Way back in 2005, skater Danny Way jumped the Great Wall of China… on his second attempt. The first ended up with a broken ankle. The next day, he back on the board and nailed it. Welcome to China!
Now we’re a few months into our new life in Beijing, I feel like we’re sticking the landing. As we roll into the winter break, it’s time to decompress and reflect on the move: country, school & role!
When we decided to leave wonderful Japan, we didn’t imagine at first that we’d be in Beijing. It has so far surpassed our expectations of quality of life, ease of access and yes, cleanliness of air. Of course there are bad days, but #BeijingBlue has been very common and it is a nice place to live. Public transport is cheap and easy, technology like WeChat makes everything much easier than in the past and there is a buzz of life here.
As a family in international education, the list of schools we would have chosen was very short. It needed to be a great place to work, live and learn and we need to be able to survive on the single contract. WAB has so far been a fun experience, the new role is interesting and the kids love the school. There is a lot going on with the FLoW21 work, the day-to-day learning and getting settled in, but the welcome has been hugely warming and we are all enjoying it so far. Fingers crossed it keeps being a positive experience!
When I resigned from my last role (as whole-school leadership – a whole other post), the goal was to get back into the science lab and get teaching again. As high school learning & tech coach here at WAB, I have a science class and a mentor group alongside my main role of supporting teaching and learning with pedagogy and tech integration. It has been really enjoyable so far and I have a lot to learn about a new school, its culture, people and tech tools.
It’s an exciting time for the school’s development and with that comes the opportunity to support teaching and learning in positive ways. I am putting a lot of my effort into listening and building bridges. It is great to be able to work with a team of others within our section and across the school, and to build supporting resources for teachers and students. I love creative work in education and there is plenty of scope for that here. I can put skills and tools I’ve developed over the years to work in a setting where there is support for development and the freedom to try new things. I look forward to seeing how it develops.
Of course, huge life changes generate new challenges. It is suddenly very cold (though our house is much warmer than in Japan), and we have a new language to learn. We’re finding our way around and learning from the little “teachable moments” of being in China after Japan and Indonesia. The kids have a new type of freedom, a bus run and a lot of agency. We have a preteen in a connected world and a learning more about that as we go along. Life stuff is different here – banking, bills and the like – but so far has been easier than Japan. China is more techy and access is more fluid than we expected and are used to.
Working in EdTech in China is… interesting. There is a lot of great stuff being done, and we have access to more than I expected, though we do come across issues with the great firewall. It has taken longer than I expected to leave behind who I was before to become who am I now, but in the last month or so the fog has lifted and I can see more clearly where I can make a difference, without worrying too much about issues beyond my control. On the other hand, there is great technical support here at the school and beyond, and it seems schools work well together on the shared challenges of the GFW.
One of the reasons international educators do what we do is for life experiences – for ourselves and our kids. Embracing the change – the new place, people, school and systems – is certainly giving us some new experiences to enjoy and to learn from!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
I love Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero at HGSE so much, and refer to it so often, that I made these aide-mémoire cards and chapter summaries, and I carry them with me for planning, coaching and collaboration meetings. The front side has a visual and chapter line, and the reverse summarises the key subheadings of the chapter.
Of course this doesn’t replace a deep reading of the book. I find them a useful reminder and a tool for use in conversations. If you haven’t read the book (or taken part in a COT workshop or course), don’t rely on these for understanding.
In my current role as learning & ICT coach, I use the cultural forces as a filter for thinking and development. They can be used to notice and name forces in a situation. Which forces are being influenced with this? Which force(s) might be in high or low resource? How can we make sure the influence is positive? How can we help make it easier to do better things?
Other COT resources I keep to hand
Most of these are hosted on Ron’s website.
- The Understanding Map
- 9 Apps for Parents
- 10 (+1) Things to Say Every Day
- Thinking Routines Matrix
- Making Thinking Visible Thinking Routines
- A Typology of Classroom Questions
“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.”
Our role as teachers and parents is to provide an intellectual apprenticeship for learners. As Ron mentions in the video below, via Howard Gardner, their time with us should be “time well spent”. This interview outlines some key ideas from the Cultures of Thinking project, and is well worth listening to.
