Friday, 24 April 2015

Assessment: Inquiry's Boogeyman

When something is difficult or outside of our comfort zone, we sometimes look for a reason not to do it. A barrier, an excuse or boogeyman. These barriers are real but sometimes they are self-imposed or misinterpreted and we perpetuate them to save us from having to change. Student inquiry is no different.

Our assessment practices can sometimes stifle innovation and keep us from embracing student inquiry. When people talk about the reasons why student inquiry won't work, they often point the finger at assessment. They don't have a problem with the self-directed learning or inquiry, their difficulty is with how they assess it. 

Applying traditional assessment techniques to student inquiry can be difficult, if not counterproductive. Assessment with static criteria and an emphasis on final answers and finished products doesn't support the learner who is involved in inquiry based learning. A balanced approach of triangulated assessment which focuses on feedback based on observations and conversations better supports the learner through the inquiry process. We get more of what we value and celebrate. A student focused on the final product or grade is less likely to take chances or create something new. 

So, how do we help students, teachers and parents to see that the assessment data collected from observations and conversations is more valuable to students when given during the learning process as feedback rather than at the end as a grade?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Change has to start somewhere

Why keep doing something, just because we have always done it? 

Today on my morning drive, I was listening to CBC radio. They were discussing daylight saving time and the movement to abolish it that is picking up in the United States. It is something I have never questioned. Because that is just what happens. In the fall, we fall back and in the spring, we spring forward. I discovered that Germany and its allies in World War I were the first countries to adopt daylight saving time as a way to conserve energy for the war effort. So this made me consider, how many other things are we doing, just because it is what we have always done? 

"At first they said it couldn't be done but some were doing it. Then they said it could only be done by a few under special conditions, but more were doing it. Then they said, why would you do it any other way?"- anonymous

I shared this quote today at our co-learning session about shifting assessment practices. We were discussing how to make changes within a system where the structures have not changed quickly enough to keep pace and stay relevant. Ann Davies talks in her book "Making Classroom Assessment Work" (2007) about compensating for the compulsory. We can't rewrite regulations, or change mindsets overnight, but we can start the conversation. We can think about how best to work within the framework on behalf of student learning. We can lean into the discomfort and the challenging questions in an effort to improve student learning. 

Maybe, it is time to start asking more questions!

Making Change in Education: We are Better Together

Today, I participated in professional learning with students, staff and parents.  More and more over the last year, I have facilitated and participated in this model of learning.  Although, depending on the topic,  it is not always appropriate, I find that I learn so much out of these rich discussions where multiple perspectives are represented in the dialogue...we truly are better together.    

Our topic today, “For the Love of Learning”, set the stage for discussion on learning and assessment practices.  We talked about how our current educational practices were established as norms during the industrial revolution and how this is an exciting time of change where educators are moving away from those outdated practices.  In the words of one of our wise students today, “we are able to do way more now than back then.”  At our school, the “6 C’s” of 21st century learning; citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, character education, creativity (and we often add “choice and voice” as a 7th C) are the underlying consideration in all that we do.  
Our opening activity today involved introducing ourselves and briefly discussing a favourite school memory.  At the end of the activity, we discussed the commonalities between our favourite memories...they all involved hands on, engaging active learning, not the time we got 83% on a test.   This brings me to my next points, as our teaching changes, so must our assessment, and as in any process where change is being made, it is best done with all voices at the table.  

I love this photo that illustrates the concept of “messy learning”.  

When we work through problems, as opposed to setting a structured beginning and end to learning, learners (and I say learners because it may be students, parents or staff that are in this role) will likely encounter roadblocks, problem solve, unlearn misconceptions, relearn, work through failures, experience frustration and excitement.  It is a far more complex process, however, in my opinion, a far more authentic and valuable process.  

A key component in this process involves feedback.  We discussed the concept of “feedback” vs. “feed forward”.  Looking at the two photos below.  In the older version of a report card, marks and comments are given, but with no suggestions or opportunity to make improvements.  Isn't that is what learning is all about?  In the second picture (a single point rubric), you will notice that there are no grades, but lots of excellent feedback based on a clearly defined learning goal and success criteria.  In the second example, it is clear what the student is expected to know/learn/do, what learning they have demonstrated and where they need to improve. Which is the more valuable assessment tool?

An area that I have noticed can often be challenging for teachers is not around giving feedback, but more about insuring that it is meaningful and acted upon by students.  A great next step in this area that we discussed today is to give feedback in the form of a question.  When you do this, students interact with the feedback and become naturally engaged in the process.  

As an administrator, the concept of using effective feedback as a high yield strategy to support student achievement  is an area that I will continue to explore through this process, both as a learner and as a leader within my school community.  If you have a great example of feedback methods that you are using, I encourage you to share to #SCDSBttog   We truly are better together!  

Why Feedback is Important

Feedback is important because feedback helps you know how to improve on your work. It helps you improve because if you get good feedback you can know your next step to make your work better. When I know what to do so I can show my learning. Id like to tell teachers to not just focus on the mark and to focus more on the feedback.

Written by Carson Draper at Alliston Union Public School gr5

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Genius Hour and the School Library

There are so many learning opportunities in the School Library or Learning Commons as it is now known to many. It is the "hub" of the school where students are able to inquire, explore, investigate, problem solve, brainstorm and create without the constant fear and worry of assessment and evaluation.

I am currently facilitating Genius Hour project with two junior/intermediate classes. Genius Hour projects provide students with the opportunity to research something they are "passionate" about. It allows students to drive their own learning and helps to foster a growth mindset.

When I was introducing Genius Hour to one of the classes, a student asked me, "Are we getting marked on this project?" My response was, "Would you like to be marked on this project?" I was shocked when a majority of them said no. I didn't think they would have any interest completing a project for "free" if they weren't going to be receiving a final grade at the end.

I am excited to see how their Genius Hour projects flourish knowing that the pressure of being graded is off so to speak. Grades aside, this project will provide students with many opportunities to reflect on their learning, particularly in the areas of learning skills and work habits. Students will also have the opportunity to give peer feedback during our Genius Hour journey. On-going teacher feedback/conferencing will also occur.

There are so many reasons why I love Genius Hour. Most of all, I love how this project inspires student creativity and pushes boundaries. There is so much excitement and enthusiasm these days in the library. To me, this is what learning is all about!

"It's not the letter grade or the percent the inspires growth. It's the follow up conversations between teacher and student that opens the door to opportunities"  
-Charity Stevens

Good Teachers and Good Coaches - Is there a difference?

It's every parent's right to brag. My daughter Sydney has proven, over the last few years, to be quite an accomplished little ski racer and basketball player. Her success certainly can't be attributed to her genes as neither of her parents have skied around gates, and only one has ever played on a basketball team. So who gets the credit? I'll argue with anyone that without a doubt, it is her coaches. And it is not because they are nice people, who care about her development. Not because they go to great lengths to provide her with opportunities. It is not because they've surrounded her with other like minded individuals. It is because of the feedback they constantly provide.

So this got me thinking, is there a difference between what good coaches do with feedback and what good teachers do?

- Good coaches give constant feedback that is appropriate to the athletes ability. It is precise and attainable and evolves as the athlete does.

- Good coaches talk less and observe more. They provide time for athletes to apply the feedback already given and make minor adjustments as needed.

- Good coaches provide opportunities for self-assessment. The competition situations they create allow athletes to reflect on strengths and areas for improvement.

- Good coaches integrate learning. Initially skills are taught in isolation and then gradually integrated with other skills in game like situations. This provides athletes with opportunities for self, peer, and coach feedback.

- Good coaches use meta-cognition strategies. Coaches ask athletes to verbalize their thinking process which allows for them to self-regulate. Coaches take lots of time to have their athletes reflect on their performance and use this to provide feedback.

Is there a difference, I don't think so. Good teachers are good coaches. And good teachers provide opportunities for parents to brag!
Imagine if Teacher's College was called Feedback School.