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!

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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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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!

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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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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!

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There Are Some Things Technology Will Never Replace.

“Dad, I want to play scramble” requested Eva, my eight year old daughter.

“You want to play what?”

“Scramble. I want to play scramble” she said again.

“What’s scramble?” I asked, wondering if it was a tag game or some sort of online game she’d heard about at school.

“You know, scramble, where you spell words”

“Oh, Scrabble” I said.

“Yes, Scrabble, I want to play Scrabble” she pleaded.

I’m not sure where she’d heard of or seen Scrabble, but she was adamant that we would play the game that night. After supper was done and the dishes were cleared away, Eva found the Scrabble game at the bottom of our board game pile. She opened the box, set out the board, gave one tile holder to me and kept one for herself. Then she asked, “what do we do?” Wanting to make sure her first Scrabble experience was a fun one, I decided we’d play without keeping score, just focusing on creating words. We each picked 7 tiles and the game was on. I invited her to start the game and as she sat staring at her letters she told me she didn’t know if she could spell a word. Just as I was about to help her, she sat up with excitement and said, “I got one, I got one!” Slowly she set out the tiles one by one. T E A.

Smiling, she retrieved three tiles from the bag and the game was officially on. Back and forth we went building words. She would struggle with a few rules of the game, placing tiles where they shouldn’t be, but overall she caught on very quickly. I was so proud. Growing up, Scrabble was a staple on a Saturday or Sunday night in the Mellesmoen house. My mom still has the tattered old box with the faded board and well worn letters. Along with Scrabble were other games, like Stock Ticker, Cribbage, Rummy, Yahtzee, and Crokinole. As I reflect on the games we played as a family, I cannot help but think of the basic academic skills I was building (to this day I’m a whiz at adding to 15 because of the numerous Cribbage matches). The game of Scrabble with Eva reminded me of how wonderful that game is for not only a person’s spelling and vocabulary, but for one’s numeracy as well (for you Scrabblers, what is Q U I Z worth if it lands on a triple word score?).

In a time defined by YouTube, Netflix, Fortnight, and other online forms of entertainment, there is something to be said about sitting down across the table from someone for a good, old fashioned board game. Please, do not misinterpret what I’m saying, my children love their technology, and I am very guilty of hiring the electronic babysitter on several occasions. But it is important to remember the impact of games like Scrabble.

This makes me think about the time honored traditions that go into our craft as educators. With all of the technology at our finger tips, one might be tempted to simply log on and then step back while the kids learn online. Thankfully I have not seen this happening at our school, rather I am seeing you use technology as a tool. I am seeing:

  • Kindergarten kids dancing and singing along to the video on the SmartBoard, learning all about letters and numbers
  • Teachers helping kids share their learning with their families via See-Saw, FreshGrade, and Class DoJo
  • Students accessing teacher made tutorials on YouTube to learn about certain drafting skills they may have missed while they were away from the school
  • Adults Tweeting out images that celebrate learning
  • Teachers ‘dipping their toes’ into the world of 3D printing
  • Teachers using random group generators to group students for cooperative learning activities
  • Students making movies to share their thinking
  • Teachers thinking about ways to use Rosetta Stone to help students who are reluctant to speak in class learn about communication skills
  • Teachers using online simulators to help kids visualize the impact of heat and pressure on gases
  • Teachers wanting to Skype with authors and other classes

I am seeing technology being used as a tool to support you as a teacher, not replace you as a teacher. Reading MPSC and looking at the new graphic (here), the word technology appears a grand total of zero times, and (if you count the telescope as a piece of technology) appears only once in the graphic. It is clear that deep learning does not depend on technology, rather technology can be used along with many other tools to help create opportunities for deep learning. What counts is you, the artist. You combine your passion for learning with your deep knowledge of curriculum with your skills as a facilitator of learning, all to create an experience for your students, and you do this multiple times every day!

Of course technology is a reality, and we all know how it can be used to help us in our craft. As you think about the work you are doing and how it fits with our school goal (every adult at Waldheim School will develop a deep and thorough understanding of every child they work with as a learner) how does technology support this? Thinking about our current focus on assessing the whole student, how has technology supported your work?

Our devices will continue to evolve, becoming ‘smarter’, faster, and more affordable. Advances in technology will continue at a break-neck pace, threatening to leave aging adults (like myself) in the dust if we choose to be left behind. Innovations and creations that one can only imagine will soon be a reality, however, just as there will always be a need for side-by-side learning, I truly believe there will always be a place for a good old game of scramble.

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

Monday:

  • crazy sock day
  • we are excited to welcome a group of teachers from Blaine Lake to learn alongside Shantel & Brittney
  • all teacher staff learning meeting (agenda) after school (Jade, can we use your room?)

Tuesday:

  • Taco in a bag (7-12)
  • Nike vs. Adidas day

Wednesday:

  • wacky hat day

Thursday:

  • Taco in a bag (K-6)
  • Disney day

Friday:

  • 1-6 progress reports sent home
  • Raider pride day

As always, create a great week!

 

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The Power of an Audience

Sometimes, when I least expect it, I catch myself thinking about learning and this happened today while I was preparing supper. As I was tending to the pots on the stove, my oldest son was practicing the piano. The song he was practicing at first sounded vaguely familiar, however once he started playing it with a little more confidence it occurred to me he was playing my wife’s favorite Christmas carol, Little Drummer Boy. Stopping and starting, he really struggled with the song. He knew how it should sound, for he had heard it numerous times in the past, and he also knew what he was playing was just not quite right. The notes were off. He would mess up the timing. He would lose his place. And he would growl with frustration. One thing that is important to understand is that my son has inherited his father’s short fuse. When I get frustrated or angry it’s not a pretty sight, and if I’m trying to complete a task and I end up in this zone, the only thing I can do is walk away and try to reset. I could sense Bobby was heading this direction, so I asked why he was practicing this song with such intensity.

His answer reminded me of a powerful tool we have as educators, audience.

Bobby told me his motivation for practicing was that he wanted to perform this song at his auntie Susan’s house this Christmas season. One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to gather around the piano and sing carols. I recall Christmas sing-a-longs many years ago at my grandparent’s home in Carrot River, and as young child I loved to hear my aunts, uncles, and grandparents sing together. I’m so happy that my children have had the opportunity to be part of this experience, even if their dad does not sing along (I’ve come to accept that my musical talents are pretty much restricted to playing the radio). I’m even more excited that Bobby now wants to have more prominent role in this and actually play the piano to lead one of the carols.

This is why he is practicing over, and over, and over. This is why he is getting better and better. He is learning.

He is learning so he can perform for an audience. This makes me think of how often our students are asked to ‘perform’ for an audience. I recall asking students to complete learning tasks as a classroom teacher, and at times their hearts were just not in it, however, if I asked them to create something for a learning fair that involved other classes or parents, they would always be a little more diligent. This also makes me think of ‘performances’ I’ve seen in our school in the past, such as:

  • the grade 1 class singing at the Remembrance Day ceremony
  • the grade 7 science fair
  • the genius hour presentations at parent/teacher conferences
  • Life Transitions learning fairs
  • math cafe
  • readers cafe
  • writers cafe
  • assemblies
  • plays

These are many things that you may have also seen in your school in the past. There are also some other very cool ‘performances’ I’ve seen that create an opportunity for students to present to an audience.

  • the IA teacher lets his students know their projects will be shared online via Instagram (check it out here)
  • a geography teacher inviting his students to present their tourism ideas to two other adults instead of just presenting their ideas to the class or the teacher
  • the journalism teacher asking her students to seek real sponsorship from businesses in town to support the school yearbook
  • the Psychology teacher challenging her students to create real learning activities that will be taught to the Kindergarten class
  • the senior ELA teacher inviting the kindergarten class to hear his students’ If you give a                             stories (for example, If you give a panda a crayon)

In all of these cases (and there are more) the students know that the audience will not just be the teacher or their classmates. They know it will be a more diverse set of eyes and ears, and because of that their pride kicks in, and they usually put in a greater effort.

