Category Archives: Making Learning Visible

My Top 3 for 2015 (with apologies to Chris Kennedy)

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The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.

Arthur Miller

I tried not to do it but I couldn’t resist. I have parodied Superintendent Chris Kennedy on two previous occasions, taking his masterful Top Three List and brutalizing it a bit with my own satirical Top Three. I did this in 2012, and 2013. In 2014 I wrote a half-baked caricature but did not have the nerve to publish it. Now we are in 2015 and he has published his Top Three again (see here and read his first). I was waiting for it. I cannot keep my cheek in check. Even in this form, please note, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (Charles Colton).

My Top Three Blog Posts

Here are most read posts for 2015, as gleaned from my followers.

  1. Reporting in a Digital Age
  2. A Window into Learning
  3. Innovation in Action: Learning by Design

But, I have to tell you the stats are absolutely pathetic. It is a wonder I post anything at all. The social media honeymoon just might be over. I note that the second most read post this year (2. A Window into Learning) was even published last year, in December 2014. At that, the post Treasure Wild Ducks: The Flight of Innovation continues to be the most popular piece and that was published way back in November, 2013.

Top Three Blog Posts I Would Like to be Writing

Chris seems disappointed more people are not blogging. He gives no explanation for why there is less blogging but leaves us hanging for a “next post” (unintended irony) on that topic. With no excuses–I expect to find him unpacking it for us in the New Year. And I would like to point out, I, at least, have excuses. I have not even started the blog posts that I would really like to finish. I would if I had time. I would if I could think clearly. I would if I didn’t have an inbox full of email. I would if I didn’t have four children underfoot (even Chris could have used that one). Posts that keep swirling in my head:

  1. Scaling Up: Chasing the Unholy Grail of Transformation
  2. Research Results from a District-Wide Learning Commons Implementation
  3. Passion, Purpose and People: The Interlocking Keys to Excellence

The Top Three Regularly Used Education words (that show we still don’t really know what we are talking about)

  1. Transformation
  2. Innovation
  3. Personalization

See also “scaling up” referred to above. Pardon my cynicism.

Top Three Videos I Have Watched

First of all, I would like to know when people have time to watch all these TEDx videos? I am still relishing the same animated movies from previous years.

  1. How to Train a Dragon
  2. How to Train a Dragon 2
  3. Despicable Me

I feel better AND I am inspired by the sheer art and beauty of them. Sometime I will find a list of the Top 10 videos for Educators, make some popcorn (or melt some butter and sprinkle it with popcorn) and then watch them all.

The Top Three1 Stories People will be talking about in BC in 2016 (see also above category regularly used education words)

  1. Reporting (aka Communicating Student Learning).
  2. Transformation.
  3. Innovation.
  4. Personalization.
  5. Scaling Up.

The Top Three2 Things I Learned This Year

  1. Hard Work Isn’t Always Enough
  2. Excellence is in the Eye of the Beholder
  3. Timing is Everything
  4. Professional Learning is Never Done
  5. Sometimes You Need to Let it Go

Top Three People/Things That Inspire Me

  1. Good Friends: They help me to “let it go”
  2. My Staff: They are amazing at what they do
  3. The Quiet: Silence in the swirl of work & home is treasured

The Top Three Books I Am Still Working On

  1. The Genius Hour Guidebook by Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi
  2. The Innovators Mindset by George Couros
  3. Accelerate (XCR8) by John Kotter

Top Three Professional Highlights for 2015:

  1. New Staff Members: Karen Fadum (@mrsfadum) and Joe Tong (@teachertong), both Communicating Student Learning Helping Teachers, Shauna Nero (@MmeNero), Modern Languages Helping Teacher and Maryanne Kempthorne (@Maryakem), new Manager of Learning Resources. You should follow them all on twitter–they are great additions to an already amazing #sd36learn Education Services Team!
  2. A Window into My Child’s Learning: Having my own son get a digital portfolio (via @freshgrade) was an unexpected surprise. I’ve been working on this partnership for three years and when it reaches  my own child who attends school in another district–that’s personally and professionally rewarding. I get my own parent view!
  3. Learning from Others: Finding out how other leaders do their work  in other districts in B.C. and across Canada, inspires me.

Leaders I Admire:

  1. Dean Shareski (because I won a coveted #deanie award and he is a most gracious and giving man)
  2. Chris Kennedy (I continue to be inspired and learn from his work)
  3. Many Woman Leaders (some identified in this provocative post)

To sum up the 2015 year can be a daunting task. To follow the high bar set by Chris Kennedy in his blog Culture of Yes is impossible. I have blogged, though, at last.

And a big thank you to those of you that take the time to read my posts. Thanks for your patience with me as I continue to learn what it means to push the boundaries of innovation, attempt to transform education, personalize learning for both students and teachers, communicate that learning to wider audiences and scale up these changes across our district and beyond.3

I will be, forever, a dreamer.

 

Footnotes:
1Did I mention I have a Numeracy problem?
2Numeracy continues to be a challenge.
3Guilty, I am.

Producing Quality Assessment in Digital Portfolios

 

The digital portfolio embraces the challenge of making learning visible and mirrors quality assessment where the learning and student choice, voice and ownership are central and core. How does one capture quality assessment evidence and produce an ongoing digital portfolio for every student? The point is not to regulate but to re-orientate what we know about quality assessment practice and to systematically uncover and capture what is essential in communicating student learning. It is no longer about standardization of reporting but about the personalization of the learning journey. Where are students now? Where are they going? And how are they going to get there?

Back to schoolDigital Portfolio: Fit for Purpose
A central purpose of all assessment is to understand where learners are in their learning at the time of assessment with the objective of improving their learning. https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment. The digital portfolio is an ideal “fit” for this purpose. At its best it is formative, relevant and accessible. The crafting of the digital portfolio provides meaningful, collaborative learning and feedback and invites active involvement and engagement for both student and parent. (Karen Fadum, 2015. FRAME https://mrsfadum.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/where-is-the-learning-guidelines-for-using-digital-portfolios-to-communicate-student-learning/)

Guiding Principles for What Teachers and Students Include
Throughout the learning process, teachers and students intentionally focus on gathering evidence of learning that demonstrates student growth and helps to guide both instruction and learning moving forward. “What is captured and shared should show students’ learning over time, changes and growth in their ability to communicate, think and build their capacities of self as a learner.” http://abvendramin.com/2015/07/09/digital-portfolios-moving-beyond-the-glorified-scrapbook/

My GoalsIn collecting evidence the teacher role is thoughtful observer, listener, and designer. Quality documentation reflects the design of teaching/learning tasks which are well constructed, process-centered and open-ended inviting students to think, question, reflect and assess their own learning. Together teachers and students engage in setting criteria and uploading exemplars which allow for ongoing, timely, descriptive feedback for students and parents. The carefully shared decisions about WHAT to make visible not only helps students assess their growth but also helps them understand how to improve and move forward toward their learning intentions and goals.

Three important guiding principles should be considered when selecting documentation, artifacts and evidence (http://kellivogstad.com/2015/08/31/digital-portfolios-making-the-learning-visible/). It is important that what is made visible links with quality assessment practices and demonstrates student growth and learning.   Vogstad recommends: (1) Documentation which shows growth over time through revisited curriculum tasks or experiences, demonstrates concrete change in abilities, skills, behaviours, attitudes, and understanding; (2) Artifacts which invite student reflection and analysis of student learning incorporating the thinking operations of observing, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, hypothesizing, imagining, and making conclusions; and (3) Evidence that demonstrates student behaviour and growth in the three core competency areas: thinking, communicating ideas, and personal/social development, reflects meaningful and relevant learning across all curriculum areas and provides opportunities for students to show their learning in a variety of ways.

iStock_000058616460_SmallThere are four practical ways for teachers to categorize and organize
documentation (see Vogstad above). Two of the Same – Student completes two of the same tasks which are documented over a period of time. For example, an impromptu write completed in October, and one completed in January; the two similar artifacts invite observations and comparisons, demonstrating student’s growth and learning. Showing the Knowing – Demonstrations/process-based sharing: student presents or “walks” through an activity, task, or process, explaining thinking, strategies, connections, decision making, problem solving skills, and understandings. Celebrating the Learning – Documented student artifacts show skill and ability reflecting criteria of success. May include performance standard descriptors or task generated criteria; comments are made based on observed evidence that meets criteria. Communicating the How and Whys – The fourth component documented by the teacher provides parents accessing the documentation a lens through which they can understand and support their children’s learning. Descriptions and explanations about the curriculum activities are documented which inform, instruct, and communicate the big ideas, learning intentions, purpose, and goals behind the artifact. 

Dissonance and Hard Work
The exploration of communicating student learning using the digital portfolio is not without its challenges and has created some uncomfortable feelings of dissonance. At this stage there are probably more questions than answers and yet, educators are attracted to the opportunity to develop better and more meaningful ways to motivate students and communicate with parents using the digital platform.

The “hard work” is to continue the search for learning which is visual, fresh and aligned to elements of quality assessment. This forces teachers to think deeply about the design of activities and the ways they document, assess and share what they see. As designers, teachers are key to transforming the learning.

IMG_5313The Search for Delight
As teachers and students become more comfortable with using digital portfolios, students learn to search for their own evidence of their learning, upload artifacts and provide their own reflections on their growth–signalling the opportunity for them to have choice, voice and ownership and to produce their own brand of creativity.

The personalized learning journey depicted by visible artifacts and essential documentation produces quality moments which quite frankly register delight. On the part of the student, parent and teacher there has been powerful recognition of the influence of the well-crafted digital assessment. The evidence is formative, relevant, accessible, meaningful, and engages students in live, authentic action. And, the personalized learning journey has only begun.

~     ~    ~   ~  •  ~   ~    ~     ~

Research Note ~ Elements of Quality Assessment Pertaining to Digital Portfolios.

It is no longer about standardization of reporting but about the personalization of the learning journey. Where are students now? Where are they going? And how are they going to get there?
•  “What is captured and shared should show students’ learning over time, changes and growth in their ability to communicate, think and build their capacities of self as a learner.”
•  Communicating student learning to students and parents is for the most part formative and demonstrates student growth and learning.
•  Effective feedback is timely, ongoing, specific, descriptive, relevant, accessible and engaging.
•  The student role is an active one. Students assess and celebrate their own learning and understand steps toward improvement. Student choice, voice and ownership are central and core.
•  Assessment has a profound impact on motivation and well-being of student.
Results of assessment are used to monitor and adjust teaching and learning.

Note: Special thanks to Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) for assisting in the consolidation of the thinking and contributions of myself and the others identified in this post. Thank you to the many #sd36learn teachers who have been embracing this learning journey and contributing to our understanding as an organization.

Reporting in a Digital Age

If you change the way you teach, you change the way you assess, and if you change the way you assess, you change the way you teach.

Tammy Hartmann, Principal, Ocean Cliff Elementary School

Problem Report Cards Glass Shattering 2Our district has been looking at and changing the way we communicate student learning for several years now. We recognized in an evolving societal context that our current reporting system was antiquated, not reflecting the realities of new research on assessment practices nor the possibilities offered in an expanding digital landscape. Our problem was multi-faceted: an antiquated report card platform, an archaic checklist approach to learning, misalignment with the BC Ministry of Education’s Redesigned Curriculum and changing understandings of quality assessment practices. Nor did our current system take advantage of a socially networked and connected world with new possibilities for sharing information.

Which train do you want to catch? 2Since 2012 we have been using digital portfolios in partnership with the company FreshGrade. In our first year we were part of their beta pilot, giving them our feedback as they developed the platform. In our second year, it became a pilot for teachers to use as an alternative form of communicating student learning. Last year, and this, we gave teacher’s the freedom to use it as one of three reporting options available in the district. We have a very exciting new non-digital template available as well so teachers have the opportunity to choose which new practice they want to try on. We made a commitment to not force change but to give teachers opportunities to learn more about assessment and reporting practices both digitally and non-digitally. The former, however, is the focus of this post.

As we explored sharing student learning through a digital window, we had key questions that drove our learning. In today’s context, we wondered if we could…

  • communicate student learning in more powerful ways?
  • communicate student learning to increase student success & engagement?
  • use technology to highlight student learning & thinking?
  • change “reporting” to fit with what we know about quality instruction, learning & assessment?

We wanted to consider, what are the possibilities in a new world?

  • How can we leverage this digital tool to transform learning?
  • How can we encourage & direct the conversation?
  • Who is telling and shaping the story?
  • Can we create a new story and a better way of “reporting?”

It is important to note that central to our thinking has been keeping the role of the teacher clear: We know that no web 2.0 tool, no program, no paper template transforms learning. Teachers transform learning.

As we engaged in our learning journey as a district, more and more questions would emerge to push our thinking. Are we making learning visible? What is the evidence of learning? Full stop. These latter two questions are perhaps most significant for those embarking on this journey.

Once you begin to look at digital portfolios, it creates the opportunity to examine student learning and explore what quality assessment looks like in a digital context. For us, it is not about posting cute pictures or entertaining videos, nor is it about overloading a portfolio with endless artifacts that fail to communicate the learning journey. The focus is on evidence of learning that demonstrates student growth and helps to guide both instruction and learning moving forward. We recognize that as teachers, we are learners on a continuum of understanding as well. There is the first step of accomplishment from uploading an artifact and conquering the technical piece of the platform to progressing to understanding how to gather artifacts that actually show student learning and incorporate important descriptive feedback. As teachers and students become more comfortable with using digital portfolios, students can actually learn to search for their own evidence of their learning, upload artifacts and provide their own reflections on their growth–signally the opportunity for them to have choice, voice and ownership. Student engagement quickly accelerates the motivation and interest in learning.

We have shared our journey with others internally, locally and abroad at evening sessions, workshops, and conferences as well as through social media. Our most recent event is at the Learning Forward Conference in Washington, DC. As part of sharing our journey—imperfect as it is—we wanted to include some of the learning that has taken place while growing in our understanding of this new form of digital reporting. To learn more about what it means to actually show the learning, we have several helpful blog posts that we reference in our district (click on the title to access):

Where is the learning? by Karen Fadum, a Communicating Student Learning Helping Teacher (Instructional Coach) with Education Services.

Moving Beyond the Glorified Scrapbook by co-authors Antonio Vendramin, Principal, and Kelli Vostad, Vice-Principal, Cambridge Elementary School.

Making the Learning Visible by author Kelli Vostad, Vice-Principal, Cambridge Elementary School.

e-Portfolios in Language Classes by author Shauna Nero, Modern Languages Helping Teacher (Instructional Coach) with Education Services.

For more information about e-portfolios for language teachers, you can read Le portfolio numérique et FreshGrade by Shaun Nero.

If you want to know more about how we started off when it was first a pilot, the description is found here: The Pilot: Communicating Student Learning.

A Window into Learning, is adapted from an Executive Briefing presented to the District Senior Team and co-authored by myself and with Dan Turner, Director, Information Management Systems, and describes our adventure and rationale for moving into digital portfolios.

Thanks to Kelli Vogstad for the helpful descriptions for ways to make learning visible using portfolios. Her document of Guiding Principles is an easy one pager for teacher reference. You can download it here: CSL Making Learning Visible Guiding Principles Vogstad.

This video uses the words of famous thinkers, leaders in the field of assessment and the words of those who have lived the experience in our district. We often use this at the end of a session as a way to encourage new thinking about assessment practices. (Music Credit: “Shadow by Lindsey Sterling).

We have a multitude of other documents that we have developed to support the scaling up of this project, everything from powerpoints to a planning tool for teachers and even a guide for parents. (Click here to download the Digital Portfolio Parent Guide). A big thank you to the #sd36learn educators in our district (many are mentioned above) who have been creating these documents “just in time.”

There are other educators across our province who are also doing significant work with Digital Portfolios. You can read more from Ian Landy, Principal of Sorrento Elementary, on his website. You can read more about Kindergarten/Grade 1 teacher Michelle Hiebert’s journey with e-portfolios on her website as well.

Innovation is messy signpost 2Your are welcome to contact us if you would like more information.

The more we can do to help travel this uncharted path together, the lighter the load for all.

The Structures of Innovation

 

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.

Steve Jobs

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

I have a fascination with structures. Whether these are the physical structures of cityscapes, the formal systems in organizations or the informal structures hidden in organizations, how they are created, used, morph, disappear and replaced, intrigues me. The structures, in schools and districts, are the patterns and frameworks through which innovation and system change move. There is the visible and the invisible—each part playing a powerful role in system transformation. In the work we do, it is the structures that can give us opportunities for change, coherence, meaning and, ultimately, reorganization. Never underestimate the power of an intentional, strategic and well-designed structure to transform the learning environment.

The old reflected in the new

The old reflected in the new

At the start of this past summer I travelled to Philadelphia. The city has a unique backdrop of historical and contemporary significance. It has deep roots with one of the oldest original settlements together with the home of Benjamin Franklin in juxtaposition with contemporary skyscrapers such as the Comcast building. Wikipedia described it citizens in the early twentieth century as “dull and contented with its lack of change”, but the city, and the people, as demonstrated at the International Society of Technology Education (ISTE) Conference, has been transformed into one of the top 10 US cities to visit and a hub of 21st century learning.

Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction and Dan Turner, Director of IMS
Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction & Dan Turner, Director of IMS

This year’s conference brought the added excitement of our district receiving the ISTE 2015 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology for our commitment to technology planning focused on transformative learning. We are the first school district in Canada to win this prestigious award. In early summer, we were recognized on an international stage among 20,000 peers. It took intentional and strategic structures—both formal, informal, and hidden–to get us to that place in the spotlight. Our technology ecosystem incorporates the key structures that allow the organization to become a learning place of significance.

Surrey Schools is considered a national leader by educators and Chief Technology Officers alike for its initiatives in planning, building, and integrating technology into education. Whether it is our Innovative Learning Designs strategies, our Learning Commons conversions, our Makerspaces movement, the Making Learning Visible e-portfolio partnership with FreshGrade, or our social media branding, our learning is carefully crafted in organizational structures, requirements, and guiding principles that create the conditions for learning to flourish.

Our technology ecosystem aligns to a shared technology vision that replaced isolating silos with collaborative cross-discipline teams and, more recently, to a refreshed transformative district vision for learning: Learning by Design (LbD).

The Ecosystem Structure

The Ecosystem Structure

The ecosystem emphasizes collaboration and engagement within a progressive governance model, integrating five essential components: Leadership, Professional practice, Schoolhouse, Technology toolbox and Partnerships. At the heart and centre of our ecosystem is the learner.

The technology ecosystem infuses and promotes innovation in the classroom, professional inspiration and learning, building school communities and networks, the transformative use of technology tools, and optimal planning efforts tied to appropriate resource allocation.

Our teachers transform learning in their classrooms and schools. Through technology, they are creating personalized opportunities for authentic student engagement and deep learning that go beyond the cursory completion of prescriptive learning outcomes. Technology has helped teachers create fresh opportunities for student voice, choice and ownership that are grounded in the core competencies of critical and creative thinking, contemporary forms of communicating and real ways of expressing personal and social responsibility.

Organizational design + Infrastructure

Organizational design + IT Infrastructure

Our transformative change was fueled in 2010 by the district’s strategic requirement for school-site specific learning plans to accompany any hardware requests. These plans included learning-focused questions, professional learning opportunities, collaborative inquiry teams of teachers and the explicit sharing of learning through social media. All of those requirements were predicated on an Information Technology (IT) infrastructure that was foundational for these organizational changes. The IT department, beginning over a decade prior, had worked systematically to create the hidden structures, networks, wiring closets, bandwidth and more, which made new forms of learning possible.

The Sylvia Charp Award acknowledges our systemic approach to the diffusion of pedagogical practices that are underpinned by teacher-led inquiry and embedded learning. It also recognizes the professionalism and commitment of teachers engaged in the process of continuous improvement, supported by the districts nurturing ecosystem. And finally, the Award acknowledges the collaborative work of the Education Services department’s focus on learning with an IT department that is committed to both anticipating and removing the barriers to that learning.

IMG_5367 (1)What’s next for us? We will build capacity within the system to create new and ever evolving structures, provide appropriate tools and experiment with new forms of learning. We will continue to share our stories, learning and inspiration with each other (#sd36learn) and our peers around the globe. We will provide opportunities for teachers to “see” into each others’ classrooms, observing, reflecting, exploring and playing with new notions of teaching and learning. These classrooms and schools will act as Learning Studios and Learning Labs where the exploration, play and sharing of practice on a peer-to-peer level is nurtured.

The district’s strategic organizational structures, together with the tools we use, the technology infrastructure, resources and learning support, will help us to further understand, embrace and expand this intentional learning by design across the system. Surrey School’s technology ecosystem – with our learners firmly at the centre – continues to create and build the capacity for our continued learning evolution.

 

Note: For more information on the District’s strategic work on transforming learning, see cover article in October issue of T.H.E. Journal. Thank you to Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), and Jeff Unruh (@unruh_j) for participating in with T.H.E. Journal photoshoot. For more information on the district’s IT department, see wickedproblems.ca.  See Superintendent Dr. Tinney’s (@jordantinney) blog at jordantinney.org for related stories. Big thanks to the #sd36learn tribe who are creating, designing and living the change. You have been my cheerleaders.

Celebrate the Tribe

 

Tribe Seth Godin Quote 2Me: I have a crazy idea. You would be perfect. Would you consider doing something to honour #sd36learn teachers and their innovation as a community? If I needed you, would you consider doing an Ignite?

Dean: Yes and yes.

Me: The idea is that your Ignite would thank all the teachers in the district for being innovative and recognize the #sd36learn COMMUNITY.
Think about it…..
You are all about joy.
It is a fit for you.
This is our last night of the series so I wanted it to be celebratory. You could honour people. I tried to organize a flash mob and video but have run out of time. I wanted: youtube.com/watch?v=mytLRy…

Dean: I’ll figure something out.

Me: Not a mention of district staff. Just about celebrating the wonderful work. About learning. About sharing. About joy.

Dean: Whatever you need…

Me: Hope you are good. Looking forward to connecting tomorrow. I hope I haven’t made you feel pressured.

Dean: Nope. I like a good challenge. Hope you’ll like it. Nothing fancy but celebrates your tribe.

Me: Perfect. I like that: Celebrates your tribe. That is exactly what it is….

Honoured to have you in the room to do it. Can’t think of a better person. You know, understand and build community (tribe).

Thanks to Dean for sharing the joy of the #sd36learn tribe!

And that wasn’t all. We continued to celebrate as teachers and students shared the joy of the learning journey.

See Lisa Domeier de Suarez, known affectionately as @librarymall, share her joy of the “Maker Space.”

In case you don’t know, it was Lisa, with her colleagues, that gave birth to the #sd36learn hashtag four years ago after being inspired at ISTE. You can see the Birth of a Hashtag slideshare here (pretty great slides!):

Our district is forging ahead with changing structures, places, tools and ways of learning, all by intentional design. The educators in our very own backyard who are experimenting and putting it into action are our inspiration. Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Amyotte, Dolkar McBride, and Edward Ewacha, a teaching team from Earl Marriott Secondary School shared their Ignite: StEMs- Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. Seeing our own educators in the unfinished journey of innovation, and the willingness to share it with their colleagues, is what others find inspiring. So glad they came to the evening to share!

Arjin and Taziya, grade 6 students from Pacific Heights Elementary shared how Students Taking Charge of Their Learning has changed “school” for them. Special thanks go to first-year teacher Danielle Peters for creating the conditions for these learners to flourish. Their confidence, enthusiasm, passion and ownership of their learning is really quite amazing.

Our keynote speaker, Lance Rougeaux, challenged our thinking with his presentation: STEMulating Minds Want to Know and Do. He helped us redefine our thinking about STEM and what it means now in 2015.

 We had a wonderful evening with the #sd36learn tribe, both those inside and outside our organization. Thank you to all for learning with us and sharing the journey together. Seth Godin captures it best in the title of his book: Tribes: We need you to lead us.

 

Author’s Note: Special thanks to all our Igniters! Thanks to Dean Shareski for letting me share excerpts from our Direct Messages over Twitter.

Anticipating the Future

iStock_000015408556XSmall
The future depends on what we do in the present.

Mahatma Ghandi

 

Our district is exploring our vision of Learning by Design. We are examining how manipulating the variables of traditional structures, simple & complex tools, and learning strategies can deepen the learning experience for students.We create these important conversations through the Engaging the Digital Learner Series. The event is designed to expose our educators to different ideas, new frames for thinking, practical applications of innovative practice and inspirational speakers.

This past week our evening was punctuated with inspiring stories from four teachers who shared the ways they are experimenting with their practice. From “trying on” new teaching strategies, such as SOLES or Maker Spaces, to believing that anything is possible and preparing students for a future in physical education, each of these teachers shared their thinking and their challenge for us as individuals. Our keynote presenters, George Couros (District Principal of Innovation from Parkland SD) and Superintendent Jordan Tinney, had us anticipate the future as they examined new ways of learning and leading.

The educators in the room represent teams of three from some of our schools. They sit at tables with other teams and engage in structured conversation in response to the presentations.  Table seating remains constant each evening so relationships can develop, informal networks can be established and community can be built. When you have over 5,000 teachers in your district, creating opportunities for connecting allows us to humanize and personalize the organization.

Each evening is live streamed (we had a teacher from Singapore following along and tweeting into our #sd36learn stream) and the videos are included here. Our purpose is to share our learning with not just our own community but with educators across the world so we can all learn from each other. There are no district borders to separate our commitment and passion to make schooling for our students the best it can be.

Laura Mayer, grade 6 teacher from North Ridge Elementary School, shares her story of  her experimentation with Self Organized Learning Environments. Sugata Mitra’s research Hole in the Wall formed the original ideas behind SOLES. You can find his TED talk here. Laura takes a deeper dive into wonder and inquiry with her students using the SOLE framework.

Glenn Young, District PE Helping Teacher and District Athletic Coordinator speaks on Motivating the Future Learner in Physical EducationGlenn explores the power of motivating young learners through the integrated use of instructional technology in the PE context.

Marilyn Carr, grade 5 teacher from Harold Bishop Elementary, shares her belief that Anything is Possible. Based on the book by the same name, Marilyn urges us to encourage our students. This would be the first time we have an Ignite presenter conclude her story by actually singing a song!

Jeff Unruh, grade 7 teacher from Pacific Heights Elementary tells his story of Learning to Share: A Twitter Discovery. You can also learn more about Jeff in this guest post, Guess What? That’s usauthored by George Couros.

What does great leadership look like to you? What are the implications for future change? These are just some of the questions posed by keynote presenters George Couros and Superintendent Jordan Tinney as they talk about Anticipating the Future and “going elbows deep into learning.”

Learning by Design, our district’s vision, happens when we take the time to listen to the stories of others who inspire us to be intentional architects and designers of deep learning experiences for the students in our classrooms.

Note: Thanks to all our presenters for sharing your hearts and minds with us.

Innovation in Action: Learning by Design

IMG_3727

Not only should we encourage kids to daydream, but also to jump-in and build those dreams. Dreaming is largely lost among adults drowning in self-imposed realities.                                                                                                    Ryan Lilly

 If you can imagine a solution, you can make it happen.

Jay Samit

Part of what we need to do to get students more deeply involved in school, is to involve their hands directly in service to learning.

Doug Stowe

The energy and excitement in the school was palpable and contagious. The school was so busy with guests, parents, people from Simon Fraser University and lots and lots of children from local elementary schools that one needed to be quite focused to see the many great things hidden in the little gym, the big gym and openly displayed in the school cafeteria. Students were sharing their learning with others and observers were intrigued, asking questions and just having fun seeing all the creative projects on display.

Banana DucksI had missed the school’s Innovation Week last year so I was pretty determined to make sure I visited this time. These grade 8 & 9 students did not disappoint and I was truly fascinated by some of their original ideas. I thought I would just share a few of these pleasures.

The Food Art table was fun. I was impressed because this student had taken the time to sculpt unique products using food. The banana ducks were entertaining as were many other creatively carved fruits.

IMG_3736The toe socks were just too funny. I think I found them intriguing because I always have cold feet. Her product was hand designed and sewn. She has even been careful to create a design that includes the option of being able to wear the socks with flip-flops.

 

IMG_3754Daniel has created a Lopter prototype. No more do parents have to worry about toddlers accidently locking themselves behind closed doors. With The Lopter, the door can be accidently shut by the child but this small insert prevents it from being locked with the child trapped inside. Clearly, this is a useful device for parents with young children. You have to love his short promotional video:

Daniel is also now one of the main photographers of the Surrey International Film Festival and has a winning short film he completed for the Surrey Homelessness Society.
Daniel’s friend, Jasper designed a fascinating project to dry out wet umbrellas. His powerpoint walks you through the steps he completed in creating his umbrella prototype.

This is a good idea for those of us that live here on what we affectionately refer to as the “wet” coast. I marvel at his ingenuity. Does it work? Perhaps not too much. Does that matter? Not really. Jasper has engaged in a thoughtful, systematic process to design, iterate, redesign and test his prototype. That’s real learning in action.

This is just a small, small sample that I experienced and found inspiring. I didn’t get a chance to see (and touch) Mohamed’s Arduino iTouch invention. He was just too busy explaining it and letting other’s test it out. I would have had to wait in line! His project was called  “italk.”  I  think he created a device to assist special needs people in  communicating.  He used Arduino and even contacted Australia to get the small little interface he needed.  As school principal Sheila Morissette indicated, ” it was quite impressive.”
I wonder if we would have seen all this brilliance if there hadn’t been this structure to redesign the opportunities for students to choose their own topic, explore a problem, ask their own questions, and design solutions? They had chosen and even, in some cases, created their own tools to communicate solutions or express their creativity.

Kudos to all the staff and students at Fraser Heights for designing new ways of learning that allow students to pursue their passions, solve real problems and share their solutions with the world. Truly, this is a place of Learning by Design.

A Window into Learning

We’re trying to boil it down to what do parents really want and need to know about a child’s progress in school? How can we give parents a window into class?…We believe traditional report cards are highly ineffective in communicating to parents where their children are in learning. If we can communicate this learning routinely to parents, then we see the need for report cards and the stamp of letter grade going way down.”

Dr. Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, CNN

A Window into a Child's Learning

Surrey Schools has initiated a project – Communicating Student Learning (CSL) – to evolve its student assessment practice and tools reflective of emerging educational philosophy and the Ministry of Education’s direction. Two district explorations have been launched – paper and electronic – to assess various potential assessment approaches, tools and implementation strategies that will ultimately become district best practice. This post is focused on our electronic trial—Making Learning Visible.

Background

For over a decade, Surrey’s elementary schools have been using a standard report card, designed by several school principals using Filemaker Pro. The report card is a list of grade specific Prescribed Learning Outcomes where student progress is indicated using a rating scale[1] and/or letter grades. Limited room on the report card exists for teachers to provide a summary of a student’s learning, often noting what the student has been doing well, in addition to potential areas for improvement. These report cards are distributed three times throughout the school year. Our practice represents a significant misalignment with what we know about Assessment and with the Ministry of Education’s new direction.

The Ministry of Education’s new Curriculum Transformation and Assessment,[2] Communicating Student Learning (Reporting) document states:

“Aligning curriculum, assessment, evaluation and communicating student learning approaches will be key in these transformation efforts. To date, consultations regarding communicating student learning have resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Shift from ‘reporting’ to ‘communicating student learning.’
  • Support meaningful communication between teachers, parents and learners.
  • Report on core competencies and key areas of learning.
  • Focus on learning standards (curricular competencies and content/concepts) in areas of learning (subjects).
  • Enable ongoing communication (with provincial guidelines and supports).
  • Maintain formal, written summative reports at key times in the year.
  • Use clear performance standards-based language.
  • Move toward meaningful descriptions/collections/demonstrations of student learning.”

The Ministry recommendations provide a foundation and guiding principles for our new direction.

In the spring of 2013, Surrey Schools officially initiated its exploration of evolving its practices and tools related to communicating student learning. The project is being guided by a District team of Learning Partners[3], with support from District Senior Leadership. Unofficially, the district had already been exploring other ways of documenting student learning electronically with a small group of teachers from across the district as we began to formulate a new vision for reporting practice. As we felt there was a serious disconnect between our current reporting practices and the Ministry’s new direction, we wanted to align our practice with a new vision.

Surrey School’s Vision

Our vision for long-term change resulting from this project is captured in this simple vision statement:

Making Learning Visible: Transforming learning through assessment.

Surrey School’s Electronic Assessment Goal

Our goal is to provide parents with a 24/7 virtual window into their child’s learning to encourage more active parent understanding and involvement as well as ensuring timely responses and intervention in order to maximize student learning.

  • Provide teachers with a better reporting process to communicate student learning.
  • Provide an opportunity to collect authentic snapshots of learning (audio, video and published blogs), to provide descriptive feedback and to enrich the parent communication experience.
  • Provide an electronic space for a three-way conversation (students, teachers and parents) about learning intentions, achievement and next steps in a child’s learning journey.
  • Students are actively involved in their learning through their own capacity to choose, share and reflect on the most important artifacts that illustrate their learning.
  • Provide an electronic option for teachers to collect evidence on a child’s progress and demonstrate growth over time.
  • Capitalize on the analytic capacity of technology to curate information and resources to provide timely learning support for students, teachers and parents.
  • Provide leadership in setting direction for the future implementation of the MOE curriculum transformation as it pertains to Communicating Student Learning (formerly referred to as Reporting).

The Project Plan

Integral to this process is the invitation to explore the use of formative assessment using an inquiry approach in the context of digital documentation. We asked teachers to commit to working as a collaborative team to explore inquiry questions on “reporting:” How can digital documentation and digital tools impact teachers and student learning? How can formative assessment and the continuous growth of students be communicated in a digital format that provides authentic examples? The investigation represents small teams of teachers across the district in both elementary and secondary schools committed to this action research. The project is ongoing.

Regardless of the tool or template, teachers are asked to communicate on key areas addressing literacy, numeracy, and social responsibility reflected through the lens of the core competencies (Thinking, Communicating, Personal & Social Responsibility) and including the content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies).

About the Tool

The software selected for the Making Learning Visible pilot is FreshGrade, developed by a BC-based company. FreshGrade is a Web 2.0 tool that supports teachers (and students) in capturing student learning, creating a digital portfolio, providing feedback to students and communicating student learning to parents.

The tool can also assist in supporting personalized learning by analyzing student activity and achievement. The tool can potentially access curated resources and can prompt teachers on the next steps, based on an analysis of student data and recommend learning resources matched to individual student needs. Not all of these features are turned on in the program but are included as part of the roadmap. The program is designed to change the way assessment is understood and practiced, save teacher time in data collection and provide a much more robust window into a child’s learning. The FreshGrade tool provides a digital platform that takes advantage of technology to collect, assess, share and communicate student learning. In our partnership arrangement, the use of this tool allows the district to “own” the student data and ensure we can have some measure of control over the information. Teachers have been working with the company providing feedback for over two years now.

Outside of the project, there are teachers who have independently started using FreshGrade. This simple act of engaging with the platform, investigating and “playing” with the tool, is an important part of the innovation movement and confirming teacher interest and support of the tool’s application. We fundamentally believe that if the experience and product is effective that teachers will be drawn to its use.

Our findings our guided by the experience of actual practitioners—our teachers—the professional experts in the field. As they explore, we learn. As Antonio Vendramin, Principal of Cambridge Elementary describes, “More and more as I hear teachers reflect on MLV, the more I hear that this is beginning a transformation in assessment and pedagogy. Teachers are asking critical questions regarding learning evidence that is collected, what it reveals, and how it connects with learning intentions. Fundamentally, teachers are beginning to look at collected evidence and asking, ‘Where is the learning?’

Looking Forward

Elements by Lindsey Sterling: Used with permission, educational purposes only.

The district, as part of this CSL project, is undertaking this inquiry – Making Learning Visible – to explore whether digital documentation of student learning could become a new standard. Our teachers are at the front edge of transforming education through their practice. They are the champions. These teachers believe there is a better way to communicate student learning that aligns with our understanding and research. The district is taking steps to explore what is possible. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We are creating a new model, because, truly, now is the time.

Note: This post is adapted from an Executive Briefing Report prepared last spring for Senior Team and co-authored by Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Director of Information Management Services, and Elisa Carlson (@emscarlson), Director of Instruction with the assistance of Marilyn Marchment of big think communications (www.bigthink.ca). Excerpts and videos are from the most recent presentation at the B.C. School Superintendent’s Conference (2014). For a complete view of the original Elements video, see here. This article is also cross-posted at wickedproblems.ca.

 

[1] Approaching Expectations, Minimally Meeting Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Exceeding Expectations.
[2] Ministry of Education: Curriculum Transformation and Assessment (curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment).
[3] Pat Horstead, Karen Steffensen and Elisa Carlson.