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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Co-constructing Criteria

When we co-construct criteria with students (or adults), we help them understand the learning destination, access prior knowledge, understand and use the language of assessment, and scaffold future learning.

Today I am with 800 educators in Minneapolis, MN and I am sharing an account from a high school History teacher. I co-constructed criteria with his students around a dialectic essay. Other teachers were present to observe this demonstration.

Here is what we came up with:

Friday, 22 June 2012

An App to Assist in Communicating with Parents and Others

Sometimes educators struggle as they try to communicate with parents. They want the student voice to be present but that can take way too much time. 
Have you considered an app like Quick Voice Pro? It is designed to record a brief message and then email it to others. It is simple and easy to use.
Three quick ideas to get you started….
1. Do you want to give students something to talk about when they get home. What about having students, at some point in the day, choosing to record a highlight of their day – something they want to remember, a success they’ve had, a question they want their home team to ask them when they get home? The quick recording is then emailed directly to the recipient (with a copy to the teacher).
2. Why do newsletters at home on your personal time? What about a assigning a small group each week to summarize the day’s agenda along with a couple of highlights they will remember? Then it can be emailed to the class list of parents/guardians with a copy to the teacher.
3. For older students assign the task to do a recording and send to a member of their home team with a copy to you. Provide a structure with sentence frames such as... Two things I am learning... A question I have...  I used to... but now I....
Think about your year end messages. What about one from the student to a member of their home team? Consider this frame... The most important thing I want to remember about this year is.....

Remember, the person working the hardest is learning the most! Why not have students learning more and working harder? Quick Voice Pro is $2.99 for your iphone (or other devices)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Observations Made Easier with Smartpens

I’ve been using a smart pen for a while now and I just love it. I was showing a colleague recently and she said, “You need to tell people about this!” I replied, “I do.” And then I realized it is one idea we share in our August sessions when Sandra Herbst and I help people get ready for the upcoming school year but you might not get to attend this summer’s Institutes in the Comox Valley, BC or in Mississauga, Ontario so...

Imagine, a pen that records everything you write and hear. Think about the possibilities:

  • You and a group of students are having a focused discussion about where they are expected to make high-level connections. Once again you are keeping notes. And, along with those notes are the recorded voices of each participant. Now you have recorded evidence of the kinds of connections and contributions students are making during focused discussions from early in the term and from later in the term.

  • You’re conferencing with a student. As you make notes, the student’s voice and your entire conversation is recorded.

  • You’re doing a running record. You’ve printed the text on the Livescribe paper. As the student reads, you make the notes about corrections, substitutions and so on. While you do your note taking, the student’s reading is also recorded. When you check for understanding, the student’s responses are recorded. You have a complete record. One that is a product, an observation, and a recorded conversation. Powerful evidence.

  • Consider a learning conversation with a student whom you have identified as needing additional support. You are collecting evidence to support your case. Imagine keeping your notes while you are interacting with the student, and then, later, when you meet with your school-based team to plan additional support, having them hear the actual interactions.

  • Consider preparing for end-of-the year conferences. Students record the highlights of the past year. As they are sharing with you, you record and add in your thoughts regarding additional events worth celebrating. This becomes irrefutable evidence and a source of text for those final report cards.

  • When meeting with colleagues, you can have an easy record of what was accomplished and what ‘take away tasks’ you committed to doing.

I find myself taking my pen and notebook along to any appointments just so I have a record. It is so easy to use and the recordings are easy to retrieve. Paper comes in a variety of shapes and forms. You can also print your own. It is easy. You might want to have a look at the videos on their website so you can imagine how you could use it. Livescribe smart pens are easy to find in North America (and probably elsewhere). 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Zeros? No Zeros? The Danger of Dichotomies

Many of the schools and systems with whom Sandra Herbst and I are currently working are engaged in thoughtful and involved conversations that focus on the use of zeros, deducting marks (or grades)[1]for late assignments, or some other kind of response to students who do not provide the kind of evidence of learning that has been requested. At times, this dialogue can become emotional and even divisive. We are reminded of Sir Michael Barber’s statement[2](2011 keynote), that as educators, we often find ourselves “on the road…paved with false dichotomies”. That is, educators discuss issues from the mindset of ‘either all or nothing.’ For example:
·       Phonics: Some say phonics is the only basis of a good reading program while others say phonics is of no use at all.
·       Standards: Some say all students must achieve universal high standards while others say the standards depend entirely on the student.
·       Evaluating Student Work: Some would say when work is not handed in on time, deductions are given and, if necessary, a zero is assigned while others would say you should never deduct marks and you can never assign a zero.
Yet, in the midst of these often-heated debates, there is a place for a measured, reasonable response. 

