PD for an Entire Division: Part 3-The workshop

Now that I have clarified the set-up and goals of our Data Workshops, I will explore how the day was structured, for the most part. I offer a small disclaimer because no one day was exactly the same as the next. Like classroom teachers, each day we reflected on the feedback, our observations and the flow, and made changes to meet the needs of the group. We also shifted in mid-stream to be responsive to questions and concerns. The day was mostly constructivist and this meant we had to be open to the direction we traveled, even if it wasn’t anticipated.

We started the day with a pre-assessment, which helped us not only frame the day, but bookend it as well. We placed a number of questions around the room and asked the teachers to read each one and place a check mark or dot on every question to which they could answer a firm “yes.” We then totaled up the responses and ordered them from most frequently used instructional approaches to least. I will comment more on this in my next post, but it was interesting to see that as we worked our way up through the grades, the responses varied. Even in our Grades 7-12 days, the results were often different from group to group. In some, inquiry was used often and in others, not so much. Most groups acknowledged they didn’t provide opportunity for students to achieve at the Enriched Understanding level on our rubrics. Also, providing reading material at a variety of reading levels was not done often either. On the other end, most teachers explicitly teach behaviours and offer feedback regularly.

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At the end of the day, we returned to this list and re-ordered them according to potential impact. We sorted into three groups: those approaches that affect most students a great deal; those approaches that impact some students a great deal or most students a moderate amount; and those approaches that have very little impact. As expected, we were able to make a case for almost anything because it depends on the context and how each approach is carried out. The premise, however, is that we have a finite amount of time to encourage specific learning in all our students. Therefore, we have to choose the approaches that have the greatest impact and stop using some that have little or no impact. This final conversation was a great discussion piece, for sure.

checked question #1

Following the pre-assessment, one of our superintendents shared data relating to both our province and our school division. The data ranged from demographic, to perceptual, to teacher-related, to academic. We found that most of the follow up discussions centered on the engagement data and the academic data. The discussions were very interesting and had a different lens, depending on the grade level. We also shared our metaphor for the rubric we use for assessing all outcomes (see previous blog post – Re-imagining the Rubric), and reviewed the RtI triangle and the numbers of Level 2 and 3 students our system can support compared to the numbers that currently exist according to our data (15% vs 30% respectively). This introduction to data was a great springboard for the rest of the day, and we found ourselves referring back to the data several times (as should be the case).

Once we had shared the profile of teaching and learning in our school division, we were ready to talk about some vocabulary associated with education as it relates to the three data sets we were focusing on for the day (SudentsAchieve outcome data, TPM RtI data and Tell Them From Me perceptual data). We used a triple Venn diagram and a wordle filled with vocabulary in order to encourage discussion and meaning making.

triple Venn

Some of the words we invited teachers to fit somewhere in the Venn were: assessment as learning, assessment for learning, inquiry, Tier 2 interventions, and behaviour. Following time to place the words, we then asked the groups to identify words they weren’t sure where to place or words they weren’t sure of the definition. These were the terms we discussed as a whole group. It didn’t matter where they placed the words – in the end, the conversation was the destination and it gave us all a chance to review some of the ideas so important to learning.

Following this activity, we paired the participants up and asked them to engage in an assignment. We explained that they needed to read an article, follow the directions, and answer the questions. We then gave them a doctoral physics paper that was very cumbersome. While they worked with their partners, we circulated and recorded their actions, the things we heard and their responses to the articles. As expected, we had a variety of responses, which I will discuss in my next post. However, the teachers acted as students do and we had plenty of fodder generated from this simulation to engage in a discussion. We took time to talk about our purposes for engaging them in this difficult task: Firstly, we wanted them to remember how it feels to struggle and we wanted to remind them that some students feel this way every day. Further, because they are proficient learners, we wanted to engage them in a challenging text in order to activate the learning strategies that they do not often recognize themselves as using. Much to our pleasure, teachers began to underline, whisper-read, highlight, collaborate, identify key vocabulary and so on. In other words, we were able to use them to demonstrate the next topic of discussion – learning strategies or “habits of mind.”

