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

ATI Annual Grading Conference Expands Focus


We were riding high after a great ATI Summer Conference, but it was soon time to get back to work. For over a decade, ATI has offered its popular December Grading Conference and plans are well underway to repeat the eva49a9159ent again this year. Our presenters and authors were brimming with ideas, and Rick Stiggins was no exception.

As standards-based, or proficiency-based grading gains traction, Rick urged us to stay ahead of the field by expanding our subject matter to address other practices that contribute to better student outcomes by improving feedback from teachers.

This year, grading practices will be just one of several topics related to communication about student achievement address in the conference sessions. Conference participants will have the opportunity to study the basic principles of effective communication about student learning in any school context. Continue reading

Q&A with Jan Chappuis, author of Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning

ChappuisQ: This is the 23rd annual ATI Summer Conference. Can you tell us how the conference got started?

Jan Chappuis (JC): Rick Stiggins and his wife, Nancy Bridgeford, had recently founded the Assessment Training Institute here in Portland, Oregon to address a major gap in preservice education programs: teachers were generally not prepared to engage in effective assessment practices. The summer conference began as a way to bring together like-minded professionals to further ATI’s mission—to develop understanding of how day-to-day classroom assessment can and should serve learning. Today, 23 years later, “going to Portland” has been a transformational experience for thousands of educators in the US and around the world. Continue reading

Grading On a 6-Point Scale

Ben ArcuriBy Ben Arcuri

I have convinced myself for many years, that the percentage grade created and assigned to the students at the end of my course accurately represents the students’ level of learning.  I made major changes to my grading to allow this to happen. I shared and discussed grading systems and structures with my colleagues.  I presented during professional development days at my school and other schools on these topics many times. I left the sessions feeling good that I have shared a way to accurately assess and measure student learning.  Educators left my sessions feeling encouraged and supported. I was happy that I was sharing my grading system and pedagogy to educators who want to try to create better environments for learning in their classrooms and schools. Continue reading

ATI Summer Conference is Almost Here!


In case you haven’t heard, the 23rd Annual ATI Summer Conference is in less than a month: July 6-8, 2016. We return to Portland, OR, and we have a lot of informative sessions with your favorite speakers planned. Register Now!

Keynote Speakers:

  • Jan Chappuis
  • Myron Dueck
  • Margaret Heritage
  • Rick Stiggins
  • Dylan Wiliam



Q&A with Dr. Rick Stiggins: What is Formative Assessment?

Edweek sat down with the founder of ATI, Rick Stiggins, to ask him a few questions about what formative assessment is, and what benefits users can expect.

Listen to the podcast here.

For another opportunity to hear Rick Stiggins speak on assessment, register for our winter conference!

Why Re-Quizzes Change Everything

Ben ArcuriBy Ben Arcuri

It is so simple, provide a student with some guidance and time to get better and then offer another opportunity to show if his or her understanding and learning has improved.  From my experience, a student’s understanding WILL improve, and you have started the most important change in that student’s educational life.  This might sound dramatic but it’s not. I’ve seen it happen, and it not only changes the students’ lives, but it will change yours as well.

Here is how I do it and why it works so well. Continue reading

Assessment Strategies Proven to Work

Ben ArcuriBy Ben Arcuri

There is no bigger topic in education these days than the topic of assessment. Assessment has many definitions depending on who is doing the talking. The purpose of assessments and the intended users of  assessment information differ tremendously as well. Assessment can serve as a guide to the students; it has the ability to guide the teacher and can also drive education policy and reform. Continue reading