Monday, March 20, 2017

Curriculum Director's Meeting (3/20/17)

For those of you who like to keep up to date on the big picture in Utah education, here are some of the important updates from this month's Curriculum Director's Meeting.

Board of Education Rules: 

The new State Board has worked quickly this year to change and update a variety of rules. While some changes are minor (changing language of "Utah State Office of Education" to "Utah State Board of Education"), others are significant and will impact OPA.

You can track all the rules and where they are at in the process on this website: (This link has been up and down all day, so if it doesn't work, try again later.) Remember that even when rules are passed at the State Board level, most still have to go to the Utah legislature and be passed into law or written into the budget there.

Legislative Updates: 

One of the most important jobs of the Utah house and senate is to pass the budget, which includes the education budget.

  • Highlights of this year: 
    • Utah has moved to cover all future license fees for teachers (my interpretation is teachers will still have to pay for fingerprinting/background checks, just not the license fees - more info on this to come).
    • HB 212 passed, which gives stipends for successful teachers in high poverty schools. The list of schools defined as high Poverty has not been released by the state yet, but I'm hopeful OPA will be included. 
    • Utah now has funding available to cover the cost of teachers who would like to pursue their reading endorsements. See Debbie or me if you are a teacher who is interested in this endorsement.
    • There is an overall 4% increase in school funding for the entire State.
  • Other news: 
    • Utah Futures and the Utah Electronic High School were both defunded. However, Utah Futures has the money to sustain itself for at least another year without additional funding.
  • Non-budget news: 
    • Changes were made to the Health Education standards that positively affect the LGBTQ community. If you have not been following this legislation and want an update, please come see me.
    • Utah now has a state-wide Kindergarten Assessment. This is overall a good thing, but some of the wrinkles of implementation are still being ironed out. OPA was already administering its own assessment as a means for placing students, so the Kinder team will discuss next steps so we can fulfill state requirements and place our target learners into full day kindergarten. 

If you want to read more details, here is a Public Education Budget Handout that is a great snapshot of the session:

Public Media and Public Schools:

A speaker from the State Office discussed how the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 relates to Utah Public Schools. Many citizens don't realize that the public funds from this act are used for much of Utah's online media, including sources vital to our public libraries and schools. These funds have been identified by President Trump as something he recommends removing from the national budget, which is determined by congress. The speaker shared this website, which you can go to if you would like to ask your representatives to keep this funding in the national budget: Of course, regardless of your personal stance, you can contact your representatives and senators at any time to let your opinions be known on this issue and others.

Effective Math Instruction: 

We experienced some professional learning on effective math instruction. Some of the techniques profiled are on this handout, which may be beneficial for some CTTs to discuss:

As always, please come talk to me if you have questions, concerns, or things you would like me to communicate to the powers that be at the state.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Literacy Director Update (2/7/17)

Here are a few updates from the Literacy Meeting on 2/7/17.

1. New Kindergarten Assessment:
  • The state has been developing a common Kindergarten assessment that will be given twice a year (note the pre and post tests are not identical).
  • Amie and Janet had the opportunity to attend one of the informational work sessions. 
  • This legislation is still in process and has not been approved for next year. We will know in a few weeks where it stands. 
  • I will update you when and if this legislation moves forward. 
2. Early Intervention Software (Waterford and Imagine Learning): 
  • We receive Waterford and Imagine Learning software via legislation from Utah; the current legislation states, “A public school that does not use the early interactive reading software in accordance with the technology provider's dosage recommendations for two consecutive years may not continue to receive a license.”
  • In 2015-16 school year, 84% of schools did not meet dosage recommendations and will therefore have their software taken away after this year if they do not meet fidelity. 
  • The Utah Literacy Directors (Sara Wiebke and Jennifer Throndsen) are desperately trying to get the legislation amended so more schools can keep their software on more of a sliding fidelity scale. 
  • All year, OPA has been right on the cusp with some teachers meeting fidelity and some not. Please try your best to meet fidelity with this software so we don't lose it. If you have any questions about fidelity, please let me know!
3. SAGE Writing:
  • The State has moved forward to reduce the SAGE writing test to 5th and 8th grades only (under this plan, 11th graders will take the ACT with writing, but that will not impact OPA). 
  • There are also plans to move from a "soft" time limit to a strict time limit, which will affect how we prepare kids for the test. 
  • These changes will not impact this year. Here is the current implementation schedule (it could change):
    • 2017: 2 writing prompts in all grades 3-8. 
    • 2018: 1 writing prompt in all grades 3-8. The prompt will either be argument or informational and the prompt each kid receives will be random. 
    • 2019: 1 writing prompt in grade 5 and grade 8 only. The prompt will either be argument or informational and the prompt each kid receives will be random. There will be a 50 minute hard time limit. 
  • Debbie and I will provide you with more information at the May first Friday training. Many of these changes are still being discussed and the State Board is aware the prompts would have to change if a time limit is included for 2019. Please do not allow these changes to stress you out at this time! At OPA, we have always taught writing in every grade and we will continue to do so. The literacy advocates at the State are aware of the negative impacts of these changes and are trying to communicate them to the Board. 
4. Student-Friendly SAGE Rubrics
Please talk to me if you have any questions! As we learn more about legislation, I will keep you all in the loop. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Classroom Libraries

I recently reread a few sections of The Daily 5 (Second Edition) by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser; it reminded me of the importance of classroom libraries in a Title 1 school and the challenge it can be for teachers to build those libraries over time. The book cites a variety of research, which all boils down to one idea: "children in classrooms with the most books consistently outperform their peers who are in classrooms with few books or no library"(58).

With that in mind, here are some tips, links, and resources to help you build and add to your classroom library.

General recommendations:

  • Boushey and Moser cite research that recommends primary-grade classrooms should have 700-750+ titles and upper grade classrooms should have 400+ titles (Allington and Cunningham 2007). The authors state they actually aim for 1,000 titles in each classroom.
  • Books should represent as many genres as possible, and should include a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Scholastic has a variety of grade-level book lists organized by core subject (you can also order sets that include all the books on each list). I've linked each of the grade level lists here:
  • Have clear check-in/check-out procedures if the books can be taken out of the classroom. 
  • Use an organization system that works for you. Some teachers use shelves; others have bins of books sorted by genre or reading level. At the younger grades, you will likely have one book box per student for literacy time and an organized classroom library (that feeds into those book boxes). This blog is a good example of how one teacher organized her 2nd grade classroom: Creating a Classroom Library.

Ways to build your classroom library:

  • Send a letter home encouraging parents to donate any unwanted books to your classroom.
  • Set up a project. During my time at OPA, I successfully funded 5 projects and two of the projects were for classroom library books. While it does take some time to initially set up DonorsChoose, it is worth the work!
  • Pair your classroom budget or legislative monies with discounted books such as First Book, used books on Amazon, The Book Outlet, Thrift Books, or books from second hand stores like the DI. 
  • Supplement your growing library with books from our school libraries. If you are a newer teacher who is just building your classroom library, take advantage of the excellent resources we already have available at the school. The librarians are happy to help and are a wealth of knowledge. 
  • Reading Resource Program: Order grade-level sets of 100 books. The books are "free" - you pay $0.88 per book for shipping. So, it's $88 per set of 100, which isn't bad if you split it among grade level teams. 

Classroom libraries for subjects other than Language Arts:

  • At the middle school grades, it's common for classroom libraries to be found exclusively in Language Arts. However, having a classroom library in your math, science, social studies, or elective class serves many purposes. For one, it helps with the perennial issue of what kids should do if they get done early - with a rich classroom library, one of the choices can always be to read a book related to your content. In addition, having these books available helps students see the real world applications of you subject area.
  • Include biographies of famous people who were successful within your subject area. 
  • Consider fiction books that relate to your subject. For example, Michael Crichton is great for 9th grade science and the 39 Clues is excellent for social studies. See more recommendations via the Scholastic links in the General Recommendations section above. 
  • Use alternative texts like the Guinness Book of World Records, newspapers, magazines, and other reference books. These can be quick, entertaining reads for kids and correlate to your subject area. Trivial Pursuit cards and other resources like ACT in a Box can engage reluctant readers. 
In the process of writing this blog, I came upon a variety of other grants and resources. If you have specific wants or needs, please talk to me to see what may be available. In addition, if you have other resources or tips, please leave them in the comment section .

Friday, January 13, 2017

Checking for Understanding

Checking for understanding is when you shift your focus from what you, the teacher, taught to what the students learned. It is a way to formatively assess students to see what they know and inform your next move as a teacher. Ideally, checking for understanding should take place frequently (multiple times per lesson) and with variety (visual, verbal, tactile, and written opportunities).

(As a side-note, Checking for Understanding is also a CAFE reading strategy students use with the Daily 5 activities Read to Self and Read to Someone. For this blog, we'll just focus on how teachers can use check for understanding to guide their lesson.)

The idea of checking for understanding relates to many things we have been working on as a school over the past few years. It connects to Feedback, Opportunities to Respond, and Teach Like a Champion - just to name a few.

The following video gives a great overview of Checking for Understanding with a variety of examples from World Language teachers:

Checking for understanding can start with something as simple as a hand signal, as it does in the clip below from Teach Like a Champion. That hand signal reveals to the teacher that many students solved the problem incorrectly, which leads to the teacher breaking down the problem in detail so students can see where they went wrong.

Notice how the teacher asks a variety of targeted questions in the follow-up to see the specific aspects of the math problem that students did or did not understand. She also gives them chances to show agreement or disagreement with others. By the time she finally reveals the correct answer, many students have changed their answers to the correct one.

Edutopia has published a great resource called 53 Ways to Check for Understanding. One of my favorites on this list is called 5 Words. It asks students to select 5 words that describe a subject, concept, or skill they learned during the lesson. What they describe could be anything from a scientific concept to a mathematical operation to a physical education game. You can take this a step beyond the 5 words and have kids compare their lists and justify their choices.

Teach Like a Champion emphasizes one more important point about checking for understanding: master teachers work understanding checks into their lesson plans by identifying several times per lesson when they will check for understanding and selecting the specific method ahead of time. A master teacher may even create multiple paths within a lesson plan with one path to take if kids understand right away and a different path to take if a check for understanding reveals gaps in learning.

So, I challenge you to look over your lesson plans for next week. If you have not already identified specific times and methods to check for understanding, then plan them in.

Do you have a favorite or unique way to check for understanding? Describe it in the comments.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Procedure Reset: Teach Like a Champion Strategies

As we return from Winter Break and close out second quarter, it's a great time to think about the procedures in your classroom. Do you need a new procedure? Do you need to tune-up the way your kids complete a procedure? Are there procedures you want to eliminate?

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 gives some great tips for a classroom reset, which works best after an extended break or when a grading period changes.
  • Connect the change to important news: Maybe your classroom is about to start meditating after recess. Perhaps you are starting math centers to try and make sure all kids are mastering the Engage New York curriculum. Give your kids an attention-grabbing "headline" or a goal when you explain the switch or the new procedure. One recommendation from the book is to tie it to a countdown. For example: "We only have 92 days left of school, and I want to make sure you are ready for 7th grade when you leave my class." 
  • Be transparent: Explain to kids why you are making the change or tuning-up an existing procedure. If you don't explain things, students may become confused. Be sure to emphasize for kids that your reset isn't a punishment, but is based on the fact that the procedure is important to their learning and that you know they can meet your expectations. 
  • Model and describe: If you're tuning-up a procedure, have exemplary students model it as you reintroduce the process. You can also let an outstanding student observe the class completing the procedure and then discuss what was done well and what needs to be improved. 
  • Use precise praise: Praise students with affirmations of the specific things they are doing correctly. Pay particular attention to students who have shown growth throughout the year in their ability to meet your expectations with the procedure. 
As you are doing the procedure reset, don't forget about the 4 stages of creating any classroom routine: 
  1. Number the steps: Chunk the procedure into small, easy to remember steps. Use verbal or visual cues as students connect these steps together. The younger the students, the more steps and cues you should have.
  2. Model and describe: It's important to both tell students and show students how to correctly follow the procedure. Also, anticipate common mistakes and describe how to avoid those mistakes before having students practice. 
  3. Pretend Practice: Have students practice the procedure multiple times. While they do this, narrate with precise praise and corrections. 
  4. Transfer ownership: As kids master the procedure, you can transfer more responsibility to them. Perhaps a student leader replaces the teacher and walks up and down the lunch line checking for nametags. Maybe calling out "Step 1: Go....Now, Step 2: Go..." becomes unnecessary and the teacher can simply say: "Take yourself from Step 1 to Step 4: Go." Be sure kids have earned their autonomy by performing the procedure to your expectations before rewarding them with more independence. 
This video shows several teachers going over a common procedure: lining up for the hallway. Almost every one of the techniques described above is used at some point in the video. 

