Sunday, September 29, 2013

The @ASCD Arias Series-Grading And Group Work

Recently ASCD released 4 short books that are aimed at packing a big punch in a small package. Each are less that 100 pages but have loads of quality information. Over the next few posts we will look at each one to see what they are all about. Then we will give away 1 copy of each. Sound like fun? In the first post we took a look at Fostering Grit. Then we examined Teaching With Tablets. In this post we dive deep with Grading and Group Work. 

Before I became a teacher it was ingrained it me in my Teacher Ed program that group work was the way to go. Students are social creatures and should be working together. After all we want to help foster learning that is collaborative because that is what the real-world is like. 

So, thats what I did. As a science teacher it made sense. Each group could work on their set of experiments and we could do data comparisons across groups. It was perfect. 

Well sorta. 

Every member of the group had a role. Group leader, recorder, stuff gatherer, etc. But as was true when I was in middle school, one kid in the group took the lead and wound up doing most, if not all the work. (Sometimes that kid was me. And I did it because I loved to learn, but I really wanted a good grade too.) 

Then came the time for me to give the students a grade. (You know, because at the time, that is what I had to do.) And I really struggled. I knew not every student did equal work. But did they all deserve an equal grade? Do I let them grade each other? Rubrics? I used various methods some successful, some not so much. 

Enter Grading and Group Work.

In this ASCD Arias book, Susan Brookhart breaks down the essentials for just that; grading and group work. As the subtitle says: "How do I assess individual learning when students work together?" this book provides insight into the group learning process and offers suggestions for making group learning a success. 

One aspect I really enjoyed was the distinction between Group Work and Cooperative Learning. As Brookhart points out, cooperative learning is highlighted by students working together on something (project, assignment, etc) but each student is accountable for their own work. Rather in group work is students working together on a singular project or assignment. And she says, while it is easy to assign group grades in these cases, we don't have to. We just have to be creative with our formative assessments throughout the process to ascertain individual learning. 

The heart of the book is the how-to individually assess students who are working in groups. Brookhart covers everything from oral conferences (which I think are a wonderful idea) to student reflections on their learning (written), to summative assessments that have precise, well-designed questions, she offers several, well-crafted solutions to really get to the heart of the assessment process in group learning. 

In the back of the book, Brookhart gives several reflection questions to consider when grouping students, a checklist of quick-wins to look for and a collection of websites for learning more about effective student group learning. 

In an age where we are placing more and more emphasis on individual student learning and providing more opportunities for students to collaborate on their learning, effective assessments of individual learning may prove to be challenging. But they don't have to be, as Brookhart points out. 

You can learn more about Grading and Group Work here. As with all the ASCD Arias, this one is a short and easy read. At 41 pages you can finish this one in a planning period and be well on your way to more effective assessment in group learning. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Connected Educator Month...What You Need To Know #CE13

"Alone we are smart but together we are brilliant."

October has been declared by the U.S. Department of Education to be Connected Educator Month. Started in 2012, an entire month of webinars, blog posts, ideas, discussions and more are dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of educators to get connected.

I have been honored to be a part of the planning process and give input and ideas to the entire team that is working tirelessly to promote various events, tools and resources for educators to use throughout October.

What do you need to know about Connected Educator Month?

The main website is

The hashtag is #ce13

While the calendar on my laptop says September, events have already begun. One of the first things you will want to check out is the Connected Educators Calendar. There you can see all the events planned for everyday of the month. Running an Edcamp in your area? Doing some free, open PD for others? Hosting a Twitter Chat? You can add your events to the calendar too.

One thing that can be tough to do is explain what exactly a connected educator is and why it matters. Back in June, myself and several colleagues sat down to do just that. What came about was a short video you can use to help kick off events in your school or district.

Another set of resources you want to be sure to take some time to check out are the Starter-Kits. And there are 2 specifically you don't want to miss.

The CEM Starter-Kit, created by Powerful Learning Practice is full of introductions to what it means to be a connected educator, terms, places to go and is filled to the brim with sites, stories and more.

The other not-to-miss resource is the District Starter-Kit. Developed with school districts in mind, this resource has everything you need to run CEM events in your schools and districts. Presentations, links, ideas and suggestions, it has it all.

Lastly, you will want to create a free profile and spend some time on edConnectr. This is a social network for the new and not so new connected educator. There you can ask questions, find virtual events or connect with others who, just like you are starting out, or looking for others to learn from.

While every month should be Connected Educators Month, I am excited (and proud) of all the events, objects and resources included in this year's event. Be sure to check out the entire CEM website and remember, words are important actions mean so much more. If you are already connected, pledge to help 10 other educators get connected. And if you aren't connected pledge to take a look and see the wonderful possibilities for learning that can happen when you do. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

The @ASCD Arias Series-Teaching With Tablets

Recently ASCD released 4 short books that are aimed at packing a big punch in a small package. Each are less that 100 pages but have loads of quality information. Over the next few posts we will look at each one to see what they are all about. Then we will give away 1 copy of each. Sound like fun? In the first post we took a look at Fostering Grit. Today we take a look at Teaching With Tablets. 

It seems like more and more classrooms, schools and districts are embracing and utilizing tablets for learning. Even Microsoft got in on the act at ISTE this year giving away a Surface RT to nearly every attendee at the conference. In my district we have many schools buying iPads and Android devices for everything from teacher productivity tools to class sets that will be used in reading and mathematics interventions.

Tablets are full of possibilities. With the proliferation of apps and app stores it is easy to take a device out of the box and make it do pretty much whatever you want. But the biggest question I still grapple with, especially with Administrators is what are you going to do with them? They know they have to have them, but don't really have a plan as to what they want to do with them.

The ASCD Arias Teaching With Tablets should be required reading for anyone who is considering buying tablets for the classroom or for anyone trying to figure out how to use them. The authors have skillfully laid out simple considerations and plans for anyone looking to integrate these devices into their classroom.

In addition to the suggestions for use and ideas for integration, they do caution (smartly I might add) that it is easy to use tablets as substitutes for worksheets or other isolating activities. We have to use the technology in a smart way and use it when appropriate. Just because we have the access, doesn't mean we always have to use it.

One of the things I like best in this Arias is the checklist in the back. Used for planning and reflection, the teacher really has to consider the use of the technology during the lesson and consider afterwards things like data collection and formative assessment. For example, to start the checklist asks the teacher to "Establish Purpose" by reflecting upon what is it you want students to do in the lesson in general broken into content purpose, language purpose and social purpose. It really forces, in the planning process that the technology is something that should help achieve those goals and not be the focus of the lesson.

This Arias, is short. At 46 pages this is a super quick read. But don't be fooled by it's length. There is great and practical information packed into those pages. At at $7 for the eBook it's a bargain.

What to learn more about Teaching With Tablets or any of the other ASCD Arias series? Visit this page to learn more!