Monday, November 8, 2010

Blogs promote critical and analytical thinking

A workshop participant’s passionate enthusiasm about blogging resulted in SURN launching its first blog in 2008. Today, there are six blogs, one focusing on education research as well as five content area specific blogs discussing how content literacy strategies are used in middle and high school classrooms. SURN uses the blogs to extend the professional dialogue about content from professional development and build connections to support teachers in expanding their professional network.

How do you use blogs to connect professionally? What do you think about blogs as a learning resource for students?

Dr. Denise Johnson, an education professor at The College of William and Mary, recently had an article published in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy that focused on how blogs can be used to expand students’ connections, collaboration, and creativity. Her article specifically addressed the use of blogs written by children and young adult authors as well as the benefits of when students engage in blogging. The article is summarized below. Educators, regardless of content area taught, can take away ideas from the article to apply in their setting.

“Blogs promote critical and analytical thinking and allow students to create content in ways not possible in traditional paper-and-pencil environments," (p. 172) wrote Denise Johnson. She provides examples of how she uses blogs to expand students’ understanding and interactions with authors and text (see the text at the end of this post). She highlights resources for finding, managing, and organizing blogs, as well as tools to create your own blogs in order to make the use of blogs more viable in the classroom. Teachers need to: (1) model how to use, organize, and manage blogs to engage in the back and forth dialogue that can occur, (2) teach students to find engaging blog communities, and (3) students in engaging in the reciprocal process of posting and commenting in appropriate and critical ways so that conversations are created and thoughts are sparked.

The blog is not a substitute for a paper-and-pencil response assignment, rather it is an effective way to encourage students to read as much as they write and critically respond to each other. Further, the blog could be linked to other internet resources from video to articles. Dr. Johnson summarizes the research on online literature discussions as:
  • “an opportunity for students to develop and verbalize ideas with others,
  • promote in-depth responses and reflection and careful consideration of multiple perspectives and thoughts,
  • encourages peer affirmation, and
  • provides opportunities for more teacher-student and student-teacher interaction, “ (p. 180).

In sum, investing time in developing blogs as instructional tools and resources can result in student sharing their expertise, thoughts, and reflections in a dynamic and interactive way.

How are you using blogs in the classroom or with your faculty?

For those interested in how the blogs of children and young adult authors can be used to support the teaching and learning of English literature and 21st century skills, keep reading.

Johnson writes that children’s and young adult authors use blogs to connect with their readers in a way not possible even five years ago. Prior to the advent of blogging, readers could access a publisher’s website and get basic information, read interviews, and write a snail or email letter that would be filtered through the publisher and might result in a response months later. With blogging, posts and comments are immediate. It is an opportunity for authors to share their thoughts and read contributions from their readers.

Dr. Johnson teaches with blogs which, “creates powerful connections, collaborations, and creativity that promotes learning and challenges thinking,” (p. 174). She shared how she used a particular author’s blog to help students learn the depth to which an author struggled in her teen years. Print interviews basically convey that the author struggled, survived her teenage years, and grew up to be a happy writer. The blog lent the perspective that this author still struggles with her high school issues when the author shared an experience of going back to her old high school to watch a play, even walking in the school doors made her want to run, yet in the end watching the students perform the play resulted in her feeling connected and proud.

Another example is using blogs to read about how authors feel and perceive particular topics. For example, one author had a book that a group challenging its appropriateness for inclusion in a school library. The author posted a video podcast in which he stated his perspective on his award winning book. Through the blog, students could hear his perspective and make their own informed decisions.

A third example shared is how blogs can inspire and support students’ writing. An author example from the article had blogged about how she conducted background research for her book establishing the necessity of a writer to use research to construct an accurate and detailed historical environment. Other writers share their writing process and how little revisions can have a large impact on the work.

Finally, the use of live blogs can extend the dialogue about literature. Some authors will set up live blogs so virtual author visits are possible in real time. Another example was about two English teachers who set up a live blog for their classes to discuss with each other.

Want to read the article? Johnson, C. D. (2010). Teaching with authors’ blogs: Connections, collaboration, creativity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(3), 172-180.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

People First by SURN Coordinator Jennifer Hindman is Featured on Another Blog

Educators have great ideas and many have a passion for cultivating powerful learning experiences for students. Early in my career, I figured out that if I shared my experiences with other teachers and they shared theirs with me then even more students benefited. My friend and colleague, Angie Seiders, did the same. Over the years we've presented on a variety of topics. A common thread through all the topics was our ability to work well with others. Through caring about people first, we found that positive change occurred in our schools and departments. Angie began presenting a series of "lifesavers for administrators" these "lifesavers" were the foundations of how she built relationships with stakeholders that in turn translated into student success. In 2007, Angie and I started drafting a book which was ultimately published in 2009. I was asked as series of questions about the People First which appear on the Eye on Education blog for today and tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Empowering Effective Teachers

Countless number of studies have found and affirmed what we know that a quality effective teacher is the single most influential school facet of a student’s learning. Empowering Effective Teachers: Strategies for Implementing Reform is an issue brief released by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in February 2010. It is the first of three briefs that will be released. The Foundation has funded work and charged the grantees to improve teacher effectiveness. While the Foundation did not stipulate specific strategies, the nine school districts and one charter organization (10 total) have identified common strategies which include:

  • Looking at teacher effectiveness through multiple lenses including students’ academic growth, family/student feedback, observation data, and teacher attitudes and beliefs
  • Improving the leadership and evaluation skills of instructional leaders to provide feedback to teachers as well as creating better evaluation tools and processes
  • Approaching tenure as a milestone event that occurs after a review process as opposed to “time served” automatic occurrence
  • Creating career pathways and pay-for-performance. For example, one of the sites spends $30 million dollars a year on stipends for advanced degrees which has limited impact on teacher effectiveness, so those funds are going to be reallocated to criteria linked to student outcomes.
  • Recruiting and placing highly effective teachers in specific classrooms

The issue brief provides food for thought of issues, processes, and stakeholder groups to involve when an emphasis is placed on enhancing teacher effectiveness. The Foundation is a strong supporter of education reform and certainly everyone can benefit from the lessons learned and published from the work the Foundation funds. While these ten sites are fortunate to have funding and resources of the Foundation (to the tune of 20-46 million dollars annually), there are numerous school districts around the country that have made teacher effectiveness a focus.

As a case in point, SURN staffer Jenny Hindman consulted with a school district in Wisconsin that engaged in a professional development centered on questions such as What makes an effective teacher effective? and How can we support teacher effectiveness? In that school district, teachers and administrators created a teacher evaluation system built on a foundation of effective teacher research and employee performance appraisal best practices that also met state code for evaluation. Their evaluation system includes tools and processes such as goal setting for student achievement, observation, and stakeholder surveys. During hiring process, the interview questions are distributed across the multiple areas of teacher effectiveness using the Teacher Quality Index (TQI) as a tool. TQI is based on teacher effectiveness literature and interviewing best practices. These are just a few examples of how a school district adjusted its processes to focus on teacher effectiveness. This initiative was supported from the superintendent’s office to the teacher’s actions and all points in between because emphasizing teacher effectiveness was good for student learning.

The issue brief discusses capacity building of school leaders for providing better feedback for evaluation. The School Leadership Institute is currently engaged in a project called the SURN Leadership for Effective Teaching led by Jan Rozzelle, Mike DiPaola, and Margie Mason that provides 28 principals and assistant principals with tools and support to collect classroom-based data during observations and engage teachers in dialogue to provide formative feedback.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“Great teachers approach their craft with humility” (p. 13).

Share your examples of meeting students where they are and supporting their learning by adding a comment.

Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson shares in an article in this month’s Educational Leadership anecdotes about three students she taught to provide support for why differentiation is a vital way to support student learning.

Dr. Tomlinson found that by watching colleagues teach she became a stronger teacher. However, it was her studying of students whom she taught that taught her more about her professional practice. “Learning has to be about individual learners. And given the chance, those learners will challenge our ‘certainties’ about instruction” (p. 14). Dr. Tomlinson provides three examples of where a teacher may personalize instruction to meet a student’s need. “In each case, starting where the student was resulted in a student with higher aspirations, a teacher with more self-efficacy, and some great memories” (p. 16).

1) Connect with students’ interest (p. 14) Dr. Tomlinson wrote about “Scott” who loved to draw cartoons, but had relatively interest in her English class. His classmates loved his work. Scott figured out that earning a “C” got him lectures from his parents and plenty of time to pursue his passion, but a “D” would result in being grounded. So did enough to get by. When Scott asked Tomlinson if she thought the school would let him use the copier to run off copies of a comic book he wrote, an opportunity arose. As Scott experienced success with the comic books including selling ads to offset costs of commercial printing, he had a strong need to know that Tomlinson capitalized upon and Scott benefited by. She channeled his need to know to the language arts requirements for the year. Scott began interfacing with comic illustrators, made comics using the vocabulary words, his editing skills improved through his work on ads and in the comics, and he would discuss literary elements with his teacher. In class, Tomlinson would use language from his cartoons for students to name parts of speech and study grammatical constructions.

2) Finding the right starting point (p. 15) is about meeting students where they are in order to support their learning. “Golden” was a 15 year old in 7th grade who confided in his teacher (Tomlinson) that he did not know how to read. Tomlinson shares that teaching reading was something that she needed to learn to support her 7th grader as by this time many students are reading to learn as opposed to needing to learn to read. She met him where he was at, a need to know his ABCs. She engaged him in word study and used books on tape to engage him in discussions of elements of literature. Golden had a tailored spelling list. Tomlinson’s work with Golden was her initial foray into differentiating in the classroom to meet learning needs.

3) Giving permission (p. 16) works well with students with a high degree of intrinsic motivation. Geoff was an eighth grader who loved dinosaurs and told Tomlinson that he knew that school would not be a place where he could pursue his passion until he went to the university. Geoff suggested to Tomlinson that each week they meet so that she could share with him what was really important for him to learn that week. He could then work at his own pace to meet her learning goals and then have time for independent study. Tomlinson’s first thought was everything is important, and what she articulated to Geoff reflected a valuing of him. She worked with him. Tomlinson found that talking with Geoff to identify what mattered most and why was a good practice for her in addition to benefitting him. Geoff, true to his word, studied dinosaurs and extinction theories. He presented his findings to the class and teacher who admittedly did not understand much of the content due to the level but, they all understood the incredible undertaking and learning that occurred.

Want to read the article?

Tomlinson, C. A. (2010). One kid at a time. Educational Leadership, 67(5), 12-16.

Consider coming to Dr. Tomlinson’s session at the 2010 National Leadership Academy in Williamsburg on June 22, 2010. Registration is now open.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Annotation of Grow Your Personal Learning Network

New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload.
By David Warlick

Warlick gives today’s educators insight in keeping up with technology by creating their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). He writes that friends, families, and colleagues, all who rely on so many resources and professional information encompassing a PLN. The use of technology to grow PLNs is constantly changing. PLNs can be very successful but with all of the information out there things can quickly get out of control. Although technology is the source of this problem, it can also be the solution. New technologies can help us collect, store, and organize all of that information as well.

According to Warlick, he highlights three different types of PLNs:

- Synchronous (personally maintained face-to-face communication)
This is the traditional network of people and places you’ve always had, but people can enhance PLN with technologies like chat, instant and text messaging, teleconferencing (such as Skype and messenger), Twitter, and virtual worlds such as Second Life.

- Semi-synchronous (personally and socially maintained real time connections)
This refers to the idea that “collaboration doesn’t have to happen in real time” and can involve such technological tools as mailing lists, wikis, Google Docs, Twitter, group discussion boards and comment walls on Facebook, and commenting on blogs.
* SURN has 3 blogs focused on: Literacy, Middle School Math, and Education Research Annotations.

- Asynchronous (dynamically maintained collaboration over a period of time through a “different time-different place”)
This differs slightly from the other two types in that this type more often connects us with content sources like RSS aggregators (Google Reader and Netvibes) and social bookmarkers like ‘Delicious’ where people bookmark it for later use.

Want to read the study? Warlick, D. (2009). Grow Your Personal Learning Network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload. International Society for Technology in Education, 12-16. Retrieved November 17, 2009 from

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learning Profiles & Achievement: do learning preferences have a place in promoting students success in the classroom?

Tomlinson gives administrators and teachers beneficial insight of using student learning preferences in guiding for their decision making to students. She writes that learning profiles are only part of differentiated instruction which challenges them to draw on their best knowledge of teaching and learning.

According to Tomlinson, she identifies the difference between “learning style”, “intelligence preference”, and “learning profile” that teachers and administrators need to take into consideration to promote successful decisions in student learning:

  • Learning Profile- How students learn best in their differentiated learning backgrounds such as gender, culture, learning style and intelligence preference.

  • Learning Style- How students feel about their work, and their environments as a whole.

  • Intelligence Preferences- Students’ ways of thinking, understanding, and skill related to a particular intelligences or sets of intelligences of learning.

Also, she explains the difference between two leading intelligence researchers on intelligence preference in Gardner’s multiple intelligences and Sternberg’s analytical, practical, and creative intelligences.

Want to read the study?

Tomlinson, C. (2009). Learning Profiles & Achievement: do learning preferences have a place in promoting students success in the classroom? School Administrator, 66(2), 28-34. Retrieved Oct 9, 2009 from Education Research Complete database.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Annotation of Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers

This study examines the benefit of having high quality teachers in schools to positively affect their students’ performance as well as influence the performance of their teacher colleagues’ students. The study found that when high quality teachers are in a school that there are “peer spillover” effects. This means that teachers may be motivated change their amount of effort and teaching practices when they observe and/or are aware of what a highly effective teacher is doing. This peer learning is a positive influence in increasing teacher effectiveness over time. Indeed teachers perform better when their colleagues have a high level of professional excellence. In particular, new to the profession teachers benefit more from working with high quality teachers as they generally are receptive to feedback about their teaching performance.

An analysis of 11 years (1995 to 2006) of testing data on 3-5 graders in North Carolina was used. The researchers measured teacher quality using teaching experiences, license exam score, and a calculated a “value-added” score using data from teachers’ previous year’s students standardized test results in reading and mathematics. As expected students of teachers with less teaching experience and lower licensing exam scores performed more poorly than their peers who had more experienced teachers with higher exam scores. All the teachers had North Carolina issued regular licenses.

Want to read the study?

Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers. NBER Working Paper Series. Retrieved September 8, 2009 from

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