June 2016
Volume XIII Issue VI

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Successful Ventures


Bruce Oliver

Bruce Oliver, the author of Just for the ASKing!, lives in Burke, Virginia. He uses the knowledge, skills, and experience he acquired as a teacher, professional developer, mentor, and middle school principal as he works with school districts across the nation. He has written more than 150 issues of Just for the ASKing!  He is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.

At a local fitness center, many of the employees wear shirts that read: We are committed to your success. Seeing the word “success” brought to mind the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2015. With the passage of the law, I wondered what the words in the title of the law would mean to individual teachers, school faculties, entire districts, or states. Further, I contemplated whether practitioners would set aside time to engage in conversations about what success meant, and how it would translate into teacher actions and student responses in classrooms. Since the law will not go into effect until the 2016-2017 school year, educators have ample time to think deeply about what success would really look like and/or sound like in their classrooms and make it an integral part of the teaching/learning process.

In a recent article in The Washington Post titled “School Policies Have Gotten Smarter in the Decade after No Child Left Behind,” authors Michael Petrelli and Chester Finn write,

States can now focus most of their analysis on individual student progress over time – the fairest way to evaluate the value that schools add to student learning and the best way to disentangle school grades from demographics over which they have scant control. The new law encourages them to look beyond test scores at “other indicators of student success or school quality” – a smart idea if done right. And they can focus on all their students, not just those on the edge of proficiency, thus correcting our education system’s long-standing neglect of those who have already cleared the bar.


Just ASK Got It Right

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction
-Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989 .

For decades, a mainstay of the professional development work led by Just ASK consultants has been the SBE Planning Process. The process was influenced by Stephen Covey’s quote seen above, Ralph Tyler’s 1949 book, Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, and the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe introduced in their 1998 book Understanding by Design. In the SBE Planning Process, teachers and leaders address five key questions:

  • What should students know and be able to do?
  • How will the students and I know when they are successful?
  • What knowledge and skills do students need to be able to demonstrate their understanding and skillfulness? (Task Analysis)
  • What learning experiences will facilitate student success?
  • Based on the data, how might I refine the learning experiences?

SBE Planning Ovals

What makes this planning model a departure from more traditional planning is the determination of  how learning will be assessed early in the planning process.  (Oval #2)  When teachers have a clear vision and understanding of how success can be determined, they can develop learning experiences for students that will lead to their success when their learning is assessed. Succinctly stated, a good teacher can set students up for success by planning lessons that will enable them to achieve mastery. The model is based on the belief that learning is the goal, not grading. In Just ASK workshops, the emphasis is on the importance of creating a learning environment where success is not just a possibility but also a probability when teachers envision how success can be achieved.

Envisioning Success
With the revision of the federal law in mind, a group of 100 K-12 educators were recently asked to work as table groups to generate lists of the ways teachers can determine student success. The discussions were animated, comprehensive, and varied.  The ideas they generated are itemized in several categories below:

 Individual Success

  • Application of a specific skill in the completion of a performance task
  • Observing “light bulb moments” as students demonstrate that they “get it”
  • Individual step-by-step student progress based on teacher observation
  • Tickets to Leave
  • Pre- and post-tests
  • Boost in student confidence levels
  • Structuring peer tutoring sessions to support individual needs
  • Positive feedback from parents about student learning
  • Improvement in effort by resistant or reluctant learners
  • Student-led presentations demonstrating their learning
  • Results from using both formative and summative assessment data
  • Observing hands-on engagement and time on task
  • Increase in students feeling “safe” and knowing how to learn from their mistakes
  • Hearing positive student responses to assignments through verbal feedback
  • Having students self-assess their learning on a continuing basis
  • Observing an increase in students’ self-advocacy skills
  • Teacher keeping track of data sheets or running records
  • Providing students the opportunity to summarize their learning on a routine basis
  • Students taking more ownership of their learning by keeping learning logs or data notebooks


Group Success

  • Improved communication as students work in pairs or groups
  • Evaluation of project-based learning through rubrics
  • Increased skills as students participate in Reciprocal Teaching
  • Improved focus on tasks as students work together
  • Heterogeneous groups working collaboratively to produce a cohesive final product


Critical Thinking Success

  • Demonstration of mastery through creative thinking
  • Improvement in problem-solving ability
  • Student use of available technology to better understand content or to extend learning
  • Assigning students to design and complete an original project at the end of the year that incorporates content/skills learned throughout a course
  • Seeing evidence of higher order thinking during class discussions
  • Increase in the use of text-based evidence to form opinions or conclusions


Growth Success

  • Increase in student engagement based on what students say and do
  • Students achieving step-by-step progress over time
  • Ability to relate content to real world scenarios
  • Participation in community-based learning
  • Examination of raw data indicating improvement
  • Focusing on proficiency instead of perfection
  • Tracking progress through the year using portfolios
  • Student ability to work more independently
  • Student sharing what they have learned with parents
  • Having students complete a task multiple times throughout the school year to measure improvement
  • Examination of writing samples over time
  • Encouraging students to set individual goals with periodic opportunities to reflect on personal growth
  • Experiencing fewer discipline problems or absences
  • Teacher observation of a decrease in frustration levels
  • Seeing students make progress as they engaged in Quadrant 3 and 4 of The Rigor and Relevance Framework®


Differentiated Success

  • Transfer of knowledge and skills by students between different content areas, in different social situations, and through the use of technology
  • Students demonstrating learning in different ways, e.g., verbally, kinesthetically or in writing
  • Allowing students multiple opportunities to reach mastery level learning
  • Seeing increased motivation and engagement by tapping into student interests
  • Application of standards-based grading to determine when students have mastered designated benchmarks
  • Allowing student choice in different ways to demonstrate their learning


Unexpected Success

  • Students moving from the role of learner to the role of teacher
  • Students asking unforeseen “off the wall” but content-related questions
  • Students showing intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation
  • Teacher observation of “aha” moments
  • Providing students the opportunity to summarize their learning on a routine basis
  • Students taking more ownership of their learning by keeping learning logs or data notebooks
  • Teachers overhearing students talking about what they have learned
  • Teacher observation of “aha moments”


Unlimited Success
As demonstrated by the extensive list of over 50 teacher-generated indicators above, it is clear that ways to measure student success, i.e., learning, is virtually unlimited.  Additionally, success by students can be achieved in many ways that far transcend a score on an achievement test. It is not only important for teachers to consider the many ways to determine if successful learning is occurring, but to set aside time for students to reflect on their road to success by responding to the following question:  What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?

Learning is a complicated venture; it requires an investment of time on the part of learners. When students understand how and when they are on the road to success, they are motivated and want to achieve at higher levels.  Mark Twain said it well when he wrote, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

Now is the perfect time for educators to engage in conversations about what success looks like and sounds like in our classrooms before the ESSA goes in to effect.  We can gain greater satisfaction from our work when we can truly help every student succeed.

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Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Successful Ventures.” Just for the ASKing! June 2016. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2016 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.