Sabbatical – Part 5

Disobedient Teaching

Aaaah, revisiting one of my favourite reads. Such a pleasure to go back and reread this text which I find is always rewarding and one that never fails to pull you back from the brink of jumping on board the great conveyor belt of education compliance!

While there are many many aspects of this book that feed into the discussion about the purpose of school and what is important to learn, I will just focus on Part 3, Assessment.

Initially the discussion takes a historical perspective starting with a look at our ongoing use of streaming learners in our classrooms . J. C. Daniels is referenced , with makes a good side read…

Streaming, most junior school teachers believe, is a method of school organisation which allows children to progress, educationally, ‘at their own natural pace’; bright children are, it is believed, held back by being taught in classes containing duller pupils, whilst duller pupils tend to be overawed, and consequently are retarded, by the presence of brighter pupils in their classes. Consequently, it is widely believed that both dull, average and bright pupils make maximum educational progress when streaming policies are operated. The evidence of this investigation suggests that streaming does not in fact have these effects—rather that the contrary is true…

THE EFFECTS OF STREAMING IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL
II.—A Comparison of Streamed and Unstreamed Schools
J. C. DANIELS

It is a good prompt isn’t it? Why do we largely still pursue this approach that has long reaching consequences? Is it our obsession with data and accountability? Is it parental expectation? As I side note I know that teachers are exploring and implementing mixed ability grouping, especially in maths at our school. Some teachers struggle with this, but why? Is it just easier to group and the organise learners by achievement? Is it because teachers don’t have the knowledge, yet, to facilitate a different type of learning? Is it due to their core beliefs aligning to a streamed approach?

Good questions, worth pondering, but let’s refocus back to the book…

We know, and Ings reinforces this, that judgements of progress and achievement reduced to a mark really tell us very little at all. We gain no insight in to how learners learn; their thinking, their approach to problem solving.

I feel fortunate to work within a school that increasingly looks at the whole learner and is making a real effort to balance to the traditional areas of schooling (literacy & maths) with a core set of dispositions. Furthermore, while we still employ some ‘grade’ based assessments based on a line in the sand benchmark, what is really important is the progress our learners make towards their learning goals. We don’t want teachers teaching to the test/assessment, we want them responding to the individual needs of their learners and taking them from where they are at towards where they need to go.

We are also exploring a new approach to make this ‘assessment’ more learner centred and now after being more informed reading this book, an approach that links to past academic practice. Ings describes how assessing learning traditionally took the form of being oral and public:

Following a process of challenge and defence, students were expected to argue their thesis. They weren’t marked.

Ings, W. (2017). Disobedient Teaching. pp. 53

Sadly, these practices are really only reserved now for much older students presenting their PhD thesis. We are looking to change that, and change it with our primary school learners. More to come on that later in another post.

Ings goes on to remind us of practice in Finland, long known as a highly effective educational system and amongst the highest ranking in equity and excellence globally (heard those terms in your most recent ERO review??). There there is no formal assessment of learners for the first 6 years of schooling, and there is only 1 mandatory test at the age of 16, and there is no streaming, yet they have one of the lowest differences between the weakest and strongest learners.

What can we learn from that?

The final area to discuss from the chapter, before looking at Ings’ solutions, has strong links to the previous post and the “measure what you treasure” line of thought.

Ings argues the our usage of standardised assessments narrows our views of what is valued and therefore taught. We know what it can’t measure (Ayers, 1993, as quoted by Ings):

  • initiative
  • creativity
  • imagination
  • curiosity
  • effort
  • commitment…
  • and a whole other host of valuable dispositions

The relevance is clear for us., With a school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership, it is dispositions such as those listed above that will support us to realise our school goals. Once again are measuring what we treasure?

And how will we do that?

THere is plenty more in this chapter. The last nugget I will pull out is this (in reference to our dependency on measuring/testing:

…because despite the fact that the average New Zealander spends 12.6 years in school, they actually know very little about themselves as learners. Very little.

page 60

I am determined that we will stay true to our school vision and empower our learners to be well on the road to understanding who they are as learners and how they learn before they leave our school.

Sabbatical – Part 4

Lifelong Kindergarten

This is a good read for any educator. The author has been integral in the development of LEGO Mindstorms robotics as well as leading the team developing the Scratch programming software. The examples he uses to reinforce his message draw from the use of these two products plus a whole lot more real life contexts.

If you have anyone in your school such as a staff member or parent who doesn’t understand why coding or robotics supports developing learning and any number of thinking dispositions, then give them a copy of this book!

For the purposes of this inquiry I will really just focus on the section of the book that deals with assessment, the Tensions and Trade-offs.

