Reframing our mindsets around pandemic learning and reporting

Now that the busy-ness of progress report season is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on my reporting practices and the big picture of how reporting looks for us this year. I know I’m not the only educator in my school building who struggled to write progress reports this year, but I did find it interesting how these struggles looked different for many of my colleagues. My biggest strife? The reporting structures we follow reflect narratives of “learning loss” and “achievement gaps” when, in fact, my virtual students show up and try their best every single day. 

When I think about the big picture of how teaching and learning has looked since March 2020, especially as a 100% virtual teacher myself, I struggle to accept the fact that our reporting structures have not been adapted to consider the effects of trauma, isolation, and deterioration of mental health on students. Should we be writing traditional report cards at all? How can we provide meaningful feedback and assessment that considers the context of teaching and learning through a pandemic?

In spite of barriers maintained by the traditional report card, I try to make a concerted effort to always understand individual student experiences and contexts to adapt to pandemic learning. To push myself further, I remind myself to look at some of the dualities that exist in online student engagement to reframe my mindset:

  • Students are desperate for socialization as they learn by themselves from home—behaviour that is usually considered to be disruptive in the classroom is actually a courageous effort to build friendships.
  • Students are always willing to be their best selves in online school, while also feeling unable to bring themselves to complete work some days. 
  • Students choose to keep their cameras off, resulting in them feeling like they can be their truest selves—independent from their physical appearance.

When we only use learning skills and grades to evaluate student character and academic progress, we are sure to miss their best and bravest moments as learners. How might we include a reframed mindset around pandemic learning within current structures of reporting? There are countless conversations to be had about assessment and reporting from a critical perspective, and I’m looking forward to building on these reflections and connecting with educators who are asking similar questions. 

Moving forward I’m thinking a lot about how I can push my gradeless assessment practices even further and look at the ways that character education and learning skills can be an inequitable way of understanding student achievement. I can’t wait to share these thoughts here! 

Note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. ETFO will continue to demand action from the government, school boards and public health units to ensure in-person learning can resume quickly and safely.

post parent conference potential

Parent conferences are done. PHEW! Now before you take that giant “PHEW!” as a negative thing hold on for a moment because it is quite the opposite. That “PHEW!” was due to the amount of energy that educators pour into them. Parent conferences are tiring. They come with some emotional highs and lows. Parent conferences come with some eye opening realizations. They also come with their share of next steps. This is where I find the potential for positive things to come.

So instead of a retrospective approach on mid-terms reports and conferences, I want to look forward to the potential that is to come in the classroom.

Now that I have had a couple of days to recover, maybe a moment of reflection couldn’t hurt.

First, the conferences were very positive. Why wouldn’t they be? Next to parents and family, teachers should be the biggest cheerleaders for their students. Even if and when potential is not fully realized there is still growth happening. Returning to school after 2 years of turmoil during emergency distance learning due to a pandemic is no small feat. Finding routines and academic stamina takes time for students and educators, especially this one.

Back to the future (the real one)

So when the conferences happened, it was easy to share what I’ve learnt so far this with parents and guardians knowing this is what will be happening in my classroom going forward.

1. Students will have even more time to wrestle with Math. This is not an issue of quantity or drill and kill methods, but one of developing positive mathematical mindsets in every learner.
2. Students will have even more opportunity for low floor high ceiling problem solving. One question might be all that is needed. See 1.
3. Students will have even more time to read. The most frequent question I get is about homework. Reading is the only activity I consistently assign each day for homework. With students enrolled in sports, music lessons, and etc. they have enough on their plates already. When push comes to shove on this issue, my Google classroom provides digital reading and math platforms for students to work on to refine their skills as well.
4. Students will have even more mental health breaks. Humour, self-directed time, LoFi Hip Hop, and movement breaks are keys. I have learned that a Just Dance video is a good for my wellbeing as theirs. (reply in the comments for my faves)
5. Students will have even more time to share what’s on their minds in a way that allows them to ask questions about their learning and the world around them. There are opportunities for conversations around inclusion and identity. I know that during daily class read alouds has been a great time for this in my room.

All 5 of the above have always been happening in my classroom. Now that I have witnessed the potential that each have provided my students, the more they will be part of their future.

 

What’s Your Superpower?

 

“What’s My Superpower” is a sweet and powerful book written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack. This is the story of Nalvana, an Inuit child who lives in a northern community, and her journey to find her own “superpower”. This book was gifted to me by my educator friend, Ellie Clin. She thought I might be able to relate to Nalvana, and she was right!

As we prepare for the end of year, some of us might be hoping to include student voice in our Report Cards and/or facilitate Student-Led Conferences. This story could inspire Writing, Drama, and Visual Arts, as well as meaningful opportunities for self-reflection and celebration of all of our “superpowers.”

Here is how I am planning to use this book:

1. Listen to the story, “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston, read aloud on-line.

2. Reflect: What is your superpower?
For example: What makes you a good friend? What activities feel easy for you? What are your gifts or talents?

3. Write about your superpower. Give examples.

4. Draw a picture of yourself using your superpower.

5. Optional: Dress up as a superhero and share your superpower with the class.


I shared this idea with other teachers in the school, and invited them to co-create the template and “success criteria”. We have been talking about creating a shared writing task that can be implemented across the grades to help us build a skills continuum or exemplars of student work from Kindergarten-Grade 6. This writing sample could be considered both a self-reflection for Learning Skills and an introduction to next year’s teacher. It could be included in every students’ portfolio, and/or used for moderated marking.

