Friday, November 28, 2014

The Best Assessments Motivate All Students

In meaningful collaboration, there are always discussions surrounding the topic of how we know if kids are learning, and how we help them move forward.   Every teacher always wonders what the best ways are to assess student mastery of content, but here's the question. Do we consider assessments from the student's perspective or the teacher's perspective?  A great resource to solve this dilemma is Dylan Wiliam's "Embedded Formative Assessment".  In addition to his work, there is tons of research that says this.

The Best Assessments Motivate Students

  1. Accuracy requires the task that we give kids to be tied directly to the learning standard that we expect all kids to master.
  2. Descriptive feedback is more or less how educators provide specific information to help students know exactly what they need to do next in their learning.
  3. Student involvement means that students own the process.  If students are not involved in the learning process, then how can we expect them to be an active participant in closing their own gaps.

What does All of This Mean?

As we work with kids, the question circling through our minds shouldn't always be how do we know if kids are learning.  It should involve this kind of internal reflection.

  • What is the learning target that we want all students to master?
  • What is the best task that will meet these 2 criteria:
    • Peak student involvement and interest in the learning standard,
    • Aligned to the learning standard with depth and complexity
  • What types of feedback will we need to give students that will:
    • Scaffold learning for students
    • Be tied directly to the standard.
  • How will we: 
    • Determine when students master the skill,
    • Report mastery in a meaningful way that will help students move forward.
Assessment has such a bad perception because so many people think that it means test.  Assessment has Latin roots, and its original definition means "to sit beside".  My hope is that when we assess learning, we remember that our chief job is not to give a test or quiz but to give meaningful tasks that will allow students to connect with our content in powerful ways.  After all, that is the ultimate goal of learning, to connect kids with 'their' learning.  The best assessments don't make learning the goal.  They make learning the reality.

For more ideas about assessment, check out my post, 5 Ways to Assess without Giving a Test.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

5 Fixes for the First 5 Minutes of Instruction

You don't have a second opportunity to make a good first impression. If you get a bad feeling after meeting someone, it's going to take a lot for that person to change your general feelings about them. In other words you better spend time making the best impression the first time, or you'll have to spend lots of time thereafter convincing them that you've got it going on.

The same thing goes for any lesson.  If the kids don't develop a good impression in the first 5 minutes of the lesson, you're going to experience a lot of problems convincing them to stay with you. Great lessons can die in the first five minutes. It's not because they weren't planned well. It's because they didn't make a good impression on the student in the first few minutes. Have you ever had a lesson that included technology, and the technology wouldn't work?  Minute by minute the student engagement morphed into passive disengagement and eventually into disruptive bedlam, and as a result it took three times the time to reengage the students as it did to lose them in the first place.


But it doesn't have to be this way.  Look at the first 5 minutes as the foundation for learning.  A house built on a sandy foundation won't last long, but a house built upon a rock will last forever. Having homework turned in and materials ready for instruction is not enough to motivate kids for learning in the first five minutes. So how do great teachers create a great foundation for learning?

5 Fixes for the First 5

Here are 5 strategies to engage kids in learning and make an awesome 5 minute impression.

  1. Pose a problem on the board that is tied to your direct instruction.
  2. Padlet - Students can use their cell phones or tablets to respond to a thought-provoking questions.
  3. QR codes - Post a QR code that connects them to your lesson.
  4. Today's Meet - This is a great way to get kids to post their questions or comments about last night's homework while you tend getting class started.
  5. Google me this - Pose a term or concept for students to research through a Google search. 

The first five minutes of instruction is all about igniting minds. It's about connecting what students know to what you want them to know. If students aren't connected to your content, it is kind of difficult for you to create that interest through a lecture or presentation.   The pathway to rigor starts with cultivating a desire to want to know more. If the first five minutes of instruction do not inspire a student to want to know more, the remainder of the class will not be filled with rigor, but with rigor mortis. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"It's about Time" You Read this Book

November has been a great month. My first published work came out, and I was glad to be a part of such a cool project. Mike Mattos and Austin Buffum led an RtI anthology project called, "It's about Time" Planning Interventions and Extensions in an Elementary School", and it was an honor to be included in this book.                                                                                                                                                          Now before you think this is a shameless plug, I'd like you to read a little further. This book features several leaders who are practitioners from all over the nation.  They serve in all kinds of schools in a variety of roles, but these schools have one thing in common. Each school overcame amazing obstacles to make all kids successful. 

