Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reflection and goals

For me, the end of the school year is always one of reflection, but also one of goals and ideas for next year.  When our final day was done last year, I was all jazzed up.  Not for summer, although there are a ton of fun things happening there.  School starts in 84 days.  I think I get more excited about the next school year starting as most do about the last one ending.

I looked at my goals a bit differently this year.  Previously, in my head or on paper, I had some ideas.  They were not quality goals.  This year is a bit different.  Over the last two school years, I have spent quite a bit of time studying John Hattie's book: Visible Learning.  Hattie's book is almost entirely focused on achievement, and many of my goals in the past, although not greatly defined, were also about achievement.  As I read and studied his book, I had a lot of ideas about strategies that I could/should use in my class, but I wondered how I could use his overall message about effect size.  The basic idea is that a treatment's effect can be studied by comparing achievement results pre and post treatment.  Then, by creating an effect size, different treatments can be compared to each other.  This is typically done with meta-analyses, or collections of many studies typically with many students.

I wanted to use the idea in my class, but like all things, a good use wasn't readily apparent.  I attempted, last year, to use pre-assessment data and effect sizes to make goals for students to achieve for their post assessments.  I didn't like how that turned out.  Too often with pre-assessments, the ideas are so new that almost any real gain will produce a very large effect size.  That may help my ego, but it didn't help with real goal setting.

During the 2011-2012 school year, I finally worked out a grading system that worked well.  I used a 4-point scale with well defined levels.  Basically, I used a modified Marzano's scale:

4: Students understand the simple and complex ideas, concepts, and processes that were taught in class AND show the ability to make in-depth inferences and applications beyond what was taught in class.
3: Students understand the simple and complex ideas, concepts, and processes that were taught in class.
2: Students understand the simple ideas, concepts, and processes, but have trouble with the complex ones.
1: Students do not understand the simple ideas, concepts, and processes.
0: No evidence.

In addition to this, each assessment was explicitly connected to one or more pre-defined learning targets.  I then used ActiveGrade as a place to hold and communicate this data with students and parents.  What this gave me, finally, was a wealth of data at the end of the year.  For each learning target that we had written out in our curriculum, I could tell you how well students did, in terms of grades anyway.  This shouldn't be a huge accomplishment, and I am embarrassed that it took me this long to achieve this.  The messed up way I have graded in the past, along with a poorly defined curriculum, I didn't have the tools to create quality data.  I finally feel like I have some, and frankly, I am a bit proud of myself!

Now, what to do with this data?  At first, I sort of stood back, rubbed my chin, and gave a nod of approval.   Nods of approvals and patting one's back doesn't really help kids much though, so what could I do now.  This is where Hattie came to the rescue.  I finally have a baseline data set.  I can now use that to set a goal for next year, and have benchmarks in which to gauge success.  To create goals, the first thing I did was to find an average of grades for each learning target.  Hattie says the "hinge-point" for success is an effect size of 0.4.  I set that as my goal for next year, and ran numbers for each learning target assuming this effect size. Then, I personally reflected on what I would need to do to get students to that level.

Of course, our goal for all students should be a "4."  What I really want for all of my students is to understand what we do in class and then use it in a new context.  The problem is that not all students achieve that.  I decided previously that all students *must* achieve at least a "2" in all learning targets, as a bare minimum, and that goal was achieved.  I like how I can use Hattie's recommendation to set a, hopefully realistic, goal for next year.

Below is an Excel document that shows the learning targets, current achievement, and goals.

Each learning target is assessed multiple times throughout the school year.  Next year, as a department, we will do some clarification on these.  Also, I have reflected on the number of times each learning target was assessed.  Lots of work to do this summer, but I feel like I have a great starting point.

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