SHARING REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING AND LEARNING AT CATE SCHOOL
by Annalee Salcedo
They say that if you come back from a professional development conference and don’t use what you learned in your class within two weeks, you’re likely not to use it at all. So on the plane ride from Phoenix, where I just spent two and a half days at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Grading and Assessment, I planned how to incorporate at least a little of what I had learned into my classes. I have been dappling with standard based grading for the last few years, but the Conference gave me language (and confidence) that I was able to use immediately in my parent-teacher conferences, which started less than three hours after I landed in Santa Barbara and returned to Cate.
During our conferences, I showed parents their child’s row in my gradebook (excerpted below), which tracked each student’s progress on the learning objectives for the term, listed across the top. I explained how their child’s grade reflects their level of proficiency (on a 1-4 scale) with these objectives at this time. I showed them how most of these skills have already been assessed at least two or three times, and how their score for each skill (in white columns) more heavily reflects their most recent performance rather than scores from when the skills were just introduced.
“That makes total sense,” parents said all night. In most of my conferences, I was able to point out to the parents that their child improved on several skills (for example, Student 1’s improving ability to interpret rate functions), and I could see the pride and approval in the parents’ faces. In a few cases, the parents noticed before I could point it out that their child got several “2”s in a row and they said, “hmm, my child isn’t learning from his mistakes.” In most of these conferences, we didn’t talk about grades - we got to talk about how well our students are learning.
Bill Ferriter was a one of the speakers at the Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading and in his book, “Creating a Culture of Feedback” he quotes Seymour Papert who wrote, “The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill. The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn.” My conferences last night were all about how well students were learning. Parents were asking, “Does my child know what the learning goals are?” “Does my child know where she is on that skill?” “Is he using your feedback?” “Is she checking in with you to make sure she knows what she needs to do to improve?”
I did have one parent persist in a line of questioning specifically about what in terms of content his child needed to do better in order to be more successful in this class. The student had gotten a string of 3s and 4s on the most recent assessment of our target skills to date, and so I said that in fact, mathematically he’s shown solid levels of proficiency. But we noticed that all previous assessments were riddled with repeated 1s and 2s, so clearly this student prepared really well for the unit test, but wasn’t addressing the mistakes during the unit. I was able to explain to the parent that in terms of product, his son was able to deliver, but his process clearly needed improvement. The parent said, “Oh, so it’s not just math you’re trying to teach him. OK, I’ll talk to him about that.” So will I, I promised.
Part of why I felt ready to jump into these conversations with parents just hours after the end of the Assessment and Grading Conference is because I realized that though I’m not using a full fledged standard based grading system, I have fully adopted the Standards Based Mindset, which Tom Schimmer spoke about at the Conference. It was super exciting to share this mindset and evidence of their student’s learning habits with parents during our conferences.
I did have one student attend his meeting with his parents (and I love it when they do that!). But it revealed to me some of the work I have yet to do. For example, my student wasn’t able to describe this system of assessment and grading, even though I had explained it in class and had them read about it on our class website. (Classic: if they didn’t learn it, did I really teach it?). He didn’t know how my google sheet worked, what the 1-4 scale meant, or how this all mapped to a letter grade in the end. This tells me I need to get my students more actively involved our system of assessment. As Ferriter puts it, I need to teach my students how to gather feedback rather than wait for it from me, as if I were the expert on their learning. I need to figure out ways to get my students actively judging their own levels of proficiency, tracking their own progress, and identifying next steps for themselves. Luckily, Ferriter’s book has lots of great practical tips for how to teach students to become experts in their own learning. Those are the tips I was taking notes on during my plane ride from Phoenix, and I can’t wait to start using them!
by Taylor Donovan Wyatt
Last week my students went through the testing process for the first time. Because our curriculum is written so that topics are interwoven and spiral in difficulty, preparing students for a test is something of a decoding process. The various “threads” are usually obvious to the teacher, but for students, the unraveling of topics can be like "the big reveal" in a renovation show.
In my class last week, each student took responsibility for five problems, listing topics covered and writing up “solution guides” to share with their classmates. In this particular problem set, one student listed topics including “Pythagorean Theorem,” “Circle Formula,” and “Find Distance Between Two Points.” Another student reacted, saying, “Hey, can we just call that category ‘Pythag?’” Some classmates were all in favor, others resistant, but the discussion that followed about why -- or why not -- these problems could be grouped was really encouraging. Other topic connections were explored as well, like the relationship between problems involving linear graphs, equations, and tables. Students also listed problem-solving strategies and attached them to problems: “Use two different methods to check this problem - algebra and graphing,” or “make a chart to show patterns.” Though I prompted students throughout discussion, my role was primarily as note-taker as the class took ownership for what would be on the test.
After the test, a six problem affair that closely resembled the questions they’ve been working on in class or at home, students were asked to do an objectives-based reflection. Rachel came up with this idea a few years ago and it is so useful. She created a google form listing the objectives tested (unconnected to problem numbers). Students must match their performance on certain problems with the objective and rank themselves on a scale from “mastery” to “I need help.” Then, they answer two short questions on their test experience and how they plan to prepare for the next assessment.
Because our students are younger, many of them wrote earnest, but vague responses in their reflections. So we printed out their individual responses, taped it into their journal, and asked questions like “What do you mean when you say, ‘go over problem 2 again’? Would you like to meet for 10 minutes? When? How will you practice unit conversions?” Students then had an opportunity to get more specific. We teachers also learned a lot about what students find challenging in terms of our course objectives, how students actually prepared for the test, and how they plan to improve or continue their preparation process. Two examples are below.
What are the strengths of your PBL testing process? What could we do differently or better? Thank you for reading, Taylor.