What Have Your Learned This Year? Reflection and Projection

Anna Roseboro

Anna Roseboro

Are you a new literacy leader? A veteran in the classroom, administrative, or district office?  Or a student teacher just completing your first assignment in hopes of having to plan for and work with students on your own very soon?

Wondering how to get off to a better start in the next the school year?  Yes, the end of the current school year is a great time to reflect on what has gone well and to project on what you can do to be even more efficient and effective next year.  Whether a classroom teacher, literacy leader, or administrator or all three, you can readily adapt the ideas that follow to fit the position(s) you currently hold.

Why not take a summative assessment of what you’ve learned about your teaching/leadership this year?

 Before closing down your classroom or shutting off the school computer files for the summer, allot some focused time to conduct a brief, but honest, assessment on what they’ve learned this year about teaching, leading and learning.  Now is a good time to record what went well and to outline specifically what you can do over the summer to be better prepared for the Fall, even if you don’t have your new assignment yet. This shouldn’t take more than an hour or so, but time spent will be well invested.  Having written what’s on your mind and made a plan, you then can set aside your notes and concentrate on time with family and friends, and catch up on vital tasks that have been postponed till now.  You know that list is longer than you’d like to admit even to your dearest friend.

Consider the prompts that follow, or simply use your school’s standards for your course(s), the job description, or set of charges for your position. Taking time now, while your memory is fresh will give you a better idea  of what you have accomplished and what, realistically, you can aim to achieve next year.  If you’ve never completed one, consider also the S.M.A.R.T. exercise at this link. It’s an activity used in a workshop I incorporated at the National Council of Teachers of English Early Career Educators Leadership Institutes in 2008-2010.

Think about it. You’ve had several months with most of your students, department or team members and you now know more about them as individual learners, classroom teachers, or literacy supporters and also how they work in groups.  Take a little time now to think about what you’ve learned about your experience with them this past year.

  • Who were your three most challenging students/teachers/colleagues? Most satisfying?  (Could be the same.)
  • Are you satisfied with the way you addressed the challenging one and or acknowledged the work of  satisfying ones?  Why?  Why not?
  • What did you learn about individual students/teachers/colleagues and groups of learners/teachers/teams that will help you plan better for next year?
  • When have you find the best time for your personal rest and rejuvenation? Midweek, weekends, holiday breaks?  (Yes, this should be at the core of your planning each school year.)
  • Where did you go for dependable, reliable professional support? Colleagues, online, conferences, other?
  • Why was your most effective lesson/meeting/project successful?  Least effective, even a bomb?
  • How well did you implement the plans you made to meet Common Core State Standards or whatever curriculum goals you were charged to meet or help your teachers to meet by the end of the current  school year?

NOW SUMMARIZE: What do you know now that can help you with planning for next year?

  • How can your colleagues and or administrators help you achieve your goals for the next school year?
  • What professional development opportunities will you maximize this summer? Reading, on-line, conference, workshop, travel?  Attending the Conference on English Leadership Institute on Critical Issues, July 17-19 at Elmhurst College (near Chicago)?

There’s no need to use those open-ended questions. Instead, you can adapt a list of department grade level objectives or teacher evaluation criteria and simply rate yourself on a scale of 1-6 on how close you’ve come to reaching those objectives. Then, write a couple of realistic strategies for maintaining, raising those rating, or setting goals for reaching the remainder of the objectives in the upcoming school year.

Be encouraged; you have the summer to refine your practices and certainly will do a better job next year helping more students/teachers to reach those goals, improve their skills, and expand their learning in ways that will be engaging, inspiring and effective.

Below is a sample form you can adapt as you look back and plan forward.

Self-Reflection and Projection

Look through your lesson plans and observation notes, and then consider what you have learned this school about teaching or coaching teachers on the following skills.  Succinctly, record one thing you have learned to do better and one thing on which you will work this next school year. Record something specific you recall as evidence for yourself, to show what you have done well, what you plan to do better.

SKILLS TAUGHT OR COACHED Rate1-6(l-h) What can you do better now than you could at the start of the school year? On what will you work this summer to implement with your next set of students/teachers?  Be specific.
Reading: Consider efficiency and comprehension, ability to interpret, analyze, and evaluate what is read.  
Writing: Consider content – having something to write about, organization, development, and documentation.Communicating with families?
Speaking : Consider value of their contributions to class/meeting discussions.
Consider respect for others as they spoke.
Consider ease with which they learned to speak/consulted with you?
Consider frequency with which you invite students/staff/teachers to speak in class or at meetings.
Listening:  Consider how attentive you are to your students/staff/teachers.
Consider how well you taught them follow directions.
Consider how courteous you are to students/staff/teachers. Observe them listening to one another.
Study Skills:  Consider homework/tasks assigned – most complete on time? Tasks completed on time?
Consider how often students/teachers/staffed arrived with text, notebook/laptop/tablet, pen and pencil.
Other – What else shows how well you have taught/coached/learned this  school year?


Plan Professional Enrichment for Summer 2014

As you reflect on your past year, consider how useful it can be to attend a summer professional enrichment conference to help confirm what you’re doing well and inspire you to return better informed on ways to address challenges of coming school year.  Equally important, think about what you can share with co-attendees!

The Conference on English Leadership Summer Institute on Critical Issues may be just the right investment in your future.  Scheduled to meet Thursday to Saturday, July 17-19, 2014, at Elmhust College, Elmhurst, Illinois, this year’s institute will focus on issues of assessment.  According to the CEL website, in addition to hearing daily keynote speakers, Beverly Chin, Scott Eggerding, Scott Filkins, and Tamara  Maxwell, you have the option of collaborating in small group conversations on important aspects of assessment with literacy leaders from across the country. Bring your own individual plans and work closely with others in one of three Institute strands:

  • Using Formative and Summative Assessments to Improve Teaching
  • Assessment of Teachers
  • Assessment of Curricular Programs

Innovative technology mini-lessons will also take available throughout the Institute program. The fees are modest and lodging options include stays in air-conditioned dorm rooms. Registration Rates: CEL Members:  $300;
NCTE Members (not members of CEL); $325 Nonmembers:  $375.

Institute registration also includes Wi-Fi accessibility, on-campus parking, and the following meal events: Thursday: dinner, Friday: breakfast and lunch, Saturday: breakfast and lunch. The planners even organized a Popcorn and Movie option on Friday evening.  What could be better?

Seriously, education and professional development both are serious work.  So I encourage you to take a little time for reflection and projection before you forget key details. Looking back and planning forward can be the key to your continued success, significant improvement and long-term satisfaction as a teacher-leader in this second decade of the 21st Century.

Submited for CEL Blog for June, 2014

Anna J. Small Roseboro, Author
National Board Certified Teacher
Secondary Section Liaison to Conference on English Leadership


#LitLead Chat Archive for 6.12.14

Thanks so much to Tanny McGregor for hosting #LitLead.  It was a great conversation on “Teaching Complex Ideas with Creativity.” If you want to review the archive, click on the link below.  

#LitLead Archive for 6.12.14

Mark your calendars for our next #LitLead on Thursday, July 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET.  We’ll announce our topic soon!

#LitLead Chat June 12 – Teaching Complex Ideas with Creativity

Summer is here! Almost time for the June #LitLead Twitter chat. Join me on June 12 at 8:30 p.m. EST to talk about a hot topic: creativity. We’ll debunk a few myths about being creative and discuss ways to combat our instructional dilemmas with a creative spirit.

Tanny McGregor

Tanny McGregor

Complex text is full of complex ideas. Complex content is, too. We need to share and embrace creative approaches to lead our students to a deeper understanding of what they’re reading and learning.

If you think of yourself as a creative person, please join us. If you feel like you don’t have a creative bone in your body, please, please join us! The amalgamation of our ideas will make us all smarter…and more creative thinkers.

Consider the following questions. Let’s dig into these on June 12!

  • What is your definition of creativity?
  • How do you value creativity in your school? In your classroom? In your students?
  • When you’re planning to teach a complex concept that you anticipate will be tough to teach (and tough to learn), what creative approaches might you try? (music, art, movement, etc.)
  • How can we encourage a spirit of creativity in our colleagues and ourselves?
  • What resources inspire you to be a creative teacher?

See you online,

Tanny McGregor

Electronic Grade Books: A Battleground for Clashing Values about the Purposes of Schooling

As the supervisor of English and Communication at a large suburban high school, I was required to initial the electronic grade books of the 40 teachers in our program on the last day of school. In my cursory review, I was being the quintessential bureaucrat, simply ensuring that the school had a paper copy of all grades. I often wondered if I should do more. If I really looked at the grade books, could I learn something important about teachers and student performance?

Pat Monahan

Pat Monahan

I also wondered how teachers might feel if I examined their grade books? I realized that I had never discussed my grade book practices with a supervisor. For more than twenty years, I had made and sequenced assignments, established point values, and implemented grading policies, and no one had said a word to me. Indeed, I worried that teachers might be suspicious of me, fearing that I was questioning their judgment and treading on their territory.

I started with beginning teachers. My student-teaching supervisor had once showed me how to use a scatter gram to assign grades on a 60-point test, a really helpful skill, and I figured rookies might appreciate an opportunity to talk with a veteran. I had no protocol for these early meetings, but quickly found a pattern of questions. How many different types of assignments do you have? How do you assign points for these assignments? How many total points are linked to each type of assignment?

It seems a set of simple questions, but it’s really hard for new teachers, who rarely know the number of assignments in a quarter. After all, they are making them up on the fly, sometimes spontaneously as lessons unfold. One teacher had twenty-three grades in the first quarter, another twelve. Not knowing the total number of points in advance, teachers must guess at the point value for each assignment. Sometimes they logically assign point values based on the principle of size: major projects earn 50 points while minor projects earn 25. At other times, they count the number of questions: ten-question quizzes earn 10 points while fifty question-tests earn 50 points. I discovered that teachers were pretty honest in these conversations, explaining their thinking or lack of it, often admitting that they had just grabbed a number from mid-air.

One teacher assigned 75 points to an early project and then reduced point values on subsequent assessments. In effect, one assignment had taken on massive significance in his students’ overall grades, a problem compounded by the fact that the assignment focused on less important skills in the curriculum. Another teacher had given ten reading quizzes (100 points) and a major three-draft project (100 points). In her percentage-based system, the default on all electronic grade books, her quizzes of literal comprehension weighed as much as a multi-genre project measuring a wide range of literacy skills.

As I uncovered problems, I worked with teachers to reveal certain principles of grading. The previous examples demonstrate that teachers must establish a clear relationship between point totals assigned and critical learning skills. A simple system of weighting applies the major-minor project approach, and it is easy for students to understand. A more effective weighting system is available through electronic grade books. Here teachers categorize assignments and determine the weight of each curricular component. Reading quizzes, for example, might comprise five percent of the grade, and it does not matter whether the teacher assigns one quiz or twenty.

Another principle of grading is that teachers should establish some means to acknowledge learning and improvement over time. Do teachers see a difference between a student who earns scores of 90, 80, and 70 during a term and one who earns scores of 70, 80, and 90? In a percentage-based system, these students earn identical grades, yet one can imagine many scenarios where such a grade is unfair. Perhaps the student has a learning disability and needs extra time to acquire a particular skill. Perhaps the student is a recent transfer and needs a period of adjustment. Perhaps the student has benefitted from private tutoring or parent intervention? I showed teachers how to solve the problem by increasing the value of similar projects in succession and how to place additional weight on late-term work.

With developed confidence, I turned my attention to veterans. I met with freshman teachers to discover their policies for late work. One wrote, “When I started teaching, I gave an automatic F (59%) for late work. Now I use a one-letter-grade-deduction-per-day system, with a cap of five school days late.” Another wrote, “I think my practices are moderate. I have a three-day-late policy for all assignments. Additionally, I provide students with a homework coupon that acts as a get-out-of-jail-free card.” A third said, “I don’t ever want students to feel freed from the responsibility of submitting missing work, so I accept late work almost always, reducing its grade somewhat or not at all if the submitted work is of excellent quality.” I was shocked by the variability in teachers’ policies, and not surprisingly, teachers were also. Initially, those with harsh penalties defended their practices until someone asked if they had ever missed deadlines in their own lives. One admitted that she had submitted her grades a day late and another hadn’t completed a homework request for a homebound student. A third talked about the crazy pressure her daughter felt with three major projects due on the same day.

Ironically, our group settled on having no late-work policy. We agreed that teachers must sometimes apply a late penalty, especially if lateness is chronic, but we acknowledged that students have complex lives and schedules. We also rejected any policy that might discourage students from applying themselves to their studies. We affirmed that the quality of late work should matter.

While some of the problems in teachers’ grade book practices are caused by mathematical misunderstandings (How do we convert rubric scores to percentage scores?) and confusion about grade book software (Should we turn rounding on?), most issues come down to a teacher’s philosophy of grading. Why do we grade students? I always ask teachers to rank order the following purposes for grading in terms of their importance to them.

Rank Purposes of Grading
Provide an accurate measure of student performance
Characterize a student’s grasp of course content and skills
Hold students accountable for their learning
Offer expected feedback to students and parents
Motivate students to submit their best work
Reward and punish students for their efforts
Demonstrate student progress in learning
Sort students by achievement

Every teacher has a set of beliefs about grading, and these beliefs influence the mathematics of grading. Nowhere is this more evident than in the assignment of zero grades. If teachers believe that grades should reward and punish students, they will find no stronger punishment than a zero grade. It is the death sentence in a percentage-based system, having the power to announce failure on one assignment and turn other projects into failures as well. For example, a student earning 90-point A-grades on three projects will see his average drop to a 67 percent D grade if he does not complete the final project. Note how such an outcome would trouble teachers who believe that grades should provide an accurate measure of student performance. In this case, a D-grade vastly mischaracterizes the skills of the student.

Nor does a zero grade make much sense mathematically. If the interval between an A-grade and B-grade is 10 points and between a C-grade and a D-grade is 10 points, how can the interval between a D-grade and an F-grade be 60 points? If we adjust the zero grade to 50, a score we might give to a student who completely lacks the skills being measured, the student above now receives an 82.5%, a B-grade for the course, and surely a much more accurate depiction of his learning. Ironically, in the absence of a grade in an electronic grade book, the score always defaults to zero unless teachers instruct the program to do otherwise, and teachers who may not seek to punish students end up doing so anyway.

Indeed, one of the most startling discoveries of my work with teachers is that many do not see the conflict between their grading practices and their values. One teacher professed a deep commitment to minority education, having once taught in the Teach-for-America program, yet she applied grading practices that harmed the very students she wanted to help. Later, she added extra credit assignments, dropped the lowest grade in a term, and reduced the weight of homework assignments, all practices that helped her non-traditional learners.

I used to think that the demon in this story was electronic grade books. They forced teachers into mathematical processes that complicate communication with students and parents and undermine the teaching-learning process. Later, I decided that it was the lack of training in the use of these software programs, for every problem identified above can be avoided if teachers program the software carefully. Today, however, I think the demon in the story is the value of accountability itself. It’s a loaded word in education today, but those who believe it want to reward students (and teachers) for their successes and punish them for their failures. But truly, what does a failing student deserve? Surely he deserves a dedicated and skillful teacher who works hard on his behalf, and definitely one that understands the mechanics of grading. Surely he deserves a guidance counselor, who investigates his lack of achievement and seeks to coordinate the efforts of the professional staff on his behalf. And surely he deserves opportunities to pursue his interests through the curriculum and experience the curricular opportunities open to other students. Grading is one of things we can’t escape in schools, yet if we actually talk about it, examining small practices for their underlying beliefs, we can learn to do it fairly and with humanity.

Pat Monahan
Educational Consultant,
Interlochen, Michigan
CEL Past Chair