Disrupting the Narrative of “Learning Loss”

by Mary Howard

Revisit our Wakelet chat artifact HERE • Read our “Learning Loss” references HERE

On 9/9/21, your #G2Great co-moderators set our sights on a pervasive educational issue that warrants collective pushback: Disrupting the Narrative of “Learning Loss”. While “learning loss” is certainly not a new phrase, it’s been cavalierly tossed around at an increasing ever-present rate since the COVID 19 pandemic began. I suspect that every educator has been impacted in some way by this disconcerting banter. It was no accident that this week was immediately preceded by a 9/2/21 paired chat eloquently discussed in a post by Fran McVeighTime to Rethink Standardized TestingMore on that later. 

Since the “learning loss” narrative is riddled with problems, it seems fitting to begin by taking a close look at the central theme of those words. My visual reference below was created to do precisely what that phrase does. I wanted to put the mindset of “LOSS” on display, surrounded by synonyms revealed in a simple search. Pause for a moment and contemplate the implications and potential impact this thinking could have on the students in your care during the new 2021-22 school year. 

Go ahead, I’ll wait while you soak that in…

This chart was created using wordclouds.com

Words matter. They have always mattered and can cloud our perceptions in ways that could alter our view without even realizing the inadvertent damage this can have on children. What I find most disturbing are the assumptions that will provoke actions that are likely to accompany a “learning loss” mentality directed at children before we even know who they are as learners and humans. Our actions speak volumes and can alter the beliefs that guide intent and thus what we bring to the instructional process. Even if we do so unintentionally, the potential for harm to students is precisely the same. 

Let’s put this in perspective. I’d like you to imagine the children who will walk through your door every day across this school year. Which of those children will be labeled as unsuspecting victims of “learning loss”? How many of them will we put at an academic and emotional disadvantage from the onset? What is the likelihood that we will dub some children in need of ‘interventions’ and then relegate them to the fix it room to recover what we deem has been lost? What is the long-term cost when we view our children through a lens of loss? If these questions don’t make you uncomfortable, then we have an even bigger problem since each question illuminates lingering inequalities that continue to be perpetuated in our schools even as I type these words. And that is simply inexcusable!

Now let’s contemplate how “learning loss” is determined as children enter our schools. To do this, I’ll turn to our chat topic last week: Time to Rethink Standardized TestingI’ll make this point using three quotes we shared this week as well as a connection to our chat the previous week. These two interrelated topics shared in consecutive weeks are the perfect pairing as one impacts the other:

This summer my email in-box was inundated with disturbing justification of “learning loss” in point-of-sale pleas. Each espoused a “learning loss” narrative in a connective trail leading to standardized tests and varied suspect numerical data as proof of the impending crisis. The vast majority were advertising a program using the lure of test scores in a carefully worded marketing ploy. This is meant to convince educators that their program will rescue them from doom and gloom and magically make “learning loss” a thing of the past in record time. Sadly, many will fall for this sales pitch hook line and sinker and happily write a check sure to “save” them from the embarrassment of declining test scores. How can we not recognize that our chronic obsession with test scores is a tragically low bar to define our so-called success? Where is our concern for the children beneath the test score fallacy and malicious marketing mix? Why aren’t we challenging the status quo that has long plagued us and harmed our children in the process? I think those questions are all worth deeper thought.

Now let’s contrast this disturbing prospect with a quote by Regie Routman from her incredible book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018). As you read this quote, think of the dramatic perspective shift her wise words bring to mind that are a complete contradiction to “learning loss”.

The singular emphasis of Regie’s words is on the learning needs of children based on our professional responsibility to them, not a data-fueled marketing agenda or quick fix one-size-fits-all solutions at every turn. Regie is asking us to put learners first by making responsible instructional decisions grounded in our knowledge of literacy and our knowledge of students while using meaningful assessment informant we collect across every learning day. Teaching with urgency is not about selling a program. Focusing relentlessly is not about promoting standardized test scores. What Regie is asking us to do is the very heart and soul of responsive teaching rather than a flawed product pitch where the end justifies the means.

I actually paused as soon as I finished typing the expression above: “the end justifies then means.” It’s always important to me to I weigh my words carefully so I wondered if it really fit the point that I was trying to make. My desire to be very clear motivated me to check with Merriam-Webster where I found this definition:

“used to say that a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it.”

Yep, that fits my intended meaning to perfection!

Now that we’ve taken a good look at “learning loss” from two contrasting angles, I’d like to turn to #G2Great wisdom in the form of passionate chat tweets this week:

MORE #G2Great TWEET WISDOM

Before I share some advice and closing thoughts, I’ll share one more visual with a different frame of mind. Take a moment and think about the distinction between our initial chart focused on “LOSS” and my new chart highlighting “GAIN” with a new set of synonyms surround it. Consider what impact this shift from LOSS to GAIN could have on how we view children and our professional responsibility to each of them. 

This chart was created using wordclouds.com

How do these GAIN words make you feel? How does this contrast from how our LOSS words made you feel? What would the impact on our children be if GAIN drives your view, your intent, and your actions? What would the impact on our children be if LOSS drives your view, your intent, and your actions? The language we use can enhance or diminish all that we do because our assumptions impact our beliefs and ultimately lead to daily decision-making – for better or for worse.

…and we, my friends, are in a profession where we reach for BETTER (not worse).

Put another way, I’d like to borrow from Brent Gilson’s recent post: Perhaps Radical Change Comes from Radical Hope. His message about radical hope as a way for us to counteract the “learning loss” narrative comes through loud and clear:

“What am I doing to help my students showcase their GENIUS, facilitate JOY, carry ourselves with EXCELLENCE and ignore the noise of those who are looking to profit off a pandemic?”

And so, in closing, I’ll leave you with three important guidelines that will support you as you refute the “learning loss” narrative in the coming year so that we may honor the children who enter our schools. These are not meant as broad suggestions but to offer a powerful and purposeful starting point that could have a tremendous impact on how we approach all that follows:

Leave Your Assumptions at the Door

Each day when children walk into your classroom, make it your priority to look for the glimmers of brilliance they carry into our learning spaces with them. We have been blinded to those glimmers for too long that fuel assumptions on preconceived notions of flawed data, skin color, nationality, zip code, school-induced labels, or even past perceptions of other teachers. If we truly put children first, then we celebrate what they bring to the learning experience rather than how we believe that they should fit into a rigid grade level mold. 

Use Student Strengths as a Celebratory Guide

With this in mind, we accentuate those glimmers our children bring to the learning experience on a daily basis with a fervor that drives all we do. The “learning loss” narrative is the epitome of a deficit model that we must steadfastly refute. Rather, we embrace a strength-based model where what children can do when they enter our schools each day becomes the collective stepping stone leading to the new thinking that we support and further strength in a myriad of ways. In other words, we meet children where they are and shift our view to focus on possibilities over limitations.

Acknowledge Children as Our Best Teachers

I have gratefully attended the ‘University of Kids’ for the last five decades where I’ve learned more from children than any other professional learning endeavor. I have long honored action research as way to put children in the learning driver’s seat so that I may learn from them. I recognize that those children who baffle me most have the most to teach me and so I invite that teaching in. As a curious kidwatcher, we capture noticings and use them to make responsive decisions in honor of our children. When we pay close attention and give children an active role in our instruction-assessment merger, they will always gives us signs that point us in the right direction.  

We owe it to children to counter the “learning loss” narrative so that we may instead focus on making our classrooms a place where we believe in and value every child.

It is an educational imperative that we all embrace the belief that our children deserve nothing less!

MORE #G2Great TWEET WISDOM

Recommended References for Disrupting “Learning Loss”

What ‘learning loss’ really means (it’s not a loss of Learning) by Rachael Gabriel: http://wapo.st/3ter54y

Can we stop telling the ‘corona kids’ how little they are learning? by Rachael Gabriel: https://wapo.st/3svnZIu

The concept of “Learning Loss” is Complete BS by Teacher Tom https://bit.ly/31DZk9P

Learning Loss-Myth or Reality (Check) by Kathleen Brown: http://bit.ly/3bYQNEh

My Learning Loss Formula by Russ Walsh https://bit.ly/3thnZ0c

Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap by Yong Zhao https://bit.ly/3drePbW

Learning Loss is Just Educational Halitosis by Peter Greene https://bit.ly/3uYKmrA

The “Learning Loss” Pandemic and it’s Cures by John Merrow (via Diane Ravitch)  This tongue in cheek post is meant to drive a sad reality home https://bit.ly/3fxW1sV

Henny Penny Discovers Learning Loss by Russ Walsh https://bit.ly/3acp01T

Previous #G2Great Article Chat

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? by Alfie Kohn (We spotlighted this article on #G2Great): Article: https://bit.ly/32bgVqw #G2great post: https://bit.ly/3x56oKZ

Webinars

Anti-Testing Activism During a Global Pandemic (Webinar): Panel: Oren Pizmony-Levy, Denisha Jones, Ricardo Rosa, Robert Schaeffer Ceresta Smith, Amy Stuart Wellls http://bit.ly/3vCVk77

The Educator Collaborative Gathering Closing Keynote – Learning Loss or Found: Tools to Move Beyond Deficit Thinking Post-Pandemic with Chris Lehman, Keri Orange-Jones and Elizabeth Lacy-Schoenberger (NOTE: Session starts 33:00) https://bit.ly/3aaJAzX My facebook notes https://bit.ly/2QIYOpd

Towanda Harris podcast with Elizabeth Lacy Shoenberger: Is the Learning Lost or Found and My FB podcast notes: bit.ly/3eEf6aM

Vimeo Video: What Shall We Do?

Blog Posts

Sarah Norsworthy: The Myth of Learning Loss: A Construct of White Dominant Culture

Brent Gilson: Learning Has Not Been Lost

Brent Gilson: Perhaps Radical Change Comes from Radical Hope.

“Time to Rethink Standardized Assessment” (Ravitch, Zhao, and McDiarmid)

By Fran McVeigh

Blog Link for the post used in this chat. – Wakelet link for archival of tweets

Thursday, September 2, 2021 found #G2Great fans gathered around the Twitterverse to discuss Diane Ravitch’s blog from April 2021 where Yong Zhao and William McDiarmid shared their thinking on Standardized Testing. This was the first of a two part chat series that concludes next week with a media study of a topic currently under debate: “Learning Loss” so tune in again next week as well.

Let’s consider the “setting” for this blog post. April of this year. 14 months into the pandemic. A world-wide pandemic. Hopes. Fears. Vaccines becoming available although not yet available to all. And yet, simultaneous pushes for “a return to normal” and “a time to create a new normal.” Definitely a time of uncertainty, perhaps ripe for change. Perhaps ready to return to the known, the familiar.

Words matter. I’ve used that succinct phrase here and on my own blog as post titles here and here. Words matter because the meaning and power come from the words authors choose to use. Or even from words they deliberately choose NOT to use. With the Six Traits +1 of Writing (Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency), word choice seems to be just one of seven factors, but in reality it impacts all the other traits to some degree. The words authors use are often equated to be a sign of level of education or intelligence.

