The Notion of Deep Student Learning Still Prevails

As of March 2020, the landscape of education yet again changes and is changing dramatically. With school building closures and school still in session, educators and policymakers scramble to design distance learning, both hard print and digital, for all students. For example, in my school district, the school as we knew it was in session Friday, March 10th.  Students filled the classrooms and walked the hallways during passing period. Principals and assistant principals supervised students during lunch. Teachers delivered instruction to a class full of students sitting at their school desks or tables. Teachers wrote on the whiteboard or shared documents through the Google TV or interactive board. Through strategic questioning or an organized class discussion, students interacted face to face with the teacher or interacted face-to-face with their classmates. At the end of the class, students most likely handed the teacher a hard-print assignment. By Monday, March 13th, buildings were closed; buses remained parked in the transportation barn. The halls were quiet; the classrooms were dark and empty. Principals greeted their teachers through a virtual staff meeting. Students were at home, eagerly or maybe indifferently waited for correspondence from their teachers and principals about what instruction and learning would look like from a distance. The current unparalleled situation for society and education challenges even the best of leader.

Under the COVID-19 conditions, educators and educational leaders worked to figure out how to incorporate research-proven instructional practices into digital distance learning or into a hybrid instructional model. I define research-proven instructional practices as those that can cause over one year’s growth (an effect size of .4 or higher) in one year. Researcher John Hattie devoted 15 years to synthesizing over 1200 studies that included over three-quarters of a million students. In his research, Hattie identified over 250 influences and used a standardized and common scale, effect size, as a standardized scale to rank the degree of impact on student achievement (Cohen, 1988; Kline, 2004). Certain anchor practices are independent of the instructional model and, despite the circumstances, that, when implemented well, can correlate to over one year’s growth.

Before the pandemic (four years ago), my school district built a quality first instructional model founded on the research of John Hattie. Initially, the instructional plan was supported by four of these fundamental or anchor instructional practices, a) teacher clarity, b) formative assessment practices, c) student-teacher relationships, and d) useful feedback. These four foundational instructional practices have a d=.75 or higher (Hattie 2009). Instructional practices with such an influence can more than double the learning rate in one year when done well. Currently, in my school district, the four instructional practices are incorporated into a more prescribed instructional model that we named “quality first instruction.”

It Worked

Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2020, when my school district, along with many school districts in the State of California, launched the start of their school in a distance digital learning phase. With the assistance of an outside consultant, several teachers and I developed a Google Slide deck that facilitated the consistent implementation of our Quality First Instructional model. Markedly, the teachers and I found something as simple as opening the day’s lesson using two slides: one slide was titled “what we are going to learn today,” and the second slide was titled “how we will learn today. At this juncture, the teacher stated the learning outcome for the day and how students would achieve the outcome for the day positioned the teacher and students for success. The teachers and students also discovered great triumph by something as simple as using a slide to close the day’s lesson. The slide was titled “Let’s Measure Our Success”. At this time, the students and teacher revisited the success criteria and how each student demonstrated that learning. 

Conclusion

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, the purpose of education remains to instill both content knowledge and character. Since the 20th century and into the 21st century, educators and educational leaders want to instruct and lead in a way that includes the student on their learning journey: learning where students gain knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity. I am defining power by the sixteen habits distinguished in Costa’s (2009) work and the 21st Century skills outlined in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s Framework (2019). The 3Cs, content knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity enable students to successfully navigate their ever-changing world. Students that demonstrate in-depth content knowledge, superior cognitive skills, and remarkable power can answer these three fundamental questions:

1. What are you learning?

2. How are you doing in your learning?

3. What is next in your learning?

Such students represent kids who are on the trajectory to make one year’s growth or more during their school year.

The instructional example shared in this article is just one design and is a very prescribed instructional design for staff and students. My school district’s instructional example is by no means the only way to influence students’ substantive growth. School districts throughout the nation continue to develop their instructional model that are both steeped in current literature, that correspond with distant learning and can have a substantial impact on student learning. Whether face-to-face or remote school, whether a very prescribed direct instructional model or a more facilitative conceptual instructional model, the notion still prevails, plans for, and delivers quality instruction that causes over one year’s growth for all students.

References

Battle for Kids P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2019).  Retrieved at https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. UK: Routledge.

Hattie, J., & Klaus Z. (2019) Visible learning insights. UK: RoutledgeRobinson, V. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: Educational Administration Quarterly,44(5), 635-674

The Notion of Substantive Impact Prevails

Leadership-Blog-Cover-1030x634

As of March 2020, the landscape of education yet again changes and is changing dramatically. With school building closures and school still in session, educators and policymakers scramble to design distance learning, both hard print and digital, for all students. In my school district, for example, the school as we knew it was in session Friday, March 10th.  Students filled the classrooms and walked the hallways during passing period. Principals and assistant principals supervised students during lunch. Teachers delivered instruction to a classroom full of students sitting in their school desks or tables. Teachers wrote on the whiteboard or shared documents through the Google TV or interactive board. Through strategic questioning or through an organized class discussion, students interacted face to face with the teacher and/or with interacted face to face their classmates. At the end of the class, students most likely handed the teacher a hard-print assignment. By Monday, March 13th, buildings were closed, buses remained parked in the transportation barn. The halls were quiet, the classrooms were dark and empty. Principals greeted their teachers through a virtual staff meeting. Students were at home, eagerly or maybe indifferently waited for correspondence from their teachers and principals about what instruction and learning would look like from a distance. The current unparalleled situation for society and for education challenges even the best of leaders

Educators and educational leaders worked to figure out how to incorporate research-proven instructional practices into digital distance learning. I define research-proven instructional practices as those that can cause over one year’s growth (an effect size of .4 or greater) in one year. Researcher John Hattie devoted 15 years synthesizing over 1200 studies that included over three-quarter of a million students. In his research, Hattie identified over 250 influences and used a standardized and common scale, effect size, as a common and standardized scale to rank the degree of impact on student achievement (Cohen, 1988; Kline, 2004). There are certain anchor practices independent of the instructional model and, despite the circumstances, that when implemented well, can cause over one year’s growth.

Let’s take a closer look. Four years ago, my school district built a quality first instructional model founded on the research of John Hattie. Initially, the instructional plan was supported by four of these fundamental or anchor instructional practices, a) teacher clarity, b) formative assessment practices, c) student-teacher relationships, and d) effective feedback. These four foundational instructional practices have a d=.75 or higher (Hattie 2009). Practice with such an influence can more than double the rate of learning in one year when done well. Currently, in my school district, the four instructional practices are incorporated into a more prescribed instructional model that we named “quality first instruction.” My current school district’s instructional model resembles a direct instructional or explicit instructional approach (Hattie, 2009). You can preview this instructional model that is presented in Figure 1. You can click on the title to see a sample lesson following this instructional design.

Figure 1

A Direct Instruction Model during Face to Face Class time

 

Instruction and Opening of the lesson

 

The teacher says/shows the learning intention and success criteria (stemming from the grade-level standards) for the day

The students interact with the learning intention and success criteria.

For example, the student might follow along, track, say it, write it, or ask questions about it

The teacher strategies and student activities result in academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback.

  Direct Instruction

 

Teach the success criteria for the day

Possible teacher activities for input:

·         Review or tap into prior knowledge

·         Teach specific academic vocabulary

·         Show a mo of the finished product

·         Think a-loud about the process or “how-to”

Students can:

·         take notes.

·         pose questions

·         track the teacher

·         respond chorally

The teacher strategies and student activities result in academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback

 

The Guided Practice

 

 

 

The teacher explains the skill(s)/concept(s) by breaking the skill or concept into segments of instruction and practice.

The students may interact with the teacher and/or with fellow students in the following manner:

·         Turn and talk

·         Think-pair-share

·         Use whiteboards and coaching partners

The teacher strategies and student activities result in academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback

 

Collaborative Practice  

 

The teacher is circulating – listening, assessing, and giving feedback

Students interact together with the learning for the day

·         Structured academic conversation

·         Jigsaw protocol

·         Silent Gallery walk

The teacher strategies and student activities result in academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback

 

 

Independent Practice

 

The teacher should be circulating to assess and give feedback

Students get some individual time to process and practice their learning

The teacher strategies and student activities result in academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback

 

Closure:

The teacher references the success criteria for the day.

Students (or representation of students) demonstrate their learning for the day

The teacher strategies and student activities result in a formative assessment practice or a check for learning with feedback

Note: The orange print represents teacher strategies. The blue print represents the students’ activities. The black print represents fundamental practices. The lesson plan was designed for a 50 – 55-minute class period. Each stage of this instructional model incorporates a strategy or activity under one of the four fundamental practices.

When school facilities closed in response to COVID-19, my school district, similar to many other school districts, abruptly switched to a distance learning platform. The four fundamental instructional practices of a quality first instructional model still hold. The distance learning plan in Figure 2 demonstrates a quality lesson plan with the fundamental practices interwoven into the design.

Figure 2

Quality Instructional Model for Distance Digital Learning

 

Introduction 

 

The teacher posts the learning intention and success criteria (stemming from the grade level standards) for the day into GoogleClasssroom.

 

Students log in to the GoogleClassroom and read or say the learning intention and success for the day.

If the GoogleClassroom session is presented live through Google Meets, then teacher strategies and student activities result in virtual academic interactions that are examples of a formative assessment practice or a check for learning with feedback.

 

Direct Instruction

Pre-recorded video

Live video stream

GoogleClassroom

The teacher presents the information live through Google Meets.

Or can record the direct instruction and load the video into GoogleClassroom

In the live video or prerecorded video, the teacher can:

·         Articulate the success criteria for the day

Possible teacher activities for input:

·         Review or tap into prior student knowledge

·         Teach vocabulary

·         Show a mode of the finished product

·         Share the rubric or checklist

·         Think a-loud about how to solve, how to read

The student can take notes

The students can ask questions or post questions

Students can track the speaker

 

 

 

Guided and or collaborative practice

Chat in the live digital session of Google Meets

Exchange of posts or emails in GoogleClassroom

Collaborate through a Google doc

 Using the above options, the teacher can;

·         Show an exemplar of the finished product

·         Share the rubric or checklist

·         Think a-loud about how to solve, how to read

·         Demonstrate the skill

In the live digital session or in GoogleClassoom, the students can:

·         Show the steps of their learning and thinking

·         Practice the new learning

·         Chat and work collaboratively with the teacher and/or classmates

 

The teacher strategies and student activities result in virtual academic interaction that are examples of formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback.

 

Self –paced Independent practice and closure can be

off-line from the GoogleClassroom

 

 

 

 

The student submits the formative assessment product. It may be:

·         Complete the checklist with the work

·         Email or post as an exit ticket summarizing their knowledge about the success criteria.

·         Submit an assignment demonstrating progress and achievement towards the success criteria

·         Post a picture of the produced product that demonstrates proficiency/mastery toward the success criteria

·         Send a video that shows an understanding of the success criteria

·         Submit a recording that communicates knowledge of the concept stated in the success criteria

The teacher strategies and student activities result in virtual formative assessment practices or checks for learning with feedback

 

Note: The orange print represents the teacher strategy. The blue print represents student activities. The black print represents the four fundamental practices. The digital platforms used were a) Google classroom b) Google Meets, c) YouTube, d) Google Documents. The independent practice can be worked on off-line and at a self-paced and favorable schedule for the student. The student and family can set their own daily schedule regarding when to participate in each stage of the virtual lesson. The time frame for the lesson may last between 20 – 30 minutes. The four fundamental practices are interweaved into the digital experience. Also, the instruction is designed in a way that fosters students with in-depth content knowledge, cognition development, and improved 21st-century skills and capabilities (Costa, 2009; Partnership in 21st Century Learning, 2019).

Conclusion

The purpose of education, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, remains to instill both content knowledge and character. Since the 20th century and into the 21st century, educators and educational leaders want to instruct and lead in a way that includes the student on their learning journey: learning where students gain knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity. I am defining capacity by the sixteen habits distinguished in Costa’s (2009) work, and by the 21st Century skills outlined in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s Framework (2019). The 3Cs, content knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity enable students to successfully navigate their ever-changing world. As the students demonstrate in-depth content knowledge, prominent cognitive abilities, and remarkable capacity throughout the school year, they are the very students representing kids who are the trajectory to make one year’s growth or more during their school year.

The instructional model shared in this article is just one design, and is a very prescribed instructional design for staff and students. My school district’s instructional example is by no means the only way to influence substantive growth in students. School districts throughout the nation continue to develop their own instructional model that are both steeped in current literature, that correspond with distant learning, and that can have a substantial impact on student learning. To view a less structured remote learning model, you are welcome to explore District whiteboard 13.  I confidently argue that as you investigate different distance learning platforms such as my school district, District whiteboard 13, and other school districts, the successful instructional designs will have interweaved the four fundamental instructional practices into their instructional model. Whether face to face school within the four walls of a building or whether distant school through the internet networks and computer software; whether a very prescribed direct instructional model or whether a more facilitative conceptual instructional model, the notion still prevails, plan for and deliver quality instruction that causes over one year’s growth for all students.

Love and Learning in the Classroom

The Love and Learning in a Classroom

The Love and Learning in a Classroom

What do all learners want and need to perform well? Maslow (1943) affirms that next to one’s basic psychological needs, learners require physical and mental security. Furthermore, as Hattie mentioned in a recent keynote, people crave a sense of belonging and love, especially when schools, rightfully so, command excellent instruction and extensive learning. Muhammad (2009), moreover, echoes such thought when he states “substantial cultural change must precede technical change. When a school has a healthy culture, the professionals within it will seek the tools that they need to accomplish their goal of universal student achievement; they will give a school new life” (p. 16).

All learners, little humans and grown humans, want a welcoming relationship with the people around them. All learners also long to know the performance expectations. Furthermore, all learners desire to know how they are progressing (formal assessment). Lastly, all learners crave to know their strengths and ways to improve (feedback). The way in which educators and educational leaders cultivate a culture of well-being and trust is pivotal to such profound learning.

Deep learning expands, and probably can only thrive in classrooms emulating a true community. I define community as a place where every student receives that “quality” instruction and can improve one year or more, academically and social-emotionally, in one year’s time. As John Hattie (2009) explains, there are no magical ingredients to sprinkle in a classroom to nourish student learning. Marzano (2012) further writes that there are no high yielding strategies independent of other moderators such as timing and delivery. Scholars and practitioners, even when they disagree about research methodology, can agree that clarity anchors a community in trust and in rigorous learning. For example, an expert teacher starts the school year by communicating both the behavioral and academic outcomes. The students and staff may then engage in a dialogue around the learning and behavioral expectations. Next, the staff and students may practice these social and behavioral norms in the context of learning the essential academic skills and concepts. Reinforcement or feedback can also crystalize student civility, well-being and academic learning, especially when used appropriately. While interventions and performance may vary in students, all students consistently detect genuineness within people.

While exceptional educators might innately possess some of these communicative traits, we can all develop and grow these characteristics through ongoing research, training and practice. In honing this language of love, teachers break down the strong peer relational barriers, and build an inviting and welcoming class culture of progress and achievement. Graham Nuthall spends a whole chapter in The Hidden Lives of Learners, talking about the need to effectively manage the students’ learning opportunities while in the classroom; and to create a powerful classroom culture that overrides the natural peer culture (2007, p.105). Another words, Nuthall expects educators to create a culture where content knowledge and learner capacity become esteemed in the eyes of the students.

The Language of Love and Learning

Teachers can foster and manage such healthy and positive class cultures by being intentional with their language. For example, instead of a teacher saying “did you do your homework?” a teacher might say, “please place your homework on your desks as we review problem #7 together.” While the order of the words is subtle, the undercurrent of positive intent is substantial, especially over an extended period of time. Teachers build authentic relationships by applying such specific language, again in the context of the academic instruction.

Let’s examine a probable scenario. A teacher tasks students to work independently for the last 20 minutes of class. She periodically roams the room to facilitate independent learning. They are using notes from their outline (created as a class just prior to the independent time) to write a quality grade level paragraph. The students have the checklist at their desk stating the criteria that defines a such a paragraph. The teacher offers her services in a small group setting. Five students seize the invitation to work with their teacher. She asks the students to show where they are in the learning progression (pointing to the rubric listing the criteria under surface, deep and extended learning). The teacher delivers various friendly yet critical responses (also known as feedback), such as:

  • Your first paragraph indeed hits all the success criteria. Continue applying those processes as you write paragraph two.

  • Write the topic sentence from the outline here on line five and write it in your own words.

  • Take a minute to self-grade your paragraph against this rubric while I grade your paragraph against the same rubric, and then we can compare notes.

(Note that the teacher periodically roamed the room to facilitate the independent learning). The teacher upheld the behavioral, social, and academic standards while utilizing formative assessment and feedback to yield noticeable learning. This genuine community was the handiwork of a fellow teacher and myself during the early 2000s when we taught 7th and 8th grade students together in the Southside of Chicago.

The prelude to the above scenario was gaining credibility with our students. For the two of us, this meant greeting our students at the door each morning. For my first two years on the job, I also ate lunch in the cafeteria with my students. My teaching partner often worked with students on their writing assignments during the lunch break. Once the morning bell rang, I often dedicated the first five to ten minutes as a class “set aside.” During this time, students could ask their classmates or me questions, share something weighing heavily on them, or share something light and funny. These examples won’t resonate with everyone’s situation nor personality; yet these routines can spark possible ways for educators to gain the confidence and trust of their students. Such gracious rituals are meant to lift students and staff into the complex yet exciting stratospheres of learning.

The School District as a Community

Just as educators build a sense of community within their classrooms, instructional leaders must also shape a true community in their schools and school district, not just amongst the students but also amongst the adults. Listening to a recent keynote by John Hattie, I am reminded how critical one’s school climate is when launching visible instruction and visible learning. In regards to culture, Pink writes “as the size of the groups increased, it required more sophisticated understandings and interactions with people” (2010 p.77). Many school districts offer regular collaboration and professional development as a viable channel for staff to develop that contagious culture of trust and learning. Such a platform gives people a voice, yet commands student learning and instructional practices be the nucleus of the conversation. The purpose for each collaborative conversation is centered around student learning and instructional practice. Before the dialogue can be steeped in evidence–evidence in student progress and student struggle–the team members must weave collegiality and connectivity into the fiber of their collaborative existence. When such teams start the conversation by identifying “quality” instructional strategies that caused student improvement and achievement, staff feel affirmed, spurring confidence in their individual and collective abilities. From there, staff can acknowledge their struggles with certain students, realize they are not alone in the struggle, and use the conversation to draw upon the collective wisdom of each other. By doing so, staff can either refine current instructional strategies or even discover new instructional strategies so as to return to the classroom and reach students never before reached.

Let’s take a closer look at an existing situation in my own school district. The conversations were sculpted from DuFour’s inquiry cycle.

(1.) What are students learning?

(2.) How are students doing in their learning?

(3.) What are staff continuing, instructionally, for students achieving/improving?

(4.) What are teachers adding to or revising in their instruction for students not adequately improving?

At the start of the collaborative conversation, an administrator can stand back and observe people leaning in toward one another, people nodding and mirroring each other’s body language, and evidence scattered on their tables. As this observer sits with a team, he or she hears a conversation that sounds something like this:

“Students were asked to select one of the five American principles. The one that was most important to them. Then students were asked to justify that principle as being the most important by using evidence from the textbook,” shares the teacher.

“How did the students do?” asks the facilitator.

Teacher: “These students performed well as a result of my clear expectations. Take a look (passed out the student samples). I also shared the rubric in advance.”

Facilitator: “What are you doing for the students still struggling?”

Teacher: “I am going to meet with them in a small group and show them a modeled example that had been completed by a student of mine the prior year. We will rewrite the first paragraph together line by line. The students also submitted a rough draft in which I wrote feedback that they then used to re-write their responses. The remaining students can rewrite their second draft while I work with the small group.”

Taking Off

The overture to such rich conversations emerged after a long two years. During this two years, the district direction shifted to monitor growth in students instead of proficiency. People watched how this new course unfolded. The district kept its word two years running, celebrating and emphasizing its students’ progress over achievement. Now, do not get me wrong, my district still values grade level academic performance. But the distance between students’ current performance levels and grade level was so wide and far, a goal to ensure one year’s growth or more each school year seemed more appropriate and more motivating. With such a doable goal in place, we knew the percent of students reaching grade level would also rise over the subsequent years. The integrity of the district’s mission, matched by its actions, lead to more trustworthiness, and, therefore, meaningful collaboration.

A team of teacher-leaders, the high school site instructional coaches, and the director of curriculum and instruction gathered each month to prepare for and to reflect upon district collaboration. In the preparation, we agreed and reviewed the purpose of district collaboration. One teacher surmised it best when he said, “Collaboration leads to the success of adults, and, then to the success of students.” Tapping into prior knowledge, past experience, and recent training, the teacher-leaders co-constructed the attributes for a high functioning team as well as the descriptors of a high impact conversation. With the purpose and expectations in play, the team could then lean into their collaboration time. As Muhammad theorizes, “if we are going to produce better and more prepared students, school culture must become aligned in purpose and a collective focus on student achievement” (2009, p. 87). With sound instruction strengthened through collaboration, staff and students know the runway is secure, the cabin is stabilized, and they are lifting off into a partnership of observable instruction and profound learning.

References

Fullan, M. (2010). ALl Systems Go: The change imperative for whole system improvement. Thousand Oaks CA.: Sage

McDowell, M. (2016, July 16). Word Press. Retrieved from https://edmovers.wordpress.com/

Peck, S. (n.d.). One Community. Retrieved from http://www.onecommunityglobal.org/stages-of-community-building/

Peck, M. Scott. (1993). Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth. Simon & Schust

Kee, Kathy, et al. ResultsCoaching. Corwin: Thousand Oaks, Ca., 2010. Print

Hattie, J. and Yates, G. (2014). Visible Learning and the Science of Howe We Learn. UK: Routledge.

