Monday, 26 February 2018

Teaching for Student Success

What counts…
What matters…
What is important…

… in teaching for student success?

You can ask people who know me. They’ll tell you I don’t waste time playing in the shallow water. I go deep. But this question was one even I was afraid to ask. Until now.

A group of mentor teachers and I explored this question as a way to provide authentic and meaningful support to teachers new to the profession, while remaining true to our non-evaluative role. Modelling our process on what we would do with students, we began with the end in mind – not our opinion about what is important in effective teaching, but what our school district and ministry or department of education say on the topic. Because we were in Ontario, we used the 16 Competency Statements from the Teacher Performance Appraisal, but any document used in teacher evaluation will work.

After reviewing and discussing the pertinent documents, teams of teachers wrote “I can” statements about the grade or discipline they taught. As we engaged in the conversation, it became clear to us that the conversation itself was important. We need to talk about this as educators.

As ideas were recorded, we saw that just like in the learning destinations we write for students, we were not prescribing steps or isolated elements of teaching.  Rather, we were talking about big ideas that could be met in a variety of ways, honouring the individuality so critical to teaching.

Here are some examples of our first thinking:

With thanks from Ottawa Catholic School Board

Now, whether we are mentors talking with teachers at the beginning of their career, a team of Grade 2-3 teachers exploring the teaching of writing, the Math department in a high school, or a principal and a teacher talking about strengths and goals, we have something practical, positive, and possible to guide our work.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Joy of Giving

I have been experiencing the joy of giving in a heightened way these past few months and it is about more than Christmas. It is our practice at connect2learning to offer a gift, most often a book, as a way of expressing our deepest appreciation for the opportunity to work alongside teachers, schools, and systems. Since November 22nd, I’ve been giving  Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work, the book I co-authored with my friend and colleague, Karen Cross. On two occasions (so far!), I’ve actually been able to place it in the hands of a physical educator and say, “We wrote this for you.”

The joy is about more than sharing a new book I’m very proud of.  It’s about shouting from the rooftops that assessment is a topic that connects us - classroom teacher and specialist - and we have much to learn from each other. All too often, the perception, and sometimes the reality, has been that whole staff professional learning does not pertain to the physical educators in the building. With this book, in which we apply the big ideas, structures, and strategies of assessment in the service of learning to the teaching of physical education, we show that a focus on quality classroom assessment is an inclusionary professional learning practice that recognizes that  “We are all teaching children and adolescents to be responsible, contributing citizens. We are all interested in developing self-determining, lifelong learners.” (Augusta & Cross, p. 41) 

Together we can talk about:
·         identifying clear and meaningful learning destinations for students,
·         collecting evidence of learning from observations, conversations, and products,
·         describing quality through the gradual release of responsibility, using samples, and co-constructing criteria,
·         giving feedback that moves learning forward, and
·         involving students in self- and peer assessment.

While we’re at it, let’s include the music specialists, the visual arts teachers, the industrial arts educators, the drama teachers…

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


I got the call today.  The call that makes our manuscript a book… a reality that we can hold, turn the pages of, and wonder of wonders, invite others to read. Because my co-author Karen Cross and I live in the same city as the printer, and the offices of Connections Publishing are in Courtenay, BC, we will be the very first to hold our newly printed book. Even though it’s a one-person job, we will probably make the drive to pick up our box of books together because the writing was such an act of deep collaboration, it would feel wrong to go alone.  It’s a thrill that will only be surpassed by learning that it is in the hands of a physical educator or a school or system leader supporting the work of physical educators.
We describe our purpose in writing Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work in the preface of the book:
We are colleagues whose paths were interwoven for over ten years in our school district, and even though we no longer work together, we continue to think, talk, and write about our passion for education. We met as curriculum consultants, one for early years education, and one for physical education and health. Although the scope of our work was different, it quickly became obvious to us that we had much in common. As we worked and learned together, we discovered that, irrespective of our discipline:
·       teaching is teaching
·       learning is learning
·       kids are kids
·       effective practice is effective practice
·       and a classroom is a classroom, whatever the size.
More specifically, we realized that the principles of assessment for learning and the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) connected us as classroom teacher and specialist. It also became clear to us that not everyone saw it this way. This book describes how what some may think of as principles and structures for teaching “academics” only, apply to teaching physical education. In fact, to us, physical education is an “academic” subject. However, we do acknowledge that in physical education there are special circumstances—time constraints, the number of students, keeping kids active—and we address them all in this book.
Although there are two of us, we have chosen to write in the first person singular. We are of one voice in our beliefs and practices. Writing as “I” allows us to share our experiences, stories, and learning in a direct, personal, and passionate voice. (Brenda Augusta & Karen Cross, pp.13-14, 2017)
In short, as Maya Angelou wrote:
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
Stay tuned…I’ve got a very important errand to run.

Angelou, Maya. 1990. “The Human Family” in I Shall Not Be Moved. New York, NY: Random House.

Augusta, Brenda & Cross, Karen. 2017. Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

What's in a Writing Rubric?

In September Sandra Herbst and I did two writing institutes in Saskatchewan. One of our outcomes was to make connections to Saskatchewan’s Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) in the area of writing. Saskatchewan, like a number of other provinces, has a provincial writing assessment that includes rubrics describing what quality writing looks like at the end of each grade. Even though the rubrics are intended for use at the end of the year, we encouraged teachers to adapt them for use with their students right now, as the instructional year begins. Expectations from the provincial ministry or department of education in the form of rubrics contribute to our understanding of the learning destination in writing (or reading, mathematics…). Clearly identifying this learning destination, for our students, and ourselves, is what we mean by beginning with the end in mind. And so, in Saskatchewan, I might take the holistic rubric for Grade 7 ( pictured below and write “I can” statements based on levels 3 and 4 that the documents say describe meeting expectations.

In Grade 8 in Manitoba, I might take the language of the provincial writing competency rubric and write a learning destination based on the description for meeting expectations (because why would I show students anything less?) and made more explicit with language from the curriculum and my own understanding of the writing process. 

·      Student writes expository texts for a variety of audiences and purposes (to inform, describe, explain, persuade, state an opinion, etc.).
·      Ideas are on topic and well developed; organization of details supports reader’s
·      Word choices and sentence patterns have a definite impact on the reader.
·      Conventions are applied consistently; errors may exist but do not affect meaning or overall impact.

One possible learning destination for sharing with students:

In Grade 3 in Ontario, I might take the language of the provincial writing rubric (

Response has a clear focus, well-developed with sufficient specific and relevant ideas and supporting details. Organization is logical and coherent with effective links between ideas. Response has a thorough relationship to the assigned task.

and rewrite it as a learning destination, with details added from the provincial English Language Arts curriculum and my experience and knowledge as a writing teacher, that is specific enough to be meaningful to not only me, but my students as well.

Beginning with the end in mind, I am able to focus on my students and writing instruction that leads to the learning destination described by provincial rubrics and curricula. 
Making writing instruction work is no accident.