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Once again ASCD leaders from around the world are traveling to the Leader to Leader conference to be held this weekend. Leader to Leader (L2L) is our annual professional development event for those dedicated education professionals who serve in important leadership roles for ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Student Chapters, and our Emerging Leaders program. Over the five years I have been associated with L2L, it has evolved to be a much more collaborative event with lots of opportunity for networking and learning from one another. The diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise is, in my own humble opinion, what makes this conference such a success every year. It’s never the same event twice.
This year we are looking to up the ante again, focusing on the theme of Take Charge Leadership, as we continue to encourage these ASCD leaders to work with one another across their constituent groups and generate new ideas, initiatives and energy that they can take back home and implement in support of the educators they serve. And so the question we ask at the outset of this year’s L2L is, “What do you get when you allow talented, capable minds to self-select groupings and projects that will build their professional capital while providing new value and greater capacity to lead?” We are about to find out.
We look at leadership around eight very specific actions that are nurtured and sustained over time. Beginning our conference work around these actions and then moving into an unconferencing format that allows participants to take charge of their learning sets the tone for the weekend. We are also instituting for the first time Web-based polling that will allow everyone in attendance to vote and comment instantaneously using their mobile devices throughout the three days. Modeling this as participants provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to one another will provide practice and experience with a tool our leaders can take back with them to their respective, states, provinces and countries.
By the time we wrap up Saturday, everyone will be saturated in new ideas and possibilities. L2L is always an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Exhausting and gratifying. What is most gratifying for us as staff is the number of return participants we have every year, and the highly positive feedback we receive from the conference participant surveys. The truth is, it’s the ASCD Leaders who come and participate who make L2L the success it is. As a membership organization, ASCD could not make the difference it does for educators everywhere without its constituent group leaders. L2L is ASCD’s way of giving back to our leaders in the field, offering them the skills and support to be effective on the ground where it matters most.
While we do not often think about it, we can start redesigning schools with the physical space. As I think about how to structure a high school, I see ways to change the school simply with the furnishing. Open spaces, natural light and comfortable seats can all take a school from “cells and bells” to a place of innovation and invention. I have often said that I go onto college campuses and I see how I wish to teach. It is amazing to have open manicured lawns, wooded paths, and some time to be outside. Being at a traditional high school, cooped up inside, it makes me wish I could escape, not stay and learn. If I feel that way, and I had a positive experience at school, I know my students feel the same way.
Along with how the school is designed, I am interested to see how much schools could become like the best idea companies. Places like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have to give their employees space to think. Google has become famous for its Genius Hour in which the employees are given time to simply pursue whatever interests them and some of their newest innovations (Google Glass, the Google self driving car) have come from this time. These companies thrive based on how well their employees think. This is how we should be approaching schools. We should treat our students and teachers like thinking, and developing new ideas, was their job. We should give them time to pursue their passions and interests. We have to trust teachers to develop systems and solutions for the issues they face. We then further need to trust students to learn and find passion in learning.
When we think about public education, it is frustrating that while we want to have schools as a place of learning, growing , innovation and invention we run them like factories. With fixed amounts of credits, minutes and grades, we are trying to mass produce graduates (the all important graduation rate as the critical marker of success) with teachers working on the assembly line. We have this system, not because we think it is the best, but because accountability demands clear criteria to measure (test scores, graduation rates). Free time to generate ideas and follow passions is not as measurable as 3 years of high school science or 55 minutes of Geometry.
While places like Google see Genius Hour as a way to allow its engineers to follow intellectual endeavors as vital to it continued success and relevance, it is hard to see this becoming part of our public schools in our current high stakes, high accountability climate. There are some educators calling for the changes, to make schools more like our most innovative and productive companies, it has failed to penetrate the average school and is not part of the much of the current popular reform conversation. Less is more is not as prevalent as more is more.
If we are serious about schools being places of idea production, we have to build them to support the creation of ideas. We have also recognize that learning is an organic process, not a mechanical one. We cannot simply speed things up and have students simply learn more in less time, just like we cannot double the fertilizer we put on crops and expect them to grow twice as much in half the time. What we can do is create a set of circumstances, a climate, that can support higher growth. This can be done many ways, but one way that might need to be considered includes natural light and some free time.
Cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/2014/07/learning-from-ground-up.html
Please follow John @jhhines57 or check out his blog at notfillingthepail.blogspot.com
Exercise and the Brain
By Jonathan Jefferson
“SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John J. Ratey, MD is the one book that all educators must read to fully understand the inseparable connection between exercise and the brain’s ability to acquire knowledge. Long before this well structured, research-based book was released in 2008, I had admonished my colleagues that it was a misnomer to equate academic learning and exercise as two separate spheres if for no other reason than that the brain can only receive nourishment through movement. Movement increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain priming it for the development of new neuron-passage ways. Recent studies have also shown that coordinated movement (e.g. dance, martial arts, & yoga) are the most effective “steroids” for the brain.
Why is this topic important? Far too often we find well-intentioned educators unwittingly act on assumptions which are too detached from prevailing research to be anything but ineffectual. Having students engage in physical activity before classes and exams is much more beneficial than having them sit quietly and read. However, the “control freaks” contingency of educators are disinclined to relinquish their illusion of control, which ultimately contributes to the detriment of student performance. Let us truly put kids first and embrace the maxim of doing what is best for them; not what is most convenient for the adults.
Dr. Ratey thoroughly shared the success of Naperville Illinois’ school district in his book. This district is lead by their physical education and wellness program. On the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Naperville’s eighth graders placed sixth in the world in math and first in science. He also reported that in Naperville students are deliberately scheduled for their most difficult classes following physical education class. This is done to take advantage of their brain’s readiness to learn at that time. Imagine that; a striving school district actually applying proven research to a successful end.
I am not surprised that “SPARK” is a best seller. The research shared explains the benefits of exercise on stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes, aging, and learning. There is something for everyone, and acting on the research shared can improve the quality of life for many.
In addition to this fine work, another great read specific to movement and the brain is Math and Movement by Suzy Koontz.
Much of my educational career has been spent in teaching or observing teachers. I also had the incredible opportunity of attending many wonderful professional development sessions with outstanding presenters, and working with some amazing educators over many years.
As a result, I have compiled a synthesis of some of the most important things that I have learned about effective teaching along the way. Here are fourteen ways of thinking about teaching that, when part of true self-reflection, can change much of what is being done in the classroom for the better.
These fourteen ways of thinking can be explored with individuals or groups of teachers to raise issues about teaching and learning, focus professional development around some important issues and challenges, and help provide a framework for professional growth over time. They may also be useful as a framework for thinking about teacher evaluation.
Read the descriptions below of my fourteen “ways of thinking” about teaching and learning. Get familiar with them. When you are done, consider doing the exercises at the end of this commentary, or sharing them in PD sessions, in order to better apply them to teaching and learning.
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
Teaching is about relationships. Getting to know students helps with planning, motivation, interest, discipline, and effective communication. It is about knowing how students learn, how they think, what blocks their learning, what’s on their minds.
As much as possible, get to know students as individuals, with all their variety of thoughts, passions, ideas, backgrounds, humor, unique qualities. This is especially hard for middle and high school teachers, who have so many students to teach. But it is important that all teachers, whatever their level of teaching, whatever their situation, take some time during the school year to do activities that build relationships and help to learn about students. There are many ways to both formally and informally do this, such as get-to know-me activities, written self-reflections, observing how students go about solving problems, observing groupwork discussions, making sure students know to ask for help when they are having problems, meeting with students informally after school, or talking with other teachers about specific students (not always problem students).
2. Plan goals for both the long term and the short term.
Long term planning should be the force behind short term planning. In other words, plan for what you want your students to accomplish in the long run, and then plan each day so that your students can get closer to your goal. For example, a long-term goal might be to help students become better writers, while the short-term goal is to improve their grammar and vocabulary. A long- term goal might be a unit goal, and each daily lesson plan contributes to the goals of the unit. A long-term goal might be a yearly understanding-based goal, and a unit goal might contribute to the year-long goal.
As most teachers know, this is not easy. There are many obstacles, changes, and detours along the way, depending on what happens each day. The variables are tremendous. But it is always important to consider what you want your students to accomplish over a long period of time (the big goals), and figure out how each day helps them get there.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
With the emphasis today on standardized test score success, learning academic content and skills become the most important focus for achievement and success. But much recent research suggests that “social-emotional” learning qualities are critical for long term success. Students who don’t see a connection between their effort and learning, are unable to be persistent, lack curiosity and resilience in the face of challenges, cannot work well with others, lack self-responsibility, are unorganized or unable to plan their time well, or lack the ability and willingness to ask for help and support when needed will have a great deal of trouble both in learning and in life. So it is important for teachers to assess these “soft” skills as well as academic and cognitive learning to help students achieve long-term success.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
According to several sources, Richard Feynman, a world-renowned physicist, was “heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking”… “[His father] never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know… What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question”.
Today, in my view, too many teachers have lost the art of helping students focus their learning around meaningful questions. My observations indicate that teachers still most often focus learning around imparting specific subject matter or stating goals in terms of “behavioral” objectives. But what if we thought about our teaching in terms of exploring open-ended questions that are interesting and meaningful to our students? What if we put “essential” questions on the board at the beginning of units and lessons, discussed with our students why they are important and meaningful, and then referred to them throughout the unit? Designed core questions that extended throughout the year? Created meaningful open-ended challenges as starting points for learning? Asked our students to develop essential questions?
One of my favorite questions, used by Kathy Davis, a first grade teacher, is the following:
What writing is worth reading? Imagine studying different kinds of writing over a long period of time with that question in mind? Another set of questions, worth studying in an American History course, is the following: “What is the American Dream? Where did it come from? Does it still exist?
So here’s something to think about: How can you translate your learning goals and objectives into important, interesting, meaningful questions? How can you use these questions as starting points for learning? For skill development? For making content relevant? How can these questions repeat and recur over time? Become the focus for many learning activities over time?
Much, if not most, important learning and growth starts with curiosity around questions, or perplexities around challenges. Teachers need to reinforce that type of learning, and begin student learning with questions and challenges that stimulate curiosity and interest, and motivate students to learn.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
Textbook activities often are treated solely as reading assignments (e.g. Read chapter seven and answer the questions at the end of the chapter). But what if teachers thought of textbooks and other reading materials, especially non-fiction reading, as sources of information designed to help answer questions, build understanding, explore interesting topics, and help find answers to challenges. What if the reading of literature was built around some interesting, significant questions, conflicts and issues? What if students had a chance to choose some of the literature they are asked to read based on their own curiosity? Treating textbooks, literature and other reading resources as a form of inquiry, exploration, curiosity, or research to answer questions helps put reading in an important context, not as a chore.
One simple textbook-non-fiction reading strategy that helps support this approach is the simple SQ3R strategy and its variations. First, students survey the material to be read, looking at headings, key words, difficult passages, pictures and other ancillary materials, and the like. Next, students turn headings into questions or bring into play previously developed questions to begin to find answers in the materials. Finally, they read and highlight key points, recite learning from the text that answers key questions, and then review and summarize the information that relates to the answers to each question.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
Asking students of all ages to continually write in many formats helps them formulate their ideas, organize their thoughts, think clearly and cogently, draw conclusions, self-reflect, and learn how to write position papers, among other things.
Most teachers don’t provide students with enough opportunities to write and reflect on their learning. Opportunities include writing at the beginning of a unit to determine what students know and how they think, daily short written reflections summarizing what they have learned at the end of a class, position papers around an issue discussed in class, research and project reports, analyses and interpretations from reading, frequent self-reflections, and end of unit essays in place of or complementary to traditional tests. Not all writing has to be graded, but carefully choosing writing to provide feedback provides students with significant opportunities for improvement.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
I have always felt that many teachers try to teach much too much content and therefore do not have enough time for getting deeper into subject matter and skill development. Teachers need to think about priorities so that content is most likely to be limited and remembered. For example, the period of history in which the Constitution was developed is a very good time to concentrate on a few key points about the Constitution: the Bill of Rights, the Organization of Government, and the Constitutional “compromise” on slavery. While there are many other issues and facts that might be learned, these are key.
“Deeper learning” also results from analysis, interpretation, or doing something with (applying) the information learned. What if students ended this American history unit by developing their own Constitution for their classroom or school? Or created a new and better Constitution for America? Or simulated the Constitutional Convention and developed a Constitution based on the interests of each of the thirteen states?
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
It is surprising how often teachers, especially in middle and secondary teachers, spend little time thinking about how to engage and involve every student on a daily basis. All too frequently, I have observed teachers who ask questions and involve very few students in giving answers; allow students to put their heads down on their desks during a lesson; stand in front of the class instead of walking around to engage students. Many students learn that it is OK to “tune out” of the lesson, and that they will be rewarded just for coming to school that day. Beginning teachers are especially likely to make the mistake of letting students “tune out” of their lessons. Here are some ways to avoid student passivity:
Don’t just stand in front of a group of students. Walk around the room. Catch the eye of students. Watch what they are doing. Gently shake a student who has his or her head on the desk. Call on students who you think are not paying attention.
Begin each class or new learning experience with an engaging “To Do” Activity that students must respond to as they enter your classroom. For example, a “To Do” Activity might begin with writing a short summary of what they were asked to read the night before or finding the answer to a math problem based on the work they did the previous day.
Use “think-pair-share” strategies to involve everyone in exploring significant questions. Here’s how it works. Ask an open-ended question. Then ask each student to write down an answer. Then students pair up with another student to discuss their answer. Finally, teachers call on individual students to share their answer and hopefully begin a discussion.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
Here’s how I think about schools and the surrounding world: The school world is for learning - the outside world is for living. People don’t live in a school. They go to school to learn. They live in their homes, in their offices, in the environment around them, in the world outside of school. Too often, school becomes an isolated entity unto itself, with little or no connection to the way people live in the outside world. As teachers, we need to remember this and, as often as we can, bring the outside world into the school and the school into the outside world.
How do we do this?
I remember watching Ms Tolliver, an excellent elementary math teacher who made some wonderful professional development tapes, take her fifth grade urban students on a walk through the school neighborhood looking for mathematics concepts and creating mathematics problems (Math Trail). They developed problems and found mathematics around park benches, playgrounds, subway trains, parking meters, building blocks and shapes, maps of the neighborhood, and seven step staircases in Central Park. The math that they were learning in school became real and relevant. Another example: in a local comprehensive urban high school I recently visited, a counselor organized talks in the school by local community members to help students see the variety of careers and lives led by those with similar ethnic backgrounds. Finally, new technologies provide new tools for bring the outside community into the school and the school to the outside community. There are currently many examples on the Internet and on websites of how teachers use Skype and other Internet options to bring in the outside community and world into the school and classroom.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
Good teachers know when to provide students with significant learning structure and when to give students greater freedom and self-direction. For example, when students are first learning how to do research, they need more structure – a step-by-step process, good explanations of how to conduct research and use research skills, models of good research products, and guided practice opportunities. Once they have learned and practiced the basic components of research, then they can be given more freedom to work on their own independently. In other words, sometimes students need strong structures, especially when they are first learning how to do something. But, eventually, we need to “let go” and give them freedom to work on their own and make their own mistakes in order to keep getting better at what they are doing. One of the most difficult decisions about teaching is knowing when students need significant structure and when to let go and give them more self-direction.
“Letting go” may also mean giving students greater choice and more options. Giving students the right to select their own books to read should be an important part of a good comprehensive reading program. Allowing students to select their own research question, sometimes within the parameters of a subject area, also gives students greater interest in and responsibility for their research.
11. Help students to improve, make progress, and get better.
What does it mean for students to get better at doing something? Understand in a deeper way? What are the most critical changes you would like to see in your students over time? What does it look like when they improve? How will you know when your students have a better understanding of core content? How can you build a student culture of “craftsmanship and understanding” that supports and encourages gradual improvement over time?
Unfortunately, traditional tests and quizzes don’t easily lend themselves to demonstrating improvement and progress in understanding and skill development. Seeking gradual progress and improvement is more likely to occur when students frequently do tasks related to what needs improvement, such as writing, making presentations, conducting research, performing experiments, and organizing learning for understanding. Specific feedback that provides students with specific guidance on what they need to do better is important. Showing models of good work to strive for is very helpful. An approach to teaching and learning that savors and supports gradual progress and improvement can lead to the development of a culture and way of thinking that promotes craftsmanship, deeper understanding, and improvement over time.
12. Check for understanding - often.
When I taught many years ago, I was unaware that I needed to frequently check for understanding. This was not good for student learning. This way of thinking has been getting much more play lately, and rightly so. Teachers need to check in frequently with students to see if they are “getting it” – really understanding what they are learning. Many strategies are available for this purpose, such as application oriented math problems, end of lesson summary strategies, such as 3-2-1 (three things I learned from this lesson, two things that were the most interesting, one question I still have); and 10-2 lectures (10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of reflection and questions).
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
Unfortunately, end of unit culminating experiences are often multiple choice-short answer tests. What could be less interesting for a student? What could be less relevant? Should the traditional test be the culminating experience of student work and learning?
Consider developing alternatives to traditional tests, even for just some units. How about a field trip to an art museum at the end of a unit so that students can analyze and write about a specific artistic period in greater depth? Perhaps students should write a position paper about a controversial topic in American History or design an experiment as the culmination of a science unit? How about giving students two or three (or more) essay questions several days in advance of a test time to give students time to prepare outlines of answers, from which one or two are selected to be written during a two hour class period? How about giving students interesting open-book (or even open-research) essay questions? Or what about completing an authentic performance task that demonstrates the ability of students to apply their learning to a new situation? These are much more interesting, relevant, and meaningful culminating assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
There is a tendency to talk about using technology today as if it were something to be automatically incorporated into the learning process. The reality is that technology is often hard to use or apply easily to teaching situations. Technology usage often requires a good deal of staff development, and is costly to implement and maintain.
However, technology, when used appropriately, can be an extremely valuable tool that enables teachers and students to learn more efficiently and effectively. For example, simple technologies, such as Microsoft word and powerpoint are useful for encouraging and editing writing and making presentations. The Internet is a wonderful tool to support research, but students have to learn how to use it carefully, skillfully, and wisely for this purpose. Some of the more complex technologies are useful to promote “gaming” and simulations. “Flipping” uses technology to help students learn basic information outside of school so that teachers can focus on “deeper learning” when students are in class. Some technologies that promote individualized learning through highly structured, engaging learning situations are very helpful to students.
Any of these technology tools, and others, should be used when appropriate to the teacher’s goals and to the learning situation. Technology tools should be used for specific goals when they make learning more efficient, but not when they might deter students from using their minds, thinking through a problem, or reading texts carefully.
Teaching is very complex, much more complex than it is made out to be in the press, in government initiatives, and even in State Departments of Educational directives. Good teaching is a moving target – goals, children, cultures, teachers, and conditions vary from state to state, school to school, and even classroom to classroom.
These fourteen ways of thinking about teaching suggest both the complexity of good teaching and the potential common core components that measure good teaching and help teachers improve on what they do. Learning about students, creating a positive learning environment, focusing on both academic and social-emotional goals, building curiosity by focusing on questions, focusing on less content and deeper learning, figuring out ways to engage and involve students, planning both long and short term goals – all of these and more are important elements of an effective teaching-learning process. I hope that an exploration of these components will help teachers and school leaders understand what they must do to improve schools and suggest a way to build a framework for evaluating teaching and improving teaching and learning in the classroom.
An Exercise to Share and Learn from These Fourteen Ways of Thinking
Now that you have read and learned about the fourteen ways of thinking, here is an exercise you can do to help you examine these in greater detail and apply them to your own teaching situation.
Here are the fourteen ways of thinking listed without commentary:
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
2. Plan goals for both the long-term and the short term.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
11. Help students to improve, make progress and get better.
12. Check for understanding - often.
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
Some questions to consider:
“I just wish my students cared more.” Most teachers—first-year and veterans alike—have said or at least felt like this at some point. We work hard to motivate our students, but how do we help them motivate themselves? We’ve been reading Larry Ferlazzo’s book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges, and thought we’d share five tips to help your students develop their intrinsic motivation.
Encourage students to take risks
Most of us don’t particularly enjoy making mistakes—especially in a public setting. As a result, we often avoid taking on new challenges. So how do we encourage students to stretch themselves and take risks?
According to Ferlazzo, we can start by skipping general praise. Statements like “Jane, you’re so smart” seem innocuous, even helpful, but in reality, they focus our students’ attention on maintaining their image, not on pushing new boundaries. In lieu of general praise, praise specific actions. Saying things like, “You worked really hard today” or “Your topic sentence communicates the main idea of your paragraph very nicely” can, as Ferlazzo suggests, “make students feel that they are more in control of their success, and that their doing well is less dependent on their ‘natural intelligence.’"
Research continues to find a link between positive teacher-student relationships and academic success. There are many ways we can nurture more meaningful relationships with students, but perhaps the best place to start is with ourselves. Ferlazzo suggests that we take a step back and consider how we think about and speak to our students.
Using negative language to describe challenging behavior often distorts the way we see it. If we label students who seem unmotivated or disengaged as “stubborn” or “lazy,” then our reaction to these students will be, more often than not, negative. However, if we view that same student as “determined” or “persistent,” we will be more likely to convey respect.
Use Cooperative Learning
Lectures are, by their very nature, passive activities. Sure, students may jot down notes or pose occasional questions, but lectures do very little to develop our students’ intrinsic motivation. While Ferlazzo is not suggesting that we ditch lectures altogether, he would encourage us to keep them to a minimum. Instead of delivering lectures, find ways to incorporate cooperative learning into lessons. These can be as basic as "think-pair-share" or as ambitious as problem and project-based learning.
Set Specific Expectations
Here's a tip from Robyn Jackson. Very often what looks like student resistance is actually confusion about our vague requests. Consider the difference between the following:
You’ll notice how the former not only lacks specific instructions, but does not give the student a clear picture of what you expect from him or her. Always give your students concrete steps for making the investment.
Creating Opportunities for Students to Help Make Decisions
Most of us are motivated when we feel we have control over our environment. Inviting students to have a voice in classroom decisions—where they sit, what day a test takes place, in what order units are studied, or even where a plant should be placed in the classroom—can help them develop that greater sense of control.
By Kresta Byington, Principal of Chauncey Davis Elementary School
It’s a rainy, breezy day as I walk through the quiet halls of Chauncey Davis Elementary, nestled in a sleepy town along the Willapa River in Washington. I hear the sound of the rain pattering on the building, and the mossy trees are glistening outside, leaning heavily from the rain, as I begin my walkthroughs for the day. I step inside one of my fourth grade classrooms and witness an encouraging sight. The students are deep in concentration. The only sound is the collective hum of their pencils scribbling and scratching as they write their words on the paper.
Is this something you experience in your walkthroughs? Or, has writing been a struggle in your school? I know it used to be a real challenge in my building, where I’ve been the principal for the past ten years. Prior to being a building leader, I was a teacher in the district for nine years. As principal, I noticed less writing displayed in classrooms, and as a parent of two students in my school, I saw less writing coming home. Last spring, my concerns were confirmed when only 40% of my fourth grade students met standard on the state writing test. This was unacceptable to me and something needed to change. We just weren’t getting the quality and quantity we knew we could from having an effective writing community. I had to first discover the problems my teachers were facing when it came to writing instruction.
Why do teachers struggle with teaching writing?
When I asked my teachers what their greatest challenges were, they always told me time. Elementary teachers are generalists, not specialists. They are teaching all the subjects in a six hour day. When you take out recess, lunch, and any other specials students have, time was always an issue. I also learned in many instances, when they told me, “I don’t have time,” I believe it actually translated into, “I really don’t know how to teach writing.”
The second issue was knowledge. I asked 18 of my teachers (two of them are recent college graduates) if they had a college class specifically devoted to the teaching of writing. Not one out of the 18 reported having any college preparation to teach this core subject. When you don’t know how to do something, you tend to avoid it.
The last reason my teachers weren’t teaching writing was due to a lack of quality writing materials available. For several years at Chauncey Davis Elementary, writing instruction was tied in with the basal reading program. Although it was a quality reading program, writing always came last in the lesson and a terrible pattern had begun; my teachers were running out of time. As a first grade teacher myself, I personally experienced this. I would run out of time in the morning and would set my writing lesson aside in hopes to get back to the writing in the afternoon. Writing lessons would pile up in the corner and a week would go by, and no writing had been taught.
What I did to improve writing instruction at my school
There’s a resource called Crunch the Numbers, which shows three different teachers’ lesson plans for the week. Teachers calculate up how much time each teacher is spending teaching the different subject areas. Teachers then judge the lesson plans according to ASCD’s recommended minutes of instruction in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
It was a great start for my teachers who were apprehensive to look at their own use of instruction time. They were less defensive looking at someone else’s schedule and got an idea of how they could rearrange their own based on ASCD’s recommendations.
If your teachers aren’t sure how to improve their writing instruction, I suggest using a document called Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing.This is a really powerful tool I used during a staff meeting and everyone raved about how helpful it was. Teachers loved learning from each other, and it’s a great professional development tool.
Using Crunch the Numbers helped with time awareness, and Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing helped with knowledge awareness. But, I knew I still needed to tackle the lack of materials. This led me to start looking into some writing programs that could assist my teachers with their writing instruction while teaching them the craft of writing. We piloted WriteSteps last year, and this year we are in full implementation. With WriteSteps, teachers finally realize that writing deserves its own block of instructional time, not combined with reading instruction. I'm so proud to visit classrooms and observe effective writing instruction happening. Second, they love how everything they need is at their finger tips. With WriteSteps, they don't have to do any extra planning or resource gathering. As we wrap up our first year with WriteSteps, teachers are amazed at the progress their students have made and love sharing their stories with other staff. It's nice to see student writing on display again.
Do you want to learn more about how you can support your teachers with their writing instruction? You can attend my session at the Quality Educator Convention on June 19 at 2:50 p.m. called Ready, Test, Score! Essential Tools for Common Core Writing Success from Chauncey Davis Elementary. We will evaluate examples of how Common Core writing skills are used in cross-curriculum test questions and then discuss 17 critical elements to consider in your school’s writing curriculum. With the implementation of a solid Common Core writing plan, students will not only be prepared to achieve testing goals, they will also gain the skills they need for a lifetime of confident writing. I look forward to seeing you there!
This article was first published on June 11, 2014 in the Update Bulletin.
On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.
The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.
Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.
My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.
My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.
The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.
I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.
The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.
I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.
The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.
BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!
For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme. The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways. If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course.
For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers. We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish. If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009. Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.
As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year. It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:
What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves. The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in. We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.
This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS. Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset. If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us. Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:
· Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:
I need to stop here, but I think you get the point. We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset. The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school. So what's stopping you?
I’ve written about helping students develop a growth mindset before, but I would argue that challenging students to grow and realize their potential is just as important at the end of the school year—perhaps even more important— as it is throughout the year.
To help your students continue to develop a growth mindset, consider a few of these tips.
Do not attribute a student’s success to “being smart.”
Why though? According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, telling students they are smart actually lowers their motivation and achievement.
During a study, Dweck and her colleagues divided students into two groups; each was treated differently:
At the conclusion of the study, Dweck found that the students who were continually praised developed a “fixed-mindset” and began to believe that their intelligence was innate. As a result, they began to fear failure and thus avoided challenging tasks.
Use these prompts to help your students develop a growth mindset:
There’s an old adage, “We plan and God laughs,” and boy, ain’t that the truth? Adults learn this in time, but many of our students do not have the experience to handle sudden changes with grace.
Adaptability is critical to building resilience. We can teach students this skill through modeling it ourselves when things do not go our way. Take that lesson, for example…the one you spent hours planning, the one you were excited about…the same one that just didn’t execute the way you planned.
Instead of reacting with frustration, try something new. Never be afraid of abandoning a lesson and admitting to your students that things aren’t working.
The Common Core State Standards tell us what students should know and be able to do academically at the end of a school calendar year. They are, in essence, non-negotiables. But, what about you? What are your non-negotiables?
What should your students know and be able to do when they leave your classroom, your school, or your district? What’s most important that you can pass on to them?
Early in my teaching career, one of my non-negotiables was being a content and control specialist. I knew my material and loved to share it at the front of the room. I orated and did my best Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver impersonations. The content was dry, so I needed to make it fun by being ‘the fun teacher.’ I thought that was how teaching was done: by replicating what I’d been through in public education, what I learned in college courses, and what I’d seen in movies. But, I wasn’t teaching: I was wasting our time. Students were bored because I was teaching them that learning is boring. No wonder they passed notes, talked while I was talking, and made poor decisions. I put them in that position by keeping them isolated in their seats all day. I would have done the same thing if I were a student in my own class.
As I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve changed this non-negotiable. I’ve moved from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered one. I’ve learned that I can’t control the learning outcome. Students control that. I can’t make students learn. Students control that, too. What I can do is create an environment that is conducive to student learning occurring: short mini-lessons and active student engagement, while embedding cooperative learning and character education in each lesson. I can make the learning environment fun, and through that, I can teach students that learning is fun. Because, when learning is fun, students will stay engaged in the process, even when it gets hard.
The Common Core State Standards are hard. There is a lot to cover, and the depth is tremendous. I can see why teachers get overwhelmed and scared. This is why I believe it is so important to know our non-negotiables, and fall back on our personal mission statements: what do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of a school calendar year? What are my non-negotiables as an educator and a person. What is my role?
Even with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, my role as an educator hasn’t changed: if anything it’s become more important to stick to my moral compass. I need to work with students to create an environment that is safe, so they are comfortable learning and taking risks. I want to help build creative, outside-the-box thinkers of strong character, ones who use rejection or failure as opportunities to grow. My objective at the end of the year is to help activate the problem solving and skill set necessary within my students so they will be successful when they’re adults, even if it means they potentially score lower on a standardized test now. Because, they will learn from this failure and rejection, and work harder by growing from it. But most of all, when students leave at the end of a school calendar year, I want them to know I didn’t teach them anything: we learned it together.
Now, I don’t want people to think I’m down on the Common Core State Standards. I believe in them. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I work with different education constituencies to assist educators in understanding the instructional shifts brought about by the Common Core. However, at our core, it is important that we always remember why we are educators, and what the most important thing we can do as educators -- and that’s too build the next generation of society with the skill set necessary for success in college, career, and life.
The Common Core Writing Standards are shifting the landscape of writing instruction, articulating rigorous new expectations and emphasizing newly redefined text types. Amidst this sweeping change, educators, publishers, and providers of professional development are scrambling to understand the types of writing that students have to master for college and career readiness: narrative, informative/explanatory, opinion, and argument.
Perhaps the biggest change for most writing teachers is the shift toward opinion and argument writing. Despite what you may have heard from some “experts,” page 24 of CCSS Appendix A makes it crystal clear: “Opinion” and “argument” are not simply new words that mean “persuasive.” These three words identify separate, distinct writing concepts.
Let’s begin with a basic definition for each. According to the Common Core, “persuasive” is not a text type; that is to say it is not a “design” or a “build” for composition. Rather, persuasion is a goal or a purpose for writing. Authors attempting to persuade an audience rely primarily upon credibility and emotion, often leveraging the reader’s sense of self-interest. In a nutshell, persuasion is generally accomplished by changing the way someone feels.
Argumentation is different. While the assertion of a specific argument can certainly be a purpose for writing, and while an argument can certainly change how a reader feels about a topic, an effective written argument also has distinct characteristics that set it apart from other writing forms. These characteristics define the text type, and, according to the Common Core, they can be observed and directly instructed. An argument begins with a claim. A claim is an assertion that the writer intends to prove is valid. A claim is a specific type of thesis: an opinion that is to some extent objectively defensible (This is the best type of computer for people who travel). A well-constructed argument advances the claim using reasons (It is durable), examples (I have dropped it many times, and it still works), and evidence (Consumer reports gives this model a top score for durability). Notice a key difference between examples and evidence: Evidence tends to be factual information gleaned from sources more informed than the writer himself.
According to the Common Core, argument writing instruction is supposed to begin at about 6th grade. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Common Core, it is highly advisable to begin argument writing instruction when students demonstrate that they are cognitively ready to think a bit more abstractly (to think more “outside” their own experience). With many students, this will occur long before 6th grade. So in accordance with best instructional practices, teachers must observe and assess carefully, determine the developmentally appropriate moment to begin argument writing, and differentiate to meet the needs of students working at different levels of readiness and proficiency.
So what are we supposed to be teaching before argument instruction begins? According to the Common Core, opinion writing. This is simply a less sophisticated form of argument writing. It begins with an opinion statement and then supports it with reasons and examples. Opinion writing is often characterized by the lack of an objectively defensible claim and/or a lack of evidence to support the reasons and examples. But opinion writing and argument writing are not entirely separate from one another. These two text types exist on a developmental continuum, so it is possible for writing to exhibit characteristics of both simultaneously. From an instructional perspective, it is less important to identify the type of writing than it is to move students incrementally along the continuum from opinion toward argumentation. As writers develop, their compositions will gradually become less opinion-oriented and more characteristic of a true argument. For example, a first grader might render the opinion, “I like ice cream.” A seventh grader might argue about the same topic beginning with the claim, “Ice cream is unhealthy.” In both cases, the writer takes a position on the topic, but the first grader’s assertion (opinion) is far more subjective. The second example is more typical of a claim that might anchor a written argument, and it is more defensible from an evidentiary perspective.
Now that we have discussed the essential differences between persuasion, opinion, and argument, we must recognize their interplay in authentic “real world” writing. Think analogously of any car commercial you’ve watched recently. The tag line is probably an opinion, but in some cases, it might be a claim. Reasons to buy the car are provided, and visual examples are likely demonstrated by actors on the screen. Many car companies also cite evidence (J.D. Power and Associates award, Car and Driver’s 10 best list, etc.). But the advertiser also spent a lot of money in an attempt to establish their credibility, appeal to your emotions, and influence you to act in your own self-interest. So the commercial you’re thinking of probably had characteristics of both persuasion and argumentation…like many other “real world” forms of communication.
This begs a simple question: If persuasion, opinion, and argument often blend in the real world, why teach them separately? There are two simple answers. First, in order to effectively blend these concepts, students have to master each of them first. To do so requires explicit strategy-based instruction, and many of the proprietary strategies for each form are distinct. Second, the Common Core Standards emphasize the opinion and argument text types for success in college and career. Why? College and career require written expression that is ideationally compelling—writing that argues based upon reasonableness and proof. And because it’s easier to persuade than to argue, students often are better at the former than the latter. From an academic perspective, argument is more challenging. It requires a deeper level of understanding that comes from analysis, research, perspective-taking, and anticipation of counterclaims.
To summarize, persuasion, opinion, and argument are distinct from one another. For this reason, they require strategy-based direct instruction for student mastery. But this does not mean they exist in mutually exclusive silos. Talented writers develop a commanding mastery of each and then blend them expertly to address specific purposes and audiences.
This post originally ran May 7 on SmartBlog on Education and, here on the Zaner-Bloser Blog, is the first in a series of blog posts about the writing text types and how they have been redefined by the Common Core State Standards. Subsequent posts in this Decoding the Text Types series will explain the new narrative and informative/explanatory writing text types and tackle many more of the misconceptions that are out there.
—James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers
In 2014, the Common Core State Standards are being attacked by politicians, parents, business leaders, civic organizations, and religious groups. If you are running for office, take a jab at the Common Core State Standards. It will get a good laugh from the audience and may win a few extra votes. If you are on Facebook, forward one of the hilarious visuals about Common Core Math standards and your post may go viral. Does this mean that the math standards are ridiculous or does it mean that math is being taught differently than it was when you were a child?
It is easy to make jokes about things we do not understand. How many people who claim they are ready to have a standards-burning party have read the Common Core State Standards?
Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have. Standards also help students and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success. Standards are a first step – a key building block – in providing our young people with a high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and work. Standards are not the only thing that is needed for our children’s success, but they provide an accessible roadmap for our teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
Early in my career, the Arkansas Department of Education contacted me and asked me to write educational standards for K-12 social studies. When I arrived at the meeting room for one week of standards writing, with teachers from across the state, we were handed standards from Indiana, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, California, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and more. By the end of the week, I had reviewed standards from all fifty states. Some states had standards for economics in the sixth grade, while other states had the exact standard in the third grade. I remember thinking, ‘Why would each state write their own standards?’ I have observed in K-12 classrooms and there are different ability levels, but a third grader in Missouri is similar to a third grader in Michigan. When the Common Core State Standards were written and adopted across the United States, I thought it made common sense. Why would every state write similar standards in order to have bragging rights on the most rigorous or well stated standards? As an American, I want all students to graduate from high school prepared for the next level.
While you may laugh about Common Core jokes, the real joke is 50 states competing against each other to write the best standards. When our students enter the world, are they prepared to compete for jobs or do they cross the state line to discover they were prepared with watered-down standards?
The Common Core State Standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best interests of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education. It is easy to find Anti-Common Core articles. Anti-Common Core articles may be trending the next time you search for the Common Core. Take a moment to read one or more of the articles below to develop a deeper understanding of the Common Core State Standards. The standards may not be as bad as you thought.
The following articles address standards, college and career readiness, the role of standards in supporting teaching and learning, and the importance of common standards in the United States.
Ten Resources To Support a Deeper Understanding of the Common Core State Standards
1. Getting Curriculum Reform Right
By Thomas Guskey
2. What’s the Difference? Standards versus Curriculum
By Janet Hale
3. I Hate Testing, Not Standards
By Erik Palmer
4. The Problem is Not the Standards
By Michael Fisher
5. From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas
By Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins
6. Rigor Redefined
By Tony Wagner
7. 50 States, 50 Standards
By Diane Ravitch
8. The Case For Common Educational Standards
By Jeb Bush and Joel Klein
9. North Carolina Businesses Have Critical Need For Common Core Success
By Jim Whitehead, President and CEO of Red Hat, Inc.
10. Common Core: An Educator’s Perspective
By Steven Weber
“Leadership is not about position; it's about influence.”
-John C. Maxwell
Dispelling the leadership myth
About two years ago, I began mulling over the idea of going back to school to obtain a masters degree in Educational Administration in order to become a school leader. Leadership is influence and I was determined to spread my influence beyond my classroom walls and inspire an entire school. What I came to realize, was that I had already reached that level. I was already contributing to my school’s success and slowly becoming a catalyst for change: I was a teacher leader.
Effective leadership is generally directly tied to school success. Research has certainly shown that leadership matters. Teacher leadership, however, still is not always an accepted norm. The notion of an educational leader always tends to conjure up the same images: District superintendents and building-level administrators. These images, I believe, are misleading representations of leadership in education. They give off the impression that one has to be in one of those positions in order to develop influence in a school setting. Often, when asked about leadership roles, teachers reply, “I cannot lead because I’m not at the top.” How can we dispel this all-too-common myth? Even, in the midst of the 21st century, there appears to be a general lack of teacher leadership awareness.
Defining successful teacher leadership
While teacher leadership isn’t a new concept in education, it is one that is often misinterpreted. It has been long realized that teachers take on many roles. Teacher as leader is more than leading a class of students and being a great teacher. A teacher has many opportunities available to become influential and contribute to their school’s success.
From corporate offices to the military, and in a diverse array of cultures as different as The Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States, there is overwhelming evidence of a common set of practices that any successful leader calls on, as needed. Many of these same practices define today’s teacher leaders and the roles they take on:
1. Direction Setters
Successful teacher leaders are aimed at helping their colleagues develop shared understandings about the school and its activities and goals. Effective communication is key. Whether it’s guiding new teachers or trying to influence seasoned veterans hesitant of change, leaders play a key role in identifying and articulating the school’s vision. Teacher leaders have a responsibility to help foster the acceptance of their school’s goals and in creating high performance expectations.
2. Teacher Developers
Teacher leads take on various roles that assist in the development of their colleagues’ instructional practices. Vital roles include curriculum specialist, learning facilitator, resource provider, and mentor. Successful teacher leaders lead in-school or district professional development. They may aid in curriculum mapping. Sometimes it is as simple as helping other teachers to understand state content standards and local curriculum initiatives, as well as how to plan and assess lessons meeting these guidelines. Ultimately, effective teacher leaders strive to unlock their colleagues' potential to become better.
3. Catalysts for Change
The field of education is ever-evolving and there is a great need for independent research, or teacher inquiry, about new instructional strategies or practices. Many effective teacher leaders even take on roles in their teachers’ union or groups working toward school reform. They advocate for their school, for teachers, and above all, student learning.
4. Life-long Learners
This one is a given. John F. Kennedy used to say, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other," and true teacher leaders never really end their pursuit of knowledge or quest to become better educators. They are often the first ones to arrive to school in the morning and one of the last to leave at night. Teacher leaders are the ones who attend professional development sessions during school breaks to stay tuned in to the pulse of education in an ever-changing world. They engage in education twitter chats or reflect upon education in their professional blogs on the weekends. Successful teacher leaders are passionate professionals, always striving to learn and improve in order to be the best educator they can be and provide their students with the highest quality education possible.
The bottom line is- You don’t have to be a district superintendent or building administrator to be a leader within your school community. You need only the courage and determination to spread your influence beyond the walls of your classroom and an interminable passion to inspire the world around you.
Trusting relationships are a key factor of successful schools. Building a positive professional level of trust forms the foundation that allows staff, students, and communities to take risks, succeed, fail, and find success again. All staff need to be vested in building positive trusting relationships, especially the school’s administration. Recently a colleague of my mine shared that at a recent staff meeting her new Principal announced, that due to budget issues, several staff members may lose their positions. Then the principal asked the staff to trust her, and said by the same token she was trusting them, as they move through this process. It was quite an emotional time for her school.
I asked her if she did trust her principal, and this led to a discussion about what it takes for a new administrator to earn the trust of their staff. While we thought there were probably as many ways to earn trust as there are schools, there were a few common things that most school administrators could do when it came to earning trust. Here are our top 5 (in no particular order):
Recently I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad to recharge and refresh. During this trip I had an opportunity to snorkel over a barrier reef for the very first time. On the day that we went, the ocean was very choppy and the guide asked our group if we preferred to stay in shallow, calm waters or deeper, rough waters. The caveat of all this was that we were likely to see more wildlife in the rougher waters. Ultimately our group opted for the deep sea experience.
Riding out on the ocean with the boat bouncing and sea water spraying, I admit that I became a little nervous about our recent group decision. Soon enough we were at our starting point and I found myself taking a deep breath and jumping in to the deep blue sea. The cool water felt invigorating, but as I rose to the surface the rough waters distracted me and I could feel myself starting to panic. My mind flashed to the snorkel techniques my husband and I practiced prior to our trip and realizing that I was getting nowhere other than more panicked by trying to stay above water, I took a deep breath and dove under.
Beneath the rough waters was a colorful world of fish, coral and other sea life. As I let my body ride the choppy surface and my breathing finally returned to its normal pace, I was in awe of all that I was able to see. I found myself gesturing emphatically to my husband all the wonderful things I hoped we would remember later. Our guide zipped just ahead of us, pointing to other creatures and leading us over the world’s second largest barrier reef.
In my life I have willingly taken on many personal and professional challenges, all of which I have never regretted. For someone who has been quite accustomed to change, even this brief experience, out of my element, was for a moment terrifying. So what has this experience reminded me about change? What can leaders bring to a community that is going through a change process?
Recognize that people need to know why change is important and help them to make sense of it
One of my favorite TED talks is Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action. The premise of his talk is about articulating the why before the how or what. When we embark on change in our communities, individuals need to know why the change is important and more importantly, the reason should be one that resonates with the community. At times in education, we can be too focused on the change process itself and we must slow down to involve those impacted by the change. In our ocean adventure, our guide clearly explained our options for the day and ultimately let our group’s feedback shape the outcome.
If you are the leader of the organization, jump in with your team.
Change is never easy and it takes courageous leaders at all levels of a community to inspire others to be a part of the journey. I suspect if our guide had not jumped in to the rougher waters first, he may not have had many volunteers to jump in. Once he did, a few others were quick to follow and within minutes the whole group was in the water. For added support, there were staff that remained in our boat, not very far away from where we were snorkeling at all times. So leaders, invite others willing to take the first steps with you and also look for others who will be able to support the initial risk takers and ultimately the group, along the way. Failures and mistakes are an inevitable part of the process and with the right team can turn these situations into learning opportunities.
Take a look beneath the surface and explore, don’t be too focused on outcomes right away.
Of course when we embark on any change, there is an ultimate goal we hope to achieve. I support the use of goal setting and success criteria as they are essential to any endeavour. It is also important that individuals in a community have time to acclimate and dive beneath the rough waters under their own terms. I needed that moment when I first dove in to the water be slightly panicked, to catch my breath, and dive in when I was ready. When I saw what was beneath and how surprisingly more calm it was underwater, than above, you couldn’t get me out of the water.
The point is people need time to explore and adjust when change is in progress. If you stay solely task oriented and rush too soon to the next task, you miss opportunities for individuals to see the beauty in the change and embrace it. More importantly, they will not have a chance to engage in their own explorations that could bring great value to the team’s overall process and goals.
Let the group explore, but also remind them of the focus.
Our guides were great about letting us explore, but also did not let us wander way beyond our limits. Our guide in the water wore bright swim shorts so we could easily identify him from afar and he would take the time to show us the beautiful wildlife that he thought would make the most of our experience. Change is messy and while it is important to let individuals find their own way (see above) and work through this process, it will be necessary to bring individuals together and remind them of what is most important.
Change has never been easy and never will be, but with these few reminders from my recent vacation experience, I hope to make future change processes I am involved in meaningful to my community.
What other analogies could you add about change? What opportunities should leaders take to make the change process a more meaningful one?
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?
On March 15, 2014, a friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Allison Rodman, and I had an opportunity to present at the ASCD Annual Conference in Los Angeles, California. The topic was "Teacher-Leadership" and the goal was to organize our ideas in the Ignite format.
While we were both used to speaking at conferences and in front of large groups of people, neither of us had experience with this format. Ignite limits the presenter to 20 slides, each on a 30-second timer. This organizes the presentation to a manageable five minutes, but forces the presenter to remain focused in order to efficiently convey the true message of the presentation. The task at-hand was exciting, challenging, and daunting. Could we actually do this and be successful?
Allie and I live about an hour away from one another, but our crazy schedules did not allow us to meet in person to organize our ideas or to practice. We worked through google docs and phone calls to compile the PowerPoint, divided up ownership of the slides, then finally were able to practice together just 30 minutes prior to the actual session.
Other Emerging Leader-friends were also part of this session, presenting their own insights into Teacher-Leadership. We jested that we'd be the only ones to show up to the session but that at least we'd be there to support one another. Our jokes became obsolete when the room filled to capacity of 150 people and others had to continually be turned away due to lack of seating and safety regulations. Needless to say, our nerves were getting the better of us!
I am incredibly proud of the work that Allie and I did leading up to that presentation, as well as the actual presentation itself. We shared our professional experiences with one another, divulged our fears with one another, laughed with one other, learned from one other, and ultimately, achieved success together. We challenged ourselves, stretched beyond our comfort zone, and drew on the wisdom of others for guidance (shout out to Alina Davis!). Now we have a story to give back to those who come after us.
We are teacher-leaders.
P.S. Allie organized our slides and spoken words into a beautiful blog post on her site, The Learning Loop. Please visit and enjoy!
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: