Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Acronym Intersection: CRP and S&L

Laura Adams, literacy consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, contributed today's post.

Professionally, this school year has been about two things for me: speaking and listening and culturally responsive practices. These areas have been the focus of my professional learning and, consequently, the focus of professionally co-developed resources. As I reflect on my journeys in these areas (which, like any area of professional growth, are on-going), I think about the places that these areas intersect.

I like intersections because I think that’s where meaningful learning and growth take place. Think about the intersection between reading and writing, or coaching and teaching, or teaching and learning, and at the point (or points) where those two things meet, you’ll find new ideas and great a-ha moments that lead to new ways of thinking and doing.

So here are my reflections about the intersection of speaking and listening and culturally responsive practices.

I speak and listen differently when I’m in different groups (immediate family, extended family, friends, literacy colleagues, colleagues in education, professional organizations, church groups, etc.) because each group has different ways of speaking and listening. This is probably not a new idea to you, my literacy-minded reader, but then I started to think about how I learned what speaking and listening behaviors were appropriate in the different groups I belong to. While I was growing up, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on the speaking and listening practices that occurred around the dinner table of my immediate family. My Dad was the authority. We listened to him speak and responded when called upon. He would ask follow-up questions or give directions about who was to complete which household chore before the next dinner time. So, in other words, the speaking and listening practices that I learned around the family dinner table set me up for success in school.

And then I started to think: What if they hadn’t? What if the speaking and listening behaviors so valued in my immediate family, critical for me to understand in order to connect with and relate to those people I was sharing space with day to day, were different from those behaviors valued in a school setting? Would I have learned those academic speaking and listening behaviors? Would I still have relied on observation to teach me how to speak and listen in other groups? Would I have been able to navigate back and forth between those worlds? Would I have graduated as an honor roll student? Would I have received that university scholarship? Would I be where I am today?

And, if that had been the case, how could my teachers have helped me to achieve academic success?

First, I would have needed my teachers to accept and respect me as I was versus being told that my speaking and listening behaviors were wrong. Second, I would have needed lots of modeling and for my teachers to reveal their thinking about how they said things or why they said things the way that they did. Third, I would have needed lots of guided practice in academic speaking and listening. Fourth, I would have needed that practice to be engaging and meaningful; for it to be applied to a specific situation or context that I could care about.

So what about you, my literacy-minded reader? What speaking and listening behaviors are valued in your groups? How did you learn them? What did you need to achieve academic success? And what can you do tomorrow to support ALL your students?

Monday, April 27, 2015

What Do You Do When You're Overwhelmed?

Bobbi Campbell contributed today's post. More of Bobbi's thinking can be found here.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed?  I have an interesting coping mechanism for this...avoid, avoid, avoid, until it is impossible to ignore the mountain of work seeping through every crack and orifice, extending out at least 3 feet.  Sometimes the workload is self-imposed; sometimes it is because of the choices I have made (working full-time with a 75 minute commute, mother of three...yada, yada, yada, yada) and mostly, it is due to the demands of being an educator - I know anyone reading this blog...are you out there bloggess?, knows exactly what I am talking about. Plain and simply, the demands can make one question education as a career choice.  But this blog is not about questioning your choice, because we all know we are in education for a myriad of reasons, mostly centering on making a difference in a child’s education.  This blog is about taking care of yourself, so that you CAN take care of the education of children.

Lately, our district focus has been on the following agenda items:
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility
  • Equity Traps
  • Growth Mindset
  • Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Practices
  • Focus Standards: W1, W5,W10, SL6, R1, L6, R10

While the areas of focus are extremely important, none of it matters if you are stressed, overwhelmed and unsupported.  I can hear your questions now…”This is our job, we have to learn, do, pay attention to all of these agenda items!” - yes, you do, but first we need to practice self-care so that we can be more efficient, more focused, more open to learn new things and try them, and gosh darn it, happier.  

