Posts tagged Hacking Assessment
Square Pegs and Round Holes
First, as we learn about our platform for blogging we’ve come across some shortcomings.  We often embed videos in our posts.  If you are reading this post in an email update, you can’t see the video.  It’s worth it to click through to the actual blog to see all of the content we add.  We’d hate for you to miss something.

Second, this post is deviating from our norm a little bit.  I’m (Jamie) offering up some of my opinions and I’m probably being a bit more direct than I usually am.  As always, we welcome feedback in our comments.  Discussion is good.

This was an interesting week for me, as I came across several unrelated things that really got me thinking.  While unrelated, I think they go hand in hand.

The first was the short animated film Alike, which was shown to Matt and I when we were talking about iteration with Wendy Spence, Sarah Alexander, and Kelly-Ann Cameron. Do take a few minutes to watch, if you can.  It is an outstanding video, one that will stick with you.  Trust me!



We started our talk about iteration by discussing how children develop.  Think about a child learning to walk, it’s all risk taking and failure and trying again and failing until suddenly they get it right.  Then it's on to running, same process.  Throwing a ball.  Riding a bike.  Dancing.  Singing.  Playing.  Drawing.  Try, fail and learn over and over again.  Then the child gets to Kindergarten and they play and explore, a lot.  They are trying and failing, a lot.  For the most part, children thrive in this environment.  It’s how they’ve learned for all their lives so far.  However, something changes when children graduate from Kindergarten, and that change is reflected in the graphic that was shared with me by Jeff Catania.

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I think we’ve all noticed that as children move through school, their enthusiasm decreases.  Their desire to be risk takers and explore new ideas decreases.  School becomes something to dread.  That’s on us.  By the time a student enters Grade 9 they have spent over 10,000 hours in school.  Long enough, according to Malcolm Gladwell, to achieve mastery in a field like learning.  However, what we’ve probably noticed is that for each hour that goes by, they enjoy their time less. The educational system is leading students down this road, so what is causing this drain of joyful learning and risk taking out of our students?  I don’t have answers, but I do have suspicions.

Which leads to some data I had a chance to read over this past week.  Earlier in the school year, secondary teachers in Halton were invited to participate in a voluntary survey regarding their attitudes surrounding Final 30% tasks and whether we should be returning those tasks to students.  The thing that struck me about this survey was that many teachers felt it wasn’t worth it to return a student's final exam or final performance task.  The reasons were varied, but many centered around the fact that “students only care about their marks”, or that students wouldn’t learn anything from reviewing what they did wrong.

My feelings about final exams are no secret.

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So if teachers don’t think students will learn anything from their final exam and looking at what they did wrong, why are we all still so hung up on giving a final exam?  Are we really happy with classrooms filled with students who only care about their final mark?  Aren’t we all trying to create young adults who want to learn for learning's sake?  For me, the implication is clear.  We are a part of a system that is its own worst enemy. As players in this system can we hack the system to break out of this cycle?  Is there something we can be doing about this?  The film Alike, the decrease in school enjoyment, our attitudes about exams are all symptoms of the same disease.

We place too much value on testing and marks and if students are ready for the next level.  Students are square pegs, school is a round hole, and when a peg comes along that doesn’t fit, we shave down the edges and force it through.  Then we keep doing that, over and over again.  Every time we do that, our students enjoy school less.

So why can’t we just make the hole bigger?  Why can’t we find ways to offer rewarding projects, individualized for each student, that hopefully more people would find value in?

You can read the survey data here and draw your own conclusions about final 30% tasks.  We’d love to hear what your takeaways are.

Road Trips - Rethinking Furniture, Going Gradeless, & Community
A requirement about being part of The Shift  is that we travel to other schools around the board.  We do this so that we can get perspectives on the innovative things that are happening in all schools.  We also want to help people share their thinking.  The profession of teaching can’t grow if everyone always works in a bubble.  A few weeks ago we had a flurry of travel and unfortunately haven’t been able to write about our experiences until now.  So...where did we go and what did we see?


Rethinking Furniture
We had the opportunity to visit Lester B Pearson High School to get a first hand viewing of some classroom furniture that rethinks the instructional flow of a classroom.  We tried rocking chairs and stools (Matt always calls dibs on the rocker) that encourage movement as a tool to help keep students focused. We saw a variety of smart, well thought out tables as well,
The discussion with classroom teachers was honest, exploratory and excited.  The talk centred around the most important point: does the furniture work to better support teaching and learning of students?  There was talk of layout, and how it can be moved around the room in different configurations to work in different learning situations.  The tables had two wheels that enabled easy moving around the room by lifting one end of the table and pushing it like a rolling suitcase, which was neat.  Other tables were height adjustable, which would allow teachers to set bar height seating if desired.  One aspect that would have been really cool to see in that scenario would have been hydraulic height adjustment (like an office chair), so that the height could be easily adjusted in the moment.  Hey we can dream, can’t we?  In a couple of weeks, we look forward to visiting Milton District H.S., which is a pilot location for a full classroom of this new furniture.  We will be sharing our further impressions on how that  pilot is going.  Dibs on the rocker!




Going Gradeless
One fascinating trip we recently went on was up to McKenzie-Smith Bennett Public School in Acton, upon the invitation of Kim Phillips, Principal of the school.  She wanted us to meet Michael Primerano, an intermediate teacher who is doing some truly innovative work around going gradeless in his class.  We are very conscious of not overusing the word “innovative” in this role, but in this case, it is truly merited.

The new “thing” is seeking a way to better motivate and engage students in the classroom by eliminating grades from the learning experience.   Michael was in tune to the fact that students in his ACCESS class were not motivated by grades and noticed that grades were more often  a deterrent to learning because they were a source of stress and heartache.  As such, he chose to eliminate quantitative means of assessment  altogether, favouring qualitative observations as evidence for learning and to  use while determining grades for his students’ report cards.  
Yes, as teachers in the province, we are required to put a grade on the report card, though the tools used by the teacher to inform that decision are left to the professional discretion of the teacher.  Michael has been using a triangulated method of assessment that combines observations, student conferences, and co-constructed success criteria, with a focus on using descriptive feedback to help students benchmark their progress rather than grades. Thus far this year it has been working rather well.

The student and parent feedback to this shift has been encouraging, too! S

Students are saying:
“I don’t miss getting Cs.” -BM
“It’s more work in the end, but the product is always better.” - GD
“I know that you want to help me because you never judge me.” - WT


And parents are saying:
“My son doesn’t hate going to school now - he gets up and goes in the morning without me having to bug him.” - CL
“I don’t ask my daughter how she’s doing in school anymore, I ask her what she’s doing instead.” - JB


That feedback is a clear indication that Michael is truly onto something. As teachers, Jamie and I have had frequent chats about how going gradeless would benefit our students.  This topic is top of mind and this won’t be the last you hear from us on this subject!"

If you want a deeper dive into Michael's thinking, you can check out his presentation here.


Engaged Community
Finally, we took a trip to Craig Kielburger Secondary School to gather some footage for the next video in our Case For series.  Suzy Koh was nice enough to welcome us into her classroom, which was a Grade 9 Applied Math class.  This class was a continuation of the Unlimited Potential program from Semester 1.  We were lucky enough to witness a classroom where all students were engaged, willing to talk to each other, work with each other and most importantly not rely on their teacher for too much guidance.  Students were working on problem sets with each other, asking their peers for feedback and help BEFORE switching gears and looking to the teacher for solutions.  Everyone was smiling.  The classroom was comfortable and it was obvious Suzy had done work establishing a positive classroom environment first, before diving into curriculum.


Jamie was able to sneak away for a bit to reconnect with an old friend who also works at Craig Kielburger and is working with a team that delivers a combined Drama and Comm Tech course.  The purpose of the course is to have students gain a better understanding of the entire production process, from both the technical and artistic sides. They're currently working on their biggest project to date, creating, acting in, filming and then finally producing a sitcom.  Kyle Hume and his colleague Anna Burnett are the teachers working on this project, but really he and his colleagues have found a great way to involve all players in the creation process.  When I arrived to class another teacher was at the front of the room, organizing her students, handing out roles and jobs.  It was only when I sat down with Kyle to talk about this Sitcom package that I found out the teacher leading the  students was actually a student in the course.  The feeling of empowerment among his students was palpable and I left Kielburger feeling inspired by the possibilities of different ways to engage students.

What do you think?  How important is the community you build in the classroom?  Have you experimented with going gradeless? Or thought about doing so? Have you been experimenting with alternatives to the typical class furniture layout and structure?  What about alternative ways to deliver curriculum while engaging students? How has it shifted what you do?
What Are We Reading?

Let’s put all the cards on the table before we get into our book list. When we say “reading”, what we really mean is “what pages do we look at after putting the kids to bed”. It’s hard to fit in reading, for professional growth or for fun into a day that is full of work and family. And yet, we try, as we imagine most of you do to.

Given the nature of this project, reading for professional growth has become more important to us. For sure we still try to find the time to read for pleasure but that time is shrinking as we get closer to launching The Shift. Certainly, if we are going to be the conduit through which innovative teaching practices are shared we better have some evidence to fall back on.

We both started by reading Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. This book was the basis for the companion documentary Most Likely to Succeed, which was screened twice last semester in our board. The documentary itself was attended by over 500 Halton staff and prompted many great conversations in our schools. The film was even shown to students from Milton District High School. The book itself asks, among other things, how should classrooms be changing to reflect the skills needed to be successful in the 21st Century.



We have also moved on to the book Open, by David Price. Open wonders how we’ll work, live and learn in the future. How can our schools evolve in a world where many companies give away their products for free? Likewise, sharing in the 21st century seems to becoming the norm so how can our classrooms and professional relationships reflect that? Certainly we can continue to teach using our current model, which is formal (pre-determined time and place), linear (follows a curriculum) and transmitted one way (teacher to student). Open imagines an education system where learning is social and knowledge is gained as the task or project demands.




At least one of us is reading Burn Math Class (Hint: It’s not Matt). The author, Jason Wilkes,
describes a reordering of the math curriculum where students start with addition and subtraction and create their own mathematical facts based on experimentation and failure. At its core, the novel stresses removing the emphasis on memorization of procedures and instead have students construct methods that make sense to them.


Being a wide-eyed fan of his TED brilliant talks, we have picked up Sir Ken Robinson's Creative
Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that Transforming Education. As we are looking to SHIFT education at HDSB, the promise of direct call to action in this book has brought this one to the top of the "next read" list.


Finally, both of us are looking forward to reading Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a
Traditional Grades School. Neither of us have opened the cover yet but we can’t wait to dive in. Both of us struggle with the question “What is this worth?” or “Is this getting marked?”. Hacking Assessment is about shifting everyone's thinking away from grades. School should be about the learning, not about the number attached to that learning. We can’t wait to start this one!

It is important to remember that no one book or idea is the magic bullet for our schools. Rather, the synthesis of ideas is important, especially when each individual educator thinks about their strengths and areas for growth. Reflection, as always, is important. We can picture a classroom where project based learning is the norm, each student is learning something different so that they can be successful on their own project and the curriculum is delivered in a way that makes sense to each individual student. More than that, each student engages in the classroom not because it is worth a mark but because they want to learn that material. We aren’t there yet, but we are working on it.

Want to learn with us? Consider joining Innovators Mindset, a book club with a twist! If you are an employee of the HDSB you can join in the discussion and get a free copy of the book. Over the course of five evenings the book will be discussed online. Participate from the comfort of your own home, or meet up with friends and collaborate as a group.


We look forward to participating in the conversation.