INSTRUCTIONAL AGILITY (New Book!)

IA Photo Very excited to announce that my new book (co-authored with Cassandra Erkens and Nicole Vagle) Instructional Agility: Responding to assessment with real-time decisions  (Solution Tree) has now been released!

Being instructionally agile is about making seamless instructional adjustments at a moment’s notice. This book takes readers back to the core fundamentals of classroom assessment. Rather than creating assessment events that require teachers to stop teaching in order to conduct their formative assessments, the focus is on the more organic process of infusing assessment experiences into any activity or strategy. The over-quantification of learning can distract teachers from fully utilizing the most powerful  aspect of formative assessment, which is to inform instruction.

Whether through engineering conversations, questioning, observing, practice, or mobilizing students, teachers can transform any activity into a formative assessment that reveals what comes next for each learner.

For more information, please visit the Solution Tree website (here).

 

NEW BOOK! Grading from the Inside Out

GFIO_FrontCover_10.20.15I’m very excited to announce that my new book, Grading from the Inside Out: Bringing Accuracy to Student Assessment through a Standards-Based Mindset (Solution Tree), has just been released!

Long-term grading reform begins on the inside and works its way out; it begins with a complete rethink of the purpose of grades within the summative assessment paradigm. Developing a standards-based mindset allows teachers to begin reshaping the grading experience in their classrooms without the premature pressure of a new grading program, a new grading policy, or a new report card template. Once we shift how we think about grading we are poised to move toward more overt changes to the processes and practices of sound grading and reporting.

For more information, please visit the Solution Tree website (here).

All Things Assessment (Solution Tree)

I’m very excited to announce that all of my assessment blogs are moving to the newly updated and relaunched Solution Tree All Things Assessment website. You can find the blog  here. You can find the homepage for the website here.

This website is part of a much larger assessment center at Solution Tree. The center itself is still in development so more information will be shared as it unfolds later this year, but for now, the All Things Assessment site is live, active, and full of great assessment information shared by an array of assessment experts.

For now, this website will remain active as an information page and a way of connecting with me.

Thanks!
Tom

 

Everything is assessment

If there is one bias that I have developed when it comes to assessment for learning it is this: As much as possible, we should not have to stop teaching in order to conduct our formative assessments.  In other words, if I were to walk into a classroom and observe, the lines between the moments of assessment, instruction, and feedback would be blurred; the chosen strategies would seamlessly lead students and teachers through a continuous assessment-instruction-feedback loop. While there are always exceptions to any rule, we should, as much as possible, strive to infuse our assessment for learning practices into our instructional strategies.

With that, formative assessment is actually easier to infuse than some might think. So many of the strategies that teachers have been using for years can – quite effortlessly – be used for formative assessment purposes. In fact, when I’m asked to provide/discuss some effective formative assessment strategies with teachers I’m often met with the fairly typical response of, “Oh, I already do that.” 

Now, I’m not doubting their responses.  The truth is that many teachers are already doing or using the strategy I describe, at least at first glance. Upon further review, however, I’ve come to realize that while many are using the strategies I outline, the strategies fall short of serving as an assessment for learning.

Everything teachers do – every strategy, activity, or process – is an assessment in waiting. Every activity students participate in – every project, assignment, or task – has information that can be used for formative purposes if we follow two simple guidelines.

TargetFirst, every activity must be linked to the intended learning. Activities are just activities unless there is a direct link between the activity and the intended learning; that’s what turns a task into a target. Even better is expressing this link in student-friendly language so that students may have intimate access to what they are expected to learn from the activity. This link is what’s often missing in far too many classrooms. Think about how often you begin a lesson by describing to students what they are going to do as opposed to what they are going to learn? The link to learning will establish far greater relevance for students and assist in their understanding of why – especially with knowledge targets – what there doing today is important and relevant for tomorrow (and beyond).

fork_in_the_road_signSecond, the results of every activity must have the potential to illicit an instructional response from the teacher. One of the core fundamentals behind formative assessment is that the collective results are used to decide what comes next in the learning. Now I use the word potential because the results of your activities (assessments) may indicate that what you had previously planned to do tomorrow is, in fact, the most appropriate decision. You’re not always going to change course, but for an activity to serve a formative assessment purpose it must have the potential to influence what you plan to do next. As long as you are willing to consider some instructional adjustments based on the results of the activity then it becomes an assessment for learning. As well, the more we can involve students in the process of self-assessment and personalized adjustments the more they become meaningful decision-makers in their own learning.

Whether it’s a class discussion, an A/B partner talk exercise, an Exit Slip, a 4 Corners Activity, a Jigsaw, or the use of exemplars, we can infuse our assessment/feedback practices into our instructional routines. When we link an activity to the intended learning and allow the results of the activity to potentially influence our instructional decisions, it moves from being just an activity to an assessment. Everything is an assessment in waiting if we use these two guideline to enhance what we’re already doing. 

…and don’t be afraid to follow

teambuildingLeadership does matter. As I wrote in my last post, it is important for leaders to not be fearful of leading. We can talk all we want about quiet leadership or leading by example, however, if you don’t have people’s attention they might miss your lead or example altogetherOne of the reasons you’re in your position of leadership is because of your experience and expertise. It would absurd to not use that experience and expertise to the benefit of your school or organization.

That said, leadership is not about always being the leader either; sometimes it’s just as important to follow. Sometimes you are the expert and sometimes you’re not; sometimes it is important to allow others with more expertise to take the lead or at least build the capacity of others so that they may eventually do so.

So what stops us from doing this? So many of us understand and can talk about the importance of shared leadership, so why don’t more of us do it? What gets in the way of leaders being able to step back and allow an implementation process to unfold without having to be the center of attention? For me, it’s all about ego.

First, let me say that there is always some level of ego involved with any leadership role. Every effective leader has a fundamental belief in their ability to make a positive difference within the context in which they are leading. I see a healthy level of ego more as confidence, which can be defined as the sweet spot between arrogance and despair (Rosabeth Moss Kanter). It’s in the arrogance or despair where our ego loses balance and negatively affects our ability to follow. Although most of us think of ego as a kind of inflated sense of self-importance, ego also drives the leader at the opposite end of the continuum. Let’s look at each separately.

The ego of arrogance is the leader that believes that nothing can be accomplished without them, or at least without their input. The leader whose ego is out of balance in this direction believes they are the smartest person in the room and that their experience is more credible and relevant than anyone else’s. They are the leader who is not afraid to lead on steroids. Not only are they not afraid to lead, they have to lead and take credit (or at least partial credit) for everything.

The ego of despair is the leader who leads from a desperate feeling of insecurity and believes that nothing should be accomplished without their input. This leader believes that they must continually prove why they have been put in a position of leadership; they see all successes and failures as a direct reflection of their ability as a leader.  This is why these seemingly polar opposite positions of ego are more similar than we might think. Insecurity leads to control-based leadership where the leader works to make sure they are the smartest person in the room (again, other overlap between the two extremes). This characteristic is much more difficult to spot since it often appears as arrogance.

The arrogant and desperate leader has difficulty following; the confident leader doesn’t. The confident leader knows they are the leader but has no burning desire to continually prove it. The confident leader has just enough arrogance to believe they can make a positive difference, but just enough despair to admit they don’t know, to seek the input and guidance from others, and allow some to emerge as leaders themselves.

Real strength…

…means being able to admit you were wrong.

…means being as happy for others’ successes as you are for your own.

…is allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

…means giving more credit than you take.

…means saying more with your actions than you do with your words.

…is liking yourself despite all of your imperfections.

…is never allowing others to determine what’s possible for your life.

…is choosing happiness instead of waiting for it.

…is believing you can when others say you can’t.

…means using every experience as an opportunity to learn & grow.

…is not needing to be the loudest voice in the room.

…means respecting the disrespectful.

…is recognizing when your ego is taking over.

…means trusting people’s intentions.

…means believing in your greatness without needing to prove it to others.

…is about being grateful for what you are instead of desperate for what you are not.

 

What does “real strength” mean to you?