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!



Google Forms as Pedagogical Documentation Tools




I really love using Google Forms for anecdotal notes (something like this). I hate having to keep track of sticky notes, photos/samples of student work, class lists with comments, etc. and then try to make sense of it all come report card time. A few years ago, I was introduced to the magic of Google Forms at a tech workshop, and I immediately jumped in. Since then, I’d say that the most common tech question I’m asked as my school’s digital lead is, How do I set up pedagogical documentation with Google Forms?

So… here I am with a tutorial! Fair warning: this post is photo-heavy because I’ve provided screenshots throughout.


Step One: Create a New Form


forms tut 1


Open up Google Forms and hit the “Blank” button under “Start a new form”. You should end up with something like this:

forms tut 2

Step Two: Change the Title & Add Student Names

Set the title (blue arrow) to something you’ll remember. If you have multiple classes, you should include the class name in the title. Then name the first question “Student Name” and select dropdown from the menu to the right (red arrow). Time-saving tip: if you have an electronic class list file, you can highlight a column of student names, copy (ctrl + C), and paste the names into the response field for the question. It’ll populate the list with all of the names from that column.

I recommend setting this question as “Required” (black arrow) so that it won’t allow you to complete the form without selecting a student.

forms tut 3

Step 3: Create the Learning Skills (or Subject) Question

Your next question should be where you select which learning skills and/or subjects you are commenting on. I like to set this question to a checkboxes response style (black arrow) so that I can select multiple learning skills/subject areas when appropriate. I often set this question as “required” as well.

forms tut 4

Step 4: Create the Comments Field

Next, you want to create a place for you to type in your observations. Google Forms is pretty intelligent and automatically selects paragraph as the response style when you name the question “Comments”. Paragraph simply means that when you open up the form, it’ll give you a large field to type into. I recommend paragraph over short answer so that you don’t hit a character limit. I recommend setting this question as required, since it’s… you know… kind of the point of the form. 

forms tut 5

Step 5: Create a File Upload Question (if you want)

I always include a “file upload” option with my anecdotal forms so that I can attach samples of student work (scanned work, photos, files from Drive). It can be really useful if students are doing group work, hands-on activities, or work that is otherwise hard to keep around. Also useful for keeping your piles of student samples to a minimum!

When you first select “File Upload”, you’ll get a notice like this, and you just need to click “Continue” (black arrow):

forms tut 6

Then your question should look like this:

forms tut 7


I don’t play around with the options there, personally. I like to leave it open and flexible.

Step 6: Set Your Form to Collect Responses in a Spreadsheet

This is one of the best parts of Google Forms: if you ask it to, it’ll collect every response you submit in a spreadsheet, where you can access ALL of your anecdotal notes in one place. You can sort by student name, learning skill, whatever. Responses will be date/time stamped, so you know when you made the observations. You definitely want to do this.

To set your form to collect responses in a spreadsheet, first select “Responses”…

forms tut 8

Then click this little green button (the Sheets icon)…

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It’ll pop up with a window that looks like this…

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And when you hit “Create”, it’ll take you to your new spreadsheet, where responses will automatically be added as you submit them! It’ll look something like this:

forms tut 11


That’s it! You’re done! Your form is now ready to use. 

Final suggestions:

  • Bookmark it and add the bookmark to your bookmarks bar for easy access.
  • Share it with teaching partners so that all of your observations are in one place.
  • If you use Google Classroom and have multiple classes, make the header for your form the same as the header for Google Classroom so that you know you’re in the right one.

Hope some of you out there found this useful! If you’re looking for a more visual/simple way to track student work and learning skills, especially those in Kinder and Primary, consider using Google Keep instead of forms.


Training Students To Have Independent Reflection Skills

Assessment in my music room follows a gradual release of responsibility model. I explicitly teach students how to self-assess their ability to create and play a song correctly. I do this regularly throughout the year as we learn how to play different instruments, songs and arrangements.


Co-creating a Criteria

Near the beginning of a new unit, the students and I co-create criteria using Anne Davies’ Model. This process helps me understand where my students are in their assessment for learning and often identifies areas where they will need help. You can see from the picture below that my students really understand the idea that you are supposed to cover the holes when you are playing music on the recorder, but tonguing is something that this class needed a lot of help with, as only one student used it as part of the criteria. The criteria that we create is used in all subsequent lessons to help students have a deep understanding of how they can be successful.

anne davies


co created

After we have written the criteria, I have the students use the criteria to assess me while I am performing a piece of music.  I explain thoroughly each part of the criteria as I demonstrate what a level 4 looks like. In the next three or four classes that follow, I do a warm up using the criteria until I feel that the class has a firm grasp on how they will be assessed. I want them to be empowered to be able to explain and use the criteria that we have created. In the warm up, I play for them and they give me feedback. I fill in the gaps or explain any pieces of the criteria that they are not fully understanding.

Assessment as learning

After students have some understanding of how they will assess themselves, they spend time receiving feedback from both me and their peers. They play for me in person and through Google Classrooms.

partner reflection

After the first couple of times that they play with me, I ask them to assess themselves with my support. I train them to express their next steps orally with me in small groups or one on one. For those students who need further practice, I do small group instruction where they play and we work through each part of the criteria until they understand it fully.

Assessment of learning/Celebration of Learning

Once each student is able to fully assess themselves confidently, they have so much ownership over their growth and I focus on helping them achieve as much as they can in one year! My assessment of learning is always a celebration of how far the students have come. I always make it a point to show them their progress as they move through various units, so that they have confidence in their abilities.

This process takes quite a bit of time, but it is well worth the skills that the students acquire.  The skills required to be able to identify areas of need are the skills that will carry our students through much bigger challenges than Hot Cross Buns on the recorder.

Do-over day

Have you ever wished that you could do something over again to make it better?
In education, this could be everyday, every week, every month, and every year in our classrooms. If we let it.

Have you ever taught a lesson more than once in order to ensure your students understood and could master the concept(s)? What, you’ve done this over and over!? You don’t say?

This happens more often than all of us think and that’s okay. I learnt very quickly in my career that last year’s grand slam lessons do not always guarantee success when used in the years to come. Hence the need for the do-over, or reinvention in order to revive or re-invigorate what we teach.

What about a retest? A few years ago, I completely misread my students’ progress on a Math strand and the results were glaringly obvious that I failed them. After an open discussion about the daunting unit, I had students take their tests, crumple them up, and throw them around the classroom. It was like a giant breath of fresh air had blown into the room as everyone exhaled.

We restarted the unit from ground zero and had a “do-over day” a couple of weeks later with much improved results. As a result, our class grew closer as a learning community. Students knew that I had their best interests at heart and that learning in our class did not come with an expiry date as laid out in dusty long range plans. After all the curriculum says, “by the end of each grade…” and not immediately after an assessment of learning.

Recently, my students were preparing to share a series of movie trailers they created about the book Loser by Jerry Spinelli. Each group, of 2 or 3, was asked to pull key elements from the text and to present them in the form of a live drama or digital version.

After much planning, production, and practice, the big day arrived for everyone to share their work. Not surprisingly, there were a number of interpretations of the text being shared and the trailers were being presented and screened. And then it happened.

Whether it was nerves or a case of over-preparation(I think it’s a thing), the majority of presentations shared were not the shiniest outputs from this group. Cue the do-overs. When I suggested this, the students seemed generally wary about it, but I was serious. With some descriptive class feedback, we started over again with much more positive results.

Now think about your classroom? Is there room for the do-over within your walls and halls? Imagine the opportunity to reinforce the idea that failure can still be a positive result when it is used as a stop along the way rather than the final destination to success. I believe that the more we build this into our pedagogy, the more our students will be willing to take chances, make mistakes, and move forward.

Thank you for reading. Please share your “do-over” stories in the comments section below.

Define and defying (smart) device use

photo by sik-life CC0
photo by sik-life CC0

There’s more to Modern Learning than delivering lessons on to smartphones.
There’s more to Modern Learning than having a paperless class.
There’s more to Modern Learning because there just is…
And I’m fine with that because there is more to Modern Learning.
So much so, that we are seeing more and more educators trying to define it even if others seem to be defying it.

Walk into a K- 8 classroom and you’ll most likely see students and teachers using smartphones, tablets, MS desktops, Apples, and Chromebooks. Perhaps they’re inquiring about a recent lesson, or digging deeper into a passion project during Genius Hour? Maybe the whole class is playing Kahoot with their French teacher?

From a distance it looks amazing. I have been the teacher who has witnessed all of the above and I’ll throw in a Google Classroom, TED Ed Lessons, Padlet, and raise you a Twitter. Can you hear the government types and administrators applauding and patting themselves on the back for allowing it to happen. However the applause should be for the educators who have led the charge to implement Modern Learning into their spaces. They are willing to take risks, try new things, and make mistakes to reach their Modern Learners. Teachers are in the trenches of learning everyday and understand the what, why, and how of their classrooms.

Outside looking in

To outsiders, visions of devices and technology in every hand sum up their understandings of modern learning. A cynic may equate Modern Learning as simply a shift from text books and worksheets to students completing digital versions of the same old thing.

Keep in mind, “Modern learning” is not limited to tech use alone, but will be for this post. Technology in the hands of educators and learners has now become the conduit through which learning takes place. When modern tools and passionate instruction are paired, learning becomes more relevant and engaging to students. Imagine being able to ask a question and have time to search for the answer immediately with only a few keystrokes and clicks?

“Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.”                  Jørgen MORTENSEN

Board wide access to WiFi means more and more students are taking notes during lessons using the technology at their fingertips. At the same time, teachers are gathering evidence of learning too.  And, still others are watching a cool cat video or streaming music? It’s all possible in the modern learning classroom. However, as many educators have already discovered, the use of smartphones can be a friend and foe in the classroom and comes with a few caveats. Modern Learning

A smart device is a tool in the learning toolbox not a cure all. It is not the only one and as such should never be relied upon for a quick fix or for ushering in the ‘educational renaissance’. Consider what Jason Lodge writes,

Enhancing education is a complex, wicked problem because learning and teaching are multifaceted phenomena, involving biological, technological, psychological, social, economic and pedagogical factors.

Reading this provides little comfort to my understanding of Modern Learning. In fact it leads me deeper down the rabbit hole in pursuit of understanding it better. Despite the wonder promised by all of this technology, students are still engaging with it far more often to connect and communicate rather than curate, create, and collaborate on content.

True story time

The other day I observed a grade 6 student using a device at an inappropriate time. As I approached, she quickly hid it(an iPhone 6+). Like a phablet that size can be hidden. I asked what she was so consumed by on her device that she was defying school policy? She shared it was a fan site for Ariana Grande.

Not the worst use of WiFi by a student, but off topic to be sure. After a few more questions I asked her to explain to me what she liked about Ariana Grande. We chatted about the March For Our Lives rally and about her performance. The convo continued and I got to know more about the student rather than defaulting to a YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER moment, followed by the standard lecture on appropriate use of technology.

Maybe this approach can be considered as Modern Learning too. If not, we can call it Modern Pedagogy that builds relationships and connections before asking students to fall into curricular compliance without context. Maybe Modern Learning has to be willing to defy convention?

By taking the time to discover her interests, some barriers were taken down. It was only afterwards that I suggested that classtime was intended for curriculum, and that I would suggest a Genius Hour activity in the near future where she could combine learning with her personal interest in Ms Grande – all the while helping other students discover, scratch, and share their own intellectual itches.

Another approach

At other schools, students are now required to lock their smartphones away for the learning day as an effort to reduce misuse and device distractions. What the link did not mention was that the school probably has students on computers or tablets as part of the instructional space. Anyone who has booked a computer cart or lab knows that students can become as easily distracted by these tools too.

So what ends up happening are these absolutes and dictums from class to class and school to school. It is obvious that some teachers are more open to embrace this more easily than others. Perhaps it is an admin or system issue, but there does not appear to be a consistent policy about device useage in schools. The dissonance in all of this for me is that we ask our students to innovate, we give them the most amazing and powerful learning/communication devices on the planet and then expect them to be able to put them aside to listen to a lesson that is being pulled from a text book or source older than they are. In other cases, students are creating multi-modal masterpieces of identity and ingenuity.

How about engaging and empowering them to use their devices for everything that is possible, trusting them to make good decisions, and having them create the criteria for use in classrooms? At the same time, educators can model appropriate use by sharing documents, links, updates, and evidence of learning via Twitter or class web sites.

The technology is not going away. The when, where, why, and how it will be used needs some defining so that students are not seen as defying school when they use their devices. Then maybe Modern Learning can be more than just more with technology.

Extra Fuel for your Modern Learning fire;




Who? What? Where?

One of the anchor charts in my classroom states that Reading is… Remembering and Understanding. This is what I use to help students understand that good reading is so much more than word decoding. In my classroom I am often faced with trying to help students who have difficulty in their reading comprehension. They lack the ability to recall what they have just read or their recall is very generic and lacks specific details. I have developed a game to help improve a student’s ability to recall the specifics around characters, main events and setting. This learning task is called Who? What?  Where?

IMG_1794This is a three phase unit. The first step is to model it using a read aloud novel. After each chapter we pause and take a minute to review the characters that were a part of that chapter, what were the main events that occurred in that chapter and finally where did that part of the story take place. I do this for about two or three chapters into the novel. From there we move to a graphic organizer where they now have to answer questions I have created about a chapter after it has been finished. The questions are designed to elicit one or two word answers and thus can fit easily in the boxes on the page. The other purpose for the short answer is to focus on comprehension and not spelling or sentence structure. After each chapter I ask three questions, one of each type. As the chapters progress, the questions become more and more specific and thus a deeper recall gradually begins to occur with my students. The students earn points based on their ability to recall accurate information. For most students this is a motivator by itself.

IMG_1795The final stage of this unit is to transfer the learning that has occurred to an independent reading task they complete. This is called their Book Project. They are able to select a book that meets the following two criteria:

  • It has to be at a level that is just right or challenging for them (teacher approved)
  • It has to be a narrative (thus focusing in on the three elements of a story characters, setting and main events)

From here they now have to read their novel, decide on a way to share their understanding of the story (that best fits their learning style) with their classmates and teacher. It is here during this summative task I find out what gains have been made by students in their reading comprehension as well as finding further gaps that need to be addressed in the upcoming reading lessons. A natural progression that occurs is also the move away from just basic recall and the move to more critical literacy questioning and answering. But as many students have taught me, they need to have well grounded foundation skills prior to moving into higher level thinking skills.



Ontario Student Record Search

Wow, we are already into the second month of this school year and I am not sure I really know my students very well yet. I have a working idea of who they are as students and as people but need to gather more information to help me with my programming. That is where using their Ontario Student Record (OSR) can help you gather further data to assist me  in this process.

I typically do not complete my OSR searches until after the first month of school so that I can establish my own opinion about them as learners. The OSR is a cumulative record of them as a student since their entry into the Ontario education system. It is a legal document that travels with them from community to community and school to school in Ontario. It is a valuable tool for any educator who is working with a student.

There is a wide variety of information that exists in a student’s Ontario Student Record. First and foremost are the provincial report cards from their time at school. It is here that a teacher can gauge where a student has typically performed in the various curriculae. In addition there is often a wide variety of other sources of information specific to that student. For example, there could be documentation around outside supports such as occupational therapy, early intervention, psychological assessments, legal documentation around custody, Family & Children Services involvement, suspensions, Individual Education Plans and Safety Plans. When you look at the back of the OSR you can see a history of whether a student has had a stable education in one school or whether their circumstances show multiple schools with little or no stability. I have had one student who was entering into his 8th school and he was only in Grade 4.

There is a combination of hard data as well as data that has a subjective component and is based on the interaction and opinions of adults. It is important to differentiate between the two. I am not saying you should discount in any way or ignore that data, but rather understand that the circumstances in which that data was obtained may have been affected by many outside factors. For the student who was entering into his 8th school, his OSR showed that he had difficulty making friends. That data was accurate but was also impacted by his inability to be in a single place long enough to establish friendships or the fact he knew if he did make friends, he would probably be moving soon.

The OSR search is most valuable to me for my at risk students. Students who I know come with challenges either from an academic or behavioural standpoint are the first ones I search, as they demand my attention immediately. When I have a firm understanding of what level of achievement my students are displaying I then look at previous report cards to help me. If for example a student is obtaining a lower mark in mathematics then what has been previously reported it prompts me to further examine my assessment data to ensure my determinations are aligned with my criteria.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the proper protocol of what goes in an OSR, who can access an OSR, where that OSR can be viewed and the responsibilities a teacher has in regards to filing information in a student’s Ontario Student Record. A really rewarding aspect of doing my OSR searches is that I get to see how they have changed over the years with their annual photo. I have attached a template that I use when completing an OSR search.









Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2

This is the second post in my word series in spirit of circling the bases of baseball and education. I’m back at the plate to take another swing. Click here for an instant ‘read’play of my first at bat.

It’s the 7th inning, and your back at the plate, again. So far you have popped out to short stop, struck out looking, and are starting to regret getting out of bed today because you are sitting on 2 strikes already for this at bat; and the pitcher is feeling pretty smug about setting you down for the third time in a row.

photo by jcclark74 CC0
photo by jcclark74 CC0

You shake off the crowd noise and focus on the pitcher itching to make you look bad, again. Here it comes. The moment that defines you, validates you, and proves to the watching world, and yourself, that you deserve to be here. Your focus is Zen like. You want to hit one out of the park so badly, and leave the doubters gawking in awestruck wonder of your talent, and requisite, albeit, controversial bat-flip.

Here’s the pitch! Muscles tensed, eyes trained to the ball, hips and hands executing the swing in a fraction of a second, and in your mind play the immortal words of Jerry Howarth, “There she goes!” But the sound you hear is more of a thunk! You make contact, and the ball leaves the bat with barely enough force to escape the infield. Somehow, you are on base with a blooper, and after 2 failed attempts to get on base, you take what you can get. Time to make the most of it.

The classroom, like the baseball diamond, is where learning gets ugly and messy. Mistakes are going to be made, and that’s ok. Thoughts of perfection on every play only lead to frustration and disappointment. They are also unrealistic and can come at the detriment of the learner/player.

In baseball, like education, the goal is to get better every day. Results may often not be a result of what was planned or prepared for, but they allow us immediate feedback to keep our heads in the game. Do we quit when things are not going our way? Of course not. A perfect lesson in education, like a home run in baseball or pitching a perfect game, may be moonshot goals that should not keep us from swinging for the fences anyway.

Funny how life is like that too. The sweetest victories usually come after the most difficult times. As long as we are willing to be learning we are capable of achieving something. Success will look different from day to day. Are we preparing our students to stay in the games, step up to the plate, and take their swings? How we prepare our students will make all the difference. This comes through coaching, practice, resilience, and confidence. There is only one way to make this happen and it comes from believing in our students.

In a sport loaded with statistics, it is easy to glean relevant information about everything in baseball. Did you know that the last person to hit 400 was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. It was in 1941 and few players ever since have even come close to attaining, what is arguably, the most illusive achievement in professional baseball. Education has been known to keep stats too. Between government standardized tests, and need for assessment metrics from JK to infinity in the classroom, there is no shortage of data. But what of it? Are we using the data to its fullest? Are there better ways to measure success in the classroom like Sabremetrics I mentioned in my first post?

Baseball Player by Paul Brennan little paul - Public Domain
Baseball Player by Paul Brennan little paul – Public Domain

Imagine that since 1941, not a single player has been able to hit the baseball 4 times out of every 10 at bats. That’s a 40% success rate! What if we looked at our students that way. Would any of them be in the hall of fame with a success rate like Ted Williams? What would are world look like if our students were lauded for their swings and misses as much as their hits?

