Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PLC Discussion - In Pursuit of Academic Excellence

Part of our weekly PLC sessions in our district are spent discussing what needs to occur in our classrooms as we promote and increase rigor and opportunity.  Today we discussed point # 1.  
(This post is co-authored with Toni Olivieri-Barton)

Effective teachers know that they can influence student learning by a relentless pursuit of  academic excellence.
Researchers agree that the following are examples of what we can do in our classrooms in pursuit of academic excellence.
  • Expectations are clear for students and parents.
  • Prior to students beginning an assignment, teachers supply students with exemplars of high quality work that meet the performance standard or level.
  • Students know what high-quality work should be like.
  • Students revise their work based on meaningful feedback until they meet or exceed the performance standard or level.
So how are we doing?  This was the focus of today's discussion.

Expectations are clear for students and parents:  
  • Both the MS and HS Tech teachers keep a wiki open to the public.  This wiki contains a link to parent information which includes Essential Learnings (ELs) and Indicators of Success (ISs) and the syllabus.
  • Students are familiar with these ELs and ISs per discussions in class as well as classroom activities.  Students are asked to reflect on assignments related to these EL's and IS's.
Prior to students beginning an assignment, teachers supply students with exemplars of high quality work that meet the performance standard level.
  • We are trying to include an exemplar and a grading checklist for all assignments.  This checklist is posted as a link on the wiki assignment page and provides students with a clear set of expectations and requirements for each assignment.  Individual assignments are to be reviewed first by the student prior to submitting on their blog for grading.  
Students know what high quality work looks like.
  • Teacher/Student interaction provides direction toward achieving high quality work.  By continual monitoring of student progress we can transition them to high quality work.
  • By providing and revisiting exemplars and comparing them to their work, students will begin to identify characteristics of high quality work and incorporate these into their own work.
Students revise their work based on meaningful feedback until they meet or exceed the performance standard or level.
  • Because of the way we have changed our teaching (more emphasis on student centered learning) this opens up the opportunities to work one on one with students on a daily basis.  These interactions allow for personal, meaningful, feedback related to student work.
Curriculum is aligned with high standards
  • Our curriculum is aligned with the most recent National Educational Technology Standards (NETS Standards.)  During our evaluation of standards our department crafted essential learnings and indicators of success that target the high standards of NETS.  These ELs and ISs provide a vision for what students know and are able to do.
  • We are working to actively link every project or assessment we use back to our ELs.
Next week:  Effective teachers emphasize reading and non-fiction writing in every assessment.
More discussion to come.  We welcome any comments.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Letting Go of Being In Charge

I keep waiting for the dam to break on my latest venture in public education - allowing students to design their own learning.  Over the past few years I've read article after article about classrooms where kids choose and design their learning targets and goals in a subject they are interested in studying at a more advanced level.  And, I've always dismissed the idea because, frankly, the idea freaked me out.  I could envision a classroom of chaos, with students wandering aimlessly and essential learning targets being all but forgotten.

I've now made a 180 degree shift in my thinking and the results are incredible!

When my class roster included over 30 students who had already taken the grade level Tech classes previously offered I was forced to come up with something different to accommodate these students and provide them with meaningful learning experiences.  Enter a student designed independent study program.

To prepare for this journey a few tracks of independent studies were developed to serve as models for students.  Students could either design a course from these tracks or develop their own track built upon interest.  A set of guidelines and a schedule of events were written to provide daily and weekly structure. And then, I did what I never thought I would do in a classroom - I turned the students loose.

You can hear a pin drop on the side of the room where the independent study students are busy learning, thinking, and problem solving.  They tell me 90 minutes isn't enough time and that they can't wait to return.  7th and 8th grade students are reading non-fiction purposefully.  When an article isn't good enough they move on to find one that meets their needs.  Students write up and evaluate their projects upon completion based on the essential learnings that are met and then publish these write-ups on their blogs for teacher assessment.  They comment on each other's work, share resources, keep a daily "schedule of events" and encourage success in each other.  And then, they learn.

I know there's some tweaking that needs to happen on the Independent Study design and tracks and I'm open to suggestions.  I'm also thankful my coworker decided to venture into this area of learning with me and is offering Independent Study at the high school level.  Together, we brainstorm, offer each other support, and marvel at the intensity of student work.

I keep wondering, had I the guts to do this while teaching Physical Science, would I have seen the same results without a 1:1 computer setting that I am so fortunate to have now.  The bottom line is student designed learning is positive.  And, so far, the dam is holding.