GV BOCES School Improvement
October 2021 Newsletter
Upcoming Featured Speaker
Description: As more teachers look to add high-yield tasks to their repertoire, the struggle to make it all work becomes real. Let's examine how problem-based lessons can be used throughout the scope of a unit and how we can harness their power to move student thinking forward. We will identify strategies and explore some tasks that help us find a healthy balance between application, conceptual understanding, and procedural fluency.
Date: Friday, November 19, 2021
Location: Monroe 2 BOCES, 3599 Big Ridge Road, Spencerport, NY 14559
Time: 8:30am - 3:00pm
News You Can Use
7-12 Science Cohort
School Improvement Reimagines Cohorts
The research is clear that if the aim of professional learning is to improve student outcomes, then assisting teachers to get better at what they do in the classroom is essential. “Stand-alone workshops, conferences, and short courses can be useful to build knowledge, but sustainable change in teacher practice happens when teachers learn the work by doing the work in the place where they work.” It is for this reason that the School Improvement Team has decided to reimagine and pilot a new cohort format for the 2021-2022 school year.
Emerging from extensive search of the literature over the last three decades, we can define features & elements of effective professional learning which are outlined below (Hammon, Hyler, Gardner & Espinoza 2017).
The content is focused
Incorporates active learning
Provides coaching & support
Offers feedback & reflection
Is of sustained duration
This year the English Language Arts, Mathematics 5-12, Social Studies & Special Education Cohorts will look to identify areas of need, collect baseline data, develop group goals, learn together, implement an innovation together, and study outcomes of the implemented innovation. This progression is based on the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle. PDSA is an iterative, four-stage problem-solving model used for improving a process or carrying out change. The PDSA method is a way to test a change that is implemented. Working through the prescribed four steps guides the thinking process into breaking down the task into steps and then evaluating the outcome, improving on it, and testing it again.
As a result of the reimagined cohort model, district leaders can expect that classroom teachers will have data to support the continued implementation of a new teaching practice, and/or data on how a shift in practice resulted in favorable outcomes for students.
The School Improvement Team is looking forward to working with regional teachers and supporting evidence-informed instructional practices and implementation in an effort to improve student learning.
Continue Your Professional Learning
Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning
Over the course of the 2021-2022 School Year, the Genesee Valley BOCES Curriculum Council will be engaging in a book study based on Agarwal and Bain’s (2019) Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. The bold claim in the title of the text certainly piques the interest, but it may also cause the formulation of some questions-- perhaps most logically: What is the ‘science of learning,’ and how is it unleashed? These will be the essential questions of the Curriculum Council inquiry; however, in advance of the study, the succeeding paragraphs will stand as a window into the interesting world of the “science of learning.”
According to the authors, the science of learning is “actually an umbrella term that spans many research fields including psychology, computer science, and neuroscience” (Agarwal & Bain, 2019, p. 19). The integration of these diverse disciplines adds to both the robustness and complexity of the science of learning as a broad field of academic study. Often the field of education relies on more highly inferential methods of research-- observations, surveys, or correlations-- to attempt to answer “what works” questions as a means for informing classroom practice, but science of learning research trends focus on more experimental (meaning, holding experiments both in the laboratory and classroom settings) methods, i.e. cognitive psychology, to determine evidence of actual learning gains as a means for informing practitioners (Agarwal & Bain, 2019; Weinstein, Sumeracki, & Caviglioli, 2019). By emphasizing the ‘science’ concept relative to learning, researchers can overcome an overreliance on intuition as a decision-making strategy within education and dismantle educational professionals’ susceptibility to fads.
Four empirically supported practices are the focus of Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. These four practices are: retrieval practice, spaced practice, interleaving, and feedback. Throughout the text, each practice is concretely defined, and the research supporting the practice is summarized. Additionally, specific examples are shared regarding implementing the practices across diverse classrooms. By “purposefully, intentionally, and frequently” (Agarwal & Bain, 2019, p. 6) implementing these four practices in the classroom, educators can ‘unleash’ greater student achievement, across diverse student populations, that improve higher-order learning and transfer of knowledge (Agarwal & Bain, 2019).
There are many variables that can impact the success of educational interventions-- context being chief among them. However, rigorous research can point schools and teachers in the best direction for increasing the likelihood of improving learning outcomes. As Dylan Wiliam (2018) argued quite succinctly, “everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere” (p. 2). However, the science of learning, particularly through cognitive psychology, “not only provides us with information about what works, but also helps us figure out how and why certain learning strategies work better than others” (Weinstein, Sumeracki, & Caviglioli, 2019, p. 17). Through the discussion of the book study, the region can learn collectively in an effort to continuously improve collectively by unleashing Powerful Teaching.
What Works in School Improvement and How Do We Get There?
Molly Besinger-Lacy is a former principal of a high-poverty elementary school. In five years, she transformed a low-performing school into a model institute of instruction. To do this, Besinger-Lacy did not implement dramatic initiatives. Instead, she developed a focus to operationalize the high-impact recommendations research has already identified. Her attention to enacting positive change to the system-wide processes already in place is what created an opportunity for success. She tapped into the culture of improvement within her building and never let it go. Her focus is in line with the research of Ronald Edmonds (1979), Michael Rutter (1982); Anthony Bryk (2010); Kenneth Leithwood (2004); and Robert Marzano (2003). Their research and her focus, point to formulating five (5) practices for ensuring improvement and success in schools. Besinger-Lacy’s general outline is as follows:
The What Works Filter
Create teacher clarity about what students need to know and be able to do.
