What if?

I started this year with a dream to build a fair, free, democratic classroom where students have agency over their own learning… and to be completely honest, it has been quite difficult. Most days I feel like I am trying to jam a round peg into a square hole. There are so many constraints and structures that run deep within the current system of school, that it has been difficult to circumvent them.

This year I have tried to change my practice to fit within the system, but I’m beginning to wonder if those goals are fully achievable without changing the system itself.

So I have begun to wonder…

What if curriculum, instead of being multiple pages with hundreds of bullets, was simply “find out where students are and help them move along”?

What if assessment, instead of being focused on achievement, measured and celebrated the amount of progress made by a student?

What if school goals, instead of being focused on an percentage increase of reading scores, focused on a percentage increase of love of reading?

What if reports, instead of being written solely by the teacher, were written collaboratively by the student, their family and the teacher?

What if timelines, instead of being based on pre-determined start and finish dates, were driven by students’ learning needs and interests?

What if grades, instead of ranking and labelling with letters, numbers and words, changed exclusively into feedback that advised students about how to improve and where to go next?

What if day plans, instead of being written by the teacher, were written by each student?

What if standardized tests, instead of measuring skills and knowledge, measured how much students enjoy school and find it beneficial to their life?

Sir Ken Robinson urges us that reform of the current system is not enough – it’s a complete learning revolution that is needed. Based on my experience this year I would have to agree. I think that making small shifts within the system is not enough, we as educators need to continue (or for some of us begin)  critically looking at and discussing what parts of the school system are harmful to or a hindrance of student learning. It’s time to stop talking about how best to jam a round peg in a square hole, and time to start talking about how to change the whole itself.

What revolutionary, systemic “what ifs” would you add to the list?

Forced feedback or found feedback?

Feedback.

One of the it words of education today and probably something most educators around the world seem to agree about – that feedback impacts learning. But I wonder if our obsession with feedback has us so focused on the potential impact of feedback, that we are forgetting to question the context and conditions of that feedback.

This tweet from @justintarte provoked my thinking about this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.22.12 AM

Are we forcing our feedback upon students or are we empowering students to own their learning and find feedback in order to help themselves grow and improve?

This got me thinking about training I received last year to become an instructional coach for teachers. The biggest takeaway from the course was that instructional coaching needed to be optional in order to be most effective. Teachers needed to seek out a coach by choice because feedback for their teaching was more powerful and impactful when it was something they were looking for on their own accord. Something done by them, not something done to them.

…gathered, not given.

…found, not forced.

This means the difference between a coach scheduling a meeting with a teacher and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” and a teacher requesting a meeting with a coach and asking them “what can I do to get better?”

So if we acknowledge and protect that for adult-learners, why are we not doing the same for child-learners?

As teachers, are we scheduling a conference with students and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” unsolicited? Or are we empowering students and creating conditions where students request conferences with teachers (and beyond)  so they can ask “what can I do to get better?”

If we believe that feedback is most effective when sought out by the learners themselves, the question for educators then needs to move away from “Are you giving your students feedback?” and towards “How are you empowering your students to understand the purpose and process of gathering feedback?”

Assessment – Caught between two worlds

I have been an educator for 8 years and throughout those years I have learned (and tried) to be more discerning and to question educational practices. My goal – common to many 21st C educators – is to move away from “doing school” and more towards facilitating true learning.

I started my career in the Ontario system of education which provided me with a great foundation. Then I became an IB educator which really pushed and challenged my thinking about teaching and learning. The more my understanding grew and changed, the more I realized that although some of the practices I picked up as a teacher in Ontario could be transposed into my new practice as a PYP teacher, other practices no longer seemed to fit.

And then there are the practices that I’m still not sure about. Sometimes I feel caught between both worlds and have trouble figuring out which “best practices” from non-IB systems support true learning and which merely help students get better at “doing school”.

Many of these conundrums for me center around assessment specifically….

Namely success criteria, exemplars and bump it up walls. 

When I started my teaching career in Ontario I used all three of these things. They helped my students “do well” on summatives. They increased “achievement” in my class. They provided students with a clear pathway to “success” on the rubric. But now I question – were they really helping my students learn? Or were they merely helping my students get better at “doing school”?

I’m not sure, but before I move back into the classroom I sure would like to figure it out!

Should these practices be packed in our “international educator suitcases” when we leave home to be brought with us and transposed into our PYP practice?

