Wednesday, February 24, 2010

School Reform: Are You a Change Agent?

Leadership and vision is a strand of the 2010 CRSTE conference that is underway through March 5, 2010. Christina Bentheim has developed and in moderating a wiki and Ning on the subject of change agentry, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Two summers ago I read School Reform and the School Library Media Specialist by Vi Harada and Sandra Hughes-Hassell. I believe this is one of the most relevant books I have ever read. I summarized the chapter on change agentry on my Infogoddesses wiki, a site I designed for library media specialists in my district. Given the topic's importance and attention in the CRSTE conference, I invite others, especially library media specialists, to give this entry a look. I invite your feedback and would love recommendations for follow-up. Please follow the Infogoddesses link to access this page.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Giving Up Facebook for Lent? Not Exactly.

I have decided to limit my interpersonal interactions with all but the most necessary people until March 20, the first day of spring. Consider this an act to preserve my mental health. With all the recent snow and subsequent snow days, we in Monongalia County are in a collective dire mood. Limiting my exposure to negativity will help me keep some semblance of cheer.

The last time I felt this stressed was during the winter of 2003. Our school had a very open door policy then. Parents would come into the library and ask me when our days of missed instruction would be made up and related questions. "Why did the superintendent call a two-hour delay instead of canceling school?" "Why can't there be school for the kids who can make
it?" "We aren't going to lose our spring break because of snow days, are we?" Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Today, it is different. My stressors are those I communicate with on Facebook. The questions are the same from the parents with some new ones added by fellow teachers. "Why do we have to go to school if the kids aren't there?" "Why is Mon County the last system to call off school?"
"Why should I have to use a personal day if the county doesn't have to pay for a sub?"

I am not saying that these are not valid feelings, ideas and concerns; what I am say is this: I can't handle it! I am striving to avoid stressors at school but limiting my time in the lounge, and when kids are not around, spending more time in my office. On Facebook I will only check my family posts.

This policy of isolation may not be the healthiest, but I can use my time to more positive goals, such as professional development. It will only be for four weeks.

C. Edmund Collins, Principal Emeritus of Brookhaven Elementary, customarily stopped taking complaints during the winter months. He assured the aggrieved that he would hear their concerns on March 20. If it was really a problem, it would still be a problem on March 20, and he would deal with it then.

We can learn so much from our elders!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Professional Learning Community:Common Assessments

My school's PLC is reading Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many: 2006). This past week's assignment dealt with common assessments and the need for all professionals to come to agree on the most important tasks. Only those most enduring tasks that are essential for building understanding at future levels should be assessed, and those assessments should be standard for all children throughout a grade level.

The conversation takes me back to me first days of teaching. In Preston County, department members met together and decided the essential knowledge that each child needed to have before progressing to the next level. The content was derived from state's content standards and from enduring deficiencies perceived by the faculty. The faculty then developed a pre/post test instrument to be given each child at the beginning and end of the term. We used these tests as instruments to assess both our effectiveness and the children's progress.

In addition to our pre/post instrument, each child was administered the annual CTBS test. As some of my colleagues suggested, the CT in this moniker was silent. While the test gave an indication of how our students fared in comparison to others who took the test, it did not provide the insightful measure that our own tests did.

The pretest should have been a valuable instrument to determine what our children already knew and what they needed to know. Unfortunately, it was not used that way, at least not by me in my early career. Now I know that I should have used the test to inform what I teach.

I also know now that the post-test, while providing a measure of what we had accomplished, was useless in helping us fine tune instruction to meet our students needs. It occurred after the CTBS test was administered and after the instructional period had ended, too late to use for any type of intervention.

Today, by contrast, we have a myriad of tools that help us guide instruction. We have DIBELS to assess reading in grades k-5 and Acuity to assess math and reading in grades 3-5. All textbook series come equipped with ready-made assessments for chapters and units, as well as suggestions for formative assessments along the way. What is missing from these tools is teacher input, teacher-consensus about what is most important for our students to know. The teacher, it seems, is inconsequential in this equation, irrelevant and unnecessary to guiding the intellectual development of her students.

I think it is high time we take back our classrooms, even if initially it means more work. As suggested in Learning by Doing, we need to "Keep" the essentials in our standards, "Drop" the unnecessary from our CSOs, and "Create" what is lacking. As Leslie pointed out, the CSOs are our curriculum, and we should frame instruction around those learner outcomes. We need to eliminate the textbook as the driving force in our curriculum and rely on our collective professional judgement.We need to develop our own tools of assessment that are relevant to what we as professionals have collectively agreed is most important for our students.

In short, I think we need to blend today's assessment-saturated atmosphere with the practices we used in Preston County Schools in days of old, We can use the ready-made assessments such as DIBELS, Acuity, and publisher-made tests, as Peggy suggested, but only to the point that they assess our instructional goals. The rest can be disregarded.

How liberating that would be for both teachers and students.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I See the Light! Or How Classroom 2.0 Live Has Given Me New Directions

Since December 2009 I have been tuning in, mostly via archives, to the Classroom 2.0 sessions. I have learned a great deal about the use of Web 2.0 technologies --and I thought I knew a lot already. I would completely recommend these sessions to anyone interested in developing new pedagogical skills. You won't be disappointed.

Here is an example of how one session changed my practice:

Copyright, Creative Commons and Databases with Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton. Library media specialists with recognize Valenza and Hamilton as leaders in our field. Valenza's presentation focuses on the purpose of copyright, noting that it was intended to enhance rather than to restrict access to materials. New copyright rules specifically allow for transformative use, the use of copyrighted material in the creation of another work. Valenza also explains Creative Commons and recommends that students license their work under Creative Commons not only as a means of protecting their rights but as an instructional tool in intellectual property awareness.

Hamilton's presentation concerned ways to increase use of databases by students. She recommends creating custom widgets to guide students research.

The direct result of my attending this session was that it inspired me to create my AskMrsMartin page. Though not specifically the purpose of the their presentation, the links that were included and the embedded content on these links, gave me new ideas to pursue for this page. I embedded on my site several widgets that seem to be popular with the students. This site has been quite valuable in giving the library a virtual presence. For example, by use of the instant messaging widget, students working on research assignments were able to communicate with me at home when the could not independently find the information they needed. I was able to provide the scaffolding they needed to complete the projects.

Classroom 2.0 sessions air live each Saturday at noon EST. Archived sessions and links are available shortly after the live broadcast. I have only attended one session live, but I look forward to attending more. Simply put, we cannot independently keep up with the emerging tools and trends in educational media. Classroom 2.0 provides an inobtrusive way for us to interact with others who share our passions and concerns. Check it out!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Integrating Tech: Backchanneling Basics #13 - Other uses of a backchannel

Integrating Tech: Backchanneling Basics #13 - Other uses of a backchannel