Only 2 Weeks In, and Iowa Schools Sharing Their Bright Spots

IMG_20150904_113908~2Today marked the Regional, Iowa Department of Education Update at AEA 267. Administrators and AEA staff members from many Iowa schools were in attendance. Erica Cook, Bureau Chief, Standards and Curriculum at Iowa Department of Education; along with Rita Martens, Lead Consultant, Iowa Core at Iowa Department of Education; shared information about Early Literacy, Iowa Core Standards Updates, and Smarter Balance.

At the conclusion of their discussion, they had each table collaborate, and answer various questions. They final one, “Share a success in your school/district” was one that was shared out to the large group. With only two weeks into the official start of the school year (yes, I know, educators really do work year-round) I captured the sharing that ensued. Impressive comments about collaboration and student-focused learning were among the many highlights. The following is, to the best of my note-taking ability, what I heard as “District Bright Spots” from some of our AEA 267 districts who shared out:

HamptonDumont – A first time in over a decade, Hampton Dumont Middle School met AYP(Adequate Yearly Progress) in both Reading and Math.

Clear Lake – Through the framework of AIW as their school improvement process and a strong focus on project-based learning,  the district is seeing growth in their “top” students and buy-in from the Special Education teachers.

Cedar Falls – Cedar Falls School District is reaping the benefit of a solid PLC framework and has recently been named a Model PLC school.

Belmond-Klemme – Year 1 in Full staff  implementation of AIW, the district has noticed a student-centered focused while working to improve instruction.

Waverly – Shell Rock – WSR has taken major strides to “flatten” their systems. Rights and responsibilities about instruction and assessment made in real-time, along with decision-making and leadership roles placed into the hands of those closest to the kids, the teachers!

Dike-New Hartford  – Ar the middle school, a new MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) was put in place. Staff has taken ownership in all students’ learning!

West Hancock – What was once a daunting amount of information, elementary staff members are witnessing the evolution of  FAST assessment and data as something valuable and useful to impact instruction and move students forward.

West Fork – During their last PLC meeting, teachers and administrators had tough conversations to understand current reality and future focus for the district. Teachers came away from the meetings energized and passionate to do the right work for kids.

Charles City, Dunkerton, and Osage – This group of three districts reported out as one voice. Within their districts, there was a strong focus on  PLCs. Technology Integration in the 1 to 1 districts.  And the learning and implementation of Project-Based Learning.

Tripoli – Staff members at Tripoli School District shared out as their brightspot the continued work with PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support)

Garner-Hayfield -Ventura – The staff members and students in this district are to be commended on their positive outlook and focus on kids during their transition. Recently, there was a consolidation of schools and staff assignment shifts!

Sumner – Fredericksburg  – Shared the coordinated calendar with 4 other districts to provide professional development for all teachers. This practice has allowed traditional lone teacher meaningful, face-to-face interactions with like-content area educators! 

Independence – Independence School District shared their work with MTSS and the value of providing instruction for growth to all students! 

 

Two weeks completed and all ready so many Bright Spots to share from the districts we serve at AEA 267. Looking forward to hearing from the rest of the districts and the continued advancements of the ones that were in attendance today!

Cross-Discipline Literacy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

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At the middle and secondary levels, teachers are traditionally isolated by content area and grade. And although, we, as professionals, understand the hypocrisy in a traditional educational environment (life is not so neatly departmentalized, the blurring of concepts, skills, and content exists); it is difficult for some educators to see the relationship between what is being taught in their classroom and what is being taught down the hall. Calling upon our elementary educator friends, we are reminded that literacy is the thread that ties all of the areas together. And through the practicing and mastering of these literacy skills, our students gain opportunities, understanding, and communication skills that they will use long after they leave through the doors of our schools. Today’s students must be able to locate, understand, evaluate, and use written information and multiple literacies in both their personal and academic lives.

In theory, this connection of literacy throughout the content areas helps to reinforce reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in all students; in reality, fear and frustration runs rampant in the minds of teachers when they hear the words “All teachers are reading and writing teachers”.

To create a culture of literacy within a building, an “All Hands on Deck” approach is needed for systematic change. No longer can pockets of excellence in reading comprehension instruction exist; focused goals and high-quality, sustained learning must occur to equip all teachers properly. Along with a toolbox filled with comprehension strategies and understanding of text structures and styles, I tend to agree with the thinking of Fisher and Frey as to the clarification of my position on this:

“We do not believe that ‘all content teachers are teachers of reading.’ We are not discussing reading comprehension with the expectation that this take front and center in every math, science, history, arts, or elective course. However, reading and understanding texts is a central feature of every course” (11).  So, while literacy may not be the focus in each classroom, everyday, it is an essential component to every class.

The key is, You, as the teacher, are the best reader and writer in the classroom. Modeling your thought process when discerning information in content-specific text is essential. Take, for instance, an industrial arts educator. Teaching literacy would not include a study on Huck Finn, but rather, modeling and practice in reading and comprehending texts normally found in that area. How does an architect read a blueprint? When looking at a bookshelf, how does a woodworker interpret design, structure, angles, etc. We read fiction with the intent of identifying plot, conflict, characters; these same strategies would not be applied to informational text.

Strategy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Structural framework used to increase reading comprehension containing four components. The framework is organic in nature, meaning, there is no specific order or rate in which to use each component. Formative assessment identifies student needs and allows teacher differentiation. Technology integration is one solution to differentiate within the classroom to meet the needs of all students. (After each component, a technology integration tip is listed)

1. “I do” Minilesson in which the teacher establishes the focus, goal, or concept and models the thinking aloud to the class. (Technology Tip: A teacher or class YouTube channel. Students are able to rewatch minilesson containing the teacher modeling the comprehension strategy, or choose from a collection of videos with the same focus but different content)

2. “We do” Teacher prompts, questions, and cues students’ thinking through guided instruction and facilitation. (Technology Tip: Try a tool, such as EdPuzzle, to embed questions, cues, and prompts into videos)

3. “Do it together” Collaboratively, students apply previous learning with academic discourse to complete a task. (Technology Tip: Voicethread captures the thinking of students through text, voice, and annotations. Provide one task for the class, and allow collaborative group work to be demonstrated and shared on VT)

4. “Do it alone” Students, individually, apply understanding to an authentic task. (Technology Tip: Students use Explain Everything to demonstrate individual application of learning on an original task)

Gradual Release of Responsibility is a framework that can be applied across content and grade-level. Modeling your thinking aloud on how one approaches texts/visuals/graphs in our content area, supports comprehension strategies used to understand information. And although literacy is typically thought of as an ELA standard, it plays an essential role in the lives of our students; equipping them for future endeavors when life isn’t so neatly divided by subject area!

 

5 Ways to Kick-Start “Back to School” Using Social Media in the Classroom

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5 Ways to Kick-Start “Back to School” Using Social Media in the Classroom

1. Instagram – A traditional activity to help students build relationships with each other and the teacher is an “About Me” poster. Why not use the popular social media platform, Instagram. Using a class hashtag, students can tag posted pictures, sharing everything from their favorite spot to read in the school to an important person in their life. Not only would this be a collective space to grow relationships, but during the in-class sharing, students could refine communication and storytelling skills.

2. Voxer – This trendy, new social media platform allows voxers to continue the conversation through various modes including text, voice, and pictures via a threaded discussion. Students could share goals with each other, provide advice to underclassmen, or answer questions posed by new students or visitors. This versatile platform makes collaboration a snap; easily pass pictures, ideas, or voice comments to group-mates.

3. Twitter – Twitter is quickly becoming the new “Facebook” for people under 21 (mostly because their parents aren’t on it yet). Teachers can model advantages of connectivity by tweeting with a “Sister School”. Succinct writing opportunities to share a glimpse into the “life” of a typical teen in their demographic area provides a lens to students unmatched through vicarious means. Multiple perspectives of current events and issues, connecting to experts, networking, and building a positive, on-line presence are all possible in 140 characters.

4. Facebook – Personal triumphs, recognizing good deeds, daily gratitude to those who helped you survive another school day; all of these posts on a School’s Facebook Page which is designated to share the unrecognized “Good” that takes place daily in the halls of our schools, can be achieved through Facebook.  Submissions can remain anonymous, and messages approved and posted by a small group of students. When ownership is placed back into the hands of  students, their contributions become a recognizable part of the positive culture!

5. Remind – A safe and free way to text students, athletes, and parents. The cellphone: the first thing a students checks when they wake and the last thing looked at before bed. Creating groups in Remind early in the school year, as a communication tool, saves time and guarantees that everyone receives the same message. From an athletic team, a school club, or even classroom assignments, Remind allows teachers to text important news and reminders that will reach students and parents alike.

Best of Luck in the 2014-2015 School Year!

Advice That Hurts…

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As I prepare to begin my second year as a consultant for a state organization, a conversation I had with an administrator many months ago weighs heavily on my mind. Actually, one sentence he stated specifically.

“If you want to make any sort of impact on education you need to get back into a building, not work as a consultant.”

Upon the completion of my graduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a different type of leadership role within the education field. I debated, and am still debating, if being a principal or superintendent is the right calling for me, but I knew it was time for me to take a new career path. As luck would have it, a position opened up that provided opportunity to blend my passions of literacy and technology while assisting districts with school improvement initiatives. As I explained to my son one day, my new role would allow me to have an impact on the education of many students across the state. I was proud of this opportunity.

That is, until I realized that some view my job as detached and uninspiring.

The one sentence mumbled in the middle of a conversation is something I think about weekly. And although I do not have a clear opinion yet, I reflect upon it often.

 

to be continued….

5 Conditions to Improve 1:1 Success

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I have been asked many times what one should consider to aid in a successful 1:1 Initiative. The following is a list of the top 5 conditions, I believe, helps to ensure this success:

1. Sustained and High -Quality Professional Development – Provide PD that is research-proven, as well as data-driven by student needs. Allow time for sharing and collaboration throughout the year. While PD may contain apps and tools, focus should remain on pedagogy and curriculum. Apps and tools should never be pushed upon staff or mandated that ALL teachers use them in their teaching.  Allow teachers to grow at their own rate, some may be more skilled/comfortable than others at tech integration in their curriculum.
2. Climate of the Building – The climate and culture of the building should support risk-taking without punishment and places trust in students and teachers. Administration should be fully aware that some things will not always work exactly as planned, but teachers who think outside of the norm or want to try something new in the classroom should not live in fear of being punished for a lesson that fails.  Finally, beware of over-blocking and denying access to teachers and students. Trust in students and staff to utilize what works best for their curricular areas.
3. Infrastructure – If the technology doesn’t work in all areas of learning (in a building) it loses it’s potential and causes frustration. Also, when the comfort level with technology use grows, you will see multiple devices being used in learning. Students and staff will bring and want to use phones, ipods, and other personal devices along with their laptops. Is your building ready to support all of these devices?
4. Focus – Technology will continue to advance, apps will become obsolete as others take their place; remember to make curriculum and pedagogy the main focuses. Utilizing technology in the classroom should not be a separate event, technology should be infused naturally because it is the best option available. Make sure the tech is relevant to learning and their lives, easily replicable for student use and applicable to other areas of curriculum and life.

5. Vision and Goal – How does technology play a role in your school’s vision and goals. Most successful 1:1 initiatives identify what they want students to be able to do with access to a device. Administrators identify look-fors when conducting walk-throughs in classrooms. Shared ownership in sharing their story is discussed and a plan developed. And finally, how technology supports current initiatives so it is not a silo.