The following list of self-care or sanity savers are not prescriptive, or necessarily healthy for you, but they work for me.

  • Force yourself to exercise. I personally get up at 4:30 to get the darn thing out of the way.
    • Choose yoga if you know you will be in meetings all day.
    • Kickboxing if you know you will be working with difficult people.
    • Tae Kwon Do if you know you will be working with someone higher up on the food chain
    • Weights if you have to present in front of a large audience (you may sweat and have to take off your jacket, showing your arms, hence the weights).
  • Phone a friend who will make you laugh.
  • Keep positive notes, letters, emails handy and retrieve them when you need some cheer.
  • Go to your favorite takeout place and get dinner for the entire family.
  • Open up an expensive (my expensive bottle is probably not your expensive) $12.00 bottle of wine and have, not just one glass, but two!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Stop at T.J. Maxx on the way home and purchase a small pick-me-up item.  Nothing major, just a little treat!
  • Journal. Put it away. Take out journal and read it. Write back to yourself.
  • Step outside and look up to the sky.  Take a deep breath and stretch  your arms, reaching towards the sky.
  • Hug your loved ones.
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep, no matter what tasks will be left undone.
  • Paint your toes.
  • Read a trashy novel, followed by something of quality.
  • Repeat to yourself: you did your best, forget the rest.

So, if you want to be a happier, more productive employee, take care of yourself by practicing self-care.  Your colleagues and the kids will appreciate it!

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Research Conundrum

Marci Glaus, English language arts consultant, at WI DPI, contributed today's post.

There are several places we go as educators to find research in support of teaching practices. One tool educators use to support their practice is professional books. While many of these professional books are not entire volumes on research the author/s conducted, there is value in learning from them as leaders in the field, along with the research that they cite in support of the purpose of the book. The focus for this blog post stems from an interesting experience I had with a professional book while searching for appropriate research for a project I have been working on about teaching writing.

I have been gathering information specifically related to characteristics of effective writing instruction and I became excited when I was reading a chapter in Routman’s (2014) Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success, because of the following statement and citation: “Not only that, but thinking out loud and writing in front of our students is the number one strategy for improving students’ writing57” (p. 112). This statement was like a gift especially wrapped for me, because I assumed it meant that someone else did the work for me when it came to gathering the research related to writing in front of students, and all I had to do was cross-reference the endnote from the book to get it. I flipped to the endnotes section and quickly found out that she was citing another favorite in the field, Kelly Gallagher. I wasn’t expecting this, but located his book Write Like This (2011) from my shelf and turned to the page cited in Routman’s endnotes. What I found was a conundrum.  

Like I said, based on Routman’s broad statement about a particular strategy being the number one strategy to improve student writing, I assumed that I would be led a meta-analysis on several research studies, or a large-scale research study. Instead, I was led to the following statement from Gallagher’s book: “This bears repeating: of all the strategies I have learned in my twenty-five years of teaching, no strategy improves my students’ writing more than having my students watch and listen to me as I write and think aloud” (p. 15) (emphasis original). While I admire and respect Kelly Gallagher as an authority in the field and a great writing teacher based on his experiences with the National Writing Project and as a leader, I was not convinced that all of this fit with Routman’s blanket statement. One person’s professional observations and evidence from classroom experience did not align with what I thought I would find as support for such a broad proclamation. Even though I agree with him, and even though I have experienced the same results myself as an English teacher after writing in front of my students as a teaching tool, I wondered, is this enough? Can I re-state that the number one strategy for improving students’ writing is to write in front of your students in this context?

After having this uncomfortable conversation with myself, I decided that it would not be responsible to promote the same statement in the work that I am doing. However, I am not abandoning the idea that writing and talking about it in front of students is a great strategy. So, I moved back into the digging that we just have to do in order to locate the research support that is needed in the field. Stay tuned!

