What Role Could Parents Play In Assessment?

The other day, I read this great blog post by Sue Dunlop, where she talks about parent engagement and what that might really mean as we get ready for the start of school. As someone that’s very passionate about parent engagement, I definitely took an interest in Sue’s post (and even commented on it), but it also made me think more about our finalized Kindergarten Program document. Parents (and when I use this word, like the document, I also mean guardians and family members) seem to play a bigger role in the current learning environment than even in the previous document. I love the fact that parents are encouraged, in different ways, to …

  • join in with the classroom learning.
  • share their skills with the students.
  • share their culture as part of the classroom.
  • communicate regularly with the educator team.
  • and extend classroom learning at home.

It was this final point that really got me thinking differently. It’s not a new idea to get parents to try “to extend the classroom learning at home,” but it is a new idea to use these examples of learning as proof of children meeting an expectation. Now the home environment can play an important role in the assessment and evaluation piece that happens at school.

At first, I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I’ve become so accustomed to the idea that homework cannot be used for marks, as we don’t know how much support the children received with it, and the finalized document made me feel as though I was going to be doing just that. This was, until I read the expectation examples, and then my thinking shifted.

  • Maybe a dad shares that his son counted each of the plates as he helped set the table.
  • Maybe a mom shares that her daughter read the street signs as they were out for a walk, and then made connections between the letters in these signs and the letters in the names of her friends.
  • Maybe parents share that as they were out playing at the park, their children invited other children to join in their game of Simon Says, and they took turns being the leader.

It’s through these types of examples that we see how children apply what they learn at school out in the real world. And, if as educators, we really believe in these home/school connections, what role does “trust” need to play in our relationships with parents? I also wonder if the fact that there are no marks in Kindergarten, changes how we view these anecdotes from home and the role that they may play in assessment and evaluation.

Thinking more about the updated “parent role” in this finalized document, made me think about the home/school connection in other grades. It was then that I thought back to conversations that I had with parents when I taught the junior grades. A couple of moms regularly shared with me what their children did at home and what supports they provided to help them learn. These conversations helped me …

  • explain more about successful approaches we used in the classroom, and how these same strategies might work at home.
  • learn new ways to support learning in the classroom, especially for these particular students. 

While the anecdotes shared didn’t make it in a subject box on a report card, often these examples formed part of the dialogue in the Learning Skills and helped when determining Next Steps. It’s with this in mind, that I can’t help but wonder how much more “reciprocal sharing” is possible between home and school and the value that this may have for students. 

In my recent post on The MEHRIT Centre’s blog, I speak about my shift in thinking thanks to the finalized Kindergarten Program document. Along with this academics/social skills shift, I wonder if I also need to make a home/school shift. While I’ve always loved strong parent/educator connections, and worked hard to develop these positive relationships, I think that I drew the line when it came to assessment: seeing educators as solely responsible for this component of learning. Now my views are changing. What role might parents play in assessment and evaluation? What could this mean for students and educators? As I get ready to go back to school, I’m thinking about these questions and eager to discuss them more with my teaching partner. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these wonders of mine. What have you tried already? What might you try now? I’m excited about a school vision that really does have families and educators working together to support children.


Making Sense Of Two New Documents, Together!

This summer was a very exciting one because after much anticipation, the Ministry released the new Kindergarten Program as well as Growing Success — The Kindergarten AddendumSince we’ll be implementing these starting in September, I wanted to take some time before summer ends to read and think about the documents. I’m a social reader (when it comes to professional reading especially), so not only did I read the two documents, but I shared a lot of my thinking, questions, and connections through the Twitter hashtag #framingfdk, which has been used by many to discuss these Kindergarten documents. After three days of curriculum reading, I finished both documents — at least for a first read through — and I thought about all of the great discussions I’ve had online about them. I think that these documents are incredibly powerful, for not only do they share what we need to teach and how we need to assess, but also a shared view of the child — as “competent, curious, and capable of complex thinking” — and a shared pedagogy — with the belief in the value of play-based learning and an inquiry mindset for children and educators.

As someone that’s taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 6, I’ve read many curriculum documents in the past, but I will admit, that in most cases, I’ve just looked at the list of overall and specific expectations. I may have skimmed the front matter, but I rarely spent time reading it. After I finished reading these new Kindergarten documents though, I realized just how much I would miss if I only looked at the appendix of expectations. I also realized how many people — from educators to administrators — are trying to do what I did this summer and make sense of these new documents and the philosophy embedded within them. That’s why I decided to Storify all of my tweets and discussions related to this curriculum reading because I’m hoping that they’ll be just a part of more conversations to come.

I wonder what others are thinking about these documents. 

  • What classroom changes are you considering? Why?
  • What excites you about these new documents? 
  • What benefits do you think that this approach (play-based learning) will have for children?
  • What questions or concerns do you have about these new documents? 
  • How are you planning on collaborating with others on the implementation of these documents?
  • I think that there’s an even bigger focus on parent engagement in the new Kindergarten Program 2016. What are some different ways that you hope to engage all parents? What impact do you think that these might have on students?
  • How do you plan on approaching prep time? How will prep coverage teachers extend the learning in the classroom, and how will they document this learning? What role might they play in reporting?

These are just some of my bigger questions that I have after reading and thinking about these documents. What are your thoughts and questions? I know that people are tweeting their thinking. I know that Joanne Babalis has already blogged about many of her takeaways. This is now my addition to the growing discussion. I hope that others will blog, tweet (#framingfdk), and/or comment with their thoughts, questions, connections, and ideas, for as we try to make sense of these new documents, it would be great if we could do so together!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016 – One Addition

I think that the learning around these documents continue to evolve, and so while I don’t usually update a post after publishing it, I wanted to add this note. After attending an inservice at the Board office today on pedagogical documentation, I had a great discussion with two members of our Early Years Team, Sarah Roarke and Mary Elliott. Our conversation made me think about an important point in the Kindergarten document around teaching, learning, and expectations, and this point led to a number of new questions. 


A special thank you to Nancy Niessen, a retired Kindergarten teacher, for sharing a great modification to my final question.


Nancy’s question and a message from an educator that I really admire and respect, made me re-think all of my “questions in blue” from yesterday. Here is my updated thinking.


What are your thoughts on these wonders? Does this way of linking expectations to classroom learning give you other things to think about? I would love to have a conversation around this important topic!

My Three Measures For Success

A week ago, I received this comment from Sue Dunlop on one of my previous blog posts, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 14.39.35

In my reply, I told Sue that I really liked her idea (which I do), and that I was going to think of some measures and likely write another blog post (which is what I’m doing now).

Usually I would have blogged a long time ago in response, but it’s taken me a while to really narrow down my measures. Likely unbeknownst to her, Sue mentioned one of my greatest weaknesses in her reply: I often have too many goals, which makes it difficult to accomplish everything. This is never my intention. I usually start with a goal or two, but each experience and reflection seems to multiply my number of next steps, and pretty soon I need to slow down and really focus on where to go. I’m hoping that by blogging about these measures and taking the time throughout the year to come back to them and reflect, I will stay more focused in my goals and achieve greater success. Considering all of this, here are my three measures for “success.”

1. Have students successfully self-regulate so that they are ready and able to learn. I have blogged a lot about self-regulation over the past couple of years, and I do believe that it’s an essential skill for students and adults to develop. Self-regulation is also part of one of the four frames that are outlined in our new Growing Success – The Kindergarten AddendumThis shows the importance of it and the need to focus on this area.

Speaking to my new teaching partner for this year, and having met some of the new JK students that will be joining our class, I can see that many of the students are currently co-regulating. With help from adults and other children, they’re able to get to “calm.” I think that the next step is to give students a chance to find out what self-regulation strategies work for them, and continually give them opportunities to choose and use the strategies that work. This seems easy when outlined in writing, but is a lot more challenging to do in a classroom context — especially considering that there could be a wide variety of strategies that work. Likely this will take time, patience, and various amounts of support for different students. A home/school connection could also be really important here, both in terms of allowing for similar self-regulation options at home and at school, and finding out what works in the different environments.

2. Meet and/or exceed the Board’s reading benchmarks by the end of Kindergarten. While I’m new to this school, having met with parents and talked to students at the Kindergarten Orientation evening, seen some soon-to-be SK work samples around the classroom, and spoken to my teaching partner about her experiences, I can tell that many — if not all — of the students are ready to read. Some are already reading. The children have the oral language and vocabulary skills necessary to move to this next step. Working with my teaching partner, I want to help nurture and develop these skills, so that the students can meet with continued reading success. 

3. Help develop independent problem solvers. While I’ve taught Kindergarten more than any other grade, I have teaching experiences up to Grade 6. I know that for students to continue to grow as learners, they need to become more independent (not just looking to an adult for support) and solve many complex problems (many of which require multiple attempts and critical thinking skills). Even just playing with the JK students on the Kindergarten Orientation evening, I could tell that they’re already solving some simple problems, showing some confidence in their own ideas, and interested in doing things on their own. Now we need to nurture and develop these skills in the classroom. 

While these measures are a start, I’m not done yet. Once I’ve had a chance to talk more with my teaching partner and meet the students, I can get a better idea about percentages for each goal. What is a reasonable number of students that can meet this goal, and for the students that can’t meet this goal, what can they meet instead? These percentages will give me some targets as I track progress throughout the year. 

I’m also thinking about what I will use to measure growth in each of these areas. I really like Growing Success, and the focus on the triangulation of data. Based on this model, we assess students with the use of observations, conversations, and work products. If this works for students, could it also work for educators? I think that it could, and with this in mind, noting growth in my goal areas may involve …

  • looking at anecdotal records.
  • looking back at documentation (photographs, videos, podcasts, and written notes).
  • conversations with my teaching partner, with parents, and with students about their observations and experiences.
  • exploring the self-regulation options that children choose to use.
  • running records and DRA data (which could almost function as a “work product” in this case).
  • reading shared during play and individual and/or small group reading experiences.
  • looking at perseverance and success during building and/or coding challenges in the classroom.
  • examining work connected to classroom inquiries.

I think that this list is likely to grow as I delve into my goals more, talk to my teaching partner and other colleagues online and in person, and read some new resources, including the one that I ordered today: Miriam Trehearne’s Multiple Paths To Literacy: K-2. I can use the ideas in the list above to track growth over time though, and looking at the resources, strategies, and ideas we choose to use, see for myself — am I making a difference? 

Thank you, Sue, for pushing me to think in this way. What are your measures (or goals) to see if you’re successful? As a new school year approaches, maybe we can all share what we might be tracking as we continually look at how to improve.


Opening Up My Technology Can Of Worms

As a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” this is not the first time that I’ve made a comment similar to this one.

Screenshot 2016-08-02 at 16.01.02

After writing this comment on Friday, I promised to follow-up this 140 character thought with a blog post that shares more. Not every conversation works well in little snippets, and I think that a longer conversation is one worth having. 

For many years, I’ve been called and/or viewed as a “technology teacher.” I’ve had some different thoughts on this, but no matter how I may feel about the label, it’s true that I love using technology to support student learning. I’ve used it in different ways from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I think that technology can be a great way to share learning with a wider audience (from classrooms to parents), support critical and higher level thinking skills, allow for collaboration beyond the school walls, and allow all students to succeed (just search for UDL and assistive technology to find out more). Despite all of the benefits of technology, my new learning about self-regulation is making me look closer at the drawbacks. Over this past year, I have re-read Stuart Shanker‘s first book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, and read his second one, Self-Reg: How To Help Your Child (And You) Break The Stress Cycle And Successfully Engage With LifeI’ve also finished the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre, and joined The MEHRIT Centre team as the moderator for Portal PlusAll of these self-regulation experiences have made it hard for me not to view my personal and professional life through this lens. It’s for this reason that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about self-regulation and technology.

For the past two years, I’ve used way less technology in the classroom than I have in any other year. In fact, we’ve primarily only used technology to capture student learning and for physical activity and movement exercises, such as dancing. Why? I’ve blogged about this topic before, and in my previous blog posts, I concluded that the “students weren’t ready.” Now though, I wonder if the reason is really about self-regulation. After reading Dr. Shanker‘s books, I learned how dysregulating technology can be. It’s full of bright lights and loud sounds. Gaming apps, while incredibly popular, can also make it harder for students to calm down after using them. I didn’t just have to read about this though. I’ve experienced it.

I think about when I introduced coding to my Kindergarten and Grade 1 students. In Kindergarten, we used Dash and Dot and Cubelets robots. In Grade 1, we used numerous apps from Tynker to Scratch. All of the students were highly engaged using these tools, and demonstrated some amazing problem solving, collaboration, and math skills, but the students were also louder, many talked faster, and they found it difficult to sit still, wait while others worked, and not interrupt during conversations. I thought that the changes in the students were just reflective of their engagement and the excitement in the learning. Maybe to some degree, they were. But I’m starting to wonder if it was more than that. Were they dysregulated?

I keep thinking back to the first time that we used Dash and Dot in our Kindergarten class this year The students loved it so much that we kept it out all day for them to use and explore. This led though to more screaming, higher voices, more fighting, and an inability to concentrate on almost anything else. Could it be because Dash and Dot were new? Maybe. But maybe with the beeping sounds, bright lights, and constant movement, the robots were too dysregulating. When we made a change the next day, and just took them out for one block of time that then transitioned into our outdoor learning time — and a great way for all of our students to calm down — we had far less problems. 

I definitely think that coding and robotics are great ways to use technology in the classroom, but coupled with my self-regulation learning, I wonder about those students that do find these tools dysregulating. I also wonder, if as a teacher, I found the constant noise, lights, and movement of the robots to be dysregulating, and did this impact on my actions and responses in the classroomHave others noticed links between technology and dysregulation? How do you address these problems? I don’t think that the answer lies in getting rid of technology (to one extreme) and/or in ignoring the problems (to the other), but I do continue to wonder what a good middle ground may be. And maybe, just like the SELF part of self-regulation, a different group of students with different needs, may have responded differently given these same tech tools (with few, if any, problems). Possibly the need for limits in some cases may not exist in others, but I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and experiences.


Remembering That One Child …

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach at many different public schools as well as in a private school environment. I’ve taught numerous children that range in age from 3 to 14. This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about one child.  

  • He had so many interesting ideas to share with the class.
  • He was very social, and was always finding topics to discuss with others.
  • He loved sports, and engaged in many organized sports as well as recess games with friends.
  • He had a small group of close friends, but also numerous acquaintances.
  • He was a strong student, but disliked reading and writing, and was very reluctant to complete any work in these areas. He could read and write at grade level though. 
  • He was very emotional, and for different reasons, would react with tears, screaming, kicking, hitting, and even throwing items in the classroom. 

It’s these last two points that have been on my mind lately. At the time, I thought that I was doing everything I could to support this student. 

  • I let him write using a device.
  • I gave him some choices of topics.
  • I broke up reading and writing activities with more preferred activities (such as some iPad and computer activities).
  • I always gave him opportunities to work in groups with peers, as he liked this better than working alone.
  • I used a reward system.
  • I was firm and consistent. 
  • I removed students from the room if there was a problem, and I kept talking to him to try and calm him down. 

A couple of different times during the year, I needed to contact the office for some additional support. He was sent home. I supported this decision because of his behaviour, and I tried hard to make things better the next day … but now I wonder if I should have acted differently in the first place.

I taught this student before I read Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning, and before I took the Foundations courses. At the time, I really didn’t understand self-regulation, and what I interpreted as misbehaviour then, I question now if it was really stress behaviour. I also wonder if, inadvertently, I was at times to blame. 

  • While he was more willing to read and write on an iPad, did the regular use of a device, make him more up-regulated? Did this make it more challenging for him to get to “calm?”
  • Did the preferred activities, which were also usually on a device, further up-regulate him and make it more of a challenge for him to focus on work afterwards?
  • While he liked working with peers, sometimes the social interaction was also a challenge, as he found it hard when others had different ideas than him. He also struggled when other children knew something that he didn’t know and/or didn’t understand. Did this group work only increase this child’s stress?
  • While he liked receiving a reward, he found it hard when he couldn’t get one, which only increased the problems. Did the reward system actually produce more stress and increase the behaviour that I was actually trying to decrease?
  • While I think that there’s value to being consistent (and in this case, routine), I think that I was sometimes harder than I needed to be. When I saw that this child was struggling, did I actually need a gentler/calmer response? Would a softer tone and more space have worked better than my firmer response?
  • While I may not have had a choice about removing students from the classroom (for everyone’s safety), I wonder if the changes that I discussed above would have reduced the severity of his responses. I also thought that talking to him was helping, but if he was this angry and upset, was he really hearing me? Maybe I needed to give him the time and space to calm down, so that we could later problem solve together.

I can’t go back now and change what I did back then, but with learning (and continuing to learn) about self-regulation, I can change what I do in the future. I’m sure that we’ve all taught children that stick with us as this child did for me. Think about this child of yours. How might you change things to make things different for the next child (with similar needs) that walks through your door? The summer is a great time for reflection, and I continue to reflect as I remember this child from many years ago.