parents and guardians

There are numerous allies in education outside of our schools. Parents and guardians are always at the top of the list. To reframe a quote, “they are our partners in education”. In other, perhaps more ominous words, everything we do in the classroom is linked inextricably to them and their children – good, bad, or otherwise. No pressure there, eh?

When I started out as a teacher, I had to learn the delicate dance of dealing with parents. Coming from a media, sales, and entrepreneurial background, prior to education, provided me with a mix of no nonsense and conversational finesse. Perhaps, the number of kilometres on my life odometer have made interactions with parents and guardians different for me compared to my chronologically younger colleagues. I noticed that even though we started out at the same time, our experiences from our first parent conferences back in the day were quite different. This is still happening today, 12 years later as I try to mentor teachers new to their roles in schools. 

Was and is my age a factor ? What about my gender? What about my privilege of being a white-cis male too? Yup, yup, and double-yup.

At first I found it odd that families saw me as more experienced based only on their visual assumptions? I never hid my rookie status from families. Yet, I witnessed how some younger teachers seemed to be second guessed by some parents/guardians for no perceivable reason other than their youth even though they had the same experience as me. I can guarantee you that most of them could teach circles and other shapes around me.

Seeing this year after year proved that this was not an uncommon occurence in education. In subsequent years, I felt strongly about making sure teachers would rally together in support of our new team members on staff by ensuring that there is a supportive structure around them. I know it’s called NTIP, but I never recall meetings with parents and guardians as high on the learning priority list. For me, this focus is also extended to all faculty of education students. It is important that they get a chance to be present when possible for meetings too. 

the set-up

Looking back, it may have been the way I front loaded communication prior to those meetings? For my part, I have always believed that the student is the best agenda. I have always expected them to share their days and responsibilites with the adults at home in their lives. I have also learned that an agenda can be conveniently lost or recycled at the most interesting times.

When I was given my first homeroom, I made sure to let parents know what they could expect in terms of communication forms and frequency. As such, even though students had agendas they were expected to fill them as they saw fit throughout the day. This year I chose not to ask for agendas for my grade 4/5 class which left some parents a bit uncomfortable. A colleague solved that issue by cutting an 80 page writing book in half. Voilà, an agenda is born.

It is important to remember that it is your class and you need to manage it in terms that work best for you. Consider it as a differentiation of sorts. Gardner would be proud. 

I prefer to communicate with adults at home in a more corporate manner via email. This is mostly due to my atrocious penmanship skills. My hand moves too slowly for my brain. Typing has allowed me to find the goldilocks zone for my brain and body. Parents and guardians receive updates about classroom events such as what is being learnt and any assessments that might be coming home or upcoming.

I also use my emails to families as a method of letting parents know how hard their students are working and that I appreciate their support. This medium of communication has always been effective for me. 

If you are fan of agendas then the answer is built into your instructional day already as students copy down what is on the board to take home each night. I see the value of developing the fine motor skills of younger students by printing, but am also aware that this can be an incredible instructional time suck. With the rise of digital classroom spaces (G**gle et al) many of the daily notices can be shared online without daily delay which would give time for other fine motor skills practice anyway.

I also believe that students can come to loathe the activity if they struggle with printing/cursive writing like I do. Communication does not have to be daily. See my above where I mentioned how students can be the conversational conduits of their school days instead of a series of disconnected written prompts that require explanation anyway. This brings me to my next point about how frequently educators need to share with families, but that will have to wait until my next post because there might be some stories and opinions to share that would make this read a bit too much like a long note home in an agenda. 

 

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.

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 🙂

Going Gradeless in Elementary – Part 2

In my last post, I shared a little about the work that we’ve been doing in our classroom about taking a position and being able to effectively argue. Students have been learning to write argumentative essays and the importance of making sure that they offer supporting details to back up their positions. In this post, I will be sharing insights from students who believe that grades should be eliminated in Elementary schools. 

No to Grades

“Grades do not always show what a student is capable of.”

As the student read this essay, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s the end of May and if we haven’t already done them, we know that class placements are going to be underway very soon. During these placements, students are often reduced to the level given by their current teacher and it’s something that is passed on to the next. 

While sharing her experiences in Math, this student stated that there are times that she just doesn’t get the concept but having the opportunity to have someone pull up a chair and explain it has made all the difference to her. She’s capable and sometimes just in need of a little support. The mark on her report card doesn’t always reflect her in her entirety.  For her, specific feedback on what and how she can improve is important. From there, she can make those improvements and it also helps future teachers to see how they too might support her in her learning on an ongoing basis. For her, the learning skills portion of the report card is important because those are the skills that we should be focused on building, because the content will change over time and our access to the content will also evolve. 

“Grades are not good for mental health. They often make you feel stressed, which can lead to anxiety.”

This student shared that it’s stressful being a kid. Their bodies are changing and their brains are changing too. Managing physical and psychological changes, while having to pretend everything is ok at school is hard. Citing not wanting to worry people and the added stress of not being successful in school, because of your grades, is just too much. This student wonders if there are any studies that have gone into the impact that the stress of grades has on students. They were pretty interested in learning about the education system in Finland and wondered why more countries haven’t taken a similar approach to have a later start at school, more recess, and a lightened load with homework. 

As I read these essays, I realized just how much of an impact the pandemic has had on my students. While they’re on every day and handing in their assignments on time and with care, it really hasn’t been easy. Many are concerned about whether or not we will go back to in-person learning this year and what their transition to middle school will be like. Without answers, they’re left to wonder and that’s producing a significant amount of stress and anxiety on young people who we keep congratulating for their resilience. 

“Teacher comments, on the other hand, can help parents and students, by telling them how well a student is doing in class.”

It’s interesting how many students spoke about receiving quality feedback and opportunities to implement the feedback. Having feedback on a report card is great but it is also seen as somewhat final. Not until the next one, do they have the opportunity to see a change unless the feedback is ongoing. My students are also looking for honest feedback. Many have said that on report cards they have gotten Cs and when they have read the comments, they sound as though they met with success and yet for them, they know that it is still approaching success. 

This comment also speaks to the relationship between home and school and making sure that parents know how their child is doing along the way. For many, they said that they see the school year as a journey in learning and that to them, marks are somewhat final. They want and need to know how they are doing; how they are improving; and what still needs to be improved upon. 

The debate continues on the idea of going gradeless in Elementary. Even the students are divided in their opinions but it’s clear that the current system isn’t working effectively for all. We’ve heard a lot of talk of “reimagining”. Assessment and evaluation is just one area in education that needs further inspection and action for change. I’m hoping that we can move past the talk and into action.

Going Gradeless in Elementary – Part 1

As a class this past month, we have been learning about arguments and how to effectively write an argumentative essay.  From debating the importance of a digital detox to the role of social media in our lives, we’ve enjoyed arguing our positions on a variety of topics; understanding the importance of having supporting details to back up our positions. 

For one of our essays, students reflected on the idea of going gradeless in Elementary. After reading a couple of articles and watching a few videos, students were finally ready to pick their positions and set about organizing their ideas for their essays. Using a persuasion map, students reflected on the information presented and their own thoughts, ideas and experiences, and considered their 3 best reasons for their position. Once finished, they set about writing their essays and I was incredibly surprised by their positions. Many students actually supported the idea of keeping grades but suggested changes that should be made to render the grading system more effective. 

In this post, I will be sharing some of the insights of the students who believe that we should continue with grades in Elementary. In part 2, you’ll have the opportunity to hear the arguments from the other position. Hold on to your hats, these students had some incredible reasons either for or against our current grading system. 

Yes to Grades!

“Good grades lead to scholarships and opportunities for post secondary education.” 

When I hear young students – I teach 10- and 11-year-olds – talking about scholarships and post-secondary education, it always blows my mind. I think that there was always an expectation for me to go to University but I don’t think that I started to worry about grades until I was in Grade 10. It was then that one of my teachers suggested that I do something other than Sciences as I “wasn’t good at them”. I think it was at that moment that I decided that I was going to be a Scientist and I started paying attention to my grades and considering what courses I needed to take in order to prove that teacher wrong. 

While I know that the idea of “success” is drilled into us at an early age, it’s remarkable that these students are already equating their worth or their future employment outcomes based on grades they are yet to attain. I say yet to attain because I really wonder what marks in Grade 5 mean to students who are in Grade 11 or 12.  Many of my students claim that I am a hard marker and this statement alone suggests that grades have a certain level of subjectivity from one teacher to the next. 

Within this particular essay, the student reminds us that the requirements for entry into post-secondary education or for scholarships are directly related to marks and as such, getting rid of marks would require us to change the acceptance criteria for both. Unless we are willing to change the entire system, getting rid of grades at the Elementary level seems counterproductive. 

“School is a replica of life for youth, as stress and competition are present everywhere in the world. Grades are used to measure a student the same way that income is to an employee.”

The argument of school as a microcosm of the world. Those who succeed in the game of school will succeed in the game of life. If only this were true. While I believe that much of what we experience in our years in the education system certainly has an impact on future outcomes and experiences, there are many people who were not necessarily “good” at the game of school, and who have become quite successful in their own right, in the game of life.

This idea of better grades equating to a better job and in turn more money is one that is held by many of my students. It’s a narrative that they have learned along the way and begs for further inspection. I consider many people who are highly educated and still struggle to find jobs for a variety of reasons. I think of newcomers, those with differing abilities, and those who are racialized and face systemic racism. While these play a role in students’ experiences within school communities, the reality for adults who are newcomers, have differing abilities, and/or are racialized, tends to have different layers of impact. 

Do grades now really determine future success? Is managing the stress of grades equal to managing the stress of a job in the future? My students tend to think so. 

“Accountability. If you know you are getting marked you will actually do the work.”

Many students argued that when they are getting marked on something, they actually work harder, which makes me wonder about the intrinsic value of learning. Isn’t that the whole point of school in the first place? To have a desire to learn, rather than a desire to get a gold star? Wait…we do give out gold stars in school too.

During our discussions, students mentioned that if an activity or task was seen as being a practice for an upcoming culminating activity or test, they may not put in as much effort because they know that it’s just practice. On the other hand, for the final task itself, they would be sure to hand in better work because they know that the expectation is higher because this is something that the teacher sees as valuable and worthy of a mark. This made me wonder about my own methods of assessment and evaluation and what I value and in turn have imparted on my students as valuable. How have I contributed to this idea of getting the work done because there is a mark attached to it? Is it more important than the learning along the way?

So there you have it. These are just some of the reasons why my students say that we should keep grades in Elementary. I must admit that even among those who think we should keep grades, there was significant mention of teachers being able to justify the grades through feedback. So even when a grade is attached, feedback is still something that students want. In part 2, I share the other side of this argument.

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

Progressing With Difficulty

As the deadline for completing Progress Reports approaches, I am reflecting on the word “evaluation” and thinking critically about the ways educators and schools “value” knowledge and measure “success”.   

Despite the challenges and loss created by COVID-19, my young students continue to demonstrate compassion and resiliency.  They are actively engaged in learning and happy to be together at school.  They are working hard, and with support, they are rising to meet my high expectations.  I believe they are progressing very well.

The problem is that when educators measure student “success” against a standardized level of achievement, some students are constructed as “failures”.  This can be very discouraging.  We know that how students feel about themselves impacts how they learn.

We also know that report cards and standardized assessments, like EQAO, reflect a colonial and Eurocentric approach to education that often excludes or disadvantages many students.  Educators need to think critically about how assessment and evaluation practices reinforce racial inequity, and privilege student “success” and belonging.

How might we transform assessment and evaluation so that all students are empowered to achieve excellence, and feel successful?

For the last twelve years, I have been exploring collaborative assessment as an alternative to traditional forms of assessment.  I am inspired by the possibilities of self-assessment and goal setting to engage our students and families in the teaching and learning process in meaningful ways.

What is collaborative assessment?

