Teacher Clarity is a right of all students

According to John Hattie, it is a right for students to know what they will be assessed and taught. Honestly, I never thought about it from that perspective but I would have to agree. He further mentions that our marks and evaluations can affect the progress, choice paths and dreams of our students.

This got me thinking about why going gradeless is such an important endeavour to pursue. Hattie mentions that teacher clarity has a .75 effect size (anything over .4 is considered great). That is huge! But it makes sense. If students understand what the teacher is evaluating and what they will be learning then they can and will be successful.

How many times have we said to ourselves or colleagues, “but I taught it! Why don’t they get it?” I know I have done this so many times that I can’t even begin to count. It is one of the reasons that I moved to a feedback based assessing the program and eventually to a gradeless classroom.

Now I know we also have the curriculum and I guess we can say these communicate the learning but 1) these standards are not written for students and 2) these standards aren’t even clear sometimes for teachers. Hattie talks about learning intentions. Here are some key ideas to think about:

1) learning intentions should be shared with students so that students understand then and what success looks like

2) learning does not happen in a neat, linear sequence; therefore, the cascade from the curriculum aim through the achievement objective to the learning intention is something complex

3) learning intentions and activities can be grounded it one activity can contribute to more than one learning intention or one learning intention may need several activities for students to understand it fully

4) learning intentions are what we intend students to learn other things not planned for, so teachers need to be aware of unintended consequences

Again, when we make these intentions clear and inviting it will have a bigger impact on learning than not doing it. Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein write:

The key is to specify a goal that clearly identifies what the students are to know and understand about (insert subject) as a result ot their engagement in a particular lesson (Smith and Stein, 2011)

Now, this may all sound familiar to many of us in Ontario as we have had it in Growing Success but when reading Hattie’s comments it was just another aha moment to keep in mind, as well as, serve to validate and affirm that feedback based assessments, clear learning goals and success criteria are needed. We as educators have a huge impact on the world. We are the difference that makes the difference.

You may also find this graphic and interesting conversation starter.

For more info on gradeless classrooms view my posts or follow Starr Sackstein and #TTOG for more information.

Is understanding deep learning, surfacing learning and transferring knowledge the answer?

I know its a long title but I have been reading Hattie’s work on Visible Learning in Mathematics and it struck me that maybe our conversations around rote or conceptual is all wrong.

Now to behonest, I think that the conversations about this are all wrong, to begin with as this false dichotomy pits teachers against each other and that it really has never been about rote and conceptual but Hattie’s work gave me a new aha moment to consider.

I guess before we can get any further what is surface learning, deep learning and transferring knowledge. Since I am reading Hattie’s work I will use his definitions.

Surface learning has two parts. 1) it is the initial learning of concepts and skills and 2) it goes beyond just an introductory point. It is also important to note that surface learning is not shallow learning, it still takes time and needs consolidation. This was a key point in my learning. I often saw surface learning as just that surface. Like going through the curriculum as fast as I possibly can but not really going deep with the learning. Surface learning is the beginning of a students development of learning. It is where they are exploring, listening and creating files to find the information again.

Deep learning provides students with opportunities to consolidate their understanding of concepts and procedures and make deeper connections to the ideas. In Hattie’s book, he makes reference to a familiar student aha moment about multiplication arrays and area. He mentions a student telling his teacher, “hey this is just like arrays miss!” I have seen that spark so often but I also question have I given my students enough lessons or time to have those deep learning moments.

Transferring knowledge is the hope of all teachers. Yet it is also an area I know we all comment on. Why can’t they take this information and apply it? In fact, our problem with test scores is often with questions that involve transferring knowledge.

Hattie mentions when students are able to transfer knowledge this is where real learning happens. It got me thinking of my favourite Fosnot quote:

To teach is to learn but without learning there is no teaching

This got me thinking does this mean that if teaching is about students learning and learning is about being able to transfer knowledge then teaching is the art it helping students transfer knowledge?

It was this aha moment that got me thinking that maybe our discussions should be about how much time are we spending on these three types of learning?

Now I know that being in the classroom has its unique personality and there are many, many things to consider when planning lessons but how often are we thinking about areas where our lessons are surface or deep or give opportunities for transferring to happen? It doesnt matter what your teaching style is, if you are more dialogic, direct or inquiry this question applies to all of us.

If you are like me I thought I was doing deep learning but maybe I was just extending surface learning. It is why this got me thinking do we need to put more emphasis on our purposeful planning and thinking about where in our plans and curriculum maps we are giving students the opportunities to have surface learning, deep learning and places where they can transfer knowledge.

What do you think?

Soft Eyes

This morning I was reminded of a term Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins use all the time, “soft eyes”.  The basic idea is to see the child and the associating behaviour through a softer lens. Now, this is not easy and this week has been one in where I have often struggled to show my own children those soft eyes. My kids have been sick one after another this week and just when they all got better my son was up all night screaming and crying. This, of course, is an automatic area where you as a parent are unregulated and like many, I lost my cool. However, last night I was reminded why having soft eyes are so important. So for the second night in a row my son woke up on the hour screaming. My first reaction was to scream in my head and instantly want to cry but instead, I went into my son’s room and held him. He instantly melted in my arms and quieted down. My wife asked me what I did and to be honest I am not too sure. However, at that moment I was reminded to always try and reframe behaviour and what having those soft eyes do to the child and myself.

Often I would have (and did the night before) lose my temper, which didn’t help the matter. In fact, my son got even worse. However, the moment I was nonthreatening and calmly approached him he quieted right down.

Now I know in the school system we have some big problems where we have to show a tougher side but to be honest most situations we don’t. “Soft eyes” helps us show that compassionate side of us as teachers. It helps you stay regulated and most importantly it has a bigger effect on students behaviour than taking that tougher line. When I remember “soft eyes”, I am also reminded that all children want to be good. I don’t think you will ever find a child who purposely goes out of their way to be evil or mean. Their behaviour is often rooted in reasons and yes I know as teachers we have so many things to juggle but you will continue to build better relationships with children when you remember those soft eyes. Just something I was pondering this morning. Love to hear your thoughts.


If you are interested in reading more here is some great resource for all teachers to look at:


Dear Colleagues……….. You are Amazing!

I wrote a letter very similar to this almost 7 years ago when we were going through some education struggles here in Ontario but with the most recent struggles that we are about to face I feel like this message needs to be said again. Even if you are not facing challenges like we are in Ontario I hope this message resonates with you as you start your year.

Dear Colleagues,

I want to start off by recognizing that you are truly amazing.  I have never been more proud to be an educator as I am today. Our profession is truly one of the most amazing professions in the world.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 9.05.40 AM

Sure it has its challenges, more so in the last couple of months but even without this, we have always had these challenges. We face an ever-changing demographic and world and navigate it with tremendous professionalism and poise. However, as challenging as it can be it is also one of the most rewarding professions. Today I want to remind you of those moments, to challenge you to hold on to them and to strive to make more.

It isn’t every day that we get to see smiling faces that greet us every morning as if we are superheroes. It isn’t every day that we get to see a child learn something for the very first time (i.e, learning to read, learning to recognize their name, learning to self-reg or even mature right before your own eyes). There is nothing as rewarding as seeing a student come back to you and thank you for being there, for listening, for sparking their learning and growth. I know we have all had “that” teacher and even as I write this I smile at the influence of a great teacher in my life. In our profession, we continue to be that teacher even when we don’t expect it.

So why do I remind you of this? In the last couple of weeks, I feel that our profession is at a critical stage of development. We are being attacked, as a profession and as human beings. Our government continues to deny our learning, our judgment, and our professionalism. And it is tiring, it is frustrating and it continues to make me angry every day. However, I was reminded yesterday by John Spencer’s keynote address that when we are faced with challenges it is a reminder that we need to be even more innovative.

You may at the moment question why I say let’s be more innovative, you may say but it may cost me my job but I want to remind you that you are AMAZING! You entered this profession to help, to mold, to change and make a difference and you continue to do this no matter what the political landscape is or has become. We do this because we care because we have and always will put students first.

I started this letter by saying I have never been more proud of my profession and I will conclude with that. I want to remind you that you are Amazing! That you make the difference, that you will always make a difference. Teachers are always needed and no matter what we will be needed. So as the climate will continue to get worse (and trust me I think it will) hold on to those special moments, hold on to those stories, those students, and those smiles. Continue to innovate, to be the best you can be, to shine bright because that is what will be remembered.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 9.05.58 AM.png

Sense of Number versus Number sense

I know I have talked and written about this extensively over the past 12 years but it seems in Ontario this age-old argument is coming back with a vengeance.

Now some may say that my title is misleading that there really is no difference but over the past couple of years I have really thought hard about this very topic. Over these years I have seen students come into my classroom with amazing fact recall. In fact, I have never seen a community that has spent countless hours practising math facts and algorithms. But I have also seen over this time I have also seen students have a lack of what those facts truly mean.

Our new government is calling for a “back to basics” and let’s get rid of “discovery math” but all of this is rhetoric by politicians who don’t understand how students development a sense of number. I see it in my own daughter. Izzy has trouble in math for numerous reasons, one of which is a low working memory but another is her understanding of place value. For Izzy, she is reworking on understanding unitization, grouping, and counting by fives and tens. At the moment she is playing Duck Duck Moose and app that helps build those foundational skills.

But back to my classroom experience. Many of my students struggled with the very same problems that Izzy has. They struggle to understand part-whole relationships in number, they struggle to understand estimation skills and most importantly they struggle with understanding reasonability of number. And now I think back to the thinking of our Governments call. They fear that this generation cannot do the math, they fear they don’t know how to make quick change but the reality is they have no sense of number or how our number system works.

When I think about how students learn I think about Dr. Alex Lawson’s work on developmental learning. This is also a great article that she has written: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/ww_modelling_proficiency.pdf .

I don’t have many answers right now but I do know that learning of mathematics needs to be a balanced approach. Math needs skills but they need to be developed properly.

As students are developing skills trying ideas like Which one Doesn’t Belong, Building spatial sense, Estimation 180 or even Math Before Bed. All of these are amazing activities to help your students build a sense of number. Combine these activities with rich problems and then purposeful practise and now we are building students up to be successful mathematicians.

So as we plan and think about our math curriculum over the summer I encourage you to think about how we are making our students think about numbers along with teaching number sense. A final thought as well, as math teachers continue to teach as I know you teach. You are strong individuals with sound pedagogy. Show students what mathematics is about, how it is a beautiful language, how it is comprised of beautiful and elegant thinking. That it isn’t just rules and magic tricks. Please do not get discouraged by politicians or other professions that have no idea how children learn. In the end, be true to yourself no matter what.

A little “Grit” goes a long way

20180519_081131.jpgA little over a year ago I started to run. I have always liked running but saw myself as a sprinter never a long distance runner. In fact, last year I barely could do 5km in 1 hour. I would wheeze, cough and walk half the distance. As the year progressed I got myself to 10km in 1 hour and felt very proud of my accomplishments. I had a lot of friends tell me hey your ready for a 1/2 marathon and I would just laugh in their face. “Me, do a half? Yeah, right!” Well as of May 19th I can no longer say that! In fact, I sort of crushed that comment by completing my first half marathon in 1 hour and 38mins.

But this post really isn’t about the running but more about what I learned that day. At the 15km mark, my hamstring started to tighten and my brain started to say “STOP”. I was physically done but part of me just said no keep going and so I did. It was a grind but I was determined to finish and finish I did. It reminded me of what I tell my students, a little disequilibrium goes a long way. When we are in that moment of frustration and exasperation we learn so much more about ourselves. The problem is I think we as adults have forgotten what it is like to be in those moments. Now I am not implying we don’t have our moments but I think they are a lot less than when we were children.

As an adult, we have had many experiences that formulate the sum of our learning and decisions but for a child, they have a lot less. I think we often forget what it is like to be frustrated and therefore we jump right in. I am also sure there is some brain science behind adults fully form logic versus kids but all in all we have to remember what it is like to be a kid. To wonder, to explore, to question and to make mistakes. The problem we have as adults is we forgot what struggle is like and so have a hard time relating to our students making those mistakes. Running this half has reminded me how important struggle is and just how important it is to let me own students and children struggle.

So as we head into next year I encourage you to think about “Grit” and how are you purposefully planning this in your classroom. Any ideas please share.

Also if you want to share, some of your most recent struggles? Love to hear them.

Stem Labs Alpha Kit Review

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 2.24.21 PM.png

So while researching STEM ideas and products for the classroom, I came across a company called Stem Labs. They are a company that sells small robotics kits that link coding and robotics together. Students will have the opportunity to play with various sensors and components to make autonomous creations.

It is an interesting product and not really a new idea as we have products like this on the market. However, what I do like about STEM labs alpha kits is the flexibility to interact with various components and pretty much build or think of amazing ideas. In addition to the various parts, each part can be connected to lego which helps with the structural building piece. Another great part of their product is all of the teacher lessons that go with the product.  These lessons are linked at the moment to United Kingdoms curriculum plan but I hope they will be soon linked to Canadian content. That being said with some decent teacher thinking you can make the relationships to the science materials.

A really cool lesson we tried was the probability lesson.

What I really enjoyed about the product is the flexibility it has to fit most if not all of our science curriculums here in Ontario. In addition, the kids picked it up really easy and even my 8 years old built a car and coded it to move. They are simple pieces that can be moved, manipulated and used in many parts of your curriculum.

They have various size kits and for $1000 can easily order a nice set for your classroom to use.

So if you are thinking about adding to your Makerspaces or need some more STEM ideas take a look at SAM labs.

Webinar for more info: https://youtu.be/lZf6OvgGydE