Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Power of Self-Monitoring Tools

“I was monitoring how much I knew vs. what I didn't know. It helped me keep track of what to keep looking at and what I already knew.”
~CNA Student’s response to the question, “What were the positive aspects of the self-monitoring tool?”

Sarah Berreth, a CNA and Medical Related Careers Teacher at the Career Academy, saw the need for her students to track progress, so she experimented with a few tools. She explained, “This process took a lot of time because my students simply needed to be explicitly taught how to monitor their progress.”  As one of her students said, “It was a very hard concept to grasp for most of the year. We are not accustomed to that type of a learning tool. As a senior in high school, after 12 years of education, it was hard to grasp the concept.”

One of the CNA sub-standards is knowing the meaning of medical abbreviations; therefore, Sarah had her students research the meaning of each abbreviation and then independently organized that information in a Google doc.  
Figure 1.1
Students monitor progress by highlighting their own notes (Figure 1.1) regarding which medical abbreviations they know and don’t know.  Green - “Got it!”  Yellow - “Getting it!”  Red - “Just getting started!”  

Sarah took time out of her class to have them reflect on the terms periodically, so they could see the progress they were making toward the overall goal.  The students agreed that this was an effective tool in helping them to study, and, as the student in the video mentioned, she was able to apply this strategy in her other classes.

The self-monitoring tool worked effectively for the abbreviations, but the students and teacher did not think it was as effective while they were monitoring progress on the proficiency scales (Figure 1.2).  The students said there was too much information and sometimes they “didn’t read through it.”  Sarah is planning to alter this tool, so they can gauge their progress toward the overall goal of the standard. When Sarah was asked what alterations she had in mind, her
Figure 1.2
reply was, “In visiting with my students, the monitoring tools need to be 1) simple and 2) relatable. The proficiency scales had too many words and ideas. The students wanted it to be simplified with a clear goal. The terms worked well because they could see exactly what to study and their progress. I am trying to come up with a monitoring tool that can be used for every section.  This would save a lot of time in explaining the tool if it was the same throughout. I would like the student to write the standard/goal at the top and then write each assessment or practice on the left-hand side. I would then like to assess where they are in achieving that goal 1, 2, 3, 4… I like this idea because I would like to do a pre-assessment, after lecture/discussion knowledge check, after application activity, and at assessment time.  I would then like to have the option of a graph, so they can see progress towards reaching the end goal.”

Sarah is a teacher who is always reflecting to improve her practice; therefore, end-of-course evaluations completed by her students are important to her.  Out of 19 CNA students, their responses were favorable in regards to the benefits of using a self-monitoring tool.


Even though the teacher was concerned about the amount of time spent teaching her students how to use the tool, the lifelong skill these students acquired outweighs the time she could have spent elsewhere. Her students will leave this semester class feeling empowered by the ability to use tools that will allow them to take control of their learning.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Connecting the Dots: Learning and the Brain

Read any article on brain research and you will find that learning is a two-step process. First, we must identify a pattern and make meaning of it and second, we develop programs to make this new information meaningful so that we can act upon it.  Let me give a real life example.  When my oldest daughter was four, she suddenly began to wet the bed frequently.  My mom brain knew something was wrong, this was out of character-- it didn’t fit the pattern I knew to be true.  We went to the doctor because that felt logical- what my programming told me to do.  When he came back with the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, it literally tipped my world.  Nothing in my past experiences prepared me for this information or what to do next.  Making meaning of all the new information and being able to make choices  based on that information was vital to her life.

Fast forward several years and I’m in a classroom observing students working in a small group.  Two of the students speak no English.  As a watch their confused faces, I flashed back to that time in the hospital.  Those kids must feel like we did!  These sounds coming out of the mouths of those around them have no context, no meaning and understanding them was just as vital to their lives.  I wondered if this teacher supported her students’ learning the way our doctor team had guided my daughter.  I looked for evidence of a welcoming environment, anchor charts, and activities that connected the brain with the body.  I wondered how this teacher knew the students as individuals and if she was responsive to that information when planning her lessons.  How does she create authentic learning experiences?  Does she have the tools to move students from memorizers to critical thinkers?  
8th Grade Conceptual Map
For the past two days, instructional coaches along with some administrators, spent time with representatives from the Center for the Future of Public Instruction learning about the process of Concept  Mapping to support brain-based learning.  Essentially, we took grade level standards and looked for patterns within the key points and skills within the content areas.  As we wrestled with the standards, we were forced to stretch our thinking.  We discovered that curriculum is an ongoing process and  that learning can be messy.  We revisited the importance of inquiry in making meaning.  Perhaps, most importantly, we reaffirmed the value of relationships, both with people and within objects and ideas.  

Concept mapping is a tool that not only supports our district’s big rocks, it connects them.  It solidifies our core instructional practices within MTSS and allows us to create authentic projects using standards as a framework.  The data we glean from our discussions and student evidence continue to shape our instructional practices and contribute to more productive PLCs.   Our two days of work and learning together really just scratched the surface of possibilities.  Don’t we owe it to our students to keep digging?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Success Skills at BPS

What do we want from our students? It seems this question is being discussed with regularity in our district and districts around the world.  Maria Neset’s blog post, Mrs. Uselman’s post, and the community forum held in conjunction with the showing of the video “Most Likely to Succeed” are just a few recent examples that have contributed to the discussion locally.  A theme that I’ve noticed emerging during these discussions is that the world wants…. needs, students who can work together to solve the problems the world faces.  But, how do we go about helping students learn how to do that? The chart below is from the data collected during the BrightBytes survey and provides a glimpse into our current reality at BPS.
We know we have more work to do here at BPS, and one document that might help is the draft of Success Skills Production Behaviors .  Last year, a team from BPS worked at creating this document to help schools as they focus efforts on being more deliberate in instructing the skills sometimes referred to as 21st Century skills, the 4 C’s, or success skills.  The document outlines the kinds of things that students could be doing to develop and demonstrate these skills, and the kinds of things that teachers can do to support that development. This isn't a static document; it will continue to evolve as we get collectively "smarter" about teaching and learning.

One section of the document provides some ideas for key behaviors that students might do as they work on identifying and solving problems.  Are you seeing these behaviors in your students? In you?

Success skills aren’t “something extra” -- they already exist throughout the teaching and learning process, but our ability to contextualize and support them can make the difference between being “Career, College and Community Ready” and just “passing the test.” There are many models for encouraging and supporting Success Skills, and allowing ourselves and students time to explore where these skills are implicit in our work and how we can make them more explicit can pay dividends.  Think about how the production behaviors might support teachers' efforts to create experiences that allow BPS students opportunities to reach beyond proficiency.

Check out the Success Skills Production Behaviors document.  Does it align with your vision of what you want from students?  What changes do you suggest?  Did you notice any behaviors that should be added? Please leave comments with your suggestions for changes, and ideas on if and how you might be able to use this document.  Your ideas will help as work continues on this draft.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Inquiry Learning?

Why Inquiry Learning?

“The current system of education fails to recognize that all students are people.  Education is a complex human’s about people...we grow and we evolve and we change.  And if you have an industrial metaphor in your head, then you’re led into the sort of language that we now use about standardization” --Sir Ken Robinson from the film Most Likely To Succeed  

We are at a turning point.  In many ways, our country is facing enormous challenges in multiple realms. Because I am a teacher at heart how we “do” school is at the forefront of what I dream about and act on daily.  Education needs a face lift. Our kids will need different skill sets for working in the 21st Century.  So how do we do this?  

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to support Project Based Learning for Bismarck Public Schools.  This means I am in all schools, working with administrators, instructional coaches, lead teams, and teachers to engage students in a different way to “do school”.  Our kids have become very good at “wanting the right answer” and “complying to the teacher”.  Project Based Learning fosters a way for our kids to experience education and personalized learning by focusing on student strengths, interests and passions. In the film, Most Likely To Succeed, Sir Ken Robinson said “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed; it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Bismarck Public Schools is tackling this head on.  5 years ago, stakeholders (students, teachers, support staff, community members) came together to have discussions about what they see as the future of school experiences for students.  Interestingly enough, these stakeholders all had a similar vision in mind (look at the links below). This exciting work continues to grow! For the past four years, teachers have been learning what PBL looks, feels and sounds like for students.  Teachers are also engaging in professional development to learn how to design projects that are authentic, rigorous and relevant for our students. Discussions of how an inquiry-based classroom flows and the power of reflection are an important part of this professional learning.

Kids are complex.  We need to honor the fact that there isn’t a simple path and that this work is going to be messy and complicated.  We need to create an educational culture that embraces curiosity, creativity, inquiry, collaboration, empathy, communication of ideas, problem solving, creating, observing and experimenting.  And this is where Project Based Learning is an opportunity for us to engage kids in authentic learning experiences; where standards are connected, relevant and meaningful to all.  

Are you ready for a transformation?  

To view this work, click on the following STEAM Powered Classroom Links:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


How do you get feedback for your job?  How do you learn to become a better educator?  Early in my teaching career my answers would have been isolated to the formal Rube Goldbergian teacher evaluation system.  I believed that if I followed all the procedures in this step by step process, then by default I became a better educator and received enough feedback.

“I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.” - Maya Angelou

As a connected educator, I now gain feedback daily which helps me grow and learn in collaborative formats through Twitter, Flipboard, virtual learning walks, Voxer book studies, and other personalized PD.  This year I am trying a new way to get feedback through #ObserveMe by posting my personal goals on my door (as seen below).  As an administrator, I still get to participate in the formal feedback from professional evaluation, but I am also asking teachers to help me with some informal feedback by observing me in the hallways, in meetings, and in their own classrooms.  In this way, I am hoping everyone in our building can help me reach my goals and learn from my mistakes in real time.  We all win when we participate in this learning together.

Here is the sign on my door!

Bill Wietman
Assistant Principal at Wachter
@wwietman on Twitter
wwietman on Voxer