Friday, October 26, 2012

Common Core State Standards for ALL Students

The COMMON in Common Core State Standards is not just referring to the fact that the majority of states in the US have adopted these standards for Math and English Language Arts.  Here in Ohio, where Ohio's New Learning Standards include not just the CCSS but also new standards in Science, Social Studies, Fine Arts, Business, Physical Education, Foreign Language and more, the expectation is that COMMON means for all students in all districts.   That's right, ALL students, no matter what their ability level, grade level, economic background, ethnic background or primary language.   The challenge for teachers is not only how to implement the new standards effectively ,focusing on text complexity, depth of learning, mastery of content, vocabulary development, fluency etc. but also making sure that all students are "stretched" as learners and show growth over a year. Wow.  In order to differentiate learning within a classroom to meet the needs of all students, teachers will need to focus on three things - Complexity of Content, Delivery of Content, and Assessment of Learning. 

In any classroom, there will always be some students who could "take the test" on the first day of a unit, and pass it. Those students are showing mastery of grade level standards and need to be given opportunities to build deeper learning of the material.  As you design your lessons, consider how you can build "stretch" moments into the group discussions, small group activities and individual work.  Building deeper learning doesn't necessarily mean moving them forward along the continuum of learning for that particular standard - in other words, don't just give them work from the next grade level or your future units.  Instead, provide them with tasks that encourage them to learn and apply different strategies to solve a problem,  real world scenarios that require them to think about their knowledge differently or the chance to support peers.

On the other end of the learner spectrum are the students who are not able to begin working on the grade level mastery standard because they need additional supports, may be missing key pieces of knowledge, may be ELL or developmentally may not be ready to hit that " mastery" target.  Formative assessments are key to understanding where these students are in their learning.  As you design your lessons, consider how you can include "scaffolding" moments into the group discussions, small group activities and individual work.  Once you identify the starting point for learning for these students - you need to map out a path that will help them move toward success on the grade level standard.  They may need modified materials, extra "scoops" of instruction, different kinds of practice activities and the chance to learn from "think out -louds", peer modeling and model materials/manipulatives.

For that big group in the middle, you also need to map out their path to mastery of your grade level standards. Evidence Centered Design is a great starting point for thinking about lesson design. Start with the learning targets and identify what it is that students need to DO. Decide what you would be able to circle, highlight, point to or observe in their work that will show you  that they can DO it.  Now, focus on building a lesson or series of lessons that will get them to the point that they can DO it.  Consider  lesson pacing, how to include a variety of activities, how to provide effective modeling, when and how to insert feedback that helps them to move their learning forward, scaffolding, and how to build in chances to make connections to real world scenarios. Look for materials that offer grade appropriate text complexity and will help them to build understanding of key content vocabulary.

How do students build knowledge in your classroom?  During lessons that are teacher driven, are you providing written and oral directions?  Are your directions clear and easy to follow? Do you have consistent procedures in place in your classroom that help students transition from one activity to the next within the lesson.  Lessons that are student driven also need structure. What kind of lesson framework do you have in place that would allow students to anticipate what will happen during a lesson?  Are the resources that you are providing to the students appropriate for the rigor of the standard? Is there more than one way for them to access the material (think eBooks, audio books, hands-on materials, visual prompts) What are you doing to achieve a balance between teacher centered delivery of materials and student centered acquisition of knowledge (independent reading, computer research, group work, peer sharing)

"One size fits all" strategies for assessing progress towards mastering a standard won't work in our diverse classrooms.  Evidence Centered Design is a useful way to look at designing assessments. Take a look at the learning targets or objectives for your unit. Once you know WHAT a student needs to DO and have identified what this DOING looks like, you can build authentic assessments.  Think about what EVIDENCE you can collect to point back to the "DOING". Formative assessments might include simple "thumbs up or thumbs down" quick checks, entry and exit cards or keeping a checklist during group discussions or small group observations. Summative assessments may be computer based, may be portfolio or project based or may be adapted to offer students some choice in how they will be assessed.  Be flexible.  Some students may not be able share "what they know" in the same ways as the larger group.  Think about how these students CAN communicate, rather than focusing on the can't.  Utilize clickers, picture cues, computer aided communication, modeling and drawing instead of writing or offering a scribe as ways to help these students share their learning with you and their peers.   For some students with Severe Cognitive Disabilities, you may be assessing them along a grade band of standards or by using the "essence" of the standard. ( See - Ohio Academic Content Standards - extended)

