written by Amy Courtney and Sarah Zbornik
With the new National Core Arts Standards and its emphasis on creating, performing, responding, and connecting, there has been much discussion to how we will now assess our students. In the arts, we say that creativity is the most important aspect, but in the past it we have rarely assessed it, primarily because of the difficulty in doing so. Thus, questions emerge. How does one assess creativity? Can a letter grade be attached to it? Is this type of assessment possible with standards-based grading? For Amy Courtney, addressing these issues, and at the same time allowing for improvement and student reflection, is now essential to her pedagogy.
Amy’s greatest challenge is changing perceptions and perspectives, especially with parents and teachers whose art experience is focused around technical skills. She focuses her attention on showing a student that he/she can be successful in the art room even when a student doesn’t have the highest level of technical skills. For her, art isn’t about being able to draw perfect still life photo; art is about changing the world around you.
Throughout her career, Amy has sought to educate students, families, community members, and fellow educators of the positive impact that artistic development can have. She hopes for people to understand that artistry is a learned skill that anyone can enjoy rather than something that is simply innate. Ultimately, she strives to make her classroom a safe and supportive space where artists of any skill level can learn and grow.
This shift in focus also impacts the way Amy assesses students. Previously, her priority has been on craft, technique, and the end product. But, if creativity is the most important element, how can this be reflected in assessment?
As Amy reflects, she realizes the process is important, if not more so than the end product. Now, she focuses her attention on “What do I want the kids to understand?” instead of “What do I want the final product to look like?” To get to this point, she built the assessments from the ground up. To assist in the process, she utilized the book Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. For each grade, she broke down the four separate standards: Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. Then, she determined the most important strands for each area.
From here she developed the questions and built rubrics. Here is one section of her rubric for her unit on Power and Privilege:
To view the complete rubric , please see Grade 7 Rubric - Power & Privilege.
Even though she still struggles with putting a grade on the process, this rubric helps the students see that work is always in progress. Students can see that creativity is a learned skill and can be improved upon. In an area where innate talent is often assumed to be critical, everybody can now show growth.
Written by Sarah Zbornick, DCSD Instructional Coach
When I discovered that Lisa Witzke was doing pen pals with her 6th graders, I was excited to see how it worked. In the 1980s, I had a pen pal. With a #2 pencil (although sometimes I cheated and used a pen) and paper in hand, I wrote about my life in Iowa. Then I’d anxiously await a week or two to hear back. I don’t remember her name anymore, but I do remember that she was from Georgia and how exotic that was. And it was only Georgia the state, not the country. Ms. Witzke hasn’t been doing it since the 1980s, but she does start the process with paper and pencil. She began about six or seven years ago, working diligently to find reliable schools, teachers, and students from countries studied in sixth grade. Now she has connections with schools in China, Greece, Italy, and India. Iraq and Egypt are also studied in sixth grade, but consistent partnerships with schools in these countries proved difficult to establish.
With technology available in today’s classrooms, students experience pen pals on steroids. While nothing can replace the excitement of actually receiving a letter in the mail, Ms. Witzke further develops the relationship between pen pals with face-to face interaction. Not only have the students written to students and in Greece and China, they have also had the opportunity to skype with them. Once the letters are written, then a skype session is in place. This can be a bit cumbersome due to time zones and scheduling, but hearing the students’ comments makes it worth it. I was able to watch a skype session. I could feel the excitement (often displayed through smiling nervousness) as each 6th grader took the microphone to visit with his/her pen pal. They questioned each other and chatted about typical 6th grade conversation, such as What’s your favorite food? and What do you do for fun?
Pen pals give our students a chance to see the world outside of their own. It gives Ms. Witzke’s students an authentic audience, and they also become an authentic audience. This gives purpose to their writing. They can connect with students their own age to see that they are quite similar and yet individual.
What ways do you connect your class to the world?
Global Read Aloud project can write letters to each other about their reaction to the same book. Students can share narratives about their lives, and then compare and contrast with the lives of their pen pals. The possibilities are endless!
Written by Andrew Ellingsen, DCSD part-time Instructional Coach following a visit to the 5th grade classroom of Sarah Nowack
Sarah Nowack’s college friend Staci and her family have taken a leap that many of us have only dreamed of -- they’ve put life on hold and will spend eight months traveling the world. Staci and Mason have left their jobs and rented out the house, son Ian is taking a year off of college, and daughter Lily spent her entire summer completing her required coursework for the entire junior year of high school. (Lily will also submit homework while she’s on the road to fulfill some other academic requirements.)
As soon as Sarah heard about their year, she contacted Lily to hatch a plan that will play out over the course of the year. From time to time while traveling, Lily will send the 5th graders in Mrs. Nowack’s class postcards from around the world -- Decorah students will spend the year traveling vicariously through Lily and her family!
The first postcard arrived on Friday from Ephesus, Turkey. In her note to the students, Lily introduced herself and explained that Turkey is home to one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Celsus Library.
In just a few minutes, Sarah had guided students to connect multiple subject areas with Lily’s postcard.
The excitement in the room was palpable -- students are looking forward to tracking Lily’s travels, exchanging ideas with her as the year unfolds, possibly Skyping with her at some point, and even scheduling an in-person meeting when the family returns to the US in May.
Interested in following along with Lily and her family? You can learn more about their plans in this article published in the Des Moines Register or by following their family’s travel blog. As more postcards are delivered and students continue to connect their learning to the world beyond our school walls, we’ll share updates with the Team DMS community, as well.
How have you connected the curriculum to the world beyond? What extensions can you imagine implementing? Join the conversation and post ideas and questions below!
Written by Andrew Ellingsen and Sarah Zbornik, DCSD Instructional Coaches
One of the “buzz words” in education recently has been the term 21st Century Skills. With everyone from US Representatives to President Obama to countless other celebrities and politicians weighing in supporting the idea, the term is often thrown around without a lot of context.
What are the 21st Century Skills? Who is responsible for teaching them? Why should we care?
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (www.p21.org) groups a disparate set of skills together as 21st Century Skills. The skills are grouped into four main categories:
The last group, the 4 Cs, are also listed by the Iowa Core Companion as “Universal Constructs” because of the manner in which they can be woven into classrooms regardless of grade level or subject matter.
Because of the universal nature of these skills, the responsibility for teaching them isn’t isolated to an individual teacher or course. Rather, it falls to all of us to incorporate them into our classrooms where appropriate. Should we throw out all of the other good teaching we’re doing to highlight only the 21st Century Skills? Of course not… That being said, there are likely places in each of our classrooms to weave the 4 Cs into the myriad ways students interact with content knowledge.
Earlier this month, the College & Career Clubs hosted a webinar titled “Crisis in Middle School: Catching Them Before They Fall Through the Cracks.” In it, the moderator shared that academic readiness in 8th grade impacts college & career readiness more than anything that happens academically in the high school years (The Forgotten Middle, published by ACT). By the time a student is in high school, if they don’t see a) that what they’re learning is connected to life after school and b) that they are capable of having a meaningful future once school is done, there is a much higher likelihood that they will end up dropping out of school.
The presenter went on to share that one of the primary ways to engage students in the content is to create project-based learning. Having a chance to take what they’ve learned and apply it to solve problems in real-world situations allows students to engage with the 4 Cs in a meaningful way and to identify their own skills, interests, and strengths.
By incorporating the 4 Cs into a student’s daily experience with school, we can make a significant impact that will long outlast their time in our classroom. Developing skills in Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration can not only encourage students to engage with the curriculum in more meaningful ways but also prepare them for a future the world we’ve come to know as a quickly shifting landscape of new technology, innovations, and careers.
Where do the 21st Century Skills fit in your classroom? How can you incorporate them into the teaching you’re already doing? Join the conversation by commenting below!
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