Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside the Box...Part 4

If you do a Google search for innovations in education, you will find articles on technology, classroom materials, classroom management, school design, and creative lesson planning. All of these innovations are dependent on teachers and adminstrators who have a vision of what education can become.  For true innovation to occur, teachers need to be Educators "Outside of the Box".   It is easy to talk the talk about wanting to try new lessons, new technology or new learning approaches in your classroom. It is much more difficult to actually walk the walk.  Sometimes teachers are our own worst enemies.  We let the fear of change stop us from trying something new. We worry about what other teachers or administrators will think of what we are doing. The end result is that we become Educators "Inside of the Box" by closing the door to our classrooms and keeping our innovative ideas to ourselves.

Here is the challenge that Stan Heffner has given to all of us, find ways to break out of the box.  Open your classroom doors.  Make it a priority to collaborate with colleagues.  Read education blogs. Join your content area association.  Talk about what is working in your classroom with your colleagues when you can - even if it is in the office before school, in the hallway between classes or over a lunch in the teacher's lounge.  Support your peers who are trying new ways of teaching, even if it is outside of your own comfort zone.  Focus on what you have control over - YOU! What can you start to do as a teacher to begin to be an innovator?

Part 4  Innovative Ways to Approach Teaching

Marilyn Friend is an authority on effective co-teaching.  She describes true co-teaching as a partnership between a content specialist and a differentiation specialist.  The role of the content specialist is to focus on the content area material for the class, share information on what a "typical" student should be able to do as a learner in the class and work on the pacing for the "typical" students.  The differentiation specialist focuses on helping the content specialist adjust the content for a wide range of learners, provides ideas for alternative ways to teach the content and helps the content specialist understand the pacing for students at either end of the learning spectrum.  All students benefit from this partnership and both teachers in the partnership should be able to learn from each other.

Teachers who act as facilitators of learning in their classrooms focus on formative instructional practices. They regularly assess their students learning and collect data that helps them to plan instruction and learning opportunities.   Facilitators use a variety of technology and other lesson resources to help students acquire new knowledge, apply the knowledge and demonstrate their understanding.  Facilitators encourage collaboration and help student groups work effectively together.
Brain Based Learning
Innovations in the field of brain studies have allowed us to gain new insights into how the brain learns new information, accesses old information and makes connections to form new ideas.  The research has been applied to a variety of education topics including how the brain learns math and how the brain learns to read.
Marzano Strategies for Effective Teaching (the Marzano 9)
Marzano is one of the leaders in teaching reform. His focused research on the 9 strategies that a teacher can use that have the largest impact on student learning is a good starting point for a teacher who wants to have a framework to build innovative teaching strategies around.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside the Box...Part 3

Over the past two weeks I have shared ideas for using your classroom time and materials in innovative ways. But, if we really want to embrace Stan Heffner's challenge to be Education Innovators, we need to be willing to also look at innovative ways to grade our students.   Grading is the elephant in the faculty lounge. Occasionally teachers will take up the topic for discussion, but examining our grading practices and how effective they are can quickly become a heated debate.  I have been involved in long discussions on the impact of giving a student a "zero" rather than an 59% on an assignment.  Schools all have agreed upon grading scales, but there are many ways teachers approach their classrom grading policy.   Traditional letter grades and point systems do not always help students to monitor their learning.   I came to this understanding after hearing over and over statements like "She gave me a B" or "How many points is this worth"   Grades should not be perceived as something the teacher is "bestowing" on a student.  This allows students to be disconnected from the quality of the work that they complete in a class, since their perspective is that what they do has no real bearing on what grade they will receive. A letter grade or points alone does not always provide  specific feedback to help students adjust their learning goals or make corrections.   The second statement is also tied to the quality of the work students are willing to do for a class. By asking how many points it is worth, often what they really mean is how much time and thinking do I need to put into this assignment.  Formative assessments  add another dimension to the discussion about what to do with traditional grading practices.  Should students be graded on practice work or only mastery work? How can a rubric grading system fit into a traditional letter grade structure?  Are you ready to begin the grade discussion? 

Part 3 Using Innovative Classroom Grading- finding new ways to think about evaluating students.
Guiding Questions for Beginning Discussions About Grading

The following questions help ensure that grading practices are productive for all
students. (from Carol Ann Tomlinson.  Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation. EdLeadership, Sept. 2000.)

