Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bumper Stickers

At our last professional development session we made “bumper stickers” to sum up the main points of our learning about assessment – a strategy that can be used in content areas to help kids remember the main kernels of information, or to take the information to a deeper level, by playing with it in some way.

Over the past couple of weeks in our monthly meetings at schools I have been listening for the kernels of what the teachers are saying, to see what they are thinking, observing, and wondering about their students, and their teaching / assessment practices.

Here are a few things that I have heard:

Partner thoughtfully for success

(The way we partner up our kids makes a huge difference --

especially those kids who are struggling)

Social engagement … first step to achievement?

(Social engagement doesn’t necessarily mean the kids learn more – however, they are there (and wanting to be there), attending, and participating… which means there is more potential that they will learn)

Community Matters

Teaching differently is energizing

(Yes it is exhausting too, but more fun for the teacher as well as the students.

One teacher said she is tired and trying to cut back on the planning

but when she goes back to an old lesson “it’s just too boring” for both her and the kids)

Some of the messages that teachers think are getting through to our kids at risk are:

Somebody cares

I believe you can do this

You are worth my time

You CAN learn

I am learning so much from the conversations each month at each school, and am so thankful for the honest discussions, the questions, and the thoughtful approach that each person is taking. The diversity in grade levels, subject areas, and experience of teachers has added such richness to this project.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fixed or Growth Mindsets

Carol Dweck is a researcher who has done some interesting studies in “mindsets”. She says “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.” It is all about whether or not you have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset”.

A fixed mindset is “believing that your qualities are carved in stone”. People with fixed mindsets tend to spend their life trying to prove to others that they are intelligent. They evaluate every situation on whether they will look stupid or smart, be accepted or rejected, feel like a winner or a loser. They don’t take risks because they may look stupid in front of others. We all have kids like this in our classrooms… they may be at risk, or they may be very successful – but they spent a lot of energy protecting themselves.

A growth mindset is when you believe you were given certain traits – but these traits are merely a jumping off point in your life. You believe you can grow and change through effort. It is effort rather than intelligence that moves you forward. You believe your true potential is unknown and that you can achieve many things in your life if you try hard enough or have enough passion. We have these kids in our class too. Kids who accomplish things through sheer effort – who take risks and grow and change right in front of us.

Fixed mindsets stop us from growing... we ask questions like “Are you sure you can do this?” “Maybe I don’t’ have the talent”, What if I fail? “People will laugh at me if I am wrong”. With a Growth mindsets we say “I am not sure if I can do it, but I think I can learn if I try”, “Lots of successful people have failures along the way”, “Basketball was hard for Michael Jordan… but with passion and hard work he succeeded”.

I don’t know about you but I have seen lots of kids and adults that stand out in my mind as examples of both of these mindsets. I have seen very successful students with fixed mindsets – who leave high school and drop out of college because it’s too hard and they just aren’t used to putting in that much effort. I have also seen kids who are at-risk with fixed mindsets… “It’s too hard”, “I can’t do it”, “I’m stupid”. Dweck says this is because they are not equipped with to deal with challenges. “When they hit more difficult work… they begin to doubt their intelligence, they withdraw their effort, and their performance suffers. We have seen this happen with successful students … they lose their confidence, their liking for school, and their determination to do well."

On the other hand, I have seen kids who work hard in their classes or sports believing that they can succeed if they put in lots of effort, who are curious, take risks in class in order to learn, who fail things and are concerned but not devastated that it makes them “stupid”, saying things like “I didn’t study hard enough”. In fact, Dweck says that these students are the ones who “see the more difficult schoolwork as a challenge to be mastered through hard work, and they are determined to do what it takes to meet these new challenges."

The interesting part of all of this is that Dweck says we can teach kids (at school or home) to have a growth mindset. “Teachers should help students value effort. Too many students think effort is only for the inept. Yet sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement. In a related vein, teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. Rather than praising students for doing well on easy tasks, they should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.”

“Students who view that intelligence is a potential that they can develop do fare better when faced with challenge.” I believe that is what we are trying to accomplish in this project. We are trying to teach our kids in many different ways that they can learn, grow and be successful – through effort -- and through changing their mindset about themselves.

-google "Carol Dweck" for articles and interviews on mindsets.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


As of today I have input the results of the surveys from 10 classrooms. It is time consuming but quite interesting. At first I just typed numbers in but then of course I couldn't help but see patterns - patterns within a class, and patterns across the district. I have ended up making up some little summary sheets for each teacher just to point out some of the patterns.

