FIP Goes to Ski Camp

This article was written by Diane Stultz, Senior Director of Powerful Practices at Battelle for Kids. With nearly 40 years of experience working as a teacher, instructional coach, consultant, and professional development strategist, Diane provides consulting and professional development services to clients across the country.

As an avid skier, I always look for ways to improve my technique and skill. Over the years, I have taken many lessons, some excellent and some poor. However, recently I participated in a woman’s ski camp where I found myself thinking more about formative instructional practices than skiing! As it turned out, my ski instructor, Susan who had no background in K-12 teaching, clearly demonstrated ALL the components of FIP with finesse.

Here are some of the ways that Susan’s instructional strategies corresponded with the four components of FIP.

Clear Learning Targets

The camp began with a self-reflection rubric. As students, we were asked to read the rubric criteria and assess our current level of skiing. Based on that information, we were placed in groups. Once grouped, Susan asked more clarifying questions to ensure our reflection was accurate and some participants chose to move to a different group. Next, Susan told us exactly what to expect over the 3-day session. We knew that she held high expectations for her class and that we would work hard. She told us the type of terrain we would ski and the skills that we would hone in that terrain. We also had an opportunity to say what we hoped to gain from the experience. My friend Leanne and I felt that we were in the right group; the level of difficulty would allow us to be successful and feel challenged at the same time. We also knew that we had the safety net of flexible grouping, having the ability to switch to a different level if we needed more scaffolding once we began.

Collecting and Documenting Evidence of Learning

Obviously Susan did not administer a formal pencil/paper assessment or award a final grade, but we were constantly being assessed. She carefully modeled the skills, emphasizing body position and when to plant the ski poles. She showed us how to make and finish turns, tackle moguls, and anticipate the next turn. One by one, the class skied past the instructor as she assessed our strengths and also noted what we needed to do to improve. We also observed each other. Susan gave visual and verbal cues that spoke to different learning styles. Her analogies and demonstrations painted a clear vision of the learning targets. Once we were observed several times on a variety of terrain, Susan decided where we were in our learning and where we would go next.

Providing Effective Feedback

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”, as well as the lunch and dinner! During our three days of camp, we received verbal feedback from the instructor. Some feedback was based on overall observations of the team, but much of the feedback was individualized. For instance, I learned to keep my upper body still as I skied the moguls, while Leanne learned to crest the top of the mogul before beginning her next turn. We each learned what would happen if we didn’t incorporate the practices into our skiing. Then, Susan pulled out a small video camera and began video-taping small segments of our skiing. As we rode up the chair lift, she allowed us to view the vignettes and helped us “see” our progress, or lack thereof. What amazed me the most is that we were each given just enough feedback so that we could focus on a few things instead of being paralyzed by too many things to think about.  Like good classroom practices, we were given the amount of feedback that we could handle and that moved our learning forward.

Student Ownership of Learning

The essence of this component is self-assessment, peer-assessment, and student reflection. Again, these practices were not isolated but instead integrated throughout each day of the camp. We began to take ownership of our learning by observing peers and seeking and providing feedback to one another. We were also asked by the instructor to critique each other’s performance. “What did Diane do well? What bad habit is she still relying on?” We began to ask Susan specific questions to promote our individual learning. At the end of each day we had an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and look forward to the next steps.

By the end of the Women’s Ski Camp, I had not only improved, but I was able to precisely describe my progress. And because of the collaborative approach taken, my learning stuck with me. I enjoyed the rest of my week and subsequent ski adventures with improved skiing and confidence.

As you think about implementing formative instructional practices in your teaching, it might be helpful to think about your most positive learning experiences. What components were visible that made the learning happen? Most importantly, how can you apply the practices from your “slopes” to your classroom? 

The Problem with Resolutions

This article was written by Dr. Mike Thomas, Senior Director of Powerful Practices at Battelle for Kids and co-author of the book, "The Best Teacher in You: How to Accelerate Learning and Change Lives". Mike has helped districts and state departments of education across the country use value-added information in combination with multiple measures to guide instruction and accelerate student growth.

The New Year is a time for resolutions. We resolve to eat smart, drink less, lose weight or exercise more. We also make professional resolutions like developing better relationships with some of our students, or making our lessons more interesting and engaging. No one can argue with any of these intentions because they are about positive personal and professional change. Unfortunately, we don’t often deliver on the promise of our resolutions. We resolve to do something different, we make progress, but almost invariably, we end up quitting or stopping short of our goal. The question is why? Why is it so hard to do things that are good for us or to make changes in our teaching practice? Do we lack commitment? Are we short on willpower? Or is there something else going on?

As important as willpower and commitment are for beginning any kind of change, these capacities, by themselves, don’t often deliver the promise. What happens when the novelty of the change begins to wear off? What happens when we decide to back off for just one day? What happens when we begin to reconfirm old assumptions? The more daunting factor associated with personal or professional change is how we react to the vulnerability we feel any time we try to do something outside of our comfort zone. Do we back away from the challenge or do we access other resources that allow us to continue to engage as things become increasingly uncomfortable? As Brene’ Brown says eloquently in her writing and in her top-rated TED talks, it is our response to feelings of vulnerability that dictate how we live our lives. People, whom Brown calls the “whole-hearted”, embrace vulnerability as a necessary aspect of growth and development. The rest of us will do almost anything to keep that feeling of vulnerability from ever arising. As my favorite comic strip character, Pogo, used to say: We have met the enemy and he is us.  

So if change is associated with vulnerability and the tendency for many of us is to avoid feeling vulnerable at all costs, then how is it that we can change and grow? Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have spent most of their professional careers studying adult development and change, or perhaps more precisely, what gets in the way of adult development and change. Their take on the New Year’s Resolution problem is not that we lack willpower or commitment but that we ingeniously build up immunities to the change process. These immunities exist for one reason — to protect us from experiencing the unpleasantness of being vulnerable. When an impulse to change arises, this system goes into action, brilliantly keeping us within our comfort zone.

Most of these immunities are in the form of assumptions about the way the world works. If I do X, then Y will happen. For example, let’s take the case of a teacher who resolves to work on his relationship with some of his most difficult students. He begins by trying to interact with these students when they enter his classroom. These efforts are met with blank stares. He asks them about their weekend. They laugh at his unusual interest. He asks these students softball questions during class. They respond with a bored, “I don’t know.” He calls their parents and hears back, “I don’t know what to do with him/her either.” His immediate failures make him feel even more vulnerable. After a week of what feels like little success, he begins to return to his old patterns of teaching his subject and interacting with those who care. The resolution to build better relationships dies on the vine. What are the immunities to change that are active here? If I reach out, these kids won’t engage. If I show them I care, they won’t reciprocate. If I talk to their parents, nothing will change. And ultimately, if I try to do this, I will be wasting my time and my effort.

When the “whole-hearted” teacher acts on this same resolution, exactly the same things happen. The only difference is that the whole-hearted person understands that this will be a long-term effort and that the vulnerabilities that he feels are a necessary part of the process.

So are we stuck with who we are? Are some of us destined to be whole-hearted while others of us are not? Are there ways to overcome our tendency to run from vulnerability and remain in our comfort zone? Kegan and Lahey provide lots of helpful advice here (See for example, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work). They have created, for example, a straightforward protocol that allows us to probe the gap between the change we want to enact and what we do instead. By walking through this exercise you are able to uncover and examine the assumptions you hold that keep you locked in place. To paraphrase Kegan and Lahey, the real secret to any kind of productive change is to better understand what you really want and what you are willing to do to get it.

A couple of weeks ago I received a tweet that included this image. It seems especially appropriate here.  Perhaps once we determine what’s causing our own individual gap, we can begin to build the bridge.

Blended Learning Fosters True Teacher Reflection

As a teacher leader or department chairperson in my English Department of 14 teachers, upon implementing any new initiative I begin my quest with the question—how forced is the intimacy among my colleagues?

Teachers are similar to students in that we too have our comfort zones or areas of expertise. We often self-segregate based on a variety of issues. We all know that the days of teaching behind closed doors are gone. We might still get away with collaborating behind our screens, but ultimately, face-to-face collaboration works best if we can break down our walls of comfort as we face all of the new initiatives here in “Education Land”.

Traditionally, we have found ourselves forced into a model for professional development where we sit in an uncomfortable room on an uncomfortable chair, trying to focus, as we think about all of the “important” things we COULD be doing instead. We all have our own opinions and approaches to new initiatives and professional development. I often muse over how I, as a leader, can juggle them to the benefit of each professional learning community (PLC).

Which leads me to the real question: to what extent do we as educators allow ourselves to fall victim to mediocrity in an effort to promote a false sense of collegiality? How does a teacher leader push the envelope to create new boundaries within a safe, positive learning community?

My answer is simple: Blended learning.

The support and implementation of intentional modeling has helped significantly in tearing down these walls of comfortable individualism. I approach blended learning the same way I use learning targets in my classroom not only as a focus, but as a method of survival in the land of New Learning Standards. Why not approach my PLCs with a specific learning target in mind to remove all the emotional baggage?  

I had to take a step back and truly evaluate my own role, asking if I had been promoting mediocrity to keep the appearance of peace in my PLC. Had I been doing my very best to support my own teams?

Blended learning is one way to encourage your teacher teams. Professional development comes in all shapes and sizes, but the blended learning model truly helped me to create a safe, engaging environment where my teachers could have true reflective, professional dialogue. Just as our students genuinely become invested in non-evaluative formative assessments, my teachers have started to do the same.

Think about it. How reflective is our professional dialogue in a traditional setting? Are we really honest with ourselves when a colleague brings up a new concept? Or do we bring in all the excess emotional baggage attached to the individual or to the setting? Are we superficial in our reflection? Does it ever really foster a change in our classrooms?

The blended learning approach facilitates a deeper, more meaningful and ongoing dialogue with my teams. We make it personal to our subject, grade level, lessons, and assessments.

With the support of our administrators and our team leaders, the idea of blended learning will become a staple in our professional development as we consistently meet in our teams. The combination of a building principal, department chairperson, and individual team leader creates an amazing structure to facilitate a continual blended learning approach. It provides us with a reflective environment where teachers and leaders alike come together, checking their emotion and bias at the door. No more need to unintentionally encourage mediocrity to promote a false sense of collegiality. Real reflective collaboration is a natural result of a blended learning approach to professional development.

Measuring Student Growth: Students and Teachers Succeeding Together

Could you ever imagine an instance where students’ low achievement is a good thing? Several teachers that I have talked to recently were asked to assess student learning as part of the SLO process at the beginning of the year. They each assumed that when student pre-assessment performance is low, growth is easier to attain.

Is that true? How can this be? 

It’s easy to see how the pressures and complexity of measuring student growth have produced confusion, and worse, have reinforced weak assessment practices.  But all is not hopeless-- in fact, the very idea that we as a school community are wrestling with measuring the progress our students make is a promising sign that student growth matters!

In this blog I cannot address all of the misconceptions that abound about creating sound measures of student growth, but I can connect the work educators have been doing statewide to deepen their formative instructional practices to the work of measuring growth in classrooms. My intention is to show that students AND teachers can be successful when you apply FIP thinking to the SLO challenge.

Through our formative instructional practices (FIP) work, teachers across Ohio have learned about the power of strong classroom assessment to guide student learning and capture the growth they make as a result of standards-focused instruction. FIP offers teachers the tools they need to create and use measures that are helpful to plan instruction and to ensure students can gauge their own progress.

Student growth is simply the difference between where students enter and exit the learning. To measure this distance, we need first to establish what students know when they begin. And herein lies the first opportunity to apply FIP Thinking. Let’s begin by simply illuminating the purpose of pre-assessment.

FIP Thinking about Pre-Assessment:

  • The most crucial component of measuring student growth is to know where your students are in their learning, where they are going, and how to close the gaps.

  • By definition, pre-assessment reveals student mastery of previous learning: where students are ‘entering’ the learning.  The purpose of pre-assessment is to gather and analyze accurate information about what students have already mastered that prepares them for success with the current learning expectations.

  • Pre-assessment is not necessarily a test or a single event. It is the collection of evidence about what students know when they enter the learning, which provides teachers with rich, diagnostic information.

  • Teachers can use this information (evidence of the skills and knowledge students bring to the learning) to determine how they will plan and organize their teaching and to gather additional resources if necessary.

  • When students are assessed properly, not only are they more likely to be receptive to the assessment, they are more likely to better understand where they are in their own learning.

  • Pre-assessments do not have to match post-assessments.  In fact, diagnostic value of the pre-assessment increases when you assess not what hasn’t been taught yet, but what should have been learned already.

This final bullet is the one that often throws educators for a loop. Teachers can use different types of pre- and post-assessment to measure student growth through the use of master rubrics. These rubrics, called PLDs (performance level descriptors) define progressive levels of learning, from novice to mastery. A PLD helps teachers identify where each child enters into the learning by classifying that learning into levels on a progression. Through the course of instruction, teachers can use the PLD to gather evidence of student progress on the essential learning across a PLD.

Here is an example of a single row on a 3rd grade ELA PLD. Teachers can then plan and deliver instruction and assess and monitor student progress for this essential learning. Students who move across the PLD demonstrate their growth. Can you see how something like this might be useful in the SLO process?

The use of classroom measures designed to support student growth is fundamental to FIP. After all, FIP is grounded in the literature about assessment for learning (Stiggins, 2002). As such, when we devise ways to quantify student growth, we must remember to keep our focus on applying only measures that support student learning. After all, we and each of our students need to be able to know where we are, where we are going, and how to close the gaps. With this student-centered orientation to measuring growth, everyone succeeds.

For more about Measuring Student Growth in Classrooms and PLDs you can enroll in these modules:

Measuring Student Growth in Classrooms

Designing Sound Assessment

You can also learn more by attending regional workshops being held across the state. Click here to learn more about our 2015 Regional Trainings

Deconstructing Ohio's New Learning Standards

This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of the Ohio School Boards Association Journal magazine. Copyright 2014, Ohio School Boards Association. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Follow the association on Twitter, Facebook, and on its website at

Ohio’s New Learning Standards represent a significant opportunity for students. The new standards are intended to ensure students are college and career ready and prepared to compete in a global economy. They also represent a challenge for Ohio’s educators. The new standards are more rigorous and require educators to plan for instruction and assessment in new and innovative ways. Educators across the state are already using the new standards, but how can we be confident we are implementing the standards with the appropriate levels of expectation and rigor?

An essential step in ensuring curriculum, instruction and assessment are all aligned to the standards is to deconstruct the standards. Deconstruction is the process of breaking down a broad or complex standard into smaller, more explicit learning targets. The terms “unpack” or “unwrap” often are used to describe the same process.

Why is this step so crucial? Below are four ways that working through the deconstruction process can bring clarity to standards implementation.

1. Clarifying expectations

Deconstruction helps teachers better understand the content that is embedded in the standard so it can be accurately taught and assessed. Standards are broad statements about what students should know and be able to do. Often, they are complex and need to be broken down into smaller, more focused learning targets.

For example, Ohio’s New Learning Standards for social studies include broad content statements organized around conceptual understandings. These content statements are not meant to be taught in a single lesson or even a single unit of study. Teachers will need to break down these broad statements of content into focused learning targets for daily instruction and assessment.

An example from seventh-grade social studies shows how a complex standard can be deconstructed into smaller, more manageable learning targets. Clear learning targets are the foundation of formative instructional practice (FIP). They serve as incremental steps to bigger, more conceptual understandings built over time, providing clarity to both teachers and students about the intended learning.

2. Building understanding and ownership

Collectively working through the deconstruction process helps teachers understand and take ownership of the expected learning. Ohio’s New Learning Standards require that teachers work together — across grade levels and between subject areas — to create learning progressions that make sense for their students. Working together to write learning targets helps create a shared understanding of expectations for student learning. Teachers can come to an understanding of what the standard requires students to know and be able to do, informing decisions about instructional strategies and assessment methods.

Districts across the state are finding the deconstruction process valuable to implementing new standards.

“We do want to deconstruct and look at some of these things for ourselves, because that’s when we really start to internalize and then we take ownership as a building or district,” said Anthony Elkins, supervisor of elementary curriculum at Olentangy Local (Delaware). “With the new standards, you’re not going to be able to implement well without collaboration time built in. Without a common understanding, you’re running in isolation.”

Understanding and ownership of expectations also can be fostered in students by sharing learning targets. When students understand where they are going, they can determine where they are in relation to the learning targets and take more ownership for how they will move forward.

3. Meeting rigorous expectations

Deconstructing the standard can help teachers understand how to teach and assess at the level of rigor or cognitive demand that is the intent of the standard. One of the goals of Ohio’s New Learning Standards is to increase the rigor of our expectations for student learning. This goal can only be realized if we are providing students with instruction and assessment at the appropriate level of rigor as defined by the standards.

“Clear learning targets are very important as you’re looking at assessment practices and really making sure that your assessments are aligned to standards and to instruction,” Elkins said.

4. Creating learning progressions

Finally, the deconstruction process helps teachers understand the learning that comes before and after the standard. Strong formative instructional practice includes creating learning targets at three levels: laying the base, mastery and going beyond. Looking at the learning that comes before and after mastery can help teachers create learning progressions for their students that start where students enter the learning and take them to mastery and beyond.

Sometimes the relevant “before-and-after” learning comes within a school year or course, while for some standards the relevant before-and-after learning comes in the grades or courses before and after the standard being taught. In the English/language arts example (see chart below), the foundational learning, shown in the laying the base sample target, comes from the prior grade, while the going beyond learning is from the subsequent grade.


Vertical alignment and learning progressions are two more reasons that collaborative time for educators to deconstruct standards is so important.

“With the new standards, you have to have that vertical articulation,” Elkins said. “If you’re only focused on your grade level, it can lead to a checklist mentality. Instead, you need to understand what comes before, what comes after and what the common expectations are. It is possible.

“Like with anything else, if it’s something you value, you’re going to make time for it. Sometimes you have to be creative in how you structure the time.”

Resources to help with the deconstruction process

Through FIP Your School Ohio, the Ohio Department of Education, in collaboration with Battelle for Kids, has created resources to assist educators with formative instructional practices, including the deconstruction of standards. All of Ohio’s educators have access to free online learning modules, blended learning tools, deconstruction templates and content area examples.

Of course, using clear learning targets to drive instruction and assessment isn’t a new idea. But the complexity and rigor of Ohio’s New Learning Standards make the deconstruction process even more important to ensuring that teachers and students truly understand what the new standards entail.

Creating clear learning targets also can be beneficial to parents. If parents are wondering what’s expected of their children in the new standards, sharing these smaller, easier-to-understand statements can be useful in communicating learning expectations.

If your school is working through the deconstruction process, you may want use the FIP Your School Ohio resources and video library. Visit to access these tools and learn more about formative instructional practices.

Editor’s note: Virginia Ressa is project coordinator for FIP Your School Ohio in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Assessment.