Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#educoach Chat: Chapter 7: Feedback

After reading chapter 7 in Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, I find myself wanting to short list the chapter's main points so I don't forget.
  • Identify the overarching learning goals for the class--make sure the goals are challenging and provide "tension" between what students now know and aim to know.
  • Know where children are with respect to the learning goals.
  • Be explicit about the learning goal, rationale and what that goal looks like (success criteria).
  • Guide children's use of multiple strategies to both practice and learn as they approach the goal.
  • Coach all along the way by providing feedback related to the task (don't combine praise and feedback).
  • Listen to students' self-regulation and foster students' peer and self feedback through the use of prompts and guided reflection.
Why Feedback?
"Feedback serves various purposes. . .:it can provide cues that capture a person's attention and helps him or her to focus on succeeding with the task; it can provide information about ideas that have been misunderstood; and it can be motivational so that students invest more effort or skill in the task."

"Feedback thrives on errors."
"Error is the difference between what we know and can do, and what we aim to know and do--and this applies to all (struggling and talented; students and teachers). Knowing this error is fundamental to moving towards success.  This is the purpose of feedback." The classroom climate needs to be one that embraces error as part of learning, a natural, welcomed process. 

Feedback Leads to Learning Success
"In brief, the average effect size is .79, which is twice the average effect of all other schooling effects.  This places feedback in the top ten influences on achievement."

Learning Depends on Challenging Tasks
If there is no challenge, the feedback is probably of little or any value: if students already know the material or find it too easy, then seeking or providing feedback will have little effect.

Effective Feedback Links Unknowing to Knowing

Feedback that Disconfirms Can Have Greater Impact than Feedback that Confirms.

Regular Feedback
Classrooms need to be marked by regular, effective feedback that clarifies intentions and criteria for success, moves learners forward, engineers effective discussion that provide evidence of learning, activates students as instructional resources for one another, and activates students as the owners of their own learning.

"For feedback to be received and have a positive effect, we need transparent and challenging goals (learning intentions), an understanding of current status relative to these goals (knowledge of prior achievement), transparent and understood criteria of success, and commitment and skills by both teachers and students in investing and implementing strategies and understandings relative to these goals and success criteria."

"Feedback needs to be focused, specific and clear."

Workshop in my classroom is one endeavor that lends itself to effective feedback and student learning.  This is how I carry out this type of learning:
1. Together students and I establish the overall learning goal and purpose (w/prior knowledge in mind).
2. Together students and I create a to-do list that usually looks like this:
  • Complete #1--see teacher if you have questions. (tasks are differentiated, review problem, fairly easy to complete)
  • Complete #2--check in w/teacher (grade level plus review problems--teacher reviews, directs next steps.)
  • Follow next steps decided after teacher check-in. (opportunities for greater practice, revised goal, success criteria--the learning progression tasks often assigned w/peers)
3. Students ask clarifying questions, list is adjusted.
4. Students go about completing the tasks, check in when ready.  Teacher responds with feedback about next steps, corrections, new strategies, practice and more. 
5. Student/teacher evaluation of outcomes, analysis and decisions about next steps for class,  individuals.

Last year parents in my class wanted more feedback.  I realize now that I was giving plenty of feedback, but it wasn't as explicit as it needed to be so that parents and students understood their role with regard to reaching the academic goals set. I will work on that this year.

As I continue to read Hattie's book, I find myself rethinking the way I facilitate lessons to activate and evaluate student learning--I am excited to put students center stage in classroom endeavor and I look forward to their enthusiasm and sense of ownership when they arrive at school and realize that yes, they are indeed in charge of their learning and they've got a paid consultant/coach to help them out--ME!

#educoach: Visible Learning-Chapter 6

In chapter 6, Hattie delves into "The flow of the lesson: learning."  I did find myself overwhelmed with this chapter because it clearly demonstrates the challenges teachers face when teaching each child well.

Hattie prompts us to put the learner center stage in the classroom as an active participant who follows these steps:

  • identifies gap between what he/she knows now and the intended learning.
  • identifies the problem at hand, and restates it. 
  • Sets appropriate goals and plans for goal attainment.
  • Identifies and utilizes strategies to move towards the goal.
  • Self monitors to discern when he/she has closed the gap and achieved the learning goal--the success criteria.
I thought of the New England Patriots when I read this because I heard that they "chunk" the game seeking one touchdown after another.  That's what Hattie's learning research supports--students need to "chunk" their learning. 

As the teacher, I can facilitate this process in many, many ways.
  1. Create a "cognitive conflict" or "tension" to awaken students to the need for learning at the start of a unit/lesson.
  2. Relate learning to meaningful contexts where students see value and purpose. 
  3. Discuss and identify prior knowledge; what students already know, and link old knowledge to new.
  4. Utilize backward design by starting with the success criteria and planning backwards to meet the goal.
  5. Introduce and promote deliberate practice for students with many learning strategies: rich representations (visual, verbal and multimedia), linking facts-skills-procedures-and deep concepts, outlining, integrating, transforming, synthesizing, summarizing, relaying stories and examples, and attaching ideas to "coat hangers" or big ideas. Practice leads to mastery. Create a culture that embraces the need for practice, even when it's not fun.
  6. Listen to and encourage children to self-reflect, self-monitor and self-regulate their learning. Also listen to students' discourse during collaborative, social learning endeavors. 
  7. Provide and encourage social construction which promotes high-quality discussion and learning endeavor. 
  8. Foster an environment where students can concentrate and comfortably make and learn from errors.
  9. Give students the chance to create learning for themselves as they move toward their goal(s).
  10. Create an atmosphere where students understand that they are capable of learning.
  11. Provide timely, regular, targeted feedback related to students' efforts and progress toward the goal.
  12. Teach at '+1' for each child, hence you need to differentiate the goals.
  13. See learning through the eyes of the learner--I often say "I teach to their brains." 
  14. Demonstrate and discuss that teachers and students are thinkers and problem solvers.
The research clearly demonstrates that the goal of teaching is to activate and evaluate LEARNING and all discussions about school programs, efforts and endeavor should be focused on learning and the varied evidence that demonstrates the kind of learning that is taking place.

It is no longer adequate for teachers to simply present material to students as that is not necessarily related to learning. All teachers, in every role, need to be adaptive experts who choose carefully the overarching learning problem/goal; create learning tension and meaning; assess students' knowledge; work with students to set "just right," challenging goals and success criteria; coach students with practice utilizing multiple strategies toward the learning goal; listen and respond to students' metacognitive remarks;  observe their choices in group settings and individually; and monitor with students the achievement of the goal. 

Effective Communication Systems?

What is an effective communication system for a school or classroom?

How do you effectively communicate classroom goals, activities, processes and events?

What is too little communication, and what is too much communication?

Do you have a regular routine for communication with family members, students and colleagues?

As you can tell, I can be blamed for over communication--I like lead time, definition and precision when it comes to goals, activities and events.  I like to study issues with depth and reach a just right point of delivery, share and analysis.  I understand that school staff fall all along the communication lines--some rarely write a newsletter, don't have a website and haven't ventured into social media, and others are those of us who thrive with Twitter, blogs, newsletters and discussion.

What's the ideal?

As I begin to think about this, I believe the ideal includes the following:

1. A regular newsletter that outlines the good things that have happened (goals met), what's currently happening and events/goals on the horizon.  That keeps all members of the learning community in the loop with regard to goals and important events.

2. A website that includes all the resource information related to a classroom or school community--the go to place for dates, links and standard information.

3. Protocols about the best way to communicate issues on a regular basis--as a teacher, I prefer that parents and students email me when they have questions or thoughts.  My second favorite communication vehicle is a note sent to my attention via the student, and the third is a telephone call to the school (it's difficult for elementary school teachers to access phones so that's why it's my third choice).  If issues are big, I always prefer person-to-person conversation and talk, yet I'll often outline the issues in writing first to give all a chance to think about the topic.

4. A time line of main events, initiatives, and ways to prepare or get involved.  This provides a year map that lends the learning community a common language, focus and outlook.

In the days ahead, I'll think about the communication system for my classroom.  I want to clearly communicate the system at the start of the year so that all involved, families, students and colleagues, know they have a voice when it comes to our learning community's goals, vision, values, efforts and events.

How do you create a communication system for your learning community?  How does your school system employ a communication system for best effect?  How much and what kind of communication do you prefer as part of a learning team?  When is communication overwhelming or too much for you, and what's just right?

Apt communication matters, and attention to this area of school life is imperative in this time of ready social media and multiple communication tools.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts related to this topic.  I look forward to your ideas.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Will Help You Do Your Job Well?

If someone came to you today and asked, What would help you do your job well?,  how would you answer that question?

I'll be meeting with administrators soon and discussing this topic among others, hence I'm prompted to list my response. Many of the items on the list are firmly planted in the school system where I work and others are new and evolving areas of interest. I know it's not a perfect world, and I'm one perspective, but creating an environment where teachers and students can do their jobs well is an admirable goal for any educational organization.

The following ingredients help me to do my job well:

Adequate Supplies i.e. the tech, paper, pencils, creative materials, books and field experiences needed to teach a fine program.

Communication, Focus and Transparency: Shared goals, vision and direction as well as open, honest communication. There's really no need for secrets or hidden agendas in schools, after all we're working for an awesome collective goal: student learning.

Reasonable Schedules: Time to think, plan, collaborate and effectively activate and evaluate student learning. Also time for a morning break and lunch as working with large groups of young children for many hours without a break can be very challenging.

Emergency Support: Trained individuals available when an emergency occurs--the kind of young child emergency that can't be handled while you're also in charge of 20 plus others i.e. emotional upset, playground injury, heated argument. . .

