Rigor and Assessment: Central Themes of Building Expertise 2015

Yes, a room full of 1,600 educators is quite orderly

By Scott Sterling

Now that we’ve all recovered from last week’s Building Expertise 2015: Journey to Rigor, it’s time to reflect on what we learned and how much fun we had. There were some major themes of the conference that are worth discussing.

It was huge!

The conference sold out about a month before the doors opened. For the first time, a waiting list was started and some limited standing-room-only entries were permitted.

This amounted to more than 1,600 educators having the opportunity to share with each other as well as Drs. Robert Marzano, Susan Brookhart, and Anthony Muhammad. I personally saw very few breakout sessions with open seats. It was great to give so many teachers, coaches, and administrators an opportunity to grow their practice.

This also serves as a bit of a warning: go ahead and book your tickets for Building Expertise 2016 as soon as they become available. We took over Disney’s Coronado Springs resort and the same thing can be anticipated for next year.

Defining “rigor

Next-generation standards all have one thing in common: a greater focus on providing more rigor in the classroom. The problem is that many of them neglect to define exactly what rigor is.

Dr. Marzano spent a lot of time in both of his morning keynotes sharing his insights into rigor and what methods of thinking are most desirable in the classroom. It’s not enough to think hard; students need to be challenged in ways that allow them to progress systematically and purposefully toward standards.

Assessing in formative ways

Another aspect of education that is often misunderstood is the concept of formative assessment. A few sessions, particularly those offered by Dr. Brookhart, focused on moving formative assessment from quick quizzes into deliberate questioning techniques that yield what students can actually do with the learning material.

In short, open-ended questions should be employed liberally. If questions have only one correct answer, not only are they ineffective in showing what students know, but they also do not offer any sort of rigor. Dr. Brookhart’s participants were even asked to perform skits that demonstrated the wrong and right ways to question students.

New software from Learning Sciences

One of the biggest buzzes was generated by Learning Sciences’ software development efforts. They’ve been busy.

To start, LSI Tracker is the easiest way for teachers to keep track of which students are making progress, which ones are falling behind, and where on the assigned scale everyone falls. It’s as simple as hitting colored buttons next to the student’s name. The color-coding makes reporting easy so teachers can spend their valuable class time helping the students who need it.

There is also an upcoming lesson plan and scale repository so colleagues can organize and share lessons, and even make them available for everyone’s use. It’s yet another tool to help teachers utilize best practices in their classrooms.

Tied together at the end

Dr. Anthony Muhammad delivered the closing keynote, bringing his wealth of experience as a teacher and administrator in inner-city Michigan to the stage. He spoke to misconceptions of race and poverty in schools and the mindsets required of today’s educator. Overall, his theme can best be summed up as “never give up on any kid, ever.”

There were many, many other aspects of the conference worth covering, particularly in the hundreds of breakout sessions. The best way to get the whole Building Expertise experience is to join us next year.