Posts Tagged assessment for learning

If We Have a Good Idea… Don’t Give It A Name

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Natalie Maynor: http://flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2988366432/

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Natalie Maynor: http://flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2988366432/

Assessment For Learning… Flipped Classroom… Project-based Learning… 21st Century Learning

A few years ago, I was in a learning series and we were learning about the power of shifting our assessment focus from summative (grades, events) to formative (feedback, ongoing).  The facilitator, Yrsa Jesnsen, quoted someone when she said “if we have something good… don’t give it a name”.  What she meant by this was that once we give something a name, it can be defined by whomever and also be branded, boxed, marketed and sold as a specifically defined idea rather than something that can grow and evolve.

I have had a number of conversations about assessment with people online… and what I realized is that people define this term based on their experience.  A US teacher will have a very different view on assessment than someone from British Columbia.  Although many will agree that assessment (ie. ongoing coaching and adjusting our teaching based on what we see) can be one of the most powerful things we do, after going through what a teacher from the US has to go through with endless standardized testing and top-down accountability measures, one can understand how the term assessment can take an entirely different meaning.  We have some teachers in our school use formative assessment practices in a way that is so powerful for our students; however, if I try to define it as AFL, the teachers tend to disengage and give me the look of “do not try to define what we are doing with a single term”. (also check out this post by Marissa Knauf on assessment jargon.)

For the past few days, I have had the privilege of attending and keynoting a conference in Lafayette, Indiana. During my keynote, I said that it is not about “21st Century Teaching/Learning” as a century is a long time; while 80 years from now, we will still be in the 21st Century, I hope that teaching and education will look significantly different than it does today.  Unfortunately, what has happened is that we have taken skills like collaboration, creativity, etc and labeled these as “21st Century Learning”.  As a result of this, companies have been able to define, box these skills up and sell it to people as a particular idea that does not evolve.

During the conference, I sat in a great session with Brett Clark on Flipped Teaching and Project Based Learning and Brett’s thoughts led to a discussion in which my friend Brett Gruetzmacher said to me, it is not about the title of what you are doing – it is about what works for you and your students.  As Brett Clark said, poor teaching is poor teaching… no matter how you shuffle the cards, they remain the same.  So even if you flip your teaching, if you were ineffective before, your students will still struggle.  It is important to take an idea and make it work for us and more importantly, make it work for our students.  In the past, I have been very critical of the flipped class model as I chose to define it as “videos for homework, worksheet in class”. Had I held firm with my beliefs, I would have disengaged from the conversation and not learned from Brett and passionate educators like Carolyn Durley who have defined the flipped model in a way that works for their students and have also included changes to how they assess kids and design their lessons and learning environments.  I have actually encouraged Carolyn to stop calling what she is doing as “flipped” as it is so much more than how so many people define the idea.  She has maintained that she is working to share the stories of what an effective “flipped”  class can look like and can lead to.  Carolyn is a great example of a wonderful teacher whose story may be missed if we choose to define all that she is doing in a single term.

Not naming something may be an impossible task (just check out how many names/labels have been used in this post).  So maybe it is not so much about giving something a name but instead using the name to lead to a deeper conversation around student learning.  As teachers, we need to continually model a growth mindset and engage in dialogue around effective practices that work for OUR students.  Although we should avoid boxing and selling an idea, we need to be open to conversations around ideas in education.  Just because something or someone is labeled with a particular name does not mean that there is effective teaching and learning taking place.  It is less about the name, idea, or tool, and is more about the teacher. Ideas will not change education unless educators use, implement, and reflect upon these ideas in a way that is optimal for our students. We need to be careful to not close ourselves off due to a label and not let a name define what we do in so many different learning environments.

As this is an area I have struggled with, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

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Starting the Conversation on Rethinking Awards Ceremonies

Since I wrote about our school’s decision to end our awards ceremony and change the the way we honour students, I have been asked a few times how people could start the conversation in their schools.  I realize that most schools have already hosted their year-end awards ceremonies but while it is fresh in people’s minds I wanted to provide a place for the conversation to continue.

As many are aware, when I arrived at my current school, the conversation had already been occurring for a few years; although I was part of the final decision, I was not part of the initial discussions (this was started by staff, parents, and admin prior to 2007).   Having said this, I have often thought about how I would approach initiating this dialogue in a different school now that I have seen and experienced the success of a school without an awards ceremony.  Keeping in mind that each school culture is different and that each school probably has lengthy traditions of trophies and awards in schools, this is not a decision that people can make without the support of some key parents, students and staff. Once you have a few people (your support network) questioning the idea of only honouring a select few in a created competition in which the winner is decided by staff, here are some possible leading questions (I need to be clear, though, that I am NOT advocating for expectations to be lowered nor am I supporting the idea that EVERY child gets some sort of “top _____ award”):

  • Does your year-end awards ceremonies and/or student of the month program align with your school vision, plan and/or goals?
  • What does research say about the use of awards/prizes to motivate (or demotivate) learning?
  • At which age do awards become necessary – 5? 10? 15?  Why?
  • How much of the award is based on culture, language, parents (particularly cultural capital and income) and teachers that the winner has/had and how much is based on the person’s work ethic?
  • What if, as a first step in changing awards ceremonies, we honoured students who met a certain criteria?  This would be rather than selecting one person as a winner (often when many others have worked just as hard).
  • What does “top ______ student” actually mean?  Does this mean they have done well or does it mean they have just done “better” than everyone else? IS the top student in a class of 12 the same as the top student in a class of 120?
  • If awards ceremonies are important for kids, why do we not do this in our homes?
  • Is it possible for an award winner to struggle with success later in life?  Is it possible that there are a few (or many) people out there who have achieved success that did not win an award?
  • If we agree that formative assessment,inquiry-based learning & encouraging a growth mindset are the direction we need to go in education, how can we defend a ceremony based on a fixed mindset that showcases winners based on grades?

The more I discuss and read about human motivation, the more questions I seem to have.  I wonder if we all provided ongoing feedback that personally honoured and challenged our students and we continually worked to form trusting,caring relationships with kids… would we need public recognition at all?

This post is not about questioning whether or not we should have awards (here are many other posts that ask that question); this post is about providing a platform to share ideas and engage in dialogue around the idea of starting the conversation about rethinkng the way we do awards ceremonies in schools.  If you have questions and/or thoughts or if you have initiating successful (or unsuccessful) discussions in your school, please share in the comments section below.

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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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Engaging Without Carrots & Sticks

CC Image from http://flic.kr/p/5PbHjR

Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm and I were recently asked by educator and author Larry Ferlazzo to respond to the question: HOW CAN WE  KEEP STUDENTS ENGAGED WITHOUT CARROTS & STICKS?  My response originally appeared at Education Week here but I wanted to cross-post on my blog as well.

Becoming a father and making the transition to teaching primary students has made it very clear to me that our kids begin their lives with an inquisitive mind and an enviable level of excitement for learning.  Primary students seem to have an energetic curiosity and require very little motivation for engagement; however, as these students progress through our system and the focus moves from the child to the curriculum and learning to grades, they often seem to lose that drive.  We, as parents and educators, often influence a shift in this drive by focusing on results and external motivators.  By dangling things such as grades, praise, prizes, awards, and threats of punishment, we unintentionally rob students of responsibility and their intrinsic drive for learning; we alter the focus to what they will get rather than what they are doing.  By the time students reach high school, their inquisitive desire to learn is often shifted to a quest for grades. For those students who do not see relevance and purpose in this quest, they often disengage as learners and then we feel the need to resort to motivating by offering carrots and threatening sticks.

I strongly believe that (to adapt from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, researchers of motivation at the University of Rochester and written about by Daniel Pink), we cannot motivate students; we can only create the conditions in which students can motivate themselves.  We cannot MAKE kids learn; we can make them behave a certain way, memorize and complete tasks in the short-term when we are supervising them but this does not mean they are gaining the skills and receiving the support needed to be learners.

Even in a system dominated by curricula, scores, and grades, we can still work to tap into that intrinsic drive by focusing on:

  1. Relationships – a trusting, caring relationship helps students to understand the learning is about them rather than test scores and curricula. In order for us to make the curriculum relevant to their learning we must build relationships with our students.
  2. Ownership – Work WITH students so they have a voice in their learning. Through a focus on Assessment For Learning, we include students in assessments and provide ongoing dialogue around descriptive feedback (rather than grades) based on agreed upon criteria and goals.  Harvard professor and author Dr. Ross Greene states that “all students can do well if they can”; we need to provide the feedback on behaviour and learning skills so kids can do well. Too, we need to include students in this conversation.
  3. Choice – Provide students with more autonomy of HOW they will learn and demonstrate their learning.
  4. Relevancy – Relate the curriculum to the interests and passions of our students. They need to see meaningful connections and purpose for real learning to occur.
  5. SuccessTom Schimmer, a BC author and leader in Assessment for Learning, says that we need to “over prepare ‘em” for that first summative assessment.  Push back those first few assessments and ensure students do well then build on this experienced success. We need to focus on strengths, support the challenges, and help students have a growth mindset so they can experience failure and success as feedback and develop the belief they can all be learners.


Our students arrive at school motivated to learn. Through accountability measures and other structures we are often forced to produce short-term results. Unfortunately, this can lead to the use of extrinsic motivators which place the focus away from the learning and on the immediate result rather than the skills and support needed for long-term engagement and success. As educators, we must continue to work to create the conditions to best support our students so that they can maintain that intrinsic drive for learning and not become someone who only reaches for that dangled carrot.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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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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Grading and Assessment with @tomschimmer

10-things2
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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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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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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