ROLE Reversal Observed

ROLE book

A few months ago I was introduced to the ROLE approach via a discussion with 7th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher, Sara Hutson.  She had been talking with friend and fellow colleague, Kat Julian, an 8th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher at Coppell Middle School East, from Coppell I.S.D..

After Sara shared her contagious curiosity about this instructional philosophy and approach, I wanted to learn more and turned to my Twitter PLN.  Very few were familiar or had implemented the approach, but many were intrigued.  I turned my search to the internet.  I found some information and learned that ROLE (Results Only Learning Environment) derives its approach from Daniel Pink’s Drive philosophy on motivation which inspired the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach in the work place (I curated resources in Pinterest and ScoopIt).  In both ROLE and ROWE the premise, from what I learned so far, is based on the following:

1) the individual (not the boss/teacher) setting goals

2) working toward those goals with set checkpoints or deadlines

3) continuous feedback and purposeful reflection guided by the teacher/boss connected to the checkpoints/deadlines

4) self assessment of goals achieved/mastery of task(s)

I was intrigued and as curious as Sara was at this point.  Together we made plans to go and see ROLE in action.

Upon arrival to Coppell Middle School East, it looked much like any other Middle School, active, social and bursting with teenage energy.  We were escorted to Kat Julian’s classroom.  She had introduced us to the idea and was now sharing how it played out in the classroom.  As we walked in students were working on MacBooks and iPads bringing a year long PBL into its final stages for presentation the last week in May.  Some student groups were in the hallways recording, others were working together on one product, while others were in sitting in groups but working on individual components of their group PBL.  No one was off task, no one was asking the teacher what they should do next.  They all were self-driven, self-directed and self-reflective.  How was this self-regulated learning just happening?

We soon found out.  The vertical team of English Language Arts Teachers at Coppell Middle School East, had worked hard, struggled, re-structured, and ultimately succeeded to get to this point.

The team: Kat Julian, 8th grade; Megan Boyd, 7th; Laura Melson, 6th grade; and their principal, Laura Springer.

First, the entire team had the following: same planning time, support of their principal and school board, and one school day per six weeks to meet, collaborate, brainstorm, vertically align and problem solve.  Secondly, the team was also directly trained by the author of ROLE Reversal, Mark Barnes who has continued to support them throughout this whole process.

Most importantly, they were intentional and purposeful in how they presented the ROLE approach to both students and parents.

Parents were supplied a “Standards Card” that lists all the standards students are expected to work toward mastery throughout the year.  Students are expected to self-report on their learning, and “negotiate” their level of mastery and provide evidence that they are progressing toward the learning goals for the year every 6 weeks via a one to one grade conference with their teachers.  Teachers create an open Google Doc Spreadsheet that shows the standards addressed, feedback and whether or not mastery was met.

Parents have access to the Google Doc at all times.  They have several tasks throughout the year and goals, but there is one year long PBL all students are expected to complete.  The PBL focused on individual learning first, then group terms are set (a rubric is always present to establish terms… teacher written early in the year, then later student written), and finally collaboration of research occurs with students in their groups that leads them to a final PBL product.  In all cases the teacher is a facilitator and provides feedback at certain deadlines.  The teacher is not the supplier of information.

Feedback from the teacher follows the process of 1)Summarizing what learning is evident 2)Explain what has met mastery 3)Re-direct what may not have met mastery and 4)Provide new deadline date to Re-submit work.

Most would ask next… does it work?  Answer: A resounding yes!  While it isn’t just about a state test, this approach seems to have not only addressed the whole learner developing a passion driven learner, but resulted in unprecedented results on the state test.  In the 8th grade ROLE classes 100% of students passed with 80% scoring at the advanced level. Additionally, of these students 62% improved or showed growth from the previous year. Even more than that was to observe the self-directed, self-regulated, self-motivated passionate learning driven by the student at a depth that I knew was possible but had not seen fully realized with such a large amount of students.

Furthermore, in the 7th grade Mrs. Boyd saw tremendous improvement in her students’ with their campus 25 book campaign.  As we observed in this classroom, students were evaluating their year long reading logs.  Students had consistently read, recorded their reading, written a recommendation posted to the class blog and reflected on their reading.  Many moved from only reading 2 or 3 books the previous year to reading 25-30 books this year.  When asked why were they more successful, students remarked that it was because they had consistently evaluated themselves in their feedback conferences with their teachers and had their fellow classmates blog recommendations that helped them find books of interest.  The day we were observing students were creating their celebration picture.  We were able to grab a few to share.  I did not have these students myself, but I was overcome with emotion as I saw the excitement of students as they proudly shared their achievement.  Additionally, without provocation they shared the understanding they had gained about the correlation between abundant reading and their writing. (Insert the cheering and applause of every English Language Arts Teacher HERE!)

ROLE reading goal 2 ROLE reading goal

To see this all in action and working successfully was amazing and fantastic.  I am anxious to see this happen in my district.  I know it is possible.  We already have so many pieces that lend themselves to this approach. We utilize the workshop model, PBLs, document based questioning, and standards based bulletin boards to move emphasis from a grade focus to mastery of skills. Watching students be self-regulating, self-motivated and self-directed with intense passion and commitment I am eager to see how it could be implemented.

I am eager to read the book ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes and learn with others via my PLN and fellow district colleagues about this student focused approach to learning.

What are your thoughts on ROLE?  Do you have experience with this approach?  Please share your thoughts, ideas and comments.

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9 thoughts on “ROLE Reversal Observed

  1. Kirsten, I read ROLE Reversal last summer (http://www.middleweb.com/8831/increasing-student-autonomy/), and I’ve implemented some of the ideas, but not the BIG one – not the one that I REALLY want to implement – students giving themselves their final grade. I wonder if you could describe (or show a photo) of what the Google Doc looks like? I’m very intrigued by how the teacher could fit everything on one Google Doc. Do students get to edit it, as well as the teacher? We have one that might be similar for our teacher evaluation – I’d bet I could begin with that… If you can’t find a copy, could you ask the teacher you visited to send me one? It would be very beneficial!!! I’d LOVE to try this part and get parents on board from Day One! Thanks for sharing your visit – what a great idea to go see it in action!

    • Joy, I have a few things I took snapshots of for reference. I will contact the team and see if they could provide me a link to the Google doc. I don’t think the students could edit the grade/feedback doc, however, they did have a self-assessment form that they used as their guide for the grade conference where they negotiated their overall performance per six weeks. The team told us that most of the students were right on target with their assessment of themselves. They accurately provided evidence of mastery and effort. The team also said the students were harder on themselves than the teacher would have been. One interesting note shared with us on our observation was that many naysayers thought ROLE would make it easy for kids to inflate high achievement marks, however, what resulted was it was harder to make high marks but more kids did because it was entirely up to them.

      • That is SO VERY COOL! I’ve experienced this with students grading their own goals for independent reading and genius hour, but it has to accompany a 1:1 conference with each student, as well. I love the discussions. I’ll take whatever you can share – I’d really love to try this next year… Thanks again!

  2. Kirsten, thanks so much for sharing this. My work with Coppell East and the amazing teachers you mention in the post has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I am humbled by the impact that Role Reversal is having, and I’m always here to help. If your school wants to explore the transition to results-only learning, please let me know. I’d love to come and help, like I did at Coppell East.

    Thanks for this remarkable blog post.

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