Collaboratively Developed Complexity-Based Proficiency Scales

Using a proficiency-based model of learning, students & teachers collaboratively design proficiency scales based on cognitive complexity.

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In order for students to engage in learning environments, student voice and choice is necessary... but so are high expectations of performance, learning, and achievement.  Teaching students (and teachers) to design effective and authentic proficiency-scales helps all stakeholders understand the desired effect/outcome of what is to be learned, and thus gives a tangible and authentic goal to be reached.  By setting up a learning environment in this way, students can offer their passions and ideas, while the educational institution can maintain consistent and high quality measurement of learning.  All content areas can be integrated into this process, either separately (as traditional silos) or together.

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

Curiosity comes from the learning environment, not the task itself. To spark curiosity we must make sure the environment supports and nurtures mastery, autonomy, and purpose. It puts the power of the learning and measurement of expectations into the hands of the users: students and teachers. It's collaborative design, so the goals and expectations are created by the users. This idea is student-centered/focused, using the teacher as a guide/coach/facilitator in the learning process.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • High School (9-12)

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Another visual about our common grading scale, and how we are quantifying it on a 4-point scale.

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I like this concept because it could lead grading to be a conversation between student and teacher. Instead of teachers giving a grade, a student can formulate a grade based upon what they can do.
I wish I could see a student sharing their thoughts about the concept.
I wonder how this could translate into a grade.

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We are developing a common grading scale k-12 that uses the following "levels":
Innovating/Distinguished
Applying/Meeting
Developing/Foundational
Beginning
Not Yet Assessed/No Evidence

Right now, we are using a 4-point scale to provide a grade, but eventually I'd like us to just communicate he language instead of number.

If you have to convert to a percentage grade, here's what I recommend:

Innovating = 4 = 99%
Applying = 3 = 95%
Developing = 2 = Not Yet (more positive than incomplete)
Beginning = 1 = Not Yet

It's a hard scale to sell because understanding the expectation is to meet expectations, not allow students to move on before they've proven proficiency. But the language of "not yet" implies and communicates that additional opportunities for proficiency are possible. Hope is a powerful incentive and motivator.

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I wish that as a society we were not so grade driven & limited by time. We are reviewing our assessment models this year and moving towards more standards based learning. The immediate obstacles: that will take a lot of time to give feedback, and students may stay in Not Yet "too long" and how to you put this in a gradebook.

Thanks for sharing your grade translations.

Photo of Matthew Drewette-Card
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We are battling those same demons... time vs. learning. What's more important? The argument always comes down to "adult management" vs. "student learning," to which I always steer the discussion back to our purpose and mission. The kids know this... they figure it out early and often. And kids ALWAYS look back and love the teacher who never gave up on them. The worst part of that sentiment is that there were teachers who gave up on them... albeit unintentionally! In fact, the system itself was designed to focus more on who could do it faster... an industrial-age model. I believe that if we were to eliminate this aspect and focus on the learning, while integrating authentic and engaging topics/tasks/goals, kids would become so enamored and engaged with focused and purposeful inquiry, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation that our jobs as educators would simply be to sit back and make sure the environment is working smoothly. I believe sparking curiosity and interest comes from the environment students are in, and that environment needs to be focused on learning, not time-based achievement.

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I wonder how this might work with the GPA system?

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It all depends on your conversion scale, if you absolutely must have one... You shouldn't, according to research-based grading practices... But if you must, I'd make the 4 a 99% and a 3 a 95% (making the 4 an "honors-type distinction), and everything else incomplete or "not yet." It's a bold step, but we shouldn't let kids move on with less than what is expected. If it's calculating a GPA using a 4-pt scale, then first of all change it from GPA to GPM (Grade Point Mode), and as the students collect and track their evidence of progress, the teacher would look at the evidence (scores) and determine what the student has learned (growth, using mode and/or most recent) vs. including lower scores into the final grade when the student was new to the learning (averaging). The problem with GPA is the average-part. It uses an equation that naturally punishes learning, thus taking kids away from the growth-focus, thus destroying and creativity spark they may have had. Averaging grades is a horrible grading practice and needs to stop... like, yesterday.

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This idea sings to me. I feel more confident to allow my 8th grade U.S. history class' essential questions -- "What's the story behind my story?" and "What does it mean to be independent and free in America?" -- to take root and sprout more slowly.
For example: I find I've been trying too hard to explore the idea of how the colonies were moving (perhaps fitfully) towards interdependence with one another as they were fighting for independence from England. I've been leaping from one interactive activity to the next, rather than considering how to put one thoughtful foot in front of the other, starting with a cognitively "easy(-er)" task.
Now my plan is to pick up this interdependence idea again in our upcoming unit on the Constitution, and to turn the cognitive difficulty knob up ONE notch, instead of fiddling with other knobs and dials that don't need messing with.
Funny -- I "knew" this in my (former) life as a distance coach. You don't jack up too many variables in an athlete's training within a given training phase. And at every phase, you hope your athlete will come to know for themselves what their training attempts to achieve, and where they are in their development.
So why would I do that in the classroom...?

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Kevin - great analogy re: coaching and messing with too many variables at the same time!

Photo of Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom
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Matthew - appreciate the response to Chris's question; I had the same question. I think you should (if the software allows?) lift some of what you say there up into the explanation above. I also think a concrete example might be helpful to illustrate how the metacognitive task of having students assess the complexity of their proposals/work tasks helps to spark curiosity.

On another note, I absolutely LOVE the combination of rigorous thought and flexible "play" that your T-chart of Difficulty and Complexity (and all the verbs) represents and makes possible. Taking a content topic and thinking through what it would look like in each quadrant is a great activity.

Is the answer to my question above that students could take a topic and, through some scaffolding, figure out how to learn about it and demonstrate learning in increasingly complex and difficult ways?

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I think you did answer your question. Daniel Pink's book, "Drive" breaks down the three court components of intrinsic motivation (a.k.a. sparking curiosity): mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Sparking curiosity is all about the environment when it comes to classroom-based learning. Therefore our environments need to be based off of varying levels of complexity more so than a breadth of content. If we want them to be curious and our environment needs to be based on mastery, autonomy, and purpose. It is here where the scales become helpful and necessary. It's not just about having the students completely design their own pathway, but providing them opportunities and a framework to "fail up."

I will see if I can put a concrete example here somewhere. Thanks!

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First, I LOVE the video and the concept and I totally intend on stealing it for my work with teachers. But now comes negative nelly - I'm having a hard time seeing how this helps spark student curiosity. Again - great stuff! I can totally use this to help myself, my teachers, and our students go deeper . But I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the curiosity task. Feel free to help me see this. I'll blame my old age on not getting it - oh and stay off my lawn!

Photo of Matthew Drewette-Card
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Thanks for the comment, and the question. Curiosity and motivation to learn doesn't come from specific tasks or activities. Curiosity is nurtured and sparked within the learning environment. Teachers, administrators, in fact all educators, often try to make the environment work for the kids. And in so doing Takeaway an important part of sparking curiosity: autonomy in learning. If we focus our assessment of learning on complexity over content and Focus on building skills that are more based on the complexity, been our environment is more open and flexible for students to explore what they are curious about while still aiming at our high expectations independently, autonomously, within the appropriate content area, at the level of expected complexity. In short (too late), to spark curiosity we have to rethink how we assess learning, how we structure our Learning environment, and rethink the focus of our learning to be based more on the complexity then content.

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oh my gosh... I love your video Matt! First...it's super cool to see you and hear you. Second...i totally get it and love how easy it is to move content across complexity. And this shift of measuring complexity is a super important in assessing real learning -- thanks so much! Go AOS94!

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Wow... Thanks so much for the kind words! It's the core focus here in my district, but needs to be more widely understood. Thanks again!