Category Archives: learning golas

Triangulation of assessment data-recording observations and conversations

We know that we should be using “triangulation of data” to assess and evaluate students.  We know that we can often find out more about what students know and can do by observing them, listening in on group discussions and through our 1:1 conferences with them.  All teachers know more about their students than their mark book would show.  However, when we want to use that knowledge to help inform a report card grade, we must have evidence that we could share with a parent if needed.  We cannot simply say that we “remember” that their child could or could not do something.

At first glance we might think that recording information gleaned from observations and conversations is going to be time-consuming and onerous.  How do I possibly write down the conversation as I am having it?  Do I have to go home every night and record every conversation I had or observed?

If, however, you have intentionally decided what the learning goals and success criteria for a learning cycle/period are, then recording observations and conversations is easier because it focuses your data collection.  Here are some ideas you could experiment with:

  • You can use a rubric or continuum for learning over time instead of just for one assignment. For example if you are teaching writing, the craft of writing (organization of ideas, voice, sentence fluency, conventions etc) is the same for all writing.  In reading, understanding the main idea, the theme, inferring, understanding character and the author’s style is the same for all texts.  For history you could have  a rubric about identifying conflict and change, and understanding historical perspective.  In French you could have a rubric about pronunciation, using correct grammatical structures and responding to questions.  For all subjects you can identify the big ideas for the subject and assess students on them over time..  When you are observing or conferencing you can highlight where the student falls on the rubric or continuum.  I suggest colour coding and dating each observation.  What is important here is that you are not penalizing a student if you don’t observe something but are able to note what you are observing.  It requires no note taking.  It is like creating a student profile.
  • You could create a check-bric of ‘look fors’ (correct fingering in music; referring back to the text in book club meetings; flexibility in using math strategies; sportsmanship in PE; using scientific vocabulary during science experiments). Over a shorter period of time you would observe students to look for evidence of more specific criteria.  I find that if I break my class lists into groups by color highlighters and then focus on the “blue” kids on Monday I am more likely to use this method.
  • You can record student collaboration by having them use an ipad or chrome book to record their conversation and then listen to it later. At that point you could make anecdotal notes or fill in your rubric or check-bric.  It has the added benefit of keeping kids on task.
  • Instead of trying to record observations of all kids on a given day, decide to sit with one group each day. The hardest thing as a teacher is to observe without saying anything.  It’s easier to take notes when you aren’t talking. Try it and you will find out a lot about your students.
  • At your guided learning table, keep your assessment binder. After you have worked with some students take a few minutes to jot down what you learned.

Not every time you talk with or observe students will you need to record what you learn.  At first you may gather too much or too little data.  It takes time to figure out what the “just right” amount of data is.  However, if when you are looking at your data for determining report card grades and you don’t have any data arising from conversations and observations then you may want to try something for next term that provides you with evidence and accountability.

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Filed under assessment, learning golas, report cards

Letting go of teacher control is not chaos

Today I had to really think about why we integrate technology so well into our program at our school as  I had a visitor who came to observe and ask questions.  He was impressed by the fluidity of the technology use in all the classrooms.  He was impressed with the level of engagement of the students.  We talked about how using chrome books or ipads was not an event at our school but just part of how we do school.  How did that happen he wondered?    I think there aremany of reasons but the main one is pedagogy.  In all things about teaching, all the pieces have to complement each other:  teaching style, resources, assessment, classroom management and technology.  One of the questions that our visitor asked was how did the teachers feel about giving up the computer lab two and half years ago?  My response was that by the time we started to think about doing so, the way we taught had changed so that a computer lab really didn’t mesh with how we were teaching.

In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher had all the control:  all the students did the same assignment at the same time with the same due date; all the students created the same art project; all the students read the same book finishing at the same time.  And, all the students used the computer lab for the same purpose at the same time.  This gave the teacher a sense of control, and comfort.

As we move toward more student voice and choice, toward a more workshop environment, we find that kids are working on different assignments, at different times.  They are reading different books at different speeds.  They are writing different genres and on different topics.  They may be working on an Ipad, on a chrome book or laptop, on their own phone or in a workbook.  Some students may be using voice to text software.  Some students may have the google document translated to a different language or different reading level.  Students may be working individually or in groups.  A traditional teacher, thinking about this might think it sounds like chaos.  But it is not.

The trick to teaching is not in control but in intentionality.  When you, as the teacher, know exactly what you want your students to be able to know and do then it is easier to allow them to arrive at that learning goal in a multitude of ways.  Your intentionality will lead the way.  It is important to realize, though, that student voice and choice is not the same as “anything goes”.  If you intentionally want students to be able to write a well-crafted and organized paper they may be able to choose the length, the topic and the format.  But, a diorama will not meet your learning goal.

Our fluid use of technology in our classrooms is not because we are tech-savvy (although many of us have become so).  It is because our pedagogy allows for fluidity.  We are intentional in what we want students to be able to know and do and we create an environment in which technology supports those goals.  Had we tried to implement this degree of technology into a traditional teaching practice it would not have worked.  It is not about the technology.  Technology is not a thing.  It is all about the intentional learning and teaching in the classroom.

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Filed under classroom environment, Differentiation, learning golas, pedagogy, technology

Is Teacher Lingo Good for Kids?

This week I went to an engaging literacy workshop. I had a wonderful time discussing strategies and meeting with colleagues. I came away feeling like I “get it” even better and that is my definition of good professional development. And, I learned some new lingo: ‘Rules of Notice’ based on the work of Peter Rabinowitz in Before Reading. I liked, as a teacher, the idea behind “Rules of Notice” because it helps me, as a teacher, break down reading comprehension, develop mini-lessons, better understand how readers process text. (Here’s a link: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/collateral_resources/pdf/r/reading_bestpractices_comprehension_rulesofnoticechart.pdf). Among the literacy teachers we began to discuss things like:

– should this become an anchor chart?
– should kids know that these things are called “Rules of Notice”?
– how much of this language should we use?
– do kids need to ‘learn’ this?

Over the past few years I have begun to worry about how much of the language of pedagogy is being transferred to students, all with good intentions, and probably arising from the very clear research that states that students learn best when we give them clear learning goals and success criteria. But, do they need to learn the lingo in order to learn the stuff? And, do we get caught up in having kids learn the lingo at the expense of learning the stuff?

It is not uncommon to hear young readers having a lesson on “Making Connections”. The teacher is reading an engaging book aloud and the young readers are putting up their hands every time they “make a connection”. The worry I have is that the students are so focused on the singular task of “making a connection” that they are missing out on the richness of the story. And, often, many of their “connections” do not add to their deeper understanding of the story at all. It reminds me of the time I saw my daughter doing her grade 11 English homework. She was flipping through the novel while watching TV and messaging her friends. I asked her what the assignment was. “I have to make a connection. I’m looking for one. I’m really getting tired of this making connection stuff.” In both cases the lingo of teaching had become the task and the greater point of why and how readers use the strategy of making connections to understand text had been lost.

So how much of the lingo that is embedded in our current practice is important for students to understand? Can a student understand the associative property of multiplication without being to able to name it? Do primary students need to know the term “success criteria” in order to understand what to do to make their writing better? Can I, as the teacher, use the “Rules of Notice” to help students understand text without calling them such? I think so.

When I go to the doctor, I don’t want the doctor to speak to me in the same lingo that she speaks in with other doctors. When I go to the mechanic, I definitely do not want to speak the same lingo, and, in fact, I do expect him to understand ME when I refer to the thing-a-ma-jig that is rattling. And, when I go to a five-star restaurant, I do not need to know all the fancy cooking terms to talk to the chef. Now, one could argue that in all those cases I am not learning the material the “expert” knows, I am only conversing with them. But our students are not learning to be teachers–they are learning to think and create and do at the level that is appropriate to their development.

Learning goals and success criteria do not need to be hung in a primary classroom labelled as such. They certainly don’t need to be written in a kindergarten room where no one can read them anyways! However, a primary class could have an anchor chart titled “What Good Writers Do”. A junior math class can have examples of how multiplication works without labeling it the associative property and the distributive property. We need to begin to think about how to communicate the ideas to students in language that is jargon free and appropriate to their learning.

Educators know that clear targets, examplars, learning goals and success criteria communicated to students will help them to succeed. But, let us not mix up clear communication with rote learning of educational jargon. Let’s remember that they are just kids trying to make sense of the world. We, as their teachers, have a lot of knowledge about content and pedagogy. We use that knowledge to make sense of our profession and talk to each other. We are not teaching students to become teachers. The real gift of teaching is engaging students in discovery and wonder in ways that make sense to them. I don’t think the pedagogical lingo is helping.

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Filed under learning golas, pedagogy

Multiple Entry Points into Learning

 

Differentiation, multiple entry points, small group instruction, individualized instruction, IEP’d students—how do we incorporate all of this with a seemingly packed curriculum and many students to teach?  Some days, we long for the average student.  In fact, the notion of the average student would suggest that it would be ok to teach to the middle and then the students on either side would just cope.  They would be able to find something.  The problem is, they don’t.

We have a professional responsibility to teach to each student and we know that each student brings different skills to the task.  With the case of students on an IEP, we have specifically told parents that we would be teaching something other than the grade level curriculum.  While we have certain end goals in mind (for both IEP and non-IEP students), what we need to be thinking about is how we get there.  That is where the curriculum document does NOT constrain us.  We do have the professional freedom to design our classrooms and lessons so that multiple ways of attaining the end goal are possible:  we can change the pace, the quantity of work, the number of opportunities to practice, the delivery of the material and, many times, the choice of topic.

The more constrained we are in the design of our lesson/activity, the less likely we are able to meet the learning needs of all students.

  • A photocopied worksheet is very hard to differentiate—either you get it or you don’t.  If you really get it, it is too easy.  If you really don’t get it, it is too hard.  There is only one entry point for most worksheets.
  • Worksheets offer very little choice.  Worksheets that offer lots of choice might as well be blank pieces of paper and we save on the photocopying.
  • Assigning the same number of questions for all students to do is only good for some.  If the student is struggling, s/he is already discouraged.  If the student gets it, s/he is bored (and there is no research to say that over-practicing a concept makes you learn it better).
  • A workshop environment with the teaching in minilessons is engaging for students and lets students determine their own entry level.  Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can guide students up or down as required.
  • Inquiry learning allows students to ask the questions about which they are interested.  This provides a variety of entry points as students determine their own interests and questions.  Students of all levels are more likely to be engaged if they are interested in the topic.  Don’t forget you are still the teacher, and can veto questions or guide students in the direction that meets the curriculum expectations.
  • You can create learning situations/problems/provocations that have different levels of difficulty.  Rarely will students choose the inappropriate level.  Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can help guide students in their choices.
  • If most of our lessons are to the whole group, we are teaching to the middle.  Try rethinking how you deliver information so that you minimalize whole group times and increase small group time.  We say we don’t have time for small group instruction, and we don’t if we use it all on the whole group.  There are some students who need more of your time and some who need less.  Fair is not equal.
  • The more you, the teacher, is involved in setting all the work tasks, the more you are constraining the learning of your students.  The more open your tasks are, the more students will be able to enter into meaningful learning.

As you plan for term two, challenge yourself to try something new that you think might engage more students in learning.  You might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but no one will die.  And, don’t forget, you are still the teacher and if it isn’t working you can always change your mind.

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Filed under Authentic Tasks, Differentiation, learning golas, small group instruction

Rethinking Learning Goals, Success Criteria and Rubrics

When I was a student, back in the dark ages, teachers gave out assignments all the time.  We did them, we got them back marked and we went on to the next one.  I don’t remember ever really thinking about why I was doing something (other than the teacher told me to) or how I would know if it was any good or not.  My experience was probably the norm.

And now we have learning goals, success criteria and rubrics.  The research said we had to make sure that students knew what they were doing, why they were doing it and how they would know if they were on the right track.  I agree with all of that.  But I do wonder if we haven’t gone a little overboard and incorporated too much of the teacher-talk into the student learning.

A couple of things have happened this week that have caused me to reflect.

First of all I came across this quote on twitter:

Posting a learning target [goal] before a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it’s opened.  Post a question.  Bring curiosity and thinking to the classroom.

Next I was perusing Pinterest and saw a picture of the following math learning goal and success criteria for the lesson of the day:

Learning goal:  I can find the area of the patio.

            Success Criteria:

  1. 1.     I will draw a diagram and label it.  I will label the dimensions.
  2. 2.    I will express my answer in metres squared.
  3. 3.    I will use the formula l x w = A.
  4. 4.    I will have a concluding sentence.

I would argue that those really are the instructions for how to solve the problem and by posting them, students do not need to think very deeply about what to measure, how to solve the problem, or which mathematical strategies would lead to the answer.

A teacher came to me and relayed the following story.  He is used to posting learning goals at the beginning of learning cycles but had forgotten to do so this time.  So, as bell work he asked his students to write what they thought the learning goals of his new literature circles  were even though they were a week into the learning.  He was thrilled, and a bit surprised, that they were “bang on”.  Perhaps it is more valuable when students are able to uncover the purpose of the work instead of just being told what it is.  Obviously his students were engaged in their learning and could see the purpose for it.

Another teacher was starting Readers’ Notebooks in the classroom for the first time and had immediately given out the rubric.  She was disappointed with what the students produced; they were so focussed on the language of the rubric that their letters and responses seemed contrived.  For the second class of the day, she gave the same mini-lesson but did not give out the rubric.  That class’ work was “far better”.  When we are just learning to do something, we need some mucking about time before we can really look at our work and try to make improvements.  I remember when I first started throwing pots on the wheel, I would not have wanted a rubric of the perfect mug with which to compare my first feeble efforts.  Once I had some experience, some lessons, some practice, then I was able to critically look at my attempts and compare them to a standard.

Another teacher and I were discussing learning goals and success criteria and all the different ways that we can express those within the classroom environment:  anchor charts, text deconstruction, checklists, personal goals, statements about good readers and writers.  In the end we decided that the supports we co-create with students to scaffold their learning, are in essence the learning goals and success criteria.  Really, the benchmark for knowing if students understand the learning goals and success criteria is when they can answer questions like these:

Why are you working on this? How will you know it is good?  What goal are you working on?  How will you know if your answer is reasonable?  How will you know when you are finished?  What can you do if you don’t know what to do?

A group of teachers and I were meeting and there was some lamenting about students who always wanted to know their “mark”.  And while the teacher was trying to give “grade-less” feedback, the student was focussed on the mark.

Perhaps we as teachers have created this mindset with all of the best of intentions.  In trying to make the assessment piece transparent for students, have we removed their ability to wonder, question, and risk?  Can we provide students with learning opportunities where they have time to explore, think, create, marvel, try, imagine, construct and “muck about” while still being fair in our assessment practices?  I think we can.  We may need to readjust, at times, the presentation and timing of our learning goals and success criteria.

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Filed under learning golas, Literature Circles, Reading Response