Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Formative Assessment-the time is NOW!

Yesterday I attended a lecture/seminar by Dylan Wiliam. In case you've been under a rock, he is the co-author of the meta-analysis of formative assessment research studies with Paul Black. Their work was reported in the publication Inside the Black Box. He has also authored other books and papers and articles on formative assessment. There is no doubt that the formative assessment process has the power to change the achievement of students when it is used with integrity by teachers. As Wiliam said yesterday, "You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts."

So, this blog post isn't going to be a fancy work of writing. I am just in a hurry to get some of my initial thoughts down as I wait for NWEA to send out a link to the slides from the presentation.

Wiliam spent the better part of an hour and a half first outlining the reasons that it is a MORAL IMPERATIVE that teachers improve their practice. A couple of the data bits that I included in my notes:

1. For every year a person spends in school (not counting teachers teaching!), 1.7 years is added to that person's life.

2. The more years spent in school, the higher the person's salary. (No specific data on this one...I didn't write it down and as I said, no access to slides yet. I will update this piece when I have the information.)

3. Being with a good teacher for ONE year means an extra $50,000 income for a student.

Wiliam also talked a bit about the data supporting better pay for teachers. And this is base pay...the data shows that the more a country pays their teachers, the better the teachers are. But this does not hold true for merit pay, which serves to create competition rather than collaboration in teachers.  If you are interested in some studies about bonuses and merit pay in the work place, read Daniel Pink's Drive.

Wiliam believes that the best way to improve student achievement is through the use of the formative assessment process. There are over 5000 research studies that support formative assessment as an educational practice that has significant positive impact on student achievement.

But discussing formative assessment can be a tricky business. There are many definitions out there. In fact, during the presentation, he shared a slide with 7 examples of practices people may consider to be formative. The audience (mainly administrators but also some classroom teachers) had to decide if they were formative assessment examples or not. There was not consensus on any of the examples. I find this the most difficult part in my work as a Formative Assessment Coach--discussing and deciding what examples do and do not represent the formative assessment process.

But Wiliam addressed this issue by saying, "Rather than ask which is formative, ask which has the bigger impact on student achievement." Ahhh....lightbulb! I love that, because impacting student achievement is really what formative assessment is about.

Wiliam also addressed the concern I hear about formative assessment being "just another thing to do." In several slides, he aligned the formative assessment strategies with the elements of other instructional models: Danielson's Framework for Teaching, Differentiated Instruction, other that I can't remember right now. The slides showed the overlap of the practices and effects of the models and how they can live together in our teaching. Maybe I'll try to explain this more after I have access to the slides.

Wiliam gave some examples of formative assessment in practice. I'm not going to share all of them here, but some highlights:
No more hand-raising to answer questions. This mirrors what Mike Schmoker says in his book Focus. When we allow students to answer questions based on raised hands, we only have engagement from those students. We are giving the rest permission to NOT attend. So Wiliam suggested using thumbs up/down (for answering questions, NOT for self-reporting!), using ABCD cards, and carefully planning the questions we will ask during our lessons.

In the next part of his talk, Wiliam discussed the best method for teachers to learn about and to learn how to implement the formative assessment process through Teacher Learning Communities. He spent a couple of slides comparing his idea of TLCs to DuBour's theories on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs.) I LOVE the fact that he is positing that this embedded and collaborative method of professional development is the best way to go, because it mirrors the goals and vision of the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) project.

Briefly, these are the elements that Wiliam says must be a part of TLCs studying and implementing formative assessment.
Choice (in the FAME project, we strongly recommend that FA teams are comprised of people who volunteer to take part.)
Flexibility (coaches in the FAME project have the freedom to set up meetings in ways that best meet their teams needs--and teams decide in what order to study and implement the parts of the process.)
Small steps (FAMEs multi-year approach allows teachers to take their time to change practice.)
Commitment--I wonder if this is an area where we need to step things up in the FAME project. I know that with my own team, we are probably overdue to renew our commitment to changing our practice.
Support--It was nice that the seminar was really advertised for administrators. In the FAME project, we also encourage administrators to attend the team launches, and we find that the teams who have the best administrative support seem to be the stronger teams.

Expertise: I can't remember if this was one of the elements of TLCs or just an aside that Wiliam addressed, but it was very interesting. His point was that expertise is created by PRACTICE, and that in most professional development initiatives, we have a knowing-doing gap. We KNOW what to do, but DOING it proves to be very hard. Wiliam explained that much of what we do in the day-to-day moments of teacher are unconscious, and unconscious habits are the hardest ones to break. It's why we fall back in to our old ways of doing when times get difficult!

Ok, going to finish off this post with some great sound bites from the day...these would make great tweets!!

"If teachers don't think they can do better, they will blame the kids when the kids 'fail'."

"If students learned what we taught, we wouldn't have to assess." Wiliam said this when illustrating his point that we use assessment to be sure that students have learned what we taught because we can't be sure---students get it wrong a lot, even when we think we've taught it well.

"Finding out on the unit test that kids haven't learned it is too late."

"If you let kids raise their hands to answer questions, you increase the achievement gap."

"Smart is not something you are. Smart is something you get. By attempting difficult work and getting it wrong."

When a student, called on randomly, says they don't know: "Yes, but if you DID know, what would you say?"

"Grading is the punishment for not getting the learning right when they were in front of you."

"The effects of feedback on achievement depend on the relationship between teacher and learner. Only when we know the student do we know when to push and when to back off."

"Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor."

On a strengths-based approach to professional development: "Building teacher strengths creates better teachers than focusing on weakness."

In regards to asking teachers to stop some practices in order to incorporate new practices learned in professional development Teacher Learning Communities: "We have to STOP people doing GOOD things to give them time to do BETTER things."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March is Reading Month!

I haven't been so great about keeping up with my blog this year! I have lots of neat things to share that have been happening in my Reading Intervention classes. But those are for other posts. Today is about sharing our March is Reading Month activities!

Our theme for Reading Month this year is Read Around the World. We had a kick-off assembly on March 1st with a Mock Rock. One group from each grade level (6-8) was chosen to move on the the finale Mock Rock which will be held on March 28.

Also a part of our March 28 assembly will be a school spelling bee. The students have been studying hard and four winners at each grade will compete against each other to see who the top speller in the building might be.

This year, we are getting kids excited by awarding Spirit Points for the different activities. This is our tally board and kids check it all the time! At the end of the month, the grade level with the most points gets their class engraved on a gigantic trophy.
Each week we start with a video quiz. Because our theme is Read Around the World, we decided to use settings as our focus. Students listen to the clues and then have to guess the setting of the book. Each correct answer earns a Spirit Point. All correct answers are put into a basket and about 40 winners per week are drawn. Winners get to select a book that they donate to a teacher's library (I put a book plate in each book to show by whom it was donated) and a small prize for themselves.

Our 7th grade ELA teacher had the idea for our Where in the World Do You Like to Read? display. Kids are slowly getting their pictures in, and they earn a Spirit Point if they do. Many teachers are helping out with this by taking pictures and getting them developed for the students. We have a great staff!
Our amazing Art Teacher had her middle school art students create posters for Reading Month. Winners of the Poster Contest won Spirit Points for their grade level. Here are a few of the winners:

Two times during the month, students have the opportunity to complete a Setting Quiz during their lunchtime. Completing the quiz earns Spirit Points and winners of the drawing receive prizes. Our first Setting Quiz was places in the United States. Students had to name the landmark and state. How many can you name?
Our second Setting Quiz is international. Students must give the name of the landmark and the country in which it is found. This second quiz will end on Wednesday of this week.

In language arts classes, most students had the opportunity to create Passports. During language arts classes, students are able to read about other places and earn stamps for their reading. These stamps will also count as Spirit Points. Here are some of the 7th grade Passports:

One activity we conduct every year is the Door Decorating Contest. This year, we assigned each grade level a continent and they could choose where in that continent to focus. With the addition of Spirit Points, the Door Decorating Contest was very popular this year! It was so fun to listen to the buzz in the halls as students worked together between classes and during their lunches to create the best door. Below are the was stiff competition!
This was the 2nd Place door, decorated by 8th graders.

This door, by a 6th grade group, took 1st Place. The dragon's body is an interactive trivia game about creative!

The 7th grade took 3rd Place with this door. I love their use of lights on the Eiffel Tower!

The last week in March will be a biggie for Spirit Points. It is our Spirit Week for Reading Month. Each day is a special dress day and the students can earn points for participating. Monday is Hat Day. Tuesday students can earn points for wearing shirts with place names (settings!). Wednesday is Book Character day and Thursday is Blue and Gold day (I already hear the 8th grades has big plans to dominate Blue and Gold Day!)

So, that's our Reading Month so far. We'd love to hear about activities that are popular at your school!