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Excerpts from an article by Linda Flanagan

As most parents know, kids respond emotionally to the grades they receive — and well beyond the jubilation that goes with an A+ or the despair that accompanies a D. When Jessie, an eighth-grader, got an uncharacteristically low score on a Spanish test, she felt not only embarrassed — “because I’d never done that badly before” — but lousy as well: “I didn’t feel as good about myself,” she said.

A more typical teenage response to grades, especially bad ones? Fear. “My friends get so caught up in grades,” Jessie said. When they underperform, their first reaction is: “My parents are going to kill me!”

The trouble with these extreme emotional reactions to grades is that students’ knowledge of a subject is tied to their experience of the grade, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Powerful emotions attached to grades drown children’s inherent interest in any given subject. When kids care mainly about grades, they’re devoting more mental resources to the assessment than to the actual subject matter.

If grades were a pure reflection of learning, students wouldn’t be graded on whether they did their homework. For example, in classes where homework makes up 20 percent of a student’s grades, even achieving 100 percent on every test — and so demonstrating complete understanding of a subject — won’t guarantee an A.

Starr Sackstein, a veteran teacher in Flushing, New York, and author of Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, realized that she had started to use grades as a tool to control her students: For every day a paper came in past the deadline, for example, she’d deduct five points. She also started to recoil when she noticed students flipping to the back of papers she’d spent hours marking up, just to see their score. Sackstein understood how powerful grades could be to students. A self-described grade-grubber, she decided to change the way she evaluated students to maximize their learning by giving up grades.

Sackstein started slowly and worked to get student buy-in. She advised her students that they were going to figure out together how to improve their learning and evaluation, and told everyone they could get an A as far as she was concerned. She dropped cumulative assessments entirely — “because we have so much access to information all the time, it’s not a skill we need to test” — and invited students to set their own goals and develop their own standards. Sackstein then used everything the students did in class to measure them against their own goals. “I’m not determining what they need; they are. I’m just a reader giving feedback,” she said. Students have responded to her methods, because assessments are more personal and she provides abundant opportunities for them to express themselves.

“Grades have the ability to make kids feel stupid or smart, and that’s a huge power,” she said. Teachers are human, she added, and will respond emotionally and sometimes arbitrarily to different kids and various types of work. When students define themselves positively or negatively by those judgments, they cede control over their well-being to someone — a teacher — who may not understand them.

Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress by New Harbinger
How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress by New Harbinger

Excerpts from an article by Juli Fraga

Neurological research shows that tragic experiences can affect brain development and impact a child’s ability to concentrate and relax. As a result, students who grow up in these circumstances believe that it’s important to always keep a watchful eye on their surroundings.

“The trauma that our children carry affects their ability to learn,” says educator Mason Musumeci, a former literacy teacher at Reach. Because the children have witnessed such high levels of conflict, their bodies are often knotted with feelings of worry and fear, emotions that propel them into the fight or flight mode — a continuous state of stress that impacts their physical and mental health. These issues prevent them from feeling safe enough to focus in class.

Four years ago, the staff and faculty at Reach Academy in Oakland realized just how much their students needed additional tools to help them regulate their emotions. In an attempt to offer more psychological support, they reached out to Grossman who is a teacher and co-founder of Mindful Schools. The definition of mindfulness, says Grossman, is to “pay attention, on purpose, to the present moment.”

Before the children began practicing mindfulness, the teachers had struggled to help the students recognize their emotions, pay attention in class and communicate their feelings verbally instead of using their fists. After beginning the practice, a sense of serenity entered the classroom, and the teachers and school administrators recognized how much mindfulness had changed the school climate.

A teacher marking Key Stage 3 English papers (Marc Hill/Alamy Stock Photo)

Matt Pinkett argues that written comments are an unnecessary and inferior way of giving feedback to students

Teachers can give up marking without any detrimental effect on students, according to an English teacher who has done just that. In fact, he says students are better off if teachers ditch the ticks, coloured pens and stock feedback phrases.

Matt Pinkett argues that teachers are "spending too much time ticking, flicking and dicking about in the children’s books and it simply isn’t fair. On us or on them." Fed up with this situation, he devised what he deems to be a better way:

"It works like this: twice weekly, midway through a lesson, once I’ve set the students off on an extended writing task (18 minutes minimum), I haul a desk to the front of the classroom and sit myself down on a chair under the whiteboard, facing the class. Once the pupils have marvelled at the ease and skill with which I have lifted what must surely be a cumbersome desk, they start working, and I start calling them up.

"One by one, students 'come up' and talk me through some of the work in their exercise books. They turn the pages and read sections of their efforts to me."

Pinkett then delivers verbal feedback based on the work and this interaction. He explains how this works in detail – and the evidence to underpin his decision, in the full article.

He believes his method is applicable to all subjects and stages, too.

To teachers carrying piles of exercise books home for yet another weekend of marking, the idea will no doubt appeal. Whether it is applicable to all teachers as Pinkett believes remains to be seen, but there is only one way to find out…

Jan Synek

The Quantified Learner

Abacus 1680-1117 by Paul Schadler, on Flickr 

From an article by Annie Murphy Paul

One of the great boons of educational technology is the quantity and quality of data it generates—data that teachers and administrators are now using to track performance and personalize instruction. But too often there’s one group that doesn’t get to engage with this rich body of knowledge: students themselves. This is a missed opportunity, since research shows that feedback can be a powerful way to build knowledge and skills, increase motivation, and develop metacognitive habits of mind. Here are four principles for helping learners use their own data, drawn from psychology and cognitive science.

1. Offer Information About What Learners Are Doing Right
Research on the powers of feedback by Hattie, Timperley, and others has found that feedback is most effective when it provides information on what the learner is doing correctly, and on what he or she is doing differently (and more successfully) than in previous attempts.

2. Take Care in Your Presentation of Data
The eminent psychologist Edward Deci has identified several conditions under which feedback may actually reduce learners’ motivation. When students sense that their performance is being closely monitored, they may disengage from learning. To counter this impression, the purpose of data collection should be fully explained and students’ consent obtained. Better yet, learners should be involved in collecting and analyzing their own data.

A second risk identified by Deci is that learners will interpret feedback as an attempt to control them—for example, when feedback is phrased as, “This is how you should do it.” Empower learners rather than controlling them by giving them access to their own data and teaching them how to use it.

According to Deci, a third feedback condition that can reduce learners’ engagement is an uncomfortable sense of competition. To avoid this, emphasize that you are sharing results with students not to pit them against each other, but rather to allow them to compete against their own personal bests.

3. Orient Feedback Around Goals
Feedback is most effective, research has found, when it directly addresses the learner’s advancement toward a goal, and not other, less relevant aspects of performance. Once a goal has been clearly specified, data can help students see the progress they’re making toward that target. Find ways to help students represent this progress visually, in a chart or graph that they update regularly.

4. Use Data To Build Metacognitive Skills
The most profound and lasting effect of sharing students’ data with them is to develop their awareness of their own learning. Having access to information about their performance creates opportunities for students to recognize when they’ve made mistakes and figure out what to do to fix them. It also helps them to monitor their own motivation and engagement, and take proactive steps when they feel these flagging. They can learn when to work harder, when to try a different approach, and when to seek help from others. Ideally, as lifelong learners, students will be providing their own self-feedback.

Jennifer Schlie-Reed (YouTube)

Excerpted from an article by Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Inquiry-based learning is more than asking a student what he or she wants to know. It’s about triggering curiosity. And activating a student’s curiosity is, I would argue, a far more important and complex goal than the objective of mere information delivery.

Nevertheless, despite its complexity, inquiry-based learning can be somehow easier on teachers, too. True, it’s seemingly easier because it transfers some responsibilities from teachers to students, but it’s really easier because releasing authority engages students.

In all honesty, however, what inquiry-based teachers do isn’t easy at all; it’s just hidden, and some people confuse the two. By hiding a teacher’s strings (the strategies used to investigate inquiry), teachers encourage inquiry, and the students develop their own skills as content-area experts.

Triggering inquiry is about learning something new, and triggering curiosity is no small feat. It takes modeling enthusiasm; and learning something new generates our own enthusiasm, even if it’s something new about the content we’ve covered for years.

In terms of your content area, imagine a classroom where different kids are presenting their findings on a single, simple aspect of the content. You’d have a classroom that, overall, learns deeper and wider than ever before.

In terms of student achievement, the power of their question should help drive the research, the writing, and the presentation. It should help motivate them to become experts in their self-described field. And the more often a student gets a taste of what it feels like to be an expert, in however small a concept, the more they will want that feeling later on in life.

It all starts with finding your own enthusiasm, your own excitement, and your own curiosity. Trigger yours and you’ll be heading towards a classroom built on inquiry.

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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