Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Paragraphing Success

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Overheard today as I was walking the room while students were working in their reading journals:

"I keep forgetting to paragraph! I am annoying myself!"

Today was the first day of our second quarter. Today was the first day for new writing prompts for reading journals. We do weekly practice writing in the genres that are tested in our reading journals during our first semester. Practice the genres students need for the state assessment with authentic, chosen readings. It is my compromise.

Instead of assigning the reading journal writing for homework, we now write the entries in class on Mondays. I confer with students about them on Tuesdays. I wrote three model pieces today. I was writing while students wrote in three classes. In the other three classes, I was troubleshooting, answering questions and supporting students who needed me.

There is a lot happening in any one high school classroom.

After we wrote for 15-20 minutes, I asked students to turn and share, to talk about their pieces. We all took a break from the page (even if we weren't finished) and talked.

I walked the room.

Overhearing, Allison today after she'd read a table-mate's journal made me smile. I've been reminding and reteaching paragraphs and organization for eight weeks. Her comment was a moment of sweet success-- spontaneous and automatic, a recognition of skills. Yes!

Glad I caught it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Limit Testing

"Learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble." - President Obama

Millions of us liked and shared news yesterday that the Obama administration has called for a limit to standardized testing in American classrooms. So much of the rhetoric in his short speech, I love.

The argument is familiar to most parents, students and teachers. As such, it be a great short speech to study in class. He opens with a call to his audience: parents and teachers. Students could easily connect to the context of this address. He uses a variety of accessible appeals. We are beginning argument next quarter, so I typed a transcript of the speech. I want to talk about it with students in my classes.

I wonder though about some of the language and what it will really mean for teachers and schools.

What "tests are worth taking"? How does President Obama define tests? Is he using the word to talk about high-stakes, standardized tests? Tests that teachers and parents know have run over authentic learning in a race to the top. Surely those of us who streamed the news on Facebook and Twitter believe that.

News outlets reported that the President called on districts to use "no more than 2% of class time to take tests" (Zernike, Atkinson, Ure and Liptak). What does such a limit actually mean?

If I take it to mean districts may not use more than 2% of our class time to test students, then as a high school teacher facing 180 days of instruction, then I am looking at no more than 3.5 days worth district-mandated testing. Right? 
From the 2015-2016  Orange County Public Schools Parent Guide

Our district declared PSAT day for high school students this fall. Students in grades nine through eleven took the PSAT district-wide on October 14. Does that count? Do end of course exams count? Or Advanced Placement tests? On whose authority do students take those tests? 

Our district eliminated several testing practice sessions. We are no longer required to do two benchmark reading exams. We are no longer required to give three practice writing assessments. We got five days--an instructional week--back. I wrote about that here, and here, and here

In turn, teachers have been asked to give common assessments every few weeks. If we stick to a three-week, common assessment schedule, that means we must design, create and implement a common assessment twelve times a year—more than two instructional weeks, gone again. Some of the assessments teacher teams design span more than one class period. Are these assessments "worth it"? Who says? 

Common assessments, like some standardized tests, can be valuable learning tools, but like standardized tests, they can run over the joy in teaching and learning. The President is not talking about common assessment though. He's talking about a different kind of standardization. 

In high schools, the number of tests students take depends of the kind of student they are. As a teacher and a parent, I know that the number of test my child will take depends on what course he takes at school. If my child chooses to take a class to improve his reading or math skills (remedial courses are no longer required by law in Florida), then he will take a battery of assessments as teachers monitor progress through standardized curricula. Even if he does not choose to take such course, he could test more.
From the 2015-2016  Orange County Public Schools Parent Guide

With a push to accelerate learning, districts enroll students in advanced placement (AP) courses by the thousands. By passing an AP test, students have opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school. This can be a win-win for students and schools. It's also big business. 

Do AP tests count? Do they fit the President's three basic principles?

These courses and tests are a choice for students and parents. Does it matter if districts are using resources to administer them?

Time seems relative. Money talks. Listening to President Obama’s speech about testing, I start thinking about the money, the resources schools and districts pour into testing of all types.

What if districts had to limit not just time, but also spending on tests to 2%? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Believe

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

What does it mean to value learning? Does it mean we honor practice and give participation grades? What does it really mean when we say we value what kids know and are able to do? Does it mean that as students' understandings or skill levels improve their grades reflect that improvement?

What does that mean in terms of what a parent or a child sees in our grade books? As the parent of a high school student, I wonder.

I've been thinking a lot about grades and how my teacher self grades students' learning or monitors kids' progress toward learning.

What does these snap shots from my grade book tell you I value as English teacher?

I cut the marks column and I cut the category averages. I think my values show even in how I name assignments and the comments I give kids. What do you see here?

Here's another student:

I believe my grade book points to standards (skills and processes and content) I am teaching--though I have to say it's not as transparent as I would like it to be. In our reading journals, for example, we've been writing analysis and practicing writing about theme. You can't see that work on theme in the assignments listed. Nor can you see the theme work or the textual evidence work embedded in our Socratic discussions. I have yet to accurately name what we do.

I believe that if I grow strong readers, writers and communicators, our society improves. Kids choices improve. I believe literacy empowers. I believe in the power of practice and in second chances.

How does my grade book show you what I believe?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Stop Punishing Kids with Grades

The view from here.

Like Pernille Rip, three ideas around grades, homework and rewards are the foundation of my teaching practice. 

  1. Grades measure what a students knows and is able to do. Behaviors, while learned, are not grade-worthy.
  2. Limit homework: time spent noodling around or playing with family and friends is important.
  3. Don't ruin kids with rewards or use grades or writing as punishment. 

I've been thinking a lot about grades as I shift my practice to value learning more than compliance. When it comes to learning, real learning, what matters is effort and skill development.  What does not matter is neatness or format (unless you're teaching citation methods). 

When it comes to actually learning, writing in pen or pencil does not matter. When it comes to learning content, what order I staple my papers in should not count for half of the grade. When you do you the work does not matter. Turning in assignments on time or at the same time as everyone else in class does not matter.

Well, I take that back. 

Timeliness matters a little bit to me. I know it shouldn't matter much.  Adults don't even do the same thing at the same time, even when they are required to by law. 

 A late assignment should never be an average killer. A late assignment should create an untrue picture of what students know and can do. 

Penalizing kids with zeroes is malpractice. 

Take this scenario: the same student two different perspectives.

Late work--even late make up work--does not merit a zero.  Rick Wormeli taught me that lesson long ago. I wrote about it here

I forget things. This weekend I forgot to go to the grocery store. I forgot to schedule time to finish grading students' narratives. I forgot that I had made plans to see a play and plans to meet friends for dinner on the same day. I forgot I had a doctor's appoint on Monday afternoon that clashed with my son's Symphonic Band practice. I forgot to mail a package to a friend that I have been carry around town in the car since school started. I forgot to water the orchid that sits next to the bathtub. 

Sometimes the things we forget are important and sometimes they are not. Sometimes the busy-busy of day to day derails even the best intentions.

from Guskey, Thomas R. "Grading Policies that Work
against Standards...and How to Fix Them
High schoolers are busy people too. Their schedules are loaded with commitments: homework, sports, band, club meetings, family celebrations, chores, youth groups, dance competitions, test preparation, hobbies, YouTube, and books. 

High school kids have families too. Sometimes students have families in two homes and they split time between them. Sometimes the families have one parent or no parents, one child or many children. Sometimes another family member's schedule takes priority. 

As a parent, I do not want my son punished for merely forgetting a task. I don't want him punished for trying to make something up late or past someone's arbitrary deadline. If he forgot to make up a quiz, let him apologize and take the quiz. Tell him you are disappointed. Talk to me (the parent) about his forgetfulness. I will teach him to keep track of what needs doing and to prioritize. I will teach him to be more responsible. I will apply consequences for the behavior. I want you to grade your content and his skill.

Punishing him with a zero for his behavior will not teach him your content.

I keep that in mind when I'm teaching the kids in my classroom. I will leave the teaching of responsibility and behavior  to parents. I'm here to teach kids how to be better readers and writers. 

Learning has no expiration date in my classroom. 

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Rebekah O'Dell's post  on Moving Writers titled "I Quit Grading" inspired me to write about one aspect of grading today.