As our state shifts to using the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) teachers must become more attuned to making sure all students are showing growth.  By planning  how we are differentiating by complexity, delivery and assessment, we can make sure to meet the needs of all our students.
Evidence Centered Design
This is the process that PARCC is using to design the Next Generation Assessments for Math and ELA.  It starts with "CLAIMS" - very broad statements about what learners should be able to do.  From the claims - Teachers can identify "what can be circled, highlighted, pointed to, listened for, demonstrated" that show that the student is doing what the claim states. Then, teachers decide what EVIDENCE will be collected to prove this. Lesson plans can be developed that will make sure the students have the necessary learning opportunities to ultimately DO what the claim states.  In a classroom setting - the claims can be Learning Targets or Unit Objectives...or SLOs!


Ohio's Academic Content Standards - extended 
These were initially designed to be a guide for students who would be using the state Alternative Assessment, but the grade band vertical alignment, the essence of the standard (think enduring understandings) and the "continuum of complexity" also makes a great starting point for thinking about how to differentiate by complexity in a diverse classroom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Education Worth Fighting For - Keeping CCSS In Perspective

We are so fortunate to live in a country where a free, public, standards based education is available to anyone who wants it.  Common Core Standards are important. They will ensure that all students have access to an education that will prepare them for college or a career - no matter what district or state they live in. How awesome is it that the majority of states in our country are working together on the new standards- sharing resources and ideas. Sometimes I think we lose sight of that as we struggle with how to make the transition to the new standards, plan for how to prepare students for college and careers, debate teacher accountability, and argue over school funding. I know that sometimes I have felt overwhelmed with all of the changes, so I spent this evening putting things in perspective.

 I spent some time  looking at education articles on Google News - and found the story of Malala Yousafzi, a 14 year old Pakistani student who has advocated for the continued education of girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, in opposition to the Taliban policies being implemented there. She was shot today while on the school bus.  Last year, the New York Times did a documentary on her family while they were temporary refugees from their home during fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army in their community. Her main concern, that her father's school for girls and her books would be destroyed.  In the video she shares her dream to become a politician, so she can impact change in her country. She is in serious condition.

Just this past week I worked with one of our 5th grade ELA teachers on ideas for teaching the book, The Breadwinner to as student who is ELL and speaks Spanish. The book tells the story of Parvana, a young girl who live in Kabul and must deal with bombings, the loss of family members and the need to work around Taliban restrictions to earn money for her family. Parvana has also lost her access to education.  Parvana reminds me of my former student, Mina, a refugee from Iraq who could not attend school while a refugee in Jordan because her academic records were lost in Iraq.  As a HS senior here, she struggled with learning English while maintaining a full course load and taking the OGT. Sometimes she worked on homework until 3:00am.  She is now a student at TriC.  Her main focus, the need to finish her education so that she can become a pharmaceutical engineer.

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture by William Kamkwamba, the author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. As a child in Malawi, he was forced to drop out of his school because ongoing drought and crop failure prevented his family from paying his $80 a year tuition for his school.  Forced to continue his education on his own, he finds an English book on electricity at the small library in his village.  Using the book, he teaches himself how to build a windmill to generate electricity for his small home. He builds the windmill from discarded materials. He makes enough electricity to run a light bulb and charge a cell phone.  Reporters visiting his village discover his windmill, and from that exposure he now has access to a university education here in the US.

As teachers, we need to remember that in our school, in our community, in our state, in our country and across the world, students struggle everyday just to attend school. They are overcoming hunger, lack of supplies, lack of access to books, financial hardship, homelessness, inadequate buildings and social restrictions to pursue an education.  What are we doing in our classrooms to ensure that all of our students have access to the same quality education? How can we work through our own discomfort with change to make sure that we are ready to implement Ohio's New Learning Standards by 2014-2015?

My next blog will focus on Ohio's Academic Content Standards - Extended -- How we can identify appropriate access points to Ohio's New Learning Standards for all of our students.

New York Times Documentary on Malala Yousafzi - (warning -some graphic images)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba
The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis
CIA World Factbook - School Life Expectancy Data (how long a student can expect to be in school)
Unicef - Gender Equity In Education
World Bank - Access to Secondary Education Worldwide