Reflecting on things that matter…

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We are busy and we don’t always have time to read professional literature.  OK.  lets face it, its just about a miracle to find the time to read a book about teaching and learning when you work fulltime and your a parent and involved in community.  Despite that, I have managed to do it.  Read a book.  Tom Schimmer’s Ten Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading. Pearson Publishers, Toronto. 2014.  Schimmer’s writing aligns well with some other literature that as consultants in our school board, we are asked to be up to date with – these books include Schimmer’s along with Hattie’s Visible Learning and Robinson’s Student-Centred Leadership.

When I was in junior high school as a student, we’d be asked to do a book report, summarizing the main points from a book.  Some learning tasks just stick with you.  So here it is – a short summary of Schimmer’s book.  Its probably best for you to just go out an purchase his book yourself and read it.  Much of this blogpost is really about reflecting on the key points.  Its the sort of thing that for me helps consolidate my learning.  So hear it is, my executive summary reflection.

Confidence is important in unlocking the door to effort and perseverance and learning for students.  Our role as teachers is to develop and maintain confidence as it is the foundation for all success.  In end its students who decide whether they are smart enough to learn and so what we do as teachers is more important that what we know.

Assessment needs to be clearly linked to learning targets.  Learning targets include: Knowledge targets – what I know; Reason targets – what I can do with what I know; Performance targets – What I can demonstrate; Product targets – What I can make to show what I know; Disposition targets – How I feel about what I know.

Descriptive Feedback provides the relevant next steps in learning as well as a description of what I know.  It needs to be constructive and specific.  In sport, effective coaches analyze a team’s performance, then determine what they doing well and what they need to work on; this informs what they practice.  Rubrics are a tool that identify learning outcomes, identify specific aspects of quality, and identify a path to improvement.

Differentiated Instruction is a natural product of formative assessment.  Instruction can be differentiated by changing lesson content, process, environment, or product.  Differentiation leads to student ownership.

Accurate grades matter and should be organized around learning outcomes.  When giving a zero, its important to remember that a zero does not represent what a student knows; neither does inflating or deflating grades.  As teachers we need to make sure that grades represent students most recent artifacts of learning.

Practice matters when you’re learning something new. Practice without penalty allows students to focus on growth and improvement rather than on accumulating points towards a final grade.

Improvement matters.  When grading we need to find ways to accurately reflect current levels of student proficiency.  We need to recognize that using mean, median, or mode suppresses the reporting of improvement.  Permitting rewrites allows students to provide the most recent evidence of learning.

Professional learning matters.  We need to focus on improvement as teachers that is directly related to improved student achievement.  The work of PLC’s provides the best platform for this learning.

There you have it, my reflections on Schimmer’s book.  We all have take aways from our learning. These are mine.  Some important ideas focused on improving student learning and achievement through thinking about our practice as teachers.

Roy Strum, Calgary, AB

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