Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Give Yourself The Gift Of Learning

I am looking forward to having some days off over the winter break.  I have a stack of books that I can't wait to dive into that I have purchased while attending a number of conferences this fall. So often I am asked "What are you reading?" or "What do you think I should be reading?"   I am an eclectic reader.  I look for books that might deepen my own understanding of a group of students, or fill a gap in my content knowledge.  Sometimes I choose books because the author's point of view is far different from mine and I want to challenge my own thinking.  Occasionally I pick a book because the cover looks interesting!  Here are the books that are on my "time to read" list - and why I selected them.  Are any of them on your list? I would love to do mini book chats with those of you who are in my Professional Learning Network!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson    Poetry is a way to precisely communicate ideas. I am interested in hearing the voice of the author sharing her experiences as an African American girl growing up in the 60s and 70s.

Tasting the Sky - A Palestinian Childhood  by Ibtisam Barakat.   She spoke at NCTE and I was moved by her insistence that we learn how to pronounce her name - because her entire culture is mispronounced.

Teaching Science To English Language Learners - an NSTA publication  edited by Ann Roseberry and Beth Warren.   With the inclusion of specific language around English Learners in ESSA, I am interested in pushing my own understanding of what strategies are effective for working with students who are at varying levels of English language learning.  I taught inclusion science classes and worked with immigrant students.  I saw their frustration in not being able to communicate about content that they had some level of mastery around in their native language.  I have also found that at risk readers often benefit from the same strategies as English Learners.

Learning By Doing - A Handbook of Professional Learning Communities At Work by Richard and Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many.  I attended some of the first professional development workshops that the DuFours presented around the new concept of Professional Learning Communities.  This approach to peer collaboration has become one of the cornerstones of my own thinking about professional learning.  I am looking forward to reading the Second Edition of this book to refresh my own thinking about PLCs.

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  This book follows up my reading on A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.  As a science teacher, I thought a lot about how to get kids to ask researchable/actionable questions.  What I like about these two books is the emphasis on asking good questions as a component of close reading, mathematical thinking, and critical analysis.

The Edge of the World - A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe by Michael Pye.  I live in a lakeside community on the south shore of Lake Erie.  I watch freighters moving along the horizon and understand that our lake is connected to a much larger watershed.  It is interesting to read about how essential waterways have been in the development of European culture - and to think about what role the oceans continue to play in our global culture.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What I Learned About Differentiation from Cleveland's Sports Teams

Are you a Cleveland Indians fan? How about the Cleveland Browns? Cavs? Growing up in Cleveland, I have learned a lot about how to differentiate my instruction by being a fan of Cleveland sports.  The most important lesson? Give kids many opportunities to show you what they can do.  And, when they are not successful, focus on what they learned from the mistakes they made and plan for the next step in their learning.  Here are some other lessons for you to reflect on:

From the Cleveland Indians:

  • Be intentional about the order you call on students to share their strategies or their thinking. 
  • If you teach the same lesson the same way all the time, some students will connect with it, and others will continue to struggle.
  • Even the best students won't be successful every time they face a new lesson.  Recognize their strengths. Stretch their comfort zone. 
  • Pay attention to the data. When are students likely to knock their learning out of the park? When do they strike out? 
From the Cleveland Cavaliers:
  • Assists are an important part of any instruction. What supports have to be in place for a student to make sense of the learning?
  • Give students time to collaborate with others to build their knowledge or test out their strategies. Students are not as likely to be successful if they do all their learning on their own.  
  • Students have preferred learning environments, some may do better near the center of activity in the classroom, others may prefer to participate from the edges.  Think about what learning zones you might set up in your classroom. 

From the Cleveland Browns:
  • There are many ways to get students from their starting point to the end learning goal.  Make sure all of the students know the game plan.  Be aware of potential blocks to their progress.
  • How do you use all of your staff as a support network for your students? Who can act as a position coach focusing on specific skills or learning? 
  • Students need to work toward clear learning targets.  Progress monitoring along the way helps them see how far they have come in their learning - and what their next steps for learning will be. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to Gather Evidence of Positive Outcomes

I don't know about you, but there are times when I feel like I haven't made a bit of difference in my work.  As a leader, how do you gather evidence of outcomes?  I think by default, many of us look only for end results.  We want to see evidence of 100% buy-in of an idea or program.  We look for big shifts in thinking around a topic we have been advocating for.  When we don't see those obvious outcomes, we decide that our work didn't have an impact.

 A few weekends ago I had the chance to work with educators from across the country who are part of the Collaborative for Student Success Teacher Champion Fellowship.  Part of our work that weekend focused on gathering evidence of outcomes from our work.  We worked with a great team from Bellwether Education who helped us recognize 4 levels of outcomes connected to our work.  As I listened to their presentation I had one of those light bulb moments.  Evidence of impact has been all around me, I just wasn't paying attention to it!  Here are some ideas to help you be more mindful of the evidence of all levels of outcomes of your work - with parents, teachers or education leaders.  After looking at the outcome levels below, how might you think about evidence of your impact on student learning through the same 4 levels of outcomes?  How might you structure your formative assessment and instruction to allow you to collect evidence at each level?

Outcome Level 1 - Raised Awareness
Evidence of impact at this level might include sign-in sheets from presentations, push-back if your outcome might include making a shift in thinking or culture, interest in future discussions or collaboration, use of new terminology.

Outcome Level 2 - Learning 
Evidence of impact at this level might include emails asking for more information or posing follow-up questions, Professional Learning Communities or teacher teams discussing the shift or topic, PTA information nights, blog posts or twitter chats that include the shift or topic, requests for additional resources or examples.

Outcome Level 3 - Changing Behaviors/Attitudes
Evidence of impact at this level might include proposed changes in policy at the building, district or state level,  pilot projects, less push-back, shift in funding or budget to support additional professional development around the shift or topic, or purchase/design of new instructional materials.

Outcome Level 4 - Results
Evidence of impact at this level might include enacted policy changes, implementation of revised curriculum or instructional materials, regular use of terms in professional conversations, widespread acceptance of the shift or topic, shared ownership of the shift or topic.

Friday, July 1, 2016

How to Bring Instructional Shifts Into Practice - Focus on Complex Text


There are 6 key instructional shifts that are at the center of Ohio's Learning Standards for literacy and math.   Do you know them? Could you identify them if you saw them in action in classrooms?  What do students sound like, write like, reason like if they are learning standards through these shifts?

As you read through my reflection on this shift, think about your own classroom, building or district.  What does this shift look like and sound like?  What actionable step might you take that might have a direct impact on student learning? How will you share what you have done with your colleagues?

Literacy Shift 1 : Regular Practice With Complex Text And Its Academic Language.

Key resource: Understanding Text Complexity (

Complexity is determined holistically by looking at these three features of the text:
  • Quantitative Measure 
    • What is the academic & content vocabulary demand of the text? 
  • Qualitative Analysis 
    • What is the structure of the text?
    • What is the language demand?
    • What prior knowledge of content or culture does the text demand? 
  • Matching Reader and Task 
    • How is the text to be used by the reader? 
    • What is the purpose for reading/listening to the text?

There are a number of tools that can help you to look at the Quantitative Measure of the texts you are using in your classroom. Teachers who are mindful of vocabulary demand will Close Read texts prior to assigning them to students to look for words that may need to be pre-taught, words that may be used uniquely in the context, or words that are keys to a student's ability to unlock the content of the text.  Students might use Frayor Models to help construct meaning for key words.  Interactive word walls in the classroom may contain examples of words being used in context, and images that illustrate meaning or usage. 
  • Academic Word Finder -    This tool can be used as part of the Close Reading process the teacher utilizes prior to assigning passages to a student.  Look for passages that have a balance of words at, below and above grade level.  Passages with many words above or below grade level may still be appropriate to use with students depending on the purpose for reading the passage and the Qualitative Features of the text. 
    • Create a free account on  to use this tool
    • Cut and paste text or type text into the Word Finder.
    • Select a target grade and run the tool
    • The Word Finder tool will highlight in colors words that are below, at, and above grade level within the text passage. Listed below the passage will be possible definitions of the word. The complete passage is visible with words highlighted in context.
  • Lexile Analyzer -  Lexile is one way to look at the Quantitative Measure of a text. Approximate Lexile ranges for each grade level have been included in the literacy standards.   Lexile can be compared to other quantitative measures like AR scores.  
    • You can cut and paste text into the Lexile Analyzer, but it needs to have all formatting removed.  
  •  WordSift looks more closely at academic vocabulary and content vocabulary. 
    • Cut and paste or type text into the tool
    • A word cloud will be created, showing the highest frequency words. This is a good way to identify words that may be key to unlocking the content of the text.
    • The word lists tool will highlight in colors words that are specific to science, math, social studies and ELA.
    • A set of related images will appear for each word that is clicked on in the word cloud. You can use these images to add to your word wall or make visual dictionaries for ELL students or at risk readers.
  • Paired Texts by Lexile Range from can be found HERE

