Monthly Archives: October, 2014

Conferencing With Students

This frog is like “Uhm, yes, that’s me! Both hands raised!”

Last week, I posted about Collecting, Sharing, and Analyzing Student Data. Part of the “sharing” portion of this is actually more complex (but SUUUPER effective) than you might think. So let’s dive in to Conferencing With Students!

First, raise your hand if any of the following is true for you or your students:

  • I haven’t given grades yet on speaking and writing tasks, art projects, music or dance performances, DBQs, or anything where the grade might be subjective.
  • It feels wrong to evaluate students on something creative or expressive.
  • When I have given grades before, students have asked me “what did you give me a ‘C’ for?!?”
  • Some of my students already have low confidence… I’m scared they will just buckle up if I give them a low grade!
  • My students are okay with whatever grade they earn, as long as it’s a passing one.
  • My students don’t use work time on projects and writing effectively. They just finish as quickly as possible, or dilly-dally.
  • My students can say what their grade is, but aren’t clear on how they can improve it, or what their strengths and areas for growth are.

Well, if you are sitting at your computer foolishly raising your hand right now, I have a solution for ya: it’s called student conferences!

Student conferences will help you make progress towards our 2nd Quarter 2 Priority:

Students are invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and are aware of their progress. This is because Teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.

What can a student conference accomplish?

Student conferences are awesome for resolving all of these challenges. Here is why:

  • Conferences build student investment in rigor and purpose. It’s a chance for you to personally motivate and ground

    Captain Haddock can’t believe how awesome these outcomes are!

    your students in why this content matters to them as individuals.

  • Conferences help students understand where they stand. They make grades feel important, something worth reflecting on, rather than something evaluative (gets rid of: “I’m a B- in this class”, low confidence)
  • Conferences help build relationships. They celebrate and challenge students individually, genuinely, and academically.
  • Conferences establish teacher-student collaboration and mutual learning. It’s a chance to find out how your student thinks, get some feedback, and ask them how YOU can become a better teacher.
Okay, fine. What do I need to make sure I get done in a student conference?
  1. Build deeper, stronger relationships between student & teacher.
  2. Make sure your student has 1-2 strategies to solve their own problems.
  3. Make sure student has clearer vision of path to achieve goals.
What does a student conference look like?

Here is an example (check out the conference that starts at 4:30)… There is a little too much teacher-talk in this one, but it hits most of the objectives outline above!

Do you have any resources to help me structure and plan one?

Of course!

But Jacob, what about management? How can I possibly do this one-on-one?!?

Fear not! I worked with some teachers last year to come up with some potential solutions and ideas for you.

  • Host conferences outside of class-time with students who are already invested in it and would be willing to come in to do better.
  • Host conferences outside of class-time with students who struggle/act out in a more public setting. As you do this more and you build stronger relationships and increase investment, you’ll have to do this less!
  • Host conferences during independent reading time (or an equivalent)
  • Host conferences during writing.creation/practice time
  • Host conferences during small groupwork time.

Got more questions about conferencing, or some ideas and resources you want to share? Email me or comment below!


Collecting, Analyzing, and Sharing Student Data

Hey friends! It’s time for our second ever Humanities Blog Post! Woop!

One of the biggest challenges we are facing in the Humanities at the moment is the fact that we don’t know where students stand in their Picture1progress towards goals. This is a natural challenge for us since we are the teachers that often see 500+ students a week, often have time with students taken away from us in favor of tested classrooms, AND often have subjective measures (“is this performance any good”) that make collecting data funny business. But this is precisely also why it is DOUBLY important that we do so: we want our students and stakeholders to understand that this is a valuable part of their education as well, and advocate for its expansion!

To help you address all that, in the following post, you will find:

1. Why collecting and sharing data matters.

2. Where we stand in the Humanities data-wise. 

3. Your metrics, rubrics, and trackers (and videos to help you set it all up!)

4. Resources for analyzing, collecting, and sharing data. 

1. Why collecting and sharing data matters.

Before we dig in further, I want to be clear about the BASIC importance of ensuring we have, collect, and share accurate data for our students: ultimately, this is an issue of justice and equity.

If we are withholding data from students and they don’t intimately know where they stand compared to national standards , is that not an injustice? Are we not deceiving them as to their progress if we are not holistically measuring their progress against a high bar of rigor (if an “A” in our class would be an “F” in New York, for example)? Are we not taking away their ability to take action for themselves to change their progress, and instead labeling them as a “B” student at every report card?

Consider the potential: Instead, we can demonstrate that we are on a path to equity by showing that our students ARE progressing against a national bar for rigor!

Plus, I want to be clear that having data can have a BIG positive effect. In fact, based on research, I have articulated that one of our key priorities this quarter is the following:

Priority 3: Students are invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and are aware of their progress. This is because their teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.”

Alas, not having accurate and complete data basically could mean any/all of the following:

1. Students, parents, and administrators may not have an accurate understanding of where students actually stand.

2. You as a teacher aren’t making data-aligned analysis and taking action accordingly in your classrooms.

3. Your TLD Coach, your Specialist, and your TFA team can’t support you and coach you from an accurate understanding of the outcomes of your classroom.

Finally, according to TONS of research, giving students consistent feedback (including student conferences – wait for next week’s blog post for that one!) has awesome results. Check out just this small tid-bit below:

Black and Wiliam’s (1998a) cited 250 studies in their review of the effects of sharing assessment feedback  on learning.  They found that effective use of feedback yielded high levels of student achievement (effect sizes ranged from between 0.4 to 0.7 of a standard deviation). Nyquist (2003) found effect sizes for feedback ranging from 0.3 to 0.5 of a standard deviation.

According to Black and Wiliam (2004a), the effectiveness of  on student learning comes from the feedback provided by the teacher, not from the kind of assessment used. The teacher must have evidence of learning that can be used to provide students with  feedback.

2. Where we stand in the Humanities data-wise.

To give you a sense of where we stand, I’ll share this little report that was just shared with me – “yes” indicates classrooms in which we know where students stand (in part, because it was communicated with TLD coaches), and “no” indicates that we don’t yet have that crucial information. Unfortunately, we, as a region, are in kind of a rough spot (only 37% “yes” total), so let’s make an initiative to switch things up in the Humanities! The more information we have, the more we can collectively and collaboratively problem-solve about how to push our students forward!

As you look at the following data, consider:

How can we learn from each other and the way that we are collecting and sharing data in our classrooms? Who are the others in our team who can support us in this? What is your role in the successes we see? What can we collectively celebrate in the Humanities? Where do you know that the areas in which we need to grow are reflective of your own areas for growth?

Group YES – we know where students stand in relation to their goals. NO – incomplete or missing student achievement information.
Art 43% 57%
Music/Dance 25% 75%
Social Studies 38% 62%
World Language 29% 71%
Grand Total 33% 67%

Pic 1

Before we move on, I want to give some shout outs here to some individuals that are doing an AWESOME job with this (there are many more, but these are some highlights that come to mind):

  • Richard Pettey – For having simple, clear, and exciting bar graphs displayed in his classroom to show student mastery by period, and get students invested in some friendly competition!
  • Gabriella Sharpe – For working to create a small network between me, Camille Loomis, and her TLD Coach so we can all norm on the performance rubrics while looking at videos of her classroom!
  • Amanda Welch – For making a personal commitment this year to share data in her classroom more consistently, and in MANY different ways! She is sharing behavior AND mastery data with students!
  • Catherine Serenac – For implementing regular and consistent data reflection after each test… I got to see its effects on students’ thinking when I observed her a couple months ago!
  • Salma Akhtar – For pro-actively seeking support to help problem-solve about how to make the creation rubric work within her school context!

3. Your metrics, rubrics, and trackers (and videos to help you set it all up!)Picture2

  • Want to know WHAT you are measuring and collecting data around? Check out your metrics here.
  • Have questions about those or want to know WHY they matter? Email Jacob, or call him!
  • Where do I find these Rubrics and Trackers? In this easy folder, or on your content-specific page!
  • How do I set these trackers up? Check out this video (for World Languages and Social Studies) and/or this video (for the Visual and Performing Arts)

4. Resources for analyzing, collecting, and sharing data.

  • Some tips for analyzing data:
    • Organize your assessments! (by skill, objective, or topic!)
    • When analyzing data, do it “test-in-hand” (it will help you notice trends by question!)
    • Search for separators. (What questions were particularly tough for some students, but easy for others?)
    • Scan by student and by period. (Who surprised you?)
    • Some good questions to ask yourself:
      • How did the class do as a whole?
      • What are the strengths and weaknesses by standard?
      • How were the results different in different question types?
      • Did any results in one standard influence results in others (i.e. if students got one question wrong, they also got the next one wrong)?
  • Check out these awesome, quick videos on “Sharing Assessment Data with Students” and “Working With Students to Develop Their Next Steps” and “Developing Students’ Ownership of their Learning
  • Examples of easily track-able assessments:
  • Sharing data with students and parents:
  • A gallery of classroom applications (more to come!)!

Supporting Your Students in Reading

Hey all!


An example of effective chunking of a text in Nels Akerson’s Spanish class!

Welcome to the first of many (hopefully weekly!) blog posts on the Humanities website! My hope is that these will be a venue for us to share some initial resources and ideas, and get a conversation going around some of the key topics with which we are concerned as a Humanities Team. Feel free to comment below, and add to the discussion!

Today, I wanted to bring to light some resources on a recurring concern that will be addressed, in part, during our “Analyzing Artifacts, Texts, and Images” session, but which you may miss if you aren’t signed up for it yet.

This post contains:

  • Staying Committed to Students Who Struggle
  • Guidelines to Supporting Reading
  • Resources and Strategies for Supporting Reading

So, to the point – the first of our three priorities this quarter is:


Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues, because Teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts. 

As we have been engaging in PD thus far, however, a recurring question has come up: “even if I DO get those planning pieces in place, and start to bring EQs and meaningful texts into the classroom, what do I do to support my students who just can’t read at that level?”

Since this question is CRITICAL to all our classrooms – which Humanities classroom is NOT concerned with literacy? – and also to the transition to Common Core, I thought it would make for a significant first post.

Staying Committed

First of all, I want to commend you for thinking of those students. In moments like these, I am reminded of one of my favorite studies by Jeff Duncan-Andrade (check it out here), in which he finds the following:

The first question I usually ask teachers that I am working with is: ‘Why do you teach?’ Most teachers respond in one of two ways: (1) I teach because I love kids, or (2) I teach because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. In separate interviews, these four teachers all responded to this question differently than most teachers, yet their answers were remarkably similar to each other. They said that they teach because they believe their students, specifically low-income children of color, are the group most likely to change the world. They explained this belief by saying that the children most disenfranchised from society are the ones with the least to lose, and thus are the most likely to be willing to take the risks necessary to change a society. This belief that they are teaching young people destined to change the world is vital to the level of seriousness with which they approach their jobs.

I hope that this thinking sticks with you as you act with resourcefulness and tireless energy to catch your students up to the reading and critical thinking levels at which they should be!

Some Guidelines To Keep In Mind
  • Support in any way you can: what we care more about are that students become INVESTED in reading, and that they can do the critical THINKING that comes with it, rather than insisting that they read it ALL and they do it TODAY. If we can get students confident and hooked on reading, the rest of the skills will come. The critical piece is motivation.
    1. Pair low reading level students up with a confident reader, and have them be in charge of collecting evidence from the text.
    2. Always provide guiding questions to focus student reading on the aspect(s) of the text that matters most.
    3. “Chunk” the text (see more below)
    4. Provide a glossary of terms attached to the text so that definitions can be found on-hand.
    5. Create reading routines in which students learn to “code” the text in different ways – questions they have, unknown words, etc.
    6. Remember, support and help practice! This won’t happen overnight!
  • Allow students to “read” different media: in the same spirit as the point above, allow your students to become invested in the kind of critical thinking that reading requires, and show them that they CAN do that, even if reading is a struggle. Images are awesome for this, but graphs, music, and more are great ways to help students observe, analyze, and draw conclusions.
    1. Pair partners up and ask them to “read” to different texts, an image and a reading, both accompanied by the same guiding questions.
    2. Provide supporting structures for analysis (see some of the resources below)
  • Build confidence with your questioning: make sure your questions aren’t just comprehension questions, but opinion questions too! Again, this will show students that this is not about right or wrong, but rather about the excitement of building opinions that can be supported from the text. Praise all your students for their awesome ideas, and get them invested in the THINKING they get to do in your classroom.
    1. Model analyzing a text with the whole classroom, and make sure to ask targeted questions to individual students, but also to ask the whole class “What else?” so it’s clear there are multiple possible answers.
    2. Make sure you are helping students see the purpose of reading by explaining how the text will relate to the unit’s essential questions, and finding some answers to them.
Some resources that can help:

Strategies for helping with reading

BONUS: Great Places to find Meaningful Texts:

What solutions, guidelines, and routines have YOU found to be effective in your classroom when it comes to supporting students in reading texts? Please share below!