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Introducing Ellen Brandenberger: A New Teacher Voice at Gradeable

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In her time in the classroom, Ellen, or Ms. Ellen as she was known by her 5th grade students, experienced the challenge that grading presented to many teachers. After long days of actively engaging our students, fellow teachers still needed to spend hours grading student work in order to provide timely feedback and instructional adjustments for students. Now a graduate student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Ellen joined Gradeable committed to helping teachers like herself overcome this challenge and be another (and continuing!) teacher voice in Gradeable product development and design. Ellen will be blogging about her time at Harvard, thoughts on the field of education, stories of superstar teachers, and new information surrounding the Gradeable product.

My first two weeks at Gradeable have been an incredible joy. It is fantastic to be part of a working community that is so passionate about helping my fellow teachers streamline their workflow so that instruction can truly be the central focus of teachers’ time and efforts. As an educator, I am passionate about helping other teachers be the best they can be, as I believe that teachers are at the center of successful education for students everywhere, and undervalued for the incredible amount of work that they do for their students. In the classroom, I often felt that what we needed most as educators was not an increase in effort, but rather a need for stakeholders to remember that teachers efforts, every single one, should be directed towards improving instruction and student learning opportunities.

I also bring a strong passion for personal learning, and am constantly delighted to learn new things, and discover new opportunities. This passion brought me to Harvard, where I am pursuing a Masters of Education with a focus on technologies and innovation for education. I come to this program with a fair amount of skepticism, but full of optimism: in my time in the classroom, I saw the incredible impact that technologies had on my students’ learning, yet would hesitate to say that this was the best or only way that they achieved new knowledge and skills. Instead, I believe that technology informs new opportunities for us as educators to focus on what matters most: deep and constructive student learning.

My work at Gradeable will be directly informed by this background. My role will be to support teachers and their use of the Gradeable product. This will mean responding to teacher inquiries and problems, integrating teacher feedback into the product, and being a voice for teacher needs and opinion at Gradeable, both online through social media and in person. My hope is that my role will become a portal for you to interact with Gradeable, and the each and every one of you will be comfortable reaching out to me as both a resource and a fellow educator, who, like you, understands the struggles and challenges that go along with teaching and learning. All the best.

Ellen can be reached  directly by email at Ellen@gradeable.com. Please reach out with concerns, feedback, inquires, or of course, successes with the product.

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Video: Why is Data Important?

On March 6, we held a panel for our Assessment Debate. Three experts came in to discuss the finer points of assessments: low-stakes, high-stakes, and alternative forms of measuring student learning. Here are the key take-aways from the “Why is Data Important?” cut:

  1. Determine what the data is telling you, then decide how you will use that data.
  2. Data must be timely.
  3. Frame the data in a larger context. Don’t get too focused on one question or one standard.
  4. Having student data is nice, but teachers need time and support to do something with it.

Read full transcript below, or check out all videos from the Assessment Debate.

Kattie: Alexis, in your work as a coach at the Achievement Network (ANet) using data and interim data, do you have any strategies, or tips and tricks that you can give to teachers out there on how to better use this data and better leverage it in their classroom?

Alexis Rosenblatt, ANet: Sure, I think you have to figure out what that data is telling you. So are you looking at that data to see what you’ve taught and what students have learned? Are you looking at the data to decide whether or not you understood… I mean there is a movement in the country around the Common Core State Standards which have been here for a little while, but I think is actually settling into schools now, and the schools that I work with, so you have to decide, am I looking at something I haven’t taught yet and the students are actually showing some mastery on something so they have some of those skills coming into the classroom so I can leverage when I teach this topic?

But I think you can’t do everything. So if I have an assessment that has 30 or 40 items on it, I have to stop and decide, what am I gonna tease out that I can do tomorrow? What do I need to do long term? What is fitting with the curriculum that is in somebody else’s classroom—that maybe, “Oh look this fits really nicely in science,” or “I’d love for history teachers to be teaching more informational nonfiction text. Let me connect with my peers around this.” So sort of trying to figure out what is the data telling you. And you can’t do everything, so to figure out how to not be overwhelmed by too much data.

Jonathan Ketchell, HSTRY: No exactly, I think that’s one of the problems I’ve encountered throughout my teaching career is teachers never have time… we just never have time for anything, unfortunately, but I think that’s why the digital age is actually gonna be beneficial to everyone. We’re actually gonna create—hopefully through the work that Gradeable is doing—we’re gonna create more time so teachers can collaborate and better their classes, clearly.

Alexis: I think that the idea of getting data in real time, or very quickly, is important so—no offense to the MCAS—but taking an assessment in March and getting data in September or October, there’s so little action you can take on that in terms of those students. So the more actionable the data is I just think the better, and timely is awesome… either in real time or a short amount of time.

Jennifer Spencer, MATCH Charter High School: I think also teachers have a tendency, when they get the data, to hone in too deeply on each individual item as well. So looking at why a student got one particular question wrong and then drilling that kind of question over and over and over again with students, rather than looking at the bigger picture about what kinds of errors the student made on that particular questions. I’ve seen that a few time where the teachers that I’ve worked with have said, “Oh well we need to do this kind of question , we need to make sure the students understand this question better” and that are kind of… I think i’m gonna use the word flummoxed… is that…

Alexis: Mmhmm, that’s a word.

Jennifer: …about why they are still not doing so well on that particular standard on the next assessment with a different item. And so I think in terms of the moving target aspect, teachers try to steady that target by nailing down that one particular assessment item rather than looking at the bigger picture, as Alexis said, the idea of it being one tool, looking at the data, what does the data exactly show? That’s why it’s important to have someone who is not the teacher helping to frame the data in the greater context.

Alexis: But I think just to [Jonathan’s] point before about time: yes, you want the data to be timely, and then you want the actual space and support to do something with it. So getting data but then having no opportunity to collaborate with your peers or to sit down even on your own and try to do this—I think there needs to be actually time for teachers to then look at, and plan, from the data.

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Highlights from the Third Gradeable Social

(L to R) Jonathan Ketchell, Alexis Rosenblatt, Jennifer Spencer

(L to R) Jonathan Ketchell, Alexis Rosenblatt, Jennifer Spencer

Our third Gradeable Social featuring an assessment debate was a success. Our three panelists (Alexis Rosenblatt of ANET, Jennifer Spencer of Match Charter High School, and Jonathan Ketchell of Hstry) fielded questions all about high-stakes, low-stakes, and alternative assessments. For video of the debate, check out our YouTube playlist. Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Q: Some say that high stakes, standardized testing is inaccurate because students are “moving targets,” especially on test days. What is your take on that?

Q: How do you feel about “teaching to the test?” What role does creativity have in the realm of test prep?

Q: There are some added hidden benefit to authentic assessments. At the end of the day, how does this help with your big goal of helping students?

Q: Why is data important?

Q: Aren’t these pictures great?

third gradeable social

Party like an education enthusiast!

mikaila spence rowe

Mikaila chats it up with some terrific teachers… like Mr. Rowe!

ANET's Alexis talks to our friend from Listen Edition

ANET’s Alexis talks to our friend Karen from Listen Edition

Kattie hangs with our old friend Lillie and our new little friend

Kattie hangs with our old friend Lillie and our new little friend

Like what you see? Well there’s plenty more in the videos of our debate. Hope to see you next time! 

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Friday Bulletin Board

Red was overwhelmed by the test talk...

Red was overwhelmed by the test talk…

The new SAT

The College Board announced major changes to the SAT, and most notably, changes to the writing portion. Some of the most prominent changes:

The writing test will be optional. Currently, even though many colleges ignore writing test scores, all students must take the writing portion of the test.

Vocabulary words will eliminate “sometimes obscure” language that has been dominant and will be replaced by words “that are widely used” in college and the work place. In testing of words, the College Board will stress those for which meaning depends on context.

Print and digital versions of the SAT will be offered; currently the test is paper only.

A successful assessment discussion

We had our Gradeable Social all about assessments. Our three panelists (Alexis Rosenblatt of ANET, Jennifer Spencer of Match Charter High School, and Jonathan Ketchell of Hstry) fielded questions all about high-stakes, low-stakes, and alternative assessments. Here are some highlights:

LL Cool J’s still got it

In 2010, an amazing thing happened on YouTube, and that is, theelectriccompany uploaded a music video of LL Cool J rapping about punctuation. Because when you see a punctuation mark, you have to know what to do! You’re welcome.

Have a great weekend, folks!

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Friday Bulletin Board

kattie overhead

#YEPchat
On Tuesday, February 11, Young Education Professionals will be hosting a Twitter chat on assessments being developed around the Common Core State Standards. A Twitter chat is an online discussion strung together with a particular hash tag, in this case #YEPchat. Join them to share your thoughts and ideas with the people who are developing assessments. For anyone who’s interested, this is your opportunity to hear from experts before the assessments are implemented in school districts across the country in the 2014–2015 school year.

Teachers speak out against standards-based grading
Some teachers in the Oseeo School District in Minnesota say that the standards-based approach is burning them out. Constantly assessing, they say, takes focus away from teaching. One first grade teacher says they haven’t had adequate training and not enough time to test students. In addition, teachers expressed grievances for having to accept late assignments because there was no longer a penalty for late work. Do any readers out there share these sentiments? How are you dealing with them? Is your school providing support?

States move to rebrand the Common Core 
In Florida, lawmakers would like to change the name of the Common Core to “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.” Florida’s move, along with states like Iowa and Arkansas, is a result of the growing opposition to the student guidelines. The idea is to keep the standards but change the name in hopes for a greater public appeal. While the backlash for a sweeping initiative is not surprising, it will be interesting to see if a superficial name change will do the trick for buy-in.

Teachers who blog on SBG
Earlier this week, we rounded up five teacher-run blogs focused on standards-based grading. The idea was “don’t just take our word for it, check out what these teachers have to say about standards-based grading.” The post is an aggregation of thought leaders with tips like how to keep it simple and a chart that converts an SBG 4-point scale to a 100-point scale. Once we put it out on social media, we got a head’s up that we missed one from Garnet Hillman. We hope it’s helpful in PLN building!

Photos from the Second Gradeable Social
Wednesday was the big night. We packed our office with Boston-area teachers who were eager to learn about standards-based grading. Check out our photos from our night of pizza, PLN, SBG, and wine. If you’re in the area and couldn’t make it, don’t worry! We’ll be having more!

Have a great weekend, folks!

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Photos from the Second Gradeable Social

Welcome to the Second Gradeable Social

Welcome to the Second Gradeable Social

Parul "If Grading Papers is Your Problem, Drinking Wine is the Solution" Singh

Parul “If Grading Papers is Your Problem, Drinking Wine is the Solution” Singh

Can you tell Renee belongs on the Gradeable team?

Can you tell Renee belongs on the Gradeable team?

Teachers get their Learning Network on.

Teachers get their Personal Learning Network on.

Teacher Evangelist Kattie kicks off the demonstrations.

Teacher Evangelist Kattie kicks off the demonstrations.

Mikaila and Bon bring it in close

Mikaila and Bon bring it in close.

Sheri keeps the Apples in check.

Sheri keeps the Apples in check.

For all photos, visit us on Facebook.

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Save the Date: #GradeableSocial on January 29

gradeable social invite

Got something to say about the traditional grading system? Well we’d love to hear it at our #GradeableSocial. Standards-based grading is the topic of discussion this time around. As we offer tips and show you how Gradeable helps with SBG, we want to hear your voices on teaching, grading, and student engagement that drives the grading method you use.

We’re hosting the #GradeableSocial for a few reasons. First we want to create a conversation, a personal learning network, a support system for teachers. Think a PLN without the hashtag. We call it a “Pizza Learning Network,” and the key thing is that it exists in the real world, not just the virtual one. Pizza because we got a ton of free pizza from Dominos.

We hear all too often that teachers feel alone in this struggle to grade that pile of papers, find fresh ways to present topics, and keep up with technology all while sustaining their love of teaching. You are most certainly not alone. We want to give you a platform to share your ideas, grievances, and successes in the classroom.

Our other reason is to put our product on display. We’ve got new features and are ramping up to take over the world so get your free trials before we sell out. At the #GradeableSocial, you can see exactly what we do and how it works. Maybe it’s something that will save you time, simplify data entry, or open your eyes to trends you weren’t spotting in the classroom. If nothing else, come to be around people who speak your language about technology’s role in education. We’re a learning community in real life, or IRL as the kids say these days.

The #GradeableSocial is on Jan. 29 at Exponential Techspace. Along with free food and drinks, our founder Parul Singh will share a few words. Come meet our team. Grow your network. Kick off the year with people who love education just as much as you do!

Follow us on Twitter for updates and we look forward to seeing you there. For questions, email me at bon@gradeable.com.