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).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Recipe for a Successful Classroom

Missy Miles, former teacher at Jay M. Robinson Middle School, wrote A Recipe for a Successful Classroom. Notice how it incorporates a healthy dose of student choice.

A Recipe for a Successful Classroom

1  tablespoon of lecture (for auditory learners)
2  cups of small-group discussion of any sort of variety
1⁄2 cup of guided reading
1 1⁄2 cups of hands-on activities
1⁄2 cups of various activities that involve movement. Sprinkle in little by little, not all at once.
3 tablespoons of music and art, which integrate content material
2 cups of opportunity for students to decide how they will be assessed
                                                      4 ounces of graphic organizers

The more you stir and allow these ingredients to blend, the more productive your recipe will be. Allow adequate time to let ideas, questions, and exploration occur before putting in the oven to brown.

So, what’s your recipe for a successful classroom? I'd love to hear them via email (link to right) or in the comments!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rigor in Education Discussion Group and Rigor Made Easy

Rigor Made Easy is definitely out and shipping!! I'm in Wellston, Ohio today and tomorrow and they are flipping through their copies now.  The Eye on Education website is showing a March 5 date for ordering, but if you are interested in multiple copies or an earlier ship date, give them a call at 1-888-299-5350.

Next, if you are a member of LinkedIn--or even if you aren't--I've just created a new discussion group for Rigor in EducationIt's a great opportunity to ask questions, share ideas, and meet other people who are also interested in the topic of rigor.  Please join us if you would like.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rigor...Chatting in an Open Group

I've just created a new open group over at LinkedIn on the subject of rigor.  Because it's an open group, you can join even if you don't belong to LinkedIn.  I'd love to see thought-provoking discussions, and I'll be happy to answer any questions, ranging from the Common Core State Standards to how do I help parents understand that rigor is a positive thing?  If you are doing a book study on any of my books, start a discussion, post your question, and let's see what happens! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

What is the Worth of a Teacher?

This has been around for a while, but it’s a great reminder. 

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.” To corroborate, he said to another guest: “You’re a teacher, Susan. Be honest. What do you make?”

Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied, “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor....You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read....I make them show all their work in math and hide it all on their final drafts in English. I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart... and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no attention. You want to know what I make? I make a difference. What about you?”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teaching Purposeful Listening

Amy Williams regularly uses pair-share activities to encourage listening in her classroom. I’ve always found that to be a more effective way of increasing student engagement; it was hard for me to keep everyone involved in a large group discussion. By asking students to pair up and share their responses, you can increase participation and craft a strong listening opportunity at the same time. I use a variation of pair-share. After students talk with their partner, I lead a whole group discussion during which students can share answers. But rather than sharing their own answers, I ask them to share what their partner said. That sounds quite simple, but it raises the level of expectation for listening. As one teacher told me in a recent workshop, “If I had known you wanted me to share the other person’s answer, I would have listened better!” That was exactly my point with my students. I wanted them to focus on truly listening. Asking them to share their partner’s answer rather than their own encourages them to do so.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Scaffolding Part Two

The definition of a scaffold is “a temporary wooden or metal framework for supporting workmen and materials during the erecting, repairing, or painting of a building, etc.” To adapt that for learning, scaffolding is a temporary verbal, visual, or physical framework for supporting students during the formation, development, and enhancement of learning. It’s really just a technical word for helping students learn, and I’m guessing you do it sometimes without realizing it.

It’s important to remember to provide scaffolding, which can be help by giving information, reminders, or encouragement only when a student needs it and in a way that helps.
That may sound like common sense, but I’ve seen teachers who give information that confuses students rather than making the material easier. I’ve also seen teachers who continue to give support when students don’t need it, which results in students who are more dependent on the teacher. Remember, success is developing students who can learn without you beside them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Organized Environment!!

I always like to share guest blogs, particularly from good friends.  Frank Buck, author of Get Organized! always provides a jumpstart for me to make some changes! Enjoy!

Focused or Fragmented?
Cell phones ring. Texts and e-mail come rolling across the screen. Our constant urge to check Facebook and Twitter take us away from the task at hand.
We live in an age when our time is fragmented. We feel the need to be constantly available, and in doing so, we are constantly interrupted. Who is to blame for our fragmentation? From the words of a 1970 poster, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” 
Barbara has defined “rigor” as, “…creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level.” It is the phrase “creating an environment” that is central to this post.
One of my favorite books is The Effective Executive written by the late management guru Peter Drucker. Despite its 1966 copyright date, it remains a hallmark book on time management and the solution to our fragmented society. One of my favorite passages is this one:

"To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours." (Page 29)

While opportunities to fragment our day increase, the fact remains that nothing of much worth is going to be accomplished without some degree of focus. How can we create the "chunks" of time in an age that so desperately tries to fragment our lives? How can we do all of this whether our age is 8 or 88? Below are five suggestions:
  1. Allow things to "pile up" and handle them in one group. Avoid the ring and ding of the electronic gadgets and the lure of other distractions. Stay with the task at hand and work to a logical stopping place. Then, turn full attention to handling that pile of interruptions.
  2. Stay ahead of deadlines. When we bump up against deadlines, we are invariably causing problems for other people. Naturally, they phone, text, e-mail, and drop by for a "status report." Staying ahead of the game eliminates the need for others to "check up" on us and provides more time to focus on the project at hand.
  3. Visit other people on your own time schedule. If interruptions come from the same few people, drop in on them first. Call them or drop by in person, and get the anticipated interruption out of the way so that you can focus. In this way, you are doing it on your schedule. As a principal, I made it a point to be in the halls before the start of school and circulate through the building. If a teacher had a quick question, my presence coming down the hall provided the perfect opportunity. Those quick interactions in the hall reduced the number of interruptions throughout the day.
  4. Plan your work, and make it easy. We interrupt ourselves. We often do so by turning from the difficult job at hand to some diversion that is easier and more fun. To combat that temptation, make what is at hand easy, and hopefully make it fun as well. Break the overwhelming goal down into manageable tasks that are clearly worded. All too often, the to-do list contains items which have rolled from day to day simply because they are ambiguous. Clear up the ambiguity by making decisions and asking questions.
  5. Group related tasks. Grouping applies to more than e-mail and voice mail. When a few quick face-to-face meetings are needed, handle them all in a group. Go from one person to the next as you make your way through the building. Do the same with errands. Once you get in the car, go from one to the other. Teacher your students to do the same kind of thing in their world.
If our history books have taught us anything, it is that we are a people capable of great things. Great things happen when human beings focus and turn potential into accomplishment.
Focused or fragmented? It's a choice. It’s our choice. It’s a choice between an environment which encourages high levels of accomplishment versus one that leads to something much less.

Can you recall a particular time when you were focused? What were the results? How did it feel? What if you could feel like that all the time?

Frank Buck retired from public education after almost 30 years as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator. As a consultant specializing in organization and time management, he works with school systems and businesses throughout the United States and into Canada. After writing Get Organized!, Dr. Buck authored a book just for teacher entitled Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers. Both are published by Eye on Education. You may visit his blog (FrankBuck.blogspot.com), website (FrankBuck.org), or contact him directly at Frank@FrankBuck.org.
**Don't forget to vote in the poll to the right!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scaffolding Part One

A good comparison for scaffolding is learning to ride a bike. I remember riding a tricycle when I was growing up. I was good at it and felt confident of my abilities. At some point I got a real bike for Christmas. My parents wisely put training wheels on it while I learned to ride. Those extra wheels provided stability and balance as I learned how to ride it. Then Dad took the training wheels off. He taught me to ride without the training wheels, but he was beside me with one hand on the seat. One day he let go of the seat, and I realized I was riding by myself. I was so excited. I had learned to ride a bike and I loved it. I had confidence in my abilities, which enhanced my enjoyment.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Teachers, Great Leader, Great School

WOW!  I am so inspired this morning.  Last night, I Skyped with Shawn Blankenship (DMS_Principal), of Dibble Middle School in Oklahoma.  First, it was so much fun to see the excitement on a principal's face--for two reasons.  First he was excited about his students' learning.  Second, he was a proud of how his teachers made that happen.  His role--help students and teachers succeed.  One of the main roles I believe principals hold is that of removing barriers of success.  I saw that last night.

Most of the call, however, focused on the stories of his teachers--the ways they helped students believe in themselves, the ways they held students to high expectations (the common answer to a request for help from a student? Problem-solve! LOVE IT!), how they support students and scaffold learning, all the real-life applications for students.  I could keep going but instead, I've asked him to see if his teachers would like to guest blog for me.  I sure hope so, because we would all learn from them!

Please vote in the poll to the right for my next free download!.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sneak Peek of New Book!!

 Today, I found out my newest book is off the press and on the way for shipping!  It will also definitely be available at NASSP in Tampa (and so will I). Want to get a preview of some of the activities/key points? Check out the downloadable templates and the free study guides for teachers and leaders.

