Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Learning Moments: A #peel21st Blog Hop

The prompt: What has been your most memorable learning moment this fall?

The answer:I don't know if I can pick a single learning moment. I have seen students enjoy an inquiry/research/project based biology strand in many different ways (allowing us to focus on the overarching learning goals of the course). I have seen students completely new to a topic struggle and work until they reached an ah-ha moment; or at least declared they would keep at it until they figured it out. Maybe the only answer I can actually use is my own learning moment - although there have been many.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the mutual lessons between myself and my students are the most valuable. The one that comes to mind as I write is a lesson of mutual communication. It often takes some moments of frustration to get my class to really tell me what they need so that I can make changes or adjust a lesson, or add something to a class. When these doors are opened to communicate, a lot of things become possible.

Now they are more willing to speak up and ask for things instead of assuming I will say no. And I hope that they will also be able to listen to my suggestions more willingly.

This is a battle I fight for every semester in my senior flipped classrooms. I am trying to find a way to help it along sooner. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall in my own room to try to spot those moments that hinder what I am seeking. I am trying to work on myself first.

Here are the participant in tonight's blog hop. Hop around and join in the fun!

Jason Richeahttp://beyondangrybirds.blogspot.ca/2015/11/best-moment.html
Jonathan Sohttp://mrsoclassroom.blogspot.ca/2015/11/the-best-learning-moment-this-fall.html
Amit Mehrotrahttp://mramitmehrotra.blogspot.ca/2015/11/peel21st-november-blog-hop-my-best.html
Tina Zitahttps://misszita.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/peel21st-blog-hop-my-one-best-thing/
Jim Cashhttp://makelearn.org/2015/11/15/memorable-learning-moment/
Melanie Mulcasterhttp://valleyslearningcommons.blogspot.ca/2015/11/my-best-moments-so-far-in-2015-happen.html
Heather Lyehttp://teachinginspirations.blogspot.com/2015/11/learning-moments-peel21st-blog-hop.html
Erica Armstronghttp://msarmstrong.ca/2015/11/17/my-most-memorable-learning-moment-of-this-fall/
Matt Fletcherhttps://heymrfletcher.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/peel21st-november-blog-hop-my-best-moment/
Jason Wigmorehttps://jwigmore.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/peel21st-blog-hop-my-most-memorable-moment
Shivonne Lewis-Younghttps://slewisyoung.wordpress.com/
Matthew Forestierihttp://www.matthewforestieri.com/2015/11/18/peel21st-

Monday, October 26, 2015

Creating Culture: A #flipclass #FlashBlog

Hello #flipclass friends & visitors!

In this week's #flipclass chat we are discussing classroom and school culture and have been asked to blog about how we create culture in our flipped classrooms and/or schools.

I have blogged about embarking on a journey to create a better culture of communication in my classroom and am attempting to use a strategy called Accountable Talk (it was proposed within our board as a numeracy strategy to get kids talking about their thinking - so I thought "two birds, one stone". I am going to try to reflect on how I think this is going and how I think it helps to create a positive culture in my classroom.

First of all I would like to acknowledge the light bulb moment I had recently - I have to change my own mind set and habits to really make this ever work. I am not there yet. It is difficult. It is a work in progress. I still struggle to stay out of it completely. But perhaps that will never stop. Sometimes a question needs to be rephrased, or an example is needed to clarify.

This strategy makes discussions take longer at first, so requires a lot of patience and a lot of direct instruction around why and how it can/should be used. I am trying really hard to interject its ideas into conversations I am "eavesdropping" on within my class and trying to speak less and less during full class discussions. My goal is to merely become the facilitator of the conversation (i.e. help them still speak one at a time and remind them when they need to rephrase to maintain a positive discussion).

I have witnessed a few groups of students putting the strategy into place more often in their own conversations (hooray!) but ultimately I hope to see it more. I am getting better at it (slowly) myself and it is starting to rub off on the students. For example, I gave my Grade 11 physics class some discussion questions at the start of class surrounding Newton's first and second laws. They were given time to discuss in their groups first and then I usually pick one or two for full class discussion (so that I can make sure we are all on the same page).

My biggest struggle at this point is how to help a conversation get started when they are not sure how to begin (without going back to my old habits that lead to student-teacher conversation). But that will have to be a bigger thought for another day. But I am seeing them getting used to my madness - one student flat out realized "she's not going to give us this answer, I need to just say something". So he did. And it helped kick off a conversation with multiple participants and all I had to say was "who agrees? why do you agree? what can you add? ...". It felt amazing. They were starting to get it - and it sounded like they were trusting each other, and pushing each other to be better without a single negative comment. It was as if the conversation was building them up, instead of threatening them to need to be right. They were no longer seeking my validation, they were seeking explanations that they could understand - that they built themselves, without needing to use my words.

The part that felt the best was talking to that student who started it all off after the fact when he added "I also get why you do this now. It is easier for us to help each other because we are learning this together." He added on to this idea by clarifying that because they were all trying to learn it they could relate to the difficulties and struggles in a way that I couldn't.

This is why I think of myself as a coach now instead of as a "teacher".

Monday, October 12, 2015

Trying Some New Things

Since meeting with my department to hash out some overarching learning goals (OLGs - which are described in this entry) for Gr 10 science I have been able to start working on something else - true student self-evaluation and reflection.

The first piece we could do overall without the OLGs (but it may be less effective without them). I have created class OneNote files so that there is one file that has all of my students in it, but do not have to worry about other students in the class looking at each others reflections. And no more paper! Hooray!

Students have three tabs in the file. The first is an ePortfolio where I am asking them to take snapshots of their learning and evidence of learning so that they can track their progress. That is the hope, anyway. Basically I got this under way last week and it took a bunch of time away from other things, but I am hoping that now that they are familiar with it they will be able to do this more effectively and with less guidance. Students can create pages within this tab and have been told they can choose how they want to organize their portfolio. For example, my Gr 10s were asked to take a photo of their formative quiz, something they were proud of, as well as at least parts of their test (minimum of one part of the test they were proud of/improved on and one part they wanted to improve on). They also had to include a photo of their self-evaluation (described below). I am hoping that this can help them see their own improvement and give me a place to go to check details when writing reports or talking to parents. I could even open the file to show a parent if needed.

The second tab is for reflection. Students have a page with their SMART goal from the start of the semester and now have a page where they did a reflection on their learning skills for the progress report. I referenced this when doing their progress report cards, taking their evaluations of themselves into consideration. This can also allow for some conversation with individual students if needed who may not be self-evaluating as accurately as I would like so we can find misconceptions about what the learning skills mean. The third tab is for notes, and students can choose to use this as a place to store notes if they would like to.

The next big thing I am trying is to use the OLGs explicitly in class. The Gr 10 OLGs are written (permanently) on the board at the front of the room and have been posted on our class site for easy access. I am trying to make reference to them in various classes in conjunction with a specific learning goal to help give the class direction and meaning. I will also reference specific ones for every project or evaluation we do so that the students know what the appropriate big ideas are.

After the first chemistry test I was inspired to create the students a checklist relating back to the OLGs and specific learning goals. When I returned they marked test to them they were given this checklist (as a met/not yet met list) and they had to use my comments, etc to help them evaluate themselves to identify what they should continue to work on. This forced students who would usually just look at the mark, or who might even recycle their work without giving it much thought, a reason to actually look at it carefully and start to self-regulate.

What I hope to do with this for future evaluations is to give them the checklist BEFORE the evaluation to do in pencil and hand in, and then I will return it to them after to go through the same process so that we can hopefully identify areas to work on more effectively. If nothing else I am hoping it will help some students put some focus into their studying, as many students do not spend study time wisely.

Would love to hear about other ideas you are trying out there with OLGs, learning goals, and self-evaluation!

Approaching Change

A week or two ago a colleague asked a great question. What needs to come first: a shift in mindset or a forced shift in practice?

This question was in context of creating change in assessment practices where a lot of change is necessary and we are unsure how much growth mindset we will encounter when we try to create that change. I am curious to hear how others may have tackled something like this...or how you think you might tackle it. Here is some background info if you think you might have some ideas/advice for me:

We have a small team of teachers who have joined a working team to both collectively move assessment practice forward, and to help each other achieve personal goals of change in assessment practice. The latter is the primary goal at this time.

We are working together using Rethinking Letter Grades (mentioned in my last post) to start to shape the foundation while getting people to revisit backward design (a concept that is not new, but has probably not been formalized in many areas of the school in a long time - teachers coming into a course are rarely being handed this type of thing). So at our next meeting (which is next week) we are going to help guide each other through creating Overarching Learning Goals for a course. Now here is the thing that this not help us do....it will not help us gauge the willingness of the rest of the staff to try to undertake this - a task we will probably be attempting to undertake next semester.

So if we assume that, for the most part, we are the willing group then we have to decide: Do we try to tackle the willingness first? or do you just go head on into forcing them to make a change?

This question interests me because there will obviously be many options (combinations of the two options anyway) that will differ based on your leadership style and personality. But I really do wonder what will be the most effective approach.

I think I am leaning towards a joint approach. That we will have to use the purpose of the changes to convince people to be willing to change. But I don't think it will be an easy road.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A New Year with #AssessPeel

We are far enough into the new school year now to have "written" our progress reports (for a semestered secondary school, anyway) and I am happy to be entrenched in a few things related to assessment and evaluation, both in my own classroom and with the board. Here are some of the highlights which I hope to share in more detail as the year trucks on.

1. Peel Teacher Assessment Working Team

Last year I was pleased to be asked by my vice principal to join the PTAWT as a representative of our superintendency. Each superintendent has a group of schools that they represent so there are about 10-12 teachers on this team (plus the coordinating principals and superintendent) and 3 facilitators (the assessment instructional coordinator and 2 instructional coaches).

The teacher group meets 3-4 times in the school year, as does the administrator group (PAAWT) and then we we have a chance to meet as a whole group at the end of the school year. This started in second semester of last year and both groups identified similar areas to work on, but obviously our team is focusing on the in-class portions of the topics. We are currently working on overarching learning goals (OLGs) and learning goals using Rethinking Letter Grades (a resource by a couple of teachers in BC) to work with OLGs and should be moving into learning goals more specifically at our next session.

OLGs are known as Big Ideas in the book mentioned below and are essentially the broad spectrum learning goals of a course (usually 3-5 goals) that marry the skills (dos) and content (knows) of the course (while curriculum documents usually have a lot of this separate and do not over-arch the entire course).

2. Rethinking Letter Grades

I eluding to us using this resource with the PTAWT above, and I am also using it on my own time and with my schools assessment working team. I had a day with my science teacher team in mid September where we used some of the suggestions for creating big ideas (OLGs) for our Grade 9 and 10 academic courses. It is definitely a process and we were more efficient when we got to working on the Grade 10 course. What I love about creating and using OLGs is how easily it lends itself to other things, such as backward design of the course and bringing a focus to every class and evaluation used. It can provide a lot of structure, if you let it.

What the book really does with these ideas is lead you to creating a Learning Map - essentially a rubric for the course! This can be used to determine a final level/grade for each student at the end of the course and to map progress along the way. This is the stage I am now working on. Trying to come up with what each OLG looks like at each level (in student friendly language). I am a big fan of throwing grades out as much as possible. It should be about the learning (and the progress made), not about some number that we say a student achieves. A lot more motivation comes to students who can look for meaningful (specific) things they can work on to improve, instead of trying to use numbers to motivate them (many kids are not motivated by their marks at all).

3. Co-Facilitating a Book Talk

Our instructional coordinator of assessment has asked me to co-facilitate a book talk around Rethinking Letter Grades with her this month. It is running on 3 Wednesdays after school from Oct 14-28. We have also pulled another of the teachers from the PTAWT to join us and a few of my colleagues have signed up for the sessions. We are still hoping to add a few more participants, so if you are a Peel teacher and interested sign up on My Learning Plan ASAP.

4. Proposal for OAME

Last year I made an attempt to become a presenter for OAME around my flipped classroom and assessment practices but was unsuccessful. This years conference has a focus essentially around "diving into things" so I have submitted a proposal around the above mentioned book. My fingers are crossed and I am thankful for getting to do this book talk first so that I will have some ideas around a flow to use for the session if I am approved.