Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Is it time to stop averaging grades?

What message are we sending to students when we average grades over a quarter or a semester?

This is definitely a hot topic question for those who are involved in work around grading and assessment.

What about the statement below?

'When we average grades over time, we are basically saying that our teaching doesn't have any impact on student learning.' via @leeannjung

That's a pretty powerful and bold statement!

Also, consider this image of seven students and their performance over a period of time:

Do we really feel each student is at the same place in regard to their learning?

Do we really feel each student is receiving a grade that most accurately reflects their current level of mastery?

Next, consider the football team in preparation for the game on Friday night...

Team A: Works extremely hard all week at practice and has done everything possible to prepare for the game on Friday night.

Team B: Takes it easy at practice all week and really didn't put forth a lot of commitment to prepare for the game on Friday night.

The reality is that both teams will start the game on Friday night with zero points. The team that worked hard doesn't get an advantage from the start and the team that didn't work hard doesn't start off with a disadvantage. Grades are about what kids know at that given point in time... same thing as on the football field.

Last thought... do we really want the initial learning students do in the beginning (when the skills and/or content are brand new) to affect a student's grade later on down the road? Should students be able to escape the mistakes and roadblocks they faced in the beginning or should these mistakes haunt them the entire grading period?

So, is it time to stop averaging grades?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Extend learning by NOT using grades

When a grade is given, the learning stops.

When specific feedback is provided and extending questions are asked, the learning goes deeper.

We've all heard statements like these before, and for the most part, many tend to agree with the basic premise behind these statements. However, our actions don't always align with our beliefs, and sometimes our beliefs don't always make it into the actual structures of our classrooms.

Imagine these three scenarios when it comes to grades and giving students feedback:

Scenario 1: Teacher hands back an assignment with just a grade.

Scenario 2: Teacher hands back an assignment with specific feedback and perhaps a couple extending questions WITH a grade.

Scenario 3: Teacher hands back an assignment with specific feedback and two extending questions WITHOUT a grade.

What tends to happen... in scenario 1, the student looks at the grade and then crumples up the assignment to work on his/her basketball career. In scenario 2, the same thing happens and more than likely, the student doesn't even acknowledge the feedback and questions. In scenario 3, the student is curious and the student wants to know more, thus the learning process remains alive and in most instances, strengthens.

More often than not though, scenario 1 is what we find in our schools.

But, we know based on research and based on overall student retention of information and development of skills, students perform far better in scenario 3.

So, I'd like to challenge all educators (in all positions within education, administrators included), to work on providing specific feedback with extending questions rather than simply a grade and/or quantitative evaluation.

This takes time and isn't always the most efficient, but in the long run, it surely will be the most effective...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

6 ways to ensure technology enhances learning

The six questions below come from Alan November's work on technology rich vs. innovation poor

So, the next time you are planning an activity or a lesson that involves technology, ask yourself these six questions. If you aren't able to answer 'yes' to them, then you may want to reconsider the structure and/or format of the activity you are doing.

Also, if you ever get the opportunity to hear Alan speak, please do so. Alan is engaging and will surely get you thinking and calling into question what you've always believed to be true about student learning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Schools need more Legos & fewer textbooks...

Something special is happening in my school district.

It's quite magical actually...

We are purchasing more and more Legos for our students as tools of learning.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know how this sounds...

Kids playing with Legos while at school may appear on the surface as counterproductive when it comes to improving standardized test scores. That may be true (there's not a lot of research out there), but I'm feeling optimistic and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that playing with Legos may just have a positive effect on student learning, student growth and development, AND standardized test scores...

In regard to exploration, discovery, hands-on learning, trial and error learning, cause and effect learning, and allowing kids to think creatively and uniquely about their surroundings, all are direct benefits of integrating Legos into our learning spaces.

It's these types of learning experiences that ensure our kids will be ready for anything and everything that the world could possibly throw at them.

Heck, even Cambridge University is hiring a 'professor of Lego.' If that doesn't mean Lego deserves a spot at the educational table, then I don't know what does.

So, will you take the plunge and set some of your textbook money aside and look toward enriching the lives of your students by adding a little Lego to their educational experience?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Using your #socialmedia presence for good...

Nobody cares what I have to say.

I don't have that many people following me, so what's the point?

My thoughts aren't unique... somebody has already said it.

I'm too late to the party. There's no point in starting now.

And my favorite... I don't have time to do that kind of stuff.

