Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MI ASCD Differentiated Instruction Conference: Day 1

Dr. Susan Allan’s keynote and general session set a great tone for the necessity, if not the urgency, for differentiation to take a greater role in instruction. She addressed the misnomers about what is differentiated instruction (DI) and what it is. For example, it’s not planning individualized lessons for every student, nor less work for struggling students and more work for students further along in their learning. Rather it’s meeting students where they are in learning, which forms groups based on common needs, interests, and/or learning profiles. DI is about teacher flexibility and developing a classroom towards a student-centered culture. She guided participants into a deep exploration of Readiness issues and strategies that support students from struggling to advanced. By the end of the morning session, I hope that participants walked away with a core understanding of Differentiated Instruction, and steps towards implanting.

In tomorrow morning’s general session I will discuss how as education leaders, administrators and teachers, we must re-imagine DI in a 21st century world. Thinking of DI needs to be expanded in our thinking, and viewed most significantly as a cornerstone to instructional pedagogy, regardless of the model or system that is followed. There’s a taste. More to come.

The Teacher panel was well balanced. The four teachers ranged from elementary to high school, and veteran to a teacher who completed one year. The questions were diverse. Responses had a common strand as to how best to develop successful practice that includes DI:

  • Peer collaboration,
  • Leadership support,
  • Recognition of the complex work,
  • Communicate with peers, students, and parents

One question focused on how to differentiate instruction with large class sizes. A panelist stated, “Differentiated Instruction may vary with class size, but there is no question that it will be implemented.”

The Grading and Assessment session was surprising in the turnout. I expected 10 or less as it was a mini-break out of 85 minutes. Most sessions were 3 hours and the mini-break out that preceded mine was a small number. Over 40 participants came after the common break. Clearly, grading is a hot enough concern that people want to know what are new options.

The issues around grading are challenging as traditional practices appear to fail students on multiple levels. Entrenched ideology around grading makes the issues more complex and deeply problematic. As one educator shared, what is a situation that plays out in many districts, getting a group of educators to agree on new solutions is next to impossible as discussions get bogged down over what to do. My intent in a 85 minute session was to raise awareness for why grading practices need to be assessed, and explore issues that might compel educational leaders to establish changes in grading policies. Not too ambitious :)

There are many compelling arguments for rethinking grading. Perhaps in a later piece I’ll go more in-depth into each.

  1. Percentages, Zeroes, and Mean (averaging) scoring are inconsistent in accurately assessing learning at best, and at worst kill student desire to put forth their best efforts.

  2. Grading often hurts students who take longer to learn a concept. In connection to this, mismatched assessments, that is reliability is questionable, gives inaccurate information.

  3. Factors such as participation, homework/classwork completion, and extra credit distort assessment of learning when factor into grades.

There’s more. A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor is a great resource, and What’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormelli is an effective way to start the conversation that leads to real change in grading practices. Here's a sneak preview. In the end, I’d like to believe that the time was well spent. From the anecdotal feedback I received, perhaps it was.

A next step is to Standards-Based Grading. ASCD’s Education Leadership has an excellent article for why schools should transition from traditional grading practices to a Standards-Based grading approach. In the issue, Expecting Excellence, read Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading by Patricia L. Scriffiny, Pages 70-74, October 2008 | Volume 66 | Number 2