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October 11, 2017

RISE Professional Learning, Quarter 2: Supporting Argumentative Writing

Educators at RISE Academy for Adult Achievement gathered this week to explore how they might better support high-quality student writing. Participants began by engaging with materials from the Vermont Writing Collaborative's resources for In Common. Using the CCR Standards and samples of student writing, teachers defined high-quality writing for all students.  Participants then engaged with reading & writing tasks that support high-quality writing. Using the article, How Social Emotional Learning Transforms Classrooms", educators used the RISE Annotation Guide to explore the content and evidence in the text. Next, folks worked in groups to design evidence ranking and scaffolded paragraph tasks based on the article. Finally, participants explored their curriculum maps and added evidence-based writing tasks to better support all students. Materials for these sessions (including the deck, strategy handouts, students samples, and article) can  be found in this folder.

August 17, 2017

Skills Packets Won't Help You Now (or ever...)

Recently, I was talking to some adult education folks about needed revisions to their High School Equivalency courses. It quickly became an opportunity to discuss the importance of ensuring the Instructional Shifts lived in all of our instructional materials and classroom practices...

High School Equivalency (HSE) courses are mostly test-prep, designed to helps students take and pass various HSE exams (such as the GED, HiSET, or TASC). Until the recent past, these tests were built around skills assessment. With the adoption of the CCR Standards for Adult Education by most programs throughout the US, this has markedly changed. These HSE exams are now largely knowledge-based tests. GED’s website states the exam has four subjects and tests in the following areas: “Math - Quantitative & algebraic problem solving; Science - Life science, physical science, earth and space science; Social Studies - Civics and government, U.S. history, economics, geography and the world; Reasoning Through Language Arts - Ability to read closely, write clearly, and edit and understand written text”.  Gone are the days that skills packets have any hope of preparing adult education students to pass the GED (did they really ever?). As a test of knowledge, HSE preparation courses must be based on the learning of content through the reading of complex text and engagement with corresponding tasks. Skills packets won't help you now.

To be ready to take and pass any HSE exam, students will need some amount of background knowledge in and familiarity with the various content areas and disciplines mentioned above. Therefore, programs must provide test preparation in the form of content and text-based materials that provide not only valuable knowledge in the areas of literature and science but also some familiarity with question types and test-taking strategies. (And even better yet, in doing so programs are in line with the Instructional Shifts necessitated by CCSS and CCRS). Listed below are some examples of what HSE test prep courses and practices might look like in an alternative environment (a word of warning, lots of exemplars here from RISE Academy!):
  • Examples of how to create instructional block around both test-preparation and building of various knowledge types can be seen the HSE 100 Literacy course materials developed by RISE Academy for Adult Achievement, available here. Designated for use in a single, 8-week HSE course (for the high school equivalency tests: TASK, HiSET, or GED), these materials focus on the literacy, content, and test-taking needs for students signed-up for any non-math HSE test.
  • Examples of providing targeted, differentiated HSE prep for students not yet ready to enroll in RISE's HSE 100 Lit course (students with low level TABE results), students have the opportunity to take 1 to 2 quarters of HSE 90 (HSE 90 1 or HSE 90 2) prior to enrolling in HSE 100. These 90 courses have a similar literacy, content, and test-taking preparation focus as the 100 courses, but provide materials at a lower reading level to meet students’ needs.
  • If further, more elaborate, content area focus is needed, programs often provide single content area courses as a preparation (for either Adult High School Diploma or HSE preparation). See example of US Government course maps from RISE.
  • As a resources for teachers across various content areas, RISE has created and implemented across different courses these academic literacy strategies. Professional development has been provided for each and all have been strategically placed in various RISE curriculum maps to support reading, writing, and speaking about complex text.

August 4, 2017

Professional Learning framed by HQ Materials and College and Career Readiness Standards

For many of us, summer is nearly over. Le sigh.

As the school year approaches, many educators are putting the final pieces of this year's professional learning into place. My early August is no different. For much of this summer, I have worked RISE Academy to help them draft course curriculum maps and plain their roll-out this Fall. (These maps are a collaborative, multi-year, responsive effort to better support teachers to use instructional materials and strategies aligned to both the CCRS and the needs of their adult students.) Though this work could be a series of posts all on its own, I want to pivot away from the importance of high-quality curriculum and talk a little about the implementation of high-quality curriculum.

If a central purpose of using high-quality curriculum is to help students better meet the expectations in college and career readiness standards, then using teachers should have a working knowledge of those standards and the shift in instruction they imply. Without such a base of understanding, mis-using curriculum and no significant change in student learning is likely to be the result. Simply put, we cannot teach to standards we do not know.

Before we all get excited about the idea of unpacking standards (please don't), consider how valuable it is for teachers to see the standards and their instructional shifts paired with examples of student learning aligned to these expectation.  Whether teachers are new to their learning about the CCSS or this is their 1000th time around the sun, providing the opportunity to experience how high-quality instructional materials make achieving the rigorous standards possible (and fun!) in the classroom is not to be missed.

Making the assumption that there has already been a cohesive process for adopting materials  (this being the most obvious place to start), the next step might be to design professional learning that pairs the ELA-Literacy standards  and their Instructional Shifts (or Key Advances for my adult education friends) with exemplars from your adopted, high-quality materials. Such an approach provides an overview of the Standards and Instructional Shifts writ large, and then moves on to exploring each shift's definition and supporting research paired with a high quality example (or examples) from instructional resources. Places to see examples of materials are linked below. For each, be sure to include examples and work time with excerpts from your adopted HQ materials.



All of this learning is in the service of supporting teachers to better understand the design and purpose of the instructional materials they will be using in their classrooms. This learning, while a critical place to start, does not then replace the times teachers will need for orientation to new the new materials, the worthwhile (and continually necessary) common planning time, nor the PLCs teachers might for to review student work. Implementing new and high-quality curriculum is a heavy, ongoing, and worthwhile lift. Giving teachers a common understanding to start this worthwhile work from is key to its success.


June 29, 2017

The Importance of Curriculum....Again

Curricular materials on the brain. All. Summer. Long. I'm currently working on a song I am going to title, "The Curricular Materials of Summer" (some credit will certainly go to Don Henley). My last two posts were about the importance of curriculum (if you are so inclined, check out Part One and Part Two). This post is more about what a school or district might do after a review of current materials reveals they are not providing the highest quality materials to teachers.

So, you have reviewed your curricular materials and found them lacking. The good news is, you are not alone and you now have the opportunity to improve the materials provided to teachers and students. Perhaps you are so lucky as to be approaching an adoption cycle and can easily send out the bad and welcome in the good. Alternatively, you may be able to use supplemental materials without great objection (to replace materials that have been found sub-par). Or perhaps you have decided, without formal permission, that #materialsmatter so you are going to be sure that teachers have quality materials to support quality instruction.

Whatever the case,  you now need to review available materials and select one to use locally.

  • Step One: Be sure that you are using a reliable tool to vet available curricular materials. This toolkit, developed in partnership between the CCSSO, SAP, and Achieve, should inform the reliability of your tool. (Though, real talk, I don't see why you would devise your own tool in house. Use the IMET for whole curricula or the EQuIP Rubric for lessons and units so you can get on with the worthwhile work of reviewing and selecting.) 
  • Step Two: Collect curricular candidates. The reviews posted on EdReports can by very helpful in guiding the selection of the pool of possibilities. These reviews are a great guide that can compliment - not replace -the work a team does when reviewing & selecting resources. 
  • Step Three: Get a critical group of folks together to conduct the materials review. This process might, day I say, include educators, parents, and students and should certainly be completed far in advance of adoption
  • Step Four: Complete the review. Give yourselves a few days, have some folks in the room who can guide and support the teams' review work, and be ready to have some serious conversations. Don't forget to include snacks & have fun!

A note about material type...As we move through the start of the 21st century, Open Education Resources are increasingly becoming an attractive option for many school districts looking to supplement or replace current curricular materials (check out some great materials available through OpenUp, Louisiana BelievesUnboundEd, and EngageNY). There are also quality programs that exist for purchase. Whatever you choose, remember that nothing is free. What one district might save in upfront costs adopting OER materials, they will need to reinvest in implementation and on-going strategic support. As one curriculum director I recently spoke with pointed out, "We must be better stewards of our funding. The three million dollars that used to buy boxes of curriculum should now cover printing costs, the purchase of core books, educator training, and ongoing implementation support for schools and teachers." Amen to that.

This leads us to the the next obvious question - now what?! Now that you have adopted high-quality materials, how do you strategically support educators as they do the hard work of making those good materials come to life in the classroom? Stay tuned, friends, stay tuned.

PS - As new curricular materials come to market remember anyone can make a sticker that says "Common Core Aligned". A cautionary tale is helpful here about a publisher who was able to magically align and un-align materials with just such a sticker.  After affixing a "Common Core Aligned" sticker to all their materials, the publisher had to quickly remove the stickers when they realized the state they were currently selling their materials in had not adopted the standards.  The real magic trick of high quality review is obviously harder to complete than placing and peeling-off stickers.

June 26, 2017

The Importance of Curriculum, Part Two

As I said last week, I have curriculum on the brain. If you do too, check out this post's 'Part One'.

Once you are convinced materials selection matters (it really, really does), then it is time to review your current materials and make decisions about what should stay, what needs minor changing, and what deserves the heave-ho. Resources for reviewing materials include the EQuIP rubric (for lessons and units) and the IMET (for full curricular resources). These are useful tools not only to review materials already in use or those being considered for adoption, but they can be incredible levers for expanding practitioner knowledge of the Common Core Standards and Instructional Shifts. Explore the links above to find the review tools and supporting training materials. (You don't think there is a depth of knowledge on the Standards and Shifts to start from? Student Achievement Partners has your back with these professional development resources.) Finally, Sue Pimentel's article, "The Essential of an ELA Curriculum" provides valuable knowledge not only on what is key in materials, but how materials sitting on your shelves might be better used.

Happy reading (and perhaps, happy reviewing)!

June 19, 2017

The Importance of Curriculum, Part One

I have curriculum on the brain this summer. Most of my current work is focused on curriculum; reviewing it, curating it, or exploring it in some way. Simultaneously, there is an increasing amount of scholarship in the field on the importance of curriculum. Much of this work answers the questions; does curriculum really matter? And if it does, what can we do about it?

Educators in the field, academics, publishers and supportive organizations are recognizing that quality curricular materials can support equity in our schools, be a significant force for reform, and act as a key ingredient in high performing classrooms. Of recent note is the Aspen Institute's report, "Practice What You Teach", which provides relevant research, profiles of curricular implementation, and key recommendations. EducationNext has a great post by Chester Finn titled "Education Becomes a Reform Strategy". The latest research report by StandardWork, "Curriculum Research: What We Know and Where We Need to Go", provides a much needed in-depth review of the topic.  And this post by Robert Pondiscio is great food for thought. (Further readings have been collected by EdReports and can be found on their website here.)

Maybe these are great reads for your summer break. Perhaps they are great reads for the leader of your school, district, or organization. As we all take some time to reflect, unwind, and then gear up for the Fall, it can't hurt to carefully consider the materials that guide our classroom instruction.


June 3, 2017

Nevada Core Advocates Convening, Day 1

The Nevada Core Advocates gathered at UNR the weekend of June 3rd for two days of professional learning focused on the Common Core. The first day explored the Instructional Shifts and on day two  participants worked through content and materials to support the Nevada Core Advocates campaign (for ELA/Literacy, the campaign is: "K-3 teachers will use a critical eye to examine how existing resources build foundational skills so they are able to fully engage with the more complex text required by the standards beginning in 2nd grade").

Aaron Grossman and I facilitated the day one ELA/Literacy sessions, starting with a review of the ELA/Literacy Instructional Shifts, the research underpinning the shifts, and implications they have for instruction.  Participants then explored what these shifts look like in K-2 materials, with an analysis of the RAP lesson for The Spider and The Fly and a review of the K-2 ELA Instructional Practice Guides. We ended the day as participants met in their campaign groups so they might preview some of the work they and their colleagues will do to support the Common Core in Nevada.

Materials used during the Day 1 session are available in this folder and linked below. If you are a Nevada Core Advocate and looking for the full set of convening materials (including answer keys), please leave a comment below and I can get them to you.

NV Core Advocates ELA Day 1 Deck
NV Core Advocates ELA Day 1 folder

April 12, 2017

Quarter 4 Professional Learning - Writing with Evidence

Educators and Rise Academy for Adult Achievement gathered last week to continue their professional learning on instructional moves aligned to the CCR Standards. Over two evenings, participants engaged with ELA/Literacy content to better support deep reading, student discussion, and evidence-based writing in their classrooms. Using The Writing Revolution as our central text, the first session centered on using Evidence Ranking and Quoting and Paraphrasing, the second on sentence summarization strategies But-Because-So and Expanding Kernel Sentences. Resources for both sessions are linked below.

  • Google Slides Deck
  • Evidence Ranking Strategy description
  • Quoting & Paraphrasing Strategy description
  • Evidence Ranking and Quoting & Paraphrasing sample
  • The Writing Revolution excerpt
  • Sentence summarization with Sentence Kernels handout
  • Sentence summarization with But-Because-So handout

March 6, 2017

North Star Online School - Core Support PL, Session 4

Teachers at North Star Online School gathered to continue their professional learning to support Common Core-aligned teaching and learning (see session 3 materials here). North Star teachers have spent the last month continuing their peer observations and taking low inference notes. Today's session once again focused on reflecting on these observation using the Instructional Practice Guides. Teachers began by reviewing their content area IPG and coding their notes accordingly. Teachers then worked in small groups to record observations on a shared IPG, discussed both areas of strength and areas of need at their school site, and determined next steps to improve instruction.  Materials for the session are linked below.

WCSD Saturday CAFE - Navigating Complex Terrain: Making Meaning Across Content

On Saturday educators from across WCSD gathered for a Saturday CAFE focused on providing all students access to complex text. The keynote was delivered by Timothy Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dawn Adams and I led a session based on the work RISE Academy for Adult Achievement  has done to support both academic and social emotional success in the classroom. Participants began the session identifying the Social Emotional standards students and teachers will need to master as teaching and learning is aligned to the Common Core for ELA and Literacy (for Nevada K-12 educators, refer to NVACS, for Nevada Adult educators, refer to the CCRS). Educators then explored these connections by engaging in the instructional moves Text Annotation and Question Quads, using an excerpt of Shanahan's article, "Letting the Text Take Center Stage". Materials for the session are linked below.

February 6, 2017

North Star Online School - Core Support PL, Session 3

Teachers at North Star Online School gathered to continue their professional learning to support Common Core-aligned teaching and learning (see session 2 materials). North Star teachers have spent the last quarter observing one another's Live Lessons, taking low inference notes. Today's session focused on reflecting on these observation using the Instructional Practice Guides. Teachers began by reviewing their content area IPG and coding their notes accordingly. Teachers then worked in small groups to record observations on a shared IPG, discussed both areas of strength and areas of need at their school site, and determined next steps to improve instruction.  Materials for the session are linked below.

February 2, 2017

SEL Mini-Conference: Academic Integration

Teachers, administrators, and parents from Washoe County School District schools gathered on Thursday evening to learn about Social Emotional Learning.  Participants attended a keynote and a selection of break-out sessions, one of which focused on the integration of SEL and classroom instruction. During the session, educators engaged with instructional moves aligned to both SEL standards as well as the Common Core and reflected on how they might implement these strategies at their own school sites. The session began with a TED talk on the growth mindset by Carol Dweck, participants then used Shared Annotations and Evidence Ranking to dig deeply into and prepare to write about Dweck's talk. Materials for the session are linked below.

January 19, 2017

Social Emotional Learning - Academic Integration for Site Based Leadership Teams

Leadership teams from Washoe County School District schools gathered on Thursday & Friday to continue their professional learning on site-based Social Emotional Learning implementation.  Part of the day included a focus on the integration of SEL and classroom instruction. Participants engaged with instructional moves aligned to both SEL standards and the Common Core and reflected on how they might implement these strategies at their own school sites. The session began with a TED talk on the growth mindset by Carol Dweck, participants then used Shared Annotations and Evidence Ranking to dig deeply into and prepare to write about Dweck's talk. Materials for the session are linked below.

January 10, 2017

Preparing for Discussion and Writing at RISE Academy for Adult Achievement

This week educators at RISE Academy for Adult Achievement will be working on using evidenced-based discussion and writing strategies in their classroom. On Tuesday, teachers used Jigsaw Socratic Seminar to engage with various articles on 21st century learning. On Thursday, teachers used the same text to explore Using Quotes Effectively. Participants then worked in small groups to prepare to use these instructional strategies in their classes during the current semester. Resources for the session can be found below.