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R.A.D. Neurological Lesson Plan
Elementary Level or Beginning Foreign Language
By Paula Berlinck and Luciana Castro
2nd grade Portuguese Teachers
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Unit Title: Where does the bread come from?
Subject(s): Portuguese Grade Level(s): 2nd grade
Lesson Concept/Topic: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
Lesson Goals/Objectives: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
(and how they will be Neuro-logical)
How will you begin this lesson to engage learners’ attention?
The attention filter (RAS) gives priority to sensory input that is different than the expected pattern. Novelty, such as changes in voice, unusual objects, songs playing when they enter the classroom, will peak students curiosity and increase likelihood of the related lesson material being selected by the RAS attention filter.
1-As soon as each student arrives in the classroom they will find one wheat stalk on top of your own desk.
2-The students are going to watch and listen to the music “O cio da terra” de Milton Nascimento e Fernando Brandt
What will you do to sustain students’ attentive focus throughout the lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to making correct predictions. When students have the opportunity to make and change predictions throughout a lesson, attention is sustained as the brain seeks clues to make accurate predictions. Individual response tools, such as white boards, can be used to make predictions and reduce mistake anxiety.
1-Make the link with the Field trip to the Bread Factory and list the Previous Knowledge about “Where does the bread come from?”
2- The teacher will start to read the book “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
3- Treshing the wheat and grind to find out the flour
Motivation and Perseverance:
Which dopamine boosters will be included in your lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to increased dopamine. Incorporating dopamine boosters (e.g., humor, movement, listening to music, working with peers) increases attention, motivation, and perseverance
4- Finishing the reading aloud of the book
5- Watching the video “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
6- Using a Graphic Organize to compare and contrast the information in the book and the video
How will you help students see value and relevance in what they are learning – so they want to know what you have to teach?
Positive climate and prevention of high stressors promote information passage through the amygdala to the PFC. Motivation and effort increase when the brain expects pleasure. Buy-in examples include personal relevance, prediction, and performance tasks connecting to students’ interests and strengths.
7- Bake the Bread in the classroom
Every student will take part on the process, in group of 4 students at a time.
How will you tailor the lesson to address students’ differences in readiness, learning profile, and interests?
Differentiation allows students to work at their achievable challenge level. The students who understand the new topic, if required to keep reviewing with the group, may become bored and therefore stressed. If it is too challenging they will become frustrated. By providing learning opportunities within their range of achievable challenge, students engage through expectation of positive experiences.
8- Students will be able to choose one of the videos from the series “Kika: De onde vem?”, (Kika: Where it comes from?) where they can find different subjects that explain things like: the waves, where the eggs comes from, how TV works, etc)
Students will work in pairs, considering their complementary abilities
They are going to watch, to learn about the topic, take notes and then write it down to explain to another person. They could use different formats of graphic organizers, with more or less parts to drawn and break it down the information. They will be assisted by the teacher depending by their level.
Frequent Formative Assessment and Feedback:
How will you monitor students’ progress towards acquisition, meaning making, and transfer, during lesson events?
How will students get the feedback they need and opportunities to make use of it?
Effort is withheld when previous experiences have failed to achieve success. Breaking down learning tasks into achievable challenge segments, in which students experience and are aware of success on route to learning goals (e.g. analytic rubrics, effort-to-progress graphs) and reflect on what they learned and how they learned, builds their confidence that their effort can bring them closer to their goals.
Students will be active in some paces of the process. The summative assessment is the nonfiction text that they will write using movie information, translating it in a graphic organizer and/or nonfiction text like “how to” or “all about”.
Short-term Memory Encoding:
How will you activate prior knowledge to promote the brain’s acquiring new input?
Helping students to realize what they already know about a topic activates an existing memory pattern to which new input can link in the hippocampus. Graphic organizers, cross-curricular units, and bulletin boards that preview upcoming units are examples of prior knowledge activation tools.
Create a chart with the students remembering the prior knowledge that they have about the unit ALL ABOUT and HOW TO, that they had studied in their English class.
Mental manipulation for Long-term Memory:
How will students make meaning of learning so neuroplasticity constructs the neural connections of long-term memory?
When students acquire the information in a variety of ways e.g. visualization, movement, reading, hearing and “translate” learning into other representations (create a narrative, symbolize through a video, synthesize into the concise summary of a tweet) the activation of the short-term memory increases its connections (dendrites, synapses, myelin) to construct long-term memory.
As the students were exposed to a lot of different inputs, considering visualization, movement, reading, writing etc, we expect it will be built as a long-term memory.
Which executive function skills will be embedded in the lesson, homework, and projects? (e.g., analyze, organize, prioritize, plan goals, adapt, judge validity, think flexibly, assess risk, communicate clearly.)
It is important to provide ongoing meaningful ways for students to interact with information so that they apply, activate, and strengthen their developing networks of executive function. Assignments and assessments planned to promote the use of executive functions (e.g. making judgments, supporting opinions, analyzing source validity) activate these highest cognitive networks developing in students’ brains most profoundly during the school years.
All executive functions are in place
Have you ever worked hard at teaching your class something only to discover that they don’t apply that learning on the test? I’ve noticed many students seem to struggle with on-demand writing during test taking.
On-demand writing: a situation in which students are presented with a prompt (question or scenario) and are given a specific time limit to complete it.
From the prototypes we are looking at, we are finding that on-demand writing is especially prevalent in Smarter Balanced and PARCC. On-demand writing is also an important skill for students to have in situations such as the rise of social media and for college and career readiness.
Time management is the ultimate solution for student success with on-demand writing. I’ve found that by teaching my students how to allot and judge time during their writing, they’ve become more confident when it comes time for on-demand writing. I did this by having my students practice writing with different timed allocations, beginning with 40 minutes. I then gradually lowered their timed writing to 10 minutes. As your students become more comfortable with timed writing, you will notice their skills improving, especially in their shorter on-demand writing pieces.
Here are four tips we’ve learned that help prepare students for on-demand writing:
1. Assigning writing prompts will help with on-demand writing.
Within a WriteSteps unit you’re given the opportunity to assign a prompt or a “free choice” write. Have your students write in response to the prompt in a specific time frame. When assigning a prompt, choose one that relates to your other subject area s. By having students write about what they’ve read in ELA, science, social studies, or math, you’re helping prepare them for the on-demand writing they will do on tests, in other classes, and in the work place.
2. Planning helps students focus their thoughts and organize their on-demand writing piece.
I always have students plan before they write. This is taught in a step-by-step, strategic way. The goal is that through repetition, students will start to plan automatically whenever a writing assignment is given, whether it is a long writing piece or a shorter on-demand piece.
Students in kindergarten begin practicing stating the topic. 1st graders write a paragraph for which they have planned the topic and include three facts or reasons. Students in grades 2-5 become skilled at planning multiple paragraph essays.
3. Conferencing with students boosts their self esteem and confidence, which is needed for on-demand writing.
Help each student identify their personalized goals by using a rubric, editing checklist, or revising checklist, and by asking your student to reflect on their writing. I’ve found this helps students find their errors when they’re writing an on-demand piece for which they will have no time for peer editing and revising.
Students will not need to identify all errors in a timed writing piece, just those that might impede understanding. It is the philosophy of many standardized tests, including PARCC and Smarter Balanced, that spelling and grammar do not harm a student’s score unless they make it difficult for the reader to understand what the writer is saying.
4. Self-assessment and reflection help a student to know themselves as a writer, which is beneficial for on-demand writing.
One of my favorites tools that I like my students to use is the six traits rubrics. Students score their own writing and use the document to set goals for their writing improvement. Not only do students fill out the rubric, but they answer a short questionnaire that asks them to identify their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and areas for which they would like teacher assistance. This type of self reflection helps students prepare and improve from one writing piece to the next, regardless of length and time frame given.
The on-demand type of writing is becoming more prevalent in social media, CCSS testing, and in preparing students for college and career readiness. One of the four ways teachers can increase students’ aptitude for writing on-demand is by including both longer duration writing with all steps of the writing process, as well as shorter on-demand writing.
Have you noticed a difference in your students’ longer duration writing versus their on-demand writing? What stories can you share with us?
I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.
My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.
Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.
My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees? The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.
This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone? Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.
Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.
If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose. A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.
Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?
Content Curation is a relatively new term for educators to consider as they flex their Web muscles. After all, many of us are used to content being synonymous with "what's in the textbook." Or from a student perspective, we've hopefully moved past the bibliography cards (shudder) as a way of gathering content. We may not have started out with the idea that information or strategies or tools are available with a search, but now we need to know that the act of gathering them is also a skill. It's time to figure out the best way to get students on board with this crucial 21st century skill.
Mullan (2011) defines content curation as "the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter." Thus, our role as a facilitator of learning is to figure out the general why and how, so we can help students better understand their specific why and how.
1. Start with the end in mind.
Our planning of the use of content curation will be somewhat backwards from our presentation to students because we first need to figure out why we want them to curate content before we jump into having them do it.
If you don't have a good reason for kids to curate, then...don't.
Without a clear alignment of this task and the learning, you'll soon find them off-task and/or whining and complaining, no matter the tool. So, we need to first consider:
What is the end goal of the assignment or project?
What do we want students to be able to "do" with it?
These questions come before the "curation" question:
Why is curating content the BEST thing to help students reach those goals or demonstrate their
For example, let's say I have a project idea that I want students to complete a research project on one aspect of education for sustainable development. The topic is certainly significant, and I want them to decide on one problem they want to tackle under the umbrella of this topic, and research solutions and ideas for overcoming it. Finally, I want them to present their findings in a comprehensive way for others to learn from. They are expected to choose their intended audience for this compilation of information. My reason for curation is then germane to the learning. They need to find the sources, so having a spot to put them all is a logical, practical exercise.
2. Scaffold the skills.
Then, I'll want to brainstorm some thoughts on what the kids will need to know about content curation before they tackle this project.
What immediately stands out for content curation as a skill is the credibility and/or reliability of what is discovered or gathered, etc. Evaluating sources can be tricky, so students may need some help understanding what is/is not a viable source. Providing them with examples in discussion prior to sending them out on their own would allow them more solid footing. They should be asking questions such as:
Who is the author of this source, and why is he/she credible?
Does the source provide references or at least links to information that supports the discussion?
How will this source help me reach my goal?
3. Distinguish the tools.
Another thing kids will need to know is what kind of tool will work best. There are so many options! Paperli, Pinterest, Symbaloo. Since the use of the tools is probably not going to be too much of an issue (they are very user-friendly and easy to figure out), then, we'll need to do a bit of background on a few. What is it that curation tools can actually DO?
From Webby Thoughts http://www.webbythoughts.com/content-curation-tools-resource/
For example, some curation tools, such as scoopit and paperli lend themselves to actually being the final project whereas Symbaloo, Diigo, and Pinterest are more like warehouses that store information for something else. Thus before you open up Pandora's box of tools, make sure you know what you want it to do.
A quick comparison of a few--you can find some listed in Moss (2014) "Content Curation Tools"--can aid you in guiding students to the choice that will work best for them. This is actually good spot in the unit/lesson to offer students some choice because you want them to hone the skill. The tool is up to them!
4. Set clear expectations.
Of course, you'll want to make sure your expectations for the final product are clear! Using rubrics and checklists that help students understand how you'll be assessing their skills of curation for the purpose of the final project will offer them a solid foundation for moving forward in the magic of content curation.
Working with the backwards design approach really offers us a powerful way to approach this valuable skill! Students who can curate have a definitive advantage over those who don't know what it is or how to use it.
And they need all the advantages that we can give them.
As a high school teacher, I used an array of diverse assessments to measure and evaluate student achievement and success. Many varied components would go into each student’s grades and narratives – test and quiz results, the quality of projects, writings and self-reflections, observations of students, and judgments regarding effort, growth, and class participation. Given the multiple student cognitive abilities, attitudes, character traits, and strengths and problems, it would have been foolish of me to use only one type of measure to determine a students’ success in my class.
Given that multiple types of assessments such as the ones I used above are used by most teachers, one would expect that appropriate, multiple assessment approaches would be also used to assess school and district success. Thus, it is surprising that “one size fits all” standardized tests, with their major emphasis on multiple choice-short answer questions, are touted as the major, and often the only way to judge school success, student achievement, and even teacher effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the sole use of these traditional tests pose many problems for assessing actual student knowledge, skills, abilities, talents and interests. First, many educators and lay people suggest that standardized tests often do not do a good job of measuring the purported skills associated with them. For example, as recently pointed out by a New York State teacher in a NY Times op-ed piece, the New York English Language Arts test questions do “a poor job of testing reading comprehension”. A student’s answers to the questions on this test have “little bearing on [his or her] reading ability and yet [have] huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools”[i]. Some students also might be good readers but do poorly on the reading test because of their poor test-taking skills.
Second, standardized tests have limited use in evaluating whether students have learned many of the most important skills required for college work or for living in a 21st century world, such as interest in learning, motivation to learn, research and study skills, coherent writing abilities, effective oral communication skills, project and problem-based development skills, problem finding and question asking, the ability to apply learning to authentic situations, scientific investigation skills, “deep” thinking, student “grit”, and the development of each individual student’s talents and abilities.
In addition, the tests usually provide schools and teachers with limited, if any, feedback to help them figure out how to improve teaching and learning. And, unfortunately, they also have a number of negative side effects, such as increasing sterile test-prep activities, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student anxiety and frustrations, and reducing student interest in learning. Many of our best teachers write about how the emphasis on testing plays havoc with their curriculum, the interest and motivation of their students, and their joy of teaching. Some have even left the teaching profession altogether because of their school or district emphasis on preparing for standardized tests.
As opposition to the use of these tests increases, and a greater understanding of their limitations and negative consequences develops, it is imperative that opponents to standardized testing suggest alternatives. In fact, there should be many varied assessments used to determine school and district success, just as there are many and varied types of educational goals, results, and students. This is a very different paradigm from the “one size fits all” standardized testing results model of measuring success. So, described briefly below are some examples of types of measures that might be combined into an assessment plan useful for judging district and school success, student achievement, and the school or district conditions that limit or reinforce success. The first number of measures are designed to measure output – achievement and successes of students, their involvement and participation in multiple types of activities, perceptions of stakeholders in how the school is meeting their needs, and so on. The second set of measures focus on input: characteristics of student population, conditions under which students learn, amount of resources available, the quality of curriculum and teaching, and others.
Achievement, Successes, Activity Involvement, and Perceptions
Student graduation data
What do students do when they graduate, where do they go and how successful are they both during their time with us and after they leave us?
In analyzing school success, data should be regularly collected on the % of students who graduate and what they do after graduation (types and names of colleges and universities attended, financial aid obtained, military enlistees, technical school attendees, etc.); what % of those who attend college graduate and why do they drop out; college majors. Student data also should include surveys and interviews with graduates to find out their levels of satisfaction with their K-12 school programs;
Mission-related achievement data
How well do our students meet the mission of our school or district?
Student data should be collected and analyzed that demonstrate achievement and success based on mission-related goals. For example, a school specializing in the visual arts might collect data on the type of artwork students complete and a sampling of student portfolios; a school with an emphasis on music may focus assessments around the types of student performances given by students and the skill level of its music students. Vo-Tech schools might collect data on the types of training received by each student, their post high school plans and career goals, their job placements and acceptance levels into advanced programs.
Report card results
How successful are our students, based on the results of their daily and yearly work?
We know that the best predictors of student achievement and success lie with how well students do in their classes and in the recommendations of teachers and others in the school. We therefore need to make sure that each school or district develop specific, “standards-based” report cards, built around measures of 21st century goals, that reflect how well students succeed and grow in their classes and courses. Report cards should be broken down into specific cognitive and social expectations, with ratings that use levels of achievement as well as grades. Narrative comments convey specific information to parents-guardians about the strengths of individual children and areas that need improvement.
Report card data can be summarized to provide a picture of how well the school or district is doing to meet the needs of its students. Randomly selected report cards, along with narrative comments, can also be collected and shared.
Cornerstone-graduation project(s) results
How well do our students complete “cornerstone” projects that both develop and assess core 21st century skills?
Cornerstone projects consist of research projects and “authentic” performance tasks that culminate in presentations and exhibitions and demonstrate in-depth understanding of ideas, the ability to use 21st century skills, and the ability to transfer and apply learning. Students who are able to develop questions around their interests or suggested topics, conduct research, read and comprehend, write essays and research papers, and make presentations to others demonstrate an understanding of content and competence in using significant skills.
Cornerstone project results at different school levels demonstrate progress towards the development of these skills as well as final mastery of them.
Student plans for the future
What are student plans for the future?
Every student should be required to develop a plan for his or her future, indicating their next steps after graduating from high school and their more visionary goals for the future. Part of the development of a plan should include research about future educational goals, career options and choices. A summary of these plans is an important indicator of school and district success.
What is the comprehensive nature of individual student work?
Portfolios - collections of student work - help us to assess actual student work and incorporate “real learning” into the assessment process, not the artificial, “out of context” kind of learning assessed through standardized tests. Portfolios are also individualized and customized to demonstrate an individual’s nuanced and varied skill levels, talents, abilities, and interests. Today, with Internet capability, an individual student’s best writing and/or artwork, project results, tests, self-reflections, plans for the future, and other student work can be scanned and placed electronically into portfolios.
Students should be asked to develop portfolios of their work throughout their K-12 experience. Sample portfolios, or parts of portfolios, can be used to illustrate the types of work students are doing within the school or district, and how well a school or district is helping students master key 21st century knowledge and skills.
Survey-focus group data
What do parents, students and teachers think about us?
In this day and age of the Internet, it is relatively easy to develop, post, and summarize survey data. Every school and district should collect data from parents, students and teachers at least once a year, and then use the data to review its programs, applaud its strengths, and figure out ways to improve what it does[ii].
What do graduates and dropouts think about us?
Once students leave school and move on to colleges and other post high-school experiences, they have greater perspective on their experiences and can often provide valuable insights into the strengths of a school program and “needs improvement” areas. Data from graduates should be sought after, even if it is often difficult to collect.
Attempts should be made to collect and analyze data from dropouts, even if this data might be difficult to collect, in order to indicate why they dropped out of school and therefore suggest ways to help other students stay in school.
How do students view our school? What do they see as our positive and negative features?
Students who will be leaving one school to go to another school within the district (e.g. from elementary to middle school) or leaving a school to transfer to a school outside the district, or graduating from high school should be the focus of special attention when it comes to surveys and data collection. These students should be asked to reflect on their school experiences and focus on what they perceive as the strengths of the school they are leaving, the major learnings resulting from their school experiences, and suggestions for improving their learning experience. This data should be collected, analyzed and shared.
Community service and field-based activities
What are our students’ opportunities to connect with and apply their learning to the outside world?
How do students provide service to the community? How do students connect with the outside world via field trips, career days, and so on? How do outside individuals and groups provide services to and work with students within a school? These and other similar questions should be part of data collection that is shared and used to provide feedback on connections to real world, outside resources.
Extra-curricular, support, or enrichment activities
What opportunities are there for students to participate in extra-curricular, support and enrichment activities? How much do our students take advantage of extra-curricula, support and enrichment activities?
“Extra curricular” activities provide opportunities for students to explore and learn about a variety of options that are beyond academics. What extra-curricular activities are available? Data should be available that indicates which students are partake of which extra-curricular activities, and how often they do so.
In a similar vein, are their support and enrichment activities available for students? Data should indicate which students participate in these and why.
Conditions, Culture, Teaching, Curriculum, Resources,
School and district student population, resource availability and conditions
What are the characteristics of our student population? What resources do we have available to support our teachers and students? What school or district conditions help or hinder us in meeting achievement goals?
This data helps us to understand the characteristics of the school, district and student population, and resource adequacy, needs problems and challenges. The data include information about student populations, such as ELL, special education, identified gifted populations; the number of students on free or reduced lunch. Other data includes the % of students who drop out of a school or district before graduation and the reasons why they leave; % who are “lifers” within the same school or district, % of students who are absent 10 or more days a year, % of students given suspensions and other discipline data, and mobility rates.
District and school information include, among other things, resources available for technology, supplies, materials and other needs; class sizes; adequacy of library-media centers, art-music, and extra curricular programs; and support personnel available (NTA’s, nurses, counselors, community laiasons).
Curricular programs and instructional activities
What are the common types of curricular programs and instructional activities used in classrooms?
One part of a school or district assessment plan might include examples of the kinds of curriculum, teaching and learning experiences that are incorporated into classrooms and other activities. Suppose, for example, that the school or district promotes inquiry learning. Do teachers in the district use an inquiry learning model in their classrooms? If yes, what does learning look like? What are the essential features of the mathematical curriculum? The reading-language arts curriculum? Are there any special programs in place (e.g. leveled books, writing process, deep learning, competitions) that provide the opportunity for a different type of learning experience for students?
School and program reviews
How can we increase the amount of “objective” assessment data in order to determine our successes and improve our programs?
When I was on the staff of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency in Bucks County, PA, we conducted a number of program reviews for our constituent districts each year. We would enlist a number of teachers, administrators, and experts from across the county and the area to spend three days in a district examining and analyzing all or part of the district’s program. Our final report would list the strengths and needs of the program, and also make suggested recommendations for improving the program.
These types of reviews are extremely valuable for a school or district, especially since an outside agency is conducting the review. It provide a wealth of objective information and data, along with suggestions for improvement, that help to assess a program and provide the impetus for making changes.
Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP)
Just as we should expect teachers to build a comprehensive assessment plan to measure student success and achievement in their classes, so should we expect schools and districts to build a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP) that measures both output and input: a broad array of types of achievement, successes, involvement, perceptions, conditions, culture, and resources. The plan should both assess student achievement, growth, and development, and also be useful in improving school conditions and success in the future.
The selection of a set of a core set of assessments, built into a Comprehensive Assessment Plan, may be best determined by each school or district, depending on its resources, options, and viewpoints. My own view is that a combination of student population and school and district conditions-resource data, strong report card and student portfolio data, cornerstone project results, and surveys of and reflections from current students and graduates will provide significant and important data on how well a school or district is doing as well as the conditions under which schools, districts and teachers operate.
In today’s world of e-mails, Internet surveys, smartphones, computers, tablets, much of this data would be relatively easy to collect. Many of these measures, taken together, can become part of a holistic school-district annual report card, presented by a principal or superintendent to school boards and available to the general public. They can be used to identify problems that need to be addressed. They present a much more nuanced picture of how well a school is doing, the qualities of student graduates, what issues a school or district are facing, and what steps need to be taken to improve the results.
Unfortunately, a broad, varied array of assessment data just doesn’t get collected and developed by itself. A school or district needs to assign someone who is responsible for the development, collection, and analysis of this complex data. The person responsible might even be part of a collaborative, regional effort. The development of this more comprehensive approach will also take time to develop, and a long-term goal should be to enable every school and district to develop a significant assessment process for judging success with students and the conditions and resources necessary for success.
How Federal and State Officials Can Help This Assessment Process
Here are some ways that state and federal officials can provide support for a the use of a much more comprehensive assessment process:
Ultimately, a trust in a decentralized assessment process, a belief in the value of multiple, diverse assessments to measure school and district success, along with a combination of strong leadership at all levels, will provide the necessary impetus to move us away from the primary reliance on standardized tests to assess student, school and teacher success. We should be moving towards the use of varied sets of data that provide nuanced, helpful pictures of success and student achievement and help to improve the conditions of learning. Let us hope that we move in the right direction soon, because the current direction is leading us away from the kinds of education that our students need to prepare for living in a 21st century world.
Elliott Seif, Ph.D. is a long time educator, author, consultant, educational advocate, and trainer. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, read more his blogs on ASCD Edge and go to: www.era3learning.org
[i] Elizabeth Phillips, We Need to Talk About the Test: The Problem With the Common Core, The New York Times op-ed page, April 9, 2014.
[ii] A High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) is available free of charge from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Go to:
Instructionally savvy educators know that personalized learning is the heart of student success. As schools strive to customize education through instructional design, technology efforts and professional learning, highly successful schools know that these initiatives in isolation are not nearly enough to improve and sustain student learning. Strong schools know that deep levels of personalization are found in an enriching and responsive system of teaching and learning, that stretches and supports learning in individual and flexible ways. In order to achieve a truly personalized education for every student, one must articulate, architect and actualize practical ways to engage with such a system, and support the school to ambitiously strive toward a noble vision. Strong leadership, clear school structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes are vital elements that help ensure personalized success for every student. When these essential elements are employed, they create directionality for a school to reach their instructional True North.
A leader must have one foot in the vision and one foot in the reality. She must hold an almost unattainably high vision for her school, while embracing the evident truths about the school culture, data and instructional practices. An instructionally savvy leader knows how to continuously bridge the ground level reality to the top story vision in small and achievable ways. Her steady direction and encouragement is essential to regularly point the way to the instructional True North. It is widely accepted knowledge that if the leader does not believe and practice the vision, the endeavors needed to reach that vision will never take root, grow or flourish. While the instructional vision may seem distant, the leader must model and maintain a laser-like focus, that this instructional work is our moral imperative. At the same time, she is laying a solid instructional foundation and supporting schoolwide incremental footsteps toward the vision. Coaching and feedback are essential leadership tools. An effective leader uses every moment of everyday to indicate the True North, fostering the conditions for school success and celebrating visible learning.
Clear school structures
Clear school structures are the vertical frame on the instructional foundation. It is imperative to establish collaboration time and structures within the school day. Collaboration is the work of teaching and learning. One cannot effectively reflect, strategize, design, analyze, implement and monitor alone. Instead, educators must have time and structures within the school day to have continual conversations about the fine points of teaching and learning. Professional learning communities, data teams and a school leadership team are requisite to ensure a highly effective school. These particular structures are the column supports for learning; educators depend on them in order to personalize education for their students.
Collaboration takes many forms, and it must be a goal, norm and value in the organization. In establishing collaborative structures, it is a necessary first step to ensure the team norms, purpose, goals and process. For example, a professional learning community may employ a protocol that helps them look at student work. A data team may center on a progress monitoring procedure. A leadership team may use problem-solving model. Collaboration rests on clarity of structure. The absence of a clear collaboration structure leads a team to chaos or congeniality. Neither promotes learning. It is important to highlight that conflict is a natural part of the collaboration cycle. It has been said that one is not really collaborating unless there is conflict. Professional discourse reveals different points of view, and is necessary when collaborating around personalized education for a student. Often when teams fail to embrace conflict as a growth opportunity, passive forms of meeting take over, which do not result in instructional growth. There is no question that highly effective schools are steeped in collaboration as an authentic means toward personalizing student learning. In fact, highly effective schools will tell you they would not be successful without collaboration.
The success of schoolwide systems and routines depend on careful monitoring procedures. The leader must blend formal and informal processes to continually ensure that instructional efforts are helping the school advance in measurable ways. Effective forms of monitoring involve transparent efforts, such as classroom walkthroughs, data work, instructional conversations and professional reflection. Savvy educators participate in monitoring procedures for instructional feedback at the student, team, school and district levels. In turn, this helps them ensure that the student’s personalized learning is successful, while promoting their own self-reflection in the process.
Personalization as a goal and an outcome
Highly successful schools know that building and engaging in a system that adapts to students’ strengths and needs is critical in fostering personalized education. Educators in highly effective schools ask themselves, “How can I foster the conditions for success?” They embrace an ambitious vision through a shared leadership model, and actively collaborate within the school structures to design, implement, measure and monitor learning. Strong leadership, clear structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes comprise a educational direction for every school, and when properly employed, will point to the True North of personalized learning for every child.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Constructivists, like myself, in education today would agree that technology is redefining the way we think, practice, communicate, and carry out the routines of day-to-day living. In my personal and professional life, I have become increasingly dependent on my personal devices, such as my iPhone, iPad, and my Mac. I may leave home without matching shoes, but you can bet I will have all my tech gadgets. My iCali is synced to at least 4 systems and so are my reminders. My life has changed for the better due to the synchronization of my tech tools. Evernote, Drop Box, Google Drive, Live Binders, iCalendar are just a few ways I can manage my career and family. One of the best things is that my devices have afforded me the luxury of having access to personalized professional development at any time of the day or night. Because of the technology, my leadership skills, pedagogical practices, content knowledge, etc. have soared during the past two years. I have allowed social media, blogging, and other web 2.0 tools to become a consistent standard in my life.
Professional development has always been a part of the educational system. Rebore (2012) described that the main purpose for a staff development program is to “increase the knowledge and skills of employees and thereby, increase the potential of the school district to attain its goals and objectives” (p. 112). Cooper and Johnson (2013) believe learning needs are always present, therefore, educators find staff development necessary to stay abreast of current trends and practices. Many districts will perform a needs assessment to gain useful information regarding the types of professional development that should be offered to employees. Using the data from the assessments, the district pays attention to employee deficits. These shortfalls will show up as gaps in staff knowledge and/or skills in certain areas of the profession. To orient staff with new knowledge and skills, a district or campus may provide professional development to help close the learning gaps between those educators who display strengths in a certain area and those who do not (2012).
Traditionally, many staff development models try engaging their audience with a single presenter, who shares new knowledge centered around an idea. These models are mostly called workshops or seminars. Research has shown that these particular models are frequently presented in isolation without the motivation needed to change practices (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). This delivery style is very common in the educational world. Who needs this old-fashioned, "sit-'n-git"* approach to learning?? As a campus leader, I have the ability to move us away from tradition learning models and into the current era where there are means to personalizing PD for every single member on my staff. (* Thanks @ambercldrn for the "sit-n-git"…love it).
Research indicates that professional development is most effective when: “it involves the participants in concrete tasks; is participant driven while rooted in inquiry and reflection; is collaborative, connected to and derived from teachers work; and includes ongoing support” (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). With purposes quite the same as face-to-face counterparts, online teacher professional development (oTPD) operates using Web 2.0 tools, which have the potential to maximize principles due to flexibility and personalization for the educator. Web 2.0 oTPD engages and provides motivation for learners through reflection, review, connection, and immediate action, which are key to the constructivist experience (2013).
Our district administrators recently had the pleasure of hearing Maria Henderson, an Education Development Executive at Apple, Inc., speak to us about new and innovative ways of developing students and teachers on Web 2.0 tools. Henderson (2014) defended using 2.0 tools as an innovative way to personalize professional development for staff. I agree 100% with Ms. Henderson! Online professional development (oTPD) is not new but becoming more alive in the world of education. On my campus, I have tried using new apps and online resources to ease the time constraints that accompany traditional staff developments in an effort to deliver information. I have implemented the use of tools like Screen-Cast-O-Matic, Google Drive, Padlet, iMovie, YouTube, Teacher Channel, Blogging, Twitter, ScoopIt, Haiku Deck etc. Unlike traditional professional development, oTPD can be tailored to the professional or grade level, which increases engagement and the likelihood that the educator will apply what was learned or discussed.
With less time and more to learn than ever before, I often wonder why teachers do not embrace online learning more. Henderson (2014) stated it best when she said, “There has never been a more exciting time to be an educator or a student.” She is right! As an educator, I cannot wait to see where we go next. I am not afraid but rather anxiously await the next new, innovative tool to take us through our life's journey. #EXCITING!
We have always lived with and adapted to change; however, today’s changes are fast and furious. In education, building networks globally can help us stay abreast of current research and tools. Using Twitter, users are able to collaborate professionally with other educators about interests personalized to them (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). Books and magazines have much to offer but, once written, they stay the same and are not able to update immediately. Online venues, such a Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook provide educators with current feed with around the clock access in real-time. Almost nightly, I am able to read a plethora of new information and decide what best relates to my needs. I am able to share and learn skills and content on my own time with others who I have accepted in my professional learning network. By participating in #chats, I am able to discuss even more specifically the topics, which are more relevant to me. This method sure does beat sitting in a cold, sterile meeting where I might (or might not) walk away with something worthwhile. When I am on Twitter, I walk away with new learning each time I log off. (Which…by the way…logging off Twitter is hard…VERY HARD!).
Blogging is another user-friendly Web 2.0 feature that puts professional learning at your fingertips. Blogs are intended to prompt dialogue between people who have a vested interest in the material presented. Well…like this one!! I hope the material I am presenting makes you think. Sometimes blogs can embed other attractive and engaging features, such as YouTube videos, graphs, media clips, trailers, etc. Cooper and Johnson (2013) found that most research on blogging and teacher development has taken place with preservice teachers. New teacher bloggers have shown ability to critically reflect and interact with others in their online communities. My own Learning and Leading blog has taken me to new levels of learning. For me, it has given me a voice and a platform to speak. I also know that it has helped other educators reflect and think about their own practices in education.
Online professional development using 2.0 tools and other online resources can connect and give authentic experiences to the constructivist through reflection, review, and collaboration with network members. Not only that, but it can making learning simpler and easier. Another added bonus, as Cooper and Johnson (2013) stated in their article, “Exploration of professional development with such technologies presents possibilities for their use in the educational settings, while also engaging teachers in 21st century learning.”
Cooper, T., & Johnson, C. (2013). Web 2.0 tools for constructivist online professional development. EdItLib, 2013(1), 1923-1926. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/112231
Henderson, M. (2014, 0320).Apple learning. Lecture. Waco, Texas.
Rebore, R. (2012). The essentials of human resources administration in education.(1st ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Source for graphic: AppEducation.org
As an educator, I am often surprised by the things I hear other educators say. You hear these comments at conferences, read opinions shared on Twitter, overhear opinions shared at other schools, and possibly even hear one of these statements at your own school. These statements make me cringe. When we are working with students, it is difficult to understand the statements that some educators make.
Ten Statements That Make Me Say, "Shut The Front Door!"
"Those students can't go to college. We should just prepare them for a career, starting in middle school."
In 1903, Saunders, a professor at the University of Mississippi, described the perspective of many Americans at the turn of the century. He wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (p. 73).
In 2014, several Americans still share this perspective. The recent move towards College and Career Readiness is a positive move in education. This movement does not guarantee that every student will enter a four year college. It is the idea that every student should be provided with the opportunity to learn (OTL) key skills and concepts. Furthermore, adults should not determine a child's plans after high school when the child is in the seventh grade.
"Our seventh graders made a PowerPoint, so I would say that I am proficient with technology integration."
I am not offended by teachers saying that they require students to make a PowerPoint. However, it should be a red flag to administrators if any teacher hangs their hat on one project that incorporates technology. Technology integration should become seamless. In other words student projects will require technology integration, but the focus is on student understanding, not the device or program. After all, did you ever hear a teacher say, “My students used a pencil and paper today?”
"The Common Core State Standards are not new ideas. I have always taught this way."
Regardless of your stance (for or against) the Common Core State Standards, there are obvious changes in the way teachers should approach curriculum development, instruction, and common formative assessments. "These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step” (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5). Be aware of teacher teams and administrators who claim, “This is how we have always done it.”
The new standards will not fit into your state’s old standards like a jigsaw puzzle. The Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity to change how teacher teams communicate, collaborate, and reflect on standards. In the absence of ongoing communication, it will be easy to revert back to teaching in isolation and struggling to understand each standard. “Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in ‘same old, same old’ teaching with only superficial connections to the grade level Standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012).
"I require the gifted students to do double the work. They can handle it, because 'they are gifted.'"
You do not hear this myth as often as you did at the turn of the century. However, there are still misconceptions about rigor and about homework for gifted students. Giving gifted students more work does not support student understanding. If you hear a teacher bragging about giving the gifted students double the work, you should refer them to resources such as (Edmonds, SERVE) and Rigor on Trial (Wagner, 2006).
"How do you expect me to read a journal article or blog. There's no time for that."
The field of education is changing and professional growth is not optional. Online journal articles, blogs written by teachers and administrators, Twitter chats, webinars, and teaching videos provide educators with a multitude of resources. As a professional, I grow frustrated when someone claims that there is no time for continuous improvement. As educators, we should continue to grow and seek to understand best practices. It is professional malpractice to claim that there is no time for learning.
"Those aren't my students."
Teachers in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) change from saying ‘those kids’ to ‘our kids’ (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). If the goal is to prepare all students to graduate College and Career Ready, then the teachers and staff members in the school district must collaborate to support students. Principals within the same school district should share ideas and discuss instructional strategies. Competition is good when it comes to athletics, marching band, academic clubs, and science fairs. It is also appropriate to see which school has the highest graduation rate, lowest dropout rate, and highest number of students enrolled in advanced courses. The idea that “Those aren’t my students” should be a thing of the past. As adults, we should share ideas within our school district, across state lines, and even around the globe. When more students graduate prepared for college and careers, the world wins! These are “OUR” students!
"Do we get credit for attending this meeting?"
Have you ever heard a colleague whisper, “I hope they are giving us credit for this.” Most school districts require a number of credits over the course of one year or a five year span. If a teacher is more focused on receiving credit than learning, it is a red flag. Have you ever attended a meeting until lunch and then your co-worker goes to the mall, because the credit was given in the registration packet? It is a shame that some educators view the credit as the purpose for attending. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that educators should receive credit in order to renew their license. I also believe that more school districts should begin recognizing blogging, Twitter chats, and webinars as ways to earn credit. Asking for credit is similar to the following scenario:
A high school basketball coach asks the starting five to run a play in practice, one day before the game. The starting point guard pauses before running the play and asks, “Will we all five get to start in the game if we run this play right?”
Running the play several times is part of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the reason for professional development, not credit or a certificate.
"We are no longer teaching during the last nine weeks. We have started benchmarking and test prep."
Test prep is one of the worst things that teachers can do during the last nine weeks. Did you ever try to cram for a test in college? It usually does not result in transfer or understanding. There are multiple approaches that educators can take which will virtually guarantee instant gains or increases in student achievement. Curricular reductionism is a test prep strategy that eliminates arts education, social studies, character education, and soft skills. If it’s not tested, then it’s not taught during the last nine weeks (or even semester in some schools).
Taking shortcuts to improve the data at an individual school is akin to a professional athlete taking steroids. When our students graduate from high school, we do not want them to reflect on their K-12 experience and see that the shortcuts adults took created long-term detrimental effects.
When educators choose to give students multiple assessments that look like the high-stakes test, eliminate subjects, and create a test prep boot camp atmosphere, then students lose. High-stakes tests have changed the way some teachers and administrators approach teaching and learning.
"I would assign more project-based learning, but it interferes with the pacing guide."
Pacing guides provide students with a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ (Marzano), if the curriculum is implemented in each classroom. Pacing guides can support teaching and learning. Alignment in a school district is important and pacing guides can provide an outline of what should be taught to each student. Pacing guides should allow for flexibility in pacing and the readiness level of each student.
The statement above is often overheard at high schools that teach on a block schedule. While there may be 90 minute periods, some teachers cannot overcome the fact that a one year course is taught in one semester. If student understanding is improved through project-based learning (PBL), then teachers should identify days of the week and units of study that provide students with time for PBL.
I say, “Shut the Front Door” to this comment, because it is an example of putting the needs of adults in front of the needs of students. We are paid to prepare each student for the next level of learning. Some educators say, “Research be damned, I am going to get through the pacing guide and make sure that I cover the content.”
"I believe that soft skills are critically important, but they aren't tested by the state."
Soft skills include, but are not limited to, teamwork, decision-making, and communication (America’s Promise Alliance, 2007). “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).
Employers seek applicants who are problem solvers, communicators, team players, and have perseverance. These skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are needed by all high school graduates to ensure that they are college and career ready, regardless of whether they plan to complete an apprenticeship after high school or attend a two-year or four-year college. While employers are seeking students with strong academic skills, they are having trouble finding applicants who can collaborate, create, think outside the box, and communicate. When educators focus on tested subjects at the expense of soft skills, students pay the price. If test scores are the reason for teaching and learning, then someone forgot to tell the employers who are seeking qualified applicants (Wagner, Seven Survival Skills as described by business leaders in their own words).
I believe in instructional leadership, teacher leaders, the Common Core State Standards, curriculum alignment, professional learning communities, and College and Career Readiness. When teachers and administrators make statements that you disagree with, you should challenge the statement. As a professional, you owe it to students and to the profession to challenge broad statements or beliefs that are not in the best interests of students or the profession.
Share your thoughts below:
What makes you say, “Shut the Front Door?”
Steven Weber is an elementary school principal in North Carolina. During his career, he has served as the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools, High School Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, K-12 Social Studies Specialist with the Arkansas Department of Public Instruction, and as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the West Memphis School District. Weber blogs on ASCD EDge. You can connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog.
It's Hump Day Wednesday!
I love Wednesdays, because it helps us see take inventory of our midweek and keep riding the horse through the end~
Bounce Back...AIM toward your vision with (3) SIMPLE STEPS
Four weeks ago, I went to a VISION PARTY hosted by @empowerchics! The VISION PARTY was electrifying and inspiring, as @empowerchics SHARED the WHY behind the vision we were going to create! Women of all ages, and of different walks shared their stories and their VISION for the future. As we strategically picked images that depicted our VISION toward our goals, we began to imagine the vision as if it was the REALITY. You see that's the POWER of a VISION PARTY! Not only do you create your vision with images and words, the images and words start become YOUR REALITY!
Furthermore, I believe we all have a unique, divine purpose that only we can fulfill. Our divine purpose comes wrapped with unique gifts, which we use for His glory, and our gifts benefit others. However, as we tap into those gifts, and began the vision we've imagine for our ideal lives; we may experience temporary setbacks. These temporary setbacks are characterized as problems we all will experience from time to time. You've heard of the phrase " A TEMPORARY SETBACK for a MAJOR COMEBACK! In the article, Spark People Lisa Noelcke shared (3) specific steps you can take to help you bounce back...and AIM toward your vision!
First step: Be objective
Let's face sometimes we can't see our faults, but we can see faults in others. Being objective enables us to reflect and asses the situation. When was the last time you looked at something objectively?
Second Step: Take Responsibility
Remember when you were a child, your mom used to say "take responsibility for your actions." Well, the same holds true as adults. However, sometimes, we blame things or others for decisions made. Another name for this is external locus of control, all of us are guilty if this at some time, or another. Instead of blaming others or things, use internal locus of control, and ask the question "what could I have done differently to prepare for a better outcome?" REFLECTION is POWERFUL! Also, taking responsibility for our actions are counterintuitive to "being objective and assessing our situation, dusting ourselves off and pushing forward toward our vision!
Third Step: Ask for help
Are you too proud to ask for help from a professional coach, mentor or trusted friend? Sometimes we have to come to terms with areas in our lives that need improvement such as our finances, weight loss, building a thriving business or viable career. Seek help from those who have traveled the journey ahead of you. As a Resiliency Coach, and working professional I seek the advice of others, and use that advice to grow toward my divine purpose. Also, their advice and wisdom helped me make better choices and take a different path. Overcome your temporary setbacks by asking for help...from a professional coach, mentor or trusted friend. Nothing is new under the sun, we all have experienced similar challenges...however some of us respond differently to challenges faced. Resilient professionals "immediately look at the problem and say what's the solution to that? What is it trying to teach me?"
Journaling Assignment and Action Step:
Which of (3) simple steps resonated with you the most? Share a personal or professional experience with the simple step you resonated with. Write one action step you will take TODAY to bounce back...and AIM toward your VISION or GOAL.
Are you ready to Bounce back and AIM toward your vision today. Discover What's N U! Schedule a FREE 45 minute coaching consultation @ Contact Marcia
Let's connect today...leave your comments below and please...please share the love of information with your FRIENDS and FAMILY! I look forward to connecting with you soon;)
Until next time...
My 3 year old son follows his older brother around non-stop. Whether it is doing push-ups, saying “shut-up”, or standing on the living room couch (unfortunately it’s our new couch), my older son is locked into a silent game of Simon Says.
It really got on the older one’s nerves. Even though siblings intentionally try to push each other’s buttons (the more my older son would protest, the more intense the following became), I wondered if there was something more to this. Did following have to be a bad thing? Better yet, were there any benefits for following someone or something?
In contemplating the perks of following, I was reminded of the childhood game “Follow the Leader”. The game emphasizes the power of observation and environmental study in planning one’s next move. Similarly, consider the mantra from the Wizard of Oz, “follow the yellow brick road”. It reveals the power of tenacity-in spite of any real (tornadoes, losing your way, etc.) or imagined obstacles (witches, fake wizards, etc.) that come our way.
What is Involved in Following?
Nowadays, following is an action associated with the use of social media. For example, thinking about Twitter, we may "follow" celebrities, friends, or colleagues in order to network or keep abreast with things that interest us. In that sense "following" is done online using technology as a communication platform. For the purpose of this article, the concept of "following" relies on the desire to emulate. Please note that there is an element of imitation, but most importantly there is an internal change (learning) when effective following occurs.
So, let’s clarify a few aspects about the act of following before proceeding:
What Can We Learn About Following From Teachers?
I began to wonder how the concept of following translates into the classroom. Educators follow instructional principles in their classrooms everyday. Let's take a look at the experience of a few educators to learn how and why they follow:
What Does Research Show in Regards to Teachers Following?
The teacher mentor process is one way instructional principles are studied and practiced. Let's take a look at what teacher mentor research suggests about following:
What Are the Rules For Following Effectively?
Although teacher experiences and research indicate that following can be advantageous, as educators we must show care in how we follow. There is a difference between becoming a follower and following (the latter is the goal). Keeping in mind a few tips helps to ensure effective following:
At last, it is time to revisit the questions that were inspired by my 3 year older following his older brother. Was there a deeper meaning to gain from this simple act of following? Yes. I believe that there is an important take-away from watching my younger son engulfed in the act of following. I believe that following is a powerful and necessary process that may begin copy-cat like, but when done effectively, results in learning. As for the second question: Was following bad? I conclude that following is not bad at all, as long as it is principle-based, purposeful and change oriented. In addition, we have to remember the many benefits of following that are echoed by teacher experience and education research. Now, if only I could get my 10 year older to be more receptive to the benefits of following...
By Lisette Morel, Colleen Tambuscio, Lynne Torpie, and Joanna Westbrook
Rather than being daunted by the literacy demands posed by PARCC and the Common Core, three teachers at New Milford High School have embraced the challenge. This semester, they collaborated with a 9th grade ELA teacher to develop critical literacy across the curriculum. What arose from that collaboration was rich and pushed students to interact with text and present their ideas using the discourse of each discipline.
These teachers worked to create tasks that foster the investigative, critical thinking and written communication skills that embody real-world endeavors. Though literacy skills are the foundation upon which these outcomes are built, these teachers felt unsure about assessing critical literacy and needed guidance in building clear rubrics. With the support of an ELA colleague they were able to develop activities to engage students in authentic writing tasks as they analyze and synthesize content.
The Science Task
Infographics in Science: To connect the cognitive learning goals in science class to the cognitive learning goals in ELA Mrs. Torpie worked with Mrs. Westbrook to create the Infographic Project. For this project, students collected data then presented it graphically using Infographics such as bar graphs, a column graph, a pie chart, or a hierarchy. In addition, students compared their data to other representative data, drew conclusions, and made specific recommendations.
Click HERE for the assignment and rubric.
Common Core Standards Addressed: WHST.9-10.6; WHST.9-10.8; WHST.9-10.9
The Social Studies Task
Curating an Exhibit in History Since students often experience history through museum learning, either within the walls of a museum or through online exhibitions, the Become a Curator assignment provided an authentic method for engaging social studies students in learning. Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Tambuscio built this task using an advanced text on the subject of Nazi ideology. To begin, students utilized a specific chapter in Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust by The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to research their assigned cluster of non-Jewish victims of Nazi oppression. The goal was to allow students to understand the many layers that encompass Nazi ideology while citing specific artifacts and evidence to support their conclusions.
Click HERE for the assignment and rubric.
Common Core Standards Addressed: RH.9-10.3; WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.5; WHST.9-10.8.
The Art Task
Artist Statements The task created by Mrs. Morel and Mrs. Westbrook asked students to write Artist Statements to accompany their finished pieces for exhibition. Mrs. Morel provided mentor texts from the art class MOMA fieldtrip which students used to create their own statements. These statements mirrored the professional standards of the art world. This assignment gave them experience in articulating their process and in writing clear statements to describe their intended effect.
Click HERE for the assignment.
Common Core Standards Addressed:WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.9
What these teachers learned from their collaboration is that writing in the content areas can no longer be centered on tired, recycled 5 paragraph essays students write year after year – the idea of making the content classes into extensions of the English class just does not have traction. What does have traction is work that couples real content with real literacy and that threads reading/writing opportunities throughout the curriculum.
What does it mean to be a teacher leader and how does an educator become one?
To be a teacher leader means to be a teacher who has the best interest of the students at the forefront of their teaching practices. Teacher leaders know that improving student learning is at the heart of the most important decisions they make. They are teachers who work to identify the best teaching practices and then collaborate with others to implement those practices. They are supportive and know that the teacher in isolation is a thing of the past. Working together and being supportive are the norms by which teacher leaders operate. They realize that to help students succeed means fostering teamwork to reach that goal. Teacher leaders are those who model effective skills. If they find something that works to improve student learning, student motivation or a love of learning, it becomes their mission to spread that information. As such, teacher leaders are effective communicators. They accomplish this through learning-focused discussions or simply by expressing their enthusiasm for their discoveries. Not only can teacher leaders communicate effectively, but they are also good listeners. They are ready to give appropriate feedback or ask questions to get a better understanding. They accept diverse views as a way of learning more. Often research and data-driven vocabulary are characteristics of teacher leaders. These teachers look for challenges and ways to improve themselves by being continuous learners. Improving and developing communication skills, evidence gathering and research skills can occur through educational programs like those found at St. Mary's College. Their Masters in Teacher Leadership is available to help teacher leaders realize their potential. Teacher leaders are the teachers next door. Anyone with the desire can become a teacher leader. If a teacher is enthusiastic about a learning style or teaching strategy, one that is inclusive of all learners, is equitable and is worthy of sharing, then just by informing others that teacher has become a leader. By collaborating with peers and promoting instructional strategies that ensure student learning, a teacher exemplifies the characteristics of a leader. A leader does not have to be someone who is always presenting to groups or who takes the lead in everything. Teacher leaders must know where their strengths lie. But they need to realize that they are responsible for engaging in dialogue with those who are also interested in increasing their knowledge of meaningful teaching practices. Teacher leaders love teaching. They understand their craft and want to help others advance their skills by being supportive. They usually have a goal. They work to achieve it. They realize that they cannot reach most goals alone. Teacher leaders do not always have authoritative positions. But they are capable of modeling effective practices, being influential through their communicative skills and being collaborative as a way of reaching goals. Anyone who believes in these ideals can be a teacher leader.
The true commonality of all educational institutions is the fact that we all work with and for children. They don't all live in the same city; they come from different backgrounds, genders, economic status, religions, and academic levels, but they are all literate beings. If students are given acceptance, motivation and encouragement, it is indeed possible for all of them to acquire academic excellence. We must meet them where they are emotionally, socially, developmentally, and academically to close the achievement gap. Children will perform based on the level of expectation from the teachers and educational institutions. The following is a poem I wrote that is dedicated to children that experience discouragement.
By: Mrs. Zernon S. Evans
I wonder if men, like Dr. Martin Luther King,
Knew exactly what their future would bring?
Did he just grow up to be smart, without any effort
To plant a persuasive seed in his heart?
Was he always well mannered and behaved?
Or, did his actions sometimes cause his
Parents to be dismayed?
How did he learn such precise and eloquent speech?
Did he set goals that he was sure to reach?
As a child, I get so many complaints. I do have faults;
I’m too young to be a saint.
I can learn to speak, to create, to lead and persuade.
I can be trained to make excellent grades
If you would do more to guide and less to condemn,
I could grow up to be just like Him.
© 2000 by Mrs. Zernon Evans
all rights reserved
Response to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African
Americans: Strategic Diversity Plan Executive Summary for African American Males in the Arkansas Delta.
If we continue to call the institution that our children attend to acquire an education “school” we must begin to demonstrate some evidence of learning. Names can be very misleading; the name of an entity should match its purpose and accomplishments. Based on the ineffectiveness of most school in the nation, to call our institutions for learning “school” is a misnomer. Locally, our students continue to score low on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP); we continue to sustain the employment of incompetent teachers. We continue to use the same instructional strategies that have failed to advance students achievement even though there are alternatives that have proven to advance academic achievement available. The key to success in diverse classrooms is selecting and implementing powerful instructional methods that simultaneously address a variety of different learning needs (Voltz, Sims, & Nelson, 2010). The students in this district are mostly African American; we have about two percent of other groups. Yet, we still have a diverse group with in the African American student culture. Diversity refers to differences in persons. It incorporates skin color, gender, age, abilities, economic-status, sexual preferences, religious preferences and language to name a few.
African American male students should learn to identify with their own culture before they can be expected to respect other groups. There is a profound diversity within the African American culture. Because of insufficient grammar/language skills and lack of travel experience our African American youth are English Language learners in their own Nation. We cannot justify nor expect the community to accept and support our failure to educate African American males. When I compare data from the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) test scores and academic progress in class over the last five years, I find that African American males in this district have not received the encouragement they need to be successful. These students are not aware of the history of cultural racism. Cultural racism is the practice of recognizing the activities and contributions of one racial group in preference to others within a multiracial society (Koppelman, 2013). Black males need to know and understand why their present conditions are as they are. By exposing them to their history, we can help them gain such valuable insight. Without this understanding, they will continue to accept incarceration as a natural condition rather than as the consequence of centuries of racism (Kafele, 2009). It is the responsibility of this district to provide these students with the means to navigate through obstacles and master academic challenges.
Students spend more time at school than any other place that they venture. I foresee a school climate where students are interested in learning. This comes about with motivation and encouragement from administrators, staff, teachers, community patrons and parents. Also students are more productive when they experience success; therefore I envision teachers that model high expectations and reach out to students with total acceptance; we must work to ensure that all students have a sense of importance in the school environment. Some students do not feel valued in their home. The response they receive at school can fill that void and improve their self-esteem; when students feel safe they achieve more in class. Also children lack sufficient physical and emotional support in their homes; we must put agencies in place to help with issues of food supply and heat/air conditioning when needed. Children are experiencing crime in their neighborhood; fears begin to grip their minds leaving little room for academic function. A positive culture inspires optimism and hope; a negative culture promotes cynicism and defeatism (Danielson, 2006). Since the school/community is laced with apathy, poverty, Black-on-Black crime and violence, it is easy to see how the children in the public schools adopt the motto, “none of us will learn.”
Over the next five years, we must decrease the number of African American males attending alternative schools. This is not because alternative school is detrimental, but due to the fact that in society there is no reward for not being able to conform to the norm. Lack of respect and outlandish behavior can result in a prison sentence or an early grave in the real world. Young men must learn to control their behavior and respect authority to avoid dire consequences. Alternative schools should service students that need a legitimate alternative. We service students that refuse to participate in class, blatantly disrespect teachers and instigate chaos all day. We will focus on engaging these students in grade-level appropriate, authentic, purposeful curriculum that reflects their interest, culture and academic needs.
Absenteeism is a hindrance to academic achievement. Many students skip school because they feel so unappreciated and cannot demonstrate competence in grade level subject matter. These students need a curriculum that addresses their interest and moves them from underachievers into the arena of successful grade level accomplishments. Students who see themselves in the curriculum will want to attend school; we must provide them with the proper curricular. This is a major issue for third through sixth graders even though attendance is not a profound problem at this age group; parents still have the control to make them go to school in the lower grades. We must draw these younger students into our present so that we can administer the instructions for the strong foundation they need in order to be prepared for upper grade level proficiency. On the other hand, high school students cannot perform well on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) unless they are in attendance when instructions are being given. Eleventh grade literacy, tenth grade biology, algebra I, and geometry scores reflect the necessity for increased attendance rates.
Our Black males are struggling to write a single paragraph; we must give them authentic purpose for writing and using correct grammar. For black adolescent males, in order to offset resistance that occurs because of cultural differences and to develop their identities, it is essential to establish culturally responsive instructional practices and infuse the curriculum with culturally relevant materials. (Tatum, 2005)
African American Males need competent male teachers. Poor achievement among our neediest students is the result, at least in part, of a lack of strong, positive black educators in the classrooms. This nation needs to move swiftly to engage more African-American men in teaching. No longer can we simply be OK with black men representing less than 2 percent of our teacher workforce. It is unacceptable (Nicolas, 2014). He continues, “I have also seen the tremendous impact an effective black male educator can have in the classroom. Notice I use the word effective; this is because an effective black male educator can have a more detrimental impact on a school than perhaps a teacher from any demographic.”
Our mission is to prepare students for college, careers and life. All district and school personnel are equally responsible for the success of students. In order for us to move high school students from fifty five percent basic to fifty-five percent advanced we must create and implement a shared vision that all of us will support. School security guards, secretaries, nurses, custodians and cafeteria workers are all a viable part of the organization. All these internal patrons will interact with students in a way that reflects acceptance, and respect. It is the responsibility of the Principal to set the tone for the school culture. With support from the principal the teachers will receive professional development that takes the needs of the students into account. Teachers must learn to focus on the emotional, physical, psychological, social and academic needs of the students. They must also learn to reflect on their own personal prejudice and strive to be fair to all students by eliminating inconsistences that hinder the performance of students. There is a requirement of innovation, concern and educational reform to increase the academic performance of our students. The district administration office must support the principals and provide finances, resources and technical support as the schools engage in transforming students from kindergarten to twelfth grade into lifelong readers, learners and American Citizens.
By the end of the 2014-2015 school years the district personnel as well as the local community will be aware of the vision, objectives, mission and other components of the strategic diversity plan. Successful schools are much more than a list of strategies or activities. At their core, each of the “breakthrough” high schools demonstrates a belief that every student in the school can be academically successful (Westerberg, 2009). The district office will contact Mr. John Hoy, Assistant Commissioner Division of Public School Accountability for information on equity monitoring at the school.
Administrators and the stakeholder will have met together to create, distribute and implement the goals and objectives. This will include the community patrons, parents, students, staff and teachers. The plan will be posted on the school web-site, also. School leaders will ensure that teachers have begun professional development and will have already begun to revert to instructional strategies that are proven to ensure academic excellence for the targeted students. The literacy coaches will meet with the K-12 teachers periodically to vertically align the curriculum. During the 2015-2016 school year administrators will monitor this process ensuring that teachers are following the instructional strategies that match the school vision. Teachers will be responsible to participate in professional learning communities that include community patrons to collaborate and share in the planning and implementation of the identified goals. Administrator will work with teachers to clarify problems or misconceptions that they may have encountered. In 2014-2019 the administration and teachers will use the data to identify students and procedures that require special attention including academic, social and emotional growth of the students. In the 2014-2019 school years the administrators will assess title one funds as well as other state funds to plan the expenditures for resources to cover the needs of the district. Individual school will submit their school plans to the Federal Program Director for access to funds to support their programs.
Task Force for School Diversity Plan
(Pseudo names to demonstrate how we will select a task force)
Diversity Strategic Plan
1.1 K-12 teachers will use instructional strategies and curricular that’s researched and proven to increase student performance of African American males.
1.2 Staff, teachers, and community patron will exhibit a school culture of safety, acceptance and high expectation for all students.
1.3 Parents will be included in developing and implementing a vision for the school that supports the emotional, social, cultural, and academic needs of the students.
1.4 Teachers will have on going professional development and collaboration that support the vision and mission of the school.
1.5 Incorporate frequent surveying to assess the students’ opinion of the school culture
2.1 The cafeteria will provide a nutritious breakfast and invite parents and community
Patrons to serve students.
2.2 Provide weekly incentives for students that come to school every day.
2.3 Allow students to visit the elementary school as peer tutors during the morning hours.
2.4 Modify instructions to allow reasonable success.
2.5 Allow students to use their personal I phones to research in class.
2.6 Conduct bi-weekly recognition of attendance and academic progress.
2.7 Allow students to use their talent such as singing, playing musical instruments, and
3.1 Provide professional on effective classroom management
3.2 Train students to handle conflict resolution
3.3 Provide counseling/medication
3.4 Connect students with police officers as mentors
3.5 Create a culture that encourages parents to visit classrooms
3.6 Arrange for convicts to come in as resource/scared straight tactic
3.7 Arrange for former successful residents to return as a resource speaker
3.8 Model/role play appropriate behavior
Writing/grammar mini lessons.
4.1 Read and write using technology/online portals
4.2 Use culturally appropriate interesting fiction/nonfiction text
4.3 Teach writing/grammar skills in context of literature
5.1 Develop curriculum that reflects the cultural social, emotional, physical, developmental, and Cognitive needs of African American students.
5.2 Raise the bar/rigor to accomplish grade level reading proficiency
5.3 Teach African American history/inventions
5.4 Visit colleges (3-12)
5.5 Keep a personal portfolio of graduate credits (9-12 grades)
5.6 Employ competent African American male teachers
Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership That Strengthens Profession Practice.
Alexandra, VA: ASCD.
Kafele, B. K. (2009). Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School & in Life.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Koppelman, K., L. (2014). Understanding Human Differences Multicultural Education for a
Diverse America. (4th ed). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Nicolas, Donald G. (2014). Where are the black male teachers? Education Week, 33(22), 28
Tatum, A. (2005). Teaching Reading to black Adolescent Males. Portland, MA: Stenhouse
Voltz, D. L., Sims, M. J., & Nelson, B. (2010). Connecting Teachers, Students and Standards
Strategies for Success in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Westerberg, T. R. (2009). Becoming a Great High School 6 Strategies and 1 Attitude That
Make a Difference. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Many educational scholars and practitioners, including me, have written extensively about teaching students from underserved populations. The focus of this work has included has included students living in poverty, from diverse cultural and racial experiences, and who are English learners. These are made more relevant by an ever-increasing population of students and families living in poverty, the significant rate of school absenteeism among our nation’s poor, and an increase in racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity among the nation’s populace. While it’s critical to understand underserved student populations, it is especially important to look at the type of language and literacy that are needed to perform successfully in school. Some students come to school with a deep foundation in the language system that is used in school while increasing numbers do not. These differences represent what many refer to as the achievement gap. We might think of it as an academic language gap between students who come to school with this foundational language and those who must learn it while simultaneously attending school.
In the United States, the federal definition of the abilities that an English learner must obtain to be considered proficient in English sheds some light on the type of language and literacy that is needed by ALL of the nation’s students. It includes the following:
(i) the ability to meet the State’s proficient level of achievement on State assessments;
(ii) the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; and
(iii) the opportunity to participate fully in society (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
An important characteristic of the federal definition is that students must be highly fluent and competent in the language that is used in school and across all subject matters to be successful in it. To remedy the differences between students who carry academic language like a literacy suitcase wherever they go (in school, at home, and elsewhere) and students who are learning academic language while simultaneously attending school, we must intentionally transform the ways in which we build programming, policies and practices for the nation’s students (Zacarian, 2013).
To do this calls for a four-pronged literacy framework (Zacarian, 2013) in which we understand academic language learning as a
(1) a sociocultural process that must be grounded in our students and their families’ personal, social, cultural, and world experiences;
(2) a developmental process that calls for understanding the literacy levels of each of our students and targeting instruction a little bit beyond that level so that it is obtainable and reachable,
(3) an academic process that is built on our students’ prior learning experiences and where the learning goals are made explicit; and
(4) a cognitive process in which higher-order thinking skills are intentionally taught and practiced.
We also have to understand that each of the four prongs is akin to an electric outlet in which all of the prongs must be plugged in for learning to occur. When we do this, we have a much better chance for closing the achievement gap and better ensuring that our students can flourish in school and beyond (Zacarian, 2013).
This article should be referenced as: Zacarian, D. (2014). Understanding the achievement gap as an academic language gap. zacarianconsulting.com. It has been drawn from from Zacarian (2013) Mastering academic language: a framework for supporting student achievement.
In a recent post, Personalizing Professional Development, I shared our plan to personalize an upcoming professional development day by having teachers indicate which target goal they wanted to focus on and what activities they would like to engage in to further their learning outcomes in that area. The experience proved largely successful and respectful of teacher autonomy and specialization. When we anonymously surveyed teachers to obtain their feedback, we were able to reflect on the effectiveness of the day and were even able to learn more about our individual team members. Here’s what we learned…
100% of teachers found the experience at least as enjoyable or more enjoyable than a more traditional professional development experience, with 85% of teachers reporting a more enjoyable experience. Many expressed gratitude for the ability to customize the day with comments such as this one: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to tailor the PD to our individual goals. The time allowed me to really focus and make progress on the goals I set earlier this year. It felt positive and productive.”
100% of teachers found the experience at least as valuable or more valuable than a more traditional PD day, with 78% of teachers indicating a more valuable outcome.
Preparation was key for the greatest outcome. One teacher shared the benefit of pre-planning, “I feel the planning for the day went well. We were able to meet prior to our trip off campus, allowing us to set goals for the day. We also met after the experience to discuss the experience and work on putting a plan in action” while another pointed to the need for more pto maximize the experience, “The only change to our experience could have been a little (30-minutes) pre-planning so we could have hit the ground running.”
Some teachers indicated the value of both types of experiences in reflections such as, “The reason I chose "about the same" is I think our PD's this year have been very good!” A few even suggested that having an option of a more traditional workshop as a learning path on a choice-based day would be helpful “in case plans fall through” or simply because they enjoy shared learning, “It would have been nice to have one topic/ article to discuss and learn together as a team.
As an leadership team, we are very grateful for the reflective feedback. It was clear that teachers put in a great deal of thought into their responses, and we plan on incorporating some of the great ideas into our next professional development day.
I’m inspired to continue searching for innovative, personalized approaches to professional development. It seems that the more validated people feel in their professional endeavors and the more opportunity they have to engage in meaningful, passion-based learning, the more invigorated about their profession they feel. For teachers, as winter endures and the year grows longer, energy is especially precious!
I was having a great week. I had returned from ECET2, a convening celebrating effective teachers and teaching. It was hosted by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed), and all 350 attendees were nominated from major educational organizations. From that experience, I gained new friendships and possible opportunities for future collaboration. Our NJASCD North Region had a successful weekday PD event with Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) on Digital Learning and Leading. Eric even stayed 45 minutes after his presentation ended to ask me, and my North Region Co-Director, Billy J. Krakower (@wkrakower), how we were doing personally and professionally. Life was good. But all I could think about was some offhand comment someone had made to me a few days earlier.
It was an innocuous comment made to me by someone I don’t know. And, it’s so silly it doesn’t even bear repeating. Yet, I stayed in my car for almost ten minutes before reversing my car out of my parking spot.
In prior posts I’ve written about the importance of treating each other well and modeling it daily, the importance of honesty in our relationships with students, parents, and peers, and staying true to our core values as educators. I pride myself in finding the good in others, in our field, and myself, which is why as I reflected on this moment, I wondered where my unwavering positivity went. Why would I let someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me and will never see me again, have a lasting effect on me? Why would I allow someone to take away my excellence?
Eric Bernstein (@bernsteinusc), in his race to write more than I do, wrote a beautiful piece about the importance of understanding who students are as people, and where they are as learners. (http://edge.ascd.org/_Lessons-From-the-Fonz-Part-1/blog/6562962/127586.html). His belief (and mine, too) is: the better we know our students, the more successful we can educate them. I think we can extend this concept: the better we know and are honest with ourselves, the better we can educate our students because we will be in a better place, too. And, it’s important for us to be honest with ourselves, acknowledge what irks us (like a throwaway comment by a stranger), and have a support system in place to assist us when we hear the negative whispers after a comment like that which feeds into our insecurities.
With the hope that this post supports other educators who hear and sometimes can’t block out the negative whispers, here is my advice to keep the faith:
1. Get Some Ed Therapy: Twitter has salvaged my day more than I like to admit. When I’m down, drained, or dejected, I click on my Tweetdeck shortcut and connect with my edufriends. They have become an extended family, one I share my thoughts, questions, concerns, and ruminations about life in and outside of education. I know they will always be my rock when I need them, and hope they know the same is true for me. My #ASCDL2L, #satchat, #njed, #arkedchat, #iaedchat, #edchat, and #ECET2 crew, I love you all. (Hashtag that).
2. Find Your Matt Hall: every person in education needs one person in their district who believes in them and shares of themselves, so we become better by learning from their experiences, instead of having to go through them ourselves. Matt Hall (@MHall_MST), the Science and Technology Supervisor in my district, is that person for me. Because he’s paid his dues, knows my driven nature and my end goals, listens to me when I speak, and guides me when my thinking needs redirection. And, he’s a vault. What goes on with Matt Hall, stays with Matt Hall.
3. Have a Phone Call with Someone from Iowa (or North Carolina, Minnesota, or New York): it was one year ago when I was at a crossroads professionally. I wasn’t sure where my path was leading, or if I could go further. Jimmy Casas (Casas_Jimmy), who I’d known briefly from a couple Twitter interactions, called me and spoke with me for an hour. We discussed me: who I was, who I wanted to be, what my long-term goals were, and why. Jimmy reminded me I couldn’t change my current situation, but I could change my mindset. And it was that conversation, followed by conversations with Steven Weber (@curriculumblog), Kimberly A. Hurd (@khurdhorst), and Maureen Connolly (http://goo.gl/RPN7DH) that prompted me to e-mail Marie Adair (@todayadair), the Executive Director of NJASCD, and ask what I could do to help the organization. Her response: “Whatever you are comfortable with. We’re just happy to have you join us.”
Like Eric Bernstein’s post, I tried to focus on three main points. Additionally, Eric mentioned his desire to keep his message short, but acknowledged the challenges inherent in that. With that being said, I wanted to list the 99 people who have mentored me on the anniversary of my mindset changing conversations. I am not a better person, father, husband, or teacher without them in my life. I have listed Eric Sheninger, Billy Krakower, Eric Bernstein, Matt Hall, Jimmy Casas, Steven Weber, Kim Hurd, Maureen Connolly, and Marie Adair already, so I will start at the number ten, in no order. Each one of them has helped shape and mold me in some way. To acknowledge that, I have included their Twitter handles if they have them. All are worthy of a follow, and will reciprocate sharing ideas with the goal that we all go further together. We may have 99 problems, but a mentor should not be one:
10. David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse)
11. Daisy Dyer-Duerr (@daisydyerduerr)
12. Scott Rocco (@scottrrocco)
13. Brad Currie (@bcurrie5)
14. John Fritzky (@johnfritzky)
15. Jay Eitner (@isupereit)
16. Anthony Fitzpatrick (@antfitz)
17. Diane Jacobs
18. Pam Lester (@njpam)
19. Mariann Helfant
20. MaryJean DiRoberto
21. Tom Tramaglini (@tomtramaglini)
22. Matt Mingle (@mmingle1)
23. Alina Davis (@alinadavis)
24. Fred Ende (@fredende)
25. Becki Kelly (@bekcikelly)
26. Kevin Kelly (@emammuskevink)
27. Tony Sinanis (@tonysinanis)
28. Ross LeBrun (@MrLeBrun)
29. Darren Vanishkian (@mrvteaches)
30. Glenn Robbins (@glennr1809)
31. Rebecca McLelland-Crawley
32. Bruce Arcurio (@principalarc)
33. Scott Totten (@4bettereducatio)
34. Kevin Connell (@WHS_Principal)
35. Krista Rundell (@klrundell)
36. Cory Radisch (@MAMS_Principal)
37. Meg (Simpson) Cohen (@megkcohen)
38. Tina Byland
39. Klea Scharberg
40. Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy)
41. Eric Russo (@erusso78)
42. Walter McKenzie (@walterindc)
43. Kristen Olsen (@kristenbolsen)
44. Kevin Parr
45. Robert Zywicki (@zywickir)
46. Chris Giordano (@giordanohistory)
47. Jim Cordery (@jcordery)
48. Drew Frank (@ugafrank)
49. Jasper Fox, Sr. (@jsprfox)
50. Kate Baker (@ktbkr4)
51. Megan Stamer (@meganstamer)
52. John Falino (@johnfalino1)
53. Jon Harper (@johnharper70bd)
54. Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins)
55. Kirsten Wilson (@teachkiwi)
56. Dan P. Butler (@danpbutler)
57. Tim Ito (@timito4)
58. Andre Meadows (@andre_meadows)
59. Tom Whitford (@twhitford)
60. Matt Renwick (@readbyexample)
61. Chris Bronke (@mrbronke)
62. Daniel Ryder (@wickeddecentlearning)
63. Emily Land (@eland1682)
64. Jessica (J-Wright) Wright (@jessicampitts)
65. Phil Griffins (@philgriffins)
66. Jennifer Orr (@jenorr)
67. Sophia Weissenborn (@srweissenborn)
68. Kristie Martorelli (@azstoykristie)
69. Michelle Lampinen (@michlampinen)
70. Manan Shah (@shahlock)
71. Tom Murray (@thomascmurray)
72. Rich Kiker (@rkiker)
73. Irvin Scott (@iscott4)
74. Vivett Hymens (@lotyssblossym)
75. Jon Spencer (@jonspencer4)
76. Jozette Martinez (jozi_is_awesome)
77. Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside)
78. Michael J. Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea)
79. Karen Arnold (@sanford475)
80. Ashleigh Ferguson (@ferg_ashleigh)
81. Jill Thompson (@edu_thompson)
82. Rick Hess (@rickhess99)
83. Maddie Fennell (@maddief)
84. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker)
85. Jeff Zoul (@jeff_zoul)
86. Jen Audley (@jen_audley)
87. Kevin Scott (@edu_kevin_)
88. Kathryn Suk (@ksukeduc)
89. Baruti Kafele (@principalkafele)
90. Peter DeWitt (@petermdewitt)
91. Anthony McMichael (@a_mcmichael)
92. Natalie Franzi (@nataliefranzi)
93. Paul Bogush (@paulbogush)
94. Sam Morra (@sammorra)
95. Spike C. Cook (@drspokecook)
96. Colin Wikan (@colinwikan)
97. George Courous (@gcouros)
98. Scott Taylor (@tayloredlead)
99. Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)
In my recent column in Educational Leadership, I drew upon some studies synthesized in a new book from Newsweek and New York Times journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, which provides a slew of fascinating insights, including the importance of framing problems as challenges versus threats.
In sports, for example, professional soccer players are more apt to kick a tie-breaking goal when they are kicking to win—that is, to give their team the lead in a shootout—than when kicking in a sudden death situation to avoid a loss. In addition, Bronson and Merryman point to a study conducted at Princeton University, which invited two groups of students from high schools under-represented on the prestigious campus to answer questions about their backgrounds (to remind them of their outsider status) and then take a short math test.
The tests the two groups took were nearly identical, with just one subtle, yet important difference. For one group, the exam was a framed as an “Intellectual Ability Questionnaire;” for the other, it was called an “Intellectual Challenge Questionnaire.” The differences in performance were striking; the students taking the “challenge” test answered, on average, 90 percent of questions correctly; the students taking the very same test labelled as an “ability” exam answered, on average, just 72 percent of the questions correctly. In effect, framing the test as a threat rather than a challenge resulted in a two-letter-grade drop in performance.
Consider yet another study included in Top Dog. It found that the size of the venue in which students take the SAT test has a tremendous effect on performance—the smaller the venue, the higher the score. Certainly, many explanations might be offered for this finding. One likely culprit, though, is that being surrounded by a large group of fellow exam takers can be threatening. As Bronson and Merryman observe, “These kids know darn well that the entire country is taking the test that day; however, having so many at the same place, often in the same room, is intimidating. It’s a stark reminder of just how many other students are competing with you for college spots."
Bronson and Merryman connect these findings with yet another dot: business research that shows that companies whose CEOs create a “promotion focus” (i.e., set ambitious goals and encourage innovation) are more likely to outperform competitors than those led by CEOs who create a “prevention focus” (i.e., cautiously fixate on preventing errors).
In my column, I related these insights from Top Dog to the current environment in many schools, which for nearly half of all educators, according to a recent MetLife survey of educators, is characterized by high levels of stress, due in no small part to ongoing pressure to raise student performance while enduring budget cuts. In short, what many educators appear to be facing are tantamount to threat conditions that are likely not conducive to kind of the creative and collaborative thinking that is required to develop better learning environments for students.
That’s not to say pressure and competition are always bad. On the contrary, Top Dog identifies conditions under which competition spurs higher performance and even, surprisingly, creativity (for example the rivalry between Renaissance painters Michelangelo and Rafael). Along these lines, the pressure created by the last two decades of reforms hasn’t been all bad; it has focused attention to helping all students succeed, relying upon data to make decisions, and looking for bright spots and best practices.
That said, we need extrapolate only a little to question the current direction, and underlying theory of action, beneath the continued press to tighten the screws on the package of high-stakes testing, school accountability, and educator performance evaluations tied to student achievement scores (which, as I noted in a previous Educational Leadership column, researchers caution is fraught with concerns of its own).
For starters, if simple tweaks to tests, such as reframing them as challenges, reducing the number of fellow test takers in the room, or, as I noted in an earlier blog, offering students small rewards, can dramatically alter how students perform on them, one wonders if we’re really assessing what we think we are. Moreover, one might wonder whether the threat conditions we’ve created for many schools with high-stakes accountability are serving us well, or if it may be time to begin to reframe accountability in terms of a challenge condition that encourages educators to harness their collective ingenuity to create better learning environments for all students.
I’ll write more about what these efforts might resemble in future blogs and columns. For now, though, I’d encourage readers to absorb the many surprising insights from Top Dog (of which I’ve barely scratched the surface) and consider how this science of competition, adeptly captured in the book, might point us toward a more enlightened approach to school improvement.
After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.
Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.
If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking. I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.
What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.
The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.
The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.
Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives. I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.
I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.
In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
My February vacation was unlike any other I’ve experienced. With two trips planned - I had it set in my mind that one would be about Education, and the other would be about Family. I would spend 3 nights in Snowbird Utah, as a guest of the Gates Foundation. Their Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching Convening (#ECET2) was a chance for teacher leaders from all over the country to talk about the challenges we are facing in education. I was expecting to be immersed in all-things Education for those 3 days - and I was. For the next 3 nights, I would be with my family in the midwest, where we would be visiting my daughter’s #1 college choice: The University of Minnesota. There would be lots of laughs, meals shared, and stories to bring home. I was expecting to be immersed in all-things Family for those 3 days - and I was.
What I wasn’t expecting? Was the amount of overlap between Family and Education during my 6 day, 6 flight adventure. This week has had a profound effect on me as an educator, and as a individual. I couldn't help but re-think some of my goals, priorities and beliefs by the time I arrived back to Cape Cod.
BOS - SLC: Am I a leader?
In a recent post on ASCD’s Edge, I reflected on this question… Flying to Salt Lake City, I thought long and hard about it. I believe all teachers are leaders in their own way - some just take it beyond the classroom. My leadership extends beyond my classroom by way of the Internet. It is online where i am able to shine as a leader. Online, I offer an opinion without fear. I have time to formulate my thoughts before typing. I share what I’m doing in my classroom without shyness. I connect with others I wouldn’t have the courage to offline. It is the “face-to-face” leader I am reluctant to become. ECET2 brought me out of my shell through cooperative opportunities designed for meaningful interaction. I worked closely with teacher leaders from all over the US, and in the process, I began to see my skills mirrored in theirs. There were soft-spoken, shy, thoughtful teachers. They are working hard to bring teaching and learning to the next level. I saw them as leaders, and in doing so, I started to believe in myself as well.
PLAN: Connect with teacher leaders, and recognize my role as such.
SLC - BOS: Where’s the balance?
Flying home from Snowbird, my thoughts were consumed with the concept of Balance. Every conversation I heard touched upon the struggles teachers face when it comes to finding balance in their lives… How do we balance our role as teacher with that of teacher leader? How do we find time for our family? How do we find time for ourselves? Unfortunately, I came away with far more questions than answers. I am always amazed at the number of teachers who face the challenges of anxiety and depression. The more I tell people about my diagnosed, unmedicated anxiety, the more stories I hear. Too many teachers I connect with are having to rely on medication, exercise, diet and counseling to help them cope with anxiety and depression. In a profession where working at home is necessary, what strategies do teachers use to make everything fit? And, when it doesn’t fit, what is the price we pay? Do we leave the profession? Do we leave our family? What is conventionally billed as an excellent fit for families, a career in teaching doesn’t quite deliver. Balance is one of the biggest struggles I face in life. I have yet to figure out how to teach, lead and connect in effective, consistent ways. Because of this, I live a distracted life - trying to juggle everything well, knowing I’m dropping balls left and right. Though I was surrounded by passionate overachievers at #ECET2, I left wondering where my answers would come from.
PLAN: - Define boundaries where my attention is not drawn away from what is important.
BOS - STL: Can my students Achieve the Core?
My family and I took off from Boston 6 hours after I landed from Utah. As we prepared to visit my daughter’s #1 choice for college, we talked about the university’s requirements for entering freshman. Common Core students should start arriving on the doorsteps of colleges nation-wide, well-prepared to think critically, work cooperatively and demonstrate understanding in multiple ways. Teachers all over the country are given the responsibility of delivering curriculum to fit these national standards, and we are essentially still at the ground level. Understanding the shifts of the Common Core takes extensive reading and reflection, and it cannot be done alone. Teachers must work together to better define what teaching and learning will look like in the classroom at all levels. With careful, thoughtful implementation, our students will be set up for success. Isn’t that what they deserve?
PLAN: Build capacity in my own Common Core understanding while continuing to offer PD for teachers.
STL - MSP: Who put me in a cage?
Before landing in the Twin Cities, I thought about the sessions I attended at #ECET2. After attending one particular session called the Cage Busting Teacher, facilitated by Rick Hess (@rickhess99), and Maddie Fennell (@maddief) I was empowered to think of myself as a leader who can have difficult conversations. My anxiety often gets in the way of my actions - but Rick and Maddie offered entry points to engage education stakeholders. While the premise of the workshop was based on the idea that teachers are stuck in cages created by our education system, I saw it a little differently. What holds me back, is myself. I am in a professional and personal cage because I allow myself to be there. I censor my responses, suppress my opinion, let others speak up because my fear gets in the way. Typing this paragraph is a challenge for me, because I know deep down it is a commitment for me to break free of what holds me back.
PLAN: Find inroads to necessary conversations as they relate to what is important to me.
MSP - MKE: How does the fate of our individual journey figure in?
After spending a few days on a college campus with my family, I couldn’t help but think about fate. How do our individual choices culminate in an life-long journey? Each of us have a story to tell - what makes us special; what life lessons we have learned. Each choice leads us in a particular direction - and when we multiply out dozens and dozens of decisions, we end up at a certain destination. My daughter is at a time in her life where her decisions are starting to shape her journey. I was emotional several times during our visit, as my Big Picture thinking made me realize how our journeys shape us as individuals. To have it to do all over again would result in a different path, a different destination. I’m not sure I’d be wiling to risk losing the good and the bad of where I am now, for that unknown. The teachers I met this week shared touching, inspiring stories as unique and special as they were. Honoring our decisions (good and bad) as part of who we are, is so very important.
PLAN: Recognize the importance of future decisions as being catalysts towards my ultimate fate.
MKE - BOS: This I do for me.
As I was in my final leg, and almost home, I took a break from reading a book and started thinking again… I am very thankful for where I am and what I am able to do. I am honored and grateful for the recognitions I have received, and I love going to school and coming home each day. I am very aware of the fact that my happiness comes from helping others. In that quest, I often forget about the happiness that comes from helping myself. Small messages came through to me throughout my trip… Slow down, Suzy. Pay attention, Suzy. Exercise, Suzy. Relax more, Suzy. Be brave, Suzy. Essentially, the more I do for Suzy, the more I am fueled to do more for others. So, as I wrap up this blog post, I am committed to a new plan. I want what is best for my family, students, friends and colleagues. I am more than any of the individual roles I define. I am more than a mother, a wife, a teacher, a leader. Yet, it is the sum of those parts that make me unique.
PLAN: Take better care of myself so I can better meet the needs of others.
It is with sincere gratitude that I thank ASCD for my nomination, the Gates Foundation for the invitation, my amazing #ECET2 peeps for their inspiration, my family for our conversation, and my students for the motivation. I’m a lucky girl.