The Problem with “Great Schools”

by Ali McKay If you have young kids or use Redfin, you’ve probably seen the school ratings from GreatSchools. Our school is rated a “4”. That’s out of 10. When I was in school, forty percent is not a grade that I or my parents would have been happy with. In fact, there would have […]

via The Problem with “Great Schools” — IntegratedSchools.org

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Play Brain Games to Help Your Child Learn to Read – Judy Willis

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Reading is not a natural process for the human brain.We are born with the brain architecture ready for development of successful verbal communication, but without any blueprint guiding recognition of the printed word. Neuroimaging scans show that multiple brain regions activate during the reading process without any one isolated reading center.

The human brain is a pattern-building and detecting mechanism. Seeking patterns is the brain’s way of making sense of new information and experiences. We identify new things based on their similarities and relationships to things we already know. The development of literacy takes place in the same way all memories are constructed in the brain – by relating the new to the known.

The brain stores our learned information in long-term memory neural circuits based on commonalities or relationships. If a child had never seen a hat of any kind on a person (real or in pictures) and she is given a doll with various items of clothing, she would not know to place the hat on the doll’s head.

Memory patterns of stored related information become stronger the more frequently information they hold is recalled, used, or reviewed in a way that reinforces the relationships among the data in the memory circuit. For memory of letters and words to build, the brain must continue to link new information with related patterns that already exist in memory storage. For reading to become an acquired skill, there must be a gradual buildup of memories where new information is experienced together with related existing knowledge.

This is why children need skills of patterning and pattern recognition to develop literacy. Their patterning skills are what will allow their brains to connect letters with sounds and words with meanings. Helping young children build their patterning skills supports their future ability to recognize and remember the patterns found in letters, words, and sentence structures.

Here are some brain games you can play with your child to help boost his reading ability through recognizing, playing with, and creating patterns:

  1. Draw attention to patterns in art, nature, and daily recurrent occurrences. You can help your child build pattern recognition skills by playing “color detective” as you are out together. Have your child say “red” each time he sees a red car. Then ask him to be on the lookout for another color. You can also play “shape hunt” together, and ask your child to lead you around the house and point to all things that are circle-shaped (or square, etc.).
  2. Ask your child to categorize and sort items. The patterning skills needed for reading are further extended when your child’s brain can associate the unknown with a pattern into which it could fit. This pattern matching is what takes place when the brain predicts (based on existing memory patterns) the sound of an unfamiliar letter or the meaning of an unknown word. To work on this skill with your child, get her to sort objects into obvious categories, such as a collection of pictures or small plastic animals or vehicles, and give names to each group. (Verbalizing the name she selects for a category increases the brain’s awareness of the pattern. Ask your child why she chose the category name or what information she used when sorting items the way she did.) When she is pro?cient with this, she can move on to more subtle items to categorize. For example, make a map of the rooms of the house and place it on a table or the floor, and ask her to bring items specific to each room, and place each item in the appropriate room on the map.
  3. Look for similarities and differences between objects and photos. When your child has mastered large pattern similarities and differences such as red toys and black toys, try engaging in the following activity. While driving in the car or taking a walk together, ask him to point to cars that have four doors and those that have two or houses with flat roofs and pointy roofs. Or if you are at home, find two photographs of your child taken about a year apart and have him tell you about all the details he finds in each of them. Ask him which picture was taken when he was older and how he can tell. This game becomes more complex and expands comparison-and-contrast aspects of pattern recognition when you encourage your child to tell you other similarities and differences he notices: between two cars, houses, leaves, dogs, family photos, or photos of him at different ages.
  4. Play games of “What doesn’t belong?” This will prepare your child to identify how words and letters have shared characteristics that can be used to identify new words by seeking commonalities. Group together three items, like coins, and include one that does not belong, and ask your child to guess which one is not the same as the others. Once she masters this, create increasingly complex groupings where the “different” item is subtler in its differences (pennies with all heads up except one with tail side up). You can then move on to identification of the patterns of sequences. Line up a penny-penny-dime, penny-penny-dime, and penny-penny-dime sequence. Ask your child to choose the next coin that would fit with the pattern you set up. This builds both patterning skills for reading and sequencing skills for number sense, the basis for learning arithmetic.
  5. Try pattern matching. Pattern matching is how children connect specific letters and groups of letters with associated sounds. An example is by seeing the letter “m” and based on past experiences associating that letter with the “mmm” sound, your child is able to retrieve the memory of that sound. This “phonemic awareness” requires the brain to repeatedly experience the sound and letter together. The more frequently children are aware of this relationship between sound and letter, the more easily their brains will retrieve the correct sound to match with the letter in new words – until it becomes automatic. Children who have trouble with written symbols may learn more readily from hearing patterns emphasized in speech. You can help build these memory pathways to recognize patterns by emphasizing repeating letters, words, and sentences with changes in your voice pitch, speed, or volume emphasis as you read together with your child. If the word in the book is “hibernate” you would read and point to the “hi” and “bern” the point to the “ate”. Then have him do the same and find words with the familiar letter combinations.

