Note: This entry is the first in a four-part series by Cassandra Erkens.
School improvement conversations fail when everyone walks away frustrated, the public angrily engages, and all change efforts within the initiative are abandoned. Sadly, many grading conversations fall into that failing category. In fact, the mere worry that things might go badly prohibits some very smart educational leaders from ever launching the grading conversation.
Conversations about grading can prove challenging. They are fraught with ingrained expectations, past practices, emotions, and opinions. But just because they’re hard conversations, doesn’t mean they should be avoided. Sometimes, those are the most important conversations to have. Indeed, generating clarity and consistency in policy and practice across a school building or district—especially on something as significant as grading—is crucial work.
This past May, I upgraded my vehicle. Since February 2008, I’ve been driving a 2006 Ford F-150, which I owned primarily for towing my travel trailer, driving up to the ski hill, and navigating the mountain passes from the small town I lived within to Vancouver. While we now reside in Vancouver, we still have a travel trailer, and the need for more reliable towing capacity led me to the point where I decided it was time to upgrade. So last May, I bought a 2017 F-150. Read more
What exactly does a strong critique of someone else’s work look like? How is it the same and different from a critique of one’s own work?
When do readers identify the main idea of a text? Which processes lead to the identification of a main idea?
What does a good data analysis look and sound like? What are the critical components of a strong analysis?
These are just some of the questions I have witnessed teacher teams wrestle with in the last few weeks of collaborative assessment work. The answers to these questions and others like them serve as the bridge between teacher assessment design work and student ownership of learning goals. When we explore goals in explicit ways, we can begin to imagine how we might explain complex skills like critiquing, identifying main idea, and analyzing data to our learners. We have to make these concepts tangible and accessible if we are going to nurture student investment and hope. Read more
I often hear teachers say they have been told that homework should not be graded. This message is a source of confusion.
Somehow, students have interpreted this as “homework doesn’t count, so I don’t really need to put any effort into it.” This is not the message we want to send. Any work given to students should be designed to further their understanding and increase levels of achievement. It is crucial to their success and that message needs to be loud and clear.
When I chat with teachers about the power of common formative assessments, the conversations are generally positive. Almost universally, teachers see the value of identifying whether students are learning the concepts and skills that they are targeting in their instruction. They conceptually agree with the practice and value the process of working with a collaborative team to design the assessments and analyze the results. Read more
Think of a recent assessment design conversation you had with a colleague. What aspect of the assessment process did you discuss? Did you consider which standards to assess? Did you talk about how many questions, or tasks, were needed to determine student mastery? Or, did you examine the content that you would evaluate?
As the director of assessment at a large public high school in the Midwest, I engage in these assessment conversations often with teachers and collaborative teams. While we discuss all aspects of the assessment process, the most common question I hear from teachers is, “What should my assessments look like?” Read more
One of my favorite activities when working with teams at this time of the year is to have them create a “stop doing” list. This is a list of lessons, assessments, instructional strategies, and curriculum that team members realize are not serving them well in their goal of high levels of learning for every student. It’s actually the antithesis of a “to do” list, and will likely be a highly reflective opportunity for collaborative teams. Read more
I appreciate how patient my daughter is with me when I ask her questions about school. Fortunately, she does not yet have an awareness that, when her friends get home from school, they likely do not have to respond to the same questions of, “How did you get to show your teacher what you know today?” or “Where did you have choice in your work today?” Admittedly, typing this makes me smile, as I realize I should probably simmer down with my questioning a bit. Yet I learn so much about the experiences she is having in school as they relate to her ability to communicate what she can do with the content and skills she is being taught. And that knowledge is very important to me. Read more
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
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