My Guest Post on Starr Sackstien’s Blog: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Here is part one of my guest post on Starr Sackstein blog post. It is a post about my journey ongoing gradeless. Part one deals more with my beginnings and initial thoughts and part 2 will deal with my classroom and student samples. Hope you enjoy!

 

Jonathan So shares his experiences of going ‘gradeless’ and offers some insights into his process. Read on to see how he reflected and adjusted his learning to better help students reflect and grow as learners.

Source: Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Can we truly have a student led lesson?

My students hard at work on a class project. Focus: Why do people Come to Canada?

I have heard these terms (student led and Student choice) being used and it has started to make me do some thinking. My biggest problem that I am having is if we as teachers are making detailed and thoughtful lessons, can we truly have student led lessons?

Now I know I may be questioning or going with the flow but, hear me out. I understand that as teachers we need to have the voice and ideas of the students at heart of our lessons. Teaching is no longer about the wise old sage on the stage giving all of their knowledge to their students. but should be more about facilitating the learning that is happening. If that is what you mean by student led then I am all for that. However, let me push some thinking more here.

In the last three years I have been highly influenced by Stein et al. article titled: Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five practices for helping teachers move beyond show and tell.  In this article they showcase five practises that all teachers should be doing.

11: Anticipation (P.322)

The first thing is for the teacher to look and see how students might mathematically solve these types of problems.  In addition, teachers should also solve them for themselves.  Anticipating students’ work involves not only what students may do, but what they may not do.  Teachers must be prepared for incorrect responses as well.

2: Monitoring students’ work (P. 326)
While the students are working, it is the responsibility of the teacher to pay close attention to the mathematical thinking that is happening in the classroom.  The goal of monitoring is to identify the mathematical potential of particular strategies and figure out what big ideas are happening in the classroom.  As the teacher is monitoring the students work, they are also selecting who is to present based on the observations that are unfolding in the classroom.

3: Selecting student work (P.327-328)
            Having monitored the students, it is now the role of the teacher to pick strategies that will benefit the class as a whole.  This process is not any different than what most teachers do; however, the emphasis is not on the sharing, but on what the mathematics is that is happening in the strategies that were chosen. 
4: Purposefully sequencing them in discussion (P. 329)
With  the students chosen, it is now up to the teacher to pick the sequence in which the students will present.  What big ideas are unfolding, and how can you sequence them for all to understand?  This sequencing can happen in a couple of ways: 1) most common strategy, 2) stage 1 of a big idea towards a more complex version or 3) contrasting ideas and strategies.

5: Helping students make mathematical sense (P.330-331)
As the students share their strategies, it is the role of the teacher to question and help  them draw connections between the mathematical processes and ideas that are reflected in those strategies.  Stein et. al. suggest that teachers can help students make judgments about the consequences of different approaches. They can also help students see how the strategies are the same even if they are represented differently.  Overall, it is the role of the teacher to bridge the gap between presentations so that students do not see them as separate strategies, but rather as working towards a common understanding or goal of the teacher.

If we follow these practise as teachers we are thinking about good contexts that will create huge discussion in our classrooms. We are anticipating results and answers so that we as teachers can ask the right questions at the right time. We are planning and sequencing work so that the end results end up close to the Big Ideas that we were hoping to accomplish and we as teachers are prodding, questioning and revoicing so that the Big ideas are brought to the students attention. Finally, we then create similar problems so that students have the opportunities to try these ideas out again.

Now I know that this article is a math article but these practises can be and should be for all subjects. So if we follow this line of thinking, who is really leading the lessons? Is it the students? or is it the teacher? If we as teachers are putting in this much thinking and planning do we truly have student led or based lessons? or is it because we have put all of this planning into our lessons that students feel that the lesson is student based and that is really all that matters?

Love to hear your thoughts.

No grades no problems

I had to laugh a little when I heard the news this morning on my way to work, “there may be no formal report card for public elementary students this year!”

“Oh, no! The world is coming to an end.”  I don’t mean to make fun of anyone who feels this way but at the same time it feels a little “sky is falling mentaility.”

For me the final report card is a labour – some task that many only see the letter grades and not the helpful comments that go with it. They are often a cause for smiles on kids faces as they beam with pride or hidden because the child doesn’t want to disappoint or face the eye of failure.

However, I want you to think about a couple of things:

1) should the final report be the first time you hear success or failure? 

       If not then how important is this report card? Why is it so honoured the without it the world is done?

2) are your elementary marks or any grades for that matter, tell how successful you will be in the future?

     Don’t get me wrong they are good indicators but are they everything?

     If no then again why are they so important?

Is it an accountability piece? If so then I can give you every mark and note I have ever done on any student at any time. Why because that is my job as a teacher.

For me assessment is about learning and  learning is not shown in a final letter grade but in growth and reflection. I can’t speak for every classroom in Ontario but in my classroom, all students have access to the class coconstructed rubrics, success criteria and their own reflections. We are always talking about their performance and they all know what their strengths, and weaknesses are. All assignments come with formative feedback based on our rubrics the have comments on how they did and what they can do better next time.  We have constant conferences with parents and students and all work is posted in their portfolios.

Kids have private class YouTube channel that they vlogg, blog and tape their thinking.  Assessment is truly an open door policy.

So in closing I ask you two more questions:

What is more important, a formal document with my EDU speak and grades or a child telling you how they are doing and what they can do next to improve?

                          Or   

What is more important a document that comes to you three times a year or ongoing formative refections and assessment that comes every assignment?

For me it’s the ladder of the two and why I find the discussion of no report cards quite hilarious we need to relax and ask our children or their teacher.

If you ever want to know how they are doing, just ask.

Love to hear your thoughts.

Revolutionist or Forward thinking: Thoughts on Assessment

Today I had a very interesting conversation on Twitter. Now I want to preface this with, this type of conversation has been happening for quite some time and it is a conversation that will continue. But today’s conversation made me think.

The conversation was on Assessment practise and it actually stemmed from a recent article in the globe and Mail.

I read this article earlier on in the day and have been stewing over this thought for quite some time. This led me to tweet this in response:
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P.S: I did mean to type Write instead of right.

Well this sparked an interesting conversation with John Walkup, based on his twitter profile a professor of Cognitive Rigor ( I apologize John if I messed that up). See the full conversation here on my storify: https://storify.com/MrSoclassroom/debate-on-assessment.

The conversation was quite amazing and sparked many thoughts about self assessment and assessment as a whole.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the debate?

Overall, the themes (in my opinion [not trying to be bias here]) was that John was questioning me using student self reflection as the final mark in the reporting system.

To me reports is a task that I have to do as a teacher. In fact I hate them. I think they serve no purpose (in their present state) except to inform parents about the progress that their child made during the term. What I find even more redundant is that many parents don’t even read the comments that teachers write because all they look at is the grades. Now let’s tie it back to the globe and mail article. They suggested that grades hinder learning. And with this I agree. 

Learning is a process. When all we are consumed about is a letter at the end of the class we are not worrying about what we are learning just the outcome. If we focus solely on the learning then so will students. This is why I suggested letting my students write their own reports. Now of course I wouldn’t be handing in that as the final assessment, as first of all I don’t think my principal or school board would let me but also their needs to a some sort of evaluation from the teacher but what is wrong with incorporating their thinking into the reports.  How meaningful would that be? How engaging would it be to see their thoughts and reflections incorporated with my comments? How many parents would spend more time reading the comments because its their child’s work?

These are all important questions we need to be asking.

Now as I have said before this is a topic that I have been thinking hard about for the past couple of years. I recently wrote a blog post about it called: Reflection on Assessment.  This year my daughter started school. It has been a very interesting ride.  It has made me really reflect as a teacher on how I am communicating to my students and to my parents. Assessment has been one of those key areas.

For me assessment is about the learning process. Children, like adults, learn at different rates and stages. Learning is not linear but it still is learning. When we impose certain milestones on children there is a sense of failure that goes with it for not meeting those standards. Yes failure is good but losing self esteem over it is not. At the same time it is fine to have standards as long as children know how they learn and that they will achieve those standards eventually. For this to happen, students need to be taught self reflection. It is a very hard thing for students and adults to learn. It starts with being honest with yourself and those around you. Yes as John pointed out their will be bias in a reflection but if we are honest with ourselves then the bias is limited. Students need to see that reflecting allows you to set goals, make plans to reach those goals and then finally obtain them.

In my classroom assessment is ongoing. We have daily conferences with students as they learn, every center and lesson has a reflecting piece that students do through Vlogs or ticket out the door activities. Students have created online portfolios that they share their work and treat it like a resume of learning. Also at the end of every term, we have a sharing session with our parents. Here parents are invited to see their child’s work and learn together with them. We play math games, do lessons and the students share their portfolios.  With the help of GAFE (google apps for education) rubrics and success criteria are shared with parents and students. Their assignments are marked with feedback and comments and the students reflect right on the assignment back to me. As I said it is about the learning.

Now the reason why this talk resonated with me so much is John’s final statement to me:
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So I guess my question is:

1) Is this revolutionary talk? or just forward thinking?
2) Am I out in left field to think that assessment practises and how we report our progress needs to change?
3) How do we make these changes so that they don’t seem so radical?
4) What are your assessment practise? 

As always would love to hear your thoughts.
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A Reflection on Assessment

In a couple of days I will be presenting at Bit14 with Aviva Dunsiger. Our presentation is bridging the divide: Opening our four walls. However, I digress from my blog title. The reason why I am writing this is because I was also asked to co-facilitate a discussion with Brian Aspinall on assessment in a changing 21st century learning. This is going to happen on Thursday at 10:00 in the learning commons.  It is a free forming discussion but I thought I would get the ball rolling with some of my own thoughts and more importantly questions.

First of all with our assessment document in Ontario (Growing Success) there is a big emphasis on assessment for learning, as learning and of learning; with a large focus on assessment as learning and for learning. This is a big shift for many of us teachers who before this did a lot of assessment of learning. Not to say that this isn’t important but that there has been a big shift in thinking about assessment.  This shift also aligns strangely enough with a wider acceptance on qualitative data versus quantitative data.  That observations and discussion are just as valid and important as the number that we can collect.  Which brings me to the reason for our learning commons discussion.

The discussion came about when Brian made a post about a brand new app call Photomath. Basically its an app that can do algebraic equations for you. The question that Brian raises is what are we assessing when an app can do the math for us? Should we be assessing basic skills like this?

My response to this was there needs to be a shift to not what is the answer but how do you know the answer is correct. It reminded me of the calculator debate when I was in school. I still remember this movie we had to watch in grade eight and the two children were adding up some money. One of the girls takes out a calculator and clearly gets the wrong answer but strongly argues that she is right. When asked why, she states because the calculator told me. It turns out that the calculator was running low on batteries and if you used basic common sense then you would have known the answer was wrong. The point wasn’t so much that she got it wrong but that there was faith in the answer because the technology told her so. The problem is that students then and now need to have a good conceptual understanding of the work before jumping into abstract thinking. They need to understand the process in learning.

The world has changed a lot since we were in school, heck even since I was in school (which to be fair was not that long ago). If you honestly look back and think about those school days, the information that we were given potentially would have lasted us our life time. To be fair the information our parents were taught did last them their lifetime. However, that is not so with the kids we are teaching. Technology has changed the way we use, process and understand the world around us. We live in a world were tomorrow has endless possibilities. The scary part is that I am preparing kids for a future with obsolete information and knowledge.  Which is why philosophies on assessment have drastically changed.

A couple of years ago I was giving a test to my students. I looked up and saw that my students went right to talking with their math partners, trying to solve the questions. I was about to stop them and state that this is a test I need to know what you know when I realized that I already knew what they knew. Because of teaching in a constructivist approach, I knew where they were struggling, what strategies they would answer, and how they would communicate. In fact I knew why certain students were talking and asking questions and I knew what next steps would be useful for them. This test wouldn’t tell me this, in fact it was wasting two hours of time that I could be conferencing with my students and helping them move forward.

View image on Twitter
Students collaboratively working on creating success criteria for an assignment

Now I said I knew a lot, why?  The reason is that in my teaching I am always conferencing with students, individually, and in groups. I have honest conversations with them and ask them questions to test their knowledge. Based on their responses and work samples I am able to see where fit on a continuum of learning. In fact I can confidently say that I understand my students more from this method then I do with a summative assessment like a test that I would have traditionally given. Not only that but my students move faster up that continuum because of our conferences and reflections that are done everyday versus just studying for one test to then forget about it the next day.

For me it is more important to teach my students to be curators or data, critical thinkers, problem solvers and have creative/adaptable thinking skills.  I say this because the information I am teaching them will soon be obsolete.  Now please don’t get me wrong and say that students don’t need to have basic skills or test taking abilities. Unfortunately in this school system and society they still need those test taking skills and yes students do need to learn basic skills (arithmetic, writing, reading, etc.) but the emphasis shouldn’t be on memorizing to retain for an hour but to go deeper with that thinking and be able to understand why we are using it not just knowing and forgetting.  

This brings me to my questions and ones that I hope everyone help can answer:

1) What assessment tools do you prefer and use in the classroom?

2) What skills are needed, as a teacher, to make assessment as and for learning effective for growing student achievement?

3) What do you think about the shift in assessment? Is it warranted? needed?

4) If we are moving to a more assessment as and for learning, how to we do this?

5) What is the biggest resistance to this change? How do we over come it?

I am really excited for this conversation as I think we are on the brink of exciting change in education. Would love to hear your comments and ideas about this topic, no matter what they are.