Assessment and lack thereof

Assessment for learning has always been seen as one of the most important tasks of my job by me. Without knowing what my students already know and can do, I can’t plan anything. No meaningful learning activities,… and I can’t provide support and opportunities for learning if I don’t know where my students are.

The levels of assessment are huge…. assessment of knowledge, social skills, skills in general, and much more is important for any teacher.

But as I’m completing a module on assessment, I’m doubtful about how much assessment is really taking place in schools. How do we ENSURE that assessment happens in the classrooms and for every student? What do your schools do? What is assessment to you?

Creative educators!

We always talk about creativity in regards to the learners in our schools. But what about educators? Of course most educators are creative in many ways, but what about fostering and nurturing that creativity? 

And what happens to educators that find their creativity is not thriving in their current environment? I recently discussed this with some friends and this is what they said:

  • look for a new post/school
  • move into a more creative job
  • aim for change from within
  • start your own school/place of learning

And the latter, yes, that has been on my mind for so many years. And even more so since I moved back from international schools to the state system. 

Create your own…. that’s just such a wonderful thought. But where to start?

Where do we learn?

The classroom is traditionally the place where learning takes place. This is, of course, not true anymore. But where does learning take place in this days and age, for the children at my school, ….

  • at home?
  • outside?
  • everywhere?
  • worldwide?

The answer would have been easier for me when I was still a PYP teacher. And even as a class teacher in Germany this wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I’m wondering where my students really think their learning takes place. I often hear them say something along these lines:

  • learning is stupid
  • i don’t want to learn
  • I hate school

Which is not what I want to hear. For them, learning means school, and school means many challenges. But what about their learning outside these four walls they call the classroom? What about the experiences that we don’t officially count as learning? Why don’t we make them more aware of this?

Learning is everywhere and can be anything: Something to take back to school and beyond next week!

 

Provocations

Yesterday I was finally able to join #pypchat on Twitter after months and months of absence. The topic was provocations, and the chat itself was an incredible provocation for me.

As a PYP teacher at heart but not in real life, my planning time is often me, myself and I, or, occasionally, with a colleague (but there never seems to be much time for planning together). It saddens me, because talking about an upcoming learning unit always helps me to get started. 

Nonetheless, this post is about provocations, and I realized, that my life could use more of them again.

They…

– are a good way to get students to think about an upcoming unit

– help students to reflect on concepts 

– can sharpen our senses in the middle of a unit, allow us to ask new questions or refocus

– can be simple yet super effective

– can be visuals, stories and pretty much anything else

– can lead to action

 

The chat itself was an amazing provocation and I can’t wait to return to the archives in due time to see what I have changed about my practice.

First Impressions

These notes are fairly old by now, they are from my first day at a state primary school in my city in Germany. If I’m not mistaken, my first day was two weeks ago, on Wednesday, May 18th.

I wrote down these notes as the day went on, into my little notebook….

  • immediate reminder as to why I love my job
  • 30 children in one class are A LOT esp. when you are only one teacher
  • my colleagues seem so nice, helpful and relaxed
  • milk in schools? really???
  • first-grade teachers are amazing
My first day went by so quickly. Since then I have learnt about half of the names I should know. I am team teaching (all classes are supposed to be taught in team) in grades 1, 2 and 3. In grades 2 and 3 I primarily teach English and in 2a I do a lot of support in small groups.
I love it. But the impressions of the first day, have also been replaced by more reflective, more obvious criticism.

Essential Agreements in an English course

Friday, a beautiful, warm evening and some motivated students meet for their twice-a-week, compact English course.

It’s the second meeting and my plan for them: Establishing essential agreements. What are those? Read about them here and over at What Ed Said’s blog. In a nutshell, they are agreements related to attitude, behaviour and treatment that a particular group establish, usually when they get together for the first time.

