Preparing for Student Led Conferences

As we move towards the end of the school year (scary to think how fast that’s come around!) this week our ES Team began to prepare for Student Led Conferences. This was framed by 2 questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the Student Led Conference?
  2. What opportunities does this present us

Purpose

The most obvious answer here is that the purpose of the conferences is that students share their learning with their families (small note, but I always try to be sure to say families rather than parents – its a small change but can make these events more inclusive of families who do not match the format of 2 parents + children and reduce anxiety in children who may not have a parent attending for any number of reasons). But what does sharing learning with your family look like: Is it different for different ages? Is only completed ‘work’ valuable? Is only work on paper, stored in a folder valuable? I’m going to take a guess that most readers would answer those questions yes, no and no. So, maybe we’re sharing:

  • Ways in which we might learn (examples of inquiry based learning/concept driven learning/visible thinking/ etc. )
  • What we’ve been learning (some of the things we have learned – knowledge, skills and understandings)
  • Some of the outcomes/actions which have arisen from our learning (stories written, dramas performed, art works, speeches, etc.)

This led us to our purpose. We don’t want to only share what we’ve learned. We want to share how we’ve grown, how we got there, the skills improved and understandings developed, the ways we’ve transferred knowledge and applied it.

Opportunities

We then discussed the opportunities a student led conference offers us.  Firstly there’s a huge opportunity to develop student agency.  In the Enhanced PYP agency is often seen through the lens of voice, choice and ownership.  SLC’s hit all of this beautifully. 

Voice – students are the ones discussing, describing and reflecting on their own progress as a learner

Choice – in the build up to SLCs students choose which work they want to share

Ownership – presenting your own learning journey to someone important to you is a huge change for demonstrating and developing ownership.  The teacher isn’t telling your family how well you have done.  You own this learning – you should be talking about it!

This also offers us an opportunity as a school community.  We’ve made a significant shift this year in the way we talk about learning.  Our focus in planning has changed. The design of many learning experiences has changed, or been reframed. Our assessment practices have changed. Our reporting has changed. As a group of educators we’ve been brave and leapt into backwards planning, standards based grading and mastery.  This is helping us develop rigor in our instruction and equip our students with the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to be successful life long learners capable of demonstrating agency and learning through structure, guided and free inquiry. But it is a big change.  And one area we’re working on is using making sure the language we use in schools matches our intention.  SLCs offer a great opportunity to empower students with language that places an emphasis on growth, progress and development.  It’s also an opportunity to model this for families. 

We’ve decided to have some parent reflection questions which help to do just that.  I want to see us move away from questions such as ‘Which piece of work were you most proud of?’  This implies that work (completion) is more valuable than learning and that the end result is more important that the process.  We don’t believe this as a community of educators so our language needs to change accordingly.  Here are some suggestions our teachers came up with:

Teacher created questions to support reflection by families

In summary our SLCs this year will be shaped by their purpose and the opportunities they afford us:

Purpose

  • Ways in which we might learn (examples of inquiry based learning/concept driven learning/visible thinking/ etc. )
  • What we’ve been learning (some of the things we have learned – knowledge, skills and understandings)
  • Some of the outcomes/actions which have arisen from our learning (stories written, dramas performed, art works, speeches, etc.)

Opportunities

  • Student agency in action with voice, choice and ownership in sharing their learning
  • Make the change in our thinking about learning visible in the language we use to reflect on our students progress (for children and families)

I’m excited to see our wonderful children share all that they have done and to see how our ideas can be improved on for the future.

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Rethinking Feedback: Time to try it out!

A couple of weeks ago I shared this post about Rethinking Feedback:

https://journeysthroughteaching.com/2019/03/07/rethinking-feedback-signs-of-growth/

We posed the question:

What if instead of giving feedback on a piece of work against levels/grades/rubrics, we gave feedback on signs of growth

The idea was surprisingly simple, yet hopefully effective. Switch feedback from grades and levels to signs of growth. In doing so we switch the conversation away from the work and back to the learning, but we also place a stronger emphasis on progress than we do on achievement. Since then I’ve been thinking about ways to take this into the classroom, and have put together some reflection prompts to use in conversations/conferences with our learners as well as some reflection and feedback graphic organisers to help support and prompt thinking. Here’s what we have so far:

Prompt Questions

Our next step is to get these into the classroom and see what works and what we’d like to change, add, improve etc so that we continue to show signs of growth as educators too!

Luckily, I work with some amazing teachers who are willing to try this out and share feedback on what works, what to tweak, where to go next, etc. They’re going to be trying out this switch of focus with their students, using the documents to support it and helping me move the idea forward. Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have some initial reflections from teachers and students to consider, some mistakes to learn from, and more progress towards changing the way we think about feedback!

Math Night!

Last week we hosted the Annual AIS Kuwait Math Night, this is a big event for our school community and one which is well attended and this year was no exception.  Children and their families from across the school came to participate in math games and activities, as well as view work exhibited by our MYP and DP students.

Why host a Math Night?

Maths can be a polarising subject, ask around a few friends, colleagues or relatives and you’ll likely find someone really excited about maths and someone who absolutely hates it. In school we often see a drop-off in students who identify themselves as liking maths beyond primary school and more children identifying themselves as ‘bad’ at maths.  Events like this, which build up Math in a positive way, share it with the community and make learning fun won’t completely overhaul this, but they can start to create more positive associations with the subject. On top of this, we have so much great learning taking place in that opportunities to share this and celebrate learning should surely be captialised upon.  Celebrating learning together with friends, family and teachers is a great way to strengthen our learning community and show that we value trying, failing, trying again and learning over ‘good grades’. Oh, and it’s fun!

What does Math Night look like?

Here at AIS we have a different theme for Math Night each year, last year in coincided with the Winter Olympics, this year with Pi Day so these have been natural connections to make.  Pi Day was particularly fun as we had both Pi-rates and Pies as ways to help our younger learners connect!

Our older students (MYP and DP) share their learning in an walkthrough exhibition whilst our PYP division goes for a more hands on approach.  Children attend with their family and go around to activities run by each grade level to have fun practicing their maths skills with their family.  They have a little card to collect stamps for each activity and our parent support group donated gift cards to do a prize draw for students who participated.

Below are a few photos from the event:

Reflections and Considerations

This year I felt like Math Night for my division (PYP) was successful (MYP and DP were coordinated by our Math department so I don’t want to reflect for them!) with great activities from our teachers and lots of family involvement.  Huge positives for us were:

  • Our teachers were (as always) enthusiastic, creative and passionate – this carries through into the activities they design and the way they share them with the children. This event simply wouldn’t work without their commitment.
  • Activities were exciting and engaging, and encouraged thinking! Everything was hands on, minds on which made it fun. I was fortunate enough to be talking to children as they left to go home asking them ‘What was most challenging?’ and ‘What was the most fun?’ and the only time a child struggled to answer was when they couldn’t decide between 2 activities!
  • Our community involvement was great – the AIS Parent Support Group helped out with running the main entrance handing out score cards and giving directions, they also moved around the school helping things to run smoothly and provided prizes. The parents were also a great help at welcoming other families and ensuring everyone felt welcome and involved from the moment they stepped through the door.

Moving forwards I have a few questions to consider for next year:

  • How do we make it more family orientated? (i.e. get more parents playing the games!) I’m thinking we might look at a next year being a friendly contest between family members to increase interaction and strengthen the ‘family’ aspect of Math Night even further.
  • Can we help support parents by letting them experience inquiry based math?
  • Is there a way to recognise/celebrate all those who participate (eek – we’re a large school!) rather than a prize draw approach?

Pure mathematicians just love to try unsolved problems – they love a challenge.

Andrew Wiles

Launching the PYP Exhibition!

We’re very excited here at AIS Kuwait to have launched PYPX 2019!

Our Exhibition takes place within the Transdisciplinary Theme of Sharing the Planet, and we further connect it to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  This helps our students find real meaning in their work as they look to investigate the impact of the UN SDGs both in the region and beyond.

So our first challenge was how to help the students get to know the goals and begin to think about their meaning and implication? Luckily, we have a large and amazing school team to call upon!

We managed to set up 14 stations (we have 7 classes in grade 5 so they were split accordingly) for students to rotate through. We took out Goal 17 as inter-agency cooperation was considered by our team to be the least likely for our students to connect to for their exhibition and Goals 14 and 15 since they knew most about these already.  After that each member of staff took 1 goal and devised a 10 minute provocation or introduction activity.

On the day of the launch we began with a short video (thanks to my husband Mark for the video editing!) and intro speeches from myself as PYPC and our Middle School Principal.  Then when had students rotate through 3 activities.

Some of the provocation/introduction activities included:

  • Comparing water samples
  • Looking at maps which show phone/internet access in different regions
  • Comparing the relative speeds of transport on single lane roads
  • Tasting ‘nutrition biscuits’ and discussing why these might be important in some areas
  • A demonstration of the difference between equality and equity
  • A game to help understand the spread of diseases and why immunization is important

Students were prompted to reflect after each activity with some visible thinking to answer questions such as:

  • What does this goal mean to you?
  • How did the activity help you to learn about the goal?
  • What connections can you make between this and other units you’ve studied as a PYP student?
  • What questions do you have about this goal?

