We are in the midst of the crazy race to the finish of the year. Managing report cards, creating engaging lessons, planning field trips, end of year activities...the list could go on and on.
Yet, no matter what, in a few short weeks, many of us will begin our summer break.
As the school year comes to a close, it is the time of year in the cycle of teaching when we begin to reflect on the past year and make summer plans. One might think these are two separate tasks, yet often times these go hand in hand. Our chosen profession is relatively unique in that many of us have an end, a break, and then a new opportunity for a fresh start every year.
Below you will find a few articles that might help you embrace these three stages:
Hopefully, these resources will help you finish the school year strong, dive into summer, and start fresh again in the fall.
This post brought to you by Ann Miller, K-8 Math Specialist, along with
Heather Lyke and Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associates
In my role where I daily work with teachers, one concern I hear often is that students—at least a specific subset of students—are motivated mainly by letter grades (or, in some cases, are motivated by their parents/guardians, who are motivated by letter grades). This typically comes up in conversations surrounding Rochester Public School’s four big ideas on grading:
Headed back to the classroom next fall, this has also frequently been sloshing around in my brain.
How will I motivate students to focus on learning and growth, rather than on letter grades?
In my brainstorming, I was reminded of what Todd Rose notes in his book The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness (2015). Rose explores the jaggedness principle: the concept that on paper many individuals might all appear much the same, while in reality they’re very unique.
Lory Hough, author of the 2015 Harvard Ed article “Beyond Average” captures it this way:
Rose says, “if we ignore jaggedness, we end up treating people in one-dimensional terms”—the struggling student, the good tester. “If we want to know your intelligence, for example, we give you an IQ test that is supposed to tap a range of abilities, but then we merge that into a single score.” Imagine two young students have the same IQ score of 110—the exact same number. One has great spatial abilities but poor working memory, and the other has the exact opposite jaggedness. “If we just want to rank them, then we could say the students are more or less the same in intelligence because they have the same aggregate scores. But if we wanted to really understand who they are as individuals enough to nurture their potential, we can’t ignore the jaggedness—it is the essential information for providing them with an optimal environment and matching them with optimal strategies for success.”
But acknowledging jaggedness, in my opinion, won’t alone motivate students. However, combine this principle with a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) structure, and we might be on our way…
Create a ROWE
I first learned about ROWEs in Dan Pink’s 2009 Ted Talk, and then read about it again in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In his talk, starting around the 15 minute mark, Pink states that a ROWE is when, “people don't have schedules. They show up when they want. They don't have to be in the office at a certain time, or any time. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it, is totally up to them.” And, he goes on to note that what happens in a ROWE is that, “across the board, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.”
The concept of a ROWE aligns so tightly with the four Big Ideas, it’s hard to ignore. To create a classroom version of a ROWE, students would have to show mastery of required skills, such as the established Prioritized Learnings. However, students will not need to do this on my schedule, nor by following my prescribed pathway. In a classroom ROWE, like the one I hope to create, students will be expected to meet the standards by the end of the grading period, not by some arbitrary date I choose. Likewise, students can get there via a path I map out for them, but if they want to take another route, I’ll welcome that. And, should they hit construction or a dead end, they can reroute themselves (with my help, should they need it) until they meet the required destination.
I recently came upon a statistic that surprised me: “the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual” (Eisenberg, 2014). When this set of facts is combined with the common belief that 65% of learners are more dominantly visual (vs. auditory or kinesthetic). Even despite recent controversy on learning styles, it’s hard to argue that—no matter the statistics—going visual with information can literally help us see more fully the material we’re trying to process.
So, in my quest for an answer to how I might motivate students without traditional letter grades, but yet still track progress that allows for jagged learning in a ROWE structured classroom, I found myself wondering the following:
One way I can see to capture each student’s (jagged) success visually, comes from a 2017 FIRST conference I attended. One of the speakers, Myron Dueck, illustrated a point in Todd Rose’s book by showing radar charts of various football players. He noted that while one player might be strongest in one or two areas, other players are strong in others; but, together the team fills out most, if not all, of the radar’s surface area. Additionally, Dueck highlighted that as a player works on his skills, he’s not going to be strong in every area from the start—some strengths just take longer to build than others.
Similarly, students can take their learning and go visual with it by using a radar chart structure!
Putting it all together . . .
With all this in mind, I mocked up a structure that I am thinking about using with my students when I return to John Marshall in the fall. Maybe something like this will work with your students, too.
| Part 1 |
Each assignment will be rooted in one or more Prioritized Learnings. For one of the courses I will be teaching, American Literature & Composition, these are:
Additionally, on all assignments where students will receive formalized instructor feedback, I plan to use a 3 point feedback scale. For me, three points make sense because it tightly aligns with our Proficiency Scales (but, should my PLC or building opt for a different breakdown, I’ll adjust). Currently, I am thinking it might break down this way:
| Part 2 |
At the end of first quarter, we’ll take some time to do some metacognition, where students can reflect on their learning.
Each student will:
The four steps above might look something like this:
Finally, once each student has completed the steps above, each will work through some self-reflection questions.
Possible questions might include:
| Part 3 |
Repeat ‘Part 2’ (above) at the end of each quarter. By the end of the year, a student’s chart will fill in. For one student, the progression might end up looking something like this:
Whereas, for another student, the progression might look completely different. However, the hope is that by the end of quarter four, all students will be able to color in the whole of the chart, showing proof of mastery of all Prioritized Learnings.
| Part 4 |
Utilize this year-round! Some possible ways I anticipate weaving this into my classroom throughout the year:
I am hopeful that this four-part structure will help students shift their thinking to skills and growth and away from letter grades. Ideally, it will motivate students in a way they can visually comprehend, while simultaneously honor each student’s unique (jagged) pathway to success.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in this structure. What are you doing in your own classroom to motivate students? To honor their jaggedness? To go visual with their learning? Please, share your ideas with me. Let’s reshape our classrooms and our grading structures so students can push beyond letter grades, and into the world beyond.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
If you know me, you know my husband and I are shopping for a new home. Wanting to downsize (I want a tiny house, he wants no yard, so we’ve compromised on looking for a condo), we’re slowly filtering through our belongings. We’re pulling items out of closets that we forgot we even had: placing in boxes the linens not used in years, the sweaters we no longer wear, and the camping gear we’re not even sure why we purchased in the first place.
Perhaps the hardest part of this downsizing escapade, is that we sometimes run into those items we should get rid of but struggle to part with. Those items that served a purpose in their time but no longer are of use. Items like:
Again, if you know me, you also know I love a good extended metaphor. As I see it, downsizing our course content is much like downsizing a home. Fourth quarter, and on into the summer months, we often find ourselves with a bit of extra time to focus on what’s next—and with no fifth quarter on the horizon, this often means making adjustments for the school year to come.
In our classrooms, just as in our homes, there are items that are easy to donate or toss:
However, also like with our homes, there are items that are hard to part with, although maybe we should:
To get inspired to downsize our home, my husband and I (along with much of the US), have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondō on Netflix. Having read her first book a few years ago--The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—this new Netflix series has served as a reminder of many of Marie Kondō’s key ideas. Ideas that, of course, work great in homes, but that also can be used to help create even more magic in our classrooms.
However, if doesn’t spark joy, set it aside. Consider making three piles or lists for those items that no longer spark joy in you and your students:
This, at least for me, is the hardest part of tidying up. It may help to keep in mind what Marie Kondō notes in her first book: “when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
| 5 |
Finish discarding before moving on.
Likewise, in our classrooms, we have to get rid of—or least commit to revamping—those items that no longer fit our students. Only then, once we see what remains, do we know what new format or structure might work best for the year to come. Only then, do we see if we have any gaps in our instruction.
| 6 |
Organize by category.
| 7 |
Designate a spot for everything.
This step reminds me of what I did about ten years ago when I revamped the American Literature course I was teaching. After having purged a few novels and some grammar units that were no longer sparking joy in my students, I rearranged. Because I figuratively laid everything out on the table, I was able to then see that my remaining content, texts, lessons, etc. fit into six themes. Embracing that fact, I rearranged from teaching American Literature chronologically, as I had always done in the past, to teaching it thematically. But it also meant I had some holes to fill: I was suddenly able to weave in a new book group unit and adjust how I taught grammar by embedding into our reading and writing tasks. It was a lot of work, but, ultimately, it lead to more effective learning in the years that followed.
As my husband and I are experiencing firsthand with our home, the act of downsizing can feel overwhelming while in the process of discarding. However, we look forward to placing all our remaining items back in the best order (ideally, in our perfect-for-us condo in downtown Rochester).
As Marie Kondō states, “the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming...not for the person we were in the past.” This is true for our classrooms, too: we need to make them a place where students can grow into who they will become in this ever-changing world...not for the students we taught in the past.
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
- Grading for Learning
- Homework and Extra Credit: Grading for Learning , Part II
- Academic Dishonesty and Late Work: Grading for Learning , Part III
If you have any questions about Grading for Learning, please do not hesitate to connect with me.
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.
| 1 |
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:
| 2 |
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.
| 3 |
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.
- 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
As a staff at CTECH we are still working hard to establish, develop, and communicate who and what we are to students, colleagues, parents, and the community. After working with Mr. Perna and reflecting upon our primary goals, it became clear that our curriculum and our instruction focus on three main areas:
- Purpose -- we strive every day to ensure that students leave our learning spaces with purpose. If they complete a course at CTECH and leave knowing that they want to continue to pursue that career pathway we have succeeded. If they complete the same course and leave with an understanding that the specific career pathway is not for them, we have also succeeded because both students now leave us with purpose. Too many students move into a career or enter courses at the post-secondary level without purpose and they end up spending time, energy, and money to find out that they want to do something different.
- Professional Skills -- Each of our courses emphasizes the importance of learning, practicing, and perfecting the skills of timeliness, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and other commonly referred to "soft skills." We prefer to call them Professional Skills as regardless of the career or college pathway a student takes, these skills will serve them well.
- Competitive Advantage -- The job market changes almost constantly and our students will at one point or another find themselves up against a pool of qualified applicants for a job, scholarship, etc. We believe that by emphasizing both Professional Skills and industry-recognized certifications our students will leave CTECH with a competitive advantage. Nursing students who complete their Certified Nursing Assistant assessment can seek employment as a CNA on their journey toward Nursing School, Med School, or any other Health Sciences career. This certification and experience will give them a competitive advantage over those just entering the field. Automotive students can now earn Entry-level ASA certifications and Culinary students can earn ServSafe Food Handler and/or Food Manager certifications. Both of these provide a coveted competitive advantage.
I talk at length about these three areas of focus each time I lead a tour of our facility and programs and over the course of this year it has become very clear to me the connection between our focus and RPS Graduate Profile. Specifically, I see direct correlation to the following domains:
Success Ready Individual
Becoming Culturally Responsive in Math Class
- How do I engage all my students in class?
- How do I find what works best for them to learn and to participate in class?
- How do I get students to stop saying things like: I am not a math person, I have never been good at math, or I don’t know why you think this year would be different?
How many of us, while sitting in meetings or presentations learning about CLR protocols, are left wondering, how do I use these in my math classroom?
While there is no quick fix or one simple solution, here are a few things to consider and try in your classroom that will engage your math students and create more culturally responsive learning spaces.
Recently, I came upon an article by Mark Ellis (access it here). In his piece, “Knowing and Valuing Every Learner: Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching,” he defines the idea of culturally responsive mathematics teaching (CRMT) as, “creating a learning environment focused on mathematical sense making in which each student feels valued for who they are, for their ways of engaging mathematical reasoning, and for their contributions to the collective success of those within the classroom community.” He goes on to talk about how CRMT requires teachers to (re)consider the mathematics learning environment they’ve created and how well it reflects these four elements:
- How am I ensuring my students learn mathematics with coherence?
- What connections and relationships will help them to build conceptual understanding?
The second element, “Engaging and Valuing Identities,” has these questions to think about:
- How do I learn about the experiences and interests of my students?
- How do I communicate that these experiences and interests are valued in relation to their learning of mathematics?
When addressing “Sharing Authority,” think about:
- What instructional routines do I use to scaffold students’ engagement in productive mathematical discourse and collaboration?
- Who is given mathematical authority in my classroom? Who is not?
Finally when thinking about the last element, “Applying Mathematics”, ask:
- How do I integrate concepts into instruction that are more relevant to my students?
- How am I helping my students to see ways to use mathematics to analyze and address issues within their community?
In this same article, Ellis goes on to share some examples of what CRMT is not versus what it is, since there are often misconceptions. There are shown below:
As I dug more deeply, I found this article by Omiunota Ukpokodu, published in Multicultural Education, which summarizes the types of questions teachers should be asking themselves to be self-reflective. She states that “culturally responsive mathematics instructional practice must first begin with teachers setting high expectations for all students, holding themselves personally responsible if their students are not achieving, creating motivation by demystifying mathematics as culturally neutral, and scaffolding students’ learning to ensure their success” (53). I liked this idea because it focuses on what I can do as a teacher to help all my students, rather than make excuses for why students are not achieving. Frequently asking ourselves as teachers these self-reflective questions pushes us out of our comfort zones, puts the focus on our students, and helps us become more culturally responsive teachers.
These questions include:
- Who is learning math in my classroom and who is not? Why/why not?
- What is my expectation for each of my students in mathematics learning?
- How am I scaffolding instruction for student mathematics learning?
- Do I use word problems that are familiar to my students?
- What social and community issues am I integrating into mathematic curriculum and instruction?
- Do I allow student so contextualize their thinking when practices and solving mathematics problems?
- Am I open to divergent thinking and problem processing style?
- Do I look only for the right answer that I know?
- Do I look to understand students’ strategies and logic when they engage in mathematical problem solving?
- How caring and supportive is the learning context I foster?
- How did each of my students do today?
- How was I responsive to each of my students today?
Identifying Empowering Teaching Practices. Multicultural Education. Spring 2011. 53.
To continue to grow and learn more about CRMT, consider follow the following people on Twitter:
Reimagining the Mathematics Classroom by Mark Ellis. You and your students will be very grateful that you did.
Mr. Knipshield, 'Nipper' as we called him, showed us movies, told us stories and had us read articles about driving. Along the way, he would give us quizzes to ensure that we were ready to pass our permit test so that we could graduate from the parking lot driving to the open road. My guess is that he would adjust his lessons based on what we still needed to know.For this portion of our learning, the permit test was the summative assessment. If we did not pass, we would be stuck in the parking lot.
As we were driving back and forth or in an oval in the parking lot, Nipper was talking to us over the radio in our cars. “Slow down, speed up, car #6-leave more space between you and the car in front of you.”
On the road, he was continually giving feedback and was even equipped with a brake in case of an emergency. We had to do our part, but we knew exactly what we needed to work on at all times.
So, what does this reminiscing have to do with classroom teaching? Everything. When we think of the power of formative assessment, it is incredible. Many educators argue that this is the most integral part of effective teaching. With regular formative assessments, both the student and the teacher know the next steps for teaching and learning. The student knows what they know and don’t know, and the teacher knows what to do next. By gathering this information, classrooms become less of a “string of activities” and more of a direction on a clear path.
As an assessment expert, Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s the formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s a summative assessment.” One definition of formative assessment can be found here.
When I think of Nipper, he was continually individualizing our learning based on what we were doing at any given time. He would adjust our classroom lessons based on our quizzes, questions, and answer during class. He would adjust and give feedback on our behind-the-wheel lessons based on our driving performance. Depending on our need, he interacted with us differently. We all had the same goal in mind-passing the driving test! We just may have needed a different way of getting there.
In this article , there are 10 examples of formative assessments. By choosing the appropriate one for the situation, a teacher will be able to adjust instruction or practice to fit the needs of a learner or group of learners.
As I think back to Mr. Knipshield and his many classes of 15-year-old adolescents, I am thankful that he gave us all the feedback that we needed along the way. We needed to learn and practice in many different ways in order to become roadworthy. I am also aware that my learning is ever present. I am now the one that is formally assessing my driving. After 37 years of driving, I still need to check myself to ensure that my practice is up to par. This is the highest level that we can hope for our students to attain; to internalize the process and using it through life.
[Also, check out this blog for a peek at how formative assessment and self-assessment go hand in hand. This topic just may appear in a future blog post!]
From Whitewater to the Classroom
Every now and again, I take a class because I like to be reminded of how it feels to be a student. And as soon as I sit down in a desk, the questions start:
- “Will I be clock-watching all hour?”
- “Will I be given clear directions or will I have to muddle through to make my own understanding?”
- “Is this learning relevant—something I can actually use in my life?”
It’s a Metaphor (which is a strategy you can use . . .)
As you consider these two seemingly unrelated stories, there is a theme with one common burning question between them: WILL I BE ENGAGED?
Dropping Out: The Unengaged
In chapter one of Total Participation Techniques-Making Every Student an Active Learner, authors Persida and William Himmele cite the number one reason for dropping out of high school: BOREDOM (5). These dropouts are disengaged. Further, seventy-five percent of prison inmates are dropouts (5). The deleterious effect of disengagement in the classroom could mean a lifetime behind bars. Of course, this is one of many factors that may lead to incarceration, but it is worth investigating.
We Just Can’t Chalk and Talk Anymore
“If we want our students to actually learn the facts and concepts and ideas we’re trying to teach them, they have to experience those things.... They have to process them. Manipulate them. To really learn in a way that will stick, they have to DO something” ("To Learn, Students Need to Do Something", Jennifer Gonzalez, 2018).
To combat BOREDOM and to truly TEACH our students, we must engage them.
Quick and Dirty: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
“Thumbs Up if this speech is protected by the First Amendment. Thumbs Down if it isn’t.
- “Burning the flag.” [Thumbs Up]
- “Burning a draft card.” [Thumbs Down]
- “Hate speech.” [Thumbs Up]
- “Falsely yelling fire in a theater.” [Thumbs Down]
While engagement is high, this strategy falls under what the Himmeles call “Low Cognition/High Participation” (15). Everybody is engaged, but what higher-level thinking is going on? If we want “High Cognition/High Participation” (15), we’ve got to level up, but how?
Try Lighting a Fire
I have used this strategy in my sociology class as we discussed the very sensitive topic of Rape Culture. Because my students were allowed time to read an article, digest a quote, and respond to a question on their own, our conversation was deeper and richer than a whole-group discussion would have been. Every student participated and every student benefited from hearing the thoughts of those 3-4 around them.
There are hundreds of ways to engage students; I highly recommend what I referenced above: Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. It's full of quick and dirty methods to engage your students.
Now, it’s not WILL I BE ENGAGED? But, HOW WILL I ENGAGE?
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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