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Top Stories for Wednesday 10/22

AP Courses to Adapt to CCSS

College Board AP courses to become more rigorous. HechReport

Weingarten: Let's Learn Our Lessons From Deasy

AFT president says cooperation leads to more effective school reform. Politico

Duncan Meets with Ray Cortines

Secretary of Ed discusses technology with new LAUSD Supt. LATimes

NYC Schools Facing Segregation

Council introducing legislation: drawing attention to racial inequalities. NYT

NYC Chancellor Replaces 8 Supts

Farina first major move reshuffles responsibilities. NYT

Twitter-pulseWhy Your Teachers Should Use Twitter

Powerful PD—one tweet at a time.
By Kim Greene

There comes a point when we have to acknowledge that one-size-fits-all professional development isn’t cutting it. Just as students need to be treated as individual learners, so do the teachers in your schools. And while your district may offer workshops and webinars, there’s another PD resource right at your teachers’ fingertips. It’s open 24-7, connects educators from around the globe, and covers countless topics across grade levels and subject areas.

It’s Twitter.

We know what you might be thinking. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check another social media site. Well, we have good news for you. You and your teachers can spend as much or as little time as you want exploring ideas—wherever and whenever you want. Twitter is a giant professional learning network (PLN) that helps educators step outside of their classrooms and schools. Together they problem-solve, share, and refine their craft.

We’ve assembled a guide for you to share with your teachers so they can make the most of Twitter as a PD tool.

To get the scoop on Twitter as PD, we spoke with two tweeting teachers, Lyssa Sahadevan (@lyssareads), a first-grade teacher at East Side Elementary in Marietta, Georgia, and Allison Hogan (@AllisonHoganEDU), a transitional kindergarten/first-grade teacher at the Episcopal School of Dallas.

For teachers who have never been on Twitter before and have just created an account, where should they start?
Allison: My first piece of advice is to take the time to create your profile. When someone follows me, I look at their profile to see if they’re a teacher, principal, etc. Also, follow people in your school community to see how they use it.
Lyssa: A friend of mine took an online Twitter how-to. She was so overwhelmed! I suggested she just go for it, and that route worked for her.

When it’s time to start tweeting, what’s your best advice?
Allison: Start with a chat in your comfort zone, like your grade level or content area. Move to larger groups once you get the format down.
Lyssa: I started simple with #1stchat (first-grade chat) and just sat on the sidelines!

How do you start to form a PLN out of a sea of strangers?
Lyssa: It all starts with hitting reply. If something speaks to you (and you might not always be in agreement), you reply. A conversation ensues. You retweet them, they retweet you, you ask questions and share resources. You might meet them in person one day at a conference. It’s awkward, but it’s also exciting! You already know you have something in common.

How do you maximize your Twitter time without it taking over life?
Allison:
I investigate topics and lean toward what I will need and what I have to offer. Think strengths and weaknesses.
Lyssa: I often miss my favorite chats because the times do not work, so I devote a little Saturday-morning coffee time to going through the archives. I pick and choose. If I’m working on an improving math workshop, I make time to attend the chat. If there is a conference going on, I try to check in on Twitter or make a note of the hashtag so I can follow.

In terms of social media, do you think Twitter has something unique to offer teachers that Facebook and other platforms don’t?
Allison:
Twitter is way better than Facebook just because of the access—meaning a hashtag can unite hundreds of educators at one time and for a purpose. I can also ask a question using the same hashtag, and it will reach those who follow the hashtag, so more ideas will flow.
Lyssa: The openness of Twitter is unbelievable. The year I co-taught, I posted a tweet asking for tips. At least 10 or 15 teachers reached out to me with advice, special education resources, and blog posts. It was so encouraging! These teachers were strangers who just wanted to help. I had expert advice immediately.
Allison: Once teachers see the effects of Twitter, it will be easy to transition to a class account to share their work and wonderings with the world. I feel Twitter and Skype have torn down the walls of my classroom.

#HASHTAGS

Hashtags are keywords that categorize what you’re tweeting about. For instance, you might use “#edtech” at the end of a tweet about how your students use tablets. You can also search Twitter for a hashtag that you’re interested in. This will bring up tweets from other users who have tweeted about that topic. Here’s a look at some (but definitely not all) of the most popular education hashtags.

General education: #teaching, #teachers, #learning, #k12, #PLN, #edreform, #commoncore, #ccss, #teacherproblems, #edcamp, #globaled

Educational technology: #edtech, #elearning, #edapp (or #edapps), #byod, #blendinglearning, #ipaded, #1to1

Content or grade-level specific:

Literacy: #kidlit, #literacy, #readaloud

Math: #math, #mathed

Science: #scied, #STEM, #NGSS, #scienceteacher

Social studies: #socialstudies, #historyteacher

Arts: #artsed, #musiced

Early childhood: #earlyed, #preschool, #ece

ESL: #esl, #ell (or #ells)

Special education: #sped, #specialneeds, #autism, #dyslexia

Physical education: #PEgeeks

Speech and language: #SLpeeps, #speech

Other hashtags to note:

#tlap: Inspired by Dave Burgess’s (@burgessdave) Teach Like a Pirate

#comments4kids: Denotes when teachers want others to comment on students’ blog posts.

#flipclass: The latest and greatest ideas about flipped learning

CHATS

Educators join up for Twitter chats every day of the week. Moderators pose questions to keep the discussion on topic. Everyone uses the same hashtag in his or her tweets so it’s easy to follow the conversation. (You’ll also find that people use these hashtags throughout the week.) You can search for the hashtag manually on the Twitter page or try programs like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to follow along. Ready to give it a try? Pop in on some of these popular chats.

WHO TO FOLLOW

Companies and Organizations:

@ScholasticTeach: Scholastic’s official account for teachers

@IRAToday: Literacy ideas for all educators

@NCTE: Teaching tips for English teachers

@NCTM: All things math education

@NSTA: Ideas and opportunities in science education

@ASCD: Professional development and educational leadership resources

@NAEYC: News and tweets about early childhood education

@educationweek and @EdWeekTeacher: The latest education news

@edutopia: Inspiration for K–12 educators

@TeachingChannel: Online community of K–12 teachers

@Edudemic: Education and technology

@MindShiftKQED: Trends in education

Educators:

@KleinErin: Erin Klein, teacher and ed-tech blogger

@cybraryman1: Jerry Blumengarten, co-moderator of #edchat

@MrSchuReads: John Schumacher, teacher-librarian and cohost of #SharpSchu monthly book club with Colby Sharp (@colbysharp)

@donalynbooks: Donalyn Miller, a.k.a. The Book Whisperer, and a facilitator of #nerdybookclub

@bradmcurrie: Brad Currie, school leader and #satchat cofounder

@pernilleripp: Pernille Ripp, middle school teacher and creator of Global Read Aloud

@kylepace: Kyle Pace, instructional technology specialist

@Larryferlazzo: Larry Ferlazzo, urban teacher and ELL specialist

@coolcatteacher: Vicki Davis, blogger, teacher, and IT director

@web20classroom: Steven W. Anderson, instructional technology expert and #edchat cocreator

@mssackstein: Starr Sackstein, teacher, blogger, and co-moderator of #sunchat

@pamallyn: Pam Allyn, literacy expert and founding director of LitWorld and LitLife

 

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong/theispot.com

 

Ebola_pulse
Ebola in Schools

Fear is growing as various districts take different actions to try to protect students and staff from the virus and misinformation.

In U.S., Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes Politics
NYT: Some school officials take leaves as other schools close for “deep cleaning.”

The Ebola Effect: Schools Shut Down, Sanitizer Sales Spike
ABC News: Domino effect as officials track passengers on plane with Duncan nurse.

Dallas ISD Suspends 2 Over Cleaning at Schools Affected by Ebola Case
Dallas News: Should workers cleaning the schools be outfitted in hazmat suits?

Dallas ISD Schools Under Ebola Scrutiny to Get Fever Scanners
Fox: Scanners will be set up in five schools.

Ebola Anxiety Prompts N.J. School to Bar Students from Africa
N.J.com: Students from East Africa will undergo voluntary 21-day waiting period before enrolling.

Central Texas Schools Closed Amid Ebola Scare Reopen
KXAN: Three schools in Belton reopen after cleaning; students on flight with Duncan nurse will stay home for 21 days.

Dozens Declared Free of Ebola Risk in Texas
NYT: People in contact with first U.S. victim are no longer at risk of contracting the disease.

Image: AP

Mooc_pulse
Learning by the Thousands

Can high school students learn in MOOCs?
By Wayne D’Orio

In less than four years, massive open online courses have been hailed as the next big thing to hit education—and disparaged as an empty promise where very few of the students complete the courses they sign up for.

You’re probably aware of the basics about MOOCs: After more than 150,000 students signed up for Stanford University’s first course in 2011, companies such as Coursera and Udacity, which pair with universities or other companies to offer content, seemed to sprout up overnight. MIT and Harvard, later joined by other universities, then created the nonprofit edX to offer classes for free. Today, more than nine million people take MOOCS, choosing from more than 1,200 courses.

Most K-12 administrators have been able to ponder the merit of MOOCs from the sidelines, as these classes have mostly involved college or post-secondary students. But with edX’s recent announcement that it will offer 27 courses next fall specifically for high school students, the question has landed right on administrators’ doorsteps. They have to wonder, will this work for my students, and if it does, how will it change how we educate our kids?  

Students are ready for it, says Anant Agarwal, edX’s CEO. The group surveyed high schoolers and found that 95 percent of them asked for advanced courses. Indeed, 150,000 of edX’s current 3 million students are in high school, he explains.

But that isn’t the only reason edX is expanding. Agarwal knows that many high school graduates aren’t ready for college, having to wade through remedial classes at university prices before they start earning credit. “We want to fix that,” and the courses offered should help, he says. edX will start by offering 15 AP classes among its 27 courses for high schoolers. It hopes to add 100 more high school courses in the next few years.

Another reason for the expansion is that a disproportionate number of edX students are teachers themselves. “It turns out that teachers want to know other ways of teaching a course,” Agarwal says. If a high school chemistry teacher can watch a Georgetown University professor teach chemistry, why wouldn’t they, he asks.  

The courses are all free, but for a varying fee, students can earn a certificate, Agarwal says. Of course, students in AP classes can sign up to take the AP test in the spring.

The certificate is also an answer of sorts to the conundrum posed at the start of this story. If course completion rates hover around 4 percent, as a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education showed, are MOOCs worth it? Yes, Agarwal argues, because when students are asked to pay between $25 and $100 for a verified certificate, the completion rate jumps to 60 percent. (edX’s general completion rates are 7 percent, Agarwal says.)

Students are using certificates to help them get accepted to college, while teachers use them to get continuing ed credits, he adds.

In the end, though, “you can’t judge a MOOC by the same metrics” as a regular college class, says Agarwal. “If you pay $50,000 to attend college, you’d better pass. MOOCs are free. A lot of people take classes just to learn something new.”

Image: Spanic/iStockphoto

Top Stories for Thursday 10/16

$2MM for Early Learning

White House’s new initiative to combat the word gap learning curve. USNews

Google’s Upgrades Counter Microsoft

LMS updates just a week after Microsoft's management system debuted. EdDive

Ed Funding Still Lags

K-12 spending lower than pre-recession levels. USNews

Ebola Fears Shut Down Cleveland Area Schools

Staffer was on plane with infected nurse. HuffPost

Report: Deasy to Resign

LAUSD super to exit after 3 years. LASchoolReport

SLO_pulse
Lessons Learned: Launching a SLO Initiative

By Jo-ne Bourassa

In Georgia, as in many states, approximately 75 percent of teachers teach subjects that are not assessed by state tests—for at least part of the instructional day. To meet the student growth and academic achievement component of Georgia’s Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, teachers of these non-tested subjects must implement student learning objectives (SLOs) to gauge student growth.

As one of the original 26 Race to the Top districts in Georgia, Bibb County School District jumped in early on to launch a SLO initiative. In the first year of the pilot, during 2012-13, the Georgia Department of Education required that 52 SLOs be given. To help districts prepare for this, the DOE provided training in assessment alignment and SLO creation.

In Bibb County, we decided to use a pre-test/post-test format to determine student growth over a semester or school year. Several challenges became apparent during year one.

Year One Challenges

To start, we faced a steep learning curve and a massive amount of work. As part of Georgia’s system, student growth and academic achievement are measured by student growth percentiles in tested subjects, or SLOs in non-tested subjects. Only 25 percent of our courses provide growth percentiles through Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Testsin grades 4-8, or end-of-course tests in high school. That meant we were now responsible for creating and administering SLO assessments—and arriving at SLO scores—for 75 percent of our courses.

To save time, we initially used public-domain SLO assessments created by other districts. This, unfortunately, meant our teachers felt no ownership of the materials. In addition, the administration and grading of the 52 pre- and post-tests caused almost all other activities to come to a halt. The tests took two to four days to administer. All were done via paper and pencil, which consumed our paper and copying budgets. The student scores (about 52,000 scores) were collected by hand on an Excel spreadsheet and sent to the central office for summarizing.

