Category Archives: STARSregina

Assessm…what?

What is assessment and how do we effectively use it in the classroom? The answer to this question, for myself anyways, remains unknown. Looking back at my experience in school, assessment was based around tests – I pushed myself to get “good grades” and based my self-worth on how “well” I was doing in school. Years later, we still see schools as competitive institutions, which I believe is a result of living in a success-driven society. Recollections of stress, anxiety and fear still resonate with me when thinking about assessment. This is something that I hope students in my classroom will never experience. Today, as a pre-service teacher, I find assessment petrifying – but how can I move away from the negativity? I still have not found the “key” to successful assessment and am unsure if I ever will. However, I have compiled a few thoughts on how I might approach assessment at this point in my journey to becoming an educator.

  • Assessment needs to be based off of entire life experience, not just learning that takes place in the classroom – what could potentially affect learning?
  • Pre-assessment is vitally important – we need to know what prior knowledge and experience students are bringing to the classroom. We cannot assume or have pre-set expectations of students, as this only sets them up for failure. Once we have completed a pre-assessment, planning learning experiences that cater to the learning styles of all students can be achieved.
  • Differentiated assessment – we need to ensure students are not penalized as a result of oppressive assessment tools. If a student’s learning does not reflect success through an assessment, it could mean that the assessment tool in place is not conducive to their learning style – CHANGE IT UP!
  • Self-reflective teaching practices – allows me to continuously adapt my teaching and assessment strategies to ensure they are effective in supporting success in all learners.
  • Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways – assessed in ways that honor their unique learning styles. Learning that takes place cross-curricular opens up more opportunities to represent learning = more opportunities for a variety of assessments.
  • Have students brainstorm ideas on how they should be assessed – what things should we as educators be looking for when we look at your learning processes? For example: constructing a rubric for an assignment alongside the students, both parties are contributing to the assessment process. Students become leaders in the assessment process – taking responsibility and ownership over their learning.
  • Ensure students are aware of what they are being assessed on and what the assessment will look like – no surprises. It is also important to deliver these instructions in multiple ways (orally, written, pictorially, etc.).
  • Anecdotal records based on observations – showing a progression/growth – assessment that takes place over time.
  • Including students in the assessment process – conferencing/goal setting conversations, self-assessment, and peer-assessment. This allows educators to get more of a “full-picture” idea of student progress – over-time collecting observations.
  • Assessment must reflect what is being taught (instruction) – how can we assess students on something they have yet to learn?
  • Giving students feedback on their work > always assigning a grade – allows students to take constructive feedback and apply it to future learning experiences. This fosters self-confidence/worth, rather than lowering confidence (if a student does not get a grade they are satisfied with).
  • Encouraging students to self-reflect (ex: journal writing) – we as educators can see a reflection of their journey, as well as they can use this as a tool to help them self-assess their learning.
  • Assessment does not solely need to take place at the end of a learning experience – assessment can be ongoing.

Despite reflecting on what my future assessment experiences may look like, there are still things I am unsure of. How am I able to assign a “grade” to all learning experiences? Some learning experiences benefit the student by experiencing personal growth and reflection – how can I place a “grade” on something like that? How do we extend knowledge and learning beyond the summative assessment of an experience? Do we need to perform summative assessment in order to ensure our students have met the delivered outcomes? I believe that the first step in exploring assessment is self-reflection – if we do not reflect, we may not notice areas of improvement within ourselves. Assessment is a journey that I will forever be trying to navigate through alongside students – assessment will be a process involving “we” rather than “me”.


One Size Does NOT Fit All.

“Differentiation is a philosophy or mindset that enables educators to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today so that they can achieve targeted standards – not a set of tools, but a belief system or mindset that educators embrace to meet the unique needs of every learner.” (Chapman and Gregory, p. 2)

As our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, the need for differentiation to be implemented by all educators is crucial. We cannot simply expose children to learning experiences that cater to the needs of a select group – one size does NOT fit all. In order for children to fully immerse themselves into learning, their experiences need to be authentically tweaked to fit their learning styles, interests, prior knowledge and personalities. Every student that enters the classroom brings perspectives and narratives unique to each individual – differentiation allows for students to explore multiple perspectives and narratives, while learning to honor and appreciate diversity. If we as educators hope to provide every student with a positive school experience, differentiation should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

There is a multitude of ways to differentiate in the classroom. The following are some ways to differentiate, along with examples of how I will achieve this throughout my journey as an educator: (Chapman and Gregory, pp. 3-5)

  • Content: Includes what is being taught and the materials used to deliver information. Assignments given to students must cater to their learning styles, while also challenging them to develop new skills. When students are provided with a diversity of materials, deeper learning and ownership of knowledge acquisition can take place. This can include presenting content to students through a variety of mediums (for example, print and digital). Learning experiences need to be authentic and relevant – when a student can connect what they are learning to prior knowledge or experiences, critical thinking and reflection can occur.
  • Assessment Tools – Performing a pre-assessment of prior knowledge and interests is important when differentiating. If we are able to understand what students know about content we will be teaching, we can better plan learning experiences suited to fit their learning styles. Assessment of learning can occur in many different ways and how we assess each student can be decided based on personalities. For example, some students may benefit from having conference-style conversations to discuss their learning progress, while other students may find this intimidating and prefer to be assessed through observation and anecdotal records.
  • Performance Tasks – Allowing students to present their knowledge in a variety of ways is an effective way to differentiate performance tasks. Giving students choice in terms of how they show what they know fosters all learning styles and multiple intelligences. Allowing choice also encourages students to take ownership and responsibility over their learning – if they are doing something they are interested in, their engagement level will be higher!
  • Instructional Strategies – Differentiating instructional strategies involves delivering information in a variety of ways. For example, instead of only delivering instructions for a task orally, you might include written and pictorial instructions to cater to more than one learning style. When one provides students with learning experiences that take different forms (games, lecture style, individual work, group work, etc.), learning remains exciting and appealing to all students. Differentiation of classroom environment can also influence instruction – how the classroom is structured can help students remain engaged in learning. This can include a diversity of seating arrangements, as well as using brain breaks, fidgets, noise blockers, etc.

How will I differentiate? The thought of providing all students with learning experiences that meet their needs is exceedingly overwhelming. I do not expect myself to ever be able to master the task of differentiating, however, I hope to try to provide positive learning experiences that cater to individual needs. Reflective teaching practices will allow me to adapt my teaching and assessment strategies, as well as classroom environment, as necessary – asking myself what is working, what is not, what could be changed, etc. Looking back on my personal school experiences as a child, I remember instances where I felt as though some experiences did not reflect my learning style – the effects of experiences such as this can be detrimental. Therefore, ensuring students feel confident and competent while learning is important; differentiation is the vital tool every educator needs in their toolbox in order to achieve this.

Gregory, G., & Chapman, C. (2013). One Size Doesn’t Fit All. In Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (pp. 1-10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Listening Wholeheartedly – A Response to Nel Noddings

“To get new ideas, to move ahead, we – as educators – should listen to our children and students. When we listen to them, we learn what they are going through, and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching. It can help us to select and arrange curriculum, plan lessons, choose instructional methods, and seek better modes for evaluation. What we learn from students should induce us to reflect on all we do and all we are asked to do.” (Noddings, p. 154)

I believe in the importance of listening to and learning from children – through building relationships and coming to honor their individuality, authentic learning can take place. However, where do we begin on this complex journey? Why should we go above and beyond to try to relate to each and every child in our classroom (although can we ever fully understand narratives that are not our own?)? Do the social constructs, barriers and limitations woven throughout the field of education allow for these types of student-teacher relationships to be built? Education and learning are complex entities, which require students to pursue knowledge in predicated ways. In order to help guide our students through the complexities, we must come to know where their passion lies (what interests them, what gets them excited). Coming to know our students in meaningful ways can be a challenging, but is a task worth exploring.

