Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Flow and Learning

I came across this quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow and it reminded me of the work we are doing around success criteria, feedback, and visible learning.

One reaches flow in activities where ... "a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing."

This quote demonstrates several truths that are the hallmark of quality learning experiences.

First, the learner must believe that she has the skill to meet the challenge so a) there must be some challenge and b) the challenge cannot be so great that the learner doesn't believe that she can attain the goal.  

Second, sufficient structure must be provided so that the learner can navigate the activity with a certain degree of certainty.

Finally, feedback must be connected to the goal that one is pursuing and must be explicit in describing the current performance against the ideal state.

Does this square with your beliefs about what quality teaching and learning looks like?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Reading Instruction from the Master

Richard Allington, in his recent article at Educational Leadership has some concrete steps that teachers can take to improve reading instruction.   He unmasks two villians of poor reading instruction 1) Overusing and misusing  oral reading and 2) Asking Low Level Questions.  Here is his remedy for oral reading.

  1. Use oral reading selectively. By the middle of 1st grade, most reading should be done silently.
  2. If you elect to have students read a text aloud, consciously bite your tongue as they read. Wait until the student has completed at least a full sentence before you interrupt, and then interrupt with a comment that encourages the student to self-regulate.
  3. Ensure that other students who might be following along or listening to the student read aloud also do not interrupt the reader.
  4. If you're concerned that you cannot monitor the accuracy of students' reading when they read silently, remember that all you really need to do is ask them to retell what they've read. Misreadings become obvious during retellings.

(numbers not in original, because bullets drive me crazy.)

And here is what he prescribes in place of Low Level Questions

In a study of high-poverty schools, Taylor and colleagues (Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 2000; Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003) found that more effective teachers asked five times as many higher-order questions and offered twice as many opportunities for discussion as less effective teachers did.  The more effective teachers were also more likely to ask students to respond in writing to higher-order questions.

He goes on to describe a familiar routine of turn pair and share that is an excellent structure in which to engage students in literate conversations answering high level questions, while also including writing about what they are reading.

Monday, September 29, 2014

If You Could Write the Formula for the next California Academic Performance Index (API)...

Photo credit:

For years I have longed for a dynamic school dashboard. I'd like to refresh my computer every morning and look at all the most important data to help me get a picture of how the students at my school are progressing toward their individual and collective goals?  But, so many questions remain.  What is of greatest importance and how best to meausure?  Here are some things I believe would be beneficial to measure (notice I didn't say easy to measure).

  1. Attendance - Easy to measure and of obvious importance
  2. Tardies - would definitely encourage commitment to getting to school on time.  
  3. Number of books read - This is of critical importance.  The challenge is verifying that students have actually read... or I should say read with high comprehension.  
  4. Reading Conferences/Writing conferences - I believe anytime that a student spends time with a teacher getting feedback on their reading and writing life they are on the way to reaching the next step.
  5. Writing Entries - All writing is beneficial (just like books) Of course, it would be even more beneficial to get data on writing that is of high quality or meets certain criteria.   Since we are working at Camarena Elementary to get every class blogging, we could measure blog posts rather easily.
  6. Mastering Math Facts - Whenever students master these building blocks of learning they become more capable and able of thinking critically and problem solving.
  7. Student Teaching Videos Created - Clearly these need to be previewed and judged for quality, but it is without a doubt that the creator of these videos solidifies and enhances their learning.
  8. Formative Assessments - Students tested on their skills learn more when that assessment is coupled with explicit feedback.
  9. Parent/Community Volunteer Hours - Parent engagement in school (for any reason) strengthens our connection with families and supports learning in every way.

What am I missing?  What would you add to this list?  What would you take away?  What assessments of these areas would be most helpful to collect?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Persistence in Teaching and Coaching

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Give Students a Purpose for Listening

Caught this excellent post on Educating Grace about small things that increase participation in classroom discussions and especially appreciated this nugget:

Providing clear instructions for how others should engage when their peers are talking, beyond simply "tracking" or "listening" or "following along," such as "listen for whether you used a similar method or did something different" or "as you listen, think about how you would say this in your own words" or "listen for how [student] used a pattern to find a solution" gives students a reason for listening...

This is a much more authentic reason for listening that gives students a clear purpose that will enhance their own understanding of the content and process that is being discussed. Go on over and read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Your Disadvantages Prove to be an Advantage

New York Times archives

Why do we complain so much about defeat or disadvantage or difficulty?

It is absolutely true that we all benefit from overcoming challenges, therefore we should not shrink in the face of insurmountable odds and difficult tasks and we should be very leery when life is smooth, and peaceful and pleasant.

Two examples...

William Howard Taft

Theodore Roosevelt

William Howard Taft grew to be over 300 pounds and faced several bouts of illness while serving in the Philippines before returning to the US to work on Roosevelt's cabinet and eventually succeed him as President. His physical state deteriorated over years of indulgence and lack of physical exertion.
Teddy Roosevelt, on the other hand, was the picture of health and vitality who regularly took foreign ambassadors and reporters through the woods of Washington DC on rigorous hikes where the only rule was you must go straight over whatever was in your path.  He also was known to dabble in boxing and other combat sports.

So, how did these men start the race?

One of them was the picture of strength and youthful vigor standing over 6 ft tall,  strong and athletic  the quintessential high school quarterback who probably dated the head cheerleader.

The other was sickly as a youth, suffering frequent and severe asthma attacks that nearly led to death.

William Howard Taft is the first example, and Teddy Roosevelt the second.

The lesson here is that it was not the advantages or disadvantages of the hand that they were dealt, but how they responded to them that matters.  William Howard Taft, blessed with physical size, strength, and vitality, wasted away those physical gifts through a life of leisure and indulgence.

Teddy Roosevelt, through the mentorship of his father, attacked his weakness with vigor, dedicating himself to disciplined and rigorous exercise and strength training that helped shape him both physically and mentally.

The lessons are obvious. Encourage your students to do two things in honor of Presidents Taft and Roosevelt.

Don't fret because of difficulty or challenge, but embrace it and improve through disciplined effort.
Don't take for granted your strengths, but seek always to improve and build on the foundation you have been gifted.

What about you, do you have any examples of determination in the face of challenge?  I'm afraid we can all point out plenty of examples of failure in the face of great promise.


Reference: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Study Smarter

Here's a summary of research on effective study techniques alluded to by John Hattie at the Visible Learning Conference.  The big winners are:

Dunlosky and colleagues report that spreading out your studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students’ performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.

Teachers, parents, and students would be wise to focus on these strategies for learning instead of the less effective strategies like summarizing and highlighting.  Here's the full study:

Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology