Monday, April 29, 2013

Strategies for Improving Writing

During my time in education I have worked with a number of school districts. Having been in charge of educational technology during most of my time I have been called upon to provide technological resources that can help these districts improve writing. Teachers and administrators across all grade levels have sought out my knowledge on digital writing resources in order to fill their toolbox, engage students, and increase the quality of writing. While I have successfully curated a number of resources and found success with implementing technology to improve writing, I have concluded that  the best way to improve writing is not high tech at all.

What I believe is that writing can be improved by the following:

Consistency - Writing should be interdisciplinary. The expectations for writing across disciplines should be somewhat uniform. While the expectation of a DBQ writing in social studies may be different from a character analysis in English the fundamental components of a quality written piece should be consistent. Common rubrics, writing mini lessons, graphic organizers  and common vocabulary should be part of inter department collaboration.

Writing Every Day - Students should be provided with an opportunity and expectation to write in every class, every day. Do Now and Closure activities may provide opportunities for reflection or quick writes. Art and Music classes may provide opportunities for reflection and critique. Publishing a class blog or threaded discussion provides a writing opportunity that extends the school day.

Publishing - Here is were technology provides the most value. Students should be given the opportunity to write for an audience. By publishing student work we provide them with an authentic task that is engaging and may be rich with feedback. Google Docs provides opportunities for students to  publish electronically. The documents may be shared for peer review. A class blog or online discussion provides opportunities for students to publish for an audience. Requiring students to publish on online discussion boards, blogs, or just publishing their writing on social sharing sites provides a voice, a global audience and intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to produce quality work.

When a school, not a teacher commits to a collaborative effort to improve writing that is when we can expect change. Professional development and common planning time should be focused on defining good writing, developing and sharing rubrics, graphic organizers,  mini-lessons, and common vocabulary. When teachers are provided such a tool box with time to review and discuss the results we can have an expectation of growth and improvement.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Student Growth Objectives - SMART Goals Without the Collaboration?

The new teacher evaluation plan in NJ and other states across the country are including a measure of student performance called "Student Growth Objectives"

Below is an excerpt from the NJ Department of Education regarding SGO's.
Student Growth Objectives (SGO's) are academic goals for groups of students that are aligned to state standards and can be tracked using objective measures. As part of the student achievement component of evaluation under AchieveNJ, each teacher sets SGOs with input and approval from his or her principal or supervisor at the start of the year. Specifically, teachers and principals /supervisors are expected to collaborate around the instructional content that will be covered and the skills and knowledge that will be measured. SGOs should be developed using available student data and created to be ambitious but achievable.


The focus of the SGO's are on student achievement, but the primary conversation at various training sessions is on teacher accountability. The literature provided  is focused  on collaboration between individual teacher and administrator to create, implement, and measure the results of an SGO.

Over the past decade we have been introduced to the concept of professional learning communities (PLC's). An effective PLC  is a collaborative effort between a team of educators with a common interest in student learning. The team will first understand their current reality, establish a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely), establish a plan and an assessment to implement, measure, and discuss the results of progress and incorporate instructional strategies to improve student achievement.

The significant difference between an SGO and a Smart Goal, as presented by state organizations, is the use of collaborative teams.  The value of SMART  goals and PLC's  is the discussion, collaboration, and sharing. Collaborative SGO's  would involve a group of teachers working  together to understand their student  strengths and weaknesses, development of  a goal for improvement, establishing  a common assessment to measure their goal and working  together to discuss strategies, interventions, and curriculum design to reach their goal.

PLC's have proven to be an effective tool for increasing student achievement. The power of a collaborative effort will out perform individual effort when implemented correctly. Given the demands of teaching, time constraints, and limited availability of professional development it only makes sense to have teachers working together to increase student achievement.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Student Podcasts - "This I Believe" Essays

Student's is Ms. McCabe's English 9 classes in Chatham High School have published their "This I Believe" essays as podcasts. Ms. McCabe wanted to have an opportunity for her students to publish their writing for a audience outside of the walls of their classroom.  Students refined their writing with the goal of sharing for a global audience.  This authentic practice resulted in increased student engagement and cultivated their 21st Century digital literacy skills. It was also a lot of fun! Students utilized Audacity to record their narration and our  Schoolwires website to publish them.

Below is an excerpt from Ms. McCabe's website describing the project:

From 1951 to 1955, Edward R. Murrow hosted This I Believe, a daily radio program that reached 39 million listeners. On this broadcast, Americans — both well known and unknown — read five-minute essays about their personal philosophy of life. They shared insights about individual values that shaped their daily actions. A first volume of This I Believe essays, published in 1952, sold 300,000 copies — more than any other book sold in the U. S. that year except for the Bible. In fact, these Murrow broadcasts were so popular that a curriculum was developed to encourage American high school students to compose essays about their most significant personal beliefs.

Fifty years later, This I Believe, Inc., is continuing the mission of inviting Americans of all ages and all walks of life to examine their belief systems and then write and share a 500-word personal essay, a “This I Believe” essay.

In introducing the original series, host Edward R. Murrow said, “Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” We would argue that the need is as great now as it was 50 years ago.