Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AFL, letter grades and dinner, a great combo

I had a wonderful dinner with the first few principals involved in this conversation and two of our assistant superintendents as well as Ruth Sutton.  The dinner time conversation?  Moving away from letter grades.  Everything we have read, seen, experienced and heard tells us this is the right path to follow.  Ruth had spent the day with around 100 elementary and middle school teachers talking about assessment and was generous enough to spend time with us afterwards giving us her experience, thoughts and ideas as to the steps needed to make this work.

One thing she said that really stood out is that we need to get the kids to focus on personal bests and not on their rankings.  The image that she painted was one of running a marathon and focussing on our time.  Every time we run we want to get better.  If we always finish first, second or third but our times are getting worse we are not improving we are regressing, but rankings would not show that.  I loved that analogy, encouraging the students to focus on their progress and not on their rankings.  She said that research shows that to keep students engaged that up until grade 12 they should not be ranked and sorted.  The longer we have them focus on improving, the more successful the students will be.  She also suggested that we bring in people from universities and big companies to talk to parents and students about what they want to see in their respective recruits.

The universities need to talk about the skills that the students need to STAY in university and not just to get in.  Many of us can think of students that we went to in university that bombed out of 1st year university because they did not know how to self-assess, critically examine their work, peer edit and so on.  It is almost a wasted group. What skills were they lacking that allowed for them to flunk out of university?  What is it that most employers are looking for?  Self-motivated, eager to learn, adaptable and goal setting individuals.

Every time we talked about what we needed to do, it came down to the assessment practices.  If we are telling parents that this is good for the kids then the proof has to be in the pudding.  The parents need to see the rich information that comes from formative assessment and standards-based assessment.  It will not work if we take away what they know, tell them this is good and then not have the assessment practices to back it up.

Lastly we talked a little about reporting, what should the new report card look like and what should it contain.  One of the ideas that I really liked was changing comment boxes to "Succeses and Next Steps".  This would have what the child is able to do and what the child needs to focus on next.  This speaks to planning, it speaks to record keeping, it speaks to solid assessment practices.  The other part that I really liked was including the child's own writing of his or her report card.  Have the student write "What I am good at?" , "what do I know?" and "what do I need to get better at?" as well as maybe "What are my next steps as a learner?" and have them present their own evidence to back it up.  If this is done properly the child's own self-evaluation should pretty much be bang-on.

After EdCampVancouver and this dinner, I am very excited about where education is headed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ed Camp Vancouver

Today was a most interesting day of most amazing professional development.  The day was presented as an unconference, no key note speaker, nothing lavish, just a bunch of dedicated people who are passionate about education.  It was representative of most stakeholders: parents, teachers, principals and some students. It is hard to describe the day in a way which accurately would reflect the conversations that were held today.

The beauty of the day was the respect for the knowledge of the group that was there, the fact that everyone had something to offer, something to share, something to reflect on, a question to pose and a desire to learn.  These were not sessions that were being offered by someone looking to pad a resume, someone who had not been in a school in years and was preaching nor was it someone who had already done the same presentation 25 times in the year and did not adapt it to the group present.  These sessions were lead by questions from people within the room. I was looking at the board of potential topics with people putting sticky notes on them to show which ones were of interest.

As we were looking at the board of topics there were other conversations that started and new topics were posted.  As new topics were posted some stickies migrated, others added their stickies to the new topics and 16 topics were chosen for the day.  4 sessions per time slot, 4 different time slots.  There were conversations around assessment for learning, bringing English LA into the 21st century, Social Media 101, moving away from letter grades, engaging all partner groups, moving away from awards ceremonies, creating online communities as well as many other great subjects.  We were there from 9 am to 4 pm, and then some of us went to a pub to continue the conversation afterwards, those who had the long commute home had their continuing conversations in the car, the #edcampvan hashtag continued to be used long after the day was over.  It is now 10 pm and that hashtag is still showing up and being used!  Talk about powerful pro-d!

I took in 4 amazing sessions, each one passed quickly, with conversations continuing long after the session was over.  The discussion were so rich, provocative and reflective. The varying points of view from different districts, levels, stakeholders and experience was so enriching.  I honestly feel that I would have happily attended each session for a day instead of just the 45 minutes sessions (which often continued well after the time elapsed unlike other sessions where people were packing up their bags before presentations were over).  It just felt as though we were just warming up.  To have that many people together is powerful pro-d.  There was so much to listen to, so much to share, so much to think about and so much to bring back to schools.  As I was driving home I started to wonder how we could make our pro-d days much more like this.  Good solid conversations, professional dialogue and getting to the meat and potatoes.  Let's get it all out on the table.

I would have loved to have school boards and Ministry of Education representatives there.  They need to hear our thoughts without the bureaucratic red tape that can exist when meeting with govenment representatives.  Open honest conversations without politics so that they can hear what it is that we are trying to do, hear what our barriers are, understand how it would be better for students and we could hear what their vision is without a podium and a rehearsed speech, what their concerns are, what their barriers are.  If we can truly have all stakeholders represented then we can really begin to make magic happen.

There is much to bring home to our schools and a lot to think about how the day was shaped and how we can use this format.  Is this the future of pro-d?