LA PLATA, Md. – Seven Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) teachers were recently honored by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) for using the formative assessment process to improve teaching and learning in their schools. Teachers who earned the MSDE’s Assessment for Learning Classroom of Distinction designation will open their classrooms to be observed by other educators from around the state and participate in conferences with them, while informally serving as mentors.
Twenty teachers in Maryland applied for the distinction. Of 15 teachers around the state who were moved to Round 2 for consideration, 14 were CCPS teachers. All seven honored with the Rooms of Distinction designation this year work for CCPS. They are Erin Amore, third-grade teacher at Dr. James Craik Elementary School; Nina Beard, fourth-grade teacher at T.C. Martin Elementary School; Nina Capuano, third-grade teacher at Martin; Kelly Lundeen, third-grade teacher at Craik; Molly Reip, first-grade teacher at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School; Taryn Walker, second-grade teacher at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School; and Melinda Wright, second-grade teacher at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy.
Earlier this school year, Heather Sauers, coordinator of professional learning and Title II A, and Jennifer Wojcik, instructional assessment specialist, both with MSDE, visited classrooms around the state to observe how teachers interact with students and build on their skills. The teachers selected for the honor asked students meaningful and thought-provoking questions, allowed them to self-assess their progress and prompted students to rethink an incorrect answer without giving them the correct one. Sauers and Wojcik also pointed out that the teachers are all building classroom cultures where all students are actively involved in and take ownership of their learning. “This demonstrates to students that we all must explain our thinking, not just students who are confused,” Wojcik said.
The seven teachers’ classrooms have previously served as models for formative assessment, welcoming teachers and administrators for informal visits. They also have all earned continuing professional development credits in various courses on the formative assessment process. The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning while providing ongoing feedback that can be used by educators to improve teaching and used by students to improve their learning.
Amore started her career with CCPS in 2006. She took MSDE-sponsored training to be a peer mentor for colleagues and serves as a teacher mentor and as a mentor to teachers who are becoming mentors. Amore was a finalist in the 2019 Charles County Teacher of the Year award program and has served on several committees at Craik, including the Girls on the Run Club. One of the factors Sauers and Wojcik thought stood out in Amore’s classroom was the curiosity she stoked in her students. Amore asks students to explain the steps they took that led them to a certain answer. “This is an effective way to probe student thinking and build a classroom culture of inquiry,” Wojcik said during the presentation.
Beard began working for CCPS in 2004 and was Martin’s nominee for The Washington Post’s Teacher of the Year and Charles County Teacher of the Year award programs in 2020. During a recent observation, Beard led guided reading groups, asking clarifying questions, even of students who answered correctly. “Ms. Beard’s ability to ask follow-up questions to students — whether they gave correct or incorrect responses allowed her to get at the core of her students’ understanding and misconceptions,” Wojcik said. During the assignment, Beard and her students determined their progress. As each guided reading group wrapped up, Beard used a success criteria checklist to document each student’s goal. This helped Beard know which students were ready to move forward, and who needed additional support.
Capuano has been a teacher with CCPS since 2006. She has been the lead teacher for two years for the Teach to Lead Grant, which awarded Martin $10,000 in funding to expand professional learning focused on the formative assessment process. She also has co-authored and co-facilitated formative assessment professional learning sessions and coursework for MSDE. Capuano was Martin’s nominee for The Washington Post’s Teacher of the Year and Charles County Teacher of the Year award programs in 2019. Capuano fosters an environment where students are encouraged to share feedback with their peers and are allowed time to revise answers based on the new understanding. “This helps to build student agency, so that they rely less on the teacher and more on themselves and their peers to reach their learning goals,” Wojcik said.
Lundeen has been teaching with CCPS since 2011 and was the CCPS finalist for The Washington Post’s Teacher of the Year in 2017. She has been the lead teacher for three years for the Teach to Lead Grant, which awarded Craik $15,000 to expand its teacher mentor program. Lundeen was the keynote speaker for MSDE’s 2021 Teach to Lead Conference and trained with MSDE to be a peer coach for colleagues. In the classroom, she asks students questions to see their progress. “This was particularly evident during her reading groups where she asked pre-planned, differentiated questions to uncover students’ thinking,” Wojcik said.
Reip began working for CCPS in 2009 and last month received grant funding from MSDE to attend a conference where she was trained on facilitating future coursework on formative assessment at Higdon. Reip used her class’s success criteria to help students self-assess their progress. She also involved her students in the creation of the success criteria by asking them how they could be respectful to their classmates. During the reading of “Stellaluna,” Reip asked questions to see evidence of student learning. “She asked clarifying questions to pull out details regarding the setting and characters,” Wojcik said.
Taryn Walker and Melinda Wright
Walker is newer to CCPS, having started with the school system in 2020. She co-teaches with Wright at Mt. Hope. The combined class allows Wright and Walker to not only teach together, but to plan together. They keep logs of student understanding to ensure students continue to advance in their learning. Wright is a CCPS veteran, having taught with the system since 1992. She has been the lead teacher for two years for the Teach to Lead Grant, which awarded Mt. Hope $10,000 in funding to expand professional learning around the formative assessment process. Wright was the CCPS Teacher of the Year for 2019.
Any Maryland certified teacher can apply to the Assessment for the Learning Rooms of Distinction program. Candidates are selected following a two-round application process. The first round included a written lesson plan highlighting the use of the formative assessment and a reflection on how the process improves student learning, a list relevant professional learning experiences, a letter of recommendation and an analysis of a video of a teacher implementing the formative assessment process. Applicants who demonstrated excellence in the written portion of the application were selected for Round 2. Which included a classroom observation and post-observation interview by representatives from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).
The benefits of the Rooms of Distinction include keeping the status for three years, networking with other teacher leaders, invitations to professional development opportunities and welcoming other educators to observe lessons during the 2021-22 school years.