As Every Journey Ends

November 28, 2007


. . . a new one begins! Hike on over to 1Carteret Sports Blog.


What Would Change?

November 20, 2007

From the N&O:

In a draft report, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability said, “For the way [state] tests are currently structured and used, there is too much time spent on testing.”

“We’re testing more, but we’re not seeing the results,” said Sam Houston, chairman of the commission “We’re not seeing graduation rates increasing. We’re not seeing remediation rates decreasing. Somewhere along the way, testing isn’t aligning with excellence.”

Among the recommendations, the commission wants to eliminate the fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade writing tests and the eighth-grade computer skills tests. Houston said writing and computer skills are still important, but are subjects that can be left up to each school district to handle.

The commission also wants to slash in half the number of end-of-course exams used to measure how high schools are doing in the state testing program. They no longer want to count physics, physical science, chemistry, algebra II and geometry — five exams which are now optional for high school students.

For a long time, educators have been clamoring about the instructional shackles imposed by high stakes testing in an era of hyper-accountability. Were the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations accepted and testing decelerated, what would change in typical classrooms?

I’m only asking.

Contexts for Professional Discourse

November 13, 2007

. . . or just plain old good conversations about the teaching profession!

One of my personal highlights of getting back to schools is the evolution of a mini professional learning community. This year, I have been able to assemble a small group of eleven teachers who are in their first few years of teaching.

We’ve broken that group down into two smaller groups. I meet with each group several times, with the purpose of observing some lead teachers. I am banking that the main event is not when we go as a group to observe the lead teacher’s class, but rather when we spend about 1.5 hours debriefing.

I can say that the first few meetings have yielded positive and open discussions. These teachers are getting to know each other better on a professional level. Being right there with them, I am getting a better idea of where they are coming from and can direct suggestions and resources to support them.

We meet in small groups, groups of two or three, and as individuals. The idea is to build a learning network that extends beyond the formal discussions of the professional development to the informal, informed, and ongoing conversations about best practice.

These new conversations are embedded in contexts and shared experience. Nobody is talking at us telling us how it should be done! We are figuring things out in an inclusive, participatory, and reflective model.

I see a model of most teachers from various departments in the school continuing their professional growth in this manner over time. In this model, teachers are encouraged and supported in the development of their Personal Learning Network—

How can we structure the (personal learning) network in such a way as to maximize the maximal value? I have suggested four criteria: diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectedness (or interactivity).

For example, networks that are more diverse – in which each individual has a different set of connections, for example – produce a greater maximal value than networks that are not.

—from The Personal Learning Network Effect by Stephen Downes


November 10, 2007

Everybody Does It: Academic cheating is at an all-time high.
Can anything be done to stop it?

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Not only is cheating on the rise nationally – a 2005 Duke University study found that 75 percent of high school students admit to cheating, and if you include copying another person’s homework, that number climbs to 90 percent – but there has also been a cultural shift in who cheats and why.

The article concludes that those most vulnerable to academic cheating are good students—

“It’s not the dumb kids who cheat,” one Bay Area prep school student told me. “It’s the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They’re the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught.”

win-at-all-costs athletes—

Athletes in the high-profile male sports such as football, baseball and basketball are more willing to cheat than other athletes. The one women’s sport that yields similar results is softball. For generations, sports have been perceived as an endeavor that builds character and instills positive values in youth. These study results, released in February, prompted many to ask: Just what are the coaches teaching these kids?

and college students—

a junior at the University of Southern California, says, “Everyone cheats. There is no cushion, so you have to do well; there isn’t a choice. In college, there is no room for error. You cannot fail. You refuse to fail. People become desperate, so they’ll do anything to do well. That’s why people resort to paying others to do their papers. Because you feel: Mess up once and you are screwed. The end.”

living in our popular culture—

Ethicist Josephson says, “The rule of thumb we use is: Whatever you allow you encourage. So whether they’re seeing it with Enron or Barry Bonds or Paris Hilton, somewhere here or there, they are seeing people get away with stuff. The truth is they don’t have to look further than their own high school. There is so much cheating going on in their own school by their own colleagues, with their teachers looking the other way, in a way that almost looks like passive approval. There’s a culture that begins to develop, when you see people do this, and it provides the moral cover they need to insulate themselves from a conscience. It’s like saying, ‘Come on, I’m not the only one, it’s happening all the time.’

Modified Lesson Study @ WCHS

November 5, 2007

Tomorrow morning we take our first shot at upgrading our PLC conversation at WCHS. Five teachers will meet with me to prepare for a lesson observation with a lead teacher the following day.

Initially Licensed Teachers (ILTs) and selected new teachers will observe and reflect upon the teaching practice of lead teachers they visit. The ultimate goal will be for observing teachers to adapt and adopt effective teaching practices they observe. This structured professional development opportunity will consist of pre-visit, visit and post-visit components. There will be sustained follow-up with facilitator.

Our first lead teacher will be Allen Conway. The lesson we will observe deals with the emergence of the United States in world affairs (1890-1914). The major concepts will be the following:

  • exploitation of nations
  • peoples and resources
  • increased demands for resources and markets
  • global and military competition

Here is the note-taking tool we will use: lesson-study-tool.pdf

PLCs Beyond Talking Stage

November 5, 2007

From the “Instructional Leadership Department” comes this news from this morning’s Herald Sun:

Durham Public Schools officials are considering letting students out two hours early eight times a year to give teachers time to meet and plan together.

Under a proposal to be considered by the school, elementary students would be dismissed at 1:30 p.m., and middle and high school students would be let out at 12:30 so that teachers would have time to work in “Professional Learning Communities,” or PLCs.

“It reduces the amount of isolation and it professionalizes the workplace,” said Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for the school system. “It gives teachers all time to plan together.”

From a LeaderTalk entry by Dr. Terry Holliday, superintendent of Iredell-Statesvilles Schools:

In our school system teachers are expected to work in teams at least one hour per week and look at common assessment of student progress to learn how children are progressing. Many of our teachers will find that struggling readers are the children that are not successful. All of our teams of teachers are then expected to develop strategies to provide interventions for these students who are struggling and challenges for those students who are meeting or exceeding expectations.

These meetings take time. A few of our teachers resent the use of this time or they spend the time in these meetings complaining about having to meet. Teachers say they need this time to plan. However, the synergy of the group with the appropriate use of data and research on best instructional strategies will always create better PLANS than individual teacher plans.

From the blog of Dr. Terry Holliday:

One of the highlights of my week is visiting classrooms. ISS has implemented a strategy this year that requires all administrators to visit at least 5 classrooms per week and document the instructional strategies that are happening in our school system. At the end of this month, the building administrators will learn how to retrieve reports about their schools and then share the information with teachers.

The purpose of the reports is not to evaluate teachers. The purpose is to train administrators about what great instruction looks like and have teachers share best strategies with each other in conversations called Professional Learning Communities.

And then there are these facts from Cherry Hill, NJ Public Schools about the Japanese Model called lesson study:

  • The average Japanese teacher teaches at least one study lesson per year, but observes about ten.
  • Over ten years, the average Japanese teacher has made 100 observations of fellow teachers! (How many do American teachers observe?)
  • Japanese 1st year teachers go through 30 days of professional development (15 at education centers and 15 at the school learning lesson study)
  • Teachers are hired for 12 months, and they work from 8-5 each day.

In schools today, we talk a lot about Professional Learning Communities and Lesson Study. Knowing that ideals are difficult to attain, we do have to start somewhere if PLCs are the way to go. And several of our schools have been taking innovative steps over time to encourage and facilitate the conversations and professional growth characteristic of PLCs.

What are some concrete ways we—like Durham, Iredell, and Japan— can take this discussion beyond talk and into sustained action . . . systematically, school-wide, and departmentally? Please share.