poem in grade one. As I visit classrooms in our K to 12 school, something I notice is that as I move into middle years or high school, students become a little more reluctant to take a risk with their learning. We’ve all seen kids take risks in other areas, and it reminds me of a mindset I had as a middle years student; I’d rather look funny or silly in front of my peers than look stupid or ill-informed. As a result of this, I would never take a risk with my learning, even if it meant passing up on opportunities to explore things I was curious about. I remember a learning task our grade 9 ELA teacher asked us to prepare for. This assignment was to write and perform a quick comedy routine for the rest of the class. I’ve always loved comedians, and was secretly excited about this opportunity to perform an original piece. Not being the first to perform, I quickly noticed the ‘cool’ kids were simply reading Laughter is the Best Medicine, one of my favorite sections from a copy of the Readers’ Digest. I was disappointed and scared at the same time. There was no way I was going to buck that trend, even though I secretly wanted to. When it was my turn, instead of taking a risk, I grabbed my friends Readers’ Digest and quickly read a funny story and returned to my chair.

Learning opportunities for all students are characterized by high expectations
(rigour), personal and purposeful application (relevance), collaborative learning
environments (relationship), risk-taking to consider alternative instructional
approaches (innovative) and student choice (engagement).

You will recognize the above quote from our guiding document, MPSC. When I think about the teacher’s intentions for our class, I recall being surprised by such an innovative (although I didn’t use that word at the time, I think I thought it was cool) approach. I still remember that lesson and how excited and engaged I was, and ultimately how disappointed I was. I often wondered what our teacher thought about that lesson. I wonder if he felt like he failed. He took a risk, and it was through our actions as students that it did not work out as I’m sure he’d hoped it would.

What have you tried that may not have worked out as you had envisioned? What risks have you taken that ultimately came up short?

The fear of failure can stand in the way of all of us, from administrators to teachers to support staff to students. So what can we do about it? As I think about my grade 9 ELA class, it was not a safe environment for risk taking. In fact, the more I reflect, our entire school during the early to mid-eighties, was not a safe environment for risk taking. That’s where I feel we need to start, creating a safe place for students to take risks. In his article, Youki Terada states,

despite how common mistakes are, students often perceive them as negative and as a potential threat to their self-worth. A positive classroom climate—one where the teacher and students treat mistakes as learning opportunities—can create better conditions for learning.

As we continue to grow, we need to keep looking at our learning environments and ask ourselves if they are a safe place to take a risk. What are your students telling you through their words, actions or in some cases, lack of action? I know I’ll be asking myself that at our staff learning meeting on Monday.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week,

Monday:

  • all staff meeting after school (see agenda sent out Friday)
  • SACL presentation 6:30 pm

Tuesday:

  • Bruce at PD planning meeting (1:00 pm) ~ tentative

Wednesday:

  • Carnival preparation

Thursday:

  • Elementary Carnival (4:30 – 6:30)

Friday:

  • PD/Prep Day

As always, create a great week!

 446 total views

Let’s Go for Coffee

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love a good cup of coffee. It can be iced or hot, black or fancied up, I just love the whole coffee experience. This was one of the pleasant surprises when I began working in Waldheim, the wonderful coffee shop, Departures. It has become a favorite place for me to pop in for a cappuccino or a latte, and while it would be easier and cheaper for me to simply brew a cup at work, there are a couple things that keep me going back. The two things that bring me back day after day are the art and the atmosphere, and recently I was thinking about what great teachers are doing in their rooms that are similar to what’s happening at Departures.

First, the art. I have an espresso maker at home, and buy good coffee, usually from Starbucks or McQuarries Tea and Coffee Merchants. When I’m craving a good cup of coffee, I dig out my maker, the coffee, the milk, and some flavoring syrup. I load up the portafilter, tamp it down, and begin to brew. After the shots are pulled, I begin steaming some milk, making sure to create some foam for the top. Once this is all done, I put it all together, and sit down to enjoy my creation. Every time I make a coffee this way I think to myself, “well, it’s okay, but it’s no Departures”. While the baristas at Depatures or Starbucks are using machines that are much higher quality, I believe it’s something more than that. It’s the art that they bring to their creations, and it’s an art that has been learned and honed over many, many pulls. It’s the same way I feel when I get to watch the incredible work that is going on in our classrooms. There is an art to the way Glen moves effortlessly through the shop that makes every student feel like they are important to him. There is an art to the way Steve captures every student with his combination of wisdom and wit. There is an art to the way Trace makes every athlete in his gym classes feel like they can do it. There is an art to the way our teachers and EAs do what they do. As you think about yourself as an artist, who have and continue to be your mentors? Who do you think you are impacting?

Second, the atmosphere. There are many coffee shops from franchises like Starbucks to local shops like City Perks, and while they all try to bring their own unique twist to this industry, they also all have things in common. Coffee shops are more than a place to quickly grab a cup to go, they are places where people go to meet friends, to work, to read, or just to relax. It would seem strange to go to a coffee shop today and not have access to free Wi-Fi while sitting in a comfortable chair with a plug-in handy. It would seem strange if there were no music playing and no art hanging on the walls. And of course, it would seem very strange if there were no friendly, knowledgeable baristas there to greet us and share their art with us. It’s the same way I feel when I get to walk into your incredible classrooms. The way Sharlene has made her room a safe, caring place for kids to explore and wonder. The way Katie and Cara have created environments that are like the fertile ground of a garden, just waiting for the kids to plant their seeds of learning on the walls to share with others. The way Ellen spends hours making what could be a sterile science lab into a place where the kids feel welcome and are encouraged to wonder. The way Joanne and Brenda take their smaller canvases and create beautiful spaces for some of our most vulnerable students to feel safe. The way Jamie and her crew work tirelessly to make sure the school is safe, tidy, and inviting. As you think about your room, what have you been intentional of as you’ve tried to create an atmosphere suited to bringing MPSC to life? How will you know if your ‘customers’ are satisfied?

My friend, George Couros (@gcouros) often speaks about his incredible parents, and how they created a thriving restaurant business in Humboldt by keeping things like this in mind. They created a successful business by caring about their customers and serving great food. How can you use the model of a successful coffee shop or restaurant to make your students’ learning experiences the best they can be? 

Look at your learning space with 21st century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we know about learning in the past?
Sir Ken Robinson
The Third Teacher (2010)

…now I’m craving a coffee!

Here’s what lies ahead this week

Monday:

  • K – 4 staff meeting (agenda)
  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

Tuesday:

  • Grade 8 bike trip
  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT, Steve acting admin

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning
  • Meet the Family BBQ (4:30 – 6:30)

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

As always, create a great week!

 419 total views