Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Digital Citizenship Week 2018: Classroom Twitter Account

Right now on Twitter, you can follow my student-led classroom account @TweetsfromB210 to see students using Social Media in positive ways. It is important to me to meet students where they are at while also teaching them and modeling for them positive digital footprints.

I pick one student each class to host the account by sending them this link via Remind.

It's an easy way to teach digital citizenship, give students voice, engage with an authentic audience, and build your class culture.

All week I am going to share some of my favorite ways to bring social media into the classroom to help create Social Media Leaders and change the conversation around digital citizenship from a list of "don't" to a list of "do."

- Mrs. Kathryn Byars

Thursday, August 2, 2018

My First EF Tour: 9 Days in Japan with 14 Students

Last year, a colleague of mine convinced me to take students on a tour with EF Tours. I had the travel bug but didn't know how or where to make it happen and she suggested starting with guided tours with students. I loved the idea of seeing the world with students of history, watching them make real connections between what they had learned and the world around them but I was completely unprepared for what the experience actually was. While I may be one for hyperbole when talking about my love for edtech, in this case when I say it was life changing for me and my students, I mean every word.

Students Will Step Out Of Their Comfort Zone and Gain Confidence

EF had told me this one but it is hard to believe until you see it. I had students traveling with me who had never been on an airplane, they were terrified they would be homesick or anxious and both they and their parents were in constant contact with me before the trip. They were concerned that maybe signing up had been a mistake. All of that changed the minute we set foot in Tokyo. We didn't even get to travel beyond our hotel the first night but I took a group down to the little corner store to buy snacks and water and students immediately started seeing and appreciating the differences in cultural norms and asking questions like "Why are there no trash cans? How are the streets so clean? Is it always this quiet?" These questions might seem simple enough but it led to creating a tone of wonder and curiosity on the trip and literally all we had done was go to the corner store! 

That tone of curiosity and wonder led students to be brave and confident world travelers. Instead of seeing travel as scary because it was different, they found it enriching because it was different. We had no homesickness on the trip because there was too much to learn, do, see, and talk about each day. 

By the end of the trip, I had the students asking our tour director about exchange programs for high school and college. They were asking him the best time of year to come back to Japan (we were there during the worst heat wave in their history.) They were asking him how to experience more about Japan and Japanese culture. My timid, shy, and anxious students transformed into world travelers who were hungry for more experiences. 

Students Will Understand the World More 

No, they won't walk away suddenly understand every complex social and political issue just from one trip. But in 9 short days, my students were immersed in a new country, a new culture, and new experiences. They interacted with various guides and hosts from Japan who all impacted their understanding of the world around them. They were taught cultural norms, taken to cultural, religious, and historical sites, and immersed in a world that sharply contrasted their own.

We'd get back on the bus after an outing and students would start having discussions about the things they saw that were different from their own culture or norms. These conversations were not mocking or rude, but genuine conversations about the differences they saw and why those differences might be there. They often took these opportunities to ask our tour director his thoughts and opinions and I found my students listening more than talking when given the chance to ask him these questions.

Whereas in my classroom, students would battle it out to "win a debate" or be the king of a discussion, in Japan they were having discussions and asking questions to truly understand the world around them in more depth and detail. They weren't looking for who was right or wrong, they were looking for knowledge and understanding.

It Lights A Spark 

My students came home hungry for more. Not only did they want to travel more but they just wanted more experiences like that one. They wanted experiences that pushed them out of their comfort zones and helped them better understand the world and the various cultures within it. They wanted to learn more about history, cultures, government, and politics. They wanted to consume more culture through books and music. They came home wanting to learn more. We work so hard to make students value being lifelong learners but so often the best way to spark this is through experiences. The experience of travel ignites that spark in deep, long-lasting ways.

What I Regret 

My only regret is that I don't know how to make these trips or these experiences available to all my students. That is the problem I need to solve next because right now, I can only offer the experience to those who can afford it. It is not a school run trip. We don't fundraise. It is not affiliated with my school or district. But the value of a trip like this has me wondering how I could make it available to more and more students who might not have a chance otherwise.

Why EF Tours?

If you're considering hosting student travel my experience with EF Tours was one of organization clear communication and expectations, immense support and assistance, and a culturally engaging tour designed for students. They have tours all over the world and you can learn more here at my referral link. They did not pay me or give me anything to write this post. I did it because I needed to share this with you all. For full disclosure, this link does give me a referral bonus if you sign up and lead a tour.

When I say it was life-changing, I mean it. My students and I came home full or memories that will last a lifetime. They made new friends, experienced new cultures and traditions, gained an understanding of the history and society of Japan, and came home wanting to know more.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Where to Start on Standards Based Grading: Step 5 or Stop Grading Everything

I've talked about creating learning objectives from the standard. I've talked about starting with what evidence of learning you'll accept for each objective. I've talked about aligning your lessons. And I have talked about formative assessment and why it should not go in the grade book.

Today I am going to explain how I don't grade anything. Kind of. 

Grading for compliance hurts our most in need students and creates a game of points instead of a focus on learning. To be completely candid and honest: if you make this shift in isolation (as I have) you will still be fighting the culture of points with many students until the very end of the semester. But I cannot stress enough how much the benefits of a standards-based classroom outweigh the challenges.

When we assign points to every single worksheet, activity, bathroom pass, kleenex boxes, etc, we make the culture about how many points you can earn, not how much you have learned. I know it may seem impossible to motivate students without the game of points. You probably have students who refuse to comply or turn in work and you make every single thing worth points! How could you ever get them to do the work if you took the points away?

Well, they will. And they won't.

I'd like to take a minute to share with you a little story about college: In my Intro To Political Philosophy class I remember reading hours and hours and hours of Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, and Hobbes. I had 4 notebooks full of copious reading notes. I highlighted, underlined, and should have bought stock in post-its. We had daily roundtable discussions (benefits of a small liberal arts college) where I participated every single day. But the thing is, we were only graded on 4 papers we wrote throughout the semester.  He didn't write objectives on the board each day, he didn't give us quizzes, he didn't check our notebooks or notes. He did make clear the first day that we would have four papers based on our readings and discussions in class. He made clear what the papers would be about and would need to include. The readings and discussions all aligned with what those papers asked of us, so it was self-sabotage to not do them.

At this point, you might be thinking, "But you were a college student so of course, you did what was assigned!" But I would like to counter with this question "Why do we hold our students to any less than that?"

When you stop assigning points to every single aspect of your class, students will still do the work if they find the work is valuable in helping them succeed. Students cheat and copy because they find earning points valuable to their success in a traditional classroom. If students are scored only on their ability to meet or master an objective: they will do what they need to do to get there. They will do the work if they believe it will help them get to their goal.

This does mean you are going to have to let go of a lot of stuff. But it does not mean you are no longer holding students accountable.

This does mean you are going to have to let go of a lot of stuff.

Things I Don't Grade Anymore:
  • Homework 
  • Bellringers
  • Notebooks
  • Essays
  • Projects 
  • Worksheets
  • Discussions
  • Debates
  • Socratic Seminars
  • Packets 
  • Quizzes 
  • Quick-Writes
  • Graphic Organizers 
  • Presentations

I do not put any of the above items into the grade book but we still do all of them. Yes, we even still do worksheets from time to time because a worksheet in itself is not inherently bad (but that is a rant for another day.) For most tasks, I do check to see if they have completed it and check on their accountability and work ethic but at the end of the day, does it really matter if a student has done every single task I have asked of them if they can prove they have mastered the objective or standard?

Now, don't walk into your class on the first day of school and say "none of this matters if you can prove you've met the standard!" Because while that might work for a handful of students, most of your students need you to guide them to mastery and you do that through all the activities listed above. Most students need us to teach them: our job is still essential in a standards-based classroom but how we spend our time and efforts changes.

From the above list, I make sure all work is aligned to an objective and I make that objective clear to students. I will be honest, I don't write my objectives on the board because I am terrible at whiteboards in general so it is usually on the paper or in the presentation or on the hyperdoc we are exploring that day. But by making sure the work is aligned with the goal and consistently reminding students of their goal, they will see the value in the work and do it. Unless of course, the work is busy work and really doesn't have value to them. When I made the move to a Standards-Based classroom I was shocked by how much work I had been assigning that was busy work.

Then if I can automate feedback at all, I do. Because if the work is practice students still need to know what they did right and what they did wrong as quickly as possible but they don't need to lose points for getting it wrong or earn points just because they did it. This is an area I am constantly trying to improve upon because I know I can do better. It can be as simple as just going over the correct answers or discussing the different responses to an assignment and why they are valid (or why they are not valid.) If it is a complex task: use a rubric to give feedback. But do not put any of this work in the grade book unless it is truly a summative assessment for a standard or series of standards.

But it does not mean you are no longer holding students accountable. 

At first, I always have students who think they can do nothing and BS their reflections or assessments and pass my class. I monitor what they have done or not done and am never surprised by how stressful the first assessment is for them. Usually, I pull them aside and bring up Google Classroom or my spreadsheet and show them how they have not completed any tasks and they might say "but they aren't for a grade" and I explain (as I explain to my whole class multiple times those first few weeks) that the work I assign will make sure they are ready for the assessment, even if it is not for a grade it is important and valuable because it will help them learn what they need to know.

In my classroom, it used to be that at the end of each unit they would turn in a packet or notebook and I would go through and grade for completion. I would return the Unit 1 Packet and it would say "50/100 PLEASE DO YOUR WORK!!" or something like that. A parent would call and say "What can my son/daughter do to improve?!" and I would say "They just need to do the work." If they got 100% on the assessment that comment to parents would barely change, "They do well on assessments but they just need to do the work!"

In both versions of my classroom: not doing the work hurt the students who needed the work to achieve mastery but in my old classroom not doing work also hurt students who had already mastered the standard. In my old classroom, my response was always the generic: you just need to complete the work! And in my old classroom, the assessment was kind of irrelevant. It could help or hurt a grade in general, but conversations almost always went back to a very general conversation on whether or not a student completed their work.

Now in my classroom, I can explain to the student how each assignment helps them meet a specific goal. We can talk about alternative ways they could show me they've met that goal (which are rarely if ever assigned to students.) The conversation is about what the student is able to do in relation to mastery of a standard and not just work completion. Conversations about work completion or work ethic are separate conversations; it does not impact how I measure what a student knows or is able to do.

That conversation is really powerful. You will have students who need that conversation a few times before the process really clicks for them but you have to remember: their whole life school has been a game of points. They have either gotten really good at playing this game or they feel the game is rigged against them. This culture shift takes time, patience, and transparency with your students.

The other really powerful conversation is when you are sitting with a parent and can talk about participation, work ethic, and responsibility and how well their student is doing in those areas compared to their academic abilities.

Ways to Create Accountability in a Standards-Based Classroom 

It does matter if students do not comply with your expectations and instructions but it should not impact their academic letter grade. The bottom line is: what does that letter grade stand for? What does that letter grade represent? If you start listing soft skills before listing academic content and knowledge, I ask you to please consider if it would be more powerful to delineate these skills and measure and report them elsewhere? When we attach these skills to their academic grade, the conversations about knowledge versus work ethic become muddled together and compliance becomes most important, not knowledge. 

What are your thoughts on grading all tasks? Do you think effort, on time work, and completion rates need to be measured as part of their academic letter grade? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Where to Start with Standards-Based Grading: Step 4

It's time to talk about formative assessment. I might write some things that you totally disagree with and that is okay, I am not 100% sold that grading practices are one size fits all. In fact, this next year my AP World History course and my course for English Learners are following two slightly different grading formats based on the pacing, content, skills, and needs of the students. Sometimes it makes sense for me to assess the two classes in slightly different ways. That being said, I am going to make one of my most controversial statements yet. So far, everything has been pretty straightforward, but now it's time to really question the way we've always done it. 

What no longer makes any sense to me is putting formative assessments in the grade book. 

When I give quizzes students find out their score immediately, they find out what they got right and what they got wrong and what the correct answer is but that score never goes in the grade book. I usually ask them to take note of what they missed, I sometimes have them chart their growth over time. Then I look at the data briefly for trends: is there something everyone got wrong? And I look at the data for outliers: Is Hermione well beyond this objective? Is Draco in need of assistance? And I use the info to figure out my next steps.

Now, students could technically use their scores on a quiz as part of their evidence of learning in a reflective grading classroom but often my standards require so much more than memorization and the ability to recite facts without context that a quiz score alone is never enough to show mastery.

But if I am grading based on standards and a quiz is a way to see where a student is at if a quiz is a snapshot of what they know, why would I put that score in the grade book?

You might be yelling at the screen right now: IF I DO NOT GRADE IT THEY WON'T PREPARE FOR IT! IF I DO NOT GRADE IT, THEY WON'T TRY!

You're wrong. 

Now, before you start cursing at me on twitter, I need you to know that I used to believe this. I heart and soul stood by this for two years. When I made the switch to a Standards-Based classroom this was one of the things I was certain would fail. But it didn't. Kids still tried. Kids still learned and I honestly think they learned more because no longer was I keeping quiz answers secret until every kid took the quiz, no longer was I unable to talk them through the quiz right then and there because they might tell the next class, no longer did I have to make 12 different versions on color-coded paper to prevent cheating.

Now I know that formative assessments are not always the traditional quiz, whole books have been written on the many different ways we can approach formative assessment. But seeing as the quiz is one of the most common practices that we refer to as a formative assessment but still keeping putting in the grade book, it's going to act as my main example as to why you need to stop putting formative assessments in the grade book.

There were three things that happened when I stopped grading quizzes:

  1. Students stopped cheating on quizzes. 
  2. I became better and faster at giving feedback on quizzes. 
  3. Quizzes took on a whole new meaning for both me and the students. 

Students Stopped Cheating

Why would you cheat on something that doesn't impact your grade? Cheating is all about students playing the game of school. They have figured out what they need to do to win the game (or at least pass the game) and they play the best they can. When points are assigned to everything they do, the points become the focus - not the learning. So when you take away points from something like a quiz, the conversation around it becomes about knowledge and learning not "Mrs. Byars, how many points do I need to score on this quiz to get have a B in the class?"

I became better and faster at giving feedback on quizzes. 

Once it was not for a grade, the quiz was no longer on lockdown to prevent cheating. Once it was not for a grade, my focus became solely on that students need to know what they got right, what they got wrong, and why. I made a page on my favorite tools for formative assessment here but I want to focus on the two that are all about foundational content knowledge and vocabulary. Quizlet and Quizziz.

Quizlet is a site that lets you make digital flashcard decks of terms and definitions. You can add visuals to each deck and you don't have to find or write out each definition. When you add a term, it will give you suggested definitions to pick from or you can write your own. There are also tons of pre-made decks and you can search for decks made only by other teachers. What makes it an amazing tool for formative assessment is you can see real-time data for all of your students for each term as they use Quizlet to learn and you can quickly turn any deck into a printable quiz or test in a variety of formats.

Quizizz is a digital quiz site. You can build quizzes in a variety of ways: you can search for pre-made quizzes, create your own from scratch, or do a mix of questions you created and searching for pre-made questions. You can assign the quizzes as Live (students all play at the same time) or as homework (students play at their own pace) but what makes it perfect for formative assessment is you can have it immediately tell students what they got right and what they got wrong and it can show them the correct answers. You can also turn off these settings but to me, the value of Quizizz is that I can see in real time how students are doing with content and students can see what they know and what they still need to learn.

There is a lot more I could say about both of these tools and the process of getting feedback quickly and effectively to students but that is for another post.

Quizzes took on a whole new meaning for both me and the students. 

When you have a quiz every day in class but it is just so students and you can see where everyone is at, they take on a whole new meaning. What is the point of giving a quiz in class? What are you trying to determine? Why are you asking the students to do it? If your answer is "to see what they know and what they still need to learn" why would you assign a grade to it? This is practice. What is the point of grading practice? And if your answer is they will not try unless I put a grade on it, I wish I could find a way to convince you that you're wrong.

One of the books that gave me the courage to stop putting point values on practice was Drive by Daniel Pink. It was actually one of the first books I read before I even started considering changing grading practices. By making every activity, especially those activities that are about practicing or checking for understanding, a point value we make the class about points and not about learning. We undermine our own teaching when everything is worth points. 

In order for a standards-based classroom to be successful, formative assessment needs to be a part of every day in your classroom. It can take on a variety of shapes: an exit ticket, a quiz, a quick-write but students must not be punished for getting it wrong and students must understand what the right answer is and why as soon as possible. If they don't. then they will struggle with knowing where they are at and where they still need to go. 

If you are new to this series you can see the first two posts here and here. You can also read about the challenges I have faced in implementing SBG in a non-SBG school. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Where to Start With Standards Based Grading: Step 3

Yesterday I wrote about how I start planning for a standards-based classroom. Most of it is just good teaching and while you may be doing a lot of the work already, the process asks you to be more intentional and more deliberate. Today, I am going to share with you the third step I take: planning instruction.

Here is the standard I am going to focus on: 

  • 10.2.1 Compare the major ideas of philosophers and their effects on the democratic revolutions in England, the United States, France, and Latin America 

Here is the student-friendly version: 

  • 10.2.1.A: I can compare the ideas of 3 philosophers from 1600-1800.
  • 10.2.1.B: I can describe the major democratic revolutions in France, Haiti, the United States, England, and Latin America.
  • 10.2.1.C: I can explain how the ideas of at least 3 major philosophers influenced the democratic revolutions in England, the US, France, and Latin America.

Why break one standard down into three different objectives?

The standard is really asking students to know and be able to do 3 different things: they need to know the ideas of major philosophers during this time, they need to know the major democratic revolutions during this time, and they need to be able to explain how those two concepts connected and influenced each other. I prefer making my learning objectives as simple as possible, this allows me to better pinpoint where students are struggling and allow students to better understand their learning goals.

Part of this process is about changing the structure of your classroom and class culture. No longer am I gatekeeper of knowledge who is the only one that can determine where my students are. By making the objectives simple and well defined, the students are more empowered in their learning. They can easily identify what they know and what they need to learn. 

This also allows for me to add in concepts from the new History-Social Science Framework. You might notice I included Haiti in my objective which is not in the original standard but does appear in the framework California adopted. I am currently responsible for my state standards and a new framework so by taking the time to write my student-friendly objectives, I am able to make sure I am including all the new content from the framework in my lessons and assessments. 

What will I accept as evidence of learning?

10.2.1.A: I can compare the ideas of 3 philosophers from 1600-1800.

10.2.1.B: I can describe the major democratic revolutions in France, Haiti, the United States, England, and Latin America.

10.2.1.C: I can explain how the ideas of at least 3 major philosophers influenced the democratic revolutions in England, the US, France, and Latin America.
Students can explain main philosophical ideas for 3 or more philosophers and explain similarities and differences.
Students can describe what happened in all of the following democratic revolutions: France, Haiti, the United States, England, and Latin America.
Students can explain how at least 3 philosophers influenced democratic revolutions.
Students can explain main philosophical ideas for philosophers and explain similarities and differences.
Students can describe what happened in most of the following democratic revolutions: France, Haiti, the United States, England, and Latin America.
Students can explain how at least 2 philosophers influenced democratic revolutions.
Students can explain main philosophical ideas for 2 or more philosophers.
Students can describe what happened in two of the following democratic revolutions: France, Haiti, the United States, England, and Latin America.
Students can explain how at least 1 philosopher influenced democratic revolutions.
Students can explain main philosophical ideas for 1 or more philosophers.
Students can describe one revolution.
Students can generally explain how philosophers influenced revolutions.

How do I teach this?

This part is what you already do, I lecture, I give quizzes, we read and analyze, we have discussions and debates, and students explore on their own using hyperdocs and different activities. There is no one perfect method for this part: you teach as you always have done. The only difference is that you want to make sure you are teaching aligned to the objectives and making clear to students which objectives you are working on. 

Here is how I taught standards 10.2.1.A and 10.2.1.B this summer: 

First I use tools like Quizizz (Quiz 1 and Quiz 2) and Quizlet to build vocabulary and basic content knowledge. This is usually paired with a small lecture to introduce the concepts and objectives for the day or unit. Here is what that lecture looked like in my Summer School class. 
You'll notice this is all work students can do at their own pace, that doesn't mean we didn't stop and discuss, in fact, I think it allows more room for discussion with this format. We would stop class and review the objectives, take questions, have students share what they had learned, and so on. Again, nothing I am doing here is really that revolutionary. What is different than how I used to teach is how I have intentionally aligned all the activities to a clear objective.

 Have you tried this in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments! Have questions? Leave a comment on tweet me! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Where To Start with Standards Based Grading: Steps 1 and 2

I've talked about what I do in my classroom here and here but as I prepare for the new school year I have decided to take some time to share with you all how I prepare my history and social studies content for a standards-based approach. It makes sense to share this now because even though I have done this for four semesters already, I still have changes I need to make and in doing so I plan to share some of my lessons learned and mistakes made with you all in the hopes of making this process easier for you.

Before You Get Started

It is important to first explore the terminology and determine what you believe. You can look at this grading terminology cheat sheet I created and before doing anything else I highly suggest you complete this grading philosophy form that I adapted from the work of Rick Wormeli. Changing your grading practices is not something you should do because you want to follow the trends or because it looks interesting: the amount of work and thought that goes into it requires that you have a deep understanding of your own personal grading philosophy before you begin. 

Where To Begin

Start with your standards. I hated this at first because I was never the teacher who posted my objectives on the board, I was always thinking about how to add lessons from outside the standards to make the history more inclusive, diverse, or interesting but there is no way around it. You have to start this process by taking a deep dive into your standards and determining what they really mean and how you can best share that meaning with students. 

Step 1: Rewrite All Your Standards in Student Friendly "I Can..." Statements

You can see me do this for AP World History and a Sheltered World History Course here. You can also see an example of what this looked like last year for a World History course (this is actually the page I shared with students at the start of the unit.) I call my student-friendly "I can.." statements the learning objectives for the course. When I start really planning, you'll see I align everything to a learning objective and students are always informed of which learning objective we are working on. 

A warning: You can probably find someone who has done this work for you on TeachersPayTeachers or in a Facebook group for your content area. Don't do that. I am usually a fan of TpT and the various teacher groups I am a part of but for this process to be most successful, you need to intimately know your standards. It is daunting and intimidating so take it unit by unit and if possible find a PLC to do this work with. 

Step 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence of Learning or Mastery

Once you have re-written your standards you need to determine what mastery looks like. What evidence of learning would prove to you that student was at mastery? Always start with mastery and work your way down. Does your school have Common Assessments? Use those as a starting point. Do you have assessments you feel already align with the standards? Start there. You will find a lot of what you already do fits this practice, you often just need to delineate what part of the assessment aligns with which objective and then determine how best to measure that. This is where rubrics are a huge help. It is essential you do this first if you don't have any idea what you would accept as mastery or evidence of learning you don't really know what students need to learn or do or create in class. 

This process can seem daunting at first but you will find a lot of what you already do fits this model. You will also find a lot of things you are doing that are irrelevant, meaningless, and just plain busy work. When you are able to determine what those things are you can make the learning richer, deeper, and have more time to use data in your classroom in meaningful ways. 

Have you tried a Standards-Based Approach? Share your best practices and resources in the comments?
Have questions? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter! 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Surviving My First Year of AP World

This. Course. Is. Insane.

That was what I thought a year ago sitting in APSI with Aaron Marsh as he explained, very eloquently, how he managed to teach a critical analysis of 10,000 years of human history, 3 massive writing rubrics, and still managed to give his kids minimal homework.

But then again, every AP class is borderline insane. In AP classes and on AP Exams we often ask very young people to do the extraordinary and this year I was excited/scared/terrified/thrilled/pumped to take on that challenge of helping students meet those goals. AP World History is often the first AP course students at my school take. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of the AP model but I LOVE the content and skills that an AP course has to offer. When given the chance to teach this course, I jumped at it but, as I usually do I went in with some crazy ideas. I approached the class with three clear goals:

  • Goal #1: I wanted to give minimal homework and outside reading to ensure my athletes and performers and students with demanding outside of the classroom lives could thrive in my class. 
  • Goal #2: I wanted students to reflect on their learning regularly and use reflective grading to help them understand what they had learned and what they still needed to learn. 
  • Goal #3: I wanted to create an open classroom where students from all backgrounds felt supported in reaching their goals with the course and exam. 
Now that I've seen my scores I feel like a weight has been lifted and I can finally honestly reflect on the year and how I met and where I failed at reaching my three main goals.

Goal #1 I wanted to give minimal homework and outside reading to ensure my athletes and performers and students with demanding outside of the classroom lives could thrive in my class.

I am really proud of how well I managed this goal. For the most part, students left my class with a simple reminder to study daily. There was a suggested reading schedule but the essential reading was built into the class as much as possible. But I also had some moments of weakness. I remember freaking out towards the end of the first semester that I hadn't done enough of the traditional work with my students and giving them these huge review packets that they had 5 weeks to complete. It was a massive mistake and if I could go back I would burn all those packets. Students did what they do with assignments like that: they divided up the work and copied off each other. I couldn't blame them, I couldn't be mad, I should have used that time to have them prepare documents for debate or discussion or just not assigned any homework at all. I wasted their time, and while some students benefitted from the packets with the way they organized the content and worked as a review guide: for the most part it was a time waster. It was really just me lacking confidence in myself and my practices and taking that out on my students with an assignment that took too much of their time without giving them enough in return. 

Goal #2 I wanted students to reflect on their learning regularly and use reflective grading to help them understand what they had learned and what they still needed to learn. 

I have already talked about how AP and honors students are the hardest students to convince of the benefits of reflective grading. Overall, this went really well for my students but I still plan to make a few major changes to ensure more efficient and regular feedback to students to help them better understand what they already know and what they still need to learn. For this first year, they reflected on the big overarching Key Concepts. This year, they will only reflect on their writing and historical thinking skills and I will use a more traditional standards-based grading approach with content. My hope that is by doing so, students will have a much clearer picture of how they are doing and what they need to work on. You can see the process here. 

Goal #3 I wanted to create an open classroom where students from all backgrounds felt supported in reaching their goals with the course and exam. 

This is the area I am most proud of but in order to explain why I am proud of this, we need to talk about the culture surrounding AP Classes. In many schools, the culture of AP Courses is that what matters most is a teacher's pass rate. This creates a climate where students who might do well in the course, students who may thrive and reach their personal best but maybe NOT pass the exam are often kept out of AP Courses. They are sometimes kept out based on previous grades or scores, they are sometimes kept out with large quantities of homework that take hours each day, they are sometimes kept out because of past behavior concerns, they are sometimes kept out with lengthy and complex summer assignments. And sometimes, teachers feel the immense pressure of test scores weighing down on them so they encourage students to leave their course who they think might have the slightest chance of not passing. 

Before I go on, I want to make one thing clear: if you do these things I do not assume you do them to keep students out of your course. I do not assume you are doing it to hurt students. We all make complicated choices in our classrooms to serve the needs of our students. I am not here to make blanket judgments on your practices: I am here to be critical of the system and the culture - not the individual teachers who do their best to work within it. 

I have been incredibly lucky to have a supportive admin. I walked into my admin's office a lot at the start of the year asking what felt like 100 times if they really stood behind the fact the scores didn't matter. I wanted to make sure that what mattered to them was what mattered to me: teaching to the students I had. 

And I was consistently met with: the scores don't matter. Now, you might be sitting there ready to call BS and at first I felt that way too but when I finally accepted that the scores were not the priority it allowed me to take risks, it allowed me to do things others wouldn't dare do, and it allowed me to focus on where my students individually were at and how do I get them as close as possible to this insane goal called the AP World Exam. 

By not caring about scores, it allowed me to focus on the individual needs of my incredibly diverse students. It allowed me to create a culture of growth, support, and collaboration with my students that was far more powerful than any competition could have been. 

But most important to me and my goal: It allowed me to retain all of my students for the whole year. I didn't push them out. They did not run away. They did not give up. They trusted me and I believed in them. Many of them struggled but it is from the struggle that we learn the most. 

Too often, it seems, we allow the culture of AP and the drive for that perfect pass rate to keep us from teaching the students we have. We value the exam more than the path they take to get there and that does not align at all with growth mindset or developing lifelong learners.  All students deserve access to a rigorous education but to give all students access it means we have to let go of our pass rates, we have to get rid of walls and gatekeeper assignments we have created in the name of rigor, and we have to remember that the journey is as important as the destination.  

And Finally...
I know there is a lot I want to change for next year, assignments that didn't go as well as planned, more skill building early on, and so on and so on. But overall, I am really happy with how my first year went and I am so excited to try again next year. 

I look forward to reading your questions, comments, and opinions.

Kathryn Byars 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Summer of #EdTech Bingo

This summer I was excited to have as my next door neighbor our district History and Edtech TOSA, Luis Carillo. I had worked with Luis on history curriculum council, putting together a history-social science framework training, and had attended a number of his training sessions on EdTech.

Our district has been going through a lot of upgrades and installing more infrastructure to give access to technology in all classrooms (not just those CTE or computer courses.) I have been extremely lucky to have had the chance to pilot devices before most which have led to fundamental shifts in the way I teach so I was extra excited to share those ideas with my neighbor. Maybe too excited...

So I left him a bingo card and everything on it I had done at some point during the traditional school year and I wanted to challenge him to try as well. He get's a few more days to post his results (you can follow him on Twitter to see) but I am ready to share mine with you!

This link will take you to the live doc where each box is linked to the lesson or resource I used in my summer school class or a student example of what they created.

Here are some of my favorite things I did this summer with my students:
I also had my students try out Digitally Notebooking using Google Slides and the results have been amazing! 

Technology doesn't replace good teaching. Technology is not a secret solution to classroom management or high test scores or greater engagement. Great teaching makes all those things happen, not technology. But technology lets you move beyond the classroom, it allows for whole new forms of communication, collaboration, and creativity. The blend of great teaching and technology is where the magic happens. I know I still need to grow in both areas (and I always will need to) but knowing that I can make powerful engaging lessons that give student more choice, allows them to meaningfully use their voice, and increases my ability to give them consistent and meaningful feedback has been a huge game changer. And don't even get me started about all the job skills they get from work like this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Grading Practices: How I Plan Using Standards Based Grading

I've talked a lot about the challenges of reforming your grading practices but I want to give you a chance to see what those challenges really look like. I am currently rewriting and revising all of my AP World History Course with more specific objectives. A mistake I made last year with that course was making the objectives too broad and not having students reflect often enough, so now I am taking a totally different approach and you are invited to visit my in progress planning document and leave questions and comments on the document as I work on it!

One common question I get is about skills based objectives. The Common Core standards put literacy in every classroom (which I love) but the standards also ask teachers to assess skills and the skills are typically not one and done, they build throughout units or throughout the year. They are a part of multiple lessons and it is hard to determine the best way to approach reoccurring skills when Standards Based Grading. This is one of those places where I am not sure there is a one-size-fits-all approach, so I made a quick reference chart to help teachers see some of the main options for how to approach this and determine what works best for them.

As always, if you have questions let me know on Twitter on in the comments! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Grading Practices: My Biggest Challenge

Recently I presented on how and why I have implemented Reflective Standards-Based grading in a secondary high school classroom. This is now my fourth semester of trying it (if I include my summer school courses) and I have people coming in today to observe what it's like but I am hesitant for the conversations we will have because the work is hard. Like, really, really, really hard. I don't want to paint it all to be rainbows and butterflies because while the work feels essential and the grading I do has become more fulfilling there are a number of real challenges that I am not sure how to really fully address.

Challenge 1: Planning

You have to backward map each unit and already know what evidence of learning you would accept from each student. I've given up a lot of the old busy work I used to assign and had to create new lessons that are relevant to the standards I am measuring. It's my fourth semester of doing this and I still don't have it exactly right. Part of this is because I did it on my own and part of it is I am an overachiever. This planning would be more effective, less time-consuming and far less draining if I did it with a group. If I had a PLC group ready to take this journey with me I would have saved myself a lot of time and a lot of heartaches. Having even just another set of eyes on everything would help me ensure the first time that the work I ask the students to do truly aligns with the objective I am asking them to reach.

Challenge 2: The Culture of Grades

Everyone told me the hardest group would be my traditional D and F students, I was told they would abuse the system and not do their work and I'd see no change. While there are still a few whose habits and work ethic are unchanged by these grading practices, they were not my most reluctant or most challenging group. It is my honors and AP students who hate the system the most. I am generalizing here because some have said they find it better than traditional grades because it measures what you've learned and are capable of above anything else but my AP and Honors students have grown up in a system that has given them points for everything: you finish every page of this packet? 100 points. You wrote an extra sentence on the essay? 25 points + 5 points extra credit! You brought in tissue boxes for the class? 50 points!

Now before you become offended - I've done all those examples I listed above and more. I have been just as guilty of the game of points as everyone else. When I look back at when I taught middle school, I am fairly certain I was the worst offender.

My AP and Honors students have created a culture of completion rich with homework groups (where everyone does one page and then shares a picture of their completed work with the group to copy) and a black market of homework completion (where students get paid to complete each other's homework.) They do it in class too, the minute they are assigned something they see only as a point value they are dividing up the workload, finding the answers online, or any other trick they can come up with to be more efficient at earning those points.

Reflective Grading then asks the students to go back and explain what they learned, how did they learn it, and make choices about which assignments best display what they have learned. They have to explain how the work in class relates to the objective. Often the complaint I get is "I did all this work and you aren't going to grade it!" and as much as I coach them and remind them, they refuse to see value in the fact that I view all their work, give feedback and praise, and then absolutely love to see what they pick to show me as their evidence of learning.

So far, I have been able to get students to trust me (through good old-fashioned building relationships) and trust the process (though some complained to the very bitter end about how hard it is and how much thinking they have to do.) But what makes this process even more challenging is when other teachers publicly criticize my practices in front of students. 

I am a huge fan of skepticism. I value opinions and ideas that are not aligned with my own. I appreciate when my thinking is challenged. One of the things I was not ready for was a culture where teachers devalued the work I was trying in front of my students. Oof. Let me tell you the one sentence honors and AP students to lack faith in you: "Well in my 10 years of teaching I would NEVER have done what Mrs. Byars is doing."

That's fine. You don't have to try it. We are all different and different is great. And it is fine if you want to question my practices, your questions will make me a better teacher in the long run so bring it on. But everyone please just stop questioning what your colleagues are doing in front of the kids, that is not showing true concern for the students. If you are really concerned for the student then you go talk to that teacher about their practices, you don't put them on blast in front of the students and make the students lack faith in their teacher. That only hurts the students. By questioning or speaking negatively about a practice a colleague is doing in their class you are creating a culture of mistrust. Stop it. This work is hard enough. 

Challenge 3: Am I asking too much of my students? 

Am I asking too much of myself?

My students are so used to the culture of points and many of them have become incredibly good at it. They value a certain grade and the points it takes to get there. This takes their goals away from learning and makes their only focus "how many points do I need to...". When I feel like my grading practices aren't working it is typically because I feel like it is too much for the students. Maybe they aren't really ready for this massive shift? The culture I have to break through, the mindset I have to change are all incredibly hard work, fulfilling yes, but really hard. I try and tell myself that this process is better designed to prepare them for college and career - they need to apply the learning and explain their reasoning each and every time. They have to back their reasoning with evidence, each and every time.

But is it worth it? Are there ways I can add these elements to my class without fighting against the norms of grading practices as they have always been done? Can I shift their mindset and develop these skills without having to tear down an entire system of grading?

As I was hitting my head against the wall and wondering if I had made a huge mistake, I decided to ask the one group I can get honest feedback from each and every day: my students.

What My Students Say:

"I like the reflection process, and I like that this class is different than other classes. This class actually proves that we understand and have learned the information, not just remembered facts for tests. I like how we can revise, giving us another chance to learn the information."

"I do not like how all the work we complete during class does not influence our grade and our grade is only determined by our reflections. The work is a lot and I feel like it should influence our grade more"

"I like how we are able to learn what we need to know without feeling the pressure of everything being graded in a harsh way. The reflections are also a good way to go back and revise what we have already learned."

"I do not like how the reflections are the only things that graded because I finished my other assignments on google classroom and they dont get graded."

"I like how it's not based on individual assignments but still relies on them. I like how we receive an objective and we need to explain how we know the information in the objective and provide evidence of work relating to the objective. It truly shows what you know and what you remember."

My Thoughts For Now...

I would be lying if I didn't tell you all I am worn out. I would be lying to you if I said 100% of my students got it and loved it. I would be lying to you if I said no student ever tried to cheat this system. This work is hard, it is challenging, it requires constant reworking and attention. But I am a better teacher than I have ever been, my lessons are more aligned, engaging, and relevant than they have ever been, and my students are learning more than they ever have.

What I have to decide is what I value most in my class. I told myself when I started I wanted students to value learning, I wanted the class to be truly student-centered, and I wanted students to develop a growth mindset, I wanted a culture of "I don't know yet." So many of the changes I have made have helped me build the class and class culture of my dreams but I would be a liar if I didn't share my challenges with you. The work is hard, and somedays I want to go back to points and packets, but ultimately I know that this work is far more fulfilling for me and far more beneficial for my students.

What do you think? Have you tried different grading practices? Do you have questions or concerns about what I do? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Summer Experiment: Going "Grade-Less"

It's Friday morning of my first week of summer and I am getting things together to take back to campus because I start summer school ...