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Back in April, I wrote Practice Makes Improvement, a blog post about reflective practices. In one of the comments, Laura Gibbs asked if I could create a list of books that I have read as part of my own professional growth.

 

Sorry for the delay, but, YES. Of course!!

 

Now that it is officially autumn, school is underway. The stress of the new school year has subsided, even if it’s only a bit! Additionally, days have gotten shorter, the weather has become chillier, and coffee shops have provided the blessing of pumpkin-spiced lattes. It seems like we have a perfect opportunity to slow down and to reflect again...whether that’s at a coffeehouse, carving time out of your schedule at work, or in the comfort of your own home.

 

I know, I know. I may be asking a lot here. Teachers are super busy the way it is, and here I am asking for you to squeeze one more task in between teaching responsibilities and your home life. Professional growth and reflection is good for you!

 

Like I have written before, be intentional and start small. Whether you choose a book from my list or you find your own, select a topic that can get you excited about your classroom. Then, even if you spend 15 minutes a day on three different days in a week reading, eventually it’ll become part of your routine. Another wonderful thing about reading is that this is your schedule. Nobody is requiring you to read a specific amount by a certain day. Set your own goals.

 

If you need someone to hold you accountable, maybe find another Canvas Community member or a colleague who will read along with you. Set page goals and then send quick notes or tweets to each other. No matter what, make reading enjoyable. Diving into a book with someone will make you more likely to follow through; think of this like having a workout buddy!

 

Here’s my list of books! I’ve done my best to link to the publisher’s site. (Note: this is a personal list; I was not contacted or paid to read or promote/share any of these...) While I have read most of these, the rest are on my immediate “to read” list. I’ll continue to add to my spreadsheet as I read more.

 

After you order your first choice or stop by your library, there’s only one thing left to do.

 

*Grab a cup of coffee/tea/cocoa, and raise it high.*

 

Here’s to fall!  ...and professional growth.

May your never-ending journey as an educator be filled with collaboration, opportunity, and discoveries.

 

Cheers!

Dear Canvas Observer*,

 

First of all, as a teacher, I want to say “thank you” for being a student’s or students’ personal academic cheerleader. Classrooms are not the same without you. I know I can plan, accommodate, collaborate, and differentiate with my greatest efforts, but you are incredibly valuable to the learning process. You help fill in gaps in understanding and sometimes you re-explain tough topics. You are another amazing caring adult who can assist a student - or two or three...or more - become strong, intrinsically motivated, and self-advocating learners. Again, thank you for being involved and bravo for using Canvas to make the process more efficient!

 

From here, let’s take a look at the Observer role. Observer is a generic name for anyone who can view course material and follow a student’s or students’ progress in their active courses. However, an observer cannot interact with course content.

 

As an Observer, you have access to a lot of great information, and it can be challenging to navigate the information efficiently, especially if you are actively monitoring the progress of more than one student.

 

From a web browser, after you set up your Observer account, you need to connect to your student or students (How do I link a student to my user account?). It is possible to follow all of your students under a single Observer sign-in. However, depending on how many students you follow and how many courses your students are enrolled, the dashboard can become overwhelming.

 

You have a few options to streamline this experience though!

  • You may adjust the nickname for each course. That way, you can include each child's first initial or name ahead of the course name (ie: K US History).
  • Another option is to color code the course cards so all of child #1's courses is one color, all of child #2's courses is a second, etc...

 

If you have time to explore more in the Canvas Community, there are two Feature Ideas which are open for voting that I'd like to share with you: Parents: toggle view between children and Include Student Name in Observer Notifications. If either or both of these ideas are relevant to your Canvas experience, it would be really valuable if you voted and/or added a comment!

 

As you seek to simplify your Observer experience, there may be another option for you. With the Canvas Parent App, you are able to follow all of your students and keep their courses separate. You can even create customized  notifications and assignment reminders on a student-by-student basis. The app is free in the Apple Store and on Google Play. While the app doesn't have all of the features as web, it's awesome for keeping track of progress, a list upcoming assignments, and initiating conversations at home. Just be sure to check with your institution to make sure this is enabled before diving in. This is because each school district can decide whether or not to make the app available for their observers.

 

As an Observer*, you have a unique perspective of the learning that occurs within the Canvas-based classrooms of your student or students! If you have more questions or ideas on how to improve the Observer experience, please contribute to Find Answers and Canvas Studio to keep the conversation going. 

 

All the best,

KL

 

 

*Parent, Family Member, Counselor, Mentor, Coach, Learning Specialist...etc.

After a bit of a hiatus from this series, I feel that there is more to write about. I know that’s generally the case, but as the 2017-2018 school year begins, there seems to be even more reasons to explore grading and my classroom policies.

 

In Part 1, I looked at grading in general. In Part 2, I looked at late work. Now, I’m going to take a little bit of time to explore the term “failure” and why the term bothers me so much.

 

To start, I’d like to make the assumption that nobody *wants* to FAIL. I don’t think many people truly start out a task saying “I want to fail. I don’t want to or have any attention to increasing my ability/outlook/knowledge/understanding/performance on this challenge.” And then I consider my career choice. As a teacher, it is my role to coach, encourage, and to empower students to take ownership in the learning process and to become engaged learners, not to let them down! ...but I don’t think the current K-12 education system makes it easy for students to get to that point.

 

Side note: Our current system is OLD. Is it completely broken? No. However, it’s an outdated system that places students of the same age in the same grade working on the same material at the same time. (Sir Ken Robinson has a great narration of this. If you have time to watch the YouTube video, do!) While I want to include this in my thought process, I know that the idea of the K12 education system and my dreams for what it could become could be a blog series on its own.

 

As teachers seek to teach/coach/collaborate-with students, their goal is to help each student find success. But what is success? Is it a grade? A percentage? Or is it progress and growth? I think it’s safe to assume that the teachers all want/hope that all of their students learn and come out of their class with positive experience and great outcomes. I also think this is an easier debate and follow-up discussion than...the flip-side.

 

Academically speaking, what is “failing”,  and, numerically speaking, why does an F traditionally start at 60%? ...so, what exactly is failure? More importantly, what does failure mean to students? In my experience, failure often times is the “end of the road” for students. They are discouraged, and they don’t always recognize the learning opportunity presented with a failed attempt at a learning objective. There is this negative connotation connected to FAILURE. It’s tough.

 

I wish I could remember the author of this positive spin on the definition of fail, but, I love this just the same:

F. A. I. L. = First Attempt In Learning

 

If we, instructors, continue to use Fs or assign a failing letter to a student’s attempts (or lack there of), what could it mean? Why are Fs generally the end of the road? If we’re going to allow students to fail, what are we (teachers, administrators, institutions) going to do for them?


I have found it interesting that schools, particularly K-12 institutions, assign Fs and then either allow students to continue to the next level or to attend a summer course to make up the credit. Those summer crash-courses cannot have the same rigor as those semester-long experiences! ...yet they “count” towards credits, and students learn to give up.

 

I think, ideally, more incompletes should be awarded. These incompletes would hold students accountable for assigned coursework, even if it takes them longer to complete it. These moments when students don’t *quite* reach a learning objective or standard are incredibly powerful opportunities to encourage reflection and growth. Just because the goal wasn’t met doesn’t mean it’s abandoned. Failure should be seen as an excellent time to find ways to coach students through challenges to get them to learn and to try again...not to penalize.

 

Yes, I understand personal investment is required on the part of the student in order for this concept to work. I think teachers have an incredible task to engage learners in content so the intrinsic motivation is created. (Staying true to my Minnesotan roots, the only word I feel appropriate here is “uffda”.)

 

Apparently, I have lots of questions, most of them without answers...but I’m feeling confident in my teaching practices that I will be able to coach students through moments of “not yets” and “under performance” so that I can build appropriate and individualized scaffold instruction. Every student has the potential to succeed, but shy of doing nothing in a course, didn’t some learning take place? Maybe the next step is to adjust my grading scheme and scales. What truly is an A? What truly is an F?

Grading. Assessing. Collaborating. Nudging. Teaching. Coaching.

 

Whatever it is that you call the action of assigning a number or letter to student learning, there’s another aspect to this that all instructors need to address: Late Work.

 

I think what’s important to that phrase is the word WORK. That acknowledges that work is, well, getting done. Isn’t that an important idea to remember? Of course, LATE means that this item or task was not completed in a timely fashion or on the schedule that the instructor assigned. Nonetheless, the WORK was completed.

 

Yes, as a teacher, I need to prepare students for real-life experiences, and that includes punctuality and accountability, especially for time-sensitive material.

 

What’s fair though? How many points should be deducted per day? Per week? Or should I even penalize at all? I mean, what causes students to submit work late? If anxiety is getting in the way, a student could feel terribly debilitated.

 

Last year, rather than trying to figure out this struggle on my own, I turned to collaboration. I actually skipped over connecting with my department or with other colleagues...I asked my students for insight. Crazy? Maybe...

 

Based on conversations with my 11th and 12th grade students, it was clear that students want and appreciate deadlines and/or timelines. They want to know what’s “on pace” and what’s expected. However, they want flexibility.

 

When I heard flexibility, I think of my friends who have the luxury of having flex-time. They can start and end their workday on a timeframe that’s convenient, as long as they meet the expectations of their employer. Sounds fantastic in theory! Now, I needed to figure out how to keep my students responsible for their work so they didn’t procrastinate ...and procrastinate ...and procrastinate ...just to find themselves with a pile of uncompleted modules and assignments that they’d have to rush through at the end of the semester.

 

First semester, the students in my Photo III class chose to have monthly deadlines. I’d release all projects for the month on the 1st, and all of the work would be due on the last day of the month. Anything submitted before that time was deducted 10% per week it was late.

 

Second semester, students chose something similar, but with much more detail. Like first semester, all of the projects were released on the 1st. However, they asked for a project a week to be due on Friday, but no penalty for late work until the last day of the month. They, too, wanted late critiques and written work to have a 10% per week penalty, but they decided late projects should receive a 10% per month penalty. That way, they felt they had more control of the risk-taking and revisions on the big concepts.

 

Both semesters, I was quite impressed by the reasons they provided. I think providing these 17- and 18-year-olds a chance to influence a class syllabus paid off. (I cannot believe how much they opened up about school, learning, etc. and what it all "could be" if education changed.) Collectively, these Photo III students were the most timely group of students I have taught. I don’t think it was the rigor or the pacing of the class. Honestly, they explored content deeper and more thoroughly than any other Photo III group had before, but I think it was the fact that they felt invested...and trusted.

 

I love what my students created, but part of me still wonders whether or not I should eliminate LATE work all together. My gut says “no” because that’s not how life is; it's just a matter of how it's documented, managed, etc. ...but I’m always open to a discussion, with Canvas Community members, colleagues, or students.

I am going to be the first to admit that I don’t have the answer. Or, for that matter, any answer. I will, however, openly say that I have lots of questions and that I am not really afraid of “getting this wrong”...what I am I talking about? The word that pained me quite frequently this year: grades.

 

This year, with my upper-level photography class and my AP studio class, I modified my grading policies so that growth and process was emphasized over product. Why? As an art teacher, I’ve found that once I place a numerical score or a letter grade on something, the learning comes to a screeching halt.

 

So after all of that time and effort, you’re done? ...really?!

 

I understand that art students become emotionally attached to their work. (I was once one of those perfection-driven students. I really do get it.) Students create their pieces to look a certain way, and how dare their teacher make a suggestion for them to change it after it’s “done”? Also, how on Earth is it possible to equate an expressive/individualized/unique creation with a static, objective score?

 

Yep.

 

It’s an ongoing saga that many instructors face. ...it's one of the biggest reasons I share rubrics before an assignment or project begins. Unfortunately, rubrics are traditionally presented in a way that emphasizes points, not necessarily growth or learning.

 

My goal this year was to blend non-graded Outcomes with graded assignments, such as discussions. With Outcomes, I was able to still provide great feedback and initiate conversations with students, without the direct reliance on the “currency” of points. (The question about why points are so amazingly motivating to students will be one I will save for later...) This dual grading approach worked surprisingly well, and students took more risks as a result.

 

Part way through first semester, I started to wonder if Outcomes on formative and summative assignments/projects was enough.

 

Does the combination of summative and formative assessments accurately capture what a student knows or can demonstrate? Should effort be included in a grade?

 

For my art classes, I think the answer is “yes”. Effort, growth, and experiences can all be shared in an ongoing dialogue - conversationally or written. Unfortunately, it becomes another set of questions when it comes to assigning a numerical value on what a student shares. While complete/incomplete is nice, I wish there was a “not yet” option so I could encourage students to go back and add more to their work without feeling like they let anyone down in the process.

 

I know that K12 and HE come with their own unique challenges...and that everyone approaches grades in their own way...so I hope that this rambling isn’t causing too much trouble.

 

Needless to say, I’m thankful to have time to simply think and to process this summer before I have to design my next syllabus. While grading, among other teaching practices, will continue to evolve, I’m okay with that. I won’t ever “get it right” but I know that I am trying to best represent my students learning in an academic world bound to a 4.0-scale.

Kristin Lundstrum

Favorites

Posted by Kristin Lundstrum Champion Apr 26, 2017

Like most people in the Community, I could write a number of lists and posts containing my favorite aspects, implementation strategies, and use cases regarding Canvas. Today, however, I want to take some time to talk about other favorites...the types of favorites that teachers aren't typically "allowed" to admit they have. The favorites to which I'm referring are the students - past or current - who encourage and inspire instructors to go to work every day.

 

Take a look at the definitions of "favorite" that I found after a quick Google search:

 

 

The adjective - preferred before all others of the same kind. Seems okay, if you ask me. Everyone connects with others, personally or professionally, in different ways based on personality, interests, etc. There are naturally going to be students that teachers connect to with less effort than others.

 

The noun - a person that is especially popular or particularly well-liked by someone ...and, you can particularly like a student. Again, the value here is in the ease or genuine nature of a relationship that forms during the learning process. Just because you particularily like a student doesn't mean they receive perferential treatment, however.

 

The verb - record the address to enable quick access in the future. ← I like to consider this definition in the context of students. There have been students in my classroom that I want to "favorite" in the sense that they're amazing resources! These students tend to be the ones which have this tenacity for content or life. I want to stay connected rather than saying goodbye at the conclusion of a semester.

 

None of these interpretations/definitions seem like these should be forbidden activities. When it comes down to it, my "favorites" have been those students who I have had the privilege to get to know beyond the standard classroom content. The relationships that I have with my favorite students are glimpses into the ideal education experience. It's a mutually benefiting relationship. The following quote sums up my idea perfectly; it's absolutely true! 

The three most important words in education are: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. Without them, we have nothing."  - George Couros

 

If you've stumbled upon this blog post, you likely have a few minutes to answer a few questions to yourself (Really. Five minutes...)

  • First: give yourself permission to admit that you have a favorite student.
  • Now:
    • Why are you thankful for them?
    • What have they taught you?
    • Why is/was their time in your classroom impactful?
  • Here's the biggest question:
    • Does this or do these students know how much you value them?

 

The last point was the giant question that stared back at me this weekend. I had an amazing, impromptu conversation with a former student of mine on Friday. ... I was so thankful that I was able to reconnect with him, learn about his studies and current projects, but, most of all, I was excited to have the opportunity to tell him how his presence in my classroom two years ago literally was the source of my motivation to adjust the way in which I teach my upper-level classes. I wish that there was a way to explain the value of this mutual gratitude. ...and I wish that there was a reason why this particular student had to wait almost two years to know how incredible he was and how he influenced my teaching.

 

I have a couple of current students who challenge me routinely to rethink my expectations. I feel that I know these students the best of all of my current students, they're invested in their work, and our conversations are genuine. These current favorites feed into my personal desire to advance my teaching practices, and they deserve to know how much I value collaborating and their contribution to my professional journey as an educator. I'm thankful that I still have the four short weeks before graduation to share this with them.

 

Since it's never too early to start thinking about next year, I'm setting a new goal. Each month, I'm going to set time aside to write to students outside of assessment feedback. While these selected students could be labeled as "favorites" in my mind and heart, the student doesn't necessarily need to know about the classification. However, what they do need to know, and what they deserve to know, is that their presence, attitude, contributions, and insights are not only noted but valued.

 

Go ahead. Have a favorite or set of favorites. It's good for you and, likely, your teaching.

We’re familiar with the saying “Practice makes perfect,” and during this time of year, in particular, I enjoy taking the time to reflect on my teaching practices and philosophies. Personal and professional reflection isn’t “work” for me. Even with a rather established division of “home life” and “work life”, I find myself diving into reflective activities at home, far beyond my traditional hours at school.

 

Through conversations with colleagues in my building and those here in the Canvas Community, it’s clear that instructors balance many many things, and it’s easy for the self-care and reflective activities to slip down on the priority list.

 

I have always loved learning, and it’s one of the most amazing things about teaching. I teach my students, but every day, they also teach me. This circular connection is the motivation that fuels my passion for challenging my beliefs about curriculum design, assessment, classroom environments, etc. It doesn’t bother me that I will always be revising and revisiting my practices.

 

To “keep up” with my honest efforts to create relevant and engaging classroom experiences for my students, I have a fairly dedicated reflection routine. Keep in mind that I find this process invigorating! This is not something which is required by my administration. What I do is purely for my personal satisfaction and desire to be the best professional educator possible.

 

My tricks/obsessions:

  • On Fridays, I spend the last 30 minutes of the work day rehashing the week and setting goals for the upcoming one.
    • I review my weekly lesson plan page in my 3-ring binder, decipher notes, and make adjustments for the coming week. This helps me recenter academic pacing and align my plans with my Canvas courses.
    • If something significant came up during the week, I make a plan on my semester curriculum map so I remember or can make changes for the next time I teach the course.
  • I have an ever-growing list of education/learning theory books to read. I probably invest an hour or two throughout the week to working through my list. I don’t set deadlines, but it’s fun to try to connect topics in the books to my classroom. (If you need any suggestions, let me know! I have a pretty awesome list.)
  • As a part of teachers, I contribute to a Flipboard magazine. We share articles, leave comments, and have candid conversations about current educational trends.
  • I carry around a notebook for new ideas for my classrooms. In this  5x7 notebook, I write down one idea per page, and then lay out the information and details needed to put it into place. If I try an idea, I jot down student feedback.
  • I talk candidly with students about what works and doesn’t work with course design, projects, assignments, etc. It’s amazing what I can pick up from those conversations.
  • I do a thorough “brain cleaning” during conferences and at the end of each semester.
    • I ask myself a ton of questions and analyze everything from student performance (thank you Canvas Analytics), anecdotal feedback, assessment strategies, projects...well, you get it.
    • It’s not exhausting, but I usually fuel this session by getting to a local coffee shop and listening to some awesome music while I sip a latte.
    • While it can be discouraging to identify holes, it can also be really encouraging. It’s an opportunity to change or adjust, but it can also be a time to celebrate growth and future plans!

 

Will this routine work for everyone? No. Am I slightly over-excited about this process? Perhaps. However, I honestly believe that every educator can benefit from taking a little time to think, question, and evaluate their actions in the classroom.

 

As the school year winds down, I challenge you to figure out what works for you!

 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start small.
    • Identify one part of your teaching practice you’d like to advance.
    • Add one reflective tool or practice into your routine. You don’t need to do an overwhelming amount to make a difference. This is “you time” - no need to stress.
  • Get out of your typical workspace.
    • A change of scenery does wonders. Go for a walk, find a coffee shop, or create a creative space elsewhere.
  • Give yourself time.
    • Schedule time at a specific time of the week, and don’t double-book yourself.
    • If you prioritize reflection, it’ll happen!
  • Write it down.
    • It doesn’t matter how you jot down ideas. You can collect or color-code ideas on Post-Its, keep a notebook, start a private blog, share ideas in the Canvas Community...find a way to document your thoughts.
    • When you take the time to write down thoughts, the extra time required to formulate the thought can help you process and see natural connections.
  • Find a reflection buddy.
    • Just like some people rely on workout buddies to make it to the gym, find someone who will hold you accountable.

 

Practice makes perfect? Nah. I think that’s unrealistic. However, I fully believe that practice makes professional improvement, individual growth, self-fulfillment...all wonderful things! In my opinion, the best part of all of this is that you’ll likely increase or rediscover your excitement for teaching, and your students will likely notice.