Asking, And Answering, The Hard Questions

I love Twitter for many reasons, but near the top of my list is the fact that before Twitter, I rarely communicated with various educators (outside of our school), administrators, and superintendents in our Board, and now I have numerous opportunities to do so. Our superintendent, Sue Dunlop, tweets and blogs regularly, and her recent post had me engaging in some discussion and reflection through the comments, and then through this Twitter conversation today.


Since reading Sue’s tweet earlier today, I’ve done a lot of thinking about her question. I think there are many things to consider here:

I agree with Sue that we (teachers) have always been good at planning. In fact, I think that many of us like to be well-organized and well-planned, which is what can make an inquiry approach scary. Now we need to take more of the lead from the students. We need to consider — daily — their strengths and needs based on our observations, and we have to constantly reflect, change, and try again. Inquiry does take planning: we need to consider the provocations. We need to consider the resources available (at all different reading levels). We need to consider our use of mini-lessons, and if we want these mini-lessons for our whole class or just a small group of students. We need to figure out how to scaffold for our students that need it. And we need to figure out the balance between direct instruction and inquiry. But with inquiry, planning isn’t enough.

Then comes Sue’s question: are we as good at assessing and reflecting? And this is a very hard question. I can’t help but think about Growing Success, as I consider my response. This is my 13th year teaching, and since I started teaching (and even before that, when I was in the Faculty of Education), we had many discussions on assessment and evaluation. I learned how to create rubrics, checklists, checkbrics (the hybrid rubric/checklist model that I never really liked using), and even take anecdotal notes and offer feedback to students. Until this year though, I often found myself focusing on “assessment of learning.” It was all about the mark and the final product. What about the process though? As a teacher, I find it a whole lot harder assessing this process, reflecting on this assessment, and knowing when and how to make changes.

I think that having a student teacher made me better at this. For the last six weeks, I had a wonderful student teacher from Brock University. She was very focused on assessment, and every day, we would both take photographs, record conversations, and write down notes based on our discussions with students. Then at the end of the day, we sat down and talked about our observations. We looked at student strengths, but we also looked at next steps. What did the students not understand? How can we get them to understand these topics more? How can we push the students to think more? How can we support the students during this process? Our assessment drove our instruction, and the students benefitted. This debriefing time was incredibly beneficial to me (as well as to my student teacher), and it’s something that I’ve been missing since she’s left. As silly as it may sound, this week, I’ve found that I’m talking to myself on the car ride home about my daily observations and my upcoming plans. Speaking my ideas aloud helps me reflect, but how wonderful would it be if we always had somebody else to dialogue with based on our observations? I can’t help but think of the teacher/DECE combination that Full-Day Kindergarten provides, and the benefits of this when it comes to assessment.

Then there’s the reflection component. My blog allows me to reflect, but it’s also the “hard questions” from my colleagues, administrators, and PLN that helps me reflect more. I want these questions. Yes, change is hard, and admitting that we’re wrong is incredibly hard to do. For me, I want to be successful, and I want my students to be as well. Reflecting, and questioning my own teaching practices, means admitting my mistakes, looking at my shortfalls, and reconsidering my approaches. I think that I’ve reflected more this year than any of my other years in teaching, and I’ve made more positive changes to my program as a result. I’m far from perfect! There are still so many areas that I would like to improve in: from my questioning skills to developing deeper student thinking to continuing to increasing student’s daily reading, writing, and self-reflection. Every day, I continue to make small changes, and I’m sure to make more until the very last day of school.

And while I believe that I’m getting better at assessing and reflecting, these areas are much more difficult ones to be good at than planning, because to be good, I think that we need to be willing to admit that we’re not as good as we think. We need admit that we have shortfalls, and we need to look at ways to improve. We need to ask others for help, and we need to be willing to listen to advice. We need to look at what we’re doing, but we also need to look at what we’re not doing. We need to be willing to say to parents, to administrators, and to each other that, “we’re not perfect, but we are making positive changes because we want to do what’s best for kids!” Acknowledging imperfections is a challenge — but aren’t we continually asking students to reflect, set goals, and try new things? What a great way for us to do the same!

What are your thoughts on Sue’s question? I’d love to hear them!


4 thoughts on “Asking, And Answering, The Hard Questions

  1. I would have to agree with Sue and you. I think as teacher we are great at planning and coming up with these amazing plans; however, what are plans or amazing assignments/projects if there is no assessment or learning being involved.

    It’s our assessment that needs to drive our classroom. Now you know me when I say assessment I do not mean formal test or standardized assessment but big ideas, curriculum, actual learning. What is this project going to do for my students and how do I know that they are meeting these needs. I too had a student teacher from Brock and I was looking over the lesson plan form they have. In one section it said what will the teacher be doing and students. She filled it out but then I asked well how do you know they are doing what you want them to do? What is your evidence? What standards, assessment will you be using? How do you know that assessment is what is needed? What questions will drive your lesson? All these questions are things that should drive our thinking and planning.

    I have found that the more I teach through inquiry the more planning I have to do, not because of the assignments but because I have to be thinking about assessment and questions to get students thinking and learning.

    Not too sure if I am making sense so I will stop, but it agree I think we as educators need to spend more time on learning how to assess (besides tests) and learn different ways of assessing students. Thanks again for pushing everyone’s thinking.

    • Thanks for chiming in here, Jonathan! You ask lots of important questions, and this is a good reminder that we always need to be asking ourselves these questions. I think that one of the hardest things of all (at least for me) is not just seeking out the “why,” but being willing to change our plans and maybe even forgo an exciting activity because it doesn’t meet the needs of our students. Maybe this really comes back to some of the ideas behind Sue’s original blog post and the need to keep learning kid-centred and to give students more control over their learning. Lots to think about …


  2. I agree with Johnathan. We are becoming more aware of the importance of assessment. It’s the assessment that will really drive student learning.

    For me, growth is impossible without reflection. If, like me, you’re naturally reflective, growth will always happen. For this of us who aren’t, we need to build the steps and time for reflection, or purposefully use our colleagues to do so.

    • Thanks for the reply, Sue! I agree with you that being naturally reflective will always allow for growth, but I think that having an outside source (e.g., a colleague) sometimes allows for it even more. Even when we reflect, we sometimes miss something or see things in a different way. Having that critical friend often allows us to consider things in new ways. I know that I definitely appreciate my critical friends.

      Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *