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Focused Observation of Learning in LwICT

We use focused observation of learning in LwICT to explain how to observe students in a manageable way as they learn. Focused observation is not new; it is used in other subject areas. Teachers of ELA for example know that when they observe students engaged in learning, they target at most a handful of outcomes. Together with students, they set criteria for evaluation for those few outcomes. Teachers do this because they know that they cannot observe student learning in all 56 ELA outcomes all the time.

For a teacher to say that a student has achieved an outcome, that outcome must be observed often and over time. This is important in order to see the growth in student learning and to determine whether a student’s learning remains constant or is increased. The teacher should take descriptive notes on the student’s achievement of an outcome in order to have specific examples in the context of a learning situation. Checkmarks next to a list of outcomes are not descriptive. Checkmarks could state that a student has achieved an outcome, but they cannot describe how that has been accomplished.

Observation of student learning in LwICT can be achieved in a similar manner as in subject areas. Observations need to be anecdotal, be done often and over time. It is not sufficient to put a checkmark next to a descriptor on the LwICT Continuum, the teacher needs to record the context of each learning situation and be specific about the achievement of the students, the challenges encountered, or the behaviours observed during the learning situation. The same descriptors need to be observed often and over time to determine if the behaviour observed is consistent and if there is progress. Student achievement cannot be observed and recorded efficiently if too many descriptors are being observed at the same time.

To facilitate observation and get a picture of student learning for the whole continuum, let’s look at the school year based on a timeline of three learning periods, framed by Christmas break, Spring break and Summer holidays. The Continuum describes the somewhat sequential steps of Inquiry learning. In practice, this sequence is more circular than sequential, as engaging in a step often requires that the previous one be revisited.

For the first learning period of the school year, consider focussing the observation of student learning on descriptors in the first two Big Ideas: Question and Plan, and Gather and Make Sense. These two Big Ideas describe when students develop the skills that scaffold an Inquiry; this is when they learn to formulate essential higher-level questions that drive an Inquiry, when they learn to follow or adapt a plan, to take notes, to categorize notes, to make a bibliography. Those are essential skills needed to conduct an Inquiry and it makes sense to establish those skills at the beginning of the school year, to help students acquire or hone the skills if they seem challenged in effectively applying them and to observe how students can demonstrate those skills.

By considering those two Big Ideas for an amount of time similar to the first learning period, the number of descriptors to observe has been considerably narrowed. It is narrowed further by considering the appropriate column for the grade level you teach. Imagine that you teach grade 1; those skills are described in the first column. The only descriptors for that grade level are found in the left column of the continuum. There are only 5 of them in the first two Big Ideas.

In the second learning period, usually ending at Spring break, consider observing student learning for descriptors in the next two Big Ideas: Produce to Show Understanding and Communicate. By then, students should have established a good learning foundation in the Continuum and you will have had several opportunities to observe their learning and give them feedback. You can focus your observations using a new set of descriptors and proceed in the same manner as in the first learning period.

In the last learning period of the year, you can observe students’ ability to Reflect; it also gives teachers an opportunity to revisit descriptors that have been previously observed to assess progress.

Assessment Considering the Health and Safety Guidelines and the Ethics and Responsibilities Guidelines

Observing student behaviour in the Health and Safety Guidelines and the Ethics and Responsibilities Guidelines should be done as the need arises, or as the learning situation best lends itself to it; for example, engaging in email exchanges with another class may be an opportunity to discuss online behaviour, brainstorm ways of speaking and acting, and then observe students as they proceed with the learning situation.

Students in Early Years are dependent on teacher modelling of learning behaviours for self-assessment, building criteria, goal setting, and reflection. Thus, for students in grades K-2, topics related to the health and safety guidelines and ethics and responsibilities guidelines may be best discussed in class, as a whole group, with students sharing their thoughts and comments; brainstorming; goal setting and reflecting upon own and others behavior(s). Students in grades 2-3-4 can begin to self-evaluate individually or with a partner.

Students in Middle Years are questioning the purpose of their learning experiences, want to socialize and feel like they are part of a group and are often passionate about topics and issues that they find important and relevant to their world. Whole class, individual, partner and collaborative group discussions around the guidelines all take advantage of students being more independent and their excitement to take on more meaningful work. Students often enjoy teaching other students, making posters/videos/performances, conducting surveys or self-checks and coming up with stories/skits that demonstrate their thoughts, opinions and ideas about the safe, healthy, responsible and ethical use of ICT.  

Students in Senior Years are able to take on more responsibility and handle deeper learning around a topic. Questions of ethics and responsibilities to self, others, society and the world can be discussed and analysed. Students (at all levels) are full of ideas and want to take action when dealing with topics related to safety, health, responsibility and ethics when using ICT. Senior Years students may want to learn more deeply about certain topics that meaningfully resonate with them such as, how the overuse of ICT effects a person’s emotional and physical health, or how bullying happens and what can be done to change it, or questions around the effect of ICTs’ on the world, etc..  

Here some suggestions, tips and strategies from teachers that they have found helpful around the topics of ethics and responsible use of ICT.

  • Teachers must model ethical and responsible behaviour: reference their resources, refrain from using copyrighted materials, explain proprietary rights and how they are respecting them in the materials they use.

Starting in Kindergarten

  • The strategies listed below will need to be adapted appropriately to each level.
  • Appropriate behaviour is about respect. All talk about the guidelines should include that aspect.
  • Have a clearly worded Acceptable Use Policy. Explain it to parents and students. Review it often
  • As a school, determine expectations for each grade level for “gradual release of responsibility” and for students taking responsibility for their actions, and clearly lay out those expectations and behaviours
  • Health, safety, responsibility and ethics issues need to be addressed in an ongoing fashion throughout the year, use teachable moments as they arise, repeat often.
  • Create a climate where students feel comfortable and supported coming to you to discuss issues
  • Built in/ Infused in each lesson, activity, inquiry, done in context. Part of assessment
  • Some topics such as copyright and plagiarism need direct instruction
  • Teach/ train students to ask permission all the time, starting in K
  • Ask permission to use materials / to post a photo on Internet (ask all in photo)
  • Create assignments that do not use copyrighted materials
  • Use original student-created work
  • Gather first-hand data when possible (i.e. photo of a tree, survey conducted by students)
  • Students know when things don’t “feel” right. Teach them appropriate behaviour to “get out of” such situations.
  • “Just because you can does not mean you should”
  • Have “tech buddies” so older students can mentor younger ones

Starting in Middle Years

  • Establish guidelines for appropriate behaviour first thing in the school year, for ex., in a school-wide assembly or at a special meeting of new students (i.e. in MY or SY). Repeat often, in a variety of circumstances.
  • Search yourself (teachers and students) on Google
  • Identify sites where students can get copyright-released materials (Flickr, Creative Commons, etc.) and teach students how to search them
  • “Would you show this to your grandmother?”
  • Connect to the concept of citizenship in Social Studies
Starting in Senior Years

  • Use checklists that list all resources included in a project and acknowledge permissions granted.
  • Get students in high school to research incidents/ issues and legal implications, for ex: downloading, copyright violations, plagiarism.
  • Open FaceBook. Do a class on security settings, providing personal information, concept of network in FB, sharing of pictures, rights and responsibilities. CBC podcasts about FaceBook. Note: This is appropriate for Senior Years as the legal age for joining FaceBook is 13 years.
  • Use postings from the class blog to discuss what is appropriate and what is not, including moral and legal implications. This is never reviewed often enough.
  • Use what is in the news to start a discussion.


  • Since people are becoming more aware of digital citizenship, they notice more the behaviours of others (students or colleagues).
  • Listening to language and content of discussion from students as indicator of whether implications of behaviours are “hitting home”.
  • Behaviour of students should be observable. They need to demonstrate their own knowledge of issues and understanding of the implications in their behaviour.
  • Behaviours need to be assessed in context, not as stand alone.
  • Develop a “bank” of suitable comments and language, including positive verbs, for teachers to use as they report on student behaviour.
  • Peer and self-assessment is an important component and needs to be encouraged.

Manitoba Education Resources to Support Assessment

Assessment and Evaluation
Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind
Communicating Student Learning; Guidelines for Schools

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