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.