Sunday, April 29, 2012

Change Mindsets First

I first heard about Carol Dweck and Mindset while participating in a grading and assessment consortium with Marzano Research Lab in Kansas City. I didn’t run out immediately and read the book. I wish I would have. At this consortium, we were being trained on how to implement various aspects of standards-based grading and how to bring our colleagues “back at the ranch” along with us. This group and a few other teachers at our high school were jumping on board and piloting standards-based grading.

As a result of this work, I was thinking we were nearing a tipping point and getting excited about bringing more teachers along. But I began noticing some red flags. Some teachers who were piloting standards-based grading were reverting back to attaching a grade to behavior as opposed to knowledge gained. Or, they were using the grade as an attempt to motivate students who were struggling or disengaged. Whoa Nelly…

This was a frustrating period of time. I couldn’t put my finger on the issue. All of the essential supports were in place. Then, I read the book. Mindset by Carol Dweck. Learning about fixed versus growth mindset was definitely game changing. In short, a fixed mindset believes that intelligence doesn’t change. We are born with it and stuck with whatever “brain cards” we have been dealt. A growth mindset believes that intelligence can be grown through effort and nurturing. The metaphor to grading is simple. Fixed mindset equals traditional, bell-curve thinking. Students will land on the curve naturally. Growth mindset is about the knowledge or skills gained over time. Learning happens in different time frames and in different ways. The grade will reflect where we land at the end of a course or unit of study. Fixed mindset is averaging. Growth mindset is trending.

It occurred to me that no matter what process or model for evaluating and assigning grades is in place, an individual can manipulate it to fit their own mindset. For any kind of major change, our mindset will determine the trajectory of success. Lesson learned. For our school’s standards-based grading change, we need to change our mindsets…first. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Can I Get Extra Credit in College?

Can I Get Extra Credit in College? I really want to know. When I was back at ‘ol Mizzou in the late 80s, I don’t remember having the option. And, there were a few times, I would have sold my soul for five or ten points. Memories of my 89% in my Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife course (don’t judge, I needed the science credit) came roaring back when I recently read a blog post on how Twitter is improving the 21st century college classroom. Link to complete post at 

Of the seven ways shared in the post on how Twitter can be used in college, #2 states: “To boost engagement on Twitter, these questions might appear at the end of tests as extra credit or as separate extra-credit assignments, giving tweeters an edge.” If Twitter existed back in 1988 in the one course keeping me from my first college 4.0, you can bet the bank I would have been tweeting.

Fast forward to 2012 where I am now a high school principal. I’m convinced that extra credit is one of the top three evils of traditional schooling and teacher grading practice. I’m all for extra practice and multiple opportunities for students to show evidence of learning. But, extra credit emphasizes the accumulation of points, not proficiency on a learning goal or improving academic performance. When I think about what I really remember from Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife, all I can really recollect is the argument I had with the professor: an argument over one percentage point and an opportunity for an extra credit. I lost the argument.

I recently was visiting with a friend whose child attends a neighboring high school. She shared about a grade of a B- in a course, but they weren’t worried. The teacher was also a coach in the district and was offering 10 points extra credit for attending a game and supporting the home team. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I hope the few followers I have on this blog post will come through the laptop at the thought of anything so ridiculous impacting a students’ grade.

As much as I love Twitter, I have greater things in mind than extra credit in college for its effective and responsible use. No disrespect to the idea or the author of the blog post intended. The other six suggestions were excellent.

In parting, I would like to say to all educators, “stop giving ridiculous opportunities for extra credit!” One of the biggest criticisms of high schools is the lack of preparedness for college-level work. My guess is if it weren’t for extra credit, some kids might never have made it to college. But, how sad for the “extra credit kids” when they are sitting in their first College Algebra class and realize all they remember about math from high school was the argument with the teacher over a few points, or how attending a ball game made the difference between a B+ and an A-.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Standards-based Grading - the Onramp to Common Core Implementation

“Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that”.
- Clark Griswold

I just participated in the second of four webinars on common core implementation provided through Marzano Research Laboratory and Jan Hoegh. (@MarzanoResearch) I’ve gone through a variety of reactions and emotions related to the adoption and implementation of common core standards. It is safe to say it ranges from a “we can do this” to sheer panic. Today, I would describe my feeling as gratitude.

I’m grateful…
  • ·        For my district’s choice to focus on the implementation of standards-based grading as a district initiative.
  • ·         For content collaboration time that is built in to the daily schedule to define (and revise) essential learning goals, develop proficiency scales, and create common assessments.
  • ·          That for the first time in my career, I believe we have the closest thing to a guaranteed and viable curriculum we have ever had – one that is written, taught, and assessed!
  • ·         For my belief that our locally-defined essential learning goals will closely align with the common core standards in most categories.
  • ·         That we have a starting point.
  • ·         We can take our current reality and look for areas of weaknesses or gaps.
  • ·         That we can continue to focus on increasing rigor and the quality of instruction as a result of the common core.
  • ·         Changing grading practices resulted in extensive work around standards and assessment.
  • ·         For the Kansas City PDN and the Marzano Grading & Assessment Consortium with Bea McGarvey.

I see our work to implement standards-based grading – using Marzano’s proficiency scale model – as the onramp to a full-scale implementation of the CCSS in 2013. Traveling down the road to standards-based grading at the high school level has not been a road without bumps and road blocks to say the least. At times, I think we have all felt like making a quick U-turn back to Traditional Grading Avenue. But, I’m grateful we didn’t. I’m sure the journey towards common core will be a similar trip. My hunch is that we will be better prepared because of our experience with transitioning to standards-based grading.

I’m grateful for the challenges we will face in the implementation of the common core. It will be important to focus on the journey, not the final destination. Any curriculum worth the paper it is written on is never a finished product. The CCSS won’t be any different. It won’t be a Sunday afternoon drive through the park. I’m going to choose to think of it is an adventure, maybe something like Chevy Chase and the Griswold vacation in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. If it turns out that way in the upcoming years, I will be especially grateful.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Students as Contributors or Consumers?

“Content travels when it is passion driven.” – Angela Maiers

Earlier this week, my twelve-year-old son asked me an interesting question: “Mom, are the polar ice caps really melting?” At the time he asked the question, I was actually working on something for school and just gave him a quick, “I have no idea son…” and dismissed his curiosity.

After a few minutes, I called him back to where I was still sitting at my laptop. Drew is a kid who is generally compliant, yet often disinterested with what’s happening at school. Because of that, I decided I couldn’t pass the opportunity for a teachable moment. We started by doing a google search together. We read excerpts from online news articles. We talked about global warming and what people could do to prevent it and how some people don’t believe it is real. We even talked about the Biblical explanation for rainbows.

The conversation ended after about ten minutes, but I have thought about it several times since. I wonder how different this moment for learning, and even social responsibility, might have been if it had happened at school. Would the opportunity to have the discussion been possible or would Drew have been re-directed to the required lesson of the day? How many of these types of learning opportunities do we miss in schools? If the topic wasn’t attached to the almighty grade or a curriculum pacing guide, would he pursue it further and deeper than any text book would allow? Would the teacher encourage and inspire his curiosity? Would his teachers feel they had the freedom to “go outside the lines” to facilitate individual research projects?

As fate would have it, I came across a TED talk from Shawn Cornally (@ThinkThankThunk) called “The Future of Education without Coercion.” 

Shawn’s TED talk affirms my belief in standards-based grading as the means for evaluation and grading students. But, bigger than that, how important it is for kids to be inspired to learn and pursue the answers to their own unique and relevant questions.  He challenges us to think differently about how we structure time and teaching so that students can navigate their own learning. I encourage anyone reading this blog post to spend some time on Shawn’s site at

I recently heard Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) at the Missouri Principal’s Conference. One of the most powerful things she said in her presentation was: “the world will define you by what you contribute, not what you consume.”  What if Drew could discover something to dramatically impact our earth in a positive way? What if it was his teachers who cultivated and supported his passion? What a contribution that would be for all of us!