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Posts Tagged ‘assessment’

shift

Clearly you can’t change one part of the education system in isolation.  This is one of the great challenges we face in British Columbia – we have new curriculum, but does the assessment still match?  We have been given greater permission from the provincial government to think differently, but have we fully engaged our community in what the “different” would look like?

While it is true one cannot do everything at once, we all need entry points for transformation. First with school and district leaders in our district, and then with Superintendents from across Canada I have recently worked through trying to rank and prioritize these six system drivers:  Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement. (click on the graphic below to enlarge)

www.c21canada.org wp content uploads 2015 05 C21 ShiftingMinds 3.pdf

The six items come from Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada. I have previously written (Here) about the power and importance of having a national conversation around transformation in education.

I realize it is a bit of a false discussion – you can’t do any of these separate from each other.  In part from being influenced by my local and national colleagues, if we started with one – I would start with pedagogies.

At its core, learning is about the relationship between the teacher and students.  We can have the best curriculum, policies or assessment, but first we need the practices.  As our pedagogies change, our assessment will follow.  And new pedagogies and new assessment will beg for new curriculum and these changes force both shifts in policy and engagement.  And finally our learning environments should reflect our practice so as the practices change the learning environments will follow.

What do you think – if you could start with only one – which one would you select?

Our group of Superintendents from across the country is committed to our own learning starting with shifting pedagogies – it will be interesting to see what we can learn from each others successes and challenges from across the country.

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fresh

“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.”

This quote from Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Fresh Grade, in his recent talk at TEDxWestVancouverED, sure resonated with many teachers and administrators in the room.  Given the user experience in our province around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.

When I first heard people talking about FreshGrade – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation.  Really – we need another e-portfolio system?  Don’t we already use several in the district.  But this is different, I was told – it just works.

Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes.  Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic.  And it has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology.   All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools.

This feels different.

I have seen the power of FreshGrade with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district.  This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8.  I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years.  And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way  this experience truly engages me in the communication of student learning is different.

zack fg

It is not just me noticing what is going on.  Michelle Hiebert from Abbotsford blogged about what she was seeing with FreshGrade last spring, Ian Landy (the Cal Ripken of BC edu-bloggers for his daily posts) has regularly written about his experiences as a Principal with it in Sorrento, and Tracy Sherlock even covered it in the Vancouver Sun.

I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair.  Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools.  And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools.  Maybe we are getting to a new place with software in education – as we become less reliant on trying to make tools created for something else work for education, and embracing tools designed for learning.

I look back about a dozen years to when the portfolio came and went in British Columbia as part of the grad program – and it was too bad.  Part of the vision of the 2004 Graduation Program was having every graduating student present a portfolio to school and community members.  There are many reasons why it failed, from poor resourcing to a design that made it really just a collection of boxes to check off.  More than anything, I think it failed because the technology was not ready for the vision.

I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world.  The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.

Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.

Thanks to grade 4 teacher Ms. Bourne for using FreshGrade with her class – I am sure I am not the only parent who really appreciates your efforts.  I see FreshGrade has also noticed and profiled her this week.  

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grades

There is a debate in education around the relationship between grading and learning. Many of our teachers and schools have shifted the ways that they give students feedback – focussing more on constructive comments for improvement and less on grades. Of course, this has been met with some concern. For so long, schools have been using grades as something of a sorting system, and while also a learning system, the sorting often took priority as students marks were used to make comparisons.  And of course, with almost all of our students looking towards post-secondary education in our community, grades do matter.

Our teachers and schools are committed to getting better at how we communicate student learning. Like many BC school districts, we have been piloting new reporting documents this year, and next year both Kindergarten and Grade 4 will be running district-wide reporting pilots. The goal of this work is to take the best information we have about student learning, and have that reflected in what we share out to parents and students.  In my last post, I referenced FreshGrade, that presents a new way of communicating student learning.  It is one of the tools our teachers are beginning to use to break down traditional way of reporting – moving reporting away from being an event but rather an ongoing dialogue.

I was recently reminded of the challenge of assessment, grading and reporting  with a story told to me by a colleague in the district about her daughter, currently in Grade 6, who attends a school in another district. Her story is a common one that I hear about assessment practices, and one worth sharing.

In this particular story, the class was asked to develop some speaking notes on a topic and deliver a 3-5 minute spoken presentation. Her daughter practiced for several days behind closed doors, working hard to ensure that she could deliver the presentation in the allotted time, as points would be deducted for presentations that were either too long or too short. She felt prepared and really enjoyed the research and work involved in putting it together. She even shared some of her ideas with classmates in the days prior to the delivery, and they talked about their shared concerns and strategies to overcome the usual pitfalls of public speaking. It was a great project, with one very big downside.

When she had delivered the presentation, her mother asked how it had gone. “Well, I don’t have my grade yet, but people asked questions and two of my friends said that I did really well.” She was pleased about the positive feedback and talked about her own impressions of the project.

The following day, her daughter returned home, locked herself in her room, and examined the grade and evaluation sheet in private. It was not what she had hoped to see, and she was not eager to share it with the family.

This story illustrates our challenge. We want assessment to help improve learning, but for this student, as soon as the grade was given, the learning stopped. Instead of being a stop on a learning journey – this became a story about ranking and sorting.

While parents love to hear that “Sophia is a pleasure to teach,” timely and constructive comments that help parents understand how they can support at home the work in the classroom is far more useful.

There are no easy answers, but this is an important conversation we are having in our schools and across the province as we look for better ways to assess student learning.

A previous version of this post was originally shared in my Superintendent’s Message that was published earlier this month for the West Vancouver School District e-newsletter, the Learning Curve.  

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Okay, this is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but given that the sun is now out and my three older kids have exchanged their soccer cleats and basketballs for another season of summer swimming, I have been thinking a fair bit about swimming, myself.  I was also reminded of a favourite article of mine, by Herb Childress, Seventeen Reasons Why Football is Better Than School.  While I don’t agree with it all, it does open up some interesting discussions.

So, with some inspiration from Childress’ list, just how could school be more like swimming?

When kids are grouped, age and ability matter

In swimming, levels and groups take age and maturity into account, and blend it with ability.  Five-year-olds and 12 year-olds are not together, but there may be kids within a difference of three years of their age training together; as students improve, the groups are fluid enough to allow stronger swimmers to advance to new groups.  Of course, in school, the December 31st / January 1st boundary is almost impenetrable.

Reporting clearly separates skills and work habits

I have given my life to education, and I will admit that I better understand my kids’ swim report cards than I do their school report cards.  Their swimming report cards clearly indicate skills mastered and those in-progress.  There are often comments about behaviour, work habits and attitude, but these are not confused with the other part of the report.  In school, we often blend achievement and attitudes making it challenging to separate these two equally important, but very different, areas.  Even with my own kids’ report cards, I will sometimes read it and ask “what does this really mean?”

Parents are expected to lend their expertise but not to be the coaches

Every parent in the swim club is expected to volunteer.  We are not expected to coach (coaches coach), but all parents have some skills or expertise that can be transferred to benefit the group.  Parents are more than just fundraisers and they are not quasi-coaches.  In schools,  parents expertise is not always expected, encouraged, or fully utilized.

Older kids are expected to work with younger kids

Kids can’t wait until they are old enough to spend time working with younger swimmers.  Higher-level swimmers return and typically volunteer in the very youngest classes in order to keep coach/athlete ratios low and, over time, some will gain credentialing and transition into coaching roles.  We do some of this in school, but it is often inconsistent, and we have no great laddering or apprenticeship from keen and interested student to future classroom teacher.

Kids work as individuals and as part of a team

Swimming is an individual sport.  Individuals are responsible for their own performances.  That said, there is a collective component to swimming where results are aggregated together for the team.  Teammates cheer for each other’s success in ways we don’t see in classrooms.  It is a rare classroom that celebrates the overall achievement of the students.

There are at least six or seven practices to every competition

There are hours and hours of practices with very few competitions.  Better yet, kids often select which competitions to attend, knowing,  in the end, it is about their own best times, so attending all competitions may not be right for them.  In schools, we often quiz and test on an almost-daily basis in some areas — partly, to continually monitor progress, and for a range of other reasons including a belief that it helps ensure on-task behaviour.

Coaches share a plan with athletes before practice, and then post it publicly

Each practice has a particular focus that is explained to the athletes at the beginning, and then the practice plan is outlined on the board for the swimmers to track their practice.  This is similar to what we see with some teachers and their use of overviews and visual calendars in the classroom, but in swimming, it has a uniformity which kids follow from day-to-day and year-to-year.

Coaches give constant feedback

On almost every length, coaches give feedback to swimmers.  They will stop athletes and re-set them with constructive feedback when necessary.  Coaches are also not afraid to get in the water and model the drills and strokes for the athletes.  Very often, coaches still see themselves as athletes as well and are doing their own training (learning).

While there is competition, most kids are obsessed with their own best times

My kids couldn’t tell you about what they won or how they placed, but they can always tell me if their times have improved.  While there is always a competitive piece to swimming, as in school, much of the competition is focused on individual improvement and not their success relative to others.  I would love my children to have the same passion for their best art work at school, or strongest English composition, as they have for their new PB (personal best) in a given swimming discipline.

Nobody talks about averages

In the end, it is about celebrating the best performance in each discipline. There is never a discussion at swimming that a swimmer swam this much at the beginning of the year and that much at the end; their real level is an average of the two times.  Athletes have multiple opportunities over time to display best results.

Yes, it is a little simplistic.  I also realize I am far from a swimming expert and while I have spent thousands of hours in gymnasiums coaching basketball over the last two decades, my swimming experience is really as a parent in Red Cross Swim Lessons and two summers of Summer Swimming.   And, I could probably write a similar post arguing the opposite about how swimming could and should be more like school.

That said, in education and working with young people, sometimes we need to look around for other models that have some pretty appealing characteristics.

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A year ago we started to talking in detail about 21st century learning and personalized learning (the 3 C’s and the 7 C’s and sometimes the 8 C’s) and, in the process, the focus in our district has been on delving deeper in order to fully understand and embrace the concept of inquiry. While most jurisdictions around the world largely agree with the skills and attributes espoused by those questioning the current educational system, the challenge has been to formulate what this new model tangibly looks like for students in schools. For us, this “inquiry” is helping us define what “it” really is.

For a couple of our schools this rubric created by the Galileo Educational Network is proving to be a very helpful starting point.

Inquiry is another term that can have very different meanings to different people. The Galileo Educational Network sees it as:

. . .  a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

In West Vancouver, this process of inquiry is taking several forms. In some places it is well-defined and in others it is more organic. In listening to principals and vice-principals discuss areas of focus for their schools for next year, almost all of the schools have some focus on inquiry.

At Eagle Harbour, the approach is linked to Montessori, while at Cypress Park and West Bay it is connected to the Primary Years Program International Baccalaureate Program (IB). At Rockridge Secondary, they also link their inquiry work to IB, using the Middle Years Program as their foundation. Caulfeild Elementary is launching its IDEC (Inquiry based Digitally Enhanced Community) as a foundation for its school structure. While not as tightly defined, similar thoughtful work is taking place in other schools — many being guided by Understanding by Design (UbD) assessment work. UbD, particularly in the elementary schools, has had a dramatic impact on lesson and unit construction, instruction and assessment. As I have often said, it is some of the most difficult, least glamorous professional learning we can undertake, but it can really improve our practice.

A common theme with inquiry is one that is also true with the conversations around personalized learning — it really redefines the role of the student and teacher and what each of them does in the course of their day. Combined with emerging technologies, this approach to themes and topics is changing what engagement can look like in our schools.

For all who lament the slow speed of change in education, it is fascinating to see how quickly our district is coalescing around inquiry as part of what we do in West Vancouver.

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A long-held tradition in the West Vancouver District, the Growth Plan is one of the most powerful components of our learning culture. Every year, district teachers and administrators review their professional growth plan with opportunities to share their progress with others in their school, as well as across schools. The plan cycle is based on reflection, collaboration, data analysis and evidence.

West Vancouver Superintendents also participate in the same process.

Our Board of Education employs the BCSTA Performance Planning and Review for School Superintendents model, which is connected to my duties and to our Board’s Strategic Plan. We meet three times a year as part of the cycle of reviewing, renewing and updating the plan.

Based on the Board’s key objectives in the Strategic Plan, an initial performance plan with specific goals and a series of strategies is agreed to at the beginning of the year (outlined in the presentation below):

In a recent update to the Board, I shared evidence of my progress in each goal area under the individual strategies:

We will meet again in the fall, likely, in advance of the Board adopting a new Strategic Plan following the November elections.  This next session will both refine and guide my work.

There is a lot of discussion about accountability and improvement in education. This process of working with the Board to set clear goals, collecting and sharing evidence and being held accountable, is very effective.  The process itself supports the short and long-term development of my own goals and performance. And, it is a process that also fosters and strengthens relations with the Board through open communication, trust and clarity of role expectations.

We all want to be better at what we do, and it is great to work in a district where continuous improvement for all is part of the culture.

I am looking forward to extending this plan further in the fall.

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS VIA EMAIL YOU MAY NEED TO GO TO THE BLOG TO SEE THE EMBEDDED SLIDES.

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Michael Fullan is familiar to many in education (for those not familiar, here is a list of freely available articles).  He has long been an influential reformer in Canada and is currently  Special Advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario.  Fullan’s May 2011 paper, Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform, tackles a topic many educators are looking at as we look beyond class, or even school reform. In his paper, Fullan lays out four criteria which, he argues, must be met by the drivers for change and reform at a district or system level:

  1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;
  2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;
  3. inspire collective or team work; and
  4. affect teachers and students — 100 per cent

His examination of the wrong drivers is compelling.  He suggests his list of the four wrong drivers of change have a lot of appeal and will be hard to dislodge:

  1. accountability (vs capacity building)
  2. individual teacher and leadership quality (vs group quality)
  3. technology (vs instruction)
  4.  fragmented strategies (vs systemic)

Fullan says, “The four wrong drivers are not forever wrong. They are just badly placed as lead drivers. The four right drivers — capacity building, group work, pedagogy, and systemness — are the anchors of whole system reform.”

All four of the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ drivers are worthy of consideration, but I was particularly struck and reassured by his view of technology as a wrong driver, and rather instruction and smart pedagogy that must be the driver supported by technology.  Fullan says, “Technology as solution is the more seductive partner.”   He argues what we have been arguing in our district, “Teachers need to get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology.”  Of course, it is often simpler to discuss who has what tools rather than the pedagogy.  Fullan, is clear that technology should not drive system change, but is also clear that we should “go all out to power new pedagogical innovations with technology.”

Key leaders can make a huge difference at this critical juncture. Jettison blatant merit pay, reduce excessive testing, don’t depend on teacher appraisal as a driver, and don’t treat world-class standards as a panacea. Instead, make the instruction-assessment nexus the core driver, and back this up with a system that mobilizes the masses to make the moral imperative a reality. Change the very culture of the teaching profession. Do so forcefully and you will find many allies. It is time to embrace, and relentlessly commit to the right drivers.

In a presentation last week, I discussed the changes we have seen in reform and focus in British Columbia.  We moved from a system of school accreditation, to district accountability, to where we are now, considering system-wide reform.  And this system-wide reform in British Columbia does not have us standing out there alone — there are similar conversations in other high-performing jurisdictions from Alberta and Ontario, to Finland.

Fullan’s list, while not breaking a lot of new ground for educators, is a good reminder of what should and shouldn’t drive our changes.  The challenge is making them, in appropriate combination, come to life.

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