Transforming Power:
I recently participated in professional learning as part of ETFO’s MentorCoaching program. One of the workshops was called “Transforming Power,” and it was facilitated by Indy Bathh and Louise Pitre. The first activity we did together was to share our superpowers in the Chat. This was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to each other, and to practice naming our strengths.

It is always interesting to reflect on qualities of leadership with a group of educators who identify as women. As you might expect, the impact of patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism and racism reinforce the oppressive belief that women have less value. In a group of union leaders, it was still difficult for some of the women to identify their own superpowers. This reminded me of how important it is for all of our students to know their power, and to feel powerful, and to use their power to make change.


I want to encourage everyone who is reading this blog to pause and reflect. What are your superpowers? Make a list or draw them. Can you think of a time when you used your superpower to support and empower others? HINT: You do it every day with your students!

CommUNITY:
As I reflect on my own superpowers, I think about how I have been successful at creating community this year: in the classroom, in the school, and in professional learning communities.  During this time of isolation, building relationships and making connections has been the most meaningful work I have done.

In the classroom, I support everyone to feel like a VIP every day. We play together, and celebrate our strengths by giving and receiving Heartprints. In GLOW Club, I actively teach about love, pride and resistance. I organize whole-school events, like the WTF embodied Land Acknowledgment, Gender Splendour Week, sing and dance like a Mummer, and strut my stuff on the runway during our Kiki Ball. I listen and share picture books with staff, and acknowledge the powerful work they are doing with their students.

In the school, I facilitate brave conversations with families through Book Club and Community Core Values discussions, and I share resources with families about Settler Allyship and how to talk to children about anti-Black racism. As the Union Steward, I use our BBSAT (Building Better Schools Action Team) distribution list to share information about ETFO campaigns and actions by Ontario Education Workers United and Ontario Parent Action Network. 

As part of my own professional learning, I will continue to share ETFO’s Women’s Equality Project with locals, and collaborate with members in Ottawa to build relationships of equity and justice. I will continue to attend ETFO webinars and access resources.  I hope to finish my Masters of Education next year.  It has been an honour and a privilege to learn with educators in community.

Gratitude:
After 12 years, I will be leaving The Grove Community School. As one of the founding teachers, I am extremely proud of the learning we have done together to create the first public alternative elementary school with an explicit focus on environmental justice, equity and community activism. I am deeply grateful for all of the students, families, educators, and community members I have worked with at The Grove, ETT and ETFO.  Thank you!

Thank you to “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for the opportunity to document this unusual year with my Grade 2 students. This summer, my partner and I are moving to Peterborough.  I will be teaching in Kawartha Pine Ridge as an Occasional Teacher next year, which will be a humbling experience.  I will be looking for new allies and educator friends, and re-reading posts from this blog for support and inspiration.

Student-led end of the year conferences

As we wind down towards the final report cards, I find myself wondering how I will be organizing my yearly student-led conferences. Each year on June 1st (or the first school day in June), I met with students one on one to discuss their upcoming final report. This gives students time to ask questions that relate to their final report. This year, I was wondering how I could run these conferences as a remote teacher (and having never met these students). I decided to use a sign up sheet with five minute intervals and then use breakout rooms for my interview spaces.

To introduce this activity, I told students that they would have the opportunity to ask questions about their upcoming report and to work towards improving some of their learning skills or doing some extra assignments to add to their lower marks. This is how the interviews with my grade sevens went:

  • Students created multiple questions to guide the interview such as:
    • What is my best learning skill?
    • What is a subject I should look for an extension in?
    • How can I bump up my math mark?
    • What subject should I look to participate the most in?
    • Am I lower than the class average in any subject?
    • Can I add to my grades in certain subjects or is it too late?
    • Are there any next steps you have for me?
    • How am I doing in health?
  • Students were given a personalized action plan which we worked together on, to come up with additional tasks that they could complete to improve their marks/ learning skills
  • Students were beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to bump up their lower marks
  • Students that had been idle for a while came to life!

All 30 student interviews took place yesterday. I emailed families to make them aware that their child had an interview on MS Teams and that they would have an opportunity to bump up their marks in time for their final reports. Parents were thankful for the opportunity and mentioned that they would encourage their child to work on these activities.

Today (the day after the interviews) I noticed a few students that had been silent for the past few months were starting to participate again. One student even led the discussions today in history, science and math. This is something that occurred as a result of a little encouragement and a private five minute discussion. Having students actively interested in their learning and the outcome is so important, especially in remote learning.

Student led interviews and feedback sessions are something that I was taught in my first placement as a teacher candidate. My associate teacher called over a student one at a time and let them see their “lower” mark and encouraged them to bump them up. It didn’t work for everyone but for some students, I noticed it gave them the extra drive and determination to finish the year on a positive note.

I know that it is already June but I wanted to make sure that students are not surprised when their reports come. I tried doing this in May in the past but I find June works best as reports are around the corner and students are looking to showcase their learning a few final times. I am so excited to get to some fun activities this month but I know these interviews can get students to really care about their final reports. This turns it into a working document rather than a piece of paper that students never care to read. They are proud to show their parents their areas of improvement and their marks rather than throwing it in the nearest garbage.

It is still early in June so you could try it out in your class and see how it works! Not everyone cares about their “marks” but for those that do, this is a powerful tool to motivate them even a little bit further.

Happy June everyone and enjoy your weekends 🙂

Ditch Tests – Do Projects Instead!

As the year winds down and you start to think about next year, I have something I want you to consider: get rid of tests.

No, seriously. Forget about them.

When I first started teaching, I, too, used tests. After all, that’s what my experience was: finish a unit, do a test to demonstrate your learning, move on to the next unit. I even did that thing that my own teachers had done where I worded questions in specific ways to try and “trick” students. I told myself that this was a way to make sure they were attending to the questions, really paying attention in class, really knew the material.

Is that true, though?

As I learned more about effective assessment and practice, I started to see how wrong that was. What are we really assessing when we ask students to memorize facts? Complete tests within a set timeframe, inducing unnecessary stress? Give them one chance to show their learning, in one set way, without allowing for student choice or different ways for students to show their learning?

(As an aside, my most hated kind of test is a spelling test.)

I got rid of tests in my teaching several years ago and I have no regrets. This decision has led to a better understanding of students’ needs and learning, higher student engagement, and a more fun classroom all-around.

So what do I do instead? 

P R O J E C T S.

There are so many reasons why I love projects.

  • The possibilities of what you create are nigh endless.
  • You can easily provide multiple options to students.
  • Expectations for the project can be tailored to individual students’ programs and needs.
  • Projects are versatile and easy to adapt on the fly if necessary.
  • Cross-curricular opportunities abound.
  • Projects can be individual or collaborative in nature.
  • It’s easy to integrate technology into your plans. 

What kinds of projects do I use for assessment?

For Grade 4/5 Science, I’ve used Minecraft: Education Edition to have students create model habitats and human organ systems to demonstrate what they had learned. In previous years, I’ve also had students create new animals (inspired by the book Scranimals) and create a habitat that would respond to their needs.

For Drama, Art, and Language, I’ve had students create stop motion animation and puppet shows where they have to think about the backgrounds, character design, sound effects, storyboards.

For Social Studies, students have created museums with artifacts from early societies, explaining their importance and history while acting as tour guides for visitors.

For Math, students have created their “dream home” with set parameters for maximum perimeter and area. At times, I’ve also extended this into financial literacy and planning by giving them resources and asking them to decorate their home within a certain budget.

For Grade 6 Science and Language, students have created dioramas of key moments in stories read in class and incorporated circuitry and working switches into their pieces. (These were extremely cool and some of my absolute favourite projects to date. So many design challenges to overcome. So many creative solutions. So much perseverance!)

For Language and Art, students have created graphic novels of fractured fairy tales, incorporating narrative elements and elements of design into their work. 

Like I said: the possibilities are nigh endless. Often, students will find ways to adapt and change the project in exciting ways I hadn’t thought of before. I can then take their ideas forward into future years.

Using projects as often as I do isn’t without its downsides, of course. Projects take a LOT of time, so you’ll want to be prepared for that. You need to be clear about what your expectations are so that students don’t get too far off track, either. Providing a list of steps for students to follow is helpful, especially with set “check in” points where you meet with them to see how things are going.

One key thing you’ll want to have in place before you dive into project-based learning is a routine around what students can do if they have finished their work. I’ve found that students tend to take different amounts of time to complete their work, some groups finishing quickly while others still have days ahead of them. You’ll want to know what the finished groups will move onto while waiting for others to finish (and no, it shouldn’t just be extra work).

Also, projects tend to make your classroom look a mess. I’ve embraced the chaos. My classroom is never tidy.

Every year, I ask my class what their favourite things were that we did in class. Every year, they mention projects. They love them. They love the creativity, the flexibility, the collaboration.

Even if you don’t completely get rid of tests in your classroom, try some projects, alright? It’s worth it. Even when the projects don’t work out the way you expected and you can’t use them to assess what you thought you were assessing (which happens sometimes!) it’s still a worthwhile venture.

If ever you need ideas for projects, I’m here. I’m happy to share. I do so many of them.

If you already do lots of project-based learning, what are your favourite things that you’ve done?

OAME Math Conference 2021: Equity Counts

I am very excited to write today’s post as I had the pleasure of once again attending the OAME math conference this year. The conference ran from Monday, May 17th and ends today Friday, May 2st. There were over 160 sessions to select from so it was hard to narrow it down to three per evening. I was offered a volunteer position with OAME to assist with moderating 3-4 sessions. This gave me access to the entire conference and as usual, this year’s conference did not disappoint. I would love to tell you about the exciting sessions I went to and some details about them. I also attached resources that were made publicly available and some ways I have already used my learning inside my grade seven math classroom.

Session Name: Supporting the new Elementary Math Curriculum: Educator Learning Modules
Presenters: Moses Velasco and Chantal Fournier
Summary of my learning: Moses and Chantal shared their presentation about ELMs. They shared a great resource as well! This presentation was geared towards more of a math coach audience which as I am not was not able to connect with much of their content. The ELMs were from 2017 and I know there were some questions about making new ones with the new math curriculum. Moses let the audience know that they will be coming out soon. The examples that we saw on the website were great! Feel free to explore their resource.
Resources: https://sites.google.com/view/operation-sense/home
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Session Name: Assessment that Moves
Presenter: Jordan Rappaport
Summary of my learning: Jordan was a gifted speaker and he had so many important things to share. Many of them I implemented in my class the very next day. Jordan spoke a lot about virtues in math:

  • Being creative
  • Being a thinker
  • Curiosity
  • Perseverance
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Ability to collaborate

Jordan shared that these virtues are important to people who hire mathematicians and essential in every math classroom. We also looked at a forward thinking rubric which had three boxes and a large arrow on top. He talked about using this so students can see where they are and where they should move towards. For the topic of collaboration, on the left column on the rubric, you would put terms like excluding, not being supportive, etc. and on the far right you would put the expected behaviours (opposite of the left side). You would then circle the place where the student was at. Jordan mentioned that building a rubric should be a collaborative process and he starts jamboards and shares them with his students. They generate ideas together when talking about a specific math virtue, what you should see and not see.
How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Jordan, I posted the virtues on my slide and asked students to share what their best math virtue is. This allowed us to engage in conversations about why they take risks, why others may not, etc. This conversation was so meaningful and I loved hearing from my students.
Resources:

https://www.francissu.com/ 

https://buildingthinkingclassrooms.com/ 

https://www.peterliljedahl.com/ 

http://fractiontalks.com/
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Session Name: Designing Classroom Explorations that Engage All Students
Presenter: Gail Burrill
Summary of my learning: During this session, Gail spoke about many exciting topics. Gail shared that in her math classroom, she has her students complete various math tasks such as: book reports, research reports (math in art, etc.), write stories from graphs and many more. This connects math to many other subjects and is meaningful for students. Some other key takeaways included:

  • Data driven tasks are important in the classroom
  • Connecting math to student’s lives
    • Gail gave an excellent example where students had to find the problem with Fred VanVleet from the Raptors as his shooting percentage was in a rut. They had to solve if there was a rut or not and look at percentages with his shooting statistics.
  • Following instructions doesn’t mean your students have learned anything
  • Turning procedures into problems because then students will want to solve them and remember them
  • Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  • Visibly random groups
  • Comments before grades; feedback should be for thinking

Gail also mentioned a great resource where you can visit https://censusatschool.ca/ and have students answer: What do you notice? What do you wonder? These real life statistics engage her students for the first fifteen students of her class and she looks at real life scenarios. Gail also left us with some things to think about:

  • How much time do your students spend..
    • in silence?
    • talking to peers?
    • listening?
    • presenting?

Resources: https://censusatschool.ca/
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Session Name: Building Math Residue with Lessons That Stick
Presenter: Graham Fletcher
Summary of my learning: Graham shared many ideas that help students engage in explorations and lessons that really make students wonder, what is the answer to that question? I loved this idea from Graham:

  • Estimation Waterfall: asking students to wait until they hit enter so that they are not just copying the student who always gets it “right”

Of course, the focus of the session was what makes a good task? Here were Graham’s steps:

  1. Simple: Is it accessible? Avoid language due to any language barriers
  2. Unexpected: Does it fire up the guessing machine? Do students actually want to know the answer?
  3. Concrete: Do your students have any prior knowledge to connect to?
  4. Credible: What validates the math?
  5.  Emotional: Does it create an ah-ha moment?
  6. Stories: How will the math story be told?

Graham also mentioned the following ideas which are important to know and to understand:

  • Anyone can be good at math
  • Listening to a student’s thinking is more important than the answer
    • Graham showed a video of him working with a student and he was so patient, waiting to hear the student get the answer and listening to their process
  • Right answers should only matter at the end of a unit (assessment/test). The journey along the way is for making mistakes and for building understanding
  • A good math question makes you excited for the answer
  • Teachers shouldn’t jump on their students when they see a wrong answer, they should question them and wait for them to have that ah-ha moment

How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Graham, I asked my students join a jamboard and I posed the above statements to them. I had them disagree or agree and if they wanted, they could share their reasoning on the mic. Students had such incredible things to say about all of the statements and we even got one anxious student to admit that making mistakes along the way is okay!  A huge breakthrough for this student.
Resources: https://gfletchy.com/Be sure to check out the tab “3-Act tasks” for some engaging lessons that stick!
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Session Name: Math, Social Justice and Actions
Presenter: Robert Berry
Summary of my learning: Robert Berry brought up incredible conversations that need to be had in our math classrooms. Robert shared a provocation for us: Who are our essential workers? What do you notice, wonder and how does it impact your community? Robert shared a lot of insight on how to create your own social justice math lesson:

  • Learn about relevant social injustices
  • Identify the math
  • Establish your goals
  • Determine how you will assess your goals
  • Create a social justice question for the lesson
  • Make student resources
  • Plan for reflection/action

There should be conversations about connecting math with students cultural and community histories. This was a great session and I was so engaged in his presentation, I did not take many notes!
Resources: https://padlet.com/rqb3e/sjmathresources Attached are incredible social justice mathematics resources
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Session Name: Some of my Favourite Problems
Presenter: Mike Eden
Summary of my learning: Mike is from the University of Waterloo and he shared many engaging math problems from various contests and from challenging math lessons. He asked people in the chat to share their answers and we looked at many ways to solve these challenging problems. I am sure you are all familiar with “Problem of the Week” from the University of Waterloo, well Mike took us further with these incredible problems!
Resourceshttp://: https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/ https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/contests/past_contests.html
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Session Name: Slow Reveal Graphs as Social Justice Provocations
Presenters: Kyle Pindar and Jennifer Fannin
Summary of my learning: This was such an engaging session that used the website https://trends.google.com/trends/ to design slow reveal graphs. The focus of the lessons are asking the questions these key questions: What? So what? Now what? Also, what do you notice? What do you wonder? Slow reveal graphs are innocently framed as hard hitting social justice questions. Kyle explained how to make these slow reveal provocations using these steps:

