Category Archives: Instruction

It all started with my PLC…

One of the greatest parts of this position is I still get to dig into my own learning with colleagues – and a whole network of educators. Although I know my primary responsibility is to oversee the structure and support all the PLC’s at Graded, I just need to give a special shout out to my PLC on Digital Tools and Metacognition, as they have inspired some provocative steps of how I can support teachers in a blended environment. I’m focusing on three case studies across divisions to determine how digital tools support teachers’ reflection and leads to deeper practice in the classroom.

Case Study 1 : Kelli and I have been thinking about how to build a culture of thinkers in the first grade classroom. Here’s the journey so far…

  • Kelli and I started imagining what a classroom of thinkers would look like – Turning to Project Zero, we read an article about the practical application of thinking routines in the elementary classroom.
  • We used twitter to capture the most salient points of the article so we could pull a summary through coding using hashtags

Twitter Anchor

  • I went into Kelli’s room for an observation of the learning environment of a common instructional routine, the readers’ workshop. Even though she’ll be instructing toward “thinking” at different times, we’ll use this as our baseline to chart the shift of the student culture.
  • It just so happened that I checked my twitter account at the start of a #PYPchat that was sharing ideas about building a culture of thinking! (You can explore twitter chats and schedules here.) I jumped in and shared Kelli and my thinking – and the strategies in play. In exchange, other educators from around the world were sharing what they are doing in their classrooms.
  • I curated the best ideas of the chat, using our anchor tweets to align strategies and resources through Storify – the central tool that I am investigating as part of my PLC inquiry.

Storify with Kelli

 

What is emerging is a cohesive narrative that integrates research, classroom practice, Graded’s expectations for Teaching and Learning, and the voices of 30 other educators pursuing how to nurture a culture of thinking within similar environments across the globe. I’ve been reflecting a lot on how this changes my role – and the skill set I need to continue to build to best support teacher’s growth and student success.

It also begs a response to the question, “So what?” What impact will this work have on the success of Kelli’s first graders’ as thinkers? I know from the initial stages, we were able to build a much richer toolbox of strategies than Kelli and I would have been able to accomplish as partners. I hope by organizing our thinking and linking it to the goals we set from the beginning, we’ll be able to determine importance among the chatter of ideas and see deeper transfer to the classroom. The power, however, resides in Kelli’s commitment to creating the best environment for students. In a mere two weeks, Kelli’s claim, “they’re just not thinkers” has changed to “my kids are geniuses”.  I look forward to sharing reflection as the story unfolds – and appreciate the tools that support holding the story, creating an opportunity for our learning to be in service to Graded’s classroom and beyond.  I’m deeply grateful to colleagues like Kelli that inspire and energize me.

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A Snapshot of Practice

Below is a quick summary of walk-through observations for Semester I, 2012. The elements I tracked align to Graded’s Principles of Teaching and Learning as well as our Continuum of Assessment Practices. They are the same elements I use every semester so we can identify areas of growth. (Head to “What I can do in three minutes” for another data set and additional background.) The goal of the data is to trigger reflection and to determine if we have met the expectations for teaching in the Graded community.

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The invariable chill…

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to play this weird game on each other’s backs. For some reason, we found it absolutely hysterical. One would stand behind the other and synchronize a story with hand motions. “X marks the spot with a dash and a dot…” it would begin as we marked each other’s back.  “In goes the fork…” we would say as we pretended to stab, “out comes the blood” we would follow with fingers drooling down. “In goes the knife… out comes the blood.” On it would go, ending with spiders and cool winds blowing – and something made up –  then the invariable chill that always followed.  I bored easily from the predicted rhyme, but loved when they made something up to add to the story.

The plot of Graded’s Professional Learning Communities reminds me of this game. We’ve taken a structure used by schools all over the world  and collaboratively we’ve made something up that adds to the story of learning for educators.  The last round of reflections from this semester not only serves as a celebration of how far we’ve come, but the data maps clear next steps for us to tackle in order to ensure this structure serves teachers, and ultimately students, in powerful ways. (If you click on the charts, they will open a bit bigger).

       

Observation 1:  Although designed to support the core work of Graded’s school improvement goals, PLC’s are falling short  in terms of supporting all teachers in meeting expectations. 36%  of teachers did not choose into a PLC that aligned with the expectations for unit refinement. Where does the time and support come from to support the 41 teachers who do not use this structure for that purpose?

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Observation 2:  We’re making progress in two key, significant areas. 34% of teachers embrace one of the primary reasons our PLCs are designed specifically to cross divisions and find the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other divisions the most powerful aspect of this semester’s PLC work. This represents an increase of 10% from last year’s data. Additionally, PLC work is  applicable to classrooms in various ways. The greatest percentage, 22%, believe that their instruction has been impacted as a result of the work with colleagues. The next greatest category, 20%, explicitly aligns to our school-wide goals.

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Observation 3:  Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners, yet we still struggle with taking that learning to a classroom level in a way that impacts student success. 56% believes that their work with PLCs will impact student success within the next semester.  This data point, along with the feedback that teachers provided last year, serves as a clear rationale for year-long PLC groups.

Observation 4: Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners who know how to advocate for their needs.  The greatest need for support falls into three key categories: additional research, models and structures to track impact.  How can leaders best provide these resources so they are valuable, timely and are easily transferable to the craft in your classrooms?

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Observation 5: This last piece of data is a text analysis that identifies the 28 most important words that emerged in your responses focused on highlights. You can judge where its importance resides based on the size of the word. Assessment, Colleagues, Discussion, Sharing, Learning. Students/Teachers, and Tools are all elements of success for this semester.  The good news is that all of these concepts related directly to our school-wide goals on nurturing the conditions for collaboration, assessment and the integration of technology.

It takes time for a structure to grow deep roots in an organization. A mere eighteen months later, Graded’s multi-divisional and multi-discipline PLC structure is beginning to take shape. I never said it was going to be easy, only that it would be worth it. It is with deep gratitude that I read and reflected on the semester’s learning. I look forward to the next round with the same anticipation of predicting how my brother may change the story. Such thoughtful work will forever give me chills.

Are you talking back?

I’ve been working on my workshop for Learning Forward’s Summer Conference in a couple of weeks. I think the best part of putting together a workshop is the deep reflection that it triggers about my work and my learning.  As I gather resources, I keep finding that each piece is connected to another story of learning. An example of this is the growing use of TodaysMeet in my work and the support I provide teachers in the classroom. Introduced to the tool by Blair’s bold move with the high school (see his reflection here) I’ve used this backchannel in a number of ways. I don’t have time to highlight the role  backchannel can play in learning during the workshop beyond how we will be using it, so wanted to capture a few ideas to pass on to participants if they choose to dig a bit more deeply.

  • During a workshop of 143 teachers during the opening days of school, I had a backchannel room set up for six roving administrators to capture the questions and insights of the small group dialogue.  This not only gave everyone in the workshop access to other group’s thinking, but it provided a script for me to reflect on what we were thinking as a staff. I was able to pull out key themes that emerged and use it as a formative assessment tool to determine next steps to move us forward.
  • In the 7th grade science classroom, we built out a room for students to use while watching and critiquing each others’  public service announcements that they created as part of a unit of study on climate change.  Using a rubric that students had built out,  they captured evidence while they watched the video, providing a deeper reflection and more explicit feedback. They were also able to ask the presenters questions while they were assessing and play off of each other’s questions while giving feedback. Aaron, the teacher, then used the script to analyze quality feedback, highlighting examples of quality feedback real time with students so they had the opportunity to deepen their observations right away.
  • In the IB Language and Literature class (grade 12), we built out a room for students that were leading a Socratic Seminar. The room took on multiple dimensions. The goal of the room was originally for the student leaders to capture the questions and comments of the seminar for a number of students that would be missing class due to travel. However, it shifted to the leaders using the room to support each other in facilitating the workshop. Sandy, the teacher, was also in the room, coaching students’ in real time. Admittedly, this was the most fascinating use of  backchannel. It provide a visual lens into students decision making in ways I’ve never been able to access. Students wrote comments such as, “they seem to be stalling out on this question, let’s build on Tess’s comment and introduce a new question.”

Although just a brief snapshot of the role backchannel can play, I continue to see more and more potential with this tool. Its power lies not only in providing the teacher (or workshop leader) access to participants’ thinking so they can adjust instruction immediately, it deepens participation and connects thinking in unique ways.

Practicing What We Preach

The year’s assessment cycle is wrapping up quickly. (Dare I admit to counting the remaining 27 days of the year?) Students are hunkered over desks completing IB exams, and principals are hunkered over computers completing summative evaluations as part of Graded’s Professional Growth and Supervision Plan.

As instructional leaders our goal remains to model effective practices. I’ve been reflecting on how our school-wide work with assessment needs to have direct implication on the strategies we use to support and hold teachers accountable.  How should (does) our work look different based on what we’ve learned with our teachers and students? Using the Assessment Continuum,  I gathered a quick snapshot to share with the Leadership Team to see where our practices align and where we still need to stretch.

Engagement and Appropriate Challenge

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I align course learning targets with school standards. I align expectations to the Teaching and Learning Principles of the PGSP and our school-wide goal. Focus on assessment continuum in feedback
Aligned to teacher goals
Direct use of language from Teaching and Learning Principles to build shared understanding
I use previous assessment data to identify students’ needs. Assessment data may include standardized data, grades or course-specific assessments. I use previous assessment data to identify teachers’ needs. Use of team notes
Previous evaluations
I design assessments to match the targeted learning. I identify assessments to match the targeted learning. Targeted observations
Lesson plans
Student work
Rubicon Atlas
I create opportunities for student self-reflection. I create opportunities for teacher self-reflection Goal setting
Semester reflection
Final reflection as part of the written
I include students throughout the assessment process (e.g. goal setting, reflection along the way, self-assessment, etc) to engage students in continuous improvement. I include teachers throughout the assessment process (e.g. goal setting, reflection along the way, self-assessment, etc) to engage students in continuous improvement. Running record linked to principles of teaching and learning
Self-assessment
Records of dialogue
I provide students with choice of assessment type for the same learning target (s). I provide students with choice of assessment type for the same learning target (s). Teachers set own goals based on self-assessment against school-wide goals
Teachers determine the best evidence to demonstrate their growth

Variety and Purpose

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I use different types of assessment. I use different types of assessment. Summative and formative feedback is informed by targeted observations, walk-through evidence, Rubicon Atlas (curriculum design), student assessments
I communicate the purpose for the assessment (diagnostic, formative, summative). I communicate the purpose for the assessment (diagnostic, formative, summative). Surveys to inform the work in advance
Explicit about summative evaluations vs formative cycles
Explicit about the role of walk-throughs vs. targeted full class observations

Authenticity and Transparency

(Definitely where we have the most room to grow as Leadership Team)

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I provide targeted and effective ongoing written and oral feedback on a learning target. I provide targeted and effective ongoing written and oral feedback on teacher’s goals. Running records reflect characteristics  of effective feedback that we committed to as a team:

  • easy to understand
  • explicitly tied to goals
  • includes information a user can use
  • focuses on qualities of the work or processes/strategies to do the work
I think we’ve grown as a team, but we need to continue  to let go of practices that we know ultimately do not serve adult learning well.  Concretely, what changes should teachers see as a result for integrating the same assessment practices we look for in the classroom?

  • Every teacher sets a goal  and tracks progress using evidence towards that goal; follow-up reflection and documentation with principal
  • Summative assessments (evaluations) do not speak to the same depth in each of the domains (instruction, assessment, learning environment and professionalism). This year, especially, more detail will focus on teacher goals and the assessment domain due to our school-wide goal, with great strengths and areas for improvement identified in the other domains if  evidence is significant on one side of the teaching and learning continuum or the other
  • In the final write up, more references to different components of your professional life/learning – Rubicon Atlas, evidence from running records reflection observations and meetings, student work or assessment tasks you may choose to share, PLC contributions
  • No surprises! You should read your final write up and notice that it balances your voice with your principal based on evidence collected over time

Thanks for not taking me out of class…

The chatter of flipped classrooms continues to infiltrate blogs, twitter feeds and mainstream media. Thought leaders continue to weigh in on the pros and cons of a model that was already in play when I was working on a business minor at Indiana University.  I skipped attending the lectures, which I could catch on a university television station, and instead spent time attending small discussion groups to work through case studies and make sense of the concepts delivered in 45 minute lectures. It really didn’t feel so revolutionary at the time.

I’ve been tracking a few Graded teachers as they explore this same possibility with their students this year. I applaud teachers’ efforts to examine how they can move from the front of the room and instead use class time to engage students in making meaning together.  Thoughtful work is happening.

In an effort to support teachers in working through this model — as well as alleviating some of the tensions of leaving class to be of service to Graded’s organizational learning – I “flipped” our last PLAC (Professional Learning Advisory Council) meeting to get a deeper sense of the nuances of the learning environment that results from flipping the classroom.

I spent a lot of time thinking through how to best instruct colleagues in engaging in the independent task before we would meet. This was not just a video to watch, but an examination of a professional learning plan that will define our work in 2012-2013. I provided both written steps and a screencast that walked them through the steps, as well as a screencast that presented the plan, much like I would have done if we were together.

Colleagues had a week to do the work,  tracking their thinking and questions as part of the google site that held the plan for linking our learning.  I would jump in to comment on their ideas and answer questions that may hold up their progress, fostering a bit more dialogue than just a simple check in. Before our meeting, I had evidence that every member of the team had read and reflected on the presentation.

When we met face to face, I provided time to anchor in the presentation, taking time to read comments and questions that emerged before our meeting… then we jumped in to the work. And admittedly, I was dazzled by the level of critique in such a short time. Using wallwisher to capture their comments, so they could see each other’s thinking and skip repeating ideas and I could organize trends of comments to respond to as part of my reflection, I was armed with critical feedback to inform revising in less than an hour of meeting time.  

The debrief with colleagues highlights why this is a model to continue to explore:

  • It was a positive experience; we had the chance to learn at our pace at home
  • Appreciated the comments that were there as models – I knew what it should look like to participate
  • If you are confused, what do you do?
  • What is the trade-off to investing time in advance? Loved that our face to face meeting was shorter as a result
  • We didn’t just read and watch the presentation, we started the process in advance – we didn’t need to repeat the comments; moved on to deeper thinker
  • I was committed to the group – the comments drove that commitment
  • I think the quieter members found it powerful to take the time in preparing; different mode of communication with writing first
  • Having the time to process was important – there was a lot here that I just needed time to think about
  • Valuable to have both — wouldn’t want to have just this model
  • We knew the protocol; we were part of a community already and felt linked because of the thinking we have done together this year
  • This format should have a distinct purpose – it’s not for everything and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time
  • Thanks for not taking me out of class…

My goal remains to model learning that can link directly back to the classroom. There are many things I would refine when using this model again, and recognize that it was the strength of the culture of this learning community that led to this round’s success. Some good questions continue to percolate as part of reversed instruction – especially in terms of when does it best meet the needs of learners.

It’s never too late to reflect

Learning doesn’t happen from an experience; learning happens when one reflects on experience.

It’s been weeks since I’ve returned from ASB-Unplugged and this is really the first opportunity I’ve had to capture some reflection.  One thing I haven’t quite figured out is how to create the space for all of us at Graded to share out learning that emerges from conferences.  And as a result, I probably owe an apology to those that may have found themselves stuck with me at the lunch table my first few days back. This, however, is a feeble attempt to begin to close the abyss. I owe it to you to share what I learned.

Although I felt like I got to explore a lot, I didn’t walk away inspired to try a new digital tool,  or to significantly alter structures of professional learning, or change expectations I have (we have) for relevant, engaging learning. I didn’t come away with a deeper understanding of technology’s role in learning or how I can better serve Graded in moving beyond where we are to where we can be. I think we’re on the right track to figuring out solutions to some complex issues.  My biggest take away is linked to  the concept of benchmarking and trust. I know. Odd.

I think we commonly  enter a learning community with a lens of comparing to see where we stand in relation to what others are doing.  For those that know me, by nature I’m a bit of a case builder. I land on an idea and filter information to support my conclusions. I’m really trying to grow beyond this instinct.  The first few hours of the conference, I found myself thinking… “well, we do that… many of our classrooms look like that… we have that in place…”  After a session with Scott McLeod (click here to see our workshop resources) I began to grapple with a whole new idea. In an almost passing remark, he noted the importance of benchmarking not to organizations that match or extend our reach to excellence, but to benchmark to the organization we WANT to be – and that may mean not having another, specific program to benchmark against or measurement tools to evaluate what is valuable to our school at the ready. This may mean we need to benchmark to an ideal.   This is a much more ambiguous, daunting task than, for example,  identifying other international programs that are doing a “good job” and delivering graduates to the doors of ivy leagues.

Beginning in mere days, we will begin our accreditation process by first examining our mission and projecting a direction for our school.  We will use the outcome  to evaluate where we stand and build steps to become the school we want and can be. Admittedly, I’m curious to see where we land as a community. How aligned are we presently to a shared vision of schooling? Can we embrace a future we cannot define? Will we honestly question our assumptions and collectively commit to building a program that serves children well?

In my 20 months at Graded School, I continue to be surprised by the work. New questions continuously emerge and my learning curve remains steep (just the way I like it).  I trust that if we engage in the process with integrity, we’ll land on the benchmarks that will help define Graded in the future.

Lifting the Lid on Graded’s PLCs

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I spent a good chunk of this morning planning a workshop I’ll be facilitating at ASB-Unplugged. Entitled Re-imaging PD… Again?, the workshop has acted as a catalyst for reflection on the success and challenges of our PLCs at Graded. In a brief 18 months, our structure has grown from a fairly traditional implementation that is organized by subject area and grade level teams touted by the DuFour’s to one that is designed to accelerate a shift in our collaborative culture — to break down silos of practice to honor the expertise that exists across our campus and to honor the learning needs of teachers (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2006).

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Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012

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Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012

The part of our PLC’s that I haven’t been completely transparent about is the design and integration of digital tools. As educators, we are being asked to re-imagine schooling that is a far cry from our own learning history that often emphasized rote memorization, compartmentalized knowledge, and surface understanding of content. Our PLC structure is based on an assumption that for teachers to actively engage students in new technologies, they must have the opportunity to engage in ongoing professional development that mirrors such experiences. Before we can teach, I deeply believe we need to don the student hat first. In an analysis of your PLC pages and a review of presentation videos I discovered a rich array of tools that teachers chose to serve their learning needs first. Not only do they reflect a clear purpose, but they have the potential to impact  our learning culture  in ways that deepen our collaborative practices.

Hats off (student OR teacher) to Graded faculty.  I hope to continue to build a structure that serves the learning needs (student OR teacher) of Graded well.

How do we share the learning?

There are always a few articles that remain as anchors for my thinking. These are places I go back to in an effort to recalibrate the work. Often they are instructional, curricular or assessment based. My friend Steven’s article, The Power of Audience resonated deeply with me as I observed learning across Graded’s campus last week. There are learning experiences that naturally lend themselves to an audience – and in fact, fall flat without one. The perfect example is music. Tuesday night, as I listened to Robbie conduct the semester culmination of band classes, Steven’s comment, “the most effective way to engage  students in learning is to create an authentic audience, giving them a sense that someone else (besides teachers and parents) cares about their work. They need to have a vision of a product that matters. They need to learn content and develop skills to complete the product,” rang true.  And I began to reflect on where do students have a vision of a product that matters? A product that results in more than a grade in a grade book?

Clearly, the yearbook itself is much like music – audience is essential. But the stages along the way matter as well. Forward to Karin and yearbook and a panel of 10 teachers and administrators evaluating four different designs for the 2011-2012 yearbook.  It would have been easy to isolate this experience within a class, with classmates voting on the strength of proposals of their friends. Instead, as we probed the thinking that served to inform their designs, I was reminded of  the work of Graded’s Project-based PLC Group and the audiences that exist to serve student learning on a daily basis. (If you scroll to attachments, there is an article that serves to highlight different examples of audience, called “A Hierarchy of Audience”).

Finally, the 4th grade team also provided another example of the powerful role of audience in their “math games for parents” event. As I wandered through the classrooms, I was struck by students’ ability to teach their parents some rules and mathematical concepts that had a few mom’s and dad’s scratching their heads, including a certain superintendent that we all know.

I’d like to challenge Steven’s conclusion, “When student work culminates in a genuine product for an authentic audience, it makes a world of difference.” I propose that we don’t wait for a culmination, but take advantage of serving students’ learning along the way.

… so how would you know you learned something if you didn’t get a grade?

“I don’t know,” was her response. And she looked at me with great confusion.

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with two middle school students for “make up”  student-led conferences. We gazed intently at their laptops as they walked me through work they completed, observations of MAP scores and a self-assessment against some work behaviors (“I work hard in class all the time” – sometimes, always, never…) Unfortunately for them, I recently read Kohn’s The Case Against Grades and they were a captive audience coached to respond to my probing questions.

They were both well-prepared and I had been part of a thoughtful conversation with middle school teacher leaders on how to improve a potentially powerful structure. It seems things are off to a good start. Slides had been compiled to guide a story of the beginning months of school – but when it came to the question of “how do you know you’re learning,” they both hesitated, and started by going back to the grade to prove  they learned.

Kohn claims that, “Grades don’t prepare students for the ‘real world’ – unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant.” I’ve taught in non-graded environments, and although I believe deeply in the learning culture that emerges,  it was always a struggle. Learners need feedback; they need tools to help them measure their growth. They need to know where they are in relation to where they want to be. The question to me isn’t about grades, it’s about having a deep understanding of what the grade represents.

As we continued through her conference, one student spoke deeply about her goal – to play midfielder on the JV soccer team. Why? “It’s the hardest position – you need to defend and attack — you need to have endurance. You need to be a well-rounded player.” She knew exactly where she needed to grow to achieve her goal. It gave me pause of how I can support students in speaking with the same clarity in other areas.  As we continue with our curricular review and build shared clarity around strategies for communicating learning targets to students, I’m confident we’ll see consistent dialogue from the soccer field to the science lab about what it takes to advocate for learning. Our school-wide goal around assessment is intended to foster exactly this culture.

It is exciting to watch  practices emerge across the Graded campus, and hear thinking percolate about the importance of reflection as noted in a number of PLC Groups. Like the middle school students, I, too am tackling going beyond what I do – to consider what it means, both to the organization and to my own practice.