Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#CyberPD Chapters 3-4 - Remember and Rigor

As I sit here writing this reflection blog, I face my home office wall and view my “teaching charts.”

These are the things I need to remember when I sit down to write, grade, email, blog, think, and be the teacher and teacher-educator that I am.  As I am constantly busy, moving from one task to another, these visual reminders help me remember the skills and strategies that are important to my work.  It isn’t that I don’t know HOW to do these things, often I get caught up in the moment, focused on getting a task done, rather than a task done well. My “teaching charts” are my cues to use the practices that lift the level of my writing, thinking, and interacting with others.

This is the theme of chapter 3 – how tools can help students remember the skills and strategies that have been introduced in lessons.  As the authors state, “There was a palpable tension between the sheer volume of information the student encountered in a day and the assumption of quick recall and application” (pg. 38). Whether in kindergarten, grade 12, or at the college level, students are constantly bombarded with “lessons” from instructors, tugged into social media or social interactions, and mired in their own personal issues.  To help them refocus their thoughts, and increase the level of thinking, tools such as repertoire charts (reminder of past lessons), personalized bookmarks of strategies that work, or micro-progression charts (that show increasing sophistication of a process) can be useful. These tools, being co-created or co-constructed with students, enable the students to review and re-interpret their understanding of the strategies.

In today’s test-focused policies, rigor tends to mean that everyone must hit the same high standard, but the authors break rigor into two parts 1) The difficulty of the task and 2) a description of a behavior of performance (the work or effort). Rigor, using Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, means, “becoming is better than being” (pg. 54). In other words, “students seeing themselves as always working toward a new goal” (pg. 54). 

However, to be able to reach for the next goal, students need to see what the goal is and envision the steps toward achievement. There’s a famous quote of Jerry Sienfield, from his 1993 book SienLanguage, about teachers giving feedback:

“I always did well on essay tests. Just put everything you know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then you get the paper back from the teacher and she’s written just one word across the top of the page, “vague.” I thought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d write underneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’d return it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her, “cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day … “hazy” … “muddy”…”

Using the tool of a micro-progression chart, students can see the progression from a low level of performance to higher levels of performance.  Basically, it is creating the criteria for a rubric, with specific examples, to show students how their work can become more sophisticated with the addition of different strategies and skills.

Currently, I’m the edTPA coordinator for a small liberal arts college. The edTPA is a performance-based portfolio assessment for pre-service teachers. Although there are many issues with using this assessment as a high-stakes test, there are a few redeeming features of the process. In this assessment, student teachers need to complete three tasks – Planning, Instruction, and Assessment. The student teacher plans, teaches and video records 3-5 lessons, analyzes student work, and writes commentary using standardized prompts to show their thinking about how and what they taught.

One of the characteristics of accomplished teaching, according to edTPA, is student-focused instruction. In other words, modeling what students need to do, supporting their practice to help them achieve independence in using the skills or strategies.  In lessons, students need to be doing the work of learning, not the teacher.  As the authors refer to Carl Anderson, “if we [the teachers] are tired after class and the kids are rested and relaxed, having not done much, there is something off” (pg. 69).  Hopefully, one positive influence of edTPA will help change traditional school culture that emphasizes the teacher as “sage on the stage” and encourage more consistent, active engagement of students in their own work.

Another feature of the edTPA assessment is the use of rubrics to score each of the tasks. Now, I recognize that there are some issues with the overuse of rubrics, (see my article about 6-TraitsWriting Rubrics: Things That Make Us Smart Can Also Make Us Dumb), but having clear indicators of levels of performance can help students (and student teachers) envision what a strong performance looks like. The Micro-Progression Tool, as an interactive, co-created chart, helps students see the increasing complexity of work. When working with the teacher and their peers, each student can see that he/she is capable of the highest level of work. And, they then have the language to articulate how hard they want to work on future projects.

With edTPA there is a similar structure – the rubrics in the Subject Area Handbook and a separate Understanding Rubric Progressions. This second document shows student teachers what a level 3 performance might look like as compared to a level 5. Within the rubric, the additional levels of complexity are bolded to show the difference. For those student teachers who need to be concerned about achieving a passing score on their edTPA, this “micro-progression chart” is a valuable resource. It can also show new teachers the importance of helping students understand what a rubric really is – not just a grading tool, but a tool for students to see the progression of complexity in a task or assignment.

One why to help your students work harder is to make sure they know exactly what it means, and what it looks like, and how to reach for high performance. You can take the mystery out of the vague commend to work harder. You can show them the way” (pg. 69).


  1. Your opening really made me pause and think about my own thinking space and chart reminders. What are my own go-to reminders that make me a better reader, writer and thinker? I really appreciate this insight! It helped me think how I might use this with my preservice teachers: charts, progressions and reminders of what helps them be a better reader, writer and teacher. Thanks for prpviding this brilliant moment!

  2. Suz,
    Thank you so much for this reflective piece on our reading. I appreciated your reminder of the significance of co-creating these tools to maintain ownership for students. The Dweck quote you shared, "becoming is better than being," really caught my attention. I've read her book, but these five words powerfully sum up the essence of her work. Finally, that you for all of the additional information and links you shared. I could spend hours here. ;o)

    Thanks for joining the event again this year,