Educators engage in professional learning.

Professional Development Experience Throughout My Teacher Candidacy:

In reverse chronological order.

June 3, 2022

I spent my district’s most recent Professional Development Day (also my birthday) watching Emily Moorhead’s three-part webinar series, Implementing Structured Literacy Instruction in the Kindergarten Classroom.  Initially, I had a hard time deciding between the available Pro-D options.  I really wanted to hear something that aligned with, and would solidify, all of the amazing things I had learned from my professor (Melanie Baerg), my course (EDUC 397), and the course’s text (Speech to Print).  To assist the decision, I reached out to my fellow teacher candidates—those eager ones who had done their Pro-D hours—and asked them what they recommended.  The message I received was unanimous: “watch Emily Moorhead’s webinars …they bring everything together!”  They were right!  Moorhead’s approach to literacy aligns perfectly with our course objective—”creating literate students” (Baerg)—and supports all of the ideas outlined in the course text (Moats), as well as in Lyon and Trask’s structured literacy framework (SD 52) and Montgomery and Zwicker’s cognitive approach to printing (Printing Like a Pro!).

Five weeks ago, I was not at all equipped to create literate students.  Luckily, Professor Baerg (with all of her knowledge, expertise, resources, and connections) stepped in and changed that sad fact.  Her lectures, and the assigned readings, videos, and workbook activities, have taught me more than I could have hoped to learn in such a short period of time.  At the end of our second to last class, I felt fairly confident in my ability to create literate students.  Now, after having watched Moorhead’s three-part series, I feel fully confident in my ability to begin such work.  Moorhead provided me with an easy to follow, scientifically backed, scope and sequence—inclusive of explicit instruction, lively lesson enactments, guided practice, interactive activities, and fun games.  Like Lyon and Trask’s presentation, Moorhead’s webinar series showed me what structured literacy looks like and what it sounds like.  Reading about structured literacy is one thing, seeing it in action is something totally different.  Both have helped me understand how to help students master phonemic awareness, and connect it to print—that is, how to give learners the skills they need to read, spell, and succeed in school and in life!

I know that mastery of such tasks is not easy.  Moorhead, like Moats, Lyon, and Trask, tells us that children do not simply learn to read (or spell) naturally.  It is not a natural process for human brains to leap from phonological awareness (what we hear) to print awareness (what we see on a page); rather, it requires re-wiring the brain through explicit instruction.  Similar to Lyon and Trask, Moorhead likens this instruction to teaching a “secret code” (the code of the English language) and stresses that when introducing each new piece of code, teachers must pay close attention to whether or not students can hear the sound; whether they can pronounce the sound; whether they can recognize the letter; whether they can print the letter; and whether they can apply new learning (Moorhead, PART 1).  Although learning the “secret code” is hard, Moorhead’s approach makes it exciting and engaging for all learners (very similar to Lyon and Trask’s “perky-paced” approach to structured literacy).

I also know that this “code” must be taught in such a way that it gets into all students’ ears, eyes, and brains (Moorhead, PART 2).  Like Moats, Lyon, and Trask, Moorhead bases her scope and sequence on the fact that phonological awareness follows a predictable, brain-based continuum.  Although Moorhead’s sequence varies slightly from that of Lyon and Trask’s “SATPIN” sequence, the overall scope remains the same: getting students to hearindividual letters (and eventually blended letters and words) and know them based on what their mouths and vocal cords are doing when said aloud, and then move to having students associate letter sounds to letter names.  Students can then take their phonological and phonemic awareness to print.  During the print stage, Moorhead utilizes many Printing Like a Pro strategies, also akin to those of Lyon and Trask: guided instruction, modelling, and scaffolded practice (whiteboards and laminated strips with brown ground/green grass/blue sky)—with each task aiming to help students practice proper letter formation as they move from speech to print. 

I could go on for pages, detailing the parallels and valuable take-aways of this three-part series (i.e., how best to capitalize on whole group instruction and make the most of small group and one-on-one instruction; how to create controlled text; and so much more) but I am out of space and a voice in my head is saying “Joni, only two pages!”  So, I will leave it here 🙂

References

Lyon, K. and Trask, E. (2022, May 16). Teaching Kindergarten with the Brain in Mind. [Lecture] Presented at the University of Northern British Columbia, School of Education.

Moats, L.C. (2020). Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Montgomery, I. and Zwicker, J. (2017). Printing Like a Pro! A Cognitive Approach to Teaching Printing to Primary School-Age Children. Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.  Downloaded May 10, 2022: http://www.childdevelopment.ca/SchoolAge_Therapy_Practice_Resources.aspx

Moorhead, E. (2020, March 12). International Dyslexia Association Ontario. Implementing Structured Literacy in the Classroom – PART 1 – Phonological Awareness. [Video] YouTube. Uploaded June 3, 2022:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZrA8ak0Inw

Moorhead, E. (2020, June 4). International Dyslexia Association Ontario. Implementing Structured Literacy in the Classroom – PART 2 – Moving to Print. [Video] YouTube.  Uploaded June 3, 2022:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDcb5Jfc658

Moorhead, E. (2020, June 29). International Dyslexia Association Ontario. Implementing Structured Literacy in the Classroom – PART 3 – Putting it Together. [Video] YouTube.  Uploaded June 3, 2022:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBjzsfml-qo

January 28, 2022

I was fortunate to attend School District #28’s Professional Development Day (via Zoom) where guest speaker, Katie White, addressed several of our District’s assessment concerns.  White’s presentation, “Finding Balance in a Shifting Assessment Landscape” (January 28, 2022), was extremely informative and highly relevant to assessment and motivation.  As such, I was able to draw several connections to my coursework.  

First, in class (and in the course text) we have learned that the “traditional” model of assessment can be detrimental to student motivation and engagement:

When marks, grades, or scores are used as the primary feedback mechanism to track student learning on all assessments, especially formative assessments, learners lose sight of the goal, and they have little support to adjust and make a significant difference in their own growth trajectory. There is a better way.” (Erkens, Cassandra, et al., 2017, pg. 29).

White’s presentation highlighted the “better way”, speaking to the shift occurring in British Columbia, and in our District, as educators transition from a grades-based system of assessment and reporting to one based on proficiency scales.

Second, we have learned that there are many questions, concerns, and hurdles facing educators as they make this transition.  Our District is no different; it has raised the same concerns and questions and will have to maneuver the same hurdles.  Educators in our schools want to know how they can adapt their assessment practices to align with the new system; how assessment will look for grades K-9, where curricular competencies, as well as content, must be assessed using proficiency scales.  White was invited to address these essential questions, posed as follows: what are the attributes of a balanced assessment system?; how might assessing curricular competencies impact the tools we use and the ways we plan?; and, how might we leverage proficiency scales to advance learning and to communicate with stakeholders?  

Third, as in class, several key take-aways emerged amidst the answers to these questions: 

  • “Good teaching is a response to students’ learning rather than the cause of students’ learning” (Rodgers & Raiden-Roth, 2006); i.e., good teachers take their cues from their students.
  • Not all our students will learn what we want them to learn, when we want them to learn it (no matter how good our lessons and units are or how well we deliver them).  Thus, we need instructional agility (the ability to pivot), and we need to plan with openness and curiosity.  Then, we must take student feedback and use it to inform how we pivot, where we pivot, and when we pivot.
  • Assessment allows us to pivot at the right time, in the right direction.
  • Assessment = checking in.  This is an explanation our students can understand and appreciate.
  • In a balanced assessment system, we must focus on verifying (gathering evidence) and on growth (changing current state); we must balance the two, focusing on equity, hope, and achievement.
  • Assessment is two-fold: (1) design (where am I now? where am I going?); and (2) response (what will I do with the results).
  • Our design is only as good as our response.  It is imperative that our assessment results generate a productive response (action).
  • Action is an essential requirement: if not proficient, create a plan to get student to proficiency; if proficient, celebrate the success and determine what is next.
  • Focus on the language we use in our feedback (positively framed).
  • Ensure that our students know that task completion is important, but that quality and understanding is even more important.
  • Proficiency scale = a tool used to describe degrees of quality and/or consistency in relation to a learning goal; it measures a student’s performance in relation to the provincial learning standards (competencies and content).
  • “Proficient” is a measure of ability at one time, on one task. Proficiency over time = competency.  To say a student is competent at something, we need a body of evidence over time, in multiple contexts.
  • Proficiency-based assessment rests on precision, flexibility, and task neutrality.
  • Curricular competencies and curricular content are partners; we cannot assess one without the other.
  • There are times and places for quantitative feedback, but qualitative feedback is far more beneficial to students as it leads to a better understanding of how they can improve, what they missed, and what they can do next.  It allows us to delay conversion to letter grades or percentages and focus instead on critical feedback and response,
  • It is crucial that our assessments are accurate and reliable, and that they lead to effective response and clear communication.  This will build up student confidence and motivation.  Validity & reliability + accuracy & clarity = successful assessment practice.
  • As teachers, we are human and thus there is subjectivity in a proficiency-based system.  However, we are also professionals with professional integrity and professional judgment.  It is crucial that we make professional judgments in relation to a body of evidence (not solely on one task/test/quiz/etc.).
  • If we are goal-focused and use task-neutral rubrics, we will be successful in a proficiency-based system.

I appreciate these take-aways and will draw upon them as I, too, make the transition from grades-based to proficiency-based assessment and reporting in my future teaching practice.