Weekly Thoughts 1-20-15


Answers at the end of this email.

  1. Morocco borders Algeria. True or False?
  2. What kind of animal is Boots in the Dora the Explorer stories?
  3. Where was the Boer War fought?
  4. What is another name for the scapula?
  5. In which US state is the TV series Family Guy set?
  6. How old was James Dean when he died in a car crash?

Mike Rutherford

At this point, I believe almost everyone of you have seen Mike present. I had the pleasure of seeing him again for 2 days last week, and he was never better. Shawn, Shawn and Deb are participating in the year long project with him via HOM RPDC correct? Is this something you would like to debrief to us during an IL? Change in your practice?

I believe everyone has his updated book 'The Artisan Teacher.' I think I want to delve into this book more in the coming months and perhaps utilize it with TNT next fall. Themes, in his terms, are types of teaching strategy types. He spends a chapter on each. I may even suggest we do a book study on this next year. Why? I was amazed that after we went deep into 3 of the themes, how often people came up with examples that were relative, but not on the mark. In other words, very smart people try to connect existing practices incorrectly to these. However, when you see an anchor, they are powerful and can really make one think about how to add depth and variety to your teaching tool box.

The first 6 themes of his book are what he calls Fundamentals. That is, these are things one must be competent on. They are (without definition):

  1. Clear Learning Goals
  2. Congruency
  3. Task Analysis
  4. Diagnosis
  5. Overt Responses
  6. Mid Course Corrections

If you look at those 6, it is all about knowing what kids need to know, what it looks like, what each kid knows going in, what it takes to provide the right instruction to actively engage that student in that goal, how do you know if it is working, and the flexibility to change if they are not or are farther than you were expecting.

The next 12 are things that no one person must be competent on each one, but you need to be competent on some of them. He calls them Optimizers. They help build speed, recall and transfer. They help students rate or degree to which they learn...they learn more in less time.

The last 5 are what he calls Artisan or Maximizers. They are what master teachers us to increase student learning and application above and beyond what is in our standards.

We went deep into Locale Memory, Connection, and Personal Relevance. Good discussions were had by many on these.

With Connections, a kid was struggling with the +/- outcome of multiplying with positive and negative integers. The teacher made a connection to something that was not related, but the kid already knew. This allows him/her to build on existing schema instead of creating new schema. Here is what the teacher did. Think of + as a good guy in movies. - as a bad guy. When something bad happens to a bad guy in a movie, you feel good. - x - = +. When something bad happens to a good guy in a movie, you feel bad. - x + = -. When something good happens to a bad guy, you feel bad. + x - = -. When something good happens to a good guy, you feel good. + x + = +.

Now, when making a connection, it can be related. It just doesn't require to. In fact, sometimes, if it is goofy, it helps. You can ask me how I used this to teach kids how to stand when teaching them how to throw a discus. It worked well for my outdoor oriented MS population in mid-Missouri!

Personal Relevance. Mike used the Dog + Pill + Cheese analogy. His dog needs medication. His dog will not eat the pill. His dog loves cheese. If he can cover the pill with enough cheese, his dog will be tricked into eating and liking the pill/cheese combo!

I've seen this with Romeo and Juliet. A teacher used the hormones and social awareness of kids to make the discussions around 'what can go wrong with love.' They still wrestled with the same things most classes do when studying this text. However, the cheese was the awkwardness and trials of falling in love when you are young. They ate it up.

Interestingly, Fulton was at my table during this conversation and said they no longer cover Romeo and Juliet because of a teenage suicide. They didn't want to plant that seed in a kid. I wonder how many other schools have cut it because of that?

Mike used and example of a teacher who was teaching about alliterations. The teacher had kids print off the lyrics of their favorite songs, then find them. Then had kids write their own. Cheese. Pill.

Locale Memory. The idea is to teach something with some physical movement or placement so that the movement or placement helps one conjure up the 'learning' in the future. I still use my knuckles to remember which months have 31 days in it...something a teacher taught me when I was little. I still remember the order states signed the Declaration of Independence from my 1st hour class my Freshman year because our teacher had us create a movement for each state (along with a silly visual). Ask me how I used pancakes and also my knuckles to teach kids how to read a topographical map sometime? This can be a very powerful strategy that increases speed, recall and transfer.

Schema and Reading (via Keene, 2007)

I mentioned 'schema' above. I'm sure you recall this term from your college days. The idea is that our mind creates connections for our knowledge, experiences and beliefs to aid in both retrieval and assimilation of knew knowledge. Schemas are not static. They change as new information is assimilated into long term memory. Helping a person bring up a schema increases the rate at which they can assimilate and aides in their ability to recall and transfer that information in the future.

