Thursday, December 30, 2010

CFU chapter 2

Well, it's holiday break... actually it's almost over. I've spent some great time with family and friends celebrating Christmas! I've also spent some time reflecting on school things, where to go next, etc. I've also read the 2nd chapter of Fisher and Frey's Checking for Understanding. So, let's dive into chapter 2 and see where we end up!

The title of chapter 2 is: "Using Oral Language to Check for Understanding" Fisher and Frey dive into defining oral language and also discussing the development of oral language. They show a lot of research (I've learned writers have to do that...) They also discuss some misconceptions of oral vs written language in poverty and gender. The discussion also flows into perceived skill vs actual skills. This specific portion was interesting to me, especially the part on the bottom of page 21,

"the amount of teacher versus student talk in a classroom varies by demographics of the students. In addition, students who live in poverty, are English language learners, have disabilities, or are otherwise at risk in school spend more of their time on basic skills and less time engaged in activities, lessons, or inquiry that fosters creative and critical thinking."

Wow! But if you think about how we teach students with disabilities, their time is spent with teacher talking, or working on worksheets. Their practice and learning is on rote memorization, not synthesizing thinking.

Next, Fisher and Frey discuss different methods of checking for understanding using oral language strategies. These include: Accountable Talk, Nonverbal Cues, Value Lineups, Retellings, Think-Pair-Share, Misconception Analysis, and Whip Around. To be honest, I had heard of about 3 of those. What I noticed about all of the methods was that they all included changing instruction based upon what students know. Ahah!! That's the key to any sort of assessment. If instruction and learning changes because of what data was collected, it's formative assessment. 

Some thinking on learning

@greatestquotes tweeted this today: "Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind." - Gandhi

This got me thinking about the learning that is going on in schools today. How much of our learning is rote memorization... What's the capital of Minnesota?... Where is the Tropic of Cancer? What did Tom Sawyer say on page 35? 

These are all Googlable things. I can type them into a search engine and find the answer. Instead shouldn't we be asking deeper questions? Questions that make students think, not recite? Explain, not regurgitate? 

When are schools, administrators, and teachers going to stop the memorization game and start the learning?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Isn't tech engaging?

My daughter is 4, almost 5 years old. She is in pre-school and loves it! She has a wonderful teacher and was lucky to have a great student teacher in the classroom as well this fall. The purpose of this post is not to brag about my daughter's school or tell you how smart she is..

However, the purpose is to talk about technology.. My daughter enjoys using my Ipad to pop bubbles or listen to Toy Story. She has a Leapster with many games and also has a Tag reading system. We haven't gone the Nintendo DS way yet... The reason is she would rather sit and read, or write, or color than play with a techy toy. She is extremely excited to show my wife and I the new pictures she draws with crayons. She loves to share her words she writes with colored pencils. She would rather read books to her audience of dolls.

My question is why isn't she engaged in technology? Why would she rather write and draw and read than play a Dora video game?

Monday, December 13, 2010

CFU chapter 1

Well, this finally happening. I'm reflecting on the first chapter of Checking for Understanding by Fisher and Frey.

The title of the chapter is "Why Check for Understanding?" Fisher and Frey spend time convincing readers how CFU fits into other reform programs. First, they define Checking for Understanding and also divulge what it isn't. They key difference is what is done with the feedback. If feedback is used to inform instruction, it's formative assessment. However, if feedback is used to show student performance after instruction, it's summative assessment.

Fisher and Frey also discuss how Checking for Understanding fits in with Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design. They contest the CFU is a key component of UBD. Next, the authors connect Differentiated Instruction and Checking for Understanding. Carol Ann Tomlinson's DI is a buzz in the education world. Providing instruction to meet the needs of students is an essential part of school reform. CFU is a key part of Differentiated Instruction. It is what allows teachers to strategize what students or group of students are meeting standards at different levels.

The final framework that Fisher and Frey connect to is Breakthrough from Fullan, Hill and Crevola. I'll be honest, I am unfamiliar with this. I'm not sure if it is not as popular or I'm just out of that loop, but I may have some more reading to do over the winter break....

Well, that's the overview of Chapter 1. I'm now going to dive into Chapter 2. I hope to have an update in the next couple of days!! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Part of my Professional Learning..

Over the next few weeks, my blog will be changing focus a bit. Part of my Professional Development plan for this year is to read Checking for Understanding by Dr. Douglas Fisher and Dr. Nancy Frey. I thought that since I'm reading the book, why not have some fun and write my thoughts about what I read. My plan is to write a reflection after each chapter of the book. I'm not sure how long this will last... Hoping to really commit to reading over the next few weeks. Instead of watching TV (specifically college basketball... I love college basketball by the way), I want to spend an hour or so reading each night (life long learner.. not sure I like that phrase but anyway... I digress).

So I begin...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I've been doing "walk-throughs" for just the purpose of seeing teaching and learning. They've more been for a gauge of school climate and for me to find out how the teachers operate. I've taken some time each week to walk the halls and pop in for a few minutes to each class.

So, now that I've "settled" into the principal position, I am trying to spending more time focusing on learning. I read Deron Durflinger's post on Walkthroughs and created a template on Google Docs to use with my IPad as I travel around classrooms.

Here's the link: Walkthrough template

I did a preliminary test, making sure I could get it to work and the data came back in a useful way. I then took the data and the template to our school improvement team. I asked if this was data they wanted or what else they would like. There response was great.. they wanted to be able to explain what was going on before or after I was there.

I then went back and created a template to give to teachers with the data and comments from me with also room for a conversation to start between us. I haven't gotten this to google docs yet, as our school hasn't made the move yet.

This is a start. I want teachers to be having conversations about what good teaching looks like and how they can improve. Just as our students, we should be Always Learning!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tests and Assignments

Dr. Scott Mcleod sent out a tweet with a quiz regarding Harry Wong's The First Days of School book.  I'm posting a portion of my corrected quiz.

I want to look at number 13....

Is that best practice? To write the test and quiz at the same time? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A rant....

I'll be honest, this post has been a long time coming.

I understand that the purpose of blogging and twitter in education are meant to be collaborative. The things shared are shared for sharing purposes. I don't expect anything in return, they're my thoughts or someone else's in which I found value. The reason I'm upset, and that's a harsh term... I'm irritated... I have 777 followers on Twitter. Most are education folks, so my posts on the blog may pertain to them. On my last post, I had visits from a grand total of....40 visits.. Yes 40..

Now, I appreciate those 40 visitors. I really do. I appreciate the comment I received from Bill as well! The reason for my irritability is the lack of views.. I know that I am not the best writer in the world... Really, I have very minimal writing training, it's not one of my strengths by any means, but there are at least 737 people who for some reason or another follow me on twitter and didn't view the blog. I sent out a tweet with the link to the post, it was nicely retweeted by my brother, Bill Ferreter and my sister... Thanks family!!!!

Is there a reason, don't know. Not sure I really care. But it does beg some questions. Do we follow people on twitter just to increase our followers? Is the number of followers like a status symbol? I will say, I follow most of my followers back, not sure why.. a lot of them are from Iowa so I feel that necessary.

I am just as much to blame. I follow people, don't read all there stuff. Can't say I have time to read everything. With the new job, I can say blogging, blog reading, and twitter have taken a back seat to work and family..

So, thanks for listening.. I don't expect many responses or anything, this is my blog. I can write what I want to... :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Change Sandwich

This post is a response to Bill Ferriter's most recent post.

As I began observing/evaluating teachers, I remembered a strategy that my professor in my grad program told me about. Her advice was to start an evaluation conversation with something that you thought went well in the lesson. Then, discuss the needed improvements and end with something good again. The reasoning behind the strategy is you prep the teacher with something positive, create a trust. Then discuss what needs to improve, then end the conversation with something that also went well.

I like to call this the Change Sandwich. What I want changed is sandwiched between two things that they're doing well. To me, this defuses the situation. It takes the some of the bite out of the conversation by padding the need with something good. By ending with conversation with something that worked, the teacher can leave the conversation with something positive. No matter how much improvement they need to make, they can leave feeling a bit of success. Something they did in the lesson I observed worked!

Each staff member will receive something to improve upon. Each staff member will also receive some feedback on something that went well. Sometimes, the positive outweighs the needs improvement while other times the needs improvement is the larger portion of the conversation.

As I reflect about the frequency of the observations I do, the formal observations are specified by master contract. The informal observations and walk-throughs are where a more consistent picture can be formulated of what student learning looks like in each teachers classroom. Now, am I in the classroom as much as I would like to be? Not a chance. There are the managerial portions of the principalship that take time away from being an instructional leader. I am starting to schedule time in my weekly calendar to do walk-throughs and observations. If I don't, the time will be filled with other meetings or paperwork.

