Author Archives: Bill Ferriter

Session Materials: Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Over the next two days, I’ll be working with a group of incredibly motivated teachers and school leaders at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading in Phoenix, Arizona.  Together, we’ll be wrestling with what good assessment looks like and the role that both feedback and grading can play in informing practice and developing learners.  My unique contribution to the conference will be primarily centered around student-involved assessment practices.

Here are my session descriptions and materials:

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Creating a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

In spring 2012, educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reins over to them?” This session introduces participants to the tangible steps William M. Ferriter has taken in his sixth-grade classroom to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback as a result of Shareski’s challenge.

Bill discusses the differences between grading and feedback. He helps participants explore simple self-assessment behaviors that can be integrated into any classroom. Teachers learn more about the common challenges of moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in a classroom.

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Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides | Complete Handouts

If schools are working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences should be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William Ferriter introduces participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to 1) track progress by student and standard, 2) provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and 3) facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

Bill shows how digital tools can provide quick checks for understanding and tracking progress by student and standard. Digital tools can deliver content and free class time for individualized instruction. Tools can help teachers use classroom observations to show student progress.

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Assessing Learning in a Purpose Driven Classroom

Slides | Complete Handouts

Technology expert Will Richardson maintains that today’s classrooms are failing students. In Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (2012), Richardson says, “We focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction, …accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored. Learning is relegated to the quantifiable.”

To create highly engaged learning spaces, classrooms must be reimagined as places where students work together to do work that matters. These arguments aren’t new; project-based learning has been promoted for the better part of a decade. How do we assess learning in classrooms where complex projects — rather than accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored — stand at the center of the curriculum?

Participants discuss why project-based learning should play a role in the modern classroom. They examine a planning template that illustrates project-based learning experiences focused on essential outcomes in a curriculum. William M. Ferriter explores simple steps for teachers to evaluate student mastery of essential outcomes.

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How Do We Turn Failure Into Learning Opportunities?

Slides | Complete Handouts

Over the past five years, the notion of learning from failure has become widely embraced. Businesses tout the importance of failing fast and failing often to succeed sooner. Educators argue that failure helps students learn to be resilient and determined, and failure is the first step towards building a growth mindset.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, failure in schools still carries negative connotations and incredibly high stakes—fail a test and your grade suffers; fail too many district benchmarks and you are assigned to remedial classes; fail an end-of-grade exam and you are held back; fail to earn a very high GPA and your college and career choices are limited. The truth is no matter how intimidating failure can be, it can also be turned into a positive learning experience as long as teachers help students analyze their performance and make plans to move forward—a process William M. Ferriter introduces in this session.

Bill reviews four main reasons people fail at important tasks. He examines differences between learners who see failures as dead ends and those who see failure as a starting point for new learning. Carefully structured feedback can play in helping students turn failures into learning opportunities.

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Using Digital Portfolios in Grades 5-12 to Create a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

Research on characteristics of effective feedback reveals one simple truth time and again—feedback gathered by learners is more powerful than feedback given to learners. Our primary role in promoting learning should be to develop students who constantly reflect on what they know and what they don’t know—behaviors that can be encouraged through the regular use of digital portfolios in the classroom.

William M. Ferriter discuss the role of reflection in developing independent, self-directed learners. He examines how blogs, simple Web 2.0 tools, can play a role in digital portfolio projects. Participants learn how they can launch digital portfolio projects in their own classrooms.

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If this content resonates with you, you might also want to check out my latest book, Creating a Culture of Feedback.  It’s a quick read that will force you to think carefully about the difference between grading and feedback in the modern classroom.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Diego. The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

 

Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides for Session

If schools are truly working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences need to be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William M. Ferriter introduces a range of digital tools that can be used to track progress by student and standard, provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

 

Small Schools and Singletons: Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging. Participants explore four models for building meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools: 1) creating vertical teams to study skills that cross content areas, 2) using interdisciplinary teams to address the engagement levels of at-risk students, 3) designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, and 4) using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area.

 

Our Students Can Assess Themselves

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Shareski’s challenge resonates with William M. Ferriter, who has always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work in his classroom. He introduces participants to the tangible steps he has taken in response to Shareski’s challenge to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into classrooms.

 

For more information on structuring high functioning Professional Learning Communities, check out Bill’s books — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work – A Guide to the First Year and Making Teamwork Meaningful.

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

Simple Truth: Your Attention Has Been Hijacked.

Here’s an interesting confession from a guy who has been a tech enthusiast for a long while:  I HATE smartphones. 

Like legitimately hate them.

My animosity towards them has been growing and growing over time.  It started when I caught myself laying in bed every night and opening Instagram to see whether anyone had liked the photos of my daughter that I used to share there regularly.