Some key ideas around schema:

  • Proficient learners spontaneously and purposefully recall their relevant, prior knowledge (schema) before, during and after they read and learn by connecting to the text.
  • Proficient learners use their schema to make sense of new information they read and learn, and to store that new information with related information in memory.
  • Proficient learners assimilate information from text and other learning experiences into their relevant prior knowledge and make changes in that schema to accommodate the new information. Linking new understandings to other stored knowledge makes it easier to remember and reapply the new information.
  • Proficient learners adapts their schema as they read, converses with others and learn - they delete inaccurate information (naïve conceptions), add to existing schema, and connect chunks of knowledge to other related knowledge, opinions and ideas.
  • Proficient learners can articulate how they use schema to enhance their comprehension in all forms of text and in all learning situations.

There are 6 types of schema that proficient learners use when comprehending text and learning new material:

  • memories from particular experiences and emotions that shed light on the events, characters, and so on in a text or learning situation (text to self connections)
  • Specific knowledge about the topic as well as general world knowledge (text to world connections)
  • specific knowledge about text topics, themes, content, structure, and organization (text to text connections)
  • knowledge of potential barriers to comprehension (particularly in nonfiction text or text with completely unfamiliar content)
  • Knowledge about their own reading tendencies, preferences and styles
  • specific knowledge about the author/illustrator and the tools s/he uses to create meaning.

Each type of schema permits students to monitor meaning, pose questions, make predictions, draw conclusions, create mental images, synthesize, and determine importance as they read and learn.

Here is the rub...not all kids do all of these well. Some kids have a hard time with all of theses!

Teachers assist readers in activating (giving students the necessary tools to recall relevant prior knowledge) and building (creating background knowledge on a given topic, author, text structure, etc.) schema.


Nuts and Bolts, IL and BOE meeting are Thursday. Teacher of the Year Building Nominations continue till week's end.

At our IL meeting, can the host please add on Title II.A / National Conferences? as a discussion item?

BOE filing ends at 5 p.m. today. As of right now, we have only 2 signed up for 2 positions. The spots open are for Alice Klem and Laura Marsh. The two signed up so far are Erin Williams and Dave Mikus.

Fun in Kansas

As you may or may not know, Kansas cut taxes significantly a few years back. Some in Missouri, such as Rex Sinquefield, want to follow their lead. As you may or may not know, that has equated in underfunding their school formula. Schools recently won a lawsuit saying that the funding was inequitable. Something Missouri did as well more than 20 years ago.

Well, one state legislator has a novel idea: go from 300+ districts to 7 to save on administrative costs: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/11/1357001/-Kansas-Moves-to-Redefine-Education-Hunger-Games-Style?detail=email#

Fun time accessing the BOE and having a say in your district with that model!

New Study

I thought you might enjoy the following documents around a study on 9 countries educational systems. The sub categories and the differences are very intriguing to me.



Articles via K. Marshall

  1. “Adding Eyes: The Rise, Rewards, and Risks of Multi-Rater Teacher Observation Systems” by Taylor White, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, December 2014; http://bit.ly/1yBOUW6
  2. “Rich Classroom Discussion: One Way to Get Rich Learning” by Ronald Gallimore, James Hiebert, and Bradley Ermeling in Teachers College Record, October 9, 2014
  3. two short web links he provided.

1. Will Multiple Observers Improve the Quality of Teacher Evaluations?

In this paper from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, researcher Taylor White cites three reasons for the increase in districts having more than one observer visiting each teacher. First, a number of states now require that teachers be formally observed more than once a year, which increases the workload on principals beyond what many can manage in their busy schedules. Second, expectations have increased for using teacher evaluation as a tool to improve teaching and learning, raising the bar for administrators who were able to get by with superficial evaluations in the past. And third, there’s the perennial challenge of principals with relatively narrow teaching and subject-area expertise giving effective feedback to teachers in a number of grades and content areas. “By adding more eyes to these evaluations,” says White, “districts aim not only to relieve principals but, more important, to lend new perspectives, deeper expertise, and greater objectivity to the evaluation process.”

Using multiple observers seems like a logical solution to these challenges – more classroom observers, different areas of expertise, and a reduction in the demands being placed on principals. And indeed, the recent Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study endorsed the notion that teacher evaluations are more reliable with multiple observers.

Principals’ very challenging workload is a key issue, and there is a tendency for corners to be cut when requirements escalate – increased frequency and length of classroom visits and more-elaborate, high-quality feedback to teachers. In a recent study, Stefanie Reinhorn of Harvard University found that “teachers who believed that administrators did not spend enough time in their classrooms questioned the validity of their evaluators’ assessment, doubted that the appraisal reflected an understanding of their daily work, and complained that the evaluation process lacked credibility.”

