I’m taking an online course, Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading, from the Marzano Research Laboratory, and it’s reinforcing what I’ve believed about how subjective it is to grade and score kids on their learning. As teachers we strive to assess our students’ learning as accurately as possible. The truth is that an A in my class is not the same as an A in someone else’s class. I’m not even certain that a, “Meets this Standard,” in my class is the same as, “Meets this Standard,” in a similar class. Letter grades or standards-based grades are snapshots of a complicated process and change all the time. That being said I do prefer standards-based grading for many reasons as long as the “grading” period doesn’t happen often. I’d much rather give my students feedback most of the time to help them learn than cloud that feedback with letters or numbers that reduce their learning.
Here’s a great example from the formative assessment course I’m taking:
Let’s take this one type of test -
Questions 1-10 are basic, simple recall questions, probably multiple choice or fill in the blank, about content that was explicitly taught.
Questions 11-14 are more complex questions, probably short answer, still about content that was explicitly taught.
Questions 15-16 are complex questions, probably short answer, that ask students to apply what they learned. Content was NOT explicitly taught.
So let’s say the same exact test is given to students in three different classes, a common assessment. I took the test and got all of the first 10 questions correct, I got half of the second set of questions correct and I got none of the last two questions correct.
Take into account this scenario of my test being scored in each of the three different classes:
In class 1 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 20%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 20%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 40%.
So in class 1 I got 20% + 10% + 0% = 30%, I got an F.
In class 2 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 60%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 30%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 10%.
So in class 2 with the same test getting the same questions correct I got 60% + 15% + 0% = 75%, I got a C.
In class 3 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 80%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 20%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 0% because that teacher feels he or she cannot hold students accountable for content he or she did NOT explicitly teach.
So in class 3 I got 80% + 10% = 90%, I got an A-!
How can I take the same test and depending on the class, or specifically depending on the way the questions types are weighted, get anywhere from an F to an A-?!
“There’s measurement error in any test no matter how well we design them, there’s going to be measurement error. Let me give you an example. One of the readability analyses, there’s a lot of different ones you can use to find out what’s the readability level on any kind of a passage. One of those in particular has a 1.5, what would be considered a year and a half measurement error. What if I’m a First Grade teacher, I want that readability to be spot on, don’t I? So if I happen to see that it says 2.0, that’s the readability, 2.0, and let’s pretend that it only has one measurement error, one grade level span at measurement error, that means that 2.0 could be as low as First Grade, could be as high as Third Grade. That’s what we call measurement error. There’s error inherent in every kind of measurement, which is why you don’t want to base big decisions only on a couple of assessments, and certainly not only on just one assessment, you want to use multiple pieces of evidence.”
Marzano Research Laboratory Vice President Dr. Tammy Heflebower, from Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading course.
We need to figure out what we want out of our assessments. If it’s to help students learn then feedback is the probably the best way to go. If it’s to report to students and their families what they have learned, or what they’ve shown that they have learned, then using rubrics and student self-assessment with teacher input (standards-based grading) is useful. If you’re stuck having to reduce student learning to letter grades then try having conversations with students as to what their, “final grade,” should be. Usually what ends up happening here is some elaborate math to convert standards-based grades to letter grades or percentages. It sucks that we have to do that just because that’s the way it’s been done.
After retweeting this Science Teacher’s blog post on Twitter about sharing standards with Science students I had this conversation with David Grossman:
— Alfonso Gonzalez (@educatoral) June 21, 2014
@tkSciGuy I hear ya. I go back and forth on that one. I typically post standards after kids figure stuff out on their own.
— Alfonso Gonzalez (@educatoral) June 21, 2014
Sharing Learning Expectations is one of the strategies of formative assessment or assessment for learning (AfL) and I’ve often questioned that particular strategy in a Science, or inquiry based, classroom. I’m not saying keep students in the dark but rather, as I tweeted to David above, give students a chance to discover a learning target for themselves then share the learning expectation or learning target with them instead of giving it away. The chance to discover something for themselves is something I don’t want to take away from my students.
