Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Looking Back on my First Year of Standards Based Grading

The move to standards based grading solved many issues from last year. Conversations shifted away from percentages to learning. When a student struggled, we talked about specific learning targets rather than scores or whether an assignment was turned in or not. Equally as significant was the shift in my role. I wrote at the end of last year's reflection blog post, I felt like a study hall monitor, spending the bulk of my time checking off assignments. This year, I'm proud to report I spent most of my time answering questions, giving feedback and challenging students as they tried to convince me they understood learning targets. 

I had a better clue about what my students knew and did not know. I was better able to communicate the progress of each student and many students had a much clearer idea of what they needed to work on.  Admittedly, a number of my students shared they didn't pay attention to the "I can" statements. I believe a solution is to change the hot seat discussions; students will decide how they want to prove to me they understand an "I can" statement before gaining permission to take a summative quiz. 

The tracking system and grade book were clear and helpful. All activities were aligned to learning targets. In previous years, students argued they could learn without completing certain assignments - this was not as much a criticism this year. Even if some students did not pay attention to the "I can" statements, students were aware of what they needed to do and why they needed to complete certain assignments.

Most important was the buy-in of my students to revise and redo assignments. Many of my students appeared to have or develop a growth mindset regarding science class - or at least, this particular science class. Of course, some students didn't want to do quiz error forms and the obstacles I put in place for permissions to redo quizzes, but they all wanted the redos. 

Given that some students paid very little attention to the standards, it's no surprise that only a handful of students opted for mastery level on the standards. Some students shared reluctance in completing the projects because they were fearful of falling behind. Students also questioned my prohibition of using class time for these projects - a decision made to encourage students to move forward and not fall behind, which I am currently rethinking.

There are other tweaks that come to mind. I wonder if I should require students to earn a perfect score on the quizzes to earn proficient, instead of 80%. The argument makes sense. If students really understand the concept, they should be able to answer 5 out of 5 application level questions. This would require expanding my question bank and opening quiz attempts to five, instead of three. I would have to adjust my retake policy to account for the increased attempts. Alternatively, the most recent, not the highest, score on a summative assessment will stand. If a student retakes a quiz and earns a lower score, then that score will be used to evaluate the student. Again, if a student truly understands a concept, they should be able to pass a similar assessment a few days after a previous attempt. If they earn a lower score after a subsequent attempt, then arguably, the student did not really understand the learning target.

The most important adjustment I need to make is crafting the learning targets that span over several units. This year, I focused on the content standards specific to certain units. This was a decision of convenience. Unfortunately, the result was inconsistent and informal tracking and assessment of the important science process skills like organizing and analyzing data and using evidence to support claims. 

Even though I'm rethinking some of the finer details and execution of standards based grading, I have enough evidence that the model works. I look forward to a second year of standards based grading. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Questions and Answers about Flipped Learning

Today, I presented about flipped learning at my school. As part of the planning process, I sent a survey to find out what the participants wanted to know about flipped learning. As I began to plan, I realized I would be unable to answer the range of questions within the constraints of the workshop. Below is a copy of the document I crafted to answer some of those questions.

1. What was your and/or your students' biggest challenge at the beginning of introducing the concept of a flipped classroom?
  • There was some resistance and some scapegoating. If a student struggled in my course, it was because “of the flipped thing.” I’ve found students who struggle in my class, struggle in several courses.
  • The other challenge was organizational. I moved early to an asynchronous course so managing the organization of the materials, videos and keeping track of students was tough. Students were genuinely confused.
  • Finally, making enough videos to be ahead of the students was hard. Ideally, the first unit of videos should be made during the summer. I wanted perfection, so I spent several hours making just one video. I no longer strive for perfection because there are diminishing returns on making great videos. The videos are to convey information or demonstrate something, so they don’t need to be perfect -- just good enough to make the point.

2. Is the flipped classroom something for a certain age-range, type of learning? Is it applicable to any kind of subject?
  • The easiest answer is to say that flipped learning is appropriate for all disciplines and age ranges because there are teachers from different grade levels and disciplines flipping their courses with success. The movement started with science teachers in high school and it has spread to all disciplines and age ranges. There is a social network where you can connect with other teachers in your discipline and division -
  • The difficult answer is to say that a teacher needs to be aware of what works best for their students. You may not want to assign any homework or your course may not benefit from offloading direct instruction to video.

3. Have the students' performances improved, since the inclusion of flipped learning?

4. Are teachers doing a lot more work outside of school preparing lessons than you once did? What are the downsides?
  • In the beginning (first school year of flipping), there was a lot of work. But there isn’t as much prep time anymore. In fact, there is less prep work now than before flipping. I show up to class to help students, not to put on a performance. My stress levels are way down!
  • More important, I take home significantly less grading. I give students feedback mostly in class, which result in better products. These better products are easier to grade.

5. How does it flow? How do you organize it especially since it's asynchronous? Are there times where you need the entire class to be at a certain time in terms of their understanding and how do you get them to be there? What hasn't worked so well and why?
I’ve written a lot about asynchronous or mastery learning on my blog - here is the link that has all of the articles tagged with asynchronous learning -
I am working on a 2nd year of asynchronous learning blog post, so check my blog later in the week for the most up to date post -

6. How can I introduce self-paced learning without making it too hard on students who have little motivation, don't function well independently, or those who just produce little output?
I still struggle with this part of the course. It is the single biggest source of struggle for me. I did a better job this year. I scaffolded asynchronous learning. The first unit was synchronous. In the second unit, I shared a suggested timeline. By the third unit, I let students work asynchronously but mandated a plan for each week outlining the homework and classwork for each day. A detailed blog post about the process I used to help students with asynchronous learning -

7. If you are not creating your own videos, where are the best places to find streaming media to use?
Youtube, teachertube,, Vimeo, and are sites that come to mind. There is also Khan Academy but the videos aren't particularly engaging.

8. How can videos help me teach grammar and pronunciation for US language classes?
A few ideas...
  1. Any direct instruction that you currently do in class about grammar and pronunciation can be offloaded to video. Have the students watch it and complete a quick accountability check as homework. Even have kids prepare questions before class.
  2. You can ask students to create videos where they record their own lessons, pronounce words, etc. Have students collaborate to make videos, perhaps recording a conversation in the language or performing a skit.
  3. The biggest benefit is if students watch your videos for homework, then class time can be saved for more application. Students can spend more time reading, writing and conversing in the language during class where you can support them and give “in the moment” feedback.

9. Are there ways of doing flipped learning that are not too demanding of teacher preparation time?
Using pre-made videos made by others can save tons of time. See question 4.

10. I have heard some students say that they do not always learn the material as well when they're doing it on their own because they're not able to ask questions when content is introduced. What have people who have incorporated flipped learning experienced?
I’ve heard the same from some of my students when I first started. (See question 1). However, I don’t hear that concern anymore. It is especially not a concern anymore because students are allowed to watch videos in class. But even as I have made that change, I don’t get many questions from students during video viewing in class.

11. I understand the filming yourself lessons as HW part, but I'm more curious as to what class time is used for then.
The simplest answer is to just flip what you normally assign as homework becomes class work.
But that would make class boring if every lesson was just classwork. My question to you is,
“what are the things you would do if more time was added to your course?” I would start by incorporating those activities into the class time.

Some immediate ideas come to mind:
  • more discussions
  • more projects
  • students creation of content like videos, posters & presentations
  • hands on activities
  • one on one conferences with students
  • portfolio work
  • collaborative-group work
  • more writing, blogging
  • peer evaluation
  • reflection
  • games

12. Techniques & technology to make the videos as visual appealing and accessible as possible.
It’s attractive to worry about making excellent videos but my experience is making excellent videos takes a lot of time and effort - probably more so than what they are worth. Think about your experience with making PowerPoint presentations. There is always room for improvement but there are diminishing returns when making the “perfect” presentation, if such a thing exists. Rather, the focus should be on making “good enough” videos. There are best practices for making videos, some of which we will briefly discuss during the workshop. However, students don’t ultimately learn the content exclusively through the video or even a live lecture/presentation. It is during the struggle to apply the content that students begin to learn. I would focus more energy and time on making effective assignments, learning opportunities and assessments.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Teacher's Survivor Guide to Flipped Learning

As a follow up to suggestions for students to excel in a flipped class, I offer some assistance for teachers who wish to convert from traditional to flipped courses. 
  1. Know why you're making the switch, the reason(s) must go beyond the cool factor or a way to mix things up. Identify and communicate what you're trying to accomplish by flipping. Flipping is most useful when it is used to solve a problem or enhance or maximize features within a course, rather than merely following a trend. For example, will flipping allow for more differentiation, problem based learning, projects, writers workshops, student centered learning, discussions or labs? If you're not immediately sure how you will recuperate class time, then perhaps you're not ready to flip your class.
  2. Keep data on student progress. Parents and administrators will want to know if the switch to flipped learning has been successful. Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of your class and continue to make improvements. 
  3. Connect to other flipped teachers and look for opportunities to collaborate. You will get tons of ideas about implementation, as well as warnings about common pitfalls. Consider joining Twitter and Google Plus, there is a robust #flipclass community which discuss issues in flipped classes. 
  4. There are tons of variants of flipped classes; you will have important decisions to make. Will your course be synchronous or asynchronous? Will you offer anticipatory work before students watch videos? What will you use to create, host and share videos?
  5. Make own videos, if you can. Perhaps in the beginning, you will not have an extensive library of your own videos, so you may need to have a combination of your videos and videos found online. Since you are not giving direct instruction in class anymore, students will be somewhat removed from you. Having your own voice and perhaps even face on videos can bridge some of that gap. 
  6. Keep videos short. It's better to have two videos rather than one long video. Students can get intimidated from having to sit through one long video. By splitting the video into shorter ones, students can get positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment when they complete the videos. On a similar note, try to limit each video to only one core idea or concept. Not only will this help to keep videos short but it will help students rewatch only the videos they need. Consider making separate videos for concept introduction and demonstration of examples. Students who don't need to see multiple examples won't have to sit through needless video footage. 
  7. Hold students accountable for watching the videos. Think about what you will do if students do not watch the video. Create a post-video assignment to ensure students understood the content. It doesn't have to be long and exhausting but it should hold students accountable for watching the videos. Have students take notes and submit questions they'd like to have answered. There are some sites like educannon or zaption that can embed questions into videos and pause the videos until students have answered the questions; they also provide embed codes in order to store and share these interactive videos on your website or learning management system.
  8. Make a commitment to avoid reteaching the content in class; otherwise, students will learn videos are not required.  
  9. Consider providing a guided note sheet to help students pinpoint the important information from the videos. You can always wean students off note sheets as the school year goes on. 
  10. Ask for student feedback. Make appropriate adjustments.  
  11. Respect the learning curve. Be open to students being confused and even resistant to change. Be patient even when you're setting consistent expectations. Give yourself the same patience. You won't get it right the first time, the second time or even subsequent times. If you are a veteran, then you have learned to be effective in different ways. It will take time be effective in this new way. 

What suggestions have I missed? Tom Driscoll, a fellow flipped educator, offers some other tips in his video embedded below.