We began working with the PLC model about 10-12 years ago in Weber School District. Initially, the focus of our work within PLC’s was curriculum design. We posed a series of four questions:
Although we have begun to use PLC time successfully for things other than curriculum design (e.g., child study teams, lesson study, collaborative analysis of student work, etc.) I would like to revisit those original questions and share several suggestions.
With each unit, teachers should be able to answer the first question with absolute clarity. Rather than simply defaulting to the standard or objective in the core as the answer to question one, teachers can work together to “unpack” the standard in such a way that they are able to clearly articulate the big ideas or enduring understandings that get right at the heart of the unit. Sometimes, we erroneously substitute the topic under study for the actual learning goal. For instance, a social studies teacher might say, “I’m teaching the Civil War.” Or, an English teacher might say, “I’m teaching A Tale of Two Cities. In actuality, those are the topics we’re teaching but they are not the learning goals. The learning goals for teaching a Civil War unit might include: 1) Students are able to identify key social, political and economic issues that Americans confronted during the Civil War era; and, 2) Students are able to describe opposing views on the issue of states’ rights and how those disputes contributed to the Civil War. Similarly, the learning goals for the English teacher would be much more specific in nature and could get at analysis of theme or describing character development through conflict resolution.
As it relates to the learning goal, there should be consistency among grade level teams or in a department. That consistency is established as teams of teachers collaboratively identify what is most important for students to know and understand. Please note, that for a language arts team or grade level team, it is not even necessary that they read the same novel! A team of teachers might read different novels (or short stories, poetry, or drama for that matter) and yet have consistent learning goals dealing with character development, analysis of theme, resolution of conflict, etc.
The second question gets us thinking like assessors. We’re looking for reliable, robust evidence that students have really learned. The easy default on question two is to utilize a publisher-produced test or quiz. I’m going to give a caution here. There has been talk of “common assessments” and some have falsely assumed that the goal is simply to have every teacher giving the same test or quiz. This assumes that merely giving the same test achieves the expectation. Not true! The real litmus test of a quality assessment strategy is whether it permits a student to authentically demonstrate what he/she really knows and understands. Publisher-produced tests generally don’t achieve that high standard. Rather, they tend to measure surface-level knowledge only. Therefore, it’s quite possible for a student with relatively deep understanding to score poorly on a multiple choice test. Similarly, it’s possible for a student with shallow knowledge to score average or above through guessing on a multiple choice quiz.
Once again, as it relates to evidence supporting student learning on a specific goal or objective there should be consistency among grade-level teams or subject area teachers. There is great value in coming together as a team to discuss those assessment strategies which will best yield authentic feedback on student learning. Collaboration at this stage is valuable because developing assessment strategies that permit students to genuinely demonstrate what they know and understand is not easy work. And, we don’t do our best work in isolation! Frankly speaking, we’re usually smarter together.
The third question gets at pedagogy and strategy. Here we strongly encourage teachers to use their creativity in planning teaching strategies and learning experiences that will capture students’ hearts and imaginations in ways that excite learning. We value teachers’ expertise and innovative spirit. Teachers know their students. They know what their interests, strengths and deficiencies are and understand how to adapt instruction to meet their students’ unique needs. Under no circumstances would we encourage every teacher to teach the same lesson on the same day using the same methodology. In implementing the PLC model, some make this false assumption. But it goes against best practice. We know that each student learns at a different pace and in different ways. Suggesting that every teacher teach the same thing on the same day and in the same way contradicts that reality.
The final question implies that students are different and adjusting instruction around those differences is appropriate. Some students may already know the content we’re teaching. With these students, teachers are able to design learning experiences that permit them to go deeper in their understanding. Others may require additional instructional support to successfully acquire knowledge. Skilled teachers are capable of providing students with different avenues to learning so that all students can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.
I once read an article titled, “Teaching is Rocket Science!” I agree. It’s not easy to plan and deliver instruction around so many variables. A framework for curriculum design assists in that process. Collaboration in PLC’s with productive, meaningful dialogue is crucial to bringing out the best in both teachers and students.
It is time to start planning... I always enjoy "field trips" with my grandchildren. There are many reasons we go on outings with our families. One is to spend quality time together strengthening relationships and building memories, but there are many other reasons. Do you realize that the wonderful outings you go on are building background knowledge for children? The more children know about their world, the easier it is for them to read and make connections to what they are learning in school. Interesting experiences give kids a broad framework for new information they might encounter in books and in school. You can help your child build background knowledge through fun family activities.
Step 1: Go on Family Field Trips
Go to the park, historical landmarks, the State Capitol Building, a sporting event, a community theater or arts event, a museum and/or children's museum, the library, the aquarium, or the zoo. Go on a hike, visit a natural attraction like the Great Salt Lake or Antelope Island, or go on a picnic up the canyon. Use the Internet to take a virtual field trip to a faraway place.
Step 2: Talk, Talk, Talk
Talk about your outing, the plants and animals you see, the rules of a game, the history of a landmark, and the new things your family has experienced. Get your child talking about their experience by asking questions. For example you might ask, "What was your favorite thing about...?" or "Why do you think...?" One question can lead to another and then another. Take new interests to a deeper level by extending their experience through additional reading and research.
Have fun spending time together. Support your children by having a wide variety of learning experiences while strengthening relationships and building memories through exciting family outings. The weather is nice... start planning a "family field trip."
Recently, I came across this article from the NEA Journal that was written by James A. Smith from the State University College in Oswego New York. It is a true story....unfortunately.
THE AWFUL BEGINNING
I looked across the desk at my big girl. She'd come for help in planning her semester schedule.
"Look," I said, "you have some electives. Why don't you take a course or two for fun? You've worked hard and really should take something outside your major that will be pleasurable."
"Like what?" she asked.
My eyes scanned the college schedule of courses. "Like Dr. Mann's Creative Writing or Dr. Camp's Painting for Beginners or something like that."
She threw her head back and laughed. "Who, me? Paint or write? Good grief, Dad, you ought to know better than that!"
"And this," I thought, "is the awful ending."
It was not always like this. I remember an early golden September day when I went to my garage studio and gathered together my easel, paintbrushes, and watercolors. I sensed someone was watching me and looked up from my activities to see her framed in silhouette in the doorway. The breeze and the sun tiptoed in the gold of her curls. Her wide blue eyes asked the question, "Whatcha doin'?"
"I'm going to the meadow to paint." I said. "Want to come along?"
"Oh, yes." She bounced on her toes in anticipation.
"Well, go tell Mummy and get your paints."
She was all but returned in no time carrying the caddy I had made to hold her jars of paint and her assortment of brushes.
"Paper?" she asked.
"Yes, I have plenty of paper. Let's go."
She ran down the hill before me, pushing aside the long, soft grasses of the meadow. I watched closely for the fear of losing her golden top in the tops of the goldenrod. She found a deserted meadowlark's nest and we stopped to wonder at it. A rabbit scurried from under our feet. Around us yellow daisies and goldenrod nodded in friendly greeting. Above, the sky was an infinite blue. Beyond the meadow, the lake slapped itself to match the blue of the sky.
On the lake, a single white sailboat tipped joyously in the breeze. My daughter looked up and saw it.
"Here!" she said.
Trusting her wisdom as I always did, I set up our easels. While I deliberated over choice of subject and color, she had no such problem. She painted with abandonment and concentration and I left her alone asking no questions, making no suggestions, simply recognizing uncontaminated creative drive at work.
Before I had really begun, she pulled a painting off her easel.
"There!" she said. "Want to see?" I nodded.
I cannot describe the sense of wonder that flooded over me as I viewed her work. It was all there -- that golden September day. She had captured the sunlight in her spilled yellows, the lake in her choppy, uneven strokes of blue, the trees in her long, fresh strokes of green. And through it all, there was a sense of scudding ships and the joyousness of wind that I experience when I sail, the tilting and swaying of the deck, the pitching of the mast. It was a beautiful and wondrous thing and I envied her ability to interpret so honestly, so uninhibitedly, so freshly.
"Are you going to give it a name?" I suggested.
