What does it mean to be ‘assessment capable’?

I used to think being ‘assessment capable’  just implied things like setting tests, planning summative tasks, grading and giving feedback.

A thought provoking conversation the other day with @YuniSantosa and @MKPolly, in relation to various workshops we will lead in the new year, highlighted the following questions assessment capable teachers and learners might ask ourselves:

How might I observe and notice my students’ learning?

What is revealed through what students say and do?
What skills and dispositions are they demonstrating?
What skills and dispositions might they need to work on?
What have they understood? What misconceptions do they have?
How have they moved forward? What’s holding them back?
What is their behaviour communicating?
What questions might I ask to reveal what students are thinking?
How has their thinking changed? What prompted the shift?
What patterns do I observe in individuals, groups or the whole class?
How might reflecting on evidence of learning guide my teaching?

How might I support students to move forward in their learning?

How might I provoke their curiosity?
How might I respond to what they reveal?
What might I offer that could take them to the next level?
How might I push their thinking further?
How might I further challenge them?
How might my questions clarify their understanding and help them notice misconceptions?
How might I help them notice and identify skills and dispositions?
How might I encourage them to build on their strengths?
What feedback and feedforward will be valuable?
How can I target my teaching to meet specific needs?
How might modelling my own thinking and reflection encourage theirs?
How might I ensure learners feel empowered to drive their own learning?

How might students be empowered to drive their own learning?

How might the teacher’s language influence the way students see themselves as learners?
Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn?
How is ownership of learning encouraged and fostered?
Are students invited to co-construct success criteria?
What experiences, mentor texts and examples will help build their schema?
What opportunities are there for students to demonstrate their thinking and learning?
Are students encouraged to take risks and make mistakes?
What opportunities do they have to grapple with productive tension?
Is failure viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow?
What opportunities are there for students to make their own decisions?
How is the environment organised to maximise independence and agency?
How might students use their own and others’ strengths to move their learning forward?

What reflective questions might support assessment capable learners?

What new understandings do I have?
What connections have I made?
What am I still wondering?
What new skills have I mastered? What skills might I need to work on?
What strategies have I used? What strategies have I learned that I can use in future?
What patterns have I noticed? How might I apply what I learn from them?
What might my next steps be?
How might I approach things differently next time?
What strengths have I noticed in myself and others?
What challenges might I need to overcome?
Who might be able to support me? How might I support others?
What have I noticed about myself as a learner?

What else would you add?

(This is an unexpected post during the holiday period, when I haven’t blogged in a long time. Thanks for your input @JinaBel28 and for pointing out that my brain dump was already a blog post.)

When planning is an inquiry…

We used to plan all the learning experiences in advance. If the entire unit is planned out in detail, where are the opportunities for learners to drive the inquiry? How do they take ownership of their learning and lead it in new directions?

We do, at my school, plan the big picture, of course. We build on where the learners have come from and ensure clarity on the conceptual direction. We know what we hope the learners will come to understand and the skills and dispositions required to support the learning. But plans are flexible and responsive to what the learners reveal. The individuality of the journey, the specific teachable moments, and the ways the learning might impact or transform each learner, depend on how the inquiry unfolds.

As we shift to an increasingly emergent model, the learning is becoming more meaningful. The more we take an inquiry stance, seeking to notice what our learners are curious about and how best they learn, the more competently we can support them in moving forward. The more thoughtfully we reflect on what is revealed, the more effectively we can respond.

When questioned recently about our strategic plan, I realised that this is also how we, as leaders at my school, plan. We know where we have come from and we can identify goals for moving ahead. And then what? We value the power of ‘what if’ and ‘how might we’ questions to provoke thinking, encourage dreaming and support our inquiry stance.

Here too, it seems our model is more emergent. The more attentively we observe and notice ourselves and others, the more we are able to explore possibilities. The more thoughtfully we reflect on the nuances of complex issues, openly examine tensions and actively disrupt the status quo, the more ready we are to experiment with innovative solutions. 

Creating a carefully laid out action plan in advance, with specific strategies and tasks, is not, it seems, our optimum style.

If you are teaching remotely…

To the teacher who is struggling with personal, health or family issues, while showing a brave face on Zoom for remote teaching, you are seen.

To the teacher valiantly dividing attention between the needs of your students and your own children at home, you are seen.

To the teacher who is feeling isolated and disconnected  in these difficult times, you are seen.

To the teacher who worries about what everyone else is doing but has the courage to try something different, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your learners, despite the challenges, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your team, without jeopardising the learning,  you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of parents, without compromising your beliefs about learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who finds the strength to change yet another thing in your approach to remote teaching, thereby making a difference to the learning, you are seen.

