Friday, December 16, 2011

The Nintendo Effect

 Doug Reeves speaks about the Nintendo Effect (Jeff Howard) in his recent blog post titled From Differentiated Instruction to Differentiated Assessment . This is the perfect way to describe when students are so engaged in their learning that their focus is as if they are playing a video game or watching the best movie ever. Who wouldn't want this to happened in their classroom? According to Reeves, all students need is choice, power and competence to achieve this effect. Just two of these will lead to engagement for a short time, but will not be long lasting.

This article is definitely worth reading, because he gives teachers practical ideas for differentiating homework and class work that will lead to assessment of learning.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kids love science, why wait??

Reading the article in this link, made me wonder why we have been waiting to really teach kids about science. This article, Educators are taking a new approach to teaching science, reminded me that in the U.S. the big emphasis on science doesn't come until after 3rd grade. In many places it doesn't happen until middle school. Young children love science, it is exciting, rewarding and interactive. Why is it viewed as an "extra" in early grades? 

I understand the time argument. We need to teach them basic skills first, yes. Why can't we infuse science into more of what we do?

I appreciate that in Florida it is being recognized that even though the students are not tested on science content until 5th grade they need to be teaching the material much earlier. Florida, I'm sure, is not the first state to deal with this issue. What is more important to me, is that kids are missing out on the fun of science from the get-go. We are missing out on a ripe opportunity to foster a thirst and love of science and learning when we don't offer our kids these experiences at an early age. I love science, all kinds, and see it as the glue that holds everything together. I'm a little bias since I taught science for 10 yrs. at the middle school level. 

A bigger issue is that our country is struggling in a global job market. Many other countries are beating us when it comes to math and science. Anyone see a connection here? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rethinking homework, it's about time.

Elizabeth Peterson, the author of this blog post,, got me to thinking about homework.

As a teacher, I gave homework for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, because I thought I had to. Then, as I got to be a better teacher and had more to "cover" I gave homework as an extension of the school day. Toward the end of my time in the classroom I used homework as a way to "flip" my instruction. I asked the students to read and take notes on a section of text. The next day we would discuss and do activities about that content. I was on to something, but didn't have much more to use than the textbook or magazines at the time. Now with You Tube, I Pods, email, etc. there are so many options. Not all students have access to the internet or technology at home, so this is still a hurdle, but you have to admit, the resources are out there.

Now as a mother with school age kids new light has been shed on this whole "homework thing". Unless it is purposeful and engaging work, why would students want to or even care about doing it? We could ask ourselves the same question about work that is done inside the school day too. Wink, wink. Students are less likely to retain or comprehend ideas or content that are not meaningful or engaging. So how can we make homework more meaningful and engaging?

Elizabeth Peterson has some great ideas about using tools like Study Island, Study Jams and Spelling City.
-What about assigning You Tube videos to watch on the content you are studying?  Better yet have kids create You Tube videos to share in class.
-If you want to keep it simple have students find examples of math, science or reading at home that relate to what your lessons are at school.
-Use Project Based Learning ideas, this gives real purpose to the work. There are many websites out there with sample projects.
-Quizzing Mom, Dad and siblings about topics or skills from class.
-Help your teacher out by writing the next math test, don't forget to include the answers!
-Read, read, read
-Write, write, write

I know many of you are doing all these things and more. Please share!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning about Learning Styles, not important? Think again.

This NPR article, Think You're An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely, speaks to the fact that teaching to one learning style or another is not best practice. I can't argue with that, however children do prefer different modes of learning, that doesn't mean they don't learn from all of them.
The author says here that we should "mix up" how we teach, so that students experience a variety of learning throughout the instruction.

"And, in that case, he says, there's a lot of common ground. For example, variety. "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better."

I completely agree with this! But teachers need to understand learning styles and how to teach to them so that they are able to "mix it up". Everyone, including teachers, prefer to express themselves in certain ways. I like to talk it out, my husband can't explain anything without drawing you a picture, etc. Knowing how you communicate as an educator will help as you plan and deliver your instruction. Know the first step.

I would hate for this study to take away from the importance of getting to know your students. Building relationships in the classroom is not just finding out your students' favorite hobbies; it is more about discovering who they are as learners and in turn, empowering the students with this knowledge.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Teacher Accountability & PLC

Below is a blog article by my colleague Daniel Venables, author of The Practice of Authentic PLCs. I had a hand in it's creation as I was the one that said, "Daniel, you need to write this article!" Please let us know what you think.

By Daniel Venables
(written with contributions from Cari Begin of Performance ED, LLC)

Teacher Evaluation & Accountability reform has been firmly placed on an educational front burner becoming a hot topic of state boards of education, district boards across the US, local school administrators, teacher advocate groups, teacher unions, the media and the general public. {The topic has also served as a seemingly endless source of material for blog posts, this one not excepting.}

This year, the NEA (National Education Association) has adopted a Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability; many individual state teacher unions as in Delaware, Missouri, Oregon and others have begun initiatives honing guidelines for teacher evaluation.  In North Carolina, Pay-for-Performance and the new North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Process (NCTEP) will affect almost a hundred thousand teachers beginning next year.

In Charlotte, where the authors have spent recent years as Professional Development Coordinators, we witnessed first-hand the groundswell of anxiety with which the NCTEP was met by teachers.  In our opinion, the NCTEP is a solid, though far from perfect, document; but like most evaluation instruments, its use in practice exists in a context of evaluator intention – principals’ intentions, in this case.   In a climate of shrinking budgets and Reductions-in-Force (RIFs), it’s hard to convince teachers that the NCTEP is an instrument for professional growth and not for ridding faculties of their ineffective teachers.  Regardless of how principals actually use the instrument, teacher perception of possible misuse quickly pins teachers’ stress needles.  

All this is not to suggest that we think teacher evaluation and accountability is a bad thing.  It is not.  Nor do we oppose, a priori, the notion of external teacher evaluation based in part on student performance.  (We said, “in part.” :)   Our query is this:
Regardless of the criteria or instrument used in evaluating teachers, At what point do we teachers begin to hold each other accountable?  Lawyers do it, doctors do it, journalists do it, basketball players and filmmakers do it.  When will teachers wean themselves from their dependency on edicts of administrators and hold one another to the standards of high quality teaching?  After all, if we were doing this all along, there wouldn’t be such a need for external evaluation and imposed accountability systems.  There will always be some degree of external evaluation and that’s not unreasonable.  But isn’t it high time we did some serious self evaluation and took action based on that evaluation?  Are we not the ones in best position to decide what is not working and what it might take to improve those things? 

There is no telling when teachers will move toward active (both proactive and reactive) self-evaluation but we’re quite sure how this will happen.  It will involve teachers working together as authentic professional learning communities (PLCs).  Self-evaluation and self-accountability will require big doses of trust and honesty among educators – the degree of trust and honesty found in authentic PLCs. 

It’s not that we should do it; it’s more that we must do it.  Would educators really prefer the continued bombardment of external evaluation and accountability systems to sitting down together and having honest, often hard, conversations about what is needed to do better by kids?   We don’t think so.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Differentiator

Have you seen this?? What a great tool!
The Differentiator

It allows you to enter specific learning goals along with level of thinking, content, resources and groupings. It was developed by a teacher who began keeping track of his differentiated lessons and in his words, "The Differentiator was born". Here is a link to his blog.

Playing around with this tool during the summer would be well worth your time. I would also suggest checking out his blog. He is focused on gifted education, however all of his ideas can be used with general education students as well.

Have fun!

Monday, May 2, 2011

President Obama shared ideas for fixing NCLB

ASCD’s David Griffith, director of public policy, and Tina Dove, manager of public policy advocacy, attended the speech, at which President Obama also shared the following ideas for fixing NCLB:

Here are my thoughts-

                Improve how we measure success and failure so that schools that are making progress with their students aren’t unfairly penalized and schools that are struggling get the help they need.
This makes me breathe a sigh of relief. I worked with several schools in Charlotte that were making progress with their students but still being penalized because they hadn’t reached the benchmark. I also taught in a couple of schools in Michigan that were performing very well (95% passing state tests), but looking at not making Adequate Yearly Progress because they had hit a plateau. My experiences are just a very small example of what is happening all over the country. I hope that a realistic solution can be implemented.

                Set better standards that prepare students for college and careers, and create better assessments that show whether students are making progress and mastering high-level thinking skills.
Better assessments? Did I read this correctly? THANK YOU!
One of my biggest concerns about standardized testing is not that it takes up too much time or the teachers are “teaching to the test”, but that the test don’t always measure what’s really important. Many times the test questions are poorly written or the answer choices are confusing. As a teacher and curriculum consultant I have had the opportunity to read many, many test questions from several different states. If the subject matter expert (me) reads a question and says, “What??” then how do we expect the kids to demonstrate knowledge? I have to say that over the last 5 yrs. the quality of multiple test questions has improved. But that brings me to my next point, multiple choice questions are not a good measure of what students really know. For awhile the tests were including constructed response or essay questions, but with budget cuts we went back to all multiple choice. It is no secret that these tests don’t do a great job of telling us what our kids REALLY know, but we have to assess them…
We are using these tests that are not a good measure of what students know to evaluate our teachers.

                Hold schools accountable for their students’ success, not through rigid mandates, but in ways that encourage creativity and empower educators and students.
Taking into account differences in schools and the students in those schools is key here. Individuals are motivated by different things (goals, relationships, incentives). I think it is very narrow minded to think that every teacher in every school will be motivated to perform by the same incentives or the same punitive consequences. So without creativity we will never discover what works.

                Make sure our certified teachers are also outstanding teachers by improving how we prepare and support them, measure their success in the classroom, and hold them accountable.
Authentic PLCs can go along way to supporting and holding our teachers accountable. Teachers should be meeting with colleagues on a regular basis to discuss current education research, looking student work and their own work. This is not happening. I know I have mentioned this before in my blog, but I feel so strongly that this could be the missing piece to the puzzle! If you haven’t already, purchase and read The Practice of Authentic PLCs: A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams by Daniel R. Venables (Corwin Press, 2011).

House Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) was circumspect on President Obama’s proposed timeline for fixing NCLB, saying the committee needs to take the time to get it right. Kline also said the House would not approve one comprehensive education bill, instead breaking up NCLB reauthorization into separate pieces of legislation. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Education as a Civil Right |

Education as a Civil Right |

Interesting. I will hear more about this tonight when I see Michelle Rhee live at Spellman College in Atlanta. I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Addressing Diverse Student Learning Needs- Free Webinar

Is anyone planning to "attend" this? I thought it would be worthwhile to put it out there. You can't beat FREE!

Addressing Diverse Student Learning Needs
Thursday, April 7, 4 p.m. EDT
Also available "on demand" any time 24 hours after the event.

Free registration is now open.
On account of both demographic changes and evolving school instructional policies, many teachers today face an increasingly wide range of student learning differences?be they academic, behavioral, physical, or cultural?in their classrooms. Even experienced teachers often do not feel fully prepared to meet the challenge of addressing such varied needs. The 2010 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, released this month, finds that 60 percent of K-12 educators say strengthening resources and programs to help students with diverse learning needs become college- and career-ready should be a top priority in education. The survey finds that math teachers, in particular, struggle with differentiating instruction to reach all learners.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Think Big, Start Small

I read an article on that got me thinking about a couple of things related to planning for differentiated instruction. I’ve decided to write several blog articles related to this topic. I have included excerpts from the eHow article that sparked my thoughts.

When thinking about differentiating our instruction sometimes we get caught up with the all the "cool things" we can do with the students. I've done this more than once. What started as a very focused planning session about meeting various learner needs turned into an elaborate project that included a class store with “money”, bookkeepers, team leaders and a competition. The students loved it and were engaged, however, when it came time to assess the students’ learning I was hard pressed to identify the demonstrated standards and skills. I ended up using hours of precious class time on a project that was not focused on the skills and standards that my students needed to master.

This is why I feel so strongly about planning backwards and starting with the big picture (state standards). When designing lessons, whether they are differentiated or not, start with the question, “What do students need to demonstrate so I know that they have mastered the standard/skill?” Stray as little as possible from the answer to this question as you plan learning activities. How much time and energy should be spent on spelling, punctuation or pretty pictures, unless that is the objective of the lesson? There will be some details you add to the activity to make it more engaging. For instance, creating a real world experience will take a little extra time and there will be extraneous learning that takes place, but students will be very engaged.

Robert Marzano has said our education system would have to be K-22 in order to teach all of the state standards adequately. More and more education leaders agree that teachers must start teaching the “power standards”.  Daniel Venables, author of The Practice of Authentic PLCs (2011), recommends that teacher teams consider two criteria when determining which concepts or skills are worth teaching in depth.  Prominence- how often does is this concept or skill show up on the state standardized tests?
Vitality- “How vital is knowledge of this topic to later skills or coursework?” (Venables, 2011)
It is necessary to trim curriculum. Teachers should be making executive decisions about what they can realistically teach in depth. I would much rather know that my students have mastered 80 – 85% of the curriculum vs. being exposed to 100% of it.

Knowing what to differentiate and what not to differentiate can also be a difficult task. I like to keep my analysis simple. Using my instructional experience from previous years or the experience of others to make these decisions. If you have taught a particular lesson or unit and it was difficult for many students, this is a good place to differentiate. Likewise, if a lesson you have taught in the past was easy for many students then you want to differentiate your instruction for those students to give them a challenge. Include opportunities for all students to process content in multiple modalities in every lesson.  Most importantly, start small.

Excerpt from: "How to Implement Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom"
By Lynn Wolf, eHow Contributor

Balance learning goals, curriculum, and student needs.
1- Know the instructional goals and objectives for your content area, and allow these standards to guide the lesson planning process. Decide which units of learning align with which standards and group those units together. 

2- Use departmental or district curriculum to support, not lead, the learning process. Detailed curriculum provided by departments or school districts is sometimes more of an obstacle than a helpful tool, as teachers can get caught up in the desire to "fit it all in." Planning based solely on the required curriculum leaves out the personal learning needs of the student. Using state learning standards for the grade and subject area provides a broader base from which teachers can start their lesson planning process. 

3- Decide what standards lend themselves to effective differentiation. Trying to create differentiated lessons for all content standards can be counter-productive. Some standards -- like basic math operations, for example -- must simply be taught and mastered. Helping students develop math problem solving strategies, however, is a lesson that can be taught in a variety of ways. Teachers and students can work together to find the strategies that work best for each student, based on the student's learning style. Students can demonstrate their mastery of this skill in different ways, such as successfully completing a written assessment or creating an oral presentation on how to solve problems using his or her preferred method.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Video archive of your teaching

After posting my thoughts about the TED video, I continued to "process" these ideas. There are so many possibilities that I had to post about this again.

What if teachers recorded their mini-lessons and had them available to their students 24/7? It could be a great review for students who need a refresher or for students that were absent.
How about using them in centers? Ask students to improve on the teacher's lesson. Hmm. "How could your teacher explain this better?"
What could you do with mini-lesson recordings of several teachers on a grade level? This would open the boundaries of classrooms. It would allow for students to experience a variety of teaching styles.
What ideas can you add? Please join this conversation!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reinventing the way we "do" school

I love! I have to thank my husband for introducing me to this website and sharing great ideas with me.

So much of the school day is taken up by the delivery of content that not much time is left for the processing and mastery of skills and concepts. This was part of a discussion I had at an elementary school yesterday. Teachers voiced frustrations over the "amount" of content that is being added to the curriculum and with no more time in the school day teachers and students feel rushed. Learners need time to process new information before mastery can be achieved.

What does "processing time" look and sound like? It can look and sound different in every classroom, but it is vital to any successful learning environment. Students need to be discussing, debating, organizing, playing, evaluating, teaching, writing, creating, acting, collaborating and moving! This is hard to do with students when much of the time a teacher spends with his or her class is spent delivering content.

Watching this video, I had an Aha moment, because if you consider "flipping the traditional teaching script", teachers would have much more time with their students during the processing time. Teachers would have quality time to help students wrestle with important ideas. Students that need reinforcement of skills and concepts would have access to their teacher when they need it, instead of realizing they don't "get it" after school hours.

This is not meant to replace the teacher in the classroom, instead maximize what great teachers do best, making learning challenging and exciting.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What do you think?

Have you seen Bill Gates latest comments about good teachers? I think it is fascinating, some it of it I agree with, some of it I am not sure about.

Watch this video and tell me what you think.
Bill Gates- TED speech

1. Seniority pay. There is something to be said for experience, but shouldn't there be other factors that are considered?
2. Advanced degree "bumps". An advanced degree may not translate into higher test scores for students, but teachers who take the time and money to advance their own education are at least headed in the right direction. This is worth something, right?
3. Video taping teachers to determine effective teaching practices. Amen. Yes, this is what we should be doing, studying all sorts of teachers and figuring out what really works. The real trick after we figure out the "formula", will be to recreate this in all classrooms. Hmmm? Just because this works in one classroom, does that mean it will work anywhere? No, it won't. Teachers will need to be given an array of strategies and ideas that they can put in their toolkits to use when they determine appropriate. A solid understanding of their students and differentiated instruction will make these strategies useful.
4. Class size. I agree that great teachers who agree to take on extra students should get paid more. I also agree that I would rather have my child in a larger class with a great teacher than a smaller class with a mediocre teacher. However, there has to be a limit, even the best teacher in the world can't reach 40 kids in one class.

We are discussing the details of such an overwhelming issue. I hope these discussions continue and society doesn't bore of the minutia. All of this needs to be sorted out and it will take time, a lot of time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

A few of my favorite quotes:

"With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street."Oh the Places You'll Go

"He meant what he said
And he said what he meant..."Horton Hatches the Egg

"A Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, as you can plainly see!" Dr. Seuss's ABC

"I say, Hooray for the shapes we're in!" The Shape of ME and Other Stuff

What are your favorites?

Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Spend $100 Million to Really Save Education. Really??

Please take time to read this article.
How to Spend $100 Million to Really Save Education

My first thought is, "Do we really think $100 Million will do it?"
Second thought, "Wow, that's an overwhelming idea!" If we were talking about a car that wouldn't start, the mechanic knows it could be one of maybe 4 things that is causing the problem. On the other hand, if the car has been in an accident and has been totaled, sometimes it is just easier to scrap it and start over. That's how I feel about our education system. Yes, there are things that work really well, but we have been putting bandaids on and plugging holes for so long it is no longer fixable.

In this article KAMENETZ says,  "I wish he [Zukerburg] had taken his $100 million, and some of his smartest people, and designed a new framework for education from the ground up, much the way he built Facebook from a dorm-room idea to a global brand. Is it possible to craft an education platform that's as participatory, offers as much opportunity for self-expression, and is as magnetic to young people as Facebook itself? That would be a theory of change worth testing."

I agree, let's get really creative. Not just taking what we have and tweaking it, but take our existing system apart, set aside the parts that are working well (we'll use those again) and build anew. We need to get over the way we did school when we were growing up. The world doesn't look the way it did then, so why should school??

Some of my thoughts-
Year round school, yes.
Longer school days, maybe.
Alternative ways to access information, yes.
Digital classrooms, textbook,  yes.
Distance learning, yes.
More professional learning for teachers, yes.
More time for teachers to collaborate, yes.
Start kids in school at a younger age, maybe.
Rethink our tests, yes.
Build in required time for parents to interact with the teachers and students, yes.
Saturday school, maybe
(If school was a fun and exciting place to be kids would want to be there even on Saturday.)
Build a 21st Century classroom, yes.

I know many parents might object to the year round school idea, so maybe those parents could choose to keep their kids home during the summer as long as their kids were meeting the standards for that grade level.  In a brand new system we can set up multiple paths of learning for all students. 

What does a 21st century classroom look like? This is an exciting question. Well, there wouldn't be isolated computer stations. Students would be traveling around the "learning environment" with their own laptops or IPads, after all isn't that we really do? I'm not sitting at a large computer on an uncomfortable chair writing this blog, no, I'm sitting on the couch with my laptop, flipping between websites. 
You wouldn't see students sitting at desks in rows in the 21st century classroom. Students would be checking with a master calendar to see where their learning stations are for the day. This, of course, would be based on formative assessments, teacher observations and student-teacher conversations and would change frequently. 
You would see multi-sensory activities happening around the "learning environment". Teachers would be working with small groups of students or individuals. Students would be working with other students and parents would be present in the classroom.

If I were to rebuild our education system teachers would have plenty of time for planning and collaboration. This has been missing for so long in our current system. We have tried to squeeze time in for collaboration, you can't quickly collaborate, it takes a lot of time, but the end result is powerful. 

In the end, I am glad that many more people are coming to the table to have these discussions. The results can only benefit our kids in the long run.

Wow! Resource website for teachers.

Have you seen this resource website, ? You could spend hours, probably days, on this site. I like that you can search by grade level and content. If you want to get really specific, let's say you want a video for first graders in science, you can do that too.
Here's what Curriki has to say about itself:

Curriki is more than your average website; we're a community of educators, learners and committed education experts who are working together to create quality materials that will benefit teachers and students around the world.
Curriki is an online environment created to support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. Our name is a play on the combination of 'curriculum' and 'wiki' which is the technology we're using to make education universally accessible.
Curriki is the result of work done for GELC - the Global Education and Learning Community - an online project started by Sun Microsystems to develop works for education in a collaborative effort. The leadership team consists of people with a long-time commitment to exploring the use of technology to improve education.

Most of what I reviewed was quality instructional activities, websites and resources.
If you are looking for new ways to present your curriculum this website could be your new best friend!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you making these four differentiated instruction mistakes?

Read this article from ASCD Edge.
1. Multiple Assignment rather than Multiple Pathways
This is a common mistake, since differentiation is often presented to teachers as multiple assignments or projects going on at once. To be perfectly honest, it is easier to explain to teachers that they can find and copy multiple "worksheets" on the same topic rather than create multiple paths for learning.

2. Differentiating by learning style vs. learning needs
We can classify students into learning styles and prescribe learning activities for them without much gray area. Learning needs is more vague and uncomfortable for teachers since these learning needs change constantly.

3.Differentiating by achievement level rather than by students' current learning level.
Here again students learning levels change constantly based on the content, the interest and background knowledge. This requires continuous assessment and adjustment to grouping and instruction.

4. Differentiating up rather than down.
I really think this should say "down rather than up". We tend to differentiate by "dumbing down" instead of starting at the standard and looking up. If students have trouble getting to the standard we need to look for ways to support them to reach that standard. 

I read this recently and thought it was a great way to think about the teacher's role in a differentiated classroom.

“Teachers in Differentiated Classrooms are students of their students”  Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yet another national trend

Read this article about Michigan high schools. Many Michigan high school grads not ready for college
This hits home for me because I grew up in Michigan. I started my career in education, my marriage and family there, it will always be home. However, this is not just a Michigan problem. I sat in a meeting just this morning and heard how the high schools in my current community are missing the mark when it comes to preparing students for college. Our world of work and business has changed dramatically since the 1970's and 80's, but not much has changed in the world of K-12 education. Yes, we have added computers,  SMART Boards and some teacher collaborate, but the framework of how we "do school" is essentially still the same.
Now, as a mother, I have a new concerns, will my kids be prepared for college and the workforce? What are my husband and I going to have to do to supplement their education? Are we equipped to handle this task? As a proactive educator I am worried, but I can only imagine what other parents are thinking.
I find myself lately, caught between the two roles of professional educator and parent. I can see each side's perspective. I hadn't thought about this much until my oldest started kindergarten this year. It is a new chapter in my life, something to ponder.