Saturday, August 24, 2019

7 Mistakes I Made Implementing Standards-Based Grading (And What I Learned From Them)

Over several years, I gradually shifted from a traditional grading system to a standards-based system. In year one, I got rid of zeros, extra credit and drastically cut the number of grades entered. The next year, in addition to small tweaks, I experimented with involving students more in the grading process and eliminated homework, group and effort grades. I entered year 3 excited about the prospects and ready to fully implement standards-based grading. Following are 7 mistakes I made implementing standards-based grading.

  1. I failed to effectively communicate my vision and purpose to families. Honestly, I don't remember a single student having any issues with standards-based grading, and most families were extremely supportive and even appreciative, but some families resisted. The families that did resist were on the two grading scale extremes. I remember the father of an "A+ student" who seemed more interested in preserving the status quo and seemingly ensuring his daughter would be ahead in the race for valedictorian. On the other end of the spectrum, I had several parents who argued, "If my son does just enough to pass, he should be able to pass." In hindsight, I needed to more clearly communicate--and in multiple ways--why standards-based grading benefits all students. 
  2. I still relied on calculating grades instead of determining grades. I entered the year knowing this would be my biggest hurdle because we were required to enter grades into our grading program, use either a point or a percentage system, and assign exam grades. Knowing averaging falls short of providing an accurate description of what a student has learned, I stuck with a point system because I felt I could better manipulate it to reflect student achievement. I attempted to focus on the most recent evidence of learning and used both median and mode in determining grades, but I felt my efforts were continually handcuffed by the school system's requirements. I slowly became more adept at determining grades and ultimately relied on my own professional judgment. 
  3. I didn't develop an effective naming convention for organizing my gradebook. My gradebook reflected a combined--and thus confusing--approach to grading. Instead of completely organizing my gradebook by learning standards, expectations and criteria, I relied on a combination of naming by sources of information (quiz, project, presentation, etc.) and specific content standards. 
  4. I didn't collect enough quality evidence. For power standards, I believe I did a pretty good job of collecting multiple samples of student achievement to accurately assess student learning, but for less important standards, I assigned grades that relied too heavily on assessments that were not sound. Essentially, I was checking a box that the student had learned it and I was ready to move on. We should attempt to collect at least 3 samples of student work to accurately assess student learning. 
  5. I struggled to grade exceptional students. While I modified and differentiated learning and assessments for exceptional students, I did not have a plan on how to accurately assess all students based on their abilities, thus I could not accurately provide information on their achievement as it related to their IEP goals. When it came time to enter grades, I sorta' just entered a grade based on my heart and gut. Tailoring learning goals for exceptional students requires communication and collaboration with case managers, co-teachers, families and the student. 
  6. I didn't solicit administrative support. At no time did I sit down with my school administrator to share my vision and plan to implement standards-based grading. At the end of the first marking period, I was called into the principal's office and asked/told, "Why do you have so many INCs? You can't give incompletes unless there are extenuating circumstances." For the first time, I explained to my assistant principal and the principal my standards-based grading system and the INC represented not having sufficient evidence to assess the student at this point, and I was holding the student and myself accountable for learning." Well, that didn't go too well. I was told to enter grades by the end of the week and within 24-hours an email went out to all staff that from that point forward all INC grades required administrative approval. I no longer gave incompletes, but instead submitted countless grade change forms every marking period thereafter. Thankfully, I had a good relationship with our registrar! Needless to say, I should've sat down and communicated my plan with administration before the school year started. 
  7. I went at it alone. It wasn't until the end of the year that I learned that another teacher was also implementing standards-based grading and that she also had been called into the principal's office for giving incompletes. The shift to standards-based grading is a tremendous endeavor to take on alone. I wish I had solicited others to begin the journey with me--perhaps other ninth grade teachers or other world history teachers.
Even with all of the mistakes I made, I am glad that I made the change to standards-based grading. Grading requires significant professional judgment. We should aim to ensure that grades are an accurate representation of student learning and are clearly understood by the the sender (the teacher) and the receiver (students and families). 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

10 Ways for Administrators to Support Educators and Build a Culture of Pride, Positivity and Teacher Confidence

We entered education for different reasons. Some entered the profession because one of our own teachers, counselors, or coaches made such a difference in our lives. For others it might have been the exact opposite and the desire to do better, and for some it might be a passion for a subject matter and wanting to share that passion with students. What is clear, is none of us entered education solely to ensure our students pass an end-of-course test. We should feel pride in our profession. We are dedicated, hard-working, compassionate experts who are invested in the lives of our students and cherish the opportunity to positively influence the lives of our students.

Sometimes, however, the grind gets to us. Long days, meetings after meetings, being asked to do more with less, the challenging student or class, the parent who never seems satisfied all add to the stress of our profession.

As an administrator, I feel the some of the same strains and when the stress mounts I know I'm not as effective at my job as an instructional leader as I need to be. Needless to say, it's the same for teachers.

Administrators most important responsibility is creating a culture of pride, positivity and confidence for our educators. Below are 10 ways to accomplish this.

  1. Writing a handwritten note of appreciation
  2. Creating a culture of collaboration among teachers Whether it's through PLCs, faculty teams, or other purposeful groups, it's important that we create opportunities for teachers to work together to build social and human capital. Creating agendas and setting a purpose increases the effectiveness and efficiency of group meetings so that they're not a waste of time, a gripe session or another meeting. 
  3. Talking to students about their best experiences.  Before school and during lunch I often talk to students about what they most enjoy about our school and their best classes. In addition to using this to take a pulse of our school, I share the accolades and positive comments with the appropriate teachers. 
  4. Make appropriate use of data. Too often--and often not deliberately--data is used for compliance or scare tactics. Instead use data to analyze trends to create plans of instructional support for teaching and student learning. 
  5. Create meaningful and purposeful professional development. 
  6. Work collaboratively and individually with teachers to determine what it is they need to be successful. This ranges from questions like When I observe your class, what do you want me to focus on to constantly asking, What is it you need from me? What can I change or do? 
  7. Recognize that almost every teacher wants feedback. By providing meaningful and targeted feedback  focused on students' learning strengths and challenges in relation to teacher instruction, we build efficacy and skills. 
  8. Encourage risk-taking. January and February are great times to take risks. After a full semester of building relationships with their students, it's a great time to leverage the relationship and trust that has been built to try innovative lessons that may fail. Harness the power of trust to be adventurous. 
  9. Make use of positive referrals. In addition to recognizing students--which teachers love to do-- it's an opportunity for the student to discuss the positive influences of the nominating teacher. 
  10. Create opportunities for your students and families to recognize excellence. This could be something as simple as setting up a table at lunch for students to write personalized notes or nominating teachers for recognition through an online form'

What are some systems or ways in your schools that administrators provide supports for educators?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

4 Reasons Effort Shouldn't Factor Into Grades

Learning is not a behavior, but rather a complex process that differs for each student. As such, we need grading systems that don't measure--or attempt to measure--behaviors like effort. Too often grades measure compliance, completion of assigned tasks, participation, and responsibility, which are effort grades. Grades should be an indicator of learning and progress.

What follows are four reasons effort shouldn't factor into grading.

Measuring effort is nearly impossible; it's vague and intangible.
  • My senior year in high school, I took US Government and Calculus. Growing up in a political family, I found government easy; it came naturally to me. Calculus, on the other hand, required every ounce of effort. My year-end grades were an A and C respectively. If I were graded based on my effort though, my grades would be the inverse. 
  • Effort is a subjective measurement. A teacher who favors grading effort may look at factors such as amount of work attempted/completed. Measuring variables such as these don't factor in how long and hard the student worked to complete an assignment. Another teacher may wish to measure class participation in discussions and asking questions, but an introverted student may be attuned to everything and thinking but seemingly isn't participating. 
Incorporating effort into grades makes grades less valid and ambiguous. 
  • Grades should not harm the relationship between teacher and student. Effort grades increase the likelihood of conflict. During my first year of teaching, I had a problematic world geography class. Most of the students in the class were high achievers and their poor behavior was most likely indicative of lessons that didn't challenge them. In an attempt to gain control of the class, I implemented a participation grade. Students were rewarded for participation and punished for coming unprepared, disruptions, etc. My new grading procedures didn't solve the problems and the relationship between my students and I soured.
Effort grades don't change behaviors
  • Effort grades are often used to change behaviors through punishment. Say for example a student could earn up to 10 participation points each week. At the end of the week, the teacher (me) goes through the class roster and assigns most students 10/10 points and assigns students who exhibited disruptive behaviors 5/10 points, hoping this will motivate the student to change his/her behavior. Rarely--if ever--will this change the behavior. Using grades as extrinsic motivators to control student behavior does not work.
Effort grades muddle the academic meaning of grades
  • When a student tries hard but is barely succeeding, educators' hearts ache and we feel tremendous guilt. Feeling a passion for that student, we reward that student's effort but at the end of the year they haven't met the course's standards. It's not until the end of the course test or the next year that it is learned that student has academic weaknesses that need addressing.
None of this is to say that teachers should not communicate about student behaviors that are important. We should, however, separate academic achievement and behavioral grades. As a matter of fact, we should strive to create a dual-purpose report card with a standards-based grade and a separately reported behavioral "grade" focusing on social and emotional aspects, soft skills, and intended learner outcomes. 