We then asked each pair to take a package of cards on which 31 learning strategies were written and choose the three that they felt would have been most beneficial to helping them understand the article better.

cards

Once everyone had chosen their learning strategies, we asked each pair to share, one at a time, until we had listed all strategies on chart paper. Each day, we found the same ten or so were chosen. As they explained their choices, we drew lines to other strategies they mentioned in order to determine if some strategies needed to be attended to early in the learning. We always came up with the same five: activate prior knowledge, engage in new words, make connections, identify main idea, and confer with others. This helped us discuss the importance of these strategies to developing strong learning. We also took time to share how these strategies can be explicitly taught and then reinforced in all subject areas.

I then took some time to share my diagram for helping us understand how learning strategies fit into all the other things we have been talking about in education. I explained that thinking about what students learn and how they learn it is the bread and butter of our planning and teaching. However, if we do not explore how students think about what they are doing and how they are doing it, we cannot hope to develop deep learning and offer targeted interventions. I explained the importance of learning strategies to giving constructive feedback and to offering small group, targeted instruction. if we do not develop thinking habits, then all we can do is hope the learning experiences we provide will stick somehow.

Diagram

After this series of discussions, the workshop varied from day-to-day. We explored multiple ways to find the sweet spot of connecting everything as we looked at student data. I think we did fine each day, but seemed to get better as time went on. Nevertheless, the rest of the day rolled out with the following activities in a variety of sequences.

We moved into our “Putting the Verbs on the Table” activity. The purpose of this activity was to begin to dig deeply into the reasons why students are having difficulty with particular outcomes and strategy use. The teachers formed new groups and, in the center of each table, we placed the seven most common verbs in our provincial outcomes: analyze, assess, create, reflect, read, demonstrate, and apply. (With our 1-6 teachers, we focused on learning strategies measured in their reading assessments as opposed to verbs. The activity was the same.) We first asked the group to reach consensus on the meaning of each verb. We included rubric examples in order to help with context. Once we agreed on the meaning, we sorted through the strategy cards and identified those that would be important for achieving the outcome. The next step was to ask ourselves If this is what students need to be able to do and these are the strategies students will need to use to be successful, why are one third of our students still not achieving at grade level? Teachers wrote all their ideas on paper that covered the table. We encouraged them to think of intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual reasons. We also asked them to re-examine their reasons and explore more deeply by asking why? For example, if they wrote “unmotivated,” we asked them to ask the question why? What are all the reasons they might be unmotivated? We wanted to get at reasons that would be helpful for teachers in order to a provide targeted response. A summary of this work was sent to each teacher following the workshop and can be found here, under each verb:

http://curriculum.nesd.ca/assessment/assessment-tools

The next part of the day involved teachers logging onto their electronic, outcome-based gradebook and identifying two things: 1) The outcomes that will likely be delivered through whole group (differentiated) instruction (those outcomes that most students still need to demonstrate) and 2) those outcomes that need small group, targeted instruction (those outcomes where students are having difficulty, where pre-assessments show a varied class profile, or where students will be offered a differentiated approach due to learning preferences, choice, readiness). We asked the teachers to identify students by name who fit certain criteria (reading below grade level, have difficulty working in groups, have difficulty being creative, etc.) We the invited them to work in groups to determine how they would respond to these varied needs. We invited them to consider the next two weeks of school and the varied learning needs in their classes and plan for some targeted instruction.

This conversation led to our next point of reflection: How can we offer targeted, small group instruction within a large group setting in a way that meets the learning needs of both the small and larger group? As can be imagined, this was a hearty discussion point, since much of the targeted intervention in 7-12 settings currently occurs at recess, and before and after school. Thinking about the structure of our classrooms to invite purposeful and varied learning experiences all at the same time, was worth considering. We shared some of the models from our grades 1-6 classrooms (Daily 5, Guided Reading, Math Centers) and tried to imagine how this could work in a secondary classroom.

As mentioned before, we ended the day back at the instructional approaches questions from the beginning of the day. We had come full circle, discussing everything from assessment to planning, from class structures to targeted interventions and learning strategies. We ended the day with a reflection page, which always helped us to make the next workshop even better.

feedback

As you can see, they day was absolutely packed full of learning experiences. It was clear that different activities were more meaningful to some teachers than others. Everyone brings their own experiences to a workshop and leaves with their own meaning. Our goal was to provide ample opportunity to construct meaning and engage in rich conversation. In my next blog post, I will explore the extent to which our plans gave us the results we were hoping for and reflect on the kinds of learning we witnessed and experienced ourselves.

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PD for an Entire Division: Part Two – The Goals

In Part One, I outlined how our school division approached our whole group PD for this year and the work that led up to it. In this post, I will explore the goals our team hoped to address and the reasons behind these goals. As with any goals and subsequent plans, they serve as the starting point, the destination and the map, but the journey itself is where the real magic (and challenge) happens. In response to detours, pot holes and unexpected  picturesque sites, the route shifts and this was certainly the case by the time all sixteen PD days had occurred. Nevertheless, let’s begin with our vision.

As mentioned in the previous post, a number of things positioned us to engage in these Data Days. Firstly, we have spent the last number of years exploring curricular outcomes, criteria, rubrics, assessment events, differentiated instruction, Response to Intervention, and effective planning. We were ready and very willing to explore our students and their learning. We needed to talk about what actually happens in the classroom after all the great planning has occurred and the environments have been structured to hopefully support learning. How well are the students actually learning? How do we know? How do they respond to the learning experiences? What happens when we pre-assess? What happens when we check in on learning and the needs start to diverge? What happens when whole group instruction is not meeting the needs of everyone? What data do we have to show us, more precisely, how each student is doing? And the biggest question of all: What do we do in response to the answers we get?

As a team, we have facilitated a lot of workshops in our school division… I mean A LOT. This has afforded us plenty of reflection time and insight into how we wanted to approach these days. We knew we can easily find ourselves talking too much. We knew that when participants construct their own understanding, the results are much more powerful. We knew that we had some key ideas we wanted to explore. We knew we had multiple data sets to examine. We knew we wanted teachers to have time to think about their students – the ones who they would see the very next day after the workshop. We knew we wanted the teachers to also think about how they were addressing various needs in their classrooms. And we knew that we had to make a plan that would allow for plenty of room to adapt to each group and their needs as they unfolded throughout the day.

Suffice it to say, the task of planning was daunting and we took several runs at it over several months. We started by researching; topics like data, school improvement, change, learning and learning strategies, and interventions. We mapped out the day several times, trying to arrive at a strong sequence and a manageable pace. We ended up focusing on three main goals or themes and these themes guided the day:

1) Data – We wanted to engage in the data available to us as well as discuss terms associated with the data sets we would be looking at. After looking at some provincial and divisional data, we wanted each teacher to focus on one specific data set for one specific class and one set of students. We felt that looking at more than that would limit our ability to plan responsive instruction that would impact students the very next day.

2) Learning Strategies or “Habits of Mind” – We knew that this was one of the key pieces of both whole group instruction and small group intervention. We wanted to really explore the importance of thinking processes and metacognition as a way to address learning both proactively and responsively. We knew we wanted to develop familiarity with these key processes and connect them to curricular outcomes in each subject area. We also wanted to frame them in relation to feedback, reflection and goal setting. Most importantly, we wanted to connect them to actual students and allow time for reflection on which processes may need to be taught and reinforced in order to increase learning.

3) Small group, Tier One intervention in a whole class setting – We wanted to end the day by thinking about how we structure our class time and the instructional approaches we use in order to maximize learning by each and every student. We were aware that teachers offer targeted intervention and instruction to small groups at recess, noon hour and after school. However, we wanted to talk about how teachers could structure their actual class time to allow for some of this work. The idea harkens back to our work on differentiated instruction but it moves beyond flexible groupings as part of a whole group approach. We wanted to connect the thinking habits to the idea of targeted, teacher-directed small group work. Based on our achievement data, we know we are reaching 70% of students most of the time through our whole group approaches. But that still leaves 30% who we aren’t reaching and that number is too large to leave up to whole group approaches. So we needed to talk about how we use our class time to address the gaps.

In my next post, I will share how we ended up structuring our workshop day to try to address all these lofty goals. In a subsequent post, I will explore what we learned, both as expected and by surprise and some of the responses of the participants. For those of you who engage in experiences like these, you understand that these blogs capture the learning through select lenses. Actual personal experiences are as vast as each person who was involved. However, my own reflection and observations have helped me to think about the future and these personal thoughts are what I am working through.

PD for an Entire Division: Part One – The Set Up

This year, our team made the decision to host one workshop day for every teacher in our school division in order to look at student data. In our most creative moment (enter sarcasm), we called these days Data Days. As I type this introduction, I can almost hear the gasps – PD for everyone? Where every teacher listens to the same thing? More sit and git (or whatever else we call terrible PD these days)? And about data…the dreaded data that hinders real student learning? Well, I know we worked pretty hard to make sure our Data Days were responsive, constructive, applicable and personal. And, while each teacher who has attended will have all sorts of perspectives on our success, I can only offer my perspective and thoughts (based on reflection, feedback, follow up emails and conversations) about why I feel this has been an incredible journey despite the “whole group” beginnings and my own personal anxieties about doing this with any success.

First of all, the planning team consisted of three coordinators – our Early Learning Coordinator, our Continuous Improvement Coordinator and me (Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment). We later added one Superintendent, who shares provincial and divisional data at the beginning of each Data Day. We rounded out the facilitation team with the addition of one learning coordinator at each day as well as one IT support person to ensure we could access our data electronically. Finally, and on a very positive note, our Director and all three Superintendents of Schools have ended up attending days here and there and have immersed themselves in working groups, co-constructing with teachers. While this could have been intimidating for teachers and boring for these leaders, it has turned out to be incredibly positive for shared understanding and relationship-building as well as very supportive to the Early Learning Coordinator and me, who have facilitated each day.

Our team planned and re planned; constructed and deconstructed; researched and reflected for well over a year on how these days would look. We settled on the Pre-K to grade six teachers attending with their grade level cohort group (these groups have spent five years together, working on curriculum, planning, assessment and responsive instruction). Those eight days were held before Christmas and they involved extra reading, observational and environmental data sets acquired from some division-wide assessments we do. In January, we hosted a day with K-6 teachers who do not teach ELA (and likely don’t have a Homeroom). We have since followed up with four days with grades 7-12 teachers, with the last three of their days happening next week. In other words, sixteen days in total when we are done (and from a teacher or administrator’s perspective, one day each). When I consider the learning, discussion and questioning that has occurred as a result, I don’t even know where to start! These days have certainly achieved the goal of acting as a catalyst for further discussion and, for me, have given me so much to be excited about for our students.

In documenting the set up of our Data Days, I should explain the PD journey our Division has travelled since we became a larger school division, amalgamated from several smaller divisions eight years ago. This is important because we could not have had these days work the way they did without the previous ground work. So, some highlights:

We have spent time on PLC development, including developing strong Mission, Vision and Values in each school and as a Division (based on the work on the DuFours).

We worked together to examine renewed curricula with a UbD lens (see Wiggins, McTighe and Ainsworth), unpacking each and every curricular outcome, creating strong Essential Questions and thinking about what student needed to know, do and understand.

We spent years exploring assessment, resulting in an Assessment and Evaluation Handbook (based on the work of many authors, including O’Connor, Wormeli, Cooper, Marzano, etc.). We also created a rubric for every curricular outcome, adopting a consistent four level continuum in every subject at every grade level. We then created possible assessment events for both formative and summative purposes. We also developed our own divisional grade book and new report cards for all grades. We moved to reporting documentation in Pre-K and K, alpha codes in 1-8 and percentages in 9-12 (but still based on outcome-based learning and assessing as well as rubric use for creating responsive instruction and offering timely and specific feedback.)

We created a division website called Curriculum Corner ( http://curriculum.nesd.ca/) where we house all the above work. We share this work with the world as a show of solidarity in our global desire to support learning.

We have spent years exploring differentiated instruction, including embedding DI Facilitators in every school. Our work was based on authors such as Tomlinson, Silver and Hume, among many others. We have since shifted to co-teaching in all schools this year, with workshop days held to support this work.

We have spent three years developing our RtI approaches, forming response teams in every school. We have adopted PBIS as an pro-active approach to behaviour and learning and each school has developed their own Behaviour Matrix. We have also purchased and modified a data tracking system for RtI purposes.

We have worked with early learning educators on creating and nurturing play-based environments, documentation of learning, invitations to learn, etc., focusing on the work of Reggio Emilia.

