Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It was very ironic that I was assigned this topic for my blog because over the summer teachers at my school and the principal had a book club where we read and discussed this book through a blog. Many of you may be surprised to know that you are probably using some of the principles in this book without even knowing it. That being said, I would like to give you a brief summary of the content in this book.

Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock is a book describing just that, instructional strategies that work and why they work. According to Marzano, there are 9 research based strategies that are proven to enhance student achievement. These strategies are:

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

· Use Venn diagrams or charts to compare and classify items.

· Engage students in comparing, classifying, and creating metaphors and analogies.

2. Summarizing and Note Taking

· Provide a set of rules for creating a summary.

· When summarizing, ask students to question what is unclear, clarify those questions, and then predict what will happen next in the text.

· Use teacher-prepared notes.

· Stick to a consistent format for notes, although students can refine the notes as necessary.

3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition

· Share stories about people who succeeded by not giving up.

· Have students keep a log of their weekly efforts and achievements, reflect on it periodically, and even mathematically analyze the data.

· Find ways to personalize recognition. Give awards for individual accomplishments.

· "Pause, Prompt, Praise." If a student is struggling, pause to discuss the problem, then prompt with specific suggestions to help her improve. If the student's performance improves as a result, offer praise.

4. Homework and Practice

· Establish a homework policy with advice-such as keeping a consistent schedule, setting, and time limit-that parents and students may not have considered.

· Tell students if homework is for practice or preparation for upcoming units.

· Maximize the effectiveness of feedback by varying the way it is delivered.

· Assign timed quizzes for homework and have students report on their speed and accuracy.

· Focus practice on difficult concepts and set aside time to accommodate practice periods.

5. Nonlinguistic Representations

· Incorporate words and images using symbols to represent relationships.

· Use physical models and physical movement to represent information.

6. Cooperative Learning

· When grouping students, consider a variety of criteria, such as common experiences or interests.

· Vary group sizes and objectives.

· Design group work around the core components of cooperative learning-positive interdependence, group processing, appropriate use of social skills, face-to-face interaction, and individual and group accountability.

7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback

· Set a core goal for a unit, and then encourage students to personalize that goal by identifying areas of interest to them. Questions like "I want to know" and "I want to know more about . . ." get students thinking about their interests and actively involved in the goal-setting process.

· Use contracts to outline the specific goals that students must attain and the grade they will receive if they meet those goals.

· Make sure feedback is corrective in nature; tell students how they did in relation to specific levels of knowledge. Rubrics are a great way to do this.

· Keep feedback timely and specific.

· Encourage students to lead feedback sessions.

1. Generating and Testing Hypotheses

· Ask students to predict what would happen if an aspect of a familiar system, such as the government or transportation, were changed.

· Ask students to build something using limited resources. This task generates questions and hypotheses about what may or may not work.

2. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

· Pause briefly after asking a question. Doing so will increase the depth of your students' answers.

· Vary the style of advance organizer used: Tell a story, skim a text, or create a graphic image. There are many ways to expose students to information before they "learn" it.

Since Marzano’s book is completely based on years and years of research I think it is the best resource educators have in regards to instruction. The book is full of ideas & strategies for maximizing the potential of the students in your classroom. I don’t think there are any negatives to this work! This book is a must for all educators!

McRel Research Paper

The McREL research group is a nationally recognized, private, nonprofit organization located in Aurora, Colorado which is dedicated to improving education for all students. In a 2003 research study, McREL surveyed 652 principals from across the country with an extensive online, self-assessment. The survey results led to the development of a twenty-one leadership responsibilities framework linked to higher levels of student performance. The framework is a great guide for making changes in a school but good leadership is also needed.

First, the twenty-one leadership responsibilities to improve student achievement are: culture, order, discipline, resources, curriculum, instruction, assessment, visibility, contingent rewards, communications, outreach, input, affirmation, relationship, change agent, optimizer, ideals/beliefs, monitors/evaluates, flexibility, situational awareness, and intellectual stimulation. These responsibilities are not listed in any order. The leader would need to prioritize the ones that would impact their school in a positive way.

Second, if a leader focuses on the 21 McREL leadership responsibilities framework they can still have a negative effect on student achievement in the school. The order of change and how it is administered at a school is extremely important. There are two stages of change a school can go through according to McREL. The first wave of change is called “first order”. These include: Marginal, an extension of the past, linear, problem and solution oriented, focused, incremental, within existing paradigms, bounded, consistent with prevailing values and norms, and implemented with existing knowledge & skills. The second wave of change is called “second order”. These include: A disturbance to every element of a system, a break with the past, nonlinear, requires new knowledge and skill to implement, outside existing paradigms, emergent, unbounded complex, conflicted with prevailing values and norms, and neither problem-not solution-oriented. Even if these changes are implemented in a school they can either fix the problems or make them worse. It depends on the extent of the problems and many other factors.

Third, if you want student improvement it comes down to good leadership. Even though the 21 leader responsibilities framework provides a great guide to higher student achievement a leader needs to choose the right way to implement a plan of change. This chart does not bring into account factors like the leaders knowledge of the school, institution, staff, student body, and most of all community. To implement a positive change all these factors must be taken into account. An effective leader will also know that good school practices like: excellent instruction and an organized and follow curriculum can result in improved test scores and student achievement.

In conclusion, McREL’s 21 leadership responsibilities is an excellent outline to follow for school and student improvement. But as with any problem it comes down to the ability and commitment of leadership to implement a plan of change for the best results. Knowing your school, staff, community, and student body will benefit
Data-Based Decision Making
Ashley A. Rosiejka
In a school setting, data-based decision making (DBDM), also known as data-driven decision making, is all about the process of collecting student data such as demographic information, academic performance and attendance statistics so that administrators, teachers and parents can accurately assess student learning (Doyle, 2009). For example, teachers may gather information about their students and use it to make decisions. One of the most common illustrations of using data-based decision making is the process of teachers reviewing grades to assess progress on academic tasks. These decisions based on data help to enhance learning conditions and better and more easily direct students towards success. Overall, many of our decisions can be made without collecting data formally however; there are instances where strategic data-based decision making processes are needed as well (Doyle, 2009).

The main advantage of using DBDM is that it helps educators and administrators to identify patterns of outcomes and design strategies to enhance student learning and success. In order to do this effectively there are three crucial elements to the process. The first is that if you are going to collect data and analyze it, it needs to be done purposefully. According to McREL (2003), when data collection and analysis are purposeful, educators are better able to identify patterns of outcomes and design strategies to enhance student learning. Secondly, necessary resources and supports need to be in place in order for DBDM to be implemented properly. For example, data structures and processes are in place including a data team, adequate time, appropriate technology and training (McREL, 2003). Lastly, there needs to be clear communication about all aspects of data collection, analysis and use on a regular and timely basis. This should also include the opportunity for stakeholders to participate in the decision making process.

We can see that Data Based Decision making is a new phenomenon in our schools today but it is often widely misunderstood and often ignored or feared (Doyle, 2009). The first main reason is because most educators view data as a burden instead of an asset. Teachers feel that their time is better served with his or her students, not with data entry and analysis. Overall, school data does not simplify life or increase a sense of professional efficacy. According to Doyle (2009), only when data becomes genuinely useful and commonplace in the classroom will teachers and administrators welcome it and only when it is useful will data quality improve. The second main problem with DBDM is that the process requires additional time and a large financial commitment, both of which are hard to fine extra of in our schools today. We need the right tools such as data collection and analysis software, access to the Internet and email, and access to practical guides and references. A technology infrastructure and professional development for users are just a few of the many necessities for effective DBDM (Holcomb, 1999).

In conclusion, DBDM is useful and desirable in our 21st century schools. With No Child Left Behind, data will have to be used, not just collected. It will help us see progress, plan and execute instructional interventions that will help our students succeed in the classroom.

McREL's 21 Leadership Responsibilities

McREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities

For decades McREL (Mid-continental Regional Education Laboratory) has been researching the effects of instruction and schooling on student achievement. Specifically, one of their studies which consisted over a 30 year span has looked at the effects of leadership practices on student achievement. After their 30 years of research and an exhaustive review of literature on leadership, 70 studies met their criteria which involved almost 2,900 schools, 1.1 million students, and 14,000 teachers. And as a result, McREL came up with 21 leadership responsibilities that they have researched and have shown are significantly associated with student achievement. These 21 leadership responsibilities describe the knowledge, skills, strategies, and tools leaders need to positively influence student achievement, rather than personality traits or leadership styles. They have shown, contrary to misperceptions, that leadership is not an art but a science as shown in their data.

Their research found that instructional leadership is significantly correlated with student’s achievement. They identified 66 different leadership practices relevant to the 21 leadership responsibilities, each with statistically significant relationships to student achievement. They also found that teacher perceptions of principal leadership can either be positively correlated or negatively correlated to higher student achievement. Principal leadership negatively influences student achievement when leaders concentrate on the wrong school and/or classroom practices, or miscalculate the magnitude of change they are attempting to implement.

The 21 leadership responsibilities that they found that are significantly correlated with student achievement are as follows:
1. Culture: Fosters shared beliefs and a sense of community and cooperation.
2. Order: Establishes a set of standard operating procedures and routines.
3. Discipline: Protects teachers from issues and influences that would detract from their teaching time and focus.
4. Resources: Provides teachers with materials and professional development necessary for the successful execution of their jobs.
5. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: Is directly involved in the design and implementation of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.
6. Focus: Establishes clear goals and keeps those goals in the forefront of the school's attention.
7. Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, assessment: Is knowledgeable about current curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.
8. Visibility: Has quality contact and interactions with teachers and students.
9. Contingent Rewards: Recognizes and rewards individual accomplishments.
10. Communication: Establishes strong lines of communication with teachers and among students.
11. Outreach: Is an advocate and spokesperson for the school to all stakeholders.
12. Input: Involves teachers in the design and implementation of important decisions and policies.
13. Affirmation: Recognizes and celebrates school accomplishments and acknowledges failures.
14. Relationship: Demonstrates an awareness of the personal aspects of teachers and staff.
15. Change agent: Is willing to and actively challenges the status quo.
16. Optimizer: Inspires and leads new and challenging innovations.
17. Ideals/beliefs: Communicates and operates from strong ideals and beliefs about schooling.
18. Monitors/evaluates: Monitors the effectiveness of school practices and their impact on student learning.
19. Flexibility: Adapts leadership behaviors to the needs of the current situation and is comfortable with dissent.
20. Situational awareness: Is aware of the details and undercurrents in the running of the school and uses this information to address current and potential problems.
21. Intellectual stimulation: Ensures that faculty and staff are aware of the most current theories and practices and makes the discussion of these a regular aspect of the school culture

McREL reported that these 21 responsibilities can be used as a guide for change for school leaders. They also believe that in addition to these 21 responsibilities leaders must make sure that they properly identify and focus on improving the school and classroom practices that are most likely to have a positive impact on student achievement. In doing so, leaders need to understand the magnitude or “order” of change they are leading. McREL describes change in two different terms – “first order” and “second order”. First order changes are consistent with their prevailing values and norms within their schools and are just a natural extension of their ongoing efforts. Second order change, however, are changes made within a school that are a break from the past and may conflict with the prevailing values and norms of the school. Second order changes may require a whole new philosophy and new skills from the leader and staff. McREL stated that “a change is defined by the implications it has for the people expected to implement it or those that will be impacted by it.” Therefore, effective leaders understand how the changes they are leading will be received and understood by their staff and community and how to appropriately tailor their leadership styles to guide and support these changes.

In conjunction with the 21 leadership responsibilities, McREL stated that leaders need to know the value of the taxonomy within their schools. This consists of experiential knowledge - knowing why it is important, declarative knowledge - knowing what to do, procedural knowledge – knowing how to do, and contextual knowledge – knowing when to do it. Effective leaders not only know what to do, but when, how, and why to do it.

What makes McREL’s leadership qualities different from other theories and research is that they have research and data from over decades that show strong correlations to having positive impact on student achievement. Additionally, they are continuing to research and perfect their developments on educational leadership. I know personally, I want to use theories and principles within my school that have been shown to be effective across a wide variety of settings, for many years, and their studies seem to prove that. Their 21 leadership responsibilities definitely seem to cover a good foundation for anyone in the leadership field or going into the leadership field.

21st Century Skills and Themes

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a national organization that was developed to encourage and support the readiness of all our students for the 21st century. The organization promotes the use of the three Rs - reading, writing, arithmetic - along with the four Cs - critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. It is all an effort to improve the education of our students, but also aid in our global competition with other countries as a society. P21 also attempts to build an association among education, business, government, and community by teaching skills and concepts in schools that will help our students be successful in the real world.

The P21 organization has developed a framework for instilling these ideas into today’s curriculum that includes a number of key elements and support systems. But it begins with the mastery of core subjects including English, world language, mathematics, science, economics, geography, history, and government and civics. While integrating them with 21st century themes of Global Awareness (understanding diversity); Financial-Economic-b\Business-and Entrepreneurial Literacy (understanding role of economy in society); Civic Literacy (understanding governmental processes and implications of civic decisions); Health Literacy (understanding national public health, safety issues, and preventative measures); and Environmental Literacy (understanding the environment, society’s impact upon it, and environmental issues).

Additionally, the P21 developed a series of student skills and outcomes that need to be developed for be successful in the 21st century. First, specific learning and innovation skills were identified centering on the 5 Cs - creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration. Next, information, media, and technology skills should be developed including information literacy (access, evaluation, use, management), media literacy (analyze, creation), and ICT literacy (apply technology effectively). Finally, life and career skills are essential for our students to be successful. This includes having characteristics of flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.

In order for our students to acquire these skills, there are certain support systems that need to be present to help our students mature. For example, 21st century standards need to be created that focus on this content, emphasize deep understanding, and engage students in real world examples during problem solving. Assessment of 21st century skills supports a balance of standardized testing with formative and summative classroom assessments, while also developing a student portfolio of work displaying their mastery of these skills. 21st century curriculum and instruction should focus on providing opportunities across content areas, using innovative learning methods, and integrating school and community. Meanwhile, 21st century professional development concentrates on the teachers encouraging communication among them, expanding their ability to identify student learning styles and strategies to use with them, and creating a balance between direct instruction and project oriented methods. Finally, 21st century learning environments includes having students learn in relevant, real world contexts, access to quality learning tools and technologies, and support of community and international involvement in learning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works

Melissa D’Agostino Fundamentals of Curriculum Development Blog #2: Classroom Instruction that Works
December 8, 2010

Only 30 years ago, teaching began to be studied scientifically. Marzano discusses the Coleman report and the Jencks study in the introduction of his book. He mentions that the 10% difference that schools contribute to student achievement translates into 23 points which paints a more positive picture regarding the influence of schools. In 1986, Jere Brophy and Thomas Good stated: “The myth that teachers do not make a difference in student learning has been refuted” (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). More recent research has shown that effective teachers can have a profound influence on student achievement.

When using instructional strategies, it is always good to implement those that are research based. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, is the result of the analysis of 100 different studies in educational research which involved approximately 1.2 million participants. “The goal of the analysis was to identify those instructional strategies that have a high probability of enhancing student achievement for all students in all subject areas at all grade levels” (Brabec, Fisher, & Pitler, 2004).

The following research-based strategies are discussed: 1) identifying similarities and differences, 2) summarizing and note taking, 3) reinforcing effort and providing recognition, 4) homework and practice, 5) nonlinguistic representations, 6) cooperative learning, 7) setting objectives and providing feedback, 8) generating and testing hypotheses, 9) cues, questions, and advance organizers. Students are assisted in taking charge of their learning. This is done through the use of the strategies to: summarize information in note taking, use graphic organizers to compare and contrast, setting up homework policies, generating and testing hypotheses, learning how to use imagery with nonlinguistic representation, and how to ask question to further learning with cues, questions, and advance organizers. Also, strategies to provide feedback are important for teachers to be familiar with in order to provide the most positive feedback. Research has shown that the way in which teachers deliver feedback can have a negative impact on student achievement. In cooperative learning, it is also beneficial to have the students provide feedback to their peers.

Robert Marzano admits that Classroom Instruction that Works is not an answer for all educational questions. The following questions have remained unanswered:

“Are some instructional strategies more effective in certain subject areas? Are some instructional strategies more effective at certain grade levels? Are some instructional strategies more effective with students from different backgrounds? Are some instructional strategies more effective with students of different aptitudes?” (Marzano, 2009).

One positive aspect is that it focuses on a variety of different areas in education. Marzano’s goal in writing his book was to not focus on a narrow range of components. He feels that “focusing on any single set of categories exclusively is a serious mistake (Marzano, 2009). Overall, Marzano is a name in education that seems to be spoken highly of and using the research-based strategies that he recommends also seems to be beneficial to student achievement.

Brabec, K., Fisher, K., & Pitler, H. (2004). Building better instruction:
how technology supports nine research-proven instructional
strategies. Learning & Leading with Technology, 31(5), 6-11.

Marzano , R.J. (2009, September). Setting the record straight on “high-
yield” strategies. Kappan, 30-37.

Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom
instruction that works: research-based strategies for increasing
student achievement. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development.

21st Century Skills and Themes

Monica Pappalardo

21st Century Skills and Themes

According to Johnson (2009) the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been the leading advocacy organization in the United States focusing on placing 21st Century skills into education since 2002. The 21st Century skills is made up based on a consensus among hundreds of stakeholders who decide what students need to learn to succeed in work and life. In 2005, the partnership began the State Leadership Program, which 13 states have joined to date. These states are Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. These states all agree to develop standards, assessments, and professional development programs to ensure students have the 21st century skills they need.

