Learn Like a Pirate - Improvement Focus

25 June 2015
Chapter 4 of Learn Like a Pirate is all about Improvement Focus versus Grade Focus.  "On-going descriptive feedback" is a phrase that is as common as reading and writing in my area, so I knew as soon as I read the chapter title that this would be a natural fit.

Early in the chapter, Paul states that his students don't take many tests or quizzes.  Instead, they spend the time working and learning more.  In my classroom, that ongoing descriptive feedback happens daily through our classroom work and formative assessments.  We regularly go back and improve work, and students engage in meaningful discussions and reflections on how to take their work to the next level.  However, summative assessments still happen - and are required to happen through data walls, evidence pieces required for PLC meetings, porfolio pieces ... the list goes on.   The formative work is where the learning happens, but the summative is where the learning is proven.  And in my opinion, there is too much focus on the summative which detracts from all the work and effort done through the formative ... but I'm not sure how to get admin and parents on board with that shift.

One of the things that I LOVE about this book is the QR codes Paul includes to further your understanding of the concepts he includes.  In this chapter he goes into depth discussing how he and his students use eportfolios - which I was very interested in learning more about.  And just as I was thinking about what they actually look like / include ... BAM ... a QR code that takes me to his blog where he has full examples and samples and links to more information.  I really LOVE the idea of eportfolios and want to dig a little deeper into this (and I love even more the fact that Paul says it eliminates all those homework excuses).  Last week I had a fabulous opportunity to visit my daughers' school where my middle daughter (in grade 3) led me through her student led conference.  Independently, she went through her portfolio and told me about her strengths, areas of need, and things she was most proud of.  I LOVED every single second of it.  (I will be writing more about it in an upcoming blog post).  I left there knowing this was definitely something I was going to do with my own students next year ... and now I'm thinking about how I can add eportfolios to this (just have to check up on our current technology situation / schedule for the year).  And it IS a tangible resource for showing student learning and mastery of goals (and embraces and celebrates student reflection which I already find invaluable).

My other favorite part of this chapter was his discussion about critical peer feedback (and yes, that's a positive thing).  ;)  We do A LOT of peer conferencing and peer feedback in my classroom - especially during writing.  And I, like Paul, see the value in it, but struggle when I don't a lot of value in the peer feedback.  I have done things like "two stars and a wish" which has evolved into  "SWAP Conferences" (where they swap writing pieces for feedback to provide: a  star, wonder (3 questions), advice for the writer, and plans for revision, but I often found that the advice was lacking from their peers.  I think my students' worried a lot about hurting their peers' feelings, instead of looking at it as an opportunity to improve.  Paul writes about a "Quality Booster" lesson he now does with his students to improve feedback - and this is DEFINITELY going to happen in my class next year.  (If you'd like a copy of this SWAP conference sheet I made, you can grab one by clicking HERE or on the picture.)
One chapter ... so many ideas ... so perfect.  :)  Happy Thursday!


  1. I have used so many of your ideas. I didn't even realize that the star and the wish idea I implemented this year was inspired by your fabulous posts! I'm reading Learn Like a Pirate, a well, and am following your blog posts about it.

  2. Hi Jen,

    I really like your blog a lot! I was wondering if you are interested in a partnership with the company I'm working for. They launch giveaways and other activities regarding children products. I couldn't find an email address. Is it possible for you to send me an email?

    Thanks in advance!