Friday, May 31, 2013

Schools as talent refineries or talent incubators?

"In many high schools, those involved in academic programs treat the school as a talent refinery.  Their job is to deliver the curriculum to the students. Some students will get it and thrive, and others not." Dylan Wiliam
I have always been against tracking students.  People often look at me like I am crazy when I say that there should not be peaks and valleys when we look at achievement levels across grades.  I feel student achievement should be constant.  Their response is often directly related to their mindset, and their feeling is that it is their job to teach it and the students job to get it.  They go further and say things like, "they are just a bad class, they have always been low achievers, or Mr. McNeff we can't honestly think that all kids can get Algebra II can we?"  Rather than ensuring our students know and understand the material, we are just opportunity providers.  When we are not consistent as a district, students see mixed messages.  What is done in the early years can potentially impact the student for the rest of their career negatively.

At my previous school I removed most of the remedial courses, this was largely unpopular but I felt it was essential for our growth as a school.  If we say that we believe all kids can learn, then why do we provide remedial courses?  Isn't this hypocritical in a sense?  To ensure that all students take Algebra II we may have to do differently.  Does it really matter when the student gets it, or how long it takes?

If we truly want to ensure learning then we need to stop providing opportunities for kids to learn and ensure we do whatever it takes to make it happen.  Too often when a student struggles in a particular area or fails, we right them off, we say things like, "its obviously not their subject." Carol Dweck and Dylan Wiliam found that this type of message sent to the student is detrimental in how they see themselves.  We are saying you're not smart enough and may never get it.  So they give up and believe that they will never be good at math.

We need to be giving messages and feedback to students that say, "You're not smart enough - yet." Wiliam provides some interesting insight on this, in saying, "those who see ability as incremental see all challenges as chances to learn - to get smarter - and, therefore, will try harder in the face of failure."

I have thought about this with my own children.  Rather than praising they "A" on the assignment I praise the process and the hardwork that went into the good grade.  Dweck, says that when we praise the process instead of the product we create a growth mindset in the child.  When my daughter says, "I can't do this," I am always coming back with saying, you need to practice to get better.  The old cliche, practice makes perfect rings true.

We need to view student development through a coaches perspective.  Coaches in my opinion are very good at developing their players.  Rather than refining the talent on their team, they are typically busy developing all players and their skills they may be lacking. According to Wiliam, "coaches see their job as not just identifying talent, but also nurturing it and even producing it, often getting out of athletes more than the athletes themselves believed they could achieve.  What if we viewed education this way?


Embedded Formative Assessment - Dylan Wiliam

Mindset - Carol Dweck

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Misconceptions of RTI

The role of Response to Intervention should be to provide an intense intervention in a specific gap in the students learning.  I had  an email exchange about this today and it got me thinking.  Shouldn't RTI be about finding that specific breakdown, and providing an intensive intervention to narrow that gap?  Often times schools say they have an intervention program, but they tend to focus on the whole problem.  I think it is important to find the breakdown and fix it with laser-like focus.

This of course means that we need to be very specific in establishing what students should know and be able to do in each course (PLC's).  Why not base RTI off of our agreed upon Powerstandards?

Here is an example from our second grade ELA powerstandards: I can compare and contrast within and between two texts.

Why not develop our own assessment that screens for the mastery of the above mentioned powerstandard?  Develop a proficiency scale to separate students that have mastered compare and contrast.  Provide intense interventions in a timely manner, and once the child has mastered it then they move on.  Many schools including ours depend on programs like Aimsweb as the universal screening device.  These are great but they are limited and are not tailored to our special goals.

Lets not allow students to continue to move on because it may take them longer to learn.  
"It's better to assume students do not know something when they do than to assume that they do know something when they don't." Dylan Wiliam

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How we are individualizing PD.

Over the course of a month or so we have set out to take a serious look at our future professional development practices.  The overall goal is to develop a target for the coming years and focus all PD efforts around that target.  The target concept comes from Jim Knight in his latest book Unmistakable Impact.  I wanted to get away from the "spray and pray" approach when it comes to PD.

We want PD to do the following at our schools:

  1. Individualize! We found that one of the best ways to accomplish this is to use teachers to lead PD.  
  2. Provide follow up - We want to ensure that teachers try the methods and come back to share the evidence of use.  
  3. Jim Knight talks about the power of Praxis.  Just like students, we want teachers to apply the new skills or methods into the classroom.  Shouldn't PD be about getting new methods to actually enter the classroom and change instruction?  We want praxis!    
  4. Teachers need a voice in the development of PD, it cannot be top down decision making. 
  5. We will be implementing a part time instructional coach to assist in follow up and praxis.   
Methods to the madness.

Voice - We formed a team of teachers and myself as superintendent to question our current practices.  

Target - Our target is student achievement, and we felt we needed three prongs to address this target. 
  1. Engagement 
  2. Assessment
  3. Instruction 
From there we began to map out how we would address these areas and provide follow up throughout the year.  We agreed that the only PD our teachers would receive would be aligned to these three areas, nothing else would be allowed! We also agreed that we wanted PD sessions to be informal to increase engagement and dialogue - similar to the #edcamp model.  Formal presentations aren't allowed! We felt that each grouping should have a facilitator and use instructional techniques that encourage all to take part.  Groupings should be no more than 20 and lengths of sit time should be less than an hour.  

We preach student engagement all the time, why don't we ensure engagement for teachers as well?  Adult learners are very similar to students and engagement is equally important. 

Below is the current 'working' model that we will implement for the 2013-2014 school year.  

More updates to come!