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Once again ASCD leaders from around the world are traveling to the Leader to Leader conference to be held this weekend. Leader to Leader (L2L) is our annual professional development event for those dedicated education professionals who serve in important leadership roles for ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Student Chapters, and our Emerging Leaders program. Over the five years I have been associated with L2L, it has evolved to be a much more collaborative event with lots of opportunity for networking and learning from one another. The diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise is, in my own humble opinion, what makes this conference such a success every year. It’s never the same event twice.
This year we are looking to up the ante again, focusing on the theme of Take Charge Leadership, as we continue to encourage these ASCD leaders to work with one another across their constituent groups and generate new ideas, initiatives and energy that they can take back home and implement in support of the educators they serve. And so the question we ask at the outset of this year’s L2L is, “What do you get when you allow talented, capable minds to self-select groupings and projects that will build their professional capital while providing new value and greater capacity to lead?” We are about to find out.
We look at leadership around eight very specific actions that are nurtured and sustained over time. Beginning our conference work around these actions and then moving into an unconferencing format that allows participants to take charge of their learning sets the tone for the weekend. We are also instituting for the first time Web-based polling that will allow everyone in attendance to vote and comment instantaneously using their mobile devices throughout the three days. Modeling this as participants provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to one another will provide practice and experience with a tool our leaders can take back with them to their respective, states, provinces and countries.
By the time we wrap up Saturday, everyone will be saturated in new ideas and possibilities. L2L is always an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Exhausting and gratifying. What is most gratifying for us as staff is the number of return participants we have every year, and the highly positive feedback we receive from the conference participant surveys. The truth is, it’s the ASCD Leaders who come and participate who make L2L the success it is. As a membership organization, ASCD could not make the difference it does for educators everywhere without its constituent group leaders. L2L is ASCD’s way of giving back to our leaders in the field, offering them the skills and support to be effective on the ground where it matters most.
This past week #Satchat extended it's Twitter conversation to a mobile app called Voxer. It has been an amazing experience for participants who are now able to share their insight through voice messages. Once downloaded on your mobile device, Voxer enables users to hold individual or group chats in real time or at their own pace. In terms of professional growth, over 75 educators from around the world have shared their perspectives and insight on a plethora of topics. More specifically this week our group is discussing the trials and tribulations of being a new school leader. Educators from all walks of life including teachers, vice principals, principals, supervisors, superintendents, and other stakeholders have provided tremendous guidance.
The great thing about this experience is that participants, including myself, can hear the emotion that others bring to the discussion. It's one thing to read a tweet and a whole other thing to listen to someone speak to a particular topic.. That's why Voxer is so unique. Users can listen and learn on the own time, whether it's in their car or during a lunch break. Need to have a more specific conversation based on something that was brought up in a particular group chat? No problem. Send a direct voice or text message to that person within the application. Pictures, links, and other resources can be shared during a conversation as well.
Are you intrigued by this whole Voxer rage in the educational community? Send me a direct message on Twitter or via email with your Voxer handle and I will add you to the #Satchat group. Or better yet, try starting your own group. The options are many as it relates to the impact Voxer can have in the school setting. For example, it could be used as an assessment tool or during a time of crisis to communicate with staff. Currently I am apart of a Voxer book chat on digital leadership and participate in a administrator group that shares best practices. Over the past few weeks I have recommended Voxer to some of my PLN members from around the country. Although at first hesitant to see the true value of this web tool, their minds quickly changed after conversing with other like-minded educators.
So what do say? Take that leap into the Voxer world and see your professional growth be stimulated in a way once thought unimaginable.
Much of my educational career has been spent in teaching or observing teachers. I also had the incredible opportunity of attending many wonderful professional development sessions with outstanding presenters, and working with some amazing educators over many years.
As a result, I have compiled a synthesis of some of the most important things that I have learned about effective teaching along the way. Here are fourteen ways of thinking about teaching that, when part of true self-reflection, can change much of what is being done in the classroom for the better.
These fourteen ways of thinking can be explored with individuals or groups of teachers to raise issues about teaching and learning, focus professional development around some important issues and challenges, and help provide a framework for professional growth over time. They may also be useful as a framework for thinking about teacher evaluation.
Read the descriptions below of my fourteen “ways of thinking” about teaching and learning. Get familiar with them. When you are done, consider doing the exercises at the end of this commentary, or sharing them in PD sessions, in order to better apply them to teaching and learning.
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
Teaching is about relationships. Getting to know students helps with planning, motivation, interest, discipline, and effective communication. It is about knowing how students learn, how they think, what blocks their learning, what’s on their minds.
As much as possible, get to know students as individuals, with all their variety of thoughts, passions, ideas, backgrounds, humor, unique qualities. This is especially hard for middle and high school teachers, who have so many students to teach. But it is important that all teachers, whatever their level of teaching, whatever their situation, take some time during the school year to do activities that build relationships and help to learn about students. There are many ways to both formally and informally do this, such as get-to know-me activities, written self-reflections, observing how students go about solving problems, observing groupwork discussions, making sure students know to ask for help when they are having problems, meeting with students informally after school, or talking with other teachers about specific students (not always problem students).
2. Plan goals for both the long term and the short term.
Long term planning should be the force behind short term planning. In other words, plan for what you want your students to accomplish in the long run, and then plan each day so that your students can get closer to your goal. For example, a long-term goal might be to help students become better writers, while the short-term goal is to improve their grammar and vocabulary. A long- term goal might be a unit goal, and each daily lesson plan contributes to the goals of the unit. A long-term goal might be a yearly understanding-based goal, and a unit goal might contribute to the year-long goal.
As most teachers know, this is not easy. There are many obstacles, changes, and detours along the way, depending on what happens each day. The variables are tremendous. But it is always important to consider what you want your students to accomplish over a long period of time (the big goals), and figure out how each day helps them get there.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
With the emphasis today on standardized test score success, learning academic content and skills become the most important focus for achievement and success. But much recent research suggests that “social-emotional” learning qualities are critical for long term success. Students who don’t see a connection between their effort and learning, are unable to be persistent, lack curiosity and resilience in the face of challenges, cannot work well with others, lack self-responsibility, are unorganized or unable to plan their time well, or lack the ability and willingness to ask for help and support when needed will have a great deal of trouble both in learning and in life. So it is important for teachers to assess these “soft” skills as well as academic and cognitive learning to help students achieve long-term success.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
According to several sources, Richard Feynman, a world-renowned physicist, was “heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking”… “[His father] never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know… What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question”.
Today, in my view, too many teachers have lost the art of helping students focus their learning around meaningful questions. My observations indicate that teachers still most often focus learning around imparting specific subject matter or stating goals in terms of “behavioral” objectives. But what if we thought about our teaching in terms of exploring open-ended questions that are interesting and meaningful to our students? What if we put “essential” questions on the board at the beginning of units and lessons, discussed with our students why they are important and meaningful, and then referred to them throughout the unit? Designed core questions that extended throughout the year? Created meaningful open-ended challenges as starting points for learning? Asked our students to develop essential questions?
One of my favorite questions, used by Kathy Davis, a first grade teacher, is the following:
What writing is worth reading? Imagine studying different kinds of writing over a long period of time with that question in mind? Another set of questions, worth studying in an American History course, is the following: “What is the American Dream? Where did it come from? Does it still exist?
So here’s something to think about: How can you translate your learning goals and objectives into important, interesting, meaningful questions? How can you use these questions as starting points for learning? For skill development? For making content relevant? How can these questions repeat and recur over time? Become the focus for many learning activities over time?
Much, if not most, important learning and growth starts with curiosity around questions, or perplexities around challenges. Teachers need to reinforce that type of learning, and begin student learning with questions and challenges that stimulate curiosity and interest, and motivate students to learn.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
Textbook activities often are treated solely as reading assignments (e.g. Read chapter seven and answer the questions at the end of the chapter). But what if teachers thought of textbooks and other reading materials, especially non-fiction reading, as sources of information designed to help answer questions, build understanding, explore interesting topics, and help find answers to challenges. What if the reading of literature was built around some interesting, significant questions, conflicts and issues? What if students had a chance to choose some of the literature they are asked to read based on their own curiosity? Treating textbooks, literature and other reading resources as a form of inquiry, exploration, curiosity, or research to answer questions helps put reading in an important context, not as a chore.
One simple textbook-non-fiction reading strategy that helps support this approach is the simple SQ3R strategy and its variations. First, students survey the material to be read, looking at headings, key words, difficult passages, pictures and other ancillary materials, and the like. Next, students turn headings into questions or bring into play previously developed questions to begin to find answers in the materials. Finally, they read and highlight key points, recite learning from the text that answers key questions, and then review and summarize the information that relates to the answers to each question.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
Asking students of all ages to continually write in many formats helps them formulate their ideas, organize their thoughts, think clearly and cogently, draw conclusions, self-reflect, and learn how to write position papers, among other things.
Most teachers don’t provide students with enough opportunities to write and reflect on their learning. Opportunities include writing at the beginning of a unit to determine what students know and how they think, daily short written reflections summarizing what they have learned at the end of a class, position papers around an issue discussed in class, research and project reports, analyses and interpretations from reading, frequent self-reflections, and end of unit essays in place of or complementary to traditional tests. Not all writing has to be graded, but carefully choosing writing to provide feedback provides students with significant opportunities for improvement.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
I have always felt that many teachers try to teach much too much content and therefore do not have enough time for getting deeper into subject matter and skill development. Teachers need to think about priorities so that content is most likely to be limited and remembered. For example, the period of history in which the Constitution was developed is a very good time to concentrate on a few key points about the Constitution: the Bill of Rights, the Organization of Government, and the Constitutional “compromise” on slavery. While there are many other issues and facts that might be learned, these are key.
“Deeper learning” also results from analysis, interpretation, or doing something with (applying) the information learned. What if students ended this American history unit by developing their own Constitution for their classroom or school? Or created a new and better Constitution for America? Or simulated the Constitutional Convention and developed a Constitution based on the interests of each of the thirteen states?
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
It is surprising how often teachers, especially in middle and secondary teachers, spend little time thinking about how to engage and involve every student on a daily basis. All too frequently, I have observed teachers who ask questions and involve very few students in giving answers; allow students to put their heads down on their desks during a lesson; stand in front of the class instead of walking around to engage students. Many students learn that it is OK to “tune out” of the lesson, and that they will be rewarded just for coming to school that day. Beginning teachers are especially likely to make the mistake of letting students “tune out” of their lessons. Here are some ways to avoid student passivity:
Don’t just stand in front of a group of students. Walk around the room. Catch the eye of students. Watch what they are doing. Gently shake a student who has his or her head on the desk. Call on students who you think are not paying attention.
Begin each class or new learning experience with an engaging “To Do” Activity that students must respond to as they enter your classroom. For example, a “To Do” Activity might begin with writing a short summary of what they were asked to read the night before or finding the answer to a math problem based on the work they did the previous day.
Use “think-pair-share” strategies to involve everyone in exploring significant questions. Here’s how it works. Ask an open-ended question. Then ask each student to write down an answer. Then students pair up with another student to discuss their answer. Finally, teachers call on individual students to share their answer and hopefully begin a discussion.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
Here’s how I think about schools and the surrounding world: The school world is for learning - the outside world is for living. People don’t live in a school. They go to school to learn. They live in their homes, in their offices, in the environment around them, in the world outside of school. Too often, school becomes an isolated entity unto itself, with little or no connection to the way people live in the outside world. As teachers, we need to remember this and, as often as we can, bring the outside world into the school and the school into the outside world.
How do we do this?
I remember watching Ms Tolliver, an excellent elementary math teacher who made some wonderful professional development tapes, take her fifth grade urban students on a walk through the school neighborhood looking for mathematics concepts and creating mathematics problems (Math Trail). They developed problems and found mathematics around park benches, playgrounds, subway trains, parking meters, building blocks and shapes, maps of the neighborhood, and seven step staircases in Central Park. The math that they were learning in school became real and relevant. Another example: in a local comprehensive urban high school I recently visited, a counselor organized talks in the school by local community members to help students see the variety of careers and lives led by those with similar ethnic backgrounds. Finally, new technologies provide new tools for bring the outside community into the school and the school to the outside community. There are currently many examples on the Internet and on websites of how teachers use Skype and other Internet options to bring in the outside community and world into the school and classroom.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
Good teachers know when to provide students with significant learning structure and when to give students greater freedom and self-direction. For example, when students are first learning how to do research, they need more structure – a step-by-step process, good explanations of how to conduct research and use research skills, models of good research products, and guided practice opportunities. Once they have learned and practiced the basic components of research, then they can be given more freedom to work on their own independently. In other words, sometimes students need strong structures, especially when they are first learning how to do something. But, eventually, we need to “let go” and give them freedom to work on their own and make their own mistakes in order to keep getting better at what they are doing. One of the most difficult decisions about teaching is knowing when students need significant structure and when to let go and give them more self-direction.
“Letting go” may also mean giving students greater choice and more options. Giving students the right to select their own books to read should be an important part of a good comprehensive reading program. Allowing students to select their own research question, sometimes within the parameters of a subject area, also gives students greater interest in and responsibility for their research.
11. Help students to improve, make progress, and get better.
What does it mean for students to get better at doing something? Understand in a deeper way? What are the most critical changes you would like to see in your students over time? What does it look like when they improve? How will you know when your students have a better understanding of core content? How can you build a student culture of “craftsmanship and understanding” that supports and encourages gradual improvement over time?
Unfortunately, traditional tests and quizzes don’t easily lend themselves to demonstrating improvement and progress in understanding and skill development. Seeking gradual progress and improvement is more likely to occur when students frequently do tasks related to what needs improvement, such as writing, making presentations, conducting research, performing experiments, and organizing learning for understanding. Specific feedback that provides students with specific guidance on what they need to do better is important. Showing models of good work to strive for is very helpful. An approach to teaching and learning that savors and supports gradual progress and improvement can lead to the development of a culture and way of thinking that promotes craftsmanship, deeper understanding, and improvement over time.
12. Check for understanding - often.
When I taught many years ago, I was unaware that I needed to frequently check for understanding. This was not good for student learning. This way of thinking has been getting much more play lately, and rightly so. Teachers need to check in frequently with students to see if they are “getting it” – really understanding what they are learning. Many strategies are available for this purpose, such as application oriented math problems, end of lesson summary strategies, such as 3-2-1 (three things I learned from this lesson, two things that were the most interesting, one question I still have); and 10-2 lectures (10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of reflection and questions).
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
Unfortunately, end of unit culminating experiences are often multiple choice-short answer tests. What could be less interesting for a student? What could be less relevant? Should the traditional test be the culminating experience of student work and learning?
Consider developing alternatives to traditional tests, even for just some units. How about a field trip to an art museum at the end of a unit so that students can analyze and write about a specific artistic period in greater depth? Perhaps students should write a position paper about a controversial topic in American History or design an experiment as the culmination of a science unit? How about giving students two or three (or more) essay questions several days in advance of a test time to give students time to prepare outlines of answers, from which one or two are selected to be written during a two hour class period? How about giving students interesting open-book (or even open-research) essay questions? Or what about completing an authentic performance task that demonstrates the ability of students to apply their learning to a new situation? These are much more interesting, relevant, and meaningful culminating assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
There is a tendency to talk about using technology today as if it were something to be automatically incorporated into the learning process. The reality is that technology is often hard to use or apply easily to teaching situations. Technology usage often requires a good deal of staff development, and is costly to implement and maintain.
However, technology, when used appropriately, can be an extremely valuable tool that enables teachers and students to learn more efficiently and effectively. For example, simple technologies, such as Microsoft word and powerpoint are useful for encouraging and editing writing and making presentations. The Internet is a wonderful tool to support research, but students have to learn how to use it carefully, skillfully, and wisely for this purpose. Some of the more complex technologies are useful to promote “gaming” and simulations. “Flipping” uses technology to help students learn basic information outside of school so that teachers can focus on “deeper learning” when students are in class. Some technologies that promote individualized learning through highly structured, engaging learning situations are very helpful to students.
Any of these technology tools, and others, should be used when appropriate to the teacher’s goals and to the learning situation. Technology tools should be used for specific goals when they make learning more efficient, but not when they might deter students from using their minds, thinking through a problem, or reading texts carefully.
Teaching is very complex, much more complex than it is made out to be in the press, in government initiatives, and even in State Departments of Educational directives. Good teaching is a moving target – goals, children, cultures, teachers, and conditions vary from state to state, school to school, and even classroom to classroom.
These fourteen ways of thinking about teaching suggest both the complexity of good teaching and the potential common core components that measure good teaching and help teachers improve on what they do. Learning about students, creating a positive learning environment, focusing on both academic and social-emotional goals, building curiosity by focusing on questions, focusing on less content and deeper learning, figuring out ways to engage and involve students, planning both long and short term goals – all of these and more are important elements of an effective teaching-learning process. I hope that an exploration of these components will help teachers and school leaders understand what they must do to improve schools and suggest a way to build a framework for evaluating teaching and improving teaching and learning in the classroom.
An Exercise to Share and Learn from These Fourteen Ways of Thinking
Now that you have read and learned about the fourteen ways of thinking, here is an exercise you can do to help you examine these in greater detail and apply them to your own teaching situation.
Here are the fourteen ways of thinking listed without commentary:
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
2. Plan goals for both the long-term and the short term.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
11. Help students to improve, make progress and get better.
12. Check for understanding - often.
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
Some questions to consider:
I find myself returning to a particular moment in one of my classes as an illustration of my philosophy of education. It wasn’t one of those inspirational lessons or fantastic units, either. It was a required, school-wide, test-prep math lesson.
I’m an English teacher. Let's just say, math isn't my thing.
In this school-wide initiative, we all did the same reading passage or math problem every day. These were sometimes not available until five minutes before the class and rushed out to teachers.
On this day, we had this math problem that dealt with the volume of a cube ( or something like that), and we had to figure that out to resolve the larger problem. But the image provided was two-dimensional. It was a letter T, a box that was completely laid flat.
With a very clear, personal awareness of my non-math aptitude, I was actually a better model for learners that day. First, I had to offer myself some motivation for doing the problem other than the fact that it was required because doing something that way isn’t a motivation. I had to be curious about how to solve the problem.
Teachers were given the answers, of course. But what good is an answer without wanting to understand where it comes from?
I thought aloud about how to approach the problem as a learner for a bit and then opened it up for class collaboration, to see what we could do or not do with it. I modeled my thinking, which was probably something along the lines of "Seriously?! There has got to be a way…"
My mind just wasn't getting it, though. It didn't bother anyone, least of all me, that I didn't have the answer because we often held discussions where I didn't have the answer. That was okay in my class.
So, we piddled and pondered together, and after a few minutes, a student figured it out (math whiz that he was!) jumped up excitedly and tried to tell us how he'd arrived at the (correct) answer. I didn't follow, so he ran up to the front, grabbed some scissors, cut the paper,
and made the cube by folding it over.
The whole problem rested on this spatial understanding.
This learning moment exemplifies my philosophy of education.
Now, I know a lot of people talk about strategies and methods when they discuss their philosophy of education, but I have to wonder what it is that induces those principles--what's behind the decision-making process that compels one to choose a particular strategy or method? Doesn’t our mindset come first?
Because there was no method or strategy that I used in our cube story. But we learned.
There were however, several mindsets at work, and I think my philosophy of education seems boils down to mindsets. If the mindset is appropriate, the method or strategy will emerge more naturally. They are (in no particular order): mindfulness, curiosity, creativity, and humility.
Mindfulness has to do with a state of being in response to or approach to things as a teacher (or a learner). Whether that is a stellar discussion post from an adult learner or a snarky comment from a teenager face-to-face, I steer away from knee-jerk reactions. Rather, I prefer to take a moment and consider what is actually happening or will happen. I allow the moment to happen--it's being fully present.
In the cube story, I allowed the moment to happen. Without that mindfulness, I probably would have just glossed over to the answer. If I attach mindfulness to an action, I would call it allowing. I enjoyed allowing the moment of not knowing, thinking, collaborating, and listening.
Curiosity as a mindset played a large role, here--the ability to be curious about things that we might not be interested in or that we might already know a lot about is a game-changer for education. It is a mindset that has helped me in so many ways with students. For example, I taught Frankenstein every year in AP Lang. While I can certainly say I knew the story and characters inside and out, every year, I would approach the novel with new curiosity. I created a question for myself to answer, generally along the lines of "How is this ages-old novel STILL relevant today?" And every year, without fail, I'd come up with an answer.
Curiosity seems to attach to the action of searching. Students need to see us searching.
Creativity has recently gotten a lot of press, but I'm careful when I say that this mindset is one of the driving forces of my philosophy. I'm not a creative genius or anything, but I know it when I feel it, and I notice when it's not there.
I don't see it as a "what," though. It's a how. It's a process. It's a blend of willingness and flexibility and exciting discomfort. I want that in learners because that's where they can make some strides as far as autonomy (which they'll need) and in problem-solving.
The art of brainstorming, collaboration, and sharing all fall under this category, and it seems to be one of the areas where my former students excelled. Though our cube story focused on one person as a catalyst, it was still a collaborative moment. Perhaps creativity can be connected to the action of trusting. Without trusting each other, could we have had this moment?
The last mindset in my philosophy, humility, was really evident, here, and it certainly played a role in moving the students forward in comprehension. They saw me struggle and succeed. They struggled and succeeded, and we had a positive learning moment. Humility, as an action, could be seen as acknowledging one’s self. I am more open and flexible in my awareness of what I don’t know.
Side note: I had to laugh, recently, because one of the comments I received on a course evaluation (I facilitate professional development courses for educators) was: "I know more on some topics than the facilitator does."
I thought--"Damn right, you do! I learned from you! I want to learn from you! That's what it's all about!" Though I'm sure she meant it as a negative, it was actually a sort of positive for me, if only because she saw me as fellow-learner, which was my goal anyway.
After the student had shown the class what the heck was going on with cube, you could hear the collective, "AHHHHHH..." followed by the scribbling of the problem resolution.
We applauded him and ourselves that day. We shared in that moment of curious searching, mindful allowing, creative trusting, and humble acknowledging of ourselves and each other as a community of learners.
Mirror Site: http://joyfulcollapse.blogspot.com/2014/07/through-two-dimensional-cube-philosophy.html
Caring connects kids to their school, their teachers, their learning, their families, their communities, to one another and to themselves. Therefore, creating and maintaining a culture of caring in our schools and communities is paramount to effecting real change.
As with any impactful change, creating a culture of caring requires a delicate combination of programs, processes and people. It is simply not good enough to create or purchase a program and implement it. Over the years, packaged programs have proliferated while bullying and mental illness have increased. Schools have developed processes to create safer environments, yet more students are being hurt physically, socially and emotionally. Little attention has been paid to empowering the people in our schools and communities to make a difference.
As principal of a large, inner city school we implemented a very effective balance of programs, processes and empowerment of people that resulted in a very effective school culture in which our students thrived. Bullying was almost non-existent, kids who needed help got it and test scores went up. All of this occurred in a budget model which allowed us to spend funds where needed. We were empowered.
In order to move you to action, here is a selection of our most effective strategies that allowed us to create an award-winning school in which everyone was proud to work and to learn.
1. Student Empowerment
1. Early Intervention Program- Intermediate students self-selected to be part of a weekly mental health support group that addressed at-risk behaviors and was run in partnership with a local mental health hospital.
2. Yoga – Students self-selected to be part of a weekly lunchtime yoga group. One at-risk girl commented that it saved her life.
3. Mental Karate – The entire school was involved in Mental Karate, a program that took them through setting goals and taking action in the areas of Initiative, Discipline, Contribution, Courage and Awareness.
4. United Mentors for Peace - Intermediate students planned activities to create a peaceful school, reaching out to the community and beyond. They created annual peace assemblies, managed charitable fundraising activities, and took responsibility for supporting a safe and caring culture in the school.
5. Peacekeepers – Junior students were trained in conflict resolution strategies and helped resolve disputes in the Primary and Junior yards.
6. Fun Bunch – Junior students were trained to teach and supervise schoolyard games for Primary students.
7. Social Skills group – Identified students were directly taught social/ emotional skills in partnership with a local community center support program.
8. Leadership development – Students of all ages were engaged as lunch monitors, peer tutors, teacher helpers, reading buddies, coaches and referees. They were also engaged in a multitude of service learning projects.
9. Option Program – Intermediate students had one period a week in which they could choose an activity of interest from such things as cooking, chess, hip-hop dance, drama, visual arts, guitar, board games etc.
2. Teacher Empowerment
1.SSafe and caring teaching and leading– All classrooms were safe and caring, free of ridicule, harassment and sarcasm. Teachers understood the importance of creating an atmosphere in which the brain is at the optimal level of arousal.
2. Bi-weekly professional development staff meetings – Staff were trained to differentiate teaching strategies through honoring multiple intelligences, learning styles and current brain research.
3. Shared leadership – Division leaders were empowered to implement programs and process to support their students academically, socially and emotionally.
3. Parent Empowerment
1. Parent Council was guided to develop a Mission and Goals that supported the school’s Mission.
2. Parental responsibility was embedded in the school’s Mission Statement, “To maximize student learning through students, staff, parents and community working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.”
3. Parent education workshops were provided.
In addition to the previous empowerment examples we maximized the adult:child ratio of support; ensured that each student had a significant connection with a teacher; focused on connections and relationships; worked within a shared, vision, values and beliefs; maintained stability on our staff and leadership team; became a recognized leader as a Professional Learning Community and ensured that being at our school was fun and rewarding.
I hope this provides you with some useful ideas to move forward in creating a safe and caring culture in your classrooms and in your schools.
By Kresta Byington, Principal of Chauncey Davis Elementary School
It’s a rainy, breezy day as I walk through the quiet halls of Chauncey Davis Elementary, nestled in a sleepy town along the Willapa River in Washington. I hear the sound of the rain pattering on the building, and the mossy trees are glistening outside, leaning heavily from the rain, as I begin my walkthroughs for the day. I step inside one of my fourth grade classrooms and witness an encouraging sight. The students are deep in concentration. The only sound is the collective hum of their pencils scribbling and scratching as they write their words on the paper.
Is this something you experience in your walkthroughs? Or, has writing been a struggle in your school? I know it used to be a real challenge in my building, where I’ve been the principal for the past ten years. Prior to being a building leader, I was a teacher in the district for nine years. As principal, I noticed less writing displayed in classrooms, and as a parent of two students in my school, I saw less writing coming home. Last spring, my concerns were confirmed when only 40% of my fourth grade students met standard on the state writing test. This was unacceptable to me and something needed to change. We just weren’t getting the quality and quantity we knew we could from having an effective writing community. I had to first discover the problems my teachers were facing when it came to writing instruction.
Why do teachers struggle with teaching writing?
When I asked my teachers what their greatest challenges were, they always told me time. Elementary teachers are generalists, not specialists. They are teaching all the subjects in a six hour day. When you take out recess, lunch, and any other specials students have, time was always an issue. I also learned in many instances, when they told me, “I don’t have time,” I believe it actually translated into, “I really don’t know how to teach writing.”
The second issue was knowledge. I asked 18 of my teachers (two of them are recent college graduates) if they had a college class specifically devoted to the teaching of writing. Not one out of the 18 reported having any college preparation to teach this core subject. When you don’t know how to do something, you tend to avoid it.
The last reason my teachers weren’t teaching writing was due to a lack of quality writing materials available. For several years at Chauncey Davis Elementary, writing instruction was tied in with the basal reading program. Although it was a quality reading program, writing always came last in the lesson and a terrible pattern had begun; my teachers were running out of time. As a first grade teacher myself, I personally experienced this. I would run out of time in the morning and would set my writing lesson aside in hopes to get back to the writing in the afternoon. Writing lessons would pile up in the corner and a week would go by, and no writing had been taught.
What I did to improve writing instruction at my school
There’s a resource called Crunch the Numbers, which shows three different teachers’ lesson plans for the week. Teachers calculate up how much time each teacher is spending teaching the different subject areas. Teachers then judge the lesson plans according to ASCD’s recommended minutes of instruction in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
It was a great start for my teachers who were apprehensive to look at their own use of instruction time. They were less defensive looking at someone else’s schedule and got an idea of how they could rearrange their own based on ASCD’s recommendations.
If your teachers aren’t sure how to improve their writing instruction, I suggest using a document called Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing.This is a really powerful tool I used during a staff meeting and everyone raved about how helpful it was. Teachers loved learning from each other, and it’s a great professional development tool.
Using Crunch the Numbers helped with time awareness, and Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing helped with knowledge awareness. But, I knew I still needed to tackle the lack of materials. This led me to start looking into some writing programs that could assist my teachers with their writing instruction while teaching them the craft of writing. We piloted WriteSteps last year, and this year we are in full implementation. With WriteSteps, teachers finally realize that writing deserves its own block of instructional time, not combined with reading instruction. I'm so proud to visit classrooms and observe effective writing instruction happening. Second, they love how everything they need is at their finger tips. With WriteSteps, they don't have to do any extra planning or resource gathering. As we wrap up our first year with WriteSteps, teachers are amazed at the progress their students have made and love sharing their stories with other staff. It's nice to see student writing on display again.
Do you want to learn more about how you can support your teachers with their writing instruction? You can attend my session at the Quality Educator Convention on June 19 at 2:50 p.m. called Ready, Test, Score! Essential Tools for Common Core Writing Success from Chauncey Davis Elementary. We will evaluate examples of how Common Core writing skills are used in cross-curriculum test questions and then discuss 17 critical elements to consider in your school’s writing curriculum. With the implementation of a solid Common Core writing plan, students will not only be prepared to achieve testing goals, they will also gain the skills they need for a lifetime of confident writing. I look forward to seeing you there!
This article was first published on June 11, 2014 in the Update Bulletin.
On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.
The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.
Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.
My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.
My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.
The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.
I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.
The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.
I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.
The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.
BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!
For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme. The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways. If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course.
For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers. We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish. If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009. Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.
As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year. It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:
What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves. The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in. We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.
This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS. Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset. If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us. Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:
· Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:
I need to stop here, but I think you get the point. We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset. The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school. So what's stopping you?
On behalf of the Zurich State Department of Education, Switzerland, I invite you to consider using and sharing the following materials with your professional colleagues and families involved with early childhood education. We are proud of the creation of our project and want you to enjoy the benefits of the quality materials in this program.
Families play the most important role in promoting the healthy development of their children, yet not all families are equipped with the information and support that help them create environments for their children to develop and learn.
The Zurich State Department of Education (Switzerland) created 40 short video scenarios for Early Childhood Education in Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, Tamil, Tigrinya and Turkish.
The various video scenarios show day-to-day learning opportunities for children from birth through four years of age. They refer to a research-based framework, which was developed on behalf of the Swiss Commission for the UNESCO by Marie Meierhofer Children's Institute in Zurich.
The videos are part of a program for empowering parents and boosting the quality of childcare in any country. We believe they have universal appeal. They address themselves to parents as they are, speaking different languages. In addition, they are a tool for the professionals in the field working with parents.
The videos are in HD-quality, each lasting 2-3 minutes long. You can find the videos and more detailed comments for professionals on the website www.children-4.ch.There you can also download the videos and comments for free. You have our permission to use them as you wish without prior approval. They run best on Firefox. There are also special mobile websites for the iPad and the iPhone.
We know that standards cannot impact student learning if they’re just sitting on the shelf. We need teachers who can teach them. Standards accomplish nothing alone. But many teachers have told us they still feel unprepared when it comes to the Common Core. Are you one of them?
As the clock ticks toward the transition from practice testing to the actual Common Core testing in 2015-2016, there are three things to think about:
1. The SIT & LISTEN model is not an effective way to train. Thanks to studies by The Consortium for Policy Research in Education, we have known this for a long time. Although districts continue to favor this passive, large-group model, it's clear that it doesn’t improve student learning.
2. The COACHING model works best.
3. The biggest challenge in teaching the K-5 Common Core ELA Standards is WRITING. Even more than making the leap to reading complex texts, teachers are hard-pressed to meet the new writing standards without help.
Teachers: Use the reflection guide as a personal professional development evaluation. It will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses in your writing instruction.
Administrators: Use the reflection guide when planning a professional development day. Follow the directions below.
1. Print “Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing”, and pass the reflection guide out to your teachers.
2. Ask your teachers to follow the directions in the reflection guide. They will fill out their glows (strengths) and grows (weaknesses) for writing.
3. Design your professional development day into sessions where each teacher will have 10 or 15 minutes to share a teaching idea or tool they have used successfully.
4. Teachers can consider their “grows” and choose to sit in on sessions that will be most helpful to them.
What was your most memorable professional development experience? Tell us in the comments section below.
About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.
Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.
Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.
The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.
We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.
I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.
If you turn on the news in the morning, you might have the joy of seeing a reporter go out on the street to assess America’s social studies knowledge. They’ll quiz passers-by; the most clueless are shown floundering, and the rest are lumped into shocking statistics at the end. 45% of Americans don’t know who the third president was! 60% can’t even find Afghanistan on a map! Crisis in Education!
The underlying disingenuity of these exercises is that 90% of Americans would “know” these things... if allowed access to a web-enabled device. Given our position in the Information Age, it is simply not valuable to have historical facts memorized. The “Names and Dates” model of social studies education has been under fire for decades, but it somehow lives on both in classrooms and newscaster expectations. As Social Studies teachers, we have to commit fully to killing it once and for all. Students hate to do it, colleges and employers don’t need them to have it, and the only real positive is a boost to rote memorization skills.
If not reciting the presidents in order, though, what will students learn in the classroom? If it’s all on the internet, why teach at all? The problem is that, while the internet contains vast knowledge, it contains no real roadmap for really comprehending it. It is essential, both to maintain relevance and to properly prepare our students, to finally and completely move from the paradigm of “knowing” to one of “knowing how.” That raises the question, “well, knowing how to do what?” The answer, to me, is best stated as “knowing how to learn.” How to find quality information and discard the noise, how to decode that information, and how to generate lucid understandings of the topic at hand from it. It is helping students build a set of tools they can unleash on whatever information they come across, rather than beating a particular set of information into them.
If you’ve taken graduate classes or attended professional development workshops on Literacy or Critical Thinking, you may be having déjà vu right about now. That’s no coincidence. The way social studies should be taught is by building particular kinds of literacy: civic literacy and nonfiction literacy, as well as the critical thinking skills that are essential for putting those literacies to work in the real world.
While one of the obstacles to killing “names and dates” was once state tests that required students to have memorized them, those tests are being phased out in favor of assessments that focus on literacy and critical thinking. It’s true that, in many ways, Social Studies has been left out of the cold. Common Core doesn’t even publish standards for the subject, simply highlighting some literacy goals. My home state of Illinois doesn’t test in the subject. In many schools, the standardized test portion of teacher evaluations for social studies teachers is just the average of the school’s literacy scores.
As they say: when life gives you lemons, teach students literacy skills. In their English classes, students are taught differently when it comes to reading and interpreting a novel, short story, or poem--are we doubling up if we teach students to read articles, websites, or nonfiction books? Even if social studies as a subject is poorly recognized or assessed at the policy level, the goals of modern social studies and the outcomes we’ll be judged on are still better aligned than in the past. While the literacy tested will be general and not the specific forms we teach, no longer are we tied to 100 factual, multiple-choice answers students must be able to properly regurgitate at the end of the year.
Of course, testing literacy or critical thinking skills in a standardized way remains a difficult and controversial nut to crack, as the difficulties in implementing PARCC and Smarter Balance illustrate. Still, though, I’ll take a flawed test of worthwhile objectives over a perfect test of worthless ones any day.
I know what I want to teach, and I can feel reasonably confident that policy is lurching into a position that aligns with it. The only question left, and by far the most difficult, is how to teach it.
The Common Core Writing Standards are shifting the landscape of writing instruction, articulating rigorous new expectations and emphasizing newly redefined text types. Amidst this sweeping change, educators, publishers, and providers of professional development are scrambling to understand the types of writing that students have to master for college and career readiness: narrative, informative/explanatory, opinion, and argument.
Perhaps the biggest change for most writing teachers is the shift toward opinion and argument writing. Despite what you may have heard from some “experts,” page 24 of CCSS Appendix A makes it crystal clear: “Opinion” and “argument” are not simply new words that mean “persuasive.” These three words identify separate, distinct writing concepts.
Let’s begin with a basic definition for each. According to the Common Core, “persuasive” is not a text type; that is to say it is not a “design” or a “build” for composition. Rather, persuasion is a goal or a purpose for writing. Authors attempting to persuade an audience rely primarily upon credibility and emotion, often leveraging the reader’s sense of self-interest. In a nutshell, persuasion is generally accomplished by changing the way someone feels.
Argumentation is different. While the assertion of a specific argument can certainly be a purpose for writing, and while an argument can certainly change how a reader feels about a topic, an effective written argument also has distinct characteristics that set it apart from other writing forms. These characteristics define the text type, and, according to the Common Core, they can be observed and directly instructed. An argument begins with a claim. A claim is an assertion that the writer intends to prove is valid. A claim is a specific type of thesis: an opinion that is to some extent objectively defensible (This is the best type of computer for people who travel). A well-constructed argument advances the claim using reasons (It is durable), examples (I have dropped it many times, and it still works), and evidence (Consumer reports gives this model a top score for durability). Notice a key difference between examples and evidence: Evidence tends to be factual information gleaned from sources more informed than the writer himself.
According to the Common Core, argument writing instruction is supposed to begin at about 6th grade. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Common Core, it is highly advisable to begin argument writing instruction when students demonstrate that they are cognitively ready to think a bit more abstractly (to think more “outside” their own experience). With many students, this will occur long before 6th grade. So in accordance with best instructional practices, teachers must observe and assess carefully, determine the developmentally appropriate moment to begin argument writing, and differentiate to meet the needs of students working at different levels of readiness and proficiency.
So what are we supposed to be teaching before argument instruction begins? According to the Common Core, opinion writing. This is simply a less sophisticated form of argument writing. It begins with an opinion statement and then supports it with reasons and examples. Opinion writing is often characterized by the lack of an objectively defensible claim and/or a lack of evidence to support the reasons and examples. But opinion writing and argument writing are not entirely separate from one another. These two text types exist on a developmental continuum, so it is possible for writing to exhibit characteristics of both simultaneously. From an instructional perspective, it is less important to identify the type of writing than it is to move students incrementally along the continuum from opinion toward argumentation. As writers develop, their compositions will gradually become less opinion-oriented and more characteristic of a true argument. For example, a first grader might render the opinion, “I like ice cream.” A seventh grader might argue about the same topic beginning with the claim, “Ice cream is unhealthy.” In both cases, the writer takes a position on the topic, but the first grader’s assertion (opinion) is far more subjective. The second example is more typical of a claim that might anchor a written argument, and it is more defensible from an evidentiary perspective.
Now that we have discussed the essential differences between persuasion, opinion, and argument, we must recognize their interplay in authentic “real world” writing. Think analogously of any car commercial you’ve watched recently. The tag line is probably an opinion, but in some cases, it might be a claim. Reasons to buy the car are provided, and visual examples are likely demonstrated by actors on the screen. Many car companies also cite evidence (J.D. Power and Associates award, Car and Driver’s 10 best list, etc.). But the advertiser also spent a lot of money in an attempt to establish their credibility, appeal to your emotions, and influence you to act in your own self-interest. So the commercial you’re thinking of probably had characteristics of both persuasion and argumentation…like many other “real world” forms of communication.
This begs a simple question: If persuasion, opinion, and argument often blend in the real world, why teach them separately? There are two simple answers. First, in order to effectively blend these concepts, students have to master each of them first. To do so requires explicit strategy-based instruction, and many of the proprietary strategies for each form are distinct. Second, the Common Core Standards emphasize the opinion and argument text types for success in college and career. Why? College and career require written expression that is ideationally compelling—writing that argues based upon reasonableness and proof. And because it’s easier to persuade than to argue, students often are better at the former than the latter. From an academic perspective, argument is more challenging. It requires a deeper level of understanding that comes from analysis, research, perspective-taking, and anticipation of counterclaims.
To summarize, persuasion, opinion, and argument are distinct from one another. For this reason, they require strategy-based direct instruction for student mastery. But this does not mean they exist in mutually exclusive silos. Talented writers develop a commanding mastery of each and then blend them expertly to address specific purposes and audiences.
This post originally ran May 7 on SmartBlog on Education and, here on the Zaner-Bloser Blog, is the first in a series of blog posts about the writing text types and how they have been redefined by the Common Core State Standards. Subsequent posts in this Decoding the Text Types series will explain the new narrative and informative/explanatory writing text types and tackle many more of the misconceptions that are out there.
—James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Participate in the Whole Child Symposium!
Watch the Whole Child Symposium Live archive. Listen to the recording of the live event, featuring ASCD CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter and a panel of education experts, to learn about effective education and education systems around the world.
Register for the Whole Child Symposium Virtual,which takes place May 14 and 15. As an attendee, you will hear from four live panels of school leaders, policy experts, teachers, and students. These panels will explore how school policy, classroom, and student decisions today affect what children, societies, and economies will need and become tomorrow.
