My Future Implementation Standards Based Grading in History

My district is implementing Standards Based Grading (SBG) for the upcoming school year (2018-2019). Before you read further, let me state that I’m completely on board with this initiative. I can say from my own class that grades mean nothing and don’t present an accurate picture of student learning. The other reason I’m on board is I love challenges and changes.  Through the years I have learned to embrace these words to help me become a better teacher. With my lack of knowledge of SBG, I had no choice but to begin reading and researching.

The first book I got was, Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading, by Dr. Robert Marzano. This book didn’t look exciting, but I read it in 3 days! That’s a new personal record for me. The research, scales, standards, and tracking were so interesting and gave me a framework to begin preparing the Social Studies department for SBG. 

Eager and excited, I began to separate out, and combine, standards for 8th grade history for my units. I then broke apart my combined standards into learning goals for the unit. For each learning goal, I linked a performance scale using 0 – 4. Here is my example – click here. This is still a work in progress!

I don’t know how this will affect student learning, and I don’t know if I’m doing this correctly (Comments/Criticism are appreciated).  But what I can tell you from this experience is:

  1. This forces me to know my standards. – Yes, every teacher should know their standards, but this forced me to understand the standards on a new level. I had to dig in deep and find connections between the History, Government, and Geography standards so I could combine them, write learning goals, and design scales for each goal.
  2. This forces me to use meaningful assignments and assessments – This process has me thinking more and more about using meaningful assessments. In order to give an accurate reflection of student learning, the assessments must align to the standards and criteria listed in the scales. Busy work is gone (Although I try to avoid this at all costs). Randomly changing assignments at the last second because I found something way cooler is gone too. 
  3. This forces me to collaborate more with colleagues – I’ll admit it, I’m quiet and tend to keep to myself. But, I’m learning, and getting better, with sharing (It’s an only child thing). In order to get an accurate reflection of student learning, the standards and scales must be the same for disciplines. Collaborating, communicating, and consistency are a MUST!! 

This post is far from finished, as thoughts come to me I will cycle back to it and update. As I’m implementing this new system through the school year, I will have updates on student progress. 

A Lesson From a Country Concert

Last night I went to my first concert in almost 2 years. It was simply called Country Concert. Yes, the actual name is Country Concert. The name doesn’t grab anyone’s attention, it doesn’t even sound exciting. But, it’s 10,000+ people, an amazing atmosphere, young up and coming artists, and big names in country music. The headliner I went to see was Eric Church.

Throughout the day, each artist is on a schedule. I know the schedule as it was printed on my badge. So, I’m sitting in my seat waiting……waiting…waiting…….and BAM!! It’s as if the artist appeared from nowhere and hit you with such energy! They choose just the right song to get you excited and out of the seat. This concert was a great time, but my teacher brain was thinking. How can we apply this to a classroom setting?

I often say to my colleagues around me, “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” It’s just a little humor to help us start the day. What if we took this to heart like the country artists at Country Concert?

  • What if the first day of school was used to get to know the students as individuals? – I used to dread the first day of school. This isn’t due to summer ending, and waking up at 5:00 AM. It’s due to going over mind numbing rules. I’m using the first day to get to know students. I haven’t decided if I’m using Play Doh, Frayer a Student Smart START, or creating a passion wall. The first day should be fun and a way to show students that school isn’t a boring place!
  • What if I started every class with music playing as students walked in? – In a typical classroom setting, students walk in, sit down (maybe), and wait for the teacher to start. What if this “typical” day could be changed? Students walk in and hear a song they requested the day before. This song plays even as students are working through a bellringer. Music has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Starting a class with music allows me to share a passion of mine, and create a different way to start off a class.
  • What if we started every lesson with some attention grabbing hook? – Transform the classroom, dress up and have “guest-speakers,” go outside for lessons, incorporate food, or use music. It’s so important to connect a lesson to students and try to find ways to “hook” them into the content.

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The Human Element in Teaching

It never fails. It’s like clockwork. Every year I hear the same statement, “Tech is going to replace us, why do we need to teach anymore?” Well, don’t let it replace you. Using tech doesn’t mean having students watch videos on EdPuzzle, and playing Kahoot everyday. Find ways to INTENTIONALLY use tech in your teaching, but do NOT remove the human element from your teaching.

This world is changing and it’s changing fast. It seems a new technology tool emerges every week! Intentional use of technology can help kids create awesome projects, allow kids to share ideas with the world, and allow kids to collaborate with one another. I can’t think of a piece of technology, a $50,000 reading program, flexible seating, or maker-spaces that will be a cure-all for student learning. The biggest difference in helping a child learn is, and always will be, the relationships among students and teachers. We need to keep the human element in teaching!

Looking back on my first 3 years of teaching Social Studies, I was so focused on content and technology that I didn’t have time to understand my students. I’m so passionate about History that I thought it would be infectious. Boy, was I wrong. Push back from students, disruptions in class, and students with their head down sleeping. I thought to myself – How can I fix all of this?

I had a solution! Technology was the answer to all of my problems. Boy, was I wrong! Push back from students, disruptions in class, and students with their head down sleeping. If my passion for history and use of technology couldn’t fix this, then I had to change something.

This past school year, I started focusing on understanding my students. A question came to my mind, “Would I want to be a learner in my classroom?” In the past, I was kidding myself by saying, “Yes.” In reality, the answer was “No.” So, my “Why” for education shifted to relationships. I began talking more with my students, greeting them at the door, remembering their names, understanding where they came from. This shift allowed me to start intentionally blending technology with my students’ passions. Did I still have some behavior problems – yes, every class has them. But, did I have as many behavior problems as before – no!

Here are some rules that I live by in Room 303:

  1. Remember every student’s name by the end of the first day, and show them you remembered their names on the second day.
  2. Greet every student by name at the door. Ask them how they are doing. Tell them you’re glad they are there.
  3. Talk to every student at least twice before they walk out of the classroom.
  4. Don’t rush to judgement, assume, or overreact – if a student is sleeping in class, talk with them and figure out the reason.
  5. Do NOT remove the human element from teaching – 1:1 technology is great, but it’s not a cure-all. Create simulations, interactive lessons, use digital breakouts, gallery walks, or outside lessons. In the end, interact with students and have students interact with each other.

Choice and Chaos

According to Spencer and Juliani in the book, Empower, students spend an average of 400 minutes a day in school. How are they spending all 400 minutes? I see my role in the classroom as a guider, NOT a controller. Students learn best when they have choice and voice and create their own pathways to learning and understanding.

The approach to my philosophies are through my experiences. I have sat in the desks of Room 303. I have sat through all day PD sessions, and it can be agonizing. This is why I feel choice begins with seating. If students want to sit at my desk, floor, my center table, etc…. this can help with creating a comfortable and trusting learning environment. (YES, we will have conversations about choosing seats wisely. YES, if their seat choices are not conducive to a productive learning environment, then I take over.)

One of the simplest words I can say to a students as their teacher is, “Yes.” Students have wonderful ideas and and are waiting to unleash creativity. Often times, this creativity is held back by the teacher. Saying, “Yes,” builds an environment of trust, learning, and allows students to show what they know in multiple ways. Plus, I don’t want to grade 120 of the same product over and over again!

Does all of this seem messy and chaotic? Sure! But, that’s the beauty of it all. Factory models and standardization do not create success in school. Choice creates learning and trust, and this should come first!

GROWing as an Educator

A huge phrase in education, currently, is growth mindset. As educators, we should always instill the belief in students that they should embrace challenges, accept criticism, and see how effort contributes to learning. Also, as educators, we should take on and model this belief system. As I am sitting here reflecting over the past year, I embraced a growth mindset and found ways to improve Room 303. Thinking about the path I took, an acronym kept coming to mind – GROW.

G – Goal Setting – Part of my growth is attributed to goal setting. The format I like is SMART goal setting. When I started, I thought about my vision and mission as an educator. I wanted to create a more engaging history experience for my students.

  1. Is this goal Specific?
  2. How will you measure success towards your goal(s)?
  3. Is this goal attainable? Is it realistic?
  4. Is your goal relevant? Does this goal align with the vision and mission of your school?
  5. What is the time frame for your goal? Tomorrow? 1st quarter?

R – Risk Taking – I learned growth did not occur until I broke out of my shell. I was stuck in a fixed mindset. Growth does not occur within a fixed mindset. Only when I started dressing up to have “guest-speakers,” adding an element of mystery and curiosity did I start to grow. It takes one “out-of-the-box” lesson to get the creative thinking flowing to change the rest of your school year. Below you will see some of my “guest-speakers”and room transformations that sparked curiosity.

O – On-line – To me, online includes ed-tech tools and social media. From a classroom point-of-view, are students using ed-tech tools to practice the 4 C’s (creating, critically thinking, communicating, and collaborating?)? From teacher point-of-view, are you taking time to understand how these ed-tech tools can be an asset in your classroom?

Two great social media platforms for teachers include Twitter and Instagram. I love sharing my classroom with others from around the globe. I have create a Personal Learning Network (PLN) of people through these mediums who have shared awesome ideas with me!

W – Write About It – In March of 2018, I started my Moler’s Musings Blog as part of a book study with, Innovator’s Mindset. This blog has allowed me to reflect and share ideas with others from around the world. Throughout the school year, I was teaching my students how to reflect, but I wasn’t doing it myself. Creating my blog has allowed me to join my students and reflect on struggles, successes, and big plans for the future.

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Blended What?

Blended learning, blended learning, blended learning. It runs of the tongue like Ben Stein saying, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.”  The past 2 school years I have heard blended learning used often. Wanting to know more, I asked what blended learning is. However, it seems no one can come up with a good definition.

Blended learning is so many different things that one can define it in multiple ways. According to blendedlearning.org, they defined this enigma as:

“Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”

Earlier in a Twitter ed-chat, I stated:

“I try to use a flex model blending online and traditional instruction letting students go at their own pace.”

My statement got me thinking, why can’t we just call blended learning what it is………Learning. In today’s world, teachers should be using traditional methods with technology. This should be a norm. Instead, blended learning is used as a buzz word to make learning seem like a new concept. It makes teachers already doing great, engaging lessons feel like they aren’t doing much at all. On a personal level, I got caught up in trying to use models and using too much technology. Ultimately, this led to me completely forgetting the most important part – building relationships and engaging students.

Part way through the school year, I began to focus on engagement. I looked at traditional methods and thought of ways to “hook” students into the lesson. Some of my favorites include:

  1. Dressing up and having “guest speakers” – Students love it!
  2. Transform your room to engage students in a lesson.
  3. Start off a lesson with music.
  4. Build a lesson around a mystery bag.
  5. Take your class outside.
  6. Get students creating with legos, Oreos, and non-traditional items.

Along with engaging traditional methods, teachers should be blending technology in intentional ways. Before I use tech, I ask myself, “Will this help my students understand the content better? Will this allow my students to collaborate, communicate, critically and creatively think?” At the end of the day, answering those questions with a “Yes,” and finding ways to blend with engaging traditional methods creates what should be a norm……………..Learning.

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Practice Empathy

I take inspiration from the most random of places. I’m currently sitting in a PD session on behaviors and trauma. This PD session is part of a larger conference put on by Cincinnati Public Schools. During the conference the keynote speaker was George Couros. During his keynote address he stated, “Innovation begins and ends with empathy.” This behavioral PD session is a great reminder that students come from all walks of life and different experiences.

One topic that stood out to me the the phrase, “flip your lid.” We had a great discussion about 2 parts of the brain – the upstairs brain and downstairs brain. The upstairs brain is the part that calms and organizes a child during stressful situations. In contrast, the downstairs brain is the fearful part that responds to stressful situations. When students have repeated, traumatic and stressful situations, the downstairs brain over-develops and the upstairs brain doesn’t know how to calm it down. This entire concept is illustrated in this picture (linked here).

This simple visual made this topic come together for me. As teachers we need to expect bumps in the road and expect that not every situation will be perfect. The question becomes, how can we make the most of every situation?

  1. Build Relationships A simple, “Hello and how are you?” goes a looong way in the classroom. As educators, we to understand the needs of every student. A great reminder for everyone: if a student comes in and lays his or her head down, don’t treat the situation as disrespectful. Instead, treat this situation as way to figure what that student needs. Sometimes, everyday life is more important than a your subject.
  2. Give Choices Avoid saying, “No,” with an explanation. Instead, tell students what they can have with options. For example, if a student is slumped in their seat or not “sitting up,” give them choices of sitting up or moving to a new location in the room where they would be more comfortable. However, choices shouldn’t be restricted to behavior. Choices should be included with lessons. Allowing students to have choice and voice is a great way to empower them and alleviate many classroom management problems.
  3. Change the Classroom Environment To change my classroom environment, I started with a mission statement and built my class expectations from there. In my class expectations, you will never see the words “no” and “don’t.” These words carry too much negativity with them. Let’s face it, with the world we live in today, we need to stay positive and keep school positive. Other ways I intend to change my classroom environment include: have students decorate my walls and have a passion wall where students can post the things they enjoy outside of school.