There are many aspects of the 21st century skills and themes. There are student outcomes that include core subjects and 21st century themes, life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, and information, media, and technology skills. The core subjects include, English (language arts), world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, and government and civics. In addition to these core subjects they also believe that there must be a weaving of 21st century interdisciplinary themes in place. This includes, global awareness, financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, and health literacy. The second student outcome of learning and innovation skills focuses on creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration to prepare students. The third student outcome is information, media, and technology skills, which aspires that students will be prepared for the technologically driven world we live in. They want these students to have information literacy, media literacy, and ICT literacy. The last student outcome is life and career skills, which takes into account the ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in a globally competitive world. This includes teaching student’s flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.

Along with the 21st century skills student outcomes, there are 21st century skills support systems. These are the systems necessary to ensure the student outcomes and mastery of the 21st century skills. The systems include, 21st century standards, assessment of 21st century skills, 21st century curriculum and instruction, 21st century professional development, and 21st century learning environments. The 21st Century standards are just what the title entails; these are the standards, which focus on content knowledge and expertise. It is having students gain a deep understanding of what they learn and to engage them in the real world. Assessment of 21st century skills is based on standardized testing along with classroom assessments. 21st century curriculum and instruction stresses the fact that 21st century skills must be applied within the core subjects and curriculum instruction. A major system necessary in helping students is having 21st century professional development for teachers. This is important so teachers can have the opportunities and resources to integrate 21st century skills and tools into their classrooms. The last system needed to promote student outcomes is 21st century learning environments. This creates a support system for teaching 21st century skills and also allows educators to collaborate and share ideas for teaching in the 21st century. This is also a great resource for teachers to access learning tools and to have a support community.

There is not much research in favor or against 21st century skills and themes; however, there are 13 states that are in favor of using this approach to learning. I think that there are, in my opinion, some pros and cons to the issue. I believe that this places a lot of pressure on our children in schools. They are learning a lot of information that is helpful to them and will benefit them, but are we placing too much on them? They are still children and we do not want to take their childhood away from them. Another drawback would be that this places a lot of emphasis on standardized testing, something that I think we should stray away from. However, I also believe that this prepares our children for the world, and for any life career they want to pursue. I feel that they will be ahead of the game, when taught these skills. I also think that they do want to assess children based on making each child a portfolio and this portfolio will follow them throughout school. This is something I believe is extremely helpful, not as the partnership puts it, as a way to get a job; but I see it a way to see progress in a child. This is a way to show a parent and the child that they are succeeding and making progress, without showing standardized test scores. Overall, I believe that 21st century skills and themes are a big step forward toward getting our children ready for life in a technologically driven world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blog #2: Data Driven Decision Making

Data, data, and more data! Data driven decision making (DDDM) is a buzzword often heard in education systems across the nation. DDDM is a process that consists of collecting data and using that data to inform and guide decisions to improve teaching and student learning. “Gut feelings” and teacher instincts are no longer enough to direct the curricula of today’s schools. No Child Left Behind has presented schools with no other choice but to turn to DDDM to earn incentives and opportunities to improve their curriculum and student performance. DDDM is multi-faceted, in that, there are numerous types of data collected, many uses for the data collected, and a system that is required to make it effective in school districts.
School districts may collect a wide range of data types to be used by the central office, administrators and teachers, all with different roles and perspectives in education. First, input data may identify school expenditures or demographics of the student population. Next, process data may provide reports such as financial operations or quality of teacher instruction within the schools. Thirdly, outcome data, which is most commonly used to drive curriculum design and classroom instruction, may be data that reports dropout rates or student test scores. Lastly, satisfaction data would discuss opinions from teachers, students, and parents/community members. These four types of data are systematically collected throughout the year to make decisions within a school district.
Now that this abundance of data is collected, it is said to then go through a cycle. Continuously collected, data is then organized and synthesized by a school leadership team. A leadership team eliminates a heavy load on any one person. Members may include board members, administration, technical specialists, curriculum supervisors, teachers and community members. After the data is collected, it will then be used to make a variety of decisions. Data can be used to inform, identify, or clarify or it can be used to act in educational situations. For example, decisions may be made about the effectiveness of practices within the classroom, the progress made towards goals, the reallocation of resources, or whether all students needs are being met. Most commonly, though, DDDM is being used to determine where students are NOW and what it takes to get them to reach the curriculum standards.
In addition, DDDM can be extremely helpful when identifying patterns of outcomes within a school district. DDDM can strengthen a school by pinpointing successes and challenges, and evaluating effectiveness of programs. DDDM provides accountability for schools, which is an advantage to implementing data driven decisions in a district. Ultimately, DDDM helps teachers to collaborate and work together when discussing the data collected within the classroom. This type of collaboration is what builds strong, empowered teachers, which in turn builds students who have a will to learn. Students are given appropriate opportunities to learn because differentiation of instruction and learning styles are identified by the data collected. Education is no longer about the “average” student. Through DDDM teachers can reach accelerated students as well as those below grade level.
As these are all extremely strong arguments for implementing DDDM in school districts, much is to be considered when administrators and teachers are asked to utilize DDDM. As the cycle indicates, it must be organized and synthesized. Too much data means too much time demanded. Just because the data is collected doesn’t mean that it is being used effectively.
Time and money are the largest factors when discussing DDDM. Following the data collection, there is a need for time to organize, synthesize and train teachers to utilize the data within their classrooms. Without proper training in these areas, data will go to waste. Curriculum guides pressure teachers to keep to a rigorous pace in their instruction. Teachers become concerned with instructional time used to administer assessments and then re-teaching, if the data so indicates it is needed. In addition, there is so much time needed to sift through data collected, it is possible that by the time that data is analyzed students have moved on to other grade levels. Even if there is a leadership team in place all members of the team have other duties and expectations within their jobs.
DDDM demands money that many schools do not have in abundance. DDDM requires school districts to purchase testing systems, for example. Then consultants from the testing company come in to train administration and teachers to administer and then decipher the data that is reported. Often technical support is needed and a team is formed to maintain a culture which data can be worked through constructively. Time out of the classroom must then be granted to the team members that require substitutes teachers and training for them as well.
In conclusion, our culture supports the use of DDDM, not only in education but also in politics and business. When DDDM is implemented in an educational environment the purpose for data must be clearly stated, and there must be a trained team that can teach and be advocates for the data collected. The team then must revise the data and the system by which it was collected regularly, to keep the development of the school at best. Communication is a necessary piece to DDDM to assure that data is collected, organized, and synthesized on a regular basis and in a timely manner. Then, data can ideally be used to inform and guide decisions made to improve teaching and student learning.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Understanding by Design

A tool for curriculum designers that is becoming increasingly popular is Understanding by Design introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design (UbD) focuses on helping students better understand classroom material in order to be able to apply the knowledge gained, not just retain the information. “UbD is an embodiment of common sense, and best practice in design and what we know about learning” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2004).
According to Wiggins and McTighe, the typical error of curriculum development is the process of identifying content, brainstorming ideas, then coming up with an assessment and linking it to some standard. Wiggins and McTighe argue that you cannot start planning how you are going to teach until you know exactly what you want your students to learn. Their philosophy led them to create Backward Design, which is gaining popularity because it seems to be a more logical way of developing curriculum. Backward Design is a three-stage process that is concerned with concentrating on the end result. The Backward Design process proceeds in three stages as follows:
Stage 1: Identify desired results: First you consider learning goals for the course. What should students know, understand, and be able to do? Wiggins and McTighe suggest considering these questions during stage one:
What should participants hear, read, view, explore, or otherwise encounter?
What knowledge and skills should participants master? What facts, concepts, and principles should they know?
What are big ideas and important understandings participants should retain?
In this stage, examining established content standards (national, state, district), and reviewing curriculum expectations is highly important. This stage calls for clarity about priorities.
Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence: This stage concentrates on how the curriculum will be assessed. In stage two, it is important to determine what you will consider evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals. Wiggins and McTighe suggest considering a wide range of assessment methods in order to ensure that the assessments match the learning goals.
Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction: In the final stage, planning how to teach occurs. This stage involves designing instructional strategies and students’ learning activities. It is important to foster increasing understanding, not just rote memorization according to Wiggins and McTighe. They suggest devising activities and exercises that encourage students to understand new concepts in order to “own” them.
Backward Design helps teachers to avoid the “twin sins” or problems of traditional design: activity-oriented and textbook coverage. “The error of activity-oriented design might be called “hands-on without being minds-on”—engaging experiences that lead only accidentally, if at all, to insight or achievement” (Wiggins & McTighe) Textbook coverage is an approach in which students march through a textbook, page by page in a brave attempt to traverse all the factual material within a prescribed time. Backward Design avoids these two “sins.”
Along with Backward Design, Wiggins and McTighe feel that once a student grasps the Six Facets of Understanding, they will be able to transfer knowledge from one lesson to the next. The Six Facets proposed by Wiggins and McTighe include students being able to explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, and have self-knowledge about a given topic. Mastering the Six Facets of Understanding enables students to make meaningful and lasting connections while enduring understanding.
As I learned more about Understanding by Design and Wiggins and McTighe, I grew to truly respect and idealize their ideas. Even though their design is “backward,” it does make the most sense. With the traditional curriculum design, teachers jump right into how they are going to teach. This neglects the big concept of what they want their students to learn. The Backward Design allows for teachers to grasp what they want their students to learn, along with the standards that need to be met. After this is established, teachers are truly able to look at the whole picture and teach what the students are supposed to learn.
Wiggins and McTighe are changing the way educational leaders look at curriculum development. Understanding by Design can change the education world. Teachers and students can benefit from UbD. Teachers can still add creativity while teaching the necessities, and students learn vital information in an interesting way. UbD helps students retain their learning and helps them make lasting connections.

Understanding by Design

Curriculum, by traditional measures, has always been approached from the point of view that the teacher should decide what information needs to be taught, and then delineates how said material will be conveyed. Many times it is in our nature to continue to use the methods most comfortable and familiar to us in order to achieve a given task. However, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have proposed an alternative way of approaching curriculum and curriculum design.
Wiggins and McTighe have introduced the concept of backward design to the development of curriculum. What they are referring to is starting at the end point, what the student should learn, and working backwards from there in order to design the most effective curriculum to teach it best. Wiggins and McTighe liken this mode of curriculum design to traveling. When one travels, it is best to first decide what you would like to see, then to write up an itinerary on how best to navigate through the country in order to see everything that you had set out to. The traditional curriculum design, however, is analogous to just getting into the country and meandering about without any direct goals and hoping that you get to see a lot.
Wiggins and McTighe lay out three stages of backward design. The first stage is to identify desired results. What they are referring to in this stage is the necessity to first identify what information the students should have learned by the end of the lesson. Wiggins and McTighe call these the “learnings”, and seek to ensure that these learnings endure after the lesson is completed and into the future. During this stage, it is also important to be aware of state and national curriculum content standards and to attend to the realization that the curriculum needs to be prioritized, as covering one hundred percent of the material is not usually an attainable goal. The second stage is determining acceptable evidence. Wiggins and McTighe suggest that when developing a curriculum, one should be in the mindset of an assessor in order to determine how the students will be measured in terms of their knowledge of the material. The third stage of backward design is to plan learning experiences and instruction. In this stage, it is important to determine the best concepts and procedures to use in order to facilitate learning most effectively. This also includes the means of conveying the information, like using powerpoints for example.
Wiggins and McTighe also mention the “twin sins” of traditional curriculum development. The first of these sins is the focus on activities as a main way of teaching. Wiggins and McTighe call this being “hands-on without being minds-on”. Although these activities can be fun and engaging, they seldom lead to intellectual growth. The second of these sins is the idea of “coverage”. This refers to the drudging through a textbook or series of lectures in order to ensure that all of the material is covered. The rigidity of this method impedes on the intellectual growth of the student. The student finds themselves asking, “what is the point of this?” and unable to come up with an answer.
Wiggins and McTighe have posed some interesting alternatives to the traditional curriculum development methods. Furthermore, I believe that they are valid in their critiques of the system, and their modifications to it. Learning is not intended to be lead with an iron fist and by dictating what students need to learn. Learning needs to be a journey between the student, their teacher, and their classmates. When everyone travels together on the road to enlightenment, it makes learning much more enjoyable, as well as influential.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Class Size