We have worked with all teachers in grades 1-6 on readin; in particular, administering and responding to the Reading Assessment District and Diagnostic Levelled Reading. We have talked a great deal about learning strategies and metacognition in our many days together as cohort groups.

We have offered optional PD within our division from well-known presenters like Deb Silver, Rick Wormeli, Damien Cooper, Karen Hume, Tom Schimmer, etc. We have also held our own workshops on topics like: Inquiry, Daily 5 and Guided Reading, Creating Responsive Environments, Learning Strategies, Core French, Arts Education, Health Education, FNMI Art and Math, Physical Education, Leadership, Google Ecosystem, I Pads, Digital Storytelling, Digital Citizenship, Anxiety in Students, etc.

Without all this work, we could not have had the conversations we did when we met in groups at our Data Days this year. In my next posts, I will attempt to explain the format of the Data Days, the data sets we were examining, how we tried to make the days personal and constructivist, how we ensured the work was relevant to what teachers would be doing in their classes the very next day, the challenges in our approach and, most importantly, the fantastic learning that resulted for me and those around me.

This Week’s Visible Learning

I have had the good fortune of getting into multiple schools in the last few weeks and here are some of the great things I have seen:

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The writing process was displayed in this classroom and I watched students move their names as they learned their way through their writing task.

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This student was excited to share his patterns on the light table in Kindergarten. It was so nice to see him try more and more complex patterns all on his own!

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These students frequently have Mystery Readers in their classroom and this display documents these visits, which are clearly an important part of classroom experiences.

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This photos shows a group of grade seven students taking part in their Social Media Cafe. Ambient lighting, soft furnishings, food and technology are all essential components of the day, as students explore the concepts of digital footprints, digital citizenship, cyber bullying and social media.

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These students were engaging in word work, in flexible groupings. The process was the same for all groups but the word lists varied. On this day, they were looking for patterns in words.

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This class was goal setting on their Twitter board outside their classroom. I noticed that their goals were very specific to criteria within learning outcomes, which was exciting to see.

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This class was engaged in the Daily 5 organization structure and the Cafe for learning strategies. It was especially nice to see student writing on this anchor display.

Assessment, inferences and making learning visible

What if we thought about assessment as the act of making an inference? What if we imagined that the learning we see in school is not all the learning that happens inside a student’s head? What if we thought about school as a place where we could structure experiences so students have the potential for learning above and beyond the learning they might do through living, playing and simply existing? What if we embraced the idea that capturing continuous acts of learning in all their complexity and diversity would make us better able to infer a student’s level of understanding? How can we make learning visible and then how can we turn this visible learning into a recursive dialogue that becomes the catalyst for future learning? These are some of the things I am thinking about today.

Imagine a suitcase. Imagine it is not your suitcase; it is, in fact, a suitcase belonging to someone you don’t know. Imagine opening this suitcase and taking out a single item – a bird-watching book. What might you think about the owner of the suitcase, based on this single item? Likes birds? Is planning on watching birds? Now, remove another item – a wide-brimmed hat. What now? Maybe the person is going bird-watching in a warm climate. Maybe they are fair and the sun bothers them. Maybe this person is a female? A third item – a map of Costa Rica. Now you are piecing together a story – this person is travelling to Costa Rica to go bird-watching and they are bringing the hat to protect them from the sun. You are making inferences based on artifacts in the suitcase. The more artifacts, the more robust your story becomes.

This act of piecing together a story, based on artifacts is the exact same inferring process we use when assessing students. We collect samples – papers, posters, oral presentations, problems, observations, and we use them to put together a story of student learning. The more samples, the more robust our inference about understanding. Sometimes we get it wrong – maybe the owner of the hat was a man. Maybe they borrowed the book for a friend and they don’t enjoy bird-watching. Similarly, maybe the student doesn’t understand a concept as well as we thought. Or maybe they understand it better. This is where we might need to accept that assessment facilitates making an inference but it isn’t fool-proof. This is why we might need to collect more evidence; change our opinion; replace old evidence with new.

Added to this idea of assessment as making an inference, is the notion that this metaphor should be more complex – someone is always adding to the suitcase as we unpack it. It continues to change and shift over time, just as learning continues over time. The contents of the suitcase today will not be the contents tomorrow. Learning today will not be learning tomorrow. So, we have to keep checking.

