My Guest Post on Starr Sackstien’s Blog: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Here is part one of my guest post on Starr Sackstein blog post. It is a post about my journey ongoing gradeless. Part one deals more with my beginnings and initial thoughts and part 2 will deal with my classroom and student samples. Hope you enjoy!

 

Jonathan So shares his experiences of going ‘gradeless’ and offers some insights into his process. Read on to see how he reflected and adjusted his learning to better help students reflect and grow as learners.

Source: Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”

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What would your students say about their year?

 

Just want to say Thank you

 

Thank You

As many of you know school has not been the easiest thing for my daughter. She did once love the idea but since she started JK she has had a lot of social problems and developmental delays in this area. We have learned so much with her and to be honest having my child in school has made me a better teacher. However, this year has been different and I just wanted to share my thank you note with everyone.

Dear Izzy’s Teachers,

I want to first tell you that you have made a huge difference. From one educator to another, you are amazing. I hope you realize how much of a difference that you have made in Izzy’s life and our own. You didn’t look at her as a problem or as a label, you saw her. You saw the funny, caring and spontaneous kid that she is. You saw the smile, the laughter, and her capabilities. You saw all this even when she couldn’t. You brought the love of school back into the heart of a child. You made a difference.

I know that it wasn’t the easiest year. As her parents, we know that she struggles with learning and expressing herself in positive ways. We know that she can be stubborn, willful and hard to deal with. We know that she is not a perfect child but we also know that she is amazing individual and you saw that too.

I don’t think words can express what you have done for Izzy and us but I wanted you to know. Izzy comes home and wants to talk about school, she wants to go to school in the morning and she wants to stay when I pick her up. She comes home ready to write and read anything that you have given her and we have started to see that spark that she had in preschool. You have made that difference for her.

You have dedicated your time to help her learn, to cope with her anxieties and learn how to handle social situations. You have taught her that she is special, that she matters. And we are very grateful for your time and effort this year.

Your passion, your dedication and your love of children shine in every interaction you have with Izzy and ourselves. You are an amazing teacher.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Jennifer and Jonathan

I share this note because being a parent has taught me a lot about being a teacher. I hope that all teachers look at each student and see who they truly are. I know it is very tough sometimes. I know that especially at the end of the year they can get on our nerves and I also know that many of us are ready for the end of June. But all I can keep thinking about is my daughter. She is and can be very trying at times but there is a reason; there always is a reason. We have to see the why’s behind our children’s behaviours can problems. All kids want and will behave if they knew how. All kids want to be good. We have been very fortunate this year to have four amazing educators in Izzy’s life and I know we all are educators because we love kids, just keep thinking about that.

Building Relationships

Building relationships are the single most important thing that we can do as educators!

This past weekend I spent my Sunday at the Edtechteam GAFE summit in London. At the summit, the closing keynote’s (Karen Goepen-Wee) message really stuck with me. You can watch it here.

Her whole message was about making our students Super Nova’s.

It’s funny when I first started teaching I am not too sure you would have heard me say this. When I first started teaching I probably would have said it is all about me as the teacher and not the students. To be honest I am glad that I am not that teacher anymore.

For the past two years, I have really been pondering the thought of what is education? What do I value as a teacher? What do I want my kids’ teachers to be?

This year I have been really affected by my daughter’s journey through school. It hasn’t been easy. She is only in Kindergarten and already she doesn’t really like school. Please tell me that you see something wrong with that? Reflecting on this has made me think about what is education? What is my job as a teacher? Now I know it is to teach but is that really the goal? Should this be my number one directive? Even if it is, what will help my students more?

I know that I just ran off a bunch of questions but this has been my thought process throughout the year. Now let’s add in what Karen said. What do we remember about the best teachers that we have ever had? Is it that they taught us to multiply? That they taught us how to read? No, it was that they took the time to make us human, to get to know who we were as kids. Throughout my school career, I can remember five teachers who had an impact on me. What do they have in common? They ignited a passion for me. They took the time to say that I was special, that I mattered, that I could do something. On a side not I also remember three educators for what they did to me that dramatized my confidence.

So what does this tell me? Kids remember the teacher that made them feel special, that made them feel that they could do anything in the world. This year it has been about igniting the passion in my students. To make them realize that they are in charge of their destiny (if you want to call it that).

I know that it is hard to be in absolutes all the time but I really think this is one of them. I have seen huge growth in my daughter because of the amazing teachers she has had this year. Those teachers are teaching her things but more importantly they are building a relationship with her so that she can learn things. If you don’t have that relationship she shuts right down. She won’t talk to you, she won’t participate and she won’t even smile. More behaviour comes out and a lot more distractions do too. She is only 6. I know with my classroom, I can easily defuse a problem because of those relationships. Students want to talk because they feel honoured and they feel safe. Without this environment, there is no learning and we know that without learning there is no teacher.

So I know that our year is almost done. I know that a lot of us feel stressed and run down but I want to challenge you to think about these relationships.  I’ll end with a couple of quotes from Jesse Lubinsky the morning keynote.

Is this what we want for our students? (Watch this video) Love to hear what you do to help build your relationships.

 

#MakeSchoolDifferent: Five things we have to stop pretending

Last week (I think) I was challenged by Aviva Dunsiger to think about my five things that we have to stop pretending in education (You can read her post here: http://adunsiger.com/2015/04/21/makeschooldifferent-what-we-need-to-stop-pretending/).

I am finally getting around to writing it.  These are in no particular order.

1) That differentiating for each student is not possible:

I know that this may seem like a pipe dream statement but I think that as teachers we need to think about each of our students in the classroom. I know that we do but we truly need to think about how we can teach to each student and meet the needs of each student. Fosnot makes a great statement in one of her books, “[Teaching and learning are often seen as synonymous words and ideals but] without learning there is no teaching.”  This statement has made we really think about how I am meeting the need of my students. It has made me think about the philosophies, strategies and assessments that I use in order to teach. Not every student is the same, so why is our teaching styles?

2) That students are vessels in which we impart our knowledge to:

I know that this is a very hot topic but to be honest most if not all people learn not from listening but from a combination of listening and doing.  I love this picture from Syliva Duckworth.

I know that we need to have some knowledge given in order to move forward but to be honest we need to give credit to our kids that they know a lot of things and can solve many problems we through at them.  As a teacher we need to find that balance between saying enough and allowing our students to explore, to muddle through and figure things out on their own. Learning is so much richer when this is accomplished.
3. That a test is the only way in which to assess students knowledge:
For centuries, students have gone to school, sat in desks, listened to teachers and then regurgitated information on a sheet of paper to show their understanding.  But is this the best way to understand our students learning? Is this a true test of their abilities? Is this really making them learn? or is it making the cram for a bit and then forget?  The true nature of a test shows you what a student understand at the particular moment in time. There is a purpose for it but I personally don’t think that it is the end all to be all like it is being used today. In all honesty I don’t think a test should be used at all. I think that teachers need to and should move into learning portfolios and project based learning. We need to have more conversations and observations of our students and communicate that as a grade. This is again is actually a lot harder then giving a test. Teachers need to know their content matter, curriculum and have a really good assessment strategies in place. Their needs to be clear communication and more communication with parents and students, but in the end this type of assessment is a lot richer. 
4. Parents don’t care about their children’s education: 
I hear this a lot in education, “Our parents just don’t care about their child’s education.”  I know that their might be some parents who may feel this way but deep down inside I would say that all parents want their children to succeed and all parents do care about what is happening in the classroom. The problem is that they may think that the only time to contact teachers is when their is a problem, when you contact them or during parent interviews. Why? because that is exactly what happened when they when to school. For the longest time and still today, the classroom is this mysterious place. Its like the Bermuda triangle. Kids go in and come out but no one knows what happens inside. The only communication parents have is what their kids say. If their kids come home happy or say nothing is wrong then parents don’t question it. We also have to keep in mind that it is really hard to raise kids today and many parents work various hours in order to support their children and household. It may be more that they can’t care because they actually can’t or more don’t have time. However, when kids come home excited to learn and excited about your classroom I will guarantee that parents will take notice.  We as teachers need to do more to open our classroom up and bring in parents; excite them to be a part of the community. 
5. That we don’t need to teach diversity and inclusion: 

This last one is an important one as it is something that I have been dealing with personally this last week. I teach my children about diversity and inclusion. I teach my children all about the ism’s, everyone of them. I teach my children that we need to love one another, allow others to have opinions and honour those opinions; whether you agree with them or not. I teach my children that just because some one is different then you (whether religion, believes, physically or racially) you do not discriminate, you do not hate and you do not make public comments about it. You may at home believe many different things but in the classroom and out in the world we need to be tolerant, loving and accepting. I teach these things because I want to make sure our world is loving and peaceful. I don’t want wars, I don’t want hate. However, I am constantly reminded and moreso this week then ever, that this needs to be done more in the classrooms. I feel this because this week I have seen close friends bombarded by hatred and slander because people don’t believe the same thing as they do. I have seen people lash out at me because I stand up for anyone who is being discriminated against.  Unfortunately it is never the children we teach but one day those children will become adults and I want to make sure that they know that hatred is hatred. That even though you may not believe or think the same as the person next to you, when you make that comment or thought public you are crossing a human rights line. That you are perpetuating further war and hurt. No one has the right to judge as we ourselves are not perfect. It is okay to have differing opinions and believes but there always needs to be discernment and tolerance in what we say and do.

Again these are my thoughts and observations about teaching. They are always up for discussion and I would love to here your thoughts on how we can make school different.

I am now calling on:

Betsy Callanan

Jay Wigmoore

Roland Chidiac

Matthew Oldridge

Michelle Cordy

If they have not done so.  Of course I would also love to hear from anyone and their amazing ideas.

