Sunday, March 31, 2019

What is Assess-"meant" For?

Principal ponderings...

As we launch into the "season of testing," I think it's the right time for me to share this post.  I have been formulating it in my head and writing bits and pieces over several weeks.  I want to talk about assessment.  A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend and present at the MassCUE/MASCD Leadership Conference.  I loved the message that was shared by Julie Wilson, the keynote speaker.  She was talking about the human side of changing education which she has written a whole book on this topic.

Take a look at this slide that she shared where we could compare schools of the past to where we want schools of the present to be.
We could talk about each row and comparison, but I want to focus on the last line. ↑ That one right up there.  In the past, assessment happened through written tests and exams and learning was only assessed by the teacher.  But now, assessment should be taking many different forms.  Students should be assessing themselves, each other, as well as teachers and specialists assessing them.  And while it says that assessment should be more of a mastery based assessment of skills, I am wondering if we have truly moved away from content-based assessment?  This would be a good time to stop reading this post and do a little self assessment of your assessment process.  Are you still focused on content and does your assessment take the form of written tests?  Or have you redesigned and rethought your assessment process?

Here's another slide from Julie's keynote...
There are many great changes that I see on this slide.  Moving from knowing to learning.  Being focused on asking questions as opposed to having answers.  Being comfortable with embracing risk as opposed to mitigating risk.  And you know I love the idea of pushing back instead of trying not to rock the boat.  But since we are focused on assessment in this post, let's zoom in on the beautiful idea of "prioritize what we value and figure out how to assess it."  Seems a little strange to be saying that as we are about to begin several weeks of standardized testing.  To me, it seems like MCAS and accountability and scores and press releases and everything that is tied into standardized testing fits more in the box associated with "value and prioritize what we assess."  Even if we as educators recognize that each child is more than an ELA or math MCAS score, everyone else sure seems to put a whole lot of value into what we are assessing.  Changing the structure around standardized testing is certainly biting off more than any of us can chew.  But shifting the assessment paradigm in our classrooms...well that is a manageable bite that we can all sink our teeth into, don't you think?

We need to ask ourselves...what do we value?  And then once we know that, how do we assess it?  I feel like this is a good time to drop in one of the quotes that we started our year off with...
This is a statement that we all agreed on.  I would say it's something we value and try to live each day at our school.  Stop and think about how you can apply this statement to how you assess your students.  Think about the power in a simple action such as maybe deciding to assess kids in a different way.  What ripple effect could you be creating?  

I have a story from when I was a high school biology teacher that I think might demonstrate what I am talking about.  I was young, fresh out of college, and found myself in a private school, assigned to teaching 10th graders biology.  Most of these kids were ones who either chose not to take this class as freshman or who weren't able to because they were behind in their academics.  Basically...they weren't exactly the class that was going to light the world on fire.  Or at least that was what most of the faculty thought.  I saw them differently.  And there was one student in particular who I knew was going to be my biggest project.  Chandler was a nice kid, a little goofy, but for the most part, a good kid.  But there was one major problem with Chandler.  He was a 10th grader who could not read.  I am not really sure how he got to 10th grade with so few reading strategies and practically no confidence in himself with reading.  Looking back now, I am fairly certain he was dyslexic and never diagnosed and never really given interventions. It was a private school and people paid a lot of money so I think teachers simply got him through.  I was certainly not going to be able to teach him to read, but I could tell that he loved science and he was a good artist.  After the first assessment that I gave him and he failed miserably, I started to think of a different way for him to show me what he was learning...because he was definitely engaged and eagerly soaking up what we were learning.  But on the written test...the only way I thought I was able to assess kids...he could not read the questions and then he struggled to write out his answers.  What did I value?  I valued kids getting excited about science and eagerly participating in labs and discussions.  Did I value exam scores and students simply spitting information back to me?  Not really.  So I decided that he would be assessed in a different way.  We came up with a way to do a combination of him orally explaining his answers as well as him drawing diagrams and pictures to show his learning.  At the end of the year, one of the most popular memories that many students reflected on was when we were studying cell organelles and Chandler had cooked blueberry pancakes and served them to the class as he discussed the function of the Golgi apparatus.  After teaching biology for a few years, I moved to Massachusetts from Virginia, but I often got updates on former students.  Guess what?  Chandler went on to study marine biology.  He had to first do some work at a local community college and I think he actually did get some tutoring help with reading, but I was so happy to learn that his learning struggles did not get in the way of him studying what he loved.

That story happened over twenty years ago, and yet we still have assessments that don't fit with how we are trying to do education now.  Look at the 5 success factors for change shared by Julie Wilson.  Number 5: we need a complete overhaul of the assessment structure of learning and school performance.  Twenty years ago, within my own classroom, I was trying to start that overhaul process.  
The last chart I want to share with you did not come from the keynote presentation.  But I kept thinking of it as I was listening to Julie speak.  It's one of the three columns that Katie Novak shared with us during our introduction to Universal Design for Learning.  It has to do with engagement and the "why" of learning.
When you look at the goal at the bottom...our ultimate goal is we want learners who are purposeful and motivated.  If we stick with the assessment system of the past, written exams, failing grades, only one way to assess, we are going to have a very hard time getting all of our students to reach that goal.  We need to figure out how to increase mastery-oriented feedback.  And we need to be helping our students develop self assessment and reflection skills. (This is also something that we as adults need a lot of work on for ourselves!) 

While the small but mighty group of educators that make up our school probably cannot do much in terms of shifting the standardized testing paradigm, we do have quite a bit that we can do in terms of the rest of assessing that we do in our classrooms.  How can we make assessment meaningful and something that is helping us create purposeful, motivated learners?

Currently reading:
This weekend I have been trying to find little pockets of time to read...mainly to finish up the many books I have going at the same time.  I had taken a break from but just started listening again to Becoming by Michelle Obama.  Honestly listening to her is nice distraction where I can pretend our current national reality is not happening!
 I am still trying to get myself through the book Dry; two thirds of the way through and still no water for the characters.  This is an interesting but tough book to read.  
At the end of this week, I am presenting at MRA and book talking a whole bunch of books.  So it's important that I finish reading The Super Life of Ben Braver since that is one of the many books I will be talking about.  And I am sure after I attend the reading conference at the end of this week...I will have some more new book titles to read and share with you!
Events this week:
Monday - End of term 3, Dr. McCall and Mr. Berlo meeting with Liz @ Mayo 10:30, School Committee building tour at 3:30, Girls on the Run 3:45
Tuesday - 4th grade ELA MCAS,  Liz @ central office for meeting 2:30, K-2 ELL Science Club
Wednesday - Staff Meeting @ 8:00, 4th grade ELA MCAS, Some staff at S3 Academy grant work in Marlborough, 3-5 ELL Science Club, Patty giving new family tour @ 4:00
Thursday - Liz Garden and teachers at MRA Conference in Quincy
Friday - Liz Garden and teachers at MRA Conference in Quincy, Patty out of the building in the afternoon

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I popped into library in time to hear Mr. Hacket reading a favorite...The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors. 
  • Gordon Korman's visit to Mayo was such a great experience!  I was so proud of all of our students for the amazing questions they asked and how engaged they were in the discussions about his books. 

  • Thanks to the Holden Fire Department and EMTs who came to welcome kids on High Five Friday! 
  • 5th Grade Spaghetti Supper was a success!  The wait staff did an excellent job.  A big thanks to Lock 50 for donating the entire meal!  

Check it out:
Check out this short video clip about the idea of delayed grading, giving kids a chance to try out the learning process, build confidence, and motivate them to grow:
Love this resource I found!  53 ways to check for understanding:

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Little Monday Morning Motivation

Principal ponderings...
Ever have a case of the Mondays?  That would be me today.  You know when you don't get everything accomplished during the weekend?  Or your alarm goes off and you hit snooze 8 or 20 times?  Or you ran out of coffee?  Or you just woke up and realized it's Monday and it really feels like a Monday?  Maybe it's because it's the last week of the long month of March.  Or maybe it's just me.  But I thought everyone could use a little extra motivation today.  I love inspirational quotes so here are few for you...

Do you have an inspirational quote that gets you through the case of the Mondays?  

Time to go and take on Monday!

Currently reading:
I read a beautiful new picture book that I got from the book fair called Dreamers.  It's a beautifully illustrated story of a family coming to live in America.  It's hard to come to a place with a new language, new experiences, but then they discover the library and a whole new world is opened up to them! 
I also started reading a popular book from the book fair called Unicorn of Many Hats.  It's a graphic novel about Phoebe and her unicorn, and it's part of a new series.  I love that in the beginning of this book the character tells kids to check out the glossary if they come across words that they don't know. 

Events this week:
Monday - Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Tuesday - Grade 4 team meeting @ 8:00, Liz at ECC Meeting @ 10:30, 5th grade MCAS Infrastructure Test @ 1:45, Grade 5 Parent Orientation at Mountview @ 6:30
Wednesday - 3rd grade MCAS Infrastructure Test @ 1:15, 4th grade MCAS Infrastructure Test @ 2:00, Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Thursday - Gordon Korman visits Mayo School! 
Friday - Pizza Party with 5B - Box Top Winners, 5th grade Spaghetti Supper
**Term 3 ends on Monday

Great things I noticed last week:

  • When it's Wellness Wednesday and your class needs a movement break, you move math class into the lobby! Learning doesn't just have to happen in the classroom. 
  • Loved catching a reading group enjoying Cynthia Lord's new book Because of the Rabbit.  I am friends with this author and am working to try to get her to visit Mayo next year! 
  • I popped into kindergarten and caught some engineers doing some ramp building. 
  • So glad I was able to visit 3D and see some genius hour passion projects.  Students were able to get up and share about their topics in front of their peers.  Lots of interesting topics, even the history of pencils!

Check it out:
Keeping with the motivation theme, this song always inspires me and gets me pumped up to tackle anything...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Learning on the Go

Principal ponderings...

If you know me, you know I am slightly obsessed with learning.  I am always reading, connecting with other educators, seeking out new educational opportunities, or attending workshops and conferences.  Of course, if you know me, then you know I also have just a few things going on in my life.  I can tell you I am certainly never bored!

Because my days are always packed full with my professional responsibilities and my personal responsibilities, I love finding different ways to learn.  Have you heard of podcasts?  Do you know what they are?  Have you ever listened to any podcasts?  Have any favorites?

Let me tell you a little about what a podcast is.  The word podcast basically came from combining lPod with broadcasting.  Podcasts are usually audio files, but could be video files, that you can download and listen to.  They can vary in length, but typically they aren't too long.  People make podcasts about anything.  In fact, my brother and his wife created a podcast last past year called "Here's and Idea" where they talk about random things and occasionally come up with an idea for something that has not been done.  If you really want to listen to their ramblings, check this podcast out.

There are several different podcasts related to education that you might be interested in.  Here are few for you to check out:
Cult of Pedagogy
Ten Minute Teacher
School Psyched
ASCD Learn Teach Lead Radio
The Google Tribe
The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast
Truth For Teachers
TedTalks Education
The Creative Classroom

Ok, I could go on and on with listing podcasts.  You can basically find a podcast for any topic.  Maybe you have already discovered some good podcasts?  Share with us if you have some to recommend.  When the weather gets a little nicer, I would love to do a walking staff meeting where we all listen and learn from a podcast and share with each other.  What do you think?

What will you learn this week?

Currently reading:
In anticipation of Gordon Korman coming in another week, I have been listening to his book Ungifted.  I have only just begun to listen to this book, but in Gordon Korman fashion, there are several interesting characters and we hear different perspectives in each chapter.
I saw someone recommend the book Brave, Not Perfect online so of course I used one of my Audible credits to download it to my library.  The author is the founder of the organization Girls Who Code.  Excited to read this book that talks about how we are raising boys to be brave, but we are raising girls to be perfect...and this dilemma is holding us back.
Events this week:
Monday - 1st grade F&P training @ Glenwood, Girls on the Run @ 3:45, School Council Meeting @ 4:00
Tuesday - Spring Pictures, Grade 5 Team Meeting @ 8:00, Kindergarten training @ Glenwood, K-2 ELL Science Club @ 3:25, PTA Meeting @ 7:00
Wednesday - Grade 3 Team Meeting @ 8:00, Grade 5 Mountview Orientation Day, 3-5 ELL Science Club @ 3:25, Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Thursday - Liz @ PLT Meeting Central Office 7:45-10:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • So fun to see all of the students shopping at the Scholastic Book Fair! So many good choices.
  • I popped in and saw 2nd graders learning several different ways to solve subtraction problems with one of our student teachers. 
  • It's amazing the looks you get when you walk around the school in a dinosaur costume!  
  • On Friday, I had fun presenting with Melissa Wallace, the Dawson principal, at the MASSCue MASCD Leadership Conference in Worcester. And I heard an amazing keynote speaker, Julie Wilson, talk about the human side of changing education.  I will be sharing my learning with you in a future post. 
Check it out:
A very long article, but one full of tips and tricks for your iPhone to help you be more productive:
Love this article about how a principal's brain is affected throughout the day.  Even though it might be on a different level, I think teachers have the same things happening for them each day:

Sunday, March 10, 2019

But, why?

Principal ponderings...
Having spent the weekend with my little travel partner, Emerson, we had a lot of time in the airport, airplane, car, and at my parents' house.  Lots of time to have conversations with a toddler.  And I can tell you that the majority of our conversations started with her asking, "But, why?"  Sometimes it was "but why do we need to ride in the car to the airport?"  Other times it was "but why do they need to take our suitcase?"  "But why does papa do that?"  "But why does she have that?"  "But why...?"  "But why...?"  "But why...?"

It could be because of Emerson asking my why over 100 times this weekend or it could be because now is a good time to stop and think about your why.  I took some time while writing this to think about my why.  As Simon Sinek says, we need to start with why before we act, think and communicate.  He has said, "People don't buy what you do.  They buy why you do it."  We are in the business of educating kids.  But it's important to remember and talk about why we do what we do.  Our why is important and should be our starting point and what we always circle back to as we check ourselves.  As I was planning this post and reading over some other posts about starting with why, I came across Peter Dewitt's post and I love his question that he poses: "Do we, as leaders and teachers, make sure what students are learning fits before we teach it, or do we try to force our students to fit into what they are learning?"

Wow, that's a big question.  Definitely makes me stop and think.  Are we forcing our students to fit into what they are learning?  After our afternoon with Katie Novak and our initial dive into Universal Design for Learning, I hope we are all thinking differently about the learning that happens in our classrooms.  How do you not get overwhelmed by our PD session?  I think the best way to process everything is to go back and start with your why.  

What is your why? 

I can share with you what I recently wrote when a friend of mine asked several of us what our why was.  I said...

     My why is that I believe all kids are our kids.  We have the ability to impact every single kid, every       single day.  We have a responsibility to take care of every child, to treat them as if they were our         own.  My why is that I believe in every kid, I love every kid, I know that every kid can learn.  We         have this awesome responsibility of molding future minds and we can't ever forget that!

What is your why?  What drives you?  What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you up at night?  What are you passionate about?

Currently reading:
I just started reading this book about a kid named Ben Braver who gets chosen to go to a secret school for kids with special powers.  I am thinking this will appeal to many of our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders.
A parent let me borrow this great non fiction picture book and then I shared it with the 1st grade team.  I might even use this for my Facebook Live read aloud this week.  It's an interesting story about how Dr. Seuss was challenged with writing a book that kids would like, while only using words from a high frequency word list. 
I could not resist purchasing Rachel Hollis's new book.  Excited to read this one since I enjoyed listening to her book Girl, Wash Your Face.

Events this week:
**Scholastic Book Fair in the library all week
Monday - Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Tuesday - Kindergarten and Grade 1 Team Meetings @ 3:45
Wednesday - Grade 2 Team Meeting @ 8:00, Girls on the Run @ 3:45, Family Night at the Book Fair 4:00-8:00
Thursday - Special Olympics @ the High School from 10-12
Friday - Liz G presenting at MASSCue Conference, Family Night at the Book Fair 4:00-8:00, PTA BINGO Night @ 5:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • The after school computer programming enrichment class is a busy place to be! 
  • I can't believe how many shoes we have collected.  At the end of this week, I will schedule the UPS pick-up.  So excited that Mayo students will be helping kids on the other side of the world! 
  • I caught some 3rd graders enjoying independent reading time and getting lost in books. 
  • Thank you to everyone who joined in the book tasting fun at the Mayo Bistro on Wednesday morning.  Hopefully you learned about some new book titles that you want to sink your teeth into! 

Check it out:
Here is a 5 minute clip where Simon Sinek explains his thought process behind starting with why: