March 2022 TTTs

Several times a year, we turn professional learning over to our faculty & staff during Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTTs) sessions. TTTs focus on improving our collective professional practice, allowing us to engage with our colleagues. On Wednesday, March 9, we had our second TTTs of the school year. For these TTTs, we challenged faculty to focus their sessions through our Learning At Its Best framework for their 45-minute sessions. (Re-visit our first TTTs of the year.)


5 Types of Non-Fiction
Principle: Captivate, Approach: Inquiry Pathway
Come check out the ES Library brand new collection of narrative non-fiction books: an engaging sub-genre of non-fiction writing that will spark joy for readers of all persuasions!

Basic PowerPoint animations
Principle: Captivate, Approach: Design Process
Learn how to add basic animations to your PowerPoint presentation


Level Up Student Projects with the Studio
Principle: Challenge, Approach: Personalized Learning
Recording techniques for audio projects. Explore ISB’s recording facilities and familiarise yourself with our studio equipment. Go through the recording process from tracking to print. Then, take your learning to student projects!


How To Use WTW Data to Target Your Instruction
Principle: Challenge, Approach: Personalized Learning
Now you have your middle of year data, so what? This session you will learn how to break down your current Words Their Way data to see exactly where the students need direct support and instruction. Come learn how to support and challenge all of the learners in your class!


Supporting LGBTQIA+ students in your classroom
Principle: Care, Approach: Social Emotional Learning
It’s Pride Week at ISB, but what does that mean for you? If you know you want to make LGBTQIA+ students feel safe and included in your classroom, but you’re not sure where to start, this session is for you. Topics will include: addressing homophobic comments, using inclusive language, and more.


Cooperative Learning Structures
Principle: Clarify
Raising the number of Opportunities To Respond will increase the learning in your classroom. How can you get every student to engage with every question you ask as a teacher, rather than just one student who raises their hand. We will look at a number of Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. Hopefully you will walk away with some new ways to engage your learners.


Clarify with COLOCOs
Principle: Clarify, Approach: C6 Bilteracy & Bicultural
This session is intended for those who are currently attending the C6 training (or those who need a refresher) and would like to revisit the work on COLOCOs (and complete their homework in the process!).


Using Visuals to Support Organization and Independence in the Classroom
Principle: Classroom Management
I will share two strategies using visuals I learned at a PD session in 2019 and have since used with co-teachers in the classroom. We’ll also share ideas about how to use and adapt these visuals to our classrooms.


The Working Genius Model and YOU
Principle: Collaborate
Resources, Podcast
Improve your collaboration skills by exploring Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius model, a simple and powerful 6 step model for all work. You will reflect on your personal Working Genius type and learn language to apply personally and in teams. This session will include chunked learning, reflecting and application individually and in small groups. This model is useful for anyone who works or is on a team.


Round Table: Sharing ideas on unpacking the Teachers College reading units
Principle: Collaborate, Approach: Inquiry Pathway
Let’s come together to share our processes around how we go from the planned lesson in the TC units to teaching our individual classes. Bring an example to share or a topic to discuss!


Making Thinking Visible
Principle: Confer/Challenge, Approach: Personalized Learning
This session will seek to share the ideas from the Making Thinking Visible training and book in a condensed and applicable way, including the core concept, and sets of teaching moves/strategies that can be used for all learners. Making Thinking Visible is a philosophy that seeks to promote engagement for all learners, intellectual curiosity and exploration, and to shift the focus in teaching towards ‘thinking’ above all.


Excel Basics
Principle: Confer, Approach: Personalized Learning
Looking for ways to organize and analyze student data? This session will explore some basic tips and tricks for using Excel. Bring your laptop and any questions you have about using spreadsheets.


What works to improve student literacy in Chinese class?
Principle: Confer, Approach: Personalized Learning
In this session, we will share what we have studied and learned about the Balanced Literacy components that have been used to effectively teach Chinese in some international schools.


Rubrics and Feedback in DX
Principle: Confer, Approach: Personalized Learning
Learn how you can use assignment rubrics and other feedback tools (including the new iPad annotation feature) in DX.


Diversity and Inclusion Conversations in Chinese
Principle: Confer, Approach: C6 Bilteracy & Bicultural
The purpose of this TTT is to create a space where educators can have conversations around Diversity and Inclusion in Chinese to explore it through the lenses of non-western perspectives. This session provides an opportunity for equalizing access to conversations around Diversity and Inclusion and building a foundation for contextualizing Bias and Racism to our global international school environment.


Spotting the Signs–Structure and Function in the Head, Neck, and Mouth
Principle: Consolidate, Approach: Personalized Learning
Spotting the Signs is geared for teachers and TAs of younger students. We will focus on spotting students who may need an SLT referral in the areas of articulation and feeding/swallowing–whether you teach in English or Mandarin! Normal and atypical anatomy of the head/neck/mouth and developmental milestones for articulation and feeding/swallowing will be taught so that you can spot students who may not be meeting these expectations.


Save the Rainforest! Digital Planning and Journaling with iPad
Principle: Consolidate
Tired of losing sticky notes with your to do list? Want to reduce your reliance on paper and taking notebooks everywhere? Move your planning and / or journaling to the digital realm to save your sanity. This session will be most beneficial if you bring an iPad, Apple Pencil, and have access to either the Good Notes or OneNote app.


People, Systems, Power, Participation
Principle: Consolidate, Approach: Service Learning
In this session we will explore the People, Systems, Power, Participation Thinking Routine. We will use this routine to examine Gender, Migration, and Racism, then talk about how it can lead to service learning.


Literacy is Learning
Principle: Consolidate, Approach: C6 Bilteracy & Bicultural
Various literacy activities across subject areas that can enable students to acquire depth of understanding and consolidate their learnings.

Welcome to Learning @ ISB!

Welcome to the learning at ISB blog! We’ve been pretty quiet the last 2 years, but we’re back and excited to continue sharing learning at its best at ISB.

At least twice per month, we’ll be publishing posts written by ISB educators sharing their thoughts & reflections on learning. Have an idea for a guest post? Let us know! Want to get inspiration delivered to your inbox? Enter your email on the right to subscribe! [Make sure to keep an eye on your ‘Other’ inbox tab for the emails!]

Have thoughts about something you read on this blog? We love comments! Feel free to leave your thoughts here or come chat with us in person.

As we relaunch this blog, we wanted to introduce Learning at its Best and our principles & approaches of learning. You probably have one of these posters up in your classroom or have seen them around the school. All of our blog posts will be written through these lenses. Want to dive deeper into one area? Check out the categories on the right to begin exploring!

Learning at its Best

ISB’s principles of learning provide a research-based foundation for how students learn best and insight into what makes our learning environments most effective. ISB’s Learning Principles are based on Tripod’s 7C framework of effective teaching: Care, Challenge, Confer, Clarify, Captivate, Consolidate, Collaborate, Classroom Management.

The approaches of learning are integral to how we design learning experiences at ISB, guiding our instructional practices.

Social-Emotional Learning – Research shows that explicitly teaching social and emotional skills increases student well-being, enhances positive behavior, reduces crises, and enhances academic achievement. A focus on social-emotional learning also creates a safe, positive school culture. At ISB, we prioritize building relationships and want every student to feel cared for every day. Our Social-Emotional Framework supports students in developing self-awareness, self-management, social and cultural competence, nurturing relationships, and taking purposeful action.

Personalized Learning – At ISB, we believe in a progressively learner-driven model of personalized learning to facilitate student ownership of the learning process and provide student voice and choice in their learning. We empower students to build strong relationships, leverage their interests, and assess their strengths and areas for growth to engage in deep, relevant learning.

Service Learning – Service Learning is infused into the curriculum and across the co-curricular program at ISB. It is a relevant learning journey that integrates meaningful action with instruction and reflection. We believe that Service Learning develops compassion and empathy, strengthens communities, and nurtures a global mindset.

C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework – The community at ISB is culturally & linguistically diverse, and we aim to serve our emergent bilingual and multilingual students so that they are able to access grade-level standards regardless of language proficiency. The C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework supports faculty in creating culturally responsive lessons that celebrate the diversity of our students.

Inquiry Pathway – At ISB, we empower students to ask questions, think critically, and reflect. Based on provocations and real-world phenomenon, students see & think, wonder & question, investigate & explore, make meaning & find patterns, and explain & construct arguments.

Design Process – Solutions to the problems of the world do not exist in silos and neither should learning. Students at ISB are given the opportunity to use design-thinking to create connections between traditional curricular areas and build empathy while solving real-world, authentic problems.

We hope you’re as excited as we are for this blog to be active again! Next week, keep your eyes open for a post from Angie (MS/HS Math Instructional Coach) with a focus on Challenge. Even better, get her post delivered to your email as soon as it’s published by subscribing on the right! After you subscribe, look in your email to confirm your subscription.

Student Learning Data At a Glance

Last week I gathered my in-house focus group (yes, my daughters) to ask them what they hope that teachers will learn about them in the first few weeks of school. I was pleased when one answered, “I hope they understand my strengths and weaknesses, so they can help me and not get frustrated when I don’t understand.” 
“Wow!” I thought. “How great! I’ve just spent two years working on a tool to give to ISB teachers in order support them in doing just that.” 
The tool we’ve been working so hard on is a new data portal—a system that connects right into powerschool, that we can use to pull together all the disparate sources of academic data we have about each student and present that data to teachers at a glance. 
The data that’s entered into the data portal is customized by Elementary, Middle, and High school, but the basics are the same: we have two types of data: external assessments (like the MAP test and others), and internal common assessments (such as Writing, Math, and PE, as well as Science, Social Studies in middle and high school.) 
Want to know your students’ reading comprehension so you can check if they’ll be able to make sense of the text you’re handing them? 
We’ve got you covered.  
Want to see which students have similar strengths and growth areas, so you know which small group might benefit from a strategy lesson on a skill they learned last year? 
We can show you that!

Data like this will help us most if we keep in mind the strengths and limitations of the two types of data: 
External test data (like MAP data) 

  • Reliable measure of students’ basic skills in reading, math, and language usage. 
  • Often you can look back at several years’ data to see the growth trends 


  • Cannot measure very deep cognitive complexity, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation skills 

ISB Common Vertical Assessment data: 
Strength: Measures more cognitively complex tasks, such as 

  • Analyzing the strengths and limitations of a primary source in social studies 
  • Modeling a math problem or scientific phenomenon 
  • Writing a short narrative about their own life 
  • Assessing their own fitness and making a plan to improve it in Health and PE. 
  • Identifying relevant evidence to support an argument  

The data on whether the student can achieve these more cognitively complex goals provides a useful counterpoint to the sometimes-limiting external assessment data. It’s not hard to imagine an emergent bilingual student whose MAP scores looks low because she doesn’t have the language skills to comprehend the questions, but who is an excellent critical thinker who can analyze and model a scientific phenomenon 

  • Sometimes the common assessment data is confounded by things like the way the question was worded (so the student got confused and didn’t apply the skill they were meant to be measuring).  

Together, these two types of data aim to provide a balanced view of what each student’s learning journey has been.  
Our job as teachers is to learn deeply about our students, so we can meet them where they are, give them just the right amount of challenge to help them grow.  
How can we help our students work in the zone of proximal development, that sweet spot for optimal growth, if we don’t know where they’re starting? 

Image from Verbal to Visual

So, a practical suggestion: 
After you do your first pre-assessment, put it side by side with the student view of the portal.  (If you need help getting in, here is a step by step instruction manual!)

  • Does anything surprise you?   
  • What are this students’ areas of strength and where might they need extra support?  
  • Has this student been growing? 

Next, consider your actions based on the data.

  • Do you need to reteach an earlier skill? 
  • Create a small group?
  • Collaborate with a coteacher to target specific skills?
  • How might this data influence what you assign as homework (independent practice!)

How you follow up on the data is up to your professional judgement, requiring all the art and skill you have as a teacher.
I want to leave you with a caveat: a data portal will never tell you which student was the lead of the school play last year, or which one worked for ages perfecting his design for a robotic animal or which one loves reading graphic novels.  Listening to your students, making that connection, combined with providing just the right amount of challenge—there’s nothing that can improve your students’ learning more effectively than that. 

Rethinking Mathematics Fluency

A common challenge I hear from teachers and parents is that their students do not know their basic math facts, meaning their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts using numbers 0-9. What generally follows are questions of how to support their students with building this mathematical fluency. It’s widely accepted and known among teachers that the drill and kill, rote memorization of facts is not the best way for students to develop automaticity (quick recall) and in fact “the lowest achieving students worldwide [on the PISA tests] were those who used a memorization strategy” (Boaler, 2015). However, we recognize that mastering basic math facts is critical to building a strong foundation to conquer more complex mathematics and that “the past decade [of math instruction] has produced a generation of students who are procedurally competent but cannot think their way out of a box” (Boaler, 2015). This leaves many teachers scratching their heads at what to do and what is the best support to offer parents.  
One common misconception is that because fluency development is now taught differently that it no longer carries as much importance as it previously did. There is also the misconception that with an inquiry based and conceptual understanding approach that fluency will be developed naturally. In reality, fluency must be developed in tandem and partnership with conceptual understanding and “without that skill our students will view even simple math tasks as daunting” (O’Connell, p. 2). Our goal for students regarding math fluency should not just be memorization but automaticity, understanding, and connection making. In order for our students to really develop mathematical fluency with basic facts understanding and memorization must partner.  
A case for understanding 
We cannot expect students to internalize and commit math facts to memory without providing the opportunities to develop understanding first. Compare this to when we are teaching children to read. Asking students to memorize a string of words (such as book in favorite and sat I my chair a read) is much more difficult than when the words are put into context (I sat in my favorite chair and read a book) (O’Connell). Robbing students of the chance to develop understanding in context takes away opportunities for students to be problem solvers and utilize patterns. Teaching students facts with no context lacks authenticity, often leads to confusion and mix-ups, and does not allow students to develop reasonableness about their answers. 
A case for memorization 
On the other hand, any teacher would recognize the importance of students being able to recognize and recall math facts. There are many benefits to students committing facts to memory. When facts are automatic it allows the brain to grapple with more complex components of the task like patterns, fractions, or spatial reasoning. It allows students to answer problems more efficiently, and positions students to solve every day mental math tasks.  
Before we expect students to master and recall facts they must have a solid footing in number sense. First, students should have opportunities to investigate facts through discussions, games, and using concrete materials. Then, students should explore strategies that support their understanding. Finally, students should have targeted and strategic practice with memorization. Below I share some suggestions and routines for how to incorporate more authentic practice that builds students math fluency.  
Tips to develop math fluency appropriately 

  • Consider varying the order with which students learn multiplication math facts. Teaching facts in sequential order takes away the opportunities for additional sense making. A suggested progression is 2, 10, 5, 1, 0, 3, 4, 6, 9, 8, and 7 because the progressions build on pattern making and base ten. 
  • Fluency activities should be short in duration (5-10 minutes at a time) and frequent (a few times a week). 
  • Fluency activities should be varied to maintain engagement. 
  • Speed games and timed drills before students have developed fluency can block working memory and prevents students from accessing facts they know and can lead to develop math anxiety (Boaler, 2015). 
  • Be wary of how Engage New York (ENY) defines fluency. ENY claims that a memorization of facts allows students to successfully complete more complex tasks. This is not supported by research and ignores the importance of number sense (Boaler, 2015).  
  • Progress towards automaticity and fluency should be monitored and shared with students through conferences, data, and goal setting (O’Connell, 2011). 
  • When students are finding answers using manipulatives and visuals always record the corresponding equation.  
  • Ask questions when looking at equations
    • What do the numbers represent?  
    • Can you break apart the factors to help you find the answer? 
    • How is this different from…? 
  • Use several different models (area model, arrays, double number lines, set models, etc.) to show the same fact. 
  • When applicable connect math facts to literature. The Doorbell Rang, Two of Everything, If you Hopped like a Frog, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Snowmen at Night, Snowflake Bentley, Thunder Cake, and One Hundred Angry Ants all provide points of integration. 

Routines and Lesson ideas to develop math fluency appropriately 

  • Number Talks 
  • Skip counting routines 
  • Quick Images with Dot Cards, ten frames, arrays, dominoes, real life objects (Shumay, 2018) 
  • Encourage students to write their own story contexts to demonstrate their understanding of math facts 
  • Today’s Number routine (Shumay, 2018) 
  • Ways to Make a Number routine (Shumay, 2018) 
  • Ten Frames Routines (Shumay, 2011) 

Grade Level Specific Resources 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Kindergarten 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Grade 1 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Grade 2 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Grade 3 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Grade 4 
Building Conceptual Understanding and Fluency Through Games in Grade 5 
References and additional reading 
Boaler, Jo (2015). Fluency without Fear. 
Boaler, Jo (2015). Memorizers are the lowest achievers and other Common Core math surprises. 
Boaler, Jo (2016). Speed and Time Pressure Blocks Working Memory. 
O’Connell, Susan, and SanGiovanni, John (2011). Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Multiplication and Division.  
Parrish, Sherry (2010). Number Talks. 
Shumay, Jessica (2011). Number Sense Routines Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3. 
Shumay, Jessica (2018). Number Sense Routines Building Mathematical Understanding Every Day in Grades 3-5. 
Van de Walle, John A. et al. (2018). Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics K-2.  
Van de Walle, John A. et al. (2018). Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics 3-5 

Getting real about Learning Objectives

I feel the need to be honest with you, ISB. I am a content and language objective convert.  I will admit that when I was first told that we would write daily content and language objectives for math I was compliant but skeptical and quietly resistant.  I looked for shortcuts, kept the same generic objectives up for days, hardly shared them with students, and kept them designated to a hard to see corner in my room. I was beginning the journey, but hardly moving.    
And, since we’re being completely honest with each other, even after my initial training with the brilliant Dr. José Medina, I still wasn’t convinced. I was inspired and enthusiastic about supporting emergent bilinguals in my classroom, but I did not see how being more intentional about objectives would positively impact student learning.  I know I am not alone in my struggle with objectives. How do we manage the seeming polarity between inquiry and creativity with COLOs? How do we balance wonder and curiosity with routines?  
My short answer? Write better objectives.  
Recently, I read this article from Lustre Education that reminded me of my initial feelings about objectives. The author posits that objectives, or learning targets, rob students of the opportunity to explore concepts and inhibit deeper learning. As the SIOP instructional coach here, I have heard the same argument made among our faculty. But I will assert that if we are not writing, posting, and reviewing our content and language objectives, we are doing our students a disservice.   

  • COLOs are proven to have a positive impact on student learning. Let’s get down to the numbers. For reference anything above an effect size of 0.40 is considered significant.*
    • COLOs enhance teacher’s clarity.  Teacher clarity has a 0.75 effect size.   
    • COLOs promote classroom discussion. Classroom discussion has a 0.82 effect size.
    • COLOs encourage self-verbalization and self-questioning. Self-verbalization and self-questions has a 0.64 effect size.  
    • COLOs are an example of student-centered teaching. Student-centered teaching has a 0.54 effect size.  
    • COLOs provide goals and outcomes for students. Goals has a 0.50 effect size.  
    • COLOs communicate learning and language expectations. Expectations has a 0.43 effect size.  
    • By contrast, teacher subject matter knowledge has an effect size of 0.09. 
  • COLOs are a differentiation tool. In posting accurate content and language objectives they give language learners and student who receive learning support the permission to focus and excel at one thing at a time.  
  • COLOs allow teachers to be more student-driven and student-focused. Because COLOs are written for the student, a teacher is thinking through what students need to learn and how they will show they learned it. It is not about what the teacher will do, but what evidence the teacher will gain from student performance.   
  • COLOs build community. Specifically, language objectives highlight the opportunity for students to communicate and intentionally listen to one another. They foster an environment where students learn from each other and from the teacher as well as promote risk-taking, learning from mistakes, patience, and empathy.  
  • COLOs promote authentic interaction. When students are communicating during a lesson with specific COLOs they already have a frame of how to interact. They know the skill they will be communicating about (content) and the aspect of language acquisition they will be practicing. 
  • COLOS provide a springboard to new thinking. For our students that are fluent English speakers or already have a solid understanding of the content, COLOs can be the jumping off point to ask themselves “and what else can I pursue within this topic?” For example, if the content objective is “I am learning to multiply fractions less than 1 whole,” curiosity might be peaked to explore areas like how patterns apply to numbers greater than 1 whole, how patterns connect to decimals, negative numbers.   
  • COLOs can help manage off task behavior. COLOs bring our students (and us) back to the intention of the lesson when we’ve gotten too far off track. We’ve all been in the situation where one student has a connection and it opens a whole parade of stories. Being able to say, “How does your connection support our study of point of view?” or “I’d love to hear about roller coasters when we’re walking to lunch, but for now let’s get back to learning about blends” validates the students while refocusing the group.

How to craft better content and language objectives  

  • Create them with your students. I saw a beautiful example in a grade 1 classroom. The teacher began by saying “Today we’re going to keep thinking about adding numbers and showing our thinking. What might our content objective be?” After listening to students, he paraphrased and wrote on the board. Students immediately saw their thinking validated. Then he asked, “How will we show we can add using more than one strategy?” which led students to suggest they could write their thinking clearly or they could talk to the teacher about what they did. COLOs done.  
  • Replace the word ‘learning’ to ‘inquiring’ or ‘exploring’. Feeling locked in or uninspired by “I am learning to…”? Perhaps try “I am inquiring into…”, “I am exploring…”, or “I am puzzling about…” as a way to open up thinking.  
  • Commit to introducing  them with students. One of the most powerful ways I grew in crafting purposeful objectives was when I became intentional about sharing them with students. I knew that if I shared the objective at the beginning of the lesson and saw puzzled looks, scratched heads, heard “huh?”, or had to further explain what they meant, then I had not crafted a student-centered objective.   
  • Commit to reviewing them with students. Sometimes our lessons go in different directions than we anticipate. Sometimes this is awesome, exciting, and enriching, but sometimes it is unproductive learning and thinking. In reviewing the objectives it reminds us and our students of the goals that still need to be achieved.  
  • Use action verbs from Blooms Taxonomy to specify what students are doing. The more intentional we can be about our language the more likely students are to reach the desired learning outcome. Do you want them to measure? Design? Generalize? Tell them in the objective.  
  • Use specific action words to specify reading, writing, listening, and speaking objectives.
    • Reading: locate, skim, find, discover, distinguish 
    • Writing: question, explain, list, revise, justify, summarize, record  
    • Listening: distinguish, categorize, follow directions, choose  
    • Speaking: debate, define, express, predict, restate, share, tell 
  • Use cultural objectives to connect skills to the real world and the hidden curriculum. Ultimately, we want our students to be kind, good hearted, accepting people. This goes beyond the discrete skills and knowledge that are emphasized through content and language objectives. Cultural objectives provide the opportunity for students to make connections to their community, their lives, and the world around them. Cultural objectives are golden opportunities to touch on learning dispositions such as curiosity, problem solving, and critical thinking. Something like “I can be curious about patterns in numbers” or “I can recognize patterns to help me solve problems in the real world.” 

To end with one more bit of honesty, I can confidently say that Content and Language Objectives, when utilized correctly can positively impact all the students in your classroom. 
*All data is taken from John Hattie et al.’s book Visible Learning for Mathematics (2017)  

Curriculum Change and Vertical Alignment

“My daughter has written memoirs every year for the past 7 years!” Matt Glover exclaimed to teachers the other day. “She’s so sick of this genre! And that’s not even the worst part! The worst part is, there isn’t a single adult in her school who knows this fact. There were no intentional decisions that this was such a valuable genre that it should be taught to the exclusion of other genres. It just happened, because the teachers aren’t talking vertically about what they’re teaching.” 
I’m sure you have heard of, or experienced similar stories in your years as an educator. The elementary kids who have studied dinosaurs every year for three years, but never studied space. The secondary students who have only read books by white authors for the past five years. With teachers laser focused on their own content, it’s easy for the vertical alignment to go askew. Clearly, no educators meant for their programs to end up repetitive and reductive. 
As teachers we tend to focus on those activities with more immediate impact for the students. But sometimes, serving our students means taking the time to collaborate with our fellow educators, to make sure our program will continue to serve our students’ learning as they progress beyond the doors of our own classroom.
To this end, the Office of Learning has come up with this handy graphic to let you check if a change you’d like to make to your curriculum is one that your team can make or one that should have a vertical review.  

If you would like to see the vertical view of our curriculum, we have made unit titles, essential questions, and enduring understandings public on our website, here!

The Power of Feedback; Reflections from a Paddle Board Yogi

By Kristine Tesoriero
Middle School/High School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator
Like most teachers, I consider myself a life-long learner.  Typically, my learning and growth centers around the field of education, so when an opportunity presents itself to learn

HS PE Teacher, Casey Mizzone, masters the paddle board headstand

something new and challenging outside of my profession, I usually embrace it.  My mastery levels with these endeavors have varied.  For example, learning how to make soup dumplings…not even close to mastering this skill.  Re-learning how to ride a bicycle after over 20 years of not riding…partially proficient.  Doing a headstand on a paddle board…now that, I have mastered!
If it was not about earning a “grade” or taking formal assessments on the aforementioned activities, then what factors contributed to my success?
At some point during those glorious three seconds that I was precariously balanced upside down on my head, it came to me. The secret to my success had everything to do with the feedback that I received throughout the learning process.
Educational researchers, John Hattie and Helen Timperley say that, “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative” (See link below for their article, The Power of Feedback).  The research is clear.  The type of feedback (and way it is given) has a direct impact on learning.  So, how can we provide useful feedback to our students?
Grant Wiggins wrote about 7 key characteristics of better feedback.  In his article, he says, “Feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval.  That’s what evaluation is–placing value.  Feedback is value-neutral.  It describes what you did and did not do.” (See link below for full article by Wiggins).
7 Characteristics of Better Feedback: (Grant Wiggins)

  1. Goal-referenced
  2. Transparent
  3. Actionable
  4. User-friendly
  5. Timely
  6. Ongoing
  7. Consistent

Let’s examine these characteristics through my reflections from Paddle Board Yoga:

  1. Goal-Referenced: Paddle Board Yoga started with the instructor defining the desired goal of the class.  She said that by the end of the session, I would be able to stand on my head while balancing on the paddle board.  She provided clarity of the learning goal as well as clarity of the mastery objectives. She demonstrated the desired goal several times for me to observe.  She then explained that in order to achieve the desired goal of standing on my head on a paddle board, I would first have to master some basic skills.  Throughout the lesson she would reference the goal and explain the connection between what we were doing and the ultimate goal.  For example, I practiced balancing on my knees because it would help me learn the importance of weight distribution on the board.  I practiced different hand placements so that I would eventually be able to use my hands to create the foundation of the headstand.  Everything that I was practicing had a purpose that would lead to the overall goal, and the feedback I was receiving was always goal-referenced.
  1. Transparent: Once I was clear on the goal, I needed transparent and tangible results related to that goal. Throughout the lesson, it was the feedback from the instructor that told me to either continue with what I was doing, or change my strategy.  Each time the board would flip over, the instructor would point out the reason.  She would say things like, “You put too much weight on the right knee, so the board flipped to the right.”  I used that feedback to adjust my weight accordingly the next time I got up
    MS PE Teacher, Mel Hamada recently tweeted this photo “Differentiated #aquatics learning based on Ss #choice from #formative Ts+Ss #feedback on #standards”

    on the board.  I quickly began to learn that every action I took had a tangible effect on my ability to master the goal and I was soon self-regulating and adjusting.

  1. Actionable: The information I was getting about what I was doing “right” was just as important as the information she provided about what was “going wrong.” As I began to lift off into a headstand she would say, “notice how you are pulling your elbows tightly in toward your head? That will help you to stay steady once you lift your legs.”  Her coaching was so concrete and specific that I was able to act on it.  It made me wonder about all those times I would say to a student, “Great job!” when he/she answered a question correctly in class.  How did my students know what was so great about their response so that they could continue to be successful? Or when I would say, “No, sorry, try again,” I was not providing any useful feedback so that my students could learn from their incorrect responses and act on it.  Actionable information provides a roadmap for learners.
  1. User-friendly: I have been in yoga classes where the instructor has used highly technical terms that were difficult to decipher as a novice yogi. Feedback such as, “When you are in Vrksasana pose, the most important thing is drishti,” was completely useless to me.  This feedback would have been more useful to me if the
    ES teacher, Mary-Anne Muhl, posted this photo of Design-Tech teacher, Julie Lemley, giving timely and actionable feedback on a student’s design.

    teacher had said, “when we move into tree pose, find a point of focus to rest your gaze.  It will improve your concentration and balance.”  I attribute my success on the paddle board to the fact that the feedback provided by my instructor was user-friendly.

  1. Timely: How useful would it have been if the instructor saved all of the feedback for the end of class? At that point, I would have lost the context for the feedback. I also would not have had time to adjust my techniques and try again.  Research shows that feedback is best when provided immediately or soon after the student has demonstrated their level of progress toward the goal.  How can we help students close the gap between the goal and the current level of mastery? In an article called, “Feedback for Learning: Make time to save time,” Dylan Wiliam says that, “If you’re going to use your precious time to give feedback, plan classroom activities so students can respond and act on it.” (See link below for full article)
  1. Ongoing: Unfortunately, Beijing does not lend itself to the practice of Paddle Board Yoga, but ideally, with ongoing practice and the ongoing feedback that goes with it, my overall performance and the quality of my headstand would improve.  Wiggins makes the following important point about this:

“All adjustment en route depends upon feedback and multiple opportunities to use it. This is really what makes any assessment truly “formative” in education. The feedback is “formative” not merely because it precedes “summative” assessments but because the performer has many opportunities – if results are less than optimal – to adjust the performance to better achieve the goal.”

  1. Consistent: This last characteristic of effective feedback highlights the importance of teachers working together to define levels of proficiency and moderate student work against common criteria. This collaborative effort brings about consistency in expectations, the collection of exemplars to share with students, and the creation of quality rubrics to describe levels of performance.  It also benefits our students if we come together to plan interventions for learners who are not yet meeting the goals/standards and to create ways for students to extend their learning when they are meeting them.

I ultimately met the intended goal of performing a headstand on a paddle board, not because I was a “natural”, or because I was motivated by a grade.  I learned because I had an excellent coach who knew that the key to my success was dependent upon the type of feedback she gave me throughout the learning process.  I like to think that had I received effective feedback from my cooking teacher, I would have mastered the skill of making soup dumplings as well!


Click here for the full article by Wiggins

Click here to read The Power of Feedback by Hattie and Timperley

Click here to read Dylan Wiliam’s article

20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback

Assessment expert, Susan Brookhart’s book on this topic is a great resource


Five Myths of Standards-Based Grading

By Kristine Tesoriero

Middle School/High School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator

Assessment Consultant, Tom Schimmer helps us address common misinterpretations that sometimes get in the way of sound assessment practices

unknownThis week we welcomed assessment consultant, Tom Schimmer, to ISB. Tom will spend time with teams of teachers across the middle school and high school to engage in professional learning around Standards-Based Grading. In his latest book, Grading from the Inside Out, Tom addresses some of the myths of standards based grading as a way of acknowledging real concerns of teachers as they try to implement sound assessment practices.  Here is what he has to say about five common myths.
Myth #1- Standards-Based Grading Makes It Easier For Students

Tom Schimmer explains the importance of why we assess, what we assess, and how we assess.

Rather than accumulating a certain number of points within a reporting period or using an average of all grades earned within a time period, in a standards-based classroom students are measured on their level of proficiency towards the meeting of subject-specific standards. Since learning is viewed as a progression, standards-based grading promotes continual growth and sets the expectation that learning is never finished. Tom says, “If anything, passing has become more rigorous as teachers look beyond the numbers to identify the specific areas of strength and weakness as they relate to the standards of learning within each subject.”
Myth #2- Standards-Based Grading Is More Work For The Teacher
It is different work, not more work. Tom says, “Until the new practices become habit, they will feel forced, artificial, and like more work, especially for teachers with many years of established traditional grading practices under their belt.” He suggest that to manage the shift to new practices, teachers need a “replacement routine” for the traditional approaches to assessment.
Here are some of the ways in which standards-based grading may actually become more efficient than traditional assessment practices:
-teachers move away from grading everything, in favor of providing feedback to students through more formative assessments (not graded)
-teachers can teach student how to self-assess and peer-assess during the formative assessment process
-rather than spending time considering how teachers assign points consistently, the focus is on providing useful and specific feedback that students can use to make improvements
-rather than grading substandard work, teachers ask students to try again, or seek assistance if they turn in assignments that are not ready for summative grading
Myth #3- There Is Only One Way To Implement Standards-Based Grading
This week Tom has been discussing the idea that assessment is both clinical and artistic. The only non-negotiable to standards-based grading is that grades are based on the level of learning that students are achieving.  The artistic side of assessment indicates that while there are some general ways we see schools implement standards-based grading, there are also some nuances to the process and that we have flexibility in how we do this. The ultimate goal is to “accurately report student proficiency while maintaining students’ confidence in their continual growth”. This does require consistency among teams of teachers, but the decisions you make to achieve this goal can be different depending on the context.
Myth #4-Students Are No Longer Held Accountable
How do you define accountability? How do your colleagues define it? Tom says that In standards-based classrooms accountability is redefined, not eliminated. At ISB we used the Student as a Learner criteria to report on how students demonstrate responsibility, attitudes, and collaboration in our classrooms. In a standards-based environment, students are still held accountable for these behaviors and since they are reported separately from academic proficiency, these attributes stand out and are actually highlighted for students and parents.
Myth #5- Students Will Be Unprepared For The Real World
A common misunderstanding about standards-based grading is that students will not be prepared for the “real world” because of the concern about student accountability, the allowance of “retests” and the worry about how standards-based report cards will be interpreted by colleges. In chapter three of his book, Tom says that, “If educators aren’t careful, their depictions (of the “real world”) become more a threat of an unknowable future than a real guide to life after high school-more illusion than reality.” This quote is supported by examples from the “real world” that are standards based and work environments where constructive feedback is used to support the growth of employees.
Just as we teach and provide opportunities for students to practice the skills that are important to the content they learn in their classes, we must also intentionally teach students the attitudes and habits they will need in life beyond high school. The focus on Student as a Learner allows teachers to assess and report out on these habits. Tom makes the following points about this common misinterpretation of standards-based grading:
-in standards-based grading deadlines DO matter
-in the “real world” we are not penalized for what we previously did not know
-“..the granular nature of standards-based grading and the separation of important attributes could result in students being more prepared, as they would have a clearer picture of both their academic proficiency and their behavioral readiness.”
-some universities (some prestigious ones too!) are rethinking their grading policies to move away from traditional grading
While these myths represent real concerns about standards-based grading, Tom Schimmer is helping our learning community to address these concerns head-on. He is helping us to engage in meaningful conversation about how we implement sound assessment practices.
Tom Schimmer address myth #4   with high school teachers.
Tom Schimmer address myth #4 with high school teachers.

For more resources from Tom Schimmer you can visit his website: and follow him on Twitter: ‎@TomSchimmer

The Path to Standards-Based Grading and Reporting

“In education, the term standards-based refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating understanding or mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education. In a school that uses standards-based approaches to educating students, learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education—determine the goals of a lesson or course, and teachers then determine how and what to teach students so they achieve the learning expectations described in the standards.” (EdGlossary, 2014)

We’ve made a great deal of progress on the path to becoming a standards-based school in the last few years. We have

  • used the 15 Fixes to develop Assessment Agreements in each school.
  • created a PK-12 Report Card Purpose Statement.
  • crafted a comprehensive PK-12 Assessment Policy.
  • developed Common Assessment Guidelines.
  • created school-wide Student as a Learner descriptors and rubrics  for Collaboration, Attitude and Responsibility.
  • developed a Standards-Based report card in the middle school.

With a continued focus on assessment this year, consultant Tom Schimmer will be on campus from November 14-25.  Schimmer has worked extensively with schools in the NESA and EARCOS regions. While here, he will be working with teams of teachers from each school.  You can check out his blog here to learn more.

For more information on SBGR, you can join the Standards Based Learning and Grading Facebook group, follow #sblchat on Twitter, check out the book offerings in the Office of Learning professional library, or read these articles:
ASCD: Seven Reasons for SBGR
Edutopia: 3 Peaks and Pits of Standards-Based Grading
A Checklist for Implementing SBGR
Glossary of Education Reform: Standards-Based

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