  1. https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA Make sure you are using the Canadian trends (setting on top right should say “Canada”
  2. Download the image (graph) you want to use
  3. Open up a blank google sheet
  4. Upload the download and re-size the columns
  5. Delete the top two lines
  6. Create slide show

Then, show your students these graphs, slowly revealing new features on the graph such as: the actual data, x axis information, y axis information and then eventually, the title (trend). Kyle and Jennifer discussed generating expected students responses so that you can be prepared to have these discussions as a class. They had great examples, specifically a graph showing the googling of “BLM” and you could see the spike on the day that George Floyd was murdered. Both presenters discussed how you would have that conversation with the class of what made these search results spike up in May of 2020? These are such great ways to have social justice discussions in class!
Resources: https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/start

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity that was this year’s OAME Math Conference. I wish I had been able to attend/moderate more sessions but as an OAME volunteer, I have the ability to listen to recorded sessions I could not attend. I will listen to some over the next few weeks and post anything else I gather. I hope this post provides a snapshot of such incredible math presentations and all of their wisdom that they wished to pass on to math educators! I know it is late in the year to take in this much incredible math information, but this post will be here to refresh your memory after a well-rested and well-deserved summer vacation!

If you wish to learn more about OAME or how to attend the conference next year, visit their website: https://oame.on.ca/main/index.php

Buiding an Inclusive Playground

I am having a lot of fun learning how to center issues of disability justice and equity throughout the curriculum.

Every week, during MSI (Math-Science Investigations) the Grade 2 students solve problems using a variety of building materials. As part of the Science curriculum, we are learning about Movement and Simple Machines. We started this inquiry when we were face-to-face and finished on-line.  We have integrated this learning with disability justice, equity and community activism. For example, we went on a walk and collected data about barriers and “bridges” in our local community. Then, the Grade 2 students designed inclusive playgrounds where everyone is welcome.

Here are some other examples of how we are deepening our understanding of Structures and Mechanisms, and making connections to the local and global community.

World Water Day:
We celebrated World Water Day on March 22, as part of our year-long inquiry about water. Throughout the year, we have explored a variety of texts, including resources from The Junior Water Walker website. After reading “The Water Princess” by Susan Verde and “Anna Carries Water” by Olive Senior, our class simulated the experience of carrying a bucket around the track for 1 km, to represent the journey taken by girls and young women every day.

 

Then, we used building materials to investigate: How might you move water from one place to another?

We learned about a simple machine that was invented to help families carry water in rural India. We watched a YouTube video about The Wello Water Wheel, and talked about the impact it might have.



Toy Day:
On Toy Day, the MSI challenge was: Design a structure that moves or helps your toy to move.

Freda made a wheelchair for her doll.  Svea made a sled.

After building, we watched this video:
Science Max: Simple Machines

Outdoor Learning:
One day, we collected materials to bring outside to investigate simple machines. We worked with partners to explore: How might you use ramps and different balls to investigate levers and inclined planes?

Before schools went back to on-line learning, we went on a Community Walk.  I invited students to think about: “How might we make our community more accessible?  What are some of the barriers and “bridges” in our community?”  Students worked together to draw, write and collect data on clipboards.  We found ramps made by StopGap Foundation, and followed up our walk by reading books about children with different abilities.



Inclusive Playgrounds:
The summative task was: Design and build a model of an inclusive playground that includes a simple machine. The equipment must move a person up and down, or round and round or back and forth.

Students used a variety of materials to build their inclusive playgrounds, including Lego, recycled materials, clay, and Minecraft. Before building, everyone was encouraged to make a plan and draw their designs. Everyone worked on their project off-line and came together to share their VIP: Very Important Projects at the end of the week.

Clem used a glue gun to spell “PARK” in Braille letters.  Avery included an elevator.



Oral presentations have been an effective way to connect, share ideas and feedback, and assess students’ understanding. Technology/Being on-line has created space to hear each other, share our screens and look at photos of our work up close, and invite others into creative Minecraft worlds.  These integrated learning activities were engaging, fun, creative, and provided meaningful opportunities to explore inclusive design and disability justice.  

 

Student-Led Conferences

Writing report cards and IEPs during COVID-19 was frustrating and stressful. COVID-19 has exposed deep inequities that affect families disproportionately, and it has impacted teaching, learning and assessment in significant ways. There are so many challenges to assessing and evaluating students on-line, and there are many strengths/skills that cannot be measured on a report card.

Needs Improvement
The current assessment, evaluation and reporting practices and procedures needs improvement. Ontario schools reflect a colonial, Eurocentric approach to curriculum and assessment that privileges some students over others. Report cards and IEPs measure students against standardized levels of achievement, which fail to recognize multiple and different ways of knowing. There is extensive research about the impacts of systemic racism and educator bias, which construct certain students as “failures”.

Most of our professional development is focussed on how we can meet the diverse needs of students and make the curriculum more inclusive; however, we also need to think critically about how assessment and evaluation practices reinforce racial inequity, and privilege student “success” and belonging. How might we transform our assessment and evaluation so that all students feel empowered to achieve excellence, and feel successful?

