Listen to Learn: Practicing & learning with @HollyChesser

More and more, I’m motivated and convicted about leveled assessment.  I’ve been reading and blending ideas from our #TrinityLearns summer reading list along with several other books.  The Foundational Ideas of the post #MICON13: Leading Learners to Level Up – or Ask; Don’t Tell motivated a morning coffee and think do tank learning episode with Holly Chesser (@HollyChesser).

Holly is an “English teacher” while I am a “math” teacher.  This, in fact, narrowly defines each of us. We are each actually much more diverse in skill, leadership, and learning.  After a quick Ignite talk (poor Holly) to provide an overview, we attempted to design a leveled assessment rubric to coach 9th grader learners.

We discussed how much easier leveled assessment was in math.  It is the common conversation that has to be processed before rolling-up-sleeves work begins.  Many never get past the math-is-so-much-easier phase.  I think math seems easier, because the assumption is that math is skill based.  Humanities seem to have more grey areas.  However, the “I’ll know it when I see it” comment does not help illuminate a path to success.  If we are content experts, shouldn’t we be able to articulate one or more ways to show, demonstrate, and accomplish success?

We discussed how important it is to communicate expectations and a path (or two) to success.  We talked about how to convey the levels to learners.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process. (The target for everyone!)
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

And then, the magic happened…Holly began to tell me a story of teaching 9th graders to construct an argument.  I did not understand.  So, she backed up.  She said in order to help the students understand process, she eliminated the difficulty of content by employing children’s picture books.  She discussed using the board book The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.  (If you’ve not read the story – I had not – it is read to you in this YouTube video.)

Holly told me the story of The Carrot Seed and why it was an effective teaching tool.  As she talked, I wrote.  I listened to her tell a story and tried to gleaned what was important to be learned.  I scribbled a leveled assessment as she talked.

Imagine having this learning target:

I can find the learning lesson that rises from conflict and describe the hero’s journey.

What if I, as a learner, know that I am not there yet? Would I know how to proceed? Would I know what questions to ask? What if a path (and there are many correct paths) was clearly communicated in our learning community?

Level 1: I can read and summarize the story from the book I’ve read.

Level 2: I can recognize/articulate/identify the conflict in the story.

Level 3: I can find the learning lesson that rises from conflict and describe the hero’s journey.

Level 4: I can apply the hero’s journey to the human condition.

As a student-learner, this can help me talk with my teacher about what I can do and what I want to be able to do.  As a teacher-learner, this can help me convey expectations and a path to success.

Holly and I ran out of time just as we began to dive deeper into the learning progression outlined above.  What if I am at Level 1? What actions do I take to level up?  Level 1 might have targets too.  For example, I can read and summarize the story from the book I’ve read might have a supporting statement such as I can circle words I don’t know, define them, and understand them in the context of the story which might coach the learner to action.

What if we used this type of rubric with learners? Will learners be able to say what they can do and what they want to do? Will learners be able to self-diagnose and self-advocate? Will we improve communication and collaboration around learning?

By learning to insert feedback loops into our thought, questioning, and decision-making process, we increase the chance of staying on our desired path. Or, if the path needs to be modified, our midcourse corrections become less dramatic and disruptive. (Lichtman, 49 pag.)

Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves. They provide us just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out the solution to the world, makes me want to step to the next higher level. Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome. (Lichtman, 20 pag.)

What if we try? What might we learn?


Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

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