Adequate Facilities: Clean, accessible and available when needed.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): When done well, this is an essential component for any school--research supports this effort and children thrive as a result.

Response to Intervention (RTI): Research also supports this initiative and when done well more children are served with greater skill, care and effect.

Lead Time: Most teachers lead busy lives--they juggle their school work, homework and family, hence last minute requests and late announcements often leave people out or result in ineffective work. Hence, lead time for good work and response is a better choice when it comes to decisions and initiatives.

Clear Role/Responsibility Definition: Knowing what you can expect from the many, many support teachers, staff and specialists that work in and out of your classroom everyday really helps a classroom teacher do his/her job.  Can I expect homework assignments, correcting, targeted lesson planning, arrival on time for lessons, emails if the lesson changes, consultation, supplies that help the learner, parent response, and on the other hand, what do these teachers expect of me as I realize our collaboration is a two-way street.

Voice: If the decision involves my work and students, can I be part of the conversation?  I've put a lot of time into the classroom program and knowing the children well, hence abrupt, last minute changes can have a challenging affect on my work and student learning.  When I'm part of the conversation early on, the change occurs with so much more peace and positive affect.

That's what helps me do my job well.

If I asked students, "What would help you do your best work in this class and at home?," I wonder what they'd say.  I think this will be my first student writing request--their words will inform my work.

Also if I asked administrators, "What teacher actions help you to run the school system effectively and successfully?," I wonder what they'd add to the list.

Education is a fortunate field--relatively low overhead, litte pronounced dangers, many open-minded, healthy clients with little to no political voice (children) and an awesome collective goal: teaching children well. That's why so many businesses are jumping on the education bandwagon. Let's not give up the ship too soon, as to improve our work, the first step is letting each other know what we need to do the job well. It's that simple.

Mathematical Mindset: Embedding the Standards for Mathematical Practice into the Elementary School Classroom

Related Link

I'm intrigued by the Standards for Mathematical Practice outlined in the Common Core State Standards Initiative because I believe the standards prepare students for facile, deep and meaningful thinking related to mathematics and information in general.  I've been waiting all summer long for my colleague's interpretation of the 8 standards noted above.  I could wait no longer, and as I prepare my classroom design and content outline for the year ahead, I knew I had to plan for these optimal thinking/working strategies.

Below I've created an initial draft as to how I will teach and embed the Standards for Mathematical Practice into my year's initial work with students and throughout the year.  I welcome your ideas and feedback as I'm at the starting point with regard to this endeavor and I have plenty of time to revise and enrich this initial plan. Thanks in advance for your consult.

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
We'll begin the year by talking about problems, and that the first step to solving any problem is understanding what the problem is.  We'll define "problem," identify problems (in math and other areas), and then discuss the hard work and stick-to-it-ness it takes to be a successful problem solver.  Then throughout the year we'll solve math problems starting with identifying what the problem is, creating a process for solution, estimating the time it will take to solve the problem and persevering to solve the problems mainly in a collaborative effort.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
Whenever possible we'll use charts, diagrams and tables to turn our problems into equations with numbers and variables.  We'll look carefully at the relationships and patterns inherent in our problem, and chart those using mathematical expressions and numbers.  

3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Now this is a challenging standard since it requires careful listening and apt communication in our hurried, busy 21st century learning environment.  Hence we'll start the year with a meaningful, complex problem that's near and dear to all: classroom rules and logical consequences for off-task behavior.  We'll work together to understand the problem.  Students will create viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others as we come up with optimal protocols for logical consequences for off-task behavior and classroom rules. We'll use this as a stepping stone and practice for the methods for sharing our mathematical thinking and problem solving throughout the year.

4. Model with Mathematics
We'll talk about models in general.  What is a model?  When do you use one?  Where do you see models?  What are the advantages of using models?  How and why does a mathematician use a  model. Then as we begin our "Fact Smart" unit we'll make mathematical models for numbers using Google docs and other venues to show the many arrays possible for a variety of numbers.  Similarly throughout the year we'll use a lot of technology and other venues to make models of all the mathematical principles we are learning about and exploring.

5. Use Appropriate Tools Strategically.
I am glad that I am reading this before I set up my classroom. I had already planned a learning tool-kit center, but now I'll create that center with more gusto.  I want to put the tools (mathematical and others) in good storage units labeled with the specific, correct titles.  I also want our virtual and expression/symbol tools and key vocabulary (math word wall) to be noted correctly on the bulletin board above the learning tool kit center.  I will make special effort to introduce this area of the room to students in a thoughtful way at the start of the year.  Then when we're solving problems, I'll make sure to ask up front, 'What tools should we use to solve this problem?"

6. Attend to Precision
I always like to tell students aout the library design project when an architect forgot to account for the weight of the books--an error of precision.  We'll talk about when precision is very important, and when it's not so important.  We'll build in some real-world, meaningful math problems at the start of the year to focus on how we check for precision.  We'll create a list of possible precision check-in activities to help one make sure that their answer and/or process is accurate.  I'll also mention more stories about precision during the year including medical, construction and cooking stories where lack of precision made a significant difference.

7. Make Use of Structure
As mathematicians and learners in general, we'll become astute observers of the world around us and the mathematical problems before us.  We'll notice size, shape, order, patterns, repetition, commonalities and differences.  Our observations will help us to make accurate predictions and choose optimal processes.  We'll slow down enough and take the time to notice, discuss, chart and make predictions related to structure.

8. Look for and Express Regularity in Repeated Reasoning
We will discuss the way we solve equations, and we will look for more varied and efficient ways to express and solve number sentences and problems.  We'll chart, write about and share our discoveries with classmates near and far, online and off. 

Sample Fourth Grade Problems

School Year: Goal Setting Time Line?

School starts are like the start to a horse race--the bugle calls us to gather at the starting gate, and once the students arrive, we're off for another year's adventure.

Many teachers spend the summer months studying, preparing materials and rethinking the year ahead--they come to school ready for an invigorated year of new learning and student focus.

It can be problematic, however, when teachers begin the year ready to go only to be met with multiple, new initiatives and goals after they've prepped and planned for the year ahead.  New initiatives and goals in September often suffocate since the teachers who have the most time-on-task with students have the least time to read, prep and plan for new goals once the year gets started.  As roles and responsibilities stand now, classroom teachers' school year time is mainly spent on activating and evaluating learning with regular feedback, student-family-colleague communication, planning and prep.

Hence, what is the best goal setting time line for new initiatives, teacher planning and implementation?  As I've noted before, I think it's best time for systems to stay about nine months to a year ahead of the action in the classroom when possible.  That means that goal setting and initiatives are being discussed, surveyed and formalized publicly about nine months ahead of implementation lending plenty of time for teachers and others to read about the initiatives, discuss the changes with peers and get ready for change or even begin to try out the changes ahead of the formal initiative start.

Another way to look at this is to implement strategic initiative efforts that take on a beginning-to-end structure that can happen at any time of the year since the initiative steps are created to fit into the teachers' yearly responsibility and effort.  For example, if our team were to strategize around the successful implementation of fraction standards related to the common core, we could start with this goal in September.  I chose fractions because it is a content area often left to the end of the year thus getting less attention, and it's an area that represents change for our content work at fourth grade.  Teachers could get released time in the early year to strengthen their own fraction skill and knowledge, as well as the direct knowledge related to the standards.  Then later in the fall, teachers could meet to discuss and plan how they will combine the standards' goals, classroom efforts/resources, visible learning (strategies that promote optimal learning), assessment and RTI to meet and possibly exceed the standards.  At the next leg of the initiative, teachers could strategically implement their plans and assessments, meet to review/revise, implement again and then evaluate the overall initiative and create next steps for the effort.

Keeping all educators abreast of initiatives in place, traditions embraced and new ideas on the horizon, can serve to invigorate a school system for best effect and professional endeavor.  As I work to prep and plan for the school year ahead, I find myself secretly hoping that I won't be met with too many new initiatives at the start of September that diminish the good work and planning I've done all summer long, yet I'll embrace collaborative initiatives that are on the horizon or woven well into the yearly schedule and expectations so that we continue to develop our collective repertoire to teach children well.  I'll let you know what happens.


Who would think one's summer vacation inspiration would be an educational researcher? That's been the situation for me since I started reading Hattie's book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning.  The book provides the facts and figures that affirm successful strategies, challenge ineffective practice and prompt revision.

Hattie emphasizes FOCUS and alerts me to the fact that when we try to do too many things at once, our efforts are often diluted, and possibly detrimental.  Similarly, when our systems lack focus, time is wasted on redundancy and missteps.

Hattie quotes Reeves, "Without focus, even the best leadership will fail, the most idea research-based initiatives will fail, and the most self sacrificing earnest leaders will fail. Worst of all, without focus by educational leaders, students and teachers will fail." (p. 20 Visible Learning)

Hence with Hattie's research in mind, and prior to the upcoming school year, I will do the following:

  • Focus my professional efforts
  • Share and discuss my professional focus with colleagues and administrators in an effort to synthesize my work with the goals and vision of my collegial group and the school system. 
  • Learn more about the communication and professional protocols and expectations of my organization in an effort to develop my ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. 
  • Keep mindful of, take notes and reflect upon the efforts within the school system and outside that affect my professional work and effort.  I want to develop my professional repertoire, but I don't want to spend time on efforts that hinder this pursuit i.e. efforts that are created to "check off a box" or outside of the goal range rather than efforts with essential student learning as the focus. 
Systems at their best represent many efforts with clear roles, responsibilities, communication and goals as well as regular review, revision and refinement of the systems' goals and vision.  Investment is enhanced when all members of an organization are well aware of their responsibility, role, contribution, expectation, goals and effect--when the members, as Hattie puts it, "Know thy impact."

