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, September 30, 2011

Job vs. Gift

Love this quote by Dale Lumpa.  Replace your subject are for reading and writing if that's not what you teach!

Teaching students to read and write is a teacher's job.  Teaching students to love reading and writing is a teacher's gift.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Building Blocks for Success

Students are  motivated when they believe they have a chance to be successful.  Too often, we have students who have never been successful in a school setting. Students need to set and achieve goals in order to build a sense of confidence, which leads to a willingness to try something else, which in turn begins a cycle that leads to higher levels of success. Success leads to success, and the achievements of small goals are building blocks to larger goals.
Part of raising expectations is to help students believe they can be successful. There are many ways you can build students’ confidence in themselves.  Here's a few:

  • Provide questions or assignments that are open-ended and for which there is no wrong answer. This also provides another opportunity to get to know each student.
  • Provide additional support during lessons, such as graphic organizers, learning guides, etc.
  • Use multiple intelligences activities linked to students’ strengths.
  • Encourage students and provide feedback and praise that reinforces their efforts, not just the final product. 
How can you help a student be more successful, and therefore more confident in their learning?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grand Conversations!

Talking with other students is a great way for students to think at higher levels, and apply what they are learning.  Connie Forrester describes one of her favorite activities:  Grand Conversations. Similar to Socratic Circles, take a look at her particular use of the method.
 “I would usually introduce this strategy in October during our Unit of Study on non-fiction.  To introduce the strategy, I would ask the children if they knew what the word conversation meant.  After some discussion, one child would usually come up with the fact that conversation is talking.  I would go on to tell the children that Grand Conversations are one strategy that the big kids use when they talk about books.  I would explain the ground rules to the children.  You would be amazed how quickly the children catch on and how much they enjoy this strategy.  They would beg to use it after we had read a book.  However, I found Grand Conversations worked best when used after a non-fiction text.”
Ground Rules for Grand Conversations
1-    One person talks at a time
2-    When you respond to a classmate, you make a comment, ask a question, or make a connection.  Your response must match the previous person’s train of thought.  (For instance, if we were having a conversation about a spider’s habitat and the next child began discussing what he had for dinner last night, the first child could pick someone else)
3-    No one raises his or her hands.  I explain to the children that when people have conversations no one raises their hands. (We would either toss a beach ball to the person to talk or the child would sit up very straight to be recognized.)

One of the interesting aspects of this activity--Connie teaches Kindergarten.  It's never too early to teach students to have higher level conversations!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrating Progress

            One of the most important ways you can demonstrate high expectations as well as help your students raise their expectations of themselves is to celebrate progress as well as achievement. 
            In today’s schools, we tend to focus on whether students have achieved a certain standard or goal.  That’s great, but there are some students for whom that is an impossible benchmark.  I used to joke with my students that they couldn’t see past the end of their noses to look at our long-term goals (especially the year-end standardized test).  If you plan to help your students achieve, you’ll need to celebrate each step they make toward the goal. 
            One way to do this is to have a “Progress is Power” bulletin board.  You can track students’ improvements, and showcase the progress they are making.  In the classrooms I’ve visited, teachers use anything from train tracks to balloons to graphs to visually represent the progress of their students.  I’d offer one caution, though. Another way is to use tiger or lion paws to take time to "Paws for Progress". Stop, reflect on progress, and celebrate with those paws.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Need a Boost of Motivation?

Feeling like you aren't making a difference?  Jacques Barzun reminds us "in teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years."

You make a difference everyday--even when you don't feel like it, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel like it! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's a Great Day to Be a Leader

Yesterday, I worked with a group of principals, district leaders, curriculum specialists, and teacher-leaders. I was reminded once again of the importance of shared leadership. Although one person can make a difference, getting others on board can help spur reform efforts. One of their favorite ideas was the concept of "name it, claim it, and explain it.". As you are in classrooms, take pictures or videos of effective practices. Start faculty meetings by showing it, and asking teachers to name it, claim it, and explain what they were doing. It puts a positive angle to walkthroughs and faculty meetings. And look for examples from everyone, not just your superstars. You'd be amazed what a difference it makes to celebrate the positive rather than focusing on the negative. You can make a difference today, you can say something positive today, and remember, that may be the only positive thing that persons hears!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Everything that Seems to Be a Crisis Really One?

I just arrived in Reynoldsburg, OH for a two-day booking.  Wednesday, I'll do a keynote for leaders, then Thursday all day on "What does rigor look like in the classroom?"  By the way, there are still a couple of openings for that conference--provided FREE to teachers and leaders!  Email me if you want to come. 

Now to the point--our son called in a panic thirty minutes ago.  Without meaning to, he let our kitten outside, and now he can't find her.  Of course, it's dark and the kitten is black, so you can see the problem.  He was totally panicked and would not even tell me what happened.  His dad calmed him down, walked him through three steps to follow. 

It reminded me of my interactions with students.  At times, they totally panicked because they were overwhelmed or didn't understand what to do.  In that case, what they needed from me was to break the steps down, be sure they understood each step, and to remind them I believed they could be successful.  Is that true for you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Happens If We Don't Tell Students It's Too Hard?

I love the story of George Dantzig that Cynthia Kersey wrote about in Unstoppable. As a college student, George studied very hard and always late into the night. So late that he overslept one morning, arriving 20 minutes late for class. He quickly copied the two math problems on the board, assuming they were the homework assignment. It took him several days to work through the two problems, but finally he had a breakthrough and dropped the homework on the professor's desk the next day.

Later, on a Sunday morning, George was awakened at 6 a.m. by his excited professor. Since George was late for class, he hadn't heard the professor announce that the two unsolvable equations on the board were mathematical mind teasers that even Einstein hadn't been able to answer. But George Dantzig, working without any thoughts of limitation, had solved not one, but two problems that had stumped mathematicians for thousands of years.

Simply put, George solved the problems because he didn't know he couldn't.

Carston Cramer

Friday, September 16, 2011

High Expectations

This quote by an unknown author is a great summary of high expectations:

You must learn, you can learn, you will learn.  The fact that you have not yet learned means that I have not yet found the way to explain the subject so simply, so clearly, and so exactly that is is impossible for you to not understand.  But I will find the way.  I will not quit on you. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

HighExpectations, Part Two

Yesterday, I talked about high expectations for each student, as opposed to "all students".  The author pulls some points from a book .  Here's a few:

  • They have high expectations for their students.  ”They assume that their students are able to meet high standards and belive their job is to help their students get there.”  This goes beyond simply establishing expectations — it means providing the necessary supports for students to be successful.
  • They use data to focus on individual students, not just groups of students.  Learning is personalized.  For schools that beat the odds, it is not enough to have a general sense of how the school is performing, it is necessary to know how every student is progressing.
  • They make decisions on what is good for kids, not what is good for adults.  The “beat the odds” schools consistently based decision-making on the best interest of students.  This sounds like common sense, but it’s not as easy as it appears.  For every action and activity we must ask ourselves: (1) what is my purpose, (2) is this a good use of time/resources, (3) is this in the best interest of my students?
  • They establish an atmosphere of respect.  ”Students are treated with respect, teachers are treated with respect, and parents are treated with respect.”
  • They like kids.  I would hope that every educator likes kids (if you don’t, please find another profession).  However, we have all had those kids who make empathy a challenge.  Chenoweth makes a great observation about how these students are perceived at schools that are beating the odds, “the struggles that students have outside school only increase the regard teachers and principals have for what they are able to achieve in school.”

Notice how often they are talking about individual students, not the whole group.  And that is a major shift for many of us.  The model we may have seen most often is whole-group instruction/lecture with a bit of discussion thrown in--usually in the form of the teacher asking a question and one or two students responding.  That may work for us in terms of ease and convenience, but the reality is that in classes with high expectations, students are continually participating throughout the lesson--not just by "paying attention".  What is the level of interaction/participation for your class today?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

High Expectations for ALL or EACH?

Just read this blog post on high expectations:

I think most Educators have high expectations for themselves and for their students, but what I have really struggled with of late is if or whether we should personalize our expectations for our students. Should we "standardize" high expectations and expect all students to follow the same set of expectations, or should we "personalize" the expectations to meet our students at their own individual levels and abilities...?

