Archives For Professional Development

Why should students be the only ones who have the opportunity to play games in class?

Game application programs are just as powerful an instructional  tool for teachers as they are for their students because game apps can deliver content to educators in an engaging and challenging way. Instead of sitting in professional development sessions, teachers can be like their students ….out of their seats trying to “beat the buzzer” with their response! 

Teams of teachers can challenge other teams of teachers on everything from best practices to trivia hidden in the student handbook, (just how well does everyone know the school dress code?) to organizing performance based assessments ( Choose: debate or poetry smack-down for Shakespeare?)

There are now multiple game applications that can easily deliver different kinds of content to teachers in grades K-12 and make professional development sessions memorable.

kahoot Kahoot! is just one of the game applications that can motivate teachers to participate. Teachers, like their students, can be highly motivated by the immediate competition these game apps create. Like their students, educators at all grade levels  do respond well to the points/rewards that game apps provide. And like their students, they can enjoy the immediate feedback the apps provided. This free, interactive platform records the results to the presenters, which can be used  to design the next level of professional development.

The Kahoot! website explains that their software allows educators the opportunity to:

“Create a fun learning game in minutes (called ‘kahoots’), made from a series of multiple choice questions.”

Once a game is made, it can be individualized with videos and images. Then, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen.”

Another game application that can be used is Quizizz, another quiz, poll, or survey program that uses game graphics with feedback to promote learning. Like Kahoot!, this game app can be individualized for content with videos and images. The promotional material for Quizizz explains that, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen to unite the lesson encouraging players to look up.”quizziz

I have used both the Kahoot! and Quizizz apps with teachers for professional development sessions.

Before using the game apps there were more than a few teachers who, exhausted from a day of teaching, would unenthusiastically go through the scheduled activity. 

But when they learned they could pull out their phones as a part of the presentation, they immediately became more engaged.  The teachers enrolled by using their phone for the quiz and began entering responses on their cell phones or tablets. In less than 20 minutes, I had covered the material that I wanted teachers to know and they remained highly engaged the entire time. They also learned how effective this tool could be if it was used in class on laptops or mobile devices.

When a quiz or survey or poll is created on the game platform, a PIN code is assigned so that everyone can join the activity. Then, the quiz is projected (LCD, Smartboard, Eno board, etc) at the front of the classroom where it can be seen by the whole class so the audience can play together in real-time. The game applications can be used on laptops or personal devices. Depending on which game application is used, devices can display color and symbol choices; the actual answer is viewed on the classroom screen.

A presenter can control the pace of the activity by setting a time limit for each question, which also allows time for information to process or for discussions to take place. As teachers answer questions, they are awarded points for correct answers and the timeliness of their responses. A scoreboard is displayed on the teacher’s screen. Watching that scoreboard with highly engaged teachers proves that nothing is better to incentivize others than a competition with inconsequential rewards!

Game applications can be used for all levels of ability, and the multiple choice option can be set for more than one correct answer. There are options to create discussion questions (“Which of these texts are best used for close reading ?”) or to create surveys (“What percentage of the midterm should contain objective-type questions?”)

I have used the game apps in particular to begin presentations on literacy by taking information from a research study such as Data from Kids Wireless Use Facts:

  • % of teenagers,13 -17, who “occasionally” access the Internet with tablets & mobile devices? (91%)
  • Over ___ % of parents said schools should make more use of mobile devices for education? (50%)

The data available in research studies can better inform teachers about the growing impact of technology on their students and the academic environment.

Digital apps like Kahoot! and Quizizz game platforms are the kind of technology that David Lassner, President of the University of Hawaii and informational technology expert, meant when he said,

“The real power of interactive technologies is that they let us learn in ways that aren’t otherwise possible or practical.”

The “us” in Lassner’s statement should not limited to the students. Teacher professional development with interactive technologies can be a critical part of a successful education program. It can be engaging. It can be challenging. It is practical, and it is certainly possible.

I will be presenting both of these game apps at the National Council of Teachers of English this coming Saturday, November 19th in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be basing the Kahoot! and Quizziz using information on teenagers and literacy. If you are down at NCTE, stop in at Table 7!screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-10-14-22-pm

 

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F Sessions / 8:00–9:15 a.m. TABLE 7: “Get Your Phone App On!”

Last month, I travelled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the 2015 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention with two fellow teachers to participate in poster sessions under the topic Digital Pedagogies and Approaches to Media. 

