Classroom Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are a time-tested tradition in which individuals make personal commitments to improve in some aspect of their life. I have used this activity in my classroom for over two decades and find it to be a wonderful, fun tool in helping both myself and my students set goals on how to make the most of their academic year.First and foremost I model this activity for my students by reflecting on my first four months of the school year. I determine what went well and what do I need to do to further enhance the success of my students. I set personal resolutions in the following areas:

  1. Continue – what practices are going very well and should continue in the new year
  2. Improve – what practices have not went as well as expected and what do I need to do to improve that area of my teaching
  3. Experiment – what new area or tool would I like to start to experiment with in my day-to-day practice

This year my resolutions are going to be to continue with the use of technology as an alternative option for demonstrations of learning. I will improve in my area to both understand and apply the concept of sensory accommodations in the room (especially around noise). I will start to experiment with social media and how it can become an option for my classroom pedagogy.

For my students it starts with a discussion around New Year’s Resolutions and how it is a part of their life. Most often they talk about how the adults in their life make resolutions around quitting smoking, losing weight or exercising more. The conversation shifts to what the purpose of a resolution is and why people make them. I pose the following question, ‘Should only adults make New Year’s Resolutions?’. Of course their answer is always no. That leads us to talking about the types of resolutions that children might make. It always generates a very rich discussion about how we are individuals with different strengths, different needs and different lifestyles. That focus in itself is a key vehicle in which our group comes to understand and accept the uniqueness of each other.

The final product that is used by my students is a graphic organizer that will focus on four different areas of their life. The first is personal health. What do they need to do in order to be healthier (exercise more, less screen time, eat healthier)? The second focus is on happiness. What will they do in order to be happier in their life? The third area is academics. What do they need to spend more time on in order to be successful? The final component will be on friendships. How will they be a better friend or seek out more friendships? For the month of January we review these resolutions every Friday. After that we look at them every 2-3 weeks and finally in our year-end celebration we examine how successful we have been in reaching our resolutions. Over time I have had the students put them in a time capsule that is opened up much later in the year as well as having them take it home and share with family or a close friend. Whatever way they are used, it is an enjoyable way to start the new calendar year off.

Setting Goals

 

 

Last year at this time, I introduced my class to goal setting. Although this is often done in September, I feel it is more effective in January when students have had the opportunity to received feedback in all subject areas. During our Writing Workshop, we discussed and wrote goals that were particular to student success at school. Many of the goals were vague or too broad, so we used the SMART goal process (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). This framework really helped students create better goals that suited their individual needs. Once the goals were created, students wrote them on foam discs and we hung them around the classroom to refer to and measure against.

This January, I plan to do the same goal setting work with my 6/7 class. I have found an article on edutopia that articulates the process effectively:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/smart-goal-setting-with-students-maurice-elias

 

It shows how students are more engaged with their learning and goals when they know what they have to do and in what timeframe to achieve them. The article also provides information on goal setting for character traits, using peer review.

In The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning, an activity is provided to align students goals, strengths, and beliefs as they relate to their life in school. The activity is suggested as a first day of school activity, but it would also work well in January, when students are comfortable to share more in their established classroom community. You can find this activity on page 36.

Goal setting is a task that correlates with the idea of growth mindset. Students should be encouraged to set goals for themselves at any time in the year. By helping them create goals that are attainable, you will also help them feel success.

Mike Beetham

Shifting to Assessment As Learning

How did I do teacher? Did I do it right? Is this what I am supposed to do?  These are the questions that I have heard over and over my entire career. I began to wonder why is it that my students always need to have me tell them how they are doing. As my understanding of good assessment practices evolved, so did my understanding of assessment as learning. This is the ultimate goal of what effective assessment practice strives to create in learners.

Once students not only know what they are doing, but what a successful product looks like (success criteria), they shift from teacher focussed to student directed. At first my practice consisted of the criteria being established by me and then shared with my students. As I continued to enhance my understanding of effective assessment practice (Damian Cooper – Talk About Assessment 2006) I began to experiment with student created criteria. Lo and behold, not only did my students get it, they now owned it and the task became contextually valid to them.

My current pedagogy that I am phasing into my practice is a daily debrief on the day’s learning. I will often use it at our final circle time of the day, journal writing or individual conferencing. The following questions are my guide:

What did you learn today?                 How do you know you learned it?

How well did you learn it?                  What helped you learn it?

What did you find difficult to learn today?                     Why?

What could you do tomorrow to make it easier to learn?

Where can you use what you learned today?

I usually choose two questions and focus on a specific area. What did you learn in mathematics today? I am very happy with the beginning results I am obtaining. I have just recently started to take a few notes from the discussion and remind students the following day so that they can use their own feedback to assist with the new day’s learning.

If you have any other prompts or guiding questions that you use, please post them for other to use.  

Mike Beetham

But Why? Part 2

Why I have chosen a video? Why I have allowed them to work in groups? Why am I allowing my students to have choice in their learning?  Why have I assigned homework? This is the question I start with for every instructional unit (and in practice, every classroom decision that I make). Why am I doing what I am doing? What is my desired learning outcome? How will it move my student’s learning forward?

My change to using a backward planning model has been one of the most significant improvements to my teaching practice. I now start all of my instructional planning with the following question:

What do I want my students to know, be able to do and value at the end of this instructional unit?

 Of course my answer always starts with the Ontario Curriculum and the overall expectations of that subject area. The next phase on my planning is where I try to visualize what does that learning look like in the life of a 10 year old (or 15 year old or 7 year old etc…). I try to find the context for the learning so that it becomes real for my students. That context increases the level of engagement, which in turn bolsters the intake of learning.

A caution I always have to remind myself of is that I am viewing the learning tasks and content through an adult focussed brain. To be more effective I have to train myself to screen my teaching through the developmental age of my students. When you know why you are teaching something, the actual teaching becomes so much easier.

Setting Learning Goals

One thing I really try to teach my students is a sense of ownership with regards to their education. All too often, I find students are content to just sit back, be told what to do and where to improve, and never think too hard about their own strengths and needs as learners. It isn’t ever as simple as just asking them what they think they did well and how they could improve next time, though – you have to start small and work up from there. Overall, I’ve found it a really rewarding experience to work with them to create goals, monitor their progress, and reflect on their learning.

I start on the very first day of school, where I ask them (among other things) what some of their goals are for the year ahead. Often my students’ goals are related to learning French, as I teach Middle French Immersion and it’s their first year in the program. I’ll ask them for a bit of detail – so instead of just saying “I want to get better at math,” I ask them what specifically they think they could be doing better in Math. It’s a good starting point to see what they think about themselves as learners. Sometimes it even highlights anxiety right from the start, as I have had students in the past give me a very long paragraph about how “bad” they are at reading, writing, multiplication, etc. It’s also usually very good insight into which students are highly motivated to learn and/or improve their French skills.

In mid-October, after we have gotten a few larger tasks finished and I have had time to see their learning skills and work habits in action, we have a discussion about the six different learning skills on the report card and what those mean for them in practice. I have them complete a self-evaluation using criteria that we develop as a class, giving themselves N, S, G, or E for each learning skill and answering two questions: What do you think you are doing really well? and What do you think you could be doing better? I limit them to only one area to improve, in order to focus their attention; otherwise, some students would put “everything” down for what they could improve.

This first self-evaluation often has students being WAY too hard on themselves. It’s why I always give them my own evaluation of their progress immediately afterwards, so they can see the comparison. Sometimes our opinions line up, sometimes our opinions are wildly different, but it’s an opportunity to have a dialogue with each student individually about what they think of themselves as learners and what I see as their teacher. We discuss both evaluations – mine and theirs – and then decide on a course of action. What will he/she be working towards improving? (Responsibility – managing time effectively and getting work done on or before the deadline.) How will he/she get there? (Break tasks down into steps and check in with the teacher regularly to ensure that he/she is on track.) How will we know that he/she has been successful? (If most work has been handed in on time, it’s probably an improvement!)

I send the student’s self-evaluation and our plan of action home with them when I send the Progress Report in November. It helps students be accountable to their parents about how they are doing in school. If a student is going to give him/herself an S for Collaboration, and I agreed, then the parent knows that it isn’t just me that sees it this way – the student is admitting that they need to work on this area. It allows an opportunity for students to speak with their parents about their strengths and needs, too, and vastly reduces the amount of explaining parents need ME to do come interview time.

By the time first term report cards come up, students have generally had a lot of time to work towards their goals and we can sit down and assess where they are, whether they feel good about their progress or not, etc. We do another self-evaluation following the same format as the first, and I again show them my own evaluation afterwards. We repeat the process: sit down and chat, compare evaluations, decide on a course of action, send both evaluations home with the report card. Sometimes students keep the same goal, if they and I feel that they have more work to do, but others have made good progress by this point and want to tackle another area of need instead.

For the last report card, I still have students do a self-evaluation, but I don’t help them plan the course of action that time. They’re expected to be able to reflect, think critically, and come up with their own plan of attack for how they will work towards their goal over the summer and/or as they enter the next school year. Overall, my students have been very successful with this kind of self-reflection and I have seen a tremendous amount of benefit in having them be accountable for their learning skills and work habits. It sends the message that I feel that the first page of the report card is every bit as important as the academics on the subsequent two pages, and I find that my students take their work habits MUCH more seriously in class knowing that we talk about them so often.

Sometimes I have students who honestly deserve an Excellent in all six skills and don’t have much space for “improvement,” so to speak. For these students, we try to find ways to encourage them to take on more of a leadership role in the classroom so that other students can benefit from their skills and confidence. This, too, has been highly beneficial, especially in a second language classroom. It lets them know that their work isn’t finished when they get their E and that there is always somewhere to go from there.

I would strongly encourage all teachers to talk to their students about that first page of their report card, break the language down to criteria they will understand (because honestly, some of those criteria on the report card are HARD to understand!), and get them to think critically about their strengths and needs as learners.

New Years Equals a New Leaf

     I know there are lots of clichés around the start of the New Year and I have to say that I believe in every one of them. As far as teaching is concerned (in my experience), there are guaranteed to be two magical times of the year where everything goes smoothly and you feel on top of the world. The first is the very first week of school in September where your bright-eyed students sit complacently hanging off your every word. The second couldn’t come at a better time and occurs upon the return from the winter holidays. New Year’s coincides with a shift of cosmic, spiritual or divine proportions and seems to permeate the psyche of even hormonal eighth graders. It is a small window where people stop to take stock of the past and visualize the future.
     As a teacher, this “pause” is a golden opportunity not to be squandered. In this momentary blip (which might last a few days if you’re lucky), it’s as though students have suffered a mild form of amnesia. Apart from being slightly annoying from a pedagogical perspective, it nonetheless allows you to chart a new direction. Changing up the look of your classroom with new displays, layout and seating plan is refreshing and energizing.
     A fresh start has a lot of appeal on many levels not only for you the teacher but for your students as well. Although it’s often said that students thrive on routine, it’s also true that change, spontaneity and an element of surprise go a long way as well. Don’t neglect the fact that your students might also be affected by the psychological hype surrounding New Year’s. I would bet that many of them are thinking about their own ambitions and might have something specific that they would like to achieve. Others might need a blank slate and a chance to start over with you. Any way you look at it, it’s good to capitalize on the energy and momentum surrounding the New Year and move forward with positivity, renewed energy and vigour.

*Some suggested New Year’s Activities:
Have students write down a goal they wish to achieve by the end of the year. At the same time on another sheet of paper, have them envision some of the difficulties they might encounter and write a short encouraging letter to themselves. This teaches them how to set realistic goals, anticipating challenges. At some point, have them read their letters to themselves and compose another to also be opened in the near future. Repeat the process until the final time when they re-read their goal an have them assess their progress.

On a small piece of paper, have students write down something they do not want to carry with them into the New Year. It can be a bad habit, a personal quality or negative situation. In real practice, you would toss your paper into a bonfire symbolizing that you are leaving your burdens behind. This is obviously not an ideal method of disposal for a classroom situation – something equivalent might be the shredding machine…

Success Criteria: Let’s Accomplish Our Learning Goal

I remember sitting in a workshop last year where we were challenged to look deeper at the learning goals we set for our students and how we should co-create the success criteria in order to ensure that students understand how to achieve the goal or expectations set out for a particular unit/strand.  I also remember wondering whether it would be worth it to put in the time and effort to fully implement this latest strategy/tool in my own classroom with all the additional initiatives I was taking on with respect to my professional learning.  I decided to learn as much as possible about using learning goals and success criteria in my teaching and assessment practices.

Today, I can honestly say it is one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in my career thus far.  In many respects, it has changed the way my students understand what they are learning, why they are learning specific concepts/skills, and how they can demonstrate what they know.

