Friday, April 29, 2016

It's "Rigor," Not "Rigor Mortis"

From Dr. Bourff: Academic Rigor

Academic rigor is frequently described by educators as high expectations, engaging work, deeper analysis, or critical thinking—all of which are elements of sound preparation for a student’s future.  However, longer exercises, assignments over vacations, accelerated pacing, or more homework are often mistaken for or passed off by educators as academic rigor.

Rigor derives from the Latin rigere, which means to be stiff and inflexible.  The term rigor mortis derives from the same word.  It is ironic that, if misused in an educational context, rigor can result in what Diane Ravitch described as a deadly dullness; in essence, a return to the meaning of its Latin root.
Rigor is the opposite of "deadly dullness."
It's rigor, not rigor mortis.
HSE21 is predicated on the most positive aspects of academic rigor.  We must be vigilant that our instructional strategies do not reflect the negative aspects of the same term.  Failure to recognize the difference can destroy not only the spirit of HSE21 but also a student’s interest and passion for learning.

From Stephanie: Rigor is Love

When we have questions related to solving problems that offer us an alternative advantage or support a personal interest, we enter the “Inquiry Zone.”

This zone is the sweet spot for inquiry. Our thoughts run wild and free. It’s energizing, and it’s frustrating. It is the love we feel for work that involves us personally. It’s worthy and satisfying work because it’s related to our personal interests and goals. 

This love of learning is at the heart of Rigor.

An Example of Rigorous Work

I brought this love to my own inquiry work by asking the question: Why am I still in love with Diet Coke? Love is sometimes hard—especially when you love Diet Coke and you know you have to stop.

I brought energy and passion to my research and to the action steps that followed it.  A quick Google search yielded many unexpected results for Diet Coke usage. It can be used:
Rigor is putting knowledge into action.
  • To remove a toilet bowl ring;
  • As a treatment for lice;
  • To remove oil stains from the garage floor;
  • With tin foil to remove rust: and
  • To remove gum from hair.

How could I possibly be in love with something so potentially dangerous?  Myth or not, I knew I had to get a handle on my problem, so I made a plan to stop drinking Diet Coke. 

When I broke up with Diet Coke I…
  • Spent time close reading;
  • Grew giddy in planning my future healthy self on Pinterest;
  • Compared the reasoning of multiple perspectives;
  • Analyzed the effectiveness of some of the cleaning tips;
  • Tried a disgusting morning detox shot; and
  • Sorted out the myths and learned more about Aspartame. 

There is no question that I brought energy and passion to my research and to the steps that helped me break up with my love!  Rigor resides in inquiry, and it includes: identifying issues, resolving conflicts, and solving dilemmas.  I had to sort, respond, and shift my thinking.  This is rigorous work, so rigorous that it became distracting to other thoughts.

There’s a palpable love here—and I’m not talking about Diet Coke. It is love born of hard work. It’s the love of deep thinking.  And it is the love of putting knowledge into action. 

Rigor is love!

Good-bye old love. I do appreciate the rust removal tip. You came in very handy on my screen door! But I’ll stick with my new love.

From Jan: Rigor and Homework

Parents around the district at all levels have expressed concern about the amount of homework and the quality of homework that is sometimes required of their students.  They have concerns that what is being asked of students feels like busy work. 

We would do well to pause and consider carefully what we are assigning our students and how much we are asking of our students (and often their families).

  • Does the work involve a rigorous process?  (Not just more work or faster work)
  • Is it worthy work?  
  • Is it authentic work, deeper work, or engaging work?

If the answers are yes, homework can be valuable and rigorous.  If not, we should rethink what we are asking students to do outside of our classrooms.

From Phil: Relevance and Student Talk

Next fall, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst are joining us on the first teacher work day.  They are two of my educational heroes.  Several chapters in their most recent book, Reading Nonfiction, fit nicely with today’s topic.  The first is called “Rigor and Relevance,” and the second is “Classroom Conversations.”
My favorite books end up
with lots of highlights
and sticky notes.

Since the focus of their book is on reading, Beers and Probst write about text, but you can add or task to their words below, and their wisdom about rigor will make just as much sense.  From Beers and Probst:

Rigor resides in the transaction between the reader and the text [or task].  It is achieved not simply by selecting a challenging text [or task], but rather by deepening the reader’s engagement with the text [or task].

Beers and Probst say the key to rigor is deepening the student’s engagement, and the key to deepening engagement is whether or not the text—or task—has relevance to the student.  The route to relevance for students involves powerful classroom conversations.  Students must do the talking, the questioning, the thinking.

Beers and Probst make a distinction between talk to check understanding (which is primarily monologic/teacher talk) and talk to create understanding (which is primarily dialogic/student talk).

I used my highlighter notes from the two chapters to create the chart below about the connections between Rigor and Engagement/Relevance/Student Talk in the classroom.

Rigor: What it Is
Rigor: What it is NOT
Students asking questions of the teacher and of each other
Teachers asking most or all of the questions
Students making connections to other learning
Teachers telling students about the connections to other learning
Students reading, discussing, and analyzing text
Teachers summarizing reading for students
Students bringing energy and effort to the text or task: A questioning stance
Students accepting text at face value: little or no questioning of the content or purpose of the text or task
Students wanting to take on difficult texts or tasks, wanting to learn more about a topic, and wanting to explore beyond the expectations of the teacher
Teachers assigning difficult texts or tasks, pushing advanced curriculum to lower levels, and/or accelerating coverage of material
Students working on relevant texts and tasks—not just interesting texts and tasks
Students working on texts and tasks that may or may not be interesting, but are not relevant
Student talk to create understanding: Dialogic talk between students is a regular and predominate part of instruction
Student talk limited to checking understanding: Primarily Monologic talk from teacher and students
Students involved in work that challenges their thinking in new and interesting ways
Students involved in work based in a single-perspective or approach

I would love to hear from you.  Send me your ideas for what Rigor Is and What Rigor is NOT.

Have a great week, HSE.  We hope your days are filled with rigor and with love.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, April 22, 2016

Do I Have To?

From Jan: Worthy Work

Some people have questions about the expectations for teachers and HSE classrooms throughout the district.  For example:
  • Do I have to change my classroom into a Reggio-inspired classroom? 
  • Are there only certain things that we can put on our walls?
  • Is there a program to put in place that would create HSE21 classrooms? 
  • Do we have to take the 1:1 initiative down to the elementary grades for our youngest learners? 

Reading the Walls and Halls
Worthy work is important for students
and for teachers.

My response is to go back to the “whole” of becoming HSE21.  The focus of HSE21 is inquiry, rigor, student voice, and authentic real-world opportunities that further the dispositions of learning—creativity, cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork.  The question is: How do we get there?  True HSE21 classrooms are a transformation from how classrooms usually work—they move the teacher from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.”

Read walls and halls to see what work is valued.
This process takes reflection, engagement in deeper conversations, and a willingness to challenge our own thinking in order for this transformation to take place.  When I walk the buildings with the principals, we talk about what we are seeing.  We reflect, challenge, and process together.  I will frequently ask principals what the educational value was in the work we are looking at, the level of rigor and higher order thinking that was involved, and whether the assignment was worthy of the student’s time. 

In short, when I read hallways and classrooms—at any level—I get a sense of how much student voice, rigor, and worthy work we are asking of our students.  The reality is we will never get to HSE21 classrooms by doing what we’ve always done.

Many Paths
Asking the right questions is at the heart of inquiry.

There are many paths to inquiry.  Stephanie did her doctoral work on inquiry and found (ten years ago) that there were over 40 different models for inquiry.  Many roads lead to Rome!  There is a lot of freedom for teachers to choose how to get there. 

Important questions that will guide your journey include:
  • What is the educational value in what I am asking my students to do?
  • Did what I asked my students to do have rigor?  Did it take them to deeper knowledge and higher order thinking?
  • Was this work worthy of my student’s time and talents?
  • Was student voice evident in what they were asked to do?
  • What am I doing today that I didn’t do yesterday that takes me another step closer to creating a HSE21 classroom?

Why Wouldn't We?
We want our own children in rich classroom environments.
All HSE students are "our own."

It’s an exciting time to be in HSE.  If you read last week’s blog created by the HSE21 Elementary Design Team, you were able to see some of their passion as they have neared the end of the pilot year.  The most powerful message for me was that our students can do so much more than we ever gave them credit for.  When we relaxed control and empowered their voice, the students went places we never dreamed possible. 

Perhaps, instead of the question “Do I have to?” we should shift to the question “Why wouldn’t we?”  Why wouldn’t we want rich classroom environments that are authentic, engaging, and filled with student-driven inquiry and voice? 

Keep reflecting, processing, and challenging your own thinking and beliefs.  You will find amazing and joyful results. 

Thanks for all you do for our students!

Respond to Jan:

Have a great week, HSE.  Keep working on the worthy work!

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, April 15, 2016

HSE Design Team: Trust Your Students

In preparation for next year’s 1:1 roll-out at the elementary schools, a year ago this month, an invitation went out to all K-4 teachers to join the HSE Design Team. Out of the many applications, 23 teachers were chosen to receive professional development during the summer and throughout the current school year.
For a year these  teachers have been experimenting
and learning together. 
 The focus of their ongoing study is how best to use technology as a powerful tool to support best-practice instruction.  These teachers have learned together, have shared their successes and failures, and have reflected on how to improve student learning, with the goal of providing insight and support to the roll-out coming next fall.  They have all led professional development in their buildings and at district events, and they are committed to working alongside their colleagues as mentors and guides next school year.

Last Thursday, the HSE Design Team met for their final training this school year.  At the end of the day, we asked for them to respond to four questions.  The questions and selected responses are listed below.  While these answers are from elementary school teachers, we argue that their insights apply to all teachers at all levels.

