Mr. Hood's Monthly Messages

Read about the learning journey at Madison

The newest message will be at the top of the page.

December 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

As the calendar year closes on James Madison High School’s sixtieth year, we have been reflecting on how thankful we are to be a part of the Vienna community. Sixty years ago we opened our doors, and four years ago we embarked on our journey towards Deeper Learning. As we shared in September’s MADMemo, we think of Deeper Learning as learning that goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

 We spent a portion of time at last month’s PTSA meeting sharing our Deeper Learning journey and the reasons why we are driven to pursue such a culture for our students, faculty, and community. Our presentation is linked here and on our website, along with this link with current research that supports Deeper Learning. As many of our seniors are finalizing their post-high school plans, we would like to share a little bit more about Deeper Learning and its implications for our students after they graduate and begin new chapters in their lives. 

The focus on Portrait of a Graduate in FCPS and across Virginia has prioritized student learning around the skills and attributes needed to be successful in our modern, global community. The FCPS School Board’s Student Success Goal states“All FCPS PreK-12 students will continuously progress in their development of Portrait of a Graduate attributes...with student opportunities to apply Portrait of a Graduate skills to real-world problems through teacher use of the Learning Model.” Madison is a leader in this endeavor in FCPS. Students across contents are creating Deeper Learning Portfolios and will reflect on their growth throughout the school year in Portrait of a Graduate Presentations of Learning. 

 Recent changes to the college admissions process reflect a shift in focusing on standardized data to focusing on these same Portrait of a Graduate competencies, the whole child, interdisciplinary learning experiences, and learning portfolios. Just this year a record number of colleges dropped the requirement of the SAT or ACT test, as highlighted in this article. Students applying to college this year using the Coalition Application have the opportunity to share a Portfolio of Interdisciplinary Learning Experiences with their applications. The Common Application is piloting a similar platform with several colleges and universities this year, and several Virginia schools will participate next year. Providing students rich learning opportunities that will be relevant not only in the new college application process, but also in their lives beyond high school is part of what drives our pursuit of Deeper Learning. 

Ted Dintersmith, a 1970 JMHS graduate and venture capitalist interested in educational innovations across the country, and specifically the state of Virginia, shares a brief and thought-provoking video on his innovation playlist titled, The Future of Work. The video ends with an important question that motivates us to continue on our journey towards a Culture of Deeper Learning: Will our children be ready?

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November 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

At Madison, we are committed to ensuring that our assessments reflect deeper learning experiences and provide an accurate reflection of a student’s current level of content knowledge and skill ability. Part of our Deeper Learning for All journey at Madison includes consistently examining our assessment practices across our school to meet this mission.

Two years ago we began to take concrete steps to establish a more equitable and fair grading system across all of our departments. Traditionally, teachers have determined their own grading scales, categories, and weights in their gradebooks. This created multiple assessment outcome possibilities and inequity across classes and grade levels. As we reflected on the assessment practices at Madison, and across the county, we concluded that revising our grading practices would provide students with more equitable grades, more accurate feedback, and create more opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of content standards and essential skills. 

Based on current research of best practices for Deeper Learning in assessment, we identified four grading practices that provide students a more equitable assessment experience:

  • Uniform grading categories: This year all teachers shifted their gradebooks to use the same three categories in their gradebooks: preparation, formative, and summative.
  • 4.0 Scale: In 2019-2020, we began to shift to a 4.0 scale. This year, most classes are using the scale and by school year 2020, all teachers will have transitioned to a 4.0 scale. The 4.0 scale standardizes that an A, regardless of class or teacher, is a 4.0, and an A-, regardless of class or teacher, is a 3.7. 
  • Standards-based grading and mastery learning: Many teachers and teams are implementing standards-based grading systems to accompany the 4.0 scale. Standards-based grading provides a clear delineation of what mastery “looks like” for each standard and skill, and the feedback via assessments focused on the standards and skills provides students concrete feedback on their level of mastery. Students and teachers use this data to track progress in order to reach “mastery” over time and deepen learning. These practices are similar to the standards-based grading and reporting from elementary school and common in FCPS.
    • Some teachers have adopted the “rolling gradebook” as part of the mastery-based learning experience. The rolling gradebook allows for students to spend more time learning content and practicing skills deeply over time and embraces reassessment on standards and skills throughout the year.

We know that these assessment changes have led to many conversations in classrooms, between students, teachers, counselors and parents, and at home. Our administration, leadership team and faculty will be focusing on grading and reviewing practices throughout the year to ensure accuracy, equity and Deeper Learning for All.

We invite all parents to learn more about Deeper Learning and equitable assessment practices through the following venues in the near future. More opportunities will be offered in the future.

  • At the November 11th PTSA meeting we will spend part of that time sharing: What is Deeper Learning at Madison and how do equitable assessment practices align? 
  • Interested in learning more about the “Why”? Read about shifts in assessment, grading and instruction across the country: “The Case for Competency-Based Education” https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/11/the-case-for-competency-based-education/
  • Read more about the research and Madison’s practices on the JMHS website, under the JMHS Parent’s Guide to Grading & Reporting. We have added additional information and responses to Frequently Asked Questions about the assessment practices described above.

Thank you for your support of our students and staff at Madison.

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October 2019:

Dear Madison Community, 

Last year several members of the Madison faculty participated in the Stanford Design School’s Shadow a Student Challenge, an experience designed to give educators “a crash course in empathy” as they spend a day walking in the student’s shoes. The faculty who participated were so energized by the experience we have created the opportunity for every member of the Madison faculty to shadow a student during the course of this school year. Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist focused on supporting educational improvements and innovations, and more importantly, a Madison graduate, class of 1970, highlights the experience on his Innovation Playlist

Understanding more about the experience of school from the perspective of our students is central to our goal of Deeper Learning for all. As teachers embark on this challenge, they will set a goal for the day, seek out a student to shadow, reflect on the experience, and commit to a change in practice based on their new perspective. Students will be learning more about this experience through a special segment on the Madison News Network, and many students will hear about it from faculty who are interested in shadowing them for the day. Faculty will be reaching out to the parents of students they are interested in shadowing for permission. 

Shadowing students is just one of the opportunities we have designed for faculty to collaborate with students this year. We hope that this experience will set the groundwork for more collaboration between faculty, students, and parents as we continue to pursue a culture of Deeper Learning for all at Madison High School.

Throughout the school year, we will be sharing snapshots of Deeper Learning at Madison during PTSA meetings, and look forward to continuing the conversation about Deeper Learning opportunities for students through these meetings and other forums. 

One recent example of Deeper Learning at Madison: Ninth grade students in biology had the opportunity to learn from certified county and federal forensic scientists. Ms. Kimbrell shared, “The forensic scientists that came to Madison are from the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID).  Many of the scientists that visited are going to deploy in the next few months to take on various investigation cases around the world. We are thankful for their service to the community and beyond!” Students were provided examples of forensic processes that apply to their learning about light processes, biology, and the importance of close observation and evidence. The fusion of science, math and technology showcased the interdisciplinary nature of learning and application of learning in career and civic life. Students and teachers reflected on the experience: 

“Last week, we had 6 forensic scientists come to Madison and teach us about different ways to solve a crime.  Different ways included taking fingerprints from a crime scene as well as using different UV light sources to uncover different types of writing like ransom and suicide note... In addition to teaching us about ways to solve a crime, they gave us background information we needed for our Investigation unit in biology.  We are solving our own investigations and learning about DNA, bone structures, and how everybody has a different make-up of their body and everything within it.” - Nooshon Farhadi (9th grade student)

In future months, we will continue to showcase examples across the grade levels and disciplines. You can also find out more about Deeper Learning at Madison at this link.

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September 2019:

Dear Madison Community, 

Welcome back to another wonderful year at Madison High School! It’s been a great start to the 2019-2020 school year already.

This summer, over twenty of our faculty and staff attended some of the preeminent professional learning conferences last spring thanks to the generosity of the JMHS PTSA. Most recently, twelve faculty members attended the annual Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers, also known as WISSIT. During this week-long conference, our teachers immersed themselves in research based practices of Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group and learned from the researchers themselves, including Ron Ritchhart. Ritchhart’s work has been the foundation of our focus on Creating Cultures of Thinking in our school over the past several years. 

The teachers who attended WISSIT this year have already shared their learning with colleagues and students over these first few weeks of school. Tonia Anderson, a Latin teacher reflects on her learning at WISSIT:  

“Our collaborative and interactive learning experience at WISSIT provided a great model for what our classrooms can be – with students directing and taking ownership over their own learning, incorporating thinking and learning routines to help them understand how they each learn, and using art to make connections with culture. I want to select some thinking routines and art pieces that will work best with each level of Latin and incorporate them in a systematic way throughout the year.” 

The experiential learning that WISSIT provides for our teachers mirrors the kinds of Deeper Learning experiences we are working hard as a faculty to provide for our students. During our first staff meeting this August, we shared our common understanding of Deeper Learning at JMHS with the faculty: 

Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

Our professional learning plan for faculty this year is an attempt to fulfill this aspirational understanding of Deeper Learning by providing teachers opportunities to pursue their own paths of inquiry that unlock their individual passions and honor their own identity as learners. 

We are excited to continue on our journey of Deeper Learning at Madison, and we are grateful that you are all learning with us.