Monday, January 30, 2012

Part 1: Content Leaders Network

Watch the Common Core 360 video "Content Leaders Network" FREE on our website! Every week, we are releasing one free video from our on-demand PD library of differentiated training. No catch. No gimmicks. Just free PD.

Stay tuned for more FREE professional development resources from your #1 source of on-demand training, School Improvement Network.

The following is an excerpt from a Common Core 360 video.

We have established a strong system for helping teachers and educators get familiar with the new Common Core Standards here in Kentucky,” says Felicia Cumings Smith, associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. Our system will also help them understand the Standards deeply so that we can translate that to teaching and learning in the classroom.

“Senate Bill l really required us to look at this whole system between assessment, instruction and new standards,” adds Karen Kidwell, project manager for Kentucky’s System of Leadership Networks. “We knew that we really needed a very systemic model that would involve all the key players. We really have to take our time because as much as you would like for things to just happen, you have to give people processing time, you have to give them struggle time so that we can learn from that and make adjustments.

“The goal of our leadership networks,” explains Smith, “is indeed to build capacity at the district level because we know they need to take ownership.”

“We decided when we started the work with our leadership networks that we really needed to find the best facilitators possible to make these conversations happen, to share strategies,” says Kidwell.

“Through a very careful screening and interviewing process, we got sixteen of probably the best and brightest mathematics and English language arts educators in the state,” Kidwell continues. “They work with clusters of about twenty to maybe twenty-five districts each and so they run the networks for the teacher leaders, but they also spend their time in between network meetings working directly in the districts. This is the critical work that will move implementation of the core academic standards across our state.”

Seth Hunter, Math Specialist for the Kentucky Department of Education explains how the subject specialists went about directing their leadership networks.

“Once a month,” says Hunter, “all of the math specialists and language arts specialists come together under the facilitation of Karen Kidwell. Karen, together with the specialists, interprets the broad goals laid out in Senate Bill I into actionable items for the network meetings. So, we’re all a part of the planning team and it’s really a very empowering process for me personally.

“We established, basically, a large goal for the work of the networks,” Karen remarks. “We see it as at least a three-year process. The first goal was to really interpret the Standards to make sure that everyone is really clear what do these standards really imply for both teaching and learning and assessment purposes.”

“Our next goal is then, if you understand those standards how you try to translate those into targets that students can see and begin to reach,” Karen continues to explain. “After that, we want to develop materials and resources teachers already have, and we want them to ask themselves, “do these truly align to and support the new Standards?” and if not, “where can we go to find resources and tools that really do support the new Standards?” With these decisions made, teachers will then develop local assessments that they can use daily based on those learning targets for kids around these Standards so that they know, on a day-to-day basis, that their kids are on track to be successful with the Standards. If they’re not, they can intervene right away in a meaningful way to keep the kids motivated and continuing to learn.”

Save a seat at Dr. Lisa Leith's webinar TOMORROW entitled "Common Core Standards: Equity and Opportunity." Register here!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Attention Spans: The HDMI Cable Between You and Your Students

***Don’t miss Dr. Lisa Leith’s webinar, “Common Core Standards: Equity and Opportunities” on January 31st!***

Guest post by Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD

Attention spans or a lack of focused attention is something that hampers almost every educator in the K-12 grades. A good attention span is like a high tech LED HDMI cable between the teacher and the student. This is a powerful connection and it is essential to learning. Class sizes are growing due to tight budgets making it increasingly difficult to get and keep students’ attention. Attention spans may also be shrinking due to the influence of media and television on the brains of small children. Simply put, without adequate attention spans it is often difficult to get anything done in the classroom.

Remove or Limit Distractions

Many children, no matter what their age have never been shown how to focus their attention. Younger children are more prone to easy distraction but even children in the 10-12th grades may become easily distracted and this can negatively affect their ability to focus and learn new tasks.

One way to increase attention spans is to make students aware of the powerful impact distractions can have on their performance both in the classroom and at home. By simply setting up roll play situations where students are given a simple task and then are constantly interrupted by other students it is possible to help students become aware of distractions. Using stopwatches to time undistracted vs. interrupted performance tasks easily helps students see the difference in their own learning abilities when distracted. Roll play can be made fun with the introduction of real life distractions such as people, cell phones and music.

Increase Motivation

One of the central reasons children often lose attention is that there is a significant lack of motivation to maintain focus. Children seldom have attention span problems with computer games because the games are constantly giving the child positive reinforcement in the form of winning rounds and points to continue playing the game. Most games are also set to cycle at quick intervals so that positive reinforcement comes quickly. Moreover, additional challenges always follow positive reinforcement.

