Monday, October 24, 2011

Reader's Theater!

Fluency is one area that we work on in our intervention block in 6th grade.  Not only do we work on our words per minute, but we also self and peer assess following this rubric:

A fun strategy we like to use for increasing fluency is Reader's Theater. Recently, our daily schedule was all messed up due to state standardized testing. The intervention block didn't meet as many days, so we took some time to do some fun reader's theater plays. We hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Phat -n- Famous

The formative assessment team is entering its third year. You can read previous posts on the team if you are interested or need some schema built for you. :) This year we have three new members and a new team name, and we held our first meeting of the new school year last Friday.

The project itself has a new name: FAME or Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators. All coaches were asked to discuss this article with their teams. My principal asked that I do something around formative assessment for the whole staff for our PD day, so I used the article with my whole staff. This had three benefits. First, it left more time to get to the nitty-gritty in our team meeting. Second, reading and discussing the article ahead of time and with the whole staff gave two of my new members a chance to read and talk about FA before coming to their first meeting. I hope it helped ease a bit any anxiety they were feeling. And third, the whole staff activity also resulted in one more member joining our team.

When the team got together after lunch, our first task was to create our group norms. Two years ago, we created our norms using the Hopes and Fears protocol. Because six of the team are returning members, I didn't want to use the same protocol, but because we have three new members, I knew it was important to follow a protocol to create new group norms that belong to all of us. I used a protocol called Forming Ground Rules from the NSRF website. These are the norms that the group decided on:
     There will be snacks.
     We will follow a short, succinct, flexible agenda.
     We will set long and short term group and individual goals.
     What happens at PHAT stays at PHAT.
     We will all be contributing members.
And our safety word will continue to be SQUASH. (Yes, there is a fun story behind that!)

Our next task was to do some team building by creating a team poster that would include a team name, symbol, and motto. Our new team name is PHAT -n- Famous. This is (obviously, I hope!) an acronym and a play on words. PHAT=Pretty Hot Assessment Team and the Famous incorporates the new name of the project (FAME.) Our motto is Assessing Outside the Box. Here is the poster:
Each star coming out of the box has a team member's name on it.

The next thing I wanted to do was to "prime the pump" of formative assessment by accessing their prior knowledge. Now that we are a couple of years into the process, I know that team members have a lot of knowledge about FA. To bring that out, the team did a chalk talk. A chalk talk is accomplished by each group member writing what they know about the topic in the middle. They may branch off things other members write, but they cannot talk out loud--all talk is in writing. After the Chalk Talk, we reviewed some of the resources from last year and briefly brought up points from the article again.The group then went back to the Chalk Talk and added to it (in red so we could all see what was jogged in their memories after the review.)
Chalk Talk is a formative assessment tool that can allow a teacher to see how much a group knows about a topic before teaching about it. Groups of 4 are about right in a classroom, and if each student has a different colored marker, the teacher quickly gets an idea of where each student is in terms of their knowledge on the topic.
By this time it was getting late in the day, and we all know how functional teacher brains are at 3:00 on a Friday...after a long day of PD! The last thing I asked the team to do was to create individual goals and write them on a ticket out the door with a section where they also were asked to consider ways I could support them in reaching their goals. I will meet with team members about their goals in order to support them before we meet again. The goals also help me see where the group wants to go and so they assist me in planning our next meeting together.

It was a great meeting and I am looking forward, once again, to spending another year with such dedicated and curious teacher/learners.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Becoming a Better Thinker

Last week I completed an 8-day professional development series on Cognitive Coaching(SM). Though I have been involved in many professional conferences and workshops that have improved my practice, none will have the far-reaching effects of this. I have learned how to help my colleagues the people in my life mediate their thinking: to be better at planning, to be reflective, and to use their own internal resources to resolve problems in their professional and personal lives. Through this learning, I have been able to be more aware of my own thinking. But that doesn't mean that a cognitive coach doesn't need a coach sometimes.

On the last day of training, our trainer, Carolee Hayes, asked me to have a problem resolving conversation with her. I was excited about the opportunity because, while this was designed as a model coaching conversation as part of our training, I knew the benefit to me as someone with a problem (something I was "stuck" on) would be immeasurable.

I had begun this school year with a professional goal to "develop a backbone." I didn't really have a better way to say it to myself. But I knew that I needed somehow to be more influential in my position. While I feel like I have made some progress towards my goal, I knew it would be hard. I hate confrontation. I avoid situations where there might be any kind of discomfort. And in "getting a backbone" my vision of myself was "getting in the face" of people I felt needed to hear certain messages. I knew I was not going to be very successful at that for several reasons: 1) the aforementioned aversion to confrontation, 2) my lack of any kind of power to force change, and 3) my philosophy that (even if I had the power to demand) I can't force people to change by demanding it.

My problem was that I had been encouraging staff members to attend workshops offered by our ISD on Argumentative Writing. I know this is instruction our students need, but very few teachers are yet registered for the sessions. I tried to presume positive intentions...I know teachers don't like to be out of the classroom. But this is one of the biggest (in my view) changes in curriculum with the new Common Core State Standards.

Through the coaching conversation, I came to the realization that what I really meant by "developing a back bone" was that I had to have the difficult conversations about student success and academic achievement, but I had to have them in an impersonal way. I realized that if I want my staff members to take part in professional development sessions that are going to help change practice that is good for kids, I have to show them why they should do it. I have to create cognitive dissonance without personal confrontation. I need to show them the data that our kids need this instruction and they aren't getting it right now. And I feel capable and empowered to do that because Carolee was able to change my thinking. What I had seen as a third party problem I came to see as MY problem. I was able to think through what I can do to get my desired result.  I also came to the realization that if I do all that, and they still choose not to attend the sessions, I have to be OK with that. My cognitive shift was huge.

And now I am excited to help my staff have these same shifts in thinking; to be more efficient planners, to be reflective practitioners, and to find the internal resources to resolve the issues they face.