Archive | May, 2019

My Inquiry: Part Three

30 May

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Time is often identified as the biggest concern when engaging in authentic assessment. Both the time it takes students to engage in a meaningful authentic assessment. I find it frustrating giving students some much time to do research. Class time that could be used for something else.

However, these tasks can be as simple as 15 to 30 minutes, during which students—individually or in a small group—solve a problem that has multiple solutions; analyze and interpret a graph that shows the increase in stress among teens; or even discuss two cartoons that show opposite perspectives of an issue.

A longer task may take one to three class periods. These tasks may involve solving a problem with two or more solutions and creating a video that explains the process. That video may become a resource for other students attempting to learn to solve problems. A longer, more involved task might also include studying the cause of teen stress by looking at multiple sources, discussing potential solutions and generating some ways to support students in school.

Finally, a comprehensive task may take one to six weeks or longer. These tasks often identify a local or global issues and ask students to learn essential outcomes (standards/competencies) through reading, studying, talking, and producing solutions to some of these issues. Students may tackle distracted driving and develop a full campaign to reduce dangerous driving behaviors in teens. Younger students may study the benefits and challenges of owning a pet and raise awareness and/or money to advocate for a pet issue they uncover.

Timing is important and ensuring that the task is manageable and relevant within the time frame allotted will ensure a meaningful student and teacher experience. Trying to tackle too much can lead to surface level work.

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My Inquiry: Assessment Part Two

26 May

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Meaningful and relevant assessment tasks involve a different way of design. Meaningful tasks assess the critical competencies, or 21st century skills, along with the content in varying contexts. Relevant tasks tap into a compelling and interesting aspect of the content to pose a task that is challenging and fascinating. Relevant tasks may also connect to students’ interests, realities, and their latest passions (e.g. bottle flipping, teen stress). Meaningful and relevant tasks ask students to use competencies such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, social competence, or creative problem-solving to do one or more of the following:

  • Research, dialogue, and explore emerging issues
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on school or the local area
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on global issues
  • Communicate ideas, information, or insights to an audience outside of the classroom
  • Collaborate with other students or with experts knowledgeable about the focus of study
  • Collaborate with organizations or businesses to seek multiple perspectives on a topic
  • Put existing ideas together to generate new ideas or knowledge
  • Design new and innovate pieces to make the world better or contribute something to the world

The assessment tasks are really import. Perhaps even more then redesigning curriculum. Indeed from my inquiry I find they are going hand in hand.

My Inquiry: Assessment

26 May

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One of my teaching inquiry’s this year deals with assessment. This will be reflected in my reflections here. My hunch is that we as educators need to assess differently.

Being able to recall scientific concepts, identify historical events, or memorize mathematics facts and algorithms, while acutely impressive, is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the challenging world they will face. Identifying characters, theme, and symbolism used to be the focus of education, and it was enough. In the past, learners would occasionally have opportunities to collaborate, communicate, critically think, and creatively problem solve, but that was the means, not the end. After engaging in dialogue, problem solving, or analysis, learners would typically take a multiple-choice test or an essay prompt would ask them to recall details or themes discussed in class. As critical competencies shift to be the end rather than the means, recalling facts is not nearly as important as being able to find the content, critically evaluate its value and credibility, apply it appropriately in different contexts, or put new ideas together to generate something interesting and original. Content is not obsolete; rather, the memorization (and recall) of it is. More than ever it is essential for educators to provide more meaningful tasks so learners tap into rich content while demonstrating the critical competencies through application” (Erkens, Schimmer, Vagle, 2019, p. 6).

This new reality requires a different way of thinking about how and what we assess.

There are moments when students are deeply engaged in classroom instruction, and then it comes time for an “assessment” and the engagement stops as “test day” suddenly occurs. Methods of assessment are supposed to capture the level of the intended learning. Assessment is evidence of learning, and it takes on many forms. Assessment can be observations based on a set of criteria or descriptions such as during a collaborative activity, a Socratic seminar, a conversation, an interview, a verbal presentation; it might take the form of a product such as a blog, an essay, a video—the list goes on. A test is only one way to capture a level of learning and is not always the most accurate. When considering what learners are facing in their future, they must experience a wide variety of assessment method.

Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., Vagle, N.D. (2019). Growing tomorrow’s citizens in today’s classroom: Assessing seven critical competencies. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN.

Personalized Learning

23 May

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Personalized learning is a hot topic in education. Educators agree that each learner is different with unique interests, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Of course, it would be ideal if teachers could work with individual learners to identify learning goals, co-create learning experiences, and track progress. I honestly don’t know how realistic the idea of personalized learning is in the context of education in New Zealand as it exists today. Happy for you to challenge me on this.

As long as teachers are juggling large class sizes, seeing five classes a day for less than an hour each, and have limited access to resources, personalized learning or tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn may feel unattainable.

Instead of talking about personalized learning, as if it is a destination I have reached. I am reading about using the verb personalizing a lot in my work with educators. It signals that personalization is a journey. Just because we cannot personalize learning for every child every day does not mean it is not a worthy goal to work toward.