One of the poster session was titled  “Every Picture Tells a Story”  and offered by Catherine Flynn, the Literacy Specialist at the K-8 elementary school in Sherman, Connecticut. Her presentation promoted the use of art as a literacy strategy in English/Language Arts classrooms as well as other content area classrooms. She offered examples of lessons on using art to enhance academic background knowledge at multiple grade levels. Background knowledge is critical to improving literacy since students who literally have  “pictures in their heads” of an idea, time period, or event are better able to comprehend the pictures created by words in a text. Flynn illustrated how abstract concepts of point of view, context, and perspective can be made understandable by using art to engage students in conversations across time and place. She also provided viewers with research that supports the use of art  to improve student inferential skills and in analyzing interpretations. Her materials can be accessed on this Google Doc and she can be contacted through her Twitter:@flynn_catherine and her excellent blog https://readingtothecore.wordpress.com/

The other presentation was offered by Caitlin Pinto, a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Harry Bailey Middle School in West Haven, Connecticut. I had already posted about Caitlin’s presentation at Here We Go, Pinto. Her lesson had students respond to reading on social media platforms or using social media templates to develop many of the skills that we want our students: analyzing, summarizing, researching, and making text to text connections. The social media platforms she uses are familiar to students who can transfer the strategies of each and apply them to the more traditional roles in literature circles. Her Twitter handle is @cpinto_iteach.

Over 30 educators stopped to speak one-to-one with Catherine or Caitlin, and the conversations about the different lessons they taught were each several minutes long. Both were engaged sharing with peers for the entire 90 minutes.  Moreover, as an example of the effectiveness in using social media, a tweet I posted about Caitlin’s use of showing how she uses the Twitter format for some roles in literature circles has been viewed 1,677 times (see below).

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A poster session is not given in a dedicated room. The number of people who stopped to talk, however, exceeded expectations. At each display, we received more response from attendees than several of the 20-minute presentations held elsewhere during the convention. In this context, poster sessions were great way for these new presenters to become comfortable and network personally with other teachers.

I have written about the word context and this convention in a previous post where I mentioned that the etymology of the word context comes from the 15th C. Latin contextus meaning “a joining together”. The word context was originally the past participle of contexere, which means to “to weave together,” from com- “together” + texere “to weave, to make”.

The poster sessions are an example of how teachers “join together” in opportunities to show how they “make” lessons that help students improve their literacy skills. Catherine’s lessons using art to improve student inferential skills and in analyzing interpretations and Caitlin’s lessons using social media to help students with analyzing, summarizing, researching, and making text to text connections are both evidence of how best practices can be shared peer-to-peer at the NCTE convention.

NCTE poster sessions = contextus=an example of joining [educators] together.

Dear Teacher,

As the school year moves forward,  full of…… anyone? anyone? 

And you are no doubt planning the next …..anyone? anyone?

How can you get students to be more engaged?….. anyone? anyone?

How do you get them to respond?….. anyone? anyone?

Just wait.

Instead of droning on and asking question after question, just wait.

Three (3) seconds should do the trick.

That was the minimum amount of time Mary Budd Rowe found in order to move students from passive droolers to active listeners. Her seminal study (1972)  “Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control” set the ground work for the use of wait-time in the classroom.

The “wait-time” of three (3) seconds (or more) is the length of the pause or period of silence that should follow a teacher’s question.  In gathering her data, Budd observed classroom behaviors where the time between the teacher’s question and an answer then given by the teacher “rarely lasted more than 1.5 seconds in typical classrooms.” Some classroom observations also revealed that if a student managed to get a response in, teachers tended to ask another question within an average time span of .09th of a second. Budd noted that many teachers engaged in rapid-fire questioning, especially with low-level questions based on recall.

In contrast, when there was a period of silence after a question that lasted at least three (3) seconds, Budd noted a number of positive outcomes for students. The length and correctness of student responses increased, and the number of their “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreased. The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increased as well as the scores of students on academic achievement tests.

Even more impressive was the positive outcome for teachers who deliberately waited three seconds or more. Their questioning strategies tend to be more varied and flexible, the number of questions decreased, and their expectations for student performance appeared to change. They increased the quality and variety of their questions including those that required more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.

Rowe found that wait-time on the part of teachers increased the amount of “think-time” on the part of students, shifting them from passive to active learning in the classroom.

Building on Rowe’s research, Robert J. Stahl, a professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction, Arizona State University, Tempe, published his own research several years later (1990)  Using “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. In these findings, he constructed the concept of “think-time”.

Think-time can be defined as a distinct period of uninterrupted silence by the teacher and all students so that they both can complete appropriate information processing tasks, feelings, oral responses, and actions. (Stahl,1990)

Stahl noted other variables, including the quality of questions, in improving student engagement. Vague or confusing questions would confuse or frustrate students, no matter how long a teacher waited for a response.

Stahl offered eight ways to identify pauses in the classroom so that teachers could  recognize when and where “wait-time” silence can be effectively used as “think-time” and to see how these could be employed as instructional strategies. Some of these include the Post-Teacher Question Wait-Time that requires at least 3 seconds of uninterrupted silence after a teacher’s clear, well-structured question, so that students have sufficient uninterrupted time to first consider and then respond. There is also the pause identified as Post-Student’s Response Wait-Time is three (3) or more seconds of uninterrupted silence that occurs after a student has completed a response and while other students are considering volunteering. This could be way that academic discussions are facilitated. There was also the Impact Pause-Time when a teach may use a dramatic pause way to place an emphasis on material. This pause may continue for longer periods, up through several minutes, depending upon the time needed for thinking.

