January 25, 2016

The Learning Divide

Jonas made it’s mark on West Virginia this weekend.  In Parkersburg, WV we got about 13 inches of snow.  On Friday as the snow was dropping my family decided to drive about 20 minutes north to my aunt and uncle’s house because they have a fantastic hill for sleigh riding.



Powell House

It turns out we got snowed in and the roads were just too much for our Ford Fusion to travel so we decided to spend the night Friday.  Jonas continued to pour into Saturday so we were forced to stay another night away from home.  My aunt and uncle were keeping their eight-year-old granddaughter Kiera for the weekend so my four-year-old daughter Miley had a playmate.  As you can imagine, this was an excellent deal for Miley.  As she was climbing into bed with Kiera Friday night she told us “this is my first big girl sleepover!”

I brought my Macbook Air with me as I figured I could use the time stuck inside to get some work done.  I got it out Saturday afternoon and attempted to access the wireless internet available at my uncle’s home.  For reasons unknown to me, my Macbook would not connect despite entering the correct password.  It appeared to try to connect over and over but I never received the typical message telling me it was unable to connect.  I honestly don’t know what happened and the issue exceeded my own level of expertise.  My eight-year-old cousin Kiera noticed my frustration and asked me what was wrong.  I told her my computer wouldn’t connect to the internet.  She asked if I wanted her to try.  I smiled politely under the guise of frustration.  I had reached the point where I just wanted to toss something out the window.  Kiera asked me again if I wanted her to try so this time I took a deep breath and kindly said “Kiera, I’ve tried to input the wifi password correctly, but it still won’t connect.”  Do you know what Kiera did?  Kiera grabbed her Ipod Touch and proceeded to ask Siri how to fix my Macbook.

Sunday morning my family got up and I told my wife Julie that we should begin packing our stuff and heading home.  I was certain that by this time the hill leading into our neighborhood would likely be cleared enough for us to make it.  Kiera and Miley were determined they were going to eat ice cream for breakfast.  It was a weekend long party for these two!  Kiera told us she wanted to make ice cream with snow.  Do you know she did?  She grabbed the Ipad and looked up a recipe on Youtube.  Within 30 seconds we had a recipe for making ice cream with snow.  Outside we went with a couple bowls to scoop up some snow.  IMAG3403It wasn’t until we got home Sunday afternoon till I started thinking about what my eight-year-old cousin had taught me.  I considered how Kiera so quickly attempted to learn the things she wanted to learn using Siri and Youtube.  I had the opportunity to observe how an eight-year-old leverages technology that is as ubiquitous to her as a pencil is to me.  In fact, as I replayed the situations in my mind I realized she didn’t even think twice about seeking a solution from Siri or about searching for a recipe on Youtube.  What implications does that kind of access have on today’s classrooms?  Consider your own classroom, is it engaging to today’s students?  Is there still a disconnect between the way students learn outside of school and the way students learn inside of school?


August 20, 2015

The Handwritten Note




I adopted the practice of writing handwritten notes about 3 years ago.  It wasn’t until this year that I really began to harness the power.  Before, I would occasionally write a note when a student performed extraordinary in class.  If I recognized that a student had overcome a large obstacle in content, I would try and write the note and deliver it within the same day.  At my previous school, we had Blennerhassett Middle School post cards that you see in the above picture.  I moved schools this year and realized that as far as I knew, I didn’t have anything similarly suited for writing handwritten notes to students.  I have used Vistaprint this year to order business cards that include my contact information, website, and instructions on signing up for my Remind class.  On the back of the card, I included a motivational image from Dave and Shelly Burgess, authors of Teach Like A Pirate. IMAG1052 IMAG1054

In addition to ordering the business cards, I also ordered postcards for handwritten notes.CYMERA_20150820_075401


This year I determined to leverage the power of a sincere note to a greater degree than I had before.  During the first few days of school, I made literal and mental notes about students through observation and conversation.  I tried to identify students who seemed disengaged.  In some cases, I have students who are repeating the course for a second of third time.  As I identified those students, I watched closely for that small spark of excitement, engagement, or some input to any conversation.  That was when I jumped on the opportunity to praise!  As soon as I could I wrote a handwritten note, checked out their schedule, and began delivering the notes during my planning period.  In four days of school I have delivered four quality notes with a sincere and personal message to that student.  I ordered my Vistaprint cards late so I had to use notecards for a few days. IMAG1045

Often the only feedback you get from a handwritten note is the evidence of excitement, motivation, and engagement that student displays the next day in class.  Occasionally you’ll get a “thank you” in return.

A couple years ago I had a student that many educators would have considered a handful, to say the least.  During our team plan, this student’s name would come up often when discussing behavior issues.  This student was among the top five offenders in detention-hall that year.  I wrote him a handwritten note praising him for his perseverance during an exercise in class one day.  A few days later I noticed his binder laying on the floor next to his desk.  In the clear plastic sleeve on the front of his binder was my handwritten note.  He was displaying it proudly for all to see.  I didn’t want him to notice, but I tried to quickly snap a picture of that binder that day.  The image isn’t real clear but that’s my handwritten note in the sleeve.  IMAG4724 He never thanked me for my note.  I got all the thanks I needed when this student worked his butt off in my class the rest of the year.

August 17, 2015

Mouse Traps & Blindfolds

IMAG1033IMAG1034 I saw this life changing lesson performed during a church service about three years ago and I have used it in the classroom ever since.  I call it a life changing lesson, titled after Dave Burgess’ LCL’s he uses in his classroom (Teach Like A Pirate).  I recommend setting the stage with some of Dave’s hooks, like the taboo hook or a mystery box hook. Both of these will add to this amazing experience. I’ve done this for years on days 2 or 3 with my classes. I still don’t know all their names, but they leave with a memorable experience. The experience begins by blindfolding a volunteer at the front of the classroom.  It’s necessary that the volunteer take his/her shoes off as it helps increase the suspense or thrill.  Obviously, you need enough clear space to establish a point A and point B for the volunteer to travel.  Once blindfolded, the teacher will grab his/her bag and begin to pull out mouse traps, knives, forks, scissors (anything that will elicit some gasps from audience).  Strategically place the mouse traps and other obstacles out front of the volunteer, creating a maze-like pattern of dangerous obstacles.  I do this slowly, while instructing the volunteer to stand very still.  I even let a mouse trap or two snap loudly to help build the intensity.  Often the volunteer will nervously ask “what was that Mr. Oldfield?”  I typically respond “Oh that was nothing.  You trust me right?”  Anything you can do to help increase the intensity here will help hook the audience and the volunteer.  Once the path is set, I explain that the audience will have opportunity to direct the volunteer down the path, but they’ll have to be careful and very specific in their directions.  What usually plays out next is a combination of the audience calling out directions, some good and some bad, while I stand next to the volunteer confirming some orders and monitoring his/her safety.  Once the volunteer has surpassed one or two obstacles, I will step on one of the mouse traps, setting it off loudly.  This normally ignites some anxiety in the volunteer.  I kick the trap out of the way and the volunteer continues.  Once the volunteer has completed the journey, he/she is allowed to remove the blindfold and look back at the obstacles.

The next portion of the lesson is where the teacher facilitates the valuable learning experience.  My discussion begins by acknowledging that this experience that took place actually represented something larger.  I like to give my students some time to discuss at their tables some ideas they may have about what they think the entire experience represented.  Next I usually reveal the three key players in the experience: the mouse traps, me, and the crowd.  I allow my students some time to discuss the three roles and who each of them represented.  During the discussion at the tables, I make my rounds listening and guiding the discussions in the right directions.  The easiest connection to make seems to be that the mouse traps represented danger or obstacles that lie in our paths.  So that’s a good place to start with your students.  You can carry the rest of the discussion out however you best see fit.  But I think it’s important to emphasize the distinction between the teacher and the crowd, and who those two parties represent.  In my opinion, the teacher represented the following groups of people that you may want your students to recognize: parents, teachers, coaches, pastors.  The crowd represented the following groups of people: classmates, friends, teammates.  While developing this distinction, I always try to remind my students which person kicked one or two of the obstacles out of the way for the volunteer.  I (teacher) kicked an obstacle out of the way because I was close to the volunteer.  It’s all about distance, literal and figurative.  Typically classmates, friends, teammates have an impact on us, but they can’t really remove obstacles from our path.  Their impact is never that direct.  But parents, teachers, and coaches sometimes have an impact that can be that direct.  Moral of the story is that during my students’ years (14-17 years of age), they often tend to distance themselves from those who have the most impact on their journey.  The class always agrees that the volunteer never would have made it through the path without any guidance.  It’s often the case that they never would have made it exclusively on the guidance of the crowd, because it was sometimes hard to distinguish between good advice and bad advice when listening only to the crowd.  The noise level also made it hard to hear the right voices.  Bottom line, it’s nice to be reminded at 14-17 years of age, that as much as we sometimes think we don’t need them, we really do need those people who offer to walk life’s journey right by our side.


April 27, 2015

Update: Measuring Student Learning

Perhaps the largest impact that this blog has had on my practice can be seen through my journey of improving my efforts to measure student learning.  I officially entered the waters of standards-based grading 2 years ago.  If you’ve made it to this blog it’s possible you’re wondering “what’s so wrong with Mr Oldfield’s practices of grading, assessment, and measuring student learning that he needed to begin a journey.”  Or you may simply be curious about what standards-based grading means.  Regardless of the reason, I’ve taken the opportunity to record, quite often, about my progress towards refining my grading practices.  I hesitate to say grading practices because it’s much more than grading.


First, it’s necessary to understand that grades are nothing more than communication.  Even with poor grading practices, they are still nothing more than communication.  Some practices result in better communication than others, but grades are still nothing more than communication.  I personally believe grades without consistent, descriptive feedback do a pretty poor job of communicating learning.  More on that later.

This post is intended to be about my journey so I’ll try to refrain from pointing out flaws in others’ practices, but you may refer to my own admissions in this post written in Oct of 2013.  Since then, a student that follows me on Twitter humorously responded to one of my conversations with other educators about the topic of assessing learning.  blendedjourneyIn reflection, I’ve cleaned up several bad practices since then.  I want to update readers on my current progress and goals moving forward.  To remind readers, I teach 8th grade math at a 6-8 middle school in Parkersburg, WV.  My wife is a secondary ELA teacher and she often reminds me that in her opinion standards-based learning is more easily adopted in the math classroom because of the skill-building nature of the content.  Nonetheless, cultivating learners is something for every classroom.  I’ve developed a system where most students practice, with great persistence, to demonstrate proficiency in the targeted skill before they attempt a short assessment.  I really don’t incorporate homework, which is more reflective of the blended classroom than my opinion towards homework.  I offer them a barrage of data that allows my students to self-assess how ready they are before they sit down to perform on an assessment.  I’ll refer you to this old post that includes a piece about how I incorporate data into my classroom, but I’ve added measurement tools since and those tools aren’t reflected in that post.  At the time of my previous blog post on grading, I was struggling with the management of student retakes and pacing.  That means when students would complete an assessment, but the results indicated they needed more practice in specific areas, I had difficulty managing which assessment that student(s) had completed (version 1, 2, or 3?).  I also felt the pressure of maintaining pace (and overall classroom management) once half of my class had completed the assessment with proficiency and the other half was still in the process of improvement.  Admittedly, those two or three items were obstacles in the journey.  I’ve maintained my practice of providing short, tiered assessments.  This means that my assessments are often 4-8 problems.  Given the specific content and skill, I try to tier those assessments beginning with the most basic idea I intend to measure (aligned to content standards) and ending with the problem that requires higher ordered tasks such as justifying, analyzing, or application.  Designing assessments this way makes me pay special attention to the verbs.  I still fight myself to avoid restricting my measurement to verbs like compute and evaluate.  In math, these verbs result in items that are easy to measure, but often distort the amount of learning that is communicated.  For example, a student may demonstrate proficiency at a high level in evaluating the slope of a line.  But if the measurement stops there, neither the teacher or the student will know if he/she can explain the slope/rate of change and y-intercept in the context of a real world situation.  See: InterpretingGraphs1

To improve my management of retakes and pacing I transitioned to paperless tests.  I began to offer all my assessments on Google Forms.  This means that students are provided a URL in order to access my assessments through a web-enabled device.  Students input their name at the beginning of each assessment and those results are sent to me immediately in a spreadsheet.  I quickly complete the assessment myself under the name Answer Key.  This allows me to keep a line in the spreadsheet as the solutions, allowing quick and easy checking of answers once a student completes the assessment.  See a screenshot below with the red cells indicating incorrect answers.  The yellow line indicates the answer key.  Student names have been blurred.  Notice the different dates in the timestamp.  YearinReview2bResultsYou can see that there are more cells that didn’t show up in the screenshot.  These particular results indicate to me areas that my students could use more support and practice.  Remember that I try to tier the problems, so the problems at the end of the test require a higher level of thinking in order to complete, which is likely the reason why students got the first couple problems correct.  Those problems required the lowest level of understanding, mostly procedural.  I conference 1:1 immediately after students complete these assessments.  We look at their results next to a blank test and together we work out their mistakes.  I have incorporated a practice of requiring students to assign a grade to their test before I even look at their results.  Before I went paperless I was using the red/green/yellow stickers you typically see on yard sale items.  Students were using the stickers to indicate their own self-evaluation of their results before they submitted the test.  On the digital assessments, the last item is always a self-evaluation rubric on which students assign themselves an A-F letter.  I believe the feedback provided during the conference, the self-evaluation piece, and the efforts to correct mistakes have made a tremendous impact on the culture of learning in my classroom.  The idea I try to align with 100% of the time is where am I now, where am I headed, how do I get there?  I make sure students leave the post-assessment conference with an idea of what needs to be done before attempting a retake.  The spreadsheet does all the organization that I was previously doing quite poorly.  The spreadsheet also offers insight on what questions students are missing the most.  I heard someone say once why assess if you aren’t going to do anything with the results?

IMG_20150427_152335Observation of my classroom would likely look chaotic and unorganized to some.  Acknowledging that when the student learns isn’t as important as if that student learns means that I take full advantage of peer to peer interactions to maximize opportunities for students to learn from one another.  In a blended classroom like mine, the teacher operates as much more of a facilitator constantly monitoring and managing learning opportunities.  This means that I allow data to determine seating arrangements, small group instruction, and peer tutoring arrangements.  I believe that the allowance of different paces has benefited all students, particularly those students who would not benefit from strict deadlines on learning.

IMG_20150427_151726The only scores that I input in our online gradebook are the results of my assessments.  These opportunities make up only a small portion of the learning opportunities in class.  Many believe that unless class assignments are graded, scored, and recorded, students won’t do them.  I make a genuine attempt to provide my students well rounded meals with an emphasis on presentation, rigor, and real-world application.  I believe if you provide students an uncommon learning experience they’ll reward you with uncommon effort and attitudes (Dave Burgess).  CYMERA_20150427_171802I honestly can’t judge or begin to justify what would work in other classrooms, but I believe many of my efforts included in this post and others support the culture of learning that needs to be developed in all classrooms.  My students will complete an anonymous survey at the end of the year that will help to provide me feedback about their experience in my classroom.  I take those results each year and look at them objectively.  They often help determine areas that I need to communicate better to them and their parents.  IMG_20150427_152228Moving forward, I hope to expand on the variety and quality of opportunities for students to demonstrate learning.  I know that my students would benefit from having a variety of ways to demonstrate learning.  I have attempted and failed to get my students blogging this year.  I have multi-seat desktops in my room.  Each multi-seat runs up to 6 other multi-seat units on only 2gb of ram.  Despite this, I am grateful for the possibilities this lab provides.  It has completely transformed my practice.  However, I feel I am limited on the variety of ways my students can demonstrate learning by creating.  I would love to incorporate video or audio more often but the technical aspect has eluded me so far.  Despite the improved culture in my classroom, my students are still forgetting more than they retain.  The blogs were intended to serve as a record of learning, but I found quickly my students didn’t enjoy the writing.  I could probably have set that standard a bit higher and cultivated a more enjoyable experience, rather than extra work.  There’s got to be a way to incorporate images and typed responses in a manner that would support retention and record learning.  Of course, I’m open to suggestions!

Thank you for reading this far.  I appreciate the opportunity to learn from others and I encourage you to leave a comment if you have any questions or want to provide some input, criticism, or encouragement.

Derek Oldfield

June 10, 2014

The hardest day of the year

Let me say this first.  I am beyond blessed to get to work with tremendous students.  Not all teachers get to experience such grace.  Now I’m not saying things are easy, especially on the last day.

I’m an 8th grade math teacher in a grade 6-8 middle school.  For those that may read this that aren’t educators, especially ones of middle schoolers, I hope that I can accurately portray the investment that many of my colleagues and I have made this year.  One of the most difficult things for a middle school teacher is to force yourself to give an ear on every occasion that it’s needed.  I’m not sure there’s a greater need of middle school students, than a listening ear.  I tried to make a commitment to drop what I was doing and look at a student each time they came to talk to me.  I failed many times.  Often the topic wasn’t of utmost importance, but I tried to listen.  At the middle school level, doing this 100% of the time is an arduous task!  Why?  Because middle school students thirst for someone that will listen.  That means you have to be prepared to listen before school, after school, on your planning period, on your way to the bathroom, when you walk by another teacher’s room, when you’re walking outside for kickball, on your way out to your car, during bus duty, during your lunch, and yes, right in the middle of class.  To be effective, listening to students must come before you, your family, your colleagues, the work at hand, your grades, your plans, your hunger, and your thirst.  The sadness of the last day comes in memories of these conversations.  Conversations of:

  • boyfriends
  • girlfriends
  • moms and dads
  • heartache at home
  • what someone said on social media the night before
  • sporting events: what happened before the game, during the game, after the game
  • homework help
  • hunting stories
  • the pressures of school

As I look at every one of my students, I can recall a conversation with them.  Each conversation was an opportunity for me to make an impact on their life.  What tremendous responsibility!  I’ve found that committing myself to listening stretches my patience and my tolerance; things that can occasionally run thin on this middle school teacher.  You get to see so much growth in students as a middle school teacher.  All students grow physically, but so many grow in maturity too.  Watching my students walk into and out of the auditorium today I was doing really well until this thought entered my mind: I’ve invested more time into these kids than I have my own daughter.   I can’t say it enough, I get to build relationships with amazing young people.

During the last 2 days of school, Blennerhassett Middle School organizes a huge school-wide Olympics festival full of competitions ranging from water-balloon slingshot, musical chairs, 3 on 3 basketball, volleyball, quiz bowl, and many others.  To my knowledge, the festival is unmatched by any other school.  My days are spent running from competition to competition to cheer on my homebase students and fellow competitors.  I spend most of the day screaming, fist-pumping, high-fiving or dancing on stage with about 50 middle school students.  In between setting up and tearing down the events I’m in charge of, I try and make every last moment count with every student.  I don’t eat lunch these two days so I can spend lunch in the cafeteria with my students.  The days fly by and I know in just a moment, they’ll be gone.  The opportunities to impact the lives of young people are dwindling.  After the closing ceremonies and the tribute to our 8th graders, we’ll say our goodbyes, exchange hugs, and watch the students progress into the next chapter.

The last day of school is the hardest for me.

May 24, 2014

Tell your story or someone else will…

It’s the end of the school year and in my spare time I’ve started to prepare a bit more for some teaching engagements I’ve got this summer.  I’ve got the opportunity to teach two separate week-long courses.  For both courses, I’m attempting to engage other educators in innovative learning experiences centered around digital leadership.

One aspect of digital leadership that Eric Sheninger focuses on in his book titled Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, is called branding.  If you consider the amount of time, energy, and resources companies invest in branding, the reason why it’s important for schools to invest in branding starts to make sense.  Corporations invest in branding because they have a story to tell and they want to form the right story in the minds of consumers.  Digital tools have given school leaders access to free, easy, and convenient ways of reaching their “consumers”.  Isn’t it time schools started to tell their story?  Why not invest in these free, easy, and convenient ways of getting your school story out to the public?  All schools are carving out their story every day.  Unfortunately, in most cases, those stories are carved out in the newspaper or on the evening news.  Or they’re carved out by angry parents venting their frustrations on social media.  Are there schools providing students with innovative learning experiences?  Absolutely!  Why aren’t they sharing it?  Parents shouldn’t have to ask their child “what did you do at school this week?”  The culture of fear, management, and compliance has prevented more schools from investing in building their own brand.  Below you’ll find some methods of building a school’s brand that I’ve gathered from innovative leaders effectively building their school’s brand.

  • A student-run Twitter account is an easy way for students to take ownership of building a positive brand for their school.  Twitter is a social media network based on sharing small bursts of information with an unlimited amount of people.  Using a school hashtag or class-specific hashtag, all the awesome learning experiences can be shared out using a student-run Twitter account.  Stakeholders can also be kept up-to-date on school-wide events or results from sporting contests or academic achievements within the school.  A school hashtag can be created to allow other users to share quality information via the school hashtag.
  • Out at Bettendorf, Iowa, Principal Jimmy Casas allows a Twitter stream to be shown daily on a big-screen television in his school cafeteria.  The Twitter stream shows all tweets including the school hashtag #BettPride.  I once asked Jimmy what happened when an inappropriate tweet showed up on the stream and he replied “we use it as a teaching moment.”
  • Teachers are encouraged to keep a blog archiving all the great learning experiences occurring in their classrooms.  These blog posts can be shared through social media channels to keep all stakeholders informed about what’s happening in their classrooms.  This is a great way for teachers to build their own classroom brand.  Again, if you’re not telling the story of what’s happening in your classroom, that doesn’t mean there is no story.  It just means it’s likely not the story you want being told.
  • Text-message based services like Remind101 or Celly are great ways to communicate your school brand to all stakeholders.  These services provide a safe environment for all communication by keeping all cell phone numbers private.  Imagine the increase in communication that could be had by investing in free services such as these.
  • Podcasts or video conferencing can be an easy way for leaders to promote the brand at their school.  I’ve seen administrators that host a video chat each week from their school to share and talk about the amazing experiences that went on during the week.  These video chats are posted to the school’s Youtube page.  Occasionally videos are posted of students engaging in these experiences or student-created videos are posted that summarize their experience at a school event.  Podcasts are audio or video clips that can provide a similar experience to stakeholders.

Every school has a brand that captures the mission, the norms, the traditions, and the values of the school population.  The more transparent schools can be about the brand they are promoting, the better the consumers can be prepared to answer this question: “Why do I send my child to that school?”

This post was inspired by a post that appeared on Eric Sheninger’s page on May 15, 2014.

April 27, 2014

The Enemy of Empowerment is Compliance

A recent experience with a student of mine has reminded me that the enemy of empowerment is compliance.  I reflected on some of the policies in my own classroom.  I considered which ones were designed to empower students and which ones were designed for compliance.  If this post causes you to reflect, I want you to consider the students who traditionally struggle to comply with traditional school rules.  I’m talking about the students who don’t eat dinner every night or those who ride the bus to an empty home every evening.  Every teacher has the student who never does homework or won’t return that letter signed by a parent.  This post is for them.

I wonder how often school leaders consider empowerment vs compliance when structuring school policies.  Common consequences for homework not turned in on time or at all include reminders, after-school D-hall, lunch D-hall, or a zero.  I’m not advocating against those measures necessarily, but I’m asking, which of those measures empowers the student?  It’s been my experience that the students who these policies are generally written for, the most common offenders, are the ones who need empowered the most.  Most schools have a tiered system of consequences that accompanies one or all of these measures of compliance: exceed X days of D-hall and student will receive a day of in-school suspension, exceed X number of reminders and student will earn a letter sent home, no recess for the students that didn’t come prepared for class.  At what point does the student receive anything empowering him/her?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have secretly boycotted these measures in my own school.  I’ve tried really hard to design a class where all students can succeed, specifically the students for whom this post is written.  That’s extremely hard in a public school system where time is the constant and learning is the variable.  And success doesn’t come without failures, reflection, and my professional learning network.  I value the impact of conversations in my relationships with students.  I recently dealt with foul language coming from a student in my class.  Initially, I wanted to demonstrate my zero tolerance attitude towards foul language being used in my room, but instead opted for a short conversation in the hallway.  The conversation concluded with a surprising and unprompted apology coming from the student.  Afterwards, I felt I saved the relationship between the student and I, while also empowering the student to be more cautious of his/her language while in my classroom.  No D-hall was issued.

The issue of compliance has proven to be a touchy subject around many educators.  The thought is that without these measures of compliance, how are we teaching responsibility?  Unless we punish irresponsible behavior, students will never learn to be responsible.
So how can attitudes change from compliance/punishment to empowerment?  Because I feel that if we can begin to empower these students to realize their potential, value the attempts their teacher is making in the classroom, and respect themselves, perhaps we can see real change.  Perhaps we can begin to remove the impact that socio-economic status plays on student achievement.  Unfortunately, I believe many policies that exist in schools today only widen the achievement gap, rather than narrow it.

The following are some decisions I’ve made this year to help empower the common offenders, rather than punish them:

  • I chose a long time ago that I would teach students, not tests.  Learning is first and foremost and that philosophy is woven into every fabric of planning, curriculum, assessment, and management.  This is important and applies directly to the culture of the classroom.
  • I never take homework for a grade.  I’ve reflected on the purpose of homework a lot, and at no time can I justify a homework assignment being evidence of learning that is sufficient enough for me to input as a grade.  My students work persistently on work that is rarely graded.  This is perhaps more related to the blended and paperless classroom.
  • Incorporating standards-based grading principals have allowed me to teach responsibility, empathy, tolerance, etc but not reflect those as part of their grade.
  • Retakes are a big part of my course.  Students feel a measure of ownership in their grade when they know they have the entire year to demonstrate their learning.  They used to ask me for more grades, but now they know they may have to try different versions of the same assessment 4-5 times before they can demonstrate learning at a level of mastery.  I don’t assess all students on the same day.  This post isn’t about assessment, but I believe these practices contribute to the culture of the classroom.
  • Slow down.  This is still my weakest area.  Allowing the students to dictate the pace is touchy.  You still have to push them as much as possible, but they are always watching with a keen eye to see if you care enough to provide them more time.  Most often, they’ve been pushed through concept after concept with no regard to whether they’ve learned it or not.  This had to change.
  • I’ve increased my efforts to communicate with the homes most difficult to reach.  Joe Mazza, moderator of #ptchat, the parent-teacher chat on Twitter, responded to my frustrations about not getting parents to attend academic functions at my school with “when was the last time you went to them?  Sometimes we have to go to them.”  Don’t expect those homes to come to you if you haven’t made any attempt to go to them.
  • I have to constantly remind myself to be cautious of the norms and behaviors of students from poverty.  It requires that I redirect language, make realistic goals, and accept the gray areas often.
  • Communication should always come after this thought: Is what I’m about to say going to bring me closer or pull me away from this person?


April 6, 2014

Edcamp Parkersburg 2014 Summary

On April 5, 2014 educators from the area came together at Blennerhassett Middle School for West Virginia’s first Edcamp.  Edcamp Parkersburg included educators from Wirt, Jackson, and Wood counties.  Leanna Prater, a TIS from Lexington, KY also joined us.  Leanna is a PHS alumni and heard about Edcamp Parkersburg from participating on #wvedchat Thursday nights on Twitter.  Robert John Meehan once said “Our most valuable resource is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.”  That quote became the theme of our Edcamp.  

The morning of Edcamp begins by creating the session board.  At this time, all participants get a chance to suggest topics they’d like to learn more about, propose topics of discussion, or schedule a session they’d like to facilitate.  At 9:00 the participants scattered to the session of their choosing.  The first hour included topics like student motivation and using Twitter to build a professional learning network.  The 50 minute session flew by and immediately you could see participants extending the conversation to the hallways between sessions.  I overheard one of the principals in attendance say “Now this is real learning.”

Garnet Hillman, a Spanish teacher from Illinois and moderator of the weekly #sblchat (standards based learning chat) on Twitter, joined Edcamp Parkersburg via Google Hangout and shared her standards based grading experience with about 20 participants.  How incredible it was for Garnet to join us to help expose local educators to this alternative form of communicating student learning.  Several educators were charged to reflect on their own grading practices.  Garnet concluded by encouraging us to support each other as we continue exploring SBG.  She also invited the participants to use #sblchat on Twitter as a resource as there are many experts sharing their experience daily.


After lunch educators returned for three more Edcamp sessions of their choosing.  The afternoon sessions included topics like flipping the classroom, Google docs in the classroom, National Board & SAS curriculum integration, and classroom management just to name a few.  Sessions are very discussion-based and everyone is encouraged to provide their input.  “The group is smarter than the individual” is often cited at Edcamps because emphasis is placed on sharing the experiences of all in order for all to move forward.  Edcamp Parkersburg was about all participants improving their practice, engaging in conversations they’ve never had time to engage in before, and supporting each other in the journey.  Throughout the day, it was as if a community was being created.  That sentiment was verified at the smackdown.  The smackdown is a common event at many other Edcamps where all participants are given the opportunity to provide verbal testimony of their experience that day.  During our smackdown Tim Murray, assistant principal at Wirt County High School, shared how his basketball players were playing in a tournament that day.  One of his players texted him earlier that day to ask if he would be present for the game.  He responded with “No, I have to attend some professional development today and can’t make it.”  His player responded with “have fun” to which Coach Murray returned “It’s usually not fun.”  Tim went on to explain how Edcamp Parkersburg far exceeded his expectations and he wanted to pursue having an Edcamp with his school.  Kevin Campbell, principal at Hamilton Middle School, echoed Tim’s experience and shared how he always expects at least one aha! moment.  He explained that in the morning sessions alone, he had at least 4 of those moments.  The following are some more quotes from the smackdown, I feel they speak for themselves:

  • I willingly got out of bed at 6:30 on a Saturday on spring break and came to work and I’m incredibly happy about it.  I loved it.

  • I want this in my school now.

  • My big aha! is that we did this so well with so few.  Just imagine the resources in our counties with even more input from others.

  • I learned more through this than sitting through any guest speaker.


The participants were also encouraged to tweet about Edcamp Parkersburg using #edcamppkb and those tweets were collated at https://storify.com/Mr_Oldfield/edcamppkb-tweets.  We encourage educators to join in similar conversations weekly on Thursday’s at 7:30 using #wvedchat on Twitter.  Several local educators, others in our state, and some from across the country are reflecting, sharing, and learning each week from conversations just like the ones at Edcamp.  Look out for the 2nd Edcamp in our area coming up Fall 2014.


Derek Oldfield


February 25, 2014

Curiosities, Passions, Interests

Are schools developing students that are taking control of their own learning?  What can be done to put students in the drivers seat when it comes to learning?  What barriers stand in the way of developing self-directed learners?

I recently challenged my homebase to spend one class period per week investing in something they were curious about, something they were interested in, something they were passionate about.  The original idea was based on Google’s 20% rule.  Google received a lot of press when it released it’s 20 time project.  Google effectively allowed employees to spend one day per week to work on a side project they were interested in creating.  As a result, Gmail, Google News, Google Talk and other Google products were created from the 20 time project.  I spoke to my students at length about what I hoped would come of our own little project.  Given some free time to discover, research, and invest in curiosities, I was hopeful that students would have something to show after a few weeks.  What I found was disturbing.  My students don’t have any passions, they aren’t curious about anything, and if given the time to invest in something of their choosing, the only thing they can think of is the sport they are currently playing.

Do these results surprise you?  If not, why are schools suffocating student passions, curiosities, and interests?  How can schooling change to support student passions, curiosities, and interests?

This next paragraph is for me as much as it’s for you.

I think this phenomena is related to the amount of low-quality activities we engage our students in throughout the course of the school year.  The pressures to meet the demands of the curriculum force teachers to race through and cover far too many concepts, providing low-quality easy to measure activities that don’t challenge students to think critically or deeply.  In fact, schools provide so many supports and modifications to keep students from failing, we practically forge a path for our students to get an A all the time.

Sorry, I guess I just needed to put my spoon away for a while.  I’m afraid the majority of our students are far underprepared for the competitive world they’re entering.

February 7, 2014

Blended Learning in Action

I’ve wrote before about how my class incorporates a blend of instruction and assessments via traditional classroom and online.  This is one of the best videos I’ve seen about blended learning and what I’m trying to do with my class.  Blending my classroom offers a variety of advantages.  My favorite part of blended learning is the collaboration that my students engage in during class.  I think the game-based nature of Khan Academy helps establish the environment where every student wants to see every other student “beat” their level.  If a student is struggling in a particular concept or skill, students automatically jump in to offer assistance when needed.  We’ve had a lot of discussion about the difference in helping and telling.  Students don’t realize it but when teaching something to another student, they end up reinforcing those strategies and algorithms in their own head.  In addition to blending the class, I also place an emphasis on making my classroom student-led.  My students do most of the talking in class.  They do most of the assessing, most of the problem-solving, and most of the helping.  It may sound like I do nothing in class, but there is plenty left for me to do.  See my grading post or my post about Khan Academy in my classroom.  Most of my job consists of determining the pace of instruction, analyzing data, providing feedback on assessments, being a facilitator, and providing encouragement (my favorite part).

I wanted to include some pictures that represent the online component of the computer-lab setting that my classroom takes on at least 2 days a week.