Sunday, June 11, 2017

LLED 469 - Access for All Learners and Formative Assessment

Module 9 addresses the important concept of ensuring that learning takes into account all of your students’ learning needs. I believe it’s very important to meet students where they are and to treat them with dignity. Putting this philosophy into practice can be challenging as a teacher on call as I am often working with a class for just a day and I don’t have time to get to know the students well. It’s challenging to try to figure out if a student is not following directions because they don’t want to, or they can’t understand the language you are speaking, they are going through something at home, or they have special needs, etc. I look forward to future jobs where I get to know the students by working with them for a year at a time, or even for multiple years as the teacher-librarian. I think being a teacher-librarian is a special role and I am excited at the thought of someday having the opportunity to follow students as they progress through school.
I will consider the individual learning needs of my students when planning for my inquiry unit on coding. I ensured I had a variety of media when I was selecting my top ten resources for assignment 2 and I think the mix of books, videos, games, and websites will be suitable for a wide range of learners. Tomlinson's "Appendix: Tools to Guide Planning for Differentiated Instruction" offered many suggestions for how to differentiate content, process, and product. Having a variety of resources, including audio and visual, fits with how I'm planning my inquiry unit. Small-group instruction is often an effective way to help students and playing the Robot Turtles board game would be an example of how I'll incorporate that into my unit. In terms of product, I think the option of varied modes of expression gives students with a range of strengths the chance to show their understanding in a way that works for them. Inquiry-based learning naturally incorporates this flexibility into the process and is well-suited to meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners.
I enjoyed Tomlinson’s metaphor of an audio equalizer when considering the varied needs of students at different levels of readiness. Some students might need the dial to move further to the left towards concrete concepts (for example, using manipulatives like base-ten blocks in math when they’re struggling with the concept of place value) and others are ready to turn it up to the abstract level. I can see myself looking at a class and visualizing little equalizers over each of the students’ heads and watching the equalizers change all the time as the students made progress or had setbacks in various areas. It can be a little daunting to consider the complexity of a classroom full of 20-30 individuals with a wide variety of learning needs, but I know it will always be the case, and that gives me all the rationale I need for designing learning experiences that work for a diverse group of students.
Module 10 was all about assessment. When reflecting on formative assessment, I realized that I do it all the time. It’s often informal and looks like checking in with a mini conference to see how a student is doing on their project, having students look to their peers to check over their work, and stopping to clarify information if I find that many students are confused about an aspect of their work. To learn more about formative assessment, I was interested to read Kristin Fontichiaro’s take, as I’ve been enjoying reading her Nudging toward Inquiry series. Fontichiaro says that formative assessment is a key element of responsive teaching and reflective learning and that it is a feedback loop that helps both the student and teacher understand how learning is progressing. I like the idea of non-punitive assessment that helps the student see where they can improve and shows them where they are succeeding. As a student, it’s nice to know if you’re on the right track so you can have a chance to focus on areas to improve before you get your summative assessment.
I will definitely be building both formative and summative assessment into my inquiry unit. One option that was suggested was a Google form, which is a format I have used for surveys in the past, but not with students. I like how easy it is to see results and I will consider creating a Google form survey for my unit.
Fontichiaro’s article on summative assessment recommended rubrics as a quick way to assess (once the time-consuming process of creating the rubric was complete). I liked the suggestion that a teacher sent in of writing forms for early primary students with icons to remind them to self assess and check that they had drawn, written, left spaces, checked the word wall for spelling, and used punctuation. I could see scaffolding the students with writing sheets like that and then graduating them to lined paper once they had internalized the directions. It would be easy to differentiate this writing format by giving lined paper to individual students only when they were ready for their “equalizer control” to be moved to the right towards paper without instructions.
I read Louis and Harada’s “Did the students get it? Self-assessment as key to learning” article with interest because I know that self-assessment is an important factor in inquiry-based learning and it is also being incorporated into report cards across the province. What I particularly appreciated in this article were the specific examples of learning goals in both the rough draft and refined states. It was interesting to read how the Grade 6 students were involved in creating the rubric for their own project and how a student reacted by saying, “I like having a say in how my work is assessed. It makes me work harder.” It was also helpful to see how the authors modified self-assessment for emergent readers and writers by including happy, neutral, and frowning face icons for the students to circle. I think if students are introduced to self-assessment in kindergarten, they will build on their skills and be confident in reflecting on their work as they go through school.

This week, I added the words in blue to my mind map of Inquiry-Based Learning terms and ideas. Words in black are from week one and words in purple are from week three.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

LLED 469 - Inquiry Learning by Design and Essential Questions

Module 7 starts with comparing traditional research and inquiry and lists the reasons inquiry-based learning is superior to traditional research models. Traditional research is seen as teacher-centered, linear, and shallow, whereas inquiry is student-centered, active, and participatory. While I can understand the intellectual argument for inquiry-based learning, I find that I have an emotional reaction to this viewpoint. I was taught in the traditional way and was a successful student, so perhaps I am feeling defensive because the module implies that my education was shallow.
I think it’s useful to notice this initial reaction and realize that others may feel defensive about the way they teach. Being aware that my colleagues may feel unsure about IBL will help me plan for Pro-D teaching opportunities. If I know some staff members are already familiar with inquiry and are perhaps taking part in their own professional inquiry, I might choose to work in a small group with them before bringing ideas to the whole staff as suggested in Fontichiaro’s “Nudging toward inquiry – Building inquiry understanding with colleagues”. I liked her suggestions of activities such as “Inquiry looks like this, but not like this” and analyzing an anonymous unit plan to transform it into inquiry.
Wiggins and McTighe outline an education planning approach in Understanding by Design. I like how it works backwards and looks at the outcomes you want to see and starts from there. By thinking about assessment in step two, you ensure the assessment is authentic and not just an afterthought.
Transforming a school culture to one that supports inquiry-based learning seems to go hand in hand with transforming a library to a library learning commons. A learning commons offers many features that work well with inquiry-based learning. It has modular furniture that can be moved into different configurations for individual and collaborative work. It has access to the internet and the wide variety of digital resources that can be found online. It also has quiet spaces necessary for reflection.
I found the discussion of Makerspaces exciting and can see how the variety of materials in a Makerspace would lead to inquiry. In the school where I teach one day a week, we have some elements of a Makerspace in our library, but there is much more we could do. We have a computer lab with thirty desktop computers as well as a set of about thirty iPads. Next year, one teacher plans to teach coding. We have a loft above the library stocked with multiple types of yarn and a knitting club meets there occasionally. I’d like to purchase some supplies so we could explore areas mentioned in Fontichiaro’s “Nudging toward inquiry – Makerspaces: Inquiry and CCSS” such as sewing with eTextiles, electronic circuits, and coding. However, before rushing out to buy robots, I will be making a plan for what I want the Makerspace to accomplish. I found another article by Fontichiaro entitled “Sustaining a Makerspace” that advises that teacher librarians have a purpose for their Makerspace. She also drew on her experience running Makerspaces to suggest using reusable materials that are flexible. Another useful recommendation was to ask for donations of time, money, and supplies to outfit your Makerspace .I am personally involved in the Vancouver Maker Community as a founding member of the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild and I have participated in the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire since its inception in 2011. I would certainly be happy to bring in a sewing machine and some of my scrap fabric to let students build their sewing skills.
I can see how my inquiry into inquiry will have a recursive nature as I move from an initial introduction to IBL concepts to further experiences with inquiry. For example, the readings in module eight gave me an understanding of essential questions, but I’m sure that will be deepened when I develop essential questions for my inquiry unit. The recursive nature of inquiry is mentioned in the Points of Inquiry framework.
The importance of learning how to ask good questions was clearly shown in the readings in this module. Unfortunately, many students have had their innate curiosity quashed in traditional classrooms, so they need to re-learn the skill of asking questions. Fontichiaro had a suggestion of teaching primary students how to ask open-ended questions by giving them coloured tongue depressors so they could show whether they thought a question was a red light question (closed) or a green light question (open). I could see myself trying this as I find that students need scaffolding in order to ask essential questions. Rothstein and Santana also believe that students can successfully ask excellent questions when given practice. In “Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions” they give a framework for question formulation. I am familiar with the brainstorming step with no judgement and feel that the next steps of improving questions, prioritizing the best ones, researching, and finally reflecting are a useful methodology. I look forward to giving this a try in the classroom and seeing how the students enjoy the process.
I enjoyed Fontichiaro’s two articles on using picture books to unlock prior knowledge and spur questions. I believe that picture books can be powerful hooks no matter the age of the students and I would like to see more teachers using them past the primary years. I particularly liked how the sticky note model allowed for a misconceptions section and allowed for modelling of how to switch an idea from one category to another when new ideas are learned.
Article that wasn’t part of our readings:
Fontichiaro, K. (2016). Sustaining a makerspace. Teacher Librarian, 43(4), 39-41. Retrieved from
This week, I added the words in purple to my mind map of Inquiry-Based Learning terms and ideas. Words in black are from week one.