I am venturing to guess that there is little doubt about my feelings about this topic. Consequently my choice with this article was to view the frequency of words in the post by Zhao and McDiarmid as a starting point of my personal study. Which words did they repeat? So how did I do a frequency study? I used technology to copy and paste the entire post into worditout.com, and this word cloud was automatically generated. As with any word cloud, the largest words appeared most frequently. This cloud uses five different colors of ink in varying sizes to show levels of frequency for words.

I literally breathed a sigh of relief to see that “students” was the largest word as I admired its placement in the center of the cloud, and then “testing” was second and “standardized” was third. Because those two words were in the title that actually confirmed the content of the post. The biggest yellow words stood out next: “educators,” “learning,” and “high-stakes.” The descending order quickly became trickier. Red words that next stood out were “skills”, then “knowledge,” “Zhao,” “families,” and “many.” I’m not going to go through all the words but I did list out about thirty of my favorite words that I found in the cloud. Before I continue on, I invite you to think about this question: “What words in the word cloud seem interesting to you?”

Did you choose nouns? If yes, “educators, families, tests, talents, opportunities, counterparts” might be some on your list.

Did you choose verbs? If yes, “marginalized, reduced, nurture, mastered, disrupted” might be words that catch your eye.

Or were there words that just created a sense of wonder? Maybe these caught your attention: “especially, consequently, perhaps, although, more, significantly, some.”

High-stakes standardized testing

Standardized Assessments . . . What do you think of when you hear that phrase? I immediately think of the old, old, old, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, #2 pencils, and ovals that are to be “completely filled in.” That led to my vote for this visual to be a part of our slides for the chat. I see the broken pencil as frustration. Over the administration. Over the time spent assessing. Over the delays in assessment results. Over the inappropriate uses of the results.

Because this was an article study, this blog post is perhaps a bit different from other posts and significantly different from posts featuring books and authors. However, my study of the words brought me to the conclusion that there were three key ideas in the blog that also surfaced in the chat.

  1. Impact students
  2. Has failed educators
  3. Has disrupted learning for families and communities

Dear Reader,

Although those words are displayed above, they may not have been the words that you felt were emphasized. Thank you for sticking with me through this post as I demonstrate the examples that happened to show me these results. Please continue reading to follow my thinking as I share my processing of the words above and the tweets from the chat that impacted my thinking (and see exactly how many words I also use from the word cloud.)


High-stakes standardized testing impacts students.

If I begin with the littlest students, kindergartners entering school this year may have attended pre-school in the lowest numbers in the last decade. Many missed out on play dates, family events and interaction in their neighborhood and community.

First graders may be more fortunate. Some had a kindergarten year in a classroom with masks and social distancing. Some had hybrid classrooms with some instruction online and some face to face. Some others had a year of online instruction. What will first grade bring? It’s impossible to predict but bumpy rides are ahead and no one solution is possible because of the complexities of the previous year.

And second graders . . . those children who left school in March of 2019 for “a couple of weeks” who never returned for the final days of kindergarten. What were those final days like? What was first grade like? And now how will second grade look? Students who have and will now have three consecutive years greatly impacted by the pandemic.

And then students in grades three and up . . . They too have now known three years of disruption and three years of different learning. Soon we will hear from testing companies about their view of learning during the pandemic. But I want to take this opportunity to remind you of two important words: achievement and learning. Achievement tests give us comparisons of grade levels and stanines and percentiles that are often used to sort out students into categories of students dependent on the rate of growth in skills that are progressing on a scale. Learning, and in particular life-long learning often encompasses: curiosity, creativity, communication, leadership, critical thinking, adaptability, and listening.

How are students impacted?

High-stakes standardized testing has failed educators.

High-stakes assessments have promised to be the “end-all” in education reform. Unfortunately, I believe that they have done the opposite. They’ve sent us down rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole of broken promises, tired rhetoric, and trust-breaking programs as “Everyone” tries out their own experiments in improving school. But what if we take a step back and consider those who have been successful? What if we reread Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s work to study histories of success? (Cultivating Genius chat here)

As a “Mid-Westerner”, I love New York City. This statue and its nature as a gift from our friends in France fascinates me. And these words are mesmerizing.

Many teachers whose classes began in August are already tired and poor. They are “yearning to breathe free”; free of the tyranny of standardized test requirements. Free of a six foot stack of test-prep materials. Free of local, state and federal requirements that feel counterproductive to learning. Outdated measures of learning. Disruption is needed.

High-stakes standardized testing has disrupted learning for families and communities.

When media touts the failure of schools and students by reporting FAILING data such as NAEP reports of students not meeting proficiency, it’s hard not to believe the 100th presentation of said data. However, NAEP in particular never talks about “proficiency” in any of their descriptions of their performance levels. That one sneaky little word added in makes it easy to be derailed and question the efficacy of schools in general. And then what happens? Check out the following tweets.

In conclusion with a challenge . . .

Thank you for indulging me in my wandering and wondering about words in this post, “Time to Rethink Standardized Testing.” In 2012, EdWeek stated the cost of testing to be at $1.7 billion per year. (link) Five years later Penn State reported that the same dollar figure was used for primary assessments. (link) Unfortunately, the EdWeek article was their quoted source even five years later. Testing/ Assessments are expensive.

Find out how much assessments cost your district. Actual cost. And then look for the hidden costs. How much instructional time is lost to test prep, test administration, and assemblies with promises of rewards for student improvement? What is the cost of stress for students, teachers, administrators, family and community? How much time is lost in item analysis to find out there was only one item for that skill so it may not even have been a lower performing skill, but just an inattention to detail? And then honestly answer these question: What is the cost benefit for students? How do these assessments help the students become more effective citizens? What have the teachers learned from the assessment that they did not already know?

And then take your answers to your administrators and folks in charge.

It’s time for change.

And testing/assessment needs to be at the top of the list.

Every Kid A Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing by Kelly Boswell

by Fran McVeigh

The Twitter chat is available in its entirety at this Wakelet link.

On Thursday, June 24th, Kelly Boswell joined the #G2Great chat to discuss her book, Every Kid a Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing. Other books by Kelly include: Crafting Nonfiction Intermediate and Solutions for Reading Comprehension coauthored with Linda Hoyt and these two by herself, Write This Way: How Modeling Transforms the Writing Classroom and Write This Way From the Start.

This is one of those blog posts that I began early in order to process the information and to do justice to the topic amidst a busy summer. I reread Kelly’s book. I listened to her podcasts. I reviewed her quotes and then fresh off four days of writing institute, I wrote three or four possible hooks. As the chat ended, I raced to my draft “possibilities” document full of joy. The chat had been exhilarating. Joyful. Respectful. Packed with ideas. And so student-centered. But I couldn’t find a way to begin this post. Or more accurately, I couldn’t find a way that I liked well enough to begin this post. I chalked it up to being tired and waited to reread the Wakelet Friday morning to save some tweets to use. But I was stuck without an appropriate introduction.

Saturday started out with a fantastic Text, Talk, and Tea Zoom with Clare, Franki, Laura and Lynsey. After they shared their text set, I kept returning to several ideas from Colleen Cruz’s keynote closing for the #TCRWP writing institute. Colleen talked about the trust that students place in their teachers and how we need to celebrate that trust and learning in order to appreciate, amplify and pass the mic. Here’s her slide:

Colleen Cruz #TCRWP Keynote, 06.25.2021

Appreciate. Amplify. Pass the mic.

We can do that because we find JOY and LOVE in students’ writing when we remove barriers and focus on providing the instruction that supports them in writing. This joy and love was what I saw as the vision behind Kelly’s book and the reason that her writing strategies DO get everyone writing. There’s no blaming students. There’s no shaming students. There is an expectation and a vision that everyone can write . . . once the environment and instruction is prepped for them. We can do that because we are ALSO writers and we value both process and product. We value writing… and writing… and writing!

After finding my own connections to Kelly’s book, I wanted to honor her purpose in writing this book because I, too, have heard these questions.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

This book is a response to the question I hear the most from the teachers with whom I work – “What about those kids who don’t like to write?” 

Many of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the company of a few (or perhaps more than a few) students who shrug when asked about their writing. They slump in their chairs instead of jumping into writing with energy and vigor. They sharpen pencils or ask for the bathroom pass or decide it’s a good time to organize and reorganize their desk. They groan when you announce that it’s time or write or they barrage you with questions along the lines of “How long does this have to be?” 

Many teachers mistakenly think that the problem lies with the reluctant student. I had a hunch that, like most things, teachers and classroom environments created either reluctance or engagement. 

In this book, I set out to explore this topic – why do the writers in some classrooms seem so reluctant while students in a different classroom dig into writing with enthusiasm and joy? Could we, as teachers, create classrooms and writing experiences that could increase engagement? As I spoke to students and teachers and taught lessons of my own,  my hunch was confirmed: The environment and community we create in the classroom, along with some specific, yet simple, teaching strategies, have an enormous impact on how students engage with writing. 

And that vision led us to our second question.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

One of the biggest takeaways that I hope teachers embrace is that the problem of reluctant writers is NOT the kids. As teachers, we have the power to embrace and use some simple, practical strategies that support ALL kids to engage in writing with enthusiasm and joy. These six strategies are outlined in the book: 

We can: 

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment

Let’s pull back the curtain and look a little further at some of the six strategies shared by Kelly during the chat.

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement.

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing.

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice. (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment.

In conclusion, I return to the final question for our author and just a few additional thoughts.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

As teachers, the goal of all of our planning and teaching and conferring and assessing is, simply this: 

  • We want kids to fall in love with writing. 
  • We want kids to find words that they love and never let them go. 
  • We want kids to see writing as a way to connect with others, share ideas and engage in civil discourse. 
  • We want kids to know that writing is a powerful tool that they can use to think, reflect, remember and influence others.  
  • We want kids to discover that the act of writing is its own reward. 
  • We want them to know, deep in their bones, that writing has so much to give and so much to teach. 
  • We want kids to live joyfully literate lives. 

It starts with us.

When we provide time for students to joyfully tell their stories, we must Appreciate. Amplify. And pass the mic! This mutual respect and trust between writers and teachers of writing results in classrooms filled with joy, purpose and energy. To conclude, a repeat of the closing quote from the chat, in Kelly’s own words:

Let’s get started!

Additional Links:

Blog Posts (Heinemann):  https://blog.heinemann.com/conferring-with-kids-remotely-tips-for-remote-writing-conferences-from-kelly-boswell

https://blog.heinemann.com/positive-practices-for-you-and-your-students

Podcasts: https://blog.heinemann.com/podcast-demystifying-the-writing-process-with-kelly-boswell?hsCtaTracking=ee7df32b-f50a-49f2-adf8-67e9076b7157%7Cdc1d2e0c-2715-48ff-ab7f-4b640204da9e

Books: https://www.amazon.com/Kelly-Boswell/e/B00E59W45Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3&qid=1620140304&sr=8-3

Article: https://www.languagemagazine.com/2020/02/19/harnessing-the-power-of-a-teachers-pen-2/

The Civically Engaged Classroom: Reading, Writing, and Speaking for Change

By Fran McVeigh

The Wakelet artifact is available for your perusal here.

The #G2Great chat world was alive, well, and ROCKING on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The podcasts (link) of their work was a hint of the depth of the work proposed but, WOW! What an amazing, well-orchestrated text and chat.

