Why “Content Coverage” is Over: A Manifesto!

 

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 >

 


content-marketing-question-ss-1920
OK, before you immediately react and make a comment, let’s take a breath! Yes, we live in an education world that is driven by content. We have standards, learning objectives, and the like. We have curriculum, texts, and pacing guides. We have high-stakes standardized tests, benchmark exams, and AP or IB tests that drive our instruction. I’ve taught with all these forces at work. It’s frustrating, and that is perhaps an understatement. Perhaps maddening is a better word?

Regardless, all of these forces move us toward coverage. We feel the pressure to go quickly through curriculum, because the forces at work dictate that there must be a lot of curriculum. But at the same time, we don’t have to admit to defeat by these forces. In fact, maybe we aren’t as rigidly committed to covering all this content as we think we are.

We Can’t!
“I can’t cover all the content.”
“I’ve tried, and failed.”
“I have covered it, but the learning is lost.”

When I hear these complaints from the teachers I work with about all the standards and content they must cover, I always talk about my pressures with AP exams. “World history in a year: go!” We all laugh, but it really is a bit true. We are expected to cover a lot (if not all) of the content for a world history course within a year. In an effort to prepare my students, I would assign a lot of DIY learning outside of school and would also create a plan to cruise through as much as I could. What I found, and what I’m sure many of you have found, was that not only were my AP results all over the place in terms of scores and achievement, but so were the grades in my class. By focusing on covering all the content, I was really doing my students a disservice. Instead of “uncoverage,” I was focusing on coverage. And we know that doesn’t work!

We Prioritize!
The interesting thing here is that many of us unknowingly don’t cover content. Even under all the pressures, we know that we can’t cover every single thing, and that some of it may get left behind. Or similarly, some things don’t get as much time as we would like. I always ask teachers what gets left behind. Many don’t want to admit it, but some things do. Maybe it’s a standard or unit at the end of the year, or maybe it’s a small assignment. But whatever gets left, it means something good. We’re showing that we prioritize. We know what our students really need, and so we plan accordingly.

When I reflected on my poor performance as a teacher in an AP class, I realized that I needed to focus on the important and big ideas, maybe even the big “buckets” that I knew were important for students to know. I even looked at past AP exams for patterns and trends. World religions came up many times, as did the Holocaust and World War II. These were some of the priorities that drove me, but other teachers have all different kinds. Their priorities could be exam driven, or their drivers could be personal factors or things outside of the classroom. Recognizing our priorities is in fact empowering. It allows us to own the facts that we don’t cover every last thing, and that we see the value of spending time on what matters to our students.

We Are Great Teachers!
From all this, it comes down to one major point: We are professionals. We know our students. We know what they need, and yes, we use curriculum and pacing guides as what they should be — guides! We assess our students. We differentiate and plan their learning accordingly to make a difference in the life of each student we have. It is time for all of us to own that we are good teachers, and not admit defeat to the pressures of content coverage. In fact, we make or need to make better decisions in terms of priorities and student learning.

In an effort to empower and affirm your work as an educator, please sign this manifesto by indicating your support below and adding your own points:

I am committed to deeper and life-long learning for my students.
I will no longer submit to the pressure to cover content.
I will prioritize learning for my students based on their needs and passions.
I will aim past the high-stakes tests, yet still expose students to them to ensure that they are ready.
I will use curriculum and pacing guides for what they are intended: guides, not set-in-stone learning.
I will continue to make the best decisions for my students, rather than let the pressure to cover content drive my teaching.

Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”

 

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 >

 


learned-helplessness
We all have students that just want to “get it right.” We all have students that constantly seek the attention of the teacher. “Did I get this right?” “Is this what you want?” Now while it’s certainly a good thing to affirm students in their learning, many times we want students to be creative with their learning. We allow them to own their learning and create assessment products where they can show us what they know in new and inventive ways. Because of this, there isn’t “one right answer,” yet our students are often trained to think that there can be only one.

Similarly, we want students to be reflective, to ask themselves, “How do I know if I’m on the right track?” or “What could I do next?” Instead of coming immediately to the teacher, we want students to experiment on their own. Many of us wonder why students constantly do the opposite instead. I’ve got news for you. It’s our fault. We, as educators, are often responsible for learned helplessness, and we have a responsibility to change it! How can we empower our students to be self-directed learners?

Curate and Create Learning Resources
If we want to have students seek out other information from sources other than the teacher, then we must make sure those resources are available. Many teachers using the flipped classroom approach already have created or found these kinds of resources. However, think broadly about the word resource. People are resources, texts are resources, and community organizations are resources — to name just a few categories. We have to be comfortable not always knowing the answer, and instead suggesting we find the answer together through the vast amount of learning resources that we have at our disposal. Try curating these resources before, during, and after a unit. Work with students as well to create a culture where the answers are everywhere.

Questions “For” (Not “About”) Learning
What do I mean by this? Instead of using questions to check for understanding and getting the right answer, we can use questions to probe students’ thinking and push them to think about their learning. Questions can serve as powerful redirection tools that promote metacognition. Instead of responding with “Yes” or “No,” ask a student, “Why do you think that?” If you notice an error or gap in learning, try using questions that push the student to think:

What else could you try?
Have you experimented with another idea?
Why do you think this is true?
Questions are powerful tools for helping students own the process of learning.

Stop Giving Answers
Often, when a student fails or makes mistakes, we want to fly in like a superhero and give the answer. “This is what you need to do.” We come to save the day, and pat ourselves on the back for being a great teacher. In fact, we may have done that student a disservice. This doesn’t come from a bad place, or suggest that we’re bad at teaching. On the contrary, we care for our students, so we want to help them whenever we can. Ask yourself this: By helping that student, will he or she own the learning, or are you doing the learning for him or her? This means that sometimes we need to get out of the way. If students are working in teams, for example, and are arguing (safely) about what to do next, we need to let them solve the problem on their own and then check in. “I heard an argument. Did you guys figure it out? Great work at problem solving!” Of course, if students are floundering, and failure is not productive, by all means step in. But also feel free to allow yourself wait time before you do so!

Allow for Failure
I firmly believe that failure is a powerful learning tool, but we have to make sure that we create a culture where it is OK to fail forward. Do you grade everything? If so, you may not be communicating that it’s OK to fail. Do you allow for multiple drafts and revisions and demand high-quality products? If so, you are communicating to students that they have multiple tries to learn and, more importantly, that they can be creative and experiment. In addition, we should be there to support students when they do fail, and to help get them back on the right track.

We need to take responsibility for empowering our students, and to scaffold the process of self-direction. Self-direction doesn’t happen overnight, especially, when many of our students, based on specific structures of schooling, are trained to be helpless. Although we can take steps as individual educators to avoid learned helplessness, we need to reexamine the systems of schooling, from curriculum to assessment and instruction, to allow for empowerment rather than always getting the right answer.

Feedback for Thinking: Working for the Answer

 

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 >

 


feedback
We run the risk of giving the wrong kind of feedback for students, and it’s not because we are bad people. We love our students. We want them to be successful, and sometimes these desires can actually get in the way of a student truly learning.

Take a typical situation of a math problem involving money. A student is unable to determine the percentage that he or she should be getting, and is struggling with multiplication of decimals. Often we notice this struggle and “swoop in” to save the day. As educators, we sit down with that student and show him or her how to do it, pat ourselves on the back, and move on the next student. In fact, we didn’t “save” that student’s day — we may have made no difference at all. Feedback that simply shows a child how to do something won’t cause that child to think. He or she will merely learn to replicate what the teacher did without truly “getting” the concept being taught.

3 Strategies for Structured Teaching
We need to move away from this type of feedback and toward feedback that causes thinking and metacognition. Here are three ways that teachers can guide students in the right direction, as described by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching.

1. Questions
We all know that asking questions can help us check for understanding, but questions can also be great tools for having students really articulate their ideas in a deeper way, and allowing them to think about it. Try asking open-ended questions to probe student thinking and push them to think deeper. Instead of “Do you understand that?”, move toward questions that cause students to explain and justify their ideas.

2. Prompting
Prompts are statements and questions that cause students to do metacognitive work. We teachers should not be doing their thinking work for them during guided instruction. We should be empowering students to think by using the right type of question or statement. Take this example. A student is working on a written assignment, and the teacher notices that he or she may be missing commas. The teacher says, “I see this paragraph has some commas in it, but the next paragraph seems to have none.” This will cause the student to look at the paper with the idea of adding more commas if necessary.

3. Cueing
Similar to prompting, cueing “shifts the learner’s attention.” Cues are often more specific. There are many types, such as verbal, gestural, and visual. Even highlighting an error on a paper can cause students to think about how they might fix the error without necessarily giving away the answer. With this cue, you prompted thinking. Similarly, a verbal prompt like, “This step in the problem is tricky, don’t forget how I modeled it this morning” will shift the students to think and reflect about their process and perhaps move in the right direction. Don’t forget that even pointing to something can serve as a cue for students to think.

Errors Versus Mistakes
As you see students struggle with concepts and notice a “wrong” answer, consider this reflective question: “Is it an error or a mistake? How can I find out?” Through specific questioning, you can dig deeper to find out what’s going on in a student’s head, and make the thinking visible for both of you. Sometimes a wrong answer means a mistake. This implies that a student really does know a concept and only made a misstep in the application of learning. As the teacher, you only need to redirect. However, if you uncover that there is an error, it means that a student really does not understand the concept, and he or she will require a different type of instruction, perhaps further modeling or teaching, and different kinds of prompting, cueing, and questioning.

Dylan William, in Embedded Formative Assessment, says “Feedback should cause thinking,” and I couldn’t agree more. If we focus on feedback to cause thinking, we can prevent “learned helplessness” in our students. When we limit ourselves to showing students how to do something, or maybe do it for them, we may be communicating to kids that only the teacher can persevere and solve the problem. If we want students who are self-directed learners, then we have to scaffold appropriately — and then remove the scaffolds. Modeling a concept and thinking aloud are critical components of teaching, but we then need to turn the power over to students and let them struggle and finally experience success. Feedback for thinking creates a “can-do” atmosphere in the classroom.

What are your strategies for encouraging students to think?

The 5 Keys to Successful Comprehensive Assessment in Action

 

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 >

 


miller-5keys-assessment
Assessment is the key to good instruction. It shows us what students know and allows us to adjust our instruction. Assessment is tied to learning goals and standards, but students must own the assessment process as well, as they must be able to articulate what and how they are being assessed — and its value. But what does this look like in a unit of instruction?

In this post, I’m going to walk you through how I have used the 5 Keys for Comprehensive Assessment (see Linda Darling-Hammond in the video below) in my unit on Informational/Explanatory Writing so that you can see how comprehensive assessment is not only possible, but also great teaching and learning.

1. Meaningful Unit Goals and Question
I began with the end in mind when I planned this unit. In terms of assessment, we as educators must know what we want students to achieve by the time they leave the unit of instruction. If we don’t know where we are going, we may or may not get there. I want to make sure that all of my students succeed, so I must know those goals for all students.

Many of us are driven by standards. Whether those are Common Core State Standards or other important district- or school-level objectives and outcomes, we must make sure that our units of instruction are aligned to them. For this unit, I wanted to focus on what many consider power standards on Information/Explanatory Writing. Specifically I used these Common Core standards:

“Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.”
“Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.”
“Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility of each source, and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.”

To frame the unit and provide relevance, I provide an essential question around the power of media. It’s something my students experience every day, whether listening to the radio or other music industry outlets, watching TV shows or news, or streaming online media. The question I gave them was: “How do advertisers trick us?” I wanted them meet the writing objectives I had set out through a relevant issue that they would find meaningful.

2. Summative Assessment Through Writing
Since the intent of the unit was to assess writing standards, I knew that they needed to provide a well-written product. In this case, I could still provide them with some choice. Additionally, the standards I chose had to do with evidence, and so they needed to do research, cite evidence, and make sure that it aligned to their ideas in their written product. Some students chose to write a traditional essay, while others chose to write a letter to someone they knew, and perhaps bring some awareness to a larger audience. Even though there was choice in the written products, there was a common, standards-aligned rubric that could be used to assess all the products to ensure that all students were meeting the same outcomes.

3. Performance Assessment Through Presentation and Portfolio
It is important that we allow students other modes of showing what they know, and we can also use these performance assessments to assess different learning outcomes. In fact, students were able to show some of their content knowledge as well as speaking and listening standards around collaboration and effective presentation. They got to choose how they would present their answer to the essential question, whether by a podcast or a Prezi formal presentation. It allowed them to go deeper and express their creativity with the content. Performance assessments like these allow us to check not only for engagement, but also for deeper learning through 21st-century skills.

4. Formative Assessment and Feedback Along the Way
There were many benchmarks that allowed my students and me check for understanding of both content and skills. Great teachers formatively assess students all the time and may not even know it. In this case, some formative assessments were formal (a draft or outline), while others were more informal (interview questions, discussions and exit tickets). All of these allowed me to know where each of my students was in the learning process, as well as make instructional decisions. Some students needed more one-to-one feedback, while others were ready to move forward. I was able to make differentiation decisions and work smarter through small-group instruction and whole-group instruction.

Students were also given specific, timely, and actionable feedback through the formative assessment process, with peer critique, teacher critique, and even outside expert critique on their performance assessments. Formative assessment allowed students to experiment and, yes, sometimes fail. However, they were given the tools, both through feedback and instruction, to improve and move forward to success.

5. Student Ownership of Assessment Process
What has not been mentioned is the voice that students had in the overall construction of the unit and the assessment. When I first asked what they would be interested in learning more about, they mentioned commercials, adds, media, etc. Together we brainstormed some ideas, which I then transformed into an essential question. Already mentioned was that students did have some choice in the summative and performance assessments. By providing choice, more students were able to own how they showed what they knew. In addition, I gave them the rubrics early in the assessment process to set goals, provide meaningful feedback, and self-assess and reflect. The goals were transparent so that they could be agents in their assessment, rather than passive observers.

Any great unit of instruction can include these five components of effective assessment. These methods mean that assessment is no longer done to students, but with them, putting the focus on the student and learning. Although students are awarded grades, they are rewarded through being at their best and coached through their challenges.

How are you using assessment to empower students to own their learning?

Culturally Relevant Teaching: How Do We Create Equitable Learning Environments?

 

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 >


Elementary Students
Students enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, styles, abilities, and preferences. They also bring with them their own cultures, backgrounds, and personal histories. In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers make standards-based content and curricula accessible to students and teach in a way that students can understand from their varying cultural perspectives. If the goal is for each student to succeed academically, how are we using the cultural capital available in our classrooms to capture attentions, engage students, and make curricula relevant?

On this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, Sean Slade, ASCD’s director of whole child programs, and guests explore what it means to, as Gloria Ladson-Billings writes, “empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”; how to create a positive classroom learning community; and what supports teachers need to serve their diverse students.
Listen to the episode below or download here.

Formative Assessment Is Transformational!

 

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 >

 


chinese-assessment
I think formative assessment is one of the single most important things that teachers can do — and already do — for their students. In fact, great teachers use formative assessment whether or not they know it. Formative assessment may not be new, but it certainly has begun to crystallize into particular elements and components that are currently in the spotlight. When teachers practice great formative assessment, it can be a transformational experience for them as practitioners and, more importantly, for their students.

Grading Transformation
When teachers check for understanding, they are doing so as a means to ensure that students are successful in the summative assessment. It’s important to remember that formative assessments are for learning, not necessarily of it. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are often assessments of learning. Consequently, the teacher’s grade book is transformed. I wrote about this personal transformation in a previous blog post. By embracing formative assessment, teachers are awarding students at their best, not at their worst. The grade book more accurately reflects student competency of content and skills. Formative assessment leads to more equitable and fair grading practices.

Teaching Transformation
Teachers work smarter, not harder, when they use formative assessments. One of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make with formative assessment is to over-simplify the process of using it to adjust instruction. Formative assessment is actually more nuanced. For example, a teacher collects an exit ticket and discovers that about a third of the class missed a concept. Because of this, she returns the next day and reviews the content with the whole class. Pardon me, but I think that is crazy! Why would you do that? Only a third of the students need that review — the rest are ready to move on.

Here, formative assessments must be used in making decisions to “feed forward,” or make the right decision in terms of instructional next steps. Teachers also need to probe whether or not the mix-up was truly an error or instead just a mistake. A mistake implies that further instruction on that content may not be needed, while an error indicates that instruction must happen, as there are gaps in the learning. These instructional next steps might indeed be whole-class instruction, but they also include one-on-one support, small group instruction, and other important differentiation decisions. Overall, a teacher can give the right instruction at the right time as his teaching becomes responsive to students, rather than responsive to other forces.

Student Learning Transformation
Teachers use formative assessment to let students know where they are in the learning journey. Assessment is no longer a surprise! Student learning becomes transparent and also personalized. In addition to just-in-time learning, students get just-in-time feedback. Teachers rely on formative assessment to give students specific, actionable feedback that they can use to refine their work, seek out resources, and engage in learning that is specific to their needs. Because of this, all students increase their capacity for success. All students are getting what they need when they need it, as opposed to when the teacher guesses they need it. What happens next? Increased engagement! Students are more engaged in the learning because it is relevant and meaningful to them.

Classroom of Empowerment
Another big transformation that occurs when teachers practice formative assessment is a classroom of empowerment. Students are empowered to take ownership of the learning process. They know where they are and can set goals for next steps. They are given the power to “fail forward” and know that it’s never too late to learn. Teachers are also empowered to make the right decisions in meeting their needs of their students. In fact, I would take this a step further — remember that a formative assessment isn’t formative until you decide it is. Similarly, a summative assessment isn’t summative until you decide that it is. You, as the teacher, use your professional judgment and are empowered to make the right decisions for your students as individuals and your classroom of learners as a whole.

Remember, formative assessments look and sound different — and frankly, they should. Formative assessment includes oral language and questions, projects or performance assessments, written components, movement and gesture activities, technology tools, and more. These assessments are not always intended to be large assignments, but rather can be quick and efficient ways to check for understanding. I hope my comments here serve to affirm that which you’re already doing well. Great teachers know their students, make adjustments, reflect, and honor the learning process. When teachers embrace and regularly use components of formative assessment, they are truly transformative teachers!

How is formative assessment transforming you, your students, and your school?