The Power of Goal Setting in Elementary Classrooms

Influenced by the work of John Hattie in his book Visible Learning, this year we moved our work on student goal setting forward.  The Calgary Board of Education was piloting their new IRIS platform in which we participated.  IRIS is a web-hosted platform where each student has their own page called “Understanding Myself as a Learner.”  Teachers were expected to work with students to support them in developing Learning Goals, Learning Strategies and Artifacts of Learning.  Through this work our goal was for students to understand themselves as a learner, own their learning, develop agency, and develop clarity about what they needed to learn, how they were going to learn it, and what it was going to look like when they learned it.

On April 8, 2013 a group of 9 students ranging from grade 3 to grade 6 gathered over lunch to share their experiences around work with Iris. Although we had a few questions in mind, the conversation was generative as students responded to each other.


Students articulated that the process of working in Iris helps them to see clearly what they could accomplish, and how they could accomplish their learning goals. Many students testified that Iris helps them to ‘remember (their) goals and keep working on them,’ and ‘set goals and then set next goals.’ Consistency of student voice around the way in which the organization of space not only supported initial goal writing, but also consistent re-thinking and adjusting of present goals to form ‘next’ goals was evident. While students were initially unsure as to whether they engaged in the goal setting/strategy thinking/understanding myself as a learner process prior to Iris, they realized they had been engaging in this work previously; however, Iris made it ‘easier’, ‘more simple’, ‘not too hard’ and ‘not messy.’ ‘It is easy to pull up and you don’t have to look through paper.’ The ‘layout is more organised’ and ‘helps us to progress’ and ‘see our timeline for achievement.’ Students were sure they were engaging in this work in the Iris space. Teacher support and presence in the work was consistently spoken of. When asked why they set goals, students responded with such comments as, ‘so you can accomplish them,’ ‘so you know what to do,’ so you don’t forget’ and ‘so things don’t get lost.’

IRIS When discussing artifacts, most students said they use them to show ‘how (they) are as learners’ and ‘what strengths and weaknesses’ they have.  ‘Say, if I show a Math test, it shows I am interested in Math and proud of my high marks.’ Some students didn’t feel they would/should show work they were not proud of, and one student believed it was not an artifact if it didn’t show you were ‘good at something.’ Further, student voice suggested that the artifact should be something that was important to a particular student and something the student was ‘proud of.’ Some students responded by saying that they might show an artifact that is ‘not good, but doing well in’ so that a teacher could help them. Students felt it was important to comment on why they chose particular artifacts, and how these particular artifacts connected to their goals, strategies and understanding of themselves as learners. Since students normally connect goals to strategies, one student suggested that a tab might be helpful to link the strategies to goals and avoid closing goals each time you want to add a strategy. On whether it might be valuable to group artifacts, some students shook their heads while others said maybe this would be a good idea to show work you were good at and work that you were not so good at, or to show a series of artifacts about the same topic as this might be helpful for a teacher. An album with several photos was suggested. Students wondered about the possibility of sharing artifacts that showed their ‘own stuff’ – photographs and videos from out of school activities. These artifacts could be separate – on the right hand side of the page. A conversation ensued around why students might share certain artifacts to illustrate who they are as learners.

IRISDuring our discussion on sharing, most students felt it was natural to share their learning plans with teachers since ‘they’ know how to ‘help you get better,’ and this sharing would only help them further. Teachers could see what you were struggling with and think of better ways to teach you. Students suggested that teachers should let students ‘think first,’ and one young man said that sharing the work with teachers could be difficult as teachers could move you away from a goal you were focusing on. This might ‘distract’ you – ‘flipping mind’ was a term used by one of the students. This space is ‘private’ to you. Most students thought it would be a good idea to share their work with their parents so that parents would know what they were doing in school. A number of students shook their heads quite profusely when the topic of sharing plans with friends came up, although one student thought it might be helpful as you would want to make it better if this was the case, and that friends could also help with strategies. Subsequently, a couple of students began to acknowledge this might be a good idea. However, parents would be more ‘trustable.’ Students said that they could just sit next to friends and parents if they chose to share work with them. A tab to enable the possibility of sharing particular items, or whole pages was discussed, and many students thought this would be a good idea to limit the sharing.

A couple of more technical questions/concerns were raised near the end of the conversation.  There had been some audio file ‘troubles’ with Garage Band, and students thought better instructions were needed for audio uploading. Some artifacts had disappeared, and there was a problem with the page moving up when students clicked the space bar. Students felt that 150 characters were too few to write what they needed to say and 450 might be more reasonable, and the capability of sizing photographs would be helpful. A couple of students said that occasionally a window pops up to say that iris can’t open at this time.’

Students were positive and excited about their work, and eager to share their learning before we left.

Authored by: Mandy Hambidge, Calgary Board of Education



Enhanced by Zemanta

Get the Most Out of Your Next Parent Teacher Interview; Tips for Success

Parent/Teacher/Child Interview

Parent/Teacher/Child Interview (Photo credit: Kathy Cassidy)

Parent teacher interviews can often be a time of extreme stress for teachers and parents.  Teachers are often concerned about what they will say to parents, how they will say it and how parents will respond.  Parents often dread hearing news from teachers that their children are not perforning well or about a myriad of other problems linked to their children.  Parent-teacher interviews are short (usually 15 minutes) and can leave both teachers and parents feeling a little stressed.

To support teachers and parents, one way around the traditional ” how is my child doing?, why are their marks low?, and they aren’t like this at home” interview is to plan and structure the conversation around the learning beliefs and practices of the school.

For example, one of the main focus areas over the past year in our school has been goal setting.  We have adopted goal setting as an effective learning strategy based on research.  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.

As Goal Setting has been a significant part of our daily work, structuring our parent teacher interview around goal setting seemed a perfect fit.

Together, with the amazing staff and collegiality at Erin Woods School, our discussions around using parent teacher interviews to support our work on student goals developed.  We created a protocol for the interview, for teachers to follow, to focus the interview around the critical essence of our goal setting focus.

Parent / Teacher Interview

Name:                                                                                   Date:


Purpose: The purpose of this Parent Teacher interview is to look at the term ahead and consider goals and areas of growth for the student.  Additionally, teachers and parents will define and articulate their planto support the learner.



         Right now in IRIS you have set the goal of :

How are you doing with that goal?

What is helping you to achieve that goal?

Are you still working on that goal or should we adjust or change it in any way?




How can parents help you?

How can teachers help you?

How can you help yourself?



           I have also identified this area of growth for you (on your report card or IPP):

I will be helping you by:

What ways will you be working on this goal?


With a structured conversation for the Parent Teacher Interview the following results are expected:

  • Teachers can plan and prepare for the conversation based on the purpose and the outline;
  • Students can be prepared to share the necessary information with their parents (no surprises);
  • Parents become partners in our work, rather than stand bys who we report to causing everyone to be focussing on our beliefs and direction;
  • In this particular protcol, the focus is forward looking, “here is what your child will be doing and here is how I will help.” Leaving parents with a sense of hope and achievement for the next term.
  • We have clear documentation of each parent teacher interview.

 With this process, we are noticing teachers looking forward to their parent interviews,  There is no ambiguity or surprises,  thus leaving teachers confident and prepared, and parents hopeful and happy with things to come. 



Enhanced by Zemanta

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?

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.


Four Ideal Student Assessments

For the past 2 years, the Calgary Board of Education has been working hard to actualize Personalized Learning.  At the Board, we believe Personalized Learning begins with engagement, is active and effortful, is assessment rich, is meta-cognitive and transformative.

As a Principal in the Board, my role is to develop understanding of each of these points, and put them into action.  As such, we have been working at our school to systematically do so.  Previously I posted ideas from our work on student engagement as much of our work this year has been focussed in this area.  It is impossible however to focus on one point, in exclusion of the others.  That is how student engagement has led us to assessment.

On the surface, an assessment rich learning environment seems simple enough.  However, what we are coming to understand about learning and the effects different types of assessment have on student learning are making things more complex.  We are now charged with using multiple forms of assessment, including Formative Assessment, Summative Assessment and Specialized Assessment.  The key we are finding is that one type of assessment cannot give us all we need.

“Assessment that works in the interests of children will enhance their ability to see and understand their learning for themselves, to judge it for themselves, and to act on their judgments.”

 –  Mary Jane Drummond

We must know what we want to assess, and have a tool-bag of assessment tools ready to use.  We must know which assessment tool, is most effective and will give us the information we are seeking.  We must know the ideal method and other possible methods.

Adapted by the Calgary Board of Education















When it comes to assessment there is no one size fits all but there are assessment tools that are better than others.

1.  Teacher Made Tests; ideal method for finding out what item knowledge a student holds.  I prefer to suggest this tool be used as  a pre-lesson or pre-unit.  Before a teacher starts planning or teaching, find out what knowledge the student holds.  Of course, a test of any kind only illicits the information it asks for.  What if the student holds knowledge about a topic but has nowhere to explain or demonstrate on a teacher made test?  That is where the combination of tools becomes critical.  One way gives on piece of information.  Although researchers feel Teacher Made Tests are the ideal method to assess student knowledge, I would counter that all the methods listed in this chart are necessary in order to find out all a student knows.

2.  Performance Tasks; ideal method for assessing understanding.  Understanding is what we are all about.  Not what does the student know, but how can they demonstrate their understanding?  Don’t tell me, show me!  Performance tasks are often under-utilized by teachers because they don’t know how to grade a play or a debate or a demonstration.  This is where knowing your outcomes and  your success indicators are necessary.

3.  Observation; the ideal method for assessing processing skills.  Finally, observation of students us being backed in a strong way.  The key here is for teachers to record what they see, record how students are processing and interacting with knowledge.

4. Self Assessment; ideal for assessing attitudes.  Ideal for asking students what they want to learn, how they want to learn it – what works for them, and how they will know if they have learned.  Self assessment enables students to understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.

A note about Feedback: as you can see, feedback is a strong assessment method in every area we assess.  It makes sense that if you are going to work to improve one area of your assessment practices, feedback would be it as you can use it repeatedly and across all forms of student learning.  What is effective feedback?  Read my previous post Feedback vs Feedforward to find out.

My challenge to teachers:

What I like about this chart is that it clearly lays out 12 assessment tools every teacher needs in their tool bag.  No matter how we do it, whether I test you, observe you, ask you to show me or ask you to self-assess, decide what tools you have, what tools are broken and need to be fixed, and what tools you don’t have at all.  Make it your purpose to know and use each one of these assessment tools.

Related Articles:

Feedback vs FeedForward (

Rethinking High Stakes Exams (


Rethinking High Stakes Exams

One has to ponder the question “why,” on many occasions.  A recent “why” has come to me this month as January is the mid-term point of the school year and most high schools are in the midst of exams that mark the end of term one.  “Finals” as they are called run for three weeks.  Three weeks of no classes, and no learning.  When we know better, why do we do this?  Why do we persist in this practice?

The ironic part is we know better.  We know that high stakes, final exams that provide no opportunity for feedback or further learning are not representative of a student’s knowledge or understanding, and do nothing to further a student’s knowledge or understanding which is arguably the point of school.

Students taking a test at the University of Vi...

Image via Wikipedia

An argument that is often launched for those who believe in and rely on final exams often goes something like this… “How will I know what they have learned, if I don’t give them an exam?  How will they prove that they have learned anything at all?”  To those, I offer up the following response:

  1.  Formative Evaluation – In his book Visible Learning by John Hattie, the effects of formative Evaluation were found to have a d = .90 or standard deviation of .90.  Hattie describes this effect size as, “…a 1.0 standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing student children’s achievement by two to three years, improving the rate of learning by 50%…” (pp 7 of Visible Learning).  Thus, formative evaluation strategies in the classroom would not only give teachers information about what a student knows, but work to increase a student’s rate of learning by almost 50%.
  2. Self-reported Grades d=1.44 where Cohen argues, “…an effect size of d=1.0 should be regarded as a large, blatantly obvious, and grossly perceptible difference…” (pp 8 Visible Learning).  Hattie found that even without tests, “…high school students have a reasonably accurate understanding of their level of achievement… This should questions the necessity of so many tests when students appear to already have much of the information the tests supposedly provide…” (pp 44 Visible Learning).
  3. Feedback (d=.73).  “When teachers seek, or at least are open to feedback from students as to what a student knows, what they understand….then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful.” (pp 173 Visible Learning)

When assuming the reason for a final exam is to find out what students know or best case what students have learned, my question back to a teacher would be “Why don’t you already know?”  I believe that if effective teaching and learning practices such as formative evaluation, self-reported grades and feedback are consistently and appropriately utilized by teachers, a final exam would simply provide them with a weak, irrelevant example of what they already know.

Hattie, John, Visible Learning A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge, 2009.

Are You Maximizing Formative Assessment? Feedback or Feedforward

Teacher talking to student at LSI

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we have been focussing on the notion of feedback vs feedforward.

We started by taking a look at Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Key Strategies.  In a nutshell:

1.  Know your learner;

2.  Feedback designed to move the learner forward;

3.  Everyone knows the success criteria;

4.  Peers Supporting Peers;

5.  Agency, students owning their learning.

From these 5 strategies we decided to begin understanding and processing them one by one with “Feedback” being the first one we tackled.

Dylan Wiliam has some wonderful podcasts on his website.  The podcasts are him presenting information; I find it very valuable to hear him speak directly.  You can check it out at: or if you just google Dylan Wiliam you will see links to podcasts and You-Tube.

Anyway, he identifies feedback in the following three ways:

1.  Data (which is not feedback, its just data).  This sounds like: “You got a “B” on your test.”  “I’m waiting for three more people to get their books out.”  It points out to the learner a specific piece of information.

2.  Thermometer (which is not feedback, its just a thermometer).  This sounds like: “Next time you will  get a “B” if you add more details.”  “You will be finished as soon as you get your title page done.”  It points out to the learner where they are now and where they need to be.

3.  Feedback System – which is FeedForward.  This includes what students need to do to improve and the VERY important HOW to go about it.  This FeedForward encourages the student and gives hope that they will do it and you will help.  This sounds like: “Now its time to do your title page; lets get the examples I showed earlier and decide which components you want to add to your title page.”  “I noticed on your planning sheet you listed many details about your main character; now we have to incorporate these details into your story. We will use your planning sheet to help us.”

All of this is based on the work of Dylan Wiliam.  Here is an other link that adds more information:

Now, because I work with teachers and other staff, I have been trying to take this information and apply it in the context of teacher development.  Right now what I am noticing works well for me is to phrase my feedback in the form of a question:

“How would you take the information you just told me about what you observed and apply it in your own classroom?”

“When you were observing Mrs. XX you noticed that she provides extra support and instruction to a few children during silent reading, when are the times in your day where you would have time to provide extra supports to students?”

I find with adult learners, and probably with many children as well, in the context of asking them to change their practice or do something different, just telling is simply that, just telling.  “You should work with XXX while the others are silent reading,” just doesn’t come across the same way!

Enhanced by Zemanta
  • Previous Posts

  • Goodreads

  • Blog Stats

    • 7,021 hits
  • Memberships

    Follow lorilynnrecullen on Twitter
    At the Principal's Office Find this blog in the education blogs directory