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Project Rationale

21st Century

In the July 27th eSchool news, (free education subscription) the article "Five things students say they want from education: Technology, creativity, and choice are among the features students would like to see in school" reminds us what students behavior indicates to teachers daily: they want interactive technology, teacher mentors who respect and care about them, innovation (lectures are boring), choice, and real-world application and relevancy. If I want kids to learn, I've got to change -- how about you?

How can I build a community of learners, design better assessments for learning, and encourage the development of vocabulary?

Community of Learners

The Math/Science Partnership encouraged the development of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) through its summer and school-year workshops, email lists, blogs, and wikis. As gratitude for that, I created this site to further the development of my own and others' professional learning environment (PLE) -- the environment that includes one's career as family member, teacher, friend, etc. How do we organize for this? Because today's communication extends into the "cloud" of the internet, we can access both our personal and professional lives through this cloud. The tools shared here for school will also connect to one's personal world. Our lives are now very intertwined, and keeping our digital footprint secure and sensible requires diligence and care. Because of this, I included information about Digital Citizenship, something all of us need to consider in today's connected world.  (For more information, see Digital Citizenship-Bullying -- Online Safety by Grade 5 -- Digital Footprints (Commenting) --  Simply Said ) To keep a PLE organized,  the resources from  both personal and professional collaboration and sharing, see Spruce-up iGoogle  and Diigo to Organize.
Richard DuFour and Robert Marzano, in their book, Leaders of Learning: How District School, and Classroom Leaders improve Student Achievement,
explain how Professional Learning Communities focused on student learning can be effective:

"The best strategy for improving schools and districts is developing the collective capacity of educators
to function as members of a professional learning community (PLC)--a concept based on the premise that
if students are to learn at higher levels, processes must be in place to ensure the ongoing, job-embedded
learning of the adults who serve them." (p.21)

"Educators are organized into meaningful collaborative teams in which members work interdependently
to achieve common goals for which they are mutually accountable." (p.24)

"Improvement strategies based on building collective capacity regard educators as the solution to, rather
than the cause of, the complex problems confronting public education." (p.19)

This project is my part of the collective capacity, the sharing to improve student learning with my colleagues within my PLC. Throughout the Math/Science Partnership, we have been encouraged and instructed to share what works for helping students learn math and science. We have individually struggled and applied new ideas and tools to collectively gather what works, sharing so that we may review and revise to fine-tune our strategies to work in our own classrooms. As a reading and writing teacher, I brought math and science into my curricula, striving to help students think through their learning in math and science, to listen, to write, to read, to discuss, to debate, and to create a deeper understanding of those concepts. And now I share reading and writing strategies with Web 2.0 tools so students can gather their thoughts about math and science, place them into their own mind and experience, and therefore learn the concepts more deeply. William Zinsser explains:  "Writing is thinking on paper." and "Writing and learning and thinking are the same process." Getting the ideas from one's brain in one's own words onto paper requires creative thought and critical thinking. We need to honor those attempts, and provide more time for them so the learning becomes understanding. And with this site, as I gather ideas from what I have learned, I have, as Paulo Freire says, found "understanding of my own presence in the reality."

I hope that our work with students allows them to develop that understanding within their reality. In order to do that, we guide students in developing their Learning Community by using the tools of their world in safe and civil ways that deepen their understanding of the concepts they are learning. Our work with the MSP models what we need to do for students: begin their professional learning community. This project provides a small starting point for building a Community of Learners for teachers and students.

Assessment for Learning

If, as Zinsser suggests, "Writing and learning and thinking are the same process," then writing will help students learn more deeply. So most of the strategies and tools suggested throughout this project will require students to share their ideas and thoughts in writing. Dufour and Marzano quote Hattie (2009) in their book:
The act of teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the student: thus the key ingredients are awareness of the learning intentions, knowing when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, having sufficient understanding of the student's understanding as he or she cones to the task, and knowing enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences in some sort of progressive development. It involves an experienced teacher who knows a range of learning strategies to provide the students when they seem not to understand. (p 23).(p.16)

That's what we do. That's what we have been learning in MSP. And the ideas, tools, and strategies in this project provide not additional activities, but rather the chunking and feedback activities needed to discover what the students understand and misunderstand so teachers can reteach and guide students to the deeper understanding that sticks.

The writing and sharing of writing digs into motivation as well as assessment. Gerald Graff suggests that education can be improved if we "provide students with a way into real academic and cultural conversations." He suggests that "all writing is 'deeply engaged in some way with other people's views,' with something they 'say.'" So, as we ask students to think, think and write, think and share, and think, review, and revise, students are motivated to understand each other and to prove or revise their own ideas. Graff says, "For it is what others are saying that motivates our writing and gives it a reason for being." In asking students to write, therefore, we also ask them to write in a response to to the lesson or to each others' responses to the the learning, with the added requirement that they state the "others" ideas as part of their reflection. This helps them connect ideas-- and provides a clearer dialogue for the reader of their work. Graff also reminds us that to summarize an idea crucial to the lesson concept, that the summarization requires analysis, appreciating other viewpoints, gathering essential information, and managing the details and facts. By promoting critical discussions in class and in writing, we help students to think as authors, mathematicians, and scientists. Clearly, we must take time for this in order to determine each students' understanding of our lessons.

The strategies in this project allow the teacher to chunk ideas, provide time for students to stop and think, and expect that the teacher and student will assess those chunk times for understanding. Indeed, Marzano's research in "reteaching" provided the structure for ideas in this project. He refers to the introduction of new topics to include quick assessment and then break the new ideas into "chunks" with re-assessment activities in between each chunk to verify understanding. In addition, these activities allow the teacher to assess previously taught concepts to ensure that students are ready for new ideas.

Graff adds "In the words of Gregory Clark, associate dean of humanities at Brigham Young University, “Learning outcomes assessment forces us out of ourselves, shifting our attention from what we as teachers do— to what our students actually learn.”

What do we want our students to know in math and science? -- our standards; our student's needs
How will we know if our students are learning? -- chunk learning and assessment strategies for frequent monitoring
How will we respond if students do learn? -- choice, extensions
How will we respond if students do not learn? -- reteach, more time, another tool or strategy, peer tutors

This project provides some tools and strategies for chunking, sharing, and extending lessons as ongoing assessments in the process of learning.

Development of Language

This Zinsser statement means so much: "Writing and learning and thinking are the same process." Writing clears the mind by organizing one's thoughts. The more students write to learn without fear of the grammatical and spelling red pen, the more their ability to write clearly will develop. Review the research on Vocabulary Instruction by Marzano.  A site with its review and many resources exist here: jc.schools.net

Every teacher knows how valuable a working vocabulary is to learning and understanding. Many kids are exposed to conversations, books, museums, travel, sports and science camps, and other engaging family activities that enrich their understanding of how the world works today and in the past, with a rich vocabulary that accompanies those activities. A good listening vocabulary, those words you understand in conversation, guide the understanding of written word. When learning new ideas, listening is key. We "listen" when we read others' work to understand and respond to it. This again suggests the importance of bringing the academic vocabulary and content into the real conversation of students.  Automaticity and academic vocabulary is important, but what is more important is lifelong learning. Becoming a wordsmith is fun. In my classroom, my wall is adorned with Donald Murray’s quote, “Writing is hard fun.” Vocabulary is “hard fun” too. But key to learning new words is putting those words into one’s own frame of reference with one’s own images, words, and connections and using the words correctly in daily use. Vocabulary is required learning. While the teacher must direct the learning of specific vocabulary for their content area in each lesson, students should also consciously construct their own improved vocabulary. How students learn new vocabulary should not just be teacher directed, but also interest driven (new buzz word: passion). The activities in this project provide opportunities to listen to our words in conversation and discussions and in written work for class or on blogs. Which brings us right back to listening: Wordsmiths listen to the way words work wonder in our minds.


Dufour, Richard & Robert Marzano. (2011) Leaders of Learning How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement

Graff, Gerald: "President’s Column: Assessment Changes Everything." MLA Newsletter 40.1 (Spring 2008). http://tigger.uic.edu/~ggraff/graff_articles/mla_spring2008.pdf http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/02/21/graff   http://tigger.uic.edu/~ggraff/Gerald_Graff,_Ph.D./articles.html http://tigger.uic.edu/~ggraff/graff_articles/unbearable_pointlessness.pdf

Marzano, Robert. (2010) Reviving Reteaching. Educational Leadership October 2010 | Volume 68 | Number 2 
Interventions That Work    Pages 82-83 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct10/vol68/num02/Reviving-Reteaching.aspx

Paulo Freire: Last Interview, 1996.