Friday, November 2, 2018

Learning and Grading and Assessment, Oh My!

Go ahead and google anything about grading and assessment.  You will likely get results that range from "Get Rid of Grades" to "No More Zeros" to "Confessions from a Grade-Inflating Professor" to "What do Grades Really Mean" to a myriad of opinions and beliefs from parents, teachers, students, community members, administrators, and everyone in between!  Grading and assessment have become hotly contested topics in education lately, and we are going to be embarking on some reading and discussing of what are the best practices in grading, assessing, and the reporting out of learning here at Stone Bank School.

YOU ARE INVITED~to our first round of readings and discussion on November 27th from 7:30-8:30 am in the cafeteria at Stone Bank School.  I am attaching two articles and one body of research in preparation for our first discussion.  The body of research is quite extensive, yet also gives some great history of grading.  We will be breaking up into small groups to dissect each article, and then sharing our whole group at the end of our time together.

The purpose of this time is to help us learn about and weed through the changes we see in grading, assessment and the reporting out of learning, along with looking to our own philosophies and beliefs and how they may impact or fit into new ways of doing this work.

We look forward to seeing you on November 27th and until then...Happy Reading!  If you happen to find any articles that you think would enhance our learning, please share with me and I will post them on the blog.  Thanks!
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Writing Workshop

Dear Families,                                                      November 2018

I am writing today to give you a “behind the scenes” look at our new
writing curriculum being implemented in kindergarten through
eighth grade at Stone Bank School.  We are developing writers
that have voice, choice, and applicable skills to communicate in
an ever-changing world.  

We use a curriculum called the Units of Study out of
rooted in the Workshop Model (click on links for more
information).  As we are embarking on this
work, I want to take a moment to communicate to you a tool we use
to measure growth in our writers.  This tool is called a progression
or continuum.  A progression is simply a process that moves a
learner along from one stage to the next.  It shows “behind the
scenes” what a grade really means or rather, what the writer
really does know how to do.  Some learners fall into one grade
level, while others fall all over the place, as many of us do in our
daily lives and professions~we are stellar in some areas, and
less than in others.  We are human! There are two progressions
attached, both for narrative writing.  One is for Pre-K through
sixth grade, and the other is for third through ninth grade.  
Please take some time to look at the descriptors (to the left)
as well as the grade level (across the top).   

You will begin to see some writing coming home, if you have
not already.  Much of this writing is scored on a rubric or progression/continuum.   
Your child will get a final grade for
each piece of final writing, and we encourage you to take a
look at these progressions or rubrics to help you see what
that grade truly means.  

The Units of Study are very rigorous and as we round out
our first quarter, some writers will produce work in areas
that may fall at or above grade level.  They may also produce
writing that will fall below grade level.  Please understand that
we are developing writers, and their identities as writers,
against the very rigorous benchmarks of the Units of Study
and that we value the process of growth more than anything.  
That being said, even if a writer falls below grade level in an
area, as long as that writer is making progress along the
progression, we are moving in the right direction.  One of the
beauties of these units is that they continue to build upon each
other as writers travel through the grades so as we first
implement the units, we are also building skills that will be
honed in years to come.   

It is an exciting time for young writers right now!  They have
many vehicles to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions
and we aim to help them do so in respectful and appropriate
ways, and to have a strong written, verbal, and social voice in
our world!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you should
have any questions!

“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”
                                      ~William Wheeler, journalist/author

Beth Wartzenluft
262-966-2900 ext. 4050

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Understanding MAPS Assessments

Hello Everyone,

This blog post is to help you all begin to better understand our MAPS testing.  Third through eighth graders take these tests in the fall, winter, and spring.  Please click on the links below for some very helpful info!  The MAPS blog has some excellent resources for you to explore.

As we dig into learning, grading and assessment at Stone Bank School in the upcoming months, and move to position our learners into the driver's seat of their own learning from time to time, it is a good time to start acclimating yourselves to the MAPS assessments, which can give us great insight into not only where our students are at, but even more importantly, highlight areas of strength, and areas which may need more explicit instruction and practice, in order to move to the next level of learning.

As always, please feel free to reach out if you should have any questions, concerns, or feedback.

Have a great week!

