Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reflections on Midterm Conferences in "Gradeless" 9-10 Math

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

It has been an observation of mine that students are struggling to transfer the meta-cognition skills gained in other places into the math classroom. The ideas and structures I am putting onto their math learning seem to be very different than anything they have done in math before that they do not realize they have done it elsewhere. It has made for some interesting reflection on my part.

In continuing with my journey to explore student reflection I wanted to have students self-evaluate at midterm and conference with me to determine their report grade and report card comments. I set this up using an assignment on Google Classroom and had the sign up for a conference time-slot.

My grade 10s were given a reflection document that included a few things (outlined via images below).

Part 1: Identify pieces of evidence and start to identify criteria from the map that were evident in that evidence

Part 2: Highlight where evidence shows that they are for each criteria of each overarching learning goal in the course (the map is a partial map, only including the aspects relevant at this point in the course)

Part 3: Self-evaluate and reevaluate learning and next steps

When this was all said and done I opened this file when students came to me for their conference. Since I was finding that students were struggling with this process in math I ended up spending most of this time looking at their map with them and identifying areas where we disagreed so that we could discuss them. I recognize that I had not done the map justice (did not explain it well enough) and had already known that it would be difficult as it would be their first real exposure to it (I was only able to write the map myself the week before giving this assignment). Needless to say, I learned a lot - and had already planned to get a student focus-group together to help me reword the map more appropriately for students.

So next time I will:
- get students using the map earier
- rework it to use more student-friendly language
- model how to use the map
- have students evaluate using the map before midterm
- continue to build student reflection and self- & peer-assessment skills explicitly

The grade 9s I do not have a map for so I approached their reflection by having them fill in a chart while referencing the parts of the curriculum document that were relevant at this point. They were often able to identify specific expectations that they were doing well on and ones that they had to work on. What ended up lacking was them considering these expectations from a lens that expanded from just the "understand and use" - I need a way to make sure that the 9s consider the math processes as well in the future.

Overall students responded fairly positively during conferences when I pointed out things that had not considered that showed they were struggling with aspects of the course, but the discussions took a long time. The conferencing process was valuable, but I need to seek some ways to make it more manageable and to be away from facilitating student learning for less time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Questions Coming From "Gradeless" Math

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

Going "gradeless" (using feedback-focused assessment) has brought about some great things with students, but often leads to more question than answers about my assessment practices. If you are reading this and have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear from you!

Overarching Learning Goals & Learning Maps

I have started my year in grade 10 math with a set of learning goals and an incomplete learning map. I went into this process with an understanding that these documents will always be working documents. Changes will be needed depending on the group of students and changing needs of the course/society/etc. I am only 6 weeks into the semester and already envisioning the need for changes just based on pedagogy and assessment policy. Some of the reasons for this will be become more evidence in the topic below.

My learning map only has descriptors for level 3, which is partly by design.
1) I couldn't figure out how to describe the learning for 4 levels since I had not even tried using these goals for standards-based grading
2) I want student language to be used on the map so really need their voice to complete it
Hopefully I can get to a point soon where I have enough student evidence to show them that they can help me with that.

The Achievement Chart

I am grappling with the achievement chart in math - I am a fan of ensuring that we are assessing using all 4 categories (for those of you outside of Ontario those are Knowledge & Understanding, Application, Communication and Thinking) but I am struggling with the "descriptors" that Ontario uses to split them into 4 levels and even more grappling with what it means to have knowledge & understanding at a level 4 (exceeding expectations) when removed from thinking. I cannot get away from the idea that to show level 4 K&U you must also be showing T.

Manageable Feedback

This is the biggest question for me in out TLLP. How do I give students the feedback in math that they need and deserve in a manageable way? If I were to do all of what I think is beneficial I would literally not sleep. When everything is in place I will try to find ways to do it a bit more electronically so there is less hand writing to do, but the idea still baffles me in such a skill-based course (with the sheer volume of skills/understanding they need).

If anyone has any idea I would love to hear them. There is only so much that they can accomplish through self- and peer-feedback.

Managing Conferencing

I love doing interviews with kids about math. It is always an eye-opening look into what they actually understand (sometimes things they have not been able to articulate on paper and sometimes finding out just how much they are memorizing and not understanding). When I was teaching senior courses I usually found the time I needed to have these conferences, but I am having more trouble doing so with junior courses. It is a to harder to get them to be automonous for 3 days so that I can have the time needed.

Any ideas are welcome!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Week 2/3 in "Gradeless" Math - Self & Peer-Assessment and Reflecting on Progress

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

In the second full week of school I put a lot of focus on starting to develop student's skills in self- and peer-assessment. Without these skills the idea of developing an environment that creates more autonomous learners likely would not happen (and the burden of giving descriptive feedback would fall entirely on me - and I also have a goal to get more sleep this year).

Here is the gist of the steps I attempted to take last week:

1. Give students questions to use when reflecting on their work (such as "Have I written my solution so that someone else can follow it?"). I put these on the board and uploaded a photo of them to our Google Site for student's to reference.

2. Introduce the model I am using for descriptive feedback (Acknowledge what you are doing well; Describe what your next step should be; Determine how/when you are going to work on your next step). I also put this on the board and uploaded a photo to our Site. In the future, I would like to provide students with exemplars and discuss what good feedback looks like.

3. Assign students to choose a question they have done and use the questions from 1 and the model from 2 to write descriptive feedback for themselves (and asked them to upload to Sesame so I could give them feedback on their descriptive feedback).

4. On the next opportunity I modeled how I used the success criteria to write the reflection questions for students (this time we were looking at problem solving).

5. I then assigned a question for them to do as practice and when most of them were finished I had them swap with a neighbour and peer-assess using the questions and write descriptive feedback for their partner.

6. For homework that night I asked them to choose one of the questions they did at home to upload to Sesame and include descriptive feedback for themselves. I followed up with those who posted one to give them feedback on their self-assessment.

I plan to have report conferences with students at midterm and the end of the course to determine their report grades together. To help them prepare for this I also implemented the next two steps at the end of the week.

7. I created a chart (pictured below) with instructions for students for them to use to help them summarize what we had been doing. I filled in the overarching learning goals (OLGs) that I wanted them to focus on and they needed to list the evidence they had of that learning (i.e. quiz, homework, activity) and then list the corresponding success criteria from our learning map as ether "met" or "still working on".

8. Based on the instructions students sent home an email that summarized the chart (on my Google Classroom assignment it stated that they should: Tell them what they learned/were able to do; Inform them of what is still being worked on; Summarize how the student feels they are doing so far).

Once students started to send the emails and I looked at a couple I realized I needed to get them to do a reflection portion to help consolidate a bit better. Upon this reflection I decided to add this to the bottom of these reflections.

This will make sure students are reminded to revisit their goal and will hopefully lead to students setting some relevant goals for where they are at the time.

I will definitely be continuing to get students to use self- and peer-assessment and will continue to work on using the above style reflections to see how they go. Right now the tough part is convincing all of them to complete it (I gave them time in class, but probably not enough).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week 1 in Math - My Motivations & Understanding Expectations with Students

What, Why and Where

I am finally embarking on my vision of a "gradeless" classroom. What does that mean? It means that my students will receive feedback that is feedback-based. Learning becomes about learning. Grades take a step back and are determine for reporting periods.

Why am I going here? I am giving the ownership of learning back to my students. For too long I have been the owner of the learning. It was believed that the teacher "gave" marks and students always wanted to know what they needed to "do" to get an 80. The shift is simple - I give feedback based on set criteria that students need to work toward and they reflect on their learning and act on a next step to meet those criteria. 

Where am I now? In the past 2-3 years I have done some work with creating overarching learning goals and reformatting evaluations (i.e. taking marks off of quizzes, using one-point rubrics to give feedback, etc.). Ultimately these changes have led me to need to go to a fully feedback-based classroom so that I can focus on doing this well. So this year (my grade 10 classes in particular) will learn math through feedback based on 5 overarching learning goals.

Our First Few Days

After spending a period on vertical surfaces solving a problem in groups we started to attack the curriculum. I wanted students to have a chance to find out what the curriculum was and to understand the lens through which the curriculum is taught. In fact, I wanted them to own it.

The Math Processes - the lens through which the Ontario math curriculum is taught

Students were in 7 groups of 3-4 students and each group was assigned to one of the processes. They were tasked with rewriting their process in their own words. I gave them two prompting questions to consider to help with the process: What does it mean? What will it look like in class?

Groups then rotated around and had a chance to add or suggest changes to the work of the other groups. When they returned to their own group they were to look at the suggestions made and decide on their final sentence - sharing their final work in a shared document.

As a group we looked at the final sentences which was my chance to ask them questions about their choices of words. This lead to us making some changes (I tried to make sure we were keeping as much of their wording as possible) and agreeing as a class that we understood what it looked like.

Overall Expectations - the content

Students were given the curriculum for one of the strands of the course and were tasked with rewriting the overall expectations in their own words. When they were finished I had the groups working on the same strand get together and come to an agreement before sharing it on our shared doc. We then looked at it as a class.

With my second section I made a better point of talking about the language in the document, defining words they needed and talked about what words were important to leave in.

Learning Map - putting them together

I reworded my overarching learning goals to use the students words from the above and then shared my learning map with the students. The 5 goals on this map are where we will focus our attention for the semester. Instead of having 7 processes and 10 overall expectations students how have 5 goals to manage and reflect on.


While I am at a school where deconstructing curriculum is not new to grade 10 students it was their first time doing it with math "jargon" so the struggle was largely around the vocabulary used. When I do this again with students who are new to this process in math I would spend time at the start looking at math and instructional vocabulary and make sure that we know what they mean and which ones are important to keep.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Everyone has an Opinion

As a math educator there is nothing I dread more than the wrath of opinions sent my way when standardized tests scores are released (not to mention the fact the it seems to get worse every year...somehow the media gets hold of results before they are public). Everyone has an opinion. And they are entitled to one.

But it does not make them an expert.

It is easy to sit at the sidelines and put blame on someone else - teachers, the curriculum, and the like. Currently most of them blame is on the curriculum and/or so-called "discovery math" instruction.

The Curriculum

Standardized expectations set by the ministry that is publicly available here.

Now I do not ever call myself a math ed expert. My experience is limited to Ontario in grade 9-12 with a bit of tutoring at the grade 6 level. This is the only experience I can speak from. But I am sure I could find many colleagues (elementary and secondary) that would agree that there is too much emphasis on math content. Every grade level is loaded with content that is needed and content has always been in the drivers seat. Elementary grades have to cover content in 5 areas each with a multitude of specific expectations to get to.

Flip to the front matter of either sets of curricula and you will find 7 Mathematical Processes. These are supposed to be the lens through which math is taught - and we need to remind each other of this. Perhaps a redesign of curriculum to make this front matter the meat of each grade would be beneficial. Check out BC's new curriculum - it is competency focused. I am sure it is not perfect, but frankly, it is genius.

You won't catch me claiming that the curriculum does not need to be revisited.

"Discovery Math"

I use the phrase discovery learning in quotations because it is misunderstood by most people. It is over-simplified into this little box definition and believed by many to mean that we give students a problem and then never help them. This is a myth.

I am sure that there is a lot of support needed for teachers to embrace the research behind "purposeful struggle" and I am also willing to go out on a limb and guess that there are many teachers teaching math who are not comfortable doing it (I have friends who would attest to this) and are probably even less comfortable with embracing a different way of teaching. But discovery math is not to blame.

We absolutely need learners to play with numbers and learn ways that they are related. They need to find the number sense within them. Math is not as simple as we make it out to be. It is not a bunch of facts that we memorize and use without understanding (lack of understanding leads to mistakes!) - hey you might be good at arithmetic, but this does not a mathematician make. We need to develop a future filled with people who can problem solve, use logic, reflect and communicate - we do not need a future of human calculators.

Using traditional teaching forced me to always tell kids what to do and how to do it. I could tell them why, but to them why was not important. Students got a lesson and then practiced that work. They only worked on that one skill and never made connections to other ideas. Traditional teaching forced me to teach to the middle of the class and made differentiation nearly impossible.

Discovery math allows me to do a variety of things and to differentiate my classroom. Research supports learning as a complex structure that requires much more than memorizing (and even the parts you do need to "remember" need to be forgotten and recalled many times to bring them into long-term memory). In fact, learning is one of the most counter-intuitive things I know. I bet most people can come up with at least one example of something they thought they had learned only later to realize they had tricked themselves into it - only their short term memory had any idea at the time. By using a discovery approach students have to struggle with ideas (makes learning seem like it takes more effort to achieve - because it does - but lasts a lot longer and leads to making connections to ideas already understood) but they get to do it in an environment with 29 of their peers and a learning coach to help out when the "struggle" moves from purposeful to frustrated.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have an answer. And there isn't a simple one. I cannot tell you why only 50% of last year's grade 6 students met the provincial expectations (but I can tell you that these tests are not straight-forward and disadvantage many groups of students).

I have rambled at this point and could keep going. I could justify every decision that I made in deciding how I would be running my classroom this year. We don't make these decisions on a whim. We do not do them just because someone tells us to.

One opinion writer this week wrote that the one thing that has not changed are kids - that kids are still kids, capable of learning. This is an oversimplification of a very complex discussion - I could easily disagree with her. But one thing is for sure.

We do it for the kids. Every day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Skills Check" Quiz

This past school year my department head was introduced to a new style of quiz (origin unknown - if you know who in the board she got it from please let me know and I will give credit where credit is due). We use them as an opportunity for a specific skill check - generally knowledge-based but sometimes the level 3/4 questions will involve using the skill in a new context. There is no use of marks

The "quiz" is set up with a learning goal at the top with success criteria listed (I now look back and would probably argue for myself that the SC is really just 1 or 2 criteria split into levels). There are 4 questions on the quiz, set up in a chart (3 columns - the question with work space, feedback & reflection/corrections) starting with a level 1 type question and ending with a level 4 type question. A sample (from MCR 3U0) of the front of one of mine is shown in the image below (I put the level 3 & 4 questions on the back).

The focus of this style of quiz is on the feedback.

If a student is struggling with the level 1 question than I will focus my feedback there and stop. The feedback is descriptive (tells the student what they are able to do and what the next step needs to be - as well as where to get the help with it) and manageable - if they are struggling with the level 1 question then giving feedback on other questions will likely be too much.

What really sold me on this particular format is that it became easy for me to record a level for the student at the end - I had already done most of the thinking when I planned and created the quiz. This was mind-blowing for me because so much of the hardship in the adjustments I was making in my assessment journey was the extra time I was spending giving feedback and then figuring out levels.

Granted this is just a quiz and it cannot be used for all purposes. But it's a start.

Finally, when I return these to students I do not take them up (because the individual feedback they need is on them) but students are giving time to do corrections/reflections, redo the next question, and are then encouraged to hand it back in. I will then check their corrections and if they have succeeded at that level will look at the next one and provide them feedback on this.

The hardest part for me? Continuing to work on the classroom culture where this kind of practice is valued and more students take the opportunity to resubmit.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Portfolio: Who Do I Hope to Become?

As part of my Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ we are to build a portfolio of artifacts that reflect who we are as a leader and who we want to become. In this entry I will be reflecting on who I hope to become as a leader and where it might take me.

I would like to be able to feel more confident with dissonant conversations that come up in the office/lunchroom going forward. I find that when I am able to prepare for these types of things I do a little better but I do not always think well on my feet and come up with diplomatic but pointed ways to say things. I will be working to improve this aspect of my leadership-related skills in the near future.

I am planning to complete Part 2 and the specialist of this 3 part AQ course going forward and hope to continue to build myself up as a leader by getting better at seeking feedback from others about my practice. This is a good portion of the data we will need to collect for our TLLP project, so I believe that being the lead of this project will help me to do that more often. I particularly feel that it is important for me to learn to take action based on that feedback.

Going forward I continue to believe that leading by example is the most important thing that a teacher-leader can do. We need to share our triumps AND failures with colleagues (deprivatize our practice), be willing to take risks (and learn from each part of it along the way) and, most importantly, we must be willing to ask the difficult questions (just because we have "always done it this way" doesn't make it the best/only way).

We must be willing to stand up for students, to seek change and be willing to learn from others.

Here is the leadership philosophy I developed for the course that I think reflects who I hope to be as a leader.

Portfolio: Future Endeavours

As part of my Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ we are to build a portfolio of artifacts that reflect who we are as a leader and who we want to become. In this entry I will be reflecting on a role that I might like to take on in the future with my board.

I used to talk a little about seeking a department headship position. And there was a time where I thought the instruction technology resource teacher position was of interest to me. But in the past couple of years I have come to realize that I am not sure that a headship is what I would really be passionate about and the ITRT position might be fun but is not where I would find excitement.

What my journey (much of which is outlined in the previous portfolio posts) has lead me to realize is that the instructional coach position in my board is really what would interest me. The co-learning stance that they seek, the current focus on numeracy (and, by the way, numeracy does not equal math!) and the ever growing focus on assessment and evaluation speak way more to who I am as an educator. And I think that I would learn a lot about myself and about the profession.

I was fortunate enough to be exposed to this position by a great role model for a few years. She was very good at building capacity in the school and had a great learning stance (she was also an elementary teacher so felt she had a lot she could learn and also brought an interesting perspective to our work).

Last year I called on our IC so that I could bounce ideas off of him to build my first conversation-based evaluation for a senior math course. The result of this interaction was him sharing this gem of a resource with me.

Portfolio: Team Lead

As part of my Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ we are to build a portfolio of artifacts that reflect who we are as a leader and who we want to become. In this entry I will be reflecting on how opportunities to lead an assessment working team have impacted me as a leader.

Along my journey mentioned in my previous post I mentioned that I was led along a path after being tapped on the shoulder by admin. Part of that path was to be part of the Assessment Working Team. This team worked on building capacity to lead others through discussions and work around learning goals, success criteria, overarching learning goals (big ideas) and learning maps.

This team inspired me to start an assessment working team at my school (I prefer this terminology to "committee" since we were there to learn from and support each other through our assessment journeys. This gave me experience with scheduling and planning monthly meetings as well as collecting data/feedback.

I feel that this opportunity has equipped me to lead our TLLP team. We are embarking on a journey to explore ways to use feedback based assessment (not grades) so that out students become autonomous learners while maintaining a manageable workload as teachers.

For this post I have decided to share where the "scratch work" of my science department grade 9 overarching learning goal work landed (this work was made possible by the working team's efforts and work. I think that showing some of the grunt work makes it a better example for others - your journey does not need to be neat and tidy. In fact it is going to be messy and will zigzag around into unexpected places along the way.

Portfolio: Assessment Leadership

As part of my Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ we are to build a portfolio of artifacts that reflect who we are as a leader and who we want to become. In this entry I will be reflecting on how opportunities to participate in board assessment opportunities have impacted me as a leader.

At some point my admin tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that I was seen as a teacher leader and there was an opportunity I should take advantage of. After a brief pause of confusion, I said "okay!" and a series of circumstances have lead me to where I am now - a member of our Secondary Assessment Leadership Team (SALT) for the 2017-2018 school year.

This opportunity is going to give me a chance to network with colleagues in my board from almost every secondary school who have an interest in moving assessment and evaluation forward. We are specifically going to be focusing on final evaluations so that the board can build practices that are better aligned between schools and better aligned with Growing Success (2010) and our board assessment policy.

This network of resources will be valuable going forward as we will be able to connect colleagues at our schools with people who are working on the same course or subject - which will help break down barriers that sometimes exist in the secondary school world.

The SALT team is what lead me down the Learning Map journey. This example is my most recent one created. These are always a work in progress and I am planning to make use of them in my "gradeless" journey this year.

Portfolio: Facilitating Professional Development

As part of my Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ we are to build a portfolio of artifacts that reflect who we are as a leader and who we want to become. In this entry I will be reflecting on how opportunities to lead professional development have impacted me as a leader.

I started to lead professional learning in my school  fairly early in my career (probably my 4th year) and usually it was to expose colleagues to a technology that I was using (i.e. Twitter) or explain the classroom strategy that I was using (i.e. Flipped classroom). It was my admin, at the time, that was asking me to share these things - I did not see myself as a teacher leader at this time.

It was the encouragement of an elementary peer, now friend, that got me to apply to present at my first conference (and by the end of this month I will have "presented" at a conference 5 times in less than two years). These opportunities have given me a chance to see first hand what sharing my practice can do for others (and have taught me some of the nuances needed to sometimes have dissonant conversations about education).

Here is the slide deck from my first conference workshop that I lead at OAME in May of 2016.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Portfolio: Shared Responsibility: Developing Autonomous Learners

I am taking the Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ. Our culminating task involves creating a leadership portfolio by choosing items from each module of the course to share and reflecting on its contribution to my growth as a leader. I have chosen to share my portfolio as part of my blog.

This entry is from the module entitled Shared Responsibility where we looked at parent communication reasons & strategies, inquiry-based learners, mental health & resiliency, and student success stakeholders and planning. The item I have chosen is the inquiry-based activity (lesson) that I developed as part of the Developing Autonomous Learners section of the module.

In this section I was forced to come back to an always-repeating thought "what does inquiry-based learning really mean in a math classroom?" So I did some research to find out what others thought this means and discovered that for a math teacher this really should be thought of in the lens of discovery learning or problem-based learning. The goal, in the end, is to get students learning/asking questions in the context of the learning so that it has more meaning and leads to better retention. For instance, the teacher can introduce students to a basic idea (i.e. factoring trinomials) and then use problems for students to work through so that they can start to identify patterns or methods that work. In this model the teacher (who I now prefer to call the coach) can answer questions, connect groups of students, do mini-lessons, or stop the whole class to discuss something.

Our assignment had asked us to submit an inquiry-activity. Going through the above process helped me to realize that I am doing more inquiry-learning than I had realized and then forced me to think through an activity more thoroughly. I now feel like I am better equipped to answer the question "but what does this mean in math?" and to be an instructional-leader in this area.

The assignment was to outline an activity, describe the assessment process(es) involved, and to describe how we would share the resulting data with others.

Here is the activity that I submitted for this assignment:

Inquiry-Based Activity

The idea behind inquiry-based learning is that students use an activity as a learning opportunity (to discover or uncover new learning). In many classes this might involve a topic that is introduced (or an open-ended question) where students come up with a question to investigate. In mathematics there is not necessarily a chance to come up with big issues to get students interested in the learning but we can use problems to get them to investigate a main idea and learn the details of that idea from the problems.


Prior Knowledge: Students have already learned what a function is and they have reviewed characteristics of 5 main functions (such as asymptotes, vertexes, etc).

1.      Review characteristics of 5 functions, address any concerns or questions.
2.      Get students onto to complete Domain and Range activity. Most slides in the activity have students submit work and then they will see the responses of 3 peers (so they can self-assess immediately) and teacher can see all responses to monitor class progress (so the whole class can be paused if needed or teacher can go to discuss with specific students). The activity progresses as follows:
                           i.          Graph is given and domain and range are described in words. Student is asked to describe what they think domain and range mean.
                          ii.          A graph is given with description in words. Students identify whether they agree or not.
                         iii.          Graph is given. Students are asked to describe domain and then range in words.
                         iv.          Graph is given and “select all” list using algebraic description of domain and range.
                          v.          Graph is given with algebraic description for domain. Students have to correct the domain.
                         vi.          Graph is given. Students submit algebraic description of domain and then range.
                       vii.          Algebraic domain and range is given. Students create a graph that fits description. ( x 3 )
                      viii.          Graph is given with MC question asking for which algebraic statement is false.
3.      Teacher leads a discussion to consolidate learning of domain and range and add full notation and review function vs relation.
4.      Students add domain and range to characteristics in chart from previous class.
5.      Students pair up to check each others domain & range and to give feedback.

Plan for Sharing Successes, Challenges and Next Steps

This particular inquiry will help to determine the preparedness of the grade 11s to discuss functions (based on introduction of domain and range briefly in grade 10) and on student preparedness to complete investigations (which is an important thinking skill in mathematics and ties directly into the math processes of reflection and connection and this particular task ties into representing). In addition it will help inform the grade 11 team for readiness to move onto the next lesson (immediate next lesson is an activity to practice using the domain/range vocab and we will do some algebraic lessons before coming back to characteristics of functions).

I will share the above with the current grade 10 team so they can make informed decisions about introducing domain/range and with the rest of the grade 11 team to get a conversation started about next steps for investigative thinking. If admin want to know how we are looking at skills continuum in mathematics I will also share this information with them. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Portfolio: Leading in a Group: Courageous Conversations

I am taking the Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ. Our culminating task involves creating a leadership portfolio by choosing items from each module of the course to share and reflecting on its contribution to my growth as a leader. I have chosen to share my portfolio as part of my blog.

This entry is from the module entitled Leading in a Group where we looked at how adults learn, the importance of having difficult conversations to give people real feedback, mentorship (the NTIP program), considering cross-curricular lesson planning and coming up with staff meeting agenda.

In this assignment we were asked to collaborate to develop a dialogue around a courageous conversation. My partner and I chose to make a dialogue between a teacher (who had not made necessary changes to assessment practices and was still relying on quizzes and tests) and an instructional coach. Creating this dialogue forces us to think about ways to have a courageous conversation in a way that made the teacher's experience valuable while finding out what they needed so that we could gauge how to move forward. We tried to phrase things in a way that asked for the teacher's input instead of making assumptions about what they needed to move forward in their practice.

I chose this assignment for my portfolio because I believe that having difficult conversations - confronting uncomfortable things - is the skill that needs the greatest improvement. It is something I have often avoided throughout my life, but I am working on it and felt that this portion of the course helped me to reflect on it in a more concrete way.

Our readings/videos suggested these steps for having courageous conversations (for giving feedback to an employee in a business):
1. Prepare them
2. Get to the point
3. Link to business
4. Agree on action
and I felt that in starting this dialogue that we knew:
1. The teacher was prepared because of past conversations with department members/head and knew they were meeting with the instructional coach and why
2. To get to the point quickly
3. To relate the work to the teachers own goals and ideas and give choice
4. To come up with a plan for follow through

Here is the conversation we developed:

Issue or Problem:
Some possible ideas could include - despite multiple conversations a teacher is not making progress in terms of assessment practices (relying on quiz & test data and department/course team discussions have resulted in little change)

Roles: Teacher & Instructional Coach (dialogue is making the assumption that department head made connection between T and IC)


IC: Hi T, my name is IC, I don’t think we have formally met yet.
T: Hello. It is nice to meet you. We can work in here.

IC: So my understanding is that your department head has put us in touch. Can you tell me a little bit about what you would like to work on?

T: Well, department head seems to feel that I need to review how I give tests in my classes, I guess I’m not supposed to be giving so many tests. The problem is that I am never sure with other assignment types how I know they’re not just copying from each other or sharing the workload.

IC: Ok great, that’s a very helpful starting point. Maybe we can start by taking a look at your course outline so that you can walk me through your units of study and the assessments you’ve planned

T: Sure, well, you can see here that we have 6 units throughout the year and each has a mid point quiz and an end of unit test.  You can also see that the year end exam is the culminating task so it is worth 30% of the overall mark.

IC: OK, are you aware of what the course team is currently doing? Or are you on this course alone?

T: This semester I am the only teacher on this course.

IC: You mentioned that you are concerned about students copying. Is there a type of assessment you have in mind that you would like to try to work through?

T: Well I know that I should be doing some problem-based stuff.

IC: How do you feel about collecting triangulated data?
T: I am willing to try something new but am not really sure what you mean by triangulated data?

IC: Triangulated data means that you’re looking for 3 opportunities to assess student knowledge and understanding and that you’re gathering this data through three different lenses - products, observations and conversation. You are probably doing all of them already but not necessarily making use of them as evidence for individual students.

T: Can they be Assessment for and as learning as well as a summative Assessment of Learning?

IC: Absolutely. Providing students with a formative opportunity to work with the new knowledge allows them the opportunity to test their learning and also helps you to adjust your teaching plans to address areas in which students may be challenged. For example, if you were to use a problem based scenario such as a case study, you can give students the opportunity to work through a case study in class in small groups before they tackle a summative Assessment of Learning case study.  While they are working on the formative case study, you can observe and ask questions as they work through the case study and can jot down some observational notes on how they are using the concepts and skills from the unit. You might also use a quiz as a AoL check in before the AoL case study to check on their knowledge of the key concepts they will need to apply in the case study.

T: OK, so I would take observations of individual students so that I would know what  they know individually? How do you get to every student and how do you actually track the evidence you have seen?

IC: Great question. There is not necessarily one right answer, but I would recommend starting with a learning goal and developing success criteria. That way the students will know what you are looking for and you will have a manageable way to look at the work the students are doing. You could target specific students if you are unsure about getting through the whole class, but every student needs to get the opportunity for feedback. Would you like to try planning something like this?

T: Sure. I think I have some case studies from a colleague who taught this last semester. Do I have to give every group the same case study or can they get different ones?

IC: They can definitely be different ones - as long as you think that you can assess the same learning goal for each one.

T: Ok, that seems manageable.  I would still like to use a quiz to get some reliable individual data on each student too. Is that too much?

IC: If you think a quiz is important, you might like to consider is what is on the quiz that’s different from the formative group work but that they might need in order to complete the Assessment of Learning task.  If a student performs poorly on the quiz but then reviews and works to learn the concepts and is able to apply them successfully on the Assessment of Learning case study, you can acknowledge their progress on the AoL Case Study.  

T: So when I determine their overall grade for the unit, do I average the quiz and AoL case study?

IC: You will continue to use the practice of most recent and consistent. The great thing about triangulating your results is that you are able to acknowledge the student’s overall learning. For example, If a student misses the mark on one part of the AoL case study but you have evidence from your observations and quiz results that they do understand a particular concept, you can acknowledge that in terms of the overall mark.

T: So I need to decide on a learning goal and success criteria, identify some case studies that will allow for those expectations to be met and then will need some kind of tracking mechanism to record my observations/conversations.

IC: Sounds like a great start. I can share some sample tracking sheets with you if you like and would be happy to work through those steps with you - or if you would like to have some time to work individually and then to do some feedback via email I can make that work too.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Portfolio: Classroom Leadership: Top 10 List

I am taking the Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ. Our culminating task involves creating a leadership portfolio by choosing items from each module of the course to share and reflecting on its contribution to my growth as a leader. I have chosen to share my portfolio as part of my blog.

This entry is from the module entitled Classroom Leadership where we looked at how experiential learning/community connections, school climate (safe and accepting schools policy), being a technology leader, empowering students to become leaders and how teacher leadership begins in the classroom with lesson planning.

One of the assignments was to create a top 10 list of ways you can encourage students to take on leadership roles. I liked that this assignment forced me to think about leadership in a different way - how I can be a leader in my classroom and co-curriculars in a way that will empower others to develop leadership skills? This forced me to think more about how my decisions can impact things beyond curriculum content and put the context of myself as a leader back into the classroom (which is really where I envision myself staying for awhile - and it is instructional leadership that interests me the most).

When creating my list I tried to think about the things that I do every day in my classroom as well as ways that you can empower student leadership outside of the classroom. I also considered the article I had used when researching qualities/skills that made an effective leader and used that to make sure my list was relevant.

My top 10 list ended up as:

  1. Provide opportunities for collaboration and rotate roles in the group (promotes communication skills, commitment, and will help students to learn to take different approaches to tasks with different personalities)
  2. Use vertical non-permanent surfaces with a rule that the student with the idea cannot be the student with the marker (promotes communication skills, risk-taking, honesty, delegation and approach)
  3. Give senior students on sports teams a chance to plan and run practices (promotes delegation, communication confidence, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, intuition and inspiration)
  4. Empower student executives of clubs to run the club (be hands-off) (promotes honesty, delegation, communication, confidence, commitment, positive attitude, and creativity)
  5. Give feedback about student communication skills (promotes self-awareness)
  6. Explicitly teach students to reflect/self-assess (promotes honesty, confidence, intuition and commitment)
  7. Give opportunity to give peer feedback (promotes communication, honestly, positive attitude, intuition and approach)
  8. Give opportunities for social advocacy (promotes delegation, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, and inspiration)
  9. Create a culture of risk-taking in your classroom - growth mindset, model risk-taking (promotes honesty, confidence, positive attitude, and intuition)
  10. Celebrate successes to build confidence (promotes positive attitude and intuition)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Portfolio: Leading with a Plan: Are Leaders Born or Made?

I am taking the Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ. Our culminating task involves creating a leadership portfolio by choosing items from each module of the course to share and reflecting on its contribution to my growth as a leader. I have chosen to share my portfolio as part of my blog.

This entry is from the module entitled Leading with a Plan where we looked at the importance of planning, learning preference and multiple intelligences, how to use data to inform classroom practice, leadership development opportunities, and debating whether a leader is born or made.

The assignment that I felt was most beneficial to me was our debate on whether a leader is born or made. For this assignment we had to do some research and form an argument for one of the sides of the debate. This forced me to think about leadership in a different light by having me reflect on what kind of environment a person needs to become an effective leader. I realized that it was because other people recognized what they believed were "natural" leadership skills and gave me opportunities to use them. I have never been one to decide for myself that I wanted to pursue particular opportunities - but I have obviously taken advantage of ones that were given to me. I plan to continue with the philosophy that I should seek to make myself a more effective educator, and if long the way I find suggestions to pursue other things then I will consider them. I just want to be the best me I can be.

Here is the argument that I formed for leaders being made, not born:

According to Forbes’ Tanya Prive, there are 10 qualities that make a great leader: Honesty, delegation, communication, confidence, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, intuition, inspiration, and approach.

While you may argue that honesty and positive attitude are more innate qualities I believe that they are actually developed over time as you are raised through your experiences. If you grow up with honest, positive role models than you are likely to take on those characteristics.

The ability to delegate, communicate, be creative, rely on your intuition and to take different approaches with different people are definitely things that are learned over time. These are things that usually require intentional practice and awareness/reflection to improve. Some people may seem to be better natural communicators, but we can learn to be better at it by practicing. Others may naturally tend toward a controlling manner, but can learn to rely on others (and therefore delegate work) as they become better at reading situations/people and balancing their own life. Relying on intuition comes with experiencing a variety of situations throughout a persons personal and professional life and can be enhanced by focusing on observational skills.

Confidence can be developed over time by mentor leaders. This requires you to be given opportunities in situations with other leaders who can help you recognize your strengths and who will give you opportunities to practice leading.

Finally, the ability to inspire comes from thoughtful planning – who will help you? What will be the focus? How does the investment help them? – and using your energy productively. My sister is a head coach of a college sports team and also a team captain for team Canada. She will also be the first person to admit that she is an introvert. Personality tests reveal fascinating things about her natural tendencies compared to her beliefs – when she is coaching or with Team Canada she goes to bed exhausted every night because she has learned to be an effective leader. Leadership did not come naturally to her.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Portfolio: Theoretical Foundations: Standards & Ethics Plan

I am taking the Teacher Leadership Part 1 AQ. Our culminating task involves creating a leadership portfolio by choosing items from each module of the course to share and reflecting on its contribution to my growth as a leader. I have chosen to share my portfolio as part of my blog.

