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).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

From a Growth Mindset to an Innovator's Mindset

A couple of months ago, I ran across this blog entry on the concept of the Innovator's Mindset.  The principal who wrote it uses Carol Dweck's growth mindset work as a base, and presents a view of educators and students as innovators.  It's a quick, two minute read that is worth your time.

Innovator's Mindset:  Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas. To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.   

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eight Essentials of Good Student #Feedback

What does effective feedback look like?  In my latest article for Middleweb, I discuss eight essentials of good student feedback.

First, effective feedback is fair. In other words, it’s not biased toward or against the student. For example, one teacher I worked with always graded his “best” students easier than his “worst” students. He assumed that because they were “smart” (his words), they would always do a better job. That’s not fair.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#Differentiation through Leveled Text

When I'm presenting, I share a variety of ideas for working with multiple texts to increase rigor.  It's more rigorous for students to work with two texts to analyze and compare than it is to simply summarize or analyze one.  For example, in a social studies class, students might work with a primary and a secondary source.  Or students might compare a fiction and non-fiction work, such as The Watsons Go To Birmingham with an article about how Birmingham has changed since the Civil Rights Era.

Another way to use texts is to differentiate through leveled texts.  Let's say you have some students who can't read the grade level text.  In the strategy Layering Meaning, you find an article or text on the same topic written at an easier level.  Then, you have students read that first.  Next, they come back to the grade level text.  With your support, they read it.  Because they have built vocabulary and prior knowledge with the easier text, they are better prepared to deal with the grade level text.

The question is, how do you find the leveled text?  Here's a great blog entry from Larry Ferlazzo giving examples of sources for leveled texts.  Although one has an optional charge, the rest are free.  This provides you exactly what you need for Layering Meaning.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Riddle for Today!

One of the favorite activities during my workshops is writing riddles for vocabulary.  Take a look at this one from Jessyca Stewart, Timory Jacobs, and Evelyn Oros:

I am often misunderstood.
Incorporation is key....every teacher should.
Relevant to learning, I ensure every student blooms.
Variation exists, from room to room!
What am I?

The answer?  Rigor of course!  And don't you like the nod to Blooms Taxonomy?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Adjusting Lessons Mid-Course

Have you ever had a lesson where it didn't work out as you had planned?  I sure did...more often that I would have liked.  It's at those times that the art of teaching becomes critical--immediately assessing where you are, what is and is not working, and making that quick adjustment.  Teachers make hundreds of decisions everyday.  No wonder we go home tired!

Monday, January 12, 2015

What Takes Up Your Time?

Let's think for a moment about all the things that take up your time.


Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), tells a story about time management. He describes filling a big jar about halfway with sand. After putting in some small stones, he tries to add the big stones; of course, they don’t fit. He demonstrates that by putting the large stones in first, adding the small stones, and finally adding the sand, every- thing fits. The lesson? This is how our time works. Our calendars and days are so full of little things that are urgent, then we don’t have time to do the things we value (big
stones). The largest stones, the things we value the most, must be planned first, or they don’t happen.

The same example works for us as we plan our classrooms. What are the stones in your classroom? The standards or the content you are expected to teach? If so, you agree with most teachers I talk with. But I think that answer is too narrow. Covey’s point is that the big stones are the important things we value that get lost in the urgency of everyday challenges. In your classroom, the biggest, most important stones are the key instructional and motivational strategies that make a difference with your students, the true building blocks of learning. 

The smaller rocks are your standards. You know they are mandatory, and you ensure that you cover them. Finally, the sand granules are all the other activities that take up time in your classroom such as checking attendance or collecting money. It’s like Covey said, you always get to the sand, but sometimes we have so much sand that we never get to the stones. There’s simply not enough time left. We are so caught up in the urgency of busyness that important things don’t happen. 

Today, what is taking up your instructional space?  How do you need to adjust what you are doing?  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

3 Ways to Use #Assessment More Effectively

My newest podcast, 3 Ways to Use Assessment More Effectively, is posted over at School Leadership Briefing.  It's a short, 12 minute listen.


Assessment is integral to the teaching–learning process, and when done well can facilitate student learning and improved instruction. To provide several strategies for using assessment more effectively to raise student achievement, we’re joined by bestselling author and consultant, Barbara Blackburn. Dr. Blackburn is a nationally recognized expert on rigor and the author of numerous books, including Rigor in Your Classroom: A Toolkit for Teachers. In this segment, she addresses three important topics that school leaders will want to share with their teachers: how to use formative assessment more effectively to adjust instruction; the importance of giving quality assignments that assess what students know; and how teachers can develop a more useful grading policy that is tied directly to the purpose of assessments.