Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Blog Site

Abeo has been working to make it easy as possible to follow our work. To that end, we have migrated all our previous work here on blogger to our main website. Please continue to follow our work on twitter and at our new and improved blog. Please let us know how we can help your work for school change!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rethinking Professional Development

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.

From Andrew Miller, Abeo New Media Innovations

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Use Wordle to Unpack Standards

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 Worldle 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 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!

From Andrew Miller, Abeo New Media Innovations

Thursday, December 8, 2011

College Prepared Project

Want to learn more about the College Prepared Project and Abeo? Enjoy this Prezi!

From Chris Hoyos, Abeo School Change Partner

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Alignment of AIW and PBL

Last weeks blog from Chris and Harriette 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 align to PBL?

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.

From Andrew Miller, New Media Innovations

Monday, November 28, 2011

Engaging Student Minds with Authentic Intellectual Work

In our work as educational coaches, we find that the challenge at the forefront of most teachers’ minds is engagement.  How do I engage my students?  Why aren’t my students motivated? What are ways I can get and keep my students interested? Across the country, across disciplines, and across grade levels, questions like these are echoed time and again.  

These are critical questions and ought to focus any consideration of teaching practices that produce higher levels of learning.  Our view is that student engagement is the most authentic driver for deep learning.  Engagement is like being in the zone, where kids – totally engrossed in an endeavor to the point where time almost stands still and outside distractions almost disappearare fully immersed and invested. To push learning beyond acquisition of basic skills and inspire perseverance, students need to feel connected to what is being learned.  If learners are not greatly interested and involved in the task at hand, we are lucky to get compliance, let alone real engagement.

This is, of course, not new thinking.  Engagement is a frequent topic at conferences, school-based professional development, and has inspired many “how-to” books and articles.  We find, however, that teachers sometimes assume that engagement requires “fun” assignments.  Often engagement and intellectual rigor are seen as a trade-off.  We’ll make it fun or we’ll make them work their brains hard.  But can we do both?  And can we afford not to?

At Abeo’s College Prepared Project, we’re turning these assumptions inside out as teachers learn how to engage students with work that is both relevant and intellectually challenging.  Using a framework known as Authentic Intellectual Work, we support teachers through collaboration, reflection and inquiry to ask students to construct knowledge and use disciplined inquiry to produce products or performances that have value beyond school. In the Project, cohorts of teachers learn to assess and fill the gap between the work they are asking students to do and the expectations students will be asked to meet in college. Teachers learn to design tasks and deliver instruction that encourage students to research into a particular discipline and create new knowledge for a real purpose and a genuine audience – the work of adults.  As teachers examine their own assignments and those of their peers, they’re asked to consider how each task expects students to use their minds well.  Is it rigorous and relevant?  Will it prepare them for college and beyond?

Why are the three elements of AIW so significant to college preparedness and engagement?  As we’ve guided teachers to be researchers into their own practice, here’s what we’ve learned.

Students need to construct knowledge.  In many facets of life we are required to problem-solve in order to make sense or meaning of a particular situation.  If successful, we have used information to make inferences and predictions; we’ve interpreted and synthesized input from a variety of sources.  If successful, we’ve analyzed and exercised some level of evaluation to make decisions.  And, if successful, we have created something purposeful.  These cognitive processes are routine for all of us in every day life; students exercise them routinely as well, but rarely in association with academic work.  We find that an expectation of creativity touches the spirit of what it is to be human and connects students to academic work in a powerful way.  

CPP participants link this element of engagement to intellectual rigor by considering the authenticity of the task and evidence of thinking.  Questions guide their work:  What is the purpose of the task? How are students being asked to think? Will there be a new idea or simply an evaluation of an old one? What will be evidence of new thinking?

Students need the opportunity and expectation to learn deeply. Disciplined inquiry emphasizes depth of knowledge versus breadth of knowledge.  When students are taught and asked to approach content or subject as disciplinarians, students learn the ways of thinking, reading, writing, and communicating that occur within the field. Students engage deeply with the subject to understand the content, processes, and forms of communication unique to the discipline.

As CPP participants collaborate around their work, they look for evidence of disciplinary research, thinking and communication. Questions guide their work:  How is knowledge acquired? How are students being asked to think and use knowledge?  Is there deep knowledge and how is that expressed?

Students respond powerfully to real work.  Purposeful work is relevant work.  No one wants to engage in tasks that are pointless and serve no purpose.  We have learned that student detachment isn’t a sign of low motivation or laziness; it’s a natural response to work that lacks purpose. When students are asked to tackle the kind of open-ended and undefined tasks that are encountered in daily life, we see an investment of energy that comes from doing something that matters.  There is a “so what” to the hard work they are being asked to do.

CPP participants examine and design tasks to ensure that this dimension of relevancy is present and that student assignments provide opportunities for authentic purposes. Critical questions become a lens for their scrutiny: What value does it have beyond exhibition of knowledge? Are there a purpose and an audience for the work? Does it mirror the adult world?

So what engages students? Authentic intellectual work that incorporates rigorous and relevant tasks, where learners are asked to use their minds well and to originally apply knowledge and skills.  If you ask students to go beyond the routine use of facts and procedures, carefully studying and resolving a challenging problem that has meaning beyond success in school, they will engage authentically and learn well and deeply. If we want students to be fully present and interested in learning, we need to routinely ask ourselves if what we’re offering them is authentic intellectual work
From Abeo Partners, Chris Hoyos and Harriette Thurber Rassmussen

Collaboration - Integral in Common Core Assessment

One on the most striking and pleasant surprises that I encountered in the Common Core Standards, was the prevalence of Collaboration. This alone says that we are on the right track with common core.  What is a needed 21st Century Skill? Collaboration. What does Sir Ken Robinson say is required for a change in education? Collaboration. He says eloquently, that “collaboration is the stuff of learning.” What are experts and writers calling out for in books such as Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel? Collaboration. Whenever I conduct a training with teachers as ask them what they want their students to be able to do when they leave their classroom or school, what is the hot word? Collaboration.
If we truly want and need this for our students, they will need to teach and assess it. It needs to be leveraged in the grade book. This of course means we need to arm educators with the skills to effectively teach to the standard of Collaboration in the classroom. 

Let’s be honest. I doubt many of us have our state standards by our bedside as inspiration reading. But I would say the standards including collaboration can allow for exciting and engaging teaching and learning. Here is the power from the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies,

K-5 and 6-12 Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners,
building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

This standard is even broken down with specific criteria for each grade level. Collaboration is going to look similar and different across grade level. Your job is to figure out an assessment that will accurately show that they have performed that criteria and made that criteria clear to all partners in the student’s learning, from the parent, to the administrator. Collaboration is best seen in solving a problem, so of course, I am bias towards PBL, Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. This sets an authentic task in motion for students to work on collaboratively to problem solve.

So what could an assessment look like? Let’s use the example above as our focus. Here the content of the actual collaborative effort is completely open. In fact, this could be done across the classroom. Although this is defined as a Listening and Speaking Standard, there is no reason why it couldn’t be leveraged in a variety of disciplines, as it is a 21st century skill. So what could show these criteria regardless of the content?

Perhaps students create a portfolio defense for a one on one with the teacher, bringing a variety of pieces of evidence. Perhaps students create a podcast articulating how they solved problems and met criteria for collaboration. Perhaps students journal daily to critical thinking prompts on their collaboration, which is then collected as a summative assessment at the end of the unit or project. Perhaps teachers use a rubric to grade them as they actually work in class on specific day.
Of course these great summative assessment ideas need to be supported with ongoing formative assessment. Journals could be used as this as well as a summative. If you plan on grading students on collaboration, then you must provide feedback to the students using the rubric as the focus piece. You can set goals with groups and let them know you will specifically look for that in the future. You will need to collect drafts of a podcast and give specific coaching on what they can do to make it better. Again, you cannot assess what you do not teach, and good teaching includes useful, ongoing formative assessments. 

There of course are more places to “push” and explore in terms of assessment of Collaboration. Perhaps you have students work collaboratively on a Common Core in a project that has a culminating product that showcases they know that standard. The key is to have both a Collaborative product, to grade them on collaboration, and an individual product that holds students accountable to the other Common Core Standard. If students are creating a research project that is targeted toward to a Common Core Research standard, have them create one product collaboratively and a separate on their own. Look, you have head students accountable to two powerful Common Core standards that are rigorous and real.  Just remember you must teach your students how to collaborate before you can assess how well they do collaborate. This is good practice. 

From Andrew Miller, New Media Innovations