Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside of the Box

Stan Heffner, Superintendent of Schools for the State of Ohio, is challenging districts to think outside the box and begin to change the way education looks in Ohio's schools. (article link)   Educators like to talk about change, but the focus usually is on how students, budget, parents or curriculum needs to change in order for learning to change.  Teachers who are innovators in their classrooms move past the limitations they face and look for ways to use their resources in new ways. Over the next few weeks I will focus on strategies innovators are using to change the way education looks moving into 2012.

Part 1 Using Time Resources In A New Way
Traditional schools have standard class periods or segments of the day devoted to one specific content area.  Students in traditional classrooms spend class time focusing on learning new information, then go home to practice or apply the new information. 

Flipping the classroom - In this innovative approach to class, the teacher uses video and audio technology to record the "lecture" component of the lesson.  This is posted on a class or school website.  Students watch the video at home.  Actual classroom time is then spent on applying the lesson material to real world problems, guided practice, collaborative group work and formative assessment to measure student mastery.
Article Links

Integrated Instructional Units - This approach has been around for a long time, but still has a lot of potential for innovation.  The classroom teacher uses a content web to map connections between science, math, social studies, language arts and fine arts standards.  From this content map, the teacher than develops a teaching unit that helps students see connections across contents and to real world applications.  This kind of unit planning allows teachers to focus key standards without having to "short change" a content area. This type of unit planning also works well with Performance Assessments and Service Learning.
Article Links

Flexible Scheduling - Teams of teachers are given a block of time to divide up as they feel is necessary to accomplish the learning targets established by the team.  This means that one day, more time might be allotted for a science lab to be completed, with less time for other content areas, the next day more time might be spent on a social studies presentation etc.  A related concept is Block Scheduling, where students can complete the curriculum for a year long course in a semester, allowing them to take a wider variety of courses each year. The blocked class is usually 80-90 minutes long. Teaching in the block allows teachers to spend some time on direct instruction, time on guided practice or cooperative learning and time on individual learning and enrichment or support.
Article Links

Virtual Classroom - this concept can take many formats, from using web based collaborative tools like Google Docs that allow students and teachers to work together outside of the boundaries of the standard school day, to a true web-based classroom.  By offering students opportunities to participate in an online course, schools can go outside of the 7:30-3:00 school day and meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Florida is now requiring that students participate in an online course as a way to prepare them for the types of learning they will be doing as college students or professionals.  Students and teachers participating in an online course may meet at a regular time during the day for live chat, but then also have the flexibility to post comments and assignment responses during a defined time window.  Districts can use tools like Moodle to help teachers create an online course component in their traditional classes.  Some districts are working in partnership with their teachers and outside agencies to develop hybrid courses where students spend some time in an actual classroom and some time in the virtual classroom.
Article Resources

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Provide Effective Feedback...When A Smile Sticker Just Isn't Enough

Great Job!
How many times have you read through a stack of student papers and provided a smiley sticker, star, check or point total as the feedback for the student.   Kids love stickers, even high school students get excited when you take the time to put a sticker on the paper.  But what purpose do stickers serve, and what message are they sending to the student?  Point totals tell students a value for the "right" information they provided, but don't really help them identify what they may need to continue to work on.   Stickers let students know that we "like" their work or that we acknowledge the effort that they put into completing it.  Stickers are a type of feedback, but they are not effective feedback. As teachers, we need to ask ourselves how our feedback will help our students grow in their learning.

There are three categories of feedback:
    • Effective feedback - moves learning forward
    • Success feedback -helps students focus on what was done well
    • Intervention feedback - helps student focus on what needs work and provides guidance for what to do about it.
Stickers are SUCCESS feedback.  They let students know what was done well.  Stickers can be used when students are working on developing  mastery of a learning target and may need the success feedback to help them identify areas of strength. With success feedback, the focus is on reinforcing existing knowledge or past knowledge.

EFFECTIVE feedback needs to be specific and related directly to the learning targets. Effective feedback helps to move learning forward, so the focus is not just on existing knowledge but on building additional knowledge or deepening existing knowledge.  Rubrics are one way to provide effective feedback.  A rubric contains clear descriptions of learning expectations. Student input on the development of the rubric makes them even more powerful as feedback tools.  Providing a rubric at the beginning of an assignment allows students to adjust their learning and their work to meet your clear targets.  Another type of effective feedback is to provide students with examples of strong and weak work samples.  Spend time discussing these samples.  Compare them to the rubric. Asks students how they would improve upon weak samples or what characteristics make a sample "strong". Finally, Jan Chappuis, in her book Seven Strategies of Assessment For Learning, uses an approach called "stars and stairs" to help students identify areas where they are showing mastery and areas where they may need additional practice, revision or support.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Performance Assessment Is Effective...Christmas Concert Season

For the next two weeks, hundreds of student musicians will take to the stage in our district to perform their holiday concerts.  Countless hours have been spent in music classrooms teaching rhythm, pitch, volume control, technique, interpretation and how to blend with a group.  Many more hours have been spent outside the classrooms practicing these skills.   Concerts are a great opportunity for these musical learners to demonstrate their level of mastery of their skills.  They get immediate feedback from their peers, teacher and parents who attend the performance.  Performing a piece of music with a group allows the musicians to compare themselves to those around them.  Finally, performing a piece of music in concert allows a musician to apply all of their knowledge of rhythm, pitch, form and interpretation to a real world situation.

We are not all musicians, but all students can benefit from the opportunity to take the knowledge they are building in a class and apply it to a real world scenario.  This can be simple, like using math knowledge of measurement to make a fall craft project or using persuasive writing techniques to write a letter to the editor. Performance Assessment can also be done on a larger scale as students develop their own research projects, propose service learning opportunities or work to solve real world problems.   One group of high school science students in Columbus took what they learned in chemistry and created a simple water filtration system that could be used by earthquake victims.  Students from Westerly Elementary in our own district worked with local businesses to create a rain barrel project.

As we move toward aligning to the common core curriculum, we need to also consider ways to integrate performance based learning and assessment, and service learning into our classrooms.  By giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn to real world situations, we not only reinforce their understanding of the concepts, but we give them the chance to see how their skills can benefit people in their community.

Resources for Performance Based Learning and Assessment and Service Learning:
National Clearing House for Service Learning
North Olmsted SITES Program
Performance Assessment Ideas - Science
Performance Assessment Ideas - Math
Teacher's Guide To Performance Based Learning and Assessment. K. Michael Hibbard et. al. ASCD Publications.
NETS-S Performance Tasks - Technology integration tasks. Developed by the Georgia Dept of Educ.
Jon Mueller Authentic Task Toolbox
Performance Task Research -

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How To Help Your Students Experience Success...What We Can Learn From Football

I watched the Ohio State vs Michigan game this past weekend.  I saw what happens when a coach miscommunicates with his team. I saw what happens when players are asked to make plays they may not be ready to make.  I saw what happens when all the players on the field are not all on the same page of the playbook. I saw what can happen when players don't work together to make big plays.   It was not a happy day in the Shryock household. 

As teachers, I think we can learn a lot from the game of football.  As we work on interpreting the new Common Core standards over the next few years, we need to deconstruct those standards into learning targets, much like a coach breaks down plays to teach his team.  We need to figure out the best way to communicate these standards to our students.  We need to look at our students as players who must be able to master these standard "plays" and apply them in real world situations, often with a lot of outside distractions and pressure affecting them. How can we set up practice situations that will allow them to develop mastery and build confidence in their knowledge?   Just like a football team, we have students who are good at some things, and not so good at others. They come to us with a variety of prior experience and knowledge.  There are always all-stars and bench players. How can we take advantage of each learner's strengths to help them work collaboratively to accomplish our learning goals?  Our role as teacher in the new Common Core model is to truly be more of a learning coach, developing a game plan, communicating expecations, providing  specific feedback, cheering our students on and making sure that they are prepared to succeed when they are asked to apply their learning in new ways or in real world scenarios.

It was a hard weekend to be a football fan in Cleveland, but this week is a great time to start to build a winning game plan for your classroom!  To learn more about the Common Core, or find resources for your classroom - use the Common Core tab at the top of this blog, or the resources links in the right sidebar.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Identify Clear Learning Targets - A Thanksgiving Formative Assessment

What does identifying clear learning targets have to do with Thanksgiving?  This Thursday I will prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner, complete with Turkey and all the traditional sides to my family of 8.  This is the standard that I will be assessed on.  The first step in identifying clear learning targets is to figure out what the ultimate target type is.  There are four categories of learning targets.  Knowledge, Reasoning, Performance Skills and Product. To identify the ultimate target, you first need to look at what the learner is expected learn.  Look at the verbs in the standard...prepare and serve.  The verbs can give you a clue to what the ulitmate target type is. Verbs also help you to identify what the learner will be assessed on.  This is a Product target, since the learner, in this case me, is expected to know how to produce a dinner. My family will assess my mastery of this target when they eat my meal.

Once you have identified the ultimate target type, you will need to identify the foundational or underpinning targets that the learner will need to understand to demonstrate mastery of the standard.  These learning targets will be the scaffolding you will put in place to support your students. You can also pick out content vocabulary that may need to be reinforced as you think about the foundational targets.
  • Knowledge - information that is memorized, needed to do reasoning, create a product or perform a skill
  • Reasoning - cognitive skills, analysis
  • Performance Skill - this requires some kind of physical act
  • Product - the standard requires the learner to make something or create something.

Think about what the learner would need to know in order to begin to learn about making and preparing a Thanksgiving dinner:
Knowledge - how to read a recipe, how to make a grocery list, measurement abbreviations
Reasoning - how to budget for a meal, how to decide servings for food, how to select quality produce
Performance Skills - how to chop, mix, bake, measure, set a table, how to carve a turkey
Product - a complete meal

Once you have identified the foundational learning targets, your next step is to convert them to student friendly language, starting with the mastery standard and then the foundational standards.  I can prepare a Thanksgiving dinner. I can serve 8 people Thanksgiving dinner.  I can read a recipe. I can set a table.  I can make a budget for a meal for 8. I can chop vegetables using safe knife handling skills.  Use the student friendly targets to plan formative instruction events. Don't forget to allow time for learner self reflection. Every year I write down what worked and what didn't work in my journal.  Since this is a Product target, the final assessment would include a rubric to define mastery levels.  Fortunately my family won't be assessing my meal with a rubric! 
I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Read more about Clear Learning Targets - by Jan Chappuis

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How to Find Extra Time For Formative Assessment - Daylight Savings Time

Today was "turn back the clock" Sunday as the first day of Daylight Savings Time.  I loved that extra hour of sleep!  Wouldn't it be great if we had "Classroom Savings Time" for those days when an extra hour would let us finish a great discussion, complete a lab, send home projects that were completely dry or give students that additional one on one help to make sure they were understanding the content?   As we continue to focus on formative assessment this year, I hear lots of "this is great, but when am I supposed to find time in my class to do this?"

Formative assessments aren't special events. Using formative assessments don't require stopping the flow of the class to give a quiz. Formative assessments won't look the same in every classroom.  At a workshop for mentor teachers I participated in this past week , the presenter referred to INFORMATIVE assessment.  I love this term because I think it really puts the focus on what formative assessments are all about - informing instruction.  

Here are some ideas for using formative assessments on a daily basis without taking time "away" from your lessons:

  • Use a stoplight card system - students have 3 colored cards at their desk or table - as they are working on an activity,  red means "help me right now, I am stuck"  yellow means " I need some help, but I am still able to be working"  green means " I get this"
  • Use a "fist to five" to quickly check on understanding - fist is "don't get this at all"  three fingers might be " I get it, but another example would help"  all the way up to five fingers up - "I get this and can explain it to someone else".
  • Use a four square - the upper right corner is the learning target, the upper left corner is what they already know about the learning target, the bottom right corner is a summary of what they learned in the lesson, the bottom left corner are questions.
  • Use a graphic organizer web to help students make connections to past knowledge, current learning and future learning...keep referring back to it during the lesson.
  • Use popsicle sticks with student names on them as a way to make sure you a selecting a variety of students to participate in a lesson - you can be tricky and put a cup within your cup to keep separate sticks for students who you know may be struggling - so you can be sure they get a question or task that is appropriate to their learning level.
  • Teach using the "chunk and chew" method - sounds gross - but is effective- Teach small pieces of the lesson, take time to have students share what they have learned with a "clock partner" or "elbow buddy" - this gives them a chance to summarize and restate info, a skill they need as we move toward the new common core standards. 
  • Use the learning targets as the starting point for writing a simple rubric.  Students can self assess using the rubric.   Here is an example of how I used this for a group of teachers I was presenting a workshop to:
    • Learning Targets for the Class
      • Explain ways to communicate classroom expectations
      • Describe effective techniques for acknowledging students who meet expectations and those who do not.
      • Reflect on how we may intentionally or unintentionally have a different set of expectations for some students in our classes.
      • Describe effective techniques for helping the teacher have high expectations for all students
    • Rubric  4  mastery  3 developing 2 basic 1 below basic
      • 4  Can describe or explain at least 3 effective techniques each for communicating expectations, acknowledging behaviors and having high expectations for all students. Active participant in discussion
        3  Can describe or explain 1-2 effective techniques each for communicating expectations, acknowledging behaviors and having high expectations for all students. Active listener, occasionally participate in discussion
        2 Can list or describe at least 1 effective technique for communicating expectations, acknowledging behaviors and having high expectations for all students. Active listener

        1 Can not list or describe an effective technique for communicating expectations, acknowledging behaviors and having high expectations for all students.  Not an active listener

Monday, October 31, 2011

How Learning Targets Can Motivate Students...What Halloween Can Teach Us.

Trick or Treat!  Happy Halloween to all my education friends.  Isn't it amazing that even the students who are not so motivated to participate in classroom activities or extra-curricular groups are excited about Trick or Treating and wearing costumes?  My own daughter has been planning her costume for a month and knows what route to take through our neighborhood to collect the most candy in the least amount of time. She has a clear target - acquire as much candy as possible - and a clear plan to achieve that - wear a costume, go to lots of houses, get mom to carry extra bags for overflow candy.   Not all the kids out and about tonight will be moving at the same speed, have the same level of costume design or collect the same amount of candy - but they all have the same clear target....Using my knowledge of neighborhood geography and my public speaking skills, I will be able to collect as much candy as possible in one evening.

So, how can we use student friendly learning targets to motivate our students on a daily basis?  Remember the purpose of a learning target is to set the learning outcomes for a lesson - what the student should be able to do at the END of the instructional time.  Kids like to know where they are going and be included in the planning of how they are going to get there.  Learning targets should be specific and be standards based.  Learning targets need to be measurable or observable so that the teacher and students can provide feedback (formative assessments) as they work toward their target.  Students who have a clear understanding of what it is that they need to be able to do and why they need to be able to do it are more likely to be motivated to do the work involved with reaching that target.  Once students see value in their learning, they can begin to see that what they are doing in class also has value. Once they recognize this value, they are more likely to work in collaborative groups, give specific feedback to peers, participate in class discussions and spend time learning outside of school.  So, we do not need to dress up in our favorite seasonal sweaters and ties or pass out candy everyday to motivate our students.  We need to make sure that we are helping them to grow as learners by identifying what they need to know, why they need to know it and supporting them along the way.

Guiding Questions for Writing Clear Learning Targets

  • What have I done to make sure that the learning target is specific and standards based?
  • What scaffolding might I have to do in order for all of my students to achieve the target?
  • What extensions do I have in place for students who are ready to move on to a new target ahead of their peers?
  • How can I incorporate Bloom's Verbs into the writing of my learning targets to help differentiate them for students of all ability levels?
  • How will I assess or measure student mastery of the learning target?  
    • Will I use a rubric?
    • Will I use a project?
    • Will I use peer evaluations/feedback?
    • Will I use a checklist?
    • Will I use some sort of common assessment?
  • What is the time frame for mastery of the learning target - is it a single lesson or part of a larger unit, or maybe even a year long target?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of a lesson to help me differentiate the learning opportunities my students will be given?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of the lesson to help activate prior knowledge and experiences my students have had with the topic or skill?
  • How many "formative assessment" activities will I need to put into place to make sure my students are on the right learning path to master the target?  What will the activities be?


Sunday, October 23, 2011

How To Use Technology To Transform the Way You Teach and Students Learn

When you think about transformers, you probably think about cool robots that are also cars or planes. With a few quick turns and clicks any child can convert the car to a robot and back again. The robots do things the car can't and take on the world in a whole different way.

Whether you have access to a netbook cart, a library lab, an iPod set, an iPad or classroom computer stations, it is time to think about how computers can also be transformers. Students are able to use their imaginations and knowledge to create and share ideas in ways that would never have been possible with paper and pencil. Teachers can collaborate with students and their peers, have access to a global network of resources and teach using real world data. Computers make it possible to make connections to classrooms beyond the limits of our brick and stone building and our fieldtrip budget. Computers also can play an important roll in formative assessments allowing students to show what they know...and what they still need to learn.  This kind of transformative learning is at the core of the 21st Century Learning concept.

In order for the computers to become transformers, teachers need to be transformed. This is not an easy task. Their approach to classroom management, assessing student learning, sharing knowledge and mastering content can not just be bent, twisted and clicked into place to create some new, 21st century teacher. Instead, teachers need to be coached and encouraged to make these changes themselves. They need to see concrete examples of how technology can be used in a transformative way in their classrooms, they need access to tools that work and they need the support and recognition of their peers as they try out new ideas. Over the next year, as we work together on Align Assess Achieve and the Ohio Common Core, it will be my job to help with this transformation.
To help us get started, I have put together some guiding questions to use as you plan lessons for this year and we begin to plan for aligning our curriculum to the Common Core by 2014.

Guiding Questions for Transformative Technology Planning
  • Am I using technology as a subsitute for existing materials in my classroom or am I using it in an innovative way to assess student learning, help students work towards content mastery or develop 21st century skills?
  • Are my students passive users of the technology or active users of the technology?
  • How has technology changed the way I think about teaching?
  • How has technology changed the way I collaborate and communicate with my colleagues?
  • How has technology changed the way I collaborate and communicate with my students?
  • I am embedding technology into my daily teaching or is it more of a "special event"?
  • What are the state technology standards that can be embedded in my course?
  • How can I integrate technology standards into my daily lessons?
  • How can I integrate 21st century skills into my daily lessons?
  • How can I use the technology to differentiate my lessons for different learning styles, different learning levels and different ability groups?
  • How can I use the technology as tool to help with formative assessment?
  • How can I encourage students who have an interest in working with technology hardware or innovating with technology?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How Does Math Help Us To Understand the World Around Us?

It is a rainy Sunday in the fall and football is on two televisions and a radio in my house.  Football is a game of probabilities, averages and percentages.  Just spend a few minutes listening to the announcers talking about quarterback ratings, first down successes, field goal distances and the wisdom of kicking to Devin Hester who holds an NFL record for punt returns and you will hear all kinds of statistics.  I spent time this past week at the OCTM State Math Conference.  I learned that my brain can only view 5, maybe six objects in a group and know how many are present without actually counting them or breaking them into smaller groups.  I tried that out while watching the football game and it is true!  I could not just know how many men were on the field, there were more than 6 and I had to count them.  Brain researchers have studied how our brains learn math and this research has been used to help write the new Common Core Math Standards.

Students learn math best when they can make a connection to the world around them.  As teachers, we need to find new ways to help students experience mathematics.  Our focus has been that we are all teachers of reading and writing - but what if we also were all teachers of math?  Social Studies lessons can include population statistics, financial literacy, using maps to teach scale, calculating area, interpreting graphs  and reading about mathematical ideas within the context of history.  There are many children's books that focus on math concepts. English classes focusing on writing supporting details can include lessons in how to write a specific proof, lessons on how to find key details in a word problem, and how patterns can become poetry. Persuasive writing can include the use of averages, percentages and other statistics to help prove a point.  Science and math are traditionally paired. Lessons designed to  help students to  really understand how to measure distances in space, how to analyze real data they collect as a group, how to find math in the natural world and how to use math to make decisions on energy usage are all ways to help make meaningful connections to mathematics.  Music and Art are the creative extension of math.  Pitch, note length, rhythms, angles, color value, perspective all are dependent on mathematical concepts.  Our society has encouraged the idea that it is ok to not be good in math.  We have allowed students to opt out of more challenging math simply because we as adults may not have felt we were good at math.  My challenge to you this week is to see how you can incorporate mathematical ideas appropriate for your grade level into your other lessons.  Can you find real world examples...better yet, can your students think of real world examples of math around them?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to Help All Students Grow - Life In the Pumpkin Patch

What kind of pumpkin is your favorite?  I have always liked the round, fat pumpkins for my jack -o-lantern.  Although, occasionally I have selected the tall, thin one.  As I wandered through the pumpkin patch this fall, I was once again presented with so many different options to choose from - small, large, short, tall, bumpy, smooth...endless possible combinations.  As I paused before each one, I tried to picture with my mind's eye what kind of face might emerge from the orange skin.  This year, I went for the 23lb kind of oblong pumpkin - with some cool scar-like lines across it. I think it will make a great creepy jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

This fall we have been focusing on formative assessments as a way to help all of our students grow as learners.  Sometimes as teachers, we tend to have a favorite kind of student, a favorite kind of assignment, a favorite lesson.  It is easy to picture how our class will go with the right students, the right materials and the right lessons. But life isn't usually like this.  Our classrooms are more like the pumpkin patch.  Even with careful tending and the right growing conditions, all the pumpkins do not turn out the same. It is up to us as teachers to use formative assessments to be like our mind's eye to see the potential in each of our students and adjust our lessons to help each of them to grow.  One way to do this is to give students choices in how they learn a new skill or demonstrate a mastery of a skill.   Another way to stretch all the learners in your classroom is to use performanced based activities.  PBA's are built around real world problems or scenarios and can be designed to let students work collaboratively or individually to create solutions.  Rubric grading works best with either of these assignment types. By giving the students a rubric ahead of time, the rubric becomes a checklist to help guide their work. Students like to do performance based activities. They know up front what is expected of them.  These activities also help them to connect the facts and skills they have learned with their day to day world.   

Learn More About Performance Assessment and Rubrics

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Challenge All Learners - Running in the Rain

I have a new respect for the student athletes who choose to run cross country.  This past weekend I stood in the gusting wind and driving rain to cheer for runners from many area districts - including Bay.  More than 200 of them competed on a course consisting of rain slicked grass, shoe-eating muddle puddles and gravel.  I saw runners covered in mud - running with one shoe on and carrying the other. I saw a lot of determination. I heard a lot of encouraging words as teammates  supported each other along the course of the race.  I watched coaches yelling out times at intervals on the course to give runners feedback on their pace. They all finished the race, even those who in the end needed to walk to the finish. At the finish line, they high fived each other and talked about the giant puddles they had splashed across or the narrow woods where they couldn't pass. They shared their success. They all finished because they felt value in running the race. For most runners this is intrinsic. For some, the promise of trips to Dairy Queen at the end of the season might be enough to drive them through the season.

As teachers, I think we can learn from cross country runners.  Students need to be challenged in our classrooms.  They need to know that if they struggle with learning new materials, they will be better as learners in the end. We need to set up a learning course for them that provides these challenges at a level that is appropriate for the diverse learners we face each day.  Our classrooms need to be places where students are given the chance to support each other. As teachers, we need to let them know how they are doing along the way. We also need to make sure they have had the basic foundational work they need to meet the challenge of new material.   Clear Learning Targets are one way to do this.  I was sitting in on one of Darryl Innocenzi's Assessment for Learning sessions this past week.  One of the discussions focused on using I CAN statements as a way to help students focus on what they need to learn and what they already know.  In his example, a teacher provided the students in her class with a list of I Can statements for their next unit.  She had the students circle the I Can statements they felt they could already do.  She had them rewrite the remaining statements as I AM LEARNING TO statements. This gave her an idea of what scaffolding she might have to put in place to support some students- and what ladders she may have to build to allow other students to climb higher and stretch what they already know.  As we move through the next few weeks, focus on challenging all of the students in your classroom to stretch their learning.

Read More On Challenging All Learners

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to Use Formative Assessments In A Different way -0 to 120mph In 4 Seconds....What We Can Learn From Top Thrill Dragster.

On a warm, sunny Sunday morning, I found myself strapped into a seat on the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point.  Sitting next to me, a big smile on his face, was my 11 year old nephew.  He has ridden this ride before. He loves this ride and he knows what to expect.  He assures me that I am not going to die.  The rational side of my mind works very hard at believing this.  I've watched others ride this ride.  I've seen it get stuck at the top and not come down.  Thousands have gone rocketing down this track, shot 420 feet straight up into the sky then plunged 420 feet back down again.  But I hadn't.  It was scary and exciting at the same time. The green light flashed and I was doing it, I was riding the Top Thrill Dragster!  And it was fun! My nephew high-fived me as we came to a stop.  I had a great feeling of accomplishment because I had overcome my fears and had successfully ridden the ride.

What does my experience with the Top Thrill Dragster have to do with adding formative assessments to my classroom?  First, my nephew set some clear learning targets for me.  As an experienced rider, he was able to tell me what to expect at each point of the ride and what I would need to do to get safely to the end and still have fun. Even though I had researched the ride, seen others riding it and knew the rules for how to ride it, it took having someone who had ridden it before to coax me onto the ride.   Peer models are confidant using different types of formative assessments in their classrooms and can support teachers who are stepping out of their comfort zones to begin to use formative assessments in a different way. Second, we need to remember that the effective use of different formative assessment tools can act as the safety equipment on the ride, keeping students on track moving toward our learning targets,especially if our class starts to move too fast. Third, we need to celebrate our successes.  We need to recognize the teachers who are using formative assessment strategies to help their students be successful and continue to support their efforts.

Ideas for Using Formative Assessments In A Different Way

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Formative Assessment Fits In - Parts of the Whole

I was sorting through my craft closet this weekend.  After pulling everything out and laying it on the floor where I could see what I actually had, I made a few observations.  First, I had a lot of supplies that I had never used either because I had purchased them on sale in case some day I might need them or I salvaged from other projects because they were still good.  Second, I had a number of projects that I had started and never finished, either because I had run out of materials or run out of time.  Third, there were some really great project ideas that I had completely forgotten about because something new had come along.

As I have started my new position as Director of Curriculum for Bay, I have done a little closet sorting here as well.  What I have found so far is that there are some supplies and materials that need to go to good homes someplace else in the district because as we make curriculum adjustments to meet the new Core Curriculum standards, they will be needed in different grade levels. We have some materials that haven't been used because we need to provide more training on how to use them.   Also, staff members have spent a lot of time working on curriculum projects - like short cycle assessments, clear learning targets, power standards and benchmarking - but are not sure where the pieces they worked on fit into the big picture for the district.  Finally,  with the focus on Align Assess Achieve at the beginning of the year, there is a feeling that maybe we are setting aside projects and ideas that we have been working on to once again try something new.

So, just like with my craft closet - I laid out all of the important ideas and work that has been going on in the district related to the concepts of Formative Assessment, Align Assess Achieve and the Core Curriculum.  I made a concept map that shows the connections between all of the smaller pieces that have been worked on over the past few years in each building so that everyone can begin to see that the work you have done is worthwhile, is important and is connected to our focus on Assessment for Learning.

To view a larger version - or download this  CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to Write Enduring Understandings - What's the Big Idea?

It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day details of our classrooms --lunch counts, testing, reading groups,homework, specials schedules, assemblies. Every once in awhile, even the best teachers find that their lessons have wandered off track.   Sometimes we need to be reminded to stop, take a step back and look at the big picture.  In our classrooms, the big picture is made up of the main themes or ideas we build our lessons around during the school year.  These big ideas help us to plan units, choose materials and develop projects.   Enduring Understandings is the phrase we can use to help us label these big ideas.   The first step in creating a curriculum is to identify what the Enduring Understandings will be.

Guiding Questions for Identifying Enduring Understandings
  •  List units that you teach - What connecting ideas can you see between the units?
  •  If you had to come up with 4 or 5  words or phrases to describe what you want your students to learn in a year's worth of your class, what would they be?
  •  Using a web or other graphic organizer to lay out your lessons for the year - what topics would you place in the main idea circles?
  • At the end of a year, how would students define the important ideas they learned in your class?
  • If you had to design a bulletin board that you could leave up all year, what ideas would you want to include on it?
  • If you had one day to spend teaching your students before they moved on to another teacher, what would be the key ideas you would want them to understand before they walked out of your class?
  • What pictures would you draw to symbolize the big ideas in your classroom?
  • 3rd Grade    "Being a Problem Solver"   This enduring understanding could be used in Math, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies as the basis for developing unit ideas or lessons.
  • k-6   "Cycles"   This enduring understanding could be used in Science and Social Studies.
What examples can you think of....add them in "comments"