Leadership

Post Semester One: What the students told us

My quest to tell my story of our transformation of grading and reporting practices at Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been delayed during the past two months. As a refresher, here are my past posts.

At the end of the first semester of the 2014 – 15 school year I wrote several articles for the Graded community that appeared in the Gazette. This one is one that I’ve adapted for this series of posts on our journey to improve grading and reporting practices.

The members of our Math department surveyed students and below are a few of the comments, related to re-assessments.

These comments show students are understanding how the process of re-assessments impacts their learning. Notice that the focus is not on grades but on learning. These types of comments are representative of a growth mindset, where the focus is on the progress instead of the product. We hope over time this mentality will spread and become part of the Graded culture.

  • “My biggest success was to be able to find my area of weakness in the summatives and be able to improve on them.”
  • “I was able to learn from my mistakes and re-assess myself to know if I really understood the content.”
  • “I am able to learn the material. With the retake, maybe I thought I understood the content but actually didn’t.”
  • “The re-taking system has helped me. Not only has it decreased the pressure of tests but I felt that I always understood the content more in the re-take.”
  • “To review the knowledge more than once helps me truly learn the material rather than learn it for one test.”

Change can be difficult, and deep and lasting change does not happen in the short term. Here are some challenges:

  • “Trying to fit in time for studying for retakes, while also doing the work for other classes.”
  • “If you do bad on a summative, there is no way to bring [your grade] up unless you do well on the retake. You can’t bring up your grade with homework.”
  • “Since I don’t have to do homework, I don’t learn the content as much, and therefore I don’t do as well in the summatives.”
  • “My biggest struggle is being able to show all of my knowledge on tests, because when I get nervous I tend to forget some information.”
  • “That homework doesn’t count. This is a struggle because I do homework almost all the time and it would help boost my grades up.”
  • “If I want to increase my grade, there is a much lower chance if I didn’t do as well in the re-take. I don’t have homework grades that count on my grade.”

The results below show students’ views on homework, satisfaction with grades and understanding of content, and effort and preparation.

  • What do you see?

  • What do you think about that?

  • What does it make you wonder?

Homework Satisfaction Grades Effort and Preparation

Throughout the entire semester we wondered if there would be dramatic changes in students’ grades. In the next post we’ll look at 1st semester grades.

#IMAMUSTANG – Highlights from My New School

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

As many of you know I joined the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School community this year serving as the Head of the Upper School. Mount Vernon is a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” and we are redesigning the school experience for our students. So far, the experiences and challenges seem to be just what I was seeking.

Take a look at what I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. This laundry list will provide you with a taste of what life is like at Mount Vernon.

On September 22 and October 6 Trung Le, Christian Long and the rest of their team from Wonder by Design held Curiosity Conversations around the current prototype of the proposed Upper School building with members of our community.

The current model is nothing like your traditional school building. “Flexibility” was the number one word used by those who participated in the conversation. There are “Inquiry Zones”, “Inquiry Accelerators”, “The Plex”, “The Mobile Action Lab”, and STEM areas. This building represents the school that we want to be and our efforts to create a program that fits the space are continuous.

Our students are working on their iProjects and those students who are seeking to find the topic that hooks them have had access to mini-field trips around town (The Beltline, CNN, College Football Hall of Fame, Historical Sweet Auburn Market), entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs like Corbin Klett (you have to see his 3 min speech at the Georgia Tech Commencement Ceremony), Ted Wright, from Fizz, Chantel Adams from Forever We and designer Jenn Graham of Atlanta Streets Alive.

I, along with colleagues and students attended the Creative Mornings – Atlanta meeting where Aarron Walter spoke about Empathy and designing for emotion at MailChimp. Our students then visited the Museum of Design Atlanta and had lunch at Atlanta Tech Village.

While the MVAllstars provided our community with a powerful drama around Armenian immigrants to the US, our World History students were conducting interviews of local Armenians to learn more about the their knowledge of the genocide that occurred 100 years ago. Our photography students prepared an exhibit that set the tone as viewers entered the theater and one of our teachers shared his family’s immigration story. This was an excellent example of teams working together to craft the entire experience for theater goers.

Oh, and it’s been so long ago that I almost forgot about having the honor to attend Plywood Presents where we heard from many inspirational problem solvers.

To provide our students with opportunities to travel abroad and within the US we kicked off sign up for our interim trips. Students can chose from trips to Australia, London, Greece, Costa Rica, Seattle, New Orleans, Crystal River, FL, local internships and other local experiences. Plus, our Innovation Diploma students will be visiting the Stanford d.School to work with graduate students on a Future of Food challenge.

More later on our work on improving assessment practices and designing a MVPS Upper School Humanities program.

Did we really expect to escape the critics?

By October, we started hearing grumblings from students and parents. Below is a copy of the petition from some members of the Class of 2015. In the midst of the college application season, our seniors were nervous.

2014 Senior Petition

We immediately shared this information with our faculty and scheduled meetings with the seniors and then grade level groups with the 9 – 11th graders. We also surveyed the entire student body to find out more about their understanding of the new policies and how the implementation was going.

We had a tremendous amount of faith in the students’ abilities to adapt and be successful under these new conditions. While some students were signing the petition, there was a large group of seniors who saw the value of the changes. Unfortunately these students were less vocal than their peers. We had also solicited information from university admission representatives and we believed that our students would not be negatively affected during the college admission process.

We explained to the students that we would continue working with them on their adjustment and that we believed that, in the long run, they would benefit. We were determine to move forward and find ways to improve the implementation and on our grading practices.

Wait until you see what we learned after semester 1.

 

People Get Emotional When you Talk about Changing Grading Practices

Over the years I have followed newspaper articles from communities where grading and reporting changes have taken place and quite often the conversations lead to heated arguments, animosity, teachers getting suspended and/or fired, principals getting losing their jobs and court cases.

Possibly the most controversial change that really gets tempers flaring is when schools decide to not assign zeros to missing student work. While the two sides don’t usually get physical, the battle can be nasty.

"Untitled" by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

“Untitled” by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under these circumstances it’s very difficult to change overall practices. Instead of the focus being on changing assessment practices to improve learning, individuals take a myopic approach and the two sides get bogged down in the single issue. The fear of having to face upset parents, students and teachers typically leads to continuing the status quo. The status quo, even though flawed, is just easier to continue.

Fortunately, the Graded community was appreciative to discuss assessment practices that improves learning. Our teachers, parents and students saw the value of being able to give feedback to students on academic performance and separate feedback on learning habits. There wasn’t a battle around the typical divisive issues (i.e. zeros, extra credit, participation, group grades, homework grades). The only issue that created a stir throughout the year was reassessments (more on this in another post).

These are the responses from the high school faculty at our opening faculty meeting for the 2014 – 15 school year.

From the start of the year we were continuously learning in these four areas (and others).

What did I learn?

  • That it is never too soon to prepare for rolling out these changes. Ask teachers to respond to these prompts as early as possible.
  • Having a community that supports the concepts and initiative makes the rollout easier.
  • Even when you have the support of the community, there will be disagreements and critics.

Best Practices Just Aren’t Enough These Days

Best Practices – Aren’t. Mike Myatt. Forbes Magazine. 15 Aug. 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/08/15/best-practices-arent/

Just over a year ago I read George Couros’s post, Ignoring the Status Quo and after this I have been campaigning against best practices. I was in search of alternatives to looking at “best practices”. Unfortunately I’ve been doing a poor job of communicating the concept that best practices keep up the status quo without taking us to a new level. Thanks to Brett Jacobsen at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School I started reading Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. They clearly explain the benefits of best practices mixed with “bright spots”.

“They’ve long since learned to “benchmark” competitors and absorb industry “best practices.” While these habits are useful, they are rarely transformative. Good ideas are often adopted quickly.”

In Decisive, they give the example of how Sam Walton replicated practice that Ben Franklin was using where customers paid for their items at one location at the front of the store. In the past customers would pay separately in the respective departments. As more stores starting adopting this strategy it became common practice. Walton would frequently ask, “Who else is struggling with a similar problem, and what can I learn from them?” I find that we do this all the time in schools. In the international school community, The Principal’s Training Center listserv is buzzing with colleagues who are gathering information on what others are doing (“best practices”). This type of sharing is necessary and very helpful. For example, about a year ago we asked schools (see The Best Time – Design Thinking Part 2) how they were organizing their classroom without walls trips. We received some excellent ideas and ended up piloting trips based on the best models that we found.

The Heath Brothers present a case for a combination of best practices and “bright spots.” The bright spots are solutions that come from alternative thinking within the organization. Thinking that is tailored to meet your needs and takes the solution to the next level. This type of thinking can lead to mash-ups or innovative practices.

“The search for options might lead the manager to search first for best practices. In a world with thousands of other organizations, someone has surely faced this problem before. Next, she might look for bright spots within her own organization, …”

Using the classroom without walls trip example. We’re basically at a point now where we need to develop brights spots that will improve our school trips. Based on the feedback that we received from teachers and students, the pilot trips were excellent, but they weren’t innovative and we didn’t quite accomplish our objectives. We’re now in the process of developing a new iteration for next year’s learning experiences and we plan to take them to another level. A level that better meets are needs and will hopefully be seen as a “next practice”. Notice that I said “learning experiences”. We’re realizing that the activities for the week don’t have to be trips.

I’m changing my campaign in support of best practices and bright spots.

Join us at Graded for Innovate 2015 in March

We are looking for forward-thinking, dynamic and passionate educators who want to lead the learning at Innovate 2015.  Submit a proposal to workshop, present and lead learning at Innovate 2015!

Innovate Proposal

 

 

Innovate Page

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0