Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shift in Focus

A big apology is due for my inattention to this blog. I've immersed myself (and anyone who will listen) in the new Mass. System for Educator Evaluation while continuing to track happenings in the Common Core world.

Because many of you continue to access this blog, I'll keep it up. Please let me know about broken links and resources needing updating. And look for an invite to a new blog that will connect all state and federal initiatives to the educator evaluation system's teacher rubric.

Wishing you all well,

Monday, July 30, 2012

DESE's Model Curriculum Units Roll On: Year Two

Four Model Curriculum Units – Now Available (1/16/13):

ESE has released four units, located at, as prototypes for district use: Grade 3 ELA/Literacy: Whose Story Is It? The Craft and Structure of Writing about History (Topic – Plymouth); Grade 6 Mathematics: Ratios and Rates; Grade 8-10 History/Social Science: US Constitutional Rights; and Grades 9-12 Science and Technology/Engineering: Energy-Physics. 

Older News:
At Devens July 30, 2012, DESE Associate Commissioner Julia Phelps unveiled plans for a second year creating Model Curriculum Units.

In year two, participating teachers will pilot 35 units in 62 districts; they will also build 50 new units. Many Cohort I teachers have returned, and they're joined by 75 new teachers. Design teams will include a mixture of Cohort I and II teachers. And for the first time, a Voc-Tech team (creating a culinary unit) is on board.

Today Cohort I teams received feedback and revised year one units, while the new teachers work with Jay McTighe and Understanding by Design. On Tuesday teams begin work on new units. Friday brings an Educator Evaluation System presentation, especially as it relates to MCU work.

Science: only one unit from year one is moving forward! In order to catch up with the other content areas, teachers will study existing units that are in the public domain. Teacher teams will apply three different rubrics to these existing units before selecting a unit to revise.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Less is More: Linking Initiatives

At the state conference for superintendents (M.A.S.S.) held last week on Cape Cod, Karla Baehr, lead architect of Massachusetts' Educator Evaluation System, recommended that districts find points of connection among initiatives in order to save time and narrow the scope of their work. In particular, she pointed out the opportunities for connecting the Common Core State Standards with the EES, suggesting that one action may address a goal from the CCSS and another from the EES. This efficient approach to planning is similar to what classroom teachers do when they teach ELA standards through history or science content, or math standards embedded in a science project.

To my mind, linking initiatives will reduce the initiative fatigue that many teachers (and districts) experience. When educators are able to engage in one set of actions that simultaneously fulfills the expectations of two initiatives, it helps them make sense of both initiatives and feel less put-upon.

At our July 26 Curriculum PLC meeting, we'll begin to identify the most fruitful connections between the Educator Evaluation System and the Common Core. Please comment below to learn more about this work-- or to contribute your own ideas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

System-Wide Collaborative Supports

My two previous posts explored specific collaborative techniques-- strategies designed to make meetings more collaborative.

Because collaboration among educators is essential to effective implementation of the Common Core and the Educator Evaluation System, we need to utilize structures that build collaboration across schools and districts.

The most common collaborative structure is the Professional Learning Community. PLCs, also called learning teams, capitalize on the strengths that every educator brings to the table. At their best, PLCs analyze student work or other data, identify what the students need next, and collaboratively plan instruction that responds to those needs.

Instructional Rounds are a way of placing instructional practice at the core of school improvement and building a shared understanding of effective instruction. Learning Walk-Throughs, a closely related practice, are being implemented across Massachusetts with support from DESE's Implementation Guide.

What structures have you used to build collaboration?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

More Models for Collaboration in Schools

As districts begin to implement broad initiatives like the Common Core and the System of Educator  Evaluation (SEE), collaboration between school leaders and teachers is needed more than ever. I re-read "Creating Collaborative Cultures," from a 2009 issue of Educational Leadership to seek strategies that will build collaboration in districts.

This collaborative strategy can be applied to narrowing the focus of the SEE to a few rows in the rubric. To follow this strategy, the school leader sends out necessary information and guiding questions in advance of the meeting and then uses Garmston and Wellman's focusing four model (brainstorm, clarify, advocate, canvass) to reach consensus on a small number of rubric-defined focus areas. This collaborative process can be expedited and made more democratic through the use of clickers-- I have a set for the Promethean I'd be happy to apply to this work. This same strategy could be used to identify points of connection between the Common Core and the SEE.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Change comes from the Top Down and Bottom Up

In this terrific and timely ASCD Express article, Partnerships that Improve Education, Phillip Jason Caposey reminds us that the success of any initiative depends upon teacher buy-in. As he puts it, "True school improvement only occurs when the goals of the individuals involved match the goals of the organization."

Caposey points out that many educators feel that new initiatives like the Common Core are being done to them. In response, he advocates for an implementation approach centered on collaboration between teachers and administrators. And he points out that "Collaboration is a learned skill that needs to be taught for education partnerships to work." Caposey suggests using the norms below to build greater collaboration:
  • Common purpose and objectives for meetings must be established and articulated.
  • All conversations must relate to the common purpose.
  • Data and research must be valued above belief or judgment statements.
  • Keep disagreements at a professional level, not a personal one.
  • Once consensus is achieved, all must support the decisions. 
How is your district achieving greater collaboration? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Finding Common Ground

There's a straightforward way to help teachers and district leaders see the connections between the System of Educator Evaluation and the Common Core State Standards-- it's to lead collaborative discussions among educators that directly address the issue. A high-quality  discussion will produce connections between the SEE and CCSS in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. By engaging in this conversation, teachers will gain a strong conceptual understanding of the connections, and the list of connections will be unique to the district and aligned with the district's mission and needs.

Once a district defines the connections between these two initiatives, it can begin to develop a shared understanding of what the connections will look like in practice. This shared understanding can be built through discussion and collaborative viewing of instructional video clips.

This approach increases the chances of actually transforming instructional practices to align with the shifts defined by the Common Core.

How might this approach apply to your school or district? Has your school tried something that is similar?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Tackle Initiative Overload

Many game-changing programs are under way or in the works in Massachusetts, and district leaders feel overloaded and unsure how to prioritize.

Followers of this space know that Massachusetts expects 'near full' implementation of the 2011 Curriculum Framework (Common Core) in the upcoming school year. Race To The Top districts roll out the Model System for Educator Evaluation this fall, with all other districts following suit in the next year. Many districts will spend this summer planning to implement the Massachusetts Tiered System of Supports. And one cannot overlook the implications of the new ELL approaches and proficiency standards (RETELL and WIDA) and the Massachusetts Teaching and Learning Platform (edwin).

What are some points of intersection among these initiatives? Each initiative provides a part of the answer to the Dufours' questions:
  • What do we want our students to learn?
  • How will we know if our students are learning?
  • What will we do when students don't learn?
Or to this related question:
  • How do we know our teaching is effective?
Answering these questions can guide us in crafting a sensible, manageable implementation plan.

More to come; please comment below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who Has a Plan?

This space has been focused on model curriculum units for the last several weeks. On a visit to California schools, I was reminded of the importance of beginning at the beginning.

Out in California, districts are cranking out CCSS implementation plans-- road maps defining what districts will do over the next three years to bring to classrooms the shifts defined by the Common Core. Here's an example from the Martinez Unified Schools. When viewing the Martinez plan, note that it does not yet include SMART goals. (Fun fact: California has a thousand districts.)

Who among us has created an implementation plan, especially one as detailed and comprehensive as that outlined in PARCC's Implementation Guide?

If your district has a plan, please let me know. And if you'd like help creating one, get in touch. Or if you think you don't need to map out your plans, please explain why in the comment section below.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Tri-State Rubrics Guide Model Unit Creation

Folks at DESE worked with New York and Rhode Island educators to create these tri-state rubrics. Used to evaluate model curriculum units and guide the feedback being provided to the teacher teams that created them, this tri-state rubric is a useful tool that will soon be offered to a wider audience.

Education leaders in New York see the value of the rubric and are introducing it to teachers before they begin building their model units. Massachusetts is considering a similar step as it moves into year two of the three year model curriculum unit project.