So here are a couple of interesting things. I have put in the data for 10 classes -- 6 secondary and 4 middle school. I started to look at questions in each classroom where at least a quarter of the kids rated a 1 or 2. I have only eye balled things so far, not run the numbers through anything official but here are some of the interesting things.

1. Question 10: My strengths and talents were recognized in ____ or last year. Over a quarter of the kids in 9 of the 10 classrooms rated it is strongly disagree or disagree.
2. Question 5: I was comfortable working with anyone in my classroom. Over a quarter of the kids in 7 classrooms rated this as strongly disagree or disagree -- which really influences feelings of community!
3. Questions 11 and 12... my strengths and talents helped me perform, and I saw other students strengths and talents recognized.... Over a quarter of the kids in 5 of the 6 secondary classrooms rated it as strongly disagree or disagree.
4. And in question 15: I was so excited/interested in some classroom assignments that I spent a long time working on them... 6 of the 10 classrooms had more than a quarter of the kids rate as strongly disagree or disagree.

We have lots of kids feeling confident and competent ... and able to learn new concepts successfully. We also have lots of kids with positive relationships with their teachers. How good is that? Overall, the survey ended up being much more interesting than I would have thought. The ones that are hard to input are the ones that fill their page with ones and twos -- and ending with a 1 or 2 for "There was at least one adult in the school that I could talk to." These are kids we are targeting. Hopefully with the work the teachers are doing in the project those kids will feel both more confident and more cared about.

Monday, October 24, 2011

27 teachers

There are now 27 teachers in our district involved in this project. I met with a primary team today... grades 1,2, and 3. Oh what fun it is going to be to see how this all applies at such an early age! Even comparing the survey for grade 1 to the one at secondary is pretty cool.

What is going to be so interesting for me is the focus on the kids at risk... and what that looks like in grade 1 compared to grade 10 or 12. Who are these kids, what is working, what is not?

We are adapting and changing things at each grade level in this project, but the main premise is the same - are we teaching so that kids can learn, and are we getting a good picture of what they really know? Do our kids that we are worried about even know that they have strengths?

Monday, October 3, 2011


October 3, 2011
I have been reading the Maggie blogs regularly and have been so interested reading about the things the teachers are trying, things they are thinking, and observations they are making about their four case studies. I have opened up my blog to write at least 4 times and then I sit there wondering which part of this study I should be reflecting on in the blog. What I am noticing in all the schools? What I am figuring out in terms of data collection? What my conversations are with Jeff and Naryn and teachers involved in the project?

So tonight I am going to write about a few things I have been reading to help inform me in the whole data collection area, and in the project itself. There is a website called “What did you do in school today?” and it is written by the Canadian Education Association (CEA) – and some of the writers are people that I have heard of, or heard speak at different times. It is a very interesting site. This group of people have been doing research on education using students’ feedback for awhile now. I was particularly interested in the area of engagement. Through a questionnaire they have used over the past few years with thousands of Canadian students from grades 6-12 – they have determined a few things about engagement. They are breaking engagement into 3 areas:
1. Social engagement – belonging / participation / acceptance
2. Academic engagement – attendance
3. Intellectual engagement – investment in learning, higher order thinking…

What they found is that about 69% of kids responding are both socially and academically engaged… but only 37% are intellectually engaged… lower than that at secondary (30%) compared with elementary and middle. They go on to explain a whole lot of things to do with instructional challenge (keeping things challenging for the students) vs skills (within the students skill levels) and how you have to have the right balance so as not to cause anxiety, or apathy or boredom. What you want is “flow”… engagement in something worthwhile.

But what it has made me do is think about this project more. We are looking at engagement as one of our factors. In that factor we are looking for “deeper learning”. How do we engage students to make important connections between what they are learning and their life? How do we help them delve deeper into questions and become interested in the learning? How do we get them to do thoughtful, authentic work that captures their interest? There is a very interesting rubric on their website called “Effective Teaching Practices” and it is divided into 5 principles: 1. Teachers are designers of learning; 2. Work students undertake is worthwhile; 3. Assessment practices improve student learning and guide teaching; 4. Strong relationships exist;
5. Teachers improve their practice in the company of their peers.
The rubric has some really interesting descriptors – some of them we may want to use in discussions throughout the project.
And that concludes... my first blog.