Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Do conventional report cards give parents a true description of a child’s learning? If not, what would improve them?

This was the driving question behind yesterday’s #edchat conversation. I assume that ‘conventional report cards’ vary in different educational contexts around the globe. And I’m sure they have much in common in the attempt to reduce the exciting, messy, complex process of learning to something tiny and uniform that fits into an envelope.

Can you hear the learner’s voice in your reports?

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that teachers can ’cause learning without the student’s help,’ as Dylan William says in this great little clip about metacognition. 

The most telling part of my school’s reports is the student reflection. It reveals a great deal, not just about the learner but  about how the learning takes place…

Some snippets from our current Year 5 and 6 report reflections:

Compare these, which focus on ‘work’ and ‘results’…

‘I worked really hard… and in the end it all paid off because I got an A.’

‘I have improved immensely in spelling. I got 41 out of 50 however, I still think there is room for improvement.’

‘In maths I don’t think I am living up to my potential, as I am not getting the results I would have liked to.’

‘I think I need to work on listening to instructions more carefully.’

… to these, which focus on learning…

‘This year I have extended my knowledge, matured and have shown that I can overcome anything if I really focus and concentrate on all the obstacles that are in the way of my destination – succeeding and doing my utmost. I think that I am a curious and open minded learner. ‘

‘In Inquiry, I’m like someone running and picking up speed and momentum. Last year, finding a big question was so baffling but now it’s simple. These last three inquiries have been so absorbing, I have been like a sponge waiting for more knowledge to absorb into my brain.’

‘Throughout primary school you do units of inquiry. At the beginning of this semester, I thought that I was locating facts and presenting them. In this semester, I have learned not just facts but deeper understandings and meanings. I have also improved my creativity in linking ideas in units of inquiry’.

‘I have learnt many skills about writing speeches and how they are not just a read-out narrative, how to raise my voice when talking about something important, speak in a different tone or to move my hands in certain way to get people’s attention. I still think I need to improve on my writing skills and how to convert thoughts into words and get them on the paper.’

Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Related post: 10 ways to encourage student reflection

10 ways to assess learning without tests…

A tweet by @wmchamberlain which caught my eye the other day,  was the catalyst for this 10 ways post.

Today’s #edchat discussion about the arts got me thinking further (as always).  The arts can be integrated across other disciplines and can add another powerful layer to learning, be it history, maths, literature or bible! (but that can be another post). For now, why not replace some traditional testing with opportunities for creative expression? I’ve included some such options in my list of alternative assessments.

Every one of these tasks includes natural differentiation for different levels of ability. They are written in general terms and can be adapted and applied as required. Use the ideas individually or combine aspects of different ones.

1. Create a cartoon.

Use the online cartoon creator, ToonDoo, to create a cartoon (or toonbook) which demonstrates your knowledge, explains your thinking about a topic or illustrates your understanding of a concept.

2. Produce a play.

Work with your group to produce and present a play which demonstrates what you have learnt. Make sure to include your own interpretation and analysis. Show how your new knowledge can be applied in other contexts.

3. Make a video.

Make a video to demonstrate your learning. Your video can include acting or singing. You might create an animation or a documentary. Show what your have understood and add your own interpretation.

4. Create a slideshow.

Select a series of images that relate to your learning. Take your own photographs to include in your slideshow. Include your own paintings. Make connections between the images and what you have learned. Add text that explains why you have chosen (or created) these particular images.

5. Thinking routines.

Create a headline that shows your understanding of the topic. Choose a colour, symbol and image to represent the essence of what you have learned. Explain how your thinking has developed using the ‘I used to think, now I think’ routine. (More options at PZ Visible Thinking )

6. Write a blog post.

Write a blog post that shows your learning, or clarifies your thinking. You might choose to express yourself  through poetry or narrative, or any genre of your choice. Remember you are writing for an authentic audience who might respond and ask questions. Add appropriate images. Include a reflection on your learning.

7. Compose a song.

Compose a song that expresses your learning, understanding or opinions. Compose your own music or write new lyrics that can be sung to the melody of an existing song. Collaborate with other musicians to compose and present your piece.

8. Solve a problem.

Use your skills and knowledge to provide a solution (or solutions) to a real life problem posed by your teacher. Show how you can apply your learning in a different context. Or create your own problem. Exchange with a peer and solve each others’.

9. Concept mapping.

Show your understanding of how the different parts of your learning are connected using a graphic organizer. Use a thinking map from Exploratree, one provided by your teacheror create one of your own.  Show the development of your ideas by creating a concept map in Spicynodes.

10. Student choice.

Best of all. Present your understandings/ learning/ findings/analysis… in any way you like.

I know this post is an over-simplification. It depends on what you’re assessing. It might depend on who you’re assessing. And the purpose of the assessment. But irrespective of the age or ability of your students, whether you’re assessing skills, knowledge, understanding, technique or application of knowledge to other contexts… all of the above are valid, more engaging, more meaningful alternative to tests.

More posts in the ’10 ways’ series


Profile of an edu-tweeter…

Sitting on planes for 24 hours, gives you plenty of time to think. I’m tired of movies and reading, everyone around me is sleeping, and I’m thinking how good it would be to have internet access and be able to interact with my Twitter PLN.

Since that’s not possible, I find myself thinking about the sorts of people who are part of my online PLN (personal learning network). There is a huge variety of educators participating in #edchat and the Twitter conversation.

On the surface it seems we’re very different in many respects…

There are kindergarten and primary school teachers, high school teachers and university professors. There are new teachers, experienced and retired teachers. There are presenters, consultants, developers and students.  There are people who’re involved in education in all sorts of other ways. There are males and females, of all ages, from all over the world with all sorts of interests and life experiences. This is the beauty of the online PLN. It provides the opportunity to interact with a broad range of educators, world-wide,  from diverse backgrounds and experiences, that could never have been possible or even imaginable, not that many years ago.

So what do all these educators have in common?

We share a passion for teaching and learning, an interest in technology, a willingness to share, a desire to implement change, delight in a challenge, intellectual curiosity…

As I begin to list the commonalities, I see a pattern emerging. I know I’m generalizing, but on the whole, the education community on Twitter appears to display the attributes of what we call in IB schools, the Learner Profile.

  • Edu-tweeters tend to be thinkers and inquirers, interested in developing their thinking and practice, learning new things, exploring new ideas and broadening their understanding.
  • They tend to be knowledgeable across diverse areas and generously share their knowledge with others.
  • They are caring, expressing concern and wishing each other well, offering advice and assistance, reacting and interacting politely and respectfully.
  • They are, without exception, communicators. You have to be in order  to engage in meaningful dialogue in 140 characters at a time!
  • Most seem to be open-minded, interested in different perspectives, open to new ideas and willing to debate.
  • They are risk-takers, who experiment with technology, investigate ideas and try out new things.
  • They are principled, defending their beliefs, acknowledging their sources and giving credit as due.
  • They are reflective. It’s reflection on teaching and learning, the impact of tech and the education process in general that the whole conversation is about.
  • I’m not so sure about balanced… While people do tweet about reading, running, cooking, travelling and a host of other interests, I fear some of us spend too much time online!

Do you agree?

Does access to technology mean access to education?

Today’s #edchat topic was:

‘How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?’

Many felt that access to technology was the key. But there were just as many tweets expressing the opinion that providing access to technology is not as important as providing good teachers. I usually agree with the latter and have blogged several times about learning being the driver and technology just the tool. But then I work in a privileged school. I confess that I found my thoughts somewhat confused and I left the #edchat conversation in the middle to process further.

I’m still thinking… Does access to education mean access to technology? Does access to technology mean access to education?

Meanwhile, I’d like to repost the following for those who’re unfamiliar with it, to provoke some further thought. I first posted it in November when this blog had about 12 readers!

Have you heard of the inspirational hole-in-the-wall project ?  Several years ago, a computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra, had an idea. What would happen if he could provide disadvantaged children with free, unlimited access to computers and the internet?  He launched what came to be known as the hole in the wall experiment.

Listen to this fascinating TED talk from 2007 , in which Sugata Mitra talks about the project and asks what else children can teach themselves!

Preparing new teachers for the classroom…

Once again #edchat, got me thinking. #Edchat is a fast and furious, thought provoking Twitter conversation on a pre-selected topic. This week the discussion was about how new teachers should be prepared for the classroom. If you’re interested, there’s an archive of the conversation.

I’ve been teaching for longer than some of the teachers at my school have been alive. I can’t really remember whether my course prepared me adequately for the classroom or not, but I don’t remember suffering too much. Mind you, the demands are far greater on new teachers nowadays. I was lucky that my late father was  an incredible educator who both inspired and supported not just me, but whole generations of students and teachers.

At university,  I learnt history of education, psychology of education and philosophy of education but very little about classroom management. I remember that we had a subject called ‘Blackboard Technique’! I remember being grateful to more experienced teachers in my first couple of years who gave advice and shared ideas.  But I also remember a degree of discomfort and uncertainty as often my instinct told me that what they suggested wasn’t the best way to teach.

My colleague, Caitlin is a smart and talented third year teacher, who gets the best out of her students without ever raising her voice. She’s also a perfectionist and I know she found the demands of the first couple of years overwhelming at times. I asked about her experiences as a new teacher.

One point Caitlin raised is something that hasn’t changed since my day! She says her university course could have prepared her better by providing more practical classroom experience. I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries, and I’m sure even here in Australia it varies between universities. Caitlin had three, three-week placements. Some university courses now have a weekly class placement, one day per week. She feels strongly that the more time in the classroom observing and trying out techniques, the better and even says she’s not sure how university can really prepare you for the reality of the classroom.

