Making Our School’s Learning Visible

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Our wall of effort has gone digital. Instead of posting the great efforts of our students on a wall by the cafeteria, we now proudly recognize them on our flatscreen. Using a digital media player, slides now rotate with names of students who have shown strong growth in reading and mathematics. We also celebrate the efforts of our students that have affected others through acts of kindness and service.

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So now we have this semi-barren wall. In the future, it will be drywalled so that it provides for a cleaner aesthetics. While several of our accolades adorn some of this space, there are several empty sections that could be displaying something important. I don’t know an educator that felt comfortable leaving a wall blank.

So what are your suggestions? Really, I don’t know what should go here. Here is what we have for ideas so far:

  • Take Donalyn Miller’s idea from Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and create a Reading Graffiti Board. The gold spaces you see in the middle would be covered with black paper. Then, students and staff members could use metallic markers to write their favorite quotes from books they have read or are currently reading.
  • Classrooms could print and post pictures of the students at work, creating a Visual Learning Mural. Parents often express their desire to see what is happening in school. Grades and assessment reports don’t provide the whole picture. And as we know, students are not always very good about articulating what they learned on a daily basis with their parents.
  • Our focus this year as a building is informational writing. Our expected outcome is for the vast majority of our students to produce at least one quality explanatory paragraph. What if this space was designated as a Writing Mastery Wall? Teachers would submit what they felt was exemplary writing to me, and I would attach that piece of student work to the wall with the student’s grade level noted. The purpose of this project would also posted on the wall. Teachers would be encouraged to refer to the Common Core State Standards and the district curriculum when they determined as a team what was worthy for the wall.

What are your thoughts? Do you think one of these ideas works best for our wall? What other ideas do you have? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

22 thoughts on “Making Our School’s Learning Visible”

  1. I really enjoy your posts and share them with my faculty. Thank you for your insights. One idea for your wall that I saw on a website was a “Wall of Wonder”. Students posed essential questions and students researched them at various times and added information to the wall.

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      1. In the blog post it mentioned that while it’s on display and available for comment to all who pass by, they designate Wednesdays to work on it – like a Genius Hour concept – it’s a motivator for all involved. The digital component you mention makes it easier to showcase outcomes.

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  2. Matt,
    Like Dana, I can envision each of your ideas having space on your wall providing a diverse, dynamic lens into learning at your school. Remembering your idea paint from an earlier post and wondering it might have a place here too?

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    1. I didn’t consider the Idea Paint, Lani. Thank you for jarring my memory. My teacher is using one of your recommended titles – The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Action Research – to help guide her inquiry with the Idea Paint in her classroom. I should check in with her!

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      1. Decoupage looks really cool. Thanks for sharing Jamie. With the district wanting to eventually drywall this surface, I am afraid some great work would be lost. My suggestion was about finding a temporary purpose for a temporary display.

        What are your thoughts, knowing this?

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      2. Knowing that eventually the wall will be drywalled I think your idea will be a great temporary fix. Any idea on a time line?

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  3. I love that you opening up this dialogue. Have you asked the students what they think? I love the process –I am a process person, but I think the steps you are taking will make it a part of your culture no matter which you choose. There will be ownership and purpose. Could you rotate ideas throughout the year? Clare

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    1. Great idea, Clare, about asking the students what they think. We have a student leadership group. In addition to getting student input on this project, they are working on a “Legacy Wall” – the students and advisors are toying with the idea of recording interviews with former Howe teachers, students, and community members. My school has a lot of history. We are considering using a digital tool like ThingLink to embed these stories from our school’s past into a current image of our building today. We are only in the preliminary stages on this, stay tuned.

      For this wall, we definitely could rotate ideas during the year. All ideas listed thus far are worthy. At this time, I am leaning toward a writing mastery wall. Our goal this year as a building is informational/explanatory writing. Classroom teachers are focused on each student writing a strong informational paragraph. After reading the first two articles by Grant Wiggins and Thomas Guskey in EL’s current issue (“Getting Students to Mastery”), I could see this wall being a celebration board for exemplary writing in our school. For a piece of writing to be considered “masterful”, to be considered for the wall, here are the ground rules I have considered:

      – No names on the writing posted. This will hopefully downplay peer competition. Only post the student’s grade level.
      – Include an explanation for this student work display, including the writing standard it addresses.
      – The entire grade level team has to agree that a paper is an exemplary piece. Teachers would refer to Common Core resources, team-created rubrics, and professional judgment.
      – Any work considered for the wall must have been produced by the student independently.

      I think the most powerful part of this project is the third rule. For teams of teachers to come to consensus about what exemplary writing looks like at their grade level, this will involve a lot of in-depth conversations and behind-the-scenes reflection. Instead of relying on just a rubric, teachers would consider what’s possible with their students, and compare that paradigm with what’s expected.

      It should be noted that Guskey differentiates between mastery goals and performance goals. Performance goals describe the students’ desire to make the grade, to achieve that “A”. Mastery goals are different in that the learner is striving for true understanding and master the material being taught (20). To me, the difference is motivation. It’s about extrinsic goals (the former) versus intrinsic goals (the latter).

      A long answer to a short question, Clare! I am pretty sure I went off on a tangent here, evident by the fact that this comment has a larger word count than my original post :). Thanks again for sharing your thinking.

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      1. It is a great idea – and a wonderful way to get teachers talking about authentic assessment. I kept thinking about student voice as I read your idea. I agree about not having their names, but am wondering if you could somehow capture a reflection for the student about the process of writing the piece – what they tried as a writer, what they feel they did well, what they intended their reader to experience… We are finding that getting the students voice in assessment is really powerful. You could also have other students respond to the writing –this blog post from The Two Writing Teachers could inspire some thoughts for you — http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/noticing-a-community/ I love the idea, but was left wondering about student voice… I don’t have an answer, but you have my thinking. You always push my thinking. Thank you
        Clare

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      2. Clare, you said:

        I kept thinking about student voice as I read your idea. I agree about not having their names, but am wondering if you could somehow capture a reflection for the student about the process of writing the piece – what they tried as a writer, what they feel they did well, what they intended their reader to experience… We are finding that getting the students voice in assessment is really powerful.

        I believe you are correct. Student voice is what is missing here. They aren’t a part of the assessment process. But they should be, because they will learn as much or more about quality writing when they reflect on their own work. Thank you for pointing this out. Your suggestions are really helpful. You have made an impact on our school, Clare!

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