Collaborative assessment involves students, families and educators as co-learners in the process of gathering and sharing formative assessment.  It helps to build trusting relationships and strengthen the home-school connection.  Collaboration assessment may include any of the following strategies: an introduction letter about a child written by a parent, inventories or surveys, individual goal setting, self-and peer-assessment, checklists, rubrics, portfolios, journals, and Student-Led Conferences.

What are the benefits of collaborative assessment for students, families and educators? 

The Ontario Ministry of Education has published several resources to support collaborative assessment because there are many benefits for students, families and educators.  Collaborative assessment invites students, families and educators to actively engage in the teaching and learning process, and creates a reciprocal relationship where students, families and educators share responsibility for learning.

Research has shown that the use of goal setting and self-assessment in the classroom engages student voice and supports critical thinking and meta-cognition skills:

“Self-assessment has been shown to impact both increased student achievement and improved student behaviour.  Involvement in the classroom assessment processes can increase student engagement and motivation.”

Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. “Student Self-Assessment”. Capacity Building Series K-12.  (December 2007)

When educators empower students to make choices about how they will demonstrate their learning, and evaluate how well they have met the learning expectations, it helps to create an inclusive environment that honours and celebrates the multiple and diverse ways that students learn and share knowledge.  Additional benefits of collaborative assessment include:

*accountability by students for their own learning

*pride in achievement among students

*confidence by students to take on leadership roles

*learning independence in students

*parent participation in school life

*improved communication with parents resulting in deeper understanding and confidence in what happens at school

*more positive student-teacher relationships

*valuable feedback for teachers and families

*common understanding of the language of assessment

Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Webcast Professional Learning Series. (2010) Viewer’s Guide: Student-Led Conferences.

What does collaborative assessment look like in the classroom?

In our Grade 2 classroom, we will focus on goal-setting, portfolios, and Student-Led Conferences.

Throughout the year, students will be supported to set individual short-term academic and social goals.  These goals will be achievable and meaningful.  Students will have many opportunities to reflect on their goals, develop and evaluate their own success criteria, and celebrate their achievements.  I will send home these goals as we create them together, so that families can support their child to work towards achieving these goals.  When students set individual goals that are “just right” for them, they will feel successful.

All students will have a portfolio in-class and on-line.  A portfolio is a collection of work samples chosen by the student and/or by the teacher.  Students will be encouraged to select several pieces and reflect on their own work and process throughout the year.  Portfolios offer an opportunity to explore growth and learning in concrete ways.  Students will share their portfolios with their families in February, and at the end of the year in a Student-Led Conference.  Families will also have an opportunity to explore their child’s portfolio at Parent-Teacher conferences.

Student-Led Conferences are powerful opportunities for students to identify their strengths and share evidence of how well they are meeting their learning goals.  Usually, there are 4-5 conferences happening in the classroom at one time, and I will rotate between them to listen and add to the discussion.  Last year, we used technology to facilitate Student-Led Conferences virtually.  I will write more about how to support Student-Led Conferences in another blog post.

How can families support collaborative assessment?

Family involvement is a crucial part of collaborative assessment.  Families are encouraged to be involved in the assessment process in any of the following ways:

*writing a letter of introduction, which includes their own goals/hopes for the school year

*helping their child to develop appropriate goals

*supporting their child to achieve these goals at home

*sharing observations, asking questions during Parent-Teacher conferences

*participating in Student-Led Conferences

*providing feedback after interviews and conferences

*understanding the curriculum expectations

*reading the report card

Self-reflection:

I believe that one of the most important skills that students and educators can learn is self-reflection.  As an educator, I am always actively reflecting on the choices that I make inside and outside of the classroom.  I know that I am not the only one who struggles with assessment and evaluation.  It is a critical part of our work, and an opportunity to think about how we share power with students.

Learning is an emergent and collaborative process, and I believe assessment and evaluation should reflect this.  I want to create brave spaces that acknowledge and celebrate different ways of knowing and learning, provide students with authentic and multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, and use collaborative forms of assessment and evaluation so that all students can feel successful.

 

 

Progress Reports – Reflection & Goal Setting

I have no idea how we got here again so quickly! It’s Progress Report time! I was on leave last year and somehow this year feels as though I’m still really trying to get to know my students. Maybe it’s the same every year and I’ve just forgotten but time has really gone quickly. I feel as though every day there’s a new moment of learning for me and I know that my students may be feeling the same way about me and my teaching style. 

As we prepare for the Progress Reports to go home, I really think it’s important for students to reflect on their progress so far and to start thinking of at least one area in which to improve. Normally I have students reflect and make notes using paper & pencil but this year, I decided to create a Google Form with questions about each Learning Skill; offering students a few examples of look fors and asking them to justify their responses. I’ve found responses always enlightening. They have also been great sources of conversation as students gain a deeper understanding of what is expected of them in each of the areas. 

As educators, we talk a lot about self-regulation but it’s interesting to me that for some of my grade 4s and 5s, this is the first year where they are truly understanding what this term means for them. It’s not about compliance but rather knowing what you need for learning and making sure that you are making choices that align with those needs, so that you can learn optimally. There’s a lot of metacognition involved in self-regulation. How are we modelling this for students as we support them in learning how to self-regulate? 

The great thing about Google Forms is that it provides amazing graphs of responses as they submitted their responses. Next week, we will be taking a deeper look at our classroom data and considering what we can work towards collectively as we build our classroom community. Over the coming weeks, students will also think about their own goals based on their responses, their Progress Reports and our Parent-Teacher interviews. 

For some this is an overwhelming time of year and they are nervous about their report cards. I’m really trying to have students think of this time as a check-in and an opportunity to think about what they’ve done well so far and what they will focus on for the next couple of months. I’m also asking them to consider the character that they would like to have and what skills we can work on together, in order to help them achieve that character.

Report Cards – FSL Comments

To date, I’ve written two posts (here and here) with sample comments for the Learning Skills section of the Ontario report card. Those are arguably the most difficult comments to write, but I’ve also found French language comments to be challenging. I change my style and choices every year, it feels like, so these are by no means perfect, but I thought some of you may like to see some of the comments I use for reporting on French Immersion and Core French. Use bits of these, adapt them, share them – these are here for your reference and to help you out!

 

Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing With Difficulty (D-level)

(NAME) is making some progress in the grade 5 Middle French Immersion program, although she requires considerable encouragement to engage with the class during instructional time. With frequent support, she is beginning to speak in French with her teacher and peers. She should strive to make use of in-class supports (e.g., anchor charts, notes, word wall) to assist her with her learning. Continued reading at home (preferably aloud) will help her to develop stronger reading skills.

In subjects where the language of instruction is French, (NAME) consistently needs one-on-one assistance to understand the material being taught and complete her work. Going forward, she would benefit from developing listening strategies to help her understand what is being taught (such as listening for key words, watching the speaker, using visual supports).

 

Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Well (C-level)

(NAME) is progressing well overall in the grade 5 Middle French Immersion program. With one-on-one or small group assistance, he is usually able to demonstrate an understanding of the material discussed in class. He makes good connections between what he is learning in class and his personal experiences. Oral communication is an area of need for (NAME) as he requires frequent support when speaking spontaneously. He would benefit from using a variety of speaking strategies (e.g., hand gestures, visual supports, rephrasing) to communicate his ideas without substituting English words. (NAME)’s writing strategies are developing well, and he makes good use of classroom resources (e.g., Word Reference, anchor charts, notes) to complete his work.

 

Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Well (B-level)

(NAME) is progressing well so far in the Middle French Immersion program. He is beginning to speak with more confidence in rehearsed situations, such as prepared presentations. When speaking, he is usually able to communicate his thoughts and ideas effectively, although he sometimes needs encouragement to persevere in French when the vocabulary is less familiar. He can work on improving his communication skills by using speaking strategies (e.g., using gestures, finding another way to say a word, using anchor charts) to avoid resorting to using English in class.

 

Program: Middle French Immersion (year 3) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Very Well

(NAME) is progressing very well so far in the Middle French Immersion program. She is a highly effective communicator and speaks with confidence in both spontaneous and rehearsed situations. When writing, she is able to use the self-revision checklist (POMMES) to correct any errors in her text. She can work to improve her speaking skills by striving to speak only in French during class time.

 

Program: Middle French Immersion (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: Significant difficulty, little progress

(NAME) continues to demonstrate significant difficulty in French-language subjects. She has missed a large amount of French instruction time this term due to late arrivals and absences, which has hindered her development as she has missed many opportunities to practice her French skills in class discussions and group work. (NAME) is reluctant to speak French in class, rarely even using common phrases such as asking to use the washroom, though with encouragement she will sometimes form short sentences when speaking to teachers. She consistently requires one-on-one support to understand lessons. When reading, she shows surface-level understanding of texts at the Grade 6 level when supported by the teacher or her peers. Engaging (NAME) in French subjects has been a challenge this term, as she often needs reminders to stay on task. (NAME) will need to put much more effort into French subjects next year in order to catch up to where she should be. Her immediate focus should be on developing her oral communication skills, particularly speaking.

 

Program: MFI (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: B level

(NAME) demonstrates a high degree of comprehension during listening activities and discussions. She is able to follow complex instructions without assistance from her teachers.  When speaking, (NAME) usually communicates her thoughts and ideas clearly. She is developing a good accent and pronounces most familiar words correctly. Overall, she speaks with some ease in spontaneous and rehearsed contexts. Going forward, she would benefit from building her confidence when speaking, which would help to develop her intonation and fluency.  (NAME) is developing good writing skills. She has a wide vocabulary and is able to apply most conventions with success when creating written texts. When given feedback, she is generally able to apply that feedback and make revisions to her writing. When reading, (NAME)’s decoding and comprehension skills consistently meet the grade 6 expectations. She generally identifies the main idea and important details in a text, though at times she requires some encouragement to provide evidence from the text to support her ideas. (NAME)  is encouraged to continue reading French books at her level over the summer to continue developing her reading skills.

 

Program: MFI (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: A level (shockingly similar to the B level comment… to show you how I adapt it but don’t overdo workload by completely changing wording)

(NAME) participates actively in all aspects of the French program. She demonstrates a high degree of comprehension during listening activities and discussions. She is able to follow complex instructions without assistance from her teachers.  When speaking, (NAME) nearly always communicates her thoughts and ideas clearly. Her confidence allows her to speak with considerable fluency in both spontaneous and rehearsed contexts. She is developing a good accent when speaking and pronounces most familiar words correctly.  (NAME) is a strong writer. She makes great use of a wide vocabulary and a good understanding of French conventions to create a variety of written texts. When given feedback, she is able to apply that feedback and successfully make revisions to her writing.  Overall, (NAME) is a strong reader in French. When reading independently, her decoding and comprehension skills exceed the grade 6 expectations. She identifies the main idea and important details in texts with ease. (NAME) is encouraged to continue reading French books over the summer to continue developing her reading skills.

 

Program: Core French – Term: 1 – Profile: Strong academics, good engagement

(NAME) participates actively in all aspects of the Core French program. She has strong communication skills and consistently speaks in French during class activities. She has demonstrated leadership in the classroom by helping her peers when she is able to. When writing, (NAME) makes good use of classroom resources (e.g., dictionaries, models, anchor charts) to complete tasks independently. Going forward, she is encouraged to speak in French with her peers during class time to further develop her skills.

 

Program: Core French – Term: 1 – Profile: Good academics overall, solid B-level achievement

(NAME) is an active and enthusiastic participant in Core French activities. She uses many comprehension strategies (e.g., context clues, mots amis) to help her understand what she is hearing and reading. Using models, she can produce a variety of text types with familiar vocabulary and sentence structure. She often tries to use new vocabulary in her writing and enjoys finding new ways to say something. Overall, her oral communication skills are developing well, though she would benefit from making more of an effort to only speak in French during class activities. When speaking spontaneously, she can usually communicate her thoughts and ideas clearly. That said, she has a tendency to switch to English if she is not certain how to say something. For next term, she is encouraged to persevere and try to finish her thoughts in French without reverting to English.