Before children even enter the classroom, they already have preconceived perceptions as to what will be expected of them throughout their time in school. Feelings of anxiety, fear, insecurity, as well as inadequacy ebb and flow inside many children. In a society where success is greatly influenced by academic achievement, pressure is placed on children to achieve high grades in order to ensure a successful future and to obtain happiness. Despite that many children, as well as educators, might believe this to be true, there is fallacy among the idea that good grades lead to future happiness (Noddings, p. 157). Living and learning in these aggressive ways leave little room to develop passion in terms of knowledge acquisition. The focus should lie on encouraging children to become excited about learning, while giving them choice and advocacy in regards to their learning (needs, wants, goals, dreams). Children need to be given opportunities to explore the realm of learning. While providing choice and personal advocacy is important, children still need to be challenged as well – pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to try new things (that may not necessarily fall under their category of “interests”).

I truly believe in feedback-focused education, opposed to assigning a grade to everything that takes place in my classroom. Think of all the possibilities opened up by merely having a conversation with a child in regards to their learning – conferencing with students to see where they are at and where they see themselves going. Focusing on goal setting and comparing ones’ self to their own strengths, working together to create high-quality learning experiences (Noddings, p. 158). However, as educators are we able to achieve this kind of learning and assessment? Immersed so deeply in a system that constantly drives the importance of grades – is this dream possible? How easy will it be to stray from the competition-driven education experience we know all too well?

Oppression lies deep within the curriculum and the education system, this is something we cannot deny. However, we can help our students to become advocates for their own learning – teaching them the importance of and skills required to make informed decisions about their futures. With all of the pressure to meet both the clearly outlined, as well as the hidden, standards, are students actually learning to their fullest potential? Listening to our students and encouraging them to become life-long learners and to find passion in the acquisition of the diversity of knowledge around them is something educators should strive for. Listening wholeheartedly – something that seems so simplistic, but can open the door to countless opportunities for students – should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

Noddings, N. (2004). Learning from Our Students. ProQuest Education Journals, 154-159.


Standing Up Alone > Sitting Down in Company

Texan news reporter Dale Hansen made a bold decision to defend gay rights on national television, putting himself out there while fully aware of possible destructive repercussions to his actions. His discourse was in response to the negative backlash football star Michael Sam has received by admitting to being gay. Michael, a talented young man who would be a strong asset to any team in the league, will be the first openly gay man to play in the NFL. Before publicly announcing his sexual identity, he was pegged to be chosen in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft. However, he is now expected to go in the fifth round – for a player of his skill level and stature.. shocking how quickly things have changed, no?

“A gay player would not be welcome in a NFL locker room; it would be uncomfortable because that’s a man’s world.”

Seeing as this has caused such uproar, let’s look to some who are currently representing their nation by playing in the league. Men who have been involved in domestic violence, murder, drunk driving, illegal drugs, prostitution, rape, and obstruction of justice are ‘welcome’ in the league, yet Michael Sam is being scrutinized? As Dale Hansen says, these men are WANTED in the league – they are accepted and are looked up to by many. So I ask, what is wrong with this picture? I do not understand how one can honestly believe being gay is WORSE than committing horrendous crimes – I am at a loss for words.

“You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.”

Ellen DeGeneres was inspired by Dale’s willingness to speak out and invited him to be a guest on her show to further spread his striking message to the public. Experiencing similar public backlash when sharing her sexual identity with her fans, she knows the importance of advocating for equal rights. Together they agree on one common objective – you do not need to be LGBTQ to advocate for equal rights, advocating is advocating. Either way, the message is powerful. It is also not expected for you to understand and feel comfortable with other’s identities that differ from your own – you do not live their life, however, they are a PART of your life. That being said, love and respect are reciprocal notions – you cannot expect to receive it, if you are not willing to give it!