Obviously not every learning activity can be set up for an audience, but, are there ways to invite students to share their learning with more people than just their peers or the teacher? I’ve seen an increase in the use of online sharing tools, like See-Saw, Class Dojo, and FreshGrade. What else can you do? There is Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube. Of course with online sharing comes other factors teachers must consider. Some families do not want their children sharing online, but are there ways to share processes and products without sharing faces and names? If we want our students to work towards mastery and deep learning, how can we occasionally use the power of an audience to accomplish this? I’ve seen it in our school, I’d love to hear other ideas, so please comment below.

And as far as The Little Drummer Boy, I’m expecting to hear an awful lot of it over the next few weeks!

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Don’t Be Afraid Like I Was

What a fun weekend! On Saturday I took Eva and Maggie to my sister’s as we gathered with some aunties, uncles, and cousins. It was especially nice to see my aunt Lisa and her daughter Carrie who flew up from the United States to spend some time with my mom. I don’t get to see aunt Lisa and her family nearly as much as I’d like, but this weekend was fun. One of the best parts of the day was watching the kids creating Christmas decorations at the table. My mom had bought some paint and traditional ornaments and the kids went to work painting them a wide variety of colors. I’m sure they will be wonderful additions to the tree this year.

Just a fraction of the whole crew.

There was a lot of ‘creating’ this weekend, along with the ornaments, there were snow forts and Lego creations being constructed. What I noticed as the kids were working with paint, snow, and plastic bricks, was that there was a varying degree of choice. As they painted, they had the freedom to use any combination of the many colors that were available to them, and while there were the traditional red Santa suits, and green wreaths, some of the angels and stars were quite a sight. Similar to the painting, while the kids were creating their forts, they were free to let their imagination be the architects. The kids knew there were several rules that had to be followed, for example, Charlie learned the hard way that stacking the larger blocks on the smaller ones leads to unstable walls. Finally, as they put their Lego sets together, the kids made sure they closely followed the instructions, frequently referring to the picture of the race car they were slowly creating. So, while each activity brought with it a varying degree of freedom of creativity, all three activities were thoroughly enjoyed. There was such a depth of engagement that in all three instances the kids had to be convinced to leave the fun for birthday cake, supper, and bed time baths.

Given the current work we are doing to deepen our understanding of assessment, you may be wondering what sort of rubric I created for each activity. You may wonder if all of the kids earned 3’s or 4’s and you may be curious about the feedback I gave to the kids during our conference time. Of course you know this is all ‘tongue in cheek’, as there was no summative assessment, nor was there a piece of paper fixed to the forts commenting on the lack of symmetry or clear disregard for proper fort building codes.

But there was assessment going on

As the girls painted they chatted with each other asking what they thought of their color choices. There were a lot of comments like, “oh, I like that” and “why don’t you try this color”. Similarly, as Bobby and Charlie worked away in the front yard, I could hear Charlie asking Bobby for help, and as they were building, Bobby would reassure Charlie with comments like “hey buddy, that looks cool” and “no Charlie, it will work better if you make this edge flat”. Finally, as the boys built their Lego cars, they were continually assessing their work by referring to the picture of what the finished product should look like. This self and peer assessment went on, partly because I knew enough to stay out of the way and keep my opinions to myself.

Too often as a teacher, I was afraid to turn the assessment over to the students. I always felt I had to be the one to judge their work and what eventually happened was that my students struggled when I asked them to do any sort of self assessment. Too often they were trying to figure out what I would say, rather than focusing on what they had learned during the process. As I visit classrooms I am always in awe with how simple you all make it look. Whether it’s how Dwayne intentionally sets his kids in pairs for their math work so they can help each other with their formative assessment, or how Katharine has her kids turn and talk several times during their independent work time, or how Ellen allows her students to take a few moments prior to writing her math and science tests to connect with a classmate to ease their anxiety, this great assessment work is happening in our building.

