Character Counts--but How do you Count It?

TL;DR: Quantifying character development--using a rubric that students help design--can help them see the effects of their choices & actions in near-realtime... and it pays dividends on multiple levels. By the end of the summer, one of our goals is for students to be able to look at their past PARCC/i-Ready performance, and (with support) identify the most effective places to focus their efforts. Instead of getting fixated on their 'big' PARCC number (the 'I'm-a-lousy-reader-because-I-got-a-587' scenario), they'll break that number down into its constituent elements; it might well be the case that a flat iReady curve hides real improvement in some areas (e.g., vocabulary), and other areas that are prime candidates for focused work (say, comprehension of informational texts).


I. Building Culture Together

It's been a mainstay of progressive education that teaching character matters--and for good reasons. The challenge (well, one of the challenges) is: how do we help the students we're teaching to see the progress they're making?

At Prep@Collegiate, everything starts with establishing the culture of the program--together. Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys is built on the foundation of Five 'Core Virtues': Integrity, Courage, Compassion, Wisdom, and Resilience. As you've already seen, priority #1 on our first full day together was to translate these Virtues into a clear rubric; here, though, we'll break the process down a little further....

We started by splitting the boys into five groups--one focused on each of the Core Virtues. In those groups, they came up with lists of actions and ideas that they associated with that virtue:


Next, the boys were grouped into teams--each of which included at least one 'delegate' from the prior round, so that the team was comprised of a diverse group of 'experts' on each virtue. Their task: come up with a visual representation of the Five Core Virtues, drawing on each team member's respective expertise...


As the students went about their day, faculty and staff members worked backstage to take the students' self-generated notions of the Five Core Virtues, and synthesize them with lists of actions & attitudes that we'd put together in advance. When the boys returned from their scavenger hunt at the end of the day, they were greeted by a five-point rubric for each virtue, distilled from their own work (and ours):

Now, when they look at the rubric each day, they can recognize some of their own ideas in this set of shared norms: they have helped shape the culture of their own community.


Our part, then, as mentors and teachers, is to help them see the incremental progress they're making. Every day, each student is assessed on all of these 25 points, using a zero-to-four scale.

Suiting up & showing up each day earns them a 'two' ; what direction they go from there is up to them. Faculty and staff contribute notes, and Crew Leaders--Prep@Collegiate Fellows who whose primary responsibility is to know the boys on their crew better than anyone--translate those notes into scores for the day. 


II. Doing the math

To make it a little less abstract...

So: as with the academic data, if he only looks a the bottom-line number (think: Sept/Dec/Mar i-Ready scores), the week looks pretty flat:

...but if he gets more granular & starts practicing the data visualization he's learning, some important trends start to emerge--for instance: it might not be immediately obvious from the grid of numbers that something's happening with participation


...when it's plotted on a graph, though, a clear upward trend is visible: 

Run that out over the course of the summer, and--while there are sure to be ups-and-down from day to day... 

...again, it's the overall trend that tells the story:


III. (En Route to) The Bigger Picture

Let's pull back to the larger category of 'Integrity' across the full four-week run of the program, and see what effect this kind of incremental improvement could have. First, here's what the line looks like with '2's across the board (i.e., 'meeting expectations' in each of the five elements of the Integrity rubric--yielding a steady 10 points for each day in the series).

Then, let's see what happens when we hold 4 of the 5 elements constant (at '2's), and see what effect is produced when the student shows improvement--uneven, incremental improvement--in one element alone (i.e., Integrity (3), 'Be an active participant...'):

In short, the effect is pretty dramatic: focused effort on just one of the elements can really move the overall score (and the effect is even more pronounced if the area of focus started out below the 'meets expectations' level)... this across all Five Core Virtues--each of which entails five discrete data points per day--and the student starts to see the power of being able to visualize data that reflects choices he's making on a day-to-day basis... he can actually see how focused effort on a clearly defined target can have a significant effect on the 'bigger' number.

And when he realizes that what he's learned to do here translates directly to the standardized test data that he's being forced to produce anyway, he gains some measure of control over the process (or at least over his relationship to the process)--which, of course, is our endgame: student empowerment.


More on the PARCC/i-Ready translation next time!