Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Timely News

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted today to release the draft versions of the revised Literacy and Mathematics Frameworks for public comment. Below is a link to the documents we have prepared to support educators' knowing what the revisions are and why they were made. These documents are the result of almost 2 years of work that started with the input of educators on a survey of lessons learned while using the standards for 5 years.

You can access all of the Board documents here: You will find the full red-lined versions of each Framework, grade-by-grade revisions in easy to read tables (I recommend these.), and a pair of Quick Reference Guides (QRG) for educators (I recommend these, as well.).  The grade-by-grade summaries explain what was proposed and what adjustments were made as well as why they were made. The QRGs give an overview of the process.

The public comment survey  will be live from 12/1 through 2/17. Additionally, Office Hours are scheduled in each region to assist educators in learning about the changes and to get feedback from the field. Office Hours information sessions  will be offered on 1/12/2017 at 10 (after the curriculum administrators meeting) at the Cape Cod Collaborative, 418 Bumps River Road, Osterville and on 2/6/2017  at the North River Collaborative Conference Center, 525 Beech Street, Rockland. Please share this information and encourage all to participate in the survey.

On February 14 and 15, ESE will host that annual Instructional Support Convening. There will be a workshops  to provide participants with an updates on current ESE initiatives. Convening invitations go to superintendents who are asked to assemble and bring a team from the district. Each district may attend on one of the two days.

Online survey: The Department is seeking input from educators and others to inform the upcoming revision of the MA History and Social Science Curriculum Framework by participating in a survey, now available here; it should take approximately 10–20 minutes to complete, and it will remain open until February 6, 2017. Please share this information with any of your colleagues who might be interested in providing input.

The Second Annual Civics Literacy Conference will take place at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Monday May 8, 2017. Many thanks to EMK for partnering with us again this year and to those of you who made it such a success last year. This is a great conference in a gem of a Massachusetts institution. 

Next-Generation Test Designs and Other Information Now Available
The 2017 next-generation MCAS test information for grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics tests is now available. This includes the test design, number of sessions, question types, and other information related to the newly redesigned MCAS tests.

Information Sessions on New ELA and Mathematics Test Designs for Grades 3–8:
The Department will hold two conference call sessions for elementary and middle schools to give information on the new test designs for ELA and Mathematics for grades 3–8, as well as new accessibility features and accommodations.

The sessions will provide the following information:
  • an overview of the new test designs (Participants should view the ELA and Mathematics test designs prior to the session.)
  • similarities to and differences from the 2016 tests
  • new question types and sample questions
  • accessibility features and accommodations
Presenters will also hold a question-and-answer period at the end of the presentation.
Each session will be held according to the schedule in the table below.
         Day                                                                                         Time
Thursday, December 8                                                      1:00–2:30 p.m.
Friday, December 9                                                           9:00–10:30 a.m.

Registrations may be submitted here until December 2.

Principals are asked to invite educators in their schools to participate, but a recording of one of the sessions will be made available for those who are unable to attend, along with the slide deck presented.

If you have not signed up for regular Student Assessment ServicesUpdates, please do. They are available to all.  To subscribe, email with the following information in the body of the email: “subscribe SASUpdate Your_Name” (Example: subscribe SASUpdate John_Smith).

Science Ambassadors:  The Science Ambassadors are a group of talented science educators available to assist schools and districts to understand the impact of the 2016 Science Technology Engineering (STE) standards on their curriculum and instruction efforts. In partnership with the Museum of Science, ESE prepares Ambassadors to deliver presentations on the key shifts and considerations for transition and implementation of the STE standards. In addition, they share and explain the many helpful resources available.

What is a Science Ambassador Session?
Ambassadors travel to your district at a time conducive to educator professional development opportunities. The Ambassadors will actively engage with educators to review the standards for 1-2 hours. Some of the most popular session topics are:
  • Overview and rationale behind the new standards
  • Sharing Massachusetts’ vision for PreK-12 science education
  • Integrating science and engineering practices
  • Implications of the new standards for curriculum and instruction.
ESE follows up after each session to gather feedback, offer technical assistance as needed, support your next steps, and answer questions.

We are excited to schedule a session for you. District science leaders (e.g., curriculum director, science department chair, teacher leader) are encouraged to email with your proposed date(s), time and the audience. Ambassadors also regularly present at conferences, regional meetings, Head Start programs, informal science organizations, after school and summer programs, and other gatherings. Contact ambassadors today!

Hope you can and will take advantage of these important opportunities!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Principles of Literacy Learning

Just about a year ago, I was part of a team that reviewed the research and evidence base in order to develop a set of principles to provide a foundation for our work with Kindergarten professionals across the state. We came up with five principles and ways they support learning and literacy development:

1. A strong culture of community spirit exists in the classroom.

  • Build a strong community of learners - provoke curiosity and inquiry. 
  • Literacy is the heart of communication and learning.
  • Critical thinking follows from purposeful facilitation of collaboration and inquiry.
2. Each student is empowered to learn and work with others, and has opportunities for choice and authentic voice in their learning.
  • Self-directed learning supports creativity and higher-level thinking.
  • Purposeful, content-driven discourse (speaking and listening) is an essential skill for school and for life.
  • Providing real student choice evokes true engagement with content and peers.
3. Foundational literacy practices are intentionally interwoven with authentic, meaningful contexts.
  • Foundational skills require a combination of direct instruction and opportunities for students to use those skills in reading, writing, and thinking.
  • Through authentic settings students develop speaking and academic vocabularies. Students require at least 12 productive opportunities to own a word and its meaning.
  • Grammar and syntax support understanding of all forms of communication.
4. Each student actively engages in meaningful ways to understand, retain, and integrate new knowledge.
  • Student learning passes through three stages - surface learning (the introduction to something new), to deep learning (making connections and relationships, organizing information), to transfer of learning (self-regulation that allows the learner to apply knowledge to novel situations; to be creative; to use what they know and can do).
  • Everything students learn supports additional learning and in turn supports understanding of what is read or heard.
  • Increased learning promotes independence and joy in the process of learning.
5. Each student's progress in literacy skills, concepts, and strategies is monitored and adjusted so that instructional decisions are timely, and appropriately accommodate student differences and needs.
  • Classrooms are language and print-rich. 
  • Consistent monitoring leads to facilitation of growth and on-the-spot corrections of misconceptions throughout the day.
  • A culture of data-driven decision making supports the achievement of all students.
The changes I witnesses last year in classrooms incorporating these principles even for a couple of months were extraordinary. Teachers I worked with, though skeptical and in some cases, nervous at first, enjoyed the work and reported real growth in their students. The unit concluded with a showcase for families. I heard remarks of surprise over and over that students could accomplish so much in such a short time. As observer and coach, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the principles in practice and experiencing the growth of adults and students alike. 

As we expand our work into the early elementary grades, we encourage our educators to intentionally incorporate these principles into their instructional days. These principles and the ways they support literacy and learning are front and center in all of the work we do with teachers and administrators. You can find the principles and more information here. Please try them out in your work and let us know how they work for you and for your students.

Good luck!

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Few of My Favorite Things

This week I thought I would share some of my favorite blogs, links, and newsletters.

If you have literacy questions and want down-to-earth, practical and research-based advice, Timothy Shanahan is your man! Sign up for Shanahan on Literacy . Occasionally, Dr. Shanahan shares his national presentations and recently-developed resources.

Reviews of children's books, informational and literary, are regularly provided by Lesley University professors, Erika Dawes and Mary Ann Capiello. Their blog is now associated with the School Library Journal. Find it here.

Following up on last week's blog on questioning, check out A More Beautiful Question. This site works for life, work, and education. We all need to embrace more curiosity.

My very newest favorite is Simply Civics. For the past six months I have been working with the Civic Learning and Engagement Task Force that is charged by the Department with making recommendations for how we may incorporate the proven practices for civic learning into school and district curricula. Those proven practices are classroom instruction, discussion of current events and controversial issues, service learning, extracurricular activities, school governance, and simulations of the democratic processes. The best resource for the simulations is the Edward M. Kennedy Institute (EMK). What a gem! If you haven't visited, please put it on your calendar for a visit soon. Kadie Maher, who works for the institute writes the Simply Civics blog.

Reading Rockets keeps you up-to-date on all things literacy. Find all kinds of information and opinions on preschool education at In Quotes

Closer to home, sign up for updates as assessments transition to Next Generation Assessments at Assessment Updates. This is up-to-date information on all things related to our states assessments.


Monday, September 12, 2016

What's the Question? Who is asking?

A hallmark of the standards is the development of questions! Perhaps while concentrating on reading closely and writing in different types and genre, questions have taken a back seat. However, reading standard 1 in the early grades emphasizes teaching students how to ask and answer questions. Additionally, all the inquiry and research connected to the reading, writing, and speaking/listening standards, require the development and pursuit of interesting and important questions.

Help is available.
  • The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a simple, but rigorous, step-by-step process designed to help students produce, improve, and strategize on how to use their questions. The QFT allows students to practice three thinking abilities in one process: divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking. The QFT helps students become more curious and engaged learners—when students ask questions it is a shortcut, not a detour, to deeper learning.  Use backwards planning to guide your use of the QFT. The QFT Planning Tool can help to identify your teaching goals, consider how students' questions may be used, design a Question Focus (QFocus), develop prioritization instructions, and create reflection questions. Signup for the Educator Network at to access free resources and content.
  • From Warren Berger:It’s back-to-school time, so I wanted to share this excellent article that appeared earlier this year on the education blog MindShift. It was written by journalist Katrina Schwartz, who attended a talk I gave at an education conference hosted by the Nueva School in California. I didn’t even know Katrina was there in the crowd, but in any case she captured the essence of the talk very well in her article. It’s about the things that tend to keep kids from asking questions in class. And it offers some suggestions of what we all might do about that. I also love that in her post, Katrina includes a video clip of George Carlin. Check it out: The article also offers 5 ways to help students become better questioners.
  • To get started, look at the essential questions associated with the model curriculum units. Have students develop open-ended questions that peak curiosity associated with the essential question. Subsequently, develop your own essential questions based on whatever the content or topic.
Questioning supports curiosity. Curiosity is one of those prized attributes that seems to be increasingly lost in our busy lives. With our current standards, emphasis on inquiry and question-development brings curiosity and pursuit of understanding or creativity that develops novel solutions to problems right to the top of our priority lists. In your own quest for creating the best open-ended, higher-order questions to present to your students, keep in mind the importance of giving students the opportunity to be your apprentices in learning to ask and pursue the most adventurous and beautiful questions.

Be patient with yourself and your students as you begin to emphasize questioning and creating an atmosphere of challenge with safety and acceptance. I can remember times when at first hearing a student's question, I thought it was insincere or meant to throw us off track. With trust and true curiosity on my part, these turned out to be some of the best questions - the ones that led us into new learning and creative pursuits. Good luck and above all enjoy the inquiry journey. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Three Little Words

New year presents new opportunities - Happy New Year!

As we begin lets reflect on three ideas that could enhance all of our own learning and that of our students. They are relationships, rigor , and relevance.

This month's Educational Leadership is entitled, Relationships First. You may access the issue here. Once we reflect upon it, it seems obvious that as adults we do not learn from people we do not respect or who do not like or respect us. As teachers it can be a challenge, a welcomed one, to like each and every student. Here are just a couple of evidenced-based ideas that work. My own practice was to ask parents to write to me telling me about the child that they were sending to me. These letters were very informative and helpful. They were the direct result of having had a younger brother who was a cancer survivor and my own parents' struggle with deciding when to inform his teachers or not. A couple of years ago  Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher in Denver, Colorado (@kyleswartz #I wish my teacher knew) started asking students to complete the prompt, I wish my teacher knew.... Use these or create your own. These relationship foundations can easily be connected to teacher effectiveness standards, as well as getting everyone off on a very positive first step for a success-filled year.

Rigor insists on a belief that all of our students can achieve at high levels of success. Do you believe that all students can and will write well this year? What does that really mean day-to-day? Will all the students reflect on higher-order questions and explore deeper learning? How will I support all students and how will I know when we have done enough?  Rigor insists on a willingness to revise our work and our knowledge and skills, an atmosphere of not-until-the-learner-is-satisfied or the project is complete. Rigor insists that we share our own learning and bumpy-road-to-learning stories, that we model writing, that we model our passion for our content and that students have lots of opportunities to judge examples that they can classify as exemplars and non-exemplars and articulate the differences. All of this requires significant planning on the part of the teacher. Use the What to Look For resources to reflect on day-to-day rigor in the classroom. They have been developed for every grade level (K-8) in literacy, mathematics and science as well as for the sheltered English immersion classroom.

Relevance helps us connect our work to our lives. It makes classroom work more engaging and meaningful, motivating students to work longer and harder. Teach for transfer. Plan units and lessons that will develop toward a final performance-based assessment that requires solution of a novel problem or application of knowledge and skills in a new situation. Many of the model curriculum units exemplify this type of teaching and learning. See model units in all content and grade levels here. Assessments like these demonstrate to students, as well as to teachers that the learning has been deeply integrated.

Each of these takes hard work on the part of the professional educator. Students are taking cues from their teachers every day from the ways they seek positive relationships with them and their families, from the ways they challenge themselves to develop and support rigorous classroom lessons and learning, and from the relevance that teachers demonstrate and facilitate as students put learning into action.

May your year be the most successful yet. May your challenges spur curiosity and creativity. May every day be filled with positive relationships, rigorous lessons and deep learning, and relevant work for every member of your classroom community.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Teaching About the Election

Everywhere you go these days people are talking about the national election process and the candidates. Some educators have recently started thinking about how to teach about the election in their classes this fall.

I have put together a brief summary of resources and ideas for content and literacy that I believe could be useful at all grade levels. Here they are with links:

Teaching about the Election 2016
These are 2 good places to begin:

Dealing with Controversial Issues
Civil Discourse In The Classroom (booklet may be downloaded) and lesson plans for election 2016

More Lessons for teaching about the elections and civics sites:
Teaching Tolerance Election 2016 – ideas for all grade levels

From New York Times
From now until November, we’ll be offering regular election teaching resources, including lesson plans, Student Opinion questions, contests and an updated version of our four-part election unit. Find the most evergreen posts on our regularly updated Election 2016 Teaching and Learning Homepage.

PBS Election Central – An Educational Guide to the US Elections
All kinds of lessons aligned to the standards for all grade levels.

Center for Civic Education
Lessons for all grade levels particularly on voting and citizenship; also has a newsletter.

MA Center for Civic Education (the local contact for the national one above)
Lesson plans (all grades) and online resources – particularly helpful with teaching about some of the issues that have come up during the elections.

Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement
Lots of interesting resources and opportunities for student research.

Content Literacy Opportunities:
Focus on argument:
·         Students view video clips – either campaign speeches or ads
o   Analyze for content by researching validity of claims
o   Analyze for appeal – ethos, pathos. logos
o   Analyze for audience appeal (what audience?) (from the work of Kelly Gallagher)
·         Students write the speeches they would like to hear from the candidates.
·         Research issues – work in teams to develop debate arguments for each side.

Focus on Questions:
Engage your students in thinking about the value of voting and decision making. The Better Questions Better Decisions Voter Engagement Workshop offers a simple, easy to implement, nonpartisan lesson for middle school and high school educators who are teaching the importance of the elections and voting process. Learn more and download the workshop resources.

Write Letters

Letters to the Next President, recommended by International Literacy Association (ILA),
provides issues that young people care about – geared to high school students.

I hope these sites and ideas will be helpful as you plan for this very exciting election season!

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's a new day! Consider Thinking and Feedback.

We teachers all have that sense of a new day and a new start at this time of year. How fortunate we are! We have the chance to start over, to begin anew, to correct the missteps of the past, and best of all, to make a real difference in the lives of our students.

As we set goals for this school year I would like to suggest an idea. I'll begin with some questions:

  • What would happen if student work were less time-bound and more revision-bound?
  • What if a project or a problem did not have to be finished/solved by the end of the class or the day?
  • What if students learned to give and receive helpful feedback ?
These are elements of a structure we used in our Kindergarten literacy and learning project last year. It was amazing to watch young learners become increasingly more articulate at giving suggestions and watch their peers thoughtfully accept all or parts of the suggestions. Even better was the motivation and engagement they showed with revision and ownership of learning. If you have never seen it, watch Austin's Butterfly for a wonderful example of this process in action.Find it here  or simply Google Austin's Butterfly. It is well worth the six minutes.

For more information on how to structure Thinking and Feedback in the classroom visit BPS where the entire Boston Public Schools K curriculum is available. Although this structure is embeded in the BPS K curriculum (called Focus K2), it may be applied to any grade for project work, research, writing, and whatever your creative talents envision.

As you set your own goals this year, think about having students set goals - really specific goals that they can revisit throughout the term and perhaps revise or build upon as the year progresses. Thinking and Feedback could be a very helpful way to work toward and achieve learning goals.

Good luck!