Saturday, September 29, 2012

Two words I should never read....

I have had the pleasure of being on two very impactful strategic planning teams.  Being able to bring together community members, board members, educators, students and administrators all in the same room and creating a vision for the future is life and career-changing.

Being a part of those two processes has changed me as an educator because I was a part f a team that created, authored, curated, and gave words to what we as a community believe, value, and desire for our students and our nation.

As part of the process we determined what factors impact our students and community.  Think of it like a SWOT activity.

We recorded our beliefs about students and education as a whole.

Throughout this entire week-long process together we were crafting our mission and vision.  I first had to understand that those were two different things.

Finally if we were to achieve our mission/vision, how would we get there.  What would be our charge and how would we progress.  The key to this phase of the process is to not think about today, but think of the end product.  What will education look-like, sound-like and be-like for students when we achieve our actions.  Challenging yourself to look at environment that doesn't exist yet is not an easy task and requires talented people to move you out of your comfort zone.

This brings me to the reason for my post.  I just read a district's strategic plan and two words I read should never be included:


I struggle with both of these words because it's not strategic and it's not a plan.  Status quo is not a vision for the future.

As I was challenged by Heidi on Twitter (who is awesome by the way, you must give her a follow!), 

Then it's not a part of the "strategic plan."  It would become a part of your beliefs about what impacts student performance or school and community environment and that you know it works and it is valued.  

A strategic plan is a vision for the future, what you want for the generations ahead of us.  A careful consideration of what we value, what we want and what we believe. 

I know innovation isn't for every community.  I know change is scary.  If status quo is a belief and good enough is valued as "strategic" we are missing a wonderful opportunity to grow, be challenged and provide for all students.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Never Work Harder Than Your Students: Chapter 2

As part of our transition program for teachers who are new to the district in their 2nd and 3rd year we are having specific professional development centering around differentiation.

We are using the book "Never Work Harder Than Your Students" to also infuse some culturally responsive and relevant teaching practices.

The chapter is titled: "Know where your students are going."  This chapter almost seems to mimic the work done by Marzano in the Art and Science of teaching, as well as Wiggins and McTighe's work on Understanding by Design.  Notice the connections.

Here are my takeaways from the chapter:

  • Learning goals are more than what students do during a day, it's about what learning they should walk away with
  • Teachers know objectives are important, but how to create objectives, how to determine whether or not student have achieved them remains for many to be very difficult
  • Standards are your "final destination"

  • Think about planning in this way:
    • What do we, my state, and my community want kids to know by the end of this year/unit (learning goals)
    • Develop assessments to determine mastery
    • Develop scoring guides to measure proficiency and to utilize for feedback
    • Develop lessons/activities that lead to proficiency

  • Develop learning goals with the focus of whether the learning is a content or a process
  • Challenge your students to exceed the standards and provide room for differentiation
  • Understanding what the standard is allows you to:
    • think through the goal
    • determine if it's content or process, which leads to developing or finding appropriate lessons/activities
    • think through steps to accomplish or acquire the content or skill
  • Make learning goals concrete = how will you measure whether or not students have achieved this goal.

I do not like using the word "understand" in my learning goals.  You cannot measure understanding.  Replace the word understand with what you are asking kids to understand specifically and communicate how you will measure that understanding.  From this I usually pull out my DOK wheel and begin to seek out the specific word, phrase, or skill we want kids to be able to answer.  This way we know what mastery looks like, sounds like, or feels like in our classroom.

  • How to make learning goals concrete:
    • How will it be measured
    • build criteria for mastery (rubric)
    • break down into smaller chunks (steps to acquisition or success)
  • Goals should represent the floor (minimum expectations) not the ceiling.
  • Goals representing the floor allows for differentiation and extension opportunities
  • Determine how to:
    • know what it looks like when students have mastered the objective
    • how to collect evidence of that mastery
    • how to collect evidence over time
  • Work with a team to determine exemplars and acceptable evidence of mastery
  • The test is not the be-all-and-end-all BUT it is the "clearest articulation of the objective"
Great resources to support teachers found here:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Art and Science of Teaching: Chapter 2

This year our district is doing a book study on the Art and Science of teaching.  This book has been tremendously helpful in a number of areas.  First, I have used the research in it as an introduction and  foundation for all my work on standards-based grading.  Second, it has shaped my teaching and learning as a professional.

Chapter 2 focuses on how kids effectively interact with new knowledge.

Here are my take-aways from the chapter:

  • Students need to be actively engaged in the processing of information and that the teaching and learning process involves interaction among the teacher, students and the content.
  • Visual instruction involves helping students generate mental pictures for the information being taught
  • Graphic organizers are key (See also KU strategies)
  • Content needs to be placed into "digestible chunks" (sounds gross)
  • Good Common Practices:
    • Summarizing and Note taking
    • nonlinguistic representations - draw, act, use symbols etc.
    • questions - asking students to explain their thinking - Asking Why?
    • reflection - recording areas of success and confusion
    • cooperative learning (when done right) - viewing content form different perspectives
  • Get your content for a unit
    • Identify the Critical input experiences - could be a reading, a picture, a theme, a conversation, a field trip, a problem, a game, etc.
    • Preview (set up) that critical input experience think KWL strategy
    • Organize students into groups - have specific operating rules
    • Present in small chunks, ask for descriptions, discussion and predictions
    • Ask questions to have student elaborate - find key factors and misconceptions
    • Write out conclusions or represent learning nonlinquistically
    • Reflect!

How I've used this in my classroom:

Student Choice

I created the following sheet for each of my learning objectives or goals:

I give students the choice of how they best acquire new learning, practice their learning and demonstrate understanding.  With practice students are able to develop their own educational plan with my help and guidance that best sets them up for success.  Being able to run a "flipped classroom" was a huge piece of this puzzle since students could access direct instruction at their pace and readiness.

See my other posts on Personalized learning:
Personalized learning for every student
Stumpteacher rocked my world

Variety of input

As students progress through the year I opened up my "acquire" phase to many new ideas of learning and student engagement.  I attended a conference where I had the chance to meet and listen to Alfred Solis.  His model of Project/Problem based learning totally rocked my thinking.

His current work with is shaking up the process of how I think about engaging kids in new learning.  Too often we think about rewarding students with the field trip at the end of the learning.  Alfred challenges us to Flip that, and use the field trip as the starting off point, the problem statement, the hook that gets kids interested and engaged.  See his video below:

For more of his GREAT! stuff and his thinking around Problem/Project based learning check out:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Ways to Solving Problems

Today I attended the Cathy Fosnot training for Math instruction.  Learning included: 

  • Discovering new ways to solve problems
  • 24 x 1.25 = (6x4) x 1.25 = 6x (4x1.25)
  • 12x15 = 6x30=24x7.5= 

These conversations about solving problems differently is an OUTSTANDING way to think about problems differently.  How often through solving problems in science and social studies would we benefit from investigating HOW we solve problems and then finding new ways to think of solutions.

All these conversations made me think of William Ury's TED talk on the walk from NO to YES.  Watch the first few minutes of this video about the livestock to get an example....

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Pay My Students.

So what?  Who cares.  They do what they are suppose to do I pay them.  Just like my job, I do what I'm suppose to do and my bank account grows.  This is the same for my students.

I pay my students in the currency that matters for them.  Part of getting to know my students is determining what they value, what their "currency" is.  I seek to pay every kid in their currency.

For some students that's free time to play video games by letting them complete their practice in class.  For others it's one-on-one attention when they need it so their voice is heard.  Building a strong relationship with your students, knowing them as individuals allows me to pay them the way that matters to them.

As a part of our 2nd and 3rd year teacher professional development we are currently reading Robyn R. Jackson's book Never Work Harder Than Your Students.

As I am preparing for my meeting with them I though I would wrap up my top ideas from chapter 1.

Master Teacher Mindset:

  • Having all the answers isn't as important as know what questions to ask
  • Spend more time thinking about WHY the problem is occurring than trying to find solutions
  • Effective teaching happens in a myriad of ways
  • We all must be masters of our subject areas

Key Questions to consider:
  • Do you have an image in your head of what a "good student" looks like?
  • Are you able to see beyond the attitude and uncover their abilities?
  • What classroom currencies are we accepting and what currencies are students spending?
  • How are we teaching the language of the dominant culture, while also giving credit to the language of the students' culture?
  • How can you establish a classroom culture where collectivism trumps individualism?

