Choking or Panicking?

I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell‘s writing. Last night I read his article The Art of Failure where he distinguishes between panicking and choking. In short, people who panic stop thinking; people who choke over-think and lose the use of internalized skills. Both can result in failure, but choking happens to people with developed skills. Gladwell uses the example of a professional tennis player who honed her skills through years of practice in order to internalize the complex skills of touch and ball control. However, in a pressure situation, over-thinking (choking) shuts down the hard-earned instincts of ball control and causes a regression to the more novice practice of consciously thinking about shots. The tennis player loses her touch. Choking happens to skilled people and is largely triggered by the context or audience of the performance.

Near the end of the essay Gladwell reminds readers that a professional tennis player can’t change the context of his/her performance, but in many other areas of life, context and audience can be adapted to facilitate better performance.

“Choking is a central part of the drama of athletic competition, because the spectators have to be there–and the ability to overcome the pressure of the spectators is part of what it means to be a champion. But the same ruthless inflexibility need not govern the rest of our lives. We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one.” –Malcolm Gladwell

The quote begs the question, “What is the complexion of the audience in my classroom?” The article was an excellent reminder to be vigilant about creating environments that allow students to showcase their talent and knowledge effectively. When my instinct tells me that a student choked, I need to reflect on the context and help him/her find another way to make their learning visible. How do you help create contexts of success for your students?

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Why Standards-Based Assessment?

Why SBA? Here’s a quick list of my thinking:

  • It focuses everyone (me, students, parents) on learning instead of a seemingly endless string of assignments tackled one at a time and then forgotten.
  • Course requirements and learning goals will be much more transparent and more effectively communicated.
  • It will help me and students assess strengths and weaknesses in a meaningful way that will allow me/them to adjust instruction/learning during the course. Assessment will more clearly inform future instruction.
  • Student self-assessment becomes a realistic and useful option during the course.
  • Parents/students who still obsess over marks instead of learning (old habits are hard to break) will have to look for weaknesses in the student’s and demonstrate improved mastery. In other words, extra credit would need to show improvement of deficient skills/knowledge instead of being some additional busy-work assignment that tops up an insufficiently full tank of marks.
  • Assignments can be resubmitted in a meaningful way instead of disappearing into the mist.
  • SBA can make adaptations and modifications much simpler and less time consuming. (Perhaps I’ll write another entry on this topic.)
  • Once a recording/reporting system is set up, marking becomes easier and more learning-centric. (Here’s another topic I should probably explain at greater length.)

That’s the list of the moment, and I’m sure that I’m forgetting some items and that I will discover more. What am I missing? Why and how do you keep the focus on learning in your education spaces?

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Ready for a Field Test

I’ve wished I knew how to use a spreadsheet for a couple years, but this summer I finally worked at it, in part because I was inspired by Alice Keeler, who is a spreadsheet wizard. If you’re looking for edtech know-how and inspiration, check out her blog, Teacher Tech, you won’t be disappointed.

The result of my early learning is a still developing but functioning grade book for Provincial standards. You can view it here, and if you would like to use it or keep a copy, click the “File” menu and select, “Make a Copy”. See the “Directions” tab at the bottom for a quick tour.

 The basic layout looks like this:

SBA Test 1 

Standards are listed on the left (y-axis) and Assignments are listed on top (x-axis). Of course not all assignments will assess all standards, but rather a handful of different standards. In other words, there will be many blanks on this spreadsheet. Right now I’m using a 1-5 numerical scale because it is formula friendly and I haven’t yet figured out how to use a symbol/letter scale that can also return some of the formula results. I have a lot of learning to do. 

The interesting data are hidden in columns A-D and look like this:

SBA test 2

As you can see by the headings in row 2, this sheet calculates a few valuable ways to look at each standard. Knowing how many times a standard was assessed (if at all) is important to guide your coverage, future instruction, and final assessment of a student’s abilities/knowledge.

I’m not sure if knowing a percentage is helpful or harmful–there is a lot of philosophy connected to assessment that I won’t unpack here. I included it for information and, honestly, because old habits die hard. I’ll be reflecting on it throughout the semester. 

I’d be happy if you made suggestions for improvements or customizations, and I’d be thrilled if you took it for a test ride in a class. You don’t have to know how to make the improvements happen, simply share ideas/functions that you would find useful, and I’ll see what I can do (more learning for me!).

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Recording and Reporting

Wrapping my head around SBA required figuring out the role of PowerSchool. As I mentioned in the previous post, PS’s standards features do not communicate as I would like them to. Here’s a bit of the process I went through to make PS work for me.

Rick Wormeli is a well-known educator who helped me think about reporting SBA. One of his videos is one of the most direct influences on my attempts to get practical about SBA.

Here is a rough chart based on what Mr. Wormeli described.

Student Name Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Totals
Prov. Outcome 1 C C C
Prov. Outcome 2 S U U
Prov. Outcome 3 S R R

 

This model requires one page per student with all the outcomes on the far left column (y-axis) and the assignments on the top row (x-axis). Only a small number of outcomes will be assessed per assignment, but over time a clearer picture of a student’s mastery of the course outcomes will emerge by following the X-axis for a particular outcome. This student has mastered outcome 1 but needs help with outcome 3. Totals should emphasize the most recent, relevant, and significant evidence. Focus on patterns. I’ve used the Provincial Report Card behaviour scale of Consistently, Usually, Sometimes, Rarely, but another number or symbol based scale could be used.

I may use such a chart for my own record-keeping. I don’t know how just yet, but perhaps a digital version (spreadsheet?) that I could share with individual students would be ideal. More to come on that.

Such a chart will not work on PowerSchool, so here’s my plan A for PS:

Categories GLO 1 —-> GLO 2—>
Assignments SLO 1.1 SLO 1.2 SLO 2.1 SLO 2.2 Totals
Student 1 5 5 4 3 %
Student 2 5 4 4 2 %
Student 3 R S U U %

 

General Learning Outcomes (GLOs) will be my categories and Specific Learning Outcomes (SLOs) will be my assignments. I’ll weigh the GLO categories according to their importance in the course. I’ll have all of this plugged in at the beginning of the semester and add or adjust scores for each SLO as it is assessed. As indicated by the sample chart, a number or letter scale could be used, but a percentage will be calculated as a total. I’ll keep a more detailed record with the first chart I shared.

It isn’t a perfect system, but it does take a significant step toward refocusing attention on outcomes and learning rather than marks. What do you think? How do you attend to outcomes/standards? How do you report them, particularly when your building or division uses a reporting system that doesn’t communicate what you would like it too?

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Getting Rough

In order to actually use this blog effectively, I’m going to have to get rough. My previous posts have hardly been polished gems, but my thinking/writing needs to be even rougher in order to make my learning visible. I need to throw ideas at the digital wall and see what sticks–for me and perhaps for others.

Recently I’ve been investigating standards-based assessment a little more closely and learning how to use spreadsheets from scratch, keeping a log as I go. I’m going to post and/or write some of those entries here as an exercise in learning, reflection, and loosening up.


Introduction

…as an example, I will focus on one learning goal to start: using and reporting standards-based assessment (SBA) within the confines of PowerSchool (our school’s reporting system). While PowerSchool is quite capable of using SBA, including doing some impressive math, most of the information is below the surface, requiring students/parents/teachers to dig to find the standards that affect the grade. This is poor communication. I would like the focus to be on the skills and standards rather than the marks for individual assignments. Courses in Manitoba are already standard(outcome)-based, but people tend to focus on assignments and marks. In at least one class, I’d like to shift the focus back to the outcomes and learning instead of the marks on individual assignments.

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Support and Control

Insert cliché opening about how-time-flies-and-I-should-blog-more here.

(CC BY-SA 2.0) by quinn.anya

(CC BY-SA 2.0) by quinn.anya

Thank you to mbedchatblog challenge 2014 for encouraging me to maintain a blogging pulse.

The last several years I’ve tinkered with creating a more student-centred classroom, and the last few semesters I’ve really gone all in. In various  high school humanities classes I’ve worked with passion projects, workshop models, and Genius Hour. I’ve done some team teaching, solicited student input on working with outcomes, and included self-evaluation as an important element of assessment. Certainly I have made messy, sometimes wonderful, often nerve-wracking mistakes, but I’ve learned from them and managed to increase student voice and choice in the process.

And then, last week, while a student was pushing and pitching alternatives to an assignment that already had many options, I caught myself self thinking, “I’ve been working hard on this student-centred thing for a while now; I think I know what you need in order to learn.”

Whoa!

What did I just think?! I think I know what you need in order to learn. How did that get in there?

So, I did what many teachers before me have done–I stalled. I told the student that I’d think about it and get back to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I do believe teachers need to use their expertise in content and craft to maximize learning for everyone in class which requires planning, design, and execution, but if that planning, design, and execution does not embrace and encourage student voice and ownership, then it isn’t realizing its full potential. When I reflected on my hesitance to say, “Yes” to my student, Neil, it was clear that my reluctance was based less on his idea (it was rough, but feasible) and more on my desire for control, that sometimes monster/sometimes friend of teachers everywhere. For that moment I was more interested in a teacher-centred classroom than a student-centred one.

(CC BY 2.0) by .faramarz

(CC BY 2.0) by .faramarz

How can I be attentive to this kind of thinking and evaluate it with greater clarity? Here’s my plan:

  1. Think like a student
  2. Focus on outcomes
  3. Cut myself some slack

By “think like a student” I mean asking the question, “Why not?” If I’m to avoid inadvertently making decisions about student learning based on my own comfort or convenience, then I’m going to have to put the burden of proof on myself by asking, “Why not let, Neil do this?” If I can’t come up with a compelling, educational reason why Neil’s proposal for learning isn’t a good idea, then I should support it.

Outcomes should be the focus as students and teachers learn together. I know this is obvious, but it is so easy to shift focus to discussing an assignment or a mark instead of a demonstrable outcome. The more that student and teacher interactions involve curricular standards and outcomes, the better. Sharing that vocabulary and purpose allows for clearer communication, cooperation, and success. If Neil had made a case using course outcomes, or if outcomes had been more front and centre in my brain at the moment, my resistance to Neil’s proposal would have been easily brushed aside.

The last part of my plan, cutting myself some slack, is a dangerous one. Not enough slack and I’m on a stress leave with a seasonal affective disorder cherry on top by mid semester. Too much slack and I’m right back to where I started, obliviously making classroom decisions that over emphasize my  control rather than supporting student learning. The sweet spot between requires admitting that sometimes a bit of restriction or uniformity in class is okay. Sometimes students need to be challenged by teachers in ways they won’t challenge themselves. Sometimes I’ll have to admit to students that they have a good idea, but that I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of managing or assessing it with the time and tools available. Perhaps revealing that reality and my humanity will inspire them to help find new tools and new assessments. At very least it will be part of honest relationship and community in the classroom.

That’s my plan, squeezed off from the hip at the end of February. I’m sure to be missing something, so I’d love to hear from other teachers about how they handle sharing the control and ownership of learning with students. Surely the collaboration and support of colleagues is part of the answer, but that’s a topic for another day. Stay warm.

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Warm in Manitoba

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(CC BY-NC 2.0) haglundc

Here in Winnipeg we’ve had days and days of -30 degree temperatures, but this week I found a hot spot in Manitoba–#mbedchat. I’m still fairly low on the social media learning curve, and this was my first Twitter chat, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Doing something new always comes with a degree of nerves or uncertainty. As a teacher I’m learning to embrace those feelings because 1. they are simply part of learning (and I want to be a life-long learner) 2. I expect students to handle these feelings on a daily basis, and I’d like to credibly empathize with and support them in their learning. It was time to take the next step on Twitter and in my personal/professional development and join a Twitter Chat.

Even though I know the group wasn’t huge, the pace of the tweets was quick for me at first. I was working with HootSuite for the first time and trying to follow etiquette as well as I could. After the first 10 or 15 minutes, I settled down, stopped obsessing about perfect tweets, and started enjoying the electricity that always seems to generate when passionate teachers get together. During a lengthy cold spell, it isn’t unusual to hear complaints about Manitoba, but 60 minutes with a dozen Manitoba educators melted any negativity and rekindled my Manitoba pride. These dedicated, generous folks left me with tabs full of great resources, confidence that my children are in excellent hands, and renewed energy for the next teaching day that comes from knowing that you belong to something important and so much bigger than yourself. That is quite a pay off for the small price of overcoming a few nerves and trying something new. Thank you #mbedchat.

So, if you haven’t yet tried a twitter chat, I’d encourage you to give it a go. Jerry Blumengarten (aka Cybraryman) has a great resource page to help you get started. The page includes a link to an extensive list of chats, so you’re sure to find a chat that fits you. I don’t want to oversell, but after weeks of frigid temps, the deepfreeze finally broke–right after #mbedchat. Coincidence? Try your first Twitter chat and then you be the judge.

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January 12, 2014 · 9:46 pm