  • How do learners benefit from a grading system that reminds everyone that students with disabilities or who speak English as a second language do not perform as well as students without disabilities or for whom English is their native tongue?  
  • What do we gain by telling our most able learners that they are "excellent" on the basis of a standard that requires modest effort, calls for no intellectual risk, necessitates no persistence, and demands that they develop few academic coping skills?  
  • In what ways do our current grading practices motivate struggling or advanced learners to persist in the face of difficulty?  
  • Is there an opportunity for struggling learners to encounter excellence in our current grading practices?  
  • Is there an opportunity for advanced learners to encounter struggle in our current grading practices?  

Alternative Grading Resources and Articles To Get You Thinking
  • Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading -  Measures student proficiency or mastery of standards based learning targets.
  • Using Grade Contracts is another alternative grading practice.  The teacher works with the students to define quality work and helps them to identify learning targets they will be working on mastering each quarter. Students commit to doing a certain level of work.  This is defined on a rubric (see an explanation of a grade contract(ppt) I used in MS/HS science)  The rubric based grade can be converted to fit into a traditional grading scale ( a "4" or challenge level work can be the equivalent of an "A")  No student is allowed to contract for a grade lower than the basic level work - this is the minimum required level of learning or work toward a learning target.  All class work is considered part of the grade contract. No class work is given a point value.  The teacher does differentiate the work and may provide examples or definitions of what the finished work might look like at each contract level.  See an example of a grade contract from my MS science class.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside the Box...Part 2

The New Year brings with it the need to start fresh, make some resolutions and, in my case, the need to stop eating leftover Christmas cookies and get back to excercising!  January also brings the end of the first semester of school in most districts. This is a great opportunity to step back and reflect on how the year is going so far.  What new lesson ideas have you wanted try?  How are you doing on using formative assessment strategies in your classroom?  What technology skills have you been able to integrate into your teaching? 

In my last post, I took up the challenge being put forward by our State Superintendent, Stan Heffner, to think outside the box.  Part 1 focused on changing the way we think about the use of time in a traditional classroom. Now let's take a look at what "out of the box" classroom materials are available to us.

Part 2 Using Innovative Classroom Materials - finding new ways to think about lessons.

Google Apps   Gone are the days when you need to carry home bags of papers to be graded and commented on.  With Google Docs, teachers and students can now collaborate in real time on documents, presentations and spreadsheets.  Students can use the revision history tool to see their past edits. Teachers can focus on specific areas for improvement by using immediate feedback. No more email, no more jump drives and no more lost papers.  Google apps tools also include a calendar, which can also be shared or published for others to view, video uploads, audio recording, a survey tool, and a blog tool - which is what I use to publish this blog!  Teachers and students in Bay all have access to a Google Apps account. Click HERE for directions on how to use Google Apps.   Textbooks no longer need to be expensive or one size fits all. is an open source project that is providing high quality content created by educators to anyone who would like to use it.  The innovative concept is the ability to "customize" the content of the textbook you want to use by re-organizing the chapters, pulling in chapters from other books or creating a unique book using chapters from lots of different books to fit your lessons.  Accounts are free. Students can view the book online, as a pdf or even download it to an e-reader.  Teachers guides are available for many of the books as well.  The majority of the texts are math and science, but there are a few English, Social Studies and SAT prep books as well.  Click HERE to view a custom text I created for a unit on HS Evolutionary Biology   As more students have access to the internet from school, home and their personal devices, they can take advantage of web based interactive tools, manipulatives and  lessons. is a k-12 resource site that hosts educational resources from 7 content partners including National Geographic, The Smithsonian, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the National Councils of Teachers of English and Math.  The site is searchable by topic, grade level and type of resource.  You can find interactive activities for students to do individually or as a group on an interactive board HERE. homepage is a great place to start if you are looking for new lesson ideas, primary source materials or student resources like maps and charts. Another great place to find standards based lesson ideas is the Ohio Resource Center.   This website was designed by the George Lucas Foundation to encourage and support out of the box thinking in k-12 education.  I like to go to this site to read about how other teachers are using technology in unique and effective ways.  The site also contains videos to watch, a series of blogs by outstanding educators, ideas for Project Based teaching and formative assessments.  You can subscribe to their weekly newsletter or follow the site using an RSS feed.