Reading Standards...the incarnation of the devil. Oh wait, I'll save those words for a different post about the hybrid learning model. I digress; those two words, READING STANDARDS, have been haunting me these last few years since our English Department switched over to standards-based...well, everything. If you look at my gradebook, it's quite easy to see how your student is performing in argumentative, narrative, explanatory, and research writing. You can also clearly see how your student performs in collaborative discussions and presentational skills (speaking and listening), and language isn't a problem either! BUT-- reading, well umm, yeah umm, they are--reading, like a lot, mmmkay. 

This is what has bothered me since our monumental transition from a hot-mess of a gradebook to a standards-based gradebook. It's not difficult to set up the writing category for product assignments and skill sets because the standards in writing each lead up to their own essential product. For example, this semester my gradebook will  have one assignment (product) for explanatory, one for argument, and one for a research paper. This is the same with speaking and listening. In the gradebook, I have products (assignments) for collaborative discussion and presentational skills. Language skills are also clearly reported in either the writing category or its own category under "Vocabulary Acquisition and Use." The standards in writing; speaking and listening; and language are simple to report in a gradebook, but the reading category just isn't that facile. Most of us English teachers like to read novels as a whole class and when reading those novels we cover a multitude of standards at one time that fall under Key Ideas and Details; Craft and Structure; and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. In fact, one assignment,  like the analysis of a particular excerpt from a novel, can assess multiple standards within each of the categories at one time. So how the hell do I report that in a grade book? Oh, I know--I'll put every reading standard known to man in the reading category of my gradebook and then pick a part every assignment that assesses multiple standards and somehow report that in the gradebook. Right, because that won't be the definition of laborious hell and that won't confuse parents. Maybe I should throw in a few acronyms as well to really confuse people. what do I do?

Now that you have been waiting a whole space in this blog for the answer, I'll give you, well-- a sort of answer. A few years ago I had our whole department comb through each novel and non-fiction unit that they taught, and they used the document below to check off what they covered throughout each unit.
Reading Standards Reflection Sheet

After we completed one of these for every novel and/or non-fiction text we taught, we figured that we pretty much covered all of the standards. Great, yes! We did it. But umm, how do we report that in a gradebook? I figured that when I created a product assignment (summative) in the gradebook entitled The Catcher in the Rye Test I would just know that there were a lot reading standards covered in that test. That was clear enough, right? Yeah, uh no--said my gut. So my gradebook looked really clean for all of the other categories, except for reading. This has been the bane of my existence for the last two years because it just didn't feel right, until recently. 

One of my colleagues and I, who love to nerd out on all things English, had a really great conversation about this very thing the other day. Don't worry--I won't transcribe the whole thing right now, but we arrived at the conclusion that we need to stop reporting the standards in the gradebook with the novel or non-fiction text as the lead. Instead, we need to report in the gradebook with the standards in mind. Oh yeah, backwards-design model for gradebooks. Hello--take me back to freshman year in college. We did this for every other standards category, so why not Reading, duh? Although this is how we planned each unit, that's not how we have been reporting performance in our gradebook. This was also the problem with the previous exercise I had our department complete by thinking about the literature we teach and then checking off what standards we cover throughout that literature unit. Instead we needed to think about the standards and when we cover those standards within different literature and non-fiction units. So here is the new activity I have planned for our next PLC. My department is so lucky (insert sarcastic tone).
Reading Standards Reflection Sheet

Notice that I've changed the formatting to have the standards lead, and also notice that I use the guiding question "When is the standard ASSESSED?" Although we may COVER a whole lotta reading standards in one unit, that doesn't mean we assess all of them. I completed this activity myself already, and now I have a better understanding of how I'm going to organize my gradebook. Here it is--are you ready for this life altering change? Instead of my reading category being organized by each literature unit, I will organize it by which standards are covered in that unit. I know, mind blowing yes? But seriously, after filling out this document I know that I effectively assess citing textual evidence, theme, complex characters, and the importance of POV while teaching The Catcher in the Rye (stop with the judgy eyes; kids can relate to a wacked-out teenager). This means that I will have a product assignment for each of those standards (total of three summatives) when I teach TCITR. I will entitle those product assignments Analysis of POV w/textual evidence, Determining Theme w/textual evidence, etc. In the notes section under each particular assignment in Infinite Campus I will write the numerical representation for that standard and the book: 9-10.1 and 9-10.2 in TCITR, so I'll remember the exact standard and when I covered it. No need to confuse the parents with this information. This new way of reporting in the gradebook will make it so much easier for students, parents, and myself to understand where students are thriving and where students are struggling when it comes to standards. This is so much better than reporting The Catcher in the Rye Test; you got a 70% which means that you are lacking somewhere in the reading category. Insert me pounding my head against a wall.  

This might have been painfully obvious to you and your gradebook--stop rolling your damn eyes--but for me this has been eye-opening. I know I cover and assess the standards but I've never been comfortable with how this has been reported in the gradebook. I think I've found my answer. I'll let you know. 

Keep on keepin' on,

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Michon Otuafi

As promised, I am going to continue to honestly reflect upon our new grading practices in the English Department. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, where the hell have you been? Just my other two posts found here and here, and then come on back! I organized (I know shocking) the following into topics such as planning, assessment practice, feedback, etc. Then I further organized each topic (now you're further shocked) into AHAS, GROWING PAINS, and MOVING FORWARD. Here we go:
#1- Standards-Based Planning and Assignments
AHAS-Last year, we created Standards by Unit Binders where we mapped out every unit we taught and highlighted what standards we covered when. Going through our standards for each unit helped us to prioritize certain standards which also led us to effectively weight our grade book categories. If we hadn't done this last year, I think moving forward with the grading changes this year would have been difficult because most of our changes center upon standards-based practices. Furthermore, we have more guidance as to where we are going throughout the year as we plan each unit which informs us about what we have covered and need to cover moving forward. This also drives the assignments we create in order to prepare our students for the end of the unit summative, which is a product grade(s) (counts towards overall grade) in the grade book. 
GROWING PAINS-We found that some of our previous assignments throughout our units weren't clearly tied to any standards and seemed to be "fluff" which inflated our grade books and didn't really show us what students know. Thanks for the good ol' sucker punch to the stomach when you realize that the assignment you love so much isn't really tied to anything; it's just fun. Now I'm not saying that there should never be any fluff anywhere in planning, but it should definitely not be everywhere in a grade book creating the "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man" from Ghostbusters type of grade. 
MOVING FORWARD- As a department, our plan for next semester is to continue to discuss what standards we are covering within each unit, aligning our process and product assessments to those standards, and reflecting upon student performance on those assessments. Lots of work I tell ya, but so worth it!
#2-Assessment Practices
AHAS- Changing our grading practices has forced us to look at how we organize our grade books and what we put into our grade books. We have standards-based categories and under each category we have process assignments (don't count towards grade) and product assignments (do count towards grade). Further organizing our grade books helps us communicate with students about how they are doing throughout the learning process and their proficiency level for each standards category. Changing our grading practices has not only forced us to look at how we organize our grade book but has also led us to look at our formative (process) and summative (product) assessments with a big, fat, scrutinizing magnifying glass. We learned a great deal about what our products measure and how we can tweak them to better inform us about what our students have and/or haven't learned.
GROWING PAINS-The new set up of the grade book has some parents and students confused which means more emails and phone calls for the teacher. We have found that we have to explain why we don't include every assignment towards the actual grade which if you read my previous blog posts you will understand why. Additionally, looking at our previous formative and summative assessments was a bit painful for a couple of different reasons. First, once you think you have created a sound assessment, you don't want to have the realization that it's not. It's a proverbial pain in the arse to recreate or revise something you once had complete faith in. Second, you tend to feel like a damn failure, thinking 'What was I drinking when I created that question? Did I create this test after I indulged in weekend festivities? For the love of all things...' BUT this type of reflective practice is so amazing and forces us to question not only our instructional practices but our assessment practices as well which if not reflected upon can be detrimental to students and their learning. 
MOVING FORWARD- As we venture into the next semester, we have a better idea of what our assessment practice should look like since we have a semester under our belts. We are going to take it a step further by moving all of our assessments to either School City or Zip Grade in order to get a better idea of how our students are performing on each standard within our assessments. Don't strangle me my English Peeps; you know I love you! This will give us better data as we move forward in our planning, instruction, and assessment practice. We are also going to discuss how to create different types of summative (product) assessments that aren't just obtrusive assessments but also unobtrusive and student-generated that are standards based and reliable. If you think I'm speaking gibberish, then visit this webinar and fast forward to 14:54 for more information on these three different types of assessments. Try not to nod off, I promise it's good info. Anyway, I'm realizing more and more how important it is to administer different types of assessments because not all students do well on pencil and paper tests, but they can still show you what they've learned in different ways. Let's expose our students to different types of assessments, so they have different opportunities to show what they've learned. 
AHAS-This has been one of the most exhausting semesters we have ever experienced because of the amount of feedback we have been giving students. With that being said, students have a better understanding about what they know and what they need to know or improve upon moving forward in a unit. Because they aren't necessarily "earning points" for each of their process assignments, they are learning that they have to reflect upon the feedback we give them in order to prepare for the product assignment that will go into the grade book. We are trying to teach students the value of what it means to learn content and certain skills sets instead of just counting points. Providing specific feedback to students has helped them grow as learners because they recognize areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. 
GROWING PAINS-Even though some students are getting used to the feedback process where comments are more valuable than points, some students still haven't caught on. We are trying to erase the idea that we do things for points and instead are trying to teach that we do things to learn. Since students don't receive points for everything they do, some students don't want to complete all of the process (formative) assignments. We never broadcast that we are going to take assignments for points or not, so some students chance it and don't do the process work. This later hurts them in the long run when they don't do well on the product assignment because they didn't take the process work seriously. This is a growing pain for both the teacher and the student.
MOVING FORWARD- We will continue to stress the value of learning the content and skill sets throughout process work which will pay off in the end when students have learned and their grade reflects this. Now that the students have experienced these new changes in every English class this semester, our hope is that they begin to recognize that they have to put in the work throughout the learning process, so they can show us what they've learned when we get to the product. We will find better ways to provide feedback to students in a timely and effective manner that won't burn us out. Send help if we don't figure this out. 
 #4 Collaboration
AHAS- As we navigated through our semester, we collaborated and collaborated and collaborated until people wanted to collaborate in order to figure out how to confront me in the parking lot. I joke, I joke! We worked together on planning, instruction, curriculum development, assessment development, and we held each other accountable. Throughout the semester we conducted grade book check ins with our colleagues who teach the same English courses. This held us accountable in ensuring that we were sticking with our plan regarding what product assignments we were putting into the grade book. Holding each other accountable also ensured that a student sitting in so and so's 10th grade Honors English class was having a similar experience while sitting in the other so and so's 10th grade Honors English class. This does not take away autonomy because how you get your students there is your choice!
GROWING PAINS- There were times when we felt too tired on a Wednesday after a draining day to have effective discussions about what we were doing. Or sometimes other meetings would get in the way of our collaboration which would derail some of our plans. Furthermore, the grade book check ins we completed made us a bit uneasy because we couldn't believe that we didn't have 100 assignments in the grade book. We constantly questioned if what we were doing was right and at times we agonized over it. 
MOVING FORWARD- Our collaborative efforts have been strong, and we plan on continuing to use our PLC time wisely and productively to continue to support one another and challenge each other to be better professionals. Have I mentioned that I work with the MOST AMAZING English teachers? Say otherwise and I'll fight you. Joking, but not really. 
 #5 Exceptional Learners
AHAS-We have learned a lot about the kinds of supports we must provide for our exceptional learners and all students in general. Our new grading practices, which affects planning, instruction, and assessment, is now forcing us to have really candid conversations about what are sound accommodations and additional resources we need to provide for our exceptional learners. We realized that we have to have efficacious communication with case managers about what our expectations are and how our new system may impact students. This is just the beginning, but we are currently collecting student work samples of "approaching" and "proficient" work to give to the SPED Department, so they can help support our exceptional learners in our SSTS classes. We are looking at other areas in which students struggle and trying to come up with ideas on how we can further support them. We are also asking our administrators for more resources for our students with special needs such as more push-in support in the upper-level classes, as well as requiring seniors to take an SSTS class so they can receive additional support from teachers. Even though we should have had these conversations earlier in the year, I'm so glad that this new system of grading is guiding us to advocate for our exceptional learners more so than we have ever done in the past. 
GROWING PAINS- Even though we are striving forward in getting our students with special needs more support, it can be a slow process and we truly lack the  resources we need. Our SPED Department works double overtime each week just trying to manage caseloads of students that are mind boggling. We would love to have push-in teachers at every level for every English class, but it can be a scheduling nightmare. This has to become our number one priority until we get it right. 
MOVING FORWARD- We have a much better idea of how we can further support our students with exceptional needs, and we will continue to ask for additional resources for our students ensuring they are getting the supports they need. Our communication with case managers about student performance and additional supports has to be better this semester, and we will work hard to ensure this. 
#6 English Academy
AHAS- The English Academy (academic detention at lunch) really helped some students who had missing work. Each week, each English teacher looks at his/her grade book to figure out what students are missing work. Then we assign those students to attend the English Academy (EA) on Wednesday at lunch. We took turns hosting (doesn't that sound nice? LOL) the EA each week which helped our students learn material and complete work. Some parents were thrilled about this academy and encouraged us to sign their kids up for it. We created a log in Teams that allowed all English teachers access to add students to an English Academy List each week. This is how we kept track of who attended by highlighting the students' names if they attended.This list was helpful in so many ways and helped us to keep an electronic paper trail of who we assigned to EA and who attended which was great documentation for many reasons. 
GROWING PAINS- It's not easy to remember to sign students up every single week, and it's also just "another thing" to do as a teacher. Many of us forgot to do it every week because we felt swamped. Imagine that, teachers feeling swamped! We also experienced a few Wednesdays where we had over 50 students on the EA list but only really had room for about 35-40. Also, not all students attended when they should have which resulted in more paper work for us because then we had to assign them a behavioral detention with our discipline office. 
MOVING FORWARD-We now know that we have to be diligent about assigning students to the EA each week, and if that means falling behind on things like the Teacher Tool for attendance then so be it. Please don't be mad the powers at be. We will also work to continue to document who we assign and who attend the EA using our Teams Log which provides a good track record for us as a department. 
#7 Communication
AHAS- I know this is going to be ground breaking and there will definitely be some minds blown after I make this statement...Communication is EXTREMELY important when you break away from what is traditional. I know, wasn't that ingenious? But seriously, I didn't realize all the different ways we would need to communicate all of these changes to everyone, and I mean everyone and their mom (literally), until we crossed each communication bridge that was on fire and about to crumble into a million miscommunication pieces. We discovered that we had to send letters home to parents and students about our changes to our grading and grade book practices but that still didn't make everything we had done clear enough. We even put it in our Grizzly Growl, our monthly parent newsletter, which we know all parents anxiously wait for its release on pins and needles. But still...How is it possible to change everyone's way of thinking about grading practices and more with a two paragraph letter? This is a complete paradigm shift for anyone who is going through or has gone through the traditional education system. Let me just erase the last 1000 years of grading practices. No biggie! Not only did we have to communicate with the parents and students but I also had to have meetings with the administrators, counseling department, SPED department, school psychologist, registrar, and any other person who deals with our students. 
GROWING PAINS- Although every meeting was incredibly beneficial and led to some great discussions about educational philosophies and supporting students, I am "meetinged out." There have been times when I felt that I had to vehemently defend why we as a department were doing what we were doing, but I was always met with trust and support at the end. Bottom line is that I work with professionals who want to do what is best for students; therefore, of course they are going to question change and I'm glad they do. We all make each other better.
MOVING FORWARD- We are now trying to be proactive about who we need to communicate these changes to and that means we have to communicate with the students who will be attending our high school next year. My next plan is to work with the counselors who will be signing 8th graders up for traditional and honors English within the next few months. I am also working on creating handouts for 8th grade parent night that explains our grade books and grading practices. This will be created during the rest of my winter break.What's time off to a teacher anyway? That's rhetorical, damn it! 

See, a lot has been learned and there is still a lot more to be learned. Once all grades have been posted, I will also include some data points comparing previous fall semesters to the one we just completed; stay tuned...
If you are interested in making changes to your grading practices, which affects EVERYTHING you do as a teacher, then I ask that you please start slow and don't jump the gun. We have been discussing some of these changes for years, and we still had some major growing pains this semester and will continue to have them until we work all the kinks out. I would love to come talk to any department or school because the changes we made this year have led to the most amazing discussions I've ever had in my 13 years of teaching, and I've grown as a professional in many different ways. If you'd rather not see my mug than I highly suggest all three of these resources: 

As always...keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi

Reflective Practitioner....If you've been in education long enough, you've heard these two words, but how often do you actually practice reflecting upon your teaching practices? Today I'm going to walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk, and I'm going to be open and honest about making my grade book and grading practice more fair, equitable, and reliable. If you missed my original post on this, you might want to visit my previous post (click here). Once you've read my previous post and you're spitting nails, come back here to continue on with your rage.

First, let me give praise where praise should be given. The English Department I work in is INCREDIBLE. Did you hear me scream that? I mean it! None of the changes we have made to move towards a more fair, reliable, and equitable grade book would have been possible without the incredible collaboration on behalf of this department. We have spent hours, and I mean hours, discussing the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (this guy should start paying me, LOL). Yo Ken, how about a shout out or some moolah? I digress, I digress...Anyway, because of my colleagues I have been able to wrap my head around all of these changes and do what we believe is right for students. We are reading the entire book this year as a review, and each PLC we discuss what is working and what our concerns are. This post will be the first of many of what we have learned throughout the year. BUT before I get to what we've learned so far, here are the changes we have made:

1. Every English course at every level is in complete alignment when it comes to curriculum and summative assessments (aka products). Our standardized, grade books almost look exactly the same; I say "almost" because at some levels some teachers have different process assignments in the grade book, but they are worth the same amount of points as their course-alike colleague's process assignments and count for a very small amount. This is mostly at the younger levels such as freshman English where these students are trying to figure out the high school world after spending three years in middle school (bless you middle-school teachers). The process assignments do not exist in the upper-level English classes. The summatives we chose to put into the grade book for each category were discussed, analyzed, and reflected upon before we decided to use them. This is key! You don't want a summative that doesn't align with standards or the formatives you gave along the way. Speaking of standards, each grade book is set up with reading, writing, language, speaking and listening categories. Each category is weighted the same throughout all course-alike classes. For example, all English 1-2 teachers weight the reading category at 30%.
2. We have gone through all the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades and discussed them ad nauseam, which we are currently doing again this year. This helps to remind us of what we used to do and why we aren't doing it anymore. We have agreed upon no extra credit, no penalty for late work, no group scores, no penalty (on the academic side) for plagiarism. Wait, don't get your panties in a bunch just yet. We created a rubric for citizenship where things like late work, plagiarism, and unwanted behaviors are accounted for. Instead of having these types of behaviors count against students on the academic side which would give us an unreliable grade book, they count on the citizenship side. Citizenship is no longer based upon whether or not you like a student but on responsibility, accountability, and behavior.
3. Each teacher has sent home a letter to the parents explaining what standards-based grade books and grading practices are and why we have switched. Many teachers went over this information during parent night where I'm sure the parents were enthralled with the information especially after realizing they were supposed to be in Culinary Arts and not English 1-2. Shout out to Mrs. James. Girl, who wouldn't get confused when you have eight kids?!
4. We created what we call The English Academy where students who have "missing work" have to attend a lunch session on Wednesdays where they will complete that missing work with an English teacher. I know what you are thinking, 'I ain't given up my lunch hour for no kids," but if there are ten of you in a department and you rotate each Wednesday you most likely will only have to do this 4-5 times a year, if that. I don't do math. We created an attendance log in Microsoft Teams (don't groan WCSD people) where we keep track of the students who are assigned to each English Academy Session, what teacher they will go to, and what work they will complete. Did I mention the people in our English Department are angels?