It discusses the skills that employers are increasingly looking for. This also featured in the another text, Innovate Inside the Box by Couros & Novak (2019) who discuss the 2022 Skills Outlook. The following graphic reinforces the point that all authors are making – we need our learners/young people to be able to adapt, problem solve, adopt new strategies when faced with unexpected situations i.e. life.

World Economic Forum, 2022 Skills Outlook

The problem is though that we in education still seek to measure progress at school in traditonal areas (reading, writing, maths) and by using quantitative data evidence to know if we are doing a good job.

But are we measuring the things that will make the biggest difference in people’s lives? Here is a great saying from the book;

We treasure what we measure.

What are we currently treasuring?

This question is pretty central to the core purpose of this inquiry and one that Resnick discusses further. It is easier if I just show you:

Resnick, 2017, p. 152

For me this again reinforces learnings to date where as a school, as a profession, we seem not to be focusing on what’s important. Are we actively prioritising, or at least treating equally, these areas, these dispositions for want of a better word? Or systems… our tools… our perceptions of good schools, are all based around a measure of traditional academic success. We need to at least balance it out, to even the scales between a dispositional approach and an academic approach. Or do we need to completely flip it and start everything we do from a dispositional standpoint?

Final words from Resnick:

If we truly care about preparing today’s children to thrive in tomorrow’s society, we need to rethink our approaches to assessment, making sure to focus on what’s most important for children to learn, not what’s the easiest for us to measure.

(Resnick, 2017, p. 153)

Sabbatical – Part 2

Learning, what is important to learn and what is important to assess.

Attendance at a Modern Learners Lab What Really Matters: Reimagining Assessment for Modern Learning with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon provided an ideal forum for initiating reflections and conversations around this question, and kick-starting this inquiry. More specifically, they prompted  deep thought around the following themes:

  • What are our beliefs about how children learn most powerfully and deeply?
  • Under what conditions do people learn most productively?
  • What assessments do you currently use in your practice?
  • What might we conclude that you believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply based on your current assessments?
  • What are the gaps between what we believe and what we currently do?
  • Who are our kids?
  • What are some of the major changes in the world that affect the way you think about classrooms today?
  • So, given the kids you serve, and the realities of the world today, what are the most important outcomes that you want for your students on graduation day?
  • How well do the assessments you currently employ support your mission?
  • In what ways has technology changed what’s possible in terms of classroom learning and assessment?
  • Who owns the assessment?

As one can see these are a pretty powerful set of questions to work through and reflect upon and as such as part of this inquiry they have since been worked through with staff who confirmed what we all know and think about learning… (to list a few of them) powerful learning takes place when learners; are curious, ask questions, can follow their passions, face challenges, make connections, contribute. Not, as Dixon and Richardson (2018) noted, through; sitting in rows, with no real world application, teacher controlled, someone else’s questions etc. We also realised that what we assessed didn’t align with what we believed was really important for our learners.

What Really Matters: Reimagining Assessment for Modern Learning with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon

Overall the conversations resulted in some pretty clear outcomes and actions including;

  1. a desire to focus more on the ‘front end’ (competencies, vision and values) rather than the ‘back end’ (learning areas and achievement objectives) of the NZ Curriculum
  2. a reframing of our approach to assessment by removing the unnecessary and ensuring that what practices we utilise reflect our vision and beliefs for learning
  3. investigate and develop a more competency based curriculum built on ‘dispositions’ for learning.

Why do we want to do these things?

We want to align our curriculum with the needs of the students and their future lives. If we truly believe that we should place as much or more value on the teaching of dispositions as we do in the teaching of traditional areas this will require a shift in our practices. This belief/focus will enable learners to access and activate learning across the curriculum and beyond. Doing this creates a direct need to change what and how we assess.

In relation to the sabbatical inquiry, developing an innovative approach to assessment and reporting needs to move to a place that is outside of our current box. Actively recognising and centering our curriculum around a dispositional framework is clearly worth investigating further.

Sabbatical – Part 1

Introduction

Russell Street School is a decile 8 U5 urban contributing primary school in Palmerston North. Our roll is made up of approximately 15% Māori and 60% New Zealand European. As a school we celebrate te ao Māori through every classroom and especially our Māori enhanced learning space, Poutokomanawa. Our school has always embraced new ideas and modern pedagogies which enable us to realise our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. Our learners are central to everything we do.

We also know that what we do is deemed to be effective, at least through the eyes of ERO, where we are currently on a third consecutive 4-5 year review cycle. However we are not complacent and a restructuring of our leadership team and being involved in other initiatives such as MST and TLIF has brought in new ideas and a new direction, which is well supported by an effective pedagogical foundation that the school has built up over recent years. 

One area that has not seen huge amounts of innovative practice and thinking is in the area of assessment and reporting practices. Perhaps this was due to the impact of the former National Standards assessment and reporting regime, or simply that there were more important aspects of the teaching craft that took priority when developing our strategic direction. Regardless, our current approach of predominantly teacher directed assessments and sending home written reports twice a year with learning conferences thrown in does not closely align with our vision. Yes there is still a formative approach to learning design and great examples of agentic practices in our learning spaces but I know that over time we have just lost our way a bit.

It is this disconnect, the distance between what we believe and what we do that drives our desire to improve and change our practice.

The challenge I see in classrooms and hear about in conversations with students, teachers, administrators, and families is that there is a misalignment between our aspirations – what we believe that learners needs – and what we actually do in schools.

Couros & Novak, 2019, p. XV

As such, this inquiry focuses on looking at innovative ways to assess and report on learning and achievement and how this process can embrace our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. It also stems from a desire to

  • confirm what is important to learn, and therefore what is important to assess
  • adopt an assessment approach that is genuinely driven by the learner
  • ensure what is assessed and how it is assessed reflects what we believe and know is important for effective learning
  • develop a reporting approach (for all contexts i.e. the learner, parents, Board and community) that also stays true to the essence of our vision.

In order to do this, the inquiry provides the opportunity to attend workshops where the same questions are asked, investigate what other schools may be doing, as well as extensive reading on learning approaches that are innovative and empower learners.

How to Assess or Not to Assess

We are currently reviewing our assessment and reporting schedule, asking ourselves if we assess the right things, at the right time, using the right tool.

We recognise we assess for different purposes; for the learner, for the teacher, for the parents, board, Ministry… there are no arguments there. We also acknowledge very clearly that students should be integral to the assessment process and as much as possible direct it and ultimately have the agency to know/request/use for their own learning.

This post is not about that side of things (or maybe it is and I haven’t made the link yet), instead an emerging theme is entering into our discussions related to the mechanics of completing some of the assessments. Let me try and explain this theme with a fictitious example…

Teacher A: Teacher A knows that that by the end week 8 they should have completed a JAM of all their students. As the assessment is required by week 8 they hold off completing any until the start of week 6, then go for it, intensely over a 2 week period to get them done. There is some disruption to classroom programme in order to make it happen.

Teacher B: Teacher B also has the same deadline in week 8. They have a different approach. Right from the beginning of the term, they start their JAMs, completing as required, usually 2-3 a week, starting with those learners who are a priority and the next steps for them are needed right now. There is minimal disruption to the normal classroom programme.

What is best? Does it matter? Perhaps if I try and explore the assumed beliefs that drive their learning, it may shed more light on it.

Teacher A: Teacher A believes that it is important that assessments are completed close together. This way they are more reliable and bring greater accuracy to teaching especially when making comparisons between learners for purposes such as grouping students in your classroom. They are driven by a do-more-less-often approach and the disruption to the classroom programme is outweighed by the value of the assessment information.

Teacher B: Teacher B understands the need for deadlines but does not necessarily agree with them, but they are a professional and do what is required. They look at each student as an individual and as much as possible want to personalise their learning. They are driven by a do-little-and-often approach that responds to the individual needs of the learners. They value the information the assessment provides for them and the learner.

I am more like teacher B than A. As a new entrant teacher I used to have my folder with a section for each student where there was an alphabet name/sound recognition, basic word lists and current running record for each student. Every day, during silent reading or pack up, or if there was a moment during the literacy programme I would call the next learner on the list up or the one I needed to assess. I did this because I needed this information to inform my teaching, I couldn’t wait for it. Students progressed at different speeds, so an ongoing, needs based assessment appraoch was required and the most effective. Even when I taught Year 7/8s for a term a couple of years ago, I used the same approach with my Probes and GloSS.

As I reflect on this now I have noted why I did it this way, and why I would continue to do so if I were be be back in the classroom…

  1. completing little assessments often made it manageable and easy to meet those assessment checkpoints/expectations
  2. it gave me the flexibility to assess my learners when they needed it most, especially those who you are monitoring more closely or those that you get that hunch about
  3. it allowed the assessment to be a normalised part of the classroom programme, rather than something that was compartmentalised a fitted into a particular time slot
  4. I it meant that the individual needs of the learner drove the assessment process first and foremost
  5. it reinforced that assessment tools have value but there is greater value on the day-to-day learning conversations and observations taking place every moment of every day… and with minimal to no disruption caused by doing a little bit often, it made more time for the real stuff.

As my thoughts wander I am thinking that maybe we should introduce a 3rd teacher too.

Teacher C has the same deadlines described above however they work in a flexible learning space with 2 others teachers. As part of the way they organise their timetable, assessment time is built into each day’s timetable so at least 1 teacher has the time to complete any required assessments while the other 2 manage the learning of the students. Teacher C also happens to lead the maths learning in this collaborative team so she assumes responsibility for all maths assessments, undertaking testing, sharing outcomes both individually with teachers and collectively to analyse any trends. Teacher C beliefs that assessment is a collaborative exercise, that responds to students need and uses the collective expertise of the teachers to analyse data and plan next steps.

There are so many different teaching/assessment scenarios that you could illustrate to add to the dialogue around this theme. I do not expect my teachers to be clones of one another and I acknowledge that there is no right approach, but I do think there are ways you can work that are smarter and that keep learners and learning at the centre. So what do I really want though? Ideally I want to rip up/delete our schedule because:

  1. teachers have the knowledge, skills and understanding (confidence?) to use the right assessment tool at the right time to best meet the needs of their learners
  2. I have the professional trust to give teachers that agency
  3. assessment should be meaningful, timely, and driven by the needs of the learners, not driven by a document or standard
  4. as teachers naturally inquire into their practice, they need data to check the effectiveness of their actions.

Thoughts of adaptive expertise are coming into my head now, and one particular slide (#17) from a presentation called Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Perhaps Teacher A is caught in parts of routine expertise, Teacher A is beginning on the adapting pathway?

Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Helen Timperley Professor of Education The University of Auckland New Zealand.

I guess that as I ponder what this all means, if anything at all, I will continue to review what we do for or assessment. It is part of our ongoing review, changes have already been made in terms of teacher feedback, and now as we compare what we do alongside what others school do, it will only bring more clarity to the process of finding out what works best for us, in our school with our students. But, changing a few mindsets along the way will not be a bad thing…

#adaptiveexpertise #assessment #mindsets #routineexpertise

Graham Attwell: Rethinking e-Portfolios

I have got a lot of time for Graham Attwell’s thoughts around eportfolios. I referenced his article e-Portfolios – the DNA of the Personal Learning Environment? in my ePortfolio research. He also contributed to the MOSEP (More Self-Esteem with my ePortfolio) project which is well worth a look.

Hot off the wire is his current thoughts around eportfolios, discussing such questions as these:

Is an e-Portfolio intended as a space for learners to record all their learning – that which takes place in the home or in the workplace as well as in a course environment or is it a place or responding to prescribed outcomes for a course or learning programme?
How much should an e-Portfolio be considered a tool for assessment and how much for reflection on learning?
Can one environment encompass all of these functions?

And such technologies as OSPI, Elgg and Mahara. Further discussion involves Mash Up Personal Learning Environments and research looking at the value of light weight widgets for promoting reflection that can be embedded in existing e-learning programmes.

All interesting stuff and worth a couple of minutes of your time.

#assessment #ePortfolios #GrahamAttwell #mashups

PEN Forum on ePortfolios

This month the PEN (Principal’s Electronic Network) is hosting a forum on ePortfolios. I have been invited to join in this discussion and initiate the forum discussion.

It is always difficult to write an initial forum post that leads on to effective discussion about the topic. How long should it be? Should you play the devil’s advocate? Do you just state the facts as we know them now? How much crystal balling should you do?

If you have any answers, let me know. Otherwise here is my initial post designed to be the starting point for an ongoing discussion about eportfolios.

The NZ Curriculum “…gives schools the flexibility to design and deliver programmes that will engage all students and offer them appropriate learning pathways.”
The document further describes effective pedagogy and assessment, recognises parents as key partners, encourages elearning to open up new opportunities, and promotes student engagement in their learning.
My suggestion is that the eportfolio is able to provide the container that will capture the essence of a learning programme that caters for all of these features.
While the traditional portfolio focused on best examples of work to be showcased, the modern eportfolio, with its ability to network learners, integrate the best of Web 2.0 and show the process of learning, focuses more on supporting learners by being an integral component in the learning process.
How are you connecting learners, parents and teachers? How are you capturing feedback before, during and after learning? How are you facilitating learners in reflecting on and sharing learning through multimedia? How are you allowing learners to collect examples of their learning in an environment similar to what they use as part of their out of school networking?
The eportfolio makes this possible. It supports effective learning, assessment and elearning as described in the NZ Curriculum. It involves parents in the learning process and most importantly, engages students. Far from being a current buzzword in education, the eportfolio is an essential component that links the essential strands of learning together.

#PEN #web #feedback #education #engage #motivate #principal #assessment #pedagogy #NZCurriculum #SocialNetworking