“Trust Your Students”

I have not been my best self this past week.

We have the staging of PYPx coming up and as a result, all of our time and energy has been spent supporting students to plan for and create a symbolic piece that represents their journey as a learner and stimulate conversation with whomever shall visit their display. (more on that later)

I’ve been overwhelmed, wrapped up, anxious and frazzled.

And it must have been showing because today a student came up and asked me…

“Miss Taryn are you in a bad mood?”

So, I had to answer honestly…

“Yeah, you know what – I am. I feel anxious and stressed and concerned.”

So she kindly followed up with…

“Why?”

And so I shared my worries…

“I’m worried that my students aren’t putting in enough time and effort to get ready for the staging of PYPx. I’m worried that their parents and the community are going to be disappointed in what they produce. I’m worried that they won’t reach their level of success by May 22. I’m worried they aren’t using their time management, planning or organizational skills to their full extent. I’m worried they might not be holding themselves to a high enough standard…”

And her response was so clear. So kind. So simple. So true…

“Miss Taryn, you have to trust your students.”

Trust my students…

She was right. That was the piece of the puzzle I had been missing. I had been guiding, encouraging, advising, helping… but not trusting.

I had gotten so caught up in worrying about how everything was going to look and be perceived by others, that I had lost sight of the big picture. That even though this was the destination of their PYP journey, it’s still about the journey as they prepare for this destination. It’s about the process, not the product. About the thinking, not the doing. About them owning their own learning, planning their own time, making their own decisions, seeking help, choosing to gather feedback, and wanting to take it to the next level. For themselves.

Not for me. Not for their parents.

For themselves.

It doesn’t have to be perfect… it just has to be them. True, authentic, genuine them.

And in order for it to be truly, authentically, genuinely them… I need to give them time and space (like I have all year) to make mistakes, fail, run out of time, learn, reflect and, inevitably, grow.

And most importantly, in the words of Thao Nhu, I need to trust my students.

So trust, I will.

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The Documenting Dilemma

This is a story of hypocrisy and empathy.

If there was a voice recorder in my classroom this year, more than anything else, you would hear me urging my students to document their learning.

At the beginning of the day…

“Don’t forget to document your learning!”

Throughout the day…

“Are you documenting your learning?”

“You should document that!”

“You’re missing it! Something awesome is happening… capture it!”

At the end of the day….

“Did you document your learning today?”

“Did you capture what you did? How you did it? How you felt about? What you learned? How you learned? How you felt about your learning?”

I had workshops about stronger documentation of process and growth

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We developed success criteria for strong documentation of learning

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I shared exemplars of strong documenting of learning

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I was obsessed with having them document their learning. And, I would bet that I am no different from any educator who is striving for more learner agency, yet still working in a fairly mainstream system. There seems to be some unwritten agreement that – yes, we will transfer ownership of learning back into the hands of the students… but only as long as they document it all to prove that it is happening. 

And then it happened… hypocrite moment #1

We were all sitting around at a weekly team planning meeting at the beginning of March and realized that we had neglected to document our learning journey. The blog that was set-up with the specific purpose of allowing us to capture what we were doing, how it was going and what we were learning from it… was blank.

Even though we knew about it.

Even though we all saw value in it.

Even though we had weekly reminders to document and capture our journey.

Blank.

This really got me thinking! It wasn’t that learning hadn’t happened. We had all experienced so much personal and professional growth. And it wasn’t that nothing worth capturing had happened. The previous 7 months were full of risk-taking, new initiatives, testing out new ideas, reflective conversations, multiple iterations….

It just wasn’t “documented”.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

We were busy.

It wasn’t the top of the priority list. 

We we’re so “in the thick of it” it was hard to step back from it to document it.

And here comes empathy moment #1. As I reflected on the reasons we were identifying for our lack of documenting, I realized these were likely some of the same reasons my students had for their lack of documenting.

Then came hypocrite moment #2

At the beginning of the year we were sent out a Google Slides template with 12 slides based on specific professional criteria. We were told to document our professional learning and growth throughout the year, by populating the slides with artifacts and explanations.

We were reminded to continuously update it.

We were reminded to “capture” our growth and progress.

And 3 days before my end of the year appraisal meeting with my administrators…. guess what? Completely blank.

Again, it wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced any professional growth. It wasn’t even that I hadn’t documented it somewhere. It was just that I hadn’t documented it there.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

I already had ways that I captured and documented things that were meaningful and relevant to me.

I was already comfortable with certain platforms (my blog and Twitter) that I updated on an ongoing, organic basis

I was more internally motivated to document and capture my journey for my own reflective purposes, rather than for an external source of accountability. 

Again, all perfectly acceptable reasons. Again, likely the same reasons my students hadn’t been documenting either.

(I got it done, of course. I did what I’m sure my students do when their documenting is “due” for review. I went back through and filled it in retrospectively.)

These two moments, connected to my own practice of documenting learning – when I document, how I document, why I document, how often I document – really gave me some food for thought about how I was approaching documenting with my students.

Everyone knows the philosophical conundrum:

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I wonder if a similar question holds true for documenting:

If learning happens and it is not documented, did it happen? Does it count?

The more I got thinking about this, the more I was reminded of a tweet that I saw a while ago from @AnneVanDam1996

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So, before we ask (force?) our students to document their learning, I think we first need to ask ourselves:

What is the purpose of documenting learning?

Who is it really for? Who should it be for?

Does everything learned need to be documented?

How often and in-depth am I documenting my own learning?

How different does it feel to document for my own purpose versus when it is mandated by someone else?

… and what might this all have to do with what we are asking of our students?

I have no answers. Just lots of questions. And lots of empathy….

Upping the Agency in SLCs

A staple of any PYP school is the student-led conference. And although there are many different approaches to planning for student-led conferences, generally all iterations of SLCs have some element of student voice, choice and owership.

However that spectrum of voice, choice and ownership can vary greatly school to school, class to class.

This year our team decided to turn a critical eye towards SLCs to see where we as teachers tend to hold onto control over the process and the content, in order to then be able to transfer that control to where it should be… in the hands of the students.

The WHY

Instead of giving students our why for SLCs we supported them to come up with their own personalized why.

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Once they were aware of their own why, they were able to communicate to their parents what they wanted from them during their time together.

The WHAT

So often, the “what” of SLCs is pseudo-chosen by the teacher. “You must show something form math, literacy, UOI, art, music, PE etc…” So the student is technically able to choose what they show, but decisions about what-what is already made for them. This approach also often places learning into subject-specific confines, keeping that silo-mentality alive and well in the institution of school.

We decided that we wanted to move away from both of those typical pitfals of planning for SLCs. So instead, we put the decision of “what” entirely in the hands of the students and instead of guiding them to choose the what based on subject, we guided them to choose the “what” based on what they wanted to share about themselves as learners.

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We also decided to leave the number of “whats” up to them. So we purposefully did not make the template with a certain number of boxes or bullets, but rather let them drive the decision making based on whatever worked best for them.

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During their planning, we supported them to think about themselves as learners in different ways – using the IB Learner profile, PYP attitudes, ATL skills and a variety of sentence starters.

The HOW

Once students knew what they wanted to share about themselves as learners with their parents, we supported them in planning how they could best share that.

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We encouraged them to think about places, people, artifacts and resources that could help them express what they were trying to say about themselves as learners.

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Students really took ownership over this part of the planning and began to use their own systems of numbering, colour coding and organizing to help themselves feel most prepared.

The WHERE

The day before the conference students decided where they would be most comfortable conferencing with their parents and set-up their own conference location.

Overall, it was a very successful process. Students truly “led” the conference. Not just the conversation the day of the conference, but all the thinking, planning and decision making that happened in preparation before hand.

How you ensure students are in control of planning for SLCs?

How do you “up the agency” in Student-Led Conferences in your class?

Read like a rebel

Last weekend at an IB conference in Singapore, I shared my personal journey from being a robot (a compliant student/teacher) to becoming a rebel (a thinker/questioner/challenger).

And a huge part of that journey for me was what I read. So often as educators we read amazing books… but they are usually books that help us do a better job within the system. Books about doing school well, or doing school better, or some even about doing school differently… but often just a little differently.

For me, the biggest shifts in thinking that I had came from books outside the system. From de-schoolers, un-schoolers, home-schoolers and even anti-schoolers. Books that made me critically look at the nature of the institution of school and begin to question some of the things we often assume to be “natural” or “essential” or “untouchable” elements of the education system.

