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Thursday, November 3, 2011
How Can Secondary Schools Respond Effectively to Our Students that “Get It” and those that “Don’t Get It” During Challenging Times?
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Educating the whole child is undeniably important in producing healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged students who become productive citizens in our society. However, severe cuts to school funding have forced many districts to make difficult choices in which programs to support. Often times, programs that support the development of the whole child are sacrificed in order to maintain the continuation of support for the core academic curriculum. With diminished funding to school programs, can the practice of “engagement” of the whole child remain a sustainable educational practice?
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
"I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn," Albert Einstein.
One night in early May, my 21-year-old son John and I began work on a website using an open-source software called Word Press to promote my new book Navigating the New Pedagogy: Six Principles that Transform Teaching. I had consulted with a few web design specialists about pricing, but I opted instead to try and design a site myself so that I could make modifications when I pleased.
Within a matter of minutes that evening, I had opened an account with Host Monster, secured a domain name, and downloaded Word Press to their server. When I opened Word Press, though, despite its claim of being user friendly, I was confused.
“Where are the instructions?” I asked aloud. I have experience using Blackboard for online teaching; it just came with extensive training.
Where are the instructions for today’s technology? My iPod didn’t come with any; neither did my new iPad. For our students, their technology world (so central to their lives) is largely instruction-less. Today’s youth experiment and tinker with cell phones, video games or their Facebook pages until they construct their own understanding of how it functions. When stumped, they may turn to a friend. Nonetheless, they are typically engaged throughout the process.
In contrast, our schools are places that often come with instructions; knowledge is dispensed. Students are often told math concepts rather than discovering these ideas for themselves. Science lectures deliver concepts; experiments reinforce rather than enlighten. Students are given traits of quality writing instead of analyzing authors’ styles to discover the techniques for themselves. Our schools often fail to engage students in the thinking/problem-solving skills that they do so well.
In my time conducting professional development for Spokane Public Schools, I have had the good fortune to observe many of the best and brightest teachers in our district. To a fault, each of these teachers used analytical/exploratory strategies whenever possible in their classrooms. In my book, I refer to this as “Turning Bloom’s on Its Head.” In this strategy, teachers create activities – often collaborative ones – where students need to analyze and evaluate then synthesize what they learn into meaningful knowledge and comprehension. In other words, they use higher level thinking skills to create understanding. Since the traditional method of teaching is to use lower level thinking skills in order to access the higher level ones, these strategies are essentially “Turning Blooms on Its Head.” This is exactly what students do in their daily lives.
Colleague John O’Dell uses these strategies regularly in the high school social studies activities he assigns. When he taught the concept of political action committees (PACs), for example, he opted to build student understanding using a discovery activity. Rather than explain the power of PACs, he had students research politicians’ campaign contributors for the largest donors, investigate them, and compare and contrast the donors’ interests with the politicians’ voting records. Students then had to draw conclusion about how campaign money impacts the political system. In other words, students used higher level thinking skills to build comprehension of this important concept. Students also built a deeper understanding than had they just read the information in a text book.
“This kind of instruction is real. It’s engaging,” O’Dell explained. “When I do these activities, I validate students’ ability to think. Kids like to feel smart and do activities that are meaningful. We need kids who can think about information and make sense of it.”
One Spokane Public Schools middle-school science activity quantified how powerful this instructional method can be. One set of classrooms taught the physics concepts of falling objects using the traditional method: read the text and do a few activities. A second set of classrooms employed hands-on experiments using coffee filters and balls dropped below motion sensors; students had to create a hypothesis, test it using this science apparatus, and then revise it if necessary after conducting their experiments. In other words, students had to construct their own understanding using their skills of analysis and synthesis. On district assessments measuring the concept of falling objects, classrooms that used these constructivist strategies scored on an average 25-percent higher than those that used traditional teaching methods.
If we are having trouble engaging students in our schools, it may be because we are not playing to their strengths. Teachers are lecturing or demonstrating to students who often have experience figuring things out for themselves. By turning traditional teaching on its head, we not only engage students in constructing their own understanding, we get them engaged in school as well.
Jeff Halstead, educational trainer, staff developer, and writer
National Board-certified English teacher
Ferris High School
Spokane Public Schools
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Some rights reserved by swimparallel
“Never, Never, Never Give Up…” I have purchased this sign for many people over the past several years. I have also seen this sign in a few classrooms around our school district. As a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent (and father) I have known of the importance of helping others see their potential and even beyond. I get my energy and enthusiasm from supporting others. I am not used to being the recipient of this support. A couple weeks ago, however, I received it.
Running a marathon is a humbling experience. It's 26.2 miles and several hours....so much time to think. There are moments in everyone's marathon experience that you wonder whether your legs can take another step. For me, it was between miles 18-21.
The Friday before the marathon, I received several cards of encouragement from family and friends. I was now the recipient of support and honestly wasn't quite prepared. I read through the cards right before falling asleep knowing that in a few short hours, I would be running and running and running. Below are a few excerpts:
I know you are very nervous for tomorrow, but what is the reason behind your nervousness? You are prepared and you can run 26 miles in your sleep. Just go out there and run like you know how to. In football, we are told to play with authority because we know what to do and we know what will happen. So tomorrow, you must run with authority for the same reason.When it became overwhelmingly difficult…, when my quads hurt worse than I could ever remember…, when I saw my wife, Britt, taking pictures with our car just a few steps away (I could just sneak into the passenger spot!)…, when I thought, "There is no way I can do eight more miles....." ....it was then that quotes from the cards entered my mind....Run with authority...be lifted....run, Mike run. For three miles, I pushed these quotes to the front of my mind. For three miles, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. I kept myself focused on reading the cards in my mind....Run with authority...be lifted....run, Mike run.
May your heart be blessed in quietness and confidence. May your heart also be strong enough to get you through this marathon run!
Allow yourself to be lifted up.
With every step of your marathon, you will encourage all those around you in everything big and small.
Run, Mike, Run.
Although, it is hard to describe, I don't remember much of miles 21 -26. They just happened. I do remember the last .2, though. It was wonderful to see Britt. I couldn't help but smile. I could really see the finish line, not just imagine it like I had for the previous 26 miles.
I often write cards and letters to family/friends, staff and students after an event has occurred letting them know how impressed I was or how terrific I thought they did, etc. I would say about 80-90% of the time I write these after-event notes and only 10-20% before an event. I wonder if I might need to reverse this habit a bit.
If the friends and family who wrote me cards would have waited until after the marathon to write me a note, I wonder what I would have used during miles 18-21. What does this mean for the students we work with? Are you like me and write notes and talk to students after an accomplishment? Could our words and actions help them more if we were to offer them before an AP test, state assessment, presentation, or activity/sporting event? Could a single word or phrase help them right at the time they need it the most? I wonder how we might support our students and colleagues with authority before an important moment in their lives.
Enumclaw School District
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Our students must be able to “think” in a process where they are perpetually learning and un-learning in an ongoing cycle rather than simply learning to know. Therefore, learning environments that are built on a teacher/textbook centered learning model that expects students to memorize rapidly decaying information that is disconnected from the learners’ life trajectory or fails to engage the learner in meaningful high cognitive demanding work is at best a futile educational effort and at worst a monumental disservice to the learner and to our society. In order for quality learning to prepare students for a rapidly changing world, the learning environments we create for students must also change.
To achieve this end, our practice as educators must change to support this shift in learner needs. The educational opportunity our students need today must be more of a learning platform that assists them to learn how to think independently rather than simply perpetuate the factory learning model designed to transfer knowledge from the teacher or textbook to the student as if their minds are some sort of biological file cabinet. To do this, we must create powerful, internally motivating learning environments that harness the energy behind every learner’s innate human need to learn. This work must begin with a redefinition of our roles as teachers from being simply deliverers of content (sage on the stage) to seeing ourselves as learning environment leaders (guide on the side) who use the content to develop independent life-long learners. Put simply, quality learning environments must be refocused to help students learn how to think rather than learn what to know.
A Learning to Think classroom (or better seen as a learning team rather than as a classroom) must be focused on assisting all learners to learn to think by using the content as compared to learning to know the content. The content remains vitally important but for a very different reason than we previously thought. Think of the content as more of a learning topography that the learners immerse themselves into so as to learn to think and thereby be able to learn anything (beyond the content used) independently of the teacher. In other words, the content is a means to an end rather than the end itself. A Learning to Think classroom is: 1) Designed to consistently engage the learner in both real and meaningful learning endeavors that expect the learner to have cognition beyond the memorization level; 2) Allow learners to receive and add on to multiple flows of information within and around the learning targets/objectives; and 3) Be built upon a foundation of trust that everyone within the learning team (learner and leader) has an innate need to own their own learning.
In conclusion, as educators we need to have a shift in thinking around how we create learning environments for our students. Failing to do so is similar to trying to teach someone how to drive a car by only seeing the image from the “rear view mirror”. As leaders of learning environments, we ourselves must look through the “windshield” and into the future and recognize that all signs point to a rapidly changing body of knowledge that our students must face. In other words, our students must become independent learners (i.e. thinkers) for a lifetime rather than simply knowers of information. This outcome can only occur if we ourselves as educators examine and change as needed first so as to create quality learning environments that are built upon learning how to think. Then and only then will our students have a real opportunity for quality learning for the information age.
Mark Mansell, Ed.D.
LaCenter School District
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
What's Happening with the Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot? Wenatchee School District's Experience
Wenatchee School District is one of eight school districts and one educational service district chosen to participate in the state Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP). We felt we were prepared for the task, since we had recently invested six years of work creating and implementing a new teacher evaluation system in our district. We believed the knowledge and work from that process would contribute greatly to the new state model. Also, we wanted to be part of the process, not just the recipient of a model handed to us.
In March of 2010, the Washington State legislature passed Engrossed Second Senate Bill 6696 (E2SSB 6696), a law requiring
- The revision of the teacher and principal evaluation system.
- A pilot project that would provide funding to selected districts that would then develop systems that would align to the new requirements.
- All districts in the state of Washington are required to adopt evaluation systems that align to the new requirements by the 2013-14 school year.
The law requires pilot districts to create new teacher and principal evaluation models that must be aligned to eight new criteria using a four-tiered rubric. It requires the identification of, or development of, appropriate multiple measures of student growth. It also requires professional development programs and evaluator training for teachers and principals. The new tools must be piloted and evaluated during the 2011-12 school year. A state Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) Steering Committee was formed to manage the process.
In Wenatchee, we formed three committees: a Steering Committee made up of the superintendent, four administrators and three teachers; a Teacher Committee with five administrators and six teachers, and a Principal Committee with six administrators and five teachers.
Among committee goals were to
- Develop evaluation tools that reflect current research and promote professional growth.
- Review the current tools and retain those aspects that are effective and eliminate or revamp those aspects that are not.
- Build off of previous work and experiences.
- Effectively use multiple measures of student growth for building/instructional improvement.
- Develop tools that are truly beneficial, not just the fulfillment of a requirement
We brought in Scott Poirier, formerly Assistant Superintendent for secondary education at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), currently the K-12 Education Coordinator for the Washington Education Association (WEA), to work with us on the creation of evaluation rubrics.
Then the committees rolled up their sleeves and got to work. The Teacher Committee began aligning existing district evaluation descriptors to the new criteria set forth by the state. They created new descriptors and identified evidence and measures for evaluating performance criteria and student growth.
The Principal Committee identified research-based characteristics of effective principal evaluation to create rubrics keeping with the characteristics and standards of effective leadership. They wrote the ‘gold standard’ for each criterion and aligned indicators to each gold standard, then differentiated the language for each of the four tiers.
Communication and transparency are an important part of the process. Face-to-face is always best, so we meet with building staffs for interactive dialogs. We also have a website rich in information, including budget (we were allotted $115,000 in grant funds to support our work.), goals, meeting minutes, committee members, links to state resources, and newsletters. We mail print newsletters and send eNewsletters to the community, and use email to communicate with all staff.
In January, the Steering Committee attended a TPEP-sponsored conference in Spokane, where we submitted the rubrics-in-process to national education expert, Charlotte Danielson. At this juncture the state TPEP steering committee recognized the importance of including instructional frameworks in conjunction with evaluation tools. Wenatchee has been working with Robert J. Marzano, PhD, a leading researcher in education, for our instructional framework. We began matching evaluation criterion to the Marzano framework. We also began work on determining a summative rating.
Currently we have posted our rubrics on our district Evaluation Pilot website and are preparing to submit our rubrics to the TPEP Steering Committee.
Lessons Learned So Far
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that a collaborative working relationship is a must. We also realized that we didn’t know what we didn’t know, so technical support from WEA and the OSPI has been extremely beneficial. The work of finding the ‘cut-line’ has been challenging. We learned that an instructional framework is critical for creating a teacher evaluation tool, and that implementation of the new model will change the way we look at professional development. Professional development will now align to the instructional framework, where in the past professional development focused more on content-specific instructional strategies.
Challenges – Now and in the Future
We’re squeezing a tremendous amount of work into a very short period of time. We have the challenge of changing our culture to provide accountability, while supporting and ensuring growth. Developing a method to use data in determining impact on student learning has been a challenge. Constructing a summative rating has been a challenge, but thanks to some great math minds on our committees, we’re feeling confident about our method.
- We are developing a pilot year plan and beginning the process of selecting fifty teachers from a pool of teachers who apply to participate. All principals will be evaluated using the new rubric.
- We are creating a Professional Development Plan for use of the new tools, including calibration training, and we are developing a plan for evaluating the new tools.
- In June 2011, OSPI will collect and analyze materials from the pilot districts and make recommendations to the Legislature regarding the adoption of one or more of the systems for use by districts in the state. We will pilot the new evaluation system in 2011-2012. We’ll evaluate, modify, and pilot again in 2012-2013. The following school year, 2013-2014, we will launch the full implementation of the new evaluation system in all school districts in Washington State.
It’s a task whose time has come. Creating the best possible schools is the ultimate outcome of effective evaluation. Positively impacting teacher and principal quality and student learning is the gold standard we are striving to achieve.
Brian Flones, Superintendent
Wenatchee School District
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
There are two thinkers, Richard Elmore and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who are currently in my mind as I help this high school refine their focus on quality teaching and learning. I am fortunate to be working with building leaders (administration, instructional coach, and teacher leaders) who are willing to invest the time to observe, listen, talk and then act upon new and refined ideas about quality instruction.
First, we are spending time digging into Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning by Richard Elmore. Study the three figures below for a minute and think about their implications for improving instruction.
First, Elmore argues that to improve instruction one must focus on the “Instructional Core,”. However, one cannot just focus on an element of the core; all elements must be addressed. That is, one must simultaneously work to improve the teacher’s skills and knowledge, the students’ level of engagement and participation in learning, and the rigor of the content being taught.
Elmore also notes that in most attempts to improve instruction, we have not focused enough attention on the content or the role of students.
The way one evaluates whether there are improvements in the three elements of the “Instructional Core,” and student learning, is to analyze the task that students are actually doing.
Task predicts performanceSusan Perkins Weston on the Prichard blog sums up what Elmore means by increasing the level of tasks kids do in classrooms,
What predicts performance is what student are actually doing...the instructional task is the actual work that students are asked to do during the process of instruction-no what teacher think they are asking student to do or what the official curriculum says that the students are asked to do..."
An Elmore catch phrase is that "task predicts performance." I think I understand that. If you ask me to peel vegetables, that's only going to give me a small step toward becoming a competent cook. If you assign me to walk around the block daily; that will never get me into shape for a marathon. And, if you give me worksheets and drills and lists of facts to remember, that isn't going to equip me to analyze demanding texts, build strong arguments from credible evidence, or tackle serious math and science challenges effectively. http://prichblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-teams-and-with-tasks-richard-elmore.htmlI have had many conversations with the school’s leadership team to get clear about these ideas and we have visited classrooms to test Elmore’s theory. Now, the leadership team has begun to think about how our reading and observations can be put into action in the next round of school improvement strategies.
The other thinker we are spending time with this spring is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi’s work addresses the emotional challenges caused by increasing the demands on both school personnel and students. The connections between Csikszentmihalyi and Richard Elmore are also very explicit. For years Elmore has argued that if we are going to ask teachers to dramatically increase student performance, we must provide significant professional development.
This is merely a snap-shot of the deep work of Elmore and Csikszentmihalyi. I encourage you to read the original work and enter the conversations around this work that can be found on the internet.
Rebecca J. Downey, Technical Assistance Contractor
The Office of Superintendent of Instruction
The original texts:
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
Elmore, Richard. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2009.
A start on the internet conversation:
Monday, March 21, 2011
Few issues have created more debate among educators, parents, and students than those associated with grading and reporting student learning. Despite the many debates and multitudes of studies, conversely, recommendations for best practice remain elusive. Although teachers generally try to develop grading policies that are honest and fair, strong evidence shows that their practices vary widely, even among those who teach at the same grade level within the same school.
Although educators would unquestionably prefer that motivation to learn be entirely intrinsic, grades and other reporting methods are important factors in determining how much effort students put forth. Studies show that most students view high grades as positive recognition of their success, and some work hard to avoid the consequences of low grades (Feldmesser 1971). At the same time, no studies support the use of low grades or marks as punishments. Instead of prompting greater effort, low grades more often cause students to withdraw from learning. To protect their self-images, many students view the low grade as irrelevant and meaningless. Other students may blame themselves for the low grade, but they may feel helpless to make any improvement. Sorrowfully, some teachers consider grades or reporting forms as their “weapon of last resort.” In their view, students who do not fulfill the teacher’s expectations must suffer the consequences of the greatest punishment a teacher can bestow: a failing grade. Such practices have no educational value and, in the long run, adversely affect students, teachers, and the relationship they share.
Measurement experts such as Peter Airasian explain that educators use grades primarily 1) for administrative purposes, 2) to give students feedback about their progress and achievement, 3) to provide guidance to students about future course work, 4) to provide guidance to teachers for instructional planning, and 5) to motivate students (Marzano, 2000). According to the research, each of the five purposes for grading has some support from educators. A useful question is which of the five purposes are the most important or, more generally stated, what is the relative importance of the five purposes? One of the more obvious purposes for grades is to provide feedback about student achievement. Studies have consistently shown support for this purpose. Both educators and non-educators perceived providing information about student achievement as the primary purpose of grading.
This is a very complex dilemma we face in education today. Many districts shy away from dealing with this issue because it is so complex. In Grandview School District, we have decided to embark on this topic. We have commitment from the school board, superintendent, and all administrators for job-embedded professional development, training teachers and administrators to understand and implement standards-based instruction and assessment. We have created a Standards-Based Reporting Committee with representation from all stakeholders, including parents, to develop a grading/reporting system based on a clear purpose for each reporting method. With parent representation in our committee work, they are able to communicate the system to other parents and the community. We have come up with a district purpose for grading in our district. This is “to communicate academic progress to students, parents, teachers, and others.”
Using Ken O’Connor’s ’15 Practices that Distort Achievement’ from A Repair Kit for Grading:Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades, our district committee is now attempting to address our grading practices. Below are these 15 Practices:
- Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement.
- Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner.
- Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.
- Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.
- Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately.
- Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence.
- Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.
- Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations.
- Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards.
- Don’t rely on evidence from assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments.
- Don’t rely only on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgment.
- Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence.
- Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence.
- Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities; in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement.
- Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can - and should- play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.
Feldmesser, R. A. 1971. The positive functions of grades. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.
Marzano, Robert (2000).Transforming Classroom Grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
O’Connor, Ken (2010) A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades, Second Edition, Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Jose Rivera, Principal
McClure Elementary School
Grandview School District