I absolutely agree that high expectations are critical--it's the first part of my rigor definition (Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is held to high expectations, each student is supported to learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.)  When I was working with focus groups of teachers to refine my original, research-based definition, they all agreed on one change--use EACH student, not ALL students.  Their comments were--it must be individualized, if we say all students, some get lost, and do we really look at each student, or do we look at the class?

I believe there are standard practices that hold each student to high expectations.  For example, crafting lessons so that each student responds during the lesson on a regular basis rather than only one student responding.  This involves more pair shares, clickers, whiteboards, etc.  But I also know that for each student to truly learn at higher and higher levels, the specifics are customized. But, in the end, do you believe that each student in your class can and will learn at high levels?  And, more importantly, do you take the actions necessary to show them that and to help them get there?  That's the root of high expectations--and that is for EACH student. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Imagination and Rigor

"I believe that everyone has imagination.  What is sometimes not paid attention to is the rigor needed to fuel the imaginative energy."  Anna Deavere Smith (actor and playwright)

This quote is so applicable to any discussion of rigor.  It's not just making it harder, but it does include challenging students to get out of their comfort zone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

New HS Curriculum--is that enough for rigor?

I just read an interesting blog post that was very informative. I thought the focus on the new curriculum, with a lot of supporting details, was great.  However, rigor is more than the curriculum, and we make a serious mistake when we assume a rigorous curriculum will help all our students be successful. Rigor is weaving together all aspects of the classroom climate, including instruction, assessment and curriculum.  But simply raising the bar does not help students succeed.  We must also provide scaffolding to help them move to those higher levels of learning, and we must provide opportunities for each student to demonstrate learning.  Too often, I am in classrooms where one student answers a question.  The rest "tune out" because they aren't required to respond.  There are so many easy ways to have each student respond--pair-shares, electronic clickers, small whiteboards, etc.  How long will it take for us to address all issues--particularly HOW the new Common Core State Standards (or anything else your state is using) will be implemented? 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rigor for Gifted Students

Just read this post (which is a bit old, but current in the topic).  Here's an excerpt from the post:
These terms are found when discussing curriculum for the gifted.  How do they apply?  For the gifted, relevance must precede rigor.  When the task is relevant, rigor ensues.  Students learn what their purpose for learning is. 

Hmmm..don't disagree, but once again, I find the conversation limiting. Here's my response:

 I agree, but would broaden your argument. First, I believe you simply can’t discuss rigor without addressing two interrelated concepts: student motivation and student engagement. Students must be motivated, and they are intrinsically motivated by value. I believe relevance is a subset of value, but at times, students are motivated by the relationship with the teacher, or their interest in a subject or type of classroom. The second intrinsic motivation characteristic is success. Students are more motivated when they are successful or believe they can be successful. And I taught gifted students who were more worried about success than struggling learners. Each student may need a different type of support, but that is also integral to a successful, rigorous classroom.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First day of School?

For many of you, now that Labor Day is over, it's back to school.  I never sleep well the night before the first day of school.  I love what my friend Jason Womack says--when I was teaching, I got nervous.  The trick is not to NOT have butterflies in  your stomach.  The trick is to keep those butterflies in formation! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blues or Blessings

Today is Labor Day and many of you are already teaching. Others start tomorrow. But if you are a teacher or principal, I'd like you to consider something--is your work filled with the blues or blessings. It's so easy to focus on the negatives, all the things that go wrong, all the mistakes students make, and all that you do wrong. While it's important to learn from our mistakes, your year will be more positive if you focus on the blessings, those times a student smilies,or really learns something--even if it's small, or the impact you have on students and teachers.

Did you know you can be a blessing just by saying something positive about your students when everyone else is complaining about theirs? Or by choosing to effectively praise as many students as possible? Or by just writing down three good things that happened to you each day? I hope this year you choose blessings, not blues. I'm doing the same!

Friday, September 2, 2011

What does it take to differentiate?

One thing I've learned:  you have to find out more about every student than you would ever think in order to make it happen!  Skills, interests, talents....so much more!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teachers make a difference

From my wise husband: you know you are a lifeguard and you know you save kids. But how many others, like me, did you help conquer the deep end without realizing it.

Teacher, principals, any educators--as the school year starts, don't ever forget you make a difference.