Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Compliance or Competency: What’s Important?

Readers Workshop
 August brings a new school year, new teachers, new grade levels, new administration, new curriculum, and new students. The first weeks are a rush of planning, prepping, and establishing rituals and routines. After being in school for a few weeks the dust begins to settle and schools settle in for the hard work ahead.

Walking into the classroom there are expectations set at every school for the way of work. Some schools call them “non-negotiables” while others discuss “culture and traditions”, but whatever they are called, they all set the standard teachers are expected to reach in their teaching.

Some of these expectations are easy to reach: bulletin boards done a certain way, standards posted in a consistent format, even walking in the hall with students. Simple compliance to the expectation is easily attainable.

Competency, however, is more difficult. For instance, just the compliance of posting standards for the students is easy. Understanding the standard and designing an engaging lesson for students requires a level of competency that requires deeper work from the teacher. When establishing rituals and routines at the beginning of the year, teachers are asked to record, or chart, the student thinking. This important groundwork sets the stage for how the classroom will run for the rest of the year.

Understanding why these lessons are important will help take the level of teaching from simply complying with expectations to a deeper competency, benefiting both the teacher and students in the long run. In the end, isn’t that what’s really important?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Response to Intervention Part 3: Success!

N.B.E. Man
Part 1 in this series covered the background of our 1st year of school-wide interventions. Part 2 looked into the guidelines, management issues and lessons learned. Finally, in Part 3, the success of the reading interventions are laid out for review. 

After a year of planning, training, and implementing it is rewarding to report on the student achievement success from the interventions used during the 2010-2011 school year. The best proof that professional learning has been successful is the resulting student achievement. On the FCAT, Florida’s state test, Neptune Beach Elementary grew by 52 points and made AYP in reading!

An earlier post described the some of the professional learning the teachers participated in prior to the start of the Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) lessons. As with any new program, there were some glitches that had to be worked out, but in the end it was running smoothly. LLI was the main reading intervention in the primary grades. We are proud to report that 100% of the students in LLI showed 6 months or more growth in reading. Our 3rd grade students take the FCAT. They must pass FCAT Reading to be promoted to 4th grade. The 3rd grade students in LLI groups made outstanding growth with 90% of them passing the FCAT Reading test. In fact 70% of them scored at proficient level or above!

We had other reading interventions also in place in 3rd grade. The students in Corrective Reading also made growth. The Corrective Reading Group B1 had 40% of the students passed the FCAT while Corrective Reading Group B2 had 60% pass the FCAT. In 4th grade the students from the Corrective Reading groups will most likely be placed in LLI groups, starting around the second week of school.

Our main math intervention, Math Navigator, was easier to implement but more difficult to document. As mentioned in the previous post, effective record keeping and documenting student growth was problematic. At the end of the school year the data had holes and a number of students had missing scores. Due to the inconsistencies in the data, it was not possible to clearly report student growth in math. NBE did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in math, in both of our subgroups. Three things could have impacted our math scores: new generation standards, new textbook adoption, and a retooled test FCAT 2.0. Any one of these could account for a decrease in student achievement. Next year there will need to be an increased focus not only on the interventions, but also on the core math instruction.

In the past, teachers have asked, "What can we do with students who come to my class reading a year or more behind the rest of the students?" Until this year there wasn't a clear answer. Now, with the LLI and other interventions being used with a dedicated time to provide them, there seems to be an answer that meets the needs of both the students and the teachers. This continued focus, working with tested and untested grades, should reduce the overall number of students requiring interventions. At least now when they are identified, we have options. We also have a reason to celebrate all the hard work everyone gave to get to this point. 

Thank you for reading about our interventions and sharing in our successes. Please take a moment to leave a comment, ask a question, or make a suggestion. All will be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Response to Intervention Part 2: Guidelines, Management and Lessons Learned

N.B.E. Manatee

Part 1 covered the background of our Response to Intervention efforts at Neptune Beach Elementary. This post will cover some of the specifics, those pesky little details that make or break a program! 