Qualitative features of a text can be looked at using a rubric or a checklist.  There are 4 areas to consider.  First, is the text structure simple or more complicated? Remember that text can also be a graphic, so look at the graphic features as well.  Are there text structures that are normally found in a particular content area writing style or in a genre?  When skimming the text on a first Close Reading, is the language more conversational or formal? Are terms contemporary or more unfamiliar? Teachers being mindful of the Qualitative features of the text will also take into consideration the knowledge that a text expects a reader to bring with them into the reading.  This can be cultural or regional experiences, content specific background or individual life experiences.  This particular aspect of text complexity requires the teacher to think carefully about how to scaffold texts for students who may be lacking some or all of the background knowledge a more complex text might require.  Ideally, the text is the expert and students will not need to bring large amounts of prior knowledge into their reading and discussion of the text. 

Matching reader to task is often overlooked as the third component of complexity.  A text may be moderately or slightly complex, but be a primary source document that is important to helping a student understand the context of an historical event.  On the other hand, a text that is exceedingly complex may be a scientific paper a student is reading to get background information for a project.  All children should be given the opportunity to read a range of complex texts throughout the year. Texts should be high quality, be worth the instructional time to read them, and help students to build knowledge and vocabulary.   One strategy a teacher might consider when selecting informational and literary texts to use in a classroom would be to build expert text sets.  Students build content vocabulary and knowledge when they have an opportunity to read, listen too, or analyze multiple texts on the same topics.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hope Centered Leadership

We all have that one child, that one teacher, that one book that we can say made a difference in  how we perceived ourselves or see the world.  The challenge as a hope centered leader is to do what is necessary to be that one teacher who can change the world for someone else. 

Guiding Questions:
  • What book that had an impact on your own views of education can you share with a colleague? What will you do to follow-up with them to talk about it together?
  • What is your passion as a teacher? Who might share that passion? How will you connect with that educator? What can you accomplish by connecting and working together?
  • How would your instructional plan change if you thought of your class one child at at time? What is the just right next step for learning for your children?  What can you do to help them see their path to change the world? 
  • What can you do to share your voice with other educators to encourage them to let their light shine through?

To be entrusted with the children of a community is a perhaps the highest compliment that can be given to an educator. Making instructional choices that will help children build the skills and knowledge that they will need to carry the community into the future is an essential part of all educator's jobs.   The challenge as a hope centered leader is to create a culture within a school or district that is based on collaboration and respect and encourages all involved to act on their hopes and not make decisions based on fear.

Guiding Questions:
  • What is one thing you can do this week to strengthen your professional learning community?
  • What evidence of learning will you look for to make decisions about how effective an instructional practice has been and what actions to take to continue moving learning forward?
  • How are the community's goals reflected in the instructional decisions made in the schools? 
  • What small step can you take to continue to build a collaborative environment?

Words can be barriers to learning.  The challenge we face as educators is to select the right words that act as doors, bridges and paths to learning.  Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset, Carol Ann Tomlinson's focus on differentiated instruction, and the work of the Stephen and Jan Chappuis, Susan Brookhart and Rick Stiggins around effective feedback and assessment for learning all point to the positive impact the right words can have on a student's ability to take charge of their own learning.  The challenge as a hope centered leader is to search out and amplify voices that are providing effective, specific feedback to students, and creating learning spaces where all students feel safe to explore their thinking. 

Guiding Questions:
  • What do classrooms centered on formative instructional practices look like and sound like?
  • What next step will you take to reflect on the research being done by Dweck, Tomlinson, Brookhart, Stiggins or the Chappuis?
  • What words will be at the center of the instructional mission of your school or classroom? How will you communicate those words to all stakeholders? 
  • What strategies do students need to develop in order to find and select high quality instructional materials that can help them answer questions or explore ideas? 

High expectations for everyone. Holding the bar high. Cliches that are easy to say but difficult to implement.  A hope centered leader needs to be a good listener and a good observer. Identify what supports, resources, encouragement, materials and time students and teachers need to reach higher. Then, be the ladder.  The foundation of hope is in the ability to see not only that there is a step forward, but that you have the ability to take the step.  The challenge as a hope centered leader is to do what is necessary to support a learning culture where hope is at the core of all decision making.