MAPS Overview

Reading Your Child's MAPS Report

12 Questions Parents Ask About MAPS Assessments


I Failed

Hello Everyone!  I hope you have all recovered after that devastating Brew Crew loss!
That was tough, but we are already looking forward to next year!

As many of you know, there has been a lot of talk and discussion lately around our current
grading scale at Stone Bank School.  I want to share a story with you that helped put me in
the shoes of a learner, and offer some insight into what it felt like to fail.  Here is the story:

At the school board meeting last week, a school board member asked me a question
regarding my thoughts on the grading scale. I tried to answer, and proceeded to go down a
very lengthy and confusing path of an answer, not at all answering the exact question the
school board member asked.  All in attendance were very confused by my answer, and
when I was done, I could tell by everyone's reactions, that my answer was way off base.
Next, it was brought to my attention that we could only discuss what was on the agenda
for the evening (just the grading scale) according to school board laws. I felt embarrassed
right away. The issue at hand was not best practices in assessment and the reporting out
of learning, like I had answered, but rather on the grading scale itself. I left the meeting
that night feeling like I had failed. Gotten an F. On this one assignment, this one school
board meeting, I had failed.  
Yes, I failed, but did my 'F' define my whole first quarter as the Curriculum Coach at
Stone Bank?  I went to grad school, studied hard, obtained my principal and curriculum
licenses, and I came to this new position straight from the trenches of teaching, where
I was getting all A's.  My learning curve was/is steep. Did this 'F' within the course of the
first quarter, provide any feedback for me to grow? The 'F' itself didn't, but what happened
after was where the real learning took place...where it should really always take place,
shortly after failure, whether that failure is in the beginning, middle or end of
work.  One of my favorite educational philosophers, John Dewey, once said,
"Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks, learns quite as much from his
failures as from his successes."

It was not the failure that mattered to me, but how I responded to that failure.  
I called my professional coach (think a teacher, a parent, a peer) and told her of my
failure.  As my coach, she listened without judgement, stopped me from shaming myself,
and then helped me onto a path of growth.  She helped me formulate a plan to move
forward, to help me take what happened, and really hone in and tease out the pieces
that would help me grow the most.  She engaged me in a bit of research on not just
school board laws (believe me, there are a lot of them), but also in the history of school
boards and their purpose.  Sure, I got some of this is grad school, but not when I needed
it most, like when I got the job where I would have to actually apply that learning.
So I studied this weekend.  I read, I watched videos, I phoned a friend on a
local school board...and I learned a lot, not only about the laws (like you can't discuss
anything not on the agenda :), but also what the true purpose of a school board is.
Did you know that the first school board dates back to 1647, in the Massachusetts Bay
Colony?  It was interesting reading!

What's my point in this whole narrative?  That as we begin to discuss grading, assessment,
and the reporting out of learning, I ask that we all keep in mind the big picture of learning.  
One grade, one test, one failure, one success, does not define the wholeness of a learner.
Often times, it is what the learner does after he/she fails that yields the most significant
learning, because this part of the process, the picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and
getting back on the proverbial horse, is the grit that helps us get going after we fail
and believe, we will all continue to fail from time to time.  I am so very thankful to have a
coach that helped me see the bigger picture, cushion the shame and failure I felt,
and help me get back up and try again. I think of Michael Jordan when he said,
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times,
I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over
and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed."

The next blog post, on understanding your child's NWEA MAPS assessments, is a
great place to start looking at the big picture of where your children, our learners,
fall in the scope of learning in the areas of reading and math. If you have not already
received your child's MAPS scores, you can access them on Skyward.
The next blog post will help you decipher the scores, and will also help you begin
discussions with your learners, and with teachers.   

On November 15th, we will hold a morning session of Coffee and Conversations,
where we will begin some learning on grading, assessment, and the reporting
out of learning.  In the meantime, I have posted an article from a principal friend,
who shared it with her families. Please know that I do not share this article to
point fingers at anyone, but rather I share it so that we can broaden our perspectives
on how to go about reporting out learning in healthy ways that encourage and engage
learners in academically meaningful and emotionally healthy ways.  

I look forward to learning with you all in the realm of grading, assessing, and the
reporting out of learning.  If you find any articles or videos that you would like to share,
please do so with me at and we can add
them to our list of "shareables" for our learning together.