Gallagher, K. (2011). Write like this: Teaching real-world writing through modeling mentor texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, write, lead: Breakthrough strategies for schoolwide literacy success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

History of Literacy Coaching: Linking Past with Present

Diane Jenquin contributed today's post. Read more of Diane's thinking about literacy coaching in her previous posts.

Our work as literacy coaches is grounded in a history of 36 years of research.

Literacy coaching was established in the early 1990s as an all-inclusive reform program designed to improve children’s reading, writing, and language skills through embedded professional development.  According to Lyon and Pinnell (2001), the literacy coach, through observation and co-learning, helps the teacher see beyond what is in the classroom to what can improve it and helps the teacher to expand their knowledge base by becoming an ongoing learner, while offering support and encouragement as needed.

The idea of literacy coaching has been documented with research done by Bean (1978). The concept was molded out of the up-springing response to raging criticism of schools after World War II to create specialists that work with small groups, individuals, and teachers to close the gap in the student achievement as a remedial model. Stauffer (1967), however, described this remedial role as a “ bottomless pit.” The concept somehow took a turn to allocating trained specialist and expertise in their areas and utilizing them in only one capacity, that being remediation.  Although the reading specialist was planted in schools as a remediation specialist and consultant, the passing of the 1965 ESEA Act, which provided funding for reading specialists, resulted in reading specialists only working toward pulling out targeted, poverty students.  They were to be a supplemental provider moreover, not being able to demonstrate their expertise with classroom teachers as a consultant.  With the release of the 1980, “A Nation at Risk” the reading specialist role transitioned into more of a teacher mentor and consultant, with a small amount of student remediation.

Learning theories such as the one presented by Vygostky (1978), suggest that individuals learn best when given the opportunity to discuss, reflect, observe,  practice, and apply new learning with others, allow for new ideas to be absorbed.  Further research proposes that the transfer of ideas from the traditional professional development model of one shot workshops is not effective in changing teaching behaviors/practices. Embedded professional development was sparked by the accountability component in No Child Left Behind. This act moved the direction to providing teachers instruction from coaches or mentors to improve instructional practices for the purpose of enhancing student learning. Job embedded professional development can be geared to the specific needs of the teacher and works on concepts more than once, therefore moving to the transfer in their teaching.Thirty years of research grounded in the reading theories of Marie Clay (1979, 1991, and 2004) and Fountas and Pinnell (1996) paved the way to carrying the role of the reading specialist one step farther to the reading coach.

Recently released  are the results of a national survey published in Literacy Research and Instruction (2014) where Rita Bean et al. compares the original research to what is happening currently in the world of literacy leaders.  Take a look at it and compare. 

To link to this article:
Bean, R.M., Kern, D., Goatley, V., Ortlieb, E., Shettel, J., Calo, K., . . . Cassidy, J. (2015). Specialized literacy professionals as literacy leaders: results of a national survey. Literacy Research and Instruction, 54: 2, 83 - 114, DOI: 10.1080/19388071.2014.998355

Monday, April 20, 2015

Utilizing Leadership Strengths for More Effective Coaching

Carrie Sand contributed today's post. Read Carrie's previous posts here.

Recently, I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder personality assessment to learn more about my strengths as a leader. The results were not shocking nor did it really tell me something that I didn’t already know. I thrive on competition: well, I was a college athlete. I like discipline and order: yes, my classroom is centered around routines and procedures and my work station looks like the inside of a filing cabinet. I love work that is significant and fulfills my passion: obviously, I am a teacher. 

According to this assessment, each strength falls under one of the four themes: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Here’s what did shock me….I have traits that are strong in each one of these themes except relationship building. My first thought...What?!? How can I be an effective literacy coach without strengths in what seems to be at the core of coaching: building relationships. It took a bit of reflection on these results to determine how I can use this knowledge to better myself as a coach and an educator. After this reflection, I decided that the knowledge is actually quite useful to me as a coach.
First, by knowing more about my own leadership strengths I am better equipped torecognize different leadership styles in others. This is a benefit to me because not only can I use my own talents and skills to better work with individuals and teams, but additionally, I can assess and utilize others’ strengths and skills for the good of the team. Also, I am able to tailor my approach to best meet the needs of the individual or team I am working with when I am able to recognize their strengths. If acted upon correctly, this knowledge can produce better conversations, better bonds, and better results for a coach.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, by knowing what my own leadership strengths are, I am better able to seek out and find the kind of people I need on my team to help “round me out” as a coach. These are people who fill in the holes of my personality. Often people tend to surround themselves, especially professionally, with others who have similar personalities to their own. As a coach, I have to surround myself with all types of personalities. By allowing other people's strengths to fill in and build up my respective strengths, I am a better coach. By surrounding myself with those most unlike me, I can be a more well rounded leader.
After going back and looking at my own results, I realize that my strengths serve me well as a coach: I push people by using positive reinforcement; I set high standards and help others recognize hidden talents to reach those standards; I value honesty, integrity, and emulate those qualities through a commitment and passion for my practice.  How can I become better? By finding those empathizers who help me to hear all voices and viewpoints and includers who find ways to get all on board and share their feelings. I learned more about these ideas from the book Strength Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. I would encourage all coaches to think about their skills as a leader and how to best utilize those skills to be an effective coach.

Friday, April 17, 2015

What Made Me a Reader?

I recently started a professional learning session by asking my colleagues to write about how they learned to read. Of course, I wrote with them. 

I wrote a fast and furious list of words and phrases to represent specific memories. Then, I reviewed the list to see if there was a common theme.

There was definitely a common theme, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit what it was.

Extrinsic rewards were a positive part of my development as a reader.

Book It. Winning a writing contest. Participating in the summer reading program at the public library. Almost winning the third grade spelling bee (I still hold a grudge against p-r-a-i-r-i-e.) Battle of the Books. 

Extrinsic rewards were a big part of my memories of learning to read. At first, this made me completely panic. It doesn't take much of a Google search to find information about how extrinsic rewards do not lead to joyful lifelong reading. Extrinsic rewards are not something research would say creates readers.

So, why were extrinsic rewards so important to me? And, why do I love to read even as an adult despite being "bribed" with external rewards?

Maybe it's because I was a reader before the extrinsic rewards. The rewards were just a bonus for doing something I already loved.

Maybe it's because I was a proficient reader. Reading-related rewards were not embarrassing or shameful for me because I always received one.

Maybe it's because my family didn't live in poverty. We could go to eat at Pizza Hut monthly; I cashed in my coupon for a free pan pizza, and my family bought pizza for themselves.

Maybe it's because some of the rewards were also paired with social activities and collaboration. I didn't just win a writing contest; my family members wanted to talk to me about my award and wanted to hear me read my writing.

What started as a quick writing activity led to lots of thinking and reflection resulting in this conclusion:

I don't need to panic about the significant role extrinsic rewards played in my development as a reader. It wasn't extrinsic rewards that made me a reader. I was already a reader; the extrinsic rewards were just an extra benefit. However, the extra benefit that was fun for me could be devastating for another child - a child who struggles with reading, a child who lives in poverty, a child whose parents or family don't yet know how to support their literacy development.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Back to Basics

Julie Schwartzbauer contributed today's post. Read Julie's previous posts to understand more about her district's Back to Basics plan.

After implementing the roll-out of our first back to basics component, building coaches returned to the coaching PLC  with the message that teachers were apprehensive when it came to opening up their classroom doors to be observed.  They felt like the coach and/or principal was there to evaluate them, not learn with them.  We wanted teachers to understand that the main objective of the Back to Basics plan was to develop a coaching model that would help teachers develop consistency in universal instruction in literacy across the school district through a workshop framework.  In order to develop consistency, we needed to see inside classrooms.  We also wanted teachers to understand that the visits were meant to be student centered.  The focus was on how the student was responding to the teaching.  

