As we wrote earlier this year, “Among the many challenges facing us in education one of our most formidable foes is the comprehension gap, across all content areas, between students of low socioeconomic status and those of high socioeconomic status.” The multi-year project Opening Classrooms to Close the Knowledge Gap‘s goal was to enhance students’ ability to develop literacy across the diverse content areas. In the first post, we shared how teachers at School for the Future in New York City had addressed students’ ability to work autonomously through Peer Assistance and Review seminars that took place after school.
In this post, we’ll look at how the project worked to build a school wide culture of Teacher-Led Professional Learning Communities.
A professional study group around lesson analysis
To support the goal of building this teacher-led culture, School for the Future teachers engaged in a professional study group around a shared text, John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers. This book challenged their thinking and pushed the teachers into incorporating many of the exercises into their own coursework. A specific example from the book gave instructors a simple three-step process to analyze their own lessons by looking specifically at the learning intentions.
- What is the outcome I am tracking progress toward?
- How do I track progress toward that outcome?
- How do students track progress toward that outcome?
In establishing the learning intentions the teachers looked at two things; skills necessary for participation in a democratic society and skills necessary for success in secondary and post secondary school.
Improving feedback on persuasive writing
What did teachers choose to focus on? Persuasive writing.
Although the teachers understood the need to zero in on writing performance, the students were somewhat harder to reach. To assist, teachers established another simple method of tracking student progress that included a common rubric that was used on every persuasive writing task and an online grading platform accessible to students, teachers, and parents.
Every participant teacher constructed a video that encapsulated how participating in the study group enhanced their professional practice. During the first year, only 11th and 12th grade teachers participated while in the second year it was expanded to include 9th and 10th grade teachers.
After the first year each of the participating instructors constructed a video encapsulating what they gained from participation and how the study group improved their professional practice. In this example, Scott Chesler, Inclusion Teacher, explains the impact of the teacher led professional development community.
In the videos teachers spoke how the group led them to alter how they gave feedback to students, leading the students to get to know more about themselves as writers. Teachers noted in their annual report that they are attempting this change from the bottom up rather than the top down. For example, teachers like Stephanie Van Duinen (9th grade social studies) asked students for feedback about the course and then analyzed the information. When she learned that a signifigant group of students needed more feedback, she worked with her professional learning community members to form an action plan for providing “in the moment feedback” so that students could use the information to improve their work as soon as possible.
This was a highly rewarding experience as it forced me to reexamine my beliefs about my own personal practice and think not so much about my methods of teaching but about their effectiveness.
-Stephanie Van Duinen, 9th Grade Social Studies Teacher
School of the Future, Manhatten, NY
One teacher reported that the course helped him realize that student expectations have a high effect on performance so he reimagined his course to track individual student goals, regularly meeting with the students as he coached them forward. Jessica Candlin, 11th Grade English Teacher, presented how she used commenting features in Google Docs to support enhanced feedback for student writing in the slides below.
Teacher-led collaboration creates powerful connections
Although there was a certain amount of trepidation when new teachers were introduced into the program during the second year, the collaboration ultimately led to powerful connections between educators. Teachers reported they could have started earlier in the year to complete the project. While it seemed like March would be an ideal start time, as most teachers have “settled” into their schedules, it made it difficult for them to get their video materials together in time for the deadline. In the future, the teacher led professional learning community will be able to draw on the important learning experiences from this project and continue making an impact on student literacy.
Explore the following articles about teacher-led learning communities to learn more.
- Redefining Professional Development as Teacher-Led Professional Learning – NWEA 2013
- Teachers, Learners, Leaders – ASTD 2010
- When Teachers are the Experts – Education Week 2009
The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is proud to announce the 2013-2014 McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Funded Projects. We have included a project summary so you can learn a little bit more about them! Congratulations to the awardees.
Academic Enrichment Grants
ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding
Merinda Davis Lakeridge
Junior High School, Orem, UT
Getting students interested and invested in the environment is a great way for them to connect with the world on a more global scale. After all, the state of the environment affects all of us, not just students in this country. Integrating sustainable education through international understanding helps grow a students world view while teaching them lessons that will apply to their daily lives. This is what the team behind ESD (Education of Sustainable Development) at Lakeridge High School aims to do. Students and staff will have opportunities to observe, analyze, evaluate and integrate sustainable perspectives and practices into all facets of their lives. This grant will allow the team to work cross curriculum, especially with science teachers, through seminars and workshops enabling educators to incorporate the sustainability lessons into their own lesson plans, seamlessly. By the end, all participating students will have produced video documentaries, PSAs and sustainable based community service projects.
Mariachi Cascabel Youth Organization
Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School, Tucson, AZ
It’s no secret that students involved in music tend to excel in math and reading learning rhythms and decoding notes and symbols. Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School aims to take advantage of this by implementing a Mariachi program at their school. As it stands there are no programs like this anywhere close to their district, and with a primarily minority student body, a mariachi program will give many students a chance to connect with their roots and culture. One of the aims of this program is to broaden its reach within the student body. Unfortunately, the trappings of a Mariachi do not come cheap. Students are required to provide their own instruments and uniforms (called “Traje de Charro”), and while a few students may have some of the required items passed down to them, many students simply do not have access. With the help of the McCarthy Dressman foundation, this program hopes to broaden the students access to instruments and uniforms so that more students can participate in this important cultural tradition.
Teacher Development Grants
The Workshop Model: Building Students’ Self Esteem and Ability to Think Mathematically
Poudre High School, Ft. Collins, CO
The goal of The Workshop Model, implemented at Poudre High School, is to educate teachers and give them a new approach to how they teach their math curriculums. Teachers will guide students to engage in mathematics by collaborating with their peers to solve specifically designed problems and then presenting their solutions to one another in a “math expert” type role. The most important part of this model is the peer review. Teachers in the program participate in a lesson study with colleagues within and at other schools. After developing a lesson together, one teacher teaches the lesson while the other educators observe. Afterwards, the teachers reflect on the lesson to discuss what improvements should be made prior to the other teachers teaching the lesson. Workshop Model teaching engages students in conceptual learning, procedural fluency, and application, which are the three requirements of math instruction in the CCSSM (Common Core State Standards Mathematics). Teachers will be trained in creating lessons that require students to engage with mathematics daily, classroom management, questioning techniques, formative assessment tools, and reflection designed at improving future instruction.
West Elementary School, Manhattan, KS
With much higher CCSSM standards being adopted every day by school districts across the country, teachers are realizing they will need to rethink their approach to mathematics. For this reason, Project RENEW will emphasize the development of deeper content knowledge among teachers, as well as pedagogical knowledge aligned with standards based approach to content teaching. This project is being spearheaded by three rural districts in Kansas with a mind of taking it statewide. The project is a three tiered approach to rethinking mathematics education. The first target is teachers’ content knowledge and understanding of the tools that are essential to effective teaching. Second, teachers will be asked to participate in summer seminars to expand their knowledge base and will be offered teaching feedback the following year. Finally, a increased focus will be put on collaboration between districts and schools so that the more isolated teachers will have a network of other educators to reach out to and help tackle problems together. This will greatly aid teachers in rural districts who find themselves increasingly isolated.
Rebecca Guerra, New Mexico State University
Katherine Leung, The University of Texas at Austin
Why does this matter in real life?
One of the chief complaints you hear from students is “How can I actually apply what I’m learning to the real world?” And while there is no helping Algebra in that department, there are a myriad of other subjects that can benefit from a dose of real world interaction. This is what the Digital Art Afterschool Studio is doing. It’s taking a cue from larger real world curriculum programs, such as Career Oriented Curriculum and focusing on digital artistry and community involvement.
What is Career Oriented Curriculum and how can it benefit students?
According to District Administration, a website focused on creative solutions for school districts: “A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children’s Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.” These real world experiences are invaluable to students as they do two things:
- Reality Check Experiences like this show the students the real life application for what they are learning.
- On the Job Experience Projects like the digital after school studio create professional connections that go beyond graduation and help move our students forward professionally.
One organization with a stellar track record in this area is the National Academy Foundation (NAF). Since 1982 they have worked tirelessly with teachers and schools to create and implement career-oriented curriculum. Schools that work with the NAF will frequently require an internship with a local business before allowing the student to graduate. According to NAF:
“Over 90 percent of NAF students graduate from high school, and four out of five students continue to college or postsecondary education. Of those students, 52 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.”
How do you do it?
So how are the teachers and students at Overton High School, where the Digital Art Studio program has been in full swing for two years, applying the idea of career oriented curriculum to their specific needs?
According to their proposal “The after-school Digital Arts Studio program … enables students to build professional-level skills, as they develop their artistic portfolios. … The students will be introduced to client-based projects where they are expected to develop a working relationship with the client resulting in a marketable product.”
The program operates similar to a small graphic design studio. Taking place three times a week for two hours after school, students have the opportunity to really put work into a portfolio, and increase the possibility of scholarships and if a professional internship is tacked on, some AP credit. Projects are introduced from the needs of real world clients who the students and teachers reach out to. The projects can be anything from helping a local business create a print add to designing a website for a church event. This helps create crucial bridges between the school and the community around them, ultimately strengthening both.
This program has had to start small, accommodating only a few students at first. The principal and instructors consult with local ad agencies to create an interview process for students to simulate a job interview. The students selected work together to create a marketing campaign to alert the community to their presence and start soliciting clients. It is their hope that this model will, after a couple years, become self-sustaining.
What is the impact of a Career Oriented Curriculum?
So where are the students that have already passed through this program? Here are just a few of the success stories.
- Olivia Campbell, a second year participant, was awarded a full scholarship to attend University of Tennessee’s summer program for her Digital Art exhibited in the West Tennessee Regional Art competition last winter.
- Darion Beasley, King Hobson, and Maurico Farmer (all second year participants) were selected as three of the thirty-three students chosen to be represented in the Frist’s Museum’s exhibition Tennessee’s Top Young Artists.
- This year’s West Tennessee Regional Art Competition just released their awards and participants currently in the program won Best Graphic Design work, Best Photographic work, and placed in several other categories.
- One of the program’s participants, Cesar Pita, was just offered a $66,000 scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, one of the finest art colleges.
And these are just a few stories of success as this program continues to grow.
It’s clear from the work that NAF does and how Overton High School applies it to their own program that career-oriented curriculum puts students at a huge advantage over their peers that do not participate. By giving students an education grounded in reality, rather than existing in the abstract on the white board, we strengthen their chances of succeeding in the real world. Forging professional connections early on only increases the chance of future employment and education. By also giving students a personal stake in how their work is perceived by the community at large we give them the opportunity to push themselves to create something they can be proud of.
Learn More with these Related Links
- Career and Technical Education: Research
- Linking Learning to Life
- Career-Oriented Curriculum Delivers Critical Skills
- Proof is in: Career-oriented education works
When students tackle science hands on, they can save the world!
If inquiry is meaningful, real world practices improve student understanding.
Memorizing the periodic table, a formula to determine the circumference of an atom, or the genus of a frog can be important, but let’s face it… you’re looking at an uphill battle when you are staring down the barrel of sixty drooping eyelids trying to explain why it is important that the student retain this information.
There is ample evidence that students retain very little from lectures in science classes. There is a reason for this – when you are given lists of equations, tables, or dozens of names to memorize it can be difficult to see where this makes an impact in the real world.
So how do we change this?
Simple. We help students impact the real world using practical inquiry into local and global science. Or better yet, take the classroom to the science! Whether students are contributing data to global honey bee research or graphing the skies, citizen science allows students to participate in global scientific inquiry. As explained here, integrating inquiry based science meaningfully in the real world is a tall order for any educator. In this post, we will share with you an example project and supporting resources to inspire this integration in your classroom.
How do educators integrate scientific inquiry and real world relevance?
The Water Quality Project: A Map to Understanding was reported by Linda Weber of Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts. The goal of this project at is to let students “do” science like real scientists by observing, questioning, and ultimately coming up with a solution to a problem that can be shared with the larger community. In the short term, participation allows students to see and experience the process of scientific inquiry first hand, rather than having someone dictate it to them. In the long term, students who participated would see how the decisions they were making now would impact their lives in the future. According to the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement:
“Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences. “
What strategies can be used to increase the real world relevance of the inquiry process?
One of the long term goals of this project included helping students see how the decisions they make today influences their future. This ambitious goal required teachers to frontload curriculum earlier in the year and to engage students with relevant narratives (like PBS’ Poisoned Waters) and a guest speaker assembly including local and regional water quality scientists.
All of this preparation helped students prepare for real world and hands on activities for the project. These included:
- Helping out their community
For the annual Charles River Watershed Association’s clean-up day, students and teachers removed a variety of trash, from traditional cigarette butts and paper to more unusual things like television sets. For the nearly 50 students that participated (on a school vacation weekend, mind you) the experience was insightful. Class discussions about and concern for their environment lingered into the following weeks in class. These shared experiences became the “reason” to investigate water quality in the community rather than the “just the wrap up activity” of the project.
Collecting local data
After the students had returned to the area to collect water samples. They used collection robots they built during their classroom time to reach water samples they couldn’t normally get to. Using technologies like wikis, blogs, and Google Maps they were able to share their results instantly with their classmates.
- Contributing to global datasets
The project also included research for the testing parameters of The World Monitoring Day Organization or World Water Monitoring Day. The Water Quality Project isn’t the only program in the United States doing this. Many other schools (in over 24 countries) are participating in The World Water Monitoring Challenge. It charges its members to educate and engage students and citizens in the protection of international water resources.
- Presenting the results
When all the research was said and done there was a “massive poster presentation” where every student was required to present his or her findings and share ideas for how to improve the water conditions in their community.
Why does it work?
When learning is meaningful, the impact is tangible.
When students have the opportunity to showcase their skills to a larger audience than their teachers or peers it helps to internalize the lessons they learn in the classroom. This benefit accumulates when the students can see themselves using inquiry-based science to make a real difference in their communities.
The Bigger Picture on Holistic Writing
What is Holistic Writing?
So what is holistic writing and how can we apply it to our classrooms? Holistic writing is about mastering the art of looking at the big picture in its entirety before even putting pen to paper. It’s starting with the sum rather than the individual parts. Plot, characterization, grammar, cadence, all of these things are extremely important to learn individually; what’s more important is learning to use them in tandem. Even if every part is working fine on its own, if they don’t fit into the larger whole, the machine doesn’t work and the writing suffers for it.
By changing how we approach teaching writing, we can impact how students comprehend material.
How do you do it?
So what can educators do to integrate holistic writing in the classroom?
- Learn and foster a new writing process: This can include cross-genre analysis of texts, incorporating new media into their writing assignments, and fostering a collaborative writing process.
- Require all students to write extensively: By writing frequently and for many purposes, learners can be comfortable writing extended prose in elementary school and onward, setting them up for success in college. Schools can aid this process by making sure they hire excellent writing teachers as well as creating a curricula that fosters writing across all content areas at every grade level.
How can Holistic Writing be integrated in a Chicano Studies class?
Teachers at Valley High School a public school, with a predominately Latino population, were awarded a McCarthey Dressman grant to develop a Holistic Approach to Writing. This school is in a high poverty area where most students are English Language Learners and close to 90% of them receive free lunches. Valley High School Educators decided to address student gaps in literacy by taking the holistic writing approach and integrating it into their Chicano studies class.
The course is about the Chicano experience in relation to the following themes: history, identity, labor, gender and culture. While this course focuses on research and writing it takes a holistic method to teaching and learning. Students create murals, linoleum prints, and spoken word along with other forms of art. Each art piece is supported by research, a works cited page and thesis. Research skills are strengthened along with the student’s writing. In addition, students are required to construct a thesis surrounding their artwork, backed up with cited research. Instead of teaching writing and research separately, research lessons were taught throughout the year. Students were evaluated both on the artwork itself and the research that went into it.
What is the impact of Holistic Writing integration?
While initially it served eighty students, portions of the lessons bled over into history courses as the program moved forward. Over the three year project, they will reach 600 students and over 3,000 students will view their murals. Collaboration and teacher training has been a key factor in creating curriculum for this project. In the beginning of the project, it was necessary for the teachers to research the quality of papers at the college freshman level. Using what they learned, they developed a common rubric for the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).
Their program has proved very effective. The Chicano studies instructor accomplished this by collaborating with the English instructor. He brought a sense of structure and form, while the English teacher helped the students understand style. According to the report, the students participating in this method have a 79% CASHEE passing rate, as opposed to the school’s average of 59%. The students have used a multi-disiplinary approach to Chicano studies including creating pieces of art (sugar skulls, day of the dead altars, murals painted with both acrylic and aerosol paints). When this method was later applied to the World History class in the second year of implementation they found the same thing happened, 79% vs 59%. The results speak for themselves.
If students are given the proper tools to excel, they will. The great thing about the holistic writing approach is that its reach far exceeds that of simple literary skills. It helps create a broader lens in which the student can view the world, their work, and ultimately themselves.
Learn more about Holistic Writing
Writing Now – pg. 4
Addressing the Knowledge Gap
Among the many challenges facing us in education one of our most formidable foes is the comprehension gap, across all content areas, between students of low socioeconomic status and those of high socioeconomic status.
E.D. Hirsch, The Case for Bringing Content Into The Language Arts Block and for a Knowledge Rich Curriculum Core for All Children American Educator, Spring 2006.
[T]his neglect of [content] knowledge is a major source of inequity, at the heart of the achievement gap between America’s poor and non-poor”
The Importance of Literacy Skills
While there are many factors that attribute to poor performance, one of the chief offenders is a lack of literacy skills. This is often noted at the college level when students are forced to take non-credit developmental education classes just to catch up to the basics. This both demoralizes the student as well as extending the amount of time they have to spend in, and thus pay for, college.
By expanding literary sources, however, we expand the sphere of knowledge surrounding the content areas. Students can gain a broader context of how a given subject fits into the larger narrative of the real world.
“If they want their students to learn complex new concepts in different disciplines, they [content teachers] often have to help their students become better readers…”Chris Tovani in her text Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Peer Assistance and Review (PAR): A Teacher Development Project
Teachers need to move beyond textbooks to increase their literary skills so that they can better communicate their subject to students. So how do we get a teacher to step away from the science textbook and into some Sagan or Hawking?
One of the ways we can work to address the knowledge gap is through the model of Peer Assistance and Review. In order to address inequity, our featured project at The School of the Future has done just that. With a Teacher Development Grant from McCarthey Dressman, The School of the Future helped improve the overall literacy of their teachers and subsequently their students.
Supports for Improved Content Literacy for Educators and Students
- Collaboratively Created Curriculum
Teachers in high school met after school and collaborated to develop, create, and implement a curriculum that would enhance their students’ ability to read and write in the content areas (History, Math, Science and Technology) across the 11th and 12th grade.
- Shared Texts Across Content Areas
The group worked together to come up with a list of shared texts across content areas. While history and science have obvious literary sources outside the textbook, with a subject like math the teachers could study the history of math and biographies of mathematicians to give a wider scope to how the content area applies to the real world.
- Content Literacy Support
Included was a training program for inexperienced or ineffective teachers to improve their literacy skills across their content area, specifically focusing on grades 11-12 to start.
The Difference: Educator Driven Approach
The difference between this program and previous initiatives aimed at teaching reading in the content areas was that previous efforts were top down administrative mandates that focused on ensuring uniformity in how reading, whereas the current effort was focused on expanding the teacher’s actual knowledge base. Past “one size fits all” approaches to teaching reading in the content areas failed to account for the fact that students read different types of texts in every content area.
The unique aspect to this program is its need for a personal “buy-in” from the teachers. Not a monetary buy-in, but those teachers who want to get involved will need to be willing to pull up their sleeves and put a little more time on the table.
The Impact: Students Identify and Analyze Printed and Non-Printed Texts
What have the teachers accomplished with this project?
During year one, five teachers (half the 11th/12th grade team) studied professional literature in their content areas to be able to implement a plan for teaching students to independently identify and analyze multiple non-fiction printed texts and non-print texts, at the student’s own instructional level, appropriate for the content of the class. Classroom visits and observations of each other in the form of Lesson Study, analysis of student growth, refinement of practice, creation of videos, continued throughout the year. In year two, participants in year one become “Anchor” teachers and shared best practices with the half of the team that was not previously involved (“Innovator Teachers”). For year three, the 11th/12th grade teacher team will mentor the 9th/10th grade team.
PAR provides teachers with the opportunity to work collaboratively to improve professional development. But it is not easy; successful implementation of PAR requires commitment, time, resources, cooperation and flexibility from the teachers involved. In successful PAR projects teachers play a key role in the support, assistance and review of their colleagues. Everyone has to pull their weight for the program to be successful
Teachers can look to existing program models, such as the California Peer Assistance and Review program to get some idea on how they can best start their own. Those who have experienced it emphasize that PAR models should only be used as reference tools, not as fixed templates, which could hinder the development and implementation of plans tailored to meet individual schools and students needs and goals.
Learn more about PAR