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I have always valued parental engagement in student learning. A strength of mine has been routinely emailing parents to let parents know how their child is doing in class. It isn’t uncommon that I would email every parent after an assessment and let them know how their child has done.
This school year I implemented Standards-Based Grading (SBG) and while writing my most recent round of emails to parents I noticed something. My emails looked different. They felt different. Lets take a look at an actual email I sent last year. I have blocked out the information to identify anyone.
It’s a positive email talking about how a child has done well on a test and their current grade. This is when I knew nothing about SBG. Now lets take a look at an email I sent last month.
Yet another positive email but lets compare. In the first email, the focus was solely on the grade and the percent. No where in the email was any content, any focus for improvement or anything to do with the actual learning. In the second email, the focus is clear. No where did I mention a grade or score. It was all about the learning, the content and what this child could do to further her understanding on a concept.
It’s important to note that I never once consciously made the effort to change my emails. It just happened. When I subconsciously changed my own focus on the content rather than the grade through SBG, that comes through in the things I do inside my class. I no longer am putting effort in a subjective grade but rather than in the understanding of the concepts. My emails contain much more informative information about what students can do to improve. What can a parent really gain from an email saying their kid received an 87% on a test?
“Change the focus. Change the learning.”
As my journey of my flipped classroom continues, here is the second part of my blog series to show you what happens within my flipped classroom. This time you will see what happens during class.
Giving students choice. It’s a scary idea. As a teacher, it was one of my biggest fears. I found myself always making excuses as to why I couldn’t let my students have more control in my class. It all started a little over 4 years ago when a student asked if he could wear headphones and listen to music while working. My first thought was, “ABSOLUTELY NOT. That goes against everything I’ve been taught about keeping classroom control.” Ultimately I bit my tongue and let him wear headphones. I let him wear the headphones and you know what? The world didn’t end. He was on task and no longer was a discipline problem. That was the first decision to start giving my students choice in my class. Over the last 4 years, I have been giving students much more choice from when they assess to when they do the work and how they do it.
Here are the 8 things that happened when I gave my students choice.
1. They choose their own seating. I let students use the space however they see fit. They can sit on the floor, go out in the hall, stand the whole period, etc. They can also move the furniture without asking me.
2. They learn at their own pace. Students are now given the date at which I want mastery of the content and how they pace themselves is up to them. I now let them decide when to take their assessments as well. Some students work far ahead and some don’t (and that’s okay).
3. They decide when, and if, to turn in classwork. At the start of this year, I decided to no longer grade or collect classwork. It was something I always thought I had to do and if I didn’t, my kids would somehow fail. Students now only turn in the work if they need extra feedback in addition to what I have given to them in class. I still give classwork and activities and kids still do it. The quality of work is actually better than when I collected it and I am no longer spending endless amounts of time doing busy work.
4. They perform better on assessments. When students get to decide when to assess, they reduce the anxiety they have to cram for a test. By giving them autonomy, you let them decide much more in their own education. Class and district benchmarks have improved.
5. They decide when to reassess. Students get to choose when they come in and reassess a particular standard to improve. Students will now tell me specifically what standard they need to improve on and which ones they want to redo. Students now know the exact content they need to improve on.
6. They choose what concepts to learn. I now give students the same project each year, having them pick a math concept they know nothing about but want to learn more about. They can make any sort of presentation they would like on it but they can learn anything. I recently had a student tell me his project will be to see how Fitbit uses math to calculate the relationships between steps, calories and how it all works with technology. Awesome! I can’t wait to see the end result.
7. They choose how to present their content. I no longer tell students that they have to make a poster, a Prezi, a movie or any other way to present. All of these are acceptable ways to present material but let students decide. They will think of ways that you haven’t. Why should you restrict them?
8. They teach each other. Each evening, they get the instruction from me through flipped videos. In class, they now work collaboratively with each other. They teach each other which gives kids a second exposure to instruction. When kids can teach each other, it strengthens their understanding of the material. Nothing is more fun than sitting back and watching kids take charge! The goal of myself as teacher is to enable my students to get along without me.
As the journey of my flipped classroom continues, what better way to explain what happens than to show you. In this blog series, I am going to break apart my class and show you what happens. In this blog, I am showing you what happens as students begin class.
Recently I was given this phrase and asked what it means. Along with two other colleagues, we were asked to come up with our own blog post with the same title without reading each other’s blog post. I’ve pondered quite a bit about what it means to,
“Be together. Not the same.”
