The secret to amazing Professional Development: The 3 P’s

When people ask me for the secret to great professional development, I share our 3 Ps.

Funnily enough, we discovered these 3 P’s by accident. In the summer of 2011, thanks to a Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant, we brought 20 teachers from around the country together to work on the first batch of LearnZillion lessons.  For two days we sat in a cramped room with math books, computers, and treats, working on lessons. At the end of the two days, several of the teachers said that it had been “the best professional development” of their career.

A year later it happened again.  This time we brought 123 teachers to Atlanta and called the event TeachFest.  On the second night, after a full day of working on lessons, we gave everyone an option.  They could go out on the town, watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on a large screen, or continue working on lessons in the basement.  At 11pm, half the teachers were still working in the basement.  Again, the feedback at the end of the event was, “this was the best professional development.”

It was a revelation that our content creation process was, in fact, the key to incredible professional growth, satisfaction and impact.  And when we analyzed why that was, it boiled down to 3 Ps: product, process, and people.

1. Product

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The experience is focused on developing a final producta lesson.  The product is practical, meaningful, and challenging to create.  The teachers know they are going to use the lessons, and that other teachers and students are going to use them too.

Lesson on a computer

Most professional development focuses on professional development.  We have come to believe that professional development is most powerful when focused on creating something useful; professional development is the by-product of creating a product.

2.  Process

Focusing on a final product isn’t enough.  Teachers have to be set up for success.  There needs to be a roadmap that provides them with the guidance and resources they need to accomplish the goal – from initial research, to outlines, to drafting.  At TeachFest, we didn’t say, here’s a block of time to plan, go for it.  We thought through every step of the process and asked ourselves, “what does the teacher need to be successful now.  What about now?  What about now?”  And then we equipped them with those things.

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Here, for example, is an overview of our TeachFest roadmap:

LearnZillion Process

LearnZillion lesson creation process

3.  People

The final P stands for people.  The 20 teachers at that initial convening helped each other out.  

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When one of them had a question about their lesson, they would talk it through with a colleague or a coach.  They had opportunities to get feedback and then make revisions to their work based on that feedback.  This happened in person and then continued on-line over the summer as teachers worked on their lessons.  As a result, most of the experience looked like this…

Teacher Collaboration

Dream Team teachers collaborating at TeachFest

…as opposed to looking like an expert standing in front of a large group of people.

Put them together and what have you got…

McDonald’s talks about its “secret sauce.”  When it comes to professional development we believe the sauce shouldn’t be secret.  Just remember the 3 Ps.  Put them together and you create amazing lessons, build the capacity of teachers, and have a lot of fun.

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Dream Team 2013 group shot

National LearnZillion 2013 Dream Team

Writing, aligning, and sequencing text-dependent questions

This webinar, the second in our “Close Reading” series, models a proven strategy for crafting text-dependent questions and follows up on our earlier “Text Talk” webinar and our 6 step guide to crafting great text-dependent questions. Enjoy!

Download the resources referenced in this webinar here, including:

Like what you see?

Sign Up for the next webinar in our series,

“Crafting effective text-based writing prompts”

on Mar 11th 2014 at 4p ET.

5 ways to leverage LearnZillion’s Downloadable Slides

Here are 5 tips for customizing LearnZillion’s lesson video slides in ways that serve your classroom needs.

Thousands of teachers across the country use our short instructional videos to help students learn. Many have found that customizing the associated downloadable slides are a great way to turn the 5-minute video into an instructional engine for their whole class period.

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Read on to learn how to customize downloadable slides in ways to meet your classroom needs

These are the top five ways teachers are taking advantage of LearnZillion’s downloadable lesson slides:

1. Whole class instruction: use slides to help guide whole group instruction

Whole Class Instruction

Slides, presented to a class in Indiana

2. Practice: use slides to create practice problems and worksheets for students

Worksheets, created from practice problems on LearnZillion

Worksheets, created from practice problems on LearnZillion

3. Manipulatives: turn visuals into manipulatives for hands on work

A manipulative, created by a teacher in Maryland

Manipulative, created by a teacher in Maryland

4. Anchor Charts: turn visuals into posters to remind students what was taught

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Chart, turned into a poster for a third grade class

5. Google Presentations: turn slides into an online virtual discussion between students

Google Presentation

Presentation, created by an elementary teacher

Here’s a quick slideshow that walks you through the options, step by step.

Check out our library of thousands of video lessons today.

Do you have other ideas for how to customize slides? Leave a comment below.

4 ways Coaches can use LearnZillion videos

This post was written Lisa Bernstein who has spent the past fifteen years working in schools, both in the classroom and as a literacy coach in Washington D.C.

Teacher Collab

Build your teachers’ confidence and capacity by using instructional videos in these four ways:

1. Anchor a discussion on effective lesson content

Despite our best intentions, teachers sometimes perceive coaching as mere criticism. Anchoring a coaching session around video lessons makes it easy for coaches and teachers to sit on the same side of the table (both literally and figuratively) and evaluate a lesson together. Whether a teacher decides to emulate or avoid the choices shown in the video, teacher and coach can make a deliberate choice about instruction based on a model. TIP: Ensure that your lesson has well-researched content; learn about our rigorous research method in making LearnZillion lessons here.

Payoff – enriches the coach-teacher relationship around content through collaboration

2. Search for specified content

A vast library of video lessons gives teachers and coaches the ability to explore granular content areas segmented by subject, grade, topic, and even specific standards. On LearnZillion.com we enable this type of dynamic searching with our 3 ways to find resources.

Payoff – find the exact resource you need, quickly

3. Enable job-embedded PD 

Teachers can watch a 5-10 min video lesson as a form of micro-PD. Lessons provide both pedagogical and content to improve teacher practice and knowledge as well as increase student learning. Coaches can suggest this method so that teachers can efficiently digest their learning over time.

Payoff – effective use of time

4. Translate directly to practice

Video lessons can be directly adapted to classroom practice, or even used directly with students as whole class instruction, small group or individual support for a particular skill.  Video lessons can be the focus of an activity center or even assigned as homework.  (Link: post on 9 ways to use video lessons with students)

Payoff – translate your own learning into student results

Trying something new in any context can be tough!  For teachers, the opportunity to see a lesson taught in a different way oftentimes will increase his or her confidence to try something new in their practice.  So try our new Common Core Aligned lessons in your coaching.

Any other ideas for how coaches can use instructional videos? Share them with us at feedback@learnzillion.com

Save time and streamline your planning with LearnZillion Lesson Plans

Hear from LearnZillion’s own Eric Westendorf (CEO) and Boaz Munro (Content Lead) about how the site’s newest feature can help math teachers ensure their students master the essential standards across grades 3-8.

Literacy Office Hours with David Liben pt. 2

This is the second of three office hours hosted by David. View the first office hours here.

David Liben, of Student Achievement Partners, shares a wealth of tips and resources to help prepare your students for the Common Core ELA standards.

RESOURCES

Reading Strategies and Close Reading

  • “Rethinking Reading Comprehension Instruction,”  by McKeown, Beck, and Blake, is a study that compared the effects of content instruction (using text-dependent questions) to the effects of strategies instruction, and found that content focused instruction had greater benefits.
  • Cognitive Scientist Daniel Willingham’s Blog,  presents research and describes the danger of excessive focus on comprehension strategies.

Examples of Rich Complex Text

Examples of good questioning technique:

Using Basal Readers

  • This lesson bank offers Common Core-aligned replacement lessons for basals published before the Common Core (pre-2010).
  • To learn more about or join the group that created these lessons, the Basal Alignment Project (BAP), click here.
  • There are lots of new resources that say they’re Common Core-aligned.  Use the Publisher’s Criteria to evaluate whether they are really aligned to the Standards.   If IMET is on atc we could use that as well.

Read Alouds

  • Model Read Aloud lesson for K-2 classrooms, based on the poem, The Wind, available here.
  • K-2, teachers all over the country are also working to create Common Core-aligned Read Aloud lessons, through the Read Aloud Project.  Access the resources they create or join the group through Edmodo, using the group access code: pkx52i

Volume of Reading and Vocabulary

  • Long-term reading success depends on not just close reading, but also on volume of reading.
  • This article by Marilyn Jager Adams in American Educator explains how a series of texts on related topics is the fastest way to grow the vocabulary needed to access complex text.  She also cites research by Thomas Landauer showing the powerful relationship between volume of reading and vocabulary growth.

Guided Reading

Like what you’ve seen? Sign up here for our next Literacy Office Hours on April 9th, 2014.

Also, check out our post on 4 tips for aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core and 3 tips for approaching close reading.

My First Year Teaching: A Reading Revelation

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Beyond the serial illnesses and perpetual lack of sleep, my first year teaching was a set-up for the rest of my professional life as an educator.

With an undergraduate degree in economics and an early career in real estate development where I analyzed the merits of new deals, I came to teaching with a practiced analytical lens.

Recognizing the Problem

My first year AH HAH moment. . .

  1. Not every student in my 4th grade class was on grade level in regard to their literacy or numeracy.
  2. The curriculum and materials did not in any way account for this reality.

This was 15 years ago.  Instruction was primarily delivered via whole class instruction and student activities.  I quickly realized my students that read below grade level struggled in all academic disciplines.  I marinated uncomfortably in this ‘knowing’ for a while-frustrated by the disconnect between the curriculum/my instruction and my students’ needs. Some of my students were soaring, learning every day, while others just slogged through the day learning little.  I was missing the mark.  It drove me nuts.

Understanding the Problem

The essential question that drove my insanity was how do I get all my students to love learning like those who are already successful in my classroom?  How can I shape my teaching and the curriculum, so ALL my students engage enthusiastically to learn?  What is my responsibility in this dynamic?  Some teachers told me to chill out-that it was not my responsibility to worry about those that don’t learn what is taught well.  That perspective did not work for me.

Addressing the Problem

The first realization was I needed to break from my current approach. It just wasn’t working.  So, after relentless research through reading and discussion with respected veteran colleagues, I took a risk.  I decided a love of reading might address many of my worries for my students.  Towards that end, I begged, borrowed and stole (like any effective teacher) any trade books across a continuum of reading levels for my classroom.  Research by Dr. Richard Allington indicated that the volume of reading was the best pathway to growing reading achievement, so applying the human axiom that we prefer to do what we are successful at, I started an independent reading program in my classroom by putting three components in place:

  • An assessment of each reader in my class in order to appropriately match readers with texts, so a high success rate would be ensured.
  • A diverse collection of books that met the distribution of reading levels in my classroom and offered choice to students.
  • A system of accountability on daily reading volume and reading growth over time, especially around comprehension.

It was a mess to start: books everywhere, confused parents and a hesitant administration.  Systems had to be developed to manage the flow of books in and out of our classroom library, to level books for easy identification, to offer feedback on student accountability, for ongoing assessment to move students up the reading level continuum, and to schedule time for students to choose an ample weekly diet of independent reading books.  Pangs of doubt that I was just creating chaos and not supporting my goal for creating a love of reading to drive higher reading achievement ate into my already deficient sleeping time.

Independent reading: classroom library

Independent reading: classroom library

Perceived Success

But one bad day, when everything seemed to go awry and desperate to regain control of my classroom, I declared 10 minutes of silent reading of independent reading booksand thunderbolt, silence descended-not one complaint!  Shocked, I realized my students must like to read their independent reading books-my hypothesis was proving true. If kids can read and understand a text, they will read more! New rule: carry your independent reading book with you everywhere.  Independent reading became a go-to when lines had to be quiet or assemblies were late to start or even when students completed math tests early.  By the end of my first year, I was thinner and harried to the bone, but my students were reading a significantly greater volume of text—and although some of them may not have admitted it publicly, they actually enjoyed reading.

Growing Success with Common Core Standards

A love, or strong like, of reading may not solve all my students’ problems, but it clearly had a positive impact.  Students start to see themselves as readers, general academic confidence grows and academic performance across disciplines nudges upward.  Please, ask any teacher with an established independent reading program about student outcomes.  By 2nd grade, the CCSS Anchor Reading Standard 10 expects students to read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently (in that grade band). The roadmap to meeting this standard is at least in part dependent on a robust independent reading program that holds students and teacher accountable.

To scaffold growth in comprehension, see any LearnZillion lesson set on reading at the appropriate reading level.  These lessons not only reveal the thinking process readers employ to create meaning from any text but also offer an instructional approach to support a teacher’s practice using any fiction or non-fiction text.

What are your thoughts? In the comments below, please share any resources you find helpful for matching readers to texts.

Turbocharge whole group instruction with Lesson Plans

We’re proud to introduce an exciting addition to LearnZillion.com: Lesson Plans for essential math standards in 3rd-8th grade.

 

What Are Lesson Plans?

A lesson plan is a new resource that enhances whole-class instruction.  For each section of the lesson, lesson plans provide challenging questions that increase student engagement and build conceptual understanding.  They are aligned to a LearnZillion lesson video and include printable practice problems and next steps for students who struggle with specific concepts.

The structure of the lesson plans reflects our belief that students do best when given challenging questions and frequent practice, and when teachers personalize learning based on individual needs.

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An example of simple, straightforward options for students who struggle with standard 4.NF.3d

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An example of questions for testing student misunderstanding at each stage of the lesson, with notes for teachers on the right.

 

Why Lesson Plans?

Our Dream Team has created thousands of conceptual, grade-level video lessons, and we’re keen to make those videos even easier to use.  Many teachers have told us their favorite way to use LearnZillion is to weave them into their whole group instruction: pause them frequently to ask questions, give students an opportunity to check their understanding, provide practice problems aligned to the lesson, and assign more videos to students who need extra support.

The new Lesson Plan feature provide a guide every teacher can use to transform each of our short video lessons into a classroom period characterized by powerful whole group interactivity, actionable formative assessments, and targeted differentiation support.

What Should I Do?

We’re excited for teachers to download and use any of these essential lesson plans! Find a standard or topic you’re teaching soon.  Assign practice problems to your students.  Use the differentiation links when misunderstandings arise.

Start Using Lesson Plans

Thanks for sharing this news and, as always, please let us know what works and what else you’d like to see!

“Shouldn’t you have known?”, or “How I learned to value formative assessment the hard way”

Posie Wood, former 3rd grade teacher

Posie Wood, former 3rd grade teacher

There’s nothing quite like the heartbreak of administering a test to a group of eight and nine year olds that you have come to love dearly—and knowing instantly that you let them down.

As a first year teacher, it wasn’t that I didn’t believe my students were smart and capable, I did. But I also knew from the moment that I saw page 1 of the test booklet that I hadn’t done enough to prepare them for questions and tasks like the ones I saw on the test. As I circulated through my classroom on that humid April morning, I entered into a state of despair, panic, and most of all, shame that I had so failed my students.

Later that day, looking for sympathy from my father, I sobbed the whole story into the phone while sitting in the school parking lot.

“Hold on,” he said. “I don’t want to be a jerk, but shouldn’t you have known?”

“Known what?”

“That they were going to struggle on the test. Shouldn’t you have understood better than anyone else where your students were?

With those four words (“Shouldn’t you have known?”) my father (who, by the way, is not an educator) shifted my entire orientation as a teacher. Even though he didn’t know the name for it, my father had turned me on to formative assessment and forced me to see, with cruel clarity, just how powerful a tool it is.

Five lessons from a formative assessment failure

Here are the lessons I have since learned about formative assessment—while intellectually, many of these are things that I had known before I stepped into the classroom, it took a year of teaching to really recognize them:

1.  Formative assessment needs to be constant—and it’s more than paper-and-pencil

Formative assessment is more than an exit ticket at the close of a lesson or a set of “check in questions” at the end of the week. It’s really an action and a habit that should be occurring consistently in the classroom. Formative assessment takes many shapes and comes in many sizes: yes, my exit tickets and weekly question sets, were a type of formative assessment, but formative assessment can also be well-timed questions, monitoring of student discussion, observation checklists, interviews, notes pages, one-on-one check-ins, and more. Like learning how to balance on a surfboard, it requires time and practice to build up a teacher’s formative assessment muscle and make it a routine part of daily practice. By thinking about formative assessment as paper-and-pencil strategies only, I’d limited myself to examining only a tiny fraction of the actionable data coming from my students and therefore lost valuable opportunities to fill learning gaps.

2. Formative assessment demands follow up

Formative assessment by definition is meant to inform instructional choices and next steps. Formative assessment without follow-up therefore is not really formative assessment. All those well-meaning exit tickets I’d painstakingly prepared (but rarely had time to review) my first year teaching? All those thoughtful questions I added into my lesson plans? (but never strategically listened to student answers)?  I thought I was formatively assessing, but without the expertise that comes with experience (not to mention the time as a first year teacher) to examine my student work, bucket my class into groups based on their demonstrated understanding, and meet each student in the right place, providing the just-right interventions, redirection, questioning, and prompting—I was asking questions, but not following up. I was only doing half the battle.

3. Formative assessment takes planning, coordination, and pedagogical content knowledge

Great formative assessment is planned and backmapped from a larger learning goal. It’s not enough to just ask questions and redirect or reteach when necessary, great formative assessment drives towards an end understanding or challenge (such as adding fractions with like denominators) and provides insight into where understanding breaks down at critical moments, allowing you to adjust course as necessary. When I reviewed the questions and exit slips from my first year, I realized in horror that they were scattered, often uncoordinated with my lesson objective, my modeling, and my targeted state standard. Even when I did have time to review student work, because my formative probing wasn’t always thoughtfully aligned with my instruction or designed to unveil misunderstandings, it did me little good.

4. Formative assessment is an art—but we don’t like to think about it that way.

Looking back on my experience that first year, I realize that something else was at work as well. In both my training prior to entering the classroom and the ongoing professional development I received through my school, as well as classes I sought out on my own, formative assessment was treated as an afterthought, a secondary or supporting character that was constantly upstaged by the star of the show: the state test. In third grade, the first official testing year, this was especially true.

When formative assessment was mentioned at all, it was as an aside—a given, something that everyone MUST be doing, and something so elementary that it did not merit discussion or elaboration. The message that this sent to me as a new teacher was: “Formative assessment is easy, something you should just ‘know’ how to do, it shouldn’t take too much of your time, effort, or thought.” It took the state test, like a bucket of icy water, to wake me up.

The truth is that formative assessment is an art. To be done well, a teacher must exercise the pedagogical content knowledge to craft questions that will reveal and anticipate particular student misunderstandings, quickly interpret student work, responses, and data, rapidly take action—whether that be a follow up question or prompt, regrouping students, or re-teaching a particular concept with a different approach—and juggle all this with the time allotted for instruction and classroom management concerns. As a first year teacher, I was struggling to keep my head above water and blissfully ignorant of delicate balancing act that is formative assessment.

5. Formative assessment gets easier with practice—and support

Building up an approach to formative assessment that is reflexive, one that a teacher can instinctively fire at critical moments with the right questions, prompts, and follow-through takes time and practice. It also takes advice and modeling from veteran teachers, support and feedback from administrators, guidance and examples from curricular tools, and professional development that builds pedagogical content knowledge. This kind of support is made all the more important with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which raise the bar and require students to flexibly attack challenging, real-life math tasks and deeply understand complex text. Without routine and thoughtful formative assessment that is anchored by strategic follow-up, students will struggle. Without these supports as a first year teacher, I grappled daily (even though I wasn’t fully aware of that until it was too late).

Scaling our impact

At LearnZillion, the academic team spends a lot of time thinking and talking about formative assessment. Sometimes, I leave these conversations wanting to go back in time to shake my first year teacher self into an earlier realization of the role that formative assessment should have been playing in my classroom all along. More often though, I leave with a sense of respect and awe of teachers and colleagues who have mastered this delicate art—and a desire to take their best practices, habits, and content knowledge and share it with others so that come spring time, there aren’t other first year teachers facing the question, “Shouldn’t you have known?”

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Editor’s note: For more on how to leverage some of the techniques Posie mentions in this post, check out:

For Math: http://blog.learnzillion.com/2014/01/16/backwards-mapping-from-parcc-and-sbac-math-items-to-formative-assessments-2/

For ELA: http://blog.learnzillion.com/2014/01/31/text-talks-a-first-step-in-planning-for-close-reading-2/

Google

School closed because of the Polar Vortex? We’ve got you covered!

The Polar Vortex is closing down school all across the country. Give your students some high quality lessons to work on while they’re at home so the learning doesn’t stop.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Download this snow-day-specific parent letter

2. Find the LZ Quick Codes you want students to work on and add them to the letter or, just direct them to the “essential” lessons from grades 3-8 at the end of the letter.

3. Share the letter with students and parents.

4. Mix up some hot chocolate and stay off the roads!

If you’ve never used LZ Quick Codes before, just find the lesson you want to share, click “Quick Code”, jot down the code and share it!
Quick Codes

We hope this is helpful! Stay warm, stay safe and happy teaching!

Cheers,

The LearnZillion Team