Tag Archives: teacher evaluation

My Teaching Conditions Are My Students’ Learning Conditions

As a science teacher, I need my union to ensure I can do my job properly and give my students the best possible learning experiences.

My union ensures I am evaluated fairly.

I use inquiry methods with my students whenever possible. They devise their own experiments, collect and analyze their data, and share their results with the rest of the class. We problem solve on whiteboards. Students must construct their own knowledge. My students are frequently talking and moving around.

However, these methods are sometimes met with resistance from parents, students, and even some administrators. By having a fair and standard evaluation system which was negotiated by my union, I know that I am an effective teacher.

My union ensures my students are safe.

Class sizes in science are capped at 24 students. I can effectively manage the transitions from whole class discussion to small group discussion to laboratory work. Students are not overcrowded in lab. I can easily and efficiently monitor the progress of all the lab groups.

My union ensures my students are assessed in a variety of meaningful ways.

With 24 students maximum per science class, and a maximum of 5 sections, I can assess my students’ understanding in more meaningful and authentic ways. I can give my students timely feedback. I can implement standards-based grading without it becoming a bear.

My union ensures I grow professionally — and I help my colleagues grow, too.

We have options for professional development — time for self-directed PD during staff days, the ability to offer after school courses to my colleagues, the option to take graduate courses on campus or online. It is only through continuous reflection and growth that I become a better teacher.

I support my union because without it, there would be 50 students in each of my classes sitting quietly in rows, reading their textbooks (instead of doing labs) in preparation for their next multiple choice exam which will be graded by the Scantron machine.

This post was written for EDUSolidarity Day. Visit the EDUSolidarity website for the complete list of blog posts and follow #EDUSolidarity on Twitter.

How Reformed is Your Teaching?

NOTE: This is an update to my Grading the Teacher post where I introduced the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) rubric.

How often in your teaching do you:

  • show respect for student’s prior knowledge and misconceptions?
  • engage students in exploration before your presentation?
  • allow student questions to guide your lessons?
  • engage students as members of a learning community?
  • promote strong conceptual understanding?
  • make connections to other disciplines and the real world?
  • represent phenomena in multiple ways?
  • have a significant amount of student-to-student talk?
  • play the role of “teacher as listener?”

According to the original RTOP rubric, those are just a few of the many characteristics of a reformed, inquiry-based classroom. But why are these characteristics important? And what are some examples?

Thankfully, I just discovered that physics teacher Drew Isola has edited the original RTOP rubric to create a more self-reflective guide to reformed teaching. In his version, he includes a description of what each criterion means, why it is important, and asks the teacher to give examples from his/her own teaching.

As we start a new year, think about the ways in which you can incorporate more of these teaching strategies into your classroom. (The PDF version above is posted on Scribd. You can access the MS Word version here. More information about the original RTOP rubric here.)

Grading the Teacher

In the comments to my previous post, Lee asked:

Frank, can you post your teacher evaluation? I have an end of the year one I could share with you as well if you are interested. I like your idea of offering the evaluation more than once. Here’s a link to my evalation: http://trampleasure.net/lee/index.php/430

I never understood why teacher evaluations are typically given at the end of the course. It makes more sense to do it early and often so your current students can benefit. After all, they are the ones who are taking the time to give you the feedback.

The first time I ask for feedback is right before parent’s night. It’s real simple. Everyone gets an index card or scrap of paper. I ask students to write down the things that are working for them on one side, things that aren’t working on the other. I compile the responses, share them with the class the next day, and respond to any concerns. It’s great for them to see what their other classmates think.

I also incorporate some of the positive responses into my Parent’s Night presentation along with photos of the class working in lab and whiteboarding. Here’s an example from several years ago:

(Note to physics teachers: I used to do Hooke’s Law with hanging weights, but kids got caught up in the mass/weight issue. Then I tried using force probes, as shown above. Now we use regular spring scales because it’s simpler. And simpler is better.)

Later in the year, my students do more formal teacher evaluations using Google Forms. This evaluation is one I’ve used for a long time, tweaking it each year. I have put a copy of the evaluation form in My SBG Files public Google Docs folder for you to use.

Finally, I think teachers should grade themselves and each other. One great instrument for this is called RTOP (Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol). The RTOP rubric assesses how well individual lessons use “reformed” teaching methods like whiteboarding, inquiry, using multiple representations, and student reflections on their own learning.

While RTOP was created for evaluating individual lessons, look at the descriptors and ask yourself how often do you do those in class? Everyday? Once a week? Once a month?

The RTOP website has videos of lessons with sample scoring, links to research papers about RTOP, and photo galleries of reformed teaching methods being used in class.

And if you are truly brave, video tape one of your own lessons and watch it. Truly eye opening!

Now matter how you do it, continuous reflection is a teacher’s best tool!

31 Reasons Why Kids Like SBG

These are the results of the standards-based grading survey I gave my students last year. You’ll have to trust me that I didn’t edit their responses. (The survey was optional because I couldn’t reward them with points for completing it. I had about a 50% completion rate.)


Consider the grading system for the class: scores based on the learning goals, tracking progress over time, ability to retest on goals, etc. What do you like/dislike about the grading system? Do you think it has had an impact on your learning and understanding of physics? Give an example.

  1. I think this form of grading system is one of the best forms out there. The learning goals are set and we know exactly what we need to learn and get out of the topic before hand to make it easier to understand and much more organized. Tracking progress over time is also really helpful because it allows our grade to still remain high if we improve on our scores and knowledge as opposed to everything counting. The grading system allows students to have more success overall.
  2. What I enjoy about the new grading policy is how unique it is among most grading systems that teacher’s use in our school. I indeed believe it helped me understand physics a lot better because it gave us the ability to understand where exactly our flaws were in which needs improvement.
  3. I like the grading system because I advance when I learn the material. I failed math two years in a row because the teacher just moved on when I didn’t understand the material. In this class, when I don’t understand the material, I get a chance to learn it, and I don’t wind up failing when I don’t understand one thing right away. I feel like I have learned a lot more than I would have if the class was set up like most classes. I struggle with science and math a lot so I’m happy that physics is going as smoothly as it is.
  4. I like the fact that we are graded on understanding rather than on our ability to perform on tests. This system I feel is much fairer to the students and it really helps to give an idea of where students are in their learning process.
  5. I am very happy with the grading system for two reasons. A) it fosters success, and I believe that improves confidence. B) Physics is not easy. I, and I believe most students, do not always get it the first time. Being able to be graded on what we ultimately know improves my own stress-level, but by going over certain topics, I also get to know and understand them better.
  6. I like the grading system because it helps you know what learning goals you need to focus on, and in what areas you need to study for the quiz. By putting them in those charts, we can also be aware of our progress at every point throughout the quarter.
  7. I like that the grades are based on your actual capacity and knowledge of physics, instead of on a point system. The Point system just makes the class competitive while this structure makes it more about individual levels. I feel that even though we have a bigger class, it is handled more efficiently. It is great to be able to retest on subjects, because learning is supposed to be a progression. I definitely feel as though you can’t get left behind in this class, and things that I would’ve given up are now things that I keep trying to understand.
  8. The tracking over time process is good because it allows us to see an over time progression in our work. The ability to retest on goals is also a plus because it gives us a longer period of time to really grasp the concept if we didn’t do so well on the first test, which allows us to retain and learn the material more efficiently.
  9. I like the grading system for the class because we are graded on whether or not we know physics, not whether or not we can take a test. I think it has increased my understanding of physics because in most classes, you take a test and you get a grade and forget about the topic. With the chance to retest, I continue with the topic until I fully understand it.
  10. I really like the grading system for this class. Unlike every other class it gives students a chance to improve. Many times in the beginning of a course I don’t understand that material and don’t do that well on the test, and that grade ends up sticking with me forever.
  11. I do like the grading system. It gives the opportunity to learn, and not be concerned with a grade.
  12. It motivates me to learn physics because I can improve at my own pace instead of reaching deadlines in the form of large tests/quizzes.
  13. I think that learning goals are a good way to grade. It gives students an opportunity to learn for the sake of learning rather than concentrating on points. I find it easier to learn physics with learning goals because it allows me to connect concepts to application problems.
  14. I also like the process of grading because it is easier to understand what you need to work on, relating to the different skills. I believe that it has had a positive impact on my learning, but sometimes my understanding gets clouded because I don’t connect all the skills together, but I rather view them as individual skills. I think I need to connect the skills under one main skill and that would better my understanding of a certain topic. I really like the grading system and it is less stressful than other grading systems.
  15. I like how we are able to retest skills after we learn what our mistakes were on previous exams so we can properly learn from our mistakes. The system is also more useful in the aspect that it grades individual skills in a topic. With other grade systems, you get one grade that summarizes your entire knowledge of a topic, but not each skill that goes into it. A student that gets a 60 on a parabola test may be able to graph the parabola, but has trouble making the equation for one, thus, the grade may not truly reflect their skill in the topic.
  16. I like the grading system because it forces you to learn the material and you can get as many chances as you want to get it right
  17. i really like this grading system because it allows us students to grasp and understand the different concepts. i also like how if we dont feel prepaired to take a quiz we dont have to, or if we do poorly on a quiz we can redo it and get a better grade.
  18. I like that it gives us the ability to fully undestand something before we move onto a new topic. The only thing i really disklike about it is the line that differs a 3 or a 4. I think it does have an impact because everything in physics is conected so learning something fully helps us later in the units.
  19. I like this grading system because it allows the students to really understand the concepts. If we do not feel prepared to take a quiz then we don’t have to take it on the exact day it is planned for. Although I have only taken advantage of the abilty to retest once, I think it is very helpful because sometimes it takes a little longer for something to click for different people. I like the fact that you let us talk to you about our grade. That is very helpful.
  20. I definetly like the grading system for this class. I think my ability to retest on topics ive done poorly on really helps me to understand material. I also like how we are graded through our understanding of topics rather than points.
  21. i like this grading system. It lets us be graded on what we know at the end of the unit and not at the begining.
  22. I’m in full support of the grading system. It allows me to focus on actually learning the topic, instead of worrying about a quiz grade. I know that as long as I understand the unit, I can ultimately get the grade I feel I deserve.
  23. The grading system is my favorite part of this class, and why I am very seriously considering taking AP-C next year. Knowing that a quarter grade cannot be jeapordized by a poor single quiz relieves a level of stress that, in normal classes, would distract from the learning process.
  24. I like the grading system because it focuses on our understanding of the material rather than simply a number grade.
  25. I like the grading system for this class. I used to not like it, but I think it has been more beneficial to me in the long run. I just think that it should be more of a trend. For an example, you said that if you got a 1 then a 4, then it would be progress, but it seems like your just averaging them. And also, I don’t like how I need to retake an entire quiz if I only did bad on one learning goal.
  26. I really like the grading system and I think it is beneficial in that it greatly betters the learning environment. There is not as much pressure to perform and understand the material for big tests and people can simply learn at their own rates. I really like the ability to retest on goals because this way if you understand the material, even after the initial quiz, you can retest and prove your understanding for a better grade.
  27. I like the grading system for the most part. It makes me feel like i am being tested on my knowledge of a subject not just the memorization of facts.
  28. we can retake tests so we arte tested on knowing the stuff and it doesn’t matter when we know it.
  29. I like that we take things slowly and have the opportunity to retake quizzes / that you grade based on a comprehensive understanding. I think that it allows everyone, including myself, to learn in a less stressful environment which is overall conducive to and supportive of my learning style.
  30. I like the grading system very much it gives us the oppertunity to perform well later. Its good that we can retake the quiz’s because this might be beneficial to us if we do bad the first time.
  31. I like that we can have many chances to improve our grades and the end result is what counts the most, giving you room to improve. I don’t like that homework doesn’t count because I think that it could really improve my grade.