Learning on the Run

from Masters to Marathons

Improvement Science Part 3: Do–Study–Change–Grow

Although I’m not where I’m supposed to be in the process, I must say I am learning so much and growing in ways I never knew possible in the span of of two weeks. It’s exciting to have a vision and watch it bloom to fruition. It’s also been very humbling to watch it tumble and fall. I reevaluate, get student feedback, and change the plan. All in the name of learning, growing, and moving forward. It’s a beautiful thing.

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At this point in my Improvement Science Plan, I’m still in the “DO” section, though getting ready to dip my toes in the water of “Study” soon. My students are just finishing writing their personal narratives and we are preparing for peer editing within our classroom. I have taken some time to go over protocol and expectations with my students regarding giving and receiving feedback. I feel like at this age, to just say “Ok, guys…edit,” there are too many versions of what that looks like. To some students, it means splattering the paper with “Good Job!” and other very vague and unhelpful comments, or merely correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation, but not going beyond with substantive suggestions for improvement. We have had some really good conversations regarding what kind of feedback would be helpful. How can we help someone grow as a writer, while still being polite and courteous? It has been interesting to see what they have to say.

In addition, I have given students the ability to edit one of my own Personal Narrative stories. I feel like if I am asking them to go through the motions of writing and putting oneself out there for commentary, that I should do the same and in doing so, begin valuable conversations regarding feedback. It is funny, because some are hesitant to give “the teacher” feedback. I laughed and asked them why. “Because it just feels weird to tell you how to do it, Ms Var. You teach us!” I pointed out that many times this week, they have been giving me feedback on using technology, how to make the process run smoother and what they would like to see more of. I pointed out that we are all in this together. That’s what a learning community is; being there to guide one another and also being there to catch one another when we fall. That’s what learning is all about. Just in this one area, we are all growing in leaps and bounds, as our learning community has opened its arms to envelope us all as one cohesive unit.

Here’s a brief recap of what’s been going on:

  • We got onto Google Docs/Google Classroom! Hello technology, goodbye deforestation
  • Students are drafting their narratives. I’ve found that a mini lesson on a key element of the narrative process followed by about 30 minutes of writing is just perfect. More than 30 minutes and they get wiggly. But for those minutes, I’m proud of the focus, effort and excitement that fills the room as they draft and create.
  • Parent letters went home regarding our process and the hope that parents/guardians will chime in soon, once students feel their drafts are at a place where they are ready for other eyes and invite them in
  • We are setting parameters for how to edit, based on my prior research regarding the three key elements of good feedback: 1) what students are doing well on, 2)what they should aim to improve and 3) clear guidelines for making that improvement/ Next Steps.
  • We are using sample writing- teacher samples and Springboard samples- and practicing editing and assessing them using the rubric
  • Students are providing feedback in the way of Google Forms regarding the process
  • Students were introduced to Padlet as a means of reflecting on what they consider quality narrative examples in their own writing.


  • We are heading into peer editing starting on Tuesday and then we will look to inviting parents/outsiders in.
  • Additional surveys are in the works. I want student feedback on the peer editing process in terms of how helpful it was, and in addition, parent feedback once we have them in on the journey.

As you can see, although I’m not at a place where it’s time to fully “Study” yet, I’m working up to it.

One piece of advice that really resonated at the time and has stuck with me all week, came from Rianne, in my Critical Friends group, when I expressed potential problems with students being willing or even able to get parental feedback. Originally, that was my key change idea- to bring in parents/guardians as a means of opening up the lines of communication and invite parents, who often feel out of the loop, in. Some students are on board with it and seem excited, with comments like,”My mom loves to read my writing!” Other students have displayed major reluctancy and even fear. Some say they have no “parents” or guardians who would be willing or able to look at their writing. One student, a new boy who just came to our school a week ago, told me he lives at the Interim home and had no one. This was a major reality check for me. I know students lived varied lives, and had some plans in place to work around it, but this just put it into clear perspective for me.  Rianne’s comment from Monday night’s class echoed through my head, “Do you have to have parents in this?” and suggested I potentially look at other ways around this. She suggested a “parent swap” and both members of my group suggested other ways I could readjust to meet the needs of my students. It’s funny, because I think that this sums up teaching in one fell swoop. We make a plan with our best intentions in mind, but sometimes on the way to a plan, we get lost and find a better one.


In this case, student voice and choice, which we know the magnitude of in an innovative, caring learning environment, became the next fork in the road I will follow. In this week’s research, I looked more deeply into the notion of voice and choice. According to Joshua Block, in Student Choice Leads to Student Voice, choice can come in small decisions too. It’s the notion that student voices matter in the learning process, and that that is what education is about when learners feel they have flexibility, voice and thus, passion in their work. When it comes to my change plan, maybe in this respect it’s not about the plan, but the absence of the plan that matters. Sometimes we need to take to the road with a map in hand  to get us “there” and other times, we need, in the spirit of a Pirate, to sail into waters without a map or definitive direction, in search of the treasure chest. Maybe being able to surrender to the unknown IS the treasure.

In terms of research this week, I can’t help but go back to the Innovator’s Mindset, which has become my bible for change. Here are some quotes that really resonate with me with regard to my change plan. George Couros says, “Technology invites us to move from engaged to empowered,”(2015).  I know that my students are engaged in their writing, but I want to empower them to go beyond the boundaries and parameters I originally set forth and allow them to decide where to sail and with whom to do so. Additionally, he states,  that “Technology gives us the power to accelerate , amplify and even recreate learning,” (Couros, 2015). I am definitely seeing the power of technology already with regard to the writing process in our classroom, my ability to get and give immediate feedback, and the nature of reflection that comes with much more ease than ever before. With that, my plan has taken another turn. What if I just let kids decide who their outside editor will be? It won’t hurt me any, and for sure it can only help them in improving their writing to seek guidance from someone they know, trust and care about to give them what they need in order to be successful. Maybe that is Mom. Maybe that’s Grandma or Uncle. Maybe that’s their older sibling. Maybe it’s their friend from another team. Maybe,  it’s me…

An additional article regarding choice, entitled Driving Instruction: Giving Students the Wheel, brought up other  important food for thought. It states that after giving students the ability to make choices, to ask them to reflect on the decisions that they made and ask themselves some key questions regarding their own growth. “Make sure that after a choice activity has been completed, students have the opportunity to reflect on the growth and the decisions they made: “Did their choice display their best abilities? Did they put forth their best effort or were they off task? Did they accomplish the learning objective?” (Lehmann & Weimer, 2016).  By giving students a chance to reflect on their choice opportunity, it promotes independence in middle school students, works to improve their self esteem, allows them to view the nature of the classroom as a collaborative one where students and teachers alike are both drivers in the classroom, and perhaps most importantly, sets the stage for students to become and remain life-long learners who feel confident in themselves (Lehmann & Weimer, 2016). This truly is the ultimate goal of schools, teaching and learning. To guide our students so that they may become life long learners who are not afraid to charter their own course, take the helm, and see where the winds of change take them on their educational and career journeys.

So, in that line of thinking, I am leaving the door open to see what happens this week. My plan keeps changing, but I’m hoping that by being open to change, it will only be for the better- Change for good!


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