Growth Mindset

15 Dec

Almost daily I’m seeing references to the “Growth Mindset” on Twitter and am now hearing about it in professional development sessions and so I’ve decided to read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. So far, it’s fascinating and has caused a lot of self reflection for me. In many ways, I feel that I have a growth mindset and I hope that it comes across in the classroom, but I know that for most of my teenage years, I had the fixed mindset. I was the mark hungry student who didn’t really care about feedback as my whole focus was getting into university to become a teacher.

To be honest, I don’t think I valued the idea of learning and in fact, I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a learner. I think I grew up with always contemplating the future and didn’t really process that what was more important, was the journey I was on, not the destination. I often try to put myself back into the role of the student and imagine myself in my own classroom. If I had the mindset I have now, I would love my class, but if I was my teenage self in my classroom, I would find it frustrating. Frustrating that there is so much freedom, frustrating in that I wouldn’t receive marks, and frustrating because I didn’t see the value in being a learner. Somewhere along the line, the love of learning disappeared for me.

With considering my current mindset and former one, I have learned. I have learned that I need to be fostering the growth mindset. The thinking that we can always be improving, that learning doesn’t end with a grade, that we have to try, that we have to fail, that challenges help us learn and grow, and that anyone can be a teacher – no matter their age or education level.

My learning must continue – I owe it to my students and their future success.

When a teacher messes up…

14 Dec

My blog is one that often focuses on the positive experiences in my classroom but today’s post reflects on an activity that didn’t work out as planned.

In our combined HSP 3U classes, Dan and I try to provide our students with multiple opportunities to connect and collaborate and this past Thursday was an attempt at a new collaborative activity. We wanted to have small group discussions between classes via Google Hangout. An awesome idea in theory, but not so in practicality. We had some issues with the Internet, when they got a connection, it was hard for the students to hear each other, and it took a long time to get organized. Some decent conversations took place, but many of my students didn’t feel this activity was as effective as the threaded written conversations we have had in Google Classroom with Dan’s class.

However, the positive that emerged from this was:
– it was an authentic experience for them in seeing their teacher have something not work out
– it opened the door for a teachable moment where we talked about taking a risk especially if we think it might not work out (I had expressed to my students that I was concerned with bandwidth from the multiple Google Hangouts)
– I took responsibility for the fact that the activity didn’t work out as well as anticipated (which I don’t think happens enough by adults in front of children and teens)
– we talked about how making a “mistake” provides an opportunity for learning (I definitely learned a lot and reflected on it with them)
– it modelled the “growth mindset” as I talked about that this experience won’t prevent me from trying a modified version of this activity again and that in fact I feel challenged to try harder

So, our content based activity didn’t work out as planned, upon reflection though, more powerful learning took place. The debrief, post activity discussion, and subsequent reflection are far more meaningful learning in my humble opinion…


3 Dec

The past few weeks have been very interesting for me. I feel honoured to be involved in so many projects right now (AER Lead Team (assessment and evaluation school team), teaching a pilot course, ELDP (English learning digital project), and a Learning Cycle on descriptive feedback) as it is fulfilling the learner in me. Much of my time is spent evaluating my own practice as well as reflecting on how to improve my skills in the classroom. My mind is super stimulated – almost to the point that I’m having trouble clarifying my thoughts as I’m thinking from so many differing perspectives.

Through all this learning, I’m thankful that I work with a very supportive network. Over the last few weeks, I have had some of the most thought-provoking and deep pedagogical conversations of my career and it is fueling my passion. In previous years at this point in the semester, I would be winding down and getting ready for the holiday season, but I’m so inspired right now.

So thank you to those who are helping me on this journey and that I feel blessed to work with and learn from so many passionate educators here in WRDSB but also in my Twitter PLN. You all rock :)

Descriptive Feedback Experiment

2 Dec

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about assessment and descriptive feedback. I’m currently on a Learning Cycle here at CHCI related to the idea of descriptive feedback and it has pushed my thinking on how I help my students. We all know that good feedback is timely and specific, but I think we are under the impression that “good” feedback are the comments we write on a finished product. In my experience, I actually find that to be too late and the skeptic in me says that students don’t really read our comments, but rather only focus on the rubric…

In many cases I think the most effective feedback happens during the process rather than on the finished product. I have also found that students are much more likely to incorporate feedback into their work if it’s given as an oral conversation as opposed to written comments. I’m not saying that written feedback doesn’t have a place in the classroom as I believe it does, however, I’ve seen the most improvement from my students after conversations because they were active participants rather than consumers. It also provides the students with the opportunity to bounce ideas off me to further their thinking. For me, it is helpful when it comes to marking because I have been involved in the process and am well aware of their strengths and weaker areas. It makes my marking more efficient, but it also puts the emphasis on the learning and process rather than the end product.

The progress from this style of feedback is evident in my 3UU class. I am experimenting with “Profile” sheets that each student and I collaborate on regularly. My students have a copy of this sheet in their respective Google Drives and as I’ve made observations, had conversations, conferences, or graded work, I write my feedback on the document. My students then respond back with their thoughts and another layer of feedback happens asynchronously. I’ve been experimenting with this for the last few weeks, and the results have been awesome! The quality of student work has increased and many students have commented that they appreciate how their grades are co-constructed and collaborated upon as opposed to just receiving a mark of unidentified origin. The really interesting aspect though, is that this form is primarily about feedback not marks and yet many students feel more comfortable with it than the numbers. The focus is now on learning and improving intrinsically and not from the extrinsic motivator of grades.

All that being said, one other idea that I firmly believe in is trust. I spend a lot of time circulating and interacting with the students, but I also give them a lot of space. I want them to know that I’m a part of their journey, however, they need to feel comfortable enough to make decisions and not be afraid to encounter “bumps” along the way. I also want them to take risks and not always ask permission before they act. They know that they can reevaluate, refocus, and or change direction if it doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped because learning doesn’t often happen in a linear fashion.

It’s a delicate balance, but ultimately, the most important aspect of my job.

Challenge Accepted

28 Nov

One of the many characteristics that I love about my 3uu class is that they rise to challenges and are now challenging me as well. I’ve never had a class who has taken my own teaching style and turned it back on me and I love it!

One simple way they are challenging me is by now sending me resources and thought-provoking videos or images they have found in their personal learning. Two of my students sent me this video “Why I hate school but love education” and are pushing me to embody these ideals in my classroom. They often talk about how they wonder why they “need to know” some of the things they learn in other classes and in many cases are actually questioning why they get grades. What I really love, though, is that they aren’t afraid to have these conversations with me and talk about how they love to learn, but don’t feel that school is where they do most of their own learning. They are the ones questioning me and doing so with deep and thoughtful questions and reflections.

My latest challenge involves asking the students to consider their most latest reading (They are self selected groups reading one of Blink, Room, Macbeth, or Brain on Fire – chosen by consensus of the group) and to consider something from the text that has made them think. They are now in the process of making videos that express their thinking. What I love about what is happening is that this is all coming from them. My job has been to listen to their ideas, help them focus their thinking, and offer my support. The results, so far, have been awesome! They are exploring deep issues: making snap judgments about people without getting to know them, social isolation, greed/power/manipulation, and mental health awareness.

I am really looking forward to seeing the continued progress on these deep ideas.

Authentic Experiences

27 Nov

One of my main beliefs about education is that we need to be providing authentic “real-world” experiences for our students and to satisfy this idea, I try to have guest speakers visit my classroom on a regular basis. I often think about how someone from the “field” can provide so much more insight and explanation than I ever could. I truly believe that no matter how much research a person can do, personal experiences can trump research as human beings love to listen to stories. Personal stories evoke emotion and can have so much more of a profound impact.

In my ENG 2PI course, we spent a couple of weeks learning about mental health and the variety of treatments available. As this happened over Remembrance Day, we focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and veterans. Through our research, we learned that a treatment that is proving to be quite beneficial is that of using therapy dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD. We did some further research and discovered that organizations here in Ontario were on the forefront of this initiative. We invited Elizabeth Baker from Thames Centre Service Dogs and this morning she came to talk to our class about their work.

What unfolded was more than I could have expected. From the moment she and Oliver (her personal therapy dog) arrived, my students were engaged. They asked deep and thoughtful questions, were an amazing audience, and showed such respect. I was so proud as so often applied level students are seen as the ones who don’t possess these qualities but my students yet again broke the stereotype. She described the roles her dogs play in helping people and in many cases, the dogs are used to help people in extremely heart-wrenching situations. For the whole class, everyone (including me) sat with our jaws on the ground as her stories truly touched our hearts.

The transformation in my students was also amazing. Students who often don’t say anything were smiling and laughing, students who are often quiet and reserved were sharing stories about their own lives and feelings, and students who I can tell have a lot of pain in their lives were comforted and relaxed. I wish I could say the reason for this was something I did, but the truth is that it was Oliver who gave these wonderful feelings to the students. What he gave to my students as human beings was more than I could ever have done in class today.

It speaks volumes as to why it’s crucial to give these students authentic experiences that are about life…

A conversation with Anne (@adoelman)

24 Nov

This morning I spent time with one of the most amazing people on Earth, Anne Doelman. We discussed a whole variety of ideas related to education, but she asked me a question that not many people do. She asked how did my thinking get to where it is now? We share similar views when it comes to education, but as she pointed out, it’s fascinating how we have taken different pathways to arrive at a similar point on the journey. I explained my thinking at the time, but upon further reflection, some other experiences have shaped me.

I have mentioned before that I come from a teaching background and that has had a profound impact on my teaching, but in the last few years, it’s been more of a realization that what I was doing, just doesn’t seem to make sense. Asking students to think about texts in the same way (or getting frustrated when they Googled those ideas since many of them are repeated year to year), having them think about ideas that are difficult for them to conceptualize (racial segregation in the Southern US in To Kill A Mockingbird when we are in Ontario), and the realization that very few students go on to study English at the post secondary level are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why I’ve developed some of my views.

In some ways though, I’m currently feeling disillusioned with the education process. We have just had midterm report cards go home and in all honesty, I am not a fan of grades. I feel like all they do is take the emphasis off learning and that is the heart of my classroom. In WRDSB, we have our AER document with the focus on triangulating grades, but I’m worried that in many cases, it’s still the products that are winning out as the driving force behind a student’s mark. Don’t get me wrong, I love the AER and triangulation and use both extensively when preparing each student’s grade, yet I worry I’m in the minority. Why is it that at secondary we don’t put a lot of stock into a conversation with a student? Why aren’t we incorporating their contributions to class discussions in their grade? But in actuality, I’m wondering why do we still focus on grades? The argument that “it’s for university” is getting old. I think in many cases it’s just easier to rely on the products and the rubrics to demonstrate as “evidence of learning”. They cover us if we need to defend a grade, but I still can’t help but wonder what our classrooms would look like if we only gave descriptive feedback…

Of course we would get push back, but if it’s best for students, parents and students will come around. (Mine are already there.) In my humble opinion, it’s a battle worth fighting.


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