Better is better....and this is better!
One of the many things that I love about Google is that they are constantly seeking feedback and looking at ways they can get better. Here is a simple improvement that made them better. Whenever you want to create a new Google doc, slidedeck, form, sheet or site. Simply go to your browser's address bar and type in the type of Google app you would like to create followed by dot and "new". So for a Google doc you would type "doc.new" and press enter. A new Google doc will appear and you will be ready to get to work.
Better is better....and this is better!
How many of us remember a time when we would meet with our team and decided what chapter we would be covering, who would be making copies of daily work and who would be making copies of homework?
Current trends in education have seen an increase in the types of assessments used and how those assessments influence instruction in our classrooms. There is an increasing focus on making instructional data-driven decisions and using the information as a team to plan instruction. The names of assessments schools and districts use often lead to confusion. The following is a list of assessment terms that are being used in many schools and my simple definition and use of them.
The assessments listed above are tools that educators have to use and administer at the classroom level. The first type of assessment, formative is a term commonly referred to in education. The use of formative data to alter instruction and to scaffold next steps forward in instruction varies from classroom to classroom. There are times that the formative data is being used to create a grade as an indicator to the student of their level of understanding. When the formative data is simply a grade to the teacher and instruction continues as planned the power of using a formative assessment is lost. (In other words.....I have taught it and you have either learned it or not and I am moving on.) In defense of many teachers, the pressure to move forward to keep up with a pacing calendar encourages this practice at many schools.
The next three types of assessments: the screener, diagnostic and progress monitoring assessments are tools that are not as commonly referred to or used in many classrooms. In my experience, they are tools that can help identify where a student is performing at in overall literacy and numeracy. These types of assessments help educators know where to adjust the basic point at which instruction is going to begin. I think of it in terms of someone setting out to climb a mountain.
Using the data from a screener and a diagnostic report allows a teacher to decide a starting point, for example reading level for the students they currently are teaching. The use of progress monitoring allows educators to see in a snapshot if the strategies and instruction they are using are helping students show growth.
When looking at the list above, summative assessments are used often in our classrooms to assess over-all learning. Creating summative assessments prior to instruction is critical. Summative assessments should be created by a PLC. When the PLC creates a common assessment it allows for every teacher to know what learners will need to know and at what rigor level they'll need to be able to perform at. My question, and it is a question because I don't know what the answer is, how do our summative assessments address the various starting points of our learners?
Bringing all of these assessments together into one big picture takes a team, planning, brainstorming, and constant change. What it looks like and how instruction is affected cannot be scripted by pacing guides, and it is going to look different depending on the group of students. The challenge here is that the learning goals identified for students may be different than the standards identified by the student's grade level and course. This is where traditional classrooms and data hit a roadblock. Teachers need to be encouraged and supported throughout the process as it is complicated and hard work. Asking questions along the way as to the use of data, instructional adjustments and student progress should be at the center of our conversations.
I believe we have learning to do around the implementation of interventions and varied instructional groupings, especially at the secondary level. Identifying technology tools that help differentiate and scaffold instruction is key to meeting more students needs. Realizing the need to learn is the first step forward to improvement.
If you have insights on the use of assessments to drive learning and adjust instruction, I would love to hear your thoughts.
I can remember being a 2nd-year teacher, having just relocated and starting at a new school and hearing the words, “Oh, she’ll do it, we can just tell.” You see, the school that I had been hired at also had just hired a new principal, and the lead teachers wanted to welcome the new principal in a meaningful way. They planned a skit to introduce the teachers to the new principal. They brought out a gown and crown and told me to put it on and play a part. And let me tell you, I was very uncomfortable but went along with the group and instantly gained confidence. It was an initiation of sorts to my first tribe! It was also the beginning of a decade of learning and growing with an incredible group of educators. It turned out the new principal, Dr. Jean Quigg was a passionate learner and expected the same of those that worked alongside her. I instantly had a tribe and a group to belong to that was striving for change and making things better. I was lucky.
I need to be around people who have ideas and who are excited about creating learning opportunities for others. Having felt the power of a tribe early in my career, I have continually sought out communities where I felt connected. Looking back, I have been connected to a tribe at each school that I have worked at over the years.
Seth Godin wrote a book titled “Tribes.” Those who know me well know that Seth Godin is one of my favorite people to read, listen to and watch. I find wisdom and encouragement in his work. I have this AWESOME book that compiles much of his writing. (I just have to show you how huge it is!)
Godin makes the point that there has been a shift in how change occurs in the world today. You use to need a publisher, money, and luck to be able to share a message or create change. Today the web gives us all the opportunity to connect and lead without the permission that was once needed.
