Archive for category Assessment

Looking Forward With Excitement; Looking Back With Pride

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Pardon the delay of this post. It was originally written a week ago but the flu hit our family and it never got posted.

As I begin the next exciting journey of my career with the honour of being the principal of James Hill Elementary in the Langley School District, I have had many moments of excitement as well as many that have caused me to pause and reflect on my time at Kent.  Prior to the final week at Kent, I found myself looking back with a critical eye – looking for all the things I could have or should have done differently.  Maybe this was because I was handing my “stuff” over to the next principal, maybe it was because I was struggling with leaving a school and community I love, or maybe it was just me reflecting on how I need to continue to grow as an educator… but I think this caused a bit of a shadow over the many truly wonderful things I was privileged to be a part of at Kent.  After talking to a great friend and teacher at Kent, Stacey Garrioch, my sadness, nervousness, and minor regrets began to turn into happiness and pride.

I then made a list of the positive (major) moments, ideas, and changes that occurred during my time at Kent.  I have written about many of these in my blog before (linked below) but as I add closure to my journey at Kent, I wanted to describe the proud moments and changes that stick out to me and pay tribute to the efforts of the staff, students, and community of Kent Elementary and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Please note that these changes were not my doing; these changes often arose from an individual or group on staff or in the community and I just helped to make the change a reality.

  1. Ending awards  This conversation began prior to my arrival at Kent but I was honoured to be part of the final decision to move away from student of the month and year-end awards. Rather than award a select few students for strengths in which we chose to be the most important, we decided to honour each child at one point during the year for the strengths and interests they brought to our school. Our year end ceremony moved from an awards ceremony, in which often only parents of award winners attended, to a grade 6 honouring ceremony in which our gym was packed as each child had family members there to support him/her.  Death of An Awards Ceremony and Rethinking Awards.
  2. Moving away from rewards and punishment  This is another conversation that was initiated prior to my arrival but I was proud to be part of its evolution.  We moved away from sticker charts and behaviour prizes to instead place emphasis on students doing the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do.  When negative behaviours arose we placed the focus on determining the lagging skills, putting supports in place to teach/coach the lagging skills, providing opportunities for restitution, and working to ensure their is a positive sense of belonging. In the past few months, the school has also created a team to implement self-regulation strategies into a few classrooms. My Issue With Rewards, Creating the Conditions: Student DisciplineThey Need Teaching – Not Punishment, and Movement Is Not A Reward.
  3. Focusing on student interests, strengths and passions  Too often we place all the emphasis on the deficits of our students and staff.  The previous principal of Kent, Roxanne Watson, helped to show me the powerful shift that occurs when we start with strengths.  One of the successful initiatives that we have had at Kent for the past 6 years is the Choices Program that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach in an area of their passion and for students to choose to learn in an area of interest or passion.  Kent has a tradition of strong athletics, music, Aboriginal culture with dedicated staff that support this each year. Honouring A Student’s Strength: The Story of Daniel and Giving Students Choices
  4. Putting a focus on outdoor play   It started with a group of teachers working together to create a beautiful garden in the back field.  Parents then built a sandbox.  We then built a hill!  All of these provide the students with so many more opportunities to be inquisitive and active in the outdoors. The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built A Hill.
  5. Making the school library (and the teacher-librarian) a priority  Kent School has shown me the impact a passionate teacher-librarian and well-designed library can have on literacy (not just skill but, more importantly, a love of stories and reading).  In addition to literacy as is traditionally defined, a teacher-librarian can be a leader in the areas of research, education technology, inquiry and professional learning.  The staff at Kent have also shown me that we do not need pizza parties, prizes, nor points to encourage kids to read. Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.
  6. Fostering a partnership with our First Nation Communities  Although Kent School has a effective relationships with a number of the First Nation communities, the working relationship with Seabird Island is one that should be a model for others to follow. The Seabird Education committee consists of band leaders who are passionate about creating positive change and working to ensure all children get the best education possible.  The admin and (passionate) FN Support Worker met with the education committee four times a year (in addition to other less formal meetings) in which we discussed evidence and actions that could help the students.   The education committee supported and challenged Kent School in ways that created change that benefited not only First Nation students, but also all the students.  This was REAL collaboration with REAL trust in which there was a dynamic tension that allowed for intellectual collisions to help move us forward.  We have a long way to go to ensure more success of our Aboriginal students in BC but Seabird Island and Fraser-Cascade have made significant gains in this area.  Seabird Education Committee: Learning Together
  7. Increasing parent communication with technology  A key belief of mine is that in order to best communicate with families, we need to meet them where they are.  At Kent, we moved beyond the paper newsletter to include more frequent information (that can initiate 2-way dialogue) sent out in our blogs, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, Remind101 (SMS), Flickr, YouTube, etc to create a variety of ways to share the wonderful things that happen at the school. Using Tech To Meet Parents Where They Are, Parent Communication: To vs WITH, and Your School Needs a Facebook Page
  8. Shifting the focus away from grades  This is not as significant of a jump at an elementary school as it is at a high school; however, a focus for our school has been to put less emphasis on the grade and much more emphasis on growth minsdset with descriptive feedback, success criteria, and clear learning intentions. This has helped to create better evidence of learning, decrease anxiety, and increase confidence. 6 Big Ideas of Assessment Practices
  9. Continuing to make inclusion a priority  This was nothing new for Kent School as we just continued down the path that was set in motion long before I arrived.  I was always proud to see all students fully included with support throughout the day; not only does this help the child with special needs but it also has a huge impact on all students as they learn communication skills, empathy, care, and (most importantly) friendship. Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and Include
  10. Creating time within the day for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas  We often say that collaboration is important and that we want innovative practices in schools yet we often fail to provide the structures to make these a priority.  In the past, I have tried some extra preps for innovation (“FedEx Preps”) but this year, we placed time in the schedule for innovation and collaboration. FedEx Prep: Time For Innovation, FedEx Prep: A Reflection, and Creating Time for Teachers To Tinker With Ideas
  11. Providing opportunities for student leaders  Student leadership is part of the culture at Kent School.  Whether it is through buddies, supervision, help with decisions, or running activities to improve the culture of the school, the students worked hard to lead. I recall someone asking what our “leadership program” was and, although I am sure there are some great programs out there, I responded with “we had dedicated teachers that model and encourage it… they create the conditions for students to lead.”  When we moved to a “Play First Lunch”, our staff, along with the grade 6 students, made sure that the younger students were supported in the transition.
  12. Increasing opportunities for students and staff to connect with others  Encouraging and supporting the use of technology and social media to connect and learn from others had a significant impact on our school.  Although we did provide release time for staff to visit other schools, the technology provided the opportunity for staff to connect with and learn from other passionate educators around the world.  I am proud of the many ideas that were ‘stolen’ from others to benefit students at Kent. :-) How Social Media is Changing Education
  13. Continuing to foster community partnerships  Being in a small town in which relationships are key, the school has a lengthy tradition of community partnerships.  Here are just a few examples:  twice a week before school, retired community members come in and read aloud to children (one-on-one) in the packed library;  students regularly work with the Fraser Valley Regional Librarian to help support stories and literacy; the choir regularly travels to community halls and care homes and performs for others; the grade 6s reach out to the care homes to play games, read, and do crafts with elders; the Kent athletes participate in tournaments and playdays with nearby First Nation communities of Seabird and Sts’ailes; students also attend celebrations such as Sto:lo New Year at Seabird each year; the high school leadership students are regular helpers at a variety of events we host; students and staff from the Agassiz Centre for Education buddy up with Kent students and also partner in a number of “Senior-Teen Luncheons” at the Legion Hall to promote generational relationships and understanding; then at Christmas, the school invites the community supporters in for a huge turkey dinner in our gym.  One of the most memorable (and heart-wrenching) moments was when our community embraced Lilee-Jean and her family as we welcomed this beautiful 2 year old in to spend her first and only day at school.  These community partnerships help the students learn far beyond the school walls. The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain
  14. Embedding Aboriginal ways and culture  Some key staff members have worked hard to make sure that Aboriginal education and knowledge of First Nation language and culture moves beyond being a “field trip”; culture, language, history, and story-telling all occur across the curriculum and throughout the day.  The idea of honouring a child for the gifts he/she brings to us is just part of what is done at Kent.
  15. Showing pride in who we are  We worked hard to honour children for who they are. We challenged and supported students to grow and excel and also remember the strengths and interests in their lives that help to create their identity.  One of the most memorable activities I have been a part of was Identity Day in which each child in the school did a project on themselves.  The conversations and learning that resulted from Identity Day spilled over into days and months following the event and helped to create better understanding and more confident learners in the school. I will always remember a luncheon/honouring ceremony when a cousin (a young adult) of one of the students nervously and emotionally spoke up; she said, “I went to Kent 8 years earlier… and struggled… and I am so proud to see my cousin go through Kent school and be PROUD of who she is”. Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are

I am so thankful for all the opportunities that were offered to me during my time at Kent School and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Writing this post has shown me the awesome power of having a blog as I was able to look back and read about the learning moments that occurred during my journey.

As I finish the chapter that is my journey at Kent, I look back at powerful learning, close relationships and wonderful memories.  As I start my new chapter at James Hill, I look forward with excitement for the opportunity to create new learning, new relationships, and new memories. I have only been at James Hill a few times now and I am already learning so much from the staff. One of the greatest aspects of education is that, although we may have similar goals, things are done differently with a variety of perspectives in different communities and contexts.   Each school community has its own ‘ecosystem’ and these new perspectives and relationships inspire me and help me grow that much more.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this community and write a completely new chapter of my life full of moments that will make me proud to be a principal and educator at James Hill.  Hopefully I can add a few small pieces to the already strong cultures and traditions at our school.

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My girls and I “looking forward” with excitement!

Thank you so much to the communities of Kent and James Hill along with the districts of Fraser-Cascade and Langley.

If you are interested, here is the video I created for the community of Kent School that was shown on the last day of school.

 

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What Matters in Our Learning: Student Voice on Assessment & Inquiry

The words of our students. Are we listening?

Through my participation in a few EdCamps, I have had the complete pleasure of meeting and chatting with North Surrey Secondary senior humanities teacher  Jonathan Vervaet(@jonathanvervaet).  I knew about his contagious passion for inquiry and assessment for learning; what I did not know was that I would also be completely awestruck and inspired by two of his grade 12 students.

During Edcamp43 in Coquitlam earlier this year, I attended a session on TEDxKids.  I strongly believe in the power of our students voices and the TEDxKids idea is one that needs to be shared and promoted; I went to gain more knowledge about the event.  Halfway through the session, two students spoke up about their experience in high school.  My ears perked up and my heart started to race as they made a comment about the power of inquiry as well as the movement away from grades.  I encouraged them to expand on their thoughts and during the next 5-10 minutes they shared one of the most powerful stories about pedagogy that I have ever heard.  They spoke about how moving away from grades and using inquiry as a focus made them realize they actually loved to learn.  I was so engaged that I did not take a single note or tweet.  The room was silent the entire time these boys spoke.  Two grade 12 students had completely captivated a room full of administrators, teachers and parents.  It was the first time anyone outside of their classroom had listened to them. At this EdCamp, these boys were being heard and they completely seized the moment.

I wanted to figure out how these two students, Kenny (@Kennycolosie) and Dylan could share their story and thoughts to a wider audience.  I spoke to Jonathan, who unfortunately missed their amazing story, immediately following the session as well as in the weeks following EdCamp43.  We tossed around the idea of a guest post or the boys skyping into our district admin meeting. He came up with an idea to try to recreate the conversation with them and then send me the audio.

The following quotes are the summarized ideas of Kenny and Dylan, two History 12 and Comparative Civ 12 students from a school in Surrey, BC (I have not separated who said what as they both seemed to agree and build upon each others’ responses… I apologize in advance to these guys as my words probably do not do justice to what they originally so passionately stated).

From Kenny and Dylan:

The typical classroom work we see is work… copy… regurgitate… repeat.  We do this for teachers and they ask us questions right away and we can answer.  However, if you asked us next week, or even the next day, we won’t have a clue.  We have memorized but we have not learned.

When we first started Mr. Vervaet’s classes, we hated it.  We were like, “just gimme the worksheets and tell me what to do and I will do it”.  He was talking about inquiry and not giving us grades.  We thought it was dumb… we said forget this feedback stuff… we wanted a percent.  It was so hard at the start.  Then, about a month into first semester, we had to do another assignment for a different class (basically had to copy and paste)… and we were like, wow, this sucks! We realized how much more we liked projects using inquiry and appreciated the ongoing feedback.  From that point on, we started to see that inquiry allowed us to research an area, based on a learning outcome, in which WE were interested.  We got to look at the learning outcome from a point of view that worked for us… inquiry helped us to become way more engaged.  Inquiry helped us to have a voice.  Rather than copying and pasting from Wikipedia, we were actually learning.  Mr. Vervaet makes the learning outcome clear, helps us to understand what it means,  and then helps us to come up with ways we can demonstrate our understanding of that outcome.

Allowing redos and not having percents has been huge to our learning too.  We can show our learning over time and keep improving rather than our stuff at the beginning and end being averaged into some number.  With Mr. Vervaet, our final mark is where we are at NOW rather than an average that includes when we struggled at the start.

Keeping the focus on learning rather than percents makes us take more risks.  We find in other classes that we don’t take risks – we don’t get a chance to redo an assignment so when it is done, it is done.  If we screw up, we lose marks with no chance of changing anything so why would we take a risk? Without redos there is no chance to show learning if we learn something after the due date.  This adds more stress because there is so much pressure to get things right the first time and there is less chance for feedback from the teacher.  If you figure things out late, there is no way to change your mark.  High-stakes learning (without the chance for improvement) makes school suck… makes us not want to be there.  When teachers focus on marks, marks, marks, it puts so much pressure on students to get marks that when the marks aren’t there, students become demotivated, disengaged and sometimes even depressed.  We see most students motivated about learning when there is flexibility of deadlines, projects that we are interested in, and a chance to redo assignments.

Clear criteria is also so important to us.  When you don’t have an idea of what you are aiming for, you end up trying everything and hoping that it is what the teacher wants.  When you know the criteria, the learning outcomes are clear and our efforts can be focused because we know what we are aiming for (rather than guessing or trying to cover everything).

Up until Mr. Vervaet’s class, we struggled to be motivated to learn in school.  We would watch the clocks and count down the minutes until the end of the day.  With inquiry-based learning, we found we were WAY more motivated in school, the learning was more relevant to us, and there were times when we even wanted to stand up and applaud.  At the end of the semester, we were like, “wow, can we retake that… we don’t want it to end!”.

If we could change a few things in high school education it would be to move away from the pressure of grades and strict deadlines.  We still know we need to get things done but having more flexible deadlines so we can plan out our work will make things less stressful for us.  Having the chance to redo assignment also removes some of the pressure and actually improves our learning.  In grade 8, we actually liked the pressure as it was kind of new… but then it wore on us and by the time we reached grades 10-12 we just wanted to get out… the focus shifts to getting to the end and you miss the learning along the way.  We also feel that thigs are changing; students lives are different than they were when teachers were in school and sometimes teachers still teach the way they were taught.  Times are different now so school should be different too.

There is clear research about the power of inquiry-based learning as well as the importance of ongoing descriptive feedback based on clear criteria and learning intentions.  If you look at the image at the top, the words that stand out to these students make it clear  what matters in THEIR learning and that we need to not only listen to the researchers (particularly Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Paul Black) and teacher leaders but also to the students in our classes.

Dylan and Kenny have provided clear feedback to us and are some of the voices of the most important people in our schools.  Their views align well with education research…. so this begs the question: how do we make mindsets like inquiry and assessment for learning become the norm, rather than the exception, in schools?  

I want to thank Jonathan for taking the time to do the legwork for this post as well as modelling and sharing his passion for education reform.  Thank you to Dylan and Kenny for their all important inspiring voices on education… keep speaking up boys!

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6 BIG Assessment (AFL) Practices

CC Image from http://flic.kr/p/2PRN1v

During the past few years I have been involved in a number of conversations around the topic of assessment. One key struggle that I have is the many ways in which the term “formative assessment” is defined. For some educators, formative assessment involves altering our teaching practices based on quantitative data we get from tests, quizzes, and assignments. I believe there is a role for this; however, to other educators formative assessment is Assessment For Learning (AFL) – not something that is done after we teach but more a philosophy about HOW we teach. It is more than just about checking for progress but also about including students in the process of planning, teaching, and reflecting. AFL is not something that is an add-on for teachers; it is a different lens to view student learning as well as a different overall philosophy of how we teach.

One of the best ways I have seen to explain and model Assessment for Learning (or formative assessment) was observed and learned through my attendance at the British Columbia Educational Leadership Council (BCELC) two year seminar series which included deep discussions on leadership and AFL led by Caren Cameron, Yrsa Jensen, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert (based on the work of educators such as Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black).

BCELC used Black and Wiliam’s definition of Assessment for Learning as:

Any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting pupil’s learning.

Click here to access a previous post that describes the difference between Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment OF Learning.

BCELC (Cameron, Jensen) introduced the 6 BIG AFL PRACTICES as (please note that these are taken directly or adapted from BCELC):

  1. Clear Learning Intentions: let students know (in a language they can understand) what they are expected to learn.
  2. Criteria: work WITH learners to develop criteria of what quality looks like.
  3. Descriptive Feedback: increase descriptive feedback (ongoing dialogue around improvement in learning that causes thinking) and decrease evaluative feedback (numbers, letters, and “good job”). Note: Education researcher John Hattie, in his book “Visible Learning“, notes that using descriptive feedback is THE single most powerful thing we can use to increase student learning. Please read Peter Jory’s great post on feedback here.
  4. Powerful Questions: increase quality “thinking” questioning to go deeper and show evidence of learning. Move away from factual routine questions. TALK LESS, ASK MORE. For more on quality questions from BCELC click here.
  5. Self and Peer Assessment: Scaffolding of learning of self- and peer assessment in a supportive, collaborative environment enables learners to become thoughtful about all aspects of their learning. Heidi Andrade writes “If students produce it, they can assess it; and if they assess it, they can improve it.” For more on self/peer from BCELC click here.
  6. Student Ownership: centres on metacognitive awareness and action. Metacognition is enhanced only when students have explicit understandings related to all other aspects of AFL – and are able to take ownership for their learning as a result. Black and Wiliam add, “Have the learner become aware of his/her own thinking – what are my strengths? What do I need to get better at? What is my next step?”. For more on ownership from BCELC, click here.

I cannot say enough about BCELC and how inspiring it was for me. Changing the lens of assessment not only changed the way I assess, but also how I teach, lead, and learn.

Although not exactly like being part of the seminar series, the portion of a webcast series by Cameron and Jensen titled “A focus on Informed Assessment Practices”, including all the slides and resources, can be accessed here (#3) and here (#4). (I highly recommend this).

For a quick prezi I did up last year (based on this info), click here or see below.

I encourage you to describe the impact AFL has made on your students in the comment section below.

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Assessment Chat with @TomSchimmer – Thurs, Nov 17

It is no secret that an area of education in which I am passionate is assessment – in particular Assessment For Learning or Formative Assessment.  The work of Dylan Williams, Ruth Sutton, Rick Stiggins, John Hattie, Ken O’Connor and Anne Davies have had a significant impact on my thoughts around assessment but since last year, I have had the opportunity to work closely with another local (BC) educator around assessment and grading: Tom Schimmer.

Tom and I met through Twitter and since then, have met face to face as well as over the phone a number of times (see my notes from his presentation here). His mentorship around creating change in schools in the area of assessment will help me for years to come as we move away from the traditional practices to more current ones that benefit student learning. His book “10 Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading” is highly recommended as a practical way to encourage shifts in your classroom and schools.

In our recent #BCEd Chat on Monday November 4, the topic was “the link between assessment and learning”.  It was a great discussion and at the end, I asked “So we all agree that AFL (assessment for learning) is one of the most powerful tools for student learning; why is this practice not in every school and every classroom?”HOW can we work to changing the mindset so AFL is the norm in each classroom?

To help me with this question, I have asked Tom to chat with me on Twitter this Thursday, Nov 17 at 4:00 PST (7:00 EST).  The hashtag for the conversation will be #AFLSchim and

I invite you to join us on Thursday to ask Tom, and engage with others, any questions about implementing AFL into your classroom or school.  If you have any questions you would like Tom to focus on, please leave them in the comments below. Here are some that I will be looking to ask:

  • In a system in which class sizes are not getting smaller, and money and time is tight, HOW can we implement changes so that AFL becomes more of the norm in BC schools?
  • How do we move toward Assessment For Learning in a system that requires grades, percentages, and report cards?

Hope you can join us Thursday at 4:00pm PST! #AFLSchim

Tom will also be joining us at Edcamp Fraser Valley on December 3 in Maple Ridge.  Hope you can join us there to continue the dialogue around topics including assessment and grading.  www.edcampfv.ca

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(Mis)measurements: The Economy & Standardized Tests

The GNP [GDP] measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.  It measure everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” — Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

In the book, Child Honouring* (a book I highly recommend), Ronald Colman questions what is actually measured in the economy and tells us that:

“all of us have been hooked on the illusion that economic growth equals well-being and prosperity. Indeed, there is probably no more pervasive and dangerous myth in our society than the materialist assumption that more is better.”

Colman goes on to describe the many things that can drive progress in the economy that actually degrade our quality of life (adapted from his chapter “What Matters Most”):

  • crime and imprisonment – one of the ‘fastest growing sectors’ in the American economy
  • production, sale and use of materials that are harmful to our world/environment
  • addictive gambling
  • depression and the sale of medications and services to help with depression
  • war and the production/sale of artillery/ammunition
  • divorce
  • over-consumption of food and resulting diet/weight-loss products/services.
  • consumer debt (my addition)

He also discusses the booming child-care industry in Canada and questions how this could possibly be a good thing as this means parents are spending less time with their children (thus the need for full day kindergarten in BC – my addition).  The chapter takes a hard look at the consumerist desire for (and perceived value of) economic growth; he brings to light the many costs of a growing economy that are detrimental to our children and society that go unnoticed and unmeasured.  Society believes that we are doing well when the economy is growing but fails to consider many other aspects of societal worth – time, natural resources, care, education, health – and other parts that “make life worthwhile”.   He questions the value of economic measures that do not take these other more important aspects into consideration.

Relate this to the use of standardized tests to measure learning in our classrooms and schools (tests in which every student in a particular province/state in a certain grade takes the same, often multiple choice, test at a mandated time of the year… and then results are often published and used to rank/compare schools).  People attempt to measure how our children are doing using these tests but, in fact, they often measure things like:

  • how motivated the child is to do the test
  • how much the class has been focusing on the test
  • how much the teacher has been teaching TO the test
  • if the parent has allowed the child to write the test (and how many children write the test)
  • how the child is feeling the day of the test
  • how much anxiety was the child feeling (also, add the pressure in the US that the resulting scores may impact the teacher’s employment)
  • how much the teacher(s) helped the students on the test
  • who marked the test
  • the family income and education background
  • (also) the assumption that every child progresses at the same rate

The following is a list of skills that we often say we value as a society but are not measured by standardized tests (those often measured with standardized tests are in brackets):

  • critical thinking (vs memorization)
  • creativity (vs fact telling)
  • collaboration (vs independent test-taking)
  • leadership (vs compliance)
  • care, empathy for others
  • understanding of other cultures (vs a euro-central model to learning)
  • care for our planet (vs just memorizing facts about environment)
  • respect
  • awareness of students’ strengths and challenges (vs ability to take tests)
  • communication skills (vs information telling)

If we have high test scores , does this mean our children are truly learning how to lead a worthwhile life? How many of us have been “hooked on the illusion” that good standardized test scores equal effective learning and a quality education system?

When we focus on the economy, we realize there are many ways that can drive growth that can unfortunately be harmful to society and, in particular, our children.  When we focus on standardized test scores, we realize that there many ways to increase these scores that can unfortunately be harmful to learning and, in particular, our children.

I am not saying we should ignore the economy nor should we ignore the results of standardized tests but we need to reflect on the actual meaning of these measurements. With regards to education, I understand we want to know how our children and schools are doing but we need to ask ourselves: how much time do we want to spend analyzing these (mis)measurements of learning?  How much time do we want our teachers and children spending on these tests? Can we place a numerical value on learning the skills needed to lead a flourishing life?

*Cavoukian, R. and Olfman, S., eds.  Child Honouring: How To Turn This World Around. Salt Spring Island, BC. Homeland Press, 2006

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Grading and Assessment with @tomschimmer

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In June, I offered our intermediate teachers the opportunity to attend, with me, a one day session with Tom Schimmer on the topic  of “10 Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading” (based on his newly released book of the same name).  I have been connected with Tom for about 8 months and we have had some powerful conversations around the topics of assessment, motivation and leadership through Twitter, in person, and on the good ole telephone.  If you ever get a chance to see/hear Tom speak: do it (you can view some of his other presentation slides here).  Be sure to check out Tom’s blog and follow him on Twitter.

The way I often take notes during sessions is to Tweet out comments and info that cause me to pause and reflect.  Although this probably does not “flow” too well, here are my notes from the day (all those without reference are quotes from Tom – I may have missed some references.). Thank you, Tom, for the learning and permission to post this on my blog.

  • “We no longer need to accept the assessment legacy of our past. We know better” – Stiggins
  • “When we think about change, we must think about possibility… we cannot think about what won’t work”
  • “In our current system, how many students are penalized because they do not learn fast enough?”
  • “There is an obvious tension between depth of learning and coverage of curriculum in our schools today”

On CHANGE:

  • “It is our foible as humans to stoutly defend an established position despite overwhelming evidence against it” – Dr. Hawkins
  • “Who is putting the NO in innovation?”
  • “I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a transformer” – Covey
  • “How many people have the same phone since 2000? How many people use the same lesson plan since 2000?”
  • “Do any other professions state: it worked back then, why would I need to change?”
  • “Just because you say you don’t believe in something does not abolish its existence nor its effectiveness” (ie. I don’t believe in AFL)
  • “How often do we, as educators, make people professionally uncomfortable – by challenging each other”
  • “Think BIG, start small.”

On Assessment:

  • “It’s not good enough to give students the ‘opportunity to learn’. We must ensure that they learn!”
  • “If students become frustrated and disengage from learning – what do their grades actually represent?”
  • “For sound, accurate assessment – we need to have a clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, student involvement”
  • “Formative assessments are designed to keep the information within the classroom”
  • “If your formative assessments involve a spreadsheet… you are missing the mark” Dylan Wiliam
  • “Should be a balance between summative and formative – the pendulum should not swing from one to the other (although formative should happen much more often that summative)”
  • “Summative assessment does not mean a multiple choice test”
  • “We have turned school into a game – all students have to do is collect enough points to win”
  • “How much better would our kids do when the threat of failure has been taken off the table?
  • “Assessment For Learning = CLASSROOM assessment for STUDENT learning”
  • “Are we OVERteaching some parts of the curriculum while UNDERteaching other areas? How do you know without formative assessment?”
  • “We often use methods of assessments that are mismatched with learning targets (ie. multiple choice for a reasoning target) – make sure your assessment methods match the targets.”
  • “To be effective, feedback needs to cause thinking. Grades don’t do that…and comments like ‘good job’ don’t either” Dylan Wiliam
  • “In elementary schools we often confuse maturity with ability.”
  • “Feedback has the smallest effect size when it is related to praise, rewards, and punishments” – Hattie
  • “Don’t just say “good job”.  Finish the sentence! Good job… because you…”
  • Feedback – what matters? Quality of feedback, focus on learning, include strengths – Black and Wiliam
  • When using Descriptive Feedback, make it: Timely, Specific, Clear and Useable
  • “For rubrics – avoid using numbers. Kids will add up the numbers to give them a score.”
  • “Differentiation: Put students in situations where they don’t know the answer often” Dr. C Morreale
  • “What role does time play in distorting the achievement level in our kids?”
  • “Myth: Differentiation is about creating individual lesson plans”
  • “Differentiation is NOT I will teach my lesson and then alter the lesson for those who ‘don’t get it’”
  • “Figure out ways that you can infuse AFL into your practice”
  • “If we say we can or can’t change the way we assess – we are right.”
  • “If we want the system to change – WE need to BE THE CHANGE. Be the example that we want to see.”
  • “For change to occur, we need to be able to take heat from our colleagues”

Some Videos Tom shared:

A student describes the power of forms of assessment beyond tests:

An example of what a class can be if we begin move away from a focus on grades, worksheets and tests and make learning more real for our students.

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It’s Easy…

Which road will you take?

Which road will you take? image - http://bit.ly/pASkSU

As educators, we are often faced with an opportunity to take the easy road or the hard road.  The easy road often works for us as parents, teachers, administrators but it rarely works for kids.  The difficult road may be an immediate challenge and take much more time and effort but this is most often the road that leads to real learning.

It’s easy… to suspend or send a child home for misbehaving.  It’s more difficult to spend time WITH the child, actually listen to him/her, model and teach him/her the social skills needed to be successful in life.

It’s easy… to give a number or letter (grade) to a child as a way to mark or judge the work.  It’s more difficult to provide ongoing coaching, descriptive feedback and formative assessment that will improve the child’s learning.

It’s easy… to give a zero.  It’s more difficult to tell a child “I will not let you get a zero, I will be continue to work with you to determine the reason you want to resort to taking a zero and then provide strategies to ensure you can demonstrate your learning”.

It’s easy… to teach to the test.  It’s more difficult to teach to each child.

It’s easy… to teach the curriculum.  It’s difficult to work to ensure that each child learns the curriculum.

It’s easy… to motivate student achievement with a prize/reward.  It’s more difficult to model being a learner, develop a safe, trusting environment and lessons that are truly engaging so the focus is on learning.

It’s easy… to give out tickets and bribes for good behaviour.  It’s more difficult to teach empathy, ethics, and care so that children are intrinsically motivated and will choose their actions because it is the good and right thing to do.

It’s easy… to kick a child out of class or place in a time out.  It’s more difficult to work with the child so that he/she feels cared for and actually learns the needed skills.

It’s easy… to lead from the top-down.  It’s more difficult to actually listen and make decisions based on the voices of others (although this often makes things easier).

It’s easy… to turn your head the other way or pretend you did not hear something that goes against what you stand for.  It’s more difficult to have those challenging, learning conversations with people regarding these statements and/or actions.

It’s easy… to not include the voice of parents in the school/classroom.  It’s more difficult to engage parents and build trust so that we develop a partnership to do what’s best for our children.

It’s easy… to make decisions based on white, middle class culture.  It’s more difficult to actually listen to the voices and build trust in those that have been disengaged and marginalized for many years.

It’s easy… to keep your thoughts and opinions in your head.  It’s more difficult to share these with others through presentations, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and other forms of social media.

It’s easy… to close our door and teach our kids.  It’s more difficult to open the door, allow others to observe our class/school, reflect and collaborate with others, and receive input on how to improve our practice.

It’s easy… do do things TO others by controlling.  It’s more difficult to do things WITH others by facilitating.

It’s easy… to give awards to top students.  It’s more difficult to seek out and recognize the gifts and passions of each student.

It’s easy… to place A and B students on an honour roll… it’s more difficult to honour each child for who they are.

It’s easy… to say NO.  It’s more difficult to say HOW CAN WE make this happen?

It’s easy… to standardize.  It’s more difficult to personalize.

It’s easy… to design an education system that teaches a child to ‘do school’.  It’s more difficult to build a system that encourages students to develop the skills, character, and mindset so that they can truly flourish in life in and beyond school.

With any decision- ask yourself: am I taking the easy road that works for me right now or am I taking the more difficult road that benefits others in the future?

I would love for you to add any other “It’s easy…” comments below.

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Recognizing ALL Students: Greystone Middle School

EVERY child has a strength inside them; it is our job, as educators, to bring this out.  “Recognizing ALL Students” is a page designed to showcase the success stories of schools that have moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies and monthly assemblies that only focus on a select few students to a place where ALL students are recognized for their unique talents and interests.

I am pleased to showcase Greystone Centennial Middle School from Spruce Grove, Alberta as a school that has moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies to a process that works to honour and recognize each student.  Thank you to principal Carolyn Cameron (@carolynjcameron) and teacher Jessie Krefting (@jessiekrefting) for their insights and efforts. Greystone is part of the Parkland Division – a division that continues to be an innovative leader along many avenues of education.

greystone

Why did you move away from the traditional format of awards ceremonies?

Carolyn: “We had the privilege of opening a brand new middle school in our community 6 years ago and we were very intentional NOT to set up traditions and structures that did not support what we fundamentally believed in for students – education is not about ranking and sorting students with special recognition and rewards for the few – our philosophy was based on abundance and growth.  Every learner has something special to offer and should be given the opportunity to shine.  We did not get there, however, in our first year – we have made adjustments every year to bring our parent community, students and staff along.”

Jessie: “When I was at another school in the far west of our school division (the same school division as Greystone, where I am teaching now) myself (grade 6) and the grade 1 teacher jumped on the opportunity to implement and pilot a new, innovative report card. This report card was a huge leap for parents, students and other staff members. Coupled with this report card in which we used phrases such as “can consistently do” “is working towards consistently doing” “needs support in” to describe student learning, we (the two of us) chose to not give our students the traditional academic awards for honours etc. This was a huge bone of contention with parents. I purposely chose at the academic awards to recognize each one of my students for something that they did that term that was special and an area where they showed growth. I know that this school is still doing academic awards in the 7-9 stream however, they have stopped the academic awards in K-6.”

How are you honouring and recognizing each student OR what is your current ceremony format?

We have monthly assemblies that celebrate special things going on in our school, we have a talent show, and we have a year end assembly (we call it a celebration) where we focus on the service/volunteerism of our students.  All other sharing and celebrating occurs within grade level “Learning Communities” throughout the year.  We have student led conferences where learning is shared and celebrated and our year end celebrations recognize each and every student for their accomplishments from the year.  Each grade level team organizes this year end event to include parents. Students receive recognition for Citizenship and Social Responsibility as well as academic achievement and growth.  Teachers ensure that all students are recognized for their accomplishments.

What impact has this had on your students?

Our assemblies are HIGHLY engaging as we focus on school spirit, community building and creating positive energy within the school.  One of my very favourite things we do at our beginning of the year assembly and end of the year assembly is the “gauntlet”.  Our new grade fives enter their first school assembly being welcomed through a double line of grade 9 students cheering and high-fiving for them – they are given messages/cards to welcome them.  At the year end assembly/celebration (that replaces the awards assembly), our grade nines go through the cheering “gauntlet” created by our grade 5’s as they leave the gym for the last time.  The grade fives present them with a photo cd and cards wishing them good luck in High School.  The nines always get teary and emotional during this.

Have there been any challenges to this change?

We developed a committee/focus group in the first year to discuss the reasons why we do awards ceremonies and who really benefits from this kind of tradition.  I think that helped set the groundwork.  The next step in our journey was the development of a reporting system that does not include marks – we assess students and report their performance based on meeting outcomes.  This aligned with our focus on individual growth and achievement – not competition.  The biggest challenges have come from parents of students who are high achievers – we have helped these folks understand, through many many conversations, that the reward is not what motivates their son/daughter to do well – they are driven by success and they feed off of doing the best they can do for themselves…they will continue to do well whether there is a prize at the end or not….in time, this has proven true so we are no longer being challenged on this anymore.  We have been working hard, through our assessment practices, to help students see for themselves, what they need to do to grow and learn (and it has nothing to do with a prize).

Anything else you would like to add?

We will be implementing an even more innovative report card next year that is process skills/competencies based (as opposed to information/content driven) which means our teachers will be pushed even further to develop assessments that measure performance/process as opposed to heavy focus on summative products.   Students will continue to become self-reflective, metacognitive learners who set goals for personal improvement and take ownership of their own learning.

Thank you to Carolyn, Jessie, and the staff and community of Greystone Middle for leading the way in assessment, student motivation and learning!

If you are aware of another school that is challenging the traditional method of honouring students, please contact me.

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The Wejr Family Awards

The "Weejie Award" from '88 that hangs above my bed for inspiration.

The "Weejie Award" from '88 that hangs above my bed for inspiration.

As we approach May, and now that I have 2 daughters, it is time to continue a long standing Wejr Family tradition – the “Weejies” -  The Wejr Family Awards.

Growing up, I was an A student and a decent athlete so I always looked forward to the day when my parents invited my family over to watch me beat out my sister for the academic and athletic awards.  I really think this helped me to become successful in the “competitive real world” and losing these awards motivated my sister to try harder.  She was brilliant in areas such as care, friendship, and family but always needed a little boost in her quest for the important real world things like grades and trophies.  Although we were two years apart and developed at different rates, I believe that it was important for her to learn how to lose and see that there are people better than her and that she needed to work harder in areas that were important, not to her, but to my parents.

So now, my wife and I have decided to continue on this journey.  Our first Wejr Family Awards have been discussed.  We have one daughter that was born 3 lbs heavier than the other (they are twins).  She has developed a few weeks ahead so is going to clean up this year!  We are so proud and excited for her.  Our other daughter will be motivated by these awards (that have nothing to do with development, of course) and will try harder to maybe be the first to walk or even talk!  (I look forward to grading them in their journey to walk and ride a bike – its important that they know where they are at and what better way of showing them this than a letter grade?).  The key here is that by encouraging our children to strive for these awards, and defeat the other, they will achieve more and be pushed toward a more successful career in the real world.  I know that without these awards, given once a year at the end of the school year, my girls will struggle to see the value in learning and helping others.  That is why I am so excited to continue the tradition of… “The Weejies”.

Obviously we would NEVER do this to our kids… so the question is: WHY DO WE DO THIS IN SCHOOLS?

NOTE: I want to thank my parents for always encouraging and seeing the strengths and interests in their children.  My sister and I had completely different strengths and because of my parents, my sister continues to be my best friend and teach me so many things in areas in which she excels: compassion, care,and family.

A few more thoughts from me on awards:

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Do You Coach or Do You Judge?

“When it comes to assessment, think purpose, purpose, purpose”– Caren Cameron

Coaching and teaching have always been passions of mine; however, I had previously considered coaching and teaching to be two completely different things. About 5 years ago, following some conversations with my principal as well as beginning my master’s program, I began to reflect on the techniques I used as a high school volleyball coach and how those related to teaching. My volleyball teams had greatly improved, demonstrated success, and players seemed to be very motivated. My coaching philosophy was based on focusing on process rather than result; I kept statistics but stopped sharing these with players and provided only performance feedback in the form of words. Although we never discussed winning, the more we focused on the process of skill and team development, the better we played. I was doing well enough as a teacher but I questioned that if I was experiencing such success as a coach why was I not doing more coaching in the classroom?

A year later, I had the privilege of being involved in the British Columbia Education Leadership Council (BCELC) seminar series. During this 5 weekend series, we were challenge to rethink the way we do many things, including the way we assess students.

I am embarrassed to say but prior to these events and the resulting conversations, I assessed students like I had been assessed – tests, quizzes, and assignments. As a high school teacher, I had it all figured out. I could somehow brilliantly determine a child’s learning, based on these assessments, right down to a tenth of a percent. I somehow believed that a child with 85.5% was an A student and a child with 85.4% was a B student. I was the assessor and I used grades as carrots and attempted to motivate students by assigning zeros, taking off marks, and providing bonus marks. I did provide feedback to students but I always included a grade along with the feedback. I offered re-writes but very little changed in between assessments. My focus was on summative assessment or “Assessment OF Learning”.

During the BCELC series, we were shown this slide by Caren Cameron:

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

Through looking at the above slide, taking part in some powerful dialogue, and reading important research by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black (ie. Working Inside the Black Box – a must read for every parent and educator), I began to reflect on how much time I spent on the road on the right hand side.  As a coach I spent most of my time on the left, yet as a teacher, I spent most time on the right.

Since then, I have basically switched roads.  As a teacher, I spent the majority of time on the Assessment FOR Learning path which focused on descriptive feedback and ongoing coaching that included learners and was designed to enhance student learning.  As a principal, I continue to encourage and discuss with staff methods to which we can increase descriptive feedback and reflect upon the use of grades and marks.  Through these experiences, I have seen more and more students end their “losing streaks”, become more intrinsically motivated,  and begin to become confident learners.

So my question to you is: on which road do you spend the majority of your time?  Do you coach or do you judge?

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