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).

Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm a MEAN Teacher, Are You?

Are you a Mean Teacher?

By Laura M Staunton, New Jersey and Barb Erickson, Michigan

A MEAN teacher insists that each student do the best s/he is capable of doing.

A MEAN teacher insists that students hand in their assignments on time and takes off points for late assignments.

A MEAN teacher does not accept incomplete assignments.

A MEAN teacher requires each student to think carefully and to make her/his own decisions.

A MEAN teacher holds each student responsible for her/his own behavior.

A MEAN teacher makes students keep the classroom, themselves, and their belongings neat and clean.

A MEAN teacher does not allow free time in class until all class-work is done.

A MEAN teacher gives homework regularly, sometimes even on weekends.

A MEAN teacher calls on students who don't raise their hands to answer questions.

A MEAN teacher requires all students to treat each other with respect.

A MEAN teacher makes life miserable for students by insisting that they always tell the truth.

A MEAN teacher produces students who are respectful, responsible, and successful.


*(MEAN = Making Excellence A Necessity)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Motivating Students? It's All About Them!

Published in Momentum magazine from the Catholic Association,  here's the article I co-wrote with Abbigail Armstrong.  It includes several quick-and-easy classroom activities you can use immediately!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tips for Creating a Student-Centric Classroom by Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Once a week, I'm going to link to some of my favorite authors' blogs.  Heather has a great one on student-centric classrooms, which includes my perspective on student arrangement at the end.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's your most positive student experience?

Think of all your days or years of teaching/leading in schools.  What experience stands out as one of the most positive?  Don't forget....you do make a difference. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Break?

Are you on spring break this week?  Both my kids are out, and I'm trying to figure out how there is more to do this week than when they were in school!  If you are out of school, I hope you find the time to do at least one thing you totally enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Do you lead an abundant life?

I was very close to my grandmother, who died at age 80 in 1990.  Last weekend, I was going through some old materials and found this typed poem/essay called The Abundant Life.  There is no source, and I have investigated the source with no results, so if you know who wrote this, please let me know (also, due to the date, please know that the term man applies to everyone).  They may not all apply to you, but I found them meaningful.  I also wondered how we have come so far that our students so often do not reflect this.  I apologize for not sounding hopeful with that sentence....I am very hopeful that the power of one teacher will continue to influence one or more students positively.  I am also sure that if you are reading this, you have made a positive impact.  Have a good weekend.

The Abundant Life
A man is educated:
When he can associate with scholars and yet retain the simple faith;
When he learns to appreciate the small kindnesses by others;
When he has learned to say the appropriate thing to other people;
When he can associate with the wealthy and yet retain the common touch;
When he can accept unkindnesses of others without becoming angry, 
     realizing they are caused by 
     inadequacies, misfortunes, or misunderstandings;
When honor and fame bring tears of appreciation and humility to his eyes, 
     rather than haughtiness to his countenance;
When he can most seriously and understandingly explain the simplest of 
When he can associate with evil companions and not lose his virtue;
When he is at home both in the world of ideas and the world of 
     practical activities;
When he realizes that other people are to be loved and appreciated as 
     ends within themselves and not as means to his own ends;
When he becomes sensitive to the needs of others;
When he can give all of himself to others, and only desire their eternal love.
When a man reaches this point, he is not only educated, 
     but he has found the abundant life. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Awesome new search engine...plus readability levels!

From my friend Erin Klein...a search site that also shows the readability of the site.  This is one of the coolest ideas for teachers I've seen!  By the way, her site, http://www.kleinspiration.com/ is definitely one to bookmark!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Technology for Instruction

Today, I wanted to share a blog that I'm following.  Promoting Student Engagement is a new blog written by Eric Williams, a superintendent in Virginia.  Before you write it off since it's not written by a teacher, check it out.  It is surprisingly teacher-friendly, with examples of what the teachers in the district are actually doing.  It also has a technology flavor, one that comes from a perspective of using technology to improve instruction, rather than just using technology for technology's sake.  As a technology lover who still believes it's what you do with technology, not what the coolest new toy is, I love Eric's perspective. As a bonus, many of his examples are rigorous.   I've also been following him on Twitter (ewilliams65), where you'll find much more information and see lots of examples.  I encourage you to take a look, follow him on Twitter, and hopefully, the blog will be expanding more in the future! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Leadership for Rigor: CORE Walks and more! (Jeff Zoul Guest Post!)

I'm so excited to share a guest blog from my friend Jeff Zoul.  He's written several books, but my favorite one is Building School Culture One Week at a TimeYou can follow him on Twitter at Jeff_Zoul.