 

Program: Core French – Term: 2 – Profile: Good effort but lower achievement, C/D level

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. She is always ready to learn and approaches Core French activities with enthusiasm. She has made some progress with her communication skills in French this year, although she continues to need considerable assistance to complete reading and writing tasks in particular. She is starting to make good use of listening strategies to follow along with lessons and complete tasks using simple French vocabulary. (NAME) typically needs reminders to use classroom resources to help her complete her work, such as word walls and models. For next year, she is encouraged to work toward participating more frequently in class discussions and striving to use what she has learned in the classroom on a more consistent basis.

 

Program: Core French – Term: 2 – Profile: Limited French exposure before this year, good progress, B level

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. He is always ready to learn and approaches Core French activities with enthusiasm most of the time. He has learned many useful listening strategies which have helped him tremendously in the class. With some assistance, he is able to understand lessons, follow instructions, and complete tasks using simple French vocabulary. He is learning quickly and puts great effort into using the language skills he has learned on a daily basis. He makes good use of classroom resources such as word walls and dictionaries, although he occasionally needs help finding the correct words to put his ideas into writing. For next year, he is encouraged to work on adding expression to his French reading now that he recognizes most common spelling patterns.

More Learning Skills Comments!

One of the most popular posts I have written over the past few years was a collection of Learning Skills comments I put together. It continues to get views and comments regularly, but like most of us, I cringe when I look back on what I wrote three or four years ago. They’re not bad comments, I just feel like I’ve learned so much since then.

So I’m back! With more comment samples for you! You’re free to use these – modify them, mix and match them, grab one or two sentences, whatever you like! These are here to help you and give you an idea of how one teacher in Ontario writes their comments. I’ve also posted some FSL comments for the Core and Immersion teachers out there.


 

Profile: strong learning skills, good leadership qualities, regularly engaged in class, working on developing more confidence

It has been a pleasure having (NAME) as part of our classroom community this year. She is an enthusiastic, hard-working student who always strives to do her best. During lessons, she listens attentively and regularly offers her insights, although at times she seems unsure about her answers. As her confidence builds, her active participation increases, and she should be very proud of her accomplishments to date.

When working independently, (NAME) makes good use of alternative workspaces (e.g., the library, the hallway) to provide her with a quiet space for working. While she occasionally allows herself to get distracted by socializing with her peers, a quick reminder is often all that is required to return her attention to the task at hand. She makes good use of success criteria and learning goals to ensure that her work is meeting expectations. 

Collaboration is one of (NAME)’s strengths. She often takes on leadership roles when working with peers, such as organizing what needs to be done and creating a plan to ensure the group is successful. Her kind, open-minded personality allows her to work with any student without issue. On the rare occasion that conflict arises, she is always able to find a solution without assistance.

(NAME) has become a strong role model for her peers. Her dedication and cheerful disposition are great assets to our school community. Keep up the great work!

 

Profile: weaker learning skills, not fully engaging in French Immersion program, finds academic demands challenging, tends to shut down when encountering difficulty

(NAME) is a kind, compassionate student who is beginning to develop more confidence in his abilities. When he feels certain that he is on the right track and understanding the material, he is an active participant in class discussions. Much of the time, however, he requires frequent reminders from teachers and peers to engage in respectful listening behaviour, as he is often chatting with friends or playing with objects during lessons. Given that he often seems to feel overwhelmed by the expectations of the Middle French Immersion program, particularly during subjects where French is the language of instruction, he would benefit immensely from listening more attentively to his teachers and peers.

(NAME)’s independent work has been inconsistent this term. Much like during class discussions, when he feels confident about his abilities, he is able to complete his work with some support and extended time limits. Most of the time, however, he is quick to become frustrated if he encounters difficulty. Once this happens, even with encouragement and one-on-one support, he often refuses to complete his work. Next term, he is encouraged to seek opportunities to work with his teachers (such as sitting at the round table during independent tasks) where they can more easily check in with him and assist him with his learning.

Collaboration is similarly inconsistent for (NAME). He is most successful when working in groups created by the teacher, as he is less likely to become distracted by socializing. When working with friends, however, he needs frequent reminders to return his attention to the task at hand. He would benefit from reflecting and making careful choices about who he chooses to work with for collaborative tasks.

(NAME) is developing some self-regulation strategies to assist him with his learning skills and habits. When he chooses quiet workspaces away from friends or makes use of classroom tools like noise-cancelling headphones, he is more successful. He is encouraged to continue making use of these accommodations over the second term to help him focus on his learning.

 

 

Profile: strong learning skills, good leadership qualities, tends to go overboard on projects

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. She is a cheerful, kind student who demonstrates great curiosity for learning. She is an active participant in class discussions and collaborative tasks, quick to make connections and think critically about what she is learning. Her leadership, reliability, and flexibility have all been wonderful additions to our classroom community.

Collaboration is one of (NAME)’s strengths. While she strongly prefers to work with her friends, she is able to work with most students without conflict. Her conflict resolution skills are well-developed and she is generally able to resolve any interpersonal conflicts without needing to involve her teachers. She is a good leader who tries to ensure that all members’ ideas are included in the planning of group tasks.

When completing projects, (NAME) is usually quick to come up with creative, outside-the-box ideas to extend her learning. That said, sometimes these ideas become too large or complex to complete within the given timeframe. When this happens, she has a tendency to ask for additional time rather than adjusting her plans. Next year, she is encouraged to plan in such a way that she can adjust and scale back the plan rather than requesting extra time, as additional work time for one project results in lost time for other instruction.

All the best next year, (NAME)!

 

Profile: student who tends to rush, engages in discussion on topics of high interest, needs to work on collaboration

It has been a pleasure having (NAME) as part of our classroom community this year. She is a creative, enthusiastic student who always brings a unique perspective to our class discussions. She participates actively in most class discussions, although at times requires reminders to put away her book in order to give her full attention to the lesson. 

When working independently, (NAME) is at her best when she is highly engaged in a task, such as tasks involving environmental issues. When her interest in the topic is high, she puts significant effort into her work and eagerly shares her knowledge with her peers. Conversely, when the topic is less interesting to her, she has a tendency to rush through her work in order to finish quickly and move on to something new. Overall, she takes feedback well when it is about specific criteria that she overlooked, but she is reluctant to go back to add more detail or expand on her thoughts. She would benefit from taking time to review her work, ensuring it is detailed and meets the success criteria for the task.

When collaborating with others, (NAME) strongly prefers to work with her close friends and requires considerable encouragement to engage fully in other groupings. She occasionally needs redirection to stay on task during group work, as she sometimes goes to find her friends’ groups to chat. She is encouraged to approach collaborative work with a more open mind next year, as she is a valuable group member with a wealth of knowledge to share.

 

And a few other snippets you may find useful:

During independent work periods, (NAME) can generally be counted on to stay on task, though he needs occasional reminders not to get caught up socializing with his peers. His willingness to seek assistance or clarification has increased since the beginning of the year, and we hope that he continues to come forward when he needs guidance with a task. Though his resilience is improving as the year progresses, (NAME) continues to become frustrated with himself when he finds a task difficult. Once this happens, he is sometimes receptive to teacher assistance and feedback to help him work through the task. Next term, he would benefit from taking advantage of opportunities to work nearer to his teachers (such as at the round table) during independent work periods to provide him with opportunities to check in more regularly while working.

 

(NAME)’s greatest area of need this term has been in developing positive collaboration skills. She strongly prefers to work with her friends and is reluctant to fully engage in group tasks with some students, sometimes going as far as to ask to work on her own or switch groups rather than work through conflict. She is highly motivated to do well, which sometimes leads to clashes with other students when they have different plans for how to approach a collaborative task. Next year, she should continue to work on “guiding from the side” by helping her group to stay focused and on task while also allowing her peers’ ideas to take the spotlight more often.

 

I’ll also try to put together some of the comments I’ve written for other subjects, particularly things like French. I find it can be very challenging to know where to begin with Language comments for French Immersion – especially for smaller programs like the one I teach (Middle French Immersion). Hope these are useful to someone out there!