Below is a clip of a teacher going over the procedure of tracking the speaker. She goes through each of the steps for teaching a new procedure. 

This is a great time to do a quick reflection on the procedures in your classroom. Which will you keep? Will you add any? What procedures need a tune-up? Select one or two procedures to introduce, tweak, or tune during the first week of second semester. Feel free to post any ideas you have in the comments!

Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov (366-371).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Socratic Seminars: AVID Strategies

A Socratic Seminar is an AVID structure that can help you introduce several elements of WICOR into a lesson: Inquiry, Collaboration, and Reading. The idea behind a Socratic Seminar is that part of our job in education is to teach kids to think, to listen without judging, and to ask great questions.

Socratic Seminars focus on dialogue instead of debate; it's important to talk about the difference with kids before embarking on a Socratic Seminar. This Dialogue vs. Debate Handout is a good starting point.

There are several variations of Socratic Seminars, but they all have four elements. These elements are briefly explained below, and are also available on the Elements of Socratic Seminars Handout
1. A Text. The text can be from any subject area and should include a richness of ideas and viewpoints. If there is no text, then it's not a Socratic Seminar (it's likely Philosophical Chairs, another AVID strategy).
2. A Question. In a Socratic Seminar, the discussion starts with a question, preferably generated by students. This question generates new ones and the line of inquiry evolves instead of being planned ahead of time. 
3. A Leader. A student serves as the discussion leader and a participant. The leader keeps the conversation moving along and on topic; the leader also makes sure everyone is involved. While the teacher may model the role of a leader when teaching kids how to participate in a Socratic Seminar, the teacher should not be the leader on a regular basis. This student-friendly handout on the Role of the Leader gives many specific descriptions. You can get creative with how you select a leader. In English, I had kids draw cards from a deck and the person who drew the Joker was the leader for that round. 
4. Participants. Quality participants are prepared (have read and annotated a text), are active listeners, generate insightful questions, share ideas, encourage the participation of others, and reference the text. All students should have a list of Roles and Responsibilities of a Seminar Participant

A typical Socratic Seminar takes place in a circle. After reading and annotating an article, the leader starts by asking a question about the text. Then, the leader and participants let the conversation evolve as they look to explore multiple interpretations and points of view. The text is the anchor for the conversation, and participants should reference it frequently. The goal of a Socratic Seminar is not to come to a single, unanimous conclusion. Rather, it is to encourage students to think, support their ideas with the text, ask questions, and observe the rules of dialogue (not debate). 

Tips for to implementing a Socratic Seminar in your classroom: 
- Before introducing Socratic Seminars, kids need practice reading critically, annotating texts, and generating questions from a text. It is also helpful if kids have generated discussion norms. 
- Teach kids the structure of the Socratic Seminar, including roles, before attempting to run a full seminar. Do a few practice rounds with different leaders and give the group feedback. 
- Start with short Socratic Seminars (15-20 minutes), then build up students' stamina for longer ones. 
- Help students plan meaningful questions using the Developing Opening, Core, and Closing Questions Template as well as the Question Planning Template.
- Allow silence. When first implementing a Socratic Seminar, you'll need to coach kids to talk to each other and not to you (the teacher). Also, be ready to allow the awkward silences. Resist the temptation to jump in and save kids by offering a question or steering the conversation: that is the job of the leader and all the participants. It will typically take several seminars before kids fully realize that it is their job to keep things going and that the teacher will not enter the discussion to help them. I have found that taking detailed notes during seminars shows students that I am engaged but not facilitating the conversation. 
- Allow students the opportunity to engage in student to student and student to self feedback by using the Socratic Seminar Debrief or the Socratic Seminar Rubric. You can also do this in the form of an exit ticket by asking students what is one thing the group did well and what is one thing the group can do to improve for the next Socratic Seminar. Then, share these responses next class period. 

There are multiple variations of the Socratic Seminar that do not use the traditional, one-circle format. These including a Fish Bowl and Pilot/Co-Pilot Seminar. In a Fish Bowl (also called Inner/Outer Circle), there is a small circle (5-6 kids) with a leader and a large circle. Only the small circle talks, while the outer circle observes using a tool such as Fish Bowl Observation Tool or the Inner/Outer Discussion Observation. As the topic shifts, new students are brought into the inner circle and kids in the inner circle move to the outer circle. The Fish bowl can be a great way to practice roles of Leader and Participant before trying a whole-class Socratic Seminar right away. The Pilot/Co-Pilot Seminar features groups of students (usually 3) working together to make points to the group. Both of these variations are also excellent for larger classes (25 students or more).

Want more specifics? This video shows one teacher's specific room set up, grading system, and classroom procedures for his Socratic Seminars. This teacher uses a Fishbowl format. The first 3-4 minutes are the most helpful.

This additional video shows a middle school classroom and how the teacher sets up and runs her Socratic Seminars with the Fishbowl format.

We have several teachers at the 7-9 building who use Socratic Seminars frequently, so our students are familiar with these activities and enjoy them. If you are interested in trying one out and would like support or ideas, please reach out. If you have tips or questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Targeted Questioning: Teach Like a Champion Strategies

Targeted Questioning: A quick series of carefully chosen, open-ended questions directed at a strategic sample of the class and executed in a short period of time.

Targeted Questioning is a Teach Like a Champion Strategy that aims to ensure all students are understanding the most important aspects of a lesson. Targeted Questioning replaces unreliable forms of questioning, like self reporting where a teacher simply asks the class, "Does everyone get it?" and a few kids mumble yes or shake their heads. Self reporting does not really tell a teacher if kids understand, but Targeted Questioning can.

There are a few important principles of Targeted Questioning:

1. Plan Ahead: Choose a few transitional points in your lesson where you know in advance you want to ask a few questions to see if kids learned a concept. This may add time to your lesson, but choosing a few points throughout the lesson instead of one at the end will help you catch points of confusion early in the learning process.

2. Write the Questions in Advance: Prepare questions in advance, ideally when you are lesson planning. While this may take extra time, it frees up your brain power during the lesson to analyze how well kids are understanding the content. For each transitional point, have a few questions ready that will help you assess how well kids have learned the information.

3. Speed Counts: Each time Targeted Questioning is used in a lesson, it should take less than a minute or two. If the questions take longer, it's harder to consistently work Targeted Questioning into your lesson.

4. Sample Strategically: When calling on kids to answer the questions, try to call on 5-6 kids who represent the range of abilities in the room (2 kids who struggle, 2 kids in the middle, and 1-2 kids who get things quickly). Select the specific kids you will call on in advance to save time.

5. Cold Call: Cold Call takes place when the teacher chooses who will answer the questions without asking students to raise their hands. (Cold Call is a separate Teach Like a Champion Strategy.) If you only call on kids raising their hands, you are not getting a strategic sample but rather a group of kids who are all confident that they did learn the material. Use Cold Call with Sample Strategically to get the most accurate data from your class.

This quick clip shows the importance of Strategic Sampling and Cold Call to get an accurate read of what kids know.

If this teacher only called on the students with their hands raised, she would not have known that Kayla did not understand what clever meant.

Targeted Questioning goes well with Feedback because taking the time to question kids in this way allows them to show the teacher what they know. It also gives the teacher an opportunity to let students know how they are doing and what might need to be fixed.

Once you are comfortable working Targeted Questioning into your lessons, you can add more variety to the questions in the form of things like partnering, white boards, clickers/plickers, etc.

What are some of your favorite times and methods for Targeting Questioning? Feel free to leave ideas in the comments below.

Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov, pages 34-39.