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Month: February 2017 (page 1 of 2)

The Long Road: Project 180, Day 106


When one adopts an “Assessment-for-Learning” instead of an “Assessment-of-Learning” approach, he makes an in-it-for-the-long haul decision because it takes time. A lot of time. And so, it becomes a difficult decision, for time is precious, but it is a commitment to using time, spending time (the cost) to meet each kid where he is (the benefit) that makes the difference down the road.

I have a lot to learn about learning. It is such a complex and varied undertaking. And while I am learning much from Hattie (Visible Learning), I am also learning a lot from my kids. Granted, they have not written any books on learning, but they have spent the majority of their young years in the learner’s seat, so they have some credibility when it comes to helping me understand how they learn, and until I better understand that, I cannot make the best decisions for how to teach each. So, I have to go to the kid. I have to sit down with her and seek to understand where she is so I may meet her, so I may teach her. With nearly 90 souls to meet in my 180 classroom, that becomes quite the task. Time, indeed.

Our current assessment for learning is our performance task, an argumentative letter to the school board regarding the issue of the Holocaust movies remaining in the curriculum. We have taken a step-by-step approach to composing our letters, placing process at the center of our work, a process that has helped produce the product that the kids will complete today. But the process continues, the learning continues. Now that they have had the time and support to perform, it is time for us to sit down and assess their performances, an assessment that will give them direct, face-to-face feedback on what they did well, what needs work, and how they can continue to grow in this arena. 90 souls. 90 conferences. A long road. A lot of time. But it’s worth the walk. Every step of it.

It will look a little like this. The performance task is modeled after the type of performance task that the kids will encounter on the SBA this spring. I have used it as vehicle to introduce them to the argumentative format and scoring criteria that will be used on the state test. As I sit down with each kid over the next several days, I will take them through the SBA Argumentative Scoring Guide and how their product matches up with the very criteria that will be used to score the SBA. Unavoidably, there will be some judgment of course, but that judgment simply provides an opportunity for feedback.  And that, I believe, is where understanding begins. And once understanding has begun, then the teaching can begin. Gonna be a long road. But that’s okay. I will be in good company.

Happy Tuesday, all.


Monday: Project 180, Day 105


Hate Mondays. Always have. At 45 years of age, that’s a lotta Mondays. That’s a lotta hate. Time to change my tune and my ‘tude. And of course, as is often the case when I readjust the sails, it begins with taking a closer look at my kids. Cruising through Twitterland this morning, I spied the above graphic, and it gave me pause.

For some kids, Monday may very well be the best day of the week. It’s a day when they return to warmth and safety, a day when they get two square meals, a day when they get the full, I-care-about-you attention of an adult. Yes, they should get this from home. And most do, but not all. And while I think I know who these kids are in my class, the truth is I just don’t really know, so I need  to assume that all need my caring affirmations, and that is how I need to approach all my kids, even on–especially on–Mondays when I am dealing with my own struggles to re-acclimate myself to my Monday-Friday environment. And so today–MONDAY–I will check my attitude at the door and be all that I can be for my kids. And so, too, on Friday I will be mindful of the fact that it may be the worst day of the week for some, and I will curb my out-loud enthusiasm for the week’s end. They need to know that I see them–coming and going. In truth, I’d like them to know that I always see them, even when they are not there.

Happy Monday, all. No, really, happy Monday. Happy Monday, happy Monday, happy Monday… just trying out my new mantra.

Storm a Brewin’: Project 180, Day 104

Losing sleep. There is a disturbance on the horizon of my conscience, and I am not sure I can let it go. In fact, now that I have said it, made it public, I am positive I won’t be able to ignore the gathering clouds on my horizon. As we stand on the eve of this year’s round of standardized testing, I find myself deeply troubled and disturbed by this continuing trend in education, and while I have been largely quiet about–and, at times, even supportive of–the standardized testing movement, I have arrived at a point where I can no longer stand idly by without raising some objections, some concerns about the path we are on. Of course, I have felt this way for some time, but it’s a delicate matter for one in my position,  so I have bitten my public tongue for years. But I can remain quiet no longer. The storm is building. I know it’s coming. And now I can’t stop it. But not today. The clouds are not yet ripe for the burst. But a storm is coming. Just wanted to give you the forecast.

Happy Friday, all. Have a great weekend.

Days without End: Project 180, Day 103

Days don’t end for those who teach kids. Day, night, dark, and light blend and blur. Truly a 24/7 livestream that sucks the bandwidth of our brains and drains the batteries of our spirits. Many a time have I wished for a switch that would allow me to turn off and tune out that which resides inside–even if for only a moment. But, then, I quickly banish such blasphemy, for what if during that brief respite, I let a kid down? And so, I quit my futile fumbling for the switch and keep the constant vigilance of my post, and it makes me tired. But, it’s a good tired. And only because of the reciprocal relationship we share with our kids. Yes, they take, they consume the best essence of our very beings, but they also give, they breathe life into our weary souls and we endure, with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts, as we face another day with they who matter most. A unique labor indeed. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Happy Thursday, all.


Price of Possibility: Project 180, Day 102

Morning, all. Slept in a bit. Darn Wednesday mornings seem to get me. Had the teacher panel for my college kids last night in my classroom at the high school, where we were graced with the presence of some rockstar teachers: Shannon Root, Marin Hatcher, Jenna Tamura, Maddie Alderete, Sherry Syrie, Hannah Comi, Sara Leonetti, and Steve Arensmeyer. Thank you, all, for sharing your wisdom with the next generation of educators. You all rock.

Back to 180. Recently, I shared that some (three)  kids had opted to return to a traditional-grading approach at semester. My critic, “An Observer,” who unfortunately mistook my explanation as the kids grading themselves, blasted the approach, commenting that of course they would give themselves an “A.” So, in an effort to clear up that misconception and share the particulars of the approach with those who are genuinely interested, I am going to take a few moments to explain what grading will look like for my three who chose tradition.

Actually, the explanation is quite simple. It really is just a return to the familiar, to tradition. There is now a point value assigned to the practice tasks and assessments that the kids do. Over the semester, they will amass a number of points earned and that against the total points possible will determine their percentage grade at the end. In my earlier explanation, I had mentioned a personalized grade sheet for each kid. This is simply a necessity, for I can only manipulate Skyward (our online grade book) so much, so I had to create a “grade book” for each kid. The image above is the current manifestation of that.

I created a table in Google Docs, and then I shared an individualized copy with each respective kid. As such, we have shared access to the grade book, and we can keep track of it together.  For one of the kids, whose mom is a colleague, I was able to share the document with her as well, giving all three of us access. Additionally, on my end, I keep the official record in my hardcopy grade book that I keep for all my students. The only difference being, for my three traditional kids, I enter points. The kids, regardless the grading approach, do all the same work. Yes, it’s a bit more work, and though my colleague repeatedly apologizes that I have to do that for her son, it’s the price of possibility. It bothers me not. On some strange level, I find it energizing actually. Doing what I can to provide the best experience for kids never feels like work. Never.

Happy Wednesday, all.

Key Ingredient: Project 180, Day 101

Really, truly, that’s what it’s all about. Graded or gradeless, a classroom should be about feedback, it is the ingredient in learning. This year, with the 180 approach, I have come to rely heavily on feedback. I’ve had to, for it, not grades, has become the connecting point between the kids and me. And though it has taken the kids a little bit of time to warm-up to the idea of feedback as a mechanism of growth instead of a mechanism of judgment, I believe they are beginning to see, beginning to accept what it’s intended to be: communication. It is the narrative that has become part of their growth stories this year. It lets them know what they are doing well and what still needs work. And so we do and learn, connected through feedback, both written and verbal. Today, as we continue with our letters to the school board, I will make my rounds giving feedback as each works toward his/her end. It’s the stuff of learning.

Short week. Time escapes. Can’t believe we are into triple digits for the year. Can’t believe that we are now down to double digits to go. Happy Tuesday, all.


A Realm of Possibility: Project 180, Day 100

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
~Emily Dickinson
     Each classroom a world. Each teacher a creator. Each student an inhabitant. Each door an entry–a step into a realm where, for most things, the difference between possible and impossible is a teacher’s decision. Incredible power. Incredible responsibility.
     As I have often remarked, teachers have a great deal of autonomy. And with that autonomy–that power, that freedom–we each create a world, a culture in which our kids must dwell as they journey forth in their educational experiences. Incredible power and responsibility–indeed, both of which make us alone responsible for the experience kids encounter in our respective worlds. It is a hat we must wear.
     Oh to be fair, there are certainly factors that we cannot control. We can neither control what happened before our kids entered the room, nor can we control what happens after they leave the room, but when they dwell among our four walls, when our policies impact their lives outside those four walls, we have to wear it; we have to own it. After all, we made it.
     I tell my college kids that they are not to become managers of classrooms. To be sure, they are to become creators of culture. They are being given an awesome power, an awesome responsibility. And as they prepare to build worlds in their own little corners of the universe, I tell them that it begins with a simple question, “How do you want kids to feel when they cross the threshold into your world?” And I go on to tell them that it continues with what they bring as they, themselves, walk into the room. What beliefs, convictions, and ideals do you harbor about education? What do you believe about kids? What do you believe about yourself? Unavoidably, inevitably, all this and more will play a part in creating the landscape. Oh, I go on to give them tools and guidance, but I cannot build it for them. It is their own world, and they have to own it. All of it.
     Of course, each quarter, our discussions lead us to the topic of grading, a component with significant classroom-culture implications.  And though, here, it is neither necessary nor expedient to share all the specifics, in our conversation, we always generally arrive at the truth of who’s in charge of grading practices, and most, if not all, are always taken aback by the fact that they are.–at least the degree to which they are. No one hands them the manual on day one. It is sparsely covered in college. They pick up pieces from their master teachers during student teaching. They remember and employ practices of teachers in their past. But beyond that, their grading practices become their constructs. And it is for that reason alone that they must wear what they make. Their hats of autonomy and shoes of responsibility, regardless the stage in their career, must fit, for they made them.
     Of course, wise teachers know this, and as they grow, they adjust, making the necessary alterations along the way. Wise teachers know they have to own it. Wise teachers know they create the world in which their kids exist. And wise teachers know–own–that their decisions separate possible and impossible. I want my young, aspiring teachers to reach an early wisdom in this regard. I want them to be the teachers who create realms of possibility. But I do not want them to be me. That is not the goal. To be clear, I am quite adamant about this. I only share stories from my world–stories fraught with failure, stories with only sprinkles of success–to reassure them that though we, indeed, wield “otherworldly power” at times in our positions, we are mere humans after all. We fail. We learn. We grow. We succeed. All to fail again. But if we hold true to our threads, if we perpetuate the possible, then we will rise each time, and continue to be stewards to those we would hold, to those we would host in our realms. And each time we fall, we must rise quickly for the time with our young spirits is but a blink. Let it be that after they blink, they see, they remember we did ALL within our power to make possible their dreams. Make choices that make possible.
     Happy Friday, all. Dwell in possibility.

Set to Idle: Project 180, Day 99

Morning, all. Slept in a bit. A slow day today, good day to charge the batteries. Kids are registering for classes next year. At CHS, kids register during their LA classes, so there won’t be much going on in 211 today. Next year, already? Crazy. 100 days into the journey tomorrow? Even crazier. See you in the morning.

Happy Thursday.

Heads Together: Project 180, Day 98

Of all the things I do as a teacher, the most rewarding for me is collaborating with kids on their writing. And in terms of learning, it is perhaps the most effective thing I do for my students. There’s power in the face-to-face, head-to-head, eye-to-eye moments that I share with my kids. I get to see them and they me as we work through the truly tough but terribly important skill of writing, a skill that will follow them far beyond the walls of the school house. Effective communication skills will not only get them through doors but also help them climb ladders. But honing these skills takes time and support. I have found that the best support I can give is conferencing with kids one-on-one, where I believe I can accomplish more in two-minutes during the process than I can with five-minute written comments after the process.

But this takes time, a great deal of time. And that is not always easy for kids when they encounter my approach. Accustomed to the hurry-up-get-done-and-move-on approach, they don’t always readily or easily adjust to spending weeks, sometimes months, on a writing task. Currently we are on week 3 of our argumentative letters to the school board, and it is likely that we will spend at least three more. Oh, we don’t work on it every day; to be sure, we are only able to devote Monday and Tuesday to this task, but during that time, we immerse ourselves in the task, in the process. And that is the key to the long-distance, endurance approach: the process. Though we in education know the power of process in writing, it often gives way to the product, and in our rush to the end, the learning often gets neglected. I know some of my kids care not for the pace I set with writing, but I believe there is nothing more important that I will teach my kids, and so I am willing to give it the time it deserves–the time to struggle, the time to grow, the time to triumph. Together. Eyes forward. Feet pointed. Heads joined. We journey forth. Together.

Happy Wednesday, all.


Change the Recipe: Project 180, Day 97

Though this recipe may not bake everyone’s cake, it captures what is often missing in the compliance-based classrooms that our young find themselves during the pivotal, formative moments of their early lives. And though I get–to some degree–that we need to fold some compliance into the mix, it is too frequently the first and thus primary ingredient in the conventional-cake mold that we attempt to place all kids. And, sadly, by the time they reach us in high school, they have been cast in compliance, with only a sprinkle of creativity to be found, and most of the time it is so sparsely sprinkled that one wonders if it ever made it into the mix at all.

And so, in an effort to rescue, to remedy the recipe we try to work creativity into the mix, but it’s often too late, and we settle for some cheap frosting on the surface, unable to break through the baked-on crust that has enveloped the still-young, but harder to reach spirits that we encounter. With 180, I am trying to breach the crust, to revive within what I believe exists in each, an innate desire to be creative, to be free, to learn, to grow, a desire that has been suppressed by the assembly-line molds in which we place our young as we rush them down the line towards a “real world” that accepts compliance but desires creativity.

And it is here where I believe we miss the mark, where we bake the wrong cakes. We are so steadfast in our belief that things “are as they are” and “will be because they have been” that we cannot see the potential in other paths and possibilities, summarily dismissing them as craziness when and if they do present themselves. And I get it. I think. But I no longer accept it. I took a risk with 180. I changed the recipe. And while it disheartens me that it does not present a cake that is palatable to all, I want to believe that it is the necessary nutriment for those starving for far too long on a compliance-only diet, a reality highlighted by the fact that kids have been so conditioned to eat the compliance cake that when a new item from the menu is placed before them, they deign not touch such a thing so foreign.

And I am not okay with that. I am not okay with a reality where kids only do out of compliance, and I am far-less okay to be a part of a system that perpetuates such an existence. So I changed the recipe. And though some kids still push their plates aside, I figure that whatever compliance I am withholding from their diets in room 211 is being more than made up for in their hourly feedings as they move from room to room, on bells, sitting in seats, looking forward, paying attention, not talking…complying, starving while eating the only diet they’ve ever known. It’s time to change the recipe.

Happy Tuesday, all. Change the recipe.

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