Although our society has evolved over time – and some may argue we have made great progress – heterosexual relationships are still viewed to be the norm and ‘that’s just the way it is’. I find it extremely difficult to understand and refuse to accept the high value placed on success in our society, where this success is only attainable to those who fit the norm. Why should someone’s success be hindered based on their identity? Like Dale, I would like to believe there will be a day where differences will be celebrated, not segregated – success will not be determined by superficial perceptions of identity. However, I think our society has a long way to go to get there… We need to stop sitting down, ignoring the discrimination around us, and stand up – what are we waiting for?

“It is not our differences that divide us; it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde


Spoonful of Learning, with a Dash of Negativity.

I strongly believe that as future educators, we must always be mindful of what we say and how we act. In a school setting, we are constantly being observed by students, administrators, colleagues, families and community members – what do you want their opinion of you to resemble? I feel as though the saying “actions speak louder than words” rings true here. Our body language is a huge indicator of how we are feeling, whether we realize this or not. So I ask, with thirty pairs of little eyes staring at us on a daily basis, do we really want to portray to them constant negativity?

That being said, I am finding it hard to ignore the amount of negativity present in our teacher education program. Individuals are passing judgement and discriminating others based on their passion to learn. I struggle with this concept, as I would never discredit the opinions of my peers. I view their personal narratives as learning experiences and appreciate the ways in which they encourage me to think critically. Discrediting someone on these terms just does not make sense to me. As educators we are taught the importance of collaboration, and creating a classroom environment where all students feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions. This is where it becomes difficult for me to understand – why are we not embracing and practicing these values in our university classrooms?

It sounds trivial or childish to preach “treat others how you want to be treated” to adult learners who are working towards becoming professionals, yet I do not think we are reminded of this enough. The negativity individuals are expressing overtly and inovertly cause tension in the room that could be cut with a knife. It does not just affect one person’s experience, it affects everyone’s opportunity to learn. As educators, we want to see our students be successful in their lives – would we judge them negatively based on who they are? No. So why are pre-service teachers doing this to each other? The lack of respect and honouring differences I am seeing daily really makes me question whether or not all of our future students will be given the inclusive learning experience they deserve.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

This message is so important for future teachers – the way we treat others can affect them indefinitely. We need to make sure we do not spew words of hate, but rather words of love and encouragement. Individuals often internalize criticism or disrespect received from others. Those who are bullied may forgive the situation, but they will NEVER forget how the hurtful words used against them made them feel. We need to be the positive role models our students need us to be – admire those around you, be grateful to know each and every one of them, make life enjoyable for everyone – would we not want this for our students?

Becoming a leader does not occur at the moment you walk into your first classroom. It begins now, deep within yourself, by choosing to do the right thing


Spoonful of Learning, with a Dash of Negativity.

I strongly believe that as future educators, we must always be mindful of what we say and how we act. In a school setting, we are constantly being observed by students, administrators, colleagues, families and community members – what do you want their opinion of you to resemble? I feel as though the saying “actions speak louder than words” rings true here. Our body language is a huge indicator of how we are feeling, whether we realize this or not. So I ask, with thirty pairs of little eyes staring at us on a daily basis, do we really want to portray to them constant negativity?

That being said, I am finding it hard to ignore the amount of negativity present in our teacher education program. Individuals are passing judgement and discriminating others based on their passion to learn. I struggle with this concept, as I would never discredit the opinions of my peers. I view their personal narratives as learning experiences and appreciate the ways in which they encourage me to think critically. Discrediting someone on these terms just does not make sense to me. As educators we are taught the importance of collaboration, and creating a classroom environment where all students feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions. This is where it becomes difficult for me to understand – why are we not embracing and practicing these values in our university classrooms?

