Monday, October 19, 2015

No Quick Fix: When Reading Comprehension Failure Occurs

Alabama now defines "dyslexia" as a learning challenge that is neurological in origina and characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fulent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  On October 8, 2015, Alabama joined numerous other states in the country in approving regulations to help students with significant really challenges, often called "dyslexia."
Over the next few months, the Alabama State Department of Education will be giving school districts guidelines about the new regulations.

No single assessment provides a person with a dyslexia diagnosis.  Instead, a series of screeners or assessments point educators and families to information about how a student processes language, both auditorially and visually.  Once information from those assessments is collected and analyzed, then dyslexic readers can be matched with intervention to help them overcome their reading obstacles.

Hoover City Schools, anticipating new state regulations, began training teachers in intervention practices in 2011 when 37 of our current teachers were trained to use the dyslexia-specific interventions called Seeing Stars and Verbalizing and Visualizing.  In the last two years, all Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers in the district participated in Oral Language Resources training. In Summer 2015, over half of the district's Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 teachers participated in Ready, Set, Go!  training to add more phonics resources to those classrooms.  More training is scheduled to allow for more teacher participation.  In September, 24 more teachers and literacy coaches were trained to use Seeing Stars (decoding intervention) and Verbalizing and Visualizing (comprehension intervention).  The district now hopes to support all the teachers participating in these trainings.

If you would like to learn more about dyslexia, the district has posted a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation here and a recent research article about dyslexia from Vanderbilt University here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September Monthly Newsletter

Link to September Newsletter

This month's topics include:

  • The Grading Grind- Will you be a Coach or an Umpire? 
  • What is Erin's Law? 
  • DOK: Depth of Knowledge Rising to Spotlight in HCS 
  • Canvas Updates 
  • Google Classroom Updates 
  • Welcome to the Hoover City Schools Family! (New Teachers) 
  • Are you Interested in Pursuing National Board Certification? 
  • Alabama has a new Course of Study for Science, and Hoover Teachers are Exploring the Standards 

Our website has curriculum resources, contact information, and our Learn-Teach-Inspire ongoing blog:

Monday, September 14, 2015

DOK: Depth of Knowledge Rising to Spotlight in HCS

The ACT Aspire for Grades 3-8 and Grade 10 is now the Alabama State Department of Education required assessment for all Alabama school districts.  It measures students' achievement in  math, reading, English, writing, math, and science.  The Aspire aligns with the Grade 11 and 12 ACT.

ACT has chosen to use Webb's Depth of Knowledge as a framework for developing questions for the assessments.  In 1997, he developed a process and criteria for systematically analyzing the alignment between standards and standardized assessments.  The model includes 4 levels of cognitive expectations or depth of knowledge that allow students to show their learning.  The 4 levels are as follows:
                    1.  Recall and Reproduction
                    2.  Skills and Concepts
                    3.  Short-Term Strategic Thinking
                    4.  Extended Thinking

As schools analyze the results of the spring 2015 ACT Aspire results, it will be helpful to also examine the types of tasks our students were asked to complete.  Most of the ACT Aspire questions for each grade level match the Level 2 and Level 3 DOK question tasks.  Level 4 tasks are typically long range projects extending over hours, days, or weeks.  Since the ACT Aspire subject tests are time limited, Level 4 tasks are not included in the spring tests.

Recall and Reproduction Questions: DOK Level 1
Curricular elements that fall into this category involve basic tasks that require students to recall or reproduce knowledge and skills.  The content at this level involves working with facts, terms, and/or properties of objects.  It may also involve use of simple procedures and/or formulas.  There is little transformation of extended processing of the target knowledge required by the task.  A student answering a Level 1 questions either knows the answer or not.  The answer does not need to be "figured out" or "solved."  DOK Level 1 items on the ACT Aspire make up about 14-24% of the reading section questions and about 5-16% of the math section.

Verbs that descsribe Level 1 tasks include the following: responds, remembers, memorizes, explains, restates, interprets, absorbs, recognizes, describes, translates, and demonstrates.  Level 1 activities may include tasks such as making timleines, developing concept maps to show a process or describes a topic, making a chart, drawing a picture to illustrate an event, process, or story.

Skills and Concepts Questions: DOK Level 2
Curricular elements that fall into this category ask students to compare and differentiate, apply multiple concepts, classify and sort, predict, explain (tell why), provide examples and non-examples, and use context for unknown words.  There is usually only 1 correct answer, but students will need to make multiple-step decisions, make inferences, and may need to collect data.

