Weekly Thoughts 12-2-14

Hello Leaders!

Trivia for the Week (answers at the end)

  1. In which country is Antwerp?
  2. What is an antonym for loquacious?
  3. What 2 years were the Salem Witch Trials held in?
  4. And, to follow with an easy toss, what state were those trials held in?
  5. What bird lays the largest egg in relation to their body size?
  6. Where is Juan Manuel Santos president?
  7. Rounded to the nearest 1000, how many ballots were cast in November with only the teacher tenure constitutional amendment voted on (the rest of the ballot was left blank)?

SLO or not to SLO?

I've heard many a folks say that SLOs are required in evaluations next year. I was puzzled by this as it was not in the lexicon when the state evaluation system was completed (I was one of the 9 members of the Design Team, or State Consortium on Educator Effect). And, in 2013, I had emailed our version of the summative as it exist today to Paul Katnik and he gave his 100% blessing.

So, I called Paul to see if a) I had mis-remembered something or b) something had changed. He said neither. One of the 7 requirements in an evaluation system is that we measure Student Growth. At the time of our work in 2010-2012, that was considered covered in the Student Impact on the Growth Guides. However, since then, they have realized that the waiver says academic student growth and that a teacher could easily have 3 or 4 growth guides that do not have academic achievement in the student impact section. So, there is a problem.

They looked far and wide at research and literature on student growth. To be frank, they found very little. What had the most written on it was SLOs. Even it was very little, but at least several states are moving toward using them at the same time. His concern is defending the evaluation system in court if it ever comes to that.

I then asked if SLOs are now required. He said no. He still stands by our section 3 being perfectly fine. Putting our MAP, benchmark and common assessment data in there and showing the difference between that teacher and the teachers at large. I pointed out that we have singletons, like ELL and counselors, that they will have a number, but not a comparison because there is no comparison to make. He said that is true either way. He stated that most districts are much newer to data analysis, and for them he is encouraging SLOs as a way to meet academic Student Growth requirement. For us, he is fine if we don't.

Survey or not to Suvery?

While I had Paul, I asked him about surveys being required. I recall that when we dissected the METS Project, it was highly recommended by the research, but in the end, it did not make it as one of the 7 required components. Since then, some of my peers seem to think it is, so I asked if that had changed.

No. It is still not a requirement. He agreed that research is suggesting we should, and thus it is another data point to help in defending a termination (if the data is negative). They will not know if we do or don't. It is not a requirement.

What about us?

Next IL, let's wrestle with these two topics. The fun part with the former is the singletons. The non-classroom certified staff.

Surveys that other districts around us are doing?

Surveys used

  • Orchard Farm - No district wide survey yet. Some teachers have their own
  • Winfield - NEE Student Survey of staff
  • Wentzville - piloted Tripod surveys last year and then will pilot Marzano surveys this year. They delayed Marzano pilot till next year.
  • Francis Howell - Modified survey from Advance Questionnaire. They don't like it.
  • Washington - NEE Student Survey of staff

What about area district's writing programs?

  • Ft. Zumwalt - Balanced literacy approach blended with reading/writing workshop
  • Orchard Farm - Writers Workshop adapted with Journeys materials
  • St. Charles - Lucy Calkins K-6. 7-8 is being rewritten now and looks to blend Lucy with Engage New York curriculum
  • Troy - Lucy Caulkins at the K-5 level. May expand to 6-8 next year
  • Warrenton - Lucy's workshop approach but adapted to match Stars and Cars at the MS and Fundations at the K-2 level
  • Washington - looking at Lucy / writers workshop
  • Wentzville - Lucy Caulkins at the K-5 level and working on expanding 608. They do bring in NY Teacher College every summer. They just transitioned from their reader workshop to writer workshop training last summer
  • Winfield - Missouri Readers Initiative, Writers Workshop, Lucky Caulkins.

of course we are getting deeper into writers workshop and Lucy.

PAWS 2.0

Do you have your decomposition sheets in the shared Google Folder? We will meet on Monday to try to wrap up the big rocks phase of PAWS 2.0


They meet today. If you are available, please come to the WCWE Library and participate. They will decide if they wish to kick the planning of February 13th to us or not.

TNT Day # 4

Final day is this Thursday in the HS Library. Janet Stumbaugh will do the connector...one I've never seen before. Here is the agenda:

  1. Connector

  2. SPED 101 (8:20-9:30)

  3. Teach Like A Champion Share Out wrap up

    1. 6 Groups of 6.

    2. Share out

    3. Seclect one to share out to large group.

  4. Uugli Orange

  5. Padlet answers to the Visible Learning

  6. Lunch (appr. 11:30)

  7. MAP / EOC Share out

    1. 6 Groups:

      1. Line up by grade level test. First 6, then next 6,…

    2. Share out in the group on:

      1. What you found as positive trends (content, DOK and question type)

      2. What you found as negative trends (same as above)

      3. What you believe are possible next steps in light of this data

  8. Reading Structures with Shawn Brown (1:00-2:00)

  9. Phases of Community (2:00-2:30)

  10. Outlearning The Wolves (2:30-3:00)

  11. Certificates

Town Halls

We will have one the next two Monday nights. The 8th will be at West. The 15th will be at the MS. If you can make one of these, that would be beneficial. I plan on attending the 15th (I'll be at the East Concert on the 8th). Topic...raising the Tax Levy.

Q and As

Our next round of Q and As are next week. Tuesday is HS and East. Thursday is MS and West.


Next week Thursday. Location?


Shawn B and I will be in St. James as they are itching to make some changes that they have wrestled with for awhile now. They want to pick our brains on what we have done. I believe the WC branding change in education circles has certainly improved.


This week, Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry. By Larissa Pahomov.

First off, a trivia piece that I should have included above. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pahomov says that students who go to college have an average of 11.7 different jobs in a lifetime. And that data is based largely on baby boomers. The suggestion is that it is increasing with younger generations. Why does she point to this? Because she believes that cognitive skills are at such a high need to successfully go from one job to another.

Her book is based on the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She looked at 25 classes and 500 students in this inquiry-based education at the secondary level. While that means she is looking at a subset of a population (teachers and students) that are more inclined to think and perform out of the box, I do think she has some points that transcend.

How? She states technology has shifted the emphasis from content to skills. Why? Content is at the touch of a finger. She also says it allows for constant engagement. Her fun story to this is that when the Beatles were learning to play the guitar, they heard some 'bloke' across town knew how to play a B7. They spent a day traveling there so they could learn from him. Now, a kid can do a search for B7 Chord on YouTube and get over 19,100 videos and they have been seen over 278,000 times!

She also stresses it breaks down the teacher as the ultimate czar thus everyone is doing the same thing (what the czar knows) to a more democratic learning model where the teacher is no longer serving as the only source of knowledge. She also states, and she is correct, that it connects folks to the 'real world' and streamlines some classroom processes. Well...it can if used to.

She says the SLAs are based on 5 core values:

  1. Inquiry - learning is authentic. Students given latitude to ask their own questions
  2. Research - students must learn how to collect and interpret data.
  3. Collaboration - working with others...life and work skill
  4. Presentation - same as above, but also a way to evaluate status.
  5. Reflection - Learning doesn't stop at end of a project.

Of course they have seen amazing success. 80% proficient on reading and math. 99% graduation rate. 98% go on to college.

The book has a step by step guide to creating the 5 core in this project based inquiry-based model. It also talks about real roadblock and work arounds. It has student perspectives. I will say the step by step is more of a big picture ponderings than down in the dirt step by step. That being said, if one were wanting to dig into project based learning, this is a good place to start to fine tune one's tenets of the classroom culture and feel and expectations and components.

Overall the book was o.k. It focuses on a unique setting in Philly. If you are not going down the Project Based Learning path, it would not be worthy of your time.

Articles, via K. Marshall

  1. “Spinning the Web” by Alexis Wiggins in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 78-81)
  2. “Making the Shift from Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning” by Leslie Maniotes and Carol Kuhlthau in Knowledge Quest, November/December 2014 (Vol. 43, #2, p. 8-17)
  3. “Can Peer Review Help Johnny Write Better?” by Susan Taylor in The Journal of Adventist Education, April/May 2014 (Vol. 76, p. 42-46)
  4. “What Standardized Tests Don’t Tell You: The Information Only a Teacher Can Decipher” by Jennifer Serravallo in Reading Today, November/December 2014 (Vol. 32, #3, p. 12-14)
  5. “No Common Opinion on the Common Core” by Michael Henderson, Paul Peterson, and Martin West in Education Next, Winter 2015 (Vol. 15, #1, p. 8-19)

1. Student-Run Socratic Seminars

(Originally titled “Spinning the Web”)

In this Educational Leadership article, instructional coach Alexis Wiggins describes how her classroom approach was radically altered when she taught English at a high school whose rubric for Socratic seminars included this clause: “Because this is a team effort, there will be a team grade. The whole class will get the same grade.” Loquacious students had a powerful incentive to dial back, shy students needed to speak up, and all students had to learn to facilitate broad participation by asking good questions and really listening. “This is a shift in thinking about learning and assessment for many students,” says Wiggins, “but I think it targets some major gaps in how we educate students to become ethical, collaborative thinkers and problem solvers.”

Wiggins found this approach so effective that she developed a variation that she calls Spider Web Discussion. First, she explains the process to students, hands out copies of the discussion rubric, says how much time they have, and spells out the goals for the discussion (which is usually on a text they read the night before). For example, here are the criteria for an English class to earn an A:

  • Everyone participates in a meaningful and substantive way, more or less equally.

  • There is a sense of balance and order, focusing on one speaker and one idea at a time.

  • The discussion is lively and the pace is neither hyper nor boring.

  • Students back up what they say with examples and quotes from their journals and/or the text.

  • At least one literary feature, element of writing style, and class vocabulary word is discussed correctly.

    For other sample rubrics, see http://bit.ly/15LWXTl.

    During the discussion, Wiggins sits outside the circle with a map of the class and keeps track of the “web” of talk by drawing lines across the circle as students respond to one another. She also codes what’s going on – interruptions, citing the text, insightful contributions, thoughtful questions – and notes student weaknesses for individual chats afterward. For example, she spoke to a girl whose comments were often superficial and urged her to use her journal to develop deeper insights about the reading. “Using this kind of data to help students correct errors in thinking and understanding before the big test or paper was one of the most powerful outcomes of my coding system,” says Wiggins.

    One of the key features of her approach is that students run the discussion. From the beginning, Wiggins insists that they ask the questions, redirect the conversation when it’s getting off track, correct misunderstandings, and ensure that the tone is civil. At first, things are awkward as students adjust to an unusually laid-back teacher, but there’s a steep learning curve. After each discussion, students debrief and assess themselves on the rubric. They’re usually right on target, says Wiggins, providing useful data for improving future discussions. “Students are far better referees and masters of knowledge than we usually give them credit for,” she says. “By the middle of the year, they do it very well, and I take great pleasure in seeing how irrelevant I am.”

    What about schools that don’t allow group grading? Wiggins has found that even if the group assessments don’t “count,” students still care about them and the dynamic is the same.

“Spinning the Web” by Alexis Wiggins in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 78-81), http://bit.ly/15LWO2g; Wiggins is at alexiswiggins@spiderwebdiscussion.com. For a short video of Spider Web Discussion in action, see www.authenticeducation.org/alexis

2. Transforming Dreary Research Papers With a Dynamic Inquiry Process

In this Knowledge Quest article, Leslie Maniotes (Denver Public Schools) and Carol Kuhlthau (Rutgers University) lament about a typical last-minute request to a school librarian: a teacher says her class will be visiting the library the next day to do research on invasive plant species. Students will each choose one plant, find five information sources in the library, and take notes for a six-page research paper. Since the paper is due in two days, there’s time for only one library visit.

“This is an example of an educator suffering from Traditional Research Syndrome (TRS),” say Maniotes and Kuhlthau. “Although teachers have good intentions, they don’t realize that their traditional research approach is actually not supporting student learning.” That’s because when students are given TRS assignments, they often produce shallow reports full of disconnected facts without having given much thought to the meaning and importance of their topic. Sometimes they just go through the motions and copy material straight from their sources.

What’s the alternative? Guided Inquiry Design, say Maniotes and Kuhlthau, with the teacher and librarian working as a team to provide expert guidance as students move through these eight phases (the examples come from an exemplary unit on invasive plant species):

Open – The teacher and librarian pique students’ curiosity on the topic with an essential question – they show students photos of kudzu vines taking over a building and ask, What are the implications of this phenomenon?

Immerse – The whole class builds knowledge on the topic by observing a local invasive plant and hearing from an expert on plants and animals that are affected when an invasive species takes over.

Explore – Students use the library’s resources to learn more about an aspect of invasive plants that particularly interests them. “Only now is each student ready to identify a specific question to research and learn more about,” say Maniotes and Kuhlthau.

Identify – Students then formulate a focused research question that is important in the context of the essential question. Here are some examples:

  • How does a particular invasive plant affect the surrounding area?

  • How is a particular animal affected by an invasive plant species?

  • How can an invasive plant affect local birds?

  • How are insects affected by the invasion?

  • What potential damage might a particular native plant incur from an invasive plant?

  • Is there a benefit to native plants?

  • Are there ways to stop invasives?

    Gather – Now students can collect information on their individual focus area. They research their question(s), check in on their family members’ knowledge and misconceptions, and begin to think about the main points they want to make in their reports.

    Create – Students put together their individual reports and some do a multimedia public information campaign to showcase their learning about a local invasive plant species.

    Share – Students present their project at a local community night, invite the expert they heard from earlier, and post their material online.

    Evaluate – The teacher and librarian assess the products and lead students in a self-assessment: what supported their learning, what was challenging, how did they deal with

    roadblocks, and what are the implications for future inquiry projects?

    Maniotes and Kuhlthau conclude with a list of the ways this kind of guided inquiry improves teaching and learning:

  • It is learning-centered rather than product-centered.

  • It is carefully and intentionally designed.

  • It is driven by students’ authentic questions.

  • It goes beyond low-level facts to deep understanding.

  • It recognizes and supports the emotional side of learning.

  • It can promote and support academic research by students at all grade levels.

“Making the Shift from Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning” by Leslie Maniotes and Carol Kuhlthau in Knowledge Quest, November/December 2014 (Vol. 43, #2, p. 8-17), http://www.ala.org/aasl/kq/novdec14; the authors can be reached at lesliekm67@gmail.com and Kuhlthau@rutgers.edu.

3. Getting Students Acting as Peer Editors of Each Others’ Writing

In this article in The Journal of Adventist Education, Susan Taylor (Andrews University, MI) says that teachers spend many, many hours reading and commenting on students’ writing assignments, trying to correct errors and help students become better readers of their own writing so they will become better writers. But all that work doesn’t seem to be paying off – many teachers have observed that students rarely make use of the comments they receive. “With so much time and energy devoted to a single activity,” asks Taylor, “why doesn’t Johnny write better?”

The solution, she believes, is getting students to read and comment on classmates’ writing. “Such opportunities for peer review can help students improve their reading and writing, as well as learn how to collaborate effectively,” she says.

Of course peer review can be an ineffective process. “I liked your story about the horse, but I think you should add a little more detail and maybe change the last two sentences,” is a typically unhelpful comment from a classmate. Here are some common problems:

  • Many students feel uncomfortable passing judgment on peers’ writing, and bland comments like “I loved your story” get them off the hook.

  • Friendships make some students biased, even dishonest, in the comments they give. A critical comment could sour a relationship or be taken as a hostile gesture.

  • Some students give more thoughtful feedback than others, and highly proficient writers may discount comments from classmates who are less adept.

  • Many students don’t know how to use the feedback to revise their writing and may react defensively to classmates’ criticisms.

  • Some teachers assume their students already have the skills to give helpful feedback (which few do) and fail to give student editors the necessary guidance.

    For these reasons, few teachers use peer review effectively, if they use it at all.

    But Taylor says two peer-review protocols can make the process a powerful tool for improving student writing. Before each one, the teacher emphasizes the importance of peer review, provides students with detailed rubrics of effective writing, and offers guidance on giving feedback.

    PQP: Praise, Question, Polish – Groups of 2-5 students take turns reading each others’ drafts aloud as other students follow along in copies the teacher has made for them. “This oral reading helps writers hear how well the paper flows and independently identify possible changes,” says Taylor. Students then react to the piece by writing comments on their PQP form: Praise: What is good about the writing, and why is it good? Question: As a reader, what do you not understand? What would you like clarified? Polish: What specific suggestions for improvement can you make?

    Drafting – The class is divided into groups of three and students read all the essays produced by the group, commenting both in the margins and at the end of each paper. During the next class period, they share comments and reactions.

    During both PQP and Drafting sessions, Taylor recommends that the teacher maintain a “hands-off” approach, monitoring the groups and keeping them focused and commenting appropriately at the end on how things went. “When students are given the proper tools,” she says, “they can function with little input from the teacher.”

    Why does peer review work? First, language, thought, writing, and learning are social in nature, and working in collaborative groups helps students take advantage of a powerful instructional process. Second, peer review makes students more perceptive readers, more attuned to details in any piece of writing. Third, peer review reinforces values about the way writing should be taught – through respect, negotiation, and cooperation. Students become more aware of each other’s needs, which cultivates a spirit of mutual responsibility. Peer interaction helps young writers choose which criticisms to take seriously, and that makes them more confident writers. “Editing makes one a better writer, writing makes one a better editor, and both make one a better thinker,” says Taylor.

    Fourth, students get lots of practice at formulating and communicating constructive feedback to their peers, as well as responding to comments on their own writing. Fifth, students make the transition from writing primarily for their teachers to thinking about a wider audience. Finally, peer review teaches students valuable lessons about teamwork. “Collaborative experiences are fundamental to empowering students as communicators, both in school and in their future careers,” says Taylor.

“Can Peer Review Help Johnny Write Better?” by Susan Taylor in The Journal of Adventist Education, April/May 2014 (Vol. 76, p. 42-46), no e-link available (spotted in Education Digest, October 2014 (Vol. 80, #4)

4. Five Byproducts of On-the-Spot Classroom Reading Assessments

In this article in Reading Today, author and former teacher Jennifer Serravallo says that because standardized reading tests ask students to read silently and answer multiple-choice questions under high-stakes conditions, they have limited utility for teachers. She suggests five insights that lower-key classroom assessments can provide throughout the year:

How a student handles print, especially in the early grades – Only when a teacher listens to a child reading a passage aloud (perhaps conducting a running record) is it possible to learn about errors and self-corrections and do an accurate miscue analysis to meet the student’s needs.

The child’s fluency – Listening to students as they read aloud gives important insights on whether they can break up sentences into chunks, pause appropriately, and read with expression. This is vital information for finding each student’s reading level and helping them with specific problems.

What will engage a child – “To support children in enjoying a literate life, we need to help them learn how to find books they will love, and how to develop the stamina necessary to stick with the books,” says Serravallo. This kind of “interest inventory” and coaching can only be done day by day in the classroom.

What’s really going on with student comprehension – Multiple-choice test questions on short passages that are often well above students’ current reading levels provide incomplete and sometimes downright misleading information, says Serravallo. Open-ended questions on appropriate books followed by thoughtful discussions are far more informative.

What students can do in collaboration with others – “When we have the opportunity to converse with others, we can take in new perspectives, clear up misconceptions, and arrive at new ideas,” says Serravallo. “Kids need opportunities to meet with partners and book clubs, and to talk as a whole class.” In such settings, teachers gather valuable insights on how to improve teaching and learning.

“What Standardized Tests Don’t Tell You: The Information Only a Teacher Can Decipher” by Jennifer Serravallo in Reading Today, November/December 2014 (Vol. 32, #3, p. 12-14), www.reading.org; Serravallo can be reached at jserravallo@gmail.com.

5. A Poll in Which Teachers are “Graded”

In this article in Education Next, Michael Henderson, Paul Peterson, and Martin West report the results of a recent poll on educational issues. Among the findings [some others were covered in Marshall Memo 559] were opinions on the proficiency of American public-school teachers. Representative samples of the general population and of teachers were asked to anonymously give overall A-B-C-D-F grades to teachers in their local public schools. The ratings of teachers by the general population:

A – 25%

B – 26%

C – 25%

D – 13%

F – 9%

The ratings of teachers by other teachers:

A – 41%

B – 28%

C – 18%

D – 8%

F – 5%

Henderson, Peterson, and West note that teachers gave higher “grades” to their colleagues, but were struck by the fact that the percent of teachers deemed unsatisfactory (grades of D or F) was quite high for both samples: 22 percent among the general population and 13 percent among teachers. Both figures are considerably above the percent of unsatisfactory ratings given by principals using new performance evaluation systems.

“No Common Opinion on the Common Core” by Michael Henderson, Paul Peterson, and Martin West in Education Next, Winter 2015 (Vol. 15, #1, p. 8-19), www.educationnext.org

Trivia Answers

  1. Belgium
  2. Quiet (or other such term)
  3. 1692 and 1693
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Kiwis
  6. Columbia
  7. 160,000+