It sounds trivial or childish to preach “treat others how you want to be treated” to adult learners who are working towards becoming professionals, yet I do not think we are reminded of this enough. The negativity individuals are expressing overtly and inovertly cause tension in the room that could be cut with a knife. It does not just affect one person’s experience, it affects everyone’s opportunity to learn. As educators, we want to see our students be successful in their lives – would we judge them negatively based on who they are? No. So why are pre-service teachers doing this to each other? The lack of respect and honouring differences I am seeing daily really makes me question whether or not all of our future students will be given the inclusive learning experience they deserve.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

This message is so important for future teachers – the way we treat others can affect them indefinitely. We need to make sure we do not spew words of hate, but rather words of love and encouragement. Individuals often internalize criticism or disrespect received from others. Those who are bullied may forgive the situation, but they will NEVER forget how the hurtful words used against them made them feel. We need to be the positive role models our students need us to be – admire those around you, be grateful to know each and every one of them, make life enjoyable for everyone – would we not want this for our students?

Becoming a leader does not occur at the moment you walk into your first classroom. It begins now, deep within yourself, by choosing to do the right thing


We are all Treaty People.

“Now is the time for all people to come together and build a new relationship. If not, things could get a little awkward. After all, First Nations peoples are Canada’s fastest growing population and more than half of us now live in cities. It’s time to meet the neighbors.” (Wab Kinew, Indigenous in the City, 8th Fire – CBC Documentary)

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to engage in a lecture on Treaty Education with Moose Jaw teacher, Claire Kreuger. She shared with us her journey through a fairly challenging inquiry on Treaty Education, reminding us that despite any obstacles, we must never give up on teaching this topic. Through integration of technology in the classroom, her students created outstanding representations of their learning. The connections they made to their past, the present and their future really hit home for me, reminding me the importance of the relationships embedded in Treaty Education – we do not own the land, we SHARE it. Their words were inspiring, as one child claimed, “We need to own what we have done.” – a very powerful statement, for a child who was obviously not present at the signing of the treaties, yet is taking ownership for the actions of her ancestors. How can we move towards a peaceful future without mending damaged relationships?

My professor once shared her encounter with an elder where he asked: What do we do if we are studying oceans and we do not know something? We look it up. Why are we not doing this with Treaty Education?

As soon as culture is involved, it seems to automatically become a touchy subject. I often hear, ‘I don’t want to offend anyone by teaching it wrong” or “I don’t know anything about it”. As educators, we are not EXPERTS; we do not know everything there is to know about the world we live in. I believe that making mistakes alongside our students makes for authentic learning – showing our students that we too are vulnerable and learning something new everyday. That being said, our excuse should not be that we do not know anything about it. We should be realizing that making mistakes makes us human – our students will appreciate that and value the learning experiences they encounter through error.

In order to understand our place in society, we need to understand the agreements made through the treaties, as well as how we benefit from this today. We would not be living the life we have, on the land that provides us with so many opportunities if it were not for the treaties. This is valuable information that our students deserve to explore – it is part of their identity, and will be part of their future.

“As long as the sun shines, grass grows and river flows – we are all treaty people.”


Powerful Beyond Measure

Living the journey of becoming an educator is challenging. We are continuously pushed outside of our comfort zones and forced to explore our identity – our values, beliefs, opinions, goals. At a time when we often find ourselves feeling vulnerable, we must remind ourselves of one thing: why we are here.

I received an email from an individual whom I significantly admire, reminding me to continuously believe in who I am, and more importantly, who I am becoming. The message included a quote – inspiring:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Nelson Mandela


Speaking Out Speaks Volumes.

When scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed today, I came across a post that I found quite unsettling – why are people still using the ‘R’ word to insult or belittle others?

Powerful message from an inspiring man: “Being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honour. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”

“After Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a retard in a tweet during Monday night’s presidential debate, Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens wrote this open letter:

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven’t made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger & Special Olympics Virginia” (Sue Fitzmaurice, 2014).