DOK Level 2 items on the ACT Aspire make up 38-62% of the reading questions and 27-38% of the math questions.

Verbs that describe Level 2 tasks include the following: classify, organize, estimate, make observations, collect and display data, and compare data.

Strategic Thinking Questions: DOK Level 3
Curriculum elements that fall into this category ask students to plan, reasoning, evaluation, analyze, and solve real-world problems.  These tasks may have more than one answer and more than one way to reach an answer.  Students are challenged to provide evidence and reasoning for conclusions drawn and must justify their thinking.  These tasks require understanding of a text, data set, investigation or key source.

DOK Level 3 items on the ACT Aspire make up 24-48% of the reading section and 51-62% of the math section.

An example of a 5th Grade reading question might be: What does the narrator mean when he or she says, "When people had cholera it seemed they remembered nothing but themselves"?  Does Mary believe anyone will come for her?  Another example could be: Read Rudyard Kipling's poem "Cholera Camp."  Compare and contrast how the excerpt form The Secret Garden and the poem describe a cholera outbreak.

An example of an Algebra 1 question could be: Jack, Luka, and Tony took a quiz.  Luka's score was 12 less than Tony's score and three times Jack's scorse.  If Jack's score was 1/9 of Tony's score, what was Tony's score?  Answer choices:  a) 6   b) 12   c) 18   or   d) 24.

This school year, we'll be posting more about Webb's Depth of Knowledge on the LTI site.

The Grading Grind: Will you be a Coach or an Umpire?

Those who have worked with me for any length of time will soon discover that I have a deep passion for fixing problems with grading.  You may think I have things backwards, surely learning is more important than grading, and that is most definitely true, but my focus on grading is intense because I believe that many of our most sacred grading cows are blocking the road to better instruction.

We have known for more than a century that classroom grades on a 100 point grading scale are statistically unreliable (Starch and Elliot, 1912 & 1913), but that scale and its accompanying A to F categories persist to this day due largely to cultural and institutional inertia.  We've also known for more than forty years that teacher expectations influence teacher actions in such a way that expected student behaviors are more likely to occur (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968).  Essentially, expectations for groups of children are established in the first few weeks of school, and teachers will adjust the difficulty of graded assignments thereafter in conscious and unconscious ways to create the distribution of final marks that they expect.

Are there better options?  Good models based on standards-based approaches have arisen and endured real-life trials over the course of the past twenty years (Douglas Reeves, Ken O'Connor, Robert Marzanno, and Thomas Guskey).  The models that have endured typically retain the A-F final mark in deference to its historical persistence, but they replace the 100 point scale with discrete rubrics for the products, progress, and process of learning based on clearly identified standards.  The problem?  Standards-based grading doesn't make much sense until you have firmly established standards-based instruction as a professional norm in your school.  We are on the road there, but we aren't there yet.

So, with progress reports and the first nine-week report cards on the horizon, what should you do?  I offer three simple suggestions that should help you navigate around the sacred grading cows on the road to more effective learning in your classroom.

  1. Be a coach, not an umpire.  Knowing the importance and influence of our own expectations, teachers should adopt the perspective of a coach.  The goal of an umpire is to call balls and strikes, and sometimes teachers use math calculations to the fourth decimal place to assign final grades as if the exercise was purely objective, rational, and essentially beyond their control.  "I didn't give you that grade.  You earned it," is a common retort.  However, the selection of particular assignments that go into a grade and the difficulty of each assignment have a dramatic influence on the final outcome, and we can't pretend that isn't true.  The goal of a coach is to help the player improve, and great teachers see the grading process as a feedback loop that ends when the student has met the standard.  Messing up in practice is okay if the student gets it right on game day, but the coach has to watch the player in practice and give feedback, positive and negative, to help the student improve over time.  
  2. Consider the calculated number a minimum, not a mandate.  Knowing the reliability issues that are an inherent limitation of a 100 point grading scale, teachers should be careful about surrendering their own judgment to a calculated average.  While it would be considered indefensible to assign a final letter grade that is below the range prescribed for a calculated average, it is within a teacher's authority and discretion to award a higher final letter grade than the calculated average would merit on its own.  Do you have evidence that the student actually performed substantially better later in the grading term?  This is especially important when making a pass-fail decision.  If a student has met the standards at the end of the term, even if the performance is not captured in the same document or format that other students used, that student should not fail.  Remember that fair isn't always equal (thank you Rick Wormeli), and as long as you have evidence to support a positive bias, your judgment as a teacher trumps a flawed statistical calculation any day of the week.
  3. Don't award bonus points or extra credit for work that isn't related to learning standards.  Bonus points and extra credit are some of the strategies that teachers often employ when they feel that their grade distribution is not conforming to expectations.  There is nothing wrong with this in general except when the extra points are awarded for things that have nothing to do with the learning goals.  Attending after-school events, bringing a roll of paper towels to class, or wearing a costume on spirit day are all wonderful things, but giving students extra grade credit is fundamentally flawed.  If a student, a group of students, or all of your students need to improve their grade, look at the standards and try to think of alternative ways that they can demonstrate proficiency or the integration of multiple standards in novel ways.   