Here’s an example of Middle School Life Science NGSS:
LS1A: Structure and Function
All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular). (MS-LS1-1)
Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell. (MS-LS1-2)
In multicellular organisms, the body is a system of multiple interacting subsystems. These subsystems are groups of cells that work together to form tissues and organs that are specialized for particular body functions. (MS-LS1-3)
The above standards are very similar to the WA State standards that I used before the NGSS came out:
Life Science (6-8 LS1A): All organisms are composed of cells, which carry on the many functions needed to sustain life.
Life Science (6-8 LS1B): One-celled organisms must contain parts to carry out all life functions.
Life Science (6-8 LS1C): Multicellular organisms have specialized cells that perform different functions. These cells join together to form tissues that give organs their structure and enable the organs to perform specialized functions within organ systems.
Life Science (6-8 LS1D): Both plant and animal cells must carry on life functions, so they have parts in common, such as nuclei, cytoplasm, cell membranes, and mitochondria. But plants have specialized cell parts, such as chloroplasts and cell walls, because they are producers and do not move.
If I start by sharing those standards with students they will see that living things are made up of cells. A harmless bit of knowledge but after years of starting my 8th grade Life Science course with the question, “what is living,” I’ve noticed that living things being made of cells is one of the characteristics that students don’t think about as being a specific characteristic of being a living thing.
We spend time discussing what it takes to be considered a living thing. We look at microscopic organisms as well as use our prior knowledge of multicellular organisms. Different classes have come up with different numbers of characteristics of living things, such as living things need to consume food to rebuild and for energy, living things need water, living things respond to stimuli or move with a purpose, etc. Figuring out that all living things are made up of cells is something that we usually figure out later in the process. That discovery helps students understand why the cell is the basic unit of living things, which is a rather abstract notion.
It is at this point that I feel confident sharing the standards as the goal for their learning. Considering that all the learning we’ve done up to this point, learning that has been fraught with errors, learning that has been excellent formative information to guide my instruction, makes it unnecessary for rubrics or for formal assessment. I wouldn’t score anything done during this time because I will NOT penalize students for what they haven’t learned yet or for what they are in the process of figuring out and discovering.
Once they’ve discovered it and learned it, then the teacher can craft a more summative assessment based on the learning target/standard using a rubric of some sort. David’s idea is also an excellent one, have students write their own learning target which the teacher can then compare to his or her learning target.
So sometimes it’s best to share learning expectations after some learning has occurred and NOT at the onset of new learning experiences.
I’ve been reflecting on my first attempt at using a commercial off the shelf (CoTS) game in class for student learning, in this case World of Warcraft (WoW). I took a risk and tried to use the power of WoW to leverage some Science learning, in this case classification of living things. There are many ways students could practice classifying living things, from collecting samples at home, in the woods, or around campus, to collecting photos via image searches. My idea was to have students use fantastic creatures not found on Earth to get them to really think about how to categorize different living things. I still think the idea is a good one and yet it bombed.
Before I get to the way using WoW to have students classify living things did not work I will first share the ways playing WoW in class worked splendidly.
- My 8th graders, who throughout this past school year did not engage 100% with anything I offered them (not even dissections!) were 100% completely engaged in playing WoW.
- Not only were they engaged in playing their character and either getting the character around its virtual world exploring or completing quests and leveling up, many of them did complete many quests and leveled their character up quite successfully.
- They were actively problem solving the whole time they were playing, whether that was completing quests or figuring out how to get around and explore their surroundings (or even just figuring out how to control their character).
- While engaged playing their individual characters students were communicating with each other in the computer lab helping each other. Students would ask for help and help was given either by verbally giving ideas of what to do or, for those who’s characters were near other characters, coming over to lend a helping hand.
- Students grouped themselves when they could and worked on quests together.
- Students talked about the game outside of class and looked forward to the days when we would be in the lab playing again.
- There were times when everyone was in the moment, what in gaming is called flow, focused on their game and talking that was going on was not distracting to the whole group.
- There were times when obstacles were overcome and joyful exclamations were heard, what in gaming is called fiero.
- I was in the game as well so I participated with my students as an equal and we enjoyed each other’s company as well as helped each other.
Overall, it was a very positive experience and the level of collaboration, communication, and learning was higher than the whole rest of the year. A seeming success, except that my course is a Science course, specifically a Life Science or Biology course.
In terms of the Science very few of my 8th graders went on to complete the classification project. They played the game and then after we played our final day in the lab many did other things instead of working on the project. So if I evaluate the effectiveness of this project from a purely scientific point of view, did students learn about classifying living things, it wasn’t very effective.
Tegan Ashleigh Larter wrote a fabulous follow-up blog post where she compares using WoW to teach classification of living things vs Minecraft. One of my 8th graders also follow-up on Tegan’s post by listing his 10 reasons why Minecraft would be better than WoW (great reasons!).
Next year I won’t be teaching 8th grade Life Science and even if were I wouldn’t use WoW in that way again. I would try Minecraft though. That being said I did get approval from my principal to teach a separate 6th grade class using WoW for literacy! That’s the way WoW in School was originally used, successfully I might add, so I’m very excited about getting to do that for kids.
Here’s looking to next year and using WoW again!
Here’s the process:
WoW in Science (My use of World of Warcraft in Science class!)
Day 1 WoW in Science (Our first day playing WoW in Science class!)
Day 2 WoW in Science
Day 3 WoW in Science
Day 4 WoW in Science
Day 5 WoW in Science
Day 6 WoW in Science
Days 7, 8, and 9 WoW in Science
Days 10, 11, 12, 13 WoW in Science
The week of May 19th six of the ten middle school teachers from my school went to Camp David Jr with our 8th grade students for an Olympic Odyssey outdoor learning experience. It was a fantastic week!
Part of our outdoor experience is some hiking. There are some incredibly beautiful places to hike in WA State and we had the best weather I’ve ever seen the week we were there. We had some shorter hikes to get to Second Beach and to view Tatoosh Island from Cape Flattery but we also had a couple of longer hikes. Ozette Beach makes a triangle for a roughly nine and half mile hike. We also hiked the Spruce Railroad Trail along Lake Crescent on Monday to give kids a fun way to get to camp (a misunderstanding where kids thought it was a four mile hike got them rather upset after hiking six and a half miles and getting picked up by our buses so we wouldn’t be too late getting to camp).
We got to hike about 20 miles total that week. I noticed something in those hikes that made me think about the kind of educator I am. There were parts of the hikes where the trails were pretty narrow and since staying on the trail is important for protecting the natural habitat passing was discouraged. When the trails widened or when hiking on the beach the faster hikers led the way and the rest of the hikers settled into their comfortable paces from the middle to the end. I often found myself alone in the middle.
It was quite nice to have the time to hike and reflect and enjoy the scenery, which got me to thinking. Why was I alone in the middle? Where did everyone go? There were high school counselors, 8th graders and sometimes even teachers who were going just fast enough that I didn’t want to keep up with them (or just plain couldn’t!). I was going at my pace and pretty soon I’d look ahead and couldn’t see anyone.
Those who were with me and were walking more slowly than me eventually fell behind so that when I turned to look back, I couldn’t see anyone. That made me think about my teaching career. For most of my 23 years of teaching grades 4 through 8 I’ve often found myself alone in the middle.
I’ve never been quick enough to try the newest and latest thing first. By the time I was making webpages using HTML and having my students do the same, many others had been there and had been doing that. But no one in my school was. By the time I was having students blog many others had already been doing that. But no one in my school was. You get the picture. I was the first, and often only, teacher in my school to do things but not the first by a long shot when I’d widen my search.
It became very apparent when I started using Twitter and connecting with other educators that I was somewhere in the middle, and alone. There are so many teachers doing things way before I do, yet I’m still way ahead of the teachers I work with. I’m not fast enough to keep up with the super fast adopters but I’m still an early adopter because I do jump on faster than many others.
While enjoying my solitary hike it occurred to me that being in the middle like this is actually pretty good. I get to learn from the earlier adopters and those ahead of me. Then I can take all that experience, my own and that of those who are ahead of me, and use it to help those behind me. Being alone in the middle can be pretty cool.
Here’s a pedometer screenshot of the Ozette hike:
Here’s the Ozette hike without the mile markers:
Here’s the Cape Flattery hike:
Use of the above infographic does not constitute endorsement of the authors/creators of the infographic. I was merely giving credit to the owners/creators.
I’m finding that the hallmark of 21st Century learning is a move away from the traditional, 19th and 20th century focus on the three R’s (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic) and a move to the C’s. I say the C’s because when I first read about the 21st Century C’s there were three, Connect, Collaborate, Create.
The more I read I noticed the three C’s became the four C’s, Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, and Create.
Then people started to add Curate bringing our total to five C’s!
Now I see another C added that I do agree is quite essential for 21st Century learning, Critical Thinking.
So now we have the six C’s of 21st Century Learning, Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, Curate, Create, using Critical Thinking.
The more I think about the six I think we still have four if we do a little cleaning up. To me Connecting/Communicating/Collaborating go together excellently. I see those as ONE C.
So I say we still have four C’s (can’t seem to get it down to three) and they are:
using Critical Thinking!
Last year our middle school staff agreed to stop choosing Student’s of the Month and to stop giving out monthly awards for behaviors in which we want our students to engage. My advisory students conducted a survey and we found out that a majority of students reported feeling left out and not appreciated by our monthly awards assemblies. The assemblies were okay for students who play the game of school well but even they were often embarrassed for being chosen for an award or a certificate because it singled them out. This is what happens when a few are given accolades for things that are imposed on them. Academic awards are not something everyone would even want to compete for yet they are automatically competing. And if you think those who don’t get chosen for an award aren’t forced to compete then why are they made to feel that they “could have” gotten an award or could get it still? We either tell them all to go for the awards or we imply that they should. Even if school is not something they are good at!
We replaced our monthly awards assemblies with assemblies that were put together by students for students! What a concept! Students could highlight their talents in fun and engaging ways without handing out a single certificate or singling out anyone who didn’t want to be included.
This school year there were some changes, including having a new principal. For whatever reason our monthly assemblies didn’t happen. That coupled with the loss of monthly awards and student of the month awards the year before has caused some students undue stress. I heard from a couple of families of high achieving kids that some of our students are so upset at having no ways to be acknowledged for their hard work and wonderful achievements that they are starting to feel, “why bother?” One of the reasons we chose to abolish awarding kids certificates for getting good grades is to avoid having our children feel they shouldn’t bother doing well if they are not getting rewarded for it. Even the parents I spoke to agreed on that point. But is there a difference between getting rewarded for doing well and being acknowledged for doing well?
I think so. We live in a world where anything and everything we do can be shared easily through social media. Kids are sharing all the time, 24/7 (even during school), when they win a game, get good grades, complete wonderful pieces of art, play great music, etc. We as a species crave acknowledgement for doing well and for doing great things. That seems different than being rewarded for doing well. So how does a school acknowledge their students without rewarding some and punishing others?
I think having our students put together assemblies where they choose how to highlight the great things they are doing is a great way. And I think it was working well last year so we should bring it back somehow. I also heard that our ASB brought up this same topic at their ASB executive meetings. Our ASB advisor understands why we chose to abolish rewarding students for doing the right thing so she asked the ASB to come up with some ideas for acknowledging students. She wondered what they wanted and what follows is what she found out.
[I'm paraphrasing here.] Our ASB students thought that if each teacher chose a student to highlight—and it could be for any reason— and we keep a list of students chosen, then more students could be recognized. We would do this monthly and then take a picture and post the teacher’s short write up about the students in the showcase outside the office. That works out to about 15 students per month—x9 months is 135 students, and we have about 240ish. So that would get half of them—so if we added a PE teacher and a Choir teacher then we get about 30 more. This list includes all advisory teachers too. [End paraphrase.]
So as a school we have students who are craving acknowledgement for all the wonderful things they are doing, not just academic/school. We have some ideas for how we can do something about that. I’m wondering if we can satisfy their need for acknowledgement with student-run assemblies and teachers choosing students to highlight each month. I’m wondering if that’s how can we help our students not feel, “why bother,” if they are not rewarded for doing well in school? It’s our fault they feel that way because we’ve trained them since elementary that if you do well in school you can be chosen to get an award or be chosen for the coveted, “Student of the Month,” recognition. Will it ever be enough? What if we hold out a bit longer, will they feel pride without being recognized by their teachers?
Then I read this blog by Grant Wiggins, Engagement and Personalization: Feedback part 2. I especially focused on these parts:
Here are the three key questions from the Gallup survey, on a strongly agree-strongly disagree scale:
- My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important.
- At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good schoolwork.
It’s no wonder that students enjoy sports, performing arts, robotics, and other such offerings as much as they do since they get to play to strengths, help the greater good, and routinely receive some positive feedback.
As Gallup summarizes in its findings:
Students’ engagement at school may be influenced by innumerable factors largely outside a school’s control. However, there are fundamental strategies schools can focus on to dramatically raise the likelihood that students will be emotionally engaged in the classroom on any given day.
Those strategies include providing students with opportunities to discover and develop their talents, and with teachers who inspire a sense of optimism about what they can achieve with those talents.
So now I’m wondering if there’s a way we can give our students feedback instead of acknowledgement? Is there a difference? Sports, performing arts, and other such offerings allow students to play to their strengths and coaching provides them constant feedback. How do we incorporate that into school? Yeah, we often have students taking classes they wouldn’t choose to take because they don’t play to their strengths. Adults make kids take classes we feel will provide them with skills they will need to succeed in life.
So we have students doing well in school and students doing well in other areas with many of them craving some sort of positive feedback or acknowledgement. Our job as educators is to provide that without rewards and punishment. Oh boy.
What if the purpose was to help teachers do their job better? What if the purpose was to help teachers better serve the students they are working with each and every year? Having one administrator alone be responsible for that is a daunting task. Administrators are also overworked so teacher growth and development should be a team effort.
So let’s begin by changing Teacher Evaluation to Teacher Growth Plan or Teacher Growth Team. That right there changes the dynamic and the focus to improving student learning and to making education relevant to today’s learners as opposed to “evaluating” teachers. Begin by developing or making use of building Professional Learning Communities or PLCs to be part of every teacher’s professional development. Then come up with a plan to use those PLC teams to observe each other and determine what the team needs to best serve their students!
In my experience, working with a Science PLC has helped me improve my Science instruction for my students more than attending different workshops throughout the school year. Now add to that PLC team a Personal Learning Network or PLN using a tool like Twitter and you have the formula for a powerful professional development experience for all teachers!
Our middle school Science and Math teams are working on putting together an application for an innovative professional development or PD project for next year. It’s being offered by Washington STEM and the purpose is to provide teachers the ability to do what a majority says would be powerful PD but that they rarely if ever get to do:
observe models of instruction,
practice what we observe and/or want to do in our classrooms,
have the opportunity for real time feedback,
get peer coaching (better if it’s an outside source such as your school’s service district)
Let’s put our focus where it belongs, providing the best learning opportunities and experiences for today’s learners.
I need a fresh perspective on something I’ve been struggling with this school year. My reason for gamifying my courses was to motivate and engage more of my students whether they are gamers or not. Last week I reiterated something in blog post that I’ve learned in over 22 years of teaching, that no ONE thing will work for ALL learners.
Knowing that no one thing works for all learners I’ve done what I always do by offering my students choice in how they learn, the content we are studying is presented in different ways, and how they show learning. Admittedly, my courses are high tech but I’ve slowly let loose of requiring the use of technology for everything and truly offered my students more choices. This school year I was so excited to structure my course using a ROLE (Results Only Learning Environment) where students are given autonomy and chances to show and attain mastery as well as choice – the three things Dan Pink wrote that motivate people. I was also very excited as I prepared my courses using 3D GameLab, which fully gamifies my course with personalized feedback for each student, for each assignment, experience points built in, and badges for successfully completing certain assignments to show learning of different science concepts.
With my three 6th grade classes things are going as expected. Not all learners are showing success in the same ways. Some students struggle with using their class time to complete tasks but many are doing well with being able to work at their own pace.
My two 8th grade classes have more students who are struggling with getting work done. I’m not sure what more I can do. I have students who are doing well in other classes but have convinced themselves that they can’t learn science in my class. Here are the things they’ve complained about and/or used as excuses to “tune out” as one parent told me:
-too much technology
-not enough structure
-videos are too difficult
All of the upcoming sentences start with I. I realize that. I am focusing on what I have control over and those are the things that I can do as the adult in the classroom, as the educator, as the professional to help make my classes a great learning environment for all my students:
-I’ve tried using inquiry to get 8th graders motivated about the topics we are studying. I start with questions, especially when they don’t come up with any of their own.
-I start each class period excitedly sharing what they should be working on (to help those who need more structure).
-I’ve taught them how to do the activities they are being asked to do.
-I’ve videotaped some of the lessons I’ve taught using different tech tools so kids can watch it if they forget or didn’t get what I taught.
-I use different scaffolds such as providing alternate resources or modifying “difficult” assignments so that the learning is available to ALL.
-I communicate with parents who reach out to me as quickly as I can to help them understand what we’re doing in Science.
-I send out weekly updates to what is going on in Science and I have a daily work/homework webpage.
What am I missing? What else should I be doing to engage more of my 8th graders? I’d love to engage them all, all the time, but that only happens once in a while. For example, when we played World of Warcraft every single 8th grader was totally engaged and questing with the group and even helping each other and working together. Certain labs we do get everyone excited, or almost everyone, and engaged. In June when we do dissections that typically engages almost all 8th graders. So right now I just want to motivate and engage MORE of my 8th graders.
We are approaching the midterm of the final semester of the year, April 10, right after Spring Break, and only three of my 49 8th graders have enough experience points to meet with winning conditions of our gamified classroom. See, in a game to be successful you need to complete certain task and beat or defeat foes or get a certain amount of experience points. We have been using experience points to determine the winning condition of the class and very few have met them. In order to get experience points students have to successfully complete assignments (quests). So if students aren’t getting enough experience points, then they aren’t completing enough quests. And the thing of it is that there are WAY more quests than are necessary to reach the minimum experience points. That means that there are multiple pathways to success (giving students choices of how they learn the topics). And for those who struggle with that choice I do start class by pointing out which assignments/quests they should be working on each day to keep up.
Sure, they’d rather be socializing. It’s middle school. I get that. But they still need to learn certain things and be productive. Whether they choose to do work at home, on their own time, or not they still need to produce things to show me what they are learning. I even give tests sometimes to help them provide me with evidence of learning.
I feel as though I lost many of my 8th graders early on in the school year because I asked them to create tech products. I have them use 3D GameLab, a class blog, a class discussion forum, and the first project of the year was to make a biome commercial video. That caused a lot frustration for many of my 8th graders and it’s been uphill since then.
Any ideas of what else I could be or should be doing? Help!
I put together this Prezi with my thoughts and takeaways from this year’s NCCE Conference. I will be sharing this with my District Tech team as we work to make a new district tech plan. The conference was a great experience full of great learning and great people.