Alternatives to Using Grading Floors

One of many attempts to “fix” the flaws of traditional grading practices, has been the implementation of grading floors. In this video, I provide alternative ways to balance the flaws of the 100 point scale, and traditional grading practices.

Learning Pathway PD Reflections

This year, our school implemented a learning pathway model of professional development with our teachers. I’ve shared our rationale and an overview of our work in previous posts. We are now at the time of year when we need to take time to reflect on the success of this model. To do so, we sent out a staff survey, met with our School Instructional Leadership Team, and had individual conversations with teachers at their end of year meetings. After reviewing the feedback, we came away with the following reflections:

1. Choose and autonomy are great, but it must be balanced with some structure and               support.

When designing the structure, we didn’t want to micromanage goal-setting, action steps, or resources. We did provide a general guide for groups to use, but took more of a hands-off approach to monitoring and involvement in guiding action steps. As a result, multiple groups shared they struggled with setting goals that could guide the significance of the work, and sustain focus throughout the whole school year.

To respond to this feedback, we made several improvements for next year. First, we structured the guidelines to encourage teachers to generate questions they are curious about, related to their topic. We felt questions, rather than goals, could encourage teachers to pursue specific areas of interest. Groups can generate broad goals, and individuals can also develop and pursue answers to their own questions. In addition, we plan to provide more hands-on support at the early stages of question development, to assist groups with getting started. One method for generating questions, which we will encourage, is to use the Question Formulation Technique.

2. Some individuals struggled with aligning their learning pathway work with their                differentiated supervision model.

One of the intended benefits of this model of professional development was that teacher’s who were on a differentiated supervision model could use the work of their learning pathway to support their portfolio or action research. For example, a teacher who participated in the technology integration learning pathway, could focus their portfolio to highlight their work engaging students in learning, and utilization of resources, which are two components of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. They can take their professional learning and use it to implement strategies and resources to improve work with students, and highlight that through their portfolio.

3. Teachers were interested in more opportunity to share their work.

As teachers collaborated in small groups, the learning they gained was generally isolated from the work of the other groups. Teachers expressed interest in more opportunities to share their learning among the groups. To respond to this feedback, we plan to design our annual Learning Lounge (see @MurphysMusings5‘s post on this awesome experience) to allow groups to share and collaborate midway through the year.

Learning Pathway Blog

If we want to empower our students to take more ownership of their learning, pursue their interests, and become lifelong learners, we must model these traits through our own professional learning. We need to create experiences that encourage educators to become a profession of learners. We do this by providing a balance of choice, autonomy, purpose, structure and support. I am so excited to see how the improvements we are making to this balance leads to even greater success with this model next year.

 

 

 

 

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.