In addition, Achieve will incorporate the tri-state rubric in its work in an upcoming 18 state model unit project.

Please add questions or comments below-- remember that you can post them anonymously!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Triple Points: Leveraging Teacher PD Time

Educators in the Pioneer Valley ask, "If our district only has time for one professional development initiative outside the classroom, what should it be?"

My answer recommends taking advantage of Triple Points-- places where teachers examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment at the same time. Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), in which teachers administer standards-based tasks and collaboratively analyze the resulting student work-- are one of these Triple Points.

When using CFAs:
Teachers work together to create a high-quality [Assessment] that is embedded in the [Curriculum] standards. Analysis of student work leads to a discussion of the [Instruction] used to achieve the best results.

Many districts lack the time or resources to tackle curriculum, instruction, and assessment in order, and it seems inefficient to address them in isolation; hence Triple Points. Learn more about which local districts are using CFAs at our May 31 Curriculum PLC. And learn more about creating them at this Franklin-Hampshire Summer Academy offering: "Constructing High-Quality Performance Task in ELA, History, Math, and Science." Click here to see the brochure and other offerings.

Have other Triple Points to suggest?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

More Help with Model Curriculum Units

As promised, here's another method for resource-strapped districts to access model curriculum units.

There's a huge opportunity for sharing resources among districts. In the Pioneer Valley, many districts are already creating high-quality, Common Core-aligned products. Frontier Regional Schools are backwards-designing curriculum units, the Ludlow Public Schools math department is building a curriculum map that embeds the Standards for Math Practice, and at Tantasqua Regional they've aligned report cards to the new standards.

You might ask, how will we access those materials? One way is to join our Curriculum PLC when it meets to share Common Core implementation resources and strategies on May 31, 8:30 to 10:30, at CES, 97 Hawley St., Northampton, Massachusetts. Contact me if it'd be easier to skype in. Another is to follow this blog!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Here's Help with Building Model Curriculum Units

When you add last week's news that PARCC has decided not to create model curriculum units to the long wait for DESE to release its teacher-created units (Under mutual agreement, these will be released to RTTT districts first.), many district leaders wonder where they will find the resources to create units aligned with the new standards and educator evaluation system.

I offer three suggestions for how local educators might effectively begin crafting (or at least collecting) model curriculum units; I'll propose them over the course of the week.

The first is to take advantage of the Franklin/Hampshire County Summer Academy's offerings. (Full disclosure: I lead several sessions and my organization, CES, runs the show.) View the catalog here.

Two of these summer sessions may be particularly helpful to your district. The first, "Building Model Curriculum Units," will lead educators through the process used by DESE and Jay McTighe to create a CCSS-aligned unit. And then there's "Steal this Unit! Accessing Model Curriculum Units on the Net," which will provide support and tools for borrowing and adapting high-quality units already created by other states.

Check back in later in the week for more suggested supports!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Here's Help Finding the Best Online Resources

It's hard for busy educators to keep track of all the websites and documents that support the implementation of the new standards. To help, I'm making these resources available via the tabs located at the top of this page. I'm trying to limit the number of sites in each category to three-- so you won't have to sort through them.

Please comment below if you have a resource or category to add.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Can be Done with Limited Resources?

Many districts lack the resources to effectively implement the new standards.

With capacity limited, they ask: what work is most valuable? If we only have time to do one thing, what would it be? Just as teachers gain greater efficiency in their classrooms by, for example, teaching literacy skills around science content, school leaders can do the same.

Here’s my proposal: 

In teams, teachers select a model curriculum unit that features a performance assessment. They collaboratively adapt the unit to their student population, implement it, and reflect on the implementation, all the while supported by their own PLC, by instructional coaches, and by administration.

The key component here is when teachers collaboratively score student work on the performance assessment. This step provides the opportunity for teachers to agree on what high quality work looks like. Time spent analyzing how students tackle a high-quality assessment puts teachers at a crucial nexus-- the intersection of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Many thanks to Christina Brown, CCE, and Annie McKenzie, LPVEC, for their contributions to this post.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Readiness Center Delivers for DESE (the State)

How best to deliver important curriculum guidance to over-booked district leaders?

