The Mark

I ran into a student the other day in the hallway, and he looked like he was trying to walk down the hall while carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Typically, this student has a pep in his step and is always quick to flash a smile. This day he looked different. His gaze was turned down, his shoulders slumped, his stride slower, and he didn’t meet me with a smile and a hello as usual. I asked him how things were going, and he didn’t say a word, he just passed me the paper. I looked at it and asked what was upsetting him. He directed me to look at the mark on the top right corner of the page; 14/28. Initially I did not see the number there in black ink; instead my eyes darted around the page looking at his work and the feedback his teacher had left for him. The mistakes he made in his work were obvious; a missed negative, a calculation error, a transposed number, a question not attempted; they all contributed to the mark.

It was the mark he focused on, and it got me thinking about the marks we put on our students’ work. This year we have spent time discussing assessment, and have talked about grading and reporting. The conversations we’ve had have been deep and insightful and have helped me develop a better understanding of assessment of and for learning. I’d invite you to ponder the following questions as you provide feedback on your students’ next summative assessment piece:

1.    What will be the initial reaction? A mark causes a response. A student will be elated, deflated, or may have gotten what they predicted they would. Regardless a number will create a reaction. When you think about the reaction from your student, how will you prepare for that? In the end, we want to help our students succeed, and if we can help build their self-confidence, or avoid the erosion of it, we are making strides in the right direction. How will they react?

2.    What are they expected to do with the mark? A mark should not mean the end of the learning. What should the student be expected to do once they have been given their piece of work back? Is there a normal routine that occurs in your room? Is it a game of ‘find and share’ with friends? Is it a game of ‘flip and hide’ the evidence? Regardless, there should be something the students are invited to do with this feedback. 

3.    How is the mark part of a larger picture? We speak a lot about triangulation of data, and it’s the other evidence you have been collecting that may elicit the reaction discussed above in #1. How is this summative piece part of a larger collection of data? Is this the first piece of a larger puzzle? How do we let the students in on the plan?

4.    What does the mark cause you to think? Sometimes a mark causes a reaction before the student even sees it. I recall times marking an assessment piece only to be caught off guard by the performance. When things do not go as anticipated, you should begin asking questions. During several staff learning meetings, we’ve discussed a variety of things that can impact an assessment, from how we create the assessment, to how the students had prepared, to how the students felt when the snapshot took place. Just remember sometimes when things do not go as planned you need to hold a magnifying glass in one hand and a mirror in the other.

5.    What does the mark cause the student to think? What the student thinks goes deeper than the initial reaction, and it speaks to question #2. If the students are invited to do something with their feedback, how does this process look and sound? Do we give enough time to this stage of the feedback cycle, or is the piece returned and the students are left to digest it on their own?

6.    How do the comments help explain the numbers? I was fascinated at how fixated the student was on his 14/28. He seemed oblivious to the written feedback on the paper. It can be frustrating when students simply stuff their assessment pieces in their desk or backpack with little to no acknowledgement of the comments the teacher has spent hours writing for them. Once again, this can be addressed by #2 above. What are the students expected to do? What are the established routines? One thing I needed to work on as a teacher was my penmanship. Often my comments looked more like a doctor’s prescription rather than something they could read and reflect on.

7.    What are the plans for next steps? We’ve discussed this as well, and we’ve talked about how assessment should inform students and teachers about the critical next steps. I think about when I used to teach fractions in my elementary math class and would intentionally follow it with a unit on probability. By doing this, I was able to reinforce the work we had just done in the previous unit and had an opportunity to provide enrichment for those students who had mastered fractions while at the same time giving reinforcement for those students who struggled with fractions earlier. When you put that 1, 2, 3, 4 or that percentage on an assessment, what are you already planning?

The mark is a powerful thing as it evokes a response and has an influence on the student’s state of mind going forward. What are we doing to help our students move their learning forward using the information it brings?

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Grade 5 – 12 teacher staff meeting
  • Spirit week begins (PJ and/or slipper day)

Tuesday:

  • Spirit week continues with colour day

Wednesday:

  • Spirit week continues with Superhero Day

Thursday:

  • Bruce away
  • Hockey tournament
  • Spirit week continues with hoodie day

Friday:

  • Spirit week concludes with 80s/90s day (oh my!)

As always, create a great week!

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Learning Through Celebration

I remember the shocked look on her face as she scanned the room. She could not believe how many people were packed into that small village hall at Manitou Beach. It was my wife’s grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, and she had no clue it would be this big of a deal. Her eldest son had traveled back from Australia to spend time with her and on this day he convinced her to go for a drive to do some sightseeing. The village hall was one of the stops he wanted to make and she must have wondered why there were so many vehicles in the normally empty parking lot. Though it was over 10 years ago, the way she responded still makes me smile. I have been blessed with an amazing set of in-laws and grandma Kane was always so nice to me (and no they don’t read this, so it’s not like I’m trying to curry any favor). The reason we gathered on that day was to celebrate, and the room was full of laughter, tears, songs, and plenty of stories. Listening to people talk I was able to learn more about the family that had welcomed me years earlier.

I bring this up because we are moving towards our learning celebrations at Waldheim School. I recall last year the pride and joy that would fill our staff learning meetings as teachers and EAs would share stories of challenges and triumphs, of obstacles and achievements. Much like grandma Kane’s celebration, there were moments of laughter, tears, and most definitely moments of learning during these staff presentations. What I look forward to is the opportunity to see and hear you talk about the journey you have been on with your students this year. Prior to the break, the K to 4 teachers began the planning process at their staff learning meeting, and this will continue over the next two weeks with the grade 5 – 8 and 9 – 12 teachers respectively.

Some colleagues have asked why we do these presentations, and it makes me think about the importance of celebrating. Outside of school we celebrate all sorts of things, and you may think about many of the events you have been part of; weddings, birthdays, graduations, retirements, anniversaries, etc. I think it is important to celebrate what we are doing in our school as well. Our career defines much of who we are, and the work we do is critically important to so many people. When you think about the journey you have been on this year, what fills you with pride? Take a moment to think about these questions:

  • who has impacted your learning this year?
  • how have you grown as a professional this year?
  • what have you read that has caused you to reflect on how you do your job?
  • why is your school a better place because you are part of it?
  • why are you important to your students, colleagues, community?
  • if someone you truly loved spent a full day at school with you, what would they notice?

You make #WaldheimSchool a better place. You are important to our family. You have grown this year. Celebrating this is not bragging. You deserve the time to share your growth with your peers and they deserve the gift of growing by hearing your story. I got to experience the love and laughter in that small village hall and through that was reminded of the importance of laughter, family, friendship, and giving. You have an opportunity to celebrate and share with us, and I can’t wait!

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting
  • Jesse away

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (am only)
  • SCC meeting (6:30)

Wednesday – Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

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Are Tests Helpful?

Years ago my wife and I lived in the tropical paradise of the Cayman Islands. It was a beautiful country home to some amazing people that to this day I still call friends. One of the benefits of living in such a place is the opportunity to enjoy the ocean and the bevy of marine life that would always astound this Saskatchewan boy. When I first began snorkeling, I used to try to swim up to and observe the myriad of fish that would gather around the colorful coral. I would always be so disappointed that my presence would scare them off. Slowly I began to learn that I did not need to be constantly chasing fish around to get a closer look, rather, I needed to swim out to where they would likely be and then stop. As I would float quietly in the crystal clear Caribbean waters, the fish would begin to appear. Being able to be a silent guest in the world’s aquarium is a gift I will always remember.

I apply this philosophy to my work in our school. Everyday I get to choose how to be in the students’ environment. I can stay in my office and wonder how things are going. Much like the person who never leaves beach, they may enjoy the sun, but never really get to see the magic on the reefs. By staying in my office I might hear how things are going, but I do not get to live it with the students. So I venture out, quietly making my way through the building, strolling in and out of classrooms, looking for opportunities to engage in conversations with teachers and students. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to help a student fasten a piece of wood on their industrial arts project, sometimes it’s an opportunity to dance with the Kindergarten students.

