Typhani Harris | January 2014

1500 essays, 80 teachers, 9 support staff, 4 administrators, 1 prompt: How one school came together for a common core goal!

In December I had the privilege of organizing and leading the grading of our district’s practice common core goal and assessment.  The topic was the Great Depression, and our students had to analyze multiple sources and synthesize them into an essay discussing the effects the Great Depression on the people of the era.  Once this was complete, came the task of reading all 1500 essays!!  Our staff had professional development training on the use of the holistic rubric and how to efficiently grade the essays… we even had a practice run of the task at hand.

When the day came, it was like magic.  All of our teachers,  administrators, and support staff gathered for the grading.  There was no complaining; it was all anticipation.  What did our kids write, how did they write, did they accomplish the task, did they fulfill the expectations?  As we sat in anxiously awaiting the instructions, a sense of community came over the room.  We happen to have a very close staff, we spend time together outside of school, we frequent sports and activities on campus, we even have gatherings at our Principal’s house…but this was new.  It was everyone, together, on the same page, searching for our common core goal.

Although there was still anxiety about reading and grading, we are a family, and we tackled it just like a family!

As a nation, we are inching closer to the day when Common Core goal and assessments become a reality, and we are all hustling to understand, prepare our students, and prepare ourselves for this new venture.

This hands-on, practical activity really helped the staff put Common Core goal into perspective.

I have compiled some of the reactions to this experience:

It was the first time I have seen an entire staff truly embrace writing as the responsibility of all content areas.  SBAC is the vehicle for that change. -Suzanne Steinseifer-Ripley, Principal

For me… I actually appreciated looking at the essays from students at all levels. Being an honors/AP teacher I don’t always see the “other side.” It was nice to not only see the writings of the students, but then discuss with a solely CP teacher about their thoughts and our ability to come together from our two very different teaching backgrounds and find common ground on expectations of students –Christine Rodriguez, World Languages

 I like the fact that we are doing this now, rather than waiting for it to be mandatory.  I thought the experience gave us a better idea of what we need to prepare the students for.  It reminds me a lot of the AP writing process, which is helpful. –Kendall Morimoto, Social Sciences 

 I was really surprised at how well the grading went. At first, I thought there was no way I could be fair on this because I was not qualified enough and also the process could leave room for human error. I was hoping I wouldn’t be biased if I knew or remembered who the student was as well. However, having the rubric close and the way my partner and I worked with switching the tests back and forth, made it a good experience for me. -Mary Johnson-DeJohn, Technology

I thought it was a good experience for teachers of all subjects to have the opportunity to see what our students can do when it comes to writing an essay. I now know where I need to focus my teaching more when it comes to writing – how to cite properly, how to add appropriate transitions, and to connect the citations to the main point of the article. -Rene Natividad, Social Sciences

Committed excellence! – Candace Cayer, Assistant Principal

I think it has been a wonderful experience for the “other” departments to take a look at and to see some reality of where our expectations of a high school student essay should be…or really is. –Manfred Pereda, Language Arts

I thought it was an interesting experience to see how someone else graded the exact same assignment (what they looked for, how they weighed the criteria, etc.).  The process forced me to evaluate how I grade and which criteria I value.  At the same time, it highlighted opportunities for improving the process or consistency of grading between teachers.  For example, several of us asked about the role of evidence (how much was exemplary, adequate, or deficient) and the importance of citation in a timed writing, versus the quality of the writing (context, transitions, vocabulary, etc.).  -Chris Mitts, Economics & Peer Counseling

I think it would be great to have the time to calibrate on each criterion of the rubric for the future. Other than that, it was great! I think it was helpful to see what other teachers perceive as a 4, 3, 2, or 1.  –Alicia Nguyen, Language Arts

Good. Helpful. Eye-opening.  -Bob Chronley, Social Sciences

I realize that all parts of the rubric should not be weighted equally.  An essay that is full of errors in conventions should not earn a passing grade like the one that was used to calibrate.  I feel that this experience was long overdue and should be performed twice a year in order for all teachers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our students as well as to emphasize the importance of writing in all areas.  A universal rubric for timed writing with uniform terminology would also be beneficial for students and staff when teaching the basics of writing. -Laura Maguire, Language Arts

The process was informative for staff, though it seems quite subjective.  I wish the rubric was a bit more quantitative (e.g. if a student has more than 3 references = 4, 3 ref. = 3, 1 or 2 ref = 2, 0 ref =1). –Jesse Wolf, Social Sciences

I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff in grading the essays.  Once we had calibrated the essays, the entire room was extremely focused and the peer to peer feedback was beneficial in norming the grading.  The process was beneficial to the staff because we could clearly see the range of responses by the students.  I think one of the reasons the staff was so focused is that we could learn from the process and incorporate effective teaching strategies so that our students can become better writers.  There is a beautiful sound of silence when thinking is taking place. -Carey Anderson, Science

Overall, this was a great experience for the entire staff, albeit far overdue.  If you would like more information on how to recreate this experience for your staff, please contact me at [email protected]

Next Week: Secrets of a Dance Teacher

Second Mom: one of many hats

Where does our teaching end and our nurturing begin; or better yet, when do I wear my mommy hat and when do I put my hat on the stand?


About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.