Read their responses, and see if you agree:

Where did you see the biggest impact on student learning?
  • Students had ownership in their learning and were incredibly engaged.  Our year was filled with student-centered research, and my students' reading levels skyrocketed!
  • Empowerment, connectedness, and independence where kids become natural problem solvers and take charge of their learning!  The confidence, passion, and engagement has been inspiring!
  • Students are moving from participants in their learning to directors, facilitators, and encouragers of their own and their peers’ learning.
  • Students had more choice and ownership in their learning.  As the year progressed, I noticed students wanting to dig deeper and question things more because they knew their questions could be answered.  Students became better problem solvers and gained responsibility.  I also believe student learning was enhanced because parents were much more connected and aware of how/what their children were learning in the classroom.
  • Student engagement was at an all-time high this year.  Students loved being able to make choices concerning their learning.

What is a major insight, an “a-ha moment,” or take way from this year’s work?
  • Kids are capable of so much more than we believe.  Every day was an eye opener!  (Note: There were many, many variations of this comment.)
  • Don't be scared to try something new. I learned the most when I completely invested into the SeeSaw program. It was a leap of faith to be completely on board, but I love it, my students love it, and my classroom has never been the same since.
  • Both kids and families have been positively involved in the online learning.
  • The students are very capable. The more freedom you give them, the more opportunity they have to surprise you!
  • Students are starting to realize that their classrooms are no longer four walls.  They are able to connect, learn, share, and integrate technology with classrooms from all over the world.  They are able to celebrate their differences and passions for learning at any given moment. They are the drivers for their educational journey. I am just a facilitator.
  • As educators we are able to connect their learning to the “real world” in a way that we never have before.  They are able to connect content to its use and intent in the real word, extend questions, and find answers in real-time.  This has propelled self-motivated learning in a powerful way.

What are your next steps—what are you looking forward to next year?
  • I'm looking forward to being more confident implementing technology next year.  I'm also looking forward to helping my fellow teachers do some great things with the iPads!
  • Learn more! I'm looking forward to the camaraderie of my staff as we work through this together.
  • Next steps would be continuing to integrate the technology in powerful and more meaningful ways, as well as to continue taking risks!
  • I am looking forward to reflecting on what has been successful and then working on bringing it back next year in a more developed, organized, and effective way.
  • I am looking forward to jumping in with both feet in August! I was hesitant this year, but soon learned the incredible possibilities that come with 1:1 technology.
  • My next steps are to continue to learn, grow, stretch, and reflect.  I am looking forward to the new challenges next year and the chance to continue to take risks, fail, and try again!
  • I'm excited to push even further into the world with my students. I want to be able to connect with all continents, all our US states, and learn from even more children all over the world. I want to show my students that they are world leaders and shakers.
  • I am looking forward to walking alongside colleagues and students as an encourager and collaborator in inquiry and continuing to pursue the question, “What does this look like in the real world?”

 What advice do you have for someone who is nervous going into next year?

  • Two things we've said over and over again: Don't be afraid to fail, and start small. Find a few things that you like and learn them well.  After that, start adding a piece at a time.
  • The best advice I have for next year is to take it one step at a time.  You can't do it all at once.  Take time and take little bites.   Use your “baby fork.”
  • You know what you are doing, and if you don't, your kids will never know! Be confident in your abilities.  We have prepared for this! We are ready!
  • Don't overwhelm yourself with all of the possible things that can go wrong with technology. Chances are, it is going to happen. Go with it, and be BRAVE! Good Luck. You won't be able to imagine what a classroom was like before having technology at your students’ fingertips.
  • It's OK to start small and find something that you are comfortable with! Find your passion and dig into that!
  • Try it! If it fails, try something else! There is much more to lose by not trying.
  • Don't let your fears drive what you do. You and your students can do this. If you say you can’t, you never will, and you are putting a ceiling on the learning of your students.
  • Your students are more capable than you think!  Don't put a ceiling on their learning and what they are capable of!
  • You are going to have epic fails. Embrace and celebrate them. That's when we learn.
  • Trust your students!  Believe they can.  Don't let fear drive the bus. 

We hope you take these messages from the HSE Design Team to heart.  Take some chances.  Trust yourself. Trust your students, and embrace the journey.

Have a great week, HSE!

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Best Day Ever

This week's entry is short and sweet, and I stole it from my wife, who is the principal at Cumberland Road Elementary School.  She sent the following words as part of her weekly email.

As we all return to work after Spring Break, I hope this helps you come back ready to make the last months of school great for yourself and for your students.

From Lisa: This is the Best Day Ever

Amelie getting ready to start the best day ever!
Our granddaughter, Amelie, spent the week before Spring Break with us and then we took her down to Nashville and on to Florida for Spring Break.

Amelie lives each day with the philosophy that it is "the BEST day ever!" When her dad texted to check on how she's doing and I asked her, she replied, "I played pirates with Noah and it was the BEST day ever." The next day I'd ask her again and she'd say, "I played dress-up with Mercy. It was the BEST day ever!" The next day? You've got it. "The BEST day ever!"

Each day at the beach, whether it was so windy we had to stay on the deck or she could be building sand castles near water's edge and bossing her Auntie Mercy around, she would often stop, throw her hands up in the air, and say, "This is the BEST day ever!"

I want to live my life like she does. I'm going to write her quote on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor so I can be reminded, "This is the BEST day ever!"

Respond to Lisa:

Welcome back!  Have a great week, HSE.  We hope it is the best week ever!

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team

  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education