Building a Team

Building a team can be a difficult task. For sake of clarity, teams exist at the teacher, building and central office levels. Each level has their own set of roles, responsibilities, and challenges. When developing a team, it is important to have a process in place to ensure you select the best candidate for the needs or your organization.

When building a team, we sometimes look for people who are just like us. People who have a similar set of beliefs; similar personalities; and sometimes similar educational backgrounds. When evaluating candidates for hire, we sometimes think, “this person is just like us. They’ll fit right in.” A candidate who fits right in your team is probably not the right candidate.

-To have and keep in one's grasp- held the reins tightly.

The first step in developinga team is to evaluate the your needs. This starts with a leader’s own self-awareness. A leader must consider current strengths, and identify areas in which a team may not be as strong. Once these areas are identified, start developing a candidate profile to use as a guide when evaluating candidates. When filling an open position on a teaching, building admin, or central office team, you are looking for someone who brings strengths you are missing. Someone that will move your team forward. This sometimes means passing up on quality candidates that are too much like everyone else. In my experience, this has been difficulty, but necessary.

In my school, we have had teacher teams who lacked someone who was being innovative with integrating technology. Or someone who was really good working with data. When filling these positions, we sometimes had to pass on people we really liked, for people we really needed. It is important to include staff in creating the profile for the candidate you hire. This way, they will understand the need to pass on someone they really like, for someone they really need. This is a step in which I still need to improve in our process. We often discuss things we are looking for in a candidate, but I haven’t taken enough time to collaboratively develop a profile with our hiring team.

When filling an open position, it is important for leaders to be self-aware (of yourself and your teams); identify the needs of your team (especially what you lack); create a candidate profile; and select a candidate that will help move the rest of your team forward. Using this process will help guide your hiring decisions, and help identify candidates that will improve your organization.

What process do you use to fill an open position? What are some important steps your hiring teams follow?

 

 

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Eliminating Marking Periods

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Our Story

Over the past several years, our school has been working to improve our grading and assessment practices. This included identifying flaws in traditional grading practices, and identifying more effective approaches. As a result of this work, we reached a point where marking periods became an obstacle to implementing our practices. More background about the origins of our story can be accessed here and here. Ultimately, we decided to remove marking periods entirely, and transition to a year-long grading period.

Two years ago, after meeting with and getting permission from our Superintendent, our school piloted a “continual grading period” in sixth grade. We gathered a lot of data in our first year, and solicited feedback from students, parents and teachers on multiple occasions. In addition, my assistant principal @Murphysmusings5 and I were lucky enough to get some guidance from grading guru’s Myron Dueck and Doug Reeves. This definitely helped with communication, planning and implementation.

After making some adjustments, last year we implemented our continual grading period into both sixth and seventh grades. Our second year of implementation went a little smoother, and the overall feedback we gathered was increasingly positive.

A Sign of Success

Last year, thanks to the amazing efforts of our teachers, we ended the year with no retentions, and not one student who qualified for summer school. I’ve always disliked summer school, feeling it was a poor approach and ineffective. A few years ago, my former assistant principal @mr_tbloom came up with the idea to “put summer school out of business.” We thought that if we implemented remediation and support programs throughout the year, addressing deficiencies and low grades before they grew too large to overcome, we could eliminate the need for summer school. Last year, that vision came to reality. It wasn’t the elimination of marking periods that led to this success, but rather the hard work and effective grading/assessment practices of our teachers which ultimately helped us reach our goal. However, removing marking periods removed a barrier to those practices, allowing them to be more successful.

The Death of Marking Periods

This year, we are implementing our year-long marking period into all grades in our school (sixth through eighth). We are putting to rest an outdated practice which creates arbitrary timelines for learning, and is an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices. I am proud of the way our teachers have embraced this change, and excited about the success it has yielded. Our staff showed a willingness to take a risk, and so far, it has paid off. Trying to change traditional, entrenched practices such as grading, is often seen as a daunting, if not dangerous task. However, as leaders and educators we have to be willing to challenge the status quo, take a risk, and embrace change. It won’t always be successful, but when it is, it’s pretty cool.

Do marking periods still serve a purpose in your school? Are they an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices? What are your thoughts?

 

 

A Learning Pathways Approach to Professional Development

A Learning Pathways Approach to PD

In May, I published a post on Leading Professional Development. This post emphasized our school’s need and readiness for a more personalized approach to professional development for our teachers. This approach has been implemented in more schools recently. From micro-credentialing, or badges, to complete free choice. One of the dangers of this approach is having teachers pursue a hodgepodge of topics that are disconnected and/or not aligned to building or district goals. As @RossCoops31 writes in his blog post, “We need to balance choice with vision.” I agree a balanced approach is necessary, and a school should only implement a personalized learning approach if it is balanced with other department/district professional development aligned to its vision, mission and goals. Feeling confident in the quality of department and district professional development, and its alignment with our vision/goals, was a prerequisite for our school choosing to pursue this model for our building PD.

After soliciting topic ideas from teachers, we narrowed down our Learning Pathways into the following seven topics: School/Classroom Culture; Foster Traits of an Effective Learner (3 small groups); Growth Mindset; Project-Based Learning; Social-Emotional Learning; Technology Integration; Digital Citizenship. We then organized teachers into small groups of no more than 4-8, based on their pathway choices. We organized groups with a focus on creating diverse representation of grade level and content areas.

My assistant principal, @MurphysMusings5 and I, then met with our SILT (School Instructional Leadership Team) and identified teacher leaders that would facilitate the work for each pathway. We are extremely fortunate to have a large group of effective teacher leaders, which we have been encouraging and empowering the past few years. This was a major factor in giving us the confidence to take our learning pathways approach. During our meeting we shared a Learning Pathways planning guide. This included guidance on creating norms and goals, identifying materials and resources that will be used, and developing a plan. It also includes ideas for how the work can be shared at the end of the year. This guide was designed to assist our teacher leaders with the facilitation of the work their groups would be pursuing.

The most encouraging thing so far has been teachers who have already begun work on their pathway before the school year has even begun. Teachers have shared planning documents, access to their Google Classroom page they will be using, research they’ve found, and resources they would like to pursue or purchase. This evidence of motivation shows signs of a good start. I am excited to see the learning and growth this empowering approach yields throughout the year. I plan to update our progress in future posts.

What thoughts or feedback do you have on this approach so far? Has your school tried a similar approach? If so, what guidance do you have for our school on our journey?

 

Leading Professional Development

Traditionally, and all too often, professional development sessions have been designed and facilitated in a top-down manner. District and building leaders identify areas of focus, sometimes with little input from teachers, and design sit-and-get sessions for teachers to “learn” so they can improve their practice. There are several flaws with this traditional model, including a lack of learner input, engagement, monitoring & measurement, and follow-up. In this model, there is an overall lack of ownership over one’s learning. This has led to tons of criticisms and jokes from teachers. My favorite was one comment I heard from a co-worker when I was still teaching. While leaving a PD session, he said to me, “That was just like Chinese food, it went right through me.” Personally, I thought that was an insult. But to Chinese food, not the PD session. His assessment of that, I felt, was accurate.

@PrincipalMKelly (1)

As a building leader for the past six years, I have tried to balance professional development that is focused on district and building goals, with personalized learning opportunities. Balancing building goals with personalized learning is an ongoing challenge when designing professional development. To try and personalize PD, our school has facilitated teacher led, #EdCamp style PD sessions, and administered surveys to identify areas in which teachers wanted to learn. In addition, our School Instructional Leadership Team (SILT), which is made up of about 15 teachers and building administrators, meet monthly to discuss and design building PD. However, I must admit that as the building principal, over the past few years I have identified certain areas that I felt our school needed to improve, such as grading and assessment. As a result, some of our building PD topics have followed a more “top-down” approach. This is where the challenge of balance comes in.

Looking forward into next year, my assistant principal, @MurphysMusings5,  and I discussed whether there were any glaring areas of improvement in need of building-wide professional development sessions, which were not already being addressed through department work. We both felt our building was in a good place, and there was no single-topic that required PD for all teachers. As a result, we began to discuss next steps for our building professional development. From our discussion came the idea of Learning Pathways.

We met with our SILT and discussed the idea of creating several learning pathways (topics), which teachers could choose from to focus their professional learning. Our SILT brainstormed about twenty possible learning pathways and our plan is to allow teachers to select their pathway, or create their own. During our meeting, we discussed the idea and importance of collaboration. Rather than having individuals follow their own path, we felt it was important for teachers to work in groups of 6-8, so they could benefit from a collaborative learning experience. This is where more balance was needed, between personalized and collaborative learning.

Our idea is that teachers will work in groups on their learning pathway, design their own goals, share leadership and facilitation responsibilities, and guide their own learning. This will empower teachers as leaders within our school. As administrators, we will participate in one of the learning pathways, while providing coaching and resource support to teachers in other pathways. In our school, we are very lucky to have a tremendous group of teacher leaders, which makes it easy to put our trust in their leadership. 

We hope our plan for creating a personalized Learning Pathway PD model, with a focus on collaborative learning, will be a success. In future posts, I plan to share updates on our growth and progress.

Has your school ever tried a similar professional development approach? Was it a success? What feedback do you have on the ideas I have shared in this post?

 

What is “fair?”

 

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Have you ever tried to explain a sunset to someone who has never seen one? How about the ocean? Not easy. Even more difficult, how do you think it must be for them to understand or comprehend? I think of these examples when I think of poverty. Trying to describe what it is like to live in poverty, to someone who has never experienced it first hand, is impossible. The truth is, they may intellectually understand, but they can never truly comprehend the reality. It’s just too difficult. But what about the concept of fairness? Is it possible that some students have a similar experience understanding fairness? Not to equate fairness with poverty, but the point being, it is a difficult concept to comprehend without the first hand experience. So what is fair?

School may be the first time some children are ever exposed to the ideas of fairness. To them, life has never been fair. In schools, adults try to treat all students fairly. Many focus on students not getting anything they “don’t deserve.” But what about students that have had a lot of negative experiences they don’t deserve? Have you ever had a family member killed? Have you ever been exposed to abuse, neglect, drugs or violence as a child? Not to mention many other traumas. The reality is, many of our students have. Let’s be careful about assuming children understand fairness as adults see it in schools. Some kids have never been experienced fairness. Life has never been fair. Yet in school, we implement the concept of fairness in discipline policies, and many other things we do, without a second thought.

But what if we sometimes choose to approach fairness in a different way? What if we gave to, and forgave students who “don’t deserve it?” What if we treat them “unfairly” in a positive way. I have taken this approach with some students in my career. Students who don’t always follow the rules. Students who, by traditional standards, “don’t deserve” anything positive. I take them to the gym to play basketball, hit a punching bag, or throw a baseball. I’ve made sure field trips have been paid for, or they had clean clothing. Why? Because most likely, no one has ever treated them this way. When questioned about whether or not doing this is fair, I have asked: “Is it fair they don’t have a father? Is it fair they have experienced abuse? It it fair they live in poverty?” I think, “Fair? Don’t talk to me about fair!” Life has never been fair for many of these kids, in a negative way. Why must if be “fair” on the positive side? Is there any real harm in this? What is “fair?”
 

We Have a Mental Health Crisis in Our Schools!

mental-health-crisis

We have a mental health crisis in our schools, and the lack of a sense of urgency is alarming. Anderson and Cardoza (2016) report “Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year.” Despite these growing numbers, discussion about this crisis in education has been comparatively mute. Tons of focus within education has been focused on technology. Logan (n.d.) reports that 20% of schools who responded to one survey indicated they had a 1:1 device/technology program. While Blad (2016) cites a Civil Rights data report stating anywhere between 13-20% of schools do not have a school counselor. Minority children being the least likely to attend schools without a counselor. But educators don’t need research to tell them we are in crisis. Teachers and administrators have seen this crisis unfold before their eyes. It’s in their classrooms, offices, hallways; it’s everywhere.

So why aren’t politicians, school boards and educational leaders addressing this crisis the way they should? Where is the sense of urgency? It is possible that discussing mental health is still a taboo subject for some school districts. We may be fearful of admitting we have a problem for which we are ill-equipped to handle. Maybe it’s that promoting mental health needs doesn’t make for an exciting school board presentation, or school promotion on Twitter or Facebook. Or possibly, dedicating funds and implementing programs for mental health aren’t as flashy as buying new computers, or setting up a new Makerspace. Whatever it is, the lack of response is unacceptable. A large number of students are not getting the counseling and therapy they need to meet their needs. Without this support, making academic growth really isn’t an option.

Educators and parents need to take action now. If OUR students, OUR children, are not getting the help they need outside of school, we must bring supports into school. I am finished debating whether the responsibility for providing mental health services should lie with the school. It doesn’t matter. We cannot sit back and watch this crisis continue to grow. We must be transparent about the problem, and communicate our needs at every opportunity. We must speak up in district meetings. We must contact our legislators, departments of education, school boards, and district leadership and demand they make this a priority.
mental-health-debateAt the very least, every school should have at least one school psychologist, guidance counselor, and social worker. Every school should provide individual and group mental health services/therapy. We must find funding and ways to provide these supports. We can partner with local agencies and organizations to bring programs and supports into our schools. Some may be able to provide free services, but some may come at a cost. However, if one of the main goals of our schools, is to create a safe and supportive environment; if we are truly aimed at serving students and meeting their needs; Then schools need to prioritize these items in their focus and budget. We find money for what we value. Let’s make sure we value the most basic needs of our students first.

The investment we make in the mental health needs of our students will not only benefit those students we serve in this capacity, but our society as a whole. It is our duty to improve the way we view and support mental health needs. Addressing these needs at a younger age will result in improved academic, behavioral and long-term outcomes for our children, and our society. This is a call to action!

What is your school doing to meet the mental health needs of its students? What can our education system do better?

References

Anderson, M., & Cardoza, K. (2016, August 31). Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/31/464727159/mental-health-in-schools-a-hidden-crisis-affecting-millions-of-students

Blad, E. (2016, December 09). Schools With Police But No School Counselors: A Closer Look. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2016/12/black_hispanic_students_more_likely_to_attend_schools_with_police_but_no_counselors.html

Children’s Mental Health (Rep.). (n.d.). doi:10.1136/ebmh.10.4.e2

 

Teacher Evaluation and Supervision: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

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In a recent course I took as part of my doctoral program at Widener University, I was required to read Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, by James Nolan Jr. and Linda A. Hoover (2010).  When I got the book, my attitude was, as it normally is toward textbooks, “yuck!” However, the book really shifted my thinking regarding teacher supervision and evaluation. Ultimately, I was smacked with the harsh reality that, “You’re doing it wrong!” But  I quickly realized, it wasn’t only me. It wasn’t only my district. It was the whole model designed by the state of Pennsylvania for administrators to implement. This model, or one similar, is probably used  in most states throughout the country. And there is one big problem! It does not promote the growth of all teachers. In fact, it probably stifles growth. In response, I want to share some thoughts and solutions.

Supervision and Evaluation are Different

Teacher evaluation was designed to ensure that all teachers meet a minimal level of quality in their practice. Traditionally, the measurement for this model includes formal and informal observations of teaching. In the end, the teacher will receive a rating of Failing, Needs Improvement, Proficient, or  Distinguished (or similar names). These mastery level ratings are not designed to promote teacher growth.  The criteria for each domain and indicator remain the same for all teachers, and the success criteria for each performance level remains constant. Once a teacher receives a proficient or distinguished rating, this model does nothing to promote continual growth. Teachers can only assume to keep doing the same thing, to receive the same rating. By design, there is no motivation or encouragement to continue improving and growing.

Teacher supervision was designed as a model to promote growth for all teachers, regardless of performance level.  Under differentiated supervision models, teachers may conduct action research, design portfolios with a focus on improvement, or participate in peer observation aligned with growth goals.  Differentiated supervision is designed to promote growth for all teachers, including those rated proficient or distinguished.  The problem I realized with this model currently, was that at the end of the year we still have to give each teacher an evaluation rating. Rather than providing quality feedback to promote growth, this model forces teacher supervision to act the same as evaluation. However, they are not suppose to act in the same manner. Much like feedback in the classroom does more to promote learning than grades, teacher feedback without evaluation ratings would do more to promote continued growth among our all teachers.

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Problem:

In most districts, evaluation and supervision to not work independent of each other, and they usually overlap. In honesty, most people would not be able to explain the difference, or even know there is suppose to be one.

Solution:

In a three-year cycle, tenured teachers would be on a traditional evaluation mode once, and a differentiated supervision mode for two years. When in the traditional mode, a teacher would be formally and informally observed, lesson plans could be submitted for feedback, professionalism could be rated, and teachers would receive a traditional end-of-year evaluation rating. Once the teacher has demonstrated they meet minimal expectations, which is the purpose of evaluation, it can be determined they are ready for a differentiated supervision mode. If a teacher does not meet minimal expectations, they would continue on the traditional evaluation mode. This would also be true for new teachers, until they obtain tenure. It is the job of administrators to make sure new teachers are ready, and meet minimal expectations, before receiving tenure. This must be taken serious during the traditional evaluation mode.

During the two years teachers are on a differentiated supervision mode, they could choose from a menu of growth models including peer observation, portfolio, or action research. Each of these models would have a component which required teachers to focus on an area of growth. Teachers would be with administrators to plan implement and reflect upon their growth during these years. Ideally, they would not need to receive an end of year evaluation rating during these two years.  They would only receive feedback which would promote their continued growth.

So what to do about states that require domain and evaluation ratings every year?

If we take traditional evaluation seriously, isn’t it appropriate to assume the teacher could be assigned the same domain ratings they received the last time they were on traditional evaluation mode?  For example, if a teacher demonstrated they were “Distinguished” in Preparation and Planning, isn’t it safe to assume they would not all of the sudden drop to “Failing” the next year?  Can we have enough trust in our teachers, that they will at least continue to do as well as they did in the last year of traditional evaluation?  Removing a tie to do evaluation ratings during years teachers are on a differentiated supervision mode, would be a shift that could significantly promote the growth of all teachers.

Does your model of teacher evaluation and supervision promote the growth of all your teachers?  What ideas do you have for improvements?

Transitioning to a Continual Grading Period

Last April, I published a post The End of Marking Periods, in which I challenged the relevance and need for marking periods. I shared several reasons why I felt the use of marking periods were one of the many, traditional, outdated practices in education. Then, instead of just talking about it, our school began to take action.  

Over the past four years, our school has been taking steps to improve our grading and assessment practices. We have tried to move away from a culture of grading, which exists in many schools, and instead, promote a culture of learning. We’ve explored many flaws of traditional grading, and identified steps we could take to make improvements. Some of which, I discuss in my post Traditional Grading Flaws and Fixes.

To enhance our improved grading practices, we proposed the idea of piloting an new approach to grading periods. Instead of the traditional, four marking periods, we would pilot a year-long, grading period. Our Continual Grading Period would allow teachers more flexibility with their pacing, lesson design and assessment practices. It would also allow us to enhance our assessment practices, which have incorporated re-takes and re-dos. But ultimately, and most importantly, it would provide more opportunities for students to learn, and demonstrate their learning. We discussed and reviewed the idea with our sixth grade teachers, evaluated the possible benefits and shortfalls, the decided to move forward with Continual Grading Periodour proposal.

Late last spring, my assistant principal and I met with our central administration, made a short presentation to our school board, and with their support, moved forward with our pilot.

Throughout the implementation this year, we continued to have conversations and meetings with students, parents and teachers to gain feedback. We informally collected feedback from students, and formally collected feedback from parents and teachers via surveys. Our student and teacher feedback was overwhelmingly positive. All of our sixth grade core teachers supported the continuation of our Continual Grading Period.

Our parent survey responses were a mix of positive and constructive feedback. The positive feedback included some pleasant surprises, and the critical feedback we allowed us to reflect and make improvements to our communication and implementation. We shared an overview summary of our parent survey, which included our planned improvements (which you can view here).

This month (May 2016), we evaluated all of the feedback and decided to not only continue our grading period in sixth grade, but also expand into seventh grade. With the support from our district, we plan to continue implementation during the 2016-17 school year. I am confident we will learn more in our second year of implementation, and continue to make improvements.

What are your thoughts on the relevance of traditional marking periods?

 

 

Traditional Grading Flaws and Fixes

arbitrary GradesTraditional grades are at best, arbitrary, and at worst, destructive to student learning. For those of us stuck in a traditional grading system, there are flaws we need to be aware of, and practical fixes we can implement, to at least improve the system in which we are stuck.

Purpose and Beliefs

Flaws: Most teachers and schools have not established a specific or consistent purpose for, or beliefs about grading. In most schools, the teachers within a building establish their own individual policies, practices and calculations of grades. Due to a lack of quality focus on grading in undergraduate programs, these policies and procedures are usually based on their own educational experiences, personal opinions, and other non-research based factors. This inconsistency creates poor communication and understanding of grades for students and parents.

Fixes: School leaders should work collaboratively with faculty to develop a set of beliefs and/or guidelines about grading. For example, Justin Tarte (@justintarte) shared a “Student’s Bill of Assessment Rights” created at his school. If you are a teacher and cannot push for school wide change, create your own set of beliefs and guidelines and clearly communicate them to students and parents.

imageIn our school, we’ve been using the belief statement: “A grade should accurately communicate what a student knows, understands and is able to do, as related to course learning objectives.” We use this statement to guide guide our work related to our grading practices. In our school, we do not have standards based grading, but we have been working to ensure our grades accurately represent a student’s level of mastery of course learning objectives (which we’ve created for each course, based on state standards).

What Gets Graded?

Flaws: Tradition, and lack of understanding related to student motivation have caused most teachers to create a “kitchen sink stew” of items to make up a student grade. Teachers add a little testing, a touch of homework, a pinch of participation, a sprinkle of attendance, and a handful of “secret ingredients” to create their own, individual grading recipes. Apart from the confusion and inconsistency this creates for students, it also creates an inaccurate reporting of student learning. This links back to the need for a belief statement. If we believe grades should accurately reflect student learning, then adding things like attendance, behavior and work completion make the reporting of actual learning, inaccurate.

Fixes: When discussing or evaluating WHAT we grade, there are a few topics that always seem to come up in discussion. First is the grading of formative assessments (ex: homework; classwork; some quizzes). Since formative assessments are used to provide feedback, drive instruction, and guide student learning, their purpose is not to be included in a grade. Teachers should only be including summative assessments in their grade calculation. Rick Wormeli has stated that a teacher has the power to ultimately decide when an assessment becomes summative. This means that teachers have the power to allow redo’s and retests in order to provide additional opportunities, after an intervention, to reassess. The student’s grade should then reflect the new, and hopefully improved, assessment score. Averaging the first and second scores, or deducting points for attempts, would then fail to meet our previous criteria of reflecting an accurate grade.

The other topic that inevitably comes up is the inclusion of behaviors into a grade. Things such as attendance, participation, work ethic, or taking points off for late work, would lead to an inaccurate reporting of the academic grade. However, these behaviors could certainly be reported elsewhere on a grade report, as they provide important feedback to students and parents.

Weighting

Tom Petty once sang: “The wai-ai-aiting is the hardest part.” Well, when it comes to traditional grading, I find that the “weighting”  of assessments is the hardest part.

Flaws: How many teachers participated in education courses or professional development on the practice of weighting assessment items or assessments in general? The answer here is “very few.” So, in a traditional grading system, how do teachers determine the appropriate weight, or “number of points”, to assign to each question, task, or assessment? At best, the answer is “arbitrarily.” Often times, teachers assign a certain number of points based on the type of question or task. Test? 100 points; Quiz? 50 Points; Homework? 2 Points; Multiple Choice question 3 points each. Essay question? 30 points.

When I created assessment as a teacher, I would assign a number of points based on how difficult the question. The assignment of points ignored the amount of course content, or number of objectives I was assessing with a question, task, project or test. On a test, I would sometimes assess a lower level skill, but through the use of an essay question. I would assign it 20-30 points. My essay prompt asking students to compare and contrast the Virginia and New Jersey Plans was really only assessing my students’ ability to recall the similarities and differences of the plans. This was a low level task void of  evaluation or analysis. At the time, it seemed good to me. It was an essay question afterall. I imagine other well intentioned teachers have made similar mistakes.

Fixes: This is a challenge! However, teachers in our building have been working to assign a weight, or number of points, to an assessment based on the amount of learning objectives it assesses. For example, if their course has 100 learning objectives for the year, they would assign up to four points for each objective. This allows them to grade the assessment of the objective using a 4 point scale. Therefore, the score of the assessment would be based on the student’s performance on each learning objective assessed. Focus on learning over product. One student may be able to demonstrate mastery through a conversation, another may do best offering a presentation of the content, while a third most accurately demonstrates learning on test. If the points are based on demonstration of mastery, the method in which students demonstrate learning, is not as imperative.
Our teachers have also been discussing the fact that not all our objectives are the same level or rigor. We have been working to evaluate objectives and agree upon a 1.0 or 2.0 weight, based on the level or rigor.

Marking Periods

Flaws: In a previous post (found here) I called for an end to marking periods. I explained that in my situation, a student’s final grade was calculated by averaging the grades from each marking period. Aside from averaging being a bad practice itself, giving each marking period an equal value/weight was misrepresenting the grade report. The final grade certainly did not meet the criteria for being a mathematically “accurate reflection.” Due to weather, standardized testing, field trips and award ceremonies, not all marking periods were created equal.

Fixes: If marking periods are a problem, why not get rid of them? This year we are piloting a “Continual Grading Period” with our sixth grade students. In this model, the entire year serves as one long marking period. This allows teachers to implement best practice in reteaching and retesting without the frustration of arbitrary deadlines. The continual grading period also eliminates the unfair weighting of clearly unequal marking periods. How did we make this magic happen? The steps, process, and reflection on this endeavor will be shared in a later post.

Setting a purpose and beliefs about grading, deciding what gets grading, developing weighting methods, and establishing a fair way to report student learning are key first steps for those of us stuck in the traditional grading system.

What are some other practices or strategies we can use to improve grading practices in a traditional model?

 

 

 

Five Simple Rules of Teacher Questioning

Teacher questioning can be a very effective and engaging instructional strategy. However, if misused, it can be a strategy that has very little impact. As we know, since the days of Socrates, teachers have been using questioning to encourage student thinking and check for understanding. However, high-quality teacher questioning is much more than just tossing out questions. Developing questioning skills can take a lot of time and professional development, but there are some simple rules teachers can follow to make some immediate improvements.

Here are Five Simple Rules for Teacher Questioning:

1. Have a Purpose!

When asking a question, the question itself should have a purpose. A teacher should know if the question is intended to promote a conversation, dialogue, discussion, or simply solicit a simple response to check for understanding. Good questions engage more than one student at-a-time. They provide an opportunity for students to discuss (ex: turn and talk; debate; conversation), lead to students generating their own questions, and allow for multiple responses. However, when teachers ask a question that has one specific answer, and call on one student to answer it, the question has very little value for the rest of the class.

2. One at a Time!

Most teachers would be surprised to have a count of how many questions they ask in one class period. In our building, when we tallied the number of questions teachers were asking in one, 42 minute class period, the total number was usually between 100 and 200 questions. In some classrooms, the number of questions posed in one class period exceeded 200. Without realizing it, many teachers use a rapid-fire approach to questioning, asking multiple low-level (Webbs DOK) questions, one after another. When it comes to high-quality questioning, less is more.

Challenge: Have someone come into your room, unannounced, and count how many questions you ask in one period.

3. Pick One Question!

Teachers should know the question they are going to ask, and ask it clearly. If it needs to be repeated, it should be repeated verbatim. Many times, teachers will ask a question… immediately rephrase it… add more detail… ask it again in a different way… add even more detail… then rephrase the question again. By the time the teacher states the final, revised question, it is drastically different than the original one. This can leave the student who raised their hand to answer the original question, pretty confused. Pre-planning some of our questions is the only way to ensure we are asking high-quality questions. These questions should be aligned to the objectives or learning outcomes for the lesson. Of course, teachers can also utilize spontaneous questions, as appropriate. However, key questions should have a purpose, be pre-planned, and align with objectives or learning outcomes.

4. Wait a Minute!

Some teachers feel rushed to get through a lesson. Others feel uncomfortable in silence. However, it is important for teachers to provide appropriate wait-time after asking a question. Remember, if teachers are asking high-quality questions, requiring thinking and discussion, it will take time. Teachers should avoid calling on the first student who raises their hand. Personally, I stopped allowing students to raise their hand in my classroom. I called on students randomly, making sure I always responded to them in a way that made them feel safe, whether they knew the answer or not. Although I am not aware of a specific, scientifically proven “appropriate” amount of wait-time, I like to use at least ten seconds. It is also important to never include a student’s willingness to raise their hand as part of a “participation grade” (which shouldn’t exist anyway). I’ve heard teachers say a student’s participation grade has suffered due to lack of participation. Then I’ve watched the same teacher repeatedly call on the first or second student to raise their hand, which didn’t even give most students a chance to participate. Give time for students to process the question.

5. Use Scaffolding!

When planning questions, it is important for teachers to review the content around the question. Teachers should review the prerequisite knowledge, as well as the knowledge that will extend the learning beyond the initial answer. If a teacher asks a question and a student doesn’t know the answer, they can scale down to more simple, prerequisite knowledge questions. Then the teacher can build back up to the original question. This strategy is more supportive of that student’s learning, than just jumping to another student when someone doesn’t know the answer. Be able to adjust questioning from simple to complex, as a student requires.

Reference Disclaimer:

Some of the rules and ideas shared in the post were adapted from information shared by Dr. Rebecca Woodland, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the work of the East Penn School District Instructional Leadership Team, during a professional learning session.