Network Dinner Review: From Poster to Practice

From Poster to PracticeI have the pleasure of working with a diverse and dynamic group of educators (and learners in turn) on the board of Learning Forward BC. In April we hosted a powerful and thought-provoking network dinner titled First People’s Principles: From Poster to Practice. Learning Forward BC believes in quality professional learning where cross-pollination between roles and districts create the conditions for conversations that matter and actions that lead to improved student learning; success for all students, all the time. At this particular event, we invited a cross-role educational team to share their experience and facilitate conversations focused on indigenizing the BC curriculum. We wanted to deepen our collective understanding of the First Peoples Principles and help each other move from a poster on the wall to the meaningful infusion of aboriginal ways of knowing and doing.

The event sold out quickly so we tried to bring as many people in through a virtual window. Here are a few of the twitter highlights:

As we start the planning for our next session, designed to parallel the first, I want to share what resonated for me and warmly welcome others to join us. The next event will be held Thursday, October 25, 2018 at Centennial Secondary School in Coquitlam and registration is available through the Learning Forward BC website. For those unable to attend in person, follow the evening on twitter: #learnfwdbc or @leadlearningBC

The first thing that struck me is that we, as educators, must give ourselves permission to take time and have patience as we learn about aboriginal ways of knowing and doing. I believe that for many of us, when we step back and look at how we design learning opportunities, engage in conversations, and so on, we are more aligned with First Peoples Principles of Learning than we may realize. There is comfort in knowing that we are not relearning how to teach or adding something new to our plate. We are recognizing what truly matters the most when it comes to teaching and learning, honouring those processes and moving towards authentic integration.

During the network dinner, in an activity led by Brad Baker and Stephanie Maki, we started this process by first acknowledging our own assumptions and biases, or those that we often hear from others.  The energy in the room during this activity was insightful and powerful. There was a calm and respectful silence as people pondered their own thoughts, gathered the courage to ask difficult questions and dug deep to bring everything to the surface so we could move forward.

The evening ended on a similar note. What are your questions, concerns or insights as you return to your classrooms and schools? As participants left for the evening these thoughts were collected on their way out. A few that stood out for me include:

  • How can I best support our students whose individual experiences could be triggered by the difficult subject matter inherent in the AbEd?
  • How do we work with FN families who do not or cannot communicate with schools, teachers and principals?
  • How can I continue to develop relationships with the First Nations communities we have very few Indigenous children/families in our school community?

These are significant questions because they speak to the complexity of what we are working towards. This needs to be an ongoing conversation, as answers to questions like these will not come from one after school workshop or a handout. We need to be asking ourselves: what are we doing within our schools and professional learning communities to provide a safe space for questions to be asked as they arise? How are we supporting each other across the province such that resources, suggestions and so on can be shared with a wider audience?

Here are a few more pictures of the evening. The best part for me hands down was the conversations with teachers, administrators, district staff etc. I believe that it is within those conversations, where diverse perspectives gather, that we will move towards meaningful change.


Keep Calm and Learn On

~ Karen

It is quiet around here…

Wow I can not believe it how long it has been since my last post. There has been so much going on in my world as a district helping teacher for Surrey Schools and graduate student trying to wrap up this MA degree. I have a ton to share and I often write blog posts in my head driving to work…there must be an app for that? I talk, it records, pulls perfectly aligned media to go with the text it creates from my words…bam! This would be my dream app. In the meantime I am here to say, stay tuned. I am adding a link to my Ignite presentation at ERAC in Richmond BC this year to prove I have not actually been hiding under a rock. My presentation at the Learning Forward Annual Conference in Vancouver BC with Jordan Tinney and Robyn Thiessen was another highlight of the last few months but alas we did not get that one on video. I wish you all a wonderful New Year full of goal setting and dream catching!



Digital Portfolios: Old wine in new bottles?

First of all I can not take credit for the awesome metaphor of old wine in new bottles as a way to unpack educational change. It is a phrase I have been asked to reflect upon as part of my last (yippee, almost there) course for my MA degree in Language & Literacy Education. After tracing major developments in research and theory over the past one hundred years, Dr. Robert Tierney positions our discussion group to “explore the notion that these are not just old wine in new bottles.” Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.18.27 PMBeing the efficient learner that I must be balancing school, work and family, I am exploring this notion in the context of digital portfolios. As the Communicating Student Learning Helping Teacher in a district where portfolios may (emphasis on may as this is optional) be created on FreshGrade in lieu of traditional reporting methods, this is a significant topic for me.

collaboration.jpgI am choosing to share these thoughts on a blog rather than the private space of UBC connect because I believe the time for change is now and the only way to start (or keep the momentum going if you have already started) is to open the dialogue and share, share, share. I welcome and invite all thoughts, questions, concerns and suggestions. Learning is reciprocal and we are all on this journey together: parents, students, teachers and everyone else interested in relevant and effective education. Rather than debate the best option (there really is no one size fits all, so we can just stop trying) what if we start pulling together our collective understanding and paradigms to simply explore new possibilities with a growth mindset? What if we approach roadblocks and concerns with curiosity rather than fear, and allow teachers and students as learning partners, to choose a path that makes sense for their journey?

Okay so my thoughts on the wine. I love wine, like actual liquid wine, preferably red. Perhaps that is why this metaphor resonates with me but I also appreciate the complexity of this simple phrase. Are digital portfolios just old wine in new bottles or are digital portfolios new wine in old bottles? A subtle difference with the exclusion of the word ‘just.’ See how beautifully dynamic language is and how personal the event of reading/meaning-making is?  For some “old wine in new bottles” can be seen as “just old wine,” a negative or criticism of recycling old ideas. For others, and this is where I land, wine is good because of the wine, not the bottle. In turn, bad wine is bad wine even in a shiny new bottle with a fantastic label. You know how frustrating it is when you splurge on that expensive bottle with the brilliant label only to find it tastes the same as your favourite bottle for half the price?  Frustrating, waste of time searching for something new and better and waste of money.

Something new and better or the latest buzz word in education: innovation. Are digital portfolios innovative? Yes and no. The tool, as in the actual technology that allows teachers and students to capture video and picture evidence in the learning moment, communicate simultaneously with parents in an online space and collaborate with all stakeholders to document personalized, evidence based learning maps, yes. I believe the technology in this case allows for new ways to capture and communicate learning. In my experience using FreshGrade it was a much better way to document learning, engage my students in the assessment process (I am talking 5 and 6 year olds by the way) and build reciprocal and meaningful relationships with my parents. That being said, the concept of portfolios is far from new and in my opinion not innovative. For me, portfolios are like a wonderfully  balanced red wine with full flavour and deep notes. Not the cheap stuff dressed up but a good wine that stands the test of time.  Perhaps digital portfolio’s have the potential to be culmination of good wine and good bottles? Quality assessment practices supported by research meets transformational technology

I use the word potential intentionally as the use of digital portfolios, like all technology is simply a tool. FreshGrade, Quio, OneNote or any of the other options for digital portfolios do not transform learning. Teachers transform learning alongside their students. Although the Surrey School District has chosen FreshGrade as our tool this is simply the bottle, the shell. The good stuff that will really make a difference for our learners is inside. For teachers embracing the shift from reporting as an event to the ongoing communication of learning with digital portfolios I hope you find time to consider what we already know. Back to the wine metaphor for just a moment. Just as good wine gets better with time we should not be approaching digital portfolios as some new phenomenon but building on the good work that has already been done. Although some of this research may seem old and not reference the technology we use today, much of it is still good and relevant, so why would we throw it away and start from scratch?

For example, I found an article published almost 20 years ago to be incredibly relevant to the discourse of digital portfolios today. In Portfolios: Assumptions, tensions, and possibilities Tierney (1998) discusses the potential for collections of student work in ‘learner-centered portfolios’ as a vehicle to transform the practices and goals of assessment. This is long before the advent of mobile tablets where teachers (and students) could quickly snap a picture, take a video or record an observation with ease and have it uploaded to a student portfolio immediately. Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 7.07.07 PM.pngBefore wifi was commonplace in schools and parents could have a virtual window into the classroom through blogs, portfolios and websites. Yet the possibilities for student engagement, meaningful descriptions of the learning as a process and the potential for teachers to use assessment to move learning forward remains the same. Why are we still talking about the fallacy that standardized tests, comparative assessments and weighted grades measure learning? Perhaps because some of the limitations with paper based portfolios left educators with few other options?

As we work towards the implementation of digital portfolios in our school district the same questions and concerns exist as with paper portfolios. What does a learner-centered portfolio include? In the early 1990’s portfolio-based writing assessment attracted the attention of several literacy scholars including Kathleen Yancey  and Rick Stiggins. Much like the discussions I have with teachers today around the shift from reporting to communicating student learning, Stiggins (1994) describes portfolios as a collection of learning rather than an assessment of the learner. Yancey (1992) defines a “portfolio pedagogy” where reflection and inquiry are foundational concepts to help teachers avoid the creation of a scrapbook. Her concerns align with the thoughts in a post by my colleague and friend Kelli Vogstad titled Digital Portfolios: Moving beyond the Glorified Scrapbook. When I review the big ideas with paper based portfolios as described by researchers such as Tierney, Stiggins and Yancey the foundation is the same for digital portfolios: learner-centered (even our youngest students should have choice & voice), reflective, inquiry based, formative, quality over quantity and designed to make learning visible (the process and connections, not the product).

Here are a few quotes that resonate for me from Tierney’s article (1998).

Learner-centered portfolios are:

  • a movement from summative to formative
  • sites for reflection and inquiry
  • a way to capture the unique patterns of learning by individuals
  • an opportunity for teachers to assume role of participant-observer
  • sites for growth in self-assessment (for teacher and student?)
  • an opportunity for teachers to use professional experience to guide learning 
  • sites for collaboration designed to support students, teachers and caregivers as they engage in conversations around curriculum and development
  • a place of exploration where students try out, try on, and test possibilities of who they are and who they might become

This aligns with my views of a quality digital portfolio. I believe this is the good wine that we can showcase in a new bottle. I am curious to know what other teachers using digital portfolios would add to the list above? What do you consider when designing and building your portfolios? What role do parents and students play? I believe we need to continually ask ourselves these questions to avoid a collection of work, much like the bursting pages of a paper folder, at the expense of an excellent opportunity to build on existing research and make a profound difference for our students.  

For teachers using digital portfolios I invite you to consider the 13 principals suggested by Tierney (1998) in Literacy assessment reform: shifting beliefs, principled possibilities and emerging practices and how they might be reflected in your practice.

  1. Assessments should emerge from the classroom rather than be imposed upon it.
  2. Effective testing requires teacher professionalism with teachers as learners.
  3. Assessment practices should be client centred and reciprocal.
  4. Assessment should be done judiciously, with teachers as advocates for students and ensuring their due process.
  5. Assessment extends beyond improving our tests to the purposes of assessment and how results from assessment are used, reported, contextualized, and perceived.
  6. Diversity should be embraced, not slighted.
  7. Assessment procedures may need to be non-standaridized to be fair to the individual.
  8. Simple-minded summaries, scores, and comparisons should be displaced with approaches that acknowledge the complex and idiosyncratic nature of literacy development. Straightforward comparisons across individuals are usually arbitrary, biased, and narrow.
  9. Some things that can be assessed reliably across raters are not worth assessing; some  things that are worth assessing may be difficult to assess reliably except by the same rater
  10. Assessment should be more developmental and sustained than piecemeal and shortsighted
  11. Most interpretations of results are not straightforward. Assessment should be viewed as ongoing and suggestive, rather than fixed or definitive.
  12. Learning possibilities should be negotiated with the students and stakeholders rather than imposed via standards and assessment that are preset, prescribed, or mandated.
  13. Assessment should be assessed in terms of its relationship with teaching and learning, including the opportunities learners are offered and the rights and respect they are accorded.

“Assessment practices should enrich teaching and learning” Tierney 1998




Suggestions moving forward?







Stiggins, R. J. (1994). Student-centered classroom assessment. New York: Merrill.

Tierney, R. J., Clark, C., Fenner, L., Herter, R. J., Simpson, C. S., & Wiser, B. (1998). Portfolios: Assumptions, tensions, and possibilities. Reading Research Quarterly33(4), 474-486.

Tierney, R. J. (1998). Literacy assessment reform: Shifting beliefs, principled possibilities, and emerging practices. The Reading Teacher51(5), 374.

Yancey, K. B. (1992). Portfolios in the writing classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.


Digital Images:




Show me the Learning! Using Digital Portfolios to Communicate Student Learning.

Comfort zoneLast January I took a giant leap out of my comfort zone. I left an amazing classroom and school community to work as a District Helping Teacher. My primary responsibility is to provide support and guidance to educators in our district looking for innovative ways to communicate student learning.

This year, teachers in Surrey have the option to use digital portfolios with FreshGrade to document and communicate learning in lieu of traditional paper report cards. And, it is very exciting and scary, all at the same time.

Innovation with the intention of lasting and meaningful change is simply not easy because there are no instructions and one size does not fit all. As we navigate our way as a district down this very new road, we are creating and adjusting the map along the way. And to make it more exciting and scary all at once, there are many different maps. Surrey is one of the most diverse cities in the province and as such we have the opportunity to work with a plethora of families and communities. The opportunity to provide students and their families with a personalized learning portfolio is brilliant yet teachers who are choosing to do so are constantly wondering what does a quality digital portfolio look like? What is a valuable addition to a portfolio, how often is it updated? Where is the learning?

As a helpingparadigm teacher I love hearing these questions. It tells me that the educator I am working with is intentional and reflective. I believe this is the first step to creating a quality digital portfolio. As it truly is a paradigm shift from the current system we must constantly reflect and refine our practice to better meet the needs of our students. Keep the end in mind, make decisions towards that end and adjust as necessary. A quality digital portfolio mirrors quality assessment where the learning process in central and evidence is gathered to inform teaching and learning in meaningful ways.
As a classroom teacher my end was for each of my students to walk in to summer empowered to continue learning, alongside parents who felt confident to support their individual needs. To this end my documentation on FreshGrade needed to clearly show where a student was (strengths), where they were going (performance standard or goals) and specific markers for success, across the transparentcurriculum. This is where transparency, which I believe is the second step to creating quality portfolios is essential. Although as educators we know the power of formative assessment and appreciate the process of learning there are times when we need to summarize that learning and make sense of all the documentation for parents and students. In my practice the way to find the balance was to be open and honest with parents and students about my intentions with digital portfolios and invite their feedback, both positive and constructive.

