Teaching and Assessment practices foster learning

January 27, 2013

Recent research in Education tells us that pupils learn best when they know: what they must achieve in their work, what they should add if they are able to, and what they could do to enhance their performance.
In lessons this means that teachers give pupils more information about what they are going to learn, more strategies to actively engage them, more opportunities for reflection and more ways to demonstrate learning. Using criteria is one way to create conditions to maintain rigor, and provoke feedback and self-assessment. Criteria helps pupils answer the questions:

  • How will I know whether I’ve achieved the learning target?
  • How will I know whether I’ve met the expectations for a learning activity or project?

Often these teaching practices open the door for creativity and the chance to act on a passion. For example, grade 6 students in my school went beyond cleaning the shoreline of Alpha Lake and connected their learning to a community issue – banning plastic bags. Equipped with research, students decided for themselves if they would support or oppose a plastic bag ban.
Driven by passion,  two students made a presentation of their findings to our town Mayor,  who subsequently re-introduced the subject of banning plastic bags in Whistler.  Then, the students published a letter to the editor in the local paper.  Surprisingly, a columnist wrote a reply with the intent to quiet their voices.  Undeterred, the students crafted a humorous response which was also published.  Now the columnist is joining forces with the students to brainstorm ways to tackle the problem of plastic litter in our community.

At each learning opportunity, the classroom teacher discussed the elements of published work with her students and the students used the criteria they developed to guide their writing.  As this case shows, the best feedback is authentic – published articles, a meeting with the Mayor, and a collaborative meeting with the columnist.  Without a doubt, the students achieved their learning goals.


School Buses – Building a Community Culture

November 18, 2012

Like many schools, we have a progressive discipline policy to deal with behavior on the school bus.  It follows the traditional reward and punishment model. If you misbehave or break the “bus rules”, which are necessary for safety, you can be suspended from riding the bus.  If you behave, you can ride the bus.  After a year of implementing this model diligently, I have come to the conclusion that this approach may be effective in the short term but it does not change behavior for the long term.  I have included this Daniel Pink video because it prompts us to think differently about how we might manage and maintain orderly conduct in our schools, classrooms and on our school buses.

Synthesizing the research, Daniel Pink highlights three components for motivation and engagement: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  He concedes that the research does indeed show that reward works in circumstances that are characterized by lower-level thinking or simple skill application.  However, higher-level thinking and skill development such as that required of children to become caring, community citizens, requires a different approach.  As it turns out, building democratic or inclusive communities is an alternative supported by the research. Here is an example of how I am applying this concept in my practice.

Over the past few weeks I have been working with the students in grade 7 to resolve some conflicts and manage the challenges that pop up during the bus ride home.  Some of these incidents have led to words and actions that are just not okay, and drivers, students and parents have raised concerns.

Of course, the easiest response would have been to use the ‘stick’ and ban the offending students from the bus.  Instead, I have chosen a path that engages our students and staff in a problem solving process.  Drivers, students and administrators meet to discuss why and how these conflicts are arising and then brainstorm how the issues can be resolved to meet the needs of all parties.  I lead the conversation by starting with a round of observations, careful to redirect accusation or judgement.  Then I acknowledge that student needs include socializing with their peers and driver needs include freedom from distraction.  I then lead a brainstorming session to develop ways to meet these needs.

At the students’ suggestion, we have reserved seats for the grade 7s at the back of the bus and provide the opportunity for them to board the bus first.  In response to this privilege, they set the tone and model safe, respectable behavior.  I check-in with the students and drivers to give feedback.

So far, I have been impressed with the honesty and maturity that our students have expressed in response to these meetings and remedies.  I am not so naive to think that all our problems with bus behavior have been resolved.  It will take time for the “role models” to make an impact.  I am, however, hopeful that working on resolutions as a community is the start and I appreciate the opportunity to model and put into practice, my beliefs for our students, staff and community.


Sharing – Adding Meaning to Learning

November 18, 2012
Creative Commons Image by Darren Kuropatwa

This image and quote synthesizes my thinking about the meaning of “authentic learning”.  In my readings of both Reggio Inspired approaches to early learning and 21st Century Learning, I have found a common element. In both of these philosophies, students not only present their learning to real audiences, but they prepare their work for and often engage with their community in the process.  Students are engaged in learning that is meaningful for them and created for a real audience.  School is not merely preparation for later life.  School is life and school work is authentic.

Hands-on learning and experiential education includes a dimension real life.  We are going beyond the models and simulations of my school days. Here are some examples that illustrate this dimension:

Giving student work a real audience provides another opportunity to deepen understanding, reflect on learning and make connections to  a community. The role of the educator is thus to build the capacity of children and teens to explore, discover, create and communicate.


