Friday, August 21, 2015

Guidance for Creating Essential Learnings

What is an essential learning? It takes the standards and breaks them down to 10 or so things that you want students to learn during a semester.

Why are they important? We should be basing our instruction on these 10 things.  Therefore, we should be basing our assessments on these 10 or so things.

How are they developed?  Collaboratively with group of people who teach the same or similar things.  See Bill Ferriter’s blog

What do they look like?:  They look kid friendly.  They are probably on a one page document listed out as bulleted points or simple statement.  Again, only about 10 items for a semester.

Are essential learnings basically just standards?  They are not just repeating the standards.  They are making them into words that you can understand and words that students understand.  A standard might ask a learner to do several things all at once. See the standard below

Nebraska Social Studies Standard 12.1.1
Students will analyze and evaluate the foundation, structures, and functions of the United States government as well as local, state, and international governments.

Breaking this standard down, it asks no less than 24 things.  Analyze 3 things (foundation, structure and funtion).  Evaluate 3 things ( foundation, structure, and function).  That’s 6 tasks.  Now do each of those 6 tasks for 4 different types of government (US, local, state, and international)

How can we make that student friendly?  
  1. First we’ll need to break it down.  In an American History class, we can look why (analyze)  the US government was structured the way it was.
  2. Now we can use an “I can” statement or “a student will be able to” statement.
    • I can explain the reasons that the US government has 3 branches.
    • A student will be able to explain the reasons that the US government has 3 branches.

Finally, PLCs are based on 4 main questions
1) What do we want students to know? (essential learning)
2) How do we know that they've learned this? (common formative assessments)
3) What do we do when a student doesn't learn? (intervention)
4) What do we do when a student already knows? (enrichment)

This is the simple version but it is exactly what every PLC in the district should be doing every week.  Determining what we want students to  know and then how to get there.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Failure: The Greatest Learning Tool

We ask students to take risks.  We encourage students to take classes that will be a challenge.  We tell students that learning is more important than the grade.  When we say these things, we mean them.  School should be about learning and growth.  It should be about pushing yourself and growing.  Growth and learning both come from failure. Tim Harford writes in his book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, that "success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right the first time."  Albert Einstein once said "failure is success in progress."  Failure is crucial for success.  Mistakes lead to understanding.  This learning happens throughout life:

  • Touch a hot stove--->learn that will burn
  • Fall off your bike--->learn to get up again
  • Lose the starting position on your basketball team--->learn from mistakes
  • Fail to get a job--->evaluate your effectiveness in current job

Failure is the greatest learning tool when the stakes are low.  Bob Ross from The Joy of Painting would say, "We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents."  When mistakes can be painted over, we take risks and learn to love painting.  Those who feel pressure to be perfect the first time will struggle to become great artists.  Perfection is truly our enemy when it comes to the messy process of learning and growing.

Do schools discourage the greatest learning tool?

Our very policies directly tell kids that learning is a competition.  Competition is good in many cases such as athletics.  Competing to do your personal best is good.  Competing to determine a winner and loser has no place in the learning process.

If a student knows that the homework (learning) is being graded, it follows that it will effect GPA.  Class rank is a competition.  We tell students that scholarships and college admittance will be determined by class rank.  With these high stakes, we deincentivize students desire to challenge themselves.  We encourage a very cautious approach to learning where students fear failure.  In many schools, getting one B+ essentially ruins your chances of being the valedictorian.  If we have a valedictorian, we are showing that we value perfection, not growth.

Providing quality feedback on the learning process is important.   Studies show that once a grade is put on the paper, the feedback's importance is gone (Dylan William).  Students will look at the grade and not even read the feedback. Creating growth minded instruction encourages students to take risks and challenges by creating a safe to fail environment.  Creating an environment that encourages failure as a part of the learning process must allow experimentation and curiosity to blossom.  We must not suffocate our students with fear of "losing" the game of school.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Growth Minded Instruction

Growth Minded Instruction

  1. Create instruction based on what is essential for students to know. It is just important in this process to decide "what not to teach" as it is to decide "what to teach."
  2. Develop common formative assessments to determine if students understand the essential content.
  3. Create an environment where it is safe to fail during learning by using common formative assessments, homework, and other practice activities for the purpose of giving quality feedback, not for grading.
  4. Provide interventions for students who do not understand, as determined by the common formative assessments.
  5. Provide enrichment opportunities for students who already "get it," as determined by common formative assessments.
  6. Use summative assessments after providing appropriate practice, homework, formative assessments, quality feedback, enrichment.
  7. Allow for re-takes and re-does on summative assessments only after evidence of further learning by the student.  Have the student create a plan on how they will further their understanding prior to the re-take.
  8. School policies and practices should support teachers and students in this process.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Responsibility or Mastery?

One "essential learning" in first grade math is that students need to understand addition and subtraction.  If a student takes a test on adding and fails it, should you allow a redo? In the primary grades, we tend to understand that the student needs to master the content.

 In later grades, the answer is often that a student should not be allowed a retake because he should have studied the first time. We have the impression that giving a student a lower grade will hold the student accountable. In many ways, the low grade lets the student off the hook. The student gets a low grade and they are done. We also like to use future teachers as the reason we can't allow them to do a retake. We have to teach them they won't get good instructional practices in the future by not giving them good instructional practices now. Not allowing redoes and retakes sends the message that the timing of the learning is more important than the content.  

If a first grade teacher took the approach that learning responsibility is more important than addition, think of the impact that would have on this student as he moves into 2nd grade and throughout the rest of his education. Which lesson will be more important in 2nd grade, knowing how to add or the fact that the student (supposedly) learned to be more responsible by not being allowed to continue to assess his math facts?  

Study habits are important.  Rather than using punitive grading to "teach that kid a lesson" maybe we need to take time and teach study habits.  When they fail, help the student create a “retake plan.”  Require them to re-take and redo.  The retake, by it's very nature, will be more time intensive.

We want students to be responsible. However, that lesson should not be at the cost of mastering the content. Keep a separate grade for responsibility and make studying the first time a more desirable option.

Sending the right message with your grades

What do I teach?  

Do I teach students responsibility, content, or character?  

If you answered all 3, you are right.  Aren't all 3 important? Can one grade show everything for these 3 diverse topics? It is hard to get an accurate reflection of anything when we mix in everything. I want to use grades to help determine next steps. The next step is very different for the following 2 students and yet the overall grade would not tell me what to do to help these students.

Student 1
5/5 brought in Kleenex
7/10 Math Assessment 1
5/5 covered book
10/10 homework
10/10 homework
6/10 Math Assessment 2
3/0 Bonus-"Math Selfie"

46/50 =92% = B+

Student 2
0/5 Kleenex
10/10 Math Assessment 1
0/5 Covered Book
10/10 homework
0/10 homework
10/10 Math Assessment 2
0/0 Bonus "Math Selfie"

30/50 = 60% = F

Can these grades help me determine who needs an intervention for responsibility? Can these grades give who needs intervention for "Effort?" Can these tell me who needs an academic intervention?

Effort, responsibility, and academics are all important.  They must be given separate grades in order to use grades to intervene.

In the Real World You Can't Turn Things in Late?

“In the real world you aren’t allowed to turn things in late, you’d get fired!!!” 

Is that true?  Do you really get fired for turning things in late? Let’s use Johnson Crossing's (5th and 6th grade building) PLC discussion board as an example.  Understand first of all that this isn’t about the PLC discussion board (teachers-no need to feel guilty for not posting).  

Here is what the January 5th Weekly Bulletin said “ Please respond to “PLC Data” post by January 6th.”  We have 45 teachers at JCAC.  Fifteen teachers responded prior to or on January 6th.  Nine additional teachers posted late.  Do you think anyone got fired?  How about written reprimands?  Anything?  Anyone,  anyone, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.  That’s right, teachers sometimes don’t turn anything in when they are required to by their principal and nothing happens.

But that's different, right? You are correct, our staff is ages 22-53 years old. Our students range in ages from 10-13 years old. Yet we expect our 10 year olds to show responsibility that our 30 somethings are not expected to do.

So why not get upset with the 21 teachers who did not complete the assignment. We had a great in-person discussion. We learned together to use PLC data. As a principal, it is more important that the learning about our PLC Data happens than how and when it happens.

What if my Doctor Assessed using a Punitive Grading System?

**The basic idea of this post comes from a fictional story Rick Wormeli used as an example in a workshop I recently attended.

Most of us believe that turning in assignments on time is an important behavior for students to exhibit.  However, it should not be confused with the essential skill we are trying to teach.  If behavior is given it’s own category, it allows us to accurately reflect the students academic ability.  If we want to use grades to help us make important decisions about student  progress and next steps, it is critical that we understand where they actually are in the learning process.  Reducing grades for late work combines behavior and academic ability, thus confusing what is meant by a grade. Consider the following example:

I went to a doctor to get a Blood Pressure test.  Blood Pressure is assessed using the following chart

Blood Pressure
mm Hg (upper #)
mm Hg (lower #)
less than 120
less than 80
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
160 or higher
100 or higher
(Emergency care needed)
Higher than 180
Higher than 110

I showed up to the doctor and parked in a 15 minute parking zone, knowing that I would actually be in the office for 30 minutes.  I had to do this because I was already late so I couldn't find a parking spot.  The doctor noticed that I was late.  His policy is an automatic 10 points are added to each blood pressure category when people show up late.  When he found out that I parked in a 15 minute parking zone, he had to add another 10 points to my blood pressure according to his policy.  When I got my results back, my blood pressure was marked:

117/76  + 10 for being late = 127/86 + another 10 points for not following directions = 137/96

I have now been prescribed medication for High Blood Pressure.  It kinda stinks since I don’t have high blood pressure but it was my own fault.  I have truly learned a lesson from my doctor.