I continue to be delighted to work in a "leadership" district that holds tremendous potential for best effect when it comes to student learning and development, and before the school year begins I want to be clear about my role, expectations, goals and direction so my efforts, professional development and communication are focused on the job I want to do: teaching children well. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fact Smart: Building Arrays with Google Table

Creating, examining and comparing arrays is a great way for fourth graders to become fact smart.

We'll build arrays using Google table.  Learning to use Google table at the start of the year gives students an awesome tool for problem solving and information organization.

We'll start by building all the arrays for 24 together--each child will have a computer, and I'll have my computer hooked up to the white board.
  1. Students will open Google docs and create a document.
  2. Students will name the document like this "John's Number Arrays."
  3. We'll talk a bit about what an array is and then I'll ask students to name arrays for 24. 
  4. We'll build each array and color it in (use "table properties'). Later we'll discuss how arrays are named by their dimensions and their dimensions are the factor pairs for that number. 
  5. After that I'll have students work with partners to build all the possible arrays for 36, then 48.  As the numbers get larger, students may have to build the 1 X __ by inserting special characters from the menu bar, rather than the table tool as that has some size limitations (you can make a 1X20, then add several cells to it if you have the font reduced as much as possible).
There are many wonderful tools on Google and other programs that help students to organize and develop their mathematical thinking.  Introducing these tools to students early on provides them with a great resource with which to communicate and deepen mathematical understanding. 

I used the menu bar to insert 48 "special characters" for this lengthy array.

As students complete arrays for 24 and 36, you can then hand out specific numbers for which children are responsible for creating all the arrays.  After that, the class can begin making a bulletin board filled with arrays for numbers from 1 to 100.  During a class discussion, you can then begin to discuss the following questions:

1. Which numbers have the most arrays (factor pairs)?
2. Which numbers have the least?
3. What do you notice about the numbers that have the least (all odd, except 2--prime numbers).
4. What do you notice about the numbers that have the most arrays?
5. Do we see any perfect numbers?
6. How many composite numbers do we have represented?
7. Do you notice any numbers that make a square?  Which numbers, and how do you know the array is a square?

This careful attention to numbers will help students to look at numbers with greater understanding and the ability to predict with regard to the number's function in an equation of mathematical problem. 

Teaching: Book 27

When you've been in an organization for a long time, there are many events that mark your history--both good and not so good events.  A long term resume from the same place is marked with a wide range of leadership, ideologies and mindsets.  In many ways, I think it may be more difficult to remain in the same place for a long time than to move around, but I haven't moved around so I don't know.

The reason you stay in one place is because there is much that keeps you there--there is a quality about the institution or organization that calls you to do your best, stay and contribute. In the organization I work for, staying is not uncommon.  Many, perhaps most, professionals do stay for the long run--a full career, and they become an integral part of the culture, community and focus. The organization has served employees well, and in return the employees invest their time and energy into the organization.

As a veteran, it is important to renew your focus and commitment each year--to take a good look at your demeanor, contribution and effort.  What skills and focus will I continue to bring forth, and what will I change to keep up with the organization's changing structure and focus?

What has remained the same in all these years is that the central mission continues to focus on the welfare and best possible education for children--that's the centerpiece of my work and the work of the school system.

Leadership structure and focus has changed over the years with regard to specific initiatives, and the current shifts are very positive as we embrace RTI and PLCs to better serve students.  I am developing my collaborative skill as I move from the isolation of classroom teaching to these structures that teach children well. Students' success depends on our apt collaboration, communication and shared focus, and we continue to build systems that support this collaborative effort.

At times, there's the temptation to look back and lament the not-so-good moments: the changed position, the lost opportunity, the structures-not-in-place, the challenged health year, and the curriculum crossroads, but it's better to recognize that both good and the not-so-good as the inevitable growing pains that are part of every career and organization as change and growth doesn't always come with ease and peace.

The new year brings focus and an open mind to the many ways our collegial community will work together to serve children well.  I will face obstacles with honest questions and discourse, and work daily to contribute to this organization that I have chosen as the home base of my teaching career.

Have you centered your teaching career in one location or have you moved from place to place?  What are the advantages of serving one system or moving amongst many?  In what ways do you renew your commitment each year and make appropriate changes?  How has your system changed with regard to collegiality and collaboration?

I am excited about the year ahead and looking forward to weaving my summer learning into both students' and collegial work and activities.  In some ways, I feel like I'm at the preface of another book, Book 27, of a long and eventful series.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Posts to Share for the 2012-2013 School Year

This is the start of a growing list of posts I'll share with the teaching/learning community in school year 2012-2013:

Educating Parents
10 Things Parents Should Unlearn

What Innovators Do

Coaching Teachers, Coaching Students
Attributes of Great Coaches

2012-2013 Professional Focus/Direction

Teaching is a BIG job!  There are many avenues to travel with respect to doing the job well.  It is essential that we focus our efforts and direction so that we teach children well.  Here is my overall direction/focus for 2012-2013.  These are broad categories, but they're the essential categories I will turn to when I'm prompted to right my direction and focus my path for the year ahead. 
  1. Teaching Fourth Grade with Care and Skill.
  2. Thoughtful, respectful collaboration with the learning team: students, families, educators, community members.
  3. Two-way professional sharing and development with colleagues online and off via conferences, presentations, courses, social media and more.

Classroom Teachers and The Innovation Dilemma?

I've adopted a 21st century mindset--I respond to my work with an eye on the past and an eye on the future making the best possible decisions based on the tools and information available, student needs, trends/evolution, research and system-wide goals and efforts.

It is a vibrant process of professionalism that colleagues who desire best effect embrace.

In many systems, innovators are embraced, and in other systems they are dismissed.  In some systems, information is readily shared, debated, and discussed, and in other systems information is hidden, owned and selectively shared.  In some systems, the "turf" is shared with student success as the central mission, and in other systems turf is protected so that positions remain unchanged and undisturbed. In most systems, it is probably some of one mindset, and some of the other.

It is challenging to be an innovator, particularly when you're in the rank of "soldier" or the "frontline" as there are many above and around you guiding your work and setting your paths.  One might say that all innovators should put their effort into rising up and taking a lead role, yet I do think innovators on the front line can be a powerful, effective source of instruction and student response particularly when supported by leadership, scheduling and role structure.

I am delighted to work in a system with apt tools and eager students.  I will continue to hone and develop my 21st (and beyond) professional skills and mindset while I seek honest, transparent, student-focused debate and discussion related to innovation and best effect for student success.  I'll welcome the opportunity to be part of decision making and information exchange when that opportunity is available. Similarly, I'll embrace the young innovators and forward thinking students I teach because I know their ideas, energy and direction hold promise for their individual success as well as their impact on peers and others.

At times I am dismayed that elementary classroom teachers' roles often leave little time or space for special jobs, additional stipends, voice or realistic scheduling. Often in a school, roles differ significantly with respect to time-on-task with students and responsibility for feedback, grading, parent conferences and daily care i.e recess duty, transitioning students, students' basic needs and more. While it's impossible to compare, I believe that greater movement towards realistic, reasonable, equitable schedules and responsibilities for all professionals is a worthy goal for schools, one that will translate into greater innovation, student response and teaching/learning success.

I want to thank my vital PLN for nurturing my passion, development and ideas over the past several years as I continue to grow and deepen as an educator of young children--this is the educational mindset I've sought since my earliest years as a teacher--one I will continue to develop and challenge.

Fact Smart: Fourth Grade Learning Goal

Learning your math facts remains a fourth grade staple--all students are expected to be facile with math facts up to 12 in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  There's a bit of a debate related to "how facile" and the "speed of knowing" each fact, but nevertheless quick recall remains a goal--and I believe that 50 facts in 3 minutes (some say 100 in 3) is a formidable achievement.  One reason I continue to embrace this goal is that quick recall of facts helps students to gain and build higher level mathematical thinking and problem solving skills because they are not delayed by trying to remember a fact.

Children come to fourth grade representing those who know few facts to those who know all or almost all with quick recall.  How does a teacher get everyone to meet the goal, and provide enrichment for those who have already met it?

I begin the year with a parallel effort with regard to fact mastery.  This year I'll be thinking of Hattie's research in Visible Learning for Teachers as I implement greater use of regular assessments, peer tutoring, collaborative work, short-term, explicit goal setting, specific results criteria and dialogic discussion about meeting this goal. 

The parallel effort includes lessons that focus on number theory and activities that center on fact practice and mastery.  Both theory and practice lessons will begin with initial assessments so that both students and teachers know explicitly what students know.  

Number Theory
Number theory lessons will include lessons in which we work as a class to explore numbers. We'll build number models, look at the differences between primes and composities, evens and odds, one-digit, two-digit, three-digit and more--we'll essentially dissect, analyze and "play" with numbers in many ways so that we understand numbers well and can begin to make predictions about data and equations just by looking at the numbers involved.

Fact Skill and Practice
The fact practice lessons will begin with a collective discussion about the many ways one is able to learn math facts. We'll list the ways; we'll organize the materials and we'll create a menu that children can refer to during math practice time.  We'll also talk about goal setting and the ways one can break down this math facts goal into manageable steps--I'll use the "learning steps" poster to show that learning is a series of steps that brings one closer and closer to a specific goal, and that we never stop learning--instead we just start on a new goal and continue to climb the "learning steps."

After our collective discussions about the learning process, goal setting and the many ways one learns facts, students will begin creating their own learning charts for fact practice.  The charts will include their current fact rate/knowledge in each operational area: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. We will use "That Quiz" online tests to get a baseline for each area and to check students' progress.  The charts will also include goal setting for a first goal.  I will use the order on the computation ladders I created based on research a few years ago for students' goal setting.  I will coach those who have completed the fact tasks on an algebra ladder which reinforces fact facility while also teaching students how to solve algebraic equations with increasing difficulty--a great next step.

Fact facility will be a first objective in the new school year.  I will use this area of the curriculum to teach content skill and concept as well as the disposition, routines and efforts that characterize successful learners.  I will utilize a similar process to teach keyboarding skill at the start of the year.  By starting the year with two curriculum goals that are well within the reach of the fourth grade students' understanding and management, it is my goal that students both learn the content and strengthen their awareness and knowledge of how to be successful learners too.  

I invite you to join me on this start of the year facts unit plan.  Please let me know if you have any ideas to add or thoughts to consider as I begin to make individual goal sheets and set up the fact library of manipulatives, online games/practice sites and other tools for fact mastery.  Thanks for your support.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Embedding Hattie's Research into the 2012-2013 Learning Plan

School communities often set their sights on too many goals and too many avenues of action, growth and change. Educators must focus their efforts so that they are able to assess their work well and make formidable next step decisions so that children learn well.

First, schools must embrace their objective: student learning.  I took the time this morning to outline the primary objectives of our current fourth grade program.  I will use this focus list as a starting point for the year's planning, PLC/RTI work and student communication.  As Hattie suggests in Visible Learning for Teachers, I want students and their families to explicitly know the learning goals for our grade level program:

Once the essential goals have been established, then educators must discern how they are going to effect optimal learning by prioritizing essential skills, educators'/staff roles, and schedules in a way that promote an optimal disposition for learning, collaboration, collegiality, trust, care, targeted response, assessment, revision and continued goal setting/action.

Similarly, as Hattie suggests, teachers must "know thy impact."  What teachers do minute-to-minute, day-to-day and year-to-year matters, and when teachers work collaboratively to identify, carry out and assess goals, the impact of their work expands.  PLCs and RTI are two structures that support optimal teacher collaboration, instruction and student success.

The classroom teacher in many ways acts as "everyman or everywoman" with an endless list of have-to's and priorities, but to do the job well, he/she must cull that list down to a manageable list of essential priorities.

As I think about the year ahead, and before I learn of the system-wide changes to come in relation to specific common core objectives, I have prioritized my curriculum with the following priorities, goals and actions:

Learning Priorities: Grade 4 2012-213
Content AreaOverarching
Essential Skills, Content, Knowledge
Classroom CommunityBuilding trusting relationships among all community members i.e. families, students, educators.
  • Fun, get-to-know each other activities.
  • Time to talk, share.
  • Open avenues for questions, thoughts via blogs, in-class conversations.

Create routines/protocols to make the classroom a safe, efficient, friendly and happy place to be every day.
  • List daily tasks/routines.
  • Create effective ways to complete daily tasks with class.  Practice those routines.
  • Let children manage as much of the classroom routine and procedures as possible--enlist their ideas and efforts in this regard at the start of the school year.
1. Check-in w/class, individuals.

2. Observation.

3. Regular surveys.

4. Letter exchanges.

5. Review classroom routines regularly, revise routines that are not working well.
Learning to Learn Strategies and Behavior
“Teaching disposition for optimal learning.”
Open class conversation/activity about the attributes of optimal learning.

Videos, check-lists, articles and stories about the actions and attitude of successful learners.

Creation of SMART goals with family members and students.
1. After initial Learning to Learn Unit, students will write a letter to the teacher describing the ways they hope to learn this year and the goals for their learning.

2. Teacher will respond to letters with regular intervention with the class and individuals to increase students’ learning to learn disposition, understanding and action.
English Language ArtsRead with fluency, comprehension.
  • Daily Reading
  • Daily discussion/writing related to reading.
  • Daily read aloud.
  • Interactive read aloud/focus lessons: story elements, comprehension strategies, genre
  • Book groups, partners, RTI

Speak with clarity and focus.
  • create protocols for public speaking in the classroom.
  • create opportunities for students to practice regular public speaking.
  • observe, assess and learn about attributes and actions of optimal public speaking.

Write with voice, organization and craft.
  • Introduce many genres of writing through writing units.
  • Specifically teach voice, organization and craft through multiple explicit strategies.
  • Offer lots of time for engaging writing practice and share.
  • Make time for students to discuss their writing with peers and teachers.
  • Make time to discuss, work on writing development with students.
Regular monitoring of reading progress and efforts via a variety of summative, formative assessments.

Work with PLC and RTI collaborative teaching group to target response, assess and revise when needed.

Assess public speaking efforts through rubrics created by teachers/students based on optimal attributes of effective public speaking.

Assess initial writing skill through letter writing.

Target writing goals through specific units. Use check-lists and rubrics to outline learning expectations and goals.  Work with students to develop self-monitoring writing development action steps and assessment.
MathTeach all content on Grade 4 Common Core/MA State Frameworks Outline.

Teach content utilizing the following methods:
  • Weekly Targeted Focus.
  • Paper/pencil//online skill practice.
  • Project Base Learning with collaborative groups.
  • Games and activities.
  • Technology infused projects, tools.
  • RTI to meet students’ individual learning goals at many levels of achievement.
Regular summative, formative assessments to guide program development.

Regular review of past concepts.

Lots of time for observation, peer-peer activity, tutoring and learning.

Just-right goals and expectations for all, and time to guide and teach children towards those goals.
Social StudiesTeach and foster optimal social skills:
  • Employ regular class meetings/Open Circle Curriculum.
  • Weave social skills into curriculum areas regularly.
  • Attend to social skills’ issues when needed--make this a priority.
  • Create classroom protocols for optimal social skills, revisit and revise protocols regularly as needed.
  • Targeted efforts towards optimal digital citizenship.

Broaden students’ concept of their own culture and the various world cultures through the following units.
  • What’s Your Culture?
  • Native American Culture
  • United States Regions
  • Immigration/Family History
  • Just Like Me

Teach units utilizing this process:
  • Broad topic discussion KWL charts
  • Defining specific goals for lesson/unit
  • Collaborative activities
  • Assessment--What did we learn?
Using rubrics and checklists, have students self-monitor their work and assess their projects, individually or collectively.  Teacher responds to student’s assessment, guides work to optimal performance, achievement of goals--success driven process.

Assess social goals through observation, conversation and respond with targeted intervention and teaching.
ScienceFocus on science units designated for the fourth grade and taught through rotations:
  • Weather/water systems
  • Electricity/Magnets
  • Animal Adaptation
  • Land Forms
  • Plate Tectonics (with visiting expert)

Teach science units with similar process as social studies units (listed above)

Endangered Species Research Project
  • Guide students through a multi-week interdisciplinary inquiry based research project to discover facts and information related to the plight of endangered species and how we can foster survival to protect our natural habitats and important natural resources.
Assess similar to social studies units (listed above)

I will revisit this chart in the days to come as I focus my efforts on the school year ahead.  Do you notice any glaring omissions?  What would you add or take away?  This chart will look different for every teacher and school, but the main categories of content area, essential skills/goals and assessment will remain the same.   Thanks for taking the time to share in this process, and I look forward to your feedback.

Visible Learning #educoach chat 7/25 Reflections

As noted, Visible Learning for Teachers by Hattie is providing me with many avenues to explore and improve my craft for student success next year.  It's a great research-based book filled with data that supports optimal teaching strategies.  As Kathy Perrot and Shira Leibowitz continue to facilitate the Wednesday evening discussion of the book, I continue to share, question, think, learn and plan for the year ahead.

Last night we discussed chapters four and five. Both chapters demonstrated the strength that collaborative peer-peer work brings both to student and teacher learning and instruction.  The chapters gave me many ideas related to our PLC and RTI efforts as well as ways to manage the classroom so students are doing most of the talking and activity in collaborative efforts as they work towards specific, explicit learning goals.

I will also tighten up curriculum so that our goals are even more specific and explicit than in the past--from the start of each learning endeavor, lesson, project or unit, the students and I will discuss the following questions:
  1. What do we aim to learn?
  2. What do you know already about the topic?
  3. Why do we need or want to learn this?
  4. How will you know when you have learned this?  What will it look like?
  5. What strategies, processes and activities will you use to achieve the learning goal?
  6. How will you monitor your learning to see if you've learned it or not?
  7. How can teachers and peers help you to achieve the goal?
  8. When do you hope to complete this task?
We will create learning charts for individuals, small groups and the entire class to assist this process. For starters, I will begin using this strategy with two discrete learning areas: keyboarding and math facts.  Working with students we'll use the questions above and start the learning process during the first days of school.  These remain integral areas of the curriculum for fourth graders, and areas that fourth graders can master considerable control over the process, content and outcomes early in the year.

In the days to come, I'll design the efforts specifically and share them on this blog.  Later, I'll do the same thing for our first project of the year: The Self Portrait Poetry Anthology.

Hattie's book is prompting me to be more explicit, specific and focused with the way I guide, assess and monitor student learning. Rather than simply teaching a broad unit and accepting what students learn, Hattie pushes me to teach the unit so that all children reach high expectations through significant collaborative effort, self monitoring, effective dialogue, coaching and student voice. I will continue to put students in the "driver's seat" of their education, but I'll be much more persistant and specific about the roads they travel, the efficiency of their "driving" and the specific strategies they use along the way because as Hattie points out, I know my "impact."