Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Struggling with a quote from Twitter

Last week, I ran across this quote on Twitter--“Every day that you teach you have two options: be focused, passionate & caring, or to be focused, passionate & caring.”-Robert John Meehan

It bothered me, so I waited, then read it again.  I realized my discomfort was two-fold.  First, teachers do have two options--to be focused, passionate and caring, or NOT to be.  And, although rare, I do meet some who choose the latter.  The bottom line is, assuming everyone views being focused, passionate and caring as the only option isn't true.  We need to recognize that, and help those who are struggling.

Second, I hear teachers over and over tell me they don't feel like they have any choices--they are told what to do , when to do it, and how to do it.  I am always saying--you do have choices, even ones as simple as whether you smile or not, or whether your attitude is positive or negative.  I've been very careful in my workshops to offer true choices to teachers, so they make that decision rather than me making it for them.  Isn't that at the heart of motivation--to help someone be intrinsically motivated to change or improve?

I do like the spirit of the quote, and I've never met the author (although I do know he is a poet and is focused on teachers and teaching).  I'm just learning to pay attention to our words--and make sure there are no unintended consequences. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What are we teaching girls about themselves?

There is an interesting article over at the Huffington Post. When I was teaching at Winthrop University, my students analyzed the impact of the media on young adolescents.  The results were usually an eye-opener for the teachers as they realized the messages regarding sexuality, violence, language, and bullying that their students were exposed to.  This article specifically focuses on young girls:

"Study after study shows that girls believe how they look is the key to their popularity -- their self-esteem. They think how they look is who they are."

Are there really dangers in this message? After all, my niece loves to be a princess!  But I also have several friends who are anorexic, and many of their emotional issues stem from deeply held beliefs that they must be "skinny to be beautiful."

My takeaway from the article is that I need to be aware of the mixed messages young girls receive and that I need to make sure I'm using words that affirm looks, but focus on the talents, abilities, and uniqueness of the girls in my life.   

Monday, August 29, 2011

Misunderstanding Rigor

I just read a new report from the Department of Education.  As the article from Education Week notes,
"We’re actually seeing [states] increase the rigor of their cut scores, at least between 2007 and 2009,” Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said during a conference call with reporters. “That doesn’t fit into the narrative of states lowering their bars” in response to the performance pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act. Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress as a common yardstick, the analysis finds that during the 2007 to 2009 time period, eight states raised the cut score—the level students must reach to be deemed “proficient”—on one or more exams, while two states lowered them.

So in this case, rigor means raising the passing score on standardized testing.  The main question I'm asked by teachers is "what does rigor mean"?  Although the word is used in many ways, when it comes to your classroom, remember:
Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Friday, August 26, 2011

What do children need?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.  Here's a great Friday quote from Carolyn Coats:

Children have more need of models than of critics!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starting School from a Student's Perspective

My son starts 8th grade today, so I asked him a question--What are three things you would tell your teacher to do to start the school year off right?  Here are his answers, with my comments in italics.

1.  Be chill. He's had a stressful summer with some family illnesses and losing his foster brother.  He'll be stressed enough starting a new year, so he doesn't want his teacher to be stressed.  I wonder how many other students come to school with outside stresses?
2.  For the first couple of days, give us a break on homework.  It is sort of a bad start.  Of course students will say no homework, but his point is valid--give students a break every once in a while. When I was teaching struggling students, homework was always a battle.  So I explained to them that I would not give them homework every night, but when I gave it, it was important and needed to be done.  They asked for no homework on weekends and game nights (I had many football players) and I worked with that.  Homework became a learning activity, not something that HAD to be done every night.
3.  Get to know the kids more than just teaching at the start.  Don't we all know this?  The old adage, kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, is really true!  It's important to build relationships with your students, not only because you make a difference for your students, but also because the more you understand them, the more you can help them connect with learning.  

 What do you think?  How would your students respond to this question?  It might be worth asking them! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Report Highlights Skills Gap

Have you seen the new report from the National Skills Coalition?  The press release highlights key points:
"The report, which was released during the Annual Meeting, found that middle-skill jobs account for 51 percent of the region’s jobs today and will account for 44 percent of job openings in the next decade, making them the engine of the American South’s economy. But while 51 percent of current jobs are middle-skill, only 43 percent of the region’s workers are currently trained to the middle-skill level, a gap that threatens to undermine economic growth and innovation efforts."

Although it is focused on the South, it's an interesting report, detailed and with strong supporting data.  Most importantly, it raises questions about what schools need to do to prepare students for the workforce.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are you starting school this week?

My son goes back  to school Thursday, and I'm sure many of you have already gone back to school.  Others will start after Labor Day.  Here's one thing I want you to know:

You make a difference!  You matter to students, parents, and other teachers.  No matter how stressed you are, you can choose to stop, breathe, and put a smile on your face because you make a difference everyday--even when you don't feel like it--ESPECIALLY when you don't feel like it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rigor for Kindergarten?

Here's a link to the new Common Core Standards for kindergarten and what they will mean to schools in one district in Florida.   The chart at the end summarizes some changes:

Under Florida's Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (old standards):
  • Students count to 20
  • Ability to count forward from 1
  • Work on joining and separating numbers through 10 (introduction to addition and subtraction)
Under the Common Core State Standards (new standards):
  • Students count to 100 by tens and by ones
  • Ability to count forward from any given number
  • Fluent in addition and subtraction through 5
My niece could have easily handled this in kindergarten, my nephew, who was young when he started, would have struggled more.  As I've said many times before, rigor is more than just raising the standard expectations.  It's also supporting students so they can show they truly understand something as opposed to memorization.  For those of you who teach at the primary level, what do you think?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"I Can't Meet My Students' Needs"

During one of my recent workshops, a group of teachers said, "We can't meet our students' needs.  They've cut our budget, increased our class sizes, and shut down our tutoring programs.  There's nothing I can do."  That's a common refrain today, and I'm not minimizing it.  Teaching is more and more challenging, especially in today's educational climate.   However, I'm a big believer in control what you can control, and stop focusing on all the problems (please note I'm still in a remedial class learning that lesson myself!).  So I was heartened by a note left for me after last week's session on high expectations in Hillsborough County, Florida.  Here's what Darren Aguero wrote:

The most important thing I can give a student is free, readily available, and never affected by budget cuts....ENCOURAGEMENT!

Wow--what a perspective in the midst of the challenges. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Common Core Standards...Only the Beginning

Last week, I wrote about my concern with the perspective that the CCS will solve all issues related to rigor in the classroom.  If you are planning for implementation of the standards, here's a great resource for you. Here's a short introduction:

 "We cannot assume that simply adopting the standards provides a rigorous environment for students.  Rigor is more than what you teach, it's how you teach and how students show you they understand.  The CCSs are an excellent foundation for increasing rigor in your classroom; however, there are other integral aspects of rigor to consider."

Building on my definition of rigor-- Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008)--you'll find specific examples of how to demonstrate high expectations, how to provide support for students, and how each student can demonstrate learning. 

Download the white paper free today over at Eye on Education!