Two Aspects of Rigor
In working with middle schools and high schools across the country, I have spent a huge amount of time focused on the concept of academic rigor. Having read every imaginable definition of “Rigor” I still find myself drawn to Barbara Blackburn’s as, perhaps, the gold standard: “Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so that he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.” Again, I like this three-fold approach definition of rigor and invoke it often when working with teachers and school leaders on what I deem as “traditional” rigor. Directly related to this powerful definition of rigor is something I refer to as a “Rigorous Learning Environment” and I consider it a second critical aspect of “Rigor” and directly related to the first prong of Barbara’s three-prong definition.  Before students can think, learn, and perform at high levels, we must establish and maintain rigorous learning environments in which our expectations are clearly communicated and consistently upheld.
So, how do we define, recognize, and encourage such Rigorous Learning Environments? Throughout this school year, I have led teams of teachers and administrators at several schools on hundreds of team observations designed to gauge levels of rigor and engagement. I often refer to these as “CORE Walks” (Collaborative Observations of Rigor and Engagement). Although our main goal as we debrief the day is to simply describe what we observed, noting areas of celebration and perhaps next levels of work, we have also designed a form intended to elicit more quantitative data. One category on the form we use asks the observers to gauge this idea of a rigorous learning environment, meaning: Are all students held accountable for work and behavior? Is the teacher calling on all students, not just volunteers? Are all students actively participating in the learning? Is there a well-paced sequence of learning activities? Do students know what is expected, what to attend to, and why? Are there clear routines and procedures in place for maximizing time? We usually ask observers on the team to assign a number, estimating the percentage of students focused on the learning and the percentage of time well used. At the end of the day, we are often pleasantly surprised at the high percentages we have recorded and this also leads quite often to a discussion of what we are looking for in this critical area.
Last fall, PARADE magazine published a very brief interview with Bill Gates, in which he was asked what he had learned about great teaching. He offered two very simple questions, the answers to which he suggests will impact how much learning occurs in a classroom. Although his questions received a mixed reception from many of my Twitter friends, I maintain that both questions relate to my “two aspects of rigor”: (1) Does your teacher use class time well? (2) When you’re confused, does your teacher help you get straightened out? The latter question relates to the second prong of Barbara’s rigor definition (support) and the former relates to the first (expectations). We must continue to design lessons which engage our students in active learning which requires them—not just us—to do much of the work and the thinking. However, through our observations we have found that this type of student-centered learning requires a well managed and rigorous learning environment. Effective teachers know this and plan lessons that are tightly organized and well-paced even though they have released the responsibility for learning to their students. How do you establish a rigorous learning environment in your classroom?

Dr. Jeff Zoul is a school improvement consultant with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to serving in this capacity, Dr. Zoul served as principal at two award-winning schools, Edgewood Middle School, in Highland Park, Illinois, and Otwell Middle School in Forsyth County, Georgia. In addition to his work as a principal, Dr. Zoul has served as a teacher, coach, and assistant principal at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Click here for his website. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Looking to extend your literacy REACH throughout your school?

There are five simple steps to extend the literacy REACH in your school. You must Reinforce Connections, Encourage small steps, Accentuate the positive, Collaborate with others and Hold Teachers and students accountable.

For the rest of the article (I co-wrote it with my dear friend Abbigail Armstrong), click here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Missing my posts?

Please forgive the break, I just got out of hospital. Postings should be back Monday! Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Students Not Following Directions?

I ran across this posting from a high school teacher.  She describes and provides a "test" she gives her students on following directions.  I remember taking this when I was in school....the best lessons never go out of style!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Responding to Tony Wagner's Rigor Redefined

This is a piece I wrote for Eye on Education...excerpted here with a link at the bottom for the full article and downloadable project sheet.  

In the October 2008 issue of Educational Leadership, Tony Wagner described the skills students will need to be successful in the 21st century in an article titled “Rigor Redefined.” Barbara R. Blackburn, author of Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, responds to Dr. Wagner’s article and offers practical ideas for rigorous projects for your students.

In his article “Rigor Redefined,” Tony Wagner describes the skills students will need in the future in order to have successful careers and be good citizens.  The skills move beyond memorization of content for a test and shift the focus to a higher level of learning.   As I reviewed his list, which includes critical thinking, problem solving, initiative, collaboration, adaptability, accessing information, and effective communication, I was reminded of a comment my dad made several years ago.  He said, “The purpose of education is for students to be able to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do.” Most of the skills Dr. Wagner describes are needed to achieve that.  

Many teachers I talk with agree with his recommendations.  We all know we should not limit our instruction to “the test.”  I firmly believe preparation for a standardized test should be the floor of our instruction, not the ceiling.  And we can incorporate these skills as we teach content.  As you can see from the sample projects below, these activities provide the opportunity for students to engage in critical thinking and problem solving, to demonstrate collaboration, leadership, initiative, entrepreneurialism, and curiosity, to access and analyze information, and to effectively communicate with others.

The rest of the posting and the PDF/project sheet are located here!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Understanding Rigor

Looking for a resource to help understand the research behind rigor, what it means, and what it looks like in the classroom?  Check this out!