[BC’s Curriculum] “How do we assess it?” (Part 1)

Sometime last year, this question, or some variation on the theme, leapfrogged “Where can we find good problems?” as the most frequently asked FAQ asked of me. Below, my answers, as of today.

“Formatively.”

“You clarify and share learning intentions and success criteria. You implement rich tasks that elicit evidence of student thinking. You pose questions that cause thinking.”

I presented teachers with four sample student responses to the following question:

A store sells a box of nine 200 g bags of chips for $12. How much should the store charge for twenty-four 200 g bags?

chips2by2

I asked teachers to consider (1) Where is the learner going? (2) Where is the learner right now? and (3) How can the learner get to where she needs to go?

This sparked some interesting conversations. The students in the top left and top right know that a unit price is an equivalent rate where one term–number of bags in TL, dollars in TR–is one. The student in the bottom left also knows that proportion problems can be solved by looking for a scale factor–albeit an inaccurate one–between ratios. What’s going on with the student in the bottom right? What’s the learning goal in terms of content? What’s the learning goal in terms of curricular competency? This activity was preceded by a conversation about the KDU model, so teachers were thinking “use multiple strategies” and “communicate mathematical thinking.” Is it fair to consider “use multiple strategies” using this–or any single–task as evidence? (A good time to bring up triangulation–products, observations, conversations with students.) What does “good” communication look like in mathematics? Do the bottom two responses need words? Would a ratio table help answer what’s going on in the bottom right?

While this was a worthwhile exercise, this answer was “not yet meeting expectations.” One reason for this is that assess is often a euphemism for evaluate. Or grade. Or report. As a student teacher, my school associate once asked me how I planned to assess. I began to tell him about upcoming quizzes. “That’s all well and good, but that’s evaluation. Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, how will you know they know?” This has been helpful for me as I’ve navigated through assessment by preposition (assessment of, for, or as learning) and “Is this formative or summative?”

“Assess what?”

Answering with another question is probably unsatisfactory, but, to me, what is a much more important consideration than how.

The Ministry of Education released the following in the summer:

At the end of the school year or semester, Boards must provide a written summative report to parents that address the student’s progress in relation to the learning standards of the curriculum in all areas of learning as set out in the Required Areas of Study Ministerial Order.

(Emphasis added.)

Learning standards in BC’s curriculum are made up of curricular competencies (“what students are expected to do“) and content (“what students are expected to know“). (#MTBoS, think practice and content CCSS-M standards.) As late as June, some teachers were still wondering if there would be a requirement to assess–or evaluate? or report on?–the curricular competencies. To me, the MoE’s choice of “learning standards” makes this clear.

At the same time, there’s another message out there: learning standards and curricular competencies are synonymous.  The gist of this idea is that content is interchangeable. And maybe that’s more true in other areas of learning. (I still take issue with “If you enjoy teaching ancient Egypt and ancient Egypt has moved, then you can still teach ancient Egypt” but social studies isn’t the hill I’ll die on.) And I’m all in favour of a greater emphasis on students doing mathematics. Helping teachers make this happen is my work–it’s what I (try to) do. Still, I’m baffled.

Of course, nobody argues that process and content exist without one another other. In the classroom, “I can use multiple strategies to solve problems involving ratios and rates” or “I can communicate my thinking when solving proportional problems” work as learning intentions. I can design learning experiences around these. My question is about evaluating: together or separately? Consider the student in the bottom right above. If she “fully meets expectations,” or is “proficient,” or is a “Jedi Knight,” it’s easy–the learning intentions above still work. But if she, as most agreed, isn’t, then why is that? My take is that she is proficient with respect to content (proportional reasoning)–or, at least, here’s one piece of supporting evidence–but not quite there yet with respect to competency (communicate thinking). What are some implications surrounding reassessment? And is it possible to fully meet with respect to competency without also possessing a deep level of content knowledge?

I’m beginning to enter the Land of the Gradebook, which, nine times out of ten, is at the heart of teachers’ “How do we assess it?” Standards-based grading, depth of knowledge, learning maps, rubrics, portfolios, etc. will be part of part two.

 

[BC’s Curriculum] “Know-Do-Understand” Model

This year, BC teachers (K-9) implement a new curriculum. For the past two years, much of my focus has been on helping teachers–in all subjects–make sense of the framework of this “concept-based, competency-driven” curriculum. This will be the topic of these next few posts.

In this series on curriculum, I’ll do my best not to use curriculum. There is no agreed upon definition. I imagine that if any educator in the “MathTwitterBlogoSphere” (#MTBoS) followed the link above, she’d be shouting “Those are standards, not curriculum!” Similarly, when #MTBoS folks talk about adopting curriculum, I’m shouting “That’s a resource, not curriculum!”

My union makes the following distinction: “Pedagogy is how we teach. Curriculum is what we teach.” Curriculum as standards. For the most part, this jibes with how curriculum is used in conversations with colleagues and is echoed in this Ministry of Education document. But Dylan Wiliam doesn’t make this distinction: “Because the real curriculum – sometimes called the ‘enacted’ or ‘achieved’ curriculum – is the lived daily experience of young people in classrooms, curriculum is pedagogy.” Curriculum as experiences. Or pedagogy.

Rather than curriculum, I’ll try to stick with learning standards, learning resources, or learning experiences.

Three elements–Content, Curricular Competencies, and Big Ideas–make up the “what” in each subject and at each grade level. Last summer, the Ministry of Education simplified this as the “Know-Do-Understand” (“KDU”) model. The video below describes how content (what students will know), curricular competencies (what students will do), and big ideas (what students will understand) can be combined to direct the design of learning activities in the classroom.

I imagined planning a proportional reasoning unit in Mathematics 8 using the KDU model and shared my thinking throughout this process.

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Teachers can start with any of the three elements; I started by identifying content. (It’s a math teacher thing.) Then, I paired this content with a big idea. In English Language Arts and Social Studies, it makes sense to talk about you, as the teacher, making decisions about these combinations. In Mathematics and Science, this mapping is straightforward: algebra content pairs with a big idea in algebra, not statistics; biology content pairs with a big idea in biology, not Earth sciences. (BC math teachers may notice that the big idea above is different than the one currently posted on the Ministry of Education website. It may reflect a big idea from a previous draft. I can’t bring myself to make that change.)

Identifying curricular competencies to combine with content and big ideas is where it gets interesting. Here, my rationale for choosing these two curricular competencies was simple: problems involving ratios, rates, and percent lend themselves to multiple strategies… we should talk about them. The video makes the point that I could go in the opposite direction; if I had started with “use multiple strategies,” I likely would have landed at proportional reasoning. Of course, other curricular competencies will come into play, but they won’t be a focus of this unit. This raises questions about assessment. (More on assessment in an upcoming post.)

Note that “represent” is missing from my chosen curricular competencies. Why is that? My informed decision? Professional autonomy for the win? Or my blindspot? A teacher who sees proportional reasoning as “cross-multiply and divide,” who is unfamiliar with bar models, or double number lines, or ratio tables, or who sees graphs as belonging to a separate and disconnected linear relations chapter wouldn’t think of connecting this content to “represent.” Making connections between these representations is an important part of making sense of proportional reasoning. Will this build-a-standard approach mean missed learning opportunities for students? This speaks to the importance of collaboration, coaching, and curriculum, er, I mean quality learning resources.

In early talks, having these three elements fit on one page was seen as a crucial design feature. Imagine an elementary school teacher being able to view–all at once!–the standards for nine different subjects, spread out across her desk. As a consequence, the learning standards are brief. Some embraced the openness; others railed at the vagueness. In some circles, previous prescribed learning outcomes are described using the pejorative “checklist”; in others, there is a clamouring for “limiting examples.” (Math teachers, compare these content standards with similar Common Core content standards.)

I wonder if the KDU model oversimplifies things. If you believe that there is a difference between to know and to understand, then you probably want your students to understand ratios, rates, proportions, and percent. For a “concept-based” curriculum, it’s light on concepts. Under content, a (check)list of topics. To that end, I fleshed out each of the three elements (below). But I have the standards I have, not the standards I wish I had. (Free advice if you give this a try: don’t lose the that in that stem below.)

kdu-for-blog

kdu-proportional-reasoning.pdf

I wonder if the KDU model overcomplicates things. Again, U is for what students will understand. But “understanding” is one of the headers within the D, what students will do.

Despite this, I have found the KDU model to be helpful. In particular, it’s been helpful when discussing what it means to do mathematics. The math verbs that we’re talking about are visualize, model, justify, problem-solve, etc., not factor, graph, simplify, or solveforx. Similar discussions take place around doing science (scientific inquiry) and social studies (historical thinking).

More broadly, the model has been helpful in making sense of the framework of our new curriculum, or standards. It’s a useful exercise to have to think about specific combinations–far more useful than:

Q: “Which competencies did we engage in?”
A: “All of ’em!”

We’re still some distance from “the lived daily experience of young people in classrooms” but it isn’t difficult to imagine learning experiences in which this specific combination of the three elements come together.