Month: November 2011

Language Learning: Fall SLC

My grades 9/12 ELA classes have just finished student-led conferences. For the most part, during the conferences, I am a silent note-taker sitting at a different table.

This fall conference marks the beginning of the second year with this group of kids, and the growth that I see in the ability of my kids to conference compared to last year is remarkable.

The biggest change is that all my kids are using their course’s indictors as their jumping off point.

Using the course indicators and the students’ various portfolios (my students use both on-line and paper portfolios as well as stations with items from other subject areas), my kids reflect on how they have met the indictors in a meaningful way(s).

It’s a spectacular process.

Last June as I was chatting about the growth of my SLC philosophy and preparing to write a blog post, I reflected with a retired administrator. Her words of wisdom stuck with me. “I know your kids have achieved the skills necessary to move on to the next grade, but are they able to clearly communicate these skills with their parents. Just because you know they know, does not mean the community knows about their learning.”

That was powerful, and it became one of my professional learning goals for this ELA year.

Transparency. But more than that, I want my kids to understand the language of learning.

I went back to the curriculum, to the Outcomes and to the Indicators and to my students. The kids and I have worked and worked on this process using the practice of student-led conferences we used last year.

From the beginning of the year the kids have a booklet of Indicators and are taught which indicators we are trying to master with each project. Mastery does not look the same for everyone, and here is where the beauty of the conferences comes in.

Each student was encouraged to reflect on 25% percent of the indicators (four conferences means reflecting on only ¼ of the indicators, a manageable goal). Not all the kids choose the same indicators! We like this. Many kids shared different experiences that helped them gain a level of proficiency with their chosen indicator. “You know, with CR9.1a, I was only meeting expectations. Efficacy and identity weren’t linked, well, not until we began looking at the school’s symbol, then things really made sense. Let me show you my journal entry…”

Many kids were clearly able to express their learning in ways such as, “I didn’t get it here, but later, when we were studying, or discussing, I had a deeper connection because…” My kids were able to share their ‘hows’ not only with me, but with each other before their SLC during practice conferences and with their key stakeholders during SLC.

Our SLCs sure feel like capacity building to me.

As well, our on-going reflection on our learning embraces the practice of Assessment for Learning. I want my kids to make meaningful connections with the world around them. Our course is a language learning course, a course that examines the power of language, theirs, others and our collective voice. It’s amazing what happens when kids actively reflect on how their connections move from surface level connections to deeper level meaning-making connections.

During conference I take notes. This is our first year with the students reflecting with their indicators as guide. During post conference, usually, the same length as the conference itself, I check in with my kids. Here, I find out what went well, where they’d like to improve. Here is the SLC stuff that I’m familiar with.

But there’s more.

I’m always learning from my kids and these moments offer the best glimpse for me, as educator, to listen to what I’m not doing well, and how I need to improve. Here is when my kids tell me.

And you bet I listen.

Turns out, I need to do a better job of teaching my current ELA kids the many different ways they can pre-write and the language of pre-writing than I have been doing. Ok. Noted. This week, we’re on it!

Our conferences are not easy. As a class we spend about six hours prior to each SLC in preparation. The time is worth it. For many of my kids, this is one of their only opportunities to shine in front of this specific group of people, and to shine where they feel safe.

So this week, we begin the process of figuring out what more we need. All but two students asked for longer conferences. But I don’t always control the time, and too, we’ll chat about why it’s important to synthesise as well as we do (isn’t there an indicator for that too?). Anyway, all of this will be a whole-class discussion. My grade nines’ fluidity between their language of assessment, process, product and growth was clearer than most of my other students, and this was their first time doing SLCs. They had nothing to (un)learn.

We’ll chat about that too…

We’ll begin to prepare for January, now, as we always have the Big Picture in mind. In both January and June, our conferences act as oral final-term exams. My ELA students find the preparations for their final exams more difficult than any traditional ELA exams, but the SLC ‘exam’ are also more rewarding.

In the moment, what other form of assessment and evaluation offers wonderment of how one’s learning might be different, tears of joy and hugs all around?


Out of Tune

A bunch of stuff was out of tune Thursday.

During the Remembrance Day service the kindergartens, grade 1 and grade 2 shared. They shared K’Naan’s Wavin Flag. If you haven’t listened to it, do.

The kids rocked it. I mean really, really rocked it. My senior kids have begun to study performance poetry. Some of my grade 11/12 have been invited into elementary classes to share their passion for performance. So Thursday, when those little ones began rocking out, my kids got fired up. I got fired up. And I have to admit, I did absolutely nothing to quiet my kids. In fact, I joined in. I was joyful right alongside my kids. The south side of the gymnasium where the student body was seated was gleeful. The north side of the gymnasium where the community was seated was… not so much. When one of the grade 1, by memory, recited the lines Drake shares in the young artists’ version, almost every pair of Language Learning eyes from grade 9 to 12, turned and looked at me, and in unison mouthed, “Wow!”

It was a gutsy performance by an amazing group of young kids and their amazing teacher. The teacher is a person my kids know and respect. We are a rural school. We are one close, big family. When the song ended, my kids were on their feet, cheering and clapping. Actually, my kids and I were on our feet, cheering and clapping…

Things sort of went down-hill from there.

The event was not an assembly, but a service.

My students love performance poetry. They love giving voice to issues that need voice. So, with mic in hand, they continued to share pieces filled with meaning for the day and filled with meaning for today’s youth.

The room grew yet more distant, and we had not yet come to the Last Post.

When the trumpets played a child in the section reserved for community began to softly sing and to cry following along with the trumpet tune. I thought the sound, the addition, beautiful.  An adult tried to hush the child.

As we transitioned into a moment of silence, the child continued to sing softly. I think this was my favourite part of the service, certainly, the part that resonated.

I do remember. And so do my kids. And so too will the wee ones who, for the most part, spend each day at the other end of the school.

As my kids cleaned up the gymnasium, a few shared that some of their parents and a few members of the community were not entirely happy with our exuberance.

With the community making its way out the doors, my kids and I returned to our room. Then, a few kids zipped off down the hall to the store room to fetch an old piano. During transport, the piano left a rather large scuff in the wax the length of the hallway, joining until the winter-break-waxing, the elementary end with the high school end. An elementary student, flanked by community members, paused at the scuff and then looked at me.

“What are you going to do about it?”

Well, the piano is for our room, out of tune or not, but wanted. Yes, it is a rather old, dark grey-ish fading piano, but the kids chose it. The moment it was in our room, the kids pulled off a few boards so the piano’s insides became visible. Monday, we begin to graffiti piano’s shell. We do this because we’re a family. We do this to stay a family.  We do it with the Principal’s approval.

I just want to celebrate successes, you know. I get so caught up in the good. I never mean disrespect. This isn’t an apology, since I know in a heartbeat, I’d cheer again. I am just trying to envision remembrance in a space where silence and scuff and kids and cori are allowed room to sing.

Spirit of Gratitude

It has been a stressful three weeks. I have been worried about my students, and let’s face it, I have been angry with them too. And almost everyone in our learning space has felt it. There have been moments when I have been inclined to punish my students by yanking their privileges. That would have been easy and spiteful and would have made me feel good in the short term.

The week ending October 21, I wanted to cancel our division wide Open Mic event. I wanted to pull the plug on a performance event for my group of students. Recently one of my kids said I did not look upset that Friday. That was easy, I was entertained. I got to listen to my kids step-up and succeed, and I got to spend some time with former students. But, oh you bet, inside, I was still stinging.

It has been a stressful three weeks.

We have all felt it.

This week, we had simply had enough.

It is exhausting being angry.

But I had some ideas on how to begin to mend.

I shared in my journal, then with my principal. Then, Tuesday I asked every student I teach to reflect, to meaningfully reflect, about how I could better meet their learning needs. As well, I asked every student I teach about how they could better meet their own learning needs.

Most kids spent 60 minutes answering the first question…

I went home at the end of the day angry and, well, selfish.

Oh, I sure understood that I wanted to react. I wanted to jump into the class the next day and tell my kids all the ways they have not been meeting my needs. I wanted to behave poorly. Really, really poorly.

But, I’ve been self-managing my happiness for a while now. And peace is more valuable than reaction.

So, last night as I attended an after school meeting, I listened to the people on the other side of the table share about the people, places and things in their lives for which they are grateful.  It was the weirdest after school meeting I have ever attended; I sat and I cried. I remembered that I love being an educator.

I went home and called my mom (the sound voice of motherly reason, the grandmother extraordinaire and a retired Director of Education). I shared my desire to be selfish and, I too, shared that the spark to respond went against my nature and my philosophy.

I love being an educator.

“Cori, what is your gut telling you?”


I cried. I wrote in my journal. I bbm-ed my principal. Then, I tried to sleep.

This morning, second period, with my principal in the room, I had each student and my principal write their name on a piece of paper. I turned the pieces upside down, shuffled them and then set them aside for a moment. Then, I told my students a few true stories. I told them stories of how I had come to find respect and trust in our learning space. I thanked my principal and asked her to step out. Then, slowly, with honesty and love, I drew one piece of paper at a time. Slow, as I read each name in turn, I thanked each student for the gifts they have offered me over the last 9 weeks. We cried. And we spent the rest of the day laughing, awash in tears, gratitude and reflection.

I love being an educator.