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How Learning Targets Empower Students (and Help Me, Too)

This guest post is written by Shannon Finnegan, a social studies teacher at Hopkins High School in Minnesota.

Throughout my teaching career, I have taught in three vastly different schools: a suburban high school, an inner city 6–12 school, and an alternative high school. In these different settings, I have found that there are certain educational buzzwords and catchphrases that will provoke groans and eye rolls on teacher professional development days regardless of where you work. Words such as differentiation, backwards planning, and standards-based grading are just a few of the phrases that will make teachers cringe on inservice days. When I began teaching at a small school in Brooklyn, New York, I came to loathe one phrase in particular: learning targets. Read more


Making Strengths (and Needs) Analysis Count in the Classroom

I have long believed that if assessment doesn’t immediately impact learning in the classroom, it has fallen short of both its purpose and its potential. In my own practice, I think of it this way: If I figure out what my learner strengths and needs are, I am compelled to use that information to refine my planning, my instruction, and my feedback. To ignore assessment data would be unacceptable. So, the question becomes, how might we use strengths to address needs and optimize learning? Read more


Teacher Efficacy: Who Needs It?

As schools struggle to identify what to do to improve student learning, many of us look to researchers for answers—or at least guidance—about which path to take. The work of John Hattie has transformed educational conversations around the globe and caused us to think about not just what works but what truly makes a significant difference. When you look at Hattie’s publications, it is hard to ignore the power of collective teacher efficacy and Hattie’s charge to teachers to “know thy impact.” Read more


What If Policy Focused on Learning Instead of Grading and Reporting?

Lately I have had cause to review a variety of grading policies from various districts. Clearly, I realize that the focus of a grading policy is obviously grading, but I can’t help but think that they unintentionally take the focus off of learning. Read more



Let’s Make Assessment Personal: Building Students’ Personal Efficacy

Many researchers continue to find that the higher one’s efficacy, the stronger the motivation, confidence, and drive to learn (Maddux, J. E., & Stanley, M. A. 1986). The lower one’s efficacy, the more apathy, and indifference a student will have toward learning (Bandura 1986). Many experts define personal efficacy as, “the confidence or strength of belief that our capabilities can lead to goal attainment and realized achievement” (John Hattie 2015 et al.). Read more



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The Power of Common Formative Assessments

Many researchers have identified formative assessment as one of the more powerful practices to raise student achievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Hattie, 2009). When speaking of its power, we often compare formative assessment to summative assessment using metaphorical expressions. For example, formative assessment is like “tasting the soup before serving one’s guests,” or the “practice before the big game.” Others have described formative assessment as the rehearsal before the performance, or the “check-up before the autopsy.” Read more


Standards-Based Grading: A Million Little Things

Currently, one of my favorite television shows is A Million Little Things on ABC. It’s a show about a group of adult friends who, under unexpected circumstances, come together to support each other through an incredibly difficult time; the range of experiences is intense and the solutions often layered and complicated by their own personal stories. That said, the premise of the show (for this conversation) is not as relevant as the show’s tagline. Read more


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Teams as Action Researchers

A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to teach a cohort of practicing educators in a Masters in Curriculum program. As a part of this program, teachers were required to complete a culminating project which included action research in their classroom. At the time, action research was a pretty novel concept and many of the teachers were a little intimidated by the thought of doing this kind of research with their students.

As the instructor, I wanted to make sure that the research they conducted was both well done and that the conclusions drawn were meaningful. Read more