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!

If We Only Post The Pretty

On average, I walk through the halls of five schools a week. Whether supporting an administration team working on their school improvement plan, or helping a teacher orchestrate first-time bloggers in her English 9 class; as soon as I walk through the doors I intentionally pause and notice my surroundings. Greetings by students and adults, displays on the wall, color choices in the rooms, cleanliness in the commons area, and a plethora of other sensory signals unknowingly flood my subconscious creating a snapshot of the climate, culture, and values shared by the adults and students in the building.

Trophies and State Championship Banners adorning the entrance communicate pride in athletics, tradition, achievement. Inspirational quotes, Character Counts Posters, and a birthday calendar promote community and relationships. While many schools have a combination of values on display, the one thing I almost never see is student thinking, or more specifically, the process.

End products commonly adorn the walls of the classroom and the halls of the building. Typically, uniformed in size and color. Poems transferred to white paper, typed in black ink and hanging from the ceiling by equal length fishing line. Unique art work mounted to black paper and systematically lined up on the tack strip with 1 inch between each. As educators, we know displaying student work is important, but as humans, we also want it to look good. What we fail to think about is the signals it sends to our students = work must be pretty to earn a spot on the wall. I, too, am guilty of this. I remember having my student tutor rewrite Shakespeare Quotes that students loved on tan paper so that they would look better, all having the same handwriting and on the same paper. What I didn’t consider was the message that it sent to the students the next day when they walked into class and saw “their” quote replaced by a “prettier” one.

Learning is messy, and as I reflect back, I realize I missed the point of the whole assignment. It is not about the acrostic poem lined in green paper and displayed uniformly across the wall that was cause for celebration; it was the process! Gathering ideas and images, organizing thoughts, painstakingly editing and revising both alone and with a partner to choose that perfect word. The counting of syllables on fingers, referencing rhyming dictionaries and each other for rhythmic purposes. The final poem was not the goal; instead, learning to think and write like a poet was; but nowhere in the classroom did you see those lessons learned and mastered.

Displaying student work is important, but highlighting student thinking is even more so. Include the thinking involved to produce the end product. Show the mistakes, the collaborating, the celebrating, and the creating! Let students witness the value you place in their process, not the student with the best handwriting or most glitter. Show all who enter the doors of your school, whether physically or virtually, that we celebrate learning!

Improving Questioning in Your Classroom: Supporting AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work), Disciplined Inquiry

A common misnomer in teacher preparation is the assumption and overestimation of  ability to formulate questions that demand student thinking at higher-levels. Many educators unknowingly pepper their assignments and classroom discussions with low-level questions requiring little analysis or support when answering.

Likewise, when applying the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) frame to instruction or tasks, teachers who refine their questioning skills are more likely to reach higher scores in the Disciplined Inquiry Standard. Coupled with students constructing their own knowledge and transforming it to demonstrate understanding at deep levels, communicating their knowledge through a variety of tools linked explicitly to correct and coherent support is the ultimate goal.

Whether through elaborative communication or substantive conversation within the classroom, care when constructing questions aids in guided inquiry.

Kenneth Chuska, author of Improving Classroom Questions, recommends teachers start with the “Big Four” when beginning a unit:

1. What do you already know about the new topic?

2. What do you think you know?

3. What do you want to know?

4. What do you feel or believe about an issue or problem?

These four questions align with AIW framework in that they build upon the students’ prior knowledge; creating anchors to help students identify commonalities in vocabulary, content or processes. My personal lens is based in literacy in which I approach much of what I read and reflect upon. In this reasoning, my personal anchors are connected to theorists in English Literature; Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory, for instance, echoes the same need for connecting to prior knowledge. The markings on a page are merely that, until the reader uniquely connects to the text.

While I like the four questions listed above, I feel the need to add a fifth to the list.

5. How?

When students reflect on How they know something, a greater understanding of themselves as learners emerge, which loops back to inquiry based instruction.

I also thought the checklist in the appendices was useful:

  • Has no one “right” answer.
  • Is open-ended.
  • Calls for reflection.
  • Is interesting to students.
  • Motivates or stimulates thinking.
  • Allows for individual input based on prior knowledge.
  • Provokes more questions.
  • Promotes discussion.
  • Raises students’ curiosity.
  • Challenges preconceptions.

Finally, many teachers struggle with finding the right wording to target specific learning levels or feel they have a few staple verbs that are overused and would like a variety. This chart from Clemson is a great starting point.

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Authentic Intellectual Work: Technology Use to Amplify Construction of Knowledge

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AIW: Technology Use within the AIW Framework               Post #2

A subsequent post in relation to Promoting AIW

Criteria 1: Construction of Knowledge

A focus on cognitive complexity, teaching for understanding, which in turn increases intellectual rigor for students. Avoiding mere replication of  given information, Construction of Knowledge in task design and instruction presses students to organize, interpret, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information addressing concepts, themes, theories, or issues.

Inclusion of technology within educational design provides opportunities, access to tools, and a multitude of resources to aid in students’ own Construction of Knowledge. Traditional recall of information, recitation of definitions and rules, or application of previously learned procedures lacks engagement with the information which is necessary for transformation and meaningful demonstration of learning.  The following lists brief examples followed by tools.

Organize – Example- Identifying Structure of Text: When identifying structure associated with particular genres in literature, students determine qualities particular to each and justify author’s genre choice in relation to intended meaning. Once agreement is achieved on identifiers for specific genres student construct their own knowledge by organizing pieces of texts from a multitude of areas.  Tools: google doc/drawing, padlet, pinterest, instagram, hashtags & twitter, tables,, exploreatree 

Analyze – Example – Research Skills: An essential set of skills students need to master is navigation through the sea of resources available online and how to discern amongst them to identify reliable and relevant resources. After modeling and some practice through gradual release of responsibility, students locate sources and analyze them through a careful lens. Using annotation tools, students are able to identify, analyze, express and justify what make a source reliable and relevant. Bonus, my collection of MLA resources to aid in an activity like this – HERE    Tools: Google Docs, Jing, Diigo, Awesome Screenshot, Sharedcopy

Interpret – Example – Point of View: Identifying point of view from a text, image, video clip, etc. contributes to the understanding of the author’s intended message. Consider the topic of War. When constructing knowledge from a given source, careful readers use a variety of methods to help make sense of the message. Identifying point of view, time, location, etc. paints a clearer picture in the minds of students. Which military side is this vantage point? Is it in the moment or a reflection years later? Is the message from a soldier, General, parent, sibling? A student constructs their own knowledge of a concept or theme by creating a message from a different vantage point than the given piece. Technology provides students many different options to transform and demonstrate their understanding. Videos, cartoons, comics, posters, podcasts, are all options students could use during creation.                       Tools:  Multimedia productions – Youtube, Podcast, (Newspaper maker), Smore, Stripgenerator, iBook Author, Bookemon

Evaluate/synthesize – google presentation, screencast, prezi, powtoon, haiku deck, slide share, blogging

Why Your School Should Promote Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW)

AJ-LC_0087Part of my new job description requires me to support AEA267 schools who implement Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW). This summer I began my training to become an AIW Coach and will be certified by the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work.

Although I am far from an expert, opportunities this year have allowed me to grow capacity in the AIW framework, scoring, and effective/sustained implementation. I approach professional development with a practicing educator lens. As a skeptic, obstacles attributed to time, sustainability, and relevance across content and district are my top considerations.

I can firmly say, without hesitation, that I am an advocate for AIW implemented with fidelity as an initiative that provides a framework for improving instruction and assessment. AIW heightens student engagement, sets high expectations for all students, while promoting relevance to life beyond school.

So what is AIW…

In a nutshell, and my own briefly summarized interpretation, AIW is a framework whose universality provides opportunity for educators across all content areas and across all grade spans to bring specific (artifacts): lessons, student work, and instruction to the team (usually 4-6 educators per team) for improvement. The versatility of the scoring rubric provides common language, common goals, and common work done for the benefit of all students. By focusing on the 3 AIW criterion: Construction of Knowledge, Discipline Inquiry, and Value Beyond School; there is increased student engagement, high expectations for all students, and the promotion of skills that will benefit students faced with intellectual challenges in contemporary society.

AIW in Iowa… 

Using the Framework for Authentic Intellectual Work, originally developed by Fred Newmann, Bruce King, and colleagues at the Center for Organization and Restructuring of Schools, University of Wisconsin–Madison, the state of Iowa’s first cohort was in 2007. The mission: “is to fundamentally transform the quality of student learning through teacher professional development by using the AIW  framework to foster deep reflective practice—with profound respect for the work and for the people doing it.” (The Center for AIW)


Rationale from the Center of AIW:

  1. Better preparation for intellectual demands of the workplace, citizenship, and personal affairs.
  2.  Increased opportunities for student engagement in learning.
  3.   Intellectual mission strengthens professional community.

Benefits that I See:

  1.  Honors educators’ content area, knowledge, and grade.
  2.  Provides a common focus and quality conversation for collaborative teams.
  3.  Supports reflective practice.
  4.   Provides insight into student learning and needs – TAG, RTI/MTSS.
  5.   Drives Professional Development, helps to identify needs of staff- Iowa Core, Characteristics of Effective       Instruction, etc.  
  6.  Conceptual Learning, Project Based Learning, and meaningful Technology Integration.      

What’s Next:

With the continued growth of 1:1 schools in the state, and a personal goal of promoting AIW, I plan to write a series of blog posts providing specific examples of technology use to meet the AIW Criteria and Standards at high levels.