Rock, David, “SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.” NeuroLeadership Journal. Issue 1. (2008): pages. Print.

Rock, David, Quiet Leadership, HarperCollins Publishers. 2011. Print.

Nuthall, G. (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellingtion, NZ: NZCER Press.

Hattie, John. Visible Learning. Routledge, UK. 2009. Print

An Administrator’s Reflections on the Annual Visible Learning Conference

The Annual Visible Learning Conference was held July 9 and July 10 in Chicago, IL. When I got there, an employee at the hotel asked me, “What is the conference about?” A group of friends that I was reconnecting with after 15 years asked me, “What is Visible Learning?” My parents, who would be watching my dogs during the conference, asked me, “Who is this researcher, John Hattie?” They all, also, followed up with, “…and is it working?” Hattie spoke in his keynote about the importance in educating parents regarding what works best in education. I hesitated in both of my responses, not because I did know what to say. While I satisfied their curiosity in the moment, their questions provoked further examination.

A Pixar Pitch for Hattie’s Research

Daniel Pink (2012) uses the Pixar pitch, exercised by Hollywood’s animation studio, to advertise or pitch his book, To Sell is Human (2012). I use the Pixar pitch as a way to define an ideal state of an organization or concept. The Pixar pitch has these sentence starters: Once upon a time _____________. Every day, ________. One day, ____________. At the same time ____________. Meanwhile, ____________. Until Finally, ________. I wrote one for John Hattie’s research and his notion of Visible Learning. Once upon a time, there was a man who spent the last thirty years synthesizing over 1400+ meta-analyses that included over 90,000 studies and involved over a quarter million students. One day, back in 2009, John Hattie published a book titled Visible Learning that released this convincing and compelling research to educators around the world. Every day, John Hattie and his research team continue to rank the influences, over 250, using a common scale (effect size) to communicate what works best in education. Because of that, robust conversations ignited amongst educators, leaders, and politicians. Until finally, significant agreements were constructed around the beliefs and behaviors (within the national and international education systems) that are fundamental to teaching and equipping students with the content knowledge, cognitive skills, and learner dispositions that ready students.

And Is It Working?

In 2016, my school district rewrote its strategic plan based on the principles and practices arising from Hattie’s research. My school district resides in a very disenfranchised community in Northern California, one of the poorest cities in the state and only 8% of the residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. About 20% of the school district’s students read at level (via the annual state language exam) and less than 10% of the students are fluent in math. Our school district needed to break its narrative. John Hattie’s research told the story that we, as educators, despite such obstacles, have the leverage to change the story. So in 2016, I wrote a Pixar Pitch for our school district: Once upon a time, there was a school district that wanted to ensure students grew one year or more for each year of school. Every day, the director, principals, staff, and students focused their time, and effort on high leverage instructional practicesgrounded in clear expectations and a keen awareness of one’s progress. opportunity to connect some of these strategies such as “ teacher clarity” and “ know thy impact” with greater ownership from the students about their learning and their progress. Because of that, everyone worked hard to find instructional ways to strike a balance of surface learning and deep learning. Unitl finally, every student was advancing more than one year’s growth in one year’s time, and taking ownership over their learning. Currently in 2018, over 50% of our students have made more than one year’s gain two years running, as measured by a local common reading assessment and as measured by the annual state language arts exam. My school district’s preliminary state data shows over 30% of the students reading at grade level or above.

All Schools Can Ensure Progress and Impact

The initial questions that sparked thought within myself also generated reflection in the people inquiring. The hotel employee reflected back on his schooling experience. He remembered how his teachers taught history and hoped teachers today tell the truth. I interpreted his remark as a plea for schools to facilitate civility attributes, cognitive skills and learner qualities within our students. My parents reflected back and accredited the teachers of the school for properly outfitting my sister and me for life after high school. Today, I can appreciate the notion that many variables, variables within the control of the school and out of the control of the school, played a significant role in our preparation. As my group of friends have kids about ready to start school, they wondered what to look for in a school. Even with different research designs, the story still draws similar conclusions in what all learners want and need to succeed. Learners of any age and any skill want respect, credibility, and high relational trust; to know what is expected and what success looks like; to receive feedback on strengths and where/how to improve. Becoming more aware of such influences that work best in education, my friends can now make that educated decision for their children.

The 3 Cs (and 1H) that Cause a Ripple Effect in Your School

 The 3 Cs (and 1H) that Cause a Ripple Effect in Your School

What ripple effect do you want to pass on to students and adults in your school building? Our impact as educational leaders can vary, but our core business as educators is to serve students by influencing substantive academic, socio-emotional, and civil improvement, at least one year, if not more, for each year of school.

Back in November, I wrote about some ways to profoundly impact student improvement and achievement as a leader. In February, I wrote about 3Cs — clarity, cohesion, and capacity — as a blueprint in steering a school district toward student improvement and achievement. Today I write about another set of 3Cs (and 1H) to elevate a process to cultivate a healthy climate so students and adults believe and can progress each school year.

The 3Cs — Clarity, Credibility, and Collaboration

Clarity. Adults, similar to students, want to know what is expected to succeed. Just as Teacher clarity can double the rate of learning and anchors all other instructional strategies, leader clarity fortifies the expected adult behaviors and practices that navigate the district mission.

To ensure one’s impact is significant, a leader’s message must be etched into people’s minds and hearts. One way leaders do so is by designing a lean and feasible strategic plan. For example, in my school district, we have a two-page plan. The plan states the goal — ensure a year’s growth or more — and thoroughly defines two instructional action steps constructed to attain the goal — teacher clarity and know thy impact.

Furthermore, the plan includes the necessary support structures. In our case, we hone teachers    skills and advance staff’s thinking using the support vehicles of professional development, collaboration, and coaching (all strategically aligned to the instructional steps). The principals and I further reinforce the expectations and communicate progress (around implementing teacher clarity as measured through student clarity) by giving specific and measureable feedback to staff and students following classroom visitations.

Credibility. An equal force is the trust and credibility leaders develop with their staff and students. While this is not an exhaustive list, I have learned a leader can gain confidence of one’s team in several ways: by being consistent with his/her word, by being exceptionally knowledgeable, and by showing humility.

First, the goal in our school district has remained not just clear but stable throughout the school year. In other words, the goals do not shift or change during the year We are consistent.

Second, I and fellow principals in my school district constructed the district strategic plan based on current literature and empirical data. We abstracted John Hattie’s research, some of the most compelling research in our field, in concert with our student achievement levels. We continue to stay current with the literature, and monitor our students’ improvement and achievement in relation to the effectiveness of our instructional practices, grounded, first and foremost, in teacher clarity. We are knowledgeable.

Last, Pink (2012) writes in regard to building trust, “as the size of the groups increased, it required more sophisticated understandings and interactions with people.” (p.77). One way I often reveal my own vulnerability is to periodically step in and teach an elementary or high school class. When I instruct such a class, others can observe with the intention not so much to watch and learn as to witness my own struggle. I open each lesson articulating the learning intentions and success criteria, just as I expect from all staff in our school district. I close by revisiting the success criteria so the students and I can realize our accomplishments both individually and as a whole class. We show vulnerability.

Collaborative spirit. The purpose for each collaborative conversation, formal or informal, is centered on student learning and instructional practice. The dialogue is staged in evidence: evidence in student progress caused by the degree of effectiveness in one’s instructional practice. “If we are going to produce better and more prepared students, school culture must become aligned in purpose and collective focus on student achievement” (Muhammad, 2009, p. 87). In other words, give teachers a voice, yet command the focus be on student learning and quality instructional practices.

I also show the importance of continuing my own growth (and my vulnerability) by actively participating in our bimonthly district collaborations. Remember the expectation is not perfection but substantial improvement. I bring my own data to the table for public display. While our data/student results reveal gaps to further address, the teachers and I also bring accomplishments around student improvement, worthy of celebrating and replicating.

Each collaborative conversation that centers around student academic success caused by our instructional practices is an opportunity to galvanize the district’s goals and mission. Such recognition elevates and connects the staff, with each other and with our organization’s vision: such progress ignites pride and excitement in the work, spurring continued confidence in our individual and collective abilities, student and staff, around causing and making substantial academic gains.

And 1H—Hope

Every student and every adult enters the world innately “good.” Students deserve at least one go-to adult during their academic career. Educators and educational leaders also merit having at least one advocate/champion during their career in education. As Manny Scott preaches, “even on your worst day, you can still be a student’s (and colleague’s) best hope.” What does that mean and look like?

For my students, it meant I was a consistent figure in their lives. The students showed up every day. I, too, showed up every day! Some students revealed their innate goodness immediately and it was easy to appreciate them. Other students worked hard to conceal their innate goodness. I would joke with them, “don’t you worry, the day will come when the talents you are hiding will emerge and stay.” The students and I were each other’s advocates: advocate for learning, advocate for happiness (even if only in the moment), advocate for healthy interactions.

When I was a teacher, it meant my principal believed in me. When I was a skeptic of my skills to reach my students, she never faltered in word nor in nonverbal cues regarding her confidence in me. This included how she spoke about me in front of my students, colleagues and parents. While I am director of curriculum and instruction, it means my superintendent entrusts me to lead and facilitate the principals and teachers in the implementation of our district-wide strategic plan.

 

Conclusion

No industry has more on the line than education (Muhammad, 2009, p. 87). A district’s climate created by its people has far more influence on life and learning than the state department or federal government (Bamrick-Santoyo, 2013). While we want and need cooperation from the state and federal politicians, we cannot wait on legislation and policy. As briefly touched on in this blog by highlighting my school district takes action by utilizing the 3Cs and 1H. Daniel Pink (2012) reminds us that every human being is a salesperson (p. 16). Educators today sell and create an environment that is to “better” the life and situation of each and every student. So I ask myself and I ask each of my readers, as we enter the school building today, and each subsequent day, how are we shaping our students’ civility, well-being, and academic career?

References

Bamrick-Santoyo, P. B.-A. (2013). Educational Leadership. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass Reader.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. London: Routlege.

Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming School Culture. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

Pink, D. (2012). To Sell is Human. London: Riverhead Books.

 

A Blueprint for Educational Leadership

In the army, the generals and colonels scheme all the finite maneuvers in training and in preparation for battle – deciding on the equipment to use, simulating how to approach the enemy, studying the layout of the land.  The army’s extensive planning is remarkably commendable. Although plans are a necessary part of preparing for battle, they often do not work on the battlefield. Colonel Tom Kolditz states, no plan (and preparation) alone survives once in contact with the enemy.

    A person does not need to be enlisted in the army to resonate with Colonel Kodlitz’s message. This is our reality in education as teachers and as leaders. The greatest and most well thought-out plans dissolve once in contact with staff or with teenage students. While the plan may not fail, human behavior and thought inevitably alter the plan of action. I cannot tell you the number of times I wrote an agenda for a management meeting or substitute taught in a classroom following my well-written lesson plans, only to come in contact with the staff and students and have the script be rewritten.

    Knowing we cannot possibly plan for every variable, the army developed a new approach for battle in the 1980s called Commander Intent approach (Heath, 2010). The army clearly designed and communicated its intent and outcome for battle. The army moved away from designing every scenario, and moved towards relying heavily on skills, knowledge, and the attitude of the foot soldiers and captains to react and respond to the enemy in a way that achieved the desired intent and outcome specific to each particular encounter. As an example, one general’s mission for his platoon was to protect the soldiers of the third brigade while they crossed the line of enemy fire.

    In education, as a central office district administrator, it is still easy to lose one’s way. I wrote a blog about a month ago from a site principal perspective.  Back then I said I would follow up this month by writing a blog on my plan to ensure one’s year’s growth as the director of instruction and curriculum in a K -12 unified school district.  I moved into this position two and half years ago. Initially, I felt confused and uninfluential as a central office administrator. I no longer encountered the constant daily demands of a site.  While contemplating my influence and my role, Doug Reeves message resounded in my head. In his book Accountability for Learning, he declares “as a fundamental moral principle, no student at any school should be more accountable than the adults in the system”. Though the activities were taking shape differently in my new role, my blueprint in education remained the same, ensure one year’s growth or more for myself, every adult, and then for every student as a central office administrator.

Comparable to the Commander’s Intent approach, I as a central office administrator must distinctly communicate the district plan. Just as teacher clarity anchors the purpose for classroom instruction, leader clarity fortifies the expected adult behaviors and practices that assemble the district mission. To ensure one’s impact in positive, the blueprint must be edged into people’s minds and hearts. The blueprint was constructed based on staff’s needs complemented with current research around what works best in education. Providing regular and consistent feedback to teachers and principals after school and class visits is another noteworthy way to persistently reinforce the district goals and expectations.

Let’s step back from clear communication, and revisit my district’s strategic plan. In 2016-17, one year after being hired, my district and I changed our goal. Instead of focusing on proficiency and mastery, the district asked adults and students alike to focus on progress and improvement. Clayton Christensen (2006) in his article, “What is an Organization’s Culture?” recommends an organization change the task (or goal) when looking to shift adult thinking and practice, and reach the students never before reached. Organizational cultures become ingrained in the “this is the way we have always done things” outlook. When only 22% of our students can read, write, and think at grade level or beyond, such results demand new specifications and new hardware. This new hardwiring has been subtle yet has proved to be an industrial and secure design.

Included in the district’s strategic plan were two actions aligned with the overall goal. The two high-ranking instructional practices sketched into the district blueprint stemmed from John Hattie’s research:

1.) Teacher clarity (a strategy that can double the create of learning) was and is rudimentary to the success of our multi-year endeavor. The learning intention give direction to any activity or project; the success criteria, additionally, describe the necessary steps to arrive at the desired learning destination.

2.) Know thy impact was and is the other high-impact strategy also elementary to the strategic plan.  Regularly and routinely monitoring student’s well-being and academic progress provides the students and adults the necessary feedback to know one’s effectiveness. Furthermore, tracking student improvement allows us adults to know how we are going along and/or where we are at in the mission, responding accordingly.

One other important specification to the district blueprint was the reinforcements. Michael Forman (2017) writes about adding support beams to one’s educational blueprint especially when advancing a school district. As director of curriculum and instruction, certain vehicles of support like professional development, ongoing site and district collaboration, and instructional coaching at each school site, remain an integral part. Dylan Williams (2016) in his book, Leadership for Teacher Learning references such vehicles of support as viable ways to develop our people, and build effective habits/practices. Educators and students alike want to perform well. When commanding huge improvement by the whole system, organizations hold a responsibility to provide such similar and necessary conditions so the adults and students can succeed.

With the mission designed and clearly articulated, Colonel Koldtiz would say the foundation of the blueprint has been secured. As the supporting beams are then positioned, you, as a central office leader, are ready to trust in your staff, their knowledge, their skillset and their heart. The plans may alter but not fold. Just as the soldiers projected the third brigade when crossing enemy lines, our staff can appropriate the essential actions that cause significant student advancement each school year.

References

Christensen, C. (2006). What is an Organization’s Culture? Harvard Business School, 1- 8.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. London: Routlege.

Heath, D. H. (2010). Switch. New York: Broadway Books.

Reeves, D. (2004). Accountability for Learning. ASCD Publications.

William, D. (2016). Leadership for Teachers Learning. West Palms Beach: Learning Sciences International.

Why do the most well-thought out plans in education dissolve at contact?

playground pic

Why do the most well-thought out plans in education dissolve at contact?

I have been principal for 10 plus years. Recently I took a central office administrative position as the director of curriculum and instruction for the past two years.  The contrast of positions left me reflecting on my role as an educational administrator. I was no longer in the circle of fire. You site administrators know what I mean – the parent is waiting for you, one school bus is running late, the math teacher’s room is too hot, there is no sub for the social studies class. After fixing all these daily challenges (all before the start of the first period school period). I was left with a sense and feeling of accomplishment. Experience and research say such are actions not enough; necessary and important but just not enough.

Leadership actions, on average, rank just below the typical mark or hinge point in their impact on student achievement. John Hattie uses a common scale, the effect size, to rank the practices in education. In his extensive synthesis of research, he discovered that the practices yielding a .4 effect size (the hinge point) or higher, equated to students making one year’s gain (or more) for one year of school. Vivian Robinson used the same measurement when she conducted her synthesis around the impact of leadership on student achievement. Vivian discovered the dimensions associated with an instructional leader impacted student achievement considerably more than the dimensions of a transformational leader or “other” types of leadership. When you unpack these types of leadership, you being to discover that the impact of leadership really varies, depending on how we spend our time.

In Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcasts, he re-examined different periods of history, offering viewers alternative explanations. In the podcast, The Big Man Can’t shoot, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors win over the New York Nicks in 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is one of the greatest records in national basketball. Furthermore, Wilt Chamberlain, a poor foul shot player, made 28 of his 32 foul shots that night, more than doubling his foul shot percentage this game. What attributed to his highest scoring record game, his high percentage foul shot night, and his highest scoring season ever?  He had no specific plan on how to win these games. He just knew he wanted to win the game. The difference that game, and that season, was that Chamberlain shot his foul shots underhand: granny style as they say in basketball.

Rick Berry, one of the greatest foul shooters of all time, explains from a physics standpoint, that shooting granny style is a much better way to shoot. Better, meaning our arms hanging down is a natural state and therefore a more relaxed position. Also, when one shoots underhand, the shot is softer. The softer bounce increases the odds that the ball will go through the hoop, even if slightly off course. From a psychologist’s point of view, shooting underhand is stifling when standing in front of millions of fans, and standing before your teammates.

Administrators are hired to transform schools and districts. School board members and parents expect us to manage the facility, align the budget, give teacher autonomy, and ensure the hallways and classes are safe and clean. School board members and parents believe such actions are highly related to their child’s growth and achievement. I can remember as a school building principal spending most of my hours in just those ways. These daily routines and plans were tangible and doable. I received accolades from the parents, staff, and even my superintendent. To my surprise, these actions actually have a low impact on student learning and student achievement (Robinson, 2011). Such planning is the overhead foul shot of leadership, appealing and necessary at times, yet scientifically insignificant. (Or yet yields a low shooting average for the season).

In the army, the generals and colonels similarly scheme all the finite maneuvers in training and in preparation for battle – deciding on the equipment to use, simulating how to approach the enemy, studying the layout of the land.  The army’s extensive planning is remarkably commendable. While plans are a necessary part of preparing for battle, they often do not work on the battlefield. Colonel Tom Kolditz states, no plan (and preparation) alone survives once in contact with the enemy.

While education is not life or death like the army, educators and leaders have a moral responsibility to ensure at least one year’s gain for every year of schooling. There are too many unpredictable variables like the weather turning or the staff and teenagers responding differently than anticipated, and a plan then fails within 10 minutes.

A person does not need to be enlisted in the army to resonate with Colonel Kodlitz’s message. This is our reality in education as teachers and as leaders. The greatest and most well thought-out plans dissolve once in contact with staff or with teenage students. While the plan may not fail, human behavior and thought inevitably alter the plan of action. I cannot tell you the number of times I designed various supervision schedules or bell schedules, only to come in contact with the staff and students and have the script be rewritten.

In the 1980s, the army developed a new approach for battle called Commander Intent approach. The army clearly designed and communicated its intent and outcome for battle. The army moved away from designing every scenario, and moved towards relying heavily on skills, knowledge, and the attitude of the foot soldiers and captains to react and respond to the enemy in a way that achieved the desired intent and outcome specific to each particular encounter. One such particular outcome of a general was to protect the soldiers of the third brigade while they crossed the line of enemy fire.

In education, it is easy to lose our way in the noisy halls, the chaotic playgrounds, and menial staff meetings. Clearly defined goals and expectations anchor us to our core reason: we are in the business of learning and teaching. The teacher practice called teacher clarity, deliberately teaching students the intended learning as well as intentionally demonstrating the learning expectations can double the rate of learning.  Just the same, leaders who clearly and consistently communicate the district goals and expectations can advance student learning a few notches over that hinge point. (strategies impacting student learning at a .4 effect size has been defined by John Hattie as the hinge point, representing one year’s of academic growth).  Similarly, instructional leaders that develop their staff’s knowledge and skills aligned to those goals and expectations, through professional development (and collaboration), can also double the rate of learning. These types of actions can be the granny shot of leadership, scientifically sound yet awkward in public.

Moreover, as leaders, we can continue to confidently step up to the foul line. All research points to high impact leadership when we routinely gather evidence, analyze our current reality, and respond in ways that bring us closer to our desired result(s). Again, a school or district behavioral plan is a necessary component in setting the stage for high levels of learning in our schools and districts; it just cannot be the only response. Knowing our impact and that of the people in our building is the ultimate arsenal to ensure one year’s growth, or more, each and every school year. While our district strategic plan may alter once in contact, our skilled and driven staff can advance toward the end game.

 

References:

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. London and New York: Routledge.

Vivian Robinson, C. A. (2008). The Impact of Leadership on Student Outcomes: An Analysis of the Differential Effects of Leadership Types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 635-674.

 

Gladwell, M. (2016, June 29).  The big man can’t shoot. Revisionist History. Podcast retrieved from                 http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/03-the-big-man-cant-shoot

 

Heath, Chip and Dan, (2013) Made to Stick. United States: Random House.

 

 

 

 

Instructional leadership can be the granny shot of education

rick pic

Instructional leadership can be the granny shot of education

As I drove the thirty-minute commute to work each day, I would prepare for those anticipated debunks – the upset parent wanting a schedule change, the conscientious teacher wanting the air in her room regulated, the secretary trying to fill a classroom vacancy, and a student. If you have ever been a site principal, you know what I mean. I was a site principal for ten years. Currently, I am a director of curriculum and instruction in a different district. In my brain, I could quickly resolve these issues. However, the nature of my commute changed several years back after my mentor asked me this question: what would your ideal day be like? I intensely began reflecting around how I wanted to spend my time and how I should spend my time. What would best serve my staff and best support student learning? These thoughts and questions were not so quick to resolve in a thirty-minute commute

This shift in my thinking came about the same year John Hattie published his first book in 2009 called Visible Learning. He synthesized over 50,000 studies regarding what works best in education. He used a common scale, the effect size, to rank over 195 practices in education. In his extensive research, he discovered that the practices yielding a .4 effect size (the hinge point) or higher, equated to students making one year’s gain (or more) for one year of school. Yes, leadership was one of the 195 practices he studied. His research revealed the impact of leadership to be a few notches below the hinge point. The research was jolting news as a hard working site principal.  When we unpack the literature around leadership (which we will some in this article), we will begin to discover that our impact really varies, depending on how we spend our time.

I am going to drift into a story that seems unrelated so bear with me as I develop the connection. First, in Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcasts he re-examines different periods of history, offering viewers alternative explanations of the past. In the podcast, The Big Man Can’t Shoot, he retells an unfamiliar account of the famous Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors win over the New York Nicks in 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is one of the greatest records in national basketball. Furthermore, Wilt Chamberlain, a poor foul shot player, made 28 of his 32 foul shots that night, more than doubling his foul shot percentage that game. Malcom Gladwell went back to investigate why Wilt made 28 of his foul shots that night as well as why 1962 was Wilt’s highest scoring season ever. Malcolm discovered the difference in that game, and in that season, was how Chamberlain shot his foul shots; he shot underhand for that game and for that season, granny style as they say in basketball.

Rick Berry, one of the greatest foul shooters of all time, explained from a physics standpoint, that shooting granny style is a much better way to shoot. Better, meaning our arms hanging down is a natural state and therefore a more relaxed position. In addition, when one shoots underhand, the shot is softer. The softer bounce increases the odds that the ball will go through the hoop, even if slightly off course. It is important to note that Rick Berry is an expert because he himself was underhand free-throw shooter. However, from a psychologist’s point of view, shooting underhand is stifling when standing in front of millions of fans, and standing before your teammates. This peer pressure caused Wilt Chamberlain to return to his overhead foul shooting the next season, despite great breaking career. For the remainder of his career, his average foul shot percentage dropped from his record high of 80% back to his usual season average of 40%.

In much the same way, administrators are hired to take the overhead foul shot. For example, school board members, superintendents and parents hire us: to keep our staff and students safe, build a positive culture, maintain the facility operations, and manage the budget.  These influential stakeholders believe such actions directly relate to their child’s academic progress and achievement. I can remember as a school building principal devoting most of my time and energy tending to those similar needs. These daily routines and plans were tangible and doable and I received many accolades for them. To my surprise, such actions correlated more with the dispositions of a transformational type of leader, actually having a low impact on student learning and student achievement (Robinson, 2008). While popular and necessary for a school to function well, these transformational actions alone are scientifically insignificant. This game-changing research was shaping my evolution as a leader and starting to form the answer to my mentor’s question.

In education, it is easy to lose our way in the noisy and chaotic halls, playgrounds, and staff meetings. As I shared at the start, these concerns use to occupy my drive and my days as a site principal. My mentor’s question jolted my thinking and the literature guided my developing practice as an impactful leader. In unpacking the literature, I learned through Vivian Robinson’s (2008) meta-analyses that the actions of instructional leadership consistently affect student learning above the hinge point. Some such high impact strategies are: establishing clear goals and expectations, interpreting data with staff, being visible throughout the building(s), and planning and participating in professional development.

So as of 2010, I started to drive to work planning how I would ensure harmony and still visit classes regularly, how I would maintain the safe school regiment and regularly attend the grade level collaborations, how I would participate in all the extra-curricular events and consistently model the goals and expectations regarding best practices and learning. Two small yet significant steps I took were (1) reprioritizing my day and (2) calendaring collaboration meetings and class visits. You might be saying, “So what?” The so what is the follow through of the foul shot – I kept my eye on the rim of that basket, seeing the ball softly yet surely bounce through. Sometimes this meant a student who was sent out of class might have had to wait in a designated area of the main office until I returned from a class visit or staff collaboration. Sometimes this meant a parent was turned away, needing to make an appointment before meeting with me. These changes were awkward for all initially. Such actions could feel like the granny shot of leadership, awkward yet scientifically sound.

Furthermore, from regularly participating in weekly collaboration and visiting classrooms, I began to recognize the strengths and gaps of staff.  Such information drove the design for my school’s professional development trainings. For example, teachers demonstrated signs of quality strategies like checking for understanding and providing effective feedback. However, an essential teacher practice, called teacher clarity, was absent from most classroom instruction. Staff and kids struggled to articulate the intended learning and what successful learning looks like. Based on this evidence, the instructional coaches and I designed and led a series of professional development sessions that focused on how to develop and articulate the success criteria associated with the learning. Staff and I also identified ways to monitor student growth based on the success of our implementation of teacher clarity after the professional development trainings. The significant academic growth and achievement gains of students as measured by the 2011 state exam proved our changes to be effective and sound, just as the research states.

 

As the current director of curriculum and instruction, I am confronted with the same questions tossed out by mentor from eight years ago. The literature around what works best in education also remains relevant in my new role. The difference for me now is how to implement these best practices on a larger scale. Stay tuned for my next month’s blog describing how I am looking to monitor my impact on this larger scale in order to ensure one-year’s growth or more for all students.

Literacy for all

Grab your pencil or pen. Students at any grade level can benefit from reading both at an instructional reading level, and even at a “frustration” reading level; especially when reading closely; when reading for a purpose; when reading with the teacher.

Many folks think because students lack the foundational reading skills, they cannot gain in reading comprehension especially when reading complex texts.

Many folks believe students can’t gain in reading comprehension when reading at “frustration” levels (Lexile levels above their independent or instructional reading level).

Researchers like James Popham, an Emeritus Professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Timothy Shanahan, a professor at the University of Illinois, would disagree. They and many other researchers, would argue students must be given multiple, daily opportunities to read and reread for higher-order purposes. As a language arts teacher for 10 years in Chicago, I can testify that students (even students lacking foundational reading skills) can make significant gains in reading comprehension in one year. My students made such gains in their reading comprehension through daily opportunities to actively and purposefully read difficult text with the support of their teacher, me. While there are many research based reading strategies, I stand strong with close reading. It is one of the most effective and manageable ways to read and comprehend difficult text.

In the 21st century, students need to be literate not only in all content areas but also in “real life.” The Common Core reignites the need to infuse literacy – reading and writing – in all content areas so that all students can read independently and proficiently at, at least, their grade level text complexity span by time they graduate from high school. To remain competitive in their global word, students will need to also be masterful in their communication (reading, writing, listening and speaking) skills.

So as educators and leaders of K – 12 schools, I ask, how do we enhance the effectiveness of our current literacy programs and systematically expand content area reading and writing opportunities for our students?

I propose this theory of action: If students had a chance to practice purposeful reading through complex text daily with their teacher through high yielding instructional reading practices (effect size of .4 or higher), such as close reading, then all students can make visible learning/literacy gains of one year’s growth or more in their school year.

An effect size of .4 refers to John Hattie’s hinge point for visible learning. John Hattie is a professor of Education and Director Melborne Education Research Institute at the University Of Melbourne, Australia. He has spent the past 15 years studying the most effective instructional practices. He has over 1200 meta-analyses that include millions of students, and over 100 successful case study schools.

Students reading comprehension can be leveled, analyzed, and monitored through reading comprehension tests such as Star Renaissance and/or CAASPP interim block assessments. Reading comprehension can also be monitored through a written response by students. (A standardized rubric should be used)

This gets into tying reading comprehension to the instruction of writing. In the same way that we underutilize close reading, we also tend to underuse writing as a key strategy to develop intellectual knowledge. Writing, combined with close reading, can be among one of the most valuable elements of schools. As Schmoker writes, “Reading, writing and discussion – these three- are the foundation for a well-equipped mind; the key to equity, access, and economic opportunity. (2006, p. 72)

Before we further explore the writing component option of a literacy plan, let’s continue with how schools might put the reading comprehension theory into action, mentioned above, into action.

 

As principal of North Tahoe School, a school with over 65% of the student population below the standards on the state wide language arts standards as indicated on the new smarter balance, I sensed the urgency to make literacy a school wide focus. North Tahoe is a school located in North Lake Tahoe and has a student population of over 50% students as low socio-economic status and over 30% of the student population as English as a second language.

 

The goal was to raise the students’ reading comprehension levels. We already had a block of time built into master schedule– 30 minutes a day – for response to learning (rtl) devoted to intervention and/or to acceleration. We were all in the era of the common core standards, understanding literacy – reading, writing, listening and speaking – shifted to the responsibility of all content teachers. The common core standards and 21st century also made a call for more instruction by all teachers to include a deeper learning of complex information text by students.

We used some of our weekly collaboration times to prepare staff for a successful school wide literacy plan. At one collaboration (a 2.5 hour block of time), the instructional coach and I provided some professional development on close reading. Each teacher received a packet of information and instructional reading/writing tools to support the instruction of close reading to increase grade level (and beyond) comprehension through informational text. Some of these materials included reading passages, close reading sample lesson, an annotation document, informational outlines, and their student roster with reading levels. Part of this collaboration was devoted to staff, independently, in pairs and/or in small teams, having time to digest the information and how they may best organize this information for daily close reading lessons.

Prior to the two to three collaboration days to prepare for the first literacy deployment, students had been organized into leveled class rosters of under 20 based on their StarRenaissance reading level (cross referenced with past CST and SBAC language arts scores and teacher recommendation as well). Teachers were assigned a student roster.

As the instructional leader, I opened the initial collaboration (before the professional development) sharing why we needed a school wide literacy plan. Click here to see the utube video and powerpoint slides that taps into the emotion and rational for why, as well as provides detail to the rollout of a literacy deployment: https://files.acrobat.com/a/preview/4ff17d0b-003e-4024-84fe-cced6aad37ef

Having some school data on the reading levels of students adds to the sense of urgency and staff buy-in. Rallying your leadership team around the “why, what and how” of a literacy plan is a necessary step to make a schoolwide literacy plan stick.

North Tahoe School agreed to use 3 weeks of an RTL daily block to deploy students for this sacred school wide literacy time. Every student and every teacher were involved in the instruction and learning of reading comprehension 30 minutes a day for 3 weeks; one time in the fall semester and again in the winter semester.

For the next collaboration, one week later, the coach, myself and a few teacher-leaders, offered various workshops for staff to attend based on their need and desire to feel prepared for first day of the literacy deployment. Some of the workshops were as follows; more on the instruction of close reading, moving from close reading, asking varying depth of knowledge comprehension questions into a written response; collaboration time with a language arts teacher to plan the mini daily reading lessons, quiet time to plan the mini daily reading lessons.

During this span of two weeks in which teachers used the weekly collaboration time to plan and prepare, teachers spent some time in their classrooms or homerooms to share the rationale for this literacy plan with their students. I, too, during this timeframe communicated the details and rationale for this school wide literacy plan with parents. An important piece for the success of any school wide initiative is the partnership with the students and the parents; even if nothing more than informing the parents. Just for the record, not one parent argued with this school wide literacy plan. (And yes parents would let me know if there was discontent).

A few students, mostly the ones already at grade-level and beyond, were disgruntled as to why they needed to be a part of this daily reading instruction. Teachers analyzed their reading diagnostic reports prior to this literacy deployment. Teachers had their rationale ready along with their daily lessons on how to challenge the students and how to offer these students additional targeted reading instruction.  Here is an example of what is now expected out of our students to be ready for college, the workforce, and/or productive life in a technological society. According to the common core language arts initiative, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. (2011 page 4) If you are reading this and wondering what exactly that all means, my point exactly.

Back to having all stakeholders being on board with the school wide literacy plan. Simply having an entire school devoting 30 minutes a day to reading facilitated buy-in from all stakeholders.

There were benefits for students and teachers beyond the purpose of the school wide literacy deployment. Students now had an effective strategy on how to access and understand the content knowledge through the necessary reading of their other content areas. Teachers now had an effective instructional strategy to support students in accessing the content knowledge through complex reading.

You also may be wondering the impact of this literacy initiative on state testing. One and one half years later, and three literacy deployments later, this school had significant gains in their state testing in both language arts and in math; with each grade level making gains of 3% or more.  The translation in effect size was .2 and .3 throughout the different grade levels. We are approaching the hinge point of .4 collectively.  This school is on the “right” track. Reach out to their new principal and/or teachers for more information.

In addition to the growth in state testing, there were the StarRenaissance scores to track student growth, and there was a post literacy deployment reading and writing assessment per literacy deployment to track growth in both reading and in writing.

Let’s now further explore the writing component of a literacy deployment. One claim in the language arts state testing is the writing.  Remember Schmoker (along with other researchers like Doug Fisher, recent author of Visible Learning for Literacy, and Doug Lemov, author of Teach like a Champion) references the importance of reading, writing and discussion. North Tahoe did indeed include both reading and a writing component. Students were still leveled based on their reading comprehension levels. Teachers during the daily 30-minute literacy deployment over a course of 3 weeks, moved from close reading to writing. Writing was taught and evaluated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) rubric for informational writing. We used writing tools and strategies from the StepUpToWriting program. Some of the collaboration workshops and preparation time were devoted to the instruction and planning of writing.

If your school has a fair number of students below grade level in their reading comprehension or lacking in their writing abilities, you too sense that urgency. The common core standards era gives us permission to share in the responsibility of teaching reading and reading comprehension to all our students. The benefits and data gives this school and other schools the permission to continue with some sort of school wideliteracy initiative. North Tahoe’s Literacy deployment, three years running now, and briefly described in this article, is just one of the many ways your school can move one step closer to a systemic and effective literacy program. And one way for all your students to be grade level, and beyond, literate!  Get your literacy on!

Bibliography

Popham, James, America’s Failing Schools, New York, New York, 2004

Timothy Shanahan, Timothy, “ Learning from Challenging Text.” < https://www.mbaea.org>. March 11, 2011

Schmoker, Mike, Results Now, Alexandria, Virginia, 2006