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.

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What I learned during the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar Relay

On Sunday, September 16th eighty six members of the Graded community participated in the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar. It was a phenomenal community event despite the temperature reaching 33 degrees Celsius. The relay format meant that teams of either 8, 4 or 2 completed a full marathon. I’m happy to report that all fourteen teams finished the race. One of our teachers, single handedly recruited teachers, students, parents, staff members and administrators to participate in the race. With so much happening at Graded this year the timing for the event was perfect. All 86 of us were able to go out successfully complete a physically challenging task and then celebrate our accomplishment.

During my portion of the race I started thinking about how this event compares to the year that we are having at school. At Graded, like all other schools, we work extremely hard every year, but for some reason this year seems to be supercharged. Our continuous improvement efforts on curriculum development and implementation, assessment practices, implementing a 1 to 1 laptop program in the high school, completing our AdvancED self study and the IB Diploma Program 5-year review, plus hosting the Global Issues Network Conference of the Americas, Innovate 2013, and all of the other normal day to day stuff is wearing us out (OK, just looking at the list is enough to make anyone hyperventilate).

Here is what I came up with.

1. Each one of us wants to do our best to support the team effort – The marathon format is interesting because you are running for yourself and for you team. This means that you want to do your best so that the team can succeed. While a few people considered pulling out before the race due to injuries, lack of training, other conflicts, in doing so, the team would have been let down. On the flip side, others trained extensively so that they would contribute to the team’s success. In true team spirit, everyone followed through to ensure that the team would be succeed. Each person took the responsibility seriously and was committed to the team.

The same holds true for our day to day work at Graded. As professionals we understand our responsibilities to the team of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. We know that it’s not just about what we do as individuals. It’s about our work with the entire community. There is pressure on us, as educators, to provide students with the best learning experiences possible. This means not only doing so in the classroom but also in the many extracurricular, athletic, and community service activities. Unlike the race, our work just isn’t one Sunday out of the year, which means that we’re striving to be on top of our games from August through June.

2. Every individual’s level of preparation varied – First, when people signed up for the race in August, everyone was at a different level of readiness.  The training approaches and the amount of time that individuals devoted to preparation varied greatly. Many of the students who are on athletic teams relied on the practices with their teams. I think that these students found that the practices and training were sufficient for the 5k race, but not enough for the 10k distance. Some individuals dedicated a significant amount of time preparing for the race, while others did very little and then gutted it out to the finish. As far as I know, group training did not happen due to our busy schedules. This meant that the overall majority of the training happened individually. Those who set goals for individual or team times had to tailor their training accordingly.

With the work that we, as educators are doing this year the same holds true for preparation. We’re all at different levels of expertise in our knowledge of the curriculum, assessment practices, and the integration of technology to enhance learning and there are a variety of plans in play.  As a school, we have tried to embed as much professional development related to these areas into our work. But, just as the athletes learned, we’re learning that there is a  need for some of us to seek additional learning opportunities to take us to another level. We also struggle with finding time to get groups together for collaborative planning and learning. This is where technology can really help us through the connections that we can make with our Graded colleagues and educators from around the world. We’re all working diligently to grow as educators and we’ve set our goals with steps that we are planning to take throughout the year.

3. During the race, people took different approaches – It was fun to watch different personalities come out during the race. Some runners were vocal about cheering the teams on while others were quiet and focused. Many were quiet because they were nervous. I remember seeing one colleagues twice on the course and he was in his own world with his headphones and music on. There were others who were loud and vocal whenever a Graded runner passed by. It didn’t really matter which type of person you were, we all knew that we were in this together. We certainly did not take silence to mean that you weren’t being supportive of the other members in the group. It’s just the state of mind that the individual was in at the time.

The same holds true for our work this year. Personalities come out naturally when working together and with over a 140 faculty members, we find that each person handles things differently. We have our cheerleaders, our work horses, our shy types and the middle of the road ones. The key is making sure that we all are respectful of our differences and to find ways to let each other know that we support each others work.

4. The race was tough – It’s safe to say that just about everyone was challenged by the event. Even the fittest runners had to deal with the heat, the crowd and the desire to run a fast pace. The work was hard and there were some who weren’t sure that they would finish. All of us had to cut back on our pace and some had to walk. Even our best runner had a slower than normal time and was wiped out by the end of his leg.

This is true with our work this year as well. The work is certainly difficult for all of us. We are working to grow and change our practices which is never easy. Recently I referred to this EDS commercial where the airplane builders are building the plane while flying. We’re trying to keep up with the normal day to day things while planning ahead for the future. We all feel stretched to thin and we’re not doing our job well. Some of us even question why we are trying to do so much in a short amount of time. Just about all of us have to walk occasionally to catch our breath and even those who are at the top of their profession realize that the work is not easy.

5. The post race celebration was important – After the race we met for brunch at a nearby restaurant. Forget the fact that we were really hungry, the importance of this was that we were able to celebrate our accomplishments. The medals were proudly worn and the stories were flowing. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying that post race high. It was a wonderful way to end the event.

We realize that we need to find more time to celebrate our successes through stories.  This should be done even though the race isn’t over yet. I envision us celebrating after the visiting team comes for our self-study accreditation visit in April. It may not feel like it now, but we will certainly have much to celebrate at that time. We may not be wearing medals but there will be special stories to share and laughs to be had.

What would your perfect conference look like?

Image In October, we enthusiastically agreed to join forces with Lausanne Collegiate, The American School of Bombay and Frankfurt International School as a member of the Laptop Institute team. January 19 – 21, 2013 Graded will host the Innovate 2013 Conference. Since then we have had a blast working to plan a meaningful learning experience for all participants. We started by determining a name and a theme and then took ideas from some of the best conferences that member of the planning group had attended. We considered The Laptop Institute, ASB Unplugged, Learning 2.011, K12 Online Conference, Educon 2.4, and a few others.

Our committee still has a long way to go as we strive to break the conference mold but we are excited about the direction that we’re heading. Below is our current stance on our learning structures.

Innovate 2013 Learning Structures

In an effort to combat the Education Myths That Shape Conferences, Innovate 2013 is committed to providing a variety of learning structures to support participants in investigating innovation and planning for transfer in ways that are powerful for them personally.

Two-hour Open Space Slot: Open Space Technology was created in the mid-1980s by organizational consultant Harrison Owen when he discovered that people attending his conferences loved the coffee breaks better than the formal presentations and plenary sessions. This block of time is designed to hand over the conference to participants to determine what kinds of dialogue need to happen that we at Innovate 2013 missed in our planning.

Cohort meetings:  Scheduled three times throughout the conference, cohorts are a group of 20 – 25 individuals that gather regularly to exchange ideas, reflect on learning and create connections that result in meaningful, personalized outcomes from the conference. Organized and focused by a facilitator, participants are encouraged to choose into a cohort that best defines where their driving question about educational innovation may reside. This learning structure is designed for participants to build a plan for taking learning back to their organizations.

Cohort strands to choose from include:

  • Leadership
  • Instructional Technology Facilitators
  • The People Behind the Scenes: Infrastructure
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Differentiation/Special Needs
  • Assessment
  • NCTE Twenty-First Century Literacies
  • The Arts
  • Collaboration in local and global communities
  • Physical Education
  • Student

90 minute workshops and three-hour institutes: We invite YOU, our participants, to share your work and ideas with everyone by presenting at the conference. Come and share how you or your school are integrating technology in the classroom, challenging the status quo, or pursuing strategies that place students in the center.  Share your experiences launching and implementing a 1-to-1 program, utilizing digital tools to support assessment practices, building collaborative communities, or examining strategies that add to the dialogue of educational innovation.

We’d love to hear your ideas on what makes a conference valuable for your own learning. If you had the chance to plan your own conference, what would it look like?