As the principal of a Title I eligible campus, I have the privilege of working with a wide variety of kids. They come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and represent multiple cultures. We have great kids here at The Ranch! For a myriad of reasons, our students sometimes have conceptual gaps. High mobility, language barriers and family dynamics are just a few of the battles many of our kids face. Because of these gaps, it is easy to get swept up into a variety of interventions designed to move them to where they need to be academically. As an Instructional Leadership Team, we recognized how important it is that we provide quality instruction the first time. It makes me think of this quote from Steve Jobs:
With this in mind, we began the work of describing some of the elements we believed were fundamental to quality first time instruction.
Clear objectives – Sometimes the most obvious and basic things get overlooked. A clearly-stated, overtly-shared objective is one of those basic elements related to effective teaching. Our collective campus expectation is to have the objective written as an “I can…” statement. Without this clear direction for what is to be learned, even the most active lesson can become little more that entertainment. Entertainment does not always equal learning.
·Over time we have expanded our focus on questioning to include wait time and randomizing who answers the question.
Technology as a tool – What an amazing time to be alive! Technology that was once science fiction is readily available and has the potential to bring us together like never before. At times, we can get more focused on how amazing the tool is rather than what we need to accomplish that might involve the use of the tool. I think about how I love to stroll through Home Depot and look at new hand tools. I have a recent memory of purchasing a drill and then looking for something that needed a hole in it! Historically, purchases have been made for schools in a similar fashion. After the purchase, teachers are made aware of the latest hardware or software and then look for what to do with it. Our belief is that we should identify what we want to do instructionally and then look for the best strategy to reach our goal. This may very well involve a technology tool. We are delving into the SAMR model and trying to move to more transformative uses of these tools.
Differentiated – This is one of the great challenges for teachers is working with a group of students who have a variety of background experiences and competencies. If you want students to be motivated from within, differentiation is key. Dan Pink’s work on motivation is a solid place to start to understanding the "why" for differentiation, Check out the video, “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.” He identifies 3 areas that drive an individual’s intrinsic motivation. These include autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. Two of these three are reflected in a differentiated classroom. Central to autonomy is learner choice. Masterful teachers find ways for students to have locus of control within a framework that targets a standard. As humans, we sometimes avoid things that we don’t feel competent at. I am not a good dancer… yet! Because I don’t feel very masterful at the art of dance, I avoid it. This same issue abounds in our classrooms. Students choose not to engage because they are not masterful at the level of activity we put in front of them. The challenge is to start at a level that they can find mastery and bring them to where the need to be. It is great for us to promote high standards, but we must provide a scaffold to those who have a large instructional gap to leap. This is why differentiation for readiness level is so necessary for many students. Central to our understanding was Carol Tomlinson's work.
Assessment guiding instruction – So often it seems that assessments are more like an autopsy than a checkup. Of course it all about how we use the information. Retests and do-overs after focused post assessment instruction support the use of data in a formative way. Rick Stiggins does an excellent job of helping us understand the difference between assessments OF and FOR learning.. Summative assessment has its place for reporting but formative assessment is what drives student growth and learning.
With these areas identified in our Accomplished Teaching Model, we began our year-long staff development focused on these areas. My next blog will discuss how we worked to identify what a passionate educator looks like.