Category: Grading

Varsity: From Letter Grades to Letter Winners

As another baseball season concludes, I reflect on our team highlights and individual heroics that will become hometown lore, and inevitably, relive several “what-if?” scenarios, as if we could go back and choose new outcomes. I taste the bittersweet reality of saying good-bye to our seniors, while the renewed hope of next year’s potential emerges. I will miss our graduates, but would start a new season tomorrow knowing I have another chance to work with our returning letter winners. This is the annual cycle of emotions experienced by high school varsity coaches.

Since shifting to a personalized learning model in my high school English classes, I have experienced similar feelings. The more we invest in the individual, the more we get to know our learners–interests, strengths, academic needs, areas of improvement, learner preferences, future plans–and the more personal the relationship grows. While there are more technical definitions, that’s how I identify personalized learning.

Educators know the feelings. Satisfaction. Exhaustion. Fulfillment. Pride. Seasonal allergies are not solely to blame for end-of-year watery eyes as teachers wish their kids a final “have a nice summer” sentiment. There is an emptiness–a sense of loss–knowing the time has come for our students to move on. We’ve done our part, but now we must watch them become someone else’s responsibility. All of the progress, conversations, and feedback exchanged between teachers and learners reset; the learning process starts over next year.

So what do we do? Post a letter grade. Auto-fill several comments. At best, rush to write something nice in students’ yearbooks. And then, they are gone. The classroom is silent until a new group enters.

In my reflections this summer, I question how we end each school year. I question myself.

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Homework Questions: In Search of the Answer Key

Every hour of the school day, a number of students hustle into my classroom, focused, and eager to get to work. Before the bell rings to indicate the start of my class, students are already invested in their studies. Backpacks are open, paperwork out, and pencils urgently filling in blanks. I don’t even have to provide motivation or verbal cues. My students are great kids. They seek approval from parents and teachers. They have positive intentions toward success and a sincere desire to please.

What’s my secret? Continue reading

Create Learning PERMANENCE Through Reassessment

Like many educators, I want to create a learning environment around a mindset that teaches students to be patient, trust the learning process (and the teacher), and celebrate growth. But there is a powerful force that challenges such conditions. We live in a culture that continues to reward, rank, and emphasize grades over learning, points over progress, and recall over creation. 

It’s time to reassess our culture of learning. By acknowledging and acting on the following truths, educators live up to their professional title and create learning permanence.

All students can learn.
Always return to this central truth as foremost in education.

Learning is a messy process; consequently, teaching all students to learn is challenging work. Continue reading

The Economics of an ‘A Culture’

Non-educators discuss education by using the language of an economics lesson—analyzing the material impact of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Public decision-makers assess a school’s value and teacher performance on ratings attached to standardized test scores. The political community seeks to reform education in terms of funding, privatization, policy, vouchers, and budget cuts. While recognizing these concepts have no connection to kids, educators also use business-related diction when referring to educational trends, college and career readiness, stakeholders, ownership, investment, portfolios, risk-taking, and assessment. Educators must be intentional and learner-focused, understanding how words and actions communicate core values.

Despite positive intentions, we have created a competitive, high stakes culture of success or failure. When we rank by grade point average or add merit to weighted grades, we assess students’ educational “worth.” Transcripts keep score but fail to identify what students know and can do. Online gradebooks turn reporting into nauseating stock market games.

We live in an ‘A Culture.’
In an A Culture, when students sense Assessment they respond with Anxiety or Apathy. Reassessing our culture of learning is serious business…
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Transparency: Aligning Learning and Assessment

Back to School

Stores taunt shoppers with Back-to-School savings in early July. By mid-August, denial transforms into anticipation. Hallways are waxed. New classroom designs are configured. Bulletin boards become thematic works of art. Pencils are sharpened. School is ready for students.

