Monday, July 31, 2006

So Much Input

Brain so full! Ideas everywhere!
The first day back was a full one. I gave Steve a hard time at the end of the day for saying we should include more during our initial planning meeting for today. Thank goodness we didn't.

Having never had any experience with MCREL, I found Wendy's information interesting. What struck me the most when she was talking about cooperative learning was the practices MCREL encourages are also the practices encouraged by Kagan. I saw quite a bit of overlap. In fact, Kagan makes a point of describing the difference between Kagan Cooperative Learning and generic Cooperative Learning. One example would be the formation of heterogenous groups. Kagan has it down to nearly precise science. It will be interesting to monitor further similarities as Wendy continues to help us understand MCREL.

Sue's presentation was full of useful information as well. I was particularly interested to hear the statistical data she brought to our attention on the role socio-economic status has on reading development. That knowledge will be helpful in continuing to develop an understanding of where our students are coming from.

As always, her strategies for vocabulary education were invaluable. I wish we had more time! I'm glad she'll have an opportunity to educate the entire staff on reading across the content areas this year.

I'm pleased with how the Lesson Tuning Protocol was received. Though the time crunch threw quite a wrench in the works, it was evident that some good work was going on. The key will be to schedule the protocol at fixed times throughout the year. Such good discussion. From the beginning of my career, I've missed the structured collegial interaction provided by interactions like these. Sue just made the comment that she recognized the tool as being helpful both pre and post. She said it took going through the process to see its value. That's exactly what I was saying to people as I was finishing up the plan last night.

I have a good feeling about the coming year. So much to be done. Such talented people to do it.
More later.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lesson Tuning Protocol

The Lesson Tuning Protocol was designed by The Institute for Research and Reform in Education as a tool to help teachers work in a collaborative, structured environment to improve lesson plan design and implementation.
The LTP benefits teachers and students by:
  • providing a structure for collegial interaction
  • creating a space where educators feel safe to discuss and share pedagogies
  • allowing teachers the benefit of peer input on given lessons
  • introducing a mechanism for building Professional Learning Communities
Expected Outcomes:
  • Model use of LTP in larger Professional Learning Communities.
  • Integrate cooporative learning / MCREL strategies and content area vocabulary tools to work within your content area to develop a lesson plan you will be able to use this year in your classroom.
  • Work within small PLCs to carry out the LTP with a randomly selected lesson plan.
  • Post a comment to this blog entry with your thoughts/questions about the LTP.
To learn more about IRRE and LTP:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

State Standards

I know I sound like a broken record on this whole Hargreaves issue, but I'm sure I'll find something newer and shinier soon. Until then, a report out by Education Next has a ranking not of state performance but on state standards and how they measure up nationally.
Interesting stuff.
Proficiency is a tricky word.
Florida pulled a C, nothing like striving to be average.
What this could point to is the idea that the FCAT is overly lenient in its assessment when compared to a national assessment. If this is the case, then the students who are ranked "proficient" according to state standards are below par nationally. What are we setting our students up for?
On the plus side, the bar's not quite low enough to trip over. On the minus side, it's a pretty challenging limbo. Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see if the legislature takes the time to put it at high jump level.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Steve's Response

As mentioned in my previous post, here's my principal's response to Andy Hargreaves' BLC'06 keynote on sustainable leadership:

I read the article and your comments. I believe the author is right for the most part, schools must develop sustainable systems (not a new concept, see Good to Great)...actually sustainable successful systems for learning (we have many of the former). And as stated, while we create these systems we must also deal with the higher system mandates such as standardized testing issues. That is the dilemma. I would love to be able to forgo the state testing dilemma we are in and move totally towards "owned learning". It appears that our students have massive deficits in this area and to correct it would take great time and effort. But, I think we are addressing it, slowly but surely in the context of our program, because to make them own their learning they have to have some success first. After the success, I believe they will begin to care and then we teach them to own their learning. As the author stated, to forgo the state testing program and our quick fixes is administrative suicide! Can both concepts coexist? Probably so, for the time being.

As far as effective PLCs. I am hoping that we will get there this year. I really want to see the teacher leadership step up, beginning with our coaches, but I know it will take time. Student learning must be the priority and it is a bit fuzzy on the correct path and methods to get there. Many ideas out there! Do we live and die with the data (maybe flawed data) or do we trust our instincts and discuss our strategies and plans. A balanced approach of both will probably get us our best results.

Your thoughts are interesting on the topic. I totally agree that one would be misled to look solely at years of teaching experience with our staff. Our staff has way too much to offer to look at that one indicator. Talent frequently beats the hard worker that lacks skills most times, but when you have both then you can move these students. Oh what a year we have ahead of us! We must have the best jobs in the district.