I have the pleasure to work with hundreds of educators who are indeed reflective, intentional and transparent in their efforts to improve student learning through assessment. Although I know they are grounded in effective pedagogy and have stepped up to be leaders they are still looking for guidelines in their documentation to make learning visible and support students.  We seem to love acronyms in education so I have created one to keep in mind as we document student learning in FreshGrade: FRAME. I like this acronym because it reminds me that digital portfolios provide parents with a window into the classroom. Also, a framework for quality assessment focuses on learning as a process and as such is not a single event. The digital portfolio is only one part of the bigger picture where educators facilitate and communicate student learning.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 10.50.50 PM

A quality digital portfolio highlights a students learning across the curriculum without overwhelming parents with too much information. Consider the following guidelines as you compile artifacts in FreshGrade as evidence of learning, and guide students as they choose what to add to their own portfolio

Is it formative and part of documenting progression towards a clear goal or learning intention? In this case you might consider creating an activity with custom objectives (I can statement) and including success markers or rubrics as part of the description so parents and students know where they are, where they are going and how they will know when they arrive. Choosing the anecdotal assessment and excusing students allows teachers to collect evidence over time. The combine feature and custom labels can help to keep artifacts organized.

Here is an example from Grade 2 Literacy


Is it relevant? As our purpose is to go beyond what students are doing and document learning it is important to include artifacts that will provide new information. For example, although students may write in their journals several times a week it is not necessary to take a picture of every entry. Picture and video evidence should be accompanied by the teachers descriptive feedback and be connected to a particular goal or learning intention. Also consider the relevance for a particular student. In the example above the teacher may have taken a picture of one or two students writing during a particular activity. One of the benefits of digital documentation is how personalized assessment can be.

Is it accessible such that parents and students can make a connection to the learning? Learning can be captured through pictures, notes, videos and uploaded documents. Consider what form will give your parents and students the best access to the learning.  What type of documentation will make the learning visible for a particular family? Parents who speak a language other than English may benefit from more pictures, mastery scale with symbols and concise feedback. Where technology access is limited outside of school, teachers might consider organizing portfolios where reports can be easily generated and printed. I recommend listening to the FreshGrade assessment and reporting webinar for more information about generating reports. With the proper organization, reports can be generated at any time to summarize the learning objectives and assessment of a personalized portfolio within minutes.

Is it meaningful and/or engaging? A quality digital portfolio is personalized and reflects student ownership. When students know what they need to do to be successful they will be more engaged in learning. Consider adding performance standards, criteria and rubrics to the activity description or as a resource. Giving students the opportunity to contribute to their portfolio can be very powerful. For example, teachers can create a quick add to post an essential question to all portfolios. Students can then add their feedback in various ways over time and the teacher can add comments and suggestions to guide the learning. The student app is a simple platform and has proven to be user friendly for even our youngest students to capture their learning. Consider asking students to take a picture of the writing work they are most proud of for example. This allows students to reflect on their learning and include a picture across learning areas and formats.

A tool like FreshGrade allows teachers to replace static and generic report cards with a collaborative and personalized learning map for each student. The platform also provides teachers an opportunity to align assessment and practice within the context of their classroom. It is difficult, therefore, to provide instructions for all teachers about what learning to capture and how often. As the curriculum in British Columbia’s shifts  to a competency based and more personalized framework, teachers have the opportunity to transform their teaching through assessment and meet the individual needs of the students in their classroom.

The FRAME I described may be helpful for some while others will have another way to guide their process for documentation. Professional learning parallels student learning and as such one size does not fit all. We do, however, share a common vision within the Surrey school district for Learning by Design – where we prepare students for a world in which they think creatively and critically, communicate skillfully, and demonstrate care for self and others. Quality assessment is one of four priority practices to support this vision and ongoing professional learning is pivotal. I encourage all educators to share their organizational tips and guiding principles for digital documentation with others.

In my experience working with teachers, parents, administrators and students effective portfolios:

  • are organized with intention and a clear plan to support student learning
  • intentions are shared with administrators, parents and students and feedback welcome
  • include clear examples of learning progressions across the curriculum in relation to individual student goals
  • are continuous and reflective
  • demonstrate how students can build upon and show their understanding in multiple ways
  • descriptive feedback speaks to learning intentions and core competencies
  • quality over quantity: pictures and videos are limited and represent clear evidence of learning with quality feedback (too much information becomes overwhelming)
  • incude formative and summative assessment
  • reflect student ownership and voice
  • include links or reference to ministry performance standards
  • reflect the learning over the doing and recognize that this will look different for each student

Slide2I look forward to adjusting this list as educators share their successes and work through the struggles in the documentation of student learning. We are facing big changes in education and I thank all of the teachers out there who are stepping outside of their comfort zone, taking risks and making this journey a meaningful one.

we cannot solve problems

Digital Images Source:

Comfort zone




Tom Cruise

Embracing BC’s Transformed Curriculum Part II: Building Classroom Connections with Drama

“In drama education students learn how to be actors in the real world.”

O’Connor, 2010

I believe that sharing and reflecting will be key to a successful transition so I am going to start the process here. My intention is to make my initial plans and share my thought process so that it may help others consider where to start in their own planning. In addition, I welcome feedback to support my own reflections and consider new possibilities. I believe that the cycle of planning-sharing-reflecting-refining I discussed in part one of this post will produce many valuable and authentic samples of the transformed curriculum to facilitate a smoother transition for many teachers. It is definitely out of my comfort zone to share something at such an infancy stage but we have to start somewhere I suppose.

Comfort zone

Going back to my early days as a grade one teacher, planning usually involved going to the IRP and deciding what content I would like to cover in term one. With a big idea or larger concept in mind I would search through the exhaustive list of PLO’s for each subject and try to choose a cohesive group of outcomes. From here I would plan units and lessons to cover those particular learning outcomes, and once assessed, move on new ones. Although I often changed the learning outcomes as the term progressed, I could complete a significant amount of planning before I even met my class. It was a straightforward approach to planning, however, as the years went on I found my pre planning to become more and more a waste of time.

Planning takes the opposite approach with the new competency based curriculum. Rather than use the curriculum to choose discrete learning outcomes I can start with those big ideas and make the curriculum work for me. More importantly, I can make the curriculum work for my students.

Where to start? In September I want to provide learning opportunities that will foster a classroom community where everyone feels safe and respected. I also want to engage students in activities where I can begin to assess and plan to support their emergent literacy skills. This is my springboard and from here I will choose a few big ideas to guide my planning. Unlike prescribed learning outcomes, the big ideas are broad and abstract. My goal as a teacher is to provide learning opportunities that deepen students understanding of the big ideas which in turn become their springboards for further learning.

Below is an example of a learning map that I have created for the first week or maybe two of grade one. In the past I found that I resisted going off course when I had spent a great deal of time organizing a series of lessons. Learning is not a sequential event, and as facilitators, teachers must be flexible and adjust plans to meet the needs of students. Therefore, I have shifted my thinking from lesson or unit plans to a learning map. This way I know where my destination is (big ideas) and why I am going there (core competencies), but I also know there are multiple ways to get to that destination. There are also many stops en route where I can check in to make sure I am still going the right way, backtrack and adjust where necessary (learning intentions, content knowledge, curricular competencies).

Note: Although I left my classroom six months to accept a Helping Teacher position in my district I am describing this learning map within the context I was previously teaching. As part of a district initiative to align assessment practices with 21st century learning (my blog post Let the Learning Come to you describes this journey) I was not using summative report cards to communicate with parents. Through digital portfolios I communicated student learning frequently with parents and focused on the documentation of learning in authentic ways.

Learning Map Initial Phase:


For my Getting into the Groove of Grade One map, I have pulled Big Ideas from Arts Education and from English Language Arts:

  • The arts connect us to others through shared meaning
  • We construct meaning in the arts through looking, listening and creative movements
  • Listening and speaking builds our understanding and helps us learn

Why did I choose these three? I believe in the power of relationships and I want to build connections between the students and with myself as soon as possible. Academics are on my mind at the beginning of the year as well. Literacy is a social practice where meaning making happens in multiple modes and I want to start supporting this as soon as possible.

What types of learning opportunities do I want to provide? As this is the beginning of the year I want to incorporate games and activities where the students can start to feel comfortable as a group. I also want to support emergent literacy skills by engaging the students in authentic multimodal activities. My intention is to use drama as a teaching methodology and build foundational skills necessary for literacy development. Research suggests that incorporating drama based activities in literacy events will have a positive impact on student learning (Baldwin & Fleming 2003; Cawthon et al. 2011). There will be multiple learning opportunities beyond traditional literacy. We will be learning drama skills, supporting social development and much more. This is the power of the new curriculum in my opinion. The content has not gone away, teachers now have the flexibility to use that content to access deeper levels of understanding that foster important life skills and life-long learning. There is also more freedom to authentically integrate learning areas such as drama and literacy.

If you have not explored the possibilities of drama and literacy there are a lot of resources available. In Teaching Literacy through Drama, Baldwin and Fleming address the expanding definition of literacy in the 21st century and provide practical suggestions for building meaningful literacy connections with drama-based strategies.

Okay back to my planning. I have my big ideas and I know what type of learning environment I want to provide. Next on my map is a collection of warm up games and activities (I will describe the activities at the end of this post). While I do believe learning should be fun my purpose for these warm ups are still guided by my big ideas and will be valuable insight for me as I move ahead. These games can be introduced one at a time and then used throughout the year as a warm up to any learning activity or as a body break. They will also introduce my students to some drama skills that we will use in the next phase of our learning. They are a true win-win. The students will have fun and start to build their skills in various areas and I will gather my initial assessments.

I list the learning intentions as ‘possible’ because I believe these should be created with students. This is where planning has shifted significantly for me. Where I would plan out lessons with very particular details before I now organize the framework and fill in the gaps with my students in real-time. Reflection and checking in with students is an important part of the process. Once a few of the warm up games have been introduced stop and invite the students to suggest reasons why we are playing them. This can be a group discussion or ideas can be shared and written down. Share your expectations with the class and encourage their participation in creating I can statements. If this is a new concept students may only come up with one or two ideas but it is important for them to participate in the process. Depending on how much time you are spending on the warm up activities it may be a good time to introduce some drama vocabulary such as mime when playing Pass the Invisible Object. Any opportunity to build children’s vocabulary will support their emerging literacy skills.

Rather than formally assessing learning outcomes consider using this time to engage with your students and carefully observe. I listed some of the questions I might ask myself but it really depends on the context. In my classroom I compile artifacts of learning such as photos or notes with digital portfolios. This allows me to quickly capture learning as it happens and collect evidence over time. I believe this is a particularly valuable tool with learning areas such as drama where so much learning is in the process and it is such a personal experience for each student. As these warm up activities are an introduction to drama and some of the first group activities we are participating in, they can provide a valuable starting point to document a child’s growth. Although we are working under the umbrella of the same big idea and learning intentions every child will not exhibit the same strengths and struggles during these warm up activities. Encourage students to set a goal for themselves at the beginning of an activity. If you are playing Gibberish for example some students may want to focus on waiting for their turn in the conversation while others may want to be brave in trying new sounds. Although drama games provide multiple opportunities to support learning it is important to honour the process for each individual and never overwhelm a child by setting expectations outside of their comfort level.

Although the core competencies are a blog post or two themselves, I will quickly note why it makes sense for me to have them as a continuous arrow across my learning map. I am always looking for demonstrations of the competencies. As the ultimate goal is to see students building proficiency and employing the core competencies in their lives, they are an integral part of all learning areas. Documentation of the competencies can be reflected within descriptive feedback. For example, “during the four corners game Emma communicated her thoughts in a respectful way with her group.” Student self-assessment and I can statements can also be used to illustrate a competency. For example, after playing Spider Web students can draw and or write about the experience. As many grade one students are not writing at the beginning of the year this could be done with a big buddy or using an app such as Explain Everything on the iPad where they can record their voices. When students tell about their experiences they are employing communication skills. I believe drama activities coupled with the opportunity to reflect on the process will provide many authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate skills and abilities associated with the core competencies.

Once the students are comfortable with the warm up activities and we have established goals in the area of drama and or literacy, move on to phase 2. Comfort in the warm up activities is important before moving on to more complex drama strategies in part two. Continue observing and documenting learning as it happens and adjusting activities to meet the needs of all learners. At this point in my class where I communicate student learning frequently with digital portfolios parents would also be involved in the process. They would know that we are intentionally using drama strategies to support literacy development and where appropriate they would be supporting their child in their goal.

Learning Map Secondary Phase:


The activities chosen for this phase are intended to build on the skills practiced during the warm-up activities and to build a deeper understanding of the big ideas through the curricular competencies. During an appropriate time share expectations and purpose with students and collaboratively create learning intentions. Although assessment is ongoing and informs the next steps I will briefly describe how I might use a wordless picture book and drama strategies to build classroom connections and support emergent literacy skills. I am sharing these activities through the lens of formative assessment and how they might inform my decisions for future activities and the possibilities for pedagogical documentation. Although a variation of Four Corners is used in this example multiple warm up strategies may be necessary at various points. These activities would likely occur over two or three days.

Hook/Initial Engagement

Gather students in a circle and reveal a box of large colourful chalk. Ask the students to pretend they are a famous artist who specializes in magnificent chalk creations. People from all over the world come to see your chalk art. Ask students to close their eyes, or look down, and picture their famous chalk art in their mind. What did they create? What colours did they use? Give students a few moments to imagine their artwork and them invite them to share with the person sitting next to them. Ask for a few students to share with the group.

Warm-up: Four Corners variation to match theme

As students move between corners ask them to draw something with an imaginary piece of chalk when they arrive at their new corner. When corners are chosen by the person in the middle ask students to reveal what they drew as they make their way to the center. As the game continues encourage students who are out to guess (inside their heads) what others are drawing as they arrive at their new corners. Notice how students move between corners. Are they moving independently of their peers? Are they safely following directions?

Book Introduction & Predicting: Chalk

Chalk 1Chalk 2Gather students for a shared reading of the book Chalk. This is a wordless picture book so turn the pages slowly and give students time have a good look.

Stop part way through the book and ask students to guess what the boy is drawing. Ask students to use their bodies to describe what they think the boy is drawing. Model some examples by using arms to make a circle for the sun or standing tall with arms straight up like a tree. Notice students who are hesitant to participate or copying others in order to support them in future activities and recognize their growth when they begin to participate more and feel confident to share their own ideas. Are the students making reasonable connections?