"Yep! Sailboats!" she responded, as she taped another sheet of paper to the easel. There wasn't even a single sailboat in the picture.
She began school the following week. One dreary November day she came into my study with a sheet of paper in her hand.
"Daddy," she asked, "Will you help me draw a sailboat?"
"Me? Help you draw a sailboat?" My eyes turned to the wall where her golden September painting hung in a frame I had made for it.
"Me? Help you draw a picture of a sailboat? Why, sweetheart, I could never paint a picture like the one over there. Why don't you paint one of your own?"
Her blue eyes looked troubled.
"But, Daddy, Miss Ellis doesn't like my kind of painting."
She held up her sheet of paper in the middle of which was a dittoed triangle.
"Miss Ellis wants us to make a sailboat out of this."
And that was the awful beginning!
Creativity can be defined as breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. It's being able to problem solve in a novel way. We all want our children to be creative. But sometimes as parents, we unknowingly place frequent limits on our children that actually train them to think inside the box. May I suggest a few key points to help our children develop their own measure of creativity.
Smith, J. A. (1972). The Awful Beginning. Today's Education, 61, 4-56.
During a celebration at one of our schools, a close friend and colleague presented me with a copy of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker J. Palmer. Although I had read the book nearly a decade ago, I decided to re-read it. I’m so glad I did! I was reminded that good teaching cannot be reduced to method and technique alone; rather, at its core good teaching originates from the identity and integrity of a quality teacher.
Good teaching comes in various forms but good teachers seem to share an important trait: they are truly present in the classroom, deeply engaged with their students and the subject they teach. The very best teachers bring their personality, along with their narrative and passion, into the classroom. On the other hand, less effective teachers tend to distance themselves from students and their subjects. It's resisting this urge to distance ourselves that requires massive courage. Palmer writes,
"As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart -- and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one's heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, requires."
Weber School District is filled with extraordinary teachers who exemplify great courage (by Parker Palmer’s definition) every day! Because of that, educators have tremendous influence on the lives of young people. There is no more noble achievement than that -- to positively impact others. Our entire district team of teachers, support professionals and administrators show great heart each day by inspiring students toward greatness and I want each of you to know how much I appreciate your commitment to children and your professionalism in your work. It is, simply put, "The Weber Way!" Because of your heroic efforts, we mark another successful school year!
The Heart of a Teacher
Someone once sarcastically said that the perfect school was the one where students haven’t yet arrived. I don’t believe it. I think the perfect school is the one where all of the children are present—with all of their issues, drama, attitudes, insights, passion and energy. So, as we begin this new school year I think we move closer to perfection as the students return! Now, add caring teachers, dedicated support professionals and inspired leaders and you have a place where astounding things are accomplished.
Many years ago, my wife and I attended a play at a local community theater in which one of my language arts students, Fantasia Darling, was playing the lead role in The Story of Helen Keller. Fantasia performed spectacularly and we were so proud of her. During the play, I was moved by the patience of Helen’s teacher—Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller was unruly, disobedient and an extremely reluctant learner. Through gentleness, patience and perseverance, Anne provided an environment that allowed Helen to trust her teacher enough to begin learning. Ultimately, Helen exceeded everyone’s expectations! Consider Helen Keller’s words, “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to me.”
What qualities did Anne Sullivan possess that permitted her to succeed with even the most difficult of students? Let me suggest five important traits that characterize Anne Sullivan--as well as every extraordinary teacher:
I love the poem, “The Heart of a Teacher.” The first two stanzas introduce a teacher with heart:
Heart of A Teacher
by Paula J. Fox
The child arrives like a mystery box
with puzzle pieces inside
some of the pieces are broken or missing
and others just seem to hide.
But the HEART of a teacher can sort them out
and help the child to see
the potential for greatness he has within
a picture of what he can be.
As we begin this new school year, I express sincere appreciation to every teacher, support professional and administrator for the quality of your heart and the influence you have on young people.
Choice and Opportunity
In an article published in the October 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review, when people in an experiment were shown two DVD players, 32% indicated they would buy one of the brands, while 34% said they would buy the other. However, when subjects were shown a single DVD player, only about 10% said they would buy it. According to the researcher, Daniel Mochon of Tulane University, retailers should bear in mind that consumers dislike having a single option. Even if they find a product appealing, they may be unwilling to buy it unless they can consider alternatives.
In Weber School District it is our goal and vision to offer as much student and parent choice for education as possible. Weber Innovation High School is part of that vision. This fall, Weber Innovation High opened its doors offering secondary students in grades 9-12 an opportunity to personalize their education through a unique combination of digital curriculum, magnet programs, concurrent/college classes, IVC (interactive video conferencing) classes, and a focus on development of the natural artistic and creative nature of children. Students move at their own educational pace without the limitations of traditional classroom pacing and are encouraged to pursue one of three pathways by their junior year:
With the cost of post-secondary education looming as the nation’s next financial crisis, the more we can assist our students in earning college credit while in high school (at a much lower cost) the better. Last school year alone, 2,283 WSD students earned 16,087 university credits! One hundred seventy-two students attended the Ogden Weber ATC, 365 CTE (Career and Technical Education) pathways were completed and 113 students completed work-based learning internships. All of these opportunities help create brighter futures for our students. Weber Innovation High provides one more choice to enhance the school district’s opportunities available to the young people attending school in Weber District.
Language Immersion, Advanced Placement and Concurrent Enrollment, Online Education, STEM Education, Weber Innovation High School, Early College, ATC Program Access, and Early Intervention Education are just some of the choices in education offered in Weber School District. More choice leads to more opportunities for our students.
Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix
This year, Weber School District has a professional development focus on Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix (CRM). Webb’s DOK provides a vocabulary and a frame of reference when thinking about our students and how they engage with the content. The Hess CRM offers a common language to understand "rigor," or cognitive demand, in assessments, as well as curricular units, lessons, and tasks.
Webb developed four DOK levels that grow in cognitive complexity and provide educators a lens on creating more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks.
DOK Level 1: Recall and Reproduction
Recall of a fact, term, principle, concept, or perform a routine procedure Tasks at this level require recall of facts or rote application of simple procedures. The task does not require any cognitive effort beyond remembering the right response or formula.
DOK Level 2: Basic Application of Skills and Concepts
Use of information, conceptual knowledge, select appropriate procedures for a task, two or more steps with decision points along the way, routine problems applying 2+ concepts, organize/display data, interpret/use simple graphs
DOK Level 3: Strategic Thinking
Requires reasoning, developing a plan or sequence of steps to approach problem; requires some decision making and justification; abstract, complex, or non-routine; often more than one possible answer or approach
DOK Level 4: Extended Thinking
An original investigation or application to real world; requires time to research, problem solve, and process multiple conditions of the problem or task; OR non-routine manipulations, across disciplines/content areas/multiple sources
Source: Depth of Knowledge with Karin Hess
For classroom teachers, an important question is one of practice: how do we create rich environments where all students learn at a high level? One useful tool, Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix, can help teachers meet that challenge. Descriptors in the CRM provide educators a more sophisticated lens to systematically guide the creation of more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks. To access the desired Hess Cognitive Rigor Matrix click on the subject area below.
By now, each school has received their 2015 SAGE results and had opportunities to carefully analyze the data. Out of 27 grades and subjects tested, Weber School District experienced growth in 24. District-wide, English Language Arts proficiency (grades 3 - 11) raised by 2%, Math (grades 3 - 11) by 5% and Science (grades 4 - 11/12) by 3%. Especially notable was the growth in high school mathematics performance from 2014 to 2015. Proficiency levels in Secondary Math I raised 15 percentage points and those in Secondary Math III raised by a commendable 25 percentage points.
We're proud of that steady growth in student achievement and believe it is powered by our three primary drivers:
That broad, comprehensive learning experience can be illustrated by the following secondary school results:
Our whole child focus is supported by such elementary programs as:
We're proud of the many excellent opportunities provided for young people throughout our district. Further, we're convinced that Weber's whole child approach is the right thing to do for young people. With that said, we also recognize that we operate in a testing and accountability environment where our success is frequently judged by student performance on assessments. While our student achievement increased on SAGE tests this past year, Weber School District still lags behind the state average. Additionally, our graduation rate is slightly below the state average. We acknowledge that we have room for continued progress in these areas.
Our great challenge is to sustain a whole child philosophy while demonstrating a greater awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model. Across the country, some schools and districts have attained higher test scores at the expense of a full, rich and comprehensive learning experience for children. We're committed NOT to do that! Developing the organizational capacity to maintain the whole child experience and demonstrating a heightened awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model is what I call THE WEBER WAY.
To achieve our goal, I would like each teacher to consider the following suggestions:
Teachers, as you meet together in PLCs, I invite you to talk about how you might incorporate one or two of these proposals into your classroom instruction. I believe that wise and thoughtful teachers can implement these suggestions without sacrificing that broad, rich learning experience we want for every student. In doing so, we're meeting the needs of children, as well as the external expectations of school success. And, we're doing it THE WEBER WAY!
I express my deepest appreciation to every member of the Weber School District family. Your enormous commitment to children is exceptional! You have my highest respect and admiration.
Each year Weber School Foundation kicks off the holiday season with its annual Christmas Tree Jubilee to raise money for special needs students in Weber County. Through the efforts of the foundation board and countless volunteers of all ages and walks of life, over $400,000.00 will be raised to increase educational opportunities and enhance the lives of special needs students. Educational adaptive devices, lifts and wheelchairs, adaptive playgrounds and equipment and many other devices are the types of items provided to those who desperately need them in order to attain educational and life goals.
In addition to the Weber District Foundation’s great work, our schools actively participate in providing benefits for others where it is needed. Some of the great things our students, staff members and wonderful communities are doing for others this holiday season include:
All of these efforts give our students the opportunity to serve others and to realize the satisfaction of helping fellow students and community members. Even in times when the economy has been a challenge, our great communities have always given of their means to the numerous charitable projects. We thank all for that great love, kindness and generosity and wish everyone a happy holiday season!
Marked for Good -
In his book, Eight Habits of the Heart, noted entrepreneur and Pulitzer-nominated author, Clifton Taulbert, wrote about his childhood growing up on the Mississippi Delta. Taulbert recalled, “High expectations were commonplace in our community. They fueled our dreams. They were bigger than all of us--collective dreams worked out individually. The adults in our community told us daily that we were of value and that big things were expected of us. Even now I feel compelled to do my best! In spite of legal segregation, racism and poverty, they believed in their children. Those foundational people took a giant leap into a world we could not yet see but one they knew awaited us. They told us that we were ‘marked for good’ and we believed them.”
As educators, we serve in a role similar to the “foundational people” of Clifton Taulbert’s childhood. Think about those who helped build high expectations in your life. It may have been a teacher, family member, coach or advisor. In each case, it’s as though these key individuals were able to see something within us that we were not yet able to envision. As a result, their words inspired and lifted us through periods of personal doubt and discouragement. To this day, I still pay tribute to and honor those vital people who helped convince me that I was “marked for good.”
Recently, I received a note from a grateful mother whose son had been struggling in school. “Then,” this mother states, “Mr. Newbold entered my son’s life. He always speaks positive to my son and tells him that he can do math. Mr. Newbold welcomed my son to come early and stay late to work with him until all homework was made up and he began passing tests. More than giving my son a second chance, Mr. Newbold restored my son’s pride in his scholastic abilities.” My favorite part of the letter is this unique closing, “My son keeps checking to make sure that I’ve sent this e-mail because he thinks Mr. Newbold is an ‘awesome dude and we should tell his boss.’”
Each fall, the PDK/Gallup Poll conducts a national survey to assess the public’s attitudes toward schools. When asked in their latest poll to identify the most important measure of a school’s effectiveness, 81% of parents responded, “The percent of students who feel hopeful about their future.” In other words, they want their children to understand and internalize that they’ve been “marked for good.” I invite each of you to set young people’s sights on a world they may not have yet fully imagined. Help them see their bright future and the contribution they can make to our community, country and world. The generation of children in our schools today has definitely been “marked for good.”