Category Archives: Learning Log

The F-Word

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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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Why Standards-Based Assessment?

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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

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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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