Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reflection on "Fair Isn't Always Equal"

I just finished reading "Fair Isn't Always Equal" by Rick Wormeli, and was encouraged by @druinok to blog on my reflections before moving on to another book on my list.  So here is my attempt and doing that.

Section 1:  Differentiation and Mastery
The first part of this section was an argument for differentiation.  As I have already been convinced of its impact on learning, it was not a game-changer for me.  However I did really benefit from the multiple attempts to define and clarify differentiation.  Here is a statement from p.4:  "Differentiated instruction does not mean we make learning easier for students.  Instead, it provides the appropriate challenge that enables students to thrive."  This is a good clarification.  We are not making it easier,  but rather providing students with the skills they need to embrace the challenges we give them.

The second part of the section was dedicated to sharing the importance of knowing whether or not a student has demonstrated mastery.  This really pushed me to understand how important it is to ask good questions both in class and on assessments.

Section 2:  Assessment
If I hadn't already been convinced of the usefulness of re-assessment prior to reading this, it might have been a turning point.  What was good for me was the argument for pre-assessments.  I did not do those often this past year, and even when I did, I rarely got around to actually looking at them and using them to the extent I should have.  I want to be able to give each student three types of feedback at the end of each semester (1.) mastery level, (2.) growth, and (3.) behavior.  Prior to reading this I had planned on doing (1.) and (3.), but through reading this and a Twitter chat with Garnet Hillman, I decided that giving feedback on growth was also important, for the student and for me.

But that isn't the only reason I find a pre-assessment valuable.  Being able to give the student something that shows them where they need to go to achieve mastery is also huge.  And I am totally pumped that a pre-assessment can do both of these.  I plan on giving students their pre-assessments back and referring to them throughout the remainder of the unit.  It can be used for formative assessment opportunities!  Students could write a letter to themselves on how to correct a mistake they made the first time the took the assessment (after some learning had happened).

For me, this was the most valuable part of the book (at this time).  Because my brain continues to overflow with ways that the pre-assessment can be valuable (and I hope to have one written for each unit by the end of the summer...I better get to work)!

Also this section was full of ideas on types of assessments, both formative and summative.  Ideas on differentiating assessments, tips for writing good questions, and general assessment ideas.  This will be a place to refer to as I continue planning throughout the year.

Section 3:  Grading
First and foremost, I appreciate the distinction made between assessing and grading.  Much too often those two get muddled because grades are based on assessments (and at times other things).

A lot of the grading recommendations I have already adopted and/or do not have control over.  We use a 4-point generic rubric to score in my district.  I love it, but I wish we could use something other than numbers to provide feedback so that students would see it as feedback rather than a score!  Also I have been developing my own layout for my gradebook.  My students will have the same in their ISNs for them to track their progress with each learning target.

I appreciate this reminder when considering grades.  I always remember it with assessment, but perhaps not always with grades:  "We're out for students' success, not just to document their deficiencies." (p. 114)  Keep that in mind when determining grades.

I also appreciated the chapter on conditions for redoing work.  I often feel as though I should ALWAYS allow students to redo work for full credit.  Now I still believe this is ideal, however it was good to be reminded that this is for the benefit of learning, and if it is not done within that perspective, then it is perhaps better to not allow it.  I usually allow re-dos for up to two weeks, but I rarely helped students plan for how to be successful in managing this, so I appreciated the idea of creating a calendar for students to help them be more successful on re-assessments.  I also plan on adding that all re-assessments are done at teacher discretion.  This is a nice reminder for me that I don't always have to be superwoman and manage everything.  Sometimes it is just not possible.

Section 4:  Implementation and the Big Picture
The final section was dedicated to ways of implementing changes in assessment in your district.  This felt like something useful for an administrator or a teacher in a leadership position.  That's not me, but I am glad to know all of those resources are there if I ever need them when talking with a colleague.  The most important piece for me was to remember that even small movements forward are positive things to celebrate. Sometimes I get to caught up in working toward the ideal that I feel I have failed when I don't reach it.  I have to keep in mind that it is a journey to get there and all those little steps forward are moments to celebrate.

Well, I think that is one of my first attempts at a book reflection.  Thanks to @druinok for nudging me to do this.  I'm grateful to have my thoughts in one place!


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