Sunday, March 24, 2013

What did you learn today?

Not exactly a quote from my latest read, Embedded Formative Assessment (Wiliam, 2011), but definitely my favorite take-away so far. "What did you learn today?" is often something we ask our children when they arrive home from school. It's also something we (hopefully) close our day with in our classrooms before students walk out the door. But most importantly, it should be something we are asking ourselves each and every day.

You see, (one of) the most important piece(s) to formative assessment is not necessarily the questions you ask, the activities you've set up, or how you are collecting evidence of learning. It's the LISTENING that is happening as you are trying to understand what students really know, and what they are missing. You can make assumptions about a piece of paper with a written answer to a question on it. You can also make assumptions about a written prompt that a student turns in. But only through actually listening, digging deeper, and seeking understanding do we truly get to the heart of what a student is understanding.

Interestingly, one needn't apply the principle of listening to just our conversations with our students. You could easily learn today from a colleague, a boss, a parent. Truly listening means seeking understanding, without presuppositions or bias.

So...what did you learn today?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Choosing Your Words

So...telling your boss you are a "wasted piece of human flesh" might not be the best way to start off your week. One of the most frustrating parts of coaching is navigating district initiatives, building initiatives, PLC initiatives, and individual teacher initiatives. Organizing your time in the most effective way can be frustrating because  you need a goal or a purpose for driving your work. When all of these initiatives clash, or at least seem to lack a flow in the same direction, it can make you feel...well, like a "wasted piece of human flesh" (again, don't ever say that to your boss).

It all comes down to understanding what you can control, what you can't control, and how to best manage your time. Another colleague sent me the link to Dianne Sweeney's podcast this week. Sometimes things just come your way that you REALLY needed to hear. So, just like with my teachers...when I'm unsure of where to start, I need to focus on students.

I really don't think it is a coincidence that a friend tweeted this post at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week I've had more conversations about student learning, student needs, and responding to this than I have for the past two weeks. So breathe easy. When things start to feel unmanageable or out of control, pick the one thing that you know is THE thing and start there.