Sharing Benchmark Scores With Students? #TeacherMom

I recently came across this article from Fountas & Pinnell entitled, “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, Not A Child’s Label.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

I completely understand where Fountas & Pinnell is coming from here. As a teacher myself, I was glad during my daughter’s last parent teacher conference to possess the background knowledge of these assessments’ imperfections — we chatted about their subjectivity and the uneven spacing between levels (for instance, in the program my school used, it was an extra wide gap between levels T and U for some reason).

I also worry about our students and their parents taking too much stock in these assessments and therefore experiencing pressure, lack of confidence, and yes, even labels. And I recently wrote about my quandary over whether to share scores at all yet with my first grader (Will it Help Or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader?).

All that said, I believe that in order for students to take the wheel in driving their own learning, they should be able to reflect using available resources and data to inform their decisions and progress. Not to mention the whole idea of “No secret teacher business!

So is there an in-between place here?

The more I reflect on this, the more I believe there can be — but with some important considerations, including, but probably not limited to the following:

  • Data should only be one piece of the feedback puzzle. Reading benchmarks are a much less frequent and much more formal form of assessment. Students should rely much more on regular formative assessments as they make course corrections in their learning/growth.
  • Seek transparency not just about the data itself, but on its limitations. That it’s not an exact measurement. That there is a definite degree of subjectivity. That it’s meant to compare individual students’ levels against their own progress — not against anyone else in the class.
  • Are students developmentally ready for the type of data you can share? If, as in the story I shared in “Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader,” the student has yet to even comprehend the nature of data, then it would be counterproductive to share.
  • Ensure there’s a clear connection between the data, metacognition, and “what’s next.” Help students tune into their own thinking about their progress, and maintain a dialogue on the strategies that will best help them move forward.
  • Ensure that students understand that the data is never the goal, but a guide. The goal is always learning, and data serves as lampposts along the way.
  • Protect intrinsic motivation. Students should want to progress for the sake of progression, not for the sake of their levels moving up.

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut answer to the question of whether we should share benchmark data with students. But as long as we are actively engaging with our students to help them take ownership over their progress, we are on the right track.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

With kids asleep and husband out of town, I thought I’d settle down for some stereotypically comforting chocolate and HGTV. And it was. Until the person getting a newly renovated boat said something I’ve heard in many different forms over and over:

“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

Normal people?

There seems to be a long history of the older generations criticizing and fearing the youth for their abnormal interests.

Like when the Scientific American railed on the insidious game of chess in July 1859:

via Wikimedia commons/Public Domain

“A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages…chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”

Or when an earl complained in an 1843 speech in the House of Commons:

via Wikipedia/Public Domain

“…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.

Not to mention society’s habit in general to believe:

“that “the good ‘ol days” are behind us and the current good-for-nothing generation and their new-fangled gadgets and culture are steering us straight into the moral abyss. “There has probably never been a generation since the Paleolithic that did not deplore the fecklessness of the next and worship a golden memory of the past,” notes Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist.” (Why Do We Always Sell the Next Generation Short?“)

Excessive screen time, of course, is a legitimate concern. But if we truly believe the adage that the youth are our future, we must temper our tendency to demonize the new and unknown and instead provide encouragement for the possibilities it provides.

We should take care not to allow our fear of change to limit our children’s capacity to influence the future. That includes leading them to believe that if their childhoods look different from ours, they won’t lead “normal” lives.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On the Brink of Boundaries/Sanity #TeacherMom

Back when I was studying to become a teacher, I remember the day my professor drew a highly technical drawing that looked something like this:

The topic of discussion was on boundaries. My professor explained that if we’re clear and firm on our boundaries, students will recognize the limits and stay safely inside; conversely, if students sense a weak spot in the “fence” they will all come along to test it out.

Seemed reasonable. I jotted a line in my notebook, adding it to my list of teacher preparation tips, and went on my merry way.

What it did not prepare me for was the magnitude of said “testing,” not with my students, and most certainly not with my three year-old son.

Take this morning for instance. He declared he didn’t want banana bread. His sister then asked for some banana bread. He then insisted that not only did he want banana bread, but made it clear that the world would end if he did not have banana bread.

Knowing his track record for eating only two bites, I told him that if I gave him some, he would have. to. eat. it. That he would get nothing else until he did so. He agreed.

And like a rookie, I fell for it. I gave him banana bread. Of which he took two bites. And then asked for something else.

Here was my chance to hold firm on my boundaries, and boy, did he test them.

He seemed to possess a finely tuned sense that my boundaries — and my sanity — were hanging on by the slimmest of threads. And the whole herd was rather methodically working away at that vulnerable place.

