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It has come to that time of year that we all sit back and reflect on what went on in our lives over the last 365 days. For some of us older folk this yearly indulgence has become more of a legacy measurement than just a checklist of what was done last year. At this stage of my life I find myself in a unique position to help connect and engage educators in huge numbers and using methods that were not imagined a few years ago. I might say that this is an assessment of my digital footprint. I guess that this post is more for me than it is for others, unless some people view it as a possible model of accomplishment in a second career after education. The open secret to all who know me is that I am not a Tech wizard, and it is only through the use of Social Media and technology that any of these accomplishments could have been created having the effect that they have had.
SmartBlog on Education
One of my proudest accomplishments this year has come from my affiliation with SmartBrief. SmartBrief launched a new Blog for educators this past August. I was given the task of recruiting the best education bloggers available to contribute to the Blog. I viewed it as an opportunity to engage educators back into the national discussion on education that in my opinion had been hijacked by politicians and business people. The blog has been very well received getting 25,000 hits daily. Contributions from many of our best educator bloggers provide one or two posts daily.
The Educator’s PLN continues to grow. It was conceived and constructed to offer sources and connections to educators so that each educator has a source to develop a Professional Learning Network. The Ning site is fully funded by a not for profit philanthropic organization. The membership now exceeds 14,000 members. We have added a number of additional Pages this year to meet the need for additional sources for the members.
My Island View
I am still astounded at the way this Blog has been received by educators. It is a project that was originally for my own reflections. I was micro-blogging on Twitter and I needed a larger platform to expand ideas and vent frustrations. This was an experiment. I never expected anyone else to take an interest in what I had to say. (So much for my insight)
Edchat has been a great force in education through Social Media for over three years now. Thousands of educators recognize Tuesdays as Edchat Day. Over the last three years educators each week have been able to discuss the issues in education that were close to them. The discussions often started in the Edchat discussions seem to spill over to education blogs in days and weeks later. Five Topics are presented each Sunday with the top two selected topics being presented for the two Tuesday Chats.
#Edchat on Twitter Tuesdays Noon & 7 PM EST
My latest endeavor is in the area of Internet Radio. The folks at the BAM Radio Network approached the Edchat team about creating a show for Edchat. Our idea was to analyze and comment on the Edchat discussions taking place each week. We are also going to invite participants from each Edchat to participate on the shows. Each of the Edchat team members will be featured on the shows. Steven Anderson@Web20classroom, Shelly Terrell Sanchez @ShellTerrell, Nancy Blair@Blairteach, Kyle Pace @Kylepace, Jerry Swiatek @jswiatek, Jerry Blumengarten@Cybraryman1, Berni Wall @rliberni, and Mary Beth Hertz @MBteach.
I was both fortunate and honored to be invited by the Qatar Foundation to attend the WISE Summit, The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). I attended this international summit in the company of fellow blogger, and friend Steven Anderson. This was an eye-opening experience for us to begin to understand the needs of education on an international basis. The worldwide need for education to reach all children in consideration of all of the hindrances and obstacles can be an overwhelming task. Through the efforts of many of the dedicated people at this summit there are inroads being made. I was humbled and proud to be part of this endeavor.
LINKEDIN: The Technology-Using Professors Group
I started my Social Media adventures as a user of LinkedIN.www.linkedin.com/in/thomaswhitby/
Today I have almost 1,000 connections, mostly educators. This has become my professional Rolodex. I started my first education groups on LinkedIn and they are all still up and running. The first Group I ever started was The Technology-Using Professors Group. It has always been an active group for higher Education educators. Today its membership numbers at about 7,000 professors.
The one thing that has enabled me to accomplish any of what I have done is TWITTER. It is the backbone of my Professional Learning Network. I have tweeted 44,475 tweets. I am following 1,983 educators. I am listed on 2,111 lists of Tweeters. I have 26,964 followers. I view this all as a big responsibility to all to whom I am connected.
Thank you all and Happy New Year!
Will Common Core equal Common Practice?
As we look to the future implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers must begin to have a broader knowledge base, a more diverse toolkit for teaching and learning, and greater experience with teaching in a standards-based environment. The growth required over the next three years seems to be large. After working for over seventeen years in public education within five different school systems, few districts seem to have provided the necessary professional development on standards based approaches.
I am fortunate to be working in a district that has provided an ongoing, continual approach to teaching toward these standards by engaging teacher content teams with standards consultants throughout the school year. Over the last three years, we have collaborated to unpack standards, determine power standards, design essential questions and big ideas, and collaboratively design units that emphasize both prioritization and conformity but not removing creativity. After observing and participating in this work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what teachers should be able to both comprehend and implement:
“Unpack” first – This learning process began three years ago by first “unpacking” standards by dissecting the wording to look for skills and knowledge. We also designated our power standards that we all would teach and felt were the most important. This process must be a primary one, as teachers first look for skills and knowledge necessary for students to attain before beginning to design instruction. Although it was unknown to our teachers, we were following recommendations from McTighe and Wiggins (2001) for translating the standards from the state frameworks to teacher based terminology for classroom instruction. Furthermore, McTighe and Wiggins believe that unpacking the standards is the third big idea out of five for implementing the CCSS.
Understanding by Design - McTighe and Wiggins’ model suggests to start backwards by keeping the end in mind rather than designing a series of activities built upon one another. This process asks teachers to start to “identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and plan learning experiences” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001). For us, this first step was a struggle as teachers who were new to the process, the language, theory, and practice. However, three years later, as we talk together, this process has paid off as we all see a common path of learning for students and have a shared understanding to build upon. Furthermore, this process has shifted practice away from independent classroom teacher activities to a more common approach that focuses more on “enduring understandings” than ideas and concepts that are either “worth being familiar with” or “Important to know and do” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2001).
Student self-assessment – Students must grow as learners but also as evaluators of their own learning. Last year, we began designing Learning Progressions which were valuable in thinking about student misconceptions prior to instruction rather than during. However, many teachers viewed this as a rubric for scoring student work, which is not, so developing this for a number of units was and still is, for some, a challenge. As we now implement two new common standards-based units, I feel these progressions are more important for students for them to assess their learning with a tool that both ties into a common language about enduring understandings and links to feedback they get from formative assessments. We have made a commitment to post Learning Goals and Success Criteria this year for students, but I feel our next step may be to learn progressions as well so that students can visually see where they are with their learning and they need to go next.
Release of responsibility – Teachers have started to work differently in their classrooms as a result of this work. They have become better facilitators of learning by modeling quality instruction, including important concepts and strategies. Students then practice these concepts and strategies with support through small groups, triads, or partners. While monitoring progress, students are then asked to individually apply their new learning in order to meet the standards.
Differentiation – Fortunately, language arts lends itself nicely for differentiation by varying the reading level and challenge of books, scaffolding support with models, and adjusting the writing for students to provide the appropriate level of support and challenge. Differentiating the “process, product, or content” should become more the norm, not the exception, as teachers review results from formative assessments to see the paths that students must travel to become proficient for each standard (Tomlinson, 2000).
Flexible grouping – Many structures such as Literature Circles are helpful but now with both the growing needs of students and the expanding capacity of teachers, we have moved to flexible groupings that allow students options and choices to complete standards based activities rather than being confined by a structure. This opportunity motivates students, provides them with choices, and reduces compliance and behavior issues in the classroom.
Formative Assessments – Gathering data and information through formative assessments should be more commonplace as teachers should be tracking where each student is in their progression towards mastery. This does not mean not giving summative assessments, but rather allowing ample time for modeling, practice, and support. These assessments “check for understanding” and are designed to inform teaching and learning, not a summative or final exam grade (Fisher & Frey, 2007). In addition, these formative assessments may be designed and administered collaboratively to creative common formative assessments, which give more information to teachers allowing for reflection, discussion, and innovation. One of our favorite resources is 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge which has a number of short, creative assessments that can be used for a number of subject areas. Some examples that we use include using dry erase boards, sheet protectors, 3-2-1 Summarizers, Quick Write/Quick Draw, and My Top Ten List. These templates work well as we ask students to “show me what you know” and that these assessments are not parts of the grade book but rather, parts of a conversation among educators about what each student has learned and still needs to learn.
More resources – With teacher growth, teachers need access to more resources in order to meet the needs of all students. This is a challenge for teachers as many struggle with finding appropriate materials while also managing a classroom with a diverse student group with diverse needs so that they all meet a standard or learning goal within a certain period of time. Time is critical and there is never enough of it so teachers must find quick and appropriate ways to use class time wisely. For example, our eighth teachers are looking for more short story selections at variety of reading levels so that readers of all abilities can access the text and then demonstrate their abilities to identify story elements, or irony or flashbacks, etc. If students are successful at this step, then we move them into novels at their reading level.
Choice and challenge – It is becoming more rare to teach a whole class novel, as both students and teachers need a greater variety of book options. The range of abilities in a middle school classroom continues to grow, so having more books that are interesting to students as well as challenging for the more advanced students has increased in importance. This is also a challenge for school systems to provide funds for purchases, crosscheck book usage between schools, as well as read and review novels to screen for mature or possible challenged content. Another resource that we have turned to is Creative Book Reports: Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction by Jane Feber which we have used to create smaller nonfiction research projects for students to complete before some of our novels units on weather and the Civil War. I’ve also used this resource to create a final assessment on story elements for a Coming of Age novel study. Assessment – In the end, this is the most challenging area as many teachers may resist rubrics and standards-based grading. Many middle and high schools still have conventional letter and/or numeric grades while some have designed hybrids that combine all three: numbers, letters, and standards. Many elementary schools converted to standards-based reporting years prior.
Many of these initiatives could not happen without the planning, dedication, and support of administrators. After observing and participating in the work for the last year, I believe the following items are crucial for what administrators should know and be able to do:
Time, time and more time! – Over the past three years, the time commitment has been consistent and expansive. We’ve used after school department meeting time, held summer institutes, in-service workshops days, and release days from the classroom with substitute teacher coverage. Now we are fortunate to have time during the school day to meet, collaborate, review common formative assessments, and/or share effective practices. Staying the course by providing the time and structure for teacher teams to collaborate and complete the work as been essential.
Benjamin, Amy. (2008). Formative Assessments for English Language Arts – A Guide for Middle and High
School Teachers. New York: Eye on Education.
Dodge, Judith. (2009). 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. New York: Scholastic.
Feber, Jane. (2004). Creative Book Reports : Fun Projects with Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction. Gainesville: Maupin House.
Fisher, Douglas & Nancy Frey. (2007). Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. Alexandria :ASCD.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. Champaign: University of Illinois.
Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. "What is Backward Design?," in Understanding by Design. 1st edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall, 2001, pp. 7-19.
Garth McKinney serves as the Language Arts Coordinator at the Merrimack Middle School (MMS) in Merrimack, New Hampshire. At MMS, he teaches and supervises the language arts department. Prior to this position, he worked as a Reading Specialist, Elementary Principal, Elementary Assistant Principal, and Classroom Teacher for grades four and six. He has worked in public education for over seventeen years. This fall, he is also teaching graduate courses both online and on campus as well as applying for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Garth holds a doctoral degree from Boston College in Educational Administration, a master’s degree from Fordham University in Reading, and a bachelor’s degree inElementary Education from Stonehill College.