Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Authentic, Meaningful & Messy Learning in Music

Our music teacher brought a problem of practice to our PLC the other day.

The task at hand was for students to learn a small piece of music, then get creative with it and recompose a piece by making a few changes to it. The rhythm for the piece was set for them in order to help keep some kind of structure to their work. The instruments they would use would be the class set of glockenspiels and xylophones.

This task bought a problem to the music room. It was messy learning!

You can imagine the noise in the music room when the whole class was practicing and testing their creative composition out. Once this learning task was up and running, the teacher was worried about trying to keep up with all of her students and know where each one was at within the task. She was worried about making sure each one was on task and engaged in their learning.

Here are some of her questions:
How could she ensure that each student was where they were supposed to be in the task? 
How could she ensure that each student was on task?   
How could she monitor and give feedback to every student? 
This task was messy! Were the students actually learning anything? Or was it too crazy and noisy for anyone to hear and learn anything?
Was this task just too noisy and messy for the teacher? Or were the students feeling the same way?
Here is my thinking on this task: 

This is AWESOME learning in music! I don't think it could get much more authentic than this other than each student doing the same thing but in a recording studio and taking away all the noise. In a classroom situation, what else could you do with music? I guess you could have all students doing the same thing, or not have them making any noise. That wouldn't be very authentic then, would it?

I think meaningful and authentic learning, especially in music, will often be (if not always) messy. For this particular task, I think the teacher would feel a lot more comfortable with where her students are at through a slightly different approach creating success criteria, managing the task, and also through intentionally planned feedback loops. 

In our PLC we talked about the need to co-create the criteria at the beginning of the task so all students have a say in what it looks like to be successful. This will enable them to be clear on what is expected and also allow them to track their own learning and take more ownership on what they are trying to do throughout the task.

We also talked about another key to this kind learning might be in the way the teacher manages the learning. I think this goes for messy learning of any kind. The teacher needs to keep pulling the students back in to refocus them and also to give them a chance to share and reflect on what they are currently working on. This strategy would also help refocus those students who might struggle to keep up or get off task with all the noise and busyness of the classroom.

Another important aspect of this task would be intentionally planning multiple opportunities for students to get feedback on their work. These feedback loops might involve themselves, peer and teacher feedback. The feedback would also be given based on the criteria that was created at the beginning of the task.

I think this learning task was awesomely authentic! With a few tweaks to the way it is planned, I think the learning will become more clear and the teacher will also feel more comfortable with what is happening in the 'messy music classroom'.

We hope to try this together sometime soon to test some of our ideas and see if it makes a difference to how the students work, what they learn and what the teacher learns about the learning.

What do you think? Do you have any other ideas? 

Monday, 3 November 2014

What are Feedback Loops?

Today I was chatting to someone on our staff about feedback loops and what good feedback looks like.

One of the questions we came up with was 'if you are focusing on giving feedback all the time, how do you manage it?'. How do you make sure you are reaching all students in your class? ~ From what I've seen, most of the videos and examples I've seen of inquiry projects have been group work projects and therefore were easier to manage the feedback. I'm wondering if this how you make it easier to manage the feedback process, through group work? What do you do when it involves students doing independent tasks? How can we make the feedback process rigorous and well managed when students are working by themselves?

My colleague was also concerned that if she is so focused on giving feedback, she feels like she is not  able to provide her students with the same level of support. My thinking to this is that the feedback and support go hand in hand and that you're providing valuable support by giving feedback. I think there is a misconception out there on what feedback actually looks like. To me, it is dialogue (written or spoken) that helps move that student forward in their learning. The feedback might be direct or indirect communication through the form of 1-1 discussions, group discussions, assessment and success criteria (rubrics and checklists etc). Feedback can not only be given by the teachers, but peers and parents can be included in the feedback loops as well.

Finally, does anyone reading this have access to examples/exemplars or what good feedback looks like? Teachers like concrete examples to help them develop new things in the classroom. It would be great to share some examples. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

What is Fair?

Image: Unknown original source - This from a post from Joe Bower

Today I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Damian Cooper, author of Redefining Fair. A book that is about planning, assessment and grading. What a great topic to read and learn more about in today's education climate. In Alberta right now there is so much talk about Education and curriculum and what this is going to look like in the (near) future. We are in the midst of a curriculum redesign where the government is committed to completely revamping the K-12 curriculum so it matches and works for tomorrows students. There is so much talk (some good and some bad) about what good learning and teaching looks like. The public are talking a lot about math and what that should look like in the classroom. There has also been a lot of buzz about no-zero policies and academic awards in junior and senior high schools. 

Today's session was aimed at what we should be doing in the classroom, meeting the needs of our students. It was about the things we do and say to our students. The tasks we ask of our students and how they are assessed. It was about how we should be using the curriculum despite what most educators feel they should do.

Cooper talks about 5 main imperatives. I find these to be very much in-line with Alberta's Teacher Effectiveness Framework by Sharon Friesen. Cooper's take on these are as follows:
  1. Curriculum must be meaningful, coherent and relevant
  2. Instruction must be responsive to students’ needs
  3. Assessment must be informative
  4. Grading must blend consistency with professional judgement
  5. Communication about learning must be truthful and transparent
The main points that I took away from today's workshop can be captured in the following Storify:

Thursday, 10 April 2014


I saw this tweet from Davis Truss (@datruss) this morning and it resonated with me.  It shows three great metaphors of what good learning and teaching looks like. I think these are the things we're trying to do to help change education for the better! And what's best is that they're all student focused!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Grit - How can we install this in students?

Love this Ted Talk about Grit. What are we doing in our schools to help kids become more gritier?
To me motivation plays a huge part in learning. The passion and perseverance to want to know more. How can we, as teachers, show and model this to students?

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Let's Do it!

I've been thinking a lot this week about sharing. In our School district, we are a little behind the eight-ball. Here is a message I wrote on our CBEILT Google+ community page tonight.

Ok #YYCBE educators - Let get the positive message out there! It's time we teachers took control of our hashtag and started sharing the amazing things we are doing in our classrooms and schools.

Here's 4 simple ways we can do it!

  1. Document your story (anything from 140 characters or more through a blog post or image)
  2. Share it on the CBEILT Google+ Community and on Twitter (if you're not on Twitter, then you need to be!) and add the #yycbe hashtag
  3. Search the #YYCBE hashtag - Look for positive stories - modify and/or retweet those stories
  4. Retweet great articles and stories you find elsewhere and add the #yycbe hashtag
  5. Please note - if you modify a tweet or add something else, the orginal author will be notified and can then retweet too, which in-turn will continue to build more momentum!

This last week has been amazing! We are already starting to push those negative stories further and further down the newsfeed! Let's keep it up and build momentum!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Making Great Learning Go Viral

This week I attended a workshop (Create, Innovate, Voice) run by the one and only George Couros this week. While what we learned, wasn't really all that new to me, I took away a tonne. It also got me thinking a lot about how we can, as a school district, celebrate the amazing things that happen in our classrooms.

Our school board, the Calgary Board of Education (hashtag #yycbe on Twitter) is the second biggest school district in Canada. It turns out we have one of the smallest presence on social media platforms out of many school boards in Alberta, let alone across Canada.

Our organization/school district hashtag is overrun and dominated by the media and the general public. It is predominantly associated with negative comments and news articles about things that are happening in our district. We, as a large group of passionate and caring educators, can change this negative view of  #yycbe. We have amazing things happening in the CBE and we also have a 10 000 strong staff that can help with spreading the word!

What I think we need to do is take away some of the fear away from sharing outside the walls of our own school, maybe even outside the four walls of our classrooms. If we embrace that change that is happening, instead of hiding from it, we can make a difference.

It is so easy to, and feels so much safer to isolate ourselves within our own context. If we really want to grow as educators, I believe we need to be reaching out and connecting with others more often. This reaching out helps us think outside the box. It gives us different views and other ways of doing things. It also can confirm the great things that we do in our own practices. We also need to remember that every one of us has something different to offer and can offer something to each other too.

In our workshop, it was awesome to see other people get excited about Twitter as a networking tool. There were not many people that had previously joined twitter but after the session, we had a whole lot more people willing to experiment and learn more about this amazing networking and PD tool.

It's exciting to thinking about the challenge of increasing our Social Media presence. We have a big job ahead of us but because our sheer size, we also have the possibility of going big, very fast. All we need to to start gaining some momentum.

Let's do this #yycbe!

Here is the story that was told through Twitter throughout the day with George Couros (@gcouros). It was fun seeing new people tweet and connect through this medium. Let's hope it continues!