Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Superintendent & Teachers Do “Snow No” Dance

Actually, it was more of a snow chant with arm gestures.

We’ve already had five snow days this year. Some people enjoyed the first few days, but with another storm approaching we decided we’ve had enough.

Click here to view the 6-second “Snow No”Dance that I did this morning with the teachers at Seaford Elementary School. It will be obvious that we spent no time on choreography or rehearsal. This clearly was a one-take effort.

We’ll see if it works.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Great Teaching of Rich Content Happens In Spite-Not Because-Of State Exams

Would reducing the number of state exams undercut student learning? Would teachers stop teaching what is no longer tested until a future grade level? Would learning suffer because teachers receive achievement data from fewer state tests?

No. No. And no.
Let’s look at the third grade Social Studies exams in Virginia to illustrate why. Currently, Virginia’s third grade students take state exams in reading, math, science, and Social Studies. Proposals winning widespread support in the state legislature would remove the third grade tests in science and social studies (among other exams in grades 3 to 8), while retaining the tests in these areas at later grade levels.    
Reducing the number of state exams would support effective Social Studies instruction because the large number of state exams can lead to an approach where teachers just try to race through presenting an endless stream of facts without sparking student interest or deep understanding. Reducing the number of SOL exams would allow for more in-depth instruction and deeper, longer lasting learning.
The Ponce De Leon team makes its pitch!
The Sail Away with Me project taught by the third grade team at Seaford Elementary School illustrates that deep, long-lasting learning of important content and skills often occurs in spite (not because) of state exams. Playing the role of an explorer with access to modern technology, students create an iMovie commercial. They seek to persuade aspiring explorers to travel with them to the New World by sharing the successes and achievements that they had on previous voyages. Because they want to create compelling videos for their peers, students commit themselves more fully to learning about Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Cartier and Newport.
Students in each class signed up to join one of the explorers. Check out some of the results below. Here is the video that garnered the most enlistments.

Important content is at the heart of this project. This is not content-lite. This project addresses third grade state standards relating to History, English, and Writing.
The assessment data provided by this project is much more useful for modifying instruction than the information provided by a state exam. The teachers don’t have to wait until summer for results. They immediately gain important assessment data regarding student strengths and weaknesses that helps them adjust instruction now. For example, the teachers used a rubric to assess the English and Writing standards involved with this project.

Unfortunately, many teachers hesitate to teach this or other in-depth projects because they believe they don’t have time for deep learning when they need to prepare students for so many state exams. Reducing the number of statewide exams will help teachers realize that they can teach projects such as Sail Away with Me.  The state standards will then be taught in a much more engaging, effective manner. And then students will be even better prepared for Social Studies state exams in future years, even if they don’t have a Social Studies exam in third grade.

Kudos to Stacey Herrick (@Herricks_Hokies), Heather Long, Kelly Skinner, and Amanda Mayfield for implementing this project!

Want to learn more about the project?

Here is a two page overview. Here is the writing assessment. Here is a link to the sixteen videos created by the students.

Related Posts:
School Board Speaks Out On High Stakes Testing
5 Reasons to Exhibit Student Work


Friday, January 31, 2014

Top 10 #Edtech Posts

Here are the top ten Promoting Student Engagement blog posts relating to the use of #Edtech. Following the top ten list with descriptions, you’ll find the posts sorted by topic (vision, leadership, and BYOT/1:1).

Let’s co-opt the power of creating digital stories for a global audience. As educators, let’s give students opportunities to create, not just consume, digital stories. Check out this fun post just to see preschoolers, teachers, and senior citizens doing the Harlem Shake.

You don’t have time NOT to tweet. Tell people their work matters. Provide teachers great ideas. Provide inspiration. Build a shared vision.

#3  Four Policies to Support EdTech                           

Replace the #edtech lockdown mentality with a student driver approach. An open letter to School Board members.

Alan November asks, “Who owns the learning?” Effective teaching and learning involves purpose-driven work, a shift of control, leveraging the motivation of student ownership, and enlisting technology.

This post includes a humorous Best Buy commercial that illustrates why BYOT may be more appealing to some students than a 1:1 initiative.

Let the rebranding begin. Here is why we should refer to 1:1 as 1 to the World!

What are the design qualities that promote student engagement? These design qualities should drive our use of technology.

How do you get other leaders in your organization to model the use of technology?

Do you assume that the use of technology will yield automatic gains in skills and knowledge? Let’s not just bolt technology on top of current processes and procedures!

Technology is not just about the bells and whistles. We need a vision for effectively leveraging technology to support student achievement.

Here are the posts sorted by topic.

What Educators Should Learn from the Harlem Shake
The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action
Using Technology to Transform Teaching & Learning
Are You a Techno-Cheerleader?
It’s Not About the Angry Birds—Or is it?

Top 4 Reasons for Superintendents & Principals to Send Shout Out Tweets
Four Policies to Support EdTech
4 Steps to Leaders Modeling Effective Use of Technology


Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Reasons to Exhibit Student Work

“Remember that you are the someone in the phrase ‘Somebody ought to do something about that.’ Each of you. Me too. We are all the someone who needs to take action.” (Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret)
What can we do to change the lives of animals? Teams of sixth grade students at Tabb Middle School had just a few minutes to make their pitch regarding which animal-related causes the sixth grade should select as a focus. As parents and community members circulated in the gym and cafeteria, each group of students articulated a critical issue involving animals and proposed a plan of action. The animal related causes included puppy mills, dog fighting, a shortage of service dogs and a variety of other topics. These and other causes were pitched to visitors who each cast multiple votes for which cause should be selected as a focus for the entire sixth grade.
The students of Cindy Evans (cindyevans66), Nancy Hehir (HehirNancy), Rebecca Karatsikis (BeckyKaratsikis), and Kelley Payne (@grayfin77) each read Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret. The novel focuses on a boy who wants to rescue a dog that is being abused while his class at school focuses on helping dogs rescued from a puppy mill. After reading the novel, students investigated animal-related causes of their choice. They researched the issues, relevant laws, measures being taken to address the issues, and developed proposed action plans.
Check out this video created by Jennifer Thomas (@JennThomas75) inviting parents and other community members to the Action for Animal Awareness Community Night.
This event illustrates four reasons to exhibit student work.
1.     Increase Student Engagement
Students felt great ownership of their work because they wanted to make a difference and they knew their work would have an audience beyond their teachers. One student explained, “I liked this project because I knew I was actually helping and not just doing it for a grade.” Another student commented, “I like making a difference.
I worked hard because I wanted my project to be chosen as one that all of 6th grade will work on.” As one teacher tweeted, “I loved that students were so involved and invested in it.”
2.     Increase Student Learning of Significant Content
This was not a fluff project. Significant content and skills were at the heart of this project-based learning. Students learned skills required by state standards, such as “the student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of fictional texts, narrative nonfiction, and poetry” and “the student will find, evaluate, and select appropriate resources for a research project.”
Students experienced great success in meeting these standards because they were compelled to prepare for the exhibition and to work to address an authentic problem. Their academic success was obvious at the exhibition. As one community member observed in an e-mail, “I cannot believe that these were sixth grade students. . . I asked many questions and could not believe that they answered with no hesitation. These students sounded as if they had studied animal laws for years. . . I was totally blown away that these young students are now so knowledgeable of the animal laws and problems. . . This is the type of project that these students will remember for years to come.”
3.     Promote a Shared Instructional Vision Among Staff Members
The energy level was through the roof at the exhibition. Not only were students and parents energetic, but teachers and administrators were incredibly enthusiastic. They were appropriately proud of their students. They already were speaking of changes they would make next year so that the project would be even more successful.
Given the positive experience of the exhibition, the 6th grade teachers are more committed to our instructional vision of providing students transformative learning experiences in which they learn the content and skills of the curriculum while making a difference locally, nationally, or globally. Because of the high profile success of this exhibition, our vision of transformative learning is more likely to be embraced by other teachers in our district. Exhibitions can help schools and districts scale up effective instructional practices by showcasing these practices.
4.     Develop Parent-Ownership of an Instructional Vision
Exhibitions provide parents with insight into the instructional vision of a school or district. This expanded understanding is crucial for generating support for initiatives. Too often parents view projects as fluff. John Larmer and John Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education emphasize the importance of distinguishing main course “project based learning (PBL) from the short duration and intellectually lightweight activities and projects to many classrooms.” Exhibitions of substantive student projects help parents make this distinction. Furthermore, because of this exhibition, parents are more likely to support our School Board’s call for changes in state assessments and accountability.
5.     Experience the Joy of Teaching and Learning
Exhibitions are hard work, but they are also joyful. In an era of high-stakes testing, exhibitions provide teachers and students with the joy of teaching and learning.

The votes are in! The parents and community members at the student exhibition selected elephant poaching as the cause on which students will focus. The students are narrowing down their fundraising ideas and plan to hold several small events this semester with a culminating awareness and fundraising event in May. The team of sixth grade students that made the successful pitch for this cause included Gracie Cannon, Kaylyn Rivera and Gracie Roberts. These students understand the phrase from Ghost Dog Secrets that one group of students displayed at the exhibition: “We are the someone!”
Here is the project overview that Cindy Evans created with assistance from her colleagues after attending a PBL101 workshop presented by the Buck Institute for Education.
Related posts:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Top 4 Reasons for Superintendents & Principals to Send Shout Out Tweets

Educators increasingly recognize the power of using Twitter for professional learning. Let’s not overlook how superintendents and principals can use Twitter to give digital shout outs.

1.     Shout Out tweets tell people that their work matters. Teachers work incredibly hard, but often are underappreciated. Use Twitter as another means of acknowledging and celebrating teachers’ work, letting them know that they are significant and appreciated.

2.     Shout Out tweets provide other teachers great ideas. Use Twitter to provide great ideas for projects or lessons to other teachers in your school or district. Highlighting projects and lessons that relate closely to the instructional vision of your school or district generates momentum as you collaborate to realize your shared instructional vision.

3.     Shout Out tweets provide inspiration. Use Twitter to send the message to teachers that they can implement similar lessons. The message is that a teacher down the hall or across town can implement a particular approach and they can too.

4.     Shout Out tweets help build a sense of shared vision. So often teachers within a district or even within the same school lack a sense of common purpose. Shout out tweets that relate to your school or district’s instructional vision help people make connections between their work and the work of others in their school or district.

My tweets often relate to our district’s vision for transformative learning. The tweets highlight students

·        making a difference locally, nationally, or globally as they learn the content and skills of the curriculum;

·        creating a product, performance or exhibition for an audience beyond their teacher;

·        collaborating with peers, parents, outside experts, and/or other adults in addition to the teacher; and

·        using technology to improve the quality and amplify the impact of their work.

Share slidedecks of tweets at School Board meetings, parent events, or faculty meetings in order to provide additional acknowledgement, celebration, and inspiration. As you share a slidedeck, comment on what you have observed and how it connects to the shared vision of the school or district.
Avoid featuring students in tweets who do not have a media release form on file authorizing the release of their photograph.

So, superintendents and principals, keep on using Twitter to connect with your personal learning network, but don’t underestimate the power of Twitter for giving digital shout outs.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

School Board Speaks Out on High Stakes Testing

An overreliance on standardized, high stakes testing can strangle our schools. Change the system to include more balanced assessment. That’s the message our School Board sent the General Assembly of Virginia via a resolution it passed unanimously earlier this week.

The resolution makes several key points:
·         there is little research verifying Virginia’s use of criterion-referenced test results as measures of the growth of student achievement or staff performance;

·         we value deep, meaningful learning, as opposed to the superficial level of learning that results from an over-emphasis on that which can be easily tested by standardized tests;

·         focusing only on test prep steals the joy of learning and teaching from students and educators; and

·         accountability is important, but an accountability system based primarily on high stakes, standardized testing will not prepare our students for the future.

While calling on the Virginia General Assembly to improve the accountability system, the School Board recognizes that we are not powerless. The Board emphasized that even in an era of high stakes testing, we need to stick with the instructional approaches that we know effectively promote student engagement and achievement. The Board called on staff members

to help students master the content and skills of the curriculum by continuing to promote the joy of teaching and learning with a focus on deep, meaningful, transformative learning, rather than an over-emphasis on just covering content that can be easily assessed by standardized tests.

It is hard work to focus on deep, meaningful learning that helps students master the content and skills of the curriculum, including that which is assessed by state exams. But at least it is a little easier when you work in a division with a School Board, other teachers, principals and a superintendent who do not expect you to focus exclusively on boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance.

Kudos to our School Board for sticking up for deep, meaningful learning.

Related Links:
The Joy of Teaching and Learning

The resolution adopted by the School Board was adapted from a template provided by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and echoes similar statements from other School Boards and professional associations in the United States.

Monday, July 8, 2013

3 Steps to Decreasing Teacher Dropouts

This was originally published as a guest post on Lisa Nielsen’s blog.
Ron Maggiano, an award-winning teacher in Virginia recently announced his retirement, stating, “I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that
I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom.” Maggiano is not alone. In an ongoing blog post, Lisa Neilsen uses text and video to tell the story of teacher dropouts. The stories of teacher dropouts share a common theme, a concern for the impact of high stakes testing.
Advocating for education reform is one way to decrease teacher dropouts. But don’t stop there educators.
Share stories of students doing meaningful work with value that extends far beyond preparation for success on standardized tests. Share these stories with your colleagues and others with whom you learn.
Your stories of students’ meaningful work provide much needed inspiration. In this era of high stakes testing, it is easy for educators to feel as if they lack control. The weight of the system seems to take away options for meaningful learning. Your stories of students doing meaningful work provide powerful affirmations of what we can accomplish in spite of high stakes testing. Your stories illustrate that educators retain a measure of control, even in difficult situations.
Your stories with pedagogical specifics also provide assistance to other teachers. How do you select learning objectives that are worthy of the sustained focus involved with deep learning? How do your students demonstrate their understanding? How do you assess their work? What dilemmas do you face and how are you considering overcoming these dilemmas?
In sharing stories of students’ meaningful work, focus both on your students and the students of other educators. Your storytelling constitutes an important celebration that reinforces the efforts of your colleagues.
Seek assistance from others to address the dilemmas you face in
designing and facilitating meaningful work. Share a specific dilemma. Perhaps you worry that the open-ended nature of a project you assigned resulted in students requiring more time than you’d like to devote to a particular project. How should you balance structure and student choice in the project design?
Administrators should also avoid learned helplessness. We cannot assume that we are powerless cogs in the testing regime. Do we take actions or establish policies and procedures that mistakenly reinforce a content coverage mentality, rather than a perspective that emphasizes meaningful learning? Do we organize school level pep rallies before testing without ever holding exhibitions or celebrations of meaningful student work? Do we dictate extensive, low-quality formative assessment that drives instruction with a focus on rote memorization?
Stories of teachers dropping out will continue to be told. High stakes testing constitutes a powerful antagonist. Let’s tell stories with compelling protagonists who promote meaningful work by students with value that extends far beyond preparation for success on standardized tests!
Related Links:
The Joy of Teaching and Learning