New Tool: Course Selector

When I talk to my teacher friends and family members about FIP Your School Ohio, they often ask me which resources are the best ones for them.

There are so many modules, which one should I take? Are there guides or handouts I could share with my team? I saw that blog post you wrote, but is there anything else for my grade level?  

Because we're connected, I'm usually able to answer their questions and match their grade levels, subject areas, and interests with the modules or resources that would be just perfect for them.

Here’s a prime example: about a year ago, I suggested to my mom – who teaches first grade in Oakwood City Schools – that she complete FIP in Action: Mathematics, Grade 1—Problem Solving Adding Three Numbers. It was a module was completely new to her, and she used it to prepare for an observation with her principal. She thought the module was extremely valuable, so she even walked her team through the module during one of their professional development days. You can read a little bit more about her experiences with FIP and teaching here.

But my experience with suggesting modules is not unique! Everyone on the FIP Your School Ohio team is always making these kinds of recommendations for the teachers in their lives. So based on our success working with the educators we know, we wanted to create a way to help everybody find these “perfect for you” resources to easily personalize your learning.

After a couple of months of hard work, we are so happy to announce the debut of the FIP Course Selector! For every grade level, subject area, interest, and experience level with formative instructional practices, FIP Your School Ohio provides professional learning modules for educators across the state. Now, you can create your own unique learning path aligned to your professional experiences and needs with the Course Selector tool.

An Example of Using The Course Selector for Personalized Learning

 

Planning for Science the FIP Way

Today we are excited to release a new module focusing on FIP in Action in a grade 8 classroom. This module introduces you to a team of teachers as they work to implement new science standards in their middle school. As you learn about formative instructional practices, you will find that these examples of practices in action make it much easier to implement them into your own classroom. Just as students, we learn best when given examples.

Adopted in July 2011, Ohio’s New Learning Standards in Science  “serve as a basis for what all students should know and be able to do in order to become scientifically literate citizens equipped with knowledge and skills for the 21st century workforce and higher education” (Ohio Department of Education, 1/30/15).  If you teach science, you probably already know that these standards and their accompanying model curriculum include Ohio’s Cognitive Demands for Science (see page 10 of the standards document). The big challenge for science teachers is learning how to integrate the expectations of the cognitive demands with the content of the standards. This module presents one way of meeting this challenge. It’s not the only way or the right way, it’s the FIP way.

Deconstructing Science Standards the FIP Way

The grade 8 science module showcases how a collaborative team deconstructed a content statement, applies the cognitive demands and planned for a unit of instruction called “Road to Diversity”.

Here are the steps they followed:

This team decided that deconstruction of the content statements into knowledge-based learning targets should come first. Once they agreed upon the learning targets, incorporating the cognitive demands and creating reasoning, skill and product targets was much easier. They selected the thinking skills most appropriate to the content at hand. The team then applied those thinking skills to create higher-level learning targets aligned to both the content statement and the rigor of the cognitive demands.

Science Unit Design the FIP Way

Armed with clear learning targets, the science team moved on to designing units of study that meet their students’ needs. As you work through this module you will see how the team created learning progressions and integrated science units that include content from multiple content statements. Why did they do this? Because the science content statements are not meant to be taught in isolation. In this example, the teachers find that the life science content can be organized into units that include learning from all three of the content statements. The result is a set of clear learning targets that are connected and sequenced across units. The benefits of organizing learning targets in this way are numerous. Working from learning progressions, teachers can more easily plan assessments that measure student growth, students can see where they are in the learning and everyone can work together to set meaningful learning goals.

Here are the steps they took:

How did they get all of this done? Preparing for lessons organized around clear learning targets takes time and collaboration. You can’t simply add the targets to existing lessons and units – it just won’t work. So, this team looked ahead and chose to work on units of study they wouldn’t need for a couple of months, giving them time to deconstruct, consider cognitive demands and create learning progressions.

Lessons Learned

1.       Start with knowledge level learning targets.

2.       Use the cognitive demands to create reasoning, skill and product targets.

3.       Use learning targets from multiple content statements to create integrated units.

4.       Work together – this isn’t easy work, working with your colleagues will help you think through all of the nuances of the science standards.

5.       Don’t rush – start with one content statement, then one unit. Give yourself enough time for considered discussion and reflection.

You can enroll in FIP in Action: Science, Grade 8 The Road to Diversity in Organisms on the Ohio portal by clicking here

Verbal Response Assessment

Strong Verbal Response Assessment: The Difference Between Mind Reading and Mining for Evidence of Student Learning.

Who can tell me what the properties of Nitrogen are?” asked the teacher.

“Ooh, Ooh, I can,” enthusiastically responds a student with his raised hand. “It is a gas”.

“Yes… but that is not what I had in mind. Who else knows the answer to my question?”

Does this sound familiar? It happens in classrooms every day and is a typical way we determine where students are in their learning. But did this interaction really accomplish anything? Notice that the teacher allowed for the possibility of more than one plausible response. The students were left to guess what answer that the teacher was looking for. Further, without purpose, the use of this type of random verbal questioning did not provide the teacher or students with evidence about where each student is in their learning.

How can you be more intentional in your verbal questioning, and by doing so, be efficient in your use of precious classroom time? The new Designing Sound Assessment Module: Creating and Using Verbal Response Assessment was designed to help educators learn how.

Verbal response assessment requires that students construct an answer or perform, by speaking aloud. This can be as short as a one-word response all the way up to a speech or presentation. Readers of the module will learn how to plan, design, critique and use structured verbal response assessment as an essential classroom assessment tool.

Verbal response can, when designed and used well, provide teachers and students with evidence about where the student is in their learning. Verbal response has many benefits as it can be used to:

  • Measure a range of learning targets
  • Collect evidence of novice, intermediate and mastery learning
  • Understand students’ misconceptions
  • Plan focused instruction
  • Help students know where they are, where they are going, and how to close the gaps in their own learning
  • Offer and recruit effective feedback
  • Cultivate student ownership

And, thanks to its interactive nature, verbal response is an excellent tool for:

  • Exploring and developing deeper learning
  • Practicing vocabulary and word skills
  •  Practicing the arrangement of ideas in ways that underpin strong composition


I encourage you and your colleagues to learn more about the value of using verbal response assessment in your classrooms. I promise you will come away with a new appreciation for strategies we rely on frequently but have never had the opportunity to learn to use effectively.

Meaningful teaching and learning requires the collection and use of evidence mindfully designed to move student learning forward. Verbal response assessment should not require that students develop a superpower to read our minds and make us happy. That superpower is best left for Marvel comic heroes or—maybe my husband!

Verbal Response Assessment is now available to all Ohio educators. You can enroll here.

The Value of Assessment

The latest debate in our education community is all about assessment – what should we assess and how should we assess it? Whether we call it assessment or testing, it’s definitely causing concern across the country. Families are concerned that all of this assessment is putting unnecessary stress on our students. Teachers and administrators are upset with the perceived loss of instructional time. Policymakers are caught between the desire to please constituents and the need to meet state and federal laws. These are all real, valid concerns that boil down to two questions, “Are we testing too much? Are these tests really necessary?”

But perhaps we shouldn’t be asking if we are testing too much –it’s not necessarily the amount of testing that is the problem. Instead we should ask ourselves, “Are we are using our assessments effectively?” The purpose of any assessment is to provide evidence of student achievement or student growth. Because, after all, if we aren’t going to use the evidence collected, why bother to collect it?

Through FIP Your School Ohio we have been discussing with educators the need to collect and use accurate evidence of student learning to make instructional decisions. We need data to inform our decision-making.

  • Which students are meeting the learning targets?
  • Who is progressing beyond grade level mastery?
  • Are there students who need more support?

We need strong, classroom-based assessments to know the answers to these vital questions. If we give in to the pressure to arbitrarily reduce the amount of assessment taking place in our schools, we also give up opportunities to collect crucial evidence of student learning.

We don’t “lose instructional time” to assessment when we integrate assessment into our instruction and use the evidence collected to inform our work. Assessment is an essential part of instruction, informing our instructional decisions and guiding our learners toward reaching their goals. We ought to be able to tell our students and their families why we are giving an assessment and how we will use the data collected. Could you answer that question for every assessment you give? Are you making good use of the data collected? If the answer is no, then perhaps it’s time to rethink the “what” and the “why” and stop worrying so much about the “how much”.

The Designing Sound Assessment modules will help you take a student-friendly approach to assessment. The modules in this series will enable you to become more efficient at measuring, monitoring, and adjusting learning. In addition to demonstrating how to create sound assessment items and tasks, the series shows you how to make wider use of assessment as a teaching and learning tool. You can learn more here. 


FIP Quote of the Day

 “I have to be prepared at all times to check on my students’ learning. Sometimes I use plastic counters, timers, different apps, or simple observations to monitor student progress during instruction. Data – no matter how I choose to collect it - helps me determine where my students are struggling so I can plan to address the gaps in their learning.” - Mrs. Wilhelm

You can learn more from Mrs. Wilhelm in the Reaching Every Student module series. Learn more here.

Words Don’t Always Communicate. Just Ask an Eskimo.

We have all heard that Eskimos have many words for “snow”—I looked it up and learned that there are actually 50 words. Similarly, the Sami people, who live in the northern tips of Scandinavia and Russia have as many as 1,000 words for “reindeer” and 180 words for “ice.” These words are used to make distinctions that more fully describe the characteristics and quality of their surroundings—and also serve to point out features that are crucial for survival. It matters, for example, if the nature of the ice is safe enough to walk on.

This is all interesting to know, but I bet you are asking, “What does this have to do with teaching and learning?”

In the English language we often use a single word to describe big, important ideas. Words like “sick,” “communication,” and even “love” are seemingly simple words that are used to express a wide array of conditions and characteristics. For example, we use the word “sick” to describe everything from the common cold to a patient requiring intensive care. It’s true of education terminology as well. We have many words in our field—often big words intended to describe our practices and values. We throw them around as if everyone knows what we are talking about, but I’m not sure if, like the Eskimo, we have made important distinctions that clarify what we really mean.

I think that there are a few big, important words that could benefit from the Eskimo “snow” treatment, like “assessment,” “feedback,” and “growth.” Today, I would like to start with the word “assessment”, and in particular, address classroom assessment.

Not only is assessment an often confused word, it is an often maligned word. Assessment is now being associated with hot debates about the proliferation of high-stakes testing. But let’s get this straight-testing and assessment are not the same word and, as such, have different meanings and uses.

Assessment (note that there is no ‘s‘ at the end) is a process. It is the process of purposefully collecting and documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. It is not a single event, a tool, a grade, or a test. It is a process that allows us to evaluate the progress that students are making, adjust our instruction, provide effective feedback, and know when to move on. Additionally, a strong assessment process should lead to higher results—not just produce a score.

Assessment happens in a variety of ways —formal and informal—taking advantage of multiple methods.  Testing is just one formal method you can use.

Sometimes we use the term assessment interchangeably with tests and testing. We talk about assessmentS as being synonymous with the tests we administer. (Maybe this is because it sounds more professional). But here is the key difference: you may assess student knowledge and skills by using a test—or by using other methods of assessment. A test is just an instrument, and testing simply describes the event.  In other words, to assess student performance you may use test results to determine where students are in their learning.

When assessment is viewed as a process, the focus is on collecting and documenting accurate evidence of student learning. You become mindful of how you are going to collect target-focused evidence and you select the right tools for the right job. Imagine if I assessed your blood pressure with a thermometer, or assessed your speaking skills with a written test. The wrong match of tool to targets produces irrelevant, inaccurate information. Instead, a strong assessment process invites the use of multiple methods that are appropriately matched to learning targets. The purpose of assessment may be used to evaluate student learning or to gauge progress. When you analyze the results of any type of assessment you are evaluating what action should be taken next. For example, the results should signal if success or intervention feedback is required.

Next, a good assessment process requires that the evidence you collect sufficiently documents student mastery. Your assessment process should include all the formal and informal ways you have of knowing where students are, relative to achieving the targets. Ask yourself:  Have I collected enough evidence to be convincing? Stop assessing when you have enough evidence that a student has met the target. Assessment should not be used to tell you what you already know. (If you know, then you have already assessed the learning.)

And finally, the assessment process should be useful for you and your students. Think about how students can use the information that assessment produces to judge where they are in relation to the learning targets, and give them the information they need to reflect and act upon their learning.

Just as there are different types of snow and ice, there are different methods of assessment. Just like the Sami who categorize ice by its features and impact, a high-quality assessment process requires attention to both accuracy and effective use. Let’s not confuse item banks and test development for high-quality classroom assessment. And, like the snow for Eskimos, let’s get more precise about how we talk about assessment.

Click here to learn more about the Designing Sound Assessment module series.