This is my post critiquing National Board Certification for Teaching


This hardly seems worth writing, except that so few people write about this stuff.

Six, maybe seven years ago, I started thinking about what it would take for me to teach in public schools. I had already been teaching for a couple years, and the idea of taking time off of teaching to get a teaching degree…I couldn’t convince myself it was financially feasible, and it seemed like it would be a bore, compared to teaching.

Somewhere along the line I tossed off a doomed application to NYC’s teaching fellows program. I remember writing something, like hey, you could use a teacher with some experience, I need a teaching degree, you scratch my back I scratch your’s. Dear applicant: no. 

For a while NY had an independent pathway towards certification that seemed possible, but then they discontinued it.

I kept on reading this bit of the certification website, making sure I wasn’t misunderstanding it: “An applicant who possesses a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certificate may obtain an Initial New York State certificate in a comparable title through the National Board Pathway.” This seemed like exactly what I needed.

So, four years ago, I started the process. They were revising the NBPTS portfolios, so I could only do it one bit at a time.

The math test was my first encounter with a Pearson Testing Center. I tried to prepare for the exam by cramming some calculus that I was rusty on. The entire test day was surreal. Went into a surprisingly small office in midtown Manhattan. I was imagining that it would be like when I took the SATs, that a whole crew of stressed out teachers would be sitting for an exam simultaneously. Nah, it’s more like a self-service gas station. Put your belongings in a cubby. Sign here. Here is your computer. Here is your sheet of plastic and a dry-erase marker. Boop. Time’s up. Have a great day.

Component 2 was my first experience with the written stuff. It was then that I learned my most important NBCT lesson: how to condense text.

How little I knew about condensing text when I began NBCT! This is from my first draft of my C2 written commentary:

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Awful, right! I mean, look at all that space. Here is what I ended up submitting, after getting feedback from a couple NBCT geniuses:

Screenshot 2018-03-03 at 9.13.15 PM

I passed C2. The next year was C3, the video portfolio. This was annoying because you couldn’t do any preparatory work until you had the video, and the little camera that I had set up would constantly run out of battery in the middle of the lesson.

The hardest thing about the videos was that you needed them to provide evidence for exactly what NBCT was assessing you on. I felt like it was hard to capture a video that gave them exactly what I wanted. Here is the feedback I got from NBCT after I received my passing score (3.375) on the portfolio:

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OK, yes, there is irony in the quality of the feedback that NBCT gives you. Good luck parsing any of that. I just read “evidence of insight on your future instructional practices” three times to figure out if I can figure it out — not yet.

That left Component 4, which was no question the worst component. It’s sort of a mess. There are three parts, each calling for exactly the right kinds of evidence, and the three parts have very little to do with each other. It’s like three mini-portfolios glued together. I hated it, but I did it, and it’s done.

It’s done — I passed.

If a teacher tells me that they are NBCT, I think I know something about that teacher. They’re hard-working, because NBCT is a lot of work. They are likely ambitious, probably not on their way out of the profession.

All this I know because NBCT was a ton of work. I can’t imagine a teacher going through this without something pushing them — either a financial incentive or something internal.

So I know they’re hard-working and committed to teaching, but that’s pretty much all that I know. Nothing about the NBCT process gives me any confidence that it was assessing the quality of my teaching in any sense at all.

I have a couple friends who have been on the other end of things, assessing candidates. I believe them when they tell me there’s a clear difference in quality between different candidates. But having done all the work, I have trouble seeing exactly how you can tell the difference between a candidate who just didn’t understand the prompts and someone whose teaching meets the standards. Because it was really hard to figure out what the prompts were calling for — that was a lot of the work.

Maybe I’m just in a grouchy mood. Even though I love working at my school — public school is going to have to wait — I’ve been feeling a bit down lately.

It all feels sort of bad right now. Writing’s bad, I won’t even edit this piece. Bad at math. Kids hate math, though kids like class. Small apartment, we try not to flush in the AM because it might wake up the kids. Kitchen’s small, fridge is small, always catching mice.

Education can be so, so dumb so often, math education in particular. The dumb stuff is the most lucrative. Teachers seem to love this stuff, though, so what am I doing? All the people I knew teaching math six years ago are off doing other stuff.

But I got this certificate, and now I’m NBCT, and I also have a letter from NBCT saying “your voice matters,” so there’s that.


A quick shout out to The people on there are the best. If you have questions about NBCT you should absolutely hop on there and make an account. If you’re starting NBCT, you should go there and make an account. The people there were just ridiculously generous with their time and it’s a lovely corner of the internet of teachers. That’s my only useful piece of advice for NBCT.


[NBCT] Student and Professional Needs

So, you did it. You’ve gathered information about your kids from a lot of people. And then you used that knowledge to assess the class formatively and analyzed those results. Then you had kids self-assess and used a summative assessment to show that they actually learned something from this unit.

Congrats! You’re two-thirds of the way done with Component 4 of National Board Certification.

The final third has been hard for me to make sense of. It’s called “participation in learning communities,” and apparently proving that you participate in learning communities requires filling out a bunch of forms.

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(Successfully pursuing NBCT may or may not show that you’re a better teacher, but it definitely does show that you’re willing to fill out a lot of forms.)

Cynicism aside, one thing that was driving me nuts was trying to figure out what the difference between a professional and a student need is for NBCT. Especially since you’re supposed to provide evidence that addressing your professional need impacted the students. Doesn’t that mean that every professional need is also a student need?

I’ve broken the code, though. The key is this passage:

Screenshot 2017-03-14 at 2.35.03 PM

This distinction aligns perfectly with the differing requirements of the professional and student need submissions. For the professional need you are supposed to describe something you needed to learn and show how you used colleagues/others to learn it. For the student need you don’t need to learn anything — you just need to recognize and identify something that would make a difference to kids in your school, and then you’re supposed to impact your colleagues/others.

Which is why you don’t necessarily need to provide evidence that the student need impacted your kids. This is teacher as advocate and leader, affecting your colleagues. When you’re a learner you need to be affected by your colleagues, and show an impact on your kids.

(There are parts of this process that I don’t enjoy, but I won’t pretend I don’t love the exegesis. Sue me.)

So, yay, I understand what I’m supposed to do. How can I do this? I’m usually pretty deferential around the office, and “teacher as advocate” doesn’t sit well with me. That said, why not share ideas with my colleagues? It would be good for me to do more of that, especially in, oh, the next month or so.

Here’s what I’m thinking.

Teacher as Advocate: Better Middle School Geometry Experiences

I’ve taught high school Geometry at my school for the last four years. It’s the course I’ve taught the most. And while kids do alright in my classes, I think our school could be better preparing kids for their high school geometry work.

First, they often come in to geometry without having thought much about angles as rotations, or as angles being greater than 180 degrees.

Second, they have inconsistent experiences with the Pythagorean Theorem.

Third, they have had inconsistent experiences with the relationship between shared angles and similarity.

In the next month I’ll try to share some of the things I know about middle school geometry with my colleagues. There are three things I’ll do to advocate for geometry in Grades 3-8 (which is what we cover):

  • Create and share resources for various geometric topics, and ask some of my colleagues to share them with their students and tell me what they find out about their geometric knowledge.
  • We have a shared curricular space in our department. I’ll make a page to share some geometric resources that are appropriate for various grade levels, and try to better organize some of the things our department is already doing.
  • I’ll share some of this work at one of our math department meetings.

Collecting evidence is always really tricky with these portfolios, and is most of the reason why I end up submitting at the last minute. (I find that things never really work out when I try to collect evidence after the fact. I need to know what I’m doing so I can collect evidence during the process.)

What could evidence be for this? It’s tricky, but I could collect student work from any assessments I make from my 4th, 8th and Geometry classes, and I could also try to collect the student work of any colleagues who try out my assessments. I’m also thinking that maybe, if I share a collected activity page via email, I could take snippets of any emails people write back to me about the resources I’ve shared.

