Tools for Proficiency-Based Classroom

The earliest enactment of what would come to be called customized learning in RSU 18 was the adoption by some teachers of a set of classroom “tools” that were presented in early RISC trainings. These tools are a series of protocols that help teachers gauge student feelings and reactions, and allow students to provide feedback directly to the teacher. These tools operationalize the ideal of student “voice and choice.”  Williams Elementary School teachers Shelly Moody and Valerie Glueck wrote the following comments on how the RISC tools are used in their classrooms.

The tools that we use the most are:

1. The Parking Lot ? Students use this tool to provide teachers with feedback about classroom routines, lessons, or to share their ideas. The traditional parking lot is a four-box grid on poster paper. The top two boxes are for things the students like (positive) or their thoughts on changes needed in the classroom. The third box is for questions, and the final box is devoted to ideas for the classroom. If a student had feedback to share, he or she would use a sticky note to add the idea to the chart.  The parking lot is an excellent way to give students a voice in the classroom.  Teachers have used online formats of this tool or created individual parking lots for students to complete and share with the teacher.  The parking lot is one format student's can use to give teachers feedback.

2.  Shared Vision and Code of Cooperation (Code of Conduct) ? The purpose of the shared vision and code of cooperation is to capture the atmosphere and vision of the classroom.  Because students create the vision and code using the two following tools, each classroom will have its own vision and code customized to the beliefs and ideas of the students in the classroom. These documents are posted in the classroom and reviewed frequently.  These tools lie at the heart of a learner-centered classroom.

3.  Affinity Diagram ? One way we use the affinity diagram is to create our code of cooperation because it is a great way to get feedback from all students. After asking the class a question, such as “What are the traits of an ideal classroom?”, each student uses sticky notes to record ideas.  Everyone adds their sticky notes to a chart, and we sort them into categories, such as safe or respectful.  After all the categories are displayed, students then select the most important topics for our classroom code of cooperation.  This tool is an excellent way for all students to have a voice and to explore common ideas within a large group.

4.  P3T: Paper Passing Tool ? When we are creating our shared vision, we ask each student write his or her ideas/vision for our classroom on a sheet of paper. After making a list or writing a paragraph, students pass their paper to the right. When a student receives a new paper, he or she underlines the important ideas. The class then collects the underlined ideas on chart paper. By collecting underlined ideas from each child's paper, all children have a voice in the shared vision. Teachers can use this tool anytime they want to collect common ideas from all students in the classroom.

5.  Consensogram ? Students use the consensogram to anonymously rate their feelings on a topic using sticky dots. We then look at the dots with the kids to make observations and draw conclusions. This is a great tool for a teacher or classroom to reflect on the feelings of the group. We use this tool to have students monitor their behavior, feelings on a topic, or understanding of a concept.

6. Capacity Matrix ? The capacity matrix is one of the tools students use to rate their progress on learning targets or standards.  When we unpack a standard, kids rate themselves as beginning, developing, proficient or advanced using the matrix. This tool helps learning become transparent and allows students to monitor their own learning.

7.  PDCA (Plan Do Check Adjust) ? This tool can be used to help students make a plan for their learning or behavior.

8.  Flow Chart - We use this format as a class to make our SOPs - Standard Operating Procedures. We create flow charts for everything from our morning routine to steps in our reading workshop. Creating an SOP with the students makes the routines transparent and helps students articulate the classroom routines.

9.  5 Whys ? The 5 Whys is a great tool to encourage students to think more deeply about a topic. We use it to reflect on behaviors on our code of cooperation or when starting a new unit. Questions such as “Why do we need to learn about force and motion?” or “Why do we need to respect others?” helps students reflect more deeply on topics and behaviors. After asking the initial “why” question, the class selects an answer, which is turned into the next “why.” The 5 Whys is one tool we use to help students be more reflective and think more deeply about a topic.

10.  Power Vote ? We use this tool constantly to vote for choices in our classroom. The kids love to use sticky dots to vote for a topic because it makes the opinions of others visible for all to see and discuss. It's a great way to let all students use their voices.

A reference book for these tools is Tool Time for Education, by Langford Publishing. Most of the RISC Tools are detailed in the book with directions for use and the purpose of the tool. 

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.