Documentation – replace decoration with education

July 23, 2012

What is the purpose of a bulletin board in schools if not to display learning, deepen the learning in our students and ourselves, and invite others to participate in the learning experience?

Educational displays reflect our school or class culture, show what we value, and inspire further reflection and possible avenues of new pursuits.  Documenation that includes student reflections and images along side their work, reveals the their thinking and learning processes.  Teacher reflections can project what has been learned beyond the content knowledge (skills,  aptitudes, attitudes).  This form of documentation can inform the public of the quality of learning that happens in our school. As we present big ideas to our students to ponder, we can also invite the community to respond.

  • Making learning and learners visible makes learning possible
  • Documentation creates public forums for reflection and helps learning communities form (making connections across classrooms and into the community)
  • Powerful learning moments inform us about who we are as learners and teachers

At the Project Zero Classroom (Harvard Summer Institute), an example of how to elicit community participation was suggested.  Students (grade one) were exploring “Why the harbour is important to our City?”  On a doccumentation display, the public was invited to respond to this question via Twitter #harbourworkers.  This example made me think about how we participate in the democratic process today.  Online feedback  and gathering  input from partner groups is now part of our culture. We can teach students how to be active citizens and responsible online contributors by establishing these patterns of interaction in our schools.


Learning Empowered by Technology

February 12, 2012
Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit
presented by the SFU Faculty of Education  and
Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy
Feburary 2012

I spent a day listening, thinking and reflecting on the notion of  “Learning Empowered by Technology”.  Some of what I heard, reinforced my own thinking.  But, what I had not thought about was the urgency with which we need to transform our learning systems.  With the first wave of baby boomers reaching age 65 this year, Canada is on the brink of change.  The knowledge based economy demands 21st Century Skills to be innovative and sustainable.

 21st Century Skills

What do we want our children to learn in the 21st Century? What does technology enable us to do that we can not do without it?
  • Critical thinking and problem solving,
  • Creativity and innovation,
  • Collaboration, teamwork and leadership,
  • Cross-cultural understanding,
  • Communications, computing and ICT literacy,
  • Career and learning self-reliance, and
  • Caring for personal health and plane

How is the content going to support these attributes?

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “a faster horse.” – Henry Ford

Critical Leadership

The role of Principals and Vice Prinicpals is not optional – P/VPs must lead the change, becoming digital learning leaders.  They have the responsiblility to model it, learn it and live it.  In the first wave of innovation, come P/VPs working along side Teacher-Librarians who have skills and knowledge of information technologies and keen Teachers who have the experience, passion and pedagogical knowledge. (Chris Kennedy, Superintendent, SD#45)

Further, he suggests that each District must find the Content or Theme that is “going to make technology infusion sticky”.  West Vancouver’s theme is “Every child is a digital writer”.

Investing in Infrastructure – Supporting BYOD

Putting mobile devices in the hands of all learners is beyond the fiscal capacity of most if not all public schools.  Therefore, accepting models built on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concepts must be embraced.  An example might be:  1/3 owned, 1/3 leased, 1/3 provided (District Specifications)  The BYOD concept may require a shift in mind set.  We need to let go of the notion that public education must provide equally for all.  We need to find ways to provide equal access to 1:1 cmputing that work for our community.  Thus, we must invest in infrastructure and renewal of such, not as “special projects” but as annual costs. To be effective and responsive.  Technology departments must be informed by both education and finances within a district.

Recognizing and Encouraging learning beyond the classroom

Current trends, expressed in the BCEdPlan include Flexibility which includes embracing and maximizing informal learning.  Learning takes place in may domains of student’s life.  Tapping into the resources of the community and acknowledging the work of students as they explore, learn and develop outside the school are components of flexible learning and education.  Developing “Connected Classrooms” where students and educators connect, collaborate and create with others on a global scale is another part.  Making learning relevant, connected and unlimited can be acheived through digital means as technology overcomes barriers of access, need and geography.  When all students have access to this form of learning, then learning becomes transformative for all.

Ask not what great teaching looks like, but what does Great Learning look like? 

Shifting Focus Back to Learning

Showcase New Learning

In our current political and fiscal climate, people are calling for “transparency”.  A similar trend can be found in the education.  Here we use the terms like: documenting learning, and making learning visible (to students, parents, community).  As Shelly Wright explained when inquiry and technology are a part of a classroom, students go from handing-in assignments to publishing their assignments.  Students are no longer writing and sharing their ideas with only their teachers, they are engaged in producing work for an authentic audience.

The Urgent Challenge – The Imminent Crisis

We are currently experiencing a work force crisis where a 421,000 worker shortfall exists in Canada.  (Extrapolated from Miner, R (2012) People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People )

Accelerating technological advances have rendered many jobs obsolete, raised the skill requirements of jobs in all sectors, and are producing new jobs at an unimagined rate.  More formal, education, technical training and soft skills are now demanded of workers in all sectors.  It is estimated that over 80% of all jobs in Canada now require some post-secondary education or training. An increasing number of people without jobs will co-exist with an even larger number of jobs without people.  Basically the people looking for work do not have the education or skills required by the employers. (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada).
Innovative Farmers use GPS and Satelite Technology to enhance productivity
“People’s skills don’t match the skills required in the workplace,” says Morley Gunderson, CIBC Chair in Youth Employment at U of T.  Employers in all sectors want their employees to have people skills, to be articulate, literate, to work with teams.
We can not afford to wait.  Transformation of our education system is essential.  It starts here.  As Principals, it is our moral obligation to hire strategically,  foster transformative change and showcase innovation when it happens.
Presenters at this conference:
Chris Kennedy – Own It, Guide It, Engage With It
http://cultureofyes.ca/ @chrkennedy
Superintendent, West Vancouver
Brian Kuhn – District Technolgy Leader
SD#43, Coquitlam
Dr. Kris Magnusson, Dean
Faculty of Education,  SFU

21st Century Pedagogy

January 31, 2012

21st Century Pedagogy

What skills sets are students using today in schools that we may not have 15 years ago?

Today’s classroom is changing.  Teachers are recreating the classroom experience for students.  With assessment for learning strategies, students know the purpose for their learning, they are co-constructing criteria as a baseline for success, students practice self-assessment and peer assessment and then mkae learning goals make improvements.    We are requiring them to take responsibility for their learning and to regulate their behavior intrinsically.

Classroom are becoming design shops and centers for inquiry.  The new pedagogical language includes project based learning, understanding by design, inquiry based learning, personalized learning.  Common to each of these types of teaching and learning is  higher level thinking skills, and relevant experiential learning.  Hence, out of these environments is the need for educators to foster and make room for self-regulation, passion and independence.



Documentation – Making Children’s Learning Visible

January 23, 2012

The Lunch Project, Early Childhood Research and Practice, Vol 7 No 1, Josie Floerchinger, Dunlap Exemplary Preschool, Des Moines, Iowa

In my search to understand how to document children’s learning in ways that make it explicit to children, parents and community, I came across an article that described a long term project undertaken by 3 to 5 years in a pre-school which follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy.  As I read through the teacher’s reflections, I realized that she was engaged in inquiry.  Whilst the children were investigating where their lunch came from, the teacher was examining her practice and reflecting on ways to improve what she did to encourage the children’s learning.

 I realized from the children’s discussion that they didn’t have much background knowledge about the process of making our lunch. I did know that lunch was a very important part of our day. The children especially enjoyed the duty of being assigned to be the food helper, where they helped Noemi set the table and prepare the lunch for the rest of the class. I was beginning to think lunch would be a good topic to explore for a project.

 To capture the children’s initial  knowledge and understanding, the teacher makes a concept map with the children. The lunch project then evolves: trips to the parking lot to photograph the food truck which delivers the food and ask questions of the driver, sketches and construction of a cardboard food truck using the photographs, development of questions in preparation for the field trip to the kitchen, construction of a dishwasher, oven and food cart based on photographs, letter writing to thank the people who make lunch, production of an information book about the lunch kitchen, and a movie to document how lunch is made, delivered and consumed.


As the teacher initiates this project, she sets the learning goals.  Among her goals is to help children develop questions to gain information and another is to help children develop and practice planning and organization skills.  In her reflection she notes that the children have shown progress with respect to these two goals compared to an earlier pond project.  She states that the questions are more on topic and geared to gather information.  Planning for the field trip is done with the children.  Check lists for supplies including cell phone, first aid kit, and camera are made and used prior to departure.  With this authentic experience, the children are learning organization skills.  The teacher observes new knowledge and vocabulary expressed in role play.

I realize the importance of play in the life of preschoolers and the value of giving them enough time to establish an elaborate play structure. Through this type of play, the children are able to solidify their understanding of the experiences that have been part of the project. Children need these opportunities to go over and over a scenario in order to make the connections between their newly gained knowledge and their previous learning experiences. They are developing elaborate structures of understanding in their minds based on the type of dramatic play involved in project learning.

Finally, the teacher brings closure to the project by developing a new concept map.  The two maps are displayed in the hallway to make the children’s learning visible to all.