Authors who have influenced my practice

One of the most contentious areas in middle school is work completion. When I first began teaching I was of the mindset, I need to get kids ready for high school. If their homework is one day late, the max the student could earn would be 80%, two days late: 70%, three days late: 60%; more than three days late: teacher discretion. Retakes–no way, they had their chance; they should have studied. Or when I did allow retakes the maximum grade a student could earn would be 70%.

In effect I was using grades as a punishment. Equally troublesome was the fact that this system created a tainted report card. I’m supposed to be reporting academic progress not academic progress with two scoops of behavior and a cherry on top. Now I’m not only questioning my overall grading policy I’m starting to rethink how I assess.

There wasn’t a single turning point. It was an evolutionary process. However two author/educators who caused me to reflect are Thomas Guskey and Rick Wormeli.


Several years ago Guskey came to our district and presented a talk, Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning.  He discussed the merits of standards based grading and a narrative report card that separates behavior from learning. His book and talk nudged me to reconsider my practice. Over the next five years I continued to contemplate grading and assessment. Guskey’s book led me to Marzano’s Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading and that is where I am today.

Wormeli has been equally influential. Chapter 8 from his book Fair is Not Always Equal is particularly compelling. Why Do We Grade, and What About Effort, Attendance, and Behavior?

He contends there are six reasons why we grade:

  • To document student and teacher progress
  • To provide feedback to the student and family, and the teacher
  • To inform instructional decisions

  • To motivate students
  • To punish students
  • To sort students

“Notice the dividing line between the top three and bottom three…The bottom three reasons cross a line. When we grade to motivate, punish, or sort students, we do three things–we dilute the grade’s accuracy; we dilute its usefulness; and we use grading to manipulate students, which may or may not be healthy” (p102).

I’m still a work in progress, but I’m getting there.

Click the link below to read other bloggers who are writing about professional development books.



First five days–subject to change, of course

Once again I’ve altered my plans from last year. I suspect before school starts on the 25th the plans will have changed again. This year I’ll need to be especially flexible and rethink learning experiences since our 7th grade will be 1:1 iPad.


We have students for 10 fewer minutes each period on the first day of school in order to issue lockers, hand out assignment notebooks and the like.  Because time is limited the kids will complete a brief cooperative group and communication challenge called You Want Me To Do WHAT? (see page 10). Students create a prototype out of miscellaneous supplies, complete a write up, then hand the directions to another group to recreate. This is my first time doing this activity but I’m looking forward to trying it out.


Classroom norms and expectations will be discussed in social studies and reinforced in math. I’ll note what went well yesterday and what didn’t. After the lecture burst, students will share a bit about themselves using an activity I found on A Sea of Math. It’s called Figure Me Out!  The students use the numbers in their life–birth year, house number, etc. and create expressions using rational numbers. I modified the directions a bit to include a criteria for success.


If there’s enough time I’ll have students swap their Figure Me Outs so they can figure out each other! If not we’ll get to it on Wednesday.


Continuing with getting to know you, the students will complete A Create Your Own Graphing Story iMovie. This is something I did last year (minus the video). I show the “How to be Interesting” book trailer, then follow it with a brief presentation on graphing stories that include several examples.



Pre-assessment on integers and wrap up the iMovie.

Students will have a four day weekend so I’ll have time to look over the pre-assessment and hit the ground running on Tuesday.

Use the link below to check out other bloggers who are sharing their first week plans.

Creating confident, competent learners

At one point in last night’s #Eduread conversation on “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching” the topic turned to choice–with a particular focus on homework problems, tasks, and assessments. After some pondering, I’m now thinking we just scratched the surface when talking about choice.



There’s another type of choice  that Miss Calcul8 pointed out in her intervention post. We’re now below the surface, but that still doesn’t include all the other choices students make throughout the day.

What does choice afford us?

Choice empowers us.

My point is that if we want our students to become confident, competent learners we  must allow them to develop a sense personal power–providing them with the resources, the opportunity, and the capability to influence the circumstances of their own life.

So how do we empower students to believe they can:

  1. do what they set out to do
  2. handle what’s ahead of them
  3. get whatever they need in order to do what they must
  4. feel they are in charge of their life, can make decisions, and solve their own problems

Certainly we can’t do it alone, but we can do our part to help students build a positive mental model of themselves. A model where the student feels he has a mission and purpose, knows where he’s headed, knows how to organize himself, etc.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing how I’m applying particular strategies in my classroom as I attempt to create confident, competent learners.



Using diigo to annotate #Eduread article

Instead of providing a narrative summary of this week’s #Eduread article, here are my diigo in text annotations on “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching.” Sometimes it is more powerful to see what the reader is thinking as she encounters each passage. If you want to add your own annotations, I think all you need to do is get a diigo account to add them.

The only shortcoming I found was on the topic of intrinsic motivation–which turns out to be a major focus of the article.

To that end, we have developed a comprehensive model of culturally responsive teaching: a pedagogy that crosses disciplines and cultures to engage learners while respecting their cultural integrity… The foundation for this approach lies in theories of intrinsic motivation.

The authors claim, “When students can see that what they are learning makes sense and is important, their intrinsic motivation emerges.”  I think that’s a very limited view and argue that motivation has to be sustained.  Had the article been written fifteen years later (2010)  it could have referenced Daniel Pink’s contribution with respect to autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose. Those three conditions sustain one’s motivation.

What I loved was the definition of engagement.  Typically we associate engagement with fun, or the need to be intellectually challenging. While it can include those elements, engagement is directing energy in the pursuit of a goal.

Let me know if you shared your observations either on diigo or your own blog. I’m interested in what you think.