The Proof is in the Pudding

This blog post was written by Mary Wolf. Mary is a FIP Specialist for the Southwest Region, a part of a regional support system available to help your LEA advance the use of formative instructional practices. 


Growing up, I remember when my mom would place a bowl of her warm, homemade banana pudding on our dinner table. Our eyes would light up in great excitement, and many gleeful remarks and anticipatory “mmmmm”s would be heard. Each time, she would proudly proclaim, “The proof is in the pudding”, relying on our taste test to determine if her latest recipe tweak was an improvement. And trust me, I was always more than happy to help with the tasting.

As I recently listened to three teachers from Milton-Union School District explain how they are refining their FIP practices, I was reminded of mom’s old adage, “The proof is in the pudding”. Trying a new practice or making an existing one better, these teachers are guided by the results. Does the practice motivate and engage students? Does it reveal where students are in their learning? Does the practice assist students in seeing the next step and provide them with an opportunity to take ownership of their learning?


A Taste of FIP in an Elementary School:

Angie Avey and Jennie Walters are third grade teachers who collaborate extensively to refine their formative instructional practices. This year Angie and Jennie are improving their tools to receive feedback from students. The “thumbs up or thumbs down” strategy, is replaced with “What stuck with you today?” Students write down a thought or concept that they understood from the lesson. Angie and Jennie use this evidence to decide whether to reteach or expand upon the lesson. This year, students self-assess their level of understanding on a scale from 0 (Even with help, I still don’t get it.) to 4 (I can teach it!) Angie and Jennie find they are now gleaning more useful information of where students are in their learning.

Angie and Jennie use quizzes more formatively now rather than every quiz being graded. Correct items are identified and errors are circled. Students are then given opportunities to correct their mistakes or work with a peer prior to taking a final assessment for a grade. Students are showing more progress in mastering learning targets.

Commercial programs (STAR, Study Island, Rocket Math) are used to help students set their own goals. Students track their progress and are required to analyze their progress quarterly to set new goals. Angie and Jennie are seeing more student engagement when students work toward their own personal goals. When students take ownership of their learning they get excited about it and frequently exceed their own goals as indicated by the extension on the tracking chart.

A Taste of FIP in a High School:

Megan Bryson, a high school ELA teacher, posts learning targets on her board and refers to the targets during and at the end of the lesson. She finds that it makes the class more targeted and focused on the learning because kids know what they are to be focusing on. With major learning targets Megan uses consensograms to have her students self-assess by marking “Not at all”, “A little”, or “I can teach it.” After further instruction, students reassess so they can see how they’ve grown over time.

Megan also uses for her students to engage in peer feedback. With this tool, she finds her students give much better peer feedback than when they are evaluating each other using pencil and paper. Technology helps this process by not making it so cumbersome.

Students in Megan’s class are given opportunities to self-grade where they think they are and why.  “It’s another opportunity for students to self-reflect on how much effort, time they put in, and decide if it is their best work.”

This year, students in Megan’s class are sharing their learning with parents at parent/teacher conferences. Each quarter the students plan a group presentation that includes what they have done and learned. Every student has a speaking part. At the end of first quarter, students created a PowerPoint; in the second quarter students created an info-graphic to articulate their learning. Megan found that feedback from parents indicated they really liked hearing directly from their child what they were learning.

These three teachers are motivated and persistent as they seek to continue honing their FIP practices. Gaining more useful information to inform instructional decisions, increasing student ownership, and seeking improved results in student learning guides their FIP refining process. And, much like my mother's kitchen, there is always space for experimenting with new recipes and additional flavors. The same goes for your classroom as you challenge yourself and your students to seek continued improvement. Because the proof really IS in the pudding!

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