Category Archives: 2016 Sound Grading & Communication Practices Conference

The Positive Effects of Whiteboards

Ben ArcuriI am not a child psychologist and cannot explain why this specific phenomenon occurs in my class.  Every time I give a student an erasable marker and a whiteboard they become fearless and will try to solve any question I ask of them.   Students spend more time talking, sharing, debating, discussing, collaborating and yes…laughing.  They simply work more efficiently using whiteboards.  Students do not put out the same effort during a paper and pencil activity.   

I have tried to incorporate whiteboard activities in my classes (almost everyday) for the past 5 years.  Arriving to class, collecting a few different coloured markers, cleaning off the whiteboards from the previous class is something my students do naturally.  They are ready to start class with a problem to solve.  

The whiteboards I use in my class are huge!  They measure 32 inches by 24 inches and are made out of white acrylic.  The stuff a shower is made from.   Homedepot sells a whiteboard (they call it marker board) made from compressed woodfibers that measures 24×48 inches.  The boards can be cut in half at no charge, so each board will cost you only $5!!!

I use white boards for the majority of my formative assessment activities.  I can easily assess the students level of understanding on that specific learning target. Most importantly, I am able to work with the students on specific practice questions that will determine what the students should practice next.   I am able to walk around the room, sit down with my students and actually talk to them about what is working well and what they still need to practice.  These activities turn into something that provides immediate corrective feedback, which is the heart and soul of formative assessment.  At the end of most activities the students use their phones to take pictures of their work so they can refer back to the practice questions later.  The students also email me the pictures and I can send the picture to all of the students in the class.

Formative assessment strategies do not have to be complicated.  You will be amazed at what you and the students can figure out with a simple whiteboard and a marker.  

I am looking forward to once again be presenting at the Annual Pearson ATI Sound Grading & Communication Practices Conference on December 1-2, 2016 in Portland.

I have presented on this topic, quizzes, re-quizzes and testing a few times at this conference and the feedback has been positive.  Pearson has agreed to buy a class set of these large whiteboards for me to use during the presentation and give away to a teacher or group of teachers to bring back to their school.   Thank you Pearson!

Here is a list of a few popular activities

Speed Dating – the students perform tasks as fast as they can with a partner that can switch out randomly. This is a great activity fo the last 10 min of class or the entire period on Halloween.

Monk Boarding – the students performs tasks with partners in complete silence (like a monk).  I like to throw in extra challenges, for example,  the students need to rotate the steps in a long answer question or even rotate every other number or letter.

Find My Mistake (this is my favourite)

    • Create the same number of long answer questions as there are groups
    • Have a range of easy – medium – hard questions
    • Assign the appropriate question for the type of group, for example, give the hard question to the  human answer keys and an easy question to the group that is just happy to be here
    • The students must answer the question on the white board, you can circle around, chat, hang out, and spend time with the groups that really need you
    • Check the work for all of the groups
    • ****then ask the groups think of an error that you would expect the other groups to make on your question.  The group will then hide that error in their work as best as they can.
    • The students will exchange boards and a new group must try to find the error.
        • Set it up so the group that got an easy question to start checks over the work from the group that did the hard question.  Everyone will benefit!


  • Align questions to the center of the screen (or overhead) indicating every group must do that question
  • Align questions to the left for students on the left side of the classroom
  • Align questions to the right for students on the right side of the classroom
  • These questions should be of the same topic, but opposite or different enough so that when the students walk to the other side of the room to check the work on another board the students are reviewing the same topic in a different way

A few more simple activities:

  • Question exchanges—answer a question exchange boards
  • Write out metaphors—for complicated math and chemical processes
  • Meta-cognition activities—students write/diagram HOW to solve the problem without actually solving it.  
  • Inquiry lab planning
  • Use them as a backdrop for playdough animations
  • First day of school introduction Pictionary activities

I will be presenting on 2 different topics this year.  I hope that you can join me in the discussion.

Session #1  –  Assessment and Grading Strategies that Work and more importantly Students Enjoy.

Descriptive Blurb –  Ben will share personal stories of success and failure to show how simple changes in your assessment and grading strategies can have a positive impact on the classroom environment, student learning, motivation, confidence and student disposition. Topics will include homework, feedback, whiteboards, re-quizzing, testing and grading. The changes Ben has made to his assessment strategies have had a profound positive effect on his teaching practice and the lives of his students. Teachers will be engaged with video, activities and professional discussions and will leave this session with practical examples of changes that can be applied to any subject and grade level

Session Title –  What do Rubrics, Standards Based Grading and Reporting have in common?

Descriptive Blurb –  What is the purpose of grading and reporting?  Does the purpose change through out the term? Is the teacher responsible for creating a grade that accurately reflects the level of understanding of the concepts?  Should that grade include other factors such as participation, effort or attitude?  This session will focus on how the use of specific rubrics help teachers support a standards based grading and reporting system.  A variety of rubrics will be examined that allow the teacher to focus on grading skills, content and competencies.  A re-invented rubric system that allows teachers to evaluate attitude, effort and participation, but most importantly enables students to reflect and self evaluate will be shared and discussed.

Thank you for reading,

Ben Arcuri

Chemistry Teacher

Science Department Head

Penticton Secondary School, Penticton, BC, Canada

Twitter: @BenArcuri
YouTube: Arcuric Acid

Ben Arcuri, (; @BenArcuri) has been teaching for 13 years and he is currently both the Science Department Head and the teacher of senior Chemistry at Penticton Secondary. Through innovative practice and testing procedures, Ben has found an effective balance between formative and summative assessment techniques. Ben has used the “Flipped” classroom model to implement a variety of assessment innovations that have created a unique learning environment which allows students to take control of their own learning. Ben recently completed a Masters Degree in Education focusing on how the use of formative assessment increases student achievement, motivation and confidence and in turn contributes positively to student disposition.


Why I’m excited – with Ken O’Connor

I’m excited that in less than a month a group of committed professionals will meet in Portland for the Pearson ATI Sound Grading Practices Conference in fascinating Portland Oregon.
I’m excited that this is tenth annual ATI December conference focusing on sound grading practices.
I’m excited that the scope of the conference has officially been expanded to consider aspects of communicating learning in addition to grading.
I’m excited because I have had the good fortune to be present at all of these conferences.
I’m excited that I will again meet personal and professional friends who I respect and whose company I enjoy.
I’m excited that I will have the opportunity to meet and make new friends.
I’m excited that on December 1st I will present a session outlining six standards of quality for report cards and seven requirements for effective standards-based reporting.
I’m excited that on December 1st that I will have two hours for “Office Hours” where I have the opportunity to meet with individuals or small groups to discuss their issues and hopefully provide solutions.
I’m excited that on December 2nd I have the wonderful opportunity to present a keynote about Transformations – the personal and professional transformations that we experience and the pressing transformations that are needed to create a culture of learning in place of a culture of grading in schools, especially high schools.
I’m excited that after the keynote I will have a follow-up session where we can discuss those pressing transformations.
I’m excited that after the conference I’m going to have a brief visit with dear friends who moved to Vancouver Island a year ago.

And finally

I’m excited that I go home on December 3rd to await the arrival of a new granddaughter who is due to arrive on December 25th.

Ken O’Connor is a former Curriculum Coordinator with the Scarborough Board of Education in Ontario, Canada. He is an expert on grading and reporting with a particular emphasis on using these techniques to improve student achievement through student involvement. With over twenty years of teaching experience in secondary schools in Australia and Ontario, he has presented hundreds of workshops for teachers at every grade level. Ken is the author of A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, 2/e, Pearson (2010).

These Aren’t My Grandmother’s Grading Practices! – with Dr. Carol Commodore

Before I left the classroom to go into administration I spent over 20 memorable years teaching. It was a joy to work with youngsters who would become our future. But I have to admit that the one thing I hated to do was to grade my students. However hard I tried, I never felt comfortable that a single grade gave the full picture of a student’s achievement. So why did I grade? Because I needed to do it. Why did I need to do it? Because other people used those grades like parents, colleges, scholarship committees, athletic coaches, etc. That grade I assigned was used for many purposes, most of which were out of my control so the grade better communicate accurately. A student’s well-being was at stake here. In other words, I wanted to make sure that the message I intended to send with the grade was the message received. As much as I worked to do the right thing in grading I would have welcomed some help in assigning the grade that most accurately communicated the achievement of each of my students.

Join me in the session, “These Aren’t My Grandmother’s Grading Practices,” where we will look at the steps that need to be taken long before a grade is assigned on a report card. We will look at the targets being measured, how these targets are assessed, how assessments are graded, recorded and interpreted, and how that information is shared with students and others. To put these practices into context I ask that participants bring with them to the session a copy, either digitally or in hand, of one or two of their summative assessments that are used in a grading period and assist in the assigning of a report card grade.

I also welcome you to join me in another session at the 2016 Pearson ATI Winter Conference where we will concentrate on formative and summative feedback practices that will be useful to elementary students and their parents. These practices inform students and their parents of their progress and attainment of important learning targets. No matter how young or old our students are, they need to know where they are going in their learning, where they are now in their learning and what it is going to take to get to the next level in their learning. Information is power so how do we make that information understandable to our students from kindergarten on up and to their parents?

I look forward to seeing you!

Carol Commodore, Ed.D., is the founding member of Leadership, Learning and Assessment, LLC. She is also one of the founding members of the Wisconsin Assessment Consortium and an independent consultant with Pearson Assessment Training Institute of Portland, Oregon. Carol has also served as an assistant superintendent for instruction and a coordinator for assessment and has over twenty years experience as a classroom teacher, having taught students from kindergarten through graduate school. She has facilitated the development and implementation of a district-wide elementary world language program and a district-wide K-12 Standards and Balanced Assessment program for students. Carol’s research interests focus on the impact of assessment and instruction on learners and their learning. Her work with assessment, learning, motivation and leadership takes her across North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. She has provided numerous keynote addresses, workshops and consultations for school districts, schools and educational and nonprofit organizations. Carol is also a co-author of three books, The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning along with Beyond School Improvement The Journey to Innovative Leadership, and Assessment for Assessment Balance and Quality An Action Guide for School Leaders 3ed.

Deconstruction: Moving from Standards to Targets – with Ken Mattingly

Ken MattinglyOne of the important movements in education over the last 20 years has been the development of content standards. Standards provide teachers, schools, districts, and states with a way to communicate a common vision of education. They form the overarching goals for student learning and performance. However, many times standards are so dense and convoluted they are hard for teachers, much less students, to understand. As a classroom teacher I know the importance of the learning the standards represent, yet the sheer density of standards can lead to a murky understanding of their intent.

So on one hand we have a guide for the learning that needs to happen in the classroom, but on the other hand we have a document that’s so unwieldy as to be an impediment to daily classroom instruction. A resolution to this juxtaposition is to take the standards and break them down into the scaffolding pieces that students can work with as they ascend up to successful mastery of the standard. When done well this deconstruction process results in clearer and deeper understanding of the standard on the part of the teacher and student.

When I began deconstructing standards I struggled. I was often unsure if I was doing it “right”, and wondered whether the end product would actually be useful. The very first set of targets I deconstructed from standards was for an energy unit. I put them on the board at the start of the unit and told students this was what they were going to learn. Then I never referred to them again! Yet I taught that unit the best I ever had, and students performed better than before. The reason was for the first time I was clear on what my students needed to know and do. I understood what the pieces of learning were and how they fit together. I was no longer teaching to a vague idea of the standards. I was teaching to the intent of the standards.

Deconstruction begins by examining a standard and determining the knowledge, reasoning, performance skills, and products needed to successfully master it. This process is time consuming and fraught with potential roadblocks. There will be differences of opinions in how the standards break out. There will disagreements over what parts of the standards are essential learning. However, these conversations will allow a group of teachers to form a coherent vision of what student learning will look like in their classes. No longer will different teachers have their own personal interpretation of the standards. No longer will it matter which teacher a student has because all teachers are heading for the same destination.

The next step involves taking these learning pieces, these learning targets, and putting them into student-friendly language. We want our students to engage with the learning and that starts by clarifying some words and concepts. For example my students will need to know about energy transformations. However, if I use transformations in the target I will have some students who immediately shut down and decide they can’t do it because it’s one of those hard science words. On the other hand, if I use changes instead of transformations, my students won’t be intimidated but also won’t get the real intention of the learning. A solution is to use a “this means” statement. This translates my target from “I can give examples of energy transformations” to “I can give examples of energy transformations. This means when energy is changed from one form to another.” In this way I’ve given my students an entryway into the learning. They still don’t know what energy changes are, but they don’t immediately shut down either. This gives us both a fighting chance for success.

Standards are important for learning in today’s educational system. However, the communication of the learning intention implied by each standard is even more important. We have to make the learning accessible to students and help them see that it’s attainable. It’s never a case that one day students aren’t mastering the standard and the next day suddenly they are. Instead it’s the slow steady accumulation of knowledge, reasoning, skill, and product learning that takes students from the starting line to the finish line of mastery.

Ken Mattingly, a science teacher at Rockcastle County Middle School in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, has 18 years of experience in sixth and seventh grades and holds national certification in early adolescent science. He has worked on implementing classroom assessment for student learning practices in his classroom for the past seven years, and led the implementation of standards-based grading in his school. During the past two years Ken has worked with multiple school districts across Kentucky to help develop a vision of balanced assessment, promote transparency in grading practices, and shift the teacher and student focus to the learning instead of the grade.

Ready to Take Intellectual Risks in Your Practice? – with Dr. Becca Lindahl

becca-lindahl-april2016-2For several years when I was in the high school classroom, teaching in a steady, status-quo kind of way (if I’m honest about it), I thought I was doing exactly as I should.  Not gonna go too much out of the box, not gonna vary too much for the sake of constancy for the students, not gonna get wild and crazy so as to not appear unprepared for teaching.

Slowly, I matured in my thinking.  I continued to read and learn, and I worked to apply new learning in my classroom, but nothing too out there.  I worked with colleagues off and on but in a “department meeting” kind of way.  Finally, I reached a point where I was able to study for a doctorate in education, based on my interest in effective teaming.  Lo and behold, when I began to study the literature about collaborative teams and what effective teams think and do to improve learning for students, I realized I’d been missing the boat.

I don’t have my early teaching years to do over again, but now as a leader of learning for adult educators, I’ve come to realize–and witness–how taking intellectual risk causes growth in educators which can translate to improved instruction for students.

This kind of intellectual risk comes in the form of having collaborative, substantive conversations around artifacts of the classroom, such as student work, assessments of some kind, or video clips of instruction.  It is real risk taking to bring artifacts from one’s own classroom and have them scored collaboratively and discussed against established criteria, using a protocol and process. It takes becoming vulnerable in front of trusted colleagues–this is where authentic risk-taking comes into play.

I’d be pleased to have you join me at the 2016 Sound Grading & Communication Practices Conference in my breakout session called ” Holding Collegial Conversations around Classroom Artifacts”  on either December 1, 9:45-11:15 am, or December 2, 9:45-11:15.  We’ll talk about research-based characteristics of collaborative teams and self-assess a bit on these.  We’ll discuss what practices and protocols can work.  We’ll talk about what kind of standards-based criteria or scales of learning we can use when discussing artifacts.  Then we’ll actually do some hands-on practice with classroom artifacts and criteria that I provide so participants understand the protocols and process.  You’ll go back to your school with ideas, tools, and hands-on practice of how a process like this might work for you and your colleagues.

Our session will address the following learning targets:

  • Examine and critique collaborative team practices that leverage professional learning time effectively and support consistency of practice across a school or district
  • Understand that relational trust is essential for intellectual risk taking, and intellectual risk taking and reflection are essential for growth
  • Analyze classroom artifacts against criteria using scoring and discussion protocols
  • Conduct in-depth discussion over artifacts and practices

Hope you’ll join me!

Becca Lindahl earned her doctorate in administrator leadership in teaching and learning from Walden University. She currently is a Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant with Heartland AEA 11, a mid-level state educational agency in Iowa whose consultants work side by side with central Iowa teachers and administrators. Becca supports K-12 educators in accredited public and nonpublic schools as they strive to implement Iowa Core/Common Core and national standards. This support includes helping districts and schools, through system-level change, become assessment literate and implement sound standards-based grading and reporting practices. Becca also helps schools put into action effective collaborative teaming practices within a larger professional learning community. As well, she helps lead systems-level work in adult learning.

Before supporting schools in Heartland, Becca was a central Iowa high school French, English, and Spanish teacher for 17 years. From there she became a high school principal in central Wisconsin, and then, upon moving back to central Iowa, she became a K-12 curriculum leader for several years. She brings to her consultant’s role the many hats she’s worn and a passion for supporting educators as they do the hard work of continuous improvement for students.

The Doctor is in: Time for an Academic Physical with Dr. Nikki Roorda

Roorda_Nicole (1)Every day, in millions of doctors’ offices across the world, people go in for their annual physical exam.  This process brings out a multitude of emotions from patients including, but not limited to, “I hate going to the doctor.  I know s/he is going to tell me to lose a few pounds and to stop eating out so much” to “I am excited to see how my changes in lifestyle choices have impacted my high blood pressure,” and everything in between. 

The purpose  of health screenings is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA)  as, “Health care services or products provided to an individual without apparent signs or symptoms of an illness, injury or disease for the purpose of identifying or excluding an undiagnosed illness, disease, or condition” (2000).  The  AMA contends that through the use of screening, our doctors can determine if a medical emergency exists.  No matter what thoughts go through our minds when we go in for our annual physicals, at the end of the day we trust in the process of the health screen to keep us safe from underlying medical issues. Continue reading