Mid-Year Changes

By the end of the first semester in year one, it became clear that teachers, students, and parents did not take the SLO assessments seriously. They even joked and complained about students taking “SLOW” tests.

So, in December 2012, we decided to change our SLOs to GLOs — growth learning objectives. We also switched out the labor-intensive assessments for instruments we already had for PreK-3, including AIMSweb for reading and math in grades 1-3; district writing assessments for English language arts in grades 1-3; Gkids portfolio pieces for kindergarten ELA, math, and reading; and Bright from the Startportfolio pieces for PreK literacy and numeracy. We had to live with the assessments in the other grade levels until we could write our own.

Year Two Revisions

For 2013-14, our district was required to have at least one growth measure for every certified teacher from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. This included P.E., fine arts, and career, technical and agriculture education (CTAE) teachers, as well as any class for which a teacher did not have an existing GLO or student growth percentile. This necessitated the creation of 100-plus additional GLO assessments.

We knew this would be a nearly impossible task without technology. So, after issuing an RFP and evaluating several systems, in January 2013 we selected the SLO Module from Performance Matters, along with the company’s assessment and data management system. Then, from February to July, we revised and developed 100-plus GLO assessments in ELA, math, science, social studies, P.E., fine arts, and CTAE.

In June and July 2013, we conducted training on the Performance Matters platform for our administrators and testing coordinators. Then, in August, we administered the GLO pre-tests in all 41 schools via plain paper scanning and online testing. Instead of having to collect the pre-test data on a spreadsheet, the results were automatically available in the company’s system, which also made it easier to send to the DOE. In addition, our teachers could now see the baseline assessment results and growth targets for each student. This allowed them to more easily monitor students’ progress toward the growth target during the school year, and identify what their students needed and which standards they needed to focus on to reach that target.

We went through the same process to administer the post-tests. Even though we were now administering twice as many assessments, we saved a significant amount of time and energy over the previous year, when we had to gather and analyze the data by hand. Our teachers and administrators could now access the target score and the results data from the pre- and post-assessments for each student under each SLO. With the SLO Module’s automatic calculations, teachers could see whether or not each student met the SLO, as well as the overall percentage of students achieving the SLO by class or by course. In addition, school leaders could use the data to group teachers into the appropriate ratings category—exemplary, proficient, needs development, or ineffective—on the SLO portion of their annual evaluations.

Lessons Learned

Here are some key takeaways from our successful launch of an SLO initiative.

  • Develop clear and concise test administration instructions to guide school testing coordinators and teachers through the pre- and post-test process.
    We created a spreadsheet with “administration notes” for each course. These notes instruct testing coordinators and teachers how to administer and score each test, which eliminates confusion and ensures consistency in each course.
  • Form two teams of teachers to develop SLO assessments—a team of writers and a team of reviewers.
    Having a team of writers and a separate team of reviewers not only improves the quality of the assessments, but it also encourages teacher buy-in since they are actively involved in the test-creation process.
  • Train teachers on test development and assessment alignment.
    Within each course, teachers should be able to determine which standards are most important for students to master the course and prepare for the next grade level. They should be able to plan what percentage of course time should be spent on each of these “power standards,” taking into consideration the percentage of the test that will cover the standard. They should be able to dissect each standard and identify exactly what students must be able to know, understand, and do to demonstrate mastery. They should also be able to articulate the depth of knowledge of each standard, so the assessment item can match that level of cognitive complexity.
  • Allow at least six months—and a large team of teachers — for the development, review, and input of the SLO assessments.
    It is also important to gather input from teachers of English-language learners and students with disabilities who can provide insight into what, if any, modifications might be required to meet specific needs or individualized education plans.
  • Create an item template to ensure consistency.
    Instead of purchasing an item bank, we collected items from a variety of sources, including state-released tests, or we developed our own. Each item was created using a template, which included the following fill-in-the-blank components: question number, DOK level (1-4), curriculum code, question stem, answer choices A-D, and correct answer. Having this template made it much easier to review and vet the items, before we put them into the assessment and data management system.

When we launched our GLO initiative more than two years ago, we had no idea how much work it would be to create and administer the assessments, and then crunch the data for each GLO to determine if students achieved the academic goals set at the beginning of each course. The use of technology has allowed us to automate and streamline the GLO process and ensure more accurate calculations for effectiveness ratings for our teachers. It also gives our teachers easier access to the data they need to inform their instruction, so they can meet the primary purpose of the SLOs — to improve student learning in the classroom.

Dr. Jo-ne Bourassa is the Race to the Top coordinator for the Bibb County School District in Macon, Georgia.

Image: credit: Zero Creatives/Media Bakery

OERs-pulse

Open Education Resources or OER:
What They Are and Why They Matter

By Tyler DeWitt

You’ve probably heard the term open educational resources (OER), but what are they and why are they important? And how can teachers use them in the classroom?

OER are a growing body of free and diverse online instructional materials that are in the public domain (read: no copyright issues). Most of these resources are the work of teachers and educational organizations with firsthand experience of what helps kids learn, and what doesn’t.

A growing number of innovative teachers and schools are adopting these versatile resources, which, in the K-12 education world, where I work, are in the form of lesson plans, video tutorials, PDFs, and all kinds of interactive learning tools. Teachers are using OER to supplement their own teaching materials, or to enhance (or even replace) traditional textbooks.

One of the beauties of OER is that the materials are typically offered in a mix-and-match format, making it easy for teachers to develop the curricula they find most effective. The key here is flexibility – and not only in how and where teachers and students use OER.

Already vast, the OER universe is expanding all the time. New content is constantly being developed, and since OER are copyright-free, teachers can often modify and redistribute these resources. What’s more, unlike traditional textbooks, which are updated perhaps once a year and tend to come with hefty price tags, OER are constantly absorbing and accommodating new information, and they’re always free.

Differentiate With OER

Let’s face it, everyone learns differently. With OER, teachers can search out materials that address each student’s needs – for example, video lessons that allow students to watch, pause, and rewind at their own pace or materials designed for English-language learners that help them master language skills and content. In fact, the blended-learning model, in which a teacher presides over a class of students, each of whom works with a customized set of instructional media, is essentially OER in action. But even in classrooms where teachers still use traditional textbooks, OER can enhance lessons by providing extra practice or deep dives.

Because OER often have a pedagogical component, they can help teachers identify strategies, activities, and supporting materials for introducing concepts in the classroom. Traditional textbooks are filled with information, but when a teacher needs to find creative ways to help students learn that material, they generally offer little guidance.

That’s where OER come in.

Say a teacher is covering weather. A textbook might talk about meteorology and weather patterns, but it’s extreme weather that’s more likely to spark students’ interest, at least at first. The first stop for a teacher using OER could be OER Commons (oercommons.org), where a search for “extreme weather” brings up ready-made worksheets and activity suggestions.

From Smithsonian Education (smithsonianeducation.org), educators can download activities created by the National Museum of Natural History about weather patterns and storms, complete with maps and exercises. It’s like taking your students to the museum! YouTube EDU (youtube.com/education), an education-only part of the video-sharing website, has tons of videos that both inform and inspire (full disclosure: I have a popular science-education channel on YouTube).

Assemble Powerful Tools

A common concern among teachers is how to integrate OER into existing curricula. Some sites, such as Betterlesson.com, organize content by Common Core standards so instructors can quickly find resources that supplement particular topics. Sites like Readworks.org tie material directly to specific textbooks that a teacher may be using in class. The site has a wealth of resources for reading comprehension, including activities and worksheets that can provide important contextual information or explore plot elements, literary devices, and characters.

Teachers who want to use OER to replace textbooks entirely also have good options. The CK-12 Foundation (ck12.org) and The Connections Project (cnx.org) allow you to assemble your own full-length digital textbooks (often with accompanying teachers’ manuals and other supplementary material) that are free, high-quality substitutes for mass-market texts. Even for teachers who want to continue with commercial textbooks, OER can help students understand material in different ways or from new perspectives.

Whether printed or virtual, textbooks paired with video are powerful tools for flipping the classroom and blending learning strategies. Examples of high-quality educational videos can be found at the Khan Academy (khanacademy.org) and YouTube EDU (youtube.com/education).

Find the Best Resources

Despite, or perhaps because of, the abundance of OER content, quality can vary. Even the best online libraries and information repositories find it hard to rank resources based on such a subjective measure as “quality.” But there are a few solutions. Search rankings can be proxies for quality rankings. Many websites let users review resources, with the best-ranked items moving to the top of search queries. Shopping by “brand” can also help assure quality. Once you’ve found a source you like, you can return to find other content.

Another option is to rely on your peers. A variety of content management systems, like Curriki (curriki.org) and Net Texts (net-texts.com), where I work, allow teachers to put together courses using OER from multiple sources (Net Texts offers a curated collection of material from other sources as well as a library of more than 1,000 original courses). These curricula can be shared with other instructors, who can reuse or modify them to fit their students’ needs. While all this requires a bit of front-end effort, once the initial work is done, it’s easy to incorporate incremental changes.

For teachers who embrace OER, the pedagogical opportunities are limitless. Used in 1:1 computing programs, blended learning environments and flipped classrooms – even in traditional classrooms that need to enliven core content lessons – they offer easy-to-implement solutions that can mean the difference between engaging and ignoring the infinite capacity of a young mind.

Tyler DeWitt is an education innovator and the first director of original content at Net Texts, a leading developer of OER-based teaching aids. Dr. DeWitt came to national attention when he created Science with Tyler DeWitt, one of YouTube’s top educational channels. His TED talk has been viewed almost 1 million times.

 

Image: 4Max/Shutterstock

Top_UDL

The Growing Case for UDL

How a movement that started with environmental and product design could revolutionize learning in your school.
By Kim Greene

In the past two years, Adam Deleidi has seen a dramatic improvement at his school—the kind of change that makes you do a double take. Both special education and discipline referrals are down by 50 percent. Out-of-school suspensions have plummeted by 70 percent as well, according to the assistant principal of Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Revere, Massachusetts.

Deleidi says it’s because of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The school began to implement the framework in the 2012–13 school year. “There’s a misconception that this is a technology or special education initiative. It’s not either,” he says. “It’s about figuring out different ways to represent ideas and varying ways we allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.”

What UDL Is—and What It’s Not

The Center for Applied Special Technologies, or CAST, in Wakefield, Massachusetts, pioneered UDL in the early 1990s, drawing on neuroscience research to understand the needs of diverse learners. The term universal design for learning derived from the universal design movement in architecture. Ronald Mace, the architect who led the charge, sought to design products and environments that were “usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

You don’t need to look very far to find universal design in your everyday life. Take, for example, closed captioning on TVs. Though originally a feature meant to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing, closed captioning comes in handy for a wide variety of users. You’ll realize this the next time you’re watching TV at an airport or while on the treadmill at the gym.

UDL aims to do the same—to give the widest spectrum of students access to the curriculum from the outset. UDL is not a curriculum itself, but rather a framework for delivering instruction. Educators design lessons to align with three principles: multiple means to engage, multiple means to represent information, and multiple means for students to show what they learn through action and expression. In providing this variability, teachers will reduce the impact of barriers—such as dyslexia, ADHD, or limited English proficiency—to the learning process.

UDL in Action

When Deleidi walks into a UDL classroom, what he sees is far from the one-size-fits-all approach. In a history class, for example, he’s not likely to observe a ­teacher assigning a five-paragraph essay on the Roman Empire. “You might have a kid who knows a ton about the Roman Empire but isn’t a great writer. The teacher is bound to misassess the student’s understanding,” he explains. “You give the kids choices of how they can demonstrate their understanding. If the students put together a skit, you’re going to tap into a different part of the brain.” This approach, says Deleidi, promotes creativity and retention.

Deleidi also commonly sees students in UDL classrooms accessing written text in different ways. “We have a number of students who come to us not reading at grade level,” he says. “When they’re in a history class and the only mode for them to access the curriculum is written text, that’s a barrier. Reading and writing are of the utmost importance. We value that. But that shouldn’t mean that they are not learning in science or social studies.”

To reduce that barrier to learning, Deleidi’s teachers will give all students—whether it’s a child who is struggling or an honors-level student—options for accessing the text. One might choose to listen to an audio of it on an iPad. Another might stick with reading. A third student might use both methods.
Teaching students to choose which option is best for them is key, says Katie Novak, author of UDL Now! and assistant superintendent in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District in Massachusetts. And that means getting to know each student as an individual learner, she explains.

A textbook might tell her to differentiate by providing struggling readers with a graphic organizer and above-level students with a writing prompt. That’s not something Novak is comfortable with. “It’s giving different kids access to a stronger curriculum where other students only have the option of a more watered-down curriculum,” she says. “Why are we not providing the best tools for all students? I want to teach you whether you need the graphic organizer or not, regardless of your ability, background, or language proficiency.”

The Common Core Era

What place does UDL have in a school system in the age of Common Core? “We see the Common Core as the ‘what,’ ” says Grace Meo, senior director of professional learning and outreach services at CAST. “It lays out the goals and the expectations. It’s the destination. UDL provides the ‘how.’ ”

In fact, UDL is included in the standards’ supplement called “Application to Students With Disabilities” as a method to help students with special needs meet the standards. (UDL advocates are quick to point out that the framework, by its “universal” nature, is meant to benefit the entire student population, not just special education learners.)

Critics are bound to argue that the real world, filled with more rigorous expectations, doesn’t offer the kind of flexibility that UDL puts forth. PARCC and Smarter Balanced will require students to write developed pieces, like five-­paragraph essays. There will be no choice in the matter.

Novak agrees, but she sees plenty of ways to embed choice and variability in lessons to prepare students for the expectations of the Common Core assessments. She recalls her time as an English teacher as an example. “Yes, they had to take the standardized tests, and yes, they had to respond in a certain amount of time,” she says. “Even though there’s not a lot of choice—as in, you can choose to write or not to write—you can choose to access these exemplars or choose to use this checklist to monitor your progress.” These skills, such as self-regulation and self-assessment, can be taught using the UDL framework and will lead to success on tests, Novak says.

Practice What You Preach

A growing number of school districts are putting UDL practices like these into action. But getting a program off the ground isn’t quick because it requires a substantial mind shift for many educators. Meo says implementation generally takes two to four years.

Because no one district goes about implementation in the same way, there is no set cost. “It’s not a shrink-wrapped box that says, ‘Here’s what it costs. Put it into place,’ ” Meo says. The largest financial investment is professional development, though the price tag will vary depending on the route you take. A course like CAST’s UDL Institute—an intensive, weeklong program at Harvard University—cost $2,645 per person last summer.

Deleidi’s district began by sending a small team of administrators to the CAST institute in the summer of 2012. During that school year, a cohort of teachers, coaches, and administrators continued to learn about the framework. They eventually formed the school’s UDL leadership team, disseminating the information in principal meetings and professional learning groups. “The goal is to get information in as many brains as possible. We can do that directly through CAST and Harvard or through a ‘train the trainer’ model,” Deleidi explains. “We’re doing a mixed bag.”

Once you’ve started implementation, Novak recommends shifting staff meetings and professional development to a UDL-friendly format as quickly as possible. In a traditional staff meeting about safety protocols, an administrator might rattle off a list of rules. “That’s the classroom that UDL is trying to get away from,” Novak points out. At her own meeting on the same topic, she would allow staff to choose from a few options—break off into groups to discuss the protocol, read about it on their own, or view a PowerPoint presentation.

For PD sessions, Novak has offered a menu of options to suit the diverse needs of teachers as learners, including small-group book studies, large-group workshops, and online modules. “Just as there is significant variability among students, staff have [varying] interests and ways they like to learn, as well as time they have to commit to learning about new practices,” Novak says. She has noticed that educators are more confident and willing to take on new professional development when it’s offered in ways that meet their needs.

Deleidi says that following this model of implementation has paid off for his students. He credits the decrease in suspensions and referrals directly to UDL.

“The best way to minimize classroom discipline issues is with effective lesson planning,” he explains. “When we have fewer discipline issues, that means students are engaged in learning.” He also believes that the drop in special education referrals is evidence that teachers are better able to help students who would otherwise be evaluated for special services.

“The big idea with us is meeting the needs of the kids,” he says. “Those are the ways we’re measuring our own ­success.”

Illustration: MIGUEL DAVILLA

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Black-teachers

The Keys for Empowering Black Male Learners

How to make the best use of the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

 By Baruti Kafele

Whatever other gains have been made in American education in the past decade or two, there is a continuing crisis when it comes to young black males, who graduate at a rate of just 47 percent. I believe the biggest challenge for American education is motivating and inspiring black males to strive for academic excellence. I also believe this is attainable, and the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative is one step toward this vision. Below, I’ll outline how a Young Men’s Empowerment Program, such as ones I’ve created in previous schools, must be a key component of My Brother’s Keeper initiatives.

For readers unfamiliar with My Brother’s Keeper, it is a White House initiative to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” The President’s Task Force is working to identify programs and policies that work in our communities to help young people reach the following six milestones:

  • Entering school ready to learn
  • Reading at grade level by third grade
  • Graduating from high school ready for college or career
  • Completing post-secondary education or training
  • Entering the workforce
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

The reality is that in the academic realm, we typically discuss the plight of black males within the context of the overall achievement gap. In doing so, we’re addressing this as an academic problem, which it is not. When we analyze the national achievement data of black males, it becomes glaringly clear that this gap in achievement occurs in virtually every district in the country and across rural, suburban, and urban areas. There are deeper issues that often go unaddressed in schools.

Peer pressure and gangs are the two biggest challenges I’ve witnessed affecting my students (and these are by no means unique to the communities I’ve served). The feeling among so many black males is that it is uncool to be smart and that succeeding in school means they’re “acting white.” This results in black males coming to school wearing invisible masks and thereby adhering to this black male code of conduct, academically speaking. Teachers all too often attempt to teach to the mask rather than the student because they do not realize that he is wearing a mask.

I have contended for many years, based on national data that shows upwards of 70 percent of black children are born into a household where there is no father present, that this is a crisis. We are asking black males to perform proficiently in the classroom when far too many of them are struggling with home issues that start them off on unequal footing. Due to the lack of male role models in their homes, schools, communities, and even the media, they are confused about their roles as young men.

To address the challenges that arise from a lack of black male role models and to help young black males gain an understanding of who they are, I launched the Young Men’s Empowerment Program in a middle school where I was principal, and then brought it with me to Newark Tech High School when I became principal there.

The purpose of the YMEP is to teach my male students about both manhood and their history. The overall development and leadership of the program was, and is, a sustained collaboration between my staff, community partners, and me. The community partners contributed greatly to the overall climate and culture of the school and to the academic, social, and emotional growth and development of not only my black male students but to all of my male students. The YMEP components include:

  • All-male empowerment assemblies/meetings with black guest speakers (Power Mondays)
  • All-male empowerment classroom meetings with black guest speakers
  • Small-group and one-on-one mentoring sessions led by men of color
  • Opportunities to meet and spend time with black male college students, successful black males in their work environments, and men of color in political leadership roles
  • Dress for Success days
  • Father-son programs
  • Positive Rites of Passage programs

School counselors play a crucial role in making this program work. They identify and locate the role models who come to the school to work with students. Staff members can reach out to local organizations, neighborhood associations, religious institutions, and even individual community members—we have found that there are many men who would love to come into their local schools to speak to or mentor students but have never been approached. Before this occurs, however, a committee of staff members should conduct a needs assessment of their male population. The following questions should be raised:

  • How will we go about bringing men into our school to speak at our empowerment meetings?
  • What kind of follow-up will we have for the speakers to engage in?
  • Will the meetings be comprised of single grade levels or will grade levels be combined?
  • How frequently will the meetings occur, during what time of day, and how long will they last?
  • What do the girls do during the male empowerment meetings?
  • Which staff members should be involved?
  • What topics will be discussed and what activities will we engage students in?
  • What are the goals of the male empowerment meetings?
  • How will we measure the success of the program?
  • What are the possibilities of partnering with corporations, businesses, and other agencies?

Our YMEP was rooted in what we coined “Power Monday”—a day to focus on empowerment. All male students were required to wear a shirt, tie, slacks, shoes, and a belt. The intent was for them to look empowered and ultimately to feel empowered. For the actual empowerment program, we had a meeting with one grade level on the morning of each Power Monday. These meetings typically lasted for two hours. I, along with other male staff members and men from the community, would engage the students in a wide variety of discussions pertaining to the many facets of manhood. I wanted the students to be exposed to men from all walks of life, so I went into the community and literally recruited men to be a part of what we wanted to accomplish with our male students.  

As our test scores began to rise to a level of national recognition over the six years that I was principal of Newark Tech, it was clear and evident that our YMEP, with a concentration on Power Monday, was making a tremendous difference in the lives of our young men. If similar programs become a part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative across the nation, more schools can experience this success.

For more information on the public and private sector groups that have pledged time and money to recruit mentors, share information, and more, look at the My Brother’s Keeper Fact Sheet. To find out more about becoming a mentor and bringing change to your community, check out serve.org.

Baruti Kafele is an award-winning educator and best-selling author of Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success (ASCD, 2013) and Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life (ASCD, 2009). Under his leadership, Newark Tech High School in New Jersey went from a low-performing school in need of improvement to being recognized as one of America's best high schools in U.S. News & World Report.

On this new episode of ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, Baruti Kafele and ASCD’s Sean Slade discuss how knowing your students, intentionally creating a positive school climate and culture, and making learning relevant set the stage for student motivation and achievement. They’ll pay attention to how making meaning for students is an underutilized, but effective, strategy.

Listen to the episode:

 

Image: Blend/ MediaBakery

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.