It’s All About Impact

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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I’ve had the honor of working with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to implement the FIT Teaching process with teachers around the country. We have focused on setting purpose for learning, creating a culture that thrives, intentionally planning and scaffolding lessons, and establishing a formative assessment system to provide feedback to students and “feed forward” instruction. The FIT Teaching process seeks to create a cohesive tool for teachers to reflect on areas of practice, celebrate success, and set goals. These elements of the FIT Teaching process focus on the classroom and what teachers do. A pitfall of all the focus is forgetting the ultimate goal of the work—the impact on student learning. Impact is imperative. How do we know that what we have intentionally planned and executed in the classroom mattered? How do we make new decisions based on that impact? These are critical questions to the work of all educators, and in the new ASCD publication “Intentional and Targeted Teaching: A Framework for Teacher Growth and Leadership” authors Fisher, Frey, and Stefani Hite add the critical element of impact.

It’s All About Short-Term and Long-Term Growth
Although daily checks for understanding are critical to informing instruction and knowing what student do and do not know, the idea of impact focuses on different short-term and long-term growth assessments. Examples of short terms assessments include benchmark assessments and criterion- or norm-referenced tests. These might measure weekly impact or focus on a unit of instruction. It is also important that these assessments are not simply viewed by one teacher alone. Teacher teams, PLCs, and departments need collaborative time to analyze the results of short-term growth assessments to look for patterns and trends and make informed decisions on next steps for instruction.

In addition to short-term growth assessments, we should also look at long-term growth assessments. These long-term growth assessments focus on transfer goals—goals that can transcend units, disciplines, and standards. How do we know we are working toward an ideal graduate that is future ready? We need to provide students opportunities to demonstrate rigorous and meaningful transfer goals through performance assessments to see impact on student learning.

It’s All about Growth and Leadership
What is so powerful about impact is the opportunity for us to grow as educators, both at the classroom and system levels. At the classroom level, it allows assessments to be useful rather than punitive. It allows teachers to not only create powerful assessments that measure impact on student learning but also reflect on daily teaching and learning and lead change in their classrooms. Analyzing student impact also allows for reflection and growth at the system level, where leaders can constantly ensure decisions focus on student learning. By focusing on impacting student learning, we can grow and lead our schools in cycles of continuous improvement.

Get these FIT Teaching resources from ASCD to strengthen the teaching practices in your school, and move your students’ learning from where it is now to where it should be.

6 Tips for Engaging Capstone Projects

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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It’s that time of the year, the race to the finish, only weeks until school ends for the summer (at least for many of us). With the pressures of testing behind us, we often have a bit more freedom to create curriculum and activities for students. We can try out new ideas, give students more choice in what they want to learn, and celebrate the learning that we’ve accomplished this year. One way that many educators like to do these things is through capstone projects, year-end culminations that often invite students to engage in choosing what they want to learn, as well as how they learn it. Capstone projects are a great tool for personalizing learning, and they’re effective for creating even more student engagement. Here are some tips to create excellent capstone projects.

Ensure “Main Course, Not Dessert”
This is always a good reminder. While capstone projects often draw on the entire year’s learning, it’s important to pose this question to students as well as reflecting upon it ourselves as educators: What new learning will occur in this capstone project? This is key to ensuring that a capstone project isn’t simply a fun activity (although that’s still a good intention), and it helps in creating a project that’s more challenging and truly focused on new learning and experiences. This new learning could be in a different context or topic from what the class has done so far, it might require a variety of skills that they haven’t previously combined, or it could be a synthesis of sorts. Reflect on how you can ensure that there will be new learning in your capstone projects.

Take It To Another Level
Projects should focus on depth, not breadth. If you have the ability to allow students choice in what they learn, consider having them revisit a previously learned concept, topic, or skill. To ensure not only engagement but also “Main Course,” create rubrics with students that focus on their going deeper into the content. Instead of “meeting standard,” focus the assessment and learning on “exceeding standard.” When students engage with a challenge, we should take them beyond the opportunity to review learning by pushing the learning even farther in a capstone project.

More Voice and Choice
This is nothing new, but we can always think of new ways to offer choice to our students. At the end of the year, after we’ve pressed through most of our required curriculum and standards, we may have some wiggle room on what students can learn. We might offer choice in one way, but not in another. Perhaps we want to spiral review a writing skill for all students, but offer them a choice in what history topic they want to learn about. Or we might need students to learn a math concept that we haven’t yet covered in the curriculum, but they can choose how they want to learn it and connect that concept to the real world. Have students make personal, meaningful choices. See my previous blog about voice and choice for ideas about how to create more engagement.

Make a Difference
One of my favorite ways of taking capstone projects to another level is through service and making a difference. When students see that their work matters, they will be engaged. There are, of course, lots of opportunities to make an impact outside of the walls of the classroom, whether in the community or globally. There are also great ways for students to make a difference in their own lives once they understand the personal impact that’s possible. Start by asking then how they want to make a difference in their capstone projects.

Tell the Full Story Through Assessment
Often, capstone projects involve what could be called a portfolio of student learning, which includes many steps in their yearlong journey. These assessments, graded or not, are valuable artifacts that serve as a photo album of a learning continuum, rather than simple snapshots representing individual moments of learning. Capstone projects are about growth, and both teachers and students can use assessments from the capstone project as well as earlier in the year to celebrate the growth in learning. Students, parents, and teachers deserve to see this growth in order to be proud of their learning from the entire year as well as during the capstone project.

Experiment With “No Grades”
Often we use grades as a way to get students to learn rather than addressing a root problem — our students are not engaged. While you might want to grade students on their work, you might also try the experiment of moving students away from grades as a motivator, and instead focus on the learning. Rather grading every part of the capstone project, consider grading only the capstone component. This is also in ideal place to start the conversation with students about how they want to be and should be graded. Consider using capstone projects to start a culture shift away from grades and toward learning.

I love implementing and watching students implement capstone projects. I’m inspired by the ways that teachers structure these projects and by the amazing learning that students share. Capstone projects are truly an opportunity to create meaningful learning along with powerful engagement and impact. How do you create engaging capstone projects?

Three Tips for More Engaging PBL Projects

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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Project-based learning (PBL) is a powerful tool to promote student engagement. It allows students to investigate real-world challenges and problems and create high-quality work for authentic audiences. It allows students to work collaboratively and individually to learn the content and skills they need to be “future ready.” Books by John Larmer and Suzie Boss are great tools to get started designing these high quality projects, and educators can reinvent projects of the past to make sure they are truly engaging. Here are three tips to consider as you design and redesign PBL projects for your students to make them even more engaging and focused on learning.

Allow for Failure
In my Arias Publication Freedom to Fail, I give many tips and advocate for the power of failure as a learning experience. Many PBL projects focus on real-world design challenges, and just like in the real world, designers fail. In fact, many intentionally fail quickly to learn. As educators, we, too, can allow for failure in our projects. We can tell students upfront that they will learn and design high-quality products, and it will be ok to “get it wrong.” Students will be more likely to take risks and innovate—and then engage to learn more material.

Set Up Flexible Classroom Spaces
The classroom environment should communicate a message of collaboration and innovation for PBL. We should experiment with different spaces so collaboration is natural and easy. PBL is a great way to individualize learning, and different seating arrangements like standing desks and bean bags can allow the space to be personalized based on what students are doing in the project. Students can move in a fluid fashion and receive feedback from their peers, revise their work, or get direct instruction from their teacher as necessary.

Provide Opportunities for Student Voice and Choice
This is crucial to any PBL project. There should always be an element of choice in what students produce, who they work with, and how they work. This will look different depending on age, time of year, experience with PBL, etc. We know our students, and, therefore, can make great decisions around voice and choice. However, we should also trust our students. We might be hesitant to give them choice, but we know there are many ways to do so (e.g., time, place, products, and people). We can jigsaw content and allow students to choose their team members, the products they want to produce, when they will share benchmarks and final products, where they want to work in and outside of the classroom, etc. The possibilities for voice and choice in PBL are endless, and we should embrace these choices to empower students and create better student engagement.

There are many ways to revise and improve PBL projects to make them more relevant and authentic. Educators should take part in this revision process to create engaging experiences that encourage student learning.

Strategies for Multi-Grade-Level PBL Projects

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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When we get really excited by and really effective at implementing project-based learning, we start creating projects that become much more complex. We integrate multiple subjects, leverage more technology tools, co-teach classes, and have projects that last many weeks or even months. These projects are exciting, but a complex project brings more complex challenges. One of those challenges is integration and implementation across different grade levels. Such PBL projects are uniquely complex because schools have different learning outcomes and standards (sometimes drastically different), and also physical structures that create walls against rather than opportunities for collaboration. Here are some strategies and ideas to consider when planning and implementing multi-grade-level PBL projects.

Similar But Different Learning Objectives
Although there will be different learning outcomes because there are different grade levels involved in the project, many learning objectives and standards are similar from one grade level to the next. Learning is always recursive. We learn writing skills one year and get better at them the next year. We learn a science concept in middle school and then learn it again in a more complex way in high school. These are opportunities to integrate across grade levels in a more manageable way. Look for recursive learning outcomes and standards to make manageable assessment choices.

Same Focus, Different Driving Questions
As we know, creating the “just right” driving question can be really challenging, and that challenge becomes greater the more you integrate. With a multi-grade-level project, the complexity of the project may be hard to fit into a single driving question, especially since the learning outcomes are different across the grades. A multi-grade-level project might have a common theme or topic, like water quality or community issues, but the driving questions will vary for different teams or grade levels. In order to focus on specific learning outcomes or standards, be open to similar but different driving questions.

Multi-Grade-Level Collaborative Learning
It can be powerful when students learn together, and we can have students learn from their peers in different grade levels. We all bring our expertise and passions to learning. Younger students can learn from older students and vice versa. Know your students and their strengths and challenges. Form teams or help students form teams based on these strengths and challenges. Don’t let age or grade level get in the way. You know your students best, but while considering age difference and the complexities it brings, don’t let that hold you back from exploring other possibilities. As students work and learn across grade levels, have them contribute to group products or investigate different foci. Multi-grade-level learning also presents an opportunity for teachers to assess collaboration skills and for students to learn these skills from one another.

Individual Products
In terms of assessment, it’s crucial that students are assessed individually. We all want to know what our children know, which may mean an individual product to showcase that learning. Remember, these products can show learning itself or a variety of learning outcomes, some of which may be different than a collaborative product. Teachers and students can decide on the level of voice and choice for these products as well. When implementing a specific multi-grade-level project, an individual product can ensure a laser-like focus on specific grade-level outcomes for an individual student. This also allows students who prefer to work alone the chance to do so. In their case, make sure that they’re able to create an individual product.

Flexible Learning Spaces
Instead of a third-grade classroom here and a fifth-grade classroom there, treat classrooms as open spaces where collaboration and purpose, rather than grade level, is the focus. What could each room have that would make it a unique and powerful place to learn, and how will that support elements of the PBL project? Perhaps one classroom would focus on science content and labs, with materials to support the inquiry. Another classroom might be set up with technology tools for learning. Maybe there can be a “feedback” room where students give and receive feedback from others. With flexible learning spaces, teachers become flexible as well, and they help facilitate learning based on the purpose and unique setting of the room. Don’t forget hallways and other non-traditional spaces — they can be ripe places for learning, especially when it comes to PBL projects.

Many of us have already tried these multi-grade-level projects with success. They are rich opportunities to have students learn from other students of different ages, and they present a great opportunity for us, as educators, to learn and grow in our own implementation of PBL.

In the comments section of this post, please share your own thoughts about and experiences with multi-grade-level PBL.

Assess More, Grade Less

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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One of the best things we can do in our classes to not only increase student achievement but also improve school and classroom culture is to stop grading everything. We live in a world where much is driven by grades. College admission counselors want to see grades. Many district policies, in an effort to encourage formative assessment and reporting, demand a certain number of grades in a time period. Many of our students are grade driven and constantly ask, “What’s my grade?” There are several forces that drive teachers to grade. We must, however, push back on these forces and instead focus on assessment.

Do We Really Want to See Grades?
I would argue that when a parent, for example, wants to know his child’s grade, he really wants to know how his child in doing the class. A grade alone gives no clear feedback on what students know or where they are in their learning journey. Many schools realize this and no longer report grades; instead, they report on clear learning objectives. Work and assignments may be associated with these reports, but rather than grades coming first, learning comes first. Students and parents want the same thing—to know how they are doing. We should meet that need by providing assessments with clear feedback rather than simply reporting grades.

Grading Can Harm Learning
Yes, grading can harm student learning. Often, grades are used as an enforcer to make students perform; in reality, this approach doesn’t work. Grades are commonly used as the wrong consequence to address a problem. One prime example is how some teachers deal with late work. To try to prevent students from turning in late work, teachers threaten to take off points or negate a score. This is highly problematic because it muddies the true academic grade with a behavior issue, and it often doesn’t fix the root problem. We should stop using grades as punitive tools. In his book Grading Smarter, Not Harder, Myron Dueck provides some great grading strategies, such as marking incompletes instead of zeros on late work to encourage students to work to correct a behavioral problem.

Focus on Formative Assessment
When we focus on formative assessment, we are actually taking a huge workload away. We aren’t spending all our time grading everything and can instead start working smarter. We can give more timely feedback in the moment. We can look for patterns in student errors and adjust our instruction accordingly. We can assign smaller, low-stakes check-in activities that help students know where they are in their progress toward the learning goals. Eventually, we may need to assign a summative mark to a student, but even then it shouldn’t be a priority. I was talking with a colleague about formative and summative assessment, and he jokingly said, “We give summative assessments when we are done with teaching.” We both laughed, but I knew he had a point. Summative assessments are assigned arbitrarily for the purposes of reporting, scoring, and sorting students. I say we instead focus on formative assessment to show that learning is never truly complete. Maybe I’m crazy, but it’s a dream I have.

Many teachers, schools, and districts have or are moving to grading models where assessment is meaningful and focused on feedback. It will take time to transform a culture of grading into a culture of assessment. We have to work with all stakeholders to reframe the conversation around student achievement and focus on meaningful assessments rather than hollow grades.

Voice and Choice: It’s More Than Just “What”

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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As a PBL advocate, I know how important it is to have voice and choice in the learning environment. When I work with teachers, we always collaborate to design projects with the appropriate level of voice and choice for students, which depends on factors such as time of the year, age level, content, and many others.

There is never a one-size-fits-all method to voice and choice. It’s always contextualized to teacher and student lives and experiences. However, many times we oversimplify voice and choice to what students create in their project, or we simply forget that there are many possibilities. While having students express voice and choice in their products is one great option, let’s consider more opportunities to create engagement and student-centered learning.

More “What”
While product is the vehicle for showing content and learning, perhaps we can offer more choice in the content? This may not work in all cases, but it can certainly work when we have standards broad enough to allow students to select specific sub-content within the standard or learning outcome. Maybe we’d allow students to choose topics related to the skill. I know a teacher that let students analyze a variety of cell phone plans of their choice, but still demanded that they show the same skills in linear equations. This choice works well with skill-based learning outcomes and standards, but it’s not limited to those things. I know this isn’t a new idea, just a reminder that we might have more flexibility than we think in the content that students learn.

“Who”
Students can and should choose who they work with. However, take time with them to reflect on various prompts such as:

Who do you need to help?
Who can help you?
What are my strengths?
What are my areas of growth?

Prompts like these can help students make intentional decisions in the learning partners they choose and give them a powerful range of incentives. In addition, many times students create work for a variety of audiences. While we might choose that for them, we can also ask them to whom they want to present their work or with whom they will share their work.

“Why” and Purpose
Students always want to know why they’re learning material, and we often go to great lengths to make the learning relevant through the task itself or by trying to explain connections. Instead, we could partner with students in deciding the “why.” Ask them why they want to learn this material, or help them brainstorm ideas and then let them decide why they want to learn something. Students can become the driving force in the purpose of their learning: “I will learn this in order to _______” is a great sentence starter to give them more of a voice in the “why” of learning.

“Where”
Why do students always have to learn in the same place? Why at desks? Why not on the floor? Why not in the hallway? Why not at home? Why not on a field trip? Why not in the library? Why not in another classroom? More and more schools and experimenting with flexible spaces and learning environments — quiet corners, sitting and standing desks, conference-style areas, makerspaces, and more. We can offer more voice and choice to students by allowing them to decide where they want to learn. This can meet their social-emotional needs, foster engagement in learning, and create a space where learning is physically dynamic.

“When”
If we are personalizing learning, we need to be flexible about when students are creating work, when they are learning certain concepts, and even when they might turn work in. While this might be uncomfortable to consider, it’s a great area to stretch yourself as a teacher in giving up control and allowing students to take more of that control. Teachers can coach students to pick appropriate tasks for learning material, coach them to relearn material in a way that students want, and help them plan effective deadlines for work. Allowing students control over when they learn can create an environment where time is no longer the most important variable, and instead learning becomes the driving force.

Not only can voice and choice create more engagement in learning, but giving students agency can also empower them to become self-directed learners. Voice and choice can allow students to explore their passions and feel honored for their ideas and opinions. We should all be providing more voice and choice, not creating walls to stifle these things.

How do you or will you provide more voice and choice to your students?

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