Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Taught My Dog to Whistle

A tip of the hat to Bud Blake, creator of
the Tiger comic strip.
Those of you at Hamilton Southeastern High School have seen parts of this before, but I'm taking a chance and repeating a bit.  In the past few weeks, I have been in several conversations that have included the topic of the importance of formative assessments. These recurring discussion have reminded me of Bud Blake's cartoon, which you can see below.  

From Phil: Our Focus is on Learning

Before reading further, think about this statement: The focus of our efforts at Hamilton Southeastern Schools must be primarily on student learning rather than on teaching. 

Quite a few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Lindsay High School in the San Joaquin Valley, just south of Fresno, California. 

Lindsay is a school that is very different from HSE, but I met some outstanding and innovative educators on that visit.  They were working closely with Robert Marzano and Associates and were trying to turn around a school that by all accounts was struggling.  Perhaps the most daring move they made was to put every student on an individualized learning plan that included advancement and the granting of course credit based on performance. 

Lindsay was all about what the student learned.

In fact, they didn't call the kids “students.”  They were “learners,” and the teachers were “learning facilitators.”  If you can get over the awkwardness of the titles, the intent is excellent.

For good reason, we tend to focus on what and how we are teaching.  This is not a bad thing.  We should always strive to improve our teaching.  In fact, there is a direct correlation between how we teach and how well students learn, but the reality is that the outcome is the key.  Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe tell us students must understand to the level of “transfer.”   If students can transfer their learning to new situations, we are on the right track.  If we teach lessons that don’t result in students understanding at deep levels, then we need to change our approach.

The issue is, of course, that regardless of how we teach it, if the students don’t learn it, we haven’t really accomplished much. This makes a great argument for continuing our HSE21 journey.  For example, our work with Understanding by Design fits well.  A solid UbD Unit will include clear understandings of what we want students to know and be able to do.  It provides an assortment of assessments, both formative and summative, that allow teachers to monitor student learning and for students to transfer their learning to new situations. 
Click this link for a very short YouTube video of Thomas Guskey
talking about formative assessments:
Guskey YouTube

In reality, the most important assessments are likely the formative assessments.  Formative assessments tell you if your teaching is resulting in student learning.  They give you a chance to adjust instruction.

John Hattie, a widely published education professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, said, “The mistake I was making was seeing feedback as something teachers provide to students….It was only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher that I started to understand it better.”  He is talking about formative assessments—feedback from the students to the teacher.
Thanks again to Bud Blake!

The difficulty with formative assessments is that it requires you to adjust your teaching to meet the needs of the learner.  When Robert Marzano’s was asked how often you should give formative assessments, his response was interesting and memorable:  “As often as you are willing to change your instruction.”

It’s true that we may not be able to teach a dog to whistle, but we certainly can improve student performance when we know exactly what a student needs in order to take the next step. 

Avoid whistling in the dark, HSE.  Use formative assessment often.  Check where students are in their learning, and then make adjustments to ensure they reach the learning targets.

Respond to Phil at plederach@hse.k12.in.us.

Welcome back from the Thanksgiving break.  We hope you have a great week.

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, November 18, 2016

Pause, Reflect, and Give Thanks

From Phil: Reflecting Our Priorities

Thanksgiving Day is an interesting concept.  Certainly, it means different things to everybody, but the basic idea is that we stop our normal routine and take time to reflect on all of the things for which we are grateful.

Ideally, we would be introspective about all the good things in our life on a continual basis.  The reality is that life is busy.  As Stephan Covey says, we tend to dwell on the urgent at the expense of the important.

So a day like Thanksgiving comes along, and because it is structured and built into our school and national calendar, we take time to pause and, if all goes as planned, reflect on and give thanks for all the good in our lives and in our world.

Without the day set aside, we may or may not be so intentional about our thinking.  The structure of the day allows us the time away from routines to be thoughtful—and to be thankful.

Oh No, Here He Goes Again…

I recognize I’m taking a risk by using even a national holiday to make a point about education.  But there is a connection that is worth noting, and this is, after all, a blog about Teaching and Learning.  Hang in there with me because I do think we can be thankful for Thanksgiving Day, but our experience of the day can also inform teaching and learning. 

So pretend it’s the Thanksgiving turkey and dig in and take another look at the HSE21 Best-Practice Model.

We haven’t talked much about the purple circle of “Reflection,” but if you look again, you will see it is there.  It is the piece that binds all four quadrants together.  The educational research is rich about the positive effects of taking time to reflect before, during, and after learning.  When students take time to reflect on what they have already learned, where they are in the learning process, and what their next steps should be, learning, engagement, and retention increases dramatically.

The same is true for teachers.  When teachers take time to reflect on their lessons, to examine student work, and to consider what went well and where the lesson could improve, future lessons (and therefore student learning) increases.  Even better, when teachers take time together to reflect and plan next steps, the effect size is even greater.

Structured Reflection

We know some things about ourselves and about our students.  We know, for example, that spending time with family and friends and enjoying each other’s company doesn’t always happen without some kind of intentional structure, so a day like Thanksgiving is important.  We also know that students taking time to pause and reflect is not likely to happen unless we provide the structure for this to take place.

Similarly, we absolutely need structures for ourselves as educators to do the same.  We need time to pause and reflect on what and how we are teaching, to see the connections between what we and others are doing, and to work together to create both the goals and the plans to reach those goals.

Life, both in and out of school, is incredibly busy.  We might be tempted to say we can’t afford to take time needed to pause and reflect.  Another argument could be made, however, that because of the incredible hustle and bustle of life, we can’t afford not to.

Take a Break

Thank you, HSE, for all you do.  Thank you for your dedication to your students and to our profession.  We hope you take time over this short break to reflect on all you have to be thankful for, and we hope you come back energized and ready for the push to Winter Break.

Respond to Phil at plederach@hse.k12.in.us

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, November 11, 2016

Welcome to Kindergarten

We have spent lots of time looking at our HSE21 journey from the inside, so it is possible that we might be a little "house blind."  We thought it might be helpful to get a perspective from outside, so this week's entry comes to us from Jody Britten.  Jody is a great supporter of HSE Schools, and this years she has for the first time a child in kindergarten.

Below she shares what she has seen and felt as her son began his first year at Fall Creek Elementary School.

From Jody Britten: I Wonder....

This year we started kindergarten at HSE and whoa, the first four months have been quite the ride! We started this year with a parent open house. We heard the school administrator’s calming tone as she welcomed us all and introduced her staff.  When we got to the classroom a friendly, smart teacher in a classroom that was absolutely beautiful and designed for learning awaited. Here’s what we observed…
Jody wondered what her sons would
see when they walked into HSE Schools.

Daylight. Huge beautiful windows that weren’t just for looking, but were used as a functional classroom space for reading, wondering, working, etc.

Elements of Nature. Fish, geckos, plants, wooden benches, leaves, real pictures of real places, and art supplies that were all made of real materials (leaves, beads, fabric, twine, etc.).
Student work will be
documented here....

Color. Even though the teacher had staged her room so that it was a learning opportunity waiting to happen (she didn’t preposition the alphabet, numbers, calendar, etc. she had it set up so the kids could do that), there were calming, engaging colors all around. It felt relaxed, cozy, creative, and a space that would really support learning.

Student Ownership. Did we ever see student ownership! Like I mentioned there weren’t pre-made decorations climbing the walls but spaces where the kids would create, mirrors where kids could draw self-portraits, flexible seating (picnic tables and pillows instead of hard plastic chairs and desks with their name tag already taped on). Everywhere we looked we saw opportunities for students to make that classroom their own.
Nature inside and
outside the classroom.

Opportunities for Engagement. I was thrilled to walk in and see quality materials EVERYWHERE! Materials were displayed at the height of the kids, ready for exploring, ready for learning, and ready for wondering. The kids that were visiting the classroom didn’t want to leave. They were instantly pulled into the environment by their natural curiosity. The environment was staged for engagement, not direction. Curiosity, not delivery. Inquiry, not presentation.

I Wonder. I didn’t truly realize how much I say, “I wonder…” to our kids, until I heard our son’s kindergarten teacher say “I wonder…” as we walked around the classroom and felt a tick of appreciation. Our new kindergarten student is all about the wondering and I am excited that this is part of his classroom environment at HSE. A day of learning for him (given the environment that we observed) would not just be about being told, memorizing, and copying but making sense, practicing in ways that are meaningful to him, and figuring things out. 
Create spaces that foster
engagement and collaboration.
Yep.  That's a fishbowl.

Since that back to school night I have realized that there are people (mostly individuals) working hard to make all of what we saw on back to school night even possible. So the last few months there has been a lot of grateful and thankful at our house, even more than usual. Why? Because even though we as parents can’t see all the research, thinking, planning, scrutinizing, training, preparing, and reflecting that happens at HSE, it is happening (and happening a lot).  There is just no way those learning spaces, strategies, and approaches could exist without all of those things in play.
Want to help HSE Teachers?
Click the link in the text to
Donor's Choose!

“This will be a good year,” was the only thing I could say as we loaded into the car to come home and so far my predictions have rung true. 

One More Message from Jody:

Since it is November (and the season for being thankful) help us support HSE teachers in their classroom project through Donors Choose. If you haven’t pitched in yet, take a look and see if there is any room this month for supporting one of their projects! 

Fresh Eyes: Our Challenge from Jody

Have a great week, HSE.  

The next time you walk into your room, do a little experiment.  Try to see your room through the eyes of your students and parents.  What do you think they will notice first?  What will they think you value most?  

Thanks for helping us take a fresh look, Jody!

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, November 4, 2016

Why Civil Discourse?

From Phil: Student Learning, Civility, and Kindness

Several weeks ago, I met with the social studies department chairs to check in and talk about big picture items pertaining to teaching and learning in secondary social studies classes.  After a once-around check-in, we watched a part of the Simon Sinek TedTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
Click Here for the link to Sinek's TedTalk:
The Golden Circle

In his talk, Sinek draws out a simple diagram, which he calls the “Golden Circle.”  Sinek points out that we spend lots of time talking about “What?” and “How?” but very few of us take the time to talk about “Why?”

Sinek is speaking primarily to a business audience, but his words translate to education very well.  We do spend lots of talking and thinking about what we should teach and how we should teach, but we don’t spend much time talking about the why of what and how we teach.
What is the "Why?" at the center of your Golden Circle?
The social studies department chairs took a few minutes and came up with the following list.  These are not direct quotes, but they are close—and the best I could do from my few scribbled notes:

What is at the heart of our Golden Circle in social studies?  What is our “WHY?”

  • “Students should be able to form their own opinions, to learn how to think, to become life-long history learners.”
  • “They need to develop the really important skills—reading, writing, thinking.  These are the skills that will help them in high school, college, and life.”
  • “Knowledge is important, but applied knowledge leads to wisdom.  This is what critical thinking is all about.”
  • “Civil Discourse is much needed right now.  Students need to know that that civil discourse is about reasoned arguments, not who can shout the loudest.”

Civil Discourse

As we close in on the final days before the election, I have no doubt that many, many of you feel the same way about the need for civil discourse.  If you look back over the list above, you will note that very little of the “Why?” that came from these outstanding educators is about the actual content of the class.  Rather, most of this list could apply to all classrooms in all HSE schools--especially the comment about civil discourse.
Tolstoy's words of wisdom apply to this topic as well!

This conversation was a good reminder for me about our primary purpose as educators.  I share it with you in the hopes that you may feel the same.  And I think right now is an especially good time to be reminded of the importance of civility and empathy, of staying hopeful, of remaining kind.

I would like to close with a few more thoughts that may reinforce the statements above and may resonate with how you are feeling as we head toward November 8.  I intentionally picked from a wide variety of thinkers.

Can you match the pictures to the quotes?
Another interesting question: If I wouldn't have labeled the
quotes, could you have matched the name to who said it?
  •  “I think it is important that we rebuild an atmosphere of forgiveness and civility in every aspect of our lives.”  --T.D. Jakes
  • “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  --Aesop
  • “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.  That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  --Stephen Covey
  • “If you interpret your life as a battlefield then you will want to maintain control at all times…. If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside.”  --David Brooks
  • “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.”  --Dalai Lama

Respond to Phil at plederach@hse.k12.in.us

We sincerely hope your week is a good one, HSE.  Take time to look for the good by finding and providing examples of empathy, civility, and kindness.  When you do, our guess is you will find yourself closer to the inner ring of your Golden Circle. It will, perhaps, remind you and those around you of the why of what we do as educators.

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