Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we asking the right questions?

This week, #ILEdChat had a discussion on rethinking our grading practices. (You can see the archive of the chat here). Grading has always been, and I think will always be, a touchy subject. It has to do with the concept of a grade and what a grade means. Ideally, I think a grade should be a reflection of the level of mastery for the content or skill. One of my #ILEdChat partners, Linsy, pushed my thinking further with the reminder that it should be a reflection of mastery based on a predefined learning standard, outcome, skill, or target. This is an essential piece of the learning process for the students. We, as educators, need to make sure that the students know and understand expectations of their growth and development and we should NOT make them try to hit a moving target.

Grades seem terminal. They are final. Once that letter or number is inscribe in red ink on the top of the page, there is nothing that can be done to change it. This is why feedback should be the term that we are using with students. Feedback provides the students ideas on their attainment of mastery, areas where they can improve, and most importantly, a chance to activate those ideas and help their own thinking grow, develop, and change. This concept of feedback can be analogized to the use of a doctor. We go to the doctor to provide us with feedback on our current state of health. Recommendations are provided for improvement. Sometimes, something stronger, like medicine, is provided to help us move back towards the goal is we are off course. A grade seems more like the coroner performing an autopsy and saying "this poor guy should have changed X, Y, and Z a long time ago". There is a much longer blog post about formative and summative assessment in here, but we will get to that later.

Unfortunately, too many times grades end up representing either an attempt on completing an assignment, an arbitrary conversion of a look at that completion to a number out of ten, or the ability to hand in a piece of paper at a given time and date. I will admit, my thoughts have changed an evolved on this topic as my experiences have helped me learn throughout my years. I am not proud to admit it, but I have committed the above acts before. One of the most important things I have learned is that grades should not be a punishment.

In a different chat, educators were continuing the conversation about grading and one of the questions that came up was what policies about what type of grading practices motivate students to work harder and want to improve and learn more? It was the idea of altering a grading policy to improve student motivation instantly provoked to ideas:

  1. Tougher punishments will prevent crime -- While I think this may hold true for those afraid of the punishment, it clearly does not work for all. Education needs to be for all...not just those who "play school well".
  2. This was the other idea...

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After I chuckled and winced at my ability to amuse myself, I had the thought: Are we asking the right question? Why are we trying to find more stringent ways of reviewing work to improve student motivation to want to do better? Let's alter our own thinking and try something different...

Let's change our question to what kind of assessments/learning opportunities will provide students a method they choose to demonstrate their level of mastery? What if we provided more authentic learning opportunities than the summative/final multiple choice exam, with little or no opportunity for improvement?

I would think that if students have a voice in their learning and in how they demonstrate that learning, the motivation takes care of itself. The examples abound in standards based learning, genius hour, passion projects, choose-your-own-adventure learning. The variety of potential products from students might seem overwhelming, but this is where we go back to the initial idea of the purpose of a grade: "a measurement of student attainment at a predetermined point of predetermined skills" (quoted from Linsy Stumpenhorst on Twitter, 8/29/16).

The variety can be as wide as the day is long, but the expectations for the work can be clearly define in rubrics that provide support to the students in how to demonstrate their learning. There should be check-ups (doctor analogy again) with the students to monitor their progress, provide support, and, in more severe cases, some medication (intervention, resources, additional structure).

Let's see if we can change our question to achieve the desired outcomes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I had a good couple of days

I have been in my new position with my new school for about 6 weeks now. Each day has reinforced that I made the right decision and reminded me of how fortunate I am that the district felt that I would be a good fit with their organization. There were some things that happened this week that reminded me why I love what I do.

Monday: This was the first #ILEdChat for the 2016-2017 school year. We have new team members to the chat team and they are a great addition. We have really started to gel as a group and working collaboratively to make the chat the best possible for this school year. We had a great opening to the chat with the timely topic of forming meaningful relationships with students. It was great to see new faces participation in the chat and seeing our regular participants back for another year. It is great exchange of ideas and really invigorates me for the week. You can look at the archive of the chat here.