Finally, thank-you for taking the time to read this blog.  It is certainly hard to put
oneself out there and admit embarrassment and failure, but I am thankfully
surrounded by staff, community, administration, and school board members
who support me and hold me up, and in that way, I am the most thankful learner!

Enjoy conferences this week, a short week, and a few extra days with your children.  
Let them play, and get a little messy. Let their brains and bodies create
and explore and most of all, spend time together and have fun.

Be Well,

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Greetings and Happy Fall,

Fall.  A time of transition and change.  I lovingly brought all of my plants inside the last few nights to save them from the creeping frost. I admired their determination to hang on as the sun and her glorious warmth fade away.  A slice of a memory came to me as I was pulled back to lounging in my chair on a sultry summer night, the colors of my plants bursting with vibrant summer-color love.  

And now, it is time for rest.  The end of one season; the beginning of another.  Transition can be a challenging time for us all, even if we are not consciously aware.  As I packed away summer things this weekend, nestled way at the bottom of a beach bag, peeking up at me, was a sun-faded, small pink journal.  It was our summer writer's notebook.  A writer's notebook is a place to jot down thoughts, ideas, funny things people say~a place for you to capture humorous, serious, or sad memories.  Think of these little pieces of life as "seeds" that you capture, and tuck into a writer's notebook, for safe keeping~for later writing. 

When writers learn how to compose a piece of writing, sometimes generating an idea is the hardest part. This is where the writer's notebook comes in and this is how you can help at home:

  • put a writer's notebook and writing utensil(s) in a centrally located part of your house.  A word on writing utensils~try out different ones to see what you like. I promise, for a reluctant writer, sometimes the simple act of being able to choose the tool(s) can make a big difference.  We must nudge the writer him/herself, along with each piece they create.  Colored flairs are most often a hit!

  • A writer's notebook can be a simple composition notebook, big or small, or something more decorative.  Lined, or unlined is entirely up to the owner.  Unlined or mixed-lined pages allow for drawing and sketching, which is extremely important to emerging writers, and also important for visual thinkers like myself.

  • Spend some time in this transitional season sitting down together as a family, walking back in time, remembering people, places, events, that you have  experienced, together or individually.  Think of the following exercise as family storytelling and try this: In the writer's notebook, title one blank page, "People".  Title another one "Places", the next one "Things/Objects", the next one "Emotions".  Choose one page a night and sit down to generate little seed ideas for each page...memories of people, places, etc...Here is an example.  In the writer's notebook I fished out today, under the "Places" title, there were a few entries about a camping trip our family took to Colorado this past summer.  One was a memory of the hike that my daughter and husband took, which was a good lesson for our daughter in preparedness in high altitudes and sudden fluctuation of weather patterns in the mountains!  In the notebook, we didn't tell the whole story, but rather penned a quick snippet of the memory, just enough to jog the memory later.  I laughed out lout this morning as I remembered the two of them making a mad dash for the tent as golf-ball sized hail came bolting down...screaming and laughing all the way! As a young writer, I can pluck this seed idea out later, when my teacher says we are going to write a personal narrative, or realistic fiction, or memoir~all genres of writing we have in our writing curriculum.  Helping your children stockpile memories not only helps them get ready for writing at school, it has mental health benefits as well.

Telling family stories and taking the time to stroll down memory lane with your family has benefits beyond the academic world, as referenced in this New York Times article.  Storytelling can help your children develop a strong sense of self and know that they have control over their own lives.  They know they belong somewhere.  They have roots.

So as fall wraps her arms around us, engage in some family storytelling. All grade levels at Stone Bank School have some sort of writer's notebook, tailored to their developmental age.  Ask your child about it.  Maybe they can bring it home one night for you to see (make sure it comes back right away as it is a crucial tool in the writer's workshop).  If you have a family writer's notebook at home and your child wants to pull a seed idea out of that and bring it to school, just jot the memory down on a sticky note and he/she can simply post the sticky note in their own WN (writer's notebook) at school~~and now they have a seed idea, that can be planted on a page and grown into a story.  

As the earth around us dies or goes into a deep sleep, the memories can be planted, and kept alive.

"Listen! the wind is rising,
and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings,
now for October eves!"
          ~Humbert Wolfe

Happy Storytelling!
Stone Bank Curriculum Coach

Saturday, September 15, 2018

It seems as if summer just isn't letting go quite yet!  I hope you all get to squeeze in as much of the warm sunshine as possible this weekend!

I am sharing a reading/thinking resource with you today (see below) that may be helpful for you when guiding your child(ren) in thinking through the books they are reading.  Reading the words when reading is one thing, but critically thinking through a text, whatever the level, is a skill that learners need to practice not only in school, but outside of school as well.   

Where this resource may, at first glance, seem like it is geared toward more experienced readers, it is one that you can certainly use with emerging readers as well, as you read aloud to your child(ren).  Choosing one "signpost" to focus on a week, is a wonderful way to start.  Of course, some books won't lend themselves to all of these signposts however, having this resource available when reading is an excellent way for readers of any age to actively participate in reading and thinking through texts.  Give it a try in your own reading, too, so that you can be a role model for your readers at home.  

MAPS testing begins this week for grades 2-8.  Click here for the top six questions parents ask about MAPS testing.  First graders will take the MAPS test in the winter and spring (they take a PALS assessment in the fall, which is geared more toward letters and sounds), and second through eighth graders take the test in fall, winter, and spring.  MAPS tests give us detailed data about our learners that help us make informed, personalized instructional decisions to move our learners forward.  "But what if my child is not a good test taker?" many parents ask.  MAPS is just one data point we use to make informed instructional decisions about our learners, along with both formal and informal classroom assessments and finally a state assessment (Forward Exam) in the spring (grades 3-8).

We look forward to seeing you all at Curriculum Night this Wednesday, September 19th, from 6-7 pm. For this first curriculum night, we are asking that parents only come.  We will ask for your feedback before you leave, so that we can make the revisions our families want/need in the future.  We will begin altogether in the library  and then you will be invited to go to your child(ren's) classroom  to ask any specific questions you may have for the teacher.

I wish you all a happy, warm and healthy weekend!

Beth Wartzenluft
Curriculum Coach

"By all these lovely tokens
September days are here
With summer's best of weather
And autumn's best of cheer"
              ~Author unknown


Friday, September 7, 2018

The Learner-Teacher Relationship

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  
Don't go back to sleep."

As I drove into work nice and early this morning, I reflected on the many amazing things I saw in Stone Bank classrooms this first week of the 2018-19 school year.  John Hattie, an educational researcher who wrote a book called Visible Learning, has done much work around what kinds of behaviors produce a large effect size (a statistical concept that measures the strength of a relationship between two variables) in learning environments.  Evidence based research has show that "students who have constructive relationships with their teachers are more likely to do well at school, and teachers who actively build such relationships have a strong effect on the lives of their students" (Hattie).  The visual below shows that the learner-teacher relationship has a .72 effect size, on a 1.2 scale.

Why is this important for you to know?  Because the amount of thoughtful learning opportunities that Stone Bank teachers engaged in with students this week were deeply grounded in the evidence-based practice of building strong relationships with learners, right from the very beginning.  I sat in on a class that did an activity on Fixed v. Growth Mindsets, a math class where kids were working in pairs while the teacher zoomed from group to group coaching, inspiring, and naming the great things learners were doing.  I was in another class that did an activity where they brainstormed, shared, and honored different ways learners read, write, and think about reading and writing.  I sat in on the most fun and hilarious music class ever with a teacher who clearly understood the importance of Hattie's work on the learner-teacher relationship and I wished I could do music class all over again!  I got to be a part of class that was engaged in delegating classroom jobs to students, so that they could have ownership in their learning environments.  I heard a student say, "I can't".  His teacher walked over to him, knelt down to his level, put her arm around him and said, "Yes, buddy, you can.  I know you can." And you know what?  He did!  He took the book back to his spot and read that book!  I could go on and on, but I think you get the point...the staff at Stone Bank School not only understand the importance of the learner-teacher relationship, but they purposefully plan and engage in activities that grow and deepen these relationships.

Next week we will be starting our coaching cycles as we delve into Reader's Workshop!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Learning and Grading and Assessment, Oh My!

Go ahead and google anything about grading and assessment.  You will likely get results that range from "Get Rid of Grades" to &qu...