Perhaps we could move towards a homeroom experience like in the primary sector?

Leaders of Learning: Part Two

20 May

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I enjoyed last time so much here is the second part. Please indulge me.

  • The more senior you get, the more people you serve – an old Sea Captain once said this!  They care for their team and look after them.  They make sure they are able to use their time wisely and question if their team are being asked to do things that don’t fit the core purpose of the team.
  • Steer the ship with confidence– they make decisions with confidence and conviction – as a result, the team has confidence in them.
  • Hands up– they have the confidence to admit when they get something wrong – and learn from it.
  • Sense the mood– they know their team and know when to push them and when to ease off a bit, when things are getting tough.
  • Collective responsibility– they make their team feel that everyone is working together and that they will be supported e.g. at the end of the day they will initiate a discussion about any problem students anyone has had, and how they can support them, with supporting those students.
  • Hard yards– they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty e.g. they will come with you at the end of the day to pick up that tricky customer and make sure they come to detention!
  • Clarity of role and responsibility– they ensure that everyone is working towards the same objective i.e. to be world class in that subject, and that everyone knows their role in it – including other leaders within the team.
  • Think ahead– they think ahead and plan ahead – and help the team to do the same, and so make them feel secure.  This involves looking ahead to where the crunch times are and supporting the team through this.
  • Celebrate the mini-victories– they ensure that the successes, even the small ones, are not overlooked – they are celebrated.
  • Everything beats the deadline– they ensure that the team understands that missing a deadline adds pressure to somebody else in the organisation.  So this is a non-negotiable.
  • Outward looking– they act as a filter to the outside, keeping the team briefed on relevant new national developments and best practice elsewhere – that could be incorporated into what then team already does.
  • Talent spotting– they make sure that they find opportunities to recruit the best people to the team e.g. engage with ITT and support/ develop potential future leaders.
  • Caring– they encourage a caring and compassionate culture – when people in the team are struggling (and we all do from time to time) they look after them.
  • Thank you– they use this phrase a great deal.
  • Happiness– they understand that a happy team, is more likely to work hard and be successful.

Leaders of Learning

19 May

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There are many tough jobs in a secondary school – but leading a subject area, especially a large subject area, must be one of the most difficult.  I’ve been fortunate to lead and to work with some inspiring Curriculum Leaders in recent years – who do an amazing job.  They grow and nurture a great team, who then achieve fantastic outcomes for the students they teach.  I thought I would try to make a list of some of the qualities they have:

  • Role models – they are always, first and foremost, great teachers.
  • Articulate greatness– they understand what makes great teaching within the context of their subject and can articulate this clearly with their team.
  • Set the standard– they clearly identify the standards they expect to see on a day to day basis – and live and breathe these themselves.  This creates a shared clarity of purpose.
  • Moral purpose– they have an unswerving commitment to getting the best deal possible for the students who pass through their subject.  They understand that a good education can transform life chances.
  • Expect excellence– they strongly believe that all students can get better and be successful.
  • Pride in their fiefdom– they patrol their subject area and make it clear to the students that they are in charge – and that the students will meet their expectations!
  • Parental contact– they won’t hesitate to call home – and will support their team with doing the same.
  • Understand change– they know how their team is performing and when they might be plateauing or when something is not working – and how at this point, change might be required in order to get that next bit of improvement – but they don’t just change things for the sake of it.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing– they understand that the key to a successful team, is developing great teaching.  So they talk about great teaching a lot!
  • Subject Knowledge– they encourage people to be passionate about their subject and to keep developing their own knowledge of the subject.
  • Evidence informed– they wary of gimmicky approaches and base what they do, and what they ask their teachers to do, on wisdom and research evidence.

Does this describe some of your people?

Reflection for Friday

17 May

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On Easter Sunday morning our priest used the phrase, “resurrection not resuscitation”; my mind wandered.

The past thirty plus years has seen our education system built around an underpinning school effectiveness philosophy.  We want to find out what might make schools more or less effective (perfectly reasonable); identify, often judging on some arbitrary scale, how effective each school is (not at all easy; in fact really, really difficult) and then we decided to assess teacher effectiveness on an annual basis (absolutely bonkers).  Effectiveness became accountability and with it the roots of the current, increasingly flawed, our school system moved towards hitting the buffers.  Beating the accountability system rather than focusing on improving education has become the name of the game for some; it impacts on us all.  Workload, stress and anxiety and job insecurity continue to take their toll.

As a consequence too many teachers and school leaders have decided to build a new life outside of teaching; it is the only place they can find a reasonable home/work balance that gives them time for family, friends and themselves.  They’ve come to the eulogy moment; what will people talk about when I’ve gone?  How many of the five most common regrets will define my life?  It is a staggering loss of human resource, experience and potential when we already have far too little.  For too many of those who have remained, attempting to breathe new life, into a professional existence that is beyond repair, is futile.

It’s time for a paradigm shift; without it schools will become less and less effective as fewer and fewer of the teachers we need, of the calibre required, are prepared to work in out hyper accountable, manic system.  Rather than trying to resuscitate the current system we need a resurrection mentality; our education system needs new life not more of the same.

An Inquiry

17 May

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I have been reflecting on the idea that student become anxious and lack self-belief in the classroom. I did some rereading around this idea. Inquiry should underpin our teaching – if students are going to believe that they can be successful, they need to experience success.  So, we need to provide the opportunities for this to happen.

The following report, ‘What Makes Great Teaching? ‘ provides a good starting point when thinking about planning learning.  It identifies content knowledge and quality of instruction as key components of great teaching.

Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students’ learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.

Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

Growth Mindset Inquiry

9 May

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I’ve decided to use my inquiry time as an opportunity to catch up on some long overdue reading – starting with ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck.  The theory explored in this book is that there are two types of mindset – fixed and growth.

The diagram below summarises the main qualities exhibited by each one:

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It’s obvious to see the relevance of this to us as teachers and Dweck presents a very compelling case for it.  Whilst the theory is interesting, what I’m most interested in is what we can do in schools, in lessons, to move more of our students from a fixed to a growth mindset?  This is the real challenge of teaching. So what follows is an initial attempt to look at each of the qualities of the ‘growth mindset and some of the strategies and techniques we use as teachers to develop this in students.

 Embrace challenges

  • Tell students that they will be doing challenging learning in lessons – and tell them why you think they will be able to do it.  Build them up and show you have belief in their success.
  • Plan activities that will be ‘low stress, high challenge’ for all – so, know the abilities of your students and stretch them accordingly.
  • Use the idea of ‘extender tasks’ for the more able – so they are not just given more work to do, but specific, challenging tasks to extend their thinking.
  • Celebrate their successes when they overcome a difficult task or activity.  Discuss with them how they overcame the challenges.

Persist in the face of setbacks

  • Show students strategies they can use when they become stuck e.g. use the 5Bs:

So, when students get stuck instead of asking the teacher straight away, they are encouraged to think about it first (Brain), look in their exercise book/ text book, look on the board (or a display) and finally if they are still stuck, as a friend (Buddy).  If after all of this they are still stuck, ask the teacher (Boss).

Some reading provided me with these next steps:

  • Think carefully about your questioning.  When students are stuck, don’t just give them the answer.  Carefully scaffold your questions to support them with getting ‘unstuck’. Use exams and assessments formatively.  Most importantly, don’t let them give up.

See effort as the path to mastery

  • Praise students specifically for the efforts they are making with their learning.
  • Honesty is required. Provide them with the opportunities within lessons, or a series of lessons, to practice, consolidate  and embed skills and knowledge.  All too often we glance over things, without actually giving students the opportunity to master what they are doing. This also gives them the opportunity to see when they have mastered things – make this explicit to them and celebrate it.

Learn from criticism

  • Whilst formative feedback (written or formal) is important, it only becomes useful when students are given the opportunity to respond to it.

So, much of what great teachers already do will help to develop a growth mindset within their students – this what makes them successful teachers.  Again though, if we think about this in terms of ‘marginal gains’, we should all be able to think about small changes we can make to our classroom practice, to support and develop this even further.

Coaching and Feedback

6 May

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As a school leader I do a great deal of coaching I work with many high performing middle leaders who want to become even more effective. According to research on effective learning, to improve performance, people need three things:

  • A clear goal
  • A genuine desire to achieve that goal
  • Feedback that indicates what they are doing well and what they are not doing well

I have been reflecting recently on my feedback and coaching sessions have unfortunately,  not been helpful. Sometimes I have been distracted, often infrequent, vague, — and as a result, leaders tend to be less proactive about getting more of it. Low-quality feedback sessions or coaching session is not useful, positive feedback is undervalued, and negative feedback delivered unskillfully can set my team back.

Without clear goals and data measuring how close or far they are from reaching them, my middle leaders will continue to find it difficult to grow and improve. When delivered thoughtfully, however, feedback can provide leaders with the actionable data they need to become more effective.

If you want to get the feedback that is necessary to improve your leadership, there are a few steps you can take.

Build a safe environment. Sharing feedback is often risky. To increase the likelihood of your colleagues taking that risk with you, show them that their honesty is not bad. Being curious starts with having the right mindset, or believing that you have something useful to learn. It is demonstrated by asking your teammates open-ended questions that you really don’t know the answers to: “What could go wrong if we try this?” Acknowledging your weaknesses or mistakes along the way are great ways to be open and vulnerable.

Ask for feedback skillfully. Asking “What did you hear when I shared my strategy?”, “How often do I interrupt people in meetings?”, personal impact (“How did it feel to you when I sent that email?”

Request both positive and negative data.  Praise tells us someone is happy with us and thinks we are performing well. Praise sounds like: “Nice job!”; “You were great in that meeting.”; “Great presentation!” While it feels good constructive criticism is ok also because you have created that relational trust.  

When receiving feedback, give your full attention and listen carefully. Eliminate distractions, including your phone and laptop, and focus fully on the person giving the feedback.

Don’t debate or defend. If you find yourself disagreeing with some feedback, practice self-awareness and notice this reaction. It is ok to be wrong also.

This all I have for now. Do you run coaching sessions? How are you going with them?

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