Tag: teachers and teaching

Culture and Climate

June 22, 2016 by
Hanna Attafi

Hanna Attafi

/kəlCHər/
:
the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

When we identify with our culture, of course we think of norms such as clothing, language, food, and education. In addition, we hold certain beliefs and assumptions close as a part of our culture. Even though going to school seems like a natural part of childhood, there is a whole subculture within the education system that plays a huge role in a child’s life.

Students spend most of their lives in our classrooms. It is up to us, as educators, to foster a classroom culture that meets their basic needs, supports their academic learning and growth, and teaches social skills such as empathy, grit, and gratitude.

So how do we do this? We must first understand that students come to us with a concept of their own culture, which we have to acknowledge and respect. Our job is to teach them the basics for them to be successful in the culture of schools for them to be successful in all the ways we hope for them.

Of course we, as teachers, have heard that the first six weeks of school is when to really set the tone for the year and begin to “lay down the law.” In my experience, these first few weeks are very important, but it’s about establishing respect, trust, and relationships. And it starts by showing up…every single day. (more…)

Developing a Competency-Based ELA Classroom

June 8, 2016 by
Stephanie Price

Language Arts Lead Teacher Stephanie Price (right) and Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Simms (left) collaborate on DSISD’s around competency-based approach.

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on June 1, 2016.

When I started my journey at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) in spring 2015, I was excited. After nine years of teaching in a traditional model of education, the new possibilities at my disposal sparked my creativity. Little did I know how much I would feel like a first year educator all over again once school started in the fall. I was embarking on uncharted territory, and no amount of summer planning could have prepared me for what was next. Now, a year in, I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned, and offer a bit of advice to teachers and school leaders who might be interested in this model.

Discovering Pacing for my Students

As I learned what competency based education meant, it was my understanding that students could and should move through acquiring content and skills asynchronously, or at their own pace. Our learning management system, Summit Public School’s Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), allowed for students to access content, assessments, and projects on their own.

My initial approach prioritized the pace of the learning over the personal needs of each student. Students could move as quickly or slowly as they wished through their work, choosing supports and enrichments as they went along. This student-led approach didn’t account for the fact that students weren’t ready to identify their own needs without my guidance. Many of them lacked the self-directed learning skills and agency. It became messy, and it started to feel like each student was isolated. I missed the collaboration I was so used to in a traditional model. I also realized that about a third of my students were ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement coursework while about one tenth of them were struggling to keep up at an appropriate pace, even with the scaffolds provided for them to choose from. This was all useful learning for me, and at the end of the first trimester, I developed and implemented a differentiated grouping system that I called a “cohort model” in response to these challenges, and influenced heavily by student voice.

Implementing the Cohort Model

The cohort model simply allows students to choose their own adventure in the language arts classroom. Although all students work in small groups at their own levels, they are connected through common themes, tasks, and texts. My class has three cohorts: Introduction to Literature, AP Language Cohort, and AP Language Veterans. An example of a typical day would include the Intro to Lit students reading leveled versions of Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for writing a short response on figurative language in the text while the AP Cohort analyzes the whole letter for a rhetorical analysis essay. Meanwhile, the AP Veterans read Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau alongside Letter to Birmingham Jail to write a full compare contrast analysis on the figurative language each author used to support his argument. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 7, 2016 by

What's NewTeacher and Ed Leader Insights

Thought Leadership

Assessments for Learning

Movement in the States

(more…)

Moving from Theory to Practice: Designing a New Competency-Based High School

June 6, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on May 31, 2016.Screenshot 2016-06-07 08.53.23

Every school leader wants to create their dream school. They want the kind of opportunity that would allow a passionate team and community of learners to cast a shared vision, to side step the bureaucratic elements of schooling, and to create an atmosphere and experiences that educators and students long for. However, when the opportunity of a blank canvas for school design arrives, there are a number of unspoken challenges in moving from theory to practice. In December of 2014 we embarked on this leadership journey with Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD). As we look back on our first year, there are many lessons that contributed to the success of our first year and our goals moving forward. Most importantly, our strong foundational systems and goals allowed our leadership to steer DSISD through the uncertain waters between theory and practice.

North Star: DSISD Vision

Our theory from the start was that a competency-based approach would make our school truly student-centered from startup to launch. Moving from theory to practice inherently means that an organization will need to navigate uncertainty and change. Many of the daily structures that ensure confidence and coherence in an established school or organization do not exist in a startup situation. What does exist in a startup situation is enthusiasm and excitement about new possibilities. However, enthusiasm is a finite resource that can be whittled away as challenges, which are sure to come, arise. To navigate uncertainty at DSISD, we built a compelling vision to anchor decisions in and test designs against.

The DSISD vision is “To empower ALL students to OWN their learning, SHAPE their dreams, and CREATE a better world.” This simple statement paints the picture of what we hope to instill in all of our students. It is also the first test for all of our decisions and school design elements. From identifying staff dispositions, to curricula choices, to student experiences—if the choice doesn’t align to the vision, then we don’t do it. This simple stake in the ground creates unity and confidence among the staff and provides consistency in the midst of uncertainty and change.

Map and Compass: Year One Goals

But vision alone is not enough—leaders also need to provide concrete criteria to know whether the group is heading in the right direction. Having clear benchmarks and goals helps generate momentum and secure early wins. This positive momentum is critical for counteracting the challenges of change and uncertainty. To secure these wins, the DSISD leadership team set three core goals for a strong first year: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Constant Feedback

June 3, 2016 by

WalkingThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:

  1. It is goal referenced
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is timely
  4. It is ongoing

The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™. (more…)

5 Strategies for Fostering Independence in a PBL Classroom

May 27, 2016 by

Pic1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 28, 2016.

As a middle school teacher I understand that my students are at a developmental crossroads. They want to be seen as independent, responsible adults but at the same time still need guidance in order to be successful. This makes this age both challenging and rewarding to work with as it allows me as a teacher to help them as they become the independent students they see themselves to be.

It is not uncommon for teachers new to project-based learning to express skepticism or concern about “dropping the reins” and allowing students to take more control over the pace and scope of their learning. However, it is an essential aspect of good PBL. Ultimately, in order to be successful in the 21st century world, our students need to be able to manage themselves and work effectively with groups of peers. If it is true that the purpose of school is to prepare students for future success, then the building of these skills must start in the classroom. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Refurbishing for Personalized Learning

May 20, 2016 by

BinderThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Stop! You, yes you. The one perusing Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for the perfect already-made-resource you can print off and use with your students.

And you! The one flipping through your binders, hanging-files, or digital folders for lesson plans and resources to use again.

You too! Surfing PBS, The History Channel, and other providers of ready-made curricula and lessons.

Stop. And think…

Will using this resource or material support the goals of learner-centered proficiency based practice?

The answer may not be entirely clear at first. The reality is that most of the pre-made materials are not. There are, however, ways to use these resources and refurbish them for personalized learning.

I recently facilitated a session with some teachers around using non-Calkins resources within the context of writing workshop. To start the hour off, we played a “yes-no game” based on a concept attainment activity. The gist is that we sorted examples into positive and negative groups, then determined the categories and gave them titles. This chart shows the results of our game: (more…)

Culture Comes First

May 4, 2016 by

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any teacher, school, or district working toward a vision of personalized learning is this:

learning community culture is the foundation of personalized learning

CB

For many reasons, this vital piece is often overlooked and rarely focused on in professional development. Districts focus on the more easily measured elements of teacher evaluation models, which speak more to specific instructional strategies and behaviors. Teachers feel pressure to “get to the content” quickly at the start of the year. Performance and production are valued over process.
The truth is that even the most carefully tuned proficiency-based system will crumble without a cultivated culture of learning. Teachers and learners will hit a wall of frustration as they try to implement personalized learning of any kind. In order for learner-centered proficiency-based systems to work, the learning community culture needs to nurture and sustain the following elements: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets

April 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine. This tip of the week is designed for those schools that are using the measurement topic/learning target model to organize continuum of learning. There are other models being used by schools for which this will not directly apply, although the insights in how we might begin to think about personalizing instruction will be valuable to everyone.

Being a teacher in a learner-centered proficiency based system can mean some big changes. One of the biggest changes in thinking to work through involves taking a step back from working with targets at a particular level, to working with a range of targets within the measurement topic. Remember, a Measurement Topic is a series of related targets arranged in a progression from simple to complex. Measurement Topics do not necessarily have one target, or level, per grade. Nor do Measurement Topics necessarily always make sense to begin when students enter the school system in preK or Kindergarten.

Think about this visual:

CB1

The boxes represent three targets, from three different Measurement Topics. In many places, right now this is how teachers approach their work with learning targets. Only the targets typically associated with a traditional grade level are on the proverbial teaching table. If students happen to be on a different target, they are in a different group or maybe even a different class. Planning of lessons and units revolve around this small set of targets. It is possible that the three Measurement Topics are combined in some way. (more…)

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