Reflecting on the Year

23 Jun

Hands down, this has been my favourite year of my career. So in honour of this sentiment, I’m going to write a gratitude post about the year.

1. I had wonderful students who once they acclimatized to my style, were all in with thinking and learning differently. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where I immensely enjoyed all six of my classes this much, but there was never a day this year that I felt apprehensive about the potential for behaviour issues. I was truly blessed with learning with six classes full of fascinating, kind, considerate, and lovely students.

2. I am no longer on an island in my pedagogical beliefs. For a long time, the way I think about education has been both beneficial because it’s given me a variety of opportunities, but alienating as I really think quite differently than many of my peers. Last year was a start, but this year, I’ve found a core group of individuals that encourage and push my thinking. We interact online, but what I’ve really appreciated is the face to face get togethers that have happened over the last year. We talk about pedagogy, we reflect together, and we plan for how to push even more. I am so thankful these people have come into my life.

3. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities this year. I created an integrated course (3U English with 3U HSP with Dan Ballantyne), I was a part of the English Digital Learning Project (EDLP) here in WRDSB, I attended and presented at BIT14, OTRK12, and Connect2015, I helped facilitate a collaborative project between one of my English classes and Colin Jagoe’s astronomy class, I did two presentations at our WRDSB Learning Carousel, I was on our assessment and evaluation team at the school level, I was a part of two learning cycle teams, I worked on an Action Research Project about the Triangulation of Data, and I was the Acting Department Head for second semester.

So in considering these three ideas, this is why the end of this school year is bittersweet for me. I’m looking forward to a chance to spend some quality time with my girls, to read a lot, and to recharge, but I loved this year. Going to work has been a joy for me and I feel so very blessed to be able to feel and express that sentiment as I know that for many people, going to work is an unpleasant and often discouraging way to spend eight hours a day.

I just feel grateful.

Collaborating and Reflecting with Colin @colinjagoe

29 May

As I’ve mentioned before, this school year has been my favourite of my career. In many ways, I have felt fulfilled in terms of my pedagogical beliefs, but I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with some outstanding educators across Ontario.

At the #BIT14 conference this past November, I happened to sit beside Colin Jagoe during Ron Canuel’s keynote. Ron talked about the importance of taking risks and trying new and innovative approaches to learning and Colin and I decided we needed to somehow work together.

Fast forward to March and we decided that the collaboration would be to put our classes together (his grade 11 astronomy and one of my grade 10 academic) and ask them to create a project. His students were in charge of making the science work and mine were supposed to approach it from a media perspective. We co-designed a task where his students designed ultimate sports that could take place in space and my students were the “marketing” team.

Some reflections and next steps:

1. We asked the students to work together by putting them in groups without any knowledge of the people they were working with and that was interesting. My students discovered that it’s hard to work with someone when you don’t know anything about him or her. In the future, I think it’s important to have some kind of introduction – whether it’s a video or image, it’s obviously important to learn about and make some kind of connection with your group members. (In all honesty, we likely would have done this but we unsure of how much time we might have due to the on-going labour unrest in our profession at the moment.)

2. Students think they are being clear and concise, but it’s not always the case. I think next time it would be good for us as the teachers to model this even more. Colin and I had a Google Doc planning page, but I would have showed them what we were thinking and how we were using it to collaborate. We did our brainstorming on the main page and had an ongoing conversation in the comments. I think it would have been beneficial for students to have seen that aspect of collaboration.

3. We need to teach collaboration skills.

4. Students need to be pushed when it comes to sharing their ideas. My students were hesitant about jumping in and sharing their ideas and in many cases wanted the other class to tell them what to do. It was interesting to me though because my students had really great ideas but were worried they would upset the plan the other students had for how the project was “supposed” to be. I had a number of conversations with students about the of sharing thinking and pushing back on ideas, but all the while being tactful. In the end, I think many of my students realized that they did in fact have great ideas and regretted that they didn’t share their thinking sooner.

5. Reflection is key! My students spent a lot of time thinking about how the project went and didn’t even ask for grades! To me, that is a HUGE win! They reflected and thought about how it could have been better and celebrated what they thought well. It was AWESOME!