 Do these practices truly support learning, or do they just help students “do school” really, really well? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts… 

My Magic Answer

As PYP Coordinator, I am honoured to be considered a resource for teachers when they have questions about teaching, learning and everything in between. The questions I am asked cover a wide range of curiosities:

“How should I set up my classroom?”

“How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

“How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

“How can I get my students attention?”

“What should the timeline be for this project?”

“How can I be a better teacher?”

Even though I get asked a wide range of questions, I noticed something interesting. Something very interesting! I can answer all of the questions above – and most of the questions I get asked throughout the day – with the same answer:

“Ask your students.”

Go ahead, try it. Go back through the list and see if that answer doesn’t work for any of those questions…

Teacher: “How should I set up my classroom?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I get my students attention?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should the timeline be for this project?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I be a better teacher?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

See! It is magic! It works for every question! Let’s try some more…

Teacher: “How can I build a classroom community?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I use Twitter in the classroom?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should I put up on my inquiry cycle?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students reflect on their learning?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What resources will help my students inquire into ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I tune in to what my students already know about ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher:“Why are my students not engaged?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Oftentimes teachers are so busy and bogged down… now I know why! They are doing the thinking on behalf of all of their students. Why not share the load? They say two heads are better than one, so surely 20+ heads are way better than one!

Why not invite student voice into your decision making?

Why not share problems of teaching, learning and everything in between with your students?

Why not turn the questions we have as teachers into collaborative inquiries with your class?

Why not trust your students to have creative, brilliant solutions that you maybe haven’t thought of?

Why not get rid of “secret teacher business” altogether?

Why not trust students to tackle the problems we grapple with as adults?

So next time you have a question why not try turning it over to your class first, because you know what my (magic) answer will be anyway…

Ask your students. 

 

What is the PYP? From the perspective of new-to-PYP Teachers

We have 25 wonderful new PYP staff. They have been working SO hard to make sense of a completely new education framework. They have spent 9 weeks after school reading IB documents, browsing blogs, teaching one another and sharing ideas. Now comes the time for consolidation and sharing… aka a “summative”.

To provoke their thinking about summatives, we first gave them a 4 page “PYP Test” as a provocation to experience what it is like to be on the receiving end of a test and to hopefully challenge the thinking that summative means tests. Their reactions and reflections about being “tested” were fascinating:

  • I was instantly fearful
  • I went blank
  • I knew everything, but I just couldn’t explain it in words
  • I remember learning it but I didn’t have it all memorized
  • I was worried about failing

This lead into a great conversation about shifting the notion of “summatives” away from tests and more towards authentic opportunities to share one’s learning with others. We used the RAFT format to structure our real PYP summative.image

So here they are! 25 PYP summatives where our new-to-PYP staff share their current understanding of the PYP with all of you! We’ve got songs, videos, raps, drawings, models, Prezis, journals, blog posts and more! Enjoy…

Blog post: IB in Kindergarten? Yes, IB in Kindergarten.

Prezi: Examining the PYP

image

 

 

imageimageimage image image

image

imageimageimageimage image image

imageimage  image image image image image image image

image image

image

image

image image image

image image

How creative, confident, reflective and knowledgable are our new-to-PYP teachers!?!? We feel very thankful to have 25 teachers who are truly living the IB learner profile.

After they finished their summative task, they assessed their own understanding of each line of inquiry and the central idea. Our hope is that at the end of the year we can pull the new staff back together and have them self-assess their understanding of the PYP again and see evidence of the growth and progress they have made over the year.

Do you know one of the most interesting discoveries throughout this process? I, as the ‘teacher’, couldn’t pull myself away from reading, watching and exploring their summatives! So often teachers dread marking. Maybe that is a clue that a summative is not actually an authentic sharing of learning, because apparently when it is… you actually look forward to exploring their summative and providing feedback!

Please help us continue to learn and grow! 

Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

Learning Time Capsules – shifting the focus from achievement to progress

Here is an example of how one of our Grade 4 teachers is shifting his students’ focus from achievement to progress through the use of a math “time capsule”.

Diagnostic: This teacher looked at all the big concepts the Common Core outlined for fractions in Grade 4 and created open-ended questions to allow students to show what they already knew or thought they knew about each big idea. Students were encouraged to be risk-takers and try every question!

Grade 4 Open Fractions

The teacher then tracked students’ prior knowledge on an excel sheet. This allowed him to plan full group, small group, guided and individual math inquiries based on needs.

Formative: After a few weeks of inquiring into these fraction concepts, the teacher gave back the same task and highlighted questions that students were required to try (based on the concepts that had been learned over the past few weeks in class). Green meant they showed competent understanding the first time they tried the question (during the diagnostic), but could still show extended understanding if they added to it. Pink meant they had not previously attempted it or showed a developing understanding and would need to add or change their answer. Students were encouraged again to be risk-takers and try the questions that were not highlighted, as their new knowledge and understanding might help them figure out concepts that had not yet been explored as a class.

Grade 4 Fraction formative

The teacher then added this formative data to the excel sheet to show the progress each student had made in each area, who was ready for a challenge and who needed more support.

Students were also given the chance to reflect their own understanding of the concepts learned in class so far and indicate which areas they were feeling confident in and which they wish to work on more. The teacher also filled in the same feedback sheet which highlighted his perspective on what the student did well and what they could still practice. This feedback was shared with parents along with recommendations for support at home.

Stars and Wishes Template

Summative: At the end of the Unit, the teacher gave the same task back and the students were instructed try every question in order to show their final knowledge and understanding. Again the questions were colour coded so students knew which of their answers showed a competent understanding and which answers needed to be added to, changed or attempted. Prior to handing out the time capsule, the class came up with a student generated rubric for each question, indicating what would show a competent or extended answer. Students had access to both an electronic and paper copy of the rubric to help them understand how to be successful at each question

After completing the time capsule, students completed the Visible Thinking Routine “I used to think… Now I think” to reflect on how their thinking about fractions changed from the beginning of the unit to the end of the unit. The time capsule, self-assessment rubric and meta-cognitive reflection were all sent home so students could share their progress with their parents.

Used to think now i think

When the focus is on achievement, students have no choice but to compare their achievement to the achievement of others. But when you place the importance on progress, students focus on how their knowledge and understanding grows and changes over time. Each time the students added to or changed their time capsule it was a visual representation of how their knowledge and understanding had grown and changed. Each student felt successful in his or her own way because they could see the progress they made over the course of the unit.

How do you help your students focus on progress and growth?

We tuned in!

Before our Units of Inquiry started, grade-level teams inquired into “tuning in” (with the help of  this post from Kath Murdoch). Many teachers walked away with a new, or deeper, understanding of the purpose behind the “tuning in” phase of inquiry. Teachers were excited to put their new learning into practice… here is how it turned out in our Grade 1 to 5 classes:

Grade 1: Peaceful relationships are created through mutual understanding and respect.

Students tuned in to problems and solutions:

IMG_0241

Students tuned in to the concept of numbers:

IMG_0203

 

Grade 2: Citizens build communities.

Students tuned in to the concepts of “community” and “citizenship”:

IMG_0271

IMG_0250

Grade 3: Decisions impact conseqeunces.

Students tuned in to “decisions” and “consequences”:

IMG_0258

Students shared important decisions they made in their life:

IMG_0174

Students tuned in to decisions made by readers:

IMG_0183

Students tuned in to the decisions they make as mathematicians:

IMG_0191

Students tuned in to the number of decisions they make:

IMG_0187

Teachers tuned in to the type of decisions they make:

IMG_0170

Grade 4: Relationships are affected by learning about people’s perspectives and communicating our own. 

Students tuned in to the concepts of perspective and relationships:

IMG_0211

IMG_0212

Students tuned in to different representations of numbers:

IMG_0221

IMG_0225

Grade 5: Relationships among human body systems contribute to health and survival. 

Students (and teachers) tuned in to the concept of systems:

IMG_0227

IMG_0180

Students tuned in to what they think they know about body systems:

IMG_0230

IMG_0200

I love that the students’ thinking is front and centre!

I love that the students’ thinking is visible!

I love that students were able to demonstrate their thinking in a variety of ways!

I love that teachers tuned into conceptual understandings, not just topic knowledge! 

I love that transdisciplinarity is evident!

I love that teachers were acting as inquiries themselves… doing reconnaissance to find out about what their students bring to a Unit of Inquiry!

The feedback from teachers about “tuning in” has been great! Teachers are excited because they have learned about their students’ prior knowledge, their misconceptions, their interests and their questions. It has not only provided them with diagnostic assessment data, but also a road map that illuminates “where to next?” based on students’ needs and interests! I can’t wait to see where these inquires lead!

How do you “tune in” to your students’ thinking?