Well, Bill this is my take on the other side of the desk. I've been sitting in the exact seat you are now. I wasn't as good of a teacher as I could have been. Other things get in the way... Just as now, I am not as good of an instructional leader as I could be because of things getting in the way as well.

Is this a system problem? Should the role of principal be split in 2? Should there be someone to do the managerial portion of the job and someone else to be the instructional leader? Would administrators take less pay if the job was split in 2 for the sake of increased student learning????

Monday, October 25, 2010

Moving forward....

That's a necessity in schools today. The federal government through No Child Left Behind is mandating moving forward. There are stipulations on what moving forward means through NCLB, but is that what's best for education??

I don't think this is the case. I do however wonder what will create urgency within schools, administrators, and teachers. If you do much research on implementing change in any organization one of the key components is creating urgency within the system. As a new school administrator, I've spent the first 3 months getting to know our system. I've spent lots of time getting to know students, parents, community members, teachers, AEA personal, and other administrators in our district. I've also looked at what we're doing well and what we need to improve upon. To get our school moving forward, I need to work to instill a feeling of urgency with teachers. This hasn't been done yet..

My plan for the next quarter is to begin to challenge them even more. I've begun the ground work of focusing on student learning. Each teacher needs to focus on student learning rather than instruction. We are beginning to focus on providing supplemental activities for our students, but the next step is identifying which students need help in what areas. Utilizing formative assessments to gauge student understanding is key and will be part of our focus. In January, Matt Townsley and I will be presenting to district staff about formative assessment. I hope to have started the discussion on what formative assessment is and how we can use it by then!

As you look at your school, what areas need to change? What hurdles must be overcome for student learning to increase???

Friday, September 24, 2010

Change... why wait?

So, I am beginning to read "Learning by Doing" by the DuFours. After I read the first 2 pages.. this thought popped into my head. It's a longer thought, so Twitter wouldn't be the best place to post the question to get meaningful feedback, so I'm asking for your feedback.

Is one of the major reasons for a slowness of school change due to all people going through the system?  Let me clarify...

If I'm a doctor, I haven't spent 13 developmental years of my life at a hospital for 180 days a year...
As a teacher or principal, I have spent 13 developmental years of my life in a school for 180 days a year...

So, is that a hindrance? Is that a major reason for lack of school change?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meaningful work

I just recently read Dr. Scott McLeod's post: Our Students want better work, not less work and it really got me thinking. Our students today are viewed as lazy and lacking work ethic. I somewhat agree with that. In the view of previous generations, our current youth would be viewed as lazy. The days of working on the family farm and doing chores or working to help put food on the table are gone. (Although, being from Iowa, there are still some farm kids out there, just not as many as there used to be.)

Our students today struggle with doing mundane tasks such as worksheets with multiple problems over the same concept. The students who already understand an idea don't want to do 30 of the same type of problems. They also don't want to read a section of a textbook and answer questions about what they read.

I believe that we have smart kids. They don't see the value in doing those kind of tasks. They don't really see it as learning, but just doing work. So the question is.... What is meaningful work? How can we as educators provide meaningful work for our students?

I've got a couple ideas, so here we go...

1. Work that other students can see, evaluate, and provide feedback to.
    I am very impressed with student blogs. I'm working with a couple of our teachers to start a classroom blog where students can publish their work and receive feedback. I got the idea from both Russ Goerend and Becky Goerend.  They both (along with numerous others) have classroom blogs where students publish their work. One of our teachers and I are presenting at ITEC in October regarding this practice!

2. A video
    Kids love videos! Look at the number of YouTube hits each day. With the cost of a flip camera and a computer, kids can create some really cool and educational stuff. I've done this with my students when I was teaching and the kids had some great ideas and really came up with some quality products.

What other ways can we provide our students with meaningful work?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reflections after 2 weeks

Well, I'm closing in on two weeks with students as a building principal. It was been a great two weeks, a tiring two weeks, and an ever learning two weeks. I want to focus on two major learnings I've had in that time.

1. Relationships are oh so important.
   This is so true. I've already had some great conversations with people I was 'warned" about that would cause trouble. I tried to go into the relationship with an open mind and start fresh. We all at times need a fresh start. A change in leadership can be that time when parents, staff, or students get to start new.
   Along with this, positive relationships are great as they are usually returned. I've focused on greeting the students as much as I can. With our building set up, I can greet almost every student in the morning as they enter the building. What a great way to start the day, for both the student and myself. I have given and gotten more hi-fives in the first two weeks, than I ever have before. We've had very few discipline problems and I even have requests if I'll sit by students at lunch (I've made an effort to sit with a group of students while we eat this week)

2. Middle School students need time and directions on how to socialize.
  As I look around the lunch room, I see how important socialization is to students. When a friend approaches carrying a lunch tray, their eyes light up. If that friend passes by to a different table, you can see the disappointment on their face. How in our school can we help students socialize without the traditional "Well it's Middle School so...." Is there a place for helping students get along and teaching acceptance?

I think so, we've spent some quality time teaching about PBIS (positive behavior intervention supports). I believe we've seen gains in the time we've spent so far, but we have a ways to go. That is why I'm trying to build a positive relationship with as many students as I can. I am encouraging our staff to do the same. We need to model the social interaction we expect of them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Be Googleable...

I've spent a significant amount of time this summer searching through applications, interviewing both certified and non-certified staff. What's the first thing I do when I get the list of applicants?????

I Google them. 

If you talk to many employers, they say the same thing. 

So my advice to anyone who's looking for a job.. Be Googleable!

Now the question is... how do I become Googleable?

Well, number one. Create an online presence. There are many ways to do that. 

1. You could join twitter using your name as your id... 
2. Blog
3. comment on blogs
4. create a diigo account (again, using your name as your id)

Each of these will create a presence for you. There are other ways, like have the newspaper do an article on you etc...

So, are there other ways to be Googled????

Monday, August 2, 2010

A week of learning

I had the opportunity to attend a 5 day Kagan Cooperative Learning conference. I'll start by being very honest. I was really suspect. We've all been to those conferences that have been pretty drab. I wasn't exactly excited about spending 6 days away from my family either.

Wow was I wrong. This was a great learning time. My district had already had a Kagan trainer out to train some of the staff, so I was sent to learn the ins and outs of Kagan learning. I know that Kagan costs some money to get trained in, but wow what a great way to teach. I can see how I will use some of the structures in my professional development with staff.

I could write pages on what Kagan cooperative learning is, but I'll do some summarizing of key points. If you get a chance to check it out, please do. I highly recommend it!

As they say, Kagan is all about engagement. The trainer we had kept us very engaged in our learning. As he said, the typical classroom of 25 students during a questioning time has only 4% engagement. The student who answers the question... With Kagan structures, 25% of students are engaged, with up to 50%-100% depending on the structure.

Many people (including me before the training) see cooperative learning as dividing the students in the classroom into 3 or 4's. Then the teacher gives the students a task (worksheet or project) to complete. Well, what happens... the high achieving student complete the task and some students just sit and watch.
How is Kagan different??  That's the million dollar question...

The difference is the structures.. The different ways you assign a task to those teams (groups of 4). Instead of giving the groups a question to discuss, with Kagan structures each student is given a part of the task... Each member has a a responsibility to the group. One example is the Round Robin. This structure makes each student share something to the team. You can give each team member a time limit as well for their response.

Another difference is Kagan's focus on relationships. Much of our training time was spent getting to know the people in our groups of 4 (teams as Kagan calls them). This focus on relationships is what I see being useful in my work in professional development. There are many new faces in the building, so early I want to spend time having everyone getting to know each other. Building trusting relationships is going to be KEY!

I know this was a short snip-it of what I learned, I hope you can hear my passion for my learning. I've already planned how I'm going to use some of the structures in PD and want to see staff using the structures in their classroom. Half of the battle of learning is getting students engaged. I see Kagan as a great way to increase student engagement in the classroom.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts on cleaning

I've recently done some purging. I'm moving into my new office. This has given me the opportunity to sort through my "stuff" to decide what's important and what I need. There are things that look good, but do I need them to fulfill my duties at school? No...

I just did the same thing with the tweeps I'm following on twitter. I went through my list and made decisions.

"Does this person tweet useful information?"

"Do I learn from this person?"

These were the two main questions I looked at. I also looked at the last time they tweeted. There were some who haven't been active in months. Unfollow....

Now, why did I do this? It looks good if there are big numbers by my twitter id... but I've decided to follow those I find value in.

I also want to clean up my feed. I want the good stuff. I found myself moving very quickly through tweets... I probably missed some really good stuff..

I also noticed that I got a bunch of new followers in the last week. I engaged in some conversations regarding #iste10 . I imagine that some people started following lots of people who were there, or involved in those conversations. I welcome those followers, but hope they follow me because I provide them with something.

Just some thoughts on cleaning.. Is it a good time for you to clean?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A change

Well, if you follow my twitter feed, you have learned that I will be changing roles and school districts next school year. I have accepted a position as Middle School Principal at South Tama County Schools in Toledo, Iowa. I am really excited about this new adventure! I'm also nervous. I've not been a principal before.... I've been in control of my classroom... not a whole building of 6-8th graders, teachers, counselors, aides, a secretary, nurse etc....

 Now that may sound like I'm afraid, I'm not afraid.. The administrative team, school board, teachers, and parents who were part of the hiring process saw leadership skills in me they value and want in their school leader. Talk about a humbling thought. These people trust me to move their school forward. To take it to the next level. That's my goal, to take the school to the next level! I've spent the time since I've been hired preparing a plan. I know my summer will be spend learning the ropes of the building, meeting staff, students, and parents, and building relationships! So, if you don't hear much from the blog this summer, know I've not lost my educational passion, it's moved to a new task!

I won't give up my passion for assessment. I'm still teaching a class on formative assessment and standards grading with my brother Matt Townsley this summer. I also hope to introduce the idea to my teachers. Many of them have already visited the blog, so I hope the conversation can be started and we can use formative assessment to guide our instruction and help students have a deeper understanding of their learning. I'll keep posting ideas and experiences about assessment and learning here in the future. I may even throw in a good admin story as well!!! 

Thanks for the visits, and stay tuned in the future!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts on Summative Assessments... Comments please!!!

Well, as the school year winds down, I have been reflecting on the practice of Standards Based Grading. My current practice is use formative assessments throughout our class time, then give a "summative" assessment at the end of each unit. I then allow students who want to re-learn a standard do some practice/re-teaching and then redo any of the learning targets they want to. I've liked this method, it's more work for me, but I can see the students continue to learn.

My question is... how does this prepare them for the challenges of mid-terms and final exams in college? Is it my job to model the methods of assessment that many colleges utilize??

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Off the beaten path.... #edchat

This post has been a long time coming.... I've participated in various #edchat's on twitter. If you haven't yet, I'd really encourage you to. If you want to to spend an hour watching your computer screen explode with passion for education, then join on in!

Anyway, the real reason for my post is a reflection on #edchat in general. I love conversations about education. My extended family is filled with educators.. My brother Matt, sister Becky, and her husband Russ are all in education, along with myself and my wife. Our family get togethers are filled with talk of education. There are times where we put a moratorium on ed. talk during certain holidays.

Anyway, back to #edchat convo...Sometimes I'm torn during #edchat. Torn in a sense of lack of control, lack of a belief for a real change. Many of the conversations are what I call "out there" The conversation moves to a realm of almost unreachable desires of what education looks like. Many will say that we need people with vision in our world. I totally agree, but what's really going to change and when will it happen? I believe that education needs to change in the United States. Many will say that local control is still important... Really? The students we have are going to compete in a global market, not just for a job at the local mill.. We have to prepare our students to compete with students from India, China, France, wherever....The SYSTEM needs tweaking, but how much? The conversations I've had in #edchat are great and my thinking is always challenged (Which is why I participate!) Who's going to take charge and rock the ship?

My struggle is when is this change going to happen? All this talk about how education needs reformed, how standardized testing is hurting education keeps happening, but nothing has changed. #edchat has given me hope! Hope that there are over 1000 people in Tuesday's 12pm chat who want to create a change... I just hope it happens soon!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A change is a comming!

Well, it is with a saddened, but excited heart that I share some news. I have just been offered and accepted a position at South Tama Middle School as building principal. This is an exciting change for me.

Well, what does this mean for the blog? Well I'll still be posting about assessment, but with a different twist from a leadership view. I'll also being throwing some "off the beaten paths" along the way about what I see in leadership and education.

I'm excited for the change and can't wait to learn from my PLN along the way!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another small victory????

Yesterday, we spent our class time talking about graphing rational functions. This is a fairly advanced topic in Algebra 2, so I planned to spend some time on it. As usual, I had students fill out their self assessment paper before they left class. After school, I browsed them to see how the students thought they did. As I suspected, they weren't very confident in the learning, so I wanted to do another check at the beginning of class.

After our usual fraction warm-up, I put a graphing rational equation problem on the board. I gave them roughly 10 minutes to complete. The students worked diligently for most of the time, but I could sense their struggle (which I suspected and wanted to validate). I collected the papers to give the students feedback. On one girls paper, I saw some work plus this comment, "I'm sorry I don't get this".....

This tore me. I was pleased that the student didn't want to let me down, wanted to do well. However, I wondered what message I have been sending. I always want my room to be a safe environment. Students should feel safe asking questions etc. I really hope that I didn't create a fear of failure with my students..

My response to her comment hopefully made my point. "We're learning, it's okay not to get it yet!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest appearance: With Students in Mind

I had the great opportunity to have a guest appearance on the Podcast: With Students in Mind co-hosted by Russ Goerend and Matt Townsley.  I had a great time and wanted to create a link to the podcast from the blog!

With Students in mind episode #4

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reflections on the 1:1 conference, where's math fit in?

First I want to take a second to thank the CASTLE group for putting on a great day! Scott Mcleod, Jamie Fasth, Nick Sauers, and John Nash; I much appreciate the efforts you put into the day.

It was a great day for two reasons.

1: I thoroughly  enjoyed connecting with so many people who I've "known" via twitter: Deron Durflinger, Mike Sansone, John Carver, Jeff Dicks, Evan Abbey, Brad Fox and many others.

2: The conversations and presentations really got me thinking. (This was almost as important as number 1.) There were two conversations in particular that I'd like to focus on.

The first conversation happened during one of the "un-conference" sessions that went on in one of the rooms. The leaders decided to leave a room open for discussions and spur of the moment topics. Russ Goerend and Matt Townsley led a session that got some great conversations going about we're 1:1, now what. What more can I do as a teacher, how do my students learn better with the computer in their hand? There were a couple of teachers who taught in 1:1 schools who struggled being forced into using the Macbook with their students. They didn't see the power it could bring to their classroom. To me, this showed a failure in two areas.

1: The school leadership at this school didn't go a good enough job of showing, helping and leading this teacher forward in their thinking.

2: The teacher had wall of sorts built, i.e. didn't want the technology or was afraid the students would know more about the machine then they would.

This saddened me as there were many teachers walking around who would jump at the chance to implement the changes these computers could have in their students learning!

Conversation number two that really sparked my interest was with Kim Carey and Deron Durflinger, both from Van Meter Schools. Deron had been wanting for Kim and I to connect and really work with some math stuff in their 1:1 setting. As we met, our conversation went to the difficulties she was having really utilizing the computer in the math curriculum. I've been struggling with this for quite some time. Now, I don't teach in a 1:1 school, but I've been reflecting on what that would look. I know about the Geometry tools that are available, but I want something more. How does a Pre-Algebra classroom really use a computer in all their activities?

If you have some great ideas, please share away!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reflections on the grading conversation

First, I want to thank all the visitors and contributors in the grading conversation. I was overwhelmed with the responses. Obviously, I hit a chord with many of you. I want to spend a few minutes adding my few cents.

I see grading as a necessity in our current education system. Now, before I start an uproar from shaggyhill or others, I want to reiterate in our current system of total education. For our students to get into college and qualify for a majority of financial aid students need a good GPA.

Secondly, I do see a major distortion in what grades mean from school to school, or even classroom to classroom within a school. I'm utilizing standards based grading in my classroom, while other teachers in my school and even in my department grade on points or other methods. Our current education system allows teachers to have significant control of how they assess and grade students in their classroom. As a teacher, I enjoy that freedom and would struggle working in a district that would really restrict my choices in that sense.

Do I dislike other methods of grading? No, I can see the perspective of grading student work for points, using accountability as an emphasis in the classroom and grading. My personal perspective has changed over the last couple of years. I believe that grades (if we must have them) should reflect what a student knows. When I report to parents, I want an easy way to show them what their child knows and doesn't. Standards-based grading does that for me. It may not be the choice of many others, but I see the purpose and believe it works best for my teaching style and how my classroom operates.

I'll be interested to see how education changes over the next few years. I sense a change a coming, but I'm not sure when it will happen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What are we grading? (A hopeful conversation)

This post has been a long time coming. I've spent time in the teachers' lounge and on twitter having conversations about grading. Here's my struggle with grading... 

What does a grade mean?

Is a grade the way of ranking of what students know?

Should completeness of homework be a portion of a grade?

Should a student who learns "faster" than another student get a better grade than one who may learn "slower"?

I look forward to your responses and the conversation we can create!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off the beaten path: Leading PD

Well, it's been a while since I've had the time to post. Basketball, a new child, and teaching have really gotten in my way... :).  Now that things are settled down, I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to lead a Professional Development session at my school about Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN).

One of my main goals for this PD session was not to use PowerPoint. I've been to too many PD's where we get a copy of a PowerPoint that's read to us by the leader. I wanted this session to be interactive and get the participants involved. My plan was to show the staff different tools I use in collaborating with people throughout the world. Each staff member had a laptop or netbook in our Media Center which made it nice to work in groups if someone had an issue. We got started and it went pretty well.

In cooperation with my administration team, I created a Ning for our staff to join and use as an online collaborative place. We're not ready yet to throw the site out to the masses, but we're getting started sharing and collaborating. I first showed the staff the Ning and we had everyone join the site and gave them time to play around and see the tools Ning has available to collaborate.

Then, our tech director showed a couple of tools, TipCam and quizlet . We then sent staff members back to their rooms to break and try any of the tools on their computers in their room.

As they came back, I had Milli Vanilli's Blame it on the rain. The purpose of showing this video was to remind them of the one hit wonder. The tools we were showing weren't going to be useful or helpful if we learned about them and then put them away. People need to participate for learning to happen.

After the music, I showed Google Reader. I also gave them Scott McLeod's sources on Reader. I gave them some time to play and also gave them some sites to add to their feed.

I saved the best for last. There was a reason for this too. I saved Twitter for the last part of the day. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1- Twitter won't allow numerous new accounts from one IP address. I wanted this to be fresh in their minds as they went home, hoping they'd create an account. 2- What I thought to be the most powerful tool I wanted to save for last.

You'll as why do I think Twitter is the most powerful, well...  Twitter allows educators to connect with so many educators and other resources from around the world. To demonstrate this to the staff, I asked my PLN to do a shout out with the #bcschool tag. We got numerous responses and many of the staff commented on how people from all over the US, Canada, and from across the pond in the UK would  say hello to our school.

Overall, it was a great day. I received many comments how staff liked being given time to work with the technology. We've had a great turn out and conversation on the Ning, and also have a few staff joining Twitter. We're taking baby steps, but our conversations are gaining depth and also increasing in frequency.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Journaling in math????

Yes, as weird as it sounds, we've been doing some journal writing in math class. This may seem strange, but....  Why do teachers in other disciplines journal? For reflective thinking! Should we reflectively think in math class?  I think so. Students need time to process the content we're covering, a place to ask questions that they may not be willing to ask in a group setting.

My brother-in-law Russ Goerend has a great post about a standards based journaling approach.  (Good journaling article, and a plug for family!) Now, I've chosen to not grade the journals. I've written before about my grading practices here. I started with paper journals. Students many times forgot to bring theirs or such, so it was a paper mess for me to follow up with them etc.

But...., I made a transition. I created an edmodo group for my students. This has allowed me to give the students a reflective question and they can answer. What I like about it is the ability of other students to respond as well. This does take some of the protectiveness out of the conversation, but they can also just send me a direct message and it's not viewable within the whole group.

I also really like it for the ease of feedback, I can just click reply and send the student some feedback on their writing. This has allowed us to reduce the paper usage in our classroom as well as stimulate collaboration 24-7 .

I know there are other sites like edmodo, please share them so I can compile a list to share!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Off the beaten path.... Proper use of Social Media

I've had this question stewing in my mind for the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would write about it.  Now, I know this isn't about formative assessment or standards based grading like my blog is supposed to be about, but hey... this is my space, so I can write what I want!  :)

Anyhow, back to my thoughts on the proper use of social media in education. Much has been written about using twitter as a collaborative tool: here and here thanks @plugusin.  I can't agree more! Twitter is a great place to share, collaborate, and learn about numerous things. There are so many resources, ideas, and challenging questions shared daily. For me personally, I have learned so much about teaching, learning, and leading from the various people I follow and collaborate with.

My dilemma, if you call it a dilemma, is the different ways people treat twitter. For some, twitter is a strictly professional tool. Their tweets are all about education. Others see twitter as a very social tool.  A place to kid, jab, and have a good time with each other. Many more, fall somewhere in the middle, they like the professional learning, but also develop relationships with people from across the globe that they would have no other connection with.

Now, you may be wondering what the dilemma is... well, let's say that I'm demonstrating the powerful resources of twitter to a room full of teachers at my school (On a side note, I'll be doing this on Friday February 12th if you'd like to shout out! @EricTownsley). This may seem like an easy task, but imagine the embarrassment when across the screen of my Tweetdeck feed a tweet with foul language appears. This wouldn't be good, but I can't control what others are saying. My admin goes into a tizzy and shuts down my presentation and the possibility of numerous teachers joining the conversation is ruined (hypothetical situation here, hasn't happened yet).

The tweeter (is this the right term here?) that sent the foul language tweet has no idea that I may be showing this tool to the staff at my school. I follow this person because at times, they share some great resources and we have some great conversations. However, at times, they share things I don't want to know or care to hear about.

How can I distinguish, how can I filter? Now, this hasn't happened to me. I haven't been embarrassed in this way, but I could, and so could you. But I can't control what others are saying, so do I stop following and learning from someone just because of the risk they may say something I don't want to read?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

After the first unit

Well, we've just finished our first unit of the new semester.

We've taken the unit assessment and I'm going to give them their feedback and Learning Target scores! Unlike this picture, the assessments aren't all multiple choice.  I did have some multiple choice problems on this particular test.  I did this because we're taking the Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED) this week so I thought it would be good to talk about taking standardized tests. Some things I've learned during this time...

1. Taking time to provide feedback and define scores on Learning Targets is more time consuming than grading tests my old way. 

2. I don't have to grade each assignment, so I save time during the course of the unit.

3. Instead of just identifying right or wrong answers, students seem to respond better to "feedback".  I provide them with a response to their answers, what they did wrong or some positive feedback if they did it correctly. 

Is everything going as planned with the new grading system?  I can't say that it is, I've got some students who aren't turning in the practice, but what does that mean? Are they not finding the meaning in learning or are they taking the easy road? I plan to have conversations with them, encourage them to really get involved in their learning.  It's a process, not an event.  I must keep remembering that!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The journey begins

Well, the journey has begun. Monday started a new term for my students. I've implemented a new grading system with this group, a standards based approach. Without going into too much detail, I've gone through the standards to create learning targets. I'm grading students on those learning targets.  Each learning target is worth 4 points.

It is important to understand that in the standards approach I'm choosing, daily homework (I call it practice problems) are not graded. I have chosen to put the practice problems into the grade book, but not score them. I only put a check mark in that position to show parents, students, and myself that the student completed the assignment.  I'm giving all of the answers for the practice problems. I've got an extra table in my room that I will put all the answer keys on so students can see if they're doing the problems correctly.

One really awesome part of this whole process I'm embarking on is that I've got a colleague who is doing this with me.  A math teach who teaches Pre-Calculus and Calculus has chosen to come on board with me in implementing the change in grading system.  She is doing things a little differently, but it's great to be able to share both joys and concerns that we have together!

So, enough with background information. I wanted to take some time to talk about the great discussions I had with students about the new system. As I went through the syllabus, the students spent much time just absorbing what I was saying.  I'm teaching 3 sections of Algebra 2.  My first two sections we're pretty "okay" with what they heard. They didn't ask many questions and were just going with the flow.  My 3rd and last class of the day really questioned the grading process. It was new to them and they wanted to make sure what was going on. After we clarified and answered questions, they seemed pretty excited. I did have a couple of students who voiced that they didn't do well on tests, so they felt they weren't going to do well. I reminded them that they will have the ability retake any of the learning targets if they show that they have made attempts to re-learn the material. This eased their mind and they said they looked forward to seeing what they know.

As many of you know, standards grading puts a major emphasis on formative assessment. I explained to all my classes that we'd be having many formal assessments that wouldn't be graded, but they'd receive feedback as to how they were doing.

The next couple of posts will be discussing many of the different types of assessments that we're utilizing in my classroom. I look forward to the conversations that we will have about different practices you use as well!