Thursday: I jumped into a few random chats that caught my eye on Twitter. I was able to learn and share in #3rdChat and #GlobalEdChat . With all of my experience in high schools, the #3rdchat really opened my eyes to the wonderful and mysterious world that is elementary school. I found it important to take a look at this because I have 2 boys who are in the primary grades and the more I can learn about the pedagogy and instruction for the younger grades, the better.

With the #GlobalEdChat, I am amazed at the connectivity that I have through Twitter and yet how limited, globally, I am in my connections. The idea that technology can connect people across oceans, cultures, and languages is an idea that needs to be pushed into the mainstream. As a step towards action, I decided to create a quick form that would collect the contact information of educators who would like to connect. While the number of responses was not YET at a large level, in the first few minutes we had people from across the US, and even had educators from Canada and Australia sign up. If you are interested, please sign up here and I will share the spreadsheet with you after sign up.

Friday: Most of my new position, at lease at this time of year, involves working with students schedules and making sure that things work within the school system. Today was different, I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with actual students who had some concerns about the classes they were in. I had a great time helping the students realize that they had the ability to solve the problems in front of them. The students, both of them, came into my office at a level (1(low) - 10 (high)) of wanting to stay in the class and try at 0. When each left, they made positive movement and realized that success in the class was within their influence and they had to power to make it into a reality. I even got to teach a little chemistry, so that made it even better. :)

I also had to opportunity to introduce High 5 Friday to the students here. The concept is simple: See someone in the hallway, offer them a high 5 and watch them smile. It has a 98%+ success rate and hopefully, I will start to get some "regulars" who look forward to getting the high 5 and offering it to other students.

As an added bonus, this is the first football game of the season for my new school and it is a home game! I am excited to see the team participate in the new division and hopefully, bring home the "W".

Overall, another great week. How was yours? Share your great moments from this week and inspire someone to try something new!

Friday, August 05, 2016

If the leader sneezes...

I have been at my new job for exactly a month, as of today. What was a long and arduous journey of looking for a new school district as landed me in the right place at the right time. I am thrilled beyond words as to how things have turned out in my new position with my new district.

My journey began a little before I officially started when I was invited to attend the 2 day administrative retreat. While the term retreat might get some people excited, those of us who have attended administrative retreats in education before know the truth. Putting the day long meetings aside, the message, culture, and vision of the district and the leadership was evident from the first moments walking in the door. As I was the only really new person to the district (other people we familiar faces in new places), I kinda stood out as a fresh face in the crowd. Because of this, nearly everyone in the room came over to introduce him/herself, welcome me, and tell me that I will love it here. It was genuine. You could see it on peoples' faces how much they enjoyed the people, the schools, their colleagues, the district and the community. Many people expressed how they are alumni of the district, returning to give back to a place they hold so dear.

Then the meetings began and the superintendent started the day. She started with a simple, but powerful message: If the leader sneezes, the organization gets a cold. She went on to expand the idea we, as the learning leaders, must make sure that we are putting the correct message out to our stakeholders and colleagues, and must always try to remember where the other person is on their journey when they come into your path. She described how if a leaders is dealing with a real crisis or emergency, and we quickly dismiss a student, staff member, or parent who might be asking something "trivial" (at least in immediate comparison to the crisis), real damage has been done. Regardless of the amount of time afterward is spent trying to repair the damage, the scar has been created. This is evidence of the cold that the organization might receive.

When someone comes to you, as a leader, with a question, they are looking for validation, input, an opinion, or knowledge that they are being listened to and respected. Leaders maximize every opportunity to help their colleagues realize these events for if we ignore a teacher complaint, that complaint will become their truth.

Does this mean that every emergency must stop when asked a question? No, reality must prevail, but the question becomes who's reality? Perception of the other person is their reality. In these situations, even in the "need-to-know" situations, a leader can take the time to say "I do want to listen and hear what is going on. Unfortunately, I have an emergency I must attend to right now, but I will seek you out to provide whatever support and assistance I can." The key step is living up to seeking that person out in the end.

I want to thank my principal and superintendent for providing me this opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I will do my best to live up to the examples set before me in my first month. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn in this great organization that has a real vision and direction for the future.