Teaching Writing Across Curricula

Reading and writing are things we expect our students to be able to do in every subject. Our curricula are full of phrases like “Describe…, Explain…, Compare…”, which all require students to organize their thinking in a certain way. The non-fiction text in our math, science, social studies, and PAA courses require our students to break down complicated information. So how do we teach our students who are struggling with taking information in and/or communicating their understanding? 

What? I Have to Teach Writing, Too??

Reading and writing are learning tools that exist across curricula. We often have our students read technical information in our science, social studies and mathematics courses and then ask them to write about their understanding during assignments and tests. Sometimes, our students come to us knowing how to do both. Sometimes, we are surprised and disappointed that they don’t seem to know how to apply their reading and writing strategies in our content area. As a math and science specialist, I want my students to use reading and writing as ways to deepen and broaden their understanding of the subjects that I am teaching them.

I would think that an ELA teacher explicitly teaches reading and writing strategies so that their students become stronger readers and writers. My intent as a science teacher is related but different. I want to use literacy instruction so that students understand science better.

I had many experiences early in my career where I assumed my students were able to research, write reports, write conclusions, or complete short answer questions on my exams. Those assumptions led to frustration and feelings of failure for both myself and my students. Sometimes, it took students failing to point out what explicit teaching I needed to do with my classes. Ultimately, if I have students who are struggling with reading and writing in my non-ELA class, I need to teach them those skills.

Reading, Writing and Comprehension

We sometimes view reading and writing as separate ideas. If we view them instead as ways that students take in and output knowledge, we can see that comprehension, or meaning making, is the bridge between the two. Reading is ONE way of taking information in, and writing is ONE way of sharing our knowledge. Our English Language Arts program recognizes that there are other, equally important modes of inputs and outputs.

Comprehension Strategies – Making Meaning

When we take information in, our mind uses different strategies to make meaning of new information. During a conversation, this occurs fluidly where we listen, make sense of information, then speak. The same is true of reading and writing. We read information, make meaning, then may write about what our new understanding is. Many literacy experts have grouped comprehension strategies into anywhere from six to thirteen strategies. Following the work of Ellin Keene, the following are SEVEN comprehension strategies that strong readers use.

For more detailed information about these seven comprehension strategies, see my earlier blog post, Comprehension Across Subjects.

Nonfiction Writing Lesson Framework

Adrienne Gear (2014) suggests the following lesson framework for each nonfiction form:

  1. An introduction to the features of the nonfiction form.
    • This can be done by analyzing published examples of a nonfiction form.
  2. Independent write and Whole-class write can be woven together in a We DO – You DO cycle.
Whole-class write:Independent write:
The teacher and class write a passage together, going through the organizing steps together. This can be done on chart paper or projected on a screen.Writing activities can vary in length. There should be multiple opportunities for each type of writing introduced in a year.
Plan and organize thinkingDraft piece of writingFocus on a writing techniqueRevision and editing techniquesPlan and organize thinkingDraft piece of writingFocus on a writing techniqueRevision and editing techniques

Nonfiction Text Features

There are several text features that are useful within nonfiction to help readers understand the information being presented. These include:

Nonfiction FeaturePurpose
MapTo show location: e.g. habitat of animals
WebList of any kind: for example, a list of food an animal eats or its enemies
Diagram, labelsDescription
Fact BoxInteresting, additional facts
Flow ChartTo show how things work together: e.g., life cycle
ChartTo sort details: e.g. facts about different species
Labels, CaptionsTo explain a diagram or picture
TimelineSequential events or dates
Diagram with LabelsComparisons

Helpful Nonfiction Mini Lessons

Mini lessons allow you to guide student writing skills without taking up a lot of time. Here are topics that Adrienne Gear suggests for helping improve writing quality. You can see some of her mini lesson resources here. Including ideas for:

  • Adding Text Features
  • Interesting Details
  • Triple-Scoop Words
  • Comparison using Similes and Metaphors
  • Voice
  • Introductions to Hook Your Reader

Sharing Our Understanding: Non-Fiction Forms of Writing

Part of introducing nonfiction forms is for students to recognize key features of each form. This can be done by analyzing published works, both in print and online. Books from your library can be used to help students visualize the type of writing you are expecting them to do. There are many different forms of non-fiction writing that students both read and are expected to write themselves. Each of these forms has their own purpose and form. (Gear, 2014)

Different forms of writing can be used within the same topic and subject area. For example:

Type of WritingWriter’s IntentExampleApplication: Weather
DescriptionTo provide reader with facts and information about a topic. Related subtopics tell us specific details about the main idea. Writers give details related to our five senses.Descriptive reports on countries, animals, plants, insects, etc.Classroom blogs.Book or movie reviews.Describe the weather in Saskatchewan in January.
InstructionTo provide reader with instructions on how to achieve a goal, do something, make something, get somewhere.How something works: e.g. manuals, how to use something, survival guides.How to do or make something: e.g. recipes, rules for games, science experiments, crafts, instructions on starting a blog page.Give the instructions for how to make a winter survival kit.
PersuasionTo share an opinion with the reader or attempt to convince the reader to take an action of some kind.Opinion piece: e.g. favourite book, movie, pet, season.Persuasive piece: e.g. you should eat a healthy diet; no school uniforms; best chocolate bar to buy; oru school is the best.Classroom blogs or online reviews.Which form of weather is deadliest to humans?
ComparisonTo share with the reader the similarities and differences between two topics or ideas.Compare (similarities) and contrast (differences): e.g. rabbits and hares; Canada and Japan; cars then and now.Compare a winter blizzard and summer hail in Saskatchewan.
ExplanationTo provide reader with facts explaining how or why something happens.Scientific explanations: e.g. how a spider spins a web, why some things float and others sink.Explain how blizzards form.
Nonfiction NarrativeTo provide reader with sequential description of events in a person’s life, a current or historical event.Biography of a famous or non-famous person.AutobiographyCurrent event/newspaperPast eventBlogs or tweetsGive a report on the Newfoundland blizzard of January, 2020.

A useful analysis is to look at our curriculum and identify where it would be most useful for students to incorporate each type of writing to deepen their understanding. This can be done in a simple chart such as the one found here.

Pre-Thinking for Writing

Writing can help students understand subject content if we have them do pre-thinking before they write. This pre-thinking has them use comprehension strategies to deepen their understanding so that they can write.

A barrier for students might be that they do not understand either the content that they are having to write about OR they do not understand the structure of what you are asking them to write.

When we have students organize their thinking before they write, they will not only understand their courses better, but they will have their thinking organized in a way that helps them write.

You can take a closer look at different forms of writing, including assessment criteria in the following summaries, as well as view helpful pre-thinking tools for each type of writing:

Ultimately, teaching meaning making and how to express understanding can help our students know the subjects we are teaching them and help them to connect school content with their lives.

Eaton, S. E. (2010, September 26). Reading Strategy: The difference between summarizing and synthesizing. Retrieved from http://www.drsaraheaton.wordpress.com

Gear, A. (2014). Nonfiction Writing Power. Markham: Pembroke Publishers.

Johanson, T., & Broughton, D. (2014). Exploring Comprehension in Physics. Saskatoon: McDowell Foundation.

Keene, E., & Zimmermann, S. (1997). Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Readers Workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Public Education & Business Coalition. (n.d.). Thinking Strategies for Learners: A guide to PEBC’s professional development in reading, writing, mathematics and information literacy. Retrieved December 15, 2018, from Public Education & Business Coalition: https://www.pebc.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/thinking-strategies.pdf

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2008). English Language Arts 6. Retrieved from Saskatchewan Curriculum: https://www.curriculum.gov.sk.ca/bbcswebdav/library/curricula/English/English_Language_Arts/English_Language_Arts_6_2008.pdf

Teaching Number Operations

Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are foundational skills that are applied to many mathematical concepts. Often, when we are hoping for student automaticity and fluency in numbers, number operations are what we are talking about.

Mathematical Models

Models are the way we are representing numbers so that we can do number operations. There are a number of different models that are helpful to students understanding number operations.

Models that Emphasize 10

Models that Emphasize Place Value

Models that Emphasize Patterns

Models that Emphasize Partitioning Number

The Importance of Partitioning Numbers

Regardless of what number operation we are talking about, it is important that children are able to break numbers into parts.

Friendly Numbers – children are often able to understand number operations with ‘friendly’ numbers like 2, 5, and 10. Breaking a 7 into a  and a 2 allows us to use number facts that are more familiar.

Place Value Partitioning – when we are working with multi-digit numbers, it is helpful for us to break numbers up into the values of their digits – for example, 327 is 300 + 20 + 7.

Number Operation Strategies

There are many different strategies that children use to perform number operations. A misconception is that all children need to know and use all strategies. It is important for us to expose children to different strategies through classroom discussion and routines such as number talks and number strings. When combined with Margaret Smith’s ideas around Orchestrating Classroom Discussion, we can set a task for students and

  1. Predict what strategies they might use. Order these from least to most complex.
  2. Observe students doing mathematical tasks – using white boards allows us to see their thinking. We can then identify different strategies being used.
  3. Have students share their thinking in an order from least to most complex. This should not include every child sharing for every task. A small handful of children sharing in a logical order can help students understand the next more complex solution. In this way, children are being exposed to other strategies, will be able to understand those that are close to their own, and increase the sophistication of their thinking.
Strategies Connection to Addition Connection to Multiplication
Counting: This is a common strategy when one of the numbers is small. Addition by counting or counting on from one number. Ex: 25 + 7 = 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32.   Skip counting by one of the numbers being multiplied. 9 x 5 = 9, 18, 27, 36, 45  
Decomposing Numbers: breaking numbers apart. Adding friendly numbers. Ex: when you need to add 12, breaking it into +10 and then +2 more.  

Making 10. Ex: when adding 5 + 7, recognizing that 5 + 5 = 10, and so it is 10 + 2 more = 12.  

Breaking one or both numbers into place value. Ex: 23 + 47 is 20 + 40; 3 + 7
Multiplying friendly numbers. Ex: when you need to multiply by 6, break it into x 5 and 1 more.          




Partial Products: Breaking one or both numbers into place value. Ex: 23 x 47 is (20 + 3) x (40 + 7)
Compensation: this is very common when a number is close to 10. Rounding one of the numbers to a friendly number, then compensating the answer at the end for the difference. Ex: 36 + 9 is close to 36 + 10, subtract 1. Ex: 36 + 11 is close to 36 + 10, add 1. Rounding one of the numbers to a friendly number, then compensating the answer at the end for the difference. Ex: 99 x 5 is close to 100 x 5, subtract 5 Ex: 101 x 5 is close to 100 x , add 5
Double/Half Recognizing that 4 + 4 is double 4, or 8. Recognizing that 4 + 3 is almost double 4, subtract 1. Recognizing that 5 x a number is the same as ½ of 10 x a number. Ex: 9 x 5 is half of 9 x 10 = 45
Standard Algorithm Traditional algorithm, symbolic regrouping. Traditional algorithm, symbolic regrouping.

A Bridge between Addition and Multiplication: Doubles

  • Doubles are one way to think about adding a number to itself, as well as the start to multiplicative thinking.
  • Doubles are an important bridge between adding and multiplication.
  • You can read more about teaching doubles here.

Addition and Subtraction

Addition is the bringing together of two or more numbers, or quantities to make a new total.

Sometimes, when we add numbers, the total in a given place value is more than 10. This means that we need to regroup, or carry, a digit to the next place. There is a great explanation of regrouping for addition and subtraction on Study.com.

Subtraction is the opposite operation to addition. For each set of three numbers, there are two subtraction and one addition number facts. These are called fact families. For example:

For the numbers 7, 3, 10:

                7 + 3 = 10

                10 – 3 = 7

                10 – 7 = 3

Fact families can be practiced using Number bonds or Missing Part cards.

As we move from single digit to multi-digit addition and subtraction, it is important that we maintain place value, and continue to move through the concrete to abstract continuum.

A helpful progression for teaching addition and subtraction can be found on the Math Smarts site.

Multiplication and Division

Conceptual Structures for Multiplication

Repeated Addition

  • This is the first structure that we introduce children to.
  • It builds on the understanding of addition but in the context of equal sized groups.

Rectangular Array/Area Model

  • This is often the second representation of multiplication introduced It is useful to show the commutative property that 3 x 4 = 4 x 3 = 12

Number Line

  • A number line can represent skip counting visually.

Scaling

  • Scaling is the most abstract structure, as it cannot be understood through counting.
  • Scaling is frequently used in everyday life when comparing quantities or measuring.

Single Digit Multiplication Facts

Multiplication facts should be introduced and mastered by relating to existing knowledge. If students are stuck in a ‘counting’ stage – either by ones or skip-counting to know their single-digit multiplication facts, it is important that they understand strategies beyond counting before they practice. Counting is a dangerous stage for students, as they can get stuck in this inefficient and often inaccurate stage. Students should not move to multi-digit multiplication before they understand multiplication strategies for single-digit multiplication.

  • It is important that students understand the commutative property 2 x 4 = 8 and 4 x 2 = 8.
  • 2 x 4 should be related to the addition fact 4 + 4 = 8, or double 4.
  • Using a multiplication table as a visual structure is helpful to see patterns in multiplication facts.

