Category Archives: Connecting Ideas

Focus on learning: build a team – Embedding Formative Assessment VTR SPW

What if we collect evidence of progress to plan for next steps in learning?


What if we take up a series of 30 Day Challenges: Step outside your comfort zone! as described in Justin Cahill’s linked post? Justin (@justybubpe) writes:

How about professionally? How can I apply the 30-day challenge to my job as a physical education teacher? How can I use this challenge to motivate my students? How can I take advantage of trying something new for 30 days to help bolster my planning and strengthen my curriculum? How will I answer all of these questions in under 30 days?

What if we focus on learning? When we set goals, are we committed to reaching them? What if we set micro-goals and action-steps that move our learning forward regularly?  How might we choose to team to step outside our comfort zone for 30 days to shift our practice to more formative assessment?

What if we choose to build a supportive accountability team to carve out moments for self- and peer-assessment?

Four weeks appears to be a minimum period of time for teachers to plan and carry out a new idea in their classroom. (Wiliam, 22 pag.)

How might we shift to grow from

a knowledge-giving business to a habit-changing business? (Wiliam, 19 pag.)

What if we try for 30 days?

Indeed, the evidence suggests that attention to classroom formative assessment can produce greater gains in achievement than any other change in what teachers do. (Wiliam, 11 pag.)

How might we try for 30 days?

Viewed from this perspective, choice is not a luxury but a necessity. (Wiliam, 15 pag.)

Cahill, Justin. “30 Day Challenges: Step outside Your Comfort Zone!” Keeping Kids in Motion. WordPress, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Jan. 2016.

Wiliam, Dylan, and Siobhán Leahy. Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for F-12 Classrooms. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences, 2015. Print.

Read with me? book study: Embedding Formative Assessment

What if we study and practice, together, to embed formative assessment into our daily practice and learning?

Jennifer Wilson (@jwilson828), Kim Thomas (@Kim_math) and I are hosting a virtual book club around Dylan Wiliam’s Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms in January and February.

I am intrigued and inspired by the chapter titles. I want to learn more about learning intentions and success criteria, eliciting evidence of learning, feedback that moves learners forward, students serving as resources for each other, and students as owners of their own learning.

If you don’t have the book yet, you can check it out by reading the first chapter from Learning Science’s website.

Here’s our reading plan:


We want you to join us! We commit to reading one chapter per week and sharing our thinking using #T3Learns. To add a little structure to our reflective practice, we are going to share using the following Visible Thinking Routines.  Of course, we will share other things too.

We choose this reading pace in order to prepare for Dylan Wiliam’s keynote and sessions at the 2016 International T3 Conference in Orlando. We want to be able to ask questions and make connections based on our actions, experiences, successes, and struggles.

Join us! Let’s experiment and learn by doing.

How might we impact learning if we work on intentionally embedding formative assessment into our daily practice and learning?

Cross posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome.

Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

Wiliam, Dylan, and Siobhán Leahy. Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for F-12 Classrooms. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences, 2015. Print.


Thinking from different angles. Facing challenges. (TBT Remix)

Thinking from different angles. Facing challenges. Making thinking more visible.

The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism. (Levitt and Dubner)

This means that facing challenges, both problems and opportunities, is vital to personal success. This is the arena in which we can grow, excel, create, and expand. Without these challenges, we wither. Because of this importance, it is equally vital that we examine the way in which we meet the challenges by questioning our path from the outset. (Lichtman)

So, if we really believe that good communication is core to intelligent strategy, to seamless teamwork, to the pursuit of excellence, we must take seriously the limitation of being literally blinded to larger realities. We don’t know what we don’t know until we ask others to add their perspectives and until we start drawing it out for everyone to see. (Brown)

The costs of changing nothing are stagnation and resignation to the status quo. But the benefits of changing your reality— and sharing that positive reality with others— are the kinds of successes, discoveries, and breakthroughs that can transform not only your own life but the world. (Achor)

What if we examine the way we meet challenges, think from different angles,  share perspectives, and share successes? How might we change our part of the world?

Thinking from different angles. Facing challenges. was originally published on December 22, 2014.

Achor, Shawn (2013-09-10). Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change (p. 232). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Levitt, Steven D.; Dubner, Stephen J. (2014-05-12). Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain (p. 8). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Lichtman, Grant (2010-05-25). The Falconer (Kindle Locations 1330-1332). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Silos Suck: How to Doodle Everyone Onto the Same Page.” Sunni Brown. Sunni Brown, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset; find a path forward (TBT remix)

Move the fulcrum so that all the advantage goes to a negative mindset, and we never rise off the ground. Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset, and the lever’s power is magnified— ready to move everything up. (Achor, 65 pag.)

“When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them.   And if abilities can be expanded – if change and growth are possible – then there are still many paths to success.” (Dweck, 39 pag.)

How are we intentionally teaching growth mindset? How might we coach ourselves and our learners using Carol Dweck’s first steps to changing your mindset?

Step1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice.

Step 3. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice.

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.

“Mostly though, I feel it in a changed attitude toward failure, which doesn’t feel like a setback or the writing on the wall anymore, but like a path forward.” (Coyle, 217 pag.)

Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset’ find a path forward was originally published on January 12, 2015.

Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print.

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born : It’s Grown, Here’s How. New York: Bantam, 2009. 217.  Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. 39. Print.



Growing into independence

Coaching or over-coaching? It’s not about intent; it is about impact. If we focus on learning, don’t we need to move to the sideline and watch? How will we know if learners are independent or dependent if we are always on their learning field?

On his own, a dependent learner is not able to do complex, school-oriented learning tasks such as synthesizing and analyzing informational text without continuous support. (Hammond, 11 pag.)

How might we intentionally plan and facilitate learning experiences to help dependent students grow into independent learners?

See that window?


Over the last break, I wanted to learn to make something that I’d seem my smart, creative brother make back in the summer.  Jeff, my brother, believes in learning by doing. He prototypes and seeks feedback.  How often do our learners do that or get to do that?

So, when I asked to learn, we went to work.  I received a 5 minute mini-lesson on the Kreg jig and pocket screws where I watched and asked questions.  Then, I was handed the Ryobi drill.

Generally speaking, one of our family rules has been that Jill cannot use anything that has a blade and a power cord.  So I predicted that Jeff would help me. I mean, stand right there beside me to keep me from making a mistake.

Nope. He was busy; working.

He did come right back to explain that the drill was a variable speed drill and asked me to slow down.  And then, he was gone again. Who knew? Variable speed so I could work at a speed where I felt confident. Amazing! I experienced success and a few failures and one do-over.

How do we make time and space for our learners to become independent learners?

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 5.29.59 AM
From Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Independent learners regularly attempt new tasks without scaffold and have cognitive strategies to get unstuck.

Coaching or over-coaching. There’s more to the story,

Remember that window?

Consider that window…

Hammond, Zaretta, and Yvette Jackson. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin. Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Hammond, Zaretta, and Yvette Jackson. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin. 2015.

Deep Practice, Leveling, and Communication (TBT Remix)

Does a student know that they are confused and can they express that to their teacher? We need formative assessment and self-assessment to go hand-in-hand.

I agree that formative self-assessment is the key. Often, I think students don’t take the time to assess if they understand or are confused. I think that it is routine and “easy” in class. The student is practicing just like they’ve been coached in real time. When they get home, do they “practice like they play” or do they just get through the assignment? I think that is where deep practice comes into play. If they practice without assessing (checking for success) will they promote their confusion?  I tell my students that it is like practicing shooting free throws with your feet perpendicular to each other. Terrible form does not promote success. Zero practice is better than incorrect practice.

With that being said, I think that teachers must have realistic expectations about time and quality of assignments. If we expect students to engage in deep practice (to embrace the struggle) then we have to shorten our assignments to accommodate the additional time it will take to engage in the struggle.  We now ask students to complete anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 as many problems as in the past with the understanding that these problems will be attempted using the method of deep practice.

Our version of deep practice homework:
“We have significantly shortened this assignment from years past in order to allow you time to work these questions correctly. We want you do work with deep practice.

  • Please work each problem slowly and accurately.
  • Check the answer to the question immediately.
  • If correct, go to the next problem.
  • If not correct, mark through your work – don’t eraseleave evidence of your effort and thinking.
    • Try again.
    • If you make three attempts and can not get the correct answer, go on to the next problem. “

I also think that the formative assessments with “leveling” encourage the willingness to struggle. How many times has a student responded to you “I don’t get it”? Perhaps it is not a lack of effort. Perhaps it is a lack of connected vocabulary. It is not only that they don’t know how, is it that they don’t know what it is called either. It is hard to struggle through when you lack vocabulary, skill, and efficacy all at the same time. How might we help our learners attend to precision, to communicate in the language of our disciplines?

Now is the time to guide our young learners to develop voice, confidence (and trust), and a safe place to struggle.

Deep Practice, Leveling, and Communication was originally published on November 20, 2010


#ShowYourWork: words, pictures, numbers

In her Colorful Learning post, Learning: Do our students know we care about that?, Kato shared the following learning progression for showing your work.

What if we guide our learners to

I can describe or illustrate ow I arrived at a solution so that the reader understands without talking to me?

Isn’t this really about making thinking visible and clear communication?  Anyone who has taught learners who take an AP exam can attest to the importance of organized, clear pathways of thinking. It is not about watching the teacher show work, it is about practicing, getting feedback, and revising.

Compare the following:

What if a learner submits the following work?

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.43.46 AM

Can the reader understand how the writer arrived at this solution without asking any questions?

What if the learner shared more thinking? Would it be clearer to the reader? What do you think?


How often do we tell learners that they need to show their work? What if they need to show more work? What if they don’t know how?

How might we communicate and collaborate creatively to show and tell how to level up in showing work and making thinking visible?

How might we grow in the areas of comprehension, accuracy, flexibility, and deeper understanding if we learn to communicate clearly using words, pictures, and numbers?