As a way to make teachers more comfortable with the visits, we decided to provide some frontloading of information surrounding the shared beliefs of the Back to Basics components.  There was a small group of coaches who stepped up to plan and share what a roll out would look like.  The building Coaches were given the flexibility to roll out the Back to Basics components in the following ways; during late start, at grade level PLCs, during lunch, and/or before or after school. The nonnegotiable was that every teacher must be part of the roll out.  

Throughout the roll out of Back to Basics it was extremely important for our coaches, principals  and teachers to understand that the work of strengthening universal instruction through Back to Basics was ongoing.  Although we were focussing on one component at a time to develop our shared beliefs within our Coaching PLC, the work that coaches do in their buildings takes place throughout the year.  

My next post will explain how we developed a survey to look at the Back to Basics data.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Comprehension Focus Groups: A theme focus - "Overcoming Obstacles"

Heather Zimmerman contributed today's post. More about Heather's work implementing comprehension focus groups in middle school can be found here.

I wanted to work in the theme “Overcoming Obstacles” for one of my Comprehension Focus Groups (CFG) at some point during the year.  Third quarter worked out to be a great time to work in this CFG.  After a CFG focusing strictly on informational texts, working in a few fiction texts was welcomed.  I also had a CFG lesson shared with me by one of my colleagues, Norah Olig.  The texts in this lesson were thanks to her!

After working with my students during the last CFG, I noticed they were still struggling with author’s structure.  I decided to incorporate in my graphic organizer two components that focused on this.  One area focused on the words the author chose and the other area focused on the title of the text.  I also went back to some of the important components we worked on from first quarter: theme, conflict, Beers and Probst’s signposts, and point of view.

I have been very pleased with my students’ progress and hard work.  We are currently in the writing phase and they are passionately writing their texts about obstacles from their own life.  They are working on word choice, adding a theme, and focusing on adding a signpost. I am proud of how much I have seen each of them grow as readers and writers so far this year.

Here is an overview of my first CFG:  

Friday, April 10, 2015

(Mathematical) Fluency

Ken Davis, mathematics consultant at Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction, contributed today's post.

The impetus for me writing this actually didn't come from a mathematical situation, but from a reading one.  I was having a discussion with one of my children about reading.  His concern was that he was reading slowly, especially when compared to others in his class. I'm not sure what data he was pulling in order to come to this conclusion or what he was using to measure how he stacked up to his peers, but my fear was that he was equating his reading ability to how fast he could read.  

I calmed his anxiety by telling him that his dad was not a fast reader either.  In order for me to read and read well, I have to use a highlighter or pen and track as I am reading.  I move across and down the page a little slower, but I understand or comprehend everything I read and seldom do I have to reread.  I asked him, "How do you feel as you are reading? Do you understand what you are reading?" He assured me that he is understanding what he is reading, but just feels as if he is going slow.  

It's ironic that about at this same time one of the chat groups that I belong to began to discuss mathematical fluency and the fact that mathematical fluency doesn't equal speed. In fact, many in this group spoke out against the idea of using timed-tests and memorization to teach mathematics because many students equate speed with being a "good" math student.

This can be damaging for students in two ways. First, it is discouraging for the student who is unable to reach the target of 20 problems in 60 seconds or whatever the objective of the timed-test may be. Some students are just not going to be able to work at a faster speed.  I turned 50 last year, (scary thought in and of itself) and still would not consider myself a fast reader, but do I have command of the English language?  I would like to think that I do. Second, are we setting up the student later for failure when they can answer the 20 problems in 60 seconds, but have no understanding of how they got the answer? Consider this scenario. We teach a student that to multiply by ten, simply add a zero on the end of a number. We give this student a timed-test that includes multiplication by 10 and the students gets them all correct in the specified amount of time.  The student (and parent) now have the sense that the student can multiply by ten.  Now, the student encounters this problem 3.14 times 10. The answer is not 3.140, but the student has no understanding of what it means to multiply by ten because they were not taught the concept of multiplying by ten, but rather a quick method of memorizing that did not teach number sense.

In an article from 2012, Linda Gojak, then National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) president, pointed out that in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics  it states that “Computational fluency refers to having efficient and accurate methods for computing. Students exhibit computational fluency when they demonstrate flexibility in the computational methods they choose, understand and can explain these methods, and produce accurate answers efficiently. The computational methods that a student uses should be based on mathematical ideas that the student understands well, including the structure of the base-ten number system, properties of multiplication and division, and number relationships” (p. 152).  The article doesn't mention that fluency is equivalent to speed.

In another article, Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford states: "Mathematics facts are important but the memorization of math facts through times table repetition, practice and timed testing is unnecessary and damaging...It is useful to hold some math facts in memory. I don’t stop and think about the answer to 8 plus 4, because I know that math fact. But I learned math facts through using them in different mathematical situations, not by practicing them and being tested on them."  

For me, if we do equate fluency with speed, then how do we measure it? 20 problems in 1 minute or 45 problems in 2 minutes? How do we place time on fact fluency and say that "this" rate is proficient?  Let's begin by teaching students an understanding of mathematics; let's build their number sense.  Isn't this really what's important? Students should truly understand and appreciate the mathematics and are not just concentrate on being the fastest in the class.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Model, Model, Model

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

Wanting to play off of the positive energy that our fall professional learning generated, I wanted the next steps of our professional development to show 6-12 teachers what modeling writing looked like in their content areas.

I invited all the stellar 6-12 Fox Valley Writing Project teachers I know to demonstrate the gradual release of responsibility when modeling writing on December 10th. My plan was to have every content teacher view a model, using the gradual release of responsibility, of writing by a Writing Project teacher who teaches that content. For example, I invited my friend David, a biology teacher, to model writing to the high school science teachers.

I plan, and God laughs. Naturally, that was not quite how things worked out. I ended up having to group some of the contents with smaller numbers of teachers together, because I could not get enough teachers to model in the elective classes. The groupings can be found at the bottom of the agenda (link) if you are interested in seeing how I grouped teachers.

Each FVWP demonstrator was partnered with an OASD facilitator, who was either a literacy coach or a principal. The agenda was set so that the OASD facilitator had the responsibility of setting the goal for the afternoon, introducing the demonstrator, leading teachers through the guide for how to prepare for a writing demonstration, and getting feedback on the session. The FVWP demonstrator was responsible for engaging the OASD teachers in writing and the gradual release.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The high school science teachers really appreciated what David had shown them. One of the science teachers told me that this was the best collaboration she had ever been a part of in her 20 years in the district; another went to his principal and showed her how he was going to recreate his lesson plan for the following day, emulating what he saw David model! Impressive. Most people left the professional development session with a clear understanding of what modeling writing looked like in their contents.

Next came the tricky part--consistently building the modeling of writing into practice.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Teaching to the Test

Andrea Reichenberger contributed today's post. More of Andrea's thinking can be found here.

Standardized testing is a topic that weighs heavily on all of our minds as coaches, teachers, administrators, parents, and students this time of year.  Ultimately, the testing is required whether we agree with it or not, but it does trigger interesting discussions about the idea of “teaching to the test.” When I hear this phrase, I often react negatively and have to refrain from screaming, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” But the more rational side of me forces me to ask, what does “teaching to the test”  mean, or rather, what should it mean in 2015? How can we change the narrative?  I recently “attended” Jim Burke’s online webinar sponsored by Corwin Press entitled: When Is It Best to Teach to the Test? One of the ideas I loved about this webinar (and I loved several) was Mr. Burke’s creation of a new definition for “teaching to the test.”

(Forgive me Mr. Burke, as I have stolen the important points straight from your slides.)

Burke reiterates that we need to prepare our students for assessments such as the Badger Exam, ASPIRE/ACT, AP Exams, etc without interrupting our daily instruction. We do this by focusing on the skills our students need as a result of the shifts in the standards that these assessment align to including:  close reading, using text based evidence to support their thinking, writing from sources, using academic language, increasing text complexity, focusing on the  importance of argument and a greater emphasis on nonfiction and literacy in other disciplines. Since this is the case, and since we are shifting our definition, Burke reminds us that we should ALL be collectively “teaching to the test” and therefore need to be intentional when choosing and/or creating:

  • Texts
  • Topics
  • Tasks
  • Tests
  • Technology
  • Techniques

Mr. Burke summarizes it best when he states, “Students learn best when assessment and preparations for tests are integrated into our daily instruction as a means of enriching and extending that instruction.” I agree. Thank you for changing the narrative for all of us. Spread the good word, my friends!

Please see page 4 of the link from Burke’s English Companion handouts for using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Model. If you have an hour to spare, you can access the archived webinar here.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Preparing for the Badger: Finding the Positive

Jaimie Howe contributed today's post. More of Jaimie's thinking can be found here.

I’m sure we all see and hear about the controversy associated with state testing and specifically this year in Wisconsin with the new Badger Exam.  The controversy that accompanies this assessment and the decisions that are made regarding the Badger exam our pretty much out of our control as individual districts, schools, and educators; however, how we choose to handle, proceed, and/or deal with the fact that in the end we will all be giving the assessment in some way shape or form, is ultimately our choice.  Instead of continuing to dwell on the fact that changes seem to be made daily, technology isn’t always working, or the possibility that it may not even be around next year; consider the material that is available to us and how those materials may support our teachers and students in so many ways; more than just preparation for a test.

Back in January, I was given the charge from my principal to dig into ways in which we could prepare the students in our building for the upcoming Badger Exam.  I browsed, researched, printed, and read an abundance of materials available to us; in search of a way to build not only our students capacity, but our teacher’s capacity and knowledge in regards to the Badger Exam and ultimately, the Common Core State Standards.  As our teachers plugged away at the materials through January and February, I couldn’t help but worry that we were spending all of this time “teaching to the test,” and wondering if all of this preparation was truly worthwhile. As I continued to have conversations with the 3-5 teachers in my building about their experiences with the materials, I started to worry less.  I heard a lot of, “Wow, the content is so HARD,” but not hard in a bad way; hard in a rigorous way.  Teachers have come to me and expressed that using these materials has really opened their eyes to what really is expected of our students with these standards and the rigor involved. This is really the first look, since the implementation of Common Core, that teachers have had, that truly allows them to be able to see and understand what is expected.  I also feel that the way in which the teachers in my building chose to use the materials, has been paramount.  At first, it was frustrating because the technology wasn’t working on ipads, so the students couldn’t access the tests since we do not have a computer lab in our building.  However, not using the technology turned out to be very valuable. The teachers ended up truly using the materials to teach and not just practice. They modeled, worked as a class, worked in groups, and really dug in. I had numerous comments regarding how engaged the students were with the materials and the topics.  Teachers have also commented that the resources have helped them in their own instruction.  They have reflected on their own teaching and indicated ways in which they are going to change their instruction to better meet the demands of the Common Core.

As a result of  this, the teachers in my building seem to be less stressed than other buildings about the unknown of the upcoming Badger Exam.  They've worked around the complications, which are certainly inevitable with anything new; and have turned the complications into a positive change in their teaching.  

In current times of education, I see too often, time spent dwelling on all that is negative and we fail to realize all of the positive that is out there.  Because the teachers in my building chose to find the positive in the materials and use them to better their instruction vs. “teach to the test,” the controversy regarding the Badger Exam has affected them very little. They don’t feel they've wasted instructional time; rather, they’re thankful for the opportunity that they had to use the materials to improve their instruction.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see some of the Badger Exam materials that are out there, check out some of the links below.

Online practice tests:
Print Resources:
Additional Activities: