ASCD Professional Learning Services in Action: Implementing FIT Teaching® at Anaconda High School


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

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I’ve had the privilege of working with the fantastic teachers and school leaders at Anaconda High School in Montana as they work to improve their instructional practice by implementing the Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching® strategy. The FIT Teaching strategy, as it’s more commonly known, focuses on establishing a purpose for learning, designing instructional practices that allow for the gradual release of responsibility, and creating formative and summative assessments to inform future instruction, all while fostering a positive school culture. What is exciting about this strategy is that it focuses on all four elements simultaneously. Often when we work to improve schools, we only focus on one area. We might take a year to focus on an assessment or a school’s climate. With the FIT Teaching strategy, however, we understand that all these elements of education are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, rely on each other to make learning possible for every child. For example, assessment allows us to know our students and craft the right types and levels of instruction. It can also help build a positive culture within the school. If we spend time building that culture, great teaching and learning will follow.

Beginning the Journey
To start the FIT Teaching process at Anaconda, ASCD staff and I put together a pre-assessment for the teachers and school leaders to fill out. We wanted to model formative assessment to drive instruction, just as teachers do for their students. This data collection allowed us to craft an implementation plan. Together with the school’s leadership team, we looked for areas of pressing need and areas in which teachers already had a level of competence. In addition, we decided to use a teacher leadership model to build capacity so that the implementation would be sustainable, regardless of teacher or leadership turnover. This is a key facet of effective professional learning. We want to make sure the learning sticks, and we want to empower educators to take ownership of the great work of delivering professional learning to their colleagues. In addition, we looked at the school’s existing initiatives and instructional practices so that we could align the FIT Teaching strategy with this work. We didn’t want it to be “another thing” for teachers to add to their plates; instead we wanted it to make what they already do well even better.

Blended Learning Approach
I wish I could visit the teachers more than I do, but I also know that is not financially feasible. Thus, we took a blended learning approach to help Anaconda implement the FIT Teaching framework. We started with an on-site visit to give the school an overview of the strategy and make some decisions as a team on which element to start with. In this case, we selected purposeful learning as the first focus, followed by gradual release of responsibility, and finally formative assessment. We are now at a point where we are focusing on culture, but we are still continuing the great instructional and assessment work we have invested in. After the initial on-site visit, I spent a day in the classrooms, coaching, observing, and assessing teachers to determine what would happen next. This allowed our PLC meetings, which also occurred in person, to be effective and aligned to teachers’ needs. In between these coaching visits, teachers sent me lesson plans, reflections, and video tapes of themselves for feedback. This allowed for a continued partnership and relationship even when I was not able to be there. Now, we are also in the process of selecting PD Online® courses to provide additional support for their implementation of the FIT Teaching strategy.

Next Steps
The teacher leaders at Anaconda have successfully taken on the task of implementing the FIT Teaching strategy at their school, and I appreciate all of their work. I know they have busy lives as sports coaches, parents, and even members of other PLCs at the school. They have been reflective, open to feedback, and great thought partners. I will be seeking their feedback through a coaching survey. The leadership team and I will also look at the implementation plan to revise and refocus it. We will work together to craft their professional learning activities for next year, when the teacher leaders will take the reins and continue the FIT teaching process. Through all this work as an ASCD Faculty member, I can honestly say I have learned as much from the experience as they have.

Supporting ELLs in PBL Projects

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 >

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We all have English-language learning students that we must support in our classrooms, and we can support these students through project-based learning. PBL projects can give students something to latch onto as they’re learning to use a new language. This can be more engaging than studying words and skills in an abstract way, as the language is being used for an authentic purpose. PBL projects should be used for giving language relevance and context. This does, however, have implications for project design. We need to make sure that our projects have specific pieces to support ELL students.

Analyze the Project
We know the PBL project design process is quite lengthy, and we get better at it the more we do it. Even veteran PBL project designers may not have considered the steps of analyzing the project through the lens of ELL:

What skills will students need in terms of the language?
What vocabulary instruction might they need?
What sort of speaking and listening skills should we scaffold?
What functions of the language must be considered?

These are the types of questions that teachers need to think about — and plan for accordingly — before launching the project.

Teach Academic Vocabulary
Although the driving question and even the project launch may not be full of academic language, academic language will appear in a project. This might be specialized vocabulary whose meanings change depending on the context, or it might be technical words that represent only one concept. Knowing these words ahead of time can help you plan instruction for teaching them to students inside the project. While all students will need this scaffolding, ELL students may require more targeted instruction.

Collaborative Group Work
It is critical that teachers demand collaborative learning within a project. This can be done through critique and revision, as well as collaborative products that students produce. There may also be smaller collaborative activities like labs and team builders. Why collaborative group work? It allows ELL students to be supported by their peers. It gives them opportunities to orally use and practice the academic vocabulary and other language structures and functions. Yes, you will need to build the culture for collaboration, but the payoff is that students are building their language skills more and more within the project.

Scaffold Structure and Function
Through your analysis of the PBL project, you will uncover specific functions and structures of the language that students will need in order to succeed in the project. For example, if you were doing a science project around genetics and traits, you might find that students will need to “justify” the answers in their final product. Or perhaps they’ll be required to use the “If _______, then _______” structure. You’ll need to give students these tools for showing what they know about the content. Provide sentence starters and stems, and make sure to create lessons that scaffold how to justify. Set these as specific assessment targets as well.

Assess and Differentiate
As mentioned earlier, it is important to assess not only the content, but also the language. As you scaffold and teach vocabulary, structure, and function of the language, make sure to assess these skills, too. Through assessment, you’ll be able to see what further scaffolds and instruction you should be providing. Again, I’m saying only assess, not grade. Through assessment of these students’ language skills, you can decide how you will differentiate, whether through products or process.

Leverage the Native Language
How amazing is it that many of our students can speak multiple languages? In your project, ask how you can leverage that asset. Can they create a product in both languages? Many of our PBL projects are authentic and reach real audiences to make real impact in the world around us. Instead of demanding only products in English, ask for products in both English and another language to broaden the project’s audience and impact. In addition, students could interact with audience members that you never would have imagined, whether this happens throughout the project or during the final presentation. Instead of seeing language as a barrier to the project, view it as an opportunity.

In many ways, all of our students are ELLs, and we need to think intentionally about how to support each one in learning the language. PBL projects can provide a relevant and real context to do this. However, through supporting ELL students, we need to treat all languages as assets, not deficiencies. Through this lens, we can develop literacy in all languages, not just English.

4 Lessons Learned From Common Core Implementation


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 >


So it’s been a few years since the Common Core, and wow, has it been a wild ride! Some states have dropped the CCSS altogether and replaced them with similar standards. Some still have the CCSS, but have opted out of the tests related to them. Parents are also choosing to have their students opt out from these high-stakes tests. Some teachers are reporting the rigorous learning happening in their classrooms, while others are concerned about the appropriate level of the rigor. Textbook companies have been called out on their true lack of aligned materials, and great teachers have been creating their own lessons and units to meet their students’ needs.

Throughout all this, schools and districts have spent a lot of time on implementing the standards. I’ve had the privilege of visiting many schools that are implementing the CCSS and have learned a lot from these visits. Here are some of my major takeaways for making sure that implementation works.

A View From the Front Lines

Ongoing and Job-Embedded Professional Development
I’ve asked teachers about the professional development they have received for CCSS. Those who are struggling received a “spray and pray” two-day institute (or similar) on the standards. We know this doesn’t work, and yet we still do it — and it has got to stop. Teachers deserve more. They deserve to be supported in an ongoing manner. Why are teachers bitter about these one or two professional development days? Because they know that they won’t likely receive much support afterward. Who wouldn’t be bitter? Those teachers who feel successful speak of instructional coaches that supported them, planning time to work on lessons and units with other teachers, reflection protocols, and common meeting times to look at student. This should be commonplace!

Clear Connection to Instruction
Standards themselves are abstract and not clearly connected to the how of teaching. Teachers who struggled were able to comprehend the standards themselves, but weren’t given tools to refine their teaching in order to meet the standards. On the other hand, those teachers who were successful received instructional tools like text-dependent questioning or close-reading strategies. Maybe their school implemented CCSS through an engaging model of learning like project-based learning or understanding by design. Here instruction was the focus, and teachers knew how to align to the Common Core through practical strategies and curriculum design.

Focus on Assessment, Not Testing
Although the high-stakes tests were in place, I found that many schools didn’t focus so much on these tests. Yes, they embedded test-like performance assessments and similar practices into their curriculum, but they focused more on great assessment practices. They assessed how their students were learning and used that information to inform their instruction. They helped their students set goals, and they set clear outcomes for learning. They created their own more engaging assessments of learning. They focused on what assessment should be, not how to react when it gets out of hand.

Leverage Teacher Leaders
Capacity building, focusing on teacher leadership, and telling great teacher success stories can build a culture of success. I visited some schools where, in addition to providing professional development to all teachers, they asked for volunteers and selected teachers to serve as leaders. These teachers in turn would lead professional learning, invite other teachers to visit their classrooms, and build exemplar lessons and units to support their colleagues. Here, the implementation was sustainable. Now there was a group of highly-skilled teachers who would remain to carry on the work, and their skills were honored and leveraged.

The Right Way
Frankly, using the implementation of the CCSS as a case study, I think the ideas above should be considered no matter what initiative or focus is being introduced within a school or district. All teachers should know how professional development relates directly to their practice. All teachers should be given practical tools for implementation. All teachers should receive ongoing, embedded professional development. They should be leveraged for their expertise and leadership. And finally, we should focus on assessment and move away from our focus on standardized testing.

I urge all leaders in the education field to live up to these practices as they lead their teachers, schools, districts, and states in implementing new teaching practices and methods.

Why “Content Coverage” is Over: A Manifesto!


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 >


OK, before you immediately react and make a comment, let’s take a breath! Yes, we live in an education world that is driven by content. We have standards, learning objectives, and the like. We have curriculum, texts, and pacing guides. We have high-stakes standardized tests, benchmark exams, and AP or IB tests that drive our instruction. I’ve taught with all these forces at work. It’s frustrating, and that is perhaps an understatement. Perhaps maddening is a better word?

Regardless, all of these forces move us toward coverage. We feel the pressure to go quickly through curriculum, because the forces at work dictate that there must be a lot of curriculum. But at the same time, we don’t have to admit to defeat by these forces. In fact, maybe we aren’t as rigidly committed to covering all this content as we think we are.

We Can’t!
“I can’t cover all the content.”
“I’ve tried, and failed.”
“I have covered it, but the learning is lost.”

When I hear these complaints from the teachers I work with about all the standards and content they must cover, I always talk about my pressures with AP exams. “World history in a year: go!” We all laugh, but it really is a bit true. We are expected to cover a lot (if not all) of the content for a world history course within a year. In an effort to prepare my students, I would assign a lot of DIY learning outside of school and would also create a plan to cruise through as much as I could. What I found, and what I’m sure many of you have found, was that not only were my AP results all over the place in terms of scores and achievement, but so were the grades in my class. By focusing on covering all the content, I was really doing my students a disservice. Instead of “uncoverage,” I was focusing on coverage. And we know that doesn’t work!

We Prioritize!
The interesting thing here is that many of us unknowingly don’t cover content. Even under all the pressures, we know that we can’t cover every single thing, and that some of it may get left behind. Or similarly, some things don’t get as much time as we would like. I always ask teachers what gets left behind. Many don’t want to admit it, but some things do. Maybe it’s a standard or unit at the end of the year, or maybe it’s a small assignment. But whatever gets left, it means something good. We’re showing that we prioritize. We know what our students really need, and so we plan accordingly.

When I reflected on my poor performance as a teacher in an AP class, I realized that I needed to focus on the important and big ideas, maybe even the big “buckets” that I knew were important for students to know. I even looked at past AP exams for patterns and trends. World religions came up many times, as did the Holocaust and World War II. These were some of the priorities that drove me, but other teachers have all different kinds. Their priorities could be exam driven, or their drivers could be personal factors or things outside of the classroom. Recognizing our priorities is in fact empowering. It allows us to own the facts that we don’t cover every last thing, and that we see the value of spending time on what matters to our students.

We Are Great Teachers!
From all this, it comes down to one major point: We are professionals. We know our students. We know what they need, and yes, we use curriculum and pacing guides as what they should be — guides! We assess our students. We differentiate and plan their learning accordingly to make a difference in the life of each student we have. It is time for all of us to own that we are good teachers, and not admit defeat to the pressures of content coverage. In fact, we make or need to make better decisions in terms of priorities and student learning.

In an effort to empower and affirm your work as an educator, please sign this manifesto by indicating your support below and adding your own points:

I am committed to deeper and life-long learning for my students.
I will no longer submit to the pressure to cover content.
I will prioritize learning for my students based on their needs and passions.
I will aim past the high-stakes tests, yet still expose students to them to ensure that they are ready.
I will use curriculum and pacing guides for what they are intended: guides, not set-in-stone learning.
I will continue to make the best decisions for my students, rather than let the pressure to cover content drive my teaching.

Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”


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 >


We all have students that just want to “get it right.” We all have students that constantly seek the attention of the teacher. “Did I get this right?” “Is this what you want?” Now while it’s certainly a good thing to affirm students in their learning, many times we want students to be creative with their learning. We allow them to own their learning and create assessment products where they can show us what they know in new and inventive ways. Because of this, there isn’t “one right answer,” yet our students are often trained to think that there can be only one.

Similarly, we want students to be reflective, to ask themselves, “How do I know if I’m on the right track?” or “What could I do next?” Instead of coming immediately to the teacher, we want students to experiment on their own. Many of us wonder why students constantly do the opposite instead. I’ve got news for you. It’s our fault. We, as educators, are often responsible for learned helplessness, and we have a responsibility to change it! How can we empower our students to be self-directed learners?

Curate and Create Learning Resources
If we want to have students seek out other information from sources other than the teacher, then we must make sure those resources are available. Many teachers using the flipped classroom approach already have created or found these kinds of resources. However, think broadly about the word resource. People are resources, texts are resources, and community organizations are resources — to name just a few categories. We have to be comfortable not always knowing the answer, and instead suggesting we find the answer together through the vast amount of learning resources that we have at our disposal. Try curating these resources before, during, and after a unit. Work with students as well to create a culture where the answers are everywhere.

Questions “For” (Not “About”) Learning
What do I mean by this? Instead of using questions to check for understanding and getting the right answer, we can use questions to probe students’ thinking and push them to think about their learning. Questions can serve as powerful redirection tools that promote metacognition. Instead of responding with “Yes” or “No,” ask a student, “Why do you think that?” If you notice an error or gap in learning, try using questions that push the student to think:

What else could you try?
Have you experimented with another idea?
Why do you think this is true?
Questions are powerful tools for helping students own the process of learning.

Stop Giving Answers
Often, when a student fails or makes mistakes, we want to fly in like a superhero and give the answer. “This is what you need to do.” We come to save the day, and pat ourselves on the back for being a great teacher. In fact, we may have done that student a disservice. This doesn’t come from a bad place, or suggest that we’re bad at teaching. On the contrary, we care for our students, so we want to help them whenever we can. Ask yourself this: By helping that student, will he or she own the learning, or are you doing the learning for him or her? This means that sometimes we need to get out of the way. If students are working in teams, for example, and are arguing (safely) about what to do next, we need to let them solve the problem on their own and then check in. “I heard an argument. Did you guys figure it out? Great work at problem solving!” Of course, if students are floundering, and failure is not productive, by all means step in. But also feel free to allow yourself wait time before you do so!

Allow for Failure
I firmly believe that failure is a powerful learning tool, but we have to make sure that we create a culture where it is OK to fail forward. Do you grade everything? If so, you may not be communicating that it’s OK to fail. Do you allow for multiple drafts and revisions and demand high-quality products? If so, you are communicating to students that they have multiple tries to learn and, more importantly, that they can be creative and experiment. In addition, we should be there to support students when they do fail, and to help get them back on the right track.

We need to take responsibility for empowering our students, and to scaffold the process of self-direction. Self-direction doesn’t happen overnight, especially, when many of our students, based on specific structures of schooling, are trained to be helpless. Although we can take steps as individual educators to avoid learned helplessness, we need to reexamine the systems of schooling, from curriculum to assessment and instruction, to allow for empowerment rather than always getting the right answer.

Feedback for Thinking: Working for the Answer


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 >


We run the risk of giving the wrong kind of feedback for students, and it’s not because we are bad people. We love our students. We want them to be successful, and sometimes these desires can actually get in the way of a student truly learning.

Take a typical situation of a math problem involving money. A student is unable to determine the percentage that he or she should be getting, and is struggling with multiplication of decimals. Often we notice this struggle and “swoop in” to save the day. As educators, we sit down with that student and show him or her how to do it, pat ourselves on the back, and move on the next student. In fact, we didn’t “save” that student’s day — we may have made no difference at all. Feedback that simply shows a child how to do something won’t cause that child to think. He or she will merely learn to replicate what the teacher did without truly “getting” the concept being taught.

3 Strategies for Structured Teaching
We need to move away from this type of feedback and toward feedback that causes thinking and metacognition. Here are three ways that teachers can guide students in the right direction, as described by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching.

1. Questions
We all know that asking questions can help us check for understanding, but questions can also be great tools for having students really articulate their ideas in a deeper way, and allowing them to think about it. Try asking open-ended questions to probe student thinking and push them to think deeper. Instead of “Do you understand that?”, move toward questions that cause students to explain and justify their ideas.

2. Prompting
Prompts are statements and questions that cause students to do metacognitive work. We teachers should not be doing their thinking work for them during guided instruction. We should be empowering students to think by using the right type of question or statement. Take this example. A student is working on a written assignment, and the teacher notices that he or she may be missing commas. The teacher says, “I see this paragraph has some commas in it, but the next paragraph seems to have none.” This will cause the student to look at the paper with the idea of adding more commas if necessary.

3. Cueing
Similar to prompting, cueing “shifts the learner’s attention.” Cues are often more specific. There are many types, such as verbal, gestural, and visual. Even highlighting an error on a paper can cause students to think about how they might fix the error without necessarily giving away the answer. With this cue, you prompted thinking. Similarly, a verbal prompt like, “This step in the problem is tricky, don’t forget how I modeled it this morning” will shift the students to think and reflect about their process and perhaps move in the right direction. Don’t forget that even pointing to something can serve as a cue for students to think.

Errors Versus Mistakes
As you see students struggle with concepts and notice a “wrong” answer, consider this reflective question: “Is it an error or a mistake? How can I find out?” Through specific questioning, you can dig deeper to find out what’s going on in a student’s head, and make the thinking visible for both of you. Sometimes a wrong answer means a mistake. This implies that a student really does know a concept and only made a misstep in the application of learning. As the teacher, you only need to redirect. However, if you uncover that there is an error, it means that a student really does not understand the concept, and he or she will require a different type of instruction, perhaps further modeling or teaching, and different kinds of prompting, cueing, and questioning.

Dylan William, in Embedded Formative Assessment, says “Feedback should cause thinking,” and I couldn’t agree more. If we focus on feedback to cause thinking, we can prevent “learned helplessness” in our students. When we limit ourselves to showing students how to do something, or maybe do it for them, we may be communicating to kids that only the teacher can persevere and solve the problem. If we want students who are self-directed learners, then we have to scaffold appropriately — and then remove the scaffolds. Modeling a concept and thinking aloud are critical components of teaching, but we then need to turn the power over to students and let them struggle and finally experience success. Feedback for thinking creates a “can-do” atmosphere in the classroom.

What are your strategies for encouraging students to think?

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