Thursday, February 19, 2015

REAL Personalized Learning for ALL, Now That is Innovation!


Ever since I started teaching (I’m in my 23rd year) I have always tried to find ways to individualize the programs in my classroom to best meet the needs of my students. In most cases that meant open-ended activities that allowed each of my students to take the challenge to their own level.  But with the introduction of technology into my classroom the reality is that as much as open-ended activities are good, utilizing technology properly allows me to provide what feels like endless opportunities for personalization and individual learning.  In the next ten years I believe REAL personalized learning for ALL students will be the most significant classroom innovation.

This might take on the form of alternative classroom design or alternative curriculum. It will mean re-looking at the role and purpose of school and tying it all back to what each individual student needs.  It will mean the elimination of grade levels and marks, and complete focus on learning and real life problem solving.  Less focus on content and more focus on core competencies such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving.

It will mean the acceptance of various ways to create and show learning.  Student voices will show up in words, text, images, drawings, dance, etc… There will be no one right way to show learning.  Systems will be in place to enable children to learn in unique and individual ways and teachers will have strategies to assess this learning.

Technology will play a big role in personalization because it allows us to access a world full of information.  Networked learning will also play a key roll as no teacher is an expert in everything their students want to learn.  The relationship between students and teachers will become even stronger.

While I know personalization is not a new concept, there are far too many pulls from outside sources for it to really be happening properly in our schools.  I do believe REAL personalization is innovative and in ten years I hope it’s the norm and not the exception.


*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here. 

The Global Search for Educations: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs - What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

Monday, February 9, 2015

And the discussion continues....

After I pushed published on my most recent post on Documenting Student Learning,  a Twitter conversation broke out.  I love hearing the voices of so many educators. If you were not part of the live conversation I'd love to include you through sharing this storify of much of the conversation.  Please feel to jump in on this blog, on via twitter.



Documenting Student Learning

As British Columbia's curriculum is under a major transformation (major for some, reassurance of  practice for others) we are not only looking at a different approach (for some) to teaching and learning but also to reporting this student learning to parents.   My district has been piloting new reporting practices and some of us have been exploring Fresh Grade.  If you aren't familiar with Fresh Grade I have previously written about it here.  This past Friday I was fortunate to be invited to a discussion session that took a look at the Fresh Grade platform and how it can be used to document and share student learning privately with parents.

It was interesting to be a part of this discussion and to hear how other teachers in my district are working through this new 'portfolio' based way of reporting student learning.  While many in the room are just dipping their toes into using Fresh Grade, the conversations we had are what struck with me most.

The biggest discussion that I can't stop thinking about is what exactly should these portfolios contain?  The focus of what I have been including is the documentation of the 1:1 conferences I've been having with my students.  For example when I conference with a student over his/her writing I typically take a snapshot of the writing then ask my student what they are proud of.   I ask them what they would like to improve with their writing.  Together we talk about how they might go about doing this.  Sometimes I'll add to the conversation around what they should be proud of by pointing out great things they have done that they didn't  realize.  When necessary I'll also add to the goal setting part of the conversation. Then I typically sum this all up with a note or two directly for the parents suggesting ways they can help support their child's learning at home. Our entire conversation is documented and shared on their portfolio, and most often immediately sent home as a quick email snapshot too.

Obviously not everything being added to the portfolio is quite as rich in assessment information. I am trying my best to include  simple images, videos, and voice recordings of students going through the process of learning.   This type of documentation has allowed my students to have some pretty rich portfolios.

One thing that is missing from my students portfolios is where their learning is in relation to the widely held expectations of their age/grade level. This was what I've been thinking about since Friday.  Should these portfolios only show work  but not actually reference these work samples  to the widely held expectations?

Each and every day I tell my students that they are in my room exactly as they should be.  I don't ever compare the progress of one student, to the progress of another but instead I expect my students to regularly do their best work.  I see my job as their teacher to help push their learning forward so their best work continues to get better.  And yes, I have several students who are not yet with in those widely held expectations but instead of focussing on what they aren't yet able to do, I focus on what they are able to do and how we can continue to work together to push learning forward.

But as a parent looking into these portfolios am I doing enough?  Is it important for  a parent to know where their child is in the developmental process or does knowing that just become a road block to learning? Do I want students who are constantly reminded that they are not where they "should" be or do I want students who are focussed on constantly learning and improving.

For term one my report cards were based HEAVILY on these exact digital portfolios.  I did send home a simple one page letter with a paragraph comment speaking specifically to a child's social emotional growth, work habits etc.  It was only here on this single paper that I made reference to learning in relation to widely held expectations.  Specifically I wrote:

_________’s Language Arts skills are (not) within age expectations. 
_________’s Math skills are (not) within age expectations.

I wonder though, is this enough or maybe this is even too much.

Is it more important to document exactly where a child is in their learning journey, or is more important to be clear on where they are in that journey in relation to widely held expectations? Or is it a combination of both?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Animal Research in a Primary Classroom



I'm pretty excited to announce that my iTunes U course "Animal Research in a Primary Classroom"  has been highlighted  in the Apple Distinguished Educator section of iTunes U. If your students are in grades one through three and  do independent animal research (or you'd love for them to) this course is just for you!  Please check it out here. And of course, it is FREE!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Playing with Measurement

This past week my class has been playing with measurement and since I have a third of my class for a second year I wanted to make sure they were exploring measurement in a different way then before.  Here are a few of the activities they were taking part in this week.

1. Bigger or Smaller

These students are taking pictures of different parts of their body. They are uploading them to the Book Creator app where they are creating a book with sentences such as my eye is bigger than a baby's eye or My nose is smaller than an elephant's nose. Everything is being compared to either an elephant, or a baby.



Here are some blog posts showing their final products.


2.  Measurement Tools

Another group used  the pic collage app web image search to find for various tools used for measurement.  They did have some measurement word wall words to help them with their search.


Here are a few samples.


3. Measuring with My Hand

This group traced and cut out two of their hands . They then measured objects around the room with their two hands and recorded what they discovered. For the second part of this activity the children found objects bigger, smaller, and the same size as their hands. They created a movie in iMovie to document this information.


Here are some of their final movies.



4. How Big is My Footstep?

The last group was to figure out how big their foot step was by measuring their step with a variety of  objects.  Some students also created an iMovie with the different things they measured their footstep with.



Here is a sample final video.

How are you introducing measurement into your classroom?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Pretty Exciting Way to Wake Up Jan 1, 2015

Nothing like waking up on New Years Day to the following tweet...


I'm truly honoured to have my blog mentioned with the likes of Vicki Davis, Joe Bower, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Craig Kemp and so many others on the list.  I will admit that I have followed most of those blogs closely and I have learned so much from them.  They have pushed my thinking and have helped transform my teaching.  So to be included with these inspiring educators is a pretty incredible feeling.



If you haven't yet checked out the article I highly recommend you do.  And of course check out all the great blogs that are mentioned.

I'm still a little shell shocked that mine is there, but so very thankful for the recognition.  My goal is to change the world one six year old at a time (or via their teacher) and this type of exposure really helps my mission. Truly honoured and humbled once again. Thank you!

Friday, January 2, 2015

My One Little Word for 2015

For the past three years I have chosen a single word to help focus me for the coming year. In 2012 my word was CAN. In 2013 my word was BALANCE.  In 2014 my word was LIVE.    (click the links if you'd like to read why I chose those words).

So how did I do with my 2014 word?

There were so many sides to 2014 for me, some great and some not so great.  What is unfortunate is that what stands out most when I reflect back on 2014 is how my best was never good enough . You can read more about my 2014 year here.  This had a huge impact on me January - June, and continued during our teacher strike in September.   I actually think some people started to see me differently in 2014 because of the choices I had to make for myself just to keep moving forward. It bothered me when people excluded me from events because they felt I was too busy. I can assure you I was not busy at all,  I was broken.    And the way I was, and how I was feeling was so out of character for me.  I'm a fighter, a survivor. I can see the good in all situations. As my mother was dying from Cancer I focussed on what she could do and not what she couldn't. I'm the half full type of person but for so much of 2014 I was not that person at all.   I can't say LIVE was at the front of my mind.

Thankfully July and August brought a nice change of pace for me with the stress of work on the back burner. I did my best to take all the opportunities that came my way.  There were many highlights and samples of living during those months.  My 2014/15 school year is also very different than 2013/14 year so the year ended with my ability to LIVE. But overall I'd say LIVE was not how I'd describe 2014.

So what about 2015?

If you know me at all you'll know that as often as I get knocked down, after a bit of healing, I come back stronger and more determined.  2014 sucked a lot of happiness out of me.  I clearly remember walking the picket line in June with my new colleagues and being free of my classroom stress and saying "look, see, I'm actually a happy person".   So, after coming off one of my most challenging teaching years in a very long time my focus word for 2015 is JOY.

I want to see JOY in the actions of my students and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY in the interactions I have with the people in my life (near and far) and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY in the little things in life such as sharing a meal with a friend and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY in the natural beauty that I am surrounded by and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY in the changes I make in my classroom and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY in working hard in what ever I do and celebrate it.
I want to see JOY during my most challenging times and celebrate it.

I know longer want to feel broken, I want to feel joyful.

I'm excited to see what JOY is in store for me in 2015.

What is your focus word for 2015?