Over the past months, like many people, I have been thinking a lot about what it looks like to reimagine a curriculum that was intended for use in an in-person setting for digital implementation. Alongside an amazing working group of teachers and coaches, we have gone piece by piece through the IM K-5 curriculum components and discussed the purposes, opportunities, and challenges of each when transitioning to a digital setting, whether it be synchronous or asynchronous. Discussions around the student experience and student engagement were challenging, but really pushed us to think deeply about the activity purposes, questions, and ways in which to design opportunities to learn more about each student.
Together, we are in the process of creating ‘storyboards‘ for warm-up routines and generalizing processes for planning activities, but the piece that I really cannot get off my mind is assessment. While I think every activity is an assessment opportunity, I am thinking in particular about the cool-downs and checkpoints in the curriculum. These pieces were designed as in-person formative check-ins on student understanding after a lesson and section. Now, in some cases, they will be completed asynchronously. While it seems like one of the easier pieces to recreate digitally with the platform being the biggest decision, there are nuanced constraints that limit what a teacher might learn about student understanding when completed asynchronously. In the classroom, a teacher can observe students as they work and is available to answer questions. The sheer nature of sending home an assessment digitally can raise a lot of different, yet related questions.
Family members or caregivers might wonder:
- Is this graded?
- What if they cannot do it independently?
- How much should I help and if I don’t help, will they get a bad grade?
- If I do help them, how do I know if the work is aligned to how they are learning?
Teachers might wonder:
- Should I grade this?
- Did the student do it independently?
- If the student had help, how much?
- If the student had help, what did they know and where did they struggle?
I think these questions stem from two very caring places: family members want their child to learn and be successful and teachers want to know what students understand so they are able to best support them as learning continues throughout the unit.
I have been thinking about these questions alongside the results from Learning Heroes most recent family survey (webinar/slides), in particular, the areas outlined in yellow.
I wonder if this year is an opportunity to reframe how we approach assessment, reframe how we engage families in discussions around assessment, and break the typical lens families might have of assessment being the ‘final grade.’ How could reframing assessment as ‘finding out what students understand and are able to do’ change the way in which: families approach assessments at home, teachers respond to what they receive from home, and shape ongoing communication between families and teachers throughout the year?
Here are few ideas I keep tossing around to support this communication:
- At the beginning of the year, when meeting with families, let them know that they are not expected to teach their child the math content but instead encouraged to continually ask students questions (provided for them) to find out what they know, such as:
- Retell the problem to me in your own words.
- What do you notice? What questions do you have?
- How do you know?
- Where do you see the problem in your picture or diagram?
- Explain how you solved the problem?
- Reinforce learning as an ongoing journey that, in order to best support students, teachers need to know what they understand and are able to do. Explain that the activities and assessments are ways in which to do this, so every conversation during the year will focus first on what students know.
- Create a schedule to meet with family members or caregivers to check in with some pre-arranged topics to discuss that focus on what they are seeing or hearing:
- What do you see your child understanding and able to do?
- When, if ever, do they get stuck?
- What can I do to help?
- (Consider communication types families view as most effective on page 24.)
- On each assessment, put 2 checkboxes at the end for students to choose from (no repercussions for whichever is chosen – also established in the opening family meeting):
- ___ I did this all by myself
- ___ I did this with some help.
- [text box for the student or whoever helped] What was the sticky point?
- Provide opportunities for students to retake problems they didn’t get correct as the unit progresses. For example, if a student gets 2/3 problems correct on the Section A checkpoint, put the one they missed on the Section B checkpoint after the next week’s instruction. This communicates to families that learning happens across time.
All of this is so challenging with no easy solutions, but I would love to engage in discussions that push us to reimagine learning at a distance that includes strengthening teacher<>family relationships and moves beyond creating digital worksheets of in-person materials.