So I just got off the phone with a potential client who said this to me in the middle of the call, “What I’d really like you to do is lead a discussion on a chapter of a book that we’re reading. And then if you could tie it back to the Title I workshop that we attended a few weeks back, that’d be great.”
I have to say, I was a bit perplexed by this because the reason this person called me in the first place was because they were in Year 3 of school improvement and it just didn’t seem like the most important thing to do was to read a chapter and discuss it. Or even to tie the discussion to a workshop.
First off, lots of our clients are in school improvement or heading there – that’s why they call us. So that fact wasn’t as striking. The most striking part of that request was this: they were going to TALK about doing stuff, but they weren’t interested in DOING stuff.
Now, I happen to know that this person who contacted me is a very good administrator with lots of great feedback from other colleagues (that’s how we got in touch with each other). I know that he is very motivated and interested in doing the right thing – and, most importantly, is interested in doing right by the kids. They just haven’t quite figured out what, of the work they should be doing, is going to have the biggest impact on kids.
Essentially, they are stuck in the “we’ve got to get some more professional development before we can do it” mode. It’s almost like schools in this position need a “blessing” from a trainer, presenter or author to do exactly what they already know they need to do. I felt like during the conversation, though, he knew exactly what his school needed to be doing. I can kinda relate to needing an “expert” to confirm what I already know.
Let me explain…
Awhile ago, we decided to create a new website – one that would be way more interactive, user friendly and one that could be updated multiple times a day without a web designer. So, we went looking for “the best” in the field.
And we found her.
We started the long, arduous (but also fun!) process of getting our website together – content, graphics, themes, colors, etc. About two weeks in, things started to seem kind of “off” – the communication was breaking down, some of our tried-and-true ideas were getting shot down even though our guts told us it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, we had to bid farewell to this web designer and pinch hit with another to finish the job. It wasn’t going to work.
It was a mess, but here was the deal: Just because we weren’t web designing experts, didn’t mean we didn’t know what we needed and what was going to be right for our readers and clients. In fact, we DID know, we just needed input and ideas from the experts to COMPLEMENT what we already knew to be true and necessary. We needed help (along with solid input) putting our plan into action.
The big idea is this: books, trainers and experts are useful IF YOU KNOW YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU NEED.
AND you don’t have to wait for experts or authors to “bless” your school improvement ideas before you get started…sometimes the experts are there to birth an idea for you or get you unstuck along the way to your final goal. Most of us can get stuck in the realm of GETTING STARTED. And sometimes we need a push into action.
So as I meandered through the call with the potential client I basically said this, “Do you REALLY want me to come and lead a book study that you could lead on your own? Or do you need help translating all of your PD and all of your readings into ACTION?”
Well, let’s just say, I’m on a plane in a few months to help them get started and put it into action…
I have run into so many folks who are spending an inordinate amount of time “unpacking the Common Core Standards.” When I ask them what they mean by that, they say something like, “Well, you know, unpacking the standards!” Like, duh! While I think that unpacking the standards (I’m still not super sure what that means – it’s one of those education-ese kind of things we say, I think) is important, I am concerned that we’re not taking the right things out of the suitcase and putting the right things back in.
Let me explain…
When we’re figuring out what a standard means and what impact it needs to have on my teaching, I think we ought to start by asking these simple questions:
- What is the language of the standard? What is it asking my students to DO?
- What level of thinking is the standard requiring of the kids? Is it a knowledge level task or a creation or evaluating task? (Referring to Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- What academic language from the standard is critical for my students to know? What should I teach? What should I tell?
- What does this standard assume my students already know how to do?
- Is this standard best taught on its own or in conjunction with other standards right away?
- Will teaching this standard require students to receive direct teaching (teach, model, practice, apply) or are they ready to go to the guided practice part right now?
- What materials do I currently have in place to teach this? What materials will need adjusting? What materials will I need to create/seek out in teaching this standard?
- What does the “mastery” of this standard look like? What will it look like when kids have mastered this standard?
You see, I’m really kind of worried that we will spend our time in committees and groups of teachers analyzing the standards for other people when the real learning for teachers comes from doing it for myself. That’s what these questions are about – asking MYSELF what I know, what I need to know, what my students know and what they need to know – – it’s about tailoring our work with the Common Core to MY students and YOUR students.
So whether you’re packing, unpacking or re-packing the standards, take a look at them in light of the above questions – they will allow you to truly tailor and differentiate instruction right away. No cookie-cutter approach to teaching the standards is going to lead to mastery. Careful studying, planning, tailoring, implementation and assessing are going to create a very simple pathway for Common Core mastery…and I, for one, can’t wait!
Text dependent questions are everything!
I remember the days when a consultant came to my school and she told us to have kids “cite their answers to everything.” In true education professional development (ha!) we overdid it…and basically lost the kids in the process! One of the more embarrassing things I’ll humble myself to mention (!) is that we had the kids cite where they found their answers in their unit and end-of-week assessments – and sometimes the process of taking the test would take 4+ hours…even for the benchmark kids! I know, I should be banned from the profession! Seriously!
I know that what we were trying to do is get kids to read what’s on the doggone page! I remember saying (and I KNOW you can relate to this!), “The answer is RIGHT THERE! All you have to do is read the text!” It WAS true, all they had to do was read the text. But I hadn’t quite taught them to read the text properly. And even if I had taught them to read the text properly, I wouldn’t have been even asking the right questions!
The deal was, I was just trying to follow directions and get kids to higher levels of comprehension. I can’t imagine that the consultant that came to help us meant for us to spend 4+ hours having kids cite the text but, hey, we were rule followers!
Needless to say, I know better now!
(AND, all of that work didn’t lead to higher levels of comprehension. I know – big SHOCK!)
What we know now is that by asking the right questions, we will require kids to closely read the text. And closely reading the text leads to comprehension independence!
So you might be wondering how on earth you determine that a question is text dependent or not? Well, here’s a simple checklist for you…Hint: I use this as my “checklist” for text-dependency…to make sure that my questions measure up.
- Are questions that can only be answered correctly by close reading of the text and demand careful attention to the text
- Require an understanding that extends beyond recalling facts
- Often require students to infer
- Do not depend on information from outside sources
- Provide access to increasing levels of complex text
- Call for careful and thoughtful teacher preparation
- Require time for students to process
I want to encourage you to try something – it’s a little something that will have huge impact on your alignment from current instruction into the Common Core. Take 10 questions that you might ask during text reading this week and analyze them for their “text dependent quality.”
In fact, here are a few Text Dependent stems…and then examples of actual questions for you to use.
|Look at _______ in the photographs on pages _____. Now look at _______ in the photographs on page ____. Write one way ______ on these pages are alike and one way they are different. Explain how the author lets you know this.
||Look at the animals in the photographs on pages 27 – 32. Now look at the animals in the photographs on page 47. Write one way the animals on these pages are alike and one way they are different. Explain how the author lets you know this.
|Based on the photographs and text on page ____, in your own words define the word __________.
||Based on the photographs and text on page 89, in your own words define the word teacher.
|Reread the heading and text on page _____. ____________________? Explain your answer.
||Reread the heading and text on page 197. How did slavery end? Explain your answer.
|On page _____, the author writes, “__________.” What does the author mean by the phrase, “_______”? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
||On page 33, the author writes, “The little boy was working as busy as a bee.” What does the author mean by the phrase, “busy as a bee”? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
|Look at the illustrations on page 422. Describe how the illustrations help the reader better understand the text.
|Why does the author tell us ___________________? (Pg. ____)
||Why does the author tell us time is a thief? (Pg. 70)
|Reread page __. What is the important information on this page?
|Use the information on page ____ to define ______. Why is ______ important?
||Use the information on page ____ to define pollen. Why is pollen important?
Here’s my big take-away with text-dependent questioning…if I expect my students to speak, write and read at a high level, then I have to make sure that my questions are at a high level! It’s only taken me 18 years in the field to figure this out. 😉
I had a meeting last week with my mentor and our conversation throughout the day rolled around the idea of teacher evaluation. What she taught me is that “teacher evaluation” is going to take on a whole new meaning…and it’s about time.
Here’s are some thoughts we batted around:
- Teacher evaluation has to turn from a “gotcha!” (as in “gotcha doing something wrong”) into a very important step in tailoring professional development for teachers
- Teacher evaluation is going to be one of the first steps in designing “individualized teacher plans” for professional development
- Long gone should be the “one size fits all” type of professional development – we MUST take into account our staff’s individual experience, expertise and skill
- Individualized professional development plans are going to require principals and coaches to have a much higher knowledge of how to diagnose and prescribe teacher professional development programs
- We are going to need to learn to turn back to having the “teachers doing the doing” – putting them in the lead. If it doesn’t come from the teachers, the work won’t penetrate the classroom level.
- Our greatest asset is our teaching staff – we have to cultivate, weed and prune our talent pool, just as any other field does
So let me play this out for a minute here…
I am a 7th grade teacher who has some struggles with lesson planning. My general teaching skill is pretty darn good, but in terms of creating cohesive lessons and mini-assessments for my content, I don’t have that skill. During an observation, my principal and coach realize that my delivery is solid, but when I have to create lessons where curriculum guides don’t exist, the overall complexity of my lessons is at about the 4th grade level.
In the “old” way of teacher evaluation, I would receive feedback (typically in written form) from my principal, detailing the problems in my lesson.
And that’s it.
Yep – try figuring out what happens next! Try getting some real coaching! In fact, I’m not quite sure what KIND of support I even need! Help!
Under the “new and improved” paradigm of teacher evaluation, my principal and coach would meet with me and talk through the lesson, asking me lots of questions about my lesson preparation practices, where I pull my materials and where I believe my lesson struggles originate. We would probably identify together that I need some lesson planning support and would be invited to the coach’s weekly “lesson plan retreat” that’s held after school for teachers who need some hand-holding in this area. My other department colleagues wouldn’t necessarily attend this training/coaching session because their needs are different than mine.
In fact, I teach next to Mr. Tate. He’s an excellent teacher, but this year he has a bunch of Gifted and Talented kids in his classroom for the first time. When he met with the principal to make his quarterly goals, his #1 goal was to learn about techniques for his Science class that are particularly supportive of the Gifted and Talented kids. So, the coach approaches Mr. Tate and lets him know that the district is running a 3 week webinar about how to plan lessons specific to Gifted and Talented kids. He signs up…and even comes and shares information with me after every class!
THIS is true differentiated evaluation as professional development.
Nowhere in that scenario do you hear, “You WHAT? You don’t KNOW that?????” The response from the leadership is “I’ll get you help so that you can move along in your mastery of teaching skills.”
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take so much coordination.” Yep – it is. But it’s going to become HOW we think WHEN we act with a tailoring mindset.
I think we’ve clung to traditional “everyone gets the same thing” professional development because it FELT like we were really doing something special – like we were actually giving people what they needed to become more efficient and effective in the classroom.
But the truth is this, no matter how you slice it: Our classroom teachers have all kinds of different needs!
We can’t possibly say that 90%+ of professional development needs are the same for every teacher, can we?
So, here’s my encouragement to you as you prepare for what, no doubt, will be the future of teacher evaluation: Chart out all of the different resources you have RIGHT NOW that would help you differentiate professional development.
Second step? Create a very simple survey for your teachers that give them an opportunity to respond freely to these questions:
- What is the #1 thing getting in the way of your teaching of the content?
- What kind of professional development do you think would be helpful in combating that “in the way” thing?
- What type of professional development leaves you feeling like you really learned a lot on a new/semi-new topic?
Just the answer to these simple questions will help you begin to tailor your school’s PD! And that’s a great start!
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein
What is student achievement anyway? When you’re looking at the umpteenth school improvement report, crunching your student data or figuring out who goes into the latest round of intervention, do you ever find yourself asking that question?
I do. And lots of folks we work with are asking the same question.
I think it’s time for some collaboration around what achievement REALLY is, looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like. As I’ve been mulling this over, I’ve had five statements rolling around my head about student achievement – I wonder if some thinking around these statements will help us decide upon a common definition about student achievement.
Take a peek…
Student Achievement Fact #1: It’s not about the test, but it’s about the test.
Big idea: Our tendency is to think of “the test” as some looming ogre or a kind of thing that is there to judge, hire/fire, skip grades/hold kids back, scare the heck out of my students and me kind of deal. Well, I have seen teachers who have used the test as a MOTIVATOR for their kids and even themselves! In the end, our teaching has to align with some common measure in order to determine how useful and helpful our instruction has been. Without a common measuring tool, there is no way to measure whether students are on target for long-term success. Just like the height/weight chart at the doctor’s office gives a pretty accurate prediction about important measurements, so should “the test”.
I often say, if we don’t stand for a high standard, then we’re automatically defaulting to the low standard. Eek!
Student Achievement Fact #2: Kids who are working at the appropriate achievement level should be able to AT LEAST past the test.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills pass the test. Period. Kids who are not solid on the skills, drive the teachers to do crazy things like cram before the test, think that testing at a certain time of the day is going to be the difference between a “pass” and “fail” performance. The bottom line is this: Get your kids solid on the skills and you don’t have a thing to worry about on “the test”. I’ve seen this in practice a whole slew of times.
Student Achievement Fact #3: It’s about a pattern, not an event.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills perform at a high level regularly – they have a history of past and more recent success on skill-based tests. So when it comes time to take “the test”, we know who is going to do well and who is not – – the writing is on the wall LONG before we even take “the test”. I don’t know about you, just because I did a 5k over Thanksgiving, doesn’t make me a “runner”. It was an event, believe me…not a pattern.
Student Achievement Fact #4: It’s not about the standards, but it’s about what the standards produce in the end.
Big Idea: Lots of folks are fussing and fighting about “what” to teach – and I think it’s a huge waste of time and a huge morale killer amongst education professionals. Here’s the deal: the standards that we are held to, IF TAUGHT THOROUGHLY AND SKILLFULLY, will produce students who are confidently mastered on important skills. We must keep our eyes on the prize and base all of the skill-related work that we do firmly rooted in the idea that “I am teaching you to do xyz so that you can do abc” – random skill practice doesn’t lead to standard mastery. By linking everything we do to the bigger, end result-kind of success for kids, we’re going to see a pay-out.
Student Achievement Fact #5: It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.
Big Idea: Get over what didn’t work in the past or what should’ve happened in the past and get to teaching. What you do tomorrow in class has a bigger impact on the future than what happened yesterday or last year. We should always operate in this mindset: What I’m doing right now with my students is the most powerful thing I could be doing with my time.
In the end – teaching really counts!!!!
Are there other “facts” that support different schools of thought than what you’ve just read?
Certainly! But, where I see so much of our “achievement calibration” work to be done is in the idea of mindset. In fact, I just emailed back and forth with a teacher that we support and her final words were: These kids WILL make benchmark…if it kills me! Now that’s one strong mindset! (She was also reaching out for very specific support, which tells you something about her commitment to her practices)
So, as you mull over the Facts above, I encourage you to not think of every way that I’m off base, obsess over every time-crunched moment of your instructional day, or every reason why this or that won’t work with your students.
But instead I’d like you to repeat this a few times: I wonder what would happen if…
And finish that sentence with something like this:
I wonder what would happen if…I used the test as a tool to help me figure out what I need to emphasize next week?
I wonder what would happen if…I taught everyday like all of my students were poised to pass the test?
I wonder what would happen if…I established a pattern of success from the very first test at the beginning of year with every student?
I wonder what would happen if…I corrected my students’ assessments and imagined them as 22 year olds, ten years from now?
I wonder what would happen if…I let go of the past results about my students and focused on what they can do today.
What do you think would happen?