This plan is a B+ plan.

Teacher as Learner: Learning Disabilities and Proofs

I’ve got a few kids in my geometry classes who have learning disabilities. I don’t know how to support them with understanding and creating complex proofs. These kids have attentional issues that are related to low working memory. This makes it hard for them to e.g. keep in mind the premise of an argument, or e.g. an earlier diagram after it’s been transformed into some new one.

I might as well focus on the next thing that I’m trying to teach — proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. Is there any way that I can help my kids with learning disabilities make sense of these sorts of arguments?

I’ll ask the learning specialists in my school, but I’ll also ask smart people that I’m connected to online. As evidence of my learning I’ll excerpt our conversations. And as evidence of the student impact, well, hopefully I’ll help more of my kids learn these sorts of proofs.

And then if I can do that, then I just have to write the 12-page written commentary and I’m set.

And then, with the permission of an anonymous Pearson grader, I’ll be NBCT.

[NBCT] Self-Assessment

In the previous episode, I had given my students a formative assessment task and analyzed their responses by strategy.


I had no idea, though, how to do a meaningful self-assessment.

I liked what I ended up doing. Here is what I asked my students to work on today:


The figures are (again) taken from this Shell Center activity.

For as long as I’ve been thinking carefully about feedback and assessment, I’ve had a hard time getting excited about self-assessment. The whole point of assessment is that the assessor can direct your attention to things that you yourself have not seen. That makes self-assessment a pretty tough tool to use while you’re learning something.

If I had asked my kids “what could you have done better on this task” that would be lame. If you knew how to do something better, wouldn’t you? Unless you were lazy or tired or careless, and I’m interesting in teaching math. That other stuff is very rarely math.

My way out, though, is to reframe self-assessment as “assessing your own stuff against some other standard.”

I had noticed that some of my kids, on the initial task, weren’t finding the area using interesting structural features. Instead they were counting individual squares. That would hurt their ability to understand what the Pythagorean Theorem is saying (they wouldn’t be able to quickly check square areas) and would also hamstring their ability to understand proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem (since the proofs use those structural features).

Here is a self-assessment response from a kid who counted individual squares the first go around:


I would have described this student’s work on the initial task as strong, and her self-assessment was strong as well:


I thought this student could have dug a bit deeper.


I’d say that this activity worked at the level of “compare your approach to these two nice approaches that use nice geometric structure” for everybody, and then the rest of the activity worked well for like half the class.

So, I didn’t fall in love with self-assessment today. But I did figure out a way to do this part of my NBCT portfolio in a way that didn’t make me puke, and that I think helped kids learn something.

That counts as success, right?

Not quite sure how to do student self-assessment [NBCT C4]

As part of NBCT Component 4, you need to give a formative assessment. Last week, I gave this formative assessment to my high school geometry students:


Here was some of the work that my students came up with:


A wide variety of strategies and ideas, as well as levels of sophistication.

NBCT wants us to study and synthesize the results from the whole class.


This does not worry me. No problemo, there’s a lot to say here. I’m imagining doing something like this (or maybe this itself):


The student work analysis isn’t scaring me. The call for student self-assessment, on the other hand, gives me the jitters (the howling fantods):


The rubric idea? I hate that idea. And collecting a recording and making a transcript feels like a pain in the neck.

What other ways are there to have kids self-assess? Please, share your ideas. Here is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Do what I always like to when asking kids to revisit their past work: do some whole-group activity that teaches them something related to the student work, and then ask them to improve their work. Usually I hand back a marked-up copy of their work — honestly, I think that’s an important part of revising — but I could just ask them to self-assess?
  • Maybe my whole-group activity could be teaching them different language for their strategies? And then they identify them in the student work?
  • Ooh, I sort of like this idea: what if I gave them a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem and asked them to compare their work to the proof diagram. Self-assess: how is your diagram similar or different from this one?


