Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting PD right in Equity-focused School Improvement...

The global digital citizen foundation is a really smart and forward-thinking group that exists to support teachers in developing the skills of 21st century global citizens in students.  They bring forth some timely questions in this blog post, 7 Compelling Questions for Your Professional Development.  I recommend it to all school leaders.

The biggest regret that I hear about PD in schools is that they are too frequently perceived as either disconnected and out of context or used poorly for the distribution of logistical information that could otherwise be communicated via email or notes left in teacher mailboxes.  Every school should have a theme to their PD narrative.  PD should be thought of as an on-going, responsive conversation about teaching set in context of the needs of students in your school.  The methods of PD should seek to replicate the models of promising practice, and they should be designed with a global focus on equity.  That is, the meta-consideration of What equity questions are we asking about our policies and practices? should be interwoven within the discussion and modeling of promising pedagogical strategies.

I'd also recommend adding Lampert's Problems of Practice (PoP's) Model into the equation.  Lambert's PoP's help to clarify where in the practice environment specific supports are directed.  Short-circuits anywhere in the paradigm can undermine student outcomes and are especially impactful for your most vulnerable students.

The teacher, student, and the content itself are the critical elements in our understanding of what works in instruction.  This are the moving pieces of master practice.

Lampert's model is useful for isolating transactions within the larger conceptualization of teaching and learning.

T--S are the practices that inform how school staff are successful in providing a sense of community where students feel compelled to invest and are supported in developing strong academic identities.

T--C is the pedagogical content skill and content knowledge that teachers draw from to place learning in rich and meaningful context for students.

S--C is the critical capacity for students to see themselves as rightful participants in the discipline-specific dialogue and content-related ways of knowing.  

And finally, T--(S--C) is the ability of teachers to support students in their ongoing development of academic identity and habits of mind that characterize academic discourse and participation.  This is the most challenging part of teaching practice because the teacher can not directly effect the desired relationship between student and content; rather, the teacher can only make it as contextual and relevant as possible thus encouraging students to make the investments of learning on their own. 

The PoP's paradigm helps to focus the PD support in on specific areas of practice that require reflection and innovation.  In doing so, we raise the standard of professionalism in PD conversations because we center it around the aspirations of teachers to improve their practices.
More than ever, PD has to be designed around a tightly conceptualized plan for growing the skills and capacity for teachers to serve the demonstrated needs of the students in your school building.  Ask the right questions, intentionally infuse the critical themes of equity, and listen to what teachers are asking for....  If you're able to consistently do these things, the teachers will know that their growth needs are supported in an authentic manner, and they will be much more likely to embrace the challenges that inhere in teaching at your school.

What is Academic Identity?

Culturally Responsive Education entails methods that both build community and provide identity-safe spaces. Identity-safe spaces are learning environments where students are supported in negotiating their academic identities in ways that do not compromise racial, ethnic, and other ways of knowing oneself.  It's an idea worth coming back to often in the engineering of school policy and practice environments. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge and Costas' Levels of Questioning to Increase Rigor

Stripped of all superfluity, #Equity is about providing ALL students with rich, rigorous, and engaging learning experiences.  If we could do that for EVERYONE from their very first day of school and throughout their formal schooling, our equity gaps would fall away.  But schools are not level playing fields.  Schools are designed to advantage some cultural ways of being over others; and the students with the preferred cultural fluencies are more likely to be able to perform in the ways schools are traditionally designed to reward.

This is, of course, a central discussion in the ongoing effort to make schools more equitable institutions.  It's a challenge because everything about schools, from the calendar to the physical structure of buildings have been designed in favor of a specific cultural perspective.  Similarly, our prevailing notions of rigor have been defined by narrow mental models of what it means "to know."  Rigor is traditionally linked to the capacity for memorization rather than being able to make use of knowledge.  If memorization is the goal, then it makes sense that rigor would be thought of as pouring more and more disconnected information into students' brains, but in the Google world in which we live, the application of knowledge is way more valuable to than its mere recitation.

As the instiution of American Education continues to take steps toward more inclusive models of excellence, the way we think about rigor must change significantly.  I ask people - educators, parents, students, and lay people - what rigor means, and so many struggle to name a satisfying definition. In truth, most of us would initially think of rigor as a synonym for "hard," but rigor is something far richer than just that.  Rigor is about stretching learners. It's not as much about filling students' heads with knowledge as much as it's about creating channels through which information becomes useful.  Rigor is an experience.

