Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stars and Steps

It is report card season.  I know this is not news to you.  I don't even really think you will read this until after... I just want you to remember that there is an after.  :)

 I am getting ready for the "after".  One of the ways I am preparing is returning my thinking to assessment for learning.  Helping me in this quest is the September issue of Educational Leadership magazine.  It is my current reading material for the often joked about, but true story, that I read magazine articles while blow drying my hair.  And some of you have asked how I fit everything in!

September's issue is called Feedback for Learning.  The article I read this morning was by Jan Chappuis and the title says it all, "How Am I Doing?" All of the articles (four) I have read so far make the point that the giving of feedback isn't what causes learning, it is the acting upon it. (Ames, 1992; Black & Wiliam, 1998; Hattie & Timperley, 2007)  The brain that does the most work does the most learning.

Chappuis describes five characteristics of effective feedback.  None of it is brand new to us but it is a nice, concise list:

  1. Strengths are pointed out as well as specific information for improvement.
  2. It is given during the learning, while changes can still be made.
  3. Feedback doesn't work if the student has no understanding of the concept.  That requires more instruction.
  4. It leaves thinking for the students to do.
  5. It is limited to an amount the student can reasonably act on.
In writing about the first point, the author shares a new take on an old idea.  At least it is a new twist for me.  Remember 3 Stars and a Wish?  The word wish just never did it for me, or my students for that matter.  To them "wish" conjured up visions of winning the lottery or going to Disneyland.  Chappuis (Chappuis, Jan. Seven Strategies of assessment for learning (1st ed., p. 80), 2009) calls her form Stars and Stairs.  I am adapting this slightly to Stars and Steps.  I like the image of next steps and use that language with kids all the time.  The form in the magazine looks like this:

Anne Davies often says,"Adapt, don't adopt." Applying that adage, I would change the name as previously mentioned and I might just switch out the steps for a couple of cute little footprints!

The fourth point makes me think of something we have learned through our residency with Regie Routman and her associate, Nancy McLean.  Chappuis uses an example that Nancy also showed in editing conferences with our writers.  Instead of doing all of the work for them, show them where they need to do some editing, but leave them to figure out what needs to be changed.  Routman calls what she expects them to do "The Non-Negotiables".  It is a co-created list of the things she can reasonably expect most of them to take care of during the editing stage:
  • Sentences beginning with capital letters
  • Sentences ending with punctuation
  • Words I expect you to know spelled correctly
When they bring writing that is to be published they must have tried these things first.  Then she makes dots like in the picture below to show them where they still have work to do.  Each dot represents one of the non-negotiables that they have not attended to.

                                                       (excerpted from the article)

And then, when she thinks each child has done what they can, Regie takes care of the rest.  She explains to them that all writers have an editor. (Even the writer of Captain Underpants!)

Just a note of thanks to Rod Epp who graciously helped me learn some new skills to use in this blog.  I try not to ask the same question twice but I seem to be a very curious person.  :)