Monday, August 31, 2015

Tracking Student Progress

Teaching Like One-Eyed Willy
You've already heard me talk about John Hattie's list of areas that are most influential on student achievement. Toward the top of the list are things like self-reporting grades, formative assessment strategies, quality feedback, and metacognitive strategies. All of these share a common link: The STUDENTS take on the primary role of managing their learning. Now I'd like to talk about The Goonies.

Remember The Goonies? This movie was about a rag-tag group of youngsters who follow a treasure map in the hopes of saving their run-down neighborhood from being taken over by wealthy land developers. The treasure map was left behind by the most infamous pirate ever to torment the coastal Pacific Northwest. (Pacific Northwestern pirate? That's one of those details that slid right past my 10-year-old self.) And it turns out, he was one heck of a teacher, as well!

Willy's treasure map offered it all: A clear-cut goal at the end. A "roadmap" for how the hunters are to get there. Lessons that challenge and push students out of their comfort zone. Real-time feedback. And a chance for students to monitor their progress toward the goal.

Students benefit in many ways when they are able to take ownership for their learning:
  • They have a clear idea of what the end product/goal looks like. We spent a decent amount of time last year talking about how to make the CLSs more visible/accessible for the students. Many of us posted the CLSs in our classrooms. We spent class time and developed resources to help our students understand what it truly means to be proficient with our CLSs. And we designed instructional materials to more deliberately address the CLSs.
  • They can see the checkpoints leading up to the end product. For anyone who has ever run a road race or gone on a diet, seeing your progress along the way is pretty motivational. It's the same thing with learning. Check out this CLS from our Biology class. There are a lot of parts, so learning this CLS is complicated. Imagine the impact when a student is able to see what he/she has learned and what still needs to be covered.

  • They will be more focused on the details. A couple years ago, I realized my now-8-year-old couldn't tell me how to get home from places we traveled to frequently. He was merely a passenger in the car, and didn't pay attention to the details. We've all had that student who says, "Is this on the test?" In a way, the student is telling us that he merely wants to be a passenger rather than an active learner. My son quickly learned to how to get home when I made him my "co-pilot." Making your students judge their progress toward the CLS will do the same thing.
What Others Are Doing
Still not convinced about the power of having the students track their progress? Check out The School District of Palm Beach County's website. They provide several resources to support teachers' efforts to develop systems to track student progress. And it looks as if tracking student progress is an expectation for everyone. I'd recommend checking out this page.

What Can You Do?
Try out one of these strategies:
  • Have your students chart their scores throughout a unit to track growth.
  • Use any of a number of formative assessment strategies. (I like the one the teacher uses in the video on the bottom of the Palm Beach school district's website.) The key, though, is to go beyond merely assessing. Do something with the information!
  • Ask students to identify what they do well and what they need to improve on. If possible, have them cite examples or provide previous work as evidence.
  • Toward the end of the unit, ask students to identify the grade they think they can earn on the test. Give them some time--one day, one week, you decide--to fill in the gaps in their learning.
  • Share your successes with your colleagues.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Standards-Based Approach and Student Achievement

Show Me the Money!
When we are faced with a new initiative or way of doing things, one of our most natural reactions is to view this new information skeptically.
Why would we do this?
What benefit will it have for my students? For me?
And how about this one: Where is the research that says this way is better?

To push our knowledge and understanding of a standards-based approach, I have one goal in mind for this post: To answer these questions. To show you the money!

What Does the Research Say?
Researcher John Hattie compiled several meta-analyses into his own study to examine how much certain factors influence student achievement. His research looked at six areas: the student, the home, the school, curriculum, the teacher, and instruction. Here are some screen shots of the effect sizes of each variable.

How to read the chart:
The higher the effect size, the greater the influence. The average of all variables is a 0.40, so anything greater than that has a significant impact on achievement.

How does this relate to a standards-based approach? I'm glad you asked! A standards-based approach relies on the presence of the three greatest influences on student achievement found in Hattie's research.

Self-Report Grades 
Students are the most accurate about predicting how they will perform. Therefore, the greatest influence on student achievement is to have students identify how well they know something, then to encourage and prepare them to exceed their own expectations. In a standards-based approach, students need to know where they stand relative to the standard, and they need to know how they will close the gap.

Piagetian Programs
If you think back to your educational psychology, Jean Piaget's research centered on stages of cognitive development. The "programs" referred to by Hattie require an environment where students can use their abstract thinking and deductive reasoning to solve problems. This assumes that the joy (and benefit) of learning is as much in the progress and process as it is in the product. A standards-based approach relies on having students look all three P's (progress, process and product) to describe a student's position relative to the standards.

Providing Formative Evaluation
Back in 1998, Inside the Black Box (Wiliam & Black) laid out the case for the power of formative assessment. Since then, tons of other research confirms that using assessments as feedback tools is one of the most powerful movers of student achievement. Formative assessments that are closely connected to learning standards are a hallmark of the standards-based approach.

Feeling Ambitious?
Post in the comments about one other influence on the list that connects to a standards-based approach. Extra credit if you choose one that is only listed in the linked article.

Wanna See the Least Influential Factors on Student Achievement?
Check out the whole list here, or check out the chart below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Standards-Based Approach and Domain 3

Gratuitous 80's reference to keep up with the trend.
The Ties that Bind
The name of the blog is "Widening the Hoop," so I want to show you how a standards-based approach is tied to other elements of our District's school improvement order to illustrate how the standards-based approach is merely part of our journey as opposed to "one more hoop we have to jump through."

This post will focus on the connection between a standards-based approach and Domain 3 of our Teacher Evaluation Document--specifically, the importance of the students' role in the learning process. As you are aware, many of the Distinguished level descriptors in our Evaluation document suggest some level of involvement/responsibility on the part of the student in monitoring the classroom environment and their own learning progress.

What I have attempted to do is explain how these established, effective teaching descriptors connect with practices typically found in a standards-based classroom. Below, I have listed descriptors from the Distinguished category for some elements in our Teacher Evaluation document. The last column, then, is how I see the standards-based approach connecting to our document. 

Distinguished Teaching Characteristics
Distinguished Category Descriptor
Connection to Standards-Based Approach
3b  Discussion Techniques
Students assume considerable responsibility for the success of the discussion, initiating topics and making unsolicited contributions.
In a standards-based approach, students are responsible for monitoring their own learning. A discussion may offer evidence about the students’ level of understanding, so student involvement is important.
3c  Presentation of Content
Students initiate connections to knowledge, experience and school culture.
Connections are a big part of understanding. Can students describe how new learning connects with old? Can they explain how new learning fits into broader contexts?
3c  Activities and/or Assignments
All students are cognitively engaged in the activities and/or assignments in their exploration of content. Students also initiate or adapt activities and projects to enhance understanding.
Just as we need to communicate the standards in a way that all students can understand, we need to look for ways to structure activities that offer flexibility to students as they pursue mastery of the CLSs.
3c  Instructional materials and resources
Students contribute to or initiate the choice, adaptation, or creation of materials to enhance their own purposes.
Students all have different strengths and weaknesses. Assignments should regularly provide some flexibility for students to build on their own individual skill sets.
3d  Quality: accurate, substantive, constructive, and specific
Students regularly use feedback to enhance their learning experiences.
Obviously, the feedback referred to here is about how students are doing on a particular CLS. Once a student receives that feedback, there is an immediate opportunity to practice with this feedback. This is not just about redo’s. It’s also about additional learning experiences.
3d  Timeliness
Students are empowered to make prompt use of the feedback in their learning.

The use of our evaluation document is ONLY for the purpose of drawing on our common understanding of distinguished teaching behaviors. I don't intend to imply that a person can only be distinguished through the use of a standards-based approach. For example, a teacher can give high quality feedback without using a true standards-based approach. All students can be cognitively engaged without the overt focus on standards.

What I would suggest, though, is that the standards-based approach--when implemented correctly--naturally leads our students into these roles where they are more responsible for monitoring their own learning. I think we can all agree that this is a characteristic of distinguished teaching.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Use a Standards-Based Approach?

Doing Mr. Miyagi's Household Chores
Last week, I referenced the Sports Illustrated Sneakerphone. This week, I will be using another culturally iconic juggernaut from the 80's, The Karate Kid

In the original Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel-san to sand the deck, paint the fence, and wax the car (wax on, wax off). After days of endless sweat and effort, Daniel-san has had enough. He stands up to Mr. Miyagi and says, "You're supposed to teach and I'm supposed to learn!"

Mr. Miyagi calmly replies, "You learn plenty."

After Daniel-san vehemently disagrees, Mr. Miyagi wisely asserts, "Ah! Not everything is as seems...!"

And you know the rest of the story. Daniel-san, having never performed a karate move in his whole life, is able to successfully block each and every punch and jab that Mr. Miyagi can throw his way. Pretty. Darn. Amazing!

Great story, Kurt. (Slow clap.) But where are you going with this?

It isn't until Daniel-san understands how these skills fit into the context of karate that he understands the purpose. Until that point, everything he had been doing lacked context, purpose, and meaning.

You see? You learn plenty!

Transparency is Key!
A standards-based approach relies on transparency. The students should always know which skill they are working on. They should understand how each learning activity is advancing their skill development. And they should know what mastery/proficiency looks like.

Sure, there would have been no cinematic intrigue if Mr. Miyagi would have said, "Painting the fence simulates a great blocking technique. Go ahead and spend a day painting my fence before you actually try to use that motion in a real-life situation." But look at the frustration this caused Daniel-san!

We may not see that frustration in our students. But we may see them focused more on trying to accumulate points than on trying to improve their skill. They are doing Mr. Miyagi's household chores, not practicing karate!

How Do I Get Them to Practice Karate?

  • Tell your students which CLS(s) you are addressing in this lesson or on this assessment. Remember: Transparency!
  • Make sure they know why this skill/content is important.
  • Show them what mastery/proficiency looks like. They are more apt to achieve it.
  • Then, later on, let them tell you what it means to be proficient or to show mastery. (A great metacognitive activity!)
  • Give them feedback that informs them what they are doing well and what still needs work.
  • Provide avenues for the students to monitor their own learning progress. Bonus points for allowing them to have some flexibility with an assessment's time and format. 

Three hip-hip-hoorays to Natalie Soto for the Karate Kid analogy. She wanted to know how to assess individual skills that are part of the holistic process of language acquisition. Her "sand-the-deck" reference framed the discussion nicely for me! In short, we decided that you may want to solely assess how well your students do one thing (i.e., paint the fence) even though they are using a variety of skills at a given time.

A fist bump to Paul Radek for supplying me with the idea of transparency. He talks to his department about removing the secrecy of what they are doing in the classroom. He also tells me that Transparency is the name of an old, old wooden ship.

Yes, I can see the trouble with my analogy. Mr. Miyagi's teaching strategy relied on keeping Daniel-san in the dark. And it was genius! I just wouldn't try to make a living on its employ. It's not a reliable way to continually overpower the Cobra Kai Dojo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Introductory Post

A Blog Just For You, FHS Staff!
On our January 16 Institute Day, I hinted at the idea of creating a blog to help us wrap our minds around a standards-based classroom. As we strive to become more descriptive with our students' progress on the Critical Learning Standards, it is vital that we explore what current research and practice tells us about this topic. And once I made the whole blogging idea public, I was forced into action. So here we are!

There are a few things I hope to accomplish with this blog:

  • Provide some effective resources about effective teaching, in general, and evidence-based classrooms, in particular.
  • Keep you, the FHS classroom educator, in the loop about our vision and progress toward that vision.
  • Create a conduit for discussion about evidence-based teaching and its application to our classrooms.
  • In short, I want to widen the hoop!

It is not mandatory for you to read every (or any) entry in this blog, but it is my hope that you will find utility and benefit from this structure.

How to Use This Blog
The web address for this blog will be listed in FANN Mail, but you have the ability to enter your email address in the "Follow by Email" field on the right-hand side of the page. By doing so, you will receive every new post as soon as it is released. And I'm even going to waive the fee for the premium subscription--what a deal! (Sorry, only paying customers will receive their Sports Illustrated Sneakerphone.)

If you have a question/comment about anything you read, feel free to fill out the fields for "Send me your questions." These comments will be sent to my email address and will not be visible to the public.

Have a comment that you want others to see? Great! Use the "Comments" link at the bottom of the page. When making comments, please remember that even though FHS teachers are my target audience, this blog is visible to (1) anyone with the link or (2) anyone who received a Sports Illustrated Sneakerphone.

Introductory SBG Materials
On our Institute Day, I gave you a brief overview of Standards-Based Grading. I listed 3 Major Elements that are present in a standards-based classroom:

  • The Critical Learning Standards (Learning Goals) are paramount
    • Students know where to find the CLS's
    • Students are aware of how activities are connected to the CLS's
    • Students understand what mastery looks like
    • Classroom activities have a deliberate focus on the CLS's
  • Assessments are clearly connected to the CLS's
    • Intentional/purposeful connection to the CLS's
    • Grades represent a demonstration of skill, understanding of concepts
    • Grades are not a collection of points
  • Students receive clear, descriptive feedback
    • Feed up - Students understand the outcomes expected of them
    • Feedback - Students know where they stand relative to the standards
    • Feed forward - Students know what they have to work on
    • All of this information is timely, specific, understandable, and actionable

These three elements were taken from this YouTube video about Standards-Based Grading. The smaller bullet points reflect my own ideas about how SBG connects to our district's work.

Why Standards-Based Grading?
On Institute Day, we also discussed the rationale for implementing a standards-based approach. Here is a snapshot of one of my slides that provides a basic overview:

These 7 reasons were taken from this ASCD article.

I also tried to show you a video about how Standards-Based Grading connects to current research about motivation. The Daniel Pink video didn't work during my presentation, but it's worth watching when you have five minutes to spare.

Now What?
Feel free to send me a question or comment, if you already have one. Otherwise, you only need to:

  • wait for my next post
  • check the mail for your Sports Illustrated Sneakerphone to arrive (*with paid subscription)
  • continue to examine how your classroom can further incorporate our CLS's.

(Disclaimer: Future blog posts will not exceed the length of the Introductory Post.)