This article was written by Diane Stultz, Senior Director of Powerful Practices at Battelle for Kids. With nearly 40 years of experience working as a teacher, instructional coach, consultant, and professional development strategist, Diane provides consulting and professional development services to clients across the country.
As an avid skier, I always look for ways to improve my technique and skill. Over the years, I have taken many lessons, some excellent and some poor. However, recently I participated in a woman’s ski camp where I found myself thinking more about formative instructional practices than skiing! As it turned out, my ski instructor, Susan who had no background in K-12 teaching, clearly demonstrated ALL the components of FIP with finesse.
Here are some of the ways that Susan’s instructional strategies corresponded with the four components of FIP.
Clear Learning Targets
The camp began with a self-reflection rubric. As students, we were asked to read the rubric criteria and assess our current level of skiing. Based on that information, we were placed in groups. Once grouped, Susan asked more clarifying questions to ensure our reflection was accurate and some participants chose to move to a different group. Next, Susan told us exactly what to expect over the 3-day session. We knew that she held high expectations for her class and that we would work hard. She told us the type of terrain we would ski and the skills that we would hone in that terrain. We also had an opportunity to say what we hoped to gain from the experience. My friend Leanne and I felt that we were in the right group; the level of difficulty would allow us to be successful and feel challenged at the same time. We also knew that we had the safety net of flexible grouping, having the ability to switch to a different level if we needed more scaffolding once we began.
Collecting and Documenting Evidence of Learning
Obviously Susan did not administer a formal pencil/paper assessment or award a final grade, but we were constantly being assessed. She carefully modeled the skills, emphasizing body position and when to plant the ski poles. She showed us how to make and finish turns, tackle moguls, and anticipate the next turn. One by one, the class skied past the instructor as she assessed our strengths and also noted what we needed to do to improve. We also observed each other. Susan gave visual and verbal cues that spoke to different learning styles. Her analogies and demonstrations painted a clear vision of the learning targets. Once we were observed several times on a variety of terrain, Susan decided where we were in our learning and where we would go next.
Providing Effective Feedback
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”, as well as the lunch and dinner! During our three days of camp, we received verbal feedback from the instructor. Some feedback was based on overall observations of the team, but much of the feedback was individualized. For instance, I learned to keep my upper body still as I skied the moguls, while Leanne learned to crest the top of the mogul before beginning her next turn. We each learned what would happen if we didn’t incorporate the practices into our skiing. Then, Susan pulled out a small video camera and began video-taping small segments of our skiing. As we rode up the chair lift, she allowed us to view the vignettes and helped us “see” our progress, or lack thereof. What amazed me the most is that we were each given just enough feedback so that we could focus on a few things instead of being paralyzed by too many things to think about. Like good classroom practices, we were given the amount of feedback that we could handle and that moved our learning forward.
Student Ownership of Learning
The essence of this component is self-assessment, peer-assessment, and student reflection. Again, these practices were not isolated but instead integrated throughout each day of the camp. We began to take ownership of our learning by observing peers and seeking and providing feedback to one another. We were also asked by the instructor to critique each other’s performance. “What did Diane do well? What bad habit is she still relying on?” We began to ask Susan specific questions to promote our individual learning. At the end of each day we had an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and look forward to the next steps.
By the end of the Women’s Ski Camp, I had not only improved, but I was able to precisely describe my progress. And because of the collaborative approach taken, my learning stuck with me. I enjoyed the rest of my week and subsequent ski adventures with improved skiing and confidence.
As you think about implementing formative instructional practices in your teaching, it might be helpful to think about your most positive learning experiences. What components were visible that made the learning happen? Most importantly, how can you apply the practices from your “slopes” to your classroom?