Join the symposium discussion and spread the word on Twitter using #WCSymposium2014!
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
Welcome: Thailand ASCD Connected Community
ASCD is pleased to announce that the Thailand ASCD Connected Community is ASCD’s newest constituent group! Please join us in welcoming them to the ASCD Community. View the full connected community directory on ascd.org.
Professional Interest Community Facilitator Hosts First Annual Symposium
Pauline Stonehouse, facilitator of the Brain-Compatible Learning Professional Interest Community, helped host the first annual symposium on “Professional Capital: Leadership for the Transformation of Teaching in Every School,” which was held last month in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This collaborative symposium aims to facilitate discourse on the influence and effectiveness of strategies designed to develop “professional capital” among a broad constituency. Dr. Stonehouse, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota, asked Constituent Services Strategic Advisor Walter McKenzie to participate virtually, presenting on the topic “Online Communities of Practice” and launching a new ASCD EDge® group on Professional Capital during his presentation to support ongoing discussion after the symposium concluded.
ASCD Leader Voices
Thank You, Educators! ASCD Celebrates Teachers and Offers Professional Development Resources—Read the full press release.
ASCD Asks “What Keeps You up at Night?” and Offers PD Resources for Busy Educators—Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces New Teaching and Learning Framework for Schools and Districts: The FIT Teaching™ Tool Kit by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey—Read the full press release.
Educators Invited to Learn New Teaching Model at the ASCD Summer Academy—Read the full press release.
ASCD Presents Inaugural Whole Child Symposium—Read the full press release.
ASCD Offers Professional Development Resources That Support Student Engagement—Read the full press release.
“Leadership is not about position; it's about influence.”
-John C. Maxwell
Dispelling the leadership myth
About two years ago, I began mulling over the idea of going back to school to obtain a masters degree in Educational Administration in order to become a school leader. Leadership is influence and I was determined to spread my influence beyond my classroom walls and inspire an entire school. What I came to realize, was that I had already reached that level. I was already contributing to my school’s success and slowly becoming a catalyst for change: I was a teacher leader.
Effective leadership is generally directly tied to school success. Research has certainly shown that leadership matters. Teacher leadership, however, still is not always an accepted norm. The notion of an educational leader always tends to conjure up the same images: District superintendents and building-level administrators. These images, I believe, are misleading representations of leadership in education. They give off the impression that one has to be in one of those positions in order to develop influence in a school setting. Often, when asked about leadership roles, teachers reply, “I cannot lead because I’m not at the top.” How can we dispel this all-too-common myth? Even, in the midst of the 21st century, there appears to be a general lack of teacher leadership awareness.
Defining successful teacher leadership
While teacher leadership isn’t a new concept in education, it is one that is often misinterpreted. It has been long realized that teachers take on many roles. Teacher as leader is more than leading a class of students and being a great teacher. A teacher has many opportunities available to become influential and contribute to their school’s success.
From corporate offices to the military, and in a diverse array of cultures as different as The Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States, there is overwhelming evidence of a common set of practices that any successful leader calls on, as needed. Many of these same practices define today’s teacher leaders and the roles they take on:
1. Direction Setters
Successful teacher leaders are aimed at helping their colleagues develop shared understandings about the school and its activities and goals. Effective communication is key. Whether it’s guiding new teachers or trying to influence seasoned veterans hesitant of change, leaders play a key role in identifying and articulating the school’s vision. Teacher leaders have a responsibility to help foster the acceptance of their school’s goals and in creating high performance expectations.
2. Teacher Developers
Teacher leads take on various roles that assist in the development of their colleagues’ instructional practices. Vital roles include curriculum specialist, learning facilitator, resource provider, and mentor. Successful teacher leaders lead in-school or district professional development. They may aid in curriculum mapping. Sometimes it is as simple as helping other teachers to understand state content standards and local curriculum initiatives, as well as how to plan and assess lessons meeting these guidelines. Ultimately, effective teacher leaders strive to unlock their colleagues' potential to become better.
3. Catalysts for Change
The field of education is ever-evolving and there is a great need for independent research, or teacher inquiry, about new instructional strategies or practices. Many effective teacher leaders even take on roles in their teachers’ union or groups working toward school reform. They advocate for their school, for teachers, and above all, student learning.
4. Life-long Learners
This one is a given. John F. Kennedy used to say, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other," and true teacher leaders never really end their pursuit of knowledge or quest to become better educators. They are often the first ones to arrive to school in the morning and one of the last to leave at night. Teacher leaders are the ones who attend professional development sessions during school breaks to stay tuned in to the pulse of education in an ever-changing world. They engage in education twitter chats or reflect upon education in their professional blogs on the weekends. Successful teacher leaders are passionate professionals, always striving to learn and improve in order to be the best educator they can be and provide their students with the highest quality education possible.
The bottom line is- You don’t have to be a district superintendent or building administrator to be a leader within your school community. You need only the courage and determination to spread your influence beyond the walls of your classroom and an interminable passion to inspire the world around you.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog about one of our son’s teachers, along with the frustration that he and we, as his parents, have been experiencing. In case you missed it, I liken her to a teacher that I had in 1978––suffice to say, it was not a positive comparison. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote, about this teacher, and about the feedback that I’ve gotten from that blog. While the feedback has been nothing but positive and supportive, I feel that I should do something to help this teacher, instead of just criticizing her. Therefore, I am offering to her my 5-point professional development plan:
(1) Find ways to vary your instruction. Each day in your class should not look like every other one. Find ways to change what you do. Get your students more involved. Some days, have them lead the instruction, perhaps by doing examples for the rest of the students. Find ways to incorporate group work. Model for them how collaboration can be highly beneficial in the teaching and learning process.
(2) Get up out of your seat (please!). An active, more energetic classroom is by far a more interesting classroom. I sense that your students get bored because there’s very little interactivity from the beginning of class to the end of class, as well as from day to day. Similar to #1 above, mix things up a little bit––it’s hard for your students to be energetic and interested in learning when you don’t appear to be. Surprise your students from time to time with activities they don’t expect––I guarantee that it will keep them more interested in what you’re doing, as well as in learning what you want them to learn. When they know exactly what’s going to happen every minute of your class time with them, they will be bored––that’s simply human nature.
(3) Provide your students with scoring rubrics––or other specific forms of feedback––for their assignments and tests. No one expects all of your students to ace every assessment you administer. However, if you truly want them to learn from the assessments, you must provide them with concrete and formative feedback on how they can improve their performance. Simply marking the number of points that they’ve missed and not providing them with explanations of why they missed those points may make your job easier, but it’s completely counterproductive to their learning. Providing them with rubrics for constructed-response items––such as problem-solving on a math test––will not only provide them with sound feedback on their mistakes or misconceptions, but distributed in advance of your tests can inform them of exactly what your expectations are from them on the assessment. This is simply good assessment practice.
(4) Be supportive of and try to work with students who struggle in your classes. With the number of students that you see every day, this can be a challenge. Trust me, I know––I’m a former high school teacher who used to see more than 150 kids every day. However, when students struggle in your classes, your first line of defense should not be to brush them aside and simply tell them to get a tutor. After all, YOU are their teacher; YOUR job is to help them learn, even when they struggle. After you’ve worked with them, and you’ve determined that they clearly need some sort of additional support, then recommend that they see a tutor. But, please remember that it is your primary responsibility to help them learn the content that you are charged with teaching them.
(5) Listen to your students. Look, I understand that this is your classroom, but you may not always know what’s best for your students’ learning. When you have a high number of students who have been extremely successful during their previous 9 or 10 years of schooling and they are failing your class, something isn’t working right. Sometimes, students will come out and tell you that they are struggling; other times, you must discern this in other ways. Regardless, listen to what your students are verbally or nonverbally communicating to you about the struggles that they are having . . . and then do something to address those issues, as the professional educator that you are.
By the way, every one of these 5 professional development strategies above can be effectively implemented and assessed by integrating an action research approach into how you do your work as a professional educator. Come up with strategies to implement one or more of the points above; collect data from your students and assess the effectiveness of your efforts; appropriately revise how you approach these issues in the future. You will become a better educator––and your students will become better learners.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
Would you like to participate in the candidates selection process for next year’s Board members election? Several positions will be open on the 2014–15 Nominations Committee; application information will be available in the May L2L newsletter.
Leaders in Action
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All Rights Reserved.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html
How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention? As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching. In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone. However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth.
During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential. My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development.
It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.
1. Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.
Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating. Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood. Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking. Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.
2. Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.
Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices. Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action. Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below). These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered.
3. Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.
Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish. Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.
4. Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.
Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students. Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks. Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.
5. Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice - and reflect with them afterward.
Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration. Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved. In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” ― W.B. Yeats
As a high school teacher, I used an array of diverse assessments to measure and evaluate student achievement and success. Many varied components would go into each student’s grades and narratives – test and quiz results, the quality of projects, writings and self-reflections, observations of students, and judgments regarding effort, growth, and class participation. Given the multiple student cognitive abilities, attitudes, character traits, and strengths and problems, it would have been foolish of me to use only one type of measure to determine a students’ success in my class.
Given that multiple types of assessments such as the ones I used above are used by most teachers, one would expect that appropriate, multiple assessment approaches would be also used to assess school and district success. Thus, it is surprising that “one size fits all” standardized tests, with their major emphasis on multiple choice-short answer questions, are touted as the major, and often the only way to judge school success, student achievement, and even teacher effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the sole use of these traditional tests pose many problems for assessing actual student knowledge, skills, abilities, talents and interests. First, many educators and lay people suggest that standardized tests often do not do a good job of measuring the purported skills associated with them. For example, as recently pointed out by a New York State teacher in a NY Times op-ed piece, the New York English Language Arts test questions do “a poor job of testing reading comprehension”. A student’s answers to the questions on this test have “little bearing on [his or her] reading ability and yet [have] huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools”[i]. Some students also might be good readers but do poorly on the reading test because of their poor test-taking skills.
Second, standardized tests have limited use in evaluating whether students have learned many of the most important skills required for college work or for living in a 21st century world, such as interest in learning, motivation to learn, research and study skills, coherent writing abilities, effective oral communication skills, project and problem-based development skills, problem finding and question asking, the ability to apply learning to authentic situations, scientific investigation skills, “deep” thinking, student “grit”, and the development of each individual student’s talents and abilities.
In addition, the tests usually provide schools and teachers with limited, if any, feedback to help them figure out how to improve teaching and learning. And, unfortunately, they also have a number of negative side effects, such as increasing sterile test-prep activities, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student anxiety and frustrations, and reducing student interest in learning. Many of our best teachers write about how the emphasis on testing plays havoc with their curriculum, the interest and motivation of their students, and their joy of teaching. Some have even left the teaching profession altogether because of their school or district emphasis on preparing for standardized tests.
As opposition to the use of these tests increases, and a greater understanding of their limitations and negative consequences develops, it is imperative that opponents to standardized testing suggest alternatives. In fact, there should be many varied assessments used to determine school and district success, just as there are many and varied types of educational goals, results, and students. This is a very different paradigm from the “one size fits all” standardized testing results model of measuring success. So, described briefly below are some examples of types of measures that might be combined into an assessment plan useful for judging district and school success, student achievement, and the school or district conditions that limit or reinforce success. The first number of measures are designed to measure output – achievement and successes of students, their involvement and participation in multiple types of activities, perceptions of stakeholders in how the school is meeting their needs, and so on. The second set of measures focus on input: characteristics of student population, conditions under which students learn, amount of resources available, the quality of curriculum and teaching, and others.
Achievement, Successes, Activity Involvement, and Perceptions
Student graduation data
What do students do when they graduate, where do they go and how successful are they both during their time with us and after they leave us?
In analyzing school success, data should be regularly collected on the % of students who graduate and what they do after graduation (types and names of colleges and universities attended, financial aid obtained, military enlistees, technical school attendees, etc.); what % of those who attend college graduate and why do they drop out; college majors. Student data also should include surveys and interviews with graduates to find out their levels of satisfaction with their K-12 school programs;
Mission-related achievement data
How well do our students meet the mission of our school or district?
Student data should be collected and analyzed that demonstrate achievement and success based on mission-related goals. For example, a school specializing in the visual arts might collect data on the type of artwork students complete and a sampling of student portfolios; a school with an emphasis on music may focus assessments around the types of student performances given by students and the skill level of its music students. Vo-Tech schools might collect data on the types of training received by each student, their post high school plans and career goals, their job placements and acceptance levels into advanced programs.
Report card results
How successful are our students, based on the results of their daily and yearly work?
We know that the best predictors of student achievement and success lie with how well students do in their classes and in the recommendations of teachers and others in the school. We therefore need to make sure that each school or district develop specific, “standards-based” report cards, built around measures of 21st century goals, that reflect how well students succeed and grow in their classes and courses. Report cards should be broken down into specific cognitive and social expectations, with ratings that use levels of achievement as well as grades. Narrative comments convey specific information to parents-guardians about the strengths of individual children and areas that need improvement.
Report card data can be summarized to provide a picture of how well the school or district is doing to meet the needs of its students. Randomly selected report cards, along with narrative comments, can also be collected and shared.
Cornerstone-graduation project(s) results
How well do our students complete “cornerstone” projects that both develop and assess core 21st century skills?
Cornerstone projects consist of research projects and “authentic” performance tasks that culminate in presentations and exhibitions and demonstrate in-depth understanding of ideas, the ability to use 21st century skills, and the ability to transfer and apply learning. Students who are able to develop questions around their interests or suggested topics, conduct research, read and comprehend, write essays and research papers, and make presentations to others demonstrate an understanding of content and competence in using significant skills.
Cornerstone project results at different school levels demonstrate progress towards the development of these skills as well as final mastery of them.
Student plans for the future
What are student plans for the future?
Every student should be required to develop a plan for his or her future, indicating their next steps after graduating from high school and their more visionary goals for the future. Part of the development of a plan should include research about future educational goals, career options and choices. A summary of these plans is an important indicator of school and district success.
What is the comprehensive nature of individual student work?
Portfolios - collections of student work - help us to assess actual student work and incorporate “real learning” into the assessment process, not the artificial, “out of context” kind of learning assessed through standardized tests. Portfolios are also individualized and customized to demonstrate an individual’s nuanced and varied skill levels, talents, abilities, and interests. Today, with Internet capability, an individual student’s best writing and/or artwork, project results, tests, self-reflections, plans for the future, and other student work can be scanned and placed electronically into portfolios.
Students should be asked to develop portfolios of their work throughout their K-12 experience. Sample portfolios, or parts of portfolios, can be used to illustrate the types of work students are doing within the school or district, and how well a school or district is helping students master key 21st century knowledge and skills.
Survey-focus group data
What do parents, students and teachers think about us?
In this day and age of the Internet, it is relatively easy to develop, post, and summarize survey data. Every school and district should collect data from parents, students and teachers at least once a year, and then use the data to review its programs, applaud its strengths, and figure out ways to improve what it does[ii].
What do graduates and dropouts think about us?
Once students leave school and move on to colleges and other post high-school experiences, they have greater perspective on their experiences and can often provide valuable insights into the strengths of a school program and “needs improvement” areas. Data from graduates should be sought after, even if it is often difficult to collect.
Attempts should be made to collect and analyze data from dropouts, even if this data might be difficult to collect, in order to indicate why they dropped out of school and therefore suggest ways to help other students stay in school.
How do students view our school? What do they see as our positive and negative features?
Students who will be leaving one school to go to another school within the district (e.g. from elementary to middle school) or leaving a school to transfer to a school outside the district, or graduating from high school should be the focus of special attention when it comes to surveys and data collection. These students should be asked to reflect on their school experiences and focus on what they perceive as the strengths of the school they are leaving, the major learnings resulting from their school experiences, and suggestions for improving their learning experience. This data should be collected, analyzed and shared.
Community service and field-based activities
What are our students’ opportunities to connect with and apply their learning to the outside world?
How do students provide service to the community? How do students connect with the outside world via field trips, career days, and so on? How do outside individuals and groups provide services to and work with students within a school? These and other similar questions should be part of data collection that is shared and used to provide feedback on connections to real world, outside resources.
Extra-curricular, support, or enrichment activities
What opportunities are there for students to participate in extra-curricular, support and enrichment activities? How much do our students take advantage of extra-curricula, support and enrichment activities?
“Extra curricular” activities provide opportunities for students to explore and learn about a variety of options that are beyond academics. What extra-curricular activities are available? Data should be available that indicates which students are partake of which extra-curricular activities, and how often they do so.
In a similar vein, are their support and enrichment activities available for students? Data should indicate which students participate in these and why.
Conditions, Culture, Teaching, Curriculum, Resources,
School and district student population, resource availability and conditions
What are the characteristics of our student population? What resources do we have available to support our teachers and students? What school or district conditions help or hinder us in meeting achievement goals?
This data helps us to understand the characteristics of the school, district and student population, and resource adequacy, needs problems and challenges. The data include information about student populations, such as ELL, special education, identified gifted populations; the number of students on free or reduced lunch. Other data includes the % of students who drop out of a school or district before graduation and the reasons why they leave; % who are “lifers” within the same school or district, % of students who are absent 10 or more days a year, % of students given suspensions and other discipline data, and mobility rates.
District and school information include, among other things, resources available for technology, supplies, materials and other needs; class sizes; adequacy of library-media centers, art-music, and extra curricular programs; and support personnel available (NTA’s, nurses, counselors, community laiasons).
Curricular programs and instructional activities
What are the common types of curricular programs and instructional activities used in classrooms?
One part of a school or district assessment plan might include examples of the kinds of curriculum, teaching and learning experiences that are incorporated into classrooms and other activities. Suppose, for example, that the school or district promotes inquiry learning. Do teachers in the district use an inquiry learning model in their classrooms? If yes, what does learning look like? What are the essential features of the mathematical curriculum? The reading-language arts curriculum? Are there any special programs in place (e.g. leveled books, writing process, deep learning, competitions) that provide the opportunity for a different type of learning experience for students?
School and program reviews
How can we increase the amount of “objective” assessment data in order to determine our successes and improve our programs?
When I was on the staff of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency in Bucks County, PA, we conducted a number of program reviews for our constituent districts each year. We would enlist a number of teachers, administrators, and experts from across the county and the area to spend three days in a district examining and analyzing all or part of the district’s program. Our final report would list the strengths and needs of the program, and also make suggested recommendations for improving the program.
These types of reviews are extremely valuable for a school or district, especially since an outside agency is conducting the review. It provide a wealth of objective information and data, along with suggestions for improvement, that help to assess a program and provide the impetus for making changes.
Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP)
Just as we should expect teachers to build a comprehensive assessment plan to measure student success and achievement in their classes, so should we expect schools and districts to build a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP) that measures both output and input: a broad array of types of achievement, successes, involvement, perceptions, conditions, culture, and resources. The plan should both assess student achievement, growth, and development, and also be useful in improving school conditions and success in the future.
The selection of a set of a core set of assessments, built into a Comprehensive Assessment Plan, may be best determined by each school or district, depending on its resources, options, and viewpoints. My own view is that a combination of student population and school and district conditions-resource data, strong report card and student portfolio data, cornerstone project results, and surveys of and reflections from current students and graduates will provide significant and important data on how well a school or district is doing as well as the conditions under which schools, districts and teachers operate.
In today’s world of e-mails, Internet surveys, smartphones, computers, tablets, much of this data would be relatively easy to collect. Many of these measures, taken together, can become part of a holistic school-district annual report card, presented by a principal or superintendent to school boards and available to the general public. They can be used to identify problems that need to be addressed. They present a much more nuanced picture of how well a school is doing, the qualities of student graduates, what issues a school or district are facing, and what steps need to be taken to improve the results.
Unfortunately, a broad, varied array of assessment data just doesn’t get collected and developed by itself. A school or district needs to assign someone who is responsible for the development, collection, and analysis of this complex data. The person responsible might even be part of a collaborative, regional effort. The development of this more comprehensive approach will also take time to develop, and a long-term goal should be to enable every school and district to develop a significant assessment process for judging success with students and the conditions and resources necessary for success.
How Federal and State Officials Can Help This Assessment Process
Here are some ways that state and federal officials can provide support for a the use of a much more comprehensive assessment process:
Ultimately, a trust in a decentralized assessment process, a belief in the value of multiple, diverse assessments to measure school and district success, along with a combination of strong leadership at all levels, will provide the necessary impetus to move us away from the primary reliance on standardized tests to assess student, school and teacher success. We should be moving towards the use of varied sets of data that provide nuanced, helpful pictures of success and student achievement and help to improve the conditions of learning. Let us hope that we move in the right direction soon, because the current direction is leading us away from the kinds of education that our students need to prepare for living in a 21st century world.
Elliott Seif, Ph.D. is a long time educator, author, consultant, educational advocate, and trainer. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, read more his blogs on ASCD Edge and go to: www.era3learning.org
[i] Elizabeth Phillips, We Need to Talk About the Test: The Problem With the Common Core, The New York Times op-ed page, April 9, 2014.
[ii] A High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) is available free of charge from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Go to:
Do you remember the film “Starman" (Jeff Bridges plays a being from another planet)? There is one scene, where he is in the car with the leading lady and observes her speeding through a yellow traffic light. Unsurprisingly, he learns to respond the same when he encounters a yellow light later in the film. There was no intricate lesson plan or core curriculum involved, but Jeff Bridges’ character learned something from his environment nonetheless. Let’s use this example to begin our exploration of the hidden curriculum-the learning that occurs as students are shaped by their environmental experiences.
A big part of understanding the hidden curriculum concept boils down to the word "hidden". First, let’s focus only on this term. It is necessary to debunk the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” when we think of the hidden curriculum. Although hidden implies that something is beneath or under the radar, this does not mean forgettable. Further, when we don’t see things physically, this does not indicate insignificance. For example, think about all the important health risks associated with lead (most commonly found in paint and toys) BPA (material found in some baby bottles) or bacteria. In contrast, let's acknowledge the benefits of some of the things invisible from the naked eye-such as ultra violet light (detection of counterfeit bills, signals food on flowers for insects, sterilization of equipment).
After considering the value of hidden material, I wondered about its impact on my students. I decided to try an informal experiment to get a better idea. Typically, I begin each of my classes with a question, thus a couple of weeks ago I asked my students to share (in writing) their thoughts on their learning outside of class work and homework. Below is a few of their responses:
"We were able to use all of our notes on a final test in high school. So that taught me how to stay organized."
"In my chemistry class, you could sell a Cadillac converter for $80."
"During a highschool play, even if it's funny, its known backstage to be quiet and nobody has to tell you..."
"During the group activities I learned to come to an agreement without taking total control."
My student’s responses spurred interested as to how other students would define their experience with the hidden curriculum. I soon discovered a student blog on hidden curriculum. There were various accounts on how the hidden curriculum provided insight about others. For example, I was fascinated to see what the students learned about teacher behavior (the students concluded that teachers could be more punitive-based than thought provoking). In addition, the hidden curriculum was a great resource in learning about their peer’s needs. For instance, both physical survival lessons (such as when classmates ate large food portions at lunch because of the lack of food at home) and rules for academic survival (such as students storing items in classrooms because the school could not afford lockers) were imparted by peer behavior.
In addition to learning about others, the hidden curriculum provides self-awareness as well. I found a powerful article about a medical student's schooling experience, that highlights the struggle of going against the rules dictated by the hidden curriculum. The student retells the process of confronting his feelings (conflict of instinct versus hidden curriculum expectations) as a necessary step in developing as a learner, a professional, and a member of society.
After a while, it occurred to me that the hidden curriculum's impact on students is huge. It varies with the culture of the learner (think again of the film "Starman" and how the adjustment to a new culture made him more prone to follow). It differs with the ability of the learner (or inability to pick up on environmental cues such as students with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, or those with cognitive-based learning disabilities). Further, teachers may need help in guiding students through the unwritten or unspoken rules for success in the classroom. Strategies such as the use of scripts to assist in getting the needed information, identifying a safe person to approach for help, and exploring commons idioms are all ways teachers can help.
I will conclude with an excerpt from a radio ad that allows us to hear the consequences of forgetting to address the hidden curriculum in our classrooms:
In Biology, I learned I’m fat, stupid.
In English, I learned I’m disgusting.
In Gym, I learned I’m a joke.
The only thing I didn’t learn is why no one ever helps…
To hear the complete radio ad please visit Public Service Announcement Central Website.
So, am I wrong about the impact of the hidden curriculum? The next time you develop a lesson plan for your students, why not take a second or two and consider the hidden learning that may accompany your lesson? Let me know what secret lessons are embedded within your classroom/school-and how your students successfully rise to the hidden curriculum challenge.