White studied 16 districts of varying size and composition – from New York City to Transylvania County, North Carolina – and found that the use of multiple classroom observers varied along three dimensions:

Which teachers get multiple observers – Given limited resources, districts decided which teachers would have more than one rater based on what policymakers hoped to accomplish and what resources were available. Some districts focused on teachers who were on track to get the highest or lowest ratings – those deserving recognition or sanction. Some districts focused on teachers with less-effective track records. For example, Washington, DC decided that teachers with five consecutive years of Highly Effective or Effective ratings would be observed only by their school administrators. Other districts used multiple observations only with novice teachers or those with problematic performance.

Who does the observing – Some districts used only principals, assistant principals, and central-office staff (visiting classrooms together or at different times); some used other expert observers, including master and mentor teachers. Collective bargaining agreements forbidding teachers to evaluate union colleagues played a part in these decisions. Some districts used “third-party validators” from outside the district to monitor the validity of observers’ impressions.

How raters are deployed – Districts used a variety of strategies here, including having only principals and assistant principals be multiple observers, having an assistant superintendent come in to rate marginal teachers, and using master and mentor teachers who were released from some portion of their classroom responsibilities. The challenge was getting a second (or third) opinion and yet having the primary evaluator see enough of teachers’ work to give meaningful feedback and a fair evaluation. Only one district (Greene County, Tennessee) had observers regularly visiting classrooms in tandem and discussing their observations afterward. This district reported greater objectivity in scoring, a broadening of expertise in giving feedback, and helpful professional development for principals.

White goes on to list several of the challenges districts encountered using multiple observers:

  • Inter-rater reliability – Training observers is the challenge here, since high-stakes ratings need to be consistent, common, precise, and reliable. “Teachers lose faith in the system when scores are obviously out of sync,” says White.

  • Cost – This depends on the district’s design: Hillsborough County, Florida spent $11.9 million on its evaluation system in 2011-12, with more than 85 percent for its multi-rater system. Other districts spent less – for example, Santa Fe, New Mexico used existing administrators at no additional cost.

  • Staffing considerations – Contractual and state policies limited some districts in who could be involved in classroom visits. Chicago was unable to use department heads and master teachers because of union push-back, and Washington, DC’s “master educators” and instructional coaches are not permitted to freely share any details about their interactions with specific teachers.

  • Human complexities – Many principals were uncomfortable when outside “experts” came onto their turf. “But hiring raters from within may also introduce complex interpersonal dynamics,” says White, “as teacher leaders adjust to their new authority and redefine relationships with former colleagues.”

  • Logistics and coherence – Additional raters require careful coordination – scheduling, monitoring, collecting and storing observations, and time for raters to calibrate their scoring practices to provide consistent, coherent feedback. “A small number of districts mentioned deliberate efforts to track and coordinate the feedback teachers receive from various raters,” says White, “but few had clear, established systems to ensure that feedback was consistent and coherent.”

    In short, concludes White, implementing multiple raters “is often easier said than done.” Some districts mitigated these challenges by using online applications to aggregate and store data from raters and allowing teachers access to the information. Some districts hired full-time staff to manage the process. Others counted on the new wave of classroom observers to improve principals’ “eye” for instruction and skills at giving feedback (although some principals felt “policed” by their new colleagues).

    [This paper provides a helpful analysis of the possibilities and challenges of multiple classroom observers. However, I have four concerns: (a) The main problem with traditional teacher evaluations is not that they are “drive-bys” but that they are infrequent, announced in advance (the “dog-and-pony show”), and usually require a detailed, formal report that takes several hours to complete (making frequent visits and informal coaching virtually impossible).

    (b) State and district policies increasing the number of required annual observations do indeed create an impossible workload for principals – but only if the length of observations and the amount of administrative paperwork remains the same. Frequent, short, unannounced visits with prompt face-to-face feedback to each teacher take less time and are likelier to improve teaching and learning, which is the core mission of teacher evaluation.

    (c) If observers are required to score (that is, numerically evaluate) each classroom observation, inter-rater reliability becomes the main issue and helpful coaching of teachers won’t happen. In addition, monitoring quality and reliability becomes much more difficult since observers are mostly seeing different classes at different times, impeding comparisons of the data. The solution is to use evaluation rubrics the way they were designed to be used – as an end-of-year summation of multiple inputs during the year, including at least ten brief classroom visits per teacher, brief coaching conversations each time, observing teacher teams as they analyze student work, and looking at unit and lesson plans and perhaps student perception surveys. The only exception is chronically ineffective teachers, who get a more formal process, an improvement plan, lots of support, and a tight timeline for progress.

    (d) As White documents, union, logistical, and human problems pose major challenges for multiple-observer systems as part of the official evaluation process. While it’s often helpful for teachers to get feedback from more than one person, and for principals to get the perspective of those who have more specific expertise, the rating officer in virtually all schools will still be the principal, assistant principal, or department head. Superintendents need to focus less on the elusive goal of inter-rater reliability and more on the quality of their front-line administrators’ evaluations. The best way to do that is for district leaders to make brief, unannounced classroom visits with their school administrators and check on the quality of their instructional “eye,” their judgment deciding what’s most important in each classroom, and their ability to deliver helpful feedback to teachers. K.M.]

“Adding Eyes: The Rise, Rewards, and Risks of Multi-Rater Teacher Observation Systems” by Taylor White, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, December 2014; http://bit.ly/1yBOUW6

2. The Role of Classroom Discussions in High-Level Learning

In this Teachers College Record article, Ronald Gallimore (UCLA), James Hiebert (University of Delaware), and Bradley Ermeling (Pearson Research and Innovation Network) question the “clarion call” of many education reformers for teachers to increase the amount of “rich classroom discussion.” A key assumption behind this goal is that good discussions produce higher-quality student thinking, expression, and achievement. Reformers’ aim is to replace traditional teacher-dominated discussions with “students talking in class about their ideas, asking questions of peers, engaging in debates with peers, explaining their reasoning, and sharing some roles traditionally assumed by teachers.”

This push seems justified in light of sobering statistics about classroom interactions over the years. A 1912 study found that teachers across all grades and subjects talked an average of 64 percent of the time, and nearly 80 percent of classroom discourse involved rote memory or superficial comprehension. And apparently things have not changed much since then: A 1997 study of 9th-grade ELA classes found that 85 percent of classroom time was lecture, recitation, and seatwork.

The curious thing is that, according to the 1999 TIMSS Video Study of Mathematics, countries with better student achievement than the U.S. are not better when it comes to the amount of rich classroom discussions. If anything, American classrooms have more opportunities for student talk than those in higher-achieving countries. So are rich classroom discussions not the key variable in classrooms that foster truly impressive learning? Gallimore, Hiebert, and Ermeling believe this is a good question and suspect that something deeper is involved.

“What distinguished higher-achieving countries from the U.S. was the nature of learning opportunities provided to students,” they say. “With varying degrees of frequency, all higher-achieving countries slowed down instruction at some point in some lessons to ensure that students had rich opportunities to learn – time to grapple with the key mathematics ideas and connect them.” These moments seemed to be the “critical and significant distinction between the U.S. and higher-achieving countries.”

The authors have come to believe that these slowed-down, concentrated, students-grappling moments are the goal, and rich classroom discussion is one tool among many others for making them happen. In other words, principals and other supervisors shouldn’t be looking so much for rich classroom discussions in classrooms as for those rich learning opportunities that “nurture the advanced competencies and more-ambitious achievements U.S. reformers seek.”

John Dewey was not against teachers “telling” students important information, say the authors. But Dewey warned that students are unlikely to hear things they are unprepared to hear. How do we get students to the point where they hear what we’re telling them? This question need lots of study, say Gallimore, Hiebert, and Ermeling, and it’s closely tied to another one: How do we create rich opportunities to learn advanced concepts? They identify three key elements:

  • High-quality, sustained collaboration between teachers and researchers;

  • Studying curriculum and classroom practice to pinpoint the key learning opportunities in each unit that might benefit from rich classroom discussions;

  • Helping teachers as they get better and better at managing complex decisions and making the best instructional choices.

The authors believe rich classroom discussion is much more likely to be productive if it’s seen as a means to that end, rather than an end in itself. This, they say, “seems a more realistic vision than advocating for its greater use without respect for why, when, and for whom.”

“The pathway to improvement,” conclude Gallimore, Hiebert, and Ermeling, “lies not in the increased use of a single compelling instructional method, but in building of a full repertoire of effective methods, and a nuanced understanding of how and when each will propel a teacher’s students toward ambitious learning goals.”

“Rich Classroom Discussion: One Way to Get Rich Learning” by Ronald Gallimore, James Hiebert, and Bradley Ermeling in Teachers College Record, October 9, 2014; to purchase this article, go to http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=17714; Gallimore can be reached at ronaldg@ucla.edu.

3. Short Items:

a. Measure of America – Check out this link for a wide range of maps, charts, and data on the U.S.: http://www.measureofamerica.org/

b. Monitoring student participation – This app allows a teacher to quantify discussion-hogging and under-participation and do something about it:


Trivia Answers

  1. Morocco borders Algeria. True or False? TRUE
  2. What kind of animal is Boots in the Dora the Explorer stories? MONKEY
  3. Where was the Boer War fought? SOUTH AFRICA
  4. What is another name for the scapula? SHOULDER
  5. In which US state is the TV series Family Guy set? RHODE ISLAND
  6. How old was James Dean when he died in a car crash? 24