Learning From Setbacks: Next Steps

My last post discussed how some of my standards based assessment plans went awry. The next post or two will document the adjustments I’m making in the new semester in order to improve the process. I’ll begin with communication.

The SBA grade book I created worked well for me, but it was difficult to share with students who only were able to see a PowerSchool summary of my much more detailed assessments. This semester I’m using the =importrange function to open up my grade book for each student. It requires some initial setup, and there is probably an easier, more elegant solution, but this is how I’m getting the job done on the fly.

The =importrange function allows me to take information from one spreadsheet and display it in another spreadsheet. In this case, I created a spreadsheet for each student in class and imported only their grade information to their personal sheet. Then I shared the sheet with them on Google Drive. The best part is that whenever I make changes to my grade book, the =importrange function updates the student sheets, so after my initial investment in time, the grade information flows to the students without any extra work on my part. Here is a quick look at part of a student spreadsheet. (And, here is the link. Feel free to make a copy.)

Importrange Capture

I could explain how to use =importrange, but anyone really interested in the details should check out Alice Keeler‘s posts (like this one). I don’t have anything to add to her already helpful explanations.

Some tips:

  • importrange moves information in cells but not formatting
  • Create one student sheet as a template and include any colour formatting you would like, then duplicate the template for each additional student using FILE–>make a copy…
  • My grade book is one spreadsheet with a tab for each student. Once I set up my first student sheet each duplicate sheet only required me to change the tab name in the formula to import the student specific data (No need to rewrite the entire formula). For example, in the photo above, if I change the tab name, “Student Sample” in the formula to the name of the next student tab, “Jane Smith” suddenly Jane’s grade information is connected to her spread sheet.

Once the setup is complete, I’ll assess as I did last semester, but the communication (and hopefully conversation) around assessment will drastically increase. It isn’t a perfect system, but it is an important next step.

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The F-Word

I’m talking about failure. Failure has become quite the educational buzzword these days. Articles, research journals, and blogposts all tout the need for failure as part of the learning process. I’d argue that most people mean “mistake” instead of “failure,” but that is an argument for another day. I’d just like to say that failure–necessary or not–is no fun.

One of my PD goals this year is to implement an improved standards-based assessment system into my Grade 12 English class. While I still believe in the idea, I have failed in a few ways during the process so far.

Communication has been a failure. It took me an embarrassingly long time to communicate the idea to students. My reporting of their progress was weak. I developed a pretty helpful grade book to keep track of student learning, but I was unable to adequately share that grade book with students and parents.

The structure let down a significant chunk of students in the class. About a third of the students in the class embraced the idea of building their own reading/writing portfolio and followed through with managing and completing the task. However, while the middle third eventually caught on, the bottom third floundered and produced very little. Upon reflection I think the top third already had the required academic and life skills necessary to manage and complete a long-term project, and I failed to scaffold instruction for the rest of the class, many of whom need smaller stages that would allow them to recognize the necessary skills and sometimes fail to execute them without jeopardizing the entire big picture.

I failed in execution. The heart and soul of this idea is that the teacher can spend 30 to 45 minutes per class in one-on-one conversation/instruction with students, giving immediate feedback and allowing students to articulate their learning. I accomplished this less than half as much as I would have liked as I tried to wrestle with the two failures mentioned above. It took me so long to communicate the big picture at the beginning of the course, that I didn’t firmly set up the necessary culture of conversation and conferencing.

I share all this because too often teachers feel isolated in their individual classrooms and that they are the only one struggling to improve. Certainly this post focuses on the negative, and in the middle of the semester I felt the weight of my shortcomings, but with the support of some amazing colleagues, I am past the negative. I can recognize some of the successes, and I have started to develop solutions that will prevent the same type of failure from happening again (or least they will happen to a lesser degree). I strongly believe this is professional learning (PD if you will). I’ll blog about my developing solutions as they…well, develop.

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Padlet: A Quick and Easy Collaboration Tool

Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) is hardly a new tool, but it is easy to use and very versatile, so it is definitely worth checking out or revisiting. Basically it is a blank wall online, and people add sticky note posts to the wall which will expand as needed. Posts can include text, links, video, and pictures, so there is potential for a rich variety of information and interaction. With a free account at Padlet.com you can create walls with a variety of customization options, including privacy settings that range from completely public to email invitations to collaborators of your choice.

A Padlet wall can be used in the classroom in many ways. Recently a colleague and I combined our different grade level writing classes in order to begin some group writing projects. We are hoping to teach/learn about various government agencies and use writing to inspire positive change through those agencies. We want student choice driving the projects, so we had students brainstorm individually and then post their interests to a padlet wall so that they might benefit from other’s brainstorming and find partners with similar interests with whom they might collaborate. Teachers and students could see all the posts and even rearrange them into groups and categories. It sure is handier than writing all the ideas on a whiteboard only to erase them at the end of the period.

Once again, imagination is the limit to how you could use this tool. A student could use it to curate their knowledge of a topic and submit it like an interactive poster. Students working in a group could organize their research and writing on a wall. Here’s a wall I set up last year as a welcome back to school activity that also measured my students’ comfort with using their iPads in a 1:1 environment.

Padlet1

Padlet offers handy embed codes, but they don’t play nice with my free WordPress account.

Padlet has great features such as embed codes for your class website, social media sharing, QR codes, privacy settings, moderating, and all kinds of customization to fit your classroom application, and it is a web-based tool that works with laptops, tablets, and phones. Show this tool to your students and see what they can do with it.

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Tracking 50 Passion Projects at Once

As my second full year of Genius Hour passion projects begins, I’m trying something new in order to better track each student’s progress. Last year I learned plenty from my students, including that I need a leaner, more agile tracking system in order to assess, encourage, and praise progress. Google Forms to the rescue!

Instead of clipboards and growing piles of paper charts, I created a simple Google Form that looks like this:PassionForm

The form is short and takes students only a minute or two to complete at the beginning of their Passion Project time (I schedule this period once a week on a Monday or Friday). The form can be distributed to students in several ways: email, url (I’d use a url shortener for this), or a QRcode (I use Qrafter Pro, but there are free apps). Most students simply bookmark the form the first time they use it, but some love scanning the QRcode every time because it makes them feel like they are attending class on the Starship Enterprise. If not all the students in the room have a device or access to a computer, they can complete the form on a friends device or take turns on a classroom computer. I’ve even circulated the room with my iPad so that students could complete the form.

If you don’t know how to make or use a Google Form, it is very simple, and @alicekeeler has a very good Intro to Google Forms that will walk you through the process.

Once students complete the form, the real power of Google Forms is at your fingertips. All the answers are sent to a spreadsheet like this:PassionResponses 

Obviously this one is blank at the moment, but once it is full of data, the spreadsheet is a versatile and handy assessment. If you click on the heading of column A (timestamp) and organize the information in alphabetical order from Z-A, you have a list of what everyone is doing (or supposed to be doing) today (alphabetizing the timestamp Z-A puts the most recent answers at the top and the oldest answers at the bottom). I use this information to connect with each student during passion project time and to help some students manage their time. It is a great way to help students to learn over time how to set reasonable goals and manage time independently.

After several classes have passed, I click on the heading of column B (Name) and organize alphabetically by name. This enables me to look at one student’s progress over time. Are they making progress? Are they accomplishing their weekly goals? Do they seem to recognize their progress (or lack of)? This helps me to identify stragglers and strugglers much earlier than I have previously, and all the information is on one spreadsheet in Google Drive instead of a pile of paper charts in my desk.

If you’re tired of treading water in a sea of paperwork, Google Forms may be the tool for you. It is very versatile and can be used in many situations. Some teachers use it to get to know their students, others to organize events or collect information from parents. Start with a simple form, and I think you’ll quickly see the power and potential of Google Forms.

 

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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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