Tag Archives: FAAR

Thus – Strive to be one (TBT Remix)

What if we narrow the space between them and us? Let’s strive to become thus – the intersection between them and us.  How often do we point out our differences when we should be pointing out our connections?

  • Math vs. and Science,
  • Faculty vs. and Admin,
  • Academic vs. and Co-Curricular,
  • Teacher vs. and Student, etc.

I believe we have more commonalities than differences.

Imagine what it might be like to be thus,
to dwell in the intersection…

It has me wondering what actions we might take to move closer to being thus.

If we want integrated studies with more learning-centered classrooms, what is the next step? If it is about learning rather than teaching, how do we learn? What actions do we take? How do we become…


Thus – Strive to be one was originally posted on November 19, 2012.

Thus – Strive to be one

In 2013, should it be them and us? Let’s strive to become thus – the intersection between them and us.  How often do we point out our differences when we should be pointing out our connections?

  • Math vs. and Science,
  • Faculty vs. and Admin,
  • Academic vs. and Co-Curricular,
  • Teacher vs. and Student, etc.

I believe we have more commonalities than differences.

Imagine what it might be like to be thus,
to dwell in the intersection…

It has me wondering what actions we might take to move closer to being thus.

If we want integrated studies with more learning-centered classrooms, what is the next step? If it is about learning rather than teaching, how do we learn? What actions do we take? How do we be…


FAAR – No longer a single story…

From Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.”  

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

How do we celebrate the strengths and contributions of each individual?  How do we show that we are not a single story, but a collection of stories that create the anthology of who we are now?  How do we convey that the story is not complete, that it is a work in progress?  That there are many choices and crossroads ahead? That we have control of the choices and pace?

Our Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan offers us the opportunity to collect informing feedback from different points of view.  This is an opportunity to have our work, leading, and learning represented by multiple perspectives.  It decreases the danger of a single story.

I, the assessed, have the opportunity to garner feedback from my peers, my students, my “managers,” and myself.  I have the responsibility and the opportunity to process and summarize this data for myself and share with my team of critical friends and my admin.  I am challenged and empowered to ask questions about my work, thinking, and learning.  I am offered opportunities to calibrate my understanding and view of my work with others who witness and experience it.  I contribute to my story as do my students, my colleagues, and other community members.

I wonder how we can translate this into a formative assessment plan for our young learners.  Where do they have a voice in the assessment of their learning and growth?  Do we offer opportunities to reflect and revise?…to problem-find and problem-solve?  Do I offer my learners the opportunity to have a voice in their feedback and assessment? Do I offer choice in their assessment? Having my voice and choice represented is a critically important component of my professional learning plan.  If it is good and important for me, wouldn’t it be good and important for my learners?

Chimamanda Adichie concludes her talk with:

“I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

We strive for learners to have multiple representations of ideas and concepts.  Do we also help ourselves and others have multiple representations of who we are and can become?

Collaborative Learning through Peer Observation

While we need to continue working with some of our learners on the essentials from first semester, we must begin the necessary work to learn the essentials of second semester too.  DD and I took about 30 minutes right after homeroom this morning to discuss the upcoming unit on exponential functions.  We actually over planned and had to back down from our original conversation to make time for our learners to have group work time to finish analyzing and correcting their December exam.

We decided that I would come team teach our collaboratively planned lesson during 7th period.  As it turns out, I actually had the opportunity to observe, participate, and reflect instead of team teaching.  It was incredibly valuable to me as a learner.  I knew the plan and had the opportunity to observe the lesson.  I could listen to the learners discuss their thinking and questions.  I could observe and take note of the successful inquiry method DD used to facilitate the discussion while her learners took charge and “drove” the experience.

Here is a copy of our email exchange during the day:

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:02:49 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Cc: BA
Subject: Intro to Exponents Lesson


Thank you for helping me think through this lesson and helping me teach it today; I thought it went well.  The kids were more engaged than usual.  Attached is the Notebook document.


From: Jill Gough
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:16:51 -0500
To: DD
Cc: BA, BC, WB, SM
Subject: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, DD!  I loved your inquired based lesson on exponents today.  Your willingness and ability to let the learners lead the lesson is amazing!

You started with a think-pair-share to offer your learners an opportunity to reflect what they already knew about exponents.  We heard “I’m a genius” a lot, but was the tone sarcastic, confident, or some of each?  You then let groups share out what they knew which created that “dinner table conversation” in your classroom.  A+; you know how I love that. Their struggle to communicate because of a lack of vocabulary drove home the point that they needed a common language.  I love how you got them to tell you the vocab rather than telling them what they’ve forgotten. I thought your follow-up questions and prompting were excellent.

I loved that you recorded what each student said and then revised it with them when revision was needed.  Again, brava.

Then, you asked for a vote:  True or False?  Is –3^2 = (-3)^2.  And the results showed 7-True and 7-False.  Split right down the middle…interesting (and expected)!  You then challenged your learners to “prove” it and offered them two GREAT hints!  I love that you encouraged them to work in a group to “hash it out”, and you said that you learned something about Google today.  [FL] picked right up on the Google hint and used it as her justification.  [FL] also used the Googled information to explain why the answer was false.  It was fantastic that when you prompted your high schooler, who was working in isolation, to choose me as his partner, [CC] turned to him and offered to convince him that her group had the correct answer.  [CC]’s confidence to go to the SMARTBoard and use order of operations was so GREAT!  The longer she talked, the more students listened…and asked questions!  It was a GREAT “tangible moment of success” for [CC].

Then, you asked a deeper question which again caused amazing conversation between your learners…you asked them to evaluate x^2 when x = -4.  A GREAT formative assessment question to check for understanding while “leveling up.” Wasn’t it interesting that all of the boys thought the answer was –16 and all but one girl thought the answer was 16?  Your reiteration of “use order of operations” was perfect.

Finally, you asked another T/F:  Is –2^3 = (-2)^3.  While you asked for a vote, you didn’t bother to record the vote (they all had the right answer), because it was more important to ask why?  Show me why it is true.  And getting them to make a rule…GREAT idea.  You worked on their numeracy, fluency, and vocabulary with one problem.

The atmosphere and tone of your class was very comfortable and collaborative.  Students appeared confident and comfortable asking questions and saying that they need help.

Thank you for letting me join in the fun!

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:22:25 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Re: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, you’re fast.  I didn’t realize all of that was accomplished.  Thank you for the email.  I am writing up lesson notes for future because just looking at the notebook document was not very helpful.

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 14:42:10 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Lesson Notes

I wrote today’s lesson up, so I could use it next year.  Will you see if I left anything out?

Here is an incomplete list of what I learned:

  • We are smarter than me.” The lesson we developed together was better than the lesson I planned in isolation.
  • Given enough wait time and a series of good leading questions, our students will recall and teach the vocabulary and the theory.
  • Student engagement is high when their questions drive the lesson.  DD’s delivery “covered” what we planned, but the children determined the order.  Their questions demonstrated their readiness to learn.
  • Recording what they say – even when not completely correct – and revising it in with them as the conversation improves the ideas and notes is awesome.
  • I should have captured snippets of the class with my video camera.
    • I was very impressed with CC’s confidence and leadership.  I regret not having captured it on video as evidence of her good work.  Don’t you think her Grade Chair and parents would love to see her in action in algebra?
    • FL also had impressive moments that should have been captured on video.  Her use of technology to determine the correct answer to the T/F question was good, but her description of how she learned was excellent!

Who are/were the learners during this peer observation?  What is the value of having a peer observe your lesson?  It is just difficult to “see” all that happens while you are facilitating a lesson.  What is the value of being the observer of a lesson?  Can you see the learning that occurred during this brief visit?

Peer observation….it’s about learning.

FAAR – Connecting Peer Observations to Learning for Life

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations. We also have a new Learning for Life vision statement.  With his permission, I am publishing my peer observation of my friend and colleague, BC.  As I reviewed my notes taken during his class, I realized that he, in this one lesson,  seized the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century by promoting all six essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement.


Focus of the observation (if any) and class context:

Algebra I team’s lesson study on Phases of the Moon.

Teaching methods and practices observed (strength-based)/Indicators of student learning.

  •   Integrated Studies
  •   Project-based Learning
  •   Learning Spaces
  •   Teachers working in teams
  •   Assessment and feedback
  •   Content that connects us to the larger world and the world to us.

Assessment and feedback, Teachers working in team, Project-based learning
BC uses inquiry to engage our learners in the context of the lesson.  He solicits prior knowledge to have learners take an active role in driving the lesson.

Integrated studies, Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us
CB used multi-media, a video from the History Channel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXseTWTZlks), to confirm the students’ prior knowledge and introduce necessary vocabulary not discussed by the students.

Teachers working in teams
In the face of no network access, BC calmly transitioned to the team’s Plan B.  Rather than using  the resources for Phases of the Moon on our Google Site, he used a Keynote presentation.  This modeled for our learners that we continue to learn; we do not stop because “we have no Internet.”

Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us, Learning spaces
While the students did not leave the classroom, they definitely utilized spaces.  The students used their MacBooks to find answers and questions concerning the moon.  CB addressed visual and kinesthetic learning styles by having the learners graph the illumination of the moon over the days of a month.

[Note:  Video evidence inserted here.¹  ]

Some questions to consider:

Did you like teaching graph interpretation this way?
How can we have more classes like this?
Where do we turn for more resources to find integrate lessons that engage our students and connect their learning to many disciplines?

What did I observe that I would like to incorporate into my own teaching/Other notes:

This is an awkward question since we built the lesson together.  We observed each other; we all went to DD’s class as a team.  DD and I went to BC’s class while WB was teaching Algebra II.  It is difficult to say what I would like to incorporate since we observed, learned, and tweaked the lesson as it was delivered to all Algebra I learners.


Our new technology made this observation a richer experience from my team.  I used my iPhone (forgot my Flip camera) to collect video snippets of examples so that we could review and analyze what happened during class.  I used my MacBook with Pages to import the video into my notes in class during the observation.  My team and I had my raw notes from the observation right after class.  (See my raw notes from the observation at the end of this post.)

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?

  • How does technology help us learn?
  • Is it “good enough” to do things the way we’ve always done them?
  • Do our learners need different than what we need?
  • How are we practicing?
  • What one thing could you explore, experiment with, and practice that would blend learning?

Our challenge as learners is to learn by doing, to practice new techniques, to use technology do things better, and to make connections.  The video artifacts in this observation allowed us to “view” parts of the lesson over and over.  The video doesn’t just make the observation different; it makes it better.  We have the opportunity to see what we might otherwise have missed.  We have “replay” to continue to question and observe.

As a learner, I had the opportunity to blend my learning.  I observed a colleague deliver a common lesson designed by our team.  I practiced with technology by integrating the use of video into my note taking.  While I don’t have as many written notes, the video tells the story is a way that my written notes could never tell.  As a team, we have evidence that we are taking steps to transform our traditional classes in order to align learning with our vision.  We had the opportunity to learn together as we revised and refined the lesson between “shows.”


¹  School policy prevents me from showing you the video of the learning that occurred during this lesson. [Awaiting permission.]

“What can we do” versus “What we can’t do”

Are we teaching our learners to focus on what they can do or what they cannot do?  Are our assessments and our feedback geared toward bright spots?

If you have not read Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, stop now and at least read the blog post Switch, Don’t Solve Problems—Copy Success.  This blog post has an exclusive excerpt from Switch.  Read the story of Jerry Sternin.  Read about the community’s results.

The two strong quotes in this story, for me, are

“Knowledge does not change behavior.”

“Sternin said that the moms were “acting their way into a new way of thinking.” Most important, it was their change, something that arose from the local wisdom of the village. Sternin’s role was only to help them see that they could do it, that they could conquer malnutrition on their own.”

How are we helping our learners grow?  Are we giving them knowledge or are we helping them act their way into a new way of thinking?

Do we think about and discuss what can’t be done?  Do we act and focus on what can be done?

Let’s do something!  When in doubt, do more of what is working.  Find the bright spots.  Do.

Feedback and Learning for All Involved: Peer Observations – FAAR

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations.  There are several ways this can be accomplished.  In its simplest form, we are to observe two of our colleagues – one in our department and one not in our department – and write a strength-based observation.  There are many points to this strand of our formative assessment plan.  Peer observations offer us the opportunity to learn from each other and to learn more about each other and our craft.

I was lucky enough to be observed teaching learners Algebra I by nine of my peers.  Seven of my colleagues completed the strength-based observation form to provide me with written feedback.  The observation process happens in different ways.  I asked GJ, MC, JA, and JG to observe my class of learners hiding in plain sight.  TM, FY, and TK asked if they could come observe me.  BC, DD and I work as a team.  We teach the same course; we are in each other’s classes all of the time.  We plan and learn together to help all of our learners.

There are many opinions and reactions to the peer observation process from my colleagues:

  • If it is only strength-based, will I learn anything from the observation?
  • Is the learning for the observed teacher or the observing teacher?
  • Who should submit the observation to the principal?
  • How will I have time to do the observation and then write it up?
I have asked for and been given permission from my colleagues to publish their feedback and observations.  I value the feedback of my colleagues.  I read and reread these observations to improve and learn.  I share them with you so that you can decide if these observations are valuable learning experiences for the teachers involved.  Did I learn?  Did the observing teacher learn?
MC serves as the 8th grade boys’ grade chair, and he teaches algebra.  I felt that I was struggling with my 7th period class and asked Mark to observe and advise.
GJ teaches 8th grade science, and we have many learners in common.  I asked him to observe for the same reasons.  There was the added benefit that we each learned something that connected our courses.

JA has a global view of Westminster as an alum, a faculty member, and a parent.

TM is new to Westminster this school year.

FY co-facilitates our History PLC.  We work in team at least once a week where we discuss learning, assessment, and curriculum.

TK is a former math teacher now working in our library.

Mark took the time to sit with me and debrief his observations and feedback during one of our planning periods.  Gary and I discuss our common learners and our curriculum regularly during our 4th period PLC.

  • Did will I learn anything from these observations? What about learning for the observed teacher or the observing teacher?
  • Is there any reason to not submit these observations to the principal?

Feedback and Learning for Me: Student Course Feedback – FAAR

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we survey our learners and provide them with an opportunity to offer us feedback on our course.

The process is pretty simple; we are to follow a 3-6-12 plan. We must select a minimum of 3 prompts from a bank of approximately 40 collaboratively produced prompts.  We must have a minimum of 6 prompts and a maximum of 12.  While 3 prompts must come from our bank, the remaining 3-9 prompts may come from the bank or be designed by the teacher.

To collect feedback from my Algebra I learners, I used a Google doc form to ask for feedback from my learners.  You are welcome to look at and experiment with a copy of my Algebra I Course Feedback – JGough 2011.  Feel free to experience the form from the perspective of my learners.  Play.  It is a copy; you won’t mess up my collected data.

Here are a couple of reoccurring questions:  Are 13-14 year-olds capable of giving quality feedback?  Will we learn anything from collecting feedback from the perspective of these young learners?  I’ll leave it up to you to answer these questions.

Below are the responses from 34/35 of my learners.  The remaining learner has been absent for a couple of days and has not completed the survey.

Algebra I Student Course Feedback, 2010-11

My Reflection and Summary

Well?  I’d love to know what you think.  Are 13-14 year-olds capable of giving quality feedback?  Will we learn anything from collecting feedback from the perspective of these young learners?

Reflecting from aFAAR

In the Junior High, tis the season of conducting Student Course Feedback and, for some, it seems, completing Peer Visits – two of the five components of our Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) process. Additionally, a third component of our formative assessment plan – Admin Observation – has been occurring all year. After seeing the note “re-review and process Synergy 8 SCF” on our respective to-do lists for months, Bo Adams and I have finally spent five meetings of second period reviewing and reflecting on our Synergy 8 student course feedback (SCF). Not only did we re-review the feedback to reconsider how things went during the first-semester course, but we also revisited the data in May so that we could pre-plan more effectively for the next iteration of Synergy 8. As we returned to the SCF and discussed the results, we remembered connections in the data that linked to things we read in our peer visit summaries and admin observation notes. We were reminded that student course feedback does not exist by itself. The components of our FAAR process are not intended to be isolated, siloed pieces of professional learning. They can be wonderfully integrated and whole. Also, they are not intended to be summative or evaluative – they are not judgmental pieces of professional evaluation. They are meant to be formative…lenses through which we can view our teaching and learning so as to grow and develop as educators…so that we can adjust our course.

What’s more, by reviewing and reflecting together, we enhanced our field of view and gained richer understanding from the blend of each other’s varied perspectives and reactions. During each of the five periods that we engaged in this collaborative work, we would independently review the data and write to the prompts on the narrative summary tool (“option #2”) for reflecting on one’s SCF – one reflective prompt at a time. Then, we would read and discuss each other’s responses. While this took more time than working through the reflection alone, we both believe we benefitted immensely from the writing, sharing, and dialoguing. We missed things in our individual reflections, but very little fell through any cracks by canvassing the feedback as a team of critical friends.

To share our system of feedback, we decided to use an online, cloud-storage, sharing tool called “Box.” By using Box, we could design some simple webdocs that literally show and archive the connections among the feedback and reflections. Box has a number of great features, including the ability to tag documents and post comments. To view our Box-stored system of feedback, please visit the “Synergy 8 – FAAR” folder.

Soon, our next collective endeavor will be to prepare our 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment (a fourth component of FAAR). Because we co-facilitate Synergy 8, we intend to employ the critical friends process again as we continue to prepare for our next team of Synergy learners. The manner in which we reviewed and reflected on our system of feedback has set up and primed our ability and enthusiasm to enhance the Synergy experience for the upcoming school year.

In addition to our course-specific questions, we are also engaged in thinking about some critical learning questions for ourselves and our FAAR process (and they may be good questions for you, too):

  • Can you learn more deeply reviewing feedback with a colleague? How can we assist each other in learning more deeply?
  • How can we build a common understanding of the needs of our learners? How can we find a richer understanding of ourselves as teammates and co-facilitators?
  • Do you have a team of critical friends? What feedback are you collecting and considering so that you can grow?
  • Would you learn more by sharing the results of your feedback with another for reflection and co-interpretation? How will we grow and learn together if we are not sharing our struggles and our successes?
  • What have we learned from this process that we can facilitate for our younger learners next semester? How can we model and implement a richer reflection and critical friends system as part of the course?
Note: This post is cross-posted at Bo Adams’s It’s About Learning.