Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is a dynamic, learner-centred process  that enhances both teacher pedagogy and student learning. Formative assessment—often referred to as “assessment for learning”—is a powerful method for improving student learning. It is a process that takes place continuously during the course of learning to determine where the students need to go, where they are in the “developmental corridor” of their learning, and how best to get there (Heritage, 2010). Formative assessments make students’ thinking visible when they help students answer three questions: Where am I going? Where am I now? and How can I close the gap? (Chappuis, 2005). Feedback that helps learners move forward is central to formative assessment. The strategies described here can foster student involvement in the formative assessment process (Heritage, 2010; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2004). Where am I going? Students need to know what learning outcomes they will need to achieve. Marzano (2005) notes that students who can identify what they are learning significantly perform better than those who cannot. Strategy 1: Determine learning outcomes and define criteria for success Before the lesson(s) begin, teachers share with the students learning outcomes and success criteria. They provide students the learning outcomes in language they can understand (Chappuis, 2015). For example, when introducing a reading comprehension unit which requires inference, they might say, “We are learning to infer. This means we are learning to make reasonable guesses on the basis of clues.” Or they may provide students with a written list of learning outcomes described in student-friendly language, such as: We are learning about fractions and decimals. We are learning to: (a) read and write fractions with halves,... read more
Building High Performance Teams

Building High Performance Teams

Teamwork makes the dream work. – John C. Maxwell Leaders often pose the question, “What is the best way to organise staff members to achieve high achievement outcomes?” Effective leaders build high performance teams when there is need for coordination or innovation. Success or failure of a project is not attributed to the sum of each individual’s efforts, but rather to the aligned efforts of the team (Hiebert & Klatt, 2001). Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results (attributed to the entrepreneur, Andrew Carnegie). Teams are distinguished by their sense of interdependence. They achieve common goals by discussing, deciding and doing work together. Effective teams need the confluence of skills in three fundamental competency areas to operate effectively (Hiebert & Klatt, 2001): Get the job done and produce results Plan well. Set and achieve goals. Share accountability. Make decisions and recommendations. Communicate well with stakeholders. Monitor and control results. Key statement: “We do these things to get results…” Use quality thinking Strive for intellectual effectiveness. Use optimal process tools. See multiple perspectives and assumptions. Analyse, innovate, synthesise. Reach agreement and closure. Challenge each other. Key statement: “We think…” Take care of interpersonal needs Understand social needs of team. Give each other mutual support. Strive for synergy. Honour differences. Be trusting and open. Deal with conflict and search for win-win decisions. Key statement: “We feel…” On the other hand, dysfunctional teams generate negative experiences, including problems with ineffective communication, poor planning and organisation, and problem team members who are unwilling to do their fair share of the work. Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model (2002) offers... read more
Inspiring and Building Trust

Inspiring and Building Trust

Trust is the ’emotional glue’ that binds leaders and followers together.(Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 153) Trust presents a paradox in that it needs to be earned, but in order to be earned, it first has to be given. Covey (1992, p. 31) depicts trust as an emotional “bank account” in which people make deposits and withdrawals with one another. Trust, once broken, however is seldom restored. Trusting someone is like “holding a cup of water in your cupped hands—it [is] so easy to spill the water, and you [can] never get it back” (Follett, 2000, p. 230). To obtain trust, the best way to get model behaviour is to model the behaviour. Defining trust and implications for leadership practice The construct, trust, can be defined as the extent to which one engages a relationship and is willing to be vulnerable (willing to risk) to another based on communication and confidence that the latter possesses the qualities of care, character, and competence (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Combs, Harris, & Edmonson, 2013; Tschannen-Moran, 2014a). Principal leadership is a crucial contributor to trust among teachers, parents and students (Bryk & Schneider, 2003). Effective principals set the tone for their school (Tschannen-Moran, 2014b). They communicate care by expressing concern for others’ wellbeing, placing others’ best interests at heart, and protecting others’ interests and rights. They demonstrate character in the decisions they make for students and teachers on a day to day basis. Their honesty, integrity, and authenticity are all dimensions of relational trust (Covey, 2006). As competent leaders, they reveal their learner-centred mindsets, always working to improve their practice and supporting others. They can... read more
A More Beautiful Question: Elevating Thinking Among Gifted Learners

A More Beautiful Question: Elevating Thinking Among Gifted Learners

Always the beautiful answerwho asks a more beautiful question. – E. E. Cummings While higher-order thinking processes are effective for all learners, research in the education of gifted students shows that the power of inquiry is crucial for promoting their learning (VanTassel-Baska & Brown,  2007). Effective questioning as a deliberate strategy enhances gifted learners’ thinking, provides the means for exploring novel possibilities and meaning making, and challenges them to learn about their world in more rich and complex ways (VanTassel-Baska, 2014). The abilities and attributes of gifted learners, outlined below, indicate that they understand the potent appeal of questioning that challenges their thinking: Highly inquisitive and curious (Clark, 2013; Renzulli et al., 2002; Rotigel, 2003)  Abstract and conceptual thinkers (Feldhusen, 1986; VanTassel-Baska, 1989) Outstanding ability to solve problems in diverse ways (Clark, 2013; Kanevsky et al., 1994) An unusual capacity to integrate and synthesise information or skills (Kanevsky et al., 1994) Greater metacognitive ability (Barfurth et al., 2009; Davis et al., 2011). Thus, asking thoughtful, rigorous questions is critical to engage gifted learners and elevate their thinking. There are many useful questioning models such as Guilford’s Model (1967), Maker Model (1982), Williams Model (1986) and Paul’s Reasoning Model (1992). I shall discuss three questioning frameworks below that range from hierarchical to more divergent approaches for engaging gifted learners: revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, three levels of feedback (Hattie, 2012), and “Describe/Disrupt the Territory” framework (Dyer et al., 2011). The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2000) uses a hierarchical approach and is commonly used for framing questions from lower to higher-order levels. Gifted learners should be challenged with higher-order questions and learning tasks. Refer to Table 1 which contains a few suggested action... read more
Maximising School and System Leadership: A Conversation with Professor Michael Fullan

Maximising School and System Leadership: A Conversation with Professor Michael Fullan

We need leaderpreneurs and teacherpreneurs who innovate learning in partnership with students. – Manoj Chandra Handa Michael Fullan is Professor Emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, Canada. Professor Fullan is recognised as a worldwide authority on educational reform. During his Australia tour conducting a series of workshops on “Maximising Leadership for Change”, Professor Fullan generously conversed with me (formerly, I served as Chief Education Officer, New South Wales Department of Education and Communities) about maximising school and system leadership. Engaging with the thought leader was a great learning experience for me. Here are some excerpts with Professor Fullan’s insights:    Key drivers of system reform               MCH: Based on your rich experience with successful systems around the world, what do you believe are the key drivers of meaningful whole system reform?               Fullan: The work we’ve been doing around the world with different systems is all embedded in the system trying to improve itself. It’s not us just observing it. It’s us participating in the improvement process and the key drivers. When you put them together as a cluster, in addition to focusing on a small number of ambitious goals, the drivers themselves are capacity building, i.e., how you build up the skills and competencies of teachers and principals. A second driver is social capital. We call it so because you don’t just depend on individuals being strong. You want the entire group to be strong. Pedagogy, as the third driver in deep and structural practice, is tied to assessment of learning and improvement of learning. And the fourth driver is something we call “systemness”.... read more
Synectics: Creative Connection-Making

Synectics: Creative Connection-Making

 One must still have creative chaos in oneselfto be able to give birth to a dancing star.– Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900) Synectics has been described by its creator, William J. J. Gordon, as “the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements” (Gordon, 1961, p.5). The term Synectics, from the Greek “syn” and “ektos”, refers to the fusion of diverse ideas (Nolan, 2003, p. 25). The process of Synectics is a “metaphor/analogy-based technique for bringing different elements together in a search for new ideas or solutions” (Starko, 2010, p. 151). This creative connection-making process has been used by businesses and research organisations, and has been the inspiration behind the ideas for Pringles potato chips, magnesium-impregnated bandages, disposable nappies, the space-saver Kleenex box, and a host of other innovations. Working with gifted learners, I found this strategy to be very effective because the students relished the potent power of bringing contraries together to conjure new meanings. The basic processes of Synectics are “making the strange familiar” and “making the familiar strange” (Prince, 1968, p. 4). Although inventors most often engage in “making the familiar strange”, students benefit more from “making the strange familiar” (Gordon, 1973, p. 11). These two processes are facilitated through the creation of various types of analogies. Here are the steps for using Synectics to foster creative mindsets: Step 1: Students explore the given situation, task, or problem. They create direct analogies, select one, and explore it in greater depth. Direct analogies are the simplest types of comparison in which similarities between two ideas are examined. In a direct analogy, individuals look for parallels between one idea, object or situation,... read more
Student Voice – ‘What Makes a Truly Great Teacher?’

Student Voice – ‘What Makes a Truly Great Teacher?’

 A great teacher affects eternity:she/he can never tell where her/his influence stops.~ Adapted from Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907 Gifted students are the lighthouses for their teachers in the classroom. As beacons of light, they shine brightly in the learning landscape. When the teachers engage with their students in an ongoing and authentic dialogue, the little Zen masters give honest and open feedback, and light the paths that their teachers traverse. Engaging with student voice is necessary “if we are to realise the democratic, pedagogical, and social aims of education in the twenty first century” (Mockler & Groundwater-Smith, 2015, p. 5). I believe that teachers, school leaders, and system leaders need to engage gifted students in inquiry and school transformation as pedagogical partners. Let me commence this year’s reflections with student voice. One of my past students, Nathan Wong, a highly gifted Year 12 English student – whom I taught at James Ruse Agricultural High School, a selective co-educational school in Sydney – had shared his musings into what makes a truly great teacher. I reproduce Nathan’s article here – initially published in the newsletter, Gifted Learning, that I used to produce for the school community. I hope you enjoy reading this gifted thinker’s perceptive insights. *** What truly makes a ‘gifted and talented’ student? What are the defining qualities of such successful learners? How do they achieve so highly? These are age-old questions which the education profession continues to contemplate. But from a student’s perspective, there is perhaps a more important not-so-old (pun intended!) question to be considered. What are the qualities that truly make a great teacher, indeed, a ‘gifted and talented’ teacher? What do students today really... read more
Leading Change: A Change Equation

Leading Change: A Change Equation

“We must be the changewe wish to see in the world.”– Mahatma Gandhi Leadership, at its core, is about leading change. The question is how we can attain sustainable, quality change in schools. The following change equation presents a framework for leading institutional reforms that endure. Sustainable Change = Big picture   x   Buy-in   x   Skills & tools   x   Manage risks   x   Action Equation variable Actions to take in this area 1. Big picture Develop a shared vision that you can explain in five minutes or less. Always communicate the change in a wider context. Answer the question “Why?” and address the fit with the organisational direction. Use metaphors, stories, and examples to illustrate; people need a good illustration to understand the change. Prepare an interdependency analysis; often, change has many interlinking systems, which can disrupt change. Find and tap synergies with other initiatives in the school. 2. Buy-in           The best way to gain the acceptance of others is by involving them early and often. Communicate, communicate: Why? What? and How? Use multiple channels of communication: formal and informal; and ask for feedback. Prepare a stakeholder map, as each group sees it. Ensure people understand the effects and benefits of the proposed change. Build and organise allies early; often, support is only asked at the action phase. Recognise and thank people for their support when you get it. 3. Skills and tools     Always build collective capacity of the whole staff team in the school. Understand that productivity often initially drops just when you want gains. Ensure that your change is user-friendly. Do not overlook the skills that... read more
Creative Habits of Mind

Creative Habits of Mind

We may accept finite limitations of logic, but we must never lose faith in the infinite possibilities that stem from developing creative habits of mind.~ Manoj Chandra Handa Creative habits of mind   Creative people demonstrate some habits of mind that, taken together, form the acronym CREATE: Curiosity Risk-taking Embracing paradox and ambiguity Attentiveness and adaptability Thinking bigger Experimenting and problem-solving (Chandra Handa, 2012, 2014) Curiosity Creative practitioners demonstrate an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. It is the ability to question oneself and others; the relentless pursuit of knowledge and truth; learning to ask better questions; and the ability to solve the most challenging problems by keeping an open mind (Fisk, 2011). Risk-taking or “creative courage” Risk-taking enables one to try new things. It is about having the courage to stumble, fail, and, after rejection, try again. The psychologist Rollo May (1975) calls it “creative courage” which is finding, through imagination, what is possible. The creative artists and scientists unsettle what is. Creative writers are well known for their creative courage. Risk-taking is the willingness to try difficult things and expose oneself to failure or criticism. It is a trait that teachers can observe when high levels of aspiration are sought after and tried out by a student. It involves feeling as well as doing; making guesses as well as taking chances (Williams, 1972). Embracing paradox and ambiguity Creative practitioners are willing to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. They seek ambiguity in everything they explore – in the learning of students, in product composition, in ways of thinking and more. They explore possibilities by asking questions to which there... read more
Motivation Strategies for Parents

Motivation Strategies for Parents

Positive parent-child relationships form an important background for academic motivation. Letting the children know that their parents think school is important and providing recognition for their effort and successes can motivate learning. Brown (2009), Martin (2003), Rimm (2007), and Siegle (2013) offer the following advice for instilling academic motivation among children: Encourage positive family relationships and responsibility Provide reasonable structure to help children become independent and responsible. Teach the child to be responsible at home by assigning chores and maintaining expectations for proper behaviour. Self-discipline at home can transfer to school-related learning. Take time to engage in fun-filled activities with the child individually and as a family. Have regular conversations with your child and provide time to listen to his or her interests and concerns. Praise the child for both trying hard and for being successful (Brown, 2009). Model the importance of learning Plan family activities that encourage learning, such as visits to the library, museums and parks. Let the child know that learning is important and is one of the key purposes of school. Let the child see that the parents read books, newspapers, and magazines. Talk about what they read. Talk with the child about school and show an interest in what goes on at school (Brown, 2009). Teach habits that encourage learning Have a set routine for schoolwork. The child should know when he or she is expected to work on schoolwork each day. Set up a place to study when the child has the needed supplies and as much quiet as necessary. Help the child learn to manage time. Make sure the child finishes schoolwork at... read more

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Music has seven letters, writing has twenty six notes.
Let us compose a symphony of thought community together.

– Manoj Chandra Handa