I think the whole act of making an inference gets easier when we also imagine that looking at the artifacts could go hand-in-hand with dialogue. Assessment doesn’t need to be one-way communication (take in the test and try to figure out what the student knows.) We need to feel comfortable asking questions. We need to embrace the idea that learning should be a conversation that continues all the time; in fact, it is through this conversation that learning continues to happen. Coming to know the owner of that suitcase is much easier when we can ask questions of the owner (Do you like bird-watching? Are you going somewhere hot?) And asking those questions is much easier when we have the samples/ artifacts right in front of us (What did you mean by this? How can you expand your thinking a little on this point? Where could you go to support your ideas further?) It is this conversation that is the crux of what we do in schools. Through conversations about learning, we know how to adjust, enhance and correct learning experiences so they take learning further.

It is essential for both teachers and students to capture learning as it unfolds. Portfolios, photographs, videos, reflections, observations, work samples, and rough drafts, are all ways of capturing learning and making it visible to both the teacher and the students. Settling for the single, final product is like accepting the bird-watching book as the entire story of the suitcase owner. It simply isn’t enough if we are going to make strong inferences about student learning.

It would be arrogant for anyone to believe they fully know what is inside another person’s head. And yet, teachers are tasked with measuring understanding and reporting it accurately. They also have to take the information they gather and adjust their instruction accordingly. Given these realities, making thinking visible is essential for teachers if they are to be effective assessors and facilitators of learning. Thinking about assessment as the act of making an inference helps us to think about how we can do this as effectively as possible. Because if we are going to return the suitcase to the correct owner, we had better figure out who the owner really is.

 

Four surefire ways to improve learning

School is one big experiment of stimulus-response. We try things and measure the impact; try new things and measure the impact…until we get results that show learning. Many times, it seems like there are so many ingredients to consider, it can be overwhelming. I have been thinking about all the literature I have been reading, all the discussions within my PLN, all of my experiences inside schools and all the things I see and hear when working with adult learners. I have been wondering which things are the most powerful for learning; if I could distill it down to a few things, what would they be? I know what the literature says (See Hattie and Marzano’s work as examples – links below) but what have I seen? I think if we try these four things, we will see immediate growth:

  • Share criteria for successful learning with students – You can call this learning targets, outcomes, standards, rubrics…whichever, but the point is that every time you start a class or learning experience, be explicit about where you are going and how it will look, both as you travel and when you arrive at the destination. Share the criteria each and every time. Even better, co-construct it with students. No surprises, no fuzziness. Even if you are engaging in inquiry and the destination is a little looser, share the criteria for strong inquiry (the process).
  • Structure in daily feedback – Whether it is the students or you giving feedback, plan to do it every day for every student. If face-to-face isn’t an option, do it digitally, do it with peers, or ask for guests to offer feedback. If students can’t think about their thinking and their process, they can’t change it if it isn’t working. Also, consider that feedback isn’t advice or correction. Feedback focuses on those criteria in point number one and it invites further thinking and problem-solving. The most effective feedback can often be in the form of questions: Did this presentation have the impact you hoped it would? How can this paragraph more clearly reflect your thoughts? Why is this part unclear? How did you solve that problem? Did anything give you difficulty and what did you do? 
  • Equip students with the learning strategies they need to experience successful learning – I have blogged many times about learning strategies and how they are different from instructional strategies. I prefer the term “Habits of Mind.” Without explicit teaching and then practice in applying these strategies, students cannot grow. There is a difference in the mental processes of students experiencing success and those experiencing challenge. We have to build the repertoire of processes for all students so the processes can become independent habits. Things like activating prior knowledge, asking questions, organizing thoughts, conferring with others, identifying the main idea, and so on, are many of the reasons why communication works well for some and not for others. We cannot assume students know how to approach tasks, assessments and learning experiences. We have to help them get there. Looking at each learning experience critically and identifying all the places where challenge could be experienced helps us anticipate and prepare for support.
  • Make reflection part of everyone’s day – As I stated in my introduction, school is like a giant experiment. We DO things all the time in school, but if we don’t stop to consider the impact or results, we can often continue to repeat ineffective practices. Observation is key to experimentation; without it, we cannot make strong conclusions. So, as educators, we have to stop and observe. We can heighten the impact of this by involving students in this part of the learning cycle. They need to reflect daily, too. It is an unhealthy system that depends on one person to decide whether learning is rich for all people. Students should be able to discuss their progress as clearly as teachers. Of course, this point is tied directly to my points about criteria and feedback. They are all connected and all essential. They also all require a paradigm of continuous growth and reflection as opposed to an activity-assess-activity-assess model, where this is not often built in.

In the end, I think all of these speak to the idea that learning must start and end with students. They tell us how to teach and how to re-teach. They tell us what topics to focus on and the ways to do it to increase engagement. They tell us when we are going too fast and when we are going too slow. They tell us when they need support and when they need extra challenge. We just have to be willing to listen and watch.

Hattie’s article (2003):

lexiconic.net/pedagogy/RC2003_Hattie_TeachersMakeADifference_1_.pdf and http://www.

Marzano’s article (2001):

http://www.ntuaft.com/TISE/Research-Based%20Instructional%20Strategies/marzanos%209%20strategies.pdf

 

 

Working through the logistics of re-demonstration of learning

Our school division has been working through the practicalities associated with our philosophical beliefs about learning and how we assess it for well over six years. We have an assessment handbook, we have held multiple learning sessions for all teachers, we have a common grade book and reporting system in all grades, and we revisit this topic often through multiple contexts. The belief that all students can learn, that learning is continuous and that assessment of/for learning guides all future learning are the basis of our stated philosophical beliefs. We believe that students should demonstrate their learning often while receiving frequent feedback and should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes.

However, when this philosophical belief met up with actual experiences inside classrooms, we saw a need for some clarification about the term re-demonstration and the implications for teachers and students. The term “re-demonstration” had been interpreted multiple ways and in some schools, it was viewed as a “given” after every summative event while in other schools, it rarely occurred, which created challenges for both the teachers and students. Most schools were somewhere in the middle.

To reconsider this idea, we had to clarify that learning begins with outcomes and an authentic learning experience followed with multiple opportunities for formative assessment and feedback. Explicit instruction, practice, revisiting criteria, assessing and reflecting on our learning and “re-demonstrating” are all parts of the learning cycle. It is only when teachers feel quite certain that students are ready to “show what they know” that a summative assessment event should occur. At many grade levels, there aren’t even formal summative assessment events. Instead, teachers observe students, honour the learning cycle and when they are sure a student has reached an outcome, they document that event and move on. However, as students get older, there tends to be an increasing number of summative events.We encouraged teachers to consider which assessments should be summative (reflective of large portions of an outcome) and which should be formative. When we ensure that students engage in learning strategies and receive timely and specific feedback, there will be less need for re-demonstration.

Further to this, we saw a need to explore ways to engage students through an authentic purpose for learning. For example, if students know they will be sending a persuasive letter to a musician they respect, they will be more likely to engage in the learning cycle and ensure their product is strong. Further to this, in this instance, there is no re-demonstration; once the letter is sent, it is sent. But before this happens, we will have worked very hard to ensure that what was sent was strong writing.

In instances when students are not ready to summatively demonstrate (and we will know this from our formative assessments), we may choose to wait until they are ready or we may take the summative snapshot but allow re-demonstration after further engagement in the learning cycle. This practice should be encouraged and these decisions will be supported by formative evidence, observations and through feedback with both students and parents when appropriate.

A second example of when re-demonstration may occur is when the summative assessment event shows results that are vastly different from previous formative results and observations. In these instances, the teacher has conflicting data and may need to seek out further evidence of learning. It is helpful to consider that a teacher has a responsibility to help learning and collect evidence of this learning as it progresses over time. Formative assessment doesn’t “count” (in terms of number calculation) but they do help both teachers and students understand where the learning is and where it needs to go. This is all part of making strong assessment and instructional decisions. At the end of the day, a teacher has the responsibility of making a professional judgement about how students are doing on each outcome. The whole picture is important, as is the most recent evidence. Both need to be considered when making reporting decisions.

The term “re-demonstration” is perhaps better clarified by referring to it as continuous learning. If that isn’t happening, then re-demonstration is not working for either the teachers or the students. Continually revisiting the purpose of schools is helpful when navigating the practicalities of everyday life inside classrooms.