Everyday I share a learning goal with my class and how that concept/skill will help them in a real life context.  Within each unit of study or topic we focus on, I create the learning goal by using the curriculum expectations and, together with my students, we co-create the success criteria to achieve the learning goal by using mentor texts, level 3 and 4 responses, etc.  Students know the importance of using the success criteria to edit, revise, and share their knowledge and understanding in a clear and concise way.

We have a saying I took from Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.”  When students know what is expected and how they can achieve the learning goal, they have a better chance of succeeding and progressing further.

How I share learning goals and reflection questions with students each day
Students know what they are learning each day
A student uses the success criteria to revise and edit his writing
Students use success criteria to peer edit by adding descriptive feedback
Students use the descriptive feedback from their peers to work on their final draft
Heart Picture

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!!!

The New Year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and to set goals and resolutions for the year ahead.  I spoke to my students about New Year’s resolutions and shared some of my personal goals for school and for myself at home. I felt it was important for the students to see that setting goals help to make a person ‘better’ and that it is no different than the practice and work that they put in every day into their learning.  The message was not lost on them, and they were enthusiastic to prove that you’re never too young to start goal setting. In fact, I think that my young students really understood the purpose and value of goal setting because they grow, learn and improve so quickly (for example, in learning how to read).

Together the students came up with their own definitions of resolutions and we discussed the purpose and value of articulating a goal and coming up with a plan for meeting that goal.  Then, we all took turns sharing one resolution that pertains to school and one that pertains to home life.  The students then wrote about their goals for display in the school.  This week I will be sending a copy of the students’ resolutions home with them to serve as a reminder and a discussion point for parents in helping their children achieve their goals.

Click here to see some pictures of this activity from my classroom.

It’s important to strive for improvement, whether it is for the benefit of work or school, but also as busy teachers,  for achieving health and balance, which I will be working on  myself in 2012.

 

Heart Picture

Slowing Down and Creating Goals

“Go Slow, Go Deep” – Tina’s words have been resonating in my head since I read her last post and over the past couple of weeks. I find myself repeating them to myself daily in response to everything from delivering my lessons in math, teaching the students how to sustain reading effectively during independent reading time, to working through our class agreements and routines.

After reading those words, I found myself reflecting on how intently I work to developing class lessons, routines and climate, and how there are always times when a few students don’t seem to transfer the learning from the class lesson to their individual work or conduct.  It can be frustrating trying to figure out why the students are missing it: Was it because I am moving through the lesson too quickly? Were the expectations clear?  Was it because Jimmy was squirming too much in front of Tommy?   Maybe I’m not engaging them… or is it the material?

Then I remember  the words Go Slow, Go Deep…

After some reflection, I remembered that in order to go deep with my students, what they are doing has to be meaningful to them (even when the subject area isn’t every students interest), and that time needs to be given to hook the students into what they are learning and reflect on what they are supposed to be getting out of a certain activity or lessons  (their learning goal). I usually draw upon student interests to make my lessons fun but not all students are passionate about all areas of the curriculum all of the time, and rather than spend all my time scouring the internet for more fun teaching ideas, I need to find a sustainable way for the students to buy in, and go deep:

Inspired by  Jim’s inclusion activity about developing Goals/Strengths/Beliefs ( Heart And Art of Teaching and Learning, p.36), I adapted the activity to have students communicate their learning goals for several learning tasks and we have begun this for a number of activities and subject areas.

Before and during lessons I  have started to include time for developing goals with my students for what I hope them to learn by the end of the lesson and I have the students share what they  think the final outcome should look like. Sometimes that means that a lesson that was originally intended to take one period will now take two, or even be spread out over the week. These goals are communicated on the whiteboard or chart paper for the students’ reference and so that the students can begin to self-regulate more.  I hope that by putting in the extra teaching time now,  by mid-year the students will be in the habit of viewing  their lessons as a  ‘goal’ with a defined outcome that they want to achieve.

I hope that by taking more time to developing goals with the students, it won’t matter as much that Jimmy was particularly squirmy one day or that Ari was counting the ceiling tiles instead of paying attention to  what a Level 4 Journal entry looks like. It will matter less  because our goals will be visible, available and referred to regularly and eventually (hopefully) it will sink in.  One of my  goals for this year is to continue taking the time to make goals with my students so that they may  develop it as a habit that is internalized, routine and oriented towards success.