Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading Apprenticeship

I attended the Reading Apprenticeship Winter Conference and was asked to be a part of the panel discussion at the conclusion of the conference. Here's a preview of the key points of my presentation:

  • Reading Apprenticeship (RA) is much more than content area literacy.
  • If you are "doing" RA you are addressing Inclusion, 21st Century Skills, Principles of Effective Instruction, Higher Order Thinking Skills, Secondary Response-to-Intervention, Questioning, High School Reform, Differentiated Instruction, Adolescent Literacy and more.
  • To ensure RA gets the time and resources it needs, it is wise to have RA permeate as many school planning documents as possible e.g strategic plan, school improvement, Special Education Plan, LRE Plan, Professional Education Plan, Induction Plan, etc.....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Relationships Lead to Results


Northeast Middle School, Bethlehem Area School District, serves 835 students in grades 6 through 8. The student population is very diverse including over 50% who are Black or Hispanic. The school has many challenges including 61% poverty rate and 18.4% special education rate.

In 2004, the school did not make AYP in several categories including the IEP subgroup and received a Warning Status. the following year brought School Improvement I. The work of the administrators, teachers and students has paid off. This year the school is completely off school improvement...having Made Progress for two consecutive years.

In addition, Northeast MS made the IU 20 list of schools that have demonstrated the highest level of academic growth during the 2007-08 school year based on their PVAAS data three times..... 8th grade reading and math and 6th grade math.

I sat down with Assistant Principal, Leigh Rusnak, to learn the secret to their success and the answer might surprise you.... RELATIONSHIPS! The heart of their school improvement plan is developing relationships between teachers and students, teachers and administrators and teachers to teachers.

Their efforts to make a personal investment in every child have paid off. Where they see their strongest results, they have the strongest relationships with students and teachers. Mrs. Rusnak described their approach as kids before content. It is not unusual for secondary teachers to have a strong connection to theFloggingir content area, but it should not come before kids.

They strive to like all their find something of value in every child. To make the child feel important and supported. "When kids know their teacher likes them and will help them succeed, the kids will give back." Mrs. Rusnak went on to say that "students do well on the PSSA NOT because students are invested in their education, but because the teachers were invested in their students." They strive to create a safe, trusting environment.... an environment where students rise to the level of expectations!

In the same vane, administrators need to invest in their teachers. They need to know who their teachers ... really know them and help them along. It is critical to engage teachers in school and its programs. They word hard to build up the teachers by being positive and providing praise and recognition. Teachers need to trust that they will receive positive feedback from peers and administrators.

In times when flogging seems to be the norm, Northeast is striving to put people at the heart of their school. They have all the normal initiatives.... Reading Apprenticeship, co-teaching, raising the level of curriculum expectations, but they have found that relationships are the key to making it all work!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Consolidation: Will Charter Schools Be Included

Governor Ed Rendell has proposed forming a commission to consolidate Pennsylvania's 500 school districts down to no more than 100. The purpose of the consolidation is to reduce property tax burden. The commission would have one year to develop two plans to reorganize Pennsylvania's schools to be voted on by the legislature. If the General Assembly votes down both plans, authority would be given to the state board to reduce the number of school districts. Click here to see the fact sheet distributed by the state.

My question is will the 127 charter schools be included in this consolidation effort to reduce administrative costs? Most charter schools serve a smaller student body and still have the same administrative positions as public schools. According to our local paper one charter school serving 440 students had a CEO making $5,000 dollars less than the public school superintendent serving 6,700 students. Click here to see the article.

I am confused by these competing initiatives.

Is it possible we could have a state public education system consisting of 100 school districts and a 127 charter schools?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Podcasting and the Five Big Ideas of Reading

My son is nine years old and has really benefited from using podcasting to improve his reading comprehension and motivation to read. The problem is that he only has access to podcasting at home. It's not that his school lacks resources, rather it has been that his teachers have trouble understanding how podcasting can be incorporated into reading instruction. In fairness to his teachers, my experience has been that the bells and whistles of podcasting are emphasized rather than podcasting as a specific curriculum integration tool. I started wondering how we might leverage podcasting to develop reading skills within all the five big ideas of reading.

The National Reading Panel concluded that quality literacy instruction encompasses Five Big Ideas.

children books Five Big Ideas of Reading

  1. Phonemic Awareness: The ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words.
  2. Alphabetic Principle: The ability to associate sounds with letters and use these sounds to form words. 
  3. Fluency with Text: The effortless, automatic ability to read words in connected text.
  4. Vocabulary: The ability to understand (receptive) and use (expressive) words to acquire and convey meaning.
  5. Comprehension: The complex cognitive process involving the intentional interaction between reader and text to convey meaning.

Retrieved [January 24, 2009] from Big Ideas in Beginning Reading from

Connections between reading and podcasting:

  • Repeated Reading is a typical technique to develop fluency. Students read the same text several times to develop appropriate reading speed and accuracy. Not all  students are motivated to read the same passage again and again. Add podcasting and suddenly a student is practicing with purpose.... rehearsing and repodcastingcording their best reading. In fact all the digital recording programs I have used actually displays the cadence of speech. Students can visually see whether their reading is fluent or not providing instant feedback.
  • Reading to children is an essential component of a reading program. What if older students recorded recorded themselves reading popular children's books and younger children could listen to them as they followed a long in the book? Checking out an iPod from the library? Downloading books from a school website? Add an RSS feed and audio books can be instantly pushed out to families.
  • Retelling is a popular method for testing for comprehension. Instead of students "telling" the teacher, students can record their retelling in a podcast. Students can listen to each other's podcast to determine who captured the most complete retelling.
  • Teachers could also use podcasting to have students create commercials or recommendations of their favorite books. Other students could listen to their commercial to decide if they want to read the book or not.

Click here to listen to a few examples of kid-created podcasts which augmented guided reading instruction.

It's clear to me that podcasting could be a wonderful tool to make reading and writing more relevant and motivating for students. Scenarios like the ones above can also make training sessions more relevant and motivating for teachers.

What are other ways podcasting could support reading instruction?

Podcasting photo courtesy of Dave Gray on Flickr.

Children's books photo courtesy of Heidi Blanton-Hansen on Flickr

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Football and School Improvement

school improvement bowl

CIU 20 hosted a Super "School Improvement" Bowl on January 21, 2009. We wanted a new way to engage our instructional leaders in the work of continuous improvement. Believe it or not, football became our inspiration...

"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi

If a team is to reach its potential, each player must be willing to subordinate his personal goals to the good of the team.” Bud Wilkinson

"Coaches have to watch for what they don't want to see and listen to what they don't want to hear." John Maddensub

In between bites of a Super Bowl lunch of six-foot subs, wings, and meatball sandwiches, School Improvement teams looked for ways for to connect lessons from football to school improvement. Here are a few:

  • Every team needs a play book (school improvement plan)
  • Teams win by moving in strategic ways and moving in the same direction
  • Players improve their skills through repetition and modeling.
  • Leaders can't coach a game from the locker room, you have to be on the field.

Help us come up with other lessons from football.........

Pictured above: Maryellen Mross, Principal, Stroudsburg Junior High, Stroudsburg School District and Carole Geary, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Pleasant Valley School District.