Category Archives: Best Practices

Grades gone wild…

The Keys @k.c.love

Cult of Pedagogy turned my attention to this fantastic post by Arthur Chiaravalli, “Teachers Going Gradeless.” 

Gratitude for my PLN for helping me stay fresh, excited and wise: things have been tricky at my school recently, and while we’re on spring break I am determined to relax, dangit. Refresh, Renew. All that good stuff. People are worried about me (turns out middle school girls and boys think I’m crying when I am having a hot flash–thanks, menopause). I was beginning to get a little worried about myself: have I taught them enough? Is testing going to be okay? Will the boy who won’t allow me to help him be a better reader be okay? Will that girl who has given up on herself understand that we won’t give up on her?

Perhaps this may be the simple answer to those complex, emotional questions: as we strive to allow for our students to be independent, the most obvious path is the timeless practice of self-assessment. Their emotional responses to learned helplessness and inner-dialogue of shame may be cooled by simply allowing them the space that they are in more control than they believe. 

Things on teachers’ minds must be washed and dried before break ends–otherwise, it’s not a break. So just in the nick of time here are some ideas about having students self-assess. Chiaravelli draws from the great minds of pedagogy:

Drawing on the research of Ruth Butler, Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, Alfie Kohn, Linda McNeil, Linda Mabry, Maja Wilson and countless others, we are teachers who are convinced that teaching and learning can be better when we grade less.

For some of us, the word gradeless means to grade less, that is, limiting the impact of grades within the context of current constraints. Some are just trying to get away from toxic assessment and grading practices, like assessments with no opportunity to redo or retake or zeroes on the mathematically disproportionate 100-point scale.

Okay, cool. I have always allowed for redos, and never marked things down for being late, etc. Okay. Instincts without research don’t mean anything – so he provides the research.

What my grading practices are now:
  1. Non-negotiable assignments:
    • Weekly Vocabulary worth 50 points
      • If they don’t turn it in, it goes in zero and missing in Skyward.
      • They have one to two weeks to turn it in and receive full points. I never mark down work simply for being late, and never have.
      • Positive: Once they see they are in control of their non-negotiables and have choice and flexibility,  they get in a routine of learning and diving into new words.
      • Negative: Students still don’t understand that the zero, which is horrible but the only way they and their parents pay attention or get a notification, can be easily remedied by doing the work. I will ask other students in the class who have turned things in late and subsequently turn them in, and their grade changes, to share that with the class. In addition, I still need to track students down.
  2. Grading every two weeks as required.
  3. Grading assessments (especially the Common Formative Assessments created by our ELA PLC 8th grade as ‘no count.’
How are they evolving:
  1. I created a unit/module in Canvas called “Top Ten Things” for ELA. Its intended purpose allows for student flexibility: if they are done with something, they can explore ten lessons in a ‘flipped’ way.
    • Positive: Students who seek them out enjoy doing them as “extra credit.”
    • Allows for self-exploration and questions– great opportunity for metacognition and independent work.
    • Negative: Students have been confused — understandable. These absolutely require my guidance, and that’s fine. Another issue is students requiring more guidance than time allows. After the break this is something I will address.
  2. Provided a ‘create your own rubric lesson’ in the fall: this is a concept I plan on bringing back this spring after the break.
  3. Allowing students to assess student work—now that there is student work to share based on current projects!
Next level:
  1. Paraphrasing and crafting metrics and rubrics based on CCSS, standardized assessments (from the OSPI/SBA)
  2. Crafting choice projects/burning questions metrics based on CCSS
  3. Crafting and self-assessing on both low stakes and high stakes assignments they create and produce.
  4. Continuing to provide curriculum maps to students — visible checklists to help guide them.
Clarifying goals:

The second finding comes from John Hattie (2012) whose synthesis of 800 meta-studies showed that student self-assessment/self-grading topped the list of educational interventions with the highest effect size. By teaching students how to accurately self-assess based on clear criteria, teachers empower them to become “self-regulated learners” able to monitor, regulate, and guide their own learning. The reason students never develop these traits is that our monopoly on assessment, feedback, and grading has trained students to adopt an attitude of total passivity in the learning process.

