Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why do we grade?

For the last few weeks I have had conversations with my colleagues about Standards Based Grading and how it is currently operating in our building.  I have heard colleagues talk about their frustrations with students and their response to this grading system.  All of this reflection has brought me to ponder the question, What is the purpose of grades?

For years we have given and received grades without much thought as to how a student uses these letter grades to makes changes in their learning.  Are grades nothing more than a subset of feedback?  Are grades given to communicate where a student is in the learning progression?  Are grades needed to teach students responsibility or perseverance?  No matter what system a teacher uses, the grades that students earn reflect the grading practices of that teacher and what they believe a grade represents.  As a building, can we clarify our definition of the purpose of grades?
      
Dr. Douglas Reeves shared at a conference the "Gold Standards of Grading Practices" and these standards really resonated with me.  The first standard is that grading is part of feedback used by students and teachers to improve teaching and learning.  The number one reason I provide feedback to students is to improve learning.  If my feedback is clear then adjustments can be made and students will improve at a rapid rate.  If feedback is unclear, students will continue to struggle in their learning.  What does getting a C in your classroom tell a student about what they know and can do?  Do our grades provide the feedback needed for students to improve?

The second gold standard of grading practices is that the grading system is so clear students and other teachers could accurately predict a grade on an assessment.  To help with this standard it is imperative that teachers provide students with a progression of the learning process.  The breakdown of the skill into manageable pieces is what makes learning easier for students. Think about teaching kids how to ride a bicycle.  As many parents know, this is a difficult and sometimes daunting task.  Where do you begin?  Do you talk about balance, peddling, or eye placement?  When your child masters step one, where do you go next?  Each parent might have a different way to teach the skill of riding a bike, but I bet we all have the same vision of what a proficient bike rider looks like at the end.  Having a clear vision of what success looks like and through modeling, feedback, and supported practice, students have a higher success rate.  If you assign something in your classroom, would all teachers in your department assess it in the same way?  Could one teacher give the assignment an A while another teacher give it a C?  When the progression of learning is so clear students and other teachers can assess the skills in a very consistent way, grading is more effective.  How clear are the letter grades we give students?

The final gold standard of grading practices is that grades are consistent with external assessments.  As a school system, we are often defined by the results of our students on external assessments.  As teachers, we work to prepare students for the expectations of these assessments.  If a student receives and A in my course, but is deemed not proficient on a standardized test; have I provided the feedback needed for this student?  Does the grade in my classroom represent the knowledge of the student in this content or does it represent the behaviors needed to learn?  Each teacher knows that responsibility, work ethic, and meeting deadlines are all important skills that students learn and be assessed on in school.  How do we give feedback to our students on behaviors and content in a way that is clear?

Grading is an area of education that is very personal to many teachers.  Because of this personal touch, a grade can mean many things to many different people.  What do we want a grade to mean in our school system?  What is the purpose of grades?

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Data informed" vs "Data Driven"

I was at a meeting the other day when I heard a colleague say that she felt we needed to be "data informed" not "data driven".  Those words stuck with me as I left the meeting and it really made me think about the difference between the two.  As I thought about those words, I remembered an article I read in Educational Leadership called "Code Red:  The Danger of Data-Driven Instruction".  This article talks about the dangers of using too much data to basically do nothing.  We look at the data, but we do not follow up the data with action in the classroom.

As I reflected on those words, I thought about what it meant to be "data informed".  About 10 years ago I remember going to my administrator talking about how I was drowning in a mountain of papers each night.  I was trying to grade every piece of work I put in front of students to have that count toward their grade.  I would collect an assignment and not have it graded for almost 2 weeks because there was no time to correct it.  However, my classroom didn't stop.  I kept teaching and after 2 weeks, I finally made time to look at the worksheet, only to find a student that had no idea what he/she was doing.  How was this data helping me respond to my students?  It wasn't!  I was using it to collect points, not teach students.  To me, "data informed" is key to helping drive the daily plan in the classroom.

When I made the change, it was difficult to give work and not have it count for points.  However, I found the students still did the work.  I didn't have to grade every question to still make learning happen in my classroom.  Instead of trying to grade a few extra papers at my desk while students worked, I found myself walking around and looking at the types of mistakes or problems they were encountering as they worked.  This not only helped me give real time feedback, but helped me know were to go next in my classroom.

As an instructional coach I have the opportunity to watch teachers interact with students and provide feedback on the learning process.  By doing this, I get a chance to see the numerous ways, besides giving papers, that allow me to observe student learning.  "Data informed" teaching is a great way to make a major impact on student learning.




Thursday, October 13, 2016

Data Driven Learning

Teachers at Benton Community have a new focus this year on data.  As part of our Teacher Leadership program, Benton Community has transitioned from Model Teachers to Data Team Leaders for the 2016-17 school year.  The Data Team Leaders have helped our school district develop a plan of looking at student work in a slightly different way than we have in past years.

This new focus for teachers, has created a new focus for students, as well.  This year, students from PK-9th grade are looking at data and talking about learning.  In the Middle/High School building, our 7th, 8th and 9th grade students will spend part of their Bobcat Time reflecting on their learning with their teacher.  The student profile sheet hosts a one spot document for students and teachers to get a snapshot of the learning that is occurring for each student.   The profile sheet includes reflective questions for students to think about their learning, a section to self assess their soft skills for future employment, and a section that holds their district assessment results from Skills Iowa, STAR Reader and Iowa Assessments.
At Benton Community, we know the students in our classroom are so much more than the data numbers we are looking at in a document.  They are our family, our neighbors, our kids and it is our job to help these students become the best version of themselves.  When we help students reflect on where they have been, where they are, and where they want to go, we help them succeed beyond the four walls of our school.  The best part of being a teacher is when your students return to visit and share what they have accomplished, how they have grown, and the person they are today.  Growing reflective adults that learn from their experience is what we value the most at Benton Community.  Quality education for a lifetime of learning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I was THAT Teacher

I was THAT Teacher

I read a great blog post last week entitle "We're All THAT Teacher".  As I read it, I thought about myself 3 years ago as a Spanish teacher, with 3 children and a husband of her own at home, trying to coach varsity girls basketball and teach Spanish, all at the same time.  It was exhausting!  I had taught the same level for over 15 years and although I was maturing and growing, my students kept coming to me as 13, 14, & 15 years old kids.  I saw the same behaviors from similar students and I felt myself forgetting why I got into teaching in the first place.  

As I read the blog, I heard these words from the author, Robyn Jackson, "You see, THAT teacher didn't come into teaching bitter, non-compliant, or mean. THAT teacher most likely started out excited, hopeful, even mission driven.  But over time, THAT teacher allowed the challenges of our profession to sour their enthusiasm and poison their passion.  So in a way, we're all just one disappointment away from becoming THAT teacher."  That was me!  I was losing my passion!  I was one disappointment away from becoming "THAT teacher."  Not because I didn't still care about the students in my classroom or the players on the basketball court, I was feeling defeated by the many challenges that stand in the way of teachers and coaches.  It was at that point that I knew I needed a change.

Three years later as an instructional coach, I see teachers in the same boat as I was.  I see them starting to drown in the sea of teaching challenges and I keep trying to throw them a life preserver.  Sometimes, I will find teachers that cling to that teaching life preserver and together we can keep our heads above water.  Together we find a way to meet the needs of the students in our classrooms and give them the best educational experience.  Together we find the passion that got each of us into the field of education.  

Ms. Jackson said it best in her blog, "Passion isn't a luxury in this profession; it is an absolute requirement. Bring anything less than your fully passionate self to work each day and you have put yourself on the pathway to becoming THAT teacher, regardless of your role."  Teaching is hard work, but it's so fulfilling.  Each day I have the privilege of working with students and teachers that help me realize how great it is to be a teacher.  Becoming an instructional coach saved me from becoming "THAT teacher" and I hope I can pay it forward by helping other teachers through the challenges of our profession to experience the joys!

Friday, September 9, 2016

September at BC!

September is off to a great start at Benton Community.  Teachers are helping our students learn and grow in our classrooms.
Human Biology Class labeling scientific names
Mr. Cretin's career class sharing career choices
Mr. Murphy's science class performing a Gummi Bear lab
Mr. Patterson's art class working on shading
Mr. Sutton's science class working on graphing motion
Our teachers also celebrated Rivalry Week for Iowa vs. Iowa State!


Monday, August 29, 2016

First Week of School

This week of school at Benton Community brought lots of learning.  What did our students learn?
Bobcats Ready to Learn
Bobcats Heading to Class
Bobcats Preparing for Class
Mr. Patterson's First Day
Mr. Kauder's First Day

Mrs. Wright's First Day

Mr. Suiter's First Day
Mrs. Loftus's First Day
It was a great week of learning and we are ready to tackle Week 2!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Full Time Coaching

Coaching is something I always wanted to pursue.  I remember taking my first coaching course at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA and I was hooked.  I loved the idea of motivating young athletes to follow their dreams and put their goals on the line.  For almost 20 years I have been coaching in the athletic world at Benton Community.  It wasn't until 2014 that I had the thoughts of coaching in the instructional world.

In 2014, our school was one of the first 39 school districts in the state of Iowa to receive the Teacher Leadership Grant.  It was an exciting time for our school and my first thought of doing something new and different in my career at Benton.  I started back in 1997 as a Spanish teacher and fell in love teaching the beginning levels of Spanish.  I loved my job, but could see how doing the same thing for the next 20 years, might not be as exciting.  It was time for a change!

When I accepted the job of instructional coach, I had no idea the impact it would have on my career.  Now I was coaching full time, both in the academic and the athletic world.  What I loved about coaching athletes was what I hoped to achieve when coaching teachers.  Starting my third year as an instructional coach, I have learned a lot about coaching people and I work to be a better listener, confidant, and leader everyday.

This year, I am going to challenge myself to share the journey of a full time coach.  I would like to share my thoughts and tricks as both an academic and athletic coach with those trying to do the same thing.  I can't wait to see what this year holds for Benton Community and the journey we are about to begin!