As with any new program we are learning as we go along. Here are some of the guidelines we follow:
·      No more than 50% of the teachers on a grade level are doing intervention groups. The other teachers monitor the rest of the students on the grade level. We have a state mandated 30-minute physical education time. The entire grade level goes to “recess” at the same time. We pull most intervention groups during this 30-minute block. While we don’t want students to miss the critical outdoor exercise time, there are less than 10% of the students in intervention groups. All of our interventions are intended to be finite in duration so students return to the normal schedule at the end of the intervention.
·      All students must be progress monitored between every 5th to 7th lesson. The results must be graphed not only to show individual growth but also against the norm for the grade level. In other words, interventions must not only show growth but also must be closing the achievement gap.
·      Students who need additional support beyond the 30-minute Tier 2 block are seen by a team to determine Tier 3 eligibility. The Tier 3 work must also follow the same academic focus in Tier 2. If a child’s weakness is in comprehension then all intervention work is in comprehension. Our special education and ESOL teachers help support the majority of our Tier 3 work.
·      All intervention groups meet daily for the allotted time. Exceptions are made for teacher absence and state testing.
·      All students are to receive Tier 1, or core instruction, daily in their own classroom. Intervention groups supplement, not supplant, core instruction.

In addition, there are specific guidelines for each type of intervention. With the Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) we follow specific guidelines, such as:
·      LLI groups have 3 to 4 students in the group. Fewer students can move faster than larger groups. This also allows us to do progress monitoring on a student every sixth lesson. More students would produce less frequent progress monitoring.
·      LLI groups are determined from multiple sets of data. This includes FAIR (Florida Assessment in Reading), DRA 2 (Developmental Reading Assessment), and BAS (Benchmark Assessment System) as well as anecdotal and observational notes, and running records.
·      In upper grades, students who present with decoding or fluency issues may be placed in a Corrective Reading group prior to LLI.

Math Navigator:
·      Our first math groups worked with student who scored between 25% and 50% on the screener. Students that scored lower generally needed a different form of remediation. Math Navigator is not a one-size fits all tool.
·      Math Navigator groups work best with 6 students. Larger groups are problematic.

Materials Management:
·      Materials need to be housed in a central location where all teachers have access. Once trained in the system, teachers are responsible for collecting and returning materials in a timely manner.
·      For LLI, copies need to be turned in well in advance of the lessons. Most teachers request copies in 5 to 10 lesson increments.
·      Math Navigator has consumable student workbooks. Reordering new materials will be done on an annual basis.

Student and Information Management:
·      Students follow rituals and routines similar to classroom guided reading groups.
·      Attendance must be kept daily.
·      Anecdotal notes must be kept at least weekly on individual student progress.
·      Communication between the intervention provider and the classroom teacher must be on a regular basis. This can included electronic or paper copies, followed by discussion, but cannot solely be verbal.
·      Group notes and graphs of student progress can be requested at any time by administration.
Lessons Learned:
Problem 1:The biggest issue we encountered was effective record keeping. Time strapped teachers had difficulty getting into the routine of recording information from the intervention. Both Math Navigator and LLI have electronic record keeping systems but the teachers were slow to embrace them and thus a lot of data was lost when they transferred the paper data into digital information. 
Solution: Start, from Day 1, with the electronic record keeping. For Math Navigator this means taking the pre- and post-test on the computer. It saves time by automatically scoring the assessment as well as giving the teacher data on common misconceptions. In LLI the data system keeps attendance, documents progress monitoring and graphs growth over time. 

Problem 2: The right student in the right group at the right time. During training we all worked together to break down data to identify the students that would benefit the most from the interventions. By the time the last intervention was complete some of the students in the groups were too high for the group, and thus did not show the gains obtained by the lower students. 
Solution: Letting the data tell the story speaks volumes in selecting students for interventions. When there is limited time, space, and resources it is important to be diagnostic when selecting students for interventions. We recommended spaces be filled first by students in our AYP groups with additional spaces being filled by the other students.

Problem 3: Communication. Communication between the classroom teacher and the interventionist needs to be documented. Often the classroom teacher was unaware of the progress being made in the intervention groups, making it hard to communicate with parents and other stakeholders.
Solution: This is related to Problem 1, effective record keeping. One solution is to print up the documentation from the digital data collection system with LLI or Math Navigator. The second solution would be to have dedicated time, during weekly data discussion meeting, to verbally update classroom teachers on the printed copy of student progress.

