This will just be a short note to accompany the release of my first book, Creating a Culture of Feedback, which is available in print form on Tuesday, November 23 and in ebook format right now. I’d love to be able to say that writing this book (or any book) has been a dream of mine for years. The truth, however, is more complicated.
I have spent much of the past ten years learning everything that I can about grading and assessment. As a classroom teacher, I’ve been able to put into practice many of the ideas that I’ve concocted and see the results. I get to talk to my colleagues and learn from them and then meld the best of what I’ve learned into powerful experiences for my students. Everything that I am as a teacher is a product of the conversations and experiences that have included many of the important educators that I know.
It’s one of these educators to whom I owe a tremendous debt. Bill Ferriter came into my life when I was just a few years into my career. It was just serendipity that we teach in the same district. But, it was more than luck that has made us friends. We have spent many hours—over beer, the occasional salad, or Moons Over My Hammy—talking about important issues like technology integration and reality television. Over that time, my respect for Bill has only grown.
So, a year ago, when he asked me to write a book with him, I jumped at the opportunity. Over the intervening months, he taught me so much about the process. He helped me craft my ideas into meaningful pages. He found ways to merge our voices into one coherent piece of work. He showed incredible patience with me and my incessant procrastination. In short, Bill was the perfect mentor and partner for a first-time author. I am enormously grateful.
And now the fruit of our efforts is available to the public, in the form of an 80-page book that lays out practical and effective strategies for putting actionable feedback front and center in your classroom. You should read it. And when you do, I hope that you recognize the value of what we do and can find ways to use these strategies in your own classroom.
We all dread that moment when a well-planned review day before a big test fails to motivate our students to dig deeper into the concepts that you are teaching. It might be struggling students who need more review of fundamental skills. Or, perhaps it’s advanced students who are bored with reviewing material that they already know. Either way, the result is the same: students are not motivated to review because the activities are not matched to their needs. In these moments, I call on Secret Agent Code Name.
Secret Agent Code Name is what I call a fairly simple activity based on the idea of differentiated remediation. Using formative assessment data, I provide each student with activities that will push them to better master the standards that will be measured on an upcoming test. Rather than a one-size-fits-all review, students enjoy the personalization that comes from this exercise. It also ensures that the students who have already mastered a particular standard get to pursue more advanced learning.
Secret Agent Code Name works because it uses assessment data to match students with the best review for them. I prefer MasteryConnect for my formative assessments, but any data will do. You need the data to be arranged by topic/standard, and you need to be able to assign each student to one of two or three “levels of mastery”. MasteryConnect does this for me automatically as students finish the short formative assessments, so that’s one of the big reasons I use it.
The next step is to create or find activities that are designed to either remediate or extend learning for each of the learning targets/standards. I use Puzzlemaker and Quizlet for building vocabulary with those who need help. For the students who have already shown mastery, I often get them to create puzzles or quizzes for their peers. Paper-slide videos can be a great way to extend learning for the more proficient students by getting them to explain a difficult concept.
Even worksheets—the bane of every enlightened educator—can be a decent resource to focus additional learning time on those who need to make progress in a specific area before an upcoming summarize assessment. I find that I only use the materials that came with my textbook during these Secret Agent Code Name review days. They are a simple way to provide extra reinforcement to the kids who need it.
The overall goal of these activities is for students to make progress toward mastery or to extend their mastery prior to taking a summative assessment. So, I want them to understand that the activities that they are doing are designed to get them ready for that challenge. Their independent work time provide me with an opportunity to walk around the room and provide feedback and guidance as needed. A whole class review takes away my chance to help each student, and leaves them feeling like sheep herded into a pen. Secret Agent Code Name is a great way to make your students understand that each of them can improve and that you think of them as individual learners. #growthmindset #winning