This past September, I had the opportunity to work with and hear Mark Perna speak about "Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations" as he addressed Career and Technical Education staff from all over southeastern Minnesota. Since then I have had the opportunity to read his new book Answering Why, and I continue to be amazed at the connection between what he talks about in his book, the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile, and the opportunities that students at CTECH have each and every day.
As a staff at CTECH we are still working hard to establish, develop, and communicate who and what we are to students, colleagues, parents, and the community. After working with Mr. Perna and reflecting upon our primary goals, it became clear that our curriculum and our instruction focus on three main areas:
I talk at length about these three areas of focus each time I lead a tour of our facility and programs and over the course of this year it has become very clear to me the connection between our focus and RPS Graduate Profile. Specifically, I see direct correlation to the following domains:
We are very proud of the progress we have made in promoting not only Career and College Readiness, but Purpose, Professional Skills, and Competitive Advantage and we are grateful that these efforts are reflected in the qualities of a graduate that our community has identified as the most important.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
As I was munching on goodies and enjoying the ads during the Superbowl game, I thought about growing up watching football with my family. Then I thought about how much fun it was to play rugby with my brother and his friends. As a young girl, playing rugby with a bunch of older boys was intimidating, but a ton of fun at the same time. My friends had no idea what the games was and, honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing either. I just listened to my brother as he told me what to do and where to go. It made me wonder about how many people are familiar with American football, but unfamiliar with other sports like rugby that are popular in other parts of the world.
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really
According to Robert Marzano in his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, “What students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.” We all have experiences that make up who we are but it is the academic side of background knowledge that assists students in their learning. So, how do we provide background knowledge to our students, specifically our English Learners, concisely and efficiently?
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledg
Diane Staehr Fenner and Sydney Snyder in their book Unlocking English Learners’ Potential created a framework to help educators determine how and what to teach in regards to background knowledge:
Staehr Fenner and Snyder suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions to assist them in determining what background knowledge their ELs need (183).
| 1 |
Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
| 2 |
Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
| 3 |
Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
| 4 |
Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
The key to all of these strategies is to find out what students already know and determine what critical information to teach quickly and concisely.
Back to Rugby: an example.
I know you are still thinking about that rugby game, right? Here is a brief clip with the rugby rules along with visuals, websites and even a rally table. Maybe when spring comes around again you can try rugby. Trust me, it’s really fun!
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
We’ve all been a part of an environment that pushed us to critically think and question. I remember a class I took as a part of my principal training. It was taught by a practicing principal and although it was challenging, it pushed me to reflect and grow as a learner. One class session we had 30 minutes to plan a staff meeting or professional development session with whatever resources we could find within that time limit. The professor set up the task but purposefully let us struggle with the process. She asked probing questions but did not give us a step by step recipe for completing the task. I remember being a little stressed at the time but I learned a lot about myself as a leader from that activity.
In his book Creating Cultures of Thinking Ron Richhart, a senior researcher from Harvard’s Project Zero, shares some of the common characteristics that people share when thinking about cultures of thinking they have experienced. Some of these are:
I asked some teachers from Rochester Public Schools for their tips on creating cultures of thinking in their classrooms.
The 10-minute essay
When our community members identified traits that they wanted to see in graduates one of the top characteristics was that students are ethical contributors. It is impossible to go to any of our high schools in the month of December and not notice the focus on contributing to others. Each of our high schools engages in fundraising for the following organizations in our community: Christmas Anonymous, Santa Anonymous, Bear Creek Services, Brighter Tomorrows, Dorothy Day Hospitality House, and the Women’s Shelter of Rochester. You will find students and teachers selling homemade baked goods, students paying money to stop the annoying passing music, and events like 'Breakfast with Santa' and a joint Drumline Showcase. While the competition is fierce among the three high schools, the goal is the same: contributing to the larger community. I am so proud that this is a focus for our students and staff.
Critical thinking was another characteristic our community wanted to see in our graduates. Here are ways I saw students demonstrating critical thinking skills in their classrooms.
In every classroom I observed students were asked to effectively communicate with their peers as part of their learning process. Some highlights included:
Many of the classrooms asked students to collaborate with one another as a part of their learning process. Employers agree with the RPS community about this being an essential skill for our graduates. I saw collaboration happening in the following contexts:
Another one of our hopes for our RPS graduates is that they are resilient learners. I saw evidence of this resiliency in classes in the following ways:
Instructional Rounds are all about the learning of the observer. They are meant to improve the school by focusing on a problem of practice or instructional core and coming to a shared understanding on identifying the next level of work to be done. By defining a problem of practice, we developed a common focus for our observations and discussion.
As a teacher, Instructional Rounds opened my eyes to the other things teachers were doing in their classrooms. Instructional Rounds helped me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of my peers as professionals, and improve my own practices to better meet my students’ needs. Having the opportunity within the instructional day to learn with my peers was some of the most powerful Professional development I had been involved in. People in my building who rarely pass each other in the hall were able to have rich discussions reflecting on their own practices and share ideas on how to most successfully implement practices within their classrooms. They had the time and space to share new learning or a deeper understanding based on observations from a round that they were excited to try in their own classrooms. Teachers were able to act on the excitement that came when they observed something new or gained a deeper understanding of based on the round.
So, why do Instructional Rounds?
The first time I went on an instructional round as a teacher it was mostly because my principal said it was something all staff needed to do. I was looking forward to seeing what other teachers were doing in their classrooms but also had some trepidation about losing instructional time with my students and disrupting our regular routine by being away from the classroom. Of course, I also had mixed emotions on the reciprocal side of Instructional Rounds, my fellow teachers coming to observe me.
When I got to the meeting space to learn about rounds before heading off to the first classroom, my instructional coaches shared this quote: “The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own perspectives” (Robert John Meehan). It resonated with me because—while I met as a PLC on a regular basis—it was very seldom that my colleagues and I had the opportunity to see each other in action practicing our crafts. My instructional coaches also explained that another big purpose of Instructional Rounds was to come to a shared understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like and what we need to do to support it.
We met back together to debrief and describe what we saw in each classroom. It was hard not to inject evaluative words such as “amazing” as I reflected on the instructional practices I had seen in other classrooms, but we had agreed that if we did that, it would change the focus of the round to being evaluative instead of keeping the focus on our own learning. My group members and I analyzed the patterns that we had seen and predicted what students were doing as a result of the teachers’ instructional practices. This conversation guided us to develop our own personal calls to action, which we wrote on a brightly-colored piece of paper that we hung up in our classrooms to spur us into taking action on our goals.
Lastly, we brainstormed the possible next level of work school-wide around the problem of practice that had framed our observation and our discussion.
Later that same year, an optional instructional round at my building was offered around a different problem of practice. That time I signed up even though it wasn’t something my principal said I needed to do. Since then, I have had the honor of collaborating with other teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators to develop and facilitate Instructional Rounds, and the feedback we collected from teachers about participating in Instructional Rounds has been overwhelmingly positive.
Although the idea of Instructional Rounds was originally a bit foreign and scary to me, they have become an incredibly powerful way for me to learn. Having the honor of seeing the incredible work that my colleagues do and learning from them has made lasting change in my decision-making as an educator.
Feel free to connect with Schieve via email or Twitter
To explore further, consider the book Instructional Rounds in education: A network approach to improving learning and teaching (2009), which is often mentioned in City’s article.
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