Using Conversations as Evidence of Learning

(This happened last year and the name of my student has been changed.)

George drops by my class every morning.

“Hi Miss!” he shouts.

He tells me about his girlfriend, and asks for breath mints
because he got rushed out of the house and didn’t have time to brush his teeth. He showed me pictures of the sheep on his family farm.
A supply teacher told me that he dropped by when I was absent and left me an apple.

Several weeks back I saw him in the principal’s office and rather than understanding that his location
might reveal a discipline problem to be concerned about, he waved enthusiastically to get my attention.

If someone were to record the number of times the name “George” is said in a period, I believe that it
would exceed the names of all other students. Getting George’s attention is difficult. Getting George to
understand and to learn is difficult. Liking George isn’t difficult.

I’ve always known that technology can be the great leveller in the classroom and this definitely applies to
George. In our professional learning this year, we decided to record student voices and to see what
learning takes place that is not evident when they write. George loves speaking so using a voice
recorder and interviewing him after a reading task was easy and he was engaged the entire time.
But was he learning? And, if there was learning, could I hear it?

This classroom intervention, this intentional interruption in my teaching practice, sparked so many thoughts and questions and changes in me. I have started to pay closer attention to the types of questions that I ask students and I listen more. I sit in small groups and let them direct the conversations making connections between the skills that we are learning in class and their lives.
George pays closer attention when it connects with his own life and I’m getting a better understanding of what he understands.

Last year, our Literacy Achievement Collaboration Group allowed teachers the time to reflect on students and themselves; it provided a learning environment that had high expectations for learning, and which was rigorous and demanding, but allowed for many voices in the interests of

growth. I feel like this is what needs to happen often with George and other students just like him and I am making this my focus for this year.

I always set myself goals for improvement, and this year I want to make the changes that will allow me to use conversations as evidence of learning. And, I know that there are those students who are reluctant to speak (my youngest son was one of those students) so I will find ways to hear what they are learning. I found this interesting idea to help promote peer to peer conversations and will work this into the group discussions this year.

Discovery Day: Mentoring Students at South Carleton High School

I made a great discovery at South Carleton High School on Thursday, March 31. The heavy rain did not dampen the spirits of the many students who gathered in the gym to hear the keynote speaker, Jay Gosselin for Discovery Day.

Candace Carson, Instructional Coach for Co-op, OYAP, Dual Credit, and Pathways at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board told me about the day. She said,

Discovery Day was born out of a desire to provide hands on experience for students in high school who need to see the many possibilities available to them in their future.  The most efficient way I could conceive of doing this was to bring the community to the students. I needed to bring community partners representing a variety of sectors, services, and interests to the school to share their expertise, and even more importantly, to share the details of their own personal pathway. We wanted them to tell students how they got from where they were as a student in high school to where and who they are today. The hope was for students to have opportunities to engage in authentic conversation with the community partners around pathway planning, to develop some skills in areas of general interest, and to experience something new.”    

After listening to him speak, I found some more information on Jay Gosselin’s website and it is clear that his personal experience led him to identify a gap for students. High School students often don’t know what careers are available, and they don’t know enough about themselves to make significant decisions about the future. Jay offers an interesting mentorship program for students who leave high school and want to take a “gap year”.

Some students visited classrooms and heard presentations about college or University programs. I had the opportunity to introduce students to health care options at Ottawa U.
These students went on a field trip to Versailles Academy 

Other students had a yummy visit from Edible Sins


and there were so many options for everyone.

I came away from Discovery Day thinking about the significance of this event for all high school students. In fact, it felt like a day could not be enough, but I know the event left the students with a sense that they have options, that they can actively consider a future in post-secondary education, and in the world of work.

Even more impressive to me was the list of teachers who helped make the day possible and who welcomed me to the event. I’ve heard it said that South Carleton High School is a gem in the OCDSB and I got to experience this first hand.

Setting Matters: Making Learning Stick

I’ve been thinking a lot about the design of my next classroom, and it’s exciting; it’s like buying a new house and designing the space for living. I want my classroom to create a sense of community and safety. I want it to promote critical thinking and discussion, so it will be important for  me to consider each element of the room. I will need to think about the walls as well as the floor space.

Wall space has occupied my learning a great deal this year with the popularity of “vertical non-permanent surfaces” or VNPs. I’ve learned a great deal from two math teachers, Alex Overwijk and Laura Wheeler, but these are math teachers, and I’m an English teacher.

How can these surfaces work on the walls of an English classroom?

How can I use wall space and stations like my former student, now Elementary teacher, Kim Noxon? These are photos of her classroom.

I also read this article from Edutopia about classroom design and it got me thinking about a new classroom model for next year when I’ll be teaching at South Carleton High School.

Another inspiration came from this picture posted on Facebook by Kelsey Brown from Longfields Davidson Heights High School.

She said “the idea started with the thought bubble post it notes that I found at Walmart. My grade eleven class has some very enthusiastic learners and some very observant students. I find with Life of Pi, the discussion part of the course and sharing ideas is quite important for comprehension. Depending on the day, discussion can occur and be quite successful; however, I decided to put up the ‘What Stuck with you today?’ board to encourage the students who are not as comfortable with speaking in front of everyone. The board is getting a wide mixture of ideas – some direct quotations, some interpretations of theme, and some general words of wisdom.”

Next Steps:

Finish reading Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning