Sunday, May 27, 2007

Technology in service of Education

This post from Edustat underscores how technology as a focus is doomed to fail. Here is what they say must happen with our teaching so that technology can actually be of some use.

Move all rote curriculum to the web for immediate student review and to free teachers from the tedium of delivery and assessment chores of this kind of content
Design more motivating and rigorous assignments
Redefine literacy to include web literacy and global communication literacy
Shift the balance of control between learners and the organization of school
Redefine education from the child to the whole family
Redefine the job description of students to be content producers as well as consumers
Redefine the job description of teachers as building learning communities instead of teaching 20 individuals in a classroom
We need to redefine leaders to be innovators and team leaders instead of managers

Challenging thoughts, especially when one considers the high cost of keeping up with the technology bandwagon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

BHAG for Halecrest

That would be a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and it's one of the ideas in the book Built to Last from Jim Collins. There is a BHAG coming to Halecrest real soon. I shared this with our leadership team last week and will be sharing it with the rest of the staff any day now. Here's a sneak peak for those of you Halecrest folks who actually read this. Drum roll please...
90% of all 3rd graders will be reading at grade level.
This assumes that we will maintain that grade level proficiency through 6th grade. The goal is not unique. Kennewick School District set the same goal in 1996 and achieved their goal in 2006. You can read their story in Annual Growth for All Students, Catch-Up Growth for Those Who are Behind.

Here are some of the benefits for having one of these BHAG's:

1. It provides a clearly articulated focus for everyone to pursue.
2. It is measurable, allowing us to gauge our progress.
3. It provides a sense of urgency, and that tension that is needed for change. :)
4. It is energizing and motivating (fingers crossed on this one)

What do you think about our goal? Any downsides? What are some other benefits as you see it?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fluency is slowing me down

We've been focusing on increasing fluency for our students since October of 2006. After reading a couple articles and having some district resource teachers give us tips, I'm surprised at the still superficial level of understanding of what it means to teach students to improve their fluency.

We have reminded ourselves that reading faster is not the answer. In fact, reading for pure speed will surely get in the way of comprehension. I have done a poor job of explaining the benefits of fluency (accuracy, expression, and comprehension) and how best to teach so that students become more fluent readers, and therefore, able to comprehend increasingly more difficult texts in larger quantities.

This phenomenon has reminded me how difficult staff development can be. It is complex work to present a strong case for a particular approach, then provide good modeling, followed by coaching and feedback before mastery is eventually accomplished.

I am reminded that I need to embrace this role as a teacher and consider my students' individual needs as I plan future staff development endeavors. If nothing else, I'm more sympathetic to my teachers who must make these same considerations with their little 4-11 year old learners.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I can't wait to take that test

It was Rick Stiggins who first introduced to me the idea that we should be creating tests that students can't wait to take. This idea was foreign to me because I grew up in American schools where it sure seemed like most tests were a hurdle to overcome, created by sadistic publishers in order to inflict the most damage to our self esteem as humanly possible. So, Stiggins comes along and says, "Develop assessments that your students are enthusiastic and excited to take because they know all the answers". (paraphrase)

I recalled Stiggins this week when a 2nd grade teachers was describing the attitude of one of her students who was preparing to take the California Standards Test for the first time. The little rascal was genuinely excited, which of course, is in contrast to many of our teachers, who are sitting on pins and needles for days as students take the test. Then, we get to wait 3 excruciating months until we view the results. So, why was our little 8-year old in such a good mood for this high stakes test that is supposed to make children vomit and cower in fear? I think the main reason is that this teacher has thoroughly prepared her students for this standards based exam. The grade level standards are well known, and the students are given ample opportunity to practice their application in a variety of settings. In short, the content and format of the test was not a mystery. The instruction in the classroom matches what is being assessed, and at least this one student, couldn't wait to show everyone what she had learned.

My hope and prayer for all of my principal and teacher friends is that your classes are filled with excited little learners as testing season rumbles through your campuses. Bring on the test booklets, and let the celebrations begin!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Here is more evidence that inspiring kids to read has many benefits. Some are trying to ascertain the longterm benefit of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Here's what one recent study found from some of J.K. Rowling's fans.

A 2006 study by Scholastic and Yankelovich found that the Harry Potter books have had a positive impact not only on kids' attitudes toward reading, but also on the quality of their schoolwork. The Kids and Family Reading Report surveyed 500 children ages 5 to 17 and their parents or guardians. More than half of Harry Potter readers said they hadn't read books for fun before the series, and 65 percent said they have done better in school since reading the books. The study also found that the reading habits of boys – who consistently have lower literacy test scores than girls – changed the most as a result of reading the books.

Did you get that? They hadn't read books for fun before the series! Given the overwhelming evidence to the benefits of reading quantity, this is a tremendous breakthrough for so man kids. One young man shows what an avid reader he has become.

Marcus credits the series for getting him interested in reading. He says his grandfather read him the first five books, but he wanted to read the sixth one himself. Since then, he loves to read medieval, fantasy, and science-fiction books, he says. He also now likes the many books he reads for school – even though the majority aren't his favorite genres, he says.

"I whip through 50 books a year," says Marcus matter-of-factly.

Whether it's Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, or some other reading craze, everyone is a winner when kids get excited about books.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Race is still an issue

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink about the power of the subconscious mind to make decisions. One section of the book discussed race and our subconscious affiliation of stereotypes to certain races. He encouraged his readers to take the Implicit Association Test which would give you an idea if you favored one particular race to another I decided to take his challenge and let the chips fall where they may. After taking the test I was given the following summary:
Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased with myself. Though I didn't expect to come out as an out and out racist, I was afraid my subconscious was hiding some unspoken prejudices that might arise. However, I did cheat a little, in that Gladwell mentions that one of his students had gotten a better score after watching the Olympics earlier in the day, therefore he surmised that focusing on positive examples of African Americans would increase your chance of associating positive elements to African Americans. So, I kept that in mind as I took the assessment.

This book reminded me of the following video that depicts African American girls' opinions of race. This one will break your heart and, I hope, cause all of us to consider what sterotypical messages we are sending to students about race, gender, age, etc.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Flash Discovery: Reading is important!

I just got a little gift in the mail called, Annual Growth For All students, Catch-Up Growth For Those Who Are Behind, compliments of the National Children's Reading Foundation. The book chronicles a decade's worth of work in the Kennewick School District in Washington state. They set out in 1995 to get 90% of their 3rd graders reading at grade level, and by golly, they did it. They share all the gory details of how they got it done and their accomplishments are encouraging and challenging at the same time. This quote on page three dovetails nicely with the thinking I've been doing on the primacy of primary instruction in reading. Check this out.

Students who fail to learn to read in the primary grades rarely develop into great readers in middle and high school. They generally enter kindergarten behind, read two to three years below grade level in elementary school, and are still two to three years behind their average classmates in middle and high school. Districts that lack the organizational will to teach their students to read at or above grade level by second or third grade, when it is relatively easy and inexpensive to do so, rarely get them to grade level thereafter when it is much harder and more expensive.

That doesn't leave much wiggle room. Get to work in primary grades when you've got a fighting chance to make a difference.