6. Working with Colin is amazing! One the characteristics of Colin that I admire the most, is that he is one of the most contemplative and reflective educators in Ontario. We had so many awesome Google Hangouts where we planned, but more importantly, reflected. We talked about our classrooms and how it went and what we considered successes and what we would do next time. It must have been serendipity that brought us together that day at #BIT14. I am already looking forward to a future collaboration next year!

Conversations in Assessment Data

21 May

In all honesty, this year has been hands down, my favourite year of my career. I have had some amazing opportunities in the classroom and beyond, but more than those, I have taught classes full of outstanding students. For regular readers of my blog, you will know that marks aren’t the most important element of the assessment practice as I strongly believe in triangulation of assessment data. To me, the products are a third of what I do. As a professional goal and as part of my Action Research Project, I’ve been focusing on obtaining as much conversational and observational data as possible.

On the Action Research Project I’m working with one of my favourite educators and people in the world, Anne Doelman. Anne uses a small group presentation technique in her communication technology classes and I loved the idea and have incorporated it into my ENG 2PI class. The results are, in my opinion, so much more authentic as the students feel comfortable in a smaller group setting and usually are with their friends. It also provides the opportunity for rich conversational and observational data as I’ve structured it to incorporate them facilitating a conversation after they share their work. With the 2P’s I end up helping them with the facilitation component, but it allows me see their skills in an environment that is not threatening nor stressful. I see the students and hear their honest thoughts. 

For me this has allowed me to have some real conversations. 2P students are so genuine and in many cases are much more observant about the world than given credit. After today’s conversations, I have new respect for the students who shared. They were talking about deep topics and felt comfortable to share some of their beliefs and ideas that would not be present in a full class oral presentation.

The observational data comes in as I could watch for curriculum requirements like listening for understanding and speaking to communicate. In this non-threatening context the students didn’t actually know I could consider these portions of curriculum and it was authentic as they needed to understand in order to communicate effectively. For many of my 2P’s, their strength is in the oral communication strand and this opportunity gave me rich data.

In considering how to track this kind of data, I also have taken a page from Anne and am using a Google Form to make notes. In the notes section, I was able to comment on the curriculum strands not listed and just having the form open on my Chromebook while the students presented made it so convenient for me to track that data.

Yet another amazing day in my class. I truly am blessed.

Formative Tasks and Descriptive Feedback from my VP

14 May

I have a very supportive admin and one of them happened to mention to me that she would love to visit my classroom someday. As she is a former English teacher and department head, I decided that rather than have her just observe what was happening in my room, I would put her to work.

My grade ten applied students are working on a 20 Time Project and in following Kevin Brookhouser’s model, I asked them to complete a 30 second elevator pitch to explain what their respective projects are and why they are important. We co-created success criteria and shared that with her so that she was aware of our learning goals. I didn’t want this task to be summative as I plan to have each student do some kind of sharing (I’m thinking along the lines of a poster session but they will be free to share their thinking in a fashion that best suits them) so they pitched their ideas to her solely for feedback. I am also interested in how to track data so I asked her to fill out a Google Form about each student.

In my observations of how the period progressed and in the debrief conferences I had from the students after they presented to her, here are some reflections:

– it was great for the students to hear descriptive feedback from another educator as some heard the same message from her that I had been communicating the last few days and it changed their thinking

– my students were nervous to present to the vice principal so it opened the door for conversations about how to overcome and control nerves

– being able to have her thoughts and recorded feedback helps me reflect on how I see my students

– as a different teacher, she gave feedback that I might not and that is always beneficial for students

But more importantly, what I feel the most excited about and inspired by was the relationship building that took place this morning. I’m a rapport teacher and spend a lot of time interacting with my students to know them as individuals and after this morning, I can tell she is too. I loved watching and listening to the questions she asked each student about his or her project and how she made a point to connect with each and every student. The students really reflected on how she wanted to know more and she commented that I have a really awesome group of open and honest individuals. I love that the students had the opportunity to see her in such a positive light, but that she got to experience the joy that is my group of students.

It was more than I could have asked for…

Ignite Presentation – Finding My Inner Child

11 May

Last week Dean Shareski gave me the privilege of giving an Ignite talk at #canconnected15 in Niagara Falls. I don’t think my actual talk was filmed, but here is the script and slides. It seems only fitting that I post this on Mother’s Day as it’s a dedication to my children.

