Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Let's Get Better!

Dylan William shared the results of three generations of school effectiveness research last week at Oakland schools. The results indicated that it doesn’t matter very much which school you go to, but it matters very much which classroom you are in. In the United States, variability at the classroom level is at least four times that at school level. He called upon educational leaders to focus on improving teachers instead of measuring them. But what are we meant to get better at? Wiliam made an excellent case for focusing all of our efforts on helping teachers to get better at formative assessment.

“Formative assessment is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics.” (Popham, 2008.)

There is consistent and substantial evidence of the impact that feedback and formative assessment have on learning. According to Wiliam, the most effective teachers:

Establish where the students are in their learning
Identify the learning destination
Carefully plan a route
Begin the learning journey
Make regular checks on progress on the way
Makes adjustments to the course as conditions dictate

I found the analogy of formative assessment as a journey made so much sense to me. Before we decide where to go, we need to know where we are. Figuring out where students are in their learning first is crucial, but identifying the destination is also critical. Frequently our lowest achievers simply do not know where they are supposed to be going. By sharing our learning intentions were are leveling the playing ground.

As teachers we can’t do our jobs without finding out what is happening in kids’ heads-we need to gather evidence. According to Wiliam, “Self reports cannot be trusted. Ninety percent of American car drivers think they are better than average.” We need to get better at engineering effective discussions, activities, and classroom tasks that elicit evidence of learning. We must then use that evidence to provide feedback that moves learners forward.

In order for feedback to be effective we must create a classroom culture where feedback is welcome. The secret is knowing your students-when to push and when to back off. Teachers who embrace formative assessment don't listen for the “right” answer; they listen because they are interested in what their students think. Students need to know that you love them and have their best interests at heart, it’s all about relationships.

Wiliam provided several examples that clearly demonstrate how feedback, rather than grading, has a powerful impact on learning. “Our students are grade junkies, we are pushers and parents are co-dependents,” he said. “We have to reduce our students’ obsession with grades; grading gets in the way of learning.” These ideas may be challenging for some teachers so how do we help them make powerful changes in their instruction? As Wiliam pointed out, “Changing your teaching while teaching is like engine repair in-flight.” He recommended that we build teacher learning communities.

He asked school leaders for a commitment to engineer effective learning environments for teachers by:

Creating expectations for continually improving practice
Keeping the focus on the things that make a difference to students
Providing the time, space, dispensation, and support for innovation
Supporting risk-taking

He asked that we as teachers commit to continual improvement and to focus rigorously on the things that make a difference to students, even when they’re hard to do. “Formative assessment is about making students’ voices louder,” he said. “And teachers listening better.” Let’s get better together!