Tag Archives: formative practice

I love it when the light bulb turns on!

When I was in the classroom, there was nothing like it. It’s the moment you can physically see a student ‘get it’. The light bulb goes on, the eyes shine brightly, and the child sits up straighter. A look of pride sweeps over their face. I love this.

It is one of the things I miss most about being in the classroom. I didn’t really take the time this fall to realize how much those moments meant or how much I missed them. I guess I didn’t have a lot of time as I was learning my new role and district. I didn’t realize it until I got to experience it again. This experience was a little different, though. I got to see it from a teacher.

At my school we are doing the monumental work of shifting to standards based grading. We are analyzing practice, creating new reporting procedures, and re-evaluating assessment. I have been able to talk to all different content area teachers, listen to their concerns, and celebrate their learning and growth. I have gotten to see the lightbulb go on a few times and witness the moment they ‘get it’ whether on a small or large-scale.

The most powerful light bulb experience came with one of our math teachers. His practice was already standards based, but after some conversation he realized revising his grading policies could make a huge impact. He reflected and commented that it felt like a ton of bricks hitting him. Why would non-academic factors be included in a grade? Why not open up assessment opportunities and give kids a voice? Why not relinquish some of the control to the learners themselves? Not only is he finding success with the shifts, he can better spend his time. He can create tools the students use to learn instead of making sure all the homework grades are entered. He can consider all the divergent learners in his environment instead of deciding how much their binder organization grade will count. The lightbulb has turned on and it is shining brighter each day.

Ready for the next level? I walked into his room the other day and he was talking with a student about assessment. She was asking about a concept with which she lacked confidence. This teacher simply said that she needed to practice until she felt prepared and explained that he was willing to provide any support necessary. The student was concerned about a quiz on Friday and that she may not be ready. The teacher commented that the assessment date was set, but why would she assess¬†on that day if she didn’t feel proficient?

Whoa. Not only had the light bulb turned on for this teacher, but it turned on for the student as well. Learning was communicated as the most important feature of the class, not compliance to a particular timeline.

Empowerment is empowerment no matter whether with teachers or students. Once they can take something and make it their own, the light bulb goes on. And I love the light bulb.

The ‘Oops Card’

Sometimes you search and search for inspiration to write…other times it simply arrives home in your son’s pencil bag.




The Oops Card

Hmmm…this was a hard one for me to swallow. I agree that kids make mistakes, and have ‘oops’ moments. Actually, we all do and perfection is just not possible or desirable for that matter. If we are perfect, what’s left to learn? In my opinion, communication is everywhere and in everything. Let’s take a closer look at what this card says to students.

This card considers a late homework assignment. Homework is obviously graded, yet formative work should not be scored. Why create a high stakes learning environment by grading everything? Why make a judgement about proficiency when this is a check point during the journey? Do we want kids to be concerned with points and perfection or with learning? Learning is risk taking which has the potential for failure. How do we want students to view this process?

According to the card, the late homework must turned in the following day to receive any credit. A zero is stated as the punishment or repercussion if the procedure is not carried out. Tardiness with work is a behavior (although not a preferred one). Including this in the grading process makes students nervous and fearful of making a mistake. Do we care when students learn or that they learn? Afford students the opportunity to make mistakes. Talk with them about how to make a better decision in the future. Help them get there.

Is a student responsible if they don’t use the card? My son did not use his card last quarter even though he missed one assignment. Does this say that he is irresponsible or simply that he is a child who can forget things at times? Let’s face it, middle school students forget sometimes. As long as it is not a consistent problem there is no need to worry or penalize a student. Did I want my son to use the card? No, but the choice was his. I was proud of his decision.

Oh, the monster of extra credit. Awarding students extra credit at the end of a marking period for not using the card has absolutely nothing to do with their academic achievement. Even so, what would 15 points do for a student who has been very compliant with homework throughout the quarter? My guess is not much. Would it help with a student who consistently struggles to turn in work on time? Nope. I adamantly disagree with extra credit for so many reasons that it most likely warrants an additional blog post.

Cards like this do not communicate the importance of learning to students. They switch the focus to compliance, points, scores, and grades. According to the card, it is acceptable to make one mistake per quarter, and it must be resolved in one day. After that, perfection is the expectation. This is not realistic. This is not learning.

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments and continue the discussion.


Work out of respect, or respectful work?

We have all had these kids…the ones who are gifted, brilliant, or very far ahead of their peers with regard to their readiness levels, yet arrive to our classrooms after years of not being challenged. School is an act of compliance and conformity where learning is only for the few who fit the ‘middle of the road’ parameters. They enter our buildings prepared to jump through whatever hoops teachers place before them and fully understand how the game of school works. They sit in class quietly and complete every assignment maintaining the status quo of their environment without thinking, creating, or learning.

I was made aware of a student who fit this bill. He was a world language student studying Spanish. Assignments were rote and the same for everyone. Filling in the blanks was the norm rather than creating language. He completed assignments not because he needed the practice, but out of respect for his teacher.

Wait a minute. He commented that he completed assignments out of respect for the teacher…let that sink in.

How troubling! His love of the language was getting lost in countless meaningless assignments. Getting an ‘A’ was never a question because point acquisition was an easy endeavor. This class was becoming, as he put it, a ‘joke’ rather than an opportunity to communicate with people from around the world and learn their varied cultures. Compliance had more value than growth.

¬†This situation makes me feel a little ill to be quite honest. I know the scenario has played out in the same fashion for years, but to have such a clear example right in front of me gave it a new reality. Students deserve much more than a school experience that lacks learning. Aren’t there are ways to show respect without succumbing to a sub par experience?

Some of you may be wondering, why these students don’t self advocate for more. Many reasons abound, and I believe they become jaded with the process and get used to the idea of being bored. Disenchanted kids forget what risk taking, recovery from failure, and learning feel like and need a spark to remember. They are conditioned to perform to the same level as other peers even though deep down they yearn for challenge. The ceiling is placed low and they have forgotten the joy of breaking out and pushing past it. Their intrinsic motivation gets shoved back so far it is very difficult to uncover and release.

Why would we want to create this for our students at any level? They should enjoy the challenge of learning and excitement of curiosity with new levels of understanding. Completing mundane tasks runs the risk of negatively impacting learning for a lifetime. Students become robots, and they will be released into a world of work that requires the exact opposite.

As we begin this school year, let’s flip the table concerning respect. Let’s honor our students as learners. Let’s design experiences and tasks that are relevant and meaningful. Let’s be responsive and involve students in the decision-making process. Kids will stop completing assignments to show you respect and compliance. They will work because they want to learn. This is the ultimate respect a student can show you.

A thank you to Brian Durst and his student for the inspiration for this post.