Different or Just New? Communicating Student Learning

Recently, BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I hosted a Communicating Student Learning Information Evening. In response to major changes to BC’s curriculum, the way teachers communicate student learning has also been changing over the last two years.

We started the information session by soliciting parent’s recollections of their own report cards. These recollections ranged from dread to excitement and they highlighted a number of things we should avoid (letters csl-reflections-2016or numbers that make people feel labelled) and what we should strive for (“specific feedback, made me feel special”; “they were a good measure of where to improve”) in our newest iterations of written reports.

In my mind the new Communicating Student Learning written reports which will be sent home with students on December 16 are a vast improvement over our previous report cards. When reading and using the report card, I hope families notice acc-csl-2016nd find useful these five elements of the CSL documents.

 

First, the reports are very clear on the foundational skills. For primary reports (Kindergarten to Grade 3) and intermediate reports (Grades 4-7), students are given clear descriptors for a student’s abilities to read, write and use numbers to solve problems. In the primary report, the terms beginning, developing and acquired are used as descripcc_csl_2016_2tors referring to varying levels of support required for a student to demonstrate the skill assessed. The descriptors are based on the idea that all students can be successful; it is a matter of how much support they require to be successful with our goal of students becoming independent. At the intermediate level, the terms beginning, developing, acquired and exceeding are used. The terms are designed for parents to know precisely which areas of learning the student needs to focus on in the terms ahead.

Second, the reports focus to a greater level on what students can do. Many of the learning objectives identified in the primary report as Concepts and Content and in the intermediate report as Curricular Competencies refer to the skills needed for a specific subject; i.e. what skills does a scientist or a historian need? This focus on what the child can do aligns nicely with our feeder school Rockridge Secondary School which uses a report which places a strong focus on what students can do, with limited focus on what the student knows.

Third, the reports also give a clear picture of the big ideas and concepts students know about and understand. Transformational learning is learning that will affect how a student approaches, processes and understands future experiences. Transformational learning is often perspective shaping. When a student develops a deep understanding of big ideas, which are chosen because they are timeless and transferable, the learning can often be transformational. Therefore, while the most important and longest lasting takeaways from elementary school are skills (personal and social, reading, writing and using numbers to solve problems), understandings are still vitally important and readers of the report will see the topics and content of students’ inquiries clearly stated.

Fourth, the reports continue to include information on a child’s social and emotional development. In the opening comments, in Core Competencies (for intermediate reports), and in other fields, teachers share information on the child’s social and emotional development. Schools share the role with parents of supporting a child’s well-being and development of personal and social skills. In the opening comments, teachers also refer to an aspect of our school goal of students developing their learning character so parents will find comments related to a child’s development of Responsibility, Openness, Ambition and Resilience (ROAR).

Fifth, areas of growth for each student to help foster a child’s independence and confidence are very clearly identified. The Supporting Student Learning (primary) and Ways to Support (intermediate) sections of the report give a concise explanation of learning that the child needs to focus on as well as some strategies for school and home to support these needs.

In addition to the comments from teachers, the reports also include reflections from students. BICS teachers will be refining student reflections throughout the year so as to accurately and authentically capture student voice on the process of learning. Our hope is for students to thoughtfully reflect on the process of their learning: were they committed to the strategies identified to achieve their learning goals? Were they successful not just in achieving their goals but more importantly in having the responsibility and resilience to stick to a plan to achieve them?

Teachers, school administrators and school district staff have worked hard to develop written reports that add to the strategy of communicating student learning. We hope these documents, in addition to parent/teacher conferences, student-led conferences, and ongoing feedback in the form of assignments sent home, phone calls and emails, help families understand the progress of their children. This year, all of our K-7 reports are considered pilots so we will be seeking further feedback throughout the year to ensure we are providing the most useful tools to communicate student learning.

 

Click below to see the slide deck from Laura Magrath for our presentation to parents on November 30.

csl_2016

A Survey of Student Learning

The maxim, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,”* holds much truth when it comes to “report cards,” but what teachers are mandated to report and also choose to report suggests to parents what many of the priorities are for student learning at each grade. Similar to the way a school’s blog reveals what is important to the school, so does the report card reveal key areas for student learning.

What follows then, is both of those things: a blog post surveying some of the learning outcomes found in reports ranging from kindergarten to Grade 7.

Prior to the conclusion of each term, I review each report, something I have done enough times now to be impressed by the extraordinary diversity and depth of learning at BICS but not surprised by it. The reports capture just a little of the remarkable experiences students have in their classrooms and beyond learning about interesting and often complex things and using what they’ve learned to, among other things, learn more.

In reviewing reports this term, I’ve pulled one learning outcome from each grade as well as an outcome from our wonderful music and learning assistance programs. My hope is that it offers the reader a very brief look at the breadth of what is learned at BICS.

 

Kindergarten – Speaking and Listening

  • use speaking an listening when engaging in imaginative play; such as problem solving and working co-operatively

 

Grade 1 – Attitudes, Effort, Work Habits, Social Responsibility

  • consistently models respectful behaviour and acceptance of others’ differences

 

Grade 2 – Fine Arts

  • began to use simplification effectively, to create artwork in the styles of Lawren Harris & Ted Harrison

 

Grade 3 – HACE/Physical and Health Education

  • describes practices contributing to healthy living (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, friendships, sleep)

 

Grade 4 – Thinking Competency

  • reasons and uses logic to explore, make connections, predict, analyze, generalize and make conclusions

 

Grade 5 – Language Arts

  • recognizes oral traditions in First Peoples’ culture and identifies how story connects people to land

 

Grade 6 – Socials Studies

  • evaluates how geographic challenges and opportunities affect the development of societies

 

Grade 7 – Math

  • competently uses mathematical operations to determine a monthly budget

 

Performing Arts – Music

  • can create, notate, and perform rhythmic solos while following a musical form

 

Learning Support reports

  • Segmenting, manipulating, and blending vowel and consonant sounds in words

 

In selecting the learning outcomes above, I tried to pull diverse outcomes – math, language arts, performing arts, etc. In reviewing the reports, however, I looked for some patterns that might reveal how our school is doing with some key priorities identified in our School Growth Plan and Aboriginal Education Plan: inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, critical thinking and aboriginal education. There are far more effective ways of determining how the school is doing in these areas – visiting classrooms and speaking with students being one of them – but what did the general scan of K-7 reports reveal to me about these priorities?

Learning outcomes about timeless and transferable concepts and references to “Fascination Time,” “Genius Hour,” and “Passion Projects” made it clear that students were pursuing inquiry, whether it be teacher-led or open inquiry, often. In opening comments and in various sections, it was obvious that not only is self-regulation a key feature of each classroom at BICS, it is also being reported on frequently. Whether it be found in socials studies or explicit references to the “Thinking Competencies,” it was obvious that developing students’ skills as critical thinkers and asking them to uses these skills is a key area of learning. Lastly, students are learning about Indigenous Peoples frequently. Whether it is in Language Arts learning about oral stories teaching about the land, or learning about cultural characteristics and traditional ways of life in Socials Studies, the many references to Aboriginal Education found in BC’s new curriculum were also obvious in the K-7 reports.

I am proud of our School’s progress. And in reading reports, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that each of the many bullets on a report card, simple words on a page, had some powerful learning experience behind it – perhaps a beautiful work of art, a field experience to a National Historic Site, a memorable visitor, help from a dedicated staff member, or simply a student’s persistent effort – and that each of these experiences provided a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning.

 

*This quote is attributed to both Albert Einstein and the sociologist, William Bruce Cameron.

TEDx West Vancouver Ed – The Heart of the Matter

I had the great privilege of attending TEDxWestVancouverED Rethinking Education yesterday (Saturday, September 26, 2015). After several talks, my friend, West Vancouver Schools colleague, and TEDx Curator Craig Cantlie invited the audience to determine what the essence of the day was; in other words, among the very diverse talks,what was (or were) the key theme(s)?

