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, October 30, 2014

Leadership: Are you a Giraffe or a Turtle?

T. D. Jakes, in his new book, Instinct, tells the story of the giraffe and the turtle. Imagine yourself with your dreams and vision as the giraffe. You reach to the top of the tree and that is where you find your food. Imagine the turtle as all the people who have not understood your vision and tried to hold you back. The turtle finds his food on the ground. You both have different views of the world. As Jakes says, “We eat at the level of our vision”. The turtle can’t reach the heights of the giraffe and if the giraffe bends down to the turtle all the blood rushes to his head, and he becomes unconscious.  As you lead instruction in your classroom and school, be the giraffe.  But as he cautions us,  “When you are built to be tall you will endanger your position if you lower your perspective." Also remember, you cannot explain to a turtle a giraffe decision.  So today, will you be a giraffe, or a turtle?  And, who will you listen to?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Not Yet Grading/Redoing Work

I've been a big fan of "not yet" grading.  I used it in my own classroom.  The use of a “Not Yet” or “Incomplete” policy for projects and assignments shifts the emphasis to learning and allows students to revise and resubmit work until it is at an acceptable level. Requiring quality work, work that meets the teachers’ expectations, lets students know that the priority is learning, not simple completion of an assignment. The logistics, however, can be daunting.  Take a look at this blog entry from @justintarte about making redos and retests work. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do Positive Words Make A Difference?

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?  How can we incorporate more positive comments in our day?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Questions (and an answer) about the Common Core

I recently received an email from a teacher with questions about the Common Core Standards:

As a 6th grade teacher of ELA in the East Penn School District (Pennsylvania), I, like all of my colleagues, have been overwhelmed at the rigor set forth in the new PA common core standards.  As I sift through the released items made available to me, I am curious about your take on the cognitive level of functioning it takes to decipher the new common core questions.  Are we asking our students to think and process at a level they are not yet able to or will never be able to.  Are we expecting our 6th graders to think like 9th graders when cognitively they are unable to?  If so, are we expecting our 6th grade basketball players to perform like 9th grade basketball players when physically they are unable to?  I am hoping you can shed some light on this subject.

Here's my response.  What would you have said?

Douglas, thank you for your email.  You certainly asked a great, and very complex question.  I think it's important to differentiate between the standards themselves and the test questions that are now being released.  I do think the standards are rigorous, yet achievable with appropriate support and scaffolding (which is critical).  It's also going to take a few years to see the effectiveness of the standards, because right now, you're still getting students who haven't had the exposure to the higher levels of thinking in those earlier grades.  That means, you're playing catch-up.  It is important to recognize the complexity of what the standards are asking students to do--to analyze and infer rather than just summarize, to back up their ideas with evidence, rather than just stating their opinions, etc.  (I am more familiar with the ELA/Literacy standards than the math ones.)  What I see as a huge challenge is the difference/shift in the level of reading required, rather than some of the less complex text that we have been using.  And that, again, requires more scaffolding from the teacher.  In math, the more complex processing skills are certainly challenging--my son has been challenged!  I do know there is some concern in the middle grades about pushing some of the algebraic concepts down to the lower levels, and whether that is too much for students.  I don't have an answer to that since it's not my area of expertise, but I know it has been debated.

One tool you may find helpful is Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  Most teachers use Bloom's Taxonomy to measure higher order thinking skills, but that can be a little limiting since it only looks at verbs. For example, create is at the higher level, but creating a get well card for another student isn't really rigorous.  Webb focuses on complexity of tasks, and the Common Core incorporates his Depth of Knowledge. I'm attaching a guide I use with teachers--it provides questions to look at the four levels (the CC is typically at level two at a minimum and usually at level three--level four is more for extended projects).  It may be helpful to you.  Also, the reference at the top is his original documentation, including detailed documents for reading, writing, math, and science.  

I can certainly understand frustration with the standards.  Hopefully you are accessing resources other states have created that may be helpful (NYEngage comes to mind).  I hope my information has been helpful.  Best wishes as you and your colleagues continue to work to make a difference for students.  Barbara

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Six Elements of Effective Praise

Have you ever considered how often you use praise in your classroom? Praise is an effective tool to help motivate students. However, this doesn’t mean to make random affirmative comments.
I was in one classroom where the teacher said, “Good job!” every three seconds. Her students rolled their eyes and made faces each time. Saying good things just to say them is like doing 50 practice problems just so you can say you did them. Your students see right through you. There’s a huge difference between mere catchphrases and true praise.
This is the latest article I wrote for teachers.net.  For the rest of the article, click here!

Monday, October 13, 2014

What is rigor?

Want a quick review of what rigor is (and isn't)?  Check out this 2 minute video:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

#Rigor in the Classroom

Did you miss the September STEM magazine?  One of my articles, Rigor in the Classroom, is included.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Effective #Feedback

This month's e-newsletter is on Effective Feedback.  If you aren't already receiving it, just sign up using the link to the right.  I resend it every couple of days to make sure everyone gets it.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

#Rigor and Golf?

Have you ever considered that rigor is like golf?  Mr. McCracken has:

A student came to interview our principal about the schools’ struggling state scores.  The questions were insightful and an open exchange led to a fluid discussion.  The principal asked the student, in her terms, “What does RIGOR mean?” The answer, “Up to par,” borrowed from the golf industry to reveal insights and wisdom. 

For the rest of the article, click here.  

Thursday, October 2, 2014