As you continue to work through Katie White’s book, keep thinking about how you are building meaningful self assessment into your already engaging lessons. Keep thinking about how you can empower students to take part in meaningful self assessment so you are not making the same mistakes I made. Keep thinking about how you can capture and share the meaningful self assessment that is happening in your lessons. Keep thinking about how you can build optimism and self-esteem by using ‘soft-edged’ self assessment.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 9-12 staff meeting (agenda sent out Friday), please commit to having chapters 3 & 4 read as it will guide much of our discussion after school
  • Bruce away (pm) for classroom environment committee work

Tuesday:

  • student vaccination (please refer to Corinne’s email from last week)

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

Thursday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)
  • potential pep rally for sr. boys volleyball team as they qualified for Provincials

Friday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

As always, create a great week!

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Where Are You Pointing Your Telescope?

It was a perfect night for star gazing. Not a cloud in the sky, the fall air was crisp and cool, and the moon shone brightly over the city. Bobby’s teacher,  @blaine_gaudet had arranged for the grade 6 class to meet at the observatory at the University of Saskatchewan on Friday night as they continue to study the solar system in their science course. While they were there, the students had the opportunity to view many of the displays and artifacts in the observatory. They were able to speak with two experts (U of S astronomy students) who would answer their questions and extend the kids thinking with questions about space. It was a fun night, and Bobby wanted to share this experience with his aunt Susan. My sister, who teaches in Saskatoon, has always been close with Bobby, so it was no surprise when she agreed to come along on the field trip.

Upon our arrival, we were’t sure what to expect. We didn’t know how many other students would be joining the group, nor did we know exactly what we’d be looking at through the telescope. What we did know, however, was that we’d have an opportunity to learn through looking, listening, and asking questions. We were curious about things. Bobby asked, “I wonder if that’s a planet or a star beside the moon?” My sister wondered where the space station was, and if it were observable that night. I wondered if Starbucks would be open late enough to get a cappuccino after. I actually wondered if we’d be able to catch a glimpse of Saturn and her beautiful rings. We enjoyed our time, learning many cool things. For instance, it never dawned on me that the telescope through which we were looking was constantly moving, just ever so slightly. This movement is designed to keep time with the movement of the Earth, thus maintaining a focus on the target. We did get to look at Mars and the moon, but alas, not at Saturn. It was an amazing time, and one I’m sure we’ll do again in the future. What struck me was the conversations that occurred on the ride home. We were actually filled with more questions than when we first set out for the evening. We looked at the night sky in a different way, and noticed things that we may not have prior to this.

It was a night of real learning.

I then started thinking about the learning that is happening on a daily basis in our school. Are students walking in with a rough idea of where they are going for each class? How can this mindset benefit them? Are students able to build on prior learning, or is everything ‘new’ each class? I wonder about where you ‘point the telescope’ in your room? We looked at 3 things, just 3, and it was plenty for a 90 minute session. How often are you moving your ‘telescope’? We were all able to look and learn, the facilitator did not say, “students you only get to look at the moon, parents, you get to look at the Pleiades”. What are the ways you are inviting #allstudents to look at and learn about ‘the Pleiades’ in your classes?

It was cool to see a kid (anyone now in their early 20’s will be known as a ‘kid’ to me) from the U of S, with no formal teacher training bringing MPSC to life. I was reminded of the simple ingredients that were brought together to create an authentic, engaging learning experience for all 30-plus people who were there that night. No desks. No notes. No SmartBoard. No worksheets. There was plenty of choice, a lot of conversation, tons of side-by-side learning, and a lot of freedom for the kids and parents to learn in many different ways.

What a great night!

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

Monday:

  • Bus driver meeting & bus evacuation drill 9:00 am
  • 9 – 12 Staff Meeting
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Tuesday:

  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Wednesday:

  • Dental screening (gr. 1 & 7)
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Thursday:

  • Picture retakes
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

As always, create a great week!

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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!

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