Posted in Education, Formative Assessment, Math, Math Coaching

Notes from Providing Feedback to Students through an Icon Matrix #FormativeAssessment #iledchat #SCCMI15

Today during the #SCCMI15 Conference held at Rich South High School I had the pleasure of learning about a great QUICK strategy to give students authentic feedback that moves learning forward rather than just look at mistakes through the rearview mirror.

The technique involves giving students a task that is open ended enough to elicit a variety of responses.  The task we used involved finding the equation of a parallel line when given an original equation and a new point.  It was embedded in a larger task but we focused on this particular question and the associated student work.  We sorted the student work into groups according to what students understood versus their common misunderstandings.  For instance, one group we decided had a good understanding of the relationship of the slope of the new line (that it should be the same slope as the old line) but did not understand that the new line would have a new y-intercept.  After you have sorted the work into more manageable groups (we decided on 4 groups for our work but the suggestion was to find about 4-6 groups.  We then “told the story” of our class by describing what each group COULD do versus where they were struggling.  This was set up on a matrix (see below – excuse the incomplete nature, I didn’t finish, but you can get the idea).

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Then on a separate matrix, we determined a prompt for each group to move their thinking forward and a new problem to assess whether this moved them forward.  Each group was assigned an icon.  At that point, you can write the icon on each student’s paper (remember they are already sorted so this task is VERY easy) and return work to students.  Then their task is to respond to the prompt and answer the new problem.  Then post the icons, prompts, and next problem(s), not the category name, for students to see and respond to. (again – see below and excuse the incomplete nature)

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I loved this activity because it differentiates the “diagnosis” for each student based on their ability and moves them toward understanding as opposed to the tactics I, unfortunately sometimes, employ (WHOLE class prescription and hoping that most students will get something out of the lesson, repeating the same lesson louder and slower, or just moving on to “cover” what I need to cover).  This is much less work than writing the same “comments” on each and every student’s paper.  Also, the requirement for students to respond to the prompt and do a new problem requires MORE work from my students than it does for me and will provide me with great “data” that I can use for future planning.  I am excited to try this in my classroom as I believe that my students will respond well to the activity.  Each day they will get a new icon so they will never know if the “star” was a good thing or not and it places the emphasis on how to move forward (even for the best students) as opposed to who was “right” or who had the best work.

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Notes from the Keynote Address Given by Dylan Wiliam #SCCMI15 #MTBoS

I will start this post by saying that I will NOT do this presentation justice in this blog post, HOWEVER, I will say that seeing Dylan Wiliam in person is TOTALLY worth it.

Dylan began his presentation by saying that he will share everything online, please just quote where you got it from J. I thought that was so awesome and worthy of mentioning, as I am a “beg, borrow, and steal” type of teacher. When you look for him online make sure you only spell his name with one L because in his words “In this time of austerity, how many L’s do you need.”

Dylan talked about how to change education. He said that “It is easier to change what teachers do when students are not present than when they are.” This resonated with me because in the work from the last five years of SCMI I can personally attest to the fact that that change process for what happens inside the teacher’s classroom is a long one.

Mr. Wiliam had everyone answer the following:We had to choose, discuss with a partner and then lock in our choice by showing A-E with 1-5 fingers held up. He talked about how if you make a mistake and are corrected, you will remember the answer for longer. Also, he stated “It’s better to make mistakes, than to not make mistakes.” By voting publicly, you now have skin in the game. He noted that we LOVE being right which makes us all the more interested in the answer. Also, he reminded us that “No words are more eloquent than ‘I told you so’”

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I loved how his wit kept us engaged throughout the presentation yet was not distracting.

A quote that will stick with me is that “Formative Assessment is getting information from everyone in the classroom NOT just the usual suspects.” I call on the “usual suspects” all the time, but by focusing on everyone else I will truly involve the entire class in the learning process.

He told a humorous story about a man asking for directions from a local and the the local responds “Well if I were you I wouldn’t start from here”. We do the same thing to our students. We make assumptions about who they are when they walk into our class based on their grade in school when really all their grade in school tells us is what year they were born in. We need to find students where they are and then take them where they need to go, which might be different than where WE BELIEVE they should go.

Wiliam also said “Our daily experience as teachers is failure. It’s what makes teaching the best job in the world – you are never any good at it.” I’m telling you, I was cracking up the entire presentation as it was resonating as so true.

It is important to “Carry on improving until you retire or DIE.” – Dylan Wiliam

Dylan pointed out that when students have higher achievement they live longer. He added that you do have to wait for people to die to find the effectiveness of education – again I chuckled. I believe that he quoted that 1 year in the classroom of a good teacher can increase lifetime income by $50,000. That math is really amazing to me. It’s the kind of math that speaks to why finding and KEEPING good teachers is so important.

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Wiliam talked about scoring well on the Danielson model (which only captures a small portion of teacher effectiveness). He mentioned that many administrators are looking for the standard to be in writing posted in the classroom for everyone to see. He also reminded us that sometimes telling the learners where you are going, ruins the learning intention.

After many years of being in education he revealed to us that, wait for it, “Not all children are motivated”. The thing is that we need to help students get excited about learning.

He stated that “No student ever got excited by a content standard”. What our charge as teachers to do is to take the dry dusty standards and make them COME ALIVE. CCSS is merely a set of destinations we as teachers get to drive the car on the way to get there.


He discussed how feedback should not be the views of the rearview mirror, it should be the view through the windshield going forward. I loved this idea because often times that is EXACTLY how I treat feedback, as a autopsy (everything that went wrong) as opposed to a doctor’s appointment, which provides information based on what the patient is presenting with and a course of action based on their needs.

I loved what Wiliam had to say about Americans and their use of rubrics in education. He pointed out that he has noticed that there is never a blank cell in a rubric. Makes him suspicious. He used an example of riding a bike and creating a rubric to fit that situation. Two of the cells would be can ride a bike and can’t ride a bike but what about the other two middle cells? Maybe they would be can ride a bike with wobbling and can ride a bike with less wobbling? Does this really help the person learning to ride the bike? This really made me think about effective feedback and how to better serve my students through providing useful feedback.


He talked about some classroom moves that can be used to provide meaningful feedback. Some of the ideas that he discussed were:

  • Five of these are wrong, find them and fix them
  • Make feedback into detective work
  • Make the students work harder than you do

He discussed the need to activate students as learning resources

  • Pre-flight checklist
  • Get Jim to check over the list, Jim is then accountable for the mistakes as opposed to the original author
  • Students keep each other accountable

Activate students as owners of their own learning

I loved the fact that he brought up that “You are the GLOBAL EXPERT on your classroom”. When you think of it that way, what I do is so much more important to those students.

Calling on raised hands is the “educational Matthew effect” (Matthew effect – rich get richer and poor get poorer, in this case would be that the smart get smarter, and well you know the rest). He was “old school” in his approach to this problem, use popsicle sticks (or for the new school people use one of the apps available for use in your classroom to randomize who gets called on). An idea new to me though would be to “stack the deck” and have maybe 5 sticks for one particular student if you needed that to happen in your class J. Other ideas were to elicit a new student each day to be the person to pick the popsicle stick of who to call on.

Wiliam told a story about a man who was sawing wood. When asked “Why are you sawing through the log with a blunt saw? Why not stop to sharpen the blade?” the man replied “I don’t have the time to stop”. We often do this in our schools as well. Taking the time to stop and “sharpen the blade” might cut down on the time to actually do the job, but it will require us to stop and “sharpen the blade”. He suggested that you will have to take something good off the plate that is full, in order to replace it with something better.

He spent some time talking about grading. He mentioned that “Grading is the punishment that teachers take on for the learning that doesn’t take place.” Grading is another one of those “good” things that maybe if we take them off the plate of what we are currently doing, we could replace it with something better.

He closed with these quotes: