Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=174626&picture=group-of-hand
This past week some of our teachers tried a new formative assessment strategy.
The purpose was to adjust our practice and how we check for understanding in our classrooms. Students quickly learn to adopt the convention of raising their hands to answer teacher questions. Even our kindergarten students had difficulty waiting to be called upon rather than pressing to be chosen by pumping their arm in the air. Some scholars refer to this as "Playing the Game of School".
Teachers commented that "No Hands Up" is hard! It is hard because we develop ways of being in schools that are habitual, but don't necessarily reflect current beliefs about what teaching can be or should be. Some context: Our current model of education is only about 100 years old, and evolved in response to the Industrial Revolution. "Education for all" was not the goal, and schools effectively sorted students into those who would go on to higher education and those who would not. Think about what the function of putting your hand up in such an environment. If I needed to compete with those around me to ensure that I would move on or to ensure that I was seen as the most intelligent in the group, it would certainly fulfill that purpose. From the teacher point of view, it would likewise help me to sort students into the most capable and keen and those who were less worth the trouble. In current practice, we use hands up to train students to be respectful of one another, to wait their turn or to show readiness. We are beginning to realize that there could there be new conventions that accomplishes these desired behaviors while honoring all our students thinking and participation?
"When we encourage students to speak their minds some voices are initially barely above a whisper," (Reggie Routman - Read, Write, Lead). When we insist that all students prepare to be engaged we are saying that each child matters. We are being inclusive in a way that moves all students forward. We also change the dialogue from being about the right answer (sometimes an easy answer) to being about communicating thinking. Students who know they have to consider what they might say are thinking!! They are not passive, even if they are not the one to be called upon. When we can cultivate a culture in each of our classrooms that honours thinking we increase respect among our students while we demonstrate respect for all students.
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Formative assessment is a term that those of us in education have been learning about and talking about for some time. At our recent school council meeting we came to realize that though teachers know the importance of formative assessment educators haven't necessarily done a good enough job of explaining to our parent community what it is or how it is used to improve student learning possibilities. Formative assessment is was subject of our school improvement efforts towards the end of the year last year, and it will be a big part of our school development plan this year. In today's post I hope to give parents an understanding of the difference between summative and formative assessment, and how we are using them to support our learners at Belfast.
The difference between summative and formative assessment can be summed up with the garden analogy above. Teachers use formative assessment in their classrooms every day. Formative assessment includes:
Summative assessment or evaluation is the process of measuring student learning throughout the year. The purpose of summative assessment is to see what students know, understand and can do in relation to educational goals or provincial standards. During summative assessment, teachers make judgments about the quality and depth of student learning compared to curriculum outcomes.
Over the course of the year I hope to provide information that helps parents to understand our evolving formative assessment practices. I will elaborate on different aspects of formative assessment in future posts and invite parents to join us on October 19th for the first in our Coffee Talk series! During this informal time together we will talk about what formative assessment looks like in some of our classrooms and answer questions parents have as well.
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This week we welcomed Eric Walters to our school. Mr. Walters is a Canadian author who has written over 100 novels and picture books. Many thanks to Mrs. Ayer for arranging this visit for our school. During the visit Mr. Walters, who is also a former teacher, talked about the need for strong reading role models. In particular he spoke about the need for boys to have strong male reading role models.
We know that many of our dads are at spending more time with their families than in years gone by. We also know that studies show that fathers are generally less likely to take part in traditional reading and writing activities than mothers. What dad's may not have thought about is the positive effect they can have when they grab a book and read during their time with their kids, especially their boys. Reading is a great thing to do together!
During the presentation, Mr. Walters poled the grade 3-6 group and asked how many of them think that they will become professional athletes. A large number of hands went up. He went on to explain to teachers that this perception can be a problem since an alarming number of students with this belief will decide (around grade 4 and 5) that they don't need to do well in school, that they don't need literacy and numeracy. The reality is that less than 1% of children play competitive sports in college. And of that 1% less than 2 % actually become professional athletes. As a mom of a very competitive high school student athlete I can say that I have lived this experience, and encourage parents to make sure that we have real conversations with their kids about the necessity of academics, even if students are passionate about sports.
As you can see this presentation got me thinking. I am so grateful for the parent involvement at Belfast. We have parents who care, who are involved and who want the best for their children. As many of you know I am a parent myself. Even as a teacher, I I know if I had heard this message earlier I may have encouraged the male role models in my son's life to be involved in promoting a love of literacy.