The Stenhouse Blog

PODCAST: Assessment in Your Online Classroom with Rick Wormeli

Posted by admin on Feb 19, 2021 1:37:19 PM

One of the many issues we face this year is how we assess and grade student learning after months of living in a pandemic. If the playbook for grading and assessment was tossed out the window some time ago, what do we do in its place?

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Rick Wormeli, National Board Certified Teacher and author of Fair Isn't Always Equal, talked with us about what matters most in student assessment. Several times throughout the conversation, he references his just-completed Association for Middle Level Education webinar; we’ll include the link to that, as well as his other online references in the transcript to this podcast. (NOTE: This podcast was recorded in April, 2020.)

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About Rick Wormeli

Rick Wormeli5-2009One of the first Nationally Board Certified teachers in America, Rick brings innovation, energy, and validity to his writing, presentations, and his instructional practice, which includes 38 years teaching math, science, English, physical education, health, history, and coaching teachers and principals. Rick’s work has been reported in numerous media, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” National Geographic and Good Housekeeping magazines, What Matters Most: Teaching for the 21st Century, and the Washington Post. He is a columnist for AMLE Magazine, and a frequent contributor to ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine. He is the author of the award-winning book, Meet Me in the Middle, as well as the best-selling book, Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, Revised Edition, and Differentiation: From Planning to PracticeDay One and BeyondMetaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching any Subject.

 

Fair Isnt Always Equal 2E

Full transcript

Faye:
So, how are you doing with all of this? You were so used to jetting around, doing workshops, doing P.D., being in schools, being with teachers. Now you're in a very book-heavy, self-quarantined situation. How are you doing?
Rick:
Well, I took a sabbatical, sort of, for about five months, about four years ago, maybe three years ago. I was very worried about that, because I'm an extrovert. You get energy from being around people.
Rick:
But I thought it went much better than I thought, and I was able to do volunteer things, but also talk to people on Zoom, and Google Hangout, and Skype, and by phone. That kept me tethered. I tried to get focused on it. I had so many creative projects going on, I didn't have time to wallow in a sense of isolation.
Rick:
So far, I have been intensely busy. I think if that falls off, I will run the risk of getting slightly more anxious, more depressed, and I'm very aware of other people. I will tell you that, probably once a day, I have a little moment of despair about the world, and all the deaths. There are so many families around us that are struggling so intensely. Then I have my elderly parents, and my daughter is about to have a baby. I'm going to be a first time grandfather.
Rick:
So, making sure they're both cared for, as well as my wife's family and her elderly parents, there's a little bit there where you get despondent at first. But so far, I'm okay. As long as I stay productive, I think I will weather this. The problem is, I think a lot of people think it's short term. I really, truly think that absent of vaccine, schools are not going to start again until the fall, until after next year, because there won't be a vaccine that's widely distributed. Nobody wants to have a bunch of kids, unvaccinated, coming in and gathering in a physical space.
Rick:
So, I'm hoping that people realize there will still be a need for teacher professional development during this critical time. It might be summarization techniques, or formative assessment, or descriptive feedback, or vocabulary acquisition. "How do I change something that was so physical in my classroom,
to create a physical experience for the kid in his own class?"
Rick:
I think teachers need to think long term; principals, superintendents. Not just, let's just survive the end of the year, and then we go back to our classes. I truly don't think that's going to happen. If you study virology and pathology, it's too ambitious.
Rick:
Now having said that, there could be a miracle. The whole world is working on this simultaneously, so something could change. But two years is usually the minimum for a really, super hyper-fast vaccine. So, to say that we would have it in 12 to 18 months, I think is overreaching a bit. Trying to be optimistic, I totally get that.
Rick:
But nonetheless, I think schools have to be prepared to not start until the fall of 2021, if they're prudent about what's happening.
Rick:
Sorry, I don't mean to be the voice of doom here. It just means, it's a challenge and we can handle this. We've got this. We're creative enough to figure that out, but it does mean we have to spend serious time and thought on it.
Faye:
So, in other words, there's no going back. There is just going to be a new normal that we're going to need to adapt to.
Rick:
I think for a year. I think we will eventually get back into physical classrooms and physical buildings. But I think right now, there are a lot of teachers who've let creativity atrophy a little bit. They've grown complacent. They're going through the motions, an automated process as they do their lessons every year.
Rick:
Now what they're doing, this is forcing them to rethink the bottom line foundations of how the brain learns. A lot of teachers haven't really spent time getting caught up on that, from when they were an undergraduate. They're using the knowledge of 20 years ago, 15 years ago, even 30 years ago, to inform what they do now, and it's not going to serve them well. They're going to get very frustrated. Some teachers are going to retire early, undoubtedly, because this is just not for them.
Rick:
Also, we have to realize that when you do remote, distance learning, it's a slower process because, one, a lot of times, it can't be synchronous. In other words, I can't have all of my biology kids right here for an hour, because they're all doing their U.S. World History, or whatever it is. Maybe these ones over here are doing their PE. So, it's going to be one or two subjects per day, maybe alternating days, or every three days. We're just not going to get through as much curriculum.
Rick:
What that means is, teachers are going to have to really sit down. I work with teachers on this, but so many other people do, and there are books on this. What are the four to eight power standards, the most leveraging? What are nice to know, underneath that. What we'll do is, we'll fight the good fight for the four to eight that are the most pivotal to what comes, and then we'll do the others as we have time.
Rick:
A lot of teachers have never negotiated with each other. Is this more important than this? Let's create a hierarchy of our standards. They kind of say it's all important. That's not cool. People smarter than me have come together and done that heavy lifting are subject associations.
Rick:
So, ILA, NCTE, NSTA, NCSS, NCTM, coaches associations, music director, band director associations; they have to reference them and say, "If you're really short of time and resources, where do you spend most of your energy and most of those resources that you do have? It should be on these things."
Rick:
So, it might be certain types of writing, in an English class. It could be reading comprehension, or fluency, or something along those lines. But maybe knowing transitive/intransitive verbs may not be the most important use of your time. We don't want to strangle forward momentum, really powerful learning, because we're bogged down in the weeds, so to speak, or the less important details.
Rick:
I think that teachers are going to have to get good at that. But it's scary, because it makes you vulnerable to each other. I think this is important, but you don't think it's important. You've been teaching longer, so I'd rather not say what I think is important, because I would be embarrassed that you would think that what I thought was important, wasn't important. So, I would just rather you said it, and I go, "I concur." It sounds more professional.
Rick:
It's a worry. It's a concern, that teachers don't have that skill set. Now, they're going to be called upon to do that. How do I really create that hierarchy of curriculum standards, and then negotiate that with my buddies? If we go pass/fail, or we go just three levels instead of the two levels; whatever that is, we're still going to have to decide, "Okay, seriously. What's passing? What's not? Is it scientific method? Yeah. Is it proper safety procedures in a lab? I don't know. Is it nomenclature and taxonomic reference? Oh, that's good in biology, but do we really need that in other sciences? I don't know. So, what laws of force
and motion are we going to have to emphasize in our physics class? Is it really important that they do 20 words a week in our spelling unit?"
Rick:
I was mentioning this yesterday, when I was doing a webinar. You kind of have to get "Elsa" about it, from Frozen, and just let it go, let it go, as much as you can.
Rick:
Sorry, that was a little rambling, but that's kind of where I am right now.
Faye:
I actually was listening to your webinar yesterday, Rick. In the webinar, you mentioned that it could take two to five years.
Rick:
Yeah.
Faye:
Of going back to school, for kids to fully recover the learning loss that they're realizing from this break. You did mention that teachers are going to have to hone in on those really critical standards.
Faye:
But one of the other things, I think, that you mentioned was, not just the standards that they're used to teaching to, but also recognizing that they may need to build an understanding of the prior year's standards.
Faye:
So, they're going back, but they're going to have to teach their curriculum in a streamlined way, but also learn enough about the previous year's curriculum to be able to blend that into some kind of on ramp to their [crosstalk]
Rick:
Yeah, and that idea of integrating it with. You can't just add it on top of, because you already have an overloaded curriculum.
Rick:
But to do that, teachers are going to have to swallow ... not swallow. I keep saying that word. But somehow have to realize, it's okay to be a first year teacher again. You're going to have to embrace the idea that you're playing catch up yourself, on some of those earlier concepts, if you're not overly familiar with what they are.
Rick:
That's okay. We can humble ourselves a little bit and say, "You know what? I'm learning this, too. Let's make sure we're all up to speed on this. Let's get back to it."
Rick:
Here's the other twist. I have found, over and over again, when I have spent time in the regular classroom, when I was teaching, that I became intimate and really familiar with the previous year's curriculum, and next year's, where they're going. I was so much more effective in my curriculum, because I could show kids how this is part of a larger concept, or this will lead, eventually, to this meaningful application, or draw up from which they already know. If you pull from the world of cognitive science, how the brain best learns, you see that supported with research all over the place.
Rick:
So, a lot of teachers who got very comfortable in myopia, "Am I laser focused to just what I do. Don't make me do anything else or learn anything else. It's outside of my comfort zone," really were limiting the effectiveness of instruction. It may not overtly be expressed, but it will definitely help in the planning for what you do, because you've realized you're part of a longer context.
Rick:
One of the things that I've always been amazed by is that when you have standardized tests, most standardized tests are really a reflection of that year's learning and the previous two or three years. So, when a child does poorly on an eighth grade standardized English or language arts exam, or math, or science, whatever it is, I'm going to look at what that teacher's doing, plus what was the experience of the previous two years, prior to that, to really ascertain what worked, what did not work. What's leading to the child's success? What's detracting from that?
Rick:
That's huge. I think teachers, one, could be comforted by that, that they're not alone. It's not all on them, in that one particular year. We could work together and realize so much more of the success is systemic, multifaceted, not just, "I did this one thing, and it led to this one result, and there's no other impact."
Rick:
So, it's really hard to control for all the variables, but it does open us up to, we're going to be much more inviting of collaboration with one another, and reflective analysis of what we do and its impact on student learning.
Faye:
I can see one of the challenges to this would be consistency.
Rick:
Yeah. So, consistency in many facets. Let's think about that.
Rick:
Consistency that we all agree on what is the standard of excellence in the lines of demarkation. So, if I say this is passing, you would also claim it as passing. Or if I say this is 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, you would also say that. That's integrity. The grades mean what they say. Other factors are not included in that would distort the accuracy. That's great.
Rick:
But also, consistency in access, and resources, and support. With such a roller coaster of emotional cycles throughout the day, and then different levels of parents trying to help out, parents not wanting to help out because they're overwhelmed themselves, other things, we're really going to struggle with that.
Rick:
That's why I say two to five years before we're back to a sense of normalcy, and before we really catch up, even if we really can fully catch up with all the curriculum we, as citizens, have declared children should learn. It might take two to three, four years, sometimes five years, to make up for that, particularly if students are not getting access to online learning for whatever reason, because of home life, or dysfunctional families, or loss of job, and really just trying to find food and the next meal is going to be more important than learning pronouns.
Rick:
So, I'm really feeling like people have to think more long term than just frantically, how do we solve this right now, and then we'll get back to a normal life in the fall. I think that's not realistic, nor is it really what professionals can do right now.
Rick:
We all have this professional wisdom, and we should engage in innovation, to try to figure out how to live up to the principles we know of sound instruction, sound learning, and translate that in whatever way we can.
Rick:
I also think that there are a lot of times where you're going to have to do extraordinary things for extraordinary times, like the teachers we've seen already online. When a student is struggling in mathematics, literally drives over, stands 10 feet from the front door, or through a window screen, and has a little white board, I love it, is explaining quadratics, or graphing inequalities on a Cartesian plane, if that was [inaudible 00:15:12], or really just having a confab, live, right there, on the particular writing, screen Castify where they can circle things, and do it secretly with one another. "I noticed this. There's this."
Rick:
Your vocal inflection and tone convey so much more meaningful, helpful feedback than just something you type out, or hand write, maybe scribble in the margins of something, then it's sent back.
Rick:
I think those extraordinary measures, from time to time, and giving teachers time, but also paying them, making sure this happens, for the occasional home visit like that, though very safe and following protocols, is probably the way we're going to piece it together. That, and a whole lot of duct tape.
Faye:
Actually, let's talk a little bit about the principles, because I think you're right. There is so much going on. There are so many factors that are coming into play, when it comes to a student being able to successfully learn.
Faye:
You talked about access. You talk about family dynamics. You talked about the fact that a teacher's not physically there, to do that coaching, and that prodding, and that motivating.
Rick:
Or to read students, read body language, and interact dynamically in the moment, which is a big part of why we have physical classrooms. It's vital.
Rick:
So, you're exactly right. Go ahead. Sorry for interrupting.
Faye:
No, that's okay. I was going through your book the other day, and I'm going to do a little read aloud for Rick Wormeli this morning.
Rick:
Thank you.
Faye:
In the introduction to your book you wrote, "No resource on assessment, grading, and differentiation can include practical advice on how to handle every weird scenario that arises in the classrooms. So, we'll need to focus on principles first, assessment and grading techniques second."
Faye:
So, can you talk quickly about what principles we need to bear in mind, in light of what we're being forced to do, in terms of educating students?
Rick:
Remember, there's different sets of principles. I have a set of principles for assessment and grading. I have a set of principles for learning, and how that best happens, and teaching best happens.
Rick:
So, you kind of decide what it is, but many teachers have never sat down and written out their teaching principles. Unless maybe they had to defend for a dissertation, or as a part of a closing exam, you've never had to write that out.
Rick:
One of the things I ask teachers to do all the time, and this would be a perfect time to do it, is create a G.P.S., a grading philosophy statement. What you do is, you actually identify all the things you've heard about grading, like what do you really believe about extra credit? What do you believe about redo's and retakes? What about zeros moved into 50s, so there's a minimum F on a 100 point scale?
Rick:
Whatever it is you believe. What do you believe about grading late work, or homework, whatever it is? What do you think an A means, a 4 means, a 3 means, all of that. What about classwork? Is that appropriate, or not?
Rick:
You write out what you believe and your rationale, but then you use that to inform what you do. If you're principled first, practical, applicable second, you tend to make more effective decisions.
Rick:
For example, I really super duper believe, in fact, any teacher I've talked to has said the same thing. Grades should be accurate. So now, if I wasn't a hypocrite, and that's really hard. When you confront people with their hypocrisy, it doesn't always go well, myself included. I totally get that. But if I'm not a hypocrite, and I really want to hold up to that and manifest it, what would I literally be doing in my classroom?
Rick:
Well, grades much be accurate. That means I would do stuff that led to grade accuracy, and remove the things that distorted that accuracy. I would actively do that. So, it made me do this. Huh, having a nice neat notebook, maintaining a learning log, maintaining a reading log, or reading minutes, is really not indicative of the standards I'm teaching.
Rick:
So, I've got to go back to my standards, and first get really good at identifying evidence. But then I have to go back and go, "Alright, that's what I think the grade should represent. How am I representing that?" Well, if a mom signs off that he read for 30 minutes every day for a whole week, that's not expressing any reading standard. Now, what if the standard is, reads for 30 minutes every single day. Then I can legitimately do that, as an attestation the child has read. But that usually is not it.
Rick:
So, the idea that I'm principled would then inform. One of the things I've found is, a lot of teachers will look at a presenter's hand out, or a book on grading, or teaching, or whatever it is, and go, "I have a difficult situation. Let me see if it's in the handout. Oh, there's nothing there. Well, I'll just go back to my old ways." Rather than, they gather their own solutions. They solve their own problems, because they were principled first.
Rick:
So, for example, and this is right from the book, the Fair Isn't Always Equal book. This is from chapter two, in fact, for those people who have that book. "I have an English language learner. I'm struggling with how do I grade them. I go back to my operating tenant, my principles. I'll never falsify a grade. I'll never use a grade if I think it's inaccurate or distorted, to any degree. I realize that if a student goes
above and beyond, that's kind of a different standard. I won't let the format, the vehicle used to express evidence, get in the way of an accurate report. If there's a language bias, or cultural bias, it is my responsibility, my ethics, my moral self, that has a duty to change the format such that the format does not prevent accurate reporting."
Rick:
So, I will submit something to a website. It's in English, and it comes back translated in Farsi, or Urdu, or Spanish. Or I'll find somebody else who speaks that and say, "Am I really assessing what I think I'm assessing?" Because I need to get an accurate report. That's a commitment I will make.
Rick:
I also realize that there are biases that sneak into my thinking, if I'm not careful. We all have them. So, I'm going to be very clear that the kid who was responding to me orally, but is hemming and hawing, is like, "Oh, just a minute, just a minute," and there's a long silence, I should not automatically judge that, that kid doesn't know what he's doing. Because in American society, we're very uncomfortable with silence when really, it's a valuable thing, and a way of showing honor and respect to the other individual.
Rick:
So, I'm going to give you the time to come up with a robust response. Because what the kid was doing was translating my English words into his natural language, coming up with an answer, trying to compare it to what he thinks you want him to say, because those could be two different things, and then try to respond to you in a way that won't embarrass him.
Rick:
That takes a few more seconds, but I was biased. I was judgemental, so one of my operating principles is, for English language learners and other people, is to say, "I will honor silence as a palpable part of the learning equation, the dynamic between us, and I won't jump in like that. I will fully expect you will rise to the occasion, and give me that robust response. But I won't let anything in my biases, as much as I can, get in the way of you expressing who you are."
Rick:
To me, if you have these principles, you find fortitude. You find strength to fight for them, to not give up and lose steam on them because you couldn't figure out the mechanics of doing it. You'll still try to figure out how to do it, rather than just get complacent.
Faye:
It reminds me of some of the work that some of our other Stenhouse authors have done, regarding the importance of wait time.
Rick:
Yeah, absolutely.
Faye:
To not make any assumptions that the fact that a child is pausing and processing means they are not learning, or they are not understanding.
Rick:
Or not prepared, yeah.
Faye:
Or not prepared.
Rick:
Yeah, yeah. Good point.
Faye:
So, Rick, what do you think are reasonable expectations that we should have of our students now? There's so much going on. There's a lot of content out there. I've seen and read some of the commentary in some of our Facebook groups and some of the online communities about, "What do we teach students now? This is all different. Should we just be reviewing content? Should we be introducing new content?"
Faye:
Do you have any thoughts? Because there's a lot of content out there, that teachers want to share with other teachers. But to what extent are we biting off more than we can chew? Are we maybe doing a disservice to the students, because of all of this content that people are sharing?
Rick:
I think every one of those pieces of content should come with a disclaimer, "Use of it what you will. Do not overwhelm yourself. Practice forgiveness, that you're not doing everything you [inaudible] could do, because right now, it's hard to summon it."
Rick:
I've talked with so many literacy experts, big names, wonderful authors, said over and over, "I'm having a hard time just reading a book and concentrating, myself. I can't imagine all the fear and anxieties people are having, and really depression for some of them right now, and then trying to concentrate on the Battle of Hastings, or analyzing Beowulf." It's just not as important. Other things pale in importance.
Rick:
So, I think one of the first things we want to get across to kids in terms of a reasonable expectation, "Could you just be the best version of yourself, as you live out the day?" As we started out the webinar yesterday, we talked about not saying, "Are you okay," all the time, but saying, "Are you good enough to
pursue the day?" And then to be as helpful as you can, and to be your natural self as much as you can moving forward, helping others, helping yourself, taking the time if you need to do that. That's a reasonable expectation. Be that best version.
Rick:
Secondly, one of the coolest things you can do to be the best version of yourself is to engage intellectually, mentally, not just physically, but to engage. Have your mind really stay stimulated. So, let me give you lots of really enticing ways to do that.
Rick:
When it comes to a final report of proficiency, however, it probably is not wise to say, "I'm going to teach you brand new stuff and hold you accountable for it." Because the learning is just so, even with the most resourced, supportive families, really online and attentive, it will still be inconsistent. It will still
go up and down, selective attention.
Rick:
You don't have any of the normal queuing systems that you would have when you're in the classroom, and the ways to double check; the eyes in the back of your head, intuition a teacher might have, reading a child a little differently. It's just not there. We can't rely on it.
Rick:
So, I would say, learning right now is going to be rocky and suspect, if applied to a final report card. So what I would say is, let's make sure they know the material up through March 1, or whenever the schools went online. Let's make sure they know that rock solid. If they want to improve upon that, that's great. But not anything that's going to lower their grade from where they were.
Rick:
Now, what if a child really wasn't doing that well, but now has the time and focus, and starts doing better? Again, that's okay. But on the other side of that, there are families who don't have access to that. So, now we've created inequity even further.
Rick:
What I'm going to share then is, then extend the timeline. That means that this year's material does not end on the official end of the school year date. We go into the summer. We go into the fall. If they come around, and they express this knowledge when they're back in cerebral, intellectual, academic mode, then we allow them to represent evidence from the previous year, and we adjust the report card accordingly.
Rick:
It's not us hiding behind this finite movement through the system, through the calendar. Because calendar dates are incredibly arbitrary, and humans are messy, and inconsistent in their learning, even in the best of situations, let alone now.
Rick:
So, for us to hide behind it, "Sorry, the grades are in. There's nothing I can do," is cowardice disguised as prudence, and trying to be clear. We're going to have to put on our big boy, big girl pants, be the adult in the room and go, "You know what? We're going to part ways with normal procedures in order to live up
to the promise of teaching everyone. Not just the easiest ones, or the ones that fall into our normal conveyor belt."
Rick:
That's going to be really helpful, that they see us as advocating, not adversarial or playing "Gotcha" and just documenting how you fall short, which is a theme, of course, in the book, Fair Isn't Always Equal. I would hope that teachers and school districts would be open to that.
Rick:
That comes from a place of compassion rather than always jamming curriculum and accountability in front of everyone. We alluded to that a little bit yesterday, in the webinar.
Faye:
It's interesting. I was reading an article this morning, from Ed Week, and some administrators were talking about what makes sense from a grading practice, at this point. One of the administrators had mentioned this concept of, "Well, maybe we just give them the grade up through March 1."
Faye:
But he did express some concern, because to what extent does that signal to the student, "Grades don't matter now." To what extent does it motivate them to check out?
Rick:
Right. One of the things I think I expressed yesterday, but I want to make sure I'm very clear about it today, is that grades aren't the motivators you think they are. For a lot of people who have no background in, how do you cultivate self efficacy, personal investment, internal motivation, self-discipline, respect for deadlines, all that mature stuff? How do you do that?
Rick:
None of the research will say use grades to do it. But a lot of people don't have that background, and rely on the grade book to do that for them. That's a false premise. It also makes students, and in an increasingly anxious world, this is a negative. It makes them overly reliant on outside, or external validation, for their sense of value.
Rick:
So, we don't want to do that. I don't want to make you reliant on that. I want a kid to self monitor. If you study John Hattie, and meta-analysis, and Bob Marzano, you realize a student's self monitoring, self-evaluation is actually a way that makes them invest, and they actually achieve the targets more often.
Rick:
So, I'm going to get really good at descriptive feedback. The student giving himself or herself feedback, the parents giving feedback, the teacher giving feedback. I'm going to emphasize that, and the constructive response where you revise your learning in light of the feedback, and then going on and doing something with that. That is far more powerful.
Rick:
There are other ideas about how you release dopamine, which creates a sense of moderate well-being in the brain. We talk a little bit about that yesterday. There are all these really cool things you can do to be far more motivating than rely on the grade.
Rick:
So, I'm going to suggest that, if somebody's saying the students are only doing it because of the grade, that there's probably something wrong in instructional design and teacher/student relationship. Because there is a natural curiosity, built in from birth. We are hard wired to want to do complex, challenging, demanding things, to want to belong, to want to please others, to want to connect, and incredible, to want to learn.
Rick:
Now, the kids might never say, "Excuse me. I'm craving competence and curiosity, and I'm not getting it. Could you impose some upon me?" But we just need to know, that's internally where they're coming from.
Rick:
So, I'm not going to really be too tolerant of, "If we just make it pass/fail, kids won't do it." You're right. There might be a few kids who see that as an excuse, but the majority want a sense of normalcy, and to see their teachers face, and to see some of their classmates faces as they work on something collaboratively, but at a distance.
Rick:
So, they're putting on a skit, or a song about alkaline elements, or whatever it happens to be. That's fine. They actually like that. A lot of people are hard pressed, because they do see it as compliance, coercion, moderate bribery as their only classroom management system, or their way to engage people.
Rick:
If you were to study, "How do you engage a human to invest in something that they're doing," you would never dream of saying, "I'll do grades to do that." You would do all these other things, and that's what we have to get in front of teachers is, "Let me give you these practical other tools."
Rick:
I understand from the group yesterday that two of us are Leanne Nicholson and me, we are going to put together a whole webinar, or a series of them, for teachers just on those practical tips. So, stay tuned.
Faye:
It's interesting, the concept of not dwelling on the grades, or using that as a motivator, actually helps to address another issue that I think some teachers may have, in terms of online learning, which is cheating.
Rick:
Yes! Yes, absolutely.
Faye:
So, you can't see them. You don't know if the work they're submitting is actually their own. But if you are not hanging the grade over their head, maybe the reason for cheating is, to some extent, wiped out?
Rick:
Oh, yeah, because they see, "Oh, it's about the learning, and I can't cheat my way through the learning."
Rick:
There's a wonderful video that people can watch on YouTube with Doctor Tae, T-A-E, Doctor Tae, and then type in skateboarding, and it will come right up. If you can't find it, e-mail me. I'll get it to you.
Rick:
But he talks about the fact that if the goal is to learn the skateboarding trick, by the way, he's a physics professor, who's also a skateboarding champion. Very cool combination. He says if the goal is to learn a skateboarding trick, you can't cheat your way through it. Something else, you literally have to put the time in, the energy to make all the tons of mistakes to learn the trick. Then you get it, and there's that moderate euphoria, that sense of wellbeing. Physiologically, we're tuned into that.
Rick:
So, eating complex carbohydrates and proteins, laughter, goal setting, and even monitoring the goals
along the way are all ways you literally release a little bit of dopamine that keeps people invested.
Rick:
So, we want to do those things that lead to that. As I mentioned before, nothing motivates like success. So, I'm going to make success very attainable, maybe in smaller chunks than we used to do, but you feel like you're progressing.
Rick:
One of the greatest gifts a teacher can give a student is to say, "Look how much you've grown. You were once here, but now you're here. Look at the decisions you made that got you to that point." It's the same thing that a principal would give a teacher. "You were once here in your pedagogy, or your instructional practice, and now you're here." "Wow! Do I feel really empowered and excited to continue that growth!" The perception that I am progressing; we want to get that in front of them.
Rick:
So, I just want to remind folks that there's lots of different ways to get into this. But to overly rely on, really, an antiquated notion that grades define who you are. What we find is, when a lot of classrooms go gradeless, there's an emancipation. People are like, "Oh, I'm really liking learning now! I'm doing it for its own value."
Rick:
When you get a paper back from college, 15 page paper, and it says, "B+, very good," and there's no feedback anywhere, you're disappointed. It was the feedback that motivated, not the letter grade. The letter grade kind of stomped down, and when you do a judgment, it invokes ego, and you're in survival
mode. "How am I doing in relation to my classmates? How am I doing in relation to the teacher? Do I need to self-preserve my own honor, here?"
Rick:
What do cornered animals do? They bite. They lash out. We don't want to do that for our students. So, for lots and lots of different reasons, maybe this is the prime moment to realize, grades weren't the instructional, motivational tool we thought. There's so many better ways that are far more effective, and get this, the kids mature faster in the work habits we keep trying to instill in them.
Rick:
So, we're knocking our head against cinder block wall, trying to get kids to do their homework, or what it is, when we could be doing these other things. Wow! What a missed opportunity, simply because we didn't have those tools in the hands of teachers. Let's get them there.
Faye:
Rick, to what extent do you think that school administrators and teachers are ready to tackle this, a concept of not dwelling so much on grades? Because to some extent, they're constrained by the system, right? The system of, "Okay, a kid graduates from grade three to grade four." There's a whole infrastructure in place, where we graduate students up through high school, and then they have to
apply for colleges.
Faye:
So, revising our thinking on this makes things really ambiguous, and ambiguity scares people. 
Rick:
Oh, sure. Absolutely. In times of insecurity, at least I've found it in my studies that I've done, you want something quantifiable. It helps you feel safe, something measurable. But learning is messy, and you can't always quantify a quantifiable thing. You can't always quantify learning, but we pretend like we can
do it.
Rick:
For example, 100 point scale. That feels like it has precision, but when it comes down to, what's the difference between an 82% and an 83%, you can't really define that. It's a mathematical anomaly. It's within the margin of error.
Rick:
But we feel like, "Oh, now I can rank children." So, you have a 90, so you get into an advanced program, but you have an 89, you can't get in. That's completely arbitrary, has no basis in reality.
Rick:
Valedictorian, elevating one kid when everyone else, not everyone else, but a select group of kids is really up at the same level academic caliber. Yet, you summarily reject them all, and elevate one, who gets the scholarships and everything else.
Rick:
This is highly unethical, inappropriate, as if we could perceive precision of mastery to that level, to that degree. So, it's a false sense of objectivity. What we want to do is tie it, of course, to the evidence descriptors that are there.
Rick:
So, what I find is, if teachers are not truly evidentiary; they're evidence driven, what's the evidence of this, their criteria and reference, they're going to be less prepared to really get into diminishing the importance of grades. Because they see grades as a sorting mechanism, as Tom Guskey talks about, rather than a cultivating and building mechanism of some sort. So, we've got to see that.
Rick:
This other thing to realize is, once teachers start looking at college admissions, and what colleges are doing, they might back off from that very scary doomsday talk. What I mean is this: MIT, the entire freshman class, even for years now, does not do grading. You get pass/fail. Duke has switched over to that. Harvard has switched over. University of California system, completely shifted over.
Rick:
University of Chicago system has shifted over to not requiring SATs, and the GP will be recalculated according to rigor of coursework, not all your courses added together, and for the freshman year, we're going to start moving to pass/fail, for a large part of the colleges. It might be a bunch of schools inside a larger university system, as opposed to the entire university, but more and more schools are doing that.
Rick:
We're realizing that so many kids are chasing points, and chasing grades, and not chasing learning. They only do stuff to jump through the hoops of a teacher.
Rick:
So, we want to get college professors trained on grading, as well, because a lot of them are so strong in the research area, but not necessarily teaching and assessing 18 to 21 year olds. So, that's a big learning curve.
Rick:
But if you begin to realize that people are diminishing the importance, de-emphasizing grading, even at the college levels, then you begin to realize, "I can do some of this stuff in K-12."
Rick:
The other thing to remember is, we don't sacrifice what we know to be developmentally appropriate, instructionally sound practices because somebody above us isn't there yet. We educate those above us.
Rick:
Clearly, the most preparatory thing for the next level, regardless of whether or not they use sound instruction and assessment practices, the best preparation is really learning the stuff of right here, right now, and personal maturity. Those things happen way more often when you do criterion referenced, evidence based, standards based grading than they do in traditional grading practices.
Rick:
So, if you also connect it to the professional world, you see way more similarities in the professional world of how truly EMTs, architects, engineers, doctors, pilots, all of us, teachers even, are assessed, and graded, and evaluated for salaries, continuance, all those different things. It's way more in alignment with standards based grading than it is traditional grading.
Rick:
So, for so many different reasons, it's worth diving in. But until you dive into it, you probably won't be prepared to really refocus your lessons around instruction, not is it gradable or not, is it easy for me. I totally respect that teachers are trying to find something to survive the day and get through this year.
Rick:
What I am imploring educators to do is to sit down over the summer, or as they can, because they might be extending school into the summer, of course, online school, is sit down and go, "Seriously, what are we really about? What do grades really represent? Do they really get in the way of what we're doing, and are limiting what we're doing?"
Rick:
I would say, go with that. The first thing, be instructionally sound. Look at the gradeability later. But when you're looking at gradeability, and it seems difficult, always go back to the evidence that you validated, calibrated with your [inaudible] colleagues and say, "Are there a dozen different ways I could present this same thing, and still be legitimate in my final grade report?"
Rick:
I don't know if that helps or not.
Faye:
I think it really is a complete mind shift, right?
Rick:
It is. It is, but I think we might be ready. So many people have decided to pull back from their over reliance or dependence on grades as a way to do things. They're beginning to see the lesser value of that, that it's diminishing what they do.
Rick:
It might be, sad it took this to do it, but it might be the impetus to put some people on the fence leaning towards, let's do sound instruction and de-emphasize the grades, which could create a momentum. It might take two to three years before we really look back and go, "Okay, now we're pretty competent at this. We're all in agreement. We're going to de-emphasize the grades."
Rick:
But for right now, if we continue to perpetuate grades as a sorting mechanism, it's not going to fly. I think when you try to do that as a sorting mechanism, you're going to run into the equity challenges, the ethics challenges, and you're going to back off really fast, if you're a conscientious educator.
Faye:
So, Rick, would you say that, that's one of the maybe positive by-products of what's happening right now? It's sort of a forcing function, right?
Rick:
Yeah. It forces us to take stock of what we truly believe, and what we're truly after. You can see with a clarity you couldn't see before, because you were constantly running around dealing with urgent things that, now, we realize aren't so urgent.
Rick:
It's like folks who have a member of the family or close friend die. You take a step back and go, "What's really more important right now? I was putting all my energy and thought this was important. I got so upset over this one thing. It really is not that important, if I look at the larger scheme."
Rick:
But we hardly ever spend time, at least in fast-paced American society, where it's always go, go, go, do, do, do, keep up with this, and keep up with that, especially with social media, the immediacy of that, that things can go viral so fast. Everything's so immediate and so fast, it's very rare that we actually focus in a structured way, to go for the long walk, and make it a regular part; to sit there and paint, even though we're lousy painters; to spend extra time folding laundry two different ways, just to let your subconscious rise up and think more clearly; to listen to music without the lyrics that might be distracting, to let it take you someplace. We hardly ever do that.
Rick:
I wrote an article, and it's available on my website, if you want to make that available to viewers and listeners, on, how do you pay attention to your intellectual self. There's a lot of really good ideas in there on how to do that, some of which you can't do now, because of COVID shelter in place instructions. I get that. But there are lots of other ones on there that are still good.
Rick:
When you pay attention to your own intellectual self, you really do see with clarity. You get a little bit more energy, more excitement, and passionate about what you're doing. You begin to think creatively. You can solve some of the problems that are currently stressing you.
Rick:
I agree with you completely. In this stripping away to the bare essentials and foundations of teaching and learning, we're probably seeing some things. Maybe that will be enough to persuade some educators and some policy makers, to let the educators' wisdom and insight guide the day, guide their decisions. Rather than trying to impose instructional ideas or assessment ideas without the proper
training or experience to be informed about that.
Rick:
It's politically expedient that I say teachers should do this, but it may not be effective, really, in the classroom. I need to listen to the teachers and the principals, who have a little bit more skin in the game, so to speak, and a lot more experience and wisdom to share. I would hope policy makers would listen to them.
Faye:
So, Rick, my last question for you is really about your learning, and what you have learned over the past few weeks, in light of everything that's happening, this forced break to our lives. Because when you wrote the second edition of your book, you deliberately took some chapters out, and added some new chapters, based on new learnings from talking to educators and administrators.
Faye:
So, I'm wondering. What have you learned recently, that you think would make it into a new edition of your book? What have you learned recently, that you wish you could add to the existing version of your current book?
Rick:
I don't know that I got as far into the constructive responses to cheating, and plagiarizing, and copying at home in the current version. I'd like to add that in there.
Rick:
But in terms of my own growth, I don't know if I learned it brand new, but it's been reinforced that I still continue to struggle to be overly reliant on talking. I've got to turn that around, where I talk less, and get the other person to arrive at it.
Rick:
So, the rising power, and I would do a whole chapter on this. I did a little bit in the descriptive feedback. But the rising power now, of instructional, cognitive, and reflective coaching. The idea that I'm not going to telegraph my solution to you. I'm going to ask questions so you get there yourself, and you'll own it. If I point out stuff to you, you could do this, you could do that. Believe me, when I coach teachers, I've got these 50 ideas, because I've studied it so intensely. I have maybe longevity over them.
Rick:
Well, I've got these 50 ideas. If I show you all 50, that'll be overwhelming. You won't choose any of it, and you will say, "Those are Rick's ideas, not mine."
Rick:
So, what I do is, I pare that list down, and I make sure we go back and forth. You say an idea, I share or say an idea. We go back and forth doing that, but my goal is to say things like, "Tell me about that. Did that work for you? What would you try differently next time?"
Rick:
When in my head, I'm screaming, "You could totally solve it! You could totally do this, and this! If you just, oh, my goodness!," and I've got to temper that. Because I thought, if I just say it, the kids will get it, or the teachers will get it, so it must be learned. Not cool.
Rick:
So, I'm thinking way more and more about, how do I create a learning experience where the person on the other side of the screen actually could discover it for herself, or himself, or themselves, and carry that forward. That's a better job for me. It's a better outcome for me and my effectiveness, than me saying, "Here's some really practical tips I'd like to get across to you."
Rick:
So, for example, yesterday I did a one hour webinar on grading. That's great, but there are probably only five ideas people will carry forward, even though I want them to carry forward all of it.
Rick:
I would suggest that the webinar, that's just a first stage of building capacity, to open the mind. The real PD comes where teachers wrestle with those ideas with one another, trying them out, coming back to me or their colleagues and saying, "Okay, I tried this, but what advice would you give me?" Or, "Could you walk me through the questions you would ask to solve this problem?"
Rick:
It's the follow up from yesterday's webinar that really would do the most teaching. I want to be mindful of that when I work with middle school kids, high school, elementary, doesn't matter, not just adults. I think that's been empowering.
Rick:
Then, I also have discovered more and more that, if I don't have a deep, broad but also very deep, knowledge of my subject material, I can't be versatile. Versatility, flexibility is absolutely vital to the success of online learning.
Rick:
So, you didn't learn it one way. I've got five other ways. Because I have such an intimate knowledge of it, I can give more examples. Or if some child says, "Well, isn't that just like this idea over here?" I can actually explore that with them, because I know my stuff.
Rick:
Subject content has never been more paramount than our dexterity that's required here. But a lot of teachers have this real finite subject content, and they don't spend time improving their subject content.
Rick:
I'm glad you have dogs, just like I do. It seems like my dogs are barking on the side. I don't know if you can hear that.
Rick:
At any rate, I want to have that with the kids. So, spending time really broadening what I know currently, and what's out there in the world, about the historical era I teach, or about the science of reading; huge blogosphere. We've been talking about this. All kinds of social media going back and forth with the NEPC
ideas; Dylan Wiliam, Paul Thomas, so many people talking about the science of reading and what's going on there.
Rick:
Yeah, we can get into that. But if teachers don't participate in those things, they've got a narrowness that doesn't allow them the versatility. So, I think those two things have become so much more paramount to me.
Rick:
The last thing I'll just share is, I know Dylan Wiliam would disagree to some degree on this, but I'm gobsmacked by the number of teachers who don't have any background in cognitive science, how the brain learns. So, retrievalpractice.org is a wonderful website about how you learn something, but also carry it forward to long term memory.
Rick:
I think the thing that's going to serve teachers dramatically well, significantly well, is that they actually get up to speed in maybe 20, 25 cognitive science principals, to build prior knowledge where there was none, because very little sticks in long term memory, unless it's attached to something already in
storage.
Rick:
The brain craves structure. So, rather than just say, "Read this article, read this text," I'm going to spend a few moments reviewing the structure of the article. There are transition words that often reveal the text structure. Then we're going to set a purpose for reading, because priming the brain for what to seek increases the effectiveness of the learning, and the long term retention.
Rick:
I'm going to do interweaving, where we mix up the practice problems. Instead of doing block practice, where we practice all of one thing, then all of something else, and you don't mix it up a little bit. That's not helpful.
Rick:
So, there's all kinds of things going on there. I would just impress upon teachers, this might be the time. Maybe you learn three principles per week, to add to your repertoire. Then you do this, "Well, I've got this body of knowledge I have to teach. Which principles can I use now?"
Rick:
It's kind of opening up a door. I just find it's refreshing. You revisit why you went into teaching in the first place. If you're like me, it's an exciting thing to do, and you never had time before to do it.
Rick:
So, as time becomes available, maybe after the dust settles from finishing the year as best you can, that would be the time to get into that. I'd be glad to help, if people would have me.
Faye:
So, Rick, I know I said that was the last question, but I've got another follow up for you.
Rick:
It's okay.
Faye:
Because it's interesting that you said that it would be beneficial for teachers to study some of those principles of cognitive learning, cognitive science.
Rick:
Yeah, yeah.
Faye:
The flip side of that, that we're hearing a lot about, too, of course, is social/emotional learning.
Rick:
Yes! Yes.
Faye:
So, that's the flip side of it. What you're getting at the heart of, I think, is, really get to know your content. Know it inside and out, so you can be nimble, and you can be flexible, and confident in your teaching. But look at all of these other inputs that will impact how you deliver content or share content with your students, whether that be cognitive learning practices, or social/emotional learning.
Faye:
So, can you speak to the social/emotional learning part of it?
Rick:
Yeah. Unfortunately, there are a lot of teachers who are like, "Don't demand of me a counselor's role, because I'm not trained in counseling." To me, that's a cop out. Because as I was mentioning before, about 90% of everything that goes into a brain goes to emotional response centers.
Rick:
So, I think the teacher, just as much as saying, "I'm going to have students visit this website, read this article, and do this asynchronous interaction," very purposeful, follow the agenda; they should also be orchestrating the emotional atmosphere.
Rick:
It's as just a vital part of the teaching/learning dynamic. To toss that out and say, "Somebody else will deal with that, because I can't," is rather unprofessional.
Rick:
It's very fixable. So, maybe over this next whole year. That's their learning curve is to get up to speed on that. Because I could be as succinct and organized as I want, but if the kid is anxious, they're not going to hear it.
Rick:
My hiring, my whole reason that I was hired to be a teacher was to teach those students learn. Not merely to present content, and document how they fall short, which is this Gotcha mind set.
Rick:
So, if I'm hired to do that, I have to be an expert, at least a mini-expert to some degree, in all of the facets that contribute to students' learning. Social/emotional learning, vital.
Rick:
Again, on the website, my most recent article is on the rising nature of anxiety, and panic disorders, and depression, and very constructive things we can do. There's a lot of suggestions there on how you might first get into that.
Rick:
But this idea that we're, teachers, even, not just students, are going through a grieving process. We really have to have a sense of honor the grief that people are feeling. It might manifest as anger. It might manifest as almost manic practice; not eating, or eating too much, comfort eating. A form of depression,
sleeping way more hours than we ever did before.
Rick:
That's a part of grieving. So, I need to honor how that's going to come across. It's going to be imperfect in humans, including ourselves, as I do that, would be vital. To teach blind to that will not give you the meaning as a teacher, because you're not going to see that positive effect. But more importantly, the kids will not learn like you think they're learning.
Rick:
Then the problem would be, then the teacher has the nerve to blame the child for the lack of learning, when you're supposed to be the one that has the training and know-how in doing this.
Rick:
So, I would suggest, you could very easily fall into deficit thinking, if you're not careful. We want to avoid that as much as possible. So, anything we can do to get up to speed on social/emotional learning would be very, very helpful.
Rick:
You're right, there is the balance. I have to be nimble with my subject, which means I have to know it, but I have to know this, and then I have to do the cognitive science, how the brain in general best learns, plus the developmental nature of my children in general. What do 10 years olds do, and how they learn
compared to 16 year olds, or seven year olds? Absolutely, but that's why we're professionals. We're supposed to be able to do that. We were hired to do hard things.
Rick:
So, it might take a bit to get up to speed. That's fine. But to realize you don't have that one element and do nothing about it, that's not so professional, and we want to avoid that.
Rick:
I don't know if that helps, or if that's too didactic, but that's where I am.
Faye:
No, that was great. Thank you so much for your time, and for taking almost an hour to talk to us about some of your thoughts on the subject. Any parting words for our audience?
Rick:
You know, there's lots of resources out there; online websites, software; more and more of that's become available. Teachers are publishing the lessons online. SchoolTube, TeacherTube, [inaudible] Academy. As long as with all those online tutorials, you really vet the science and math is accurate, it's cool.
Rick:
So, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can use each other, and reach out. My students are struggling. I'm not sure how to teach something, but this teacher videoed herself, or themselves doing this. I might be able to give that out, as long as I vet it.
Rick:
So, sharing online tutorials is going to be really helpful for a lot of parents, not just for students as you do that. Anything you could video or do an audio file of you talking would be a lot better.
Rick:
But to give yourself that permission; if you're given eight ideas on how to improve your online learning, could you just focus on two? Let the rest of them go, and build them in as you feel comfortable. Don't feel you have to go from zero to 60 in the very first week, because you won't do any of it. You'll fall apart. You're no good if you're not physically and emotionally present for children.
Rick:
So, as much as you possibly can, bite off little chunks, would be my big one. Then, whatever you do, find humor as often as you possibly can; just bizarre, non sequitur, out of the blue humor. Squirrel! Whatever it might be, just to help yourself along, and realize we're in it together.
Rick:
Humor is very relaxing. It brings dopamine. It really does help with that. But it also creates connection, that we're in this together. So, it's a valuable thing. Even if you're not used to humor in a classroom, you're not normally a humorous person, you could invite students to do that with you. Each day, there's a joke of the day, or some kind of bizarre parody. "Okay, at the end of this particular unit, we're going to choose three of you who are comfortable, to do a satire, or an imitation of your favorite teacher, or me," if you don't want to have them talk about some other teacher, "... of me, go for it! Today, we're going to use puppets. Here's my puppet," or whatever it is. Just to be a little bit of a smile for a kid's day,
or maybe a parent's day, is worth it.
Faye:
Great. Thank you so much, Rick.
Rick:
Thanks. I'll be here if you need me.
Faye:
Okay. Stay safe.
Rick:
You, too. Stay healthy. Bye-bye.