A big debate that happens in many schools is that debate about the sizes of classes and the amount of children that each class should contain. School districts typically have limits on the amount of children that they usually place in their classrooms. Some school districts try to make their classes quite small while others try to make classes as big as possible for a number of different reasons. From an economical standpoint, school districts would have bigger classes to reduce the number of teachers that they would need to hire, therefore saving money. Some feel that large classes, however, are not in the best interest of the students involved. Dr. Eric Handshek of the Hoover Institute has conducted a series of literature reviews that support the conclusion that increased spending in schools and smaller class sizes do not systematically lead to improved student achievement. Critics of large classes say that the larger that classes get the more difficult it is for teachers to individualize lessons and give the students that attention that they need in order to be successful.
Many critics of small class size argue that the cost of lowering class size is too high and that the money should be spent on other things like curriculum. Another criticism is that if class sizes are reduced, districts would need to hire more teachers who may be less qualified in order to just fill classrooms with teachers. By doing this, our students would receive a reduced quality of education purely to lessen class size.
Not everyone feels that smaller class sizes are a bad thing though. Some argue that small groups are more easily manageable so in the long run it will save school districts money because less time will have to be spent on discipline and also retention of students. In addition, when a class is smaller it allows the teacher to get to know each student better and know their strengths and weakness in order to tailor a lesson toward their individual needs. Another positive of small class size is that it allows the teacher to know each child’s parents and hopefully they can work with them so the parents can work with the children at home too. Alan Krueger (Princeton University) maintains that smaller class sizes can improve students’ performance and future earnings prospects because of the attention that they will receive. Studies show that significant effects of class size reduction on student achievement appear when the class is reduced to a point between 15 to 20 kids and it continues to increase as class size approaches 1-1 ratio.
The STAR experiment (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) of 1985 is the major reason for the influx of schools trying to reduce class size. Students in this study were placed in classrooms of 13-17 students as opposed to 23-26 students. The results showed that the students who were placed in the smaller classes did significantly better in math and reading than the students in the larger classes.
Although as an upfront issue, reducing the size of classes in the schools may be quite costly for the school district, in the long run the benefits for our children outweigh the costs. Students who have been educated in smaller classes have better grades and research has shown that when they get jobs they are typically making much more than those who were educated in larger classes. Also, students typically have a lower dropout rate when educated in smaller classes. Since the students get a more individualized learning experience less students have to be retained and this also saves the schools money on not having to reeducate children. Small class size greatly benefits our children, and overall the benefit for the children should be the most important thing for school districts to think of.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender and the Achievement Gap

Dionna D'Ambrosio
Fundamentals in Curriculum

Research shows that males and females in the United States demonstrate a gap in achievement, which can be seen at all ages. The achievement gap widens as age increases for students through post-secondary education. On the other hand, research does not show that either gender is more intelligent than the other just that there are differences in performance in certain subjects. While I was researching this topic, I knew what the statistics were and what the research showed but I wanted to explore the reasons or theories for these differences. What I found was pretty interesting about the brains of females vs. the brains of males.
The following are some of the characteristics of girls' brains:
***A girl's corpus callosum (the connecting bundle of tissues between hemispheres) is, on average, larger than a boy's—up to 25 percent larger by adolescence. This enables more “cross talk” between hemispheres in the female brain.
***Girls have, in general, stronger neural connectors in their temporal lobes than boys have. These connectors lead to more sensually detailed memory storage, better listening skills, and better discrimination among the various tones of voice. This leads, among other things, to greater use of detail in writing assignments.
***The hippocampus (another memory storage area in the brain) is larger in girls than in boys, increasing girls' learning advantage, especially in the language arts.
***Girls' prefrontal cortex is generally more active than boys' and develops at earlier ages. For this reason, girls tend to make fewer impulsive decisions than boys do. Further, girls have more serotonin in the bloodstream and the brain, which makes them biochemically less impulsive.
***Girls generally use more cortical areas of their brains for verbal and emotive functioning. Boys tend to use more cortical areas of the brain for spatial and mechanical functioning (Moir & Jessel, 1989; Rich, 2000).

The following are some of the characteristics of boys' brains:
***Because boys' brains have more cortical areas dedicated to spatial-mechanical functioning, males use, on average, half the brain space that females use for verbal-emotive functioning. (Blum, 1997; Moir & Jessel, 1989).
***Boys not only have less serotonin than girls have, but they also have less oxytocin, the primary human bonding chemical. This makes it more likely that they will be physically impulsive and less likely that they will neurally combat their natural impulsiveness to sit still and empathically chat with a friend (Moir & Jessel, 1989; Taylor, 2002).


***Boys lateralize brain activity. Their brains not only operate with less blood flow than girls' brains, but they are also structured to compartmentalize learning. Thus, girls tend to multitask better than boys do. (Havers, 1995).
***The male brain is set to renew, recharge, and reorient itself by entering what neurologists call a rest state. The boy in the back of the classroom whose eyes are drifting toward sleep has entered a neural rest state. It is predominantly boys who drift off without completing assignments, who stop taking notes and fall asleep during a lecture, or who tap pencils or otherwise fidget in hopes of keeping themselves awake and learning. Females tend to recharge and reorient neural focus without rest states. Thus, a girl can be bored with a lesson, but she will nonetheless keep her eyes open, take notes, and perform relatively well. (Gurian, 2001).

These differences in the way the brain functions for both male and female could offer some insight on gender and the achievement gap. Other possible reasons for these differences in achievement may include gender-roles, levels and types of encouragement and discouragement, expectations, different learning opportunities, and values placed on the subjects. Sources may include parents, peers, and the society and culture they live in.Research has shown that one in three boys will fail to receive a high school diploma in four years, and one in four girls will drop out of high school. A University of Michigan study found that 62 percent of female high school graduates plan on obtaining a degree from a four-year university, compared to only 51 percent of males. Males typically score higher on math and science based tests, not because they are smarter in those subjects, but because boys are more likely to explore objects and are better at spatial perspective. While females generally score higher on tests of verbal abilities. It has been proven that in most cases female infants speak sooner, have larger vocabularies and rarely demonstrate speech defects. Gender stereotypes start at birth and extend through adulthood, exerting a powerful influence on the interests and academic paths that people choose. As parents we need to help our children feel more confident about education, considering that confidence can affect motivation, which affects choice, behavior, and effort. When our children feel competent in school, they are more motivated, try harder, and are more engaged with the information presented, hopefully aiding in a productive society.


Gurian, M., Stevens, K. (November 2004). Closing Achievement Gaps: With Boys and Girls in Mind. Educational Leadership,  Volume 62 | Number 3, 21-26

Zaidi, Z. (2010). Gender Differences in the Human Brain: A Review. The Open Anatomy Journal, Vol. 2, 37-55

Gender and Achievement Research program

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brain Based Research in Education

The brain is made up of two hemispheres; the right and the left. The two hemispheres are connected by a large bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum. Unique functional areas within the brain are organized in a style called ‘lateralization’. This refers to the distribution of functional areas in one hemisphere or the other. The left hemisphere, which controls the right side of the body, focuses more attention on speech, writing, science, logic and math. The right side of the brain is more responsive to the prosody in language and the affective tones which color the interpretation of language.

Two areas are particularly important to educators, the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. These areas work together to accommodate incoming stimuli and create memories. The prefrontal cortex focuses attention and acts as the seat of decision making. It employs logic and reasoning to solve problems. The limbic system is a collection of smaller bodies with collaboratively form and store memories. The organ specifically responsible for memory storage is the hippocampus. The surrounding bodies of the limbic system hold powerful influence over the way in which the hippocampus stores memories. These include the parahippocampal gyrus, amygdala, the thalamus and the olfactory bulbs.

Each of these secondary structures in the limbic system contributes to the way in which memories are associatively coded as they are put into storage. As these memories enter storage the hippocampus creates a series of ‘mental maps’ for itself. Each individual memory is associated with memories of the events that led up and came after its occurrence. The hippocampus connects theses events to promote retrieval in the future during recall. The way in which these events are remembered is where the support structures influence memory.

An individual creates a full memory when he or she integrates all the sensory data that occurred in the instance of the memory. This includes not only the visual perception of the events, but also the somatosensory, audio and even olfactory stimulation that permeates from the environment. All of this input can later be associated with a memory during retrieval. External recreation of the events in which the activity took place further promote retrieval speed.

These findings have significant implications for the way in which children are educated and perhaps how they ought to be educated. Studies have shown that children retain knowledge best when it is conveyed in a context similar to a real life application. The modeled environment provides developing minds with cues that inherently shape the way in which memory is processed and stored. When reintroduced to the ‘real’ environment in which a task or test needs to be performed the mind will use the external cues to recall information. The speed and accuracy of the recall will be higher if the environment remains consistent than if learning took place in a synthetic environment and the actual task performance in another. This suggests that that learning might be more easily achieved if the skills we try to instill in youth were imparted in a real life context.

Closing the Achievement Gap

Closing the achievement gap was the center of conversation in many of our classes. The achievement gap refers to the difference of performance on different educational measures. This can be broken down by gender, race, intellectual ability, and socioeconomic status. There are three main measures that are used to determine the achievement gap. They include standardized tests, dropout rates, and graduation rates. NCLB, which we have spent much time discussing the pros and cons for, has been put into place to try to eliminate the gap by 2014. However, there are other areas that need improvement, besides school factors, that may be contributing to the gap.

Home and community include a majority of these factors. Studies have shown that children who grow up in a lower SES start off school with a less advantage than others, for example majority of these individuals know less words than children living in middle or high SES. If these children are starting off already behind, it will makes it that much harder to bridge the gap. Some articles suggested that we need to work on preventing the gap and start with early intervention to ensure that our students are working on the same page from the start.

Many of the articles also suggested the idea of investing in longer school days or possibly longer school years. Many of our “competitors” are already doing so. This gives more time for students to be in the classroom and provides more support to those who need to catch up. One article mentioned how KIPP charter schools in the United States have enrolled students from the poorest families but ensure that almost every one of them will graduate. On top of that, 80% of these students will make it to college. With that being said, KIPP students spend 60% more time in school than the average American student. They start before majority of our students, end after them, and go to school on some weekends. They also have extended school years.
Additional supports in the community and giving the children a chance to get involved were also repeated recommendations. One article took a different approach and focused on the health crisis of the United States. Although this is not talked about often, it makes sense. When people do not feel good, they are not going to be able to work to their absolute potential. The same works with children. The article discussed the percentages of youths who have visual problems, asthma, become pregnant, are bullies, and are not getting the nutrition in breakfast that they need. It is alarming how these percentages double and triple for the urban population. Because of low funds, these problems also go untreated. This can account for additional problems we as a nation need to address before we can fully say we are going to close the gap by a specific date.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Online Schooling

