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…
The reading wars are over (thank goodness for sound research!), but we still are at risk as we teach, model, practice and apply the skills necessary to develop phonemic awareness and phonics in our kids.
And here’s why: We are focusing on “Do they have the skill?” rather than “How automatically do they have that skill?”. And the success of our students, particularly in phonemic awareness and phonics, depends on our response to the second question. Automatically pulling up the skills to support “bigger”, more complex skills like comprehension and using context to determine meaning of unknown words is what is going to make or break the success of your kids.
Now, some of you might be thinking: OF COURSE we teach phonemic awareness and phonics! In fact, we do it EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes a day!
While that is likely true in nearly all (hopefully ALL!) of the K-2 classrooms and intervention classrooms, our work isn’t done when the kids just “get” the skill. They need to master the skill and then become automatic…and maintain it across time.
One of the things that has risen to the top of my “be concerned about” list is that when schools are using DIBELS and AIMSweb to benchmark and progress monitor kids, the phoneme segmentation fluency, letter naming fluency, nonsense word fluency and other phonemic awareness/phonics-based tasks just fall off. Whether kids have benchmarked or not!
For example, just last week I ran into a group of second grade strategic oral reading fluency students as we did our data review. When I asked if the students had “passed” the nonsense word reading fluency assessment in 1st grade, what we found is that they hadn’t – but because the text was no longer expected to be given in 2nd grade, we never flagged those kids as needing additional phonics support well into 2nd grade.
So, what were they getting? Hours of fluency practice each week.
Hmmm…strike you as a little off base? It sure did to me!
So we fixed the problem right away by getting kids into daily, timed review of letter sounds and sound spellings and then practice in blending words the “whole word blending” way – without having to sound out each sound and then recode the word. In other words – we trained them (in a plan that is lasting 6 weeks!) to look for the spelling patterns in words and quickly read those words.
The interesting conversation came after we did some progress monitoring on the nonsense word reading fluency: the teachers said, “But they’re reading those decodable books at 70-80%+ accuracy, so no wonder I didn’t think they needed additional phonics instruction!”
The point is – without fluency of skill, then the skill mastery may not be sufficient. AND that lack of fluency may not show up until later grades…so we have to be proactive. Actually, I would change our definition of “mastery” to include the element of fluency. Without it, we’re fooling ourselves.
So, here’s where I encourage you to start in analyzing how your students are doing on ANY skill. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they slow but accurate on the skill?
- Are they fast but inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they slow and inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they meeting the fluency rate on the skill?
Kids will fall into one of those four categories! And once we have sorted kids by skill into those categories, we now have information on how to provide additional support during small group instruction. If you have a slow but accurate student, then timed practice is key. If you have a fast but inaccurate student on a skill then you know your practice will be slowing them down in order to later speed them up. If they’re both slow and inaccurate, then some direct teaching on the skill (even though it’s been previously taught) is the right fit.
I guess my desire for all of us is that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of skill mastery for all of our kids. Fluency of skill IS going to make or break their reading independence now and in the future…especially when they encounter tougher text with lots of unknown words.
I encourage you to start by going back to your strategic and intensive kids and see if they “passed” those critical-to-pass assessments before the particular tests were no longer required in that grade level. Once you sort your kids according to the four types above, then you can more accurately point your interventions to what is really going to make a difference in their skill independence!
I often wonder if we changed our thinking about accountability in schools, if we’d get a better result in the classrooms?
Here’s what I’m thinking: Instead of focusing on ACCOUNTABILITY (of tests, of standards, of evaluations, of observations) we should focus on RESPONSIBILITY and create PURPOSE.
In fact, accountability in schools can just feel like “big brother’s watching over my shoulder” when it’s not attached to RESPONSIBILITY AND PURPOSE. Think about it, when we just go about our business and we’re focused on “meeting the expectations of ‘the district'”, there is little oomph (or joy!) in the work. But when I’m really super excited and invested in a particular subject area or technique I’m using with my kids, I’m teaching like my hair’s on fire – accountability or no accountability!
Here’s the deal, accountability in schools is a given – we don’t have a choice. BUT purpose? Well, we have a BIG OPPORTUNITY TO create, recreate and be motivated by purpose everyday. And that’s no one’s job but our own!
Let’s look at a good working definition of accountability: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.
Now let’s take a look at a definition of purpose:
1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. determination; resoluteness.
Here’s what popped out to me as I read those definitions: Purpose is not just a pie-in-the-sky idea or thought – it’s built upon action and RESULTS. And accountability is RESULTS driven, too!
Soooo….without purpose, then accountability is ALWAYS going to feel like “the district” or “the man” is breathing down our necks!
Let me tell you a little story that just happened THIS MORNING!
We work with some larger school districts with the goal of helping them implement their reading programs and get organized on their Common Core implementations. One of our districts has 19 elementary schools – they’re all trying to accomplish the SAME THING and they are held accountable for the same levels of performance: implement their reading programs so expertfully that they get 80%+ kids on benchmark just with their Tier I instruction! (By the way, it IS possible…email me if you want to know how!)
I had two emails from this particular client in my inbox this morning: 1 email from what I consider to be an “on fire” principal – SHE ISN’T MESSING AROUND! (My kind of gal!) She was asking for some feedback on a letter that she was sending her staff, motivating them to really power through until the holidays, rather than limp into the holidays – she was having them choose 2 kids in their classrooms that are not currently benchmark, but would be by December 15th!
And then 1 email from a very nice, kind principal complaining that he just “doesn’t have any time to get into classrooms because he spends his time putting out fires all day” and he’s behind on his observations and hasn’t met with his leadership team lately.
Well, I have news for ya: both principals have the same size schools, the same highly impacted, low poverty clientele and are held to the same standards…as they should be! One is getting it done and ASKING THE DISTRICT TO COME WALK THROUGH THE CLASSROOMS and the other is mulling over the same stuff as last year and is bemoaning why “the district” always shows up unannounced to walk through classrooms.
What’s the difference? Not accountability! They both have visits from the district!
The difference is PURPOSE LINKED TO ACCOUNTABILITY. The principal who asked for feedback from me on her mission for her teachers is doing what she’s doing because she’s passionate about the “doing” for their students…she’s not worrying at ALL about “the district” or “the test”. The other principal? He’s so focused on “the district” and “the test” that he’s, AT BEST, trying to meet the minimum requirement.
Doesn’t sound very inspiring to me…what do YOU think?
BUT HERE’S THE DEAL! Accountability is what “they” put into place to monitor school improvement, but meaning and purpose is what “we” put into place to drive us each day – – especially on those days when we don’t have accountability checks!
It’s like exercise, guys…do I get up and do my exercising when my exercising partner is sick and doesn’t show up on my back door at 5:30 a.m. or do I snooze and decide to sleep in? If I snooze and sleep in then I’m accountability driven – motivated only by my friend showing up on my back doorstep! If I get my tired and lazy behind up, then I’m purpose driven – I know that I am committed to improving my health even on those days I don’t feel like it!
So, you know I have to ask…in your work in your schools…are you accountability crabby or purposely going about your business?
So in our last two articles, we’ve looked at what it’s going to take to INCREMENTALLY implement the Common Core Standards – – – note the emphasis on incrementally! (We can’t continue to do the whole throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water thing we have the tendency to do in education!).
We looked at how you plan for one domain of the standards by using your current curriculum to figure out where you’re strong, where you’re weak and which Standards aren’t taught at all. Then we looked at creating common mini-assessments for the target domain.
Now we’ve got to look at how we’ll construct our lessons.
(It’s at this point that you might want to throw in the towel and think, “Can’t someone just write all of these lessons for me already? I mean, isn’t my time well spent on the teaching, not the creating portion of the Common Core?????”).
Well yes. And no.
Um, what I mean is this: you will have to put in the time up front to design the lessons that are going to be efficient and effective in getting kids to the point of mastery in the new standards. The cool thing is, that while you’re designing the lesson and mini-assessments, you’re going to get better at learning the Standards – they will become near second-nature to you. And that’s a GREAT thing!)
We’re going to start simply as we build our lessons – we’ll get more mature, fancier and even better at it as we go. The first goal? START SOMEWHERE!
Step 1: Read the standard thoroughly and completely. Read the standard from the grade levels prior and up a couple of grade levels above yours
Step 2: Jot down all of the vocabulary/academic language from the standard – you will need to weave this into your lesson, so keep your list close by
Step 3: Take a few minutes to brainstorm (DON’T OVERTHINK!) all of the necessary skills that go into “knowing” or mastering that standard – in other words, what does the standard assume that your kids will know how to do?
Step 4: Take a piece of blank paper and fold it in ½ and then ½ again. (This will give you 4 boxes…yes, I know I’m a total math wizard…please hold your applause)
Step 5: Jot “Teach” at the top of one box, “Model” at the top of another…then follow up with “Guided Practice” and “Application”
Step 6: Start creating your lessons by writing the instruction into each of the boxes – WHERE YOU CAN USE YOUR CURRICULUM, DO SO! It’s not likely that you’ll be starting from absolutely scratch in every box – but it IS likely that you’ll have to add and delete to make your lessons more standard-worthy
You may be thinking – – wait a minute Jackson! What if my lessons aren’t good? How do I know if they’re good? Can’t you just write them for me? I’ll pay you!! – – ha ha!
This is how you’ll know your lesson is successful – if the kids pass the mini-assessment. (See last week’s article)
Here’s your mantra for lesson designing: I CAN DO THIS. I’M LEARNING TO FLY THE PLANE WHILE I’M FLYING IT. MY LESSONS WILL IMPROVE IN THEIR DESIGN AND MATURE AS I DO THIS. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. THINK CAREFULLY, BUT DON’T GET STUCK ON OVERTHINKING.
Hi guys! Here’s a quick tip for you for this week….take LESS THAN A MINUTE to transform your comprehension instruction from
STICK-IN-THE-MUD TO SENSATIONAL!