Earlier this week I had been involved in a heated debate with Aiden, trying to convince him the DC Universe is superior to the Marvel Universe. As I walked away after failing to sway him, the heading on a student’s computer screen caught my eye.

Is Making Students Take Tests On Things They Learn In School Helpful?

This year our staff has been deeply engaged in learning conversations about assessment, and while this could be considered an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, it grabbed my attention nonetheless. I felt compelled to talk to Daisy about what she was writing about. She was excited to engage in a conversation about assessment, and her peers who were sitting near by quickly joined in. It was a wonderful discussion that I was so honored to be a part of. I’ve asked her and her teacher, Katharine Kerr (@katharine_kerr ) if they would allow me to share this paper here. They agreed, and I’d love it if you could take a moment to read what a grade eight student from #WaldheimSchool thinks about assessment.

I’m glad I left the office and swam into the waters of learning!

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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!

 369 total views

Together We Are Unstoppable

When this all began, I was scared, almost to the point of quitting and running back to the life I knew before. I was worried about all the people I would disappoint if they found out after 4 years of post-secondary study, and thousands of dollars spent that it was all for not. I had given it two months, and felt I was out of my league, over my head, and just not cut out for it. I had imagined what teaching would be like, what an awesome opportunity it would be to have my own room, to be a part of a staff, and to have students work with and learn from me. What I discovered in those first couple months is that what we are doing is incredibly difficult, and requires a serious commitment to the craft. I didn’t think I had it in me. I was done.

Sitting in his office, then principal, Ken Garinger (@kengaringer ) listened to me as I spoke. I told him I didn’t think I was cut out for this profession, that I was not the right guy for the job, and that I was thinking about getting out. I remember that moment, in his cramped little office in McClellan School, and I recall the feeling I got when Ken spoke. He wasn’t upset with me, nor was he disappointed. He didn’t chastise me or make me feel guilty. He listened, and spoke softly. He asked me why I wanted to be a teacher, and why I was feeling the way I was. We talked, and while he didn’t give me the secret trick that made teaching a breeze, he did create a bond that made me feel supported. I knew he was in my corner, and I knew he wanted me to be successful. He wanted me to succeed so the kids could learn and grow, but I knew he wanted me to succeed so I would learn and grow. That relationship he established in that conversation is what sustained me and helped me become who I am as a professional today.

I was thinking about this conversation as I was reflecting on the importance of relationships and their impact on student learning. The research is clear on this, students who have a positive connection with their teachers will more likely feel secure in their learning environment.

Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

I’m sure we can all recall those teachers who made us feel like we could do anything. That we could be greater than even we, ourselves, thought we could be. Hopefully everyone can point to a teacher they had along their journey that made them feel this way. As you reflect on what it was that teacher did or said, think about how you felt as a student in their classroom. How can you create that feeling for all of your students? I think that is such a huge challenge, creating this feeling for all students. We all know that some students are very easy to reach, they crave that relationship and thrive off it. We also know there are other students who are more difficult to connect with, they set up barriers and can do so in multiple ways. Those students are part of the all that we are trying to reach. Just because they put up a barrier does not mean we stop trying to go around, over, or through it in a way that shows them we really do care. I think this short video sums it up nicely,

The line from this video that resonated the most with me was,

If I’m comfortable around them, I’m more confident around them.

This leads me back to the learning work we are doing together this year. I believe we are doing more than just discussing assessment at #WaldheimSchool. We are doing more than talking about assessing outcome based learning or the impact of formative assessment. We are doing more than analyzing how and when we assess or how and when we report to students and parents. What we are doing is building relationships. In our meetings, I have heard so many of us talk about the struggles we are having when it comes to assessment. And while we are continuing to fill our toolbox through our research and practice, we are really building relationships.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning Study indicates that collective teacher efficacy (CTE) has the greatest impact on student learning. He says CTE, “refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged” (Hattie 2016). What I see in our meetings is a staff that believes in each other and supports each other. I know that through this work we will continue to strengthen our relationships and through our collective action there are no hills too high for our team climb. I am so thankful for the support I received on that October afternoon in 1999 and am so honored to be a part of a staff that exudes those exact same characteristics that Ken showed to me. Let’s keep getting better one conversation at a time.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K to 12 staff learning meeting (Agenda)

Wednesday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports sent home

Thursday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT (Theme: Closing the Knowing – Doing Gap)

 

As always, create a great week!

 

https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher

Hattie, J. (2016). Third Annual Visible Learning Conference (subtitled Mindframes and Maximizers), Washington, DC, July 11, 2016.

 559 total views

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!

 378 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!

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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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Looking Forward to a Great Year

What a beautiful Christmas break, the weather was incredible, and we had plenty of opportunities to get out sledding or to play with the dog. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break surrounded by your loved ones and were able to get the rest and relaxation we had all earned as 2018 came to an end. I am very excited about getting back to school, I love the routine that work brings, and I really look forward to seeing all the staff and students again. The break was an opportunity for me to spend more quality time with my family and was also a chance to reconnect with my mother, my brother, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew. As is usually the case, I ate too much, exercised too little, and laughed just the right amount! What were the highlights for you?

But now it is time to get back to work. The changing of the calendar provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, and to plan for the year ahead. I love the culture in our building and love the way we work together to try and make everyone feel as though they are part of the fabric of Waldheim School. That being said, we all know that we must continue to improve, both individually and as a collective. I think about the new members of our Waldheim School family, staff and students, and hope that they have figured out what it means to be a Raider. I do not think there is anyone in our school family that would say they are perfect or that there are not areas they want to improve on. While we need to be aware of areas of growth, we also need to be kind to ourselves and celebrate those things we do well. What brings you pride and joy?

Looking back at 2018 I can see things I need to improve on as your principal. This year, I will continue to work on my leadership skills in the following ways:

  • Asking more questions: every day is an opportunity for me to connect with the members of our school family. I will ask more questions that will hopefully help those around me think deeper about what they are learning and what their impact is on the learning in our building.
  • Trying to see around the corner: with experience comes the ability to see some things coming, and I’m going to work harder on being more proactive than being reactive. I am hoping that spending more time in classrooms and asking more questions will help me see what’s coming sooner rather than later.
  • Fostering a growth mindset: Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can, or believe you cannot, you are correct.” Sometimes it’s just as easy as adding the word “yet” to your thoughts (i.e. I can’t motivate that student to have better attendance….yet)
  • Reading and writing more: this is more of a personal one; however, I want to keep pushing myself through reading and writing. There is a wealth of knowledge available to us, and I want to continue to grow as a leader by reading more professional books. I also want to continue developing my own voice as a leader and will continue to work on my weekly blog along with any other writing opportunities that come my way. Who knows, maybe in 2020 I won’t wait for writing opportunities, maybe I’ll go looking for them.

I guess I could sum up my goal for 2019 as follows:

I want to become a leader who no longer feels like he needs to prove himself. I will become more confident in my actions and decisions by committing myself to learn about leadership on a consistent basis. I have a dream that every student at Waldheim School feels safe, valued, and appropriately challenged. I know that I cannot make that happen for every student, I need the staff to do that work. My job is to take care of the people who are taking care of the people. My goal is to get better at that!

So what will you work on this year? When you look at the growth that occurred during 2018, I hope you are proud of yourself, you should be! January 1st, 2020 will arrive, and we know how fast a year goes, so, how will you make 2019 your best year ever?
I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday morning as we continue to learn together and grow together.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our first week back

Monday

  • K – 12 staff meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday

  • Bruce away (2:00)

Wednesday

  • Classroom visits

Thursday

  • Classroom visits

Friday

  • Classroom visits
  • SRC Dance

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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