Swimming in Technology

Wow! Just - Wow!
I'm logged on at Metro literally double=fisting coffee and my head is swimming with information and possibilities for the coming year. I know where I want to go, I know the multiple roads that will take me there, I need to plot it out. This is one of those pieces where another person comes in handy.
I e-mailed my principal and assistant principal a link to Steve Dembo's blogging of Andy Hargreaves' keynote at BLC'06. See my post on sustainable leadership for my thoughts.
Steve, principal, sent back a very thoughtful/provoking reply. I've asked if I can post it here. It's worth reading.
As I was sending them the link and reading Steve's reply, I realized the entire process was behind the times. Web 2.0 means Steve would have a feed to my blog and would have read my post, checked out Dembo's post and linked his thoughts from his blog to mine.
From there, other teachers (those I know and those I don't) would check out all posts and reply. One keynote speech would directly affect the thinking of a community on the other side of the country.
I spoke to Stephanie earlier today about some training we'll be doing together for the start of the year. She and I will be integrating BlackBoard into our classes this year and are looking forward to get other Phoenix faculty on board. I told her the development facilitating team had decided to take baby steps in implementation. It's something I have to remember. Prensky would probably point to the immigrant/native divide. I'm a native teaching other natives in a school of immigrants.
In the same way getting my students to begin to think of themselves as capable and able writers is a slow process, affecting and integrating technological/pedagogical change requires a plan. A full onslaught would be daunting.
A note: I'm digging Superb.
More later.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BLC '06 November Reign

Quite a bit to process after hearing Alan speak on new school design.
Perhaps most interesting was the fact he didn't talk about building buildings. He spoke mainly on what to do before or instead of building buildings. An interesting proposition given the topic at hand.
One piece that stuck out, was something he said at the end of the session, "If I were designing a new school, one of my main design principles would be that students own the learning."
It's not necessarily how we design the buildings; it's how we design the learning.
The applications to Phoenix are obvious. We are a prime candidate for implementing each aspect of the conference. When Alan spoke of having us write scenarios as to what a student's day would look like if a school were to implement everything that has been mentioned in the conference, I thought to myself, "I want to live it, I don't just want to write it."
Talking with Jenny during and after the session was good. She told me she gets terrified every time she hears Alan speak. I can understand that.
I told her I just enjoy being surrounded by people who think in similar ways.
Phoenix Academy is populated by a group of students who figured out long ago that the schools owned the learning. As such, they learned to sit back and slide through, not seeing the relevance.
I anticipate some interesting results next year as I turn over ownership. Socrates indeed.
Dangerously, children have not just been relieved of the duty of providing for the family's welfare, they have to a surprising extent been relieved of the duty of providing for their own welfare.
Will Richardson brought up this point in both of his sessions I saw, saying his children were already conditioned to look to the teacher for information and direction. Is it a sense of entitlement, a sense of surrender, or something else. Whatever the case, it surely does not bode well.
This is, I think, the reason Jenny was terrified. I don't get terrified in the face of these propositions.
I feel Alan does not intend to terrify, but perhaps realizes things must appear dyer before people are stirred to act. I take all of this as a call to arms. It's about time teachers started a revolution rather than simply being revolted.
More later.

BLC '06 Sustainable Leadership and All Things Otherwise

Sustainable leadership.
Schools run out of tricks. Must be careful.
As someone teaching a school charged with improving not only the test scores of a historically underperforming population, but its own school grade as well, I take to heart the caution of unsustainable leadership.
When Andy was talking today about the three types of school cultures - veteran, novice and blended - I began to think of where Phoenix fits in that spectrum. By some accounts, we are so novice that we would make Maria from the Sound of Music proud. Look closer, though, and I think one will find we are not as wet behind the ears as it would appear from first glance. Granted, the majority of us have only a few years of classroom experience under our belts. This does not mean we are unseasoned in other ways. Many of our staff have been highly successful in other careers and are bringing those experiences to the classroom.
Still, I would imagine we must be cautious with our expectations and our energies. Ours is a population that stays with you when you head home. They are on your mind when you wake in the morning. The ease of burnout is not to be mistaken. Luckily, we are infused with enough of a veteran faculty and administration that those "tricks" Andy mentioned are readily available. Also, though we all have horrible days when the sky appears to be falling, there exists someone who is not having a horrible day who can be counted on to listen and counsel where needed.
The thought of plateau-ing is a jarring one. The formula for state-mandated improvement and thereby success is not one that meshes well with the work we are doing at Phoenix.
I can't help wondering whether the work we are doing is to prepare our students to so growth or competency on a test or to learn in such a way that they develop a taste for it.
Yes, my students met with success when it came to the FCAT Writing exam last year, but are they up to par with what I would expect an 8th grade student to be able to do in written work? It's a daunting question.
If there is a message I have heard from speaker to speaker in the many conferences and trainings I've attended this year, it's the call for meaning and authenticity.
Year, align it. Yes, make it rigorous. But, make it engaging or no one will care. Plus, from what I've seen, if I provide the relevance, the students will provide the rigor.
One thing I would like to have seen more of in the last two days is more of a how-to or a showing of what each of these technological elements looks like in the classroom. I've heard presenter after presenter talk about blogging with students from other schools and countries. How did that happen? What are the nuts and bolts? What does a typical week look like in these classrooms? What's the best way to introduce blogging?
I get that I should start with a class blog before the students get individual blogs, but how does that work? Do I type? Do the students?
So many questions are left unanswered. This brings a piece of frustration, but it does not overshadow the excitement I have for the world, literally, awaiting my students in the coming year. Gladly, I meet with a network of qualified teachers who have gone this way or a similar way before.
A thought on myspace. Why have we not a session on appropriating myspace for the classroom? Will Richardson said today he thought each of the educators in the room should have a myspace profile so that we understood how it works. I'd like to take that a step further and make myspace work for my classroom. I've heard a great deal about blogging and podcasting. The students owned these tools before. They knew they existed and utilized them for socialization. Teachers are quickly appropriating them for classroom use. Let us find a way to do the same with myspace. Surely, we must be an ingenious enough bunch to find a way to tame the beast.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Andy Hargreaves

