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Unmuted: Using Student Feedback to Create an Effective Secondary Learning Environment
School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
I have seen a blaze of anti-Common Core sentiment sweep through certain states. These groups that are protesting the Common Core are counting on you not doing your own research and thinking about the Common Core in-depth. There are several FALSE claims you will hear in relation to Common Core that you need to think about. You can verify this at www.corestandards.org.
First, the Common Core is not a national curriculum. The full name of Common Core is “Common Core State Standards” (aka CCSS) meaning they are benchmarks we want our children to achieve, but how to achieve them is left up to individual states and local communities. Many, many companies are competing for schools’ dollars by offering diverse and varied curricula if schools don’t want to write their own. The feds are not driving Common Core for implementation or for assessment.
Second, the Common Core does not dumb down the curriculum (the same people claiming we are dumbing down the curriculum also gripe that we are introducing difficult concepts too early—which is it?). On average, we see rigorous standards applied 1 year earlier than we were applying them under the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. Missouri has consistently had the 2nd and 3rd most rigorous state achievement test (MAP) in the nation and now we see an even more rigorous test coming next year. In fact, we just piloted the Common Core assessment in the district and students and teacher alike commented on how much harder the test was than the MAP. One question I saw was substantially different than the MAP test. On MAP, a kid would be asked a math problem and then given a set of choices: A, B, C, or D. On the Common Core test, I saw a 5th grader answering questions that went something like this, “Suzy was given the following math problem.” A word problem followed. “Suzy read the problem, formed a plan to answer the problem with six steps.” A numbered list of 6 steps followed. “Suzy got the following answer which was wrong. Find which step in Suzy’s method was wrong, explain why, and correct her answer.” Folks, a kid has to think a lot deeper to answer that type of questions than a multiple-guess test.
Third, there is a lot of other mumbo-jumbo being tossed around, but opponents keep piling up argument after argument against it until you aren’t even sure what they are referring to anymore. The argument expands to gripe about socialism, anti-Christian movements, abortion, tracking, cost, and I don’t know what else. But those things are other policy and legislative concerns that activists are lumping in with Common Core because they don’t understand it.
In a nutshell, here is a Common Core kindergarten standard:
RF.K.2(a): Recognize and produce rhyming words. The standard then recommends “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne and “Singing Time” by Rose Fyleman although districts can use “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, or any other district approved literature. The concept can be further developed through artwork, song, science, math, and vocabulary. The curriculum is developed at the local level while the assessment will be used to determine if a student can indeed recognize and produce a rhyming word.
Let’s try another one in 3rd grade:
RI.3.9: Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic. The standard recommends “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “The Storm” although districts can choose any literature they want to have students compare and contrast. By the way, this is something we were trained heavily in during my doctoral program in order to conduct academic research…and here it is in 3rd grade Common Core!
L.5.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. Exemplar texts include “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Little Prince.” Informational texts include, “Who is Neil Armstrong?” and “Women Explorers of North and South America.” If we don’t like any of those, we can choose any literature we want.
Can you feel Obama’s fingertips reaching for your children’s minds yet? If you are confused where the socialist agenda is, I’m with you. But then again, no one has shown you what the real standards look like. Any standard can be written to reflect local control, with local lessons, local activities, and local formative assessments. The board will approve any curriculum that is generated by our own local teachers and reviewed by our own local administrators, myself included.
Finally, there are some real nice components of Common Core that I want to point out:
Reading is broken down into Literature, Informational Texts, and Foundational Skills. Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language are strands of the standards. Reading and writing aren’t just isolated to classic works, but standards are given for reading to be taught in Social Studies classes, science, and other technical subjects.
Here is an example of the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” in grades 9 and 10. Standard RI.9-10.9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts. These are four powerful, patriotic, truly American pieces of history that our kids should be grappling with. The teacher moves from the “sage on the stage” lecturing about what these pieces mean to the “guide on the side” helping students hold democratic readings and discussions about what these authors may have intended and what they were dealing with from a historical context. Students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.”
The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a framework of standards that are Internationally Benchmarked, rigorous, and broad enough to allow states and local boards of education create a locally controlled curriculum designed to meet the needs of local children. Go to www.corestandards.org and read through the standards to see for yourself. Nothing is perfect. Education is a practice. Common Core is another step forward in that practice. It isn’t evil, destructive, or anti-American. It is an opportunity for people with an axe to grind to use it as political smoke and mirrors to advance their own agenda. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.
Deficit (noun): Inadequacy or insufficiency, an unfavourable condition or position, to be lacking or a shortage. From the Latin – it lacks
Developmental (noun): The act of developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage
I received a call this morning from a teacher friend of mine. Claire is a second year out teacher who began her teaching career after a varied and wondrous life journey. Her life is a litany of success and achievement. She has been a nationally ranked gymnast, playwright, leader of transformational seminars, managed sales teams, mother, and carer. She rang me because she needed to talk to someone who understood the life of a teacher but was outside her school environment.
Claire felt that she was struggling at school. The school had asked her this year to step up to co-coordinate and rejuvenate English at a critical year level whilst taking on managing the school play and teach more classes. The school leadership team obviously thought a lot of Claire and her capabilities otherwise they would not have given her this opportunity. Claire’s challenges echo that of most teachers in the profession – the feeling that there is never enough time to get everything done that you need to do, let alone what others expect of you. Claire was currently experiencing her work as never being complete to her satisfaction, teaching as well as she would like to with a particular group, as well as having times of being overwhelmed. Much of her concern was self-talk about not being enough and that other staff members were judging her performance.
In my experience this is a common feeling amongst teachers. With the relentless day-to-day nature of education many teachers rarely have the time to neither reflect deeply nor acknowledge the progress they make each and every day. The feeling of needing to be constantly driven yet never enough is familiar to many. It is an experience of deficit – and I assert it is symptomatic of the paradigm in which education currently swims.
Recently in my work with a school to create supportive structures to empower and develop teachers I had a blinding insight about what we were actually trying to achieve – and it was far larger than I had anticipated and could explain why “performance” and “teacher evaluation” was resisted by many teachers.
Human beings, for the most part, live in a deficit paradigm. It is everywhere. It is in how we see ourselves, how we see the world, how the media portrays the world, in how politics is currently working, it is endemic in our schools. It is how companies sell us products, programs and desires. We aren’t doing enough, productive enough, rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, careful enough, etc. The recent viral Dove Real Beauty Sketches are a perfect example of how people see themselves from a deficit paradigm and the impact of that viewpoint.
