Theory and Practice

Trouble the Image


Engagement in practitioner research is one way to trouble the images held by the education community, the policy community, and the public. – Nancy Fitchman Dana

Kimberly Schools Create Award-Winning Literacy Model by Jen Zettel (Appleton Post-Crescent, December 16, 2014)

A Wisconsin school district was profiled for their efforts to improve student literacy achievement. Using a common instructional framework and existing resources, the K-4 staff carved out 30 minutes of their school day for intensive learning support for students. They worked on “a variety of skills, including sentence structure, descriptive words and spelling”. Kids are flexibly grouped based on current assessment data and progress.

To prepare for this type of instruction, teachers used collaborative planning time to make responsive decisions, as well as to “exchange ideas, offer feedback and set strategies”. While the district has observed increased student achievement, “the most important thing is we’ve already come back now twice and refined what we’ve done.” Continuous professional growth is as much a driver as is student achievement.

Building A _____ Learning Movement by Carri Schneider (Getting Smart, December 15, 2014)

The director of research and policy for Getting Smart highlights the confusion in present-day discussions about innovation in teaching and learning. There are many “movements” circulating the various educational conversations: blended learning, competency-based learning, digital learning, personalized learning, and online learning. Schneider explores “how dots could connect and lines could intersect”.

What she has discovered is all of these movements have a similar focus on developing “deeper learning”, with an “emphasis on core academic content, critical thinking & problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication, academic mindsets and self-directed learning”. Schneider encourages all educators to become more active in seeking alignment about best practice, and add their thinking to the conversation.

Mark Pocan calls for federal review of Wisconsin voucher program by Jessie Opoien (The Capital Times, December 19, 2014)

School vouchers, which allow families to attend private schools using taxpayers’ dollars in the name of school choice, is an increasingly hot topic in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. The most recent focus involving vouchers is a push by legislators for private schools who accept public dollars to be held accountable for student achievement and growth.

Specifically, Representative Pocan and colleagues are requesting a federal review regarding “academic achievement, student demographics, financial accountability and transparency, student turnover rates and service of students with disabilities”. Also of concern is the current federal investigation regarding “whether private voucher schools in Wisconsin were denying admission to or properly serving students with disabilities”.

9 Ideas Education Is Having Trouble Responding To by Terry Heick (TeachThought, December 16, 2014)

Heick, a former English teacher, shares his provocative thinking about how education is changing in light of the advances in technology and connectivity. He is surprised that digital learning is still playing second fiddle to other topics of discussion in educational circles, such as assessment and PLCs.

His subsequent points serve to make his case. Some of his statements find broad agreement, such as “Students have real options”. Others, such as “Digital media is more engaging than non-digital media”, are more controversial and invite discussion in the comments. Heick closes out his commentary by calling on public education to “compete with other possibilities that are frankly more compelling, creative, and social than marching through indexed curriculum”.

The Power of Digital Story by Bob Dillon (Edutopia, December 15, 2014)

This director of technology and innovation from St. Louis highlights the importance of narrative in the process of learning. Telling a story is an effective vehicle for acquiring knowledge, skills, and dispositions. It is also “a powerful force in shaping mental models, motivating and persuading others, and teaching the lessons of life”. Dillon sees digital tools as a way to complement and enhance narratives, such as using audio and video, as well as providing two-way communication between home and school. He lays out specific steps for creating digital stories:

  1. Create Space for Listening
  2. Persuade with the Head and the Heart
  3. Lead with the Narrative
  4. Amplify with Images
  5. Nurture the Process
  6. Understand the Tools

Dillon saves the discussion about digital tools for last, noting that they “quickly become relics” and therefore should not lead the learning. He has found that “story inspires story”, and that “best practices in education will grow and scale whenever we all release trapped or siloed wisdom into the system”.

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Analyzing the data…

Every month, our school staff hosts a monthly meeting in one teacher’s classroom. Before we start the meeting, that teacher’s grade level or department showcases a practice or activity with everyone. At our last meeting, a grade level team shared how they are using a different language and spelling program during their literacy block. It applies new findings about language acquisition, such as spaced learning. When they were finished, a colleague asked the presenters an important question:

How will you know that this program is effective?

They explained that they have to present their findings to the district’s board of education later in the school year.

This question and response is important for two reasons. First, their colleagues and our school community are observing how we as educators are holding ourselves accountable for how well our students are learning in school. This is a smaller but similar process the Kimberly School District has engaged in, called action research. While the achievement that Kimberly chose to measure for literacy are more outcomes of good instruction, they do have a process and a plan in place to continue to improve their practice.

Second, and this is very similar to the first reason, when we make visible the process of learning for a broader audience, both what works and what does not, we “trouble the image” of people’s perceptions about what school is and can be. The picture of my school at the top of this post says little about what is happening inside. It is good to be connected (I shared that image out on our school’s Twitter account), but just posting surface-level information does little to shift the paradigm that the public may have of schools, from brick-and-mortar institutions to dynamic learning environments.

As you prepare for winter break, take some time to reflect on the authentic and meaningful learning experiences occurring regularly in your classroom, and then ask, “How will I share this?” Start by developing your personal learning network and engage in conversations about topics such as the deeper learning movement. Challenge the thinking of those making provocative statements, not to prove them wrong, but to increase that community’s collective intelligence. Have your students share their learning using digital storytelling tools. Heck, tell you own personal learning story with a blog.

5th graders helped me create a video newsletter with the app Touchcast. We shared our good news with the school community.
5th graders helped me create a video newsletter with the app Touchcast. We shared our good news with the school community.

Because to not share the important work you are doing creates a void in the conversation. It permits those who have a different agenda to speak their own truths about programs that can be harmful to education, such as vouchers. Even if what they have to share is false, who is going to be there to refute it? It has to be us. We are the closest to the source (the classroom) and have all the necessary tools at our disposal.

So what is stopping you? In other words, how are you going to trouble the image?

(Please note: There will not be a post next Saturday due to the holiday season. Have a safe and joyful break!)

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7 thoughts on “Trouble the Image”

  1. Reblogged this on Reading By Example and commented:

    If we are not going to to share the good work we do daily in schools, who will? I ask this question because I feel it is not longer an option to just assume our parents and the public know what are students are learning. There is little reason anymore to remain private about public education. Without a consistent voice from the classroom, communities make assumptions about schools based on their own past experiences. Much worse, those with anti-education agendas can spout false information that only serves their bottom line. It is our responsibility to visibly refute false claims. We are the closest to the source, after all.

  2. I want to begin by thanking you for sharing your experiences and allowing others to learn from you. I am a fourth year elementary school teacher and learner, and I am passionate about creating an interesting, caring, and student centered learning environment for my kids. I believe in best practices, and read everything I can get my hands on to improve myself as a teacher. This year I am a PEBC lab host for teachers around the region. I tell you this not to brag, but as a way of letting you know I am a hard working teacher who believes in what she does.

    This is what leads me to read with skepticism the first post about a Wisconsin school carving out time for intensive instruction. I truly hope that what is written in the post is true, and that the schools in question are making a difference for their students. I wonder about what is not said, though. My personal experience in my school has been that what looks good in a sound bite or news story is not in reality an effective program, and as professionals we need to know the whole story.

    In my school, we have a regular, school wide 45 minute intervention time called WIN (What I Need) that is touted as personalized learning for every student. During this time, the majority of the school population goes to different teachers for what is supposed to be intervention or enrichment. There are many decisions associated with the program that I would argue are not supported by research or best practices. First, students are largely assigned to groups based on MAP data and RIT bands. A teacher often has a group of students who’s scores land anywhere within a 20 point range, and the students often come from different home rooms and grade levels. What this means is that teachers are handed a list of students that they know nothing about as learners. They are told to take 1 or 2 class periods to build community, then start teaching. Most teachers would tell you that a MAP score is not sufficient information for designing intervention for a student.

    A second problem is that we have not one but two groups of students. We teach a reading/writing group on Mondays and Tuesdays, and a math group on Wednesdays and Thursdays. We are expected to plan targeted learning for these students and keep data on a daily basis so that the data can be used for Tier II intervention data if needed. (Keep in mind that most of these classes, except for 3 or 4 groups, number anywhere from 18 to 26 students.) I don’t believe this is consistent with what research tells us Tier II intervention should look like. In addition, what we have created is a huge task for teachers who are already putting in 60 hour work weeks.

    Because students go to so many different teachers, it is an impossible task to keep up with what students are doing in different rooms. This means that I have no idea what teachers are working on with the students from my home room, and there is no connection to what students are currently working on in my classroom. I am expected to plan additional, data supported intervention for my own home room students during my regular reading and math workshops.

    Besides WIN time, there are additional pull-outs for yet more interventions. These usually involve kids being taken from reading/writing workshop for reading intervention- so these kids don’t get additional time, but ‘instead of’ time. Once again, not what my understanding of what intervention should look like. Ultimately, what this means is that with all this intervention, striving students have as many as 4 different teachers working with them on different strategies on a daily basis.

    These are just some of the problems we face. Many teachers at my school have tried to voice their concerns. However, the program remains as is. This is the second year we have implemented the program.

    I feel like I have rambled on, but my point is that we have to be very careful when we make inferences based only on a brief news story. I worry that the true story is not told, and our efforts to promote what we are supposedly doing right can merely serve to mislead. I would hate for other schools to adopt my school’s current practices based on what could conceivably be a news story about how great we are at personalized learning.

    Once again, thank you for sharing! I always look forward to and learn from your posts.

    1. I appreciate your thorough comment here; I don’t believe you rambled at all! I would agree with you, that what was reported in the first article may not represent deep student learning. Fragmenting the school day and calling it RtI does not necessarily mean it is, at least in spirit. I kind of alluded to this in my conclusion, but wasn’t able to go into it further due to the word count getting high. Actually, the person who shared this article with me, another accomplished educator, also shared the same concerns that you have.

      Why I included this article in my post was for two reasons. First, I was impressed with the process they are using to measure the effectiveness of their instruction. They are trying to provide a direct link between teaching and student learning. As well, they noted that this is a continuous process, and that they will look to continue to improve their process and knowledge in the future. For this, they should be commended.

      Second, I appreciate that the reporter took the time to write about something in education besides athletics, the Common Core, funding, or high stakes testing. The fact that the reporter didn’t dig deeper into the effectiveness of their practices probably reflects more of her lack of understanding of Response to Intervention than anything. We live it, which is all the more reason to make sure we are making our powerful instruction visible for all to see. We need to trouble the image!

      Thanks again for the thoughtful and smart comment.

  3. Hi Matt,
    I wanted to check in and offer a sincere “thanks for sharing.” I don’t have anything profound to say, but I do value your blog posts and this one connected especially. Happy New Year.

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