How many lines of communication do you have with students’ homes? Are the walls of your classroom transparent? Or do they even exist? In public education, there seems to be a lot of diversity when assessing effective communication from one class to the next. Perhaps this stems from the wide range of prior experiences from when teachers were in school. When I was in school, the primary means of communication was a letter or report card that I took home in my backpack. Many times my mother went an entire 9 weeks without hearing much feedback about what was happening in class. Occasionally she would run into a teacher at the grocery store. I wasn’t a student that had behavior problems or grade problems, so perhaps that’s why my mother didn’t complain. I think, though, that I went to school in a different age where the primary and most effective means of communicating to homes was to send a letter or phone call.
The internet has taken communication to a new level! The following means of communicating did not exist when I went to school:
- Text Message (@Celly or Remind101)
- Web-based grade reporting
- Web-based learning management systems
- Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs)
What does effective communication look like? How many attempts should be made to communicate important information with homes? These are serious questions that should be considered by all educators. I worry that we still have buildings full of educators that believe that one attempt to communicate with homes is enough and effective. In today’s age, we should bombard homes with important information. There are so many effective, easy, and quick ways to communicate and reach people, why use just one? We live in a society where people have hundreds of “friends” they can communicate with in a matter of minutes. Why is there such poor communication between homes and classrooms?
First, I think part of the problem is this antiquated attitude towards communicating with homes. Second is the inexperience or lack of knowledge by parents on the available lines of communication to classrooms. Last, there seems to be a huge inconsistency by educators on how to effectively communicate with homes.
On my team, we’ve got 52 parents signed up for Livegrades, our web-based grade reporting/communication system. That means, at best, 52 homes are actively viewing homework assignments, receiving messages from teachers, accessing discipline reports, and keeping up with their child’s grades. Let’s say we have 30 teachers in our middle school. At best, 30 teachers are effectively communicating with homes using a variety of communication tools. Which scenario is more likely?
I have 95 students right now, so 43 homes are unaccounted for on Livegrades. The only other method of communication that remains for those homes not on Livegrades is a phone call. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good ole 20th century phone call. However, most teachers and homes are more likely to send a message via email or Livegrades than they are to pick up the phone and hold a conversation. If you want to know important information such as how your child is behaving in a particular class, his/her relationship with a particular student, or why he/she received a poor grade on a particular assignment, it becomes easier and more convenient for a teacher to send a quick message home rather than a phone call. I also know several teachers who wouldn’t dare call home and speak to a parent about an issue. For better or worse, it’s a fact that more open communication will occur when alternative methods of communication exist and are actively used.
What handicaps teachers effectively using 21st century communication tools? Teachers that are not effectively using 21st century communication tools. How is a parent to know which teachers use which tools and which tools to learn and become comfortable using? Every teacher communicates information in a different way, and some teachers communicate only the bare minimum.
“When my child is absent, how can they find out what they missed?” Is this a common concern in your school? It is in mine. On my team here at Blennerhassett Middle, we post the HW daily in all of our classrooms. We also send the HW as a message via Livegrades. My students have additional means of communication because I’ve broadcast my Twitter handle to all of my students. Occasionally my students will message me in Edmodo and ask questions there. I often communicate to students and parents using @Celly. Celly has become my favorite means of communication and I couldn’t imagine teaching without it. It allows a safe environment to exchange text messages between myself, students, and parents. There are other effective means of communication in place in schools today. With all of these available methods of communication in place and used actively, I wonder how that would transform classrooms?
I use Khan Academy’s system of exercises in my classroom. My students receive a blend of instruction via the feedback provided by Khan Academy exercises and face to face time in my classroom. We typically spend 2 days a week in a computer lab setting and 3 days of the week in my classroom. The time in my classroom is predominantly driven by what has occurred on Khan Academy. This type of approach is referred as blended learning.
I often rearrange the seating in my classroom to put students in the best possible position to succeed. I don’t have assigned seats, but I like to keep it fluid and dynamic. When we are in my classroom, I try to incorporate more task-based problems that require my students to develop and demonstrate a deeper understanding in order to complete. I also try to keep my classroom student-centered. My assistant principal recently completed an observation in my room and estimated that I did about 5% of the teaching and the students did the other 95%. A lot of my preparation is designing lessons that allow students to collaborate, talk, and learn freely and from each other. Often my classroom looks chaotic, but lean an ear to the conversation for a couple minutes and you’ll find that students are busy solving problems.
Some days the data provided to me by Khan Academy dictates that I need to do more direct teaching. Some days the data suggests that my students are ready for something tougher. I don’t let the curriculum map influence my pace at all. I used to be a slave to that map and I was constantly assessing whether I would make it through the end of the map by May. Student learning suffered due to the emphasis and focus I placed on progressing through the map. I have completely let go of that and my students are benefiting.
During our parent-teacher conferences, I often get asked “So just how do you use Khan Academy in your classroom?”
Recently my classes began a new section on Exponents. The standard related to this material literally reads “I can use properties of integer exponents, including zero and negative exponents to evaluate and simplify numerical expressions containing exponents.” The following standard reads “I am able to derive and explain the properties of exponents.” During this section, I like to introduce the material at the computer lab using Khan Academy. I’ll take my students to the lab and direct them to a specific exercise. Below you’ll see an example of what a student may see during that day. This particular exercise is very basic and allows the student to demonstrate a shallow, procedural level of knowledge related to that standard. Quite simply, can students identify what to do when like-bases are divided? Or multiplied? Or when an exponent is raised to another exponent?
Keep in mind that this particular concept is very new to the students. I may have briefly introduced the concept in class, but with no assessment, checking for understanding, etc. At this point, I haven’t introduced the concept at all.
Pardon me while I try to step into the mind of a student seeing this problem for the first time. I can imagine that they apply a bit of problem solving strategies here and simply try to apply something that comes to mind. In the problem above, it appears this student tried to add the two exponents and Khan Academy told them to try again. Three seconds later this student decided to subtract the two exponents and Khan Academy indicated to them they had arrived at the correct answer. The very next problem can be found below.
This time the student decided that he should use a hint for help in solving this problem. Of course, there is a very specific procedure that can be applied here when raising one exponent to another exponent, but the students have not yet learned this, nor have they had any instruction on the concept. You can’t see it by looking at the screenshot, but this student used the hints and eventually used enough hints until the correct answer was given to him by Khan Academy. So the student enters the correct answer and moves to the next problem.
Skip ahead 12 problems and you see that this particular problem (see below) appears very similar to the one the student saw earlier. You can also see that he needed to use the hints to help him arrive at the correct answer. Apparently the student didn’t remember the feedback that was provided to him earlier. This is typical at this point. Note that while using the hints, the student can stop asking for a hint at any point when he/she has seen enough to allow them to provide the correct answer. If needed, they can ask for enough hints until Khan Academy gives them the answer. Either way, Khan Academy doesn’t award credit for that answer when determining proficiency. What you can see in the problem below is that this student hasn’t yet developed permanent recall of the specific rules; when to add the exponents, when to subtract the exponents, and when to multiply the exponents. Earlier, the student employed his own problem solving strategies, but now you can see that he’s employing the hints in order to help learn the procedure in hopes that he can apply the correct procedure to a future problem.
What happens during a class period such as this one is the students begin to develop their own procedures, methods, and strategies for problem solving by using the feedback provided by the system. Without much assistance from me, a number of students will actually correct their mistakes, use the feedback, the hints, or maybe even a video and in a 45 minute class period will actually get enough consecutive problems correct that Khan Academy will deem them proficient and classify them in a “practiced” level, indicating to me and the student that they have earned enough consecutive questions correct to be awarded that category. On the other hand, those students who don’t earn this classification have still been introduced to the concept and provided enough feedback that they will come into class the following day with a better understanding than they had the previous day. In fact, a number of those students will have partial understanding of the correct procedures. For example, they may be able to correctly identify when to multiply the exponents, but are still shaky on when to add or subtract those exponents. All of this is provided to me in a multitude of data. Below you’ll see an example of class data available to me today, immediately after 2nd period.
Fast forward to tomorrow. We’ll spend all class period in my room, not the computer lab. At some point before class tomorrow I’ll review this screen again and determine which students have already demonstrated a level of procedural knowledge and which students haven’t. The students who have demonstrated enough proficiency to earn that “practiced” level will most likely end up helping the other students iron out the wrinkles in their own procedures. Students will be talking about what they tried in the lab and why it failed. I’ll give students an opportunity to respond to the class about what a peer instructed them to do. Whether they admit it or not, everyone has developed some procedure, but not everyone has the right one yet. The students under the red column benefit because most of them will end the class period tomorrow feeling like a 3 or 4. I employ a very simple informal assessment procedure where my students give me a 1-5 at the end of the period. 1 represents a student who feels lost. 3 represents a student who knows what to do but couldn’t teach it to anyone else yet. 5 represents a student who knows it so well they could teach it to someone else. The students under the blue column benefit because the best way to retain information you have learned is to teach it to someone else.
What I’ve described to you has proved to me to be the quickest way to move students to that first, most basic, and most shallow level of understanding in a concept such as this. Tomorrow in my class you’ll see me explaining to the students that x times x times x times x times x divided by x times x yields x^3 because two sets of x/x cancels to make 1. We’ll use dry-erase boards to practice solving similar problems. I’ll allow students to check answers while I check answers. Half of the period I’ll spend down on a knee next to a student or groups of students. I may place a group of 5 students who appear under the red “struggling” column all at one table so I can focus my attention on those students. I’ll give them problems like (4^?)(4^-8) = 4^5. Students will apply previous concepts like 1/x^-3 = x^3 to help them solve problems that involve the quotient rule. Together, with the help of the data provided to me by Khan Academy, the students and I will work to move everyone to that basic procedural knowledge of exponent rules.
In the upcoming days and into next week I’ll provide this class with activities that allow them to develop a deeper understanding of the concept, one in which they won’t forget. I’ve already created an assignment in Edmodo where my students have to prepare a response that explains the exponent rules as if they were talking to a 7th grader.
I am not a special education teacher, nor do I have any autistic students in my classroom. That letter, however, hit a nerve with me because it seems that more and more the things which students need the most are being pushed further and further from classrooms. They are being crowded out by the emphasis of standards and testing that has become over-important in public education today. My heart went out to the educators working with Jackson because I know how easy it is for educators to lose sight of the big picture. It seems that teachers are being bombarded with ever changing strategies at improving student achievement on standard x, y, and z. Every department meeting is filled with talk of student strengths and weaknesses, according to “data”. How are we going to assess student growth in applying the Pythagorean Theorem in a real-life situation? How can we get students to analyze data and display the results in a box and whisker plot? I recently asked my math department if we could all make a push for all of our students to learn their times tables by the end of the school year. It’s amazing how many of our students grades 6-8 do not know their times tables and have given up on ever learning them. My eager proposal was met with “I don’t have time to teach that.” Not all of my colleagues felt that way, but some did. The discussion quickly changed gears and there still hasn’t been much follow-up on my proposal.
Has the emphasis on test scores, standards, and grades reduced the quality of learning in our classrooms? Has it reduced the quality of teaching? Armed with an optimistic view, consider what our students could be doing in classrooms that were liberated of the demands that standards and testing place on teachers. Consider what skills you’d like to see your child learn that aren’t in the curriculum. What about empathy? Tolerance? Perseverance? Drive? How about the ability to teach themselves? To create? To explore? To pursue their own interests?
I’ve wrote before about how unprepared I am to prepare my 8th grade students for the world they will enter after high school. I’m unprepared because I can’t even begin to define the skills and tools that will be most necessary in the world of 2018. Here are a few of the breakthroughs in technology in the last 5 years:
- Android (2008)
- Tablets (2010)
- Next generation electric cars (2008)
- Motion Sensing game consoles (2010)
I believe the most important skills students can learn in school is undergoing a tremendous shift. To be competitive and successful in the world our children are entering they are going to need a skill set that few are learning in many public school classrooms. That doesn’t mean the standards and testing need to disappear completely. I do wonder, though, just what our students could do if their teachers were relieved of the demand to cover the entire curriculum by the end of the school year, often at the expense of the students. I wonder what our classrooms would look like if more emphasis was placed on the skills that are tougher to measure. Could students create portfolios, collaborate with their peers, and pursue their interests? These things can be done in classrooms today, but I fear that most educators are too ill prepared to lead students through a journey of schooling that isn’t based on time, or standards, or analyzing test scores.
I never intend for my writing to bash the very institution that I chose to make my career. I hope that doesn’t radiate from my posts. I love what I get to do and I work with amazing students. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I see the potential they hold if given the opportunity to release it. I consider myself one of those educators that are ill-prepared to lead students down a path that will best prepare them for what is ahead. It has taken some time, but little by little I feel myself letting go of the pressures of test scores and standards, and narrowing my focus to learning. Not everything in my classroom is easily measured, but I see it. I see students persevering, problem solving, and leveraging the power of technology to shrink big problems into small ones. But there is so much that my students are still missing out on and that’s why I engage other professionals in my spare time. Without the aid of my network of peers pushing their students in the same direction I’m pushing mine, I would be shooting at a blank target. I’m not alone, there are others.
What are your thoughts? My daughter is not quite 2 years old, so I can admit that my perspective of schooling is restricted to being a teacher. Leave a comment about what came to your mind while reading this post. Thank you.
The training and structuring that has developed in my classroom is the best it’s ever been. I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’ve developed a positive classroom culture with no rules, no D-halls, no reminders and no zeroes.
Every teacher has moments in their career when they feel as if their students aren’t motivated. A teacher feels that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t get the students to buy in and express any concern for what is being done in the classroom. In fact, some may feel that way all the time. Can you imagine how it must feel walking into a classroom with 20-30 students looking at you that could seemingly care less about what you’re about to ask them to do? I can say it’s miserable! Never has there been an effective teacher that didn’t like their job. All effective teachers are happy teachers, and it’s difficult to be a happy teacher when your students appear to lack any motivation or concern for what you’re trying to teach.
I have dedicated a considerable amount of resources, energy, and most importantly, time, to creating a class that students enjoy, but one in which they are challenged. Challenging students and motivating students are not an easy task. Every day I’m reminded of how directed my students are, and how aware they are of what they’re learning well and what they’re not learning so well. Does this describe every student? Not yet. But it does describe most of them. Below you’ll find some techniques I’ve found to be successful in motivating and engaging my own students. Most of these efforts are also intended to develop more personal relationships with my students. All of these efforts are accomplished without rules, D-halls, reminders, or zeroes.
- @Celly: I use celly with my students and parents as a means to communicate. This also allows my students and I a safe place to exchange comments, positive reinforcement, and questions. You’d be surprised at what a simple text broadcasted to students and parents will do for my class the following day. One evening I texted a list of names who had been working hard online that evening. The next evening I had twice as many students working hard from home. If you don’t know about Celly, definitely check it out!
- Email is still effective. I make an attempt to email personal messages home to at least 2 students each week. At the beginning of the year I made a strong attempt at gathering an email from all homes represented by my students. I used a simple Google form to accomplish this. Sending a positive, personal message home bragging about a student requires about 5 minutes. This has been a high – yield strategy for me this year. I’ve received great feedback from students and parents. One student came in the next day and said “Mr. Oldfield, will you send another message home? I got my phone back last night and I’m not grounded anymore!”
- I have a wall of fame in my room. Students appear to be working hard to gain recognition on my wall. I admit, I need to invest more into this attempt at improving student motivation in my classroom. I have not publicized what is required to gain a spot on the wall. I find that doesn’t restrict students to only doing what is required.
- I have also made a strong effort this year to leverage the power of social media to connect with my students at the place where they spend a ton of time. I’ve broadcast my Twitter name to my classes and my parents. Twitter has provided me the opportunity to share student success in a place that is important to students. I imagine most students would prefer I praise them in front of their peers, rather than in private to their parents. How strong is your voice?
- I use Khan Academy with my students. Thankfully, it allows me to monitor student use/activity extremely effectively. It takes me about 5 minutes to access Khan Academy and check to see which students have been active. If I stopped there, I’d be missing out on a tremendous potential. Checking on students activity allows me to touch base with them, either via Celly, Twitter, or face to face the next morning. Even a simple “Hey I saw you working really hard last night, how did it go?” sends a strong message to my students that I care about what they’re doing. Is there a stronger message to send? One morning I perched myself outside my door, waiting for a young lady to come around the corner because I noticed she finally passed adding and subtracting negative numbers the night before. She completed a total of 234 problems over the course of the 9 weeks grading period. This was a skill that presented her with a ton of difficulty. I had exhausted myself with scaffolded support, working 1:1, researching interventions and strategies, etc. That morning she came around the corner, I just pat her on the back and said, “Congratulations! I see you passed last night!” She started crying tears of joy over me acknowledging her hard work and success.
There are, no doubt, many effective ways to improve student motivation, show students that you care, and broadcast student success. These are a few of the things that have affected my classroom tremendously!
I just want to update parents, students, and educators on how my experiment with Standards-Based Grading and less homework is going. Today marks the end of our first grading period here at Wood County Schools, WV. I created a Google form where my students answered one question: what class was your hardest during this 1st 9 weeks? I know my results are based purely on student opinion. It’s tough to measure what class is really the “toughest” to students. But nonetheless, it was a short, easy survey and students had every opportunity to answer honestly as the survey was completely anonymous. All I did was make sure students didn’t answer more than once. I was curious about how they would respond. Would students consider my class one of the easiest because I give far less homework than the rest of my teammates? Does assigning more homework increase rigor in a classroom? Is there a correlation? I think the results speak for themselves. As of 4:00, Wednesday October 23, there were 77 total responses.
- Reading: 5
- Science: 12
- WV Studies: 13
- English: 17
- Math: 30
Now, I don’t think it’s right to apply this data to any other class and base any conclusions off of the specific homework/grading procedures represented in those classes. For example, I wouldn’t suggest that since I assign less HW, my class is more rigorous. Nor would I suggest that since English assigns the most HW, that class is less rigorous. I can only apply my students’ responses to my experiment with SBG and no HW. I do think it’s ok for me to conclude that, according to the data, my students do consider my class challenging. It appears that I don’t have to assign HW to make my class challenging. Challenging students doesn’t have to be related to the amount of HW. Unfortunately, I wonder how many educators would agree with that statement?
See my updated about me page.
This month is Connected Educator Month and I’ve been reading some really incredible posts from educators reflecting on becoming connected. See It’s not a must to be connected – but it helpsl or PD roadblocks control complainace and permission posts about transforming Professional Development with collaborative learners. Tom is probably my favorite blogger of all things related to The connected educator culture. The link will take you to his post about the connected educator culture. The post he made after that one is about having patience with the unconnected. I sure needed to read that one myself!
This blog has become way more than what I originally intended when I started building it over the summer. I never imagined my blog would make it to places like India, Australia, British Columbia and many places across the United States. I want to share my feelings on becoming a connected educator and hope to shed some encouragement to those who are curious enough to entertain the idea. First, a connected educator is one who leverages today’s technology to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create in an effort to improve their practice. All of this sharing can be done in a variety of venues, such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. This post is about me, so I’ll share my experience.
I connected via Twitter last spring, 2013. I decided to dive into Twitter after realizing that was the social media haven where most of my students resided. I originally thought I would just offer my students another method of contact in hopes that I could also build relationships, make connections with students/parents, find out what’s going on in their lives, and use Twitter as a way to provide positive feedback, inform students about upcoming assignments/projects, etc. I had read of many schools leveraging the power of social media. My favorite example would be New Milford High School where principal Eric Sheninger has become an expert on leveraging the power of social media in schools. See Eric Sheninger’s posts about the use social media in schools.
Before I knew it, I was following a collection of educators who consistently shared tweets, links, and resources on educational technology, Google apps for education, increasing communication with homes, standards-based grading, blended learning, and flipped classrooms. The power of Twitter, for me, was in whom I was following. I was definitely more of a “lurker” than a participator. My personality doesn’t allow me to lurk for long, however. I wanted to engage and start communicating back and forth, even if it was 140-character conversations. My first chat I participated in was #edtechchat. It was really fast, but I learned about Google Forms that evening. You’ll find some parent communication forms on my blog were made as a direct result of that chat. I have since shared Google Forms with my wife, an English teacher, and she’s put them to use in her classroom as well.
Soon my passion for learning more about improvements I could make in my classroom was creeping into my typical evening routine. Over the summer, my wife and I would typically try to relax of an evening, but instead of watching a show, I could be found with my nose in Twitter chasing links and saving resources in my Evernote portfolio. Evernote was also a direct result of becoming connected. I started my Evernote and began sorting links, PDF’s, blogs, etc. into categories in Evernote. I can now easily search by tags I created, such as connectededucators, SBG, math, googleapps, edtech, and more. It didn’t take long until my connectedness had become streamlined. One would think I was consumed and spent the majority of my day on my phone or staring at a laptop. This is not true. I still had a family and I still had a very active 18 month old. My family even decided to sell our house and move 40 minutes away at the beginning of this school year. Talk about busy! I had taught myself to use the power of Tweetdeck, Evernote, and Google Chrome to sift through the constant stream and read, save, and share items that I could find in a short amount of time. Becoming connected had changed me into a self-directed learner and I wanted to help my students become self-directed learners as well.
I would like to share some ideas I’d like to see come to fruition in my district. These are all ideas to increase connectedness, collaboration, sharing, and self-directed learning. At the risk of challenging traditional powers of administration, I’d like to help make these ideas a reality.
- Groups of educators, either by department, school, grade-level, etc. interacting via Edmodo. I see a need to start small, so I’d like to involve other schools so that the educators who have a desire or are at least curious enough to get involved can. I imagine the power of becoming connected will take over and others will eventually become involved.
- More schools leveraging the power of social media. There is an extreme potential being missed by teachers and schools that still put the lock-down on social media.
- Monthly or weekly Twitter chats, again, by department, grade-levels, elementary vs secondary, or by school. The idea of carving out more time to meet face to face is becoming antiquated, ask any principal. There simply is no more time. However, the digital environment lends itself to more friendly collaboration. Not to mention it can be done at your own convenience, often from home. Twitter is built for this, though Google+ or Hangouts could be used as well. Edmodo is the simplest to use and friendly to those who are already familiar with Facebook. Hashtags could be created for easy access to prior chats, discussions, etc. Perhaps #woodcoedchat could be used for a district-wide chat weekly or monthly. And more specific audiences could collaborate via #resavmathchat or something similar. These are just ideas.
All of these ideas require the involvement of educators willing to think outside the box. It also means the traditional style of professional development, herding teachers to the library or auditorium and lecturing to them for an hour, has got to change. Current methods of professional development have created a generation of teachers who are no longer self-directed learners. It really is not the teachers’ fault that they require 1:1 spoon-fed treatment to gauge effective professional development. How many students do you have that require spoon-feeding in order to learn? How many students do you have that are self-directed learners who would prefer to try things themselves instead of listening to the teacher force-feed information to them? Have you ever wondered why? Or who created such a generation of learners? It’s no more the teachers’ fault that they refuse to use the power of connections to learn new tools themselves, than it is the students fault that they require a steady dose of spoon-feeding in order to learn new concepts/skills. Professional development can and should be personalized. No longer should professional development be documented by seat-time, rather work samples, portfolios, and evidence should be treated as proof of professional development.
In closing, I hope this doesn’t intimidate anyone. I fear that I’ve done that in the past and that is definitely something I want to avoid. Connections can be made in a variety of ways. My experience thus far has mostly occurred via Twitter, but there are other ways to become connected. Choose the one that fits you and start learning. If you’ve only got one connection, use them. Connected educators are the most giving group of educators. The very definition of the term infers a responsibility to share freely, give advice, receive criticism, etc. Thank you for reading as I didn’t intend for this to be so long.
I read this somewhere, someone may comment on its origin, “Will what I’m about to say bring me closer or push me away from the person with whom I’m communicating?” I try to keep that thought in the front of my mind all day at school. My wife and 2 year old daughter would say it tends to leave my mind on my way home! Either way, I like to think that’s my classroom management theme.
My teammates at school would say I’m ultra practical. I really am. It’s tough for me to buy into something that isn’t practical. For example, why should students come to my room first and ask to get a drink from the fountain, when they walk right by the fountain on their way to my room? Even little situations like that could become unnecessary situations if more teachers exercised some practicality in their classrooms. Just recently, I was asked why I don’t meet 1:1 with my students to discuss their end-of-the-year state-wide test results. The numbers don’t make sense to my students. They aren’t practical. If a student is 12 points away from the mastery level, what do 12 points really say? No one seems to know. That isn’t practical to me. Why discuss a student’s test score when neither he/she or I know what that score really means. I can discuss strengths and weaknesses with a student, but they probably already know those as well. Providing an opportunity to build on those strengths and weaknesses is what I’d like to talk about. Back on topic Mr. Oldfield!
Harry K. Wong emphasizes that classroom management is much more than discipline. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers think of effective classroom management as effective discipline. CM goes beyond discipline, it should be something that positively affects the entire classroom and everyone in it. When classroom problems arise, consider what you have done to prevent such a problem from arising? That’s a loaded question that requires reflection on the activity, assignment, instructional method, seating arrangement, location of the teacher and location of the student. Sometimes there just isn’t anything that could have been done to prevent it. When that’s the case, what did your reaction convey? Was your reaction one in which your students could clearly interpret? Did your reaction support the correct behavior?
Can your students fish?
“Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”
What an awesome post by Oliver Shinkten. I’ve connected with Oliver a few times on Twitter and I’ve enjoyed his tweets a lot! I haven’t made an official “guest post” yet on my blog, so this is it. I can’t think of a better topic. I have similar conversations with students every day in my own classroom. One of the skills my students become really good at throughout the course of a year is perseverance and learning how to learn. I stress to them that learning how to learn, and learning how to teach yourself is really about perseverance. But teaching students how to learn is an essential and often overlooked skill. In fact, how many teachers can say they know how to learn?
I just want to take a moment and reiterate my grading policy and why it has changed so much this year. I have decided to take a step towards Standards Based Grading this year. Before I explain SBG, I’ll tell you why. Early in the year I had a discussion with all of my classes about what an A means. I received responses such as: “It means you’ve learned everything you should have learned” or “It means you don’t need any help” or “An A means you’re awesome at what we’ve been doing.” These are real responses from students. I typically followed that response with “Then what does a B mean?” Or “Do any students really learn everything, 100% on every single assignment?” I think you get the picture. It is extremely hard to define what an A represents, or a B, or a C, etc. If you asked 10 teachers, you’re liable to get 8-10 different responses. So I decided I wanted a better way to grade, and I wanted my students to know what they learned and how well they learned it by the end of the grading period. More importantly, I wanted them to know what they didn’t learn. That’s really what SBG is all about. It represents a style of grading based on mastery.
For several reasons, I’ve had far fewer grades this year than I’ve ever had. When I reflected on how much of my class time was spent on trading papers to grade, passing out red pens, trying to provide feedback after the grading, and collecting all the papers (the typical process I went through to grade a HW assignment); I realized just how much precious class time was wasted on grading. Not to mention how much time I was spending outside of class organizing late work, keeping folders for absent students, recording grades, updating LiveGrades, etc. On top of that, I noticed that my students really don’t know what an A, B, C, D, or F really means anyways. So instead, I decided to assign less HW and provide more feedback rather than grades.
I have one class with only 5 grades so far this 9 weeks. It’s not because they haven’t been doing anything. In previous years, I’d give out an assignment and while handing out to the students, I could almost predict which students weren’t ready for the assignment, based on what I had seen from them in class or on the situation that existed at home. As I walked around the room, that’s what I was thinking. I probably cringed, literally, as I handed them their assignment. Those students would usually cringe as well. I would hand them the assignment, take the assignment on it’s due date, and record a terrible grade. How ludicrous is that? I could predict a student’s bad grade on an assignment, before that student even looked at the assignment. Yet, I still gave them the assignment. I even acted disappointed when it was returned or wasn’t returned! Early in my career, I would commence with 10-20 minute dissertations about how students needed to consult their notes, read the textbook, practice at home, and spend more time preparing for these assignments. I can now understand that what the students heard was “This is all your fault, next time you should at least cheat so you can get a better grade on this assignment, and how about paying attention in class next week.” This caused me to seriously question the purpose of assignments. Not just homework, but assignments, especially graded assignments. Underneath the umbrella of SBG is this thought that graded assignments should be the students’ opportunity to demonstrate his/her learning (mastery). Unless all students learn everything at the exact same pace, ideally assignments shouldn’t be given/collected at the exact same time. This is where my feedback enters the discussion. I do give assignments, but I rarely grade them. I try to work hand-in-hand with each student to support them in such a way that allows them to learn how to do the assignment correctly, with 100% accuracy. They turn in that assignment when they’re ready. I firmly believe this philosophy has drastically decreased the amount of cheating in my classroom. Students know they don’t have to cheat because if they return an assignment incomplete or unfinished, Mr. Oldfield will understand why it’s incomplete. The why is very important and requires pinpoint monitoring of student progress on each specific learning objective (standard). Thankfully, for me, technology does most of that monitoring (see http://derekoldfield.edublogs.org/blended-learning-training/ for more information about my classroom). But believe it or not, most of my classroom instruction is without the use of technology. My students use dry-erase boards and markers almost every day. This is how I provide feedback and monitor which students are ready to demonstrate their learning and which students are not. I can easily check a dry-erase board for the right answer and provide appropriate feedback when a wrong answer is given. Students also serve as a “checkers” in my class, so at some points, there are 4-5 people providing feedback during problem-solving time. All of this is an effort to move students towards mastery and provide them with the support they need to get there.
My assessments used to be 25-30 question exams that would generally take the whole period to complete. They were designed to measure proficiency on a whole host of skills, sometimes 6-7 standards. Now, my assessments are short and targeted. They are typically 10 questions and I’ll make at least 3 versions. These are assessments that can be completed in 10 minutes or less if the students know what they’re doing. They are designed to assess proficiency on 2-4 standards. Every assessment is a short-answer, explanation type of response. All assessments are done in class, and they’re never sent home. I allow my students to retake any assessment and record the grade that they earn. Two weeks ago I had a student take an assessment and score 20%. Would you say that student was ready for the assessment at that point? I still scored it, and recorded the 20%. But together, she and I looked at the 8 questions she missed and tried to apply the corrections. She knew exactly which standards to go back and review/practice on Khan Academy. She spent the following week practicing and strengthening her proficiency in those specific skills. She completed the 2nd version of that assessment and scored a 90%. I replaced the 20% with a 90% because that was a more accurate reflection of her learning. I strongly feel that grades should reflect learning. The most common misconception in many classrooms is that grades should also reflect responsibility, at least some measure of responsibility. I whole-heartedly agree that students should be taught responsibility. I also think they should be taught tolerance, empathy, perseverance, self-awareness, etc. If we don’t give grades for those other worthy investments, why do we insist on giving a grade for responsibility?
In conclusion, I have learned that implementing SBG is not easy. I’ll highlight these 7 principles I have relied on:
Failure to learn is not always the student’s fault. Take account of your own classroom, how engaged are your students? What modifications could you make to account for poor behavior? (seating arrangements, visuals, etc)
Provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning and record the most accurate representation of that learning.
Provide more feedback, less grades. Feedback is the vehicle that drives students towards mastery. With appropriate feedback, the student will want to improve, and know how to improve. With no feedback, the student will know how meaningless the assignment was.
Be transparent! Let your students know where you’re going, what holes to fill, and how to get there.
Be sure that your assessments are short and targeted. Give more assessments.
Let them fail. Failure leads to perseverance, a skill rarely measured, but ultimately valuable. You can build this atmosphere of perseverance in problem solving in your classroom.
Praise! Praise students for the effort and perseverance. Most of communication with home should be in the form of praise. Don’t get stuck communicating only negatives.