Collaborative Assessment
Student-Led Conferences are one example of how educators might disrupt traditional forms of evaluation, and facilitate a more collaborative approach to assessment. In a previous blog, I wrote about how collaborative assessment actively engages families, educators and students as co-learners, and helps to build trusting relationships that are reciprocal.

Student-Led Conferences, goal-setting and self-evaluation are powerful examples of how collaborative assessment can center student voice, support meta-cognition, and develop critical thinking and self-reflective skills. Collaborative assessment can increase student engagement and motivation, and has been shown to impact student achievement and behaviour.

What is a Student-Led Conference?
Every year, I prepare my students to facilitate a Student-Led Conference with their family in February and June. This is an alternative to the Parent-Teacher Conference, and often tells a counter narrative to the report card. Usually, there are 4-5 conferences happening in the classroom at one time, and I will rotate between families to listen and add to the discussion. These conferences can last anywhere between 15-45 minutes.

It is my hope that Student-Led Conferences support all students to feel successful, because they create meaningful opportunities for students to identify their strengths, and share evidence of how well they are meeting their learning goals. They also invite families and educators to share responsibility in the teaching and learning process.

What happens BEFORE a Student-Led Conference?
At the beginning of the year, most schools invite families to visit the classroom and meet their child’s teacher to learn about the curriculum expectations and classroom routines. During this discussion when I introduce our learning goals, I also share information about collaborative assessment and Student-Led Conferences. I explain the benefits, provide resources, and invite families to ask questions.

As we begin to build relationships and honour all of our “multiple intelligences” and different ways of knowing, I encourage students to set individual short-term goals that are “just right” for them. We talk about our strengths and struggles as we learn about different folks who have worked hard to overcome barriers and achieve excellence. Older students might engage in diagnostic surveys to find out how they feel about different subjects.

Portfolios
Every student will develop a portfolio, which will hold samples of work that demonstrate growth and learning in concrete ways. Some of these work samples will be chosen by the student and others will be chosen by educators. For example, I always include goal-setting and self-evaluation, as well as our monthly unedited, unassisted writing samples in their portfolio.

In January and June, in preparation for a Student-Led Conference, students will look through completed work, and choose samples of work that they are proud of. In my class, students staple a piece of paper to this work and write about why they are proud of it. Students also have the opportunity to look back at work samples, and identify how they know they are growing. This process can take several days, and it is a great opportunity to reflect and set new goals for Term #2 in January and/or for the summer in June.



Student Voice:
Before writing the report card, I always ask students to reflect on their Learning Skills and Work Habits and complete a self-evaluation. As a class, we might discuss each skill and generate “success criteria” and specific examples that relate to our learning together. I often try to include student voices in the report card, and quote their writing and self-reflection. It is critical that students understand the criteria by which they are being evaluated, and that they have opportunities to share their thinking about themselves as learners. It is invaluable formative feedback for educators and families.

During COVID-19, our Student-Led Conferences have continued on-line. I created a Google Form, and asked families to help their child answer questions about their learning. The form included opportunities for students to identify their strengths and areas for improvement in different subject areas, as well as the Learning Skills and Work Habits. These “stars” and “wishes”, or “GLOW” and “GROW” comments helped to guide our discussion during our virtual Student-Led Conference. I shared the screen and asked the students to read their ideas aloud, and invited families to share feedback. I was only able to support one conference at a time, but I believe it was worth the extra time.

What happens DURING a Student-Led Conference?
Student-Led Conferences will look different depending on the age of the student. In the early primary years, I provide families with a checklist and sentence prompts to help support the discussion. Older students can follow a script to lead the discussion. During a Student-Led Conference, students will share their portfolio with their family. Families are encouraged to listen, ask questions and share what they notice about their child’s growth and progress. My role is to circulate around the room, listen, and contribute observations and reflections to the discussion.

What happens AFTER a Student-Led Conference?
After a Student-Led Conference, I provide a template and ask families to write a letter to their child. This letter describes what they are proud of, and how they will help their child to achieve their learning goals. In my experience, families have found the Student-Led Conference to be meaningful and informative.

One Kindergarten parent wrote:

It really opened up space for dialogue about what types of learning matter to our child, some of which were a pleasant surprise to us that we can carry forward at home now as well. Also, being able to experience his learning environment at school from his perspective was deeply gratifying for us and self-esteem building for him. He was so proud to show us around the space and really demonstrate the independence he’s building there. Grateful for the entire process and so heartened to know that he is in a classroom and school environment that really values the agency and intelligence of children!
(Parent comment, 2018)

Student-Led Conferences are a powerful tool that educators can use to honour the multiple and diverse ways that students learn and share knowledge. They provide a counter-narrative to the report card, and engage families, educators and students in a collaborative learning relationship that celebrates student achievement with pride and possibilities.

Video Resources:
Grade 3, Grade 6, Grade 7/8 Student-Led Conferences
The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Webcast Professional Learning Series, Ontario Ministry of Education

Preparing for a Student-Led Conference, New Zealand

Student-Led Conferences: Empowerment and Ownership, Chicago

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind….”

This term, I had the honour of working with a Master of Arts student in Child Studies and Education, in his first teaching placement. Working in collaboration as a co-learner and co-teacher is a humbling experience. It is always a lot of work, but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, and remember what it feels like to be a new educator.

Ishai Buchbinder and I had a lot of fun creating an integrated unit about Wind for the Grade 2 students. This inquiry connects to “Air and Water in the Environment” as students “investigate, through experimentation, the characteristics of air and its uses.” (The Ontario curriculum, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2005.) This blog post is a documentation of our learning together.

Where Do I Begin?
Ishai asked me to describe the planning process for developing a series of lesson plans and activities that culminate in a summative assessment task. This year, I am trying to integrate Indigenous perspectives through land education and environmental inquiry. I am also trying to center stories of Black excellence and innovation throughout my pedagogy.

First, I look at the expectations in the Ontario curriculum, think about the “big ideas”, and generate a few guiding questions to support our inquiry. Then, I brainstorm several activities that might help us to explore and investigate our learning goals. Next, I gather resources, including: picture books, songs, videos, real-world examples of innovation and creativity. Then, I think about a summative task that would allow students to have choice and demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Finally, I sequence the learning activities in a way that builds on prior knowledge and connects to new learning, while also being responsive and open to following the interests, needs and questions of the students.

Who Has Seen The Wind?
We started our inquiry with an active game called “When The Big Wind Blows…” and a poem by Christina Rosetti called, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” This poem has been re-imagined as a song, which I learned from an Orff Music workshop. There is a simple ostinato that is layered underneath, and patsched on the lap: “Wind, Wind, Passing By.” We chanted and sang this song outside during our Welcoming Circle, and acknowledged the wind with gratitude.

Knowledge Building:
Ishai shared a riddle with the students: “What takes up the most space but is something that you cannot see?” After solving the riddle, the students shared what they already know about air and wind. Then, we asked the students to generate questions about what they wanted to know, using “I wonder…” inquiry cards.  These activities help to honour student voice and position all of us as co-learners,



During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I ask students to design and build a structure that is moved by the wind. Desmond made a dragon. Ezra made an airplane. Florence made a forest. Elliot made a structure that is powered by the wind. All of these activities provided diagnostic assessment and helped to guide the next steps in our inquiry journey.



The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
We learned about the true story of William Kamkwamba, who used innovation and creativity to build a windmill out of recycled materials for his community in Wimbe, central Malawi. You can listen to “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” read aloud. You can find William telling his own story by searching his name. His brilliance has also inspired a movie. After reading the book, we made our own paper pinwheels and took them outside. Everyone loved running with the wind and making the blades spin! 

Paper Airplanes!
Ishai told us about the “Super Secret Mysteries of Flight”. We learned about thrust, lift, drag, and gravity, and their relationship to air. Then, he showed us how to make a ten-fold paper airplane. Here are the step-by-step instructions. It was challenging to listen and follow each instruction carefully. After folding our paper airplanes, we tested their flight in the school yard. We experimented by changing the thrust, and adapting the wings to make it fly straight and long. This was another active and fun activity!

Mr. W
After watching this short video, we had an interesting discussion about the main character. I asked: What do we know about this character? How does this character feel at the beginning and the end of the video? What kind of things do we see the character do? Why would they do these things? Who is this character? Why was this video made? This discussion encouraged students to think critically about media texts as part of our learning about Media Literacy.

This video also inspired us to begin writing our own Wind Stories. We used a graphic organizer to organize our ideas using time-order words, (First, Next, Then, Finally). Some students wrote from the perspective of Wind, and others described the movement and impact of wind. We used a collaborative editing and revision process to share our stories and improve our writing.

Testing our Theories:
This year, we are fortunate to be working with Doug Anderson, who is the co-author of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Environmental Inquiry. After learning with Doug in the Rainbow Garden, several students wanted to know more about the relationship between the sun and the wind. Svea asked, “I wonder how the sun makes the wind?” 

We talked about how we might find the answers to our questions. We could: read books, look on the internet, ask someone. After reading a book called “Air”, which explained some facts, Ishai asked how we might test what we learned from the book. The students had different ideas about how we could prove that warm air rises and cold air is heavy. We went outside to find out. The students worked in small groups and used movement to demonstrate how the sun makes the wind. It was a great opportunity to use our bodies to express our understanding.



Learning Through the Arts
As we explored the movement of wind, we read the book, “When I Get Older: The story behind ‘Wavin’ Flag’” by K’naan. We learned that the song was inspired by his grandfather’s poem. K’naan’s family journey story supported many thoughtful discussions about civil war and refugees, settlement and anti-Black racism, how schools might be more welcoming to new families, and the impact of poetry and music to create community.  We listened to the song many times and went outside with fabric “flags” to wave in the wind. We are hoping to choreograph a dance and embody the lyrics, “Love is the answer”.

We also learned about two artists who have created complex wind sculptures that are moved in the wind. We watched a few videos about the work of Theo Jansen and Anthony Howe. The students were mesmerized and inspired by the movement of these beautiful sculptures.

Another song that we learned was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. This is a song that we sing every year during Peace Week and on Remembrance Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the “big ideas” of conflict and justice. In the past, we have written messages of hope and peace on leaves that are released from the third floor window.

This year, our Visual Arts teacher, Shannon Greene, made powerful connections to Treaty Recognition Week. After learning “A Treaty Poem” by Melissa MacLennon and students, Shannon encouraged the students to write promises of peace on paper leaves to keep in the classroom. Copy of Land Acknowledgement and Dish With One Spoon Resource

Squirrel Nests:
As the leaves continued to fall, the students began to notice piles of leaves in the branches. We learned that they were nests made by squirrels, and we started to think about how animals might protect themselves from the wind. We went on a walking excursion to a local park, and Ishai challenged the students to build their own squirrel nests with leaves, sticks and air.

After building with natural materials, we did a “Gallery Walk” and visited all of the squirrel nests. Students were asked to describe one thing that they were proud of and one thing that they might do to improve their nest next time. These “GLOW” and “GROW” comments allowed us to practice self-evaluation, and provided valuable formative assessment.

Finally, it was time to test our squirrel nests. Each student was given fluffy goldenrod seeds to represent the squirrel, which was placed inside the nest. We used straws to simulate the wind, and to test the strength of each structure. Everyone had an amazing experience learning outdoors together!



Wind Machines!
As our final summative task, the students were invited to plan, build and test a structure that can be moved by the wind. Before building, students were encouraged to think about what they had learned about wind and apply their knowledge to their structure. Everyone drew a plan and labelled the materials that they would need. We spent several days in the classroom building and revising our structures, based on descriptive feedback.



On the day that we tested our wind machines, each student had an opportunity to share their structure and make predictions about how it might move. After testing, Ishai conferenced with each student to document their thoughts and ideas about how successful their wind machine had been, and how they might improve their design next time. It requires more time to connect 1:1 with students, but conferencing provides strong summative assessment data, and supports every student to feel successful about their learning.

Journey through Inquiry
Working with a Teacher Candidate was refreshing and reminded me about the importance of play, storytelling and movement in our lesson planning. Throughout our inquiry about Wind, the students were very engaged, and they had multiple opportunities to explore and demonstrate their understanding.  As an experienced educator, I am still learning about how to integrate and make connections across the curriculum in creative ways.  I am also learning that when we trust our students and follow their natural curiosity, the journey through inquiry will be deep, meaningful and fun!

Brutalist worksheets

Have you ever seen something that made you wonder whether it’s sole purpose was to make you feel small or insignificant? I don’t mean this in feelgood sort of humbling way like you might ponder a mountain’s majesty or an ocean’s depth. I mean, the way you feel uneasy when looking at a decades old worksheet from a resource 20 to 25 years past its pedogogical prime – where thought and creativity were never part of its iterations. I’m talking about copy after copy of soul sucking work pages given to students only to be regurgitated upon with rote facts and little, if any, critical thought. Let’s call them Brutalist worksheets because, like the architecture, they make the learner to feel small, and powerless, and the learning devoid of inspiration.

Over the years, I have found a number of Brutalist offerings left behind in the photo-copiers, and they make me shudder a bit to think that they were destined for students’ desks and to inevitable irrelevance shortly thereafter. I’d like to say this is a long distant memory, but it is still happening in 2020.

20 years into 21st Century learning and brutalist worksheets are still being shared. But first a bit about Brutalism.

Minds On

In the creative world of architecture there are several styles that have pervaded through history. We have remnants of the Victorian, Mid-Century Modern, Art Deco, and Modernist eras that occupy much of the past century and its edifices. There is another that cannot be overlooked because of it’s austere, raw, and imposing nature, Brutalism.

Brutalism, but this is a blog for teachers? Why are we having an architecture lesson? Why not? After all, design is design and the way that we construct, craft, curate, and create content for our students matters. It is inconceivable to think it can be done without consideration of the learners we are teaching or without differentiation.

Imagine a stark and unwelcoming piece of paper that seems as if it’s sole intention is to crush your spirit. Next, think of a page full of Math calculation questions that you have been handed, and are now expected to complete before the 2 or 3 minute timer goes off. Think of a different, but equally oppressive Math sheet with instructions, but no guiding example or room to show your thinking? Think of a double-sided sheet of French -er, ir, and -re verbs to conjugate. Brutal and absolutely intended as rote busy work to keep students from being their best.

I was visting a school a few years back and came across a teacher with a stack of photocopies at least 1500 pages or more in total. I asked if this was for a whole school letter to which they replied that it was for their classroom followed by, “You have to keep ’em busy somehow.” I walked away very sad at that moment and have tried to hang on to that interaction as a reminder of what not to do.

Brutalism in our profession has no business in any of our classroom resources. In fact, we need to seriously consider the function and purpose of everything we are printing for students. It starts by cleaning out the cabinets and binders that contain outdated worksheets. I know it means having to start fresh for some, but imagine the potential for deeper learning rather than a time filler destined for the recycle bin? Perhaps doing this over the course of the year will make it less daunting. With so many digital tools at our fingertips now, creating and updating content is easier than those Xerox days of yore.

Our shift to digital learning has allowed many of us to curate constructive content with links that are informative and interactive. There are also environmental and financial benefits from avoiding copy after copy too. With a suite of apps and productivity tools. Teachers can create these spaces from a trove of templates and fellow educators who are willing to share. No need for TPT here.*

Start with the incredible digital resources being shared from your school board and from a cohort of amazing educators via Twitter. I know that PeelDSB, TDSB, DurhamDSB, and YRDSB have provided many excellent resources to their staff, and am sure there are more boards out there doing the same for theirs. If you want to start your own, you can always check out Ditch that Textbook, MathigonShukes and Giff, TV Ontario, and TED Ed for ideas. If you have a favourite, please share in the comments below.

All that I ask is that you resist the urge to hit the copy button without considering the content you intend to share with students. Will it make them feel insignificant and under-inspired? Then you might have a brutalist worksheet in your hands and it might be time to go back to the drawing board to design something inviting and engaging to students as modern learners.

* I always think of toilet paper when I see TPT. Sorry, not sorry.