The fear of awesome

Mediocrity…the very word makes me cringe.  Yet it is rampant in the educational world.  Everyone, students and educators alike get caught up striving to be just good enough.  So many times I hear things like…

  • Is this ok?
  • Am I done?
  • Tell me exactly what I have to do and I will do it.
  • How long does this have to be?
  • I am not going to do it that way, it will take too long.
Why do we want to be just good enough?  Why don’t we want to be awesome?
Fear.
People fear the unknown.  People fear change and risk.  People fear that if they are too good, they will be called on for extra responsibility.  People fear that there is not enough time.  People fear they will be questioned and that they will have to defend their choices.
The result of all this fear is mediocrity.  Students and staff alike get comfortable in the middle.  They can do their respective jobs, stay safe, and fly under the radar.  The status quo is maintained, and everything is in equilibrium.
But as role models and lead learners in our schools, how can we not strive for awesome?  We must embrace change, take risks, and learn.  We must do what is right for our students and each and every day.  We must manage our time and prioritize what truly matters in education – learning.  Defending our choices should not be a stumbling block, but an opportunity for collaboration and growth.
Push the envelope. Strive for awesome.  Demand that your students join you on the journey and show them how powerful it is.  Replace fear with the passion and drive to improve.

Let them own it

I got a glimpse into the true greatness of my students yesterday.

In my level 1 classes, we started with a meeting.  I had my students pull their chairs into a circle and let them know we had equity of voice.  I explained that overall things in class were going well, but we needed to make a few adjustments.  I could have easily just handed them the new way we were going to do things, but I decided to go a different route.  I decided to involve them in the decision making process.  No, I decided to give them the decision making process.  It is their learning – not mine, right?

I started by sharing a couple of observations…I had noticed that my students could improve at finding resources for practice.  I have many different ways for them to practice, but there are only a few that are being well utilized.  I also noticed that when independent work time is given that focus can be a problem.  We needed to change that.  We only spend 45 minutes together each day and time must be maximized.  My students agreed with me and shared some of their own observations, concerns, and comments.

Then I turned the floor over to the kids to figure out how to make it better.  I cannot tell you how proud I was of my kids.  They came up with a new, better model of independent work days.  Some of them asked for my opinion or suggestions, and I gave them.  They expressed that they would like more small group instruction rather than whole group and figured out how to make it happen.  They decided that each skill (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) would have its own place to practice.  There would also be a places to practice the skills together (integrated), to use technology, and to assess.

All I can say is that kids need to be in charge of their learning.  They are so capable and ready to take the reigns.  Their decisions may not be perfect, but I would love to find the teacher that makes perfect decisions.  I am sure we will have more tweaking to do as the year progresses, but you had better believe that when I see missteps, my students will be the ones to figure out how to get back on track.  It is their learning, it is their experience, it is their time.  It is not about me.

Assess for the sake of learning

After several engaging discussions with my PLN on the roles of formative and summative assessment, I felt the need to get some ideas down on pap…well, get some ideas down.

Practice FOR learning

The nature of formative assessment is that it is FOR learning.  I prefer the term formative practice, because to me that is the heart of formative assessment.  I use a sports analogy to explain to students how our classroom works.  Formative practice is just like training for any athlete.  Formative work is low stakes when taking a risk to learn something new.  Failure at first is expected, but equally expected is a rise from it to find success.  If an athlete doesn’t do the work to improve and get better, they are not going to perform when it is game time. The same is true of the learners in my classroom.  If they have not practiced their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in Spanish, the summative assessments will not show proficiency or growth.  Feedback is the key to learning during formative practice.  Scores, numbers, and letters are not necessary and can be in fact detrimental during the practice phase.

Show me the learning!

Summative assessments ‘sum up’ the learning and put it all together.  In the sports reference, the summative assessment is the game, meet, or competition.  Time to show what you can do and what you have been working toward.  There are those that argue that if you have been collecting evidence with the formative work that a summative is not necessary.  I disagree with this for several reasons.  I feel that the summative assessment is the time to synthesize concepts, ideas, and understandings and apply them.  A summative assessment also gives additional evidence of what the final score, rating, or grade should be.  Evidence tells the story of a student’s growth and achievement and eventually drives grades.  The more evidence, the better in my opinion.

Chatting about standards based learning and grading ignites my passion as an educator.  I want to create the best learning environment possible for my students and I love the way my PLN challenges me to ‘bring it’ each day.  October is Connected Educator’s Month, and I would not be the teacher I am today without so many of the inspiring people I have met on Twitter.

How do you use formative and summative assessment in your classroom?  Leave a comment and keep the discussion going!