Friday, December 19, 2014

Assessment: How Much Is Necessary?

Jaimie Howe contributed today's thinking. To learn more, read Jaimie's post about education initiatives.

Three years ago our district did a huge overhaul of our elementary English language arts assessment system.   We wanted to align with the balanced assessment suggestions of the RtI model. We made sure we had a common screening and diagnostic assessment, as well as common formative assessment options documented for the entire district.  The diagnostic assessment we chose was the DRA2. Every K-5 teacher was trained and then required to assess all of their students in the fall, winter, and spring.  Although there was push back to begin with, the DRA came to be a “must have” to most teachers.  Having the DRA2 data strengthened our collaboration and instruction tremendously.

Fast forward to the present.  We now have PALS in grades K-2.  This test is considered a screener; yet, is also diagnostic and provides great information and reports.  With the gradual implementation of PALS to first kindergarten, then first grade, and now second grade, we have continued to keep the DRA2 as a requirement.  I have been struggling with the idea of whether or not the DRA2 is still necessary for ALL students, especially in first and second grade where an oral reading passage is a required component of PALS.  Do we need another one from the DRA2, too?  I still believe the DRA2 is extremely valuable, but teachers just do not have the time to assess all students on PALS AND all students on the DRA2.  Although the DRA2 gives us such great information, can we get most of that same information from PALS, our state required assessment?

I keep wondering if it will be more beneficial to take away the DRA2 or make it optional. If we required PALS in the winter (instead of DRA2), we would have three common data points with the same assessment - comparing apples to apples. Teachers would have more time for instruction because they aren’t spending so much time assessing.   Teachers could use the DRA2 for those students that were ID’d on PALS for more information if needed; however, I do feel that PALS offers enough information for us to pinpoint student needs and tailor our instruction accordingly.

Although there are so many great resources and assessments on the market, we can’t do or use them all.  It all comes back to quality and not quantity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Back to Basics

Julie Schwartzbauer contributed today's thinking. To understand more, begin with Julie's first post about her district's Back to Basics plan.

The district goal of the Back to Basics plan is for coaches to support teachers in deepening their understanding of the workshop framework, by refining their practices and developing expertise in the components of balanced literacy.

The coaching Professional Learning Community (PLC) meets bi-weekly each month and consists of building literacy coaches across the district. At each PLC the focus is on a pre-selected component of balanced literacy.  The focus on each component will last for approximately two months, or as needed, determined through observations and reflections on the initial goals and objectives.

During each coaching PLC the following questions are discussed…
  • How can we use our data and student work to guide our instruction in each component?
  • How can each component be used as a tool to reach student learning objectives/I Can Statements ?
  • What can I learn from my colleagues in this area?

Coaching PLC’s will focus on DuFour's essential questions…
  • What is it we want students to learn (standard, skill, I Can statement)?
  • What is your goal and how can this component help students learn?
  • How will we know when students have learned it?
  • What do we do for students who haven’t learned it?
  • What do we do for students who already know it?

Below, you will find a table displaying the coaching cycle for the Back to Basics plan.  In my next blog I will reflect on how our district uses the coaching continuum to differentiate for coaches across the district.

First PLC
Second PLC
Third PLC
Fourth PLC
PLC will establish a district goal on component.  What are our shared beliefs and understandings of the component?

PLC will dig deeper into several resources related to focus component.
Coaches will return to PLC with observations of instruction of focus component in their buildings.

Coaches will reflect on the following:
What made the instruction in the focus component good?
What did you notice about the teacher’s use of language, planning, instruction, etc.?
What did you notice about teacher/student interaction?

Coaches will develop a coaching plan for their building focusing on the component.
Discussion at PLC will focus on updates of coach’s plan.

District coaches will differentiate for coaches based on building and coaches need.

Coaches will reflect on the Coaching Continuum and their current placement in regards to coaching on the focus component.

Coaches will reflect on the component and set final goals for the next two weeks of coaching.
Final reflections on focus component, district goal and coaching plans.


  • Coaches will use the Coaching Continuum.
  • Coaches will observe teachers’ instruction in component area.
  • COaches will focus on student-centered learning.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sharing with Department Heads

Lisa Weiss contributed today's post. For more information, read Lisa's first post about her district's "laser-like focus on the intentional use of literacy in the service of our contents."

How does one go about sharing such a vision with high school department heads? Like all teaching: thoughtfully and intentionally. It is a common practice for department head retreat to be held each summer. This year I was given the better part of a day to share the thinking behind a number of literacy-related items.

A number of years ago I was a literacy coach at one of the high schools, so I feel as though, because I had relationships with many of the department heads at that school, and some successful coaching and professional development experiences behind me there, I’d have a somewhat receptive audience. On the flip side of that sun-shiny thinking is the realist in me--the part of me that fully understands that the topic of literacy is not one that all will embrace--even if they respect or like me, and...I had another set of department heads who never heard my name, didn’t know my agenda, how I operate as a literacy coach, nor as a literacy coordinator!

I admit, I was nervous, because I had all kinds of information that was going to be new thinking for the group, and the level of receptivity was going to vary, but I also felt confident because my plan was solid, simple, and one that I thought would be appealing to most teachers. The agenda for the day included starting with a self-reflective set of questions that had the department heads thinking about how often they want and/or require their students to be engaged in literacy processes.

After that short, but powerful activity, I got the group moving and thinking more about the kinds of literacy that are used in their individual content courses by engaging them in a carousel brainstorm. I split the group of 40-45 teachers and administrators into six different groups, each group representing one of the six literacy processes: reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and graphically representing. Each group had an opportunity to think and write, for approximately 5 minutes, about how they engaged kids in each one of the literacy processes, and then, with the walls full of ideas surrounding us,  we debriefed the process, which led to a working definition of what is meant by disciplinary literacy--what it is, and what it is not.

Here are some of the disciplinary literacy talking points we discussed:
  • Something you already are doing--it was important to the administrators for me to continually show the department heads, throughout the day, how they are already engaging kids in literacy processes, so it did not feel as this is, yet another, entirely new initiative.
  • Something we will work to do systematically, consistently, and with intentionality. It was clear from the carousel brainstorm that our students are using literacy processes in content courses, but now, as teachers, we are going to think about engaging students in these processes frequently, with purpose, and supporting students with this work.
  • Something we require of students because “using literacy in the service of your content” is how we help students to process your content goals. (Doug Buehl)
  • You are not being asked to teach English for the ELA teachers, or to “help out” the ELA teachers. We discussed how the writing of a lab conclusion differs from writing a character analysis, and how that differs from a cause and effect paper, and how that differs from a reflection on a performance, so that the point was that you model and teach students how to write in your class so your expectations are made visible, so that kids see you muddle through the messy work of modeling writing, and so that students see how the kind of writing you are asking for is different and similar to what they write in ELA. It’s about effective communication of your course content via literacy processes!
  • You are not being asked to ditch your content so that kids can start reading novels or writing essays in place of your content. An example was that if you teach physical education, you are still going to require students to participate in the physical activity your content standards require, however, the writing you could engage kids in is of a reflective nature, using the data from food and exercise logs to reflect upon goals being met (or not), and setting new goals. We are not asking for radical changes in your curriculum, just thoughtful ones that require your students to make sense of content while using literacy as the processing tool!

Next post: Other highlights from the department head retreat, and the rest of the agenda

Friday, December 12, 2014

Materials from Face-to-Face Meeting

The following materials were used at the December 12, 2014, face-to-face meeting of the Statewide Literacy Coach Network.

Introductory PowerPoint
Questions from Table Discussions
Handouts from Coaching Demonstration and Practice

Google+: Our Online PLC

The Literacy Booth blog is a place to go to read in-depth thinking and reflection from some of Wisconsin's outstanding literacy coaches. You can respond to posts by sharing your thinking in the comments. You can copy the link to posts and share on social media (such as Facebook or Twitter).

But, there is another way to communicate with other literacy coaches in Wisconsin - the Wisconsin Literacy Coach Google+ Community.

The community is a place where anyone can ask a question or share a resource. Possible topics include:

  • I just found this really great article. You should read it! (including a link to the article)
  • Who knows something about ___________? (insert name of resource your district is considering)
  • I just finished reading __________. It would make a great mentor text for __________.
  • I'm signed up to attend ________________. Who is interested in coming with me? (including a link to the registration information)

Step 1. Get on Google+. You can sign in with any Google account. There are detailed directions in this document.

Step 2. Join the community. Use this link to find the community or search for "WI DPI LITERACY COACHES PLC" in Google +. Select "Communities" within the search results.

Step 3. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Share a resource. Say something.

Step 4. Check back regularly. You can sign up for notifications (to receive information in your email about what is being shared), or you can regularly visit Google+ to see what is new in the community.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Secret of Change

Today's post is contributed by Andrea Reichenberger.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. Socrates

In additional to all we do as literacy leaders and coaches, there is one very important aspect of our job that I fear we often overlook--taking the time to reflect on how far we’ve actually come on this spectrum of change. We are in an era in education in which we are asked to make many changes and to make them quickly. Change is difficult and with it usually comes a whole slew of issues that need to be handled delicately. In order to keep my own sanity and to help protect the sanity of our teachers,  I decided I needed to take notice of the elements that weren’t in place in our school three years ago and ask, have we made any change?

Classroom libraries were a rarity. Now, several have been developed or revamped with modern and engaging young adult literature from a variety of genres including nonfiction and magazines.  We have steered away from the whole class novel, developed themes and purchased a wide variety of texts that align to those themes. Word walls and anchor charts are not only posted, but also referenced throughout the lessons.  There are more tables and less desks, but the desks that still linger are grouped into pods.  Students are provided the time and guided to have conversations using academic language.  Teachers are setting a purpose for learning,  they are modeling their thinking, and they are using formative assessments to drive their instruction.  We are becoming more student centered and less teacher centered. We are making change.

Recently I was in a classroom and I asked the teacher what she thought was going well in her classroom. She didn’t hesitate when she answered, “the classroom environment.” She went on to specify that it was the group interaction which has improved because she has added consistency to the process, yet she also  included a component that adds variety.  She created three different grouping scenarios and has named each of them. (One of the groupings is purposely organized by mixed ability level and the others are random.) She writes the grouping on the whiteboard so when the student enter the room, they know where to sit. Tomorrow they might be in their “This Is How We Do It” group and the next day they may be directed to gather in their “Everything is Awesome” group.

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked this teacher to reflect on how her instruction has changed over the past three years and she confided,  “I am more conscious of how they (the students) need to learn rather than just the content. I focus on the goal I want them to achieve by the end of the class and I plan the activities to match them. I feel my students are learning more now than they ever have.”

Yes, we have definitely made change!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Bit Like Bungee Jumping

Today's post was contributed by Lisa Weiss.

I am excited and terrified about this year! I have a literacy-focused professional development plan in place for all 6-12 teachers, which I am certain, explains the previous sentence. I’m anxious, in a good way, to see what results from everybody pulling in the same direction, but I am also biting my nails, anticipating what will be challenging for teachers! My blogging plan for the year is to document the good, the bad, and perhaps a few happy accidents, of our laser-like focus on the intentional use of literacy in the service of our contents. Love that phrase...thanks Doug Buehl!

First things first. For a variety of reasons, I wanted to move away from focusing our school improvement goals on reading. The assessment we use as a screening tool is not sensitive enough to measure the incremental growth we are looking for, and at times I think we oversimplify what it means to have a reading focus. In worst-case scenarios we hear things like, It’s not my job to teach them to read, or I assign reading, so I’ve done my part for the school improvement goal. If only it were that easy!

In moving toward a focus on writing, I can:
  • set teachers up to elicit meaningful writing from students in their contents
  • model how to model the writing we hope for in our content areas, using the gradual release of responsibility
  • facilitate sessions where our purpose is to study student writing
  • show teachers how to identify strengths in writing, and give feedback that continues to challenge our proficient writers
  • demonstrate how to coach students through the areas of writing that are not yet meeting the standards, and
  • show the connection between the reciprocal processes of reading and writing, and how we can assess reading through writing!

The original plan was to make sure that each 6-12 building had a minimum of one  literacy-focused professional development session each month, and that is how the plan worked out at the middle schools. The high schools are a different story; the principals had an even more ambitious vision for the frequency of literacy-focused learning sessions! There are  three literacy-focused professional development sessions each month, beginning in November. With dates identified, I was ready to move to the next step: sharing the thinking and the year-long plan (and how this professional development ties to the school improvement goals, and could tie to SLO’s), with the department heads.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Let's Get Back to Basics

Today's post is contributed by Julie Schwartzbauer.

Here we are, another school year off to a great start!  I am very excited to share this year’s coaching plan for my school district. Before I do that, I would like to share some background information on how the coaching plan for my district was created.

Three years ago my school district fully implemented the use of balanced literacy within the workshop model.  Some of the teachers in the district had been “doing” balanced literacy for years and for other teachers, balanced literacy was brand new.  With having 16 elementary schools in the district, I have had the opportunity to observe in many different classrooms.  I have found varying levels of expertise in delivering the components of balanced literacy.

However, I struggled to find one component of balanced literacy that was strong across the district.

As I was reflecting last May on the 2013/2014 school year with my colleague, we decided that we needed to go “Back to Basics.”  What this meant was that we would create a plan for building Literacy Coaches to implement with consistency across the district.  We would select 4 to 5 components of balanced literacy to focus on for the 2014/2015 school year and create a coaching cycle for our building coaches.  

We knew that our biggest hurdle would be to get everyone on board, including the principals.  I am including a document that shows how my district interprets balanced literacy within the workshop model.  I have highlighted the areas of focus for the 2014/2015 school year.  In my next post, I will share the coaching cycle for the “Back to Basics” plan.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Implementing Comprehension Focus Groups at the Middle School Level

Today's post was contributed by Heather Zimmerman.

My role as a literacy coach changed a bit this year.  Instead of coaching at two middle school buildings, I am only at one building.  Yay!  But my new role involves both coaching and teaching two of our literacy skills focused classes.  One of these classes is at the seventh grade level, and the other class is at the eighth grade level.  I also push into a sixth grade classroom to work with struggling readers.  With the shift in my role, I am trying to learn how to balance both of these worlds. It is a difficult task to find the time to give 100% to both positions.  I am sure many of you can also relate to the feeling of knowing what is best for kids now as a reading specialist and feeling the need to be able to accomplish this on a daily basis with my students from amazing lesson plans to data analysis.

I was debating if I wanted to talk coaching or teaching, and I decided to go the teaching route.  I know literacy coaches have very different roles and some might appreciate my thoughts, either as a teacher or as a coach working with teachers.

This summer the grades 6-12 literacy coaches in my district went to a training by Carla Soffos on Comprehension Focus Groups (CFG).  This would be the set-up for our literacy skills classes. Besides reading a little blurb on CFG in Interventions that Work, I knew very little about CFG.  After the training my colleagues and I quickly started talking about how this might look at the 6-12 level. Besides collaborating with colleagues, the internet is usually my best friend when it comes to planning. From what I found though, there is very little out there on CFG at the secondary level.  I hope to share with you my journey this year with CFG.  I hope this provides a starting point for you, ideas to possibly implement, thoughts to think about, or probably some mistakes to avoid that I learned from.

I knew I wanted to use Notice and Note as a resource and implement Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s signposts.  Since I read that book last year I was looking forward to working with teachers in using the signposts in their own classrooms.  I decided to teach all of the signposts first.  I was wondering if this was too much for my students.  I also was learning with the students, which was helpful and exciting as we started pulling out our first signposts together.  I liked that I taught all the signposts at first because it gave them many different options to look for.  It was also helpful because then the next day they could look for the signposts in their choice books, and I had time to do beginning of the year assessing.  (Of course we took some time establishing routines to make this successful.)  Studying the signposts also gave me insight on various mini-lessons I wanted to start with including theme, plot, and point of view.  I had to reassure my students that we would continue practicing the signposts and they would be easier to spot.  As we entered the first CFG my students were starting to find the signposts on their own.  I still go back and forth if I would teach all the signposts at once, but I feel the process is allowing for success in different ways.  I was able to finish testing by allowing them time to dive into their choice books and practice finding signposts, and students are now having time to work on finding the signpost and digging into the anchor questions. After looking at the advantages and disadvantages, I plan on keeping this part the same for next year.

In my next blog post, I will dive deeper into the first CFG.  After spending weeks looking for texts, I hope you will find some of my ideas helpful!  

Monday, December 1, 2014

What Are You Reading: December 2014

1. Data Wise. Jamie says - The RtI Lead Team in my building is reading this book together to help better our school improvement planning.  It offers a pretty laid out process to use for using assessment and classroom data to enhance conversations and improve the teaching and learning in our building.

2. Thrive. Diane says -  This book is from the business world. Ariana Huffington is one of the co-founders of the Huffington Press.  The content is a twist of how she as a woman in business was trying to do everything to become a success when she reached the point  to say there has got to be more than 80 hour weeks.  The book is a redefining of what it means for success in a woman’s life and creating a life of well being, wisdom and wonder. 

3. The Mysterious Benedict Society. Diane says - This one is a young adult novel. If you like Harry Potter you may find this series has a similar sense of discovery and excitement.  This book has a great story line of four children who are gifted and intelligent in their own ways who take a special test to get into the mysterious society.  It is packed with mysteries, puzzles, word play, and problem solving around every corner.

4. Open Mic. Barb says - This is the January 2015 selection for Read On Wisconsin. It includes nine short stories and one long poem about teens living between cultures. The introduction includes guidelines for using humor to talk about race, but my favorite selection was Naomi Shahib Nye's "Lexicon." Open Mic is a quick read that could yield a short story or two for use in classrooms.

5. Mind in Society. Barb says - Yes. I'm reading Vygotsky. It was an assignment for a class about sociocultural literacy. Scaffolding and zone of proximal development are important parts of what I believe about working with learners. It was interesting to read about the theory from the original source.

6. The Formative Assessment Action Plan. Bobbi is reading this book about creating practical formative assessments.

7. Rock and the River. Heather is reading this young adult novel.

8. Student-Centered Coaching. Julie is reading this.

9. Read, Write, Lead. Lisa says - This is a book about "literacy and leadership; ...about hope, learning energy, and possibilities; ...about effective literacy practices and becoming literate; ...about how good teachers become remarkable teachers; ...about effective leadership practices; ...about how dedicated principals can become outstanding instructional leaders; ...about stories, struggles, solutions, and strategies; ...about the joy in teaching and learning."

10. Rigorous Reading. Carrie says - I'm using this book to review close reading strategies and techniques. This tool provides some of the best resources for both close reading newbies, as well as seasoned close readers looking for ways to get students to dig a little deeper!

11. TDQ. Andrea is reading this.

12. "Connect, Then Lead" - Heather is reading this article.

Use the comments to continue the conversation by telling us what you're reading.