Thursday, March 31, 2016

Formative Assessment in the Classroom

For some reason, education publications that share best practices tend to be written in such a way that the practitioners need to hire a translator to interpret the written words and rent a small forklift to help tote the rather large book from place to place.

Personally, I believe that this is because companies and individuals are trying to coin phrases and put a copyright symbol on some program.

This is an unfortunate plight in our wonderful career field. Practitioners need the results of research to be made user-friendly. The teacher in the classroom and the building administrator do not have time for lengthy translations and trainings that require constant revisiting from the consultant. Instead, what is needed is an explanation of what was found, why the strategy or technique should be used and then the how.

Formative assessment is one of those tools that all of the research suggests is a must use. Unfortunately, most of the works are lengthy tombs with very little transferability to the classroom.

The most telling of the research on why we should use formative assessment is from Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, Inside the Black Box and most recently Dr. Wiliam’s work with Siobhan Leahy has transferred this information to book form in, Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms. There are other authors like, Susan M. Brookhart, Performance Assessment: Showing What Students Know and Can Do and R. Stiggins, J. Arter, J. Chappuis, & S. Chappuis, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right-Using It Well to look to for help with understanding the what, the why, and the how.

But my favorite is from Suzy Pepper Rollins in Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success (You can also listen to Suzy on my podcast Teaching Learning Leading K12 ). Her book is short, to the point, and completely user friendly. A teacher or building administrator could pick up this book, read the section on formative assessment and put it in place in lesson plans tonight for use tomorrow in the classroom.

I recently started a three part series of using Formative Assessment in the Classroom on my audio podcast. Follow the links. In these episodes I am focused on the why, the what, and the how.

Stop by and listen. Episode 93 is part one, Episode 94 is part 2 and Episode 95 will be the conclusion- part 3. My focus is to make it usable and understandable.

I am a perfect example of a big reason why we should use formative assessment. I was a good kid. I did my work, I didn’t cause trouble, and I was quiet. And I really didn’t want to be called upon to answer questions or to come to the board and show my work. I developed a routine that worked amazingly on many of my teachers, not in just one year but in many. I barely ever was called upon. You know why, most of our colleagues, not you right?- call upon those kids who know the answers and those who might start causing issues if we leave them alone for too long.

Therefore, if I looked at the teacher, kept being good, didn’t get off task, did my work, didn’t talk or get up when I shouldn’t I didn’t get called upon. I was good at this.

In many of my classes, I disappeared into the seats and the linoleum. Nothing against my teachers, I was trying to do this.

Unfortunately, it meant that the classroom teachers didn’t know what I knew or didn’t understand about the content unless they had a test or a graded quiz. By the time many of those opportunities came along, it was already too late. I either completely was lost or I had created my own understanding of the content and needed a wrecking ball to correct my misunderstandings.

Here is my working definition of formative assessment:

Formative assessment is the purposeful use of activities that will not be graded that will reveal to the teacher what the kids know and don’t know. The results of these activities will be used to adjust instruction to help the kids develop a better understanding, overcome confusion, or move on because they already get it.

In my audio podcast three part series I explain the why (students like me and others), the what, and the how (part three)-coming soon.

I encourage you to listen in.

Each episode is an easy length to listen to - 12-20 minutes.

I’m on iTunes if you have a smartphone and Stitcher if you have an Android.

You can also go straight to my host site at Podbean (Teaching Learning Leading K12)

Or you can go to the link on this blog page or the podcast player to listen right now at your desktop workstation.

Formative assessment is an awesome tool that will help you change your instruction to address the needs of the kids. It's time to start putting it in action.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Classroom Management: Know You

Classroom management is more about you than you may realize.
We often cause our own issues without realizing it.
So how much do you know about you?
Can you control you?
If you were watching yourself what advice would you give yourself?
(By the way, a good companion to this post would be Episode 91 of Teaching Learning Leading K12 of my audio podcast.)

Let's take a look at what I call my:

6 Questions to Ask Yourself About You

1. Do you know when you are losing it?
2. Do You ignore or address?
3. Do you plead and beg or is it my way or the highway?
4. Do You need help with organizational skills?
5. Are you consistent?
6. Do you learn their names?

Let's look at these individually...

1. Do you know when you are losing it?

What makes you angry? Do you know? If you know, can you control you? Think about it.

With me, I can't stand to have someone flat out ignore me or roll their eyes at me.

I have had to teach myself to not over react. I have to remind myself that
someone has to be the adult.


Stay calm
Take a deep breath
Stay emotionally objective-don't take it personally when you address the situation.

2. Do you ignore or address?

In other words, a student breaks one of your rules but you don't address it. Instead, you let it go. Failure to address will make issues for you down the road. If you create a rule then you have to follow up. If you don't other kids will see that you don't and say, "Obviously, the rules don't matter."
Learn to address not ignore.

3. Do you plead and beg or is it my way or the highway?

Getting kids to work in your classroom is about creating positive relationships. They have to buy into you. Now, don't misread what I am saying, I am not talking about making them your best, no, no. I am saying that you get to know them and you show them what is exciting about your subject. Create engaging activities and reach out to the kids to try to get them to see you as human. It takes time and commitment to get them to want to be a part of your class.

Pleading and begging sounds like this, " Come on everyone...get quiet... please?" or "
Hey, guys, guys, I need your attention, guys?"

My way or the highway creates a different issue. If you draw a line in the sand, you had better be ready to follow up with the kid who says, "Oh, yeah? I have stepped across the what?" This attitude also encourages a disconnect between the teacher and the student. Some kids will grow to resent you for this type of attitude and the tone that comes with it.


Learn to connect with the kids.
Address issues with the individuals, not the whole class.
Relationships are important.
Pay attention to the words that you use.
If you say it follow up.

4. Do you need help with your organizational skills?

Be honest. Do you lose things? Do you have too many loose papers? 
It can't hurt to reach out to others who are better at creating organizational methods for your classroom. Creating folders for work to be turned in, picked-up and assignments for when they were out sick. 

Check out Lisa from organize365 and listen to my interview with her.
Also, check out information from teachers who have systems down. Listen to this teacher as well.
If nothing else, go down the hallway and peek in rooms. Discover which teachers are good at systems and ask for help.

5. Are you consistent?

Consistency equals fairness. If you stay objective and don't choose sides you will be ok. But you also have to handle stuff. If you ignore or let things slide you are sending a message to the kids that the rules apply to some and not to others. Can't you just hear the cries of, "But you didn't give him detention for being late!" "Why are you also picking on me?" "How come he can be late, but I can't?"

Work on this. The only one who can is you. Know when you failed to address or treated kids differently. Don't listen to that inner voice that says, "Oh, everything will be ok. Just let it go this time." Listening to that voice will eventually lead to chaos. Kids will think that you are unfair. They will comment that you treat some better than others. The only way to get better is to remind yourself in the moment to handle what needs to be handled.

6. Do you learn their names?

The sooner you know their names and use them the better your relationships with the kids. Once you learn their names don't save them for only the classroom. Wherever you are in the building use their names. Do you attend school events? Say hi, but make sure that you use his/her name. The first time you do this it will surprise the kids but you will be quickly on the way to connecting with the kid as you will be doing something that many adults fail to do: call them by their names.

Learn their names and use them.
Practice difficult names.
Ask the kids for help with their names.
Push yourself to use their names. Today, I am going to make sure that I talk to these three kids and use their names. Tomorrow challenge yourself to add three more and then go back and speak to the other three. Get their names down. You will be thankful that you did.

Classroom Management is more about you than you may believe.
Remember to look at yourself in terms of these six questions and then address the you that you see.

Remember to check out Episode 91 of Teaching Learning Leading K12