Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

New Podcast on #Rigor

My newest podcast, Rigor Made Easy, is out.  We talk about the myths of rigor, what rigor really is, how it relates to students with special needs, and what it looks like in the classroom.  My thanks to Dr. Steven Milletto for hosting--I had a great time.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Moving Beyond Negative Language in the Classroom

Last Thursday, I discussed how our language can often be more negative than we realize.  As a follow-up, I wanted to share how I shifted my classroom to a more positive one.  
How do we counter the negativity? It starts by making a choice to change your classroom’s climate. My classroom was a putdown-free zone. No matter what was going on, no one was allowed to use sarcasm or negative comments to put down someone else. The change was amazing. It took a few weeks for everyone to get rid of the habit of using negativity as a communication tool. However, once we removed the negative, the tone of the classroom completely changed. I also became more sensitive to hearing negative comments when I was outside my room. Our society is filled with examples of negativity, some of which supposedly passes for humor. If you don’t agree, pick any popular television show and count the comments. In fact, it’s become so much a part of our lives, we don’t even realize when we say something negative. Make your classroom a putdown-free zone and you’ll be amazed at the difference.
It’s not enough just to remove the negative; that leaves a vacuum. If you don’t fill it with something, the negative will come back. You need to be intentional about modeling a positive attitude, sharing positive comments, and providing positive feedback. Then work to get your students on board with it, too. This is actually the easy part; once you refuse to allow negative comments, they’ll join in.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Importance of Our Words

Whenever I taught adolescent development, I invited
Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, to speak to my students about working with special needs students. Before she comes, they have one assignment: Pick a class (or one block of time) and count the number of positive and negative comments they make. They can make marks on a piece of paper, or they can use two colors of marbles and move them from one pocket to another. The process doesn’t matter as long as the teachers unobtrusively keep a count. When she starts her presentation, she asks them how they felt about the assignment. Most of the teachers say they were surprised; they didn’t realize how many negative comments they say.
Students recognize this far quicker than we do. Read one student’s perspective (http://www.whatkidscando.org): “What’s also discouraging is when people never mention the good things. Instead of saying ‘Our geometry grades are up, we’re sending kids to good colleges and stuff,’ you hear, ‘We only have 90% attendance, which means that 200 of you are absent . . . . . ’ You know, encouragement creates encouragement. What helps is having a powerful and honest leader that we support and who supports us.”
Derwin Gray, former NFL player and founder of One Heart at a Time Ministries (http://www.oneheartatatime. org), explains the impact of negative words. He points out that when we say something negative to another person, it’s like hammering a nail into them. And even when we say we are sorry, which pulls the nail out, it still leaves a hole. Unfortunately, most students leave school each day with many holes in their hearts. Is that true for the students you teach?


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Teaching in a World of Standardized Testing, Part Two

Last week, I talked about the pressures of standardized testing, and more importantly, what success really means.  Today, I want to answer a question I received via email.  How can I create a motivating
classroom environment in a high-stakes testing environment?
The first and most foundational action you can take to create a motivating classroom environment is to minimize your focus on testing. I’m not recommending that you ignore the test; the stakes are simply too high. But you can shift the spotlight away from test scores and back to a broader view of learning. I prefer to use the word learning, rather than achievement. They may mean the same thing to some people, but I find that most teachers and students associate achievement with the test. So, changing my language emphasizes that I’m talking about more than test scores.
The next step is to refuse to be limited by testing. Teach your curriculum standards, but remember that you always have flexibility in how you teach them. So much frustration stems from teachers' perceptions that they lack control. You always have a choice in your lessons; you can present them in a way that is motivating and engaging and opens students’ minds to the world of learning, or you can teach to the test in a boring, mundane way. It’s your decision.
Finally, take a broader view of success. Celebrate every student success, not just the scores on benchmark testing. Look at the opening quote from Albert Einstein. What “counts” in your classroom? Define your view of success, and share it with your students and their families. Post it in your room, send it home in a parent newsletter, and make it a visible reminder of what you and your classroom are about. In a discussion related to test scores, a parent asked me how I would define achievement. I explained that achievement is simply your view of success. And for me, success is broader than a test score—it’s about every student:

Achievement is...
S
Showcasing the
U
Unique
C
Competency and
C
Capabilities of E Every
S
Single
S
Student



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Close Reading for All Grades and Subject Areas

My newest e-newsletter is out and the topic is close reading, which is linked to the Common Core State Standards and many other rigorous state standards.  To sign up, click the link to the right.  I
resend it everyday for about a week.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Teaching in a World of Standardized Testing, Part One

When I was teaching, standardized testing was used for promotion to the next grade.  It was high stakes for my students, and for me.  Today’s accountability is much more rigid than what I dealt with. But the best teachers I know accept the existence of the testing and accountability movement, yet they are not limited by that reality. As Sarah Ehrman, who just finished her first year of teaching, says,

There’s a ton of pressure at our school with test scores; but if you really want better test scores, teachers need to keep doing good teaching. [We need to] establish relationships, establish a classroom environment with routines. All these other things around the actual lesson are just as important as the lesson. The students won’t take it in without other things in place. Test scores may be the ultimate goal, but with students, I’m teaching things they need to learn and the standards happen to be in what I’m teaching. Standards and tests are important, but if I want to be successful and be a good teacher I need to have an environment and build a relationship that allows them to learn well.

     It’s important to remember that student growth is never completely measured on a test. Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, agrees:

Achievement is supposed to be a benchmark of where students are so we understand where they are learning and where they are in development. We measure infants in every checkup: Are their heads growing enough? Can we assume they are getting adequate nutrition? It’s like that in schools; we measure whether or not they get adequate nourishment. Are they benefiting from what we are providing or are we doing one size fits all model and leaving lots behind? We are in the business of nourishing children; nourishing their minds, bodies, and social development. Achievement looks at the tunnel of academics only. This means we are not doing the observation necessary to see if a child develops in all aspects. Then one day, you have a bright child who is doing well academically who falls off the planet because no one noticed social problems.

Our job is to help our students be successful in school, but more importantly, it’s about helping them be successful in life. Great teachers define success as more than the test, and they provide multiple opportunities for every student to succeed frequently. They know that success breeds success and that all students can learn. Great teachers also teach their students that attempting something new is valuable, because even if you fail, as long as you learn and grow from the experience, you are not a failure.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Catching Up on Resources (Motivation, Grading, and ELLs)

Here's three resources for your enjoyment!


English Language Learners, students who do not have English as their native language, provide a specific set of challenges for teachers across the content areas. Depending on their lack of knowledge of English, they may be shy or lack confidence, overly reliant on visuals, or resistant to talking in small groups. However, as they learn the language, their confidence increases, as does their achievement. Let’s look at three specific strategies that help ELLs learn.  For the full article, click here. 


Grading is a controversial topic. That’s partly because it is very personal. It’s your judgment about a student’s work. However, grading can also be controversial because what the evaluation is based on can vary. Let’s look at key indicators of effective grading, using the acronym of GRADE. For the full article, click here.