As a teacher I gave up worrying about what I can’t change or control long ago. I focus on what is within my power to control or influence. And frankly, I believe there is a lot of room for me to make a difference in the lives of children. In my teaching life no one has ever said, “You must do THIS in exactly this way.” Don’t get me wrong, they HAVE said, “You must do this” but the how has been up to me.
So what’s a teacher to do when she or he is given a set of criteria created at the school, district, provincial, or territorial level and told to use it? Because we work as part of a team, because we honour our professional obligations, because we know it is a research-based practice… we use it. But it doesn’t stop there. Because we understand that criteria are most effective when co-constructed with the learners who will use it, we involve our students in the process.
In one school district a team of teachers and the math consultant created criteria for math problem solving. Along with the curriculum, this criteria describes quality and proficiency for teachers. We then use it to create a clear learning destination for our students, describing what they must know, understand, do, and articulate. Next we use samples to make this target clear to all. These samples may be student work from another year, a pair of students describing their solution during a math meeting or congress, or the teacher modelling his or her thinking (notice I said thinking, not steps or solution) during a problem solving demonstration. As the students observe, the teacher pauses periodically to ask, “What do you notice?” and records student responses, beginning the process of co-constructing the criteria in the students’ own language.
On our own or with members of our team, we connect the criteria co-constructed with the students to that we were given, looking for what may be missing, but more likely noting that students have noticed more than we ever would.
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