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Unmuted: Using Student Feedback to Create an Effective Secondary Learning Environment
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Newest Policy Points Revisits A Nation at Risk
ASCD’s newest Policy Points (PDF) takes a closer look at A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report on the state of U.S. education that launched a spirited and ongoing debate about the quality of our public schools. This issue of Policy Points examines the specific recommendations of the report, the accuracy of its dire prediction about “a rising tide of mediocrity” undermining the nation’s well-being, and the evolving school reform debate the report kick-started three decades ago.
Throughout May on www.wholechildeducation.org: The New Poverty
In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. These “poor kids” don’t fit the traditional stereotypes—two-thirds live in families in which at least one adult works and the percentage of poor students in many rural districts equals that in inner-city districts. In the United States, the economic downturn has dramatically changed the landscape, and districts that were previously vibrant are now dealing with unemployment, underemployment, and more transient families.
Join us as we share what new—and old—solutions we are using to support learning and ensure that each child, whatever her circumstances, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the current economic downturn; its result that many families and children face reduced circumstances; and implications for schools, many of which have seen drastic changes in the populations they serve and their communities. Guests include Deborah Wortham, superintendent of the School District of the City of York, Pa., and former assistant superintendent for high schools and director of professional development for Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools; Felicia DeHaney, president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; William Parrett, director of the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies and professor of education at Boise State University; and Kathleen Budge, coordinator of the Leadership Development Program and associate professor in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies Department at Boise State University. Parrett and Budge are also coauthors of the 2012 ASCD book Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools.
ASCD Leader Voices
Arkansas Governor Signs Whole Child Legislation
Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe signed a new bill into law that promotes a whole child approach to educating the state’s children. The legislation (PDF) establishes a Whole Child Whole Community recognition program and aims to measure the comprehensive well-being of children and how well stakeholders are meeting their needs according to the five whole child tenets and their indicators as identified by ASCD.
The recognition program will acknowledge and highlight the work of Arkansas educators, parents, community members, and policymakers who support the whole child. The legislation also indicates that one purpose of the recognition program is to help spur systemic collaboration and coordination within and beyond schoolhouse doors and to promote a shift from narrowly defined student achievement and traditional education reform to broader, more comprehensive efforts that recognize the crucial out-of-school factors that influence teaching and learning. A diverse state working group will work over the course of a year to recommend a framework and process for recognizing exemplary whole child and whole community successes.
Congratulations to Arkansas ASCD, which played a crucial role in supporting the bill’s development and introduction!
Rhode Island Passes Whole Child Resolution
The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution (PDF) supporting a whole child approach to education that ensures each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
The resolution affirms that to educate Rhode Island’s children effectively, the state must pay attention to factors within and beyond its school buildings as well as integrate efforts among schools, families, and communities. In addition, the resolution expresses the assembly’s intent to model whole child concepts in its own work and to join with other stakeholders who support the whole child.
Congratulations to Rhode Island ASCD(RIASCD), which worked hard to have this joint resolution introduced into the Rhode Island legislature!
To help the state fulfill its commitment to whole child education, ASCD and RIASCD offered some initial steps (PDF)—organized by the five whole child tenets—for educators, parents and community members, and policymakers to take. RIASCD also highlighted some of ASCD’s free resources to help the state put its whole child vision into action.
South Carolina ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states.In the seventh post of the series, South Carolina ASCD leader Josh Patterson writes about the challenges and successes that South Carolina has had with CCSS implementation.
The Effective Principal
What we see through our research, reading, and conversations with principals and school staff is that to see what an effective principal is, don’t look at the person; look at the effects of her leadership on student achievement, school culture and climate, teacher effectiveness and satisfaction, and community relationships. As the wearers of many hats, principals are crucial to implementing meaningful and lasting school change. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In April, we looked at what qualities principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Donna Snyder, manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD; Kevin Enerson, principal of Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota (an ASCD Whole Child Network school); and Jessica Bohn, an ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
Also this month on the Whole Child Podcast, we talked with educators from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School (winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award) about how they meet student and staff needs, taking challenges and turning them into opportunities for all. Guests include principal Mark Pinder, assistant principal for curriculum Michael Ralls, assistant principal for student management Tim Taylor, dean of students Donnie Siel, and teacher leader David Adams.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Killeen Independent School District Deepens Professional Development Partnership with ASCD—Killeen Independent School District (ISD)—whose more than 6,100 staff members serve approximately 42,000 students—is deepening its relationship with ASCD to meet its professional development goals. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Leadership Guide on Transforming Any Teacher into a Master—ASCD is pleased to announce the release of Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom by best-selling education author, renowned educator, and professional development expert Robyn R. Jackson.
Never Underestimate Your Teachers offers school leaders a new model for understanding great teaching as a combination of skill and will, and it's the first book of its kind to support leaders as they facilitate teacher growth in both areas through differentiated leadership. Jackson shows readers how to design and deliver targeted professional development to help each teacher realize his or her potential and achieve great results for the benefit of every student. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Common Core Academy Supports School Leadership Teams Across the United States—ASCD is bringing its inaugural ASCD Common Core Leadership Team Academy to Chicago August 5–8, 2013. This intensive four-day professional leadership experience offers groups of administrators, teacher leaders, and nonprofit and higher education partners an accelerated plan for putting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into routine practice. Read the full press release.
ASCD Summer Reading List Identifies 10 Books That Can Transform Teaching and Learning—In the spirit of promoting year-round professional development, ASCD has assembled a diverse list of books essential to educators who seek to improve their practice over the summer months. These books—organized by how they help educators transform teaching and learning—offer readers the opportunity to dive deep into the hottest topics in education, including using data to focus improvement, project-based learning, child development, and neurodiversity. All books are currently available in paperback and e-book formats. Read the full press release.
Arkansas Governor Beebe Signs Education Reform Law Supporting the Whole Child—Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe has signed a new bill into law that promotes a well-rounded whole child approach to educating the state’s children.“An Act to Establish the Whole Child– Whole Community Recognition Program; and for Other Purposes” (Senate Bill 1051[PDF]) outlines a plan for the Arkansas education system that ensures Arkansas students receive a whole child education. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Staff Expand Association’s Ability to Design, Deliver, and Evaluate Professional Development Resources—ASCD welcomes three new staff members to the association’s Program Development Work Group. Dr. Andrea Muse has accepted the position of director of research and program evaluation, Jen Thompson will serve as director of program management and process improvement, and Elizabeth Thurman has joined ASCD as director of customer engagement and product support. The additions of Muse, Thompson, and Thurman expand ASCD’s capability to design, deliver, and evaluate the crucial professional development resources today’s educators need to learn, teach, and lead. Read the full press release.
This commentary examines criteria for selecting effective curricula and instructional models in a 21st century world, and also provides eight examples of relatively unknown yet powerful curricula-instructional programs that should be considered for adoption.
In the same way that it is hard to build a building without an architectural blueprint, so too it is hard for a teacher to be effective without strong curricula-instructional frameworks. Curricula/instructional frameworks lay out the goals, methods, strategies, approaches, assessments, and resources needed for successful teaching and learning. The better the framework, the more likely will be the sturdiness of the foundation and the effectiveness of instruction. The more that curricular-instructional models available to teachers are consistent with the goals and practices of the teacher and school, and the needs of students, the more likely it is that teaching will have good results.
Just imagine how an architectural blueprint influences and affects the construction of a building. Building construction based on a poor design may make it difficult to walk from one part of the building to another, make communication among building occupants difficult, make furniture arrangements impossible, make lighting too dark or too light, make the building safe or unsafe. In the same vein, a poorly designed curriculum may lead to too many unclear, vague goals that do not match student needs, include too much to teach, limit “deeper understanding” of a subject, teach the wrong skills, provide few connections between its different parts, have little meaning for learners, foster passive learning, and make alignment of content among teachers and grade levels difficult. When teachers work from poorly designed curricula and instructional frameworks, they have to work very hard to redo the curricular and instructional practices encouraged by these frameworks, and many times powerful learning is difficult if not impossible to create within the given framework.
What are the components of successful curriculum/instructional frameworks for teaching in a 21st century world? Some framework characteristics might include:
Teachers, schools and districts need to regularly review their curricular programs in order to update them and create programs more attuned to this new age that we live in. Ultimately, this will make a huge difference for children in this new age.
The following curricula and instructional models exemplify powerful “21st century” program elements built around many or most these criteria. You are probably unfamiliar with most or all of them. They, and programs like them, should become familiar to educators and achieve greater use throughout the educational community.
NOTE: Many of their descriptions are adapted from the program’s website.
1. LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
SERP-Word Generation for the Middle School
SERP - Word Generation is a research-based, highly motivating “vocabulary” development program for middle school students designed to teach words through language arts, math, science, and social studies classes. The program consists of weekly units, each of which introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages describing controversies currently under debate in this country. The paragraphs are intended to help students join ongoing "national conversations" by sparking active examination and discussion of contemporary issues. The target words are relevant to a range of settings and subject areas. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week will enable students to understand the variety of ways in which words are related, and the multiple exposures to words will provide ample opportunities for deeper understanding.
The Word Generation program is designed to build academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language. Interpret, prohibit, vary, function, and hypothesis are examples. Academic vocabulary includes words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, like element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them.
For more information, go to: http://wg.serpmedia.org
For information about other SERP programs in development, go to: http://www.serpinstitute.org/2013/
Other literacy development programs you might want to examine:
Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) http://www.cliontheweb.org
Reading and Writing Workshop: http://readingandwritingproject.com/about/overview.html
100 Book Challenge: http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/
Touchstones discussion Project: http://www.touchstones.org
Jr Great Books Program:
2. CREATIVE THINKING
Design Thinking is a structured approach to generate and develop new ways to solve difficult problems and challenges. Design Thinking starts with a challenge, and then works through a series of steps to help find creative solutions to the challenge, such as empathy, interpretation, brainstorming and choosing alternatives, building models, and planning for implementation. The process can be used to help solve school challenges or world-wide challenges. It includes learning additional skills such as finding reliable information, developing surveys and questionnaires, and building interview skills. It can be adapted to be used with students at all ages.
Other creative thinking programs you might want to explore:
Creative Problem Solving: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org
The Future Problem Solving Program: http://www.fpspi.org
3. POSITIVE ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Champions of Caring: Journey of a Champion Middle and High School Programs
The Journey of a Champion Middle Grades curriculum is a year-long course of study divided into 4 modules. It promotes academic excellence, character development, service-learning and citizenship. The curriculum is a catalyst for encouraging caring, thoughtfulness and good judgment through service and civic participation. Students gain civic engagement skills as they design community and school service projects. Civic skills developed include:
The Journey of a Champion High School Program is a character education and service-learning curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Through this program, students learn how to act as responsible, caring and involved citizens who respect themselves and others and succeed academically.
Journey of a Champion invites students to learn about and reflect on the challenges they and their contemporaries face. It places those challenges in a historical context and leads students to develop strategies and skills that will help them confront those challenges. The journey "destination" is students creating and planning sustainable service and civic participation. The curriculum affects positive change in students by:
For more information, go to: http://www.championsofcaring.org
Other programs to look at:
Second Step: http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step.aspx
4. ECONOMICS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
Entrepreneurship education is a tool that can equip young people to not only start businesses and create jobs, but also to be opportunity-focused, flexible employees ready to fill existing jobs.
NFTE fosters the creation of entrepreneurship skills, businesses and the development of an adaptable, driven and opportunity-focused workforce that ultimately promotes economic stability. External research has shown that NFTE graduates start and maintain businesses at substantially higher rates than their peers. Other research findings indicate that students develop:
Working with schools in low-income communities where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, NFTE targets young people who are at risk of dropping out of school, and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success. The program, Highly Academic, is a semester or year-long class with a NFTE-certified teacher who guides students through one of the curricula: Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future or Exploring Careers for the 21st Century. Lessons include the concepts of competitive advantage, ownership, opportunity recognition, marketing, finance, and product development - and all tie back to core math and literacy skills. Lessons include field trips, games and experiential activities. Classes regularly have guest speakers. Students are paired with coaches who help students work on their business plans, and business plan competitions are judges by local entrepreneurs and business people.
Each young person who takes a NFTE class works toward completing a business plan, then goes on to present and defend it in a classroom competition. The winners of these competitions go on to compete in citywide or regional competitions, with the hopes of reaching our annual national competition.
For more information, go to: http://www.nfte.com
Other Economic-Entrepreneurial Programs:
General information about entrepreneurial education programs can be found at: http://www.entre-ed.org
Information about Economic and Financial Education resources can be found at: http://www.councilforeconed.org
5. INQUIRY-BASED SCIENCE
Full Options Science System (FOSS)
Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think and “search for the truth”. Scientists value open communication, investigation, and good evidence for drawing conclusions. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world. FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.
FOSS K–6 is a complete program consisting of 26 modules for self-contained elementary classrooms. The components exclusive to K–6 are
FOSS Middle School components consist of nine units for students and their teachers in departmental science grades 6–8. Each unit requires 9–12 weeks to teach. The Middle School program includes the following five interconnected components:
Two components that apply to both FOSS K–6 and FOSS Middle School are the FOSS Assessment System and FOSSweb.com.
For more information, go to: http://www.fossweb.com
Other programs to consider:
Active Physics: (high school): http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html
6. CONCEPTUALLY-ORIENTED MATHEMATICS
Cognitively Guided Instruction
Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is a professional development program that increases teachers’ understanding of the knowledge that students bring to the math learning process and how they can connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The program is based on the premise that children throughout the elementary grades are capable of learning powerful unifying ideas of mathematics that are the foundation of both arithmetic and algebra. Learning and articulating these ideas enhance children's understanding of arithmetic and provide a foundation for extending their knowledge of arithmetic to the learning of algebra.
CGI is guided by two major ideas. The first is that children bring an intuitive knowledge of mathematics to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing formal mathematics instruction. This idea leads to an emphasis on working with the processes that students use to solve problems. The second key idea is that math instruction should be based on the relationship between computational skills and problem solving, which leads to an emphasis on problem solving in the classroom instead of the repetition of number facts, such as practicing the rules of addition and subtraction.
With the CGI approach, teachers focus on what students know and help them build future understanding based on present knowledge. The program aims to improve children's mathematical skills by increasing teachers' knowledge of students' thinking, by changing teachers' beliefs regarding how children learn, and by ultimately changing teaching practice. In 1996, CGI was extended into the upper elementary school levels to assist first through sixth grade teachers in integrating the major principles of algebra into arithmetic instruction.
There is no set curriculum. Teachers use the CGI framework with existing curriculum materials, or they use CGI principles to help develop their own math curriculum.
For more information, go to: http://www.promisingpractices.net/program.asp?programid=114#programinfo
Other math programs that might be considered:
Project Seed: http://projectseed.org
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)(High School): http://mathimp.org/general_info/intro.html
7. SOCIAL STUDIES/CIVICS PROGRAMS
Social Studies School Service
Social Studies School Service offers teachers, K-12, a variety of alternative and unique materials, programs, and curricula for social studies at all levels. The materials have been developed for the many aspects of social studies – government, history, geography, and civics – and often are interdisciplinary, incorporate conceptual understanding, develop research skills, big ideas and essential questions, and use data-based test questions (DBQ’s), performance tasks, and multiple readings. Catalogues of available materials are frequently sent out and shared.
For further information, go to: www.socialstudies.com
Other social studies/civics programs to consider:
Teacher’s Curriculum Institute social studies programs: www.teachtci.com
Center for Civic Education: http://new.civiced.org
Zinn Education: http://zinnedproject.org
A History of US: http://www.joyhakim.com/works.htm
The Choices Program (Middle and High School): http://www.choices.edu
8. STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS) PROGRAMS
Engineering is Elementary
EIE consists currently of twenty STEM units designed for the elementary grades. Each EIE unit ties in with an elementary science topic and is meant to be taught either concurrently or after students learn the appropriate science content in life science, earth and space science and physical science areas. Each unit has five “lessons” (lessons can be more than one day).
The units attempt to combine learning in a science area with engineering concepts. Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math and science and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate students to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications. They foster problem-solving skills, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions.
Learning about engineering increases students' awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in high school.
For more information, go to: http://www.eie.org/
Other STEM examples:
Engineer Your World: http://www.engineeryourworld.org (high school)
Project Lead the Way: http://www.pltw.org (high school)
Some Final Thoughts
Every school and district should have some mechanism to help staff members regularly review the many available potential curriculum and instructional programs and approaches, and to select those that provide students with opportunities based on the criteria suggested at the beginning of this commentary, such as focused, meaningful goals; targeted key skills, attitudes and values; multiple formative and summative assessment options; a focus on deeper learning; and active student engagement and inquiry.[i]
The programs listed above are only some examples of the many powerful curricula and instructional options that are often neglected and put into place too infrequently in schools and classrooms.[ii] Many others that meet the criteria cited above and match 21st century goals should be considered. Through continual review and renewal, every District should move towards having a set of powerful curricula and instructional programs, tied to appropriate staff development training, that help prepare students to live in a 21st century world.
We also now have the technology to develop curriculum review websites, comparable to Amazon’s book service and reviews or TripAdvisor’s travel site that rates hotels and bed and breakfasts in all parts of the world. The website should include a comprehensive set of curriculum programs, all reviewed by experts and rated by users. Such a site would provide educators with data that would be helpful in a curriculum review and renewal process.
[i] For additional information about curriculum renewal criteria and strategies, go to www.era3learning.org, then to resources, then to curriculum renewal, and then to the article by Elliott Seif, Reconfiguring Learning Through Curriculum Renewal (unpublished).
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week this week and I’d like to take the time to share some memories of teachers who have impacted me over the years.
We’ve all heard Herbert Hoover’s most famous quote, “Children are our most valuable natural resource.” I agree wholeheartedly and would like to add that teachers are second only to those children as one of our most valuable natural resources.
The teacher is the common denominator, the roots of all successes. Teachers lay the foundations that students need to do whatever is in their reach, in their dreams, in their wildest imaginations. Teachers take seeds and help them grow. Teachers give their students wings to help them fly. Teachers unleash the power of the brain to do impossible and never thought of things.
It’s very difficult to quantify and qualify every little nuance of what makes an effective teacher. Sure, we can check off this or that, or look for evidence that suggests that they do effective work or better some or all of the time. What’s harder to measure, though, are the little details that are beyond the role of just teacher but that matter more than just delivery of content. I’m talking about caring. I’m talking about a deep interest in the lives of their children. I’m talking about taking on multiple roles such as parent, friend, confidant, playmate, role model, tour guide, nurse, coach, psychologist, clean up crew, chef, and constant imagineer.
At ASCD's 2013 Annual Conference, guest speaker Maya Angelou referred to teachers as “rainbows in her clouds.” Even when there may be storms brewing, there’s always a light. Ms. Angelou shared some of her rainbows, and I’d like to share some of mine here:
I remember specific details about being in first grade. Playing with the hermit crabs, washing my hair in the sink on picture day, and going into the private book nook to turn myself into the Incredible Hulk so that I could get all of my work done. Jill Roach, my first grade teacher took it all in stride, and still somehow managed to teach me to love reading. We used basal readers from a mid-70’s series with titles such as Galaxies, Secrets, and Tapestry. I was a voracious reader and Mrs. Roach gave me as much text as I was willing to consume. Later, as a resource teacher, she taught me how to program a Texas Instruments computer and the perseverance and tenacity it took to turn three solid weeks of work into a color-changing, pixelated dancing man called Mr. Bojangles.
This love of reading was supported throughout Elementary school and in 6th grade, Ron Seabolt introduced me to The Trumpet of the Swan. He used to read to us every day after lunch and I remember this book specifically. I’ve read it dozens of times since then. Later, when I started teaching myself, I read this exact book to my own 6th graders who were in as much awe as I was, so many years ago. There was something so caring in Mr. Seabolt’s reading to us; something so kind and inviting. Reading to a child is the most wonderful thing in the world. It is a gift to all involved, both the reader and the listener. When I read to others and especially when I re-read The Trumpet of the Swan, I still think about Mr. Seabolt, perched on his bar stool, reading with careful pronunciation and multiple voices. It’s one of my favorite school memories.
In 1986, I was in Mr. Robert Shinn’s 9th grade history class watching, with my classmates, the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. We had been taking copious notes earlier and were relieved to get a little break to watch history unfold live. Mr. Shinn was a teacher’s teacher. He knew his content extremely well and his charge was to prepare us both for meeting the requirements of his class as well as being prepared for the world we would all be graduating into. His class was consistently rigorous and I was well prepared for everything that came after his class. When the space shuttle exploded in front of us, and we quickly realized that all aboard had died, Mr. Shinn turned quickly from his teacher role and into a parent. He walked to the television and turned it off. When he turned around, his eyes were red and he spoke softly, “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever had the honor to witness. This is a horrible tragedy for our country but it’s all going to be okay. We will all be okay.” While I’m paraphrasing, I was both comforted and haunted by his words. We sat in silence for awhile and he later added, “there was a teacher on board that shuttle. Her name was Christa McAuliffe. Don’t forget her name.” I haven’t.
Jim Rodgers and Bess Oxendine were my High School English teachers. I had each of them for two alternating years. These were the two smartest people I had ever met and were each on different ends of a continuum of eccentricity that I haven’t seen since and doubt I will ever see again. Mr. Rodgers was straight-laced and cultured and referred to us all as “scholars” where Mrs. Oxendine was kooky and humorous and had a very “campfire / kumbaya” approach to teaching. In each of their classes I came to love Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, Eudora Welty, C.S. Lewis, Chaucer, William Faulkner, and Barbra Streisand. Well, maybe not so much love with Streisand, but definitely a firm like. I can still recite, from memory, the introduction to The Canterbury Tales and in my Southern accent it still sounds as tainted as ever. I remember specific moments in their classes where I felt smart and I remember enough details from that time that it still resonates and impacts my current professional practice. When my wife is irked that I make connections in popular culture or answer correctly all of the literary categories on “Jeopardy!” I remind her that it is because of Mr. Rodgers and Mrs. Oxendine. They are the reasons why I have a Master’s in English today.
Speaking of that English Master’s...one of my professors at Buffalo State College, Dr. Susan Leist, who I still keep in contact with, was definitely a bright spot in my higher education. Our relationship began with me seeing her only as a “Comma Nazi” and trying to avoid her ire at all costs. It turns out she was excellent at her craft. She asked good questions. She didn’t tell me “what” to do or even “why” I should do it, she simply offered opposing arguments and different perspectives. Through conversation, she helped me learn to think of both product, audience, and impact--skills that are essential in the 21st century. Her conversations and voice have morphed over the years into what I call my “Leist Filter” through which I look at every single thing I write; looking for alternative ways to say something important and absolutely making sure that every comma is needed or at least has a plausible reason for being in the neighborhood. I probably still overuse that particular punctuation mark but like good seasoning I believe you should pepper your work with as many opportunities to pause and reflect while both reading and writing. I know now that is a stylistic decision, and as an artist, it is within my creative boundaries to permit such behaviors.
I am where I am today because of the fabulous teachers I’ve had. They have been models and mentors who showed me divergent paths and taught me to be diligent and perseverent. They taught me to think and they gave me choices. They gave me roots and wings.
It is with deep appreciation and sincere gratitude that I say, simply, “Thank you.”
Thank you to my teachers and thank you to ALL teachers. You have the most unbelievable charge, especially in this day and age. Know that you are having an impact on your students both in learning and in their lives. Know that bureaucracies and politics and their related ilk are tidal. They ebb and flow with the times. Teachers are constants. Teachers always do what must be done. Teachers are heroes.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
What is the most important factor that contributes to student success? Teaching.
Social Media Week is one of the two New York events that inspire me and inform my perspective on developing curriculum. The New York Comic Con is the other. While they may seem tangential at first glance to classroom teaching and curriculum design, they actually offer a model of and insight to creating moving narratives which I believe drives effective learning.
It was at a Social Media Week session two years ago that I learned about Timehop. Timehop is a social media service that places your tweets and wall posts into an historical context. On any given day, you are sent a reminder of what you tweeted and posted on the same date last year. This includes news items you retweeted and shared. When you compare what you tweeted a year ago to what you tweet today, you have the beginnings of an autobiographical narrative (a personal history).
Currently, Timehop only presents you with an account of day-to-day social media activity. What I am hoping to see somewhere down the line is a "timeline" feature. I am certain there would be some meaningful classroom applications, if Timehop users were given the option to view day-to-day activity over multiple days, weeks, months, and even years.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend as many sessions this year. I was particularly disappointed about missing the Cowbird workshop. Cowbird describes itself as a "community of storytellers". I like to think of it as a great online anthology of flash non-fiction filled with examples of folksy wisdom and lazy Sunday observations over coffee or tea. Cowbird is definitely meeting its goal of building a "public library of human experience".
I particularly admire Cowbird's resistance to video and hope it continues to ask its community to take the time to contemplate the pictures and sounds (the individual components of video) and text they chose to tell their stories with. There is a risk of forsaking these individual pieces when composing directly in video.
Cowbird offers classroom teachers in the age of Common Core a powerful tool to create personal narratives. It also provides teachers with a way for engaging in informational texts especially in "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" where in eighth grade students are tasked to "Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea."
Happily, I managed to attend the "gsummitX - Gamification in NYC" presentation with Gabe Zichermann from Gamification.co. In the classroom, teachers understand that playing games is an effective way of engaging students. However, with the rise in the number of free online video games and the increased portability of traditional console games, students are much more sophisticated edutainment consumers than we Generation X'ers were with our Colecovisions and Commodore 64s.
Gabe was speaking from a Sales/Marketing perspective when he stated the challenge of retaining consumer attention. However, I don't think you need to stretch your imagination too hard to see how even with the onslaught of educational online video games that student attention retention can still be a challenge for teachers.
Gabe made several interesting comments during his presentation. First, he stated that gamification is a process not a product (Sound familiar?) It's what those who favor a constructivist approach to education believe. He then said that (I'm rephrasing slightly) games allow players to play with the limits of the reality of their jobs. In classrooms, this might mean games allow students to play with the limits of the reality of their... classrooms? subjects? tests? school? community?
Writing about Jane McGonigal's TED presentation, “Gaming Can Make A Better World” I suggested a game that addressed the school dropout crisis. The role playing games that Jane has worked on fit well into Gabe's statements on gamification. In creating a game that challenges students to solve the real world problem of dropping out, the challenge would be to convince the player to find value in the rewards and prizes. There are plenty of good commercial games available but also an equal (if not overwhelming) amount of bad video games. And there are instances where a game comes highly recommended but the player does not see value in continuing it.
I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.
My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.
What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.
I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.
In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.
I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?
If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.
Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?
We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
As we face rapid technological, environmental, economic, political, and social changes in this new world, the need for dedicated, skilled teachers has never been greater. We need teachers who can teach children not only how to solve problems, but how to use higher-order thinking skills to discern what problems need solving—teachers who can inspire students to do their best work and thrive as contributing citizens in an increasingly complex world.
We need, in short, teachers who move beyond good teaching to great teaching—transformative teaching. Just as students need a specific set of skills to equip them to succeed in the 21st century, teachers need a specific set of tools to be effective teachers of 21st century learners.
Responsive Classroom professional development focuses on building 21st century teacher skills in three crucial, interrelated domains:
Too often in schools, community, management, and academics are seen as three separate domains. Responsive Classroom approaches the challenge of increasing teacher effectiveness for the 21st century by helping educators develop teaching skills that simultaneously apply across all three of these crucial, interrelated domains.
Teachers who have these tools at their command have the ability to immediately impact student learning in powerful, positive, and lasting ways. Few teachers begin their careers with highly developed skills in all three domains, which is where professional development comes in. We work with teachers, schools, and districts to develop the skills that today’s teachers need to realize our shared vision of a high-quality education for every child, every day.
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Returning from spring vacation to a new month I am reminded that as a schoolteacher the beginning of a new month means more than simply flipping the calendar. It signals the time to erect another pillar of our growing character.
Elementary school children around the nation are gathering in their schools’ gymnasiums for the monthly ritual of introducing a new character trait from Character Counts. In many schools one of the Six Pillars of Character (respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness and fairness) will be introduced with a video or skit. Students will then in some cases make posters or banners to adorn the school walls and advertise the value of the trait. Teachers will give token attention to the character trait in the classroom by reading a picture book or doing some other isolated activity to highlight the trait of the month. At the end of the month the same school children will reconvene in the gymnasium to see who was selected as best demonstrating the character trait of the month.
Sadly, that is the state of character education, or social emotional learning, in many schools today. In fact, this article explains these two approaches among others. Even sadder, when presented with the idea of beginning to infuse a comprehensive social and emotional learning program into the existing curriculum many teachers at those same schools will reply, “No thanks, we are already doing that.”
Now let me be clear about one thing: I am in no position and have no motives to neither endorse nor reject Character Counts as an effective character education program. It is simply that Character Counts seems to be ubiquitous in schools, including mine. What I do reject, however, is the method by which many schools use Character Counts as their best attempt at teaching social and emotional skills. We can (and must) do better than simply mentioning and celebrating these virtuous traits once a month.
In a landmark meta-analysis of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs published in 2011 the authors found that effective SEL programs include “processing, integrating, and selectively applying social and emotional skills in developmentally, contextually and culturally appropriate ways.” Furthermore, “Through systematic instruction, SEL skills may be taught, modeled, practiced, and applied to diverse situations so that students use them as part of their daily repertoire of behaviors.” The four practices recommended in the study create the acronym SAFE. From the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) summary of the findings:
Effective programs and approaches are typically sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (S.A.F.E.), meaning they:
Clearly, there is a stark contrast between a comprehensive SEL program as described in the meta-analysis and the manner in which many schools today are using Character Counts for teaching students the social skills necessary for a productive life inside and outside of school. We as teachers must drop our “we’re-already-doing-it” attitude and start doing what students and the rest of society needs us to do—put forth a wholehearted effort in teaching social and emotional skills in our schools. That will be cause for real celebration.
Many confuse chaos theory with complexity theory. Chaos theory is defined by nonlinear, chaotic systems, homogeneous in nature, moving toward strange attractors which may very well describe dysfunctional organizational units within a complex system. Complexity theory seeks to understand heterogeneous complex adaptive systems moving toward one or more attractor patterns with the ability for “strong emergence” with radically novel results which describes the institution of education as a whole (Gilstrap, 2005).
Theory is meant to explain in order to gain understanding to the point of accurate predictability whereas the science of complexity serves as a “conceptual framework” or paradigm to analyze complex adaptive systems (Semetsky, 2006). Bloch (2005) says, “It is in the nature of each [complex adaptive entity] to adapt to its environment and internal state to maintain its life” (p. 195). Levin (2002) defines the properties of complex adaptive systems as diversity and individuality of components, localized interactions among those components, and an autonomous process that uses the outcomes of those interactions to select a subset of those components for replication or enhancement. Schools can only be complex if they are more than their ‘complicated’ parts. Structure is not enough since those components have to be in competition and cooperation with each other to have enough tension for the system to become emergent as appropriate components within the school are replicated and enhanced. Schools are just now beginning to embrace complexity since the past has been an effort to revolve and replicate the entire institution of education around a point attractor and wait for the next cycle to occur.
In Waldrop’s (1992) masterpiece, he defines complexity as:
A class of behaviors in which the components of the system never quite lock into place, yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either. These are the systems that are both stable enough to store information, and yet evanescent enough to transmit it. These are the systems that can be organized to perform complex computations, to react to the world, to be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive (p. 293).
While Stacey’s (1996) following piece examining complexity in human organizations speculates
what the peculiarly human features do seem to add is potential complexity; they make the operation of human systems more complex and unpredictable rather than less so…the rate of information flow, the level of diversity in schemas, and the richness of connectivity among agents all remain as control parameters [with] further control parameters added…of power differentials and levels of anxiety containment (p. 114)
which move the organization along the complexity continuum and/or edge of chaos.
“Complexity arises because you have a great many of these simple components interacting simultaneously” (Waldrop, 1992, p. 86). Since broad features of complex adaptive systems are knowable (Levin, 2002), “the challenge for theorists…is to formulate universal laws that describe when and how such complexities emerge in nature” (Waldrop, 1992, p. 86). Understandings of complex organizations coalesce around relationships, especially in schools where the density of network connections determines the level of complexity (Bloch, 2005; Gilstrap, 2005).
A supersystem such as education has “a holographic or fractal aspect in which the parts interact continually to recreate the whole and the whole affects how the parts interact” (Stacey, 1996, p. 21). As smaller organizational units or fractals, which look similar to the overall organization, paradoxically enable and constrain each other through the layers of the organization, leaders have the opportunity to understand, through complexity science, the “dynamic, co-implicated…integrated levels—including the neurological, the experiential, the contextual/material, the social, the symbolic, the cultural, and the ecological—” of the school “rather than isolated phenomena” (Davis & Simmt, 2006, p. 296). Levin (2002, p. 16-17) asks “seductive” questions surrounding the study of complex adaptive systems that make their study relevant to educational leaders facing diminishing resources, increasing accountability, a hostile political environment, rigid school structures protected by reluctant staff and unions, growing concerns of equity and social justice, and absent family involvement:
The dominant metaparadigm currently views organizations predominantly in equilibrium with members acting rationally and cooperating. Outcomes are predictable in the long run within a regular and uniform world. A metaparadigm based on the science of complexity would understand effective organizations as far from equilibrium operating at the edge of chaos, but not quite falling into chaos. The organization could embrace the paradox of competition and self-organizing cooperation in the behavior of its agents. Actions into outcomes would be unpredictable except in the extremely short-term as “the links between actions and their long-term outcomes are lost in the complex interactions between various components of the system” (Stacey, 1996, p. 248).
An educational complexity metaparadigm would serve as a framework for understanding how school systems act as complex adaptive systems within local, national, and global ecosystems (Waldrop, 1992). Because complex adaptive systems have many parts cooperating and competing, interaction is too overwhelming to reflect on at once, so, paradoxically, educators use many lenses to focus on one or two aspects of a system while keeping in mind that all the systems and agents working together actually account for what is happing on local and global scales (Stacey, 1996). Educational complexity is the matrix of cultural, social, environmental, political, symbolic, economic, historical, and directional interactions and contexts of which any given school is comprised. A school would not exist in as richly a manner and be able to provide the degree of cognitive stimulation necessary for the development of future citizenry without the complexity existent in the public school system. If we were all white, middle-class males from the same geographic location of the U. S. and would never work outside the local school community, then maybe complexity would not be as big an issue; regardless, the brain is a complex learning system that grows by being challenged and making connections through complex problem-solving situations (Nasir & Hand, 2006).
Education is constantly barraged by new programs and new practices (Marzano et al., 2005). The recent trend of comprehensive school reform recognizes the complexity of the school system and attempts “to address all aspects of school effectiveness” (U.S. Department of Education, 1998, p. 21); however, through a lens of complexity, leadership recognizes resources “not as discrete items…but as inter-related variables that are a part of a comprehensive plan to impact student achievement in high-poverty schools. This is an important step beyond one-shot remedies or magic bullets” (Machtinger, 2007, p. 7). Marzano and colleagues(2005) agree with Fritz (1984) and Fullan (2001) that education is too complex for absolute truths or “once-and-for-all answers” (p. 67). DuFour and Eaker (1998) reiterate, “The interconnectedness of the elements affecting teaching and learning makes it impossible to attribute either improvements or problems to a single area” (p. 268). Leaders prepare for structural and pedagogical changes in school function as complex, difficult, and dependent on context while gauging multiple cores of successful practice within unstable environments (Marzano et al., 2005; Schechter & Tischler, 2007; Chenoweth, 2007).
In last week’s (March 27, 2013) edition of Education Week, a story reported on New York state’s plan to purchase the design of customized curricula to reflect the Common Core standards. A graphic reported that the total cost of P-12 curriculum materials in (only) English/Language Arts and Mathematics is equal to:
...more than $28 million! For only two content areas!! Although I realize that it’s not an entirely scientific or completely accurate calculation, I extrapolated this figure to the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards, and I came up with the following nation-wide expenditure:
...one and one-quarter BILLION dollars!!! What happens to this dollar figure when the remaining subject areas are added over the next few years? Seriously?? What about all of the required professional development for teachers that must go on related to the implementation of the Common Core Standards, as well as to the assessments?? And, what about the cost associated with the development of the new assessments?? WOW—mind-boggling, isn’t it?!
I have to be honest—I don’t get this . . . at all. I have always been a huge, devoted supporter of public education. But, we’ve had standards before; we’ve had standardized assessments of the mastery of those standards for years. How will a “national curriculum” and “national assessments” result in improved learning and academic achievement??? For example, are we really going to be teaching math and math content differently than we ever have before? And, are the assessments going to be markedly different? If not, we seem to be wasting a lot of money. If so, maybe it will be a good thing, but with no supporting evidence or data at this point, this is an extremely risky investment, to say the least.
We seem to be throwing a lot of money at the problem, in the hopes that these new standards and assessments will “stick.” What if they don’t? There hasn’t been much (any?) of a “trial” period to see just how effective they might be. Isn’t this important—even critical— enough that we have some idea of how effective it could potentially be, before spending such exorbitant amounts of money on it?? Our kids’ lives and futures are at stake. Imagine if a similar process was followed for a new drug, whose potential effectiveness had not been demonstrated—there would be a national outcry against it.
For the broader educational community—across this country—that has become so data-driven in its approach to decision making and to teacher/administrator evaluation, why are we implementing something that has not been field-tested and for which we have no data about its potential effectiveness? I have to admit—I find this frightening.
Doesn’t seem to be a very “data-driven approach” . . . at all!
Engaging in your own professional development through an action research approach—perhaps, even extending it to an entire building or district—can provide these data as sort of a pilot test. Doing so does not cost a lot of money up front, but can provide information on how potentially effective a program or educational approach can be, and can do so prior to large-scale implementation. I’ve written a lot about this idea, and have spoken about it at several professional conferences. You’ll find links to two of these below.
The first is a video of my 2008 Presidential Address at the annual meeting of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association. The title of the talk is “A Systematic Approach to Transforming the Art of Teaching into the Science of Teaching: Developing a D-DIDM Mindset.”
The second one below is a video of my 2011 Keynote Address at the annual meeting of the Eastern Educational Research Association. The title of the talk is “Transformational Innovation in Education: Empowerment as a First Step.”
Here’s the proverbial bottom line for me—
We have to find ways to improve education in this country, not just ways to spend money in the hope that maybe we can improve education.
The latter is simply not good enough.
Forging a new path is never easy, especially when the way is filled with so many barriers. Educators live and work in tumultuous times nowadays. Lawmakers with no educational backgrounds pass laws about teacher evaluations. Mass Media creates and disseminates propaganda crucifying the profession on a regular basis. Educational companies are chomping at the bit to buy and sell learning and effective teaching and new assessments.
You know what they all have in common? Every single person in every single role who makes a decision about what is best for schools and educators and children is in their position because of a teacher. A teacher is the common denominator of all professions.
Isn’t it mind-boggling to think that teachers are still willing to do what they do? I’m amazed at their tenacity, their ability to rise above on a consistent basis and to forge ahead in spite of the current indictable culture.
Alas, the road less traveled makes all the difference, right?
Enter EdCamp. From their website, EdCamps promote organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide.
Politics and bureaucracies aside, I’m thrilled to see teachers taking matters into their own hands to continue to make a difference for the students they teach. This is the educational reform that matters. This is the opportunity to not only stay the course, but forge a new path that is ripe with possibilities and prospects for making a real difference.
Those that attend these events are who I call Guerilla Educators--Independent leaders with transform mindsets who act locally to benefit the entire educational system. It’s a grassroots level experience that creates connections, supports just in time learning, and exponentially expands the ethos of modern learning landscapes.
Interested in attending one of these awesome events? Check out the upcoming list of EdCamps--one may be close to you!
I will personally be attending EdCamp Buffalo next weekend at Canisius College. (on April 13) If you’re going to be in the area, come on over--the revolution needs you!
¡Vive la EdCamp!
Capacity building is one of the buzz phrases in education due to the complex nature of how society defines student success: “academic achievement; engagement in educationally purposeful activities; satisfaction; acquisition of desired knowledge, skills, and competencies; persistence; and attainment of educational objectives” (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 10). Capacity building within schools could not focus on only one aspect of development within the school because a single group within the school community could not possess all of the capacity necessary to fuel student success. Research indicates that capacity building increases student achievement (Cooter, 2003). All educators in effective schools take responsibility for improvement and professional capacity (Eaker, DuFour & DuFour, 2002; Chu Clewell & Campbell, 2007). Capacity builds as schools focus on learning and getting resources into classrooms to directly benefit students (Machtinger, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Many authors have tried to articulate a definition of capacity. Ervin, Schaughency, Goodman, McGlinchy, and Matthews (2006) simply define capacity as skills, know-how, and available resources. Gewertz (2007) describes capacity as “building the school’s and community partners’ skills to improve, securing the resources to do it” (no page #). Fullan (2006) focuses on marginalized students when he articulates that
capacity building involves any policy, strategy, or other action undertaken that enhances the gap of student learning for all students. Usually it consists of the development of three components in concert: new knowledge and competencies, new and enhanced resources, and new and deeper motivation and commitment to improve things…all played out collectively (p. 28).
Knowledgeable education leaders understand that capacity building relies on the mission and vision of the local context which probably does not include academic achievement as primary to the futures of marginalized students (Schutz, 2006). Low performing schools do not have the capacity to turn themselves around in academic achievement when principals and communities are simply trying to survive concentrated poverty, low expectations, weak courses, burnt out teachers, run down facilities, overcrowding, and poor student behavior (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Narrowly focusing expectations of schools in the form of AYP for all students as measured by one unattainable and not always relevant standard, when schools were on the brink of realizing the importance of participation by marginalized populations and opening up the possibility of class mobility of these populations, deflected attention away from what should be the true purposes of education (Noddings, 2006). By focusing attention on education’s inability to teach 100% of children to read and calculate on grade level in grade three through eight and the resulting distrust and dissatisfaction of the school community, schools have an even harder time building the capacity necessary to reach a critical mass in affecting true educational reform to create a truly powerful school-community coalition that could realize greater economic support for low SES schools, more democratic decision-making within low SES communities, and ultimately, better informed and equipped citizens of the future from all classes that might disrupt the status quo of the dominant class (Noguera, 2004). Low SES schools that were led by forward thinking and steadfast administrators continued this course of building the capacity of the school community to ensure truly unlimited opportunity for their student populations where the resources were available to students to be successful academically, socially, and culturally (Nesbit, 2006).
The problem for meaningful and sustainable school reform is not attributable to a lack of energy, ideas, or a willingness to change in education. Fads, competing priorities, and unreasonable mandates deluge leaders immobilizing efforts to sustain and expand promising initiatives (Henig et al., 1999). As funding resources shrink, efficiency and capacity building become more and more important (Kezar, 2006). Teaching specific practices to families over making the effort to build capacity may result in advantages in certain times and places, but a “right way” approach causes action to lose its distinctive character providing the advantage (Lareau, 2000). “We need to reframe our entire reform strategy so that it focuses relentlessly and deeply on capacity building and accountability—a difficult but…doable high-yield strategy” (Fullan, 2006, p. 28).
Capacity building is closely related to organizational learning. Knowledge and understanding moves from tacit to explicit back to tacit. “Teacher change, like most human change, must emanate from within” (Bonner, 2006, p. 41). Education becomes more than parents deferring to teacher professional judgment and only being involved to the extent that teachers value (Henig et al., 1999). By understanding capacity, the “lonely teacher… reaches out to and joins the community and family [as] school is a network with permeable boundaries connecting it to the other institutions comprising society” (Musial, 1999, p. 120), instead of “erect[ing] barriers with one hand while reaching out with the other” (Schutz, 2006, p. 726). Often, in unsuccessful schools, agents simply “do not know how to improve it, or they do not believe it can be improved” (Fullan, 2006, p. 60) when collective efficacy holds the potential for a better future (DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Authoritative leadership is not sustainable; but collective, collaborative, distributed leadership can build capacity and commitment to changing school culture in marginalized communities successfully through cooperating and competition, boundary conversations, dialogue, and productive conflict (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Copland, 2003; Patterson & Rolheiser, 2004; Stacey, 1996).
As part of capacity building, principals actively build leadership capacity in others by “broad-based, skillful participation; a shared vision; established norms of inquiry and collaboration; reflective practice; and improving student achievement” (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 1, p. 1; Copland, 2003) and by developing learning communities where staff growth expands their capacity to provide for students (Eaker, et al., 2002). School reform rooted in the efforts of individuals and dependent on individual academic success cannot be sustained and will fail; working class learning is determined by the cultural context in systems dependent on sociocultural capital as opposed to individual capacity (Livingstone & Sawchuk, 2005; Musial, 1999). If capacity relies only on relationships or only on structure, capacity will be too soft or too rigid. Capacity is essential. “Because social systems are uncertain by their very nature, schools are fragile places (Lambert, 2003, Chapter 10, p. 1).
Many factors interact to determine educational capacity (O’Day et al., 1995). Yet, education experts agree, capacity building “must become a core feature of all improvement strategies” (Fullan, 2006, p. 104). Education has progressed to the point where discussion about capacity involves lists whose discussion centers around lines of responsibility versus lines of authority. These discussions describe capacity as built through clear accountability, relevant data available for analysis and application, and high expectations for staff with support of professional development (Walk, 1998). O’Day and colleagues (1995) feel “interdependence of organization and individual capacity” contributes to an understanding of instructional capacity (no page #). These authors list the five dimensions of organizational capacity as vision and leadership, collective commitment and cultural norms, knowledge or access to knowledge, organizational structures and management, and resources.
McREL (Dean et al., 2005, p. 5) defines capacity in three ways:
Complex descriptions alluding to practices evident in High-Performing High-Poverty Schools (HP2S) get past the tendency to create lists and begin to open the door to envisioning improving instructional capacity in schools as an interaction of multiple elements to “produce worthwhile and substantial learning” (Cohen & Ball, 1999). Capacity building efforts result in “adoption, sustainability, and evolution of innovation” to allow HP2S to emerge (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006, p. 162).
I was recently contacted by Barbara Madden, a Missouri educator with a Mississippi dialect, who is conducting a survey of educators, who use Twitter for Professional Development asking for some feedback. Barbara had been in contact with a college professor who wanted to know the effect of Twitter as PD and it’s effect on student outcomes. That really got me thinking about PD and Twitter. I have heard many, many educators claiming that Twitter is the best PD that they have ever had. Others have said they learned more from Twitter than any graduate, or undergraduate education course they have taken. I would have doubts about both of those statements, or at the least questions about our higher education system if that were true.
Education has always been an isolated profession that called out for collaboration, but it did not have an effective way to collaborate. Department meetings and faculty meetings potentially provided limited collaboration. Education conferences were slightly more collaborative, but educators really had to put themselves out there to find ways to collaborate with other educators in an effective way. Collaboration is a very personal way for an individual to learn. It requires trusting other individuals, which is not easy for many, but it is also, for many people, the best way to learn.
Social Media is simply a conduit for connections. These connections then lead to collaboration. It enables connections to be made globally with ease and in numbers never before possible. It is this ease and quantity of connectedness that fosters collaborative learning on subjects that interest the connected participants. When educators are connected to other educators the natural discussion is education.
The way I look at it is that educators discussing education force each other to think and reflect on what it is that they do in education. Educators are a reflective bunch as a profession. It is the resulting change from all of this collaboration and reflection that enables educators to view what they have been staring at for so long with a new lens.
In addition to viewing things differently, a new level of relevance is added with technological advances being shared. Technology changes so fast that few can keep up with all that is going on. Collectively however, and through the power of collaboration, things are shared, discussed, and experimented with. This is all done with the safety net of collaboration. Failure becomes an option because do-overs become possible. It’s not about how many times you are knocked down, but rather how many times people help you back up. That is what educators do with Twitter.
If we were to measure anything, we would need to know what educators were like before Twitter to evaluate how they interact, reflect and teach or administrate after the Twitter emersion.
Can we measure how an educator views education differently after experiencing collaborative learning as a professional tool? If that experience changes that educator’s outlook, relevance, and educational philosophy, does it change that person as an educator? In what way do we measure that? How do we measure that in regard to its effect on the students’ outcomes? If a teacher is employing different methods of teaching that he, or she has never used before, how do we gauge that as effective or not? If a teacher has gained a better sense of confidence in the classroom, how does that translate to positives for students? Giving teachers the confidence in knowing that there are no longer boundaries to the questions they may ask, or the people they may ask them from may not be measurable. Twitter is more about ideas than titles. In the area of education Administrators, Authors, Teachers, Students, and Parents are all equals on Twitter. Exchange of ideas and experience is the currency of that medium. How do we measure the effect of that on education?
There is now a new gap in education. In a system riddled with too many gaps, this is not good news. Technology and social media specifically have provided tools that enable educators to connect, communicate collaborate and create. That ability makes a difference in individuals. It enables reflection and relevance. It is also creating two groups of educators, the connected, and the unconnected. The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement.
I do not think of Twitter as a tool for providing Professional Development, but rather a tool that enables collaboration. That leads to a curiosity, or more, a love for learning that takes some learners further down the road that all educators should be travelling. By any measure that must be a positive result for educators, that will impact their students in a positive way as well.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?" To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
In a perfect world (or at least my perfect world), teacher effectiveness would be measured with a simple rubric. The rubric would have a four letter title, and three simple check boxes. It would look a little something like this:
Pillars of Effectiveness
Whole Lotta Love!
Where’s the Love?
Working with Others
Belief in Oneself
Ideals of Education
The rubric would be completed by all educators (whether teacher, teacher-leader, building leader, or other educational staff). An educator who could not honestly check “Whole Lotta Love” for each category would leave the profession and use their strengths somewhere else.
Realistic? Unfortunately, not in today’s world.
With the emphasis on in-depth evaluations and constant collection of data, we rarely take the time to truly ask, “What, in its simplest form, does an effective educator do? What values must an effective educator have?” After reading this week’s Forum topic (and a recent article in the New York Times), I can’t help but think these three “loves” are at the epitome of effective education. After all, if you ask an effective educator if they feel deeply passionate about these three areas, all will say, “Yes.” At the same time, if an educator doesn’t exhibit a true love for these strands, then chances are, that educator is not effective.
So, what makes these three areas so imperative when talking about effective education? Here are my thoughts; feel free to add yours in the comments section
Imagine if. . .
. . .rating teacher effectiveness was this simple.
. . .a process like this was used across the country.
. . .rating systems were built on “love” and not “punishment.”
. . .our educational system truly wore its heart on its sleeve.
If you’re proud to be an educator now, imagine how filled with pride you would be then.
Anderson, Jenny. (2013, March 30). Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/education/curious-grade-for-teachers-nearly-all-pass.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum, or join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge.
We have all heard the adage, “Every teacher a teacher of reading.” Some educators find this notion controversial because our education system is not set up to allow every teacher to be a teacher of reading. Departmentalization is the norm in middle and high schools, and even in a good number of elementary schools. One teacher teaches language arts, while others teach math, science, or social studies. Some content area teachers are understandably frightened at the thought of having to teach reading. For teachers whose expertise is in math or social studies, the idea of having to teach reading might be unpalatable. But we have entered the era of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the standards have brought the notion of “every teacher a teacher of reading” back full force. In addition, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 reading scores tell us that a large percentage of our students really do need help to read proficiently. Only 34% of fourth graders read at or above a proficient level, and a third of fourth graders read below the basic level for their grade [National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2011]. The story only gets a little better for eighth graders; 34% read at or above a proficient level, and 24% read below basic (NCES, 2011). All educators must therefore band together and embrace the challenge of helping their students become proficient readers, and teacher preparation programs play a huge role in this challenge.
The CCSS writers themselves seem to support the notion of “every teacher a teacher of reading.” The introduction to the CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects states,
“The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school. The K–5 standards include expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language applicable to a range of subjects, including but not limited to ELA. The grades 6–12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well” (p. 4).
And in the section that discusses what is not covered by the standards, the CCSS writers continue,
“The Standards define literacy expectations in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects, but literacy standards in other areas, such as mathematics and health education, modeled on those in this document are strongly encouraged to facilitate a comprehensive, schoolwide literacy program” (p. 6).
The interdisciplinary approach to literacy taken by the CCSS poses a challenge to teacher preparation programs nationwide. How can teacher educators prepare teachers who will be effective not only in their areas of disciplinary expertise, but also in enabling their students to access the varied and complex texts that they encounter throughout the grades? I believe that a three-pronged approach will help teacher preparation programs foster and sustain the effectiveness of all teachers as teachers of reading.
First, there should be increased preparation for elementary teachers in how to teach reading. In my Master’s program in elementary education, through which I attained my licensure for teaching grades Pre-K through 6, I had only one course specifically focused on reading, and a lot of our time and assignments in this course were focused on children’s literature. This was great because using children’s literature appropriately and effectively is certainly one very important aspect of teaching reading. But with the increasing focus on informational text in the CCSS and with the multitude of skills that underlie proficient reading, it takes much more than one course on reading to help elementary teachers learn all that they need to know and be able to do to teach reading. My Master’s program also included coursework on teaching language arts, but a lot of this was focused on writing instruction and development. This was also incredibly important and valuable content, but there still seemed to be a lot of content on teaching reading that there simply wasn’t enough time to cover. Preparation in the teaching of reading for elementary teachers must be much more extensive. It must cover the five big areas of reading [phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000)] thoroughly and with lots of opportunity for application in working with students.
Second, all teachers need to know and understand the five big areas of reading. A high school math teacher would then be able to discuss with other professionals in her school what to do about a student who might be reading very choppily from his math textbook, using the term fluency. A high school biology teacher with a student who could not read the complex, multi-syllable words in his textbook would understand that there might be a phonics-based or morphological weakness underlying the student’s difficulty reading, and could seek assistance from the school’s reading specialist on ways to support this student. Having some working knowledge of the different areas of reading with which students struggle would empower content area teachers. Many secondary education programs do include one course on reading and writing across the curriculum, but this type of coursework should be more comprehensive and inclusive of the five big areas of reading. (No one ever talks about phonemic awareness or phonics and very rarely do they discuss fluency with middle or high school teachers!) Teacher preparation programs should also require all teachers to complete case studies where they practice implementing literacy strategies within their content areas with students so that they are prepared to incorporate literacy instruction into their teaching in ways consistent with the CCSS.
Finally, content area methods classes in teacher preparation programs should emphasize the specific disciplinary challenges inherent in that content area. For instance, a few years ago I worked on a content analysis study of middle school history textbooks. We tried to identify the specific features inherent in historical writing that might prove challenging for students. Our work revealed that text structures such as cause and effect and chronology, and linguistic features such as unclear referential devices are some of the most common in history texts. These are the features of historical texts that history teachers should be prepared to emphasize with their students, providing them with strategies for tackling these linguistic and structural challenges. The texts of each discipline have their own unique challenges, and when teachers are familiar with these challenges, they can help their students overcome them more easily.
The CCSS have set a high bar with the expectation that all teachers must be teachers of reading. It is now up to teacher preparation programs to prepare all teachers to take on this role.
National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2011 (NCES 2012–457). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2012457.pdf
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
When I first became a teacher in Ontario, Canada, we were evaluated once a year by a Superintendent of Education who flew in from Toronto to evaluate teacher performance against expectations contained in a small grey book. We were made aware of the date and time of their visit and were expected to teach a lesson upon their arrival. We coached our students to look engaged in the lesson and folklore has it that some teachers even told their students to raise their right hand if they knew the answer and their left if they didn't. Hence, all appeared to be engaged. The Superintendent also evaluated the "climate" of the classroom. In those days, this was reduced to checking the thermostat, the consistency of the level of the blinds and the general tidiness of the room. This evaluation obviously had no impact on teacher development or student learning.
How things have changed! Ontario now has a comprehensive teacher evaluation system which is an integral part of a continuum of professional learning that supports effective teaching. The goals of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) System are to:
Teachers and principals are partners in the process which focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching practices. The process is different for beginning and experienced teachers as well as for those experiencing difficulty and those with a strong record of performance. In consultation wtih principals, teachers create an Annual Learning Plan that focuses on areas in which they can continuously improve. As a principal, I guided my teachers to set routine, creative, problem solving and personal growth goals. They would then develop action plans for each goal and I would be engaged in ongoing support and follow up discussions.
The vision of the TPA System is that every teacher in publicly funded education reaches his or her potential. When this is achieved, our students will also reach their potential. WIthout a focus on continuous improvement relative to comprehensive quality standards, our schools will be stuck at meeting minimal standards on standardized tests and will not begin to address important issues such as personalization through learning styles and brain research; creating safe and caring cultures, climates and communities; reducing bullying; and simply making a difference.
School districts currently spend approximately 10% of their budget on staff development and evaluation. This is a lot of money. Too much of it is spent far removed from the relationships in the classroom and the school. Teacher evaluation systems too often get out of hand. A recent on-line discussion group asked the question of whether we should bring in outside experts to "do" teacher evaluations in order to free up some of the principal's time for more important things. This would be a huge step backwards. There is nothing more important for a princpal to do than develop his or her staff to meet their full potential. Only then will our students be getting the personalized, supportive education they need.
We need elegant teacher evaluation systems that focus on what is important in promoting meaningful student learning and development as human beings. This is what matters. This is priceless!
Although we all react differently when forced to deal with plagiarism, most of us would agree that we both dread and revile the sight of it. After spending weeks, months and years teaching proper citation and academic honesty, finding plagiarism can sting a little. Students plagiarize for a variety of reasons (many of them innocuous, many not) and while we agree that these reasons merit a discussion, we’re going to take the easy route (it is Monday morning after all) and instead talk about a new website we came across called PlagTracker. We suggest sharing it with your students.
PlagTracker: A free plagiarism detector
Plag Tracker is a free web application that allows users to copy and paste their documents into a plagiarism detector. Using a “checking algorithm,” Plag Tracker then checks your work against 14 billion web pages and 5 million academic papers.
We uploaded one of our blogs—one we posted on our site and also on a few other education-related websites—just to see what would happen. 15 minutes after we submitted our work, we received an email notification, along with a link, which took us to the final report. Here’s what it looked like:
Conveniently, every plagiarized sentence becomes a hyperlink. When you click on it, a new hyperlink to the original source appears under “sources found.”
If you look to the right, under “Sources Found,” you’ll see all of the sources PlagTracker thinks we “plagiarized” from. Like we said above, we often repost our own blogs on educational communities and websites like ASCD Edge. True to its word, Plag Track did a nice job of finding them.
While Plag Track is useful, it’s not flawless. For example, it suggested that the sentence below came from a Wikipedia entry about Microsoft Security Essentials.
“If you are looking for a few more tips for providing effective feedback, check out one of our recent blogs, “Offering your students effective feedback: 5 essentials.”
Huh? Like we said, it’s not perfect, but still quite useful.
Your students are welcome to use Plag Track’s service for free, but they can also upgrade to a Premium account for $7.49 a month which gives them access to:
Since the service is free, you might consider not only having your students submit their work to Plag Track, but also have them attach a copy of the final report to their work when they submit it for your review.
If you're looking to suppliment your writing curriculum, we’ve put together a new guide, Writing Reinvented. Inside you’ll find:
You can download it by clicking on the icon below!