Reflections of Summer Learning

What Does Harwood, Rick Wormeli and the Growth Mindset Have in Common?
It is the Moral Imperative; that is – this is what we do, simply because it is the right thing to do.  For me, this summer provided myriad opportunities for learning and reflection.  As I examined the Harwood Union’s Action Plan “Task Sheet” for the 2015/16 school year – a document created by the Harwood Union Leadership Team; delved into books like Mindset (Carol Dweck), Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Bennis & Goldsmith), and UDL Now: A Teacher’s Guide to Using Universal Design for Learning (Katie Novak); and attended two professional learning opportunities – Rick Wormeli’s Practices that Support Proficiency-based Learning and Grading and the Great School’s Partnership’s Professional Learning Groups Facilitation Training, I was struck by the continuity.  In terms of teaching and learning – the research based concepts as to the most effective practices for improving student learning addressed in each of these endeavors, all pointed to the same tenets:

  1. Quality Instruction is the single, most important factor for student achievement.
  2. Cognitive Science reveals (in short) that the neurons in the brain grow best: when learning is explicit – the target is clear; opportunities to practice and receive feedback are routine; and learning is relevant, and active – the person doing the work is doing the learning.
  3. Collective Capacity or creating the culture for teachers to continuously improve individually  and collectively, via Professional Learning Groups, reaps the greatest results.
  4. Collective Capacity is characterized by a collaborative, on-going, job embedded structure aligned to the Action Plan, it is focused on results, and designed to improve the school (versus the individual).

I was excited by this – Harwood is on the right path.  Our work with Teaching All Secondary Students (Bill Rich), the Great School’s Partnership and the Tarrant Institute; our own Math Best Practices, Teacher Advisory and MTSS work; our Action Plan for Personalized Learning; and our Professional Learning Community structure reflect the characteristics of  Cognitive Science and Collective Capacity; we are truly focused on improving our school and student learning in a coherent way.

Furthermore, not only did my summer learning experiences highlight a common message, they also aligned in the so “What does this look like?”, and yes, it was the tenets of Personalized Learning.

A Word about Personalized Learning – Personalized Learning defined, simply refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. [Great School’s Partnership]

At Harwood Union and in the Washington West Supervisory Union, Personalized Learning includes:

  1. The shift to Proficiency-based Learning and Graduation – this requires an examination and revision of teaching, academic support, grading and reporting practices.
  2. Flexible Pathways [i.e. independent studies; dual enrollment…]
  3. 1:1 with Technology and the Appropriate Integration and Use of Technology for Learning
  4. Personal Learning Plans – a means to organize and promote ownership of proficiency-based learning which includes developing structures to support the creation and monitoring of plans.
  5. The creation of structures to support implementation – [i.e. Professional Learning Communities, schedule..]

In thinking about the “So, What does it look like?”, the presentation by Rick Wormeli was outstanding. It was hosted by the Vermont Education Association and held at Champlain College.  He did a 3 hour presentation focused on Proficiency-based Learning and Grading.  He included both the rationale or why of proficiency-based learning and grading, and a series of steps and examples a school – practicing “Collective Capacity” could use to implement proficiency-based learning with fidelity.  Below is a list that highlights some of his key points.

  • Begin with defining what proficiency is for each standard. This requires discussion and agreement among colleagues.  It takes time and is best done using student work samples.
  • Make “it” explicit to students. This includes the learning targets, assessment criteria, and the evidence that constitutes “proficient”. If we want students to hit the “target”, then they need to know the “target”.
  • Redefine the grade metaphor: “Grades are not compensation – something you “earn”. Grades are communication – they should report student learning of a standard.”
  • “Remove the % scale – grades must be tied to evidence based descriptors.  Again, collectively, colleagues must determine the sample size necessary to constitute a pattern that reflects if a student is proficient.”
  • In terms of reporting student learning of standards, get rid of (or separate out and/or use only formatively) class discussions, group projects, the binder check or practice work (homework).
  • “Get rid of “F”; it is a label that harms and destroys student motivation to learn. To “FAIL” should be First Attempt in Learning; a means to motivate students to keep trying versus giving up.”
  • “Averaging is inaccurate and therefore, unethical.”
    1. “We cannot conflate reports of compliance with evidence of mastery. Grades are reports of learning, not doing. 2. The more curriculum we pour into one symbol, the less valid it is for reporting on any one standard.”

As I begin the school year and Harwood begins the next phase of our personalized learning initiative, and specifically proficiency-based learning, I will draw on these experiences and resources, so that as a learning organization, we can collectively unpack these ideas, come to a shared understanding and refine our practiceson behalf of student learning.