Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Technology Is Here

Scott McLeod, Dangerously Irrelevant, posted this quote in a recent blog entry:

Technology will never replace teachers.

However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together will replace those who do not.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

What comes to mind as you read this quote?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Co-Teaching: Success from the Field

Lisa Parisi is a 5th grade teacher who has worked in a co-teaching setting for the last three years. Read her recent post, A Perfect Storm, to unlock the mystery of co-teaching success. Follow up with additional information on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Lisa's presentation on Project-based Learning from the K-12 Online Conference - scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the play button embedded in the picture.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Staff Development Council - Free Trial Membership


The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) is an organization dedicated to sharing the principles of effective, results-driven professional development. There is a science to staff development and NSDC promotes the practices that result in student achievement.

For a limited time, NSDC is offering a trial membership. Since change happens at the school level, a special invitation is extended to building principals who want resources to improve the implementation of staff development initiatives.

Click here for details on obtaining a trial membership.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Academic Vocabulary

Most teachers would agree that vocabulary instruction is a critical part of instruction. It's fair to ask ourselves what passes for good vocabulary instruction? Is it copying words and their corresponding definitions from the board or overhead? Is it looking up definitions in a dictionary? Crossword puzzles? What about work searches? The fact of the matter is, that much of what passes for vocabulary instruction are actually lessons in handwriting, eye hand coordination, and copying words.

Vocabulary instruction is really concept development. Students need to interact with words. It's rich and meaningful activities like word sorts, student-friendly descriptions, non-linguistic representations, and multiple opportunities to interact with the word through vocabulary games. These are meaningful routines that help make words stick. image

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Obama Asking for Ideas

President-Elect Obama has a website. He reviews his agenda for his administration including education. His slogan is, "Tell us your ideas and be apart of the change you are looking for." He is encouraging the American people to share their thoughts on the direction he is moving our country. At this point, the Secretary of Education position is not filled... I am encouraging all of you to share your ideas on the direction we need to move to help all students reach 21st century skills.

Click here to view Obama's website.

Click here to review Obama's Education agenda.

Click here to share your ideas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

High Expectations for ALL

At the Transition Conference two summers ago I saw Larry Gloeckler, Executive Director of the Special Education Institute at the International Center for Leadership in Education. He indicated that it was not enough for schools to say they had high expectations for ALL students. Rather, schools need specific strategies for helping teachers, parents, and students institutionalize high expectations. Words are easy, but do people really believe it? Do they really believe ALL students can learn at high levels?

In my experience, it is difficult for most educators to make this transition. It's easy to see the flaws, the deficits that students bring which convince us it can't be done. I wonder how far we could push achievement if instead of the unimaginative, typical response of "it can't be done," we instead gave consideration to how it could. Carol Ann Tomlinson, guru for differentiated instruction refers to this as Teaching Up. How could we teach Algebra to special ed student? How could we ensure ALL students learn how to read?

  • Does your school have specific strategies to promote attitudes, behaviors, & processes for helping all students reaching high levels or just words?
  • Do you or your faculty spend more time brainstorming and strategizing on how all students can succeed or complaining about the unfairness of the mandates requiring ALL students succeed?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Inclusive Schools Week

Inclusive Schools Week is December 1st - 5th, 2008. This year's theme is, Together We Learn Better: Inclusive Schools Benefit All Children. A celebration kit is available at http://www.inclusiveschools.org/

For a great video to illustrate the power of inclusion go to I'm Tyler website and click on view video.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big Picture High Schools Put Students in Charge

Ever wondered what it would be like if students designed their own learning plan and set their own goals?

Have you heard of Big Picture Schools? These are schools in which students design their own learning plan and set their own goals with the help of parents and mentors. They emphasize work in the real world, portfolios, oral presentations and intense relationships between students and advisors. The teachers are called advisors. Currently there are 7500 students in 16 states that are attending these schools. Administrators of these schools have contributed the success and high graduation rate to personalization of student learning. Elizabeth Schneider, vice president of state relations for the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education says “tapping into what is relevant, interesting and engaging to the student” is the key.

One student says, "It makes learning more real. I can see how this is preparing us for the real world."

It was reported that 80 percent of students who dropped out of high school would have remained in school if they were provided with real-world learning opportunities.

To learn more about Big Picture Schools go to http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2008/11/15/nh_eduators_found_ny_school_for_at_risk_students/

Thanks to our Assistant Director of Curriculum, Amaal Awadalla, for sharing this post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Technology Intensive Courses

The current approach to educational technology integration is to train ALL teachers in the use of web 2.0 tools and HOPE teachers choose to infuse these tools into instruction. We train and hope with no guarantee that all students would benefit.

I am wondering if our approach is the most effective and efficient it could be? Instead of focusing on all teachers, I am wondering if we shouldn't focus our energies on a FEW teachers in efforts that would benefit ALL students. I am suggesting schools create Technology Intensive Courses.

Imagine if ALL students had access to a technology intensive course each year they were in high school. It would be great if all teachers and courses integrated technology tools, but shouldn't we at least ensure that all students have access to at least one?

My thoughts are that curriculum committees would identify at least four courses that would be rewritten to include 21st century skills, not as an add on, but as genuine concepts, tools and activities to reach instructional goals.

What are your thoughts? How can we best use our resources to accomplish our goals?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word Clouds

CAC Wordle is a FREE tool to create beautiful word clouds.  To the left is an example of a word cloud describing our Curriculum Advisory Council.

You can either type in your own words or you can copy and paste text into it. The more frequently a word is used the larger the word becomes in the cloud.


Take a speech and dump it into Wordle ---- what words are emphasized? Click here for an example.

Create a word cloud as a summary of a reading assignment

Brainstorm for a writing assignment.

Joyce Valenza used Wordle to create word clouds for the sections of the library. Click here to see an example.


  • Go to Wordle.
  • Click on CREATE.
  • Cut and past text or add your own.
  • Use normal spacing between words (no comas etc...)
  • If you have two words that you want displayed together use tilda sign (~) e.g. data~analysis
  • Repeat the words you want emphasized in the cloud e.g. curriculum curriculum curriculum
  • Click Go at the bottom of the text window.

wordle tool bar

  • Use the tool bar (pictured above) to change the layout and design. Play with the features until you have what you need.
  • Hit print screen and you can save the item as a picture to use.

Caution: Copy your text before you click on Go. That way if you think of another key word while in the design stage, you can paste the text back into the text window. Otherwise you loose all your work.

Click here to see another example and some "expert" suggestions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who's on Your Network?

No, this isn't an AT&T commercial. I am reading Will Richardson's article in Education Leadership entitled, Footprints in the Digital Age. According to Richardson, "In all likelihood, you, your school, your teachers or your students are already being Googled on a regular basis, with information surfacing from news articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and Facebook groups. Some of it may be good, some may be bad, and most is beyond your control" (2008, p. 16).

Richardson's suggestions for building a digital footprint:

  1. Read blogs related to your interests and passions (like this one!)
  2. Participate in the blog by leaving comments and reflections (Try it now!)
  3. Use your real name (A requirement to be Googled well)
  4. Start a Facebook page
  5. Explore Twitter

Not only will you build a positive online presence, but you will also build a powerful social network!

Read the entire article for more tips and examples of students use of social networking tools and why it is a critical skill in the 21st century.

Richardson, W. (November 2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, p.16-19.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Amplifying Student Voice

"To improve student achievement, it makes sense to go straight to the source---- students."

This is a quote from an article in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership entitled, Amplifying Student Voice. The author, Dana Mitra summarizes the strong research base which strongly suggests that if we want reform to take hold we should involve students. These efforts can improve teachers' classroom practice, student-teacher relationships, students' agency, and sense of membership in the school.

The article gives examples of student leadership which range from sharing opinions and thoughts to collaboration with adults to solve problems. In rare cases, students assume leadership roles to promote innovation.

If you haven't already check out the Student Advisory Council post as another example of including the positive energy of students in the change process.

Benefits of Including Student Voice:

  • Gain new insights into problems
  • Strengthen relationships between students, teachers and administrators
  • Strengthen school pride
  • Build student leadership capacity ------ after all isn't that what schools are about?
  • Increase accountability - it's hard not to take the change process seriously and proactively with students sitting at the table!

Mitra, D. (November 2008). Amplifying student voice. Educational Leadership, p. 20-25.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monroe County Schools to Provide Election Facilities

I caught the tail end of a news segment tonight stating that folks are considering requiring schools to have in-service days on election day. Monroe county was specifically mentioned. I didn't catch the name or title of the individual sharing this idea, but the thinking was that the current election facilities are cramped. However, schools have large facilities and ample parking to accommodate voter turn out.

Is this an added burden to school districts or an opportunity to get the community into the school?

Does it take away a "teachable" moment we have to connect students to the meaning of democracy?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Student Advisory Council

Law of Leadership: A successful team with 100 members has 100 leaders.
-Lance Secretan

Students are the largest stakeholder group a school has, but they are often overlooked source of information, energy and momentum for improvement efforts.

esasd I was intrigued when I heard East Stroudsburg Area School District (ESASD) had a Student Advisory Council in each high school that the superintendent and high school principal met with personally 3 - 4 times a year. Dr. Rachael Heath, Superintendent of ESASD, started the Advisory group when she came to the district four years ago. She is expanding the council to both intermediate schools this year and I can see why!

Here's a summary of the meeting to give you a flavor of student interests and insights:

A diverse mix of 20-25 students assembled in the school library. They opened the meeting with Old Business..... School Safety, Bathrooms, buses and the Cafeteria. The first two items were quick. Students indicated they felt safe and the bathrooms were clean. However the cafeteria and the buses brought lots of discussion.

It was apparent that both Dr. Heath and principal, Stephen Zall, took the meeting seriously and were open to student comments and concerns. Their manner was genuine... asking follow up questions for clarification. It was also transparent...."that shouldn't happen," "that is not acceptable," or "we will look into that." At one point, Dr. Heath said in response to a student compliant about a consistently late bus, "I apologize, that shouldn't happen." Dr. Heath later said it is not easy to hear some of the comments that students make, but it is an opportunity to hear what their experiences are really like in school.

The conversation then turned toward dress code. It was interesting that about half of the students were in favor of a more formal dress code. Most volunteered to be a committee to look more closely at the dress code, including visiting other schools to investigate the issue thoroughly.

The tail end of the conversation turned toward academics. It was interesting to see students asking for more rigorous courses and wanting information on the Science PSSA. It appeared that all academic levels of students were concerned about the quality of instruction.

Throughout the dialogue the students participated in the meeting appropriately. They supported their concerns with examples and often made suggests for resolution. They asked questions and were respectful of the boundaries set by the administrators.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Heath will summarize the input from students and forward the minutes to the appropriate personnel including building principal, transportation director, food service coordinator etc.... The administrators then report back to Dr. Heath regarding their efforts to address student concerns. At the next council meeting, Dr. Heath will revisit the concerns to determine whether progress has been made in target areas from the perspective of the students.

Recommendations for Establishing a Student Advisory Council:

1. Commit to having a cross representation of 20-25 students to participate. Represent students from:

  • All grade levels
  • All racial and ethnic groups
  • All socio-economic status
  • All academic Performance levels
  • All career Orientation (Traditional Vs. Career & Technical Students)

2. Have a pre-meeting with students to clarify the goals and expectations for the council.

3. Listen with a genuine heart.

  • Be prepared to hear good and bad news.
  • Make no excuses or judgments.
  • Don't be defensive.

4. Respect what students are saying. Their concerns are very real to them.

5. Make the council environment welcoming.

  • Provide name tags
  • Provide snacks

6. Follow up with student concerns and report progress

Resources for Building Student Leadership Capacity:

Holcomb, E. (2007). Students are stakeholders, too. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership capacity for lasting school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Disruptive Innovations

Dr. Scott McLeod's presentation, Disruptive Innovations, on the K12 Online Conference has got educators across the nation talking. The presentation comes recommended by Kurt Paccio, Technology Director at Northampton Area School District as well as  ASCD and Education Week.

In this presentation Dr. Scott McLeod outlines disruptive technologies and their potential impact on education as we know it. He makes some astounding predictions of what education will look like by 2019. Follow the link below to the short 20-minute online video!


Friday, October 31, 2008

This Thing Called Jing

Ever frustrated by having to explain the same thing over and over again? Ever get lost in a litany of written instructions?

Jing could be the answer. Jing is a free tool that allows you, at a touch of a button, to create tutorials complete with visuals and audio.

Sound complicated..... it's not.

Click here for an introduction to Jing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NCLB - Final Regulations Released

Yesterday, Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, released the final regulations to NCLB.

Highlights include:

  • Uniform formula to calculate graduation rate
  • Expand opportunities for participation in supplementary education services or SES.
  • States must re-evaluate "n" size. It must be no larger than necessary to ensure confidentiality of individuals and statistical accuracy. This could effect AYP for the 2009-10 assessment results.
  • The NCLB report card for LEAs must contain NAEP assessment results. The percentage of students at each achievement level on NAEP must be reported in the aggregate along side PSSA scores.                                                          

Click here to go directly to all 441 pages of final regulations. Go straight to page 6 for the official summary of the major changes.

Click here to view Education Week's highlights of the final regulations including information on the new requirement for all states to use the same formula for calculating graduation rates.

Click here to go to NCLB II ---- an Education Week blog dedicated to following NCLB

Monday, October 20, 2008

Curse of Knowledge

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a fantastic book for anyone that wants to know how to get others to embrace their ideas...people like students, teachers, administrators, parents... board members....

The authors contend that the Curse of Knowledge is a major barrier to getting our ideas to stick. In fact they refer to the Curse of Knowledge as a villain, undermining all efforts to share ideas.


Great Question.... glad you asked!

"Novices perceive concrete details as concrete details. Experts perceive concrete details as symbols of patterns and insights that they have learned through years of experience. And, because they are capable of seeing at a higher level of insight, they naturally want to talk on a higher level. They want to talk about the chess strategies, not about the bishops moving diagonally." (Heath & Heath, 2007, p. 114)

The Curse of Knowledge creeps up on us. It doesn't mean we dumb down the information. Rather we need to identify our core message and share it in concrete ways. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Want to know more? Read the book. You won't be disappointed.


Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Differentiated Instruction: Making Sure We Get it Right!

I spent the day (with about 200 other educators) learning about differentiated instruction with Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson. I was struck by the wonderful way Dr. Tomlinson weaves information with stories, case studies, and clarification. She facilitated the workshop as if she were a student of DI, instead of a national/international leader in the topic.

A defining moment for me during the workshop was a discussion about the mindset of differentiation. Dr. Tomlinson shared that without a believe that it is possible for students to do better than they ever had before, without hope or anticipation of what could happen in the classroom for kids.... there is no foundation for differentiating instruction. In other words, optimism is the energy that propels differentiation. Without optimism there is no purpose or fuel for differentiation to grow.

Does our school demonstrate a "do whatever it takes attitude?"

Do student strengths dominate the conversation?

Do we make efforts to genuinely affirm student efforts?

Do we expect the best?

Does the conversation revolve around reasons students can't do high level work or ways we could support and scaffold students to high level work?

The conviction that students can and should do high level work is the heart of differentiation. We may not be able to simply tell educators to believe in students who failed in the past and somehow that will make it all better. However, we can acknowledge the bias and behave our way into belief.

To quote Dr. Tomlinson, "Differentiation is not a thing you do, it's the way you think."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Instructional Coaching: Maximizing Results

The literature on professional development is absolutely clear. Workshops alone yield 5-10% rate of implementation. However, training reinforced by instructional coaches yields about 85% rate of implementation. How do we get the greatest impact from coaching, especially if teachers in the greatest need avoid working with the coach?

To address this schools are following the lead of the Boston Collaborative Coaching Model. The Boston Model is developed around the need for all teachers to work with the instructional coach, not just volunteers. All teachers are required to work with the coach. Small co-hort groups are formed every six weeks and the coach works intensely with the small group.

Boyertown School District borrowed the basic structure from Boston, but focused their coaching staff even more strategically on specific grade-levels for 10 week sessions. Boyertown has two elementary literacy coaches to serve seven elementary schools.

Their three-plan addresses their efforts to make the most of their resources:

Year 1 - Coach works with teachers in grades 2 and 4

Year 2 - Coach works with teachers in grades 3 and 5

Year 3 - Coach works with teachers in grades 1 and 6 (possibly K)

* Work with all new teachers

Sue and her staff are very optimistic about their new approach. Their goal is to maximize the instructional coaching staff, create a positive culture of continuous learning, and increase results.

Instructional Coaching - Resources

My good friend, Sue Kinney, Assistant Superintendent for Professional Development at Boyertown School District, shared a few wonderful instructional coaching resources with our Reading Advisory Council today. Prior to Boyertown, Sue was the Director of the PA Coaching Initiative. In other words, she knows her stuff.

Sue shared some of her favorite coaching resources and I would like to pass them along:

Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight

Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others by James Flahery

Community: A Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

Content Focused Coaching: Transforming Math Lessons by Lucy West & Fritz Straub

Taking the Lead : New Roles for School Based Coaches by Joellen Killion & Cindy Harrison

Quality Teaching in an Era of Coaching by Stephen Barkley (Great intro to coaching)

Differentiated Literacy Coaching: Scaffolding for Student and Teachers Success by Mary Katherine Moran

Resources on the Web:

PA High School Coaching Initiative 

Kansas Coaching Project - Instructional Coaching

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blogging: What's all the hype?

Blogging is an addiction....

I never really expected to have this reaction to blogging. It kinda crept up on me. Blogging allows me access to the thinking of some amazing people. I get tons of ideas.... all for FREE. I can take advantage of these great ideas when I want, where I want. If you want to catch the blogging bug... check out a few of these favorites.....

ASCD's Blog - Inservice

Council for Exceptional Children - RtI

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch

Karl Fisch - The Fischbowl

Doug Johnson - The Blue Skunk Blog

If none of these are to taste, check out this list of educational blog favorites. It is from 2006, but the blogs I spot checked were still active.

Calling all bloggers. Add your favorite blogs and corresponding links in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

K-12 Online Conference

What happens when innovative educators come together to share innovative ways to use Web 2.0 tools to improve learning?  A FREE Online Conference open to educators from around the world.

The 2008 conference theme is Amplifying Possibilities. The conference will kickoff with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008, which will be followed by forty presentations posted online for participants to download and view from October 20-24 and October 27-31, 2008 . Live Events will also be offered in the form of three "Fireside Chats" and a "When Night Falls" event to be announced.  More information about podcast channels and conference web feeds is available!

Click here to view the K-12 Online Conference Schedule

Click here to view resources for the First-time conference goers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A New Twist on Student Research Assignments

Blogs and wikis to document the research process? Joyce Valenza and her colleagues at Springfield Township High School in Erdenheim, PA have not only done it, they are debating which tool is the best.

Click on the links below to check out examples and additional discussion. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the wiki examples.

Blog Research Template

Wiki Research Discussion and Examples

Clearly the teachers love the technology tools to help students organize and build their projects in one place. What an exciting way to make research organized, relevant, and motivating for students!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Curriculum Pacing Guides

If you haven't read the latest issue of Ed. Leadership yet, let me give you another reason to pick it up. The issue features a two-page article summarizing the research on Pacing Guides.

The article indicates that pacing guides are not inherently bad, but too often the manner in which they are used results in narrowing the curriculum, fragmenting knowledge into test related pieces, and increasing teacher-centered instruction.

Most guides do not address student reasoning and teachers rarely deviate from the guides. In contrast, Japanese pacing guides describe student solutions to problems and describe how teachers can build on student thinking during instruction.

Recommendations - Guides Should:

  • Emphasize curriculum guidance, rather than prescriptive pacing.
  • Focus on central ideas.
  • Provide links to exemplary curriculum materials, lessons, and instructional strategies.

I would further recommend that administrators consider how the prescriptive use of pacing guides impedes implementation of professional development initiatives. Frequently PD initiatives focus on student-centered instructional strategies to deepen understanding. However, if coverage of content is emphasized over conceptual understanding in pacing guides, it creates a conflict for teachers and the administrators who evaluate them.

David, J.L. (October, 2008). Pacing guides. Educational Leadership. p.87-88.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

All Students are Gifted

The October issue of Educational Leadership came this week. One article in particular really peaked my interest. It was called, Why We Run Our School Like a Gifted Program by Linda Conlon. The article shares the intriguing vision of Quaker Valley High school. Their vision assumes that ALL students are gifted and that it is the job of the educators to help students identify their gifts and find ways to develop them. Ten years ago, the high school decided to take the hallmark features of a successful Gifted Program and open them up to all students. Elements of a strong gifted program include: rigorous curriculum, differentiated instruction, personalized counseling, and enrichment opportunities tied to personal interests.

They learned (without major budget changes):
  1. All students, not just the usual suspects, have considerable untapped potential
  2. The time saved by identifying who should be "gifted" is better spent in providing additional services to more students

Grad your latest issue of Ed Leadership and read the full article specific examples of these practices transformed unmotivated and under-achieving students into successful, self-directed college-bound students.

Conlon, L. (October 2008). Why we run our school like a gifted program? Educational Leadership, p. 38-42.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Curricula plus wiki = Currikicurriki

Another great find from Joyce Valenza and her amazing blog, NeverEnding Search, which is always filled with great resources and/or ideas.

What is Curriki? It is a very sophisticated wiki for teachers to upload work, share resources and create online learning communities around specific topics, even Career and Technical Education. Not only can you share work, but you can nominate work to be reviewed by master teachers. Resources are ranked as a 1 - Basic, needs a substantial amount of clean up or expansion to be used for teaching and learning, 2 - Good, can be used immediately, but may need some refinement, or 3 - Exemplary.

Curriki has over 45,000 members at the time of this posting, educators from all around the world sharing their best work. We discussed using a wiki for teachers to share work regionally, but Curriki takes the idea to a whole new level.... they're sharing globally!

Ways to use Curriki:

  • Find resources - Over 18,000 available
  • Contribute - Share your best work with the world
  • Connect - Join or create online communities on a focused topic or area.

Curriki has been named a 2008 Tech Awards Laureate. The Tech Awards is a signature program of The Tech Museum of Innovation.

All of this and it's FREE!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Best Conference Ever

The National Staff Development Council (NSDC)Conference is by far the best conference I have attended... and as a professional developer I have attended my fair share.

The pre-conference sessions on Sat. and Sunday are with some of the most renowned speakers from across the nation. Two years ago, I spent the day with David Sousa talking about applications of brain research. I am still using the information I brought back from the workshop.

Monday through Wednesday are numerous sessions on just about any topic imaginable.... math, professional learning communities, school improvement, literacy, technology, induction, mentoring and the list goes on......

What makes this conference stand out from all the others is the quality of the presentations. Facilitators go out of their way to model effective staff development practices. I leave, not just with good content, but also with effective strategies to share the learning.

NSDC's annual conference is in Washington, DC this year. It will be held from December 6-10, 2008. I don't think it is planned to be in the east coast again for some time...... Consider going, you won't regret it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hallmarks of a Differentiated Classroom

I was going through my in-basket and was about to "file" what I thought was a catalog and but as I quickly scanned the magazine I came across an interview with Carol Ann Tomlinson, the guru of differentiated instruction. Carol Ann was asked to describe the hallmarks of a differentiated classroom. Below is more or less an excerpt of what she said.
  • The first thing I look for are student-teacher connections. Is the teacher really paying attention to the students, does he/she seem to be studying the students to find out what they are thinking e.g. opinions, thoughts, feelings, perceptions etc.... All of the information "feeds into instruction" and drives lesson planning and motivation to differentiate.
  • Another thing I look for is a sense of community in the classroom. Is there a sense of team in the classroom. Baseball is a good analogy. Different players, playing different positions, but all working toward a common goal. It's very important for students to understand and appreciate their differences and be willing to help one another succeed.
  • The third thing I look for is the quality of curriculum being used. You have to differentiate something, but if what you differentiate is boring enough to choke a horse, you've just got different versions of boredom. If the curriculum goal is unclear or murky, then you just end up with multiple versions of fog. If all you are doing is teaching to the test --- like memorizing the telephone book, then you are not providing anything memorable or useful in learning. Teachers need to ask themselves about the quality of what they are teaching. If I really think my students are capable of learning, then I want to give them the most robust materials, not watered-down stuff (p.28).

Dr. Tomlinson's insights have the potential to be helpful to administrators as they give feedback and support to teachers working toward differentiation. Dr. Tomlinson goes on to talk about lesson planning, the differentiated school, high stakes testing. etc.... Click on the link below to go directly to the website and full article.

Rebora, A. (Fall 2008). Making a difference. Teacher Professional Development Source Book. p. 26-31.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Graduation Competency Exams

The controversial Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs) initiated by the PA Department of Education seemed to have hit a huge roadblock with the passing of Act 61. However, it is clear that the Department intends to aggressively move forward with the project. In fact at a recent state meeting, officials indicated that the Standards Aligned System, which the GCAs are a part of, is the number one priority for the Department.
Below is a table describing the timeline for the development and implementation of GCAs:

For a complete overview of GCAs including the details of the RFP, read PDE Seeks Contractor to Develop Graduation Competency Assessments, the top story in the September 12, 2008 issue of School Leader News.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Career Pathways

Amaal, our Assistant Director of Curriculum, and I have been working on Career Pathways for nearly year..... researching and learning about what it is. At first, Career Pathways appeared to be a career exploration/career standards initiative. However it turns out that is only a small part of the Career Pathways model. Career Pathways is really about curriculum.

Here is a chart we created at our meeting back in July with the Steering Committee:

During this process, it became clear that if we wanted to provide career guidance and exploration and if we wanted students to continue on to secondary school, then we must ensure they have the knowledge and skills to succeed in a chosen career..... all of which relates to curriculum.

The steering committee analyzed regional math and reading data and determined that the IEP subgroup for math especially at the 11th grade was the greatest area of concern. In other words lack of skill in mathematics especially Algebra would significantly inhibit a student's career choices (not to mention a schools' AYP status).

Our next step is to create tools and resources for teachers to help students, especially historically low performing students such as those in the IEP subgroup, master Algebra. This area of concern is also consistent with research on the achievement gap which indicates successful completion of Algebra II correlates with success in post-secondary school.

"High school curriculum has the greatest impact on closing the achievement
gap while raising achievement for all students. Within a high school curriculum,
the higher the level of mathematics studied, the stronger the effect on college
degree completion. Finishing a course beyond Algebra 2 more than doubles college
completion of a bachelor's degree. For whatever reason, mathematics has become
a key 'gatekeeper' course."

Check out the Career Pathways wikispace for more information and updates.

Singham, M. (2003, April). The achievement gap: Myths and reality. Phi Delta Kappan, 84
(8), 586-59.

WestEd. Schools Moving Up. Retrieved September 12, 2008 from http://www.schoolsmovingup.net/cs/wested/view/rs/160?x-t=wested.record.view.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Act 48

Today we had a discussion at with some representatives at the state regarding Act 48. Concerns are being raised by the legislature regarding the efficacy of the current Act 48 system. The current Act 48 guidelines require programs of at least 3.5 hours and yet the PERMS system allows for uploading of single hour events. Administrators should anticipate that the Department will be updating the PERMS system and that participation in single hour or two hour events will be a thing of the past. In addition, anticipate that the Department will be conducting random audits to review Act 48 activities. These may be personal visits or phone calls. Items such as sign in sheets will likely be requested.


  • According to the literature the purpose of professional development is to increase student achievement. Therefore, these changes could enhance the work already going on to support best practices.
  • I wouldn't panic about the changes. It will take time for the Department to change the system, work with providers to upgrade systems like CPETracker.
  • Look ahead to next year ----ensure your plan has programs, not single activities.
  • Consider building instructional coaching into your program as the follow up portion of the program.

Post Script: While the Act 48 Guidelines recommend programs of a minimum of 3.5 hours in length, they also clearly state that one shot professional development events are not appropriate and that programs , which include follow up activities should be planned.

Root Cause

Continuous school improvement hinges on finding root cause.... reason(s) for the current state of performance. What we have noticed after so many years of providing techincal assistance is that

  • Identifying root cause is the single most important activity of school improvement

  • Root cause cannot be identified by analyzing PSSA test data alone

The school improvement templates developed by the PA Department of Education are excellent. Folks need to remember that PA AYP, eMetric and PVAAS data are all different slices of the same data... PSSA. Analysis of this data is helpful for raising quesions and concerns, but not identification of root cause. Teams need to collect additional data to identify root cause.

Questions like.... Are teachers implementing the core curriculum with fidelity? How about interventions? Are all students not performing well receiving an intervention? How much professional development had the teachers had? etc.....

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Head of the Curve

This summer's Governor's Institute unveiled the Standards Aligned System (SAS) and the curriculum framework in math and literacy. Math is not my area of strength, but I decided to attend the math sessions and I was glad I did. I learned a lot about mathematics and found several exciting connections.

First, the week long training provided by the Governor's Institute entitled, Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), is exactly the same training we have been offering at the IU for the last several years. We are ahead of the curve and are well poised to enhance our existing training with the Mathematics Curriculum Framework created by PDE.

Second, the facilitators began each module with mental math. I was struck how closely the process paralleled a Reading Process Analysis in Reading Apprenticeship. The mental math activity slowed down thinking and helped to surface mathematical understanding as well as strategies for solving problems. I have long wondered how to make content area reading explicit to math teachers, I now feel we, or at least I, have a window into that process. Incidentally our DMI trainer, Melissa, is currently being trained in Reading Apprenticeship in an effort to further marry these two initiatives and delve further into content area reading in mathematics.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Few Recommendations

One of my favorite blogs, NeverEndingSearch by Joyce Valenza features an interactive website Simply Books: Promoting reading and literacy education for boys. The website was launched on September 4th and has potential for our Reading Apprenticeship training. Check out Joyce's blog and Simply Books.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

School Improvement

We are very fortunate to live in a state that provides so many resources to support schools and districts in a variety of school improvement initiatives. However as the graphic to the right illustrates, those supports are coming from a variety of agencies and each initiative is tied to a mandated process and requirements. It is feasible that one individual school building would have multiple action plans created by multiple teams within the building. This can fracture already taxed systems.... How do you use a single staff development day? Which initiatives are the priority? Which materials should we purchase? etc...

We may not be able to change the requirements, but we can change how we approach the requirements. Instead of seeing each mandate as a separate event, we could choose to align all efforts. For example:
  • One school improvement team with cross representation from the faculty including special ed, regular ed, and related service providers.
  • One team with work with all support providers e.g. DEs, LRE, DSL, IU personnel etc...
  • Have one action plan…. Use other documents as needs assessments, but represent an integration of needs in a single action plan that is implemented and monitored. This could include overall building goals, school improvement plans, LRE action plan, DE action plans etc.....

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chemistry Example

Check out Karl Fisch's blog ..... author of Shift Happens and Edublog 2007 winner.
His recent post was about a chemistry teacher transforming his classroom through screencasting and podcasting. Make sure you read the student comment.

Karl Fisch's Blog

Differentiated Instruction

I have been mulling over the term differentiated instruction for some time. It is a very popular term, but I am not convinced it means the same thing to all people. Administrators generally tell me that differentiated instruction is a priority and that they see very little of it in their schools. These same administrators generally tell me that they used differentiated instruction techniques as a teacher and their teachers tell me the same thing.

I am left wondering if what many educators really mean by differentiated instruction? I am convinced what is done in the name of differentiated instruction is really the accommodations, adapting and modifying work. On the surface this doesn't seem to be a bad thing. Accommodations and adapting and modifying work are the cornerstones of mainstreaming. I use the term mainstreaming purposely here. When mainstreaming IEP students into the general learning environment was the popular, the expectation was for students to be physically included in the environment. The environment was not radically changed. The students might receive preferential seating, multiple choices tests might be limited to two or three distractors, number of written sentences for a project might be reduced, print might be enlarged etc....

These are important skills for an educator and there is clearly a need for these strategies in a 21st century teaching environment. However, it is critical that these strategies be the floor, not the ceiling in helping students overcome learning challenges. Reducing test items to two distractors reduces reliability and validity.... students have a 50% chance of guessing the right answer. Does this really tell us what students know and are able to do? The majority of strategies used in a mainstreaming environment require less of the student.... they read less, responsible for learning less, write less....

Today's classrooms are moving towards inclusion, which strives for physical, social and academic inclusion. We are required to ensure that all students meet the standards and can perform well on high stakes tests. I contend that we cannot reach these goals if our primary methods require students to read, write, know and do less than peers.

We need a universal understanding of differentiated instruction. We need a common definition that does not require less of students, rather it provides opportunities to learn and express learning DIFFERENTLY. We need to change our environment to fit the students instead of trying to maintain the environment we have, are comfortable in, expecting less of students. We need to plan for differences and allow kids to show us what they can do. I am convinced that we would be surprised.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Universal Design and Classrooms for the Future

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to instruction that utilizes multiple methods of presenation, engagement and expression to help students overcome learning barriers. Technology is maximized in a UDL model. Technology provides the venue for increased engagement. It allows for multiple methods of presentation and expression. UDL takes advantage of the technology in the room .... available to all learners e.g. interactive white boards, common software such as Inspiration, podcasts/podcasting, etc....

I am struck by how closely this mirrors the goals for the Classrooms for the Future (CFF) grant initiative. CFF is less about the technology than it is about critical thinking, collaboration, and engagement in learning. However, I think training in UDL could help teachers better understand the purpose of the CFF goals. UDL has the potential to deepen teachers thinking about how to create a learning environment that helps students overcome learning challenges. Technology has the potential to widen the net to help more students reach high levels of achievement, but we must learn to recognize the barriers students have to learning.

Great UDL Resources:
CAST - Center for Applied Special Technology
Universal Design Tool Kit - a fabulous wikispace by Karen Janowski & Joyce Valenza
UDL Stuff - great resource created by PaTTAN
Ed Tech Solutions - Teaching Every Student Blog - a great blog by Karen Janowski
Assistive Techology Collaborative Community - on Ning, a collaborative community

Curriculum Framework

Curriculum Frameworks is one of the six circles. The PA Department of Education created committees of teachers and curriculum specialists throughout PA to create curriculum frameworks in literacy, math and social studies. The curriculum framework consists of Big Ideas, Concepts, and Competencies. Big Ideas are the the overarching key ideas of a subject. Big Ideas are larger constructs and likely require more than one year to achieve. Concepts and the knowledge skills to be mastered in a particular grade level. Competencies are what students must be able to do by grade level.

The big question is if we already have standards and assessment anchors, why do we need curriculum frameworks? In order to answer that you have to think about what the standards and assessment anchors really offer us.

  • Standards are written as a menagerie of big ideas, concepts and competencies for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.
  • Assessment Anchors are written for grades 3-8 and 11 based on the parameters of the PSSA.

The Curriculum Framework Advantage:

  • Focused documents that clearly delineate what students should know and be able to do in each grade level K - 12.
  • Expectations are clearly defined and prioritized by grade level.
  • Articulates virtical alignment in content knowledge K-12.

Click here to view the Curriculum Frameworks. Note not all of the frameworks have been completed as yet.

Social Studies



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Six Circles

Standards Aligned System (SAS) reflects the Pennsylvania Department of Education's vision for continuous school improvement. SAS, affectionately referred to as the six circles, reminds us that student achievement should be central to what we do.

No surprise there, school should be about the kids. Having worked with numerous school improvement teams, it is clear that students are sometimes overlooked. The graphic is a good filter for our thinking.... is it (whatever it might be) good for kids?

Then we need to ask.... does our thinking make sense? Do our assessments align with the curriculum? Our instruction? Do they align with our interventions? The caution here is to think through the questions and cite the evidence. Time and time again we see schools that say they have clear standards and fair assessments, only to later share that many of the special needs students do not have access to standards-based instruction. No evidence of IEPs being aligned to standards. We've also seen schools that indicate they have fair assessments and interventions, only to find PSSA data or benchmark data , rather than diagnostic data, has been used to place students into programs.

Fair Assessments have received considerable attention. The Department has been working through defining the different types of assessments and how they can used with an emphasis on formative assessments. The push is to view formative assessment as the key to effective instruction. Minute to minute types of assessments to maintain active engagement and to adjust instruction. I am anxious to see how teachers and administrators react to this vision of fair assessments.... relieved that PDE supports classroom assessments or continued resent towards assessment... I often hear if only I was allowed to teach.. etc..

Read more about the six circles at http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=4228&&PageID=440536&level=2&css=L2&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true#DA_675654

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virtual Math Manipulatives

I was glancing through the Journal of Special Education Technology and came upon an article on virtual math manipulatives. The virtual manipulatives are intriguing, providing practice and feedback at little to no cost. There is no clean up and kids have access at home. Below are the recommended websites from the article along with some examples.

Check out some of the sites:
National Library of Virtual Manipulatives - http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html
Virtual Fractions - http://visualfractions.com/
NCTM Illuminations - http://illuminations.nctm.org/
Project Interactive - http://www.shodor.org/interactivate
Base-Ten Blocks -http://www.arcytech.org/java/b10blocks/b10blocks.html

Skylar, A. (2008). Virtual manipulatives as an assistive technology support for students with high-incidence disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 23(1), 47-5

Friday, August 15, 2008


Last week three national speakers, Dr. Tim Tyson, Doug Johnson, and David Warlick, came to our area and emphasized the importance of 21st century skills. They stressed that as administrators we must embrace web 2.0 tools to enhance communication, critical thinking, active learning, and ultimately student achievement.

So here I am.... taking the plunge. I choose a blog because I want to enhance as well as accelerate the level of communication across the three county area where I work. My hope is that participants will find the blog useful and insightful in their daily work.