Students at work in my Geometry classroom!
This fall, not only did I return to the classroom after a 2 year hiatus as an instructional coach, but I joined and led an Algebra II team that had agreed to launch Standards Based Grading. We were given a week over the summer to upend our current curriculum and start from scratch with the Common Core State Math Standards. With the help of our instructional coach, we had developed a strong curriculum map and began writing our first assessments, rubrics and lessons. We weren’t the first team to take the leap. The previous year, the Geometry team was not only the inaugural team to take the Standards Based Grading jump in our department, but also our school. While it wasn’t easy and took a great deal of time and effort to redesign the curriculum and assessments, it was deemed, overall, a success.
- Room for Growth At the end of the semester I had students reflect on our classroom norms as they related to themselves as a student and as a classmate and, of course, my instruction. On the back of the evaluation, I had them also share their thoughts on Standards Based Grading. I was particularly impressed with the thoughtful reflection of one student, “It favors the students’ education over their grade and the work they complete.” Yes! Another student wrote “(I like how) we retake the test we do to better ourselves.” They’re really starting to get the basic values that are the foundation of our practice: prioritizing learning over grades, and growth over time. But, in reflection, I’d like to continue to prioritize growth mindset language in my classroom. For example, I give pencils that say “Got an A with Mrs. J” for students who receive an “exceeding the standard” rating of a 3.5 or 4/4. I was thinking that I should also give a prize to those who’ve most improved from the first standard to the second in an effort to honor growth. My colleague, Patrick, also suggested that we call the second assessment we give for each standard as the “Growth Assessment.” I like that, too.
- Struggle with Student Motivation By far the biggest struggle that’s been voiced among my colleagues is the frustration over the lack of student homework completion. Math is a skill and, like any other skill, requires practice. I’ve told students more times than I can remember that mentally assenting to mathematics done correctly does not mean that you can perform the skill as well. You can’t just watch football and think you’re ready for the NFL. Nonetheless students think they can. We’ve talked about counting homework for points, but the teachers in Algebra I remind us that student work in their classes reflect little effort and, sadly, copying. They cringe at the thought of giving that caliber of work points towards their final grade. So, we return to making the argument to students about the importance of homework to improve understanding and summative performance. I would LOVE any insight any of you might have!
- Admiration and Respect for My Team I wasn’t the only one without experience in Standards Based Grading. On the team, which comprised 8 teachers, there was only one who was also on the Geometry team and he was a huge contributor, helping us to avoid pitfalls and encouraging us to focus on what he felt would give us the strongest start. That being said, everyone embraced the challenge and appeared eager to contribute to the major undertaking, which included a division of labor and group edits. While we certainly believed in the tenants of Standards Based Grading, that is, a student’s grade should reflect what they can perform, articulate and understand and not a student’s behavior, we had to be honest about the practical rubber-meets-the-road type pitfalls, such as student motivation. We also needed to reflect on the flow of curriculum, the shifts in our pedagogy, and our team dynamics. We didn’t always agree. In fact, often we didn’t. But, our team is professional, reflective and fun. We tangled until we could live with the outcome and may revisit it again. We are currently on the “act – reflect – new action” cycle of education and are content with that. Truly, I feel blessed to work with such a thoughtful team of educators.
Overall, I would deem semester I a moderate success with room for my personal growth. I hope to move forward in shifting mindsets towards growth and away from a focus on grades. I want students to know what they know and what they don’t know. I want them to learn the benefits of practice towards peek performance. And I want to continue the good work of a team that cares about what’s best for students, even if we don’t always agree on how. Also, I’m grateful to have the privilege to work with students. Teaching isn’t for the weak, but it’s the most rewarding job there is. It never gets boring, to be sure. Here’s to the future–have a great 2019!
I am instructional coach and challenging thoughts about practice because “that’s what we’ve always done” is part of my job. I start with my own. I’m a product of 16 years of traditional US education and, let me tell you, I was GREAT at it. I loved grades. They were part of my identity: hard working, law abiding, bright girl. How many of my views about grading came simply from my experience?
Assessment is a hot topic at school. People are asking good questions, but change is scary–and we don’t want to change things for the worse! It’s time for a thoughtful look at assessment. To that end, I spent the summer taking an online course on assessment. My last assignment was to develop my personal philosophy of assessment.
- Grades should measure student performance towards achieving the standards and not behaviors. To that end, standards must be made clear to students and should be an integral part of the instructional process. Students learn best what they are expected to learn is clear and they can assess their own progress towards the goal. That being said, grades should be assigned at the end of learning, that is, for summative assessments, alone. In addition, since behaviors have nothing to do with the standards, including them in the grade would taint the accuracy of the measure. Such behaviors include, but are not limited to, late work, absenteeism, and cheating. Those behaviors deserve a behavioral consequence.
- Students should be given ample opportunities to demonstrate their learning. The shop for learning should remain open as long as is feasibly possible for the teacher and student. That is, I believe in retakes at any time. I believe students must earn the right to retake by showing they have done sufficient work to be able to demonstrate mastery for the standard that they were unable to perform previously. I believe in using a four point scale over 100 since there is greater inter-rater reliability.
- Frequent, clear and positive feedback and student reflection are essential to learning. Formative assessment should be ungraded, provide feedback that a student can act upon, and positive in nature. It is our instinct to find errors and correct them, and that is important. However, feedback, particularly in standards that are demonstrated best by writing or presentation, can actually be more powerful when a teacher highlights the strengths of the student’s performance and then make suggestions towards improvement. Formative feedback may be simply a conversation between teacher and student (conferencing) or can be written feedback on a formative assessment. Providing time and a structure for student reflection towards his/her own progress towards the standard is a powerful tool for the future, teaching students how to monitor their own learning throughout their lives.