That's the question we asked at the Pioneer Valley Educational Readiness Center (PERC), one of six regional centers serving Massachusetts with support from the state.

It was clear that the approach we used last year to introduce the 2011 Mass. Curriculum Frameworks-- power point presentations to crowds of 300-- would not be effective this time around. A one-size-fit-all approach can't address the present needs of most districts. Perhaps more importantly, we heard from focus groups that, "If you want us to see another power point, send it to us and we'll watch when it's convenient."

So we are doing just that-- sending out links to five state-recommended resources: Digging Deeper power points in Math and ELA, Achieve's CCSS Implementation Guide and the Model Content Frameworks in ELA and Math. And we're asking districts to view the resources (if they hadn't done so already) and come together for a discussion of what they find valuable in those resouirces and how their CCSS implementation plans are proceeeding.

We're bringing the flipped classroom to administrators!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Will you Design Units from Scratch or Borrow Them?

Al begs for high-quality curriculum. "Just tell me what to teach and I'll do it. Don't make me serve on another curriculum committee-- our most recent efforts are sitting on the shelf."

In another district, Nia attends trainings in the 2011 State Curriculum Frameworks and stays after school working with a district-wide team designing model units based on the curriculum maps created earlier in the year.

These teachers embody a larger conundrum: how will districts have maps and units aligned with the new standards in place next year? Should Al's district require him to become an expert curriculum designer so that he can assist with the process? Will the units created by Nia and her colleagues be as high-quality as the ones being built by curriculum professionals in Indiana?

I can see the value of training teachers to unpack standards and build aligned units-- they'll gain a working knowledge of the standards and be invested in the implementation of the newly constructed units. But is the end-product-- curricula of varying quality and alignment, in 393 districts across the state -- what we want?

How's your district tackling this one?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Support from the State, Part Deux

Even though some western Mass. educators scream "No way!" when they hear it, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and secondary Education (DESE) listens and responds to the needs of districts!

DESE is hiring a vendor to vet and identify exemplary curriculum maps. This seems to be a helpful response to educators who questioned the quality and usefulness of the curriculum maps highlighted in DESE's new "Diving Deeper" power point presentation.

Also on the way from DESE is direct support for districts with the curriculum mapping process. I'll share more concrete details as they become available.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

State Support for Districts?

Many western Massachusetts educators bemoan the low level of support received from the state for implementing the Common Core. Educators here look around (electronically) and see that Ohio has mapped math curricula and provided those maps to districts. And in Arizona, model curriculum and high quality tasks are being created for districts at the state level.

Nothing that matches those supports will be forthcoming in the Bay State, but some support is on the way. These supports are detailed in two power point presentations prepared by the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Each of these presentations will be rolled out by the six regional Readiness Centers. In future posts I'll provide more detail about the supports for districts outlined in the power points and how our Pioneer Valley Center, PERC, will share DESE's power points.

For now, you can view the ELA power point by clicking here and the math presentation here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From the Teacher's Perspective

In an earlier post, I wondered about the opportunities embedded in the Common Core State Standards. Now you can read about the value teachers find in the Common Core here.

Thanks to Andy Churchill for the lead!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rewarding Procrastinators

As districts craft their Common Core implementation plans, those districts that have taken a wait-and-see attitude are in a good position to benefit from the work of other states and the additional supports being offered by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

States as geographically diverse as New York and Kansas are rolling out resources applicable to our implementation efforts here in Massachusetts. Curriculum exemplars, which include both complex tasks in ELA and model units in math are available through New York's website. Tools for gauging and increasing text-complexity are Kansas's contribution.

Closer to home, DESE plans to support curriculum alignment work this summer and to cull, vet, and disseminate locally-created curriculum maps that can serve as exemplars.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Massachusetts Sends Clearer Guidance to Districts

While listening in on a DESE webinar on Tuesday, I discovered that the state is providing both more direction, guidance, and support for districts working to implement the Common Core.