It's an introduction to the concept of rigor, with a focus on what rigor looks like in the classroom.  It also includes information about the Common Core State Standards, student motivation, strategic and nonstrategic learners, and how to put high expectations into action.  Please don't hesitate to send me feedback/comment about the material.  You can also view some preview pages and find ordering information here.

Involving vs. Forgetting

I was visiting a classroom where the teacher used a variety of symbolic elements in her classroom. Her class always had a name, t-shirts (she found a business partner to cover the costs), and a logo. The class even had a mission statement signed by all students, parents, and the principal to represent their commitment and support. However, the inclusion teacher was not asked to sign. One day, when she came in the room, a student said, “She’s not really one of us; if she was, her name would be on the poster.” The teacher quickly remedied the situation and explained that, once again, she learned from her students. There are really two lessons in that example. First, be sure to include everyone; but second, symbolic elements help build and reinforce your community.

Please vote for my next project in the poll on the right!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Focusing on Comprehension

Don't forget to vote for your favorite download on the right!
How do you use reading, writing, speaking, and listening to teach other subjects? Reading a section out of our social studies textbook or an article about a current event was a common activity in my classroom. However, if I asked students to read silently prior to a class discussion, they seemed to struggle and lack focus. I found it was important to give them a structure prior to reading. Sometimes I gave them an outline and key points to find. Other times, I was more open-ended with my directions. For example, I would ask them to read a section of their textbook and place at least three sticky notes throughout the selection. On each note, they can write a comment or a question about what they have read. The notes become the basis for our discussion in class. In addition, there are times I have them take the sticky notes out of the book, stick them on a piece of paper, add their name, and take it up for a grade.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Heart of a Teacher


Happy Valentine's Day!  I hope you enjoy this 3 1/2 minute
video about the heart of a teacher.

Please remember to vote in the poll to the right!   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scaffolding and Black History Month

 Don't forget to vote in the poll to the right--What would you like to see as my next free resource?

I've enjoyed connecting with teachers and leaders on Twitter.  A teacher in New York, @dcraig42, shared a great strategy he used with his students.  With a large number of struggling learners in his classroom, he finds ways to scaffold learning for his students. 

For Black History Month, he wanted to develop a timeline of key people.  Ideally, we might ask each student to create a timeline with key African Americans, along with an analysis of their contributions.  In Dave's case, his students would be overwhelmed with the task, so he chose to adapt the activity. First, it became a class project, with each student contributing to the project.  Next, he provided clear direction and chunked the assignment.  Each student researched and wrote index cards about a specific person.  

Notice how he incorporates rigor with this assignment.  Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported to learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008). 

First, instead of giving up on a research assignment, he chose to keep his high expectations.  Next, he adapted the lesson to provide scaffolding (and success) for his students.  Finally, each student participated, thereby demonstrating learning.  Great adaptation by a great teacher!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Do You View the Potential of Your Students?

One of the most powerful lessons I learned from my students was the importance of my vision. I needed to see them as more than who they were at that moment.

    Just as butterflies are not in their final beautiful state when they are born, or when they are caterpillars, or when they form into a chrysalis, so our students are not in their final beautiful state when we are teaching them. Think about that for a minute. Where are the students you teach? Are they newborn? Are they caterpillars? Or are they inside a chrysalis? What does that mean to you? If you think about your students as butterflies in the making, how does that change how you view them? One of the most difficult things for teachers to do is to keep our expectations high, especially when our students’ actions make us think less of them. There were days my students challenged me to come up with any positive thoughts about them, but those were the days they needed me the most. I found they needed me to believe they are butterflies when they were most acting like worms! What about your students?  Any of them need you to not only believe in them, but to believe FOR them?
Please don't forget to vote on the right.  What is the next resource you would like to see me write?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just for Leaders: Rigor Podcast

In December, the wonderful folks over at School Leadership Briefing interviewed me for a podcast. We talked for about 12-15 minutes of Rigor and the Common Core State Standards.  Although a subscription service, you can now listen to it at no charge! A special thanks to Michael Mantell for providing this resource, and please check out the School Leadership Briefing site.  They are an awesome resource for all school leaders.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rigor Made Easy

I'm excited about my new book, Rigor Made Easy. It will be available by the end of the month from Eye on Education.  I've been a bit off the grid this week finishing up the accompanying study guides.  They will be free as downloads on my website as soon as the book is out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Which Free Resource Would You Like?

I've got a quick poll up on my Facebook page.  I'm working on my next free download for my website and want your feedback!!
By the way, if you haven't checked them out, look at all the options available now!