Impact on learning: Author’s purpose

Inspired by a colleague’s presentation during the KIST ‘Teach together; learn together’ professional development event, I took a more formal approach to the impact cycle than I have in the past.

First, I copied the raw data from my students’ diagnostic assessments into an Excel spreadsheet. I added a row at the bottom to show the average result of each test item as a percentage, then used conditional formatting to create a visual perspective into the data.

Reading diagnostic data

This allowed me to identify a general area of need: Reading. Then I simply copied and pasted the test items with average results of less than 50% along with the corresponding learning outcome indicated in the test documentation.

Reading diagnostic data analysis

The common weak thread, in my analysis, can be expressed by the verbs ‘describe’ and ‘explain’. Surprisingly, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, these terms are associated with Knowledge and Comprehension, or ‘lower’ order thinking.

Glaring omission

One issue involves the outcomes related to author’s purpose. Put bluntly, there is no such learning outcome in the standards for Grade 4 at KIST. The students are being assessed in a high stakes manner on learning outcomes that the school doesn’t explicitly teach. I, of course, can add standards about author’s purpose to my working documents. Indeed, that is the purpose of this impact intervention. However, it’s clear that teachers’ voices are needed in the development of the school’s assessment and planning documents to ensure that they are relevant and in alignment with one another.

Intervention

My plan for having a measurable impact on student learning is to ensure that they are exposed to the idea of author’s purpose, and explore it in a variety of ways in our guided reading sessions. This can be done by direct mini lessons and reinforced by revisiting the concept whenever we encounter a novel or remarkable example in the texts we explore.

Another approach would be through precising and close reading of a master text. For this, the grade four team selected an abridged version of Swiss Family Robinson to be integrated with our unit of inquiry in April and May. This plan might be our students’ first opportunity to read a novel together. The text uses rich vocabulary and imagery, so I believe there will be many opportunities to analyze and summarize selections, and hypothesize about Mr Wyss’ purpose for various literary choices.

Measuring impact

To avoid over-assessing my students, I will plan to use the end-of-year English Diagnostic Assessment, of the same type as the one at the start of they year, to measure impact. Throughout the school year, I have assessed and gathered data on a wide variety of learning outcomes informally during guided reading sessions, but this will be the only formal assessment of the learning outcome of author’s purpose.

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Creative negotiated rubrics

The role of rubrics in teaching is not up for debate. Complex tasks need to be analyzed by categories and clear criteria. However, I have found that they sometimes become little more than checklist of instructions on how to complete a task rather than tools for understanding, reflection, and assessment.

My solution is to use blank rubrics. You might think that a blank rubric isn’t a rubric at all, and you would be correct if the purpose of the rubric were only to evaluate a learning artifact. If the rubric itself is a learning tool, then a blank rubric is a rich opportunity for discussion and critical evaluation.

Peer assessment with negotiated rubric criteria
Summative assessment tasks, in particular, benefit from this type of rubric. The categories have been in focus throughout the unit, and have usually been assessed in a more prescribed manner in a previous task. As a summative assessment task should be an opportunity for students to exercise choice and creativity in how they present their understanding, it would be impractical to create specific criteria that could apply to any artifact.

Assessment as learning

Students work in groups to experience a peer’s presentation of their learning and discuss the success of the artifact according to each category. They agree on a score and write in the appropriate boxes the specific elements that support their evaluation.
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The assessments are completed in groups of three or four, so every presenter receives at least six separate rubrics which have been completed in this manner. The results are always honest and accurate, especially when averaged and analyzed in detail.
When assessments seem mistaken or vary notably from the norm, a problem that often occurs when a group hasn’t focused or applied enough thought to their findings, a teachable moment to review the categories and criteria arises.
I have observed that students enhance their conceptual understandings of a unit immensely through this process of peer assessment with creative negotiated rubrics.

Integrating public speaking, peer assessment, and data handling

As a formative assessment task within a unit focused on advertising, my class recently completed a learning engagement which integrated persuasive writing, public speaking, peer assessment, and data gathering, organization, and analysis.

Public speaking

The first step was for students to apply what they had learned around the central idea, ‘People create and manipulate messages to target and persuade specific audiences.’, by presenting their own persuasive speeches.

One of the most powerful tools we explored were TED talks about children.

We followed a typical writing process which featured prominently rehearsal and peer feedback.

Peer assessment

By emphasizing peer evaluation, there were many opportunities for me to model sensitive and effective critique as well as coach individual students and groups to develop as assessors.

When the day of the presentations drew near, students contributed their ideas about features of a persuasive speech which I synthesized into our Persuasive speech peer assessment rubric

Every student in the class used the rubric to evaluate every other student’s speech.

Data handling

This provided an authentic data handling exercise as students used a Persuasive speech peer assessment data organizer to gain deeper insights into their peer feedback.


I believe that the authenticity and social elements designed into the activity led to every student being extremely motivated to learn the concept and application of average.

Reflection

A further step that I considered including but decided against would be to teach the students how to use Excel or other spreadsheet software to organize and analyze their data. However, it didn’t seem appropriate at the time and I would prefer that the students experience this process in the old fashioned analog manner before introducing digital tools. 

Exhibition rubrics & Global Issues Expo

My students become increasingly engrossed in their research and creating for PYP Exhibition. Thus, my role has become almost exclusively facilitator, coach, and documentarian. This is ideal in a project based learning environment.

Rubrics

In the past two weeks, I’ve devoted particular attention to developing the rubrics for the Exhibition. We will be using four rubrics in total: The PYP Exhibition self assessment rubric, pictured below, for the entire project, and separate rubrics for the essay, speech, and arts components.

In the project rubric, the top three elements are assessed in separate rubrics. The scores are converted and added to this one. The bottom five elements are the the essential elements of the IB Primary Years Program. The purpose of the Exhibition is to demonstrate understanding and engagement with these. This rubric serves as a summative assessment of students’ PYP learning.
The qualitative criteria have been revised from my previous rubrics with terminology inspired by the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. I’ve also included hybrid ‘one point’ elements which I believe will be particularly effective for self assessment. The students will assign themselves point values for some criteria along with their reflections and rationale.
These rubrics have been shared with students throughout the process of creating them and their input has been included. Since they are all in Google Docs, my feedback after they have been completed by each student will be in the form of comments added to their self assessments.

Global Issues Expo

Our school’s International Children’s Day celebration occurred in the third week of our project. On this day, each classroom creates a unique environment and visitors from our local community are invited to play games and participate in fun learning challenges.
I thought it would be an ideal opportunity for my students to focus on their global issues for Exhibition by creating a Global Issues Expo.
In fact, our expo looked like a typical PYP Exhibition. However, I want the students to have maximum agency in how they present their Exhibition, not necessarily as a collection of display boards about global issues. So our Global Issues Expo worked out perfectly.
Students created displays that were arrayed around the classroom. Each display included a survey question which could be answered by placing a sticker.
This Animal Abuse display asked if guests would prefer to purchase a pet at a store or adopt from a shelter.

This Mental Illness display asked the poignant question, ‘Do you know any person who has a mental illness?’ We were impressed by respondents’ honesty! About 40% answered ‘yes’.
This event has led to increased energy around the students’ global issues and started authentic research in the form of surveys. I have been encouraging them to create google forms to continue their surveys online, but haven’t yet seen a completed one.

Ongoing reflection

We have also been recording reflection interviews. I knew it would be an effective formative assessment technique, but I had no idea it would be such a powerful way to help guide the students’ projects without intruding on their processes. It only takes a few minutes for each student to record their interview and then they can be instantly sorted into playlists.

Uncertain future

At this point in the process, we have formally explored each element. The students have submitted their first drafts of essays and speeches and we have conferenced about them. Some have begun art projects. We have created global issues displays, conducted surveys, and conducted interviews about possible local community action.
Now that the stage is set, it’s time for the students to truly take control.

Student Empowerment | COETAIL final project

A keen observer will notice that I haven’t exactly followed the assignment here. Rather than revising a unit of instruction to attempt to redefine learning, my goal is to utilize educational technology to empower students to redefine their own learning. In a sense, I am reimagining every unit I teach. I started by trying to revise a single unit, but every change I made toward increasing student choice, voice, and agency, resulted in thinking less about deciding what I wanted students to do, and more about how I was going to document and curate what they would decide to do. A class wiki was needed first to act as a home base. In theory, it contains and organizes links to every online resource and tool we use in class. The link is jiesgradefiveandsix2014-15.wikispaces.com, and it’s the only link you will find in this post because it leads to a page containing links to everything my class does online, including our Inquiry Tasks Organizer.

The Inquiry Tasks Organizer is the hub of our inquiries and assessments. The public ‘class’ organizer feeds private organizers for each students, to which they add links to their learning artifacts and self assessment rubrics. Over the course of the school year, this document will be used to empower students to take more control of the direction of their learning by providing a flexible and agile model for documentation and reflection.

Currently, our inquiries and tasks are quite structured, but as the students become more fluent inquirers, more freedom will be transferred to them without changing any essential procedures. This ‘Project Management’ aspect of my COETAIL final project, creating an interface that can maximize agency and transparency in the classroom, is an inquiry I look forward to pursuing further along a design process in which all participants’ experiences are documented and utilized to inform ongoing iterations.

This ‘Design Thinking’ approach to classroom planning ensures that a unit is never ‘finished’, and that refinement and revision are designed in rather than being added or changed later.

The student experience thus far has been mixed. Some students enjoy the freedom that this approach affords, yet might be too easily distracted from relevant inquiries. Some are reluctant to let go of the traditional models of instruction, either our of confusion or lack of experience as independent learners.

Consequently, the full potential of this project has yet to be realized. That’s great, because it is evidence to me that the project is working. Surely if students could easily adapt and thrive, it would imply that the learning environment hadn’t changed much and certainly wasn’t redefined.

Learning won’t be redefined in one unit, but in the ongoing cycle of innovation and reflection that connected learning communities like COETAIL encourage and promote.

Trust & Transparency

(from the K12 Online Conference)

I have been facilitating Independent Inquiry in my classroom for the past three years. It’s similar to Genius Hour and 20% Time in Education. Witnessing the enthusiasm and engagement with which learners pursue their interests and passions has motivated me to evaluate, redesign, share, and promote passion driven learning.


In these years, the single greatest challenge has been establishing trust that time students spend pursuing their interests and passions is well spent. As asked by The Tinkering Studio in Chapter 5 of Design, Make, Play:

‘It looks like fun, but are they learning?’

Cynicism about learner directed learning is understandable. We don’t have content. The students inquire into and create the content.

When I asked students their thoughts and feelings about Independent Inquiry in our classroom, they agreed that it’s fun. But they also said:

I can do anything I want.’
‘I like to make things.’
‘We can work together.’
‘We can challenge ourselves.’
‘When we make things, we improve ourselves and think a lot.’
‘We practice being reflective.’
‘In Independent Inquiry, you don’t feel bad about making mistakes.’
‘Sometimes you have to start over again.’

We have had a fascinating variety of inquiries over the last three years, from baking to basketball free throw practice, lego robotics to fashion design.

Teachers who try passion driven learning in their classrooms discover that the deep learning occurs around the processes of thinking, inquiry, and reflection. We all pursue our passions differently, and our best learning occurs from exploring different paths to understanding, making mistakes, persisting through frustration, and reflecting on the process.

Regretably, many teachers go to great lengths to design detailed project organizers to ensure that students cross all of the ‘t’s and dot all of the ‘i’s of their learning process. Understandably, they want to have artifacts of student learning to control the process just enough to be able to ‘justify’ the use of time.

