Sunday, November 30, 2014

Three Instructional Shifts for Assessments

Making the shift to our new learning standards includes shifting the way we think about assessment too.  Assessment is a part of instruction. Start with an honest conversation with yourself about the role of assessments in your classroom.  How have you remodeled your assessments to match the depth of knowledge expected in the standards? How do you use assessments as tools to collect evidence of student learning? How do your students view your assessments?  What is your vision for assessment? How do you use a balance of Formative and Summative assessments?  These same questions can be asked at your team meetings, staff meetings or district leadership meetings.

Three Instructional Shifts - Assessment   

  • Evidence Assessments are tools to collect evidence of learning. What evidence do your assessments give you and your students? Instead of teaching students strategies for answering specific item types, shift your thinking to selecting specific item types that will help students demonstrate where they are in their learning.
      Start with the types of items you choose.  Make the shift from traditional multiple choice questions to two part multiple choice items that allow students to not only answer, but give evidence for why they chose the answer.  Performance tasks let students apply what they know in a real world context and let you assess multiple standards in one task. Try creating items that ask students to find multiple correct answers. This eliminates guessing and lets you see evidence of their depth of understanding. Be intentional about distractors you include. This can give you evidence of misconceptions or misunderstandings. Using text dependent questions allows students to find evidence to support their answers from the text passages you provide. This can give you evidence of comprehension, analysis, and inference.   Beyond item types, also think about how you structure your assessments. How do you scaffold questions to help get student thinking moving in the right direction so they can produce quality evidence of their learning? How can you tier your questions using DOK levels or Blooms' Levels to go from basic knowledge to higher level thinking within one assessment so that you can get evidence of where they are in their learning? 
  • Vision   Having a clear vision for assessment allows all stakeholders to understand the role of assessment in instruction, and what evidence of learning will be used in making instructional decisions or evaluating programs and staff.  There has been much discussion around time spent on assessment or too much assessment. Both discussions are worth having if they take place in the context of creating a shared vision of assessment.  Taken out of this context, they will lead only to disjointed assessment planning that won't benefit teachers or students.
     Starting at the classroom level, think about how you find a balance between Formative Assessments [for learning] and Summative Assessments [of learning]. As you plan instruction, how do you include formative and summative assessment in your lesson plans? How do you predict possible misconceptions and plan assessments to help you identify and address them?  How do you balance assessment of content knowledge and higher order thinking skills? How do your assessments mirror the time you spent on instruction? Common assessments, whether they are at the grade, district or state level have value. They serve as touchpoints, allowing teachers and students to compare the evidence of learning gathered by classroom assessments to a common standard.   An assessment vision also must include clear expectations for how evidence of learning growth will be gathered, and also how evidence of learning mastery will be collected. How this evidence will be used is the starting point for discussions about classroom grading practices and teacher evaluation.  One way to begin building an assessment vision is to work with a grade level or district team to make an assessment continuum. 

Building an Assessment Continuum

  • On individual post-it notes, write the name/description of each assessment used in a class or building or district (depending on the group who is doing this)
  • Arrange the post-its as a continuum from those that are most formative (assessment for learning) entrance/exit slips, thumbs up/thumbs down are examples of most formative ---  to most summative (assessment of learning) - State tests, ACTs tests are examples most summative
  • Discuss as table groups or whole group what patterns can be seen in assessment?
  • Discuss formative vs summative - should assessments be equally distributed along the continuum or would it be best to have more at one end or the other?
  • Discuss any assessments that provide duplicate evidence - is this necessary?
  • Discuss how the evidence from the assessments are used - by whom? for what purpose?

 Looking for information on Making Instructional Shifts for ELA/Literacy and Math? Find resources at or on my Supporting Ohio's New Learning Standards Homepage  Click here to go directly to my Assessment Literacy Resources

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Have You Unpacked Your Standards? What's Next?

My suitcase is sitting in a corner of my bedroom.  I got back from my trip to Baltimore 11 days ago, but my suitcase is only partially unpacked.  I took out the things I really needed, but haven't had the time or energy to unpack the rest.  This weekend I am going to finally work on unpacking everything.   I also brought back new things from my trip- souvenirs and books, and ideas!  I need to think about what I will do with them too.

Since the spring of 2010, we have been working on unpacking our New Learning Standards.  It has taken us 3 years to completely empty out that suitcase.  First, we unpacked the standards that fit into our existing spaces because they were very similar to what we already had.  We also found that there were some new things to consider as we continued to looked through the standards we unpacked next.  This year, as we fully implement the new standards, we are able to focus on what these new standards really look like, sound like, write like in our classrooms and what instructional shifts need to be happening in our teaching to help our students build the knowledge and skills they need to be have choices in their lives beyond high school.

