Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The First Days

Sorry I've been on radio silence for a little bit. Our school year started and I'm about a week in at this point. I just wanted to dash off a quick list of things I did. This is one of those posts that is for me so I can check back next August and remember what happened.

Here's my first day. To get a mental picture, all of my tables are in groups of 4 but pushed to the sides of the class. The chairs are in a circle in the middle. It stays like this until the teacher that teaches during my prep gets sick of it.

1. We start off with the Cohen writing assignment on stereotype threat. I'm doing housekeeping stuff during this time and walking the middle of the circle trying to memorize their names. (5 min)

2. I spend a few minutes introducing myself, but start off with defining "active listening." I show some pics of last year's students in group and whole class situations. What are some signs that someone is listening? This year we came up with Sitting up,  Looking at the Speaker and Being Able to Paraphrase (they said "repeat", I amended it) as signs you're listening. That's pretty standard.  The AVID kids are taught SLANT so usually they can also come up with Asking Questions and Nodding. I didn't get that this year so I'm thinking the 7th grade AVID teacher let that one go. (3 min)

3.  I give them a quick bio of me. This year I made a Keynote using a countdown as a gimmick. I let them know they'll be asked questions about it when it's done.
5 = number of years I've been at the school (I showed pics of my first group graduating from high school in June and gave a brief "You want to be there" pep talk)
4 = age of my oldest daughter
3 = my main hobbies (rock climbing, surfing, doing backyard science stuff—I showed a clip of a potato cannon I built and launched)
2 = room number of my wife who teaches kindergarten at one of the feeder elementary schools
1 = age of my youngest daughter
100 = I left this one undefined until the next day where Surprise! that number is the percent of students in this class (because even though that's never happened before this is the special class and we can do it together) that is going to cross the stage in June. (maybe 10 minutes)

4. The signs of an active listener are reviewed.  Because they listed paraphrasing as a sign of active listening, I let them know that I'm going to ask them to paraphrase what others said. I give them a sentence frame to help them out. I also ask them to name the student because I really want all my students to know each other by name. This is a BIG thing for me.

"_______ said ________. One more thing I remember about Mr. Buell is _______"

If they didn't hear what the person before them said, they're supposed to ask them to repeat. If they can't remember a name, ask the person directly. Then I just go through and cold call like crazy. I let them pass on adding something but not on the paraphrasing. If they pass I let them know I'll come back to them. I introduce the quiet signal and again, cold call/paraphrase1 to see if they've got it. (10 minutes)

5. Next we launch into a handcuff activity I also picked up from AVID. I let them know that everything they need to know to succeed in this class is in this puzzle. The gist is that each student has a rope that's tied into handcuffs. They link together in partners with the handcuffs on their wrists. They need to try to get out. I do this crazy contortion thing to demonstrate, which of course sets them off on the wrong path. (8 or so minutes)

6. I stop them using the quiet signal to practice. Then I ask for a really brave volunteer to show us something that didn't work. They demonstrate and I thank them for helping move us forward because now we know one thing that definitely doesn't work (this is a recurring theme). I let them go for a little while longer and then again take a volunteer. (10 minutes)

7. Last we get seated again in our circle. The first key to success they'll need: Their failures are valuable. We learned not to "insert whatever crazy move the kids demonstrated." Now tomorrow, when we try again, we know not to do that.

Days 2 and 3 look similar. I tell them a little more about myself. I showed a slideshow of last year's promotion ceremony. I introduce a routine. I reinforce the paraphrasing and knowing student's names. We go back into the ropes. On day 2 I emphasize persistence, because inevitably someone will solve it. I ask them how they figured it out and they always say something like, "I went home and worked on it for an hour with my sister."

On day 3 again, more about me. I did a 9 truths and a lie thing. They voted and a few justified (cold call/paraphrase). They made 4 truths and 1 lie then did a Mix Pair Share.2 Back to the ropes again. I emphasize that it's never over. They can come up to me at anytime and tell me they've solved it and I'll pull out the ropes and let the class have a go. For some reason, this always happens around November. I never tell them the answer. They say they want it. But I tell them it's like training all year for a big game. They show up to the game and they win by forfeit. Sure it counts as a win, but it's not the same. The joy isn't in knowing the answer, it's in figuring it out (or not figuring it out, which isn't as fun but can be just as valuable).

This week I've been emphasizing the growth mindset stuff. We watched the first 12 or so minutes of Common Miracles: The New Revolution in Learning which was the video shown in a Joshua Aronson study also regarding stereotype threat. We read and discuss the fake magazine article [pdf] from Dweck on how the brain grows when you learn new things. I've introduced the whiteboards. I've mainly used it for summaries to help them get used to discussion in the circle. I've got a BBC show on reading that also emphasizes how the brain changes but I'm not sure if I'm going to show a clip from that yet.

Last year we did a Don't Eat the Marshmallow bit but I think I'm skipping it this year. I don't spend enough time on strategies for delaying gratification for this to be helpful.

Oh and somewhere in there we created our Don't Break the Chain list. We haven't started creating the chain yet. I'm not officially supposed to do anything for a few more days while the rosters get settled. I'll blog it when I get the thing actually started but so far it's been a positive experience. The kids really got into it when I asked them to drill down further than "Be organized" or "Pay attention." I saw quite a few light bulbs go off. For me it was a real eye-opener to see how hard it was for kids to figure out what "Paying attention" or "Working together" looks like. 

At this point you're probably looking at what I did and you're saying to yourself that I'm planting the seeds for when I introduce standards-based grading. This is wrong.

This is wrong because I haven't aligned my philosophies with SBG, SBG fit my existing philosophy. That's why I'm such an advocate. I no longer have a huge disconnect between what I say (your mistakes are valuable, we) and what I do (I'm going to average in all of your previous failures even though you get it now).

If you've made it all the way down here, you should reward yourself for your persistence by submitting a post to the carnival. Good assessment posts of all kinds are welcomed.

1: The paraphrasing thing is new but I'm loving it. There's the obvious bonus of preventing a kid from zoning out when another student is talking but I think as a speaker it makes the students feel more valued when they know someone else is listening besides the teacher. Eventually I hope to transition paraphrasing into asking questions or elaborating. I have no idea how to do that.
2: Mix Pair Share - I play music. Students wander around the room. Music stops and they pair up with whomever they are closest. They then do the truths/lie thing. Music starts and the cycle repeats.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Accepting Submissions for Standards-Based Grading Gala 2

The first SBG gala was hosted by Matt and he has very graciously passed it on to me.
What: Submit your assesment-related posts. Obviously I'm biased for the SBG Borg but any good assessment posts will be considered. It can be a brand new post or an oldie but goodie.

Who: Anyone can submit, even if you were in it last time.

Why: Because my Google Reader is overstuffed as it is and it'd just make it easier if everyone emailed me their assessment-related posts directly. Oh, and it's the best collection of standards-based grading and assessment-related posts you'll find anywhere.

When: Submissions are due on Aug 31. Go to this link here.

How: Instructions on how to submit.

It'll go up on Labor Day (September 6 for my non-US friends).

Here's the link one more time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

SBG Implementation: Power User Tips

School starts in a couple weeks and right now I'm wrestling with interim (benchmark) assessments. I'll let you know how that works out later. Until then, I've noticed a bunch of bloggers have been hashing out their standards-based grading plans.

Here are some quick tips that really helped me in the setup phase.

Topics and scales:

Cut breadth, not depth. At some point you'll find you have a ton of standards to teach. You will then realize that you can't teach that many standards. It is really tempting to try to lower your expectations so you can cover all your standards. Don't. Cut the content. Never cut depth.

Take a whole bunch of those standards and put them into the "I'm just gonna mention these" pile. When I say mention, I don't actually mean, just-say-it-and-move-on. You can spend the whole day (or more than that if you want) in your preferred method of instruction.

Usually, that means I tell my kids that they're going to need these for the state tests, but it's not going to be important for my class. I'll spend a day here or there loading some vocab, boring them with a Powerpoint, or doing an isolated lab and then just move on.1 You could certainly skip it entirely, but I'd like to give them a sporting chance at guessing on a 4-option multiple choice test.

Anchor your scale with the hardest assessments/expectations on your students. It's not uncommon for your students to need to take a common department final, a state-mandated end of course test, and an AP or AP-like test. Choose the hardest one, analyze the depth, and use that as your anchor. I didn't buy into this one until very recently, but I believe it now. It's a real problem if I'm setting my criteria based on my district benchmark, which is asking kids to read a passage and summarize what happened. Meanwhile their state test is asking them to make inferences.

Ask to see other teacher's tests in other districts. One of the things that keeps me up at night is the depth issue. I really worry that I am setting my level of expectation at a 5, while schools in Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Los Altos (insert your local high SES cities here) are asking their students to perform at a 10. I emailed about 20 teachers in other districts for copies of finals, benchmarks, whatever. Six emailed back. Since then I've seen three or four more. Mainly I learned that most teachers just use the exams provided by textbooks, but it did help me adjust a few topics and I also saw some really cool problems.

Start with the 3: I'm putting this here because MizT mentioned she didn't really get this until she read this book. I know your scoring system might be different, but you've got to start with the goal. Whatever it is you want your kids to learn, start there. Then work backwards to build the learning progression, which turns into your scale. Take a full or a half step forward to extend your scale. If it looks like backwards planning, or UbD, it's because it is. If you're going to teach that way, you should assess that way too right?

Your scales and rubrics are actually kind of useless by themselves. Sorry. I know you worked really hard on them. Your standards are meaningless until you define them with assessments and exemplars. There's a good example of that here, but it's gated. No matter how detailed and well thought out your scales are, you and your kids aren't going to really get them until they see some exemplars or they know how they'll be assessed. So don't sweat it if you don't have the wording perfect and you're not really sure if "Classify" or "Group" is a better verb. Spend less time working on your scales and more time working on the assessments.

Tests are for self-assessment.... I give tests. But I give them mainly for students to self-assess themselves so they can figure out their strengths—so they can replicate them—and their weaknesses—so they can work on them.

....and for you.
I need to have some info to play with to figure out what to teach next.

Most of your assessment will be invisible. You'll spend a lot of time asking questions as they're doing something, listening in to convos, or just peaking over shoulders. The more you need to interrupt the process, the less valid the assessment becomes.2 Your grades will rarely be attached to a specific "thing" which is why inputting grades by time, rather than assignment, is so useful.

Use your scales to help you give feedback. Leaving feedback was and still is one of my big weaknesses. I'm ok with written stuff but I've always been awful with oral feedback. My kids either do a "Great job" or need to "Work harder." Bleh. Your scales help. Leave feedback that specifically references the skills in your scales. "Looks like you're at a 2 right now, to move forward you're going to want to practice calculating density and using the correct SI units." And yes, you're going to want to teach them to be able to do this themselves.

Grades for the Whole Game, feedback for everything else. That's what the last post was about. I'm just reminding you. But think about it when you feel you need to grade every single thing. If it's not the whole game (which it usually isn't) feedback only.

Good luck new members of the SBG Borg.

1: More on mentioning from Grant Wiggins. This came via Twitter but I've lost the source.
2: I made that up as I was typing. I have no evidence for that statement.
3: If you're on twitter, follow the #sbarbook tag and jump in. On Monday Aug 9, they're starting How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. Most helpful book I've read in a long time.