These shared thinking sheets were then hung throughout the Grade 5 corridor as a gallery walk to help students share their learning.

Feedback from students and teachers from the launch was positive with the students excited for the Exhibition. Our main point of consideration for next year is that we’d like to stretch this over a longer period so that the students could experience more of the goals – and give them a broader base to start from.   

After launching to the parents, myself and one of our Grade 5 team then met parents to walk them through the launch too (see the powerpoint).  Here we helped families to understand the SDGs but focused more the skills their students would be developing and how they could support this at home.

Our students are now up and running with their Exhibition process and I for one am so excited to see what they will achieve!  A huge thanks to our amazing AIS Team – this worked because teachers, coaches, librarians, leadership and students all came together and it couldn’t have been done without any of them (and an extra thanks to one of our PE team Crystal who stepped in to lead an activity at the last minute when another teacher couldn’t make it)!

Rethinking Feedback: Signs of Growth

I daren’t even Google how many articles/blog posts/books/etc. there are out there which claim to be rethinking feedback: but we’re rolling with it.

Regardless of the title for this post…I think we (Mark and I) may have just revolutionised feedback as we walked to school this morning. We were chatting through the day ahead as usual and Mark mentioned 2 things firstly, he was helping run an assembly about encouraging/developing grit and secondly he needed to design a feedback form for essays his 8th graders are working on.  Suddenly, my brain stuck a few pieces of different puzzles together and threw out an interesting question:

What if instead of giving feedback on a piece of work against levels/grades/rubrics, we gave feedback on signs of growth?

Think for a moment about the impact this could have on both the way teachers think about student work (be it projects, writing, tests, etc.) and on how students view work.  It has the potential to be huge.

The feedback would move away from variations on the conventional what did you do well, what should you do next and towards discussing what evidence the teacher can see of progress.  This may be a student applying prior feedback, it could be a noticeable improvement in communication, an increase in academic honesty, more expression of creativity, the list goes on. A teacher would now look at work not only in terms of meeting a rubric, matching a grade – but instead in terms of that student.  ‘How can you see that they’ve grown as a learner?’ ‘What have they done which shows you they are moving forwards?’ It may also prompt some further questions such as ‘If you can’t see signs of growth, what does this mean about the work they’ve been doing?’

For students, the feedback they receive would directly promote growth mindset, development of skills and PROGRESS. It would potentially feel more personal as it recognises their goals, their previous understanding/skills/etc and how far they have come.  Would it prompt next steps which were more meaningful too? Would this focus on signs of growth make it easier to apply the lessons learned from one learning experience to another? Would it help cultivate growth mindset and grit?

We now need to test this approach out.  We need to try this with students and teachers and see what effect it has. But for now, we’re quietly excited!

Celebrating Kuwait’s National and Liberation Day 2019

An amazing part of the life of an international teacher is getting to experience and participate in holidays and celebrations you’d probably never see at ‘home’. This week Kuwait celebrated National Day (25th Feb) and Liberation Day (26th Feb) as these are national holidays we had our school celebration late last week before the break.

The two days coincide but mark very different events in Kuwait’s history.  In short National Day marks the Amir’s ascension to the throne whilst Liberation Day marks the end of the Gulf War and the Liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi forces.  You can read more about them here: Kuwait Times Article

So how do we celebrate at AIS?

Shared Moments

For National and Liberation Day the whole country dresses up in the colours of the flag (Green, White, Red and Black) – and school is no exception! Here are a few of our students showing off their colours:

Children and Teachers celebrating at AIS Kuwait

Our students also love singing together, with the K U W A I T song being a huge favourite!

Following Tradition

Each year the school comes together for the Parade.  Students and staff from the Middle and High School, along with parents from across the school come out to watch and cheer on the Elementary school children who show off their colours and wave flags as they parade through the school.  This is a school version of an old National Day tradition of having a colourful parade – a tradition which sadly doesn’t continue for the country as a whole but does here at AIS.

Trying Something New

This year our school’s Parent Group added in some new activities including information sessions for the children on Liberation Day in particular to carry forward understanding of what happened during the Gulf War and why Liberation was so important and must be remembered.

This was followed up with some art and sport activities, a read aloud and a big shared lunch!

Activities to celebrate

It’s always so much fun, and also a great chance to learn and see things from new perspective whenever we get to celebrate different events and holidays.

Happy National and Liberation Days Kuwait!

Reporting: Navigating the challenges of what to report and how

We all know it’s important, and yet we all dread it; writing reports. Whether you do this once a year, once a unit or somewhere in between, whether you’re a new school or well established, new to teaching or seasoned veteran – it’s still hard. This year we’ve been wrestling with some big questions when it comes to reporting:

  • What is the purpose of reporting, and how do we know our reporting is fit for purpose?
  • How do we balance the varied answers different groups of stakeholders will give to the first question?
  • How do we report on ‘soft skills’? Should we report on them?
  • What role does grading play in our learning community? How do/can our grading practices reflect our values and our expectations?
  • How do we ensure that our reporting is accessible to all, whilst also reflecting the different languages of our community?

We’ve been working on this on and off for the entire school year.  Admin and Curriculum leadership teams have met, grade level teams have created mock versions, shared ideas and feedback, we took feedback from parents on past report cards and current progress reports, we sampled and compared dozens of versions from other schools.  Then we drafted, edited, redrafted our own version so many times we lost count of which version we were on. At the end of all of this, we produced a version which isn’t yet perfect – but that I’m proud of nevertheless. It’s a culmination of hours of Professional Development (in house and with Dr. Thomas Guskey), many meetings and metaphorical blood, sweat and tears.  But more than that, it represents real thought, deep and challenging engagement from so many members of our school team and has been part of (and a product of) significant steps forward in the way we think about learning this year.

Fig. 1 The new AIS Kuwait PYP Report Card


The report card we’ve produced as a result is context specific to our school, our students, our community and our practice, but here are a few of the highlights:

Character: The IB Learner Profile

As an IB school, character and holistic development for us is central to our teaching and learning.  We want our students to become global citizens, world changers and life-long learners. We use the IB Learner Profile throughout the school and so reflecting on this area of development was a big goal.  It’s tough – can you/how do you measure and record this? Truthfully, not easily. We wrestled with this idea a lot, wanting a way to honour student growth and the importance of character, whilst not wanting to make it seem academic, a signal of success, etc. What we’ve moved towards is using this as a chance for students to reflect with their teacher on what they consider to be their strengths and areas to grow.   This isn’t about grading these traits, but reflecting on them and providing prompts for important conversations.

Behaviour/Learning Habits/Skills

Building on the great PD we had this year with Dr. Tom Guskey we were keen to separate academics and behaviour.  To help with this, we designed check boxes (using the Self Management and Social Skills from the IB) to give teachers a specific place to report on behaviour, effort, organisation, and social skills – which often intersect with student performance but need to be considered separately. We also hope this will provide families with a clearer picture of their child’s behaviour – something which again may prompt important conversations.

Grading

One of our hardest decisions was to change our grading scale.  We know this means a need to help students and families understand a new system, but we felt strongly that it was a necessary change.  

We’ve switched from a 4 point scale to a 3 point scale.  Largely because our ‘highest’ grade, was to exceed expectations and this had become somewhat of an unknown, or a ‘unicorn grade’.  When we discussed it in teams it was very hard to define what exceeding expectations might look like in a meaningful way. After much discussion and thought, reading and reflection we chose to remove this grade entirely.  Our new top of the scale is ‘Independent’ demonstrating that a student can meet the grade level expectations with an appropriate level of independence. We’ll still be recognising those children who go above and beyond our expectations (either in terms of grade expectations, or commitment to learning, or additional connections and projects) in our written comments and our conversations both in class and at conferences.  

This is also better for our students in terms of making use of feedback.  Imagine the frustration of successfully meeting/doing everything expected of you only to be told it’s not really enough and we can’t really tell you specifically what more to do?

We’re also working on a model of mastery, rather than averaging grades from assignments throughout units/terms we record where the student is at the time of reporting.  We expect students to make progress over time, and where they get to is ultimately more important than when they get there. If a child was struggling at the beginning of a unit but made significant progress, is it fair that their grade is impacted by that early struggle?

Fig 2. Standards Based Reporting


Language

The majority of our student population are dual Arabic and English speakers, whilst our reports are mostly in English we’ve reported on their Arabic language and Religion classes (both of which are delivered in Arabic) in Arabic. This is largely to convey an important message – that both languages are important and play significant roles in our lives. We’ve also taken the important step of having headings and subheadings translated into Arabic by our Arabic Head of Department.  This may seem like a small step (since they say the same thing essentially), but is important in terms of demonstrating the value of language in our community.

Fig. 3 Arabic Section of the Report Card


As I mentioned earlier, our Report Card is not perfect.  We’ll reflect, we’ll review and we’ll revise because getting better is just what we do as educators.  But I am incredibly proud of the team I work with and the journey in learning this represents.