Guiding Principle #1 of the Responsive Classroom®

Kids ImageResponsive Classroom is an approach to teaching and learning that builds joyful, respectful, and challenging elementary classrooms. The approach is founded on 7 Guiding Principles that drive our 10 teaching strategies:

  • Morning Meeting
  • Creating Rules with Students
  • Effective Teacher Language
  • Interactive Modeling
  • Logical Consequences
  • Guided Discovery
  • Academic Choice
  • Classroom Organization
  • Working With Families
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving

This blog post will focus on Principle #1: The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum

Take a moment to think about that statement. Here is some background into that belief as provided by the 2004 Presenter’s Handbook, NEFC.

“The balance integration of the two is essential to social and academic growth. It requires teachers who are skilled and knowledgeable and who are given support for their attention to the complementary sides of learning.

There must be a balance approach to all learning. Social research today informs us that learning is embedded in a matrix of social interaction. We learn for social reasons, and the emotional state of a learner has a lot to do with successful learning.

The act of learning demands risk-taking. All learning involves attempting something new, which is risky by its very nature. The risk is that there is possible failure, embarrassment, humiliation, seeming ‘stupid’, etc. Therefore, to take that risk involved in learning, children and adults must feel that they are emotionally, physically, and socially safe. Learning can only take place in an environment where children and adults feel that they are cared for and respected, no matter what mistakes they make or opinions they hold.

Learning can only truly take place in a community where the learners practice social skills and acknowledge their importance. Educators should not assume that any age group of children comes to school ready to use social skills appropriately. It isn’t enough to expect children to have or use social skills. Social skills need to be taught and practiced in the elementary classroom.” (Presenter’s Handbook, 2004-NEFC)

As I reflect on that guiding principle it aligns well with the other work I do in 21st Century skills for career and college readiness and also the work I do with project-based learning. Within both of those things I also train in as a staff developer, there is the belief that children must be taught these skills explicitly and have opportunities to reflect and assess how they are doing. Within 21st Century and PBL learning, the focus is on the 4 C’s (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity). Within the Responsive Classroom strategies, these skills are also taught and learned. For example, within our SHARE component of Morning Meeting, we teach teachers to scaffold skills of communication. That sharing consists of two very important skills that will feed your day beyond the Morning Meeting…how to be a good speaker and how to be an active listener. These are also skills reflected in the New York State Common Learning Standards for ELA.

Responsive Classroom teachers take their time to teach children the skills of communicating and take special care to meet the developmental needs of their students. A kindergarten teacher may use an “Around the Circle Focused Share” to at first work on getting children to speak publically using just a one word response. (ie. Today we will share our favorite color and children share around the circle Red, Blue, Green, etc.) As children master that skill (ie. Projecting voice, staying on topic, looking at the whole group),  the teacher may then introduce answering in a complete sentence (“My favorite color is blue.”) Later on adding a compound response (My favorite color is blue because….).  Eventually sharing evolves to dialogue shares where children share in a verbal paragraph and stay focused on the topic. Scaffolding the skills and adding pieces as they are ready for more rigorous learning challenges. Don Graves, the guru of writing, says if we want children writing in sentences or paragraphs, we must get them speaking in them first. Responsive Classroom teachers also teach the skills of being an active listener by engaging in children in paraphrasing for what they heard before teaching them how to make high quality open-ended questions or making respectful comments to the sharer. These will be skills that will help throughout their learning day. The goal of Morning Meeting is to give children a predictable routine and ritual to practice and learn social skills on a daily basis and aligns with the guiding principle of “The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.”

In upcoming RC Blogs for the OCM BOCES IS blog, I will plan to further articulate the remaining guiding principles…so stay tuned.

Patrick Shaw
Certified Responsive Classroom trainer through the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive Classroom
Staff Development Specialist – OCM BOCES – Syracuse, NY
(OCM BOCES is one of only a few licensed agency who can provide Responsive Classroom training)

CFU is NOT a Four-Letter Word!

Not according to John Hollingsworth and Silvia Ybarra anyway!  In their book, Explicit Direct Instruction, CFU stands for “Checking for Understanding”. When implemented properly, CFUs become the backbone of effective instruction because, like all good formative assessment, it helps “inform” your instruction.

So, how do we do this?  To check for understanding, teachers ask students questions that are interspersed throughout a lesson. This is to continually verify that students are learning what is being taught while it is being taught.  In this way, teachers can uncover any confusion that may exist and address those misconceptions right away during the lesson.  The pattern should look like this:   Teach and check.  Teach and check.  Teach and check.

Although this sounds quite simple, it can be hard to implement effectively.  That is because most teachers are not in the habit of following the “teach and check” pattern constantly throughout a lesson. However, if you wait to check only when looking a quiz grades, class projects, or state test scores in order to see if they have ‘learned’ what you ‘thought you had taught’, it may be too late to modify your instruction.  In the meantime, students may have been storing misinformation and practicing incorrect skills. Using CFUs will assist teachers in knowing when to speed up, slow down, or reteach a concept or strategy.  Your students’ success on CFUs, in essence, determines the pacing of your lesson.

Checking for understanding every few minutes throughout a lesson helps to guarantee high performance from your students. By continually doing CFUs throughout a lesson, you will have provided additional examples and reteaching in response to the students’ ability to answer your questions.  It also allows you to know that your students can master the homework (their practice) before you assign it. CFUs also help to break up a lesson and make it more engaging and interactive.

It is important that teachers plan what questions they will ask as CFUs.  When a teacher prepares their explicitly designed lesson, these CFUs are strategically placed within the lesson in order to let the teacher know if his or her students understand fully what is being taught.  Critical components of using CFUs effectively are:

  1. The question must be posed to the entire class.
  2. The teacher must provide wait time so that ALL students can think about the question and come up with an answer—even if they are not the ones called upon.
  3. The teacher should always call on a random non-volunteer (If one always calls on the ‘hand waiver’ this will give the teacher a false sense that the entire class is learning.  A teacher can only know if all students are learning by calling on several students in a random fashion).

TAPPLETo help teachers remember an easy way to check for understanding, DataWORKS came up with the acronym TAPPLE.  It stands for:

Teach First
Ask a Question (a specific question about what you just taught them)
Pause (wait time to engage all students so they are mentally preparing to answer)
Pick a Non-Volunteer (use data mining by picking on at least 3 students each time)
Listen to the Response (determine the student’s level of understanding)
Effective Feedback (Echo—when the student response is correct, Elaborate—when the student response is tentative or partially correct, Explain—actually, re-explain, when the student answer is incorrect)   *As a teacher, you always want each child to go away with saying and knowing the correct response!

In our next blog, we will share some examples…some very simple strategies for checking for understanding that teachers can immediately incorporate into tomorrow’s lesson!


Don’t Go There [yet]!

Don't Go There

Now that most of the SLO-setting work has been completed, Lead Evaluators in schools across the state are stepping up their classroom evidence gathering. In some cases this is still done through the traditional preconference/observation/postconference process. Increasingly, however, more frequent mini-observations are taking the place of the “dog and pony shows” of the past. No matter the format, however, evidence is being collected and shared with teachers according to the spirit of the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process in New York.

The basic idea is that evidence is collected by the Lead Evaluator. That evidence is then sorted according to the New York State Teaching Standards using a framework or rubric. Once the evidence has been collected and sorted, it is shared with the teacher and a conversation about that evidence occurs. The best conversations will be growth-producing conversations in which both evaluator and practitioner reflect upon the collected evidence and consider its implications on future practice. The entire process is repeated some number of times across the span of the school year. In the process legislated for New York State, a summative evaluation is also conducted at which time the teacher is given an overall score for the year that is based on some measures of student achievement and a number of points derived from the rubric. That summative score satisfies the requirements of the legislation and accompanying regulations. It’s up to local school districts to implement the process in a way that is about growth-producing feedback and continuous improvement rather than the inauthentic system of fear and inspection that Deming warned us about.

Some districts, however, are making a key mistake, early in the process, that will hamper the process and negatively impact the possibility of the system resulting in continuous improvement, better teaching, and increased student achievement. The mistake that some districts are making might seem like a subtle one but the consequences can be significant. Instead of waiting until the end of the year and using an accumulated collection of evidence from throughout the year that is based on many classroom visits and evidence submissions, they are rating the teacher on the rubric after each episode of evidence collection. This is a mistake and contorts the whole system to be about judgement and labelling rather than growth-producing feedback and continuous improvement.

We are all well aware of the shortcomings of the legislation and the accompanying rules for implementation — rules that were crafted without the context of the field being taken into consideration (20+20+60, for example). Despite that, we can make the best of the situation and make it about improving the teaching and learning process. When we rate teachers every time we see them, however, we are just continuing the old paradigm of judgement rather than shifting to the new, better paradigm of continuous improvement. The experience of districts who have rated teachers on the rubric after each observation unfortunately confirms this. If you rate teachers after every evidence collection the conversations that follow inevitably become conversations about the score rather than conversations about the teaching and learning.

There’s another reason for not scoring the rubric after every episode of evidence collection: the rubrics just don’t work that way. A close read of the NYSUT rubric identifies stems such as: “Teacher provides regular opportunities…” and “Teacher frequently uses…” A close read of the Framework for Teaching (2011) identifies stems such as: “Assessment is regularly…” and “All outcomes represent…” Based on the way these, and other, indicators are phrased it is simply impossible to accurately rate them based on a single episode of evidence collection. To try and do so will result in a lower rating than might otherwise be the case with evidence collected over multiple opportunities. This cannot be avoided because of the way the rubrics are written. It is unfair to rate after every single episode of evidence collection – and fairness is one of the three gates (in addition to reliability and validity) that must remain open if a system of teacher evaluation is going to have a shot and making a difference.

The remedy is simple: don’t go there! Don’t rate teachers until the end of the year when the preponderance of evidence can be compared to the levels on the rubric. It’s still early in our first year of implementation of the system and unless your agreed-upon system clearly requires scoring after every evidence collection episode you can stop the practice immediately and chalk it up to a learning process in which we are all engaged.

Stop judging after every visit. Instead, make it about a process of growth-producing feedback that is designed to continuously improve teaching and increase student learning. That is, after all, what it’s supposed to be about.


Tales from a Traveling Dignity Act Trainer

Dignity SignMy school year has gotten off to an interesting start. I am one of the people from Youth Development who has been training school staff and others about the requirements of the Dignity for All Students Act as part of Dignity Act CoSer. It has not been unusual for me to start my day at 7:30 am with a training session for faculty before school starts and then to end my day at 3:00 at another school with a different faculty. I have heard many stories from many individuals, including teachers, administrators, teaching aides, counselors, bus drivers, and custodians, to name a few. Here are some things I’ve learned in the process:

  • Most faculty and other school employees want to do the right thing with regards to responding to students who have been bullied and harassed. Most of us know that being treated with respect feels SO much better than being ignored or treated poorly.
  • The Dignity Act will NOT make a difference in NY schools if the adults follow the guidelines just because they want to be in compliance with the law. Students can tell the difference between adults who are trying to avoid trouble and/or litigation and those who are genuinely interested in them and their well-being.
  • Schools that approach the Dignity Act as another way to promote a positive school climate will probably have the best outcomes both in terms of decreased levels of bullying and harassment and student achievement. As Dr. Jaana Juvonen from UCLA said in her 2011 study of bullying and academic performance, Ignoring or not being able to “afford” to address social-emotional issues, such as bullying, may be a very short-sighted view of educational progress. . . the connection between students’ peer relationships and their academic performance is irrefutable.


Project-Based Learning Meets the Common Core Learning Standards

Common Core GraphicDuring the past two years we all have been involved in the most dynamic educational reform.  We have been introduced to the New York State Common Learning Standards for ELA and Math.  We learned about the 6 shifts of ELA and Math, how to unwrap the standards, how to plan with the end in mind, how to create common formative interim assessments, how to write our first SLO, and how to create common summative assessments. We are currently waiting to receive the final common learning standards for science (currently in draft form).  Both new and veteran teachers have expressed to me how they have been on a major learning curve with all the changes they have been experiencing.  My job as a staff developer has been to help people take a deep breath, build self-efficacy and assure them that they are not alone.  I don’t think there is one teacher (or administrator) in New York that hasn’t felt the pressures of the dynamic changes we have been experiencing.

I know that all these changes may feel chaotic and messy right now, but I am excited by the potential positive changes these reforms can make on curriculum, instruction, and assessments, not to mention the learning environment as a whole.  Some changes I foresee are schools that make grade level collaboration a common practice, where teachers meet regularly to articulate clearly what it is their students need to KNOW and be able DO.  Where assessments are developed collaboratively to gather data and are created first before the learning experiences.  Where students are given “I statements” to simplify the standards into words they can understand so they can be self-reflective as to where they are in the goal(s) of learning.

I have often heard from teachers that there is just “too much to teach”, but when it comes to the New Common Learning Standards there are FEWER standards as compared to the old standards, so there is less we will need to teach. This gives us the permission to re-evaluate our curriculum and cut out the things that no longer fit which in turn gives us more time to go deeper into conceptual understanding. The new CCLS are written more clearly so they can agree upon what it is that children need to know and do. Lastly, the CCLS are written at a higher and more rigorous level so that we can create more challenging and engaging learning experiences that will foster career and college readiness for the 21st Century.

With all these pieces of new learning, I feel that Project-Based learning is how we can mesh all these reforms. While I was at the EdLeader21 conference in Denver, the Executive Director from the Buck Institute for Education, John Mergendoller, spoke about how “the Common Core is the WHAT and Project-Based Learning is the HOW”. This is sometimes still difficult for teachers to make the shift from developing a project that is standards referenced to one that is standards based. When my colleague Penny Williams and I work with teachers to develop their first “main course” project-based learning experience, we notice that often times teachers come with a project in mind and then search through the standards to see what standards they are hitting with the project. That is being standards referenced. But the shift we need to see to be standards based is to start first with a priority standard or two (ie. significant content). We often encourage teachers to also include one of the literacy standards to be part of the project too. Once the priority standard(s) are chosen, teachers need to collaborate to unwrap the standard so that what students need to know and do is clear. Once teachers are clear with the expectations of the priority standard, they then begin to think about a real life project and driving question that would clearly assess what it is that students need to know and do.  This backward design allows teachers to develop mini-lessons and formative assessments that will need to take place along the way to inform them and the student as to where they are in growth toward the standard. Scaffolding and differentiation can happen to meet the needs of all learners. Project-Based learning also embeds 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity within the context of the project and offers teachers opportunities to assess them along the way.

Project-Based learning is the “HOW” to connect learning and understanding to the “What” of the standards. When teachers take the time to plan a standard based/project-based experience, students will be more actively engaged in their learning. The end product of the project will offer the teacher an alternative way to summatively assess where their students are in regard to the standards.

Patrick Shaw, Staff Development Specialist
OCM BOCES – Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
Twitter: @pshaw63

Of or For?

Popham VideoFor much of the summer and early fall, we have been focused on development of student learning objectives (SLO) and related summative assessments.  We had teams collaborating across the region to create over 71 different assessments. Teachers entered the task thoughtfully and strived to capture the priority learning from content and CCLS standards. Learning standards were examined for common understanding on what students need to know and do. Once articulated, learning targets could be identified with corresponding assessment items. Now that summative assessments are identified, we need to attend to what types, intervals and formats our interim assessments take. These assessments look at how students are progressing towards the end goal. What are the learning targets along the way? And how do we share them with students? Expressing such targets in “I can” language personalizes and assists us to put the learning targets into student friendly language- that is appropriate for the age of the student. So for example:  I can identify key ideas and information within a text or I can recognize cause and effect relationships.

Once we have identified the learning target it is time to really delve into formative assessment. The simplest way in my mind to differ between the summative and formative assessment is that formative assessment is FOR learning. Summative assessment is OF learning. Both answer questions- just different questions! Summative addresses- was instruction effective? Formative answers what might need to be done next to foster student learning? It is important to know that an assessment may be designed as formative but if the results are not used to inform and guide instructional decisions, that assessment is in fact a summative assessment. James Popham provides an overview for us.

One of the most striking components of assessment research is the magnitude of effect that formative assessment can have on student learning. Check out the research of Black and Wiliam, or Stiggins. What might formative assessment look like? Most teachers are using formative assessment on a daily basis – strategies like response boards, ticket out the door, journaling, graphic organizers, mind maps, summaries, and 321 are all commonly used. A review of formative assessment and selected strategies can be found in Just Ask October 2012 Newsletter.


Text Complexity Tools for the Common Core

As promised, we are continuing our discussion of text complexity in this blog post since it is an issue of utmost importance when preparing students for success in meeting the Common Core Standards. In our last blog, we encouraged readers to break out Appendix B and re-examine its contents in an effort to better understand the type of text students are expected to encounter at specific grade levels.

Many teachers are still struggling with the basic questions: What is text complexity? What does it mean for my content area? How do I know if a text is complex? The resources shared with New York teachers on EngageNY (and referenced below) come from the Council of Chief State School Officers.

A four-step process is recommended to assist teachers in determining a text’s appropriate placement on the text complexity band:

artStep 1: Determine the quantitative measures of the text
Quantitative measures refer to those aspects of text that are routinely identified through computer software such as sentence length, word difficulty, word frequency, and the like. Any number of tools can be used to determine the readability of a text. Two common resources are Lexile Analyzer and AR BookFinder .

Step 2:   Analyze the qualitative measures of the text
Qualitative measures are best attended to by an attentive human being and not a computer program. These features include such things as the purpose of a text, its language conventionality and clarity, text structure, and the knowledge demands required of the reader. Qualitative rubrics for Informational Text and Literary Text are helpful tools in this stage of the process.

Step 3:  Reflect upon the Reader and Task considerations
The third step also requires a human touch: the professional judgment of the teacher. In this phase, teachers need to consider a variety of questions concerning students’ cognitive capabilities, reading skills, and motivation and engagement with the text.

Step 4: Recommend placement in the appropriate text complexity band
Once all three steps have been considered, teachers can make informed decisions concerning the level and grade band a text should be placed. To find a blank template (referred to as a “placemat”) for use in recording final recommendations of a text’s placement, click here.

Teachers seeking to better understand text complexity and its impact on instruction will need practice in looking at text using the descriptors provided. A PowerPoint detailing how the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was analyzed for placement using qualitative, quantitative, and reader & task measures can be found on EngageNY.

If you are looking for support for your instructional team on how best to address text complexity, contact the OCM BOCES Network Team at

Renee M. Burnett,
OCM BOCES Network Team

Resetting STEM Education

Science ClassOn May 11, 2012 the first draft of the New Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released.  We, the public, had three weeks to deliver feedback to “Achieve,” who is leading this writing endeavor.  This was a tireless process, and took much time and patience to accurately submit feedback.

As one of those who spent considerable time with colleagues preparing feedback to submit, I was very interested in what reviewers had to say. Peter Ahearn, a K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District in California, had the opportunity to speak directly with one of the California state writers about what happened to the feedback that was submitted, and shared this information with others in the science community. According to Peter, the reviewer said that there were 30,000 public notes submitted on the standards. The specific notes were given to the authors of that standard set.  Some comments, such as “I don’t like this” or “this is awesome,” were ignored.

According to Peter, once the public review was complete there were additional review sessions held by professional college faculty groups, such as the American Physical Society. These groups were asked if the standards prepared students for college. The reviewer he spoke to was not aware if industry groups assessed the standards for career readiness. Since the standards are supposed to help students become college and career ready, we can only hope this was done!

Among a variety of other things, the new standards are intended to place a broader emphasis on the process and practice of the scientific enterprise. This is reinforced by the fact that the first “Dimension of the Framework” on which the standards are based is entitled “Practices,” and is meant to describe how scientists work; something people have long awaited!  Keep in mind that the NGSS are based on the National Research Council’s (NRC) Framework for K–12 Science Education.  These new standards will be the first update since the original National Science Education Standards were released in 1996.  I am excited and happy to hear that our feedback is being used to improve the standards, and am hopeful that the new standards will be out by December 2012.   I firmly believe that the Next Generation Science Standards will help to reset STEM education.


Learning Objectives and English Language Learners

SI artThose of you who read my last blog entry Bilinguals Emerging, remember that I promised to write next about “sheltered instruction”.  Sheltered instruction is a complex framework for content teachers to meet the needs of their English Language Learners. It begins with an attitude that all teachers should and can work to meet the needs of ELLs. In the classroom, the teacher implementing sheltered instruction can implement a variety of strategies connected to comprehensible input, student interaction, building background and more. Before you can implement the instructional strategies, though, you need to plan lessons to include the needs of ELLs by identifying language objectives. Continue reading