But that’s not learner directed, is it? It’s a project in which students have some voice, but the direction is already determined.

One might object, claiming that ‘most students don’t know how to direct their own learning. They can’t do it.’

‘They can’t do it.’

I cringe visibly when educators say that.

People don’t learn by already being able to do things. They learn by trying new things.

The brilliance of passion driven learning, what makes it the vanguard of a meaningful revolution in education is that it’s based on the premise that ‘They can do it’.

Our responsibility is to empower them.

Trust the learner

The first and most important trust that passion driven learning requires is between students and their teachers. We must trust that each learner will pursue their interests and passions to the best of their ability and gain their trust that we will do anything possible to help.

An infant doesn’t begin to learn to walk by taking a first step. They begin in the cradle by wondering how it is that other people can move around so easily. Their first attempts at mobility are so pathetic, they are adorable, and that’s exactly what we expect.

Self directed learning is no different. Most learners fail miserably and that’s exactly what needs to happen. Failure should be encouraged and celebrated. This failure is the foundation of a growth mindset and an environment of trust empowers everyone to act with courage to grow.


I have observed a wide range of fascinating independent inquiries. Some are shining examples of committed and creative hard work, some are simply pathetic. But the best and the worst are of equal value as they represent different stages of learning how to learn. In many cases, the so called ‘worst’ inquiries are actually the best.

Learn; don’t be taught.

When students enter my upper elementary classroom for the first time, they know how to ‘be taught’. They are well accustomed to clever lessons, activities, worksheets, and quizzes.

My goal is for them to learn how to ‘learn’. Which begs the question: ‘If students aren’t in school to ‘be taught’, what’s the purpose of teachers?’

It’s a fair question! What we are essentially saying is, ‘send your kids to my classroom! I’m not really going to teach them anything.’ What is needed is trust among all stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers, etc.

I have been fortunate to teach in an environment that explicitly promotes inquiry learning, and given the current trends of deeper learning, design thinking, and maker education, I imagine most schools would be willing to allow an experiment in passion driven learning.

Even given the initial trust of stakeholders, it’s our responsibility to sustain that trust by clearly demonstrating the success of our programs. Fortunately, the inspired faces of students describing their learning speak volumes, but it’s not enough.

The key to sustaining trust is transparency.

Transparency

The first and indispensable tool I use is a Google Form for weekly reflection and self assessment. It’s the hub of our passion driven learning as we use it to reflect and discuss our learning.

The form we use in my class includes elements from the IB Primary Years Program, The 21st Century Fluency Project, the Connect Learning Core Values, and a writing prompt. These elements represent the essential goals for the school year. Of course, a form could include virtually anything, including Common Core learning objectives.

The transparency comes from the spreadsheet the form feeds. Every reflection is recorded with a timestamp and can be searched by any variable. The sheet itself is not sortable, but a straightforward script can import the contents to another sheet that is sortable. I have included all of these in a public Google Drive Folder for anyone to copy.

After several weeks of inquiry and reflection, it’s very revealing to give each student a printout of their own reflections to analyze. They are always impressed with the growth and maturity their inquiries and reflections show.

We also use the form during a weekly Independent Inquiry Meeting. My class has two consecutive hours scheduled for self directed learning, once per week, and each sessions begins with a meeting in which we discuss their previous reflections, new inquiry models, collaboration and service opportunities, and anything else pertaining to independent inquiry.

These meetings are also a great chance to explore our reflection ‘analytics’, a summary of the reflections in graphic form.

Coach, document, curate, share

Back to the question of ‘what does the teacher ‘teach’?’ in a self directed environment. One answer is that we become coaches. We must be intimately familiar with each student’s project, their strengths and areas of need as inquirers. Often, when I notice a student pursuing a particularly difficult line of inquiry, I independently perform my own research to help them find useful yet difficult to find resources. At other times, particularly when students work in a group on a highly creative inquiry goal, I just leave them alone to negotiate their own ways through the challenges.

The learning environment is incredibly dynamic, and opportunities to capture and document the best learning come and go in flashes. Another answer to what teachers do is that we become documentarians and curators.

My smartphone is always at hand to snap a picture and take a quick note. For curation, Evernote is extremely useful, as it allows me to tag photo notes with the student’s name and any other important information, including quotes from students about their learning.

Teachers know that well organized portfolios of student work including a range of assessment data are a good way to endear ourselves to administration.

Finally, all this learning needs to be shared, certainly with parents and ideally publicly. My preferred media are a class twitter account and blog. Twitter is perfect for live sharing of the learning in class and interacting with parents and other classes. In our class blog, I often reshare tweets and include more photos and explanation.

The best way to describe this sharing is ‘broadcasting’. If the passion driven classroom actively broadcasts its activities, the levels of engagement and depth of learning will be evident and celebrated.

Trust yourself

Trust yourself to learn from mistakes, reflect, adapt, try again, and above all, share your own process for passion driven learning, just as we wish for our students.

Trust yourself to persist through the mishaps and misadventures of learning innovation and openly model a mindset to inspire students to embrace and pursue their interests and passions.

Exhibition: PBL To The Max!

Exhibition

This year, my sixth grade class prepared and presented our school’s first Exhibition. As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program candidate school, it was an opportunity for me to research project-based learning, put into practice the guidelines established by the IB, and for our students to experience a culminating project to conclude their elementary school lives.


DLMOOC

The timing of the Deeper Learning MOOC, a massive open online course dedicated in large part to Project Based Learning, could not have been better. A host of organizations were introduced and resources shared and discussed, as well as models and frameworks that I could use to inform and enrich my role as a facilitator and coach.

During the Week 9 Participants Panel, moderator Rob Riordan remarked to me, ‘If you want to get engaged in deeper learning, a good way to start is to schedule an exhibition.’


His words reminded me of a quote by the prolific composer Duke Ellington: ‘I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.’


If an exhibition is the overall objective of a school year, I discovered that it provides a strong structure on which to practice skills and pursue inquiry. But more importantly, it provides a deadline to complete a project. Deanna Mascle recently reflected in her post, Why Project-Based Learning?, ‘In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place through the project.’ The trick for facilitators is to maximize, document, and curate the learning throughout the process.


Designing the framework

My own experiences with project based learning as a learner and facilitator have taught me the importance of choice. For a project to totally engage a learner’s interest, it must be self-directed. However, every project has arbitrary expectations and goals. The IB PYP Exhibition Guidelines are an ideal reference for designing an environment that balances student choice with general expectations. By connecting with and learning from several experienced Exhibition teachers, in particular Sam Sherratt and Kristen Blum, I attempted to design a learning and working environment with enough structure and support to set up students for success, yet with enough flexibility and freedom to empower students with agency for authentic action.

My solution was to use individual wikis as ‘home bases’ on which each student could document all aspects of their inquiries according to an outline of requirements. As they worked, we held regular consultations to discuss and document the formal elements, such as applications of academic skills and conceptual understandings, of their projects.


Looking back, I should have done more to structure these formal elements on a calendar. For example, while reflection with a teacher or mentor is important, it would have been more effective to schedule activities in which students cooperate to assess and discuss each others’ projects-in-progress by focusing on particular elements in each session.


Setting expectations

While students selected and pursued their inquiries independently, one design success was to require certain tasks. Specifically, every student was required to complete an expository essay, a persuasive speech, and an expressive work of art.

Limiting the scope of the products was very effective for increasing student agency, although in the future, I plan to focus on each as an assessment task by itself during the school year to develop applicable skills.

Rubrics were also a key feature for setting expectations. These were created collaboratively as a class early in the process and were based on the model that we have used throughout the year. By clearly defining success criteria for the formal elements, I believe that we maximized opportunities for students to exercise choice and direct their own learning.


Synthesizing the theme


In December, we began specific preparations for the Exhibition by discussing and synthesizing a theme title and description. As I wrote in the post, PYP Exhibition Theme Synthesisour theme needed to integrate aspects of all six PYP transdisciplinary themes and unify students’ inquiries and interests under a common conceptual theme. My solution was to play poetry magnets. By mixing and matching, the students were able to cobble together a theme description that, with a little semantic help from me, includes everyone’s contributions and provides general context for all of our work. How we interact  is our theme title, and I have noticed that when students’ inquiries have wandered astray, referring them back to our theme has been very valuable to help them refocus or reorient themselves.


BYOD

One of the most successful features of our project was a temporary Bring-Your-Own-Device policy. Normally, our students check their technology at the door during the school day, however, in order for our exhibitioners to take ownership of their learning and projects, I petitioned the parents and administration to allow students to utilize all of the tools at their disposal.


The result was increased motivation and efficiency as students learned how to apply the fluency they have gained with their ‘smart’ devices to their academic learning.


Weekly reflection

The only required ongoing tasks were two reflections per week: One blog post and one video. Surprisingly, while at times entertaining, this was one of the least successful activities in terms of student learning.
Why? The early reflections went as expected. Blog posts were recountings of activities. A culture of listing day-by-day even grew organically as a method to organize. Videos started giggly and progressed to more sober as the Exhibition became imminent.

Unfortunately, few reflections were ‘deep’. They generally lacked emotion and personal connection. This is my greatest challenge for future long term projects. How can we utilize technology for formative reflection more effectively?

One idea is to provide prompts for each reflection. Similar to the documentation process needing more structure and opportunities for peer-interaction, I think that the reflection process needs more scaffolding, at least in the beginning. There are rich possibilities, such as choosing prompts at random or me, as a coach, writing prompts that become increasingly complex and challenging.


If the project is the learning, then formative reflection and self-assessment is the most important facet of its documentation. This is an area that requires significant attention and a line of inquiry that I am excited to pursue and would welcome collaborators!


Cognitive dissonance

Personally, I believe that a culminating project, in this case the PYP Exhibition, is a rite of passage. Please see my post, PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, for more details and to view my attempt at an inspirational and provocative video.

The resolution of the cognitive dissonance students experience occurs when they assume responsibility for their learning processes, agency for their choice of actions, and ownership of their learning artifacts.


This seemed to occur at various times and to varying degrees of intensity. While it is difficult if not impossible to assess or document, another of my driving goals for the future is to optimize opportunities for cognitive dissonance and resolution during the Exhibition. Again, I believe more activities to stimulate students to reflect on their beliefs about themselves would help.

Enjoyment

Finally, to mediate the stress of concentrating on a long term, transdisciplinary project, we had fun. From research like the findings reported in the Wall Street Journal article, The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain, it is clear that while deadlines and schedules may be good for short term motivation, over time they cause changes in the brain to the detriment of creativity and productivity.

One of the best decisions we made was to schedule a field trip to an amusement park to ‘kick-off’ formal preparations for the Exhibition. Everyone’s mood flipped that day, and I noticed renewed focus and seriousness in the weeks that followed. I highly recommend such an activity to anyone pursuing PBL with their class.

Students were also free to manage their time independently, including taking breaks and playing games. I also planned some team-building activities that were enjoyable. Most often, I found myself reminding students to take breaks and suggesting that they go outside for a stroll to refresh their minds!

Verdict

Project Based Learning is fun. My goal for the future is to plan and schedule a little more to provide a more stable foundation for students’ projects. This planning stretches to the beginning of the school year, as it is important to ensure that all students have had opportunities to practice the skills they will need to recognize and report on their learning as it is happening.

I’m curious to know other PBL facilitators’ strategies for supporting your students’ inquiries!