I’d anxiously wait for the number of new notifications to be updated — and often, I’d be upset that I didn’t get as many notifications as I wanted to.  I really felt ignored at times, trying to figure out why some people would have 60 or 70 or 80 likes on pictures of their kids and I’d have four.

Then, I’d start looking at the people in my network who had liked the pictures of OTHER people in my network.  I’d see that people I considered friends were actively liking content shared by each other, but they never seemed to like or favorite content shared by me.  “They are shunning me,” I’d think.

I’d even play games where I’d go in and like and favorite pictures with increasing regularity.  “Look, I’m here and I’m saying I like your content!” I’d think every time I’d drop a like or a comment on pictures of other people’s kids.  And then I’d wait to see if they’d reciprocate — reloading my stream tons of times each night to see if anyone had noticed me.

If they did, I’d go to bed relieved.  If they didn’t, I’d go to bed feeling sad.

How crazy is that?!

Only adding to my animosity towards phones has been the impact that they have had on the people around me. 

I’m a pretty social guy.  I love being with and around others and engaging in deep conversations with them.  But I started to notice that every time I was with other people in a physical location, there were fewer and fewer sustained conversations because people were CONSTANTLY checking their iPhones or their SMART Watches.

Heck — a few years back, I ponied up a bunch of cash and went to ISTE and couldn’t BELIEVE how little attendees actually interacted with the people they were sitting with.  At one point, I was taking a break in a seating area on a really comfortable couch.  There were ten other people in the same area.  None of them looked up from their devices a single time.

I see the same trends in my family life, too.  Our living rooms — places where we used to gather to connect and to laugh and to enjoy — have grown increasingly quiet as people pull out their phones and sift through their streams instead of invest in each other.

That pattern has strained the relationships that I have with people in my life who pull out their phones the most often.  I just don’t enjoy being around them anymore because I know they are going to turn away from me and turn towards their devices every time that we are together.  Seeing their phone out makes me resent them — and, given how frequently they keep doing it, I’m not sure they even care.

Here’s what’s REALLY evil:  The people who are designing social apps are TRYING to “hijack” your attention.

Need proof?  Check out the details in this article on the Guardian.

Did you know that app designers are attending $1,700 seminars on how to “manipulate people into the habitual use of their products”?  Does knowing that the person responsible for the next update of your app has probably studied the role that anticipation and craving and triggers play in the human mind — and are intentionally using that knowledge to develop features that take advantage of those inner needs and impulses.

And can you spot the built in features of the social apps that you use the most frequently that exploit your inner needs and impulses?

Here’s one:  The “drag to refresh” feature on so many of your favorite social services is intentional.  From a purely technical standpoint, you could see your new notifications immediately when you open an app, but by requiring a drag to refresh, app designers are manipulating your need for anticipation.  It’s like the feeling you get when you pull a handle on a slot machine.  You can’t wait to see what comes next — and because that anticipation is so strong, you are likely to KEEP dragging to refresh all day long.

Sometimes, you’ll be disappointed because you won’t have any new notifications.  That will cause angst.  You’ll work harder to create and to share content in those social spaces that people WILL like and share.

Other times, you’ll hit the jackpot.  A post will take off and you’ll see it shared and liked over and over again.  And every time that you drag to refresh, you’ll feel the rush that comes along with seeing dozens of new notifications.

Either way, you’ll keep coming back to your social service.

You’re a digital moth, y’all.  And drag to refresh is the flame.

#sheesh

Should we blame social services for trying to turn you into a habitual user?  

Of course not.  They are creating a product that they need to profit from.  If they didn’t think through how to best capture your attention, they wouldn’t be acting in their own interest.

But we should be aware of the fact that they ARE trying to manipulate your attention — and their goals have nothing to do with helping you to be a more complete person.

So what are the solutions?

Here are mine:

(1). You’ll never see me checking any social apps on my phone while we are together:  That’s a promise I made a few years back to the people in my lives.  I may pull my phone out to check the time or answer a call from my kid — but even then, I’ll tell you what I’m doing so that you know that you are more important to me than any social stream that I may be swimming in.  We owe that to each other.

(2).  I’m uninstalling MOST social apps from my phone:  The challenge with social apps is that we use them most frequently while we are on our phones.  Here’s why that’s a problem:  Our phones are almost always with us.

Hanging out on the couch with your partner and/or your kids at the end of a long day?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with relatives you haven’t seen in six months?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Visiting with friends who you value at a local brewery?  You probably have your phone with you, too.

So the times when you should be the MOST present are also the times when you have a device full of services that are trying to pull you away.  And given that it’s difficult to resist the tricks being used to manipulate you into using those services, you are far more likely to allow your attention to be hijacked — and by default, to turn away from the people who you are physically present with.

But if there aren’t any social apps on your phone, that social interruption can’t happen. Better yet, over time you will rethink your relationship with your device.  You won’t see it as a tool that feeds your need for anticipation or craving or triggers. It will be easier to ignore if it isn’t the primary source of reward and anticipation and need and craving in your life anymore.

I’ll always keep Twitter on my phone.  That’s because it is a place where people reach out to me with questions about the professional work that I do.  But I don’t need Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Untappd on my phone anymore.  Those are purely social services to me — and in order to prioritize the social interactions that I have with the people around me, I’m going to intentionally turn away from having similar interactions with people on my my phone.

Does that mean I won’t use social services at all?

Nope.  It just means that I’ll have to dig my computer out to participate in those spaces — something I’m far less likely to do when I’m on the couch with my kid or at the bar with my friends.  I’ve got Twitter open right now in a tab on my browser — but I’m also sitting alone in the back of a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery banging away at the keys on my computer.  If my attention is hijacked, it isn’t being stolen from people that I care the most about.

(3). I’m going to nudge the people in my life — my peers, my relatives, my students — to take the same actions.  I’m going to teach them about the manipulative design features in social services that are pulling them away from one another.  I’m going to encourage them to think through the consequences of divided attention — on their own happiness, on their relationships with other people, on their ability to learn.

I’m going to ask them to think about whether or not it is ethical for companies to design products that intentionally leverage human behaviors to steal their time and attention without being explicitly clear about their intentions.

These are conversations that we need to be having.  Otherwise, divided attention and intentional manipulation through app design become the new normal.

And I’m not OK with that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

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Related Radical Reads:

Banning Smartphones in Class May Be the BEST BYOD Policy

Are YOU Teaching Students about Attentional Blink?

I’m Going “Topless” in 2015

Is Your Team “Flunking Unsuccessful Practices” Together?

Over the summer, I had the chance to hear Eric Twadell — the Superintendent of Stevenson High School District 125 in Illinois — deliver a keynote at a Solution Tree PLC Institute.

While his whole keynote was amazing, Eric shared a quote from a book called How Children Fail — which was written in 1964 by John Holt.  Holt’s goal was to study the characteristics of highly effective schools.

His main finding about exceptional schools is as relevant today as it was when first written over 50 years ago:

“The researchers then examined these schools to find what qualities they had in common.

Of the five they found, two struck me as crucial: 1) if the students did not learn, the schools did not blame them, or their families, backgrounds neighborhoods, attitudes, nervous systems, or whatever. They did not alibi. They took full responsibility for the results or non-results of their work.

2) When something they were doing in the class did not work, they stopped doing it, and tried to do something else. They flunked unsuccessful methods, not the children.”

Those are two really easy filters to evaluate the work that you are doing together, y’all. 

If you catch yourself coming up with alibis to explain away the struggles of your students, change is necessary.

And what change is the most important to embrace?  Start studying your practices in a systematic way.

Put evidence behind the impact that those practices are having on students — and then amplify those that work the best and give up on those that are doing little to move your kids forward.

The good news is that there’s nothing difficult about any of this.

Studying practices in service of student learning should already be a regular part of the way that you are doing business.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

What Role Do Hunches Play in Professional Learning Communities?

Interventions are NOT Optional.

Our Compulsive Obsession with the Impossible Sexy. 

 

Second Guessing My Kids of Color?

Blogger’s Note:  This post is on race in America. It’s full of ideas I’ve been wrestling with for a long while.  Like the issue, there’s nothing neat and polished and finished about my thinking.  But like the issue, I think it’s time for transparent reflection — particularly from white people in positions of authority and leadership — no matter how messy it may feel.  

Read it if you want.  And then do some reflecting of your own.  This is a conversation we have to stop avoiding.  We owe it to one another.  


I think I’m an outstanding teacher.  At least that’s what I’ve heard from parents and students time and again for 25 years.  It’s not unusual for kids to smile when they see me, anyway — and I”m not bashful about telling students that I believe in them and that I care about them.

That matters, right?

But here’s a really uncomfortable confession:  I’ve caught myself time and again over the past few weeks treating my students of color differently than I treat the white students in my school.

Simple things, really — but treating kids of color differently nonetheless.

Things like saying, “Where are you supposed to be?” to Ja’Quon when I saw him outside the bathroom, jumping immediately to the conclusion that he’s either skipping or stalling instead of simply going to the freaking bathroom.  I even used the word “caught” when describing the interaction to Ja’Quon’s teacher — implying, with little evidence, that he was in a place he wasn’t supposed to be.

Or things like chasing Cadedra and Samyria away from the water fountains when they are saying good morning to one another each day, jumping immediately to the conclusion that whatever they are doing, it’s going to end up causing some kind of social drama that I’m going to have to deal with later.

Or things like being really surprised when Ashante asks the best questions in my classes and that her parents are some of the most interested and involved parents that I’ve ever met — and then realizing that I can count the number of interactions that I’ve had with the parents of my black students on one hand.

Or assuming that Tadion was screwing around in the hallways when he showed up late to class after lunch — and then finding out that he had an upset stomach that he was dealing with.

Heck — I did it today, y’all:  De’Andre and Jonaad showed up in my room for our school’s enrichment period.  “You’d better be here to work,” I said the MOMENT they walked in the door.

“If you aren’t interested in working, you aren’t welcome here,” I said, with skepticism in my voice even though I hadn’t questioned any of the other kids who showed up to work in my room.

#sheesh

Look back over my list of examples for a minute.   There’s nothing overtly racist there, right?  

In fact, I’d bet those kinds of moments happen a thousand times a day in your schools, too — especially if your school is staffed, like most, with a whole bunch of white, middle class teacher people.

But that’s what makes them so damn insidious, y’all.

Imagine being De’Andre or Cadedra or Tadion and being doubted and second guessed at every turn by every adult in your building.  Want to say hello to a friend?  Go for it — but get ready to be hassled.  Need to use the bathroom?  Go for it — but get ready to be hassled.  Late to class because you forgot something in the cafeteria?  Yup.  You are going to get hassled for that, too.

Meanwhile, your white classmates — let’s call them Sarah and Alex and Jack — are all saying hello to friends, using the bathroom and coming to class a minute or two late without having to explain themselves.  Instead, they’re getting  friendly reminders to be more responsible next time!

Stew in that for a minute, y’all.

Does it sound like your school at all?

Be honest.  It won’t hurt.

But also imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color?

#doublesheesh

And don’t forget that while being doubted at school, our kids of color are ALSO living in a world where the President of the United States defends white supremacists as “very fine people” while simultaneously calling black athletes protesting police brutality in communities of color “sons of bitches” who deserve to be fired.

Our kids of color THEN see those same athletes called “arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates”  and “crybabies” and “no good n*****s” by commentators and community leaders.

ALL. OVER. A. PEACEFUL. PROTEST.

And not just a peaceful protest about ANY old thing — a peaceful protest designed to draw attention to troubling stories like those of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and #ferguson and Freddie Gray and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — cases where black men were literally killed in the streets.

Need MORE proof of how bad things really are?

Consider the fact that we’ve become so desensitized to the endless cycle of violence against marginalized groups that we barely even acknowledge events that DON’T involve shootings anymore — think School Resource Officer Ben Fields tossing an African American student all around her high school classroom for being disruptive or police officer David Casebolt turning into Kung-Fu Panda to break up a pool party that had grown too large in McKinney, Texas.

And worse yet, we haven’t even really BOTHERED to consider the concerns of the #anthemprotesters.

Don’t believe me?

Go read through your social media streams right now.

I guarantee that you’ll find plenty of people raging about “rich, spoiled athletes disrespecting the flag” but few who are wrestling with “black men using their position as public figures to speak out about racial injustice in America.”  The one-sided-ness of the conversation speaks volumes about our readiness as a nation to deal with inequality.

#triplesheesh

Long story short: I used to wonder why some of the kids of color in our building were so darn belligerent when I tried to correct them.

They’d mouth off every time.  I’d write them up for being disrespectful every time.  Then,  I’d gripe to colleagues about their attitudes — convinced that I’d done nothing to deserve their back talk.  After all, they were the ones breaking the rules, right?

But when I think with an open heart about the way that I’ve caught myself treating my kids of color, it’s pretty clear that I’m the one being disrespectful.

I really do jump to negative conclusions about the actions of my black students a heck of a lot sooner than I do when I’m having the same kinds of interactions with white students.  Andy gives me attitude and “he’s just having a bad day.”  Anquan gives me attitude and “he’s just a bad kid.”

And if I think with an open heart, I’d bet that at least some of the confrontations that I am seeing out of my kids of color are nothing more than a reflection of a society where doubt and criticism and unfair consequences are the norm rather that the exception to the rule for black kids living in a biased world.

I can’t fix all of this by myself anytime soon.

But I can guarantee you that, moving forward, I’m ready to rethink every interaction that I have with a kid of color to at LEAST ensure that my own assumptions aren’t leading to a classroom where bias is the norm rather than the exception to the rule.  And I can also guarantee you that I’m going to speak out — as a white man in a position of authority — about race in America anywhere that I can.

It might make people uncomfortable, but I just don’t care.

I OWE that to my kids.

And so do you.

#simpletruth

 

*Note: All student names are pseudonyms to protect identities.

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Related Radical Reads:

After __________, What’s Our Role in Promoting Peace?

#charlestonchurchshooting

#ferguson

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?