Total Instructional Alignment

I spent the past two days at the Alameda County Office of Education with six of my colleagues from the district at a workshop for Total Instructional Alignment. This was lead by and based on the book written by Lisa Carter. She wrote the book before the CCSS, however, the resources and process that she showed us is more than adequate for working with the CCSS. It follows the process of unpacking the standards, creating learning targets, determining assessment focus and aligning instruction. This work aligns very well with what we have been working toward in our district with site academic specialists and teachers. The resources and work we did the past two days were eye opening and will definitely help us to extend and deepen what we have started.

It was also great to be there with most of the district level academic specialists, working together and discussing the work we were doing. One of the things we are hoping to work toward is consistency at all levels and in all disciplines throughout the district, so working together today was a great experience toward this. It really helps for everyone to receive and synthesize the same information and being able to discuss our impressions and understandings. I know that I would love to see this kind of work happening at sites and in grade level teams across the district, the comprehension of the standards and instructional practices to support them would be very powerful for our teachers and students.

We all agreed that one of the most powerful things we saw this week was unpacking the standards for a unit plan, recording the same standards from the previous grade level at the beginning of the plan, putting the current grade level standards at the end of the plan, and realizing that the unit plan is the steps to get from the first set to the second. The realization that the standards record the learning outcomes that students should reach by the end of the year really created an understanding for us of what learning in the classroom could look like and how it could be scaffolded for students in different stages of learning. I’m excited to continue digging through the grade levels and creating plans with teachers while gaining deeper understanding of the process of learning that can occur within our classrooms.

This was great timing for us at the elementary level, as we have just created a math curriculum committee and are beginning the work of looking at standards, assessments, pacing and new resources for our teachers. We will be piloting materials next fall which gives us the opportunity to really dig in and make much clearer decisions about good teaching and learning.

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Assessment Data

Our elementary schools had an interim district level assessment in November. There was a lot of groaning and complaining about this assessment because we have 19 elementary schools, at least 3 resources that are being used at different sites, and grade levels are in many different topics even at the site level. The assessments we had ready to give covered approximately 45-55% of the topics that had been covered in classes in grades K-3 and the teachers were very upset about giving a test to their students that had topics they hadn’t covered. There was no way to write a test that would work for all schools, so we decided that due to our lack of math data on our students over the last year, we had to do something. We decided to have grades 1-3 give the previous level EOY assessments, Kinder gave an interim assessment from the most popular resource currently being used, and grades 4-5 would give the availableĀ assessments as they covered at least 75% of topics covered by the sites. This was quite an ordeal to make happen, and many teachers were not happy with the outcome. Quite a few felt these assessments were ridiculous, and couldn’t possibly give us any valid information. Furthermore, why would we give an assessment the kids had already taken the previous year? What could we possibly learn, we’re just giving tests for the sake of giving them to get data.

I have to admit, I was a little worn down through this. These discussions encompassed approximately one month, I spent quite a bit of time researching order of topics that had been taught across our sites, which resources were being used, and studying standards being taught against standards being tested for all of the ready assessments and in search of how to create more reasonable assessments. I felt like a broken record discussing the importance of having some data on our students so we had an idea of what they did and didn’t know, and that any data would be valid and important for informing our instruction. Many conversations required me to be patient and understanding in hearing the teacher’s concerns and validating those concerns.

I spent quite a bit of time going over the results of these assessments the first part of December, and was quite pleased with the information we attained from them. We learned that approximately 20% of our grade 1-3 students were not proficient on the previous year’s standards. We learned that our kindergarten students are doing very well and even scored well on topics that hadn’t been yet covered. We learned that our grade 4-5 students are doing well on topics that have been covered and not so well on topics that hadn’t been covered. This was consistent across the district, and at sites there were some slight differences, enough for me to encourage discussions between grade level PLC’s about teaching methods and sharing learning.

Today I was at one of our elementary sites for a scheduled PD day for the teachers. The on-site academic specialist and I worked together to guide teachers into evaluation and discussion of these assessment results. It started a little slow, we were hearing things like, “we know what to do with numbers, but these numbers aren’t even worth discussing. The information isn’t valid to what we are currently teaching,” and a few other old arguments. I started with a comment about how the CCSS are vertically aligned through the grades, and that this information could be quite informative about how we should be planning our instruction and possible re-teaching. There were a few rolled eyes, but we were able to get them comparing district level and site level results and start looking for patterns. I had a discussion with one grade level group that went something like this:

T: We notice that our students did well on these topics even though we haven’t taught them yet.

Me: What could that mean for planning and teaching of those topics?

T: We may not have to spend as much time on them, but it would allow some of the students who didn’t do well to be able to spend some time on them.

Me: Is there anything else that could be done with those topics?

T: We could work on some higher level skills in those topics since most of the kids are already proficient.

AH HA! Success. We actually did manage to get some useful information out of these tests. Across the room discussions took off. Teachers were talking about what their kids knew, seemed to be struggling with, how to plan for re-teaching, extension work, and sharing teaching ideas on topics.

I love teacher collaboration, even with invalid data. šŸ˜€

Sentimentality

I’m watching a movie, “The Memory Book”. It’s really a nice story, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve tried to avoid sentimentality over the years, I’ve made some regretful choices and suffered quite a bit of heartache over the years. I know we can’t expect to live a life without pain, but looking back sometimes causes me to beat myself up over bad choices. This movie is telling my story, and facing decisions I’ve made is difficult.

It’s not all bad. I’ve often realized that the experiences I’ve had allow me to talk with students and other young people honestly, with a heart of caring. Because of the things I’ve walked through, I can speak from the heart to them, and hear them from my heart. It often means I cry for them after they leave, but I really love being able to communicate with them. I think it’s why I chose to teach high school, and often laugh when people ask me if teaching high school is like my previous occupation as an RN in the emergency department. In many ways it is, I never knew what was coming through the door both in the ED and in my classroom, emotions can run high in both places, and emergencies come in all sizes and shapes.

In reality,Ā our lives build, one experience is the training ground for the next. We can plan all we care to, but there are no guarantees in life, only people, places, situations, and discussions that cause us to respond, react, and grow. Pain is a part of growing, and if we are willing to walk through it there is often a meaningful learning experience that occurs. After reading this blog post by Barbara Madden, I started thinking about many of the experiences I have had. By rights, I have many reasons to be mad at the world, and have acted that way at times. I have also cut myself off from friends and family because of the experiences I have had, believing that would keep me safe and far from any more painful experiences. It doesn’t work that way, and often in cutting ourselves off from the pain, we cut ourselves off from the joy that could be experienced.

Barbara said something that really hit home for me. “Grace prevailed”. At this point in my life, I am becoming wiser, thank goodness. I am beginning to realize that I can think I am creating my experiences or planning my life, but the reality is, there is a power greater than myself who is in charge and is steering the ship.

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I believe that God has a plan for my life, and that there is no way I could design a better plan on my own. So, as we begin a new year, I’m focusing on paying more attention to the people, places, and events around me, and I will be looking for ways that “grace can prevail”. Ā I’m grateful for grace in my life. On my own, I’m not very graceful or dignified, God gives me the ability to respond rather than react, when I choose to listen.

I will be praying that my ears remain open.