Monday, April 27, 2015

The 30th Friday: Showcasing Student Learning

“I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

Elon Musk

As you may know, Elon Musk is the CEO and Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors. I included a quote from him mostly because I like the quote and it is relevant to my topic this week, but also with the remote hope that he sends me a free Tesla once he sees he finally made his way into my blog! From what I know of his work, he definitely seems to be one who has taken the advice he references to heart and put it into action as a business innovator. As I mentioned in an earlier postI think that intentionally reflecting and questioning on how we could be doing better is also good advice for educational innovators.

In our school district, we have a district-wide Curriculum Council which meets quarterly to coordinate and communicate Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Professional Learning efforts. At our recent Curriculum Council meeting, I asked team members to brainstorm a list of “beautiful questions” relating to five Teaching and Learning areas:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Instruction
  3. Assessment
  4. Professional Learning
  5. The Role of the Curriculum Council

The team came up with an outstanding list of questions, some of which were of a more “nuts and bolts” variety (“When will we revise our curriculum maps?”) and some of which were a bit more extensive in scope. Here are a few such items posed that caused me to question and reflect:

  • How should instruction look different in a 1:1 environment?
  • How can we get kids to run to school with enthusiasm?
  • How would we teach students if there was no curriculum?
  • Are we maximizing our instructional time, or is it being clouded by too many other variables?

These were serious questions worthy of pondering and possibly acting upon over time. A final question was raised which is related to many of the others:

  • What should be the future direction of Student Showcase Night?

In our school district we schedule a spring “Student Showcase/Portfolio Night” for each of our four elementary campuses. This year's version occurred just last week; as a result, it was on the minds of many. These annual events are scheduled in the evening and are a very special event for each child to “showcase” the work in which they have been engaged for their parents.  

We have hosted Student Showcase evenings for almost a decade now. I am told that years ago, the authentic flow of daily teaching and learning practices would come to a bit of a standstill as students and teachers spent the days and even weeks prior to the actual event preparing scads of paper portfolios of student work to share with our parents for a two-hour, once-a-year event. Our new Director for Innovative Learning, Marcie Faust, has also been contemplating this question in terms of how it is related to the first bullet point question: do our Student Showcase evenings change due to our 1:1 learning environment? Prior to serving in her current role, Marcie experienced Portfolio Night as a teacher in our district and before the advent of our 1:1 initiative. Many grade level teams across the district have already been considering the question about our move to 1:1, its potential impact on Student Showcase, and making changes in how they have their students present their learning to their parents. 

If, in today’s schools, parents can already access at any given time all digital work their children have produced in school (a good thing, in my opinion), how can we make "Student Showcase" nights more meaningful to our kids and their parents? One way some teachers have shifted their approach is by focusing on student learning, not student work. It is a subtle, yet significant shift in which they want parents to ask of their kids: “What can you do?” as opposed to “What did you do?”

During our own Student Showcases last Thursday evening, Marcie attended Kipling Elementary School's version to observe the 5th grade team and their new approach to this important night. Take a few minutes and watch how the 5th grade students took the lead in sharing their knowledge and abilities with their parents that night:

Obviously, many other districts, schools, and individual teachers are designing many similarly innovative approaches to showcasing student learning; please feel free to share with us what is working for you: does your school or district hold similar evening events to showcase student learning? If so, how are your approaches to such events changing in a digital environment? Thanks for sharing any ideas you might have!

I certainly have no easy answers to this question (or any of the others), but I do consider the question worth pondering. Thinking about how we can do things even better and posing questions designed to reflect on that thinking may not result in a free Tesla...but it is another way we Teach with Passion in our schools!

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