Friday, May 31, 2013

Test Scores: The Good and The Bad

The growth was amazing--so many points, but the score remained in the red.

There was a dramatic drop?  Was it a bad day?  What happened?  I wasn't there.

His growth was amazing, the best in the whole school--what made that happen?

As we look at end of year dipsticks and scores, there's a tendency to forget about all the efforts that go into a year beyond a few test scores--all the efforts including class community, projects, interdisciplinary learning, new ideas, and more.  School is not just a test score or color coded mark on a page.

Yet, some would like to reduce it to that--to point to the red mark on the page and summarize a year of care and effort with one mark--it's easier to do that than to take the long look at the multiple efforts that go into a worthy education.

Education is not a perfect science. It's true that data can help us to target teaching efforts, but data alone can't be the reason why we teach the way we do, education is more holistic than that.

Hence at the end of the year when summative scores roll in, remember that that those scores are only one small piece of the teaching year, evidence of one out of a multitude of efforts employed, all efforts aimed at teaching children well.

Role Assessment: One Example

In my last post, I posed a number of questions that serve as assessment points for school roles today.  I believe the role of classroom teacher should be a role focused on student engagement, empowerment, and education.  As long as the supports around me are targeted and streamlined, I essentially have the tools to the job well.  I would profit from increased planning time including both independent time and collegial time as the ratio of planning time to lessons implemented for large groups of children is a ratio of about 1:6, and that's too great a ratio for effective lesson planning, assessment, revision and reflection.

In this post, I use the questions posed in the last post to assess my own practice. If you''re interested in reading the responses, you'll note that there are successes and continued room for growth.  Also, if you note an important missing question, please let me know.

  • Are children confidently and happily engaged in learning efforts each day?
In general this has been a primary classroom focus for me this year. I constantly assess student happiness, confidence, and engagement through observation and questioning.  I tweak the program daily to better create a classroom environment that develops confidence and happiness.  Some practices I use to forward these attributes include class games, picnic lunches, class meetings, individual, small group, and whole class coaching, and personalized learning endeavors that respond to students' interests, needs, and standards. Hattie's research in Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning affirms the educational strength of happy, confident children.

  • Do children feel empowered in the classroom?  Do they work and act as if the classroom belongs to them?
I have adopted "servant leadership" as my teaching focus.  In "servant leadership," the teacher serves the students.  Hence, I tell the students this classroom is your's and they pay me to serve you.  Then I ask what do you need, how can I help you, and what will make you a more successful learner?  The message that "This is your classroom, and you're in the driver's seat of your education" is a focal point of our classroom that serves to empower children. 

  • Have children met the standards set forth by state and system-wide frameworks?
Comprehensive scope and sequences guide the teaching in "loose-tight" ways ensuring that all standards are reviewed/introduced, modeled, and practiced.  RTI, PLC, and regular formative/summative assessments strengthen our efforts in this regard. At our grade level the standards represent essential skills, and there continues to be room for growth when it comes to meeting all standards for all students with best effect. 

  • Have children developed their attitude and skill when it comes to "learning to learn?"
Explicit teaching of "learning to learn" attitudes and skills at the start of the year served to empower this effort all year long.  Revisiting these efforts continually served to keep the momentum of "learning to learn" efforts a mainstay in the classroom.  I hope to review all my materials in this regard so that I decorate the room with "learning to learn" guiding posters, and start the year with a "learning to learn" teaching unit. Then I'll continue to implement these habitudes into lessons and teaching regularly.

  • Do children persevere and ask questions to lead their learning?
Every day I make an effort to emphasize to students the message of "Ask Questions" and "Don't Stay Stuck."  I continually say that I'm here to help you, and the only way I know that you need help is if you ask me questions.  Students' behavior demonstrates to me that they've heard this message. Similarly I coach students daily with regard to perseverance.  We talk about what perseverance looks like and the specific persevering efforts that need to happen with respect to specific tasks and efforts. 

  • Have children learned new knowledge that has served to broaden their lens, empathy, and understanding in meaningful ways with respect the world they live in?
Throughout time and with the wisdom of many dedicated educators, our school system has developed a host of programs and materials that create a rich curriculum menu that broaden students' understanding of the world around them including the following:
  • Signature projects and units such as Just Like Me (understanding differences), The Culture Museum, and Endangered Species Research
  • Cultural enrichment events.
  • School-wide service learning efforts. 
  • Rich, culturally sensitive literary collection
  • Substantial tech access serve to enrich students' world view and understanding. 

  • Are children inspired and able to follow their passions and continue learning?

Cheerleading students' individual efforts and interests, and providing students and families with resources that help students travel these paths is one way to inspire individual passion and learning.  Also making time in school for investigation and exploration serves to enhance this area of the student growth.  This year my colleagues and I have fostered open attitudes and efforts with regard to tech exploration and work.  One student, whose parents inspire with strength, daily reports his reading, research, and efforts with regard to learning to code.  Another group of students, inspired by the principal's service learning initiatives, used their passion to bring a yard sale to school to raise money for the One Fund.  In many ways students and their families have heeded the message that passion matters, and they work to meet those passions in multiple ways.  It's my job as the teacher to continue to look for ways to support this passion and life-long learning both in school and outside of school. 

  • Have I helped family members encourage and coach their children?
Regular newsletters, open email exchanges, coaching meetings, conferences, and regular assessments have served to create strong home-school bonds.  I'd like to think about ways that I grow the learning community (students, families, educators, leaders, and community members) with greater strength and focus next year.  I believe that the move-up letter and early year curriculum nights and conferences matter a lot with regard to establishing a strong, initial culture in this regard.  As the education landscape changes, I look forward to building this integral piece of the teaching/learning repertoire. 

  • Are children building positive, effective collaborative skills, and a sense of team?
Collaboration and team are a wonderful byproduct of greater student choice and voice in the classroom.  Children naturally choose to work together, and inevitably meet conflicts of all sorts while engaging in collaborative work.  The conflicts provide opportunities for me as a teacher to coach and support students' developing collaborative, team skill.  Similarly as we introduce more collaborative models for educators such as RTI and PLCs, I too am working on those skills in the professional sphere.  This dual focus leads to powerful learning.  Further, Hattie's research in Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning affirms that students working together is a highly effective teaching technique. 

Resulting Actions:
  • Scope and Sequence Review/Standards Review, Prep for Units and Teaching/Learning Routines
  • Learning Community Communication and Response Review and Revision
  • "Learning to Learn" unit creation, poster production, and room set-up.

What is Your Role?

There are multiple educator roles in the school house today?  There are also multiple changes that are impacting educator roles?  It's worth taking the time to assess one's own role as the landscape of education changes, and it's similarly important that systems review all roles as changes occur.

How does one assess individual or system-wide roles for best effect?

I believe that role assessments should begin with impact on children.  How does your role impact children in significant, positive ways?

We all know that it's difficult to quantify an answer to that question. Many point to standardized tests, but good educators know that's only one piece of the educational puzzle.  As I assess my role as a classroom teacher, I will start with the following questions:
  • Are children confidently and happily engaged in learning efforts each day?
  • Do children feel empowered in the classroom?  Do they work and act as if the classroom belongs to them?
  • Have children met the standards set forth by state and system-wide frameworks?
  • Have children increased their attitude and skill when it comes to "learning to learn?"
  • Do children persevere and ask questions to lead their learning?
  • Have children learned new knowledge that has served to broaden their lens in meaningful ways with respect the world they live in?
  • Are children inspired and able to follow their passions and continue learning?
  • Have I worked with family members to help them encourage and coach their children?
  • Are children building positive, effective collaborative skills and a sense of team?
With regard to system-wide roles, I imagine the following questions:
  • Have I served to empower, engage, and educate those I work with to better effect a positive education for all children?
  • Have I communicated my teaching and learning efforts effectively and inclusively to the learning community on a regular basis?
  • Am I open to critique, assessment, growth, new ideas, and innovation in an effort to grow our collective practice, a practice focused on student engagement, empowerment, and education?
  • Is my time spent well? Do I plan and target my efforts so that I am maximizing my impact and support?
  • Do I implement streamlined, effective systems leaving most of the time for targeted discussion/decision making and direct service to students and teachers in ways that make a difference?
  • Am I an effective team member who works with others with transparency, differentiation, and care to move schools forward with effect?
  • Do I change and revise my role to better reflect the needs and interests of students today?
Good questions have the potential to move our role definitions and practice ahead with respect to serving children well.  What questions would you add to this list as you think about role revision and change?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

PLC Considerations: Moving Forward

What practice and protocol supports PLCs with strength?

I engaged in that conversation with a professional group recently, and as I think ahead to our professional learning communities for the end of this year and next, I don't want to forget these questions and considerations.  I also welcome additional thoughts to broaden and deepen thought in this regard?

The professional learning community, known as the PLC, in my opinion, has been a worthwhile addition to school life.  The PLC provides opportunity for child-centered, learning discussions that have the potential to develop our craft with care and effect.

The PLC meets the goal of bringing diverse voices together regularly to discuss school issues, try out  new ideas, and revise practice to better meet students' needs.  The PLC also can serve as a point of disagreement and struggle as professionals work to meld voices, define paths, and share knowledge.

Hence, what considerations do we bring forward in an effort to shore up our PLC efforts, and support this work with a sturdier foundation.

First, defining roles gives a structure to the PLC.  Currently the roles we've defined are facilitator, dialogue monitor, time keeper, and recorder.  It is thought that greater definition of those roles might strengthen our work and understanding. The idea was also posed to vary roles by months, and assign a role schedule at the start of the year so it's not a weekly consideration.

Next, we discussed our differing underlying perceptions and ideas when it comes to expectations, preparedness, conversation, discussion, urgency, reasonableness, issue size, positivity, and critique.

Also, there's the area of decision and agenda process--what's the best process to set reasonable agendas and make decisions?  Do we employ backwards design, time lines, lead time, and online correspondance and communication in this regard?

What about etiquette?  With every new structure, the issue of etiquette comes up?  What is considered polite, and what is not?  Also some noted the action of presence--what is the expectation for that at our meetings?

By working together with the leadership of a talented guide we identified strengths and challenges and were able to begin thinking with greater depth about our PLC, and how to grow this effort with stronger effect.  I look forward to the discussions that follow, and a fresh start next fall as we embark on the year with a new team and new wisdom related to the possibility and promise of PLCs.

One Tough Meeting

Everyone knows, mistakes happen.  Everyone realizes that debate and discussion can result in disagreement.  It's true that we're not perfect.

Yet, when you have to face a challenging meeting that focuses on mistakes, disagreement, and imperfection, it's a bit like walking into a burning house.

And when it comes to walking into a burning house, survival depends on the way you walk (run) and the equipment you wear and bring with you.

Hence, I'll bring the following:
  • Knowledge that I erred, and a humble acceptance of new learning, norms.
  • Consideration of the factors that create opportunity for success and growth.  Factors, simply stated, that create better systems of decision making and discussion:
    • decision making processes, 
    • preparation, 
    • online share, 
    • right-sized issues that match time/intent, and 
    • collective understanding of purpose and rationale.
  • Listening and considering with an open mind the many opinions and ideas expressed. 
I'll walk with the knowledge that we're all working together to uplift and develop student engagement, empowerment, and education.  I'll also walk in with the open mind that developing our collective skill and strength when it comes to collaboration and shared work will serve to strengthen our ability to serve children well.

Walking into any storm prepared serves to develop empathy, compassion, and strength--hence I'll "walk into the burning house" today, and hopefully walk out the other side with renewed commitment, greater wisdom, and new goals for growth.  Onward.

PLC Considerations: Moving Forward

Field Day Festivities

Our extraordinary physical education teacher will lead another field day today.

He crafts the day like a choreographer designs an intricate performance--every detail has been considered and the children have been prepared.  As with all work he does, collaboration, cheering each other on, and physical fitness take center stage during this festive, celebratory day.

As the classroom teacher, I'll follow my class to activity after activity.  I'll cheer for and coach my students through contests that involve running laps, shooting balls, and jumping over hurdles.  I'll also help with skinned knees, disappointing results, and thirsty/hungry athletes.

Field Day brings the whole school together in a colorful, playground celebration--one the students look forward to each year.

The Best Person for the Job?

A new teacher will be hired at my school soon, and I am wondering if there is a "best person" for every job.

Probably not, but there are definitely people whose skills, attitude, and experience match a job better than others.

Several years ago I was asked to do a job, a job that was not a match for my skills or abilities.  I could have taken the job and earned a few extra dollars, but the effort to do the job well would have taken away from the areas I've prioritized for growth and skill.  Hence, I didn't take the job, and the person who did was well suited for the job's requirements.

Organizations grow with strength when people are well chosen for a job by demonstrating the skills, attitude, investment, and experience that match the job description well. Everyone suffers when a person is chosen for a job for the wrong reasons, and when that person does not have what it takes to do that job well.

Hence, it's important that individuals accept jobs that they are well suited for, and similarly important that organizations choose individuals who have what it takes to do the job well.

When one accepts a new job or is chosen for a new position, he/she will always have room for growth--no new (or veteran) employee will be the perfect fit as with all good work and effort there is always room for growth.

Hiring, when done well, is not a simple matter.  Typically, every candidate brought to the interview table demonstrates strong skills, intent, and abilities.  Also, no matter how terrific a candidate is, leaders look to match candidates to the current context and future need.  Budgets are considered too.

Soon, I'll play a small role on an interview committee.  I'm keenly aware of the candidates' solid resumes and strengths in this time of competition when it comes to elementary school teaching jobs.  I know that even though all candidates won't be chosen for this position, it's likely that the candidates not chosen will be recommended and interviewed for future jobs in our system and others.

There is never a "best" person for the job, but one person is chosen--a person who appears to fit the context, needs, and requirements of the job.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fourth Grade Math Scope and Sequence Notes

Math Scope and Sequence

Yesterday the team met about the math scope and sequence for next year's fourth grade. Essentially we made room for all the main grade-level concepts. The meeting gave us a positive launching pad for next year's math program. I hope to add more detail to the chart over the summer and next year to guide the classroom efforts.

My math goal next year will be to use an SMP planning chart and the standards to guide the roll-out of each unit in differentiated ways providing room for all on the continuum from remediation and review to enrichment in engaging ways.

In addition to the scope and sequence, I will also employ a number of “Mental Push-ups” (a term coined by my colleague, Mike O'Connor) and math routines to develop facility and fluency with math concepts. The routines will include the following:

  • oral routines
  • fact practice
  • math message
  • computation practice
  • online home study (self grading/reporting) i.e. Xtra Math, That Quiz, SumDog
Over the summer months, I'll revise the class math website to reflect this scope and sequence as well as the many activities we employed this year to develop students' understanding. If you have any additions, revisions, or deletions for me, please let me know. There's so much potential when it comes to math education today, and I believe that yesterday's meeting was one step in the right direction with next year's students in mind.

Related Standards Website

Concept Thread
Computation/Problem Solving  Thread

Symphony Benchmark?
Facts Assessment

Measurement /Line plots**
Use multiple tools to introduce measurement equivalencies, standards.

Include patterns
Youtube videos, songs, problem solving sheets.

rulers, meter sticks, yard sticks, tape measures, images of landmark measurements.

*Note that measurement is a nice introductory unit as it is new for many and you can use it help introduce classroom information. Here is a link to many measurement activities.

Addition / Subtraction with regrouping / Place Value and Problem Solving - September - EDM Unit 2
*Individual fact menus set for each child.
*Math Routines and Systems - week 1 (SMPs intro)
Add/Subtract Facts
*Place value  and Rounding - how does our base 10 system work? - week 2
*Addition with regrouping - week 3
(including adding three or more numbers, adding money, numbers w/decimal points)
*Subtraction with regrouping - week 4
(subtracting large numbers, numbers w/0, money- check with addition)

  • Tech Connect: Symphony, That Quiz, Xtra Math, Sum Dog
  • EDM book
Online/offline computation work.
Grow at your own rate computation work, practice efforts that last throughout the year.


Basics of Multiplication - second half of October - EDM Unit 3
*Understand factors and find all factor pairs for a given whole number  / multiples
*Commutative property
*Fact strategies
*Variables to represent unknowns
*Prime and composite
Factor Game (online/Off)
That Quiz has good algebra practice.
Tynker project
Fact Practice online/off

That Quiz Factors/Multiple Tests

Multiplication Facts

Tech Connect: Symphony, That Quiz, Xtra Math, Sum Dog, FastMath
Multiplication fact practice


Area and Perimeter**

video song
graph paper
lots of practice w/open response problems from the past
That Quiz has great online practice tests for this.

Chrome Room Design App
Ikea Room Design

That Quiz has great area/perimeter practice tests.

Multi-Digit Multiplication  - EDM Unit 5
*2 by 1, 3 by 1 (distributive property)
*Partial products
*2 by 2
*Distances on a map (scale) (option?)
*Introduction of standard algorithm
lots of paper/pencil practice
lots of practice with word problems and model making
review videos
related open response problems.
practice sets

mid January

Patterns and algebra. Geometry**

online balance activity
students create and analyze patterns.
Possible measurement review with patterns.
Utilize past concepts of factors, multiples, and measurement in patterns/algebra.

Use algebra when solving simple math problems that review facts, addition and multiplication.

Long Division - Unit 6

*use equal groups (base ten blocks)
*partial quotients
*area model (using base ten blocks)
*standard algorithm

related open response problems
conceptual lessons/models
practice sets

Video review

Mid January- March

Symphony Mid-Year Benchmark?


Fractions/Decimals -  Unit 7
*Fraction of a whole – using circles (360 into really helps), number line, rectangles and discrete sets (use manipulatives)
*Mixed numbers and improper fractions (supplement)
*Converting mixed to improper fractions and back  (worksheets)
*Changing the whole changes the value of the fraction
*Comparing and ordering fractions with different numerators and different denominators by comparing to a benchmark fraction – use PROBE 2
*Simple equivalent fractions
*Adding and subtracting fractions (up to mixed numbers with like denominators) –
lesson 7.5
*Fraction addition and subtraction with estimating
*Compose and decompose fractions into unit fractions
*Multiplying fractions by whole numbers – see the “Cloud Model” for multiplying fractions
-lesson 7.12a
*Use decimal notation for fractions with denominators of 10 or 100
*Locate decimals on a number line
*Compare and order decimals to the hundredths place

Multiple resources available online/offline including project base endeavor and problem solving.
Lots of practice

Computation/Facts Practice, Review and Related Problem Solving
Regular practice with problem solving, problem solving with fractions.



Geometry Part 2
*Identify and draw points, line segments, lines and rays (1.2)
*Naming angles (1.3) and parallel / perpendicular lines
*Identifying 2D figures (rest of 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5)
*Line of symmetry (10.4)
*Recognizing 360 degrees in a circle (6.5)
*Measuring angles with a half circle and full circle protractor (6.6 and 6.7)
*Recognizing angle measure as additive - Angle Add Up (unit 7 p 619 in manual - MM 507-509, which include directions)
*Constructing angles (6.6 and 6.7)
*Review 3D
Believe there’s a considerable emphasis on quadrilaterals--I’ll check on that.
That Quiz has a great online protractor/angle measurement activity

360 packet helps w/fractions and angles.

Pattern block exploration

Open response problem solving.
That Quiz has great fraction test practice.

Use Line Plot to practice work w/fractions.

Students seem to grasp these concepts with ease.

Open Response Problem Solving Close Review /Computation Review

MCAS Review of all concepts
Teach /Review Strategies:
  • underline key words
  • circle question
  • show work, label, use structure
  • write Answer: and answer with complete sentence
  • check work.
Old MCAS problems that match problem.

New Parcc/CC problems.


Symphony end year benchmark

CBM end year?


MCAS Review
At-home give student practice packets for homework.

In-class use practice packets for collaborative work, practice test.

Review packets together, reteach concepts that are not mastered, but close.
Former MCAS packets
MCAS practice test and problems

That Quiz 10-problem quick review sets at home and in-school, independent and collaborative.

Open Response Problem Solving Close Review /Computation Review




Math/Science Project Base Learning - Applying math concepts to science information (endangered species) possible link with data and stats, i.e. infographics



Continued fact, computation review and problem solving.  Perhaps a focus on “math talk” and lively math discussion.



**Units that can be moved to different times of the year without too much trouble.