What does learning look like?

Recently I have been involved in a number of discussion about Assessment and Evaluation.  These discussions have been informal and formal, social and professional  in nature.  Of course as we have just finished the first semester and the marks associated with those courses it not too surprising that A&E is a hot topic. Eventually the conversation turns to the issue of what learning looks like.  How do teachers know if the students have actually learned what they are supposed to learn? How do teachers know what they should be teaching? Some students have asked me how teachers know if the students actually learn anything during a course, and by learn they clearly mean beyond the information required for the test or exam.

As a teacher and department leader, I often wonder whether or not other teachers actually take the time to review curriculum documents to see if what they teacher is actually aligned with anything other than a sentimental view of how things have always been done (thereby justifying not changing anything).  In a discussion last week, one colleague was concerned that we were being asked to revise course material and rubrics because curriculum documents had changed two years ago.  I know teachers are very good at covering important and relevant material, but how good are we at feeding and nurturing our courses so that they do not get stale?  Why are some teachers afraid or hesitant to reflect on what and how they teach?  If we do not make any attempt to reflect on how we teach, we are not really able to effectively reflect on the learning of our students because there may be little alignment with what they should be learning.

Ontario’s guiding document for Assessment and Evaluation is Growing Success which provides the seven guiding principles for assessment:

To ensure that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students, teachers use practices and procedures that:

• are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students;• support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Métis, or Inuit;

• are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students;

• are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course;

• are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning;

• provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement;

• develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.

Given these principles, why are students across the province still be confronted with classrooms which do not reflect positive change and awareness of current A&E practice?  Of course it is unfair to paint all classrooms and teachers with this brush.  As witnessed by several interesting Twitter feeds, including the #otf21c feed at the end of last week, many teachers engaged in professional growth that will be reflected in their classrooms through their teaching and assessment and evaluation practices.

It has taken me a while to get through writing this post because the issues around what learning looks like keeps coming up in conversations.  I keep thinking about how I work with my students to get them to a point where they can show me they are learning something.  Some days the only assessment that really happens is personal — Did I really get the ideas across to my students in a meaningful way?  Do I need to change how I teach certain concepts?  Learning needs to occur for the student and the teacher if we want to avoid missing an opportunity for growth.

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The Year Begins Anew

Jelly Fish

Photo of Moon Jellyfish, Vancouver Aquarium

The first day of classes for January 2011 has ended, and I find myself back into the educational swing of things after a two week break during which time I read books and blogs for pleasure, scarcely thought about school, and instead focused on family.  My students assumed I had spent my holiday time on Google given how much we use in class for collaboration and research (and my excitement after the GWEOCDSB event in November), but I surprised them by telling them honestly that I had not really been online at all.  Sure I had planned to update my webpage, read lots of great bloggers, and even blog for myself, but this just did not happen.  Do I regret this? Of course not because I spent tons of time skating and playing hockey with my son and daughter, learning about games like the wizard chess-like Crusade and Conquer and Gobblet Gobblers with all the kids, and reading and laughing everyday with my wife and children.  Two weeks of relaxation and personal reflection have been wonderful for me.  I have come back to school refreshed and ready for the end of the first semester.

So where does this leave me at the end of the day? I have a renewed respect for family-work balance. My family is what makes me who I am in front of my students; my students remind me daily why I love and respect my family.  New Year’s resolutions are not really something I believe in, but I do think making some simple goals is important.  In addition to maintaining and furthering the family-work balance, I have joined some Flickr photo groups (Twitter PLN 365/2011 and 52/2011 Group and #Project52) so that I actually use my camera and do something with the photos I take.  Also, exercise and healthy living will be a focus for 2011 thanks to the Fit42 Challenge.  Of course I would never have found these activities had it not been for the excellent people who make up my PLN on Twitter.  A hearty thank you to all who have contributed to my continued learning this school year.

As I finish typing this first blog post of 2011, Johnny Cash’s rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” has just started playing on my iPod.  While this song does suggest an ending, this year it stands for a beginning.  The year ahead offers may new opportunities and experiences. I hope to meet some of you again on the journey ahead.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,
but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!”

Hello world!

Who is watching whom?

As we have reached the end of 2010, and the first half of the latest school year, I am trying to get my ideas into some sort of order.  At the suggestion of a few people (@shannoninottawa and @barbaram), I have decided to make a concerted effort to use put my thought on education, learning, and leadership to paper. Okay not really paper, but yuo get my point.

This is not the first time I have tried to blog. There was the deliberately satirical bog about my dog (http://beastor.blogspot.com/), an early school focused blog (http://gci4u.blogspot.com/), and an failed attempt at commenting on teaching (http://hale.edublogs.org/).  The satirical blog and the school base blog were designed for specific puroposes which were achieved.  Unfortunately, the edublog never really achieved what I wanted it to.  the failure I suppose is because I did not put in the time to make it work.  So here I go once again attempting to create the second web presence of myself that gives me a chance to comment on the job I do and how I do it (or could do it).  I have successfully used web sites with students in the past, but a recent article I read on twitter suggests having a second site which is separate from the site used to provide info to students and parents.

Pooky Hesmondhalgh 

@CreativeEduPooky Hesmondhalgh
Why Every Teacher Should Have Two Websites | The Creative Education Bloghttp://ow.ly/3stu4#UKEdChat#EdChat
Also, after spending the last two months reading more blogs thanks to some great people on Twitter, I have a better understanding of the power of open communication created through blogs.
Somebody recently told me that blogging should be a New Year’s resolution/gift to myself.  I am going to take her up on this suggestion and make time to get my thoughts out there.  So, at the end of December, this is both an ending and a beginning.
See you in the blogosphere!