It is sometimes helpful to have an example that helps us better understand the situation. Some people say that in the ‘real world’ if things are late, there are consequences. That is indeed true. So let us take an example from educators’ ‘real world’ of employment. What if a teacher does not complete the report cards for his classes by the specified date? Is the first response to fire that teacher? No. Is the first response to deduct pay? No. What will happen? Likely, the principal will have a conversation with him to determine why the report cards are not yet completed and to plan for next steps. This might mean bringing in a substitute so that they can be completed during the next school day. It might mean that a district consultant is brought in to provide support and guidance, or it might even mean that the principal spends the next two evenings sitting alongside that teacher to ensure that they are done. The consequence for not doing report cards is doing report cards.

Teachers work with students to help them understand that they are responsible and that part of their role is to provide evidence of their learning to the teacher. . Additionally, students need to understand that there are consequences for submitting their work late. Still, the natural consequence of not handing in assignments should be to hand them in. Some people may think having to actually hand the work in is not a consequence or perhaps not enough of a consequence. We would agree, but it is the first step towards addressing the issue. As Schimmer (2012) writes, “Assigning a zero to something that has not been seen compromises the accuracy of the grade…”[3]

If the first reaction – the default stance - to assignments not being handed in is to begin to deduct marks or grades, then very quickly students no longer see a reason to submit work on time or, perhaps, at all. Much has been written about the extraordinary weight one or two zeros assigned to a student’s work can have on the term or final grade. Recovering from the mathematical impact of a zero could require, in many situations, near perfect future scores. When we deduct marks or grades and when we assign zeros, the mark or grade that results no longer speaks to the quality of the work which is the point of marks or grades in relation to the curriculum expectations.

We want students to be engaged. We want students to be learning. We want students to be successful. We also want teachers to use their informed professional judgment regarding achievement. What can be done? There are many facets to consider. Here are four ways teachers, schools, and systems are addressing this important issue.

One: If students do not hand in work then evidence of learning is not available to the teacher. Without evidence of learning (or lack of learning), a teacher’s ability to make a professional judgment is seriously impaired. If there is not enough evidence of learning, a grade cannot be assigned. The next measured response is to use one of a variety of strategies to support students as they work to ensure that they provide enough evidence of learning.

Two: At the end of the term, when report card grades are required, teachers need to be very careful they are not putting themselves at professional risk. Report cards are legal documents. They report what students have learned and achieved in relation to the learning outcomes and standards for the subject. If the records kept by the teacher show little or no evidence of learning in relation to those outcomes or standards, then the student grade must reflect that unknowing. Therefore, some schools and systems use NE, which means Not Enough Evidence and students have a certain length of time to submit the needed evidence or complete alternative tasks that do give teachers enough evidence. If evidence of learning does not become available, then a grade is not assigned for the course – there is no credit recorded.

Three: Evidence of learning is important in terms of providing information about the ongoing learning so teaching can be adjusted and in terms of providing evidence for evaluation of learning and achievement. Many teachers deliberately explain to students that there is little or no choice about submitting evidence of learning (student assignments and other work) if a student is to achieve success in the course. Then, in order to assist students who need additional support, teachers, schools, and systems put into place a variety of processes to serve as an intervention if assignments are not submitted, including:
·       Setting up a student contract to support the learning.
·       Referring students to additional supports such as a learning centre or tutorials.
·       Chunking major assignments into smaller pieces that can be submitted in stages.
·       Giving students a window of time (e.g., a week) within which the work must be submitted.
·       Providing an alternate assignment that, while still meeting the intended outcomes of the original assignment, better reflects the student’s interests and strengths.
This list is illustrative and not exhaustive. Provincial policy statements across Canada, like Growing Success (Ontario, 2010) and Academic Responsibility, Honesty, and Promotion/Retention (Manitoba, 2010) offer additional strategies and processes.

Four: These documents, and others, also indicate that, if the assignment is still not submitted after attempts have been made in these and other ways, deducting marks and/or assigning a zero may be necessary. To mitigate the impact of a zero, teachers might choose to give it less weight or decide not to use a zero score in the grade calculation. We agree that this is also a potential response.

As you come to a collegial decision in regards to the assigning of zeroes and the deduction of marks, we remind you that the final grade decision or calculation must reflect the informed professional judgment of the teacher and accurately represent a student’s actual achievement.

Note: This blog is an excerpt from an upcoming book titled, A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting by Anne Davies and Sandra Herbst.

[1] In some jurisdictions the term ‘marks’ is used to refer to the evaluations placed on student assignments. In other places the term ‘grades’ is used. Sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably. In this text, to assist the reader, we are using both 'marks' and 'grades.'
[2] Sir Michael Barber’s statement from his December 2011 keynote at the Learning Forward Annual Conference, Anaheim, California 
[3] Tom Schimmer (2012). Ten Things That Matter from Assessment to Grading. Pearson Canada: Toronto, Ontario.