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"