Our education systems are then built upon this deficit thinking. We need to “improve” our schools. We need to “evaluate” or “appraise” our teachers and get rid of the bad ones and pay the good one’s more. Politicians use the language of deficit and impose deficit thinking models on schools and school systems. They look at other countries like Finland and Singapore through deficit eyes. If you just look at the language alone (e.g. ‘appraisal - the act of estimating or judging the nature or value of something or someone’) I am not surprised teachers and schools are resisting this thinking.
If you look at ANY high performing school, school system, team, organisation anywhere in the world, the paradigm that they operate from is one of nurturing, growing, building and development. This is not the language or viewpoint of deficit. There is nothing lacking but something to grow and nourish. Two recent TED talks by Rita Pierson and Sir Ken Robinson both point vividly to this.
Currently, we are immersed in a world of deficit and because of this we develop learning in schools from this mindset and we relate to one another from a deficit mindset. Our school structures hamper and hinder developmental thinking. Teachers need time to think, to reflect, to develop, to grow. Running from one class to another limits this. To improve performance in schools we must create structures for teachers to develop their own meta-cognition as a core part of being a teacher (or as I like to refer to them – master learner).
If we wish to create and transform the education system to unleash the potential of young people (and of ourselves) it is critical we create a developmental mindset and view the world through the eyes of “developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage”. When something is developing it experiences stages of growth and stages of challenges. It needs to be nourished and watered and fed to grow.
The real battle we need to be fighting is one of context.
Inside a developmental paradigm there is empathy for the stage of development people are currently at. There is not judgement just an acknowledgment. It allows for acknowledgement of progress, and celebration. It realises there are muscles to build, and capacities to grow. In the realm of agriculture one does not judge the value of a plant and ask it to improve. We create an environment for it to flourish and grow. That is what we are actually trying to do with students and staff in schools – aren’t we? In fact, I assert that wherever you find a great teacher, a great school, great parents, great coaches, great teams and high performance – you will find this paradigm. Not surprisingly you will also find habits, structures, practices and actions that develop and grow learning.
My coaching to Claire was simple. As we spoke she became clear how hard she was on herself. She saw that she could have a lot more empathy for herself and also share and communicate with people at the school what she is dealing with right now and what support she would like. She left clear and empowered.
How does deficit thinking play out in your school? Where do you struggle with deficit thinking? Where do you see developmental thinking?
Recently, I worked with Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 at an educational conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Steve is a marvelous conversationalist and has fantastic stories to share.
In the car on the way to the conference, Steve and I were discussing the “institution” of school and the “system” of school. The largest part of our conversation centered around the fact that we have, collectively as a nation, created a massive operation for educating children that does not work. Students are not graduating with the skills they need to be successful in the world they are graduating into. No surprise to many of you reading this--it isn’t “new” news. We know it’s not working.
The “institution” is the bureaucratic, policy side of public education that demands that “each get some.” The “system” is the mechanism for delivering the “some” to all. The good ideas that created the system and thus the institution around it are lost in the shuffle. Doing what’s best for kids and doing what’s fair for all have each become a separate megalopolis each on a separate continent.
Education has become so institutionalized that the act of “doing” something equates to readiness for the next checked off item on the “to do” list of instructional practice. The ebb and flow of “doing” becomes the barometer for success as measured by standardized high stakes tests that, in one moment, assess a student’s ability to “do school,” measure a teacher’s effectiveness, and be a checks and balances sheet to maintain the system as directed by the institution.
Note that in the previous paragraph, the word “learning” was not used. In a Huffington Post article from last March, Connie Yowell describes education as what institutions do and learning as what people do. What’s happening, though, is the system and the institution are methodically destroying learning. I think it’s high time we refocus on the learner.
My friend and colleague Jennifer Borgioli recently wrote a piece for the Gotham Schools blog about standardized testing, in the wake of the recent Common Core aligned New York state tests. In the blog post, she describes learning as a construct. We can measure variables that indicate that learning is happening but cannot quantify the whole of what learning means. In Jen’s words, we can’t “pull out a child’s brain, slap it on a scale, and say, yup, they’ve learned this much.”
The system and the institution would have you believe that it is possible to well quantify the learning with one high-stakes assessment that serves as a good indicator of year to year growth, how well a teacher teaches, and whether or not the school as a whole is an effective system. The problem is with the variables. In science, we draw conclusions based on the experimentation of one variable at a time, a process approach that helps winnow the possible outcomes of comparative observation. In our current model, the system and the institution are on a multi-variable train that not only amounts to bad science but, in turn, leads to bad practices.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, students in New York State took the first version of the new Common Core aligned tests. They were asked questions that were more rigorous than ever before in an attempt to measure the learning of the Common Core standards. The stories that came out of the woodwork over the course of the week involved students walking out of the test, kids crying, kids unable to finish, kids just giving up, etc. The test was designed to measure the degree to which the students met the Common Core standards. The test does not allow for variations in home environment, parental support, socioeconomic status, etc., all of which are variables that are not necessarily considered as important but in the end, majorly affect the data collected. (Other variables here would also include teacher support, teacher training, schools as systems supporting the standards versus pocket buy-in, etc.)
The test was designed to evaluate the system and perpetuate the institution. The tests in other states that are being designed to evaluate the “learning” are all heading in the same direction.
Do we want our students ready for college and careers? Absolutely.
Do we want them ready to meet the challenges of the world they will graduate into? You betcha.
Do we need assessment? Of course.
Do we want them suffering through assessments that were designed with the institution/system rather than the child in mind? Not at all.
Steve and I discussed how the people with the best ideas are usually not the ones running the companies that develop and market and sell the product that the idea people generated. Wonderful ideas are snagged up by companies or companies are created around them. In order to sell to the masses you need a system set up for production and delivery. You also need an institution to maintain and advance the ideas, normalizing everything for the benefit of impacting the most people possible to increase the bottom line over time.
The problem though, lies in the fact that once the ideas/learning lose the focus of priority in favor of the system or the institution because of a mistaken belief that “some” of the original ideas are best for “most” in the system, the system falters. How well does that work when the institution or the system becomes the priority? You tell me: Polaroid. Enron. Commodore. Hollywood Video. Madoff Investment Securities. The list is long...
Assessment is not bad. In a previous blog post, I wrote about why in the world we would practice for a game we never played or rehearse for a performance we never give? I also don’t disagree with checks and balances in the system, but the system must have integrity. That integrity lies in the priority of keeping the learner at the center. That means that we must not only find ways to more rationally assess students without causing complete psychological breakdowns on test days but also that we address some of the other variables that the system and the institution keep in the periphery, primarily poverty and family/environmental support.
Hmmm. “Test days.” Now that I’ve said those words specifically, perhaps that’s the beginning of the new conversation. Instead of the grimness of the dark and scary hell week of assessments, perhaps we start looking at what can be embedded in instruction. Perhaps we look at leveraging opportunities for choice and differentiated products through performance tasks and problem-based scenarios that not only generate a product but also are a launching pad for the next learning moment. These aren’t new ideas. I’m not innovating here. I am talking about something though that is difficult for institutionalized implementation. It is difficult for systemic production and delivery. It’s expensive and messy and would involve much more local control.
We can send a man to the moon but we are still having trouble negotiating the creation of a better assessment of student learning? I wonder how many one size fits all, end of the year, high stakes assessments those NASA engineers took before they were finally ready to, according to the system and the institution, design and implement their ideas? I wonder if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have been comfortable putting their lives on the line for a bunch of scientists that did REALLY well on their one moment in time, end of year state tests?
There are no easy answers here, I know that. But I also know that there are still kids at the heart of all of this. The institution and the system need to refocus on that. We have an unbelievable challenge and a massive obligation to get this right.
Originally blogged on Smartblogs.com/education. Portions added.
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available at the ASCD Bookstore
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Newest Policy Points Revisits A Nation at Risk
ASCD’s newest Policy Points (PDF) takes a closer look at A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report on the state of U.S. education that launched a spirited and ongoing debate about the quality of our public schools. This issue of Policy Points examines the specific recommendations of the report, the accuracy of its dire prediction about “a rising tide of mediocrity” undermining the nation’s well-being, and the evolving school reform debate the report kick-started three decades ago.
Throughout May on www.wholechildeducation.org: The New Poverty
In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. These “poor kids” don’t fit the traditional stereotypes—two-thirds live in families in which at least one adult works and the percentage of poor students in many rural districts equals that in inner-city districts. In the United States, the economic downturn has dramatically changed the landscape, and districts that were previously vibrant are now dealing with unemployment, underemployment, and more transient families.
Join us as we share what new—and old—solutions we are using to support learning and ensure that each child, whatever her circumstances, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the current economic downturn; its result that many families and children face reduced circumstances; and implications for schools, many of which have seen drastic changes in the populations they serve and their communities. Guests include Deborah Wortham, superintendent of the School District of the City of York, Pa., and former assistant superintendent for high schools and director of professional development for Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools; Felicia DeHaney, president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; William Parrett, director of the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies and professor of education at Boise State University; and Kathleen Budge, coordinator of the Leadership Development Program and associate professor in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies Department at Boise State University. Parrett and Budge are also coauthors of the 2012 ASCD book Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools.
ASCD Leader Voices
Arkansas Governor Signs Whole Child Legislation
Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe signed a new bill into law that promotes a whole child approach to educating the state’s children. The legislation (PDF) establishes a Whole Child Whole Community recognition program and aims to measure the comprehensive well-being of children and how well stakeholders are meeting their needs according to the five whole child tenets and their indicators as identified by ASCD.
The recognition program will acknowledge and highlight the work of Arkansas educators, parents, community members, and policymakers who support the whole child. The legislation also indicates that one purpose of the recognition program is to help spur systemic collaboration and coordination within and beyond schoolhouse doors and to promote a shift from narrowly defined student achievement and traditional education reform to broader, more comprehensive efforts that recognize the crucial out-of-school factors that influence teaching and learning. A diverse state working group will work over the course of a year to recommend a framework and process for recognizing exemplary whole child and whole community successes.
Congratulations to Arkansas ASCD, which played a crucial role in supporting the bill’s development and introduction!
Rhode Island Passes Whole Child Resolution
The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution (PDF) supporting a whole child approach to education that ensures each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
The resolution affirms that to educate Rhode Island’s children effectively, the state must pay attention to factors within and beyond its school buildings as well as integrate efforts among schools, families, and communities. In addition, the resolution expresses the assembly’s intent to model whole child concepts in its own work and to join with other stakeholders who support the whole child.
Congratulations to Rhode Island ASCD(RIASCD), which worked hard to have this joint resolution introduced into the Rhode Island legislature!
To help the state fulfill its commitment to whole child education, ASCD and RIASCD offered some initial steps (PDF)—organized by the five whole child tenets—for educators, parents and community members, and policymakers to take. RIASCD also highlighted some of ASCD’s free resources to help the state put its whole child vision into action.
South Carolina ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states.In the seventh post of the series, South Carolina ASCD leader Josh Patterson writes about the challenges and successes that South Carolina has had with CCSS implementation.
The Effective Principal
What we see through our research, reading, and conversations with principals and school staff is that to see what an effective principal is, don’t look at the person; look at the effects of her leadership on student achievement, school culture and climate, teacher effectiveness and satisfaction, and community relationships. As the wearers of many hats, principals are crucial to implementing meaningful and lasting school change. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In April, we looked at what qualities principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Donna Snyder, manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD; Kevin Enerson, principal of Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota (an ASCD Whole Child Network school); and Jessica Bohn, an ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
Also this month on the Whole Child Podcast, we talked with educators from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School (winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award) about how they meet student and staff needs, taking challenges and turning them into opportunities for all. Guests include principal Mark Pinder, assistant principal for curriculum Michael Ralls, assistant principal for student management Tim Taylor, dean of students Donnie Siel, and teacher leader David Adams.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Killeen Independent School District Deepens Professional Development Partnership with ASCD—Killeen Independent School District (ISD)—whose more than 6,100 staff members serve approximately 42,000 students—is deepening its relationship with ASCD to meet its professional development goals. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Leadership Guide on Transforming Any Teacher into a Master—ASCD is pleased to announce the release of Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom by best-selling education author, renowned educator, and professional development expert Robyn R. Jackson.
Never Underestimate Your Teachers offers school leaders a new model for understanding great teaching as a combination of skill and will, and it's the first book of its kind to support leaders as they facilitate teacher growth in both areas through differentiated leadership. Jackson shows readers how to design and deliver targeted professional development to help each teacher realize his or her potential and achieve great results for the benefit of every student. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Common Core Academy Supports School Leadership Teams Across the United States—ASCD is bringing its inaugural ASCD Common Core Leadership Team Academy to Chicago August 5–8, 2013. This intensive four-day professional leadership experience offers groups of administrators, teacher leaders, and nonprofit and higher education partners an accelerated plan for putting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into routine practice. Read the full press release.
ASCD Summer Reading List Identifies 10 Books That Can Transform Teaching and Learning—In the spirit of promoting year-round professional development, ASCD has assembled a diverse list of books essential to educators who seek to improve their practice over the summer months. These books—organized by how they help educators transform teaching and learning—offer readers the opportunity to dive deep into the hottest topics in education, including using data to focus improvement, project-based learning, child development, and neurodiversity. All books are currently available in paperback and e-book formats. Read the full press release.
Arkansas Governor Beebe Signs Education Reform Law Supporting the Whole Child—Arkansas Governor Michael Beebe has signed a new bill into law that promotes a well-rounded whole child approach to educating the state’s children.“An Act to Establish the Whole Child– Whole Community Recognition Program; and for Other Purposes” (Senate Bill 1051[PDF]) outlines a plan for the Arkansas education system that ensures Arkansas students receive a whole child education. Read the full press release.
New ASCD Staff Expand Association’s Ability to Design, Deliver, and Evaluate Professional Development Resources—ASCD welcomes three new staff members to the association’s Program Development Work Group. Dr. Andrea Muse has accepted the position of director of research and program evaluation, Jen Thompson will serve as director of program management and process improvement, and Elizabeth Thurman has joined ASCD as director of customer engagement and product support. The additions of Muse, Thompson, and Thurman expand ASCD’s capability to design, deliver, and evaluate the crucial professional development resources today’s educators need to learn, teach, and lead. Read the full press release.
This commentary examines criteria for selecting effective curricula and instructional models in a 21st century world, and also provides eight examples of relatively unknown yet powerful curricula-instructional programs that should be considered for adoption.
In the same way that it is hard to build a building without an architectural blueprint, so too it is hard for a teacher to be effective without strong curricula-instructional frameworks. Curricula/instructional frameworks lay out the goals, methods, strategies, approaches, assessments, and resources needed for successful teaching and learning. The better the framework, the more likely will be the sturdiness of the foundation and the effectiveness of instruction. The more that curricular-instructional models available to teachers are consistent with the goals and practices of the teacher and school, and the needs of students, the more likely it is that teaching will have good results.
Just imagine how an architectural blueprint influences and affects the construction of a building. Building construction based on a poor design may make it difficult to walk from one part of the building to another, make communication among building occupants difficult, make furniture arrangements impossible, make lighting too dark or too light, make the building safe or unsafe. In the same vein, a poorly designed curriculum may lead to too many unclear, vague goals that do not match student needs, include too much to teach, limit “deeper understanding” of a subject, teach the wrong skills, provide few connections between its different parts, have little meaning for learners, foster passive learning, and make alignment of content among teachers and grade levels difficult. When teachers work from poorly designed curricula and instructional frameworks, they have to work very hard to redo the curricular and instructional practices encouraged by these frameworks, and many times powerful learning is difficult if not impossible to create within the given framework.
What are the components of successful curriculum/instructional frameworks for teaching in a 21st century world? Some framework characteristics might include:
Teachers, schools and districts need to regularly review their curricular programs in order to update them and create programs more attuned to this new age that we live in. Ultimately, this will make a huge difference for children in this new age.
The following curricula and instructional models exemplify powerful “21st century” program elements built around many or most these criteria. You are probably unfamiliar with most or all of them. They, and programs like them, should become familiar to educators and achieve greater use throughout the educational community.
NOTE: Many of their descriptions are adapted from the program’s website.
1. LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
SERP-Word Generation for the Middle School
SERP - Word Generation is a research-based, highly motivating “vocabulary” development program for middle school students designed to teach words through language arts, math, science, and social studies classes. The program consists of weekly units, each of which introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages describing controversies currently under debate in this country. The paragraphs are intended to help students join ongoing "national conversations" by sparking active examination and discussion of contemporary issues. The target words are relevant to a range of settings and subject areas. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week will enable students to understand the variety of ways in which words are related, and the multiple exposures to words will provide ample opportunities for deeper understanding.
The Word Generation program is designed to build academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language. Interpret, prohibit, vary, function, and hypothesis are examples. Academic vocabulary includes words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, like element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them.
For more information, go to: http://wg.serpmedia.org
For information about other SERP programs in development, go to: http://www.serpinstitute.org/2013/
Other literacy development programs you might want to examine:
Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) http://www.cliontheweb.org
Reading and Writing Workshop: http://readingandwritingproject.com/about/overview.html
100 Book Challenge: http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/
Touchstones discussion Project: http://www.touchstones.org
Jr Great Books Program:
2. CREATIVE THINKING
Design Thinking is a structured approach to generate and develop new ways to solve difficult problems and challenges. Design Thinking starts with a challenge, and then works through a series of steps to help find creative solutions to the challenge, such as empathy, interpretation, brainstorming and choosing alternatives, building models, and planning for implementation. The process can be used to help solve school challenges or world-wide challenges. It includes learning additional skills such as finding reliable information, developing surveys and questionnaires, and building interview skills. It can be adapted to be used with students at all ages.
Other creative thinking programs you might want to explore:
Creative Problem Solving: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org
The Future Problem Solving Program: http://www.fpspi.org
3. POSITIVE ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Champions of Caring: Journey of a Champion Middle and High School Programs
The Journey of a Champion Middle Grades curriculum is a year-long course of study divided into 4 modules. It promotes academic excellence, character development, service-learning and citizenship. The curriculum is a catalyst for encouraging caring, thoughtfulness and good judgment through service and civic participation. Students gain civic engagement skills as they design community and school service projects. Civic skills developed include:
The Journey of a Champion High School Program is a character education and service-learning curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Through this program, students learn how to act as responsible, caring and involved citizens who respect themselves and others and succeed academically.
Journey of a Champion invites students to learn about and reflect on the challenges they and their contemporaries face. It places those challenges in a historical context and leads students to develop strategies and skills that will help them confront those challenges. The journey "destination" is students creating and planning sustainable service and civic participation. The curriculum affects positive change in students by:
For more information, go to: http://www.championsofcaring.org
Other programs to look at:
Second Step: http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step.aspx
4. ECONOMICS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
Entrepreneurship education is a tool that can equip young people to not only start businesses and create jobs, but also to be opportunity-focused, flexible employees ready to fill existing jobs.
NFTE fosters the creation of entrepreneurship skills, businesses and the development of an adaptable, driven and opportunity-focused workforce that ultimately promotes economic stability. External research has shown that NFTE graduates start and maintain businesses at substantially higher rates than their peers. Other research findings indicate that students develop:
Working with schools in low-income communities where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, NFTE targets young people who are at risk of dropping out of school, and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success. The program, Highly Academic, is a semester or year-long class with a NFTE-certified teacher who guides students through one of the curricula: Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future or Exploring Careers for the 21st Century. Lessons include the concepts of competitive advantage, ownership, opportunity recognition, marketing, finance, and product development - and all tie back to core math and literacy skills. Lessons include field trips, games and experiential activities. Classes regularly have guest speakers. Students are paired with coaches who help students work on their business plans, and business plan competitions are judges by local entrepreneurs and business people.
Each young person who takes a NFTE class works toward completing a business plan, then goes on to present and defend it in a classroom competition. The winners of these competitions go on to compete in citywide or regional competitions, with the hopes of reaching our annual national competition.
For more information, go to: http://www.nfte.com
Other Economic-Entrepreneurial Programs:
General information about entrepreneurial education programs can be found at: http://www.entre-ed.org
Information about Economic and Financial Education resources can be found at: http://www.councilforeconed.org
5. INQUIRY-BASED SCIENCE
Full Options Science System (FOSS)
Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think and “search for the truth”. Scientists value open communication, investigation, and good evidence for drawing conclusions. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world. FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.
FOSS K–6 is a complete program consisting of 26 modules for self-contained elementary classrooms. The components exclusive to K–6 are
FOSS Middle School components consist of nine units for students and their teachers in departmental science grades 6–8. Each unit requires 9–12 weeks to teach. The Middle School program includes the following five interconnected components:
Two components that apply to both FOSS K–6 and FOSS Middle School are the FOSS Assessment System and FOSSweb.com.
For more information, go to: http://www.fossweb.com
Other programs to consider:
Active Physics: (high school): http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html
6. CONCEPTUALLY-ORIENTED MATHEMATICS
Cognitively Guided Instruction
Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is a professional development program that increases teachers’ understanding of the knowledge that students bring to the math learning process and how they can connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The program is based on the premise that children throughout the elementary grades are capable of learning powerful unifying ideas of mathematics that are the foundation of both arithmetic and algebra. Learning and articulating these ideas enhance children's understanding of arithmetic and provide a foundation for extending their knowledge of arithmetic to the learning of algebra.
CGI is guided by two major ideas. The first is that children bring an intuitive knowledge of mathematics to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing formal mathematics instruction. This idea leads to an emphasis on working with the processes that students use to solve problems. The second key idea is that math instruction should be based on the relationship between computational skills and problem solving, which leads to an emphasis on problem solving in the classroom instead of the repetition of number facts, such as practicing the rules of addition and subtraction.
With the CGI approach, teachers focus on what students know and help them build future understanding based on present knowledge. The program aims to improve children's mathematical skills by increasing teachers' knowledge of students' thinking, by changing teachers' beliefs regarding how children learn, and by ultimately changing teaching practice. In 1996, CGI was extended into the upper elementary school levels to assist first through sixth grade teachers in integrating the major principles of algebra into arithmetic instruction.
There is no set curriculum. Teachers use the CGI framework with existing curriculum materials, or they use CGI principles to help develop their own math curriculum.
For more information, go to: http://www.promisingpractices.net/program.asp?programid=114#programinfo
Other math programs that might be considered:
Project Seed: http://projectseed.org
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)(High School): http://mathimp.org/general_info/intro.html
7. SOCIAL STUDIES/CIVICS PROGRAMS
Social Studies School Service
Social Studies School Service offers teachers, K-12, a variety of alternative and unique materials, programs, and curricula for social studies at all levels. The materials have been developed for the many aspects of social studies – government, history, geography, and civics – and often are interdisciplinary, incorporate conceptual understanding, develop research skills, big ideas and essential questions, and use data-based test questions (DBQ’s), performance tasks, and multiple readings. Catalogues of available materials are frequently sent out and shared.
For further information, go to: www.socialstudies.com
Other social studies/civics programs to consider:
Teacher’s Curriculum Institute social studies programs: www.teachtci.com
Center for Civic Education: http://new.civiced.org
Zinn Education: http://zinnedproject.org
A History of US: http://www.joyhakim.com/works.htm
The Choices Program (Middle and High School): http://www.choices.edu
8. STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS) PROGRAMS
Engineering is Elementary
EIE consists currently of twenty STEM units designed for the elementary grades. Each EIE unit ties in with an elementary science topic and is meant to be taught either concurrently or after students learn the appropriate science content in life science, earth and space science and physical science areas. Each unit has five “lessons” (lessons can be more than one day).
The units attempt to combine learning in a science area with engineering concepts. Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math and science and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate students to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications. They foster problem-solving skills, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions.
Learning about engineering increases students' awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in high school.
For more information, go to: http://www.eie.org/
Other STEM examples:
Engineer Your World: http://www.engineeryourworld.org (high school)
Project Lead the Way: http://www.pltw.org (high school)
Some Final Thoughts
Every school and district should have some mechanism to help staff members regularly review the many available potential curriculum and instructional programs and approaches, and to select those that provide students with opportunities based on the criteria suggested at the beginning of this commentary, such as focused, meaningful goals; targeted key skills, attitudes and values; multiple formative and summative assessment options; a focus on deeper learning; and active student engagement and inquiry.[i]
The programs listed above are only some examples of the many powerful curricula and instructional options that are often neglected and put into place too infrequently in schools and classrooms.[ii] Many others that meet the criteria cited above and match 21st century goals should be considered. Through continual review and renewal, every District should move towards having a set of powerful curricula and instructional programs, tied to appropriate staff development training, that help prepare students to live in a 21st century world.
We also now have the technology to develop curriculum review websites, comparable to Amazon’s book service and reviews or TripAdvisor’s travel site that rates hotels and bed and breakfasts in all parts of the world. The website should include a comprehensive set of curriculum programs, all reviewed by experts and rated by users. Such a site would provide educators with data that would be helpful in a curriculum review and renewal process.
[i] For additional information about curriculum renewal criteria and strategies, go to www.era3learning.org, then to resources, then to curriculum renewal, and then to the article by Elliott Seif, Reconfiguring Learning Through Curriculum Renewal (unpublished).
Full disclosure: I am a New York Network Team Representative that is charged with taking the message of NY State Ed back to my participating districts. I attend meetings in Albany several times a year and then share this information with the schools I work with and help them understand and implement all that is coming in the wake of Race to the Top.
I believe in helping teachers help students. I believe that students are the focus of everything I do. I believe that some of this initiative, including the new Standards, is working and is good but I also believe some of it is not. I believe that teachers are professionals that deserve better than they’ve been treated in the last couple of years (particularly in the media) and I believe that if we trust them with children, then we should trust them with how to instruct and assess those children as well. I believe in fairness and I believe in calling attention to inconsistencies, not for the sake of argument or anger, but for the sake of solving solvable problems and getting this right. I believe in our obligations to our children.
I also believe that NY State has an opportunity here to build a new bridge.
But first, a little background:
In August of 2011, I began attending the NY State Education Network Team Institutes--the first of many that I’ve attended where State Ed rolls out initiatives, resources, upcoming expectations, etc. At one of these meetings, I had the very good fortune of meeting Mr. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, author of Driven By Data. Data Informed Inquiry models were to be part of our message that we took back to schools as schools were expected to form their own inquiry teams for the sake of letting the data guide instructional decisions. The assessments were meant to be more frequent and standards-based with a quick turnaround so that teachers could use the data and make necessary tweaks and improvements to the instructional program in the moment, rather than waiting until the end of the year to see if students “got it.”
The most important part of Santoyo’s message is transparency in the assessment. In order to do the deep analysis required, teachers must have the assessment in hand so that the skills that a student needs to answer the questions could be analyzed. Additionally, having the test in hand means that there are further opportunities for professional development around the structure of the test, the deconstruction of the questions for type and strategy, and the levels of cognition (Bloom’s, Webb’s, etc.) on the assessment and how those compare to the levels of cognition in instruction. Understanding by Design 101.
At these Network Team meetings, we spent HOURS understanding this methodology, preparing to turnkey it to our participating districts by exploring the models and creating our own data analysis spreadsheets and understanding protocols for data meetings. Throughout every single bit of this, we had the assessments in our hands. Again, let me say, WE. HAD. THE. ASSESSMENTS. IN. OUR. HANDS.
We taught our districts to do this exact same thing through their data meetings. Test in hand, begin analysis, use the observations to make changes in instruction to benefit students and their success.
This is not intended to give teachers ammunition for teaching TO the test, this is about understanding skills and strategies that enable students to be successful on assessments. This is not just about multiple choice either--it’s meant to analyze multiple types of assessments but to do so quickly so that students reap the benefits of deep understanding and teachers reap the benefits of planned student successes. This is an opportunity to leverage our professional development to do well what we were trained to do: TEACH.
Jump to now.
New York State just finished administering the first tests that are aligned with the Common Core. They were way more rigorous than previous assessments and both teachers and students struggled. Sometime over the summer, scores will be released, but the test will not.
The test will be embargoed and teachers will not be able to see it. State Ed Leadership will say that there are sufficient samples available online. They will say that there are curriculum modules to help with understanding skills and cognition to prepare for the assessments. They will say that it’s too time-consuming and expensive to share the tests as new ones will have to be developed.
They will also continue to promote Santoyo’s model on one hand, but deny teachers access to the central message of the model on the other hand. This is the inconsistency.
With all of the stress that teachers are under to both perform and be evaluated on that performance in ways they never have before, there needs to be some team-building going on, something that will bring everyone together for the sake of our students.
There is an opportunity here: Release the tests.
Teachers need an anchor right now, a shelter in the storm of changes. They need something concrete that will help them and their students be more successful and help them to feel that they have more control over the flawed teacher evaluation system currently in place. There are so many across the state just treading water and releasing the test would be a major lifeboat moment.
Many of the teachers I’ve talked with over the last couple of years of implementation will tell you that the Common Core Standards are not bad. They will tell you that with time and continued professional development that we can use those standards as a basis for modern learning practice and to prepare our kids to succeed in the world they will graduate into.
These teachers will tell you that data driven inquiry is important and that they agree that it is necessary. They will even tell you that they are fine with teacher evaluation and that, for the most part, there is a desire to improve professional practice and discover opportunities to do things better and implement new ideas.
They will also tell you that the current evaluation plan is inauthentic, inspiring a checklist of “to-dos” that meet the requirements of Race to the Top but do little to impact practice. They will tell you that a single test score has too many uncontrollable variables such as parent support, home environment, and poverty status to be a reliable measure for any part of a teacher’s evaluation. They will tell you that doing the same thing for all may be equal but it is not fair.
They will also tell you that it is difficult to prepare for an assessment when the potential exists for only a narrow secret set of assessed standards which in turn need broad preparation, leading to missed opportunities in instruction and inconsistent results.
Release the tests.
Teachers need to see that they are trusted and valued. They need to see that they are viewed as capable collaborators in this quest for college and career readiness. They need to see themselves as part of the whole team.
Release the tests.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available from ASCD.org
Social Media Week is one of the two New York events that inspire me and inform my perspective on developing curriculum. The New York Comic Con is the other. While they may seem tangential at first glance to classroom teaching and curriculum design, they actually offer a model of and insight to creating moving narratives which I believe drives effective learning.
It was at a Social Media Week session two years ago that I learned about Timehop. Timehop is a social media service that places your tweets and wall posts into an historical context. On any given day, you are sent a reminder of what you tweeted and posted on the same date last year. This includes news items you retweeted and shared. When you compare what you tweeted a year ago to what you tweet today, you have the beginnings of an autobiographical narrative (a personal history).
Currently, Timehop only presents you with an account of day-to-day social media activity. What I am hoping to see somewhere down the line is a "timeline" feature. I am certain there would be some meaningful classroom applications, if Timehop users were given the option to view day-to-day activity over multiple days, weeks, months, and even years.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend as many sessions this year. I was particularly disappointed about missing the Cowbird workshop. Cowbird describes itself as a "community of storytellers". I like to think of it as a great online anthology of flash non-fiction filled with examples of folksy wisdom and lazy Sunday observations over coffee or tea. Cowbird is definitely meeting its goal of building a "public library of human experience".
I particularly admire Cowbird's resistance to video and hope it continues to ask its community to take the time to contemplate the pictures and sounds (the individual components of video) and text they chose to tell their stories with. There is a risk of forsaking these individual pieces when composing directly in video.
Cowbird offers classroom teachers in the age of Common Core a powerful tool to create personal narratives. It also provides teachers with a way for engaging in informational texts especially in "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" where in eighth grade students are tasked to "Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea."
Happily, I managed to attend the "gsummitX - Gamification in NYC" presentation with Gabe Zichermann from Gamification.co. In the classroom, teachers understand that playing games is an effective way of engaging students. However, with the rise in the number of free online video games and the increased portability of traditional console games, students are much more sophisticated edutainment consumers than we Generation X'ers were with our Colecovisions and Commodore 64s.
Gabe was speaking from a Sales/Marketing perspective when he stated the challenge of retaining consumer attention. However, I don't think you need to stretch your imagination too hard to see how even with the onslaught of educational online video games that student attention retention can still be a challenge for teachers.
Gabe made several interesting comments during his presentation. First, he stated that gamification is a process not a product (Sound familiar?) It's what those who favor a constructivist approach to education believe. He then said that (I'm rephrasing slightly) games allow players to play with the limits of the reality of their jobs. In classrooms, this might mean games allow students to play with the limits of the reality of their... classrooms? subjects? tests? school? community?
Writing about Jane McGonigal's TED presentation, “Gaming Can Make A Better World” I suggested a game that addressed the school dropout crisis. The role playing games that Jane has worked on fit well into Gabe's statements on gamification. In creating a game that challenges students to solve the real world problem of dropping out, the challenge would be to convince the player to find value in the rewards and prizes. There are plenty of good commercial games available but also an equal (if not overwhelming) amount of bad video games. And there are instances where a game comes highly recommended but the player does not see value in continuing it.
A year and a half ago I decided to implement a job-embedded growth model at the suggestion of some of my teacher leaders. They desperately sought time during the school day to engage in professional growth opportunities, learn how to integrate Web 2.0 tools, and develop their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s). After some thinking and looking at various options inherent in the current schedule, I decided to cut all non-instructional duties in half to create a Professional Growth Period (PGP). The inspiration for this idea came from Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model where engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. Duties that we cut are now assumed by me and my administrative team.
The PGP was launched in September 2011. It virtually gave every New Milford High School teacher two to three, forty eight minute periods a week, depending on the semester, to engage in growth opportunities of personal interest. The only catch was that each staff member had to create and present a learning portfolio at his/ her end of year evaluation conference. This learning portfolio clearly articulated how they integrated what was learned during this time into professional practice. They also had to keep a log detailing what was done during each PGP day throughout the year.
A great deal was learned after I reflected on year one of the PGP. For starters, I read Drive by Daniel Pink this past summer and made a few slight changes. In order to give each staff member a greater level of autonomy, I removed all top-down mandates such as keeping a log and watching a certain number of PD 360 videos. This year teachers had true freedom to learn anything and follow their passions as long as the time was spent to improve NMHS’s bottom line – student learning and achievement. Sample PGP activities include the following:
I also used last year as an opportunity to work with my teachers and better articulate how to compile their learning portfolios. Last week I began conducting end of year evaluation conferences with my teachers. I was extremely eager to see their respective learning portfolios and discover what they had been working on over the course of the year. Let me tell you this, I was not disappointed. As each staff member presented their learning portfolio they all shared how appreciative they were to have this time. Below is a sample from some of the portfolios:
Similar to FedEx days discussed by Dan Pink in Drive, my teachers have been given the opportunity to follow their passions, unleash their creativity, and deliver a learning portfolio that illustrates professional growth to enhance teaching and learning. Based on the conversations I had with teachers after they presented their learning portfolios, they are already beginning to talk about innovative ideas to pursue next year. I am excited to see what some of my other teachers have been working on in the coming weeks and am proud that time during the school day is being used productively.
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
The current requirement that public and charter school students demonstrate their proficiency through standardized, top down tests has in many schools narrowed the curriculum, increased sterile test-prep classroom activities, and focused the public measurement of school and student success narrowly and imperfectly around a few traditional tests. This “test-centered” focus makes it more difficult for many schools to educate and assess students so that they are prepared for a world with exploding amounts of knowledge, fundamental changes in technology, and the new skill sets required for successful careers.
By contrast, a “learning-centered” focus starts with establishing meaningful, purposeful educational outcomes for a 21st century world, such as preparing students for both lifelong learning and citizenship, focusing on the development of key skills for a new era, and customizing learning in order to develop each student’s talents, interests and abilities.
Based on the above learning centered outcomes, here is a checklist of potential characteristics and qualities that we might expect to observe in classrooms, schools and districts:
√ A conscious effort to develop positive learning attitudes and values, such as curiosity, wonder, responsibility, motivation, persistence, effort makes a difference, and collaboration.
√A “deeper learning” curriculum in all subject areas, including the arts and social studies, that help students build focused networks of core background knowledge and understandings about the world around them.
√Inquiry based learning approaches that engage students in learning and support the development of critical learning skills, such as questioning and problem finding; reading for understanding; processing information and data; many types of writing; research and study skills; logical, inductive and creative thinking; discussion and presentation skills.
√Preparation for citizenship through rigorous, engaging, interactive history, geography, current events, and service-learning experiences.
√Customized learning opportunities that develop individual interests, talents and strengths, as when students can choose from an extensive array of classroom, school, curricular and extra-curricular activities and electives[i].
√ Research projects, field trips and other experiences that help students connect to “real world” events, activities, and individuals.
√ Internships and Internet course options for high school students that expand student horizons.
√An accountability system that uses multiple types of assessments to determine student progress and success[ii], such as writing of all kinds, research projects and performance tasks, essay tests, self-reflections, and plans for the future. Traditional tests are only a small part of the assessment process. Student portfolios – collections of student work - become part of a multi-faceted growth and evaluation process.
√Technology in the service of all of the above that supports students as they conduct research, process information, develop and write papers, collect work in electronic portfolios, create on-line presentations, conduct simulations, contact outside experts, and the like.
Does your classroom, school or district have a test-centered or a learning-centered approach to teaching and learning? Are the above components in place in your classroom-school-district? Not all of the checklist may be appropriate for your own situation, so feel free to adapt, change and add as necessary. Use this guide and checklist as a catalyst for your own thinking, discussion, and planning.
Many will say that these ideas are unrealistic in light of the current emphasis on standardized tests, state standards, and the Common Core standards. My view is that a systematic learning-centered education will provide a long-term vision of a good 21st century education that will be a framework for educating students for many years to come. With a meaningful and purposeful learning-centered framework, students will be well prepared for standardized tests, programs will satisfy Common Core standards requirements, and we will be ready for any other regulations and changes that come down the pike!
We can only hope that, instead of a test-centered approach, “learning-centeredness” -defining and implementing a set of 21st century student learning outcomes, assessments, and practices - will become the predominant educational focus for governments at all levels, the educational community, and the public at large in order to think about, define and plan for educational excellence in the future.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author, school volunteer, and Understanding by Design trainer. You can read more about this learning centered approach to education in a new age at his website: www.era3learning.org
[i] Thematic schools, such as schools for the arts, sciences, engineering, business, culinary arts, and the like, would be likely to customize according to their themes.
[ii] This broadened accountability system suggests a different way for individual classrooms, schools and districts to judge success and achievement. For example, school superintendents might present a more complex picture of accountability to the public and school board by providing examples of the types of student work completed at different levels (average, excellent, and poor, with percentages of each), examples of books read by students at different levels, sample self-reflections, student survey data, research paper examples, and student presentations. The same broad-based data might also be presented by schools and individual teachers. While this data may be harder to collect and summarize, they should give a much better picture of student success and achievement.
At WriteSteps, we realize the importance of integrating technology into elementary classrooms. Students have higher motivation, immediate access to quality instructional materials, and increased engagement. Utilizing technology in your classroom also prepares young students with the skills necessary to succeed in our technology driven lifestyles. Technology provides teachers like you with an unlimited wealth of resources and tools to teach and expand your knowledge; there is no limit to the resources you can use to help your students in today’s information age!
We also know teaching writing can sometimes be a challenge. And when you aren’t inspired, neither are your students! Our new animated video highlights the benefits of using eWriteSteps: it saves time and makes teaching writing and grammar easier. Check it out!
I’m working with a new group of collaborators who happen to be in the fourth and fifth grade.
Nine to eleven year olds from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (http://www.mjgds.org) are creating a book based on some kids’ poems I wrote decades ago and are illustrating them and publishing them and selling them and creating a marketing plan around our work. Eventually, they will use what they’ve created as a fundraiser for their school.
These students are participating in a new form of learning that involves a mentoring relationship, new classroom roles, and embedded virtual learning. I’ve been able to Skype with them, email feedback about their work, and create additional learning “side trips” based on in the moment opportunities.
Their art teacher, Shana Gutterman- http://shoshysartroom.blogspot.com/, their classroom teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum- http://teachblogandtweet.wordpress.com/, their Learning Coach, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano- http://langwitches.org/blog, and I virtually collaborated on the development of this project, via Skype, email, and Twitter. We came up with objectives and lesson activities and planned virtual sessions. We had a modern learning plan in place and launched our project with the intent of changing the level of engagement and learning with students.
Then, we discovered something. Something big.
Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.
While students were working on designing pictures to accompany poems in a book for multiple audiences, they also opened up cans of worms that were unforeseen in the curriculum design. These were some of the “teachable moments” or “side trips” that came out of our collaborative work:
Students learned new contextually specific vocabulary words such as emphatic, explicitly, iteration, synesthesia, and negative space.
Students were invited to investigate the meaning of “chiaroscuro” as it related to contrasting elements in their illustrations.
Beyond the chiaroscuro investigation, they were invited to read a book, The Tale of Despereaux, which explores chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the characters and action.
Students were asked to investigate and learn about Grandma Moses and art techniques that involved the layering of backgrounds and foreground elements in a painting.
Students learned about warm and cool feedback and improvement for the sake of the team versus just getting good grades.
They learned to articulate the reasoning behind the “why” of what they were doing and to be as specific as possible in deciding why their illustrations were a good fit for the poem’s text. They did this both with me and their peers, which I personally think is hugely significant. Once again: their peers helped to inform their improvements.
They became open to suggestions that were rooted in improvement versus identifying what was wrong with their work. This positive take on “doing what’s best for the intended audience” was a huge shift in meaning making.
They learned that its okay to explore different interest areas that were outside of the intended learning, particularly with one student that wanted to create his own comic books. We were able to have a conversation about the usage of Comic Life on the iPad to start designing his own graphic novels.
They learned to respond to different types of feedback from their formal teacher, their virtual collaborator, and their peers as they shaped their work.
I would also like to add that the students referred to me as their collaborator; that the work we were doing was OUR work. I loved that. I also loved that their classroom roles included roles like “Skype coordinator,” “Twitter Expert,” and “Illustrative Notes Expert.” So far beyond “Reader,” “Writer,” and “Notetaker.”
Authentic learning experiences that ask students to be part of the instructional design process AND the product are critical in the modern learning classroom. Student-centered work becomes student-owned learning even if teachers maintain an instructional anchor. In this case, the anchor was the product: the book. Everyone is contributing to it, though in multiple ways and with multiple extensions around their individual learning.
I should also mention that this project, because of the level of collaboration between teachers and students, was not a neatly contained event. It took some time to develop, to interact, to collaborate both virtually and in person, and even after these several weeks, the students are just now gearing up to start working on the marketing plan. As teachers, we had to find a new common ground of comfort when balancing the time it takes to do something like this with the deep learning that was possible.
Also, if you’d like to look at the project from several points of view--there’s a lot of blogging going on around it:
Learning in the Modern Classroom - by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
And my favorite on vocabulary: Wacky Wacky Words!
Needless to say--but I’m REALLY proud of my collaborators! I will be presenting with them at EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet them in person and see our finished product! I’d also like to say Thank You to Shana, Stephanie, and Silvia for all of the great professional collaboration.
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Now available from ASCD
We started a Saturday program at my school in order to provide students with additional academic remediation, support, and some fun. I know that some of you might think this is just another "test prep" venture to raise scores considering we identified specific students, and it's April.... You would be both correct and incorrect (or maybe it is just how you define test prep).
Here is a little information about the program. We have targeted about 30 students in grades 3, 4, and 5 to provide math and language arts remediation through a very effective tool. The tool that we use is SuccessMaker which is a digital learning curriculum that is designed to assess, remediate and instruct based on the Common Core and New Jersey Model Curriculum. In addition to the online instruction and assistance, we have teachers who work with students individually on their specific needs. SuccessMaker can develop specific lessons for the teachers and students to master. Additionally, SuccessMaker also facilitates 21st century learning as the students are required to use high levels of Blooms Taxonomy to solve problems while also providing them with the experience for taking the online assessments such PARCC.
But there is more to our program then SuccessMaker. First, team-building and cooperative learning activities are embedded within the structure of the program because we feel urged to not only address the academic needs but also the social and emotional needs of our learners. We want them to feel confident as they approach problems and situations that involve critical thinking. Since we have the students grouped into three teams, we wanted to continue to push the envelope and challenge the students, and that is where Problem Based Learning comes in.
For our "problem", the students are going to have determine why there is an achievement gap and what they can do to "solve" the problem. During the first session, we presented them with the challenge and what the end result could look like (an invention, commercial, iMovie trailer, etc.). We also asked them to define what is a "problem" and why are some students achieving while others are not. For instance, in order to engage them in self reflection (we all know that kids like to point fingers), we asked the students this question, "Who is responsible for the achievement gap... is it parents, teachers, principals or students?" Most, if not all the students said the responsibility falls on themselves. Their rationale for owning the problem included items such as low self esteem, not paying attention, and not taking school seriously.
Over the next few weeks the students in PBL will be presented with data about the achievement gap as well as what adults say about the achievement gap. Ultimately, the students will solve this problem and present their findings to parents, teachers and other students at our culminating event on May 11.
I will make sure to report back on their progress each week as well as their solutions to this age old problem... why do some students achieve while others do not.....