Tagged: student engagement


Connect the Dots

I apologize for using a rather trite metaphor for the title of this blog, particularly since I never really cared for the dot-to-dot pages that would occasionally appear in my coloring books as a child.  I never saw the purpose. I could tell what the picture was going to be and I didn’t need to scour the page to find the next number to make it appear.

As an educator the idea of connecting things has become much more profound to me. Watching the students in my English classes make connections between what we were reading and what was happening in the world were some of my favorite teacher moments. The flip side of that was also enlightening to me. As a principal of a school with many different academic support programs for students I remember a conversation with a student who told me that she didn’t “do reading” when she went to a classroom to work with a teacher who was supporting English Learners, even though I had just been in that room and seen a lesson that was explicitly planned to connect to the general education classroom. The student didn’t see the connection and that was the problem. Read more


Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About! Using Academic Conversations to Assess Student Understanding

“Something to Talk About,” recorded by Bonnie Raitt in 1990, happens to be one of my favorite songs. While listening to it the other day, I began to think about the lyrics in a different context: meaningful assessment of student conversations. Tapping into student discourse is one of the most informative means of examining student thinking, particularly with students who might be culturally or language diverse. According to Zaretta Hammond, “One of the most important tools for a culturally responsive teacher is instructional conversation. The ability to form, express and exchange of ideas are best taught through dialogue, questioning, and the sharing of ideas.” (Hammond, 2015, p.149).

There is seemingly vast potential for educators to gather authentic evidence through the observation of academic conversations. Teachers can gain valuable insights into their students’ conceptual understanding and the language skills they demonstrate in real-time, authentic conversations. But as I reflect on the various assessment practices that I typically observe, I wonder if we are capitalizing on this powerful source of information? Are educators assessing the quality of rigorous academic conversations and providing support when needed to enhance that quality? Read more


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Making a Comeback: Reclaiming Assessment as a Motivator in your Classroom

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


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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


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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


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Simply Deep: Designing Authentic Assessments that are Meaningful and Relevant

“Being able to recall scientific concepts, identify historical events, or memorize mathematics facts and algorithms, while acutely impressive, is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the challenging world they will face. Identifying characters, theme, and symbolism used to be the focus of education, and it was enough. In the past, learners would occasionally have opportunities to collaborate, communicate, critically think, and creatively problem solve, but that was the means, not the end. Read more


Calling the Audible: Be the Playmaker for Instructional Agility

Here we are again. Back-to-school season! For some students, this a highly anticipated time of year. Who are my new teachers? Will I know anyone in my class? When is recess? Where will I sit in the cafeteria? How will I remember my locker combination?

I absolutely love the rejuvenation and anticipation of a new school year. But I’ll admit. My geeky “director of research, assessment, and accountability” self also has a bit of sporty spice side. Fall brings out that sporty spice with the anticipation of another favorite season: football. Yup, pigskin. Love it. Plan my Sundays around it. And because I also have the common ailment known as “everything-always-connects-back-to-education,” I started making some connections with my current conversations at work as I was watching a preseason game this year. This connection hit me with a force as strong as a 300-pound tackle sacking a quarterback.

Teachers are playmakers. Read more


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A Beautiful Noise: Productive Student Talk Time

It’s a beautiful noise
And it’s a sound that I love
And it makes me feel good
—Neil Diamond

I’ve been working a lot lately with educators in developing curricular units of study and the corresponding assessments while talking about the learning skills necessary for students to experience success. As an aside, I’ve deliberately not used the label “21st Century” in front of “learning skills” as I think we all understand in 2017 that we are in the 21st century. It’s lost its cache or novelty. Read more


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Start Your Year by Building a Learning Partnership with Your Students

It’s here. The start of the school year—that crucial time when educators excitedly “set the stage” with their students and jumpstart their vision for a successful learning experience in their class. It’s an official opportunity to initiate a strong learning partnership with students that empowers them to grow in their independence and empowerment as learners (Popham, 2011). Sounds good, right? Yet, if we think about the typical approach to setting the stage at the beginning of the year, it often falls short of establishing a strong foundation for that partnership. Read more


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Avoiding the Joystick and Giving Control to Students

My husband is a soccer coach for two groups of adolescent boys (ages 10–14), and a common struggle he faces are the parents who like to coach from the sidelines during the games. They want to help position the players and tell them what they think should be happening. He likens this to the videogames where a joystick controls everything on the screen. The parents are trying to be helpful and guide their children on the field, but this practice can actually stunt the growth of the player. The players need to hone their decision-making skills on the field, make mistakes, and recover from them. They need to learn how to work as a team and talk to each other on the pitch. This isn’t to say that coaching doesn’t happen throughout the game, but my husband chooses those moments carefully, and the coaching becomes a conversation on the sideline. Do the kids make some mistakes? Clearly, the answer is yes. Could a mistake cost the team a goal or cause them to lose a game? Yes again. Is there a chance to improve and correct the problem in future games? Absolutely. Read more