To some, it gets worse. In the modern era, if a player is able to hit the ball 3 times out of 10 over lengthy career he too has a good chance of being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame*. That’s by being successful only 30%. This got me thinking. How are you celebrating the success of your students? Are you finding them stressing over their last at bat(test result, essay, project)? Are they able to learn each time they come to the plate and take a swing without losing confidence when they get out?

In her incredible TED Talk Every kid needs a champion Rita Pierson shared how important it was to celebrate success in learning, even if it was a failure by all standards. I often lose track of this myself and need to take stock of the little victories that happen in the process. As teachers, if we are greeting students heading back to the dugout after an out with disappointment or derision then we are missing a chance to build confidence in them, and a chance to help reflect and prepare for what needs to happen for success next time.

If we can share this with our learners then success is possibly only a few innings away. In this way we can encourage and equip students to be ready for when their turns in the batting order come around again.

*Canada has its own completely different Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tortoise Brained Learning and Students

In my last post I focussed on the philosophical belief that quality vs quantity of professional learning is a more effective way of enhancing pedagogical practice. What does that mean for my classroom instruction? As I grow to understand the presence of different learning styles in my class, the presence of multiple intelligences and the wide variety of learning rates it forces me to re-examine both the long term and short term planning that I set up.

In the earlier part of my career my long-range plans were reflective of an efficient way to ensure that all of the curricula was covered. This I now refer to as curriculum planning and not student centred planning. As my understanding of differentiated learning and assessment grew, so did the need to adjust the way my planning unfolded. What I had experienced was a short-term understanding of content and when that topic was revisited months later there seemed to be a regression in the level of understanding of my students. That forced me to ask myself as to how well they had really learned the content in the first place.

Through years of experimenting with both my long range planning and unit design there arose two aha moments for me. The first was the need to revisit big ideas (overall expectations) through a spiralling curriculum. This means that I would chunk the content into more manageable pieces and revisit the content several times over the course of the year (quality vs quantity).

The second profound understanding was in time management and how do I accomplish the ability to revisit overall expectations with so many demands on the school day. Thus came the desire to increase my skill set in integrating learning across a variety of curricula. The following is a direct reference from the 2006 Ontario Language Curriculum:

In cross-curricular learning, students are provided with opportunities to learn and use related content and/or skills in two or more subjects. For example, teachers can use social studies reading material in their language lessons, and incorporate instruction in how to read non-fiction materials into their social studies lessons. In mathematics, students learn to identify the relevant information in a word problem in order to clarify what is being asked. In science and technology, they build subject-specific vocabulary, interpret diagrams and charts, and read instructions relating to investigations and procedures. All subjects require that students communicate what they have learned, orally and in writing. Their studies in the different subject areas help students develop their language skills, providing them with authentic purposes for reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing.

Needless to say, this is a spiralling learning experience for me as I continue to help my students consolidate the learning that they are a part of each and every day.

Assessment for Inquiry Projects

Alison_BoardTeachers are encouraged to use inquiry in all subject areas. Using inquiry is not necessarily a set of steps to follow or instruct, but an approach to guide student learning. It usually results in greater engagement and can easily be differentiated to individuals and groups. What is often the biggest challenge for teachers is the assessment piece.

Here are a few ways to support your assessment:

  • determine check-ins with students as they complete specific stages of the process, such as planning, research/recording observations, interpreting and communicating (use rubrics for these stages as provided in curriculum document – Continuum for Scientific Inquiry)
  • use mini-lessons to teach skills and content to the whole class that support the Inquiry subject area
  • use whole-class discussions or small group discussions to make observations about student knowledge and understanding (this also builds knowledge among the larger group)
  • provide access to a computer for each group or a notebook to record their questions and plans and stay accountable. Communicate with them to further their thinking and provide next steps (Google Docs works well for this)
  • Keep observations sheets handy to make notes and take photos
  • Inquiry work provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the learning skills
  • Provide students with a checklist to ensure specific learning, such as “Show impact on environment” or “Determine best solution for power generation at our school” – when assessing effectiveness of final task/project that students may present in a variety of ways (poster, video, website, etc.)

There are some great project based learning guidelines and assessment tips/strategies on the website or follow edutopia on Twitter.