Tag Archives: Methods and Theories

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

email: benarcuri15@gmail.com
Twitter: @BenArcuri
YouTube: Arcuric Acid

Ben Arcuri, (benarcuri15@gmail.com; @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.

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

High-Quality Assessments and Standards-based Grading and Reporting

natalie-bolton130x140By Natalie Bolton

Standards-based grading and reporting policies are becoming a norm in P/K ­‐ 12 schools, districts, and states. However, as policies are created calling for shifts in grading and reporting practices, it is imperative that time be spent on making sure that classroom assessments, both formative and summative, are of high quality. So, what tools or checks are in place to assist teachers in making sure their classroom assessments are of high quality, prior to reporting if a student has met a standard?

I’ve found that using the assessment development cycle as described by Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, and Arter (2012) is a great tool to critique an existing assessment or to provide guidance as an assessment is being designed. Using the assessment development cycle helps ensure I can accurately communicate about student mastery of standards. All assessments, regardless of assessment method, should go through the cycle to ensure assessments are of quality. Three stages make up the cycle and are described in Figure 1. Continue reading

Grades as Communication

Ken MattinglyBy Ken Mattingly

Grades have served many purposes for many people over the years.  The general intent, I’ve always believed, has been to represent how students are doing in school.  However there’s often disagreement on the specifics of the grade and exactly “how” it represents student performance.  Some feel a grade should reflect the amount of work done by a student.  Others view a grade as a representation of when a student learned the material. I would argue that each of these camps are missing out on a key aspect of a grade. Continue reading

Education As a “Cut” Sport

by Jan Chappuis

Basketball is a “cut” sport—players try out and not everybody makes the team. We don’t usually think of our classrooms as places where learning is a cut sport; nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I need to exclude a few students.” Yet some of our traditional assessment practices structure the rules of success so that education becomes a “sport” many students choose to drop.

How does assessment do this? Three typical classroom causes are not allowing students sufficient time to practice, grading for compliance rather than learning, and using assessment practices that distort achievement.


Not allowing sufficient time for practice: Let’s assume that the reason we as teachers have jobs is because students don’t already know what we are teaching. It follows that we can expect a need for instruction accompanied by practice, which will not be perfect at the start. We can expect that we’ll need to monitor the practice to intervene with correctives so students don’t spend time in learning it wrong. If practice time is cut short by a pacing guide or other directive about what to “cover,” only those students who need a minimum of practice to improve will succeed. The others will tend to conclude they aren’t very good at the task or subject. But that is the premise we began with: they aren’t good at it. Our job is to give them sufficient opportunity to improve through instruction, practice, and feedback. If we cut learning short by assessing for the grade too soon, we have in effect decided to exclude a few students.

Grading for compliance rather than learning: The practice of awarding points for completion tends to cause students to believe the aim of their effort in school is to get work done. When learning is not the focus of points received, it matters less who does the work and whether growth has occurred. This is often done to get students to do the practice, but it miscommunicates the true intention—to practice in order to improve. When done is the goal, rather than improvement, growth is often marginal. When we don’t look at the work, we can’t use it as evidence to guide further instruction, so we are shutting our eyes to students’ learning needs, thereby shutting a few more students out of the game.

Distorting achievement: Including scores on practice work in the final grade is a common grading procedure that distorts achievement. When students need practice to learn, their beginning efforts are not generally as strong as their later performance. Averaging earlier attempts with later evidence showing increased mastery doesn’t accurately represent students’ true level of learning, and some give up trying altogether when they realize that they can’t overcome the hit to their grade caused by early imperfect trials. This also reinforces the damaging inference that being good means not having to try and that if you have to try, you aren’t good at the subject. If one of our goals is to get students to try, then trying shouldn’t result in the punishment of a low grade assigned too soon.

A less common but equally damaging procedure used when students don’t do well as a group on a test is to “curve” the grades by reapplying the grade point cutoffs at lower levels, so for example, what was a “C” becomes an “A.” This distortion of achievement masks the cause of low performance: were the results inaccurate because of flaws in certain items? Were items too difficult for the level of instruction preceding the test? Were there items on the test representing learning that wasn’t part of instruction? Each of these problems has a different solution, and each of them leads to misjudgments about students’ levels of achievement–the most harmful perhaps being those judgments students make about themselves as learners. Or did the results accurately represent learning not yet mastered? When we engage in practices that misrepresent achievement, we cut more than a few students out of learning.

All of these customs can be justified, but if learning suffers we have created a more serious problem than the one we intended to solve. They lead us to ignore students’ learning needs, and they discourage students from seeing themselves as learners.


So what is the antidote? Some key places to start:

  1. Emphasize that learning is the goal of education and focus instruction and activities on clear learning targets.
  2. Ensure that your classroom assessment practices treat learning as a progression and mistakes as a way to learn.
  3. Offer penalty-free feedback during the learning that helps students improve.
  4. Use assessment as a means to know your students and to guide your own actions.

And finally, strive to implement assessment practices that help students see themselves as learners. If learning is truly the intended goal of the education game, we can all play.

Although “no late work” is my official policy…

Recently, a teacher wrote to us with a fantastic question, so we asked three great thinkers in the field of assessment how they might answer it. Here’s the question:

I am intrigued by the concept of not discounting grades for late work. While I understand, on a basic level, the intent being to not discourage learning, shouldn’t there still be some expectations of personal responsibility? One of the reasons students don’t get grades for late work is that late work infringes on my time by requiring me to take extra time to assess the work. Trying to assess that work in a timely manner makes me rushed in my feedback. Therefore the quality of the feedback is diminished if the work is submitted late, and I expect that they should be able to submit most work on time. Now, although “no late work” is my official policy, all someone has to do is to contact me, give me *any* excuse (just about), and I allow them to turn it in, because I recognize that my students are people and things get in the way. So, can I still give reduced points/zeroes for late work?

This question is one that many teachers have had as they move forward with assessing their assessment practices. We asked a few of the amazing people we work with here at ATI and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on the subject with us.

Author and presenter Cassandra Erkens writes:

It is always important to teach responsibility in schools, but the way it’s often managed, refusing or discounting points for late work, has missed the mark of actually teaching responsibility on too many fronts. First, this strategy actually teaches the opposite of responsibility. In the adult world, when someone misses a critical time line, he or she demonstrates responsibility by fixing the problem created by the tardiness; it would be considered irresponsible to walk away from it.  Discounting points or refusing to accept late work encourages learners to act irresponsibly and walk away from the opportunity to learn. Responsible learners do the work; they do not opt out.  Second, the message sent by such a practice is that timeliness is more important than learning. In essence, teachers devalue their own assessments when they suggest that what they wanted the learner to learn no longer matters since the timeline was missed.  In this way, compliance trumps learning.  The primary responsibility of students in schools is learning – it is, after all, why the learners are there.  Finally, teaching responsibility requires modeling responsibility.  Teachers model responsibility by requiring evidence of learning so they can offer feedback and provide support to ensure student success.  They teach perseverance, commitment, and precision when they require evidence of learning first and foremost.

Managing late work without penalizing scores might seem overwhelming, but teachers across North America are discovering and employing strategies to increase the responsibility of their learners without using grades to punish or reward learning instead of a tool meant to reflect learning. In many classrooms, homework is not graded, but it is required.  Students must use the results from their homework to make instructional decisions on what they require next in their progression of learning.  They track their results and work to gather the evidence that will prove their readiness for upcoming assessments.  In these classrooms, teachers report that there is actually an increase in student motivation and productivity.  More students are turning in more work with consistency.  The gentle switch from doing work to receive/avoid something to doing work to learn something reframes the overall process for both the teacher and the student.  The quality practices of formative assessment can give teachers the necessary strategies and tools to increase student responsibility in their classrooms.

Myron Dueck added these words of wisdom:

We make the assumption that by reducing grades for late work we are somehow enhancing or supporting ‘personal responsibility’.  This can be a misguided notion. My first response would be to ask a simple question: what do you want your grades to reflect?  Perhaps this question might be adjusted to: what are you asked to grade?  In the case of the second question, every jurisdiction I have encountered asks teachers to grade by a set of learning standards.  Therefore, teachers should want to grade the extent to which their students meet the prescribed learning outcomes. Whether you use zeros or late deductions, these ‘consequences’ will ultimately obscure whatever grading has already occurred.  Therefore, I have a pretty simple set of guidelines that I use to determine the effectiveness of grade-based student consequences:

  1. Does the consequence serve to achieve my ultimate goal?
  2. Does the student care about the consequence?
  3. Does the student have complete control over the variables associated with the task?

I used to use both lates and zeros in my grade book, but these three conditions caused me to abandon this practice.  Lates and zeros did not achieve my ultimate goal of grading according to learning outcomes.  In many cases, students proved they did not care as they willingly accepted the punitive actions, or in some cases actually prefered a zero to actually getting the work done.  Lastly, I found that many students were not in control of the variables that led to successful homework or assignment completiton.  Poverty, learning gaps, drug and alcohol issues, and mandatory work requirements were just a few of the barriers many students face. These factors may render it impossible for these students to complete homework. Adding a punitive “grade” to that challenge would only further diminish their ability to learn.

Ken Mattingly has this advice to give:

Academic grades should be a reflection of academic achievement.  When we discount an academic grade due to behavioral problems, it results in a skewed picture of student performance.  I see the real issue here being student accountability for completing the work, and I share your frustration with this issue.  I think there are two questions we need to ask before continuing.  First, are all students aware that they can get additional time?  Second, could there be other consequences for late work besides the score or grade?

Hopefully the answer to the first is yes, and all students are on even footing.  If not, they should be made aware of this opportunity and of how to ask for the time.  After all, as adults don’t our employers expect us to do the same if we need additional time?  This would be a great opportunity to begin to embed this life lesson.

As for the second question, there are always behavior consequences that can be applied to students who turn in late work.  It can be the loss of privileges, such as lunch or break time with friends.  It could be attending afterschool extended services.  It could even be receiving a corrective action plan that provides structure and timelines for completion of the work.  Each of these would be a way to address the underlying behavioral problem without impacting the academic assessment.

And Tom Schimmer has an entire blog post of his own on the subject which can be found here: