Sunday, June 1, 2014

Understanding How Making Connections Is A Key Concept In Education...and Life.

Making connections.  As I enter the final school week of my 25th year in education, I am realizing how essential the ability to make connections is to not only the learning process but to a person's ability to be successful and flexible in the world beyond k-12 education.



Connecting Knowledge: 
The old joke is that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads.    One of the members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, @JeffCharbonneau , shared out that he has "teacher eyes" that allow him to see learning opportunities in everything he sees.  I love that image, because it really expresses how as a teacher, I have always seen the world around me.  Here is an example of how I use my teacher eyes.  A few weeks ago, I had a chance to work with one of our Kindergarten teachers on brainstorming for a week long science based unit I wanted co-teach with her.  I started by asking her what topics she will be working on in her class during that time- Insects, spring and weather. My teacher eyes see a number of possible connections here. Insect folklore related to weather, using insects as a predictor of spring, looking at how insects spend the winter, reading and writing a poem about insects and spring, doing insect math.... I think you get the idea.  Our students live in a world that is connected - not divided into math time, science time, English time.  We have to make sure that they learn in a connected classroom too.

My colleague Lauren-Monwar Jones and I spent time talking through how we see connections across content areas and developed some tools that we hope will be helpful to other teachers as they look at the world through their "teachers eyes".  Our "Seeing Connections" Resource Page
  • Apples To Apples Model: In the children's game Apple to Apples, a topic card is placed in the middle of the table and all game players must choose an object card in their hand and come up with an explanation for how it is like the topic.   In Apple To Apples Unit planning, start with a learning standard or skill and then use your teacher eyes to see different content areas might connect to it.
  • Finding Common Theme Model : The real world context for English and math skill application can often be found in science and social studies.
  • Planning around literature or info text: A piece of literature or informational text can be the starting point for seeing connections to other content areas.
  • Building Collaborative Connections: What is it that you or your students are passionate about? How can you help to make connections between that area of interest and what the focus of your unit might be?
  • ODE Eye of Integration: When using our teacher eyes, we need to see connections not only to our content, but to the "metacurriculum" - those skills that go across content like writing with evidence, the ability to compare and contrast, using technology to collaborate on ideas.
  • Blank Connections Placemat: This is a tool to help you organize your brainstorming as a team.

Connecting Professional Expertise:
One of the great things that has come from sharing common standards and building common assessments is the ability to share ideas across classrooms, buildings, districts and states. Building a Professional Learning Network by connecting to other educators has allowed me to build knowledge of best practices, share out ideas for feedback, and have discussions that have helped me to reflect on my own thinking.  Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) magnify the power of an individual educator by 5, 10 or 100 fold.  I have learned that the old model of "go into your classroom, shut the door and teach" can no longer be supported in our 21st century world.   Our creativity builds when we can share ideas with each other. The way we think about instructional supports for students changes as we share data on what works and what may need to be changed.  I am constantly reflecting on my own beliefs by holding up new ideas or points of view to my own and making changes that will help me to be a more effective leader and educator.  Here are some resources to help you become a more connected educator.  Although these are technology resources, it isn't really about using technology to become connected. Technology is just a tool to help make these connections. Start with making connections across the hallway, across grade levels and across buildings in your district.

Making Connections To The Larger Community:
One way to build a stronger learning environment for teachers and students is to make connections with community partners, not just as field trip destinations or sources of speakers for career day, but partners in real world learning.  I am most excited about partnerships I have worked to strengthen between Bay Schools and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, and Tri - C Community College. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:

  •  Who in your community may be a source of real world data for students to work with in science, math or social studies? 
  • Informational text is an important part of supporting literacy across content areas. What community partners might be willing to serve as an "off site" location for reading opportunities - focusing on local history, science, the arts?
  •  How about real world writing and research tasks? How might your students be able to contribute to the work of your community partner by doing research, or helping to identify possible solutions to a real world problem? 
  •  Is it possible to begin to build a network of connections across your region?
 Places to look for community partners include:

I know that I am a better educator because of the connections I helped to build this year.  I am looking forward to having some time this summer to look at how to continue to build connections across content areas, connections to my peers, and strengthen the connections with my community partners.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

How To Have An Open Source Mindset

The whole concept of  "Open Source" technology came about because programmers wanted the ability to take existing computer programs and customize them, improve upon them and figure out the thinking behind the code to make their own programs better.  I have always looked at my own teaching from this mindset as well.  I spend time planning lessons and units of instruction that align to standards, that are integrated within strands of my content or across multiple content areas and are accessible to a wide range of students.  I can be better at lesson design if I have the chance to break apart someone else's work or to take an idea that worked in their classroom and build on it to make a new unit that will work in mine. So, I have always freely shared the work I do with others and in exchange, have grown as an educator because of opportunities I have had to work with and discuss lesson ideas with my peers.

I have been fortunate to have many colleagues throughout my career who shared this "Open Source Mindset."  One, who I still refer to as the "other half of my brain", looked at science lessons differently than I did - even though we taught the same course.  Frequently, we would find ourselves meeting in the hall between our classrooms because we each had an idea to share with the other at the same moment. Our teaching styles differed, but we each were better teachers because of our willingness to open our lesson planning books to each other and share our thinking and ideas behind the lessons - and how they worked with our students.  I still find myself emailing her when I hear an NPR story on the radio or read a science article that I think might be a good lesson starting point.

As a former technology integration specialist and now district level administrator, I have had lots of opportunities to work with a lot of different teachers on developing lesson materials.  Each conversation, each brain storming session, each lesson I have observed has given me new insights into my own thinking as a teacher - It is an opportunity to take out my own "teacher program" and reevaluate my thinking.  Is this new idea, concept, way of approaching something better than what I currently have in my "teacher programming" or can I tweak something in my own "program" to improve it because of an insight I gained?  Is there something in my current "teacher program" that I need to replace all together?  Think about becoming an "Open Source Teacher".  Don't keep your ideas, your strategies that work or your experience to yourself- open the classroom door and let them out! You may be surprised at what will come back in.

Resources for developing an "Open Source Mindset"



Monday, February 3, 2014

How To Find the Hidden Value of Student Work

Miss Shields Grading Essays from the film, A Christmas Story


Admit it. We have, at some point in time, sat down to grade a stack of student papers and wondered why on Earth we had even given the assignment to start with.  And the grading! Mountains of papers waiting for our feedback. Bookbags full of papers being carried back and forth from home to school.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie A Christmas Story is the grading scene.   Miss Shields wonders if her life's work has gone down the drain as she grades paper after paper filled with mistakes, until she comes across the shear poetry of Ralphie's essay. Don't forget Ralphie's wrong ideas about how is work was going to be assessed. How might she have used those essays to find exemplar work for students who "get it", students who are on the road to "getting it" and students who just don't "get it" at all?  How could she have used the student work to evaluate the alignment of the lesson to the standards she was focusing on? What might she have written on the papers that would have provided instructive feedback to the students? How could she have used rubrics to improve the student work? Could her students have helped to build the rubric? We have entered the age of "Evidence Based Instruction" and we need to recognize the hidden value in student work.

Defining common understanding of what standards "look like" and what evidence of learning should be expected.
Evidence Centered Design is one way to work together as a teacher team to come to a common understanding of what students are supposed to know or do based on the standards.  There are all kinds of crosswalks, flipbooks, and unpacking the standards documents that help teachers to have collaborative discussions around the standards.  What is missing is the use of student work "exemplars" to help teachers to really define what the standards "look like, sound like, and act like" and what evidence of this they would want to collect.

Try this. The next time your team works together to plan an instructional unit, agree to bring back to the team examples of student work from the unit.  Each teacher should bring not only the best work, but work from students who are showing partial understanding and students who are showing little understanding of the standards.  Put this work out on the table, minus student and teacher names.  As a team, sort the work along a learning continuum - from mastery to developing. Look back at the standards that were tied to the work. What was the purpose of the assignment -  building mastery of a skill, assessing learning growth, building knowledge? Does the student work reflect that the purpose? What is the evidence that students produced that shows an understanding of the standard/skill at the level of rigor the standard defines? Does the student work show that the lesson really got at the standard that was tied to it?


Using work as a formative assessment tool
Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) help teachers plan instruction and help students measure their progress toward understanding/applying knowledge and skills that are part of the class. All of this work begins with a shared understanding of the standards based learning targets for a lesson or unit. Assignments then become a source of feedback to both the teacher and the students.

Try this. The next time you give an assignment, make a data chart for yourself. As you look at the student work, track things like common errors, misconceptions, ideas or answers that go beyond expected responses, ideas or answers that show a student has a more basic understanding of concepts or skills.  Use this data to plan for follow-up instruction. Share this data with colleagues who are working with the same lesson materials.

Then, look at the feedback you choose to give students. How much of it is success feedback - check marks, smile faces, general comments like "good" or "ok" or "I agree"?  How much of it is constructive feedback - coaching remarks to help students move their learning forward like "How might you  use evidence to support this answer" or "What other strategy might you use to approach this problem?"

 Finally, look for opportunities for students to reflect on their own work. One good example of this is a follow-up to the assignment/assessment sheet - What am I not understanding yet? Why am I not understanding it? What am I missing because of a careless error? What do I need to do to improve my learning of this concept?

Student work is also a great tool for developing rubrics with your students rather than for your students. Keeping exemplar work from assignments/units that students can then use to identify traits for each level of a rubric is a great way to get them thinking about the quality of their own work - and the depth of their own learning.  Working together on a rubric also gives them a road map for their own learning. They have an idea of what "mastery" vs "developing" looks like.




Using student work to identify gaps in learning, plan for extra scoops or build in stretch.
Student work can be a great indicator of how  we are challenging or not challenging our students. It can also be a tool to identify where there are gaps in their learning. As we focus more and more on helping all students to grow as learners, it is becoming increasingly important to use student work to help us measure the effectiveness of our differentiated lessons.  How?

Try this.  The next time you give an assignment, ask students to track how much time they spent on the assignment.  Have them circle or share with you the parts of the assignment that they found "easy" and "challenging".  Ask them what they liked about the format of the assignment?  When you or your team work to create new assignments, think of ways to scaffold the problems or tasks.  Start with questions, activities or smaller tasks that are more foundational and require students to pull from prior knowledge or build new knowledge. Then layer on questions or larger tasks that push them to think about a problem from a different point of view or apply knowledge in a different way. Look closely at how they approach the work and where they become frustrated or start to push ahead.  Use their work to help plan for instructional groups, extra scoops of learning or identify students who are ready to go deeper into a concept.  Think about the difference between benchmarking assignments/assessments that are meant to give you and your students a snapshot of their learning over larger chunks of time and more formative assignments/assessments that give your students a point on their learning map so that they can measure their progress.

The next time you walk out of the building with a bag of student work, think of it more as a bag of evidence of learning and teaching and less as bag full of work that has to be graded and recorded.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Closer Look At the CCSS for Speaking and Listening

There has been a lot of discussion around the CCSS ELA expectation for text complexity, balance of informational and literary text, writing with evidence and vocabulary in context. Not as much attention has been paid to the Speaking and Listening standards.   Although they are embedded in the ELA standards, these skills really are integrated across all content areas. Speaking and listening has moved beyond standing up and giving a speech, having a visual aide, being able to take notes during class or being an active listener. The shift is toward supporting the ability to work collaboratively, use a variety of media tools to gather and share information and develop the skills necessary to make decisions about the credibility and accuracy of information.  One effective way to formatively assess these standards would be to use a variety of performance tasks within a unit rather than an isolated, stand alone activity. Standard 1 is particularly important as a College and Career Readiness skill. It is worth taking a closer look at the 6 standards as teachers continue their work on remodeling and designing lessons to align to Ohio's New Learning Standards.  I have developed a set of guiding questions that can be used to help incorporate the Speaking and Listening Standards into lesson and assessment planning. They can be adapted to meet the expectation of a particular grade level standard.

Standard 1 The focus is on collaborative grade appropriate conversations and group work with peers, with adults and in a variety of settings.   Can the student keep the conversational ball moving down the field? Can the student be an active participant in grade level appropriate team work? 

  • Does the lesson/activity:
    •  give students the opportunity to have grade level appropriate discussions with peers or adults?
    •  allow students the opportunity to do prior reading or research in preparation for a discussion with peers or adults?
    • expect students to support their ideas/statements with evidence from their reading?
    • allow students to further the discussion/work by asking focused questions, or making appropriate comments?
    • allow students to hear and evaluate the opinions, ideas and/or information shared by others and make decisions about how to move the discussion or work forward?
    • allow students to practice different roles in a collaborative group?
    • allow students to establish group norms or practice group discussion behaviors?
Standard 2 The focus is on acquisition of  knowledge through a variety of visual and auditory media formats. Can the student get information from a variety of both visual and auditory sources? Can the student make decisions about the accuracy and validity of the information?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to gather information from a variety of media sources - including podcasts, video, digital text, live presentations?
    • give students the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and make decisions about the accuracy or relevance of information to the task?
    • allow students the opportunity to identify the purpose for the information and investigate possible motives for a particular presentation. 
Standard 3 The focus is on understanding a speaker's point of view and evaluating the credibility of the speaker.  Can the student be a discerning listener? 
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students the opportunity to listen to a speaker as a way to gather information?
    • include follow-up activities that would help students to develop the ability to identify point of view, evaluate the quality and validity of the information shared, and analyze the evidence presented by a speaker?
Standard 4 The focus is on the presentation of information and ideas.  Can the student present information, evidence and ideas in a way that makes sense to the audience?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow the student to plan a presentation for a specific audience and task?
    • allow students to identify and utilize the appropriate information and evidence to support their ideas and opinions?
    • allow the students to outline or map out a presentation in a logical order?
Standard 5 The focus is on the use of multimedia tools and visual displays to support claims, present evidence or clarify information.  Can the student use a variety of multi -media tools to add interest, support and/or detail to a presentation?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to choose from a variety of multi-media tools to present data, information and/or support their ideas?
    • provide students with an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular multi-media tool or visual display following the presentation?
Standard 6 The focus is on using appropriate speaking skills when communicating both formally and informally. Can the student orally express ideas and opinions clearly and adapt to speaking in a variety of situations?
  • Does the lesson/activity:
    • allow students to use formal English in conversations with peers or adults as a way to communicate their ideas or opinions?
    • allow students to make decisions about what level of spoken English - from formal to informal - would be appropriate to discuss a task or share information?

Resources:




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CCSS Storytime - Using Stories To Explain Why CCSS Are Already Working



"Teacher's voices are a superpower", according to Sandra Alberti, a leader in developing strategies and tools to help teachers make the shift to the CCSS.   There is a lot of truth to this.  I know as a classroom teacher, my students and their parents put a lot of value in what I said - both about my content and about being successful as a middle school student.  Our teacher voice also has a lot of power when it comes to helping our peers and our community understand the shifts in teaching that are taking place in our classrooms. Sometimes the best way to help people understand what it is you are trying to say is to tell a story that helps them to create a mental "visual" of what you want them to know.  I took time to think through three of my own CCSS stories.

The first story focuses on the power of collaboration when it comes to really understanding what students are supposed to be able to know and do - and what instructional tools will be needed to get them to that level of understanding. Notice that I included a specific standard within the story.


One of my first teams to really start to work with shifting to the CCSS was my Kindergarten staff. We all met on a hot afternoon in August to dive into the standards for math. Our goal for the day was to make a map of learning for the first few months of the school year based on our New Learning Standards. We spent time deciding how to best  teach to the standard that expects students to be able to break apart numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way. We looked over all of our materials and decided we needed a different way to help students really understand what a number was before they could break it apart. So we made dot number flashcards out of paper plates and sticky dots similar to the face of die or a domino to help them see that a number is made up of parts. After using the number cards in class, one of the teachers shared this with me, “It is neat to see how their little brains work. When I hold up a dot number card for 5, every kid sees it in a different way. One says, ‘ I see two on top and two on the bottom and I know two and two is four and one more is five’. Another says, ‘ I see three, like on the three card and two more dots is five.’They are using addition skills and building a foundation of what a number is. They are just not memorizing a number.”

The second story emphasizes the power of vertical teams working on the alignment of the standards by focusing on one of the 6 instructional shifts we are implementing with the CCSS. In this story, I also pull in some of my own teaching experience. By sharing your own experience in your own classroom, you add a lot of credibility to your story.

Teachers are working across grade levels since the new standards support collaboration vertically by helping teachers see how what they teach builds on past learning and supports future learning.  My Grade K-12 English team is working together to help their colleagues in all subject areas help students to build vocabulary by reading and writing about all types of challenging materials, both literary and informational, and by making connections between a word and its context.  This is one of the key shifts in the CCSS for English/ Literacy. In the world beyond k-12 education, adults continue to add to their vocabulary by experiencing words through the reading and writing they do on the job and for pleasure. Studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary abilities at grade 1 are a predictor of reading comprehension in grade 11.   As a science teacher, I helped students learn the parts of a cell not by using coloring pages with lists of terms and arrows pointing to parts, but through reading articles about cells. Based on evidence from what we read, we made an analogy that cells are like cities.  In our analogy, the city hall would be like the nucleus, the cell structure that houses the instructions for how to do all of the functions of the cell.  Students really understood the idea of “nucleus” and could understand it in context, and write scientifically using the term correctly.

My third story is meant to show the power of aligning assessments to the standards by looking closely at what the purpose of an assessment is, and what evidence of learning it will provide to the student or the teacher. In this story I use my parent perspective to look at tests through the eyes of my own daughter. Personalizing stories help to make connections to people who are listening to your story.

There are two types of tests that can be used along side the CCSS.   One type helps to guide further instruction. The second type can be used to show mastery of the standards. Both are tests that will help the teachers and the students show evidence that the students really know or can do what we expect.   These are tests worth giving, much like, on a larger scale, our state plan for our Next Generation Assessments.  Students who are 9th and 10th graders need to know how to identify a theme in what they are reading, analyze its development through the text,  include how it is shaped by specific details, and provide a summary of the text. It would be difficult to gather evidence that a student could do this by using a test with just multiple choice questions or short answers.  My daughter’s test over her summer reading material helped her show evidence of where she was in her understanding of how to do the skills defined in the standard. She wrote an essay summarizing the novel in addition to citing specific evidence to support what she felt the theme of the story was and how it developed. This was work worth doing and an assessment worth giving.  It helped her teacher understand her skills and her knowledge. It helped Sarah really focus on where she needed to grow as a learner. The work teachers are doing to help guide the development of the CCSS aligned tests through the  PARCC or Smarter Balanced Consortium is leading to new English and math tests will result in a test that is worth giving and not a distraction from learning.

Teachers are great story tellers. Find ways to begin to share your CCSS stories with your colleagues, your administrators and your parents. I know there are some great things happening in our classrooms! Tell your story!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Postcard From PARCC Consortium Meeting in Chicago

It is a beautiful, sunny October day, far better than the last time all the PARCC Education Leaders got together here in the February snowstorm!

Here is what I took away from Day 1 of our meeting:
The Math and ELA assessment development is on track and they will be ready to go for the Spring Field Tests and for implementation in 2014-2015.

Teachers who have served as item reviewers, content experts who have helped to develop evidence tables and performance level descriptors,  item developers, and members of the PARCC working groups focusing on technology and accommodations have all done their part to create a new kind of assessment unlike any prior assessment designed to align to state standards. It is now time to do our part as PARCC ELCs to ramp up our communication across our states about the importance of our new state standards and new assessments.  There are 3 key messages to share.

Key Message 1 : PARCC is a consortium of education leaders leveraging the collective knowledge from multiple partner states to help develop assessments that align to the rigor and high quality coursework detailed in our new standards for English and math.   In Ohio, these assessments will be part of our Next Generation Assessments, which will also include assessments in Science and Social Studies.

Key Message 2: We support tests worth giving that reward quality instruction aligned to the new standards in ELA and Math and serve as a useful tool to guide instruction and chart student learning growth rather than serving as a distraction from focused instruction.

Key Message 3: Technology is allowing us to develop interactive, engaging assessments that will allow all students access to the test by building in multiple layers of accommodations. Just as many teachers know that "we teach what is assessed", we also then must acknowledge that students must regularly have access to a variety of technology tools to build knowledge, collaborate with others and assess what they know.  Here is a page of places to go to find free, web based tools to begin to embed more technology into daily lessons.









Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How To Use Informational Text In Your Classroom

Whether you are reading this at the beginning or end of your work day, take a moment and do a mental "reading list" inventory.  What works of fiction are you currently reading?  During the day, how many news articles, websites, journal articles, non-fiction books, emails, documents, directions, graphs, charts, maps and diagrams will you be looking at to gather information?  What kind of writing and talking will you do? Will any of it require you to go back into the "informational text" materials to find information to support what you are writing or talking about?  I suspect that many of you spend a great deal of your professional and personal time focusing more on the "informational" side of text then the "literary" side of text - maybe by choice, maybe by necessity.  I know I carry my Kindle around just to grab a few minutes of "story time" for myself during the day.   Students in grades k-12 also need to experience a blend of literary and informational text, in many forms and across all subject areas, to help them access knowledge and ideas they will need to be successful in life.

Ohio's New Learning Standards for ELA/Literacy, drawing from the Common Core ELA Standards for Literacy, include the use of informational text in all grades and content areas as a way for students to gather and build knowledge.  Another way of looking at this it to consider yourself a teacher of the language of your content area.  What skills do students need to be able to read and write like a scientist, a historian or an artist? What strategies might you help them learn to access features of informational text - like charts, infographics, maps, diagrams, tags, interactive data tables?  One of our Bay Village Schools District-Wide Goals focuses on the use of Informational Text across our district. To help you with your understanding of this goal, and to begin to share instructional strategies that will help your students access the "language" of your content area, I have compiled some resources for you.

Define  Informational Text:
What informational text will students be able to use to build knowledge in your classroom?  How will you provide access to a variety of informational text?  What strategies might you help your students learn?

  • Using Close Reading skills 
  • Understanding content vocabulary in context
  • Using a variety of rich, complex text

What might this look like in a classroom?
Mr. Hossak's 5th grade Classroom (EngageNY)
Exemplar Lesson Plans - scroll down to see Informational Text (achievethecore.org)

Guiding Questions For Instruction Using Informational Text.  (based on achievethecore.org - Instructional Practice Guides)

  • How does the unit allow students to persist in efforts to seek evidence for their responses by returning to the info text when discussing or collaborating?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to build on each other's observations or insights around a piece of informational text - including charts, maps, primary docs etc.?
  • What tools/strategies will students be able to use to help them gain content knowledge from informational text?
  • How are questions and tasks designed to help students build academic vocabulary (content or domain specific vocabulary and syntax)?
  • How are questions and tasks designed to require students to use details from the text to demonstrate understanding and support their ideas about the text?
  • What factors have been considered to make sure the text used is at or above the complexity expected for the grade level?

Resources
STANDARDS



ARTICLES



INSTRUCTIONAL PLANNING

ADDITIONAL BLOG POSTS