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What blending learning looks like in practice

A new publication on how innovative staffing approaches support the use of blending models was recently released by Public Impact and the Christensen Institute.

A few excerpts that particularly resonated with me:

“… high-quality personalized learning requires much more than equipping students with tablets and software.” … “The greatest impact of blended learning will likely come not from technology alone, but from a redesign of staffing arrangements and instructional models that integrate online learning with excellent teaching. Most schools, including many of those that are seeking to adopt blended and personalized learning, remain stuck in a one-teacher, one-classroom model. In that model, teachers work largely alone, with only sporadic feedback and support. New tasks associated with personalizing learning— such as analyzing student data, differentiating learning activities for student needs, planning real-world learning experiences, giving individualized feedback, and helping students set customized goals—are often added to already overwhelming workloads. In these schools, teachers of all levels of effectiveness essentially play the same role, and they reach about the same number of students.”

The publication then explores how a handful of schools are utilizing new staffing models to adopt blended learning to enable personalization. The varying practices in the schools are the heart of the document and the most useful way to see how the work could be applied in other schools and districts.  The document concludes that to move forward and bring such practices to scale, three conditions must be met. They include: including operations in the annual operating budgets, as opposed to relying on grant funding; availability of excellent teachers; and, availability of great leaders to champion excellence and be willing to think outside of the traditional educational program and staffing boxes.

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New release: Recommendations for differentiating supports for schools identified for TSI

This brief includes recommendations for state level supports and services for schools identified for Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI). The brief is co-sponsored by the Council on Chief State School Officers and the Center on School Turnaround (at WestEd) and was originally drafted and released as a draft for an ESSA Implementation conference in September. Additional examples were added after the conference.

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Usefullness of Classroom Walkthroughs

Classroom walkthroughs are a crucial tool for school leaders to get a gage learning in their school and for teachers to get some immediate feedback on areas that they might not normally be able to see alone. But, classroom walkthroughs can be done well or poorly. Some useful tips that I’ve picked up from school and district leaders over the years:

  • DO provide same day feedback for every walkthrough – either via email if using an ipad to monitor, or via a small slip of paper in the teacher’s mailbox)
  • Do Focus on a few key areas – a walkthrough is very different than a full classroom observation. It’s impossible to see everything in 3-6 minutes, so identify a few areas to focus on and DON’T provide negative feedback to a teacher if you didn’t see something (i.e. group work) if you only saw part of a class. You may have missed the group work section.
  • DO look for real learning – what level questions is the teacher asking? What type of thinking do the assignments require?
  • DO look for classroom management techniques and positive teacher-student relationships – these should be apparent in a classroom in 1 minute or 1 hour. They can make or break learning from occurring, so always keep an eye on it.
  • DO walkthroughs regularly – their benefit is their frequency
  • DO encourage others to do walkthroughs in the school (i.e. other district administrators or fellow teachers). But, if this is done, ensure that all observers understand appropriate protocol (i.e. being a fly on the wall, not distracting students, also providing feedback, etc)
  • DO use the results of many walkthroughs to inform school-wide professional development needs.

Some additional thoughts about walkthroughs are found in this EdWeek story.

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Updated ESSA Highlights

Here’s an updated overview of ESSA highlights from EdWeek.

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The Washington Post recently posted an article describing the work of a small Missouri district (3,000 students) principal who was determined to change the school system to meet the needs of her kids. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but below I note some of the key decisions/actions the district implemented.

  • Superintendent Anderson regularly visits classrooms. While a small district makes this logistically feasible, larger districts could have district office staff visiting classrooms on a more frequent basis. It not only increases teacher accountability, but it connects central office staff to the kids they serve every day (but never see).
  • Inclusion of wraparound support services – including a home for homeless students, food banks for students and their families, access to doctors and dentists, and access to washers/dryers for clean clothes.
  • The district hired back recent graduates who weren’t able to get jobs after graduation.
  • Saturday academies and other programs to catch up off track students are offered.
  • Students can earn an associate’s degree while in high school.
  • The district restored access to music, dance, art and other non-core curricular programs.
  • The budget was balanced, deficit improved, and additional philanthropic funds granted.
  • Teachers use weekly assessments to check for progress.
  • New teaching staff have one semester to one year to team teach with a more experienced staff member.
  • Prospective hires must pass a 10-question quiz, with content two years higher than they’re applying to teach. The article notes that most applicants don’t pass the quiz.
  • The Superintendent believes in the district and its students. She’s willing to do a variety of jobs – including acting as a crossing guard.

One note, while the graduation rate has increased (which is great), the level of college and career readiness should be questioned. (This is an issue that expands far beyond this district.) Graduating high school is definitely an achievement and should be celebrated, but if a student has a diploma and is unprepared for work or college – what value is that diploma?

This is a superintendent willing to change the systems and structures to meet students where they are, who’s willing to push staff to work harder and positively impact students, and is willing to do the heavy lifting when needed. While this type of superintendent is hard to find, she’s created a great road map for others to adapt and bring to their own districts.

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Guidance from ED on ESSA

Just before the Christmas holiday, ED released some initial guidance on how ESSA will be implemented. The guidance can be found here.

Some notable pieces:

  • Waivers granted through ESEA flexibility remain effective through August 1, 2016.
  • Because ESEA flexibility terminates on August 1, 2016, a State will no longer be required to submit follow-up responses to ED related to areas of ESEA flexibility that are not required under both the ESEA and ESSA.
  • ED will not require States to submit AMOs (for school years 2014–2015 or 2015–2016) in January 2016 for ED’s review and approval, nor will ED require States to report performance against AMOs for the 2014–2015 or 2015– 2016 school years.
  • All States and districts must continue to publish report cards, including report cards for the 2014–2015 school year (if those report cards have not yet been published), for the 2015– 2016 school year, and beyond.
    • Report cards must continue to include information that shows how a district’s student achievement on the State assessments compares to students and subgroups of students in the State as a whole.
    • At the school level, the district must include information that shows how a school’s student achievement on the State assessments compares to students and subgroups of students in the district and in the State as a whole.
  • Priority and focus school lists- states (with waivers) must select one of the following two options:
    • A – Do not exit schools and maintain current identification, i.e. freeze any additional identification. These schools would continue to implement their approved interventions through the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years. The State would not be able to exit schools from the current lists until after the 2016–2017 school year.
    • B – Exit schools and identify new priority and focus schools. A State may exit priority and focus schools that meet the State’s approved exit criteria and identify new priority (at least 5 percent of Title I schools) and focus (at least 10 percent of Title I schools) schools based on more recent data. Newly identified schools, as well as those that remain on these lists because they did not meet the State’s exit criteria, would implement their approved interventions through the 2016–2017 school year. A State selecting this option must provide updated lists of priority and focus schools to ED by Monday, March 1, 2016.

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Using student data in London

As an addendum to yesterday’s blog post, I wanted to provide some additional examples of places I’ve seen student data used well. Two years ago, I traveled to London for two weeks to learn about the English education system as part of a professional development trip. In every school we visited, I was astounded by the amount of data collected and provided to students. Data was not something that teacher’s collected and analyzed alone, but students had access to that data, developed their own learning goals, and owned their data.

The below four paragraphs are excerpts from a publication by Michigan State University’s Office of K-12 Outreach (which participated in the 2013 trip, and returned again in 2014) describing the type of student data use we saw in London.

Students know their own data and they understand the learning process. They are given, or jointly determine with their teacher, learning targets, and then discuss ways to achieve those targets. Students believe that testing helps them to know where they are. Periodic assessments are used to track progress over the course of the year. These assessments are used to help students answer basic questions about their progress: Where are you now? Where are you going to be in X amount of time? What supports will you need to get from point A to point B? Many schools also require regular “Learning Conversations” between teachers and students to check in on their progress. One school requires one-on-one dialogues to be held every six weeks during the school year. Another school expects students to meet with each content teacher on a regular basis. While these conversations focus on the student’s performance, they also provide an opportunity for students and teachers to discuss any issues or problems with which a student may need support– in school or external to traditional school needs.

Student data is everywhere and is shared throughout the building. Hallways, doors, and classroom walls are filled with student assessment scores and samples of student work. Some classrooms at the lower grades have little note cards taped to each child’s desk that shows that student’s baseline assessment scores and their goal scores. There is a constant reminder that student work is evaluated and growth is expected. The display of student work, with names visible, also allows students the opportunity to see which of their peers can provide them with learning support. Students commented that there is some competition for performing well, but reflected that the level of competition is healthy and useful.

In nearly every school…I was quite stunned to see student names attached to the data right in the hallway for all to see. On every visit I would ask students how they felt about having scores like that on display in the hallway. Without fail, students appeared surprised by my question and they each responded similarly, “We just see it as a way to track our progress and we know the teachers are here to help us get better.”

A recent U.K. study tour participant

Another example of student ownership is the opportunity for students to respond to feedback from teachers. The teachers mark their feedback in green and the students respond to that feedback in red. This creates an ongoing conversation about how to improve, and encourages a cycle of continuous improvement. 

The full document can be accessed here and a full annotation is:

  • Office of K-12 Outreach. (2015). Lessons from London: Successful Education Practices for High-Poverty Schools. College of Education, Michigan State University.

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