Monday, 8 April 2019

Show … Don’t Just Tell


In a recent planning conversation, my colleague – a Grade 7/8 teacher with an incredibly diverse class – said that one of her goals was for her students to understand that writers use feedback to improve their writing, that they care so much about communicating their message they are prepared to make big changes to get it right. And on the flipside, writers also know the value of quality feedback and strive to improve their ability to both give and receive it. Armed with a list of what we wanted to see and hear as the student writers gave and received feedback, we planned a mini-lesson in which we would model a conference between two writers.



 We set the context for our lesson by telling the students we were going to model a conference between two writers, one of whom would be sharing her work in progress, and the other who would respond and give feedback. We then asked students to notice what we said and did that showed we knew how to give and receive feedback.

Just as we had earlier in the process when modelling how a memoirist narrows and focuses her topic, we modelled in three distinct chunks, pausing after every three to five minutes and posing our question:

What did you notice us do or hear us say that tells you we know how to give and receive feedback?

And students, as they always do, noticed much more than we had originally set out to show them.

The reader and the writer are equal. One does not have power over the other.

You begin by responding to the message.

You use your body to show you are listening.

You think about what the other writer says and don’t just say, “I like it the way it is.

You make some changes right away and others you think about.


 We added the sentence strips to our existing criteria as a new category and followed up the next day with time for students to practice. During practice time the teacher and I circulated, noting observations and conversations that provided evidence students were giving thoughtful, precise feedback based on our co-constructed criteria for writing memoir and for giving feedback. Those receiving the feedback sat with pencils poised, prepared to actually take in the feedback and use it to refine their message so that it said what they wanted it to say and had the desired effect on the reader. Later, reading the newly revised drafts, we saw evidence of rethinking, new word choices, additions, and deletions. In other words, we saw the work of writers in the real world – not students simply going through the steps. As we held the mirror up to our own practice and reflected on lessons learned, an expanded view and appreciation for modelling was our most profound takeaway. Modelling is more than something you do once at the beginning of a new unit of study.

What do your students need to see modelled so that they really understand the “why” of it and how it might move them forward as learners?



Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Do We Give Up The Carpet Too Soon?


 In September, we engaged in four demonstration lessons on co-constructing criteria. As we worked alongside the teachers of an elementary and junior high school, we planned the lessons and we considered the physical layout of each classroom. We asked, “How might we best use the space to meet our instructional goals?” We all knew we wanted:
·      Students to feel our presence with no distractions.
·      To feel the presence of our students so their energy could inspire our teaching.
·      Students and teacher to feel part of and to be part of a community of learners.
·      No physical barriers between students, so that they could easily and quickly turn and talk and think together.
·      No barriers between teacher and learners, so that we could easily listen to their conversations and make moment-by-moment instructional decisions.
We wanted this both physically and symbolically in some part of each lesson no matter the grade level, the subject area, or the specific content.

We felt we needed a meeting or gathering space – a place where we can be in community with one another. In many early years classrooms, this has typically meant a brightly coloured carpet where the whole class can come together. Why do carpets disappear in older grades? Are we giving up that gathering place too soon? After all as teachers know, it is more than a carpet. It is a way to use the environment to create a learning advantage. It is a learning advantage that emerges when we build community, inspire each other and meet instructional goals.

And so, we have learned from teachers how to create a “carpet” wherever we go – K to 12 to adult – so that the environment supports the learning. For some spaces, it means having students move their chairs into a part of the room and create an ‘inside-outside’ circle. And for others, it means creating two or three lines of chairs in a semi-circle around an instructional area. Regardless of the configuration and in spite of the lack of an actual carpet, teachers gather students away from their desks, in order to create powerful learning-teaching spaces.


Written collaboratively – Brenda Augusta, Sandra Herbst, and Anne Davies


Monday, 24 September 2018

Portfolios: Digital or Paper?




We’ve been reflecting on our recent two-day Institute in Ajax, Ontario on the topic of portfolios and collecting evidence of learning and inspired by our latest publication, Collecting Evidence and Portfolios: Involving Students in Pedagogical Documentation. The time was filled with discussions about the context within which portfolios make sense, the five purposes for which teachers and students might create them, the processes involved, and specific classroom examples. One exchange in particular has stayed with us. 


A system-level lead teacher was planning for the implementation of portfolios in Kindergarten through Grade 12 classrooms. We had just finished a group discussion about whether or not portfolios should be paper or digital. The instructional leader started the more small-group conversation by reflecting:

I’ve just realized that paper or digital is not the first decision we have to make. We need to slow down and back it up a bit. 

His realization is one that many participants had over those two days. Regardless of format or platform, the purpose and process of involving students in their own pedagogical documentation is what matters most. That is to say, a portfolio is the residue of a deep process of learning…and that process is what requires thoughtful conversations and decision-making. 


Written with my colleague Sandra Herbst


Tuesday, 26 June 2018

You’re The Best!


You’re the Best!

We’ve all heard it before, maybe especially at this time of year.

You’re the best teacher I ever had! I’m going to miss you.

We smile and think to ourselves, “I bet you say that to all the teachers.”

But what if this year you actually let it in, even just for a moment? What if you took some time to celebrate what worked so well for you and your students this year that you must absolutely do it again next year? What if you considered the hours spent on lesson design, the work only a professional teacher can do in a way that takes into account the curriculum, the students in front of you, and the evidence of learning that tells you who needs what next? What if you gave yourself credit for the relationships you build with your students, believing in them even when they struggle to believe in themselves? What if you celebrated the collaboration and learning you have done this year with colleagues?

What if?

Teaching (and we are all teachers my friends) is deep thinking work that engages our hearts, our minds, and our souls. Not if we’re lucky, as some would have us believe, but if we’re intentional. The next time someone gives you a message about your impact as a teacher, just let it in. Don’t deny it, don’t shrug it off, and for goodness sake don’t worry about the spelling. That’s what I’m doing with this message from a Grade 2 student.  J





Happy summer!