A different conversation

Parent teacher conferences were last night. While the tone of the conversations was the same, the information I was able to convey to parents was very different.

In the past, when students were struggling, I’d say something along the lines of “they need to complete their homework and come in for help”. This year my comments were more focused, “She is having difficulty solving word problems involving percents” or “He is struggling with solving systems of equations.”

While I’ve always thought I knew my students relatively well, I now feel that I better know on what specific skills they need to work.

And I’ve been trying to figure out why. I haven’t (yet) gone to a skills based assessment system. I’m not doing things too differently than I have in the past. I’ve always worked with backwards design – what do I want them to be able to do at the end of this unit and how will I know if they know it. I think I’m finally to a point where I have a very specific goal in mind for each lesson. I then adjust the next day’s lesson based upon what they were able to do (or not do) today. This means I do a lot of work each night preparing for the next day. While I plan ahead for the week, it is definitely done in pencil.

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9 Responses to A different conversation

  1. Persida says:

    That’s awesome! It’s so powerful to switch from explaining what their kids do or don’t do to what their kids know or don’t know. I think this year is the first time I’m looking forward to speaking to parents for exactly the same reason. But I’m curious- how did the parents react to the info? Any differently than they have in the past?

  2. Nice work! Standards-based grading is a nice step towards focusing your classroom on ‘learning’ rather than points. I’m also curious, how did the parents react?

  3. Clint H says:

    It’s always satisfying to be able to say something of value at Parent-Teacher conferences rather than speaking around the important topics.

    I’m curious: How do you keep track of all that formative/observational/anecdotal data? Lots of little post-it notes around the classroom? Or have you come up with a useful, meaningful and scalable solution to this problem?

  4. David Cox says:

    Do you think you may already be doing skill based assessment, but your gradebook just doesn’t reflect it yet?

  5. jd2718 says:

    If you know what skills they are deficient in, then you have assessed those skills. I suggest that skill-based assessment is not necessary for you. And you might lose something.


  6. Jackie says:

    Persida and Matt Most of the parents wanted to know what they could do to help their student. We set up plans for each student (go to the tutoring center, come in to see me for more help, … )

    Clint, right now, it is mostly kept track of in my head and the little notes I write to myself in my gradebook. I need a better system. I try to name the quizzes with the skills so that parents can (possibly) figure it out in the online gradebook. Not sure how well that is working.

    I’m not sure that is entirely the case David as I still assess with problems that incorporate multiple skills too.

    I’d love to hear more about what you think may be lost Jonathan.

    • jd2718 says:

      If your current assessment (old-fashioned as it is) allows you to assess individual skills, then switching to a system that assesses only individual skills can be, at best, as good.

      But are you currently picking up more than those individual skills? Any sense of synthesis, or retention? Because I think skill-based assessment might leave you without those sorts of things, might leave you with less information.

      Now, I was skeptical from the beginning, it’s true. But I wonder about the change if there is really nothing to be gained.


  7. David Cox says:

    I agree with Jonathan when it comes to your understanding of what a student knows. Are your students aware of where they stand on any given concept/skill and are they allowed to re assess under your current system?

  8. David says:

    I’m working on a program (which I will release for free) which is specifically designed to make keeping track of anecdotal records like this easier. I’m in the same boat, I’d really like to keep track of more information and not lose it for when I need it.

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