How To Make Sure Your Students Are Learning

As the school year began, I ordered two books with the intent of learning and implementing practices designed to Enhance Professional Practice.  Charlotte Danielson has written a couple of editions of The Handbook for Enhancing Professional Practice and these were the books I would guide my learning with.

Cover of "Enhancing Professional Practice...

Cover via Amazon

As I started into the the first book, it began with Evidence of Teaching.  Danielson believes three sources of information comprise evidence of teaching: observation, conversation, and artifacts.  She goes on to describe each of these sources and how they contribute to evidence of teaching,

As I read the chapter, I could not help but think about using this framework in a different way;



Over the past year, as a school staff we have worked to understand Formative Assessment.  We have looked at the components and values and worked on ways to use Formative Assessment in the classroom.

Using the framework created by Danielson, it was clear that evidence of teaching, could also be used to describe evidence of learning through formative assessment.

That is,

Evidence of Learning is comprised of Observation, Conversation, and Artifacts.


Together with the amazing staff at Erin Woods School and AISI Learning Leader Angie F., we then worked to understand each of these sources.  We sat together as a staff and talked about each of these sources of evidence and what they looked like in the elementary classroom.

OBSERVATION – while observing students engaged in meaningful tasks, look for:

  • Are they staying on topic?
  • Is re-teaching required?
  • Do you often re-direct?
  • Can they extend further? Or in a different way?
  • Should you provide resources?
  • Are they using prev. learned skills? Or personal connections?
  • Do they demonstrate understanding?

CONVERSATION – as you talk to students about there learning, listen for:

  • Do they use specific content vocabulary?
  • Are the students asking relevant questions?
  • Can they explain why?
  • Expressions/language demonstrates understanding.
  • Can they express connections to previous or

personal knowledge?

  • Are they expressing additional interests or viewpoints

about the topic?

ARTIFACTS – as you collect documents or student work, look for:

  • Compare to rubrics.
  • Did they know and meet criteria?
  • Demonstrate understanding
  • Is re-teaching required? for who? for what?
  • Did they edit/fix up based on feedback?

To support our thinking, a visual was created with the above information.

As we developed our understanding of the three sources of data, it became evident that in order to make a thorough, well-rounded assessment of a students progress all three sources or data are required.  Simply using one or two of the sources is not truly sufficient to fully understand the learner and assess progress.

As we move along in our professional development in this area remains:

What will we do with all of this data we have collected?

What do you do with all the data you collect?

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How to Increase Student Achievement Through Goal Setting

Hockey is a simple game really with one ultimate goal: put the puck in the net more times than the opposing team does.  Everyone knows the goal, everyone helps get to the goal, and everyone knows when the goal has been achieved.  The tricky part is in the strategies; many great coaches and hockey-minds have developed hundreds of different strategies to reach the goal.  There is no one right definitive way, in fact there are many factors that good coaches will take into consideration before choosing the right strategy.  No strategy works with all people all the time.

So is the game of education.  There is one ultimate goal, or is there?  Last time I checked I found numerous different curriculum areas, each with dozens of goals, that changed every year.  How is any one every to know the goal?

With the shift over the past several years to including formative assessment, student goal setting has been found to be highly effective in supporting students in academic achievement.  In  his book Visible Learning (p. 164) John Hattie summarizes that the right kind of student goal setting can have a positive affect on student learning;

“… goals inform individuals as to what type or level of performance is to be attained so that they can direct and evaluate their actions and efforts accordingly.” pp.164

Student goal setting works best when the parent, the teacher and the student work together to develop goals.  Thought is given as to:

  • where the student is currently functioning;
  • what level of achievement would challenge the student;
  • who would support the student in what way;
  • when progress toward the goal would be tracked or monitored.

Once this information is recorded, it is now up to the teacher to create learning opportunities, design lessons, and engage students in tasks that will support them in reaching their goal.  After all, if a student goal is to add descriptive vocabulary to their writing assignment, teachers must create opportunities for the student to learn, practice and develop these skills.

Empty Net

Empty Net (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In turn, this becomes the essence of Teacher Goal Setting.

The work of the teacher is to support the student in achieving their goals.  However, the strategies a teacher uses; the learning opportunities, lesson design, and tasks must do this.  To set goals designed to support students, teachers must:

  • Know their learners; where are they currently functioning and what is their learning goal?;
  • What data will I collect along the way to ensure the teaching strategies I am using are supporting my students in achieving their goals?;
  • In what ways will I analyze the data, and adjust my strategies?

The answers to these questions then forms the deep work of the Teacher Professional Learning Communities.  When teacher goals are tied to student learning, we will see an increase in student achievement.

As you set your teaching goals for yourself this year, ask yourself,

“Is the work I am doing going to directly support my students in putting the puck in the net?”

If not, maybe its time to shift.


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