Schools have come a long way when it comes to reporting/assessing student learning. There are so many good things about what we do in this profession, writing report cards are not one of them. Why is that?
It is time? Is it timing? Is it the amount of in-put vs out-put? Is it the fact that report cards say so much, but really say nothing at the same time?
I personally have not seen a school get this right yet. I am very interested in what other schools do out there. Can we share some examples? It is time to simplify the report card process. Not only for teachers, but for parents and students too.
What do your report cards say about your school?
Are you really valuing real learning? Do they reflect the 5 essential elements of the PYP? Are they truly representing who they are as learners and as people? Do you review the report card process? Is reporting just a formality?
What does your report card say about you?
A lot of us copy and paste comments. We know it, administration knows it, parents know it, and even kids know it. If this is what we do then should we just not do them? Or do you write 100% personalized comments that truly reveal who each kids are? How can we get it right when we think about the time it takes to write them, proofread, edit and revise them?
There seems to be a shift from writing long narratives (full of teacher jargon) to more concise and pointed comments focusing on strengths and learning targets. I actually find it more challenging to write a specific comment than a long-winded one.
This got me thinking…. do we actually need reports? Why can’t we just write them for students who are leaving the school? Don’t we have enough assessments already that speak so much louder than a written report? Something to consider and think about. A move like that would take a lot of guts. There would have to be a very supportive school community that gets it. There are parents out there that do get it. Let’s educate the others.
Our school wants to inquire into report cards. What does good look like and sound like? Please let us know if you would like to share what you do. Add to this conversation. This is an SOS call to look at different approaches. Together, I am sure we can adapt and change what we currently do to reflect what we want our reports to say about student learning.
Some people fear change, some embrace it. Change is a funny one. Because we are always changing. Our kids change, our knowledge and understanding changes, units change, the people around us changes and of course we change. I have been having a lot of conversations about change with people the past week. Some people are good at moving with change, but they also want continuity and consistency too. Change is good, but it doesn’t always mean we have to change everything, for the sake of changing. If you have used something that works, then keep using it. Well, that’s until it is actually time to do something different because it longer works.
The point I am trying to make is, I don’t feel guilty in sticking with what works. How the kids interpret it and the way they respond WILL be very different from the year before. There is a place for continuity, if you are open to experiment with it and build upon it each time.
This made me think about my own practice and how I approach units. My intension is always to go into new units with fresh ideas. Especially, when it comes to thinking about who the kids are and what would be helpful during their inquires.
There are some things that I have used and will continue to use, just because they are that good. It can’t be improved and it is so useful when guiding and leading the kids down the right path – a meaningful path.
Using a visual is such a powerful way to represent what a unit is all about. We have used some visuals that are totally original and new. These visuals have been developed and taken shape through team planning meetings. And some visuals have been used or adapted from the good stuff that is already out there. And there is a lot of good stuff floating around.
Time for some real examples:
(1) Something original which was developed through planning (Author – Sam Sherratt)
Last year we were looking at a way to guide students through a scientific process. We felt that a flow chart would be the most effective way. While the team was discussing ideas and possibilities. Sam went to work and was able to show this through a flow chart. This is what he came up with.
I have now used the above flow chart two years in a row and it has totally helped me and the kids. The questions have been so different (naturally) that it has seemed like a totally different experience, especially how the kids have shared their understanding about their curiosity.
(2) Something already out there that is transferable (Author – Alan Atkisson)
The compass is a really good way to get the students to look at different points, especially though the themes of Sharing the planet or Where we are in place and time. This was something that was already being used and it become a guiding light to frame thinking and develop understanding by contextualizing the unit. This is what the compass looks like:
So, what has this got to do with change?
There are some things I won’t change just because I know it works. It works every time and brings out the most in the way student’s think and learn. These visual will remain part of my teaching tools because they have proven to work. What do other people use again and again because it is so useful and helpful to light the way for learning? I would be very interested to learn more about the things that work really well! What is the good stuff out there?
Know your curriculum… and then make it accessible to students in a way that helps them to develop their own knowledge. The thing is that the curriculum is complex and a little wordy. Breaking it all down and in a way that makes sense to students opens the door of genuine inquiry.
Once students know what it is they need to know they then become more knowledgeable. This happens in two ways:
- They know what it is they are learning about,
- They know what knowledge they will need to move deeper and further into their inquiry.
From here, all the other essential elements of the PYP will open up for real inquiry. Before they even get to the knowledge component, they need to know what it all actually means. Let me walk you through step by step something that supported the students in developing their own understanding and meaning.
Students recorded their first thinking about what each of the 4 science strands meant to them. This informed me what they already knew about each one and gave me a very accurate picture as to their knowledge base as scientists.
Next, the students had the opportunity to read a lot of non-fiction text all about science across the four strands. They skimmed and scanned a wide range of books. They had a lot of time to do this on their own.
After reading independently they were able to share and connect the things they had noticed and discuss and explain together.
They then teamed up again and connected the things that they read and saw in the books and transferred to their second thinking. The language and details really lifted to a deeper and wider range from being exposed to scientific books.
As a result of finding out what they first new and then allowing them to research in a very informal setting, their second thinking was now very solid and they had made a huge step forward in knowing much more about each strand.
Our next step is to gather all their curiosities and then sort and categorize them into the correct science strand. By following the above steps the students informed my teaching on what they already know, what they need to know and what knowledge we need to develop as we look closer at each of their questions and thinking.
Students wrote as many questions as they could about the things they were curious about.
They also wrote questions from the things they recorded from the field trip the day before.
Students put their questions to the science strand that it naturally connected to which helped to develop and see how science connects to so many things.
Now we are ready to take one of their burning questions and start to connect it to the concepts to channel and focus the way they will approach and plan the next steps.
Chad and I began experimenting with team-teaching at International School Tianjin. We were the teachers of the two Grade 4 classes at a school run by Steve Moody, who encouraged such experimentation.
Very quickly, Chad and I realized that we had very different strengths and that these strengths would be at their strongest when combined. We pulled all the doors off our two classrooms and “shared room” and started to treat the two classes as one class with two teachers. When we were reunited at NIST, we picked up where we left off. In total, we have team-taught for three years. Here are the benefits that we have noticed so far:
Time Opens Up
One teacher may lead the sessions while the other…
- works with specific groups or individuals as part of the session itself
- works with specific groups or individuals on something unrelated to the specific session – such as a focus lesson on competencies that has become necessary
- works through assessment tasks that need to be completed
- acts as an assistant and deals with practicalities to make the session run smoothly
- prepares for an upcoming session
- captures learning using anecdotal notes, photos or video for use later on
Two Brains, Two Perspectives, Two Personalities
As a result of two people teaching one class…
- there is a natural balance in the kind of thinking that goes on with students
- ideas are refined by the “to and ‘fro” of thinking
- students get to see collaboration, compromise and communication being modeled every day
- things that may not be obvious to one person are obvious to the other
- students are able to seek different types of guidance as they get to know the strengths and personalities of the two teachers
- there are two sets of eyes watching the students, noticing what they are doing and what they need
- there is a natural “bouncing off” each other that not only makes thinking deeper but also makes teaching more social
“Two hands make light work”
When two people work effectively together…
- there is a natural division of labour that makes practical tasks easier to achieve – such as changing classroom layout, creating resources, displaying work
- two people are able to be more ambitious with what they do each day by spurring each other on
- two people can offer students much richer experiences every day
This is not a comprehensive list… no doubt I’ll add to it over the next few days as I continue to think about it!
It is worth mentioning that Chad and I did not have an easy time working this way when we were in a team of five. There seemed to be some resentment of our dynamic and a feeling that if everyone was not “collaborating” in that way then we also shouldn’t be. I guess the main thing I would like to get across to school leaders or anyone working in teaching teams of three or more people is this:
“When two (or more) people naturally begin to collaborate… just let it happen. Don’t stigmatize it. Don’t resent it. Don’t punish it. Natural collaboration is what we all say we aim for, but if we squash it when it happens naturally it may never happen again!”
Let’s face it, not that much is actually original. It has all been done before. Transfer has become a new catch phrase when it comes to assessing student learning. I’m not suggesting that transfer is not important because it is; I just want to share a great example of it with you.
We showed the Success Indicator designed by Mary Ellen Tribby to bring forward the things we wanted to see them show in the exhibition and life in general. This is what it looks like.
The kids really got it. Namo and Andrew used this as part of their exhibition focus. They transferred what they liked about the above visual and then used it for their inquiry to communicate their own message about play. What they created was very professional and they are now in touch with the Institute of Play.
They transferred something they liked, used the concept and then made it their own. Transferring what we learn and then using that to connect to the real world is what learning is all about for me. What about you?
This is Faith, a year 6 student with a lot of artistic talent. This really came through in the How we express ourselves unit and continued on in the exhibition. Faith is a very quiet and humble girl. She does not like attention and she is someone who has many hidden talents. Her talents only really came through because we allowed her to explore first.
We had Faith in our students and gave them time to be free in their creative expression. Once we saw this gift we had to honor her work by moving from paper to a large 1.5m by 2m canvas. She is still working on her second piece as you read this post. We plan on documenting her journey with a movie in the near future. Honor and channel student’s gifts by letting them go and then make your interventions timely. Have FAITH!
What does your POI say about your school? How much time do you actually invest in striking the right balance both vertically and horizontally? Are the right people involved and is there a system or process in place to challenge the POI?
This is a photo of the POI at NIST. I have been here for 3 years and every year it gets stronger and better because there is constant change. At the end of the year there is opportunity to really think about the flow of the units. When planning a unit the central idea is challenged again. We change, our students change and we must seek ways to change with it too! Is your POI something that is always moving and flowing or is it a bit of a flop?