Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Building Blocks

Kim Marshall has written much about school improvement and has some excellent ideas about the role of the principal in developing more effective teachers. His article, Recovering from HSPS (Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome) A Progress Report, has some excellent insights on that role. Some of you are probably ready to diagnose me right now! His aricle gives some suggestions on walkthroughts that I'm workin on currently. (The biggest change is one I mentioned a couple weeks ago, namely giving verbal feedback within 24 hours instead of relying on written or e-mail feedback).

He also delineates the structures that need to be in place in a school for significant progress to be made. Here are those four elements and a quick assessment of where Halecrest stands (from one perspective, of course :)

Clear grade by grade curriculum proficiency targets

The standards are definitely in place, but I'm not sure we have a definition of what proficiency looks like in every grade level. Our collaborations around student work are getting us closer to being able to articulate proficiency in writing, for example. I see us slowly, but surely building a common understanding as we spend time discussing student work in light of the standards.

Teacher teams that plan curriculum units with an end in sight

This is very much hit and miss right now. Our work last June was a good start at designing a unit of study around the standards at a particular grade level. We as yet have not moved into planning curriculum units on a consistent basis. It would be good to knock off a couple of collaboratively planned units this spring. It wouldn't take much to plan a lesson around writing. We could even use the models in Routman's book as a springboard for those plans.

Teams engaging in Japanese-style lessons study

We have discussed videotaping our lessons for reflection. The ILT sort of volunteered to do that this year, yet it hasn't got off the ground. I think it's time I put my money where my mouth is and jump out there to videotape a lesson. That will be on my short list of New Year's Resolutions.

A power "learning cycle" in which teachers use student work and data to improve teaching and learning

Of all of these elements, I believe we are farthest along on this one. The staff has embraced the use of data to inform instructional decisions. Our recently adapted Learning Cylce Planning Tool is a step in the direction of refining our dig into data to make specific decisions about students and develop SMARTE goals that can be reviewed and analyzed. I'm hoping this will lead us naturally into developing those curriculum units based on our data analysis, which in turn could lead naturally into lesson study of those very curriculum units.

Thinking about these elements of quality schools gives me great encouragement. The work we are doing is not a band aid approach. We are taking the long view of careful analysis of what students need, how we can deliver that instruction, and assessing if we have been successful. I probably need to be reminded of the adage that "Go slow to go fast" more anyone.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Schools make a difference, not demographics

Or, so says Joanne Jacobs, who just wrote a book about a high school charter school in San Jose. Here she talks about some of the lessons learned by that school in its quest to raise the achievement of disadvantaged students. She also writes about successful elementary schools. Here are some of the insights from a study by Stanford's Michael Kirst who interviewed 257 high achieving elementary schools to determine what they do differently.
Effective schools make student achievement the school's top priority. The principal and teachers define plans to improve teaching and set measurable goals for exceeding API targets.

This has got to be our primary focus. At Halecrest, we are still trying to get our walk to match our talk. I honestly can say that we are getting closer to this ideal every day.
At these schools, reading, writing and math curricula are designed to teach the state's academic standards; teaching is consistent within grades and from grade to grade. Teachers don't close the classroom door and do their own thing.

Once again, we are approaching this goal. For the past year and a half, we have been striving for consistency. The collaboration is helping us achieve that goal. The process may seem too slow at times for some, and too fast for others, which means we are probably moving at a pace that is just right for all.
Principals manage instructional improvement with district support. High-scoring schools tend to be in districts that set clear expectations and evaluate principals based on student achievement.

My take on Chula Vista Elementary District is that this describes them perfectly. The expectations and the support are not lacking in the least.
At high-scoring schools, principals and teachers use data on student performance to fine-tune teaching, target help to students who are falling behind and identify teachers who need to improve.

Without this type of approach, all we have are opinions.
Parent involvement programs, strong discipline policies and collaboration and training opportunities for teachers had some benefit, but not nearly the impact of prioritizing achievement, implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum, using data to improve teaching and providing adequate teaching resources.

It's good not to lose sight of these priorities and it serves as an excellent checklist to make sure that we are on the proper course.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Here I was ready to hit the sack when I come across this tidbit thanks to Joanne Jacobs. It appears the Gates Foundation investment in small schools is getting results in reading and language arts but faltering in math. (I sure hope their technology skills are booming!) Does this sound familiar?
"[W]e concluded that the quality of student work in all of the schools we studied is alarmingly low," the evaluation says. "This is not surprising, however, because students cannot demonstrate high-quality work if they have not been given assignments that require deep understanding" and higher-order thinking skills.

That sounds like something Eldon Anderson has been telling us the last two weeks and it definitely is exactly what Marilyn Burns is saying. Let's keep digging deep into quality math instruction. Our kids will thank us when they reach high school.


Hmmm, one post a month! What does seem to be the problem here?
Since we have been focusing on math instruction this month I thought it interesting to note the connections between the Marilyn Burns article on Math instruction with the Regie Routman principles. Here are Marilyn's 10 Big Ideas for Math. Notice how they dovetail nicely with Routman.

1. Success comes from understanding.
2. Have Students explain their reasoning.
3. Math class is a time for talk.
All three of these reinforce Routman's emphasis on thinking and giving students opportunity to think and discuss before writing.

4. Make writing a part of math learning
I think Regie would give a hearty cheer to this statement.

5. Present math activities in context.
Authentic math activities makes as much sense as an authentic writing activity with a real audience.

6. Support learning with manipulatives.
7. Let your students push the curriculum.
8. The best activities meet the needs of all students.
Whether it's shared writing,independent reading, or conferring with students, Routman always keeps differentiation and individual needs in the forefront.

9. Confusion is part of the process. (No, this is not in reference to one of my e-mails!)
10. Encourage different ways of thinking.

These are a few connections I've noted. Basically, good instruction has many common attributes.