There are 6 Instructional Shifts, 3 in ELA/Literacy and 3 in Math. These Instructional Shifts are NOT standards. There are a lot of videos, resources and sample activities available to help teachers understand these shifts. It isn't so much the need to understand them as it is the need to reflect on our own teaching practice to decide what these shifts will look in action in our classrooms that is key.  As a teacher, the challenge is to teach our new standards through the lens of the instructional shifts. If we do this, the learning environments that we create in our classrooms will be richer because of it.

I put together a set of Guiding Questions and Resources to help you with your reflection on Instructional Shifts and where they fit into your instructional practice as a teacher.

Guiding Questions
[Based on the Instructional Shifts At A Glance Document]

ELA/Literacy Shifts - Remember, we are ALL teachers of the language of our content. Students need to know how to read, write and speak like artists, historians, scientists, mathematicians.

Shift 1: Regular practice with complex text and its academic language.
  • What process and tools will I use to make sure that the text I choose to use in my class matches task and reader, and is in the range of complexity for my grade level?
  • How can I best help my students understand the structures and vocabulary of text, graphics, tables, charts or other media presentations that they will be using to build knowledge in my classroom? 
  • How can I best help my students to apply what they know about the structures and vocabulary of these content specific texts in their written and spoken communication in my classroom?
  • What strategies can I use to help my students build their vocabularies by learning academic and content specific words through the text in my class?
Shift 2: Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from the text both literary and informational.
  • How can I use text dependent questions to allow my students to show that they have read/listened to the text carefully and can support their ideas with evidence from the text? 
  • What writing tasks can I build into my lesson planning that would allow students to use evidence from text to support their ideas? Write narratives? Do research?
  • What text based tasks can I build into my lesson planning that will provide opportunities for collaborative discussions?
Shift 3: Building Knowledge through content- rich nonfiction.
NOTE: The standards themselves include a significant focus on literature in grades k-12, especially in grades k-5 and in ELA classes through middle and high school.
  • How can I select a wide variety of text, both written and multi-media, that will help my students build knowledge?
  • How can I involve my students in the selection of content rich text materials to help them build their knowledge?
  • What sources of content rich non-fiction do I have access to? Do my students have access to? 
  • How can I use a text or set of texts as a jumping off point for a research project, discussion, performance task, experimental design? 
Math Shifts:

Shift 1: Focus strongly where the standards focus.

  • What is the major work of my grade?
  • What opportunities will my students have to apply their math skills to authentic, real world tasks?
  • How do I develop an instructional plan around the major and supporting work of my grade?
Shift 2: Coherence: think across grades and link to major topics within grades

  • Where does my grade level content fit in the continuum of math learning k-12?
  • How can I use performance tasks and real world scenarios to help students connect major topics within my grade level math standards? 
  • What process/tools do I use to make sure that math materials I use in my class do not contain content that is outside the major/supporting content of my grade?
Shift 3: Rigor: in major topics pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
  • How do I design lessons that will allow students to understand key concepts in math not just learn tricks or shortcuts?
  • What opportunities can I give my students to do activities that help them  practice important functions like single digit multiplication so that they increase the speed, accuracy and efficiency of their calculations? 
  • How can I create authentic tasks that will allow my students to apply their math in problem solving situations. 
  • How can I help students learn that math can be used in a variety of content areas to make meaning and build knowledge of content?

Instructional Shifts:


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Understanding How Making Connections Is A Key Concept In Education...and Life.

Making connections.  As I enter the final school week of my 25th year in education, I am realizing how essential the ability to make connections is to not only the learning process but to a person's ability to be successful and flexible in the world beyond k-12 education.

Connecting Knowledge: 
The old joke is that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads.    One of the members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, @JeffCharbonneau , shared out that he has "teacher eyes" that allow him to see learning opportunities in everything he sees.  I love that image, because it really expresses how as a teacher, I have always seen the world around me.  Here is an example of how I use my teacher eyes.  A few weeks ago, I had a chance to work with one of our Kindergarten teachers on brainstorming for a week long science based unit I wanted co-teach with her.  I started by asking her what topics she will be working on in her class during that time- Insects, spring and weather. My teacher eyes see a number of possible connections here. Insect folklore related to weather, using insects as a predictor of spring, looking at how insects spend the winter, reading and writing a poem about insects and spring, doing insect math.... I think you get the idea.  Our students live in a world that is connected - not divided into math time, science time, English time.  We have to make sure that they learn in a connected classroom too.