To the teacher juggling to balance the needs of students at home with those attending school, you are seen.

To the unassuming teacher who quietly gets on with things without complaining, you are seen.

To the teacher for whom technology is challenging, who persists to overcome this hurdle in remote teaching, you are seen.

To the new teacher who barely had time to learn the processes of our school and build relationships, before being thrown into remote learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who is filled with self doubt, always thinking you could have done better, not realising that’s how all good teachers feel, you are seen.

To all of you doing your best, despite the challenging circumstances, thank you.

(Written for teachers at my school, but applies beyond.)

What if we liberated the learning from report cards

Every time we’ve thought about how we might improve our reports, we’ve failed. The barriers to major change have somehow seemed insurmountable. Parental expectations, government requirements, technical restrictions, constraints from within and outside of the school and our own heads… all of these have stood in our way.

And then came COVID, along with weeks of remote learning, and the chance to reimagine our reports, at least for this semester. The only barrier was time, and this turned out to be an advantage. No time to seek perfection, just the opportunity to take an inquiry stance, dive in and produce something both meaningful and practical, as quickly as possible.

How might we create a report that aligns with what we believe about learning? What if we report on what we really value in learning? What if we elect to report only on transferable skills? What if we let go of expected ‘levels’ (real or imagined) and pay more attention to who each child is as a learner? What if we focus on assessment FOR and AS learning, rather than only assessment OF learning? How might we support students and parents to value and reflect on skills that really matter?

So we created a written report which views the whole child, addressing the development of a broad range of skills and dispositions including social, self-management, communication, thinking and research skills. These ‘ATL’ skills, as we call them in the PYP, are the building blocks that support our learners in all areas of learning and of life.

How might we best observe, assess and reflect on these skills? We considered the possibility of creating a grade by grade continuum but the development of these skills is neither age dependent nor linear. Is developing and reflecting on these skills, in fact, lifelong learning? How best might they be learned? Some influencing factors include the language we use to notice and name them, how they are modelled, opportunities for them to be demonstrated, expectations and routines around practising them. Once again, we see Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces at play. What if, rather than seeing them as being ‘taught’, we consider how most of these trans disciplinary skills might be enculturated?

Our written report will be accompanied by in-depth conversations between students, parents and teachers. Together, the written report and the conversation will focus both on growth and on potential next steps. I’m conscious of how the Growth Coaching approach has influenced this vision. Some years ago, we shifted from performance appraisals for teachers to a growth model, in which teachers, in partnership with leaders, are encouraged to identify strengths and set goals for further development. Why should students be measured against arbitrary age based standards? What if the focus for student reporting was on growth, too? What if  strengths were highlighted and students were supported to reflect on future action they might take to further their development?

Are we there yet? No. Have we come up with a starting point that (mostly) addresses expectations and requirements, while coming much closer to aligning our beliefs about learning with the way we report on it? Yes. Are we still struggling with some aspects as we explore how to improve on and sustain these changes? Absolutely. But embracing the power of ‘what if?’ is how we drive change and how we grow.

I’m certain that many of you are reporting in this way already. We’ve been on the road for a while now but, somehow, we needed this period of remote learning to give us permission to see a potential new way forward.

Creativity benefits from constraints…

The generosity of educators, authors, artists, businesses and all manner of other unexpected sources, currently sharing their time and ideas via social media, is phenomenal… yet overwhelming. One can drown in the ocean of views on remote learning, examples of schedules, suggested activities, tools and platforms, ways of staying connected, tips for being mindful, advice for checking in with children, etc etc

Stepping away from it all gives me time and space to be creative and generate ideas.

Creativity benefits from constraints.

What if that was the focus of the learning? What if, instead of trying to replicate or reinvent school, we allowed this to be a time of creativity? What if we took advantage of the way limitations can encourage innovation?

What if these sorts of guiding questions were offered as provocations for teachers and students alike?

    • What might I design/ invent/ create that would entertain or help others?
    • What useful or aesthetically pleasing item might I create by recycling or reusing things that are no longer needed at home?
    • How might I record and share my own and others’ feelings during this time, in a creative way?
    • What am I fascinated by? How might I investigate it further through the lens of creativity?
    • What do I care deeply about? How might I make a difference to others right now?
    • What are my strengths? How might I use them to support others?
    • Who do I admire? What can I learn from them? How might I go about connecting with them?
    • What might I learn about that could change me? How might I use my learning to change others?
    • How might I document this moment in history in an interesting and creative way? How might I adapt this for different audiences?
    • If I could reimagine school, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine my class, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine anything, what would it be like? (a library, shoes, a sport, a kitchen, a museum, a book, a toy…)
    • What have I learned during this time? How might life be better as a result? Can I create a manifesto for my future?

What if the above questions were supported and extended by ones like these?

    • Who is my audience?
    • What is my purpose?
    • What questions do I need answered before I start?
    • What materials might I use that are readily available?
    • Which skills and dispositions will I need to work on?
    • What new things will I need to learn in order to achieve my purpose?
    • What experts might I turn to? How might I contact them?
    • What do I notice about myself as a learner?

What if we all viewed the limitations of our current context as an opportunity for creativity and innovation?

Thoughts on remote learning…

Much of what I know about distance learning, I learned from the Granny Cloud

It’s been ten years, on and off, of connecting virtually with children in a range of disadvantaged contexts, mostly in India. Ten years of ups and downs, of being disappointed when things didn’t work and delighted when expectations were surpassed; disheartened when children were unresponsive and uplifted when they surprised me with their curiosity, confidence and creativity. The children ‘on the other side’ came to every session, unfailingly enthusiastic, open to new ideas, willing to experiment and be challenged, excited by an opportunity so different from their reality of life and school.

I’ve engaged in virtual interactions where the sound didn’t work and all we could do was make faces at each other or where the children spoke no English and simply stared at me. I’ve planned, what I thought were, interesting sessions that fell flat and I’ve gone into sessions with no plans, that turned into powerful learning experiences for both the children and me. I have often marvelled at the simplicity of an idea that is so powerful in its implementation, and wondered what Jayesh and Digvijay, Anshika and Farheen will be doing years from now and who they might become in the future.

Yet in these most challenging of times, as I apply my learning from the Granny Cloud in the context of distance learning with privileged children, it saddens me that those children from whom I learned so much, are currently unable to connect…

The most valuable messages you can take to your current experiments with remote/ distance/ emergency  learning (whatever you choose to call it) are these:

  • Children are capable, competent and creative.
  • Personal connection matters more than content.
  • Focus on relationships rather than curriculum.
  • Don’t try to replicate school.

Circle of viewpoints…

A colleague of mine has three daughters. One says when school shuts, she will follow her daily schedule and stick to the school routines. Another says she will finally have time to work on her personal projects. The third says that she will see how she feels when she wakes up each day.

As we prepare for school closure in Australia, emotions are heightened and interactions are fraught as individuals struggle with their particular anxieties and uncertainties. It’s a time for empathy, for pausing to remember that everyone’s reality is different and, for many, stories they don’t choose to share might be impacting their very way of being. What seemed right when we started preparing our guidelines for remote learning (was it really only the week before last?) has already been adapted several times and is still changing, as the sands rapidly shift.

If ever there was an appropriate, authentic time to practise the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine for exploring different perspectives, from Project Zero, this is it. What might different teachers need right now? How might parents be feeling? How will we meet the needs of our diverse learners, as students and as human beings?

What will our students need?

  • a sense of community and connection with peers?
  • daily checkins with their teachers?
  • similar routines to usual?
  • plenty of opportunities and ideas to keep them busy?
  • lots of choice?
  • not too much choice?
  • no expectation that stress them out?
  • clear expectations that keep them focused?
  • time to work on personal projects?
  • time and space to just be with their families?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?

What will our parents need?

  • clear guidelines for schoolwork?
  • asynchronous opportunities only, to relieve pressure?
  • synchronous opportunities to maintain routine?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?
  • regular checkins from the school?
  • not too many checkins from the school?
  • appreciation that they might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns?
  • understanding that they are worried their children will miss out on their education?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

What will educators need?

  • plenty of support from leaders?
  • tech support to ensure they can manage online learning?
  • a sense of community and cohesion?
  • clear expectations in terms of their roles?
  • understanding of their challenges and fears?
  • appreciation that they too might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns and insecurities?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

As we plan for school closure, the most important thing to remember is that one size will not fit all. Awareness of the myriad factors, other than school, currently impacting lives, is paramount.

 

An inquiry into remote learning…

In Australia we have now begun planning for continuous remote learning, given the inevitability of school closure to limit the spread of COVID-19. I’m reminded of my very first blog post, more than ten years ago!

It is important to start by recognising how incredibly fortunate we are.

How many children around the world experience interruption to schooling due to disease, natural disaster or war? How many have access to an education at all? Of those that do, how many are lucky enough to have ready access to the resources that we do? Do we understand that in remote communities, this might be the way learning always looks? Do we appreciate the technology, books, materials, time, space and people to whom/which we have access? Do we acknowledge the collective wisdom and generosity of other teachers and schools with more experience than we have, readily sharing their ideas and expertise with us? We have so much to be grateful for.

The initial response of our teachers, ranging from excitement to panic, depends on individual perspective, personal circumstance, prior experience, technological ability and comfort level with the unknown. So our stance, at my school, will be to see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. We will approach it, as always, as an inquiry, an extension of our 2020 focus on building cohesion. We will expand our whole school inquiry into building community and a sense of belonging into the new and unfamiliar territory in which we find ourselves.

So these are some of our initial inquiry questions:

  • How might we continue to build cohesion when we are learning from home?
  • How might we create a sense of community despite being physically apart?
  • How might we ensure that everyone feels safe, comfortable and supported?
  • How might we seamlessly (almost) continue the children’s learning, and our own?
  • How might we remotely plan for and provide opportunities for rich learning experiences?
  • How might we ensure the wellbeing of our whole learning community, students, educators and parents?
  • How will every member of our learning community contribute to all the above?
  • And… how might we extend the learning into other communities?

 

 

Building cohesion…

“Cohesion is the powerful social glue that turns us from human beings into people. It is the glue that binds us to every element of our social context. When there is strong healthy cohesion in school communities, we feel connected to those around us; we’re on the same page with them. We feel we belong, that we are part of the team, with shared values and a shared sense of what is normal.”

Helen Street: CONTEXTUAL WELLBEING (Slightly adapted)

How might we build cohesion?

With ‘building cohesion’ as our 2020 focus, we started the year with a whole school workshop in which over 120 educators across disciplines and campuses connected and interconnected through a range of activities. Noticing and naming the ways they built cohesion, each time they changed groups during the morning, heightened awareness and highlighted transferable possibilities.

In groups, teachers shared a highlight from the holidays and something they hope for this year. Next we asked each person to consider and share a time when they felt a sense of belonging and identify common characteristics.

  • Caring relationships
  • Shared experiences
  • Shared values
  • Storytelling
  • Active listening
  • Deeper conversations
  • Sense of connection
  • Common purpose
  • Choice and ownership
  • Appreciation of each other
  • Mutual trust
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Personal growth
  • Non judgemental acceptance.
  • Openness and support
  • Playfulness

Co-developing this shared understanding of how it feels to belong will help us reflect on the extent to which these things are evident in our classrooms and in our learning community, and to recognise possibilities for improvement.

How might we build cohesion in our classrooms?

Many of us have already read and engaged with the content of the book ‘Contextual Wellbeing’ as a springboard for such reflections. Providing quotes such as those below helped provoke thinking and encourage a flow of ideas.

With any wellbeing program… teachers have to be careful not to counteract their positive impact with unnecessary class competition and inequitable teaching the rest of the time. As soon as students are pitted against each other with tests, awards or ability grouping, cohesion and positive relationships suffer. It is the power of ‘show over tell’: explicit teaching of social and emotional competencies has to be backed up with real life contextual wellbeing.

Teachers are under continual pressure to make headway with a dauntingly large curriculum, so it is a big ask that they regularly find time for gluing the class together. But that time willingly spent on building cohesion will save an enormous amount of wasted time and energy throughout the rest of the year. A happy class is a cohesive class is a productive class.

Norms and rules are not the same thing. It does not matter what rules apply to the classroom, it is the established norms that guide the behaviour of those who feel they belong. Rules are written down and made explicit whereas norms are established through the repetition of certain behaviours and reinforced with every element of social context. Norms are the true behavioural guides within any group.

Norms develop through repeating desired behaviours, and contextual support, not through repeated verbal reminders. The more a class follows the rules in their daily activities, the more likely the rules will become norms. It also follows that the more the rules are broken, the more ‘not following the rules’ will become the normal way to behave.

Rewards and punishments may bring a disruptive child to the river of compliance, but only cohesion will keep them drinking. Instead of ‘paying’ disconnected kids to behave, or threatening them if they don’t, we need to help them connect to a world where positive behaviour is normal.

How might we further extend the idea of building cohesion?

Teachers then engaged with a series of broader questions which emerged from our self study, addressing how we might build cohesion beyond our classrooms, in our curriculum, in our community and in our culture. Building cohesion in all these areas will be the theme and the through-line of our action plan as we move forward.

And what better way to build cohesion than to have a whole school inquiry, involving the entire learning community?

Central idea: Building community creates a sense of belonging.

Some of the lines of inquiry at different year levels include:

  • how we build community through play
  • how we learn together as a community
  • the connection between place and community
  • opportunities and challenges in building community
  • parents as part of our learning community
  • how we build relationships within our community
  • diversity and commonality in our community
  • the impact of restorative action on community
  • how we co-construct our community
  • the interplay between individuals and community
  • the power of cohesion

What are some of the ways you build cohesion in your school or context?