TLAC 2015 (Collaborative Learning in the Arts)

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Pablo Picasso

“Creativity takes courage. ”
Henri Matisse

TLAC (Trillium Lakelands Arts Camp) is only 4 days away. It brings together approximately 400 of our boards most creative grade 7-12 students and educators to learn and share our love of the arts for 6 days at Camp White Pine. This will be my sixth year attending and it always one of the highlights of my year. As a teacher I get to spend time learning from and with so many talented and wonderful students. I get to see first hand how the arts positively impacts so many of our students, staff and guest instructors. Watching these kids create spectacular pieces of visual art from their imaginations, learn to play and then present a number of pieces of music, develop complex dance routines, write and perform emotionally powerful spoken word poetry and choreograph/present a full music theatre number always leaves me humbled and in awe.

When the school year begins to weigh heavy upon my shoulder a trip to TLAC always revives my teaching spirit. While the artistic skill of these students leave me amazed and the expertise of the instructors always provide me with great ideas to take back to my own class, it is not the products of their work that inspires me. Rather it is the inclusive and positive energy they give. Their youthful enthusiasm is infectious. Their willingness to accept and support everyone is inspiring. From the moment they depart their buses they are ready to share this unique experience TOGETHER. It does not matter if you have never been to TLAC or don’t know anyone there, the positive ‘vibe’ brings everyone together.

In my mind it is what the ideal school should be. Student and adults learning from each other, following and sharing their passions/expertise and located on a beautiful piece of property where your 4 walls are the water, forest, sky and ground. I can’t wait to get there on Sunday…and I look forward to sharing a laugh with you all.



How I Run A No-Grades Classroom

no grades picture   by Mark Janke

Many people question how a no-grades classroom can work, how can a teacher run such a class and still complete report cards? What is important to remember is that there are many ways to run a no-grades classroom, this piece explain how I do it and how it has benefited my students.

First I do assign the students grades, they just don’t see them. just like every other teacher I have a mark book filled with numbers that attempt to represent my students learning. While I may not personally believe the number helps my students learn (in fact I find it a hindrance), I do ensure that I am doing what is expected of me as a teacher. In my class students are given marks/numerical grades whenever they ask for them. It just so happens no student has asked me for a grade since early October.

My classroom is built upon an inquiry based learning model with student/teacher created success criteria and teacher feedback (I continue to try to attempt more peer and self feedback). It is our belief that all students need to focus on how to improve their skills and develop pride in their work. This pride must come from inside, and not be based on a number assigned by a teacher or peer. Students tell me they love the freedom they enjoy to explore topics and areas of interest yet they also feel the burden of having to take more ownership over their own learning. They agree however that the occasional stress they feel with driving their own learning is far less than they felt when receiving numerical grades. The students explained to me that after seeing a numerical grade they were unlikely to read any comments.

As a class we focus on providing feedback on specific skills we deem to be important. We use the feedback rubric (posted below) as it provides success criteria for the assigned task, an easy to read/follow format and specific feedback on student/teacher created indicators. If a student receives feedback in concerns box it means they have not yet achieved the expectation (which would correspond to a level 1 or 2). If the expectation is highlighted or checked they met the expectations (level 3). If they receive feedback in the mastery box they have exceeded the expectation which would generally be a level 4. Using this method the students have a general idea how they are doing based on the location of the written feedback and the nature of it. And yet there is no grade, level or numerical assessment.

science epic fail pic

I have seen many of my students flourish using this tool and by eliminating numerical grades. Stress has decreased, focus on improving specific skills has increased which has resulted in improved work and greater confidence. I can’t imagine going back to the assigning of grades. That being said, I do record them and make them available to any student who wishes them.

If you would like to know more please feel free to ask.

All the best,


Make School Different: 5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending

I have very much enjoyed reading the diverse posts at #makeschooldifferent of late. I just can’t help adding my Top 5 to the virtual discourse, so here goes…

1. We need to stop pretending… to celebrate differences in our staff and students and actually embrace them. There are many educators trying to change the culture of the traditional school. This includes developing new types of relationships with students in an effort to promote the most positive and productive learning environment possible. Too many teachers, administrators and parents are afraid of change. In doing so they themselves become ‘barriers’ to creating a unique educational experience that every student deserves.

2. We need to stop pretending… that every student needs to be a vocal leader who loves school. In an effort to create a positive school environment and turn out ‘ good character robots,’ some teachers attempt to force all students to be ‘leaders.’ I am all for encouraging students to be kind, respectful, happy people. Not everyone has a bubbly personality or is interested in taking up the next great cause selected by the teacher. This does not make them a bad person.

3.  We need to stop pretending… that just because we call something an authentic learning task (or real world learning task) that it is. For example, when we ask our class to calculate the area of a back yard which is 10m by 14m, and have them figure out how much it would cost to build a fence, this is not an authentic learning task. Do we do this at home all of the time? The answer is no! If we were to go buy the materials and build the fence, we can then call it an authentic learning task.

4. We need to stop pretending… that learning needs to happen in a classroom with a teacher looking over a student’s shoulder. Depending on the grade level, teachers need to get out of the way and let students learning on their own. We should be there to assist them not micromanage them.  

5. We need to stop pretending… that the positives of grades and standardized testing outweigh the negatives. Simply…they don’t

Hope you enjoy or don’t enjoy my list. Either way, I hope it adds to the discussion.

I challenge all educators from TLDSB to share their Top 5.