Monday, April 3, 2017

PEEL Graphic Organizers

Excellence in Education: PEEL Graphic Organizers
In all classes students should analyze and support their analysis with facts and reasoning. The PEEL strategy is a graphic organizer that can be used by itself, as a pre-writing strategy (especially DBQs and other shorter, social studies essays), in preparation for a class discussion/Socratic Seminar,  and more. Simply, it’s a great way to get students started because it helps them determine a main idea and how to find supporting details.

What is PEEL?
PEEL stands for Point-Evidence-Explanation-Link

Point: provide an opening statement for your argument
Evidence: provide evidence (this can be direct quotes, facts, etc.)
Explanation: explain the evidence through purpose and context
Link: a statement that links back to the main point

Here’s a link to a PEEL Graphic Organizer.

Just a Thought: Rubric Design
Most rubrics are scored on a 1-4 scale with 2 of the scores being below mastery. Why should we accept less than the student’s best and failure to show proficiency?

Useful Links:

Portfolio Assistance If you have a student who needs assistance setting up his/her portfolio, click here

Technology / Website Permission Request Form Please use this form to request use of a website that requires student log-in if the site is not already on the approved list. DART approved list

Calendar and Memo Items

Year-end calendar is here.

March 28: Middle School/Rising 9th Grader Visit; No Mustang Morning. Students will complete the School Safety Survey in extended 1st block.
Here’s the link to survey.

March 30: End 3rd Quarter

April 11: Grades due, 9am

April 13: In School Drama Performances

April 21: Pep Rally

April 22: Prom (Interested in chaperoning? Please email Ms. Stott)

Project-Based Learning: The What, Why, and How! -April 3
Virginia Association for the Gifted is excited to offer an introduction to Project-Based Learning: The What, Why, and How at the Lynchburg City Schools' Information Technology Center.  Participants will explore delivery models by engaging in the creative process of developing their own project step by step with collaborative support from instructors and peers. All participants will receive resources for building future units along with a collection of previously developed ideas. Deadline for registration is March 29 and the event is April 3.

61xbYAizKuL._SY346_.jpgFor tonight’s #vachat, we’re joined by Denis Sheeran, author of  Instant Relevance, Using Today’s Experiences to Teach Tomorrow’s Lessons

I’d love to have you join us (I think he’ll be giving away a couple of books as prizes).

March 27: Leta Johnson
March 28: Hank Atkins
March 29: Jeannette Stott
March 31: Chris Columbano
April 2: Karen Ye
April 5: Gwen Reynolds

Worth Your Time

Jay McTighe: Beware of the Test Prep Trap

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Do You Teach?

At a gathering last week, someone asked, "What do you do?"

"I'm an assistant principal at Monticello High School."

After a couple of minutes discussing my current position, she asked, "So what did you teach?"


Recognizing that my response came across as flippant, I explained, "It's always about the kids. The subjects were social studies, reading and some academic skills, but it was never about that. It's about helping students learn about themselves. Hopefully, they left my class every day a better person because of me." 

I then asked her--and I ask you to do the same--Think of her favorite teacher. Was he/she your favorite because of the subject or because of how he/she taught you?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Building Relationships: Practical Ideas to Implement in Classrooms

Tribe_Post_Relationships1 (2).jpg

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students' families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy Crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer round table with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include school-wide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk-throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.

What would you add to this ever-growing list? Please add your favorites in the comment section.

Our list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.

Compelled Tribe Contributors:

Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan
Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom
Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6
Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey
Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach
Jacie Maslyk    @DrJacieMaslyk
Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  
Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery
Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013
Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS
Karen Wood @karenwoodedu
Lindsey Bohler @Lindsey_Bohler
Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp
Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS
Barbara Kurtz @BJKURTZ
Stephanie Jacobs @MsClassNSession
Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe
Cathy Jacobs @cathyjacobs5
Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie
Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock
Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23