In July, over 350 educators from around the Midwest and me, descended upon Lincoln, Nebraska for the 2017 Google Summit. As I attended a session on Google Tips, something was confirmed for me. Inviting staff using Google Calendar has made my life easier and streamlined!
This blog site is maintained by the Office of Professional Learning and features 6 different categories.
By: Dr. Gregory Betts
Stability and certainty are not always available for students when they enter the 21st Century work force and this trend does not seem to be going away. Long gone are the days of retiring with a gold watch, 30 plus years of experience and a healthy pension. In the educational world, educators often talk about preparing kids for jobs that aren’t even created yet. What does that really mean? It means, I can work hard (Grit), see opportunities for growth (Mindset), foster courage and vulnerability (Daring Greatly) and have a high hope mindset (Making Hope Happen). This ultimately leads to individuals being able to successfully self advocate and create confidence with success. Allowing students to become independent and self-advocates is a critical step in preparing them for school, post secondary education, and their future careers. Molding a life long learning mindset in students and creating learning opportunities that reinforce this are one of the great joys of being an educator. It is a life long learning mindset that drives me to conclude this concept is more important than ever to establish with our students and equip our teachers with advocacy skills as we continue to watch an uncertain future reveal its many surprises before us.
As a former elementary teacher and high school football and track coach, I have worked with students with physical and academic disabilities, bright students who could not handle failure, talented athletes who did not work hard, and adults who always saw the future as bleak. Students and adults who were/are successful had many of the positive psychology characteristics from the books referenced above that led to self advocacy skills. The ability to self-advocate always intrigued me because it took hard work, a growth and hope mindset, and with the capacity to bounce back from failure.
Educators have many roles and responsibilities highlighted by instructing students on the indicators and outcomes set forth by their school. Teachers are also simultaneously supporting the whole child by incorporating and modeling lessons about character, responsibility, respect, and self-advocacy. Friend (2012) states that “self-advocacy is an important part of self-determination, or the ability to make decisions and direct behavior so that the desired goals are achieved (Holverstott, 2005).” If self advocating truly can make a positive impact, then we must be teaching all students that they can properly handle adverse situations, clearly communicate to others, and ask for help when needed. In order to encourage students to be self-advocates, they need to gain information, store and retrieve information, express information, self-advocate, and manage time (Including Students with Special Needs, 2012). We need self-advocating students who are able to achieve their own goals, are self-determined, and able to succeed when faced with adversity. As educators we can help foster and mold self advocating students by:
- Teaching students how to ask for help
- Creating opportunities to develop time management
- Teaching students how to self-monitor (emotion, time, environment)
- Creating responsibilities and allowing students to complete the task
- Creating role play situations that might be difficult (create a social story)
- Allowing failure and praising hard work (this means don’t always rescue)
- Allowing voice and choice in the classroom
- Knowing your students and supporting their interests
- Allowing natural consequences and having the students problem solve the solution
- Developing critical thinking and problem solving skills
1. Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
2. Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance.
3. Dweck, Carol S.. (2008) Mindset :the new psychology of success New York : Ballantine Books
4. Friend, M. & Bursuck, W.D. (2012). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for classroom teachers, (6th edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
5. Hensley, P. (2016). Teaching Self-Advocacy in the Special Ed Classroom. Retrieved March 01, 2016, from http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/4561-teaching-self-advocacy-in-the-special-ed-classroom
6. Self-Advocacy. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2017, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/transition-tool-kit/self-advocacy
Lee, A. (2014). The importance of self-advocacy for kids with learning and attention issues. Understood.
By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
Educators are responsible for covering critical information and often at a fairly quick pace. With the demands of covering state and district standards along with other curriculum, it can be hard to find time for additional review and practice of prior learnings. Additionally, instructional time might be lost each school day due to activities, transitions, assemblies, weather distraction, etc. Sponge activities allow for this extra practice without carving out a large amount of time in the day. Madeline Hunter’s 1982 Mastery Teaching book describes sponge activities as ... “learning activities that “sop up” precious time that otherwise would be lost. Sponge activities give students practice in reviewing or applying past learning while they’re waiting for students to arrive, while materials are being passed or collected, while roll is being taken, or during any other “administrivial” matters. Sponges are quick, engaging activities that when used effectively become beneficial to the success of the student. They also can help ensure that every student is receiving the maximum amount of available time to learn. The best sponge activities are academically rich and engage all learners. Many sponge activities involve students working with partners, in groups, or as a whole class. There are many different sponge activities out there and many are very easy to implement. They can be a simple or complex task, but they will always be beneficial to students’ learning. Jessica Boschen has created a list of 80 sponge activities that might work for you (Jessica is not affiliated with WCS) or visit UCSD to view their top sponge activities.
Original Sponge content can be found in Chapter 14 (page 116) of the 2004 Mastery Teaching Edition or pages 92/93 of the 1982 Mastery Teaching edition.
(Linked by Permission from Jessica Boschen) https://www.whatihavelearnedteaching.com/80-sponge-activities/
Hunter, M. C. (1982). Mastery teaching. El Segundo, CA: TIP Publications.
Hunter, Robin (2004). Madeline Hunter’s mastery teaching: Increasing instructional effectiveness in elementary and secondary schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
In 2016, Lauri Calvert partnering with Learning Forward and NCTAF, published a report focusing on what teachers need to make professional learning work for them. The report can be downloaded in its entirety for free at https://learningforward.org/publications/teacher-agency . The report contains many examples from schools and recommendations to make professional learning beneficial for teachers. Below is an excerpt from the article highlighting the work of Westside Community Schools.
Greg Betts, the director of professional learning at Westside Community Schools (about 6,000 students in Omaha, Nebraska), decided in the summer of 2014 that the district had to figure out a new way to help teachers improve their instructional practices. Betts, a former teacher and principal, could tell that their current system of professional learning needed to evolve to meet the needs of educators just as classroom instruction had been evolving to meet the individual needs of students. “The ‘sit and get’ just wasn’t working,” he said, “We knew this.” To mix things up, district leaders asked teachers to propose sessions on instructional best practices that they could present to colleagues during a PD day that was akin to speed dating.
“In the morning, teachers presented for a minute about their work, and peers chose what and who they wanted to learn from,” Betts said. Survey data about the new format showed it was beneficial to teacher learning, but district leaders knew from Standards for Professional Learning that for the professional learning to affect teaching and learn-ing on a large scale, it needed not only to offer teachers agency, but also to be ongoing and aligned to district goals. The Learning Communities standard, for example, deals with the need for professional learning to occur “within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.” The District Teaching and Learning Team developed an innovative strategy to balance teachers’ individual learning needs with those of the system and ensure that the learning is continuous and embedded throughout the year. So, for the 2015–16 school year in the
Westside District, teachers participate in four full-day professional learning sessions offered quarterly by the district, with four follow-up sessions on early-dismissal days. During the full-day sessions, teachers attend three different professional learning sessions: two of their choice and one common session on a focus topic for the district.
• One common session. After analyzing district and school data, the Teaching and Learning Team selected one instructional focus for the school year: eliciting student response. The quarterly professional learning days include one required session on eliciting student response, thus expanding and following up on the topic from session to session. • Two independent choices. Teachers select two sessions to attend, from approximately 51 learning topics, based on their interests and needs. The independent sessions are designed and led by teachers who have submitted proposals that fit under the district’s instructional objectives. This year, all topics fit into one or more of three categories: personalized learning, technology, and literacy.
Feedback was positive from teachers who participated in the first full-day session and follow up in October; they appreciated the “personalized approach to professional development,” the “practical” strategies presented, and that there was “enough time to learn new things, but also to really explore what I’d learned and have some good discussions about it.” Many comments dealt specifically with the importance of teachers being allowed agency for their learning. “I appreciate the efforts to make these professional development days beneficial for us, and not a waste of time,” one teacher wrote. Another wrote, “I appreciate being able to choose sessions that I am interested in or that apply to me!”
Citation for this work: Calvert, L. (2016). Moving from compliance to agency: What teachers need to make professional learning work. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward and NCTAF.
The primary purpose of a report card is to communicate student achievement, with achievement being defined as performance measured against accepted standards and learning outcomes. Ken O’Connor 2007
What is a Standards-Based report card, and why is it used?
A Standards-Based report card gives information about a student’s achievement of Westside’s Learning Standards (Outcomes and Indicators) which are aligned with the Nebraska State Standards.
- A student’s achievement is measured against the standard rather than simply being compared to other students.
- It gives more detailed and accurate information about a student’s academic achievement.
- A Standards-Based report card provides clarity and consistency for reporting achievement within Westside Community Schools.
- There is worldwide consensus among experts that Standards-Based reporting increases the focus on learning.
How do the marking codes reflect the change to a Standards-Based report card?
Marking codes on a Standards-Based report card reflect the student’s mastery of District adopted standards not an average of scores. The codes do not align with letter grades.
How are marks determined in a Standards-Based system?
When determining marks, teachers consider a “body of evidence” and use professional judgment. Marks are based on the indicators for each content area and reflect only academic achievement, not behaviors. Teachers base achievement marks on summative assessments. These assessments evaluate student learning at the end of teaching to an objective or at the end of a unit of study. Formative assessments (quizzes, homework, teacher’s observations, activities) are used to monitor student learning. The results allow teachers to make on-going instructional decisions and allow students to get feedback and monitor their learning. Formative assessments and practice (homework) are used to collect evidence of learning not to determine marks.
Who is responsible for a grade if a child receives services in EY (Excellence in Youth), ELL (English Language Learners), Pre-Algebra or Special Education?
Classroom teachers will work collaboratively with EY, ELL, Pre-Algebra and Special Education staff to determine the final report card marks. If a student has an IEP that designates an alternate assessment, the student will not receive a report card.
If a student receives all 3’s, does that mean the student is performing above grade level?
No, a 3 means the child has mastered the grade level standard.
Why is behavior separated from content marks?
To accurately portray student achievement, behavior is separated from achievement. Behavior is reported under Social Skills and the Skills of a Successful Learner. For example, a student may demonstrate mastery of the Standard but has late homework or off-task behavior. In the past, this child may have received a lower grade due to the late homework and behavior concerns, this is not acceptable in a Standards-Based system.
How do teachers mark the report card if the standard hasn’t been taught and/or assessed?
A blank will designate that a standard has not been taught or assessed. There may not be a mark in every box each quarter. At some point in the year all statements should have a mark reflecting the student’s individual achievement.
What if a child does not receive a “3” for a standard by the end of the year?
The expectation is that students will demonstrate mastery of all standards. However, teachers, students and parents must work together to address the areas of need. Extra practice, summer programs, or extra help at home may be suggested.
How will student achievement be reported to parents?
Student achievement will be shared in many ways throughout the year. Communicating student achievement will continue to be the focus of conferences. Conferences will still be held during the first and third quarters. Teachers are still encouraged to utilize other means to report student’s mastery of Standards. Communicating evidence of learning can be shared with phone calls, notes, emails, sharing of portfolio samples and parent meetings.
GRADING BEST PRACTICES The primary goal of any standards based learning system is for students to meet the standards set by the District. This means that everything we do as teachers, including grading, must be targeted toward the standards and indicators students must learn. Ken O’Connor (2007), a nationally recognized expert on grading, identifies two essential questions that educators must ask themselves about grading:
1. How confident am I that the grades I assign students accurately reflect my school’s/district’s published content standards and desired learning outcomes?
2. How confident am I that the grades students get in my classroom/school/district are consistent, accurate, and meaningful and that they support learning?
O’Connor and other recognized experts (e.g., Reeves, Guskey, Marzano, etc.) recommend the following grading practices:
Grades must be consistent.
-Grades must be based on and organized using grade level indicators.
-Grades must be based on individual student achievement related to those indicators.
-Grades must be based on quality assessment of indicators.
Grades must be accurate.
-Grades must reflect student achievement only rather than behaviors (e.g., effort, participation, adherence to class rules, attendance).
-Grades must be based only on individual achievement, even if they are the result of “group work.”
-Extra credit should contribute to the grade only when it supplies evidence that “extra work” has resulted in higher achievement in the content that is being graded.
Grades must be meaningful.
-When using measures of central tendency to calculate final grades, the median or mode, rather than the mean (average), should be used.
-When determining grades, consider the “body of evidence” and use professional judgment. Don’t just calculate grades.
-When learning is developmental, emphasize the most recent achievement rather than summarizing evidence accumulated over time.
-Zeroes must not be used in place of missing or incomplete work or as punishment for student behavior.
Grades should support learning.
-Formative assessment and practice should be used to collect evidence that learning is occurring, not to determine grades. ! Students should have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
-Students should know from the beginning how grades will be determined. The learning targets should be clear and there should be no surprises on assessments.
-Students should have opportunities to be active participants in on-going assessment and grading practices (e.g., participating in learning conferences, assisting in rubric development, having input into setting timelines and deadlines, and making choices about how to demonstrate learning).
By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
“In differentiated classrooms, teachers begin where students are, not the front of a curriculum guide. They accept and build upon the premise that learners differ in important ways. Thus, they also accept and act on the premise that teachers must be ready to engage students in instruction through different learning modalities, by appealing to differing interests, and by using varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity (Tomlinson, 1999).” Carol Ann Tomlinson’s quote in 1999 can be easily modified to fit personalizing learning for students today. Meeting the needs of all students and bringing them to proficiency and beyond are goals of most schools I am familiar with. There is a lot more to personalizing learning than just differentiating instruction though it is one of the major components of meeting the needs of all students. Differentiated instruction is defined as the use of a variety of teaching and learning strategies that are necessary to meet the range of needs evident in any classroom. This includes making adjustments to what you are teaching by either making it more challenging for higher students or making modifications for your lower students. This can involve varying instruction, materials or content to ensure all students are learning the required materials.
In order to ensure that all students receive equal opportunities to be successful within the school environment, teachers must analyze both student needs and the demands of their own classroom. Through this analysis, educators are then able to establish necessary accommodations for students with unique learning, emotional, and/or behavioral needs. The INCLUDE strategy from Including Students with Special Needs is designed to help students who need an individual approach in the classroom. The INCLUDE strategy has two key principles. The first principle is based on the idea that student performance is a result of the teaching style and methods interacting with the student’s abilities. The second principle is based on the idea that the teacher identifies all student needs, including those with and without disabilities. By identifying the needs, the teacher can then alter or adjust the lessons to positively affect all students involved in the classroom lessons. This strategy can be paired with the 4 steps of an effective PLC (Professional Learning Community) as a guide and support meeting the needs of all students and assisting in creating a personalized environment.
Step 1: Identify classroom demands
Step 2: Note student learning strengths and needs
Step 3: Check for potential areas of student success
Step 4: Look for potential problem areas
Step 5: Use information to brainstorm ways to differentiate instruction
Step 6: Differentiate instruction
Step 7: Evaluate student progress
|Identify classroom demands||Includes looking at the classroom environment and potential materials needed to effectively teach specific lessons and meet different needs. This ranges from organization and routines to ensuring effective class groupings, methods of teaching, as well as having all needed/appropriate materials.|
|Note student learning strengths and needs||Assess strengths of each student (academic, social-emotional development, or physical development).|
|Check for potential areas of student success||Analyze student success using the instructional demands of Step 1 by looking for strengths in academic and social-emotional areas. Find different activities that students will succeed in using student data.|
|Look for potential problem areas||Assess student challenges and review where students are going to be most likely to struggle and address these situations with different methods that could potentially be used to differentiate instruction: Seating arrangement, structure vs. unstructured activities, students academic work, and social interaction.|
|Use information to brainstorm ways to differentiate instruction||Information collected can be used to brainstorm how to support students. This can be done through accommodations and modifications and will be dependent upon where students struggle and where their mismatches occur in their learning. Identify ways to eliminate the effects of problem areas and how to support success.
|Differentiate instruction||Challenge advanced students and break instruction down for students that might struggle. Select different instructional/behavioral strategies to meet the needs of each student. Select age-appropriate strategies, select the easiest approach first, select accommodations and modifications that the instructor agrees with, give student choices strategies, and choose choices with demonstrated effectiveness., etc.|
|Evaluate student progress||This step allows the teacher to evaluate the methods that have been put into place in order to help the student. It is important to determine if the methods used were effective. Formatively and summatively assess students to ensure growth has been made. Assess effectiveness through grades, observations, observation, assessment scores, student ratings, etc.|
FRIEND, M. P., & BURSUCK, W. D. (2006). Including students with special needs: a practical guide for classroom teachers. Boston, Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
DUFOUR, R., & EAKER, R. E. (1999). Professional learning communities at work: best practices for enhancing student achievement. [Bloomington, Ind.], National Educational Service.
Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
I have the privilege of working and presenting with a great friend at Westside Community Schools. She is an expert in her field, an amazing presenter, and many days she can be seen walking around with three to five bags. She usually has a rolling suitcase, hand bag, satchel, lunch bag, and a tote. Her daughter has lovingly nicknamed her the “Bag Lady.” This got me pondering my own journey in education and reflecting on my teacher bag choices of past along with my peers. What is the best bag? Is it practical? Functional? What do I really need to carry? Style? Brand? Durability? The first answer to these questions lies in the heart of your role in education and for what purpose do you need a bag. Second, you will need to decide how long you will carry the bag (durability) and your level of concern with style. If can answer yes to a “recyclable bag is good enough for me” then I would encourage you to stop reading the rest of this post.
- How much school stuff do I need to take home, carry for presentations, or need for my everyday survival?
- How many pockets do I need to carry all of my cool school stuff?
- How many bags might I need?
- Is the bag easy to transport from one place to another? Maybe from my car to school, etc.
- How much do I care about “brand?”
- Do I care if I purchase a new bag every year?
- Do I need a computer compartment? These are usually padded pockets to protect your laptop / tablet of choice.
Tote – A tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch.
Backback – sack carried on one’s back and secured with two straps that go over the shoulders, but there can be variations. Lightweight types of backpacks are sometimes worn on only one shoulder strap.
Satchel – A satchel is a bag, often with a strap. The strap is often worn so that it diagonally crosses the body, with the bag hanging on the opposite hip, rather than hanging directly down from the shoulder. They are traditionally used for carrying books. The back of a satchel extends to form a flap that folds over to cover the top and fastens in the front. Unlike a briefcase, a satchel is soft-sided.
Messenger Bag – A messenger bag (also called a courier bag) is a type of sack, usually made out of some kind of cloth (natural or synthetic), that is worn over one shoulder with a strap that goes across the chest resting the bag on the lower back. While messenger bags are sometimes used by couriers, they are now also an urban fashion icon. Some types of messenger bags are called carryalls. A smaller version is often called a sling bag.
Rolling Suitcase – A suitcase is a general term for a distinguishable form of luggage. It is often a somewhat flat, rectangular-shaped bag with rounded/square corners, either metal, hard plastic or made of cloth, vinyl or leather that more or less retains its shape. It has a carrying handle on one side and is used mainly for transporting clothes and other possessions during trips. It opens on hinges like a door. Suitcases lock with keys or a combination. (A suitcase with wheels can be called a roll along or a trolley case)
Brief Case – A briefcase is a narrow hard-sided box-shaped bag or case used mainly for carrying papers and other documents and equipped with a handle. Lawyers commonly use briefcases to carry briefs to present to a court, hence the name. Businesspeople and other professionals also use briefcases to carry usually important papers, and in more recent times electronic devices such as laptop computers and tablets.
Giant handbag that can double as a work bag – For this one, you are on your own! It works well when you convince your significant other or yourself that purchasing an expensive handbag is a necessity because you need it for “work purposes.”
Personally, I have chosen a backpack that is made of black balistic nylon and is able to stand without collapsing on itself as many backpacks do. The backpack has many pockets including one for a laptop and a tablet. Finally, I am not concerned about having to replace it every year or having my valuables unprotected. Though the bag was initially expensive, it is going on three years, has protected my technology, and still looks good. Finally, I wanted a bag that I could “wear” and still have my hands free for carrying coffee, presenting materials, and be able to unlock the front door of my building. As the knight in Indiana Jones and Last Crusade says, “Choose Wisely.”
Wikipedia contributed to the definitions posted above.
Below is an excerpt from the original blog.
Four Ways to Stop Ignoring the Forgotten Fourth Critical Question of a PLC
One of the first pieces of common vocabulary educators acquire when learning about Professional Learning Communities are the four critical questions. These questions serve as both a big picture framework and a constant reminder of what collaborative teams in a PLC should address.
The Four Critical Questions:
- What is it we expect students to learn?
- How will we know students have learned it?
- What do we do when students don’t learn it?
- What do we do when students already know it?
Many professionals and teams with whom I have worked are clear, or at least somewhat clear, on what is expected of them with regard to the first three questions. While implementation can be challenging and educators may encounter obstacles, most teams understand the idea of engaging in a collaborative process. Conversations continually cycle as they discuss topics such as a guaranteed and viable curriculum, the development, implementation, and analysis of common formative assessments, and strategies for students who struggle. However, I have found that not all teams clearly understand or spend time on the fourth question.
At a recent Professional Learning Community Institute, I asked a number of experienced participants what they do to address “critical question four.” Most answered that the fourth question is not a common part of their PLCs for a variety of reasons, which included time, priorities, and know-how.
The following are some of the details they shared in explaining why question four is often left for “another day.” ………..
By: Dr. Gregory Betts
Staying hydrated is extremely important for remaining a healthy individual. Dr. Kathleen Jade from University Health News states, “Drinking water regularly can help you to lose weight, think better, stay in a better mood, prevent disease, and more. Is that enough to have you reaching for your water bottle?”
I think that quote is enough for me to reach for my water bottle–but which one? There are so many choices today that it is hard to decide what bottle is going to give me the best H2O experience while at work while, most importantly, upping my overall coolness factor.
1.Sweat-proof/Spill proof. Who wants a water bottle that is going to sweat all over and potentially ruin student work? This is prevented by only using a double insulated bottle. A high-quality screw-on/twist-on lid is essential to keeping your water inside the bottle where it belongs.
2. Safe.The interior of the bottle should be 18/8 stainless steel. 18/8 is food grade, resists corrosion, and eliminates the worry of being poisoned by plastic. It is BPA free.
3. Quality Insulator.At a minimum, any water bottle should keep your water cold for a minimum of 12 hours—but doesn’t need to keep it cold forever. The purpose of having a water bottle at work is to drink the water, not to set a world record for keeping it cold.
4. The rest is about choice and convenience. How much water do I want the bottle to hold? Color? Accessories? Portability? Size? Convenience of use? Does it fit in my work bag?
Hydro Flask. The Hydro Flask I have used is a 18 oz bottle with a screw-on/twist-on hydro flip lid. This combination allowed me to throw the Hydro Flask in my bag, cup holder, take a drink without unscrewing the lid, and was big enough that I did not have to refill the bottle too often during the day.
S’well. The 16 oz S’well was also convenient with the screw-on/twist-on lid, size, and durability. The downside here for me was the 16 oz size and if I wanted a drink I had to unscrew the lid every time.
Yeti. My 20 oz Yeti Tumbler fit in my cup holder, kept my drink cold, and has been durable. The downside with my Yeti is the lid. The tumbler lid has an opening that never closes. This feature of the Tumbler has prevented me from easily transporting the Tumbler without the fear of spilling. The tumbler is great for weekend fun or watching your favorite show and not so good for transportation. Yeti does sell an 18 oz water bottle with a screw-on/twist-on lid and I do not have any experience with that model.
I needed a water bottle that would fit easily in the water bottle holder on my bag, would keep my drink cold, wouldn’t sweat, that had a screw-on/twist-on lid so the liquid didn’t spill, that was convenient to use, and that wouldn’t slowly poison me. The 18 oz Hydro Flask has been my go-to and after two years, the Hydro Flask is still going strong.