Feb 12

The teaching skills required to implement Common Core Standards are the same skills needed to adapt and improve teaching to meet a variety of needs. Implementing new ideas into practice begins with a particular kind of planning that prepares teachers, defines instruction, and measures results. However, we struggle to find enough time to do this.

For decades, we've struggled to find enough time to help teachers feel prepared to enter classrooms with new materials and teach in new ways. We stop someWhatToTeachwhere short of classroom materials while working on curriculum maps, units, or lessons. We stop short of translating a clear focus on “what” to teach into materials of practice that define “how” to teach it.

A desire to change or adapt classroom teaching can be triggered by student need, new assessments, new strategies, ELL or SPED accommodations, and more. Regardless of the trigger for change, teachers that implement successful responses to these needs use skills that are a capacity to translate desired change into classroom practice.

In every instance of change, there is a need for teachers align elements of instruction as they move from what to teach to how to teach. Generally speaking, beginning with defining what to teach (and when to teach), teachers increasingly specify how to teach as they move from standards and objectives to curriculum maps, units, lessons, and finally to classroom materials.

We need to focus on teacher-prepared, ready-to-use classroom materials. Create a collaborative, idea rich environment that allows teachers to share ideas, align elements of instruction, define materials of practice, and measure results. The challenge is learning how to do this in the time available in their school day.

Nov 10

Why don’t teachers use new strategies after attending professional development? A few teachers resist because they are just not ready to change. But willing, and potentially willing, teachers resist because they do not feel prepared.

Professional development often fails to help teachers prepare to succeed with new teaching strategies. A risk of failure creates anxiety, and resistance is a by-product of this anxiety. Time constraints make it difficult for professional development (PD) to help teachers meet a readiness threshold for trying something new. Nevertheless, professional development should offer a reasonable assurance of success.

teacherasdesignersWhile trying to find more time and resources for PD, we must find ways to be more effective within the system we have. In the brief time available, we have to solve the problem of failing to transfer new teacher learning to the classroom. Then we can focus on building a system that supports this transfer.

There is always risk trying new strategies, so there will always be a need for a little push. But we need teacher buy-in. You cannot force the best of our creative spirit, and our best ideas are needed to continually adapt and solve problems of teaching and learning. Risk has to be reduced to a level sufficient to create individual willingness, which will become a collective willingness.

There are very specific PD activities that increase the impact on teacher readiness and new strategy implementation:

1. Get the creative ink flowing: Teachers must be able to design and adapt their way to increased achievement. Exacerbated by time constraints, micro-level design feels creepy to teachers because, while being imperfect and ambiguous, it demands specificity and clarity. But like the imperfect experience of learning to ride a bike, teachers need to experience the imperfect ride of the creative process. The status quo hides in the shadow of ambiguity - process cycles from ambiguity to clarity, from shadow to light, are the cycles of improvement.

2. Coaching: A critical moment in improvement happens when the creative ink begins to flow for the first time. New questions arise from a new level of specificity. You need adequate shoulder-to-shoulder coaching to respond to the demand for answers from an initial spike in questions. This support is needed to maintain a sense of achievability. If teachers stay stuck and unsupported too long, they can naturally decide it is unachievable and not worth the effort. The cost of losing teachers here is greater than the cost of keeping them in the first place.

3. Collaboration: Coaching transitions to collaboration. Teachers must be able to share rich ideas and experience as they create and learn from each other. This collaborative wisdom is required to meet time demands as ideas and materials move through revisions more quickly compared to ideas processed in isolation. These groups must be more than just PLC’s; they have to quickly produce quality classroom-ready materials that increase a teacher’s belief that they are doing the right thing to teach their content to students, and that they are ready to succeed when they try.

4. Creating materials of practice: Teachers must quickly modify and adapt materials to increase achievement for mainstream, ELL, and SPED students. During design and planning, both materials and the process by which they are created influence a teacher’s readiness for reform. As teachers brainstorm and share ideas about materials, they individually test and fit new ideas. As materials take form and begin to define instruction, teachers develop a sense of predictability and control for trying new strategies. Teachers begin to feel ready. Failing to provide this opportunity to plan and adapt is failing to create a sense of readiness and stability for new teaching. Design helps clarify instruction and separate important from unimportant content. Research-based strategies look like something during moments of instruction in the classroom. These moments need planned. During instruction, materials help facilitate research-based, reading, and writing strategies, often simultaneously; and materials provide data for clear and immediate student feedback. In classrooms, written materials provide students opportunity to clarify and align ideas to objectives, and help students develop and articulate learning. After instruction, students have an historical record of their learning to study, build, and revise. Teachers have powerful evidence of teaching and learning to share with all stakeholders, and they have evidence for analysis.

5. Designing for analysis: A new level of clarity and purpose is achieved in the design phase if teachers know they are preparing to analyze student work samples after materials are used. During instruction, teachers observe with a more critical eye what is working and what isn’t. After instruction, the stage is set for a collaborative analysis of student work. More is reveled, revisions are made, and reform continues as teachers learn from practice around materials of practice.

6. Designing quality beginnings: It is easy to become overwhelmed with the many ideas and demands about school improvement. To make things more manageable, we need to focus on teaching leverage points. One leverage point for improving teaching is improving the beginning of a lesson or reading assignment. Small changes here can produce big results. By connecting new information immediately to the student, and injecting rich ideas at the very beginning of a lesson, all remaining time and effort spent on the topic are positively affected.

Another way to view quality beginnings is choosing how you are going to begin with people. We make choices about the actions we take based in part on whether or not something looks and feels achievable. We should look for more time to prepare teachers for change; meanwhile, we can begin classroom-focused PD activities that help teachers prepare and produce classroom results. Better teaching has a definite look in the classroom.

Achievement: We need to design it, use it, and analyze it within the system we have.

Nov 10

The degree of risk we are willing take varies for each individual. Teachers confront a risk when considering whether or not to try a new strategy in their classroom. This risk is as serious as the individual teacher believes it to be, and choices are made accordingly.

In our business, there is not enough time for professional development, so there often is not adequate time to prepare teachers for planning and using new strategies. We expect teachers to take risks and figure some things out on their own. Some teachers will plan and tinker their way through using a new strategy, and some will continue teaching the way they know how because they don’t feel ready to do something new.

I love working with teachers over a period of days and watching them move through different phases of change. Unfortunately, however, "days" of training are too rare and hard to come by. What we have available are short blocks of time. The challenge is helping teachers in the brief time available meet a personal threshold of risk-taking sufficient to try a new research-based strategy.

One way to help teachers prepare is having them work in small groups. They need the collective wisdom to quickly solve problems and refine ideas. And we need others to help us identify "blind spots" in our teaching. But these small groups must produce tangible support for teachers that they can apply to their threshold for change and the risk it represents. These groups have to produce classroom-ready materials that facilitate better teaching.

Refine your group work so a teacher begins with specific objectives students struggle to understand, and finishes with new materials that close the instructional gap. We know what the research-based strategies are, but we need to give them form and make them ready to teach. Both process and materials influence the threshold for change; they help teachers believe it's going to be okay.

After instruction, your small group should meet again to analyze student work samples. This completes the short cycles of improvement that create a steady march toward achievement.

Sep 10

If there are students in your school struggling to read and write, and if you have teachers struggling to find their place supporting literacy, consider this leverage point as a starting place.

Learning to read or write is overwhelming, and teaching students to read and write can be equally overwhelming. Because of this, either teacher or student can shut down and avoid the anxiety altogether. In fact, both can develop strategies to avoid a confrontation with a literacy problem.

Five years ago, when it was time for us to walk the walk of literacy integration, when it was time for us to show evidence of this walk, I knew I had to find a way to meet teachers wherever they were on their literacy journey, and I had to show them easy ways to teach reading and writing while doing a better job of teaching their content. And time...we had to show teachers how to support literacy without adding more time.

Planning for my next summer institutes, I put out on the table strategies from Direct Instruction, Classroom Instruction That Works, reading, and writing. I was looking for common ground. I had to find overlapping strategies or concepts that could be used as a leverage point.

To make a long story short, the overlapping concept that emerged from my exercise was Main Ideas, Supporting details, and Organizational patterns (informational text). Ideas, and how those ideas are organized, can be used as a synergistic focal point to support teaching content, reading, and writing.

While designing materials to help teachers clarify and teach content that is better aligned to objectives, it is easy for us at the same time to help them create materials that support reading and writing. Teachers become more confident teaching their subject while helping students identify main ideas from the text, and then discussing with them how those ideas are organized to make or enhance meaning. Expository text becomes less of a mystery as they seperate important from unimportant, and learn tools to understand similarities and differences.

Building on learning how to find ideas and patterns in text, students get better at articulating ideas and providing supporting details. They begin to see how to organize those ideas to express a sequence of events, a cause and effect relationship, or a problem and solution. They learn how to describe an item with clarity and focus.

Rather than being overwhelmed and avoiding Six Traits, we celebrate a welding or history teacher’s commitment to teaching students two traits: Ideas and Organization. When they are ready for more traits they go there; meanwhile, we have a starting place.

Focusing on ideas and organization, teachers discover better ways to teach throughout the lesson, beginning with better ways to activate prior knowledge and build background. By the way, activating prior knowledge and building background is another big leverage point in design. Richer ideas and better understanding injected at the beginning of a lesson creates higher-order opportunities throughout.