Save the Planet! Use Fewer Binders!

BindersNote: This is update of an earlier post titled: ISLLC Win-Win (September 19, 2012) The principal evaluation system of New York State is built on a foundation of the ISLLC Standards (2008). No matter which rubric, no matter the system used in a district, the law requires that principals are evaluated on all of the ISLLC Standards each year:

  1. Setting a widely shared vision for learning
  2. Developing a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth
  3. Ensuring effective management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment Continue reading

Guiding Principle #2 of the Responsive Classroom®

Responsive 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 #2: How children learn is as important as what they learn.

According to the 2004 Presenter’s Handbook, NEFC.
“The key is a balance between content and process.  Knowledge cannot be attained if the instructional process is too laissez-faire or too constrictive. Teacher-directed learning and student-initiated learning are both important.  Inquiry-based learning needs to be balanced with more didactic approaches.

In order for children to learn, they must have a chance to be active, try things out, and discover for themselves.  Scientific research in learning tells us that children learn best when they construct their own learning through trial, error, and reworking.  Think about how you learn even as an adult.  You learn best when you care about what you’re learning, have some choice about what you’re learning, have the opportunity to practice again and again in a safe environment, make mistakes and correct them for yourself, or go after the answers on your own.  These are the ingredients of successful learning.

The best learning comes from a balance of teacher-directed and child-initiated experiences that are relevant to children’s lives.  Children become lifelong learners when they experience interest and ownership in learning and when the learning has immediate and concrete connections to their lives.

The idea from Melvin Konner’s book Childhood: A Multicultural View reflects this same principle in yet another way.  Konner writes, ‘In order for children to be treated fairly and equally, they must be treated differently.’

Barbara Rogoff, in Apprenticeship in Thinking, states from her research that ‘the purpose of thinking is to act effectively.  How children learn in school teaches them how to approach learning in life.’

Elliot Eisner says, ‘Learning goes from hand to head, not the other way around.’ ” (NEFC, 2004)

These words validate the Responsive Classroom practice of Academic Choice.  This model allows teachers to offer choices for students in the “What” (content) and/or the “How” (process) and follows the natural learning cycle.  This would be an easy thing to do with all the work we have been doing unpacking the new CCLS.  We have been underlining nouns (the what) and the verbs (the how) in the common standards so that we are clear with what children need to know and be able to do.  Using academic choice around these standards, would offer teachers a way to design active and interactive learning experiences to engage the mind of the learners.  In academic choice teachers use 3 phases: Planning, Working and Reflecting.  These phases give children a predictable choice structure that fosters independent and collaborative learning.  It can be used to practice a skill, to learn or review content or to culminate and/or assess learning.   This structure also aligns with William Glasser’s book Choice Theory in the Classroom.

Principle #2 of the Responsive Classroom also aligns well with the work I also do in Project-Based learning.  Within this structure of learning, teachers design a standards based project where children have an opportunity for voice and choice and are engaged with a real life project that works toward answering a driving question.  The model gives students opportunities to work independently, collaboratively, in whole and/or small group instruction and with community experts.  There may be multiple ideas to support findings of the driving question.

Lastly, principle #2 also aligns well with what I know about Howard Gardner’s work in the Multiple Intelligences and Eric Jensen’s brain research.  Jensen believes that we need to get children moving more and talking more in their learning environments.  I found this RSA-Animate on YouTUBE interesting in regard to what we know about the “Divided Brain”.

I feel the new common core learning standards (CCLS) and standard-based planning is trying to move learning to more conceptual understanding or right brain.  New York State is trying to shift classrooms to constructivist learning environments where children can take risks, make mistakes and re-work to improve outcomes or products.   I feel this is exciting and also very much needed for the “digitally wired” society of students we are now teaching in the 21st Century.  Classrooms need to be more hands-on, engaging, differentiated, and purposefully connected to the real world for these digital natives. The will never fit in a traditional analogue classroom, due to their experiences growing up in a digital world.  This generation of students is not passive learner as we might have been growing up.  This is a generation of children that will be looking to control their learning.  Knowing how children learn is going to have to be as important as what they learn in the 21st Century.
Engage Me Video

Next month’s RC BLOG will focus on Principle #3.

Shaw_PatrickPatrick 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 a licensed agency for Responsive Classroom training by the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive Classroom)

Popsicle Sticks and Non-Volunteers

Untitled-2When working with teachers on the tenants of explicit direct instruction, we spend a good deal of time talking about how to formatively assess and do quick checks for understanding in the classroom.  One of the things that capture the teachers’ attention is the very simple task of calling on “non-volunteers”.

Many of the teachers I worked with admitted that they often call on those students with their hand raised. The teachers said that they would listen to the answer, look around the room, maybe even ask, “Any questions?” and when met with no response, move on. Every student heard the answer to the question…so now they know it too, right??  There were no questions asked, no puzzled looks…so the rest of the students must surely understand also…right?? That is often not the case.  Students have learned that their teacher is going to call on the one’s whose hands are raised and who eagerly want to reply.  So, the less eager student can ‘tune out’.  They may not even listen to the question or may not have any idea of the correct response, and yet the lesson continues on.

When we do quick checks for understanding we want to elicit proof that ALL of our students have a grasp of what we have been teaching them during the lesson.  A great way to engage all learners is by creating an environment where your students have to listen and take part in the lesson.  You can simply do that by asking questions every few minutes and soliciting responses from non-volunteers.  One easy way to do this is to put each of your student’s names on a Popsicle/craft stick and put them in a cup.  Pull out sticks randomly to call for responses from your students on the questions that you raise several times during the lesson. It is also good to call on several students for the same question.  You can see if they agree on the answer or you can ask them to go into more depth with their responses. As the teacher, you can correct any misconceptions and make sure that they all hear and echo the correct response. Make sure to put the stick with the student’s name on it back into the cup though.  We want to send the message that each student could be called on at any given time and therefore they must always be listening!

Several teachers in one of the schools that I work with decided that they would give this a try.  It is an easy strategy that they could leave my training with and put into place the very next day.  When I met with them again a month later, they were amazed at the results.  They found it fascinating that so many more kids were paying attention to the lesson.  The teachers also found out that they were much better able to assess what kids grasped the information and to what extent.  Students never knew when they would be called upon, so they had to really listen.  Many teachers reported that their students were much more engaged in those lessons and many students even asked for the Popsicle sticks to be used!

Of course, you can use other methods to call on non-volunteers.  Some teachers put their student’s names on chart and call on students randomly.  They can also use the chart to gather data on each of their students.  Some teachers put the names on an index card or on a piece of paper folded up and tossed around in a bag. If you like technology, there are random generators that can be used.  When the computer picks a student’s name, it pops up on the screen and that child would then answer your question.  By using different means to randomly select students the kids think it is fun and the teacher gains more information on what each of the students has learned or remembers. Here are a few websites that will help you randomly pick students’ names:

Siobhan O’Hora

December 2012 Connecticut School Shooting Position Statement

We are seeing a call to action in our nation.  Please read the position statement below regarding the Connecticut School Shooting that has been authored by many scholars in the field.

Join us for a conversation in Central New York on January 10th at BOCES.
Click on this link to register through MLP

Looking forward to being advocates for our children and youth in this challenging times.

December 2012 Connecticut School Shooting Position Statement

Nine school violence prevention researchers and practitioners nationwide have developed a position statement on the Dec. 14, 2012 Connecticut school shootings that is being disseminated across the U.S. today. It is in response to the tragic acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School and updates the School Shootings Position Statement that was disseminated nationally following the tragic school-related shootings of 2006.

Today’s position statement has been endorsed by more than 100 professional organizations representing well over 4 million professionals, such as the American Federation of Teachers, multiple divisions of the American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), National Education Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health America. Additionally, more than 100 nationally recognized researchers and practitioners have endorsed this statement, including deans of several major university colleges of education and social work.

Additional organizations will be posting the document or providing links to it on their websites. The position statement is also being disseminated via professional listservs and is being published in several professional newsletters.

Nine researchers and practitioners from multiple fields of study who have worked in the area of school safety since the 1980s have prepared this position statement. The driving force behind the statement was to communicate scientifically informed principles and recommendations for practitioners, policymakers and the public at large. The co-authors’ goal is to help build consensus on a course of meaningful action.

The position statement and a complete list of organizations endorsing it is posted at:


Historical Thinking: Now ≠ Then or Time is of the Essence

TAH-CartoonRemember when you were little and school vacations seemed to last forever?  When the day before your birthday would never end? When the clock seemed to speed up on Sunday nights and bedtime always came too soon? As children, we understood time relative to what was going on in our lives.  Even as an adult, I find points in my life when time seems to crawl and others when it seems to fly by so fast that I am wishing for a few more hours in a day, a few more days in a week.

Our understanding of the concept of time is obviously central to how we learn and think about history.  How do children develop their understanding of the time as it relates to the past and history?  Many elementary teachers have told me that their students have no concept of time.  I think that children do have an understanding of time in reference to their own lives and their patterns of home, school, play, lunch, weekends, and so on.  I know with my own children that I often made reference to something familiar when they asked how long something would take, or how long I would be gone at the store.  “It will be as long as a “Sesame Street and a Barney,” for an hour and a half.  They knew how long those programs lasted and could understand that length of time.

When we study history however, the span of time is much longer – longer even than students have been alive.  Decades, centuries, eras, ages, periods, and so on are the labels we put on historical time that don’t match students’ everyday connection to time.  Often our historical labels of time do not even link to a conventional understanding of dates.  According to researcher Peter Lee, “Notoriously, a century in history is not necessarily a hundred years when used as an adjective (as in ‘eighteenth-century music’)…historians clump and partition segments of time not as bits of time but as events, processes, and states of affairs that appear to belong together from certain perspectives.”[i]  So, while students try to understand the past from their perspective of “everyday” time, historians are using an understanding of time that is linked to their knowledge of the history and the themes they have chosen to pay attention to.  Bit of a Catch-22 situation: to understand historical time, you have to understand history and to understand history, you have to understand historical time.  No wonder students, especially young children may get confused!  Up until students are high school (and sometimes even then) understanding of time in the historical sense can be problematic.

So what are ways we can help students develop ideas about historical time?  I think being aware that our students may not understand the span and sweep of historical time as we do is a major first step.  We must understand what preconceptions (and, perhaps, misconceptions) they have about historical time and make sure that we provide support for their thinking.  Some other ways we can help students, particularly in elementary grades, develop their ideas about historical time:

  • TimelineRepresent time through the use of sources.  We can provide students with visual representation of how things change over time.  Have students create a personal timeline with artifacts.  Create one of your own so that students can see that yours will be longer. There are also several online timeline tools that could be useful in creating personal and historical timelines.  The site also has links to video tutorials on how to use the timeline tools for those of us who are less technologically adept.
  • Use the language of time.  Key vocabulary such as before, after, next, last, first, year, decade, century, and period, needs to be explicitly and clearly taught.
  • Use story to explore concepts of time. Use fiction and nonfiction to show how authors show the passage of time with flashbacks or temporal ellipses (omission of periods of time).
  • Ask questions. Teachers can model asking questions of sources to get at concepts of time.  For example, How can we tell which of these objects might have been used a long time ago? Can we put these pictures or objects in order and explain our choice, with the oldest first and the most recent last? Which of these things might your grandparents have used? What does this tell us about when your grandparents were young? What are the newest/oldest things we can see here?
  • Relate time to mathematics. Help students see the connection between concepts of historical time and mathematic, such as clock reading, calendar skills and measurement.
  • Use the students’ environment.  Help students see evidence of change over time in the buildings and infrastructure that surround them.  You could also use photos of familiar places, then and now, such as the photos below of Clinton Square in Syracuse in 1904 and present day.  You can find a wealth of similar historical pictures at the Library of Congress site, Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920.

Image1  Image2
So, don’t let time pass you by. The time is ripe to consider taking it one day at a time to provide our students with the time they need to understand time.  All in good time!


[i] Lee, Peter. “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History.” In How Students Learn: History in the Classroom. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 42.

The Pie of Life

YD_PieChartI recently attended a seminar called:  “Managing Emotions under Pressure,” put on by Career Track.  The presenter grabbed my attention when she began to talk about life being like a pie.  Since I really like pie, I listened more intently.  She cut the pie into 8 sections and labeled each section with a part of our life.   (See the diagram)  Then she asked us to prioritize our sections beginning with the most important and on down.  I thought, I can do this and have done a similar exercise in the past.  But, the twist came when she asked us to rate our happiness in each area.  This helped me see that some of my priorities in life are unhappy.  Conflict!  What do I do?  How can I change all the areas with lower “Happiness ratings?”  This stresses me out just thinking about it.  Until…

Solution…Take one area of your life and bump up the happiness quotient.   I can do this…So, I committed to journaling for 10 minutes per day.  I express my thoughts openly and honestly and will burn these journals at the end of the year.

So, what does your Pie of Life look like?  Priorities?  Happiness Ratings?

Take one area and do one thing.  Enjoy the journey!

Penny S. Williams, Youth Development Coordinator

Holiday Fun at the Holiday Inn: November Network Team Institute, Albany, NY

ConferenceHundreds of educators from across New York State continued their travels after the Thanksgiving holidays to attend the Network Team Institute in Albany. This four-day extravaganza included experts from the field of ELA, David Liben, and Math, Andrew Chen. Additionally, trainers from Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning, O’Dell Education, and Common Core, Inc. were on hand to showcase additions to the New York ELA and Math modules that are slowly being rolled out across the state. The mantra surrounding these modules is still the same: Schools can “adopt, adapt, or refer to” these modules as they implement curriculum requirements connected to the Common Core Learning Standards.

ELA Updates (K-2):
ReneeCore Knowledge returned for Round 2 with primary educators eager to have answers to the many questions lingering from the August NTI session (most notably how the NYLA modules fit into balanced literacy programs that are entrenched in districts across the state). Educator and researcher, David Liben, was on hand to share his white paper outlining how the Common Core Standards merge with existing literacy practices in the early grades. The following chart outlines a literacy framework that many in the audience were relieved to see addressed the concern of students having a lack of opportunities to interact with “just right” texts.Chart

With concerns about an incomplete framework seemingly addressed, Core Knowledge trainers took to the stage in the afternoon to share the Foundational  Skills strand of the NYLA modules. Participants were entreated to sample unit lessons, vocabulary frameworks, and writing tasks embedded in the modules.  Modules are still incomplete, but the expected time frame for all materials and resources to be available to districts is by early summer of 2013. Currently available materials can be found here under NYS Curriculum Modules.

ELA Updates (6-8):
Days 3 and 4 of the Network Team Institute were led by Expeditionary Learning, the vendor behind the creation of the Grades 3-5 ELA modules. Expeditionary Learning recently partnered with O’Dell Education, the originators of the 6-12 ELA modules, to provide professional development and ensure alignment across grade levels. These modules are built upon one premise: Making evidence-based claims about complex texts. The modules consist of a series of lessons which feature the following components: engaging informational texts (connected to Social Studies); key literacy skill building; guidance and flexibility for teachers; and strategic support for students.

Within each lesson, students are taken through a five-part process:

  • Introducing Evidence-Based Claims
  • Making Evidence-Based Claims
  • Organizing Evidence-Based Claims
  • Writing Evidence-Based Claims
  • Developing Evidence-Based Writing

Lessons contain both teacher and student materials needed to complete the unit, including graphic organizers, rubrics, and even a model written evidence-based claim.  Again, the modules are still “under construction” and won’t be completed until the summer of 2013. However, the materials currently available on EngageNY  (click on the grade level you wish to see) could serve as pilots teachers test drive over the course of the remaining school year.

By Renee M. Burnett

ELA Updates (9-12):
Keim_Joanne_SMALLExpeditionary Learning’s curriculum co-director, Cheryl Dobbertin, helped participants shift their thinking to a growth mindset of “rigor, complexity, expertise and change” over 2 intensive days of immersion in the ELA/Literacy shifts.  By focusing on close reading of complex text and developing student’s ability to make evidence-based claims, participants learned how the 6 shifts in ELA/Literacy can be incorporated into classroom lessons at the secondary level.  These strategies not only meet the demands of the Common Core Learning Standards, they also help close the achievement gap by focusing on improving learning for all students and college and career readiness.  Classroom teachers, administrators and Network Team members met in Research Teams to explore text complexity, text-based questions, and evidence-based claims.   The Research Team model is an instructional strategy that draws participants into the reading, writing, thinking and speaking pieces of the Common Core Learning Standards.  Participants were given the opportunity to explore a grade level module as they read and then re-read a nonfiction narrative piece to make a claim and then find evidence from the text to back that claim.  ELA Modules, written by Odell Education, are available on the EngageNY website (see above link).  Take a look and explore what is available at your grade level!

By Joanne Keim

Math Updates (PreK-5):
JillTwo full, information packed days were all about the first two modules that are ready and on the EngageNY website. Second grade, module 3 and Fifth grade, module 3 were released. The sessions began with a review of the 6 shifts that are now three. Fluency, Deep Understanding, Application and Dual Intensity are now under the umbrella of Rigor. Great that we now know what should be in a rigorous lesson! The modules that are ready for release definitely include all aspects of the 3 shifts, with lessons spiraling nicely into progressively harder tasks. There are also additional sections that explain how to adapt lessons to meet the needs of special ed students, ELL students, as well as, below and above grade level students. The Second Grade module is all about addition and subtraction, while the Fifth Grade module is all about fractions. Definitely worth a look!

By Jill Fendt

Shut up & Listen

ShutUpStudent engagement is critical as we move students through the Project Based Learning experience.  How do we capture students, hold students attention and prepare them for the transition to the world after high school?

I recently listened to a TED presentation by Ernesto Sirolli entitled “Want to Help Someone? Shut up and Listen,” about how we as supporters of world development need to listen to the “natives” in order to respond to their needs instead of giving them a “product” that we think they need.  This made me think about the students that we work with.  Am I truly listening to their needs, wants, and/or desires?  I’m purporting that we first need to listen and listen carefully to our students’ voices.  This will capture students.

When needing to hold their attention, we need to have differentiated instruction that is accomplished through a well-planned PBL unit.  Focusing on essential standards and building a project with student voice and choice is critical.

And finally, through student engagement and involvement the transition to “the world” will be easier.  They will know how to engage in their own learning, seek answers to difficult questions and be an active participant in life-long learning.

What are your experiences, ideas, and comments?  What have you found that captures motivates and prepares student for life?  Thanks for letting me know.

Penny S. Williams,  Youth Development Coordinator, PBL Trainer

Shapes of Things to Come…

Ovals artPatrick Shaw and I are in the midst of working with a great group of teachers in Standards Based Planning. We use Instruction for All as a text and within that resource we learn and talk about ovals. The author, Paula Rutherford provides a schema of four- really five ovals to assist our thinking about being standards based. Becoming standard based is a framework to assist educators in meeting New York State Teaching Standards for APPR, meeting state expectations for student outcomes and for school data inquiry.  In other words, “ovals” can help guide the work of implementing the Race to the Top Reform.

First for oval one, teacher teams work to decide what the priority or power standards are and how to define them. Larry Ainsworth’s work, among others, has guided our process. Working into the task analysis oval, we then unwrap or unpack the standard into what the student needs to know and do. Looking at context, vertical expectations, sample state test items, and student previous experiences we can determine the learning targets or “I can” statements.

These learning targets then lead us into oval two.  Here the assessments are designed (yes, before instruction is begun)!  What will the summative assessment ask of students?  What cognitive levels are we looking for?  When and how will we need data from formative assessment?  Design of assessment precedes design of instruction. Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic’s text Common Formative Assessment has been instrumental in guiding us through the process.

It is only after we have clear articulation of expectations of success and how that is to be measured in relation to the standards and learning targets that we can move into instructional design. In the third oval, we start to examine how the learning experiences will be structured. How will material be presented? How will students make sense and practice learning? How will we incorporate 21st Century skill development? How are we mindful about incorporating the instructional shifts? How we will design instruction for those who already possess extraordinary background experience and knowledge? How we will design instruction for those who have gaps in experience and background knowledge?  As we gather formative assessment data along the way, how will we incorporate opportunities to address what the data tells us about our students learning to date?

This leads us right into oval four.  What do we do with the data and how do we refine our teaching and learning experiences?  This process and way of thinking does take great mental energy in planning and designing instruction.  Reflection, collaboration, and clear articulation of what we will accomplish with our students is how we as an educational community can work towards meeting high expectations.


WRITING – Kick it up a notch with Barry Lane!

Barry Lane

Barry Lane is the author of But How Do You Teach Writing?

Teachers, check out the Teacher Resource section of Barry Lane’s website where you’ll find a selection of writing lesson ideas as well as free handouts and articles. The site is a great place to find engaging writing lesson ideas that students will really enjoy. Also, be sure to have your students check out the student section of this website where they can enter writing contests, possibly winning a prize and having their writing featured online. So take a minute to discover writing again with Barry Lane.

Lisa Schlegel
Literacy Programs Department