Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Power of Words...and Pictures

I recently received an email from a friend who is also an educator.  The email included a link to a clip on You Tube.  I am sharing this clip with you in what will likely be my shortest post...ever.  After you see the clip, there will be no need for explanation or questions about connections you are making.

So that means I need to say what I want to say before you get to the clip.  :)   (I know, I know, you could skip the book and go straight to the movie) In a previous post, I wrote about Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. This book that has stayed with me all year.  Johnston describes language as the teacher's most valuable tool.  We can use it to open our student's minds, to help them see reading, writing, mathematics, art, music, physical activity, recess, friendship, even themselves, in a new way.

As this term, and this year, come to an end, I am asking myself if there are things, ideas, people that I might see in another way.  Can I use the power of words to make my life richer?  Can I use the power of words to help a student or a colleague?

The Power of Words

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stars and Steps

It is report card season.  I know this is not news to you.  I don't even really think you will read this until after... I just want you to remember that there is an after.  :)

 I am getting ready for the "after".  One of the ways I am preparing is returning my thinking to assessment for learning.  Helping me in this quest is the September issue of Educational Leadership magazine.  It is my current reading material for the often joked about, but true story, that I read magazine articles while blow drying my hair.  And some of you have asked how I fit everything in!

September's issue is called Feedback for Learning.  The article I read this morning was by Jan Chappuis and the title says it all, "How Am I Doing?" All of the articles (four) I have read so far make the point that the giving of feedback isn't what causes learning, it is the acting upon it. (Ames, 1992; Black & Wiliam, 1998; Hattie & Timperley, 2007)  The brain that does the most work does the most learning.

Chappuis describes five characteristics of effective feedback.  None of it is brand new to us but it is a nice, concise list:

  1. Strengths are pointed out as well as specific information for improvement.
  2. It is given during the learning, while changes can still be made.
  3. Feedback doesn't work if the student has no understanding of the concept.  That requires more instruction.
  4. It leaves thinking for the students to do.
  5. It is limited to an amount the student can reasonably act on.
In writing about the first point, the author shares a new take on an old idea.  At least it is a new twist for me.  Remember 3 Stars and a Wish?  The word wish just never did it for me, or my students for that matter.  To them "wish" conjured up visions of winning the lottery or going to Disneyland.  Chappuis (Chappuis, Jan. Seven Strategies of assessment for learning (1st ed., p. 80), 2009) calls her form Stars and Stairs.  I am adapting this slightly to Stars and Steps.  I like the image of next steps and use that language with kids all the time.  The form in the magazine looks like this:

Anne Davies often says,"Adapt, don't adopt." Applying that adage, I would change the name as previously mentioned and I might just switch out the steps for a couple of cute little footprints!

The fourth point makes me think of something we have learned through our residency with Regie Routman and her associate, Nancy McLean.  Chappuis uses an example that Nancy also showed in editing conferences with our writers.  Instead of doing all of the work for them, show them where they need to do some editing, but leave them to figure out what needs to be changed.  Routman calls what she expects them to do "The Non-Negotiables".  It is a co-created list of the things she can reasonably expect most of them to take care of during the editing stage:
  • Sentences beginning with capital letters
  • Sentences ending with punctuation
  • Words I expect you to know spelled correctly
When they bring writing that is to be published they must have tried these things first.  Then she makes dots like in the picture below to show them where they still have work to do.  Each dot represents one of the non-negotiables that they have not attended to.

                                                       (excerpted from the article)

And then, when she thinks each child has done what they can, Regie takes care of the rest.  She explains to them that all writers have an editor. (Even the writer of Captain Underpants!)

Just a note of thanks to Rod Epp who graciously helped me learn some new skills to use in this blog.  I try not to ask the same question twice but I seem to be a very curious person.  :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Counts?

Over the past couple of months, many of you have had conversations about what counts in your classrooms.  Fall is a time when we establish those routines and build the community that will sustain us through the year.  I have overheard and participated in many diverse conversations including:

  • What counts in lining up, cleaning up or sitting on the carpet?
  • What is important to us in working together?
  • How do you choose a just right book?
  • What kind of classroom community do we want to be?
  • What counts in taking care of our classroom library?
  • What counts in thinking like a reader, writer, mathematician... ?

As you co-construct these various criteria with your students you start to define quality for the year.  Quality in terms of the ways you will take care of each other, the ways in which you will think and learn together and quality in the way specific tasks and activities are done.

I no longer work on a daily basis with children.  I work with you.  Together we form communities of learners.  In many of our school-based professional learning communities (PLCs) we have co-constructed criteria for what counts in a PLC.  There are many variations but the following list gets at most of them.

What counts in a quality professional learning community?

Safe Place

·       Feeling safe to share ideas/concerns
·       Saying what you want…without ridicule
·       Taking risks
·       Encouragement

·       Time to reflect
·       Risk-taking
·       Provide safe, loving environment
·       Comfort in participating
·       Supportive and welcoming
·       Review/reinforce/reflect

·       Respect for each other
·       Mutual respect for ideas
·       Respect others opinions

·       Passion for learning together
·       Collaboration – ask questions, share ideas
·       Collaboration
·       Humour
·       Collaboration and teamwork

Goal Oriented
·       Must have a clear goal
·       Relevance
·       Must be purposeful

Open Communication
·       Open communication
·       Active engaged listeners
·       Everyone has a voice

I have also done some reading into what research has to say about what contributes to quality professional learning.  Here is my list so far.

Quality professional learning :

  • is responsive to teachers' needs and goals
  • is sustained over time and involves a substantial number of hours
  • is focussed on group participation; professional learning as a community and in a community
  • is job-embedded: integrated into the daily life of the school
  • is directly linked to student learning
  • provides opportunities for teachers to become actively engaged
  • is connected to a wider context: school goals, divisional priorities, provincial curriculum, validated practices
  • encourages communication between teachers
  • enhances knowledge and skills
  • leads to change in classroom practice

My professional growth plan goal this year is to collect evidence that I facilitate or contribute to quality professional learning.  Before I can start collecting evidence, I need to clearly define quality. My professional inquiry questions are:

What counts in quality professional learning?
Which criteria apply to me as facilitator and co-learner?
What evidence might I collect to self-assess?

My next step is to look at the criteria various PLCs have created, consider what researchers have had to say, and then, categorize my final list.

Your input would be greatly appreciated.  If you know of something I should read, or if you want to pass on something that I should add to my list, please comment here or send me an email or tell me the next time I see you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Summer Reading

Most of you know about my serious reading addiction.  As addictions go... it is relatively harmless.  The biggest casualties are sleep (as in sacrificing it for reading) and money.  And the fact that I can never change my hairstyle because I read magazine articles while I blow dry my hair. I did tell you it was a serious problem.

What better way to relaunch my blog than with a book talk about my favourite summer reads.  I know that we all make decisions about how we use our available time and I make no judgements about that.  I offer the following as recommendations from a co-learner, one who may have more time for reading than you do, one for whom reading and talking about books is pure joy, and one for whom learning starts between the covers of a book.  And, here's where you come in, one who needs to reflect, write and talk about her reading to really understand it.

Best Professional Read of the Summer

Opening Minds, Peter Johnston, 2012 

I can't, and maybe shouldn't, stop thinking about this book.  It was recommended by Regie Routman at a symposium I attended in June.  When Regie Routman recommends a book, I read it.  Like Johnston's
previous  book, Choice Words, this book is about what he describes as our most powerful teaching tool: language.  

The main premise of the book is that as educators our language choices have huge impact on children's learning and who they become.  Johnston describes how language contributes to the development of either a fixed learning frame or a dynamic learning frame.  If you know of psychologist Carol Dweck's research, this may sound familiar to you.  In her book Mindset, Dweck characterizes people as having either a fixed or a growth mindset.  

Both writers describe those with a fixed frame or mindset as believing that you are either smart, or not, able to regulate your own behaviour, or not, able to change, or not.  Those with a dynamic learning frame believe that with effort, practice and strategies they will grow, learn and change.  

Those with a fixed learning frame:
  • Believe that when you do well you must be smart
  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Abandon strategies that previously worked when faced with challenge
  • End result is most important
  • Only worthy when doing well

Those with a dynamic learning frame:
  • Believe that when you do well you must have worked hard
  • Embrace challenge
  • Act and think strategically especially when difficulty is encountered
  • Process is most important
  • Worth not contingent upon always succeeding
After laying out this framework, Johnston poses a question:

How might we encourage a dynamic learning framework?

He has several answers to this question, most focussing on the language we use:
  • How we give feedback.  He recommends using descriptive feedback rather than praise.  We have talked a lot about descriptive feedback in terms of assessment for  learning.  In chapter 4 he makes the case that it affects not only their understanding of the task or process they are getting the feedback on but their view of how learning works and their place within it.  
  • How we frame activities.  Instead of All the Words I Know we write All the Words I Know Now. One small word with huge implications.
  • Give the message over and over that we as people should expect to change.  In order to develop agency, the notion that they have some control over their learning and their lives, children must believe that things are changeable. 
  • Ask questions like, "How did you know that?, "How did you do that?", and "What are you thinking?".  We've been doing this but from Johnston I have learned that it does way more that I could ever have hoped for.
  • Chapters including: 
Any Other Ways to Think about That? Inquiry, Dialogue, Uncertainty and Difference
Social Imagination ( seeing behaviour through fixed and dynamic frames )
Moral Agency: Moral Development and Civic Engagement

Who might want to read this book?

  • An individual or group wanting a book study guaranteed to provoke thought and conversation
  • An individual or group with an interest in assessment for learning
  • An individual or group with an interest in social responsibility or social justice
  • An individual or group with an interest in literacy
  • An individual or group with an interest in inquiry
I know what you're thinking.  
You're thinking, " How could one 124 page book reach that many groups?".  

My answer would be that this book is now in my top 3, all-time, must-read, life-altering (makes me think  about my own kids differently), foundational- to -my -beliefs, books.  

And yes... you can borrow my copy.