In each chapter, readers will learn a variety of strategies for collaboration that are truly focused on school improvement. Contributors share how they overcame the barrier of "not having time for intervention". Leaders illustrate how they included strong academic and behavioral interventions in their RtI program. The great thing about this book is that there's something for everybody. There are chapters that you can use right now to guide your school's thinking in constructive ways. In short, you will be able to connect your school and its limitations to almost every chapter in the book. That is because this book is about real schools with real problems who found powerful solutions to guarantee learning for all kids. 


The cool thing about the book is that it focuses on the right thinking that schools need to help kids. Sure, some of these schools may have more things than your school, but there are also schools that have far less resources and more problems as well. RtI is not about programs or paperwork. It's about collective responsibility and tapping into the unique strengths of your school and utilizing every asset in the building to help every child learn. 

"It's about Time" is about the right thinking schools need to support kids. I learned a lot about myself by writing my chapter, but this book taught me far more about what I need to do now for the kids in my school district. I'm very proud of this book, and I truly believe you should check out this book.  'It's about Time' provides educators with a smorgasbord of solutions that will help you focus more deeply on the learning in your school. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Are you a Learner or a Leaner?

I have visited with lots of educators over my almost 20 years in public education. What I have come to find is that there are two types of educators: those who learn and those who lean. From a cultural perspective, leaners annoy learners. Leaners lament for the status quo, and they oppose opportunities for growth. They yearn for yesterday and tear down tomorrow.

Now before anyone gets too offended, let me explain a little further.  Leaning is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does become negative if that's all you do. From time to time, we have to lean on our friends for guidance, experience, or just plain old wisdom. But if we look to people to do our jobs for us, then what good are we to kids?  I'm not just talking about our kids, but the kids of the person that we are taking advantage of? 

Leaning + R = Learning

Learning is leaning with a little R. The R stands for resilience, a commitment to never give up, a desire to know more, a commitment to make this world a better place by making ourselves better first. Educators who are learners are constantly finding new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing. Learners are like leaners in that they rely on their colleagues, but the striking difference is that learners don't mooch off of their colleagues. Learners give as much to their colleagues as they borrow from them. They reciprocate the favor. (another R that is in a Learner) 

A good friend of mine always said, "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."  Well the same goes for education. If you've got time to lean, you've got time to learn.  Those who habitually lean on others ultimately do not impact their kids to the degree and depth because they have no desire to impact their own life. 

To put this thought into even more perspective, I'll throw you this question. If we really believe in learning for all kids, shouldn't we believe in our own learning first?  After all, if we are not focused on being learners first, then how can we possibly expect our students to make learning their first priority?

What other R's would you add to make a Leaner into a Learner?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is your Mind Fixed on Growth?

Do you have a growth mindset?   Learning is about growing through failure not success.  To synthesize this question at a deeper level, I challenge each one of you to read Bill Ferriter's blog (CLICK HERE) and watch the video at the end.  I rarely say that something is unbelievably amazing, but this concise post (which was unbelievably amazing) fixed my mind on what is most important.  It is the growth not the result that determines if we are learning.  If we can condition ourselves first to become fixated on the progress we are making in our craft as opposed to obsessing about meeting a specific level of mastery, then I am confident that we will be more successful at conditioning our kids to develop the same growth mindset..

As I pondered the idea of growth mindset, I wondered what questions I should ask myself.  That is when I found this infographic by Marc Chernoff from  While these questions focus on reflecting on our work at the end of the week, you can ask these questions every time you encounter a failure or setback.  By reflecting and being cognizant about failure, we can identify which strength can be leveraged the next day or next week to improve our deficit area.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Build a STEM Lab without Money

My job is so much fun.  This past week, our primary Media and Information Technology Specialist, Veronica Wilkerson, came up with a great idea to create a STEM Lab completely from recycled items from home.  Instead of asking for donations or money, she decided to have a "STEM Lab Supply Drive".  Since most people have the basic items in our vision of the STEM lab at their home, we decide to host an event similar to a canned food drive to generate the necessary supplies for the STEM Lab.

Here is a link to our post about the STEM Lab 

If you'd like to see how we are engaging the community, here's a link to the Google Form to sign up for the STEM Lab Supply Drive.

Why This is Cool!

What I like about this idea is that it challenges the paradigm that you have to have a lot of "stuff" to get STEM up and moving.  STEM is not about stuff.  It's about innovation and the purest form of innovation is being able to create things without being able to buy stuff.  I also like this idea because it solicits support from community without asking them to spend money.  In essence,  we are building a STEM lab with the STEM mindset.  That's why my job is so much fun.