Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michelle Rhee's Plan for Teacher Pay and Tenure

There was a great program on The Sound of Ideas a couple weeks ago that highlighted educational reform initiatives underway outside Ohio. Click here to listen to the complete podcast of the program.

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington DC Public Schools, spoke about her plan for reforming the teacher pay and tenure systems. According to her plan current teachers will have the choice to either a) continue under the current pay scale system and retain their tenured positions, or b) forfeit their tenure in exchange for significant pay increases and potential bonuses. Those who choose the second option would be reviewed annually based on several factors, including student performance. Based on this evaluation teachers could earn a bonus based on their performance, or, could lose their position.

This is a gutsy, exciting move and I can't wait to see how it works out. It's often said that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the greatest predictor of student achievement, yet districts often have little flexibility to fire ineffective teachers. The pay increases would also help attract teachers to the district, increase the prestige of the profession, and keep effective teachers in the district.

Of course, such a dramatic change is inevitably controversial... and rightly so. One concern is whether the funding for this program will be sustainable. The initial funding for the pay increases is coming from private donations; for long-term funding the district is planning to free up funding by reducing inefficiencies in district operations. If this does not free up enough funding it could jeopardize the whole intent of the program to keep excellent teachers in the district. For example, according to the new plan a high-performing teacher in the district can earn up to $130,000/year. Since that teacher does not have tenure even though she is an excellent teacher a cash-strapped district may be tempted to replace her with a less qualified and less expensive teacher. On the other hand, if the district is able to free up that much funding by increasing efficiency of district operations it could provide an excellent model for other districts to adapt.

Another major concern pertains to how the district will evaluate teachers. I've read that it will be according to a variety of factors, but haven't found much detail yet on what those factors would be. If we are evaluating teacher performance based on student performance on standardized tests, we need to be mindful of the quality of those assessments and the extent that they are measuring what we want to know.

Negotiations between the district and the Teachers' Union are still underway, but they hope to get an agreement in place before the school year begins.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blog Recommendation - What the Research Says

Interested in research findings for best practices in literacy instruction? This is one of my new favorite blogs that I highly recommend: What the Research Says. Billing itself as "early literacy research distilled for educators" the site provides succinct summaries of research papers.

I'd love to find similar sites for keeping up with research in other content areas - if you're aware of any, please share in the comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Progress Towards National Standards

According to the June 11 edition of Education Week:
The National Association of Secondary School Principals calls on Congress to appoint an independent panel... to come up with a set of common guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.
Maintaining a separate set of standards for each state simply does not make sense, and I do hope that Congress moves toward national education standards whenever NCLB is finally discussed and revised. As this article points out, "we have 50 states, which have 50 different definitions of proficiency, and NCLB never even describes what is meant by proficiency." We already know from national assessments such as NAEP that standards for proficiency vary widely between states. In this age of accountability holding students and their schools to a common standard is just common sense.

One of the original criticisms of NCLB was that it was an unfunded mandate - that states were suddenly all responsible for implementing statewide assessments without funding to support this undertaking. Streamlining this process by creating a national assessment aligned to national standards would lead to significant savings in state education budgets.

National standards would also relieve some of the inefficiencies in creating state and district curriculum. For example, I've learned that here in Ohio district technology standards are based on county standards, which are based on state standards, which are based on ISTE guidelines. Imagine the interminable faculty meetings and piles of paperwork as this process is replicated in districts across the country, and how much time could be focused on improving instructional quality instead of recreating the wheel.

However, if and when we do move towards national standards, we must ensure that the resulting standards are sufficiently challenging, and that the process for revising the standards allows for continuous updates and improvements. National standards should also allow enough flexibility for states to pilot innovations in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

21st Century Learning

I just posted this here on the Ohio Education Technology Network:

What resources (books, blogs, whatever) do you all recommend that are related to 21st century learning? I mean, what have you been reading that furthers our understanding of what "21st century learning" actually means, and what implications it will have for our schools?