Five weeks into school, and here is what I have learned and experienced:

1. I am refreshed. All of these changes and have changed the game for me, and it's like I'm looking through a different lens. I look forward to seeing what these student-centered fixes can do for kids.

2. We have created a different environment in each of our classes. It's as if there is more room for students to make mistakes and not feel like they are constantly being penalized for everything. I'm having more one-on-one conversations with kids about their performance and what they can do better in order to become proficient. On the same note, our classrooms have become more equitable and fair.

3. I've been getting "Is this for a grade?" or "Is this going into the grade book for reals?" but my response is "I'm not sure" when you damn well know I know. I follow it up with "Instead of focusing upon the grade, let's focus upon the skill set we are learning and why it's important." I'm trying to train students out of doing things for a grade instead of doing things to actually learn something. We trained them into this mind set, and we can train them out of it.

4. The feedback we are giving to students on formative assessments (process work) is helpful and allows them to perform better when it is time for the summative assessment (product). I will say that I'm giving more feedback which is more work, but it's so much more rewarding. Through my feedback I've also been giving students a second chance to show me what they learned by redoing assignments, and some actually take me up on the opportunity.

5. When it comes to missing work, giving students a zero or giving students a 50% skews the grade book either direction and makes the grade unreliable. The best thing to do is to write the word "missing" as a comment in the grade book and assign them to the English Academy until the assignment has been completed.

6. It is important to still input process assignments into the grade book as long as we check the box "not included in grade calculation." This appeases administrators who are hell bent on making sure we put things into the grade book; it shows parents student performance on process assignments which is usually a good indicator; and it helps us keep track of students who may need additional support.

7. During academic warning time, some teachers did not have any academic warnings because they did not have any product assignments for a grade in the grade book yet. One of my colleagues, who is amazing, came up with the idea to instead write emails to the parents of those students who had not been doing well on the process work. Thus avoiding any issues with not communicating with parents about student performance.

8. Building relationships in the first few weeks of school is so important to this process. I think putting in the hard work to make connections with students and showing them that you truly care about them and their learning makes this system run smoother. I let my students know that this is not a punitive classroom but a classroom where mistakes can be made, and we'll work together to learn the skill sets and content.

9. This is not something you can just jump into all of a sudden. I'm still learning as I go along, and if I wasn't a part of a dedicated department who effectively collaborates, I would struggle working through different issues of my transition. This takes TIME, and I mean lots of it!

We realize that this system is not flawless, but it has changed our practices in ways we never imagined. I know it's the beginning of the year, and we are going to have a lot of good and bad learning experiences, but so far it feels pretty damn good to do what is best for kids.

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi
0 Comments, not the delicious fruit that makes the inside of your mouth hurt (no, just me?) or the weird Emoji you use on SnapChat to tell everyone your relationship is "complicated." Pineapple also has a meaning in education when it comes to teacher observations. Have you ever heard of a Pineapple Chart? Two years ago, I came across the Pineapple Chart while browsing for educational pins on Pinterest. After doing further research, I found this amazing post from Cult of Pedagogy on these types of charts (click here). 

First let me explain what it is. A pineapple chart is actually a calendar where teachers go to sign up to have other teachers observe their lessons and instructional expertise. Teachers can visit the chart and decide who they would like to observe when, based upon the area of focus, lesson, and/or instructional strategy. This is a different way of doing traditional instructional rounds where teachers are subbed out for half a day so the principal can guide them through random classrooms during random times hoping to catch something that is inspirational or innovative. Although there are times when this type of instructional round can be effective, most times you don't get what you want out of this system. In fact, in my experience, the only thing I got out of this system was the fact that students sit a lot. With the Pineapple Chart, teachers can observe other teachers on their prep and choose specifically what they want to see from whom. For example, if I know that today during my prep Mr. OutDoUsAll is teaching a lesson on figurative language with a special emphasis on engagement and movement, then I would go observe his lesson for 10-20 minutes during that time. I would get more out of that 10-20 minutes than a half day of random walk-throughs. I understand that some teachers don't want to observe on their prep, but I much rather observe on my prep when I see fit than have to take a half day for a sub to watch my class, or to blindly walk through rooms hoping I'm going to get something out of an observation. Teachers are in full control concerning when they want to observe and why which makes it much more meaningful and effective.

"Wait, why is it called a Pineapple Chart?" you ask. Because "The pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality; it's used in the chart in the spirit of welcoming one another into our homes [classrooms]" (Cult of Pedagogy).  Why are you getting so caught up in the name? Focus people focus! Here is a sample Pineapple Chart taken from Cult of Pedagogy:
Now this wasn't just something I read in a blog and thought 'That's a great idea, moving along.' When my principal, at the time, asked all the department leaders at our school about instructional rounds for first semester, you could hear the collective groan echoing in the conference room. We groaned not because we didn't value observing other teachers, but because it meant a half-day away from the classroom hoping to observe something fabulous but no guarantees. This is when I suggested using the Pineapple Chart. Yeah, go ahead and throw those words out there in a meeting so you can get some real weird looks. The principal told me that he'd like to hear more about it. Throughout multiple meetings, the principal and I set up an idea concerning what this would look like at our school and presented the idea to the other department leaders. We all agreed we should give it a try. The principal sent out an email we created that explained the process and how everything worked. Teachers were required to do a total of 60 minutes of observing, but those 60 minutes could be broken up into different observational times.We posted calendars for September-December outside of the main conference room in the office. Teachers signed up to BE observed on the calendar including important information such as name, block, area of focus, room #, and time. This is where other teachers would go to see who they wanted to observe when during their prep time.

I sent an email each week with who signed up to be observed, so that even teachers who said they didn't have time to go down to the main office to look at the chart (calendar), didn't have an excuse.

Also, instead of having everyone observe at one time, we gave each department a certain amount of time to go and observe. For example, the first departments to observe were English and world languages, then it was PE/ROTC/FA/CTE, etc. As teachers observed, they had to fill out an observation form created by the principal. This helped to guide us through our reflection activity during PLC time.
Once each department observed over its certain allotment of time, the principal met with the teachers during PLC time to do a wrap-up activity to see what they learned from their experience.  We used a gallery walk with our areas of focus posted on poster-size sticky notes, so teachers could write down what they observed under that area of focus. Then a discussion occurred about what take-aways we had while observing. Many teachers found something they would like to try in their classroom, or they found that they could be doing things differently to make their lives easier!
                                                                             Pictured Above: Our Areas of Focus Set by Principal

Now, did everything go perfectly? No! It never does, but most of us agreed that this was much more beneficial than how we previously did instructional rounds and/or observations. The benefits far exceeded the negative aspects, and the best part was that it gave teachers so much freedom to see who and what they wanted to see when they wanted to see it. Who is ready to try out the pineapple chart? The article from Cult of Pedagogy is a great way to get more information; it includes how it would work at the elementary level too. Too soon, okay, okay, sorry!

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi

 Calling all teachers. Don't be mad at me for this post since we tend to get a little touchy when it comes to our grading system and grade books, but...

I want you to take a look at your grade book, and ask yourself this question: Is your grade book fair, equitable, and reliable? At first, we naturally say, "Why of course it is! Stay out of my grade book you pompous, know it all!" But upon careful examination can you really say your grade book is all three of these things? I can't, but I'm changing this! 

I was inspired this year after I attended an English Department Leader Meeting where we discussed equity in grading. After a presentation by two other awesome English teachers, I decided to purchase a book called A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O'Connor. This book is such an easy read and makes so much sense to me. There are fifteen total fixes to broken grades:

Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades
Fixes for Practices that Distort Achievement
Fix 1: Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement
Fix 2: Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner
Fix 3: Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement
Fix 4: Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement
Fix 5: Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately
Fix 6: Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence

These first six changes really help with the RELIABILITY and EQUITY of your grade book. For example, if I mark a student's paper late and only give him/her half credit, what am I really telling that student and/or parent? I'm not telling them anything about performance, I'm saying something about behaviors or compliance. This makes my grade book unreliable because it's not centered upon a student's academic performance. Now if I want to mark down his/her citizenship grade because of his/her amazing ability to turn everything in late, then that makes more sense. I can hear your groans through the screen you're staring into. I know, I know, you don't think citizenship matters, but it does if citizenship is attached to what teenagers value most: freedom. For example, if a student has lower than a "C" in citizenship, maybe she doesn't get to attend the school dance. Or if a student fails to turn in a crucial essay, maybe she gets marked down in citizenship and has to attend what our department is now calling "English Academy." This student then has the opportunity to perform on a standards-based task during his "English Academy" time (AKA lunch). Marking a student's paper late and taking off points rarely corrects the behavior, but a little loss of freedom works like magic. Many of the consequences for compliance tend to be taken out of the academic achievement side of a grade book which means that our grade book would not be a reflection of student performance, but instead is a reflection of whether or not a student can "play school." That gives me an icky feeling.  Yes, we can still teach them to be responsible citizens, but we have to do it in different ways. Furthermore, we must be careful with extra-credit. If a teachers says "Bring in tissue boxes for extra credit," the student who can't afford to buy tissue boxes is now at a disadvantage. This isn't an EQUITABLE practice. Plus, how does bringing in extra tissue boxes correlate to a student's academic achievement? It doesn't, damn it, and now I'll have a whole bunch of students with nowhere to blow their noses. These first six changes will get rid of grade inflation and grading based upon compliance. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's just what the grading doctors ordered. 

Fixes for Low-Quality or Poorly Organized Evidence
Fix 7: Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals
Fix 8: Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations
Fix 9: Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards
Fix 10: Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments
These four fixes are really about making sure that your grade book is RELIABLE and  appropriately aligned to standards. For example, if your grade book is set up into categories such as "Homework, Participation, Classwork, and Test/Quizzes," then how can you really say what standards your students truly struggle with or excel at? If I have low quiz scores, what the hell does that mean? But if my grade book is set up to reflect standards, then I have a better idea of how each student is performing based upon standards. In English, the grade book should be set up into categories based upon "Reading, Writing, Listening & Speaking, and Language." We have to be very methodical with whatever we put into the grade book when using this system. I will no longer walk around the room, look for completed homework, and then give everyone a 10 out of 10 under the category of "homework." This doesn't accurately reflect performance on any of the aforementioned standards. Instead, I have to thoroughly collaborate with my colleagues who teach the same English classes as me in order to figure out what type of product tasks we want to put into the grade book. This provides FAIRNESS across each course because each student is getting the same experience for the most part. Process grades such as rough drafts, quizzes, etc. shouldn't necessarily go into the grade book because the student is working towards proficiency of that standard, but product grades like a final draft of an essay should! Now of course I still grade process work and provide students with feedback, but I don't punish them by putting it into the grade book when we are working towards proficiency. What this means is that I will have fewer assignments in each category, less inflation,  and more accuracy. This also means that the products I do choose to put into the grade book need to be reliable and directly tied to standards. This is something our English Department spent 8-10 weeks on; we looked at our grade books together to see if they were fair, equitable, and reliable. As much as we hated to admit it, we couldn't say they were. Insert crying emoji. We are now working towards making sure anything and everything we put into the grade book is a product-based task that is directly aligned to standards. It takes a lot of work, but we feel really good about what we are doing.  In fact, we are having conversations that I haven't had in my entire career thus far. Imagine that, veteran teachers who haven't heard it all!

Fixes for Inappropriate Grade Calculation
Fix 11: Don’t rely only on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgment
Fix 12: Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence

The next two fixes, particularly #12, usually make teachers want to throw their district-outdated, desktop computers out the window or at me. Yes, you read that correctly. When a student doesn't turn in work, you don't issue a zero, you issue an "I" for incomplete. This is a tricky one that would require support from your admin. team. When a teacher puts a zero into the grade book, it's like telling a kid "There ain't no way you're coming back from this one, kid!" Once again, this makes the grade book unreliable because the student didn't really earn the F; he just didn't turn in the work. This is when something like the English Academy comes in handy. Students who don't turn in work will lose freedom, hence why you need admin,. support. They will have to come in on their own time to make up an assignment. When we have rules like this, students begin to see that what we assign is important. We aren't saying, "Welp, you didn't turn in that assignment, so that's a zero. Moving along..." Instead we are saying, "It's really important that you do this assignment, so I'm asking you to come attend the English Academy to complete it." Students are not getting away with not turning in work. If students fail to attend the English Academy, there will be further consequences such as detention and so on. 

Fixes to Support Learning
Fix 13:  Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence
Fix 14: Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities; in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement
Fix 15: Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can and should play key roles in assessment and grading and promote achievement

These last three fixes I've somewhat discussed in previous explanations of other fixes having to do with process and product assignments, but #15 is also really important. I'm not sure students really even understand the grading system. I'm not sure we understand the grading system anymore. Grades should be a reliable, fair, and equitable source that show what skill sets students have obtained throughout high school, but as of right now, many grades are just indicators of compliance or desired behaviors that aren't even related to achievement.
We have to start to change the way students think about grades. Right now it's just about a point system. Students don't even know why they earned the grade they earned, they just know they did some work and got some points. Instead, we have to show them that each thing we have them do is tied to particular standards which in turn shows what skill sets they have as writers, readers, mathematicians, scientists, etc.  Wouldn't that give more meaning to school? I would hope so!
I'm sure some of these fixes have you all pissed off, but the book goes on to explain how you can implement each one of these changes. And they make SENSE! Believe me, when I first read some of these fixes, I thought 'You can go stick that fix right up your...' but then I realized that I was just stuck in my old ways. By "old ways" I'm talking about my own experiences with education from kindergarten until now. I've been so used to a broken grading system that I didn't realize how broken it was until now. But I'm going to work hard to ensure that my students value what they are learning in my classroom and understand that their grade is an accurate reflection of what they have achieved in our class in regards to standards and skill sets.

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi


Cults...Do you belong to one? Well if you're a teacher and you don't know about this one, lend me your ear! Cult of Pedagogy is a website that is committed to "making you more awesome in the classroom," which by any English teacher's standards is an understatement. Cult of Pedagogy features blogs, podcasts, and videos that are all centered upon enriching, enlightening, engaging, and I've run out of "e" words. Anyway, let me take you through the blog portion of this site:

Blogs- the blogs are separated into three different categories: The Craft; Go Deep; and Teacher
Soul. Each of these categories is further separated into different educational topics such as: Instruction, Classroom Management, Technology, Learning Theory, Leadership, Career and PD, Book Reviews, Hot Topics, Attitude Adjustments, Working Together,Inspiration, and Stories. My favorite educational topic is the Instruction one. This particular page offers information on the most effective teaching practices that you can implement into your classroom.

Many of my favorite posts from the Instruction page center upon classroom discussion strategies. One of the most helpful posts has been Deeper Class Discussions with the TQE Method which influenced me in creating TQE journals to enhance our class discussions. You can buy the journals I created here.
The TQE Method encourages students to document their Thoughts, Questions, and Epiphanies as they read. Normally my students center their reading discussions upon the questions I create, but the TQE journal allows them to explore ideas they had as they read. I have found that this method covers information I didn't necessarily think to cover since I can't enter the minds of all of my students all of the time; I know, shocker! My students meet in small groups after they have read the previous night's, assigned reading, and discuss their TQE journals; the conversation is generated from the TQE Journals which helps my students to further enhance their understanding of the text and encourages them to explore the text through their peers' eyes. After the students discuss their TQE Journals in small groups, we have a whole-group discussion based upon their findings. This method has changed our analysis of our assigned reading; the students are more engaged since it is their own thoughts, questions, and epiphanies that drive the conversation, not their old, English teacher's. 

Another one of my favorite posts focused upon discussion strategies is The Big List of Discussion Strategies. This post features over 10 different discussion strategies that range from "High-Prep; Low-Prep; and On-Going." Under each one of these categories are at least three different discussion strategies some I've heard of before, and some I have never tried. The gallery walk is a more recognizable strategy but the post also includes information on other formats such as Pinwheel Discussions, Affinity Mapping, and Backchannel Conversations, just to name a few. If you find that you continue to use the same discussion ideas over and over again, then venture into using some of these new discussions to spark student engagement. I particularly like Backchannel Conversations which involves having a digital conversation right alongside an activity that is happening in class. I use this strategy as my students partake in triangle debates or fishbowl discussions. As other students are vocally discussing important aspects of a topic, the other students can silently comment or ask questions using YoTeach! YoTeach! allows students to leave comments on an open forum using their cell phones or Ipads. I leave YoTeach! on my Promethean Board, so the while there is a live discussion occurring, there is also a digital one occurring alongside it. This encourages engagement from EVERYONE, not just the students who are a part of the live discussion. I have found that this strategy also helps those students, who tend to be more reticent join, the class discussion. Plus, come on, we know if we add innovative technology to our discussion, we are more likely to have students participate. 

This post doesn't even begin to cover all of the amazing resources Cult of Pedagogy has to offer, but hopefully it sparked your interest in the blog. Further of my blog posts will feature more information on all of the other parts of the Cult, but for now drink the kool-aid and join me!

Keep on stressin' on,

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Michon Otuafi
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards...I'm sure if you have been through the process, you probably felt a little sick just reading those words, but then you reminded yourself of all the benefits you now reap because of your certification! If you haven't obtained your National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification, now is the time! Here are three, solid reasons why you should pursue NB Certification:

#1 Growth: When you are in the middle of the process, you swear you aren't learning anything, and you would like to pull all of your hair out, particularly eyelashes. You also hate watching yourself on the videos because you have weird mannerisms. Oops, maybe that was more of a personal experience. BUT... When you are on the other end of the process, you understand that even though it might have been a bit painful, you grew and learned so much about who you are as a teacher. Here are some things I learned: A. How I'm not as great of a teacher as I thought I was; B. How to collect data on students both academically and personally and identify needs; C. How to effectively assess students and break that data down to the nitty gritty to inform your teaching;
D. How to differentiate instruction to not only further support students but to challenge them also; E. How to effectively collaborate so teachers, students, and other stakeholders benefit; F. How to vary instructional strategies and formats to foster an environment where students are engaged and thrive. I could go on and on, but I really need to get to #2 and #3.
#2 Connections/Relationships: If you decide to pursue NB Certification, you will absolutely need to join a cohort. Northern Nevada offers one of the best, maybe I'm biased, cohorts around. Being a part of an NB Cohort provides you with an opportunity to be supported through an arduous process, and it also builds relationships. As a member of the cohort, you will be exposed to teachers and candidate support providers (CSPs) outside of your own school building. You will bond and collaborate with these teachers and CSPs and in doing so, you will learn an abundance from them, and they will learn a lot from you. These bonds will never be broken because going through Boards in a cohort is like having a baby, (I know since I've had four); it's excruciating but the payoff is amazing. Since this is something you go through together, these connections and bonds will last forever. You now have contacts from multiple schools, who you can commiserate, I mean collaborate, with for a lifetime.
 #3. Raise: Woot, woot! If you work for the Washoe County School District, you will obtain an 8% increase in salary for getting your National Board Certification. Do you realize that's larger than most steps/raises on the WCSD Teacher Salary Schedule? It might feel like endless hell while you are smack dab in the middle of pursuing your certification but that 8% increase in salary feels pretty damn good. Think of what you could do with that increase in salary; you might be able to afford cable, go out to eat every once and awhile, or you could maybe save up for 10 years to go on a vacation! I kid, I kid!

If you are at all interested in pursuing National Board Certification and live in Northern Nevada, you should think about joining the Northern Nevada Cohort or contact Nicolette Smith (the guru)!

Keep on Stressin' On,

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Michon Otuafi