When Descriptive Feedback Just Happens …

This afternoon we ended our day with a special math activity. In math, we’re working on three-dimensional solids. The students started by working in small groups, going through bins of three-dimensional solids, and determining which ones had flat faces, which ones had curved faces, and which ones had both. After investigating, we came back together as a class, and we made this chart:

Students were then presented with this problem:

When I wrote this problem, my planned outcome was to have students better understand the properties of three-dimensional solids, as well as understand that the properties of certain solids make them better to build with than others: helping them with future building activities. I had absolutely no intention of making this about descriptive feedback.

As a school though, we’ve been focusing on descriptive feedback all year long. Students understand what this means, and they’re used to offering suggestions to their peers based on work samples. Up until today, students only volunteered this feedback when they were asked specifically to do so. With 15 minutes to go until March Break began, things changed!

A group of three students shared one of their building examples during our Math Congress today. Here’s a video of them sharing their learning:

Just as I stopped the recording, a student raised his hand. He said that he had some “descriptive feedback” to share. I was impressed! I couldn’t help myself. I asked him to share, and his thoughts sparked many more too. Before long, I took out the Livescribe Pen and started recording the conversation. Below is a pencast from today:

This is just a small sample of the feedback that was shared. I love that the students have become so comfortable with offering praise and providing specific next steps that they take the initiative to do so on their own. Today proved to me that when descriptive feedback is an integral part of the classroom environment, it will happen naturally. As teachers then, we can continue to encourage students to listen back to this feedback, reflect on it, and apply the suggestions in future activities.

What are some of your experiences with descriptive feedback? How do students react to receiving it? Do they need teacher prompting to provide it, or is it more student driven? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Professional Development On A Sunday Afternoon

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.


Talking “Bump It Up” Walls

While I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in Zoe Branigan-Pipe’s (@zbpipe) Livescribe TLLP Project, I’m also fortunate enough this year to be involved in a Descriptive Feedback Livescribe Pen Project through my school. My two wonderful administrators, Deb Chabot and Tammy McLaughlin, purchased Livescribe Pens for all interested staff members with the understanding that we would be using these pens for descriptive feedback and writing conferences. I’ll be honest here: I loved this use of the Livescribe Pen, but up until I became involved in this school project, I never really tried using the pen for this purpose. Now I have this great opportunity to try something new.

I was actually thinking about this project when I decided to do something else that I’ve never done before: create Talking Bump It Up Walls. My class just started two new TLCP’s (Teaching Learning Critical Pathways): one on story writing for Grade 1 and one on procedural writing for Grade 2. Yesterday, I took six samples of student work — three from Grade 1 and three from Grade 2 — and placed them around the room. Inspired by Trevor Hammer’s (@trevorhammer) PA Day session, I gave students different coloured dot stickers: yellow ones, green ones, and red ones. One colour was for Level 2 work, one colour was for Level 3 work, and one colour was for Level 4 work. Both the Grade 1 and Grade 2 students worked in partners. They went around to the work samples for their grade, read the work together, looked at the Success Criteria that we had generated previously as a class, and decided on the appropriate level for each sample.

Then we looked at the work samples under the document camera, compared them point-by-point to the Success Criteria, and came to a consensus on the level. Students then worked in partners again to write specific suggestions on how to “bump up” the work from a Level 2 to a Level 3 and a Level 3 to a Level 4. Again, they used the Success Criteria to guide their discussion.

We then met together as a class and the students gave me all of their ideas. As part of shared writing, I wrote their suggestions in the Livescribe Notebook, and then as part of Shared Reading, the students read their ideas orally, so that we had a visual and an auditory recording. We cut the Livescribe Notebook pages into quasi-arrows, and we put them on our Bump It Up Walls, along with the work samples, the learning goal, and the big idea. Now students can go and read the ideas on how to improve their work, but they can also use the Livescribe Pen to listen to these ideas.

