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Toolkits for Teachers and School Leaders

The toolkits provided on this page are provided as a free service to teachers and school administrators. These tools are part of Turning Around Turnaround Schools, Volume 2 – Embracing the Rhythm of the Learner Year, a book by Educational Directions leaders Joe DeSensi, Ed.D. and Frank DeSensi.  If you would like more information about the tools on this site, please contact us.

In the book, we emphasize both the neuroscience of how students learn and how they access that learning to perform at the level required when that learning is assessed/measured. We look at the whole child, taking into account both cognitive and noncognitive abilities and indicators. This whole-child focus is the basis for the just-in-time approach to developing the culture and climate, unpacking standards, building independent learners, making those learners performers, winning hearts and minds to get the best effort for assessments, and mitigating the summer losses of content and process.

Educational Directions Book

Opening of School

Timeframe: Two weeks before school opens to three weeks after school opens.

Schools must understand that the Opening Period is critical. Ed Directions coaches say you can’t win the school year in the opening weeks, but you can sometimes lose it. It’s that important. The focus of the Opening Period is to get the students ready for the school. It is a time to equip them with the things they need to be successful and to develop the rituals and routines that will enable them to do the learner and performer work that they will need to grow toward proficiency. We like to say that if we have students who do not behave, cannot do the work required, or have not mastered critical rituals and routines, we haven’t opened school. In several of the schools in which we worked, the staff was still trying to open the school as a learning institution in December or even March.

Formative Period

Timeframe: From week three to the beginning of winter break.

If we have equipped students for success, our task becomes to make them more proficient learners and build their potential as independent performers. The focus is on building proficiency doing all the levels of learner work in developing the five legs that will support proficient performance in the next period. The Formative Period is critical. We can achieve a year’s growth of student potential in the Formative Period if we get all students highly engaged in rigorous learning work.

Calibrating Period

Timeframe: From the end of winter break to three weeks before the state test.

If we have managed to get students to develop as learners, we must add a new task. If students can learn, we have to prepare them to demonstrate what they have learned on a complex, rigorous test of long-term memory. The learning experiences started in the Formative Period continue, but students must also engage in escalating experiences (experiences that become more rigorous and complex), equivalent experiences (experiences working at the level of the state assessment), and calibrating experiences that gradually increase the rigor and complexity of both learning work and assessing work.

Testing Period

Timeframe: Up to three weeks before the test, the testing cycle, and the week after the test.

Another example of a period that is critical but not in itself sufficient is the Testing Period. Most schools seek to administer tests in an efficient manner that is consistent with state confidentiality and ethical requirements. The distribution of time, the organization of students, and other decisions are driven by an adult need to have an efficient, trouble-free testing cycle. There is another way. If we look at the Testing Period from the student perspective and focus on building an optimal assessment environment, we have to deal with a different set of priorities. We found there are things we can do that make taking tests less stressful and more manageable from the students’ point of view and create an optimal environment for students.

End of Year Period

Timeframe: Two weeks after testing ends until the last day of school.

The End-of-Year is often overlooked as administrators and teachers seek to get everyone out of the building successfully and without suffering casualties. In this push, schools often miss an opportunity to deal with student performance issues (e.g., performance loss over the summer, loss of work ethic, etc.) by failing to provide effective cumulative or capstone work. The EOY is critical for organizing long-term memory, linking common learnings across disciplines, and preparing for successful grade transitions.