Bold Statement Monday: The Best Thing We’ve Ever Done for Standards-Based Learning

28 Apr

I had a college roommate who practiced “Bold Statement Monday”. On these days he would make outlandish bold statements, simply to defend and debate. Usually it centered on sports. (“Trent Dilfer is a Hall of Fame Quarterback”- this was 2001 and he is a Ravens fan). So I’ve decided to bring back Bold Statement Monday and tell you about what I believe is the “Best Thing We’ve Ever Done” to support the move towards Standards-Based Learning and effective grading practices in my school. While Trent Dilfer didn’t work out the way my friend planned, I could not be more confident about this one.

As a school, we have spent several years taking the journey towards Standards-Based Instruction. (You can see my principles and tip sheets here.) This year, we decided we needed to formatively assess our professional development system and gauge where the instruction in the building is- for every course taught.

So, two months ago we began the process by asking each PLC to pull together a sample unit of instruction. Starting with the learning targets, a “GPS” for students, formative assessments, examples of feedback, and summative assessments. We went ahead and printed gradebooks for every person on the specific PLC. Of course, we created a rubric so they knew what we were looking for, and provided specific feedback to each group. The main two rules were this: 1) The purpose is to see where instruction is at a moment in time- it is not an evaluation, it is not a “gotcha!” and 2) You can not create anything for this meeting- “come as you are”.

Since then, we have set up meetings between each PLC, the Principal, me, our testing coordinator who practiced standards-based in the classroom up to last year before moving to administration, and the AP who supervises the given department. In all- this was approximately 80 meetings! We made the decision that if we can’t force the time to have these discussions, we had to start to wonder about our purpose as instructional leaders.

I will tell you strongly- it has paid off. So far our big take aways have been as follows:

1) Need for training on the gradebook as a communication tool: We found there needs to be consistency in weighting of formative vs. summative assessments, and descriptions of assignments in terms of specificity and being target-based.

2) Need for training on student “GPS” for learning. Call it a GPS, call it a unit-at-a-glance. Whatever you call it, students should be told up front where you are going, and what they will be doing to get there. A good “GPS” includes targets, vocabulary, potential formative assessments, schedule of summative assessments, and sample assessment items. A great GPS has these things plus a way for students to use it to track their involvement.

3) Need for school leaders- and teacher leaders- to continue facilitating these discussions- because teachers are doing great things, even if they don’t realize it. We were blown away by what some people were already doing. For example, some teams had very creative ways to breakdown summative assessments by target and communicate it in the gradebook. When we would meet with another team later, they would share their frustration in not being sure how to do it- but when we shared ideas from other teams it was a weight off their shoulders! Other teachers had fantastic unit plans for their own purposes, not realizing that they were also a step away from fantastic GPS’s and improved instruction- just by simply getting their plans into the hands of students! Not all teachers are “on board” but all have some talents to share that makes our instructional program stronger as a whole.

4) Need to listen and learn– I have to say it was simply nice to meet with teachers that may be outside of the departments I supervise that I have not had many instructional conversations with (we have a staff of about 165 teachers). I enjoyed discussing what good instruction in a cooking class, or a dance class, or an AP Physics class looks like- it only helped me become a more well-rounded instructional leader.

If you have ever done something like this with your staff- or are considering it, I would love to chat. You can find me on Twitter, @Ryan_Ferrera

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