By viewing DESE's power point, "Diving Deeper: Implementing the 2011 Mass. Curriculum Frameworks for Math," you can read about these new developments (not yet available online; comment below and I'll send you a copy). What might be most helpful to districts is this process for "Developing a Curriculum Map:"

  1. 1.Assemble an inclusive team of teachers, curriculum leaders, etc.
  2. 2.Provide time for team to do background work to learn about the standards
  3. 3.Compare new standards to existing curriculum (map, units, materials, etc.) and identify gaps
  4. 4.Decide upon elements and format of curriculum map
  5. 5.Create draft curriculum map
  6. 6.Develop, adapt, and acquire curriculum materials and assessments as needed
 Next post: information about new supports available to districts this summer

Supporting Content-Area Teachers in Grades 7-12

Through my work in the Ludlow Public Schools, I've discovered that while most of the sixth grade content-area teachers have some training in teaching  reading and writing, the content-area teachers in grades seven and up tend not to. This is a product of the teacher licensing structure in Massachusetts, in which most sixth grade teachers carry a 1-6 certification that requires coursework in teaching literacy.

As a result, many teachers lack the training to carry out one of the central objectives of the Common Core-- teaching students to read and write critically across content areas.

In Ludlow, I'm working with Curriculum Director Diana Roy and Principal Sheryl Stanton to pair content-area teachers with ELA teachers and provide training in the use of active reading strategies that help students tackle content-area texts. We're finding Texts and Lessons for the Content Areas (Daniels and Steineke) to be extremely applicable and teacher-friendly.

What else is working out there?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Model Curriculum Unit Templates from DESE

As Massachusetts' DESE leads teacher teams through the design of model curriculum units, they provide a template, which incorporate Understanding by Design, an approach also call backwards planning. The template, which appears below, can be accessed by clicking here. UbD guru Jay McTighe lends a hand to the work. 
Content Area/Course:                                                                         Grade(s):               Date:            Time (minutes or hours):

Unit Title:

Lesson Title:

Essential Question(s) to be addressed in this lesson:

Standard(s)/Unit Goal(s) to be addressed in this lesson:

Assumptions about what students know and are able to do coming into this lesson (including language needs):
Where this lesson comes in a sequence:                     
                                                                                Beginning                                             Middle                                                   End

By the end of this lesson students will know and be able to:

Instructional Resources/Tools (What does the complexity of these texts or sources demand of the students?)

Anticipated Student Preconceptions/Misconceptions

Pre-assessment/ Formative
Summative (optional)

Lesson Sequence and Description
This column may be used to suggest/provide:
  • Content background needed
  • Instructional practices that support academic language development
  • Specific accommodations for students with disabilities, ELLs, advanced students
  • Time estimates for parts of the lesson
  • Specific notes to the teacher

Please provide enough information and details so the teacher can deliver the lesson.

Extended Learning/Practice (homework)

Review outcomes of this lesson:

Preview outcomes for the next lesson:

Teacher Reflection (to be completed after lesson)
What went well in this lesson?
Did all students accomplish the outcome(s))?
What evidence do I have?
What would I do differently next time?


Monday, February 27, 2012

YouTube Explanations of Common Core Themes

Fifteen top-notch videos explain everything Common Core-- from text-dependent analysis to the Standards for Mathematical Practice. Includes cameos by Common Core lead writers. Great site to refer to interested educators.

Thanks to the Hunt Institute for footing the bill and Louise Law for the link!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Teachers Lead Common Core Implementation is created by teachers, for teachers, in the spirit of sharing the work of implementation.

High points: concrete baby steps to take toward implementation and a template for wallet-sized cards that summarize CCSS-defined changes in practice.

Friday, February 3, 2012

What's in it for students?

We need to be clear about why we're implementing the Common Core State Standards. The change will be most effective when every school and district has a shared purpose.

What's the most important change the Common Core State Standards can bring to your students?

Some ideas from your host:
  • We teach so that students'  literacy skills grow coherently from Pre-K through 12.
  • Pre-K through 12 students engage in math instruction built around the eight Standards for Math Practice.