Days are getting shorter, stacks of paper are getting taller, and for some reason, you still can’t figure out where your markers went. This can only mean one thing: the school year is in full swing. If you started this school year strong, the key will be sustaining your classroom’s momentum into the holidays. It’ll be tempting to start counting down the days until the next three-day weekend. You deserve them, but keep your eye on the prize. Every moment in your classroom counts.
This is a great time of year to start reflecting on the progress your students have made already. We spend all day providing positive reinforcement and praise, but I encourage you to take a step back and look at the forest instead of the trees. Here’s one way: when you log into Kiddom and click on a student’s individual performance, the first thing you see are the skills in development. I recommend you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and investigate where your students are the strongest. What skills are they absolutely killing? What standards have they not only demonstrated mastery, but also seem to want to explore further? Take the time to show your students you’ve noticed their accomplishments and growth.
Your students aren’t the only ones that have done something wonderful this year. Maybe you tried to implement a new classroom structure and it’s running smoothly. Or maybe last night’s math lesson was seriously “on fleek.” Something you’re doing this year is amazing and you should take a few minutes to bathe in that glory. You’re a teacher and you’re serving your students: that is fantastic.
Mix Things Up
When I was in the classroom, I was about routine. But every once and awhile, I switched things up. This might be the perfect time for you to try this as well. Not only should you add a little spice in your life, but in your students’ lives as well. If you’re bored, they probably are too.
One of my favorite things to do was to let my students take control and observe where their curiosity takes them. This is a great way to explore a new side of your students, as well as their learning styles. Do they choose to learn by reading? Would they prefer to watch YouTube videos? Or, do they want to sit around in a circle and ask questions? This provides an incredible opportunity to learn how you can personalize learning experiences for them in the future. Once you have discovered how students learn best Kiddomallows you to tailor lessons that meet your students’ unique skills and interests.
The best thing I ever did to improve my teaching craft was to put a brief hold on letting students into my classroom during lunch. Between 12:15 PM and 12:45 PM, my classroom was an educator-only space, providing me with the time I needed to check in with colleagues.
During this time, we casually bounced ideas off each other. We also talked about shared students: what was going on in their lives? What should I have been informed about? What happened during 3rd period? Without these relationships, I wouldn’t have devised science lab reports that incorporated the same vocabulary that my students were using to make outlines in English. Collaborating on interdisciplinary lessons helped us show students that the skills they are learning in the classroom can be used across many subject areas and everyday life. Ultimately, this provided both my colleagues and myself with a safe space to bond and learn more about each other.
Some problems you just can’t control. And if you spend every moment of your life trying to solve for it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Take a deep breath and move on. There are things you can control, and those things should always take priority.
Use that energy to hone your craft. Make this fall the best grading period yet. Kiddom can help you find new and exciting lessons while tracking student progress. Before you know it it will be winter break and you can enjoy your time off, because you know you are ready to face the new year!
The first few weeks of the school year have always been so precious to me throughout the stages my life, even as the “first days” changed in purpose over time. The air becomes cooler, summer activities wind down, there’s a feeling in the air unlike any other.
Always ready for “back to school”
For most years, the beginning weeks of school were inaugurated with buying new notebooks, new №2 pencils, “back to school” outfits, reuniting with friends, and seeing whose name was written in the textbook from the year before. Before I was old enough to go to school, my mother would find me staring out the front door as the school bus drove by, holding my child-sized backpack in hand.
When I became a teacher, the beginning of the year was my time to begin fresh. Time to establish a positive classroom culture, to apply effective routines, to learn everyone’s names, plan ahead as much as possible, all while decorating just enough to keep my room welcoming and warm. It was a busy time, but I loved the chance to organize a new year, a new class of students. I accepted conflicting feelings of excitement and nervousness every August.
The start of school setup is absolutely critical to how we as educators feel going into the new year. Now leading Learning and Development with Kiddom, I’ve gotten to see other teachers as they set up their classes, reaching out for assistance and best practices as they navigate integrating new technology. The capabilities through Kiddom make many of these startup steps much simpler and less of a headache for teachers. I’ve found from my own experience and from others, there is a series of necessary “back to school” steps every teacher takes part of. From getting your student list to deciding what you’ll teach to investing your students early, we know what we need to start strong. As you read, can you relate to these instances of getting back into the swing of things? If so, why wait for another year to come around when you can start saving time now?
My student list would inevitably change multiple times throughout the year, especially in the beginning. It was often several weeks into school that student schedules and classes were ironed out completely. I’d have to throw away class lists I’d written by hand, mark out student names that had left, and begin all over hoping this was the last change. Teachers I’ve been coaching through Kiddom are happy to see how easy it is to edit rosters as their student lists change, deleting and adding students to pre-existing assignments, helping them start the year strong with ease. We can help students feel welcomed and included even when their schedule unexpectedly changes. No more white-out or botched class posters with crossed-out student names. Teachers have also liked being able to customize their class through their settings, making the class their own, fitting their style. Rubrics that teachers have used for years can be added into their class, attached to any assignment they create. One of our teachers messaged us — “Wow! Thank you! I love the rubric and standard options!..Kiddom might combine the two to make my life more manageable!!!” Well, now that you mention standards…
I’ll never forget when my school transitioned to Common Core standards; I pored over printed spreadsheets comparing the new Common Core standards to the Tennessee state standards I had just used the year before. Alarming and overwhelming are words that come to memory. But it had to be done! In order to create a yearly scope and sequence, I educated myself. When our teachers set up Kiddom classes, all of the national and state standards are already there in clear buckets, plus, the ability to create your own competencies are available to you. Phew. One user expressed my thoughts exactly: “Yea. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. :)” Another added, “I really like that it includes Marzano alignment since that’s what my school/state uses. I also like that it shows me the status of my students in each standard.” The scores given to students populate some pretty awesome data for each standard you assess. Keeping these standards options open for teachers who track hundreds of different skills is important.
My 8th grade math classroom
Looking through my oversized content binder for 8th grade Math, a mixture of printed and hand-made lessons, from the year before was a ritual every year. What resources did I create last year that were good enough to deliver again, what could I improve, what needed to be thrown away? Recreating the wheel was my specialty. To be fair, I created many excellent resources, but I can also attribute hundreds of hours of work doing so. A teacher’s curriculum is their bread and butter; it’s what will carry their class from day to day. We know this is crucial to starting strong, so teachers can now search and assign content through Kiddom by keywords, grade-level, and type of resource, “I think you guys nailed putting assignments into a system and being able to grade them quickly.”— after many of our teacher conversations, there will also soon be a curriculum planner, unit suggestions, and even more content partners. This totally would’ve helped me save time. If only.
While administrative tasks were taking place, I was also thinking about my kids and the classroom culture they would be part of! How do I encourage positive behavior, track their development, and send meaningful updates home to parents? On top of everything else. I wanted to invest my kids early. Many teachers I’ve worked with are excited to know that social-emotional learning (SEL) can also be assessed along with academic standards. Teachers have been educating students all this time on how to work in groups, communicate their feelings, and be responsible — but most have never had a place to see their development progress tied to data and reports. Now that we’ve partnered with CASEL, you can. One of our users responded to our emphasis on SEL with, “This is about time kids learn to be respected, to handle conflicts, to feel safe expressing their emotions and given the tools to do so in constructive ways. Good for you!” We agree that truly, this should be the priority.
Meetings with my assistant principal, curriculum coach, or grade team were too few and far between. There were days I needed help now, but so did everyone else in the building. My third year teaching, I was blessed with an outstanding Math coach; I only wish every teacher had access to their expertise. Helping educators adapt to Kiddom is something we love doing, and is at the top of our list during the busiest times of the school year. Whether we are on the phone, at a school, or chatting online, our teaching staff at Kiddom provides an extra hand in getting started. “Whether I’m having trouble with a feature or have a suggestion, someone always seems to be on the other side paying attention. 🙂 More than I can say for a lot of things we pay for!” Yes, our assistance, like our platform, is totally free and comes straight from us — we even help teachers put on PD at their schools as they begin adopting these tools. It brings us joy seeing teachers improving their classrooms with Kiddom.
Starting the school year strong was non-negotiable for me. Similar to building a house, the structure will be unstable if there is not a solid foundation set up beforehand. It wouldn’t be until the third month of school that I felt like the foundation had been built and we were in a productive, fruitful rhythm. The longer it takes to reach those rhythms, the less time we have to devote to learning. The faster we can establish the routines, the more my students got to take part in classroom culture and daily wins. Technology should be created with the goal of closing the gap in this process.
Although the beginning of the year could be busy and overwhelming, it was still, and always will be, my favorite time. Creating a space where students are receiving personalized learning, individual intervention, and feeling motivated was my goal. Setting students and teachers up for success is our goal at Kiddom. Start strong, and the rest of the year will follow in its footsteps.
A study launched in 1972 tracking five thousand “intellectually talented” children has entered its 45th year (here’s a short synopsis). Among its various findings, the study finds high-achieving students are often at a disadvantage in school communities that shift more resources to its low-achieving student population. For those of us who have taught at schools serving low-socioeconomic communities, this isn’t breaking news: we’ve been talking about this with colleagues and school leaders for long time now.
Teaching math in New York City alternative high schools, I admit committing more time to struggling students. I know I’m not alone and I also know this hurt higher achieving students in the long run. In some ways, we’re all guilty of leaving high-achieving students to their own devices. Or, rewarding their intelligence by forcing them to tutor their peers. Or worse, letting them do “whatever they want” with the time remaining in class. And while this is happening, we helicopter over the students who might not pass the upcoming assessment, the class in general, and/or the looming state exam. We dedicate more time to creating remediation resources than enrichment material. And all of this actively irks us, because we don’t want to have to choose between supporting low-achieving students and pushing high-achieving students, but our “factory-based” model of education makes it almost unsustainable to do both.
The silver lining here for teachers and learners is more and more schools are adopting a more competency-based approach to education, commonly known as standards-based grading (SBG). SBG describes student progress in relation to standards (national, state, school-specific, and/or class-specific).
I was lucky enough to teach at schools that adopted SBG, and as a result my math students were able to demonstrate mastery on a set of standards and move on to more challenging material. SBG forced me to isolate and grade only the skill being measured, providing my students a better understanding of what more they needed to learn in order to master the skill. While designing and planning SBG-focused curriculum took more time, my scope and sequence was skill-focused and could be individualized with flexible calendars and I could leverage content from a variety of free, standards-aligned resources. Most importantly, the SBG practice forced me to design curriculum more thoughtfully. I wrote lessons, made remediation and enrichment resources, and designed assessments for upcoming standards well in advance, and made them all readily available for my students digitally (on my class website) and physically (in the back of my classroom).
So yes, while I was guilty of providing students that were most in need of support with more face-time, my standards-based classroom enabled more students to accelerate through content and master skills at their own pace. They sat through less of the traditional “whole class” mini-lesson because they were ahead, and so they obtained their one-on-one time with me a little differently. Instead of asking questions in the middle of a mini-lesson, they asked before and after class, or they came to my classroom during lunch to get direct support from with me. Some of my students actively communicated with me via email. The point is: my higher achieving students made the SBG practice work within the confines of a traditional school day because they could ahead on their own terms.
As the 2016–2017 school year gets underway, I challenge educators around the world to wrestle with adopting the standards-based grading mindset for themselves. While you might not agree with the Common Core (or your own state’s standards), don’t let it prevent you from writing and tracking your own standards or competencies, tied to your own curriculum.For 21st century students, life is about using real-time data to inform decision-making. They’re privileged to be alive in a time when this is possible, and it’d be a disservice to them if we refused to adjust our pedagogy to meet their needs. The smartphone games they’re playing tell them exactly what achievements or medals they’ve obtained (and the achievements that remain). Facebook tells them how long they’ve been connected with their friends, down to the number of “likes” they’ve given each other over time. The SBG practice can help 21st century students visualize and navigate their learning journey through your class.
So if you’re interested in learning more about the standards-based grading practice and mindset, here’s a free resource co-authored by teachers familiar with the practice to help you learn more. On the last few pages, you’ll find links to more SBG-related resources. And finally, new instructional practices are best implemented with a professional learning community. Make time to chat with colleagues about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what you’re grappling with. If you can’t seem to find time in your day to chat, that’s okay: use technology. Join the conversation online by tweeting at Kiddom with #SBG. We look forward to hearing what you have to say and building more resources to support your quest to fine-tune your pedagogy.
My standards-based grading (SBG) journey started as a solo adventure and has grown to a global mission.I started my teaching career nine years ago with class 709, as a 7th grade special education teacher at a public school in the South Bronx. I would venture to guess most public schools at the time were not using standards-based grading as the norm; my school did not break with tradition. Due in part to my teacher training, I implemented a system of tracking specific skills with a very low tech solution: a piece of chart paper and markers for color coding to create a bar graph of skills “mastered”. The benefits of this alternative approach to measuring learning were twofold.
First, students who were accustomed to failure could celebrate small wins when they grasped a particular concept, even if their overall grade was considered failing. Anyone who has taught students classified as having a “learning disability” can appreciate how important it is for them to know they can learn, even if it is just one or two of the multiple skills assessed on a quiz or test. Helping disenfranchised students believe in themselves made classroom management easier.
The other benefit to using a standards-based approach was that the standards served as my curriculum guide. I used the standards to backwards plan my units. My school did not provide me with a curriculum or an instructional coach, so it was invaluable to have a system in place for structuring assessments based on state standards.
After two years in a self-contained classroom, I was moved to a co-teaching class to “maximize my impact on students.” I was initially apprehensive about sharing my tracking system because I still considered myself a “new” teacher. However, I was confident the benefits I saw in my class could be replicated in a larger class setting. Fortunately my co-teacher was receptive to the idea and our collaboration over the next few years led to a stronger tracking system and grew to include class data celebrations. Having a thought partner interested in standards-based grading was refreshing. Instead of randomly spiraling previously taught content back into lessons, we used the skills-based data to determine what we needed to revisit or present in a different way. We consistently discussed the data because it meant something. We used it to group students for intervention and saw the impact immediately. Unfortunately, my other colleagues were not willing to adopt this new practice and mindset: my co-teacher and I remained the only class using standards-based measurements.
Later, I transitioned to a high school for over-age, under-credited students that proudly advertised outcomes-based grading (a form of SBG) to support their at-risk student population. The school was in its founding year and the entire staff was fired up about SBG. Joining a community of educators interested in designing curriculum around this practice appealed to me and within this context, I discovered even more advantages to the approach. There were bumps in the road as we brought different understandings of what constitutes “mastery” and how mastery translates into a “final” grade, but these conversations only strengthened my belief in this approach.
In this collaborative setting, I realized SBG creates flexibility in curriculum design. The final goal is clear, but how students access learning material and what they do to demonstrate learning can be personalized to student interests and learning styles. This became particularly useful when I volunteered to take on a recurring challenge at the school: low attendance. SBG coupled with elements of blended learning naturally lends itself to self-paced learning. For the first time in my teaching career, my students could advance on their own terms if they demonstrated mastery. This freed me up to find the time to provide practice opportunities and options for students that needed additional time and resources to master new content. Content personalization and pace: these are the true benefits of a classroom grounded in standards-based grading.
My experience implementing a standards-based curriculum within a variety of contexts informed my belief that SBG is a powerful tool for all educators. Currently, I’m fortunate enough to work for Kiddom, a free standards-aligned platform whose goal is to enable teachers and learners to unlock their full potential. Through this platform, I’m committed to supporting teachers around the globe as they navigate this new practice and discover the benefits of SBG for themselves.
I remember creating my first lesson, incorporating standards-based grading, so many moons ago in Mississippi. I glanced back and forth between my computer screen and my content notes in overwhelming anxiety and frustrated confusion. Where do Ieven start? What did it mean to scaffold questions to track and target a specific standard? I had so many questions around simply writing assessments on a single topic to fit this framework. I needed a standards-based grading (SBG) fairy to sit on my shoulder and walk me through this new, seemingly complicated, method of teaching.
Fast forward to today; now I work with Kiddom. My first memories are examples of the blockage and doubt that can occur when trying something new, making a switch to a model that is different from what we are used to. Feeling unsure and uncomfortable when taking a risk is completely normal and is shared by so many educators making the switch to SBG. I know the stakes feel even higher, your daily work influencing the minds of young learners. The good news is, you’re not alone, neither in the way you may be feeling, nor in learning the ins and outs of SBG. My priority at Kiddom is to make this process seamless for teachers, bringing all of the data and content involved with SBG to one place. If you need assistance, we’re here. And, the risks you’ll take with SBG will pay off, they will motivate your students to own their learning, and they will save you time in the long run.
When I began teaching in Nashville, my fellow educators were also making the switch, most new to SBG. Beginning that transition was met with hesitation and skepticism because its importance wasn’t explained and much-needed guidance was barely accessible. Many were concerned this would limit their teaching freedoms, that student learning would be restricted, and love of learning would cease.
While the hesitant feelings are valid, the actual outcomes are so beneficial for students and teachers. SBG actually frees us from the structured I do-We do-You do mentality and from having to keep your classes all on the same schedule in time for a chapter test. If someone falls behind when taught traditionally, there is the lingering fear, how will they catch up? In an SBG classroom, students work on different, intentional paces. SBG helps guide the educator (or facilitator) to pinpoint where to spend their time and energy, remediating and enriching on an individual basis.
With Kiddom, so many of my co-teachers’ concerns could’ve been alleviated, guidance and resources to SBG at their fingertips, making tracking and targeting instruction so much easier. Having the ability to do all of the steps called for in SBG by yourself is impressive, but we know it’s not sustainable. Teachers are leaving the classroom, and without support, who’s to blame them? SBG is game-changing, but only when teachers are supported through the transition process. My commitment through Kiddom is to bring this safety net to you, helping teachers like you navigate through the initial hesitations to the day students are coming to you, asking how they can master those last remaining skills.
You may be wondering how this looks for your subject. Introducing SBG opens up new doors and ignites newfound gaps to conquer in student learning for all areas. Let’s take a quick look.
In math and science, SBG gives teachers the opportunity to have a laser focus on which part of skill students are having misconceptions. Then, a teacher won’t need to reteach the entire unit or struggle blindly wondering why students still aren’t understanding how to calculate slope or how to explain mitosis.
Humanities classes typically assess students on specific content or ever-developing skills, such as the WWII or the writing process. SBG can be complex here with so many categories of performance (e.g. drafting, revision, publishing), but can be beneficial in understanding gaps in performance.
For artistic classes, students can sometimes feel discouraged when they are assessed on one final project. SBG opens a window for students to be assessed on artistic processes, such as neatness, craftsmanship, technique, and originality. In addition to artistic proficiency, students can be assessed on other skills that would mirror their progress and mastery.
I’ve seen students learn more with SBG, more motivated and driven by SBG. Students who understand a skill get to move on and expand their thinking, while students who need more one-on-one intervention are identified. Students in the middle no longer miss opportunities to grow, because we know where they are, too. The opportunities with SBG and Kiddom are limitless here, and the time saved aimlessly throwing darts in the dark, will be a substantial shift in your classroom, for you and your kids.
Adopting SBG leads teachers to understand their content as experts, knowing each intricate portion of a skill. Leading up to calculating slope, students will need to have mastered the skills that contribute to slope. As teachers are tracking past and future skills in their subject, the “end goal” mindset is replaced with a lifelong learning mindset. I never loved math more than when I could show my inner nerd, breaking down a skill to its complex core.