This is a great activity to encourage focus and using imagination to create stories. It will also actively engage students in viewing the book as they will need to pay close attention to the pictures. Start from the beginning of the book as ask children to imagine all the sounds they might hear if they were inside the book. Work on the first page together and practice the sounds along with the students. Create a criteria for the soundtrack by asking students about an appropriate volume for responses, matching sounds to the pictures in the book and so on. Gradually release responsibility to the students as you turn the pages so that they are making the sounds independently. This is a good activity to assess self-regulation. Notice students who are being silly or struggling to focus. This is an opportunity to set a goal for the next activity.

Hotseat: Interview/Reporter Style

Turn to the page where the boy draws a T-Rex and discuss the trouble this started for the other children. In pairs (as this is the beginning of the year I would likely pre-determine pairs) students will take turns as reporter and ask the boy about what happened. Model the activity by asking for volunteers to play the role of one of the other children and take on the role of the reporter. Teacher in role is an effective strategy for engaging students and creating authentic learning spaces where “much of learning takes place along the journey, while we explore” (Belliveau & Belliveau 2015).

As groups work throughout the space circulate and observe. This is a good opportunity to recognize students’ strengths and struggles working in a small group. Are they taking turns and listening to each other? Are they asking questions that make sense within the context of the story? Rather than walking around with my clipboard and assessing students on a prescribed learning outcome this is when I circulate and document things that will be meaningful to support a particular students goals or help to create a new goal. During this activity consider the final tableaux activity and notice if groups need to be shuffled. Notice students who are comfortable asking and answering questions who may be able to encourage less confident students.

Retell the Story Tableaux

Materials: chalk, space to draw or large paper, photocopies of Chalk

Ideally the students can use real chalk to draw scenes from the story. Otherwise large pieces of paper will work. Ask students to recall the beginning, middle and end of the book. Think-Pair-Share is a good strategy to give everyone a chance to recall the story. Tell students that we are going to retell the story with our bodies much like we used our bodies to show our predictions about the story. Again, as this is early on in the year I would pre-determine groups and consider combining pairs from the previous activity. At this point create a criteria for the tableaux with the students and generate I can statements. It may be helpful to ask them “if our parents came in to see our work what would they expect to see?” “What are the important parts to include?” The criteria can be very simple, for example “in our scene everyone has a part to play and we worked together respectfully.”

Each group is given a photocopy of their scene and asked to decide who will play each role in the picture. Circulate and observe how groups are choosing. If groups are struggling stop and give suggestions or ask a successful group to share their strategy. Give students time to practice creating their scene. Are students who were previously hesitant to express themselves with their bodies more comfortable? Check in with any students who struggled with self-regulation during previous activities. Remind students about the criteria as necessary and look for opportunities to document growth. Once students can successfully recreate their scene provide chalk for them to draw. Gather students at carpet and ask each group to share their scene in the sequence of the story. Invite participation in the assessment process by asking the audience to think about the criteria while their peers share. By taking a picture of each scene with an iPad the students can view their individual scenes as a digital book.

Debriefing and Assessment

Review the many ways Chalk was read and understood during class activities. Ask students to share their favourite activity? What parts were hard? Read the I can statements and ask students to self-assess. This can be done by providing a paper version and asking student to put happy or straight faces next to each statement, or during a teacher-student conference.

Drama Activities

I learned about many of the drama strategies from David Beare and George Belliveau at UBC during my summer coursework. Thank you to David and George for your excellent leadership. For a great list of drama activities check out drama notebook.

Spider Web: In a circle pass a ball of yarn while holding on to you piece. To learn names say your name out loud as you receive to ball. At the end everyone places their part of the yarn down and stands to see the created spider web. A good entry point to discuss how we are all connected and live in the classroom as a community

 Four Corners: One person stays in the middle while the class seperates among four corners. Corners can have numbers or names to go with a particular theme. Invite students to move to another corner in some way (tiptoe, skip, like a monkey, like the wind etc) the person in the middle points to one corner and everyone in that corner is out and gathers in the center. There are many variations to this game.

Pass the Clap: In a circle one person starts the pattern of clap lap, clap haps, high ten neighbor, that person then repeats the pattern and claps their lap, hands and then on to the next person. Everyone must pay attention so they know when it is their turn. If students master this you can add on a reversal option your students return the high ten to make the clap go the opposite direction

 Group Stop: Students move throughout the space. Using music to set the pace may be helpful for younger students. When one person stops (anyone can stop at any time) the group follows and tries to bring all movement to a hault. Once the entire group is still anyone can start again by moving and others follow suit.

 Name & Action: Go around the circle and have each student say their name along with an action one at a time. Everyone else repeats the name and action.

Pass the Invisible Object: In a circle ask students to imagine they are holding a ball, a bubble or any other object. Invite them to think about what it looks like and feel like. Ask them to pass their object to a partner or choose one object and pass the imaginary object amongst the circle

 Stomp: Standing in a cirle start my stomping your left and then right foot. Once you stomp your right foot the person next to you picks up the pattern, left stomp, right stomp and the pattern continues along the circle.

Gibberish: In pairs students practice having a conversation in gibberish. Invite students to consider they are from another planet and have their own language. Their partner will respond as if the understand. Encouage gesture and changes in tone and volume. Model and provide initial sounds for hesitant students

 Soundtrack: While reading a story invite students to create a soundtrack by saying all the sounds they might hear if they were in the book

 Hotseating: One Students act as a character from a story while peers ask questions. This can be done in pairs or in a whole group setting. There are many variations.

 Tableaux: Students make a still image with their body to represent a scene.

Works Cited: Part I and II

Anderson, M. (2012). Collaborative understanding: Ensemble approaches in drama education. In MasterClass in drama education: Transforming teaching and learning.

Baldwin, P. & Fleming, K. (2003). Drama and literacy. In Teaching literacy through drama: Creative approaches. London: Routledge/Falmer, 17-31.

Belliveau, G. & Belliveau, S. (2015). Teacher in (a) role: Drama in the elementary classroom. In Carter, M., Prendergast, M. & Belliveau, G. (Eds.) Drama, Theatre and Performance Education in Canada: Classroom and Community Contexts. Polygraph Book Series. Canada.

Cawthon, S., Dawson, K. & Ihorn, S. (2011). Activating student engagement through drama-based instruction. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 7(1). Retrieved from:

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Embracing BC’s Transformed Curriculum: Thoughts from Drama Class

Embracing the Transformed Curriculum Part 1: Thoughts from Drama Class

Drama is itself multifaceted and can be used to develop children’s expertise across a range of literacies. Literacy is not simply the ability to read and write, but encompasses all aspects of communication and understanding.

Baldwin & Felming 2003

bcedplan-med1Education in British Columbia is undergoing a significant shift and in September teachers may have the option to implement a renewed curriculum. According to the Ministry of Education “transformation in curriculum and assessment will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students.” Does a renewed curriculum mean we are starting everything from scratch? Absolutely not, meeting personal student needs and providing engaging learning environments are already a significant part of effective teaching. The transformation is simply aligning what we know and already do with the curriculum and learning that is communicated to parents. The transformed curriculum is less prescriptive and allows teachers to tailor the learning opportunities they provide to meet the individual learning needs of their students. Although content knowledge is still important it is no longer the driver for instruction and planning. Through learning area content teachers build capacity for a deeper understanding of key concepts and facilitate growth across cross-curricular competencies that will foster life-long learning.

Although this sounds great I know many teachers are wondering how to make the transition? Especially since the curriculum is so new that there are limited instructional examples. In part 2 of this blog post I will describe my thought process in planning with the transformed curriculum as a guide. This is my first attempt mapping out the learning opportunities and assessment practices aligned with the renewed curriculum and since examples are scarce this makes me a bit nervous. There may be parts I have misinterpreted and I am sure I will overlook something. However, there is no innovation without taking risks and making mistakes. I believe in learning by doing (I was recently reminded of how powerful this process can be). I also believe in the power of collaboration and invite feedback. Perhaps if we all find a place to start, share our thoughts and allow others to reflect and refine plans to suit their particular context, the curriculum documents will begin to fill with instructional examples?


My Starting Point and Inspiration

This summer, as part of my Masters Degree, I participated in an intensive, one-week course, titled Drama, Literacy & Engagement. Honestly I choose the course because I liked the idea of completing my second elective and having most of the summer free from coursework. The word engagement also peeked my interest, as I strongly believe in the power of intentionally engaging students and empowering them to take an active role in their learning. After reading several articles on drama as a learning area and a teaching methodology, I realized how closely aligned the course content is with my teaching practice and beliefs about education. I did not anticipate how much the course would act as a springboard for my thinking about planning and assessment under the framework of BC’s Transformed Curriculum.

IMG_0896This image summarizes some of the key points I appreciated from the articles. Although I created this image as part of my first assignment I thought about it often during the course and how much the concepts and ideas parallel those of the transformed curriculum.

It was a powerful week where I found myself truly emerged in the experience as a learner. As teachers begin to transfer their practice to align with competency-based curriculum and explore meaningful assessment we will need to do just that; welcome the opportunity to learn with our students. What better way to do that than experience learning from the lens of a student? For the majority of the course we fully engaged ourselves in drama strategies and became part of the instructors’ carefully scaffolded lessons. Although we learned about some technical aspects of drama instruction, practiced and debriefed micro skills and even contributed to a group performance, the process was honoured and contributed to a rich learning experience. When we did take time out of our role as students to listen to a brief lecture or presentation we were grateful for the break and very engaged in the content. I was impressed by the pedagogy modelled and opportunity to be part of a diverse community of learners where I could see first hand the possibilities for personalized learning.

As with the vast majority of classrooms, our class was composed of a diverse group of learners with a wide range of skills, interests and comfort level. Rather than impose a set of expectations or learning objectives we were invited to set our own learning intentions, have a growth mindset, allow for vulnerability and take some risks. ~ A great approach to any new learning experience, like a renewed curriculum for example. There was no summative assessment to reflect our progress or level of participation during the week. There were no written responses due during the week or a test about the various strategies we explored. So how can I claim this was a rich learning experience? How do I actually know any learning occurred within such a diverse group? How can I measure the quality of my own learning? I ask these questions because I am interested in how this experience translates to a classroom where we have a responsibility to report on student learning.

In a society where technology is ubiquitous and information can be retrieved almost instantaneously, it is no longer about the answers. Learning is reflected in the questions and the dialogue. During the week of my drama course I watched and listened as my peers, and myself, constantly posed questions and shared insights about not only the content we were exploring, but also about the process we were engaged in. Conversations about personal connections to a particular exercise or discussions about how a technique might be adjusted to a different context continued over lunch and even after class. This is the level of engagement the more flexible curriculum is designed to activate. Although research suggests drama strategies activate student engagement (Cawthon, Dawson & Ihorn, 2011) and I have used many drama activities in my teaching practice it was inspiring to actually experience it for myself.

Again, I draw a parallel to the renewed curriculum and the transition teachers are faced with. Learning by doing, collaborating, sharing and reflecting. This will be my implementation plan and a framework for the learning opportunities I offer my students. In part two of the post I will describe what that might actually look like in a classroom.

21st Century Learning: Beyond Consumerism

As a global community, we are immersed in a profound and transformative period in history. How can schools play a positive role in this significant shift?

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Although technology provides us with unprecedented connectivity and access to information, the fundamental skills required to be successful, both socially and in the workplace, are increasingly ambitious. This leaves educators in a complex quandary. While we grapple with the details about best practice and how to integrate digital literacy and technology into existing curriculum, our students continue to use technology in more and more areas of their lives. They also seem to have a minimal learning curve and quickly acquire the skills to navigate new technology. Seem is a critical word here. We must consider how our students are using technology and the impact of this use in their lives and the world around them. The digital world that we find ourselves in is fast paced and ever changing. How long can we wait to support our youth to make the adjustment positive and meaningful? I believe we cannot wait another day.

Canadian youth are highly connected to digital media. This connection is often outside of school and largely unsupervised. Media Smarts is a Canadian organization for digital and media literacy ( Their vision is “that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. The results of a national study indicate that the majority of our youth have access to the Internet through personal and portable devices. Top websites include Google, Twitter and Facebook. The most frequent activities include streaming music, social media and playing online games (Media Smarts, 2014). We certainly have a generation of technology consumers.

I often encounter educators who are concerned about how they will ever catch up to the ‘digital natives’ or ‘technologically savvy’ students that they are supposed to teach. Another common reason for resisting technology in their practice is the belief that students get enough technology outside of school. As I reviewed the results of the Media Smarts survey I began to wonder, at what point did we decide mass consumerism indicates a high level of skill or thorough understanding worthy of a title such as digital native or tech savvy? The vast majority of today’s students are comfortable with technology and they are using it. This is something we know. It remains unclear how well they are using it and what potential is lost when educators fail to realize the powerful role they can play.

The Information and Communications Technology Council and MediaSmarts facilitated a one-day Symposium to discuss digital literacy and the critical issues facing Canadian Youth (2014). Participants included students, teachers, researchers, policymakers and other representatives interested in promoting a digitally literate population that can compete in a growing global economy. Although responsibility for supporting essential digital literacy and skills does not land solely on educators, participants agreed that schools play a significant role. This does not imply that teachers must become experts in using the plethora of digital devices now available. The teachers role is much more significant and varies little from the description of an exceptional educator who makes learning accessible, relevant and engaging for each individual student. Educators can support digital literacy as a facilitator, activator and motivator to move learning forward in a meaningful way. I believe that making this shift in our classrooms will help to move students from simply users of technology to producers who know how to learn and can use their understanding to create, collaborate and communicate in new and profound ways that will have a positive impact for them and their global community.

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Works Cited:

Steeves, V. (2015). Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Trends and    Recommendations. Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved from:

Use, understand and create: A digital literacy framework for Canadian schools (2015). Ottawa: Media Smarts. Retrieved from:

Youth and Digital Skills Symposium: Preparing young Canadians to make social, economic and cultural contributions (2014). Ottawa: Media from: Smarts. Retrieved from:





Consider the Possibilities

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I love feedback. I truly and genuinely appreciate it when someone challenges my thinking and causes me to reflect on what I believe and the actions I choose to take. Last week I spoke to over sixty educators about the innovative changes the Surrey School District is implementing around learning and assessment. This is a topic I am very passionate about and my enthusiasm was quite obvious. After the presentation I was impressed by the positive feedback I received through conversations, emails and tweets. It is wonderful that I was able to inspire and motivate so many teachers looking to shift their practice. The most enlightening conversation I had, however, came yesterday from a teacher attending an inquiry meeting with several colleagues where I was asked to speak about ePortfolios with FreshGrade. This particular teacher approached me and asked me “is it always so positive, are we only assessing the good things kids do, what about the disruptive behaviour?” He went on to share with me that although he enjoyed my previous presentation he and several other male teachers (he said it, not me) felt I was only promoting how we can more effectively showcase a child’s growth and did not speak to tracking a child’s limitations or poor behaviour. Okay, this is a valid point and an issue facing many classroom teachers. I went on to explain that I believed in the initial phase of a powerful shift such as replacing summary reports with ongoing collaborative ePortfolios, focusing on the positive is more engaging. Furthermore, opening communication with parents in a relevant and timely fashion will give teachers the ability to relay whatever they feel is necessary and significant.

