PD – Not just for teachers anymore

Thanks to my CUE Technology Coordinators SIG (via Google+ Community), I was exposed to reading a recent blog by Jackie Gerstein regarding how educators are taking PD into their own hands. To supplement the missing links, teachers pay out of pocket for PD, do not receive recognition  or compensation for taking such initiatives, and often remain voiceless in their actions (this last part I added).

* On a side note, have you noticed that those who are most vocal often do and accomplish less than those who are reserved about their actions?

Shortly thereafter, I completed the anonymous Survey Monkey poll for CUE. I’m disclosing my answers for the final prompts because they deserve to be asked/discussed regardless of CUE membership.

In a nut shell:

  1. What are current challenges for schools, teachers, students, and parents?
  2. Knowing that CUE supports legislative advocacy, what are my current concerns?

To answer the first question:

  • Schools face challenges in keeping up with all what is out there not just regarding educational technology, but educational policy reform and best practices -> Schools as a whole should have access to necessary PD and support = don’t just leave it up to the schools themselves to figure things out.
  • Teachers face the challenges of receiving adequate and personalized PD -> This is where Jackie’s blog comes into play. Yes, teachers are taking PD into their own hands because schools continue to provide one-size-fits-all PD. PD nonetheless, but not PD that matters. That said, schools need to ensure that the mission and vision are carried out, and so if providing PD to meet those needs facilitates that challenge, then continue. But if that PD does not meet the individual needs of the teachers, then the PD is falling short. How can PD merge the needs, and wants, of the teachers and the school?
  • Students and Parents – We have forgotten about providing development for these two audiences. While we’re so busy making sure that schools and teachers receive PD, we have let students and parents fall to the wayside. Yes, I realize that this is an extremely generalized statement and I appreciate that there are schools and teachers who provide students and parent PD, but to my personal experience and knowledge, there is a shortage. So what do I mean about student and parent PD?
    • Students need direction how to use tech beyond social circumstances. Using technology and media for education is different. While conceptually it makes sense for adults, but making the logical connections from one to the other can be difficult and not as obvious to the teenage brain. I say teenage here because that is my focal group and the audience who I teach.
    • Parents need to gain awareness how technology and media is used in their student’s (students’) classrooms, especially in high school because traditionally, students have 6-8 different teachers who all do something different, and expect something different. Parents should receive PD regarding the tech their students use.

To answer the second question, I find that there is one overarching concern with at least one sub-component:

  • Merging educational technology with CCSS not just efficiently, but effectively
    • Now include above for students with accommodations – IEPs, 504 Plans, and more. These students are mainstreamed, but there still may be a need to differentiate the type of technology and CCSS (i.e. Connectors) for students. Let’s start looking at how we can seamlessly develop curriculum and instruction to meet this challenge.

PD – it goes beyond schools and teachers.

Legislative Advocacy – let’s merge tech, CCSS, and students with accommodations for a seamless curriculum and way of instruction.


Utopian Qualifications for School Leadership

Yesterday, Standford University released a synopsis of a recent study conducted by its School of Education on Instructional Leadership. The study reached similar conclusions to previous research. This particular study examined school leadership via survey-based methodology across East and West Coasts and the Midwest. Participants included 800+ principals, 1100 assistant principals, and 32k teachers. In addition to the survey, researchers conducted 250+ full-day observations and interviews with principals. The results? Schools demonstrate growth in student achievement when principals show strong characteristics as organizational managers.

According to Stanford’s definition,

  • “effective organizational managers strategically hire, support, and retain good teachers while developing or removing less effective ones”
  • allocate “budgets and resources, and [maintain] positive working and learning environments”
  • “strong managers develop the organizational structures for improved instruction more than they spend time in classrooms or coach teachers”
  • In essence, principals should not focus on day-to-day activities and spend less time on administrative tasks like managing discipline, but place a conscious effort in long-term school climate.

At first glance, these definitions lead to make me think that schools should be treated as businesses. And maybe to some extent they should be because don’t schools provide a product to the public and to the students they serve? Aren’t schools supposed to demonstrate successful academic outcomes? And then wouldn’t it make sense to promote good teachers and give amazing bonuses? But what constitutes good, productive, and effective teaching? A teacher whose grade book is full of As and Bs (perhaps not entirely an honest record), or a grade book that includes a range of grades that adequately shows students’ abilities? And this is perhaps an entire different can of worms to discuss at a later point in time. But I digress – let’s get back to the issue at hand – how are school principals supposed to look like if schools are to demonstrate academic growth?

Let’s break the definition down a bit. If principals are to be strong organizational managers who hire, support, and retain good teachers, then why would there be a need to develop or remove less effective ones? Who is on the hiring committee and what are the criteria when hiring new faculty? If there is a need to develop less effective teachers, what constitutes effectiveness? And what proof or documentation would be needed to remove less effective teachers? One could argue that if the strong organizational managers hires effective teachers, then the teachers who require development or need removal are those who are more seasoned to the school – the veteran teacher. But not just any veteran teacher, one who is not willing to assimilate desired approaches to teaching; a veteran teacher not willing to develop.

  1. How does your school manage with teachers who are resistant to change?
  2. What is your definition, or your school’s definition, of effective/effectiveness?

If principals are not the ones conducting classroom observations, there is someone at the school with the designated role to do so. If principals should be able to allocate budgets and resources, effectively, then the principal should have a background in finance and/or business. If principals are to a maintain positive learning and working environment, then the principal should have a background in psychology. If principals are to improve overall instruction, then they should also have a background in curriculum and instruction.

  1. Do you know of a principal who carries these qualifications?
  2. What is the role of your school’s principal?

Between public and private, single-gender and co-ed, and parochial and non-denomination systems, geography, funding, and standards (state and federal), among other aspects of running a school (a business), are principals able to act as organizational managers, or are the pressures of other issues at hand hindering this study’s suggested implications for policy and practice?

Due Dates vs. Late Policies

My Question: Do you (school, department, district, etc.) have late policies? Why have deadlines if late policies exist? Are students penalized for late work?

Meeting benchmarks paves a path for scaffolding skills, knowledge, and abilities, mastery. Formative assessments lead up to summative assessments. Prerequisites help build foundational grounding for things yet to come. Various types of learning methodologies incorporate these concepts: self-regulated, project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, etc.

Within all of this lies meeting due dates/deadlines. Can’t logically move forward to step D without meeting step C. Teachers need adequate time to review and assess to ensure a student is ready to move forward. Extenuating circumstances asides, meeting deadlines is a life skill, no?

Why set deadlines if late policies exist?

Angel Island: Ellis Island of the West

To embrace experiential learning, I recently planned a field to Angel Island for my students. The purpose of this trip was to examine the impact of early 20th century immigration on American Literature, specifically poetry.

We explored the US Immigration Station and journeyed back in time through the engraved poems on the walls of the barracks. Excitedly haunting.

To keep young minds thinking and reflective, I developed an interactive activity packet that incorporates concepts from Facing History And Ourselves, specifically from Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement. This packet is also aligned to the four broad 11-12 CCSS: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language.

If you find yourself searching for a little extra something to keep your students intrigued and bring in some cross-curricular connections to US History, check out this packet. In fact, you may not even have to journey to Angel Island to complete it. Modify it to your heart’s content, but if you do use it, drop a little line of credit my way, please. 🙂

Angel Island Activity Packet

Two Writing Strategies using Google Docs

This past Sunday, I met a super great teacher, Sarah Press, during the weekly #caedchat. The topic was about reading (a super great follow-up to this year’s keynote speaker, LeVar Burton, at CUE 2014.

At one point, we got to a question regarding how we can motivate students to read, to get them excited, what strategies we use, yada, yada, yada. There were so many amazing ideas circulating that my brain was oozing from my ears. The level of creativity is incredible, and I was so glad that I was able to be part of that.

Sarah inquired more about two my strategies: Combined Commentary and SOC Reflections. Both of these use GDocs.

Combined Commentary – super great to elicit active reading and to generate annotated responses to reading. This is collaborative. It’s bloggish with post/reply style, but perhaps easier to scroll through and track info along the way.

SOC Reflections – 20/20 concept. Read for 20 minutes (no stress on how much is read, just that there’s 20 minutes of reading). Write for 20 minutes. Writing is in a Stream of Consciousness fashion, and no stopping allowed. This is really great for authentic assessment on a chunk of reading, and another great way to promote active reading – thinking/reflecting about what was just read.

In both strategies, students have the opportunity to return back to these documents when it comes time to writing essays, holding class discussions, etc.

For a walk-through and visual, check out the 2 3-minute videos linked above.

Let’s make the best of it: Common Core and Writing

Here’s a short and sweet post. Knowing that I didn’t have to implement CCSS at the beginning of the school year, I still went along and did so that I can practice with the standards and plan out my units aligned with at least the broader standards at hand for 11-12 ELA: Reading, Listening & Speaking, Writing, and Language. Specifically, I wanted to make sure that, as an 11th grade English teacher, my students are as best prepared in writing as possible.

Writing argumentation, narration, general essays, and research, in and out of timed settings, is a skill set regardless regardless of career or content area. If you can’t write well, how can you communicate your thoughts, intentions, and findings well? As a professor of mine once said, “Fuzzy writing = fuzzy thinking.” You don’t want people to think that you think fuzzily (is that a word?) based on what you produce in terms of writing, do you?

So I went ahead and designed writing rubrics aligned with the 11-12 Writing standard of CCSS that could be applied to the different writing formats within the curriculum.

I’m not saying that they are perfect and the end all be all of writing rubrics aligned with this specific set of standards. I’m saying that it was a good starting point for me to work with this school year, and now that I’ve had time to work with them for nearly a full school year, I’d like to share them out with you.

Use them. Don’t use them. Share them. If you have ideas on how to improve them, let me know.

I do, however, request, that if you do find some use with them, give me some line of credit? Please? Would really appreciate at least that much 🙂

 CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Narrative

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Essays

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Argumentation

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Research Paper

Process vs. Product

I recently posed the question of when does scaffolding become too much – too much of it, for students and for teachers.

“Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).”

When I think of IS, I think of learning the scales before learning to play a whole song on a musical instrument. You have to learn the basics and the fundamentals that can be applied later on. As a child, I hated the rudimentary approach to the holistic learning. Why not learn the notes to the song and then just go ahead and learn to play the song? Did learning the scales help me play Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” any better? I wanted the excitement of learning to play the cool pieces, not what I saw as the dull essentials that took the fun out of the big picture. Do the small goals really help to the big goals?

Now as a teacher, I try to empathize with my students when it comes to learning in the classroom. Here, though, replace scales with sentence structure and the whole song with some form of writing – essay, short story, narrative, expository, persuasion. Essays require formal writing skills (e.g. MLA, APA). Short stories require certain elements (i.e. plot). Narration, expository, and persuasive writing each have their own characteristics that make them what they are. And without learning the basics, you can’t write the intended piece. You can’t manipulate the basics until you have learned them. Think of Maria explaining to the children that the individual notes are “only the tools we use to build a song. Once you have these notes in your heads, you can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up.” This is perhaps an answer to the former question – the small goals of learning the notes helps you sing or play the bigger piece at hand. By learning and understanding the characteristics of Magical Realism allows you to write a Magical Realism tale – you can’t write one until you know the basics.

Now that I think I have resolved my question of do we or don’t we need the small goals, to which the answer is yes, we do, I’m still left to wonder when does how much become too much? Understand by Design – the backward design. We know what the goal is, but how much scaffolding (i.e. “performance assessments” in the UbD framework) is too much?

While the intention of the strategy is positive, too much of IS may create an overwhelming environment. Let me list some rhetorical questions that I’ve been grappling with.

  1. Does every piece of IS require grading and thus increase the amount of grades in the grade book?
  2. Does more IS = more grading for teachers
  3. Does more IS = emphasizes the minute picture rather the big goal for students

Let’s be honest – there is a great deal of emphasis on grades. High school. College. Transcripts. Jobs.  Can we and should we change the grading approach? That’s a color of a different horse and too much to take on for the intention of this reflection, but it does deserve recognition for future discussion. I digress. Should scaffolding be graded? Should the process be graded? Grades, yes, can reflect students’ process – think of quiz grades indicating a students’ ability to perform before the final exam. How do you measure mastery of the process? Should the grades be left to the final product with only feedback up until then?

I think that I’m in line with many in the field of education in believing that through Inquiry-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, and Project-Based Learning, students learn the life skills required for outside of the brick and mortar school systems – team work, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity. But even with that, those with the powers at hand like to see success, and see/define success through posted grades.

Scaffolding paves the way for feedback, for mastery, for an understanding of the fundamentals. But on what do we, or should we, place the emphasis and at the very least, what goes into the grade book – the process or the product?