With a Little Help From My (Critical) Friends

My students will never know that a small group of educators all around Nashville made me a better teacher which in turn has helped them own their learning better.

Over this past summer I had an opportunity to be part of the Educators Cooperative Summer Cohort (Ed-Co), which if anyone lives in the Nashville area and wants to grow your professional community outside of just your school, you should consider joining. It was Ed-Co’s third summer cohort and I joined 30 other public, private, and charter school teachers every day for a week to be pruned, refined, and perspectives broaden. Every 4 or 5 educators at the summer cohort are paired into a group that makes up your Critical Friends Group(CFG). I was in CFG Orange group and each of us would go through the “tuning protocol”, which is a very precise procedure that helps you explain a problem you are having with a lesson or concept and process feedback from your group. This is not like a faculty meeting where you might hear teachers complain about a problem or you might have one teacher dominate the conversation. The tuning protocol allowed our CFG to maximize our time in order to give each other feedback and get actionable ideas. Last year I started transitioning my math classroom to a gradeless classroom, I outlined the process in this blog post. One of the struggles in my first year of going gradeless was getting students to accurately self-assess. I was able to  present my gradeless classroom struggles to my CFG and from there sparked an idea to start doing pre and post self-assessments in my gradeless classroom. Here is how my CFG group has transformed my classroom.

Using Pre and Post Self-Assessment

I usually only do two formal assessments a semester; the midterm and the final. During these formal assessments students would review their feedback and self assess their knowledge of the standards. In order for students to be more accurate in their self assessments my CFG recommended that I start doing both pre and post self-assessments.

I have gone back and forth on the best way to implement pre and post self assessments but it looks something like this for each unit.

  1. Students take a pre assessment on Quizizz  (by far one of my favorite tech tools)
  2. Students review results of quizizz and self assess
  3. 1-2 weeks of instruction
  4. Students take post assessment on Quizizz
  5. Students review results of quizizz and self assess again.

Pre Assessment Notes

  • I use quizizz because it can give instant feedback and it is easy and quick to make assessments.
  • Students don’t need to wait on me for feedback and it frees me up to help with questions students have and help them self asses. Having conversations with my students about their learning is my favorite part. “Why do you say you have mastered this skill if you have missed every question”.
  • I found letting the students know how the questions and standards aligned helped them self-assess. Some questions may align with multiple standards. 
  • Students do not get any sort of formal grade. Just feedback and their own self assessment.

Post Assessment Notes

  • The protocol for the post assessment and self assessment is exactly the same as the pre assessment and self-assessment. I have used different forms of assessment tools (paper and pencil, google forms, etc.). If I use a paper and pencil assessment I usually will have a grading station with keys that students can self grade (speeding up the feedback cycle).By using the same protocol I don’t have to spend time explaining what we are doing, I just hand out the pre and post sheets and students get to work.
  • The post assessment students allows students to instantly see their progress.
  • I usually get to have good conversations about students learning and their self-assessment.
    • I find most of the time students are too hard on themselves.
  • Students do not get any sort of formal grade. I repeat I do not grade

Instruction Notes

  • I use the results of students pre-self assessments to drive instruction. I learn areas we need to spend more time on and what areas the students already have a good knowledge of. Just this past week I had planned to start our next unit with teaching relationships in forms of linear functions, instead after reviewing the students self-assessment, we started with linear transformations. Google sheets and conditional formatting is great a way to quickly see trouble areas.
  • I spiral my curriculum, which means I come back to each unit 2-3 times a semester. During the pre assessment of the second and third spirals we can see how well students retained the information.  

Eventually I would like to get to the point and make learning road maps for each skill like my friend Joey Feith at The Physical Educator has done. Check out his blog post “Learning Road Maps” to learn more.

I am excited how well my students have improved in their self assessment abilities. Overall this has made the grade conferences we do much smoother. I find that students do not complain when I tell them they need to come and meet with me to catch up; they agree they are falling behind and are owning the fact that they need help.

I owe this growth as a teacher to Ed-Co and my CFG group. The truth is my students will never know that a small group of educators all around Nashville made me a better teacher which in turn has helped them own their learning better.


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