So here are some of the things I read that helped poke and provoke my thinking about teaching, learning, schooling and the rights of the child:

It can be books…

Turning Points

How Children Learn

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Summerhill

Dumbing us Down

De-Schooling Society

It can be blogs:

Alfie Kohn blog

It can be Tweeters:

Bruce L Smith

It’s any reading material that gets you thinking, makes you question, gets you angry. The type of reading material that fires you up and gives you the confidence to look at school and say “that’s not okay”. The type of reading material that doesn’t shy away from challenging those “untouchable” elements of the school system.

The type of reading material that makes you feel unafraid to fail, be different or get in trouble.

What are your favourite “rebel reads” that I should add to the list?

Some thoughts on PD about agency

Recently I’ve been invited to visit a school in China to help poke and provoke their staff’s thinking about student agency. So being the keener that I am, I started putting together my workshop for them!

It was beautifully planned down the very last detail:

First I will provoke their thinking with a range of quotes, videos, and tweets. Then I will tune them into what they already know, or think they know about the concept of agency using a Frayer model and a Growing Definition. The I will get them to create their own questions using the Question Formulation Technique. Then I will give them a resource doc and have them inquire into the different resources and capture their thinking using a Connect-Extend-Challenge. Then I will get them to complete an agency self-reflection tool and put together a personalized action plan. Then to finish it off, I will have them complete a reflection activity called “I used to think… Now I think…”.

At first I was quite pleased with myself – inquiry-based, interactive, hands-on, lots of choice, full of Visible Thinking Routines and other best practices. Done and done!

But then I caught myself…

I couldn’t help but notice a pattern: “I will…, I will… I will… I will…” whether it was, “give them, get them to, or have them complete…” I was definitely the one engineering the learning.

So I began to wonder…

If the medium is the message, am I respecting and supporting their agency as learners?

Am I modelling for them what I’d hope to see them do in their classroom with their own learners?

Does the structure I have planned help them learn about agency, or through agency?

So I scrapped everything I had and went back to the drawing board, keeping those guiding questions in mind.

Now my plan looks totally different:

First, I will be transparent about the structure of the workshop. Explaining why the medium needs to be the message and what that has to do with my vision of them as capable, competent learners who know themselves and know what they need and how they learn best.

Next, they will construct their own personalized success criteria that shows what they hope to know, understand and/or be able to do by the end of our time together.

Then, I will present some systems and structures that provide a plethora of potential ways to learn about agency: a variety of optional sessions led by me, a structure for workshops any of them want to offer for each other, a resource Google document with many resources about agency that is editable so they can add new resources they find/create, an expert wall where teachers can sign up for aspects of agency they feel confident helping one another with, a conversation wall where they can add topics related to agency they want to discuss with one another, some possible time slots for one-on-one or small group conferences with me, opportunities to Skype with other educators experimenting with agency etc.

Next, I will provide them with blank schedules where they will fill in what they want to learn, how they plan to learn, where they will learn and with whom they will learn over the course of our two days together. Also blocking out potential breaks and time for lunch as they see fit.

Also, we will discuss planning for documentation. We will discuss all the different ways to document learning – Evernote, Google doc, Google slides, Twitter, notebook, bubble catcher, personal blog etc. – and then they will choose how best to capture and record their own learning.

Then the majority of our time together will be them learning – hopefully, with some conducting personal inquiries, others learning collaboratively, some choosing to attend my sessions, others attending peer-led sessions, lots of conversation – one-on-one, small group, and large group – with me and with each other. Not to mention taking breaks, eating, drinking, time for play and fun.

Towards the end, they will self-assess using their personalized success criteria to evaluate their own learning and ascertain their next steps in their learning journey towards understanding and implementing agentic models of learning.

Finally, to wrap up our time together we will collectively brainstorm why we reflect, how we can reflect and what specifically we can reflect about. My hope is that this generates a menu of “how” options ranging from conversation, to painting, to vlogging, to writing, to sketchnoting and “what” options ranging from what they learned about, to how they learned, to how they felt about their learning. Then they will reflect in a way that is most comfortable and purposeful for them as learners.

Obviously I won’t know how it goes until it actually happens… but I can say that I feel much more comfortable (and less hypocritical) with my second plan, compared to my first.

