Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dispositions for Success

Today I was catching up on some reading and ran across an article in Ed Week entitled, Experts Begin to Identify Nonacademic Skills Key to Success.

“[T]he biggest predictor of success is a student’s conscientiousness, as measured by such traits as dependability, perseverance through tasks, and work ethic. Agreeableness, including teamwork and emotional stability were the next-best predictors of college achievement, followed by variations on extroversion and openness to new experiences.”

What caught my eye was not the actual article, although I did find that interesting, rather it was the reaction to the article in the comments section. Many of the comments were rather negative, defensive even. Some even stating it is only through Charters and other private education institutions that these skills can be emphasized. Others were critical indicating this is not the job of schools, rather parents and community members should take the lead.

Why is it that so many of us think it is an either/or proposition? 

The ideas of perseverance, dependability, and teamwork and the idea of deep content knowledge are complementary and congruent. Good teaching is not just about the facts, it is about teaching students to think. What teacher does not want students to persevere through challenging work or consistently turn in their best work? As educators we are constantly reinforcing these skills or we are if we are teaching students and not content. What do you teach?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wanted: Great Ideas


Over the last few months I have posted research on boys and reading. Shared some ideas for engaging all students, but especially boys in reading. These ideas included podcasts and five big ideas of reading, leveraging technology as a means to active literacy with before, during and after reading strategies, and most recently digital book reports.

Pennsylvania is fortunate to have PAIUnet, a private network that literally nearly all 500 school districts and IUs have access. It’s a safe network where students and teachers can collaborate, publish, share and interact.

We currently have access to several services and products through Keystone Commons, Safari Montage, and VoiceThread. Note some of these services have a subscription fee, while others are at no charge.

In thinking about promoting reading in boys, what other kinds of services and supports could we leverage in this private network for PA students and teachers?

Some ideas already shared have been a digital library – download books onto a computer, Kindle or Nook.

Shared project ideas i.e. a digital book report contest for all 5th grade teachers and students.

We have this powerful network – how might we leverage it to promote reading????? Please click on the Comments link below this post and share your ideas.

Book Reports Go Digital

Kudos to Recorded Books for launching an innovative contest encouraging students to read. Their Digital Book Report Contest is promoting their new literature curriculum, Book Jams.

According to the the Book Jam website a digital book report would look like this…

“Have your students pick their favorite book or a book from your lesson plan and create a song, performance, or debate. Get creative and win! Use music, props, and costumes! But make sure that it covers the core standards. We’d love to see rap songs about grammar, interactive presentations highlighting setting and symbolism, plays about conflict starring Hester Prynne to Harry Potter, and whatever else you and your students dream up!”

The contest is innovative and engaging. The entries are diverse and captivating. Students cleverly used pictures, audio, music, original music, costumes, props and much more….

Finalist are now posted. Be amazed! Visit the Contest site, create an account and give these kids the feedback they need. Public voting available for only a few more days.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Root Cause Stories

During a recent school improvement training we asked, “Why is the wild owl population in India decreasing?”

After suspending disbelief that this question had anything to do with school improvement, the audience called out possibilities such as:

  • Pollution
  • Migration patterns
  • Loss of habitat

They seem plausible, but to pursue them would be folly as none of those would address the cause for the dwindling owl population.

Unfortunately too often school improvement teams, in their sense of urgency to “fix” the problem ,  forget to study the problem and possible solutions. They forget that they likely need more data to confirm or deny any of their hypotheses. Time consuming work for sure, but better than the alternative… working on solutions that will have little to no effect on the issue.

Victoria Burnhart in her article Multiple Measures indicates that Demographic and Achievement data are insufficient to identify root cause e.g. Number of owls this year compared to last year. Instead additional data is needed to understand the context of the problem.

So getting back to the original question, why is the owl population dwindling in India? It’s a bit of a shocker, but the answer is…. Harry Potter. Yep, apparently the book is so popular that owls are in great demand to give as gifts to young children. Click here for the full story.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Before, During and After….

We did an exciting program this summer in looking at the nexus of boys, reading pedagogy and the role of technology. The basic premise is if some students prefer more action based literacy activities, could technology fill that role?Nik small avatar

We came up with technology tools that could be used as Before, During and After reading strategies. All participants read the book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney as the back drop of looking at how reading pedagogy could be enhanced by technology tools.

Before During After (focus retelling)
Multi media text sets Blog Digital story telling
  Wallwisher Movie Maker
  Flip Note Studio  

Teachers then embedded these technology tools into their Title I summer school program for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

Check out our sample blog with embedded projects in it. Be sure to read student comments/reaction to the questions or follow the links to projects. Remember these are just a sample to show teachers how these tools can deepen student book talks and comprehension text.

Blog -

User: curriculum

Password: curriculum

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hole in the Wall

Must watch video that looks at engagement, motivation and student learning. Presuming student capability. Click here to open up the video. Thanks to Michelle D. for sharing this.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Part II: Aliteracy Vs. Illiteracy

Last week I summarized Kylene Beers research on the continuum of readers. At the end I asked some questions regarding instruction on each type of reader. Turns out Dr. Beers followed with another article detailing tips and techniques to working with aliterate students.

“We must realize that whatever motivates an avid or dormant reader probably won’t motivate an uncommitted or unmotivated student. Motivating Readers (p. 112) reveals the same activities that encourage readers in fact discourages nonreaders, intimidating them and confirming negative feelings. The activities that uncommitted or unmotivated readers preferred were limited, but specific” (Beers, 1996, p.111).

1. Personal Choice – They want to choose their own books from a limited selection. They were wary of being overwhelmed with a large library.

2. Nonfiction – Many reluctant readers prefer nonfiction over fiction.

3. Illustrations – Pictures and illustrations were very important to these students. Time again they shared that without the pictures they would not know what is going on.

4. Movies – Preferred to see the movie first, then read the book.

5. Read aloud – Having the teacher read aloud an entire book. Avid readers indicated they liked being read aloud to as well, but not for the whole book.

6. Art activities – Students indicated they wanted to draw, act out, make a puppet or do something to make a connection to the printed word.

7. Magazines – Uncommitted and unmotivated students saw themselves as nonreaders, but in fact that wasn’t true. While they did not carry around a typical novel, they did like magazines, how to books, comics, reference books, and informational books.

This list of tips and techniques is reminiscent of the summary of research on boys and literacy I shared a very weeks ago. It points to a need to expand our view of reading beyond a novel, to help students see themselves as readers regarding whatever their personal choice of reading material, to use active reading activities especially ones that develop a visual representation of the text to build readers. It also points to the need for the need for differentiation for avid, dormant, uncommitted, and unmotivated readers.

But to do all that we need to really know our students as readers, not just test scores!

Beers, G. K. (1996). No time, no interest, no way: Three voices of aliteracy part 2. School Library Journal, 42(3) pp. 110-113

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aliteracy Vs. Illiteracy


Kylene Beers, as part of a research study, observed two 7th grade classrooms for one year. Through discussions regarding attitudes and habits as readers, she developed a typology of a reader.

“It was easy to identify readers at both ends of the spectrum; they readily fit the academic and social descriptions others have provided. It was more difficult to classify the aliterate readers. In fact, I found grouping them under one term – aliterate – was inaccurate because because they gave different reasons for not reading. Understanding these reasons eventually led me to three distinct types of aliterate readers: Dormant, Uncommitted, and Unmotivated” (Beers, 1996, p. 31).


I have been pondering this information for awhile. It makes me wonder who the students are in remedial classes. Are they illiterate or aliterate? How would we know or are we focuses exclusively on test scores? Are instructional strategies the same for each type of reader? Are there a disproportionate number of boys in the aliterate category? How can we help aliterate students see beyond the function to the beauty of reading?

Beers, G. K. (1996). No time, no interest, no way: Three voices of aliteracy. School Library Journal, 42(2), pp.30-33.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Boys and Reading

 NAEP gender reading

NAEP gender reading key

The graph above shows an amazingly consistent pattern regarding the reading achievement of girls (top line) and boys (bottom line). While this graph highlights the longitudinal data of 13 year olds, the picture for 9 and 17 year olds looks remarkably the same.

Basically girls out score boys and have for 30 years across all age groups according to the National Test of Educational Progress (NAEP.)

Michael W. Smith & Jeff Wilhelm summarize the findings on boys and literacy in their book Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys (2002) pages 10&11:



  • Boys take longer to read than girls.
  • Boys read less than girls.
  • Girls tend to comprehend text significantly better than boys.
  • Boys tend to do better with information retrieval & work-related literacy tasks than girls.


  • Boys generally provide a lower estimate of their reading abilities than girls do.
  • Boys value reading as an activity less than girls do.
  • Boys have much less interest in leisure reading & are far more likely to read for utilitarian purposes than girls are.
  • Significantly more boys than girls declare themselves “nonreaders.”
  • Boys spend less time reading & express less enthusiasm for reading than girls do.
  • Boys increasingly consider themselves to be “nonreaders” as they get older; very few designate themselves as such early in their school, but nearly 50% make that designation by high school.


  • Boys and girls express interest in reading different things, and they do read different things.
  • Boys are more inclined to read informational texts.
  • Boys are more inclined to read more magazines and newspaper articles.
  • Boys are more inclined to read comic books and graphic novels.
  • Boys tend to resist reading stories about girls, whereas girls do not tend to resist reading stories about boys.
  • Boys are more enthusiastic about reading electronic texts than girls.
  • Boys like to read about hobbies, sports and things they might do or be interested in doing.
  • Boys like to collect things & like to collect series of books.
  • Poetry is less popular with boys than girls.
  • Boys tend to enjoy escapism and humor; some groups of boys are passionate about science fiction or fantasy.


  • The appearance of a book & its cover is important to boys.
  • Boys are less likely to talk about or overtly respond to their reading than girls are.
  • Boys prefer active responses to reading in which they physically act out responses, do or make something.
  • Boys tend to receive more open & direct criticism for weakness in their reading & writing performance.
  • Boys require more teacher time in coed settings.

I have been studying this data not only for my work life, but also so I can understand my own son better as a reader. As I read through the summary above, I am struck by the implications for teaching and learning.

  • Does our definition of reading include graphic novels, comic books, magazines and newspaper articles?
  • What is in our school libraries? Does it appeal to boys?
  • Do we inadvertently make boys feel like outsiders when they prefer informational text?
  • If boys do not like to talk about books what does that mean for common assessments such as the DRA – where students have to retell what happened?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Leadership is Essential

A good friend and colleague, Greg Llewellyn, recently came to my Curriculum Council Meeting to discuss strategies for effective implementation of initiatives. Greg shared his experience with school systems that have implemented district-wide initiatives successfully.

He recommended districts consider a district-wide leadership team consisting of leadership at all levels whom meet frequently. This system helps to create a coherent understanding and common language regarding the initiative and the goal. It also helps with implementation issues that often develop regarding policy and procedures. These can best be acknowledged and addressed through a district leadership team.

District leaders shared that this format was highly successful and kept potential “rogues” from going off on their own.

The Caveat:

Attendance at the leadership team was non-negotiable!

For this district leadership team to work, all stakeholders must be present at critical decision points. Therefore, if all could not be present, the meeting was rescheduled.

To quote Greg, “Leadership is not expendable!”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Everyone Needs Mentoring

I had an interesting week. Our state school improvement team brought author and presenter, holcomb_old_smallEdie Holcomb, to work with regional service agency staff to enhance and expand our understanding of the change process and assist schools with developing more effective school improvement plans. The training reaffirmed many things, namely the importance of providing tools for schools to monitor their plan implementation, but Edie managed to layer in additional activities and thinking to more clearly focus our efforts.

shordThen today, I received a phone call from Shirely Hord, a long story as to how we connected, but WOW!!!!! For those of you that do not know Shirley, her work is legendary in the area of staff development and the change process. She has authored and co-authored numerous books on Change, Professional Learning Communities, etc..

She has a rich southern accent and each word she says practically drips with wisdom. Needless to say, I wrote down  everything she said and can’t wait until this week is over so I can really think about the implications of her teaching.

Let me give you a taste of Shirley’s wisdom.

Shirley: “We invest in professional development. Why do we use the word invest?

Me: Lack luster response

Shirley: Because we expect results! We expect a dividend from our efforts!

So how lucky am I? To practically sit at the feet of two knowledgeable and accomplished women – I only wish it could have been longer. Sigh……..

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Law of Initiative Fatigue


In his new book, Transforming Professional Development into Student Results, Doug Reeves makes a case for severely limiting the number of initiatives a school or district pursues.

“Education leaders have three essential resources: time, money, and emotional energy. Time is fixed. Financial resources are typically fixed, and in the present economy, diminishing. Emotional energy is variable.”

“The Law of Initiative Fatigue states that when the number of initiatives increases while time, resources and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative, no matter how well conceived or well intentioned – will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.”

Reader Challenge: Take a blank sheet of paper and write down every initiative in your school. Reply via comment and let us know how many initiatives you have and your thoughts about the Law of Initiative Fatigue.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

21st Century Skills


“Focus is the real 21st Century skill.”

---- Doug Reeves at the PA Department of Education Conference April 2010

What do you think?

Watch is the full presentation at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

School Improvement is Simple


Todd Whitaker in his publication, What Great Teachers Do Differently, says school improvement is simple….

Either get better teachers or improve the teachers you have.

What do you think?

Is this too simplistic of an answer?

As the professionals on the front-line, does improvement mainly rest on the teachers’ shoulders?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Having a Voice

I recently had the great misfortune to contract tonsillitis. Out of the myriad of unpleasant symptoms, the one that was the most difficult was loosing my voice. It was frustrating not to be heard. There were a few situations, especially with larger groups of people, when I started to withdraw from the conversation. It was just too much effort.

student unengagement
This experience made me appreciate the value of Reading Apprenticeship, an approach to secondary literacy through the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. The Reading Apprenticeship framework focuses on students developing, expanding and building the confidence in their voice in discipline specific ways.

In a traditional secondary classroom, it is not unusual for the main modality of learning to be lecture. Students sit, listen and regurgitate on demand. The teachers do most of the work and students are peripheral to the learning process.

In converse, Reading Apprenticeship classrooms have students at their center. Students are viewed as competent learners. Strategies and scaffolds are provided to enhance and expand independent learning. Interaction and supports from peers is critical. Students are held accountable for their learning as teachers become facilitators of learning.

In the Reading Apprenticeship framework, students have a voice and with that voice comes engagement, reflection, ownership, accountability and much more. I am left with the conclusion that having a voice is essential for increases in student achievement, especially for our most at-risk learners. What do you think?

Check out the new Reading Apprenticeship blog – filled with fascinating information on the latest research, resources, and ideas to assist all students with reaching high expectations.
Photo courtesy  of

Monday, March 8, 2010

Luau as a Metaphor for School Improvement


The luau, once called the aha aina, was an event that was designed to unite the participants and foster good will, thanks and praise. The purpose of the luau could have been to celebrate accomplishments, honor heroes or gods, or commemorate important events. While some ancient foods represented strength or virility, other foods might symbolize virtues or goals the participants hoped toEaston achieve (from

A luau, in other words, is all about reflection. What is going well? What are the next steps?

This is exactly what our school improvement teams did last week. They reflected on the level of implementation of their plan and the level of effectiveness. Participants spent the morning going through their plans goal by goal – looking back toward accomplishments and looking forward to next steps.
palm tree
We over-laid these discussions with information on managing and effectively facilitating change. We read Implications for School Leaders Facilitating Change, which is from Hord and Hall’s Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes (2006, p.73). The overwhelming message in facilitating change was to provide a consistent and coherent message and find innovative ways to repeat the message in a variety of ways. Communication provides a strong root system for the foundation of the plan.

The trailer from movie 50 First Dates captures the essence of school improvement planning. Avoid short term memory loss – often associated with school improvement plans – through communication, innovation and persistence. chocolate fountain
In typical luau fashion, we celebrated with food – a buffet followed by a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit, marshmallows, and pretzels. School improvement never tasted so good!

Our goal was for participants to see school improvement as an opportunity – a positive event, to have them critically evaluate their plan with new eyes and to energize their strategic efforts.

Here’s a few comments from participants:
“I will stop assuming that our vision is clear to all involved.”
“Today has inspired us to take another look at our improvement plan – we were able to see what we have accomplished & where we need to go next. Today has helped us decide that we need to take time when we return to our district and look at our plan in a more thorough manner.”
“We will start paying attention to “next steps.” Collecting real evidence to see what, if any, interventions have truly been successful.”
“We will start looking at different types of data, not only student achievement.”
“We will stop letting “naysayers” get in our way.”
“Increase communicating to make change.”
“Thank you very much!!! Your presentations were very engaging, activities eye-opening, hand-outs potentially change-evoking.” 

Friday, February 26, 2010

People, Not Purchase Orders

Administrators can and should be problem solvers. Unfortunately, the problems of schools are complex and not easily solved. In my experience with schools in improvement, this reality brings out one of three reactions:

A) Paralysis – the problems of schools are so big, they cannot be solved. This generally involves some type of blame – It’s the assessment, it’s the parents, it’s the administrators, it’ the students – they are not motivated.

B) Purchase – what can we buy to “fix” a problem.

65% of student achievement rests with the teacher – wish I could cite exactly where I got that from, alas it is a research conclusion that I picked up somewhere… The point is that despite all challenges to the contrary - It’s the rare school that understands the magic elixir is people!

Savvy people, collaborating to find the root cause of a concern. People, thoughtfully researching, not shopping in a catalog, hiring speakers, or checking items off a list. People, creating a common language of effective instruction!

What does this mean for school improvement planning?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Vision for Walkthroughs

I have been on a walkthrough kick these last few weeks. I have come to see effective walkthroughs as the connective tissue between school improvement, response to instruction and intervention, and any number of other staff development initiatives.

The software system we are using, Teachscape, provides a standard tool e.g. lesson objective, grouping, high yield strategies, student engagement, depth of knowledge etc… as well as options to customize the standard tool and create an entirely new surveys.

This flexibility will allow us to monitor core instruction, intervention programs and other initiatives.

Core Instruction Can be Monitored Through:

  • A standard tool e.g. lesson objective, grouping, high yield strategies, student engagement, depth of knowledge etc…
  • Content Specific Checklists e.g. Reading or Math
  • Specific initiative areas e.g. PowerTeaching, Co-Teaching

Intervention Programs

  • Fidelity checklists for research-based intervention programs e.g. Corrective Reading, Read 180 etc..

This, combined with the mobile application, will make it easier than ever for principals and other educational leaders to collect implementation data which can drive effective staff development, create a common language and common expectations across a school!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reading Walkthrough Checklists

One of our educational consultants came across grade-level elementary reading checklists from the Florida Center for Reading Research, a nationally recognized leader in reading research. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the checklists.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mobile App for Walkthroughs

I am totally enamored with Teachscape’s new mobile app for conducting instructional walkthroughs.

The standard walkthrough tool allows you to collect data on a variety of curriculum and instruction items based on educational research. You can also create/customize your own walkthrough survey. The best part is the data can be collected with a simple touch using an iPhone/iTouch!

Walkthroughs can be immediately uploaded with an internet signal or held in limbo until you have one. Perfect for schools without complete wireless coverage.

Reports including charts and graphs can be created from the companion website. One touch data collection with a full compliment of data tools… smart tools for a busy administrator!


Say good-bye to paper copies!

No more clipboards! No more laptops to lug around!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Instructional Walkthroughs

As an IU region we are working on developing a consistent and thoughtful instructional walkthrough process. An area of particular interest is student engagement. Based on Phil Schlechty’s work and Teachscape, we have agreed on these descriptors.

  • Highly engaged – most students are authentically engaged
  • Well managed – students are willingly compliant, ritually engaged (meaning they do it for the teacher/grade, but not for the learning)
  • Dysfunctional – Many students actively reject the assigned task or substitute another activity.

We observe whether students are working and degree of enthusiasm. We also ask students what they are learning? Why they are learning it? Or where would they use this learning in the future?

To date, most classrooms are well managed. Students have been able to identify what they are learning, but rarely can they respond to why. Most indicate they are doing it for the test.

In the hands of teachers, this data combined with thoughtful consideration, can connect kids (and maybe even teachers) to content in relevant ways!

Other Suggestions: Schlechty gives numerous ways to collect data on student engagement primarily by asking the students themselves – surveys, interviews and then repeat them every few weeks to gauge engagement. He recommends posting the data in a teacher’s lounge.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Student Engagement

The issue of student engagement has come up again and again in work with schools as they implement instructional walkthroughs. Student engagement typically comes up in a checklist format as a YES or NO. This has never felt right to me. Fortunately I stumbled upon the work of Phil Schlechty. In Working on the Work (2002) He makes a case for five levels of engagement:

  1. Authentic engagement
  2. Ritual engagement
  3. Passive engagement
  4. Retreatism
  5. Rebellion

Click on the video The Way Things Are, The Way Things Should be to learn about the variation in levels of engagement.

The idea is that there is a huge difference in engagement when kids are copying material off the board or completing a worksheet Vs a hands on science experiment. It’s the students’ reaction to the work and its meaning that is at the heart of the different levels of engagement, the more meaningful the work, the more likely profound learning will take place.

That is not to say there is not a place for passive or ritual engagement. It is impossible to sustain authentic engagement 100% of the time. It’s too taxing. However, the absence authentic engagement should greatly concern us.

Stay tuned – I will share how we are applying Schlechty’s work to our instructional walkthrough process – getting beyond a yes/no.

 “What we need are schools organized in ways that put the joy back into teaching and that do not confuse rigor with rigor mortis.”

Schlechty, P. (2002). Working on the work: An action plan for teachers, principals, and superintendents. Jossey- Bass Education: San Francisco, CA.