Rethinking Professional Development


This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


In order to effectively change schools, to engage in true reform, and to put students first, the learning of educators must model this process and go through some changes. Education for children has gone through some serious structural changes, from competency based learning and online learning, to emphasis on 21st century skills like collaboration and problem solving. Adult learning can and should mirror these structural changes, but in order for this to happen, there must be power given up by administrators to empower the teachers around them. John Stewart in a conversation with Melody Barnes spoke of this empowerment to change:

“Do you think ultimately we will find ourselves changing our entire model of education? I have always found with education that individuals are the ones that make the enormous difference, and the more that you’re able to empower a great teacher, a great principal, a great superintendent, can make enormous differences. How do we empower the individual to have the authority and the responsibility to make those changes, and not tie them to arbitrary objective realities or goals?”

The big question is how can we use Professional Development to empower educators to better themselves? There are tools out there in professional development that can help with it. The key is protocols, structures, and inquiry. Instead of “workshops” on a regular basis, where it is mostly driven by the speaker, let’s allow for different structures. Workshops must still happen, but only when timely and needed. Not everything has to be workshop. If we want the instruction to be diverse in structure and discourse, then the same must be made for teachers so that they can internalize the practice, and most importantly be empowered to learn.

We should be allowing time for teachers to collaborate on specific objectives, problems and issues. Teachers can be held accountable through a variety of products, from presentations to plans and briefings. If we are allowing for voice and choice in the way students present their learning, we should do the same for teaching. Teachers need to be allowed to delve into in depth inquiry of learning within the framework of the administration, but also related heavily to the practice. Instead of a workshop on culturally responsive teaching, have teachers create driving questions and investigations to explore and apply to their practice around the topic of culturally responsive teaching. When we start to broaden our scope of what professional development is, we can start to differentiate professional development for teachers, from whole school PD, to PLCs, to individual coaching. Allowing teachers to come to the table with their concerns, and then allowing them to explore solutions, we can empower teachers to be reflective and continue their growth.

When we talk about developing the practice of teachers, let’s stop using the word “training” and use the word “empower.” I know Abeo is committed to this model of PD, and all schools should embrace it in order to improve teacher and student achievement.

Courageous Conversation: Formative Assessment and Grading


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


With all the education action around Standards-Based Instruction, Understanding By Design, Assessment for Learning, Grading for Learning, Project-Based Learning, Competency-Based Instruction and more, we need to have a frank conversation about formative assessment and grading. This may be a difficult conversation to have.

Educators may end up mourning the loss of past practices and frameworks. It is a paradigm shift, and consequently, we need to have empathy for all stakeholders as transitions occur.

Grades for Everything?
Let me start off by making a clear distinction between two ideas, assessment and grading. They are not the same; they are related. We grade assessments, and assessments reflect learning that has occurred. However, the concept of grading and assessment is complicated, and has further been complicated by the many ways that education reform has manifested itself in the classroom.

Secondly, I want to be honest with all of you about my journey with this concept. When I first started teaching, I utilized both what I learned from my experience in the classroom as a student and from my student teaching. Everything was graded — and I mean everything. Why did I do this? Well for one, that was my leverage to make students do the work I know they needed to do in order to be successful. The intention was good. In addition, this practice was normal for students, and they understood the routine. We know that routines provide stability, so I thought I was doing them a service by continuing to grade everything. I developed an elaborate system of weights to create what I thought was a clear system for parents, students and other stakeholders. Parents understood it, because it was the same system most them had experienced.

So what was the problem? Where do I start? I had no time. I was grading everything. I had so much paperwork because I was trying to give great feedback on everything in addition to grading and inputting the grades. Perhaps even worse, I wasn’t focused on the larger problem. My students cared more about the points than they did about the class. They weren’t engaged, and whose fault was that? It was mine. I was “cattle-prodding” them into doing work. It was punitive. “Don’t do the work and your grade will suffer.” I should have been focusing on my instruction and creating engagement lessons and projects for students to do.

Instead, I was clouding the issue of instruction with grading. I was putting the blame on students rather than on myself. That is a key reflective moment that every teacher should engage in when students are doing the work: What did I instructionally do, or not do, to engage all learners? Not, how can I make them do the work?

Changing the Conversation
What has changed? I don’t grade formative assessments. Yes, you read that correctly. What do I do with them? I document them in the grade book, because I need evidence of progress for students, parents and myself. I give specific, focused feedback on the assignments I collect. I have students reflect on their formative assessments and set goals. I have conversations with students after completing a summative assessment; we reflect on the grade of the summative and how the formative relates to the grade they received on the summative. I facilitate moments where students and I connect a seemingly irrelevant assignment, like a comma worksheet, to a more authentic, relevant and engaging summative assessment. These are all things you need to be doing instead of grading.

Why don’t I grade formative assessment? For one, a grade is supposed to answer the question: “Did the student learn and achieve the learning targets or standards?” If this is the case, then the summative assessment primarily represents achievement. Formative assessment is practice. It is part of the journey. I would feel evil if I punished a kid during practice and then, literally and figuratively, brought that punishment to his or her “A-Game” in the final match (summative assessment). We’ve all seen that happen. A student achieves on the summative assessment, but because of a mediocre performance on the formative assessments, they get a lower grade. Ethically, that is just plain wrong. If a student ended up achieving in the end, he or she should be rewarded for that achievement, not penalized for a failure during practice.

The Payoff
A couple of important notes: I do use formative assessment in two ways. If students don’t do well or complete the summative, I use the formative to create a “progress” grade to input. It is good evidence, and can be used this way. In addition, if I am assessing the 21st century skill of Work Ethic, formative assessment can be utilized as part of that grade. If one of the quality indicators, for example, is “turning in work on time,” then I can leverage formative assessment as part of that grade. You will notice, however, that the intent is different. The learning target is different.

I’m not saying this is an easy transition; it is a paradigm shift for everyone. Parents need to be educated, stakeholders need to be educated, students need to be educated, and teachers need to be educated — and provided the space to wrestle with these ideas. I took a while to get to this place. However, the payoff feels better, both from an instructional and ethics standpoint, and also from a student achievement standpoint. My students often asked, “Wait, so you are only going to reward us at our best, not necessarily when we tried and failed?!?” Then they’d say, “Hmmm, I guess that makes sense” as the idea sunk in.

Is it time your grading practices made a little more sense? Formative assessment is about ensuring equity for all students. Thank you readers for being open to this conversation. Cognitive dissonance is healthy. As I like to joke in my workshops, “If I have made you a little uncomfortable, I’ve done my job.”

Use Wordle to Unpack Standards


This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


Sometimes standards can be a little cumbersome to look through. Complex in language and phrasing, standards take a lot of time to unpack. It is crucial that teachers take the time to unpack these standards, so that they understand what students really need to be able to do to meet standard and pass not only standardized assessments, but district and class assessments. Unpacking standards allow teachers to create aligned, rigorous assessments that show this learning.

Teachers need scaffolding in their professional learning just as much as students do in their learning. In our growing world of technology, Wordle is a great tool to create word clouds. I can help summarize articles, showing the most frequently used words, and more. I have seen many teachers use Wordle in their classrooms to help scaffold learning and create engagement, so why do the same for teachers?

Above, you will see a wordle, for a 5th grade common core math standard. As per the normal setup of standards, the “main” or “power” standard is listed and then many sub standards are located beneath to help show all components of the power standard. From this wordle, we can see the variety of concepts that students need to understand, from being able to “interpret” to understanding “fractions.” This can help teachers not only see connections in the concepts needed, but also unpack into specific targets. Just this simple tool can help teachers unpack standards, providing them with scafolding analyze the standard. Try using it with you staff!

Twelve Ideas for Teaching with QR Codes


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


As mobile learning becomes more and more prevalent, we must find effective ways to leverage mobile tools in the classroom. As always, the tool must fit the need. Mobile learning can create both the tool and the need. With safe and specific structures, mobile learning tools can harness the excitement of technology with the purpose of effective instruction. Using QR codes for instruction is one example of this.

A Quick Tutorial
QR stands for Quick Response. It’s basically a quick, scannable barcode-like image that takes you to a specific digital destination. The one to the right, for example, will take you to a QR code generator. There you will be able to create all sorts of QR codes. (Feel free to search the web for them.) Before that, however, you will need an app that reads the QR codes. There are plenty of free QR code apps to download for Android and Apple Products. Just search. To read them, all you need is a phone with a camera. Free makes teachers happy, and of course makes the implementation of these practices easier. QR codes can send you to a link, mobile number, email, SMS, bookmark, link and more. Mary Beth Hertz did a great introductory blog on QR codes and mentioned ideas like scavenger hunts and advertising for the classroom. Below are some more ideas to give you a starting point for using QR codes.

1. Create 21st Century Resumes: Have students use QR to create resumes that link to other content such as their professional website or portfolio. All schools do some level of resume building and technical writing. Help them bring it into the 21st century by creating a resume that requires interaction. Not only will this help engage them in technical writing, but also their work will be innovative.

2. Show Exemplars:
You can create QR for linking students to examples of quality work, whether it’s PowerPoint or slideshare for a class presentation, or people speaking a foreign language specific to your current lesson.

3. Provide a Service:
Integrate QR with a PBL or Service Learning project where students can create the codes that will link to the content they create. If students helped create awareness around spreading germs, for example, they might put the codes around the school or in a parent newsletter. They can take it a step further by creating codes for a local business or organization.

4. Make Your Classroom Greener: Save a few trees! Instead of making more printouts than everyone needs, give your students a QR that takes them to the instructions, announcement or assignment. It can save you space on your wall, and keep your classroom greener.

5. Incentivize and Praise: Award prizes by having students scan a code leading to an animation or badge. When they pass a test on commas, perhaps they get a code that takes them to a badge for Comma Guru! Students can even create their own codes to award each other. When a student sees something great happen, they can give a code that links to messages such as “Good Job from Andrew” and “Thanks for doing your part for the team.”

6. Make Learning Stations: Put codes in different areas of the room that will take students to different online activities, videos or content. Using a great tool like the discussion protocol of reciprocal teaching or a graphic organizer will help facilitate their interaction with the linked content.

7. Check Answers and Reflect: Have students check their answers by scanning the QR code after completing a test or assignment. As a teacher, you can visually confirm when students are checking their work and can also check in to see how they are doing. This will help track individual learning and can provide an opportunity for you to facilitate student reflection.

8. Provide Extension Assignments:
A great way to provide optional activities for students who want to excel is to simply put the code on the class assignment and let them follow it to the extension activity or question. It won’t take up much space, and might facilitate a little excitement about the extension assignment.

9. Compile Research:
Have students create codes linking to items discovered during research. These could be posted in class wikis on a specific topic, or on a wall in the classroom. It helps give them ownership of the research process and literally creates “walls that talk.”

10. Create Interactive Labs or Dissections: Codes attached to a skeleton model or dissected pig can take students to important directions or content. Or vice versa. Maybe this will help them to create the lab themselves or make a model for the class lab.

11. Differentiate Instruction: Perhaps you have a poem for students to analyze. You can provide additional scaffolding with a link to a recitation or focused questions to get them started. Use the QR to help you manage differentiation of the various strategies in your tool belt of teacher practices.

12. Vote : QR codes can be a great voting tool allowing students to vote by simply scanning the code as they enter or exit the classroom. This can save time, and it gets your students up and moving.

QR codes are a great arsenal for the teacher tool belt. Just remember, this technology is a tool and needs to fit a purpose. It can help create engagement in a lesson, manage your classroom, be part of student work or facilitate inquiry in a project. Please comment below and give us some or you best examples of how you use QR codes in the classroom. I like to say, “The wisdom is in the room.” You are all rockstar teachers, so I would love to hear your ideas.

Aligning AIW and PBL


abeo school change This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


A blog I read from Abeo School Change reminded me of the work I have done as a teacher as a both a practitioner of PBL and of AIW. Both AIW and PBL aim for the same goals and can align quite well. The four components of AIW were explained in the previous blog, although elaborated communication is explained a little more explicitly here. So how do the elements of AIW explained in the previous blog to AIW?

Construction of Knowledge – When students create products for a PBL projects, they should not simply be regurgitation of knowledge in a new genre. PBL products are not low level performance assessments. Instead, PBL products demand that students innovate with the content being assessed. Instead of a podcast on World Religions, students would create a podcast to debunks myths and stereotypes of a specific world religion. They must grapple with the content to create something new with it.

Disciplined Inquiry – PBL is inquiry. Students are given the project up front, as well as a driving question to help focus and engage students in the inquiry. An entry event is utilized to spark the inquiry and get students excited. Students research, ask questions, interpret the information found for their project and critique. This in turn demands this process of inquiry continue until the project is completed. Students delve deep in the content by being a complex and engaging project to address.

Elaborated Communication –
In PBL, both presentation and written communication on demanded as part of the assessments. Related to the last component of “Value Beyond School,” PBL also demands presentation to an authentic audience. This might be in the form of pitch or defense, or could even be expository in nature. PBL leverages communication as critical whether it is verbal or written.

Value Beyond School – This component is the crux to any good PBL project. The work that students do must have value. It must mean something beyond the classroom. When I visited High Tech High, a PBL school, one of the teachers told me that they never ask students to make something or do something that they would great rid of. They demand that their PBL projects have students created products that will be valued now and into the future.

If you do want to learn more about AIW, go to AIWs website. There are links to literature, resources and more. It remains one of Abeo’s areas of expertise and is utilized in our school coaching frequently.

Pin It on Pinterest