Assume Less, Understand More

The laughter and banter filled the dressing room as my teammates and I were getting ready for the big game. Nothing was really on the line, but when you are 11 years old every game feels like the Stanley Cup final, and this Saturday afternoon contest was no different. I had everything on but my skates, and as I rummaged through the old red canvas bag the realization hit me, I left my skates in the porch! The night before I had been at the outdoor skating rink with my buddies, and upon returning home I forgot to put my skates in my equipment bag. I had assumed mom would do that for me. I assumed wrong.

I remember as if it were yesterday. Tears filled my eyes as it became clear I wouldn’t get to play, I was so upset. Seeing me crying in the corner, my coach asked me what was wrong, and after I explained it to him, he quickly took me to the caretaker’s room where I phoned my dad. I told dad what happened, and within 15 minutes my skates were at the rink. To this day I’m not sure how fast dad drove, but I’m sure he was taking a significant risk zooming down the frozen Saskatchewan highway on a Saturday afternoon. In the end, I was able to play and to be honest, I do not remember anything from the game, just the sinking feeling in my gut and the relief when dad ran into the dressing room. He never yelled at me, or made me feel bad, he just helped me tie my skates and sent me on my way. What an incredible dad. I sure miss him.

The mistake I made that day was that I assumed my skates would be where they always were. I assumed that just because mom had put them there before, she would do it again. I assumed everything was fine. I think about this because I wonder if we are making a lot of assumptions about our students. Had I taken a moment to check my equipment bag I’d have noticed my skates were missing. What are we missing in our schools because we are assuming?

I recall several occasions of being guilty of assuming students understood the content I was delivering. I would explain the big idea for the lesson, proceed to demonstrate two or three examples on the board, and then, with good intentions, ask if everyone understood. I assumed they had grasped the concept. I assumed they knew what to do. I assumed. Of course, I would then be frustrated when several students would ask questions when I had just shown them three examples on the board. I assumed they understood what I was teaching them. Assumptions can be dangerous things, and when situations go sideways, it may be because we assumed one thing and were then faced with another. We need to be careful to not judge the whole iceberg just by what we see on the surface, and I’ve been reminded during my career of the importance of watching, talking, and listening.

Watching: I do not mean setting up a chair in the hallway and staring at kids, teachers, and parents, that would be creepy, I mean is being present in the halls, the classrooms, and on the playground. I mean being intentional. When I’m out of the office, I always try to watch how groups of kids interact with each other and make mental notes of what I see. Who is normally hanging out with who? Where do groups of kids typically congregate? What is their normal day-to-day behavior? Certain patterns begin to emerge, and what you then start to see is when things are out of the ordinary. The investment of time watching allows you to notice when things are ‘off’. If you are never watching, then you will never spot unusual behavior, this could lead to assumptions.

Talking: It’s amazing how willing students are to engage in conversations if you just stop and sit beside them. In my classes when I assumed the students understood, I talked to the students. Had I talked with the students I’d have quickly learned if they actually understood or were merely trying to avoid looking lost. There are many opportunities to sit and talk with kids on a daily basis, and I’ve found they are very willing to share what they are learning about or what they are currently busy with outside of school. Of course, the warning that comes with this is when you engage with a student in the primary grades. You need to be ready to invest a good chunk of time, especially if they are going to share exciting stories about a new pet, a trip to grandmas, or a lost tooth. Taking time to talk with students shows them you care and it creates an opportunity for the real magic: listening.

Listening: Stopping and talking opens the door for an opportunity that so many of our students need; someone to listen. Most of the time if you listen to students you will hear them tell you about the great things that are happening in their lives, they love to celebrate accomplishments or talk about fun activities they have been a part of. However, there are times when they need you to listen because something is troubling them. This is when you need to do something so important: be quiet. I learned a long time ago the power of listening to hear versus listening to speak. If you sit back and observe people talking, you usually hear them talking about themselves, frequently building upon what someone else has said. If you are listening to speak, that is what you are doing. You are hearing their words, but thinking about your experiences, and are waiting to jump in with your story. When you are listening to understand, you are not going to talk about you, you are likely going to ask questions about their story.

By watching, talking, and listening a person will begin to assume less and understand more.

Everything I wrote about was focused on students, but see how it works for you when you change the word student to teacher, co-worker, friend, or spouse. Watching, talking and listening are potent alternatives to assuming, after all, had I taken the time to look in my hockey bag, asked mom, or even better, listened to her the first time she told me to pack my equipment, I would not have assumed I had what I needed.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Final day of semester 1
  • 9 – 12 staff learning meeting AGENDA

Tuesday:

  • Prep day for teachers
  • Bruce away all day

Wednesday:

  • First day of semester 2

Thursday:

  • Watching, talking and listening during class visits

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports and comments due to office

As always, create a great week!

 379 total views

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

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!

 1,590 total views

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!

 

 327 total views

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!

 291 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

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!

 473 total views

Let’s Have Fun.

Bags are packed, clothes are selected, groceries are purchased, and alarms are set. We are ready to go! I have to imagine that similar scenes are playing out all across Saskatchewan this weekend as the turning of the leaves remind us of the familiar time of year. A coolness accompanies the early morning, and there is a familiar smell in the air as harvest continues to roll on. It’s back to school time. There will certainly be a nervousness, some restless sleeps in anticipation of what the first day will bring. For some it will be just another year, nothing to fear going into the room on day one. “This isn’t my first rodeo” they may think, but for others it’s a feeling in the stomach that makes them wish for just one more week of holidays. This is especially true for those who are new to our school, those who have not had a chance to live the day to day that Waldheim School brings.

And the students may be feeling this way too!

Every year I think about the possibility the new year brings for all learners in our building. Students have a chance to start again, building on what they learned last year and what they experienced over the summer holidays. We say students can come in with a clean slate, although I often wonder, who is responsible for what is written on this unseen slate, the student or the teacher? Adults also have an opportunity to start over, to build on what they have learned last year and over the summer. We get to make choices as learning leaders in our rooms and in the building, we can take a risk and try something new, try something we’ve read about, or seen in action. I think about things like the curiosity Marla and Krisinda showed in how Glen shares student work on Instagram, the wonderings Sharlene has about using online portfolios to communicate with parents, the way Shantel has been working with Brenda to get ready for her new role, the way Dan has been curious about working with new students, and the way Jesse has thought about parent engagement. Everyone is trying something new this year; EAs have new assignments, teachers starting their masters, new roles, new courses, new opportunities.

This change can be scary, and at times this change can stand in our way of taking that risk. I’ve shared this video (below) before, however every time I watch it it reminds me that everything will be okay, and that we are not alone.

Finally, a word before we open the doors on Tuesday for our #partners in learning. Let’s have fun! Our goal this year is to use our assessment strategies to continually learn about our students and what they need from us to be successful. I cannot think of a better way to do this than by being #side-by-side with our learners having fun. Help the students see that we are partners in this learning journey, we are in this together. Another video (below) I’ve shared stresses the importance of having fun at work. Something I noticed last week was all the laughter in our meetings and in our hallways.  There is an optimism that permeates everything we do, a belief that together (students and adults) we can achieve great things. I have, and will always, believe that it is these #relationships that make the biggest difference in what we do as a school.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZKiJejNRtw

Thank you once again for allowing me the honor of being Principal at #WaldheimSchool. I look  forward to the amazing year that lies ahead.

Monday: Labor day holiday

Tuesday: First day back!

  • opening assembly (10:00)
  • helping students with course selections
  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Thursday:

  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Friday:

  • Bruce/Joanne team meeting (noon)
  • SRC assembly: fundraising kickoff
  • classroom visits: how was your first week?

As always, create a great week!

 326 total views