What is Erin's Law?

In the 2015 regular session, the Alabama legislature passed Erin's Law which is aimed at addressing the sexual abuse of children.  The law requires all public schools to establish and implement a developmentally appropriate instructional program based on the prevention of sexual abuse from pre-K through 12th grade.  The curriculum must address safe and unsafe touching, safe and unsafe secrets, how to get away from an abuser, and reporting.

The law created a state task force that will actually develop guidelines for schools to follow in order to comply with the law.  That task force has just started its work, so until those guidelines are developed and published, schools are not required to do anything.  In the meantime, it is important to remember that all educators are mandatory reporters, so if you suspect a child is being harmed, you must report accordingly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Argument Driven Inquiry--A Focus for Secondary Science

I was invited to the classroom of Ms. Kristen Bundren at Spain Park High School to share in an Argument Driven Inquiry with freshmen students in her pre-AP biology class.

This was her students first ADI lesson.  She gave an outstanding explanation of the goal of the lesson and clarifying what students would be doing to achieve the goal.  She began with a discussion of the critical components of ADI, the question, the claim, the evidence and the justification.

The CONTENT goal was for the students to learn what characteristics define life.  This topic had not been discussed in class and this ADI served as the springboard to discuss that key biological concept.  In other words, ABC, Activity Before Concept.   In addition, the students had the opportunity to learn something about viruses, a biological topic that is often difficult to "fit" easily into a biology curriculum.  This lesson was adapted from one of the lessons in Scientific Argumentation in Biology, 30 Classroom Activities.  Students were given a two-page background on viruses and another table that compared characteristics of viruses to other living and non-living things.

Students worked in groups of four, read and discussed the materials they were given and then were charged to write the four key components on their whiteboard.  Of course, the question was given, the students were to make their own claim, present their evidence, and then state their justification.

Some student groups claimed viruses WERE alive; other students claimed that viruses WERE NOT alive.  Ms. Bundren let the students choose HOW to present their evidence.  Many chose tables, one group chose a Venn diagram.  Finally, students justified their claim by using the evidence they had presented.  They were also proud of their work!

While I was not there to see student groups observe each other's work, Ms. Bundren told me that in an earlier class, different student groups had made conflicting claims and it made the discussion very rich.  Students were ARGUING BASED ON EVIDENCE!

I asked Kristen to share some of her thoughts about the ADI lesson.  She said, "the biggest challenge for this lesson was directing students to focus not on their opinions or prior knowledge, but on the data that was in front of them. Midway through fourth period, one group was erasing their entire board. I asked the group why, and one member said, 'We thought the viruses were living, but we've changed our minds'. When asked why, the students explained that after looking at the data they realized that their evidence did not support their original claim. It was so much fun to see the students work through the scientific process."

Look for more ADI stories!

Monday, August 24, 2015

HCS LTI Facebook Page

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Teaching and learning comprise the most essential functions of any school. The Curriculum and Instruction department of Hoover City Schools exists to ensure that our schools are spaces of excellence where highly effective teachers and leaders create and cultivate conditions that will inspire students to achieve. We want them to grow in knowledge and wisdom in a rigorous, relevant and engaging learning environment. Our primary goal is that all students will become lifelong learners who are contributing citizens in a rapidly changing world. In today's context, this requires an intense focus on supportive relationships that prepare students to be academically and developmentally ready for both college and career. 

The Curriculum and Instruction department supports teachers and leaders in this work through the preparation and facilitation of a rigorous and vigorous curriculum.  Collaborative training in research-based instructional strategies, progressive support for struggling learners, and monitoring of learning progress are hallmarks of teaching and learning in Hoover City Schools. 

This website serves as a connecting hub for information and resources that support this work. Whether you come to this page as a teacher, leader, parent, or community stakeholder, we hope that you will find something that will help you and yours to learn something new, teach in a more effective way, and inspire children to grow into lifelong learners. 

Ron Dodson, Ph.D.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction
Hoover City Schools