Four years ago I found a new tribe through Twitter. A tribe that spans the nation geographically. The Compelled Tribe is a blogging tribe and Voxer group that provides support and encouragement for learning. The Compelled Tribe is led by Jennifer Hogan, Craig Vroom, and Jonathon Wennstrom. My journey with the Compelled Tribe has been one of encouragement, learning, and reflection. I have had a love-hate relationship with blogging but have grown to really value it's contribution to my learning through the Compelled Tribe. I love looking back at what I have learned and/or created and seeing how I have changed or grown over time. But, the struggle to express myself doesn’t come easy.
This post is in response to a prompt the Compelled Tribe put out this month asking each of us “Why We Tribe?” I believe in the power of a tribe because it connects me to other people who have ideas and knowledge that I can learn from. The tribe also encourages me to take new learning and make meaning of it through blogging and sharing with others. And being in a tribe means that I have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Creating change in our schools sometimes feels impossible. My connection and investment in the tribe gives me hope that together we can learn and make a difference collectively.
Have you found your tribe? I would love to know how the connection has impacted you.
At the Houston ISD’s Professional Learning Series this summer I attended a session that featured Lead4ward data reports and the Lead4ward App. I was expecting the Lead4ward app to access data reports on a mobile device. I was surprised to find out that the app didn’t link to data but serves as an interface that provides instructional strategies in an organized way to teachers. The app is a simple tool teachers/PLC’s can use to infuse different strategies and formative checks into instruction. The app is free and available in the IOS store.
Let’s look at the Lead4ward App interface. Below is the app's home screen.
The orange Quickchecks button leads to a list of instructional strategies that a teacher or PLC can chose to use.
Teachers can simply click on a strategy and the app guides them through the use of the strategy in a very simple format that can be applied to any learning environment and offers suggestions to extend thinking past the quickcheck. In the example below, I clicked on the 3-2-1 summary strategy.
The blue Think It Up button leads to a list of strategies that can extend a students thoughts and lead to deeper understanding of the standard.
The purple button Resources and Content Builders leads to resources that support Texas TEKS and STAAR testing data. There is good content here for Texas educators, but educators outside of Texas will not utilize this section of the app. The green button Professional development provides information and links to Lead4ward PD opportunities.
There is a timer at the bottom of the app that teachers can use in instruction. Timers are easy to find on youtube etc., but it's nice to have it accessible in the app. A teacher can have it open a Quickcheck or Think It Up once time expires.
In addition to the App the Lead4ward website offers valuable information to Texas teachers regarding standards. The website has resources that vertically align standards. When planning, teachers can quickly see which standards students have covered in previous grade levels. Using formative assessment teachers can assess if those standards have been mastered and scaffold instruction for students. Below is an example from English 1, however the website has content available in all core areas. The standard below is Figure 19 -reflect on understanding to monitor comprehension (e. g., asking questions, summarizing and synthesizing, making connections, creating sensory images). Take a look at how Lead4ward identifies the supporting standards from previous grade levels for a teacher.
In addition to the content from the app and website Lead4ward offers paid features with additional support for teachers. Having a solid list of strategies at a teacher's fingertips can facilitate conversations during planning within PLC's and lead to different paths for instruction. I am looking forward to using and sharing these resources with teachers on my campus.
What other apps have you found that organize strategies or help teachers when planning instruction?
*I attended TASSP in Austin and spent time in several sessions that focused on checkpoints and questioning. I am sharing some of the takeaways from my learning.
I believe as educators we have to ask better questions, so that our students in turn can learn to ask better questions. Questions are powerful in our classrooms. When crafting a question a teacher must decide if is the question is to pre-assess, lead learning, check for understanding, or for reflection?
Developing and planting purposeful questions takes time and is not necessarily easy. Time spent brainstorming and generating questions as a PLC will pay off. We must remember that the timing of questions is also important, and to get the timing right questions should be generated in the planning stage of instruction. Different levels and types of questions are needed depending on where students are in their learning. When planning there instruction there are three categories questions can fall within to bring out students' thinking.
Prediction/Pre-lesson/Background Knowledge - These questions are asked before a concept is taught. They will give you an idea of students’ background knowledge or opinion on a concept. They might start with these sentence stems:
Checks of understanding
These questions are designed to give you information on students’ level of understanding of a concept. For these questions, you want to make student thinking visible. Avoid yes/no, multiple choice, or a simple recall of information. Instead ask students to elaborate in their explanation. Think about starting the questions with words such as:
Reflection questions are designed to get students to think about the lesson or make a connection with the learning or content. I believe that reflection questions are what drive students to connect information and push their own learning further. Some ideas for reflection questions are:
As educators focusing on generating and asking good questions models the power of questioning for our students. Ultimately we want learners to leave our classrooms being experts at asking questions, as it will be the questions that they generate that continue to drive and push their learning.
If you haven’t read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, I highly recommend it. The books focuses on the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. (Below is the book trailer.)
I would love for anyone to share their journey in questioning or any learning that they have been involved in that has helped them craft stronger questions that guide inquiry.
You might spend a lot of time formatting a slide to get it just right. If your creation is something that you want to use a template for other slides in the presentation, you don’t have to create it over and over again. You can duplicate it.
Google Slides has an option that will allow you to duplicate an existing slide. You can then move that slide to a different spot in the presentation and modify its content so that it is providing more information, but retains the feel of the original slide that you copied.
These instructions assume that you already have a Google Slides presentation, and that it contains a slide that you want to duplicate.
Teach your students how to do this so that when you share slide decks that work off a template they can quickly add to them and create a collaborative slide deck. Here is a slide deck that I created that students can use to introduce themselves to each other.
It's May and so much will happen in our schools before that #LastBell! As we round the corner and approach the end of the year how might we take a risk, try something new, intentionally stretch ourselves? What have you been thinking about trying or learning more about and just haven't had time to do this year? Seize the moment and challenge yourself in May.
Here are four questions to ask yourself to help guide your thoughts as you reflect? I encourage you to grab a blank page and write down your thoughts!
Subtract something that you do, take something off your plate and add in something you haven't tried before. Ask you students to help you figure out a different or better way.
Check out some of the resources below to change things up and learn while you are teaching in May!
Finals are coming, what does the latest brain research say about how we learn and retain information. Content knowledge is the first step in being able to take what we know and go deeper and create something new or move to DOK levels 3 and 4. Here are 6 specific strategies you can use with content. It's pretty darn interesting. How might you use this and other resources to help your students with metacognition and the process of learning?
Struggling with students addiction to their cell phones? Grab a great lesson idea to embark on with your students from Ms. Tomlinson's post "Millennials in the Workplace". (Ms. Tomlinson is one of our English 1 teachers that blogs!)
Challenge yourself to give students choices in the products they create to show mastery! Create a video, have fun adding sound effects and too, learn alongside your students. There are free great video editors available. Many of these editors have pro versions but their free versions work well and produce great products with no watermarks. A summary of some Free Video Editors by Christopher Barnatt from Explaining Computers can be viewed here. The BBC recently made available over 16,000 sound effect clips that are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license. These sound effects can be used in student videos. Listen to a few! http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/.
Using a video in class? Technology can make using that video so much more effective. Edpuzzle and Playposit are great tools to integrate. “Using Video-What happens after they hit play” gives you an overview of these tools. They are similar tools but there are some differences. Another interesting strategy to use with video is to show a short clip with no sound and have students discuss what they saw and make predictions. Then watch the video with sound and then watch again with a targeted question.
Formative assessment is a game changer! Make a conscious effort to add additional checks throughout your class period. Digital tools can help you a do this quickly and efficiently. Take time in May to try some new ones out. Kathy Dyer wrote “The Ultimate List - 65 Digital Tools and Apps to Support Formative Assessment Practices”. There are some tried and true tools listed and also some new ones to try out too. I have found that with must digital tools there are some that work very efficiently for my personal style, while others only slow me down. Dig in and see if you can become comfortable with a new tool.
Haven't tried Google Classroom yet?
Jump in and try it! Aside from the great workflow that Google Classroom establishes, the ability to comment both to your whole class and 1:1 with students can be powerful. What do you learn from this type of feedback? How does your relationship change with students? Comments invite conversations. And follow Alice Keeler you'll learn more about all the Google Apps and how they integrate with Google Classroom.
Grab a partner or your whole team and take on something new. Think about what you might learn that could make learning in your classroom better now and help you grow as you prepare for next August. I find myself sometimes putting an idea on my list for next year, when in reality I don’t have to wait.
Personally, I have wanted to work on reaching teachers that I work alongside and connecting new ideas, people, tools. It’s something that was on my list as a goal to add for next year. I am taking my own advice and working to create “Learning Connections; A Virtual Learning Lounge” a collaborative learning space for our faculty to learn in. I'll share as soon as it is finished. I need to collaborate and get some input from others!
That #LastBell will be ringing before we know it, how will you challenge yourself to grow in May? Encouraging everyone to finish strong!
As our plane touched down in Athens, Greece in late March, I had no idea the impact the experience that traveling with 37 students would have on my ideas about learning. Our tour director in Greece, Michael meet us at baggage claim and guided us to our bus. Once we were on the road, Michael, welcomed us all. He was upbeat and commented on how happy and alert we all seemed after a very long day of travel. I secretly was thinking, ya buddy we aren't really that chipper, but then I gave him the benefit of the doubt in greeting us positively. Michael then went on to ask each of us about our motives for traveling to Greece. He continued to ask questions... What is it you are curious about? What is it you want to know more about? What is it that you'd like to experience? He said repeatedly that a traveler wanders two or three blocks past the ordinary and experiences the people and actions that are actually happening in the culture. Michael had my attention.
You see he went on to explain that in his eyes tourists were visitors that came to Greece to see things, have their pictures taken, and say I have been there and done that. Yet, travelers are people that come to dive into the culture and learn. A traveler enters a destination ready to mutually learn from the people they interact with.
As we traveled, Michael gave all of us background knowledge that we would need to fully understand and learn from the destination that we would be visiting. After giving the information he would check for understanding every time. He did this by walking the aisle asking each person on the bus a question. He would return to the bus microphone and clarify any questions people had, he engaged the adults on the bus the same way he did the kids. We then experienced the historical site, or venue and had time to hear additional information from a local guide, and explore on our own. But before releasing us each time to wander, Michael asked a question he wanted answered when we returned. After time alone, we returned to our bus, our classroom. Michael would unpack our experience. And then again walk the aisle of the bus and get specific feedback from every traveler. He would use the questions and reflections that he collected to guide our learning as we moved to the next destination.
In our classrooms, are we asking our kids to grab pictures and facts to say that they have been there and done that? Or are we asking them to go a few streets back and experience the content and connect in a meaningful way. As educators, are we serving as guides providing background knowledge and conveying an expectation to learners that they are embarking on a journey. And as kids make wrong turns are we saying it's ok and allowing them to back up, retrace their steps and try again? You see Michael upped the game when he met our group, he told us up front that we could be tourists or travelers and asked what are expectation was and why were we there? He gave us a choice.
I made a decision sitting on the bus. I wanted to be a traveler and to learn and go deeper. I approached every experience differently with that mindset. I needed content and background knowledge, I needed to document and take pictures and make connections along the way. I needed to enter each experience with questions that I was looking for the answers to. And I needed a time and space to share what I observed and learned.
In parting Michael shared a beautiful poem, "Ithaka" by C.P. Cavafy. My journey wrapped up with me searching to find the text and soak it all in. (Here is also a youtube link of Sean Connery reading Ithaka.)
As educators are we framing the experiences in our schools in a way where kids can make a choice to connect to content in a more meaningful way, not merely as students but engaged as learners?
Looking at data and acting on data are two totally different things.
This year we have access to data that we haven’t had before and learning to use it in a way that is productive and that drives instruction has made many of us uncomfortable. It can be easy to look at formative and/or summative data and come up with reasons as to why the data is what it is, and that is the direction that most of our initial conversations went. Putting a stake in the ground and saying "this is just how our data looks" and then listing all of the reasons why it looks that way, doesn't align with Dufour’s four questions that drive a PLC’s work.
Data is a puzzle piece which helps tell a student's story. When used correctly, data allows a teacher to make changes, innovate their teaching practices, and collaborate with their PLC. By no means is data the sole piece, but with it, educators can work toward the common goal of student learning. Curriculum is built and adjusted by what we learn from data.
I have learned a few things about data driven instruction this year.
It takes TIME even with great tools. As the time spent yields results and teachers see student's learning progressing, buy-in builds. Rich, interesting discussions emerge within PLC's. We have to honor this time and make sure that our teachers have it.
As with most new things, it has been hard and we will continue to learn from others and ask questions. I am grateful for strong campus leadership committed to continuous improvement guiding our work. I also appreciate the honesty and feedback that the PLC's working with data on our campus have offered about their experience. I am convinced that with time, good tools and applying best practices, rich data mixed with the art of teaching will continue to impact learning.
A book that has been helpful in my own learning this year is Driven by Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. Thank you for the sharing this as a resource @Jennifer_Hogan and @DrJimmyShaw. And a shout out to @cwehde for all of her help and support this year.
If you have thoughts, resources or blog posts that can help in our journey, I would love for you to share them!
How many times have you wanted to edit a PDF or have it in a different format? Now there is a free online tool that will help you do just about anything with a PDF file!
Check out, PDF Candy! The image below shows you all the file conversions the website can process for you.
One thing it won't do yet is convert a pdf to an excel file. Maybe that's something that will be added over time. It's a tool that's worth bookmarking and sharing with others!