Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Core Curriculum Content Standards

The State Board of Education first adopted the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in 1996. The standards describe what students should know and be able to do upon completion of a thirteen-year public education and provide local school districts with clear and specific benchmarks for student achievement in nine content areas. In my opinion, I think this is an excellent start to providing students in New Jersey with an equal education across the state. New Jersey updates the standards every five years. I think that updating the standards every five years is a great way to make sure that our students in New Jersey are able to compete academically with the ever-changing demands of the workforce and world. The 2009 standards reflect current research, exemplary practices, national and state standards, and standards from other countries. They were drafted by taskforces consisting of educators and experts recognized for their content area expertise and for demonstration of excellence as practitioners in their respective fields. I think it is extremely valuable that each content area includes standards and cumulative progress indicators that are aligned with the knowledge and skills needed for post-secondary education and the workplace. These are key contributions and indicators in making sure that not only are the standards relevant but influenced by individuals with a strong understanding of the content skills needed for life.
I have long believed that using standards to drive instruction allows teachers and students to be on the same page by specifying how teachers and students will meet their educational goals by describing specific concepts, sequence, and possible instructional materials. An example showing the value of standards driving instruction at the state level is NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards, which aim for a high and reflective level of student understanding. These standards articulate the higher levels of learning for which teachers, schools, and districts are being held accountable through measures such as the expectations for a 21st century education, state testing, and report cards. When teachers align classroom instruction and assessment with the standards, they strive to ensure that their students will meet these high demands. I believe that educators using the standards are better prepared to track student performance and focus instruction to meet the specific needs of all students.
Most research agree that standard driven instruction, describes what matters by providing clarity and a fixed point of reference for students and teachers to guide instruction that is focused on student learning. As I mentioned, NJCCCS help to ensure equal educational opportunities across the state while identifying needs of struggling students. Done well, standards can be an important tool for equity: if all kids are required to meet the standards, all schools must work to make children reach them. This provides a clear playing field so there’s not advantage for schools composed of a majority of middle class; college-bound students achieve, but also disadvantaged students too. Many professionals and experts state that standards provide a strong focus for learning, when implemented correctly. This focus helps to create a strong personalized educational plan for students. Plus, I think the standards help to focus the curriculum so that there is progressive learning across the schools and up and down the grade levels.
Demonstrating student learning is a complex task for teachers. Teachers need professional development opportunities to develop their own understanding of the content areas and their understanding of how students learn in these areas. So although standards help educators take a step towards a set of common goals, these statements do not tell teachers if the standards are effective nor does it provide guidelines for effective instruction. Appropriate professional development about standard driven instruction is necessary to support teachers’ learning, which focuses on improved student outcomes.
Standards provide a focus for reform efforts in which all students must reach a certain level. Teachers can see how well students are doing by looking at their progress towards standards. Focus is one of the greatest benefits of standards; publication is another. Looking at standards, everyone can see what schools are aiming to teach and what students must learn. What must be learned isn't a secret, kept for a small portion of the student population and hidden from the rest. Since standards provide a focus, they provide a yardstick for evaluating all aspects of schooling like:
Ø Is this a good textbook? It must provide opportunities to meet the standards.
Ø Is this a worthwhile staff development workshop? It should provide teachers with techniques for getting students to learn using the standards.
Ø Is this a good supplemental resource? It should enhance students learning to attain standard objectives.
Ø Do all resources, materials, schedule, personnel assignments help our students achieve the standards?
Have you ever asked yourself, “How can standards help students to learn better?” In an ideal world, students learn better in a standards-based environment because everybody's working towards the same goal.
Ø Teachers know what the standards are and choose classroom activities that enable students to achieve the standards.
Ø Students know the standards, too, and can see scoring guides that embody them. The students can use them to complete their work.
Ø Parents know them and can help students by seeing that their homework aligns with the standards.
Ø Administrators know what is necessary to attain the standards and apportion resources and buy materials to ensure that students are able to reach the prescribed standards. Schools communicate the standards to parents via newsletters, etc.

21st Century Themes and Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. As the United States continues to compete in a global economy that demands innovation, P21 and its members provide tools and resources to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the three Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation). Several leading districts and schools across the country are already implementing these skills. P21 is currently advocating for local, state and federal policies that support this approach for every school. It presents a holistic view of 21st century teaching and learning that combines a discrete focus on 21st century student outcomes (a blending of specific skills, content knowledge, expertise and literacy) with innovative support systems to help students master the multi-dimensional abilities required of them in the 21st century.
To help teachers, administrators, policymakers, and parents integrate skills into the teaching of core academic subjects, the Partnership has developed a unified, collective vision for learning known as the Framework for 21st Century Learning. This Framework clarifies the skills, knowledge and expertise students must master to succeed in work and life in now and in the future. Every 21st century skill implementation requires the development of core academic subject knowledge and understanding among all students. Those who can think critically and communicate effectively must build on a base of core academic subject knowledge. Within the context of core knowledge instruction, students must also learn the essential skills for success in today’s world, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. When a school or district builds on this foundation, combining the entire framework with the necessary support systems: standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development and learning environments, students are more engaged in the learning process and graduate better prepared to thrive in today’s global economy. Mastery of core subjects and 21st century themes are essential to every student’s success. P21 understands that students must grasp the core subjects which include English, reading/ language arts, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics. In addition to these core subjects, schools must promote an understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes: Global Awareness, Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy, Civic Literacy, Health Literacy, Environmental Literacy, Learning and Innovation Skills.
From what I have read, I believe incorporating 21st century skills into daily instruction will prepare our students for the challenges of the future. For starters, learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in today’s world and those who are not. Students must be able to combine creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration in life and work place to be successful. Not to mention, n today we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools, and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Teachers have to prepare our students to be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills involving information literacy, media literacy, and Information, communications and technology literacy. 2In addition, students will have to navigate complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age paying rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills involving flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.
According to the 21st Century Workforce Commission National Alliance of Business, “The current and future health of America’s 21st Century Economy depends directly on how broadly and deeply Americans reach a new level of literacy—‘21st Century Literacy’—that includes strong academic skills, thinking, reasoning, teamwork skills, and proficiency in using technology.” 21st century standards are also important in supporting the 21st century movement. First, they have to build understanding across and among core subjects as well as 21st century interdisciplinary themes. Plus, emphasizes deep understanding rather than shallow knowledge. Engages students with the real world data, tools, and experts they will encounter in college, on the job, and in life. Research shows that students learn best when actively engaged in solving meaningful problems. Lastly, the standards should allow for multiple measures of mastery. In order to thrive in a digital economy, students will need digital age proficiencies. It is important for the educational system to make parallel changes in order to fulfill its mission in society, namely the preparation of students for the world beyond the classroom. Therefore, educational systems across the country must understand and embrace 21st century skills and themes within the context of their rigorous academic standards.

Professional Improvement Plan (PIP)/Professional Development Plan (PDP)

The Professional Development Plan (PDP) (originally called the Professional Improvement Plan/ PIP) is the document in which an educator, in collaboration with an administrator, outlines how he/she will participate in professional growth. The document should reflect how that growth will be ongoing and positive. The PDP offers an opportunity to self-asses one’s needs and interests and identify appropriate professional goals for the upcoming school year. The Professional Development Plan is also where the educator can document completed professional development hours.
An effective PDP should be designed to improve a teacher’s ability to improve student achievement. The plan should be comprehensive and focus on an educator’s continual learning. The PDP should be aligned with school goals, district goals, and the New Jersey Professional Development Standards. Included in the PDP should be opportunities for the teacher to engage in district-provided professional learning situations, school based team experiences, and individual learning opportunities outside the school environment. The PDP should be relevant and meaningful for the educator. It is a working document and can be revisited and revised as needed.
The standards included in the PDP are the New Jersey Professional Development Standards and they are closely aligned with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. There are twelve standards included in the New Jersey Professional Development Standards. Enhancing knowledge of subject content (#1), encouraging educators to develop a variety of classroom based assessment skills (#4), provides for integrating new learning into the curriculum and the classroom (#5) and empowers educators to work effectively with parent and community partners (#12) are a few of the standards included. Each standard is broken down further into more detailed descriptions. Educators are not required to include all of the standards in their PDP, but rather focus on those that are most appropriate and adequately reflect the school and district goals. The Professional Development standards support the idea that educators are life-long learners and professional development needs to be ongoing.
In addition to the NJ Professional Development Standards, the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted professional standards for teachers and school leaders in December 2003. These standards identify those qualities that professional educators should possess and that best support learning. They are also closely tied to the Core Curriculum Content Standards. Each standard reflects a specific aspect of effective practice and within each standard there are a series of indicators broken down into three sections including knowledge, disposition and performance statements.
The New Jersey Professional Teaching Standards Board (NJPTSB) was responsible for developing the standards for educators. They worked in conjunction with national groups including the Interstate New Teacher Assessment Support Consortium (INTASC) and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Additional input was gathered from New Jersey educators. The standards reflect the various skills and knowledge a teacher should possess as well as an emphasis on reading and math. In addition, they help districts meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The standards include:
· Subject matter knowledge
· Human growth and development
· Diverse Learners
· Instructional planning strategies
· Assessment
· Learning environment
· Special needs
· Communication
· Collaboration & partnerships
· Professional development

Recent revisions have been made to the special needs standard and an eleventh standard has been added. This standard is entitled professional responsibility.
The Professional Development Plan, which was originally called the Professional Improvement Plan, was renamed in January 2008. This was a change in name only. However, districts are currently in the process of revising Professional Development Plan forms to be ready for use in the 2010-2011 school year. There is a PDP template currently available through the State Department of Education, which is being used to guide districts in the development of their own PDP forms. At this time each district is free to develop their own as long as it is in compliance with N.J.A.C. 6A: 32. Also under revision is the procedure for selecting professional development offered within a district. The intent of the newly developed format and procedures is to ensure that student learning is directly related to professional learning for teachers and education services personnel, as described in a letter to school district administrators from Willa Spice, Deputy Commissioner of Division of Educational Standards and Programs (10/13/09).
The Professional Development Plan is at times a controversial subject within many districts. For example, some educator may view the PDP as a waste of time. Others might be concerned that it could be used as a negative evaluative tool. However, the purpose of the document is to attempt to build direct connections between what teachers learn and how students achieve success. Regardless of whether or not all are in agreement that the PDP is a helpful tool, it is difficult to argue with the idea on which it is based. The PDP encourages ongoing learning for the professional and how best to connect that to the student. Professional development enhances teaching, which in turn enhances student learning. Therefore, both teachers and students should benefit from the Professional Development Plan.


In January 2008, the Professional Improvement Plan (PIP) was changed to the Professional Development Plan (PDP). This change was in name only. All certified staff members must complete a PDP each year. The PDP should be developed between the teacher and his/her administer/supervisor. These plans are designed to encourage professional development in order to better serve and educate students. PDP’s must follow the NJ Professional Development Standards. Additionally, these standards are aligned with the NJCCCS.
There is a positive change taking place in PDP’s in the state of NJ. We have realized that disconnected professional development opportunities do not have the same effect of long lasting, continued goals. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is the newest trend in professional development. PLC’s encourage collaboration between staff members. Goals can be set for the year and teacher’s can work together towards their goals. PLC’s also allow for follow up to the goals. When you meet regularly, you will likely be reporting on your progress. This is much more effective than training with no follow-up. Recently, my district held an in-service training for a new reading program. We were told the same company representative will be back a few times in the next couple of months to make sure we don’t have any questions and to assist us in whatever way possible. It is a very nice feeling to be supported in our professional development endeavors.
Many staff members have varying opinions in regards to PDPs. Most people seem to agree with the idea of having a PDP. It is obvious that educators need to continue to develop their skills in order to effectively teach our students. Also, professional development helps to keep up with new technology in schools. By developing PDP’s, we meet professional development requirements of the state. In a PDP, we not only meet the goals of the state but we can also incorporate our own goals. By making our own goals, the PDP can be very effective. By working towards a plan that we believe in, we will end up benefiting our students. We have the opportunity to set goals for ourselves and later be held accountable for these goals. The PDP is a chance to hold ourselves accountable and also for administrators to hold us accountable.
When we sit down to discuss our PDP with an administrator, we have a chance to talk, which is sometimes hard to do. It is a time to reflect and self-critique the year. It is a good time to look back at the year, and help to reassess for the upcoming year. It is a time to hear compliments and constructive criticism which can help us grow as educators. It can be very beneficial to have this opportunity with your supervisor.
Overall, most people agreed that PDPs are not overwhelming and really quite simple. Many districts provide many in-service opportunities for professional development time. However, a question can be raised concerning if the PDP is “too easy”. Many people felt that the PDP is just a formality. To some it is a piece of paper that we only look at once a year when it is time for our annual evaluation. We fill out the paper before meeting with our principal, and don’t think of it again until the following year. Also, many PDPs are intentionally designed to be very general. This way, any professional development hours provided by the district will “fit-in” to our PDP. This is clearly not a sign that employees are working towards very specific goals, but only trying to get required hours completed.
The PDP does tend to become a lot about paperwork. This is often the time of year that people are scrambling to compare notes with others to make sure they have written down all of the in service dates and PLC meetings. This may lead one to believe that the goal of the PDP is not as important as getting the hours completed is. For an administrator with a big staff, scheduling all of these meeting is very time consuming.
Overall, I think most people agree with and support the idea of PDP’s. However, I think there are ways to manage PDP’s so that they are more effective. Making more specific goals, that the employee is invested in, will lead to more valuable professional development goals. Having an ongoing goal and ongoing development (like a PLC) is an idea that both educators and administrators seem to like. Professional development is an important piece of our job and when properly structured, can be very effective.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Grant Wiggins Understanding by Design

Grant Wiggins’ co-wrote the book Understanding by Design with Jay McTighe. Grant Wiggins taught 14 years in a secondary school. He is currently the president of the Authentic Education in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. He organizes workshops, develops materials and web resources on curricular change.

One of Grant Wiggins key understandings if that the primary goal of education is the development and deepening of student understanding to enable transfer of knowledge and skills. Another key component of understanding according to Grant Wiggins is that content needs to be “unpacked” to identify the big ideas and essential questions. Lastly, Wiggins feels that understanding can not be transmitted by “telling”. It is revealed when students apply (transfer) knowledge and skills.

The Backward Design approach invented by Grant Wiggins uses a question format rather than an objective one. Wiggins believes in order to develop an effective curriculum, students answer key questions, in order to strengthen their learning about content, and experience an enduring understanding. As educators, we all want our students to learn, and to keep that learning with them. There is no way better to ensure this but by developing curriculum that not only meets their needs, but also is an essential part of learning. Students learn best by creating and developing relevant meaning.

The Backward Design consists of three stages. Stage 1: Identify Desired Results. In this stage, the essential question is determined to guide stages 2 and 3. During Stage 1, the essential question needs to focus on enduring value beyond the classroom, requires unfolding of abstract or often misunderstood ideas, and offers potential for engaging students. Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence. In the second stage, the design process is to define what forms of assessment will demonstrate that the students acquired the knowledge, understanding, and skills to answer the questions. In this stage, Wiggins is accepting of three types of assessment: a performance task, criteria referenced, and self-assessment. Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction. In this stage, it is determined what sequence of teaching and learning experiences will allow students to develop and demonstrate the necessary enduring understanding.

Grant Wiggins also developed the Six Facets of Understanding. They are: explain, interpret, apply, perspective, empathize, and self-knowledge. Once a student grasps these facets of understanding, they can then, in turn, transfer that knowledge from one lesson to the next. Following this model of understanding enables the students to make meaningful and lasting connections while enduring understanding.

While reading about Grant Wiggins Understanding by Design, I found that it makes so much more sense to start with what our big ideas and questions are that we want children to investigate and understand. These focus topics do not just need to be for one lesson- they can be incorporated for multiple lessons at a time. So many high school students graduate not feeling as though they have learned much information which is useful to them. If we follow Wiggins’ theory and practices, students have a better chance of recalling and applying knowledge more realistically.

Of course, it is easier to simply teach out of a textbook and use rote memorization as the tool for assessment. If you put into practice Wiggins ideas, much teacher preparation is needed to fully and correctly implement the curriculum. For many years, this has been, and for many still is, the way students are taught. It is not easy to convince those who have been educators for years that this new “backwards” way does increase a student’s learning ability. As for the Six Facets of Design, not all educators feel that all of them need to be a focal point. Some believe that only a few of them are crucial in a child’s learning and understanding.

Barbara-Jo Freundlich
Spring 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Curriculum Mapping- A Guide to Your Instruction

The concept of first curriculum mapping first appeared in the 1980s. In 1997, Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs created a model for curriculum mapping. Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs is President of Curriculum Designers, Inc., and according to my professor Dr. Jay Dugan, she is the authority on curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping is a system that thematically aligns assessment, curriculum and instruction. It shows what is going to be taught, how instruction will be delivered and when instruction will be taught. According to Linda Starr of Education World, who provides an online virtual workshop, creating and working with curriculum maps is a 7-step process involving. The steps are outlined below, but she cautions, curriculum maps are records of implemented instruction -- of what has been taught during the current school year. Projection maps, or pacing guides, on the other hand, project what will be covered in the future.

o Phase 1: Data collection.

o Phase 2: A review of all maps by all teachers.

o Phase 3: Small mixed group reviews, in which groups of five to eight diverse faculty members share individual findings

o Phase 4: Large group comparisons, in which all faculty members gather to examine the findings of the smaller groups.

o Phase 5: Identification of immediate revision points and creation of a timetable for resolution.

o Phase 6: Identification of points requiring additional research and planning, and a timetable for resolution of those points.

  • Phase 7: Planning for the next review cycle.

In the school district that I currently work in, we developed a curriculum map for each grade level. Each grade level was asked to complete Phase 1, to create their own map of what we taught and when. However, that is where the comparison ends. After the initial teacher input, administration was the one who decided what was taught and when it was taught. Then, the curriculum map was given to us for us to implement without further input or opportunity for discussion. Given the words of Linda Starr, our development of the curriculum map is what is driving our instruction now, not just mapping out what has already been taught. Contrary to Linda Starr’s point of view, T. Webster of the website wiseGeek, feels that curriculum mapping can be used as a planning tool to ensure all required topics are being covered during a school year or a certain time frame. With this difference in explanation and application, my district uses curriculum mapping as a planning tool.

However, to me there are many positives to having curriculum mapping in districts. For instance, when students move from one school in a district to another, curriculum mapping ensures that what the student was learning prior to the move, they will still be learning when they get to the new school. It will also help over the course of when students move from school to school because of graduations. Previous teachers can have a firm handle on what was taught the previous year and when. This translates into layering, expanding and deepening the students understand of material. In addition, this puts all students on a level playing field. It does not allow material to be glazed over or skipped all together.

Outlined below are additional positive outcomes to having curriculum mapping in school districts.

o Positives: 1. Timeline. This timeline says what and when things are taught in all subjects and all grades. This ensures that all material is covered. 2. Collaboration. Provides time for teachers to collaborate, plans lessons together and share ideas. It reduces the need to focus on details when teachers have common planning time or Professional Learning Communities. 3. Generalization. Curriculum mapping helps students to generalize information from one subject to another. 4. Allows educators to review the curriculum to check for unnecessary redundancies, inconsistencies, misalignments, weaknesses, and gaps. 5. Documents the relationships between the required components of the curriculum and the intended student learning outcomes. 6. Identifies what students have learned, allowing teachers to focus on building on previous knowledge.

Despite the numerous positive outcomes using curriculum mapping, there can be drawbacks.

o Drawbacks: 1. Lack of agreement of on what should be taught when. 2. Inflexible. With curriculum mapping, there is no flexibility to what is taught and when. It is very rigid. 3. Some teachers do not teach certain material.

To me, curriculum mapping can be used as a tool to ensure that all students are given the benefits of a complete education. However, it should not put a strangle hold on instruction. There should be some leeway for "fun" instruction. That will let students know that school is not all about what MUST be learned. But sometimes, can be what is FUN to learn!

Curriculum Mapping

Curriculum mapping is the implementation of curriculum design. It is a systematic development of assessment, curriculum and instruction. The mapping process discusses what is taught, how and when the instruction is taught. Mapping also enables the process of data collection that identifies core content, processes and assessment in each subject area. This data collection improves the communication and instruction in all curricular areas.
Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs is an author and internationally known educator/leader in the fields of curriculum mapping, curriculum integration, and developing 21st century approaches to teaching and learning. Dr.Jacobs is the president of Curriculum Designers, Inc. and the Executive Director of the Curriculum Mapping Institute. She has worked as a consultant to thousands of schools nationally and internationally. The issues that she addresses in K-12 districts are pertaining to: curriculum reform, instructional strategies to encourage higher-level thinking and strategic planning. In her book, “ “, she discusses curriculum mapping and the overall development of possible curricular designs. She states in the book that curriculum mapping is a procedure for collecting and maintaining a database of the operational curriculum in a school or district. It provides the basis for authentic examination of the database (Jacobs, 1997). When curriculum mapping is the basis of a focused, systemic effort, it becomes a hub for connecting all aspects of the system. It serves as a linchpin, a connector, which provides the basis for
§ Sharpening and focusing the curriculum to ensure a consistent core curriculum for all children.
§ Connecting other school, state, and national initiatives.
§ Aligning all instructional components, including content, skills, assessments, activities, and resources.
§ Aligning reporting tools and processes so they provide meaningful long-term data
§ Aligning all school improvement processes so they positively affect student achievement.
§ Providing the data needed to develop a meaningful vision.
§ Rethinking the support structure to ensure lasting change.
As educational leaders, we are constantly searching for the magic formula—the answer that would open the professional discussions that need to occur for meaningful change to take place. Curriculum mapping is a commonsense approach to address the systemic issue—improving student achievement. When it is implemented in a thoughtful manner, paying attention to everything we know about sustaining lasting change, it can have a dramatic effect on the culture of a school. She also discusses curriculum mapping on the youtube website.

Curriculum mapping assists a school by:
§ Helps teachers create interrelated units that improve student’s understanding of concepts, ideas and activities that are cross curricular.
§ Acts as a supportive open venue for communication regarding instruction and curriculum between faculty members.
§ Allows for student connections or common understanding of academic subject areas.
§ Teachers can have a “pause” or a time of reflection to adjust their teaching so that it can be more meaningful.
§ Helps in coordination with the special areas so that preplanning can occur with field trips, performances and other non-specific academics.
§ Giving teachers knowledge regarding what is taught and when it is taught in all subject areas and grade levels,

The overall intention of a curriculum map is to help identify seams or gaps. It is supposed to prevent repetition by following the scope and sequence. The mapping process will also help with the alignment of assessments, content and methods across years or grade levels. It will also align horizontal assessments, content and methods between subjects. Ideally it will enhance assessment and instruction through the process of engagement of the curricular map.
Through my research I found several mapping systems:
§ Web-based and made with an in house program like Filemaker Pro
§ Server-based and made in house with a tool like Filemaker Pro or with software specifically for mapping
§ Web-based and hosted by a web-based company such as RubiconAtlas
§ Portable in-house documents, posted in a shared folder or in a First Class discussion group
§ Software-based and saved to local computers
Until this time I have only been aware of the portable in-house type of mapping
because that is the type we utilize in my district. A good workable mapping system is:
§ Available to faulty anytime or anywhere and ideally web-based.
§ Can be easily updated by those involved with the mapping process.
§ Adaptable to the desired content/subject.
§ Has a good communication system that actively involves faculty e-mail, or websites.
§ Able to demonstrate comparable data.
§ Only allows access to secured individuals such as administration, educators or even community members including parents.
§ As long as there is authoritative access all computers can view information.
§ Follows the district and schools goals and objectives.
§ Information can be found easily with searchable information like; grade, subject, teacher, course, assessment, date, lesson methods, and content:
There are many models that can be found on the Internet and as we have shared in
class, Fundamentals of Curriculum Development, during our mini-curriculum groupings. Some of the common sites are; FileMaker Pro, Word Template, Rubicon Atlas, Curriculum Mapper, and Curriculum Creator.