In the past I have established essential agreements with my primary grades, and it was the first time I have done this with an adult English course. It was supposed to engage them and to make them feel more connected to the course. I don’t want the participants to feel like this is a 4 week course to just get over and done with. I want it to be an experience, I want them to want to come back. I want them to learn, and I want them to own their learning. Just like I always do…

The level of English is probably pre-intermediate (some have a better grasp of the language, some less so), so this provided a good opportunity to look at the situation and vocabulary of discussing and consensus-finding. I provided some basic phrases and words they might find useful in their discussion and then followed some simple steps:

1. Discussion about negative experiences regarding learning. Every participant thought about their previous experiences and got to talk about the “bad stuff”. They then shared their ideas with the whole group.

2. Making the negative positive: We then created positive situations out of the negative statements.

3. The participants got together in small groups to consider important agreements.

The time just flew by. They talked and talked. They enjoyed it, as their exit cards showed. And now we have agreements that will make the remaining 6 sessions a delight!

Independent, life-long learners

The IB sets out Standards and Practices that all IB schools have to meet, with special requirements for every programme, the PYP, MYP and DP.

They recently changed, and the Educational Leadership Team at my school is reviewing the changes and adapting the school’s action plan accordingly. Some of the changes were quite significant, one whole standard has been integrated into the others and generally the new document reflects learning from the previous year, as some practices are more defined (for example it now states that the classroom teacher needs to be responsible for at least the language of instruction, math, science and social studies – something which I have seen not happening before).

The standard C3 deals with the Teaching and Learning at IB schools, and in the 2005 version used to state:

Teaching and learning at the school empowers and encourages students to become lifelong learners, to be responsible towards themselves, their learning, other people and the environment, and to take appropriate action.

And I remember that this standard had me thinking about HOW I can design my classroom and class time to ensure that students become life-long learners who take responsibility for their own learning. Because even though it sounds like common sense, I have always found that students don’t want to do so. Or, lets put it another way, that students have learned it can be comfortable to just get by, and as a teacher is it quite a challenge to make them become more active and involved.

The new standard C3 definition is simpler:

Teaching and learning reflects IB philosophy.

A good look at the practices reveals the following two as the most important for the idea of “independent, life-long learning”:

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.

What do we do to make sure our students become actively responsible for their own learning? Here are some things that I already do that I believe support and encourage the practice:

  • Students regularly reflect on their learning (on the HOW, on the WHAT and also on the WHY of their learning)
  • Students set themselves goals (and review them regularly)
  • Students take shared responsibility for their portfolio as a way to document their learning
  • Students are encouraged to follow their own curiosities: I try make time to let them follow and investigate their own questions and wonderings even when they are not related to our “set-out classroom learning”
  • Students are actively engaged in setting criteria for assessment or at least informed about the criteria
  • Students are regularly involved in self- and peer assessment

Recently, I have been taking some more risks when it comes to taking responsibility and making choices. It relates back to practices that we used at my school in Berlin, but unfortunately I wasn’t at the same stage then as I am now, and struggled with the implementation of such a progressive and amazing programme. However, now I am taking the elements I find useful back on board.

The idea of sharing learning goals and letting students work on them in their own time, is no rocket science. But still, a lot of teachers have timetables that make all students work on Math from 8.20 to 9.15 and then a quick switch to Art, then Language Arts, etc.
What I have tried recently, is letting the students choose what they want to work on. Surely, this could be better, in terms of more freedom, but lets look at yesterday:

I was doing a Math pre-assessment, so students could work on that independently. We had started to think about our central idea, and the word diversity was hard to understand for some students. So I encouraged them to find out what it really means, and what others think it means. They visualized their findings, some made mind-maps, others just wrote down quotes.
The third option was to reply to an email from Grade 1 at the ISZL in Switzerland.
The kids were engaged, busy and I had time to help those who needed it. But sometimes I was not needed at all.

What else can we do to make students more independent and actively responsible for their own learning?