Create an environment where collaboration happens around designing curriculum, instructional pathways, and assessment techniques.
Use results of classroom assessments to move learning forward.
Collaborate around data.
Focus on building relationships and trust.
Despite the challenges Besinger-Lacy faced in her school district, she maintained the conviction that all students in her building had the capacity to learn at high levels. She knew she had to focus her efforts on the principles for school improvement that have proven to be most effective. These highly effective principles are well established and may not be news to us, therefore a question to reflect on isn’t What works in school improvement? but more Are the principles actually being carried out in a way that ensures equity and improvement in schools? (e.g. principles into practice). Because of her hyper-focus on using these five (5) practices, this made it possible for her staff to consistently and effectively evaluate every decision, using the What Works Filter (Chenoweth, 2015).
School leaders, like Besinger-Lacy, are doing complex work to affect their school’s performance levels, but have fallen into organizational challenges that threaten to stop them from successfully putting the principles into practice. Most educators know that collaboration is important and that great things happen when teachers get together and apply their combined knowledge and experience. But, knowing how to collaborate in ways that build expertise and capacity, can be both an organizational and an intellectual challenge for districts (Chenoweth, 2015). Oftentimes collaboration meetings can be incoherent, and teacher prep time is used for individual planning rather than collaborative work time devoted to improving curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Therefore, the focused efforts of leaders working to establish a system where teachers can focus on the things that work (i.e. collaboration around student data) is crucial for successful teaching and learning and/or effective improvement efforts.
How do we get there?
Student data tells a story about the learning that is happening in classrooms. When collaboration happens around student data, teachers can begin to ensure that their classroom instruction is responsive to the learners’ needs. The problem is not that there is a shortage of student data available, but rather figuring out how to use the data constructively and as a team.
On any team, creating the time and place for collaborative work and setting clear expectations for effective participation is crucial. The Data Wise Improvement Process is an eight-step model, designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools. The model can guide a school in working collaboratively to improve teaching and learning, through evidence-based data analysis. It requires committing to using a shared improvement approach and developing a strategy for deliberately building the capacity of educators to use it. Table 1 shows the eight-step Data Wise Improvement Process and its implementation phases (Boudette, 2013).
Student data is telling us all a story...to what extent are we all listening?Once the system is in place for collaborative conversations to begin happening around student data, it becomes important to facilitate the conversations with a step-by-step problem solving approach. Looking at student data could lead to making general assumptions, making it difficult to define particular problems of practice. The Ladder of Inference is a tool, developed by Chris Argyris, that can help structure the conversations and keep group reasoning on track when attempting to draw conclusions from data. It helps us to think about our thinking and to coordinate our thinking with others.
If you have ever thought to yourself, “how in the world can two people be looking at the same thing and yet see it so very differently?” The Ladder of Inference is a mental model that can explain why this happens. Sometimes we rush to judgement or jump to conclusions. When you understand the Ladder of Inference, it can act as an essential tool to improve decision-making amongst a team where agreement, consensus, and group decision-making are so important. For example, if we take an hour to solve a problem, we should spend the first 55 minutes working to define the problem exactly. It seems that once there is clarity about what the problem of practice is, the solution will naturally follow. While discussions around data are happening, clarifying questions like the ones below (Senge, et al., 1994) help us avoid rushing to conclusions.
What is the observable data behind that statement?
Does everyone agree on what the data is?
Can you run me through your reasoning?
How did we get from that data to these abstract assumptions?
When you said "[your inference]," did you mean "[my interpretation of it]"?
The focused efforts of school leaders toward developing systems that allow educators to concentrate on what matters the most, are key to school improvement. If we already know what contributes to improving teaching and learning, let’s work to refine those practices so they can be carried out in a way that ensures equity and improvement in schools. Our common goal is for all teachers and learners to thrive. Use these models to operationalize what we think we are already doing.
School Improvement Spotlights
Focusing on Reading Research
Over the summer of 2021, educators from our region registered for sessions to learn more about the science of reading. Over 200 registrations were documented for the Not So Simple View of Reading asynchronous professional learning opportunities. Many participants took all four parts to enhance their knowledge of reading and begin to make shifts in their reading instructional practice. How amazing it is to see so many educators diving into professional learning about reading!
Thirty-two educators from the region engaged in an online book study of Dr. Louisa Moat’s Speech to Print book. Speech to Print is based on research and addresses common gaps in knowledge of reading and language instruction. Participants learned how language is a critical foundation for reading and literacy education. Throughout the book study, participants read case studies, worked through language activities, and analyzed real-world student work samples, all while discussing and reflecting with other educators from across the region.
This summer, Pavilion Central School elementary teachers and administrators participated in an Equipped for Reading book study. Sixteen educators engaged in learning more about the science of reading, specifically phonemic awareness. These participants learned concrete strategies for word recognition, explored examples to quickly incorporate word-study techniques into lessons, and learned how to assess students' phonological awareness by using the Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST). This book study was a great way to learn more about reading research and how to support phonological awareness.
2021-2022 Regional Professional Learning Opportunities
Registration for upcoming regional professional learning opportunities can be accessed through the links below. Check out the various opportunities the School Improvement Team is offering during the 2021-2022 school year. We look forward to seeing you in the upcoming months!