I dunno. Self-assessment isn’t something that’s an important part of my teaching at the moment, and I’m unsure whether it should be. Either way, I need to find a nice way to ask kids to self-assess for this portfolio.

Any ideas?

A 3rd Post about NBCT AYA Component 4

I’ve been trying to blog about this NBCT portfolio for two reasons. First, because there is not a ton of information out in public about what goes into these portfolios. Second, the actual write-up of the portfolio requires a careful eye for concision, brevity, and more generally for careful consideration in your lexical choices, an ability to get the point across in as few words as possible and to make painful — but necessary — cuts from your prose in order to maximize the evidence/word ratio, avoiding at all costs writing that is overstuffed, repetitive, repetitive and indulgent.

But here, I write how I like.


There are three sections of this NBCT portfolio:

  • Knowledge of Students
  • Generation and Use of Assessment Data
  • Participation in Learning Communities

I’ve been spending the last month doing the legwork for the “Knowledge of Students” piece. This involves three little sub-tasks:

  • Making sure you’ve got good sources for your knowledge
  • Synthesizing what you gather into a profile of the kids
  • The meta-task: justifying/explaining your sourcing and synthesizing process


I like to think of myself as someone that knows his students well. I have relatively small classes, I like talking to kids and they tell me stuff about themselves. I also think of myself as someone who is pretty good at snuffing out what they’re good at and where they flop.

This is not what NBCT is interested in. They want an investigation — an active effort to gather information about kids from people who aren’t you. You need sources for the knowledge of students you profess to have. This is probably a good requirement, and it’s one that I enjoyed trying to fulfill.

Here are people I ended up talking to about the kids in my class:

  • Other math teachers who taught my kids in previous years
  • Learning specialists at my school who work with the kids in my class with learning disabilities
  • A guy who tutors one of my kids
  • Someone who observed this class for me after I reached out to them
  • Parents

(To give you a sense of the NBCT expectations, my conversations with parents are actually the weakest source for my submission, since I’m just reporting what we talked about during parent-teacher conferences. I didn’t especially arrange those conversations.)

How did I do, by the standards of NBCT? Here is what NBCT calls for on the section on sources:

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I did a good job of talking to a lot of the “school or professional personnel” about my kids, and I also talked to families. My case would probably be stronger if I could support if with something that isn’t a conversation. My school doesn’t keep assessment data from previous years around, but we do have anecdotal reports for every kid going way back. It would probably be good for me to take a look at them…and I just got in touch with my department chair to make this happen. If I add anecdotal reports to the mix, I think I’ll be pretty solid on my sourcing.


Besides for parents, I ended up having serious conversations with about eight colleagues about the kids in my class. What did I learn? And — NBCT emphasizes — how will this affect my teaching choices?

I think my class is roughly made up of three types of kid: high-flying, seriously struggling while learning disabled, and academically serious but historically struggling students. What makes this class special, I think, is that, even though this isn’t always the case, in this class each of these sub-groups prefer and naturally seek skill-development as the primary activity in class.

High-fliers often love problem solving, or working hard on tricky situations, asking wild questions, working their way around new and sophisticated ideas. This is not what colleagues tell me about the strongest math students in my class, though:

  • “Empowered by her toolkit being filled, liked getting right answers, not so much into big problem solving without clear path forward. She likes getting techniques down.”
  • “Thrived in algebra, applied it everywhere. Not motivated by optional work, preferred to work independently unless she was well-matched mathematically and personally; not a mathematical risk-taker.”
  • “She enjoyed solving equations and ‘getting into the groove.'”

So the high-fliers in my class happen to love to chase skills.

