Falconry: Feedback loops, communication, and formative assessment

Reading from Step 1: The Art of Questioning of The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

By learning to insert feedback loops into our thought, questioning, and decision-making process, we increase the chance of staying on our desired path. Or, if the path needs to be modified, our midcourse corrections become less dramatic and disruptive. (Lichtman, 49 pag.)

This paragraph caused me to go back to a Mr. Sun quote from Step 0: Preparation.

But there are many more subtle barriers to communication as well, and if we cannot, or do not chose to overcome these barriers, we will encounter life decisions and try to solve problems and do a lot of falconing all by ourselves with little, if any, success. Even in the briefest of communications, people develop and share common models that allow them to communicate effectively.  If you don’t share the model, you can’t communicate. If you can’t communicate, you can’t teach, learn, lead, or follow.  (Lichtman, 32 pag.)

Mr Sun goes on to ask

So how do we find common models? (Lichtman, 32 pag.)

Finding common models of communication between all learners is critical to a community focused on everyone growing and learning together. In Chapter 1: Unpacking Thinking of Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, the authors write

If we want to support students in learning, and we believe that learning is a product of thinking, then we need to be clear about what we are trying to support. (Ritchhart, 5 pag.)

And, in Chapter 3: Grading Strategies that Support and Motivate Student Effort and Learning of Grading and Learning: Practices That Support Student Achievement, Susan Brookhart writes:

First, these teachers settled on the most important learning targets for grading. By learning targets, they meant standards phrased in student-friendly language so that students could use them in monitoring their own learning and, ultimately, understanding their grade.


One of these learning targets was ‘I can use decimals, fractions, and percent to solve a problem.’ The teachers listed statements for each proficiency level under that target and steps students might use to reach proficiency.


The [lowest] level was not failure but rather signified ‘I don’t get it yet, but I’m still working.’ (Brookhart, 30 pag.)

Yet is such a powerful word. I just love using yet to communicate support and issue subtle challenges.  Yet, used correctly, sends the message that I (you) will learn this.  I believe in you, and you believe in me.

As a community, we have started the challenging work of writing commonly agreed upon essential learnings for our student-learners.  Now that we are on a path of shared models of communication, we are able to develop feedback loops and formative assessments for student-learners to use to monitor their learning as well as empower learners to ask more questions.

What if we build common formative assessments that communicate how to level up, how to ask targeted questions, and that motivate learning?

I agree that we must work to clearly communicate the intended, essential outcomes for learners. While our methods of learning and leading do not have to be identical, the core learning outcomes should be common for learners. In other words, we should have a guaranteed curriculum.

I assume that groups working together as teams have, or are on a path to, common models of communication between themselves and are making strides to share these with student-learners and parents of their students.

I argue with the statement that we already have this in place.  I don’t think this work is ever done.  When we have commonly agreed upon “I can…” statements, we need rubrics or descriptions of what it means to be on target, how to reach a target, and where to go if you are already at the target level.

I aspire to work collaboratively in teams to teach, learn, lead, and follow by asking questions to develop common models to communicate effectively.  I aspire to serve our learners by developing, implementing, and using stronger feedback loops.  I aspire to help learners level up.

I aspire to listen more, question more, and learn more.

I aspire to become a falconer.


Brookhart, Susan M. Grading and Learning: Practices That Support Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2011. Print.

Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

[Cross posted on Experiments in Learning by Doing.]

Falconry: Seeking balance between agitation and irritation

Reading from Step 0: Preparation of The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

The excitement of learning, the compelling personal drive to take one more step on the path towards wisdom, comes when we try to solve a problem we want to solve, when we want to solve, when we see a challenge and say yes, I can meet it.  Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves. They provide us just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out the solution to the world, makes me want to step to the next higher level. Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome. (Lichtman, 20 pag.)

Wow! Worth repeating:

Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves.

This connects, for me, to Chapter 2. Entrepreneurship, Elasticity, and Ed-Med of To Sell is Human: The Suprising Truth About Moving Others.

Ferlazzo makes a distinction between “irritation” and “agitation.” Irritation, he says, is “challenging people to do something that we want them to do.” By contrast, “agitation is challenging them to do something that they want to do.” (Pink, 40 pag.)

Pink goes on to write that Larry Ferlazzo discovered that irritation does not work in the long run, but can have success in the short-term.

I’m wondering how the art of questioning might help us blend agitation and irritation.  How might we begin to plan, design, and implement learning episodes that achieve short-term goals while supporting long-term goals too? Where and when do we focus and plan, intentionally, for the progression and depth of learning? How are we taking action to ensure vertical alignment of curriculum, assessment of progress/growth/disposition/learning, and authentic learning experiences that motivate learners to challenge themselves to a next step on the path of wisdom?

Do we see schooling as a marathon rather than a sprint? Do we know enough about the distance covered by learners and the many paths to success? We are evolving experts on the stretch we cover with each learner, but do we know about the paths taken to arrive to us and the paths they may take when they move on?

I agree with Larry Ferlazzo that teaching something we want others to do is only successful in the short-term.  How often have I been surprised when learners don’t know something that was proven learning just weeks ago?

I argue with myself, quite often, that I must see the bigger picture.  I need to know more than I know now.  It is comfortable to be good at what I do. It is important to me to be successful.  I argue with myself to push to know, risk, experiment, and do more for and with learners.

I aspire to be a teacher-learner who is more often an agitator than an irritant.  I aspire to be a teacher-learner offering choice and opportunities to learn where the path is chosen by the learner.

The assumption I worry about is that we feel that we do enough of this already.  I argue in support of the idea that we do offer student choice, that we have some vertical understanding, and that we offer challenges that inspire, motivate, and support learning.  I agree that we must blend and balance short and long-term goals.  I aspire to become a better agitator (and irritant).

I aspire to listening more, question more, and learn more.

I aspire to become a falconer.


Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

Pink, Daniel H. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. New York: Riverhead, 2012. Print.

[Cross posted on Experiments in Learning by Doing.]

Summer reading and reflection – a way to Flourish together when apart

Flourish, our community learning blog, will transition for the summer.  We will continue to reflect on what we are learning as we rest, relax and refresh over the summer months.  We will not have a schedule to our posts just as we have no schedule at school.  We will read and reflect when we choose.

As a starting point, we will use our summer reading, shown below, as a common starting place.  As we read, we share our notes and thinking. The theme of our summer reading is the art of questioning.

Summer Reading 2013.pdf by Jill Gough

Our version of the 4 As protocol worksheet will be used to discuss these books in the fall.

4As Protocol Worksheet

We will use the book titles as categories for posts and the As as tags.

Our posts this summer are not restricted to our summer reading; it is just a place to start. We learn, grow and flourish in many ways.


Learn and Share: leveraging social media for crowd sourcing learning

What if you find no purpose for  using social media?

On April 6, 2013, Grant Lichtman posted Twitter: I Know…But Just Do It. On April 11, 2013, I posted PBL PD: Integrating Formative Assessment, Twitter, & Brain-based Research #ettipad #ettlearns – reflection. On April 19, 2013, Jenn Scheffer posted Ten Minutes on Twitter.

While there is much to learn and share, how will we know if it is making an impact on my learning and the learning of others?  I am learning that you have to engage – use social media for two-way communication – in order to understand, observe, and experience impact.  Here are some examples of what I’ve been prompted to learn and think about from a quick read of my Twitter stream this afternoon.

Just a few notes from some of the people I follow on Twitter prompted me to look at ideas for using Twitter in the classroom, investigate the iPad apps Storybird and TypeDrawing.  I’ve also noticed Twitter being used for communication to foster collaboration among colleagues.

Two of my favorite uses of Twitter are to share information and to highlight bright spot work of others.

While Twitter can seem frustrating and confusing at first, it can be an interesting tool for professional learning.  If it’s about learning, what questions should we be asking? What actions do we now take to learn and grow? For what purpose could you use social media?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jill Gough serves as Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity School.  She risks, questions and seeks feedback to improve. You can follow her on Twitter at @jgough.

[Cross posted on Experiments in Learning by Doing.]

Waypoints on the path of wisdom

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.  Each question leads to one or more new questions or answers.  Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere.  Questions are never dead ends.  Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime. (Lichtman, 35 pag.)

Are we willing to risk trying new things – letting go of some of our traditional methods – to model new learning? What if we offer our learners more opportunities to chart their own path from where they are to the target? Is the path they take as important as the learning they acquire?  How can we create investigations that prompt students to make observations and ask their own questions?

  • Do you ever worry about student-directed learning? Does it mean that the teacher is not engaged?  How are we supposed to teach if we don’t tell them stuff?  What if we asked our learners to show what they know before we teach and reteach? Are we assuming that they know nothing because they are, well, young?
  • It is possible to lead learners to an understanding of commas by asking them questions? Could we offer young learners the opportunity to develop an understanding of the rules for themselves through the use of examples and visual metaphors? Could learners decode how to correctly place commas to separate the elements in a series and in compound sentences without being told the rule first?
  • How often do we underestimate young learners?  What if we engage as learning partners with our young learners? What if we ask questions that have many answers? What if we ask questions without knowing the answers?
  • How often do we risk trying something new and out of our planned comfort? How often do we risk collaborating with others to observe and learn from each other? Is it so easy to do what I’m good at that I am unwilling to risk?

Why would learners take risks if I won’t?

 Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jill Gough serves as Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity School.  She risks, questions and seeks feedback to improve. You can follow her on Twitter at @jgough.

Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.


Persist in celebrating success

When Annie was little, she failed to walk over and over again.  She would stumble and fall – a lot! We would actually applaud her when she fell and got back up to celebrate.  Were we celebrating her failure? Was she actually failing? Not once did we think “Oh, she is never going to succeed.” Not once did we label her attempts as failure.

My language seems too casual to me.  I know what I mean by failure, but do others? I wonder the same about my leaders, colleagues, and friends. Do we really want our learning environments to be safe havens for risk-taking and failure?  Or do we want our spaces to promote rapid prototyping and iterative problem solving? Or both? Or something else?

Failure is not the right word for what I am trying to convey to learners. I prefer to think about learning, teaching and modeling persistence rather than failure.  I strive to risk stumbling and falling and model getting back up to try again.

As we are learning, how public are we willing to make our risks?  How do we support each other when there is a stumble?

When Annie was little, we supported her as she learned. When she took a spill, we comforted her and helped her persist. Actually, Annie is still little and continues to need us to celebrate her success in the midst of her mistakes and missteps.  Isn’t this true of every learner?

I strive to continue to learn to persist in seeing and celebrating success.


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jill Gough serves as Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity School.  She risks, questions and seeks feedback to improve. You can follow her on Twitter at @jgough.