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

Curriki

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.

Recommendations:

  • 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.