Jeff Hemmett’s talk resonated with me greatly. Jeff spoke about the similarity between classrooms and business start-ups. He shared that in a fast-changing world, a start-up’s culture is extremely important: the culture needs to be one that encourages creative and nimble thinking so as to not just keep up with change, but create change.

Not just keep up with change, create change.

Education systems are often criticized for not changing quickly enough and while incredibly innovative projects are alive and well all over West Vancouver Schools and in districts across BC and Canada, innovative practice and new ideas are not the only examples of keeping up with change but creating it.

Part way through the day, the TED Talk from space scientist Will Marshall (below) was shared. In it, a group of scientists created a satellite the size of a shoebox that could be deployed far more easily and cheaply and therefore in greater quantities than the massive satellites that came before them, all with comparable or superior performance in capturing images of the earth.

The technology was amazing but what was most impressive was the selfless spirit of the scientists: their goal is to give universal access to all of the data that is collected from the satellites to assess climate change and monitor the health of the earth through daily images.

Aristotle’s famous quotation, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” came to mind.

As I listened to more and more TEDx talks, it became increasingly obvious that the heart of most ideas shared was to make the world a better place: for individual learners, society generally, and the planet we depend on. For example, Walter Mustapich spoke about helping boys through the Boys Club, Starleigh Grass about reconciliation, Kristi Blakeway about learning the stories of homeless people, helping them reunite with family members and demonstrating care for people who are often craving connection.

Character education is a critical element in all school experience where an attitude of care for self, others and the more than human world is taught, either deliberately through programs such as Roots of Empathy, or indirectly, constantly and unavoidably through the cultures of classrooms, schools and school districts. This part of education is invaluable and timeless and fundamental to school systems not just keeping up with change, but creating it.

Jeff Hemmett noted the world’s most important startup is the classroom. Culture matters.

So, in our ever-changing world, educators must be innovative. At the same time, we must maintain our commitment to long-understood beliefs in the importance of caring classrooms. Rethinking education is always helpful both to recognize what needs to change (and change to what!) and to understand what lessons remain the same. TEDxWestVancoverED was helpful for both.

Further Reading:

For a wonderful argument on the merit’s of character education, see Bruce Beairsto’s article “Saving Spaceship Earth,” here.

What is new in BC’s New Curriclum

This post was originally published on the BICS Blog.

It has been said, “The only constant in life is change.”

That statement certainly holds true in education, perhaps now more than ever.

Last week, BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I spoke to parents about BC’s New Curriculum as part of our BICS Open House. Our staff has been learning about and working with what until recently has been termed the “Draft Curriculum” for two years and I have been sharing information with our BICS PAC and writing blog posts on the topic since November 2013. But the “Draft” stamp has recently been removed from the curriculum and it is now referred to as the New Curriculum so we felt it was a particularly important time to share aspects of the New Curriculum with parents; particularly three important changes.

This post summarizes some of the key messages of that presentation. For the 2015-2016 school year, both the “old curriculum” and New Curriculum are usable documents. In 2016-2017, what is taught in Kindergarten to Grade 9 classrooms will be based on the New Curriculum only.

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For purposes of explanation, the curriculum can be divided in two parts:

1. What students understand and know à this is termed Content in the New Curriculum

2. What students can do à this is termed Core Competencies and Curricular Competencies in the New Curriculum

 

Three Key Changes

1. Content – What Students Understand And Know à Start with the big picture.

The “old curriculum” was organized by themed learning outcomes. For some time, teachers who have taught with an inquiry-based approach to learning have tried to discern the essence of the learning outcomes. Teachers would find themselves asking, What’s the big idea here? Beyond facts and figures, what is the concept or understanding that students will take away from this unit of study that they can apply to future learning situations?Big_Ideas

The New Curriculum starts with the big picture. Ideas and theories are presented as Big Ideas and from there the content, which is used to develop an understanding of the Big Ideas, is articulated. As suggested by the name, Big Ideas are greater than what can be covered in one subject in one grade. So, many Big Ideas are repeated throughout many grade levels as students develop more sophisticated understandings of theories and ideas.

2. Competencies – What students can do à Competencies are key.

While all people need a level of general knowledge to understand themselves, others and the world, knowledge is easily lost; skills less so. For example, most people likely have forgotten many of the facts, figures and ideas they learned in Grades 1 and 2, the age when they were learning to read. But people don’t forget how to read.

2015-03-19_0946In the New Curriculum, Competencies are key. The content, while still worthy in its own right, is a vehicle to develop two types of competency.

The first type of competency are the Core Competencies – Communication, Thinking and Personal and Social. The Core Competencies are not subject or grade specific. It is thought any learning activity can demonstrate and develop some or each of the competencies. As learning is a lifelong endeavour, the competency continuum is also lifelong.

The second type of competency is Curricular Competencies. These are subject specific skills; for example in Science, Questioning and Prediction as well as Planning and Conducting experiments, are curricular competencies

3. Communicating – How Student Learning is Communicated

As part of our transition to the new curriculum, in terms two and three of the 2014-2015 School Year, many BICS teachers used language from the Core Competencies in their opening comments. However, the report card looked identical to previous terms and did not reflect the changes that have been made to the curriculum. Kindergarten and Grade 4 reports will look very different in 2015-2016 offering space for Core Competency and Curricular Competency assessments. Further, as reflecting on learning is essential, there is space on the new reports for student voice and reflections. Further information will be shared by Director of Instruction for West Vancouver Schools Lynne Tomlinson regarding a change of reporting for Kindergarten and Grade 4 students in 2015-2016, and a change for all elementary school students in 2016-2017.

While this curriculum signals a major change in BC education, it is also a response to the innovative work being done in classrooms across BC including BICS. The Curriculum will support the work we started long ago – inquiry, self-regulation and critical thinking – and also push us to examine and evolve in other areas of practice. Change truly is the only constant in life, and so to in education.

“Wrong Thoughts” and Other Things to Consider

Nearly at once, both icons have fallen from grace in ways that were unimaginable just months ago.  They are forcing a reckoning with ourselves and our history, a reassessment of who we were and of what we might become.Blog July 2015

So begins Isabel Wilkerson’s New York Times review of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, referring to the lowering of the Confederate Flag and the identity of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman character Atticus Finch.

In the review, Wilkerson writes about the complexity of Atticus Finch as portrayed in Go Set a Watchman, as a “gentleman bigot, well meaning in his supremacy.  In other words, he is human, and in line with emerging research into how racial bias has evolved in our society.  He is a character study in the seeming contradiction that compassion and bigotry can not only reside in the same person but often do, which is what makes racial bias, as it has mutated through the generations, so hard to address.”

In his review of Go Set a Watchman for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik sates, “beneath Atticus’s style of enlightenment is a kind of bigotry that could not recognize itself as such at the time….  The problem is not people who think wrong thoughts, since we all think what will, retrospectively, turn out to be wrong thoughts about something or other. The problem is people who give their implicit endorsement to violence or intolerance in the pursuit of wrong thoughts.”

So, as an educator in British Columbia, why am I referencing articles about the soul searching America appears to be in the midst of in response to horrific hate crimes, police violence, and the release of a novel reexamining a beloved character.  As an educator, I believe that the most transformational learning is so foundational to the learner’s identity it just becomes who they are and is not recognized as learning at the time.  The articles are a reminder to me to scan my biases and attempt to identify how they may be reflected in my practice.  And beyond scanning biases, it is worth noting that we may be, as Gopnik writes, unable to recognize our “wrong thoughts,” so ingrained are they from our upbringing including what we learned in school.

In recent years, including Stephen Harper’s 2008 statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Canadians have begun the process of recognizing historical and current “wrong thoughts.”  We are at the beginning of, what Justice Murray Sinclair notes, “forging and maintaining respectful relationships.”  How else does one go about scanning some of the messages educators and systems (classrooms, schools, Districts, Provinces) share with students and shape their perspectives often in such an ongoing way as to be unrecognizable?

