Saturday, February 28, 2015

Are things changing?

Three years ago I created this video about some of the ways my students and I were using technology in our grade one classroom.  

Since then THREE YEARS have passed and I wondering, are things changing in other classrooms? Have they changed enough? Have they changed too much? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

REAL Personalized Learning for ALL, Now That is Innovation!

Ever since I started teaching (I’m in my 23rd year) I have always tried to find ways to individualize the programs in my classroom to best meet the needs of my students. In most cases that meant open-ended activities that allowed each of my students to take the challenge to their own level.  But with the introduction of technology into my classroom the reality is that as much as open-ended activities are good, utilizing technology properly allows me to provide what feels like endless opportunities for personalization and individual learning.  In the next ten years I believe REAL personalized learning for ALL students will be the most significant classroom innovation.

This might take on the form of alternative classroom design or alternative curriculum. It will mean re-looking at the role and purpose of school and tying it all back to what each individual student needs.  It will mean the elimination of grade levels and marks, and complete focus on learning and real life problem solving.  Less focus on content and more focus on core competencies such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving.

It will mean the acceptance of various ways to create and show learning.  Student voices will show up in words, text, images, drawings, dance, etc… There will be no one right way to show learning.  Systems will be in place to enable children to learn in unique and individual ways and teachers will have strategies to assess this learning.

Technology will play a big role in personalization because it allows us to access a world full of information.  Networked learning will also play a key roll as no teacher is an expert in everything their students want to learn.  The relationship between students and teachers will become even stronger.

While I know personalization is not a new concept, there are far too many pulls from outside sources for it to really be happening properly in our schools.  I do believe REAL personalization is innovative and in ten years I hope it’s the norm and not the exception.

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here. 

The Global Search for Educations: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs - What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

Monday, February 9, 2015

And the discussion continues....

After I pushed published on my most recent post on Documenting Student Learning,  a Twitter conversation broke out.  I love hearing the voices of so many educators. If you were not part of the live conversation I'd love to include you through sharing this storify of much of the conversation.  Please feel to jump in on this blog, on via twitter.

Documenting Student Learning

As British Columbia's curriculum is under a major transformation (major for some, reassurance of  practice for others) we are not only looking at a different approach (for some) to teaching and learning but also to reporting this student learning to parents.   My district has been piloting new reporting practices and some of us have been exploring Fresh Grade.  If you aren't familiar with Fresh Grade I have previously written about it here.  This past Friday I was fortunate to be invited to a discussion session that took a look at the Fresh Grade platform and how it can be used to document and share student learning privately with parents.

It was interesting to be a part of this discussion and to hear how other teachers in my district are working through this new 'portfolio' based way of reporting student learning.  While many in the room are just dipping their toes into using Fresh Grade, the conversations we had are what struck with me most.

The biggest discussion that I can't stop thinking about is what exactly should these portfolios contain?  The focus of what I have been including is the documentation of the 1:1 conferences I've been having with my students.  For example when I conference with a student over his/her writing I typically take a snapshot of the writing then ask my student what they are proud of.   I ask them what they would like to improve with their writing.  Together we talk about how they might go about doing this.  Sometimes I'll add to the conversation around what they should be proud of by pointing out great things they have done that they didn't  realize.  When necessary I'll also add to the goal setting part of the conversation. Then I typically sum this all up with a note or two directly for the parents suggesting ways they can help support their child's learning at home. Our entire conversation is documented and shared on their portfolio, and most often immediately sent home as a quick email snapshot too.

Obviously not everything being added to the portfolio is quite as rich in assessment information. I am trying my best to include  simple images, videos, and voice recordings of students going through the process of learning.   This type of documentation has allowed my students to have some pretty rich portfolios.

One thing that is missing from my students portfolios is where their learning is in relation to the widely held expectations of their age/grade level. This was what I've been thinking about since Friday.  Should these portfolios only show work  but not actually reference these work samples  to the widely held expectations?

Each and every day I tell my students that they are in my room exactly as they should be.  I don't ever compare the progress of one student, to the progress of another but instead I expect my students to regularly do their best work.  I see my job as their teacher to help push their learning forward so their best work continues to get better.  And yes, I have several students who are not yet with in those widely held expectations but instead of focussing on what they aren't yet able to do, I focus on what they are able to do and how we can continue to work together to push learning forward.

But as a parent looking into these portfolios am I doing enough?  Is it important for  a parent to know where their child is in the developmental process or does knowing that just become a road block to learning? Do I want students who are constantly reminded that they are not where they "should" be or do I want students who are focussed on constantly learning and improving.

For term one my report cards were based HEAVILY on these exact digital portfolios.  I did send home a simple one page letter with a paragraph comment speaking specifically to a child's social emotional growth, work habits etc.  It was only here on this single paper that I made reference to learning in relation to widely held expectations.  Specifically I wrote:

_________’s Language Arts skills are (not) within age expectations. 
_________’s Math skills are (not) within age expectations.

I wonder though, is this enough or maybe this is even too much.

Is it more important to document exactly where a child is in their learning journey, or is more important to be clear on where they are in that journey in relation to widely held expectations? Or is it a combination of both?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.