Evaluating the Inclusivity of our Resources

To order Captain Awesome or to not order Captain Awesome?
Anyone who has merely brushed by me in the past two weeks can’t help but hear me obsess over the book order that the elementary school is submitting to support the adoption of reading workshop next year. We are committed to finding high-interest literature written at an accessible level. In short, we want books that kids can’t bear to put down.

Captain Awesome initially ticks all the boxes: an easy to read, action packed series with enough lowbrow humor to make the average 8-year-old pretty happy. It seems like an obvious choice. At the same time, I keep coming back to the fact that the front cover depicts a white superhero with a black sidekick. I can’t help but ask myself, “How many books have we ordered with person of color as the main character accompanied by a white sidekick?”
As a school blessed with resources, I wonder what messages our resources give about global citizenship, an equitable world, and the roles assigned to different demographic groups?
This question requires our book ordering criteria to narrow. Can we find accessible, high-interest literature that reflects our student population? Can our students see themselves in the books they encounter at ISB? Do our resources reinforce or challenge racial, cultural or gender stereotypes?
My partner in crime, Paul Wong, recently discovered that a popular series of sports fiction pitched the books differently depending on the gender of the protagonist. Titles featuring males reflected victory and domination: Touch Down Triumph or Quarterback Comeback, where titles featuring female protagonists centered around feelings: Gymnastic Jitters or Panic in the Pool. Sorry boys, if you have a case of the jitters – you won’t find male characters to help you explore those feelings.
Without Paul’s eyes for the discrepancy between male and female sports fiction, I never would have picked up on these themes. Often, we are so accustomed to seeing white superheroes or female damsels in distress that we might not even notice the messages subtly being imparted to our students.
Two years back, I was surprised to realize that every read-aloud novel I shared with my students – Because of Winn DixieClementine, and Gooney Bird Greene– featured a white female protagonist and was written by a white female author. As a white female, I didn’t specifically choose these books for their whiteness or their femaleness – but I identified with them and could relate to the characters presented. Could the same be said by all my students? How does it feel when the person in power – the teacher – presents resources that exclude a large portion of the student body? What message does it send to kids about who we care about? What message does it send about who writes books? Am I propagating systemic racism in my choice of texts?
Once we start to notice that which was previously invisible, we become newly accountable. A first step for me as an educator is to evaluate the resources that kids encounter every day. Do my students see themselves in the literature that they read? Do they encounter authors with similar cultural or ethnic backgrounds? What story do the pictures on the walls and in the halls tell them about what it means to be female, male, gay, a person of color, a person of a certain faith, a mathematician, or a scientist?
A classroom resource audit can help make the invisible more visible. Who do our books represent? What messages can be gleaned from what hangs on the walls? Nothing engages students more than asking them to take an evaluative role on the inclusiveness of the classroom environment.
The good news is that there is a lot of great literature out there. From the Yasmin series, where a Pakistani American second grade student gets into scraps like any other seven-year-old, to Alvin Ho, a Chinese American boy who struggles with anxiety, there exists a treasure trove of literature that matches the messages we say every day: You can be anything. You can feel anything. You are important. You belong.
And no, I decided not to order Captain Awesome.
For more reading, check out Tricia Ebarvia’s blog, “How Inclusive is Your Literacy Classroom Really?

Differentiation: Back to the Basics

“In differentiated classrooms, teachers ensure that students compete against themselves as they grow and develop more then they compete against one another, always moving toward-and often beyond- designated content goals”
– Carol Ann Tomlinson “The Differentiated Classroom”
 
The word differentiation can be heard in schools and educational conferences around the world. It sounds like a big, new concept, but think back to all of those one room school houses that used to and, in some places, still exist. Tomlinson states, “Today’s teachers still contend with the essential challenge of the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse: how to reach out effectively to students who span the spectrum of learning readiness, personal interests, and culturally shaped ways of seeing and speaking about experiencing the world.” Differentiation does not look the same between classes and there is no single strategy that works with all students. As the idea of differentiation can vary dramatically from person to person, it is important to examine the essential pieces of differentiation to know where to start or how to get back on track.
Both the school’s curriculum and the students themselves play integral roles when attempting to differentiate in the classroom. Tomlinson notes two main considerations when differentiating curriculum: clarity and the relationship of assessment and instruction. In order for differentiation to be effective in a classroom, the teacher needs to have a clear understanding and picture of the essential knowledge, understanding, and skills required and knowledge of how those pieces connect to the grades above and below. This clarity supports making sure the students know the expectations and allows for flexibility in moving students up and down a continuum based on understanding and skill development.
Knowing where students are in their learning journeys and monitoring to determine whether they are progressing within the curriculum is a crucial aspect of differentiation. Assessment is not a way to give a final grade in a differentiated classroom, but a tool to guide instruction and evaluate the efficacy of an approach. Assessment and instruction should occur dynamically in the classroom and can take many forms such as an exit ticket, mid-module test, or a quick survey in which students self-evaluate their understanding.

There are four main things that can be differentiated in the classroom: content, process, product, and affect/environment. The student’s level of readiness, learning profile, and interests should all be taken into consideration when developing differentiation strategies. The first step is getting to know the students, which is typically a part of the beginning of the year routine; however, there may be ways to expand your get-to-know-you surveys, activities, and discussions with the goal of learning more about how students learn and what they enjoy learning about.

When embarking on this journey, focus on one area at a time. How can you change the environment for whole class lessons? Group work? Individual work time? What are the different ways to present information to students (videos, articles, different leveled text, audio, visuals, etc.)?
Differentiation has existed for a long time and differentiation can be seen in all classrooms; however, as educators, we constantly strive to expand and enhance our teaching repertoires throughout our careers. In terms of differentiation, this type of growth requires a focused effort to re-evaluate our practices and experiment with new techniques in creating more efficient, effective, and supportive learning environments.

Wellness at Work: Striving for Good Enough

Wellness at Work:
The Good Enough Guide to Great Teaching by Kendra Daly
If you are one of those slacker teachers who has been sending home the same packet of dittos for the last ten years, then this guide isn’t for you. No, this guide is for those hard-working teachers who wake up in the morning mulling over the day’s lesson plans, those teachers who forget to go to the bathroom, who eat lunch between classes, or who wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a student.
I’m pretty sure that I just described all of us.
Because teaching is such a highly complex, intellectually challenging, constantly changing pursuit, it requires us to embrace it whole heartedly. This is a guide of self-care and practicality for those of us who dedicate our lives, from breakfast until bedtime, to helping kids learn. This guide asks us to allow ourselves the permission to accept good enough, so that our greatness has the space to breathe.
I will be the first one to tell you that I am a flawed teacher. My classroom does not run like a well-oiled machine – let’s just say that kids are real relaxed about transitions. The paper cupboard spews scraps every time it’s cracked even an inch, and there have been more than a few times where I open my lesson plan book to find a week full of blank pages.
But I am a great teacher.
Students in my classroom are known and loved. They want to come to school, and their thinking plays a central role in our classroom culture.
Most of our flaws come from the fact that we just don’t have enough time in the working day to attend to the millions of tasks that great teaching requires. In a perfect world, every lesson would be carefully crafted, formative assessments would be marked in a timely manner, and our classrooms would be serene environments of enlightenment. Of course, this would require a 20-hour work day, and even then, there would be items lingering on the to-do list.
The Four Burner Theory is one created for people seeking a work/life balance. The idea being that each burner represents one of the four: Work, Friends, Family, Health; to be successful in any, you must turn down some of the other burners. I’ve often enjoyed thinking about this theory in terms of teaching, and as an elementary school teacher, I tend to think of each of the burners as a subject: math, reading, writing, and science. To teach one well, you have let yourself off the hook by “turning down” another subject. Or if you prefer, you could just as easily think of the burners as planning, assessment, documentation, and communication.
I suppose it’s possible to keep the burners high in all four areas, but pretty soon, we’re going to run out fuel. Even knowing this, I beat myself up time and time again for not being on top of it all, secretly fearing that someone will discover that I am an “imposter good teacher,” and my ineptitude will soon be revealed. I like to imagine a world where we actually get props from our colleagues for making deliberate choices about the tasks for which we’re letting ourselves off the hook. And so, I encourage you to do the following:

  1. List your own four burners. What burners are turned up high at this particular moment in time?
  1. What burners are you choosing to turn down to low?
  1. Now, congratulate yourself for creating space and time to do one or two things really well.

Was there ever a time in your career when the tinkling bells of children’s laughter was akin to the sound of nails running across a black board? This is my number one signal that I am starting to run out of fuel; those moments where I think, “Man, I could get so much more work done if the students weren’t here.”
We all have days where it seems like way too much work and way too much hardship to handle. It’s moments like these where we need to dig deep and rely on that which fuels us: connecting with the young people around us.
So, let’s actually make time for those connections. What would it look like if you turned down a burner of your choice and turned the “connection” burner way up? How will it impact the way you feel about your students and your career choice?
Here are ways that I might turn my connection burner up:

  • Schedule “coffee talk,” a 10-minute block where we all sit around chatting
  • Make art with students…just because
  • Protect time for kids to pursue their passions. Spend that time learning from them about the things that make them happy.

Our profession is such that we’ll never figure it all out. We’ll stink it up, and we’ll do it often. Let’s celebrate this! By selecting the areas where we’ll accept good enough, we find we have enough fuel for those pursuits where greatness is required.
 

Faculty Book Club. Why bother? READ ON!

This October, ISB will enjoy its second Faculty Book Club, and while we can expect a fair bit of mirth and postured convo, some may ask “what’s the point.” By nature, reading is a very personal experience, and most of us are content to share our reactions with our partners and close friends. So what’s the value of a MEGA BOOK CLUB where I have to sit next to Cindy Liu, whom I’ve never met before, and why would I want to hear his reaction to the book I’ve just read?
Well, “therein lies the rub”: by limiting ourselves to sharing our ideas with those from a similar cultural ideology, we create our own information bubble– GASP!
If we intend to model global citizenship, it’s imperative that we find opportunities to share ideas with people OUTSIDE of our immediate social circle and outside of our culture norms. We NEED to hear Cindy Liu’s perspective. The more diverse the group, the better. Right?
But let’s not get too heavy here: it’s just a book club. Happy reading and have fun!
Sign up for the FBC now

The Power of Simple Questions

What I love about the Dufour PLC questions is how simple and memorable they are, yet how they can inform our work on so many levels.  

  1. What do we want our students to learn? 
  2. How will we know whether they’ve learned? 
  3. What will we do if they don’t learn? What will we do if they do? 

Rami Madani put it well the other day, saying, “These four questions are very scalable: we can ask them about individual lessons, projects, units, classes, and whole programs.”  That notion of simple but scalable stuck with me. 
Here in the Office of Learning, we’re involved in conversations at many different scales, from project to program, and we keep coming back to these few simple questions to guide our thinking. Here are some examples of ways that these questions help us answer the “why” of the curriculum review cycle work: 
 Why map out our scope and sequence?  
Because we want the learning goals in our sequential classes to build on each other in a purposeful way. (PLC question 1) 
Why update the unit planner?  
Going through the UbD template forces us to be crystal clear in our own minds about what the important learning goals of that unit are (PLC question 1), and whether our assessments are assessing the goals that we say we care about (PLC question 2)
Why create common vertical assessments? 
Common assessments help us think clearly about what important goals for our students are, and how well they are meeting those goals as a result of being in our program (PLC questions 1 and 2).
Why reflect on student learning data from common formative assessments? 
Discussing together how well our students did in achieving a particular standard helps us to decide what next steps to take to respond to the individual needs of the students sitting in front of us, rather than “teach, test, and hope for the best”. (PLC questions 3 and 4).
Why bother going through all the changes to fully implement standards-based grading and reporting?  
SBGR helps us give more accurate and actionable feedback to students on exactly what they learned and didn’t learn yet (PLC questions 3 and 4).  
These four simple questions help us in the Office of Learning make sense of and prioritize our work around teaching and learning. As I consider all the possible tasks that I could focus on each day, considering these questions can help me hone in on the highest leverage actions I can take. 
Similarly, these questions can help individual teachers decide how to prioritize and spend your precious time. There might not be enough hours in the day to get through your massive to-do list.  Which tasks will be the highest leverage for helping you answer these questions? Those are where you want to focus your energy. 

Multiple-Choice can be a Solid Choice

With a move to standards based assessments, there is often a perception that everything must have a rubric and that multiple-choice questions are a big no-no.  This is a misconception.  Selected response questions are very appropriate for knowledge learning targets.

Once you determine that selected response is an appropriate way to collect evidence of student learning, there are several things you should consider.
 
Tips for writing effective multiple choice questions:
Don’t include irrelevant information in the question stem
Avoid negative wording (Which of the following is NOT a cause of global warming?)
All answer choices should be a plausible choice – there should be no “throw-aways”
Don’t include silly or nonsensical options. An analysis of incorrect student responses should provide you with an accurate understanding of student misconceptions and help you to target re-teaching
Avoid using always, never, none, and all
Make sure the answer choices match up grammatically with the question stem
Avoid using “all of the above” and “none of the above”

 

You CAN assess higher level thinking with Multiple Choice Questions

 

Knowledge – questions written at this level ask students to remember factual knowledge. The outcome is for students is usually to identify the meaning of a term or the order of events. Examples questions are:
What is…?
Who were the main…?
Which one…?
Why did…?
 
Comprehension – questions written at this level require students to do more than memorize information in order to answer correctly. This level asks for basic knowledge to be used in context. The outcome for students might be to interpret ideas or to identify an example of a term, concept, or principle. Example questions are:
Which of the following is an example of…?
What is the main idea of…?
How can you summarize…?
 
Application – questions written at this level require students to recognize a problem or discrepancy. The outcome is for students to distinguish between two items or identify how concepts are related. Example questions are:
What can result if…?
How can you organize ___ to show ___?
How can you use…?
What is the best approach to…?
 
Analysis – questions written at this level requires students to break down material into its component parts and identify the parts and the relationships between them.  The outcome is for students to recognize and analyze patterns or trends. Example questions are:
How is ___ related to ___?
What conclusions can be drawn from…?
What is the distinction between ___ and ___?
What ideas justify…?
What is the function of…?
 
Synthesis – questions written at this level require students to create new connections, generalizations, patterns, or perspectives. The outcome is for students to originate, integrate, or combine ideas into a product, plan, or proposal. Example questions are: What can be done to minimize/maximize…?
How can you test…?
How can you adapt ___ to create a different…?
Which of the following can you combine to improve/change…?
 
Evaluation – questions written at this level require students to appraise, assess, or critique on the basis of specific standards. The outcome is for students to judge the value of material for a given purpose. Example questions are:
How can you prove/disprove…?
What data was used to make the conclusion…?
Which of the following support the view…?
How can you asses the value or importance of…?
Which of the following can you cite to defend the actions of…?
(Adapted from the University of South Florida)
 
For samples of selected response items from state and national tests, check out the links below:
PARCC Sample/Released Test Items
Wyoming PAWS Released items for Science, Math, Reading
Louisiana Released items for Science, Social Studies, Math and ELA
New York Released items in Math and ELA
PISA released items for Reading, Math and Science
 
General Resources:
Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions (Vanderbilt University)
Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions (University of Alaska)

Multiple-Choice can be a Solid Choice

With a move to standards based assessments, there is often a perception that everything must have a rubric and that multiple-choice questions are a big no-no.  This is a misconception.  Selected response questions are very appropriate for knowledge learning targets.

Once you determine that selected response is an appropriate way to collect evidence of student learning, there are several things you should consider.
 
Tips for writing effective multiple choice questions:
Don’t include irrelevant information in the question stem
Avoid negative wording (Which of the following is NOT a cause of global warming?)
All answer choices should be a plausible choice – there should be no “throw-aways”
Don’t include silly or nonsensical options. An analysis of incorrect student responses should provide you with an accurate understanding of student misconceptions and help you to target re-teaching
Avoid using always, never, none, and all
Make sure the answer choices match up grammatically with the question stem
Avoid using “all of the above” and “none of the above”

 

You CAN assess higher level thinking with Multiple Choice Questions

 

Knowledge – questions written at this level ask students to remember factual knowledge. The outcome is for students is usually to identify the meaning of a term or the order of events. Examples questions are:
What is…?
Who were the main…?
Which one…?
Why did…?
 
Comprehension – questions written at this level require students to do more than memorize information in order to answer correctly. This level asks for basic knowledge to be used in context. The outcome for students might be to interpret ideas or to identify an example of a term, concept, or principle. Example questions are:
Which of the following is an example of…?
What is the main idea of…?
How can you summarize…?
 
Application – questions written at this level require students to recognize a problem or discrepancy. The outcome is for students to distinguish between two items or identify how concepts are related. Example questions are:
What can result if…?
How can you organize ___ to show ___?
How can you use…?
What is the best approach to…?
 
Analysis – questions written at this level requires students to break down material into its component parts and identify the parts and the relationships between them.  The outcome is for students to recognize and analyze patterns or trends. Example questions are:
How is ___ related to ___?
What conclusions can be drawn from…?
What is the distinction between ___ and ___?
What ideas justify…?
What is the function of…?
 
Synthesis – questions written at this level require students to create new connections, generalizations, patterns, or perspectives. The outcome is for students to originate, integrate, or combine ideas into a product, plan, or proposal. Example questions are: What can be done to minimize/maximize…?
How can you test…?
How can you adapt ___ to create a different…?
Which of the following can you combine to improve/change…?
 
Evaluation – questions written at this level require students to appraise, assess, or critique on the basis of specific standards. The outcome is for students to judge the value of material for a given purpose. Example questions are:
How can you prove/disprove…?
What data was used to make the conclusion…?
Which of the following support the view…?
How can you asses the value or importance of…?
Which of the following can you cite to defend the actions of…?
(Adapted from the University of South Florida)
 
For samples of selected response items from state and national tests, check out the links below:
PARCC Sample/Released Test Items
Wyoming PAWS Released items for Science, Math, Reading
Louisiana Released items for Science, Social Studies, Math and ELA
New York Released items in Math and ELA
PISA released items for Reading, Math and Science
 
General Resources:
Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions (Vanderbilt University)
Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions (University of Alaska)

Inquire into This

Why? How come? What if? If you have children or teach or have spent any time around young children, then you know that these are some of their favorite words. Kids love asking questions. It is in their blood. It’s their natural response to anything that sparks their interest. Sadly, as these young children grow, the questions often begin to wane. Year by year they ask fewer and fewer questions until many of these learners simply become receptacles of information. They stop finding out why on their own. Why?
Rather than focusing on why the questions cease, let’s focus on why these questions need to continue. The simple answer is that it is in our DNA. Humans are curious creatures. This is the reason we lift the lid on an old wooden box, peek into a cave, move a rock. We are curious. As educators we need to think about how we can keep this spark of curiosity alive. What is our role as an educator? Are we, in the 21st century, meant to provide our students only with knowledge and information, or are we meant to provide our students with knowledge and the skills of how to discover for themselves. To paraphrase Kath Murdoch, an inquiry consultant, we need to help students know what to do when they don’t know. When a student has a need to know, given the skills, they will be willing to do the heavy lifting for themselves. So the challenge becomes figuring out how to ignite maintain that interest so that students want to discover, learn, and investigate more deeply. Let’s encourage the many, many questions from our Pre-K students and continue to encourage and foster the bigger and broader questioning of our older students. And when they ask those questions, we have the most difficult job – don’t provide the explanation! Rather, let’s guide our students to find out for themselves. To quote our science consultant, Paul Andersen’s motto, “Don’t kill the wonder.”
Go here for creative prompts that will ignite the wonder for inquiry, discussion, or writing journals!
Wonderopolis
wonderopolis

Why We Blog

blog-684748_960_720Last year we made and effort in the Office of Learning to build #learnisb on Twitter and through our blogging platform.  Each serves a somewhat different purpose.  We use Twitter and social media as a way to open up our classrooms and share our work and the work of our students with each other.  We have many active tweeters on staff and look forward to continue the building of this community within the school.
Blogging is another way we want to share ideas from professional learning to interesting educational conversations etc. Following the blog is a choice as we do not send our all staff announcements of the blog. If you would like to follow it, you need only subscribe on the right hand side of this page.Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.48.36 AM
There are several good reasons to follow the blog:

  1. We share ideas you might be interested in.
  2. Our Twitter feed is loaded on the blog so if you are not on Tweetdeck or Twitter, this is a place you can come to see what is being shared on Twitter  by your ISB colleagues.
  3. Professional Learning, we have a professional learning calendar that lets you know about all of the PD available at ISB and in the region.  One stop shopping for all of your PD needs
  4. Key resources for departments in the Office of Learning (Curriculum, Educational Technology, and the Strategic Learning Office).

Please subscribe and we promise to share good things and to keep you informed about your professional learning opportunities.

Does your classroom space reflect 21st century learning?

By Kristine Tesoriero
Middle School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator
Twenty wooden desks are lined up in neat rows. The teacher’s desk is in the front of the rectangular room and a podium is stationed in front of the chalkboards. Fluorescent lights buzz from above and faded vertical blinds cover the windows.
How many of us can remember a similar classroom when we wereimages-2 students? We can probably all remember the smell of pencil shavings and the sounds of the bell signaling us to move to the next classroom (which looked almost identical to the one beside it).
But can the traditional classroom space support what we know about teaching and learning in the 21st century?
 
 
Let’s consider these questions when thinking about the traditional classroom set-up:

  • Flexibility Is the space flexible enough so that students can easily collaborate and communicate with one another? Is there a place to go for students to interact and work in small groups? Is there also a place to go for students to work individually? Does the space offer places for teachers and students to confer? Is there flexibility and autonomy for students to choose the best digital tools to enhance learning?images
  • Inquiry- Where do students go to investigate and search for answers and solutions? Is there a classroom library? Is the school librarian a co-teacher in the classroom? Is the school library utilized to pro
    mote inquiry? How do we leverage technology to promote a culture of thinking and inquiry?
  • Community- Do students feel a sense of ownership over the space? Do they have the freedom to manipulate the space to meet their needs? Is it the teacher’s classroom or is it a community space? Does student work adorn the walls? Are students digital citizens in an online learning community? Do we teach digital citizenship and resilience?
  • “Resource-full”- (full of resources!)- Are bulletin boards used as teaching tools? Are digital tools easily accessible? Are there non-fiction resources pertaining to the current unit of study? Where can students go if they need more support? Are there resources available to students who need a challenge?Unknown
  • Innovation- Do students see themselves as designers and makers? Are the right conditions in place for students to create and innovate with various tools and spaces?
  • Communication- How do students share their learning? Are others invited in and is teaching and learning de-privatized? Is the space conducive to presentations and exhibitions of learning? Are digital tools used to share learning and connect with authentic audiences?images-3
  • Mobile Learning- Are students and teachers confined to their classrooms? Or are there common spaces on and off campus, online and offline? Which digital tools can be used to learn anytime, anywhere?
  • Global Thinking-Are students part of a global classroom? Does our learning space (physical and virtual) promote learning about our world? Do students connect and learn with people outside of the school community?

When we consider ISB’s L21 framework, and the teaching and learning that is happening in our classrooms, what role does space play in bringing these principles to life?
L21 new compass
Here are some examples of how schools around the world are rethinking the use of learning spaces:

  • Shekou International School is excited about their ability to use “Level 5”, which is an initiative of International Schools Services. Level 5 is a flexible learning space that allows for a wide range of learning activities.
  • The International School of Brussels has redesigned a traditional space of their school into a collaboration space.

 
Additional research and resources:
Why learning space matters
20 things educators need to know about learning spaces
Does McDonald’s have a better learning space than your classroom?

Skip to toolbar