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!

 441 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!

 330 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!

 1,665 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!

 

 337 total views

The Power of an Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 1,362 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!

 295 total views

Is It Just an Illusion?

 

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

Do you see the hidden symbol?

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

Do the kids see it?

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

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

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

-Dr. Ken Shore

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

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

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

-Katie White

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

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

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Holiday

Tuesday:

  • K – 8 Staff Meeting

Wednesday:

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

Thursday:

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

Friday:

  • Bruce away all day

As always, create a great week!

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My Students are Fixing Me

A beautiful house on a park-like yard. Plenty of food in the fridge and new clothes hanging in the closet. Yearly family vacations spent fishing, water skiing, and eating ice-cream. Huge Christmas celebrations with plenty of presents for everyone. Numerous family gatherings featuring games and rousing sing-a-longs around the old family piano. The security of a loving family together every night and then always there in the morning.

This was my life growing up in small-town Saskatchewan. Norman Rockwell himself could not have painted a better picture of life in the Mellesmoen home. It was a house filled with love and laughter.

So why was it so difficult for me to navigate life as a high school student? Why was the mental mirror in my head always reflecting something akin to a fun-house freak, rather than the happy kid in those sepia-tinted pictures I now see in mom’s photo albums? When the soundtrack for my life should have sounded like Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Don’t Worry About a Thing), why did it sound like some depressing, sad song, sung by a broken soul? Why was it so darn tough growing up?

I thought about that today after I was blessed to have a deep, uninterrupted conversation with a group of grade 12 students who were on their spare, sitting in the hall discussing life. You see, I’m a nosy principal, and the kids have gotten somewhat used to me asking how things are going. They have also developed a great deal of patience when faced with, what I think, is a great sense of humor and wonderful puns and jokes. I’ll never understand how they don’t find humor in questions like, “how else would the cells in our bodies communicate if not by cell phone?”

This conversation was not about jokes though. We talked a lot about the real struggle people face growing up in a world shared through social media. We talked about the way kids put on a brave face every day, when inside sometimes they just want to scream. We talked about kids who hurt other kids, and how they must be feeling. We talked about life.

As I sat there, I could not help but think about how confident I am in our leaders of tomorrow. I felt like these kids are going to be more than just okay. I could see and hear in them a desire to make the world, even if it’s just that world around them right now, a better place. I know as my career slowly moves along, one day, I will be on the sidelines watching as the next generation leads the way. I’m confident they will do a great job of taking care of those who have come before them.

If…..

They will take up the charge if we remind them that the reflection from their inner mirror is not always telling them the truth. They will lead the way if we make sure the radio in their soul is tuned to the right station, not the one playing songs of false lyrics. They will take care of us tomorrow if we take care of them today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why my path has guided me where I am today. How did a person who dreaded school so much, and felt so lost and alone for so many days at school end up back in the exact same environment? You would think I would have done anything to avoid school after the experiences I had growing up. But I didn’t. I believe I am where I am today for two reasons. The first is a dream.

I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with their head held high. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with a belief that they have something to contribute. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with the belief that they are part of a loving family. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will be able to share their voice without fear. I know we are not there yet, and I know I can’t do it alone, for there are times when it seems like a mountain too big to climb. Our school is made up of close to 400 students and over 25 caring adults, and it will take every one of us, working together, to actualize this dream.

That’s one reason why my path has lead me back.

Here’s the second reason.

School broke part of me as a youth. Not intentionally, nor was it the sole culprit, but it was part of the reason. For years I struggled with self-doubt, and the residue of those feelings still show themselves even to this day. For example, as I write this, part of me is scoffing at myself, saying, “oh Bruce, people will think you are so full of yourself for writing this”. Here is the second reason I believe my path has lead me back; healing. I am finding that the more I work with these incredible students, the more I am healing. Those pieces that were broken in my youth are being put back together by our incredible kids.

This is where you come in. Whether you are a teacher, an EA, a parent, a cousin, a neighbor, a director, a custodian, a grandparent, a coach; you have a role. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask how their day is going. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask them for advice. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, allow them to help you. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, listen. They will take care of you tomorrow if you take care of them today.

My gosh, who would have thought my students would be fixing me!

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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!

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How are YOU Part of the Story?

You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit

-Harry S. Truman

I’m currently into the early stages of Good to Great by Jim Collins, and one of the overarching themes has been the importance of being willing to let others take the credit when things go well. As I read this, I immediately thought about Trace and Ellen and the success they’ve experienced with the senior girls soccer program. When speaking with them, they never talk about the work they have done. As coaches, they speak about the team, the way the girls work together, the way they support each other, the way they push each other to become better, and the way they have grown together. Our senior girls soccer program has gone from good to great. Trace and Ellen accomplished a great feat, and neither of them were concerned about getting the credit. 

I think about our adult learning, and how proud I am of the work we are all doing. The learning is not restricted to just our teachers, it’s all hands on deck. It is evident that the EAs, our custodial staff, and our admin assistants are a part of our learning. Their finger prints are all over our growth and their impact is especially evident with our most vulnerable and reluctant learners. Key to this learning is the work of our learning facilitators, Steve and Shantel. While they are vital to our growth, they will be the first to point to the impact Brenda has had on them as learning leaders, and how she continues to play a role in their work. While their impact is immense, none of them will stand up and say, “for it is I that has caused this learning to occur”. Even just writing that seems so absurd, which is a testament to their humility.

Our soccer program and our adult learning are  just two examples, and there are so many more I could include, such as:

  • our early learning program, especially the growth in our literacy skills in the early years
  • our ever-evolving athletics program that is reaching more student athletes every year
  • our student leadership program that is continuing to flourish under our teacher leadership
  • our programming for students who struggle with the regular content
  • the evolution of our parental engagement

I’m sure I’m missing other examples, and my apologies to those I may have overlooked.

These programs do not grow through good luck, they require the leadership that you provide. Hopefully as you are reading this you are reflecting on your role in the growth that is happening at Waldheim School. Hopefully you are thinking about how you are part of our story. I’d invite you to contemplate the following questions:

  1. Are the kids who happened to be born between 1999 and 2013 coming to their school, or are they coming to your class?
  2. Do you believe that just because something worked yesterday does not mean it will necessarily work tomorrow? Do you feel you have the flexibility to deal with that?
  3. Are you a school teacher, or a classroom teacher? (I need to credit @gcorous with that question from his book, The Innovator’s Mindset)
  4. Are you a change agent, and how do you model this for your students and peers?
  5. In relation to #4, what are you learning about this year, and how is it impacting you, your students, and your colleagues?

When I think about the great programs that are occurring in our school (and in our school division as a whole), I think about the quiet leaders that working to make this happen. I think about how Trace and Ellen would answer those 5 questions as they relate to their soccer program, and I’m pretty sure I know what they’d say. As Steve, Shantel, and Jesse discussed at our last PD day together, one of the greatest impacts to student learning, based on John Hattie’s work (found here), is collective teacher efficacy. As we continue to strive for greatness as a school, think about your role and remember, you are an important member of the team, and your gifts are needed.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Brenda is hosting two new PSSD SERTs for the morning
  • All teacher staff meeting after school (agenda)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (partial am only)

Wednesday:

  • Halloween sock-hop (see Brittney’s email from earlier this week)

Thursday:

  • Post-Halloween sugar crash 🙂

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports due to the office
  • Sr. girls volleyball playoffs here (after school)

As always, create a great week!

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