So often in the world of education, we feel the need to mimic what others do in the classroom. We are often encouraged to adopt certain methods of teaching that are used in other classrooms. I remember after a few years in successfully flipping my classroom an administrator whom, after I changed jobs, told the incoming teacher they wanted them to also teaching using the flipped model. After plenty of hard work from the teacher, it was abandoned for the traditional way of teaching through no fault of the teacher. Why didn’t it work? It didn’t work because it wasn’t her style or the methods that worked for her. Trying to mimic someone else will never work and it shouldn’t as it’s not intrinsically motivated. We must have control over our classrooms to create an environment that works best for us and our students.
As teachers, we need to have choice in our own classrooms. We need to have autonomy to develop our own pedagogy that works with our style. We must be encouraged to get better and to explore methods of teaching that we as teachers want to explore. We must also work together towards an end goal. How we get there is up to us as the individual.
When I think of “being together,” I think of a group of individuals working together for the betterment of the students and school culture. I think of a collaborative environment that encourages growth for everyone in the school. Being together does not mean that you have to be the same. Lets look at a classroom math example. As a teacher, I am teaching a unit on solving systems of equations. I have equipped my students to solve systems using a variety of tools. The end result to successfully solve systems of equations is expected of all of my students, but how they get there is completely up to them. They are together is working for the common goal yet none of them have the same pathway.
I must often remember that what works for others in their class may not work for me. More importantly, if it doesn’t work that is okay. We have to develop our own pathway to reach that common goal. It’s always important to be together. Not the same.
The methodology of testing seems to be a timeless tradition in the math classroom. Halfway through the chapter, you would give a quiz and at the end of the chapter, the students would take a test. Until recently, that’s what I did as well. During the last year, I have changed the way I assess students. While changing the way I assess, I have made some observations.
- I no longer differentiate between a test or a quiz. I simply refer to my quizzes and tests as assessments. If the purpose of a quiz or a test is to assess students over material, why do we put a different emphasis on them by calling them something different? Worse yet, I used to assign different point values or percents in the grade book for each test or quiz. By calling them assessments, it doesn’t skew the importance of what we are assessing.
- The assessments I give are now aligned to the standards. With the implementation of Standards Based Grading (SBG), I now put the standards next to each problem. While doing so, it made me take a hard look at the quality of my assessments. I also realized that there were standards that I wasn’t assessing to the extent as what I thought. I also give students the standards so they know what is expected of them. The following picture is what I put on their open-ended assessment I gave them this week:
- Students have choice in their assessment. When you think of an assessment, you often think of using paper and pencil to assess students. While I still give paper and pencil tests for some assessments, I also have been allowing students the opportunity to show their mastery of the content in the ways they choose. I have now given open-ended tests where I will say, “Prove to me you have mastered the following standards.” Students present their mastery by using whatever they see fit. Some students made presentations while other students present it on paper. In the following picture, this is all I gave them for proving 7 high school standards for analyzing lines of fit.
- Students can reassess. If you think about any part of life, we constantly improve ourselves by redoing. However, in education we often give a students an assessment and then never allow them to improve. How does this help the student understand the material? I was one of those educators who had no problem allowing a student to retake my class but never allowed them to retake an assessment. Reassessment is not about giving them the same test again in hopes they memorize the material. It’s a chance to offer students ability to improve from their mistakes and apply it to different problems to master the content. Reassessment just makes sense.
- The quality has improved. By giving students autonomy over assessment paired with better questions that are aligned to standards, the quality of what I am receiving is by far the best I have ever seen in my classroom. Students not only make up their own problems and make sense of it, they can present it to me anyway they see fit. The following pictures, handwritten work and a Prezi, are examples of what students are turning in within my classroom.
- Students perform better. It’s no surprise that with better assessments, student ownership, and reassessment comes a better understanding of content. Students are performing higher on all standardized tests and in the understanding of what they are being asked to do. If a student can explain the concepts to someone else fluently, then they truly understand the content. They understand the why and the how behind the concepts.
- Time limits are gone. No longer do I give students a single class period to finish an assessment. Just this week, I carved out two days to do the line of fit assessment shown above. After two days students weren’t finished so I am giving them another day. I am often presented the question, “Since students already have seen the test, can’t students go home and study some more?” The simple answer, “Yes.” What does it matter if students use the resources available to them to help them with understanding content? In life we have those resources at our finger tips as well. If a teacher is more worried about students looking at the test and then going home to cheat after memorizing the problems so they can get the problems correct the next day, then the teacher should rethink the quality of the assessment. I know that’s what I had to do.
- Every test is an open note test. This changed recently for me. Research shows that students who are allowed to use their own handwritten notes, they perform better. It forces students to prioritize the material to which they need to study. In addition, if given a quality assessment, students will not be able to just look at their notes without studying and be successful on the assessment. In our life and at our own jobs, we are able to look up any resources we need to in order to be successful. We should teach this to students as well.
