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Thursday, March 15, 2018

How do you evaluate your teaching/learning program?

Providing students with an opportunity to assess their SEL skills and abilities introduces the language of emotional intelligence and gives students and the class goals to reach for. 
For many, standardized scores are the single most important indicator of an education program's success. While I do think there is some merit in this scores, it's important to recognize that they only tell a small fraction of a child's educational experience and success. So in addition to scores what else helps you to evaluate a program's success and needs?

Knowledge Begets Knowledge
The scores, in part, help us to determine the foundation knowledge students have gained to date. We can quickly look at score reports and know who has a strong foundation of knowledge in the determined standards, and who is still working to gain that knowledge. Concerted effort that includes knowing the standards, teaching the standards in meaning way ways, evaluating our success as we move along, and providing needed supports help us to get good scores with regard to tests and growth.

Less standardized measures such as project work, discussions, observation, and reflections also help us to understand children's knowledge attainment and need.

Happiness
Scores alone don't tell the whole story of student success and potential. Happiness is another critical factor. Do students want to come to school? Are they happy and engaged when they are there? We can observe this by the smiles on children's faces and the way they talk about and engage in school. We can also survey students about their happiness levels at school, and work to uplift areas where students are not as happy. Parents often help us to evaluate happiness as they are typically quick to let us know if a child is unhappy, and then we work together to make change.

Application, Adaptation, and Creativity
How do we know that students are using their knowledge in ways that matter? How can we assess their application of that knowledge into their everyday life and future dreams? This can be done through project/problem based learning and performances. Providing opportunities for students to adapt and create related to the information they've learned gives students terrific practice in the kinds of thinking and efforts that will matter most in their future, a future in a rapidly changing world.

Learning Experiences
Positive learning experiences bring students together and help them learn in memorable ways. It's important to embed a fair number of these experiences into the year to broaden students' scope and provide them with shared learning events that they can talk about and replicate later on. When schools work to provide a good variety of wonderful learning experiences, these experiences serve to inspire students.

Social-Emotional Learning/Emotional Intelligence/Community Building
We know that knowledge, experiences, happiness, and application are important, but probably most important is students ability to related to one another, collaborate, and get along. To identify the main criteria for healthy social-emotional learning and living is a first step, and then to embed multiple opportunities for students to deepen and strengthen these skills gives students essential skills and knowledge for success.

Reflection
Providing time for students to think on their own and together with classmates, family members, and educators gives students a chance to strengthen and direct their learning.

Professional Learning, Assessment, Collaboration, and Goal Setting
When educators continually learn and collaborate, the program grows in positive ways. This leads to good assessments, goal setting, and further growth.

As we move into Portfolio Day 2018, I will be thinking about the overall success of our fifth grade program. As I assess that now, I have the following responses and questions:

Knowledge
Students have been introduced to numerous standards in a variety of ways. A choppy year due to illness and weather has lessened our time on task by about 10 days which is significant in a 180-day school year. Further the numbers of students have complicated our efforts to reach out in significant ways to every student--we're doing our best, but it's more ideal to have lower student-teacher ratios in elementary classrooms in order to serve every child well. Plus there have been some staffing challenges with respect to time-of-hires, turnover, and other factors which has compromised some of our efforts. We have good resources, experienced educators, adequate facilities, and a positive overall program, so our greatest challenge at this time is a positive student-teacher ratio and access to optimal staffing schedules, patterns, and appointments.

Happiness
In general almost every child comes to school every day and almost every child is happy--when bouts of unhappiness appear, we're on it sooner than later making positive change.

Application, Adaptation, and Creativity
We have a large number of project/problem and performance learning events that give students an opportunity to apply, adapt, and create related to their learning. Further, most of our learning activities involve choice, and this choice invites students to apply, adapt, and create.

Learning Experiences
Via field experiences, expert visitors, cultural enrichment events, student share, service learning, PTO sponsored events, community activities, and enrichment opportunities, there are countless wonderful learning experiences available to students, experiences which enrich their learning and inspire their future dreams and activity.

Social Emotional Learning/Emotional Intelligence/Community Building
We have put a lot of emphasis on these areas of learning including class meetings, reflection, discussion, conflict resolution, celebration, and specific attention to these topics during teaching/learning events.

Reflection
Our showcase portfolio and family-student-teacher conference efforts provide lots of opportunity for reflection to lead learning and teaching efforts.

Professional Learning, Assessment, Collaboration, and Goal Setting
Our team regularly learns, assesses what we do, collaborate, set goals, and adjust those goals as needed. Typically during the summer, we take a thoughtful look at the entire year's program and develop that program in ways that matter.

All in all as I evaluate the program, I would say that we're doing a good job. There's always room for improvement and it seems that that improvement will come from re-looking at staffing in terms of roles, time, and numbers, reviewing optimal student-teacher ratios to make sure we have the kind of ratio that provides every student with needed support, and tweaking the details related to the efforts above to continually improve what we can do.