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In many ways, I feel like an actor. In the classroom I am a laid back, go with the flow, adventurous risk taker but in the rest of my life I am a type A firstborn control freak. I love who I am in the classroom. I’m relaxed and open to possibilities but when out in my regular everyday life, the insecure introvert shines through.

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Recently I read a tweet that stuck with me. 4-6 year olds laugh 300 times a day versus adults who laugh less than 20. The validity of the statistic is questionable, but it made me reflect, nonetheless.

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I decided I needed to embark on an inquiry. I realize that it’s not exactly scientific as I didn’t follow the proper steps of inquiry model as outlined in the new Ontario Social Science curriculum, but I figured that my anecdotal / qualitative research would have to suffice.

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Unfortunately, I realized that I embody the statistic. On weekdays I start my day at 5:30am and head to school by 7:30. Over the course of that time I am getting ready for work, getting my girls up and dressed (or trying not to let them put lipstick all over the mirror or flush anything down the toilet), packing lunches, cooking breakfasts, as well as taking care of the dog. I observed that in that time, I hardly laughed or even smiled at all. The really sad part, however, is that of those two hours, at least one is spent with either one or both girls and I wasn’t fun.

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My research at school is a little better. In my timetable this year I’ve had two sections of grade ten applied English. Some teachers don’t really enjoy teaching the applied level but I love it. I find those students interesting, genuine, real, and consequently, they make me laugh.

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After work I head to pick up my girls from school and daycare but yet again I realized that I’m missing out on the potential for fun and laughter. When I get home, I start dinner, as well as complete a variety of other chores and that’s not including the time I spend on the weekends preparing for week ahead. It takes a lot of time to manage and run a home effectively, but I’ve come to realize that there has to be a way to make it more joyful.

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The statistic suggested that 4 year olds laugh 300 times a day and since I live with a two year old and a four and a half year old, I have now turned my inquiry to the experts under my own roof. Here are my observations about how to infuse more fun and laughter into life:

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1. Add a little music – my girls love to sing and in all honesty, I swear music plays in their heads 24 hours a day. Their favourite songs right now are Land of the Silver Birch (or Wand of the Silver Birch if you’re two), Let it Go of course (or wet it go), and Shut Up and Dance (although I’m not so keen on them running around singing shut up…)

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2. Which brings me to my next observation, if you hear and feel the music, bust a move. At any given day my girls are “shaking if off” or “donkey riding” around the house.

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3. Go outside – since the weather has gotten warmer, my girls are wanting to be outside from early in the morning until it’s dark. We have to drag them kicking and screaming into the house, but in today’s sedentary society, this makes me happy.

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4. Bare feet make everything better. I’m forever finding little balled up socks around my house and at least once a day I hear two little high pitched giggles about “stinky feet”

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5. Find someone or a safety net of people who will help with the heavy lifting. Honestly, this is my day every.single.day. And in fact, this was me last week. I was carrying school bags and Cali and Lexie asked me to carry a stick. It was priceless.

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6. Enjoy the little things. While I was working on this presentation, my girls were running around the backyard laughing hysterically at the bubbles my husband was blowing for them.

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7. Get a little silly. Both my girls, thankfully, got their father’s genes on this one as I’ve never truly mastered the art of being silly. My mother has always called me her “little old woman” as I’ve been serious since I was a baby.

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8. Don’t underestimate the power of reading – whether it’s Snuggle Puppy, The Paper Bag Princess, or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, reading is good for the soul

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9. Show your feelings – my girls are open books yet this is something with I struggle with every single day. By nature I’m a peacemaker and try to avoid conflict, but what I’m slowly learning is that I need to embrace my feelings instead of keeping them bottled up inside.

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10. But the most important observation about them has to be that in order to laugh and have fun, we have to surround ourselves with people that bring this part of us out. Lexie and Cali are each other’s best friend and confidantes and spend much of their time laughing together doing things like hiding in their favourite spot behind the couch, racing around like fools on their riding toys, or telling each other stories in the back seat of our cars. I need to remember that I can’t do everything on my own and to let people in to experience all the ups and downs and wonders life has to offer.

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In considering my observations, it’s obvious that I have homework. I’m not a fan of assigning homework in the classroom but, this has purpose and meaning and I’m all in.

Process versus Product

30 Apr

Disclaimer: I am looking to clarify my thinking. Feedback is appreciated.

