Monday, October 31, 2016

Professional Learning by Teachers for Teachers: The October 2016 Institute Day

by Linda Ashida

How often do school administrators completely "let go" and completely trust in their staff to take the lead in planning professional learning experiences? At Elk Grove High School it is a common occurrence, and was notable most recently in our October Institute Day.

Guided by school and district Redefining Ready goals, as well as input solicited from the entire staff, a team of 20 certified staff began collaborating in the planning from the first weeks of the school year. You can read more about the planning for the day in this previous post.  

That planning culminated, on October 31st, in a day of varied professional learning experiences, led by teachers and student services staff, that included:

  • An introductory presentation connecting our practice to Redefining Ready and building goals.
  • Department Google Docs to crowd-source notes and resources and multiply learning long after Institute Day is over.
  • 19 workshops facilitated by 33 EG staff members and one guest presenter from Amita Health.
  • Team-building activities including an all-staff Trivia contest.
  • Learning Labs to collaborate in PLCs and interdisciplinary groups to apply learning from the morning workshops.

For more details of the schedule of the day, check out the Collab Lab Website. 


To get an idea of what the day "looked like," check out this Storify.

Friday, October 28, 2016

So just now I was thinking... are my Habits of Work grades helpful, harmful, or a waste of time?

by jessica maciejewski

If you're thinking, "Habits of Work seems like a shady, character-based rando category," it's one that my department had in place and that I at first wasn't that into either. However! I've already been doing character work for the last two years based on the KIPP character traits and the amazing book How Children Succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden 
power of character by Paul "my last name is awesomely ironic" Tough, and since I believe in mastery teaching, it all comes together. As long as kids have turned in a draft or whatever on time, they can redo or retake the assessment later. But this makes some kids feel like, "Hey! I can turn all of this in the week before midterms!" which is not cool and also not fair to me. So first drafts are due, class time encourages completion, and Habits of Work means no A unless you're doing stuff on time and being a generally good participant and respectful person.

Why would I include those "soft skills"? Because they're what most of us are required to do for our jobs. A lot of our graduates are hitting college heartbreak hard when they find out that no, their professor will not take late work whatsoever, and no, there is no "retake center." I want to do right by them, and that means this is a piece of the pie. Check out three of KIPP's adorable and useful character posters, with description and the rest of the 7 here: KIPP character traits


In talking about this with colleagues, one idea was a progressive late work policy over their four years, from no penalty (just noted) to not being accepted. While some college professors may accept late work, many (most?) do not... and most work places aren't cool with you doing things when you feel like it, either. Okay, so what does this look like for me? Along with those posters & minilessons (which are still works in progress, ideas welcome!), here's the weekly goal sheet and then Quarter 1 reflection I had students do:

Want to know more about this so-called character work? Check out my posts on character and grading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sharing Student Voices: "Where I'm From" poems using Adobe Spark

For first quarter, freshmen created "Where I'm From" poems while reading House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. They then recorded their readings of their poems using the Adobe Spark app. While the requirements were minimal, students applied their creativity using Adobe Spark by adding images, background colors, and music to reflect their poems. We required students to use this app because we wanted them to practice speaking loudly and clearly, but we wanted them to have opportunities for practice. Since we assess students' speaking skills in a number of formal and informal speeches, it was important for students to be able to practice speaking skills such as volume and annunciation in isolation. Overall, the students exceeded our expectations as listed in a rubric and created interesting and original projects that displayed their unique personalities and backgrounds.

And this one!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Assessment as an Accurate Reflection of Grades

By Mark Heintz

I missed a few weeks of school due to the birth of my second son.  Meanwhile at school, the students continued their work on their understanding of the Classical Era in history.  Before my leave of absence, the students worked on thesis statements, short answer, and document work.  I had a good understanding on progress towards those skills.  Once I was away, their in class work and homework was geared towards content knowledge and mastery of the objectives of the Classical Era.

Here is a sample of one of the objective:

There is a lot of information about Buddhism in the classical era.  There are books written on just one aspect of the faith in the early years.  However, for the sake of this class, I codified the essentials.

For years, I have debated the best way to assess.  I worry about the validity of the test in its ability to assess a students knowledge of the core objectives.  I worry if it is too easy or too difficult.  But I have to make a decision.  For this assessment, its purpose was to test low level content knowledge.  Its targets were extremely clear.  In its design, I limited the use of academic vocabulary in the question stems.  I also limited the skills involved in the assessment, such as change over time, comparative, cause/effect, and periodization.  I wanted to test their content knowledge and that is what I tested.  Here are two sample questions:

The results were great! Prior to the summative assessment, the students took benchmark tests that assessed their understanding of the content knowledge.  From the student performance on the formative assessments, I thought they would do well.  In the end, the students felt the assessment to be fair and assessed what they were asked.

In the future, I wish to keep this type of assessment and add more essays and stimulus based assessments to test their skills.  I also would like to find a better way to communicate which standards they faltered on.  Also, I need to find a better way to put the score in the grade book.  Do I put the three big standards in the grade book? Do I put each objective in the grade book?   These are things that still need to be addressed.

Monday, October 17, 2016

So just now I was thinking... about implementing standards based grading. Woo!

by jessica maciejewski

Midway through our "EG Lead Learners Team" meeting today, my brain was afire with big-picture ideas. Now I'm the kind of person who is critical of ideas (my own included), but once I'm excited and have done basic research about something, I want to run with it. Give it a "trial by fire," persay, and see how it goes, reworking along the way.

So this summer I had the privilege of attending the Pearson Assessment Training Conference in Portland, Oregon, on grading practices. While I am skeptical about Pearson's actual interest in improving education versus making cash monies and maintaining ranking as a top institute merely for the value added to their brand, based on my own experiences with standardized tests and trainings as well as the awesome John Oliver's exposé in regards to standardized testing (holy crap this sentence is already "wordy"),

I left the conference with an educator crush on Myron Dueck and feeling intrigued by a 4- or 6-point grading scale based on below basic, basic, proficient, and mastery levels.

After viewing a bunch of different teachers' grade books (one from 1946, then the rest modern & online), I didn't see any I thought were effectively communicating student progress or fairly assigning grades. Then I looked at my own. I didn't like that one either (though I did like it a lot more than the others at least?). So I set some goals for my 2nd quarter:

Soooooo my current grades are feast or famine. Which is maybe encouraging(?) because if a kid turned stuff in (at ALL), they're at a B. If s/he didn't... it's F City. Ugh, it feels intimate to share this:

Now, by the end of the term, that "grades are real!" hustle will kick in and I'll get more essays and etc. But is that fair? Am I doing this right? If a kid has not turned in aaaaaanything, I can't assess them, so it's listed as missing (which counts as a zero). They can make this up whenever. The sooner the better. Yep, made phone calls home. Yep, conferences with kids. Yep, referred them to the tutoring center. If I didn't do the Missing/0 thing, that kid would think they were passing and then ::SURPRISE, YOU FAILED!:: would happen the last week of the quarter. :/ Should they be passing at all if they have done zero work? E1 FD is Essay 1 First Draft, then E1 R is the revised version. Vocab is mastery oriented (, self-paced, and falls under reading skills as does IR (independent reading). The grammar tests are self-paced. SAT is multiplied by zero and is not a score, just a baseline "fyi" for kids from our first SAT Writing in class test.

So here are my big idea steps/goals for Q2:

  • break down skills based on the Illinois grades 9-12 ELA Common Core (<that was ridiculously tedious to actually get to)
  • create descriptors of each level of ability in each skill
  • redesign rubrics based on skills
  • update gradebook for quarter 2 with all skills; include related assignments in comments section (Haiku Learning seems like it would be a fantastic standards based grading system, though I just discovered it and have never used it)

Ooookay. Sounds like I have enough for right now. I'm not even sure I can do this for Writing/Grammar, Reading/Vocab, and Speaking by next term. Ideas and *constructive* feedback welcome!

Want to know more about Habits of Work? Check out my post: HoW & Character

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Comparing Essay Types in AP English Language

By Kim Miklusak

This year my co-worker Matt Snow and I decided to try something different when it comes to how we attack the different essay types in AP English Language.  We wanted the students to see the bigger picture, how each essay type was related rather than seeing them as three different essays.  The planning and instruction didn't change for us that much, thankfully, but the payoffs, we believe, are going to be huge.

We have grouped our first few texts under a common theme of knowing one's self--specifically learning to read and write alongside identity.  For this we used three excerpts from the textbook 50 Essays, which included Sherman Alexie's "Superman and Me" and Frederick Douglass's and Malcolm X's "Learning to Read and Write" from their autobiographies.  For each text, students worked with individual writing skills alongside comprehension and active reading strategies.  For example, we worked with thesis writing, paragraph-level evidence and analysis practice, as well as ethos/pathos/logos from our textbook Everything's an Argument.  Additionally students have practiced paragraph-level and verbal argumentation practice using professional, self, and peer samples.

Now we were ready to put all of the practice together.  The students brainstormed and planned an argumentative writing prompt on the value and function of grades in schools when it comes to learning (building from a summer reading excerpt from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).  Students used the dry erase tables to plan their thoughts and then walked around to give each other feedback.  We then worked to plan out argumentative thesis statements, brainstorm evidence, and plan out outlines--not 5-paragraph papers, but the best way to convince someone in the argument.

After writing their essays, students then set them aside, which was strange to them.  This week we began a rhetorical analysis prompt on the same topic.  In fact, most of the prompt was word-for-word the same as the argumentation prompt.  We used Rebecca Schuman's article "I Give Up, You're All Exceptional" and analyzed her writing for strategies and purpose.  Again, students brainstormed and outlined together and then wrote a draft on their own.

Next week we will put the essays side-by-side.  Students will look at the similarities and differences in argumentative and analytical writing and what specific elements change for which task.  We also are challenging the students to look at themselves as writers: what did the author do in her writing that they could try in theirs? They will then peer edit and revise both essays before submitting.

The last task will be a synthesis/DBQ prompt in 2 week using all of the texts we have dealt with this quarter--so, again, on the same topic.  I will report back after that with how it all went!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Adjusting Math Standards from ACT to SAT

By: Rachel Barry

For the past seven years, our math department has not used a textbook, but instead has written and edited our own digital course materials.  This includes all assessments (both formative and summative), practice worksheets, and supplemental materials.  If you are interested, you can learn more about this system in this previous blog post.  The important piece to note here, is that this system was developed using the ACT College Readiness Standards.  These have been adapted over the years, but the original pillars of our curriculum were based on the following:
  • Basic Operations and Applications
  • Probability, Statistics, and Data Analysis
  • Numbers: Concepts and Properties
  • Expressions, Equations, and Inequalities
  • Graphical Representations
  • Properties of Plane Figures
  • Measurement 
  • Functions
In developing each course Scope & Sequence, we looked vertically through the four-years of a student's math career and took an integrated approach to the CRS skills.  Traditionally students learn vertically through the pillars (i.e.: traditional Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and Trigonometry courses).  Instead, we decided to approach the content at the students' cognitive ability across the chart horizontally in a more integrated approach to build students critical thinking skills.  This has worked well for our students, and we see a significant change in students' retention of skills and global understanding of mathematics.  

Then came the state decision to move from the ACT to SAT.  

A bunch of questions and concerns became topics of discussion among out department.  Do we make a huge change from the standards we were teaching to prepare for the ACT to the standards that will prepare them from the SAT?  If we had solid math curricula already, should we make adjustments?  What should we do to best prepare the students who have been provided curricula based on the ACT but now will be taking the SAT?  Believe me, the list of questions didn't stop here.  

Ultimately, as whole department, these were the decisions that were made:
  • Include Free Response portions to all Unit Exams 
    • The SAT has both Multiple Choice and Free Response components.
  • Include Non-Calculator portions in the curricula
    • The SAT has both Calculator and Non-Calculator tests.
  • Integrate more critical thinking and problem solving questions into the curricula
Our regular junior team, took all of these department agreements and have been implementing them this year.  We also decided to work with the regular freshman and regular sophomore teams to realign our skills.  Therefore, our junior course is slightly more aligned to a traditional Algebra II course.  This decision was made because the SAT has a stronger Algebra II component, while the ACT had more of a balance between Algebra and Geometry.

To look at the changes to our Scope and Sequence of skills, you can take a look at our full lists here: 

The biggest content additions were:
- A basic arithmetic component (add/subtract/multiply/divide integers, decimals, and fractions without a calculator)
- A graphing unit (linear and quadratic functions both with and without a calculator)

Things taken out of our curriculum were:
- Surface area and volume (formulas are now provided on the SAT)
- Probability, weighted averages, and sequences/series (these are now made extension skills for students who need a challenge)
- Logarithms and complex numbers (these are also now extension skills)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Writing for an Authentic Audience (without the internet)

By Kim Miklusak

This week my English 100 students are working on argumentative paragraphs.  They read and annotated an article on Colin Kaepernick from Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week site, and then they wrote a summary of the article to demonstrate comprehension.

Another teacher on our team, Emily M., pulled a handful of statements from the article to debate.  On a giant sticky note I wrote out four of them and separated the paper into "Agree/Disagree/Qualify."

The statements read:
1.  Not standing for the anthem is disrespectful to our troops.
2.  We should be always be able to protest against our government in peaceful ways.
3.  A celebrity should always be a good role model.
4.  People should stand up for what they believe in no matter if it goes against what others say.

At each table students used small sticky notes to brain storm as many pieces of evidence or arguments as they could for all of the sticky notes.  They walked around the room and stuck them to the paper.  They then walked around to look at all of the responses.  This produced, as you can imagine, some excellent discussions.  Students discussed modern and historical angles, brought in outside information, challenged each other, and so on--all respectfully.

The next step was for students to choose which topic and which stance they wanted to argue.  They used our dry erase tables to brain storm and then to anonymously hand write their paragraph.  The next day I hung the paragraphs up around the room.  Each group had a feedback chart using the elements of a good argumentative paragraph that we had discussed.  My 5th period evaluated my 7th period's paragraphs and awarded up to three points to the best response.  Then my 7th period did the same for 5th.  The last step will be to review the feedback given by the other class and revise.  This is all the final step before students start writing their own argumentative paragraphs on a new topic next week.

Not only did the competitive nature of this assignment have students up, walking around, and engaged, but knowing that their peers would be reviewing it--even anonymously--was enough motivate more of them to do their best!   It was a great experience that I look forward to doing more as the year goes on!