“I Know My Students Better Than I Ever Have”

null

“I know my students better than I ever have.”

As this teacher’s coach, those words made me smile. They warmed my heart because I knew the impact this teacher was going to have on her kids because of the truth in that statement.

It’s been my pleasure to partner with a couple of teachers this school year as we (teachers and coach) have navigated the waters of small-group instruction in reading, incorporating the five components of reading into their instruction.

Teaching students to read is an astoundingly complex cognitive process.  When we sit down to read, we are using phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds), phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  The goal in elementary school is to get our kids proficient so that these components are used simultaneously to create an enriched reading experience.

We could compare this to teaching the game of basketball.  A coach would not just teach a player to dribble and think they could hit the court and play the game.  That coach would have to teach multiple skills so the player could integrate them all on the court and create the magical moment when it all comes together to play the game.

There are times when that coach teaches skills in isolation, shooting a lay-up, for example. But, ultimately, the real measure of the player’s ability is if they can apply that ability to shoot a lay-up in a game.

The same is true for reading.  Best practice in reading instruction says that when we sit down to teach kids how to read, the most gains in student achievement come when we’re incorporating all five components in small group reading instruction in a text that is at the child’s instructional reading level.

That is the adventure I’ve had the pleasure of being part of as two of my teachers and myself have partnered in building our knowledge on how to do this.

Admittedly, this adventure was frontloaded with a lot of information and time in knowing the components and knowing how to incorporate them all in a small group lesson.

What gave me great joy was to see how easily these two teachers picked up the this ability.  Within a couple of weeks, they were planning their own lessons, incorporating the five components, and in their words, the planning was not nearly as hard as they thought it would be.

Within just a couple of weeks, my teachers were telling me how intimately they knew their students’ reading abilities…better than they ever had.

Each time I would I sit down with these teachers to partner with them as coach and teacher, I planned to ask them how their anecdotal notes on the five components guided their instruction for the next week.  Before I could utter that question, they were telling me which kids needing phrasing work (fluency), which kids didn’t know how to break apart words using the vccv pattern (phonics), which kids needed to be pulled for an invitational group on open and closed syllables (phonics),  which kids had a deficit in vocabulary,  etc.

They knew their kids abilities in reading…their strengths and their targeted need.  They knew this because the witnessed the kids either succeed or struggle with these skills right before their eyes.

This was just after a few weeks of going through a coaching cycle.  So powerful.

And, we’ve only been in school for a little over a month. Just think the progress these kids are going to make in reading after an entire year of targeted instruction.

Are you interested in knowing your kids’ reading abilities to this extent?  Here’s where you can start:

  1. Keep your whole group lessons down to mini-lessons. Just because you’re teaching during that whole group time, doesn’t mean your kids are engaged and learning. And, it’s impossible to glean the knowledge you need on your kids’ abilities in the five components if the majority of your time is spent in whole group instruction.
  2. Make small groups a priority.  Every day.
  3. Begin building  your knowledge on the five components of reading.
  4. Talk to your coach or colleagues who can guide you in incorporating this into your instruction.

Take these steps, and it could be you saying you know your kids better than you ever have before. 

Advertisements

A Reflection: Student-Centered Coaching

With one day left of school, educators are embracing that bittersweet time of closing a door on a year that was full of growth and opportunity.  As a coach who attempts to be proactive at having a growth mindset, and also one that has a huge desire to constantly learn how to facilitate and nurture growth within a school, I too am reflecting.

I was blessed today with a book that honestly touched my heart and represents the power of student-centered coaching, a model of coaching championed by Diane Sweeney.  In this model, we are not about fixing teachers. But, rather a partner who can sit side-by-side with teachers and navigate through the often murky waters of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student learning.  A teacher I worked along side of this year presented her gratitude through the book What Do you Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. In this book, a child has an idea that was “strange and fragile.” The child kept this idea to himself, because he wasn’t sure what the world would think of it. But, the idea followed him and the child began to embrace it. The child finally shared it and some people laughed at it and he contemplated whether he should abandon the idea.  But, the child re-embraced it, because after all, nobody understood the idea like he did. He fostered it. He fed it. His love for the idea grew and grew.  And, then, one day, the child built the idea a new house, one with an “open roof where it could look up at the stars–a place where it could be safe to dream.” The child said the idea made him feel more alive and  gave him the ability to think bigger.  And one day, his idea changed.  It spread its wings.  It changed the world. It wasn’t just part of him. It was part of the world.

The teacher said she felt like this book represented our work together.

Amazing.

After reading this thought, I had thoughts of gratitude.  For that teacher and her willingness to try ideas, to embrace the chance of failure, the chance of imperfection for the pursuit of growth.  Growth that would profoundly impact kids. And, boy, did she ever impact kids! I saw it on a daily basis. And, just as important, I saw her kids embrace their own ideas and become comfortable with failing forward.

I also had gratitude for the student-centered model of coaching.  Because this model is not about fixing teachers.  It’s about facilitating beside them and growing as a team, because that growth impacts kids.  And, that’s why we’re here.  We learned together.  We shared ideas together. We analyzed the impact of instruction together. And she modeled learning and the willingness to take a risk for her kids.

I felt lucky to have experienced this. Inspiring. Motivating. Change. Growth.  That’s what it was.

What am I Supposed to be Learning?

You know that moment when you’re sitting in grad class or in a workshop and you’re thinking “What in the world is the presenter wanting me to learn here?”  Think of the feelings that brings up.  Frustration?  Annoyance?  At that moment, do you have a mindset for learning?

Do you think that ever happens to the kids in our classrooms?

A fifth grade teacher and I recently took her kids through the process of unwrapping standards and developing learning targets. In the past, this is something that the teachers did to direct their teaching.  However, this time, we had the kids unwrap the standard and they developed the learning targets.  They developed the path for their learning.  So, not only do we have a clear path for teaching, students also have a clear path for learning.

Here’s how the process went.

1. We posted the standard and simply allowed the students to tell us what they thought it meant.  The standard was Common Core Standard RI 5.9: I can integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.   Discussions included the meaning of integrate and how one knows whether the writer or speaker really knows the subject knowledgeably.

2. The students had never broken down a standard before so we modeled how to do it with the first learning target.  The students decided that even before they started integrating the text, they had to annotate the first text to understand it at a deeper level. Thus, our first learning target: I can take notes while reading to get a deeper understanding of the text.

3. Then, we put the students into groups and let them run with it.  They decided what the next learning targets were.  This was where the ownership in learning began.  This is when the path of learning was revealed.

Some of the discussions the students initiated at this point were:

  • How do I comprehend a text?  Will I need to determine importance?
  • What graphic organizer should I use?  Is there more than one I could use?
  • What about the text structure of the passage?
  • How do I effectively take notes?
  • How do I show that I really know something well?
  • How exactly do you integrate two or more texts? Find a theme, a topic, etc?

4. The class came to a consensus on the targets.  Here’s the final targets on our self-reflection and feedback document.

Self Reflection & Feedback Document

5.  The next step was to analyze success criteria, which was also very powerful in laying out the direction of learning.  I may expand on this process in a later post. Students were given three students samples of an end-of-the-unit writing applying RI 5.9.  After analyzing them against the learning targets, they put them on a continuum rubric.  Here’s a picture of that.

Success Criteria

Highly effective teaching is tough.  Deep learning is even tougher.   What we have to do in education is work smarter, not harder so that our students can be self-directed learners.   Having kids unwrap the standard and develop the learning targets opened the doors to learning. These students now know where they’re going and they are guiding themselves.  They’re on the path to learning, not just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.

The most amazing parts of this process was the deep discussions students led and took part in and the fact that they can very specifically describe where their learning is about to go.