Stahl’s research, along with Rowe’s, demonstrated that silence-even for as little as 3 seconds- can be a powerful instructional tool. Those three seconds can be enough to provide time for students to frame their own questions or to finish their previously started answers.

Just think…and wait.

Three seconds.
How hard can that be? (..one one-thousand; two one-thousand; three one-thousand….) Anyone?  Anyone?

During the 88th Saturday Reunion Weekend at Teacher’s College in NYC (3/28/15), author and educator Kylene Beers delivered three professional development sessions based on Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, a book she co-authored with Bob Probst. Each session was overflowing with standing room only crowds.Screenshot 2015-03-28 22.29.02

During the afternoon keynote in the Nave of Riverside Church, she delivered her beliefs, and every one of the 2,100 seats was filled.

Screenshot 2015-03-28 20.51.18She opened her address with a historical connection between literacy and power by referring first to the notion that years ago a signature was all that was necessary to prove a person literate. Exploiting this belief were those in power who prepared and wrote contracts, becoming wealthy at the expense of those who could only sign their names with an “X”.

“Literacy in this country has always been tied to wealth.” Beers explained adding, “With literacy comes power, and with power comes great privilege.”

This was the theme of her keynote, that in this age of communication and messaging, literacy equals power and privilege.

Moving to the present and the communication and messaging skills necessary for the 21st Century, Beers justified improving  literacy skills to operate on digital platforms as one way to empower students, but she called into question the practice of prevention by some school districts.

“When schools say they do not want to have students develop a digital footprint,” she cautioned, “they limit their students access to that kind of power.”

Continuing to argue for the empowered students, Beers directed the audience’s attention to making learning relevant for students remarking,  “There is a problem if everything is assigned by me!” By letting students choose what they want to read, she suggested that teachers can make learning relevant for the student. Employing choice to encourage more reading, however, contrasts to the recommendations of the Common Core State Standards that students read fewer texts in order to read “closer.”

“Why fewer?” she asked the crowd of educators, “when the single best predictor is of success is volume of reading. One book for six weeks will never be as helpful as six books in six weeks.”

Teachers must let the students choose what they want to read, Beers argued, raising her voice:

“Damn the Lexiles ! The best book is the one the kid chooses to read… [a student’s] ‘want-ability’ is more important than readability.”

And what should students read? Beers asked the crowd.

“Literature.”

“In the 21st Century, the most important role that literature plays is in developing student values such as compassion and empathy,” she contended. “Brain research shows we get to that compassion best through the teaching of literature.”

Beers called attention to recent disturbing headline events that had students marginalize others: racist chants made by a fraternity, and a teenager’s suicide due to bullying.

It is the role of literature, she explained, to give the reader the experience being the outsider, the marginalized. Reading and learning from literature gives students an understanding of others and an opportunity to lead “literate lives measured by decency, civility, respect, compassion, and, at the very least, ethical behavior.”

Coming to the end of the keynote, Beers saved her scorn for the answer-driven test preparation and testing that dominates schools today:

“A curriculum built on test prep might raise scores, but it will fail to raise curiosity, creativity, and compassion.”

Beers castigated the limits of “bubbled” answers by pointing out that deep thinking never begins with an answer. In connecting back to the role of literature in education she added, “Ethics and compassion are not so easily bubbled.”

As a final invocation Beers reiterated her belief in teachers, those who have met the challenges in order to encourage all students and who never needed a mandate to leave no child behind:

“Success is not found in a test; great teachers are our best hope for a better tomorrow!”

The crowd erupted into applause paying tribute to Kylene Beers, an leader in education whose strong voice reverberated in the cathedral and whose equally strong beliefs reverberated with their own.

One Word Text Complexity

March 23, 2015 — 1 Comment

I recently attended the 2nd Annual Conference for The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Doing double duty as keynote speaker and presenter, author and blogger Vicki Vinton conducted two workshops on text complexity and how students read complex texts.

Vicki Vinton's previous book

Vicki Vinton’s earlier book on reading; Good news, she is writing another!

As an opening exercise, she asked those in attendance in the afternoon session to sum up their attitudes or feelings at that moment using only one word. She explained that while she is in the process of writing a book on the topic of text complexity, she sometimes feels overwhelmed in trying to meet deadlines and keep up with work responsibilities. She said she had chosen a word to sum up her feelings.

On a slide was her word: “Breathe.”

Some of the participants’ words?

Uncertainty
Joy
Time
Try
Action
Happy
Quality
Discover

My word? I combined the words try and action; my word was traction.

This opening activity mimicked how readers approach a complex text. In asking each member of her audience to select a word, Vicki explained that she was using the exercise as an ice breaker. She had established a purpose. Her request to have each person choose only one word to sum up an attitude required that each participant had to tap into his or her background knowledge (schema). As Vicki wrote each single word on the chart paper, the words formed a contextual coherence. Individually, these words were in the abstract, but listed collectively on the page, they provided an emotional portrait of the attendees in the session.

When readers read complex texts, they must perform many of the same steps we performed. Readers must establish a purpose for reading. Readers must tap into their own background knowledge, just as we did when Vicki requested that we select a single word. Our choices illustrated how readers must rely heavily on knowledge of word meanings when reading complex texts.  Finally, a reader needs to recognize a coherence; how words in a text connect to each other. The attendees in Vicki’s session had a chance to recognize the connection of their words to the education profession.

Had we been given the time, we might have explained in more detail why we had chosen our particular words. I would have had the opportunity to explain why I had selected the traction. The dictionary defines traction as:

1: the act of drawing : the state of being drawn
2: the adhesive friction of a body on a surface on which it moves (as of a wheel on a rail)
3: a pulling force applied to a skeletal structure (as a broken bone) by using a special device <a traction splint>; also: a state of tension created by such a pulling force

Of the three possible meanings, my reason for choosing traction is most closely associated with the second definition. One of my educational objectives this year is to help students in my district to make gains in reading and writing. While that means I may encounter some “friction” in meeting this goal, I must be careful about the degree of “tension” that I create as I work to be a “pulling force” in improving literacy.

The complex thinking that began Vicki’s presentation came from her request to choose only one word proving that text complexity has nothing to do with length; text complexity can be found in brevity.

Vicki’s opening exercise was an excellent way to highlight the stages all readers can experience in reading complex texts. Her presentation developed many of these ideas that she promised would be outlined in the book she is currently writing. While the working title Embracing Complexity is, according to her, “subject to change,” the book will offer problem-based approach to the teaching of reading.

I look forward to reading her book when it is published.

In the meantime, I have a new word: anticipation.

Screenshot 2015-03-18 07.04.18Saturday, March 14th, Cornelius Minor, a Staff Developer at The Reading & Writing Project gave the luncheon keynote address to over 300 educators at the 2nd Annual Conference for  The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

While he began his address with humor and participation, Minor quickly got to the serious matter of his topic:

“In a world of inequity, how are we giving tools to students to let them become heroes to rescue themselves?”

For those not in attendance, there could be some confusion on Minor’s use of the term “hero”; the word is commonly associated with superhero characters from the Marvel or DC Comics. Minor himself even referenced the superhero Batman in his speech in order to make his claim that teachers are the voice-overs in their students’ lives. He suggested that teachers could emulate the voice of Batman’s mentor, Lucius Fox who is played in the films by the actor Morgan Freeman.

The role of the mentor as the “voice-over” is an integral part of the hero’s journey archetype. In the classic hero’s journey, in film and in literature, there are twelve (12) steps.  Step 1 begins in the Ordinary World, when the hero hears a Call to Adventure (step 2), which He or She initially Refuses (step 3). By step 4, the hero encounters someone who can give him advice in order to prepare for the journey ahead. That someone in step 4 is The Mentor, a character that students are already familiar with some examples from films.

Students at every grade level can name film mentors such as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz, mentor to Dorothy; Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, mentor to Luke Skywalker; and Gandalf, mentor to both Hobbits, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, in the the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Minor, however, asked his audience to turn from cinema’s world of fantasy in order to suggest the role the ordinary teacher plays everyday is as powerful as these other mentors.

“Think about that Morgan Freeman voiceover in the movie…. to ‘Be the Batman,'”intoned Minor enthusiastically in order to illustrate that every student needs to hear that voice-over in their heads to “Be the hero” of their life.

While teachers may lack the gravely voice of Morgan Freeman, teachers can help their students when they decide to Cross the First Threshold into adventure (step 5) and meet Tests, Allies, Enemies (step 6) before taking a New Approach (step 7) when setbacks occur day by day, grade by grade.

Just as the characters in epic literature or in film Confront Ordeals (step 8), teachers in real life can contribute by helping students Achieve Success and Rewards (step 9) as they prepare to Return to the Ordinary World with new knowledge (step 10). Helping students achieve success is critical to prepare students for future tests, both literal and figurative (step 11), and the final step 12 is when students finally complete the journey with knowledge, literally the “elixir”, which will be used to help others.

I just completed attending the ICT Language Learning Conference for Learning Language where ICT stands for “information communication technologies,” a term that encompasses both methods and technology resources. Here in the United States, the most appropriate synonym would be what we refer to as”IT” or information technology. (So, if you are in the US and see “ICT”, please read “IT”)

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The winding streets of Florence, Italy

This international conference was held in Florence, Italy, a city of amazing architecture, museums crammed with magnificent art, winding streets and incredibly narrow sidewalks. Finding the right path through the city maze was challenging.

While I was at the conference, I had an opportunity to compare my understanding of the education systems in the United States with several educational systems in other 54 countries. I was fortunate to share a presentation created with fellow educator Amy Nocton, a world language teacher at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut. Our session (Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate)  highlighted how we use blogging in our instruction in grades 6-12.

Because of my own interests, I attended sessions that featured integrating technology in instruction. After a dozen sessions, I came to three important takeaways:

1. Students at every grade level are more motivated when content is integrated with ICTs;

2. Measuring the effectiveness of ICTs poses a challenge for all stakeholders;

3. Educators have limitations in integrating ICTs.

The issues in these three takeaways are the same issues that I see in the education systems in the United States. We educators know that the students enjoy using technology as a learning tool, but we are not sure which of these tools are the most effective in meeting the needs of students while delivering instruction. The concern of educators worldwide in accessing or “grading” students when they use ICTs is a major roadblock, a concern aggravated by individual comfort levels for educators using ICT. An individual educator’s aggravation may increase exponentially  against a rapidly changing technology landscape where platforms and devices change but educational systems and their filters and limitations appear to crawl towards the end of the 20th Century.

In short, we educators are never going to learn all this stuff.

I suppose it is comforting to see the same problems that American educators experience are playing out on a global scale. At the least, we are not alone.

On the other hand, it is frustrating to see that there are educators from other countries perseverating on the same problems. Everyone seems to recognize the excitement generated when ICTs are used in class, but there are choruses (and in many different languages at this conference), of “We still do not have access!” or “Are these ICTs really working?” or even “Many teachers do not know how to use the ICTs!”

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When on this narrow path….

After several presentations, I also grew concerned that ICTs perceived as limited to assessment measurement.  A few presenters offered their research with highly scripted programs where students could be “interactive” by answering predictably scripted responses. While these scripted programs are a step more engaging than a curriculum prescribed textbook, they are only a small digital step above the pencil and (scantron) form type of response. Such controlled platforms are on the same path as the testing programs (SBAC, PARCC) being developed back in the United States to address the need, or the mandates, in measuring student understanding. Even at this conference, the message about the ability of ICTs to assess and grade may be drowning out the more creative possibilities that ICTs offer.

In contrast, I did hear a reference to student choice where a presenter, Feyza Nur Ekizer of Giza University, offered her students a chance to develop “knowledge envelopes” or portfolios to gather as much information on a topic so they would be prepared to answer with a written response on that topic. She gave her students choice in what they found on a broad topic (ex: love), and reported (not surprisingly) that the students wrote longer and more detailed responses than they ever had before in a response weeks later. Her use of technology was minimal, but the students had control over their paths of inquiry in gathering information for their “knowledge envelopes.”

Florence side 2

…or on this narrow path…

At this time in digital history, there are many platforms available for student to choose how and what to gather for information in authentic inquiry research.The presenters at this conference had done a great deal of work, and they shared their learning on the platforms they had chosen for their own inquiry. We were, as are our students, the passive recipients of information; we were on each presenter’s narrowed path.

Worldwide, our students (K-12) are far more comfortable working across platforms in gathering information (from websites, social media, blogs, and other visual/audio media) than their educators. Why would we want them to step backwards and use only what we require to prove their understanding? We should not limit the use of ICTs to assessment delivery systems when students can use ICT to create their own multi-media texts individually and collaboratively if they are given the opportunity.

...there may be little choice.

…there may be little choice.

In addition, students (worldwide!) should not have to wait for educators to become experts with ICTs when platforms are growing exponentially. Instead of trying to master the expanding field of ICTs, educators must see how the expertise they already have in a content area should be used to guide students through choice.

The role of teacher should shift to guiding students in developing content and understanding. Teachers who are skilled in a discipline’s content can help students determine the accuracy, relevancy, and legitimacy of information in developing student inquiry on topics.

ICTs must not be the exclusive means of measuring understanding, instead ICTs should be included in how students develop their understanding of content.

For students, there are many different paths (or platforms) to choose in learning content and there are certainly more paths to come. ICT should not be used exclusively to restrict students to the narrow paths of measurement alone. Based on my discussions with other attendees, there may be other educators from the conference who recognize how much this ICT path of student choice and inquiry may be narrowing unless we act to change it.

The amazing city of Florence, Italy!

The amazing city of Florence, Italy!

Students will encounter challenges in choosing ways to use ICTs as I did walking the narrow pathways on city streets of Florence witnessing amazing and magnificent sites. Through student choice in ICTs coupled with teacher guidance, students will also gain the freedom to explore those amazing and magnificent topics that interest them.

Not sure how November became so loaded with conventions, but Thanksgiving holiday plans have taken a side seat to presentations. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to present at International Conference ICT for Language Learning in Florence, Italy, (11/9-14) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) section (11/23-25) of the National Conference of English Teachers in Washington, D.C.

These opportunities to present nationally and internationally have come as a result of this blog and connections I have made with other educators who use social media to connect and to collaborate. So, it is not surprising that the first session I will be presenting in Florence with world languages teacher Amy Nocton is titled “Blogging to Share, Exchange and Collaborate”. I met Amy through her husband, Jason Courtmanche Director of Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. She is a world language teacher (Spanish and Italian) at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut, and she needed help setting up her classroom blog, Perdidos en sus pensamientos. Her success with this technology in offering students an opportunity to choose topics as part of  is best summed up by the sentiments of one of her students who began posting more than a year ago. Her student Annie Maclachlan noted:

Screenshot 2014-11-12 04.44.15

Presenting on 11/13/14 “Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate”; student quote from the  on the right

“Instead of writing to a rubric, I wrote what I wanted, how I wanted. I wrote about what interested me, because I firmly believed that whoever took the time to go on the blog would love hearing what I had to say. And this was a good feeling. It was a feeling of complete intellectual freedom, a feeling that I believe everyone should experience at least once.”

Like Amy’s student, my students also enjoyed the freedom to explore a topic and publish for a world audience. Sharing how our students can connect with readers from all over the globe at a conference with teachers from all over the globe has an internal reverberation. We have the chance to see how others are guiding students so we can better prepare them to share their ideas and understandings with local and global audiences.

This opportunity has also given me the chance to visit the city of Florence with its amazing architecture and even more wonderful art collections.  To say that my jaw has dropped on more than one occasion is an understatement.

After this cultural saturation, I return home only to head out to the National Conference of English Teachers Conference in D.C. There I will be presenting “It’s Not the Math in the Literacy Standards; It’s the Literacy in the Math Standards” at the Council for English Leadership section of the program. I will be presenting with my former colleague Stephanie Pixley, from Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

I have already written about the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards (English/Language Arts Can Persevere with Math Practice Standard #1and Author’s Craft Revealed Through Mathematical Practice Standard #7 ) on this blog, and this presentation will feature many of the ideas I outlined in these posts.

Screenshot 2014-11-13 01.57.03The NCTE Conference is usually so jammed packed full of sessions that my heads spins. I do not think I will be afforded any museum time there as I want to see many of the sessions. I especially want to see sessions offered by other bloggers who I have met socially and virtually, including one offered by Fran McVeigh, Vicki Vinton, and Mary Lee Hahn“It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiosity, Openness, Creativity and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading.”

Needless to say, I have not thought about turkey, stuffing, or any other side dish, but I am confident after these next two weeks that I will have plenty of photos to share and things to talk about and add to the conversation at the holiday table.

At the intersection of data and evaluation, here is a hypothetical scenario:Screenshot 2014-06-08 20.56.29

A young teacher meets an evaluator for a mid-year meeting.

“85 % of the students are meeting the goal of 50% or better, in fact they just scored an average of 62.5%,” the young teacher says.

“That is impressive,” the evaluator responds noting that the teacher had obviously met his goal. “Perhaps,you could also explain how the data illustrates individual student performance and not just the class average?”

“Well,” says the teacher offering a printout, “according to the (Blank) test, this student went up 741 points, and this student went up….” he continues to read from the  spreadsheet, “81points…and this student went up, um, 431 points, and…”

“So,” replies the evaluator, “these points mean what? Grade levels? Stanine? Standard score?”

“I’m not sure,” says the young teacher, looking a bit embarrassed, “I mean, I know my students have improved, they are moving up, and they are now at a 62.5% average, but…” he pauses.

“You don’t know what these points mean,” answers the evaluator, “why not?”

This teacher who tracked an upward trajectory of points was able to illustrate a trend that his students are improving, but the numbers or points his students receive are meaningless without data analysis. What doesn’t he know?

“We just were told to do the test. No one has explained anything…yet,” he admits.

There will need to be time for a great deal of explaining as the new standardized tests, Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), that measure the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are implemented over the next few years. These digital tests are part of an educational reform mandate that will require teachers at every grade level to become adept at interpreting data for use in instruction. This interpretation will require dedicated professional development at every grade level.

Understanding how to interpret data from these new standardized tests and others must be part of every teacher’s professional development plan. Understanding a test’s metrics is critical because there exists the possibility of misinterpreting results.  For example, the data in the above scenario would appear that one student (+741 points) is making enormous leaps forward while another student (+81) is lagging behind. But suppose how different the data analysis would be if the scale of measuring student performance on this particular test was organized in levels of 500 point increments. In that circumstance, one student’s improvement of +741 may not seem so impressive and a student achieving +431 may be falling short of moving up a level. Or perhaps, the data might reveal that a student’s improvement of 81 points is not minimal, because that student had already maxed out towards the top of the scale. In the drive to improve student performance, all teachers must have a clear understanding of how the results are measured, what skills are tested, and how can this information can be used to drive instruction.

Therefore, professional development must include information on the metrics for how student performance will be measured for each different test. But professional development for data analysis cannot stop at the powerpoint!   Data analysis training cannot come “canned,” especially, if the professional development is marketed by a testing company. Too often teachers are given information about testing metrics by those outside the classroom with little opportunity to see how the data can help their practice in their individual classrooms. Professional development must include the conversations and collaborations that allow teachers to share how they could use or do use data in the classroom. Such conversations and collaborations with other teachers will provide opportunities for teachers to review these test results to support or contradict data from other assessments.

Such conversations and collaborations will also allow teachers to revise lessons or units and update curriculum to address weakness exposed by data from a variety of assessments. Interpreting data must be an ongoing collective practice for teachers at every grade level; teacher competency with data will come with familiarity.

In addition, the collection of data should be on a software platform that is accessible and integrated with other school assessment programs. The collection of data must be both transparent in the collection of results and secure in protecting the privacy of each student. The benefit of technology is that digital testing platforms should be able to calculate results in a timely manner in order to free up the time teachers can have to implement changes suggested because of data analysis. Most importantly, teachers should be trained how to use this software platform.

Student data is a critical in evaluating both teacher performance and curriculum effectiveness, and teachers must be trained how to interpret rich pool of data that is coming from new standardized tests. Without the professional development steps detailed above, however, evaluation conversations in the future might sound like the response in the opening scenario:

“We just were told to do the test. No one has explained anything…yet.”

The 86th Saturday Reunion (3/22/14) at Teacher’s College in NYC was decidedly political. Not political as in elections or party affiliation, but political as education is critical to “the public affairs of a country.”

The morning keynote address by Diane Ravitch set the agenda. Ravitch is an education historian and an author who served as Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush.  She was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; this Saturday, she returned to speak at Riverside Cathedral.

She began by recalling another political era, calling the cathedral the “sacred space” where William Sloan Coffin had spoken out against the Vietnam War.  This time Ravitch was speaking out against the war on public education.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.48.58 AMShe began by alerting the enormous crowd of teachers about the Network for Public Education. This year-old network was established to, “Give the [us] the courage to fight; our motto is ‘We are are many, they are few, we will prevail’,” she claimed.

Screenshot 2014-03-23 19.04.39“I wrote Reign of Error for you to use as ammunition… but, for heaven’s sakes, don’t buy it,” she insisted, “borrow it from the library, but use it to fight back the efforts to undermine education.”

Ravitch has been organizing a defense that is aimed at exposing the corporate take over of education that is endemic to this country alone. She countered that other nations have “no charters and no vouchers,” adding that “charters and vouchers divide communities” in economic funding. She challenged the treatment of teachers in the USA, insisting that other nations respect teachers and do not let “amateurs become principals and superintendents.” 

She spoke of challenges in providing for the inequities in education, detailing that 25% of children today live in poverty, and she demanded to know how our public schools will survive when education reformers push to replace public schools that accept everyone with schools that are privately managed.

She recounted instances of publicly funded charter schools that teach creationism and other “17th century STEM subjects,” and she railed against a push to eliminate local school boards.
“You may want to get rid of members of your local school board,” she quipped, “but there is a democratic process for that; this is an attack on democracy itself.”

“What is the end game?” she asked after the litany of charges against education reform, and then answered her question, “Nothing less than the elimination of teaching as a profession, systematically aided and abetted by the Department of Education.”

Ravitch continued her argument claiming that, “The education reformer narrative is a hoax, and they [education reformers] cannot win if they continue to perpetrate hoaxes.” She noted several indicators that speak to current successes in public education: falling dropout rates, higher graduation rates, higher minority scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

“We have an incredibly successful system overwhelmed by a high test prep curriculum,” she declared. “The reformers’ passion is for firing teachers. They suggest, ‘Let’s test every child every year and we’ll see what teachers get low scores, then those are the bad teachers,’ she intoned. “They fire 5-10% of teachers when they should be coming up ways to recruit and support teachers.”

Teach for America was a particular target of her scorn as she argued, “Teach for America is not an answer,” noting that reformers who rail against university and college preparation programs for teachers, and complain that first year teachers are “poorly trained are the same reformers that encourage the placement of 10,000 TFA graduates annually into schools, despite their minimal six weeks of teacher training. “They [TFA] leave in two years,” she continued, “and we have lost so many teachers. We are reducing the status of teachers. Who will want to teach? Many are shunning the profession; they [teachers] are getting rid of themselves.”

More scorn was heaped upon teacher evaluation systems where billions of dollar have been spent. “Many states have added value added measurements (VAM) to rate teacher effectiveness,” she noted. One such VAM is the inclusion of standardized test scores in rating teachers, however, Ravitch asserted, “most teachers do not teach the tested subjects (math and English). To assign [these] scores to all teachers is totally insane.”

Even more scorn was directed towards Bill Gates, as she maintained “The Gates Foundation has paid millions to have these [tests] written.” Gates himself has been touring the country this year in support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a tour that included an opportunity “to dine with over 80 senators” that did not escape her attention. Neither did his comment suggesting “it might take10 years to see if this stuff works.”
“You have to admit he has chutzpah,” she quipped. Her more salient point was in her statement, “One man has bought and paid for an entire nation’s education program.”

Her objections to the CCSS are rooted in its creation, and in its rapid adoption and implementation in 45 states.
She objected to the lack of educators involved in developing the standards. She reminded the crowd that only four agencies were involved in the creation: the  National Association of Governors; the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO); and two educational organizations, Achieve, devoted to improving the rigor and clarity of the process of standard-setting and testing, and Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of the Common Core State Standards for all students. She  specifically called out David Coleman, a non-educator and a former treasurer to the controversial Michelle Rhee’s Student’s First enterprise,who now serves as president of the College Board. (See my previous posts on Coleman here and here)

Ravitch commented also on the language that education reformers made in promoting the CCSS, standards that force schools to”Jump into the deep end of the pool” or standards that “rip off the bandaid” asking, “Why do they use such sadistic language? These are our children!”

“This small group [CCSS writers],” she continued, “was aided by the ACT and presented the CCSS as a fait accompli.” She added that the writing process of the CCSS was not transparent, and that, in violation of the National Standards Institute protocols,“there is no appeals process for standards that are seen as incorrect.” Moreover, although teachers were invited to “review” the CCSS,  the standards themselves were implemented without a field test. Now the two federally funded testing consortiums, PARCC and SBAC, will spend the next two years testing these standards online.

“The tech sector loves the CCSS,” she insisted, “there’s new software and bandwidth” included in already tight education budgets, “along with data analysts and entrepreneurial agencies designed to help with the CCSS.” Finally she returned to her message of academic inequities where targets of 70% failure rates on rounds of standardized tests are predicted. “How is it equitable to give a test they know students will fail?” suggesting that a passing rate is fluid, determined by the test creators who choose the “cut rate.”

During the speech, I was seated only eight rows back with a colleague who echoed to me particularly strong statements made by Ravitch on the effects of educational reform. She obviously wanted these statements included in my notes, so here are a few more “Ravitch-isms”:

We must roll back what we see is a poisonous time….

I never met a child who learned to read because the schools were closed.

No other nation doing this. We are alone in taking punitive action.

They [ed reformers] call it creative disruption, but children need continuity, not churn.

As she came to the conclusion of her speech, Ravitch returned to her message on the impact of poverty on academic performance saying, “What we do know about standardized tests is that they reflect socio-economic status. The pattern is inexorable. Look at charts that align standardized test scores with income and education; they [tests] measure the achievement gap.” Ravitch then turned to Michael Young’s book,  The Rise of the Meritocracy, and cited the following quotes:

If the rich and powerful were encouraged by the general culture to believe that they fully deserved all they had, how arrogant they could become, and if they were convinced it was all for the common good, how ruthless in pursuing their own advantage. Power corrupts, and therefore one of the secrets of a good society is that power should always be open to criticism. A good society should provide sinew for revolt as well as for power.

But authority cannot be humbled unless ordinary people, however much they have been rejected by the educational system, have the confidence to assert themselves against the mighty. If they think themselves inferior, if they think they deserve on merit to have less worldly goods and less worldly power than a select minority, they can be damaged in their own self-esteem, and generally demoralized.

Even if it could be demonstrated that ordinary people had less native ability than those selected for high position, that would not mean that they deserved to get less. Being a member of the “lucky sperm club” confers no moral right or advantage. What one is born with, or without, is not of one’s own doing.

She concluded her address with a list of suggestions, of next steps:

  1.  Salvage the standards to make standards better. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) should review and revise the standards. “Fix what is wrong”and “damn the copyright.”
  2. Decouple the Common Core from the tests;
  3. Teachers: Teach what you love and enrich instruction;
  4. Remember that a decent democracy equals values. 
  5. Do nothing to stigmatize those who have the least.

It should be noted that throughout the speech, Ravitch referred to “children” instead of using the word “students.” Her linguistic choice was noted by a later speaker, Kathy Collins. In refusing to use “students,” Ravitch put the focus back on the purpose for public education, to prepare the nation’s children, and she relayed a critical difference between her pedagogy and the philosophy of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “Arne Duncan thinks children as young as five should be on track to be college and career ready. He has said, ‘I want to walk in, look in their eyes, and know they are college and career ready’.”

She paused as if to respond to him, “I see a child. Leave him alone.”

The cathedral reverberated with applause.