Years ago, teachers used to talk about the “big” learning months – September, October, January, February, and March – because these months offered large blocks of time for uninterrupted teaching and learning. As more research became available on the topic of how students learn, the importance of these months was reaffirmed but with a more focused argument. This has led the Ed Directions staff to rebuild our perception of a “school year” organized around semesters and grading periods into a “learner year” that emphasizes the phases in the development of all students into proficient learners and proficient performers:
- The Opening of School – the first three to five weeks of school that are used prepare all students for success by creating a learning environment and by supporting the development of academic, social, and emotional competencies needed for success. Emphasis is on building intentional cultures and climates (social and emotional rituals and routines that create a positive climate and etiquette for classroom work) and on “learning to learn” work (academic rituals and routines that equip all students with core competencies needed to engage in and successfully complete learning work).
- The Formative Period – from mid-September to the winter break, the focus is on engaging all students in “meaning making” (i.e., learning for meaningful use as opposed to learning to recall). This requires a student to learn how to learn so that they can use their learning at high levels. It is critical that all students become proficient learners before the Calibrating Period, and October is the most critical month for this development.
For teachers, October requires a focus on “learning to learn” (i.e., building core competencies that enable students to create meaning and use learning in academic testing and in real-world situations). This means that teacher planning must focus on outcomes expected rather than content to be covered. Unit planning needs to establish the concept in task priorities for the unit and develop a test that demonstrates whether the students have mastered the priorities. Once the test has been developed, a lesson sequences is developed to ensure that all students pass the test. The focus is on student performance with content and not on content coverage. A tool used by the Ed Directions coaches to help evaluate the school/teacher focus is included below.
Teachers have received the training, time, and assistance needed to translate the program into level, course, and unit plans.
Instruction and management strategies are selected to match learning needs and maximize the performance of all students.
Teachers define unit expectations (critical learnings) and design an assessment that will indicate successful mastery of these expectations.
Each classroom has a culture that emphasizes high levels of student engagement, student work, and student thinking.
Each classroom is equipped with materials and technologies consistent with the identified needs of students.
Lessons enable all students to do the learning work (acquire, translate, create meaning, apply at expected levels) required for proficiency.
All classes have established academic rituals and routines that reduce wasted time and enable all students to be active, engaged learners.
All students participate in lesson activities and high levels of engagement are expected of all.
Teachers and students are focused on critical vocabularies and minimal operational vocabularies.
Lessons include time for individual attention, targeted assistance, exploration/expansion, and differentiated work.
Critical reading, critical writing, and critical thinking are required of students in all content areas.
Student learning is assessed, and nonstandard learning is corrected immediately.
Homework reflects “best practice” research and is used to shape student performance.
Student work is critical. By the end of October, all students should be proficient at attending work (e.g., active listening or critical reading), acquiring work (e.g., notetaking, rephrasing), organizing work for long-term memory (e.g., graphic organizers, glossary building), meaningful work to enable retrieval from long-term memory (e.g., using content in thinking, problem-solving, real world applications), and equivalent work (e.g., work requiring the levels of duration, difficulty, complexity, and language that are equivalent to the rigor found on state assessments). Failure to master student learning work leaves students unprepared to do the calibrating work needed to prepare them for success on the state assessment or to make a successful transition to the next level. A tool used by the Ed Directions coaches in October classroom observations is included below.
Classroom: Time: Subject:
Student work included:
All students were highly engaged
Most students were engaged or compliant
All were compliant
Some were off task
Many were off task
Student work involved critical reading
Student work involved writing in response
Student work involved critical thinking
Class communications emphasized the language of the discipline
All communications were conducted in informal register
Focus on standard – language or task was obvious
Relationship between task and standard was not obvious
Academic rituals and routines were observed
No academic rituals or routines were observed
The classroom was safe, friendly, and focused on learning. Teacher and students followed academic rituals and routines. Student work observed was appropriate for moving and enabling all students to be proficient learners.
1 2 3 4 5
In October, students need to become proficient test takers. This means that they have to develop a menu of test taking strategies, “deep reading” strategies for unlocking the requirements of test questions, and strategies for answering the different types of questions found on state assessments (e.g., the statement/reasons/evidence structure expected in most open response are constructive response questions). A sample of an analysis of test venue/format developed by an Ed Directions school is included below.
Imperfect work must be analyzed and not just graded. All student work (work done as learner and work done as performer) must be evaluated, and imperfect work must be analyzed to determine where the work breaks down and then probed to determine why the work breaks down at that point. Without this type of analysis, all student support is accidental and not intentional and is unlikely to have a positive impact on all students. A sample observation tool used by the Ed Directions coaches to begin this process is included below.
What is wrong with the work?
Where did the work break down?
Read question correctly
Gave thoughtful response
Used time wisely
Finished in time
Student Individual Issues
Student support must be targeted support. Since October is a month devoted to all students becoming proficient learners, support for students who are struggling needs to be targeted to student priority needs (e.g., students who read too slowly to finish a test need a different support program than students who can’t make meaning from test questions and neither needs a support program that just recovers the content).
Unit: Lesson: Priorities:
All tasks were completed
Most tasks were completed
Some tasks were completed
None of the tasks were completed
All critical priorities collected
Most critical priorities collected
Some critical priorities collected
Few or none of the critical priorities were collected
Weaknesses in student work:
Acquiring – notetaking
Rituals and routines not followed
Instructions not understood
Concepts too complex
Prior learnings not in place
Student progress must be monitored closely and in a timely fashion. When student work is imperfect, they need to recognize the flaw in their performance or their product within one or two days or they will fail to connect support to the identified flaw. Support systems are evaluated and revised on a weekly basis during PLC analysis of student work for the week.
The 5 Legged Model becomes a critical component. By the end of October, teachers will start to note student needs to require long-term support. Often these will relate to Ed Directions’ 5 Legged Model that supports student performance as learner and test-taker. Students’ attitude, perception base, knowledge base, thinking base, and experience base must be analyzed and addressed with long-term intervention plans (e.g., thinking “support” strategies like the statement/reason/evidence response strategy). An important note – it will be difficult for teachers to address any of the five legs if they do not have a positive rapport (access) with the students.
State assessments establish expectations for all students. To meet these expectations, each student must “own” the learnings (concepts, tasks, thinking) required. This “critical vocabulary” must not only be known but must be “operational.”
If the critical learnings are not known or are not operational, students cannot perform required tasks. The knowledge base must be “congruent” to the task for the student to reach potential. Alternative languages and level experiences will produce a gap between potential and performance.
The student must “know” the learning required, but that is not enough. He/she must be willing to perform the tasks required and invest “best effort” on every part of the assessment. The expectation is that every answer or product represents the student’s “personal best” effort.
Poor attitude usually causes a student to learn and perform below potential. It leads to a number of problems:
· Low motivation
· Attention problems
· Inefficient use of time
· Loss of concentration
Most state assessments imbed perceptions generated by learning (time, space, distance, etc.) Two perceptions that are required but not related to standard expectations:
· Perception of Proficiency: Knowing what constitutes “good work” and how to produce it.
· Perception of efficacy: The belief that “I can work successfully at the levels required.”
Students must know what good work is and believe that they can produce it, or they cannot demonstrate potential.
Students operate in a comfort zone built by experience as learner. If a student believes that poor work or inadequate effort is “good enough,” he/she will work at that level on any assessment.
If the student believes that he/she cannot do the work required, he/she will be correct. Lack of this belief in self produces anxieties and can negatively impact attitude.
Mature thinking patterns and critical reading/writing/thinking are required on every question of a state test.
Immature thinkers, impulsive responders, and attention deficit students regularly misread questions, leave tasks unfinished, and produce products that lack depth and integrity.
Almost all students need two sets of experiences. They must have work experience that “forms” the five supporting legs and they must have experience working successfully at the level of the assessment. They must have Formative and Calibrating experiences – this is where differentiation and accommodation become critical.
If the student lacks appropriate experience, he/she can know the content but be unprepared to work at the required levels.
Some research on the student as learner indicates that if we provide an optimum learning environment and we equip all students with core competencies that they need to be successful in a classroom environment, we can achieve tremendous growth mastery of content. Other research indicates that we can increase student learner performance as performer one full year if we keep them highly engaged in appropriate learner work during the Formative Period, and October is the critical month for a successful formation.