Concepts from the chapter:
  • There is a currency in your classroom of intellectual and cultural proportion.
  • Every student is navigating the waters of how to acquire, negotiate and trade currency in your classroom.
  • If students ACT the way we expect or like, they are more likely to receive favorable treatment.
  • Favorable treatment includes extra help, high expectations, and access to opportunities.
  • Students that ACT the way we want them to are more likely to learn.
  • Students have the currency to spend in the classroom but don't see the product as valuable.
  • Students have different values than teachers that impact classroom behavior.
  • Beliefs and values drive behavior.
  • If you don't dress the part and talk the part, you lose street cred, regardless of the neighborhood you are in Southeast or Wall Street.
  • Want to be rich in life? Speak the language of the dominant culture.
  • Acquiring the language of the dominant culture allows students to become more "mobile."
  • Teachers need to be master "code switchers" taking curriculum and adapting/translating it to students' lives.
  • Students will not spend their own currencies if they do not believe that what they will get in return is valuable.
  • If you want to reward students, do it in a way that they value.
  • It's not the sticker that matters, it's the fact that you cared enough to give it to them and it's from you.

Dr. Sedlacek's eight non-cognitive characteristics that are predictive of academic success (in college):
  1. Positive self-concept: The confidence that leads to the determination to succeed.
  2. Realistic self-appraisal: The ability to accurately assess your own strengths and weaknesses and to use this assessment to further your own development.
  3. Successful navigation of the system: Knowing how to access resources and how to use the system to help you achieve your goals.
  4. Preference for long-term goals: Knowing how to set and achieve long-term goals, delay gratification, and persevere in spite of obstacles.
  5. Availability of a strong support person: Finding someone to confer advice, particularly in times of crisis.
  6. Leadership experience: Having the ability to organize and influence others.
  7. Community involvement: Being involved in a community.
  8. Knowledge acquired in and about a field: Having the explicit and implicit knowledge of a particular field of study.
Developing lessons throughout your year that works to build these 8 characteristics will benefit students past your grade level.


Every student looks at the agenda or learning goal and says:
1.  Is it important in my life to do well on this?
2.  Will it be fun/enjoyable to do well on it?

How are you paying your students?  Think about the currencies that students trade in your classroom and ask yourself, am I consistent with what the students value?

Whole chapter available here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Simple Strategies for Student Engagement

That tilte is very alliterative.  I just needed a new word for engagement that starts with the letter "S." I didn't like any of the options...

Our district is investigating The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano (@robertjmarzano).  This is a review of Chapter 5.

As an aside.  I love this book.  I love it because it explains reasonings for doing each of the strategies below.  The science behind the strategy is sound but keep in mind that each piece of this puzzle has to work within your teaching personality and processes.  Doing every one of these strategies is not for everyone, in fact to some of us it just seems crazy to think about trying something like that.  Do what works for you, do what works for your kids, but NEVER be afraid to try some thing new!

From the "WELL-DUH" office:

  • If you can increase student engagement, student learning and performance increases.

Simple Strategies for increasing student engagement:

  • Take Brain Breaks! You can only focused for so long.  Sometimes just a change in elevation and surroundings elicit new responses and reactions.

  • Increase the physical activity of the room.  If you are doing a worksheet and you are committed to doing a worksheet.  Have students move from station to station completing the worksheet one at a time.  Any increase in physical activity in your room will increase engagement.  My favorite activity I ever did was when a group of my 6th graders acted out a skit to music on the water cycle.  No words were used just music and gestures.  It was the most memorable and fun activity ever!

  • Set a good pace.  Just like a race on the track setting a pace will allow you to meet your goals.  Pacing is key to the classroom.  A quick, urgent but not too fast pace keeps the room upbeat and lively.  Use music with a certain BPM can aid in keeping a solid pace.

  • Use games and puzzles.  Sure you could change your entire curriculum into a game but you can also  just take your curriculum, your essential learning and turn it into a puzzle we in the class are trying to solve.  For example a science lesson may ask for students to be able to determine lights behavior when it strikes objects that are transparent, translucent and opaque.  I might change that to make it a puzzle by saying: Students will be able to determine __________ behavior when it ____________ objects that are _________, ___________, or _________.  Throughout the class we can begin filling in the blank and solving the puzzle.  By the way, actual games are fun too.  I once made a taboo and a pictionary game out of our vocabulary words and concepts from out chapter, I've never had so much fun in my life.  Everybody does Jeopardy, I wanted to be different...  I also centered my entire Force and Motion curriculum around the game Angry Birds.

  • MILD Pressure is good.  Using games and activities in the classroom elicit students engagement because there is a deadline, a competition, a healthy rivalry.  Use these as motivating factors but NEVER put too much pressure that a student shuts down or becomes embarrassed.

  • Wait time is key.  I watch a master teacher (my assessment of them) and when she would ask a question she would raise her arm.  While her arm was raised this was the time for students to think.  When her hand dropped she then would accept student responses or student raising their hand.  What I liked about this is it eliminated those slower to process the question and allowed every student the opportunity to think.  I am also a fan of the popsicle stick method with student names on them in a cup.  Making sure student never know when they will be called on ensures every student is engaged.

  • Choral response is great for BIG ideas and main concepts.  I love asking everyone to repeat a word or phrase.  That allows every student to know this is a BIG idea.

  • Controversy can be fun.  When you curriculum is centered around a BIG idea or Essential understanding what is exciting to see every student look at that concept from a different angle.  Host a friendly debate on the importance of various aspects of the BIG idea and encourage some dissonance around the issue.  This will encourage kids to debate and discuss and really investigate their personal beliefs and bias around an issue.  Everyone uses the example of global warming.  What about war in our social studies curriculum?

  • Provide usual information about your concept.  When you have little tips, tricks and fun things it makes your curriculum memorable.  For example My light and sound unit I taught in 6th grade was relatively boring at first.  Every day at the end as part of my wrap up activity I left them with an optical illusion.  This was something that made the day memorable and got them thinking and talking about science.
(do you see the old or young lady?)

  • Love and care about kids (not in the chapter I added it!).  I know it's odd to say Love but I'm not talking about romantic love, I mean that you arte compassionate, caring, open and honest with every student in your room.  They see you not only as their teacher but a real person that learns, makes mistakes, is fallible and true to them.  Caring and compassion are keys to a successful classroom engagement.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An exercise in transparency...

I've been approached these past few weeks asking: "what do you do all day?", "What does a Curriculum coordinator do?", "How does one coordinate curriculum?"  and "how do you determine which curriculums need coordinating?"

I also heard at a meeting today that I needed to be more visible.

All of these comments/questions (even though some asked sarcastically and some genuinely interested) made me realize today that there is a level of secrecy to what I do.  

  • I'm not in a building, I'm in every building.
  • I'm not in an office, I spend more time in other people's office.
  • I don't teach students, actually I help teachers teach students.
  • I don't report to a principal, in fact my boss is the Assistant Superintendant.
  • I don't coach on the field, I coach in the classroom.

Many more realizations come to me throughout the day but it all comes back to the fact that not even I know what I do.  My first year in a new district, doing a new job, learning with an AMAZING mentor,  without the guidance from a predecessor.   I have much to learn.

In an effort to fill in that gap, be more visible and even more transparent I created a blog: 

In my role as the Science and Social Studies Curriculum coordinator I have many written tasks but many more that are unwritten.  The unwritten ones I hope to communicate in my blog.

I have a great system for completing tasks.  I use remember the milk (website, app and integration to google calendar) to prioritize and write down to do list items.  I check them off and can complete, change priority and postpone when I run out of time on a task.

In addition as I begin this new job it's important for me to have the ability to reflect from year to year month to month, day to day.  I know if I do not reflect on my tasks and reflect on my role I will not be able to improve from year to year.  I'm hopeful that this blog will serve as that space.

Daniel Pink often talks about ways to be more productive in the workplace.  As well as ways to make your workplace more efficient.  Keeping in mind that workplace efficiency typically stems from happiness in your job.  This blog I created will give me that space to assess my efficiency and effectiveness.  (By the way, there's an app for that)

When people ask me what I do, I hope to have a better answer than "I have people skills...." :-)