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I have an article in the April 9, 2013 online issue of Education Week Teacher entitled: ”7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special Needs Students.” In the article, I share the experience of a music teacher who had a young student with Asperger’s syndrome in her class who said he hated music and proceeded to make her and the class miserable for the rest of the year. But then she introduced him to GarageBand, the Apple software program that allows users to easily compose music. He took to it like gangbusters, and soon, he was winning acceptance from others for his music, and had a whole new way to express himself in the world.
This story suggests that we focus on the strengths of kids with special needs rather than focus too much time on their weaknesses. I share seven tips for doing this: 1. discover students’ strengths, 2. provide role models of people with disabilities, 3. develop strength-based learning strategies, 4. use assistive technologies and Universal Design for learning methodologies, 5. maximize the power of your students’ social networks, 6. help students envision positive futures, and 7. create positive environmental modifications. To read the entire article, click here. You can also leave a comment just below the online article if you wish. I’d love to get your reactions!
The establishment of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for students nationwide represents a particularly robust challenge for teachers of students with special needs. On the one hand, advocates for students with disabilities have made it clear that they want these students to be held to the same high level of achievement as typically developing students. On the other hand, the particular disabilities that these students possess may make it difficult for them to meet certain standards. This is especially true if the avenues for meeting those standards are defined too rigidly. What follows are seven ways to help educators provide flexible means through which students with special needs can master the Common Core State Standards while still maintaining high expectations for achievement.
The Common Core States Standards Initiative has clearly stated its policy concerning students with disabilities: ”In order for students with disabilities to meet high academic standards and to fully demonstrate their conceptual and procedural knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, writing, speaking and listening (English language arts), their instruction must incorporate supports and accommodations.” [emphasis mine]. Educators are thus empowered to become creative in developing innovative ways through which students with special needs can acquire competency in and mastery of these nationwide standards.
For more strategies and tools to help students with special needs meet the requirements of the Common Core State Standards, see my book: Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life. And visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum, or join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge.
What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?
This question was posed by the ASCD to elicit blog posts as part of a series. It was just one in a string of questions about teacher effectiveness and the evaluation of such. So, I acknowledge that the issue is much greater than this one question and I hope all educators will see that preparatory programs play a substantial role in defining the reputation of the profession. This is an important question – whether you are a preservice or inservice educator.
Presumably, the word “effectiveness” typically alludes to the capacity of a teacher to influence his/her students’ achievement. While there is currently no direct measure of such effectiveness, a picture can be painted from at least three types of measures: (1) classroom observations, (2) student perception surveys and (3) student achievement gains (MET study, 2012, http://www.metproject.org/). So how do teacher preparation programs develop candidates that can perform well across those measures?
I began by asking preservice teacher candidates the same title question. Their responses are below the dotted line. A repeated theme across their answers was, “Get us out in the field.” Teacher candidates understand that the value of what they learn in the University classroom multiplies upon application to the field classroom. It becomes real. It becomes relevant. Having a strong connection to the field cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance to teacher education programs, and should be central to their development.
I agree and want people to consider an additional way to connect higher education to the field that has not yet developed. Allow me to follow the thread of reasoning begun with the question regarding effectiveness. Presumably, to increase anything – its helpful if that thing is measurable so that we are aware of impacts. So effectiveness can be connected directly to evaluation, and it does seem that good teaching can be “measured”, according to the MET study. Those tangible measurables, the complicated pieces of a complex undertaking, get publicized in simplistic ways which are then consumed by a public that opines about the reputation of the profession. That is the thread that I want to pull, all the while acknowledging that none of this is as simple as is presented in this short piece.
Currently there is no consistent standard to become a practicing teacher. Therefore, it is difficult to see if effectiveness is fostered except for within small communities of learners – which has its own value to be sure. However, as a profession, teachers have no single bar via evaluation to demonstrate effectiveness. Is it any wonder then that local opinions of the profession (“Oh, our teachers are great. We love them!”) vary so widely with national opinion (“Our schools are just not effective.”)? Might it be that simply having a consistent minimum description of a beginning-beginner teacher would impact public opinion? Not only would it give the public something to hold on to rather than a different set of measures for every community, but it would also show a consistent standard for entry into the profession, much like the bar exam for lawyers. (Shortly after I penned this, NPR aired a segment that relates to that very notion, available at http://www.npr.org/2013/01/29/170579245/union-backs-bar-exam-for-teachers.) However, the education profession might then have the additional opportunity to develop support for sustained growth in the profession as teachers went out into the field if this baseline informed ongoing professional development. We could use its power for good – at the same time influencing the perception of the profession, entering the public policy conversation, and reclaiming our standing as a profession built on a body of researched-based best practices, not a cookbook set of skills.
The pieces are already being built. (I thought it was interesting that the NRP piece did not mention that.) The Teacher Performance Assessment, known as the edTPA (https://www.edtpa.com/) for preservice teachers, is well into field-testing and currently used by over 20 states. Washington inservice teachers are working with the Teacher-Evaluation Pilot, or TPEP (http://tpep-wa.org/). There is overlap between the efforts, to be sure – but connections, ties that might strengthen the reputation of the profession as the evaluations roll out and impact public opinion, are not yet intentional, standardized, or formalized within the state.
But Washington is an “accelerated” state for these efforts, one of the first to tie such evaluations as the edTPA to consequential policy required by every teacher certification program, and the TPEP into all schools. As both systems, higher education and P-12 move forward with these efforts, what is their responsibility to each other? Acknowledging that mutuality is certainly a facet of the answer to:
What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?
Second and third-year undergraduate teacher candidates’ responses are found below:
It is my belief that an education preparation program must expose their students to as much field experience as possible. This is vital. They must have active learning as opposed to learning from textbooks and lectures. Students in this program must also be exposed to effective teaching materials as well as resources to expand on this. In addition they must be familiar with the teaching materials and absolutely should use them before using them in their own classroom. In addition, the program should also make certain their students know teaching is an on-going learning experience which will never be perfected, but should be something to work towards. - Erin Loe
In order to make effective teachers an education preparation program is responsible for preparing educators in 4 different ways. First by giving the tools and practice necessary for educators to plan their classes, for instance practice creating lesson and unit plans and developing a curriculum for their respective content areas. Second, by helping the future educators to develop their assessments in a way that will benefit their students learning the most, learning to use differentiation appropriately in a classroom. Thirdly, by learning how to apply findings from the assessments in the classroom in order to make sure that the subject matter is being understood by the students. Finally, being able to use these skills in a classroom with real students and get the students engaged in the lesson being taught and making it relevant to their students’ lives. - Zach O’Neill
Teacher education programs must keep candidates informed on current issues in education. Since the teaching profession is constantly changing with new curriculum, technology, assessments, and legislation, candidates need to be aware of what is happening and adapt to these changes. Though it is crucial to teach candidates about these issues in class, the best way for them to learn is through experience. Candidates should have many different field experiences and service learning projects in the schools. Field experience is the best education for an aspiring teacher because it shows what lesson planning, teaching strategies, and the state standards look like in the real world. It also gives candidates the opportunity to decide if teaching is truly their calling in life. - Celeste Flock
I believe that teacher preparation programs are responsible for providing aspiring teachers with the most advanced ways promote interest and determination in young minds. It is not just about creating that desire for learning on average, but rather that we learn how to inspire that love of education in students that are more difficult to teach. The role of the program is to give potential teachers experience working with English language learners, students with learning disabilities, and gifted students so that when they become teachers they know how to teach those learners in a way that will positively impact their lives. - Taylor Petersen
I believe that teacher preparation programs need to inspire future teachers to acquire the tools they need in order for their students to be inspired and then be encouraged to engage in higher level thinking and inquiry. Preparation programs should instruct future teachers to focus on celebrating the students’ strengths. I believe that if a student can learn to recognize and value their own strengths along with their peers strengths, they will develop a passion for learning that will be forever instilled in them. Along with the passion aspect, I also believe preparations programs need to have a focus on the ever-changing curriculum and other legislation issues. Future teachers need to learn not to take everything for face value but learn to dig deeper in all categories that are involved. - Alexandra Tallas
Part of the field experience aspect of teacher preparation must also involve reflection. Teacher candidates need to know how to reflect on their own work and methods. They must be open to constructive criticism and able to gauge their own effectiveness. Teacher preparation must involve preparation in teacher collaboration so candidates know the importance of cooperating with colleagues and seeking support. It is inevitable that teachers will have diverse classrooms with English language learners and students at a variety of ability levels, so candidates must be prepared to teach to all students. - Ellen Chirhart
Another important responsibility teacher preparation programs have is to not emphasize one subject area, especially for elementary level candidates. Literacy, Math, Science, History, and the Arts are all important in their own unique ways and it does more harm than good when one is considered more important than the others. - Sari Hertel
The role of educator preparation programs are to help teachers better facilitate learning to students by helping teachers be better prepared through assessment of students. For example, assessing the knowledge of students in order to understand the emphasis needed on a particular lesson. This may be a test in the beginning of the semester that measures each student’s knowledge a future lesson that will happen. When a majority of the class shows they understand a certain standard, less time should be spent on that standard and focus more on the standards that students are not as knowledgeable on. However, an educator must also recognize that a majority of the class is not the whole class, nor a minority of the class is the whole class. This means that even though there may be a majority or a minority of people who may understand (or not understand) a standard, there are still students who can demonstrate those standards. A class with a majority not meeting the standards through assessment may have students who do meet those standards, while there may be a majority of students who may understand a standard when a few students don’t. Basically, educator preparation programs help us recognize how to meet everyone’s needs, and not just the majority’s needs. - Gene Dawydiak
The most important thing to me is experience. Getting out into the classroom and getting that real experience. Reflecting on those experiences is important as well, because that really makes you think about what you’re doing and how to improve yourself. Reading and researching teaching strategies and methods is vital, but getting out into the field and practicing it is the most crucial. - Tom D’Aboy
I agree with Tom. We can all sit in a classroom and be taught about appropriate teaching methods, assessment tools, differentiation, etc. but the real learning comes from the classroom. Working with students hands on, practicing teaching lessons, seeing first hand what works and does not work in the classroom. It allows you to see first hand what works, what doesn’t work, and helps new teachers learn how to deal with those issues before they are on their own. People always say that practice makes perfect and teaching is the same way. - Anna Demarinis
Researching and learning different teaching methods as well as rules and regulations is extremely important. However, I think that the most important part of the teacher education program is taking all these ideas into the classroom and seeing for oneself what works and what doesn’t. Engaging in and reflecting on real life experience allows us, as future teachers, to mature, grow, and learn. - Jayson Orth
I believe that it is the program’s responsibility to give its students as much experience as possible. It is easy to read from a textbook and take notes about classroom management, assessment, etc., but what is learned in class does not take importance until it is implemented. I learn from experience. When I am in the classroom setting, I learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Therefore, it is the role and responsibility of the teaching program to place students in the classroom environment and reflect on their experience. Also, have an advisor oversee students in the schools in order to give constructive criticism to see what they need to improve on and what they are succeeded in. It is important for students in an education program to gain comfortableness in the school setting before they have a classroom of their own. - Christy Clenin
It’s nice to know strategies of teaching and classroom management so that you have some clue what to do when you actually end up in the classroom. But by far the most valuable thing is having experience with real students in a real classroom. Theories of learning are forgettable until you actually apply and experience them. The most effective way to prepare educators is to have them simultaneously work in the classroom while they learn about theories, regulations, strategies, etc. that go along with what they’re doing in the classroom. This serves for a memorable cross traffic between the two environments where future educators can apply their experience to the class and apply what they learn in class to their own teaching. - Clara Shands
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum, or join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge.
ASCD Resources for Access and Equity:
· Teach Up for Excellence: Seven principles for creating classrooms that give students equal access to excellence, Educational Leadership, February 2012 (please note, this article is only available to ASCD members)
· Four Takes on Tough Times (see Efficiency and Equity section), Educational Leadership, December 2011
· Creating Excellent and Equitable Schools: Five schools show how to beat the odds for low-income students, Educational Leadership, May 2008.
Other Resources Regarding Access and Equity:
· Education and Urban Society, 2012: Varying Teacher Expectations and Standards: Curriculum Differentiation in the Age of Standards-Based Reform (abstract/summary)
“The development of academic standards in each state creates the context where common educational experiences and academic outcomes exist for all students regardless of the school they attend, the teacher they have, or the learning group placed. However, while the standards-based reform has the potential to ensure more equitable educational experiences for students, its impact can be compromised by the deficit beliefs that exist about low-income students and students of color and their families.”
· Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 2012: “Everything that's Challenging in My School Makes Me a Better Teacher”: Negotiating Tensions in Learning to Teach for Equity (PDF)
“This paper responds to the call for further inquiry into the experiences of graduates of urban focused teacher education programs. I present and analyze the experience of Mia, a White, monolingual English female who earned licensure in secondary social studies through a graduate-level, equity-focused teacher preparation program before accepting a position at a large, traditional diverse, underperforming, urban middle school. The paper explores how negotiating tensions in curriculum and intersections with colleagues in her school context contributes to her identity development with respect to culturally responsive, equity-oriented pedagogy.”
· Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011: Teacher and School Leader Effectiveness: Lessons Learned from High-Performing Systems. (PDF)
“For its examination of teacher effectiveness policies, the Alliance and SCOPE looked to Finland, Ontario, and Singapore. These jurisdictions have attracted a great deal of attention in United States education policy circles recently, and with good reason. Most significantly, they get good results: they are among the highest-performing jurisdictions in international tests of student achievement, and their results are among the most equitable in the world. The gaps between the lowest-performing and the highest-performing students in Finland, Ontario, and Singapore are much smaller than in the United States, and the average performance is quite high.”
· National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2011: Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to the Highest-Performing Teachers? NCEE Evaluation Brief. NCEE 2011-4016 (PDF)
“This brief describes the prevalence of highest-performing teachers in ten purposely selected districts across seven states. The overall patterns indicate that low-income students have unequal access, on average, to the district's highest-performing teachers at the middle school level but not at the elementary level. However, there is evidence of variation in the distribution of highest-performing teachers within and among the ten districts studied. Some have an under-representation of the highest-performing teachers in high-poverty elementary and middle schools. Others have such under-representation only at the middle school level, and one district has a disproportionate share of the district's highest-performing teachers in its high-poverty elementary schools.”
· Pursuing Equity in and through Teacher Education Program Admissions, Education Policy Analysis Archives, v19 n24 Aug 2011
“This case study investigated equity in teacher education admissions. Through document analysis and structured interviews with ten past or current members of the admissions committee in a large initial teacher education program in Ontario, we developed an understanding of equity in teacher education admissions as encompassing two foci: equity in admissions--that is, equity of access for applicants to the program--and equity through admissions--that is, equity of educational opportunity and outcomes for the children in the schools where the teachers trained by the programs will eventually teach. Our analysis illustrates the importance of recognizing both foci and the tensions between them.”
· National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, 2010: Ensuring the Equitable Distribution of Teachers: Strategies for School, District, and State Leaders. (PDF)
“The brief contains the following information: (1) An explanation of the problem of inequitable teacher distribution; (2) An overview of school policies and practices that appear to contribute to equitable teacher distribution; (3) Strategies for school leaders to enhance teacher recruitment, hiring, and placement practices as well as improve working conditions; (4) Strategies for district leaders to enhance teacher recruitment, hiring, and placement practices as well as improve teacher compensation policies; (5) Strategies for state and federal leaders to facilitate district policymaking and build district capacity to support the equitable distribution of teachers; and (6) Resources to support leaders in promoting the equitable distribution of teachers.”
Quite often, developing powerful and meaningful key understandings is an area that teachers struggle with as they create and plan authentic rich task units. This is a critical step that many teachers can gloss over in planning but can make a profound difference to having clear, powerful units that provide great learning opportunities.
What we have experienced when teachers have begun the process of extracting “understandings” from the Australian Curriculum (or any curriculum documentation for that matter) what results is a long list of statements, understandings, and facts being written down. This is an important step in the process but it is not the final step. Quite often it is treated as a final step because the teachers themselves are used to teaching students “knowledge” rather than having the students learn. This is a consequence of the Industrial Education paradigm that has existed in our society for the past 200 years. If the teachers just use the lengthy list of “understandings” in their planning documentation without sequencing the “understandings” into a coherent and consistent whole, then there is a subtle but long reaching impact.
What we have found is that teachers take this mass of “understandings” and, with the mindset of they have to “cover” all this and make sure the students “learn” this, crowd the unit with too much material. All of this is with the hope that the students will gain the “understandings” articulated in their planning documents. This is shotgun learning. This approach fundamentally undermines the opportunity students can gain to frame their understanding inside a powerful context. If we, as a teaching profession, want to develop students to be performance oriented in their learning, we must first clearly and logically articulate what we are intending the students to understand and what skills they are to develop and then align the learning to accomplish those goals.
Key understandings are created to clearly define the purpose of the learning within the unit. They articulate the fundamental deep learning that the unit is being created to achieve. The key understandings not only have the scope of addressing what the Australian Curriculum achievement standards require to be understood, but also the passion and self-expression of the teaching team, as well as the values and expression of the school.
Clear key understandings will allow teachers to create authentic essential / fat / fertile questions that can be used to guide and challenge student thinking in particular directions. The sequence of understandings also allow for an authentic and meaningful sequence of learning throughout the unit. Teachers and students alike will actually know what they are fundamentally out to learn in the unit and what would indicate successfully achieving that understanding.
The following document highlight the process and the thinking behind designing powerful key understandings as well as the overall process to creating great authentic rich-task units that allow for differentiation and student centred learning. The document includes a range of actual teacher designed examples from Grade 1 through to Year 10 using the Australian Curriculum. The concepts and process are equally applicable to any curricula so download and apply it to your needs!
As we enter 2013, teachers and administrators will reflect on the school’s existing strengths and weaknesses. High performing schools ask questions such as, “Which students are struggling? What will we do to support them in 2013?” New Year’s Day is a time when people around the world establish new personal and team goals. Among the most common personal goals are weight loss, financial goals, spending time with those you love, and volunteerism. How can school leaders capitalize on this transition from 2012 to 2013? How can goals drive the work of teachers and schools?
New Year’s goals and resolutions are shattered annually. In some cases, creating a goal on New Year’s Day is a ritual and follow-through is an afterthought. If school leaders want to move their students and staff to the next level, then they need to adopt a 3D School Leadership mindset. 3D School Leadership includes Direction, Differentiation, and Dedication.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new year and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). 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).
School leaders often boast that they have a mission and vision statement framed in the front office. While there is a time and a place for mission and vision, 3D Leadership defines the ‘What’ and the ‘How’. What are we going to commit to as a school staff between January and June 2013? How will the direction of the school impact our grade level/course? Based on my teaching assignment or administrator role, how can I help the team stay on course in 2013? 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 most schools. When teachers and staff return in 2013, revisit the school’s direction.
If you have been in a faculty meeting, participated in a webinar, or served on a School Improvement Team, it is likely that someone has offered differentiation as a strategy for supporting student achievement. 3D School Leadership emphasizes differentiation for students, families and staff. A one-size fits all approach to education is not going to work any better in 2013 than it did in 2012. Differentiated instruction, assignments, and assessments will increase student engagement and achievement. Tomlinson, Brimijoin, and Narvaez (2008) highlighted the non-negotiables of differentiation: “respecting individuals, owning student success, building community, providing high-quality curriculum, assessing to inform instruction, implementing flexible classroom routines, creating varied avenues to learning, and sharing responsibility for teaching and learning” (p. 3).
How can a school leader differentiate for families? In 2013, a 3D School Leader can provide communication to families through Facebook, Twitter, Email, Phone Messages, Blog, and the traditional newsletter. If you are not reaching all of your families through existing communication strategies, you may benefit from a differentiated communication plan. Another way to involve families in school events is online through surveys, responses to social media posts, and a Twitter Chat with a unique hashtag. You may find that families are more involved in the school when they have a voice in determining the events at Open House, PTA meetings, and school events. Utilize a differentiated approach in 2013 and see if you are able to reach more families.
One final focus of the 3D School Leader will be differentiation with staff. Flipping the Faculty meeting, meeting individually with grade level teams, creating a school discussion thread or corkboard.me, and encouraging teachers to lead professional development are a few strategies for differentiation with school staff. You may be surprised with the results!
It is difficult to find classroom teachers who aren’t dedicated to their students. I am amazed by the time, creativity, and teacher leadership that I see on a daily basis. 3D School Leadership requires the entire staff to dedicate their time, talent, and efforts to the school’s goals. Classroom goals should be aligned to the school’s goals. In education, it is easy to focus on my class and my students. 3D School Leadership will embrace the abilities of each staff member and use their strengths to support school goals. One strategy for increasing dedication is for each grade level team, or course (at the high school level), to develop S.M.A.R.T. Goals. A template for developing S.M.A.R.T. goals is available at All Things PLC.
Increase the number of students who graduate College and Career Ready
Increase the number of students who are reading on grade level
Support my co-workers in implementing the Common Core State Standards
The S.M.A.R.T. goal template will help your team become dedicated to the goal, rather than having an awareness of the goal. Use your collective skills and abilities to make a difference in 2013.
3D School Leadership is more than establishing goals or identifying existing weaknesses. Once teachers and administrators embrace 3D School Leadership, they will begin to move in the right direction. Too often, schools approach goal setting like many individuals approach New Year’s Resolutions. Purchasing a gym membership, buying an alarm clock, reading a motivational author, and using a day planner or Google Calendar are all great ways to start the new year. It’s not where you start in January, but where you are as a school team in June.
Determine to make 2013 different than the rest. Identify the school’s direction. Use differentiation with students, families, and staff in an effort to meet your school goals. Remember that dedication to a goal is much more important than having a goal. Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens [educators] can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Steven Weber is the principal at Hillsborough Elementary School located in Hillsborough, NC. He blogs at ASCD EDge. Recently, his blog titled A Bucket List for K-12 Students made the Top 10 Blogs of 2012 on ASCD Edge. Connect with Weber on Twitter @curriculumblog.
We are preparing our students for life. I hear so many educators use this sentence when asked, what is the purpose of education? Many years ago I believed that to be true as well. Maybe many generation s back it may have been true. In consideration of all that I observe, even with some great innovation, and a whole bunch of technology integration that is taking place in so many schools across the country, I don’t believe “preparing our students for life” is the focus or goal of education today. The real irony is that school for kids is real life, a fact often overlooked by educators.
The most obvious reason this is not the case is that we don’t have a clue what the future holds for our children. We will have them in public schools for 13 years. Try to envision what it was like looking backwards to the world as we knew it then. 1999 was quite a different world. We had scarcely a clue of what to expect to find in 2012. The only way to prepare kids for life was to make adjustments every step of the way. The education system does not favor on-the-fly adjustments. The education system needs to weigh, deliberate and consider each and every change. It must all be research-based and research takes time. Education is not ahead of the curve in incorporating technology in learning, it continues to play catch up. A technology-driven society does not allow the luxury of catching up. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We have research showing us different modalities of learning. We embrace differentiation in teaching. We strive for inclusion of all students to learn in a single teaching environment, while addressing individual strengths for learning. We talk about personalized learning for each student. We use individualized learning plans to maximize learning. We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all of that, we standardize their assessment. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We hold up the innovators as models. Innovators are our 21st Century heroes. We encourage out-of-the-box thinking while restricting our teachers to in-the-box teaching and assessing it with in-the- box tests. We want our students to be innovative, but require them to be compliant with teaching methods of the past. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
Why do we continue to limit the learning time of our students in order to do test preparation? How can we continue to insist that kids limit themselves with the cramming of content for a test instead of using their skills to get that content anywhere and at any time? How can we continue to prepare our students for a tech-driven culture demanding critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve by assessing their content retention? We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education that we provide today? Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future. Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with content in order to pass a standardized test. Each day, as technology moves faster, that fact is driven home with more emphasis. Will we ever be able to truly claim that we are effectively preparing kids for life?
Teach like you Teach: A Quality Approach to Professional Learning
“Good morning class. Today we will study the entire Renaissance from start to finish. I trust that all of you will be able to not only recall, but also discuss with confidence, the details and outcomes of the Renaissance,” is the type of statement one will not hear from a classroom teacher. For students to learn successfully, teachers need to tap prior knowledge so that students make connections and the teacher plans appropriate content. In addition, a classroom teacher will practice gradual release of responsibility and formative assessment to guarantee mastery before moving forward. These are practices that take time and don’t happen in one class period. For some reason, however, even though it’s a learning situation, teachers who teach professional learning traditionally abandon those effective practices for a “quantity over quality” learning experience. A combination of having a passion to share our strategies with other professionals, combined with the venue often being a “one-shot deal” contributes to these approaches. Communicating what quality professional learning looks like is as simple as reminding those educators to “teach like you teach.”
Standard instructional practices and strategies need to transcend classroom walls into professional learning sessions for them to be successful. Quality professional learning will be the direct result of needs-assessments, include differentiation, time for processing and adoption of what has been learned, and in the most effective settings, even time for problem solving and reflection through collaboration. What this means for professional educators is that quality professional learning will take more than a two-hour session or one day event. They need to approach a professional learning session much like a unit of study with students in a classroom.
Why so much detail for quality professional learning to take place? The answer is as simple as teachers need time for implementation and reflection. What it really comes down to is that quality professional learning leads to quality student learning. Regardless of how wonderful a professional learning session may be, if teachers do not have need for the strategies shared or time to figure out how to incorporate it and reflect on it, there are missed learning opportunities not only for the instructors, but also for students.
Even more like a classroom, quality professional learning requires that all stakeholders get actively involved. Teachers need to actively reflect and set professional growth goals. In addition, they need to bring their own classroom data and other artifacts, just as they expect of their students, to professional learning sessions. These practices result in quality professional learning that makes its why directly to students and their growth. Quality professional learning that follows these standards is quality learning for everyone.
Will Common Core equal Common Practice?
As we look to the future implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers must begin to have a broader knowledge base, a more diverse toolkit for teaching and learning, and greater experience with teaching in a standards-based environment. The growth required over the next three years seems to be large. After working for over seventeen years in public education within five different school systems, few districts seem to have provided the necessary professional development on standards based approaches.
I am fortunate to be working in a district that has provided an ongoing, continual approach to teaching toward these standards by engaging teacher content teams with standards consultants throughout the school year. Over the last three years, we have collaborated to unpack standards, determine power standards, design essential questions and big ideas, and collaboratively design units that emphasize both prioritization and conformity but not removing creativity. After observing and participating in this work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what teachers should be able to both comprehend and implement:
“Unpack” first – This learning process began three years ago by first “unpacking” standards by dissecting the wording to look for skills and knowledge. We also designated our power standards that we all would teach and felt were the most important. This process must be a primary one, as teachers first look for skills and knowledge necessary for students to attain before beginning to design instruction. Although it was unknown to our teachers, we were following recommendations from McTighe and Wiggins (2001) for translating the standards from the state frameworks to teacher based terminology for classroom instruction. Furthermore, McTighe and Wiggins believe that unpacking the standards is the third big idea out of five for implementing the CCSS.
Understanding by Design - McTighe and Wiggins’ model suggests to start backwards by keeping the end in mind rather than designing a series of activities built upon one another. This process asks teachers to start to “identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and plan learning experiences” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001). For us, this first step was a struggle as teachers who were new to the process, the language, theory, and practice. However, three years later, as we talk together, this process has paid off as we all see a common path of learning for students and have a shared understanding to build upon. Furthermore, this process has shifted practice away from independent classroom teacher activities to a more common approach that focuses more on “enduring understandings” than ideas and concepts that are either “worth being familiar with” or “Important to know and do” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001).
Student self-assessment – Students must grow as learners but also as evaluators of their own learning. Last year, we began designing Learning Progressions which were valuable in thinking about student misconceptions prior to instruction rather than during. However, many teachers viewed this as a rubric for scoring student work, which is not, so developing this for a number of units was and still is, for some, a challenge. As we now implement two new common standards-based units, I feel these progressions are more important for students for them to assess their learning with a tool that both ties into a common language about enduring understandings and links to feedback they get from formative assessments. We have made a commitment to post Learning Goals and Success Criteria this year for students, but I feel our next step may be to learn progressions as well so that students can visually see where they are with their learning and they need to go next.
Release of responsibility – Teachers have started to work differently in their classrooms as a result of this work. They have become better facilitators of learning by modeling quality instruction, including important concepts and strategies. Students then practice these concepts and strategies with support through small groups, triads, or partners. While monitoring progress, students are then asked to individually apply their new learning in order to meet the standards.
Differentiation – Fortunately, language arts lends itself nicely for differentiation by varying the reading level and challenge of books, scaffolding support with models, and adjusting the writing for students to provide the appropriate level of support and challenge. Differentiating the “process, product, or content” should become more the norm, not the exception, as teachers review results from formative assessments to see the paths that students must travel to become proficient for each standard (Tomlinson, 2000).
Flexible grouping – Many structures such as Literature Circles are helpful but now with both the growing needs of students and the expanding capacity of teachers, we have moved to flexible groupings that allow students options and choices to complete standards based activities rather than being confined by a structure. This opportunity motivates students, provides them with choices, and reduces compliance and behavior issues in the classroom.
Formative Assessments – Gathering data and information through formative assessments should be more commonplace as teachers should be tracking where each student is in their progression towards mastery. This does not mean not giving summative assessments, but rather allowing ample time for modeling, practice, and support. These assessments “check for understanding” and are designed to inform teaching and learning, not a summative or final exam grade (Fisher & Frey, 2007). In addition, these formative assessments may be designed and administered collaboratively to creative common formative assessments, which give more information to teachers allowing for reflection, discussion, and innovation. One of our favorite resources is 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge which has a number of short, creative assessments that can be used for a number of subject areas. Some examples that we use include using dry erase boards, sheet protectors, 3-2-1 Summarizers, Quick Write/Quick Draw, and My Top Ten List. These templates work well as we ask students to “show me what you know” and that these assessments are not parts of the grade book but rather, parts of a conversation among educators about what each student has learned and still needs to learn.
More resources – With teacher growth, teachers need access to more resources in order to meet the needs of all students. This is a challenge for teachers as many struggle with finding appropriate materials while also managing a classroom with a diverse student group with diverse needs so that they all meet a standard or learning goal within a certain period of time. Time is critical and there is never enough of it so teachers must find quick and appropriate ways to use class time wisely. For example, our eighth teachers are looking for more short story selections at variety of reading levels so that readers of all abilities can access the text and then demonstrate their abilities to identify story elements, or irony or flashbacks, etc. If students are successful at this step, then we move them into novels at their reading level.
Choice and challenge – It is becoming more rare to teach a whole class novel, as both students and teachers need a greater variety of book options. The range of abilities in a middle school classroom continues to grow, so having more books that are interesting to students as well as challenging for the more advanced students has increased in importance. This is also a challenge for school systems to provide funds for purchases, crosscheck book usage between schools, as well as read and review novels to screen for mature or possible challenged content. Another resource that we have turned to is Creative Book Reports: Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction by Jane Feber which we have used to create smaller nonfiction research projects for students to complete before some of our novels units on weather and the Civil War. I’ve also used this resource to create a final assessment on story elements for a Coming of Age novel study. Assessment – In the end, this is the most challenging area as many teachers may resist rubrics and standards-based grading. Many middle and high schools still have conventional letter and/or numeric grades while some have designed hybrids that combine all three: numbers, letters, and standards. Many elementary schools converted to standards-based reporting years prior.
Many of these initiatives could not happen without the planning, dedication, and support of administrators. After observing and participating in the work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what administrators should know and be able to do:
Time, time and more time! – Over the past three years, the time commitment has been consistent and expansive. We’ve used after school department meeting time, held summer institutes, in-service workshops days, and release days from the classroom with substitute teacher coverage. Now we are fortunate to have time during the school day to meet, collaborate, review common formative assessments, and/or share effective practices. Staying the course by providing the time and structure for teacher teams to collaborate and complete the work as been essential.
Benjamin, Amy. (2008). Formative Assessments for English Language Arts – A Guide for Middle and High
School Teachers. New York: Eye on Education.
Dodge, Judith. (2009). 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. New York: Scholastic.
Feber, Jane. (2004). Creative Book Reports : Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction. Gainesville: Maupin House.
Fisher, Douglas & Nancy Frey. (2007). Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. Alexandria :ASCD.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. Champaign: University of Illinois.
Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. "What is Backward Design?," in Understanding by Design. 1st edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall, 2001, pp. 7-19.
Garth McKinney serves as the Language Arts Coordinator at the Merrimack Middle School (MMS) in Merrimack, New Hampshire. At MMS, he teaches and supervises the language arts department. Prior to this position, he worked as a Reading Specialist, Elementary Principal, Elementary Assistant Principal, and Classroom Teacher for grades four and six. He has worked in public education for over seventeen years. This fall, he is also teaching graduate courses both online and on campus as well as applying for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Garth holds a doctoral degree from Boston College in Educational Administration, a master’s degree from Fordham University in Reading, and a bachelor’s degree inElementary Education from Stonehill College.
Over the past several weeks, I had the chance to read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams, Will Richardson’s Why School?, and reread Dan Pink’s Drive to better understand the fundamental changes our nation is facing in relation to the motivation of learners. The common denominator of all three works — the industrial education system has a definite expiration date.
At younger and younger ages, students are more disengaged in school because they see that it does not tap into who they are, does not connect to what they are passionate about, and does not value them as powerful change agents.
Consider the traditional model of motivating learners via “carrots and sticks.”
The Carrot (reward-focus)
The Stick (penalty-focus)
While this may have worked in the 20th century economic model — IF employees followed preset directions and the chain of command, THEN individual success could be reasonably expected. However, it does not work in a 21st century economy where the world is increasingly interconnected, unpredictable, and fast-paced.
The industrial education system as we know it cannot be saved, nor should it. But how do we deal with the messiness of moving from a world where knowledge was scare to a new world where abundance is everywhere?
So many major initiatives that have cycled through schools over the past several decades will once again be resurrected (e.g. creative problem solving, differentiation, inquiry-focused curriculum, portfolios, project-based learning, reading and writing across the curriculum, outcomes-based education, professional learning communities, rubric development, school within a school) as we try to walk out of the 20th century cave into the daylight. The voices are getting louder that what school is for needs to be reconceptualized from the ground up. Welcome to the unknown — an education where anything is possible.
For more information, ideas, interviews, and inspiration, visit http://just-startkidsandschools.com/
The September, 2012 issue of Educational Leadership had some excellent articles about feedback for learning (the theme of the issue). One article that struck a special chord with me is a short two-page essay by Carol Ann Tomlinson (the same Carol Ann Tomlinson who is the differentiation guru!)[i]. Because of its location (towards the back of the issue) and size, you might have missed it!
Two aspects of this article are extremely powerful. One is how the author took her failure to improve student writing to heart and, as a result, developed a powerful set of student feedback and improvement principles and practices. The second important result is the development of a concept called “teacher learning moments” -- i.e. the ability of a teacher to take a negative teaching experience and use it as a catalyst to develop improved instructional approaches. Let’s look at these one at a time.
Improving student learning through feedback
In the article, Dr. Tomlinson (from now on called Dr. T) recalls a student in one of her English classes, Heather, who was a good writer. Dr. T. worked hard to provide her with helpful feedback and praise that would make her an even better writer, and thought she was really helping her to improve her writing. But, after Heather had graduated and gone on to college, Dr. T. met her mother in a local store and asked her whether Heather was doing writing in college that she enjoyed. In response, her mother said “Last week she (Heather) told me that for the first time in her life she was learning to become a better writer”.
This comment was “a punch in the stomach” to Dr. T., but she used this negative experience to try to figure out why Heather (and probably the other students in the class) didn’t feel that her writing had improved. Dr. T. realized that she had praised what Heather had written, but she “had no mechanism for helping her get better”.
Due to this insight, Dr. T. spent some time rethinking her teaching of writing. A few years later, in an “advanced seminar on education issues” college level course, she implemented the following five feedback principles to improve the writing abilities of her students:[ii]
Develop and share core target goals. The first step in improving learning is to develop a clear focus, a clear target for improvement, and to share that target with students. What is it that you really want your students to improve? What is your focus? Without a clear target, how can you know if you are helping your students improve? Unfortunately, many teachers often do not have a focused, targeted goal for improvement. And often, even when there is clarity, it is not shared with students. Thus, Dr. T. made it a point to explain to her college students that her target was to help them develop their power as writers and thinkers.
Clarify and share the key elements of excellence for the targeted goals, along with progressions for growth for each element. In order to “turn good writers into stellar ones – and adequate writers into good ones”, Dr. T. had to determine what poor, good and excellent writing look like. What are the characteristics of each? And how do you create a road map leading from poor to good and good to excellent writing? Dr. T. shared the key elements of writing excellence with students in a rubric format, along with a progression of growth for each criterion.
Give precise feedback and suggest specific ways for students to improve their work. Two key words here are “precise” and “specific”. Given the current level of student work, what precise feedback and specific suggestions for next steps will help students make improvements? The clarity of good writing elements and the development of a writing improvement process helped to transform her formerly vague and general feedback into useful, precise feedback and specific, helpful suggestions. Thus, Dr. T. gave her students precise and specific feedback on the results of their writing assignments.
Ask students to consider which components of your feedback are useful and which are not, and why, and ask them to develop plans for improvement. After receiving precise feedback, students wrote notes to Dr. T. indicating “which elements of the feedback seemed useful to them and which elements seemed off target”. They also wrote a brief plan for how they would use the helpful feedback to improve their writing. When there were misunderstandings in interpreting her feedback, Dr. T. met with the student briefly after class. This changed the improvement process from one that was being done to students to one that was being done with students! It also “customized” (differentiated) the learning process so that students developed their own unique plan and “owned” the result. And, finally, it gave her students a chance to learn how to analyze their own writing strengths and weaknesses, increasing the possibility of significant long-term results.
Don’t grade students through the improvement process! Dr. T. realized that her early grading of writing got in the way of student improvement. As she puts it: “…many [students] were so focused on getting the right answer that actual learning was a sidebar”. So she decided not to grade any writing until near the end of the semester! The upshot was that, during the early part of the semester, the students developed a true learning community that helped them all improve their writing.
After reflecting on Dr. T’s principles for improving student learning, I realized how often, as a social studies middle and high school teacher, I violated and ignored these principles and practices. Sometimes I taught without having a clear, focused, targeted improvement goal, thereby making it virtually impossible for my students to improve their learning. Sometimes I was clear about my improvement goals, but spent little time clarifying the elements of excellence and providing precise feedback. Only rarely was I clear about a targeted improvement goal (such as helping my students categorize and create generalizations from historical knowledge), and then shared the elements of excellence, provided precise feedback, and visibly improved my students’ learning.
I also realized that these five principles, taken together, create a powerful process that all teachers can use to improve student learning for many different learning targets – for example, research skills, science investigation, long term projects, problem solving skills, critical or creative thinking, information literacy, reading for understanding, and other major goals teachers may want to work on with their students. The five principles can be adapted to all grade levels and all subjects.
Teacher Learning Moments
While a major result of Dr. T.’s analysis of her teaching is the five principles of feedback, another important insight she also offers us is her basic attitude towards failure and improvement. We know that all teachers make mistakes, have problems with classroom teaching and individual students, and need support and help. But one major difference among teachers is how they deal with these challenges. Instead of using mistakes, errors, and failures to improve teaching, too many hide instructional problems behind the closed door of the classroom. Many teachers are ashamed of their weaknesses. Some schools and districts understand that evaluations create opportunities for feedback, improvement, and new learning, but, in many cases, teaching problems are equated with failure, and the typical teacher evaluation process often deals with problems and mistakes through a negative judgment lens, rather than treating them as learning moments. This ultimately reinforces the desire to hide mistakes, failures, and problems, so that little or no progress is made in rectifying the situation!
As a profession, we need to take Dr. T.’s personal attitude towards improving her teaching to heart. Simply put, teaching problems, failures, and mistakes should be continually used to improve and refine teaching! In fact, the five feedback principles cited above can also be used to improve teaching experiences. Let’s use “teacher learning moments”, garnered through teacher self-evaluations and teacher observations, to set teacher growth targets, clarify what excellence and progress means, observe and give specific, precise feedback, and ask teachers to evaluate feedback and develop plans for change. Let’s develop non-threatening, non-judgmental environments so that teachers can work on improving their craft in a comfortable environment. This too is an important lesson we can learn from Dr. T.’s experience.
Learning occurs in many ways, and we can’t, nor should we, always target the exact learning that will occur with our students. But one aspect of our teaching responsibility is to be clear about those things that we think are important for our students to learn and improve. Once we clarify core learning targets, how do we insure that our students improve their learning in these areas? The principles and practices described by Dr. T. provide us with an explicit process for improving targeted student learning. And they are also invaluable in helping teachers grow and become more competent over time. These insights make me wish that I were back in the classroom again, so I could use these principles to target student growth in key areas and analyze my own teacher learning moments so as to dramatically improve my own teaching!
[i] For more details and greater insight into both improvement principles and teacher learning moments, read Carol Ann Tomlinson’s short but powerful article in the September, 2012 issue of Educational Leadership, What Heather Taught Me, pp. 88-89.
[ii] These five principles have been somewhat interpreted and adapted by the blog author, but the author has attempted to remain true to the essential features of the five principles developed by Dr. T.
Some Additional Resources on This Topic
Colvin, Geoff (2008). Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Penguin Group. Especially the chapters on deliberate practice and their application.
Paul Tough (2012). How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers. Especially Chapter 3, How to Think.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and former Director, Curriculum/Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching and learning, and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
In the previous blog post on ASCD Edge I shared that we need to develop new measurement and teacher development approaches that would actually lead to improvement in teacher performance rather than destroying it (as standardised test results appear to be doing).
In today’s posting I am going to explore the thinking behind the 3 rubrics I have co-created with one Australian school as an approach to supporting the development of teacher performance. A warning to you however, I am not saying this is THE ANSWER. This is one well-thought out approach. I invite you to learn what you learn from this!
Intention of the Performance Framework
The school had 3 major intentions for developing the teacher performance framework
1. To promote a culture of learning that considers the needs of the 21st century learner (our clients)
2. To ensure that all staff are driven by a common pedagogy and pastoral care that is firmly rooted in their values.
3. To provide a performance framework based on the Australian National Standards for Teachers that supports:
o teacher self-evaluation
o clarity around expectations, key work tasks and the necessary capabilities
o the identification, link to resources, and structured supportive coaching for areas requiring improvement
o the acknowledgement of excellence
o the development of a formal policy for managing unsatisfactory performance
o the alignment of employee behaviour with organisational behaviour
o the building of capacity that leads to outstanding performance
The three rubrics we co-created (and are still in draft form) are as follows:
1. Personal Capacity – Emotional Intelligence Rubric
2. Relationships Capacity – Positive Relationships Rubric
3. Pedagogical Practice – Curriculum Cohesion Rubric
As noted in the previous blog posting, a teacher can have some performance by being strong in one or two of the framework areas but the greatest performance will occur when all 3 are present.
Aspects to note in the Design of the Teacher Performance Rubrics
The rubrics are designed as behavioural rubrics. What they articulate is the behaviour the teacher would be displaying at different levels of development. We are still debating the naming of the differing levels (beginning, developing, capable, and exceptional) but we are clear we will have 4 levels.
The way the rubrics are laid out is in a progression of building behaviour. For example, a teacher at the Beginning Level would display a minimum acceptable level in a particular focus area (e.g. being a team member, etc.). We discussed that in any professional environment there would be minimum expected behaviours that would allow for an educational environment to function. A teacher demonstrating a Developing Level of behaviour in a focus area would demonstrate both the Beginning Level as well as the Developing Level behaviour, and so on.
Whilst the Beginning and Developing Levels are focussed on the individual’s capacity and behaviour, the Capable Level steps teacher behaviour into the sharing of their expertise, modelling, supporting others, etc. Exceptional Level behaviour involves the teacher leading and developing the focus areas in the school. We have deliberately designed it in this form so as to drive a team-oriented value-driven culture within the school. Research performed in a range of fields (including business management areas such as the Tribal Leadership work of David Logan et al, and Jim Collins’ Good to Great) all point to the importance of developing team-oriented value-driven cultures with organisations.
The final column in the rubric articulates the working party thoughts around some specific and measurable forms of evidence that teachers could use to demonstrate that they are at a particular developmental level in the rubric. Some of these proforma don’t exist yet. The idea is that the rubrics can be used in self-evaluation performance processes and the teachers would have to consistently be gathering evidence of their performance.
You will notice that two of the rubrics require two further publications:
The intention of the 2 publications would be to collect all the appropriate documentation that may be in a range of places to have 2 powerful reference handbooks so teachers are consistent and clear about what the school values and will be focussed upon.
In Part 3 of this blog I will explore some of the thinking behind HOW the school is approaching implementing the rubrics. Also, given Rose Balan’s comment in Part 1, I will also address why we don’t include VAM, test scores, or specific student academic scores in the teacher performance framework. Finally I will explore how this performance framework relates to the body of research in other fields.
Feel free to give me feedback!
For the past 12 years I have spent the week prior to Labor Day perfecting my classroom, attending meetings and trainings, and preparing lesson plans. I assumed that my colleagues did the same; that is, until last Tuesday, when in a faculty meeting it became apparent that not all of my peers prepare lesson plans on a regular basis. While a majority of my colleagues are beyond talented and effective in their classrooms, it is unsettling to think that courses are taught without formal lesson plans.
In addition to the lack of formal lesson planning, it also became apparent that the problem transcends lesson planning to the wider belief that administration, the district and beyond are held largely responsible for some teachers’ inability to reach all students placed in their classrooms.
As a teacher who remains invested in each child through differentiation and effective intervention and remediation, I choose to voice a counter argument to my colleagues who may not lesson plan or hold themselves responsible for the population sitting in their classroom. While we all grow in our craft, by no means can teachers perfect the act of teaching. Furthermore, continual, active reflective practice is the single most potent and telling activities in which teachers participate.
In his February 22, 2012 article, Alan Dessoff of District Administration, stated that Marzano “says effective education reform begins with students and teachers in their classrooms, with student achievement ‘the superordinate goal, supported by uniform yet flexible behaviors in the classroom.’” At the forefront of this argument is the permeating truth that we are, as educators, responsible for the students we teach at this very moment in time, regardless of where they are in their knowledge and abilities.
The implied message is that in order to be “uniform yet flexible” we need to engage in reflective practice which brings me to my main point: Reflective Practice starts with lesson planning. Lesson planning allows a teacher to put in writing how they will differentiate to meet the diverse needs of their learners. In addition, a written plan allows for effective note taking throughout a lesson and a place for follow-up once the lesson has ended. In no way can these practices be optimized or can teachers grow in practice if they work solely with “agendas” in place of lesson plans.
A teacher who believes lesson planning becomes less than important because he/she is a veteran and knows his/her curriculum implies that the teacher may have peaked in practice and dedication and is no longer willing to learn and grow. Even if that’s not the truth, it is not possible to take full advantage of growth potential if formal lesson planning is not a regular practice.
Reflective practice, therefore, is not about looking at what worked and didn’t work after the lesson ends. It is more certainly about everything that happens from the moment a teacher conceives the thought of a lesson, drafts that lesson (in a lesson plan), executes that less, reflects on that lesson and then completes a new lesson full with the necessary changes according to student needs the next time it is taught. The bottom line is reflective practice is continual and fully supported by the preparation of formal lesson plans. A bonus to effective reflective practice is that students, who a teacher used to dismiss as inappropriate for the class, now thrive and become successful, not because administration or the district add money to the budget or change policy, but because of the educator in that classroom with his/her students as Marzano asserts.
For the past several years, springtime has brought about the opportunity to interview teachers for the upcoming school year. Interviewing is a skill and an art that I was never taught, In fact, my only experience with it before I became a principal, was the experiences I had myself when I was interviewed for a job, This in no way made me an expert, or even slightly qualified for that matter.
How can a teacher demonstrate their teaching skills, during an interview?
Judy Willis, M.D. M.Ed.
A Primer for Use in Teacher Education about the Neuroscience of Learning
Why Teacher Education Should Include Neuroscience
The neuroscience of how the brain learns and what influences the most successful brain acquisition and application of learning should be included in all teacher education programs. Teachers need to be prepared with foundational knowledge to understand, evaluate, and apply the neuroscience of learning. With this knowledge they will be able to recognize future implications from this rapidly expanding field of research to increase the effectiveness of their teaching and build and sustain students’ joy of learning.
Teacher education needs to prepare tomorrow’s teachers with the knowledge and tools to prepare their future students for the game-changing realities globalization. The new common core standards align well with the preparation for students need to be prepared with the thinking skills already sought by employers. These skillsets are those described in the neurology literature for almost 100 years, and they remain the brain networks that can be strengthened so all students can participate in the opportunities and challenges in higher education, vocations, a global society.
Neuroscience is on the vanguard of producing research of increased quality and applicability to education. Functional neuroimaging gives us insight into what circumstances and sensory input most successfully promote the brain’s acquisition of new knowledge. Among those insights is evidence of increased metabolic activity in identifiable networks neural networks when information is encoded into memory, when memories are retrieved, and when executive functions use is associated with increased neural circuit activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Correlations to neuroscience research have yielded strategies most consistent with brain’s information processing now “visible” with functional neuroimaging. For example, when information is presented in ways that emphasize relationships to existing stored memory, the brain’s own patterning system increases successful memory acquisition.
Teachers need to understand the why and not just the how of the most effective teaching strategies to have the motivation and positive expectations to best utilize these strategies. These topics include how the brain “pays attention”, encodes new input into working memory, uses neuroplasticity to construct long-term memory, is influenced by stress, and develops its neural networks of executive functions.
Especially critical is teacher awareness of the vast potentials of neuroplasticity that increases their opportunities to influence the development of their students’ brain networks of executive functions – their highest cognitive skillsets. Teachers with foundational understanding about the neuroscience and cognitive science of how the brain turns input into long-term memory and memory into transferable knowledge, will be the most prepared to guide all students to achieve their highest potentials.
A Primer about the Neuroscience of Learning
Teachers are the caretakers of the development of students’ highest brain during the years of its most extensive changes. As such, they have the privilege and opportunity to influence the quality and quantity of neuronal and connective pathways so all children leave school with their brains optimized for future success.
This introduction to the basics of the neuroscience of learning includes information that should be included in all teacher education programs. It is intentionally brief such that it can be taught in a single day of instruction. Ideally there would be additional opportunities for future teachers to pursue further inquiry into the science of how the brain learns, retrieves, and applies information.
Teaching Grows Brain Cells
IQ is not fixed at birth and brain development and intelligence are “plastic” in that internal and environmental stimuli constantly change the structure and function of neurons and their connections. Teachers have the opportunity to help all children build their brains beyond what was previously believed to be fixed limits based on learning disabilities or the predictions of test scores or achievements.
It was once believed that brain cell growth stops after age twenty. We now know that through neuroplasticity, interneuron connections (dendrites, synapses, and myelin coating) continue to be pruned or constructed in response to learning and experiences throughout our lives.
These physical changes of brain self-reconstruction in response to experiences including sensory input, emotions, conscious and unconscious thoughts are so responsive that human potential for increased knowledge, physical skills, and “talent” in the arts is essentially limitless. There are conditions associated with the most successful strengthening of neural networks, such as guided instruction and practice with frequent corrective feedback. As neuroscience research continues more information will be available to guide teachers providing the brain with the experiences best suited to maximize its learning and proficiency.
High Stress Restricts Brain Processing to the Survival State
The prefrontal cortex, where the higher thinking processes of executive functions (judgment, critical analysis, prioritizing) is also the CEO that can manage and control our emotions. Like the rest of the PFC it is still undergoing maturation throughout the school years. Students do not have the adult brain’s developed circuits of reflection, judgment, and gratification delay to overcome the lower brain’s strong influence.
Neuroimaging research reveals that a structure in the emotion sensitive limbic system is a switching-station that determines which part of the brain will receive input and determine response output. Brain-based research has demonstrated that new information cannot pass through the amygdala (part of the limbic system) to enter the frontal lobe if the amygdala is in the state of high metabolism or overactivity provoked by anxiety. It is important for teachers to know that when stress cuts off flow to and from the PFC, behavior is involuntary. It is not students’ choice in the reactive state when they “act out” and “zone out”.
Through interventions to go beyond differentiation to individualization (see article about video game model) it is possible to decrease the stressors of frustration from work perceived as too difficult or boredom from repeated instruction after mastery is achieved. Further information from neuroscience research reveals other causes of the high stress state in school and suggests interventions to reduce the stress blocking response in the amygdala.
Memory is Constructed and Stored by Patterning
The brain turns data from the senses into learned information in the hippocampus. This encoding process requires activation or prior knowledge with a similar “pattern” to physically link with the new input if a short-term memory is to be constructed. The neuroimaging research supported by cognitive testing reveals that the most successful construction of working (short-term) memory takes place when there has been activation of the brain’s related prior knowledge before new information is taught.
When teachers work to clearly demonstrate the patterns, connections, and relationships that exist between new and old learning (e.g. cross-curricular studies, graphic organizers, spiraled curriculum) the probability of encoding increases.
Teachers can help students increase working memory efficiency through a variety of interventions correlated with neuroimaging responses. For example, with opportunities to make predictions, receive timely feedback, and reflect on those experiences. These experiences appear to be increase executive function facilitation of working memory, such as guiding the selection of the most important information hold in working memory.
Memory is Sustained by Use
Once and encoded short-term memory is constructed it still needs to be activated multiple times and ideally in response to a variety of prompts for neuroplasticity to increase its durability. Each time students participate in any endeavor, a certain number of neurons are activated. When they repeat the action, the same neurons respond again. The more times they repeat an action, the more dendrites grow and interconnect, resulting in greater memory storage and recall efficiency.
Retention is further promoted when new memories are connected to other stored memories based on commonalities, such as similarities/differences, especially when students use graphic organizers and derive their own connections. Multisensory instruction, practice, and review promote memory storage in multiple regions of the cortex, based on the type of sensory input by which they were learned and practiced. These are distant storage centers are linked to each other such that triggering one sensory memory activates the others. This duplication results of storage increases the efficiency of subsequent retrieval as a variety of cues prompt activation of different access points to the extended memory map.
The construction of concept memory networks requires opportunities for students to transfer learning beyond the contexts in which it is learned and practiced. When information learned and stored in its own isolated circuit it is only accessible by the same stimuli through which it was obtained. These transfer activities activate memories to new stimuli and with other knowledge to solve novel problems. These simultaneous activations promote extended connections among memories that are the larger concept memory networks most applicable to future use.
Pattern recognition facilitation and opportunities for knowledge transfer extends the brain’s processing efficiency for greater access to and application of its accumulated learning. These teaching interventions will prepare graduates for future incorporation and extension of new information as it is becomes available. Students who have the guided learning experiences needed to construct concept memory networks will be have the best preparation for their futures. As the information pool expands, these students will continue to comprehend new information, consolidate it into their neural networks, and recognize, develop, and globally disseminate its new applications.
As the research continues to build, it will be the obligation of those who prepare our future teachers to insure they understand and can apply the best current and future teaching strategies. This includes insuring that the teachers who graduate from their programs have the foundational neuroscience knowledge to use the fruits of the expanding pool of research to the betterment of all their own future students. That is a fascinating and exciting challenge to meet at a pivotal time in the evolution of education.
The references used for this article are listed here. The published version of this article required that format. I can provide the specific annotations if needed. In addition, since it was written in 2005, newer research is now available on all topics described and incorporated in the articles I’ve written on these topics in recent rears. Teachers with neuroscience foundational knowledge will be able to seek, evaluate, and apply that subsequent and future research.
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Approaches to Language Teaching, ed. Robert W. Blair. Rowley: Newbury, 1982 p 25- 27.
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Pawlak, R., Magarinos, A. M., Melchor, J., McEwen, B., & Strickland, S. (Feb. 2003). Tissue plasminogen activator in the amygdala is critical for stress-induced anxiety-like behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 168 – 174.
Shadmehr, R., and Holcomb,H (1997). Neural correlates of motor memory consolidation," Science 277:821
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When I started teaching in a blended online & face-to-face environment this year, I anticipated several obstacles. However, I also made some common and critical assumptions about how students understand and use technology, and how schools approach the integration of technology. The reshaping of these misconceptions has contributed greatly to my year of learning and has informed my approach to leading new tech integrations.
We have all been there...sitting in the classroom of a professional development workshop or in the audience at a conference, listening to someone talk about engaged, student-centered, action-based, personalized, differentiated (I'm sure I am missing several other descriptors) learning. It is a rare treat when we are actually thrown into such learning in those experiences.
I've been working with teachers at our school to further personalize the learning for each student, and this prompted me to attempt a differentiated model PD lesson on differentiated instruction. I think this way, we can experience it as a learner and gain tools to use in our classrooms.
The Many Paths of Learning
Modeling DIFFERentiation for Teachers
Learning Goals--Teachers will be able to:
**Note: You can make your own copy of the documents linked to this blog for editing by clicking on “File” -> “Make a Copy”. As you select various components, it will be necessary for you to make a copy for your records so this is helpful information. Copy/Paste or Downloading does work if you are not working in Google Docs. Click Here for the document link to this original doc or on this one if you want to view the whole folder of the activity documents contained in this lesson.
As we proceed through this PD activity, you will see the following DI tools in use, indicted by the assigned graphic.
Part 2: I’m On-board Agreement X___
As part of my professional growth, I agree to complete this professional development activity according to my individual needs. I will document each activity I complete in this DI PD Journal. My goal is to earn ______ points in total out of 20. The point value is indicated throughout the learning contract for each activity.
Name: ___________________________ Date: ______ Est. Date of Completion: _______
Part 3: Pre-Assessment Tier Placement
Click on the icon which best describes your level of understanding of each of the following DI concept sets. When you click on the star icon, it will take you to the place of learning based on that level. When you are done learning, you can click to return here for the next level of learning!
Tier 1 Ground Level Basics:
Tier 1 Self-Assessment (Similar to Thumbs-Up, Thumbs-Down, but click on the STAR):
I am a super nova already! (Skip Tier)
Tier 2, Probing Level, Understanding:
Tier 2 Self-Assessment:
I am a super nova already! (Skip Tier)
Tier 3, Analysis & Synthesis Application:
If you have finished this Tier, congratulations, you have completed the whole unit! Thank you for sharing this journey with me and for any resources you have shared! If you want someone to look at what you’ve built and verify your in-service points, please let me know and I’m happy to help with the approval of your administration.
The experience of student teaching is the culmination of preparation transpired into action. Student teachers have spent the last few years studying pedagogy, grueling away observation hour after observation hour, and even finding time for furthering their precious content knowledge. When their moment comes to finally step up to the front of the classroom and address the class as teacher, does all that preparation go out the window? At that moment, do student teachers have to forget their preparation, and rely on how well they have fostered their studies to this point, and just hope that their voice doesn’t crack, or that they don’t lose track of where they are in their lesson plan that they’ve stayed up all night planning?
Let’s face it: the article you read on curriculum mapping in your Introduction to Education class might not be the guiding force behind your first lesson. You might never use that one strategy from Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. To some extent, student teachers do have to throw what has been studied out the window, and rely on the culmination of what is best for that moment. This is not to say that curriculum mapping and Lemov do not add invaluable teaching tools to your repertoire. This is to say that a student teacher needs to rely on a new kind of knowledge; the kind of knowledge that disregards its origin; the kind of knowledge that produces lasting, meaningful learning.
You may be exhausted of reading education articles on what to do and what not to do, how best to prepare your lessons, how to account for differentiation, and how the standards should fit into your lesson. The truth is, you will find your own niche, your own style and way of determining what works for you. However, I have just got done student teaching, and there are a few things I wish I had been told, or was told and wish I would’ve believed. If I had to boil my whole student teaching experience down into advice for a future student teacher, these are the areas I would be sure to reiterate.
The further I dove into my student teaching experience, the more I realized that teaching is more about relationship building than content knowledge. The principal at the school I student taught told me, “When you get your students to believe in you, you can teach them anything.” Relationship building is about doing the basic things like getting to know your students’ interests, and greeting your students at the door everyday by name. Students may not show you their appreciation for greeting them by name, they may not even respond to you, but whether your students show it or not, you are establishing a culture of trust and respect. Greeting students at the door might seem like an easy thing to do, but its power should not be underestimated. It is an action step that I did not believe in prior to student teaching. However, the fact that it is the first action step I advocate to new student teachers should be testament to the value I place on doing so.
Once you believe in the power relationship building has to increase productivity of learning, you will begin to utilize it in each manner of your classroom. There is just something about Monday that makes it seem wrong to jump into plot pyramids or literary devices without some mention of the previous few days. Ask your class to share what happened over the weekend but require that they use some form of figurative language. Do not doubt the power of life’s experiences—yours or your students—to enhance learning. How you begin and end class has an enormous impact on the effectiveness of your classroom management and learning environment you establish.
There will be times where your class is too chatty in those few moments before the bell rings. There are better alternatives than lecturing your class about your behavioral expectations when the bell rings to guarantee an effective start of the class. There is no law that prohibits you from starting class before the bell rings to best ensure that class does begin when the bell rings. If you notice your class is hyped up from the weekend, polling your students on the weekend’s events, especially if they are related to school events, is a great way to start class and foster professional relationships. Just ask for hands and say to your students, “Raise your hand if you went to the school dance this weekend,” or “Raise your hand if you played a sport this weekend,” or “Raise your hand if you ate pizza this weekend.” By the time the bell has rung, you will have the students’ attention and already have shown interests in their lives.
Connecting Learning to Students’ Lives
Any time you connect learning to students’ lives, you have achieved successful relationship building because you are showing interest in the importance of what students are learning and how it relates to real-life situations. Students must see the relevance in their learning in order to believe in the value of education. One way to do this is to bring in variety of texts. English Language Arts teachers are at an advantage because there are so many new forms of text that are redefining what it means to be literate.
Music is one form of text that I used effectively during student teaching. There will be times when you ask the students to write for a few minutes, possibly as a bell-ringer. Why not time this writing prompt with music? Tell your class, “I want you to respond to this question. I will give you three minutes to respond to this question. This song is about three minutes long so you should be finishing up when the song is about done.” A key to this strategy is that the song should have some relevance to what you are learning. Relate the song or a story about the artist to the learning topic or enduring understandings. Students will not only appreciate the learning atmosphere music establishes, but will also recognize connections of learning to real-life or alternate texts as meaningfully valuable. Don’t ask your students to fill out a characterization chart; ask your students to fill out a blank Facebook page, or to respond creatively as if you were texting or tweeting as that character.
English Language Arts teachers have another advantage in relating course material to students’ lives because literature is about life. One strategy is to generalize a fundamental issue from the piece of text your class is reading, and to ask students to relate this to their lives. For example, when reading a short story about a student that had to make a difficult choice, I asked the class, “What types of choices do you make every day?” When we read an article about Cyber Schools I asked the class, “What ways does technology make our lives happier? What ways does it make our lives worse?” Students become interested when you ask them open-ended questions that force them to take a stand on an issue that is relevant to their lives. One essential to this strategy is that you want each student to participate. Make it an expectation in your classroom that students should have paper out, and should be ready to respond to class discussions through writing. Take a few responses from the class, but then require all students to give a response, and have them turn it in at the end of class.
I cannot take you through my entire student teaching experience, nor would you gain valuable insight if I did. However, I will offer a final few additional suggestions, action steps, or must-dos for your student teaching experience.
Lastly, you have to believe in what you are going to teach and how you are going to teach it. This might seem trivial, but there were a few policies and procedures I carried out simply because they were already put in place. You might be dissuaded or influenced to teach something or in a different way by what you have learned or by how the status quo operates. There is no one size fits all to teaching. If you don’t believe that what or how you are going to teach is meaningful, it will come across as insincere. If you don’t believe in a lesson, your students sure won’t.
Remember that student teaching is a learning process, and that most teachers do not become a master teacher until a few years into their career. Use student teaching as a way of finding your own style and what does and doesn’t work for you. You may throw out curriculum mapping, Lemov, or this article once you get to the front of the classroom, but you never know, you might use one of them spontaneously on day 38 of student teaching. You may find that one strategy becomes a part of your style, and that another doesn’t. There is no one size fits all to teaching, but what I have attempted to provide here, are steps that should be a part of any English Language Arts teacher’s repertoire. You may have heard these before, or you may not believe in them today. Good luck student teaching, and may you inspire brilliance.