Theresa Abordonato is a 6th grade teacher at Ka’imiloa Elementary School. Theresa graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Multidisciplinary Studies and a minor in Elementary Education and Science. As a teacher in Hawaii for 13 years, Theresa has seen her fair share of initiatives come and go. To round out Ka’imiloa Elementary’s Inspired and Passionate Teaching series, we spoke with Theresa and discussed how Visible Learning was the great connector that made all of her responsibilities as a teacher more manageable.
Q: Tell me how you got started with Visible Learning. What was your experience like?
A: My Visible Learning journey began two years ago with the Foundation Series workshops. The Foundation Day helped us make connections. It was the umbrella that connected everything we were doing. As a teacher who has seen a lot of change in the past 13 years, I was a little nervous that Visible Learning would be another initiative that we would start and eventually lose track of. Now, all of our PD is focused and we are no longer doing pockets of unconnected PD that brought us little impact. Visible Learning has become the root of everything we do, and everything we do now has a purpose.
Q: What have you done in your classroom to implement Visible Learning?
A: Last year, we worked on “The Pit” [a concept designed to teach students how to think deeply, popularized by James Nottingham]. This was something I could use right away. Every year I have students who get an assignment, stare at it, and raise their hand for help because they don’t take the time to read through it. When we introduced The Pit, the students began to see that it’s okay to make errors because with struggling comes greater knowledge. The students began to accept challenge as a part of the learning process and began to work harder.
This year, we focused on teacher clarity. All of the teachers took the time to plan and collaborate together and focus on the new curriculum. We asked more questions about the learning and less about the task to help students make connections and understand why they are learning certain tasks.
Student voice and feedback has also been very important to implementing Visible Learning in my classroom. Student self-assessment has been a big focus this year. We created rubrics with the students to give them specific feedback about their work.
Q: What are some of the ways you are measuring progress in your classroom?
A: My three impact cycles this year were all about self-assessing and student reflection. We began with understanding what reflection and self-assessment is and why it’s important. At the end of the year, we were beginning to use self-assessment to make our work better and to meet the target.
At the end of my third Impact Cycle, 41% (11/27) of students could self-assess accurately, articulate the criteria they didn’t understand, use feedback and/or do something to get them out of The Pit, and made progress in their Math assessments (by a grade or more). In English Language Arts, 37% (10/27) of students made improvements in writing (by a grade or more). Seven of these students improved in both areas of Math and writing.
Many of the students who made progress were students who were barely meeting the goal. They needed a little nudge. The lower achieving students are showing understanding of learning targets and the purpose of self-assessment, but they seem to need more practice, building of confidence, and modelling.
Q: What is the focus of your next Impact Cycle?
A: We are going to continue to work on teacher clarity, specifically clearly articulating what each standard means and what we expect from the students. I also want to continue doing what I’ve started this year because it is working. I am going to start phasing in individual goal setting and help the kids track their own progress and success.
Q: Ka’imiloa’s Visible Learning story is so encouraging. What is the secret to your success?
A: Teacher collaboration is so critical. I learn so much more when I meet with other teachers, even in other grade levels. We share best practices with each other and build off each other’s expertise. It’s so cool to see.
Q: What are you most excited about for future years of Visible Learning?
A: I’m excited that Visible Learning is not going away. It isn’t one of those extra things we have to do because it connects all the things we are expected to do. It has become the foundation of what we do every day. As a sixth grade teacher, I’m excited to see the kids move on to middle school. I’m also excited to help future kids refine their Visible Learning skills. But I am most excited to see the growth of the kids. Data is only part of the story. If kids are learning, they will be able to do anything!
Q: If you were talking to a new teacher or a teacher who is new to Visible Learning, what advice would you give them to create a VL classroom?
A: I would tell them to not freak out! Anything new can be a struggle so don’t give up. As a new teacher, Visible Learning might seem like a lot but it’s led to the most professional growth I’ve had in my 13 years of teaching. And in only two years! Being a new teacher can be overwhelming, but you need to invest time in Visible Learning.