Tag Archives: Standards

The Problem With “Measure”

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One of the biggest blessings in my life is my marriage; I love my wife.

When I dislocated my knee (twice!) I experienced pain.

I can react with anger when personally confronted with injustice.

Joy warms my entire being when one of my daughters suddenly slips her hand into mine as we walk.

With some thought and effort I believe I could describe my love, pain, anger, and joy to you. Perhaps I could even express some degree of the intensity of those feelings, but I can’t measure them. My wife is pretty good at assessing my frustration, and my doctor does her best to assess my pain as she seeks to alleviate it and diagnose its cause, but neither of them are engaging in measurement.

Measurement requires a standard unit of measurement, a recognized standard that can be objectively applied in proper context. I can measure my bike ride to school in units of length (centimetres or kilometres). If I share that measurement with my colleague who also pedals to school, we can objectively compare that element of our commutes and determine who travels the greatest distance each day. What isn’t measurable or objectively comparable is the peace that the twenty minute ride brings to my day.

When it comes to measurement, learning fits into the same category as love, pain, anger, joy, and peace of mind. Learning can’t be objectively measured. There is no standard unit of measurement to apply to “Learning.” A skill can be demonstrated, progress can be noted, understanding can be communicated and shared, but technically this evidence of learning isn’t measurable.

As a teacher I have been moving away from traditional grading because I have recognized the limitations of grades in motivating, communicating, and promoting learning. Part of that journey has included using standards based learning and grading and prioritizing meaningful learning over the measurement of learning. However, I’ve been hanging out with the TG2 crew, and they have me reflecting on the power and importance of the language that we use in our conversations about education.

I wrote the post (linked above) about measurement and learning less than a year ago, but now I feel the word “measure” is fatally flawed when applied to learning. I moved to SBL/SBG to shift attention from grades to learning, and I think it is arguably an  improvement over traditional grades because it can help more clearly communicate learning. However, I hadn’t used SBG long before I realized words like “measure” and “accurate” were popping up in my conversations with colleagues and parents about standards-based learning. The problem with words like “measure” and “accurate” is that they aren’t about learning, they are about grades.

I am not working hard to reimagine my classroom and structures and practices to produce more accurate grades! I want to better nurture learning. The danger of using “measurement” language when we discuss learning is that we will mistakenly believe that we are talking about learning when we are actually perpetuating the very system we are seeking to reform. I have no desire to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or improve the aesthetics of our scoreboards.

So, what language should we use instead? Any thoughts? For now I’m using “communication” language to help me share learning with students and parents. Also, and forgive the cheesiness, what might happen if we replaced the word “measure” in our conversation with “treasure?” Imagine a world where learning wasn’t measured, but rather, like love and joy and peace, treasured.

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Attentiveness and Participation Assessed! Sort Of.

In an attempt to reframe effort in the classroom I’m trying to sift through the more traditional elements of effort (attentiveness, participation, compliance, focus, organization) and save the learning kernels after the chaff has drifted away. In my SBL and TTOG classroom I’m finding the learning outcomes that help students see the reason we tried to value effort by awarding points.

My less-than-effective way to encourage and grade classroom conversation: Track how often students participated in class activities. Award points to frequent talkers, hand-raisers, and question-askers. Remind infrequent participators that class participation is part of their grade.

My less-than-effective way to assess attentiveness: Observe the body language of 20+ students while I lecture. See who can answer the occasional pop question. Prod the inattentive or slumbering with a walk down the aisle and/or a reminder of the importance of attentiveness to their participation grade.

Even though it has been a long time since I practiced those methods, it’s pretty embarrassing to see them in print. What specifically did I think I was teaching those students? And while I stopped using such methods (which were far more about filling up a grade book than about learning) I didn’t find alternative ways to help teach the skills that I was ineffectively trying to value with my participation grade, skills such as speaking and listening.

Speaking and Listening are two of the language arts that appear in my curriculum, and they are a big part of what I was trying to encourage when I stressed the value of participation. They are valuable tools for learning and everyday skills that can improve quality of life in and out of school.

Here is my more effective way to teach and develop attentiveness and participation in class:

The beginning of the year includes mini lessons on speaking and listening. For example, I try to simplify speaking to the intentional use of face, body, and voice in order to enhance meaning. A good speaker will use a gesture to emphasize an important point or feeling; they will use a pause or change in volume to draw attention to a key idea. Other teachers use other methods (PVLEGS for example), but once the basic instruction for speaking and listening is in place, the classroom is ready for some practice.

Next I will ask the students to listen for moments of quality speaking in class. Perhaps, Jason shrugged emphatically when he replied, “I’m not entirely sure,” to a question. Maybe Sherise paused effectively when challenging Greg’s line of reasoning. I will also point out a few quality moments as a model.

Once a few examples have clarified the type of observations that I’m after, I will more formally assign a minimum number of positive observations to be made in a set time period; something like five observations in the month. I’ll have students post their observations using Google Keep notes. If you haven’t used Google Keep, it is basically a Sticky note app with variety of helpful functions like tags, sharing, and colour-coding. I will have students tag their observation notes with tags signifying standards/skills (eg. speaking, voice) and then share the note with me and the observed student speaker. When it is time for me to track or assess progress, I can search and filter my Keep notes by standard or by student.

There are many benefits to this assignment:

  • It creates artifacts of learning that can be tracked over time for both individuals and the entire class.
  • It creates teachable moments for speaking and listening.
  • It offers insight into further instruction based on which standards/skills are underrepresented or observed without adequate sophistication.
  • It values attentive listening and quality speaking in everyday classroom conversation.
  • It builds community and reflection through the encouraging, positive observations of peers.

That’s my rough draft idea, one way to reconcile “effort” and standards-based assessment. Already I can see the potential to teach responsible social media use by having the observations shared class-wide, but at this moment I haven’t imagined how to make the tech happen (a Padlet wall? A class social media account? Any ideas out there?). I’m excited to try it out in class, and I will report on field testing during the semester.

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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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