Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Student and Parent Communication: Beyond Grades

One of Oprah's defining moments occurred in the fourth grade when her teacher, Mrs. Duncan, told her how proud she was of Oprah’s hard work.  From that moment on, Oprah knew that if she worked hard and did well, people would remember and value her.
While we know that positive communication contributes to a child’s success, we sometimes forget what communication can look like beyond the gradebook; we sometimes forget how powerful (and life changing) a positive comment can be.

Schools and teachers implement a variety of strategies to recognize students for exhibiting characteristics that are valued in the school community.  A survey of BPS principals reveals various types of recognition strategies used within our district: many teachers and teams send out some type of “Great News” postcards; some schools issue certificates or “Brilliant Behavior” slips to students for positive actions and attitudes. Middle schools award student of the month status to students who exhibit positive leadership and who have contributed to their community and/or school.

Along with these strategies, teachers and principals at all levels are encouraged to call parents to share positive feedback about students.  In fact, making that call was a challenge issued by Superintendent Uselman at the beginning of the school year and again in the latest Intercom ( One parent spoke of getting a call about her child: “I was nervous at first and then surprised to hear from my child’s teacher.  The quick check-in that was made was just to say she liked having my child in her class.  Small thing but gave me something to mention to my child that connected both of us to school.”
Along with positive feedback about a child’s behavior, parents also want to know about the education and learning that is happening in the classroom. In order to address this need, at least one school in our district sends out weekly parent emails with information related to school procedures, standards-based education, goals and data, project-based learning, etc. “The topic changes each week based on feedback from parents and what questions they have about our school and how we operate.”

Within this same school, teachers also have a closed facebook page on which about 90% of teachers post weekly (if not daily); these posts include success stories of the day/week, instructional program information, videos of students showing evidence of learning, videos of students showing a math strategy so parents can use it to help at home. “The parent feedback has been over the top about communication.”

From weekly updates to those 1-1 conversations that uncover a specific incident revealing the character and academic strengths of a student, we can never underestimate the power of positive communication with parents and students.

Check out Tuesday’s Twitter posts regarding parent communication (archived to the right of this blog), and tell us about your strategies or experiences with parent and student communication by submitting a comment below.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Professional Collaboration is a Learning Essential

Collaboration is one of those terms that means different things depending on who you ask.  You could survey 20 people and get 20 variations.  It is because of these variations that we must first clarify what collaboration means in Bismarck Public Schools.

The 4Cs Rubrics, adopted by Bismarck Public Schools, goes beyond the traditional view of working "together" to include other skills.  The rubric defines collaboration this way:

  • Collaborate with others
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with
  • diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member
  • Work productively in teams for sustained periods of time to develop high-quality products
Working from that definition, we must determine what effective collaboration looks like and feels like in our district, our schools, and our classrooms.

The High School Collaboration Rubric outlines clearly the "Advanced Proficient" level.  In our discussions with the 4Cs Rubric Work Team, we have agreed that this level could serve as an exemplar for adults in the work place.  In the link provided, you will find the proficiency scale.  Take a look at the 4 - Advanced Proficient level and think about how you work with colleagues and students in light of the skills mentioned.

A great way for educators to participate in a synchronous professional collaboration is to join one of the education Twitter chats. BPS hosts one of these chats every other Tuesday. You can follow the conversation at #learnbps.  Join us on Twitter in 2015.  All sessions run from 8:30 – 9:00 p.m.

January 13 - Professional Collaboration as a "Game Changer"

January 27 - Parent/Student Communication as a "Game Changer"

February 10 - Student Collaboration as a "Game Changer"

February 24 - Cultivating Creativity as a "Game Changer"

March 10 - Student Voice as a "Game Changer"

March 24 - Authentic Assessments as a "Game Changer"

April 14 - Student Engagement as a "Game Changer"

April 28 - Creating a Culture for Feedback as a "Game Changer"

How to follow #learnbps:
  1. Use Twitter –>
  2. Use Tweetdeck –>
  3. Use Hootsuite –>

Did you know…that you do not need to have a Twitter account to follow the Twitter Tuesday #learnbps chats? Just follow the #learnbps hashtag.  However, we want you to Be a Game Changer and join the team by participating in the conversation! Not sure where to start on using Twitter? Go here for some great starter tips:
Need a reminder to join the chat? We've got you covered. Click here to have a text sent to your phone 10 minutes before #learnbps starts.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Modeling - Essential for Learning

Think of some of the important skills we learn in life – walking for example. How did you learn how to walk? Did you sit and hear a lecture about it? Did you complete a worksheet? Probably not. You learned how to walk by watching the people around you. Then you tried it yourself, most likely taking a few spills, then getting up and trying again.

Adults do not walk around stumbling, to make one year olds feel better about their walking skills. We model the correct way to walk – and this shows a one year old what to aim for. Perfection does not happen the first or second time. They keep trying and eventually become proficient at walking. The same philosophy holds true for literacy skills (and other content area skills as well). If we want proficient readers and writers, we need to “show” them what we expect. We should never expect our students to do something we have not modeled for them first.

Modeling is an instructional strategy that calls the teacher to demonstrate a new concept or approach to learning while the students observe and process the strategy. The next step is for the student to try the strategy with guided practice and then independent practice. Research has shown that modeling is an effective instructional strategy in that it allows students to observe the teacher’s thought processes. Using this type of instruction, teachers engage students in imitation of particular behaviors that encourage learning. Modeling can be used across disciplines and in all grade and ability level classrooms.

You might be wondering how to model reading comprehension? Comprehension happens inside our brains; it is invisible. “Think-alouds”, a type of metacognitive modeling technique, has been described as "eavesdropping on someone's thinking." With this strategy, teachers verbalize aloud while reading a selection orally, describing things they are doing as they read to monitor their comprehension. The purpose of the think-aloud strategy is to model for students how skilled readers construct meaning from a text.

Students need to know that reading and writing are not easy--it is OK to struggle! We LEARN when we struggle, and our students need to know that teachers struggle when we read and write just like they do. The important thing that students learn is what to do when they start to struggle as a reader or writer.

When thinking of the importance of modeling, I am reminded of the Chinese proverb: "Tell me, I'll forget. Show me, I'll remember, Involve me, I'll understand." To me, modeling is the glue that holds the learning together.  Modeling our own thinking can be messy and uncomfortable, but it needs to feel real and authentic.

If you want more information on the importance of modeling in the classroom, Kelly Boswell has a new book out in February titled Write This Way- How MODELING Transforms the Writing Classroom. The audience for this book is K-5. Teachers in Grades 6-12 may find Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through MODELING & Mentor Text by Kelly Gallagher useful in learning how to incorporate modeling in middle and high school classrooms.