Summer reading, Summer inspiration …

We are in the second half of the summer holidays now and it’s at this time that I begin to turn my attention towards school again. Not towards the mundane administrative aspects of school but towards the big stuff. Ideas for curriculum. Ideas for how to make my classroom a better place to be, both for students and adults.  Goals for improving myself as a teacher.  Inspiration from my favourite professional development sources – Twitter, education blogs, books by my favourite educators.  All those things that would be nice to do during the term time but there just never seems to be enough time or enough mental capacity. This year, I’m finding inspiration and ideas from the following sources:

  • ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’ by Ron Ritchhart. This book serves as a reminder, a refresher, an inspiration about the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom. I am dipping in and out of this book, with the hope that I’ll find a group of equally nerdy Cultures of Thinking educators to form a mini book club to read and discuss the ideas in this book together.
  • ‘Embedding Formative Assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy. I have been a big Dylan Wiliam fan since I first read his article, ‘Inside the Black Box’, many years ago. This book is the follow up to ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ (very similar titles as you can see) and offers excellent tips for, as the title suggests, embedding formative assessment in your classroom.  Developing a broader repetoire of formative assessment strategies was a big focus for me in 2015 and I finished the year satisfied with the progress I made.  In particular, I was happy that many strategies became a habitual part of my practice.  These, I’ll write about in another post at some time.  In 2016, I plan to focus on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria as I want to work on making these more visible and accessible to students. I want to make them an integral part of the learning in my classroom.
  • A couple of John Hattie articles about mindframes, as these eight mindframes will provide the structure for the regular breakfast group I attend with educators from a variety of schools from around Melbourne. Over the past few years, I’ve dipped in and out of Hattie’s work on Visible Thinking but haven’t spent much time exploring the mindframes. They intrigue me and Hattie always challenges one’s thinking.
  • ‘Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students’ by Pernille Ripp. This book has provided an interesting professional development opportunity over the summer, through the development of a book group on Facebook. What an incredible opportunity; to be able to read and discuss a professional text with so many amazing educators from all over the world. It’s kind of like a Global Read Aloud for adults. Each day, a new discussion question is posted to the closed Facebook group and already, I have picked up so many new ideas for the new school year and had my thinking pushed to consider different perspectives. It also makes me feel grateful that Australia doesn’t have such a heavily mandated education system as seems to be the case in America, although, at times, it feels like it is heading that way.
  • Back copies of Educational Leadership, the ASCD publication that I subscribe to but often don’t find the time to read during the term time. If you are not familiar with this publication, I can highly recommend it. With a basic membership (at about $100 a year for shipment to Australia), you receive eight copies of Educational Leadership, a magazine with a different focus for each issue. These holidays, I’m catching up on issues about questioning, data and emotionally healthy kids.

The holidays provide a wonderful time to sit, reflect and spend time doing the school related things that energise me, which, unfortunately, I often don’t have time for during the term time. I’m hoping to make these things more of a priority in 2016.

Which are your favourite professional texts for inspiration?


Assessment for learning using Kahoot …

There are so many technology tools around that sometimes, it’s hard to know which ones to use in the classroom.  My thinking is that it’s good to try them all and then figure out which ones best suit you as a teacher and the class with whom you are using the tool.  I also believe that it is important to use a range of tools to maintain student engagement.

A free tech tool I recently discovered is Kahoot, an online quiz tool.  The website (go here to create a Kahoot and the students go here to complete the quiz).  The website has three options – quiz, survey and discussion.  So far, I’ve only used the quiz.  Each quiz provides a competition-like atmosphere, which students love.  Each question has a time limit (you can set the time limit) and students win points for each correct answer. After each question, a leadership board appears on the screen, much to the delight of students.  Normally, I am not a fan of class competitions as I worry about the anxiety they induce in some students as well as the students who sometimes struggle and need extra thinking time.  However, adding two extra ‘tweaks’ to the Kahoot experience can turn a simple quiz into a much more powerful learning experience.

The first ‘tweak’ is to pause after each question (especially the questions that many students got incorrect) and ask students to prove their answer to the person next to them.  This simple addition not only means that students are articulating their thinking, but for those students who had an incorrect answer (the quiz provides immediate feedback), they are hopefully able to rectify any misconceptions.

The second ‘tweak’ is to allow students to write their own Kahoot questions.  During or after a unit, students work by themselves or in pairs to create questions for a student-created Kahoot quiz.  Students write their questions and multiple choice answers in their book and I use them to create the online quiz.  Allowing students to create the quiz questions automatically differentiates the learning experience because questions of various complexity are able to be created, as can be seen in the examples below where the first example simply imitates the sample equations and the final example uses two different operations.

Screenshot 2015-12-04 12.03.18

Screenshot 2015-12-04 12.03.42

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Screenshot 2015-12-04 12.03.56

Allowing students to create their own questions gives a useful insight into their ability to not only answer questions, but write the question and provide appropriate answer choices.  It is easy to see the level of sophistication of their thinking by looking at the answer choices they provide.  Are they able to predict student misconceptions or have they simply used random numbers?

When making decisions about technology use in the classroom, I am interested in choosing the right tool for the right purpose, not using technology for the sake of using technology.  I want the technology to help me be a better teacher, not simply engage the students.  Student engagement is the cherry on top but not the essential ingredient.  I am more interested in how I can use the technology in a meaningful, purposeful manner.  I am in interested in how the technology can help me understand students and their thinking.

How can you tweak a technology tool to make it work better for you?




The case for continuous online reporting …

It’s that time of the year.   Teachers have finished writing reports and are catching up on all the other teacher related tasks that have been neglected for the past 5 weeks (as well as reclaiming their weekends!).  I calculated that I have written nearly 20,000 words in report comments.  Do parents read those comments and understand how well I know their child and the growth in their learning throughout the year?  Or, do they just look at the grades with no perspective of what their child did to demonstrate mastery of that concept?   Of course, portfolios help here but do parents really know how to cross-check between the portfolio and the report? I wonder if the time that teachers spend writing reports is in equal balance with the time that parents spend reading the reports?

Report writing time is a lovely time to reflect on the growth of students throughout the year as well as identify gaps that need to be addressed in whole class and individual learning.  But, is there a better way?

Many schools have ventured down the continuous, online reporting path.   Some are further along than others and some are just beginning to dip their toes into this new world, one in which teachers and parents develop even closer partnerships in the quest to further student learning.

There are are so many benefits of continuous online reporting:

  • Parents receive information about their child’s learning in (almost) real time.
  • It encourages more regular dialogue between parents, teachers and students.
  • Report data is more readily available to be used by teachers to inform the next steps of student learning.
  • Students can act on the feedback from summative assessment and use it to inform future learning.
  • The report and its process is more meaningful when compared to end of semester reporting because of the ongoing nature.
  • Although it consists of the same amount of work for teachers (perhaps more at the beginning), the workload is spread out across the year.

As with any new system, particularly one involving technology, there are many aspects to consider but there certainly seems to be a plethora of ready-made options out there.  Which begs the question, why aren’t more schools diving into the deep end with continuous online reporting?

What does reporting look like in your school?