When I started tweeting a couple of years ago now, I spent a lot of time talking about different forms of technology. I chatted about the tools. At the time, I guess it was hard for me not to talk about the tools. I was learning new ways to use these new tools in my classroom, and I had access to a large network of educators that knew about these tools and had success using them with their students. I had to ask questions.
Things changed quickly though, and for a while now, my discussion is about good pedagogy and not tools. Today was the perfect example of this. I engaged in a number of great conversations today with fantastic educators that all push my thinking. It’s a Sunday afternoon here in Ontario, and without leaving the house, I’ve had discussions about writing programs, Bump It Up Walls, differentiated instruction, and assessment and evaluation. Technology was barely mentioned in any of these tweets, and when a tool was mentioned, it was only done so in the context of how to support students learning.
These were such thought-provoking, meaningful discussions, that I just had to capture them in the Storify story below:
(The timing of the tweets may not be perfect here, but I hope that this story captures my afternoon of learning and discussion.)
Twitter is about 24/7 professional development. I saw this today, and I learned a lot as a result. Think about what you tweeted about today. How much was about technology, and how much was about curriculum expectations and student achievement? I’d love to hear! A special thank you to my amazing PLN that continually reminds me that teaching is about more than technology.
It was a wonderful learning Sunday. I love to work with students and teachers on writing. Sometimes the things that I think are so obvious are things that take a lot of wrestling and thought before change occurs. Writing is one area where that seems to happen a lot.
In my “coaching” have teachers who are very resistant to modeling any “thinking” or “work” for students because the students will “copy” their examples. We have worked through that fear and have now seen that it is only either: a. the students who really don’t know what to write about who feel the need to copy or b. the students who are so afraid their writing will be wrong.
We just started working on student self-assessment so this gives me some ideas that are very timely. Hearing you say this is how you have moved to formative assessment and descriptive feedback also helps as that is my ultimate target as well.
Thanks so much for your time on this Sunday!
Thanks for your comment, Fran! Thank you so much for your time on this Sunday afternoon as well. As a school, we continue to focus on writing and descriptive feedback. Our discussion today really helped me with both.
Twitter and EdCamp’s power is in getting like minded individuals together to discuss and share practices with hopes that these discussions will promote positive changes in teaching practices. There is a huge miscommunication that these discussions have to focus on technology. Yes in both forums you can get a lot of technological information, but that information should not be the focus of discussion, unless of course that’s what you want to be discussing. Today we focussed on our writing programs.
Our discussion today has had me thinking about my entire writing program. I am seeing things that I love about it, and areas that I could improve. With my student teacher taking over the writing program the first week back after Spring Break, and the focus of the term being non fiction writing, I’m not sure I’ll be able to implement the changes I’d like to make. We will be in constant discussion of course, and the non fiction unit she has submitted looks great. Unfortunately I won’t be able to fix my flaws of term one and term two until next year. Writing about them will help keep me accountable to making the changes though.
I’m still thinking about the Bump It Up Wall. It seems like a very powerful tool to use to help motivate young writers to become better writers. I think one of my issues this year is that I have a very large percentage of what I would call fragile writers. These are students that I have worked so hard to break their thinking. These are my students who honestly believed that they couldn’t write. I’ve invested hours of quality teaching to help them see that they are writers and I just think a Bump It Up Wall would be devastating for them as they still sit so low on the wall. They are the ones I worry most about. They finally see themselves as writers. They are trying so hard to get better at writing too because they see how others are writing. I don’t need to remind them that they aren’t where they should be. I need to be there to help them get to where they should be.
Anyhow, thanks for making me critically look at my writing program. I am working on a post for my blog, but it’s a slow, thought provoking process.
Thanks for the comment, Karen, and even more so, thanks for the fantastic discussion this afternoon. You’re right: we can get so much information on technology through a tool such a Twitter, but we can also discuss so many other academic areas, and really help critically look at our own teaching practices and how to make them better. You did this for me today and so many times in the past too!
I love how you’re always open to change, and how you really reflect on what you want to change, what you don’t, and why. I’m very interested in reading your blog post when it’s done. You always make me think!
As for the Bump It Up Wall, I think that the purpose of the wall is more about how we can all improve, instead of reaching a standard level. This is at least what I make it about. I explain to all of my students that the goal, no matter where our skills are at, is to get better. We can all improve. I even show the students my own blog posts, and how I’ve made mistakes before and how I continue to try and improve. Then we work together to make this Bump It Up Wall, so that students can see where their work is at and how they can move up to the next level. It’s about self-reflection. It’s a process that lets students understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and that we all should strive to push ourselves to do just that little bit more. Last year, I had a group of these “fragile writers” too, and I had some reservations about the Bump It Up Wall, but I was amazed by the success. Students were really reflecting on their work. They really were trying to get better. We were celebrating all of their successes, and this was a good thing!
If you’re concerned about hanging up your own students’ writing, you can always switch with another grade team partner, or even ask for some writing samples from other teachers in other schools. Students don’t need to know who wrote the work that we’re assessing. In fact, I never tell the children who did write these work samples, and the only people that know are the child that wrote them and me. I pick students that are okay with having their work shared. I also pick students that are continuing to show improvement, so that even if this piece of work is a Level 2, these children are now producing Level 3 pieces of work.
At our school right now, we are working as a staff on descriptive feedback. Yes, work is marked, and yes, we have to give marks on report cards, but more important than any mark, are the comments that we give our students. We’re working on telling them what they did well and discussing their next steps. We make these comments based on the Success Criteria that we established as a class. Not only are teachers giving descriptive feedback to the students, but the students are giving descriptive feedback to their peers and self-assessing their own work in this way as well. The results are incredible! Students are pushing themselves to do more, celebrate their successes, and really focus in on specific areas for improvement. I think that the Bump It Up Wall only complements this.
I hope that this helps you out as you decide what’s best for your students! Good luck!
It helps, and I think I like the idea of using other students’ work instead of my classes work. However, my class this year is very different from any class I’ve had in a long time which is why I am so hesitant. Not only do I have a high percentage of low students, but I also have a lot of anxiety in my room. I have worked far too hard to make them comfortable in my room, and to give them strategies to deal with their anxiety and I just worry that for this class, a Bump It Up Wall would cause more harm than good. Last year’s class it would not have been an issue but this year it’s very different. I can’t explain it more than that.
We have author’s chair where my students share their writing with the rest of the class (or with a partner or two). We’ve talked about what good writing looks like and my students provide feedback to one another. Obviously I model too, but they do look and share their work with one another and it is expected that they provide feedback. I encourage them to use sentences that start with “I like the way you” or “I noticed that you”. It’s still something we are working on, but it is a part of my writing program.
My students also constantly notice and share the successes of one another. It’s so cute actually how much they care about one another. It is evident in the comments that they leave one another on their individual blogs. My “formerly fragile” students are still really low, but they don’t focus on it anymore. They are not afraid to help one another out, and I have to tell you it gives me great pleasure to see one of my “formerly fragile” students help another “formerly fragile” student. Trust me, we do a very good job at sharing success in my classroom.
And you wonder why it takes me so long to write a blog post. I think way too much!
Thanks for providing such great feedback. As usual you are responsible for more spinning in my brain.
It sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, Karen! I appreciate what you’re trying to deal with here, and I can understand your hesitancy. Here are my questions: how do you get your students to move onto their next level in writing? How do you provide them with positive feedback as well as next steps? Could the way that you word this feedback be the way that you word the next steps on the Bump It Up Wall?
I can completely understand why you’d want to use other students’ work. I can also appreciate the concerns that you have given the needs of the students that you have in your class. On the other hand, I also really believe that ALL children need to hear what they’re doing well and what they can continue to work on. I think that we need to create a culture where students are okay with the fact that they’re not perfect and that they can improve. In some ways, I think that having these suggestions up on the wall in a general way is easier for students to take than hearing these suggestions in a 1:1 situation. You can then use your conferencing time to focus on the positives, and slowly start to work together on the next steps.
Just an idea … I know that no matter what you choose to do, you’ll really be looking at the needs of your students first, and in that regard, I know that the decision that you come to will be what’s best for them. Your students are lucky to have such a caring, thoughtful teacher!
Thanks for the continued discussion!
First off I agree that all children need to hear what they are doing well, what they need to improve on, and what steps they can take to get there. I use my 1 on 1 writing conference time for that exact purpose.
Every student in my class has a personal literacy conference book that they keep in their Just Right Book Boxes. It’s a double sided book with room for reading goals/strategies on one side and writing on the other. On the writing side there is a list of writing goals to strive towards. Everyone has the list. The list is broken into goals under different headings including but not limited to level letter, word level, sentence level, and writing in general. There is also a space for additional goals – goals that are even more specific to each learner.
Every student in my class has goals that they are working on to make them better writers. They all have the same list at the front of their conference books but they all have their specific goals to work on. During our conference time my students know what they are good at, what they need to improve, and what they need to do to get there. My one on one conferences are so powerful for that.
The one on one conference is a vital part of my writing program. I will not look at writing without the student in front of me. Sometimes this means that I fall behind, or it takes a day or two to conference with everyone, but those conferences are my most powerful teaching tools and I do everything I can to make them specific, and authentic for every learner in my classroom.
As a class, in small groups, and as individuals we are constantly celebrating successes. I am frequently flipping back the pages in my students’ journals to remind them of where they have come from. We review the goals we have set, and the ones we’ve accomplished.
This year I truly believe that my one on one conferencing is meeting the needs of a Bump it Up Wall. That does not mean that I would not consider adding one another year. Who knows maybe we’ll add one for non-fiction writing in term three.
Almost 400 words later, my comment is written here. Sorry to once again for hijacking your blog.
Karen, there’s no need to apologize at all! I love hearing about what you’re doing here, and your detailed description gives me a much better understanding of how your program works. It almost seems like your writing conferences are a 1:1 Bump It Up Wall. I just wonder if the Bump It Up Wall would give students more independence in assessing their own work and determining their own next steps. I guess it depends on their individual needs.
You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about when it comes to writing conferences. I do them, but on a much smaller scale and in much shorter duration. I’d love to have a video camera look inside your classroom. You really have me thinking right now …
Still processing the Bump-it-Up Walls… My son being sick (and then passing it to his sister) sure put a few things on hiatus. As of right now I know I absolutely want to add something similar within our classroom, and I plan to start in writing. However I also see the possibilities in all the other content areas too.
This week we have noticed a few students still struggling with writing summaries during book club. We have many samples of student writing that could be used as excellent examples of at standard work. As we use standards-based grading in our district, to post a couple of Level 3 and Level 4 sample summaries for students to use for self-assessment may skyrocket their progress.
Our students have been self-assessing their own progress all year in all subjects. There is very little we correct for them, as they are involved in every aspect of the assessment process. We do offer feedback to them regarding their individual goals and progress everyday, but they are also accustomed to providing peer feedback often as well. The Bump-it-Up walls (or something similar) seems like the next natural step for our group. I do see us deciding on the samples together, though, allowing for students to recommend student work that meets the standard.
I appreciate Karen’s thinking on this topic, as well. Every group has their specific needs to take into account. Social/Emotional needs should always be met first, in my opinion. And unless I am reading Karen’s perspective incorrectly, it sounds as though this is the place she is coming from. Providing feedback during 1-1 conferencing seems to be working nicely. I use this method as well with our 3/4/5 kiddos. I believe that this is a huge component of success for students, and I know that you (Aviva) utilize this method as well. With Ann and I’s group we have MANY visual learners and that is why the Bump-it-Up walls appealed to me. So many of our students need to SEE examples over and over and over. Providing feedback in between is a key ingredient, but if several of our students do not have a visual reference point as they are learning the new standard, they struggle.
I will definitely keep you posted on my progress with attempting this new strategy. I am so glad to have Sundays like this one to connect with others, reflect upon my practice, and empower me with new approaches.
Thank you, Aviva and the others who connected on this topic! Your perspectives all assisted me through my personal reflection process 🙂
Thanks Celina for the comment! I think that the visual definitely helps my students too. I like the idea of having students choose the samples. The reason that I didn’t do this is because I’m choosing the sample at the start of the process, and there’s fewer Level 3 and 4 ones to choose from. I want to highlight certain things, so I pick the sample that best does this. I also don’t want the entire class to know which student’s work is displayed, unless that student chooses to share. I am also displaying a Level 2 work sample as well, and while often this student is already working at a Level 3, that’s not always the case. Sometimes this student doesn’t want others to know that this is his/her work.
I’m very curious to hear how you implement these Bump It Up Walls. While our current focus is a writing one, this could definitely be used for other subject areas too. I did one last year for media literacy, and I’ve also done a reading one in the past. I know of teachers that have done math ones too. I think that they change slightly depending on the content, but the visual is still there.
I find that if we focus on the improvement factor then all students are okay with the Bump It Up Wall. My students are also used to self-assessment and peer-assessment, and the wall has helped a lot with this. It sounds like you do amazing things with the students in your class, and I can’t wait to see what this wall looks like for you!