“Morgan Stanley told its staff on Thursday that it was overhauling how employees are assessed in several ways, including by discarding the number scale in favor of lists of up to five adjectives.”

From a New York Time article about Morgan Stanley’s new policy.  So much for the “real world” being obsessed with grades, right?

Rethinking Grades: A Primer

It’s become clear to me lately that the grading reform discussions that took place almost ten years ago, and led to many positive changes across the country, need to be revisited.  In my own school district, policies were drafted and implemented that proclaimed “The purpose of a grading system is to appropriately and consistently measure and communicate an individual student’s level of mastery of defined learning objectives.” and “Grading practices are not to be punitive in nature.”

Yet, so many educators cling to the idea that grades need to prepare students for the real world and motivate them to do better, despite the fact that the absence of grades in the “real world” would seem to indicate that student need other motivators.  I have forced myself to step away from some of these discussions lately in order to take a deep breath and collect some resources to share.  To that end, here are some starting points for discussions in your school or with your professional learning team about what grades are and what they need to be.

People to Follow

  • Dr. Justin Tarte (@justintarte and justintarte.com): Justin does a LOT of writing about grading.  His website and twitter feed are full of useful resources and quotable nuggets.
  • Grant Wiggins (grantwiggins.wordpress.com): It’s difficult to express how much Grant’s death earlier this year affected me.  His writing has guided a lot of my thinking over the years. Just before he left us, he published a series on his blog with answers to common grading questions.

Short Reads


Creativity Comes From Mental Chaos

415NIR1--sL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective” by Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, and I think it’s big idea can be summarized with the quote,

“We assume that any worth social accomplishment is best achieved by first setting it as an objective and then pursuing it together with conviction.  It makes you wonder, is there  such a thing as accomplishment without objectives?”

The authors address the negative impact that high stakes goals have on fields like education and their conclusions, which are based on artificial intelligence research, show how important non-directed thinking is on creativity.

Definitely worth the read.

Why I Get Frustrated With The Public in One Graph

This year’s political fiasco has driven many right-minded individuals to question the wisdom of the masses.  It seems that there is a quiet majority of people in this country who make big decisions based on little or no factual information.  This is especially frustrating for those who read and watch the news regularly and seek out unbiased information, because we can’t understand how so many members of the public can be so misinformed.

When I have conversations with my friends about this topic, I inevitably bring up the fact that this problem has been affecting scientific knowledge for decades.  When it comes to the empirical unbiased understanding that we have about the world around us, there are a remarkable number of people who choose to put their heads in the sand and ignore the facts.  This idea was made concrete to me when I recently found the results of a Pew Research Center survey comparing the views of scientists to the views of the general public Side Note: The word “opinions” in this study bothers me because so many of these issues are already settled by research data.  The scientists’ “opinions” are actually facts, while the public “opinions” are frequently based on misinformation.  They should not be treated equally.



As you can see, the biggest gaps between what scientists believe and what the public believes are on the hot-button political issues of the day (anthropogenic climate change, genetically modified foods, etc.).  In many cases, political organizations have staged massive propaganda campaigns to convince the public to believe things that are simply not true.

So, go ahead and wring your hands over the Trump Problem.  At least you get to wake up after Election Day and enjoy the return of sanity.  Those of us who are responsible for making the public more scientifically literate will be fighting for a long time to come.

The “problem” of replicability in science

Even relatively straightforward questions cannot be definitively answered in a single study, and the scientific literature is riddled with results that won’t stand up. This is the way science works — it’s a process of becoming less wrong over time.

From Christie Auschwaden’s article in FiveThirtyEight

Guess what, America? It’s not our fault.

Despite years of conversations and research studies, so many Americans believe that the problem with student achievement is that schools are not doing their jobs.  Any classroom teacher, on the other hand, will tell you that the difference between students that succeed and those that don’t takes hold long before they enter our classes.

The achievement gap begins before the age of 4, as discussed in a new study from Paul Morgan at Penn State,

“First, we found that very large gaps in general knowledge were already evident among children entering kindergarten classrooms in the U.S. For example, about 60 percent of black children scored in the bottom 25 percent on the general knowledge measure. The contrasting percentage for white children was 15 percent.”

So, the real question for America is not “How do we improve education?”, but “How do we fix poverty?”.

A Year of Writing

11195936364_e08371174dPrepare for the return of Scripted Spontaneity in your feedreader, inbox, and–most importantly–your mind!

It’s been a long few months of managing the multiple hats that I wear, but one of my personal goals for 2016 is to focus more on my writing.  As a result, I will be adding more original content here, but also posting excerpts on the blog from some of my other writing adventures.  These projects include:

  • The publication of my first book, co-authored with my friend, mentor, and drinking buddy Bill Ferriter.  Bill did most of the hard work, but I chose all of the unicorns-jumping-over-rainbows photos for the jacket.  Look for this one on your physical and virtual book shelves this summer.
  • The renewal of my National Board certification, which leads to hours of reflection and metacognition about what I do in the classroom.  This will be sure to elicit a chuckle and a tear or two.
  • Some columns for the Fusion Yearbooks blog.  Covering a wide range of educational issues, I plan to post the supplemental materials and clippings from the cutting room floor in this space.

I’m sure that other bits and bytes will find their way to this blog, so I hope that you will check back in regularly.

photo credit: Typebars II via photopin (license)