Sunday, February 9, 2014

Homework and Grading Philosophy Hits Home

My 6th grade daughter is learning to do percentages.  She has worked hard on this concept each night for the last several nights.  She simply struggles with this concept.  As she practices, I see her improve.  Each night she has gotten a little better.

If she were to be graded on her homework, what would this prove?  It would act, in many ways, as a punishment for not "getting it" right away.  But isn't that the point of learning.  If you "get it" in the beginning, then you aren't learning.  Instead, you are just proving that this didn't need to be taught.

Fortunately, she is in a class where students are given feedback.  They are not given a grade that can't be improved upon.  She will be able to prove that she has learned the concept through an assessment.  If a student doesn't get it the first time, they are given chances to redo their test.

Some teachers have expressed that students won't do homework unless they grade it.  As a teacher, I remember worrying about the same thing.  So, I asked my daughter, "If you don't get graded on the homework, then why do you do it?"  She told me "So I learn it, and so I do good on my NeSA (Nebraska State Accountability)."   The second part of that answer makes me sick (which is a post for a different time), but the first part nailed it right on the head.  When students start to see the work they do as directly related to learning, then we start to make real progress.

She struggled on percentages last week, but I am now seeing real progress in her homework.  The confusion that is involved in learning can be quite stressful for a student.  Being able to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and improve from mistakes allows for real learning.  Instead of a game of collecting enough points to earn an A (as in many traditional classrooms), students work on concepts until they master the concept.  What a concept!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Feedback: Making Time for What Matters

Don't confuse grades with feedback.  Traditional grades don't encourage improvement.  Grades are not intended to help you improve.  Grades are final, even when we say they are formative.  Once a student sees a grade, they move onto the next subject.  This is proven out in research.   Feedback is a part of the learning process.  Feedback tells you what you are doing well so that you continue to do those things.  It also gives suggestions of what you can do better.  

And Now, A Statement from the Confused Teacher

It's easier to simply check problems correct or incorrect on a test.  Then this works out into a percentage grade.  That grade can then be converted into a letter grade. As a teacher, why waste my time on writing comments and giving suggestions?  That takes much more time and is less efficient.  What a waste of time.  I'll teach them, then I will grade them.  Then, bam, I'll teach them again.  The perfect system-Efficient.

Efficient or Not Efficient, That is the Question

The above would be true, unless you look at the definition of efficient.  Then you've got yourself a problem.

Efficient: 1) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense 2) working in a well-organized and competent way.

Maximum Productivity

Feedback is shown to have a great impact on learning.  Nothing has a greater impact than good feedback.

Minimum Wasted Effort-

Use in-class formative assessments and provide immediate feedback regularly.  
Well Organized-Have systems in place to organize feedback.  Formative assessment such as quick checks for understanding using a randomized way to collect answers from students.  This could be as simple as using popsicle sticks to choose who will answer next.  You could also use a clicker system but technology, in this case, does not necessarily make it better.  Maybe you have a system at the end of class for student to put sticky notes on the door as they leave the room.  


A great teacher understands the research.  The research tells us feedback correlates in a very strong way to learning.

Making Time for What Matters

Grading without feedback does not enhance learning and therefore by definition is not efficient (or effective).  Since the goal is learning, spend your time where you get the biggest impact on learning----Quality Feedback.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Runner's Analogy: Clear Targets + Effective Feedback

Good Instruction=Clear Targets + Effective Feedback

The Runner's Analogy

Scenario 1-Traditional Grading Methods

You begin practicing to run a half marathon by running.  Only you don't know how long the race is going to be.  So you take off sprinting.  Then, the coach stops you and says you got an "A."  You know that means that you have done a good job, so you start sprinting again.  Then, you are stopped again.  Again, you are given an "A."  This continues but towards the end of the practice half marathon, you are getting slower and slower.  You are exhausted.  You can't run anymore.  You start walking.  Fortunately, the race is getting harder for everyone.  Everybody started too fast.  So, the times aren't very good but the coach can't fail everybody.  He gives you A's and B's.  You are sitting with a B+ average.  Then the coach tells you, if you can do a vertical jump of 20 inches, I will give you bonus points.  So you do it.  Now you are up to an A.  You didn't improve and actually got worse, but you met your goal. You've completed what you were supposed to do, you've checked off the marks along the way, and you grabbed some extra points at the end to ensure you got the grade you wanted.  When it is time to run an entire race, you really don't know what you are doing.  You learned that you probably shouldn't run so fast at the beginning but in terms of form, you know nothing new.  So when the race comes, you do your best, which lucky for you, is pretty much as good as the others in your class.

Scenario 2-Clear Targets + Effective Feedback (assessed by a specific criteria)

The coach tells you that you will be running 13.1 miles.  As you begin running, the coach tells you to "look straight ahead."  "Your head is down, look 10 feet in front of you."  As you start to tighten up, the coach tells you to "relax your shoulders and chest" and "Lead with your hips."  You make these adjustments and make improvements throughout the practice.  These are also things that you will now be able to relate to the next time you are running without a coach next to you.  During practice, you make improvements to get better for the actual race.  You continue to practice over several days and continue to get feedback.  The race becomes the assessment.  The practice helped you improve.  It doesn't count for you or against you.  You will be judged solely on your performance during the race.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Initiatives that focus on Feedback

Initiatives that focus on Feedback using Formative Assessments
(Johnson Crossing's 13-14 Initiatives)
Formative Assessment
Create Common Formative Assessments
Use formative assessments as a feedback tool for students and make instructional decisions based on the data provided by common formative assessments.
Learn to implement formative assessments
Use feedback to adjust instruction.
Use formative assessments to improve student learning prior to assigning grades
Change from a “summative” approach to a feedback first approach.  Grades are assigned after students have gotten a chance to learn from the feedback.

PLC-Process to answer these questions:
  • What do we want students to learn? (Essential learnings)
  • How will we know they learned it? (Common formative assessments)
  • What will we do when they haven’t learned it? (Interventions)
  • What will we do when they have learned it? (Enrichment)

KLT-Learn strategies that inform instruction-formative assessments.

Grading-Make a grading system that is “for learning” and gives actionable feedback.
  • Move grading from fixed mindset to growth mindset
  • Connects learning as a part of the process rather than the endpoint (grade)
  • Move grading to giving feedback and improvement
    • How you do at the end is more important than how you did while learning
  • Separates behavior from academic

Focus on Feedback

Feedback-is one of the most powerful tools a teacher has to improve learning. (see Hattie’s effect size)

  • Does the feedback inform students of what they are doing?
  • How is the feedback presented?
    • Is the feedback presented in a non-competitive way?
    • Is the feedback presented with a growth mindset?
    • Does the learner participate in collecting data or analyzing how they are doing in relation to the learning target?
  • Does the feedback relate to the learning target?
    • What is my goal?
    • Where progress have I made towards my goal?
    • What actions must be taken to move towards my goal?
  • Does the feedback help the student become more aware of their own learning?

Growth Mindset
  • Sees academic performance as able to improve
  • With work, a student can improve his grade
Fixed Mindset
  • Sees intelligence as you got it or you don’t
  • Students see themselves as unable to improve because they are either smart or not smart

Implications on Feedback
Fixed mindset
  • “Wow, you did great, you are so smart.”
  • “Nice job, you are really good at Math.”
  • “You missed 3 out of the 5 questions-you get an F”
  • Yet-“You haven’t solved this equation yet.”
  • Already-“What do you already  know?”
  • Comments are process oriented-“That is an effective strategy.”

Feedback and Formative Assessments

  • Assessments are formative if they are giving feedback that is actionable and will improve student learning.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Caring Challenge

Eleven years ago, during a trip to the grocery story, I went to pay for my groceries and realized I didn't have enough money to pay for everything.  We were pretty tight on cash with my wife staying at home with my 3 month old daughter and me being a third year teacher (1st in Fremont).  I remember telling the cashier that I would just put the milk and a few other items back.  She asked, "Why don't you just use your credit card?"  The answer was pretty simple, I couldn't afford to get in any more debt.  College debts were still looming and having just bought a used vehicle, the last thing we could do was go further into debt.  That's when the guy behind me offered to pay for the additional items that we needed.  I told him that I couldn't accept and that I really appreciated the offer.  He insisted and I then accepted the offer.  I asked the man, "How will I pay you back?"  He told me that the only thing I had to do was to pay it forward.  This may have been a small act for this man but for me, it was an act of kindness I'll never forget.

I have now "paid it forward" several times.  All because one guy, who I don't know and couldn't pick out of a lineup today, did something nice for me eleven years ago.  I know that this is nothing new, but it can be powerful.

What can we do to show caring?  This week's challenge to Johnson Crossing's staff is to do a random act of kindness.  If they catch you in this act, ask them to pay it forward.  This could be for a student or a fellow teacher, or anyone. That's it. Get the kindness ball rolling. Just that simple.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Core of Classroom Management

Classroom Management-at the Core is Relationships

The Core

1. Relationships
Kids don't care what you know until they know you care.  Great classroom managers always maintain the dignity of students. Teachers who know something about their kids are better able to deal with misbehavior. As an adult, who do you want to impress more, the boss who is rude and condescending or the one that regularly makes you feel like a valued member of the team?

2. High Expectations 
Great classroom managers have a strong belief that kids want to learn. These teachers simply won't accept failure to meet classroom expectations and they are persistent. Great classroom managers are in charge of the classroom.  They look for solutions and don't ask others to solve their own classroom management issues (though they do communicate with other teachers to find answers).  Sending a student to the office is rare or simply doesn't happen.  Great classroom managers notice problems and make appropriate adjustments. The classroom environment is regularly checked.  Great classroom managers have high expectations of student behavior and even more importantly, they have high expectations of themselves.

Setting Expectations

3. Procedures and Routines
Students should be able to perform the routines in the classroom on autopilot.  Routines and procedures should be well communicated.  When students come into the room, what is the first thing that they do? Students have a question, how do they get an answer? Students need to sharpen their pencil, when do they do that? How is class ended each day?  Teachers should be able to visualize how they want class to go and then communicate how it looks to students through small and manageable instructions.

Procedures and routines are not meant to be fun.  They are meant to get the routine things done so that you can have fun with what you are supposed to have fun with, learning.

The Cosmetics

What are cosmetics? Cosmetics are on the surface and can enhance already well run classrooms.  Things like up/down charts, reward cards (we have tiger bucks), punch cards, etc. Great classroom managers do these cosmetic things.  So do poor classroom managers.  These things are tools that can help, but without the core of classroom management, will not help.  These "cosmetic" things get a lot of attention by many teachers. Cosmetics look nice and feel good, but only work if the teacher is already a great classroom manager.