There are as many models of rigor as there are teachers and students -- but when I am in classrooms, I pay careful attention to the questions teachers use to frame students' learning.  Questions are on-ramps to student understanding. They provide the pathways through which students can attach meaning by connecting previous academic and cultural understandings on the journey to even deeper and more useful understandings.

Teachers should reflect on high-rigor moments and ask what led to the experience.  What was required of the teacher and what did students' engagement look and feel like? A key to rigor is to constantly be aware of what you want your students to be thinking about; and that is supported by a thoughtful structure of meta- and explicit questions to guide your students' cognitive functioning.

I probably re-tweet 90% of Eduotpia's postings, but this one is an absolute keeper.  I've been using Norman Webb's Depth of Knowledge Wheel for some time now, and I think the Costas' Level of Questioning provides similar support for teachers in planning the inquiry context for their instruction.

I'm also becoming a huge fan of the Question Formulation Technique as a pedagogical model for supporting students in the design of their own questions which can be leveraged to deepen their cognitive engagement (the beloved companion of rigor).

So if you want to see high rigor moments happening in your classroom frequently, think carefully about the questions that your students are being led to consider. Asking questions purposefully is an essential element of rigor.  The intellectual activity in classrooms that effectively closes equity gaps is framed around a rich and productive environment for questioning.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why do we talk about race?

Arrowhead ES, Cherry Creek School District: Mrs. Barb Pedrett

I often reflect on why it is that we talk about race and ethnicity in our support of school improvement -- given how uncomfortable it makes so many….  To be clear, I never waver in my commitment to engage those difficult moments, but I enter them only after summoning my most contemplative awareness of how people are likely to feel and what vulnerabilities are triggered.  I try to be clear with teachers, however, when I convey to them that in the interest of creating identity-safe spaces where our children can negotiate what they may perceive as competing social and cultural interests, the signals from adults that race is a taboo subject only leave them further befuddled and rudderless as they attempt to figure out what an authentic racial/ethnic identity looks and feels like for them. 

A school where I work recently presented an interesting scenario in which a 2nd grade class experienced a tense moment which ended becoming a unifying experience for the children and teacher; but their coming together only happened because the teacher accepted the invitation to engage her students authentically in a discourse about the history of racial oppression and its implications even for today’s young people. 

It started when one Black boy, in the midst of a group discussion where students take turns speaking by passing a talking totem to classmates, announced to all that “I only pass to Black people.”  This triggered a series of comments in which the 2nd graders debated the fairness of such sentiments even when they are conceived in response to a long history of the oppression of people of color by White people.

The teacher was able to keep the students engaged in a productive conversation that eventually ended with the Black boy changing his position because in his words, “I have a White friend, and that was years ago.”  The students explored the sins of racial oppression and the flaws of ideologies that promote White supremacy and affirmed an understanding of not only what they believe as a community of learners in the matter of racial history but also how they intend to embrace their own racial and ethnic diversity. 

It would have been cool enough for the teacher to stop there, but she took the next step by memorializing the conversation into a board that documented the conversation.  The board has become a source of pride for the 2nd graders, and they eagerly share it and the story behind it to all the visitors that come to the classroom.  The board itself has become a statement of community thus ensuring that the experience of openly discussing sentiments evoked by racial and ethnic identity don’t have to be divisive in nature but rather a source of growth and enrichment….  It’s a beautiful thing.

There isn’t a one-size fits all template for engaging race conversations.  What’s most important is that people accept their own racial lens as an interpretative device – good or bad – and then honor the commitment to enter into the conversation in a spirit of good will.  As adults, when we model that disposition for kiddos, they are more likely to engage their identities in the most healthy and constructive ways.  That is the essence of an education that is culturally responsive. Congratulations Mrs. Pedrett, and thank you for sharing your story with me.

A student's creative expression of his take-away from the discussion. "We all are the bosses!"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Cage Busting Teacher!! Nurturing Innovation in School Culture

The Cage Busting Teacher: Review and Response sponsored by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy

Rick Hess’s offers practical guidance to teachers on creating an innovative school culture that nurtures their best work.  The video is a discussion on the relationship between individual teachers and school/district culture with Rick Hess, James Kemple (Director, NYU Research Alliance) and Danielle Salzberg (Principal, Frank McCourt High School).

Much of what the presenters discuss is an affirming theoretical discussion of the work we do at the Center for Strategic Solutions (NYU).  Our PD/Technical Assistance models are developed in careful consideration of the strengths and concerns of teachers under the umbrella of themes of equity and culturally responsive education.  These panelists are describing the work that we do.

This is a good piece for school leaders and central office policy makers to view, particularly those who have input into the design of professional development. - @DrYemiS

Models for Project-based Learning

A PBL Unit: Critiquing the Value of Daylight Saving Time

I think of this as a great model for PBL which can be used as the basis for unpacking the beliefs, premises, and promising practices that must underscore the ways we introduce and support problem-based learning experiences.  I would love to see school teams take a learning experience like this (which doesn't necessarily have to be on this subject, of course) and plan it out as a team, carefully design the cognitive and affective experience for kiddos (an experience which isn't the same thing as a project per se), pilot it with a class, then collaboratively debrief and edit the lesson for more broad implementation.  That would be an ideal model (in my humble opinion) for how to introduce and support organizational growth around equity-focused pedagogy.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Organizational Resources in the Service of School-Wide Ambitious Teaching Practice

Ambitious teaching is a function of the careful alignment of resources and structures within the school's practice environment. This case study discusses how teacher communities come together to support on-going improvement efforts. See the full-text article here:

Background/Context: “Ambitious teaching” is teaching that aims to teach all kinds of students to not only to know academic subjects, but also to be able to use what they know in working on authentic problems in academic domains. Studies of individual teachers have identified the challenges of this work. Resources are often provided at the school level with the purpose of making this kind of teaching more common. But as Cohen, Raudenbusch, and Ball (2003) point out, it is not making resources available to a school that matters in improving instruction, but getting those resources to be used in instructional interactions where teachers and students work together to get academic content learned.

Purpose/Objective: The purpose of the case study was to understand how the common use of resources across a school functions to enable those resources to make their way into the instructional stream. First, the use of shared social, intellectual, and material resources was investigated in consistently ambitious teaching across diverse classes and teachers in the school. Using a conceptual frame from social practice theory, we then examined how resources in use shaped teachers’ common interpretations of teaching problems and common assumptions about appropriate solutions.

Research Design: Qualitative case study based on extensive observation and interviews.

Conclusions/Recommendations: As a field, we need to provide images and narratives for ambitious teaching that is scaffolded in such a way that one can be a mere mortal and yet capably meet its routine demands. In this paper we have tried to provide one such image. We can offer several strong hypotheses based on this casework; the first is that ambitious teaching is more manageable when it is undertaken collectively, when it is supported by common materials, and has an intellectual underpinning that is useful and routinely used. Ambitious teaching is made more sustainable when a multiplicity of resources are drawn upon in concert, not installed one at a time and delivered to individual practitioners. We have tried to illustrate the strong role that an organization can play in the development of widespread ambitious teaching. In this image the organization supports ambitious teaching in such a way that most teachers can see, enact, and routinely articulate, this approach.

10 Ways Teachers Can Make The Best of Twitter

Great resource describing 10 strategies for using Twitter in instruction can be found here:

Your kids use Twitter....  So should you!!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Community is essential to equity...

I'm encouraging all teachers to spend lots of time this summer thinking about your goals and strategies for creating a powerful sense of community in your classrooms for next academic year.  Start by building your own definition of community and then draw a direct line between your rituals and the instructional techniques you employ to further support that sense of community.  Community is a profoundly significant influence on engagement.  Be intentional and ambitious....

It's what the teachers are themselves...

My first graders used me as a reference for exploring adjectives...

Would You Know Deeper Learning If You Saw It? - Learning Deeply - Education Week

Would You Know Deeper Learning If You Saw It? - Learning Deeply - Education Week

Rigor isn't about the content as much as it's about the ways in which students are led to engage with the content. Authentic rigor is evident when students are referring to the content to support their own observations and emerging understandings and making meaningful connections between the content with other content.  Good teaching is the process of facilitating these kinds of connections.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Student Questions, Shifting Classrooms- RQI

Student Questions, Shifting Classrooms- RQI

A Rhode Island teacher's thoughtful reflection on how she handed over the responsibility of questioning to her students and saw them engage more deeply as a result.

TEDxSaltLakeCity - Rachael Herrscher - What?: Asking the Right Questions - YouTube

TEDxSaltLakeCity - Rachael Herrscher - What?: Asking the Right Questions - YouTube

Questioning is an essential skill of great teachers.  It's interesting to know how other professions think of the purpose for questions....

Tools for using DOK to plan for rigorous learning...

This Edutopia blog posting is a good start for thinking about what rigor looks like in action.

There are two types of challenge when it comes to desgigning rigorous instruction. The first type involves understanding exactly what it is we mean by rigor. It's worth the time and effort to clarify and level-set the school-wide definition for rigor. The second type of challenge is a function of being able to marry one's conceptual understanding of what rigor means with the kinds of instructional tools and practices that are most likely to engage students in rigorous thinking.  At the elementary level, these conversations become most specific and meaningful in grade-level planning spaces,while at the secondary level, they often work best in content area teams.

The essential skill in developing rigorous instruction is the skill of questioning.  Highly effective teachers plan around great questions, and they ask the right questions at the right time (with the right support) to leverage their students' engagement to increasingly higher rigor.

And the important thing to remember is that rigor is not about students' work as much as it's about students' thinking.  When planning for high rigor, teachers should consider first what they want their students to think about and then what they want their students to be able to do. The work is the evidence of rigor and not the rigor itself. That way of thinking will more likely yield the richest and most engaging, rigorous learning experiences for your kiddos.


Great teaching is highly mindful of rigor and the kind of thinking it entails for kiddos...

What exactly is rigor?

All great teaching starts and ends with a clear sense of goals for rigor. Great teaching is the engineering of environment and circumstances that engage students in rigorous learning experiences.  I've seen many definitions of rigor, but I continue to draw from Norman Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Wheel and its accompanying questions.

Questioning is an essential skill of instruction that facilitates rigor. Teachers' questions are the guideposts for students' thinking.  When teachers do it well, it creates a classroom climate rich with dynamic and productive expectations for performance and engagement.

Questioning is going to be my central research topic for the summer of 2015.  I'm looking forward to relate it directly to the themes of CRE and name specifics for how teachers do it well.

Questioning the Black Male Experience in America : Code Switch : NPR

Questioning the Black Male Experience in America : Code Switch : NPR

How would you like to be remembered, in a word or two?  That question was posed by a black man and answered by other black men in a multimedia art project called Question Bridge: Black Males. Some of the answers to that query included: warrior, sincere, motivated, dedicated, family-oriented, and father.

We do great harm to students when we impose expectations on their identity because of our limited perceptions of them. To be exposed to education that doesn't restrict the expression of humanity due to biased notions of identity is arguably the most important gift of great teaching.

John Wooden: The difference between winning and succeeding | Talk Video |

John Wooden: The difference between winning and succeeding | Talk Video |

I think of this TedTalk as a statement about pedagogy from a man who was a legendary teacher in every way.  Wooden's genius in teaching is a function of his ability to engage his pupils with the task of becoming successful. "Professor" Wooden defines success as "Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable," and though he doesn't use the word, the themes of equity flow through his entire discussion.

I inherited my admiration of John Wooden from my father. The coaches my father thought most highly of were Red Auerbach and John Wooden, and I think in both cases it was because of how each treated their African American future Hall of Fame star centers - Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul Jabbar - with love, respect, and dignity.

In the TedTalk given by Wooden, he reveals himself to be an equity-minded teacher and mentor. Equity-mindedness births equitable practices - and the most equitable practice of all in schools is wonderful, powerful, regularly GREAT teaching for ALL students that both tailors the instruction in meaningful ways and honors their identities and home communities.  The innovation and awareness necessary to engineer rich and relevant learning experiences is a function of a passion for the craft and content as well as an astute awareness of how perceptions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability and any other difference we can name may impact the school experiences of young people.

It is through the intentional deliberation of practice that we are able to put these insights into action through the choices and designs of our pedagogy.  That's why we can't just teach the strategies - as important as they are - because they never define powerful learning. They are tools, but not the inspiration.

Great pedagogy is simply the exercise of and instruction in these lessons of what it means to be successful.

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success is a masterpiece of wisdom in the canon of character studies.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What Is Differentiated Instruction? | Reading Topics A-Z | Reading Rockets

What Is Differentiated Instruction? | Reading Topics A-Z | Reading Rockets by Carol Tomlinson

Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping and other responsive pedagogy makes this a successful approach to instruction….

Fairness in education is more than anything else the expectation that ALL children will have access to meaningful and responsive learning opportunities.  Equity isn't something we do in addition to good teaching, rather the themes of equity live in all of those good practices and guides the selection of the pedagogical tools we choose.