As I question my biases, I’m drawn to some of the work I participated in with several colleagues last year.  We studied learner engagement and came up with an Engagement Profile that educators could use to help learners engage themselves in learning experiences (more on that can be found here).  Engagement_2015

Our Engagement Profile (still under development) asks learners, prior, during and after a learning experience, to ask several questions.  The Engagement Profile could also act as an assumption profile and be a good starting point for examining biases.  So, some thoughts on assumptions follow each question.

1.  Who are you learning with and who are you learning from?

Parker Palmer notes, “We teach who we are.”  An examination of “who” we are teaching includes:  What biases do I reveal to students? What topics/subjects do I show enthusiasm for; what not?

2.  What are you learning about and what are you learning to do?

Provincial policy decisions regarding curriculum guide what students learn about when but classroom policy decisions guide how much time is given to various topics of study and send messages to students about what skills and understandings are important and what are not.

3.  Where are you learning and what are you learning from your surroundings?

This question is perhaps examined the least.   Too often when we think about where we learn, we think about whether the environment is conducive to learning (appropriate lighting, quiet, comfortable…) rather than whether the environment has something to teach us about the topic and or our relationship with the topic.

Gopnik notes that, “we all think what will, retrospectively, turn out to be wrong thoughts,” and I know in 20 years that I might disown and possibly even feel ashamed of some of my current “wrong thoughts.”  But, by asking questions, I can examine some of my biases and, knowing that I will be unable to recognize them all, use these articles as yet another reminder of the importance of not just being open-minded to other perspectives, but to actively seek them out.

Making Use of the Core Competencies

Many of our efforts at Bowen Island Community School (BICS) to transition to the new draft curriculum are focusing on understanding and making use of the Core Competencies: Communication Competency, Thinking Competency, and Personal and Social Competency.  This is not easy work and my understanding of the competencies continually shifts thanks to conversations with educators at BICS and in #SD45PLN.2015-03-19_0946

Below, shared in green, are three understandings I think will affect the way educators and students make use of the competencies.  In blue, based on the understandings, I share how the competencies can be used by teachers and students.

1.  The Core Competencies, the Draft Curriculum notes, “are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning.”  The competencies are not subject-specific (subject-specific competencies are called curricular competencies, i.e., the scientific method in the subject science), they are transferable and often applicable to all areas of learning.

Most learning experiences can develop some facet(s) of one or more of the competencies.  While teachers are always mindful of developing literacy and numeracy foundations, in my experience as a teacher I have sometimes planned lessons and assignments with too great a focus on knowledge acquisition and not enough focus on what students would be able to do, or to do better, as a result of the lesson or assignment.  When planning, the teacher can examine the competency facets to ensure what students can do is a core part of the lesson or assignment.  The facets may even broaden or simply make explicit the range of abilities students can develop.

2.  The competencies are a continuum which a person develops from the moment they start learning to the moment they stop learning.  In other words, they are not limited to a student’s experience in K-12 education and the profiles of each competency are not intended to align with any grade level expectations; for example, it is not expected that all students have reached profile level 3 in the Personal and Social Competency by grade five.

It is not important to focus on what profile level students achieve because a students level will vary from task to task.  Profile level 8 for the Communication Competency does not mean “A+” or exceeding expectations.  Students should also know that experiences outside of school, such as participating on a sports team or attending a community event, develop competencies.

3.  Following from point 2, the profile levels within a competency are more pertinent to the task assigned to the student rather than the student’s performance in the task:  some tasks only require the development and demonstration of a certain level of competency so regardless of how competent a student might be as a communicator, the task itself may be limiting to what the student does.

The competencies are helpful for self-assessment.  But self-assessment when using the competencies is more about assessing the task and the opportunities the task offers the student to demonstrate and develop the competencies than it is about assessing the student’s performance in demonstrating the competencies.  In other words, self-assessment is more about understanding the task and what competencies the task makes use of and develops.  Therefore, a major, if not the major, part of self-assessment happens prior to starting the task when the student assesses the task and identifies what abilities they have, or need to develop, to be successful at the task rather than after completing the task where the student evaluates their performance.

In summary, teachers can use the competencies to design learning experiences that effectively develop what students can do, not just what they are to know.  Teachers have long used learning outcomes and the Performance Standards to ensure planning developed students skills as well as understanding but determining what facets of a competency might be applicable for a task allows teachers to broaden the purpose of learning tasks and provides language to articulate this purpose clearly.

Students can use the competencies to understand a learning experiences:  beyond what knowledge and understanding they are to gain, how is the task intended to make the student a more capable/competent communicator or thinker?  What skills do students already have that they should apply to the task?

The key to planning for teachers and to self-assessment for students is to have a strong understanding of the end in mind.  While I am not yet certain how students will be assessed or self-assess the competencies for reporting, or even if they will do so, what is clear is that educators can make use of the competencies for planning, and students can make use of the competencies to understand tasks and their purpose.

Teacher Reflection: Questions to process the barrage of student feedback

9781118575239.pdfI recently read Michael Fullan’s book, The Principal, Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, where he argues the importance and methods of the Principal as instructional leader.  He does not suggest the Principal individually mentors and/or provides feedback for each teacher in the school.  Doing so would stretch the Principal’s time too thin and also not leverage the many other professionals in the building who can provide feedback to teachers.  Instead, the Principal should create a learning culture among teachers with high expectations and openness to receiving and responding to feedback from peers.  Helping set the conditions for a truly effective professional learning community is paramount.

The book’s purpose is to share why and how Principal’s should do this and while I fully support the conclusions of the book and learned from the process of implementation, I also kept thinking about the varied forms of feedback teachers receive on a daily, even period by period, basis from their students, rather than colleagues.  So, rather than attempt to summarize Fullan’s argument in 700 words in this blog post, I will share some questions educators can ask to take advantage of the feedback they receive from students.  Creating a culture of collaboration where teachers can inspire and learn from each other is important.  As is creating culture of reflection, where teachers have the motivation and capacity to reflect on their practice by recognizing and taking advantage of the potentially overwhelming amount of feedback teachers receive from students.

Before diving in, it is useful to note what objectives for which the teacher is looking for feedback.  While teachers may have their own goals, I have found the three goals below, simply stated but anything but simple, summarize what I hope for my students:

  1. Love learning – be engaged in learning and eager to learn more
  2. Learn a lot – develop understandings and competencies that make them more thoughtful and capable.
  3. Find learning purposeful – be interested in putting their learning to use for their benefit, the benefit of others and for the natural world.

 

1.  Love Learning

The focus of my growth plan is to measure student engagement in a less subjective way but teachers can ask the following questions to determine levels of student engagement:

  • Were my students on task and self-directed? Did they need frequent redirection to focus on the task?
  • Were students surprised or disappointed to find out the period was almost over?
  • Did students do their best work?
  • Were students keen to share their learning with others, such as their peers, their teachers, and their families?

 

  1. Learn a Lot

The proof is in the pudding.  The traditional feedback for whether we are doing a good job as teachers is student achievement.

 

  1. Find Learning Purposeful

“Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done.”  The aphorism is true of education as well.  Educators know that student learning is purposeful, but it must be seen as purposeful by the learner as well.  Asking students the following questions is helpful in finding out if they understand that their learning is purposeful:

  • What do you know now that you didn’t at the start of the day? Why does it matter?
  • What can you do better now than at the start of the day? How is this helpful?
  • What do you want to do with your learning?

 

And a few questions not for students but for the teacher him or herself:

  • What did I do today that ensures my students know I care about their well-being and growth as learners?
  • What did I learn today? How will I put this learning to use?

Being a member of a professional learning community that shares innovative ideas and helps educators reflect on their practice is of vital importance.  The incredible work of the Network of Innovation and Inquiry in BC, the work of Innovation Teams in West Vancouver, and the continuous work of colleagues in schools has made this clear to me.  But as teachers are exposed to unceasing feedback from students, being mindful, reflective and open to this feedback is also of essential importance.

What other questions are helpful to make the most of student feedback?