This weekend I've been reading Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century by David Warlick. It's been helping me flesh out my thoughts on how the meaning of literacy has changed.

Lately we've all been hearing about how our traditional definition of literacy doesn't sufficiently encompass the numeric, scientific, technological, informational, and various other "new literacies" that students need today. Instead of splitting our understanding of literacy into separate segments, I think that instead we should take a broader view of how the requirements of literacy have evolved.

The definition of literacy as the ability to read and write was sufficient when those were the essential tools to access information in the world. As more and ever-changing avenues for accessing information have developed, the meaning of literacy is expanding beyond the ability to read and write to include the ability to access and learn new information.

As Warlick puts it in this book: "In the twenty-first century, literacy involves... a wide range of skills associated with acquiring, decoding, evaluating, and organizing information within a global electronic library.... If all our children learn to do is read, they will not be literate." He also describes an interesting idea that the "two-dimensional" way of reading from left to right and from top to bottom has shifted into "three-dimensional" reading has information is digitally hyperlinked and layered.

Some pieces of the book are a little dated (published in 2004), but its ideas are still relevant. I also whole-heartedly recommend checking out the related Landmark Project, and some of Warlick's presentations that are available online, especially this one.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

PD Guides for Teacher Book Clubs

Stenhouse Publishers has created free discussion guides to accompany many of their titles. The guides can be used to support group discussions for teacher book clubs, or can be used to develop workshops and activities for professional development sessions based on their books. One of my all time favorite books on teaching reading is included: Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

25 Tools: A Free Toolset for Learning

This selection of 25 Tools from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies provides a step-by-step introduction to their contributors' favorite free resources for online learning.

Behind each of the tools lies an Activity that comprises a number of short tasks to help you find out more about the technology behind each tool, the tool itself and why it is so popular, how to use the tool and reflect on its application for teaching, learning and for productivity and performance support.

Some of my favorite new finds from this site include: Voicethread (collaborative presentation tool), and Jing (screencasting tool - free alternative to Camtasia).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blogging in Math

During the Web 2.0 session I presented this weekend, while the humanities teachers could see how blogging could fit into their instruction, the math teachers didn't see as great a benefit. This morning someone sent me this terrific example of blogging being used in high school math that I will definitely share next time: Honors Algebra II. For each class a different student is assigned to be "scribe" and explain - both in writing and images - how to solve a challenge problem. The same teacher also has his own blog about his teaching: Mr. Higgins' Blog. I love the YouTube video here of e + pi on a date.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Self-Scaling Web 2.0 Professional Development

I've been thinking lately about the "scalability" of professional development strategies. I think this is becoming increasingly important; while the stakes to improve student achievement grow ever higher, the expectations of preparing students for 21st century skills are changing as well. So, we need to develop ways to help reach as many teachers as possible with our professional development in these new tools. As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach wrote last month, we need to plan for scale as we develop professional development plans in our districts.

One of the advantages of web 2.0 tools is that their scalability is not driven by the trainer or the professional development coordinator, it's that the scalability is driven by the teachers themselves. Teachers can create their own personal learning networks, unrestricted by geography or their district. We can learn from professional development initiatives in Qatar, student work from Bangkok, and online learning tools from the UK. Of course, we can also collaborate with our colleagues down the hall like always, with new tools to facilitate our collaboration.

But, how we get over the initial hurdle to introduce these tools? I'm convinced that the most effective form of professional development is job-embedded, and provides opportunities for ongoing support and collaboration. This way, teachers who are ready to delve into the web 2.0 world and use tools like wikis and social networking to accelerate their knowledge of 21st century literacy tools can do so, and those who are not ready yet can learn from their peers who are already piloting new strategies at their school.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Online Professional Development for Literacy Volunteers

The Thinkfinity Literacy Network is offering free online courses geared toward volunteer reading tutors. Click here for the course list.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Collaborative Tools for Curriculum Planning

I've been invited to help draft the Technology Course of Study for one of the districts we work with. I'm looking forward to discussing how 21st century literacies can be integrated into the curriculum. How can we implement some of these collaborative learning strategies in the process of writing the curriculum?

I have a huge stack of paper on my desk with the drafts and resources we are using as a starting point. Presumably when the committee of teachers and administrators meets we will have have separate piles of papers with our annotations and ideas. It seems only natural that we could use online collaborative tools to share our ideas, and to refine the district curriculum using the same spirit of exploring new media that we will expect of our students.

I'm looking for examples of districts that have used Web 2.0 (or other) tools as part of the curriculum development process. A Wiki seems like a natural choice for this type of collaboration, but the limitations on multiple people making simultaneous edits may make this cumbersome. A Google or Zoho collaborative document would allow for this, but then it might be difficult for individuals to monitor the changes being made by a large number of participants.

If anyone out there has any ideas about how to approach this, or personal experience with this scenario, please email me! Thanks, and I'll let you know what we all decide.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Online Flashcards

Found this on Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day:

Knowtes is a flashcard-based learning community;

"Knowtes optimizes your study. By adding a card to your Knowtes memory, it becomes due at optimized intervals. The Knowtes Adaptive Learning Engine then adjusts how frequently you have to study cards in your memory based on how well you do on them. No more wasting time on cards you already know by heart. You can even visually watch your cards move from short to long-term memory as you study them!"

This is similar to Flashcard Exchange - I'd be interested to hear from people who've been using either site to see how they compare. I just created a few decks of GRE words on Knowtes. The neatest thing about this site I think is that you can share your decks with others. This could be great for a language classroom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

JakesOnline Overview of Web 2.0 Resources

Found JakesOnline site while planning a professional development workshop. The New Tools page provides clear, succinct definitions of Web 2.0 tools - great for someone getting an initial introduction to these terms - as well as quality links to classroom applications and resources.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What does 21st Century Literacy mean, anyway?

I’ve heard lots of conversations recently about 21st Century Literacies. Are there really new “literacies” evolving in relation to new media and the needs of the workplace, or is the word literacy just being over-applied to the point where it will lose meaning?

Here’s where my thinking is with this so far: traditionally literacy referred to the ability to read and write, those being essential tools to access information in the world. As more and ever-changing avenues for accessing information have developed, the meaning of literacy is expanding beyond the ability to read and write to include the ability to access and learn new information.

I find David Warlick’s recent comment on Weblogg-ed very convincing:

The best thing we could teach kids today is how to teach themselves. It’s my same old rant, that we have to expand our notions of literacy so that it reflects today’s information landscape and then integrate that, instead of trying to integrate technology. If we teach contemporary literacy, then the tech will come because it’s the pencil and paper of our time.

This is the part I’m still making sense of:

But in addition, I would hope that rather than just teaching literacy skills, that we teach literacy habits, and that we teach them as learning literacies, rather than just literacy.

How do we design our curriculum around these literacy habits? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Lesson learned for me about blogging by the way: I knew that I wanted to post something about 21st Century Literacies, but since I’m still figuring this out myself I froze and didn’t post anything for two weeks. But, the process of figuring things out by starting and participating in conversation is sort of the point, isn’t it. So I’m back.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Podcasting for the Classroom

With podcasting on the brain lately, stumbled upon The Blog of Ms. Mercer (recommended by Scott McLeod's blog) with more good ideas about podcasting in literacy instruction. Check out the link to her website for examples of student work.

Also, The New York Times today had a piece about online resources for language learning, featuring,, and

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Podcasting 101

Today I observed a 6th grade Digital Communications class doing some really exciting work with new media, and finally got to see classroom podcasting in action. Turns out, podcasting is 100x easier than I thought, and the applications for literacy instruction are pretty amazing.