Mental Strategies Continuum

  • Same as (1 facts)
  • Doubles. (2 facts)
  • Doubles and 1 more (3 facts)
  • Double Doubles (4 facts)
  • Tens and fives (10, 5 facts)
  • Relating to tens (9 facts)
  • Remaining facts (6, 7, 8 facts)

Conceptual Structures for Division

Equal Grouping

In an equal grouping (quotition) question, the total number are known, and the size of each group is known.

  • The unknown is how many groups there are.

Equal Sharing

In an equal sharing (partition) question, the total number are known, and the number of groups is known.

  • The unknown is how many are in each group.

Number Line

Ratio

This is a comparison of the scale of two quantities and is often referred to as scale factor. This is a difficult concept as you can’t subtract to find the ratio.

Division Facts

Relate division facts back to multiplication facts families:

Ex)          6 x 8 = 48

                                8 x 6 = 48

                                48 ÷ 6 = 8

                                48 ÷ 8 = 6

Once students have understanding and fluency with single digit multiplication and division fact families they are ready to move on to multi-digit fact families.

So What do Students DO with Number Operations?

Simple computation is not enough for children to experience. They need to have opportunities to explore and wonder about numbers and how they work together. Regardless of the routine or task, children should be encouraged to use different concrete and pictorial models to show their thinking.

Some examples of rich interactions include:

Number Talks

  • Number talks promote classroom discussion. Combining number talks with visual or concrete models can help us see what students are thinking.

Number Strings

  • Number strings can help children see the pattern in number operations. They are helpful for children to see the pattern in number operations, which is the foundation for algebraic thinking.
  • You can see the structure for building number strings here.

SPLAT

  • SPLAT encourages both additive thinking and subitizing. More complex SPLAT lessons are also great for encouraging algebraic thinking with unknowns.

Problem Stories

  • Building problem stories are powerful for children to understand contexts of mathematics in their every day life.
  • Using real objects or pictures encourages children to see math in their environments.

Invitations

Games and Puzzles

  • There are so many games and puzzles that can have children play with number operations.

Open Middle Problems

  • Open middle problems allow for flexible thinking and exploration. You can see a sample here.

Assess-Respond-Instruct: Building Math Readiness

Our conversations in mathematics teaching are often centered around the gaps that we observe in student understanding, or how students are not ready to learn the grade level mathematics that we are trying to teach them. When we look at our teaching practices in other subjects, we know that it is important to Activate and Connect Prior Knowledge, and to provide responsive instruction if there are skills that our students are missing. The same holds true in mathematics, but how do we do this in a structured, systematic and efficient way in our classrooms? The Assess-Respond-Instruct framework, developed with and implemented by teachers from across Saskatchewan, does exactly that.

Foundationally, the Assess-Respond-Instruct framework provides opportunities for

  • teachers and students to know whether students have an understanding and fluency with prior knowledge, and
  • filling gaps in knowledge and build fluency, and
  • engage in grade level mathematics.

In order to embark on this way of teaching, some key questions that drive our planning are:

Differentiation vs Modification

A key idea within mathematics is the difference and similarity between differentiation and modification. Working with a school last week, we brainstormed the following key ideas:

Sometimes, a student needs a modified curriculum because they are unable to grasp mathematical concepts. This determination is made with much consultation with the education team, parents, and students. Communication is key between home and school to ensure that parents understand that their child is not working towards grade level outcomes. Rather, they are on a modified curriculum with modified assessment expectations. When a child is working towards a modified curriculum, it should still be differentiated. Students need to experience a variety of modes and strategies to help them achieve their unique learning goals.

The difficulty is when a student or class is inadvertently experiencing a modified curriculum without the pre-thinking and opportunities to engage in grade level mathematics. This might look like a child being identified as ‘not being able’ to add and subtract in grade 4, so they only work on addition and subtraction when their classmates are working towards multiplication and division. In this example, the child is not given an opportunity to engage in grade level outcomes, so the gap in their learning is even larger the following year.

So what is a possible solution? The Assess-Respond-Instruct Framework!

Designing Pre-Assessments

Pre-assessments should focus on mathematics knowledge that students need in order to be ready to engage in new, grade-level instruction.

Content to Pre-assess

We can identify the pre-skills necessary for a new unit of study by mapping curriculum and asking ourselves “What might students know before this grade to help them understand the content at our grade level?”

For example, in Saskatchewan curriculum Grade 6 Saskatchewan Patterns and Relations

  • P6.1 – Extend understanding of patterns and relations in tables of values and graphs.
  • P6.2 – Extend understanding of preservation of equality concretely, pictorially, physically, and symbolically.
  • P6.3 – Extend understanding of patterns and relationships by using expressions and equations involving variables.

In this Grade 6 Saskatchewan example, the blue concepts are grade-level, while the yellow concepts are mathematical ideas that appear in curriculum before Grade 6. By mapping curriculum, you can see that new, grade-level instruction is only one small step beyond what students have experienced in the past.

Analyzing the pre-skills from the example above, we can see that they can be clustered in the following way:

It is important to identify the extent to which students might need to understand a concept. In this Grade 6 example, students need to understand and be fluent in addition with single digit numbers, and subtraction of double digit minus single digit numbers. We would not usually expect students to work with larger numbers when we are solving algebraic equations at this grade level. Even though curriculum has students learn and practice addition and subtraction to 10,000 in Grade 5, we do not need students to use these large numbers in THIS unit of study, so we would not pre-assess or respond to those large numbers.

The content of a pre-assessment for this example unit of study would include:

  • Addition of single digit numbers and subtraction of numbers no larger than 100.
  • Multiplication of single digit numbers and division of numbers no larger than 100.
  • Representing relations, including tables of values and graphs.
  • Solving one step equations, including balance scale representations and missing value equations.

Forms of Pre-assessments

You might have assessment data that you have gathered through school-system pre-assessments, through tools like Pearson’s Numeracy Nets, or you can develop your own simple Pre-assessments.

How might we respond to gaps in pre-skills?

We need to consider both the content and structure that we are using to respond to gaps in understanding. Many teaching innovations focus on one or the other. I would suggest that we need to consider both the content of intervention as well as the process, or structure, that we use to have students interact with that content.

What is Responsive Content? Differentiating Mathematics Intervention

Too often, our mathematics intervention in upper grades involves symbolic practice of a topic that a student is unsure of. Rather than only focussing on symbolic practice, we need to differentiate our intervention – additional practice worksheets are not enough if a student does not understand.

What does differentiation look like in mathematics? If we consider NCTM’s ways of representing algebraic ideas, and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, a simple way to look at differentiation for every math concept might be:

Whether we are looking at responsive instruction or new instruction, it is important that students are given opportunities to learn new concepts:

  • Concretely and visually
  • Video – this can help auditory learners watch and listen to math concepts
  • Written explanations – a simple and concise description of that mathematical idea
  • Game – a way to interact with peers and have mathematical conversations
  • Practice – to build fluency with foundational math ideas

A planning organizer is helpful in identifying the components that you will have ready for students who need intervention in each topic. The concepts that we focus on for responsive instruction are those identified in our pre-skill analysis of our next unit of instruction. The modes of responsive instruction need to be thought out for each concept, or skill. This provides a robust framework for intervention.

A Classroom Structure – Responsive Stations

There are many ways to structure your classroom to ensure that your students are receiving the instruction that they need. These might include classroom routines that focus on readiness skills, or rotational stations like Daily 3 Math. One innovative structure is Responsive Stations.

Implementation

Once you have the pre-assessment data, students go to those stations that their data on their pre-assessment indicates that they need.

Some helpful organizational hints include:

  • Colour coding your boards helps students know where they are heading.
  • Use a tracking sheet to monitor which pre-skills each student needs to address.
  • Use stickers as rewards to track what stations have been done.
  • Use a short post-assessment to determine that a student understands the content.
  • Use bins of materials at each station to help keep organized.
  • Include an enrichment station for those students who have pre-skills in place. This enrichment station can include games, additional math topics, and ideas such as creating new videos or games based on math concepts.

Once you have provided opportunities for students to be ready for your grade-level instruction, you can then teach new concepts using rich instructional practices that we know help students understand. Through the year, your class will revisit the same pre-skills over time, as many topics repeat as pre-skills throughout curriculum.

If you are interested in learning more about the Assess-Respond-Instruct Framework for building readiness, or would like to bring professional development to your staff in this area, please contact Terry@johansonconsulting.ca

Planning for Outcomes-Based Assessment

Outcomes-Based Assessment (OBA) has been on our educator radar for years. I have the pleasure of working with groups of teachers throughout Saskatchewan to dig into what we know, what we wonder about and examine logistical barriers or problems to solve in order to move forward.

What do teachers know? What do teachers wonder about?

Used to Know I ThinkProfessional development needs to surface teacher knowledge, including any misconceptions that might exist. Too often, professional learning facilitators assume that educators do not know anything so begin from the beginning… or assume that educators know everything and are choosing to resist change. I would argue teachers know a lot… and they, as a collective, want to do best for students and learning. Just like in a classroom, misconstruction of knowledge can occur. It is our job as learning facilitators to use our formative assessment skills to expose understanding and misunderstanding so that we know what to do next.

When teachers are asked, What do you know about Outcomes-Based Assessment? Their answers might be similar to those generated in NLSD:

Know Complete

It is important when broad statements are made that they are clarified by the group.

  • Clarification may be needed on the term ‘learning behaviours’. These include things like attendance, behaviour, neatness, compliance with assignment expectations. Schools or systems may have other ways to communicate these ‘Hidden Curriculum’ expectations to students and parents outside of their academic achievement scores.
  • Clarification may be needed around the idea that assessment is based on “where they are at right now… can change over time”. An example where a student shows competency later in the year after that unit of study has been completed. This may raise some logistical questions around how this would work within a student information system or what impact this idea has on reporting. Once specific questions or logistical barriers surface, it is possible for a school or system to determine procedures so that they can have consistency.

As Tomas Guskey states, there is NO best practice in grading. There are ‘better’ practices that we want to embrace, but there is no universal, standardized and mechanical way to generate a grade for our students.  This was an empowering point with teachers to know that their professional judgment, based on an understanding of curricular outcomes and observable student behaviours, is the most important assessment practice. 

question mark

Along with what educators know, it is vital that we surface what they wonder about. Questions can frame teachers’ professional inquiry for a day of learning, as well as indicate what they need to be emphasized within the agenda. Typical questions around this topic may be:

  • How do I translate an outcomes-based assessment rubric into a %?
  • How do we gather, translate and score observations and conversations so that they ‘count’ like products?
  • What might a teacher daybook/unit plan look like using outcomes-based assessment?
  • Is all assessment outcome-based assessment?
  • What do we do if an assignment is late or not handed in?
  • What is the minimum/maximum number of indicators that we need to assess in order to maintain the integrity of the outcome?
  • How do we use outcome-based assessment in cross-curricular teaching?

It is important that participants choose which question(s) they are most invested in to solve, and provided time within a professional learning experience to discuss possible solutions with colleagues.

Assessment practices are founded on both beliefs and knowledge. A Talking Points Strategy can help to have small groups explore and surface their beliefs about assessment.

Starting with Curriculum

Learning targets are based on curricular outcomes. There are a number of different unit and lesson planning templates used in education. One useful process is to use a thinking map. This graphic organizer allows us to see the connections amongst curricular outcomes, instructional activities and assessment criteria.

Unpacking Outcomes

Starting in the centre, teachers can identify the connections between the nouns (concepts) and verbs (observable behaviours) of the curriculum with the activities that allow students to show those behaviours. The assessment criteria should be related to the curriculum rather than the activity.

For example, in Saskatchewan Science 10, one part of the SCI10-CD1 Outcome: Assess the implications of human actions on the local and global climate and the sustainability of ecosystems. Some of the indicators related to this outcome might be addressed in the following progression:

Outcome Unpacking

By unpacking into a circular thinking map, it is possible to see how the concepts and observable behaviours work together. This will lead to a holistic view of curriculum that eradicates the question of how many indicators are important to address.

Principles of Assessment

Rick Stiggins has developed a set of key ideas related to classroom assessment:

Stiggins Principles

(Chapuis, Commodore, Stiggins, 2016)

From Criteria to Rubrics

There are a variety of assessment tools, including checklists, portfolios, and rubrics. They all rely on clear learning targets or criteria for student success. What does success look like? What are we looking for?

Criteria Statements

Expanding on clear learning targets, Sue Brookhart shares some of her ideas on building high-quality rubrics.

Description Statements

Rubric Pitfalls

Sue Brookhart’s ideas have been incorporated into this simple editable Rubric Worksheet.

Used to Know I Think 3

Formative and Summative Assessment

Too often, formative assessment is defined as ‘things that are not marked’, while summative assessment is defined as “things that are graded at the end of a unit”. This implies that learners can only show understanding that ‘counts’ at the end of a unit of study. So what happens to all of their thinking, work and brilliance along the way? Is it possible that a learning and assessment experience might be both or either for different students? Is it possible that formative and summative assessment are interconnected?

Definitions

One definition for assessment is the ways in which instructors gather data about their teaching and students’ learning (Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center). This definition implies that assessment’s purpose is multi-faceted – to inform students and teachers regarding student understanding as well as to inform teachers about their practice in teaching. Assessment, whether it is formative or summative, is a snap-shot in time that changes with instruction and understanding.

Used to Know I Think 1

Formative Assessment

In his book, Embedding Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam defines Formative Assessment as:

“An assessment functions formatively to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would have made in the absence of that evidence” (Wiliam, 2011).

This definition implies:

  • Formative describes the function of the assessment rather than the form.
  • Teachers, students and peers might be involved in deciding how to respond to assessment information.
  • There must be a responsive action based on the data in order for the assessment to be formative. Responsive actions are instructional in nature.

If formative assessments are designed with no clear decision/action implied, then the assessment is not useful. The five key strategies for improving student achievement through formative assessment are:

Who Where the learner is going Where the learner is now How to get there
Teacher 1. Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success. 2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning. 3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.
Peer 4. Activating learners as instructional resources for each other.
Learner 5. Activating learners as owners of their own learning.

(Wiliam, 2011, p. 46)

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is often described as providing information about or evaluating the attainment of understanding or achievement compared to a standard. Katie White (Softening the Edges, 2017) has created a holistic view of summative assessment as part of a larger assessment cycle.

“We engage in formative assessment, feedback and self-assessment regularly. Only after all this do we verify proficiency with summative assessment. It is at this point that we make professional judgments about whether to re-enter the learning cycle because proficiency has not yet been reached or to transition into enrichment or the next learning goal… Viewing summative assessment as part of a larger continuous cycle frees us to make decisions that are right for our learners and right for ourselves” (White, 2017, p. 139).

Formative Summative Cycle

(The Learning and Assessment Experience at UNSW)

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning. When viewed as part of a cycle, we can see that an assessment intended to be summative may, in fact, become formative. Similarly, there may be times that an assessment intended to be formative might become summative if a learner is able to show proficiency during that experience.

If we view the terms formative and summative as how the assessment is used rather than the tool or the intent for use, it can help us to see all experiences as part of a larger assessment plan.

Used to Know I Think 2

Brookhart, S. (2013). How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Alexandria: ASCD.

Chappuis, S. J., Commodore, D. C., & Stiggins, R. J. (2016). Balanced Assessment Systems: Leadership, Quality and the Role of Classroom Assessment. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Guskey, T. R. (2019, February 28). Let’s Give Up The Search for ‘Best Practices’ in Grading. Retrieved from Thomas R. Guskey & Associates: http://tguskey.com/lets-give-up-the-search-for-best-practices-in-grading/

UNSW Sydney. (n.d.). Guide to Assessment. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from UNSW Student Home: https://student.unsw.edu.au/assessments

White, K. (2017). Softening the Edges. Bloomington: Solution Tree.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America: Solution Tree Press.

 

 

 

The Circle of Courage: Building Resilience

In their book, Reclaiming Youth at Risk, Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern (1990) proposed a model of youth empowerment and resiliency. This model is called the Circle of Courage, and it is based on research of First Nations philosophy of child rearing. The Circle of Courage is a holistic approach that is described by Dr. Martin Brokenleg in his video.

Dr. Brokenleg’s research shows that every human being has four basic needs: significance, competence, power and virtue. The Circle of Courage makes the following connections:

 

Circle of Courage Stems

Dr. Brokenleg has identified what it looks like in someone whose spirit is in a state of weakness, a state of strength, and what might happen if their spirit has been distorted. The following are ideas to support a state of strength by helping to mend a broken spirit.

Circle of Courage Graphic

Belonging: Right now, I belong here.

Belonging is our most basic need. Maslow’s hierarchy (McLeod, 2018) recognizes that a child needs to belong before they can move towards building self-confidence and self-actualization (Peterson & Taylor, 2009). maslow-5To feel that we belong, we must build relationships with others. Complex kinship systems have existed within First Nations communities for thousands of years (Learn Alberta, 2019). By building a sense of kinship within your classroom, you can ensure that students feel a sense of belonging, culturally socially and physically.

Weak Spirit of Belonging Distorted Spirit of Belonging

Spirit of Belonging

Distrust Overly Dependent Trust
Exclusion Cult Vulnerable Inclusion
Detachment Gang Loyalty Warmth
Rejection Craves Acceptance Friendship
Antagonism Craves Affection Cooperation

To build a sense of belonging, create physical spaces for all. The arrangement of the classroom should reflect the need to serve whole group, small group and individual work needs through:

  • Desk arrangements
  • How large furniture allow for student movement
  • If possible, have a quiet space for those who need it

Include all students in time to learn together. Have all students of different abilities, ethnicities and backgrounds working in the same classroom. They can cooperate, communicate and care for one another. By engaging in heterogeneous groupings frequently, students can know one another deeply. Assistive technologies can help to support students who have mild or severe disabilities and help them to contribute the learning of the whole.

Provide opportunities for students to know each other, such as an Interview and Share activity. Provide positive encouragement to try new activities and recognize individuality and creative talents.

Mastery: I may not be perfect at everything, but I will always try to get better.

Mastery is not only of the cognitive domain, but it is also a holistic view of learning that includes physical, social and spiritual competencies. Giving children the opportunity to develop all parts of self can help to grow a strong spirit of mastery.

Weak Spirit of Mastery

Distorted Spirit of Mastery

Spirit of Mastery

Failure Oriented Arrogant Successful
Unmotivated Workaholic Motivated
Non-Achiever Over Achiever Achiever
Avoids Risks Risk Seeker Creative
Fears Challenges Cheater Problem Solver

To build a sense of mastery, teach students using authentic, relevant, differentiated learning. This includes things such as low floor, high ceiling tasks, open-ended and parallel tasks, and being cognizant of multiple intelligences when planning instruction and assessment.

Using Outcomes-based assessment and tracking progress towards a set standard can help students and teachers know where learning is at and respond accordingly. Dylan Wiliam has identified that clarifying learning targets is key to improving achievement and mastery (2011). When the criteria for success is visible and understood, students can strive for it. Teaching students to set learning goals and solve problems through collaboration can help them to build a spirit of mastery. Communicate teacher expectations clearly and provide specific feedback on student behaviour.

Independence – Earning independence by building trust.

One of the goals of education is for students to own their own learning. Dylan Wiliam (2011) has identified that goal setting and strategies for students to direct their learning path and destination. It is important that if students are pulled out of the classroom for additional support, they understand that it is to help them become independent when they rejoin their classmates. Student empowerment is important to build intrinsic motivation and confidence to persist through learning experiences.

Weak Spirit of  Independence Distorted Spirit of Independence

Spirit of Independence

Impotent Manipulative Powerful
Coerced Dictatorial Assertive
Unassured Defies Authority Confident
Misled Rebellious Self-Control
Futility Reckless Optimism

Building a democratic classroom can occur through classroom meetings to make decisions, offering choices within curriculum, and co-constructing classroom rules and norms. This can be done through the Circle of Courage itself, with groups brainstorming what it looks like when we work together to build a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity within our community of learners.

By teaching self-regulation, we encourage and build independence and self-control. This can assist students in maintaining focus and personal responsibility.

Generosity – Giving to others makes you feel good.

The virtue of generosity is one of the most valued within Indigenous communities. There is a responsibility to care for others within our community. By being generous, learners can develop a sense of pride and joy. Service projects and creating spaces that allow for generosity to occur can help to strengthen students’ spirit of generosity.

Weak Spirit of Generosity Distorted Spirit of Generosity

Spirit of Generosity

Emptiness Driven Purpose
Rancour Over Involvement Empathy
Exploiting Servitude Kindness
Vengeance Co-Dependent Forgiving
Disrespectful Plays Martyr Respectful

Citizenship education can help us to build a caring community within and outside of our classrooms. At the beginning of the school year, create opportunities for students to know each others’ stories. Activities such as collaborative writing, field trips together, assigned student jobs contributing to the well being of the class, and collaborative problem-solving activities can help students experience giving and receiving support. By watching slide shows of classmates completing tasks can all build a sense of care.

Introducing and teaching the Circle of Courage can help your students understand how they are building their own and their classmate’s resilience and spirit.

Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (1990). Circle of Courage. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from Reclaiming youth international: http://www.reclaiming.com/content/aboutcircleofcourage

Circle of Courage Model – Spaces. (n.d.). Retrieved 05 15, 2019, from Portland Community College: https://spaces.pcc.edu/download/attachments/13337564/Circle+of+Courage+Model.doc

Learn Alberta. (2019). Kinship. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from Walking Together: First Nations, Metis and Inuit Perspectives in Curriculum: http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/aswt/kinship/

McLeod, S. (2018). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved May 5, 2019, from Simply Psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Peterson, J. M., & Taylor, P. D. (2009). Whole Schooling and the Circle of Courage. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from Whole Schooling Consortium: http://www.wholeschooling.net/

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