On one hand, when a book comes from authors like Mary Ehrenworth, Pablo Wolfe, and Marc Todd, it might be easy to say “Oh, great, another book about what kids can do in classrooms with supportive teachers, supportive administrators and supportive communities.” However, the wisdom, wit, and enthusiasm generated in the #G2Great chat merely emphasized that everyone in school communities needs to be thinking about civic engagement. Not just one class period a day. Not just the ELA teacher. Not just teachers. But the entire community. (And more about that later.)

On the other hand, naysayers may have a different view. “Really? More political speak about what teachers should or should not be doing in their classrooms? More brainwashing? Is that really the purview of our school systems?

Like any great performance from an orchestra, the resulting concert is only as good as the score. In this case, the score (written music) begins this post with the wisdom of the authors and their responses to the three questions that we ask and then moves to some specific high notes from the chat and then enthusiasm as a rousing finale for this work.

1) What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

The Civically Engaged Classroom was born out of the idea that as a society we need to think deeply about the purpose of school, especially in times as fraught and divisive as those we are living in. We want teachers to look at their classrooms and see future citizens in front of them, citizens that need to be well-prepared for the hard work of leading and strengthening our democracy.

In our own teaching and staff development, we have met many colleagues who have inspired us with the way they teach with a civic mindset. We have also met countless others who aspire to do this work, but are in communities where they feel unsupported. This book is meant to both highlight the brilliant work we’ve seen, as well as to encourage, inspire and sustain those who feel like they’re teaching into a headwind.

We were also motivated to write this book because it helps to address one of the persistent questions in education: how do we get kids motivated and engaged by school? We think one of the most profound, and overlooked, ways to engage kids is to make sure that the work of school is aimed toward civic ends. When the walls of the classroom come down, kids see that their work has real purpose and impact.

Ultimately, as with everything in education, this is for the kids. We hope that some of what we put in the book helps them seize their power and shape the world they will inherit.

2) What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

We hope that our readers see…

●  …that identity exploration is essential to all curriculum and pedagogy, especially if we are to prepare our children to engage responsibly in our multicultural society.

●  …that schoolwork must be worldwork. That it should include political and historical content that is relevant and contemporary.

●  …that we need to move beyond the single text, everytime, in every situation.

●  …that we can model being active, engaged citizens in front of our students without being partisan.

●  …that when students consume nonfiction, they must teach each other and their parents about what they are learning and why it matters. 

●  …students need frequent opportunities to practice service to a community.

●  …that teachers aren’t alone in this work! There is a thriving, and growing, number of us who are re-envisioning school as a preparation space for citizenship.

3) What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

This book is a call to work. Throughout The Civically Engaged Classroom we’ve included a feature called Practice What You Teach, a regular reminder that the work in these pages is for all of us to take on, not just our kids. We can all do more to be better citizens;  we can all do more to re-envision our democracy. This is not about indoctrinating children, but it is about our duty as educators to help them realize that they have a lot of responsibility in this society and that if they don’t take it, or aren’t adequately prepared for it, they’ll continue to perpetuate grievous harms to themselves and to others.

The work in our classrooms is part of the world. The more we bring the real world in with its injustices as well as its beauty and hope, the better we serve our students, and the better we serve our society.

Ultimate Roles For Teachers and Students

What is needed? Teachers who address identity with honesty and courage, … co-creating with students on a level playing field … to determine a course of action with students … valuing listening and … arguing to listen. Check out the following four tweets that include Mary, Pablo and Marc’s own words.

What is the end goal? Dr. Mary Howard gives us the “411”straight from the book:

While it may seem “easy” to defer to the authors to use their own words, this post could become quite lengthy if a commentary was included for all their wisdom. So sticking with a personal motto of “less is more” here are three high notes of focus from the chat. These refrains will help you get started on a civically engaged classroom.

Where and How Does a Civically Engaged Classroom Fit?

Where do you position a civically engaged classroom? Do you view it as a solo? As an entire section of the performers? Or embedded in the entire musical performance? Your view impacts your planning. Consider these gems of wisdom.

Where might you begin? What do you value? What are your priorities? And then consider Pablo’s wisdom and his verb choices . . . “cut” . . . “replace” . . . “OR infuse” with the end goals of “application of skills, real-life experience, and communal celebration.”

Students: Identity, Stories, Experiences and Interests

The work of so many “artists/performers/authors” is the foundation for all work with students. Sara Ahmed’s identity work in Being the Change (blog post) has led the way for teachers and students to explore their identity and bring about social change. So too have Jody Carrington in Kids These Days and more recently Matt Kay in Not Light, But Fire as well as many other authors. When we embrace Dr. Rudine Sim Bishop’s, “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors,” we will have a fun-filled concert program as we follow the lead of so many educators when we consider how to engage students by following their interests.

Where can you find the information to get started? What do you already know about your students? Their interests? Their passions? What are the artifacts that they already have about their own thinking beyond what they are reading and writing? How are we inviting students to be a part of this co-construction?

Explicit Instruction: Norms, “Inclusion,” Note-Taking, and Examining Biases

But what do we teach? What’s important? Of course instruction will vary depending on the needs and interests of the students in front of you! Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you wonder about the WHAT that needs to be taught and practiced before the concert is scheduled.

Instruction is all about routines and processes. Routines and processes for civil discourse. Routines and processes for research. Routines and processes for affirming information. Routines and processed for determining biases and collecting additional information. Which ones might be a priority for you and your students?

FINALE

In conclusion, the time for action is NOW. No waiting. Do not pass go. Do NOT collect $200. Move from the audience to the stage, backstage, behind the side curtains, or center stage under the lights.

It’s time to practice. Take action. Consider student identities. Have a discussion. Focus on student choices. To learn more, check out the Wakelet archive and the Additional Resources. Watch the stellar three part video series. Check out the Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators below. Explore the padlet. Find a friend to travel this journey together and have a conversation partner. Make a plan. Get started!

Additional Resources:

Heinemann Video Series for the Civically Engaged Classroom

The Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators

The Civically Engaged Classroom PADLET

Nurturing Truth-Seeking Communities in School (article by Pablo, Mary and Marc)

Risk. Fail. Rise. A Teacher’s Guide to Learning From Mistakes

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet link of chat artifacts here

Neither the weather or the continuing pandemic was able to dampen spirits and pull folks away from the #G2Great chat with Colleen Cruz on Thursday, February 11, 2021. As we began planning for this chat, I worried about being able to write about both the book and chat in a credible fashion that would do justice to the brilliance shared. As the chat ensued, I realized that I was right to worry with so much greatness packed into a 60 minute chat!

I first met Colleen almost eight years ago when she was my staff developer at my initial Writing Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Eye opening. Jaw dropping. Work. Writing. Learning. And in the interest of full disclosure I have learned from Colleen, live and in person or virtually, every year since as I continue to grow my own literacy knowledge and skills.

Colleen is a teacher, a staff developer, an author, and an editor. She’s witty, fun, and avowedly “pessimistic” as she intertwines stories and research in her work and to help you envision possibilities. Previous #G2Great chats have been discussed in these blog posts: The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom, Writers Read Better: 50+ Paired Lessons That Turn Writing Craft Work into Powerful Genre Reading, and Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Podcast with Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz.

So where to really start with this mutual adoration of Colleen Cruz and her brilliance, this book and the chat? I reread all of my notes about Colleen’s books and presentations. I perused the Wakelet artifact from this chat and liked or retweeted almost a hundred tweets that included every single one from Colleen. How to organize? How to find a manageable set of tasks to meet my purpose: What to share in this post?

A Mistake. Two paired tweets from Colleen from the last question in the chat.

The initial tweet: research, current connection, a link (https://news.emory.edu/stories/2020/04/esc_covid_19_family_stories/campus.html), and a mistake. How did Colleen respond? Did she ignore her mistake? Did she deny it? Did she embrace it? Did she offer a bit of humor? How we respond to mistakes matters.

Let’s back up. What are mistakes?

The following tweets offer a glimpse into definitions of mistakes. You can learn more from the text excerpt, the audio book or the Heinemann blog listed below in the resources. Mistakes are hard to define unless you spend some time thinking about what they are and what they are not as #g2great team member Val Kimmel offers in the second tweet. Stacey and Nadine add on to the learning properties of mistakes.

What are the different types of mistakes?

Getting beyond mistakes are “good” or “bad” takes some work or study. Not all mistakes are equal. Four kinds of mistakes include: stretch mistakes, aha moment mistakes, sloppy mistakes, and high-stakes mistakes. You can read more about those at Heineman here, “Not All Mistakes are Good”, check out the Facebook Live series here, or read from Eduardo Briceno at either Mind/Shift here or his Ted Talk here.

The goal: to be aware of the types of mistakes, when they happen, why they happen, your response to mistakes, and the effects of those mistakes. This will take study, thoughtful reflection and a bit of self-awareness. The danger is in continuing on the path of sloppy and high-stakes mistakes after knowing that these are harmful. Many sloppy and high-stakes mistakes are avoidable with careful attention to our words and actions. I wondered about characterizing Colleen’s Tweet mistake above as one of the four types . . . and yet, without an edit button in Twitter, mistakes can easily happen from nimble fingers on less than responsive keyboards. I didn’t see the mistake when I first saw the second tweet as I read the word “msitake” as I expected it to be – during the fast pace of the chat – rather than the word as presented on the screen.

My past week and two mistakes …

1. Missed a webinar. I signed in on the last five minutes. Yes, sloppy mistake on the time zone recording on my calendar. I emailed and apologized for missing and will take greater care in recording/checking the times on my calendar. (Self care? Definitely a tired mistake!)

2. Fabric rows on my quilt did not match. Border and final two rows were more than an inch longer than the above 7 rows. At the time, I thought it was a high-stakes mistake, but it was really a stretch mistake as this was my first “pieced” quilt and I had never even thought about the difference in the rows. Future: check and double check connecting rows as the pieces are assembled.

Fran’s notes

Are all mistakes equal? When do we give grace? And to whom?

Jill’s tweet above is the bridge between reflecting and learning and offering ourselves grace. Mistakes are not a cause for self-flagellation. Mistakes vary according to the type as to intent and impact. Even more, our responses vary. Do we automatically offer grace to some students? Do we like to share our magnanimity with the entire class when we bestow grace? Which students have to earn grace? All of these are questions just about grace that stem from Colleen’s tweet below. The most “telling” factor may be “Who do we withhold it (grace) from?”

So now what?

Think of a recent mistake of your own. Which of the types was it? What was your response? What is your plan for next time?

Now think of a recent student mistake. What happened? What type was it? What was your response? What might you say or do differently? Do you know enough? Consider which of the resources below will be helpful?

As Colleen Cruz says in Risk. Fail. Rise. and Val and Mary emphasize above, the value in studying our mistakes is so we “can learn to separate our ego and form a mistake-welcoming culture.” Mistakes as learning experiences. Mistakes as a sign of growth and a source of data to use to ascertain growth.

Where will you begin? And when?

Links and Resources for Further Exploration:

https://blog.heinemann.com/topic/risk-fail-rise – the Heinemann Blog with access to the podcast, audiobook sample, blogposts and FB live events

www.colleencruz.com – my website for upcoming events and to contact me

@colleen_cruz Follow Colleen’s Twitter handle

BLog: Not All Mistakes are Good: Identifying the Types of Mistakes Teachers Make https://blog.heinemann.com/not-all-mistakes-are-good?utm_campaign=Cruz&utm_content=144005030&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&hss_channel=fbp-96011276891

No More Random Acts of Coaching #G2Great

by Jenn Hayhurst

To view the archive of the chat click here.

On December 3, 2020, Erin Brown and Susan L’Allier joined #G2Great’s community and led an important conversation about coaching. Their new book, No More Random Acts of Coaching, is part of Heinemann’s Not This but That series. If you are not familiar with this fantastic series, it pairs the expertise of a researcher and a practitioner to give readers tips and insights on how to grow teaching practices that are supported by research.

Needless to say, when I found out Erin and Susan were to be our guests I was extremely excited because I am a Literacy Coach. Then as it worked out, the night of the chat turned out to be my school’s Parent-Teacher Conferences. So I didn’t get to be there live but I did get to read the Wakelet and boy were chatters inspired. I can also say that I really wish this book had been written when I began my career as a coach. Erin and Susan give readers a plan to grow into the coaching role. Successful coaching is not about being lucky. It is about careful planning and lots and lots of preparation!

There are three tenets that ran through the chat. When I discovered that I got chills because they are what coaching is really all about at its core: curiosity, communication, and responsiveness.

Curiosity

Being inside a classroom when a teacher is making connections with students, tucking in expert moves that accelerate learning is something to admire and wonder about. Being part of that process, even when things don’t necessarily go as planned, is thrilling. So many questions are born from those experiences: Why did that work? What was unexpected? Why do you think that happened? What did students do when that happened? Coaching and curiosity really work hand-in-hand.

Coaching isn’t about fixing. It’s filled with respect for the art of what happens with students in a school every day. A coach’s appreciation of a teacher’s strengths allow for real learning to happen during their conversations.

Erin Brown No More Random Acts of Coaching

Communication

Coaching requires precise language in terms of feedback but is also open-ended and generous to support deeper learning. We learn a lot by listening. Every time we paraphrase, we allow teachers to hear their own words come back to them. Pausing and making reflections are essential parts of the process.

We sometimes forget the research-established idea that when teachers, principals, and coaches work together to create a climate of intentional, ongoing professional learning, the likelihood of student literacy growth increases!

Susan L’Allier No More Random Acts of Coaching

Responsiveness

Whether a teacher or a coach, both roles are really about being responsive to the needs of learners and making meaningful connections. Whether it is a child or an adult we all want to be heard. This is a very important takeaway for anyone considering what it is to be a coach.

Let me send out a huge thank you to Erin Brown and Susan L’Allier. Thank you for joining #G2Great and thank you for this beautiful book: No More Random Acts of Literacy Coaching.

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? (Alfie Kohn)

by Fran McVeigh

Wow! The Twittersphere was on fire on 10/22/2020 when the #G2Great chat discussed Alfie Kohn’s article from the Boston Globe, “Is Learning ‘Lost’ When Kids Are Out of School?” You can check out the article here and the Wakelet for the chat here.

I trust that you will want to check out the article as Alfie Kohn succinctly answers his own question. But that also causes a few more questions for readers which is why the discussion was scheduled with the #G2Great audience. What’s important? What matters?

Here are a few tweets illustrating that point.

Where do we begin? Many government officials and capitalists would have us begin with assessments but if you espouse “student-centered” education then you already know that we must begin at the very beginning. Are there really gaps? How would those be assessed? And how would we really assess learning? And that circles back to student-centered learning. We begin with student assets as identified in the tweets below.

In the Boston Globe article, Alfie Kohn pulls no punches with his beliefs about standardized tests. Do they REALLY measure learning? Well, that then requires us to think about learning. Is learning merely the regurgitation of factoids, examples, and curriculum that could be answered by a Google search? Or is “learning” something else? What do educators believe? How would students respond?

Here are some thoughts on “What is learning?” from the #G2Great community.

So if we are not going to use standardized assessments to measure “Learning”, what can the education community STOP doing now? How can we help “Learning” be the sustained focus and not just the “flavor” for a chat response or a newsletter? How can we make LEARNING the focus of all our future conversations?

In order for instruction to provide opportunities for learning as well as choice, and adding in “student-centered”, what will educators need to be working on expanding? What about: Student agency? Empowerment? Choice?

These four tweets will jump start your thinking about additional actions for your school community.

Is learning lost? There may be some summer slide, but as previously mentioned, students have shared powerful learning from their at-home work that has longer lasting life-time implications for their communities. Where will change come from? What will it look like? It will begin with a belief in the need for change. We can no longer afford to prepare our children for the 20th century. Change has been needed for decades and is evident that we are now in the THIRD decade of the 21st century. The pandemic just made the need for change more visible when schools were shuttered across the U.S. (and Canada) last March.

Where will YOU begin? Who else needs to read and discuss this article with you? When? The time for action is NOW! The students are depending on YOU!

Additional resources:

Alfie Kohn (Books, Blogs, Resources) Link

Alfie Kohn – Standards and Testing – Link

Alfie Kohn – How to Create Nonreaders (Yes, 2010, but read all 7) Link

The Power of Student Agency

By Brent Gilson

An archive of this weeks chat with Dr. Anindya Kundu can be found here.

This past week we had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Anindya Kundu about his book The Power of Student Agency. As we look at the hurdles our students face, we very often forget how resilient our students are and see them through a deficit lens.

What motivated you to write this book?

“I was motivated to write TPSA after years of seeing how strapped schools, students, and districts can be when it comes to resources. At the same time, there are so many students overcoming incredible challenges in their lives (homelessness, incarceration, broken families, etc) and schools that still create cultures of success despite limitations, that I felt these stories needed to be shared. This book compiles a couple years of my fieldwork research meeting exceptional people and sharing their stories to make the case that achievement is possible for all students, if we can get behind them and support them holistically.”

The Power of Potential

A few years ago I was touring a potato farm, bear with me I am going somewhere with this, as we walking in one of the building I noticed a drain hole in the floor. I walked towards the drain and found this.

Through the concrete, with so little nutrients and the required materials to grow, this little plant was growing. Instead of focusing though on the adversity faced, I think we look at the plant and its potential despite the conditions faced. When we look at our students who face hurdles we (teachers generally) tend to look at the deficits as a starting point instead of the potential. As Dr. Kundu asks in the question, “What happens when we stop looking at the Rose in Concrete and begin looking at our schools as gardens” we see things like this.

I feel like the term “grit” has always been misused and in our current Covid reality of teaching it continues to be. I love the different reflections that came out of this simple question because they look beyond just saying things are not working and offer up hope. As Heather mentioned, schools are in need of some heavy weeding; by focusing on the schools that need to look at their practices, we are taking some of the weight off our students. By not falling back on the analogy of the rose through the concrete or the potato plant and instead looking at the environment we are providing and the potential of our students to succeed, we move away from this “grit” concept and towards a space were students see that where they are planted is fluid and can be adapted to fit their needs.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

“The whole book is structured around highlighting the social side to grit and resilience. All students have these internal reservoirs of necessary character traits for academic and professional success; however, structural limitations are real and must be acknowledged and addressed because otherwise, we place the onus of achievement on the student alone and absolve ourselves. Instead, when we constantly think about a student in terms of their agency, or potential, we reintroduce that teaching and learning are foremost social practices that require collective responsibility.” 

Shifting the System Requires Change

When Covid-19 first hit there was this call to change the system. To create systems that provided our students with what they needed to succeed in this new normal. The thing was, however, as some made moves to make those changes it was a lot easier to talk about it than do it. Especially when the practices and thinking you have held so near and dear are the ones that are limiting our students. So how do we begin? We let go of power, we question the systems that are in place that have continued to limit the potential of some students and we get uncomfortable. Growing pains are a real thing. I started a new weight lifting plan a few weeks back. On day three EVERYTHING hurt. I started to look at how easy it would be to go back to me tried and true (and easy at this point) routine. Maybe just add a little weight. But I also understood that the hurt was my muscles repairing and growing stronger. If as teachers we are honest in our desire to create a system where all of our students are able to meet their potential we have to be willing to push through the discomfort of change that is required. No more calling for system changes but being unwilling to change our practice.

Just this morning I was talking with a colleague about the needs of a student. We discussed this idea that so often we ask students, especially students with learning needs, that they change to fit our needs and we don’t change to fit theirs. So where do we begin? Always with our students.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

“I hope that teachers and educators can challenge themselves to see the giftedness in all students, even the ones who can be more difficult. They need our help more than others! If we can learn how to take a child’s existing interests, competencies, and talents and use those as motivational tools, we can create vibrant learning environments where all students thrive. This requires a thorough understanding of who our students are as people. It may sound complicated, but I hope the narratives I share (of how homes and families, educators and schools, and students themselves) can personify actionable, simple, and FREE strategies to inspire student agency.”

Our Students Don’t Need Saving

The hero or saviour narrative that is often applied to teachers of students who learn differently or have obstacles in their lives that potentially disrupt learning needs to be one of those things we put aside. Our students don’t need saving, they need us to be better. These last few months I have often raised the question on social media if our practices are doing more harm than good, especially in this time of Covid-19 where inequity has been under the spotlight. Sadly, it is met by hostility. If we are really interested in shifting and changing practices we have to be willing to change. Our students’ success is not dependnnt on us, because kids will succeed despite us. But we can do more to make room for them to shine. We must purposefully question our practice and explore the gaps we have that limit our students and we can make the moves to be better and help create those opportunities for them to realize their potential.

I am no saviour, hero or gardener. I am a teacher. My students are not statistics. They are amazingly talented human beings who, when provided the space to learn in ways that suit them and display that learning in ways they can shine, they will.

If you are looking for more from Dr. Kundu you can check out these links:

Anindya Kundu Website

The Boost Students Need to Overcome Obstacles

The “opportunity gap: in US public education – and how to close them

HuffPost with Anindya Kundu: Policing Schools and Dividing the Nation

Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap discussion with Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera

Jacob Chastain Teach Me Teacher Podcast with Anindya Kundu

Part 1: Systematic Inequality

Part 2: Teachers Can Begin Fixing the SystemZoom Fireside chat: Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera: Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap

Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie: The Distance Learning Playbook

by Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.

Doug and Nancy are not new to #g2great. Previous chats include: This is Balanced Literacy, December 12, 2019; and All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, August 29, 2019.

This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.

Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book!
Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)

What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.

So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.

One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.

HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!

Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.

All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.

This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.  

“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”

How are you handling your self-care needs?

What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?

Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site

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!

Resources:

Visible Learning and Feedback

https://visible-learning.org/2013/02/john-hattie-helen-timperley-visible-learning-and-feedback/

Will the real data please stand up?

https://blog.heinemann.com/will-real-data-please-stand-up?utm_campaign=Fellows&utm_content=107380213&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&hss_channel=fbp-96011276891

Three Key Questions on Measuring Learning

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-lea)dership/feb18/vol75/num05/Three-Key-Questions-on-Measuring-Learning.aspx

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

https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/resource-documents/standards-for-the-assessment-of-reading-and-writing.pdf

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

https://www.juliewrightconsulting.com/blog/2019/9/17/reading-surveys-a-go-to-data-source-for-creating-a-focus-for-instruction