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.

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Understanding by Design: the Role of Essential Questions. Reflecting on shared learning with Jay McTighe

This weekend we had the great fortune of a 3 hour workshop for our school leaders with Jay McTighe.  These opportunities always seem to have double the benefit since we not only get to develop our understanding with the help of a guest speaker, but also to have focused conversations with each other on specific areas of practice.  McTighe’s area of expertise, Understanding by Design, is a great area of discovery and thought for us as a IB Continuum School.

 

We began with a thoughtful discussion of the roles of acquisition (knowledge or skills), meaning making and transfer of learning.  As we listened to McTighe’s descriptions of each there was a lot of agreement in the room as well as consensus both that all 3 play an important role and that transfer is the area we find most difficult to develop and support.
A model of learning presented by Jay McTighe

Fig 1. Transfer model

© Jay McTighe 2018

One of the central focuses of our session together was the role and design of Essential Questions.  Now certainly the idea of Essential Questions is not new, we were all starting with a good base of knowledge – but McTighe posed some thought provoking ideas and questions which in turn allowed us to have some meaningful discussions and reflections on our own practice.

 

One of McTighe’s thinking points was the idea of using Essential Questions vertically, crossing grades to give depth, purpose and a sense of connectivity to learning.  I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this right now. On the one hand I like the idea of bigger learning goals for students and sense of common purpose and connection in our learning.  However, in practice I have some reservations I need to work through first. Primarily, I worry that these overarching questions become a distraction from working towards mastery for some students.  We’d have to explore in much more depth how we connect these back to rigorous learning and authentic assessment before I’d be comfortable starting to work on what those questions should be with my colleagues. Connected to this I’m also concerned that it would risk adding another layer of goals to work towards.  We’re an IB PYP school and also use Common Core. It’s taken time, effort and blood, sweat and tears from a lot of people, but I feel like we’re in a place where this works for students, teachers and families as a way to deliver learning experiences which are deep, inquiry driven, concept based, and give students and teachers agency, whilst also being rigorous and data supported (critically not data led, but supported). I’m not sure at this point that another goal to work towards would benefit our learners, or our teachers.

 

This did however prompt a great discussion about the IB PYP Transdisciplinary Themes.  These serve the same purpose as the overarching questions McTighe described. They given a vertical focus to, and reason for, learning.  But I wonder how much our students recognise this? In the past we’ve worked to make the same unit different across grades in the name of avoiding repetition – but what if we planned Who We Are, for instance, vertically with intentional cross over? How does what Grade 1 learn build into Grade 2’s focus?

 

Another great point of discussion centered on our current use of the Lines of Inquiry and Teacher Questions.  Why are they only Teacher Questions? Why aren’t they Essential Questions for students and teachers to consider as they build their understanding of the Central Idea? They’re already concept based, they are perfectly placed to be revamped and given a new role.  As such McTighe shared some excellent resources (I believe you can view/purchase them through his website) on designing Essential Questions. I really believe this is an area where we can make a meaningful and impactful change which will support our students.
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Fig 2. Type of Essential Question

© Jay McTighe 2018

As I begin to think about our Programme of Inquiry Review process, this gives me some exciting prospects to consider:

  • How can we leverage the Transdisciplinary Themes to help students make deep and meaningful understandings across grades?
  • Can we design Essential Questions which work towards our Central Idea using the Key Concepts?

 

I’m excited to see what my colleagues come up with when we undertake this process together!

 

A huge thank you to our school, AIS Kuwait, for continuously striving to provide us opportunities such as these (even on weekends which none of us grumbled about at all… well, maybe just a little at the start!).  And of course thank you to Jay McTighe – in our 3 hour session he proved to be a very engaging presenter and gave us plenty to think about!

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Developing Agency: Supporting Teachers to Learn Continuously

This year a big focus for me as a PYP Coordinator is thinking about ways to increase agency in our school.  With the Enhanced PYP comes a bold move from the IB to put agency and the centre of the way in which we consider learning.  This is leading to some great reflections, ideas and actions regarding student agency which I’ll write about another time.  Today though I want to write a little about teacher agency.  As I think about teacher agency a lot of questions come to mind:

  • What do different stakeholders think teacher agency looks like?
  • How can we authentically increase teacher agency in our schools?
  • Does this look the same across a continuum school?
  • What actions need to be taken from an organisational/individual perspective?
  • How might I support my teachers to develop their own sense of agency?
  • Can you/should you ‘make’ a teacher develop agency? Or, what is the role and influence of teacher buy-in?
  • What opportunities are there for collective/individual actions?
  • How do we/can we model teacher agency to students? What role might this play in supporting student agency?

As I think through these questions (which invariably have complex/multifaceted answers) I’m beginning to think of actions I can take in my role that will be supportive of teachers but not simply adding ‘extra work’ to their pile.

One area I chose to think about was CPD or Continuous Professional Development.  Our school places a strong emphasis on teacher development opportunities with differing degrees of success and impact.

Although there are some things we simply have to cover as a whole staff, one area I’m working on is offering more choice for teachers when it comes to CPD options.  Here are a couple ways I’m trying to implement this:

– Offering teacher-led workshops: this puts teachers in control of what they are supporting each other with and how they share learning.  It also means we have more people leading learning which allows us to break into smaller groups, and offer everyone more choice

– Using teacher-leaders to facilitate discussion groups

– A CPD challenge, in which staff have a wide range of options for mini-CPD to try out on their own.  There are a lot of options available, each learning opportunity is relatively short, and teachers choose when to do each one.  The idea is to put teachers firmly in change of their own learning, whilst also providing suggestions on where to focus.

 

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This is still very much a work in progress and I’m trying to learn more as I grow; to learn more and think more about ways to increase teacher agency in the way we learn as professionals, yet balance this against the need for some direction.

As we complete some of these new options (staff led workshops and the challenge especially) I’ll be seeking feedback from teachers at my school to see how this shapes my learning too!

What if then…?

Recently at school we’ve been talking a lot about culture building. The need to build strong relationships in our classrooms is always a major focus for educators at the beginning of a school year, and for good reason.  I’ve also been talking to others at our school about how we support a positive staff culture.  Those conversations are, as always, ongoing and complex, but recently I saw a heartwarming example of building a learning culture that I wanted to write about today.

Our son, Kiran, is 4.  He loves Lego, and has been thrilled that one of his friends loves Lego too and they’ll often take turns visiting each others houses to play after school.  One day last week I came home to find Kiran and his friend busy playing together (not too unusual), but they were so absorbed in what they were doing that I got chance to just listen to them play. And I heard something awesome.

The 2 little boys were busily building some kind of vehicle, a ‘lair’ for bad guys, a hide out and goodness knows what else.  But what amazed me was the way that they were taking turns and building on each others’ ideas. One of them would add something and describe what it was/its purpose “If we put a door here the bad guys can escape through it” – cute!  Then, the other would look, agree and reply with “What if then…” and add their own idea.

It was great to watch, they were quite happily building forward.  Each idea didn’t need to be scrutinised too much, nothing they did brought this little game to an end, there was no final product, they just kept moving forwards – together. It was so simple, and yet so effective.

Now, sadly, the world is a little more complex than Lego (although seeing some Lego kits recently makes me rethink that statement), and I myself am a strong advocate of working towards a clear aim… but watching their exchange made me consider how we could recognise and honour times when building forwards together was most valuable.  If that approach of seeing a constant stream of problems and solutions as progress was actually incredibly useful.  And if maybe their way of removing limitations and just seeing possibilities was one we all need more of.

We all know the power of positive talk but how many of us check the way we talk to each other? How much time do we really spend considering how the way we say something can impact what happens next (think about ‘the power of might’ and how much difference 1 small word can make)? And do we take time to consider our responses when someone else raises a problem they are facing – do we respond in a way which encourages finding solutions?

I don’t have any answers yet about how to build this into a school culture, to be truly honest I’ve been so busy in the past week with other projects at school I haven’t put much time into thinking about it yet… but I am hoping that writing about it gets my thoughts flowing a little and maybe prompts me to find some ideas. If nothing else, at least it made me smile thinking about it again 🙂

 

Exploring the IB Learner Profile: How do we help students make meaningful connections?

This week I began my new position as IB PYP Coordinator at AIS Kuwait.  One of the most important (but also potentially most challenging) things I am working on during our Orientation Week is some staff training sessions.  When I first started to think about what I should be covering in these I wondered how I’d fill the time, then quickly realised that actually the challenge would be deciding which things would have to wait until later in the year!

There’s a few reasons for this, firstly I’m acutely aware that teachers need this time at the beginning of the year to prepare for all that’s to come. Secondly, I’m not sure I can guarantee that any of us would be ready to respond positively to long CPD sessions about using data to support instruction and differentiation in the week before school begins. Thirdly, I need time to build relationships and trust in my new role. Also, whilst we have so much great practice evident in our school, we’re also always striving to move forward and find new ways to challenge ourselves to keep moving forward.  With this in mind I began prioritising which things we needed to do before school began. Some answers were easy: talk about classroom expectations (more about those another time); plan for the first week; give teachers new to the PYP a crash course to get them started. But one thing I kept coming back to is the way we use the Learner Profile, specifically how to use it to build community and promote learning both in and, critically, beyond school.

Our school is in a position (likely not unique) in which the parents of our students experienced a vastly different style of education to that which we provide. We’re also a large school with 7 form entry across our Elementary School. This raises some interesting questions for me.  How do we use the Learner Profile to promote shared values and community in school, beyond the walls of the classroom? Can it help us connect with our students families to support parents as their child develops as an IB learner? Can it offer us a way to promote a culture of Life Long Learning which is sustainable? Beyond the great learning in our classrooms, what connections can we make to the Learner Profile to show students the value of these attributes in the ‘real world’?

You’ll have noticed thought that these are pretty big, and pretty complex questions.  Ones that need time dedicated to them, require collaboration, research and experimentation.  I didn’t feel this was quite the time for that (an hour on the first day back!), however it is also too important to ignore.  So how to begin the process of maximising the way in which we use the LP? I chose to therefore focus our session on school identity.  We talked about what shapes AIS; being an IB continuum school, using CCSS, being in Kuwait, being an American International, our staff, our students, the community we are part of, the backgrounds of our students, etc. These were great conversations to listen to as I went around the room.  We then moved on to look at the Learner Profile.  I wanted our first consideration to be this:

 

How do we help our students connect to the Learner Profile?

 

Teachers worked in teams to consider examples, ways to model, definitions and explanations and activities which would work with both different grades and in both homeroom and specialist classes. You can see some of their thoughts in the pictures below:

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LP 5

 

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As an established IB school we’re fortunate to have a great blend of experienced voices and new perspectives when we consider ways to use the Learner Profile. As we move forward through the year I’m excited to see where we’ll take this next.  What ways can we find to leverage the LP to develop a stronger sense of school community, identity and agency?

 

 

 

4 Great Ways to Use Ed-Tech to Build Communication Skills in the Elementary Classroom

 

If you read my recent post about my return to blogging, you’ll have seen that I’ve been on a bit of a crusade at my school to prove that ed-tech can be, should be, and is being, used to develop the communication skills of students (If you haven’t read it you can find it here).

 

One of the positives that came from the frustrating conversation that happily pushed me back into blogging, was that I set about putting together a list of practical ways educators could do this.  It’s not enough to tell time-pressured teachers than you can, in theory, do something. I’ve learned in the past 18 months that giving people something they can directly transfer to their classrooms is critical.  So, without further rambling from me, here are some suggestions for ways to build communication skills in the primary classroom (secondary suggestions hopefully coming soon, too!):

 

Chatterpix Kids by Duck Duck Moose

If you teach or have young (3-8) children and haven’t already checked out Duck Duck Moose’s app (they’ve recently joined the Khan Academy family) then go and do that now, then come back – we’ll wait for you.

 

What does it do?

Chatterpix Kids is a very simple app, you snap a picture, draw a line where you want the ‘mouth’ to move, then record what you want to say.  You can also add in a few simple extras such as stickers (funny hats are a big hit with my 6-7 year olds), text, frames, etc.  Then watch your creations, export them to share, or make another.

 

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • To practise giving opinions on a topic/story/event – we recently used it to discuss Chinese New Year, practising giving specific reasons for our opinions (rather than ‘I like it because it is nice.’)
  • Give feedback on work for a partner
  • Student created definitions/points of interest for vocab and topics (share them on your class site, Google Classrooms, Edmodo, blog, etc.)

 

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • Get all the students are speaking.  Every kid in my class loves doing this, even the shy ones – they can choose whether only I see it, they share it with a couple of friends, or add it to the whole-class mele.
  • It’s a great differentiation tool (you can vary what they speak about, but have all kids join in)
  • Add in a listening station – playback a couple of classmates chatterpix and give them feedback
  • Confidence – okay so the first time in particular everyone gets the nervous giggles about how silly they look.  But then they realise they can talk about things, they do have great ideas, etc.

 

ThingLink – www.thinglink.com

 

What does it do?

ThingLink allows you (or students) to annotate pictures or video clips with notes.  You could use it in a number of ways, but I primarily use it as a discussion prompt.  I add questions to the tags, discussion ideas, etc. and send my students a link to the saved version.  They click on each tag to see the questions/prompts I’ve added, then my kids work in pairs/small groups to go through them and discuss them together.  We model and practice language that helps us have good discussions at the start of the year (e.g. I agree with ___, and would add… , I understand your point, however I think…) and recap it for these lessons.

 

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • Activating Prior Knowledge – bring up a picture for a new topic and add some discussion points – what do your class already know about this?
  • Apply new understanding – I recently used this to give students chance to discuss how different objects met, or did not meet, the 7 life processes

 

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • I have 26 kids in my class.  With the best will in the world I could never, and would never, oversee every discussion they have.  But sometimes, they need a little help staying on track with their discussions.  This way I can, virtually, be there to provide a new question when they need to move on, but they have the freedom to practise without me over their shoulder and can decide how long to spend on each question.  I’m able to get them working independently of me, but with support right there if they need it.
  • Differentiation – I can change the questions as I need to.  Or I can mix up the students working together.  They can change the pace.  They can choose to go on a (reasonable) tangent, or stick to just what I asked).  I can go to groups/students who need me most. Pretty awesome, right?
  • Asking questions – eventually my class get to a point where they are able to set questions too, and then share them with each other – adding another great strand to their communication skills

 

Podcasting/Vodcasting

For this I use Audacity for podcasts, which free and pretty simple, but there are plenty of other options out there too.  For vodcasts we keep it simple with either Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.  

What does it do?

Recoding a podcast is a bit like a radio show, only instead of broadcasting it live over the radio, you record it to your device to listen back or share later.

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • Book Club discussions – record a round table discussion of a book
  • Record a drama performance
  • Discuss world events
  • Perform poetry pieces
  • Interviews
  • School News

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • Students will be able to plan, script and then record their podcast pulling in so many skills
  • Builds teamwork and collaboration
  • Again, builds confidence in speaking
  • Allows students to listen to their own work, and that of other students, and reflect on them together

 

Skype in the Classroom from Microsoft – https://education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom/overview

Microsoft are busily chasing down the the likes of Google and Edmodo in providing great services for education (we can compare them another time!).  But a lot of their ideas are, as yet, relatively undiscovered! Skype in the Classroom is a great communication tool.  Last year whilst studying Oceans we were able to Skype an expert, a non-fiction author, direct from our classroom!

What does it do?

You use Skype to connect your class to guest speakers, virtual field trips, other schools, to collaborate on projects, or all of the above!

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

Visit the website and check out the experiences available and then schedule one for your class! My school is not in the US, where many using the service are, but plenty of those offering their expert services have been great at working with us on finding a suitable time!

Use it in connection to:

  • Theme units
  • Geography and History
  • Science
  • Author studies
  • More!

How is this helping build communication skills?

We prep for our Skype session in advance, thinking of topics and questions in small groups. But then we get the chance to actually speak to experts or other students and really put our communication skills into practice!
Clearly, this list is not extensive, it’s not really meant to be.  It’s simply intended to share a few ideas from my own practice, and to help other teachers to think of a few simple ways to use tech to support those all important interpersonal skills!

Blogging and Education – Why I really need to reconnect to blogging!

In a meeting discussing the implementation of a BYOD scheme recently I heard an argument from a senior colleague which genuinely surprised me.  They were arguing that, in light of the rise of socratic style seminars in some of the world’s best schools, we should reduce the use of technology as it hampers students ability to communicate with each other.

 

Whilst I completely agree that communication skills are really important and agree that approaches such as socratic discussions can be very powerful in building this, it is the argument that the use of technology undermines this which I feel most strongly about. The argument went along the lines that if students are working on devices they won’t be able talk to each other and won’t be able to collaborate.  I can see how you get to that point in the argument, we have all seen people using their personal devices at the expense of conversing with people around them.  But do we really believe this is the way we use tech in the classroom?

 

I quickly scrambled to pull up (from my device, which until then had been sat, inactive, on the table in front of me whilst I participated in the meeting fully I add!) examples from my own classroom of some of the ways in which we use ed-tech to support, encourage, build and improve communication and collaboration – not diminish it. As I was talking through just a couple of the ways we had done this it occurred to me that I was looking at some pretty surprised educators. The variety of ways in which I use tech in my classroom to support and enhance learning was in contrast to the notion that the predominant uses would be individual, mostly for internet based research and perhaps typing up notes/assignments, or working on a powerpoint presentation. Furthermore my students are some of the youngest in our school at 6-7 years old (in a 5-18 school), which seemed to add to the surprise.  

 

The meeting moved on, we discussed policy issues, digital safety, insurance, physical and intellectual infrastructure, etc.  But later, when reflecting on the meeting, I realised that the success or limitations of blended learning, BYOD, whatever system it may, ultimately rests on the school’s intellectual infrastructure. Yes we must have all the other things in place. And, yes intellectual infrastructure should include some structured training, but more importantly it needs a culture of self-driven learning and best practice sharing within the school. It would be just as impossible to attend a course for every app, website, idea, etc. that could be used in education as it would to try and actually use all of them.  But we do need a way to share ideas, and expose teachers to some of the possibilities and feedback on how effective they were. If we compare this to literature, we cannot expect a teacher to have read every book in existence to select the most appropriate and engaging to study, but we do talk about what we have done in the past, heard about from colleagues and friends, share ideas and resources, etc.  

 

From this I went back to the primary school thinking about how we could improve our practice sharing (more on that in an upcoming post).  Whilst my school may not, yet, have an embedded culture of this (we are working to build it, but it will take time), there are many educators I can connect with online who do. I have dabbled in blogging in the past, but it fell to the wayside with other projects and a busy life going on around us. But this discussion gave me renewed impetus to grow the ways in which I learn from the practice of others via online sources, collaborate with others beyond my school and to share my own practice too. It became painfully apparent I was narrowing the scope of my own learning far too much. This blog represents one facet of this, sharing my own practice, and hopefully will also help me to connect and collaborate a little more too. I still believe blogging to be a hugely powerful tool for educators, so I am hoping to reinvigorate my own involvement! 
In the past I’ve shared some ideas from my own practice, as well as broader, more theoretical posts too.  I’m hoping to continue this, balancing between the need to discuss, debate and understand the theory behind our practices, with the need for concrete ideas which can be easily applied to a classroom.