I know there are many of us in the education community charged with supporting teachers to learn about agency and shift their practice towards a more agentic model of learning. I think if we want to do so successfully then we need to be very purposeful in crafting professional learning experiences where the medium is the message – where teachers experience agency as learners, in order to be able to then go back into the classroom and respect and support their students’ agency as learners.

What are your approaches to helping teachers understand and implement more agentic models of learning?

*I’m also very open to feedback and suggestions about how I can make my plan even more agentic for the teachers I will be working with, so please feel free to leave constructive comments below!*

Old Habits Die Hard

I haven’t always been the type of teacher I am today. When I think back to my first few years in education, I can admit that I was a super ‘teachery teacher’. Behaviour charts, staying in at recess, rewards&punishments, worksheets, tests… you name it, I did. If you walked by my class you would have seen students silent and on-task – not because they were engaged, because I used me authority and control to illicit compliance.

Over the years I have learned, unlearned and re-learned and as a result transformed into a teacher who now values student agency above all else.

… but every now and then, the old me creeps back in.

Yeaterday was a perfect example:

We are smack dab in the middle of a Unit of Inquiry about how scientific thinking can help us understand humans. At this stage in the unit we were using an “unconference” model, where students are empowered to sign up for help and support when needed.

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Our deadline for literature reviews and completion of methods is Friday and although I have been supporting students all week to plan their days in hopes of meeting this deadline, there were 6 students who were nowhere close.

Feeling all the familiar feelings – the pressure to meet made-up timelines, the need to have all students at the same place at the same time, the need to “teach those kids a lesson” for procrastinating – I told those 6 that their day planning privileges were on pause until their method and lit review was done. I told them they would be sitting with me all day and could only leave my side when they showed me they were done.

Then I went home and all night had this nagging feeling of cognitive dissonance. I knew that what I had said and done was against our Studio 5 mission. I knew that I was infringing on their agency as learners. I knew I was being a hypocrite saying ‘it’s your learning, you own it, I trust you’ and then forcing them to sit with me until it’s finished. I knew that I was taking away their opportunity to fail and learn a lesson on their own. I knew I was using tactics of authority and compliance.

I knew I was back to my old ways of being a teachery-teacher…

So the next morning I shared all this with my students. I apologized. And I told them I was there for them if they needed help and support to meet the deadlines – but it was their choice, as it had been all along.

Their choice if they wanted my help.

Their choice when they wanted my help.

Their choice about how much help they wanted.

And guess what?

Each and everyone of them signed up for an unconference with me – most signed up for all my available unconferneces that day.

And guess what else?

Most of them asked if they could give up their recess to get caught up. Some even chose to take it home at the end of the day to make up for lost time.

I couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out! I spent my day supporting them to meet their deadline – not because they were being forced to, but because they chose to. And that felt completely different.

If I would have stuck with my initial plan, what would they have learned?

– that I say they own their learning, but when push comes to shove, actually I do

– that planning their day is only a privilege and I can take it away anytime I want

– that procrastinating is fine, because someone else will make sure they get things done

Throwing our that plan, and respecting their ownership over their learning, what might they have (hopefully) learned instead?

– that they actually do own their own learning

– that I am here to support them, not control or police them

– that in life when you procrastinate, sometimes you need to find extra time to get caught up

And what did I learn!?

– that those impulses towards control and compliance are deep rooted in my teacher DNA

– that I need to notice when my old habits creep back in

– that if I’m going to talk-the-talk of agency, I better be prepared to walk-the-walk of agency

– that if we always swoop in and pre-emptively save them, we’re stealing their opportunity to truly learn and grow

-that students truly are amazing … when we give them the space and room to be

Student-Written Reports

A while ago I read a blog post asking Should Students Write Their Own Reports? and of course my answer was a resounding YES!

But it was not until this year – where I had team of like-minded educators and the support of leadership and administration – that I was able to put this idea ino practice.

And, spolier alert, it was pretty magical!

In order to dispel the common misconception that initiatives like this one means saying to the students “go write your own reports” while teachers sit back, sipping coffee and browsing their facebook…. I will share with you our process, from start to finish, along with some honest reflections along the way about how it worked and what we will change for next time.

Here is what we did:

We knew that we really wanted students to take ownership of reporting their growth and progress to their parents for the first Unit of Inquiry, however we were also aware that this was likely the first time students had ever done this. So we thought long and hard (and spent many hours discussing) how we could support them in the process of writing their own reports. In the end, we decided to try guiding them through the writing process.

Step 1 – Pre-Writing

First we had students choose two Self-Management Skills and two Social Skills that they felt they developed as a result of our Who We Are Unit. Next,  we used the Visible Thinking Routine “Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate” to help students reflect on the learning expereinces that contributed to their development of each of those skills.

Generate: Students wrote down anything and everything that they had done within the unit.

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Some students went through their Seesaw portfolios and others browsed their day plans to help them remember all their different experiences. They wrote each experience on a small piece of paper.

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Sort: Students placed the learning experiences purposefully on a graphic organizer. The more that learning experience contributed to the development of a specific skill, the closer they placed it to the skill on the organizer. The more it contributed to their understanding of Who We Are the closer they placed it to the transdisciplinary theme in the center of the page.

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Connect: Students drew arrows to show connections: between two learning experiences: between learning experiences and skills: between learning experiences and the transdisciplinary theme etc.

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Elaborate: Students explained their reason for the connections along the arrows they drew.

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Secondly, we set up a Google Form where students could synthesize some of the ideas from the above brainstorm. We set-up the form so students could evaluate to what extent they developed each skill and so they could bring together the different experiences that developed each skill. We also had questions to allow students to evaluate their understanding of the central concepts of the unit, as well as begin to brainstorms their next steps as learners. eol gf

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The Google Form was set-up to auto-format their responses into a Google Doc that they could then refer to when it was time to draft their comments.

Step 2 – Drafting

To help students take their ideas from the brainstorming stage and turn it into comments that would be understood by a reader, we set up a graphic organizer with guiding questions.

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Students then used their VTR and their automatically formatted Google Doc mentioned above to write a first draft of their comments in the boxes.

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Step 3 – Revision

Our big focus for revision, was organization and transitions. Because students wrote four separate responses in the four boxes shown above, we wanted to support them in synthesizing those separate responses together into a coherent piece of writing. So first we had them copy and paste their responses from the boxes, into one piece of text.

Then, we pulled out examples of transition sentences that some students naturally used in their draft and shared them with all the writers.

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Then we colour coded either where we had seen an attempt in their draft to transition from one idea to the next, or where a transition sentence might be needed.

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Step 4 – Editing 

Before we started the editing  process, we used the Golden Circles approach (Why, How, What) to create a class anchor chart about feedback.

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Then students took themselves through a process of self-editing

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and peer editing.

Finally, the teachers gave feedback to students by leaving them detailed and specific comments on their Google Doc. For English Language Learners and students who needed extra support, we sat with them and shared our feedback orally.

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Step 5 – Publishing

In order to also contribute our voice and perspective to the report, the techers then wrote a short paragraph in response to the students’ evaluation of their own learning. We wrote about the degreee to which we agreed and supported the students’ evaluation based on our own observations and assessment data.

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Finally, we posted the final product and Managebac and pushed it out to parents.

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Step 6 – Getting Feedback

We wanted to make sure we gave parents a chance to share their perspective with us about our approach to having students write their own reports. So we sent them a Google Form.

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Here is what they had to say:

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Reflections…

  • it felt so nice to have students take ownership of this process
  • it was the first time I felt like I was doing reporting with students, not to students
  • it helped our students develop their evaluation skills, along with their meta-cognition skills
  • it helped our students see that we are not just “talking the talk” of student ownership, but actually “walking the walk”
  • it was one of the most authentic writing tasks I have ever seen; there was an authentic purpose, an authentic audience and therefore an authentic need for planning, revising and editing
  • this specific process, was a bit too overstructed and as a result, convuluted – in the future we will streamlime to process (specifically with regards to pre-writing and planning)
  • it was SO validating to see that NOT ONE parent wanted to have fully teacher-written reports!
  • it was definitely “assessment as learning” in order for students to evaluate and synthesize their report, they needed to deeply consolidate and reflect upon their own learning
  • moving forward, we need to go through all of the constructive feedback from the parents and figure out how to address  their concerns in order to help them feel that the student-written Evaluations of Learning (EOLs) are even more effective

 

What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of student-written reports?

How do you include your students in the process and product of their written reports?

What feedback do you have for us to help us strengthen our approach to student-written reporting?