Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices: Grading and Assessment (Final in 5 part series)

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet link

On Thursday, February 27, 2020, our five part series “Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices” was capped off with our #G2Great chat for Grading and Assessment. What a fun series. What a daunting task to close out our series with this post.

Assessment is one of my favorite areas to study. I remember when a good friend of mine came to our agency to be our “Assessment Guru.” We had many conversations about the differences between learning and achievement as well as the many roles of assessment in literacy. Some conversations were quite spirited as we both grew our understanding in the application of best practices that would “Do the Least Harm.” Although cancer took that colleague and friend way too early, I remember that every meeting always included two things: 1) the meaning of the word assessment and 2) some quotes about the purpose of assessment so I am going to follow her example to begin this post.

What does assessment mean?

Assessment in Latin comes from “assidere” which means to “sit by.” Every assessment with students should be a matter of “sitting by” students. Every. single. one!

What quotes speak to us about assessment?

The #G2Great team chose the following four quotes to introduce this chat. The quotes specifically name reading and writing but they could also apply to speaking and listening as well. Which of these quotes would you add to your personal quote wall? Which align with your beliefs? How would we know?

Within this series we have stressed identifying practices that may inadvertently be harmful or even toxic for students, teachers and their communities. In the areas of assessment and grading, many folks have strong beliefs about the efficacy of their own practices. Many ideas often “work” in the hands of a skilled and knowledgeable teacher, but could they be improved on? Are there even more possibilities that could enhance student learning and decrease the toxicity of standardized testing situations that stress out and create anxiety even in our kindergarten students?

Think of a child you know well. Picture this child as you continue reading this post. How will your conversations and decisions impact this one child? Let’s get started!

What harmful and misguided practices should we weed? Rather than identifying a few tweets that exemplified the chat thinking, this list was collected from my review of all the tweets in the Wakelet archive.

Take Action: Take two minutes to think about something you can eliminate from your own assessment and grading practices. How much time will you gain from this change? When will you begin?

What practices should we strengthen and/or add to our assessment and grading repertoires? This list was also collected from the tweets during our chat.

I love that this green list is longer than the red (stop doing) list. If everyone at the chat and/or everyone reading this post were to remove one less productive practice and add just one better idea to assessment and grading, students and student learning would benefit greatly. So would the one child that you are focusing your attention on. Another action might be to take the green list to a departmental meeting, PLN, faculty, or leadership meeting and come to consensus on items that would enhance learning for all our students.

Alignment of beliefs and values is critical. We just spent time developing our own team mission statement for #G2Great so we would have some criteria for our actions and decisions. Beliefs, values, pedagogy, assessment, and grading also need to be aligned. Alignment increases the likelihood that everyone “in the boat” is rowing in the same direction, and thus the goal of increased learning will also be met.

Take Action: Where will you begin? Take two minutes to consider what you might add or strengthen in your current assessment and grading repertoire? Who will you add as an accountability partner? What will success look like? When will you have a conversation with your partner? Where might you begin with addressing your beliefs and values for assessment and grading? How will you know that your work is “helping” the student you named earlier to grow?

What is one area of assessment that has research behind it that all teachers should have on their radar?

Formative assessment.

Formative assessment has the potential to double the rate of student learning. The. potential. when. done. correctly! The. potential. when. the. focus. is. on. students!

Formative assessments have the following characteristics:

  • ungraded
  • quick
  • during the learning cycle
  • information is used to inform instruction
  • are for learning
  • are a part of the “process” of learning
  • may be about comprehension, learning needs or academic progress
  • may be designed by students
  • may have multiple answers

Formative assessments are not about having five, six, seven, eight, or nine of the characteristics above; instead, they are about the intent or purpose behind the assessment. What do we need to know in order to advance learning? What might need to be retaught? Which students are ready to move on to the next learning steps? Any of these questions could be the reason behind a specific ungraded, formative assessment.

Take Action: Take two minutes to think about your formative assessment practices. When and where are you most often adjusting instruction? When and where could you be more systematic in your use of formative assessments?

Where else do we turn for guidance in assessments? Our national literacy organizations have joint policy statements about major issues. It should be no surprise that the assessment standards were revised in 2010 when the “No Child Left Behind” accountability and assessment craze was sweeping the nation.

What do ILA and NCTE say about assessments?

Here are the joint 11 standards for assessment. Which ones do you value? How do all 11 align with your assessment processes? Which ones match up with your current assessment and grading practices? Which ones are you planning to strengthen?

How and when will you “sit by” students to check in on their learning? How will you encourage research-based assessment and grading practices? How will you include student voice and choice in the development of assessment and grading practices that will fairly and equitably “assess” learning? Where will you begin?

Eliminating or weeding harmful or misguided practices will free up time and energy for more effective and efficient research-based practices. You have identified some ideas in the “Take Action” sections. Students, parents and communities will appreciate the opportunity for active involvement (although they may grumble) in the changes. Provide time for students to increase their knowledge so they can self-advocate for appropriate learning activities and assessments. Include everyone. Continue to think about that one student guiding your decision. GET STARTED!


Visible Learning and Feedback

Will the real data please stand up?

Three Key Questions on Measuring Learning

Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing (ILA and NCTE)

Reading Surveys: A Go To Data Source for Creating a Focus for Instruction

Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices: Technology Use (Fourth in the Series)

Valinda Kimmel

“To ensure that technology integration is meaningful this school year, step back and review your curriculum goals for the first quarter. With your curriculum goals in mind, how can you use technology to provide relevance to students, meet their individual needs, and do something that wouldn’t have been possible five or 10 years ago? The use of a Chromebook, interactive whiteboard, or tablet isn’t always the answer. But when you locate a moment in your unit when students can participate in a video conference with an expert, collaborate with a partner classroom on another continent, or build empathy as they watch a video of life in another corner of the world, powerful, integrated learning experiences can happen.”

Monica Burns in Embracing a Tasks Before Apps Mindset (ASCD, 2018)

On Thursday, February 20 #g2great hosted Part 4 of the series Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices by focusing on technology in the classroom. To view the entire chat, you can access the Wakelet here.

It’s important to give special attention to Monica Burn’s quote above in her ASCD article published in 2018. We often think of technology in the classroom in terms of consumption of information. There must be the shift from consumption primarily to creation of content.

Consumption of content is empowering indeed and can yield impetus to transform.  Could we instead change our thinking to include opportunities for creating products that give evidence of student learning? There is value in having access to technology that provides up-to-date information in real time. Technology has the raw potential for more collaborative learning environments. Students are able to work together in powerful ways online. They are able to work together to create products, solve problems and interact with others to find workable solutions.

 “…teachers who do develop innovative uses of technology are more commonly in learning environments that serve affluent and advantaged students. Most educators are familiar with the “digital divide” as the gap in access to new technologies found between more and less affluent students, families, or school communities. In the early 2000s, sociologist Paul Attewell (2001) proposed a second digital divide: the usage divide. In his research, Attewell used anthropological observations in schools and classrooms to document the different levels of parent support at home and content rigor in schools. Even when access gaps are closed, white and affluent students are more likely to use technology for creativity and problem solving with greater levels of mentorship from adults, while students from minority groups and low-income neighborhoods use technology more commonly for routine drills with lower levels of adult support.”

Justin Reich in Teaching Our Way to Digital Equity (ASCD, February 2019).

Paul Attewell cautioned in 2001 that: “[There is a] real possibility that computing for already-disadvantaged children may be dominated by games at home and unsupervised drill-and-practice or games at school, while affluent children enjoy educationally richer fare with more adult involvement.” It’s important that the issue of equity was raised in our chat Thursday evening. We must, as educators, constantly reflect on whether our use of technology in facilitating student learning is aligned to educational standards and individual student needs.

“So educators should ensure that technology doesn’t remove the social component to learning; it should instead include opportunities for students to engage in meaningful conversations and reflect with others on what they are working on (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).”

Liz Kolb in Smart Classroom-Tech Integration (ASCD 2019)

Technology must be thought of through the lens of how much value is added to the student learning process. In this learning task, does technology enhance the learning over more traditional resources typically applied? Teachers would be wise to reflect on whether value is added by integrating technology for the specified activity over a more traditional practice. It’s true that the added value could provide a more authentic learning experience. It could also aid and support by providing scaffolds and support to allow students personal success in learning.

This series, Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices, serves not only to rid our classrooms of less than productive practices, but can also serve to provoke reflection on the most effective tools and application of sound pedagogy.

Join us for the final installment in this series on Thursday evening, February 28.

Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Student Engagement (Third in the Series)

by Mary Howard

On 2/13/20, #G2Great continued our five-part series: Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices. Two previous posts in our series included Access to Books on 1/30/20 and Behavior Management on 2/6/20. I am so grateful for this series topic as I am convinced that engagement is a hefty contributor to make-or-break learning. The attention we place on ensuring cognitive and emotional engagement can either elevate the learning process or leave it wandering aimlessly along a dead-end street to nowhere. In order to alter this dead-end trajectory, we must first consider the harmful and misguided practices that warrant weeding in order to focus our attention on essential engagement success features.  

In her incredible book, Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deep Learning, Ellin Keene illustrates this mismatch in priorities by posing two questions:

Have we become so overwhelmed by what we teach—checking off one standard after another—that we have forgotten that engaged students are much more likely to retain and reapply that content? Do we believe that students can learn to fall into the state of awareness, focus, intensity, and joy that we value so much for ourselves?

We celebrated Ellin’s book on #G2great 5/31/18 and her wise words below illustrate the heightened level of engagement we desire for ourselves and our children:

But this blissful state of wide-awakeness will never happen by chance. We cannot merely wish upon an engaged learning star and expect blind faith to take over. Student engagement happens if we apply thoughtful conditions Ellin describes so eloquently in her book. But in honor of our series theme, we are also committed to contemplating harmful and misguided practices that warrant “weeding” so that we can invest the time and energy we need on the practices that are most likely to fuel that blissful state and thus bring engagement to life in practice rather than simply in theory.  

In this post, I will briefly suggest of the few weed worthy harmful and misguided practices and then explore those practices that can maximize our efforts so that we can reclaim our responsibility for engagement. While no practice comes with an engagement guarantee, thoughtful choices can dramatically increase the potential that student engagement is the reality from both sides – that of the teacher and the learner.

Let’s begin by looking at some harmful and misguided practices worth weeding followed by some #G2great tweets in honor of this goal:

Seven Harmful and Misguided Practices that Warrant Weeding

Below I have selected some #G2great tweets that are framed under Fran McVeigh’s question slide tweet. These offer a chat centered view of what may need weeding:

Now that we have considered some of the practices that are worth weeding, let’s turn our attention to those that are designed to support and enhance engagement. It’s relevant to this discussion to emphasize that both ways of seeing engagement are needed since alleviating won’t necessarily translate to elevating. Without exploring what we don’t want to do as well as what we do, we may inadvertently set up an immoveable roadblock to engagement. While there are many things to consider, I’d like to add seven practices that can enrich student engagement. 

Seven Practices that Can Enrich and Elevate Student Engagement

Once again, I’ll share some #G2Great tweets that extend these practices:

I decided to highlight two tweets in this section that feel like the bookends of student engagement with key features that we need to consider. 

Mandy reminds us that we cannot hope to make these important shifts to balance the scales in favor of engagement unless we take the time to assess our students at all stages of the learning process across the day. This helps us to identify factors most likely to impact engagement as supported by our assessment evidence. In this way, assessment connected to in-the-moment observations and analysis becomes action research that allows us to make the best possible decisions toward this end. Mandy’s lovely reminder that assessment can “shine a light on student thinking like a flashlight” seems so relevant to this discussion. 

I close with Barb’s tweet because children and their level of engagement in daily learning is our most critical consideration. As Barb reminds us, this does not mean that engagement is what we offer some children, often those who are already connected to the learning or who have had past positive experiences that increase the likelihood of engagement. Rather, we ensure that ALL children are engaged in learning including those who bring their own challenges and past negative experiences to the learning process that can make engagement more complex and require our focused attention.  

Since I opened my blog post reflection with words of wisdom from Ellin Keene, it seems appropriate to close with her words: 

Opportunities for our students to “become more and more responsible for their own engagement” is the intent of our #G2Great Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices series. To fully recognize the potential positive impact of each of our topics, we must alleviate practices that set us up for potential negative impact of those topics. This duo purpose allows teachers to focus on practices such as modeling, discussing and those I shared above that will transfer responsibility to students. It is impossible to elevate engagement until we get rid of what stands in our way. If we focus on shallow fill-in-the blank or one-size-fits-all approaches that ignore choice, need and interest, we cannot hope to achieve the kind of engagement that leads to a blissful state of wide-awakeness or begin to turn the reins of engagement over to children. In other words, we must say “NO” before we can say “YES.” It’s both as simple and as complex as that.

We are so grateful to each of you who bring your professional passion and commitment to our #G2great chat week after week. Your enthusiasm for exploring the practices that will enrich your teaching through celebratory conversational queries continues to inspire us all. 

I’d say that’s what engagement feels like, wouldn’t you?

We hope you’ll join our last two #G2Great chats in our series

Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Behavior Management (Second in the Series)

By Jenn Hayhurst

Click Here for WakeLet

I love a good series. To me, a series of Twitter chats is sort of like binge-watching a favorite Netflix show… I just can’t get enough! Our latest series, Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practices doesn’t disappoint. It is so relevant and meaningful because it suggests there is always room to grow. This is especially true when it comes to behavior management, it is critical to try to get it right. What better way to do this than to have a good conversation with smart and dedicated teachers? On February 6, 2020, #G2Great held the second of a five-part series on Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices Behavior Management.

Do No Harm…

We teach because we hope to make a positive impact on our students’ lives. What is better than making meaningful contributions toward students’ social and academic growth? However, relationships come first and shame is a barrier to forming relationships. Instead of viewing behavior as something to manage, view it as formative data. What does this student need? Showing students that we have their interests at heart is the better way. A strong teacher-student relationship is formed by inter-personal connetions and not charts and clips.

Clear Responsibility…

As I read over these tweets I find myself nodding and smiling. We are teaching children how to live and be in the world. When we take a moment to pause and manage ourselves when life in the classroom gets stressful we are modeling how to deal with complex emotions like stress, anxiety, confusion or even disappointment. What better way to teach students how to better manage their feelings and actions? As we do this work together, teachers and students, we are co-creating safe learning environments and that is what we really want for our kids, isn’t it? We can be the teachers they can depend on. The teachers who lead with empathy and compassion. Yes, this is what behavior management can look like.

Let’s keep a good thing going. We hope you will join us next week

Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Access to Books (First in the Series)

Wakelet link for all tweets.

by Valinda Kimmel

#G2great is kicking off a five-part series on Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices. The first in the series was Thursday, January 30, 2020 and we tackled the harmful practice of not providing adequate book access for all children.

It may seem odd that we would feel the need to address this issue, but we must as many children in America live in what can be defined as book deserts. We, as educators, can positively impact this by a commitment to ensure that we provide books in individual classrooms, frequent campus libraries with our students, and encourage kids and their families to make visiting public libraries a priority. In short, we can and must advocate for books, and more books for every child.

Multiple studies have documented the impact of classroom libraries: there are more books in the classrooms of high-achieving schools, and more students who read frequently. As reading researcher Richard Allington put it, “If I were working in a high-poverty school and had to choose between spending $15,000 each year on more books for classrooms and libraries, or on one more [teaching assistant], I would opt for the books … Children from lower-income homes especially need rich and extensive collections of books in their school …”And they need actual books, not electronic devices that store books. Real books don’t require electricity or batteries. They survive rapid changes in technology and digital storage.  –Nancy Atwell

As with exposure to vocabulary, access to books can have both immediate and longer-term impacts on a child’s academic and socioeconomic outcomes. Living in a book desert “may seriously constrain young children’s opportunities to come to school ‘ready to learn,’” Neuman and Moland write. A lack of access to books may help explain why, according to some research, children from economically disadvantaged communities score 60 percent lower on kindergarten-readiness tests that assess kids’ familiarity with knowledge as basic as sounds, colors, and numbers. And researchers say living in a book desert in one’s early years can have psychological ripple effects: “When there are no books, or when there are so few that choice is not an option, book reading becomes an occasion and not a routine,” they write.

–Where Books Are All But Nonexistent by Alia Wong (The Atlantic)

We know more books for more kids means that opportunities increase. Collectively, educators and those we enlist can make sure students have ready access to books they can and want to read.

Wherever we find ourselves working as educators, public or private schools, universities, or community work, we must work ourselves to increase book access. If you have not yet begun, take that first step to adding books to classrooms, school or public libraries. What ever form your activism takes, begin now.

Book access is critical for the development and growth of students as proficient readers who build and nurture their budding reader identity. It’s not a luxury for kids to be able to easily find books they can and want to read. It’s a necessity. And we can work to ensure that every child has access to books.

Join us later this week on 2.6.20 for Part Two in the series Weeding Harmful and Misguided Practice: Behavior Management.