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November 2nd Professional Development
The day's schedule will unfold as follows
News We All Can Use
The Importance of Writing in the Curriculum
"There are no silver bullets in education," says author/consultant Douglas Reeves in this American School Board Journal article. "But writing - particularly nonfiction writing - is about as close as you can get to a single strategy that has significant and positive effects in nearly every other area of the curriculum. Nonfiction writing is the backbone of a successful literacy and student achievement strategy." That's because improvements in writing lead to gains in reading comprehension, math, science, and social studies.
The results of an insufficient focus on writing K-12 are well known in colleges (large numbers of students need remedial courses) and the workplace ($3 billion a year is spent bucking up the writing skills of new employees). The writing gap can be traced back to the early grades, where phonics-based reading programs build fluency but not deeper comprehension. "Reading quickly and clearly is nice," says Reeves, "but hardly an accomplishment when students do not understand the information they are reading."
Why aren't students being asked to do more writing? It's partly because some state tests aren't assessing writing, and partly because of a myopic focus on reading skills during the literacy block. "This wrongheaded approach denies research that shows that, when students improve their ability to describe, explain, and persuade in writing, they also improve their reading comprehension," says Reeves. "And when they improve their skills in writing and reading, they also improve their performance - even on multiple-choice tests - in math, science, social studies, and other subjects."
The Lake Villa K-8 school district in Illinois has made writing a core part of its improvement strategy. Teachers have students write to a prompt every six weeks and use home-grown rubrics to analyze the writing, spot areas of weakness, give immediate feedback to students, and share successful practices among themselves. "We start early and never quit," says superintendent John Van Pelt, "emphasizing writing in every class from kindergarten through eighth grade." The district has posted impressive gains in student achievement, even as poverty levels in the district have increased.
\Budget cuts have led the state of Illinois to eliminate writing from state assessments, but this hasn't changed Lake Villa's strategy. "We're doing the right thing," says Van Pelt, "and that's all there is to it. Writing helps kids get ready for high school, college, and life, and we're not going to stop just because it's not on the test."
"The Write Way" by Douglas Reeves in American School Board Journal, November 2010 (Vol. 197, #11, p. 46-47), no e-link available.
Ingredients of Successful Advisory Programs
In this Teachers College Record article, Loyola University/Chicago researcher Kate Phillippo reports on a study of 44 teachers who worked in advisory programs in their small high schools. She analyzed two dimensions:
Resources - These included years of teaching experience, work experience outside their current position, experience working with children, experience working with low-income youth, experience with challenging personal circumstances, experience parenting or caring for a dependent child or adult, adult support from colleagues, administrators, or mentors, and formal education. Teachers with limited resources struggled as advisory group leaders and were critical of their own performance. "Advisors who brought experience, support, and other resources to the position, however, did not necessarily enjoy a clear path to the effective, seamless management of their role demands," says Phillippo.
Schemas - These included a vision for providing social-emotional support to students, a vision for advising students, their own ideas about how to conduct the advisory period, a sense of how to respond to emergent student situations, role boundaries with respect to student needs, and role boundaries with respect to their own professional needs. Teachers with well-developed schemas tended to be more successful, even if they brought fewer resources to the table.
Phillippo placed teachers into four quadrants according to their scores on resources and schemas:
Quadrant A - Low resources, low schema
Quadrant B - Low resources, high schema
Quadrant C - High resources, low schema
Quadrant D - High resources, high schema
Teachers in Quadrant A were the least effective as advisors and teachers in Quadrant D were the most effective. Quadrant B teachers were next in line, with Quadrant C teachers next-to-bottom. "A combination of developed schemas and higher levels of personal resources seemed not only to help advisors do the work effectively and clearly, but also to help immunize them against becoming overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of demands placed upon them," concludes Phillippo. She also notes that support within the school makes a difference - house teacher meetings, job-embedded professional development, and one-on-one advice from colleagues.
"Teachers Providing Social and Emotional Support: A Study of Advisor Role Enactment in Small High Schools" by Kate Phillippo in Teachers College Record, August 2010 (Vol. 112, #8, p. 2258-2293), no e-link available
Keys to Improving Teaching and Learning
In this Kappan article, Illinois educators Thomas McCann, Alan Jones, and Gail Aronoff say that in our current obsession with accountability and testing, we sometimes lose sight of the basics. "While administrators busy themselves with an array of responsibilities and teachers faithfully attend institutes and afterschool workshops to learn the newest techniques, the century-old assign-and-assess method of instruction remains intact: Teachers talk a lot, students listen a lot, teachers grade a lot."
After visiting hundreds of classrooms in a variety of schools, the authors have the following suggestions:
"Truths Hidden in Plain View" by Thomas McCann, Alan Jones, and Gail Aronoff in Phi Delta Kappan, October 2010 (Vol. 92, #2, p. 65-67), available for purchase at http://www.kappanmagazline.org