Now that, was an invigorating keynote. I'm now twice impressed with the keynote presentations here a BLC '06. Yesterday, Marco Torres gave us a great look at what he was able to do with students in a population similar to the one we're working with at Phoenix. He showed some excellent work by his students. I don't know that these things would work for Phoenix, given our "mission." Still, the thought processes are excellent. Will Richardson links to a full blog of the speech by Steve Dembo for anyone who's interested.
Andy Hargreaves was another who made me think at this conference.
His overarching point was that the current thinking of testing>achievement>learning is on the way out and we will be seeing a reversal to Learning>Achievement>Testing.
He was one of the first people to echo what I have said since moving to Florida. We, as teachers know what we are doing, we must be trusted. Must.
A non-teacher friend sent me a text the other day saying, "Teaching is not a lost art, but th regard for it is a lost tradition."
Hargreaves argues it is coming back. We will be regaining the power.
"Do not concentrate your leadership energies on complying what there is now," he says, "Prepare for what soon will come." I hope it to be true.
What he said interested me the most because it went along with a wonder I had at the beginning of my teaching career that has gradually faded away. Why are we standardizing what we teach? We don't standardize what we do. I mean, yes, there are standards and practices, but not in the same way.
Plus, these tests are faulty representations of what will truly be helpful.
It's an interesting dichotomy that I'm seeing so many wonderful resources at the conference and so many brilliant ideas for authentic learning, but worry that they will not have me preparing for the standardized test that is omnipresent in my county.
Perhaps what Sara Kajder said in her session yesterday is more important. An element of flying under the radar might be important. Ah, renegade teaching, a bold thought.
More later.

BLC '06 Will Richardson

Just got done listening to Will Richardson speaking on Web 2.0 and how it is affecting reading and writing. My beef with the people I've been to see so far is that they weren't saying anything that was totally new to me. There were no new ideas. There was some tweekage, but there were no band-spankin'-new ideas.
Then there was Will.
Again, Will didn't say anything that was totally new, but he said things that got me thinking. He also seemed to want to have a conversation with us; though, he didn't really ask us to speak until the end of things.
His point was that there are new ways of reading and writing.
I remember one of the first courses I took at ISU spoke of teaching students and living in a hypertextual society. Only seven years ago and it now looks like such a simplistic statement. The point the original statement was meant to make was that teens, and the tail-end of my generation have grown up surrounded by information input and are equipped with natural filters. While I still believe this to be true, I'm also brought to the realization that the filters can operate in reverse. Many of my students filter out the thoughts that occur naturally in many adult minds and, instead, allow in the barrage of images and information without questioning validity or perspective.
The danger is obvious.
I felt a bit weird asking Will why he wrote a book when one of his comments was that "as soon as textbooks are written, they are out of date." The same must be true for any work of non-fiction. His answer was one that garnered my respect. He'd considered this, and said there was no real reason other than his book had aggregated the information it contained in a linear context with which the standard reader is already familiar. I also appreciated the fact he had brought up the idea of publishing the book for free on the Internet. I can only imagine the publisher's response.
One piece I would like to see highlighted in more detail during the conference is the accessibility the Internet affords. Alan touched on it briefly when he came to speak in Sarasota, cautioning us that we weren't really doing anything new with the resources we have, just differently. It's a good point. That, I suppose, will have to be the challenge of the year to come.
I'm sure taking my classroom paperless will be a built-in driver. Part of me wonders why I would want to create what promises to be a bit of a headache. Still, this has to be the way education is heading. It's the responsible way. I need more models though.
Nice to have a session that makes me think. I sadistically wouldn't mind someone I didn't agree with. Now that the brain's moving, I'm in a bit of a mood for an academic argument.