It’s also important for new teachers to have a mentor and to feel part of the school community. Caitlin says:

I think as a new teacher it can be really hard to know what you need initially. You basically go into ‘sink or swim’ survival mode, and everything is a bit of a blur!

Some things that have helped me in my first couple of years have been: the welcoming atmosphere among the staff, the emotional support that the staff give to each other, an approachable head of campus.

Some things that might have made the transition easier – perhaps some sort of weekly or fortnightly debriefing one-on-one with a trusted mentor to share challenges as well as successes. Also PD very early on, with a focus on setting up classroom routines and dealing with challenging behaviours, because these aspects are not covered at university.

We have since  implemented a mentoring system, but it’s something we still need to work on improving. It’s interesting that she talks about a ‘trusted mentor’ because this came up a lot in the #edchat discussion. The new teacher needs to feel that he can trust the mentor, that he will not be judged and his job is not at stake if he reveals weaknesses.

I was horrified to see a tweet from a new teacher yesterday saying that fellow teachers didn’t acknowledge him and didn’t even know his name. Making new teachers feel valued and part of the school community is the most important thing. No wonder Caitlin says there are so many newly qualified teachers who leave the profession shortly after joining. She has a friend with whom she studied, who lasted just three weeks.

It’s not just about the training… It’s up to us, I think!

This is not Caitlin!Newly trained


Learning matters…

#Edchat is a lively, informative, stimulating discussion on Twitter, organised and facilitated by some of the most inspiring educators I have come across. The topics are voted on beforehand by educators worldwide and are guaranteed to be relevant  and thought-provoking. Yesterday was one of the rare occasions when I could participate, in spite of the the time difference. (Most Aussie educators are either sleeping or teaching at the two times it’s on!)

The topic was: If the time has come to move on from traditional grades, what are the alternatives?

Jay McTigh (Understanding by Design) says that assessment should include the 3 P’s:  performance, process and progress and students should be acknowledged for success in each of the three.

These are the some of the meaningful assessment and reporting processes that we have in place at our (PYP) school:

  • Formative assessment informs teaching and learning. It might be planned as part of collaborative unit planning by teachers, or incidental through what takes place in the classroom. Formative assessment is rarely through a test.  It can occur through any learning experience or task or even by listening to the conversations of students as they engage with their learning.
  • Teachers are encouraged to keep anecdotal records of student thinking and questioning to keep track of  their development over time.
  • Students have portfolios which contain examples of their learning. The portfolios demonstrate the ‘process’ and the ‘progress’ as well as the ‘performance’.
  • At 3 way interviews, students talk their parents through the portfolios. They share their strengths, weaknesses and goals and their learning is celebrated.
  • Our written reports, in addition to the compulsory (and ridiculous) comparative grades demanded by government, also include narrative comments in which the the 3 P’s mentioned above are discussed, as well as evidence that the student is displaying the attributes of the IB learner profile.
  • Students reflect on their own learning regularly as part of the learning process, and also in a written reflection on their report cards.
  • And… it was great that when the Naplan (National Assessment Plan ) tests were underway, our head sent staff an email acknowledging all the wonderful learning that goes on in the school which isn’t reflected in the Naplan.

I know there will be those who are shaking their heads and thinking, ‘What does she know? She’s a primary school teacher.’ Here’s what I think I know…

I think I know what meaningful learning is.  I think I know that grades don’t reflect meaningful learning. I think I know that grades are a convenient way of quantifying performance for comparative purposes.  I know that outside of school type settings, no-one gets graded for learning. I don’t believe that grades  motivate students to learn, although they might motivate them to compete or to get grades! I know there are teachers and students who see a grade as the end of learning.  I know that the idea of ‘teacher as sole judge of student worth’ goes with an outmoded view that the teacher has control of all learning.  I know that in the world we live in, grades do count a great deal (for now). But I also know that the world is full of smart, creative, talented people who didn’t get the highest grades at school. I know that if we care about learning, the focus shouldn’t be on an A, B, D or F…



On creativity…

This week’s #edchat discussion focused on what we are doing to encourage creativity in schools. It was one of those topics that makes me wish I didn’t live in Australia!  The time difference precludes me from participating in #edchat other than during school holidays.  On the few occasions that I have, I found the conversation stimulating and thought-provoking… and fun too, because of the sheer speed and intensity of it!

I asked my class of 10-11 year olds what they thought about creativity.  They know that teachers are learners too as we value lifelong learning and I often tell them about things I have learned in different contexts.  On this ocassion I shared that teachers were having a discussion online about creativity in schools and I wondered what their thoughts would be so that I could see the student perspective too.

What is creativity?

  • It’s a strange solution to a problem, different ideas, different thinking (Matthew)
  • Imagination, thinking outside the box. (Gemma)
  • A fun and different way to express yourself. (Lele)
  • Having a dream and having imagination during a discussion. (Zac)
  • Making another way to learn something (Amy)
  • Drawing, having fun, doing it your own way. (Loren)
  • Doing something a unique way, different to others’ ideas. (Jay)
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and thinking outside the box. (Jasmine)

What were some opportunities you had in the past week to be creative (at school)?

  • Thinking creatively in class discussions.
  • When we had to think which concepts were relevant to a story.
  • Using Museum Box for our inquiry.
  • When we came up with  our own questions to explore for our unit of inquiry
  • Using ToonDoo for a Hebrew story.
  • Building a wall of information out of sticky notes to show our knowledge in a creative way.
  • Writing stories on our own topics,  at art, in maths … all the time really.
  • We are always being told to come up with different things.
  • For our book response, we created a Wallwisher out of sticky notes.
  • Using different resources eg books, computer, thinking in general.
  • Thinking of different approaches for cross country run.
  • Art, music, writing and enrichment activities.
  • At playtime.
  • All the time!

We’re doing OK! Our school provides plenty of opportunities for creativity through enrichment activities across a range of areas such as photography and jewelery making, a whole school musical, a kitchen garden and a rock band. So I was rather pleased that many of the students’ comments related to opportunities for creative thinking and inquiry as well as use of technology, rather than the more obvious possibilities like music and art.

I think that to foster creativity, teachers need to be creative themselves.  Our students need to feel that initiative is valued above compliance. They need to have choices in their learning, opportunities to try new things and encouragement to explore different possibilities. They need to know that they own their learning and be aware that it can be expressed in many different ways.  They need to know that there is not only one right answer or one right way.  We need to encourage them to use their imagination and express themselves through the arts, language, creative thinking and technology.  We need to be open to their differences and value their diverse contributions.

Series of posts related to the  PYP Attitudes:  Creativity

A passion for learning…

Today’s #edchat on Twitter was about passion in education. It was a warm-up for a webinar which took place immediately afterwards, with Sir Ken Robinson.  The conversation was fast and furious, challenging and stimulating, and I was struck again by how incredible it is to have such a passionate PLN of educators around the world.  Here’s my take on it…


More about what #edchat is and how to participate here.


A personal learning reflection…

We’ve come a long way from…

… to this…

For me, the journey started when I read an extract from ‘Navigating through the Storm, Education in Postmodern Democratic Society’ by Ron Aviram, head of The Center for Futurism in Education, in Israel.

Then I attended an IBO conference.  It wasn’t so much the content, but the opportunity to network with educators from around the world and see the things that teachers have done in their classrooms and schools, that motivated me.

I started looking online for web 2.0 tools and began to discover some of the inspirational education blogs out there.  Soon I had subscribed to quite a number and was reading regularly online about educational issues and how others were integrating technology into their classrooms

The next step was to start implementing tech myself.  I introduced my class to ToonDoo and Voicethread and Wallwisher to enhance their learning. We learned together.  As I discovered new and useful tools, I shared them with my class and with other interested teachers at school.  I set up a class wiki and before long every child had their own page and they were finding ways to share their learning through this medium.

Next we started a voluntary tech group for interested teachers to experiment together every fortnight before school. Our ‘Thinking group‘ which meets on the alternate week had been sharing readings and implementing Visible Thinking and soon the 2 groups began to merge as a 21st century learning group.  Discussions centered on making learning relevant and authentic, including incorporating technology. This is my in-school PLN.

I joined nings, such as Classroom 2.0 and Educators PLN and PYP Threads and began to participate.  The next step was  when a friend encouraged me to start writing my own blog. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say. Then I didn’t think I would have any readers. But I pushed forward and was soon addicted.  I had more things to write than time to write them.  I didn’t care if I had an audience or not, the process was part of my own learning.  My early readers were my colleagues at my own school and I saw them as my target audience.

And then, by far the best thing happened.. . I had dabbled in Twitter but not yet seen the point. But,once I figured out the benefits of following educators and discovered the #edchat hashtag, I was on the road to the best learning yet!  I have developed an amazing worldwide PLN. I think I have discovered and uncovered more through Twitter than any other way.  Interacting with educators worldwide and sharing resources in this way has been my most powerful learning experience this year.

And finally (only so far!)  I have joined Kelly Tenkely’s blogging alliance. I have discovered some excellent blogs this way and connected with other educators through commenting on each others’ blogposts.  This has turned out to be another great way to network and has opened yet another channel for learning and collaboration.

What next? 🙂

PYP Key Concept: Reflection. Series of posts through the lens of  key concepts of PYP.

Posts relating to other key concepts:  FormChangeConnectionPerspectiveResponsibility, Function.