Tag Archives: self-efficacy

LEARNing: Show what you know; don’t stress for the test (#3)

“Part of our failure rate in contemporary education can be blamed on the one-size-fits-all model of standards that evolved over the course of the twentieth century; as we narrow the spectrum of skills that we test in schools, more and more kids who have skills outside of that spectrum will be labeled a failures.”  (Davidson, 77 pag.)

How might we change the mindset our school communities concerning assessment?  What if we thought of opportunities to allow learners to show what they know rather than to stress about a TEST?

Let’s say you’ve created an exam that has…say…150 points.  Would learners really need to acquire 135 points to make an A?  (150 x 0.90 = 135)  How many points, problems, ideas, etc. does a learner need to gain, show, demonstrate to earn an A? a B? a C? Hmm…

Does every learner need to learn exactly the same thing?  Do they have to correctly get 90-100% of what is offered them to be considered an “A student”?  How many times does a learner have the option to “do” something to show they have learned?  Would it be possible to let the learners customize their assessments to show what they know and have learned in the way or ways they have learned?

Language teachers offer learners oral and written tests.  Science teachers offer learners practicums along with written tests.  What do other teachers offer students in the way of demonstration assessments?

What if we crowd sourced assessment?  What if we created common assessments that offered learners multiple ways to show what they know?  What is we used tables of specifications to offer learners feedback on their strengths while honoring and celebrating what they know?  What if our learners customized their own assessments to suit their learning and assessment styles?

Let’s say that Peyten is terrible at multiple choice, and Garnet great at it.  Peyten likes to write, draw, and diagram while Garner prefers to talk and discuss to demonstrate learning.  Peyten’s teacher always uses multiple choice; Garnet’s never uses multiple choice.  Couldn’t each learner show what they know using their preferred method IF their teachers collaborated when developing assessments?

What if we used collaboration by difference to improve the opportunities for learners to show their learning, customized to their strengths and talents?

“Collaboration by difference respects and rewards different forms and levels of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight, treating difference not as a deficit but as a point of distinction.”  (Davidson, 100 pag.)

Could we share and combine our assessments and then offer learners the opportunity to customize their assessments to show what they know?  What if the table of specifications, based on the expected essential learnings, served as a menu?  Learners could choose what and how they demonstrate their learning.

“It always seems more cumbersome in the short-run to seek out divergent and even quirky opinions, but it turns out to be efficient in the end and necessary for success if one seeks an outcome that is unexpected and sustainable.”  (Davidson, 100 pag.)

How can we harness the wisdom of our colleagues and other learners? How can we change our thinking to look for what learners know instead of what they “missed?”  What if we use crowd sourcing and collaboration by difference to see unexpected and sustainable changes in the way we think about and act upon the process of assessing learning?


Davidson, Cathy N.  Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

LEARNing: Changed circumstances – unlearning and relearning (#2)

Learning, unlearning, and relearning.  How do we practice learning, unlearning, and relearning?  How do we model lifelong learning for our young learners?

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” Alvin Toffler

While I love Alvin Toffler’s quote, I will confess that I don’t think I have understood the ideas of unlearn and relearn until today.  Do I practice unlearning? Have I even experienced unlearning and relearning?

“Unlearning is required when the world or your circumstances in that world have changed so completely that your old habits now hold you back.”  (Davidson, 19 pag.)

Have our circumstances at school changed so completely that old habits are holding back progress?  Am I holding on to my old habits so hard that I am holding back my learners? Every learner has access to amazing amounts of information at their fingertips via their smart phone, iPad, and computer. YIKES!  Circumstances have changed.

“It means becoming a student again because your training doesn’t comprehend the task before you.  You have to, first, see your present patterns, then, second, you have to learn how to break them.  Only then do you have a chance of seeing what you are missing? (Davidson, 19 pag.)

What habits have I tried to break or change to see what I’m missing?  What have I been willing unlearn and relearn?

“Unlearning requires that you take an inventory of your changed situation, that you take an inventory of your current repertoire of skills, and that you have the confidence to see your shortcomings and repair them.” (Davidson, 86 pag.)

  • Integrated studies – Synergy: What if school looked more like real life?
    • Will students learn if they choose the problems to investigate?
    • Will they be motivated to work and learn if they are not graded?
    • When learners have an authentic audience, will they write and work at a higher level?
  • Balanced Assessment – Leveled formative assessment to help our learners level up
    • Will students learn without being graded?
    • Will they “level up” if they can see where they are and where we want them to be prior to the test?
    • Will learners self-correct if given a second chance on tests?
      •  Is time a variable and learning a constant?
      • Can we improve confidence and efficacy by offering mulligans?
Circumstances have changed.  How will we learn, unlearn, and relearn.  


Davidson, Cathy N.  Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Looking for elephants in the room

What is the elephant in the room? Is everyone’s elephant the same?  Have I met your elephant? It is easy to miss what you aren’t looking for. Can I be aware of the elephant of others if I don’t know where to look?


Seeking to connect with others is critical. Empathy is a beautiful gift to offer. Understanding others furthers relationship.  Love one another. Make it safe to be different. Relationship occurs when I can share what I’m afraid you won’t like.

Never Underestimate A Motivated Learner ~ You Gotta Have Faith

Who has faith in you?  In whom do you demonstrate faith? On November 20, 2011, AS announced that she wanted to learn to knit. She is seven. I’m embarrassed to say that I thought:

Is she really going to learn to knit? I’ve tried to teach my adult friends and have about a 50% success rate. I am busy; I have a list of things that need to be accomplished today.

But, she was determined to knit, so she sat in my lap while I coached her through 4 rows of 10 stitches – about a 20 minute exercise.  You can see the results of that one “lesson” on my Posterous mother-daugher-based-learning blog post.  On Dec. 20, 2011, her blue scarf was approximate 3.5 feet long, and she started a new purple scarf.

What if I had put my list of “desired outcomes” ahead of her interests and determination to learn?

What if I told her that she was not ready?

What if I indicated that she did not have enough maturity, experience, prerequisite skills?

How often do I become focused on “getting through the list of learning targets in the curriculum” without stopping to listen to their interests and questions? Meet Thomas Suarez – an iPhone app developer and a 6th grader:

Meet Birke Baehr – an 11-year-old concerned with industrialized food systems and the alternatives:

What do our learners care about?  What do they want to learn, study, think deeply about, and investigate?  How can we use our curriculum to serve and support their learning and interests? We regularly check-in with our learners by reading and commenting on their blogs.  Here are a few quotes from our Synergy 8 learners about their interests and concerns:

One thing that each member and I realized after we were talked to about poor quality housing and affordable housing, was that there are many children that do not have a safe place to call “home.”  ~ TY Did you know that from 1980 to now obesity rates have doubled among adults and tripled among adolescents (USA.gov, Facts n. pag.)? Also, did you know in 2010 according to the CDC 29.6% of people in Georgia were obese (USA.gov, Overweight n. pag.)? Before starting this project, I knew that obesity was a problem and I was very passionate about this issue. Although, I had no idea that obesity affected that many people, especially in Georgia. ~ SE Using this data, we discovered that most people get less sleep than they should. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, attention span, and ability to retain knowledge. Most teens think that they can do their homework and mess around until 12 am and then go to sleep.~ RV I am a person that doesn’t like to work in groups in fear that people won’t do their work and I will have to make up for the work that hasn’t been done. Being in this Synergy class and working in groups has helped me to trust other people to do their work.~ HD

What are the active steps we take to help our learners find tangible evidence of success and learning?  How does our feedback indicate that we have faith in their ability to learn, to work collaboratively, to problem find and problem solve?  How do we actively demonstrate faith (and trust) in our learners’ quest develop thinking and understanding? (And, what does it convey if we won’t let them try because we are afraid that they are too young, too immature, too inexperienced, or that they are just “not ready” because they haven’t mastered the prerequisites? Just meet the amazing speakers at TedxKids@BC from September 17, 2011 and then think about these questions again…) Who has faith in you?  In whom do you demonstrate faith? We gotta have faith.

Learners need tangible evidence of success

The quotation “Students need tangible evidence of success.” from Dr. Tom Guskey during his Learning Forward pre-conference session on December 3, 2011 has me considering

What tangible evidence of success do we offer our learners?

Please don’t say grades or graded papers!  Far too often learners focus on where they have “failed”, not on what they’ve done well.  Think about your own professional review.  Do you focus on all of the things that your evaluation tells you that you are doing well, or do you zoom in on the “needs improvement” section?  How do we help learners find their bright spots?

I appreciate when others acknowledge and appreciate my bright spots.  Bright spot feedback motivates me to continue to work and strive to learn and grow.  Is that true for others?

How often do we focus our work and efforts on the weaknesses and errors rather than what is working well?  What if we flipped this around?  Could we accept the challenge?  What can we do so illuminate our learners’ bright spots?  How can we offer our learners tangible evidence of success? … every learner!

One of my students, MR, says

“I think that the formative assessments are great!!  They really help me to study and they help me to know what will be on the tests and what I need to further study! Knowing that level three is the target level, always giving us a goal to strive for and to study for is great!”

CH writes

“I truly believe the formative assessments are helpful for using as study guides for tests. I use them as study guides and I learn from my mistakes through them. I do like the fact that they are not graded because it takes the pressure off of taking them and makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first. They are really helpful for going back and looking at what I missed, and then ask you for help on those questions. Having the four levels really helps because I know what levels I need to work on so that I can keep moving up to a higher level.”

Worth repeating:

makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first.”

Bright spot!

Non-graded assessment opportunities, yes, but what else can we do to offer our learners tangible evidence of success?  Can we build a list?  Can you brainstorm with me?

Here’s our list, so far…

  • Promote listening and communicating with all by offering learners the opportunity to backchannel. (Be brave! What will they discuss?) – Help learners have a voice in a community.  Facilitate guided opportunities for all to have a voice and to have the opportunity to reflect and review the thinking of the team.  When others repeat, respond, and add to your idea, you have tangible evidence of success.
  • Encourage publishing thoughts and ideas for feedback and review from others by offering learners the opportunity to blog.  Model taking risks.  Help your learners publish.  Model sharing and collaborative learning.  When others repeat, respond, and add to your idea, you have tangible evidence of success.

Also worth repeating:

Model taking risks.  Model sharing and collaborative learning.

What have you found that offers learners tangible evidence of success?

And…don’t forget…you are a learner, too.

“What can we do” versus “What we can’t do”

Are we teaching our learners to focus on what they can do or what they cannot do?  Are our assessments and our feedback geared toward bright spots?

If you have not read Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, stop now and at least read the blog post Switch, Don’t Solve Problems—Copy Success.  This blog post has an exclusive excerpt from Switch.  Read the story of Jerry Sternin.  Read about the community’s results.

The two strong quotes in this story, for me, are

“Knowledge does not change behavior.”

“Sternin said that the moms were “acting their way into a new way of thinking.” Most important, it was their change, something that arose from the local wisdom of the village. Sternin’s role was only to help them see that they could do it, that they could conquer malnutrition on their own.”

How are we helping our learners grow?  Are we giving them knowledge or are we helping them act their way into a new way of thinking?

Do we think about and discuss what can’t be done?  Do we act and focus on what can be done?

Let’s do something!  When in doubt, do more of what is working.  Find the bright spots.  Do.

Rubrics, Feedback, and Learning

We have found a formative assessment plan for our Algebra I learners that is working for us.  We have always struggled with the idea of the generic 4-point rubric, because it didn’t give our learners enough feedback.  If you want to see some examples, you can search on formative assessment in the blog and find several. 

Our team has now begun to think about using the 4-point rubric to help our learners understand our expectations with regard to effort, listening, questioning, collaboration, homework completion and other non-graded skills that we want them have.  We have used the assessment below twice, once in February and then again in March.  Our learners level themselves and then write about their growth and areas where improvement can/should occur.

Only now have we started the process of using the document above to calibrate our perception with our student’s perception of these important topics.  Even without the calibration, my learners seem to use our rubric to help self-reflect and create action steps. 

The following is a reflection written by RM about her understanding in Algebra I on February 9, 2011.

“This semester I have really improved on helping others in the classroom. I feel like I now go around more to try and assist others who don’t have the right answer and don’t understand what’s going on. This makes me feel like I am really helping and participating in the classroom. I have started to ask more questions to Ms. Gough when I don’t completely understand what we are talking about and I ask my table mates first to see what they think. This is another way of better learning!! I feel like this is a great way to start off the semester.”

Then, a reflection written by RM about her understanding in Algebra I on March 17, 2011:

“During this semester I have learned new things and tried my best to comprehend them and apply them to everything that we do in class. During the course of this semester what has really helped me is during class after we have finished a problem we get up and help other people that don’t get it; this method has really helped me to find other peoples mistakes and repeat my knowledge of the lesson we are learning. Also during class when we finish problems we check with other people who think they are right but we did not get the same answer which helps you to either find what you have done wrong or find what the other person has done wrong and that is your chance to explain to them why they got something wrong or why that concept makes sense, both thing I have done this semester that really makes me more confident about what I know. During Office Hours when my friends and I do our homework we pull out our phones do a problem and then check it together, then we do what we do in class which is helping a friend if they didn’t get it right or they don’t understand.  The story above has really helped me when it comes to test day or as we sometimes call it in class “the championship game” which is when we show what we have learned that unit and apply it on the test. The things we do in class I feel makes me very confident and helps when we get to the test because I know that I know what was going on in class and that really helps me.”

I am thrilled to witness RM’s growth in knowledge and confidence.  The skill of comparing thinking to find a solution is incredibly powerful and important.  Wouldn’t it be nice if our country’s leaders would take the time to sit down with each other and hear what the other side thinks and learn from each other? One of RM’s greatest strengths is that she is willing to listen and consider another solution.  She is definitely a lead-learner in Algebra I, and she demonstrates this by her willingness to teach and to be taught by others. 

The following is a reflection written by SJ about his understanding in Algebra I in February.

“I think that my performance in math class since January 4, 2011 is pretty good, but could be better. I consistently focus on tasks, but I require occasional encouragement from Ms. Gough to do my work. I usually participate when working in groups. I ask questions most of the time when I need help, but I don’t really help others learn as much. I listen well in class and I think my questions keep myself and others engaged during class. I feel that most recently, I have hardly forgotten any homework and I usually complete deep practice. I believe that for formative assessments, I don’t prepare as much as I should. I am at a level 2 on every aspect except on the part that says “I do not get serious about my learning…”

And then, SJ’s reflection in March.

“I believe that I am constantly improving in math class. I have fun while getting better in your class. I struggle with doing well on the first chance tests. While I usually nail the second chance tests, I usually need the extra practice before the first chance tests to do better on those as well. For example, I got a really disappointing grade on the first chance test on factoring. I really went over that test and improved. I believe that I can be an honors level math student if I put my mind to it. I got a 92 on our last test. That is one of many examples of my mathematical abilities. I hope that I never stop learning and that from here I can only move forward.”

Isn’t it great to see how SJ has self-corrected since the middle of February?  In February, SJ wrote about how his performance could improve.  It has!  I am most impressed with SJ’s work on the polynomials test.  I loved his approach.  He worked in class to make most of his corrections.  The next morning he arrived before school with more questions.  In fact, he had highlighted notes that said ask “Ms. Gough about this.”  He was at level 2 in February and is now a solid level 3. 

The following is a reflection written by WAM about her understanding in Algebra I.

“So far in Algebra I this semester, I have learned a lot, but have also been challenged. I am almost always focused in class, and trying to finish the task at hand. Sometimes, my table team and I get distracted by each other, and get off task. Mrs. Gough encourages us to stay on topic, so we can learn more. In our class, we have many group activities, where we have to work as a team. I participate in these assignments, and help others if they do not understand. I have learned from these group activities that when my team is there to help me along the way, I learn the material better, and it is clearer. When I do not understand something, I ask my table members for help. If my team doesn’t know, I ask my other classmates, or Mrs. Gough. I know that when I ask questions, it helps me have a much better understanding. Also, to practice, and to learn, I do my homework. I do my homework every night, and come to Office Hours regularly to complete it. Sometimes, I forget to do deep practice, which is an opportunity that I should take. I know that doing deep practice helps to learn from your mistakes so you don’t make them again.  I always study and put my best effort into the first chance tests, and the formative assessments. I know that putting a lot of effort into them makes me understand what areas I need to work on. I like the fact that we can have a second chance test, because it makes you learn the concepts that you didn’t know when you took the first test. Over all, I have put in a lot of effort, and try my best to improve.”

And then her reflection in March:

“Since the last interim, I feel like I have improved a lot in Algebra.  I have started to take math more seriously, and focus on my studying. Before, I made good grades in math, but I think I was learning the material, but it wasn’t sticking with me. Now, I am trying to really understand the material, so that sticks with me.  Since then, I have tried to study my hardest to prepare for the first chance test, rather than using the second chance test as a comfort. When I go into the First Chance test with a mindset of thinking that my best and final work has to be now, I do better. If I try my best on the first chance test, then the second chance test is only used to make my understanding better, rather than a re-take of the test. In the first Interim, my first chance tests weren’t so great. The more answers I got incorrect on the first test, the more problems I had to redo on the second. The more problems I have to redo, the more likely I am to get some problems wrong. Lesson learned, put all your effort into the first time. Also, since the first interim, I have put more effort into my homework. Before, I rush through my homework, just so I could finish it.  I would sometimes do deep practice, but would frequently forget. I think that before I was being lazy with my homework. Now, I do my homework with more effort. I do each problem, then check the answers, and if I get it wrong, I keep trying it until I understand how.  Overall, I am putting more effort into the class, and more effort into my learning.”

I confirm that she is living what she has written.  While I think the algebra that we are learning is important, the lessons of effort and work ethic that WAM expresses above are much more valuable skills to learn.  I am very proud of her learning and her dedication to the learning of others. 

Once our expectations were clear, our learners begin to work to meet them. 

Isn’t it great that they talk about their learning?