Monday, December 15, 2014

From Masks to Motivation

During my second year of teaching, I was blessed with an 8th grade student who taught me a valuable lesson about motivation.  The student, whom I’ll call Roger, began the year doing little, or more often, none of the work I assigned.  Each day he came to class, and each day he left—with his pencil as sharp as ever.

One day, shortly after I had handed out a unit test, Roger cut holes in the test for his eyes, nose, and mouth, and then ran around the room using the test as a mask!  We proceeded like this for three quarters of the year, with me hounding Roger to do some work, and Roger avoiding the work at all costs.  I hate to admit it, but I had a bit of a fixed mindset about motivation—some kids were motivated to do school work, and others weren’t.  Roger just wasn’t motivated, and I didn’t think he ever would be.

But shortly after the start of the 4th quarter, a magical thing happened.  We were learning about the Pythagorean Theorem, and Roger did a few problems in class. I asked him if he would like to work on the homework assignment in my room after school, and he did.  He began coming to my classroom during my prep time to work on math assignments, and when it came time to take the test on the Pythagorean Theorem, Roger put his pencil to his paper and began to take a math test for the first time that year.  During the test, he came to my desk after every problem to see if he had done it correctly.  Finally, another student suggested that he pull his desk close to mine, so he wouldn’t have to keep going back and forth.  He did just that, and while he needed lots of reassurance that he was doing just fine, he completed the test on his own.  He had learned the Pythagorean Theorem, and I learned that anyone can become motivated to do anything at any time.

Why did Roger become motivated to learn so late in the year?  I’ve often wondered about that, so when I heard about a book study at Simle using Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, I jumped at the chance to join in.  Daniel Pink describes three elements of motivation.  He summarizes decades of scientific research as he explains that the elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose lead to far greater motivation and performance than extrinsic motivators do.  Of course, many students are motivated to learn because of extrinsic factors, but many teachers in BPS are capitalizing on the elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to maximize intrinsic motivation.

Autonomy relates to having control over things like what we do, how and when we do it, and who we do it with.  Teachers are increasing student autonomy in big and small ways.  They may allow students to choose a topic to learn about or simply allow them to choose a partner.  Last year, one teacher showed me a Google spreadsheet that had all of the “I can” statements for the course listed.  Students then attached a piece of evidence—maybe a photo, video, or written paper—to the appropriate spot on the spreadsheet to demonstrate mastery of a learning target.  It was a way to allow for an incredible amount of student autonomy.

Mastery involves the ability to continue to get better at something that matters.  Lately, I’ve seen several middle school teachers use a tool to help students self-monitor their progress toward a standard.  Students know they can continue to learn more and reassess to demonstrate mastery throughout the year.  The learning isn’t done just because the test is over, and that gives students a better chance at mastery.

The element of purpose is connected to our drive to do things that matter.  When I taught math, I often had a hard time connecting the work we did in class to something that really mattered to students.  Students didn’t buy my explanations of how it would be useful in the real world someday, they wanted it to matter right now, in their current real world.  As teachers throughout the district learn more about project-based learning, students are becoming engaged in work that has a clear purpose. Students are helping people, solving problems, and making cool things, and are intrinsically motivated to learn all the while.

How are you keeping students (and yourself) motivated to learn as we move into the second half of the year? What lessons have you learned about motivation? Please use the comment field; it would be great to hear what’s working for you!

Do you want to hear more from Dan Pink?  Check out this short video.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Standards Based Education, Grading, and Reporting

Article by Ryan Townsend
CITA Director
Bismarck Public Schools

Lately it doesn’t matter what’s on the agenda, discussions eventually turn to standards based grading (SBG).  Put more than two educators in a room, and the topic is bound to come up.

But what exactly is SBG?  Standards based grading is ensuring that a students’ grade truly reflects his or her mastery of grade level and content standards.  In order for grades to be standards based, we have to have curriculum and assessments that align to those standards.  The curriculum is based on identified and prioritized standards sequenced across a set time frame whether that be a trimester, semester, or year.  And just like traditional grading, SBG utilizes effective instructional practices (project-based learning, small group instruction, personalized learning strategies, etc.) that ensure student learning and promotes positive professional relationships between students and teachers.

In order to report those grades accurately, assessments should reflect a student’s learning of those standards through a scale of proficiency.  While accurately reflecting student mastery, SBG does not hold students accountable for the rate at which they mastered the learning.  In traditional grading, homework, quizzes, projects, and tests are all averaged together at the end of a unit.  A student who struggles during that unit, but in the end masters the learning, will see their score lowered as we averaged their struggle throughout the unit.  In SBG, that student is rewarded for that struggle and hard work with a report that demonstrates their mastery.

Likewise SBG would never reflect a zero.  A zero would indicate that there was no assessment of learning.  Why would we report that we don’t know how the student did?  Certainly students need to be held accountable for missing such an assessment.  But in traditional grading, for every zero received a student would need to score a 100% to average a 50%.  That one zero alone will never allow a student’s report to accurately reflect their mastery.

A repeated concern that we have heard is the functionality of PowerSchool with SBG.  Teachers feel that they cannot effectively report students’ progress, and parents feel that PowerSchool doesn’t allow for effective communication of their students’ learning.  This is something that we are working on every day on both the programming of PowerSchool’s layout for parents and populating Moodle with relevant information—proficiency scales, I can statements, and resources for parents and students to use at home.

From feedback we’ve also heard of teachers who have gotten creative to become effective with their communication with parents.  Recently a couple of teachers shared with me their ideas on how to communicate homework feedback with parents.  We want to learn from those successful teachers and share their methods so they can be replicated and modified to work on a larger scale.  Our thought is to share that collective wisdom through group and individual professional learning within the buildings.

I have had some amazing discussions in the last two weeks thanks in part to all the feedback we have been receiving about moving SBG through the middle schools.  We take that feedback to help guide our planning for professional learning as well as identify where it is really working for our parents, teachers, and students.

In the end all of the discussions, communications, and feedback have been beneficial in making standards based grading more effective for the students and staff of Bismarck Public Schools.