Grading Smarter Not Harder

Take a look at a new book, Grading Harder Not Smarter, offered by ASCD and authored by Myron Dueck. Knowing that school is right around the corner may have you thinking about assignments and grading. What could you do differently? How can you motivate kids to learn? Dueck makes it very clear that the journey to productive assessment and grading is not easy and mistakes are made. But we should also have the confidence to move past the mistakes or missteps and look beyond to doing what’s best for students.

He identifies four key lessons to focus on: 1) Teachers should grade smarter, not harder 2) We are often better coaches than teachers 3) Learning is  more important than grades and 4) Relationships are crucial. If nothing else, this book should encourage us to reflect on our own grading practices and help us to make adjustments that benefit students. I encourage you to take a look.




Educators as 21st Century Learners

There’s no question I am deeply passionate about meeting the needs of today’s learners through the creation of a ‘this century’ classroom. I really appreciate how @AmyHeavin shared on the Fractus Learning site (and Twitter) why educators need to be 21st Century Learners too. We hear colleagues talk about their PLN’s and how social media has changed their lives. We hear key buzz words used to demonstrate their understanding of change and transformation, and yet with all of that, what does the classroom really look like? Where is there proof that today’s learners are walking into classrooms they can’t wait to get to?

If I were to walk through your classroom would I see authentic collaboration between students? Would there be a boundless flow of student creativity being shared and honored? Would critical thinking and problem-solving be a natural part of the learning environment? Would I see proof of  student responsibility and accountability for their own learning? What would the classroom environment look like? And, how would students be measured or assessed?

We all want our students to master the skills and objectives taught in the classroom. We masterfully craft all sorts of expectations to set them up for success. We challenge them to be experts with technology. We create places and spaces for collaboration and creativity to take place. And the list goes on and on. But if we really believe in all of this and want it to happen, then we must model for our students. If we won’t take risks then why should they? If we won’t practice what we ‘preach’ then why should they? If we have not bought into transforming classrooms then why should we expect student learning to be transformed?

Bottomline~if we are going to teach 21st century learners, then all of us need to make certain we know the commitment, knowledge and time involved in doing just that.

 “It is impossible to teach 21st Century Learners if you have not learned this century.” (Gary Stager)


Six steps to a ‘this century’ classroom

So, here goes–Part 2 of creating a ‘this century’ classroom.

How do I go about making the transformation of instruction happen? Where do I start? How do I know if the changes I make to instruction will be effective and impact students the way I have envisioned? I won’t know until I’ve put my plans into play.

Let’s face it, this type of change is not for the weak or ‘faint’ hearted.  It is hard work and many educators you and I know will not make the effort to transform their teaching because it is hard work. It also takes countless hours to prepare lessons that may or may not have the impact we want. But, oh to try. You see, I’m a glutton for punishment. I love school and I love learning. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to reach kids; ALL kids. It is time to take responsibility that the whole learning process starts with me and how teach. 

As I see it, the first thing I have to change is moving from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. Meaning that what goes on in the classroom is not about me, my teaching, or my lesson. It’s about kids and what they’re doing and learning. Here are six steps to help with transforming classrooms for “this century.”

1. Teach students how to think out-of-the-box. Let them tell you what they’re learning and be open to what they create as their take-away of the lesson. Ask the tough questions–the how and why. In any important project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve always included a colleague who had a different perspective on things. I don’t want to miss the incredible opportunities available for my students because of my short sightedness. .

2. Let the students have a say in designing the lesson. What happens if I provide the important start-up to the lesson and then begin asking questions that jumpstart students thinking? The point would be to ask the right kinds of questions to motivate students to delve further into the lesson. It’s all about voice and choice–let them have a say. When you integrate student choice, there is personal buy-in.

3. Be willing to stretch yourself as learning evolves. Let’s face it, nothing stays the same. And, there is no need to fear anything–not a new lesson or concept, or technology. Be willing to put yourself out there. Remember, your students can teach you a lot. I’ve never been afraid to look at my high school students and say, show me the shortcuts or ask what is the benefit of using this tool over something else? This also means taking risks by trying something new. Go for it–what are you waiting for? Let them teach you as you teach them.

4. Think beyond your classroom or your subject matter. It’s okay to use a plethora of resources to create your lessons or experiences. Twitter has impacted my professional life in more ways than I can count. I am so proud to be connected to so many talented educators who share a similar vision when it comes to creating a ‘this century’ classroom. Think about how to enrich your lesson with cross-curricular activities. Don’t limit yourself and your students to just your field of study.

5. Let students find solutions to problems. If you truly want to check mastery of student learning, there is no better way than to watch them in action. Formative checks along the way allow you to be involved from start to finish. Inquiring minds want to know and I want them to know.

6. Let students capture what they are learning. Students can take pictures, journal their experiences and publish on their blogs. They can Skype with classrooms around the world and share powerful knowledge. There are endless number of opportunities for students to showcase their learning–take advantage of capturing it. Take advantage of the technology available in a “this century” classroom.

The steps included here are part of a collection from years of note-taking from reading various articles, books, blogs, and attending conferences and training with respected colleagues. Having spent 24 of my almost 34 years in education in the classroom, I have had incredible experiences working with some of the best and the brightest students and outstanding colleagues who were willing to go with me as I journeyed into unchartered territory. Plus, I had supportive administrators who, even if they didn’t really understand what I was trying to do, allowed me to do it anyway because they trusted me and my teaching. Now, as a central administrator in charge of curriculum, instruction and professional development, it is my privilege, desire and passion to continue to lead in this journey of transforming classroom instruction in my own district. I am blessed to have a support system of colleagues who are totally on board with where we are headed and walk beside me as we move forward in creating a ‘this century’ classroom. This is not an easy job, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I will continue to celebrate each time a teacher makes the transition and sees the value of a student-centered classroom.