There Will Always Be Waves

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

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

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

How you think you look.
Reality!

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

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

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

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday

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

Tuesday

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

Wednesday

  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

Thursday

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

Friday

  • Self assessment discussion with students during class visits

As always, create a great week!

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There Are Some Things Technology Will Never Replace.

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

“You want to play what?”

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

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

“You know, scramble, where you spell words”

“Oh, Scrabble” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

  • wacky hat day

Thursday:

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

Friday:

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

As always, create a great week!

 

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Don’t Be Afraid Like I Was

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

Just a fraction of the whole crew.

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

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

But there was assessment going on

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

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

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

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

Thursday:

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

Friday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

As always, create a great week!

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