Be sure to look for Part 3: Success!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Response to Intervention Part 1: Background Information

N.B.E. Manatee
This is Part 1 of a three part series on the first year of Response to Intervention at Neptune Beach Elementary School.

Response to Intervention, RtI, is not a new thing. Florida, as a whole, and Duval County in particular, spent time discussing it before it became a reality. Prior to implementation we knew Neptune Beach Elementary had to have a plan before taking this school-wide. Luckily there were trailblazers before us to help lead the way.

The first thing our team did was read. Blogs, books, and articles by some of the biggest names and organizations in education were consumed by the boatload. We learned about new websites where we could see what others schools were doing. We also learned from some of their mistakes.

The next thing was to develop a master schedule. Teachers have too much on their shoulders all ready. If we just said, “Fit this in as best you can” then we took the chance it could be dropped. Designating time for RtI helped to make it a reality. This time was considered sacred and no other academics could occur during this time slot. The time slot varied for each grade level. Some schools have had success with one common time for all grade levels to do intervention work. This make sense when a large proportion of the students need interventions. At Neptune Beach Elementary the number was less than 10% of the entire student population. It made sense for the time to be dedicated when there were no other academics occurring and other students were engaged in non-academic tasks.

At the same time we had to identify and train personnel on how to work with struggling learners. We started with reading in primary grades. Even though these students would not take the state test for several years, we felt this was an investment in the future. We kept hearing over and over what takes 30 minutes to remediate in kindergarten and 1st grade takes 2 hours in 4th grade. Since we didn’t have 2 additional hours in the school day, we started working to reduce the number of kids who struggled in reading. By October of 2010 we started five Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) groups.

In November of 2010 we started training three of our upper grade math teachers in America's Choice Math Navigator. NBE lost 50 points between the 2009 and 2010 FCAT, with 32 points occurring specifically in math. By February 2011 we ended up with 5 teachers running Math Navigator groups in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

Reading, though, was still problematic. We trained additional teachers in LLI to meet the needs of 2nd and 3rd grade students. Currently the LLI program materials only go up to Level N, or the middle of 3rd grade. We are looking for a solution for 4th and 5th grade students. In those grades the identified RtI teachers can use Soar to Success (part of our Houghton Mifflin reading adoption) as well as other materials, such as Corrective Reading.

In the spring we expanded our math intervention groups to include second grade. The entire grade level was screened globally and then specifically in place value. We find the most of our struggling math students have weak conceptual understanding in place value and how numbers work. They can memorize facts but have little recourse when they get problems wrong due to number sense issues. The work done this spring should show an impact next spring when they take the 2012 FCAT.

The next post, Response to Intervention Part 2, will go into the specific guidelines, management tips, and lessons learned from our experiences.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Professional Learning

I’ve been getting requests from teachers at my school for summer professional reading suggestions. We have multiple copies of classic books on various topics such as guided reading, conferencing, problem solving in math, response to intervention, even books on leadership in our professional library. Teachers are welcome to check them out over the summer! Can’t beat free, right?

This year, however, I am suggesting varied options beyond the traditional text. All of them are free. All of them are on current topics. All of them can be used to grow professionally. Almost all of them are blogs! I start them off with one of my favorite authors, Sharon Taberski, and link them up to her blog All About Comprehension. Next in line, another favorite standby is the Fountas and Pinnell Blog. Both of these blogs will give teachers new thinking and information from familiar resources.

Adding onto published authors I also suggest some local bloggers, such as Melanie Holtsman and Suzanne Shall. Sometimes we overlook the good things going on in our own back yard. These teachers are living with the same learning schedule and testing requirements. Reading their thoughts and ideas can help us grow and share new ideas in return. Additionally, I look to see who they are reading, and add those blogs to my Google reader.

But what if you like your summer reading in video form? Then I suggest you need to check out the Teaching Channel. These short videos give one a glimpse into another classroom. I love that the have connections to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Speaking of new standards, the Common Core State Standards will be rolled out in Kindergarten in the fall of 2011, followed quickly by 1st and 2nd grades in 2012. They will be implemented in 3rd, 4th, and 5th in 2013. This summer would be an excellent time to read up on the Common Core Standards, paying attention to the vertical growth over time as well as the standards for your grade level.  The Appendixes are filled with additional information, including examples of student work that addresses the age old question “How good is good enough?”

