Friday, 19 November 2010

Grading for Learning & ISB21 Standards

About 4 years ago, I attended a workshop by Ken O'Connor held at Rumrudee International School. I have to admit that I'm pretty jaded when it comes to attending educational workshops after so many years of teaching—but I do look for new ideas and celebrate when I come across them. This particular workshop, however, I found to be revolutionary. It's the first time I found myself really questioning the deepest values held as educators—what is the learning that we are really grading? I couldn't believe I was asking myself this question! I couldn't believe I was really wondering if I was grading what kids were learning! Now, four years later, I'm more comfortable with these questions, although I find myself continuously asking them whenever I set up a lesson. I'm asking if the content I want the students to learn matches the standard(s) that's been defined. Of course, the assumption is that the standards have been defined. The scary part is that when I went into the descriptions of the curricula I work with, I found a variety of detailed categories and descriptors, aims and objectives and outcomes and illustrative examples, but no explicit performance standards.

So, essentially, I made up my own! It's not as bad as it sounds. I am an educated educator and have written enough curricula in my educational life, so felt (feel) competent in doing creating the performance standards I was essentially expecting my students to do. But, I should not be working in a vacuum. I should have a team of colleagues working with me on this. But given the constraints of varied philosophies, time, problems with the curriculum platform at ISB (i.e., Rubicon) and abandonment of it, I was forced to forge ahead on my own. In one course, I came up with two performance standards and set up formative and summative assessments to match within short order. I eliminated all the extraneous assignments from my gradebook. I accounted for what Ken O'Connor calls the 'halo effect,' i.e. grading the student based on his good (or bad) behaviors and not on his/ her demonstration of the standards, which today at ISB is known as the HAL grade. Now, connect to NETS-S and ISB's: ISB21 Technology and Information Literacy Standards. In looking these over, I'm back to the same considerations and questions I started with coming out of the O'Connor workshop. Here's a sample of the language of what students should be able to do by the end of grade 12:
Identifies independently the inquiry focus, data and information requirements and a range of information sources based on appropriateness to the task and reliability (e.g. recognizes the value of print materials, subject experts and online communities and coaches to complement searched information).
What I ask myself in regard to this language and in regard to how to grade for learning are three things: 1) where does the 'benchmark' end and the 'standard' begin; and 2) am I grading to the benchmark, or to the standard, and once that's determined, 3) how would I assess it in terms of a summative assessment so that I can grade it and determine student learning? I'm then led to another set questions: is this standard tacked onto the rest in my curriculum? Are the other 6 benchmarks/ standards also tacked on, or are these to be divided up among the other departments/ grades to be 'shared'? And if this is the case, who gets what standard?In ISB's past, similar benchmarks/ standards have been defined and attempts were made to embed them into existing core curricula: social studies, English, the sciences, mathematics. The IT coordinators of the time made decisions as to where which standard would best fit. For example, I was teaching English 10 at the time and I was responsible for teaching and assessing certain word-processing skills, specifically within something like a Works Cited page in the Gr 10 Research Paper. We were also tasked with searching for credible sources on the Internet, given that the paper called for researched information. I also supported EAL students in Modern World History at the time. We worked with the following chart to discern what technology skill fit with which outcome. This provided input to the coordinators to figure out a type of scope & sequence across the divisions:

You can see that resources were combined with technology, which demoted the value of 'technology'—so technology was sort of like an add-on. In some ways, at the time, this made sense, given the technology available to us. I know there exists a 'final product' developed by the IT coordinators at the time, but ironically, it's not electronic. I'm sure it's stored in a binder on a shelf somewhere--maybe even on mine, if I were to search for it. For awhile, we were sort of 'held accountable' for assessing/ grading the standards that were identified, but over time and with change in admin and changes to curriculum, etc., 'things fall apart.'

I have to say, fundamentally, it makes sense to do a curriculum analysis to see where the new benchmarks/ standards best fit across divisions and across curricula. And, some sort of 'built-in' place for change. Change not only of the benchmarks/ standards, but change as to where they should be learned/ assessed. These questions on assessment come from ISTE's site: 'Lesson Plan for Implementing NETS-S Template':

Assessment (What will students do or produce to illustrate their learning? What can students do to generate new knowledge? How will you assess how students are progressing (formative assessment)? How will you assess what they produce or do? Who will be the audience for a digital product or presentation? How will you differentiate products/outcomes?)

Maybe these can help, but this is all quite messy, which is ultimately good, if chaos does lead to order. However, returning to the original argument—given our current state here at ISB—our need to establish academic-based benchmarks/ standards so as to be grading for learning, are we putting the cart before the horse, to be expecting a grading (if we are expecting a grading) of the new benchmarks/ standards before we really know as a school what learning we're grading? Maybe the cart needs to come before the horse, and Web 2.0 skills can show us how it's all done!

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