A question that has been posed by some teaches is a valid one: How do I make time for this when I have so much to teach?  Our answer is “How can you not?”  This process will make the teaching and learning more productive because the students developed the path for learning and they know what they’re working towards.   As opposed to that frustrated and annoyance feeling we’ve all felt when we have no idea what we’re supposed to be learning. If you doubt this, refer to number 9 and 10 on this site of John Hattie’s work, which is a meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies.  It works.

Take a listen from two kiddos in the class:  

Instructional Strategies: A Direction for Learning

With the demands on teaching and learning in an age of 21st century learning, what do all teachers want?  How about instructional strategies that not only make teaching more effective, but learning? Not a silver bullet, but something close? Good news: that very thing exists.

The innovation and learning coaches have immersed ourselves in instructional strategies this year, based on the work of John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam,Steven Zemelman, and Anne R. Reeves.  I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve seen anything impact teaching and learning as much as some of the instructional strategies from these gurus have.   The ground breaking part is that the use of learning targets and success criteria make designing lessons much more productive, and more important, have led to deeper student learning.   Let’s first take a look at learning targets and success criteria.  Subsequent post will address other instructional strategies.

Let’s walk through an example.  First, take a look at this video about unpacking learning targets with students.

My favorite teacher line from this video is “Tell me what you know about this target, and what you’re wondering about.”   How powerful is that?  How many times do we just post or say the learning target and think “that’s it?” Unfortunately, just posting or reciting the target doesn’t mean the students really understand and internalize it.  They are the ones who REALLY need to internalize it as they are the ones doing the learning. They are the ones that need to have the learning targets at the forefront of their learning.  Let us not assume our kids just “get” the learning target?  Have you asked your kids whether they understand what’s being asked of them?  The assumption that they do can be a detriment to their learning.

After breaking down the learning target, we want to address the success criteria.  Here’s a way to explain the importance of success criteria to your kids.   Let’s say that a group of kiddos have never seen the game of basketball.  I teach them how to do lay-ups, how to shoot  free throws, how to play defense, and how to do a full-court press.  Could I then just throw them on a court and have them successfully play the game of basketball?  It would be quite interesting as you would likely have lay-ups occurring at the same time as free-throws, defense and a full-court press.  Most kids have seen the game of basketball played before, so they do, in fact, have an idea of the success criteria, and have a better understanding of what is expected of them in the end.  Our kids in our classes, need to know the same.

Take a look at this video, where they discuss success criteria.

The big lesson from these videos and instructional strategies: don’t just dive into content.  First, be sure STUDENTS have a clear idea of where they’re going and what the success looks like.  This knowledge helps lead them to owning the learning and creates an atmosphere where they are better able to regulate their own learning.

Impacting Students a Book at a Time

What impacts student achievement?  High yield instructional strategies?  Absolutely!  John Hattie’s influences on student achievement?  Without a doubt!  Marzano’s nine instructional strategies?  Without a doubt.   And, I am passionate about all of these because they increase the chances student achievement exponentially.

However, there’s this one other thing I do as a teacher and coach that reaches kids like nothing else: exhibiting the love of reading and exposing them to the adventures and lessons that lie within the pages of a book.

I’ve written on this topic before (see “Mrs. Palmer Has Changed my Life” and “Inspire the Desire to Read”) so I won’t make this a repeat of that.  But, I will say, after presenting a lesson involving critical thinking tied to the Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, I was reminded of this impact. I relived the impact, the feeling it gave me to see the sparkle in the eyes of kids as they got so excited to read a book.  And, what did it take?  Just a little discussion and intrigue via a values line continuum and a few minutes of showing book trailers.

What’s my evidence for knowing this impact exists, other than my observation of how engaged the kids were by simply talking about the series?  Other than noticing how they asked with a hope in their voice “how many copies does our library have?” Other than them asking questions of each other that exhibited deep critical thinking?  All that was a teacher’s dream; it’s why we teach.  But, here’s the best thing.  Afterwards, a parent of one of the kids I presented to said that her daughter came home that day with a degree of excitement that was immeasurable.  She had such an excitement for the book series and reading in general that her mom had to buy the series immediately.  And, this was motivation to read in a child that had been lacking for quite a while. That was one of those moments we never forget as teachers.  It could potentially be the start of a life-long reader.

Here’s the thing: we have to instill life-long reading in our kids, and I’m here to say it can be done. I’ve seen it time and time again.  Why is this so important?  Among other reasons, voracious reading has a huge effect on student achievement, not just reading achievement.  We have to get our kids reading more and reading because they want to.  How are they going to get better at applying the skills and strategies we teach them, if they don’t read?  It’s like a coach teaching a basketball player to do a lay-up and then never giving them time to practice.  We have to get our kids into books to “practice” and apply the five components of reading.  And, just as important, we want them to build the foundation to make this a life-long activity.  I urge you, make the time in your school day to make things like this happen.  You will leave school that day with a warm heart.

Feedback: Lessons from the Ball Field

Some of the greatest lessons I learned were on a softball field as a young adult.  Oftentimes, I find myself making connections between that context of learning and the context of learning about instruction.  Let’s make a comparison between a coach on a softball field and a teacher in a classroom and tie it all into feedback, which is one of the most powerful strategies in improving student achievement.

1. During any given practice, a softball player does not receive a score on their performance, but rather specific feedback, such as “hit the middle of the ball” or “keep your head tucked in when swinging.”  This feedback is specific and directed towards one particular player.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: Do not mistake scores for feedback.  Scores are oftentimes an end result and sends the message that learning is done.  Instead, give feedback in relation to the learning target and success criteria in the form of a verbal conversation or written explanation, not a number.  In addition, focus feedback on individuals as opposed to whole-class feedback.

2. When a coach enthusiastically yells “Way to go!” to a player, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment. It makes them feel good. This is important; however, it also does not give feedback on improvement.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: There is a place for praise in the classroom. But, research shows that praise affect’s a student’s ego, not their achievement.  And, when given in tandem with feedback, praise dissipates the power of the feedback.  The lesson: give praise in the classroom, just separate it from feedback.

3. A coach does not wait until the end of practice and definitely not until the end of the season to give instruction to their players. Feedback is constantly given in the act of learning.

What this means for feedback in the classroom:  The most powerful form of feedback is in the form of formative assessment, done daily and in the act of learning.  A teacher’s “aha’s” about student learning should come daily or weekly as opposed to that happening as a summative assessment is graded.

What other analogies can you think of connecting coaching and instruction through the lens of feedback?  I would love to hear your ideas!

Be on the Road that Leads to Awesome

I am sure many of you have seen this video from Kid President, but if you are like me, you could watch it time and again and never tire of it. It brings a sense of motivation, a sense of purpose, team work, work ethic…and a sense that we can do great things.  And that, I believe in.  That is our driving force.

We were made to be awesome

Kid President says “I want to be on the road that leads to awesome.” I can, with no hesitation say that I am seeing that path with my recent employment as an instructional coach in the Liberty Public Schools. Since joining this community of learners, I have encountered so many individuals that are passionate, driven, hard-working and has their focus exactly where it needs to be, which is on kids.

Another line I love from Kid President is “…if life is a game, aren’t we on the same team?” I am honored to be on all the learning teams at LPS from the instructional coaching team, to the teams within my buildings, and the district as a whole, which is also a team, a team that will strive to move forward as a cohesive unit.

And, a final line from Kid President, in reference to taking the road less traveled: “…and it hurt man! Rocks! Thorns! Glass!” I look forward to the challenge that lie ahead of us and embrace them and the “mistakes” we’ll make along the way, because that is how we grow. Success doesn’t come easy. The road to success challenges our thoughts, beliefs and how we’ve always done things. It makes us uncomfortable sometimes, but that discomfort can be temporary if embraced and worked through, using the many talents on your team.

So, let’s go forth and “be on the road that leads to awesome!” I’m honored to be on this path with the students, teachers, parents and all staff at LPS.