- When it comes to standards, less is more. US math text books contain 175% of the number of German standards and 350% of what Japanese texts cover. Both countries outperform the US in math (Schmoker). That being said, we should carefully select which standards are essential for student learning and report on those standards alone. If time is prioritized to treat each standard with due diligence, students will be able to access the standard at a level of greater understanding and rigor.
- Standards should be assessed at an appropriate level of Depth of Knowledge. If the standard is “to make inferences,” for example, simply identifying a correct inference from a select response item is not asking students to perform the standard as intended. Rather, asking students to read a passage and then, make an inference providing evidence for their reasoning from the text, is better suited to the standard.
- Assessment is best when it is authentic. For example, asking students to compare and contrast two different systems of government is best done in either a presentation or written form, not a standardized multiple choice test. When assessing speaking and listening skills, students should be assessed performing those skills in a manner they might be expected to in the future—before a real audience outside the classroom would be even more powerful and would motivate students. Standards should be assessed more than once and by a variety of means. In fact, a standard assessed by three different means is ideal and is referred to as a “triangulation of data.” In addition to written exams, portfolios, blogs, videos, essays, presentations, projects are all viable methods of assessment.
- Growth mindset goes hand in hand with standards based assessment. Students must know that all formative work is to prepare them to master the target. The focus should be on learning and not on “point getting.” Initially failing to meet a standard while learning, is expected and normal. In addition, allowing students to retake assessments in order to improve their performance provides hope and motivation for them to continue to learn.
- Differentiation is important for student learning. That being said, students who are working toward standards that are above or below his/her grade level standard is appropriate, but should be denoted when reporting out to universities. High school level students who are working towards grade school standards should be measured against those standards alone. However, it should be noted that they are working at grade 6 standards, for example, on their report card. Likewise, students taking courses that require students to master more difficult or additional standards should be rewarded as well. This has traditionally happened through a GPA bump. **Note: I’m not sure how grades for special needs students are reported at my school. This are my thoughts alone.
This is my CURRENT philosophy on assessment. It is organic and a work in progress. I’d love to hear from you–feedback? Questions? Thoughts?
Schmoker, M. J. (2011). Focus: elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
This post could also be entitled: “Stuff I learned from Twitter over Christmas Break.” One of the things I love about break is the chance blog binge and peruse twitter for ideas. I have a folder in my g-mail entitled “Read over break” and LOVE when I get to crack it open. I bore easily and without new ideas, (gulp!) even teaching might become stale for me.
1. Wingman I watched a great little video regarding a strategy called Wingman from the Teaching Channel. Here the most pensive and quiet student is asked to engage by observing the group and giving feedback later. I highly value student to student communication in the process of learning. That being said, I know that my class must be an introvert’s nightmare. This will allow the introvert to be an observer and still participate in the learning. The video demonstrated the Wingman strategy in an ELA class but I would give it a little twist in my HS Math classroom. I’d most likely hand the “wingman” a sheet to keep a record of when students apply one of the 8 mathematical practices and encourage groups to make sure they touch on at least four or five of them. At the end the “wingman” could give a report to the group on their progress and point out individual strengths.
2. Closure Strategies I found this great article on Edutopia on 22 Powerful Closure Activities by Todd Finley. While quite of few of them were either ELA or elementary in nature, here are a few I’d like to try:
Ask students to stand up, raise their hands and high-five a peer — their short-term hustle buddy. When there are no hands left, ask a question for them to discuss. Solicit answers. Then play “Do the Hustle” as a signal for them to raise their hands and high-five a different partner for the next question. (Source: Gretchen Bridgers)
Exit Ticket Folder
Ask students to write their name, what they learned, and any lingering questions on a blank card or “ticket.” Before they leave class, direct them to deposit their exit tickets in a folder or bin labeled either “Got It,” “More Practice, Please,” or “I Need Some Help!” — whichever label best represents their relationship to the day’s content. (Source: Erika Savage)
3. Kick me. The first rule of “kick me” is NO KICKING. Good to know. I found this great strategy on the Teaching Channel as well. I teach Geometry and this strategy allows me to help them solidify their understanding of the plethora of vocabulary associated with the topic. I would probably create a sheet that includes several figures that demonstrate the vocabulary word. Students would have the vocabulary words taped to their backs and would have to search out the matching vocabulary. This might be a great “beginning of the school year” activity that would allow them to mingle AND give me some idea what geometry concepts that they brought with them from middle school.
4. Better Quiz Corrections Okay, this one I THUNK up myself…well, sort of. It started when I began only highlighting errors on quizzes and giving students 5-10 minutes to make corrections after they were returned as a result of watching this fabulous video from…the Teaching Channel (have I mentioned how much I LOVE this Twitter follow?). I thought that I might make a half slip that students can fill out that might give them (and me) more feedback: You can view that here.
5. Reflecting on Student Work. This idea came also from a video from Teaching Channel but I can’t seem to find it. The idea is to take two students from the class and follow their work throughout the year. I would love if several of my colleagues could join me in this. We can see the types of errors our students are making and what antidotes we have, as a team, to counteract them. Since PLCs seem to be a major goal in our district and school this year, this sounds like a good place to start.
Well, here’s to a fabulous 2016! Wishing teacherdom all the best! What are your resolutions? Please share! 🙂