Category Archives: Sharing

What’s Assessment Got To Do With It?

I’m an assessment nerd. I like reading about it, talking about it, and experimenting with it in my practice. I find it fascinating because it seems like the missing link between social emotional learning and more “academic” competencies such as critical thinking. As someone who believes relationships come first but adores challenging students intellectually, formative assessment changed my life.

The Journey

Having said this, I didn’t start my career truly understanding formative assessment. As a new teacher, I felt I was very current because I loved using analytic (4-column) rubrics. I spent countless hours choosing just the right language to include in each column. I got very excited about projects and was proud that I gave lots of descriptive feedback on these tasks. I never believed much in the value of letter grades, so I would proudly share that I didn’t use these in my classroom regularly – they were only present on report cards each term. I did have an “aha” moment in my first or second year of teaching that providing an overall performance indicator on a specific task was exactly the same as assigning a letter grade. Duh. I also felt like no matter what the task, at least one kid didn’t fit into any of the boxes I had so carefully and thoughtfully crafted. But the most important realization? I didn’t notice any significant improvements in my students’ learning once I gave them all of this wonderful feedback. The learning was over. I was designing great end goals but I was ignoring the important part: how do we help students achieve these goals?

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Slowly, I began learning more about formative assessment and the importance of questioning and feedback during the learning process rather than at the end. I was introduced to Dylan Wiliam’s work and started implementing learning intentions and criteria as part of our regular routine. Students starting to use this language and soon, I was giving targeted feedback both orally and in writing – as we learned – and we were exploring self and peer assessment in ways I had never thought possible. Rather than commenting on what they liked about someone’s final project or presentation, students were giving each other specific, descriptive feedback before they ever shared the final product. This resulted in more peer-peer support, greater sense of ownership, and better learning overall. They could actually provide evidence for their claims! Eventually, I moved away from analytic rubrics in favour of single-point rubrics, where the criteria simply indicate the expectation and the feedback can be personalized for each student. This showed me that there are ways to avoid placing students in categories and that the focus really can be on the learning 99% of the time. I was developing a greater understanding of my students, both as learners and as people, and this helped to shape our classroom environment. We developed a more explicit focus on social emotional learning and kids began talking about perseverance and growth rather than comparisons amongst themselves. I can honestly say that formative assessment is the single most important thing I ever shifted in my practice; it impacts everything.

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The Key Takeaways

Now working with pre-service teachers, I have a new perspective on formative assessment and the confusion that it inspires. For example, there is often a tendency to focus on the what rather than the how. Exit slips, observations, and work sample collections are all wonderful ways to gather evidence of student learning. However, it is so important to remember that these are simply tools. I could ask students to complete an exit slip at the end of a lesson, but if I don’t use it to guide my instruction and/or provide feedback, then it is really not being used formatively. We need to think carefully about how the information provided through the tool will guide our lessons, provide an opportunity for teacher feedback, or involve students in self and peer assessment. All of these are important features of formative assessment because they move learning forward.

Equally important is aligning our formative assessment with our summative. If we don’t have an end goal in mind, it becomes very difficult to design learning experiences that help students move toward that goal. Scaffolding is a term thrown around frequently in education, but often misunderstood. Really, scaffolding is the process of planning and assessment, which are interdependent and inseparable. Too often we teach one way and assess another, like providing lots of hands-on, interactive activities in Science but assessing with a written test that focuses on recall. This doesn’t make sense but it is an issue often overlooked in pre-service education courses. Summative assessment should reflect teaching practice in order to be fair, valid, and meaningful.

Finally, new teachers often remember that it’s important to collect evidence of learning and they use it to guide their own decisions in the classroom. They also tend to acknowledge that feedback is generally helpful for learning. What is most often forgotten is providing ample opportunities for students to apply the feedback in a timely manner. Spending hours on thoughtful comments is not meaningful if there is no opportunity for students to respond and/or try again. It also isn’t meaningful if it comes weeks after the experience. Whether it is with the same task or different but similar ones, students need multiple and frequent opportunities to practice and apply the feedback provided. Summative assessment – our end goal – is assessment of learning. How can we assess an end result if it is students’ first time doing something? This may seem simple, but I believe it is one of the most profound mindset shifts we can make as teachers.

I’ve learned so much over the years thanks to those who have shared and questioned their practice alongside me. Obviously, this post is not a comprehensive overview of assessment, but it’s always worth sharing stories and ideas. Formative assessment changed my entire practice as a teacher. It was the key to unlocking my students’ potential, and it was right in front of me all along. I hope there is something here to inspire you… or at least, to familiarize you with one of my nerdy teacher passions!

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2018: A Year of Reflection

Although I don’t write nearly as often as I’d like to, it is something that genuinely helps me reflect on myself both personally and professionally. Same goes for photography. Last year, I chose an intention to help guide me in my daily life: to simplify. Now, those who know me well know that I very frequently struggle to make decisions that relate to myself and my goals. I will often over-analyze a decision until, quite frankly, there is no decision left to be made for one of the following reasons:

  1. time ran out
  2. something out of my control made the decision for me
  3. I decide that decisions are too difficult and it was a silly idea in the first place – maintain status quo

Ultimately, this process leaves me feeling frustrated and limits how many new challenges I take on in my personal life.

Having a conscious intention in 2017 helped me make some decisions that I may have habitually over-analyzed. For example, I became much more dedicated to my yoga practice; this is something I have always had the desire to do but have always struggled to maintain in a consistent way. I would often find excuses why I couldn’t attend class or couldn’t practice from home. “I don’t have the time/money/energy to do _____________” is fairly common language in our society and I definitely fell prey to this thought pattern. While I have always understood on an intellectual level that we make our own choices in life, thanks partly to my intention, I am finally starting to internalize this in a meaningful way. I started to ask myself “Do you want to practice yoga?” and if the answer was a yes then I made it happen. Eventually, this led to it becoming a more important aspect of my life, and then I reaped more personal benefits, such as an increased sense of self-awareness, the ability to actually relax, and a healthy way of managing my anxiety. The intention to simplify also helped me accept that, at this time, yoga is more of a restorative practice for me than anything else, so I have stopped pressuring myself to attend certain types of classes and am trying to focus on what makes me feel good.

Having an intention certainly didn’t apply to every decision I made every day – unfortunately, I am not that focused or dedicated – but it did help me decide to become much healthier, more grounded, more focused on my personal interests, and to take on a new challenge in my career. I was also more willing to forgive myself if I slipped up in any way, which made my daily life much more enjoyable.

Although I definitely did not stick with it in 2017 like I did the previous year, the #photoaday challenge is another great tool that helped me reflect retrospectively on my year. Rather than selecting what I felt were my best photos this year, I chose nine that represent important people, moments, and connections in my life. This process helped me realize what a rich year I had despite feeling disappointment over cancelling a big trip abroad.

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#photoaday2017 #bestnine @beverley_bunker

From left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Connecting with my dad about photography
  2. Having fun in nature with my students
  3. Celebrating my best friend’s upcoming wedding with delicious food and wine
  4. Spending time at “the lake” in Ontario both before and after my father-in-law passed away
  5. Pushing through intense anxiety during a mountain hike in the desert
  6. Greater confidence through traveling alone… for the first time in a long time
  7. Visiting my mom in Ottawa
  8. Attending my first yoga retreat on a beautiful island with a good friend
  9. Something to remind me of the day we said goodbye to my father-in-law

Tools that help us reflect in some way are so important. These two worked well for me in 2017 and I have some ideas about what I’d like to try this coming year.

My intention for 2018 is to find joy; whether this means looking within or reaching out to others, I am looking forward to whatever this coming year has in store for me. What do you intend to try, change, or explore in 2018?

Possible: Kids Get It

My last post Possible: A Frame of Mind touched on how we as educators need to shift our mind sets to context in order to inspire change in the system. We must understand our “why” and encourage others to find theirs before we ask teachers to change their practice.

Last week, I had an awesome conversation with my students. I asked them what they liked about our class and what they would like to change about school. Here are some of their responses…

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Photo Credit: Nanagyei via Compfight cc

I think teachers should be closer with their students. It makes it so much easier to learn when you are connected with your teacher.

I really like how we have a lot of freedom and choice in our class. I’ve never really had this much freedom in school before.

I really like how we learn in different ways like in Math we use manipulatives and whiteboards and iPads. Math is more fun and easy to understand with manipulatives and it’s so much easier to show my thinking on an iPad than on paper.

Sometimes I think teachers forget what it’s like to be a kid. School is so much more fun when your teacher gets to know you and understand you.

I think more teachers should think about the physical space in their classrooms. How a room is set up makes a big difference in how I feel at school and having different spaces to learn is really helpful.

Honestly, I wish I had recorded the conversation because my kids were SO insightful! Their ideas were extremely well articulated and more powerful than I expected. Everyone was engaged in the discussion and wanted to contribute. We talked about making a video this year to share our experiences and what changes we would like to see in education moving forward. It was a very exciting day for me as an educator and a very powerful group activity. They have since asked if we can have awesome conversations every Thursday.

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Photo Credit: Leonard John Matthews via Compfight cc

We can’t be afraid to have these conversations with our kids. There is so much we can learn from them.

Kids get it. As long as their voices are valued, they will always see what’s possible.

Possible: A Frame of Mind

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Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the need for transformation in education. There are so many incredible educators out there – people who are building strong relationships with their students and making learning relevant in a variety of ways. My PLN is a wonderful source of support in this respect as they have so many tools, ideas, and stories to share with the education community.

Photo Credit: Pardesi* via Compfight cc

However, I can’t help but feel lately that we are preaching to the converted.

How can we broaden our circles of conversation to include more and more educators?

I think there are endless possibilities for how we can connect with others. Face to face within our schools has always been a possibility, district initiatives, and obviously connecting online through blogging and social media such as Twitter and Google +… and yet it doesn’t seem like enough. It is still a very small minority of educators that are working towards a new and different model of education.

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Will Richardson (@willrich45) as part of my district’s IML Innovators group. Although many people made insightful comments that day, one of Will’s has stuck with me. He said that it is not enough to focus on our practice; in fact, we should forget about changing our practice. Until we have dedicated the time to discussing the CONTEXT, the reasons for which we believe education needs to change, there is no point asking educators to change what they are doing in their classrooms. Students are not being harmed by anyone, so let’s spend some time understanding the why before we jump into the what and the how.

This was brilliant! It made me realize why I often feel like people think I’m nuts. Although I shifted my advocacy focus away from specific tools long ago, I still feel that tools are what most educators want to be given. They think it’s about the technology, that there are teachers who use tech and those who don’t, when really it is about improving students’ learning experiences. I want to transform education, not mass distribute new tech tools into our classrooms. But Will made me realize that perhaps it was bigger than I thought; maybe they don’t understand the context or the possibilities that changes could provide to education. Suddenly, the “problem” seems much more manageable. Although it may be time consuming, we must value reading, sharing, and discussing educational issues with our colleagues. We devote a lot of energy to building relationships with our students, but we often forget to do the same with our colleagues. Possible is simply a frame of mind; I want all educators to be able to envision what’s possible.

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Photo Credit: morberg via Compfight cc

So I urge you to ask yourself: Is possible your frame of mind? Because if it’s not, if we continue to look for faults in transformational ideas rather than strengths and possibilities, then I think we have already failed. The choice is up to us; we all have the power to put a little more possible in education.

C3 Inquiry and Assessment for Learning

I am embarking on a new learning journey. A few short weeks ago, I met my M.Ed. cohort for the first time. For the next two years, we will be learning together, exploring the concepts of creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration and how they relate to the inquiry process. I must say that my initial reaction was a positive one as everyone seems open to respectful dialogue and listening to new ideas. I was challenged and I felt excited! However, I was also overwhelmed on the first day with social anxiety, worries of inadequacy, and wonder about how this would relate to my professional practice. Before we left on Saturday, we were assigned learning tasks to complete in between sessions.

I left my first weekend of classes feeling totally energized and inspired because of my colleagues and our rich discussions. However, once I had time to sit down and review our learning tasks, I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment that I was returning to my days as a university student with readings and assignments that were not relevant or meaningful to me. Although we had said that it is all about the learning process and not the product, it seemed like another case of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Tonight we began our second session together, and I am so relieved to say that this is not the case! While we had each written a critique, the importance was not at all placed on what we had written, but rather on sharing, discussing our work with colleagues, and self-assessment. We spent several hours constructing meaning as a group about the many conceptions of creativity that exist and how our personal and social contexts influence our conceptions. We practiced how to offer a balanced critique of someone else’s thoughts while being fair and charitable. But most important of all, we were given time and space to reflect and self-assess our own thinking.

No assignments to be handed in or graded.

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Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

It is such a relief to know that there are education programs out there that are actually using assessment for learning. This past week, I felt some of the anxiety about assignment criteria and expectations that many of our students experience when something is to be graded. While I thoroughly enjoyed thinking critically, reflecting on my own conceptions of creativity, and discussions with friends, the thoughts of submitting my ideas on paper to be assessed made me nervous. I was reminded that many students feel that way all the time and it saddened me to think that my learning might be limited because of assignment format or criteria. Tonight, it was freeing to hear that there will be no grades given until we have mastered concepts and can submit our best work. We will continue to share, discuss, and transform our thinking and when we are ready, share and submit our best. We will all be involved in each other’s learning to help provide guidance and feedback. We will all help each other make our learning relevant to our teaching context.

I am excited to experience assessment for learning firsthand and the power it can have to transform student learning. I know the experience will help me grow as an educator and I hope I will learn how to make formative assessment more impactful for my students.

As part of an ongoing learning diary, I will blog about creative, critical, and collaborative inquiry using the tag C3 Inquiry. I look forward to sharing my learning with you 🙂

Two Words: “What’s Up?”

“Hey, you’re not quite yourself today… what’s up?”

I have learned more from my students by asking this one simple question this year than any other. Family and friend issues, fears and anxiety, hunger and stress… it all comes out if you just remember to notice. Our students experience so much more in their lives than what we see at school; however, we do see them for a significant chunk of their day. Shouldn’t we be able to tell when something’s up? If we’re not willing to notice and listen, will they ever truly enjoy learning?

I recently attended ConnectEd Canada and finally had the pleasure of hearing Joe Bower speak in person. He explained that too often, we talk too much and we forget to listen. We try to fix problems rather than waiting to find out if our students even need our help. We ignore other problems that mean a lot to our students in favour of using class time for “important things.” How does this affect our relationships with our students?

I think not taking the time to notice what’s going on in their lives is the worst thing we can do to our students. Relationships are the foundation of what we do and how students learn. As Rita Pierson says in the video below, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Every child is someone’s little boy or girl but it’s our job to make them all feel as though they are our children as well.

When is the last time you asked “what’s up?” How did this impact your relationship with your students?

Inspiring Others to Flourish

On May 11, I was lucky enough to attend TEDx West Vancouver: Rethink Education. It was a very inspirational day full of amazing speakers. However, there is only one that I have not been able to stop thinking about.

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quantumlars via Compfight

Katy Hutchison is an amazing, inspirational woman. Following the murder of her husband in 1997, Katy spent five years waiting for a conviction. Despite her tragic situation, where many would seek revenge, Katy developed a sense of compassion and a desire to support young people who, because of upsetting or unfortunate circumstances, end up making poor decisions.

Katy shared her story of how she met the man who murdered her husband, asked him why he did it, and then, when he began to cry, proceeded to hug him. She spent time visiting him in prison and getting to know him. She remained calm and compassionate. She used her tragic situation to practice forgiveness. She watched him recover slowly and re-enter society. She did what I am not sure many people could do. She gave him a “time in.” Katy is a remarkable woman for whom I will forever have an immense sense of admiration.

Katy now travels the world sharing her story about how her experience has taught her that restorative justice is the most effective way to deal with poor behaviour and decisions. I was very much impacted by her story and I began to think about how her philosophy applies to our education system. Rather than reprimanding bad behaviour, shouldn’t we spend time trying to get to know our students and why they may be making poor decisions? Shouldn’t we try to understand their perspective? Perhaps if all educators were a bit more like Katy, we could help students grow into the people they were meant to be.

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AlicePopkorn via Compfight

Katy influenced me to reflect on my everyday interactions and experiences both with my students and with everyone else I come across in life.

Perhaps if everyone were just a little more like Katy, our schools and our world would be better off.

When did you last help someone flourish into the person they were meant to be rather than what they appeared to be on the surface?