If you like your summer professional learning more interactive then I suggest you sign up for one, or more, of the many free webinars being offered. You can find them listed on sites such as ASCD and Edutopia. I have already signed up for one about using the iPad in the classroom!

Summer is a perfect time to reflect and rejuvenate. Each year seems to bring more demands on the classroom teacher and less time during the school year to think deeply about our own professional learning. Give yourself the gift of time this summer to learn something new. Your students will benefit greatly come next year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sharing Stories with Twitter

I love meeting people. I love stories. Could there be any doubt that I love Twitter because it allows me to meet people and hear their stories? 

Being on Twitter has been like reading 200 plus stories all at the same time. Some of the stories are related by family ties - the brothers @courosa and @gcouros come to mind. While others are connected, such as @holtsman and @dreamleader, by a common workplace. I am connected to @cowpernicus by a mutual interest in professional learning. Surprisingly he is one of the few people I follow that I have also met in person! Most of the stories I follow are from educators. Others are cyclist, like @ghincapie, or entertainer like @ActuallyNPH, giving me insight into another lifestyle so very different from mine.

One story I look forward to visiting every day is from Natasha Badwar.
Natasha Badhwar
Natasha Badhwar
Daily Natasha updates her followers on parts of her life. Other than the heat, life in New Delhi is very different from life in Florida. Natasha writes about simple parts of life; her daughters growth and development, photographs from her garden, and travels all in 140 characters or less. Because of her tweets I am now more familiar with life half way around the globe.

Twitter, more than any other written text, forces me to use many of my higher order thinking skills. Building on my schema - what do I know about this author - and synthesizing new information from each tweet makes my reading a richer experience. Over the past year or so I feel like I'm getting to know some of these authors quite well. I have come to anticipate the new domestic workshops or golfing adventures as experienced by @shareski. Periodically @russgoerend and @MrsBMG post videos of their young son. We all get to watch him grow and change, delighting in his charming antics with the family cat and a very random Roomba! Recently we all waited with @thenerdyteacher for the joyous birth of his son. 

So these stories continue, day in and day out, and in and out of weeks, and over the years. I work hard to keep the stories straight and continue to learn more everyday about the world outside my home, school, and my little beach community. I can only hope my story makes someone smile and gives them a little insight into my thinking and growing as an educator. I'll keep reading and sharing, hoping you will, too. You will find me on Twitter - just look for @jaxbeachteach.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Finding my Religion with Sharon Taberski

Sometimes we get lost in education. Seems you can't go a day without hearing how public education is broken. We face massive budget cuts, further devaluing our efforts. Is it any wonder that occasionally even the strongest educator can feel defeated? Who is out there speaking for the teachers?

Sharon Taberski
Personally, I find Sharon Taberski is a voice for teachers. She writes with honesty about teaching reading in the primary classroom. Taberski calls herself a “teachers' teacher” with her work supporting her words. Ten years ago her book On Solid Ground made a difference in my understanding of Readers Workshop. In the fall of 2000, six months after On Solid Ground was published, I began my first coaching assignment. Her words helped put into perspective how various pieces of the workshop model came together into a cohesive whole.

Fast forward ten years later. I am still coaching and I am still referring to On Solid Ground with great regularity, quoting pages and passages like a preacher from a bible. It was with great anticipation that I marked Sharon’s session on my must attend agenda for IRA’s Conference in Orlando. It was time for me for go back to the well for inspiration.

In the exhibit hall I purchase Taberski's new book, Comprehension From the Ground Up. The subtitle, Simplified, Sensible Instruction for the K-3 Reading Workshop, reassured me that Sharon was continuing to look out for teachers. I waited eagerly for a new shot of inspiration. It has been a dark time for me professionally. My coaching position eliminated, educational funding cut, and teacher bashing abounds. I was in need of light in these gloomy days.

Finally, on the last day of the conference, it was time for her session: Re-Envisioning the Five Pillars of Reading. Rather than simply following the medical model of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, Sharon realigned and combined them with missing elements to create a new structure that supports comprehension. After all, as Sharon says in her blog, 
 Building on analogies, stories, and examples, Sharon spent the hour guiding us through her new thinking. I have been blessed over the years to hear Sharon speak on several occasions. Each time she shared more of her current thinking. At one point during the session she brought up cognitive dissonance, stating, “I don’t care if you think like me. I care that you think.”

So here I am, just a day later, thinking. I have yet to read more than the introduction of Comprehension From the Ground Up. I want to be able to focus and reflect, not rush through the learning. Truth is, I can’t wait to read every chapter and verse. After hearing Sharon speak I know her words will continue to lift up the profession of education. Its about time to practice some sensible instruction in reading, don’t you agree?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Cleaning

As the weather turns warm in North Florida I start to put away the winter clothes and bring out my spring and summer clothes. Since the weather stays very mild in Florida, especially compared the northern half of the United States and Canada, my wardrobe change has a lot to do with sleeve length and colors. It’s spring now, so I’m doing my spring-cleaning.

There is a rhythm to the seasons. In schools we have a rhythms, too. Right now we are in testing season. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) will be given in a little over a week. Half the teachers in the school are under tremendous amounts of stress. Months and months of teaching boil down to weeks and weeks of fine tuning of lessons, small groups, and conferences. Spring break, this year before the test, couldn’t have come at a better time. Tempers were sharp and nerves were brittle. The season of the TEST was upon us.

Teaching, like the Florida weather, should remain fairly constant through the school year. Some of the tools we use before the test are ones that we should be using throughout the school year. This year we have had a greater focus on data. We have had more benchmark testing and progress monitoring than ever before. The district implemented a new information system to help teachers sort and configure the data in a very timely manner. The key, however, is what the teacher does with the data that makes the difference.

We learn a new reading genre when we learn to read data. It has it’s own vocabulary and types of comprehension. Reading strategies, such as inference or synthesis, are important to get meaning in data. Schema - for the student, for the assessment, for the benchmark – is critical for comprehending the information. If one just looks at it as a math problem: “What is the difference between the number of students in the proficient range compared to the number in the non-proficient range?” you never get at the root of the data. A better question might be “Compared to the benchmark assessed, which students need significant reteaching and which only need a quick reminder?” The data helps me to see what my students need to learn next.

The FCAT will come and for two weeks we will be testing the culmination of what students have learned since they walked into school in kindergarten. After the test, however, we have a chance to do a little spring-cleaning of our own. Let’s look at our teaching practices. We should keeping looking at the data, fine tuning the small groups or the conferences. Take the time to make sure the students are proficient in the areas they struggle with the most before going to the next grade. In your spring-cleaning, look at some of the teaching you have typically done in the spring. Does it still fit with the data you have on your students? What can you do now that will make a difference to your students in the future? Reflecting on our practice makes us better teachers and helps our students learn. In the end, isn’t that what’s important?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reflections: A Quiet Place

Deep down inside, there is a quiet place. To get there you have to start past the bright, electronic lights and the beckoning sirens song of the Internet. The visuals come by you fast and quick. If you close your eyes, and can keep your hands from touching the screen, you can pass by without them touching you very deeply. 

The next level is lite by incandescent lights and the unnatural glow and sounds from a television blaring at you, sucking you into the mindless pool of inactivity. A simple click of a remote can silence this beast but beware: the sound of silence afterward can be uncomfortable.

Passing next is the gentle glow of a candle, and the softness of a down comforter. It is easy to curl up in a ball, surrounded by the gentle hug of sleep, and snuggle into a nap. Shake your head and clear the webs, because the journey is not yet done.

Finally, the quiet place is achieved. Upon arriving you notice someone there. An interesting person with a unique personality and individual characteristics. You may not recognize the individual, especially if it's been a long time since you visited your quiet place. But take a moment and get to know this unique individual. You may find you really like this individual or have missed being in touch. Pretty soon, though, you come to know who this individual is and how important it is to visit your quiet place. Because the essence of the the quiet place is the core of who we are, as individuals. It's important to be in touch with yourself and dwell within your quiet place. After all, if you don't take of you, who will?