My colleague Lauren-Monwar Jones and I spent time talking through how we see connections across content areas and developed some tools that we hope will be helpful to other teachers as they look at the world through their "teachers eyes".  Our "Seeing Connections" Resource Page
  • Apples To Apples Model: In the children's game Apple to Apples, a topic card is placed in the middle of the table and all game players must choose an object card in their hand and come up with an explanation for how it is like the topic.   In Apple To Apples Unit planning, start with a learning standard or skill and then use your teacher eyes to see different content areas might connect to it.
  • Finding Common Theme Model : The real world context for English and math skill application can often be found in science and social studies.
  • Planning around literature or info text: A piece of literature or informational text can be the starting point for seeing connections to other content areas.
  • Building Collaborative Connections: What is it that you or your students are passionate about? How can you help to make connections between that area of interest and what the focus of your unit might be?
  • ODE Eye of Integration: When using our teacher eyes, we need to see connections not only to our content, but to the "metacurriculum" - those skills that go across content like writing with evidence, the ability to compare and contrast, using technology to collaborate on ideas.
  • Blank Connections Placemat: This is a tool to help you organize your brainstorming as a team.

Connecting Professional Expertise:
One of the great things that has come from sharing common standards and building common assessments is the ability to share ideas across classrooms, buildings, districts and states. Building a Professional Learning Network by connecting to other educators has allowed me to build knowledge of best practices, share out ideas for feedback, and have discussions that have helped me to reflect on my own thinking.  Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) magnify the power of an individual educator by 5, 10 or 100 fold.  I have learned that the old model of "go into your classroom, shut the door and teach" can no longer be supported in our 21st century world.   Our creativity builds when we can share ideas with each other. The way we think about instructional supports for students changes as we share data on what works and what may need to be changed.  I am constantly reflecting on my own beliefs by holding up new ideas or points of view to my own and making changes that will help me to be a more effective leader and educator.  Here are some resources to help you become a more connected educator.  Although these are technology resources, it isn't really about using technology to become connected. Technology is just a tool to help make these connections. Start with making connections across the hallway, across grade levels and across buildings in your district.

Making Connections To The Larger Community:
One way to build a stronger learning environment for teachers and students is to make connections with community partners, not just as field trip destinations or sources of speakers for career day, but partners in real world learning.  I am most excited about partnerships I have worked to strengthen between Bay Schools and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, and Tri - C Community College. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:

  •  Who in your community may be a source of real world data for students to work with in science, math or social studies? 
  • Informational text is an important part of supporting literacy across content areas. What community partners might be willing to serve as an "off site" location for reading opportunities - focusing on local history, science, the arts?
  •  How about real world writing and research tasks? How might your students be able to contribute to the work of your community partner by doing research, or helping to identify possible solutions to a real world problem? 
  •  Is it possible to begin to build a network of connections across your region?
 Places to look for community partners include:

I know that I am a better educator because of the connections I helped to build this year.  I am looking forward to having some time this summer to look at how to continue to build connections across content areas, connections to my peers, and strengthen the connections with my community partners.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How To Have An Open Source Mindset

The whole concept of  "Open Source" technology came about because programmers wanted the ability to take existing computer programs and customize them, improve upon them and figure out the thinking behind the code to make their own programs better.  I have always looked at my own teaching from this mindset as well.  I spend time planning lessons and units of instruction that align to standards, that are integrated within strands of my content or across multiple content areas and are accessible to a wide range of students.  I can be better at lesson design if I have the chance to break apart someone else's work or to take an idea that worked in their classroom and build on it to make a new unit that will work in mine. So, I have always freely shared the work I do with others and in exchange, have grown as an educator because of opportunities I have had to work with and discuss lesson ideas with my peers.

I have been fortunate to have many colleagues throughout my career who shared this "Open Source Mindset."  One, who I still refer to as the "other half of my brain", looked at science lessons differently than I did - even though we taught the same course.  Frequently, we would find ourselves meeting in the hall between our classrooms because we each had an idea to share with the other at the same moment. Our teaching styles differed, but we each were better teachers because of our willingness to open our lesson planning books to each other and share our thinking and ideas behind the lessons - and how they worked with our students.  I still find myself emailing her when I hear an NPR story on the radio or read a science article that I think might be a good lesson starting point.

As a former technology integration specialist and now district level administrator, I have had lots of opportunities to work with a lot of different teachers on developing lesson materials.  Each conversation, each brain storming session, each lesson I have observed has given me new insights into my own thinking as a teacher - It is an opportunity to take out my own "teacher program" and reevaluate my thinking.  Is this new idea, concept, way of approaching something better than what I currently have in my "teacher programming" or can I tweak something in my own "program" to improve it because of an insight I gained?  Is there something in my current "teacher program" that I need to replace all together?  Think about becoming an "Open Source Teacher".  Don't keep your ideas, your strategies that work or your experience to yourself- open the classroom door and let them out! You may be surprised at what will come back in.

Resources for developing an "Open Source Mindset"

Monday, February 3, 2014

How To Find the Hidden Value of Student Work

Miss Shields Grading Essays from the film, A Christmas Story

Admit it. We have, at some point in time, sat down to grade a stack of student papers and wondered why on Earth we had even given the assignment to start with.  And the grading! Mountains of papers waiting for our feedback. Bookbags full of papers being carried back and forth from home to school.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie A Christmas Story is the grading scene.   Miss Shields wonders if her life's work has gone down the drain as she grades paper after paper filled with mistakes, until she comes across the shear poetry of Ralphie's essay. Don't forget Ralphie's wrong ideas about how is work was going to be assessed. How might she have used those essays to find exemplar work for students who "get it", students who are on the road to "getting it" and students who just don't "get it" at all?  How could she have used the student work to evaluate the alignment of the lesson to the standards she was focusing on? What might she have written on the papers that would have provided instructive feedback to the students? How could she have used rubrics to improve the student work? Could her students have helped to build the rubric? We have entered the age of "Evidence Based Instruction" and we need to recognize the hidden value in student work.

Defining common understanding of what standards "look like" and what evidence of learning should be expected.
Evidence Centered Design is one way to work together as a teacher team to come to a common understanding of what students are supposed to know or do based on the standards.  There are all kinds of crosswalks, flipbooks, and unpacking the standards documents that help teachers to have collaborative discussions around the standards.  What is missing is the use of student work "exemplars" to help teachers to really define what the standards "look like, sound like, and act like" and what evidence of this they would want to collect.

Try this. The next time your team works together to plan an instructional unit, agree to bring back to the team examples of student work from the unit.  Each teacher should bring not only the best work, but work from students who are showing partial understanding and students who are showing little understanding of the standards.  Put this work out on the table, minus student and teacher names.  As a team, sort the work along a learning continuum - from mastery to developing. Look back at the standards that were tied to the work. What was the purpose of the assignment -  building mastery of a skill, assessing learning growth, building knowledge? Does the student work reflect that the purpose? What is the evidence that students produced that shows an understanding of the standard/skill at the level of rigor the standard defines? Does the student work show that the lesson really got at the standard that was tied to it?

Using work as a formative assessment tool
Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) help teachers plan instruction and help students measure their progress toward understanding/applying knowledge and skills that are part of the class. All of this work begins with a shared understanding of the standards based learning targets for a lesson or unit. Assignments then become a source of feedback to both the teacher and the students.

Try this. The next time you give an assignment, make a data chart for yourself. As you look at the student work, track things like common errors, misconceptions, ideas or answers that go beyond expected responses, ideas or answers that show a student has a more basic understanding of concepts or skills.  Use this data to plan for follow-up instruction. Share this data with colleagues who are working with the same lesson materials.

Then, look at the feedback you choose to give students. How much of it is success feedback - check marks, smile faces, general comments like "good" or "ok" or "I agree"?  How much of it is constructive feedback - coaching remarks to help students move their learning forward like "How might you  use evidence to support this answer" or "What other strategy might you use to approach this problem?"

 Finally, look for opportunities for students to reflect on their own work. One good example of this is a follow-up to the assignment/assessment sheet - What am I not understanding yet? Why am I not understanding it? What am I missing because of a careless error? What do I need to do to improve my learning of this concept?

Student work is also a great tool for developing rubrics with your students rather than for your students. Keeping exemplar work from assignments/units that students can then use to identify traits for each level of a rubric is a great way to get them thinking about the quality of their own work - and the depth of their own learning.  Working together on a rubric also gives them a road map for their own learning. They have an idea of what "mastery" vs "developing" looks like.

Using student work to identify gaps in learning, plan for extra scoops or build in stretch.
Student work can be a great indicator of how  we are challenging or not challenging our students. It can also be a tool to identify where there are gaps in their learning. As we focus more and more on helping all students to grow as learners, it is becoming increasingly important to use student work to help us measure the effectiveness of our differentiated lessons.  How?

Try this.  The next time you give an assignment, ask students to track how much time they spent on the assignment.  Have them circle or share with you the parts of the assignment that they found "easy" and "challenging".  Ask them what they liked about the format of the assignment?  When you or your team work to create new assignments, think of ways to scaffold the problems or tasks.  Start with questions, activities or smaller tasks that are more foundational and require students to pull from prior knowledge or build new knowledge. Then layer on questions or larger tasks that push them to think about a problem from a different point of view or apply knowledge in a different way. Look closely at how they approach the work and where they become frustrated or start to push ahead.  Use their work to help plan for instructional groups, extra scoops of learning or identify students who are ready to go deeper into a concept.  Think about the difference between benchmarking assignments/assessments that are meant to give you and your students a snapshot of their learning over larger chunks of time and more formative assignments/assessments that give your students a point on their learning map so that they can measure their progress.

The next time you walk out of the building with a bag of student work, think of it more as a bag of evidence of learning and teaching and less as bag full of work that has to be graded and recorded.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Closer Look At the CCSS for Speaking and Listening

There has been a lot of discussion around the CCSS ELA expectation for text complexity, balance of informational and literary text, writing with evidence and vocabulary in context. Not as much attention has been paid to the Speaking and Listening standards.   Although they are embedded in the ELA standards, these skills really are integrated across all content areas. Speaking and listening has moved beyond standing up and giving a speech, having a visual aide, being able to take notes during class or being an active listener. The shift is toward supporting the ability to work collaboratively, use a variety of media tools to gather and share information and develop the skills necessary to make decisions about the credibility and accuracy of information.  One effective way to formatively assess these standards would be to use a variety of performance tasks within a unit rather than an isolated, stand alone activity. Standard 1 is particularly important as a College and Career Readiness skill. It is worth taking a closer look at the 6 standards as teachers continue their work on remodeling and designing lessons to align to Ohio's New Learning Standards.  I have developed a set of guiding questions that can be used to help incorporate the Speaking and Listening Standards into lesson and assessment planning. They can be adapted to meet the expectation of a particular grade level standard.

Standard 1 The focus is on collaborative grade appropriate conversations and group work with peers, with adults and in a variety of settings.   Can the student keep the conversational ball moving down the field? Can the student be an active participant in grade level appropriate team work? 

  • Does the lesson/activity:
    •  give students the opportunity to have grade level appropriate discussions with peers or adults?
    •  allow students the opportunity to do prior reading or research in preparation for a discussion with peers or adults?
    • expect students to support their ideas/statements with evidence from their reading?
    • allow students to further the discussion/work by asking focused questions, or making appropriate comments?
    • allow students to hear and evaluate the opinions, ideas and/or information shared by others and make decisions about how to move the discussion or work forward?
    • allow students to practice different roles in a collaborative group?
    • allow students to establish group norms or practice group discussion behaviors?
Standard 2 The focus is on acquisition of  knowledge through a variety of visual and auditory media formats. Can the student get information from a variety of both visual and auditory sources? Can the student make decisions about the accuracy and validity of the information?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to gather information from a variety of media sources - including podcasts, video, digital text, live presentations?
    • give students the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and make decisions about the accuracy or relevance of information to the task?
    • allow students the opportunity to identify the purpose for the information and investigate possible motives for a particular presentation. 
Standard 3 The focus is on understanding a speaker's point of view and evaluating the credibility of the speaker.  Can the student be a discerning listener? 
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students the opportunity to listen to a speaker as a way to gather information?
    • include follow-up activities that would help students to develop the ability to identify point of view, evaluate the quality and validity of the information shared, and analyze the evidence presented by a speaker?
Standard 4 The focus is on the presentation of information and ideas.  Can the student present information, evidence and ideas in a way that makes sense to the audience?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow the student to plan a presentation for a specific audience and task?
    • allow students to identify and utilize the appropriate information and evidence to support their ideas and opinions?
    • allow the students to outline or map out a presentation in a logical order?
Standard 5 The focus is on the use of multimedia tools and visual displays to support claims, present evidence or clarify information.  Can the student use a variety of multi -media tools to add interest, support and/or detail to a presentation?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to choose from a variety of multi-media tools to present data, information and/or support their ideas?
    • provide students with an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular multi-media tool or visual display following the presentation?
Standard 6 The focus is on using appropriate speaking skills when communicating both formally and informally. Can the student orally express ideas and opinions clearly and adapt to speaking in a variety of situations?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to use formal English in conversations with peers or adults as a way to communicate their ideas or opinions?
    • allow students to make decisions about what level of spoken English - from formal to informal - would be appropriate to discuss a task or share information?