Five years ago I was starting to become concerned with the difference between marking and feedback. What was making a difference to my students’ learning and was the effort I was putting into detailed marking worth it in terms of their improvement? In reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers, Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment and the pdf of The Power of Feedback (Hattie & Timperley), I developed a four-levels feedback template for use on student work.
This post is to share an updated version – I still really like this method of giving timely, actionable, goal-focused and student-owned feedback. It definitely saves me time, but puts the focus of feedback on what’s most important for the student to take the next step. I’ll keep updating, editing and adding to this post.
When giving feedback on a piece of work, I paste this at the top of the student’s assignment, give some comments in the work and check their self-assessed rubric. Before we open individual feedback, I summarise whole-class feedback.
Why present feedback this way?
Feedback addresses three questions:
- Where am I going?
- How am I going?
- Where to next?
Feedback is timely, actionable and needs to be more work for the learner than the teacher.
- Clarity of achievement so far: goal-referenced, tangible & transparent.
- Understanding “the gap” between where the learner is and where they need to go next (not necessarily the top bands)
- Timely. Using a system like this saves time in grading/giving feedback, makes it more accessible to digest (is user-friendly) and can be easily reviewed for the next time the student works towards similar goals.
- Feedback first, then grades. Not presented together, to enforce student reflection & action.
Making The Four Levels Work
- Goals and outcomes need to be clear – do students & teachers have a shared understanding of what success looks like at different levels of achievement?
- Feedback needs to be ongoing. Students are taught to self-assess in the drafting stages and feedback (not grading) given on the drafts with plenty of time to take action before submission.
- Students self-assess before submission. Even better – they can peer-assess and give feedback. If tasks are differentiated, this does not present a collusion challenge.
- Teacher gives feedback in the grid, on the front page of the work (or in an accessible place):
- Check the student’s self-assessment against descriptors
- Check the assignment, making comments only on actionable next steps – not an overwhelming number, as this can increase the perceived “gap” for students. Students who want and will take action on very detailed marking can request this in follow-up.
- Summarize feedback in the grid: task-level, process level and self-regulation level.
- Link to support resources where appropriate
- Record grades out of sight of student.
- Teacher places value on interaction with feedback by giving class time to digest & reflect
- Give “whole class” feedback on common issues and note needs for later workshops
- Students read their feedback: table and comments.
- Students synthesise this into a “feed-forwards” note to self. Showing this to the teacher and a shared agreement on the next steps releases the grade, not before.
- Next time the task type is attempted, the first thing students do is open the feedback and set achievable, specific goals to “level up” based on the feedback & feed forwards.
Reflections in Practice
I worried initially that the pushback from students would be that I wasn’t grading enough. This didn’t happen for a couple of reasons:
- We made explicit the reason for doing this and I keep no secrets about the “magic” of learning from students. I explain and demonstrate what works in learning and why we do things this way.
- Most students like seeing the next steps really clearly. We’re not all aiming for top levels right away – we’re aiming for progress upwards.
- We talk about “the gap” a lot, and our quest to close the gap in prep.
- I already know what the grades are likely to be, as we invest time in class for drafting, feedback and conferencing. I expect students to show their work and take action on feedback.
- I will happily take a piece of work back and sit with a student, giving really detailed marking and justification if they request it. This rarely happens and it is usually one or two who are working at the very top of the rubric. This is far more efficient and effective doing acres of marking for large classes, the bulk of which won’t have an impact.
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. Vol. 77 no 1 (pp 81-112). https://www.jstor.org/stable/4624888 (includes diagram above)
Wiggins, G. (2012) Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership Magazine. Vol. 70 no. 1. (pp 10-16). www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx (and related: EL Takeaways Poster http://inservice.ascd.org/seven-things-to-remember-about-feedback )
Dylan Wiliam Centre: Ten Feedback Techniques That Make Students Think (poster). https://www.dylanwiliamcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/10-Feedback-Techniques.pdf
More Resources on Feedback & Grading
“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.”
I really enjoy parent-student-teacher conferences. (I’d rather do more of these and less report writing, but that’s a different post.) Even with a limited time-slot (my last couple of schools have been 10mins), we have an opportunity to strengthen a home-school connection, build a relationship with families and really put the learner and learning front and centre.
I love being a science teacher, and parent-student-teacher conferences are a prime opportunity to share that. Just because it’s high school, doesn’t mean it needs to be too serious.
Over the last five years or so of teaching, I’ve set up recent investigations or phenomena for students to demonstrate, explain or solve for their parents.
The conference begins with a warm introduction, a check on languages used and then the student demonstrates the phenomenon to their parents. I keep some prompts and visuals around the table, to be used as the conversation develops. I don’t prep students – I want to see how they go, and how much of their learning they can make visible to the parents.
In this part of the conference, the students and parents can communicate in their most comfortable language.
It’s important to me that this is a positive experience and gives me a couple of minutes to see how they interact. If a (rare) difficult conversation needs to follow, I know better how to judge my message. In most cases, we build on the observations, and follow our own little lines of inquiry. Occasionally I pick up some new science vocab in my students’ home languages. With multilingual students we always talk about how language development is supported in the class.
Of course, parents to come to conferences to hear how their child is doing.
That’s great, and we work on the basis that if something was wrong, they’d already know; there should be no surprises in a report card or parent-teacher conference.
This means that we have the chance to have a growth-focused conversation about the learning:
- How can they use our resources and rubrics for moving up?
- Do they understand the best-fit approach and use of command terms?
- How do our “feed-back feed-forwards tables” work for focusing on what’s important and what “note to self” is there for next time?
- What are they struggling with and how can I help?
- Where to next?
As parents we want to know our child is cared for and is learning. We want to know how we can support them, and we want to trust you as their teacher.
This is how I feel as a parent-educator, and it is echoed in many interactions. Taking this opportunity to celebrate their child and their learning is more than just a little fun – it’s who we are. Occasionally I’ll provide parents with some online resources, or mention some of Ron Ritchhart’s “9 Apps for Parents” or “10 (+1) things to say to students every day” for “at home” discussions.
Next time I’ll put out some of the recent multilingual understanding map resources he shared as we reflect on the year in learning.
This year has been high on transition, anxiety and exhaustion, and very low on sleep. On the plus side, we’re feeling positive about the move to an amazing school, and the sleepless hours have meant even more reading than normal. Here is a selection of the books that have kept me going and inspired me over the past year.
“Please return your brain for a free upgrade.”
I really think all international educators should read this book by the wonderful Hans, Anna and Ola Rosling, of Gapminder. I’ve been a Han Rosling fanboy for many years over on i-Biology and this is the perfect tribute to him and summary of the important messages from years of research, action and TED Talks.
Buy it! It’s better in print than on Kindle, and on Gapminder you can try the global ignorance test and their Dollar Street project.
The Binti Trilogy, Akata Witch & Akata Warrior
“Being in this place of diversity and movement was overwhelming, but I felt at home too… as long as I didn’t look at the ships.”
“Prepare to fall in love with Binti” says Neil Gaiman’s cover recommendation, and he couldn’t be more right. Nnedi Okorafor has created an outstanding body of work, with Binti as my introduction to her world-building, characters and afrofuturism. I won’t spoil it, but give Binti a go – it’s a quick read, packed with imagination an you could well be as hooked as I am. My own 11yo daughter loved it too. I immediately read Home, pre-ordered the trilogy finale, and got stuck into Akata Witch (and more recently finished Akata Warrior). The Akata books (Sunny) are renamed in the UK (here and here).
Okorafor is my new favourite author, and this short TEDx talk by her is well worth the nine minutes. I can see Binti becoming a great reader for MYP Lang Lit units of inquiry as it will resonate with Third Culture Kids (TCK’s).
Bold Moves for Schools
by Heidi Hayes Jacobs & Marie Alcock
I’ve blogged about this before, and tweeted about it plenty. Reading this really resonated with who I am as an educator and curriculum/pedagogical leader. It is clear, provocative and practical, with lots of great ideas and suggestions encompassing curriculum, pedagogy, leadership and more. I had a great time at a Bootcamp with Marie earlier in the year, and it got me thinking a lot more about Webb’s DOK4 & Transfer. Well worth a look, especially if you’re looking to the future. Read more here. I also enjoyed Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Allison Zmuda and Michael Fisher (see here).
“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”
The John Catt Stable
These last few years, John Catt publishing in the UK have produced a range of great books on education. Back in 2014 I read and wrote about Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C as a vision of a well-implemented IB Diploma Programme, and reviewed it for IS Magazine. This year I’ve read and loved all of the following, though my particular favourite has been “What does this look like in the classroom?” by Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson, illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli (reviewed and linked here).
These are the kinds of books educators should be reading in initial teacher training, as well as keeping as reminders of what works and why – particularly if you want to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a quest for dynamic learning. Other gooduns I’ve read this year (and there are more than this):
- David Didau and Nick Rose’s What every teacher needs to know about psychology
- Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Teachers (The Michaela Way), edited by Katharine Birbalsingh
- Internationalizing Schools, edited by Steven Carber
- Playful Pedagogies, Young Children Learning in International & Multicultural Contexts, edited by Dr. Anna Cox & Dr. Estelle Tarry
- High School Hacks (Habits of Mind and Success in the IB Diploma and Beyond) by Brianna Smrke
Reasons to Stay Alive
A wonderfully-written, honest and raw description of living with and through depression and anxiety, and great twitter account to follow. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is warm and funny whilst dealing with serious issues.
I look forward to reading his new follow-up, Notes On A Nervous Planet.
Recipes for Wonder
This book is so beautiful I got three copies: one for us, one for my niece and one for the school library. Alom Shaha (@alomshaha) is on a mission to help parents become their child’s first science teacher and with this book, illustrated by Emily Robertson, he has a winner.
Books of “experiments at home” have been around for ages, but this goes far beyond: with personal stories, “the power of I don’t know”, inquiry questions and “Mr. Shaha says” explanations, it helps frame each activity through thinking as a scientist. Get it here, or in real shops.
The Idiot Brain
Who knew brains could be so funny? Dean Burnett, neuroscientists did, and The Idiot Brain is a witty, readable and up-to-date primer on what we know about our brains, how they (kindof) work and how we know.
If you’re at all interested in how your jelly mass is ruling your life, and sometimes working against you, give this a go.
Grace of Kings
In summer 2016, a tweet from Saladin Ahmed sent me down a rabbit hole of rediscovering fantasy/sci-fi through nonwestern authors and stories. One of them, which I only got to in this year, was Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings. Epic, detailed and well-developed, the Dandelion Dynasty is a universe I’ll return to in the future.
And you know how it goes with Amazon recommendations connected to your “likes”…
Ember Quartet (Books 1-2) & The Grisha Series
Excellent YA fantasy, the Ember novels by Sabaa Tahir and the Grisha novels by Leigh Bardugo are fast-paced, with rounded characters, solid arcs, darkness, humour and plenty to set them apart from traditional fantasy. Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are also a fun heist novels set in the Grisha world.
Authors like these have given me a renewed interest in a genre which I had abandoned years ago through boredom. I wasn’t aware of how much great stuff was out there.
On my summer reading list (let’s see how many I get through):
- Jy Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven
- Sabaa Tahir, Reaper At The Gates
- Becky Chambers, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet
- Matt Haig, Notes On A Nervous Planet
- Dean Burnett, The Happy Brain
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness
- Dylan Wiliam, Creating The Schools Our Children Need
- James & Dianne Murphy, Thinking Reading: What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading
So… what are you reading? Recommendations below, or find me on Twitter.
Back in 2016-17, I worked with a group on a project to connect the IB ATL Skills to the ISTE Standards for Students and AASL Standards, to generate our own school’s Instructional Technology & Information Literacy (ITIL) Standards. CA is a three-programme IB school (PYP-MYP-DP). The goal was to create an alignment of the ISTE and ATL skills that would allow us to put the language of ATL first in conversation and collaborative planning with teachers, but to build on the excellent work and resources of ISTE in our co-planning and tech integration.
At the same time, it brought together a range of people responsible for working with teachers on their units of inquiry, and built a stronger connection through the library. This group included tech integrators, librarians and Liz Durkin (@lizdk), who along with being Associate Secondary Principal is now Ed Tech Director. I was in the role of MYP Coordinator and PK-12 Director of Learning. Planning took place in the library, and by the end of the 2016-17 year we had a framework to get started on, with some spaces for further development.
This post outlines some of the processes, decisions and next-steps for the project. This was a big project, starting almost two years ago, and I’m sure there will be parts I’ve forgotten, but now it’s the summer, there is some time to reflect and capture thoughts.
Decision 1: Keep the ISTE Standards but put ATL first with teachers
This fits in with a longer-term school-wide goal of better embedding the IB ATL skills framework in the school, and we were wary that adding another new set of language for teachers to use could create a block to implementation. We have kept the ISTE Standards and Strands as published, but unpacked each strand into a cluster of ATL skills that we saw as contributing to the realisation of the skill/strand.
Later on, ITIL co-planners as ‘gatekeepers’ of the ISTE standards would be able to articulate the connections. Also, as the IB MYP ATL skills framework was being developed in 2013-14(ish), it was clear that some skills were directly derived from 2007 ISTE NETS. With the 2016 ISTE for Students update, and seeing future directions of ATL in PYP and DP, we saw a timely opportunity to get to work.
Decision 2: Add a “Lifelong Reader” Standard
This allowed for the stronger connection of the libraries as a research/ATL centre, but also made explicit the reading role of the library, referring to the AASL framework. The structure is the same, with standard, strands and ATL skills. We included, but are yet to develop (it’s in next year’s goals) a “mother tongue” strand to work out how the library can support ATL development through mother tongue and language acquisition support.
Decision 3: Adapt for context
As we went through the collaborative process of unpacking the ATL skills against the strands (first on paper, then on the spreadsheet), we spotted some opportunities to adapt to better suit our own context, or to generate custom ATL skill descriptors to better represent the meaning of the ISTE strand. We coloured these differently (blue in the example to the right), as a reminder that as specialist skills these are very unlikely to be covered in other classes and so will need to be found a ‘home’ in the curriculum.
Decision 4: Determine Descriptors
This was an attempt to align the four levels fo mastery of the ATL skills with the ISTE standards, to show our expectations of learners over time. We started with the third column (practitioner/demonstrating) as “meets expectations” and determined a statement of a competent student. Very quickly we realised the ISTE standards statements, with minor modification, fit the bill. We then developed band 2 (learner/developing) and band 1 descriptors (novice/beginning) as steps towards competence. Finally we decided to leave the fourth column blank and ‘aspirational’ as an opportunity for inventive and diverse high-level implementations to be opened up. After all, tech moves fast and we don’t want to cap creativity with artificial descriptors. See Cult of Pedagogy’s Single Point Rubric post for more discussion of this.
Decision 5: What skills do we need to know?
Although this project developed a strong connection between ISTE and ATL for the purposes of EdTech integration, we still needed to know what skills teachers and students need to know to be successful in our high-tech school. A supplementary process identified a “CA Tech Skills” inventory for orientation/support to help people get up and running successfully.
Next steps & future development
This was a really enjoyable curriculum project and it worked well as a tool to bring co-planners and integrators from different sections of the school together. Next steps, of course, are to further implement the ISTE standards through embedding ATL into units and instruction via the library-tech and co-planners. Over the 2017-18 school year work began on this, and Liz Durkin expertly led the TALT & Tech Reps group in adopting the RAT model (replace, amplify, transform) of tech integration, identifying lots of amazing uses of tech in the school and spreading them through celebrating and sharing success. Over the next year, things will really click into place, including the work being done on digital wellbeing.
As I move on to a new role as learning/tech coach at another school, I look forward to continuing these discussions and collaborations.
Here are some general resources for helping students get oriented in the MYP. Click here to open full-size in GoogleSlides, with instructions in the speaker notes. The goal here is to provide some ideas and printables that can be used to help initiate students into MYP, in an enjoyable but informative way (and not launching right into “here’s how you’ll be assessed”).