Monday, March 18, 2019

Revising Competencies

"Okay, let's color code these handwritten comments."

"What are you thinking?"

"Well, we're seeing a lot of comments about language, so let's make that a color--green?"

"Green works."

"And we know we are looking to revise for any pitfalls from the reDesign criteria--quantity, adjectives, measurable and such--so let's make that yellow."


"And blue--we've seen a lot of level shifting comments. Teachers want performance descriptors leveled up or down across the continuum so what about blue for that?"

"Sounds good."

"I'm going to write it on the wall."

And so it goes. I work on a team of three Curriculum, Assessment and Data Specialists. We are charged with designing and aligning tools and process across the learning system that is Singapore American School. Currently, we are working with partners to develop a set of competencies that will define outcomes for every graduate. Twenty competencies are organized by "desired student learning outcome" or DSLO as pictured below.

We have just finished feedback rounds. More than eighty faculty participated in the sessions. Those faculty, along with Ed Leaders and the Guiding Coalition (distributed leadership groups) gave us feedback on the competencies. Now we are re-reading the feedback, looking for patterns and revising the competencies based on teachers' input.  It is detailed writing work.

Should we reorganize where competencies are nested? Is Self-Directed Learning collaborative? What about the performance levels for skills? Do we scale back the ten levels we created and vary them based on the skill? What's most appropriate for learners and learning? When we say the word ___ what do we really mean? What does, for instance, formal and informal discussion mean to learners?

We ask a lot of questions as we read and read and talk and talk and decide and revise.

We try not to get too mired in single words.  This is, after all, just our next draft, our best thinking at this time.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Designing Learning

Today's slice is a draft post that comes out of the Blogger vault. I originally wrote it in 2016.

Post it notes--in heart shapes-- were on sale at Office Depot last week. I had to have them for today's activity. Teachers at my school were charged with delivering a design question four (DQ4) lessons this week. Marzano's DQ4 concerns investigations. School-wide students are testing hypothesis, making a prediction, creating, researching, inquiring, evaluating and reflecting. That's the plan.

It is the end of a marking period. I know many of you have exams at the end of your marking periods. We don't have exams exactly.  Teachers do not give exams mid-year like we used to; we're not allowed. Now only select courses are tested mid-year and the tests given (most, end of course exams for half-credit classes) were created off-site by others and facilitated by teachers on campus this week. Many are computer-based. My students in English 2, are assessed by the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), our state test, so now students do not have a mid-year assessment grade that figures into their course grade. Teachers are not "allowed" to create or give an exam, but we can give a nine weeks test or, an assessment. My mid-year assessment has been an individualized essay question I write for students based on their independent reading choices ( I wrote about them here and here). We will get to them, but not this week. This week, my PLC and reading coach planned other activities for us: computer-based, essay test practice and our DQ4 activity.

I am enjoying our DQ4 activity. I love the buzz of conversation and the swagger of challenge as students present and rebut arguments. We've been teaching argument and my PLC (our tenth grade English teacher team) decided to do an activity that asks students to argue for a heart transplant patient. Students, working in teams, would have time to create, argue, rebut and close their cases. One of the teachers in my group did a"Who gets the heart?" activity during an AP Language and Composition training. She shared the set up and we were off.

Getting to the Heart of Argument

I modified her original handouts to suit my students. I added a couple of articles to prime the pump (knowing I could use them to assess close reading/annotation) and I imposed a bit more structure on the patient profiles with help from sources I found online.

Patient advocacy groups crafting their arguments before appearing before the board. 

The Medical Board working on criteria for patient selection.

Today, revisiting this draft from two years ago, I am thinking about all of the ways we let kids lead the learning. During this learning experience, kids did not lead. They did design the experience or set the goals or have too much choice in terms of what and when and how. They did have opportunities to DO, to choose their roles and to research to craft their argument. Some performances in class are more guided than others.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Saturday Showcase: The Faculty Musical

This time last week, players from our faculty musical were reliving moments from the show in our WhatsApp group chat. Anna Criens,  music teacher and mother of three, played the witch in our show. Her daughters were in the show too as a little hen and a gnome, so cute. Last Saturday morning, her girls were up earlier, dressed in costumes and performing a scene between Jack and his mother.  Anna sent everyone a video clip of her daughter singing Jack's mother's parts of the Prologue. 

Lucinda, Cinderella and I rocking our 1950s Victory roll hair-dos. 

There's the step family frozen in the background! 

Last Friday we closed the faculty musical with our third performance of Into the Woods. Here's a clip from our warm-up backstage. 

The faculty musical was fun for so many reasons. It gave me an opportunity to get to know people that I do not see or work directly with day to day. It stretched me out of my comfort zone. The musical gave us a common goal to work toward. It also taught me a lot about learning. 

I struggled. I struggled with reading music. I'dforgottent how since my violin and piano playing days in high school. That in an of itself reminded me of how complex a skill reading is-- and how it differs across contexts. I struggled with focusing on my cues. I would get swept up in the story and the performances of others--we had some amazing talent in the cast. Each time that happened, each time I missed a cue during rehearsal I would realize it just a couple counts too late.  Doh! Again and again I had opportunities to learn how to manage my embarrassment at my mistake(s). I am sure it frustrated our stars and our director, but they didn't react; they encouraged. 

Here are ten take aways. 

  1. Connect:  reach out for extra help if you need it. 
  2. Listen to the music, to cues,  to other people: their stories, their experience. 
  3. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make permanent. Put in the time. 
  4. Be present. Be with the people onstage and in the wings. 
  5. Encourage and support each other.
  6. Persist. Even as you fail and fail again, keep at it. Effort matters. Find a way to make it work.
  7. Be kind. When learners struggle, encourage and support. Learners make mistakes and those mistakes aren't personal, so why punish the learner for learning? 
  8. Pitch in. We rarely had a rehearsal with everyone in it. Our schedules here at Singapore American School are demanding and layered. Whenever a role was not filled, someone else from the case would read those lines during rehearsal. I know it must not have been easy for Florinda and Lucinda to cover for me when I was traveling with the students in the final two weeks before rehearsal. They pitched in and it all came together in the end!
  9. Share: stories, photos, smiles, laughter, little jokes on stage and off. 
  10. Have fun. Ultimately, we did. I did. The success of the show was absolutely fun and delightful. Imagine elementary school learners greeting their now "famous" teachers after the show as they exit the theatre. It was heart warming to witness that love and joy.

 I am still dreaming songs from the show.  Why I wake up around midnight to "there are giants in the sky" is a mystery.  I love it though and now I know all the words. Being a part of the faculty musical was quite and experience. What a team builder for a faculty! Beth Burrows, third-grade teacher and our director, has begun some powerful magic with this program. Magic for teacher families who have the opportunity to perform together. Magic for faculty to get to know one another and to work together to create something wonderful. Magic for students and our community who get to see their teachers in new lights. It was rewarding to play even my small part. 

The Into the Woods cast during the finale.