Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Grade Reform: You Can Still Hold Kids Accountable

One of the biggest pushbacks I get with Standards-Based Grading is that kids need to learn responsibility and without punitive grades from late work or missing assignments they will not be held accountable to their actions.

I've talked about this topic bfore when I explained why I don't grade everything but this the issue of how to create systems of accountability comes up all the time. I had a twitter conversation about it again last night so here are some of the things I have tried and some of the things to consider when working to hold students accountable in a standards-based classroom.

Make Them Turn In Something

Most of the books I have read on Grading Practices have stated that you need to collect something from every student when an assignment is due. I believe in this practice on big assignments and I find it's power lies in consistency and repetition. When it is time to turn in that assignment I ask for them all to take it out and put it on their desk, if they don't have it I give them a form to complete, if it is clearly incomplete I give them a form to complete. If you use an LMS to have them turn in work then give the forms out immediately after the turn in time for that task or assignment. The forms are about making them accountable to turn in something, they don't get to get away with not doing anything and the forms ask them to make a plan for when they will turn in the assignment as a reminder that the assignment is essential to their learning.

The forms are then stored in a file for that student and become a record of their reasoning for why they haven't done the work. You can use this information when contacting home or when conferencing with the students. Will there be students who don't care and don't take the form seriously? Yes, but if a student is truly not doing any of the work and you have them fill out the form, it acts as a starting point for conversation. You have given them the opportunity to explain their why, you've asked them to be accountable for their actions if they don't take those opportunities that is on them but now you have more pieces to the puzzle of why this student chooses not to do the work.

I think most teachers have that student in each of their classes that needs more help and support to get back on track than the individual teacher can give, these forms help paint a picture when we go to administration or counselors for help with a student like that. Now it's not just "I have a student who doesn't do anything, how can we help this kid?" Now you can walk into that meeting with "I have a student who doesn't do anything, here is what he has told me, how do we help this kid?"

Make a Meaningful Consequence For Them 

Just because you do not impact a letter grade doesn't mean there can't be consequences. If deadlines and due dates are important in your classroom then create consequences for not meeting them. The point of Standards-Based Grading is to make sure the grade is an accurate measure of what they know and can do, the point is not for it to be easier for the student but for the grade to be more accurate.

When creating your consequences it is important to remember that a point penalty on late work doesn't make students finish their work on time, it makes students copy and cheat. Because of this, it is important to measure and determine appropriateness, if the consequence is too harsh and too severe then students will continue the culture of cheating. For example, in my AP Class when measuring classwork and homework combined, they are allowed 2 missing assignments at a time with no consequence (these assignments are not assessments, they are the daily work in class) but once they hit three I email home. If they have 4 or more they get an invitation to an academic intervention which is just a tutoring session during Office Hours or after school. On formative assessments and summative assessments, there is less wiggle room. If it is missing, they get an email home immediately.

But these are the consequences that work for my students, yours may need something different. This is one of the areas where I truly believe there is not one perfect way to make this work for every class, instead, it depends on the students in the room.


If there is really a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed a conference can sometimes turn things around. It gives students the opportunity to explain their actions and allows you a chance to help to clarify any misunderstandings or perceptions the student may have about a grade. This is a great place to bring out the No Work forms and discuss the patterns you see but in the end, try and get the student talking more than you, you are trying to find what the issue is. I believe in taking the approach of gathering knowledge and not the approach of the conferences being punitive. I want students to see it as their time with me to express themselves more than anything.

Celebrate the Awesome 

This one won't work for every student but just as you call home for negative behavior or document when things are missing remember to celebrate the awesome even more. I call and email home for outstanding work, when there is no missing work, or just because a student was kind and caring in my class that day. I don't call or email every single day but I make a point to make positive contact once a week. The easiest is through the mass email function our grade reporting system has, I'll click all who scored high on a summative assessment and tell their parents to take them out for ice cream to celebrate all the hard work they put in to earn that score.

I don't give pretty points on assignments but I will shout to the world about the amazing work my students did on Twitter or Instagram. Knowing there is recognition for hard work means something to a lot of our students so sometimes when the reward they knew before is taken away (they get full credit for turning it in on time) they may not participate at the level they used to.

And Finally, 

Again, this won't work for every student. But by having systems in place to address issues of compliance and work ethic it will help the culture of your classroom. Having systems of accountability will help students see the importance of timeliness without it impacting them academically.

If you've done any research on school-wide behavior and the tiers of intervention (which can both be applied academically and behaviorally) then you know that most systems that have been studied have found that a small percentage of school populations need more than the average classroom teacher can provide as an intervention. The more we as teachers can document, both through test scores and narrative data, what is happening with a student the more likely we are to get them the intervention they need. Going Standards-Based won't magically help these students, these students still need more than the average classroom can provide but going Standards-Based often makes it easier to see where the struggles really are since they are no longer masked behind 10 point worksheets and 100 point projects.

Do you have a way to keep students accountable in your class? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thoughts On Grade Reform: What Does A Grade Measure?

When it comes to grade reform, I still and probably won't ever consider myself an expert. I've read a lot of books, I've tried a lot of things, and I've been lucky enough to be able to document and discuss it all very publicly. When it comes to what is the best practice I have two core beliefs I keep returning to:

  1. Teachers are at their best when they collaborate and share ideas. Not only can we learn from those who teach the same grade and content as us but we can learn as larger cross-curricular communities. 
  2. I don't believe grade reform is one size fits all.
  3. I believe there are some essential conversations that need to happen regarding grading practices. 
One of the essential conversations I think all educators need to have more is what does a grade measure? I don't think this is a one and done conversation, I don't think that once you "reform" your practices you get to check this conversation off your to-do list and move on, I think this needs to be constantly on the radar of teachers because what a grade measures is essential to every aspect of lesson design and planning. 

In most public schools, grades are required, and while many colleges and universities have ways to allow for alternative grading systems, our students and parents mostly see grades through the traditional lens of being a measure of what comes next. But what do those letters mean? What are they a measure of? 

So much of what I used to grade was compliance: did you complete it? did you turn it in on time? did you participate in the discussion? And while none of these behaviors were anywhere in my standards that was the real grievance here: none of them were measured as individual skills. None of them were reported in a way that I allowed me to then tell a student or parent: this is where you struggle and this is where you excel. Whether you determine that Standards-Based Grading or Portfolio Grading or Reflective Grading works best for you is a whole other beast of a conversation to have but something I wish more teachers would get behind is delineating grades to show what is truly being measured. 

Rubrics often do this, but a rubric attached to an assignment with no conversation about it or no time to review it with students will result in students only looking at the averaged total score. A rubric on its own changes nothing, to make grades a tool of learning requires a circular pattern process of setting a goal, working towards that goal, getting feedback on where you are towards that goal, and making the changes needed to meet the goal. 

Often as teachers, we know what the points mean when we grade out of total points, but how often do we communicate that with students? Even in classrooms that are Standards-Based, I have seen students confused about what a grade means or what it is measuring. I know personally when you go standards-based in a school where few others are standards-based you have to work extra hard to get students to understand the process but if they don't understand how you grade how is what you are doing a tool for learning? 

I started this post by saying I think there are conversations that need to happen more and the one that weighs heaviest on my heart is: What does a grade measure? What does a grade mean?

I don't think this has to look the same in every classroom, I personally teach English Learners and AP World History and my grade books are different based on the needs of my students, I know that it is not one size fits all. But I do think there are two big things we can all do more of to help make grades a tool for learning. 

1. Delineate grades more to show what each number truly measures. And make sure to have conversations before, during, and after the assignment is done to help students understand how to meet those measures, where they are at, and where they need to improve. This step will help make grades a tool for learning. 

2. Make sure students understand how you grade. As I said before, this can be particularly challenging when you implement grade reforms in a school where the majority of teachers are sticking with traditional grades but if you want grades to be a tool for learning and not just an end result, students have to understand what is being measured, when it is being measured, and how it is being measured. You have to teach them how you grade when you move to non-traditional practices, not just review the syllabus at the start of the year but actively and consistently check that they understand how you grade. Because if a student does not understand why or how they earned a B in your classroom what would make them work for an A?

As I've said before, I am not personally convinced that this must look the same in every single classroom. I also think that as teachers explore these concepts it is important that we continue to discuss what works, what doesn't, what challenges we face, and create a culture of collaboration where we share resources, ideas, practices, and challenges. 

John Hattie's research shows that Collective Teacher Efficacy (when a school staff believes it can collectively accomplish great things for students) is the most impactful practice teachers can do right now to increase student achievement but collective teacher efficacy means we need to tear down our classroom walls and work together with a belief that the hard work will impact student achievement. We need to put aside our egos and have tough conversations and I think one of the most important ones we need to continually come back to is: What does a grade measure? 

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you, share your thoughts in the comments. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

EdTech: Hyperdocs in a Limited Tech Classroom

My classroom is not one-to-one and the devices I do have often have a lot of issues because they were small sets of devices that I was asked to pilot to see if they would be the best fit for busy classrooms like mine. Because of this I often have to take things like hyperdocs and find ways to make them work for limited device classrooms.

Three Things I Do To Make Hyperdocs Work In A Limited Device Classroom 

1. We Use Worksheets 

GASP! I said that evil word that has supposedly been banned from teaching. But to be real, the easiest way to do this is to have a worksheet (yup, I still use worksheets), partner kids up, and then have them follow along on a shared device. You could use Nearpod or Peardeck (both of which are amazing tools) but if the students need to go back to the information and review it only the student logged in will get a copy of the notes they take with Nearpod or Peardeck. This where I will defend worksheets, the value of the worksheet has to do with two things: purpose and implementation.

When you aren't a one-to-one school and students need access to resources to study it borders on inequitable to make all those resources digital. So while we do a lot of work online, I use an LMS, and I try and create a blended classroom, my students still have a notebook because I am preparing them for an AP Exam and they need all these notes to study in the Spring. I don't know what their device situation is at home and I don't want to depend on that when I don't have consistently reliable devices I can provide.

You can see how I do this here with a lesson on Africa I modified. I did not originally create this lesson but I made it into a hyperdoc that could be self-paced or teacher driven.

While students interact with each slide they take notes here. There are elements they do on the slide deck as well (there is a document analysis that links to a Padlet board.)

2. Make it Phone Friendly

One of the easiest ways to add more hyperdocs in a limited device classroom is to make them smartphone friendly. This one isn't a TRUE hyperdoc, it is missing some of the key steps that a hyperdoc is supposed to have but it follows those elements of making it student self-paced and giving students choice. This one works well on cell phones as it takes them to articles to read and take notes on. Part II (making the postcards) was originally designed for one-to-one use but could easily be done on paper if needed.

3. Focus on Lesson Design 

What makes hyperdocs SO GOOD is that they are well-designed lessons. Whether you are following the Explore-Explain-Apply model or the more in-depth Engage-Explore-Explain-Apply-Share-Reflect-Extend version, you get the key components of solid lesson design when creating hyperdocs. Part of what makes hyperdocs so amazing is that they are solid lesson design that are student-paced and incorporate student choice and student voice but sometimes we can't do ALL of those things. Sometimes the lesson needs to be teacher driven and sometimes students need limited choices to ensure a viable curriculum is covered. But the lesson design of a hyperdoc can be used with almost any type of lesson to ensure that you aren't just preaching from the front of the room but you are engaging learners and pushing them to apply their knowledge.

I know I need to focus more of my lessons around how I will get students engaged, how they will explore, and then how they will apply what they have learned. And Ideally, they need to be sharing, reflecting, and extending the learning every day as well. It doesn't have to be a fancy google doc or hyperslide to be a good lesson but the elements of a hyperdoc - the steps they ask students to take can take any lesson to the next level.

How do you use hyperdocs in the classroom? Share in the comments below.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Outside the Classroom Walls: The Prom Musical & Why Representation Matters

Did you watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year? If you did, you watched history. For the first time in the history of the parade, there was a same-sex kiss. It happened at the end of the performance from the cast of The Prom and it left me wanting to shout with joy from the rooftops. I went straight to instagram to share my thoughts but realized I have a lot more to say about this moment and this show.

Image result for first kiss on macy's parade

When you work with young people every day, you work to make sure each of them feels loved, valued, and supported. But often times it is not you that they feel the lack of love from, it is our society as a whole. When young people don't see themselves in the culture around them they feel like they don't belong, so that simple kiss at the end of a Broadway musical number on the family-friendly nationally-televised Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade meant something. It was like a giant taffeta and glitter covered billboard saying "YOU BELONG."

As teachers, one of the biggest challenges can be managing diverse classrooms, getting students from various backgrounds engaged and getting them to trust and respect you. Part of how I do this is making sure students know I see them for who they are and I love them for it. But my love only goes so far, it can only do so much for a student if they do not see people like them portrayed positively and realistically in our popular culture.

The Prom is a musical comedy about a girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the high school prom, the PTA finds out and does what they can to intervene and prevent those girls from attending. Their story is picked up by a group of theater people who decide to make it their cause to get these girls their prom. While the show itself is billed as a musical comedy, the heart of the story is two young people trying to find their place in a world that tells them they don't belong.

So many of our students feel that way, and I am not just talking about our LBTQA+ students. The pressure on teens right now is indescribable. They navigate a world of social media that rapidly changes and consistently measures their worth through likes. They are living in a time of great uncertainty and political division. They live under the rule of a President of the United States who has openly spoken negatively about multiple minority groups.

So that kiss, that simple little kiss on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade matters. It matters because for a group of our students it told them that they matter. And an easy way we can continue to be allies to our students is to lift up pop-culture that represents them. You don't have to stand in front of your classroom each day and give an impassioned speech on embracing diversity (but if you have the time then go for it) but you can simply lift up books, movies, comic books, musical artists, and Broadway shows that reflect the students in your classroom. It will take one minute of your time to mention a new book you're interested in that has diverse characters and you don't even have to say "I am interested in it because it has diverse characters!"

Just by mentioning pop culture that includes diverse characters you can help students find where they belong. Is it in the ONLY thing you should do? No. But when the world feels daunting and uncertain and the pressure on teachers to "save" kids is immeasurable this is a simple action you can take tomorrow. Not into Broadway? That's fine! Find something that resonates with you, look for diversity, and lift it up for your students.

So thank you to all the cast, crew, creative team, and producers of The Prom for giving us another story where students can see themselves and know they belong.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

6 Articles to Get You Thinking About Grade Reform

I've spent the past few years reading everything I could about grading practices. I have been so lucky to be supported by my admin team as I have tried new things in my classroom and now that I have a few years under my belt I have even had the chance to start helping others find the best practices for them. 

When I help teachers who are considering new practices, I always start with a list of favorite books but the reality is most of us don't have the time or energy to dive into a book unless we know it is really going to help us. With grading practices that means knowing enough about grade reform practices to know if it is the right time for you to make a change and little of what those changes might look like.  Because of this, I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite articles that might help you determine if it's time to dig deeper and learn more.

Articles on why teachers have changed their practices and how to determine if you are ready to change yours

1. Another article to get you thinking about why some teachers are changing traditional grading practices is this one from Tony Wigner.

2. Carol Ann Tomilinson wrote one of my favorite books on grading but most of us don't have time to read every book out there so this article is a great resource from her for those aren't sure just yet if they are ready to jump in. 

Articles on Grading Practices 

3. Rick Wormeli is one of the most influential voices out there on grade reform and I love his thoughts on redos and retakes. You can read his main article here.

4. He also has a great article on teaching through assessment, if we spend so much time grading student work shouldn't it be a part of the learning process not just an end result?

Articles on Standards-Based Grading 

5. This article from Patricia Scriffny goes over 7 reasons to implement standards-based grading.

6. And finally, here is my own post on my biggest challenges in changing my own grading practices.

You can read all my posts about my grade reform journey here. I'll warn you, it gets messy but this messy work has made teaching more meaningful for me and while I still have a lot to learn I doubt there is anything that could make me ever go back to how I used to do things.

Do you have any favorite articles on grading practices? Share them in the comments!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

5 EdTech Tools To Get You Started

I recently got an e-mail from a history teacher who felt very overwhelmed after attending a local edtech conference. She had seen everything from hyperdocs to Google Classroom and had no idea where to start. She was going from using little to no tech in the classroom to seeing the potential of individualized education that edtech allows teachers to create through choice, self-paced learning, and the various ways technology can impact teacher efficiency in grading or giving feedback. My response was a list of 5 tools that I find essential and easy to start with if you've never done this before. Just like our students, it is a little crazy to assume that when trying something new a teacher can go all in the first time around. The sort of pedagogical shifts that technology can create takes time and if the expectation is that you either make those shifts or never use tech, then we

1. Edpuzzle  

I often put my class in a station rotation model for students to consume content and usually I work in my lecture here through Edpuzzle. with Edpuzzle you can take videos and add questions to them. You can use existing videos (like Crash Course or Khan Academy) or upload your own (this is where I many times add in mini-lectures to help support student understanding of the content. You can see the student data easily to hold them accountable. Click for EdPuzzle

2. Quizlet 

Quizlet: I don't "do vocab" in class. I use Quizlet. In Quizlet you can create decks of digital flashcards and share them with students. If you make the decks private and assign them to a class (and have a pro account) you can monitor student data as well BUT the free version still offers unlimited decks you can share with students. You do NOT have to build your own and can search for teacher-created ones within your content or for a particular unit. Find Quizlet here. 

3. Quizizz 

Quizizz: This is similar to Kahoot but students can go at their own pace (you can assign a quiz as homework if needed) and you have a ton of control as to whether it shows them answers or not, how much time they have on each question, etc. There are tons of pre-made quizzes you can search through or you can build your own. This is PERFECT for building basic content knowledge and checking for understanding. Try Quizizz today! 

4. Google Slides 

Of all the things you and your students can create things on I think Google Slides is the most versatile. It's a slide deck creator similar to powerpoint but it can go so far beyond that. I use Google Slides to create presentations, Choose Your Own Adventure lectures, hyperdocs, document analysis and annotating, it's really limitless possibilities. My students use Google Slides to create presentations, to create digital posters, to create fake social media campaigns, to create eBooks and magazines, and to make infographics

5. Google Classroom

You can sync all these accounts and assign all this through Google Classroom so it is all stored and graded in one place. Google Classroom is one of the most user-friendly Learning Management Systems out there for both student and teachers. It connects with almost every edtech app and website making the implementation of tools seamless and efficient. You can make assignment templates via Google Docs or Google slides and push them out to students so each student gets their own copy to work on and you can see their progress and leave them feedback as they are working. 

There is so much more I could include on this list because right now the world of edtech is overflowing with apps and tools! But not every app or tool is right for each classroom. Using edtech is about enhancing the learning if a tool isn't going to let you do that there is no reason to use it. And it is important to remember that no matter how amazing the tool is it will fail without strong lesson planning and instructional design. 

What are some of your favorite edtech tools? Tell me about them in the comments. 

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

Grade Reform: You Can Still Hold Kids Accountable

One of the biggest pushbacks I get with Standards-Based Grading is that kids need to learn responsibility and without punitive grades fro...