Sunday, 30 October 2016

What is a Student Led Learning Walk?

"The Student Led Learning Walk (SLLW) is a highly interactive and social approach to learning in schools...a school wide collaboration...especially with respect to instructional strategies, the integration of technology, student achievement and well-being, parent/community engagement and leadership practices." 

Mirella Rossi, Education Canada/Canadian Education Magazine, Sept. 2015

On Thursday, November 3, 2016, Eric Harvie School will host our first Student Led Learning Walk from 6:00 - 7:30 pm.  This is an opportunity for all our students, Kindergarten to Grade 3, to celebrate with parents the intentional work we have done over the past few weeks to introduce the design thinking process (see Oct. 2/16 & Sept. 18/16 blog entries), which is a strategy for addressing the competencies outlined in Alberta Education Programs of Study and addressed in the 2013 #001 Ministerial Order on Student Learning:

"Streamlined Expression of Competencies (Alberta Education, May 2016)
Competencies are combinations of knowledge, skills and attitudes that students develop and apply for successful learning, living and working. They emphasize aspects of learning that apply within and across all subject areas. Alberta’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum promotes development of the following competencies, which are streamlined expressions of the competencies in the Ministerial Order on Student Learning (#001/2013):
Critical Thinking
Problem Solving
Managing Information
Creativity and Innovation
Cultural and Global Citizenship
Personal Growth and Well-being"

As students deliberately engage in design thinking processes they learn to think critically, solve problems, manage information, collaborate and communicate as they think creatively and innovatively to address a concern, problem or issue. This contributes to their personal growth and well being and helps build a sense of cultural citizenship in the school and in the community. 

So, as a parent, what can you expect when you attend the SLLW on Thursday evening?

First of all, we have taken up this work through an initial whole-school engagement project focused on using the design thinking elements at various entry points - what we are calling The Box Project (and I am confident every parent has heard at least the request to bring a box for school over the past three weeks!) The design thinking process includes phases of building empathy/discovery; interpreting/defining; ideation; prototyping and evolving/testing. 

Students and teachers have shared many excellent stories from our school literature collection about creative innovation involving engineering ideas or solving problems with box-based solution. Students have also been finding entry points into the work at various stages of the design process - although not all grade levels have worked through every phase in order since this is an iterative, flexible model that move back and forth and between stages quite flexibly.  We have been amazed - and think parents will be too - with the depth of thinking, planning, considering, empathy-building and defining that has occurred in all our classes - and with the high level of problem solving, prototyping and even testing that has taken place with the children as they have worked both collaboratively and independently to produce their box project designs. There were constraints placed on the project - no decorations or paint, use of tape only as fasteners, etc - which fostered great conversations and planning discussions.

So, when parents arrive at SLLW on Thursday, they will find a gym full of box projects, plans, reflections and literature examples demonstrating multiple levels of thinking, planning, cooperation, collaboration, defining and construction. Teachers will have document boards on display that depict a brief overview of the student work and there will be documents on display, as well, that demonstrate the expectations and goals set out by Alberta Education and the CBE to show how the students and teachers at EHS bring curricular expectations to life. 

Projects will be arranged beginning with the Kindergarten classes and progressing through to the Grade 3 groups. This invites parents to see the progression in complex thinking, fine motor skill development, design, planning, communication, problem solving and creativity that can be reasonably expected and experienced over the course of four years' learning - while also clearly depicting the enormous variances in student development and the significance of approaching all learning through a personalized lens from an instructional perspective.  

Students will have already experienced the walk-through and will be able to act as student guides for their parents, pointing out the characteristics of work that made an impression with them. One visible thinking strategy parents might want to use with their child is to ask them what they like, what they wish they could have done differently and what they are wondering about next (illustrated in the graphic below).

SLLW is part of the Eric Harvie reporting strategy for parents, but it is not an opportunity for a conference with the teacher about the student (these will happen in early December :). In fact, teachers act like 'greeters' at SLLW with students taking the role of leaders and curators of the collection.

Instead, SLLW provides a clear glimpse of how a child is able to implement design thinking processes, where strengths and challenges might exist at this point in time in daily classroom work, and offers a concrete learning experience for parents to discuss with children in the context of thinking about school (rather than asking what a child did at school on a particular day, for example, a parent might ask what discoveries happened that day - or what planning were they involved with on a particular investigation). SLLW also demonstrates clear connections between the written curriculum outcomes and expectations and the myriad ways learning happens in classrooms for children who clearly come with a wide variety of experiences, aptitudes, knowledge and questions as we work to support them in growing their brains' learning capacities.

We look forward to welcoming everyone to our first Student Led Learning Walk on November 3!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School

Monday, 24 October 2016

Tracking Children’s Learning Progress in School

“I am talking about a culture of schooling in which more importance is placed on exploration than on discovery, more value is assigned to surprise than to control, more attention is devoted to what is distinctive than to what is standard, more interest is related to what is metaphorical than to what is literal. It is an educational culture that has a greater focus on becoming than on being, places more value on the imaginative than on the factual, assigns greater priority to valuing than to measuring, and regards the quality of the journey as more educationally significant than the speed at which the destination is reached.”
Elliot Eisner, 2002

Sometimes, understanding how our children are doing in school seems like a daunting process. Report cards are not as specific as we seem to remember them being when we were young - and no one counts the ‘As’ and ‘Bs’ anymore! Comments don’t always make sense and seem so full of ‘teacher words’ that sometimes we wonder if the teacher is even talking about our child! We yearn for simpler strategies for reporting – clear, short, concise reports that identify targets and results, or checklists - and tests with percentages, the answers clearly indicated in familiar red pen…

That was our world and it probably didn’t seem as simple to our parents, just like reporting on student progress for today’s students seems so confusing to us as parents!

To begin with, it is critical to understand there are two basic kinds of assessment and tracking teachers use to assess and record student learning (there are actually more than two – but these are the most commonly used by teachers) – FORMATIVE and SUMMATIVE assessment.

Summative assessment is the kind most adults are familiar with – tests, essays, reports, etc. all assessed based on a quantitative scale such as percentages, rubric assessment or values assigned to specific criteria. Summative assessment clearly indicates the quantity of retained knowledge students have following a period of deliberate instruction (for example, a math strand, science or social studies unit of study, etc).

Formative assessment is something quite different and yields much different information. Perhaps the best definition is something like ‘watching, observing, noticing on the fly, giving feedback and using what’s been noted immediately to inform the next step in learning’. Teachers use formative assessment strategies pretty much all day long in a wide variety of ways – to see, for example, how students are progressing in learning to read complex words, understand non-fiction text, write a sentence that expresses their own ideas, make a math pattern, cooperate as a successful member of a learning group, handle a challenging social situation, pay attention to multiple instructions, etc, etc. as a school day full of learning interactions unfolds. Some of these observations might be recorded in some way for future reference, while others are more fleeting and require less vested teacher direction in the moment. Formative assessment is the most useful for teachers and students on a daily because it provides continuous new information about each particular child and lends itself beautifully to the next best step in learning for any give discipline area.These two main types of assessment yield a fuller perspective of student success and achievement – one that balances active, curious learning in the moment with pause, reflect and acknowledge content and strategy in a formal, recordable way.

At Eric Harvie School, we utilize several strategies for communicating student progress with parents throughout a school year – some are familiar like the report card and student-led conferences, while others likely appear to be confusing – such as the blog or Student Led Learning Walks.  Hopefully, this chart will help parents better understand the many ways they are able to access the learning journey and achievements of each student.

Student Progress Tracking Strategy
What Does This Look Like for Parents?
Approximate date/ timeline in school year
Tracking Student Learning
1.  Teacher Blog
(on the website)
Daily sharing online of classroom learning activities, questions, possibilities; messages for parents related to homework or field trips, etc. May include photos, map, etc.
Daily - during regular instructional hours

- what learning events/instruction are happening each day; questions for home thinking; home reading/other assignments; purposes and goals of daily learning
2. Classroom Web Pages
Will be established in the new year – a cumulative ‘year in review’ of photos, student work, etc
Periodic collecting of evidence of student learning through visuals (photos/videos/etc) and student work samples
- learning events and experiences; classroom and school culture; student wonders and investigations
3. Student Led Learning Walks
Held in November and April; evening walk about in the gym to view student work
Twice a year - Display of student work across the grade levels on a similar process/theme/idea from the curricula
(Speaking, Listening, Viewing, Reading, Writing, Representing)
- student achievement in the context of the whole school; student planning/completion of a particular task or process; oral explanations of the work across the grade levels
4. Interviews
Student sharing of accomplishments in the company of parents and teacher(s)
December & March
Review of student achievement within the context of grade curricula; strengths, challenges & next steps
5. Report Cards
Written comments and indicators related to curricular achievement at specific grade levels
January and June
Identification of student achievement within the context of grade curricula based on a 4-point indicator scale and teacher observations
Student portfolio sharing of personalized student work self-selected and posted by the student
Ongoing at student’s discretion beginning November, 2016
Student self-assessment, willingness to share and reflect on quality of work, examples of creativity
7. Individual Program Plan
Students with identified learning challenges are tracked using an IPP.  Notes priority learning cycles, strategies, goals, targets, progress and adjustments as needed.
Formal IPP meetings in October/November, January, April and June
- addresses learning needs through strategy development, small group support, individual support, technology – as appropriate and provides support to improve student achievement of curricular goals

Assessment is ongoing – sometimes it is immediate (formative) to inform the next best steps for each learner, and sometimes summative to pause and compare student achievement to specific curricular objectives. Student progress is shared in several different ways to help parents and students understand how students learn best, which learning processes and/or strategies are most effective and how each student is managing/integrating new skills, strategies and knowledge within the context of the Alberta Education Programs of Study.

Frequent, consistent communication between students, teachers and parents ensures progress in student learning is tracked effectively and everyone understands the learning story JJ

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

Eric Harvie School

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Developing “The Learner’s Toolkit” With Students

"After decades of research, we know nothing equals book access, choice and time for engaging children with reading."  
Nancie Atwell

The first month of our new school's existence has flown by and students are feeling pretty comfortable with their teachers, the temporary classroom arrangements, taking learning outdoors daily, their new peers and the intriguing work we have been engaging in around design thinking - including the first two weeks of school when we participated in the 'Beakerhead' investigations :) Now that we are in month two, it is clear that our teachers know their students very well as learners and as amazing human beings! The conversations, shared reading and writing experiences, investigations in the coulee and surrounding community, creations, art projects and multiple opportunities to engage in social interactions have cemented firm foundational relationships that will underpin the exciting and demanding work ahead for all of us!

As we move into October, the learning students engage in daily will begin to sort itself more clearly into two definitive strands - developing the skills, strategies and tools students will need as part of their 'Learner's Toolkit', and the 'Wonder' experiences that will capture their attention and invite them to put their toolkit skills to work through investigation, observation, reflection and documenting the evidence of their learning. For this blog entry, I am going to focus on the development of the Learner's Toolkit - that foundational set of literacy, mathematics and critical thinking skills that will ground students' growth as learners throughout school.

Many of the foundational pieces critical to developing effective, useful skills and strategies for learners are already clearly evident in classrooms - daily reading and writing activities that span a wide variety of genres and perspectives, mathematical problem solving, developing and acting upon the multitude of questions students ask every day.  As this school year progresses, students will be assessed and supported in their growth towards both language and mathematical literacy based on their particular needs, previous knowledge and the 'next best' learning needs teachers identify for each student.

Support in literacy, for example, will often be presented through small groups - or one-to-one sessions - with teachers and support staff who are experienced and well-trained to provide guided reading or levelled reading support, as well as multiple opportunities for engaging in a wide variety of writing tasks that are scaffolded to reflect student need and the purposes students identify as valuable to them. While Alberta Education provides guiding documents that underpin all our teaching practice, they are flexible enough to accommodate the varying needs of the children to ensure they build strong foundations that will lead to enhanced future success as learners of the world. Writing will also encompass 'word work' - the developmental approach to learning how to spell, punctuate, paragraph and order writing (there is a good article about this to be found at  Included in these writing and reading opportunities are consistently embedded opportunities to improve speaking, listening, viewing and representing ideas. Some of this work is accessed through technology while other learning grows from social interactions within the classroom experiences.

Mathematical literacy will develop similarly with students across all grades using multiple manipulatives and hands-on interactions with mathematical problems to develop deep understandings of mathematical thinking (here are a couple of good math-related items that introduce concepts related to applying math rather than learning math by rote that will encourage our students to think of themselves as mathematicians and thinkers rather than being perceived as 'good' or 'poor' at math. Our goal in developing mathematical literacy with students is to ensure they view the world as a place where their understanding of math is fundamentally strong and not related to the ability to recite facts or complete math questions quickly, based on sound, long-term research indicating all human brains have the potential to understand mathematics.

As the year progresses, parents will have numerous opportunities through the class blogs, open house opportunities, sharing student work at home through home reading and through student projects shared on Iris, report cards and interviews to appreciate the hard work children are engaged in every day as they develop and hone the skills, strategies and approaches to learning in their 'Learner's Toolkits'.  Most importantly, parents will find these multiple opportunities will demonstrate clearly how effectively children are able to apply these tools to the 'wonders' emerging from their interactions with the world - and that is the true test of how successful learning framed as 'toolkit' instruction has been for students.

Teachers consistently adjust instruction and opportunity to ensure students are always scaffolded with appropriate next steps rather than attempting work beyond - or below - their personal abilities at any given point in time - this requires confident, mutual sharing of child-knowledge between parents and school.  To achieve this mutual sharing of child-knowledge, we encourage parents and students alike to share observations, ideas and questions with teachers and school staff whenever appropriate - together we will ensure the development of our students 'learner toolkits' are strong, well-defined and effectively support day-to-day learning both in school and in the world.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School

Sunday, 2 October 2016

What Does Design Thinking Mean for My Child?”

"While there is a specific process that design thinking follows, perhaps its greatest impact on our students has not been in learning the methodology itself but in the establishment of a mindset that promotes an understanding of others."
                                                           Thomas Riddle, Assistant Director, Roper Mountain Science Center

Eric Harvie School has taken up the structure of design thinking to support, encourage and advance our students' learning each and every day. 'What is design thinking and what does this mean for my child' is the most common response I get when I share this information with parents, so I thought I would use this blog as an opportunity to explain a bit about what design thinking is, and some of the ways we are - and will be - using it to support our young learners.

Here is one model of design thinking - many exist - but all include similar stages.  One of the most appealing benefits of introducing students to the design thinking model is the 'discovery/building empathy' introductory element that grounds this problem solving strategy. Considering the perspective of others - and how a particular event, tool, encounter or strategy will impact them - encourages students to also consider their own needs as humans and as learners, and to appreciate the relationships and the environments in which we work and learn together. 

Empathy is a foundational component of peace education as well, and using design thinking multiplies opportunities for students to develop a mindset for learning that is grounded in empathy for each other, the world and themselves. It is the human-focus that ensures learning does not happen in the abstract but rather in the particular of human reality. For children, it means they become accustomed to using all their senses to notice what is happening around - and to - them, and to think analytically about how to best address issues.  This is a fundamental step in learning, to be aware and empathetic to the situation rather than just accept and follow directions unquestioningly. 

As an educator, this is the most valuable and powerful aspect of design thinking because it encourages students to take a positive, active role in their own learning, their own citizenship development and their own world.

As students define a problem, they learn to question the assumptions and actions that often are taken for granted. Asking questions like "Why? What if? How can things change?" develops the language of possibility and offers opportunities for innovation and seeing how things can be done differently. Trying new ideas and approaches generates feedback and opportunities to keep trying to see what can work better - this could be anything from trying a new approach to writing a story to developing a timeline to organizing an event to building a prototype of a wetland. Ideation, prototyping and testing yield multiple perspectives of experience as well as a great sense of accomplishment best achieved through collaborative interaction and exchange. Trying something, learning together. Reflecting, testing, sharing, trying again.  These are the actions of authentic learning regardless of the discipline or subject area or age of the student. 

Most importantly, design thinking ensures students are active, engaged participants in their learning. As they investigate and explore their environments both inside and outside of school, they learn to question assumptions, try new strategies, collaborate, investigate and reflect on their actions as they make decisions about the next best steps for their own learning. Connect student initiative and interest with teacher guidance and active instruction and design thinking provides a rich tapestry of learning experiences that fosters high levels of student achievement.

And that is what design thinking means for each and every student at Eric Harvie School :)

Lorraine Kinsman,