- I don’t give a grade. All of my assessments no longer have a grade at the top. With SBG, I provide feedback and a level of proficiency for each standard. The student no longer focuses on the subjective grade, but on their own mastery of content. This is an example as to what is stapled to every assessment to show the student’s level of proficiency:
I recently gave my second assessment that I graded using standards based grading (SBG). While the feedback I gave was the same as I’ve always given, what really surprised me was how the traditional way I grade a math test was faulty and how it masked what the kids didn’t know.
Lets take a look at a typical math answer key:
I, like most math teachers, gave point values to each problem. If an equation takes 7 steps to solve I would assign 7 points to the problem. If a student makes an error and then follows through with the correct process, they would miss 1 point. If major computation or conceptual errors were made, more points would be deducted. It was a practice my own math teachers used and was one I learned while student teaching and I thought it worked well up until two weeks ago when all of that came crashing down.
While using SBG, I noticed some students had issues with a few problems on the assessment. I was not used to more than a few students getting a problem incorrect but then it dawned on me. It wasn’t the students. It was the way I had always graded a test or quiz. If I had 7 problems each worth approx. 6 points, that would be a total of 42 points. If 4 of the problems were incorrect with 1 minor error they would maybe miss 1 to 2 points per problem, they’d still earn 38/42 an A- and at the worst a 34/42 B-. The students would look at their A or B, accept that they did well, glance over the ones they missed and file it away in their binder. I always would make note of the problems students struggled with and reteach those concepts as needed.
With SBG, I was able to pinpoint the one standard from which most mistakes stemmed. I identified that concept, retaught and reassessed. The A’s and B’s that students would have received via traditional grading would have masked the concept students struggled with. Currently with SBG, students are in a cycle of consistent improvement. Students go problem by problem looking over what they missed, correct mistakes and then verbalize those corrections to me making sure students understand the why. Each student has to meet with me before reassessment. Having students explain their corrections is a powerful learning experience. They want to understand what they missed, not simply strive for the A or B.
It really opened my eyes to SBG and why it worked. I experienced t first hand the power it had for student achievement. I now could pull apart individual problems and pinpoint the exact reason or standard throughout an assessment that the student was struggling with. This is now how I report achievement to students on an assessment:
No longer does my traditional way in grading a math assessment mask what the students don’t know. It’s a freeing experience to have gotten rid of points.
I used to be a traditional teacher. I stood in the front of my class while everyone stared at me. I demanded silence and for 40 minutes I would teach. I would call on students and students would take notes from what I lectured. While I thought otherwise, I am sure my class looked something like this:
Then at the start of the 2014, I gave up my control to my students. I let them take charge of their own learning within the flipped classroom. Here is what happened when I let my students take control of my class when I stopped talking the entire period.
- They talked more. I talked less. The emphasis was no longer on me talking and students listening. I let them have a voice (and what a powerful voice they have)! I want to know what they think while they are working. I now have time to go around the class, listening to the math conversations that are happening.
- Students lead class. I strongly believe that if a student can teach a concept to someone else, then they have truly mastered the content. What better way to know if students understand the material than by having them teach each other. They love being able to teach each other, not only reinforcing their own understanding but conveying different methods to others.
- Some students work ahead. Students who no longer needed to waste class time listening to me on concepts they already had mastered now could work ahead. They set their own pace and follow their own schedule.
- The students have in-depth conversations with each other. With no time in class spent on traditional instruction, they have plenty of time to argue their viewpoints or strategies in how to do something. It’s a wonderful thing to watch them reason with each other.
- Students love choice. When I give projects, I now give them a choice as to the method of deliver. They can create a movie, poster, brochure, etc. When studying for an assessment, I used to give students a review assignment. Looking back, what purpose does this solve? Students would do problems they have already mastered and don’t practice enough on the ones they haven’t. By giving choice, students now have no review assignment but an independent study. They choose what to study and what they need the most help with. Students now create projects of much better quality and do better on assessments.
- They feel welcome. By taking control of my class, they can make the environment their own. Moving desks, sitting wherever they want or listening to music through headphones while they work gives them choice. With choice comes freedom and with freedom comes improved engagement and learning.
- I no longer have rules. I have expectations. I used to have a bunch of, “You can’ts.” Now there are no rules whatsoever. This in no way means that my class is a free for all. I now have expectations. The students know what is expected of them in their behavior and their academics.
- Students can’t hide. No longer can a student sit in my class without being noticed, being quiet the whole period without ever contributing to the class. Every student is now an active part of class, engaging in cooperative groups and conversations. When a student falters on a concept, I can identify it before the student is assessed.
- We have fun. What would an effective classroom be without laughter? I want to have fun just as much as the kids do. If class is not fun for me, then it definitely wouldn’t be fun for them. I love teaching students and I have fun doing it!
In my shift to standards based grading (SBG), I started this school year with a huge mindshift on class work. For the last 14 years I would collect and record grades for nearly every assignment I’ve given. This year I did just the opposite. I not only didn’t grade and record each assignment but I didn’t even collect them. Instead I give valuable feedback, both verbal and written, while students are completing assignments and after nearly a month, I’ve noticed 10 things that have happened:
1. The students do the work I assign. I expected my students to stop doing the work, however, they still do it. It’s an expectation and they also know I wouldn’t assign something that wouldn’t be beneficial to them.
2. They revise their work. The students still correct their work. I post the answers and they now look at every answer they miss and revise it. No longer do they look at a “B” and file it away as a good grade, not even looking at the ones they get wrong. They now want to know why they got a question incorrect.
3. They don’t cheat. With no grade to earn, there is no incentive to cheat.
4. The quality of work is better. With no rush to complete the work for a grade they spend more time on it. They are more concerned about the content than a grade.
5. The feedback is instantaneous. No longer do students have to wait for me to pass back papers up to a week later after I have recorded grades. Once corrected, students can do one of two things:
a. Keep the paper and instantly have it for review.
b. Turn the paper in for more detailed feedback from me. I then will return by the next day. Without endless amounts of papers to enter into the gradebook I’ll only have a small handful of papers to give meaningful feedback for and am able to hand it back quickly.
6. I have a lot more time. Without grading, collecting and recording over 100 assignments a day, I now spend my time on other things. More time is spent on quality instruction planning than doing busy work. I also have more free time for myself.
7. Students are solely assessed on the content they know. No longer can assignments be a safety net for those students who don’t do well on tests. The focus is solely on the learning of standards.
8. Students are not afraid of failure. Now that students know that they won’t be penalized for failing an assignment, they learn from their failures rather than being upset by them. Why should we grade an assignment over a concept if it’s their first try?
9. I am happier. I am no longer in this constant mode of trying to get assignments turned in or calling parents because a student is missing work.
10. My students’ achievement levels have risen. The quality of the work they now do far exceeds the quality before. Instead of never looking over mistakes they missed when they got an A or B they now want to fix every mistake since they are now learning for mastery rather than a grade.
Change. That six letter word that people love to hate. For many, when we enact change, there is pushback. I used to also dislike change and when confronted with change I sometimes put up a wall because I am unsure of what the future holds. I never used to like change. Over the past three years, I have have embraced change and have made quite a few changes in my own teaching while changing my mindset. But whenever I make changes in my teaching, it still can be challenging. Sometimes my natural instinct is to reject the change.
This past week Open House was held at our school. It was once again a great time and I was excited to meet all of my parents. As I was preparing my Prezi for my presentation, I noticed I was still using the same account since 2011 and my past Open House presentations were all saved. I decided to take a glance at my first presentation and what I saw not only gave me a good laugh, it was quite clear that I had a completely different mindset 5 years ago than I currently do. Lets just cut to the chase and take a look at this one wonderful slide…
Yes, you read that correctly. I gave a detention if a student didn’t turn in an assignment but this slide doesn’t even tell how bad it really was. Not only did I give a detention, when the student turned in the assignment I only gave them half credit. If a child didn’t serve their detention within 2 days, they were suspended from school. Typing this now makes me cringe. It was a policy that I enacted and used for a good chunk of the first part of my teaching career. I wanted homework. I wanted compliance. Of course at the time I was doing what I thought was the best and didn’t realize I was striving for compliance. My kids even told me they liked the policy. Kids turned in homework and I was happy but truth be told, it was all about me. It wasn’t about the learning even though I thought it was. I spent more time trying to get compliance with getting homework turned in than probably anything else during these years. I was still considered a great teacher by many but I was a great teacher with bad policies.
I look back at this slide and I shake my head in disbelief. I remembered when colleagues and others tried to tell me they disagreed with my policy. I remember after each passing year I had to defend my policy more and more. I was stubborn and didn’t want to change. Eventually I let the policy go thinking homework would tank. It never did.
Thank goodness that this policy is long gone and I now focus on the learning and not homework. If I had not embraced change, where would I be? Now when change occurs, I embrace it with an open mind as we all should. Is it hard at times? Absolutely but this slide will be a constant reminder of where I am today as a teacher because of change. Change is what has made me a better and what keeps helping me grow.