About a third of the students in my class have been evaluated for a learning disability. Their issues cluster around attention and reading comprehension, and their best successes in math have come when they have a particular type of problem they can get good at solving:

  • “____ enjoys feelings of mastery, will even enjoy 10 identical problems; has one of the most serious math disabilities the school has seen, has reading difficulties too, he’s almost never giving full attention, is anxious about math.”
  • “She loves mastering techniques. Worked with learning specialist on study techniques, implemented them and really loves them.”
  • “He worked well with a partner on a skill-practice assignment…has reading difficulties. Enjoys getting right answers.”

And many of my students come with disclaimers about their past academic lives, even though they’re academically serious.

  • “Father says: Likes math, but if you ask her if she’s good at it she would say ‘no.'”
  • “Low-processing speed.”
  • “Disliked and did poorly in math in previous years.”
  • “Has geometry under control despite struggles in previous years.”

In a lot of classes these kids would be checked-out of math, but they aren’t in my class. They take school seriously, and they want to succeed. And if you’ve struggled in math in the past but are seeking ways to be successful? Skill-mastery came up again and again in my conversations about these kids. This totally fits what I’ve seen in class. A kid recently told me that she never gets bored by repetitive worksheets. She’s right — she doesn’t. She loves it, and to the extent that it makes sense to talk about the preferences of a collective, this entire group of kids loves it too.

The big question: how does this affect my teaching?

How does this affect my teaching?

On the one hand, you can get decently far in math by just learning skills. There’s no such thing as just learning skills, of course, if you’re really learning them. To really be able to solve a type of problem is to combine conceptual and procedural knowledge, and (if you do it right) to apply that knowledge in creative ways to new scenarios.

And experience has shown me, over and over again, that this group most naturally hums along when we’re working on skills and problem types. It’s when things just work with this class. And this fits perfectly with the picture of the kids I gathered from my conversations.

But math is more than just mastering types of skills. It’s also about trying stuff when you have no clue what to do. It’s about inventing new words or concepts to describe mathematical phenomena. It’s about mathematical modeling, which inherently involves putting out ideas for revision’s sake.

This stuff is harder for my kids; it’s not natural for the group. It takes careful planning to pull off, and even then it often flops.

NBCT wants to know how my knowledge of kids affects my teaching. For this group of kids, I know that learning will happen if we’re working on getting better at solving a particular type of problem. But the wider vocabulary of mathematics is harder to bring to this class, and I have to think very carefully when I try to share it with this group.

So, NBCT: how did I do on this one?

Screenshot 2017-02-05 at 5.09.18 PM.png

I’m doing OK, I think, though I haven’t yet identified an area for future information gathering. Since the growth area I’m looking at is sharing non-skill development math with this group, that would be a good place to gather more info. (And maybe it involves talking to people from beyond my school who might have smart things to say about this — there’s room for that in NBCT’s world.)

Reflecting on All This

NBCT gives you reflection prompts for the written commentary.

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Q: What guided you in selecting those particular sources of information?

A: Things were going ok for this class, but I wanted to know what made them hum. The kids seemed generally content, but I wanted to know what about math got them excited. So I sought out people who knew them well — their past teachers, tutors and the learning specialists who worked them regularly. The sources were appropriate for helping me figure out what these kids enjoyed about math.

I also had a bunch of kids with learning disabilities, so the learning specialists (and the kids special out-of-school tutors) were a no-brainer, source-wise.

Q: How did you determine the relative importance of the different kids of information you gathered?

A: This is a tough question for me to answer, and I’m not exactly sure how to go about it.

The learning specialists provided a really important perspective, but sometimes they were talking more about what they saw working one-on-one with a kid instead of the fuller, social situation. For one kid they said that the enjoys working on a lot of problems that are nearly identical — this surprised me, because he does not seem to enjoy this in class. My interpretation is that the social situation is different for him, mathematically. He worries a lot about doing math in the presence of others. He still might enjoy working on a lot of similar problems, but around other people he gets self-conscious about looking stupid by not knowing how to do a problem, and chooses to just opt-out of the whole game.

Sometimes people would tell me various instructional techniques that worked well for various kids, getting close to making recommendations. Example: he likes moving, he likes having very clear examples, he likes touching things. I rated this information as interesting, but non-crucial. Instructional techniques are my job. I wanted information about what kids were like in other settings, what they enjoyed. That’s what I listened for, even while people were recommending teaching moves to me.

I might end up with some surprises when I look through old anecdotal reports. I’ll have to decide how to situate those to the conversations that I’ve had with others.

When parents tell me what their kids are like in math, I take that as data, but I treat it as tentative. A few sets of parents told me that their kid historically struggled, but a few others told me that their kids were looking for more of a challenge. This was helpful, but not as important to me as knowing the specifics of what their kids enjoyed doing. Knowing that a kid likes math or doesn’t, that they want more challenges or they don’t — these aren’t exactly easy to act on. I needed more specifics, so the specifics I gathered from colleagues helped me figure out what to actually do. So I guess that makes them more important, though this whole investigation started from the comments I got from parents at conferences, so it’s not like they were unimportant comments. I don’t know.

Q: What are some of the trends you identified?

A: That several kids have diagnosed learning stuff that makes it harder for them to understand new contexts and problems, and as a result they tend to really like when there are a series of questions of a similar problem-type.

That a bunch of kids have baggage from previous math experiences, but they have found success with developing their skills. Even the kids who don’t have math-baggage prefer not to take big mathematical risks, and this is something that their previous teachers noted to me too.

In terms of pair/individual preferences, my class is mixed. Some kids really prefer working alone, others prefer working with partners. No consistent trend here, which is sort of a trend itself.

Q: How did you identify or confirm the trends?

A: I asked one person, but then I waited to see if others brought it up. And the skill-development theme just piled-on with each successive conversation and observation. We’ll see what happens when I go through anecdotal reports. (My answer here seems thin, and I’m not entirely sure how to beef it up.)

The observation was really helpful in firming up what I thought I was seeing with my kids.

Q: What other factors did you take into account when analyzing and reflecting on the various sources of information and why?

A: My first reaction: I have no idea what this question is getting at. That’s my second reaction too. Anyone think they know what this question is all about?

One thing I took into account is that my class — high school geometry — might be different than kid’s previous experiences in math class. Like a lot of geometry teachers, I’ve noticed that kids sometimes love or hate it because it feels different from their other experiences. And part of your job in geometry, I think, is to help kids learn that this is also math. You want to teach them that geometry isn’t so different, and hopefully use that to help everybody come to like math a bit more.

I also didn’t want to assume that any of the things that people were telling me about kids were stable. So if a kid enjoys skills work? That doesn’t make them a skills-lover. It’s good knowledge to have, but even if that’s true there’s no reason to think that’s fixed. The mathematical experiences that a kid has had impacts their preferences — those can change.

I don’t know if that response makes any sense.

Q: What are the needs of this group of students and what kind of supports to you anticipate providing in order to meet those needs in fair and equitable ways?

A: All the above leads to some clear moves I can make:

  • I’ve got 1/3 of my class with diagnosed learning disabilities. These kids need lots of processing time, they need the context and scenarios of problems to be carefully developed for them, to reduce their reading load.
  • About 1/2 of my class has had difficulties with math in the past, and that impacts their ability to take academic risks in class. They don’t want to look dumb. They need to feel safe that they won’t feel dumb to do math that goes beyond skills-development work.
  • That means that, if I’m going to help them try more mathematically adventurous things, they’ll need lots of time to understand the problem, and the problem will need to be non-text heavy.


I think that’s a perfectly fine answer, though I feel like maybe I’ll think of a way to go deeper. If you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Q: What other educators, professionals, family members, or community members will you need to collaborate with to meet these students’ needs and why?

A: I’ll need to talk to some people who work with kids with learning disabilities similar to the ones my kids have.

I’ll need to collaborate with tutors and anyone else who meets with a kid out of class.


Hmm. Again, I’m not exactly sure.

