Two for Tuesday: December 11, 2007

Two great tools made specifically for educators this week!!

Teach Collaborative Revision with Google Docs: I have long been a fan of Google docs to create documents with my colleagues. This site uses the same tool to help teachers work with students on revision - and often dreaded element of writing. Partnering with Weekly Reader's Writing for Teens magazine, this page shares a tutorial on Google docs and several writing activities. Check it out for an easy way to incorporate technology tools into the writing classroom!

PageFlakes Teacher Edition: When looking for a simple site to share RSS feeds that was not blocked by school districts, I stumbled upon PageFlakes. They have now added a "teacher edition" that is still simple to use but includes things like a "to do" list, a schedule tracker and even a grade keeper!! A nice homepage for the busy teacher!!


Give us a rating on the tips for this week in your comments!!
5 - WOW! What would I ever do without you? I'll be back every Tuesday!
3 - Interesting reading but I wouldn't use these tips!
1 - Please stop blogging!

Two for Tuesday

I thought I would borrow an idea from a new blogger I am reading who is really pushing my thinking. Every Tuesday, she posts about two technology tools that she has found that she believes she can integrate into her work. I am thinking that since the purpose of Grand Rounds is not just technology - but really learning and teaching - our "Two for Tuesday" might be technology (as it is this week) or might be articles on a topic, strategies for the classroom or other things. As always - Jenn and I look for additional contributions so if you have ideas that might fit - let us know and we can make you guest authors!!!

So - for this week:

1. Zotero : This is a new bibliographic software (think EndNote) that is actually a Firefox extension (in other words - FREE!!) Billed as being built by researchers for researchers, it has some pretty powerful capabilities that even this non-PhD candidate finds interesting: drag and drop use, works with online tools like Google Docs and it integrates your annotations and notes. Another cool feature?

"[O]ne of the distinctive features of the system is its ability to detect and extract bibliographic information for a range of sources during research. When Zotero senses information on a page you are viewing—a book, a journal article, a filmstrip, a newspaper, or whatever kind of item the system senses—it places a small icon in the location bar of your Firefox browser. When you click the icon in your location bar, Zotero captures the bibliographic information on the page and saves it in your Zotero database. You can then organize the items you capture through the Zotero pane, which you open by clicking on the Zotero logo in the bottom right corner of your browser window. From the Zotero pane, you can organize these items into collections, you can tag them, search them, sort them, annotate and highlight them, take notes, and drag and drop attachments like images and audio and video files onto them."

Thanks to Innovate for the "heads up" on this tool.

2. LiveScribe : This is a "paper based computer platform" (say that three times fast) which includes a a smartpen, paper, and software applications. This tool will record the lecture as you are taking notes - and you can listen to them when tapping on the note page!! You can send the file (including the audio) to classmates via email or post on the web. It also looks like this tool might have ELL applications as it will translate a word or phrase that is written and with the play-back, students can practice their pronunciations. Cost? The pen will be under $200 and the paper will cost about as much as other computing paper products.

Give us a rating on the tips for this week in your comments!!
5 - WOW! What would I ever do without you? I'll be back every Tuesday!
3 - Interesting reading but I wouldn't use these tips!
1 - Please stop blogging!

What if....

Sitting inside a conference venue in Dallas, Texas during the NSDC conference the following point was made (my notes):

"The power of a meta-analysis is that we can take a bunch of smaller studies and draw richer and more valid conclusions from them because the "n" is larger. When I was getting my PhD, my dissertation involved research using the perceptions and work of 45 teachers. I made determinations or found some trends "inconclusive" because I didn't have enough data. But when we combine research studies - we have a richer base to draw more accurate conclusions."

In this world of collaboration and creation via Web 2.0 tools - why can't we have doctoral dissertations (done on a small scale) become compiled as a meta-analysis in order to draw better conclusions? What are the roadblocks to this happening?

What constitutes educational research?

For a change of pace, I thought today I'd revisit our original purpose around educational research as it's the content of my class tonight. The course is Critical Review of Research and the professor has asked us: What constitutes research?

We've started with the idea of "cherry picking" research. As a way of framing the conversation, a connection is made between researchers picking the data they want and people using quotes from the Bible to support an argument. As often happens in courses, we've meandered over the idea of the quality of research. Consider - is everything ASCD publishes high quality? Do they review content for books around ethical issues? Do they look for evidence behind a book (excluding Marzano, of course) before publishing it. Let's ignore for a moment all of the discussion about the federal policy around quality research. Are educators even taught how to be effective discriminators of research? Is that what curriculum coordinators and Associate Superintendents are for?

How about you? Do you feel you were/are prepared to filter through research? Do you seek out research to inform your practice?

More from Dylan

What say you? Fellow Fellows?

What would Dylan say?

I posted this for response from my C4L Fellows but anyone, anyone, can join in!!


It amazes me sometimes how Jenn and I can be miles apart yet so common in thought. On Monday, while Jenn was hoping to never grow old, I was listening to Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach speak to regional educators to kick off a year long "virtual learning community."

Will reminded us that education seems to move at 5 mph while other professions move at 75-90-100 miles an hour when adapting to change. He wasn't criticizing teaching, but had a point that we are doing a great job at educating kids for today, but what about tomorrow?

Kids have these tools, they use these tools. It is up to us, as educators, as parents, as aunts - to help them leverage these tools. Like it or not - as Jenn pointed out in her post - we can't dismiss things like Second Life or (gulp!) Twitter. I don't get them - but I can't really figure them out if I don't do more than tip my toe into the technology waters. And I certainly can't prepare students for tomorrow without them.

Jenn talks about getting old - I'm not sure it's an age thing but a lack of awareness and "common sense". Just watch this video of Larry Lessig (creator of Creative Commons)and you'll see what I mean. As Larry says, we made mix tapes, our kids are making mash-ups; we watched tv, our kids are creating tv. The Internet is not just for information anymore - it is for creating, publishing, collaborating. What are you afraid of?

Bah Humbug!

A few weeks ago, I saw this video and like many educators was deeply moved by the statements the students were making. It reminded me why I should bite the bullet and step into Second Life, why we need to take risks and explore technology, even when it seems frivolous or non-educational related. I saw it as a video that put into meaningful images what it means to be a student growing up a time when CD's have ALWAYS existed, Jay Leno has ALWAYS been on TV, and the Berlin Wall was torn down before you were born. I'm not a spring chicken. There are times when I feel old and am now asking all of my friends and loved ones. If I ever badmouth technology, beat me with a printer cable. So, yes, I suppose I'm calling this guy old. Not clever, not witty, but I have lost my capacity for articulate speech.

I re-read his commentary, looking for a quote to respond to and I can't force myself to highlight and copy anything he's written. I can't even find anything reasonable in his argument that makes me question why I adore this video so much. So we're not all fans of the phrase Web 2.0 but calling the professor incompetent? Bashing our profession? That's what he saw? Wow. Wow. Really, that's the extent of my vocabulary right now.

I saw an ad on the NYC subway last week that made me grin. Do we get old when we stop eating peanut butter or do we get old because we stop eating peanut butter? Don't know what it was for (I'll assume peanut butter) but it came to mind when I finally took a deep breath after reading his post.

Are we officially old when we see an articulation of technology that has emerged among the generation after us and bad-mouth the users rather than investigate the possibilities?

I really, really, really hope I never get old.

Larry Ainsworth - Day Two (aka Better Late Than Never)

Life interupted work and blogging for me this past week. You never realize how you are missed until folks say "Hey - where is Day 2 of that workshop?" or send you volumes of emails wondering why you didn't respond to one!!

But I digress!! Larry Ainsworth on Day 2 was just as great as Day 1 but absolutely more of a work session. For folks with a strong background in item writing, rubrics, and the like - it was light on content and heavy on work. For others - it was heavy on content. I am still surprised at the number of educators who don't know what a rubric is!!

Since our Power Social Studies team (my name, not theirs) had already unwrapped our standard and our fearless leader had already culled all the questions that applied to that standard from previous NYS Assessments - we were ready to roll. We thought...

Turns out that the questions that NYS asks on this standard didn't exactly match the content and skills we had unwrapped!!

Now - before there is tremendous shock and outrage - as we talked it through, we realized in part that it is due to the data format. When we selected a Power Standard to unwrap - we selected an upcoming unit for our lead teacher and one that we knew kids had a hard time understanding. It was a standard that is covered frequently on the NYS Assessments (so it met the power standard requirement) but the standard alone (from the core curriculum) did not give us sufficient information to do a good job in unwrapping it!

Here is how we modified the process:

1. After unwrapping the standard for content/skills, we looked at all the test questions that "matched" that standard.
2. We developed a list of "key vocabulary" (which included not only terms but events and people).
3. We redefined the "skills" we had unwrapped to include any from the questions that were not already there (i.e. recognizing point of view in a political cartoon)
4. We created a secondary set of "essential questions" for the unit - that had an answer and were not quite as broad as the ones we created initially (so should probably be called "guiding" questions).

As we moved on to creating our "assessments" we used the old questions for multiple choice (no sense re-creating the wheel) but developed our own DBQ to answer one of our larger essential questions.

The template that guided our work was helpful - but as I said, we took some libterties with it. Particularly in Social Studies - I think we will need to do this in order to get around the breadth vs. depth issues.

Our end product isn't posted for the world to see yet - Erie 1 BOCES is trying to work out some copyright issues - once it is there, I'll be able to share more. And maybe once I have had more than 3 hours sleep - I'll post more!

Common Formative Assessments - Part 1

Attending a two-day conference with Larry Ainsworth on developing common formative assessments. The room is packed with 160 teachers and leaders from the region - it is a pretty diverse group. Larry Ainsworth does a remarkable job in working with the crowd and in reminding the leaders in the group that they need to participate as well.

The structure of the day is such that we have an input session, then work in small groups, input session, work in small groups. The goal at the end of two days is that we will have "unwrapped" standards for an upcoming topic/unit and used a template to create some formative assessments.

Some take-aways from Day 1:

- Evaluating your current assessment system can be a simple, but eye-opening exercise. After listing all the assessments we use, we then ranked and coded them to indicate those that make the greatest impact on instruction and student learning, those that aligned to "power standards," those that emphasize literacy/numeracy and others. The purpose? Are we getting the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to assessment?

- We are over testing and under assessing.

- The revised Blooms are back!! The final cognitive piece of create is critical - being able to assess the cognitive load of standards/state assessments in critical to ensure alignment of our formative assessments. (Why ask a "remember" level question if the standards/assessment require "analysis"?)

- If the standards are asking for "lower level" Blooms and our expectations are higher - raise them up! Just notate them as "teacher added" so that someone who reads them afterwards understands. (This happened after it was observed by more than one group that the NYS Social Studies standards are fairly low level.)

- Under this model - essential questions and "big ideas" are not identical to the UbD model. They apply more to the individual units or learning goals - not quite as lofty.

- "Big Ideas" are those things that at the end of the learning activities, we would be happy that kids could articulate in their own language. "Essential Questions" are the questions that would get us the "Big Idea" answer.

Tomorrow - we write assessments!

Information Revolution

While I have been using technology for the past year and a half to work with teachers, Jenn is more intuitively techie than I. Often - I wait to see what Jenn had discovered and then ride her wake to make it applicable to what I do.

I count it as a major triumph that we led a Skype revolution this past week - getting virtually all of our C4L Fellows ready to go and my one colleague who doesn't necessarily have her laptop glued to her fingertips at all times seeing its power.

But in working with teachers on using technology, I bring up the three roadblocks that I continue to encounter:

1. Lack of technology comfort - note, I didn't say knowledge. We know how to do these things - the new technology tools are extremely logical. It is our comfort level with the tools, clicking on a button with confidence that we will not change the course of history, that seems to be a bigger issue.

2. Lack of school support - I can't tell you how many trainings I am asked to do where I have to email my list of links a week in advance to get them "temporarily" unblocked for the training, only to have the teachers then not be able to access the tools they were trained on a mere 24 hours later. If you want the training, trust the teachers!!

3. Lack of transparency - in other words, we don't want to publish our work, our questions, our classrooms. While we will talk about it with colleagues in the abstract, putting ourselves "out there" will make us transparent - and open to comment, critique, criticism. Who wants that?

We do!! Jenn showed in the previous post the tools that our students are using and asked (begged? pleaded? implored?) you to try at least one. Did you? Why not? If her post didn't compel you to do so - maybe this video will:

How will you find information in the future if you can't use these tools?

A reminder why we do this. . .

After two days of technology frustration, I wasn't ready to throw out my laptop, but I was ready to give it a stern talking to. Then I saw this. And I remembered why it is imperative that educators ride the wave with the students - not drown in their wake. I ask you to watch this and then commit to mastering one thing that is mentioned in the video. Exploring one idea or tool or thread that will make one of the students in this video bump into you in the sea that is the Web 2.0 and say "welcome, glad you're here." Please.

Blogging DATAG meeting October 5, 2007

Before leaving for DATAG, this posting on G-Town Talks came up on my feed and I was immediately inspired. One of the other attendees at DATAG also uses Skype and I would have liked to explored Skyping during a meeting as a means of processing the content but it was hard enough to follow David, much less type up notes and follow a Sype conversation.

Below are the notes I took during David Abrams' speech this morning. Any misquotes or misunderstandings are my fault.

There are more people in attendance today than I think I’ve ever seen here. David Abrams is our first speaker – as the Assistant Commissioner for all things testing related, he’s the top of the food chain.

So – before we get started. . . I’m wondering:
Will the rest of the state adopt the model being used by NYC? (3 part report cards based on value-added, parent surveys, and school walk-throughs)
When are they going to pitch NYStart out the window and start again? (Note: 10 mins into his presentation, David said it was no longer his cross to bear. That answers that question.)

Introduction from Brian Preston – yup, it’s the largest attendance. More than the summer conference. Our theme is “state assessment and future models”. Sexy!

Background on David Abrams – Original member of DATAG (from his time in Albany). He was a high school English teacher and I think this shows in his presentation style.

Recognition from David for the work of DATAG (wow – he talks really fast), especially during the changes in testing programs. Apparently, he gets letters from across the state that leads him to believe that not everyone understands the system and reason for the changes. (Good plug for DIG’s – getting people involved in local groups with a more relaxed environment).

For the irrelevant portion of the program – David advised us all to join DATAG so we can “get on the listserv and bitch”. There hasn’t been a lot of that lately but point taken.

It’s official – there is a next generation of the accountability system and is in development.

David’s PowerPoint is pulled together from the Commissioner’s PowerPoints and will highlight the data points that David find interesting. Starting with English. There’s been movement over the last few years in a positive direction. Some discussion about the area of Reading as its own focus (as opposed to literary or reading in the content areas). The idea of students as independent readers emerges in middle school. David is interested in exploring the concept of a middle level literacy profile. Getting those struggling middle level readers what they need. The reality is that there are very few reading teachers at the middle school or high school level.

Comment about tests being built form two primary languages – primary verbal language and primary math language – but I’m not sure what he meant by that. He’s used the phrase not happening "at scale" twice now. This issue of discrepancy of data use and understanding across the state is apparently an issue.

Ah – the testing policy for the ELLs. As a data person, David wasn’t freaked out by the changes in the ELL policy. He wanted the ELA data as an additional data point. He shared he was asked to present at hearings in DC but didn’t want to share what he stance he took. His previous statement leads me to believe that he supported testing of ELL in English after one year, rather than 3.

Native born students – came into system in K or grade 1. District should be getting these kids at grade level by Grade 3.

Newly arrived – some discussion about the role of literacy in Language 1 and the impact on education. Clearly, David has spent a lot of time thinking about this issue. All of his comments make sense in the large scale sense of the testing program. He has the ultimate view of aggregate data.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education – missed the point he was making here but he used the words heterogonous and homogenous about six times in the same sentence.

Test was designed to “get in and get out” – tests have 20-30 MC items but everyone knows “that one item can really make a difference for Level 4’s”. There is a need to refine the tails of the test in order to get better data for the Level 1’s and Level 4’s.

Discussion about Students with Disabilities. Raised the point that diagnosis patterns are not consistent across districts. Mindset about testing SWD has changed but more work is needed around who is being identified and who is not.

Interesting political point – David just referred to the reauthorization of Title 1 “which was called No Child Left Behind”. He said he’s trying to break the habit of calling it NCLB. Hum. . .

So – to summarize the first half an hour. David is a proponent of longer tests that get better data and are more specific at the tails. He’s aware of issues for SWD and ELLs.

Another use of the phrase “at scale” – take a drink of Diet Pepsi.

Just got confirmation the state tests are not designed to tell Mrs. Jones and Apple School how her kids are doing. It’s to assess how New York State schools are doing in implementing the NYS Learning Standards. It is always powerful to hear him say that and I wish he’d said it a little slower.

HS Math. Ok – this year is a baseline of math standards – all together now, “at scale”. The number of students at Level 1 in grade 8 is scary and has major implications for HS programs. Schools should really take a look at the Grade 9 math program. Every HS principal should be looking at how students are being taught math in Grade 9.

70% of LEP population in NYS speaks Spanish. Wow. Students can take the math test in their dominate language so there are minimal ELL issues, but there are still gaps between Hispanic/Black and White/Asian students. Expects we’ll move into incremental movements on the math test.

Continued issue of item density at the tails. The break between Low 2 and High 1 is narrow. Need to identify who is “floating” right above standard cut points. Commissioner won’t talk about Standard Error because it will “break the brains of the press” (ha!) but districts need to be aware of those issues. He just flew through an example of a thermometer in the sun or in the shade but I lost the context, sorry.

Just got confirmation that David supports formative assessment and multiple measures. He said: some districts are buying formative assessment programs and using them as a summative program. This is bad. (I’m paraphrasing)

Review of standard setting process for Integrated Algebra test – I think there was some really important stuff there about pre-equating, post-equating, open-ended and closed responses but I wasn’t able to catch all of it and when I re-read what I did write, it made no sense. So, I’ll infer that David wants a dense test, not long and wants to make sure it’s done right. He just challenged people to prove that the Regents don’t test higher order skills – he can prove that they do. Any takers?

He said “fat data set” when describing data collected during the standard setting process. I'm totally stealing that.

Sample test for the Integrated Algebra will be out by Halloween. He would recommend that every High School in New York State pull together all math teachers and break apart the sampler. What is the range of difficult? What are the standards? DO NOT DROP THE SAMPLER ON A KID’S DESK AND SAY “TAKE IT.” Teach the curriculum. The value of the sampler is for the instructional staff. Have meetings with Grade 8 math teachers. Don’t look at it in isolation. Consider the curriculum, consider the core standards document.

David has been arguing with SED about test design, psychometrics, and protecting the integrity of the test for the students. He confessed that he is scared by the fact that he is extracting measurement from children. Live human children. His job is to protect the individual rights of the individual students. Aww!

The most stable data set for setting a standard is the operational data. David has spent a long time and asked a lot of people about the best way to do standard setting. Unlike 3-8, when your standard setting six tests at a time, David is confident that they can do standard setting within one week for the math test. The entire testing program has been audited and peer review by the USDOE. Arguments that the test is not aligned or unfair do not hold water. Conversion chart should be up by the morning of June 26th.

David confessed that he can’t sit still. Not a surprise.

He went to Pearson and gave them the “hairy death eye” on behalf of NYS. He reviewed their scoring procedures, see their scanning center, and meet with everyone who will be working on NYS assessments. He came out of the trip with several ideas on how to make things go smoothly in June.

He’s drafting a logistic memo that will be release by November. It will say “here are the rules, here’s what will happen, here’s what everything will look like.” This is to cut off (he actually used the phrase CYA) anyone who says they didn’t get notification in time.

Will do a full formal dry run in the Spring to vet any IT problems. Wants to make sure that files are accessible and can be viewed by all BOCES. Don’t worry about structure and format, as he’s given his work that the file formats will be compatible.

Information about the new tests will be posted at:

Accountability Update: Status versus Growth

Status Model: takes a snapshot of a subgroup’s or school’s level of student proficiency at one point in time and often compares that proficiency level with an establish target. New cohort each time.

Growth: Variation on status. Take a snapshot at each consecutive year and compare to previous year. Lots of different approaches. Lots of discussion and issues of standard error.

Real issue is tension between governance and school improvement.

David likes the New York Yankees. Dislikes Red Sox.
Likes Lobster. Dislikes Liver.
These do not impact his judgment.
He does not like or dislike value- or growth-added. His job to find out what works best and which is the most sound.

The goal is to build from status to growth. What are they doing? He won’t tell us. But he will tell us what he’s exploring.

Growth is not allowed. NYS is not in model because we started a year too late. Other states started a year before NYS.

David has been meeting with USDOE around the NYS model. He shared the name of several places that do models – it’s all about growth NOT value-added.

There is tension in the next generation because people want the system to inform decisions at the school level. “The best way to inform school decisions is through a multiple-measure system of assessment.” However, this system needs a standard “spine”.

David is scared by Margaret Spelling. I wonder if that’s a like or dislike?

NYS is researching if we can build a full vertical scale. No time for discussion today. His PowerPoint at this point summarizes most of his monologue. Note that the new model will start in 08-09. I wonder if this will change after the federal election?

Transparent does not mean easily understandable. A system this complex cannot be easily understood. It’s is rocket science. I think that was a little shout-out to the Geeks in the room.

OK – here’s a question. He said growth NOT value but the slide he just showed that the design is destined to align to value-added in 2010-11. I asked my question aloud – not sure I know the difference between the two. What I got from his response was that one is related to large-scale accountability, one isn’t. Social Studies was used as an example but I’m sure how it fits into my question. I’m hoping the next session will explain the difference between value-added and growth-added at a slower pace.

David will forward four references to the listserv about large-scale assessment. Thung at Michigan State is a recommended author as well as some folks at UCLA.

Lunch break and then value-added.

Can I Get an AMEN!?

From the Miami Sun-Sentinel:

"...board members on Tuesday told Notter to create a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and students to figure out how to prepare students for the state's high stakes test without hurting other classroom lessons. Notter also was instructed to reduce FCAT hoopla, meaning the pep rallies, banners and T-shirts, and cut back on test preparation for middle and high school students who already perform well on the exams."

Now how about for ALL kids?

Change or Die!

A scary premise - but a thought provoking one. I just finished this book by Alan Deutschman which begins:

"What if you were given that choice? For real. What if it weren't just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate perfomrance with life or death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a maniacal coach, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing chief executive officer or political leader. We're talking actual life or death now. Your own life and death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think, act, feel, and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon - a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?"

Now - aside from having an extremely powerful lead that will make its way into many of my writing workshops - the entire book caused me to actually stop, put it down, and THINK about change. So - it took me longer to read than some other books I have picked up lately.

The author indiates that there are three "keys" to change:
1. Relate - you form a new, emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope.

2. Repeat - the new relationship helps you learn, practice, and master the new habits and skills you'll need.

3. Reframe - the new relationship helps you learn new ways of thinking about your situation and your life.

Now - before I lead you astray, let me warn you that there is one, itsy-bitsy piece of this book that directly relates to education. Instead - I found myself reframing the contents of the book to my experiences in education to test the "keys." But I found that in the instances when I have made a real change to my practice, the keys absolutely hold true.

Let's take my adventures into Web 2.0 tools. Summer 2006, I was a participant the High School's New Face conference put on by our regional BOCES. While I was a participant in the Engaging Students strand with Richard Strong and Harvey Silver, we also had the opportunity to have Will Richardson share his experiences at keynote speeches. Meeting and learning from these folks for three days in a retreat-like setting created the new relationship for me. We are not on a first name basis but hearing these folks speak and being able to interact with them and reflect upon my work and practice created that emotional relationship that provided me with hope again - that I really could make a difference. (If you doubt this - ask my colleagues who had to suffer through some pretty emotional bouts in the weeks following the conference.)

After that - I began to investigate the use of blogs and wikis as ways to engage teachers so that they, in turn, could engage their students. Many of the lessons from Richard and Harvey found their way into the tools that were shared by Will. I began to reach out and read other blogs, to cautiously post on the blogs of others, to share my thoughts and practice with teachers. It has been over a year now - and I can honestly say that my practice has changed to the point where I immediately see Web 2.0 connections to practice when I learn something new.

This has caused me to reframe my personal thoughts about learning and about building community. I work hard to share what I have created in the hopes of creating that same type of relationship with others. I think differently about the workshops that I offer and how they are developed. I am constantly driven by the question of what this means in educating our students for the new, flatter world and how it can be used to help build connections. Most importantly, it has helped me to find a personal center and to work to develop my writing skills.

I could think back upon my introduction to Communities for Learning (formerly known as CSETL) as another example of change in my practice that has followed the three keys. And my decision to no longer practice law and enter education. And the first time that I lost weight and became really, truly, physically fit (which has caused me to think about what I need to do differently to once again lose weight!) The keys make sense to me.

Which now leads me to these questions: If I am a teacher/leaders who wants to create the conditions for change, what am I doing to create relationships that inspire and sustain hope? How am I providing opportunities for others to learn and practice the skills they need? How I have supported others who are seeking to "reframe?"

Visual Empathy

Since Jenn seems to be in a visual display kind of mood lately (and I guess I am also over on Writing Frameworks) - I thought I would share an interesting concept in presentations. "Death by PowerPoint" is a phrase that rings true for me lately. In teaching a graduate level course on Curriculum Design, we ask the students to do Board of Education presentations to lend a touch of authenticity to the course. They have been so painful in the past, that I have taken to doing really bad presentations using PowerPoint to show what they should not do. I don't need to do my gig anymore as I have found this video that is far more entertaining.

But I am intrigued by a Daniel Pink article in Wired about Pecha Kutcha. Japanese for "chatter," Pecha Kutcha is an innovation of two architects which applies a simple set of rules to presentations: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. After that - no more, you're done.

It is an interesting concept and certainly causes the presenter to maximize what they put on a slide visually while minimizing the accompanying chatter. I really like this video by Pink, which attempts the Pecha Kutcha format, and also speaks about the power of empathy in the signs around us:

Data Dislay Tidbit

This came up on my RSS feed today and I've now watched parts of it three times - not because I'm really all that interested in GDPs and population, but because 1. I cannot get over how amazing the data display is, 2. I completely understand the guy's excitement and 3. he comes dangerously close to "Chicken, chicken" but just when he's about to go there, he deftly avoids it by making a personal connection. His presentation is very powerful and I do feel like I have a better understanding of micro-loans and how we can address poverty around the world. I love how he shared the disconnect between goals and means - simple, clear and how can you not love someone who says "the seemingly impossible is possible", although I'm not planning on ending any data sessions the way he ends his.

I want to figure out how we can make educational data tell such a compelling story. Take out environmental factors and add educational variables - picture student work samples on the GDP scale in place of the homes in India. Wow. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

ASCD + New York Daily News - sound research = Cranky Jennifer

My husband walked in the door after a full day of technology troubleshooting and making scheduling changes at his school and had to listen to me to rant about an article I read today via the ASCD SmartBrief. Mid-rant, he lovingly reminded me that I have access to a blog. Now you, gentle reader, shall get to enjoy the full wrath of my rant. Because if you can't rant on your own blog, where can you?

Background: every day, the
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) sends out an e-mail called SmartBrief. According to ASCD's website:

ASCD SmartBrief brings you the K-12 education news that really matters. Our editors handpick key articles from hundreds of publications, do a brief summary of each and provide links back to the original sources. In other words, we do all the research...and you get the news you need, without the fluff.
This statement implies someone trolled the web looking for articles related to education. They ten pick key articles and e-mail a summary and link to a lot of educators (couldn't find the exact number on the ASCD site, please forgive my use of vague qualitative data to prove a point) The article that was picked as the lucky above-the-scroll article on September 7, 2007 is called: Daily News exam finds math scores up when difficulty rating went down. In fact, a version of the article title appeared in the subject line on the SmartBrief.

Let's set aside for the moment the difference between
causation and correlation. Let's ignore for a moment that the author is discrediting increases in scores that came about because of improvement in instruction and curriculum. I can even forgive Erin Einhorn for misidentifying p-value (it’s the percent of students who responded correctly to a question NOT “The easy score - called a Probability-value”) or assuring the reader that her conclusions are valid because . . . well, she say it is.
Three experts said The News' findings were valid.
34 kids were given the 2002 and 2005 test. They did better on the 2005 test. Therefore, it's an easier test. I think I'm going to try that approach in my dissertation. The paragraph following the quote above contains a statement from one statistician who talks about the significance of their study. The other two apparently wanted to remain confidential sources or anonymous statisticians. I just got a really big chuckle at the idea of statisticians skulking about in the shadows with copies of SPSS tucked furtively under their coats. Admit it. It’s funny.

What deflects my anger away from the author, besides silently sulking statisticians, is that in a
link below the article, the author quotes a researcher who candidly admits that p-value isn’t a good measure of the quality of a test. The author appears to have done some research. In the link, but not the main article, she correctly defines p-value and gives a solid example. Though, I’m baffled why she insists on calling p-value an “easy score”, state assessment "quizzes", and ignores completely the concept of standard setting when she writes:

Kids in New York get the same number of points for correct answers regardless of whether a question is rated easy or difficult. One way testmakers equalize exams is by requiring more correct answers on easier tests. If the 2005 test was easier than the 2002 test, that wasn't done. Kids needed 40 points to pass the 2002 test but only 39 points to pass in 2005.
All of the above transgressions can be forgiven. Quantifying learning is a messy business. Even our state education department acknowledges that standardizing testing has unintended consequences. Einhorn didn’t do a very thorough job exploring the whole picture (i.e. raw to scale conversion, standard setting) and has several glaring errors but Erin doesn’t write for a professional journal. She is writing for her fellow New Yorkers and answering questions (albeit incorrectly) for her readers and raising some powerful questions for us to ponder on the role of evaluation in education. So, Erin can be forgiven. She doesn’t speak for, or represent educators.

That honor, however, does belong to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. My wrath, which has tempered into crankiness, goes out into the blue void at the person who picked this article to be first. I have nothing personal against ASCD. I’m sure the organization is staffed by lovely people. I enjoy their books and journals. I haven’t been a conference yet but I look forward to attending one soon.

I am angry because a professional organization in my field sent its members to an article that is incorrect and misleading. If ASCD wants us draw our collective attention to current news on standardized testing, on the same day that the article was published in the New York Daily News, Gerald Bracey wrote a
piece in Education Week reminding educators to look at the bigger picture. (As the author of a book about statistics in education, I’d be curious about his response to Erin’s article.)

What would I have wanted instead? I would have been thrilled to pieces if that editor at SmartBrief had tagged the Daily News article and followed up a few days later to see the impact of the article – and trust me, there has been one. The editor would have found a
response from an angry parent, a blogger pleased that the conspiracy was finally being uncovered, a radio show dedicated to the topic, even Bloomberg and Spitzer got in on the discussion, and on the following day, another article from Erin herself calling for a massive external audit of our testing program. I have posted a link to the article on a data listserv that I belong to and am eager to see how people respond.

Edited to add: My anger completed dissolved to resignation when I re-read Erin’s follow-up article. I will sadly point toward the previously mentioned issue on
correlation and causation (this time with a British accent) and consider sending Erin an article about standard setting and post-equating but instead I think I’m going to grab my copy of SPSS and go sulk.

Edit #2: Now
ELA is under fire. *Sigh*

October 15 is Blog Action Day!

Hum. . . how to connect professional development and the enviornment? Any suggestions?

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

No - I am not talking about Jenn's book reading/blogging binge. Grins! I am very jealous that (1) she was able to get through those professional books and (2) was able to post about them. Sadly- I am ready to make another Amazon book order and can only choose one.....

Instead - I am talking about something that has been the topic of recent posts from me lately, only I have never been brave enough to label what I was talking about here as "fear." Jeff Utecht does though - and offers a great challenge in a recent post:

"I have two more trainings coming up this next week, and the first thing I am going to ask all my teachers to do is to click on something they have always wondered about, always thought “What would happen if….”. I will be in the room to pull them out of the way if their computer explodes. But I want to try and bring them to a place that allows them to explore their machines, allows them for just a minute to be supported as they explore their new technology. We don’t explore enough, we know the programs we know and that’s what we know. As Educational Technology Leaders we must support teachers, parents, and students to expand there thinking on what computers can do. To, like this father, hold them up and all them to bang away for away and see what happens. Without the support they will never do it, they do not know this tool the way a 10 year old does, we are immigrants in a foreign land. We go where we are comfortable, where others like us go to gather: Word, Excel, Publisher." (Bolded text was done by me.)

Fear is a pretty strong word - but I think it nicely summarizes what we feel with these new technologies. And it isn't just the fear of having your computer explode in front of you or of losing all your data. It is the fear that you might be held accountable in some way for what you have written. I have read blog posts where folks have pulled their blogs and made them private because they did not have tenure or their administration did not like what they were writing and they could never be completely anonymous. And blogs where folks change their taglines to include a disclaimer that the thoughts contained do not reflect those of the district (although after reflection that tag was changed.) And at a recent workshop - a teacher asked how to word a disclaimer on a wiki that the sites they sent them to might lead to other sites that might not be "appropriate."

We work so hard in our region to take down the classroom doors, to promote reflection and collaboration, to learn and grow from the wisdom and experience of our colleagues. Technology seems to be the perfect fit for this - yet it also seems to be a tremendous barrier. Or is it?

A Pig Don't Get Fatter The More You Weigh It: Classrooms Assessments that Work

Title: A Pig Don't Get Fatter The More You Weigh It: Classrooms Assessments that Work
Editors: P. Jones, J. Carr, R. Ataya
Publisher: Teachers College Press
Year: 2007

Apparently, data work and analogies go hand in hand. First, dancing. Now, pigs. I'll have to keep this in mind if I ever get around to writing a book. The author explains the title as an English phrase that refers to farmers repeatedly weighing their pigs "for indications of profit". I think the classroom equivalent would be "kids don't get smarter the more you test them." I apparently really liked this book. I count 9 red tags ("Wow, cool!") and 11 green tags (reference to read) and two big post-it notes to mark entire sections. I say apparently, because every time I look at the bright pink cover, I wonder how good a book can be that uses a picture of a pig in place of an apostrophe. (I'll let these guys articulate my issue with misplaced apostrophes)

Despite their disregard that the most noble of punctuation marks, the book is solid. First, I'd recommend it for anyone who works with classroom assessment, especially in diverse schools. I started to skim the chapter, "Can you listen faster?" on assessments for linguistically diverse learners (LDL) but went back and read it carefully, knowing I had never really read anything on the topic. I would like to talk to friends and colleagues that work with LDL as some of the assessment adoptions they recommend seem a little off, but I did learn a great deal from the chapter. I've read a lot on assessment for students with disabilities, but their chapter on inclusive assessment addresses the need for validity and respect for the learner through the use of portfolios that make a lot of sense. The concept might be overwhelming for a general education teacher with 25-30 students but for a resource room or consultant special ed teacher with a reasonable caseload, it is very doable. These chapter match nicely with Data-Driven Differentiation by Gregory and Kuzmich.

I didn't care much for the anecdotes they use to start each chapter but that's just personal preference. The section on learning communities covers most of the bases (they overlooked the learning community nearest and dearest to my heart) but has some good recommendations for creating and following through on assessment focused collaboration.

The section that was most heavily tagged was called "Performance Assessment in the Elementary Grades". I've been doing a great deal of work around standards alignment and moving from state assessment data to multiple measures and I've been playing around with data collection forms but wasn't happy with any of them. The authors went through the same struggles, I think, because their final product matches where I would have gotten in about three or four more rounds of fielding testing. Many thanks to them for saving me the time. Their form even matches with my color-coding system, so that makes me even happier to have found this book.

The information on rubrics leaves a little to be desired but it's not a book on rubrics, so I forgive them for that. All in all - a good solid book and a worthy addition to any professional library.

I'm now reading Using Data Analysis to Improve Student Learning by Wong - I see detailed steps on building pivot charts in Excel in a future chapter so I think I'm going to like this one, too. But really, think I'll ever meet a book on data or assesssment that I DON'T like?

Dancing with Data to Improve Learning by D. Sever

Title: Dancing with Data to Improve Learning
Publisher: ScarecrowEducation
Year: 2004

You have to admire any author that compares working with data to dancing and Sever does a solid job of stretching the analogy without breaking it. When I read books that aren't mine, meaning I can't write in them and am denied the small pleasure that highlighting provides, I code things with little tabs. Red means" oh that's cool, I need to borrow and cite that". Green means a reference that the author used that I need to investigate. Sever's book got 4 red tabs, 4 green. Not sure what the implications there are but I feel I should use some data to inform this posting.

Each chapter is set up with a dance-related concept. The chapter "Don't Fox Trot in a Disco" gives multiple examples of how data should and shouldn't be used. His ideas on how students can use data got a red tag from me but if I tagged for "ugh", his section on displaying data might have gotten one. I was so heavily influenced by Creating More Effective Graphs that I've become a bit of a data display snob. Sever proposes ways of sharing data with a school board but each slide is more chaotic than the previous. On the other hand, he does a great job of explaining the faulty logic behind comparing two groups of students by using the repeated example of Apple and Orange Elementary. He reinforces consistency, action planning, and the need for on-going professional development. I was also impressed by his presentation of multiple measures. It's the same idea as Bernhardt but his presentation is much simpler. Again, nothing earth shattering, just solid and reinforcing of data work that's been and is being done.

Good resource for someone just beginning to explore - worth buying if you're starting to look at what "data" means at the school level. Fast, easy read for someone who has worked with data for sometime - worth borrowing from someone and reading once.

Reading Binge

During professional development sessions on using state assessment data, I often use the analogy of running a marathon as a means of explaining the concept of benchmarking state assessment data. (It took me 6 hours, 7 minutes to finish the Buffalo marathon, the woman who won finished in something like 3 hours, 2 minutes.) I always felt proud of that example because it worked for teachers and it helped us move into actual data analysis. Thus, I was mildly disappointed when I saw this in a the book Dancing with Data to Improve Learning by Dave Sever. I always thought my analogy was inspired and original, although he uses it in a slightly different way, we use it accomplish the same goal - make data more meaningful.

Every few months, I take stock of my professional library and poke my head out into the journals and other publications to see what's new or what I've overlooked. This is made much easier by the fact that I am working on my Doctorate and have access to the UB libraries and electronic databases. I read three "data" books yesterday and can conclude there isn't really anything new under the sun. Over the next few days (or as I remember or am not too distracted by the Yankees repeated humiliation of the Sox) I'll post a summary and review of the books I am reading.

No Body is as Smart as Everybody

Currently - I am sitting on my couch, dog nestled snugly at my feet as it is quite cold on this August evening, and I am doing the following:

1. Checking my bloglines and reading blogs
2. Listening to a podcast
3. TV on but muted so I can see who is the America's Got Talent winner and waiting for the Singing Bee NOTE: The mute came in handy as the Hoff began to sing!
4. Skyping with Jenn
5. Updating my Teachers Discovering Web 2.0 Tools wiki for a workshop tomorrow
6. Writing this blog

I guess in many ways - I epitomize what Kevin Kelly is talking about in the podcast I am listening to when he says"You are being defined not by the technology that you use - but rather what you don't use!" I have only scratched the surface in the past year of what is out there - both in terms of my knowing it exists and in being comfortable in not only using it, but applying it to my work and therefore, the work of teachers.

For example - my colleague was able to spend four days last week learning how to create podcasts and videocasts and I am supremely jealous. Not that I wasn't productive last week - I was able to work with a district who has implemented a K-5 writing rubric and we made wonderful progress. I posted our work on a wiki and created an Amazon Listmania resource for them. But I can't seem to get enough - enough information, enough time to "play," enough conversation about using these technologies in education. I am defined by what I don't yet know...

But I am ahead of the curve. I have a wiki workshop tomorrow in a district where I still have to send the sites I want to use along with notice of which ones I want teachers to register for so that they can be unblocked. And I have to have the number of the IT person with me because inevitably - they are not all unblocked. But Kevin Kelly has given me a new line to use when I encounter this situation:
"There is not bad technology just as there are no bad babies - there is only bad parenting...Our role is to find the home for these technologies." That is what I have been trying to do this past year - find the right fit of technology tool to classroom.

Even more interesting are the facts that Kelly puts up at the beginning of the podcast, summarized nicely by Ewan McIntosh:

The web is currently being clicked on 100 billion times per day, with over one trillion links. This is the same number as there are synapses in the human brain. Likewise, one quintillion transistors make the web go around, which is about the same as the number of neurons in the human brain. There are 20 petahertz synapse firings on the web and 20 exabytes of memory - the parameters of the web as a whole entity are very similar to the human brain. One problem: our brains are not doubling in size every 18 months.

The collective power of the web bypassing the power of the individual mind is an incredible concept to get a hold of...but I have been chewing on it consciously for the past hour and subconsciously a bit longer than that. I see incredible power with the tools available to us - the ability to learn about, and more importantly from, people around the world in real time. My nieces and nephew will experience a life I can only dream about and will forget more than I could ever possibly know. So how do we in education grab hold of this and ride the wave instead of putting gum over the crack in the dam?


Nights like tonight, I'm reminded that you really do surf the web. This wave leads to that wave and the next thing you know, you're watching JAM videos on YouTube. Perhaps that's just me. . . in any event, as often happens, Theresa and I were both working on our computers tonight. This typically involves an e-mail or two and an open Skype chat. A series of waves and recommendations from her led me to this blog: ELA Deep Curriculum Alignment. I worked for the same organization as Angela, the author, though never had a chance to work with her in-depth. She did though, cite some of my work as an influence on her personal blog (that was a very cool thing for me to read - Thanks, Angela!). What's compelling about the Deep Curriculum blog is that each entry is written by a different author as a means of setting the foundation for a face-to-face conversation. Each piece presents a sound summary of the article but I struggled to infer the author's opinions on the piece they read. Like? Didn't like? Agreed with? Disagreed? I'm sure the ensuing conversation was very powerful and provocative. I'm curious now - is it possible to have a deep conversation about a text without that face to face interaction? What might we be sacrificing in the learning experience by engaging via a keyboard? What is gained?

I'm looking forward to exploring Diigo with Theresa and seeing what possibility that holds. In the meantime, check out this video. I laughed so hard I fell off my surfboard.

Hot Topic: Social Networking

Through David Warlick's blog, I read the National School Board Association's report on Creating and Connecting (pdf). In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the entire report quite yet - but I did skim to read the highlights. And the first line of the summary of the report over at Tech Blorge certainly catches the eye:

"The internet isn't as dangerous as people think, and teachers should let students use social networks at school."

In the words of a recent car commercial: Duh!!

Now - I am the first to admit that I am a relative newbie to this entire social networking thing. I don't have a FaceBook or MySpace account - mostly because I am old (or at least feel like it) and because I maintain several blogs. I network and connect through those. I also am concentrating on tools that I think I can help teachers translate into practice - ones that are worth their time learning. I have to confess - I just don't get the Twitter craze. Who cares what I am doing RIGHT NOW?

And while I find the report (at least at first glance) helpful - I still need to email districts sites that I would like unblocked before I can do the tech workshops they request. And we still run into glitches and very upset IT guys when I ask for teachers to be able to register and use the sites. And teachers still say this is great but if the districts block the site, why would I bother?

I am also struggling with the best way to present these new tools to teachers. The ones who are relatively tech savvy and who can see the big picture catch on pretty quick. I am inspired by the teachers like the one I posted about on Writing Frameworks who can pick up the ball and run.

But I also need to reach those who struggle with the technology and might not have the courage to stray from the traditional. To admit that we are now teaching in a very different world from that which taught us. How do I slow it down and make it more comfortable for them?

I had some success this week in working with teachers on using tags. Even the one person in the room who admitted he was there "for the course hours" was collecting sites and tagging them. As the workshop progressed and they learned to network and subscribe and send links - I think the teachers could see the power of the tech tool. One small step for teachers, one giant step for students. Of course, Diigo was blocked because I did not seek prior permission but I was able to share one of my marked sites and I am pretty sure at least one of the teachers is already doin' the Diigo!

Blogging in the afternoon didn't go as smoothly - but it really never does. And in my own workspace, after setting up a Google Group for my team, one member got blocked in the course of the day. I'll be making yet another IT phone call soon! But I am choosing not to dwell on the steps backward and want to celebrate the baby steps forward. I had an AMAZING Skype chat with Fellows from Communities For Learning last night as we struggled with sending a large file and with our Google Group.

So as David Warlick says, "getting it is only step one." Now we all have to use it!

Wandering Lost!

I guess I never realized how attached I was to my computer until the hard drive crashed (I think) this morning. Yesterday was something of a whirlwind - between sharing my musings about Web 2.0 groups with interested Fellows, to clarifying what I can do to make my Keep On Learning site a via "publishable" piece, to canoeing down (and eventually swimming in) the mighty Housatonic River I was exhausted. We have spotty Internet connection here at best, so I captured by blogs thoughts in Word late last night and go up early to post.

Alas - the computer does nothing.

Thanks to JoAnn, I am working on a computer but it isn't mine, with my scattered desktop and the comforting pictures of my family in the background. I am trying to remain calm -but the flood of work that I have created may be lost and it is causing rising panic. (I know - I should back up more often and I have learned a powerful lesson!!) Fortunately - a great deal of my work is available to me on-line through blogs and wikis so I am not totally despondent.

I have come to realize that my computer has become an extension of my hands. Pens and pencils work at times, but how I organize my thoughts and my writing is all done electronically. It is comforting to me - the warmth of the battery, the click of they keys, the glow of the screen. I am not sure how to write and organize without it.

Much of our conversation the past two days has been around the use of electronic tools - and I can see the look of confusion and trepidation on the faces of many of my Fellows. It can be a powerful way to join our two communities (Upstate and Downstate) into the one community we become in the summer - but it could also cause others to disengage. I am mindful of this as I ponder ways to integrate these tools into the Collegial Circle that I am planning for the Fall around literacy. I will need to take it slow, temper my enthusiasm to allow others to discover these tools the way that I have, ,and build the community of learners one at a time.

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

A Vision for the Future

Our morning plenary session today focused on refining our vision. Visioning can at times be dull or perhaps seem too "touchy feely" to be worth the time spent developing it. But the activities we did today were powerful and thought provoking. More importantly - the activities helped us to refine our visions.

This was important for me, as clarity has been something of an issue for me of late. I think I know what I want to say - carefully select the best words to convey that meaning - but somehow when they come out, they come out in gibberish. Or at least it seems from the stunned look of the person of I am talking to. You know the look - somewhere between pity and confusion, when they start responding to you by speaking s-l-o-w-e-r and LOUDER?

Back to my vision! While I ponder how close my vision is to that of my organization - I have come to understand that it is about building capacity and efficacy. Because I have felt that I have been unsuccessful in using Web 2.0 tools in the past year to help build a sense of community, I took a step backward and thought about why that might be. I think there are three reasons why I was unsuccessful.

First, the technology. I was speaking with a colleague yesterday who I view as quite the risk-taker and we were discussing the use of blogs. She said it was one thing that she would never do because when it came to things on the computer - she just wasn't as comfortable as in the other areas in which I have seen her step out of her comfort zone. I thought about the comment for a while and realized that it holds true for many people. Some are afraid they might break something on the computer - others are afraid that they'll put something out there, accidentally and before it is polished, and then they can never take it back. This tells me that I need to focus on the use of the tools, but also on the culture of the schools I work with around what publishing on the web might mean.

Second, the time issue. This issue seems ever present and I am not sure how to address it. What I do know is I need to focus on how the tools can be integrated into classroom practice, or show what they might replace, before the time dragon is quieted.

The last issue is a bit tricky. In reflecting on conversations with folks and on blog posts, it seems that as teachers we don't often feel comfortable with our own writing. It isn't something that we are asked to do regularly and for some, it seems to be a chore. Yet - we want our students to do it on a much more regular basis. I am thinking about asking teachers to set up their own blogs first - to experiment with their writing, find their voice, and be comfortable becoming a writer. Then - as their comfort level with both the tool and the writing increases, they might be able to see a use in their classroom. And hopefully, might become active participants in the blogging community.

More Questions than Answers

This blog was birthed from an idea Jenn had while we were at a CSETL meeting. We both belong to this professional learning community and were looking for ways to replicate that feeling with other folks in our region who held similar positions. Although we created this blog almost one year ago - we haven’t exactly been successful in creating a community using these tools.

One thing I am investigating at our summer retreat this week is the roll that wikis and blogs can play in creating a learning community. I have read everything I can get my hands on (not too terribly much to be honest) but most importantly, I have experimented this past year with creating the community using these tools. There have been some roadblocks – some I expected and others I did not – that my fellow Fellows are helping me grapple with, as well as sharing with me this first week.

Nearing the end of our first day, some things keep bubbling to the surface:

1. There is a great deal of literature out about what it takes to build learning communities. Is it really possible to build these communities using technology tools? I believe that it is possible, but it will involve a shift for teachers and quite a bit of “unknown,” particularly in the use of the technology tools. I really like the model that Stanford University has developed in order to move through the phases of wiki use to build a community of practice. I think that using this framework, I am going to see if I can adapt it to blogging and then reflect a bit on where I have been the past year in the use of these two tools to see what steps I may have skipped that might have been critical to move forward.

Image from Using Wikis to Build Learning Communities, Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning.

2. One reason that I value the use of blogs and wikis for classrooms of the future are that they create an authenticity for writing that has been absent lately in our "test centered" world. When using Web 2.0 tools, you are published – and published for the whole world to see. But I was reminded today that while I might in fact be “published,” my work has not been “peer reviewed.” Hasn’t it? Don’t blogs provide an opportunity for feedback and exchange of ideas? Whether my peers read my work or not certainly speaks to whether it fits their criteria for “good reading.” Many of the teachers I know who use blogs are working on the fact that the work must be in final format – proper spelling and grammar, solid foundation for the ideas presented. Some even have their students' work reviewed to create a "Hall of Fame." All information about good blogs talks about “citing” your sources, particularly if you are citing a fellow blogger. Aren’t those some of the hallmarks of a “peer reviewed” piece of writing? If not – what are we missing and what could we put into place to “legitimize” blog writing?

3. Time continues to crop up as I discuss the use of these tools with others. We all have very crazy and hectic schedules – deadlines to meet, balancing family and work obligations. So how do we fit these pieces in? When I first ventured into the Web 2.0 world, I had the same concerns. I set aside specific times to read and to write blogs, but even then I have fallen off the wagon. In order to fit it in – I needed to take something out. The piece I have removed is the purchasing of a physical newspaper – I no longer receive our local daily. Instead, I have formatted my RSS feed to be my ideal newspaper. I have sports (hockey and football only!), I have the education section (missing from most newspapers) and politics, as well as local news. The time I used to take to read a paper version, I now spend reading on-line and from a much richer variety of sources. I know this is not for everyone – but it is one solution!! Another piece that I am committed to doing this year is to track how long it takes me to read/write blogs (I am currently at 3 minutes on this piece – it will probably be a bit closer to 7 minutes by the time I proof-read and add links.) Hopefully – this will allow me to share with others my process and the amount of time it actually takes to participate in this manner.

My head is spinning but I am putting this out on blog form in order to get pushed back. I am hoping my fellow Fellows will take a break from their work this week to pop into my world and ask me questions, respond to my thoughts, and push my thinking – as they always do in person, but this time virtually, so that I can explore new perspectives and find other paths to follow.

P.S. I was wrong - I spent closer to 20 minutes completing this post as you see it now!

Teaching the Academic Essentials - The Finale

I took a day off from blogging on the conference to let it all sink in. Honestly - the last day of the conference was the best for - with rapid fire connections happening all over the place.


1. When discussing the reading process, we often speak about before-during-after reading activities. But more importantly - as teachers we need to think about what we should be doing before we give the reading, while the reading is happening, and after the reading is completed. Seems like common-sense but the planning page provided here, along with the matrix discussed in a previous post, really tied things together for me. We discussed our purpose for having students read certain text, thinking about how we wanted them to interact with the text and how to monitor those strategies, and WHY we had them do particular things after the reading.

2. We need multiple entry points to reading. Again - common sense but the visual that was presented was pretty powerful!! (I'll see if I can scan my notes!) Kids have lots of barriers to reading: lack of background knowledge, social/emotional/cultural issues, vocabulary, poverty to name a few. We need to be purposeful in structuring our before-reading activities to help all students access the text.

3. Thinking in three complicates things. Never really thought about this before - but as we progressed through examples, it really started to make sense. For example, we could take the current war in Iraq. If we made a simple T-chart of the perspectives of those in the U.S. for and against the war, our students might do this easily. It also forces them into an "either or" position - where they have to decide which camp they fall into. That could be dangerous - and narrow. So - let's add the perspective of the Iraqi people. That could complicate matters. Now let's add the perspectives of the various Iraqi people - Sunni and Shia. Now - let's add the perspectives of Great Britain. See how things become much more complicated and will involve a higher level of thinking? The more layers we add - the more complex the thoughts.

Jim Burke also had an afternoon keynote - which will be podcast soon. Some highlights:

4. Learning should be an "invitation to struggle." In his work on academic essentials, Burke keeps coming up with words like "grapple" and "struggle" and "wrestle" - and those need not be bad things. Back to the weight-lifting analogy, education is something we are all trying to get better at - so wrestling with these things means we are growing.

5. First and foremost, Jim Burke is a teacher and one who obviously cares deeply about his students and their success. Over time, he and the class have developed a set of principles that are practiced in the classroom, and eventually in life. Telling a series of personal stories, Jim shared the following with us.

Put yourself out there!
Do what you think you can't.
Success is never an accident.
Everyone must find their "thing;" all education is SELF education.
You are worth the effort.
Invest in yourself.
If you cannot SEE it, you cannot BE it.

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

Leadership that Works

It's always nice when someone does your work for you. . .

Read a review of: Marzano, Robert J.; McNulty, Brian A. & Waters, Timothy. (2005) School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Apparently, it's a must read. "This text absolutely belongs in a course that focuses on the principles of educational leadership."

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 2

Top 5 take-aways from today:

1. "Discussion improves comprehension, increases engagement and enhances memory when it is structured, purposeful, meaningful, and constrained by time. Even one minute of effective classroom discussion shows measureable benefits to student learning." This was a nice reinforcement of what a CSETL Fellow has been sharing in her work with academic discourse, as well as a reinforcement of my belief that learning is social. While much of my learning during this workshop has come from the presenter, I have learned a great deal from those folks sitting around me, in part because the presenter has worked discussion into our day on a regular basis. It is a refreshing change from rushing through material. If I feel that way - I can only imagine what it will do for kids.

2. "You have the men you have - and it's up to you to make them into the soldiers you want them to be." This quote (or something like it!) was attributed to George Washington but it makes a great deal of sense about education as well. Whenever I hear teachers complaining that students don't work hard enough or won't do this and can't do that, I get a little angry. We should be teaching with the belief that the students in our classroom can succeed - or we have failed. I have always said that parents send us everything they've got - they aren't hiding the good ones/the smart ones at home! It is our job to teach each and every child that we are gifted with.

3. Most teachers, particularly those at the secondary level, don't know what we do when we "read" - it just happens to us. We, as teachers, need to be more explicit and transparent with our students and bring our process into the class. We did a great activity in the session today after reading a "complex" piece to chart visually our reading process - what we did when we didn't understand things, how we made connections to comprehend. This reflection was very helpful to me in thinking about how I have taught reading in the past - but also how I might be able to do it with teaching writing as well. I need to ponder this a bit - but you can bet there will be more to come!!

4. There are many different kinds of text and we use different strategies when we read them. I have known this - as I believe that each content area has it's own literacy. We read different things in social studies class then in science, math, and ELA. I needed to teach my kids how to "read" political cartoons, maps, newspaper articles written in the 1800s. Charting out what I do for each of these different texts will help me when I work with teacher and primary sources.

5. I don't like Yeats. I'm kidding - sort of! We did a great activity at the end of the session using "The Second Coming." The discussion around the poem and the strategies that we used were invigorating and inspiring. If I could open a school with the people sitting in that room today - the kids would be engaged and all see success. I am still tortured by the poem and what it means and the fact that I didn't get it the first three times we read it (not sure I still get it but I've read enough Internet reviews to fake it!!) Jim Burke made a great analogy today when we compared learning/reading to weight lifting. When you lift weights - you want to lift a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue. That allows your muscles to grow. If we don't challenge kids with difficult text - and teach them to navigate problems - they won't grow as readers. I might not like Yeats but I loved the discussion today!!

Cross posted on Writing Frameworks.

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 1

I'm lucky enough to be spending the next three days re-charging by attending the 3rd Annual Reading Institute in Jamestown, N.Y. First - I need to say kudos to the folks who have organized this - it is impressive!! And an even louder round of applause for the over 200 teachers who are attending this session in the "shadow" of their school year (we just ended last Friday!)

The speaker that I was originally going to be spending time with had a family emergency and so I was cast adrift. Fortunately - my dear friend David charted a course for me. So I will spend the rest of the week with Jim Burke.

I hope this doesn't offend him but to this point, he has presented in much the same way that I do. If we are going to be spending time writing - we best be writing!! Too often - we want to sit and absorb information. If our brains click with it - we use it. If they don't - we discard it. But if we really engage in the activities, then we can determine how to make it our own, to make it work inside our own classrooms. I can understand how my participants feel when I make them do this - so I took some notes about what I can tweak in my own work - but I loved that I got to write, write, write today!!

Top Five from the session today:

1. "Graphic organizer" can be too limiting a term. Instead - we should be providing students with "tools for thought." I liked this idea - it was really about setting up a simple tool for students to organize thoughts and some guiding questions/prompts to start them on their way. We folded a piece of paper into thirds and simply labeled them to guide our reflections. Jim then led us in narrowing down what we had written about to reflect further - and then share with colleagues. For this exercise, we reflected upon what worked this year (or what didn't!)

2. Weekly poems. This was something that worked for Jim last year (yes, Virgina - even presenters share!!) He selected short poems (less than 30 lines) that students read each day for a week. Each time they read the poem - they reflected or reacted to something different (initial reactions, imagery, tone, etc.) so that at the end of the week, they had notes to use to write an analytical piece. These poetry pieces could be done in just 10 minutes of class time but certainly packed a punch.

3. "Well Words" These words come from Jim's Teacher's DayBook. We selected five words from the list of 52 that would have made an impact on our personal/professional lives if we paid a bit more attention to them. We then narrowed it down to one word and then developed 2-3 questions we might ask to prompt writing around that word. Finally - we wrote. GREAT STRATEGY that followed his "Academic Essentials Matrix" and had us "Bloomin' upward!" Careful! This strategy will be coming to a workshop near you soon!!

4. The emphasis on connecting to students!! And that without connecting to students - we'll never get them to learn (or see themselves as learners.) This was especially powerful to me - as I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this since last year's High School's New Face Conference. Jim read to us from my favorite coffee table book and had us reflect upon the connections we have made (or not made!) in the past year. Very powerful community building exercise for us!!

5. The idea of teaching and expecting students to be generative thinkers. The premise comes from the work of Judith Langer and seems to fit what I have felt all along. Students need to create their own knowledge - to seek out different viewpoints, to search to make their own meanings and connections. Much of what we did today modeled how to scaffold instruction so that students could practice this important life-long skill.

I left re-energized and with a million thoughts floating through my head. I can't wait for tomorrow!!

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

No more excuses

I suppose the title has two meanings for this blog. First, a link to an article about a study that indicates we have an inate mathematical senese. Yahoo has posted a summary on the front page, I'll scour the UB library for the original. What I got out the article is that the burden many people carry around - I'm just not good at math (or maths, according to the British authors) is a lame excuse. Apparently, little kids who do not have an understanding of numbers are able to solve math problems. Very encouraging news for math(s) instruction.

On the other hand, no more excuses applies to this blog. Theresa recently recommitted herself to blogging and she makes several good points. On my morning commute - from the bedroom to my office down the hall, I was thinking about the idea of positing. Who is our audience? Is it you? Whoever you are? Or is this akin to a journal that may or may be left open on the dinning room table? Is this the epitome of self-indulgence or a means of reinventing public discourse? At this particular moment for me, it doesn't matter. I'm happy to wander the terrain that is educational research and topics and engage in Grand Rounds with whomever may wander by.

In any case, I'm still eager to discuss educational research and topics with others and so I put forth this question: Does math instruction as it currently exist "beat" the math knowledge out of students or does it enhance it? Or is it something else? Do share, kind stranger.