Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Mantra of Failure & Success

mantra. (Merriam-Webster 2014): a word or phrase that is repeated often or that expresses someone's basic beliefs

The Mantra of Student Failure 
IF ONLY
 students would.....then they would not be failing
IF ONLY
those teachers would have taught...then they would not be failing
IF ONLY
parents/guidance/administration would....then they would not be failing
IF ONLY
previous grading practices prepared students...then they would not be failing
AS LONG AS
 I keep blaming...then students will continue to fail
The Mantra of Student Failure
The Mantra of Student Success
ONCE I
 meet students at their levels of readiness...then will they find success
ONCE I 
 collaborate with teachers across grade levels...then will they find success
ONCE I
 establish a support system of all stakeholders...then will they find success
ONCE I
implement transparent and relevant learning objectives to grade...then will they find success
AS LONG AS
 I continually seek to help students grow...then students will continue to succeed
The Mantra of Student Success

mantra. 2014. In Merriam-Webster.com.
       Retrieved January 29, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mantra

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Simple Ways to Differentiate Instruction

Ok, what's your first reaction to the word "differentiate"?
  • multiple lesson plans
  • multiple worksheets
  • multiple multiple multiple....
Who has time for multiple? I surely don't! But what I do have time for is...
  • one lesson plan
  • one worksheet
  • one on one instruction
Whoa...you say! That's not differentiating! Hold your horses folks...wait and see!  This is differentiating IF:
  • the lesson is tailored for all levels of readiness
  • the worksheet is scaffolded for all levels of understanding
    • this means you allow students to begin where they are ready, skip what they don't need and/or pause when it feels impossible to continue
  • the teacher sees to it that each student gets what he/she needs in order to grow 
Really if the thought of differentiating sends you into panic then give it another name.  Some might just call these best practices, others might argue that differentiating only occurs when all of the above no longer works.  I really don't want this post to get caught up in educational name games or we start missing the point....are we creating opportunities for all students to grow from his/her own level of readiness? 

Here are a couple of simple things you can do to differentiate or implement best practices or whatever you want to call it:
  • Blank Paper Formative Assessment
    • every student has a blank sheet of paper
    • teacher instructs the class "Without support, show me all you can about....assuming I know nothing about it....ready go!"
    • collect papers and quickly sort them into 3-4 groups based on levels of understanding
      • example below:  the top 3 pictures are blank paper formative assessments I sorted into 3 groups (pushpins indicate the symbol assigned to each student)
        • (Star = Mastery, Squiggle = Basic & Down Arrow = Below Basic)
        • Choose any symbol or grading method you choose (symbols, numbers, stickers, color code with highlighters...)


    • Lesson Planning  spice up your lesson plans according to different time frames because as we know not all students end up at the same level of understanding at the same time.  I do this using 3 categories and I make it visible for all learners so they know not only what they should be doing but why and how it connects to what's coming next...
      • Last Chance: this means this is the last chance for working on practice started previously....after this day students must complete at home or during tutoring
      • Moving On: no new information is introduced, but it reinforces learning objectives...Last Chance students may not have the opportunity to do this in class...you can strongly encourage them to complete it on their own time or make it required 
      • What's Next: here enters the symbol groups from the blank paper formative assessment....
        • Stars = new information for students that reached mastery on the last skill in order to move on (this could be guided notes with video or embedded explanations with recall/rote skill practice)
        • Squiggles and Down Arrows = support practice for basic/below basic students 
          • scaffold practice to include recall and application practice
            • ideas that include both types of practice on one worksheet
              • within directions have students complete recall or lower level application practice using mini-whiteboards
              • once mastery of lower skills occurs then continue on with "paper" practice for higher skill application
              • always honor the "squiggle" students not in need of the lower level practice by allowing them to skip the whiteboards and move on to higher level practice
Hopefully you notice that students are front and center for all of these strategies. When this happens, the teacher is free to move about the room and work with students one on one or in small groups. Gone are the days of "sit and get" as we transition to instruction that allows students to "seek and find". We must empower students by giving them the tools and time to grow in understanding as well as multiple pathways to show off what they know and are able to do.


Friday, January 3, 2014

How Transparent Are Your Grading Practices?

In March 2013 I wrote a post (click HERE) discussing the tidal wave of educational changes specific to grading practices.  On Twitter these days there seems to be a battle ensuing between those in favor versus those against Standards Based Grading.  If you want some heated reading simple follow convos between folks from #sbgchat and @stopsbg.  All of this talk made me reread my post on grading in the gray.  Both sides have valid points.  I'm going to kick start things with StopSBG's top reasons to put an end to SBG practices (their site stopsbg.com
  • There is no solid data available showing it is successful
  • With no clear mathematical way to convert a 1 to 4 grading scale into 0 to 100, GPA’s could be adversely affected
  • Colleges don’t widely recognize SBG, so may not understand the letter grade on a transcript is not based upon traditional grading.
  • Homework is not graded and extra credit not allowed, which takes away additional ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and mastery.
  • Because only testing and assessments are graded, behaviors such as work habits, attendance, time management, and accountability for late or missing assignments no longer matter.
Two years ago I attended the Marzano Consortium offered in my school district.  So, I dove head first into the SBG swimming pool.  I almost drowned in that pool trying to align SBG with traditional high school grade books so I can see why teachers get frustrated with the SBG process.  I absolutely agree, there is no "clear mathematical way to convert a 1 to 4 grading scale" to percents.  However, here comes my first disagreement with StopSBG:
  • I disagree with the argument above that states "GPAs could be adversely affected" and the implication that colleges won't understand what the GPA means. In truth, no one knows what one teacher's letter grades mean over any other teacher's letter grades.  What is an A in one class could be composed of mostly homework while in another class an A could be composed of entirely summative assessments. Talk about gray, which A has more rigor? The A that focused on homework or the A that focused on tests? Seriously, I have no idea.  Maybe the homework was more rigorous than the other teacher's tests or visa versa.  In truth, there is little validity in GPAs when there is such a vast difference in grading practices.
The next two StopSBG arguments are interesting, yet again I find these statements land in the gray.  Here comes my next disagreement:
  • Let's define "graded".  Do we mean a numerical value is put in the grade book to negatively or positively impact a student's grade? Or do we mean descriptive feedback is given in order to improve understanding of content? Or even possibly both? All of these are effective ways to assess understanding so I am left unclear as to the statement claiming students cannot "demonstrate knowledge and mastery".  Rick Wormeli does a fantastic job describing the purpose and value (yes, even numerical value) of homework in his video series "How much should homework count?"
  • Let's define "extra credit".  Does this mean the student has mastered every practice and assessment and now wants to go above and beyond? Or does this mean the student needs a few more points to raise his/her grade?  Whatever "extra credit" is, I'm hoping it aligns to standards in order to increase student understanding.  If that's the case, is it really "extra"? 
Now comes the last StopSBG argument that "work habits, attendance, time management, and accountability for late or missing assignments no longer matter." Again, this is very vague....very gray...
  • Let's define "no longer matter".  I do not know of any school (especially public) that does not value attendance, after all attendance equals money.  Next, my school is a melting pot of grading practices and I do not know of one teacher that dismisses work habits, time management or student accountability.  While all of us may grade in different ways I can say with confidence that all of us care about these life skills.  The difference comes in how we choose to teach these life skills.  For some it means grades are negatively or positively impacted, for others it means a reporting out of these skills without it directly impacting grades.  Even for the later of these two, work habits and skills will no doubt affect student understanding thus ultimately impacting grades.
When I released many traditional grading practices my grading pendulum swung to SBG.  However, over the last two years the pendulum has come to rest in the center.  The truth is there are just too many variables for me to see grading as black or white.  I can't whole heartedly say that I am true SBG because I do not use 4321.  I believe our levels of understanding run a wider spectrum than 4 numbers or even 5 letter grades can offer. Instead, I have chose to blend the grading worlds in order to become more transparent in my grading practices. Merriam-Webster (2014) offers these definitions for the word "transparent":
  • free from pretense or deceit 
  • easily detected or seen through
  • readily understood
  • characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices
With those definitions in mind ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are your grades free from deceit?  
  2. Are they easily seen through and readily understood?  
  3. Are your grading practices visible and accessible to all stakeholders?  
  4. Most importantly do your grading practices reflect what students know and can do in direct alignment to learning objectives?  
Here is a look at my Transparent Grading Practices:
  • Purposely scaffold learning objectives to guide instruction and grading.
  • Make known to students and parents what they must know and be able to do for each grade entered in the grade book (my grading practices are posted for all to see click HERE).  
  • Practice and formative assessments are vital to student understanding and are entered in the grade book. However, they do not negatively impact student grades especially once mastery of those objective are achieved.
    • If we want to successfully prepare our students for college we must teach them now that practice is what makes perfect. However, it is the test that will be the ultimate reflection of what they know and can do.
My general rule of thumb is this...am I fostering point chasers or knowledge seekers? I have never been lead wrong when landing on the later of these two...be it extending time for students that learn in different time frames or different ways to speaking with students about work ethic and accountability it all comes down to...are we creating a generation of life long learners or are we creating a generation of point talliers that will cry out "but I did the work and I jumped your hoops so I should get the credit!"

I most definitely do not have all of the answers.  StopSBG states there is no evidence citing it is successful.  Honestly, we can all dig up some kind of evidence in order to support whatever claim it is we want others to believe in.  Again, this argument is not very clear.  I think that for any one hoping to discover the ultimate grading formula they might have more luck discovering the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I urge all educators, regardless of grading systems, to spend more time making each of our grading practices as clear as each color of the rainbow. Perhaps then we can clearly see what each student is capable of in regards to learning objectives and life skills so that we can better meet their needs.







transparent. 2014. In Merriam-Webster.com.
       Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transparent