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



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Be A Better Principal Through Collegiality

Who Was Your Teacher Today? Teachers Learning From Teachers.

I recently shared a TwitPic I had found online.  To my surprise (sort of) the picture resulted in about 40 retweets and 30 new followers.  For me, this amount of response is unusually high so the picture obviously struck a chord.notes

As you can see, the picture depicts what looks like high school students taking pictures of information on the screen.  It is titled Note Taking in 2012 which leads us to believe and imply that students are using their own devices (BRING YOUR OWN DEVICE BYOD) to take pictures of notes rather than using the paper pencil method.

The twitter post resulted in some interesting comments:

@lorilynnecullen No BYOD policy & no phones in class in my district. Post notes on my website & use remind101 for my 6th graders & families.

I only have one response to this, “WHY?”  When students use their own devices to communicate, find information, and store information what  we are essentially telling them in schools that ban BYOD is, “We are not going to be efficient and current and engage you in ways of thinking and learning that you automatically and intuitively use outside of the classroom.”  Schools are supposed to be current, relevant and engaging so why are you banning BYOD?  I’m glad @ChristinaMLuce is making the best of it and doing what she can.

@lorilynnecullen any other form of note taking is a complete waste of time.

I like this.  Life is too short for long hand.  We can gather and store static information in an instant.  What are you using your classroom time for?

Stephen Turner ‏@SteveT_AU @lorilynnecullen Great, but even quicker would just be getting digital copy straight to device. Taking pic of board is pretty analogue…

@SteveT_AU should work for the district that has banned BYOD.  He obviously has a strong understanding of efficiency and using  classroom time as efficiently as possible.

R.T. Chidiac ‏@RChids@lorilynnecullen one more way to differentiate instruction also builds capacity for the ethical use of technology #edchat #edtech


I love twitter most for this reason; educators analyzing, understanding and describing authentic practice.  I would love to see this picture as the answer to “Show me one way you differentiate for students who struggle with written output.”  Also, @R.T.Chidiac could influence the No BYOD district with his point here about ethical use.
Michael Dushel ‏@MichaelDushel@lorilynnecullen Better would be for the teacher to email it or EVEN better would be to build the notes together in shared electronic form
Shelly Vee ‏@raspberryberet3 @MichaelDushel @lorilynnecullen this is awesome butI agree Michael; more effective if build notes together to #constructknowledge

I love how @MichaelDushel replied to the picture and as he was replying took his understanding of constructing knowledge together even one step further.  He makes a great point, that if this is a picture of a teacher writing or delivering information to students who listen, surely we can do better by constructing and creating understanding together.

The above are examples of critical dialogue amongst teachers that improves practice.  As Michael Fullan states:

For teachers to improve their practice they learn best from other teachers provided that these teachers are also working on improvement. These exchanges are thus purposeful, and based on evidence.

Thank you to my colleagues for creating purposeful dialogue and exchanges designed to improve our thinking and our practice.  Where would we be without each other?

Everything You Need to Know About Blogging In the Classroom

Guest Post by Blogger Jon Patry

You can visit Jon’s blog at and follow him on twitter @jtpatry

Since January, the students in the classroom have had the opportunity to begin using a Web 2.0 application Kidblog to create their own blog within a larger classroom established platform.

It is always unnerving to use new applications and tools to engage the learner, as often enough there are going to be questions that can’t be answered immediately.  We as teachers need to start realizing, that we aren’t always going to have the answers, and more often enough a student might be the black box holder.

Using a blog in the classroom can have many purposes and ultimately it is up to the teacher of how they want to create the experience for the students.  In our classroom, the blog is used for written expression and communication.  There isn’t a particular curricular focus for the blog, other then it is our classroom and students sharing.

What is published and posted on the blog is up to the teacher, as the content list is endless.  The blog is flexible and the teacher can use the platform for sharing showcasing, collaborating, creating, questing and informing.  Or simply put:

collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

The teachers role begins with conversations with the students about what a blog is (great youtube video by CommonCraft “Blogs in Plain English”).  This resource helped opened up the conversations about what makes/creates a good blog, what makes a good post, how should we ask questions, and what types of information should we include.  Promoting digital citizenship was also a huge component to working within this unique digital space.  The role of the teacher is unique in the digital community as you get to facilitate the conversations or get the wheels moving, and then sit back and watch the conversations unfold.

English: Students working at computers at Wald...

English: Students working at computers at Walden School in Louisville. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We began to post assignments and webquests on the blog as a means for students to work at school and at home.  With the assignments posted on the blog, information was posted for all to see (parents and students).  Webquests were caged to provide a foundation for students to work from.  Questions and web links were posted to get the thought juices flowing, and students had the option to use just the information posted or venture out on his/her own and seek more information.  Time frame for task completion is flexible, but with the Internet made available 24/7/365, students have access anytime at home and school.

Now you are hooked, interested and you want to start a classroom blog!  Blogging is becoming a great tool to use in the classroom.  It is great to jump in and try this wonderful experience, but as a teacher you want to become comfortable with using the application itself.  First and foremost, before you dive in and get your kids blogging, you must insure that you have followed protocol and filled out the appropriate documentation.  Ask yourself the question

What is your purpose of the blog in the classroom?

There isn’t a one-size-fits all purpose for blogging in the classroom and it really is a unique experience for those who use it to communicate with the world.  Is your blog’s purpose to:communicate with parents, publish student work in a portfolio, daily journal, communication tool with students from across the globe (this year we were talking to students from Russia to New Jersey).

Here are some other suggestions to help:

Platform Selection

There are many great platforms to choose from in the blogging world, but you need to select a platform that is going to best suit your students needs.  Safety and security are also two important areas of concern from both the home front and the board. and are two sites that put students needs and concerns first.

Establish Guidelines

Most of these parameters are going to be established when filling out the Web 2.0 PIA document that is highly recommended to fill out. Many boards require such documentation to be filled out in regards to what type of information you are posting.  Some other questions to consider:

  1. Will the blog be public or private?
  2. What protocols are you going to have in place for commenting on the blog?
  3. Are you going to read all of your students blog posts and comments before they are published?
  4. How are you going to deal with inappropriate conduct on the blog?

Inform the Parents

This is a pretty important and vital step to your blog.  Most parents are going to be supportive about blogging, and in fact some might already dabble in the experience.  Often enough though many parents are misinformed about what a blog is.  This is why it is important to have your purpose clear and laid out to explain to the parental group.

Final Thoughts

Blogs in the classroom is a great medium for students to communicate and express ideas when the need for written expression is required or desired.  The blog itself becomes a personalized form of written expression for all students in the classroom.  This is especially important for those students whom are more hesitant to speak in the class or have verbal communications skills.  The blogging experience has been a positive experience this year and one that utilized technology in a purposeful and meaningful manner, and an experience that will be repeated in the fall.

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