Next Steps

To finish off my source-gathering, I want to look at anecdotal reports for my students from previous years. I feel good about the trends that I’ve identified and the way I’ve synthesized what I’ve learned about the kids. When it comes to the written commentary, though, there are a few questions where I’m giving answers that don’t feel like they go so deep. I need to think more about those.

I’m ready to try writing this up for submission, though. And then I need to figure out what unit I’m going to plan, and what I’m going to assess my kids’ ability to handle.

I think a good goal would be for my kids to engage more seriously in non-skills math in this next unit. A formative assessment might help all of us figure out how to do this in a non-threatening, non-text heavy way.


A 2nd Post About NBCT AYA Component 4

I’m going to do some of the work of developing my submission for NBCT Component 4 here. I’ll enjoy thinking in your good company, and maybe it’ll be useful to others.

Where to start?

One thing that makes this submission tricky is identifying its core. At first (and at second, third and fourth) it appears to call for a mishmash of evidence: seeking out knowledge about your kids, talking to parents, assessing and instructing the kids, contributing to the learning community.

I’ve been trying to think of this portfolio as really, truly about the cycle of investigation/application we do in teaching. This happens at multiple levels in our work, according to NBCT:

  • You seek out knowledge about kids from outside your classroom, and you use that to create assessments…
  • …and those assessments give you more information about kids, which you use to teach ’em stuff…
  • …which necessitates a summative assessment, which lets you know that your kids have a need that isn’t being addressed…
  • …so you seek out knowledge from the broader learning community to address that student need.

It all holds together, even if it’s a bit wobbly. (Do we always discover student needs that force us to collaborate with colleagues? Do we always need to look outside the classroom for our knowledge about kids?)

Because all of this is so inter-connected, it’s hard to know where to begin the work. How can I decide what knowledge to collect without knowing how it’s going to impact the assessment? How can I pick the assessment without knowing if that’s going to lead to a student need that I can write about?

I’m sure there’s more than one way in. My plan is to start by seeking out knowledge about my kids from families and colleagues. I want to do this strategically, though, to make sure that the knowledge I seek is able to impact the design of my assessment.

Assessment Decisions

The portfolio calls for evidence that you gather knowledge about students from parents, families or colleagues, but also that knowledge needs to be used to plan the assessment. In order for this to work, then, I need to be systematic in the knowledge that I seek. Otherwise, I might ask questions that are useless for informing my assessment design.

The group that I’m writing about is a going to be studying similarity and dilations after winter break. Really any task can be a formative assessment if you do it right, so the content they’re assessed on is somewhat flexible. For the sake of thinking this through, I’ll just choose a task at random from the New Visions site.


OK, suppose that some version of this mathematics was the focus of my formative assessment task. What knowledge about my kids (that I could gather from families or colleagues) could impact how I do or design this task?

In order to answer that, it might be helpful to describe some of the choices I have to make about an assessment. With some help from the Thinking Through a Lesson Protocolhere are dimensions along which an assessment task could vary.

  • The mathematical goals or the precise nature of the task itself might vary (e.g. I might focus on proof or calculation)
  • The support for the task they have might vary (e.g. I might slowly build up to the task with a notice/wonder intro or I might ask them to solve for x)
  • Kids can have resources to help them or not (paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, etc.)
  • They can work solo, in pairs, with a group. Those groups can be assigned or random or not-assigned.
  • They could record their work on paper, whiteboards, on the chalkboard. They could have one record per group. They could not record it and be assessed based on their conversations.

Are there more ways in which an assessment can vary? If so, please point them out in the comments!

Knowledge To Inform Assessment Decisions

I’m used to looking inside my classroom for knowledge about kids. In contrast, NBCT is asking me to look outside the classroom for knowledge to inform my assessments. How am I going to do that?

Most of my knowledge-seeking about these kids happened at the start of the school year, and mostly for this one kid, Kid A. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about Kid A. I talked to the school’s three learning specialists, this kid’s former math teachers, Kid A’s current math tutor and mother. I worked hard to set up a once-a-week meeting with this kid outside of class. I have OK-not-great records of these conversations, so it wouldn’t be impossible for me to submit them as evidence. And I could probably write a bit about how Kid A’s special set of qualities requires a special sort of assessment: one that starts with plenty of individual think time, then some pair time that I can listen-in on, and only after all that a chance to try to record some ideas on a page.

The issue, though, is that NBCT doesn’t want evidence that you sought knowledge out about one kid in your class. They want to know that you are seeking knowledge out about the entire class. I need to do more than show that I’ve got Kid A’s back.

The class that I’m writing about is quite small — about ten kids. I went through my roster and thought about what questions I still have about them. I’m going to need to find something to learn about the rest of my class for this portfolio.

For a bunch of kids — Kids B-F — I really want to know what they find challenging or fun. This is based on conversations I had at parent-teacher conferences with their parents. All of their parents mentioned that their kids felt math class could be more challenging.

Normally I’d dismiss this as parents making stuff up about their kids, except that (a) this is something I’ve heard from some of these kids myself and (b) focusing on supporting kids who need more time is persistent feedback I get about my teaching and (c) Kid A in particular needs a lot of time, and so does Kid G, and I’m definitely guilty of asking myself while planning so how much longer can we practice this in class before Kids B-F stage a mutiny?

Back to NBCT: I have the notes that I took at conferences scanned, and I could submit this itself as evidence. I don’t know if that’s enough evidence, because I’m not sure how I would take this desire for challenges into account while planning the assessment. Maybe…making sure there’s an optional challenge that’s part of the assessment? Or a choice of two possible paths after kids solve that initial task together?

Any ideas here, people?

I’m also not sure what I could ask parents/colleagues to tell me about the kids that would help me get a better picture of what they find challenging. Hey Parent B, just checking in. Has Kid B mentioned anything about which topics they find challenging or interesting? This is an insane question to ask a parent, instead of asking the kid themselves.

Maybe I could go to these kids’ Algebra 1 teacher and ask what they found interesting last year? I’m not sure what their teachers could say that would help me. Maybe: “Kid C likes to draw”; “Kid D loved solving equations.”

That sounds doable.

The Plan

The details matter for NBCT. (Oh lord do the details matter.) Here is what you need to show NBCT for your knowledge of the childrens:

  • Show that you gathered information from at least two of the following sources: families, colleagues, professionals in the district or in the field, and/or other community members.
  • A description of the information about the group of students you collected from multiple sources and how you collected it. [i.e. show that you’re not pulling this out of your butt and lazily being like a parent called me with a question, no, you’re supposed to seek out the info]
  • Write a detailed profile or description of the group of students you selected to feature in this portfolio entry based on the information you gathered. [i.e. all kids not just Kid A]
  • How did this knowledge inform the kinds of assessments (formative and summative) you planned to use and any modifications that would be necessary given students’ learning modalities, social and emotional growth, exceptionalities, abilities, interests, etc.?


Based on all the above, here’s my plan:

  • I’ll show that I sought out info from learning specialists about Kid A and from parents about the degree of challenge. This doesn’t make the strongest case that I actively seek out this info (since the parent-teacher conference thing just falls in your lap) but I’ll reach out to my kids’ past and current teachers to try to get some more perspective. If that works out then that would make a strong case that I seek out this info systematically.
  • I’ll need to think some more about what should be part of the detailed profile, but just going on what I have, I could write a bunch now.
  • Based on what I currently know about the kids, my submission is going to be about supporting Kid A (and Kid G) who have IEPs and issues that make it hard for them to dive into a tough task on their own while maintaining challenge for Kids B-F. In practice, this might mean multi-layered assessments that include pair/individual work, accessible/work that feels challenging, talking/writing math. That’s sort of a mishmash but I’m generally having a tough time meeting all the kids in my class. (That could be my learning need for the other part of this portfolio, come to think about it.)

Next up: reaching out to colleagues and designing my assessment.