March 24, 2012

Talking narrative feedback at ASCD Conference

I'm heading to Philadelphia this weekend for the ASCD annual conference.

In my session, I'll be discussing results-only learning and how we can eliminate grades, which only punish students.

If you're attending the conference, I hope to see you at my presentation: Using Narrative Feedback to Replace Grades: One Step in Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE).

The session is Monday, March 26, 10:30-11:30 am Room 112A, Pennsylvania Convention Center, First Level.

March 21, 2012

How numbers and letters punish students

During our nine-week grading periods, I never put a  number, percentage or letter grade on any activity or project that my students complete. I supply detailed narrative feedback, asking students to return to activities and demonstrate mastery, if necessary.

When our quarters end, my school requires a letter grade for a report card. Instead of arbitrarily supplying a grade, I invite my students to participate in this evaluation process and tell me what their grade should be. Most students are remarkably accurate with this process. Some, however, are so stuck in the world of numbers and letters, that they can't comprehend how to come up with a grade, without the aid of points and percentages.

A powerful lesson
In an attempt to demonstrate the problem with grades, I tried a new approach, and we revisited the the points world at the end of the third marking period. I gave my students a list of all activities and projects and arbitrarily applied a point value (years ago, I never understood how strange this practice is). I then asked my students to put a point value on their production for each activity.

As the process ensued, there were plenty of sighs and groans around the room. Some students looked for ways to circumvent the system, because the math didn't provide any wiggle room. Fifty percent on a major project, crushed their overall grade. It didn't matter that they may have gone above and beyond in other areas. Many hated the process and literally begged to be "let off the hook."

Of course, in the end, seeing how clearly the numbers and letters punish students, we left the points world, returning to the comforts of the Results Only Learning Environment, where punishment is abandoned in favor of real  learning.

March 14, 2012

Patience helps independent learners develop

Photo credit: Project 365 Challenge
As I've written on several occasions, a successful Results Only Learning Environment requires patience and perseverance. When students struggle early on with project-based learning and self-evaluation, I sometimes find myself wanting to return to worksheets and grades.

Of course, I don't give in to these urges. As I tell my students, we have to stay the course. It always pays dividends in the end.

I'm seeing these dividends now in a class that not more than a month ago, I was concerned might never adapt to results-only learning. Many students just didn't seem to be improving.

This week, though, it suddenly struck me that things were clicking. One girl, who has been a reluctant participant in our year-long reading project, was quietly devouring a book, unwilling to look up from her rapidly-turning pages. Another young lady, who had expressed dissatisfaction with the class earlier in the year, was eagerly bookmarking and annotating a web article she'd located, making a special effort to come to me and ask how the annotation looked. Two more students were sitting together quietly reading to one another from a novel I'd just distributed and asked them to read by the end of spring break.

I was amazed by the quality of production in the room. Patience with the results-only system had helped reluctant students develop into independent learners. It seemed like a long wait, but it was definitely worth it.

March 12, 2012

How does value-added measure death?

Bureaucrats who have not been inside the walls of a K-12 classroom, since graduating from high school, want to measure teachers by how well their students fare on standardized tests. Some states are already firing teachers, based on this illogical system.

I would like to ask people like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, so-called reformers Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and even President Obama how they measure teachers.

What I know is that a few weeks ago, a student walked into the cafeteria at Chardon High School in Ohio, pulled a gun and shot three students to death. In the aftermath, this proud, quiet town and all of the Greater Cleveland area mourned. Yet talk of testing and value-added continued.

Students at my school, about 15 miles west of Chardon, wore the high school's colors and spoke somberly of the tragedy. The Cleveland Cavaliers paid tribute to the fallen students and their community at a home game that week. Chardon teachers tweeted about how proud they were of their students' courage, when they returned to school days later. Still, teachers and students planned for the test, so some bureaucrat can judge how much value has been added to learning.

And now, as I write about this unfathomable event, I weep awkwardly, considering what it all means. Yet my contemplation is interrupted by e-mails about the test and what we can do to get more students to pass -- to increase their value-added scores, whatever that means.

Later this school year, along with all Ohio students, Chardon kids will sit for this insidious test. Is it fair to hope that they'll be completely focused for 150 minutes? What if their minds drift to their slain friends? Will they wonder if anything so horrible could ever happen again? How important will math and science problems be on that day?

And if those students struggle on this crazy, one-day, all-or-nothing assessment, their teachers -- the ones who the Chardon students looked to first for support and protection in their greatest moment of need -- will also fail, according to Obama, Duncan and their sad rating system.

When that time arrives, what I'd like to know is how does the value-added system measure death?

March 10, 2012

Results-only learning can appease the reformers

In a brilliant post at The Answer Sheet, edited by Valerie Strauss, New York city school principal, Brett Rosenthal, writes about everything that is wrong with school reform.

Among other things, Rosenthal suggests that the current reform movement attempts to solve education woes by eliminating teachers unions, promoting more teaching to test and, perhaps worst of all, creating a teacher rating system that will potentially undermine the effectiveness of teachers and damage impoverished students' chances at receiving a good education.

Although I agree with Rosenthal on all points, I also believe the best way to placate the reformers may be to stop fighting them. Reformers want more testing and more teacher accountability. Teachers hate testing and don't want to be rated based on test results. In a Results Only Learning Environment, students develop a thirst for learning. They become avid readers, curious researchers and effective problem-solvers.

Because of this, students in a ROLE perform well on standardized tests, as they look at it as one more easy hurdle to conquer. So, if we convert to results-only learning, teachers can have their cake and eat it too.

We can be outstanding educators and we can appease the reformers.

March 9, 2012

Hey teacher, my dad won't do any more homework

I have never been so tired of the homework, and I am done with it. Not homework I assign (you know I don't), and not even the mindless drivel that my colleagues assign. It's the piles of homework my kids bring home that I have to help them with do that I'm sick of.

Today, it was perimeter in math, which I haven't done in about 38 years. Then, it was geography. "Which continent is west of New Zealand?" Seriously? First, where the hell is New Zealand, and why do I need to know what is west of it? Next, it was a 5-minute test on 100 math problems, which I'm supposed to grade for my 8-year-old. (Now, I get that I'm a teacher, but I'm not her teacher, for crying out loud.) I'm considering contacting her school and asking to be added to the payroll.

I'm fed up, and I'm not doing any more of this ridiculous, useless homework.

I told my kids to tell their teachers that the dog ate it. I'm even going to write a note verifying it.

March 8, 2012

Help! My student hates me

Not too long ago, a teacher and I conversed about students who, no matter what you as the teacher do, just hate you.

You work on rapport-building; you smile at them daily; you compliment them. You explain as carefully as possible that you want what's best for them. Still, they won't budge. They won't do anything for you, because they hate you and everything about your class

As a veteran teacher, who has worked with every kind of kid imaginable, I like to think I have a solution for everything. This one, though has me stumped. No matter how engaging your class and how friendly you may be, some students bring a particular personality that just isn't going to mesh with yours.

So, what do you do when a student hates you?

March 6, 2012

Top 5 reasons you need project-based learning

Photo credit:
A Results Only Learning Environment is built on project-based learning. We collaborate daily in my classroom, and students work on year-long projects.

Here are the top 5 reasons you need to convert to a project-based class, if you haven't done so already.

5 - Project-based learning eliminates rows of desks. Pods of desks invite cooperation, which helps build a community of learners.
4 - Students take ownership of projects. Have you ever seen a student take ownership of a worksheet?
3 - Projects make it easy to throw out homework. Students enjoy projects, so they will choose to work on them outside of school. So, there's no need for useless homework.
2 - When students collaborate, discipline issues vanish. When students are actively working on an important project, in which they take pride, they become too engaged in the related activities and classroom management is never an issue.
1 - Projects help students develop a thirst for learning. Enough said.

March 5, 2012

Get students excited about their supplies

Do your students come to class without notebooks or folders? (It could be that they hate what they do with them, but that's a post for another day.)

What if they took pride and ownership in their supplies? This video demonstrates a nifty project that might just get reluctant learners to bring their notebooks and folders all of the time.

March 4, 2012

Learn to learn theory

The theory Nicholas Negroponte espouses in this video makes a lot of sense. Can he be right, though, that this is the only way to learn to learn?

March 3, 2012

Grades, Obama and other trending posts

Here's a list of recent posts you may have missed that have sparked some interest on Twitter, on the ROLE Reversal blog and other places.

Engaging reluctant learners with Diigo

I have some reluctant learners, and I've spent much of the year helping them evolve into results-only learners. Since we read all of the time in my language arts class, I'm constantly looking for ways to inspire the reluctant students to read and write.

Technology is always useful in this area. Recently, I discovered the power of Diigo for educators. I created some class groups, and soon my students were surfing the Internet for articles of interest, bookmarking them on our class Diigo group and annotating the sites for their peers.

This video demonstrates how to get students started on Diigo. Stay tuned for more on this powerful social media tool and how it's helping me engage reluctant learners.

March 2, 2012

Results-only math lesson

Found this very cool video over at Joanne Jacobs' blog. This is an excellent example of results-only learning in a math class (minus the test she mentions at the beginning, of course). I would recommend that Leah follow up with a collaborative activity to review and process the warm-up or even a second pass at the same activity to ensure mastery.

Overall, this is a fine example of how to get students engaged in math without boring them with worksheets.

March 1, 2012

The evolution of a Results Only Learning Environment

Most traditional classes never evolve. They start stale and only get worse with each day of boring drill-and-kill routine. The Results Only Learning Environment is different, because it is constantly evolving.

Even if some activities are repeated periodically -- time for daily reading in a language arts class, for example -- the ROLE teacher is always finding new ways to engage learners. She is constantly pointing them to new technology and other sources of information.

This is especially important for reluctant learners. I have one class this year that has numerous students who are willing to sit idly by and do nothing. It's been a constant challenge to engage them throughout the year. There are days when I think maybe they need to sit and do worksheets, but I quickly realize that what they need is a new, exciting path to learning.

We work on computers often, with my students blogging and writing on private web pages. Even this typically-engaging activity seemed to be boring my reluctant learners. So, I decided to give them what they wanted -- more time to surf the Internet. I introduced them to the social bookmarking site, Diigo. All they had to do was read anything of interest, bookmark it appropriately for our digital library and provide a brief, well-written annotation.

Suddenly, my toughest class was reading, writing and bookmarking articles without extra goading from me. In fact, many started working on the project during their own free time.

Teaching in a results-only class isn't always easy, but when you persevere and find what truly gets students excited about learning, it's always fun.