The "Oskaloosa Syllabus"

April, 2013 - News You Can Use!

Team Attends "Capturing Kids' Hearts"

A small group of teachers and administrators traveled to Omaha last week and attended a phenomenal "workshop" related to building classroom culture and community. Provided by the Flippen Group, the group learned a great deal about themselves and how they communicate, relate to students and adults, and tools to use to build a community in their classroom.

Amanda Hoffman, Mike Goudy, Julie Loeding, Katie Taylor, Matt Dunsbergen, Andy Hotek, Stacy Bandy, and Mary Cooksley participated in the 3-day learning opportunity. To call it valuable learning is an understatement. Some of the highlights included:

  • Building a Social Contract with students in your classroom
  • Steps for Personal Growth - we can't grow without FEEDBACK and ACCOUNTABILITY
  • Group/Classroom Stages - how security and fear drive our trust and group dynamics
  • Security takes time, Every Group is different, and groups do not grow by accident, they must be facilitated
  • Facilitator skills and activities and tools we can use
  • EXCEL - Engage, Explore, Communicate, Empower and Launch
  • SOLER - Square-Up, Open Posture, Lean In, Eye Contact, and Respond - good listening is not giving advice!
  • How important affirmations and positive feedback is to building and maintaining a team or relationship
  • Use of open-ended questions to increase rigor and independent thinkers
  • How to hand misbehavior or "naughtiness" by asking 4 questions - What are you doing? What are you supposed to be doing? Are you doing that? and What are you going to do about it?
  • Expected Behavior Becomes Culture - that is powerful!!!
  • Ways that build meaningful relationships

We learned a lot and got to practice the skills as well. If you want to know more about Capturing Kids Hearts, either ask someone who attended, or check out this website:

Below is pictured our group in addition to Kathy Smith (William Penn instructor - in pink) and our facilitator Karen Bowles - pictured to the left of Matt

Beyond the Book Report - Ten Alternative Assessments

It is my belief we should not see simple book reports after the 3rd Grade. What other assessments might you give students. Check them out!

This selection of activities is also intended to meet the needs of different kinds of learners -- or to contribute to the development of skills beyond writing. I often allowed students choice in deciding how they wanted to respond to a book -- they could choose from a list like the one below.

1. The Graphic Novel: Students draw scenes from a selected part of the book-perhaps a scene that represents the beginning, middle and end if you're working on understanding chronology; or three scenes that depict how the main character changed. If the book is rich in setting, then asking them to illustrate where the story takes place can also be revealing. Drawing will help students remember or find details. Then you can also ask them to highlight or copy the textual evidence for their illustrations.

2. An Alternative Ending: Asking students to create an alternative ending to a book -- one that makes sense -- pushes them to really demonstrate an understanding of characters and plot. What makes a gripping novel is often that you don't know what's going to happen in the end. Asking students to diverge from but build on a writer's style is very hard -- and an exciting challenge for skilled readers.

3. A Sequel: Sequels are also fun for kids to write. How many of us have reached the end of a book and wanted more? This gives them an opportunity to predict what would happen next. It's also challenging because a sequel has to make sense; there must be a continuity of some elements of theme and plot. If there are other students who have read the same book, they can be the judges -- is this sequel believable? Students can write a few pages, a short chapter, or a whole book.

4. Diary of a Character: What might Professor Snape (of Harry Potter) have written in his diary? Students can select a character and compose a few pages -- or many pages -- of a diary. For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid they can emulate that author's style and include illustrations. Such an assignment reveals a student's understanding of the character and the genre of the personal narrative.

5. A Monologue: What might a major or minor character want to say? How might they say it? Students can take this in many directions. Again, this is another way for a student to communicate how she understands a character, as well as to practice speaking skills.

Continued Further in this Newsletter ---

April Professional Development - Busy Much!!??

April 4th - 1:1 Conference in Des Moines
April 8th and 9th - aimsweb training at CO
April 10th and 11th - Iowa ASCD Leadership Academy - RtI workshop in Johnston
April 22nd - SINA meeting at AEA in Ottumwa
April 22nd - Scott McCleod and Getting to Deeper Learning in Storm Lake
April 24th - Standards-Based Grading Workshop in Cedar Rapids
April 29th and 30th - Early Childhood LETRS training in Ottumwa

Characteristics of Effective Instruction

In the March edition of magazine, Jon Orech listed 5 EDUCON Takeaways to remember. See if you can see the connection to the CEI in each reminder.

  1. Teachers must embrace (not just accept) relinquishing control to students.
  2. We must redefine "achievement" and seek alternative methods of assessment
  3. It's all about design - "teach students how to solve a problem instead of doing a worksheet"
  4. Inquiry, Inquiry, Inquiry
  5. Building Community

March DLT Update

DLT met on March 5th
  1. Reviewed our norms
  2. Reminders about the upcoming RtI conference
  3. Speakers - Angelisa and Sharma from the AEA - they presented information about RtI and challenged our current practice and future decisions. Angelisa is going to be our Critical Best Friend as we continue on our RtI Journey
  4. Alexis Shipman presented to the board!
  5. Next Meeting is April 2nd

PLC Extended Focus in April

April 3rd - Extended PLC
April 10th - Extended Vertical/Grade Level Teams
April 17th - Extended PLC
April 24th - Extended Building

PLC to Watch in April - ART!!!

K-12 Art PLC

K-5 SMART Goal
By the end of 3rd Grade, students will demonstrate with 80% accuracy mastery of basic color knowledge as measured by the 3rd Color Review Test.

100% of students in Art 8 will earn a 2 or higher on Grade Level Benchmark reporting.

By the end of the Trimester ALL art students will be able to demonstrate proficiency of an 80% in using appropriate vocabulary in assessing the merits of their work and that of others as measured by a rubric.

  • Be on time.
  • Respect everyone’s voice.
  • Come prepared.
  • Sustain energy levels with nourishment

The Art PLC has proven itself to be a cohesive group with the goal of making the Art Program strong and successful in Oskaloosa. When you see them, thank them for all they do for students!!

Six Strategies to Motivate All Students To Participate

Do you have students who rarely raise their hand when you ask a question? Do the same students who raise their hands also get to answer the question each time?

Some of our students sit quietly through each lesson never hearing their voice in a positive manner or be visibly disengaged. Maybe they don't understand the lesson, are embarrassed, or just wait us out for us to give the answer or wait for another peer to share.

I often visit classrooms where I see teachers employ lots of Q+A. Asking questions and calling on raised hands is one way to check for understanding. But Q+A doesn't access 100% of our kids. How can we get our least vocal students, or even our student with her head down in the back of our class, participating? While cold calling, randomizers or pulling a Popsicle stick will ensure students are equally called upon, some students find that approach frightening or annoying. Below are strategies you can try in your class tomorrow that will motivate reluctant learners to participate.

1. Three Seconds

According to researcher Mary Budd Rowe, the average teacher waits 1.5 seconds between asking a question and calling on a student. By increasing the wait time to a mere three seconds, the following occurs:

  • Accuracy increases
  • "I don’t know" decreases
  • Student responses get longer
  • Achievement on tests increases
  • More students participate

Literally count at least three Mississippis in your head after asking each question.

2. Hand Out Questions in Advance

Pre-plan a few questions that you want to ask (Saphier and Haley, 1993), write them on slips, and hand each student one question at the beginning of class. Once it’s time to ask the question, reach out first to the kids who had the question, then to the rest of the class. Try dividing the class into the groups whose members had the same question so that they have a chance to chat first before sharing out.

3. Anonymous Questioning

Companies like Socrative and Infuse Learning have designed software to check for understanding that can be accessed via smartphone, tablet or laptop. You can incorporate all types of questions from multiple-choice to short answers, and responses can be anonymously represented via graph. You can then make informed decisions with rapid, real-time data. Kids love it because they get to use technology, feel safe and get immediate feedback.

4. Choice Questions

It's important to incorporate questions that have more than one right answer, but broad, open-ended questions can be debilitating. Try incorporating some choices or either/or questions.

  • Instead of asking, "How are you going to solve today's equation?", try "Would you rather use the simplify or guess-and-check method for today's equation?"
  • Instead of asking, "Which character exemplifies what it means to be a friend?", try "Would Charlotte or Wilbur make a better friend? Why?"

5. Snowball to Avalanche

In Reading Without Limits, a good example is given. Have a really debatable question? Start the discussion. When a student answers, they become a "snowflake." As students agree with the original student, they move their bodies closer to that student to "build on that snowflake,"’ making a snowball. If you choose a great question, there should be several snowballs throughout the room that eventually, if one side is more convincing, turn into an avalanche. Kids will love showing allegiance to their classmates' ideas. And they can definitely change their minds. As kids show their allegiance, call on different kids to share out why they are taking that particular stand.

6. Estimation Line-Ups

Ask kids a question that has a numerical response based on a sliding scale (Kagan, 1994). Place a number line around your classroom walls. Students stand under their number/answer preparing to share why. Fold the line in half so the students who most strongly disagreed with each other now chat before sharing out to the whole class.

  • "Our scientific hypothesis is that a plant will grow more near the window than in the closet. How many more inches do you think the plant near the window will grow compared to the one in the closet?"
  • "On a scale of 1-5, 5 being 'strongly agree,' 1 being 'strongly disagree,' should Jack and the boys take Piggy's glasses?"

Traditional Q+A don't help us access all of our learners. The above strategies increase participation in classrooms, give more opportunity to check and support understanding. Getting all of our students to develop the confidence and comfort to participate makes a classroom a true learning community that values all, not just some students' thoughts.

Scan the above QR Code and Tell Me the Location - You May Win a Prize!!!

PLC Institute this Summer - Strengthen Your PLC At Work

Do you want to learn more about PLC's? Do you want to make your PLC stronger?

If you answered yes, your team might want to attend the PLC Institute in Minneapolis July 8-10. Please let Dr. Cooksley know if your PLC is interested in attending.

Or maybe you just want to read the latest book by DuFour and PLC At Work associates: Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLC's at Work" by Richard DuFour and Michael Fullan. If you would like me to order this book for your PLC, let me know.

REMINDER: Social Studies Resource Purchase Orders Due April 1st!!!

Spring MAP Assessments

Spring MAP Window = April 15th - May 10th!

Think about goal setting with your students prior to the test window

Needs Assessment for Teachers, Students and Parents

You will be receiving an e-mail with a link to complete this year's Needs Assessment Survey - please take the few minutes it takes to complete it! The window will be April 8th - 13th.

10 Assessments (continued)

6. The Talk Show: When several students read the same book, they can put on a talk show for the class with each student representing a different character. The "host" prepares a list of questions to ask each guest, pushing the student to develop higher level thinking questions such as "Can you explain why you...?" or "What regrets do you have about..." Again, as you (the teacher) listen, you can assess how well each student understood the book.

7. Letter to the Author: If a book really moved a student, he might be interested in writing a letter to the author. There might be more information he'd like ("Did any of this really happen to you?") or he might want to share his reflections and thoughts about the book. It's no uncommon for authors to respond -- and that's a thrilling experience for a kid. This kind of assignment helps you assess how a student connected with a book and responded to it.

8. Review for Peers: This could be done in writing (and posted online somewhere including or it could be shared verbally with a class. This is a way for students to practice persuasive writing and to share their opinions.

9. A New Cover: Creating a different cover for the book is a great project for artistic students. They might use traditional mediums -- paper, markers, and so on, or those with the skills and resources could create one using digital tools. This assignment is really a persuasive one: we all judge books by their covers, so how can students communicate their thoughts and feelings about a book through an image?

10. A Reading Guide: At the end of some novels there are a set of questions that are designed for a book club to use in discussion. This is a challenging project, but one that some readers love because it allows them to direct the conversations of others. In order to formulate good questions, they are required to have a deep understanding of the book. This activity is also great if you have book clubs or literature circles as students can provide their peers with this guide.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of alternatives to book reports, but I hope it's spurred some thinking about how to get students to respond to books they read.

What alternatives to book reports have you offered students? What would you like to try? Share with us in the comments' section below.

Fish Philosophy

How many of you remember or know about the Fish Philosophy. While attending the Capturing Kids Hearts I was reminded of this....
  • Choose Your Attitude
  • Make Their Day
  • Play
  • Be There

How do you live your life? If you want more information about the Fish Philosophy, go to:

April Quote:

"Here is the brutal fact: The most common reason for failure to close the knowing-doing gap is not conflict with others, but conflict from within. We fail to do what we recognize we should do simply because it is easier to continue an unquestionably ineffective or bad practice than it is to adopt a new one".

No Curriculum Team Meetings in April!

The schedule for Curriculum Team work for the 2013-2014 school year will be sent out in May in preparation for next school year.