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 "