Friday, September 30, 2011

Assessing Student Learning

As a principal I always enjoyed the opportunity to visit classrooms for informal as well as formal observations. They allowed me to gain a better understanding of our students and their learning. Part of every classroom visit was a brief conversation with students about their learning.

A friend of mine, Clifford Weber, Superintendent in Bloomfield, New Mexico does something similar. He has three questions he asks of students and says that "The answers tell you a lot about students' experiences in schools."
  • "What are you doing?"
  • "How are you doing with it?"
  • "Why are you doing it?"
While in Bloomfield he worked with the staff to turn these questions into opportunity for student reflection and self-assessment during lessons. Teachers also asked "What do you already know about a [a topic]?" and "When are you going to use it?" The questions became a routine part of class and helped students connect their current lesson with past learning and future application.

I'd be interested in hearing from you about what you look for when observing in classrooms and how your teachers provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Conduct a Data Night

Recently I was working with a school near Chicago on their school improvement plan. A task force of parents, teachers and administrators revised the school's vision and then selected twenty different types of data that could be used to help identify action steps. Every member received a notebook full of data and a wiki was created so that members could share their observations and thoughts about the data.

The group held several "data nights" where they met, worked together to examine the data, discuss its implications, and assess the school's current success on each indicator. Small work groups met to continue the analysis and suggest next steps.

The data nights were helpful because they assured that everyone had the same data, had an opportunity to talk about its meaning, and to contribute to the analysis. These "data nights" helped the group move forward to develop a plan for their school's continued improvement.

A protocol for planning and conducting a data night are included in my recent book, Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders available from Eye on Education (

Friday, September 2, 2011

Consensus - The "Fist to Five"

Building consensus can be a challenge. While often the preferred way to make decisions, consensus can be fleeting. It doesn't mean that everyone agrees wholeheartedly with the decision, but it does mean that everyone can support the decision. At a minimum, everyone should agree they can live with the decision.

One tool I've found to be useful is "Fist to Five." It can help you seek common ground and is a quick way to assess the support among every participants. Ask every participant to indicate their level of support from a closed fist (no support) to all five fingers (enthusiastic support). Most groups I work with agree that the discussion continues until everyone holds up at least three fingers. Here's the complete set of descriptors adapted from those prepared by Adventure Associates (2009)


“I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes to support it.”

1 Finger

“I still need to discuss some issues and I will suggest changes that should be made.”

2 Fingers

“I am moderately comfortable with the idea but would like to discuss some minor things.”

3 Fingers

“I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this idea pass without further discussion.”

4 Fingers

“I think it’s a good idea and will work for it.

5 Fingers

“It’s a great idea and I will be one of those working to implement it.”

I've used "Fist to Five" many times and it is always helpful to gauge the level of support for a decision. I'm convinced that we made a better decision when we worked to build a higher level of support. I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you work with groups to reach agreement. I'd also enjoy learning about your experience using the "Fist to Five" approach.