Using assessment to build open minds.

A mind is like an umbrella; it functions only when it is open. -Walter Gropius

As the project we are engaging in looks so different depending where it is taking place within the district, so too does the assessment. However, at the core of all we take our guidance from formative assessment. Further, because we are working with Indigenous pedagogy, starting all learning with me, then family/team, and finally village/system, so too does our assessment. This looks very different in a School wide initiatives then it does a classroom, but the basic concept remains the same. We use a K.W.L format throughout the process as a guiding framework for both the students, and ourselves. As the students learn everything first for themselves, then as a team, then as a system, it is important that we have clearly constructed learning habits for them, and us, to process with.

1) Me: K.W.L. What do I already know about the topic? What curiosity am I taking into my learning, and finally self assessment as to what I have learned and what I believe I can add to my teams understanding? This means the student moves into the work or family/team with a very clear understanding of the strengths and information they believe they can bring to the group. This helps illuminate a lot of the anxiety and uncertainty as to the individual students value and allows them to negotiate their role in the family/team much more fluidly.
2) Family/Team: What does my team know that they can inform me of, what do they wonder that strengthens my thinking about the topic area, what have we learned together that we can bring into the village/system? By working through this process as a team you start from a strengths based approach. The members of the family/team come together knowing they all bring something to the collective work, and it is their duty to help uncover those strengths in order to achieve the good learning. Further, as the students work out as a group what they are wondering they build curiosity together, which continues later when we unpack as a village/system, this leads to a quest for further understanding and an intrinsic desire to search for deeper understanding.
3) K.L.W Village/System: What do you know collectively? What have we gained collectively, what do we wonder that will further our learning and thinking? When we unpack our learning as a village/system we do it a little different. As this is the final phase of the learning circle we determine what we know now, discuss what we learnt along the way, then move into lasting wonders that may take us to the next topic or idea, or simply be a jumping point for further personal consideration at some later point. The intention here is to leave the students with the clear understanding that though this “topic” may or may not be studied in this class again, the learning about this “topic” is far from done. We have noticed how important this idea is when paired with our Core Competencies. It is vital that students understand that you can look at the same topic or skill from so many angles, and at varying degrees of depth etc., that it can still be fresh even if you devote years to its study. As the Core Competencies rightly ask students to explore the same abilities at deeper and deeper levels, and as they are skills that will aid our students in becoming “educated citizens” we believe we need to be explicit about the concept of real deep learning. Starting with the investigation, moving towards building knowledge, and finally deep discovery. We also clearly state that it is very important to bring these skills and topics back to “me”, so that they can process, determine what they still wonder, and see how what they have learned benefits them.

Within lessons or units of instruction we also implement other formative assessment practices we are finding very successful. It is done mirroring the me, team, system framework however, where possible the system assessment has two components.

 

1) Self assessment, we have the students ask questions as they are working, lightly adapted from Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert’s three questions. A Culture of Yes (Linda Kaiser, Judy Halbert) What am I doing, how’s is it going, what do I need, what’s next? We believe through research, and train and error that it is important for students to consider “what they need”. This asks them to look at what they are doing differently, in terms of supplies, resources, people, learning environment (a quiet space etc.), technology etc. As they do this they become aware of how to move forward into the next steps, but more importantly they become aware of how they learn, and what brings them success. We always ask that all feedback is , Kind,Specific, and Helpful whether to themselves, or peers. We have taught them this skill using, Austin’s Butterfly and other pieces to teach them how to give critical feedback that works. We have augmented a simple self assessment tool I designed earlier in my practice, to have the students track their own learning.

 

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2) Peer assessment: We have tried to make peer assessment more fluid, as we believe peer assessment should happen on the fly, as needed, and we found that regulated peer assessment time wasn’t always in the teachable moment. To do this there has been a host of work done around using your team or system. When is it ok to speak to someone? Keeping in mind that each person is also engaged in their own learning etc. When we are working in teams do we send a delegate, do we speak as two groups to guide each other etc. It’s still messy, which we are comfortable with for now as we believe the skills they are learning in these negotiations are invaluable. Further, as it is not static, they are learning that different situations and needs, call for different help.
3) A: The teacher: The formative teacher assessment is constant, and usually in the form of small conversations. We are teaching them to see us not as judge and jury, but as another tool or resource that can help them see their work through a different lens, or guide them to ask new questions. To do this we have to constantly model kind, specific, helpful, feedback on the fly. Which works well, if the students are catching it. Because this does not always happen, because we are all human, we are going to introduce a little sheet they can use on an iPad, or printed out. The sheet can be used with any critical friend in a learning conversation. (You can find it below)
B: The stakeholder or outside perspective: Some projects and work takes place in the classroom and scaffolding for other learning. In this case we encourage the students to look for an outside source for a bit of feedback. Someone who is not in the class or working on the piece because an outside prospective will notice things differently. We encourage them to use other teachers, and administrator, or someone from home. However, if the project includes members of the community in anyway, we insist that they seek ongoing feedback from the stakeholder, as it is our ongoing responsibility to keep the stakeholder apprised of the work, and to check that it meets their needs and standards.

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Another piece we were struck by lately is how to keep everything together. How do we teach students to juggle all the pieces of thoughtful work and not get lost in the details? Luckily in the School wide initiative of ME to We,  Jake West spent some time with us and one of the many wonderful things he brought was an App that we believe is a game changer for organization, Trello. Trello tracks progress, allows the children to set achievable goals, and can be shared and monitored by teachers so we are having real learning conversations about what the students process is. We have just barely skimmed the surface of this one but we will keep you apprised.