But that’s when more wisdom on boundaries returned to my memory, this time, from Brene Brown:

See, boundaries aren’t just about keeping the “herd” from wreaking havoc in every which direction. They are about compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

We are compassionate enough to ourselves to hold true to our values (ie, food waste and follow-through in the above story). And we are compassionate enough to others to be clear, direct, and kind so that we don’t end up harboring unseen resentment (ie, lingering frustration with my son and myself had I caved).

And so I held on. I worked to focus on those boundaries and my values I was working to preserve and instill, rather than the frustration that threatened to devolve the whole thing into a shouting match.

Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. We left the banana bread for a couple hours and when we came back, he was perfectly happy to eat it before getting a new snack.

Which just goes to show what a break can do for a battle of wills — and preservation of our boundaries and our sanity.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inquiry into SDGs (The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals)

Recently, Ms. Hilaa’s Fabulous4thGraders in Pakistan introduced me to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the form of some truly fabulous Google Form questions.

I’m not sure how I missed the roll-out of the SDGs, but now that I’m aware, I can’t stop thinking about them and their implications for our students!

So this week’s provocation centers around helping students consider the creative ways people around the world are addressing these issues.

Resource #1: Bringing the SDGs to life video

Resource #2: Ted Ed Video/Lesson 

For the Ted-Ed lesson, click here!

Resource #3: Embrace Cocoon Innovation

For the TED-Talk that introduced the Embrace and its background, click here.

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the relationship between sustainable development and innovation?
  • What is our responsibility to encourage sustainable development as individuals? As societies?
  • Why is sustainable development important?
  • What are the different perspectives on sustainable development? Why do those different perspectives exist?
  • How does sustainable development impact people’s individual daily lives?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Why Do They Want to Erase?

Last week, I came across this interesting tweet:

With how much I value process, I initially thought I’d just retweet with an “Amen!”

But then I started to wonder: why exactly do kids want to erase their work, anyway?

As a teacher, I used to think the answer to this question was simple: my fifth graders had been thoroughly trained that all that mattered was the product, and therefore anything that showed the process (or anything less than perfection) was undesirable.

And for many children, maybe this is the case.

But others, I wonder if it’s along the same lines for why I don’t publish my blog posts to the world with every edit in parentheses next to its original boring synonym, punctuation error, or run-on sentence. I want the final piece I’ve worked so hard to improve to take the spotlight.

What’s more, when I reach back further to my own childhood school years, I can recall a certain sulkiness when we were all forced to use the same writing tool for a given assignment. My desire to use a pen vs. pencil alternated many times throughout the day and different assignments. I always had my reasons, even if I couldn’t always articulate them (the ink was stuck in the pen; my pencil was broken and I wasn’t allowed to use the pencil sharpener; I wanted to shade my letters a certain way; I had a new glitter pen that I was dying to try).

 

If we are truly interested in helping students own their learning process, we need to remember that ownership and choice are inextricably connected.

So instead of making a single choice for them all, why not try instead:

  • Asking students to choose how they will share evidence of their learning.
  • Teaching students explicitly about the value of process vs product.
  • Helping students to cultivate a deeper sense of metacognition to focus their decisions — even simple ones such as choosing a writing implement — on what will best serve their learning process.

Ultimately, this is just one small example of how we can help our students take the wheel to drive their learning. But even small things add up!

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

2017 Scholarship Awardees

The time has come to announce the 2017 multimedia scholarship winners!

The Winners:

  • Creative Writing: Chloe O’Donnell
  • Music: Caroline Guske
  • Video: Sunny Turner
  • Art: Joshua Hineman
  • Photography: Matthew Zarrelli

Each prize consists of a $1,000 check to their college in their name. To see their beautiful work, visit our Past Winners page!

The Stats

This year’s submissions came from 44 states. 75% of our applicants were female, and 40% were in the creative writing category. 93% of our applicants were high school seniors.

If You Didn’t Win:

Try again next year! Watch for the 2018 scholarship requirements this summer!

Please know that it was not easy to decide on our awardees this year. We were amazed and moved by the passion and talent that you shared with us!

Thank you everyone for your participation!

Provocation into Possibility

We stick so closely to the known facts and conventions all in the name of preparation (whether for testing or for becoming grown-ups in general) that I wonder if we sometimes limit our own capacity to push what might be possible in the future…

Resource #1: How to Unboil an Egg, by Ted Ed

Years ago, to help my students better understand the difference between physical and chemical change, I created a Prezi that included frying eggs as a clear irreversible change because it is a chemical change. But in the video below, the word “yet” simply radiates the pioneering spirit that has brought and continues to bring most scientific advances to the world.

Resource #2: Balderdash!: John Newbery & the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books.

This picture book will take you and your students back to a time when the accepted custom was for children only to read books of rules, study, or religion — until John Newbery changed all that.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a pioneer?
  • How does pioneering differ across different subjects (science, history, etc.). How is it the same?
  • What is our responsibility to ask questions?
  • Why might some worry about questioning the way things are already done?
  • What is pioneering like in the 21st century?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto