I came to teaching in the Ontario education sector as a second career. As a specialist in pre and postnatal fitness I learned about differentiation and personalization in a truly authentic way. It was common to have a range of participant profiles in my aquatic fitness classes. Some participants were 3 months pregnant; others were 8 months pregnant. Some participants were talented swimmers; others never wanted to venture out of the shallow end. They all had one thing in common – establishing a healthy lifestyle for their unborn child and for themselves. My role was to meet their unique needs!
Fast forward to my first teaching assignment in grades 7 and 8. I brought my passion and commitment for differentiation to this new role. I believed it was my duty to meet the needs of all learners. I taught several subjects to a homeroom class and, on a rotary basis, taught six other classes. Over 200 students were under my care and supervision!
I’m not embarrassed to tell you I felt overwhelmed at times (actually, most of the time!) I struggled to get to know the learning needs of all students, to design tasks that challenged each student, to monitor and track their learning and then to give personalized feedback. In those early years, I know I did the best I could but it wasn’t enough. I needed help!
Help came by being my own catalyst of change. I wanted to be a more effective and more efficient educator. Through an intentional, personal decision to explore the power of assessment for learning, I changed the way I viewed my role and my relationship with students (Reflecting Back: Moving Forward – Enacting AfL means changing the roles of educators and students – Part 1). I saw students as valuable human resources and assets for our learning community. It became my new mission to orchestrate the learning environment and involve each student (and that included parents) into the assessment process. I no longer felt it was my sole responsibility to teach but to help students learn how to learn for themselves – to become independent and autonomous learners.
Looking back now, I can name this intentional move as creating a multiplier effect*. It simply wasn’t possible to focus deeply on the learning of this student, and that student, and the next student and … on it went! This additive thinking was, and continues to be, overwhelming! But if I could involve students in the assessment process by collaboratively developing their understanding of learning goals and success criteria then it wasn’t just me who had a concept of what success looked like – every student in the class could engage in the discussion! This multiplicative thinking meant I no longer had to be the only one who was able to give feedback and support improving student work. I no longer had to push, pull or nudge students (alright – I still had to nudge students sometimes!). I could now witness learning over time by working alongside each student.
One last thought, and a call to action! Earlier blog posts have highlighted the importance of identifying, sharing and clarifying learning goals and developing accompanying success criteria. Why? Investing time in these two assessment/instructional strategies is foundational to multiplicative thinking. Talk to a colleague or two about how learning goals and success criteria might help in monitoring and tracking learning – more importantly, witnessing learning over time!
We would love to start a conversation with you…why not share your thinking with us in the comment box below?
*Wiseman, L., Allen, L., Foster, E. (2013). The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.