Being Part of a Tribe

I have just finished Seth Godin’s Book Tribes. It is a fabulous book and if you have not read it then you must. The book discusses how to create a tribe and being part of one.  I gravitated to this book because of Seth’s ideas of being a leader and starting your own tribe.  I will admit that have never been happy with the status quo (shocking I know). I personally feel that there is always room for improvement. Society must keep evolving in order to survive. We cannot keep in the same rut, day in and day out. I especially feel this way about education.

Education has to be at the forefront of change because we are raising the leaders of tomorrow. If we want our students to become these amazing people then we must demand that of ourselves. We cannot expect a student to be patient problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative, and innovative unless we are willing to do this. And how can we be these things if all we do is the same thing that has been working for the past ten years of our career. Now I know that some things do not need changing but all things can be improved.

Recently I have been a part of a really big change in my school board. A group of us has been leading the charge to bring GAFE to teachers. I won’t say it has been easy but it has gone smoother that I thought.  

I couldn’t have finished reading Seth’s book at a more timely moment in my life.  I have come to realize that we are a tribe. We are a tribe that is unified in the belief that Google Apps for Education is great for student success. However, we are also a tribe because we all trust one another. No one in our group is thinking negative about others. The comments an ideas that are shared are meant to improve the group not hinder progress. When questions arise all ideas are heard and honoured. In addition, the group makes the decisions not just one person with a vision. It has been amazing to think of a small vision that you may have had but when combined with the potential of 9 other visions, it is truly remarkable. I must admit that it is tough to be always evolving. It is hard hearing, “you need to slow down!” “Why bother?” “that is not how we have done it.”  It is hard to get your hand slap for asking questions or commenting on why policies are in place.  However, I take heart in knowing that I have my tribe next to me. I take heart in knowing that together we are a unified force that is guided by our common believes and faith.   It has been amazing to see what power a small unified force can have. Who would have thought that 10 teachers from various backgrounds could get a movement together and plan a conference (it just isn’t the way things are done).  However, is that an acceptable line. Is it okay to say, “that is not how things are done?” or should we be asking why isn’t it done that way and how can we improve it?

However, what I do know is that because I am part of this tribe: I am far happier, more motivated and willing to do whatever is needed to keep this vision rolling. I also know that everyone of us feels the exact same thing. Being part of something big is thrilling.

We are all parts of tribes everyday. We have our work tribe, family tribe and our own interest tribes. Being part of one is what makes us human. Most of us crave that connection with others.  However, not all tribes are the same or feel the same? My big questions are:

1) How do we replicate that great feeling of being part of a great tribe, with the tribes that you don’t feel so great about?
2) How do you build trust while pushing forward with innovation and creativity?
3) How do you build your own tribe?
4) How do you sustain your tribe or the tribe?
5) How do we honour our innovators and changers in the classroom? 
6) How do we foster innovators and changers in our classroom?

Being a connected Educator

Being a connected educator started for me one year ago.  It all started with a colleague of mine trying twitter for homework purposes.  I always wanted to try this and needed a push to do it.  This was my push and I am thankful for it.  Of course when I started out i just creeped a little, retweeted a couple of things and then started posting ideas and thoughts.  I finally found some great chats and learned a lot of that has changed many of my views on education.  However, it wasn’t until this year and two experiences in particular that i would say I became a connected educator.

The first experience is meeting an amazing teacher.  Now when I say meet I mean online and through her posts.  I haven’t actually met her in person, though I can’t wait for that to happen (if it ever does).  The person I am referring to is Aviva Dunsinger @avivaloca.  By connecting to her blog and talking to her on twitter, emails and storify she has changed many of my views and thinking on teaching.  Because of her I have been more connected to my parents, learned more about inquiry and have struggled a little less in my transition to grade two from grade four.  Now some of you may say, how is this different from meeting great educators in person.  I would saying nothing; however, without twitter I would never have met Aviva.  We may never have talked and our paths may never have crossed.  This story is the same for many of the amazing people I have met on Twitter,who without it I never would have talked too.

My second experience is something that I am really proud about and has just recently happened.  It all started with a post from Angela Moses @Motechchef, another great educator.  She posted that she was having her kids rewrite the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas from the Grinch’s point of view.  I thought this was an amazing idea and so did another educator Carol McLaughlin.  Somehow after talking to the two of them we decided to collaborate together and have our three classes write the book together.  So even though we were separated by many kilometers (or miles) and time zones our classes were connected.  This would never have been possible without twitter. 

For this project Angela created a google doc to record our thinking.  You can also read her blog post here: You can also see our discussion here: http://t.co/VIAglPa2Vm.  Carol created a great graphic organizer to help the students understand the Grinch’s feelings and I created a dropbox account for us to share pics and other things.

However, our learning hasn’t stopped at making a story.  We have been posting pictures between classes.  Carol and my class have been blogging and I will be skyping  with Angela’s class later next week.  The kids through twitter have been sharing their amazing ideas and have pushed each others thinking beyond the twenty or so in the classroom.  Not only this but they have been so engaged because of this collaboration.

So I ask you how have you been a connected educator?  Who do you think has helped you on your way?  Anyone that is great person to talk to, collaborate with or follow?