This conversation has caused me much reflection, and from it, I am more compelled to make the shift (my term for transforming the learning experience for every student through personalized ePortfolios built on formative assessment). I am more motivated because I see the possibilities so clearly and they are incredible.

Consider a world where students are not following a dated, generic list of prescribed learning outcomes that may or may not have any relevance for them.

Consider a world where we do not take a population of curious, playful and engaged humans and force them through the funnel of school where they are told what to learn and by what time in their life to learn it.

Consider a world where we foster each individual for the gifts they bring and encourage them to take ownership in their own education.

Consider a world where students are given options, choice and their individual interests are respected.

Consider a world where we do not judge a persons worth and ability by how they compare to a peer, a world where children actually want to learn because they are not stifled by stress around grades and tests.

Essentially consider the possibilities if we, as teachers can actually do what we signed up for when we chose this career. It took me many years to realize there was a possibility beyond what I thought I had to do. The report card template was just part of my job and I did not question it for years because I did not realize there were other options. I am so thankful that we now have options with the research and technology to support it.

As a teacher, I will not be proud and feel like I did a good job if all of my students become doctors and lawyers. I will be proud if all of my students help to create a world that is better than the one we live in today. There are many teachers who have established classrooms based on the considerations above. I wonder how many behaviour issues they are dealing with? I believe that if we open the doors and support our students in a way that lets each of them feel successful we will significantly decrease classroom behaviour. Is it possible that an off task child is simply bored and frustrated, could it be the task and not the child? We are living in a dynamic and fast paced world. When the classroom is the exact opposite, what do we actually expect? So I invite all teachers struggling with significant behaviour and lack of interest to consider the possibilities, work towards making a shift and see what happens. I believe the change will be profound, not only for students and parents but for teachers as well.


Let the Learning Come to You


Is it possible that we have been going about this teaching thing all wrong? In our genuine attempt to help our students learn are we in fact a roadblock to their success?

After teaching grade one for the past 9 years I have been given a new opportunity and find myself on the other side of the classroom door. I now have the freedom to take a step back and consider what we are doing in our classrooms and the impact this has on our learners. What I have seen in Surrey after just one week as a Helping Teacher, is a dedicated community of teachers who are working incredibly hard yet missing exceptional opportunities in their classrooms everyday. I am not suggesting teachers do not notice these opportunities, they are just working too hard, doing what they believe is their job, to capitalize on them.

A key question must be addressed here? What is our ‘job’ as teachers? The answer will be different depending who you ask of course. The union, administrators, parents and even our students likely have a different opinion. I am interested, however, in what an individual teacher thinks. Actually I am interested in more than what they think. What do individual teachers truly believe is their purpose? What drives your daily decisions and guides your practice? This is a key consideration for all educators as we navigate though the significant challenges we are faced with in our classrooms and the various changes that we are constantly encouraged to make. Furthermore, what we believe is often undermined by our desire to do our job as seen by others. This is where I believe the missed opportunities occur.

I invite all teachers to step back from the unions description of our job, from the prescribed learning outcomes and from anything that clouds whatever it is that guided your career decision in the first place (now, I do not like to impose, but I just have to say, that if kids did not factor somewhere in that decision it may be time to consider a career change). For me, I believe that my role is a facilitator of all things good, anything and everything that will help formulate a world that is better than the one we live in today. I want to help all of my students believe that they are powerful in making a difference and pursue their best life possible. And here lies the quandary for me. These beliefs prevent me from teaching the way our current system is designed. Although my role may be to provide a roadmap for my students and guide learning intentions, I can not justify teaching to an exhausting list of prescribed learning outcomes established almost twenty years ago. Thankfully I am employed by a forward-thinking district and I no longer have to, I can capture previously ignored opportunities and let the learning come to me in authentic and meaningful ways. Moreover, I can share learning and my observations, in real-time, with parents and involve students thanks to advances in technology and digital platforms like FreshGrade.

The Surrey School District has launched a pilot project titled Communicating Student Learning where participating teachers are encouraged to explore innovative ways to replace the current summary based report cards. I eagerly jumped on board and chose to explore an electronic avenue with a web based program called FreshGrade. Finally I was free from the confines of dated, generic, prescribed learning outcomes and stifling report cards. Honestly the feeling of a weight being lifted was almost tangible. I am a hard worker and always thought I was doing best by my students. My job was to choose from a list of learning objectives, plan lessons, teach, assess and repeat. And by repeat, I mean term after term, year after year. The results for my students were okay. I think most of them learned and no one ever complained. The issue for me is that okay and most are just not good enough anymore.

Having the freedom to trust myself as a professional educator and make decisions in my practice to support my students as unique individuals has revealed a plethora of opportunities I have been missing all along. Well, I have seen many of them, I have just not recognized their potential in truly supporting the individual learning needs of my students. All my years of planning and then watching my students for evidence that they understand one narrow concept blinded me to so many amazing things.

Okay so let me share a few examples to make this revelation, which was quite astounding for me, more clear. My grade one classroom this year was a very busy, social and creative group. From day one they constantly asked me to share structures they built or games they had created during free play time (basically my version of centres) or recess break with the class. Although social and creative times are an essential component of the primary classroom we do have an extensive number of learning outcomes to cover and often we simply do not have the time to accommodate such requests. Feeling less pressure this year to cover learning outcomes by a deadline I was able to give my students more sharing time and adjust not only our day plan but our entire learning path. The amazing result was when the learning just came to me, unprescribed!

We all gathered around as a student shares what he built. I am not distracted by timelines or what I will be teaching next and just fully engaged in the moment with my students. By the end of this sharing session I have become aware of this particular students interests and extensive knowledge of penguins. As he explained the blocks he taught the other students about habitats and needs of living things. His classmates asked interesting questions and I was able to assess who my curious students were and who would need support to ask questions and share ideas in the future. I did not plan this lesson. I created the space for learning and simply took note of the variety of knowledge and needs showcased. From here I guided discussions and collaborated with my students about what we wanted to learn next . Needs of living things is actually part of the grade one curriculum yet it was not my intention to introduce it that day or that term but my students were fascinated. They wanted to learn more, how counterintuitive is it to put that engagement on hold and follow a predetermined plan?


There are many PLO’s related to cooperation with others, respect for school belongings and social responsibility. As teachers we often create wonderful lessons and walk around with our notepad or clipboard and assess who is meeting expectations. An alternative, and one that I have found much more time efficient and rewarding is to be engaged and aware and take notice of learning as it happens. Let the learning come to you. I took this picture as I watched three 6 year old students complete their class job as a cooperative and responsible group. Again I was not following up on a lesson about treating school property with respect, I saw evidence that these particular students meet that expectation and I captured it.

While participating in this pilot and collecting evidence of learning by building ePortfolios I continued to plan lessons to address learning intentions. I am in no way saying we let go of learning objectives or teaching plans. I am simply sharing my experience of loosening the reins and being open to the possibilities that creates. Teachers are often the only adult in the room with up to thirty students and simply can not do it all. For example, my students worked on a letter to Santa where we set our criteria for what meeting expectations looks like. As with most classrooms I have students of varying abilities. My intention when I walk around to check in as students work is no longer specific to that criteria alone. I have established the criteria with them to provide direction and now I want to be in the moment and truly observe what my students are showing me. For some of them I may see a great example of working independently to meet the criteria and make a note or take a picture. For others I may notice an awkward pencil grip or struggle to write neatly on the lines. Perhaps I notice someone is finished very quickly and ready for a challenge. Essentially all those things we notice as teachers and know are important can be captured and become part of that particular students future learning intentions. If you give yourself permission to guide the learning of each individual child rather than focus on checking off the same learning objective, at the same time, attached to the same lesson, for every student you create the environment for everyone to find success and establish the next step in their journey. All the notes scribbled in a book or on a sticky note that teachers make could become that students new learning objective from that lesson, these are the things we should include in our conversations with students and parents.

I realize that this type of assessment and data collection may not be as straightforward as a list where we can put checks or numbers, in fact it can be quite messy at first. The learning will not come to us at the same time from all students. I empower all teachers to let this be okay. Consider the possibilities. Try on the belief that our job as teachers goes deeper than conforming all students to have the same knowledge base and skills by a particular age. When I consider my own children I do not want their learning journey to be comprised of checks and numbers charting how they measure up to some preconceived idea of what they should be at a certain age. I want them to be in a space where multiple learning opportunities are facilitated and their individual needs and interests respected.



Returning to the student mentioned above who has a strong knowledge base and interest in penguins. How can we capitalize on this interest to facilitate growth in multiple disciplines? He is hooked and engaged in this subject area. Is it really my job to create a new lesson for the whole class to build his writing skills, presentation skills and so much more? He is involved on his own accord, why would I push him out and take lead of what he learns? Why would I limit his learning to grades where Penguins are part of a science unit? The answer now is that I won’t. It does not make sense to me to teach the same thing, determined decades ago, every year. I am committed to facilitating learning in a way that builds on individual needs and interests. Teachers and students are doing amazing and wonderful things and it is time we celebrate that hard work. I believe we can transform education through assessment to make this learning visible and valuable and I encourage all teachers to take a risk, get a little messy and enjoy the learning as it comes to you.


Engaging students and parents in authentic assessment with FreshGrade

I enjoyed presenting at ERAC IL4K12 today with Wendy Hall and Laura Warkentin, here on some of the thoughts I shared:

Thinking about how much teaching, learning and the world has changed over the last decade I am honestly shocked that we have not seen a universal and radical shift in the way teachers communicate with parents and engage our learners in their own education.


I look at these report cards from 1915, 1985 and 2013 and wonder how much has really changed? It is still a summary report written by one individual about another individual and passed on to a third party who presumably reads it. We do not know how they interpret it and questions need to be asked at a later date where the author of the document will attempt to validate their evaluation with notes and assignments that could be months old. 1915-2013… almost 100 years. We do see improvement for sure but is it enough? Given the technological advances, and the amount of research done in the field of education, I argue absolutely not. It is not a significant enough change for my students or my children. Especially when I consider the world they will be living in and the skills and qualities that will define a successful adult at that time.

In my consideration of the changes in report cards I decided to ask my grade one students a question. I asked them, “what are report cards and why do we use them in school?” Hands shot up immediately and many kids were eager to share their answer. Most of the responses included words like “bad” and “good.” Most of them agreed that “report cards tell my parents what I am doing good and bad at.” This really broke my heart. It makes me sad to think that these 5 and 6 year old innocent little beings come to the big world of school full of hope and with complete trust in us as teachers to help them and end up thinking that it is all about what they are good or bad at. I never want my students to think that after months of their hard work, and I believe they are all doing the best they can with the skills they have, all their drawings, creations, thoughts, all the ways they have grown and contributed to our classroom community will be summarized on a piece of paper ranking their level of good. I want to change that perception.

My personal motivation for change came last year when my children in grade one and two brought home their report cards. Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. I could almost see the confidence leave his little body. He was absolutely crushed and discouraged. He could not look past those check marks. He just looked at them and said “oh great, I am still only half as good as everyone else.” Again, this is not necessarily a reflection of the school or his teacher, rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.


My daughters report card highlights all the learning outcomes she had met before school even started.


My son’s report card is not an accurate reflection of his achievements and growth as he is still not meeting prescribed learning outcomes.


So what are the possibilities for change. For example what can a reading assessment look and sound like? Using a digital portfolio like FreshGrade I can track an individual students reading progress and provide meaningful feedback to parents and students.


The pictures above represent video recordings of a grade one child reading to me. Parents can read my comments and suggestions for support but they can also hear the progress themselves.The videos for reading assessment are just phenomenal. I believe it really takes our comments as teachers to another level. When I talk about expression or fluency it makes so much more sense to parents when it is tied to a video where they can actually hear what I am talking about.

An unexpected bonus I just realized is that it is also providing me with an opportunity to model guiding reading to a parent. Although sending home suggestions and decoding strategies may be helpful for some, it is so much more valuable for parents to hear how teachers help emergent readers and then they can use the same strategies. I love the consistency that offers my students.

I appreciate the depth of my comments and suggestions on FreshGrade. An important example for me is in the realm of social responsibility because I believe social and emotional learning are the foundation for academic success. As teachers in BC, we are required to make one social responsibility comment in each report. It usually becomes a frame sentence repeated for everyone. Your child is ‘learning to follow the classroom rules and expectations,’ for example. How well does a statement like this really inform parents and students? In my mission to be a confidence builder and encourage a love of learning, I appreciate that with FreshGrade I can pair what is perceived as negative with some genuine suggestions and a positive picture.


This is a sample from a portfolio of a boy who is ‘learning to follow classroom rules and expectations.’ He is a boy who has a lot of energy and is learning to use self-regulation during group conversations and work time. The positive side to his energy and imagination is the many amazing things he builds with his peers during creative times. With FreshGrade I can share this with parents and students. I can also provide meaningful suggestions with an image to clarify if necessary. We can not assume that parents understand the many terms that become common place to us as educators. The wiggle seat mentioned in the comments above, for example.

So what do my parents think about this new way of communication and FreshGrade in particular? Someone asked me a few months ago if I had considered the idea that a digital portfolio is too much information for parents and perhaps they do not want to become partners in their child’s education. First of all, I disagree and find that no one is more invested in their child’s success than parents. Unfortunately teachers often put up a wall and fail to utilize the valuable resource parents can be. Furthermore, when you become a parent it is your job to facilitate the growth and development of your child so sometimes teachers may need to rise up to our role as advocates for our students and get those parents on board in whatever capacity they can. This is an email I received after sharing a FreshGrade video of a student reading.


I truly believe it is time for educators to re-evaluate our goals. We need to consider the world our students will be living in, and are living in, and how we can best support their growth into successful and fulfilled members of society. We can start by replacing term end summaries that encourage comparison over personal growth with a tool like FreshGrade where students are empowered and all of their successes recognized.

There are several excellent educators in Surrey that are happy to share more on FreshGrade.
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