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, December 13, 2013

Got books?!

1. Ensuring Effective Instruction: How Do I Improve Teaching Using Multiple Measures?
By Vicki Phillips and Lynn Olson

2. Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs
By Donald S. Kachur, Judith A. Stout, and Claudia L. Edwards

3. Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom
By Robyn R. Jackson

4. Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching
By Robert J. Marzano, Tony Frontier, and David Livingston

5. Short on Time: How Do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal?
By William Sterrett

6. The 5-Minute Teacher: How Do I Maximize Time for Learning in My Classroom?
By Mark Barnes

7. The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day
By Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell

8. Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who?, 3rd Edition
By Vicki Urquhart and Dana Frazee

9. Teaching the Brain to Read: Strategies for Improving Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension
By Judy Willis

10. Reading for Meaning: How to Build Students' Comprehension, Reasoning, and Problem-Solving Skills
By Harvey F. Silver, Susan C. Morris, and Victor Klein

New books for your Christmas list?

Hells to the yeah!

1. Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, 2nd edition
By Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

2. Affirmative Classroom Management: How Do I Develop Effective Rules and Consequences in My School?
By Richard L. Curwin

3. Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess 21st Century Work?
By Michael Fisher

4. Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success: How Do I Help Students Manage Their Thoughts, Behaviors, and Emotions?
By Carrie Germeroth and Crystal Day-Hess

5. Causes & Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems
By Margaret Searle

6. Transformational Teaching in the Information Age: Making Why and How We Teach Relevant to Students
By Thomas R. Rosebrough and Ralph G. Leverett

7. Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners, 2nd Edition
By Jane D.Hill and Kristen B. Miller

8. The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction
By Robert J. Marzano

9. Strategies for Success with English Language Learners: An ASCD Action Tool
By Virginia P. Royas

10. Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas
By Judie Haynes and Debbie Zacarian

A need for purposeful talk in the classroom!

This article does a solid job discussing ways we can make our classroom discourse with students much more meaningful and relevant (and very aligned to the CCSS!). Read on!

December 2013 | Volume 55 | Number 12
More than Words: Developing Core Speaking and Listening Skills Pages 1-4-5

More than Words: Developing Core Speaking and Listening Skills

Jessica Roake and Laura Varlas
Thoughtful, content-based discussions have always been a classroom ideal. With an added push from the Common Core State Standards, educators are amplifying their efforts to plan for purposeful talk.
"So I had to read the first part of this book, and then the next day our teacher put us in groups of like 10 students and told us we had to have a discussion about the reading. She told us we each had to say at least one thing, and no more than three things. And then she left, and there was just silence because nobody knew what to say. It was awkward."

At some point in your career, you've probably experienced a classroom discussion that played out like this, and with good reason. "Let's not even pretend that most students are ready to naturally hold a content-based discussion that doesn't fizzle out if we aren't providing some targeted discussion scaffolds," says PĂ©rsida Himmele, ASCD author and associate professor at Millersville University. "Knowing how to hold a thriving content-based conversation takes quite a bit of social maturity, time, and practice. Most [students] need to be guided through it."

Keys to Cognition

Language is how we think; it's our operating system, note Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, authors of Content-Area Conversations: How to Plan Discussion-Based Lessons for Diverse Language Learners (ASCD, 2008). Because talk represents thinking, classrooms should be filled with it. Yet in most classrooms, talk is "frequently limited and used to check comprehension rather than develop thinking." It's not enough for students to hear academic speech from the teacher, according to Fisher and Frey; they must use academic discourse with peers if they are to acquire it. Providing time and structures for purposeful classroom discussions allows students to "own the words and ideas of content."

What's more, discussion is strongly linked to academic achievement, Erik Palmer suggests in his forthcoming ASCD book, Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking. Drawing on research, Palmer explains that, "When students discuss, they are more likely to retain the information and be able to retrieve it later …. Discussions also improve intellectual agility and help develop skills of synthesis and integration."

Core Guidance

How can educators ensure that time for talk is well spent? The six Common Core Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening provide a blueprint. The first anchor standard (SL.1) is particularly illuminating; its goal is to guide students to "prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively." Here educators will find a ladder of discussion skills lifting students toward the Common Core speaking and listening objectives of comprehension and collaboration.
In the early grades, SL.1 focuses more on the interpersonal skills students need to have a discussion: taking turns, listening to others, and sticking to the topic at hand. As the expectations of this standard progress through the grade levels, the skills become more complex—building, for example, from asking clarifying questions and citing textual evidence to elaborating, drawing conclusions, paraphrasing, modifying views in light of new information, and setting rules and carrying out assigned roles in discussions.

By grade 12, SL.1 prompts students to promote civil and democratic discourse, in part through evaluating the full range of evidence, probing reasoning, and identifying when and how to pursue further exploration of a topic. With this sequence of outcomes in mind, teachers can use specific techniques to bring deliberate discussions to life in the classroom.

Planning for Purposeful Discussions

Without structure, classroom discussions are doomed to be awkward and ineffective. Typically, Himmele notes, "there is no such thing as a 'classroom discussion.' A handful of students will always monopolize the conversation, while the majority passively observes."

By providing organized and purposeful opportunities to talk, educators can avoid common pitfalls. First and foremost, clear expectations set the stage for classroom conversations. Fisher and Frey suggest planning lessons by defining the content (the topic), language (the key vocabulary students should use to discuss the topic), and social objectives (expectations for how students will interact). Further, in Content-Area Conversations, they recommend
  • Checking that the physical setup of the classroom suits the type of discussion;
  • Explicitly teaching the social skills needed for the discussion;
  • Creating routines that allow students to focus on making meaning;
  • Having the same high expectations for talk as for reading and writing; and
  • Providing supports that cue students' metacognitive skills to use the best strategy for the task at hand.

At The Siena School in Silver Spring, Md., codirector Jillian Darefsky and her team have fostered a seminar-style environment, arranging desks "so that students can actively participate in dialogue throughout the class, whether in pairs, small groups, or whole-class discussions." Darefsky says this has "an immediate effect on the students' engagement in the class" because it "encourages all students to participate."

"Restructuring the environment helps students get into the right mindset for [communication]," adds Palmer. "It's a cue to the kind of thinking, speaking, and listening skills that will be needed."

Maintaining the Momentum

Creating a space in which students feel safe and empowered in sharing their ideas is also essential. Amanda Ryan-Fear, an art teacher at Hillsboro High School in Hillsboro, Ore., teaches protocols for discussion participation, such as "do we raise hands or jump in, how to disagree respectfully, and how to use questioning to draw out the ideas of their peers."

Palmer suggests finding concrete ways to illustrate (and promote) participation in discussions. For example, give students one or two poker chips that you will collect each time they add to a discussion. This gets students thinking intentionally about how and when they will engage in classroom conversations, says Palmer.

Assigning roles in a discussion can also help students interact meaningfully, while focusing on academic content. Palmer cites the popular Jigsaw discussion strategy, in which each student studies an aspect of a topic and then rotates in groups where students take turns presenting as "experts" on their areas of focused study.

Many students simply do not know how to effectively initiate or maintain a conversation, especially in an academic environment. Instructional supports—for example, rubrics detailing the elements of well-crafted arguments, graphic organizers to help students capture details of a topic to discuss, or multiple representations of key vocabulary relevant to the topic posted around the classroom—can alert students to the metacognitive skills they need to sustain academic discussions.

Himmele finds Bounce Cards—conversation prompts that provide cues for "bouncing" an idea off of another student's idea, summarizing information, and posing questions—to be particularly useful tools. Distributed as bookmarks, Bounce Cards (see below) cue students' conversational skills until discussions flow naturally to if you are going to place the bounce card at the end. Keely Potter, a language arts teacher at Dodson Branch School in Tennessee, shares her success with this strategy: "Bounce Cards gave [students] the words to say. Now it is so engrained, they'll [respond], 'I'm hearing you say that … but I have a different way of looking at it.' I don't even have to cue them anymore; it's automatic."

Take what your classmate(s) said and bounce an idea off of it. For example, you can start your sentences with—
"That reminds me of …"
"I agree, because …"
"True. Another example is when …"
"That's a great point …"
Rephrase what was just said in a shorter version. For example, you can start your sentences with—
"I hear you saying that …"
"So, if I understand you correctly …"
"I like how you said …"
Understand what your classmates mean by asking them questions. For example, you can start your questions with—
"Can you tell me more about that?"
"I'm not sure I understand …"
"I see your point, but what about …?"
"Have you thought about …?"
Source: From Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner, by P. Himmele & W. Himmele, 2011, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2011 by ASCD.

Himmele advises teachers to circulate and take an active prompting role, especially when conversation lags. By moving around the room and prompting the students who are not sharing, teachers can identify and address problems as they arise. Taking notes during the conversation also improves future discussions—this input helps the teacher to tweak groupings, adapt prompts, and identify the strengths and deficits the students bring to discussions.

Assessing and Reviewing

Concluding activities like Quick-Writes, pro-con lists, and graphic organizers help students to digest the activity. Ryan-Fear explains her approach: "To drive accountability, I'll require an end product such as an exit ticket based on the conversation." Himmele suggests collecting the students' Quick-Writes at the end of the activity, "even if it's only to glance at and initial them, because it will give teachers a good feel for where the students are in their thinking about the content."

To guide more formal assessments of student products derived from discussion, teachers should use rubrics that identify the targeted speaking and listening skills, such as paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, citing evidence, elaborating on others' comments, and following guidelines for civil discourse.

At the state level, both of the Common Core standardized tests (from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) assess listening skills by asking students to listen to and watch brief audio and video on a topic and then answer questions or write an essay based on their comprehension of the ideas presented. The Smarter Balanced assessment differs in that it incorporates speaking skills by requiring students to participate in a small-group discussion before they write on a topic presented in the videos they watched.

Walking the Talk

Listening is our first learning tool, reminds Palmer. It's how infants learn the language that organizes the world around them. Through academic discussion, students build the content literacies and interpersonal skills that will serve them throughout life. When students enter college and career, they will draw on these skills as they videoconference with colleagues and classmates, watch webinars to enhance their professional learning, or speak and listen in class or at work.

Discussion is a powerful tool for both learning and the democratic ideals of education. "Involving students in discussion is like allowing them to double swipe their cognitive card," says Himmele. "It forces them to stop, reflect, process, repackage, and deliver whatever they're learning in a way that adds to their small-group discussions and to their bigger understandings of the content."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cool work!

This is from a colleage of mine:

Hey Critical Explorers!

A while back I posted here about my website,, a catalog of all the answers to the question: "If you could ask everyone you met just one question, what would you ask?" It's been a lot of fun and the questions people have submitted are fascinating.

Well, when I started putting together the website, I also started writing a book about the 6 months I spent driving around the US interviewing people with that question. The book is done! I'm trying to self-publish and wanted to post it here because a) I would love any donations to the cause and b) would just like to get the word out even if you're not interested in contributing any do-re-mi. Here's the link for that:

The book is the very definition of a 'critical exploration' as I didn't have a plan for how it would turn out or even what I intended to discover. It was a lot of fun and led to a lot of new understandings.

Check out the video and let me know what you think!

Friday, November 22, 2013

TED Talks!

Hi Everyone,
I saw this on Facebook and thought to share. Some of you might have seen this already, but it is still a good reminder I think.
Happy Friday! :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

My big debut!

Good morning, all!
Here is the video that was shown at the Board of Education last Tuesday afternoon. Do you recognize anyone?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Great poem by a student!

This is a poem that was presented prior to Dr. Starr’s State of Schools address on Monday, November 11th. The brilliant young scholar from Richard Montgomery High School, Blessed Sheriff, also wrote this amazing poem:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Got awesome books?!

More great titles to check out....

1. Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding
By Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins

2. Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success
By Baruti Kafele

3. How to Motivate Relunctant Learners
By Robyn R. Jackson

4. How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom
By Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian

5. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
By Mark Barnes

6. Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Exellence in Every Classroom
By Robyn R. Jackson

7. 100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff
By Emily E. Houck

8. How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank
By John G. Gabriel and Paul C. Farmer

9. Assignments Matter: Making the Connections that Help Students Meet Standards
By Eleanor Dougherty

10. Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs
By Cathy Vatterott

11. Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
By Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

Friday, November 8, 2013

New great books to check out!

1. Causes & Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems
By Margaret Searle

2. Short on Time: How Do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal?
By William Sterrett

3. Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, 2nd edition
By Jane D. Hill and Kirsten B. Miller

4. Ensuring Effective Instruction: How Do I Improve Teaching Using Mutiple Measures?
By Vicki Phillips and Lynn Olson

5. Succeeding with Inquiry in Science and Math Classrooms
By Jeff C. Marshall

6. Teaching with Tablets: How Do I Integrate Tablets with Effective Instruction?
By Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and Alex Gonzalez

7. Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age
By Marilee Sprenger

8. Literacy Strategies for Improving Mathematics Instruction
By Joan M. Kenney with Euthecia Hancewicz, Loretta Heuer, Diana Metsisto, and Cynthia L. Tuttle

9. Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement
By Erin Jensen

10. Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life
By Thomas Armstrong

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Power of Gratitude!

It's not just a "soft skill" anymore. Now, gratitude can lead to higher grades and life satisfication among students of all ages. Read on for more! This article can also be found online at:

Tapping into the Power of Gratitude

By Sarah McKibben
No longer just a "soft skill," gratitude can lead to higher grades and life satisfaction among students.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, gratitude will once again take its place at the center of our tables, nestled somewhere between the mashed potatoes and cranberry relish. Although gratitude may be an element of our family traditions or spiritual practices, emerging research points to gratitude as a potential bridge between students' academic and social well-being.