 

Let us all “grade less” so students can learn more. Just like in any creative pursuit, the linear qualities of rubrics do not have to constrain, but to guide.

PS Not sure where I found this:

This could be a good approach to student-created rubrics.
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The Work in Workshop…

Throwing this out there: I need a writing group. I need the accountability and presence of other ideas. I am wondering if my lack of writing with any regularity, except for this blog, is a result of no structure, the end of PSWP, and not finding another NWP. Writing Workshop works. It is an exceptional means to help students grow as readers and writers. I’ve tried to sell colleagues on it, and because they haven’t been to the mountaintop and met with gurus of enlightenment like my friends Holly Stein and Kim Norton, they don’t believe me.

So I just have to make sure it fits with my students, and keep proving it, time and again.

Our school is trying to do many things in a hurry to get students at grade level: PLC work is the big focus, and for math and ELA, the district provides rough ‘frameworks’ but at least for the ELA group, they’re never done, or if they are, there is a conflict or confusion between the PLC created Common Formative Assessments and the district created ones. These are not mutually exclusive, but nor does this jive with the spirit of a PLC, and that is to be agile and responsive to student needs in an intentional means. Assessments that might be best for students at one middle school in the district may not be what’s most needed for ours.

Along with the PLC work, the administration wants us to focus on our grading practices, and the discussion is open and collaborative. It has always been my personal policy not to mark things down for being ‘late.’ Convoluted systems and make-up work tangles up the process, so I make it simple: there is a due date, and the assignment will ‘close’ a week afterward. It’s marked zero and missing to affect grades because if it’s not, the student isn’t aware it’s missing. These are middle school kids, remember. Once it’s done, I give it full credit. If it’s an assignment that is rubric based, they have time to redo it for a better grade. Assessments for our PLC and district are scored accordingly, but marked as “no count.”

Recently Ethical ELA posted an article about flexibility and student learning:

Deadlines and “Late” Work: The Potential of the Provisional

http://www.ethicalela.com/deadlines/

The writer used my favorite quote that I use as my tagline, and this–this is a fantastic idea:

What will you do with your one precious life? They reflected on their values, dreamed about what, who, and where they wanted to be, took a career quiz, read biographies, explored opportunities in high school, looked into part-time jobs, explored colleges, searched apartments, created a budget, read about philanthropic options, developed mottos, wrote a speech to synthesize the research in the voice of their future self (see an example below), and created a slideshow with images to support the content (e.g., Slides, A Life as an Artist, also see below). I set up a schedule for three students to be “guest speakers” each Friday through January, February, and March.

I may start off with my ‘ambassador of the table’ and then move to the guest speaker idea.

Before the break, the well-laid plans included a quick version of Greek mythology, then onto Box of Destiny! Ah, well. Add three snow days, a studio teacher workshop for the ELA department, the ‘no immigrants’ protest day, things did not go as planned. Do they ever? So, instead of the full-blown BoD presentations, I asked them to focus on just the story of their character from first-person perspective. Developmentally, this shift is very difficult for some students, and that makes it all the more valuable. Many had their stories done, many had them started, and many couldn’t get out of the starting gate, with all the scaffolds available. We did a modified writing workshop protocol on Friday, and I took the papers home to write feedback for one and all. Between my hand-written and typed feedback in Canvas, I hope to see some growth for the next project.

Life is not linear, that’s for sure. Maybe that’s why whenever I watch a Marzano or other expert they always use a math example, not an ELA or social studies one, because reading, writing, and history are messy indeed. But that’s okay: I know other experts to draw from, including my own knowledge and experience. If you want to come to the mountaintop with me, I’ll take you there.

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Absolutely True Attempt at Journey of the Hero

Illustration by Ellen Forney Students decided she was one part of supernatural aid on advice.

Ah, the never-ending struggle, challenge, and balance with what has proven to work with what’s new.

Teaching Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero structural pattern works — it works because students understand truly what plot is, they can apply it to multiple mediums, stories, and their own lives, and wait…no more needs to be said. They can apply it to their own lives.

Having to let go of my curriculum baby — you know that baby–the one you work on for months, craft, shape, support with standards and engaging lessons, scope-it, and sequence-it and tie it all up with a bow, and share it with the world, only to have the world think it’s slightly funny looking or outdated. Well, I still think this baby, the Journey of the Hero unit, has merit and value, so thought I would try something different a few years ago and ‘chunk the Hobbit.’ No, that’s not some new Lord of the Rings drinking game, but I broke down the Hobbit into bite-sized pieces for groups of three chapters each. It kind of worked, but kind of didn’t. (Recently, though, I had a sibling of one of my former students ask me on behalf of her sister if I was still teaching that — she loved it.)

We have a full class set of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so this month I’ve devoted time to reading this extraordinary novel through the idea of the monomyth.

http://writerswrite.co.za/the-heros-journey

 

So far…it’s kind of working. I say kind of because there have been some obstacles, our own Road of Trials:

  • Too quick of an introduction of what JOTH is and entails
  • Jumped right into reading, and students not getting the message they need their books with them every day, to class and to home. They are allowed backpacks in my room so the carrying of a $15 paperback may be too much…but they have all gotten the message again.
  • We had two mornings of ice delays, so that threw off our schedule a bit.
  • Students are still not looking to Canvas for work, or at least the majority are not.
  • Students are still expressing too much “learned helplessness” (and it’s making me a little crazy). In fact, I gave students their first quote as scaffolding and one student stopped dead in her thinking tracks and said “I don’t get it” and then kept talking over me when I said let’s work this out. So now I need to go back and teach a lesson on what ‘central idea’ is. Never again will I not have multiple lessons on the basics at the beginning of the year. 

Here is what is starting to work:

We walked through the first three sections together, scaffolded and intentional:

Smartnotebook file (which I can’t embed here, but if you need it email me or contact me in the comments)

JOTH Reader Response Tracker

After we worked on it by hand, this weekend I’ve given them a scaffolded digital version that displays the work they’ve come up with : JOTH Part Time Indian Support

Laura Randazzo’s Prezi:

So we’ll see. We’re on our own journey through the novel, trying my best to allow them to discover what they think and find. I’ll keep you posted.

 

PS It’s not an accident that Penelope is named Penelope. Think about it.

Google Docs Links:

Journey of the Hero Support Doc

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5Wng1M2YyaVZ3NW8/view?usp=sharing

Journey of the Hero PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5NVc2ZVZwbHkweGM/view?usp=sharing

Archetypes PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5c0pFd1dRNGh6NjQ/view?usp=sharing

 

 

 

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Elements of Structure Series: Part 11: Tough questions: students and humor

This video is PG-13. And no, the number doesn’t work.

A student shared this with me a few weeks ago. To spark a conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see what other students thought about it, too.

Students also watched this one, too. No commentary from me, just questions.

As this writing, they’ve only seen it once in the context of notes, but haven’t had a chance to do a QFT or discussion about it.

But — I have my own questions. A lot of them.

  • Would I have shared this with students who were predominately white? Or would it just increase potential racism?
  • Who owns humor?
  • If some students understand parody, and that not all parody works — and what is the function of parody?
  • Does this ‘punch up, down, or in the middle?

Molly Ivins articulated the distinction in a 1991 People magazine interview:

“There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” [1]

  • Are these ads “foibles and our shared humanity?” or something much deeper, or worse?
  • Is it racist?
  • Is it funny?
  • Can something be racist and funny?
  • Is humor inherently classist, racist, bigoted, and if not, what are the characteristics of innocuous humor?

As a teacher, how do you address when a student brings humor to the classroom — determining these questions? Do you encourage students to discuss it?

From Nerdy Feminist: 

It reminds me of an awesome Fresh Air interview with Hari Kondabolu that I caught recently. Kodabolu is a comedian (check him out, if you’re unaware) who is able to make his audiences roll without playing to oppression. Definitely a student of the “punch up” philosophy. One of the things he discussed with Terry Gross was how he no longer parodies his father’s accent on stage. He said,

The idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that, it was hard. 

 

A few years ago the Youtube meme was the young boy who mistakenly answered a math question with “21.” Kids in class would pop up and say “21” at random, or if the number 21 came up would parrot it back. (Click at your own risk — this is a mocking song of the original video.) I told my students that particular meme wasn’t allowed in my class, just like the words ‘ghetto’ and the ‘n’ word. It’s just mean-spirited, and making fun of a kid saying the wrong answer doesn’t make us better people.

If students see humor used in a racist and bigoted way, what effect does it have on them? If they identify with the person depicted (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) are they offended, try to save face, do they speak up?

Well, currently probably not. Anyone who challenges offensive or racism is called a “snowflake.” But another damning idea is the one of ‘inspiration or poverty porn.’ Is not addressing worse, in other words?

Which leads to another question: how do we learn to speak and challenge while someone is attempting to gag us?

From Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?

Second, humor is not always positive and fun. We tend to think about humor as something that is innocuous, something that might be good for our health, moods, relationships and so on, but humor also has its dark side, and we should all be aware of it. Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen.

Some articles (note: not posting because I agree or disagree, just reading)

Punching Up and the Rules of Comedy by Liz Labacz

When Did We Lose Our Understanding of Satire? 

Does racist humor promote racism?

Punching Up/Geek Feminism Wiki

Truth In Comedy; Or, The Myth of ‘Punching Up”

 

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 10: Top Ten (But it will go to 11…)

Not in any particular order, this is my own curated list of what I perceive as the hugely influential, double-edged swords of structure from 2016. Warning: I will not apologize for analyzing politics in this post (see #4). If you’re fed to the teeth and just want some ideas, skip over words. We’re all feeling like children whose parents are in the beginning stages of a dysfunctional divorce: still a lot of yelling, we don’t know if we want to live with mom or dad, lawyers have been contacted, and broken glass to clean up. And no one’s seen the family pet for days.

Ah, well.

  1. Twitter
  2. Fake News
  3. Click Bait
  4. Comments in Political Posts and the Great Unfriending
  5. Relabeling
  6. Repeated Article Loop
  7. Children’s/YA Literature
  8. Book Lists and Reading Challenges
  9. On-line Shared Annotations
  10. TedTalks

Twitter

Perhaps one of the most telling of all is the P-E’s use or misuse of Twitter.

Though he’s tweeted hundreds of misspelled, egregious, taunting and terrible tweets, for some reason this one sent me over the edge, well the original version, not the sarcastic People for Bernie Sanders version:

Perhaps what did it (sent me over the edge and all) was someone’s comment about how we all just need to suck it up, he’s our president now, too damn bad, stop crying, stop whining, etc.

And I need to point out — what he said, what he tweeted, clearly says he is NOT my president by HIS WORDS. He called me his enemy, someone who fought him, “lost so badly” that now I’m in a fog, whimpering and wandering around like a lost child at a county fair.

What exactly does he “Love!”?

Twitter is as high or low as humanity brings to its 140 characters. It’s been a good source for me to add to my PLN, tweet out random #haikuoftheday for fun, and things of that nature. Now I don’t know if I can look away, or look more closely. I don’t have an idea.

Fake News

At this point, there are probably fake news stories on how to combat fake news. Teach media literacy, make it relevant, make it matter. Liken fake news to a fake rumor, and how devastating that can be personally, and imagine a whole nation being harmed, literally and figuratively, by fake news on a grand scale.

The Smell Test

Click Bait

We’re all guilty of it, clicking on what we know is click-bait. That easy lure of outrageous headlines promising some juicy reward while our cheeks are pierced by sharp objects. It would be a great mini-lesson or mini-unit to have student analyze the structure of click bait and how it changes their psychological views.

You’ll Be Outraged at How Easy It Was to Get You to Click on This Headline

Comments in Political Posts and The Great Unfriending

I went to tag someone on a teacher post the other day and noticed I lost another Facebook acquaintance, and have no hard feelings. How could I? I use social media for a variety of purposes, but mostly, and unfortunately for some, it’s my ‘thinking out loud place’ and sometimes my inner voice is pretty damn loud.

We’re all going to have to set our own journalistic best practices as we move forward and be clear that our posts are ours, and if you comment, do so at your own risk. If you decided my (over)posting and sharing of information is not for you, then I completely respect that. If nothing else it is my contention that we are in control of our own narratives, and if we don’t want to blend our colors into one another’s then we should never feel obligated to do so.

But you might miss out on that great cocktail recipe. Just sayin.’ Passing up the details of my recent gall bladder surgery, well, don’t blame you.

Relabeling and Code Switching

This is one structural/literary choice/device that needs to be examined much more thoroughly. This is Orwellian doublethink at a mastery level.

  • Alt-Right means NazSupremacistsemicists/Domestic Terrorists.
  • “CITE EVIDENCE” means “I’m firing my misdirection shotgun to make you try to spend the time to prove something I’m not going to believe anyway.”
  • Mansplaining: A misandric term meaning when someone patronizingly “helps” to fill in the background knowledge for someone else. It is observed by a man or woman who explains to another woman what is happening.

Repeated Article Loop

The repeated or republished article is an interesting device– I included it in this structure series because while reading any narrative, flashbacks and foreshadowing are regular solid tools to move a reader through a narrative–and the repeated article, and I’ll include Facebook’s “Shared Memory” device, does the same purpose. This can be good and not so good, especially not so good when it plays house with Fake News. Some stories are repeated so often, and intentionally they use an old photograph from another incident.

Note to social media and big mega software folks: Please bring back i-Google. Okay. That’s never going to happen. But invent an organized way people can read an article, and then share it to an album and organize it, and it won’t go back in their feed. Yes, something like bookmarks, and folders, but in that media source.

Children’s/YA Literature

Lest you think I’m all doom-gloom (hey, I didn’t make this mess!) I have some heartening news, too. Turns out my master’s thesis of using children’s literature to engage students wasn’t too far off the mark. (Insert a mini-eye roll emoji here.)

Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

How Reading Literature Cultivates Empathy

Book Lists and Reading Challenges

I have fallen in love with BookRiot and Nerdy Book Club. The format and structure of these sites are simple: curate lists of books that a reader might love. This type of literary world-wide book club is dangerous for my budget, though, because I want all the books!

The word choice of “challenge” is interesting to me, as well as the choice of ‘lists.’ Challenge and lists implies plowing through, and not necessarily joyfully. I use these words, too, but wonder if there will be another approach that is less perfectionistic, completism, or competitive.

My students’ Reading Road Trip got a flat tire this year, punctured by too many tests, agendas, and chaos. But I have Mrs. Darcy’s list again, so we’ll see!

See above link.

On-line Shared Annotations

As we move toward bigger and grander conversations, it’s my hope we use our technology for idea and question sharing — stil think Genius and other on-line share annotation tools and sites are pretty cool.

And annotations on real books — too.

Annotated Bible

TedTalks

TedTalks, Crash Course, VSauce, etc, are specific structures that have become my second life in terms of the lecture hall with great professors.

Yes, please. And thank you.

These ten formats are all worthy of some analysis and thought: we’re speaking in shorthand more than ever, and being adept at all forms of communication are going to be critical.

And getting good recipes for cocktails. Want to see my surgery scars?

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