Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How is RIGOR on trial?

Check out this awesome article! I will be in France through the end of the month and look forward to telling you all about my adventures when I return!

Rigor On Trial

© Copyright Tony Wagner, 2006 (first Published in Education Week, January 11, 2006)

 Rigor, it seems, is the new reform de jour. As a nation, we appear to have come to a consensus that all children deserve a “challenging and rigorous” education. The problem is: we have no common agreement about what is “rigor.” Is it rigorous to require all students to take a “college prep” curriculum, including advanced math? Are high school Advanced Placement courses the new standard for rigor, as many are now suggesting?

I recently had an opportunity to explore these and related questions in depth with a remarkable group of educators. As a follow up to an Education Week Commentary I wrote in 2002 where I introduced the idea of the “New 3 R’s” of Rigor, Relevance, and Respectful Relationships, a group of principals in Kona, Hawaii, led by Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza, challenged me to help them think about what the New 3 R’s actually look like in the classroom. They wanted to begin by creating a rubric for assessing rigor at all grade levels.

We began our discussions with a ½ day retreat where we explored basic questions about rigor: what are teachers doing in a rigorous classroom; what are students doing in a rigorous classroom; what does rigorous student work look like at different grade levels? The more we discussed these questions, the more we realized how difficult our task was. Rigor in the classroom, we began to see, was invariably tied to the larger question of what society will demand of students when they graduate—what it means to be an educated adult and how the skills needed for work, citizenship, and continuous learning have changed fundamentally in the last quarter century.

By the end of the first afternoon, we’d constructed a basic rubric that we thought was ready to pilot. For the next several days, we conducted learning walks in each of the six principals’ schools, K-12. At the end of our 2 hour visits in each school, we debriefed every class we’d visited in terms of whether we thought the class was high, medium, or low rigor and why. Discussions were frustrating, at first, because there was no agreement among the group about the levels of rigor they’d observed. This lack of agreement led us to revise our classroom observation tool following each school visit.

After a remarkable two days of work together, the group had calibrated their classroom assessments to the point where there was now frequent alignment among the group about the level of rigor in the classes we observed, as well as discussions about what each principal might say to the teacher to create a more challenging class. Along the way, we had substantially modified our rigor rubric, as well. We began to realize that rigor has less to do with how demanding the material is that the teacher covers than with what competencies students have mastered as a result of a lesson. We were able to agree on this assessment because, in our journey, we had gone from having initially created a series of teacher-centered observations to consensus on a set of questions that we would ask students, chosen at random, to determine not only the level of rigor in the class, but also to what extent there was evidence of the other two R’s of Relevance and Respectful Relationships—essential elements in motivating students to want to achieve rigor. The seven questions that emerged from this work are the following:

1. What is the purpose of this lesson?

2. Why is this important to learn?

3. In what ways am I challenged to think in this lesson?

4. How will I apply, assess, or communicate what I’ve learned?

5. How will I know how good my work is and how I can improve it?

6. Do I feel respected by other students in this class?

7. Do I feel respected by the teacher in this class?

Discussing these questions with students led us to see all courses we’d visited in a new light—especially the Advanced Placement classes. In virtually all of the AP courses we observed (and in the ones I have seen in numerous districts,) teachers were covering more academic content at a faster pace, but the primary competency students were being asked to master was the ability to memorize copious amounts of information for the test. Teachers’ questions to students tended to be almost entirely factual recall. In our opinion, not a single one of the AP classes we saw was sufficiently rigorous to prepare students for work, citizenship, and continuous learning in today’s world. In fact, there was a stronger purpose to the lesson, much more thinking being done by students, and assessments that required more analysis in several of the non-AP courses.

We concluded our three days with a discussion of what this new understanding of rigor meant for the superintendent, the principals, and their work together. In order for rigorous teaching to become more than “a random act of excellence,” these leaders began to realize that their work had to change, both at the building level, and as a group concerned with students’ experiences, K-12. Meetings at every level had to be more than just for “housekeeping.” The principal’s or superintendent’s meetings are his or her “classroom” and must be models of rigor. And so the group committed to replicating the discussions of what is rigor with their faculty and to a new way of working together. Instead of meeting occasionally for a quick catch-up over breakfast, as had been the case, Art and his principals now meet for a half day a month in one another’s schools on a rotating basis, to conduct learning walks and to present and discuss real case studies related to strengthening rigorous instruction in their schools. They are becoming what we at the Change Leadership Group in our newly published book, Change Leadership: A Practical Guide for Transforming Our Schools, call a Leadership Practice Community—a “community of practice” whose goal is to help one another become better change leaders.

While inspired by the work of these leaders, the experience leaves me with some troubling questions related to rigor. When the principals later reflected on our time together, they realized that the real power of the work came from their having to think through, for themselves, what rigor is—instead of someone giving them the answer. Their insight leads me to wonder what might happen if the seven questions above were not only applied to every class, but to every adult meeting or professional development program? Could they be used as a transparent set of standards for planning and assessing both adult and student learning across a district? Would this lead to more rigorous meetings? And if educators were routinely asked in their work to really think—analyze data, assess research, and solve problems together—would students then be more likely to learn these same competencies? If such a connection exists—and I think it does—then how do we create an education reform strategy that relies less on mindless mandated compliance and computer-scored, test-based accountability and more on the development of educators’ collaborative problem-solving and reasoning skills?

Excerpt from article available at:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships for ALL Students

Strengthening Student


Dr. Richard D. Jones, Author and Senior Consultant,

International Center for Leadership in Education

International Center for Leadership in Education 1

Strengthening Student Engagement*

by Dr. Richard D. Jones, Author and Senior Consultant,

International Center for Leadership in Education

November 2008

Engagement-Based Learning and Teaching Approach

Simply telling or encouraging students to engage themselves in their class work is seldom

enough. The engagement-based learning and teaching (EBLT) approach provides the

foundation for developing and strengthening student engagement and the overall learning

process. This foundation is built through specific principles, habits, skills, and strategies. All

members of the school community can join forces to develop schoolwide practices that cultivate

student engagement beliefs, values, feelings, motivation, behavioral habits, and skills that are at

the crux of high levels of student engagement.

The three domains of student engagement unfold in EBLT as follows:

• Cognitive domain consists of beliefs and values.

• Emotional domain consists of motivation and feelings.

• Behavioral domain consists of habits and skills.

In the EBLT approach, teachers and parents work systematically across all three domains to

ensure an integrated approach to cultivate and support student engagement at the highest level.

The core habits of student achievement and other skill sets, such as organizational skills and

self-discipline, also will be developed in the student through this approach.

Key Elements of EBLT

The EBLT approach encompasses the following six objectives.

1. Cultivate one-on-one relationships. The one-on-one relationship between student and

teacher is the critical element that can lead to increased student motivation and higher

levels of engagement in academics and school life.

2. Learn new skills and habits. Teachers can learn new skills and habits that help them to

develop, polish, and enhance their already natural inclination to motivate and engage


3. Incorporate systematic strategies. Teachers can learn systematic strategies that facilitate

student engagement. Students can develop behavioral skills and habits that lead to

increased academic achievement and greater involvement with school life.

4. Take responsibility for student engagement practices. It is primarily the teacher’s

responsibility to engage the students, as opposed to the teacher expecting students to come

to class naturally and automatically engaged.


This white paper is excerpted from Student Engagement — Creating a Culture of Academic Achievement,

published by the International Center for Leadership in Education.

International Center for Leadership in Education 2

5. Promote a schoolwide culture of engagement. The best way to promote high levels of

student engagement is to develop and maintain a schoolwide initiative that is dedicated to

creating a culture of student engagement, involving students in school activities, and providing a

rigorous and relevant education program for all students.

6. Professional development is an important part of increasing student engagement.

Staff development, combined with staff ownership and recognition, is critical to developing

and maintaining a culture of effective student engagement.

Laying the Foundation for Student Engagement

It is easy to observe the lack of student engagement when students are slouched in their chairs

and not listening to the teacher or participating in the discussion. Many teachers who constantly

see disengaged students put the burden on the student and lament that they could be better

teachers and have better results if they had the opportunity to work with a “better” group of

students. But classrooms with high levels of student engagement are not simply a result of

“student quality.”

It is true that, depending on students’ prior experiences, attitudes, and perceptions, students

can make it easier or more difficult to create a highly engaged classroom. But teachers are not

limited to poor learning results because students are not engaged. When educators examine

more closely the characteristics of engaging instruction, they can begin to identify the elements

that contribute to high levels of student engagement. These elements are a combination of the

background of students and the influence and expectations of family and peers, but they also

include schoolwide and classroom practices.

For teachers to deal with low levels of student performance, they must begin to reflect on the

elements that contribute to student engagement. Teachers can have direct control and make

changes instantaneously in some areas. For other changes to occur, it will take time for both

students and the teacher to develop new skills. Improvements may depend on planning and

seeking out new solutions or making changes at the schoolwide level.

Regardless of the time it takes to make significant changes to improve student engagement

practices, educators should become familiar with the two basic elements that together provide

the roadmap for teachers to focus on and facilitate student engagement. These elements are

preconditions and pedagogy.


Preconditions are the factors that must be in place even before classroom instruction begins.

The factors are:

Learning relationships. Most students will not do their best in classes when they feel that

teachers do not have an interest in them or care about their future. Students can sense whether

the teacher cares or is simply “going through the motions.” All of the characteristics that we

know about building relationships are essential to contributing to highly engaged classroom

instruction. Students show increased effort in classroom activities when teachers take an

interest in students as individuals, get to know them by name, and talk to them not only in the

classroom but during other activities in the school as well.

International Center for Leadership in Education 3

Creating the ideal classroom environment. Good instruction can take place in a variety of

settings. However, there is no question that well designed and well maintained classroom

facilities have a positive impact on student engagement.

Classrooms should be physically comfortable for students with respect to temperature, space,

furniture, and structural organization. Classrooms also need to be mentally stimulating, with

attractive displays that include samples of student work and colorful designs. Good teachers

pay attention to the physical learning environment and do not make changes to that

environment that could become obstacles to student learning.

Rewards and incentives. There is much discussion within education communities and by

researchers and practitioners about the role that rewards play in stimulating student work.

Probably every teacher at some point has used a “bribe” of food, recreation, or some other

reward to encourage students to finish a project or to follow a specific procedure, such as being

quiet in a classroom.

There is some concern, and rightly so, that if rewards are used routinely, students are only

exhibiting the learning behavior to receive the reward. When the reward disappears, the

behavior will stop. Rewards and incentives do have their place, but they must be incorporated


A key to effective use of rewards is whether it is offered in advance of a behavior. A bad use of

the reward system is when a teacher says to students, “If you are quiet for the next 30 minutes,

you will get a piece of candy.” In this scenario, the student associates the behavior with the

reward. It is a better practice to give the reward spontaneously after the behavior.

Grades are the big incentive system in schools. Students do the work, but often they do the

minimal amount possible in order to receive the grade. Some students even openly avoid doing

any work that is not tied to a grade. In this scenario, students see their learning experiences as

meaningless activities, but they have to get the good grade to move on toward the next phase of

their lives.

Where could students have gotten this gross misunderstanding of the importance of grades? It

is the fruition of how we as educators have misguided students as to what is important. We

have tried to spur student engagement in otherwise boring and meaningless activities by tying it

directly to a grade, by giving a reward in hopes that students would complete their school work.

Also, many students feel labeled as “C” or “D” learners from prior experiences in school and see

little reason to improve their efforts. Grades are not a motivation to these students, who are

comfortable with completing very little of their work or skipping it altogether. Many schools need

to reexamine grading policies both at the schoolwide and classroom level to ensure that this

reward system provides a situation in which students are encouraged to work hard.

In general, teachers need to reflect on the appropriate use of rewards in the classroom. The

goal should be to build a stronger student perspective on intrinsic motivation as an incentive for

student work and student learning, such as the pride of completing a difficult task or the

satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

There is no perfect grading system or time to give or withhold rewards. However, schools and

teachers need to examine current practices constantly and consider changes that will increase

the level of student engagement with respect to using incentives and rewards.

International Center for Leadership in Education 4

Guiding principles. These are positive character attributes and appropriate behaviors for

achieving in school and becoming good citizens as adults. In recent years, however, many

schools have moved away from programs that deal with behavioral issues and character

education to avoid divisive community debates about whether schools should be teaching

anything beyond the old 3 Rs.

The development of a child’s character and appropriate behavior is first and foremost the

responsibility of the family, but schools can play a strong supporting role. Schools with the

highest levels of student achievement do not sidestep the issue of character education. They

embrace it. These schools acknowledge that their success is due in large measure to their

attention to guiding principles, through which they have been able to create the supportive

learning environment that is essential for students to achieve high standards.

Following are some guiding principles used by many schools.

• adaptability

• compassion

• contemplation

• courage

• honesty

• initiative

• loyalty

• optimism

• perseverance

• respect

• responsibility

• trustworthiness

Habits. These are the routines and procedures that teachers create in the classroom. Habits

include the way that students enter a classroom or engage in an activity at the start of every

class period. Other habits include the ways that students open and organize materials that they

need for the day, move from large to small groups for various activities, and work on individual


Teachers can create improved classroom environments and higher levels of student

engagement if they focus on appropriate procedures and have students practice those

procedures until they become habits. When students fail to follow the procedures, teachers

need remind them of the rules and ways in which they can practice them. Good habits help to

make effective use of instructional time and reduce the disruption that distracts students from

the learning process. It is through practices that these procedures become powerful habits and

keep students engaged in learning.

Fundamental skills. These are the basic proficiencies that all students need to be able to

participate in class and complete their work. Student need basic reading skills, for example, to

be able to understand directions and materials used in any subject area. Students also need to

acquire the skills to facilitate discussions and to learn how to listen to the teacher as well as

other students in group discussions. They also need basic skills in technology for doing Internet

research or preparing PowerPoint presentations. In addition, students need to learn basic social

skills. To function in the classroom and workforce and as responsible citizens, they have to

International Center for Leadership in Education 5

learn how to greet others, respect space, resolve conflicts, and ask questions. Teachers should

ensure that students have these skills through pre-assessment and by constantly monitoring

student engagement levels.


The following key aspects of pedagogy help teachers create an environment in which rigorous

and relevant learning can take place.

Designing for rigorous and relevant learning. One of the barriers to high levels of student

engagement is the lack of rigorous and relevant instruction. While it is essential that students

acquire fundamental skills before they proceed to more complex work, teachers should not keep

students hostage by requiring that they complete all the isolated basics before they have the

opportunity to engage in challenging and applied learning experiences. Relevance is just as

critical as rigor. Relevance can help create conditions and motivation necessary for students to

make the personal investment required for rigorous work or optimal learning. Students invest

more of themselves, work harder, and learn better when the topic is interesting and connected

to something that they already know.

Personalized learning. Each student brings a unique set of characteristics to the classroom:

different background knowledge, a unique learning style, a variety of interests, and varied

parental support and expectations. To anticipate that each student will learn in the same way, at

the same speed, and using the same material is an unrealistic expectation.

Some teachers fall into the false assumption that the student is responsible when he or she fails

to demonstrate adequate achievement. But often it is the lack of personalizing learning that is

the source of failure. There are many individual practices and strategies that contribute to

overall personalization. As a start, teachers can create a more engaging classroom situation by

getting to know their students and using examples during instruction that relate to students’

backgrounds, cultures, and prior experiences.

Parent involvement also is a part of personalizing learning. By reaching out to parents and

establishing cooperation and support for learning expectations, teachers are able to achieve

greater personalization. Students also need to experience differentiated instruction instead of

constant large group instruction moving at the same rate of speed. There should be

opportunities for them to do individual assignments, to work at their own speed — to move more

slowly on more difficult material and more quickly on concepts or skills in which they have

higher proficiency levels.

Active learning strategies. While it may sometimes be efficient to have students listen to a

short lecture, view video material, or read a textbook, doing these types of isolating, sedentary

activities on regular basis becomes mind-numbing rather than mind-engaging. There are

strategies that naturally contribute to a much higher level of student engagement. For example,

cooperative learning strategies in which students are organized into structured discussion

groups and play specific roles in analyzing problems and seeking solutions are more engaging

than listening to a lecture. Moreover, varying instructional strategies adds interest and increases

engagement. Even the most exciting activities, if done continually, lose their appeal.

Focus on reading. It may seem as a misplacement to talk about literacy as a key ingredient in

student engagement. However, many successful schools emphasize the importance of focusing

on literacy instruction for continuous learning in all subjects.

International Center for Leadership in Education 6

Having a literacy focus means that all teachers, regardless of subject area, know the reading

levels of the materials that they are using, whether that material is incorporated in textbooks,

classroom directions, Internet-based resources, or other reading sources. They also know the

reading levels of their students. They are able to match reading materials with individual

students and identify where there are significant gaps that might require a change in

instructional strategy.

Teachers also need to incorporate vocabulary strategies as part of their individual course

instruction. Paying attention to specific terms related to a topic of discussion and using

strategies to gradually introduce and reinforce the vocabulary leads to comprehension and

better student engagement in every subject. Teachers need to use comprehension strategies

such as pre-reading and summarization that provide an opportunity for students to be more

engaged in the required reading for a particular instructional activity. Reading is fundamental

and cuts across all learning. If teachers expect high levels of student engagement, they need to

pay attention to reading levels and establish instructional strategies with literacy as a primary

focus in all they do.

Learning Relationships

Strong positive relationships are critical to the education process. Students are more likely to

make a personal commitment to engage in rigorous learning when they know teachers, parents,

and other students care about how well they do. They are willing to continue making the

investment when they are encouraged, supported, and assisted. Building good relationships

complements rigor and relevance. For students to engage fully in challenging learning, they

must have increased levels of support from the people around them.

Perhaps what is needed is a taxonomy to help educators identify and quantify relationships that

improve learning. The International Center has developed such a tool, called the Relationship

Framework, which consists of seven levels of relationships.

Level 0 is Isolated. This is the lack of any positive relationships. The individual feels alone and

isolated from social relationships that would enhance learning.

Level 1 is Known. A person must know someone before a relationship is formed. When

teachers seek to develop positive relationships with students, the first step is getting to know

them—their families, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and learning styles.

Level 2 is Receptive. Often, a learning relationship is described in terms of providing the

assistance and support that a student needs. However, a preliminary step is showing that we

are interested and genuinely care about developing a relationship. This comes from frequent

contact in multiple settings and taking an active interest.

Level 3 is Reactive. In this case, one person receives guidance or support from another. This

relationship yields emotional support or cognitive information.

Level 4 is Proactive. At this level, people have made a proactive commitment to do more than

assist when needed and take an active interest in supporting the other person.

International Center for Leadership in Education 7

Level 5 is Sustained. Positive support is balanced from family members, peers, and teachers.

It is a relationship that will endure over a long period of time. This is the level of relationship that

effective parents have with their children.

Level 6 is Mutually Beneficial. Although this is the highest level, it is rare in education, for at

this point, both parties contribute support to one another for an extended period of time.

The following chart describes the degrees of student support at each level of the framework.

Relationship Framework

Learning Relationships — Support for Students

0. Isolated Students feel significant isolation from teachers, peers, or even parents.

Students lack any emotional or social connection to peers and teachers.

1. Known

Students are known by others and are frequently called by name. Teachers

know students and their families, interests, aspirations, and challenges.

Students are known by peers with whom they interact in school.

2. Receptive

Students have contact with peers, parents, and teachers in multiple settings.

Teachers exhibit positive behaviors of “being there” that show genuine

interest and concern.

3. Reactive Teachers, parents, and peers provide help to students when requested, but

support may be sporadic and inconsistent among support groups.

4. Proactive

Others take an active interest in a student’s success. Teachers take initiative

to show interest and provide support. Students and others express verbal

commitment for ongoing support and validate this commitment with their


5. Sustained There is extensive, ongoing, pervasive, and balanced support from teachers,

parents, and peers that is consistent and sustained over time.

6. Mutually


Positive relationships are everywhere and commonplace in the way that

students, teachers, and parents interact and support the student as learner.

Once teachers make relationships important, they can begin to reflect on current practices and

discuss how to improve them. Relationships are not simply good or bad; they exist on a

continuum. Furthermore, relationships can change over time.

The Relationship Framework first helps teachers understand that there are degrees of

relationships. When they think about their relationships with students, teachers can use the

framework to apply a qualitative measure to the relationships they make. This qualitative

measure helps teachers reflect on their current levels and allows them to decide if they wish to

make changes to improve relationships. When relationships are categorized as a simple

dichotomy of good or bad, teachers are not likely to reflect on their practices or make selfdirected

changes. If relationships are “good,” there is no need for change. If relationships are

“poor,” it is easier to become defensive, blame the other party, or accept things for the way they

are. When a specific framework is used for describing relationships, it has a different effect on

teachers. Even if relationships are poor, there are at least some positive aspects on which to

build. This makes teachers less defensive.

At the other end of the scale, relationships categorized as generally “good” are usually never as

good as they could be. There is the potential for growth and further improvement. This

motivates even the best teachers to continue to work on improving relationships and strive to

reach higher levels. In this scenario, all teachers need to work on improving relationships

regardless of their current level of success.

International Center for Leadership in Education 8

The various levels in the Relationship Framework help to identify the changes that need to be

made to improve relationships. If a teacher observes that a student is isolated, the first step is to

engage in interventions by getting to know the student and facilitating activities among peers to

expand what they know about one another. Just because students “hang out” together does not

mean that they really know much about each other. Sometimes a student in a group can be just

as isolated as one who sits alone in a school cafeteria.

If a teacher observes that current student relationships are at the “known” level, relationship

interventions can focus on frequency of contact and exhibiting behaviors of receptivity. The next

level moves to behaviors that provide support to students.

Classroom Management vs. Learning-Based Relationships

The teacher’s responsibility for teaching and learning in the classroom often is divided into

instruction and classroom management. Instruction refers to the content and pedagogy of what

is learned. Classroom management refers to the processes and techniques that teachers use to

set the climate for learning. The words “classroom management” create the impression that the

classroom is an industrial process rather than a collaboration among people. It suggests that the

teacher applies certain management techniques without any emotion to make sure that the

classroom runs smoothly and efficiently. The term originates in the industrial model of

education, the same model that gives us rigid bell schedules, differentiation of labor, and large

school houses.

School leaders have begun to question many of these industrial model characteristics. Perhaps

one of the changes schools should make is to abandon the term “classroom management” and

replace it with “relationship building.” Teachers need to create a climate for learning in the

classroom. However, this is not a process to be managed. The classroom is made up of a group

of students who desire and deserve high-quality personal relationships with adults and peers. It

is the quality of these relationships that drives their behavior and leads to learning. The following

charts describes some differences when looking at the instructional climate as relationship

building rather than as classroom management.

Classroom Management Relationship Building

Classroom Rules Mandated Negotiated

Power Without question Power with respect

Observation of

Effectiveness Students passive and quiet Students actively engaged

Risk-Taking Discouraged Encouraged

Control Mechanism Negative

feedback/punishments Positive reinforcement

Primary Teacher Role Absolute attention Source of encouragement

Relationships in school always can be improved. Schools can engage in specific practices to

improve the quality of those relationships that influence student learning and the operation of a

school. These practices fall into three categories:

International Center for Leadership in Education 9

1. Supportive behaviors are ways in which teachers act and interact with students to support

learning and good relationships.

2. Supportive initiatives are school initiatives that contribute to learning and good


3. Supportive structures constitute major organizational changes that contribute to learning

and good relationships.

Following are examples of adult and peer behaviors that influence learning relationships in a

positive manner.

• Showing respect

• “Being there” for students and frequent contact

• Active listening

• One-on-one communication

• Encouraging students to express opinions

• Avoiding “put-downs”

• Writing encouraging notes

• Students praising peers

• Displaying students’ work

• Identifying unique talents and strengths

• Exhibiting enthusiasm

• Using positive humor

• Serving as a role model

• Celebrating accomplishments

Following are examples of supportive initiatives that influence learning relationships in a

positive way.

• Social activities to start the year

• Team building

• Mentoring

• Rewards, recognition, incentives

• Student advocacy

• Advisory programs

• Peer mediation

• Students as teachers

• Character education

• Parent partnerships

• Business-community partnerships

• Service learning/community service

• Extracurricular and co-curricular activities

• Sports programs

International Center for Leadership in Education 10

Schools also can implement major changes to their structures that can make it easier to

develop positive learning relationships, such as the following.

• Small learning communities

• Alternative scheduling

• Team teaching

• Teaching continuity

• School-based enterprises

• Professional learning communities

Related resources available from the International Center for Leadership in Education,

visit for more information.

Resource Kits:

Leadership for Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships

Strategic Reading in the Content Areas — Boosting Achievement in Grades 7-12

Student Engagement — Creating a Culture of Academic Achievement


Student Engagement — Teacher Handbook (available January 2009)

International Center for Leadership in Education

1587 Route 146 ● Rexford, NY 12148

(518) 399-2776 ● fax 399-7607 ●

Friday, July 15, 2011

We need high expectations for our students!

Check out this article I read this week with my school's Instructional Leadership team:

Benard (1995) describes the value of high expectations in the schools:
"Schools that establish high expectations for all students--and provide the support necessary to achieve these expectations--have high rates of academic success (Brook et al., 1989; Edmonds, 1986; Howard, 1990; Levin, 1988; Rutter et al., 1979; Slavin et al., 1989). In the book Fifteen Thousand Hours, Rutter (1979) and his colleagues report on research that they conducted in schools located in some of the most poverty-ridden areas of London. Their findings show considerable differences in these schools' rates of delinquency, behavioral disturbance, attendance, and academic attainment (even after controlling for family 'risk' factors). The successful schools share certain characteristics: an emphasis on academics, clear expectations and regulations, high levels of student participation, and alternative resources such as library facilities, vocational work opportunities, art, music, and extracurricular activities. One of the most significant findings is that the longer students attend these successful schools, the more their problem behaviors decrease. In unsuccessful schools, the opposite is true--the longer students attend them, the more they exhibit problem behaviors. Rutter (1979) concluded that, 'Schools that foster high self-esteem and that promote social and scholastic success reduce the likelihood of emotional and behavioral disturbance' (p.83).

Resiliency researcher Garmezy (1991) claims Rutter's work 'stands forth as a possible beacon for illuminating the role of schools as a strategic force in fostering the well-being of disadvantaged children' (p. 425). The power of a schoolwide ethos of high expectations also appears in research on protective factors by Brook (1989) and her colleagues. This research team found that high expectations and a schoolwide ethos that values student participation mitigate powerful risk factors in adolescents' use of alcohol and drugs.
During the last decade, research on successful programs for youth at risk of academic failure has clearly demonstrated that high expectations--with concomitant support--is a critical factor in decreasing the number of students who drop out of school and in increasing the number of youth who go on to college (Mehan et al., 1994). According to [Phyllis] Hart of the Achievement Council, a California-based advocacy group, when a poor, inner-city school established a college core curriculum, over 65 percent of its graduates went on to higher education--up from 15 percent before the program began. Several students stated that 'having one person who believed I could do it!' was a major factor in their decision to attend college (California Department of Education, 1990). Similarly, Levin's Accelerated Schools Program and Slavin's Success for All project demonstrate that engaging low-achieving students in a challenging, speeded-up (as opposed to a slowed-down, remedial) curriculum produces positive academic and social outcomes (Levin, 1988; Slavin et al., 1989). These findings are in direct contrast to the dismal achievement of children whose schools label them slow learners and track them into low-ability classes--high percentages being children of color--documented in Oakes' (1985) study of tracking.
Conveying positive and high expectations to students occurs in several ways. One of the most obvious and powerful is through personal relationships in which teachers and other school staff communicate to students, 'This work is important; I know you can do it; I won't give up on you' (Howard, 1990). The literature on resiliency repeatedly confirms the protective power of firm guidance, challenge, and stimulus--plus loving support (Garbarino et al., 1992; Werner, 1990). Youth who are succeeding against the odds talk of being respected and of having their strengths and abilities recognized (McLaughlin et al., 1994; Mehan et al., 1994). Successful teachers of poor children refuse to label their students 'at risk'; they look at each child and see the gem that is inside and communicate this vision back to the child (Ashton-Warner, 1963; Ayers, 1993; Carini, 1982; Curwin, 1992; Heath, 1983; Kohl, 1967). They look for children's strengths and interests, and use these as starting points for learning. In Among School Children, Kidder (1990) describes the power that teachers have to motivate children: 'For children who are used to thinking of themselves as stupid or not worth talking to or deserving rape and beatings, a good teacher can provide an astonishing revelation. A good teacher can give a child at least a chance to feel, "She thinks I'm worth something; maybe I am" ' (p. 3). Thus, a relationship that conveys high expectations to students can internalize these beliefs in students and by doing so, develop the self-esteem and self-efficacy that Rutter found in the successful schools in his study.
Schools also communicate expectations in the way they structure and organize learning (Weinstein et al., 1991). We have already discussed the positive results that accrue from giving all youth access to college core subjects. Rutter's research also confirms that a rich and varied curriculum gives students the opportunity to be successful not just in academics but also in art, music, sports, community service, work apprenticeship, and in helping their peers. Similarly, teachers who teach to a broad range of learning styles and multiple intelligences communicate that the school values the unique strengths and intelligences of each individual (Gardner, 1985). Schools that encourage critical thinking and inquiry and the development of a critical consciousness are not only able to engage youth but are especially effective at communicating the expectation that students are truly capable of complex problem-solving and decision-making (Kohl, 1994; Mehan et al., 1994).
Another aspect of curriculum that leads to high expectations and resiliency is the need for schools to infuse multicultural content throughout the curriculum. This honors students' home cultures, gives them the opportunity to study their own and other cultures, and to develop cultural sensitivity. All children and youth need to develop their primary language skills and learn English as a second language or, if English is their primary language, to learn a second language. Moreover, schools must be adept at doing this without intensifying cultural and language stereotypes. As Hilliard (1989) concludes after years of studying the role of learning and teaching style in the education of youth of color, 'The explanation for the low performance of culturally different minority group students will not be found by pursuing questions of behavioral style....The children, no matter what their style, are failing primarily because of systematic inequities in the delivery of whatever pedagogical approach the teachers claim to master--not because students cannot learn from teachers whose styles do not match their own' (p. 68). He goes on to discuss low expectations for youth of color as the core of these 'systematic inequities.'
How we group children in our classrooms and schools indicates the expectations we have for them. Research by Oakes (1985) and others documents the deleterious effects of tracking on low-achieving students. Conversely, recent research demonstrates...positive academic and social outcomes as a result of heterogeneous, cooperative learning groups (Wheelock, 1992; Johnson & Johnson, 1990; Slavin, 1990). Furthermore, no matter how well-meaning, targeted programs that label children 'at risk' may be doing more harm than good. As educator Kohl tells it, 'Although I've taught in East Harlem, in Berkeley, and in rural California, I have never taught an at-risk student in my life. The term is racist. It defines a child as pathological, based on what he or she might do rather than on anything he or she has actually done' (Nathan, 1991, p. 679).
Evaluation is one more component of schooling through which we convey either high or low expectations. Schools that motivate young people to learn do not rely on standardized tests that assess only one or two types of intelligences, usually linguistic and logical-mathematical, according to Gardner (1985). Nor do they focus on 'right answer' questions and assessments. Instead, they use several assessment approaches, including authentic assessments that promote student reflection, critical inquiry, and problem-solving, and assessments that validate children's different intelligences, strengths, and learning styles.
A final area in which expectations play a role is in motivating students and instilling within them a responsibility for learning. Kohn (1993) argues that extrinsic rewards 'punish' youth. Schools that are especially successful in promoting resiliency build on students' intrinsic motivation. These schools actively engage students in a variety of rich and experiential curricula that connect to their interests, strengths, and real world activities (Anderman & Maehr, 1994; Weinstein et al., 1991). In addition, they count on students' active participation and decision-making in the daily life of the classroom and school to build responsibility and ownership for learning. These, in turn, become intrinsic motivators for further learning and resiliency." (pp. 70-72)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One Teacher's Assessment Strategy...

Another great find from ASCD this month:

One Teacher's Three-Tiered Intervention Strategy

By Jean Laurance and Michael Laurance
I had no sooner returned from Rick Wormeli's seminar on differentiated assessment and grading than my administrator walked into my office. Her face showed apprehension and a bit of weariness. Her cause for concern was revealed as a long list of changes in the district, in the school, and even in my classroom. Budget cuts in the state were causing changes that would force us all to adapt quickly.
Occasionally looking at me over her glasses, she revealed the denizens of next year's roster. My class sizes would be pushed to a staggering 37 students! She concluded her reading of the list with a half-hearted, "I don't know how you'll do it, but I'm sure you'll come up with something that will work."
"Will the classes be remediation or enrichment?" I asked.
She replied, "We don't have enough students to run separate classes, so they will be mixed, but about 10 percent are repeating the class."
Furthermore, the administrator informed me that the English as a second language (ESL) class would not run separately, so the ESL students would now be sprinkled throughout the other classes. Then there were the other special needs students to consider. All I could think was, How am I going to pull this off?

Merging Differentiation, Assessments, and RTI
Having the tools required for differentiated instruction is one thing, but here I was faced with the task of truly implementing it. More than that, I would need to adjust differentiation to my teaching style, a diverse group of students, and a bulging class size. I quickly realized that manageability would be just as important as the instruction itself.
This would no longer be a single learning environment; it would be a group of diverse students with different learning needs, abilities, and backgrounds. This would be an environment where differentiated instruction was not just a novel idea; it would truly be required. As Rick Wormeli (2006) so eloquently states, "Differentiated instruction is doing what's fair for students. It's a collection of best practices strategically employed to maximize students' learning at every turn" (p. 3). My first task was to determine how student learning could be maximized under the given circumstances.
It then became evident that the solution was right in front of me. I had recently learned about Response to Intervention (RTI) and how it is used at the building level. Essentially, it is broken down into four components: screening, tiers of instruction, progress monitoring, and fidelity indicators (Mellard, 2008). I realized that I could merge Wormeli's differentiation, Stiggins's formative assessments, and RTI and adapt them to a single classroom setting.
Communicating with students would be a key element to successful classroom implementation. According to Barber and Mourshed (2007), "The very best systems intervene at the level of the individual student, developing processes and structures within schools that are able to identify whenever a student is starting to fall behind, and then intervening to improve that child's performance" (p. 34).

Where to Start?
A vital precursor of student success is that they are given clear learning targets; that students understand what they should learn (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2007). With this principle in mind, I designed a series of learning objectives for each unit in student-friendly language. These objectives represented skills that I wanted the students to retain at the end of the unit. For example, a chemistry objective might read, "Compare and contrast ionic and covalent bonding." A unit consisting of 6–10 objectives seemed to be operational.
According to Richard DuFour and associates, who write about professional learning communities, "A teacher in a PLC begins the unit by advising students of an essential outcome, an outcome so important, so significant, that every student must achieve it. Learning will be the constant. In this situation, it is imperative that time and support become the variables" (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2004, p. 35). Because the learning goals were uniform for all students, the parts of the learning environment that I would be changing were the amount of time available to achieve mastery of the objectives and the amount of support that students would be provided.
Next, I needed to gauge each student's needs and background, and I had to be able to do it quickly. I strongly believe in students' abilities to assess themselves over a teacher's ability to guess after having met them for only a few minutes. I scoured the Internet for a learning styles inventory, which my students completed on the first day of class.
Students presented their results in verbal and visual formats, and then they compared the results to their original guesses about their own learning preferences. This assessment provided me with the data I needed about the types of learners who were in the classroom. It was up to me to provide a variety of learning experiences for each learner, and it was up to the learner to choose appropriate learning activities from the list I supplied.
Table 1 shows an example of the tasks students might choose. If an assignment seemed particularly valuable, I made it a requirement, such as in choices c and d. The number and types of required activities can vary for gifted students, second language learners, and other students with special needs.
Table 1
Student Task menu

How Does RTI Fit In?
The systematic, three-tiered approach used in RTI can be adjusted for an individual classroom. Under the usual RTI guidelines, about 80 percent of students receive tier 1 interventions, about 15 percent of students receive tier 2 interventions, and a small percentage receive tier 3 interventions. I took the same approach in my class; however, to fit the classroom setting more appropriately, I modified the system to include the following steps:
  1. Monitor student progress.
  2. Provide research-based interventions.
  3. Adjust the intensity and type of interventions.
Monitoring students' progress can be accomplished with formative assessments. First, students are given a pre-assessment to determine their level of previous knowledge about the learning objectives.
It is essential to measure each learning objective separately and to provide individual students with immediate feedback on their progress toward the goal. When students do not show mastery of a particular learning objective, they must complete the assignments for that objective (see table 1) then take a post quiz. This is a tier 3 intervention, which in my modified plan applies to 100 percent of the students in the class.
Consider the following scenario in relation to tier 2. Suppose a student scores below 70 percent for objective 6 on the pretest and completes the assignments listed in Table 1. She takes the post quiz, but does not demonstrate mastery. At this point, I use a tier 2 intervention. Some tier 2 interventions are supervised peer tutoring, one-on-one instruction with a teacher, the use of AVID strategies, guided group tutoring, and additional related assignments. After the student completes the tier 2 intervention, she can retake a different version of the post quiz to show mastery. These types of interventions are necessary for about 50 percent of students.
Finally, what about those students who just will not get with the program? Perhaps a student really does not understand a concept, is frequently absent, or refuses to complete assignments. This is where the tier 1 interventions are employed, and they occur for about 10 percent of students.
In these cases, I require students to come before or after school to receive additional help and guidance. Parental involvement helps ensure compliance. At first getting the parents on board can be challenging. When I engage parents in the process, I have to explain the system to them. For them it's really different than what they are used to. There are no points, there is no assigned homework, and grades are based on mastery of learning objectives. However, once parents understand, they are usually very supportive and excited by the way all students learn based on their own needs while acquiring skills useful for college and careers.
The Three Tiers of Intervention
The Three Tiers of Intervention
Now It's Your Turn
Implementing a new method of teaching can be scary. Change is never easy, but how much are we really changing? How new is this method, really?
Differentiated instruction is touted as the latest and greatest approach, but if you really think about it, it is probably one of our oldest teaching practices. Think about the days of the one-room schoolhouse where the classroom was diversified with all age-groups, education levels, and learning abilities. All subjects were taught in a single classroom, with each lesson focusing on just a few people in the room to whom that specific lesson applied, while others worked on their own studies. Sound familiar?
It was not until recently that our well-known compartmentalization of education became the norm. English, for example, is now narrowed down to classes like General Level Sophomore English. Is it possible then that this tight compartmentalization could become a thing of the past as class sizes ramp up and diversify even more than today?
The bottom line is that the benefits of this teaching method far outweigh the challenges involved in the implementation, for the students as well as the teacher. For students, there is the obvious benefit of having near one-on-one interaction and instruction from the teacher. Students become more confident and enjoy being treated as individuals by making their own choices. They feel that they are being regarded as young adults rather than children. This confidence, in itself, is a big part of college readiness, but so is the self-advocacy and self-motivation they develop.
The benefit to the teacher is substantial too. I enjoy coming to work every day because I now interact with students in a whole new way. I regularly meet with students individually, and I am aware of how each and every student in the class is progressing. Failures are rarer because the interventions occur earlier.
All clich├ęs aside, I know that I am truly making a difference. I am pioneering new teaching practices that do not throw away old practices, but rather give me the best of all of them. Although this method is successful for me, it is not the only method that works. Teachers can design their own systems that respond to struggling learners. Eventually, when systems become schoolwide, greater numbers of students will have more successful outcomes.

Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world's best performing schools come out on top. Retrieved from
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Karhanek, G. (2004) Whatever it takes. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2007) Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right—using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair isn't always equal. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.