Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Coding Grades

Color coding in class today.

In my A.P. Language and Composition class today, I asked students to read and examine some sample synthesis essays. They read over the 2013 synthesis question about monuments and then I tasked them with color coding two samples (A and B).

Here's how I asked them to mark the samples:

1 Read the sample essay.
2 Re-read and mark it up.
3 Backwards map or outline the writer's moves.
4 Underline the writer's central claim.
5 Use 3 different colors to mark:

    • the writer's point in each paragraph
    • the writer's interpretation or thinking 
    • evidence the writer used
6 Talk in your table group about how the essays differ.
7 Review the synthesis rubric.
8 Come to consensus on a score for each essay.
9 Share out.
10 Repeat steps 2-5 with the essay you wrote last class.

I heard a lot of, "this is interpretation or thinking; it's all set up in this part before the example." As the class color marked I also got a lot of questions about examples and evidence. "Is it evidence if it's not quote?" Hmm... I thought, time to review different ways writers can incorporate evidence (paraphrase, summarize, quote). I've even heard more than one student say something to the effect of "this is so satisfying!" They liked determining the sentence colors -- now to get them to be as satisfied by the sentence' purpose. 

We've done this sort of sample scoring before. It is a familiar lesson to most I imagine. And it's almost Ground Hog's day, so students have developed some confidence by February's start. 

Of course, students wanted to get at the essays they'd written on Monday. Formative essays, the essays will not go in the grade book as an evaluative mark. Still, they were anxious for feedback. 

Until they got their papers. 


“I got a circle. Did you get a circle?”

“No, I got a triangle.”

“That’s probably better than a circle!”

“I doubt it! What'd you get?" classmates quickly compared marks.

I want students to do more thinking, so instead of giving them their mark, I use codes. The codes change all the time. There are an infinite number of codes I could use, right? I make comments, positive and directional, but I don't reveal the "grade" or the score right away. Students have to dig into self-assessment and the rubric in order to begin to figure that out. 


"I got a rectangle, or is that a square? Spillane...!?"
"Well, there's only one triangle and one rectangle, I bet those are good!"



Of course, they try  to game it and guess it before settling in to re-read and examine their own writing. I don't appreciate that they still feel driven to compare within their groups, but I can't control that. What I can do is recognize that they are comfortable with one another and feel safe enough to compare and share their writing and their feedback.

"A rectangle... I think I did okay... maybe good. I totally got my thinking in there. Huh..."

Some of us still have confidence problems (I'm working on that).Whether they scored in the top half or in the middle of the rubric, kids drew apt conclusions about how they organized their ideas and supporting their claims from today's activities.  I loved how the sequence worked-- it was a win. No to banish those shadows and get those Ground Hogs up out of their dens.




Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Literacy Unbound


Sixteen or so teachers stand in a circle on the carpet in the high school professional development room. English 9, history and world studies PLCs have come together to play to learn. Three of teachers are barefoot already. Several shift their weight from side to side. Some smile the sort of smile one does when waiting. Enter Brian Veprek from Literacy Unbound, a program of The Center for the Professional Education of Teachers based out of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Brian leads us in a shake-it-out, count down from eight warm up of our limbs. Then we leap into rapid prototyping of our super hero selves.

"Create your super hero self with a word that begins with the same letter as your name. Pair that word with an action and perform it. One you show us, the group will perform it. Let me show you."

And that is how we meet Brian the Beserker--who flexes and grrrs and breaks the ice with vigor and verve. I became acquainted with Brian and Literacy Unbound at NCTE in St. Louis. Several teachers from Singapore American School participated in Literacy Unbound's summer institute and they presented their learning and shared the playful methods in a workshop at the conference.

Imagine seeding students' thinking with laughter and movement. Imagine connecting sutdents to one another and text in playfully complex ways. That is what Literacy Unbound does.

We "milled and seethed" walking about the open space smiling in different ways:  "smile to someone you don't like too much" and  "smile to someone you like completely" too. We flowed like gas weaving around the room whispering a secret we wish someone did not know and then whispering a secret we were eager to share. It was low risk movement and performance. I giggled and laughed and tried to stay in character.  Unbeknownst to us, we wiggled and walked in ways that we would encounter in the text to come.

Once we'd been properly milled we played "statues." Partnering up, one person acted as the sculptor and the other clay. The rules: no speaking and no touching. We were directed to "marionette" are clay into a position that illustrates the prompt given.

We made "woman" and "girl."  These were quick iterations. As woman, my partner, Doug, posed me in a standing position, head tilted just so to the right. My gaze aimed upward; my arms reached gently out, palms up.  After each sculpted draft, sculptors walked the sculpture garden. After their gallery walk, they debriefed:  What do you notice? What emotions are evidence in the sculptures? What questions do the poses bring up? What would you title each piece? Once the sculptors spoke, we switched roles for another round. Then the thinking rippled outward as we  joined pairs to make "mother and daughter" and "teacher and student."  Posed as mother and daughter with Doug, our sculptors. at first, had us gazing into each others' eyes. It was so hard not to laugh! I was impressed with the sculptures that could  freeze and stay in character.

Collaborate, create, connect, observe, think, reflect, discuss, wonder, revise,  repeat. These verbs sequenced the on-our-feet play that comprised our pre-reading work. With each round, we practice tone and voice with our bodies. It was an hour before we even saw the text on the page, Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl."

I am still savoring the instructional sequence and how performance and play set us up for a deep reading of the text (all without directing us to analyze). For now, I will leave you at the pre-reading stage of the work. I get to play and learn with Brian again on Friday, but this time we'll work with students around an excerpt pulled from Romeo & Juliet, so stay tuned.


At the session's start, Brian introduced himself and Literacy Unbound. As is my habit, I was sketchnoting as he spoke. I am learning how to sketchnote digitally using Procreate. I'll save that learning for another post, but here's a sneak peek at the page I got down.






Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Learning Progress


Years ago, when I worked as a literacy consultant during the summers, I had a favorite sequence that I did in a workshop on scaffolding independence. My purpose was two-fold, to demonstrate a strategy teachers could use to get kids processing content and to get teachers talking about grading. The sequence went something like this:


  1. Quick write: What does a grade mean?
  2. Share out and chart initial responses
  3. Read an article by Tom Guskey on using zeroes in grading like this one.
  4. Do a dialogue journal (silent conversation between partners): write, exchange respond, repeat
  5. Discuss/share out whole group

I've got to tell you, in the late nineties, those conversations would ignite teachers! Many of the teachers  then believed kids should be "held accountable" or "penalized" for not doing an assignment. Many could not understand why I would "give" my high school students no grade or a 50% F if they had turned nothing in. In some places, teaches still believe those things.

Singapore American School recently hosted a Solution Tree Institute:  Professional Learning Communities at Work.  It was the first time I'd heard Tom Schimmer speak.  He is a fabulous story teller, and speaker. His review and teaching about assessment affirmed my thinking and validated everything I know to be true about grading. He cited many educators I'd read and some I haven't, so I mapped out some learning for myself. I love to learn and I am passionate about equity and fairness in grading practices. How did I miss  Grading from the Inside Out last year ? I don't know, but I'm reading as fast as I can now.

My son learned to walk on a different day, and at a different age than my brother's daughter did. His path to learning to read was different than his buddy Ethan's path to reading. As Richard Allington has said every time I've heard him speak over the past ten years, research has proven one thing definitively about learning: kids are different. So, pair that with the idea that we teachers need to demystify the learning process for students.

Remember when we were demystifying the writing process and how we "grade" writing?

We need to do the same thing for every standard we assess.

Different communities, different departments, different districts or buildings are at different places in this work.  Here at Singapore American School (SAS) , ninth grade has been teaching theme. Our SAS rubric has four levels of understanding: exemplary, meets, approaching and area of concern.  Here is the top level of what the ninth grade team is using:


 The SAS rubric draws directly from the language of the reading standards one and two (citing textual evidence and analyzing theme). Each level of this rubric repeats the same language with different   qualifiers; the approaching level, for instance, uses the words "attempts to", instead of with sophistication.

At my former school in Florida we had been using Marzano's scales to score students. I led a grade level team and worked for several years to develop and revise scales for each of the standards we taught. Those scales are still changing because what we understand about learning and learners changes. The first scales our teams made embarrass me now --I wrote about them this very week in 2013.  What was I thinking with the bird metaphor? How is labeling a learner dependent or limited mitigated by also labeling him or her a fledgling or nestling? Our early teams struggled to come to consensus on language.

I've been tinkering with my scales from last year. Here is my most recent iteration. 


In my daily practice the steps to the skill -- teaching kids how to analyze a theme (or deconstruct an argument) has weight and purpose: kids attend and practice in the one on one conferences over their work in reading journals over the course of the quarter. They see clear steps and act on the feedback they get on their bi-weekly writing (we're on a rotating block here).

Still, it's a work in progress.

What I've learned since  Maya Wilson's Rethinking Rubrics book study many of us did on the English Companion Ning, is that feedback really matters. Learning progressions, called scales at my former school, called rubrics here-- are tools I can use to make feedback clear.

I  have to give kids feedback (and encouragement ) as quickly as I can to support their learning. I have to tell them where they are on track and were they need to do more work. I need to be systematic about about tracking what I say to whom, and when, so I can check back in and I need to monitor or keep an eye out: are kids acting on my feedback?
Feedback ideas I want to remember. Mine the institute by searching the #atplc hashtag on Twitter


You know, if they are not , then maybe I need to rethink my delivery.

I'm working on that part next.

Sorry, this is sort of slice of a week ago last week, right? Sometimes my ideas take some time to take shape
especially in a tropical climate on the Singapore side of the world. Thanks so much to the team at  Two Writing Teachers
 for hosting the weekly link up.  I learn so much by writing and reading with you all.