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Getting Started with Learning Together

Page history last edited by Bill 8 years, 8 months ago

Getting Started with Learning Together


Direct Link to Page:  http://bit.ly/atplcsouthsiouxcity 


No opportunity has changed full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter more than having the chance to work collaboratively in a professional learning community.  Once skeptical about his future in the profession, Bill was revitalized by the professional energy that studying collaboratively with peers reintroduced to his work.  Not only did he enjoy teaching again, he saw dramatic improvement in his practice -- and in the learning of the students in the sixth grade classrooms on his hallway.  


The work hasn't always been easy, though -- and along the way, Bill has learned a TON of valuable lessons about the structures that can help professional learning teams to get off on the right collaborative foot.  This page houses materials for a workshop designed to introduce the staff of the South Sioux City Community Schools in South Sioux City, Nebraska to a few of those first-hand lessons. 




Today's Slides





Step 1 - Understanding the Difference between Groups and Teams


For many schools, the first-step towards successful collaboration is building a firm understanding of the fundamental concepts that underlie the professional learning community model. In this general overview, session presenter Bill Ferriter introduces participants to the big ideas and key questions that drive every decision in the most successful PLCs. It is designed to provide buildings with a common understanding of just what it is that learning communities must commit to in order to ensure success for every student.



Activity - Defining Professional Learning Teams



One of the first steps towards developing highly-functioning learning teams is for teachers to understand the differences between Collaboration RIGHT and Collaboration LITE.  


After hearing the stories of two different learning teams, watching professional learning community expert Rick DuFour describe the differences between groups and teams, and exploring a Learning by Doing rubric detailing the characteristics of highly-collaborative teams, participants will use this handout to reflect on the developmental status of their current team.  




Survey - Rating Your Current Reality


Now that you've had the chance to think through the differences between Collaboration RIGHT and Collaboration LITE, find a partner from your learning team and review this collaborative team rubric from Learning by Doing.   Decide together where your team currently measures up against the first indicator on the rubric, which reads, "We are organized into collaborative teams in which members work interdependently to achieve common goals that impact student achievement."




Step 2 - Defining Essential Outcomes


One of the early tasks that learning teams can tackle together is determining exactly what they want students to know and be able to do at the end of each unit of instruction.  Doing so forces teams to make careful decisions about how to best spend their time with students.  Wrestling with key questions like "What are our students already doing well?" and "Which key concepts do our students typically struggle to understand?" are essential first steps in the collective study of practice that defines professional learning communities.  More importantly, defining essential outcomes is a productive starting point for collaborative work because EVERY teacher has to make choices about WHAT to teach anyway.  Making those decisions together during team meetings maximizes the value of shared planning periods. 


The following resources may help YOUR team to define essential objectives together:


Handout - Identifying Essential Learning Targets  - Defining essential outcomes begins by looking for concepts and/or skills that pass the endurance, leverage and readiness test.  That means they (1). will be important to students long after they've left school, (2). are useful to students across subject areas and domains and (3). are essential for success in the next grade level and/or subject.  Consider using this handout -- along with evidence gathered at the team, school or district level -- to collectively identify 5-8 concepts and/or skills to cover in your next unit of instruction.


Handout - Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Reflection - One of the philosophical challenges that teachers can have with identifying essential outcomes is the fact that teaching EVERY standard in the typical K-12 curriculum is literally impossible.  Teams MUST identify nonessential standards that won't receive the same amount of attention in their classrooms.  If members of your team are struggling with this truth, consider using this handout -- and its companion survey -- to have a conversation about just how guaranteed and viable your current curriculum really is. 




Step 3 - Developing Unit Overview Sheets


After learning teams have settled on a set of essential outcomes for each of their units of instruction, it is important to convert those essential outcomes into student-friendly language and then share them transparently with students, parents and other practitioners.  Doing so helps to ensure that EVERYONE who cares about our kids can support the work that we are doing in our classrooms.  Doing so also helps to ensure that teachers have a simple checklist that can be used to guide their day-to-day lesson planning.  For session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams, sharing essential outcomes transparently starts by developing unit overview sheets that include key questions, student-friendly learning statements, important vocabulary and places for kids to rate their own mastery of concepts.


The following resources might help YOUR learning team to develop unit overview sheets together:


Handout - Converting Learning Standards into I Can Statements  - The good news for busy teachers and learning teams is that writing student-friendly learning targets ISN'T a complicated process.  For session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams, writing student-friendly learning targets involves nothing more than removing awkward or overly complicated words and phrases from the original standard and adding a practical task that students can use to demonstrate mastery.  This handout -- based on suggestions in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning -- can help your team to quickly write student friendly learning targets for an upcoming unit.


Handout - Unit Overview Sheet 1  - This overview sheet comes from a unit that Bill Ferriter's current learning team is teaching to students.  Notice that it includes essential questions, learning targets written in student friendly language, and key vocabulary that students are expected to master during the course of the unit.  Also notice that there is space for students to track their performance and level of mastery on each essential learning target. 


Handout - Unit Overview Sheet 2  - This overview sheet comes from a unit taught by the eighth grade science teachers in Bill Ferriter's school.  Notice how learning targets have been broken into two different categories - Important to Know and Be Able to Do and Worth Being Familiar With.  Also notice that key vocabulary has been included and that there is a system that allows students to track their current level of mastery on each essential learning target.


Bill's Blog Posts on Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals - If your learning team needs more help with the hows-and-whys behind writing student friendly learning goals, you might find the following three posts from Bill's blog to be worth your time:  Writing Student Friendly Learning GoalsMore on Student Friendly Learning Goals , Answering Chris's Questions about Student Friendly Learning Goals.







Step 4 - Writing Common Formative Assessments


Common formative assessments of student learning serve as the collective foundation of any productive professional learning team because they make collective inquiry around practice -- systematically working together to identify the instructional strategies that make a difference for students -- possible.  The challenge for many novice learning teams, however, is remembering that common formative assessments DON'T have to be 50+ question unit tests OR district-wide quarterly standardized exams given to every student sitting in every school.  Instead, the BEST common formative assessments are (1). developed by teams together, (2). tied directly to individual learning targets, and (3). short enough that they can be delivered frequently. 


The following resources might help your learning team to develop common formative assessments together:


Common Formative Assessment: A Toolkit for PLCs at Work - No single task has been more challenging for session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams than developing and delivering common formative assessments.  And no single book has shaped his thinking -- or supported the work of his teams -- more than Common Formative Assessment, a short Solution Tree title written by assessment experts Kim Baily and Chris Jakicic.  If your team is struggling with common formative assessment, you might want to work your way through this book together. 


Tips for Creating Common Formative Assessments  - Teams new to developing common formative assessments may find this collection of tips drawn from Bailey and Jakicic's Common Formative Assessment useful.  It includes three suggestions for developing effective formative assessments as well as an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the three types of questions most often found on common formative assessments. 


Sample Exemplar Document for Constructed Response Questions  - If your team plans to use constructed response questions -- short answers, essays, completing graphic organizers -- to assess student mastery of higher order thinking skills, you will need to develop sets of exemplars that outline different levels of student performance.  These exemplars can help to ensure that everyone  -- teachers, parents AND students -- has a clear understanding of just what mastery looks like.  This handout includes a set of exemplars developed by session presenter Bill Ferriter's current learning team.  Consider using it as a sample when developing your own sets of exemplars for constructed response questions. 


Sample Protocol for Developing an Assessment -This handout from Bailey and Jakicic's Common  Formative Assessment can help teams think through the kinds of tangible steps that they need to take in order to develop a quality formative assessment together. 


MasteryConnect Formative Assessment Tool - Common formative assessments are designed to inform practice.  That means teachers and teams SHOULD be making immediate changes to their instruction after delivering common formative assessments.  For many learning teams, this kind of immediate response to assessment data is impossible because grading papers and looking at results together takes time that teachers just don't have.  MasteryConnect -- a new digital service designed by educators for educators -- can help to make taking action on formative assessment data more approachable. 


With MasteryConnect, teams can develop short (10 question) assessments that are connected to individual learning targets.  Then, using nothing more than a webcam, teachers can scan student answer sheets and immediately generate reports that sort students into groups based on their performance.  MasteryConnect automates the data collection process, helping teams to spend less time manipulating -- and more time acting on -- student learning data.





Step 5 - Taking Action Together


If learning teams are going to ensure the success of EVERY student, they simply must begin to act on the results of common formative assessments that they are delivering -- and acting on common formative assessments means building regular time for remediation and enrichment into the school day.  For many teams, this step can be the most challenging simply because (1). we believe that our schedules are written in stone and (2). we believe that intervention is someone else's responsibility.  Moving forward depends on teachers who are willing to take a "What if" instead of "Yeah, but" approach to both of these challenges.  While there will inevitably be barriers that make the perfect intervention plan impossible, EVERY team can take tangible steps to make SOME additional time available to learners who need to be supported or stretched.


The following resources might help your learning team to take action together:


Teaching Cycle Planning Calendar  - In Simplifying Response to Intervention, authors and intervention experts Mike Mattos, Austin Buffum and Chris Weber argue that learning teams interested in taking action together must start by developing a shared vision for the direction that a unit of instruction should take.  Without having a shared vision for a unit of instruction, collective action on behalf of students is simply impossible.  This handout from Simplifying RTI introduces learning teams to the kinds of key questions that they have to answer together BEFORE beginning a cycle of instruction. 


Structuring Team Data Conversations - Learning teams interested in taking action together must also establish a process for using common assessment results to identify (1). individual students who are struggling to master essential learning targets and (2). common patterns of misconceptions in assessment data.  This handout from session presenter Bill Ferriter's first book on professional learning communities outlines a set of approachable steps that his teams have taken when trying to draw conclusions from data sets.  You might also be interested in the Protocol for Data Team Meetings outlined by Kim Baily and Chris Jakicic in Common Formative Assessment. 


Professional Learning Team Data Literacy Survey - Sometimes the greatest struggle that learning teams have with developing common assessments or using data to inform practice is having a sense for just what "developing common assessments" and "using data to inform practice" looks like in action.  If that's true for your team, consider completing and then discussing this data literacy survey.  It outlines the core practices of teams that use data successfully to guide their collective work.


Intervention Evaluation and Alignment Chart  - In Simplifying Response to Intervention, Mike Mattos, Austin Buffum and Chris Weber also argue that learning teams SHOULD be able to reach 75-80% of the students that they are serving through team-based interventions.  That means teachers need to begin to think systematically about the steps that they can take together to provide additional time and support to learners in need of remediation and/or enrichment.  This handout can help your team to think carefully about the quality of the interventions that you are currently offering to the students that you share.  


Stations for Students During Intervention Periods  - One of the challenges for teams interested in creating intervention periods designed to provide struggling students with additional time to master essential learning targets is finding ways to engage students who have already mastered key concepts.  The activities detailed in this handout -- which can be supervised by parent volunteers or staff members who are not involved in providing remediation -- can absorb large numbers of students from learning teams during intervention periods. 


Using Digital Tools for Differentiation  - For session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams, the central challenge in providing additional time and attention for struggling students has always been finding ways to engage students who AREN'T in need of remediation.  The simple truth is that many students struggle in self-directed classrooms, making it difficult to create intervention periods that are meaningful for every learner.  One solution that Bill has explored is using digital tools to provide differentiated learning experiences.  This link connects to a collection of Bill's suggestions for how teams can use digital tools to make differentiation -- particularly as a part of remediation and enrichment periods -- more approachable. 






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