The following is adapted from Reimagining Writing Assessment by Maja Wilson
Good news: if you feel like you’re bashing your head into a brick wall as you try to make assessment work for you, generate data for the common district assessment, prep students for the SAT, and satisfy your institution’s accreditation mandates, take heart. It’s not you. Mainstream writing assessment tools are incapable of doing what we want them to do. That’s because the system that shaped these tools works at cross-purposes with our best intentions as knowledgeable teachers, invested writers, and compassionate human beings who teach for a more inclusive democracy. I desperately wish it were possible to simultaneously honor these intentions and appease the powers that be. The knowledge that you can’t serve two feuding masters, however, can be a relief.
As I wrote Take Charge of Your Teaching Evaluation, I was thinking about how I could make it more useful and began reflecting on the professional development experiences that shaped my own growth. One of the best experiences I had was when a group of us would meet regularly on part of our prep period to discuss our students' work and our own planning and feedback to students. This powerful experience, shared across disciplines and grade levels, helped me focus on questions such as “What do good directions to students look like? How can I help my students see what doing their best work looks like?” or even “How can I ask better questions?” We would meet and bring samples of student products along with the assignment itself, with each of us given time to present our artifacts and questions and then listen while others offered their ideas for our consideration. Many others conduct this kind of collegial study, and it helps keep the focus on how we can improve student learning and student work.
Believing in and teaching the transformative power of yet is perhaps my favorite of all moves and its power with struggling learners especially important. Life, learning, progress, and success is always about yet. What you can’t do now is not what you can’t do, but what you can’t do yet.
Wrapping your mind around yet is not always easy. “It’s about learning to fly. If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. Wherever you are is where you are. You will get there. Embrace where you are and believe that you will learn to fly.” These words are exactly the kinds of words we need to say to our students.
Begin by acknowledging that students are where they are. Embrace that, and believe that they will learn how to fly. Truly. Believing in the power of yet is not some touchy-feely ideology but is grounded in the belief that when we have a mindset that trusts that all students can grow, we can move our students to a place of great joy and success.
Now is the time of the year when the daydreams of August turn into the real work of teaching. What were your hopes and dreams before school started? Have they gotten buried under a heap of paperwork, assessments, and things not going the way you hoped? Let’s dust them off and bring them back! My co-author and all around favorite human, Christine Hertz, and I are working on a blog series about integrating your beliefs into your curriculum, with (hopefully) some handy tips along the way.
How can principals help teachers build energy? It's an enduring question for a reason, with many possible answers. Don Graves once visited a school where each Wednesday morning the faculty met to have a breakfast of rolls, juice, and coffee and then moved into various curriculum focus groups. The faculty had one half hour together before school and then one halof hour after the children arrived on the busses. The staff ran the sessions and discussion groups. “I have but one requirement,” the principal said, “that everyone attend and no one be alone in their room. I make sure the kids are in a good situation for their half hour. Every June we reevaluate the Wednesday morning program and decide what specific interest groups will follow for the next year. In previous years we’ve produced lots of things: parent forums, a new math curriculum; we prepared a language arts presentation for parents.” This particular program had been going on for ten years. There is renewal for the staff in the middle of the week, and above all, keeps the staff in touch with each other and develops new ideas.
On today’s Heinemann Podcast, Supporting Struggling Learners. How do we meet the needs of all our students while also meeting the demands of the curriculum? Every learner has strengths, writes Patricia Vitale-Reilly. She goes on to say, upon those strengths is where growth can occur. In her new book, Supporting Struggling Learners, Patty outlines 50 instructional moves for the classroom teacher. These moves that can be applied across subjects and grades. Patty walks us through how to make a positive impact on student thinking and learning. We started our conversation on the instructional moves to help make a more inclusive culture in the classroom.