Online Schooling

In consideration of the current state of the economy, the advantages of an online school option may seem rather appealing to some in the general public. Schools could potentially employ fewer faculty and staff members, reach a more diverse learning population, and save money on learning materials (paper, books, pencils, computers, etc.). Students could learn from the comfort of their own home, at their own pace, to their own degree. Sounds like a win-win situation for school districts and students. Or does it? What will a society full of online learners look like? Would this country really be offering opportunity for greater successes, or risk of inevitable failure, to its youth?
A closer look at the debate over online schooling is wise, considering the potential for detriment that it holds for the average adolescent in America. Supporters of online schooling offer the following as advantages:
1. Convenience – Students would have no need to commute to and from school, saving both time and fuel.
2. Environment – Students could attend class without interruptions from their classmates.
3. Flexibility- Students could enjoy self-paced study, leaving room for remediation or acceleration on an individual basis.
4. Efficiency- School districts could save money by employing fewer workers and purchasing less material. Students and their parents could save on gasoline costs.
5. Experience – Students would have the freedom to gain on-the-job or real-world experiences, while attending school. They would not be restricted to daytime hours for learning.
6. Discussions – Students would be engaged in a much more student-centered class discussion, as opposed to teacher-led lectures.
7. Technology – Students would need to learn and practice new technologies that they might have missed in a traditional classroom setting.
8. Diversity – Students could share ideas with classmates who live all over the world, allowing them to learn more about the ideals and values in other cultures.
9. 100% Equal – Students could attend classes without a fear of being discriminated against, based upon race, sex, creed, disabilities, etc.
10. 100% Participation – Every student would have to participate.
Online schooling may have its advantages, but some of its disadvantages, although not in outweighing numbers, overshadow the pros list in their impact. The disadvantages may include:
1. Accreditation – Not all online schools would necessarily be accredited, as they are not held to the same standards as traditional schools. Therefore, businesses and universities could reject a student’s transcript.
2. Motivation – Some students may lack the motivation to complete assignments, when a teacher is not actually present. There is more allowance for procrastination, for those who lack planning and preparation skills.
3. Technology – Specialized computer equipment is often required for an online course, and so students may find a need to upgrade their hardware to keep pace with technology’s ever-changing demands. This additional hardware equates to additional costs!
4. Environment
a. Interaction – Instructors and students share less real interaction time, leaving students without one-on-one support when they need it. Lectures are often prerecorded and classmates often communicate via text.
b. Isolation – Students could become anti-social, as they lack the opportunities to interact with others in person.
5. Tradition – Some of the more fun elements of a traditional high school setting would be lost (proms, senior trips, graduation, etc.)

Education, although capable of affecting the advance of a culture, cannot be separated from the learner-as-individual idea. Not all high school students are equipped with the maturity to handle the independence that online schooling has to offer. And some may never be ready for it. Early adolescence, and the changes (both physical and emotional) it involves, often finds high school students ready to accept much more guidance than a video lecture has to offer. High school is a place to challenge one’s basic skills and develop the logical reasoning as a responsible citizen. It would be almost impossible for most teenagers to do this in isolation. Perhaps online schooling is best placed in higher education, at the collegiate level. Online schooling has the potential to be a wonderful addition to education, if careful placed according to the learner’s needs and capabilities.


A recent survey done in 2008 by the National Center for Education Statistics indicated that the number of homeschooled students between the ages of 5 and 17 has risen 88% since 1999. In 1999 there were approximately 800,000 students being homeschooled and in 2007 it was estimated that about 1,508,000 students were being homeschooled. That is just an 8 year time span! An even more astonishing fact is in the 1970s there were only about 13,000 children grades K-12 being homeschooled. Homeschooling has obviously come a long way since it first was approved and legal in the states, but how and why? Many people disprove of homeschooling suggesting the students are not getting the education they should be, but this recent survey shows that possibly more people are agreeing to the decision of homeschooling their children.

Families have different views on the way their child should be educated, therefore there are different views on whether a child should be homeschooled or not. One drawback to homeschooling is the time restraints that homeschooling puts on all parents. It is considered a full time job for parents because they need to prepare all lesson plans, projects, be organized and teach your child, thus not giving the parent enough time in the day to get done what they need to get done. This brings up another drawback in the sense that homeschooling your child could be a financial restraint because one parent is not able to take on a full-time employment. At the same rate, homeschooling can be an advantage in the aspect that they can personalize their schedules. Most parents realize that their children work better at different parts of the day so home schooling allows for parents to work out a schedule that is best for their child, unlike public or private schools can allow.

As noted before every family has their own views on education and how their child is educated. By homeschooling your child it can be a huge advantaged in that there is no set curriculum that each subject must abide by like a public or private school must do. Homeschooling allows the parent to control which areas of the different subjects they want to put more emphasis on. The parent can also add courses into the home school curriculum that a typical student would not receive in organized classes.

For the child who may be athletic and want to participate in their school’s team sports, homeschooling may inhibit this from happening. Some school districts only allow children from the school to participate in the team sports. Yet if your concern for your child is their education and their future then homeschooling might be the answer. In an article on homeschooling by Kate McReynolds, a child clinical psychologist, she reported that in 2001 Stanford University admitted 27% of its homeschooled applicants, nearly twice the acceptance rate of traditionally schooled applicants. Homeschoolers tend to score higher than public school children on standardized achievement tests, advanced placement exams, the SAT, and the ACT.

Yet if a parent is concerned with their child’s future then maybe homeschooling is not the answer. When a child is homeschooled they are not surrounded by peers that enable them to socialize. They are not learning the social skills needed for everyday occurrences. More importantly school curriculum encourages team/group work to help with the problem solving and working with others that take place in future careers. This is not possible for the child who is homeschooled. Social skills can be the most important aspect of school and if the child is being homeschooled he is not learning these essential skills. Yet due to the amount of violence and bullying that has increased over recent years some parents feel homeschooling is a blessing because it is keeping their child away from this scene. They may feel their child will not pick up on any negative behaviors if they are not surrounded by children with behavioral issues.

Finally, as children get older they may have the desire to attend school. They may want to know what they are missing out on. Therefore with the combination of ensuring your child learns social skills and also does not feel the desire to attend school when they get older it is extremely important to get them involved in as many extra-curricular activities in the community. This will allow them to make friends with the same interests, learn their social skills, and have the interaction with peers that they get from school. Most parents who homeschool their children want them to stick to it because homeschooling integrates faith and the family’s values that their child would not receive from public schools. Thus it is important to keep your child included in as many activities with their peers so they get the social aspect but explain to your child the reason for homeschooling so they understand why they are not in the public/private school system like their peers.

Overall homeschooling has grown a tremendous amount over the past years and continues to grow annually. Yet families do have their different views which are why there are so many drawbacks and benefits to homeschooling. The most important aspect when deciding to homeschool your child is if it going to benefit your child and prepare them for a successful future.