Synergy 8 – Self-assessment: learning from and with students

In a post from first semester, Empowering and Guiding Students to Take Charge of Assessment – Synergy 8 Example, Bo and I wrote and cross-posted information about a primary component of our assessment plan.

The student learners take primary responsibility for preparing their reflections about their own learning and growth. The student learners initiate the communication of this self-generated progress report to their parents, their teacher-facilitators, their grade chairs, and their director of studies.

We continue this practice.  It is interesting to me that we call it practice.  We practice to learn, grow, and improve, right?  We are getting better at prompting these self-assessments, and our learners are getting better at providing rich details about their learning and growth.

Here is our most recent self-assessment reflection scaffolding and prompt.  We would love to know what you think.

Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report Writing

Step -1:
Re-read and review past blog posts…1st Interim forward.

Step 0:
Use Synergy 8 EL Gears and Rays of Light – Brainstorming and Finding Artifacts to pre-think evidence of learning and growth

Step 1:
Begin draft #1 Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report

Step 2:
Look at our current slidedeck resources and choose at least one slide to visually represent your sub-team’s contribution to the Alpha project progress.

Step 3:
Complete draft #1 Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report. Use Google Doc or send draft in Word or Pages via email to 2-peer review partners NOT IN YOUR SUB-TEAM and CC Mr. A and Ms. G.

Step 4:
Peer review (2x) Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report. Use comments feature of word processor to write to a) I like…, b) I wonder…, c) I want to know more about…

Step 5:
Work on draft #2 – Revise, edit, and re-write Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report.

Step 6:
By Friday 5:00 p.m., post Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report to wmslearns and URL to Schoology.

Blog Prompt:

On, write a four-paragraphs post that tells your story of bright-spot learning, challenge, and alpha-project progress. When finished, publish your post URL [on Schoology].

In class on 03-13-12, you used a modified rubric to list some learning moments and quick write about each of the four essential learning “gear areas” of Synergy.

For this blog post…

* Insert at least one image of one of the slides from your Ignite-lite slidedeck to use as a visual representation of your team’s sub-project of our Alpha project.

  1. Your first paragraph should be a strong introduction to your sub-team’s focus for the Alpha Project and PARTICULARLY a preview of YOUR major learning from the project. This paragraph is an advanced organizer.
  2. Your second paragraph should be about your “bright spot” essential learning – the area where you are experiencing the most success. Supporting details and evidence are essential. Also include how you use your bright spot to advance the work of the alpha project we selected as a team.
  3. Your third paragraph should be about the challenges you face relative to this Alpha Project. These could be project implementation challenges, personal learning challenges, etc. Additionally, you should write about the support you need to help overcome these challenges.
  4. Your final paragraph should be a conclusion about how you see your Alpha Project concluding and wrap up about your bright spot and challenge.

*** Remember that good stories and strong writing contain a balance of general and specific details. Use evidence to support your claims, but do NOT simply describe activities that we have done in Synergy. You MUST describe your LEARNING from these activities.]

While you must have proper credentials to read our learners’ blog posts, I thought I could share a couple of my comments so that you might have a sense of what I am learning with and from our leaners.

Example 1:

I appreciate the journey your team has worked through to get to a project that is meaningful to you. I am interested in knowing about the observations your team made to reach the conclusion that people are forgetting to do KP rather than refusing to do it. Do you think that people forget KP because they have to hang back after everyone has eaten or because they do not remember it at all?

I think you are spot-on about your bright spot of Problem Solutions & ID. The divergent thinking of your team lasted a long time, which is great. This indicates to me that your team explored many different ways to identify and solve problems. I think using biodegradable tablecloths to make clean up easier was a very interesting solution to propose, but you did realize that this solution created additional problems.

I hope your team returns to the idea of finding a fun way to motivate people to clean up after themselves. If everyone would do his or her part, by cleaning up just their stuff, KP would be less of a chore. I wonder if you could use the idea of “paying it forward” or “taking care of your neighbor” to encourage people to clean up their stuff and one more person’s stuff. Cleaning up yours plus one other might make a big dent in the problem.

I understand how you feel about the Ignite-lite presentations. I need more practice too. I have now tried it twice, and I find it nerve-racking. I do think I’m getting better, and I am more confident. Just think how much better you will be at presentation building and making because you have started to practice now.

I am curious about your bright spot from last our interim assessment. Do you think that you have improved in it too? Do you think that your teams’ work has just highlighted your problem-solving skills?

I also want to know more about your team’s plan for the brightly painted KP tables where all of the supplies for KP will be found. Do you have sketches of how you want the tables painted to show Mr. Nash and us? Who is going to paint these tables, and when are they going to be painted? Do you have a plan to post who has KP on a given day as an additional reminder?

What do you hope to have accomplished by Thursday?

Example 2:

I agree, [learner], that your bright spot and strength is communication and collaboration. Look at all you have learned about the process of problem-solving. You said “It was incredible how many things could be wrong, too many words, wrong idea, too distracting, no permission, but finally we got it right!” It does take patience, persistence, and stamina to solve big problems like idling and carpooling.

Would you include an image of your team’s proposed business card? I’d like to see the current version. I’ve been thinking about your business cards, and I’m wondering if you want to create several different sets of business cards. What if you created a business card with an infographic to show the benefits of not idling? What if you created another card in your series with an infographic on carpooling? I think you want to have cards to hand out that raise awareness of idling and educate about the benefits to the environment if we would make the simple change to turn our cars off while waiting in the carpool line.

Has your team published the website? I would love to see the work you have done to date. I want to know more about the benefits and challenges of carpooling. I am interested in learning more about the benefits of not idling. I am much more aware, because of your team, of when I am idling, but I do not really know what I am doing to the environment while idling. Will it really save me money? How am I harming the environment? What can I do to raise awareness in others? (So you have made a difference in the number of people who idle.)

Do you have ideas to offer the ad campaign team? Are you looking for video ads or print ads? Have you had the ad campaign team look over your business cards to give you feedback from their perspective?

Do you have a dissemination plan for the business cards? How will your team hand them out? Will they be available before and after school? Do you plan to hand them out at the elementary school as well as the junior high?

I do want to encourage you to look in the mirror when you find yourself “challenged to find a leader when we needed one the most“. I see you as a strong leader in your team. Yours is a voice I hear moving the work forward. Your questions and determination lead your team. Remember, you do not have to have a title or designation to be a leader.

Bo and I remain committed to continuing to run some “pracademic” experiments in a number of areas, including assessment and student-progress reporting. We continue to put the student at the forefront of the assessment process.  Instead of an adult (teacher) writing a static comment to another adult (parent), the Synergy 8 students utilize moderated journaling to prepare their self-assessment reports.

From our October post:

They are precipitating virtual, student-led conferences when they send their reports to the adults who serves as guides and coaches. Unlike the database-housed comments of the past, these student-based comments stir responses from their parents and the adults at school to whom they write. During the course, we see growth and progress in EVERY student’s capacity to engage in such self-assessment and progress reporting, and we believe this is a critical skill to develop at this middle-school age.

Synergy 8: the wish, the plan, the needs…

We are approaching the end of the time we will devote to our Alpha project so that our teams can move into their Beta project.  As is our practice, Bo and I are more directive with the choices during the Alpha project stage in an effort to help our learners understand how they will develop a game plan, communication strategies, collect data, and identify community issues as a team.

We used Jamie Oliver’s Ted Prize wish as a prompt for writing to find closure for our work on the Alpha projects.  If you have not watched Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food I think you would enjoy taking 22 minutes to listen and learn.

We asked our learners to:

  1. Read Jamie Oliver’s Ted Prize wish.
  2. Create a one-pager about your sub-team’s Alpha project using Jamie Oliver’s – “The Wish,” “The Plan,” and “The Needs,” using one of your Ignite-lite revised  slides as a visual.
  3. Post this one-pager on each sub-team members’ wmslearns blog.

We hope this experience and activity offers our learners an opportunity to find closure as a team.  We also hope Jamie Oliver’s TED talk provides inspiration and offers an example of Synergy 8’s essential learnings in action.

I wonder how much we know about what is important to our students.  How much time do we tell them what we think they need to know, learn, and do?  How much time do we let them tell us what they need to know, learn, and do?  Won’t they learn the same things either way?

We can easily find math, biology, health, writing, history, etc. in Jamie Oliver’s talk, research, and learning just by listening.  (Can you believe the volume of sugar consumed by one child in the first 5 years of elementary school just from milk?)

Shouldn’t we listen to their questions, issues, and concerns and find our discipline within the topics of interest to our learners?  Will we?

Here is just one of the wishes from our current Synergy 8 team.

We wish to rid [our community] of littering and engage everyone in our movement to make recycling contagious.

Our plan is to find the locations that have litter on campus, where they require more trash cans, and to keep the campus cleaner. We are going to do this by surveying the students to see their opinions about the matter.  Then we [want] to change the trash cans to make them more efficient towards the environment and more convenient for the students.

This sub-team contacted our Assistant Director of Facilities and asked one question.  Here are snippets of the electronic conversation:

Our group is doing a project about recycling and littering on campus. We were wondering if you could tell us what can be recyclable in the small bins located in each class room. We are going to make signs for each bin so people can know what they can recycle. Thank you so much for your support.

We do “single stream” recycling, meaning anything recyclable is put in one bin instead of separate bins, so anything plastic, paper, or metal can be put in those bins. When you’d finished designing the signs, I’d love to see them before they are printed.

I replied to SJ:
Thank you for the quick reply to our 8th graders.  Your quick response, especially when at a conference, shows them that their work is important and valued.  We appreciate your help as we learn more about recycling at [school].

You are very welcome! Would it help for me to come to your class and talk about waste? Thursday and Friday are pretty open for me. I wouldn’t have a formal presentation ready, but the kids could ask questions.

Just the simple act of asking questions can lead to powerful learning, support, and change.

Jamie Oliver’s wish:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

Do you have a wish?

What are the wishes of our children?

Have we asked?


In my Feb. 20, 2011 Being Part of the Club…Being Labeled… post I wrote about having to label my learners by recommending their course of study for the next school year.  The following quote from Dr. Frank Pajares continues to stick with me.

There are few things sadder to a teacher or parent than being faced with capable children who, as a result of previous demoralizing experiences, or even self-imposed mind-sets, have come to believe that they cannot learn when all objective indicators show that they can. Often, much time and patience are required to break the mental habits of perceived incompetence that have come to imprison young minds.
~ Frank Pajares, Schooling in America: Myths, Mixed Messages, and Good Intentions

Watch and read about labels from The Power of Dyslexia:

Do you carry a label?
Was it of your own choosing, or were you labeled by others?

Do we listen to others or collect evidence ourselves when confronted with labels?

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words…

Can we use a photo to inspire learning and interdisciplinary studies? What if we start with photographs from our campus? Can we collaboratively design a lesson or series of lessons around something on our campus to implement together? How can we easily have learners contribute digital photos, ideas, and creativity? Can we will brainstorm and prototype together with photos to develop place-based learning lessons?

Lisa Nielson details how to share photos using Flickr in her post Using Flickr to Collect Images Captured on Cell Phones.  Using her advice, it is easy to set up a Flickr space for participants to share photos via email.

Bo and I use a Posterous space with our Synergy team to collect their observations and photographs.  We like Posterous because it offers our learners the opportunity to contribute images and video along with their questions about community issues.  Richard Byrne’s Try Posterous Spaces for Private Classroom Blogging will help you get started with Posterous if you are interested in collecting observations and questions along with images from your learners.

In our T³ International conference session today we started off with two photos from my campus. Details for these two photos can be found on Handicap Ramps: Connecting Ideas and Experiences to PBL – apply what you’ve learn and Connections: Questions, Photographs, Algebra Graphs, Perspectives, Environment.


Session Details:
Saturday, March 3, 11:15-12:45
90-Minute Hands-On • TI-Nspire™ CX Handheld, TI-Nspire™ CX CAS Handheld, TI-Nspire™ CX Navigator™ System

TI-Nspire CAS Calculus Labs – Making Calculus More Engaging

Sam and I have been working on improving our Work Smarter Not Harder calculus labs for TI-Nspire CAS.  While we are waiting on the next OS, v. 3.2, we were able to share some of our work at the T³ International Conference in Chicago.

Our give-aways, shown below, included Lab 05 Exploring the Definition of the Derivative, Lab 13 Constructing Trapezoidal Sums,  Lab 15 Constructing Slopefields, and Lab 16 Exploring Accumulation Functions.  Each lab accompanies an interactive TI-Nspire CAS document for learners to investigate these calculus topics graphically, numerically, and analytically.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(If you don’t have the TI-Nspire CAS software and are curious, there is a free 90-day version on TI’s website.)


Calculus Labs – Making Calculus More Engaging 90-Minute Hands-On • TI-NspireTM Family of Handhelds, TI-NspireTM CX NavigatorTM System,

TI-NspireTM CAS Teacher Software

Sam Gough, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA, USA
Co-Presenter(s): Jill Gough

Labs can make the calculus classroom more engaging. We will investigate major topics of differential and integral calculus through hands-on activities. Additionally, we will investigate ways to assess student’s understanding of the concepts.

The Art of Questioning

“Questions are the way points on the path of wisdom.” ~ Grant Lichtman

Work on becoming a falconer…lead your learners through the art of questioning.

In his 2012 T³ International Conference keynote address, Dr. David Sousa challenged us to put the question first in problem-solving.  The brain will filter information and pick up what it needs if the question is known first.

“The real revolution in education and training, if it comes, will be overtly our priority from the skills of giving answers to the skills of finding new questions.” ~ Grant Lichtman

Technology offers our learners so many opportunities to tell us what they know and want to know.  The question really is

Can we break the habit of teaching
by the show-and-tell method? 

What if we guide learning through questions?  How will we practice?  What if we hear our learners questions and respond in the moment?  What if we facilitate discussions that prompt consensus building and collaboration?

Can we lead by following?  What can be learned if we listen to and question our learners?  How can we leverage technology to give every child a voice in class?  What do we do to make it safe for our learners to step up to the plate and ask their questions?  We want them think “swing even if you miss.”

The human brain is far too complex an organ to determine that x can’t be taught. ~ Frank Pajares during a discussion in EDS 771


The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School
by Grant Lichtman (May 24, 2010)

The Art of Questioning
60-Minute Hands-On
 Family of Handhelds, TI-Nspire™ CX Navigator™ System

Jill Gough, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA, USA
Co-Presenter(s): Sam Gough

What’s wrong with a slideument?…question from the backchannel

To offer additional support to our learners concerning persuasive presentations and slide deck development, we developed a mini-lesson on using videos from Garr ReynoldsPresentation Zen, and Nancy DuarteSlide:ology.  Half of each team watched Presentation Zen: The Videoand the other half watched Duarte Design’s Five Rules for Presentation by Nancy Duarte.  Our learners listened at their own pace, and paused the video at key moments to take notes in our Soapbox backchannel.

Select comments from the backchannel:

  • NN: simplicity- less is more
  • bt: practice design not decoration
  • IW: not about decorating, more about design
  • WL: A thought provoking video that not only moves eyes, but hearts too.
  • SDH: DE-decorate
  • TN: nancy duarte— why they should adopt your view is important in a presentation and make it easily understandable.
  • TH: 5 rules to make a good presentation: 1. treat audience as king 2.spread ideas and move people 3. help them see what you’re saying 4. practice design not decoration 5. cultivate healthy relationships, with your slide and your audience
  • SL: pictures stick with people much more than words a lot of the time
  • KU: Why are sliduments a problem? they seem okay to me.
  • LM: include only what is necessary to get the point across
  • LN: Help them see what you are saying
  • LM: conversational mannor (Steve Jobs)
  • NN: good to come across in a conversational manner even if you are speaking to hundreds
  • XE: RESEARCH: Kinetic Typography! Simple, Effective way to get information across.
  • WL: Practice design, not decoration. De-decorate.
  • SL: don’t be over-decorative, sometimes more really is less
  • TN: though provoking video helps show them what you mean and spread it to their heart. Replace words with pictures to look united and attracted to the message.
  • *Research
  • LM: death by bulletpoints
  • FC: 1. treat your audience as kings 2.spread ideas and move people 3. help them see what you are saying 4. practice design, not decoration 5. cultivate healthy relationships with slides and audience
  • TN: reduce words
  • NX: restrain from extra things that aren’t necessary
  • LM: slidument= slide and document that you put together

The backchannel offers us an opportunity to hear more questions, to share our notes and learning, and to answer others’ questions.  The backchannel offers the facilitator, teacher, and coach an opportunity for to adjust the lesson in the moment.  One comment prompted me to show my learning progression to our team.

KU: Why are sliduments a problem? they seem okay to me.

Great question, huh?  How many of us have hundreds of examples of sliduments that we have used in presentations in the past?  So, I pulled out two presentations that I have actually used to talk about establishing essential learnings and asked which of these two presentations draws the listener in to the topic and conversation?


Wouldn’t it have been great to learn about presentations and have facilitated practice at age 13 instead of later as an adult?

To practice and apply this lesson, our learners were challenged to return to their latest Ignite-lite developing presentation, pick one slide, and create 3 different ways to present the message on this one slide. They said no.  The challenge did not fit their needs.  The teams wanted to redo more than one slide; they wanted to redo all of their slides.

Is it okay if we work on more than one slide?  Can we divide the work and accomplish more than re visioning one slide?

Do we now know what is wrong with a slidument?  Do we want to improve our products?  What can we accomplish if we learn and work together?