Educators focus their vision on the master plan for student learning. What worked last year? What adjustments need to be made? And why? Always know the WHY to move forward with purpose. After addressing the WHY, it is time to figure out HOW to set the plan into action. Every day, students should ask and be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? and How will I know I have learned it? 

Visible Learning

We know from the research of experts and from personal experience—in its simplest form—learning must be visible to maximize educational effectiveness. John Hattie reminds us, “Know thy impact.” So, we proceed thoughtfully…

Course curricular units. Planned.
Department standards. Identified.
Visible learning targets. Posted.
Student-friendly language? Yep.

If we can get to this point, we are in great shape; but a new conflict emerges. How do we know students are learning according to expectations? Is there a transparent means of assessing and organizing evidence of learning? This becomes a gap in what well-intended educators want to do versus what takes place in the classroom. Here is a simple plan to align standards, learning targets, and assessment. Continue reading

What? Why? How? Trend Setting Questions

Education does not need more pre-packaged trends; it needs more trend setters.

We have reached a point in education where there is opportunity for a transformation–to rethink what we teach, why we teach it, and how we teach it. Some view this shift as a change for the sake of change–to climb aboard the newest school bus. Others envision progress and continuous growth in what we already do well.

But if we already do it well, why change?

Those who ask this question need to study the work of Carol Dweck. If teachers expect students to strive for improvement, they need to model behaviors indicative of a growth mindset.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

What do we teach? We need to establish actionable learning targets with a project-based approach in which students have autonomy, mastery, and purpose with clear standards. We have the power to make education “a little bit better” with what we teach. Daniel Pink shares the impact of teaching with this purpose in mind.

Why do we teach it? I love when students ask teachers to answer this question. If I cannot justify the purpose for a lesson, I must reconsider its value. We, as educators, need to be reminded to answer the question ourselves before students ask. John Hattie provides eight golden rules for educators with his philosophy of visible learning.

How do we accomplish this vision in education? Refer to Rick Wormeli for answers. Pick any video and watch. If we are not approaching planning, instruction, grading, and reporting using standards-based learning, we are doing a students a disservice. We are not making student learning a priority; we are enabling students and parents to continue playing the game of school.

TeachThought #reflectiveteacher Day 24 of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge

Creative Vision: Potentially Perfect School

Hi friends,

It’s Brian, reporting to you from the future. Don’t be frightened. What I thought was the door to the restroom, actually turned out to be a portal into our future world. You should see this place—pretty rad.

I know what you’re thinking: “Brian’s been playing with the smelly markers again.” Not so, my friends, and I assure you, there was no head injury during transport. Before I return home to the present to continue searching for the perfect school for my children, I want to give you a glimpse of what I experienced (just in case there is some time warp lag memory loss). So check out the letter I composed thanking the administrators who gave me a tour of SBL High School in the Culture of Learning Global School District…

 

To The Visionary Staff of SBLHS:

I would just like to take a moment to thank you and your enthusiastic staff for giving me a tour of your public school. As the parent of a prospective student in your district, I must say I am most impressed with the warm greeting I received as well as the education I witnessed.

After visiting numerous institutions of so-called “higher learning,” it was refreshing to be welcomed by smiling secretaries in the main office and a cordial support staff. One custodian even stopped writing an inspirational quote on the message board to show me to the fresh bakery in the faculty lounge and cafe. As I enjoyed a long john, I waited briefly for office coordinators Tamra, Lisa, and Rodney, to finish laughing over a humorous tale about how the back up function on the self-repairing copy machine had to be used for nearly an hour yesterday–someone must have tried to make a worksheet…how 2005! Michele, the director of positive relations, was eager to introduce me to the team of administrators assembled in their morning school improvement conference. I didn’t catch all their names, but it was a pleasure to meet Rick, Ken, Tom, Bethany, Darin, and Charity. I most appreciated Lead Learner Hillman’s willingness to guide my tour of the school; her positive energy was reflected by the entire staff.

One of my early observations on the tour was that our intellectually stimulating conversation was uninterrupted by bells. She informed me that students have complete autonomy in the classroom and take responsibility for their education; therefore, bells are unnecessary. How refreshing to see students not being herded to the next class after a learning time limit.

As we journeyed through the hallways–with fresh-brewed coffee in hand–only the giddy buzz of eager adolescents engaged in academic conversation could be heard. Students and staff warmly greeted each other by name and were equally excited to let a new day of opportunity commence. The head learner showed me the library media center, where students are actually invited to read and research; college-level athletic facilities, field house, and fitness center; and the beautiful, park-like, enclosed courtyard–known as the Study Dome–such a visionary design. Lead Learner Hillman then removed herself from the tour, indicating she had to tend to her typical Wednesday routine of contacting parents of courageous risk-takers. Reporting these positive behaviors in such fashion allowed teachers spend more time with students to focus on learning. Novel concept.

Teacher teams were just finishing their morning session of personal reflection, collaborative practice, and activity coordination–they insisted I partake in the day’s adventure. Rik, Oliver, and Brett, several brilliant minds from the STEM wing, introduced themselves, then apologized for having to move on. Today was the day they were taking groups of students into the community to present their research-based projects. The Masters of the Humanities, including Starr, David, and Joy, invited me to their wing. I must say, they were a dynamic, thought-provoking, inspirational group.

From there, I followed Mr. Durst, a teacher of life, critical thinking, and the communication arts, but was slightly apprehensive due to my years of experience as teacher (prior to the breakdown, which my therapist determined to be a result of political targeting, public disrespect, parent grade-grubbing, and student apathy…). I kept thinking this aura of sincerity and optimism was an act, simply fabricated to lure my division-one college basketball prospect son to the district. Mr. Durst informed me that all teachers show up ready to learn along side their students, providing guidance and opportunities for students to grow in their self-generated learning goals. Teachers are empowered to design all curriculum and craft learning standards. Unlike at my former school, Dystopia High, these teachers are respected as professionals and are amply compensated for their efforts to improve their craft. What is this, the future or Finland?

As we entered Mr. Durst’s room–the Clubhouse–I was awed by what appeared to be a replica of Boston’s Fenway Park, inviting and full of possibilities. The sun’s rays were spilling through the skylights in the vaulted ceiling, providing natural lighting for a secure, tension-free environment. In the centerfield section of the room, adolescent seekers of knowledge were already sharing examples of life experiences, connecting to the day’s literary themes. One group of self-regulated learners was in the rightfield bullpen exploring solutions to passion-based problems. I was surprised to see no rows of desks, just scattered tables and an assortment of overstuffed couches and comfortable chairs.

The leftfield wall (known as the Green Monster) housed a giant scoreboard, which is how most traditional teachers of the past used a grade book. Instead, Mr. Durst posts standards, learning targets, levels of proficiency, criteria-filled rubrics, and indicators of student progress. Every time there is a celebration of knowledge, the video board reports growth to students and parents, giving Mr. Durst extra time to provide personalized feedback to each student. He was then able to differentiate future instruction. I was intrigued by an absence of zeros on the scoreboard, but had already asked enough questions.

Throughout the rest of the day, Mr. Durst was true to his clubhouse mantra, “Learn With a Purpose.” At one point, students gathered themselves around the pitcher’s mound for a whole group dialogue to reflect on their learning process and celebrate individual success. The level of respect, shared control, and autonomy was inspiring. I finally found a school that values authentic learning and relationships over high stakes testing, strict curriculum, and punitive grading.

Thank you for providing this parent with hope for my child’s future.

 

So, my friends, there is hope for the future of education after all. When I return to the present, please join me in leading others to educational enlightenment. For the sake of our children, we must not sit back passively and wait for shift to happen. And to the fixed mindsets of our traditional world, do not fear; you may take comfort with knowledge that schools in the future will still feature chicken nuggets and corn dogs for lunch…although they are all gluten free.