§ Sometimes mapping doesn’t represent clear goals.
§ It can be a large undertaking or a huge task.
§ Can cause opposing views on what kind or how to map the curriculum.
§ Does the user really see the value like the individuals who created the curriculum? Is there ownership of the overall idea?
§ Do all the vested players know the dialogue or vocabulary of the project? Meaning does the Social Studies teacher care to understand why their curriculum has to be integrated with the Reading program.

Advantages after implementation of curriculum mapping:
§ Meeting time can be devoted to ideas and lesson sharing, the everyday specialties of the unit of study.
§ It helps new teachers with a guideline of lesson planning and understanding the subject curriculum.
§ Provides real time data that can drive the instruction and assessment schedule.
§ Complements what you as a teacher does in the everyday classroom.
§ Is a communication tool for individuals of the larger community such as; parents, other schools, decision makers, and grant providers.

Understanding by Design

Understanding by Design
April 22, 2010

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a concept for curriculum designers initiated by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe that incorporates the idea of “teaching for understanding”. The entire focus of UbD is to get the students to better understand the material, which in turn, will allow them to not only retain the information better, but also apply the information to other situations.

Understanding by Design emphasizes six facets of understanding. These include students being able to explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, and have self-knowledge about a given topic. It also describes a three-stage process of curriculum development, referred to as “backward design”. It is concerned with concentrating on the end result. The three stages are as follows:

Stage 1. Identify the results
Stage 2. Determine acceptable evidence
Stage 3. Plan learning experiences and instruction

Stage 1 involves considering aims and goals, and checks content standards. It also involves selecting the content and content sequencing. Stage 2 determines how the curriculum will be assessed and the 3rd stage involves planning the learning activities.

This three-stage process helps to avoid the twin problems of “textbook coverage” and “activity-oriented” teaching. As a teacher, you should concentrate on what the big ideas are that you want your students to retain. A key component of Wiggins and McTighe’s framework is the concept of “enduring understanding”. Educators will determine what will “anchor” the unit. According to our textbook, “the term enduring refers to the big ideas, the important understandings, that we want our students to ‘get inside of’ and retain after they have forgotten many of the details.”

I feel that this part of the planning is one that may get overlooked by many teachers. Some teachers become so overwhelmed by the amount of information that they must cover throughout the year that they do not concentrate on the retention of this information. By concentrating on key components of the unit, we can ensure the students are retaining important information. It is impossible to assume that every student is going to retain all of the information that is given to him or her. However, we can try our best to ensure that each student can retain key components of each unit.

One can judge whether or not a student has retained the information, by the students applying the knowledge and skills they learned. Understanding cannot be transmitted by “telling”, but must be actively constructed in the mind of the learner.

Upon examining the rationale behind this style of curriculum planning, I was quite impressed with that it is intended to accomplish. Stressing the “big ideas” and using these as a means of planning lessons, does seem quite logical. Often, we overlook the point of teaching: for students to retain as much information as they can, while being able to apply the information in future situations. Often teachers start with the beginning of the textbook and work their way through all of the pages. We often overload our students with information, but quickly realize that the students retain little information. Big ideas and essential questions are extremely valuable in increasing retention levels of our students.


Ornstein, A. & Hunkins, F. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (5th Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Data Driven Decision Making

Ellen Firth
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Dugan
April 20, 2010
Data Driven Decision Making
According to the RAND corporation, a nonprofit research organization, Data Driven Decision Making (DDDM) is defined as follows: "DDDM in education refers to teachers, principals, and administrators systematically collecting and analyzing various types of data, including input, process, outcome and satisfaction data, to guide a range of decisions to help improve the success of students and schools" (2006). Data Driven Decision is a common buzz phrase in schools across America. As states strive to meet proficiency standards, administrators work toward using data in newer and better ways in order to improve student and teacher performance.
Data can be used in countless ways in order to identify strengths and weaknesses and to move students toward proficiency. For instance, DDDM can identify demographic issues that may affect a student as well as strengths and/or weaknesses that are specific to certain demographic clusters. For example, it is true that across the board, that students that are economically disadvantaged often struggle more than students in a higher economic strata. Although this is not new information, DDDM allows educators to identify specific skills certain students lack or students who are in need of support and decide if these deficits are at least in part related to demographics or some other area.
As a resource for this paper, Akisha Jones, Data Specialist and Statistician for Woodbury Public Schools was interviewed. Akisha was asked to talk about the pros and cons of DDDM. According to Miss Jones, DDDM allows for supporting evidence to be used from data to make sound decisions about a wide range of things. For example, if a cluster of students in an English class struggle with verb tense, then a decision can be made to bring this to the teacher's attention and to ensure that the teacher aligns his or her lesson plans to accommodate this deficit. In addition, teachers can access this data to differentiate lessons that allow for better focused instruction as well as individual student focus and cluster focus on student groups based on need.
Besides student performance, DDDM can measure teacher performance by tracking student progress on certain skills. For example, a student may test in the fall and do poorly in a certain area. The teacher can use this data to focus instruction. If the student continues to do poorly, then the teacher may need to alter instruction. If the student improves, then it will be deduced that the teacher is succeeding in helping the student to make adequate progress and vice-versa. As Akisha notes, "Data doesn't lie." Her point is that facts are facts and if good data is gathered and interpreted, then sound decisions can be made.
However, there are drawbacks to DDDM. First of all, it is expensive to implement computerized testing, train teachers, hire a data expert, etc. Secondly, working with data requires an enormous amount of time that many educators simply do not have. Furthermore, there is a danger of an overreliance on data that would result in the whole child being left out of the picture. For example, if a student has a bad day or week, or his or her parents just divorced, or any number of scenarios, data does not show that critical piece of information. Also, "bad" data could end up in the mix. Since DDDM is relatively new in the broad spectrum of education, bad data could inadvertently end up getting published and used. Educators may lack the necessary training or enough training to clearly interpret data and therefore DDDM may be an ineffective tool. Furthermore, teacher buy-in may be slow as educators resist this daunting technology. With that said, whatever the benefits and drawbacks, it appears that DDDM is here to stay in our globalized and computerized environment.

Akisha Jones, Data Specialist, Woodbury Public Schools ---Interview
The Rand Corporation
U.S. Department of Education

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Negative Aspects of Grade Retention

Amy Stevenson
April 22, 2010

Grade retention is a policy requiring students who have failed to achieve satisfactorily, to repeat their current grade the following year instead of moving on to the next grade. It is based on the belief that students will be able to master the material they could not master previously and be better prepared for the next grade. Over the past 75 years, educators and researchers have been looking for knowledge to support if grade retention is beneficial or harmful to students. Initial studies shed a positive light on grade retention stating that students were given the chance to experience the learning material for a second time and master it before moving onto the next grade level. As these students progressed through school (about six years later) researchers started coming across some startling news. They noticed that these students developed different attitudes and behaviors that began to prove their initial theories wrong.

The three major studies conducted were by Holmes, 1989; Holmes & Matthews,1984; Jimerson, 2001; Shepard & Smith, 1990 and have provided the most important information about the effects of grade retention. The conclusions from nearly all of thee studies are the same: repeating a year does not improve academic performance, social competency or general behavior for students. They also noticed it creates low self-esteem and a negative attitude to school and places students at risk of further failure, increased anti-social behavior and eventually dropping out of school. The key points made in each abstract were as follows:
• Most students who are held back do not catch up academically.
• Grade retention contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning.
• Some students do better at first, then fall behind in later grades and are repeatedly retained.
• Students are more likely to become alienated from school and eventually drop out.
• Shame and embarrassment of being held back and separation from age mates.
• Students are more physically mature in Jr. /Sr. high than younger students.
• Retention contributes to poor mental health and social outcomes.
• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary schooling.
• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioral problems.

Some parents and educators truly believe that grade retention is beneficial when statistics show that it is not effective. Parents often believe that their child will get to spend another year with the same teacher therefore; the teacher will overcompensate for this child because of their previous year. These studies have found that the teacher with student that has been retained will move the student to a different teacher if possible or the student is treated as a “new member of the class”. Some schools assume that repeating will motivate a low achieving student to try harder. Others assume that being retained will raise a student’s self-esteem because they will be the oldest student in the grade, already have some grade level skills and take on a leadership role with younger students. It is more common to find that their loss of self confidence results in their being out-performed academically and socially by their new younger classmates.

Grade retention is not beneficial to students academically, emotionally or socially. It creates negative attitudes towards school, learning, their peer and ultimately themselves. By retaining students, you are creating a negative learning environment for a student who ultimately should be inspired to be a “life-long learner”. Alternatives to grade retention vary according to education resources but are widely available to all educators and school districts. Successful schools use a combination of specific evidence-based intervention strategies and approaches that enhance and support the achievement and adjustment of individual students. Some alternatives are:
• Early identification and intervention
• IEP’s and learning support specialists
• Differentiating curriculum, tasks, and assessment
• Multi-age classrooms or 2 years with one teacher
• Behavior plans and motivators
• Providing compensatory structures, scaffolding and assistive technology
• Whole-class social skills and resilience programs
• Peer tutoring

These alternatives to retaining students will provide school districts with options n how to educate the struggling student. The results from the three research studies conducted fail to support the use of repeating as an intervention to improve academic achievement, socio-emotional and behavioral adjustment. In some cases, there may be an occasional student who succeeds but for most students, providing them with more of what didn’t work for them the first time is just a set back. As an administrator, provide your staff with support and resources to educate struggling students continuously and monitoring progress frequently to reduce the number of students retained in school.

Understanding the Drawbacks and Challenges of Online Education

Edward Callinan
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
22 April, 2010

Understanding the Drawbacks and Challenges of Online Education

Though the benefits of the advancements in technology cannot be denied, online education presents drawbacks and challenges that must be recognized in order to further its development. Indeed, even the fact that online education is still in its infancy can be seen as a problem compared with traditional education. The 2005 report by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory noted that “we cannot have real ‘confidence’ in these [online students perform as well as or better than traditional students] conclusions until there is much more support available from high-quality quantitative research.” Such a lack of definitive conclusions prompted the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) to importune definite benchmarks to better understand its effectiveness. According to NACOL’s 2007 National Primer on k-12 Online Learning, “A mechanism to track online programs and students is an apparent first-level policy requirement that a surprising number of states have not yet put into place.”

This urgency was resounded by Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. He stated that much more research needs to be conducted before drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of online education. “Virtual learning is very young. It’s in its infant stage compared to the age of the educational system itself.” A response came in July of 2008, when the U.S. Department of Education released a guide to help schools evaluate K-12 online education programs. The U.S. Department of Education explained that because of the rapid expansion of programs and the “dearth of existing research on the topic, it is critical to conduct rigorous evaluations of online learning in K-12 settings to ensure that it does what people hope it will do: help improve student learning.”

The above information proves that while online education can certainly have benefits, reservations about online education are help by experts and laypeople alike. The following is a list of those drawbacks and challenges. The chronology of the list does not suggest a level of importance or priority concerning the list.

1. Loss of Personal Interaction

It is ironic that in a world in which more and more people find themselves “connected,” the meaning of that “connection” has changed. Today, the description of “connected” refers to the personal utilization of cell phones, Internet connection, iPods, and other communication devices. However, those very same devices allow people to function daily without face-to-face interaction. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association (NEA), warns that online education should not completely replace full-time education in the classroom. He noted that “When you start using online courses as a total alternative, you lose all the benefits of the face-to-face interaction, … [the] sense of community, social development…” This concept of social development is even more critical for students in early developmental stages. Mark Pudlow, spokesman for public policy at the Florida Education Association, resounds Van Roekel’s warnings. Pudlow further intimates that ‘brick-and-mortar’ schools expose children to diversity, an important aspect of socialization that’s difficult to recreate online. “When you go to public schools, you interact with [different people] and you get to see how [they] look at the same situation. That’s very important to the health of our nation.”

2. Reduction in the Variety of Instructional Methods

It is readily apparent that online education precludes the presence of a teacher to interact, discuss, or motivate. This fact holds the potential to reduce the instructional methods that might be employed in education. Instructional/learning methods such as Socratic seminar; think, pair, share; and demonstration-performance all require live interaction with fellow students and teachers. These methods can require an immediacy of response, recognition of body language, and even an acknowledgement of the dynamics of a group setting. The aforementioned instructional methods and the requisite aspects of these methods would all be lost with an educational curriculum that is exclusively online.

3. Reduction in the Quality of Educational Offerings

Quality is a problem, too, which is a key reason why many online students do not complete online educational programs. In his article “Giving It the Old Online Try,” Business Week writer William Symmonds stated a belief that this lack of quality offerings will force a further shakeout, eliminating mediocre players. Symmonds expanded on this point, stating that many colleges are still grappling with such issues as how much time their faculty should devote to eteaching. Such facts convinced Andy DiPaolo, director of the Stanford Center for Professional Development, that “online learning will never be as good as face-to-face instruction.”

4. Potential Costs of Online Education

The greatest potential cost of online education is simply the total expense of making online education a possibility. One must consider the mechanisms essential to make online education possible. These include a computer with sufficient processing capabilities, an Internet connection with sufficient delivery speed, as well as microphone and camera equipment. The need for all of these components speaks to what has become termed the “digital divide.” It suggests that quality online education could become an asset to only those of sufficient economic means.

Even if a person can afford the necessary equipment to begin an online education, there may also be technical problems during the process. These problems include breakdowns in image or media software, a deceleration in processing speed, or a corruption of hard drive space.

Finally, online education can present financial challenges not only with equipment, access, and connection, but even with funding of that education. Finding financial aid to enroll in an online education program can be challenging. Institutions that offer financial aid must meet set accreditation standards. These standards present challenges to those institutions, and online course only make that challenge greater. These facts can account for the lack of online educational offerings at certain institutions, as well as the lack of financial aid for online education programs at other institutions.


As noted at the beginning of this blog, online education is certainly indicative of a rapidly changing and advancing world. But this post has also made clear the dangers of advancing into an exclusively online educational system holds. Clayton M. Christensen, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, predicted a blended system will prevail. Christensen expanded on this prediction:

People will go to school buildings, but much of the learning will be offered
online, and the role of the teacher in the physical classroom will change over
time from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side – to be a mentor,
motivator, and coach… The teacher will work individually with many students,
diagnose what learning needs they have, and help them find the best online
course or resources to help them and motivate them. It will be a very different
system, but it should be a much more rewarding system for everyone.

Works Cited

Cowan, Kristina. “Learning Across Distance.” Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review 74.8 (2009): 4- ERIC. EBSCO. Web. 15 April 2010

Symonds, William C. “Giving It the Old Online Try.” Business Week 3760 (2001): 76-80 Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web, 15 April 2010

21st Century Skills and Themes

The Partnership for the 21st Century Skills, a leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education, believes that “Every aspect of our education system -- preK-12, postsecondary and adult education, after-school and youth development and training, and teacher preparation programs -- must be aligned to prepare citizens with the 21st century skills they need to compete.” The Partnership reasons that the United States’ once bustling industrial economy based on manufacturing, (54% of GDP in 1967) has shifted to a service economy (63% of GDP in 1997) driven by information, knowledge and innovation. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1995 and 2005 the United States lost 3 million manufacturing jobs, while at the same time creating 17 million service-sector jobs. The demand for a new, diverse and multi-faceted skill set is increasing. A 2003 study by Autor, Levy, and Murnane from MIT found that “as firms take up technology, computers substitute for workers who perform routine tasks – but they complement workers who perform non-routine problem solving. Repetitive, predictable tasks are automated. Hence, computerization of the workplace has raised demand for problem solving and communications tasks, such as responding to discrepancies, improving production processes, and coordinating and managing the activities of others.” Taking all of these known facts into account, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan want to transform schools into places that will “provide rich material for the 21st century curriculum and instruction that is real-world, relevant and rigorous.” They have affirmed this statement by doubling the federal education budget for the 2009-2010 school year.
While a number of organizations have developed 21st century skills frameworks, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework for 21st Century Learning emphasizes many of the skills and themes expected to be valuable in preparing our students for the future. The framework includes: Core Subjects, 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. The Partnership believes that in addition to schools focusing on core subjects, they must promote the understanding of academic content at a higher level by incorporating 21st century interdisciplinary themes such as global awareness, and financial, civic, health, and environmental literacy. With the U.S Department of Labor estimating that today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38, the days of limiting students to a core set of knowledge has clearly come to an end. According to former United States Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Karl Fisch noted that “we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” An increased emphasis in the classroom on critical and creative thinking, problem-solving skills, communication and collaboration will help to prepare students for the rapidly changing future. Advocates, including myself, believe that education should focus on creating, evaluating and analyzing, since these will be the skills most in demand in the future. Our students must have the ability to respond to complex problems upon graduation or else they will be left behind by students from other nations that can respond to the needs of society.
As with any call for change, many people are resisting the research and push to incorporate 21st century skills into the current educational curriculum. Some dissenters are calling it a fad, wondering how millions of students already struggling to acquire 19th century skills in reading, writing and math are going to be able to synthesize information in our ever evolving technological society. Some opponents, including E.D. Hirsch Jr. - founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, feel that a push for 21st century skills is an ineffectual use of limited classroom time and occupies time that could be better spent learning deep, specific and essential content. The Boston Globe editorialized that it is “not clear that the approach can be implemented without deemphasizing academic content.” The conflict, as it has been for years, is about what should happen in a school day? As discussed by Greg Toppo of the USA Today, can students learn the core subjects on their own if schools teach them how to think critically, problem solve and use technology? Or do they learn these valuable skills by studying world history, famous literature, and higher mathematics? There is fear that learning will be shallow without the background knowledge to provide the needed depth to anchor it. Research has also shown that many teachers find it difficult to teach children to think creatively or collaborate.
Regardless of your feelings towards 21st century education, everyone agrees that society is rapidly changing. As Margaret Mead once said, “We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” It has become evident that the current planning and education of our future society will determine the future success of our country as a whole.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


As a public educator, I cannot help but feel a little threatened by the idea of homeschooling. After all, could this just be a parent telling me I am not doing my job well enough? I was surprised, however, with how my mind opened up to the homeschooling initiative after researching this topic.

In Colonial America, homeschooling and school houses were prevalent means of education. It was not until the 19th century that states started to adopt education laws requiring all children to attend public schools until the age of sixteen. From that time forward, homeschooling was primarily found in extremely rural communities in the United States. In the 1960s, however, the homeschooling movement began to take hold again after laws removed prayer and bible study from the public school curriculum. Religious education advocates, finding private schooling too expensive, started to explore homeschooling as a viable alternative. This, coupled with negative propaganda toward public schools, helped homeschooling build momentum throughout remaining half of the twentieth century.

Today, there are almost two million children that are homeschooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education. However, the causes of this expansion have spread into the secular arena. In 2007, 88% percent of parents reported choosing homeschooling due to concerns over the current school environment, with 73% of parents reporting dissatisfaction with current academic offerings in the public school system. These parents have weighed in on the pros in their choice of education. Although I initially approached their views with speculation, I can now see validity in many of the parents’ arguments.

Homeschooling enables students to excel without waiting. That is, the curriculum can truly be customized to each individual student by moving as fast or as slow as the child needs. Also, the small environment enables the parent to provide immediate feedback on a child’s work. This is invaluable in education. Students are able to see and correct mistakes immediately allowing them to master one skill before moving on to the next. Often, parents can move swiftly through material because there is no wasted time with assemblies, meetings, and snow days, for example. Furthermore, labeling, which can degrade a student’s self-esteem or place an inordinate amount of pressure on him or her, will not follow a student as it does in a regular school system. Parents and students also have a more flexible time schedule for appointments, field trips, and family vacations. Most importantly, homeschooling enables parents to instill the values and morals they want on their children, ensuring the children are raised as the parents deem fit. This environment forges stronger family relationships and has also been noted to limit discipline issues.

While parents do create a compelling argument, there are also limits to what homeschooling can provide. For instance, although parents may be able to move through material more quickly, homeschooling is often a taxing time and financial commitment. After all, with the responsibility of education falling on one parent, the family is often limited to a single income. Furthermore, homeschooling is an awesome responsibility on the parents. They must find ways both learn and teach all subject areas to the point of mastery, as homeschooled children are often still subject to state tests. Many students who are homeschooled also suffer from social stigma as they grow older and encounter their public-schooled counterparts. In addition, many have reported that homeschooled children have fewer socialization opportunities. Homeschooling advocates would argue that students are still able to be involved in several clubs and activities outside of the home, but their opposition debates the authenticity of these experiences. Moreover, many believe that the responsibility of homeschooling can put a tremendous strain on a family as it struggles to maintain a learning environment in the household.

Homeschooling’s effectiveness is highly debated in that some studies indicate that students perform above grade level, while others indicate the opposite. Due to these students’ various locations and learning experiences, gathering a truly randomized group of homeschoolers for performance analyst tests remains an obstacle. The only indication of success in homeschooling currently comes from the parents themselves. Although the parents’ perspective remains biased, it is clear that there are benefits to homeschooling children. But thanks to the challenges, this educational route is not for every family. So teachers can rest assured in having some job security in spite of the growth in homeschooling.

Major Sources:
US Department of Education
Home School Info
Home Schooling: An Overview article by Lynnn-nore Chittorn and Heather Newton

MCREL's 21 Leadership Responsibilities

Christina Niemczura
MCREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities

MCREL, which stands for Mid-continental Regional Education Laboratory consists of a groups of researchers who over the last 30 years have tried to determine what works in classrooms and in schools. One of their researches focused on the effects of principal leadership on student achievement. With 2,894 schools, 1.1 million students, and 14,000 teachers, it represents the largest sample of principals, teacher, and student achievement scores ever used to analyze the effects of educational leadership. This study has been able to define instructional leadership in terms of responsibilities and practices that if done well produce results, rather than in terms of personality traits or leadership styles.
Three major findings were found through this research. 1) The general effect of leadership can be quantified. Instructional leadership is correlated with student’s achievement. 2) They have identified 66 leadership practices embedded into 21 leadership responsibilities, each with statistically significant relationships to student achievement. 3) Teacher perceptions of principal leadership can either be correlated to higher student achievement or negatively correlated to student achievement. It can negatively be impacted when leaders concentrate on the wrong school and/ or classroom practices, or miscalculate the magnitude of the change they are attempting to implement.
MCREL identified 21 leadership responsibilities that are significantly associated with student achievement. Researchers have translated these results into a balanced leadership framework, which describes the knowledge, skills, strategies, and tools leaders need to positively impact student achievement.
Listed below are the 21 leadership responsibilities, followed by the extent to which the principal is involved:
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 takes these 21 responsibilities and uses them as guides for change. MCREL’s view of change states 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.” They use these responsibilities to decide if change is a first order change; one where it is consistent with current beliefs, can be carried out with existing skills, or implemented by others. A second order change is one where it is a break with the past, complex, implemented by stakeholders (NCLB), requires new skills. Each of the 21 responsibilties requires a first order change or second order change from the principal.
Although there is a plethora of information regarding leadership roles in order to enhance student achievement, their research and development on the topic of educational leadership continues. MCREL’s objective is to increase the accessibility, utility, and applicability of research for educational leaders. Researchers are currently collecting data from current principals so they can complete a factor analysis of the 21 leadership responsibilities. The goal is to correlate the factors to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) and identify knowledge and skills critical to effective leadership that are not covered in these standards. Thus far these findings have led to the design of professional development programs that address the specific responsibilities and practices principals need in order to make the positive effect on achievement according to solid research. This research has also been helpful to state and local board members who approve administrator preparation, professional development and licensure since they now have the research to decide what preparation and licensure approval is needed. Without a doubt MCREL’s research will be a tool for people currently within, and anticipating being a part of the administrative field.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marzano's Classroom Instruction That Works

Marc Pierlott

Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. By Marzano, Pickering & Pollock

“…the most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher.”
-William Sanders

If you are looking for a book that provides effective strategies to improve student achievement, you will find this book valuable. Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering and Jane Pollock believe we are “at the beginning of a new era in education – one in which research will provide strong, explicit guidance for the classroom teacher” (Marzano et al., 2001, p. 10). The authors have written a very user-friendly book that provides rich research data along with excellent instructional strategies. They have organized most chapters to follow the same format. First, the authors summarize research and theory regarding the effectiveness of an instructional strategy that improves student learning. Second, they discuss “guiding principals” of how to utilize these instructional strategies in your classroom. Lastly, they provide detailed examples of how these strategies have been successfully implemented in classrooms.

Effective pedagogy consists of instructional strategies, management techniques and curriculum design. The authors focus specifically on instructional strategies. They propose that “the ‘art’ of teaching is rapidly becoming the ‘science’ of teaching” (Marzano, et al., 2001, p. 1). The authors found flaws in the Coleman Report of 1966 that initially led many to believe teachers and schools had minimal impact on student achievement. The authors found that schools do, in fact, have an impact on student learning. A student’s school can affect her achievement by as much as 23 percentile points (Marzano, et al., 2001, p. 2). Further, the authors report that individual teachers improve student achievement if the teacher employs quality instructional strategies. In this book, the authors provide examples of nine instructional strategies that research proves increase student achievement.

What follows are the nine instructional strategies in order of their effect size – the increase in achievement – with the most effective (identifying similarities and differences) listed first:

The Nine Instructional Strategies

1. Identifying similarities and differences (venn Diagrams, charts, metaphors, analogies)

2. Summarizing and note taking (consistent strategy, clarifying questions, predictions)

3. Reinforcing effort and providing recognition (“pause, prompt, praise”)

4. Homework and practice (provide feedback)

5. Nonlinguistic representations (visual aids, movement)

6. Cooperative learning (vary group sizes)

7. Setting objectives and providing feedback (rubrics, corrective feedback)

8. Generating and testing hypotheses (make predictions, summarize conclusions)

9. Questions, cues, advance organizers (stories, sketches, graphic images)

The authors warn these strategies are tools to use at the teacher’s discretion. They understand that “no instructional strategy works equally well in all situations (Marzano, et al., 2001, p. 8). They state research is still needed to “study the effects of instructional strategies on specific types of students in specific situations, with specific subject matters” (Marzano, et al., 2001, p. 9). However, their belief in a new era of research-based teaching persists and they are hopeful this book will benefit teachers and their students on their shared quest for higher achievement.

McREL's 21 Leadership Responsibilities

In 2003, the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, or McREL, released an important study focused on the skills of educational leadership. The McREL 21 Leadership Responsibilities were introduced to educators through the paper, “Balanced Leadership: What 30 years of research tells us about the effect of leadership on student achievement”. This research, completed by Tim Waters, Robert Marzano, and Brian McNulty, gave educational leaders a framework of the twenty-one leadership skills that are important for a school leader. Furthermore, they placed statistical analysis to these characteristics, in order to inform educational leaders of the traits and their positive correlations that can actually have an impact on student achievement.
What makes McREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities so important is that it signifies and presents researched data and practices that confirm that school leadership can actually have a noticeable impact on student achievement. While most educational research focuses on the effect that teachers, instruction, curriculum, and assessment have on student learning, McREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities actually places the actions of school administrators into the equation of promoting effective reform and improvement for students. While, many educators have sensed the positive (or negative) impact that school leaders can have on a student population, this landmark study now quantifies the actions of school administrators.
To further explain the educational impact that school leadership can have on student achievement, the McREL report states that there is significant sway. More specifically, this statistical impact is measured by examining two hypothetical school leaders, with similar student and teacher populations. If both school leaders display average school leadership responsibilities, or equated at the 50 percentile mean in principal ability, and then one principal improves by one standard deviation, then student achievement (beginning at the 50th percentile) will actually improve by ten percentile points. Put simply, a school leader who demonstrates significantly above average improvement in the 21 Leadership Responsibilities can have significant (10%) upswings to student achievement.
The reasons for this shift are versatile, and ultimately bring about change through teacher and student interactions, but it is also interesting to note the statistical value placed on different leadership qualities out of the twenty-one. In other words, some skills and traits have greater impact than others, and some characteristics are important for first- versus second-order change. What follows are the twenty-one characteristics for effective leadership. In addition to the characteristics, there is also a brief description and the number that follows (r=) signifies the correlation of that characteristic:
1. Culture- fosters shared beliefs and a sense of community and cooperation(r=.29).
2. Order- establishes a set of standard operating procedures and routines(r=.26).
3. Discipline- protects teachers from issues and influences that would detract from their teaching time or focus(r=.24).
4. Resources- provides teachers with materials and professional development necessary for the successful execution of their jobs(r=.26).
5. Curriculum, instruction, assessment- is directly involved in the design and implementation of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices(r=.16).
6. Focus- establishes clear goals and keeps those goals in the forefront of the school’s attention(r=.24).
7. Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, assessment- is knowledgeable about current curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices(r=.24).
8. Visibility- has quality contact and interactions with teachers and students(r=.16).
9. Contingent rewards- recognizes and rewards individual accomplishments(r=.15).
10. Communication- establishes strong lines of communication with teachers and among students(r=.23).
11. Outreach- is an advocate and spokesperson for the school and all stakeholders (r=.28).
12. Input- involves teachers in the design and implementation of important decisions and policies(r=.30).
13. Affirmation- recognizes and celebrates school accomplishments and acknowledges failures(r=.25).
14. Relationship- demonstrates an awareness of the personal aspects of teachers and staff (r=.19).
15. Change agent- is willing to and actively challenges the status quo(r=.30).
16. Optimizer- inspires and leads new and challenging innovations(r=.20).
17. Ideals/beliefs- communicate and operates from strong ideals and beliefs about schooling(r=.25).
18. Monitors/evaluates- monitors the effectiveness of school practices and their impact on student learning(r=.28).
19. Flexibility- adapts his or her leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and is comfortable with dissent(r=.22).
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(r=.33).
21. Intellectual stimulation- ensures that faculty and staff are aware of the most current theories and practices, and make the discussion of these a regular aspect of the school’s culture(r=.32).

While this list, and these characteristics, seems immense there are certain ways to categorize or interpret this collection of skills. First, there was no inter-correlation between these traits found by McREL. While it is apparent to see numerous ways there could be interrelation, each of these skills should be treated as unique characteristics unto themselves. For example, just because a school leader has knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, it should be acknowledged separately that he/she is directly involved in the design and implementation of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices (curriculum, instruction, assessment (skill #5 above)). Discipline and order may seem linked, but there are ways to interpret those traits individually as well.
Another facet to consider when interpreting the McREL 21 Leadership Responsibilities is to realize that each of the 21 characteristics are essential for leading change in the daily context. This is significant in realizing that there is first and second-order change. By first-order change, reform theorists express those changes to be: consistent with current values, beliefs, and practices, easily learned knowledge and skills, often an extension of the past, and can be implemented by others, including outside experts. All 21 characteristics fall into this perspective of change. By contrast, second-order change is a break from the past, it conflicts with existing norms, requires a new knowledge base, and base on the previous characteristics, it can be complex. As a school leader, it becomes imperative to identify the magnitude of change, and whether changes in schools fall under first- or second-order change because it significantly impacts the progress of change.
McREL identifies 11 leadership responsibilities to fall under the traits of second-order change. Of these, seven were correlated positively with change: change agent; flexibility; ideals and beliefs; intellectual stimulation; knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment; monitor and evaluate; and optimizer. As these characteristics express, these are complex skills that are indicative of complex change. Interestingly, school leaders who excelled in the seven traits above also scored lower on these four responsibilities: communication, order, culture and input. In other words, when these principals were implementing second-order change, they found teachers perceiving declined performance in communication with staff, maintaining order, supporting cohesive culture, and providing opportunities for input.
When analyzing McREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities, I realized that simply identifying the characteristics was just the tip of the iceberg. In order to affect systemic change throughout a building, a school leader must recognize strengths, as well as areas of growth, in order to support school-wide change. After reviewing countless data on student achievement throughout my studies as an educator, it is exciting to realize that immense impact and positive reforms that can be done by looking at data focused in a different area, through school leaders.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Noelle Bisinger Spring 2010
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development

Homeschooling is the education of children under their parents’ supervision. It replaces full-time attendance in a formal school setting and is largely based from the home. Parents who homeschool their children often draw from community resources. The choice to provide homeschool education often involves the consideration of multiple factors and a thorough decision-making and planning process. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2007) the percentage of school-age children that was homsechooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. However, researchers caution that such estimates rely on parental self-report data which some parents choose not to submit, so it is likely that the number of homeschooled children is greater than the figures indicate.

The history of homeschooling in the United States is linked to religious practice, geographic limitations, and educational reform. Data from the 2007 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show an estimated 1.5 million students were homeschooled in the spring of 2007. According to the 2003 and 2007 NHES surveys, the three reasons selected by parents of more than two-thirds of students were: 1) concern about the school environment (85% and 88%, 2) to provide religious or moral instruction (72% and 83%), 3) dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools (68% and 73%). In 2007 NHES, parents also selected which reason for homeschooling was the most important. Thirty-six percent reported that providing religious or moral instruction was the most important reason for their decision, 21% reported concern for the school environment, and 17% reported dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools as the most important reason for homeschooling. The remaining parents reported other reasons for their decision which included: child has a physical or mental health problem; child has other special needs; interest in nontraditional approach to education; other reasons such as family time, finances, travel, and distance.

Although many families homeschool their children until they are no longer school-age, many try this type of instruction for a shorter time. It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment (1999) that the average turnover rate is 2 years. Accordingly, the number of children with some homeschooling experience would be approximately 6-12% of the population, by age 18. The 2-year turnover rate suggests that some parents find that the potential benefits they first considered do not outweigh those provided by a traditional public education.

The advantages of homeschooling largely revolve around parental freedom and control over how their children will learn. Individualized teaching, one-on-one time spent with the child, varied and enriched learning opportunities, strengthened family relationships, and religious or moral instruction are some advantages that parents cite as beneficial to their homeschooled children. Some parents feel that the traditional education setting is one that can actually do more harm than good for a child. They may feel that the physical and emotional safety of children may be compromised, and choose homeschooling as an alternative. School environments may be perceived as gateways to moral, social, or criminal mischief, in which students’ learning is negatively influenced.

The decision to homeschool should involve consideration for many key factors. One potential drawback of homeschooling is time commitment. Homeschooling tends to take up a lot of time. It requires curriculum development, lesson preparation, and lots of planning. A homeschool parent also has to sacrifice personal time. Homeschooling can also cause financial strain on families, as the teaching parent will most likely not be able to work outside of the home. Opponents of homeschooling argue that children suffer in terms of socialization opportunities. Household organization is key to creating an effective learning environment. Distractions in the home must to be monitored and limited, and regular household duties may conflict with schooling time. Creating a competitive curriculum may also be challenging for parents, as they strive to prepare their children to excel alongside publicly-educated peers or gain acceptance to college. Social stigma is another potential disadvantage. One must finally consider whether or not a child is willing to be homeschooled. Ultimately the decision is made by the parents, but without the motivation and efforts from the child, homeschooling could become very difficult.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Repeating School
(Also known as retention, non-promotion, flunking, failing, being held back, & the gift of time)
By Liane Ferguson

Repeating a current grade level the following school year for some students continues to be a common practice in our school systems across the country. According to Lange (2004), grade level retention has been an educational practice in American schools for over a century. The idea of retention and whether struggling students benefit more from repeating a grade or moving ahead with their peers to the next grade level has been a topic of debate among educators and policymakers for decades. It seems that everyone has his/her own opinion on retention, including students, parents, educators, administrators, and the layperson. While policies for grade level retention vary from school to school/district to district, statistics indicate that there has been a recent increase in the number of student retentions. This trend appears to be mainly attributed to the “reform” movement that emphasizes national- or state-wide grade-level standards and accountability (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), using grade-level tests to determine which students are promoted to the next grade and which students will be retained. According to Anderson, Whipple, and Jimerson (2002) an estimated 2.4 million (5-10%) students are retained every year in the United States. According to David (2008), solid statistics are difficult to obtain on retention, however, estimates suggest that approximately 10-20 % of students are retained at least once in their school careers. The National Center for Education Statistics (2006), report that black students are more than twice as likely to be retained than white students, and boys are twice as likely to repeat a grade than girls. According to David (2008), teacher judgment played a larger role in the determinations of student retentions in the past, however, more recently due to high-stakes testing, states and urban districts are basing requirements for promotion on a single test score.

Arguments in favor of student retention and the reasons to repeat a grade level, include the following: (1) immaturity, (2) the belief that an extra year of schooling will produce future successful outcomes, (3) failure to meet criteria for promotion, (4) frequent/ unexcused absences, and (5) the threat of retention may motivate students who do not apply themselves in school to invest more effort into their studies.

Research indicates that there is no evidence supporting retention as beneficial and suggests that retention may actually be harmful. According to Jimerson, Woehr, and Kaufman (2007), research indicates that neither grade level retention nor social promotion (the practice of promoting students so that they may be with their grade-level peers even though they have not mastered the current grade level content) has proven to enhance a child’s learning. While initial academic improvements may occur during the year a student is retained, research studies show that academic achievement gains actually decline within 2-3 years following the repeating of a grade level, suggesting only a temporary positive academic effect of retention.

Further research suggests significant negative effects of retention/repeating a grade level. Some of the negative effects of retention/repeating a grade level are the following:
  • Significant financial cost to retaining students
  • Lowers self-esteem/self-concept of retained students
  • Produces lower rates of school attendance of retained students
  • Noted increase in behavioral problems of retained students, including aggressiveness, acting out in the classroom, and a history of suspension or expulsion – Byrd, Weitzman, and Auinger (1997), reported a correlation between students being over-age for their grade because of retention and behavioral problems in children and adolescents.
  • Increases drop-out rates (Research supports correlative relationship with dropping out of school and experiencing lower paying jobs as a result of not completing high school and higher rates of mental health problems, chemical abuse, and criminal activities for students retained than high school graduates).
  • Evidence suggests that when retained children went on to the next grade following the retention of a grade level, they actually performed more poorly on average than if they had gone on without repeating.
  • Linked to academic failure in the future
  • Creates stress and anxiety/negative emotional impact on retained students - One study suggests that students view retention as more stressful than the death of a parent or going blind.
  • Retained students are less likely to be enrolled in post-secondary schools.
  • Children with disabilities are more likely to be retained and are more likely to be diagnosed the year following retention.
  • Typically, students held back do not catch up – Studies suggest that low-performing students learn more when promoted.
  • Students retained report being teased by other students/negative perceptions of retention
The strong evidence of these research studies regarding the ineffectiveness of retention and its harmful effects is not intended to suggest that we are to do away with retention altogether; for a small number of students retention has proven to have some benefits. However, evidence suggests that retention appears to work only on the younger students with a plan for remediation and for the children who agree with their parents on repeating a school year. Retention should be determined on an individual basis.

Research, however, is suggesting that it would be in the best interest of struggling students facing retention that alternatives to retention be considered first (retention should only be a last measure). While research does not provide support for the effectiveness of retention it does, however, provide evidence to support the effectiveness of educational interventions/alternative strategies to retention. Studies indicate that it would also be in the best interest financially for school systems to implement alternatives to retention/ repeating a grade level since it is so costly to retain students. If our school systems use progress monitoring to determine weaknesses early on in a child’s school year, we can provide remedial academic and behavioral/emotional supports needed to reduce the number of retentions, possibly eliminating many of them. Some of the alternatives to retention/repeating a grade level are listed below.

Alternatives to Retention to assist students functioning below grade level:
  • No-cost peer tutoring/Tutoring
  • Target instruction to address weaknesses
  • Remedial help
  • Before- and after-school programs
  • Summer school
  • Possibly an extended school year
  • Training and hiring qualified teachers who are able to implement a variety of teaching strategies to support students
  • Change retention and promotion policies
  • Provide instructional assistants in the classroom
  • Early reading programs
If there is significant evidence through research to prove that retention/repeating a grade level is not effective and can be truly harmful to our students why does it continue to be a common practice in our school systems?