Friday, February 27, 2009

Public or Private?

I don’t know about you but I am tired of the perception that private is always more rigorous or better.  I’ve worked in a parochial school environment before and always accounted the success of the students to the supportive school environment and engaged parents.  The teachers I worked with were dedicated hardworking individuals that were barely getting paid a living wage, but I always felt something was missing.  Perhaps it was professional development?

A recent study from the University of Illinois might have the answer.  Science Daily reports that public schools are beginning to score higher on NAEP testing that private schools.  The authors of the study suggest that private schools have fallen behind in Professional Development and up to date curriculum.  Another interesting read….

Art and Science of Teaching

We’ve all read or at least perused Marzano’s Classroom Instruction that Works.  Did you know there is a second book in the series called the Art and Science of Teaching.  The goal of each book is to look at the research and see what classroom practices really can be attributed to increased learning/higher achievement.

ASCD is doing an interesting series right now.  Dina Strasser, a 7th grade English teacher, is reading and blogging about the book one chapter at a time.  Robert Marzano then reads and responds to her post on what she has written. 

Should prove to be a valuable learning opportunity.  Marzano has already said that teachers need to take into account their own experiences before jumping on any bangwagon.  The teacher has to be the filter.

I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting started with a Feed Reader

Ready learn more about feed readers?  You've come to the right place!

If you have a Google account you have access to Google reader.  Here is the Google Reader tutorial and a brief overview video:

I've always used Bloglines simply because that is where I started.  If I were starting today I would use Google Reader.  However, Bloglines is very easy to use.

Here is a very nice tutorial on getting Bloglines setup.

No stress here...remember you are just signing up for an online've done this before.

More help for Bloglines and the concept of RSS feeds can found at this video made by Teachers 2.0.  I could create the same thing....but another teacher has already done it for you.

Getting started with Blogger

Like other Google services they provide excellent online help for getting started with Blogger.

Some of you noticed that my email addresses displayed while I was working from the blog today during class.  That surprised me as well so I had to look at it.  Turns out that only showed because I was logged into my iGoogle account at the same time.  If someone else was visiting the blog they would not see that address.

If you prefer video tutorials you can check out the Blogger channel at YouTube:

Class 1: Debrief/Review

Okay, our first “sort of” class meeting turned into a full blown class.  I had no intention of people staying that long but I think the discussion was a good one.

Let’s review what we talked about and agree to do.

1)     1)  We decided that it was okay to learn about new technologies in order to find new ways to raise achievement.  We decided that we would not fill out the SMART goals sheet at least at this point.  Raising achievement (ie student learning) remains our ultimate goal, but it is too early in the class to lock in to a target yet.

2)    2) Please read the Bill Ferriter article that I posted on the blog called Learning with Blogs and Wikis.  The article should help you better understand how you can harness online PD. 

3)    3) If after reading the Bill Ferriter article you feel ambitious and are ready to start with a blog and/or Google Reader or Bloglines then please proceed.  I have faith that you can figure it out.

4)    4) If you don’t have any luck with that or would like to wait for a group effort or catch me at school or just want to wait until the next class that is fine too.  At the next class I will show you how to get a feed reader account, find good feeds, and subscribe to those feeds.

5)    5)  I am a believer in online PD.  I get about 2 hours each Saturday morning looking through the feeds I read.  It is one of the highlights of my week.  I have never given the assignment for people to write blogs and follow other blogs.  I am also asking for some additional reading to be done.  I couldn’t “gauge” the class reaction to this assignment earlier tonight.  I hope we can give this assignment a try as I think it has great value.  We can feel our way through it and I will adjust as necessary.  I think the best place to start is simply to ask yourself….what do I want to learn more about? 

I feel so lucky to work with all of you and look forward to working our way through this class together.  As always please feel free to email or call me.

Tech Class Schedule

We've had to tinker around with the class schedule. My apologies for that and thanks for your ongoing flexibility.

Today's class (2.26.09) will count towards our Ashland hours....remember we need to have about 13 contact hours.

Here is the rest of the schedule. Please note we have no class on March 3rd. We also moved the Saturday class from May 9th to May 16th as someone had a conflict with that date. I understand that as we roll into spring and warmer weather we may have more time conflicts. I'm confident we can work thru them.

Here is the schedule as it now stands:

Tech Tools Meeting Schedule

  1. (Thursday, February 26th, 4-5:30)
  2. Tuesday, March 17th, 4-5:30
  3. Tuesday, Mach 31st, 4-5:30
  4. Tuesday, April 7th, 4-5:30
  5. Thursday, April 23rd, 4-5:30
  6. Thursday, April 30th, 4-5:30
  7. Thursday, May 14th, 4-5:30
  8. Saturday, May 16th, 9-12

Your class plan of attack

The administration has asked that we specific your individual learning goals.

How will what we do impact the teaching and learning that takes place in the classrooms?
How will it target achievement?

I think using the SMART goal format would be well received.

I know we can be specific.

Making is measureable is a bit more of a challenge. Having something to measure in our relatively short amount of time is tough. But perhaps data collection can be built into your project. Let's talk about it.

The goal needs to be attainable. Small gains are real gains. Often small gains are realistic. Keep the plan realistic. We aren't asking for 100% proficiency. That kind of work will take at least until 2014. ;)

The plan needs to be reasonable. You need to be able to pull it off and the students need to have requisite skill set to achieve it as well.

Time bound….specify start and end of the process. When will we look at our numbers, check for growth at the of the process and ideally those results wrap us around to future teaching.

I've attached this template to help us think thru our plans. Ideally I would have an electronic copy of this template before you leave today.

Day 1 of Tech Tools class….

Well, sort of day 1.

In order for the administration to sign off on the class they want us to better define our individual learning goals for the class. Raising achievement is our ultimate goal so our learning goals need to aim for raising achievement. This is not to say our goals can’t involve new learning as well because that new learning may also lead to improved achievement.

Apologies to Laura Numeroff and her demanding mouse.

If you give a teacher a computer, they will want some software or tools. And once they have the tools they will want to learn how to use those tools. And once they know how to use those tools they will want to apply those tools to their classroom practice…their teaching. And once they see how the tools help them as a professional they will seek to learn how to use technology tools with their students. Once they see the students like learning the tools as well they will focus their efforts with technology to go beyond fun and aim for enhanced learning. Once the teacher sees how technology when done well engages the students they aim for incorporating more technology into their classroom and student projects for learning. And once realize new learnings are taking place they will want more computers for the kids to use and newer and better tools as well. And chances are if they have those tools they will want to learn more about them.

PD is sometimes a touchy subject….who decides who gets to learn what. Does the teacher choose what she/he wants/needs to learn or is it the school district? Well, I would have to say both. However, if there is a disconnect between what a teacher wants/needs to learn and what the district is offering the teacher needs to accept what is offered at the district level and then reach out for what they need elsewhere. In our district it is not the quality of PD, but the quantity.

As Richard Elmore said in his influential report for the Shanker institute Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement: The Imperative for Professional Development in Education:

With increased accountability, American schools and the people who work in them are being asked to do something new – engage in systematic, continuous improvement in the quality of the educational experience of students and to subject themselves to the discipline of measuring their success by the metric of students’ academic performance. Most people who currently work in public schools weren’t hired to do this work, nor have they been adequately prepared to do it either by their professional education or by their prior experience in schools. (p. 3)

Accountability must be a reciprocal process. For every increment of performance I demand of you, I have an equal responsibility to provide you with the capacity to meet that expectation. Likewise, for every investment you make in my skill and knowledge, I have a reciprocal responsibility to demonstrate some new increment in performance. (p.4)

Sadly we are limited to 2 half days of PD. Some staff meetings can be considered PD, but even with that additional time I would say our “quid pro quo” or “reciprocity of accountability for capacity” arrangement are out of balance.

That leaves you with a few choices.
1) You could just chug along and do what you do. Perhaps what you've always done.
2) You could complain.
3) Or you could do something about it. Reach out and learn something about it.

In our class we will choose the 3rd option as an ongoing assignment. I hope the length of the class allows you to start the habits of seeking external PD on a regular basis.

Bill Ferriter has written an excellent piece in the current issue of Educational Leadership about how educators can fill the gap in PD. Don’t wait for it, go get it.

To those ends we have an ongoing assignment in this class. You will start a blog using the platform of your choice. There are several options. I would recommend Blogger simply because that is the tool I use and the tool I can most easily support.

You will also register for an RSS reader. Once again, your choice. I use Bloglines, but am always considering moving to Google Reader. If you don’t have a Google account, by all means get one. There is just too much good stuff you are missing out on.

Now that you have a blog and a reader I am going to ask you to become a Web 2.0 reader and writer. Each week I want you to post at least three times related to your new learnings.

Three times he says, that is too much. Keep in mind that a post can be short. The writing can be thinking in text…sharing your thoughts.

1) One post will be related to your progress on your project.
2) A second post will be sharing something you read online that you found interesting. Perhaps something related to your project or maybe something you can tuck away for later use or just something about today’s learners.
3) The third post will be about some professional learning you are doing. This can be sharing an article you read in a professional magazine or something in a current book you are reading. In some ways a magazine or journal is best because you can change topics with each article. However, there is the finding of worthy articles. Perhaps a book is easier, because you like to go more in depth. Either way I want you to share your thoughts as you read. It can be as simple as sharing a line or lines in the book and then sharing your reaction. The rest of us will be reading each other’s posts in our feedreaders and hopefully responding to each other.

For magazines I would highly recommend Educational Leadership, Edutopia, Phi Delta Kappan, The Reading Teacher, Teaching Children Mathematics, etc. Don’t have a subscription? No worries, many of these titles are available electronically just by using InfOhio or your library card. Don’t lock yourself into one title, you can search by subject via the journal databases online.

What about books? So many good ones out there. Scott McLeod (a good blog to subscribe to) has a list of books he recommends under different subjects at

Any of the books on that list would be great. I have read a few of them and would highly recommend Made to Stick. It is not teacher book, but a teacher could take away a great deal from it. I recently finished Results Now and it was pretty hard on schools and the way we work, but it provides great, useful ideas on how to raise achievement.

Other books you might want to consider include:
Of course you may have your own professional book that has been sitting on your desk, nightstand, or shelf that you’ve been wanting to read. If it is a book that will help your teaching and efforts towards raising achievement I think it would work well.

Me, I’m reading The Game of School and Readicide.

Pardon the interruption in our class schedule

As I emailed yesterday we are delaying the class in order for the administration to have further input into the design of the class. Would this happen with other graduate classes? No, I don’t think that it would.

But I understand where the administration is coming from on this one. Year after year the district pays out money to reimburse PD without knowing exactly what the result of the class will be….don’t even think about knowing whether the class will impact achievement of not. It would be hard to measure….too many variables.

Well, in the case of our class the district is trying to have its say on the content of our course. I applaud them for that. I want input on making the class valuable for IH teachers.

I teach the class not because it is generally fun (which it is) or because I learn a lot during the class (which I do) but rather I teach the class because I think it has value for the teachers I work with. Specifically the teachers at the elementary school.

When I posted the class for the ES teachers (and not the other buildings) I was not trying to be exclusive. Instead I was aiming for responsible. Who am I to try to meet the learning needs of another building, another staff, teachers I don’t know as well, building goals and plans which I am not familiar with. I perceived that as overstepping my reach as the ES tech specialist. Unfortunately that is not how it was seen by others.

So we will back things up a bit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Effective PD says the research....

When I put together a workshop for teachers I try to make it as valuable as possible. The way I approach a workshop is always changing…hopefully for the better. My early tech workshops were all basically “how to”. “How to do this or that” type workshops. Although I still resort to this at times, the real meat has to be the “what now”. Now that you have the “how to do it/use” portion down then you need to take the step of using it with your students. This is the part of the workshop that is the most challenging and also has the most potential power.
The Feb issue of Educational Leadership was all about teaching learning…ie PD. So how do my workshops align with “best practice”?

Best PD is onsite
My workshops are in the district and in my own building. We have a great lab with reliable equipment so it just makes sense. It also makes sense for the teachers to be comfortable and not have to travel. Having access to your room resources and content materials is also very helpful.

Best PD is job embedded
I interpret this to mean that the PD directly impacts the work you do in the classroom and the goals you/we have set for our school and the teacher’s class. So ultimately our goal as a classroom teacher is for students to learn….or as the state would call it our job is to raise achievement. We are still working thru understanding the how/why of it but traditionally our kids score better on math than reading. So if raising reading achievement is a more pressing goal than we need to include raising reading achievement as part of our workshop/new learnings. I generally leave that up to the teacher to decide…but I want my teachers to focus their work on what will it mean for the students…not just making the workshop an addition to the teacher’s knowledge base. Nothing wrong with growing knowledge…but sadly there are gaps between “knowing and doing”.

Best PD is sustained
I cannot give myself a check on that one. Sadly most of my workshops are about a week in length. My typical workshop runs during the summer and teachers are highly focused on the content for a week. That is not sustained. However, this upcoming workshop will run from February to May. That is more sustained. I am looking forward to this model and hope the teachers and myself have the endurance to pull it off as we are all used to shorter classes. What sustained? Well, I want people to try to build in some new habits and that takes time. I hope to work with teachers on growing their own PLN during this course. Blogging and reading blogs doesn’t happen in a week. Sadly more workshop is spread out but it doesn’t hit what research says is the critical stat of effective PD being at least 14 hours in duration.

Best PD is active
Yes, by all means feel free to get up and stretch if I am talking too much. Hey, that happens to all teachers….I have lots of content to cover so get ready to absorb it. Although we know this doesn’t really work we still do it. We do it with our students and we do it when teaching other adults. Why? It allows us to convey large amounts of content. But perhaps we need to slow down and focus on what content is most important. The current class will be active not just because we will do our afternoon calisthenics but because the expectation will be that teachers try out some of these tools with the children. Another great reason to have a workshop during the school year.
Best PD is focused on student outcomes
Similar to job embedded comments but basically we want the PD to impact our students. We want them to grow in their skills, mastery, knowledge and abilities. And yes, we want them to get better test scores. That is not why we went into teaching, but it is a part of today’s educ. game. I dare you to take this test. Place a video camera in your class for an hour. Press play and record. The kids will eventually get over the camera being there. Now, after teaching, go back and see how many students were with you or sadly not. Technology engages and when we have engagement our likelihood of impacting those outcomes rises greatly. One of the most depressing stats I ever heard about my own class was the school psychologist compare one students level of engagement to that of the rest of the class. It really shakes your confidence to hear a chunk of your students weren’t even paying attention to the brilliant lesson you prepared. Chances are you were the most engaged person in the room. How do we change this? Put a computer, a great tool of engagement, into the hands of a student and figure out how to harness that engagement for your own learning/teaching purposes.
More on the class later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vacation is Over

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t blogged (in any substantive form) for more than a year. Main reason was because of a flip comment I made about a school practice that I thought was getting out of hand.
I learned my lesson on that one and even though I blog without identifying my school it wasn’t hard for someone to figure what school I was talking about. Okay, maybe it was easier than I thought it was. So bravo on the detective work. I try to teach my students that same research skills during the school year so it was good to see those same tools put to use.
The school practice in question still goes on largely unchanged. My attitude towards it has since changed….simply because I believe we do whatever we can to make learners take ownership of their learning….be it internal or external motivators. The “experts” will tell you it is best and most long lasting when the motivation comes from inside. However, a treat or status symbol such as the honor roll can also provide motivation for a child.
With that in mind I will go back to my blogging not because I feel I have anything earth shattering to share but because I need to keep practicing my writing by trying to put my thoughts in writing.