Using this same plan of attack will often work well with students that have trouble maintaining focus. The motivation and positive reinforcement can take many forms including praise for good work, scores, extra playtime and funny jokes. Different educators use rewards in a variety of ways to keep the game going. The key here is to follow the gaming framework and keep momentum moving.

Breaking Tasks into Chunks

Any teacher who has taught for a long time automatically divides and conquers. If there is a set curriculum that is too large they will automatically break it down into appropriate chucks for their students. Sometimes just reorganizing a complicated or tedious section of the curriculum makes it much more manageable. When tasks seem possible it is much easier for students to focus and concentrate their attention.

Laughing is Fun but Learning is Serious Business

Teachers are constantly balancing teaching and learning with keeping control of the classroom. Sometimes a serious voice is very helpful for increasing focus and maintaining attention from a group of students. Instilling urgency is another way to focus attention. Timed performance followed by reward helps students learn how to focus their attention and stay motivated while learning.

Learning how to focus and lengthen one’s attention span is one of the most important and least taught skills in K-12 education. By making your students aware of their own power to focus educators can give them a skill that will carry them forward to be successful in college and throughout life.

Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD works as a Broadcast Manager for Resident Hall Linens. Her experience also includes teaching at both the University of Kansas and the University of San Diego.

***Register TODAY for Dr. Lisa Leith’s webinar, “Common Core Standards: Equity and Opportunities” on Jan 31st!***   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Online Learning Fills Void for Early Readers

While not every teacher is embracing the increase of technology in classrooms, other teachers would say technology is making all the difference. It’s not necessarily that the programs and apps found on computers and mobile devices are “better” than the face-to-face instruction in the classroom, it’s that technology is providing a solution where there was no solution before.

First-grade classes at Public School 55 in the South Bronx in New York are experiencing a technology-based solution firsthand. Because of a remote tutoring program sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, students at P.S. 55 are receiving reading help from volunteers online. While one could argue that it’s not as good as having a volunteer present in the classroom to help with reading, online volunteers offering to help gives more help to the students than no volunteer at all.

The program was created by Seth Weinberger, a 56-year-old former technology lawyer from Evanston, Ill., and the founder of Innovations for Learning, a 19-year-old nonprofit organization that has set its sights on raising persistently low reading scores among the nation’s poorest children. The tutoring software is being tried by over 550 volunteers in 60 low-performing classrooms in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Washington, as well as at P.S. 55, where in 2010, only 15 percent of the third graders passed the state English exam.

To learn more, read the full article here.

Are online volunteers a step in the right direction for schools who struggle receiving help with tutoring?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Common Core Standards - The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

 ***Don’t miss Dr. Lisa Leith’s webinar, “Common Core Standards: Equity and Opportunities” on January 31st!***

In regards to the Common Core Standards, the good news is great, the bad news is terrible, and the ugly . . . well, it’s unthinkable. Whether good, bad, or ugly, the Common Core Standards are exactly what we make of them, and the Standards depend entirely on how we map them. 

Allow me to explain.

 The Good

Our first charge vis-à-vis the Common Core is to redefine the connotations behind the word “standards.” Do we have a common purpose? Are we working toward the same goal? If so, then we have a standard. Gone are days where we live from class period to class period, praying that enough of our students pass. If we are measuring students on a pass/fail rubric, then we are intentionally labeling some students as failing.

The Common Core Standards give us an opportunity—a choice—to reclaim the classroom and the learning process and do what we are so passionately involved in doing. But the Common Core Standards as they are written on paper are useless—I repeat, useless—without a breathing, customizable plan or map that changes year by year or even day by day to answer the needs of our students.

The good news is that teachers have more authority and power to mold a classroom around what they know they need to teach rather than following mandates. With effective curriculum mapping, teachers are using the Standards to turn classrooms around. For many it will require a different kind of pedagogy, philosophy, and strategy, but we have already seen enormous benefits from it.

The Bad

The bad news is not that students will be assessed according to the Common Core. The bad news is that teachers work in isolation, or at least they do not collaborate effectively and frequently. Teachers working in isolation cannot use the Standards or their curriculum maps to the fullest potential, and teachers are not using assessments to improve teaching methods.

The irony is that teachers work together across grades, subjects, and departments every day, whether they do so intentionally or not. The constant flow of students necessarily carries enormous implications, and teachers are not capitalizing on one of the greatest opportunities to intentionally impact student learning. The Common Core Standards—and sustained student learning—require teacher collaboration to survive.

The Ugly

The most unthinkable thing that we can do to our students is to simply comply with the Standards instead of embracing them. 

Compliance alone is indicative of not understanding how closely the purposes of the Standards are aligned with your own—to prepare students for college and a career. Issuing a book labeled with “Common Core” is not enough, because it will never answer the needs of each student. Love or hate the Standards as you will, but do not let your students’ education pass them by.

***Don’t miss Dr. Lisa Leith’s webinar, “Common Core Standards: Equity and Opportunities” on January 31st!***

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Worlds, One Book

The Common Core Standards are designed to ensure every student is prepared to go on to a post-secondary education or a career. The Standards do more than provide a quality education across states; it promotes providing a quality education among all students from every neighborhood and every school.

Children don’t control where they come from, who their teachers are, or even what information they are taught in the classroom every day. They can control, however, if they will learn or progress in the class. Bringing the best of education to each classroom is the only way the playing field is evened. Where a student comes from should be an asset, not a liability.

In New Jersey, two eighth grade classes are recognizing the value of studying the same book, but with two separate approaches. Just as the Common Core Standards emphasize, strategies used by the teachers in this NY Times article are sharing how race and wealth doesn’t have to play a part in the quality of education students receive.

How have you been able to bridge the divide of race and wealth in your classroom?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Teaching: Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

We have a guest post from our friends at Core Essentials about effective teaching strategies!

Reinforcement has been used to help strengthen and increase the probability of a specific response for decades. The use of reinforcement procedures can be used with both typical and atypical developing children as well as students with different psychological disorders. There are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative. However, many teachers find it difficult to distinguish between the two. When it comes to teaching a class full of students, you will find that a combination between positive and negative reinforcement will work best. 

 Positive Reinforcement

 Positive reinforcement is a very powerful and effective tool to help mold and change behavior. It works by praising and rewarding desired behavior, which then makes the behavior more likely to happen in the future. The following are some ways to make positive reinforcement work best in a teaching environment.

  • Targeted praise: Students and children in general respond more positively to praise, more specifically targeted praise. For example, saying “April, you did a great job on your essay” will be more effective than saying “good job class.”
  • Specific timing: In addition to making the positive reinforcement more specific, timing is also important. For instance, if a student only answers a question partially then total positive reinforcement isn’t necessary. Only after the student has done the desired behavior should heaping praise be given.
  • Reward irregularly: Rewards are much more effective when they are used sparingly. This will also help improve overall student behavior, because rewards could be given at any moment and not just on certain days at a certain time.
 Negative Reinforcement

For most people, the term “negative reinforcement” gets easily mistaken for punishment, which is not the case. With negative reinforcement, you are increasing a behavior, whereas with punishment, you are decreasing a behavior. Negative reinforcement can also be thought of as when a negative or unwanted behavior is stopped or avoided due to removal of a certain stimulus/item after the behavior is exhibited. That way the likelihood of the positive behavior occurring again will be increased and coupled with a positive direction.

 For example, if you have a student that forgets to turn in homework, then they will receive negative reinforcement by getting a bad grade; therefore that behavior turns into an unwanted behavior for the student. If the student turns homework in and is met with a positive reaction, then that is negative reinforcement and the student will be likely to turn homework in because of the positive response.

 The use of positive and negative reinforcement is a continual balancing act that is never quite perfect. However, as a teacher, it is your responsibility to continue working towards achieving a balanced discipline and reward plan that works best for you and your students.

 This article was written by Core Essentials, a values education program, designed for grades K-5, that provides affordable, simple, and downloadable tools allowing schools to quickly incorporate values education into their curriculum. Our program encourages individual classrooms, the entire school, and every family to emphasize the values they learn each month.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Visual Learners

We hope you enjoy this guest post on visual learning from our friends at Home Tuition Agency!

Visual Learners 
There are several different types of learners, and understanding how to address different learning styles is one of the most important first steps a teacher can make in getting through to his or her students. The most successful lessons will learn to incorporate multiple styles of learning, providing activities that appeal to students through visual, audio and hands-on learning applications. 

For many people, learning about concepts from a textbook is nearly impossible. They may often be heard saying that they "Just can't envision this" or that concepts don't make any sense from their description. You can try to explain the concept in multiple different ways, but ultimately the thing that makes the concept make sense in their heads is a visual representation: a diagram, photograph, demonstration, video or other visual element. 

Ideally, any given lesson should incorporate multiple types of learning. While most people have one dominant learning style, they will usually learn faster if they are given multiple approaches to any problem. Depending on the subject matter you teach and the age of your students, you can utilize several different types of lesson plans.

Creative Teaching Methods for Visual Learners
-- Have your students role-play a situation. If you are teaching history, for example, you can assign your students historical characters and a moment in history for them to play out. 

-- Have students create posters about the topic. Stress that the posters should be informational as well as attractive, and see what your students can come up with. As an added bonus, you can hang these posters up on the wall of the classroom for reference throughout the semester. 

-- Have students make video documentaries about a topic. They can then present these videos to the class. Make sure to specify any limitations about what the video should include or how long it must be. 

-- Whenever possible, allow for some experimentation. If it won't hurt anything, allow your students to venture away from the lesson to find their own answers. For example, create a science experiment where students can create their own method of testing the hypothesis. 

-- Create an interactive website for your class. Even better, enlist your students to help you create the page. This can be informational as well as functional, allowing students to have a place to come and check on work or other information long after the site is introduced. 

There are endless opportunities for ways to encourage students to learn visually and in a hands-on atmosphere. No matter what subject you teach or what age your students are, you should always ask yourself how you can add an extra dimension to any lesson that you teach. Adding visual and hands-on learning techniques to your existing repertoire can help engage students and foster learning in a creative and challenging environment.

Author Amanda Lee is a career counselor and content contributor for, which emphasizes Chinese tuition as an integral factor in international studies.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Supporting the Whole Student

Here is a guest post from Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD, on supporting the whole student and college readiness beyond academics!

Supporting the whole student is phenomenally important in this day of social media and increased social fragmentation. College life is much more than academic work; it requires a student to be personally accountable for finances, everyday living, dorm room supplies, and navigating a complicated and often physically dangerous social arena.

Increasingly across college campus blogs there are stories about lonely freshman students who can cope with the academics but can’t seem to cope with the life that marks their paths into college. Many of these new college kids will drop out of college and worse. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) suicide is the second highest cause of death among college students. In addition, according to the most recent ACHA surveys, our college students are having trouble with a variety of College Life issues. For example 19.1% of them reported problems with anxiety, 12.4% reported problems with Internet use/computer gaming, 19.4% had sleep difficulties and 27.5% reported problems with stress. Without social support and an emphasis on the development of the whole student at the high school level students are often not ready to take on the complicated tasks of college. Parents, educators, students and universities need to start addressing this national issue.

A young woman I have the privilege of knowing from Iran captured the essence of the importance of nurturing the whole student the other day while venting her frustrations to me about her American boyfriend. She said, “He is like a baby, his parents do everything for him. They buy his car insurance; when he needs a sweater his mother just goes and buys one for him. He thinks of nothing besides playing Lacrosse,” She paused and her forehead wrinkled, then she went on looking at the fingers in her lap as if they held the answers. “I’ve lost a lot of respect for him, here he is a grown man and really his life, the life here, is so easy. Even though I’m younger than he is and I’m from Iran, where as a girl we know nothing, I feel like the adult in the relationship…”

What could I say? This girl had managed in a very few short sentences to prove that we had let this young man down. The “we” being: our society, our educational system and even the young man’s well-intentioned parents. The boy in question is already 23 years old but mentally he is much younger and he still hasn’t taken responsibility for himself in most areas of his life. In contrast, his Iranian girlfriend against all odds has grabbed her future. Her strength and courage is amazing. She doesn’t even know if she will ever be able to go back home. She is going through school in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture. At the same time she lives with the daily burden of not knowing whether her younger brother or someone else in her family might be killed. Against all odds she is coping and succeeding very well.

Supporting and teaching the whole student needs to be a community effort. This isn’t about the failure of educators, parents or students. It’s about all of us. There needs to be a qualitative shift in education that prepares students for College Life and not just college classes. In turn college curricula need to provide further emphasize on the development of the whole person rather than teaching antiquated subjects in institutions that are still organized like 17th century religious colleges. We aren’t preparing college students and we aren’t preparing our society for a bright future.

Some new programs such as Jumpstart and Everfi and have added additional programs on financial literacy in an effort to increase individual responsibility and accountability among our young people. A good beginning, these programs still don’t deal with the whole student. We need to embrace common core standards that will help our young people grow up into accountable, responsible, thoughtful, and happy adults. The definition of these core values and standards cannot be dictated and teachers cannot be expected to carry this burden. Whole student standards mean rethinking the definition of “ education” and how it is implemented in our society.
Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD works as a Broadcast Manager for Resident Hall Linens. Her experience also includes teaching at both the University of Kansas and the University of San Diego.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When Educators Learn, So Do Their Students

"The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, aph. 32 (1973)

As educators, it can sometimes be a struggle to instill a desire for learning within students—helping them grow beyond “what do I need to know for this unit or test?” to “what can I learn from this concept and apply it?” The same question can be asked of educators, “Am I taking the time to learn from the concepts around me and applying them in my life?”

Connecticut teacher Larry Shortell recently released his story of continual learning in Summers Off: The Worldwide Adventures of a Schoolteacher. As he visited schools in foreign countries he discovered his American experiences are just as interesting to educators in those countries as theirs are to him.

Although it’s important to learn and practice the latest classroom strategies, educators taking the time to further their learning of non-classroom related topics and explore the everyday concepts in the world is also valuable to students. As educators learn more, they can discover more about how their individual students learn and continue to provide the education their students need.

To learn more about Larry Shortell's journey and how it has impacted his students, click here.