That’s when one of my students had a fantastic idea! He knew that the Livescribe Pencasts can be uploaded to the blog, so he wondered if we could make Bump It Up Walls for our student blog. Then, as the children are typing their stories or procedures, they can use this Bump It Up Wall to easily access the suggestions for how to improve their work. Better yet, students can use this Bump It Up Wall at home with their parents. When they’re writing at home now, their parents can use the same vocabulary that we use in class to help their children improve their work. We now have a real parent connection to classroom learning, and with parents, students, and teachers working together, we are sure to see academic success. Yeah!! I’m so glad that this student made the suggestion that he did. (See the Grade 1 Bump It Up Wall here and the Grade 2 Bump It Up Wall here.)

Have you ever created Talking Bump It Up Walls before? What were the results? How can you see using this idea in your classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Now I can’t wait to figure out the next way to use the Livescribe Pen for meaningful descriptive feedback and increased student achievement!


It takes time … right?

Last week, I introduced my Grade 2 students to addition with regrouping. Usually this is one of the hardest math units that I teach all year, but many of my students already knew how to regroup, and they picked up on this quickly. They were explaining their thinking well, and even helping each other out along the way. I know that we still need to work on developing this skill, especially with more problem solving opportunities, but when my wonderful Grade 1 teaching partner said that she’d take my Grade 1 students last period today so that I could just work with my Grade 2 students, I knew that I needed to introduce my next challenging unit for the term: subtraction with regrouping. Let’s just say, it was a lot more complicated than addition. I guess I knew that it would be. I taught these units last year to my Grade 2 students, and they struggled more with subtraction as well.

After school though, I sent out this tweet:

I got many replies to this tweet, including this one from Carol McLaughlin @missmac100, a Grade 2 teacher in Alabama:

Carol gave me perspective. Maybe this is a concept that just takes time and patience to develop. When I came home today and started watching these videos from our exploration activities, I started to have more hope:

No, the students didn’t get the right answer the first time. And yes, they sometimes forgot one of the steps, but they were doing better as time went on. They could be talked through what to do, and they were communicating their understanding of the concept, even if their answer wasn’t always correct. We’re not done trying, but maybe I just need to give the students some more time, and some more practice, to really get subtraction with regrouping. What do you think? What teaching strategies have you used to teach this difficult math concept to your students? Thanks for your help!


What Are Your Thoughts?

Today, I overheard a conversation that bothered me. I’m looking for some feedback here. As you know, as part of my Annual Learning Plan for this year, I have been focusing on math problem solving. My approach to teaching math has changed tremendously, and I really believe that it has changed for the better. I was never a textbook teacher, but more than ever before, I have students explaining their thinking, looking for multiple ways to solve the same problem, and asking questions and seeking answers to build their own understanding of math.

Based on this change to my teaching approach, I was troubled when I heard a discussion about the importance of using math textbooks in the primary grades. Teachers were concerned that if students weren’t taught how to use math textbooks in primary, they would never be able to do so in the junior grades, thus negatively impacting on their ability to be successful in math.

When I heard this, here is what I thought:

1) Why do students need to use math textbooks in any grade?

2) Will a lack of experience using math textbooks decrease student success on Grade 3 and Grade 6 EQAO? Why?

3) If math textbooks should be used, how do you differentiate with them?

I didn’t say anything though. This may have bothered me more than the discussion itself. Should I have said something? What should I have said? How do you approach this topic with others?

Today, I watched my Grade 1 and Grade 2 students go on a hunt for three-dimensional solids around the school. They took photographs of these figures, created an Animoto slideshow sharing what they found, took video footage detailing their learning, and even created screencasts sharing what they learned.

– screenchomp2’s libraryScreenChomp 12-03-01 226 PM.mp4 – 182.91KB DownloadFirstFrame.jpg – 15.15KB Download

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– screenchomp2’s libraryScreenChomp 12-03-01 243 PM.mp4 – 685.25KB DownloadFirstFrame.jpg – 10.67KB Download

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In my opinion, this was a rich activity. It allowed students to explore three-dimensional solids. It allowed them to make meaningful connections to these figures: sharing their knowledge while also building knowledge in others. Would this have happened if we completed the 3-D solids activity in the Grade 2 textbook or workbook? I would argue no, but maybe I’m missing something here. What are your thoughts on this? How do you balance textbook work with math problem solving? Do you balance the two or just use one approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!