Pride Post #75

Dear team,

A few of you shared this news story with me.  In our bubble it’s sometimes possible to forget the struggles many kids face in struggling schools.  Judge Leandro’s language is the strongest I have ever heard to describe failing schools

Leandro Report: Judge Manning Targets School System’s “Abysmal Performance”
Yesterday (March 16), Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning scheduled an April 29, 2009 “non-adversarial” hearing to consider the measures the State “intends to take to remedy the constitutional violation of the Halifax County Public Schools failing to provide children with the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.” In characteristic fashion, Judge Manning concludes in his letter to Drs. Harrison and Atkinson:

This is academic genocide and it must be stopped.  The State of North Carolina is responsible and it is time…to exercise direct command and control over the Halifax County Public Schools….
I am sure there will be great whining and wailing from the adults but never forget that the adults are the ones responsible for Halifax County Public Schools reaching this situation of academic collapse….”

Articles like this provide powerful context for our work with skillful teaching.  Skillful teaching is a craft and it’s what lets our kids get smart and lead the lives they deserve.  Paraphrasing, some of the points that percolated in our discussion: It’s the most skillful teaching that forces kids to seek validation from the content and their own reasoning instead of just the person standing at the front of the room.  It’s the most skillful teaching that removes teacher vs. student. It’s the strongest teaching that invites students into the content, allows students to appreciate alternate ways to reach the end, and values process above the right answer.

This week we will continue to take theory into action.  Everyone’s action steps are listed below in an effort to encourage co-observation and continued discussion.  At a teammate’s suggestion I also added a column of possible resources for this action step. I will post this column on the blog after I give it some thought and welcome other’s suggestions.




You might want to observe or read.…


“Asking follow-up questions that are similar to ones just discussed to see if student really understands.”

My accountability piece is: Instead of one stream of guided questions script out multiple ways of asking questions about the same concept; also writing questions and incorporating them into the classwork or homework so that I can see the students who “got it” the first time but really didn’t grasp the concept.


Ask students to comment or add on to a student’s idea

– This week, my goal is to have students comment on each others thinking one time per lesson everyday. Next week, I will reflect on how this went and possibly up the number or change the approach.  I will collaborate with other members of the fifth grade team because they are working on this as well.


Ask students to comment or add on to a student’s idea

1. This week the goal is to get: – kids to really listen to each other and then ask them to paraphrase and then comment. Introduce this on Monday: J said _______.  I agree/disagree because ___

2. How you’re gonna check on it – Get kid helper to keep a count. Give them a group sheet and get then to tally when students do do that.


Follow up ?s to see if students really understand

I am going to script out follow up questions, write these ?s in my teaching notes and integrate them into PowerPoints, and prepare higher level extensions and analogies to increase thinking with the follow up questions.

I am going to hold my self accountable by putting this in my new weekly action plan, and next week I will draw additional force diagrams (specific content objective) on the board and incorrectly explain them to have the students identify and fix the mistakes. These will target misconceptions and the mistakes that I identify


I want to work on facilitating dialogue between students about their ideas.  To do this I need to take a look at lesson plans and see where those places exist as right now when another student responds it is to correct another student’s answer as opposed to offering alternative approaches or to really discuss.

I would like to hold myself accountable by having you observe some time next week, if possible


After PPT presentations the kids give feedback.  I’ll choose one bit of feedback (strength or delta) – and ask kids to either explain or build on the feedback  given

We’ll also be doing multiple choice questions as we begin formal review for the EOC.  I’ll pick the most debatable question from each assignment, and ask those with the wrong answers to explain their reasoning – exposing effective but incomplete or inaccurate thought.

I’ve not determined how to hold myself accountable.

Perhaps I’ll give myself a cookie each time I meet the expectation.


I’m working on numbers 11 and 13. (Credits meaning to student comments, even obscure ones, and probes for the student’s thinking…and does the same with incorrect answers. Comes back to a student to now check and clarify what his or her thinking is, given the comments of other students.

I will…

– Plan more time for questions. I often want to dive deeper but don’t because I’m worried about time. I will plan my lessons with the number of minutes for each part of the lesson, leaving more time for guided practice so I can spend more time getting to the reasons behind incorrect answers.

– Tell a student that I will get back to him or her, and then tell another student to remind me to do so. If I tell a student I will come back to him/her I’m more likely to actually do so.

– Craft questions that will help me know what to ask the student who needs to clarify.


His do now and exit ticket will ask the same questions.

He will be accountable by doing that at least once per week.


Expectation: The students understand that the third and fourth quarters are where musicians apply what they’ve learned.  We are expected to answer quickly and accurately to show our mastery of quarters one and two.

Challenge: Even though musicians are expected to answer quickly and accurately (reading music, identifying with elements), I must create opportunities for students to stop and challenge each others thinking(#3).

I will also be working on pushing students to speak to each other when giving explanations for there thinking rather than to me (#5).


“Asking follow-up questions that are similar to ones just discussed to see if student really understands.”

Map these questions out in the lesson plan and ??? Looking for help on this one.

Some of the questions raised by our discussion that I am still mulling and would revel in dialogue about include:

· How does the kind of dialogue and discussion needed let kids get smart affect the timing/pacing a lesson?

· How do we assess/hold kids accountable?  What is the data?

· Could these be summarizers?

· How does this type of class or work fit in the world of an EOG?

To paraphrase Shaifer: thanks for making it impossible not to think about teaching in our school.

In the Sun Also Rises the main character is asked how he went bankrupt.  He responds “gradually, then suddenly.”  School years seem to move in this way; all of sudden we find ourselves at the start of the fourth quarter.  We need to relentlessly and creatively motivate kids for the 5K, benchmarks and all of the other upcoming important Pride performances.

The winner of the April Fool’s Prank is….TBA on Monday, lest prying internet eyes uncover our plans.

Many thanks, and much love,


Readings, Links, and Other ways to get smarter

1. Teaching and learning is an art and a science.

Two of the articles reviewed in this week’s Marshall Memo “The What Money Can’t Buy” and “Teaching Executive Skills to Adolescents” support the effort we have devoted to critical thinking, writing, work habits, and skillful teaching.  Sometimes we fail to realize how revolutionary these ideas are to a traditional school system.

As a teacher I am intrigued by the psychology of motivation.  This article and the research it refers to, has some powerful implications for how we build kids up for EOGs and other big tests. On the Freakonomics blog, Justin Wolfers has a little bit of richer insight into that study I blogged about yesterday showing teams that are slightly behind play extra hard. Here he describes the laboratory experiment used to confirm the theory: “Subjects were challenged to a trivial task – how many times they could type ‘a’ then ‘b’ in half a minute. The subjects were told that if they beat their opponent, they would get a bigger payout. After the first round of competition, some were given feedback, and others weren’t. And here’s the key to the experiment: they randomly told some folks that they were a long way behind their opponent, others were told they were a little bit behind, or exactly tied, a little ahead, or even a long way ahead. Those who were randomly told they were a little bit behind improved their performance dramatically, while the other groups improved by about the same amount as the control condition (that is, the same improvement as those given no feedback at all). It’s an intriguing finding: being behind by a little yields the greatest possible effort.”

2. All students leave GCP with the desire and skills to choose the life they want and become the people they want to be.

This is a repeat suggestion but I don’t mind being a broken record.  This book by Arthur Costa (a friend of JS) presents another way of thinking about the dispositions of great students.  I love the metaphor of habit as a cable.  The list of habits of mind and the graphic organizer are helpful to think about.

3. The students and teachers are passionate about ideas, their school, their community, and their growth.

Get your GCP photos online. Don’t keep those amazing pictures of classes, Pride times, and trips to yourself.  Share them on our shutterfly account.  I am looking for some high quality shots to frame for the front lobby.  If your shot is selected I will make you a free extra copy;

You can upload your photos at                                        Password: pride

4. Our school embraces the idea that this is a long term struggle to build strong people and an enduring community institution.

I had several conversations this week about some of our challenges teaching and raising strong young men and women.  These articles have two very different subjects but there is a common concern about the empowerment of young women.  How do we develop an effective character and relationship skills curriculum? Given that the perfect curriculum may take a while, how do we address these issues now in the best way we can?

“Teenage Girls Stand by Their Man””

To Dos and To Thinks

ì Experiment and expand your skillful teaching and learning repertoire.  Implement your “behavior that lets kids get smart” action step.

ì Plan and script purposeful questions.

ì Accurately complete Third Quarter grades.  Verify grades at Tuesday’s quick meeting afterschool in Kelly’s room.

ì Prepare your most improved, highest achiever certificates and make me copies.

ì Get kids excited about the close of the quarter and upcoming events like the 5K, MMMM, and 100% of students growing on benchmarks.

ì Check out the Pride Post for parents and let me know if there are any additions or corrections.

ì Hype (and perhaps even train for) the 5k to kids, parents, friends, and families.  Let’s break the 400 entrant barrier.

ì Enjoy dismissal. 

Ongoing reminders

* Take care of yourself and have fun with kids and teammates.

* Plan and teach thoughtfully.

* Save $ and resources creatively.  French has found some great resources that will help use reduce the future costs associated with EC testing.

* Seek out additional funding and resources. Donorshoose is a way to make this happen.

* Draft your next unit and assessment according to the due dates you established.

This week I will try to…

ì Plan for several planning conferences and post-observation debriefs

ì Continue Observation round #6 and start round #7.

ì Participate in recruitment, testing, plant, budget, and leadership team meetings.

ì Teach History/Writing to 2013.  Second round debates showed huge growth (and miles to go).  We start economics next week.

ì Continue Work on mastery case study for RBT with Kelly.  We are looking at lots of student work.

ì Send thank you notes to our spring break groups. Not nearly as good as Pat about this.

ì Develop Kippster of the Year Selection process.   Still behind on this and it’s only four weeks away. Aiiee.


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