Lighting a Fire-Part 3
The Fire is Starting:
Our work continues with an elementary school in Southwest Colorado attempting to improve learning for K-5 students. During our last visit we spent time in 5 teacher’s classrooms and provided specific feedback on their progress in using the tools that have been shared to date. These five teachers reported to the rest of the staff:
- Frustration due to their lack of experience with the tools.
- Excitement about students beginning to own their learning.
- Excitement over several students choosing the score 4 option on ladders.
- Astonishment about how focused they were now on the standards.
- Recognition of the need to carve out time to provide feedback for students.
- Curiosity about the process of creating SOPs to free up time for conferencing.
- Accomplishment in sharing the work being done with data folders kept by the students.
- Understanding that more than one standard can be accomplished at a time.
None of these comments surprised us but several were exciting, considering the staff has only had these tools for six weeks. We will continue to address the needs or frustrations that were expressed and will provide professional development and use a coaching model to mitigate concerns. DES reminded these teachers to be careful not to fall in to the trap set by their own “perfectionism.” They are learning new teaching strategies and helping students own learning, which is a new skill for the entire staff and student body. It was encouraging to hear that some students were setting high goals for themselves and wanted to do more than be “proficient “ on a standard.
DES shared the completed choice boards on CCSS W.2. Using the PDCA process the staff discovered that there needed to be a better understanding and application of research based vocabulary strategies in their classrooms. The principal agreed to distribute to staff materials about the Frayer Model, Marzano’s Six Step Vocabulary Strategies, and Harvey Silver’s Vocabulary Strategies. This conversation revealed an interesting truth about teaching in our schools. Many teachers use several strategies for instruction and, we might say, use them well, without remembering where the strategies originated or why these strategies are effective. This is a symptom of teachers not having the time to reflect on practice. They need time be able to Plan, Do Check and Adjust. Not just be caught up in a cycle of Plan, Do, Plan Do.
The Crosswalk and Lessons Learned:
The state of Colorado has adopted a set of standards called the Colorado Academic Standards. DES has written the proficiency ladders using the Common Core State Standards. So, to make sense out of DES ladders it was necessary to cross walk the Common Core to the academic standards of Colorado. The teachers of our Colorado school have identified 101 English Language Arts standards as essential standards. That is to say, there are 101 standards that must be mastered to proficiency across Kindergarten to grade 5 in English Language Arts. To put this in perspective there are approximately 250 ELA standards at the elementary level. The non-essentials are to be taught but students are not held proficiency on those standards. In any case, it was important for these teachers to know the CAS their students are mastering. In cross walking the 101 CCSS to the CAS the most intriguing observations were:
- The language used in the two sets of standards is identical.
- The numbering system of the two sets of standards is not identical.
Because DES spent a large amount of time in cross walking these two sets of standards and discovering the truth of the statements above it causes us to wonder; Why did the state feel it had to go through the brain damage and expense of renumbering the CCSS? It is essentially the same set of standards renamed and renumbered. Although the answer given here is conjectural, DES suspects the answer is a political one. The CCSS have come under fire from some of the public who fears a national influence on the education of our children. The reality is that the move to a common set of standards originated with governors of states who realized that something had to be done to improve our educational standing in the world setting. Remember education, according to the Constitution, is a matter for the states. Colorado’s educational system prides its self as a local control state. The Colorado Department of Education created the CAS to be model for 178 very independent thinking districts. The debate about the CCSS will become a major political issue over the next election cycle. DES suspects that some states, Colorado being one, wants to assert that they have created their own set of standards and will want to avoid the criticism which will be voiced against the Common Core. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the near future.
This elementary school is continuing to work hard to bring more students to proficiency on the essential standards. The principal is well supported by the district, and the staff is gaining an understanding of what it takes to be standards based. Along with the standards focus of this school, it is important to partner with the students to motivate them to want to improve academically.
Next steps: The staff and principal of this school are beginning to agree that the next step in this process is to include a student goal setting and planning aspect to the classroom. So, in our next visit there will be a focus on student planning tools. The staff will bring the tools they currently use for student planning and DES tools will be exhibited. This will be done during professional development the first of March. The coaching model will also be employed to provide staff with timely and specific feedback about successful utilization of tools to move to personalized mastery. It will be important to check in with staff to give feed back on SOPs and the use of proficiency ladder data in the school RTI process.
The fire is sparking and will soon burst into flame.