Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Numbers Are My Band-Aid

Kindergarten is still very new to me - I am just 3 months in. There are days when I feel that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. This insecurity is my "boo-boo" - and in the words of Fox from Jeremy Tankard's Boo Hoo Bird - "Band-Aids always make my boo-boos feel better".

Recently, many of my students started questioning why some students were getting what they saw as special treatment. It is challenging to explain differentiation, accommodation and modification to intermediate students - let alone Kindergarteners. I found this great activity via Pinterest on Mrs. Saylor's Log, and decided to try it out. 

The students came in from recess and one boy was complaining that he hurt his knee. I immediately opened a Band-Aid and put it on his knee - on top of his pants. The students were hooked. Band-Aids are a hot commodity in our classroom and the students know that I do not give them out freely. Next I asked if anyone else had a boo-boo. Needless to say, every student's hand shot up, and one by one. each came up to receive a Band-Aid. Each time, whether they named a sore finger, arm or foot - I placed a Band-Aid on their left knee on top of their pants.

There was laughter, there was confusion, and as I had hoped - there were questions. They thought I was crazy - "you're putting the Band-Aids in the wrong place!" they scoffed. But eventually, the whats and whys did lead to a heart-warming discussion. In the end, the students demonstrated a deeper understanding than I'd expected- progressing from "it does not make sense to put a Band-Aid in the wrong place," to, "We all need different help."

Whenever I am feeling insecure about my venture into Kindergarten I grasp onto numeracy. There is so much we can do with numbers. We have spent a lot of time developing our math meetings. Two of my favourite resources are Sherry Parrish's Number Talks and Jessica Shumway's Number Routines. My students have grown confident with number representations to ten with dot plates, fingers and tallies. We recently have started to explore rekenreks using Cathy Fosnot's "Bunk Beds and Apple Boxes" unit from her Contexts for Learning Mathematics resource. We play a lot of math games with dice and are developing a number line. As I said - numeracy is my Band-Aid.

Sometimes Band-Aids are necessary; sometimes they are futile. They are by definition a "make-shift" or temporary solution. Practically Band-Aids cover up a problem until it has time to heal. Developing my students into little mathematicians is giving me the confidence I need to uncover the Kinder-teacher from within. 

What is your Band-Aid?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

"Breaking Bad" Assessment

We just finished watching the final season of Breaking Bad last night. With two small children, our television watching is admittedly quite behind. Curiously, Heisenberg's obsessive antics -aimed at perfection and power- got me thinking a lot about assessment.

Not unlike Walter White, assessment (and teaching) can easily become a day-in-day-out job that you do simply because you have to.  All too often, assessment is still used synonymously with evaluation; phrases like, “I still need a mark for one more strand of math” are commonplace in the hallways of schools nearing reporting periods as teachers try to “fit in” curriculum components to produce a letter or number for a report card.  
I have long believed that the Ontario report card is holding teachers back – but that is a topic for another blog.

As Walter White finds a new passion and transforms into Heisenberg he has a formula for 99.1% purity (or for our purposes) success. In Ontario, the Growing Success document lays the framework for successful balanced assessment practices, encouraging formative assessment and descriptive feedback as well as the triangulation of data. In my time working at the system level, I was blessed to meet and work with a number of passionate teachers who were constantly taking initiative - seeking to adapt their assessment practices to support the student learning (rather than simply evaluate them). Like Heisenberg, these teachers are driven, passionate and over time have developed the confidence that these assessment strategies result in successful outputs.

Unlike Heisenberg, his apprentices have varying success rates – and it is the tools they have access to combined with the amount of mentorship they receive that directly correlate to that success.  The formula is not enough. Teachers need effective tools and mentorship to making the learning process efficient. I am constantly seeking an answer to this question:

What is the most efficient way to collect and collate student data
so that I can make the most impact on student learning
in a way that is both clear and transparent
to my students, administrators and parent community?

Twitter and the blogosphere are excellent sources of information and mentorship. There is so much that can be learned in ten to twenty minutes a day online – it is differentiated, time-efficient and forever pushing the boundaries of 21C thinking. In addition to this, most districts offer mentorship support through Ministry-funded projects and these projects are increasingly posting resources online. Check out sim.abel@yorku.ca and http://www.misalondon.ca/, which are two my favourites.

Although he had been a good mentor, Heisenberg’s tragic flaw was that he put on the brakes – he wanted to maintain his power and assumed that the status quo would last him until the end of his days. How do we break these bad status quo assessment practices at the same time that we accelerate into the future? 

Digital assessment tools that not only allow for – but encourage good Growing Success assessment by their design are a key piece of the puzzle. Tools like Pearson’s Clic and FreshGrade are among the best I have seen. However, to parallel @fryed’s query, “Are Digital Portfolios a Disadvantage?” - I have to ask - are teachers endeavouring to integrate digital assessment practices at a disadvantage? There are so many challenges: firewalls, cloud server policies, Wi-Fi hiccups, and union recommendations. Teachers who are eager and willing to try are often met with policy roadblocks. Student information needs to be protected, but I question whether the Growing Success policy can be fulfilled without digital support.

What are your favourite assessment tools?

***Altough Breaking Bad was the inspiration for this blog post - I in no way believe that the character of Walter White (or Heisenberg) and his lifestyle should be considered an example of success.