Saturday, March 19, 2016

The 4 Elements of Excellent Assessments

There is no shortage of assessments in schools today. No matter the school, the lack or surplus of resources, or the collective expertise of the teaching staff, there will always be an assessment to give to students. The issue is not whether we have assessments or even if they're good assessments.  The question we have to continually ask ourselves is if our assessments possess the elements that accelerate learning. In other words, do we intentionally put the MENT in assessment?

The 4 Elements of Excellent Assessments

Do our assessments and the data that they yield mean anything to the teachers who create them and the students who take them?  Furthermore do our assessments make learning a truly meaningful experience for both our teachers and students?

Do our assessments cause students to generate an excitement about learning and a desire to know more about the content, especially if the content is difficult for them?

Narrow the Focus
Do our assessments tell students which specific skills are mastered, which specific skills are still struggling and what kids need to do next to master deficit skills?

Do our assessments result in greater tenacity in our students' quest for learning or turn kids off of learning altogether. Additionally, do our assessments result in teachers becoming more tenacious in their efforts to guarantee learning for every student, especially our lowest students?

Putting the MENT in Assessment
Assessments were never meant to kill learning, but some assessments dissolve from rigor into rigor-mortis while others transform rigor into vigorous learning. The deciding factor in whether or not our assessments will lead all kids to excellence depends 100% on how we decide to use those assessments to drive our instruction and inspire our students to love and take ownership of their learning. Ultimately, how we design assessments and respond to the data that they yield will always be what separates the best from the rest. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Being SMART about Student Motivation

Motivation can add 10 points to a test.  It can take 10 seconds off of your long distance run, and it may just add 10 years to your life.  When we are motivated, we get more done and we get it done more enthusiastically.  To put it another way, motivation is exponent of life.  The more of it we have, the more fruitful our life will be.

Well, what if you're not motivated?
Bill Ferriter shared an interesting article by @MindShift about the brain research behind motivation, and it revealed that if we psyche ourselves up and focus our thoughts on being successful, we will ignite the neurons in the part of the brain that controls motivation.  So the evidence is conclusive. We can motivate ourselves if we make a concerted effort to do so.

So what if our students are unmotivated learners?
After reading the article, I was drawn to another @MindShift article called 20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners.  The piece highlighted Kathy Perez, an educator and consultant, who shared her ideas about ways to fire up the neurons in our unmotivated students.  She pointed out that motivated learning requires lots of action, interaction, and excitement, and here are a few reminders that we must never forget if we want to fire up our kids for learning.

  • Student attention spans equal 1 minute per year of age.  (8 years olds have an attention span for any given activity for 8 minutes.)
  • Boredom is Motivation's Kryptonite - If you don't respond to student boredom, they will lose the motivation to learn.
  • Goal Setting is Essential - If we want kids to stay motivated, they must help set measurable and attainable goals that will keep them focused on the learning for the day.
  • Group Collaboration with short time limits accelerates motivation - Instead of allowing 5 minutes to do group collaboration, Kathy recommends using seconds, like 72 seconds, to collaborate. The short amount of time actually focuses kids on more active learning.
In order to motivate the unmotivated, it requires us to ensure that the learning actually matters to kids.  It has to be learning that it attainable, but most importantly it has to be safe. The biggest turn-off to learning is not when the learning is boring.  It is when the learning makes kids lose faith in their ability as learners. 

Motivated Learning is SMART.
If you want more kids to be excited about the learning in your classroom, you have to determine if the learning tasks you select faciliate the SMART mentality.
  • Specific & Stimulating - Does the learning have a specific goal and is it introduced in a way that piques our students' curiosity to want to know more about it.  
  • Meaningful & eMpowering - Do we find a way to make the learning meaningful to our kids, and do we create learning opportunities that empower our kids to make their own meaning of what  they learn. 
  • Attainable & Applicable - Do we stretch our kids to reach attainable short-term goals along the way, and do we allow our students to apply what they learn in predictable and unpredicatable situations.
  • Results-Oriented & Real-World - Do our learning tasks yield tangible results that student can use to drive their next steps in learning, and does our learning apply to real-world that our students know and understand.
  • Time-Bound & Targeted - Does our learning optimize time and give kids a clear target to shoot for at all times?
The best part of my reason to write this post was this video that I found at the end of the second article.  From the perspective of a student, the video clearly articulates what kids need in order to be confidently motivated to learn. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Cleaning for the Classroom

Spring is in the air and that means one thing, spring cleaning.  It's time to clean out the closets and garages and get the house spruced up for the new season.  While I know that spring cleaning takes a lot of work, I also know that it is well worth the effort.  It makes the rest of my spring so much more enjoyable.

Well let's apply that idea to your classroom.  

What are your plans to clean out your classroom.  I'm not talking about cleaning your room or even cleaning out the drawers and closets.  I'm talking about your routines, procedures, and processes that help all kids learn at higher levels.  As you are getting ready for spring break, ask yourself these questions?
  1. Where is student behavior doing well, and what routines should continue this spring?
  2. Where is students behavior lacking, and what do I need to change to better address it?
  3. What activities promote higher levels of active engagement, and how can I get more of these activities into my instruction?
  4. Where is engagement lacking, and what do I need to do differently to reengage my students this spring?
  5. Where and how can I ramp up the rigor for high achievers in a more personalized and meaningful way?
  6. Where and how can I give more support to struggling students that better addresses their deficits?
The answers to these questions will tell you what you need to address and what you need to "clean out" of your practice before spring break.  

Why do you need "Spring Cleaning" in your classroom before spring break?  

The answer is pretty simple.  When the students return from spring break, they will be fresh.  Upon their return, they will most open to new routines, motivational strategies and higher expectations.  They will also be more receptive to more challenging activities that require more movement, interaction and conversation, and they will more flexible than at any point in the year simply for one reason.  They will have been out of the "school" routine for 11 days.  

Spring weather brings with it a desire to be more active which is why behavior often gets more exuberant than usual.   It is important to remember that without a specific plan to adjust to the "spring" behavior that will return to your classroom after break, instruction has a strong chance of suffering.   Don't miss this "once a year" opportunity to do some spring cleaning in your classroom.  It may be just the thing that will meet your kids where they currently are and take them to where they need to be.