Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Excellent Resources on Differentiation!


18 teachers at my new school took part in an on-line professional development class. They said it was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about differentiation, and to learn more about each other.  They are working to arrange for another on-line course for the second semester, which I am eager to be a part of.
For those of us who did not get to take the class - below are the links to the key resources we used. There are some fantastic articles, learning styles inventories, and resources as we all work to improve our practice of differentiating our instruction for our students!

Most of the on-line class has been geared toward restructuring especially process and product to meet the needs of students based on learning profiles. This is a great compliment to our current efforts here at my school to differentiate our content based on readiness by providing scaffolded instruction to students who need it, and enriched instruction for the students who already get it.

If you have any questions about any of the resources, please see let me know. Happy differentiation!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Students Need Academic Vocabulary...

Academic vocabulary is one of the strongest indicators of how well students will learn subject area content. Unfortunately, vocabulary development can be an after thought in content area classrooms. Educators and experts discuss strategies for helping students acquire academic vocabulary in every classroom. Read on for more information on why these kinds of words are so critical to students' academic and cognitive development.

Academic Vocabulary Builds Student Achievement

By Laura Varlas
Academic vocabulary is one of the strongest indicators of how well students will learn subject area content. Unfortunately, vocabulary development can be an after thought in content area classrooms. Educators and experts discuss strategies for helping students acquire academic vocabulary in every classroom.
Complex texts. Rigor. Higher standards. Every year, the stakes are raised in the content area classrooms. Nancy Guth, supervisor of literacy and humanities in Stafford County Public Schools, says, "We need the tools to meet this challenge."
Vicki Urquhart, author of the ASCD book Teaching Reading in the Content Areas, 3rd Ed., says she hears from professors that students come to college unprepared to participate in a high level of discourse. "They don't have the vocabulary, they don't know how to process or discuss what they've read," says Urquhart.
Reading and writing in the subject areas are powerful strategies for content acquisition. Through appropriate literacy activities, students have opportunities to interact constructively with content, to create internal representations of content through reading, and then refine that representation through writing processes like synthesis, evaluation, and summarization. Both reading-to-learn and writing-to-learn are meaning-making activities that result in understanding. But there is a key, often under served component of teaching reading and writing in the content areas: vocabulary knowledge.
Vocabulary expert and Kent State University professor emeritus Nancy Padak says, "There's a strong, statistical link between a person's vocabulary knowledge and students' comprehension ability; and there's a very strong link between these two and academic success."

Use Simple Steps to Build Vocab

In Stafford County, Guth says teaching academic vocabulary was a challenge. "Our high schools' SAT and ACT scores dipped —we were struggling with how to help kids access the vocabulary that is the key to reading comprehension on those tests," she states. Guth needed a program that would shore up vocabulary learning across content areas.
As a backdrop to Guth's common concerns, there's a prevailing notion that plagues content-area classrooms: the myth that words teach themselves. Research shows that inductive or incidental approaches to vocabulary exposure fall short because context alone is seldom sufficient to allow students to conceptualize unknown words. Also, student conceptualizations, especially for technical terms, lack the precision needed to understand new words. In addition, students may not encounter technical terms frequently enough to accumulate an adequate number of examples of the term.
In Building Academic Vocabulary, Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering advocate for a six-step process for vocabulary development:
Step 1: Teacher presents the term in "student-friendly" language (including descriptions, examples, and nonlinguistic representations of the term).
Step 2: Students restate the term in their own words (linking the new word to known experiences and background knowledge).
Step 3: Students represent the term in graphic form (reinforcing and deepening understanding through processing in a second modality).
Step 4: Students use the term in other contexts (deepening meaning by applying the term in new situations, through writing or conversation).
Step 5: Students discuss the term with peers (building understanding as a class, and augmenting this knowledge with new discoveries about the word).
Step 6: Vocabulary games give students more exposure to the term (serving as continued review in ways that engage multiple modalities for learning).
Larry Ferlazzo, English l anguage l earner (ELL) teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., helps build students' vocabulary by using simple word charts that include student-created drawings and by allowing students to use physical gestures to represent word meaning. Ferlazzo describes a simple way to preteach academic vocabulary:
First introduce a small number of key words, then have students work in groups to see if they know any of them. Follow with the use of drawings and physical gestures (for example, with the word "fact" the teacher could point to the ground and stomp her foot, and with the word "opinion" she could point to her mind). Lastly, include sentence stems where students can apply the newly-learned words (perhaps in a question/answer mode with partners). For example:
Q: "We are in a classroom. Is that a fact or an opinion?"
A: "'We are in a classroom' is a fact."
Ferlazzo adds that E LL s might also write a translation of the new words in their home language. He emphasizes that strategies for pre teaching academic vocabulary benefit both ELL and non-ELL students.

Time, Expertise, and Relevance

For content area teachers, comprehensive, research-based approaches can seem daunting in terms of the time and expertise needed to enact them with fidelity and precision. In some cases, there is also the concern that this sort of instruction should be the sole purview of the English/Language Arts teacher.
"Time is a big issue," admits Padak. "We've already got a curriculum that is jam-packed, so if we just tell students to go memorize these words, then we can kind of pretend we're doing what they need for vocabulary —even though we know better," she says.
Urquhart thinks it's really teachers' lack of comfort that keeps them from delivering reading and writing strategies. Padak sees something to that theory. She suggests that maybe the real problem is that content area teachers haven't been carefully and systematically exposed to good alternatives to handing out the weekly vocabulary list.
"When you adopt a more constructivist approach to vocabulary instruction, there is a pretty steep learning curve for teachers and students," Padak says. "It's going to take some time; it's a whole different way of doing vocabulary both in terms of how teachers have taught, and how they were taught, as students. From a PD perspective, if you hope for change in this area, you need to be in it for the long haul."

A Return to Our Roots

In the Summer 2012 Educational Leadership article "Vocabulary: Five Common Misconceptions" Padak and colleagues address misconceptions about vocabulary instruction. One is that studying Latin and Greek roots is too hard for young learners.
"More than 60 percent of academic words have word parts (also called morphemes or roots) that always carry the same meaning. Knowing that words can be broken down into meaning units is a powerful strategy for vocabulary development," write Padak, Rasinki, Newton, and Bromley.
Adhering to this logic, Stafford Public Schools developed the "Root of the Week" initiative, which is spearheaded by high school literacy coaches and enacted across the district. Each week, the coaches introduce a new Latin or Greek root word. Over the course of the week, coaches work with content area teachers to embed this vocabulary instruction through stories, posters, and events.

Example: Root of the Week

a-, ab-, abs- "away, from"
averse: opposed to; have a dislike for it
aberration: a deviation; an abnormality
abstract: expressing a quality drawn away from an object
absent: not present or existing; missing; lacking
Source: Pamela Smith, Literacy Coach, North Stafford High School, Stafford, Va.

"At first, content area teachers were hesitant," Guth says of the initiative. "But when we introduced that the first root was "chron-" and the second was "dec-"; they immediately saw the connections. From science to world languages to family life to automotive classes, when you're reading manuals or technical vocabulary, everything comes from a Greek or Latin root."
"Helping kids get a handle on what roots mean is going to help them learn the vocabulary of science, social studies, and so on," says Padak. "And really, those [root] words are labels for concepts. If you can help teachers see that what they're doing is helping kids learn the concepts of their discipline, then it makes a whole lot more sense to content area teachers."
Guth adds that the Common Core State Standards' focus on informational texts goes hand-in-glove with root study. Urquhart agrees. She generally sees a higher profile for academic vocabulary instruction heralded by the Common Core. "Reading and writing skills parallel all the content area standards in the Common Core," explains Urquhart. "When you bring them together, they support each other; they're the full package for learning that content."
"Helping kids develop a more robust academic vocabulary is all over the Common Core standards," says Padak. "Having kids work with more challenging texts is all over the standards, as well, and in order to do that, you have to have the academic vocabulary."
But what about time? "In terms of instructional time, our advice is 10 minutes a day ought to do it," says Padak. And the pay off? "This year, our ACT scores are above the state and national average, and one of the highest in the state of Virginia," says Guth. "Our scores continue to rise even as our number of students who take the test also rises." Stafford County has expanded its root study program to the middle schools, and is dabbling with the idea of introducing it at the elementary level, as a complement to their larger, word study program.

Words Your Way

There are plenty of free online tools out there to help students reinforce academic vocabulary. On his blog, Ferlazzo lists several of these resources. An added benefit of online tools is that they're a place for ELLs to practice and make mistakes privately, he notes.
Teaching academic vocabulary can feel empowering. "Now, content area teachers actually seek us out and say, 'Hey, we haven't seen the root of the week yet!'" says Guth. "One of our schools has it on its digital marqu ee as you drive by: 'Ask your kids about the root of the week.' The school board members joke that we'll cause accidents because everyone slows down as they drive past. It's gotten to be a community event," Guth says.
"It's not just one more thing piled onto content area teachers," Guth adds. "It's fun that translates into learning." 

Greek and Latin Roots in the Common Core State Standards

Root-specific standards are located in the "Foundational Skills" and "Language/Vocabulary Acquisition and Use" sections of the standards.
Sample standards, grades K–5:
  • Use most frequent inflections and affixes as clues to meaning (K)
  • Identify common root words (begins at grade 1)
  • Use common prefixes and compound words (begins at grade 2)
  • Use affixes and root words (begins at grade 3)
  • Identify and know meaning of common prefixes and derivational suffixes (begins at grade 3)
  • Decode words with common Latin suffixes (begins at grade 3)
  • Use combined knowledge of [phonics] and morphology—e.g., roots and affixes (begins at grade 4)
  • Know and use common Greek and Latin roots (begins at grade 4)
Sample standards, grades 6–12:
  • Determine or clarify meaning of unknown or multiple meaning words by … analyzing word parts (begins at grade 6)
  • Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes (begins at grade 6)
  • Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech—e.g., conceive, conception, conceivable (begins at grade 9)
  • Acquire and use accurately general, academic, and domain-specific words (begins at grade 9)
  • Demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge (begins at grade 9)
For more information about these Common Core standards, see
Source: Adapted with permission from Nancy Padak.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What children SHOULD read....

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

I thought I would share this article with you all.  It was forwarded to me by a colleague in my school -

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Too much data??

Thought you all might find this article interesting. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!

Data-driven to distraction in school reform

By Valerie Strauss , Updated: 

“Data-driven reform” is one of the mantras of the school reform movement. Just how annoying has it become? Esther Quintero, research associate at the non-profit Albert Shanker Institute, located in Washington, D.C., tells us. A version of this post originally appeared on the institute’s blog.
By Esther Quintero
In the education community, many proclaim themselves to be “completely data-driven.” Data Driven Decision Making (DDDM) has been a buzz phrase for a while now, and continues to be a badge many wear with pride. And yet, every time I hear it, I cringe.
Let me explain. During my first year in graduate school, I was taught that excessive attention to quantitative data impedes – rather than aids – in-depth understanding of social phenomena. In other words, explanations cannot simply be cranked out of statistical analyses, without the need for a precursor theory of some kind – a.k.a. “variable sociology” – and the attempt to do so constitutes a major obstacle to the advancement of knowledge.
I am no longer in graduate school, so part of me says: Okay, I know what data-driven means in education. But then, at times, I still think: No, really, what does “data-driven” mean even in this context?
At a basic level, it seems to signal a general orientation toward making decisions based on the best information that we have, which is a very good thing. But there are two problems here. First, we tend to have an extremely narrow view of the information that counts – that is, data that can be quantified easily. Second, we seem to operate under the illusion that data, in and of themselves, can tell stories and reveal truth.
But the thing is: (1) numbers are not the only type of data that matter; and (2) all data need to be interpreted before they can be elevated to the status of evidence – and theory should drive this process, not data.
Remember the parable about the drunk man searching for his wallet under a streetlight? When someone comes to help, they ask, “Are you sure you dropped it here?” The drunk says, “I probably dropped it in the street, but the light is bad there, so it’s easier to look over here.” In science, this phenomenon – that is, researchers looking for answers where the data are better, “rather than where the truth is most likely to lie” – has been called the “streetlight effect.”
As David Freedman explains in a Discover magazine article that asks why scientific studies are so often wrong, researchers “don’t always have much choice. It is often extremely difficult or even impossible to cleanly measure what is really important, so scientists instead cleanly measure what they can, hoping it turns out to be relevant.”
As Freedman says, “We should fully expect scientific theories to frequently butt heads and to wind up being disproved sometimes as researchers grope their way toward the truth. That is the scientific process: Generate ideas, test them, discard the flimsy, repeat.”
But what if they develop the ideas to fit the data they have, rather than finding the data to test the most important ideas?
So, as yawn-inducing as the word “theory” may sound to a lot of people, theory acts to rationalize the search for your wallet or anything else, helping to focus attention on the areas where it is most likely to be found. In education, it often seems like we are too preoccupied with the convenient and well-lit. So, while it seems like we are drowning in education data, are they the data that we need to make sound decisions?
Sociologists Peter Hedström and Richard Swedberg (1996) wrote:
Quantitative research is essential both for descriptive purposes and for testing sociological theories. We do, however, believe that many sociologists have had all too much faith in statistical analysis as a tool for generating theories, and that the belief in an isomorphism between statistical and theoretical models [...] has hampered the development of sociological theories built upon concrete explanatory mechanisms.
Something similar could be said about the data-driven education movement: Excessive faith in data crunching as a tool for making decisions has interfered with the important task of asking the fundamental questions in education, such as whether we are looking for answers in the right places, and not just where it is easy (e.g., standardized test data).
As education scholar (and blogger) Bruce Baker has shown (often humorously), data devoid of theory can suggest ridiculous courses of action:
Let’s say I conducted a study in which I rented a fleet of helicopters and used those helicopters to, on a daily basis, transport a group of randomly selected students from Camden, NJ to elite private day schools around NJ and Philadelphia. I then compared the college attendance patterns of the kids participating in the helicopter program to 100 other kids from Camden who also signed up for the program but were not selected and stayed in Camden public schools. It turns out that I find that the helicopter kids were more likely to attend college – therefore I conclude logically that “helicopters improve college attendance among poor, minority kids.
As preposterous as this proposal may sound, the Brookings report he mentions argues somewhat along these lines – only the helicopters are vouchers. The study, says Baker, “purports to find [or at least the media spin on it] that vouchers as a treatment, worked especially for black students.” A minimal understanding of the mechanisms involved here should have made it obvious that vouchers are likely no more relevant than helicopters to children’s educational attainment.
A second example: About a year ago at the United Nations Social Innovation Summit, Nicholas Negroponte suggested that the “One Laptop Per Child” program might, “literally or figuratively, drop out of a helicopter with tablets into a village where there is no school,” and then come back after a year to see how children have taught themselves to read.
This faith in the power of new technology to bring about fundamental educational transformation is not new, but I think it could be minimized if we reflected on more basic questions such as:  What it is that helicopter-dropped tablets might actually do to increase children’s educational gains?
My colleague recently wrote that NCLB “has helped to institutionalize the improper interpretation of testing data.” True. But I would go even further: No Child Left Behind has helped to institutionalize not just how we handle data, but also, and more importantly, what counts as data. The law requires schools to rely on scientifically-based research but, as it turns out, case studies, ethnographies, interviews, and other forms of qualitative research seem to fall outside this definition – and, thus, are deemed unacceptable as a basis for making decisions.
Since when are qualitative data unacceptable in social and behavioral science research and as a guide in policy-relevant decision-making?
Our blind faith in numbers has ultimately caused impoverishment in how (and what) information is used to help address real world problems. We now apparently believe that numbers are not just necessary, but sufficient, for making research-based decisions.
The irony, of course, is that this notion is actually contrary to the scientific process. Being data-driven is only useful if you have a strong theory by which to navigate; anything else can leave you heading blindly toward a cliff.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the Albert Shanker Institute, its officers, board members, or any related entity or organization.

Full article available at:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Design ideas worth sharing....

Many people have probably seen this, but I thought maybe it's worth sharing anyway...

I don't know very much about this group's work but was intrigued by what William Rawn says here, about their design process: “We like to listen to a potential client as long as we can, learn who they are, what their aspirations are—and to absorb the spirit of the place that they want to build.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Toughening Up

How do we strengthen our resilience and ability to not take things personally as educators? This is a problem I have dealt with for far too long and need to continue addressing. We could all use a bit more "grit" in our lives. Read on....

Kiss My Grit

Sassy title aside, it's not my intention to contribute to the already-considerable mountain of post-election ed-policy antagonism.

But--I'm still torqued about grit. Yes, grit, the amazing new research topic-cum-magic formula for Good That Schools Could Do (If Only They Weren't Failing).

A couple of blogs ago, I admired Katie Osgood's Paul Tough is Way Off Base, and Stop Saying Grit piece--which identifies "grit" as just another trending soundbite, the next big thing in education. The kind of meme around which you could build a week-long media blabfest, not to mention a whole lot of curricula, grading templates, books, radio shows and grant opportunities.

And then--I heard from Paul Tough himself. He was polite, but wanted to know just why I thought he was off-base. He seemed to doubt I had actually read his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.
The answer to that is yes. You could hardly help knowing about the book if you were paying attention to education this year; it was the Superman of 2012. Everyone on TV and in the MSM was chattering about the astonishing new revelation that grit mattered more than endless measurement of students' retrievable knowledge. Tough was everywhere. I bought the book and read it--and agreed with his basic premise that determination always trumps test scores. I especially liked the last section of the book (about which we haven't heard much), where Tough writes about the misguided thrust of current education policy.

Personally, I think grit--courage and tenacity--is a very real thing in life success. It's a huge part of why a student who was a complete academic washout in the 7th grade could now own his own millions-sold realty business, while students who aced their ACTs now find themselves with six-figure loans and no job after they run out of degrees to earn--cases from my personal teaching experience.

But--is this news? Should Grit 101 be a required subject--or is it something you learn by example and experience, over time? Should we really be grading kids on their character? There is a lot of effusive language around this idea--that kids need to hear about their failings, to foster perseverance--but I have a problem with just who's doing the judging here, making precise numeric determinations about students' integrity. If your mother works two jobs to feed you and keep the lights on, isn't that grit? Is trying hard--even succeeding--in school more important than trying hard in life?

"Grit" has also been part of the conversation around effective teaching--specifically, which Teach for America corps members would "succeed" (read: raise scores) in tough schools. The irony of noveau-gritty high-achievers who teach for two years, then leave to pursue entrepreneurial projects in education, seems to have been lost. Personally, I admire teachers who hang around, good times and bad, and pursue school improvement, seeing their teaching as important, worthy, more valuable than serial entrepreneurism. (I stole that phrase from Tough.) Isn't that grit, too?

Tough makes the assumption that intellectual challenge, what he calls "thinking hard about mistakes," and embedded character education are rare in the traditional public schools that 85% of American children attend. He says garden-variety teachers seem to think their mission is merely conveying information (perhaps he saw the cartoon conveyor belt in Superman).

Even if that were true--and I don't think it is-- that concept doesn't come from teachers' deep-seated beliefs about the purpose of education. It comes from increasingly thin, data-driven, market-based ed policy. Public school teachers have been actively discouraged from building caring communities, rewarding persistence over time, let alone the deep intellectual work of disciplinary application and exploration, or pursuit of students' passions. Furthermore--character education was established in public schools long before charter chains decided it was a good idea.

Tough and I agreed to disagree. He did not respond to my invitation to dialogue on this blog.
Driving home tonight, I heard a story on NPR about homeless veterans, and how difficult it is for them to access the modest VA disability payments and services to which they're entitled. As a society, we have failed those who put their lives on the line for our protection: soldiers. Soldiers who have shown extreme grit, in making the decision to join the military, and in bravely serving their country.

Individual grit is a good thing. But without a compassionate society and open opportunity, it's only half the equation.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

New widescale reform needed!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this response.....

Time to Put Forward a New Reform Agenda

Dear Deborah,
Well, we can let out a sigh of relief. Barack Obama won, and it wasn't even as close as many in the media predicted it would be. Nov. 6 was a great day, not only because the president was re-elected, but a number of progressive Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Tammy Baldwin will be in the Senate. The election was a major loss for the Tea Party, the religious right (especially given that gay marriage has now been approved by voters in Maine and Maryland), and conservatives who favored Mitt Romney's vision of protecting the 1 percent.

President Obama has already made it clear that he intends to honor his pledge to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and this means the budget won't be balanced on the backs of the poor and middle class. A great deal is being made about the lack of minority support for Romney, but it should be noted that Obama won in predominantly white states like Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Oregon, too. We may not be in a post-racial America, but it's clear that a majority of Americans had no problem electing a black man to the presidency again. This is a good thing for America.

As we both know with respect to education, the future is less clear. Obama didn't speak much about his plans for education during the campaign. He didn't say much about Race to the Top or take a lot of credit for getting 46 states to adopt the common-core standards. I guess he understood that those measures aren't as popular with teachers, and he relied heavily on support from teachers' unions to win in several key states. His silence on these issues doesn't mean that his policies will change, but it may mean that we have an opportunity to influence the direction the administration will take over the next four years as they consider adopting new policies.

The StudentsFirst campaign headed by Michelle Rhee experienced some major losses in Idaho where they tried to end teacher tenure and in Bridgeport, Conn., where they wanted to replace the elected school board with mayoral control. This is a good sign that the public has not embraced their narrow agenda, but if we want the Obama administration to rethink its policies and adopt a broader reform strategy we will have to move quickly to mobilize parents, teachers' unions, and community organizations around a broad vision for change. Such a vision must go well beyond a critique of No Child Left Behind and Race for the Top, and it certainly has to do more than assert that poverty is the real problem.

We both know that poverty is harming millions of children and the schools they attend, but we can't take the position that nothing can be done until we eliminate poverty. We have too many children languishing in dysfunctional schools in urban areas throughout the nation right now, and their parents don't want to hear that we have to wait till we muster the will to reduce poverty. Moreover, there are schools that are showing us right now that if we address the academic and social needs of poor children, they can not only achieve, they can thrive. We must use these schools as examples for reform, and we must offer clear and concrete recommendations on what the administration can do right now to produce real, sustainable improvements in our nation's schools.

While many stakeholders need to be involved in developing this vision and agenda, I think it would be helpful if we used our exchange to discuss some of the things it must include. Here are three ideas that I think make sense:

1) The federal government should call for the creation of a comprehensive support systems around schools in low-income communities to address issues such as safety, health, nutrition, and counseling. This should include the expansion of preschool and after-school programs and extended learning opportunities during the summer. Many of these ideas were included in the Obama administration's Promise Neighborhood program, but the $60 million allocated in 2012 to fund the initiative was insufficient to meet the overwhelming number of applications that were received. Instead of relying exclusively on federal funds, local communities should be encouraged to develop public-private partnerships so that the support systems can be developed and sustained without ongoing federal support. We know it will be hard to maintain federal funding for these systems in this fiscal climate, particularly as the president and Congress try to find a way to balance the budget, so we must try to develop models that will not be vulnerable to spending cuts.

2) The federal government must support a new approach to assessment that focuses on concrete evidence of academic performance—writing, reading, mathematical problem-solving—and moves away from using standardized tests to measure and rank students, teachers, and schools. A number of schools in New York state utilize performance-based assessments, and longitudinal studies have found that these students are more likely to enroll in college and less likely to take remedial courses in college than their peers who are subjected to traditional standardized tests.

3) The federal governments needs to call upon the states and school districts to undertake careful evaluations of struggling schools to determine why they are failing to meet the needs of the students they serve before prescribing what should be changed. Instead of simply closing troubled schools such a strategy would require a greater focus on enrollment patterns (i.e. have we concentrated too many "high-needs" students in a school?) and ensuring that schools have the capacity to meet the needs of the students they serve rather than merely judging them under the current accountability systems.

I'll stop here to await your reactions. I don't think we need to produce a manifesto for change, but we do need to begin to outline some key steps that could be taken to move public education in a different direction.

Deb, there is ample evidence that the direction we've been taking isn't working. The international comparisons, the high dropout rates, the large number of failing schools, and the deep alienation we see among so many students who are being bored to death by the emphasis on test preparation are all indications that a new strategy is necessary. I think the time is right to begin formulating ideas and policies that will take us in a new and better direction, and I think the administration may be more open to change than it was over the last four years.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expanding our horizons to teach.....

How do we teach ALL of our students, especially those most resistant to our help and guidance? This blog offers some interesting insight and ideas to consider!

Bad Teaching Practice #1: "I am Only Going to Teach Those Who Are Ready To Learn"

Have you ever heard this one? A number of times in my career, I heard teachers, usually new ones, it must be said, announce in frustration that they were sick and tired of dealing with the kids who were disrupting class, and that from that point forward, they were going to forget about the "ones who aren't ready to learn," and put their energy into those who are. I even had a teacher tell me she set up her seating chart and put the "bad" kids in the back. There are a number of reasons this is a bad practice.

In the first place, it will not work.
As soon as you attempt to ignore students who are misbehaving, they are likely to act out even more, so as to make themselves impossible to ignore. Often, their behavior is a cry for attention. Many children have learned that they are unlikely to get positive attention, especially in school, so they settle for negative attention - because it is better than being utterly ignored. Thus, your attempt to ignore them will backfire. If you seat them at the back, you will create a peanut gallery devoted to artfully disrupting your every attempt to teach.
If you communicate your classification decisions to your students, letting them KNOW whom you think is "good" and whom you think is a waste of space, they are very likely to live up to your expectations. For this reason, behavior contests between different periods are a very risky proposition. Once a class has gotten behind in the race to win your approval, it may be easier for them to decide they are never going to please you, so why bother?

Students are keenly sensitive to our expectations for them, academically and behaviorally. Those out there who emphasize expectations have got THAT right. If we tell a student, or worse yet, a group of students, that they are incompetent or untalented, they will often conform to that expectation. Standardized test data often has a similar effect, stigmatizing whole schools and convincing low-scoring students with precise (though faulty) data they will never amount to anything.

So it is our job to look for the signs of talent, the spark of interest that lights up a student's eyes, and fan that into a flame. Every student has some special talents, and the challenge is to find ways to uncover and develop them. This is one reason I appreciate doing more complex projects, that have opportunities for students to create products that incorporate art, technology, creative writing, math and other skills. Many students come to us without a strong positive identity or awareness of their own talents, and part of our journey together is to uncover these, and help the students claim them as their own.

We need to build a sense of community within our classrooms. There are going to be some students more talented at some things than others, but everyone has gifts to offer, and we need to find ways to allow every student some recognition for theirs. Our students have a natural tendency to pick on one another at times as well. It might be tempting, if the students are going after the disruptive one in the class, to encourage this behavior. Teachers sometimes even catalyze this, by stigmatizing students who act out. As satisfying as it may be to have the class on our side, it is not the best approach, because it sets us up as enemies.

Students who disrupt class are harming their peers as well as themselves, even though that is not their goal. That makes these sorts of issues problems for the classroom community to solve. In my last few years in the classroom I experimented with classroom meetings. Students could put topics for discussion into a box, and once a week we would take fifteen minutes or so to discuss the problems. This way, disruptive behavior was not just my problem to solve as a teacher, but was a community concern to be addressed by everyone.

As teachers, we do our best to be there for all of our students, not just those who are functioning at the highest levels. Sometimes students may behave in ways that prevents the class from functioning, and that should be dealt with quickly and with administrative support so the class does not waste inordinate amounts of time. If possible, we should seek support for the student that addresses the issues that may be provoking him to misbehave. However, as my recent posts about the stresses of poverty indicate, we may never know what is happening in the lives of our students that is causing them to come to school unprepared, angry or hostile.

Our classrooms are microcosms of the communities we would wish for in our neighborhoods, and we are teaching our students not only how to divide fractions, but how to get along with people who are different, and even difficult. This is our compassion in action, and it is among the most precious things we can teach our students.

I cannot help but relate this to a similar phenomenon that is happening on a much bigger scale. One of the things that makes public schools such a valuable resource is that we accept all comers. Unless students set things on fire or bring weapons to school, they have that seat reserved for them. But our public schools are now facing intense competition from charter schools, some of which set up selective criteria. Some require parental involvement, or push students out with zero tolerance disciplinary codes. Some charter schools have been found to lose the lower performing students through attrition, and not replace them when they leave. Charter schools have been found to have lower numbers of special education students and English learners. These schools are, in a way, doing the same thing that novice teacher suggested as her strategy - focusing on the "students who are ready to learn."

Carried to its logical conclusion, this leads to a situation where the regular public schools house the rejects, the special education students and English learners, and those most damaged by poverty, and the selective charter schools march proudly forward with those "who are ready to learn." This creates a downward spiral for the public schools, as their resources become overwhelmed by the burden of educating the neediest students, and their declining reputation results in people with options moving their children out. We end up with, on a societal level, the kind of win-lose scenario we work so hard in our classroom to overcome. If we want our communities to function well, we cannot tolerate this. For this reason we must make sure our public schools thrive, and are not starved when forced to compete with schools that do not make room for all students.

What do you think? How can we make sure we are reaching all of our students and creating a good learning community?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What exactly IS differentiation?

Feeling like I am a little slow to the party....

I have been getting very frustrated trying to understand why teachers are struggling so much with grasping what differentiation really means and how it should look.  After being in two meetings today related to differentiation and speaking with one of our APs tonight who has been coaching a teacher, it finally hit me.

Teachers aren't understanding that differentiation means different instruction for different students!

Much of what I have heard in conversation and in planning is teachers conducting whole group instruction different ways. The idea seems to be that if you teach something lots of different ways to the whole class that at some point each student will learn what s/he needs. When we put it that way, it is clear that this is a lot of wasted instructional time.  if instead we provide each student with what s/he needs - we are maximizing instructional time!

What we need is targeted differentiation!

The key commonality between what we really need and what is being taught in the class is that we must provide different content, processes, and/or products to different students based on prior performance, readiness and/or learning styles.

Long and the short of it - teachers have to begin matching instruction with students.  We need to adjust the content (which is our focus through December); process (the primary focus of the on-line class, which we will delve into starting in January) and product - (which we get to in the 2nd semester in our professional development plan) to the particular student's needs..... This can ONLY be accomplished by small groups with different students doing different work.

Epiphany - DIFFERENT is the core of DIFFERENTIATION!

Forgive me if this is a big DUH to all of you - I may be in the habit of sharing my learning too much from our on-line class.  I do think it is worth sharing this idea with teachers, because just today I saw it in literacy and math, and heard about it in science - so my guess is that this misconception lurks across departments.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Better Engaging Online Learners

Increasingly, online education is becoming an accepted part of the K-12 educational landscape. Although studies consistently show that online learning outcomes are equivalent, or even, in some cases, superior to those of traditional classroom settings, the virtual environment does present unique challenges for both teachers and students. For students who struggle in the physical classroom, potential difficulties such as a sense of isolation, the lack of visual cues, and technical issues can be particularly vexing; however, these challenges can be overcome by leveraging the unique advantages online learning offers.

How to Engage Online Learners

By Stacey Curdie-Meade
Increasingly, online education is becoming an accepted part of the K-12 educational landscape. Although studies consistently show that online learning outcomes are equivalent, or even, in some cases, superior to those of traditional classroom settings, the virtual environment does present unique challenges for both teachers and students. For students who struggle in the physical classroom, potential difficulties such as a sense of isolation, the lack of visual cues, and technical issues can be particularly vexing; however, these challenges can be overcome by leveraging the unique advantages online learning offers.

Time Is on Your Side

Online learning can give students the time they need to think, process, and perform. The asynchronous nature of online learning provides more time for processing information and formulating responses than students are typically afforded in face-to-face discussions. Students appreciate the ability to gather their thoughts and edit their words rather than being put on the spot or drawn off topic by others' comments before they have a chance to speak. This opens the door to deeper levels of engagement and critical thinking. Students can also take as much time as they need with course materials, returning to review them repeatedly if necessary.
Asynchronous learning allows for more flexibility, so students can spend time with course materials when they are best able to cognitively engage with them. Rather than learning on demand, at a specified time and location, students have a greater degree of autonomy over their learning, controlling the time, place, and manner in which they interact in the virtual classroom.
Introverted students may find the partial anonymity of the online classroom allows them to express themselves more freely and, as a result, they can participate more openly in this forum. Pre-adolescent and adolescent children often struggle with self-esteem issues and feel self-conscious about speaking out or drawing attention to themselves in class; however, in a virtual environment students feel relieved of the burden of being judged on the basis of how they look, what they wear, or how they speak. They have more freedom to express themselves.

Encourage Discussion

Classroom teachers thinking about moving online often lament the loss of visual cues and fear they will lose the ability to track student understanding without face-to-face interaction. In fact, just the opposite may be true. In the classroom, teachers are limited in the time they spend with students each week and in the amount of information they can gain from students in the classroom setting. Online, student participation is permanent, traceable, and much more visible.
Discussions are perhaps the most powerful example of how online learning affords a greater degree of transparency regarding how students think and learn. In a group discussion, the classroom teacher hears from a representative population of students in the class and likely uses body language cues to gauge whether group members are following along. While the classroom teacher can never really know with certainty which students are focused on the topic at hand and which are wondering what they are going to have for lunch instead, well-structured online activities require total participation, and for students to make visible the thought processes that inform their contributions. T he online teacher can see the complete thought processes of each of the students in the class. In addition, this information, rather than being lost after the moment, is preserved for future reference.
To generate an atmosphere that fosters discussion, teachers can use introductory discussion boards to discover students' interests and gain a better understanding of students' prior knowledge and preparedness. You can mine those discussions for useful information. Also, gear assignments to student interests where possible and provide materials appropriate for all levels of preparedness in the class.

Use Data to Make Learning Transparent

Online learning provides teachers with the opportunity to generate "learning analytics." According to EDUCAUSE's 2011 Horizon Report, "[The term] l earning analytics refers to the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess academic progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues." At its simplest level, this means that if you are using a course management system to deliver online learning, you can track what students do (or don't do) in your course. You can, for instance, see when and how often students access the course as well as which resources students have interacted with and for how long. You can also easily track discussion posting activity and view reports which can both individualize and aggregate this data to provide pictures of both individual and group progress.
You should use data analytics to prevent students from slipping through the cracks. If a student has not accessed course materials or participated in discussion for a period of time, discuss your concern with the student. Reaching out in this way assures students that their online instructor is paying attention and that their contributions and participation are not only noticed but also valued. Early intervention and redirection can prevent students from falling behind.
Use discussion boards, e-mail, and scheduled synchronous help sessions to offer assistance to students and to engage them. While these forums serve to support students needing help, they also afford teachers insight into the nature and scope of how students are struggling. It's important to respond promptly to student inquiries and make a point of noticing any trends in the questions being asked; doing so can help you in making improvements in instruction.
If a single student is having a hard time with a particular concept, reach out, just as you would in the physical classroom, by offering supplemental materials or activities. Invite the student to participate in the next scheduled help session or arrange a separate time to call or chat online. If a number of students are struggling with the same concept, use this knowledge to revise or supplement the learning materials and activities for that topic.
Also, provide a forum where students can post their questions to the class, and encourage students to answer one another's questions when they can. Students like helping one another and are often relieved to see that others have the same questions they do.
In addition, most course management systems offer a quiz module which can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, self-check quizzes can be set up to provide specific feedback based on incorrect answers and to allow for multiple attempts, encouraging mastery of learning. Monitor results for both individual and group understanding.
These strategies are effective means of revealing the progress and participation of each student in an online class. Making learning transparent and using the resulting information to individualize instruction are key strategies for assisting students who need extra help. 
Copyright © 2012 by ASCD

Sunday, November 18, 2012

November Must-Reads

Check out these latest education books hot off the ASCD press!

1. Overcoming Textbookm Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalize Teaching and Learning
By ReLeah Cossett Lent

2. 100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff
By Emily E. Houck

3. Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Learning, 2nd edition
By Charlotte Danielson

4. A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition
By Howard Pitler and BJ Stone

5. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, 2nd edition
By Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, Howard Pitler, and BJ Stone

6. Wall Chart for Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition

7. Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition -- LOVE this title!
By Howard Pitler, Elizabeth R. Hubbell, and Matt Kuhn

8. Aim High, Achieve More: How to Transform Urban Schools through Fearless Leadership
By Yvette Jackson and Veronica McDermott

9. School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results
By Robert J. Marzano, Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty

10. Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works
By William Sterrett

11. Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success
By Bryan Goodwin

12. Improving Teaching with Collaborative Action Research: An ASCD Action Tool
By Diane Cunningham

13. Strengthening and Enriching Your Professional Learning Community: The Art of Learning Together
By Geoffrey Caine and Renate N. Caine

14. Collaborative Analysis of Student Work: Improving Teaching and Learning
By Georgea M. Langer, Amy B. Colton, and Loretta S. Goff

15. How to Support Struggling Students
By Robyn R. Jackson and Claire Lambert

16. Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Strategies that Turn Underachievers into Successful Learners
By Kathleen Palmer Cleveland

17. Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners
By Jane D. Hill and Kathleen M. Flynn

18. Inference: Teaching Students to Develop Hypotheses, Evaluate Evidence, and Draw Logical Conclusions
By Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Matthew J. Perini

19. Learning for Keeps: Teaching the Strategies Essential for Creating Independent Learners
By Rhonda Koenig

20. How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom
By Susan M. Brookhart

Happy reading, all! :)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teaching Climate Change in Sandy's Wake

When asked what was the greatest threat a statesman might face, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is said to have replied, "Events, dear boy, events."

Hurricane Sandy's landfall late last month may have confirmed the wisdom of that observation. There are encouraging signs that the hurricane's ferocity, coming so closely on the heels of other extreme weather, may have silenced climate-change skeptics. Its unique timing—a week before the presidential election—may have had an additional benefit of putting climate change back on the national agenda. But, for how long?

Well before Sandy's destructive arrival on the East Coast, climate change had moved off the national political radar, without the mainstream media appearing to notice. It is not therefore surprising that President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal 2013 budget would cut the Environmental Protection Agency's entire $9.7 million environmental education program, along with more than $25 million in other environmental-training programs.

— Suhler Moran
With leadership failing at most levels of our government, we are left with a difficult task. Who will tell our children the bad news as they watch another energy-company ad convince them the advertiser is doing well by the environment? As Professor Donald Boesch of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science put it in an Education Week article earlier this year: "Teachers aren't comfortable addressing the subject because they don't understand it at all. ... It is an inherently complicated set of issues that transcend a single field of science."

Teachers are fearful that if they do begin to adopt a more scientific posture, parents will object. A National Science Teachers Association poll in 2011 found 54 percent of teachers had faced climate-change skepticism from parents. Washington Post reporter Brad Plumer wrote in February that "many teachers said they now teach climate change as a he-said, she-said issue." This is a sad comment on a country that aims to be a world leader in science for the 21st century.

Most of today's textbooks carefully ignore the political decisions ahead—decisions which must now be made as a global community. Instead, they adopt many of the cultural assumptions that personal lifestyle decisions such as recycling plastic bottles, planting more trees, and buying hybrid cars will save us. Part of the reason corporate claims to be environmentally responsible are gaining traction is due to the power of far-right groups such as the Heartland Institute, which urges teachers to be skeptical of climate-change science and distributes attractive teaching materials that reinforce skeptics' point of view. Indeed, states such as Louisiana encourage such "supplemental materials" to be used when teaching "controversial topics" such as climate change, which is clumped by some into the same category as evolution.

"The moral as well as scientific issues that spill over can re-energize any civics and social studies lessons as students examine the range of challenges that confront us."
But there are larger questions we must help our children face beyond just becoming more discriminating consumers. The experts are more or less agreed that we are just at the beginning of the dramatic changes we will be experiencing within the next two decades as we add another 2 billion people to the planet. We will need to significantly increase energy consumption to be able to feed and clothe the equivalent of two new Indias and Chinas. For anyone who seriously wants to prepare our students for the changed world they will inherit, a book like J.F. Rischard's High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them needs to become mandatory reading. In the book, the author, a former executive at the World Bank, carefully and unemotionally explains the dimensions of the true crisis the world faces. He boldly establishes the need for out-of-the-box thinking if we are to release ourselves from the paralyzing power of existing institutional frameworks. If ever there was a subject that lent itself to student-centered problem-solving using those much-lauded 21st-century skills, surely this is it.
The adults clearly do not have the answers. The moral as well as scientific issues that spill over can re-energize any civics and social studies lessons as students examine the range of challenges that confront us, from convincing China and India that although we in the West grew our economies using carbon-based fuels, less-developed countries should look to alternative energies to feed and clothe their expanding populations, to how to restrain our nonsustainable consumer-based lifestyle at home and find sustainable ways of living. In short, we need to prepare a new generation of global citizens who will be challenged to reinvent institutional mechanisms to cope with the need to live within—as an article in Nature put it—safe "planetary boundaries."

The National Association of Independent Schools is one organization that has taken up the challenge to encourage our students to think differently about the critical questions they will face: Students in the United States are paired every year with their counterparts in other countries to find local solutions to global problems, including rising poverty. There are many other approaches that teachers can take, including simulations such as the 100 People project and asking students to role-play a number of scenarios related to global warming. UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, also has a series of modules on sustainable development that can be integrated across the curriculum.

In 1992, 1,700 senior scientists, including more than half of all Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, issued their "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," stating: "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished."

As yet another hurricane is blamed for billions of dollars' worth of destruction, surely we can no longer afford either lazy attitudes or spineless leadership. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it after Sandy's devastation: "Climate change is a reality." The question for policymakers and educators is whether we will pay more than just lip service to the idea of climate change or instead focus on the consequences and the choices the next generation faces.