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.