This entry is from the module entitled Theoretical Foundations where we looked at the importance of a first impression, theories of leadership, the OCT standards, transformational leadership, and the Teacher Leadership and Learning Program.

I am including my plan for leading staff through professional learning around the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) Standards and Ethical Standards. I think the ideal audience for a plan like this would be an NTIP group (new teachers and their mentors) but could also be used for a school wide professional learning.

I feel that this assignment was the one that I benefited from the most because it forced me to think about how to make a seemingly dry topic into meaningful, relevant learning. These standards are what we agree to adhere to when we apply to be an Ontario Certified Teacher and the standards and ethics are the roots we should never forget as teachers.

I found that reviewing the standards and ethics also reminded me of Ontario's assessment policy document, Growing Success.

Here is the plan that I came up with:

Standards Plan (35 minutes)


(15 + 5 minutes)
Give an envelope with the 5 standards and their descriptions (separated). Groups have to pair the titles and descriptions. Clarify the standards for any groups that need it. Then groups choose from one of the following options:

“Most Important to Least Important” protocol – try to prioritize the 5 principles from  most to least important. Share your thinking and try to agree on the order. Is it possible to rank them?
“Name it, Explain it” protocol – give each principle a ONE word name explain why you think it is the best choice.
Groups work together to brainstorm ways that they use/show the standards in their daily practices (both in and out of the classroom).

(10 + 5 minutes)
Staff reflection (supply a graphic organizer for anyone who would like) to analyze personal practices as ways that they think they best exemplify each standard and one area of their practice they could work on to better exemplify each standard.
Staff anonymously share one best and one are of improvement via a padlet ( for whole group debrief.

Ethical Dilemma Plan (25 minutes)

(This plan could be used at the same professional learning session or at a future session)
Group (5 minutes)
Review the Ethical Standards via OCT website as a whole group.
Time to discuss points that are not clear.
Individual & Group

(5 + 5 + 10 minutes)
Case studies – give each group an ethical dilemma (dilemmas collected from known education stories) – 1 copy per person. Have staff use the “3-2-1” protocol (identify 3 things you think are key to the situation, 2 things you want more information about, and 1 suggested solution you have).

Present the following as a resource for ethical dilemmas:
1.      Refer to the Ethical Standards at to help determine which option fits within the standards
2.      Bounce ideas off of a colleague with reference to the Ethical Standards
3.      Consult your department head
4.      Discuss with your union Branch President
5.      Consult with your principal or vice-principal
Group discussion about solutions – can you agree on a solution? Which resources would you choose to use? Which would you skip? Why?

Links to Daily School Routines
The following will be released as a resource after the above activities are complete for staff reference.

Description and Links to Daily School Routines
Commitment to Students and Student Learning
Members are dedicated in their care and commitment to students. They treat students equitably and with respect and are sensitive to factors that influence individual student learning. Members facilitate the development of students as contributing citizens of Canadian society.
-        Differentiated learning and assessment practices
-        Recognition of the needs of different backgrounds (cultural, sexual orientation, etc)
-        Student supervision
-        Seating plans that attend to needs to students with IEPs or social needs
-        Teaching character and embedding relevant Canadian and world issues into lessons where possible
Professional Knowledge
Members strive to be current in their professional knowledge and recognize its relationship to practice. They understand and reflect on student development, learning theory, pedagogy, curriculum, ethics, educational research and related policies and legislation to inform professional judgment in practice.
-        Exploring new strategies, ideas and techniques (pedagogy, assessment practice, etc) through reading and/or professional networks
-        Use student data, research, Growing Success, and related board assessment policy documents to guide and support decisions
-        Reflect on personal practice when new ideas are presented
Professional Practice
Members apply professional knowledge and experience to promote student learning. They use appropriate pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, resources and technology in planning for and responding to the needs of individual students and learning communities. Members refine their professional practice through ongoing inquiry, dialogue and reflection.
-         Trying new strategies, ideas and techniques in the classroom
-         Using student assessment data to plan future use of new techniques and/or make adjustments
-         Using student assessment data to plan/reflect on lessons going forward
-         Collaborate with course teams, department and other professional networks to make decisions, develop curriculum, and reflect on practices
Leadership in Learning Communities
Members promote and participate in the creation of collaborative, safe and supportive learning communities. They recognize their shared responsibilities and their leadership roles in order to facilitate student success. Members maintain and uphold the principles of the ethical standards in these learning communities.
-         Arrange classrooms/learning environments to promote collaboration, safe spaces, and effective learning
-         Promote learning and learning skills as primary focus (not grades)
-         Be an example learner by sharing learning, trying new things, etc
-         Deprivatize practice by sharing with colleagues and/or online
Ongoing Professional Learning
Members recognize that a commitment to ongoing professional learning is integral to effective practice and to student learning. Professional practice and self-directed learning are informed by experience, research, collaboration and knowledge.
-        Participate in collaborative inquiries or do personal action research
-        Attend workshops, lunch and learn opportunities, courses etc
-        Read  blogs, books, tweets or other professional dialogues
-        Reflect on own practices to identify personal areas of learning