Friday, October 26, 2018

Do We Give Up The Carpet Too Soon?

In September, we engaged in four demonstration lessons on co-constructing criteria. As we worked alongside the teachers of an elementary and junior high school, we planned the lessons and we considered the physical layout of each classroom. We asked, “How might we best to use the space to meet our instructional goals?” We all knew we wanted:
·      Students to feel our presence with no distractions.
·      To feel the presence of our students so their energy could inspire our teaching.
·      Students and teacher to feel part of and to be part of a community of learners.
·      No physical barriers between students, so that they could easily and quickly turn and talk and think together.
·      No barriers between teacher and learners, so that we could easily listen to their conversations and make moment-by-moment instructional decisions.
We wanted this both physically and symbolically in some part of each lesson no matter the grade level, the subject area, or the specific content.

We felt we needed a meeting or gathering space – a place where we can be in community with one another. In many early years classrooms, this has typically meant a brightly coloured carpet where the whole class can come together. Why do carpets disappear in older grades? Are we giving up that gathering place too soon? After all as teachers know, it is more than a carpet. It is a way to use the environment to create a learning advantage. It is a learning advantage that emerges when we build community, inspire each other and meet instructional goals.

And so, we have learned from teachers how to create a “carpet” wherever we go – K to 12 to adult – so that the environment supports the learning. For some spaces, it means having students move their chairs into a part of the room and create an ‘inside-outside’ circle. And for others, it means creating two or three lines of chairs in a semi-circle around an instructional area. Regardless of the configuration and in spite of the lack of an actual carpet, teachers gather students away from their desks, in order to create powerful learning-teaching spaces.

Written collaboratively - Brenda Augusta, Sandra Herbst, and Anne Davies

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Portfolios: Digital or Paper?

We’ve been reflecting on our recent two-day Institute in Ajax, Ontario that was inspired by our latest publication, Collecting Evidence and Portfolios: Involving Students in Pedagogical Documentation. The time was filled with discussions about the context within which portfolios make sense, the five purposes for which teachers and students might create them, the processes involved, and specific classroom examples. One exchange in particular has stayed with us.

A system-level lead teacher was planning for the implementation of portfolios in Kindergarten through Grade 12 classrooms. We had just finished a group discussion about whether or not portfolios should be paper or digital. The instructional leader started the  small-group conversation by reflecting:

I’ve just realized that paper or digital is not the first decision we have to make. We need to slow down and back it up a bit.

His realization is one that many participants had over those two days. Regardless of format or platform, the purpose and process of involving students in their own pedagogical documentation is what matters most. That is to say, a portfolio is the residue of a deep process of learning…and that process is what requires thoughtful conversations and decision-making.

Written with my colleague Brenda Augusta.