Saturday, September 13, 2014

Setting kids up for success

Many of us are two weeks into a new school year and with that comes the opportunity to think reflectively about what has worked and what hasn't.  Here are a couple of ideas that may help to create a positive learning environment and set the tone for the rest of the school year.

Have EVERY student create an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)


We understand that students who are accessing student services are legally entitled to an IEP, but wouldn't it be useful if all students communicated their strengths and needs to their teachers?  Not only might this be a great opportunity for teachers to get to know their students, but it would also eliminate the stigma of an IEP.  Heck, I wish I could give some conference presenters my own IEP!

How about creating IEPs on a Google Doc or Google Form so that it can be shared with teachers the following semester or year?
Sample IEP on Google Forms

Foster a Growth Mindset

"Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning." Benjamin Franklin

I just returned from a two-day SIM session which used the Growth Mindset Theory as the underpinning of how we can achieve greater student success in Math in Ontario.  The theory has been around for a while, but it's worth mentioning because research supports that fostering a growth mindset works.

Some students (many of whom have been told they are failures in school since Kindergarten) don't believe that they can learn, that trying is futile. Undoing these beliefs takes persistence and a caring adult who genuinely believes every student in front of them can learn and who provides opportunities for growth and reflection.

So Teacher mindsets make a huge difference!  Do we already pre-determine our students' ability based on social, cultural, or genetic factors? Do we think we know in September which students will work at Level 4?  Do we refer to a group of students as "My Level 2's,  Level 4's?"  If the research shows that Growth Mindsets contribute to student success, then our language and actions as teachers has to reinforce the belief that the students before us can and will learn as a result of our teaching.

And it works!! We told a group of grade 9 Applied students that they would be better readers at the end of the semester, worked hard to give them strategies, asked them to reflect on which strategies helped them to be better readers, and guess what? At the end of the semester, they not only thought it to be true, but they performed better on the post-diagnostic.

Check out this video:

This simple anchor chart shared on Twitter by @Principal_EL reminded me about how important it is to ensure that students really believe that they can become better readers, writers, creators, etc...

I would actually have students sort a few sentences that reflect one Mindset or another and then create their own anchor chart.  

More information on Growth Mindsets:
Carol Dweck's article on Mindsets and Equitable Education
Jo Baler's work on Mindsets in Math
Brain Pickings Blog on Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets
You can even become a Mindset School.

ASK your students for Input and then LISTEN to what they say

Why not show kids the Curriculum expectations and get their ideas?  If we relinquish our "control" of what kids are learning, we may just be surprised at the results.  Perhaps not for the entire course (just yet), but how about for one "unit" or for 10% of the time?

I love Shelly Wright's three guiding questions:
What are we going to learn?
How are we going to learn it?
How will we share the learning?   

Her blog is a great starting point for any teacher looking to move to an Inquiry-based classroom.

In my experience, students who were able to choose their own reading, tended to be more engaged in the activities.  So obvious but so often we dictate what kids read, when they read it, and what questions are important about the reading!

Focus on Self-Assessment and Goal Setting

In their book, "Knowing What Counts, Self-Assessment and Goal Setting," authors Gregory, Cameron, and Davies provide practical ideas and templates for practising self-assessment so as to improve self-directed learning in students.

I especially love the simplicity of some of the strategies and the reproducible templates, particularly the idea of "proof cards": Teachers give students cards that have a word or phrase printed on it such as "favourite," "potential," "perseverance", or "improvement".  Students select ONE proof card, a word, and an example from their own work that provides evidence or proof of that word or phrase, as well as reasons to support their selection.  It's a great way for students to recognize their growth.

Regularly asking students what strategies work and don't work best for them, also helps them to realize that they can actually control how they learn best.  Tech tools such as Google Forms, Padlet, Socrative are quick ways a teacher can gather and share regular input from kids about what they know.

Here are a couple of examples of student self-assessment forms I've used in English Class: