Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Look Inside a Grade 4 Math Workshop

One look inside Room 217 and you can certainly tell that young mathematicians are at work. Lead by co-teach duo, Angela Phillips & Rick Pinchot, the young mathematicians are attentively listening to Opening Session as the teachers explain the directions to the game they will play during Work Period, Close to 1000.

Students will be paired with a partner, each partner will be dealt eight Numeral Cards, and the students will be able to use any six cards to make two three- digit numbers. The object is to try and make numbers that, when added, will give you a total close to 1000. The students will then write the numbers with their total on a Close to 1000 Score Sheet. The score is the difference between the total and 1000. They will put their used cards in a discard pile and draw six new cards for the next round. After five rounds, students will total their scores, and the lowest score wins!

The objective of the game, from the Grade 4 Landmarks in the Thousands Math Investigation book, is to have students develop addition and subtraction strategies. Though the directions do not call for it, as the teachers model from the document camera, they suggest to students that as they play, they write down the digits from each of the eight cards they draw, and indicate which cards they do not use. The teachers are interested in the numbers that go unused, the placement of the digits that the students do use, and the total score per round, because this will give them a glimpse into the student's mathematical understanding. Toward the end of this 15 minute Opening Session, the teachers strategically pair students and set them off to work. The pairing, done by design, is possible because these two teachers have analyzed and sorted student diagnostic data on number sense to create their differentiated pairs.

The students of Room 217 are well prepared to play Close to 1000, however if additional scaffolding had been needed, the teachers could have differentiated even further by having some students play Close to 100 instead. In addition, as they revisit this game, the students who have mastered the strategies may be enriched by playing the negative and positive integer variation. Scoring using this variation changes game strategy significantly. Differentiating for remediation and enrichment is a natural part of Angela and Rick's classroom instruction.

As the pairs set off for Work Period, the teachers strategically, based on their data, begin to confer with groups of students. The teachers are observing to see which students are developing efficient strategies to add and subtract numbers in the hundreds, to see who is using mental math, to see who is strategically playing the game, and to see who is struggling with misconceptions. They facilitate by offer suggestions, pointing out more efficient strategies, or talking with students on the most strategic way to use their wild cards. In their dialogue with students, they always expect students to explain their thinking articulately. Each teacher, clip board in hand, takes notes on observations and student mastery. As the teachers facilitate they are also looking for student's work that will be most appropriate to share in Closing Session to move student thinking forward. After 30 minutes, the class comes back together as a whole group to summarize and extend their learning.

In the focused and purposeful 15 minute Closing Session, Angela and Rick discuss what they saw as they facilitated instruction in the Work Period. They share three student's score cards and have the students discuss their thinking. They help lead the discussion on the placement of the digits and whether a student's score could have come closer to 1000 if the digits would have been placed differently. Students, as they revisit this game, will become more strategic in their placement of digits and will continue to use mental math strategies--all while having fun! In Room 217, young mathematicians are at work!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Overview of Math Workshop

Math Workshop at CCE consists of a 60 minute Math Investigations block and a 15-20 minute Every Day Math Counts block. These two resources work nicely together to cover all of our state's mathematics standards.

The 60 minute Math Workshop has an Opening Session, Work Period, and Closing Session.

The Opening Session consists of a 15-20 minute math lesson; the lesson can be an introduction of a new problem, a mini-lesson on a skill related to the concept students are learning, an analysis of a problem situation or a problem solving strategy, or an explanation of the assignment.

Work Period is a 20-30 minute work session where students work independently, with a partner, or in small groups. The teacher facilitates instruction by meeting with small groups to guide or advise them or assess their progress. She may make anecdotal notes about a student's progress or difficulties or use a checklist to record observations. The teacher may also individually confer with students posing questions to redirect student thinking or deepen student understanding. During Work Period, the teacher is observing the strategies students are using and noting misconceptions that need to be a focus during Closing Session. The teacher will typically select student work to share in Closing Session.

The Closing is a 15-20 minute whole group session. Selected students share strategies or solutions as the teacher leads discussion on how these strategies are alike or different and which are most efficient. The teacher may also summarize the concepts that are the day's focus or connect it to concepts studied earlier, or may lay the groundwork for concepts that will be studied next. To address and correct misconceptions, the teacher may have a student share a strategy that did not work and the class may analyze why it did not work. This closing is critical to a lesson, and the part of Math Workshop that has traditionally been overlooked.

In CCE math classrooms, you will find this workshop structure in place. You will also see artifacts that support this workshop including

  • The Standards (the central artifact--all lessons are directly aligned with the standards)
  • Math Journals (a place to record student strategies or reflect on learning)
  • Teaching Charts (teacher-made, showcases student developed strategies or solutions, displayed for future reference)
  • General Math References (hundreds chart, number lines showing positive and negative numbers, problem solving methods, multiplication charts if applicable)
  • Class Diagnostic Notebook (individual standardized test reports, individual student diagnostic assessment profiles)
  • Display of Student Work (changed regularly to show current work)
  • Word Walls (math vocabulary relevant to current work)
  • Manipulatives (in central location and labeled for easy access)
  • Student Portfolios (in binders or hanging folders--showcases student work and strategies used to solve problems, may also include some graded/corrected assessments)
  • Math-related Literature (each Investigation book offers a list of recommended literature to read aloud to students)

The structure of the workshop and the artifacts that support focused meanigful instruction creates the environment condusive to developing young mathematicians. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mistakes are Learning Opportunities

As I walk through classrooms here at The Creek, I've often heard teachers say, "Mistakes are learning opportunities." How true! And, how fantastic that teachers are instilling this belief in our young learners. Our students aren't afraid to try something new, go out on a limb, because they know, that even if they fail, it will be a learning opportunity. When I saw this video on Karl Fisch's blog, I knew I had to share it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Standards-based Bulletin Board Focus Walk

We've struggled for years at CCE with how to best provide feedback to teachers on their Standards-based Bulletin Boards. We know that teachers put great energy into analyzing student work and selecting pieces for the board, and then constructing the elements of the board. And, we value the boards because they make student work so visible. We also know the new learning that can be had by a teacher, a parent, and even a student from the reading boards. Therefore, it is critical for individuals to read the boards and for teachers to get feedback on their boards. In the past, we've done that in a variety of ways:
  • School coaches have read and given general feedback to the grade level

  • Grade levels have focus walked during Teacher Meetings and given either oral or written feedback to one another
  • Partners have focus walked and given written feedback to one another
  • Some grade levels have even done virtual board walks through PowerPoint pictures and copying of student work in Teacher Meetings

This feedback, in general, has been horizontal (across one grade level), and by and large has focused on positive elements of the board. Rarely, in front of the team, has a teacher gotten constructive feedback on the areas in which they need to grow to make their work deeper.

So, in an attempt to deepen this dialogue and create constructive feedback, we decided to hold a SBBB walk with the entire faculty, during an Early Release Day. Each faculty member was assigned a team consisting of about seven teachers, and were designated to walk three boards. Each member of the team was given a feedback form to fill in as they walked and had collegial conversation. The teams turned in their written feedback at the end of their walk, and I typed into two different categories, Glows and Grows, for the teacher's whose boards were visited. I typed an email to teachers with this message...

Dear Teachers,

As you know, feedback was collected from each
teacher at our Early Release Board Walk. The feedback has been compiled as
it was written on an individual’s feedback form and represents an individual’s
opinion. The feedback is categorized in two ways, glows and grows.
Any positive feedback was listed as a glow and next steps were written as
grows. Groups were highly encouraged to include grows, so if some of the
bullets seem nit-picky, they probably are. I could have edited the comments, but
selected to stay true to this process, so you are receiving everyone’s comments
back as they were written. When reflecting on the feedback, my hope is
that you celebrate your glows and embrace the grows that you agree could be your
next steps. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss your
feedback, please feel free to come and see me.

Below is an example of feedback that one teacher received:

Teacher ABC
Engaging visually! Certainly captures your attention.
Catchy title that relates directly to the work.
Board is aligned--standards, task, and commentary.
Authentic to work students are producing in classroom.
Detailed commentaries that were in an easy to read table.
Very creative design.
I like how students had their own rubric.
Clearly labeled elements.
Good integration of content.
Student work is terrific.
Mini-lesson topics are evident in the student work.

A student and peer conference reflection would be fantastic!
Consider using a left to right lay-out to make the board more reader friendly.
Perhaps, you could add student commentary to the next board.

All in all, the collegial dialogue and constructive feedback was much deeper. I even received email replies back from individual teachers who thought this was the most productive board walk they had done and that it was the most pertainent feedback they had ever received on their board. They felt that walking with teams from various grade levels and content areas allowed the conversation to go deeper than it had in past years. This is definatley a process I hope to try again. And, I can't wait to read the next set of boards that are being put up today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kindergarten Readers and Writers

I was all smiles on Tuesday after spending 40 minutes in Laurie Thomson and Julia Lewis' classroom. This co-teaching duo runs a well oiled machine just 9 short weeks into Kindergarten.

When I entered, students were just getting back to their meeting area for the Closing Session of Readers' Workshop. Three students were preparing to share and it was evident that the teachers had pre-selected students during their Work Period. The students placed their independent reading text under the document camera, read one page, and shared the reading strategy they had tried that day. The first student demonstrated how she pointed to the words as she read; the second student demonstrated how he pointed to the words and looked at the pictures to figure out a difficult word; the third student demonstrated how she pointed at the words, and when she got to a difficult word she got her mouth ready and sounded out the first letter of the word, then she looked at her picture clues. I could tell through this sharing that students are being taught purposeful reading mini-lessons, are reading daily and applying their mini-lesson strategies, and have the opportunity to share. The teachers are using this Closing Session effectively to scaffold student learning.

Furthermore, I stayed through the Writers' Workshop mini-lesson and into the Work Period. The focus was on using word wall snap words in your writing. The teachers modeled with a think aloud and wrote under the document camera for students to watch. As Miss Lewis wrote, she would stop and sound out a word, or at times look on the word wall. Students practiced by turning and talking to a partner about which snap words they could incorporate in their writing today.
The transition from Opening to Work Period was smooth and quick. Students got to work right away on their writing as the teachers individually conferred with students. As I walked around and conferred with students, it was clear that these writers are writing daily and excited to share their stories with others. I was surprised that I could read so many papers without assistance, and with others, I simply asked the student to read their story to me. They did a masterful job.

I enjoyed my visit to Room 122 and can't wait to return.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grade 3 Readers' Workshop Live Videostream

At The Creek, we embrace making instruction visible and accessible. To achieve this goal, our teachers continually collaborate with others, blog about their best practices, host national visitors, and graciously allow video coverage of their practice. We share the videos on blogs, nings, and wikis, but we also share live videostream lessons to the Schultz Center, our district's professional development site. On average, we stream about 30 live lessons a year to give others a window into our classrooms, and yesterday was our first live stream of the year.

The Grade 3 Readers' Workshop lesson focused on author's viewpoint and began with the four part mini-lesson using an authentic children's text, Tea with Milk, by Allen Say. The teacher, Jenny Nash, began by explaining to her young readers, "Author's viewpoints are not clearly stated in the book, rather you have to do some of your own thinking by the details the author provides to understand the author's viewpoint."

Mrs. Nash modeled using a short excerpt from this familiar text. She reread the excerpt, used a three column graphic organizer (labeled place, details, and author's feelings) to think aloud, and recorded the details to make her conclusion clear about the author's viewpoint.

Next, she gave students an active involvement time to practice this skill. She placed another excerpt from the story under the document camera, read the excerpt aloud, and had students turn to a shoulder partner to discuss. She listened in on student conversation, and after several minutes had the students share their ideas as she recorded their responses. When students shared a response that was not focused on author's viewpoint, she gently guided them deeper in their thinking through questioning, and required them to give a more focused response.

Masterfully, she linked the lesson to independent reading by explaining to students that the author doesn't explicitly tell you their viewpoint rather leaves clues throughout the text so the reader can determine the author's viewpoint. Sometimes this is done in the details the author writes and the use of their word choices.

Students began independent work time by quickly practicing with another excerpt from the story and then moved swiftly into independent reading time. The teacher circulated and then pulled a guided reading group. It was evident as she ran the guided reading group that her rituals and routines were securely in place, because all students were engaged in their independent reading task.

After the guided reading group, the teacher individually conferred with five students, selected individuals to share their work in closing session that would reiterate her teaching point from the mini-lesson, and students returned to the meeting area as a whole group to close the lesson. Select students shared their work, the teacher took their thinking deeper by asking questions, and the lesson closed. Mrs. Nash reminded students that good readers think about the author's viewpoint as they read to help them to better understand the story.

During the debrief the Schultz audience asked Mrs. Nash questions, and she gave them a virtual tour of her classroom to show which artifacts are in place to support the Readers' Workshop. I don't know about you, but in my opinion, you can't make your practice any more visible than that! Thanks, Jenny!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Is PowerPoint Dead?

One of the five big power roles of an instructional coach is that of a Learning Facilitator. That role includes presenting to large groups of teachers and small groups of teachers alike. If you primarily do your presenting using PowerPoint as your tool, please step away from your computer, and read Seth Godin's post Nine Steps to PowerPoint Magic and Garr Reynolds and Guy Kawasaki's text, Presentation Zen. At my school, I want to be on top of my game, and my thinking and presentaiton style have certainly changed for the better with these two very quick reads.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cognitive Coaching, Take 2

Day 2 of the Cognitive Coaching Seminar was as big of a hit as Day 1. I had many ah-ha moments that validated my coaching practices, but just as many pondering oh-yeah moments that will help me deliver deeper professional development, focus my planning conversations with teachers, and pay closer attention to non-verbal cues.

Our agenda consisted of
  • Homework Review
  • Why Coach?
  • The Planning Conversation
  • Cognitive Coaching Capabilities
  • Coaching Tools: paraphrasing and pausing
  • Homework & Closure.

My first ah-ha moment occurred in our dialogue on Why Coach? based on Joyce and Showers Research on Training. I was fascinated and quickly self-assessed the types of training we provide at The Creek, and the successes we've had implementing the America's Choice School Design. As I host hundreds of visitors each year, they always ask, "How did you get from where you were (21% of students achieving at standard in math and 54% at standard in reading) to where you are now (95% of students achieving at standard in math, reading, writing, and 80% in science)? This piece of research may answer that question on how we've gotten transfer from Professional Development into classroom practice. This piece also left me thinking about the components we haven't had as much success with like shared reading and in some cases guided reading. Take a look at this table.

Basically, the research table shows that if during Professinal Development, you study theory only 10% of teachers will gain knowledge and 5% skill, but there will be 0% transfer into the classroom. (This to me, may be accurate for a book study that has no follow-up.) If the PD consists of the study of theory and provides demonstration, then 30% of participants will gain knowledge, 20% skills, but still there is 0% transfer back into the classroom. (At Chets, this may be studying the research of Skills Block and then going to watch a Skills Block demonstration lesson, but not practicing or getting peer coaching.) If the PD consists of the study of theory, watching of demonstration, and practice, you will see 60% of the participants gaining knowledge, 60% gaining skills, but still I was surprised that only 5% transferred into practice. (I'm imagining studying the theory behind administering DRA's, watching a teacher administer a DRA, and then practicing administering a DRA yourself. But, then not having Peer Coaching.) On the other hand, if the PD consists of theory, demonstration, practice, and peer coaching, you will have 95% of participants gaining knowledge, 95% gaining skill, and a 95% transfer back into classroom practice. That is huge! After all, does it really matter what a teacher knows if it doesn't impact classroom instruction and student achievement? To me, now, the only type of training that makes any sense is the full array of theory, demonstration, practice, and peer coaching. As always, the barriers are time and money. So, we must embrace out of the box thinking to overcome these obstacles, because our teachers and our students deserve researched based best practices embedded in practice. It may be the only thing that will raise student achievement levels.

Next, we studied the Nine Outcomes of Cognitive Coaching and how to hold a Planning Conversation. I'm not sharing the Planning Conversation with you, because too many of my own teachers read this blog. They will get to experience, first hand, my new planning questions. :)

The paraphrasing and pausing coaching tools were informative as well, especially the Eye Accessing Cues which after practice in the school setting, I will be sharing with you.

Embedded into all our training throughout the two days were the study of theory, the watching of demonstration, and practice. I'm going to role out the training with my Leadership Team so they can assist in Peer Coaching me. After all, I do want my new knowledge to transfer into my coaching practice.

Our homework has us seeking out opportunities for formal and informal planning conversations, conducting self-mediated planning conversations, and practicing isolated skills like rapport, pausing, and paraphrasing.

I had to laugh as we began packing up, because the lasting image of the day's events was the comic on the big screen of a dog steadying himself on a high wire which read: High above the hushed crowd, Rex tried to remain focused. Still he couldn't shake one nagging thought. He was an old dog and this is a new trick.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cognitive Coaching: Take 1

I'm wondering, how many of my coaching colleagues have ever been taught how to coach? Not why, when, or where, but HOW. Raise your hands. Raise em' high. Those of you proudly raising your hands, you know what I'm about to say, put your hands down and stop gloating, you know it, you're the lucky ones. The ones I and many of my colleagues are jealous of, because you hold the knowledge and expertise that many of us so desperately want.

This marks year 7 of my coaching adventure. You did notice the word--adventure, didn't you? Adventures, by definition, are dangerous undertakings, risky attempts, and gambles. One takes a chance, tries something new, seeks to go into uncharted territory. Most coaches dive in with little training and modest expert coaching support. What generally emerges is the equivalent of street smarts because it is sink or swim time.

Before today, I could not raise my hand. I think, by and large, I was swimming rather than sinking, but today, I learned exactly what I do well, and what I desperately need to change. Today, through a Cognitive Coaching Training Seminar (1 of 8 in all) at the Schultz Center, I discovered that I usually consult or collaborate, but rarely do I use Cognitive Coaching, a pattern that I will reverse.

Cognitive Coaching is about providing the support and assistance for a teacher to become a self-directed thinker both independently and as a member of the school community to improve student learning. The intention is to increase the effectiveness of a teacher's decision making process to allow them to be self-monitoring and self-modifying. It is not about rendering advice, constant modeling, or solving their problems. Cognitive Coaches do not rob teachers of the opportunity to solve their own problems. They probe to bring about self-assessment.

How to Cognitively Coach is the mission of our seminar. On Day 1, we...
  • studied the word, Holonomy, or the act of simultaneously being equally good by yourself and as a part of your learning community.

  • learned about the five States of Mind including efficacy, flexibility, interdependence, consciousness, and craftsmanship.
  • discussed the goal and went over four orientations as a coach: parent, expert, friend, and boss.
  • role played, practiced, synthesized, and discussed.

  • explored trust. The three types Organic, Contractual, and Relational. We learned about the common facets of trust and exactly how to repair broken trust.

  • discussed rapport. The Elements of Rapport: posture, gesture, tonality, language, and breathing.

  • watched a video to understand, on a cellular level, what happens with mirrored neurons that makes us social beings and how that effects rapport.

  • went into the four support functions of coaching. Cognitive Coaching, Collaborative Coaching, Consulting, and Evaluating. We explored the intention and purpose of each system, as well as what the conversations focus on when we are acting in this role.

  • participated in a structured coaching interchange as partners.

  • were assigned homework! (I feel like one of the kids! Homework = Yuck!)

Today, for the first time, I feel like I am mapping a more intentional path for how to coach. I'm not saying it won't still be an adventure with some uncharted territory, but I am implying that I will have more tools and self-awareness. I will become more of a Cognitive Coach and less of a Collaborator and Consultant. After today, I must say that I would recommend this training for any coach or principal.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kindergarten Snapshot: A Look at the Afternoon

This afternoon, I took a stroll through Kindergarten. In many of the rooms, the teachers were knee deep in Science Workshop. These are a few highlights from my visit.

In the first room, Science Workshop was in full swing. Students were busy making observations as they circulated through five different stations. Each station focused on a different sense and students excitedly gathered information. The teachers were facilitating instruction as they circulated to each station. I could overhear them asking, "What does it taste like?" "What do you hear?" "What do you think is in the bag by feeling it?" "Why?" The young scientists were eager to make predictions based on their observations and student engagement was high.

In another room, young scientists were busy using balancing scales to measure objects at their table. They were sorting items into two different groups based on the weight of the objects. Students were working nicely in pairs to accomplish their task and the teacher was assisting as she circulated from one pair to the next.

Our young scientists in another room were focused on their sense of smell. They had read a text on the sense of smell, and were in work period drawing things that they could smell. Students' work indicated that they could smell items like flowers and food. The students were eager to share their work with me and really wanted me to photograph their work. :)

In one room, Math Workshop was in session. Young mathematicians were busy creating patterns during work period. When I asked one student to explain their pattern to me, he replied, "I built a blue yellow blue yellow pattern." I asked another student who exclaimed, "I build an A B B A B B A B B pattern." I questioned, "How do you know?" She proudly explained that she had a shape and then two squares, and then the shape and then two squares. Her reply caught the attention of another child at her table who quickly cleared her pattern. I asked her why she cleared her pattern and she said, "I'm going to make mine harder." "Sounds like a great idea to me," I exclaimed, before moving on.

The morning in Kindergarten is packed with ELA: Skills Block, Writers' and Readers' Workshop. Afternoons are generally reserved for Math and Science Workshop. So, I'll visit again soon and give you a snapshot of a Kindergartener's morning.