Here's how this unit was structured over several weeks:

Students started by exploring the different layers of information on Google Earth to find 3 places they wanted to travel to, each on a different continent. Then they selected two landmarks from each place, and compiled the facts they found into a travel guide.

Working in small groups the students then wrote a script for a travel show about these three places, incorporating the information they had researched, using a wiki to facilitate collaboration.

To present their research, the groups then used their scripts to create 3 minute podcasts using audacity open source software. They were revising, practicing for fluency, collaborating, all the while completely engaged in their work. I was truly surprised to see how sophisticated the editing is that students can do using audacity - they were deleting big pauses, rearranging text, overlaying music, and adjusting special effects.

I've been planning to volunteer as a reading tutor, but was so excited about all this that I emailed the youth center today and offered to work with their students on blogs and podcasting instead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Caught Off-Guard by the Digital Divide

I started the week thinking about yesterday's editorial in the Washington Post about a school that's "too high on gizmos." If you haven't read it yet, the editorial criticizes the Alexandria school district for purchasing new technology without first considering what tools are truly needed to improve student learning.

The problem? What a former Alexandria school superintendent calls "technolust" -- a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them. Technolust is in its advanced stages at T.C., where our administrators have made such a fetish of technology that some of my colleagues are referring to us as "Gizmo High."

(Found this article linked from Weblogg-ed and SSI K-12.)
Later that day, I interviewed someone who teaches in the Baltimore public schools. When I asked her to describe the technology situation at her school, she said that her school just recently got a Xerox machine, and that they have overhead projectors but no pull down screens. She then said that they have about one computer for every ten classrooms.

This is ridiculous. How is this the state of things? At work we spend so much time talking about SmartBoards, Web 2.0, curriculum software and technology integration it's easy to forget some times that in some schools, getting a copy machine is a technological leap forward.

Obviously just throwing money at the problem is not the answer, as the Alexandria school demonstrates. In addition to funding, districts need to be aware of what possibilities and opportunities exist so they can create a clear vision for how they want technology to support instruction. But that's easier said than done. I wonder how representative this teacher's school is of the state of technology in her district, how many districts are in similar situations, and how can we do a better job reaching out to these districts?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Spiral Curriculum

Found this in the comments in response to Dangerously Irrelevant's recent post on scripted curriculum.

In contrast, a spiral curriculum begins with the assumption that children are not always ready to learn something. Readiness to learn is at the core of a spiral curriculum. And instead of focusing for relatively long periods of time on some narrow topic whose time has come, a spiral curriculum tries to expose students to a wide varies of ideas over and over ago... A spiral curriculum, by moving in a circular pattern from topic to topic within field like, say, math, seeks to catch kids when they first become ready to learn something and pick up the other kids, the ones not ready to learn yet, later - the next time we spiral around to that topic.

This was one of the biggest transitions when I started using Open Court. Initially I was bothered by how objectives would appear once in a lesson and then not again for weeks, but as the year went on I came to see the benefits of the gradual "spiral" of skills. The students benefited from being exposed to the same objectives periodically: those who were not ready to master something on the first time around were exposed to the material again and again in different ways, and there was the opportunity to deepen the understanding of students who did catch it the first time. I'm curious to what extent the spiral curriculum model is used in other reading curriculum models besides the very prescribed/semi-scripted approach.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Study on the Effectiveness of After-School Reading Instruction

After-school programs can improve participants’ literacy by providing intensive lessons several times a week and establishing strong bonds between instructors and participants, concludes a two-year studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader by New York City-based Public/Private Ventures, a public-policy-research organization.
Check out the link here to read the findings on best practices for after-school literacy instruction.

Conflicting Feelings on Scripted Curriculum

Check out today's post on Dangerously Irrelevant here.

We’ve used our new, scripted reading curriculum (I won’t mention the company) since the start of this school year. Personally, I think it’s a step forward from the past. It provides a degree of continuity in an environment where a significant number of our kids are transient and move every few months to another school in the county. It provides some level of assurance that we are actually implementing recent research in our reading classrooms. For example, it scripts in tasks for building background knowledge related to a story – an essential (but sometimes overlooked) component of comprehension. It provides shared tools for monitoring student progress. It provides a measure of quality control.

I agree with many of these points. In general, even though every student and every classroom is unique, which each teacher bringing her or her own expertise to instruction, there has been so much research on what works that it makes sense to consolidate that somehow so that best practices are implemented consistently in a district. Using Open Court last year, I appreciated how objectives were built upon gradually and repeated through the year, and how comprehensively it covered areas that I wouldn't otherwise have done justice to. Also, our teaching staff was very young and inexperienced (average years of teaching experience: 0.8) and I think that amount of structure was a good support.

Yet, I missed the flexibility of the workshop curriculum I used while in Teach For America. I missed being able to choose books for students based on their interests, and forming reading groups around their interests. I never got it together well enough with Open Court to figure out how to bring those aspects of workshop into the scripted curriculum.

What does the research say on this? Does research support one type of curriculum over another, or are there too many variables? How does a district decide which approach to favor, especially with the pressures of NCLB? More on this in the coming weeks after I do some more background reading. Let me know if you have any suggested resources to look at.

Monday, February 4, 2008

February is Cleveland Reads Month

Cleveland Reads, the Greater Cleveland Literacy Coalition and a division of the United Way, received a Mayoral Proclamation declaring the month of February as “Cleveland Reads Month.”

This is a great time to learn more about what Cleveland Reads does here and ways to volunteer here (I still need to figure out how to insert hyperlinks.)

Cleveland Reads not only places volunteers with agencies that need tutors, they also provide training and ongoing support. I've been meaning to call them myself in the new year to get involved again in teaching reading - I'll let you know how that turns out.

What other resources do you know of to volunteer for literacy (or education in general) in Cleveland? Post your ideas in the comments!

Professional Development for 21st Century Literacies

Blogging from the eTech Ohio Conference. Today I gave a presentation with two of my colleagues on "Assessment, Value-Added, and Web 2.0: Putting it all Together."

Our message was that in today's educational environment of NCLB and the value-added roll-out in Ohio, along with the demands of preparing students with 21st century literacy skills, schools need professional development that is embedded into instruction and provides for the creation of professional learning communities.

I'm finding it super exciting to be involved in professional development for schools, and am looking forward to many of the sessions being held tomorrow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Free-Reading: Literacy Instruction Resources for Teachers

I recently learned about this website from a friend; looks like a great example of how Web 2.0 tools can enhance teacher collaboration. The summary from the site is below. Visit the website at

Free-Reading is an ongoing, collaborative, teacher-based, curriculum-sharing project. We're looking to provide a reliable forum where teachers can openly and freely share their successful and effective methods for teaching reading in grades K-1 and for at-risk students in later grades.

Our premises are:

  • The research on how students learn to read is well-established.
  • The research on which instructional techniques work is well-understood.
  • The voices of those who know what works best -- the classroom teachers -- are rarely heard in instructional design.
  • The power of "we" is far greater than the power of "you" or "I."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Should we have national standards?

Plan Would Nationalize Schools to End Disparities

Matt Miller has a radical but simple proposal to improve the nation's public schools: federalize funding to eliminate disparities in per-pupil funding between poor and affluent communities. He also proposes a single set of federal standards for math, science and reading, instead of letting each state set its own standards. Scott Simon speaks with Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

I'm on board with the single set of standards - I think it would improve the likelihood of curriculum materials being truly aligned to the standards teachers need to teach, instead of being aligned to big states like Texas and California with superficial adjustments made for other state editions. I also think with the national testing requirements of NCLB it's redundant for each state to spend money to create its own assessments.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008