Some of you may have read one or more of my previous blog entries related to Grading for Learning (linked below). As evidenced in those past posts, and supported by anyone who has ever ventured into a conversation with me about grading, I certainly am not short on words when it comes to this topic. It is a passion of mine that I don’t hide very well!
For today’s post, I thought I would step outside of my comfort zone and go in the complete opposite direction: almost NO words!
Disclaimer: this blog entry and its contents are intended to be lighthearted; yet, on topic. I did my best to find relevant memes with a low likelihood of offending readers. If I have missed either target, I do apologize.
Why Grading for Learning is important
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #1: Homework, quizzes, and other daily tasks are formative practice and should not negatively impact a summative academic grade
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #2: Reassessment is allowed on all summative assessments
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #3: Nonacademic factors are not counted in the summative academic grade
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #4: Only evidence of student proficiency toward learning targets on summative assessments is used to reach a summative academic grade
If you’d like to read any of my previous blog entries focused on Grading for Learning (G4L), visit the hyperlinks below. (But do know, they’re much wordier than the post above!)
If you have any questions about Grading for Learning, please do not hesitate to connect with me.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
It’s finally happening! Green grass is sprouting up, birds are singing, and our mammoth snow piles have melted. Although all of these signs of spring are welcome, anyone who spends any time in schools knows that spring can be a challenging time in the classroom. Students may be more talkative than usual and it’s easy to let the consistent routines that were established in the fall go by the wayside.
Here are three quick tips and resources to help shore up your classroom routines and procedures so you maximize learning in the fourth quarter:
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Greet students at the door with a sign that says I Love a Silent Start and train them to read the board and begin the entry task silently. This is a great way to channel the high energy that may be coming in from the hallway and get students focused on the learning that they’ll do during the hour. Some teachers do a quick write on the topic that you’ll be working on or a quick review from the day before.
The Teaching Channel has this great video of the routine!
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Plan for Movement
Since we know students are going to be needing to move even more in the spring, plan this into your lesson. Here are some of my favorite teaching moves that allow students to move and talk with one another:
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Be Explicit about Behavior Expectations
- How should students enter the room?
- What should students do when they hear my signal?
- What should students do when they return from being absent?
- What are the teacher’s expectations for electronic devices in the classroom?
- What are my expectations for classroom clean up?
- What is our ending classroom routine?
If you would like help with any of these tips your instructional coaches are an awesome resource! You could request that they support you with one particular hour that may need additional reinforcement or just do some planning with them.
Here’s to an awesome and productive spring filled with learning and engagement.
All of us have those days where we wished we could press rewind and start over. But there is no rewind button. We just have to keep on keeping on and hope that whatever has crept into our day to sour it dissipates as soon as possible. I would like to share a recent experience I had with my dog, Walda. (Did you really think I would write a blog post without mentioning her?)
While this girl is no longer considered a puppy (she turned 3 on April 2nd), she does possess an endearing puppy-like quality. Man, this girl has done so much for me. She’s licked my face, rested her head in my lap, brought me her tug toy to play with, you know, all the typical doggie-companion stuff. But just a few days ago, I realized what she has done for me in the vein of personal/spiritual growth.
Now, back to what she taught me a few days ago. I came home and, just like clockwork, she got all sorts of excited: zoomies, pet my belly, here’s my tennis ball, tippy-tappy with her big-girl paws, circle-circle-circle.
I asked Dr. Cecil White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased) one time why it seems we suffer so much from historical trauma.
He looked at me and said, “We have forgotten how to use our natural medicines.”
Great. Now, here comes a discussion on roots and herbs. And, because I hold much respect and admiration for this Elder, I need to listen to what he is going to say.
He must have sensed what I was thinking, because he then said, “Our laughter and tears, we have forgotten how to use our laughter and tears.”
I know I always feel good after a laugh or a cry. But why? Our tears release cortisol. If that doesn’t come out during a good cry, it stays in the body and can cause all sorts of negative effects. Cecil was a very wise man. He never carried himself as if he were a walking library. He was a relatable guy. I am forever grateful to have spent time with him and I appreciate his words and lessons.
His brother, Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased), was also well known for his Lakota language and culture revitalization work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In this video, he talks about the importance of forgiveness and what can happen if you hold onto anger.
We all get caught up in our feelings and emotions and there is nothing wrong with that. But if we stay stuck in our own thoughts, we may just lose sight of what is really important. Make a commitment to yourself to never allow your own thoughts to blind you to what you have in front of you. Tears come up to come out. Let them out and let go.
One more thing, if your dog brings you her slimy tennis ball, or does circle-circle-circle, or wants sporadic belly rubs: engage. These beings are in our life not by accident, of this much I am sure. I love you and your slimy tennis ball, Walda.
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
I was able to experience all the joy one experiences when walking into a neighborhood bodega with several food stamp bills stuffed inside my torn blue jeans. And although everyone in my neighborhood, an area roughly few miles long but supporting over 80,000 people, were in similar situations as my family, I still found it embarrassing using food stamps. I remember the feeling of shame and humiliation course through my body as I readied myself for the monetary transaction. Truth be told, I hated that our family needed help. Yet, like anyone living in poverty can tell you, the worst part is asking for it.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a parent volunteer, Donna Greason. She had told me that if there were ever any student needs, she would be happy to help. I informed her that our school actually had a resource room for students who had clothing or food needs. The only issue was that it was only accessible by walking through a teacher’s personal office and, to top it off, a key was needed. Not many students knew about the room and those who did were required to ask a staff member to open it.
Basically, if I thought using food stamps was embarrassing, I could only imagine how it must feel to be a high school adolescent having to find an adult to open a room so I may pick out food for my family while inadvertently being gawked at by the same person who opened the room up for me. But like many of us are very well aware, space is limited in just about all of our school buildings. And, as is often spoken in my household, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
Yet, when I brought Mrs. Greason to the 7’ x 7’ Support Our Spartans Resource Room, S.O.S. Room, she had other thoughts. She too had financial difficulties growing up and started questioning whether our school could provide a more appealing space. Being the only school social worker for over 1,700 students, honestly, the S.O.S. Room was not particularly on my radar…at all. It had been established well before I ever stepped foot into the building and was a group effort, mostly stocked by the generosity of other Mayo High School staff members.
Her idea was to move out of the space we were currently in and be more centrally located. The other portion of her idea was to be more selective in terms of the items we were taking in, and lastly, “make it look like Target.”
Growing up surrounded by poverty, many of my classmates would still manage to come to school with new Jordan sneakers, Guess Jeans, and Hilfiger sweatshirts, although they too were living in the same poverty stricken neighborhood as I was. So, it was difficult for me to imagine students embracing walking into a resource room to grab a pair of pants and walk out with little shame. And yet, it was so much the opposite of everything most of us were brought up to believe that it might actually work!
With support from our administration, we were provided a larger room right across from the lunchroom. The room is left open, unlocked, and largely unstaffed throughout the entire school day. Meaning, students can simply walk in and out of the room at their leisure. No more hiding in a small space, no more needing to ask for an adult to unlock the room, and no permission needed. Although we have no prior data to compare how many items are coming and going, I can gladly say we estimate it to be about a thousand items every month. We count empty clothing hangers to provide us with a base number of how many clothing items are taken from the room. The difficult part of keeping track of everything is that we offer more than just clothing: we also have school supplies, hygiene products, college readiness information, shoes, water bottles, books, and--to top it off--we also have a food pantry room for our weekly backpack program.
Within a year of implanting the new strategy, our room was so successful that we expanded into the hallway. Many of our school supplies are now located outside of our room and regularly stocked. Three clothing racks are also located in the hallway where students can grab a winter coat when needed. This model has opened the room up not only to those who are impoverished, but to any and all of our 1,700 students here at Mayo High School. It has really helped me reframe my initial position of what a student in need looks like. Because regardless of how much money your parents have, if you rip your jeans in gym class during 2nd hour, straight down the crack, you’re now in need – true story.
The initial planning took more than simply receiving a centralized location. In order to make the room look the part, it was going to take money. We enlisted the help of several Mayo students who were able to write grants for our room and generated about $2,000. The money was used to purchase shelving, clothing rods, hangers, etc.. Recruiting Mayo students to write grants took the burden off of my shoulders and provided students with an opportunity to give back to their community as well as provided them with a life learning experience and an additional item to add to their resume.
The next step was finding students who could be in charge of the daily maintenance and upkeep of the room. This was accomplished by soliciting the help of two student aides per semester. Simply put, there is no way any one person is going to be able to perform their job and effectively maintain a room of this nature. The last piece of the puzzle was to create a club that would be responsible for all of the behind the scenes operations involving the room.
Most people don’t know the S.O.S. Room is actually run by a student club. They meet every Tuesday morning for 40 minutes to discuss current and future needs, donations, monthly newsletters, and social media pertaining to the S.O.S. Room. The last several meetings, however, have not been about our room but were spent discussing ways of establishing a resource room in every school across our district. They are willing to write grants, organize food drives, and donate clothing resources in order to help any school get up and running, or anything else that a school might find beneficial to establishing their own resource room.
There are many myths surrounding a resource room that I would like debunked. The most important one in my opinion is that we need to secure the room behind a locked door. If I were to provide one bit of advice, it would be to make it easily accessible to any and all students. Throughout the past several years I can easily recount only three instances where students disrespected the work put into the room. When weighed against the thousands of times students have appropriately utilized the room...there is no contest.
Some of my tips would include:
- Get students involved. Why? Because if you believe doing everything alone will have an impact, you’re probably right. But if you embrace the student aspect it will not only have an impact, it will become a part of the school’s culture.
- Remember, neither Rome nor the S.O.S. Room was built in a day. It takes time and patience to get everything in order.
- You’re not in it alone. I have found our community and student body to be very responsive when asking for donations.
Outside of those three suggestions, any of the S.O.S. club members will be happy to do whatever it takes to help out another school because they all share the same common belief that all students can be more successful academically when their basic needs are met.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
As an adult learner and as an educator, I realize that none of my former teachers were trying to make me a passive learner, I just wasn’t motivated to be as active in my learning as I could have been.
I believe that as educators we want our students to do well in school but also be motivated and active in their learning. What follows are some things to consider as we try to motivate our students to become active learners rather than passive learners, moving them beyond traditional carrot and stick motivators.
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Adjusting for 21st-Century Learners
If you want a quick idea of what Pink is talks about in Drive, then watching his TED Talk: “The Puzzle of Motivation” is a great starting point:
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
One of the things teachers tend to struggle with is the homework we give and the reason we give it. According to Hattie, homework has an effect size of .29 (very low). We have had students who could do the homework and were motivated to get them all right (i.e. get a good grade) but then struggled when asked to explain why certain rules/procedures worked and why it didn’t. When asked to solve a problem another way, students usually groan and ask, "Why?". We have also had students who did the homework but didn’t really understand the material, as well as students who just didn’t do the homework at all. So clearly, just assigning homework was not a motivator for most students in class and tying it to grades make it even worse.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
Making our classes relevant, interesting, and challenging to our students will help with their motivation. As Daniel Pink refers in his book Drive, if we make tasks in our classrooms fit into one or more of the three key categories--Autonomy, Mastery, or Purpose--our students will move from being compliant (grade driven) to engaged (seeing the value).
I know from my own experience that when I switched from being all about grades and more about the why and how, what I was learning became important. I became a totally different student. I also remember far more about what I was doing rather than just knowing I had learned it once upon a time. I know it isn’t always an easy transition: when we find things that work and that we are comfortable with, change can be hard. But, in knowing our students face different opportunities than we may have faced, it's time to try things a little differently.
As I was listening to her speak, one of the things that was on my mind was the immense pressure and joy that come from working in education. When I returned to Minnesota I spent some time looking into what she has to say about being an educator. I found a speech online that she delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2017. In this speech she talks about the power that we, as educators, have to affect the outcomes for our students as well as the power that we have to affect outcomes for ourselves.
A few questions you may want to consider as you are watching:
- How does this challenge my thinking?
- What has been reaffirmed for me?
- What will I do moving forward?
I am cutting my writing of this blog short in order to allow time to watch the video. Think of it as a treat to yourself. It just may be exactly what you need.
I believe every student is growing in some area of life and below are ten ways to categorize individual growth. People are often seeking how to prioritize their lives and this is also a strategic plan to keep things in the proper perspective.
Feel free to connect with Taylor via email.
Brian Durgin, ELL teacher at both Friedell and Kellogg, says...
I focus student learning around the prioritized learnings.
How has this changed student learning?
I am only assessing the highest priority skills that students need. I can target formative assessments and give students multiple opportunities.
Scott Lyke, Social Studies teacher at Mayo, says...
[I’ve] no penalty for work turned in late since timeliness is a behavior and not an indicator of learning.
How has this changed student learning?
More emphasis is on learning—students know that if life gets in the way of schoolwork for a while they're not locked into a lower grade than they can achieve.
Courtney Peterson, English teacher at Century, says...
[I’m] implementing proficiency-based grading using rubric.
How has this changed student learning?
On a piece of writing, students get more specific feedback about their proficiency on various aspects of [their] writing, not just one lump score.
Stefanie Whitney, Avid teacher & Instructional Coach at Willow Creek, says...
[I use] student goal-setting and self-reflection/assessment on prioritized learnings.
How has this changed student learning?
Students set goals on prioritized learnings and know exactly how they are being assessed. They understand they will have multiple opportunities for mastery. My feedback is more focused and I am able to add on to their own self-reflection.
Kelly Stroeing, a Sixth Grade Language Arts teacher at Friedell, says...
I've worked to focus more on learning and giving meaningful feedback to help students improve as writers. Students receive scores of 3, 2, or 1 on skills (not assignments), with the idea that they can continue to work on these skills and provide evidence of mastery as they reach it. It's not a one and done: everything can be redone or practiced further.
How has this changed student learning?
We've shifted the conversation from "How do I get my grade to an A?" to "How can I build my skills to be proficient in __?" It's a work in progress, but I feel students are putting in more effort and taking more ownership of their work. The grade is truly skill-based and not behavior-based.
As you walk down the path toward Grading for Learning, I encourage you to connect with teachers at your site that might already be implementing some of the practices. We can learn together.
- Remember that big research paper in 9th grade? I hated every second, but I sure can decipher bias now...
- In Speech I learned how to use subscription databases like a beast. In college, ERIC was easy for me because Nieland showed me how to use it in 10th grade.
- Mr. Johnsrud had us create a mini-website as an end-of-semester project--that has really helped me with all the blogging and design work I do now.
- I would have died in college had it not been for those Process Papers you and Parker made us do. Those forced me to edit...to really focus on the details of my writing.
This conversation has stuck with me. It reminded me of when I was in college: finding that I could write stronger papers than some of my peers, I took an hour or so one night to jot a note to a few of my past middle and high school teachers who had helped me build those skills. I still remember, to a small degree (it was over two decades ago), what I said to them in those letter--what it was I thanked each of them for.
It got me wondering. Do these same writing skills, strategies, and modalities that impacted me as a writer in the late 90's still resonate with today's students and recent grads?
To no one's surprise, I let the nerd in me take over. I created a survey. It was a simple Google Form that I shared on social media. Then, some fellow English teacher friends shared it, too. Less than a week later, I had responses from 31 Rochester Public Schools (RPS) recent graduates.
The results? Insight upon insight. Despite the small sample size, these 31 2011-2018 graduates provided more perceptive statements than can be squeezed into one blog post. (Hence, this is the first part of a three-part series.)
For now, here's some raw data and overarching themes.
Just the Facts
Trends Noted in the Graduates' Comments
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective