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10 posts from August 2012

Mark Gardner | | August 31, 2012

What I want my students to learn this year:


1. There is typically a positive correlation between effort and results.

2. Success in high school has surprisingly little to do with how smart you are.

3. Don't accept an opinion just because it is the first one you learn.

3a. Don't discount an opinion just because it contradicts the first one you learned.

4. Make sure that you don't confuse what you know with what you think you know.

5. It is perfectly okay to not know things, as long as you don't stop there.

6. You should make it a habit to question what you think you know and believe.

6a. Changing your opinion about something important, especially when you are faced with new information, is not a sign of weakness.

Janette MacKay | | August 28, 2012

Curriculum, Common Core, and (a little) Contemplation


My living room floor is covered in books, bags of play-doh, math manipulatives, files, and papers. The kitchen counter looks about the same. So does the table, the sofa, my bed. Summer is ending and it’s time to get those lesson plans straightened out to start the year. I could do this at school, but my classroom is in a dark basement with no windows, and the sun is shining.

I’ve spent quite a few hours this past week searching Pinterest and blogs, going through old plan books and files, reading  teacher’s guides, and of course navigating my fancy new Common Core app for just the right mix of beginning of the year lessons. I’ve also spent a lot of time reflecting on how we make these decisions.

Tom | | August 27, 2012

Lesson Study in America


68ebf7de0419154790a2a36ac3d1cdd07510ab95By Tom White

As I understand it, the primary form of professional development in Japan is something called Lesson Study; a model in which a team of teachers collaborates on the planning and delivery of a lesson. One lesson. The whole team decides on a topic, picks a lesson and then plans it. Once the lesson plan is complete, one member teaches the lesson to a group of students while the rest of the team studies how the lesson plays out. Their focus is on the students’ interaction with the learning activity. After the lesson, the entire team compares notes, analyzing and reflecting on the lesson. This debriefing session usually evolves into a revision of the lesson, to be taught by a different teacher and observed again by the rest of the team. Only when they’re satisfied with the lesson does the team move on to a different lesson.

It’s important to note that during the observation and the debriefing, the focus is always on the lesson, not the teacher. Furthermore, the lesson is always referred to as “our lesson.” And rightly so, since it was crafted by the team, not the teacher who presented it. This makes lesson study an extremely “safe” way to get teachers out into each other’s rooms and talking about teaching.

I love Lesson Study. I’ve used it in my own school and I’ve help get it going in other schools. What I particularly love is the focus on The Lesson – the most underrated element of teaching; the singular point in which the teacher, the school and the curriculum come into direct contact with the student.

The primary purpose of Lesson Study is the creation of good, tested lessons. That’s why they do it in Japan, where Lesson Study originated during the post-war years. Lesson Study in America also yields quality lessons, but in my experience, the real benefit is the incidental learning that goes on throughout the entire process. As teachers discuss every part of the lesson, they each call upon their experience and training to come up with ideas to share. They listen to each other and debate the possibilities, all the while refining and expanding their own philosophies and teacher tool-kits, thereby benefitting the rest of the thousand-or-so lessons they teach each year. It’s extremely
powerful, especially with a mixture of young and “seasoned” teachers.

Despite all this, Lesson Study hasn’t really caught on in America. This doesn’t surprise me, and I can think of at least three reasons why it hasn’t – and likely won’t – take root in this nation.

First of all, Lesson Study is too gradual for our country. Productive, professional discourse notwithstanding, Lesson Study’s output of two or three quality lessons per year is simply too glacial for a nation that prefers “school reform” over slow, sustainable improvement. We don’t want our low-performing schools to simply “get better;” we want them to “turn around.” Unlike Japan, we want Results Now. In regards to professional development, Japan joined a gym, while America invented liposuction. Ironically, Japan – plodding along with Lesson Study – has become an educational superstar, while American schools, despite our Results Now mentality, haven’t changed a whole lot over the past twenty years.

Besides that, I don’t think there’s enough trust in this country between groups of stakeholders that teachers, working without an administrator or without an “expert” are actually “working.” I recently worked with a group of teachers in Washington D.C., facilitating the formation of two Lesson Study groups. The biggest concern they had was protecting the process and their work from their principal, who they felt would want to either influence their lessons or turn the “study” into another form of evaluative observation. This makes sense, considering that principals are under intense pressure to increase test scores. PD time is precious, and it’s hard to justify squandering it on something that won’t yield immediate, measurable changes in data.

Finally, Lesson Study is simply too simple and too cheap for America, a nation that doesn’t take any professional development model seriously until Corwin Press has had its way with it. It’s not that you can’t find a book about Lesson Study – you can; but you can also reread the first paragraph of this post and save yourself $24.95. It really is that simple. Lesson Study is the minimalist’s model of professional development. The haiku of PLC’s, if you will. In fact, the teachers with whom I was working in D.C. had, within the first hour, and without so much as a binder, figured out the basic process and begun adapting the model so it would work in their school. By the second hour, they had formed their two groups and were working on a set of norms that would guide their meetings. By the fourth hour, one group had starting planning a lesson in which their students would use primary documents dealing with the Iroquois Confederation to write historically accurate recipes using the foods available to the Native People. The other group was working on an activity in which students would look at global patterns of lactose intolerance and make connections to the history of colonialism.

Very cool lessons; but what was even cooler were the conversations they were having: What constitutes a primary document? What’s the operative difference between guided and independent practice? What’s the biology behind lactose intolerance? Why is there so little health data from
Somalia? Should we let the students try to make sense out of a color-coded map before or after we tell them what the colors represent? What exactly is an anticipatory set? How could different tribes eat such different foods and still get adequate nutrition? These discussions, focused on both content and pedagogy, happened without either an expert or an administrator.

Lesson Study is the epitome of high-quality, job-embedded professional development. It’s simple, powerful and effective. It gets teachers talking about their craft and it gets them into each other’s rooms to watch each other teach.

It’s perfect, and it will never catch on in this country.

It’s too bad.

Tamara | | August 25, 2012

Grading for Equity


Tamara Mosar

The start of the school year always has me thinking about how I will measure student progress/acheivement and how to share that information in a way that allows students grow as learners. Most years that means I'm re-examining rubrics, re-tooling and preparing to set up student portfolios. For years my district has been looling at Stiggins and how do we assess to promote learning. Accross the state a number of districts are moving to standards based grading. Something Kristin brought up recently.

Philosophically I like standards based grading. I think it offers teachers, students, and families a far more clear and objective picture of learning taking place. Much in the same way TPEP has potential to be a powerful tool for porfessional growth, standards based grading has the potential to be a powerful tool in student learning when accompanied by timely actionable feedback. But there are issues.

Rob | Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | August 23, 2012

Sparrow vs. Goose


By Rob

One of my favorite summer activities was playing fetch in the park with my dog.  After the pooch was worn out we’d sit in the grass and I’d marvel at the swallows that arrive by late morning.  These birds would swoop, dive, bank and turn.  It was dizzying to see how quickly they’d change directions and commit to a new path.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Science | August 15, 2012

Accountability at What Cost? The Biology End of Course exam


Focus on BiologyIt's a new school year.  I'm teaching biology and chemistry, classes I have taught for years.  This year, however, there is something new--this year, for the first time, my tenth graders are required to pass the Washington state biology end-of-course exam in order to graduate.

My concern is that a high stakes exam that focuses only on biology narrows the curriculum to the detriment of chemistry, physics, and earth science.  The problem? 

Tamara | | August 13, 2012

Change in the Fast Lane


By Tamara

Based on recent posts we have all been involved in a great deal of professional development over the summer. All much needed in light of the myriad changes coming down the pike between Common Core Standards,New Teacher Evaluation, and in some cases, like my building, piloting Standards Based Grading and Reporting. I am excited about each of these new "initiatives" (for lack of a better catch-all word). Each holds tremendous potential improving the depth and outcome of student learning, actionable professional growth and development for teachers, and clear communication with families about student learning and achievement. I am also terrified. Taking on all three in a single year feels like drinking from a fire hose. Each one asks us to reconsider and re-evaluate what we do each day in classrooms: how we impart skill and content knowledge to students, how we communicate their journey to mastery, how we assess our own performance. Not terribly unlike going through National Boards. Yet it seems so much more rides on how we adapt to implement these changes. Not just becuase it is an election year, but because we are reaching the tipping point were the industrial revolution model of educating people is no longer serving us. It is time to change.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | August 11, 2012

Building Trust


3d_moviesThese last few days I've been immersed in a professional experience that has shifted my direction as a teacher: how to use video as a means for facilitating my own and my colleagues' professional growth.

To use video observation successfully, one key is to look objectively at a video of classroom practice and identify critical teacher actions and student actions that are observable--and to note or record these observable actions without evaluation or judgment. Instead of watching teachers and thinking "I like how they did that" or "that is not a good assignment," my attention shifted to noticing the actions without judgment: "The teacher waited while the student revised his own incorrect verbal answer" or "The student recorded her thoughts on a continuum to self-assess."

Judgment is not forbidden, it just isn't first. By identifying the "observables"--the objective concrete details of teaching and learning--I can build a better foundation for evaluating what I can use to improve my own practice and what specific actions can do this. This all got me thinking.

Janette MacKay | Education, Elementary, Teacher Leadership | August 9, 2012

Reality Check


Bursting BubbleWhat do you say when someone tells you they want to be a teacher?

You’ve probably had this conversation: some starry-eyed young college graduate starts to tell you about how he’s going to become a teacher so he can inspire his students and help the parents and do all these great projects and…

I remember when I was that young teacher how deflating it was to hear veteran teachers grumble about how things have changed and all the joy has been taken out of teaching. As a novice teacher, I vowed to never get all bitter and grumbly.

And now?

Tom | | August 3, 2012

Who Are The Real Reformers?


DamBy Tom

Last winter, Nick Hanauer famously called Washington State “an education reform backwater.” It’s a curious insult. Strictly speaking, a backwater is a stretch of river that moves slowly, due to a dam or other obstruction. It’s water that’s “backed up.” Washington’s geography, of course, is dominated by the Columbia River, which winds its way slowly from the Canadian border to the Pacific, through 11 hydroelectric dams, which render it, for all intents and purposes, a 745-mile “backwater,” a label that belies the fact that it provides power and irrigation for most of the northwest.

But that’s not what Hanauer had in mind with his insult. He was complaining that education reform tends to move slowly here in Washington State, due mostly to the obstruction of the Washington Education Association. If only he could have seen what I saw this summer.

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