So here's the deal... social media, whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, YouTube, or any other social media platform, they are here to stay. Albeit they might be different in 10 years, but something will be in their place. This fad isn't really a fad.


Far too often these above statements are still the norm rather than the exception. Most educators are actively involved in some form of social media, however, many aren't utilizing or harnessing the power of social media for 'good.'

Now, before you get all defensive about your social media use, let me explain what I mean by 'good.'

By 'good' I mean using these tools to share and connect with other educators with the intent of enhancing one's craft in the educational setting with a focus on increasing student learning.

Hopefully this definition has calmed you a bit and you are nodding your head in agreement.

The reality is it doesn't matter if you have one follower or a million, you have an audience and when you have an audience there's room for networking and connecting.

It doesn't matter if somebody has already said it or already done it... there are many others who haven't yet and they are just waiting for someone to repeat it so they can jump on the bandwagon.

And, if you think you don't have time, then ask yourself how could you not have time? How could you not have time to be more efficient and streamlined in your work? How could having educators from all over the world who've already created the wheel not save you time when you haven't even started?

In closing, embrace social media as the powerful tool that it is... and figure out ways to use this tool for good, because there's a whole lot of good out there and your voice will only strengthen and enrich what already exists.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

10 truths about educating kids that are ignored

How many of these truths are you ignoring?

Do you agree that these are in fact truths?

If I told you they came from Alfie Kohn, would that matter?

What are you doing to ensure these truths become a reality in your classroom and/or school?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Subjectivity in grading isn't new...

Take a moment to read this excerpt below from a Tom Guskey article:

If you're a student, are these results realistic to what you experience in your classes with your teachers?

If you're a teacher, would you agree with these two studies based on conversations you've had with your colleagues?

If you're an administrator, how could you ever truly support and defend your teachers in an environment like this?

If you're a parent, how confusing could these levels of subjectivity be in understanding what your son/daughter actually knows?

This level of grading subjectivity is plaguing classrooms all over the world...

Maybe this 100 year old study should be 'refreshed' and reintroduced.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Can we please stop saying 'in the real world?'

We are preparing kids for the 'real world.'

This phrase is heard in schools all across the globe in an effort to justify our actions to both students and parents.

To justify as if what we are doing is absolutely critical and vital to the long term success of students in the future.

To the untrained ear, you would almost assume that if we educators didn't do certain things, then kids would surely not make it to the end of the week. Most definitely not to the end of the month...

This 'supposed' level of responsibility and accountability we are working to teach our students comes at a price.

It comes at the price of our students' current lives. It comes at the price of this exact moment in time.

It comes at the price of making our students feel as if what they are doing right now really doesn't matter because it can only pale in comparison to what they will do 'in the real world.'

Maybe it's time to stop saying 'in the real world' and instead start focusing on helping our kids make good decisions to better their lives right NOW.

Let's start sending the message to our students that the work they are doing now and the lives they are living now do in fact matter. In fact, they might be all that really truly matter...

In closing, I think it's rather pompous and arrogant to assume that the lives kids are living right now don't matter when compared to the lives they will live upon completing their artificial learning program, which most have come to know as, school...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Is the learning in your classroom 'googleable?'

Sure, we need to know some basic things before we are able to elevate and take our learning to the next level.

And yes, absolutely, there are questions we will ask and tasks we will assign that could be easily solved via Google.


What's that ratio look like in your classroom?

Is it a 50/50 split between 'googleable' answers vs. 'not-googleable' answers?

Or, is the divide even wider...?

Better yet, would you be willing to do an activity with your students and have them post the questions being asked in your class in one of these two categories like Ewan McIntosh did?

Would you be brave enough to do this type of vulnerable, transparent and reflective activity with your students?

Would you have the willingness to change what you're doing based on the findings of this type of activity?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The engaged student vs. the compliant student

The engaged student knows exactly why they are doing what they are doing while the compliant student is unable to connect the learning to anything meaningful.

The engaged student is asking questions while the compliant student is simply receiving instructions and direction from the teacher.

The engaged student is focused on learning while the compliant student wants to know how many points the activity is worth.

The engaged student is able to track, monitor, and self-evaluate their learning while the compliant student is reliant upon the teacher to know where he/she is with their learning.

The engaged student is making connections to the material and information beyond the four walls of the classroom while the compliant student is unable to see beyond the actual task itself.

The engaged student doesn't have time to misbehave or make poor choices while the compliant student is one turn of the back by the teacher away from making a poor decision.

The engaged student is empowered and is in control of their learning while the compliant student needs to wait for the teacher to know what he/she is to do next.

The engaged student is creating something new or thinking about something differently while the compliant student is merely consuming what has already been created or thinking about what has already been thought of.

Let's ensure our kids aren't just being compliant robots...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Is it time to eliminate final exams?

Even the elitist of elite universities, Harvard, is moving away from traditional finals. And Harvard isn't alone... read more about this movement here: and here:

There's also a growing list of reasons that finals really aren't the most effective at doing what they originally were intended to do.

But, let's ignore the trends being set by colleges and the realities of their ineffectiveness for just a moment.

Let's first look at the math and see if they are really fair:

Let's assume a final is worth 20% of a student's semester grade. Then let's assume the student has an 85% in the class going into the final. That means that 80% of the student's grade is an 85%.

Scenario 1: The student receives a 100% on the final

So, now 20% of the student's grade is a 100% and 80% of the student's grade is an 85%. The final grade for the student is an 88%... (still a B)

Scenario 2: The student receives a 50% on the final

So, now 20% of the students's grade is a 50% and 80% of the student's grade is an 85%. The final grade for the student is a 78%... (now a C)

Even when the student did extremely well on the final the student wasn't able to move from the B to A range. And unfortunately, a poor performance has resulted in the student going down to a C.

Let's now consider the students who ultimately end up having to take finals:

It's no secret that many schools have exemption policies in place (many of which include factors that aren't related to academic performance or any demonstration of learning mastery); things like attendance, behavior, and arriving to class on time. Additionally, many schools require a student to have an A or B in the class to exempt the final.

So, which students end up actually taking finals...? 

The students who don't have a good grade in the class... the students who potentially didn''t have good attendance... and the students who possibly had discipline issues. In a nutshell, we basically require all the students who we know are more than likely not prepared to succeed on the final, to be the ones who actually have to take the final.

Sorry, but that just doesn't make sense unless we are trying to use the final as one last opportunity to 'teach' these kids a lesson.

Also, if finals are so important and are instrumental in preparing kids for a college that doesn't do finals anymore, or a career that doesn't really care about big summative multiple choice tests, then why would we allow some students to to be exempt?

If finals are so great, then we should be requiring all students to take them, right?

So, have finals run their course and is it time to eliminate them? 

Or, are there better alternatives if we do in fact start eliminating traditional finals? 

Have we outgrown finals and have they become an example of doing something in education without just cause and reasoning?

Is it time to eliminate final exams?

I'd like to thank @mathphanatic, @50wildcat & @jhalltech for pushing my thinking on this topic.

This kind of stuff only happens in schools...

As educators, why do we question the validity of new technologies and new methods?

Why do we question new and innovative practices that could lead to increases in student learning?

Why are those who aren't the true professionals able to dictate what does and doesn't happen in education?

How has it become that we allowed our profession to be subjected to any and all scrutiny by all who have an opinion?

Read the short story below to further make my point:

I'd like to thank @crowley_mike for sharing this image via Twitter.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Kids don't need schools to learn...

Most if not all school districts have mission and vision statements.

Some schools and districts spend countless hours and involve all stakeholders in making these statements.

Some schools and districts get behind these statements and make them an integral part of the culture, while others simply have them and do nothing with them.

What's common in many vision and mission statements is a statement pertaining to learning.

Something like ... all students can learn ... or all students will learn to their potential ... or ensuring that all students learn to their best ability ... or all students will be provided opportunities to learn.

Before you read any further, please know I'm all for students learning.

Here's my problem though... when we include statements like these above in our mission and vision statements, we make it sound as if students are incapable or unwilling to learn outside of our school walls.

This couldn't be further from the truth...

Regardless of what is happening in a kid's life, they are learning. In fact, we are all learning no matter what is happening. The simplest activity or event in our lives presents an opportunity to learn. Kids are not exempt from this reality...

The issue that arrises is that kids may not be learning what we educators feel they need to be learning about at any given particular time.

So, please keep in mind... our kids don't need our schools to learn. They don't need our teachers to gain a deeper understanding of complex scenarios. They don't need our curricula to make sense of the world. And they surely don't need our textbooks to expand their knowledge of the world around them.

Let's recognize kids as the brilliant minds they are and acknowledge that they too have the ability to learn with or without schools...

I'd like to thank Tom Hairston for birthing this idea and breaking bread with me while discussing topics in education.