Studies show that grateful youth have higher GPAs; experience more positive emotions; and, ultimately, go on to live more meaningful lives. In addition, gratitude among middle school students can foster an increased sense of hope and trust in others and fuel a desire to give back to their community.
Giacomo Bono, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, has been at the forefront of that research and believes that the benefits of gratitude can be realized across the K–12 pipeline.

The most recent findings, presented by Bono and his colleagues at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, suggest that practicing gratitude at a young age promotes later development of self-control and self-regulation, which Bono says are resources for lifelong success.
Not surprisingly, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that gratitude is good for schools because it "helps students feel more connected to their school, family, and community."

"It's very intuitive," says Vicki Zakrzewski, the center's education director. "Gratitude helps foster positive emotions, and we know from research that positive emotions help students with the learning process [by keeping students' stress responses down]."

Zakrzewski defines gratitude as "affirming that there are good things in the world—gifts and benefits that we've received—and recognizing that these sources of goodness come from outside ourselves."
It's a skill that can be taught, albeit, in tune with developmental readiness. Bono contends that gratitude can manifest in kids as young as 6 or 7 by linking positive events to the people who help foster them. Usually, though, gratitude doesn't fully materialize until ages 10–14, when students become less egocentric and develop the ability to empathize.

To incorporate the discipline early on, Zakrzewski encourages teachers to have students say why they're grateful. "Generally, by about 1st or 2nd grade, students can get that," says Zakrzewski. "But teachers have to model that again and again for students to think more deeply in terms of why they're grateful for someone [or something]."

Gratitude in Practice

Last year, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a professor at the University of British Columbia, worked on gratitude interventions with 35 teachers as part of a social-emotional learning research project. She recalls how the practice completely transformed a 2nd grade classroom. Over the course of eight weeks, students learned about the concept of gratitude, practiced it regularly, and began using gratitude journals.

They became so excited about the project that they rushed into the classroom each morning to write down what they were thankful for in their journals. Parents took notice and said that family conversations on the drive to school had turned to thankfulness and appreciation. Students also used the journals as a coping mechanism by taking them into a quiet area of the classroom to read when they were upset.

"It's so easy to get caught up in what goes wrong in our day," says Schonert-Reichl, but making gratitude a routine through repeated exercises can take teachers and students out of automatic pilot.
Pam Reed, an English language arts teacher at Buckeye Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, discovered that her students, many of whom live in high poverty, have "never really been exposed to gratitude."

"The whole concept of thankfulness and gratitude is very foreign to middle schoolers, period," says Reed. "And especially for kids in high poverty, it's really something that's hard to do: to step outside themselves and think about what [they are] really grateful for."

To give them that opportunity, Reed exposes her students to a range of social justice issues and has them participate in at least four service-learning projects each year. During one Common Core–embedded project, students studied genocide and then heard about the plight firsthand from a young Rwandan survivor. "Her story was horrific yet inspiring because she still shows so much gratitude for the things she has in her life today," says Reed. Fueled by the experience, the class hosted a celebration of Africa to raise money for the cause.

As a prewriting strategy, Reed assigns A–Z gratitude lists, which add an element of structure to journaling. Reed writes her own list on the board to model specificity by noting gifts like "hot water" or her "daughter's smile" that elicit gratitude. She might also have students write lists on behalf of characters or historical figures they're studying.

Reed's sweeping attention to gratitude has paid off. "I've never had a fight in my classroom," she says. "There's just more empathy and my students seem happier."

Across the Continuum

Deidre Hughes, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, believes that gratitude practices "should be a continuation through the entire education cycle." She recently began to incorporate gratitude and mindfulness into her developmental reading course.

First, she boosts mindfulness by beginning each class with a mini-meditation session to redirect students' conversations. Then, while taking roll, she asks students to turn to the person next to them and say something they are grateful for about that person or just in general. Because she typically has a small class, students know one another well enough to meaningfully engage in the exercise. Hughes also ends the course with a gratitude circle, in which students take turns discussing what they are thankful for from the course. Last semester, while a few students talked about a specific strategy they learned, others pointed to the social relationships they forged.

"At the community college, having connections in a classroom can prevent a student from dropping out," says Hughes.

Hughes's efforts dovetail with a recent push by California Community Colleges to focus on the habits of mind that help students succeed in college. "It's more than just addressing the cognitive realm; we need to also be looking at the social and emotional realms of students' development," she says.

Be the Change

Zakrzewski emphasizes that the most effective way to nurture those social-emotional skills is to model—or better yet—embody them.

That can mean showing gratitude for kids, even middle schoolers, when they are at their worst. "As a teacher, the best time to tell a student that you're grateful for them is when you're absolutely not," Reed says.

Balance your approach; kids can spot a phony, warns Zakrzewski. "The more a teacher can practice gratitude in his or her own life, the more it will become a part of who they are, the more they will naturally express it in class," she says.

Gratitude may start with teacher modeling, but it doesn't end there. "It builds a bond that is never going to be undone," says Reed.

"When you're grateful, you're positively transformed," Bono adds. "You tend to take yourself more seriously, you value others more, and it strengthens your relationships."

Cultivating Gratitude in the Classroom

✔ Think intentions, costs, and benefits.

Researcher Giacomo Bono suggests that when students express gratitude, educators should encourage them to notice intentions (the thought behind the gift that they received), appreciate costs (someone went out of her way or made sacrifices to help them), and recognize the benefits (someone provided them with a gift or a kind act that has personal value).

✔ Use a gratitude journal.

This may be one of the simplest ways to increase gratitude. In a 2008 study by Bono and Jeffrey Froh, middle school students who regularly wrote about what they were thankful for reported greater optimism and a more positive outlook on their school experience.

✔ Lead gratitude activities.

Have students write a thank-you letter to someone in their lives, participate in gratitude circles, or contribute to a gratitude wall or bulletin board.

✔ Pair students to increase cooperation.

Gratitude can emerge organically in mixed-ability grouping that allows students to complement one another's strengths.

✔ Use question prompts.

For example, when students come into school on Monday mornings, ask them what their favorite part of the weekend was, says Bono. Then, follow up with, Did someone help make that happen? Or, if they faced a particular challenge, ask, Did someone help you overcome it? Bono explains, "It's easy in the day-to-day conversations that you have with a child to talk about the people who were responsible [for a positive event]."

✔ Encourage service learning.

Service learning gives students an opportunity to experience and reflect on the struggles of others. Each discipline poses opportunities for service learning around a social justice question or authentic community need.

✔ Model it!

The key to cultivating gratitude in your classroom is to make it part of your own routine. By modeling gratitude, you encourage students to do the same, and, according to the Greater Good Science Center, teachers who practice gratitude "feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Outdoor Education rocks!

Check out our students from last year at outdoor ed in action (and a few present and former teachers as well).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Patience is power!

The idea of "patience is power" is something my students grapple with daily, as they are impulsive middle schoolers. But how wonderfully relevant for us all! I hope you enjoy the below article as much as I did!

Monday, October 28, 2013

More intriguing titles to explore!

1. Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom
By Carol Ann Tomlinson and Tonya R. Moon

2. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners
By Carol Ann Tomlinson

3. Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom
By Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia B. Imbeau

4. The Differentiated School: Making Revolutionary Changes in Teaching and Learning
By Carol Ann Tomlinson, Kay Brimijoin, and Lane Narvaez

5. Teaching With Tablets: How Do I Integrate Tablets with Effective Instruction?
By Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Alex Gonzalez

6. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day
By Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams

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

8. Grading and Group Work: How Do I Assess Individual Learning When Students Work Together?
By Susan M. Brookhart

9. Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders
By Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

New books to check out!

Just in time for the fall!

1. Succeeding with Inquiry in Science and Math Classrooms
By Jeff C. Marshall

2. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
By Mark Barnes

3. Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning
By Mike Schmoker

4. Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs
By Donald S. Kachur, Judith A. Stout, and Claudia L. Edwards

5. Protocols for Professional Learning
By Lois Brown Easton

6. Building Teachers' Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders
By Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

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

8. Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words that Make or Break Student Understanding
By Marilee Sprenger

9. Vocabulary for the Common Core
By Robert J. Marzano and Julia A. Simms

10. Teaching Basic and Advanced Vocabulary: A Framework for Direct Instruction
By Robert J. Marzano

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We need to grade differently!

This is a fascinating article and well-worth the read!
October 2013 | Volume 55 | Number 10
How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About It Pages 1-6-7

How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About It

Laura Varlas
Rubrics hold a mirror up to your objectives for an assessment task. Matt Townsley remembers well the day he looked into this mirror and didn't like what he saw. "I realized my criteria were mostly about how neat the project looked. It hit me that students could do well without knowing a whole lot about the learning objective."
Townsley, who taught high school math for six years before becoming Solon Community School District's director of instruction and technology in Iowa, conveys a common folly in grading. "We tend to reward working, instead of learning," explains Cathy Vatterott, author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs (ASCD, 2009). "Do the pile of work and you'll get the grade. Don't do the work—and even if you demonstrate mastery of the skill or content—you won't get the grade."
Grades are meant to report student progress toward learning goals—giving students, their families, and teachers useful information on where to make adjustments to achieve these goals. But instead of a formative process that can be educative, Vatterott says we tend to look at grading as a "one shot, either you know it or don't" event. This fixed outlook invites punitive measures that distort an accurate picture of what students know and are able to do. Problems with grading can be so entrenched in the status quo that teachers like Townsley are often surprised to realize the ways they've perpetuated a broken system.
"Once you start rethinking grading, you have to rethink a lot of other things," Townsley acknowledges. For Townsley and others, a shift to standards-based grading (SBG) has clarified what's needed to keep rubrics true to intended learning objectives and make grades meaningful again: providing clear learning targets, eliminating punitive grading practices, grading less, and assessing better.

On Target

Standards-based grading involves measuring students' proficiency on well-defined course objectives, or learning targets tied to the standards. (Check out, an excellent resource for teacher-made videos explaining SBG implementation.)
For Myron Dueck, vice principal and teacher in School District 67 in Penticton, British Columbia, focusing assessment and reporting practices on these goalposts crystallized when he was exposed to the work of Rick Stiggins and Ken O'Connor. Stiggins frames assessment with three questions he says all students should be able to answer, in terms of their coursework:
  • Where are we going?
  • Where am I?
  • What do I need to do to close the gap?
Focusing on closing the gap between students and learning targets "changes the conversation," says Townsley, "from 'why am I failing this class' or 'what do I need to do to go from a B to an A' to 'I still don't understand how to find the area of a regular polygon; could you help me with that?'"
We will miss the mark on learning targets, however, if we don't eliminate a lot of nonacademic criteria from our assessment and reporting practices. "When grades reflect everything—participation, homework, attendance, extra credit, neatness—they mean nothing," says Vatterott.
"Kids get graded on following directions, as much as the content or skill they're learning," says Susan Brookhart, author of How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading (ASCD, 2013).
Penalties for late work, zeros, and points off for appearance can trade measures of learning for measures of compliance. Possibly worse is the message sent by grading homework. "There are all sorts of professions where you have opportunities to receive feedback without being penalized," says Townsley. "When we grade homework, we're rewarding students who learn the first time." Vatterott elaborates, "We grade kids while they're learning, and that penalizes kids for taking risks. It's demotivating and institutionalizes failure."

Grade Less

Traditionally, all homework, quizzes, and tests go into a grade book. Townsley admits it was an uneasy shift to see homework—and eventually, quizzes—as practice, not points toward a summative score. He thinks about it in terms of a sports team or a band—how well you practice never ends up in the paper. "If you have a bad week practicing, you don't show up Friday night with minus five on the scoreboard."
Teachers using SBG often keep a record of whether homework is completed and focus substantive feedback where students struggle. Homework carries no weight except in its worth for practicing for the assessment.
Once Dueck changed the motivation from compliance to getting better at something, he saw struggling learners doing homework and making cue cards for a test, when before, they wouldn't have even considered it. "Kids find intrinsic motivation," notes Dueck, "because they are able to take risks, self-assess, adjust, practice, and find what works best for them, to learn something." Vatterott adds that schools giving feedback for homework instead of points have seen a decrease in cheating because "there's no point to it—it's not going to help you pass the test."
"Not grading homework freed me up to focus on feedback, instead of factoring grades," says Townsley. He adapted his quizzes to be better vehicles for feedback by adding a Likert scale. Students would rate their level of knowledge of a standard before a quiz. Then, after students took the quiz, Townsley would add qualitative feedback and rate where he thought students were on the continuum of learning so that they would know before a project or test what they needed to work on. "There were fewer numbers going in the grade book, but I was getting the right information to the right students while there was still time for learning."
If quota requirements or just personal preference push you to enter homework or other formative assessments as grades, Vatterott recommends entering them as no-weight scores—evidence of what a student is doing—to be informative, not punitive.

Assessment Refined

After Dueck constructed unit plans with clear learning targets and eliminated punitive grading practices, the next logical step—admittedly a terrifying one—was to overhaul his tests so that they would be much more amenable to retesting. He organized tests by topics nested in the standard that was being assessed so that he knew exactly where students were struggling and could focus reassessments in those places.
Townsley also organized tests by standard or topic and gave back multiple scores tied to each section of the test, which allowed students to see their strengths and weaknesses. This provides powerful information to guide both student practice and instructional adjustments from the teacher.
"When you offer retests, you might be surprised who shows up," says Dueck, recalling his 11th grade class of struggling learners. "I saw incredible things from these kids, and it came from them, finally, having some power over their education." For Townsley, reassessment is about acknowledging that "it's more important what you learn than when you learn it."
Teachers wary of being trapped in an endless cycle of reassessing might want to start small, by allowing one retest, says Dueck, citing advice from standards-based grading advocate Thomas Guskey. Townsley adds that clearly communicated policies for reassessing make this practice successful. Because reassessing requires extra work from the teacher, students should have steps to earn reassessment—for example, redoing homework, attending tutoring, completing online learning modules, or creating their own lesson on the topic to be reassessed.

Getting It Right

Townsley, whose school is in a multiyear implementation where all teachers are using SBG, thinks of the old grading system as "assessments-based," while SBG puts students and learning at the center. Vatterott believes that standards-based grading is going to change the whole education paradigm. "In the past, time was fixed and achievement varied. Now we're saying, we want achievement to be fixed, but time [to demonstrate mastery] will vary."
Dueck sees an opportunity for social justice. "We can do an awful lot to alleviate the effects of poverty by what we do with grades. It's time to consider to what extent our grading rules and assessment practices work to alleviate stressors and support students, rather than measuring, measuring, measuring."
Be prepared to rethink everything once you open the door to grading reform, says Townsley. From the warm-up at the beginning of class to final grades, everything in Townsley's classroom became formative-minded, or about finding out "how well do my students know this? How might I change my instruction to improve that?" In the end, Townsley says, "It revolutionized my perspective on classroom instruction, assessment, and education in general." 

Online Tools

Several software platforms support standards-based grading—ActiveGradeSBGradeBook, andBlueHarvest, to name a few.
Currently, however, there's no easy data bridge between SBG programs and student information systems such as PowerSchool or InsideCampus. Some districts, like Van Meter S.D. in Iowa, have shifted weekly progress reporting to SBG reporting software but still issue final grades through traditional student information systems.
Other classroom technology, like MoodleQuiaQuizlet, and Google, can help teachers easily design skill-based reassessments that provide instant feedback to students.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Great connection between STEM and the Arts!

I found this interesting indeed!

Learning and Teaching
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Schools: The arts can increase student engagement in STEM
The focus on science, technology, engineering and math has expanded in some schools to include the arts as well -- an approach that educators say engages students who might otherwise have no interest in STEM. Educators at some schools with STEAM programs, including Alabama and Virginia, say hands-on art and music lessons appear to suit many students who might not otherwise be reached with traditional academic lessons. T.H.E. Journal magazine (exclusive preview for SmartBrief subscribers) (10/2013)
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How students can improve their writing with ungraded work
Writing in ungraded practice sessions can help students organize and solidify their ideas before working on the assignment that will be assessed, writer and former teacher Lily Jones suggests in this blog post. Jones offers three examples of using this writing-to-learn technique using videos from Educate Texas. "By teaching writing as a way to develop understanding, you can help students learn to see writing as neither product- nor process-driven, but thinking-driven," she writes. Teaching Channel/Tchers' Voice blog(10/16)
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Other News
§  N.J. students show off their talents on public Halloween art projects Asbury Park Press (Neptune-Asbury Park, N.J.) (10/16)
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A Cure for the Common Core.
Unlike most other programs, Imagine Learning version 12 has 500+ new activities built specifically for the Common Core. Our language and literacy software solution is empowering kids everywhere to read at grade level, succeed on high-stakes tests, and prepare for a successful life outside of the classroom. Watch video preview.

School Leadership
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Teachers learn reading instruction in Conn. co-teaching program
The Hartford School District in Connecticut turned one of its elementary schools into a model campus where recent college graduates spend at least a year learning literacy instruction through co-teaching with master educators, observing model lessons and receiving coaching advice. The program, which cost $400,000 and utilizes video cameras to watch instruction, is intended to increase the expertise of reading teachers across the district. PBS(10/15)
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The premier PLC event of the year
Register now to learn with experts like Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour—the architects of PLC at Work™. Whether you're just beginning to build a PLC or need to regroup for your next steps, the 2014 PLC at Work™ Summit provides practical knowledge delivered by the experts who know the process best. Learn more!

Technology in the Classroom
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What will happen when MOOCs enter K-12 schools?
Massive open online courses are slowly making their way into K-12 classrooms, with Michigan Virtual University and Kent State University announcing the launch of a MOOC for high-school students. "Some people say MOOCs are the future of education, others say they will ruin it," said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Michigan Virtual University. "We've got to dip our toe in the water. If this is a complete crash and burn, we will still benefit because we'll be able to learn from this experience." Education Week/Digital Education blog (10/16)
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Earn an Online MS in Instructional Technology
With classes in multimedia production, instructional design, emerging technologies and more, this program arms you with the theory and experience to bring technology into the classroom. The Instructional Technology Specialist Certification will prepare you to take on an important and growing role in the K-12 environment.

The Whole Child
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Social-emotional learning becomes the norm in NYC school
Students at Public School 24 in Brooklyn, N.Y., are building self-awareness and emotional vocabulary as part of the school's social-emotional curriculum. Educators hope the 4Rs program -- reading, writing, respect and resolution -- will help students feel safe and secure during the school day and give them tools to resolve some conflicts on their own. Education Week Teacher (premium article access compliments of (10/14)
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Fla. district makes push for student wellness
A Florida school district is doing more to bolster student wellness. One school has brought in new staff members to increase the school's focus on nutrition and wellness at school and home. Another school has introduced a wellness program that includes cooking and fitness. Tallahassee Democrat (Fla.) (tiered subscription model)(10/16)
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Understand the Critical Role of Oral Language in Reading for your Title I and ELL Students
Oral language is a predictor of future academic success. Learn how researchers suggest approaching oral language instruction, particularly in ELL and Title I populations where socioeconomic status and home experiences result in a growing academic gap. Read more.

Policy Watch
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NCLB's deadline for 100% proficiency approaches for 8 states
Forty-two states, the District of Columbia and some districts in California have been granted waivers from No Child Left Behind, but for eight states, this is the school year when they are required to meet the federal education law's requirement of 100% proficiency. California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming previously have missed the benchmark, which has been looming for 12 years, by between 17% and 74%.Politico (Washington, D.C.) (10/15)
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Are you a young volunteer? Do you know a young volunteer who's making a difference in his or her community?
We want to hear their story. Apply for The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards by November 5th. And help celebrate the spirit of young volunteers.

ED Pulse
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How important is it to receive CEUs (continuing education units) or college credit for the education professional development in which you participate?
Very important
Somewhat important
Not very important
Not at all important
What is your preferred frequency for receiving promotional or informational e-mails from one company or organization? 
Several e-mails a day


2 to 6 e-mails a week


2 to 3 e-mails a month

Monthly or less frequently

Do not want any e-mails

Get 23 practical strategies for teaching informational writing.Nonfiction Notebooks will help your students leverage mentor texts, try out different ideas and angles, write better first drafts, confidently explore topics across many genres, and become more independent writers.Preview the entire book!

Faculty Lounge
Pa. teachers motivate students to succeed using "Blurred Lines" parody
Three high-school math teachers in a Pennsylvania district developed a parody set to singer Robin Thicke's hit song "Blurred Lines" that encourages students to get good grades. Teachers said the idea for the parody came from a parody of Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" called "Gettin' Triggy Wit It." The teachers used GarageBand recording software and a MacBook laptop for the video, which includes the lyrics, "That's why you're gonna get those good grades/ I know you want it." Montgomery News (Fort Washington, Pa.) (10/16)
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The Buzz
When Writing with Technology Matters shows how to take advantage of students' affinity for technology to change and improve the writing process. Includes detailed descriptions of elementary and middle school literacy projects that teachers can follow step-by-step or use as a guide when planning their own technology-based projects. Preview the entire book!
Technology is the Ticket to Common Core Success: FREE Webinar! Join Lori Elliott, Ed.D. as she explores methods to help students use technology both strategically and capably in their learning. Technology is no longer an option, but a necessity in the Common Core world. Oct. 24, 4-5 PM EDT Space is limited. Register here

8 questions for emerging leader PJ Caposey
"All students deserve to learn and to have excellent educators, especially those typically underserved; my role in the world is to help see that gets accomplished," writes ASCD Emerging Leader PJ Caposey. In a recent Inservice post, Caposey talks about his role as an educator, his major influences, and how he intends to make a change in education. Read on.
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Teaching under the influence
"It's obvious that students and teachers are all under the influence ... of the internet/technology," writes ASCD EDge community member Jennifer Davis Bowman. In her recent EDge post, Bowman presents three ways teachers are under the influence of technology and explains the consequences of each. Her first point to teachers is that not all students have access to the internet. Read on.
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He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it."
-- Seneca,
Roman philosopher
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