Learning to read is critical for all academic success, but it is often an intimidating struggle for children. As your children’s patterning partner, you’ll be their guide to the wonderful worlds they can reach through books traveling over the rainbow and deep into the center of the earth. Your guidance will light the way and the books they enjoy when young will ignite their joy as lifelong readers.

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A New Approach To Personalized Learning Reveals 3 Valuable Teaching Insights – Thomas Arnett

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Personalized learning’s rationale has strong intuitive appeal: We can all remember feeling bored, confused, frustrated, or lost in school when our classes didn’t spark our interests or address our learning needs. But an intuitive rationale doesn’t clearly translate to effective practice. For personalized learning to actually move the needle on improving student experiences and elevating student outcomes, the question of how schools and teachers personalize is just as important as why.

So how do schools effectively personalize learning? Is it through online learning? mastery-based learning? project-based learning? exploratory learning? Each of these common approaches offers a unique dimension of “personalization.” Yet one of the most important ways to personalize learning may be easily overlooked in the quest for new and novel approaches to instruction.

Across the K–12 education landscape, teachers have by far the biggest impact on student learning and student experiences. Even in classrooms with the latest adaptive learning technology, an expert teachers’ professional intuition is still the best way to understand and address the myriad cognitive, non-cognitive, social, emotional, and academic factors that affect students’ achievement.

Additionally, one of the most valuable forms of personalization is authentic, personal relationships between students and teachers. It therefore makes sense that any school looking to offer personalized learning should not only explore new technologies and instructional practices, but also think carefully about how to increase students’ connections with great educators.

To that end, over the past year, The Clayton Christensen Institute partnered with Public Impact to study the intersection between personalized learning and school staffing. Our aim was to observe how schools might be using new staffing arrangements to better meet the individual learning needs of their students. Initially, we tapped into our knowledge of schools (via the BLU_ school directory and Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture schools) and recommendations from personalized learning thought leaders to identify schools that were working to personalize learning using both blended learning and innovative staffing arrangements.

We then narrowed our list down to eight pioneering schools and school networks—including district, charter, and private schools—whose practices we documented in a series of case studies. Our latest report, “Innovative staffing to personalize learning: How new teaching roles and blended learning help students succeed,” released last week, documents the findings from this research. Below are brief snippets on three of our most interesting insights.

Team teaching increases supportive relationships

The most common theme across the schools we studied was a shift from one teacher per classroom to teams of educators collaborating to support larger-than-normal classes. At one school, classes of 60 students learned together in a large, open learning space with three team teachers at a time for ELA and math. At another school, students spent part of their day with co-teachers and part of their day in seven- to 12-person groups supported by a teaching fellow.

At a third school, students rotated through in-class stations where they worked part of the time with a teacher and part of the time with a small group instructor. With these new staffing arrangements, schools found that having many eyes on each student helped keep students from falling through the cracks; increased students’ chances of forming a strong, positive connection with at least one adult; and decreased the odds that a student risked going through a year with just one “really bad fit” teacher.

Support staff help schools personalize through small group instruction

At the schools we studied, teaching teams included not only teachers, but also other support staff, such as tutors, teaching fellows, or small-group instructors. These support staff members played a critical role in helping the schools offer their students frequent opportunities for personalized learning in small groups. As one teacher explained, “That small group is meant to look at each student and identify their personal needs and assist them.”

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Another teacher at a different school said that, “Sometimes tutors make awesome relationships with students, and the students can’t wait for the tutor to come for that day; so then, I use [the tutors] also to make sure that students know that they’re being watched and that they can always ask for help.” Small groups gave students individualized support and relationships that helped them see success is possible.

Blended learning complements innovative staffing

As schools used new staffing arrangements to personalize their instruction, blended learning gave them increased flexibility in how to best use their educators’ time and talents. By letting online learning provide some instruction, educator teams could focus more on coaching students and addressing their individual needs instead of worrying about covering their course content.

Software also gave educator teams data on student progress that allowed them to make their planning and interventions more targeted to students’ needs. Some schools also used software that recommended student groupings and lesson plans for small group instruction.

All too often, schools may be trying to personalize learning while treating one of their most crucial assets—human capital—as fixed. But as the findings from this report illustrate, many pioneering schools see personalized learning and teacher quality not as separate strategies, but as complementary levers within their broader efforts to better serve their students.

In that light, the findings from this report are a bellwether to the field for showing the alignment between personalized learning and human capital approaches that improve access to quality teaching.

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Learning By Teaching Others Is Extremely Effective – Christian Jarrett

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The learning-by-teaching effect has been demonstrated in many studies. Students who spend time teaching what they’ve learned go on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time re-studying. What remains unresolved, however, is exactly why teaching helps the teacher better understand and retain what they’ve learned.

For a new study in Applied Cognitive Psychology researchers led by Aloysius Wei Lun Koh set out to test their theory that teaching improves the teacher’s learning because it compels the teacher to retrieve what they’ve previously studied. In other words, they believe the learning benefit of teaching is simply another manifestation of the well-known “testing effect” – the way that bringing to mind what we’ve previously studied leads to deeper and longer-lasting acquisition of that information than more time spent passively re-studying.

The researchers recruited 124 students and asked them spend ten minutes studying a text, with accompanying figures, about the Doppler Effect and soundwaves – a topic about which none of them had any previous knowledge – with a view to teaching the material themselves afterwards without notes. Participants were told they could take notes while studying but not keep them for the next stage.

After the study phase, the participants were divided into four groups. In one group participants spent five minutes being filmed alone while they stood and delivered a lesson on the study material without notes (they could use a blank flip chart to draw figures if they wanted).

The other groups either spent the same time completing multiplication arithmetic; standing up and teaching verbatim from a set script (including making reference to pre-drawn figures on a white board); or writing down all they could remember from the text (i.e. a form of retrieval practice designed to induce the testing effect).

A week later, all the participants returned to the lab for a surprise test of their knowledge and comprehension of the original study text in the form of six free-response questions that required them to explain key concepts from the study materials.

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The critical finding is that the teaching-without-notes group outperformed the group that had spent the same time completing arithmetic problems and the group that had taught from a script, but so too did the group who simply spent the same time retrieving what they’d learned. In fact, the final comprehension performance of the teaching-without-notes group and the retrieval-practice group was comparable.

The researchers said their results suggest that “the benefits of the learning-by-teaching strategy are attributable to retrieval practice; that is, the robust learning-by-teaching strategy works but only when the teaching involves retrieving the taught materials.”

The new findings don’t undermine the notion of teaching as an effect learning method, but they have practical implications for how the learning-by-teaching approach is applied in education and training. “In order to insure that students and tutors learn and retain the educational material that they have prepared and presented in class, they ought to internalize the to-be-presented material prior to communicating it to an audience, rather than rely on study notes during the presentation process”, the researchers said.

Critical readers may take issue with the lack of realism in the study – there was no audience of learners in either of the teaching conditions and therefore no interaction, which surely also plays a part in the learning benefits of teaching. Also, participants in all groups were originally primed to expect to have to teach the material, which may have had learning benefits in itself – perhaps the retrieval group would not have matched the comprehension of the teaching-without-notes group without being primed in this way.

Lun Koh and colleagues acknowledged some of these issues and they called on further research to “assess the importance of retrieval practice across a variety of teaching scenarios and activities.”

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How to Refocus Your Strategy and Reenergize Your Team – Stanley Meytin

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A person’s passion is the sincerest definition of who they are. Passion can manifest itself in a hobby, an aspiration, or if you’re really lucky, a career. Take two people, Joe and Jane, as an example. Joe has a passion outside of his career. He devotes a lot of his free time to this passion and naturally speaks about it to his peers.

When his peers think of him they probably define him as “person passionate about X.” Now take Jane, one of the lucky few who has made a career out of her passion. She devotes twice the amount of time, twice the amount of energy and twice the amount of conversation to her passion. How do you think her peers define her?

If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s bestseller Start With Why, then Jane will remind you of Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, or Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. Joe will remind you of the Wright Brothers. Each of these individuals built empires by undyingly following their passion. Sure, you can claim that these individuals are used as examples because of winner’s bias. But they succeeded because not only were they extremely passionate. They succeeded because they were able to clearly communicate their visions.

I consider myself extremely lucky. Like Jane, I’ve built a career out of my passion. When I first launched my film production company, my team asked the same questions regarding our clients that our competition was asking:

  • What is this client doing that’s different?
  • What do they bring to the table?
  • What problems are they solving for their customers?

While these questions helped us understand our clients, we realized they weren’t getting to the core of what defined them. We were part of the same old convention of business. We were focusing on what our clients were doing and not why they were doing it in the first place. Once we realized this, we began asking ourselves different questions:

  • How can we harness the passion that defines the client’s company to create a story?
  • Are their employees inspired by that passion?
  • Does the story align with their core values?
  • How can we align the story with the company’s brand mission?
  • How is that story going to connect with their audience?
  • How are we going to make the story authentic and engaging?

The biggest takeaway, however, didn’t come in the form of one of our clients’ videos going viral. It came in-house. 2016 was the first year we set a quantitative benchmark for the number of videos we wanted to produce. Not only did we not hit the benchmark, but with all the energy we put into hitting a quota we lost focus on creating a better product. We produced more videos, but they were watered down compared to previous years. We lost our own purpose.

We got rid of all quantity benchmarks in 2017 and as a team, we held a meeting to refocus. In this meeting, we asked ourselves the same questions that we asked our clients. We ended the meeting with a mission to create a video channel to tell impactful and authentic stories that inspire others.

That channel has been a remarkably accurate reflection of the meeting where it was first conceptualized. We’re now using the same techniques that helped us define our purpose in our core business for our corporate clients. Not only has it righted our ship and produced success but it has also provided us with an entirely new set of questions to ask our clients:

  • Is their organization helping others?
  • Is their mission connecting with others?
  • Are their customers genuinely understanding their mission?
  • Are employees buying into their mission, do they believe their roles play an important part in promoting the mission?
  • Are they building a community?
  • Are they staying true to their core values and the values of their customers and employees?

The beauty of these questions is that you can propose them to your clients, to your employees and even to yourself. They’re not specific to video production or any industry for that matter. If you already have the answers, that’s incredible. If not, then use them to refocus your strategy or reenergize your team.

Just swap “their” and “they” for “your” and “you.” Connecting to people on a deeper level, nurturing a human connection, evoking emotion and inspiring are key ingredients to building loyalty and bringing the best out in people.

Note, however, that not all ingredients are created equal. Like apples grown on two separate farms, the ingredients that I listed — those that were seeded and cared for with passion — will always taste better.

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How To Transform Problem Solving – Cheryl Capozzoli

Technology has become vital to our day-to-day lives and critical in the K-12 classroom. In a tech-saturated market, parents of our students have raised questions about how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact their future careers.

Whether you believe AI has potential to meet or surpass human intelligence, it is imperative that we equip students with skills to match the nearing demands of the future workplace. Computational thinking (CT) is the latest skill set that addresses the demands of the future workplace.

CT enables us to analyze and process data algorithmically, and often visually. CT offers a process for problem-solving, where one develops a series of steps (an algorithm) to solve open-ended problems. Put simply, it’s a framework to approach problems like a computer would: by processing data in a well-defined series of steps.

Harrisburg School District implements a 5th “C”

By introducing our students and staff to CT as a thought process, we have been able to provide skills to more deeply engage in problem solving. Many standards identify the 4Cs of 21st-century skills—critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration—as the most vital skills needed for success today.

If educators and students begin using CT as a more systematic way of thinking about solving real-world problems, the better we can prepare our students for a future in computer science or STEM. At Harrisburg School District in Pennsylvania, we have taken initiative to teach the CT skill to our K-12 students. After all, computation is how the world around us operates.

Rallying staff, student, and parent support

With a clear, district wide goal in mind, we partnered with Discovery Education and Tata Consultancy Services to support our vision for equity in STEM. The Ignite My Future In School initiative is a five-year commitment to transform the way our students learn. We adapted the program’s curriculum, career vignettes, and teacher training in collaboration with staff, students, and parents. With an emphasis on equity, we designed an approach that demonstrates our dedication to all support systems that surround our students.

Before integrating CT into curriculum, we hosted a professional learning day with staff to introduce the nature of computational thinking and computer science. The day was dedicated to exploring methods to engage our students in deeper levels of thinking and learning across subjects. Following this, we invited parents to share our experiences in an open and friendly environment. We introduced parents to CT and shared resources and games to enforce concepts at home.

Exploring cross-curricular connections

The key to successfully integrating a CT program is to start simple. We’ve found that basic data sets are a great way to introduce CT concepts to students. Data.gov offers information collected by the U.S. government in nearly every topic imaginable. Find more free resources here.

Curriculum Connector activities assist our staff in creating engaging lessons and tasks in which students learn to use the seven key CT strategies. Students are required to collect, analyze, and decompose data so that they can better understand large amounts of information. This helps them to see the larger picture to create designs that solve complex problems.

Students are also encouraged to use models to design algorithmic computing methods to create a model or a simulation. For example, our eighth-grade students recently used CT to design a SMART tiny home to become comfortable with the “CT mindset.”

For educators looking to introduce CT concepts into curriculum, be prepared to make continuous changes to your lessons. Embrace the fact that CT is prone to change as technology changes. Leave room for adjustments in your curriculum from year to year.

Our 6th “C”: commitment

Computational thinking is a new way to process information within our school community, but we are excited to have embarked on this journey because we know that it is vital for our students to be successful thinkers, problem solvers, inventors, scientists, and divergent 21st-century leaders.

We want to empower students with the confidence that they are fully capable of approaching an unfamiliar problem independently and solving the challenges most important to them. Through our continued work and partnership, we will sustain our priority to provide a modern and equitable education to all students.

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7 Tips To Better Define Personalized Learning – Laura Ascione

personalized learning

Personalized learning is a pretty well-known term, but educators have different definitions for personalized learning, making for a sometimes-confusing approach to its implementation.

Now, a new report seeks to apply a common definition to personalized learning and outline best practices for educators to advocate for the practice in their districts.

The report comes from Education Elements and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and it defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

According to the report, the four core elements of personalized learning include:

  • Flexible content and tools: Instructional materials allow for differentiated path, pace, and performance tasks
  • Targeted instruction: Instruction aligns to specific student needs and learning goals
  • Student reflection and ownership: Ongoing student reflection promotes ownership of learning
  • Data driven decisions: Frequent data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings

The authors outline a handful of tips to help communicate ideas around personalized learning.

1. Focus on the future. The goal of personalized learning is to ensure that students will be adequately prepared with the knowledge and skills they need for college or career.

2. Highlight benefits to families, including the idea that personalized learning can give parents a deeper understanding of how their child is progressing and will improve opportunities for collaboration with teachers. It also can provide opportunities for increased interaction with teachers and peers, and can encourage higher levels of student engagement.

3. Highlight benefits to students. Students are encouraged to play a greater role—and be more invested—in their learning. Instruction will be tailored to a student’s strengths and interest to keep them more engaged in their learning. Students can learn at a flexible pace that’s right for them in order to ensure they have thoroughly learned the material.

4. Highlight benefits to teachers. Personalized learning will give teachers the flexibility and tools they need to meet the needs of each child.

5. For district leaders: Make sure the vision for personalizing learning is clear, that the “why” is commonly understood and that you develop messaging that makes sense for your entire community, not just those steeped in education jargon. Use words and phrases that work. Provide preferred messaging to your district staff and your principals so they don’t need to start from scratch. Communicate often with your teachers, families and community.

6. For school leaders: Talk about personalized learning whenever you can. Include examples in newsletters to highlight how it helps students, not the software you are using. Remember this is something most families want, so celebrate that you are doing it… or starting it. There is tremendous momentum behind this evolution in teaching and learning. Whenever possible, share those stories from your own school.

7. For teachers: Hang signs in your classrooms; talk about personalized learning on Back to School Nights and during parent conferences. Help your students understand why things are different. While you are among the best messengers, your students can be a huge asset because what they perceive and what they say really impacts what families think. Invite families into your classroom and show them how you are now better supporting their children

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Here’s How We Made Data Usable For Our Teachers – Martinrex Kedziora

In today’s digital classroom, teachers have access to more data than ever. With a few clicks, we can view detailed reports on student test scores, formative assessments, progress reports from self-paced software, attendance, and so much more. At times, the amount of data can feel overwhelming, especially when each data point only exists as an isolated channel, unrelated to the next.

I am not saying that multiple data measures are a bad thing; in fact, they can help us to differentiate instruction, personalize learning, and really meet each of our students where they are academically. As administrators, it is critical that we help our teachers collect the most meaningful data points by giving them the tools they need to quickly interpret figures to make informed decisions in their classroom.

In my district, Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) in California, our data showed that our students were really struggling in math. Our state test scores were low and, with the changing rigor of Common Core, parents were coming to me concerned that they were not able to help their child with assignments. I knew we had to do something outside the box—and quickly—to catch our struggling students and prevent them from falling further behind.

Step 1: Finding the right data
We knew that MVUSD’s math scores were low on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). For our students that were not meeting proficiency, the score alone did not show a clear picture of the specific skills they needed to master to catch back up to grade level. Our teachers needed a tool to pinpoint skill gaps for individual students so we could be more targeted in our interventions.

After much research, it was clear that we would benefit from administering benchmark assessments. Unlike traditional summative assessments like the CAASPP that simply determine content mastery, a good interim assessment allows educators to get a snapshot of what an individual student knows, is able to do, and is ready to learn next.

While there are many assessment options, we chose NWEA MAP Growth because it had the most research behind it. Our students take a computer-adaptive assessment a few times each year that adjusts to each student’s responses. Teachers get detailed reports that identify individual student needs and show projected proficiency through the school year and over multiple years. Administrators get higher-level reports that make it simple to do a temper-check several times throughout the year (instead of just at the end of the school year) and measure longitudinal growth.

Step 2: Connecting interventions to our data
Now that we were collecting the right data to isolate the instructional areas MVUSD students were ready to tackle, we needed to provide our teachers with additional resources to help them differentiate instruction. Teachers can use MAP data to identify common pain points to inform their lesson plans, but the granular data allows us to personalize learning even further. We know the specific topics students need to close skill gaps, but with an average class size of 24, it can be difficult to find the time for one-on-ones with each student.

As a district, we sought out the interventions that could take MAP growth data to the next level. I think the best example is the one-to-one online tutoring program we provide to students who scored a level 1 or level 2 on their math CAASPP.

We worked with FEV Tutor, who took individual students’ fall RIT scores (grade-level equivalences) to create personalized tutoring plans for each student. Depending on the school site, students worked one-on-one with their own professional tutor during the day or at an after-school program. All tutoring was online, and since it was one-to-one, students could work through the specific learning strands identified on their learning plan with the support of a live instructor.

Each online tutoring session concluded with an exit ticket. Teachers and administrators saw this data on a weekly basis, which allowed our teachers to see—in real time—how their students were progressing through their learning plans. If students were continuing to struggle, it was a warning that students would not likely reach their projected growth goals for the year and that we should explore additional interventions.

At the end of the tutoring program, the team at FEV Tutor did a full analysis to examine the impact. In academic year 2016-2017, MVUSD set a district-wide goal for 50 percent of all students to meet or exceed their fall to spring MAP Growth goals. We are pleased to share that 69 percent of FEV Tutor participants met or exceeded their fall to spring MAP Growth goals in math, compared to 17 percent of students who were identified for tutoring but did not participate.

Step 3: Connecting data points
MAP Growth is a great sign of students working their way toward proficiency; however, it is important to match this data into overall student performance. To try and get a clearer picture of the impact online tutoring had on student achievement, MVUSD’s department of accountability and assessment worked with FEV Tutor to examine the impact that online tutoring had on the CAASPP.

We saw that students who participated in FEV tutoring grew by an average of +26 scale score points from the spring 2016 CAASPP to the spring 2017 CAASPP, compared to +22 points for non-FEV Tutor participants. By taking a deeper dive into the data we found that, across the district, students who participated in 10 or more tutoring sessions had the highest rate of performance-level movement.

For students that took 10 or more sessions, the percentage who scored a level 3 (standard met) or level 4 (standard exceeded) grew by 15 percentage points from the spring 2016 to spring 2017 CAASPP. The percentage of students who scored a level 2 (standard nearly met) grew by 13 percentage points. This 13-percent increase is specifically significant at MVUSD because most students who participated in the FEV tutoring program scored a level 1 (standard not met) on the 2016 CAASPP.

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The Question Game: A Playful Way To Teach Critical Thinking – Sophie Wrobel

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Big idea: Teaching kids to ask smart questions on their own

A four-year-old asks on average about 400 questions per day, and an adult hardly asks any. Our school system is structured around rewards for regurgitating the right answer, and not asking smart questions – in fact, it discourages asking questions. With the result that as we grow older, we stop asking questions.

Yet asking good questions is essential to find and develop solutions, and an important skill in innovation, strategy, and leadership. So why do we stop asking questions – and more importantly, why don’t we train each other, and our future leaders, to ask the right questions starting from early on?

In A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger suggests that there are three main questions which help in problem solving: Why questions, What If questions, and How questions.

Regardless of the question, the question needs to be phrased openly and positively in order to achieve positive results – a closed or negative question only raises bad feelings against each other.

  • Why questions help to find the root of a problem
  • What If questions open up the floor for creative solutions
  • How questions focus on developing practical solutions

So, perhaps, this lesson can be adapted to help trigger young children to start solve problems early too and stop accepting whatever the kindergarten teacher says to be fact? And perhaps, continue to keep up these inquiring and probing abilities later on in life?

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The Question Game focuses on teaching children a kind of thinking which is particularly useful in creative problem-solving–a focused approach to get from a problem to the most effective solution. It is most effective when combined with regular repetition, which solidifies the thought pattern, and with groups, which encourages contributory exploration of alternative responses and creativity.

Thinking strategy is just one of many qualities that are necessary for imparting charisma and leadership skills to the next generation. Many of us would claim that we don’t have the ‘natural gift’ that charismatic leaders like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi had. However, charisma and leadership are qualities that, to a large extent, can be cultivated and trained.

With soft skills becoming more important in today’s job market, cultivating these skills early on can provide children with an additional edge in becoming effective, active citizens in our society. These skills can be broadly grouped into four logical skills and four emotional skills:

  • Logical skills: risk-taking, thinking strategy, creativity, and negotiation.
  • Emotional skills: persuasion, emotional connection, body language, and dealing with vulnerability.

Of these eight skills, the Question Game focuses on thinking strategy and creativity, and aims to solidify the critical thinking thought pattern from an early age onwards.

Introducing The Question Game

Preparation: print out the figure in the illustration, cut it out and glue the tabs together to form a cube.

  1. One simple idea is to pick up your favorite illustrated fairy tale book–the kind of book you’d read a two-year-old for bedtime stories. (This also works with most fictional works; the natural ‘break point‘ for questions is at the end of a plot development or paragraph for older audiences.)
  2. On each page, roll the cube and answer the question together. I’ll bet you’d be surprised by what turns Little Red Riding Hood can take. And more importantly after a while you and your child will both start asking these questions reflexively.

Evaluating Learning Progress

My personal experience introducing the game to my two children (aged Pre-K) is a gradual acceptance of the game and associated learning goals:

  1. Initial excitement: Rolling the cube puts the child in control and made a fun addition to reading their picture books; they couldn’t wait for their turn to roll the cube.
  2. Distress: The questions are hard, especially when they aren’t used to this sort of thinking pattern and are accustomed to the ’teacher knows everything’ thinking pattern. Here, my children often asked if we could read ‚without the cube‘, or ‚I don’t want to roll, but ___ can roll and answer the question.’
  3. Acceptance: As they start to recognize that there isn’t a single correct answer, and they begin to understand what each question is trying to achieve, they begin to enjoy the game and insist that we read ‘with the cube‘.
  4. Application: During more abstract conversations, discussions, or observing how the children go about solving day-to-day problems during play. Example: a particular lego construction doesn’t quite work, even though it was‚ built according to instructions‘–and the child goes about investigating what is wrong and fixing it himself. Another example: When they ask me questions and I give them answers that obviously don’t make sense, I get more pointed questions than just ‘why?‘ as a response.

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