Friday, September 16, 2016

Changing Perspectives, Creating New Learning Opportunities, Knowing Our Impact

As an educator, and even more importantly as a human being I am constantly shifting the lens of my perspective based on what I read, hear, and view. Case in point when I recently read author, Austin Kleon's weekly email in which he shares the 10 things he thinks are worth sharing this week. I'm a fan of his blogs and work,  because his creations have stretched me in the past into contexts I don't usually inhabit. So,  I eagerly clicked on one of his links to the following Youtube video and low and behold, my perspective on Marvel films and movies in general shifted. Poof!  By the way, if you teach English Language Arts, especially Junior High or High School, check out the video as it may just spark some amazing discussion on viewing and perspectives in media, not to mention author's intent and craft.

As a literacy coordinator for a rural public school division in Alberta, Canada, I have been blogging about things I thought relevant to our district and to teachers within this district. I state this because as you may begin to realize, my perspective on blogging is changing. Just like the Every Frame a Painting youtube video made my perspective on the Marvel movie scores has changed how I will watch films in the future, my future blog posts will be about things that shift my perspective in educationally related themes as I draw from things I read, hear and view.

As with any time I work with students,  I am trying to shift them towards new learning, just like when I work with teachers. This month I am dedicating large amounts of elbow-to-elbow time to work with new teachers and teachers new to elementary in learning to use the Benchmark Assessment System (BAS) by Fountas and Pinnell, not in the effort to simply find an instructional level, but to hunt for patterns in what the reader is doing well and to determine where they are in the continuum of learning to read.

Recently, a teacher summed up her learning about the BAS when she said "I feel like it's not just about finding their instructional level, it's about knowing what to do next." Her idea was what I call a 'yes, I did that but so what?' question. Her level of understanding was not only refreshing as it showed her shift from compliance to strategic teaching, but it confirmed my knowledge of her learning, beyond what I had simply observed. Stay tuned for a future blog post on why talk is the mother of all instructional strategies!

What teachers are in control of each day in their classroom is identifying specific learning needs for each student through assessment, planning for instruction, determining what impact that instruction had on the students' learning by observing the students' learning and then returning back to the planning for instruction again. This is what I know to be assessment for learning.

As John Hattie says in his interview with Doug MacDougall , chair of curriculum, teaching and learning at OISE in the University, the single most important thing a teacher can do is "Know Thy Impact".  He goes on to say that if every teacher or school leader was to walk into their school and say "My job here is to know what impact I am having on student learning", we would have more visible learning going on in our schools.

This resonates with me because in all of the travelling and teaching I've done in other parts of the world besides Canada, one of the things I would say when people asked me what it was like, is that 'kids are kids are kids, regardless of where you teach'. They have the same beliefs, needs, and individuality until they become old enough to be influenced by the cultures, religions and politics of their society.  So teaching for me is not solely dependent on the curriculum as it is most importantly about the art of learning. Therefore, only way I can know if I'm having any impact on their learning is if I can somehow observe or infer it from evidence based assessments. In other words, it is more important in my mind to be a careful observer of what a student is doing, for example while reading, than it is to determine what they cannot do based on a summative assessment in the near future because I've lost a golden opportunity to TEACH.

If, as a teacher, I only get a limited amount of time (approx. 180 school days) to spend with a student, then how do I ensure that the growth I see in summative assessments is equivalent to a year's growth? The only way I can do this is to determine where the student is in their learning through careful observation of their skills and understandings, and then know what impact my teaching is having on moving them along the continuums of learning for each competency in the curriculum.

This shift in the lens of instruction from focusing on students learning discrete items of knowledge to learning to be life-long learners is crucial.  It's a shift in paradigm from teaching students information and skills to teaching students how to learn. With this in mind, I still believe that communication skills in reading, writing, listening, and viewing are the foundation to learning, but I also think that since the newest valuable in a global society is creation, then we as teachers must renew our effort in creating new learning opportunities where we once might not have seen any.

I'll leave you today with the words of Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in a recent @FountasPinnell twitter chat "As you teach Ss, you will have the satisfaction of seeing them apply today what you taught yesterday. #FPLiteracy "

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Online Tools For Teachers: Designed to assist with literacy in all subject areas

So often as teachers, our time is limited and minimal when it comes to finding online tools that can assist us in the classroom setting. I've compiled this list of online tools in one spot so in hopes that you may find some of them useful & get home to your families after work a little sooner:
'Academic vocabulary (also known as Tier 2 vocabulary) words appear in many different contexts and are subtle or precise ways to say relatively simple things, for example “relative” or “accumulate”.The challenge to teachers is to be alert to the presence of tier two words, determine which ones need to be taught, and which words deserve more time and effort for richer understanding. The Academic Word Finder pulls the most useful academic vocabulary words from a given text.
This tool does not replace teacher judgment; rather it helps to support the teacher and identify the most useful academic words. The Academic Word Finder produces a list of words that are not too common (so that most students know them) and not too rare (so that they are not often found in texts). That said, there may be other academic vocabulary words that are either rare or common that a teacher determines are important to the text.
In addition, the academic vocabulary identified in a text can be a proxy for text complexity, though it does not replace the work a teacher does to fully analyze a text for complexity.'
  • Lexipedia  This online thesaurus is awesome as it not only provides a plethora of synnonyms and antonym words but then colour codes all words into parts of speech in a visual web. It also includes "fuzzynyms" which are closely related words such as read/write which are both related but loosely so.
  • Vocabahead This site is most useful for Jr High and High School students and is worthy of a look due to the videos that represent each word. 
  • Thinglink Every image or video can be tagged with links to Youtube, websites or additional graphics. Seriously engaging for students and relatively simple for teachers & students to create with the free software. Say goodbye to typical 2D photos and hello to engaging students in learning more through annotation!
  • WolframAlpha  This site although once primarily used for math has now grown to many other disciplines. If you haven't been to wolframalpha in a while, here's your opportunity to check it out.
  • Professor Garfield A place to learn for K-8 students beyond the classroom teacher's lessons. 

I hope this post has helped you find useful educational tools and as always I invite you to let me know what your favourites are so that this post can be updated. 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Final Cenovus Energy Inc. grant for literacy resources purchased and delivered to schools

After 3 years of Cenovus Energy Inc. grant money totalling $600,000  the final literacy order was recently delivered to the Hutterite Brethren Colony schools.  Grasslands Public Schools in Brooks, Alberta and the County of Newell now have Literacy Place for the Early Years, Moving Up with Literacy Place, Stepping Up with Literacy Place and Levelled Literacy Intervention at hand for teachers and students with many thanks to the Cenovus employees for not only the grant money, but also in assisting with delivering resources to schools.
Kindergarten to Grade 3
Grade 7 - 9
Grade 4 - 6
Levelled Literacy Intervention

Many thanks also go to Kim Jemus at Scholastic Canada and Stacey Doetzel at Pearson Canada who were always present in helping with ordering materials and arranging professional development sessions for teachers and administrators.

Grasslands teachers have attended professional development sessions focussed on both classroom literacy best practices as well as targeted intervention strategies for students who struggle with learning to read and write. This ongoing professional development will continue into the future as teachers learn together and develop a common language of literacy learning across grade levels and school communities throughout the district. 

The hard work and dedication of teachers to improving literacy instruction for their students is already being seen across the division as every Grade 1-6 Grasslands student is assessed using the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System. Our student's results are improving, sometimes in leaps and bounds. Congratulations to all for your continued learning and many thanks to the partnership with Cenovus Energy Inc. for supporting our literacy learning.