Earlier this week we had our final Assessment and Evaluation team meeting at Cameron and I left the meeting feeling a bit perplexed. In my opinion, historically, teachers focus on having a “product” (ie test or project) to measure learning and in Growing Success as well as our WRDSB AER document, our assessment is supposed to be triangulated with conversations and observations. I think the conversations and observations are challenging for us on a whole as they are based more on anecdotal evidence rather than a mathematical calculation. In many of the professional development sessions I’ve been at over the last year, we have been discussing how it’s important to focus on the process and less on the finished product. This idea resounds with me as I feel this is where the majority of learning occurs and at the end of the day, I am more focused on the learning as opposed to grades. I want to see growth in my students. I want to see deeper critical thinking skills. I want to see confidence in abilities. I want to see love of learning. I think these ideals are achieved through the process.

Where I’m perplexed is that the feeling I walked away from the meeting with is that we need to focus on the products. I understand that it’s important to have students completing products (and the majority of students do) but to me, completion is a learning skill and not what we should be grading. My students do most of their work in class and I spend my class time working with them while they are at various different stages of their process. I give feedback along the way and most of them incorporate it fairly readily. With this model, what I find is that even though a student might not work until completion, I have observed skills along the way and will have evidence of their abilities. English is a skills based curriculum and I struggle with the idea that if a student doesn’t complete a task then their overall grade suffers. I am also cognizant that many other disciplines are very content heavy and I would love to learn if and how those areas can consider the process over the finished product.

I have also taken advantage of our GAFE accounts and each student has shared an English folder with me that they put all their work into which I check at various times of the week. With all the face to face conversations and asynchronous observations of writing, I have a really strong understanding of the abilities my students possess and I think it’s my duty to give them what their abilities dictate rather than what Markbook spits out after levels are inputted. This may sound like I don’t think it’s important to complete projects, and that is absolutely not true. I want students to complete their projects as I feel there are so many other benefits to finishing work (ie the feeling of completion, confidence, intrinsic motivation, etc.) and that hopefully, the rich task I assigned was more meaningful than just a means to a grade. My point is that I think we really need to be trusting our professional judgement and thinking about the real skills the students possess rather than if they can finish a project or ace a test.

In all honesty, I would love to see more of a focus on the process of learning (or metacognition in all four strands of the English curriculum) as well as on the triangulation of assessment data. Conversations and observations have so much to tell us about our students and I think we need to trust that anecdotal data can be as valid as a numeric calculation. I think it’s also important that we are as educators are working with the students and providing feedback along the way rather than just at the end of a project. I have seen the term “feed forward” on Twitter and I really feel that is how we should be thinking in terms of helping our students improve their skills.

As always, please feel free to push my thinking. In the words of Dean Shareski, “feedback is good.”

Grounding Myself

20 Apr

So tomorrow education here in Ontario is going to get messy. As a coping mechanism, I’m feeling the need to write a gratitude post.

I’m grateful for:

1. Our health care system here in Ontario – Cali, our youngest, has been diagnosed with epilepsy and with that comes tests, (EEG, MRI, with probably more in the coming months) specialist visits, and therapy sessions. We haven’t had to pay for any of this yet, but more importantly, we have experienced exceptional care from all the doctors, nurses, and office assistants. They know that this has been a difficult and scary time for our family and have treated us with empathy, kindness, and respect.

2. My daughter’s teacher and EA’s – Lexie, our oldest, is in junior kindergarten and was experiencing some issues with her peers. The teacher and EA’s listened to my concerns and took steps to eradicate the problem. It is obvious they care about the learning environment and want to ensure that every student feels safe and confident and I appreciate their efforts.

3. The warm and sunny weather we’ve had the last two weekends. This past winter was really long and I found that with the various stresses in my life, being able to be out in the warm sunshine helped rejuvenate my spirit.

4. My daughters and their goofiness. This week I have been serenaded by their renditions of Thinking Out Loud, Lost Stars, The Wheels on the Bus, Land of the Silver Birch, and of course, Jingle Bells. I’ve also had Lexie demonstrate her awesome dance moves in preparation for her recital as well as Cali throw her arms around my neck and say, “I wuve (love) you, Mommy.”

Even though I’m nervous for what the next few weeks will bring, I’m going to focus on both the literal and figurative rays of sunshine I have in my life.

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