Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Planning for Transparency

Learners need to know what we want them to learn. The clearer teacher-me can be about the what (and how to get there) the better students understand.  If learners don't know or don't understand the expected lesson or task outcomes they may miss the mysterious mark. Demystifying the learning goals and the thinking processes for how to reach them is key.

Early in my life as an English teacher I defined what I taught by work or by book. Surely we've all said at one point in our teaching lives, "Our next unit is on [insert name of literary work]."  I taught Beowulf, then Grendel, then Canterbury Tales, then Hamlet,  then Romantic poetry and the list of works goes on. Then, I was teaching works. I was teaching the reading not the reader. In the late nineties the what I taught began shifting from works to standards. My lesson plans began to evolve. I still created units around whole-class, anchor texts, but the focus was on strategies and skills students could transfer from unit to unit, class to class or class to world. Where I worked or in what department dictated what I needed to include in my lesson plans (Planning for Practice).  I've written my thinking about planning for the what here and about unit versus lesson planning here.  I'm a planner, I admit it. While I linked to learning activities and assignments, I wonder now, how or if on those early plans, I made the assessment sequence clear to learners. Or did that sequence, that assessment cycle get lost in the mix of too much or a lot of other information?

The last time I wrote about transparency (here) I was writing to making my thinking visible. This time I'm thinking not only about how what I do in the classroom and behind the scenes makes learning (or assessment and or thinking) visible.  I'm also thinking about how you align such a process across departments, PLCs, or divisions of a school.

My current school, Singapore American School, is in the process of shifting from standards-based instruction to competency-based instruction. One goal is to de-couple age and stage from skill or competency in order to give students opportunities to pursue learning on their own terms. A learner's personalized educational future is already here. We see that in the virtual learning world with platforms like Crash Course or Khan Academy or the Global Online Academy  Crash Course, Khan Academy and other such platforms deliver content. They mostly leave assessment to teachers in schools.

Still, those content providers allow learners to choose their paths. That is one step our school wants to take too. Some teachers in our high school are already doing it with digitized content that flips and blends learning. Performance assessments is where we are beginning across divisions.

One school goal this year is for PLC teams to create an embedded performance assessement. As reDesignU defines it, this assessment plan is a a student-facing document that details the formative thru summative assessments students will experience. These student-facing plans may, one day, enable students to self-pace in a course.  Some say they are one key to the customized pathways of personalized learning (Bray and McClaskey;  Rickabaugh). 

We may debate the format. We may debate the contents. We may debate the look or the layout or how such assessments are different in a science class or a visual arts class.  We might even debate the benefits, but I know one thing. Being transparent with leaners creates clarity. Teaching students the thinking behind the doing builds understanding and can lead to transfer.

Beyond that, sharing an assessment plan with the learners establishes purpose. It points learners toward a goal and gives them a map to get there.

I can't wait to see what we discover as we do this work together.


Bray, Barbara and Kathleen McClaskey. (2015). Making Learning Person: The What, Who, WOW, 
Where, and Why. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Rickabaugh, James. (2016). Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning: A Roadmap for School Leaders. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge each
Tuesday during the year and daily during the month of March. 


  1. Wow! There's lots of good thinking here in this slice. Your slices always challenge me to think and push me to do better. Thank you and I can't wait to see where this journey leads you!

  2. I'm looking forward to learning from you as you progress forward with all those plans to revamp the school. Thanks for sharing-- for making your thinking visible.

  3. Wowwweeee, this is exciting. I am buzzing with questions. Will there be units that "cover" or manage or make opportunities for students to develop competencies? I envision a hallway lined with big cards, each one containing the competency focus, with maybe interdisciplinary processes and content? And a team of teachers to facilitate? And kids could just wander down the hallways at the start of each new block of time and pick the card they want? (Can you tell I've been looking at interdisciplinary programs this week?)

    It sounds like a competency-based approach could eventually enable students to work across grade/age levels? For example, if I am a very proficient 12 year-old reader and I demonstrate competencies in certain areas, I can be reading texts with older kids?

    What happens to staff configurations? Do people move out of a department focus into competency clusters that shift with each new competency time block?

    I'm probably leaping way off the track you are pursuing, but I can't help it-- you got me excited.

    Thanks for the link to reDesignU-- interesting reading there.

    This school is so lucky to have you help facilitate their process....