February 18, 2015 14:31 Age: 3 yrs

Raising the Bar: Defining and Demanding Excellence from our Students

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Doug McCurry is the co-CEO and Superintendent of Achievement First.

At Achievement First, we’ve recently focused on shortening data cycles through weekly quizzes and daily redo, while also aggressively monitoring student work. During this time, I’ve been struck over and over by the power of a simple cycle that I’m seeing in classrooms:

1)      Set a clear bar of excellence … where students clearly know your key points and criteria for success. Ideally have a student or teacher exemplar for a similar question. Annotate that exemplar to your key points and criteria for success.

2)      Aggressively monitor student work with a pen in hand. Look for how the work aligns to your criteria for success.

3)      Celebrate the good stuff. Checks. Smiley faces. Way-to-gos. Brief notes on the page. Even the occasional, “Oh my gosh! Carlos is blowing my mind with the link between his evidence and assertion today!” shout out so the whole class can hear.

4)      Give clear, actionable, aligned to criteria for success, and fast (less than 30 seconds) feedback to individual students in places where the criteria for success isn’t met.

  • Ideally start with a short prompt or question. (“What does this mean?” … “Is this the best evidence?” … “Where do you tie your evidence back to your claim” … “You skipped a step. Which one?” … “Walk me through your solution” … “What is the y-intercept in this expression?”)

5)      Show call as necessary to highlight common issues you are seeing. Ask students to evaluate the work based on your clear criteria.

6)      Cycle back to ensure students improved their work based on the feedback. Celebrate. Show call a few good pieces of work. Maybe help continue the fix for a so-so one.

This cycle gets even more powerful when the teacher is capturing data on how his/her students are doing, and uses that data to set up intervention groups and adjust the next day’s lesson.

When we do this, we see rapid improvement in the quality of student work. When we do this, we are defining excellence and then demand it through rapid feedback and redo cycles.

By incorporating feedback and redo cycles, you will see your teachers getting some pretty amazing outcomes, and you will see the quality of work increase significantly across your school.

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