Uncovering the Why: the Importance of Beliefs

BeliefsFor many years, my professional learning consisted on the “what” and “how” in the classroom. What were your kids reading? writing? discussing? What tech were you using? How are you using portfolios? How do you grade? How do you differentiate? 

While all of these questions are important to answer, it wasn’t until I drilled down the Why, that I truly appreciated learning. Understanding the why, helps provide a framework in which all other decisions can be based upon. Why do I teach Shakespeare? Why do I have students blog? Why does it matter that students publish to  public audience? Why do I prefer the workshop framework over traditional instruction?

Currently, I am reading Read, Write, Teach by Linda Rief. The introduction provides insight into the purpose, design, and the Why for writing this book. She starts with the Why because it “grounds her choices of the what and how.”

The following are images of my own Whys on Literacy, inspired by the work of Linda Rief. I encourage you to not only explore your own beliefs on teaching and learning, but also to bring the conversation back to your departments, buildings, or even districts. Do we have similar beliefs? What is gained and what is lost when staff members have the same beliefs? Is a common set of shared beliefs necessary for our students?

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Technology and Student-Centered Assessment

Formative and summative assessment are familiar terms to most students and educators. When used intentionally, both assessment types can be used to identify student needs and help educators design differentiated learning opportunities. Student-Centered Assessment, on the other hand, is a less familar term with many educators. Student-Centered Assessment can be used during the process of learning, at the end of units, or even extend across a student’s year. The three key components that all Student-Centered Assessments have in common are: identified standards and learning targets, they are best utilized during the learning process, but can be adapted to also serve a more summative need, and finally, they are designed to be used by the student! Below are three specific examples, along with technology tools that I find fit the desired intent.

  1. Self-Assessment – When used while the learning is taking place, self-assessment is an effective tool which places ownership in assessing and learning back into the hands of the student. Self-assessment promotes learning by having students reflect upon their strengths and weakness in their own work. When used during the process of learning instead of at the end of the learning, self-assessments generate areas that are personal to the students, a time to revise and rework their product, and the ability to measure their work to the learning targets, standards, and personal skills. Self-assessment can be in the form of rubrics, checklists, or evidenced in written or oral responses.                 Google Keep would be an excellent digital tool to support the use of checklists in self-assessment. Google Keep is simple to use, easy to share, and is customizable for use. Google Keep Options
  2. Peer-Assessment – Similar to Self-Assessment, Peer-Assessment is best done during the learning process. In fact, it makes no sense to have students use this tool after the product is completed. Peer-Assessment employs students giving feedback to each other that is specific and evidenced by specific examples that are aligned to the learning target. Many educators find this tool great in theory, but students struggle when applying. Scaffolding, modeling, and clear expectations are needed to not only help students find areas of focus in another peer’s work; but also, explicit instruction and practice of soft skills that address collaboration and communication? How does one effectively work with a peer in a collaborative setting. What type of feedback is most valuable? With these objectives in mind, along with the professional understanding that the student doing the fixing is the one doing the learning; utilizing something like the “Suggesting” setting in Google Docs provides a digital tool to support Self-Assessment. “Suggest Edits” instead of directly writing on the work, editing, or even commenting, shifts revision and reflection back to the author of the piece.                          Adding Suggestions to Google Doc
  3. Portfolios – Two types of Portfolios are commonly used in the educational setting. First, a portfolio can be used as a “Process Portfolio”. A process portfolio would be documentation of a students growth, from novice to master, typically based within a unit and have an identified group of standards or learning target. When used throughout the learning, process portfolios can act as a documentation of a student’s journey in learning. It can help them set goals, and serve as a visual to remind students where they began and how their understanding transformed during the unit. A second type of portfolio found in educational settings is that of a summative collection of their best work. While examples of student’s learning could be placed throughout the learning process, a summative portfolio demands the student to reflect on their work throughout the year, evaluate it against the determined standards or learning targets, and then justify the pieces they place within the portfolio as the ones demonstrating their best work. Summative portfoliosare best used organically, and travel and change with the student as they progress through grades.                                                                      Google Sites would be a versatile, digital tool for either type of portfolio. From embedding images, documents, and videos; to uploading mp3s of vocal solos or embedding multimodal creations, Google Sites have always been a perferred choice with my former students.                                       Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.18.47 AM

Resource Used: Students at the Center

 

 

Instructional Coach: Co-Teaching

In 2013, Iowa introduced the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System as a way to “empower our best teachers to lead the efforts in improving instruction to improve student achievement.” Many models created and adopted by Iowa Schools employ the use of instructional coaches. With a need for support in their new roles, I, along with many other Iowa educators, have had the pleasure to learn from Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris, leading experts in Student-Centered Coaching and Jim Knight.

This past Monday, we gathered to hone coaching skills with Diane and Leanna. One activity Leanna had us collaboratively complete is a venn diagram comparing PLCs and Student-Centered Coaching. Fittingly, I was situated with Dave Versteeg, from Montezuma Schools; and two of his teacher leaders. Montezuma is a model PLC school, and their expertise offered great insight in this activity. Comparison of PLCs and Coaching Cycles (1)

Upon completing the exercise, Leanna stressed a point that resonated with the group. In summary, Leanna pointed out that one important way student-centered coaching differs from PLCs is the use of co-teaching. In fact, PLCs, with the absence of co-teaching, could be viewed as in a constant state of planning.

As a literacy coach, supporting reading and writing workshop teachers; this is an area I plan to focus on. And through a collaborative conversation with both Leanna and Diane, there are many variation to co-teaching. Three main ones I share include:

Modeling – A traditional type of co-teaching is modeling. An expert teacher models, demonstrates, or shows the partnering teacher how to instruct. Modeling is designed to span the whole class period where the partnering teacher is observing and noting instructional moves displayed by the expert teacher or instructional coach.

Micro-Modeling – Micro-modeling is a partnership in planning and delivery between the instructional coach and partnering teacher. During the planning session, each educator designates specific parts of the lesson they will deliver. For example, the instructional coach may deliver the minilesson during the writing workshop, demonstrating sound pedagogy in the specific area the partnering teacher designated. The partnering teacher may then agree to deliver the instruction for the small groups.

Tandem Teaching – Tandem teaching is a partnership where the coach and teacher work together in the classroom, almost “feeding” off of each other. This requires a trusting relationship, a true partnership in learning, and adept understanding of strengths and areas of focus each has in the classroom.

 

Frequently, I admit, I get stuck in the observation mode, while the learning and implementation comes from a true partnership. Co-teaching is an excellent example of an effective, student-centered coaching technique, resulting in classroom transfer. While tandem teaching is the ideal state of the coaching relationship; there are times and content areas that impede this endeavor. Instead, focusing on micro-modeling allows a coach to focus on instruction rather than content, supporting educators pedagogical growth.

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!

In 2015, Be “That One”

As 2014 comes to a close, I look back through the events speckled on my instagram and smile. It was a great year, filled with family, friends, goals, and learning. And so I thought I would share with all of you highlights from my year, as well as offer you some considerations while you set goals for 2015.

Family: We purchased our “Forever Home” PhotoGrid_1420045612137
Friends: Connected, conversed, and laughed PhotoGrid_1420046571551
Goals: Applied (again) and was accepted to GTA  PhotoGrid_1420047627509
 Learning: Attended TCRWP in NY     PhotoGrid_1420047224464

But the moment I am most proud of rarely gets shared with many, until now. I have always been one to struggle with my weight, and complications during pregnancy led to my waistline expanding and the numbers on the scale skyrocketing. before:aftermeProudly, 2014 marks the year that I have lost 100 pounds from the weight I initially started at. I tell you this for two reasons:

1. I was successful because my little sister believed in me!

2. To reach my goal, I had to decide what to let go of first! 

While we reflect on our year and make goals for 2015 I hope you keep in mind the 2 keys to my success. Sometimes it is the support, kind words, and belief from just one person that changes the course of their path. For me it was my sister. From day one she had unwavering belief in my potential. When things were tough, she was the constant that pushed me through. We celebrated successes and attacked obstacles. 100 pounds seemed like an impossible feet, to me….. but my sister knew better! I am healthier, happier and a better person, I even involved my husband so he start to take better care of himselfPhotoGrid_1420050294382

As an educator, it is important to always remember this! I challenge you to be “That One” for your students. Offer the support, the opportunity, the belief in them as a person to change their life path! Uncover passions and potentials in your students, and foster the “what ifs” in their lives. Make valiant efforts, give second-chances, and Never, Ever, Give Up on a Kid! 

Finally, shedding the things from our lives that hinder, not help our journey. Personally, I had to give up my love affair with food, my daily routine, and my priorities in life when I first began my journey. One does not loose that much weight by doing the same thing.

“Insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”

2014 was a great year, but for me, I’m like fine wine and get better with age! 2015 is my year, and I can’t wait to jump in!