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As the mother of three fantastic children, I know first-hand the struggle of being involved with their school, as well as teaching at my own school full-time.  I obviously care deeply about education; its importance is central to my job every day.  Yet, I am often exhausted while going through their bags nightly, helping them with their homework, talking to them about their day at school, and keeping in contact with their teachers.  If I didn’t make it a personal priority, I might not follow through with this vital ritual on a daily basis.  I can understand why some parents may not stay as “involved” in their child’s education as they should. 

            Although one might argue that while most parents intuitively know that parental involvement is vitally connected to student achievement, many struggle to follow through.  What are those barriers?  As a teacher at an urban charter school, are those barriers different for my students than in other schools?  What activities and strategies might an urban charter school utilize in order to increase parental involvement?

            To begin finding answers to these questions, I read the article, “Parental Involvement in Urban Charter Schools: New Strategies for Increasing Participation” from The School Community Journal (2011, vol. 21, No. 1).  The study described research-supported positive academic and behavioral outcomes for students whose parents are involved in their education.  This involvement included a spectrum of support:  meeting basic health and safety needs, support at home, volunteerism at the school, and activity in decision-making roles at the school level.  The positive benefits from involvement extended to the parents and to the community. 

            As schools of choice, charter schools might be assumed to have fewer barriers to parental involvement.  Unfortunately, a 2007 study (Jeynes) cited in the article showed that parental involvement was still a significant challenge in charter schools.  That article, “Parental Involvement in Urban Charter Schools” discussed three main barriers in the urban setting.  These factors include language barriers, work schedules, and a sense of disenfranchisement.  In general, schools with urban, working-class, low-income parents of racial and ethnic minorities had less visible parental involvement than other schools.

            So, as leaders of innovation in education in an urban setting, what can we do to meet the needs of our educational community?  After studying highly-effective urban charters around the country, the authors of the aforementioned study in The School Community Journal suggested the following strategies:

  1. Wrap-around services, incentives, and contracts to enhance and ensure participation
  2. Technology for advertising parent volunteer opportunities
  3. Involving parents in decision-making and governance of the school
The study concluded that, though some of these are typical activities, they were implemented with innovative strategies. 

            As a charter school, we have the power to be innovative and respond quickly to the needs of our community.  Ultimately, we want our students to meet academic challenges and become productive citizens.  Parental involvement has been shown in research to be linked to student achievement and positive behavior; therefore, it is our obligation as a charter school to find effective strategies to involve parents.  This teaching mom knows that, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  So, teachers must pull together to find ways for all of the villagers to take part in their children’s education.


Krista Bridenthal
Indianapolis, IN

 
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According to the National Commission on Writing in America’s School and Colleges and Gary A. Troia of Michigan State University, instructional research in writing does not enjoy the same level of distinction or rally as much concern as the other two “R”s.  It comes as no surprise then, that only 28% of 4th graders and 31% of 8th graders across the United States achieved "at or above" a proficient level of writing performance in 2002.  Getting a little closer to home, only 26% of 4th graders and 30% of 8th graders in Indiana achieved the same proficiency according to published NAEP data.  This troubling data is compounded by the fact that many students routinely overestimate their writing ability.  Essentially, students are unable to write well and are unaware of their shortcomings.

It’s tough to fix what you don’t know is broken  

Motivational factors such as perceived competence play an important role in the writing outcomes of students with and without writing problems, but there are common threads throughout the actual texts of struggling writers.  They are generally shorter, more poorly organized, and weaker in overall quality due to the inclusion of more irrelevant information and more grammatical and mechanical errors.  Poor writers tend to dive right in to a writing task, and even when they do plan, potential content is listed in first draft format.  Students need solidly organized topic and genre knowledge to use in planning activities. 

Poor writers rarely build a clear vision of their final outcome and often possess a limited ability to assume the reader’s perspective.  As a result, it is difficult for them to detect inaccuracies and mismatches between what they intended and the actual text.  Studies have shown that elementary students are better able to detect problems and revise when reading a paper written by someone else than when reading their own work.  Young writers, and those less competent in writing, presuppose too much shared understanding between themselves and their readers. 
 

Effective writing instruction for students of all ages and abilities

The following five components of writing interventions have been associated with strong positive outcomes for poor writers:

∞   Explicit teacher modeling of the writing process and composing strategies


∞   Peer collaboration and teacher conferencing to gain informative feedback

∞   Use of procedural prompts (e.g., graphic organizers, mnemonics, outlines, checklists, rubrics) to facilitate planning and revising

∞   Limiting barriers produced by poor text transcription (e.g., dictating)

∞   Self-regulation (e.g., self-statements and questions)

Explicit modeling is a core element because simply being exposed to the writing process is insufficient for most students.  Demonstration using overt mental dialogue is effective because it permits novice writers to observe the tactics and motives of more experienced authors and to appropriate more sophisticated thinking and language to their independent writing endeavors. 

Sustained writing nearly every day embedded within a predictable routine should be a staple of classroom writing instruction if students are expected to demonstrate mastery over writing content, style, organization, and conventions.

Tracie Mansfield
Indianapolis, IN



http://www.writing.ucsb.edu/wrconf08/Pdf_Articles/TroiaChapter.pdf
Troia, G. A. (2007). Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know. In M. Pressley, A. K. Billman, K. H. Perry, K. E. Refitt, & J. M. Reynolds (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need (pp. 129-156). New York: Guilford Press.
 
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My son, Oscar, is now five-years-old.  I have always prided myself in being an
  involved, caring, and competent parent. 
When Oscar would do well at school, in sports, or helping others- I was the first to shower him praise.  I
wanted him to know that he had a father who was proud, a father who loved him.  However, as he has gotten
older, I became increasingly concerned about his responses to what he perceived to be“failure.”  When he wasn’t
given enough time to complete a project at school, he would fight to hold back tears.  When he wasn’t able to set
a record time in a hockey drill, he would scream, “I did so bad!” Why?  As I sought to find the answer, which in today’s age has become a process that combines personal
reflection with a Google search, I came across some research that helped me make sense of my son’s behavior…and…my own behavior.

We live in a “results-driven” world.  A world that praises “Championships,” “Breaking records,” “Honor Rolls,” and “Four-star schools.”  We are all products of a society that tells us that our worth is solely tied to our results.  We, often
times unknowingly, project that on our own children…and in education, on our own students. As a father, I thought I was behaving responsibly by praising my son for his eight-goal games, his undefeated seasons, his straight A’s, and
record-breaking performances.  However, what I was doing was setting him up with no coping mechanism for
failure, and for him to feel no pride in work ethic without outcome.     
       
I am quite thankful that my research on this topic led me to Elizabeth Gunderson, a Professor of Psychology at Temple University. She wrote that, “Praise that emphasizes a young child’s efforts, actions, and strategies yields greater persistence and better performance in the long-term than praising a child’s outcomes.  Praise that focuses on a
young child’s results yields significantly less persistence and
performance.  The kind of praise focused on effort is called 'process praise' and sends the message that effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through
hard work."

Researchers from Temple, Stanford, and the University of Chicago found that the amount of process praise that teachers used in pre-kindergarten to second-grade predicted whether students welcomed new challenges and had
strategies for overcoming failure in later grades.  Students of teachers who used person praise, results praise, or general praise did not fare as well. The children who received process praise also had a stronger belief that intelligence and personality can be developed with effort. 
  
Here are some examples of process
praise:

You are really trying hard- that builds toughness!

I love that you really took your time when writing that
essay.

You are really sticking with this project- you have
fought hard to do well.

Good job re-counting the rabbits; way to check your
work!

I can tell you really listened during my
instructions.
You really controlled your emotions during that math problem; that was amazing.

Here are some examples of person or results
praise:
You are so good at math.            

You are such a smart student.

You are awesome- you just broke your record.

Here are some examples of general
praise:

You got it.

Great.

Excellent.

It is also important that schools and teachers communicate this research to parents in meetings and at conferences. Interestingly, we as parents and teachers also praise boys and girls differently.  These same researchers from Temple found that parents of boys, ages 1 to 3, used more process praise than parents of girls at the same age. At age seven
and eight, the boys in the study were more likely to have positive attitudes about academic challenges than girls. Boys also held a higher belief that intelligence could be improved than the girls involved in the study.

These findings indicate that improving the quality of teacher instruction, teacher-student interaction, and early parental praise helps our children develop the belief that their future success is in their own hands…and that’s exactly where it should be.

Scott Frye
Indianapolis, IN

 
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We always elevate the triumphant stories in our society of the “Lone Ranger” leader. These people seemingly rise above the rest of the human race to become the iconic role model in their field. But, like most Disney endings, reality is telling us a different story. This phenomenon is very evident in the field of education. Movies like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, The Principal, etc. all tell stories of educators that have received hero status because of a single-minded passion and power for educational and academic transformation. And, while these stories may begin in truth, recent research is telling us that schools may not achieve academic success if their school leader’s day-to-day priority is academic success. While this sounds confusing, the logic is fairly simple.

A 2009 Stanford University Study by Horng, Klasik, and Loeb suggests that, “a single-minded focus on principals as instructional leaders operationalized through direct contact with teachers may be detrimental if it forsakes the important role of principals as organizational leaders.” In other words, if extreme administrative movie characters like Morgan Freeman and James Belushi portray school change through the use of chains and baseball bats, they may be demonstrating the simple message that structure and organization must be the precursor to an effective system. Perhaps the message is simply one of organizational necessity. This is a necessity to ensure structure and organization prior to quality and implementation. This statistical notion holds true in all team-based environments because quality results cannot be replicated without a consistent replicable structure.

Question: How then do school administrators juggle the responsibility of organizational leadership, when the academic and financial focuses of education are constantly pushed forward with ultimatums?

Answer: To answer this question, one can look at the same Stanford study. While analyzing the impact of administrative integration into day-to-day instructional activities, it was found that there are only marginal (if any at all) related improvements in student performance. And, there are often reports of deteriorating relationships with teachers. These findings suggest that the principal may risk academic and cultural growth when getting overly involved in the instructional or academic process.

Conclusion: The school leader cannot ignore the academic process, but should ensure there are solid organizational frameworks in place before prioritizing an individual role in academic implementation. And, while school leaders may feel compelled to micromanage the educational process, over-involvement does not necessarily equal academic improvement, and may cause harm to the teacher-administrator relationship. School leaders need to empower staff leadership and should consider additional administrative oversight for academic implementation in order to ensure organizational frameworks are held together with consistency.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN


2009 Stanford Study:
http://www.stanford.edu/~sloeb/papers/Principal%20Time-Use%20(revised).pdf
Horng, E,L, Klasik, D, Loeb, S, (2009). "Principal Time-Use and School Effectiveness." School Leadership Research Report, 09-3: Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice.



 
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Does my student have ADHD? As an educator, it is advantageous to know the signs of ADHD and what to do if you suspect a student may have it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 4-12% of children have ADHD. That means that in a class of 20 students you will most likely have 1-2 students who have ADHD.

 

What is ADHD? According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) (1994), ADHD can be defined by behaviors exhibited. Individuals with ADHD exhibit combinations of the following behaviors:

•    Fidgeting with hands or feet or squirming in their seat (adolescents with ADHD may appear restless); 


•    Difficulty remaining seated when required to do so; 


•    Difficulty sustaining attention and waiting for a turn in tasks, games, or group situations; 


•    Blurting out answers to questions before the questions have been completed; 


•    Difficulty following through on instructions and in organizing tasks; 


•    Shifting from one unfinished activity to another; 


•    Failing to give close attention to details and avoiding careless mistakes; 


•    Losing things necessary for tasks or activities; 


•    Difficulty in listening to others without being distracted or interrupting; 


•    Wide ranges in mood swings; and

•    Great difficulty in delaying gratification.

It is important to note that these symptoms must be present in more than one setting, i.e. school and home; symptoms must be harmful to the child socially or academically for at least six months. While all children may have these symptoms at times, with ADHD, the symptoms are more frequent and severe.  Many children with ADHD simply can’t control their behavior even when they try.  This often leads to frustration for these children. Frustration is shown with anger, giving up, or a sense of hopelessness. Frustrated children seem to just “shut down.”

There are three subtypes of ADHD (DSM-IV):

Inattentive type:  These children are the hardest to detect. They are the daydreamers who may have difficulty following directions and completing work.

Hyperactive/Impulsive Type: These children are not only constantly on the go, but they also the lack impulse control appropriate for their age.  They may have a hard time sitting still and need to fidget a lot. In older children and adults, this will mostly appear as impulsive behavior

Combined Type: These children show symptoms of BOTH types of ADHD.

Many children have ADHD in combination with other disorders. According to the US Department of Education, approximately one-third to one-fourth of children with ADHD also have learning disabilities. Children with ADHD also have a higher than average rate of having other psychiatric disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and mood disorders.

As educators, we are not qualified to make an ADHD diagnosis.  However we are often the first to notice signs of it in a child. So, if you suspect a student may have ADHD, contact your school counselor. Your counselor can observe the child and talk with the child to rule out other problems that may have similar symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and abuse.  You can mention to parents that their child shows some signs of ADHD and recommend that they talk to their doctor or other professional. Never recommend medication for a child. Only a licensed medical professional can do that. 

Teachers need to be sympathetic with parents. In making decisions regarding their child’s ADHD, they most consider the child’s overall well-being. School behavior is just one part of that. Most ADHD medications have serious side effects that the child may or may not be able to tolerate. I know this only too well. My son has ADHD and is not able to tolerate the side effects from stimulant medications. As parents, we are constantly weighing the risks and benefits of different medications and treatments for our son. We are always watchful to make sure that the current treatment is still working and wondering what the next growth spurt will bring.  It is very complicated to manage his ADHD and we are often faced with very difficult decisions. The best thing that teachers can do to help is communicate with parents. Report changes in the student’s behavior so that the parents can notify the doctor when behavior changes become significant.

Adults need to always keep in mind what is best for the child as whole. When parents, teachers and doctors work together, children get the help they need to thrive and be successful in school and in life. 

Sara Whitsell

Guest Blogger
Indianapolis, IN


 
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Teachers have an undying thirst for time, clear communication, resources, professional freedom, and higher salary.  Amidst these desires, there is often a feeling of, “If I could just be left alone to do this the way I feel it should be done, everything would be better.” But, teaching is an extremely difficult job. Individual students have individual learning needs and styles, which then demand individual teaching accommodations. Those accommodations also vary by subject. So, teachers must make endless decisions on delivery and preparation in every hour of the teaching day to compensate for the differentiated environment they work in.  This requires an intelligent, flexible, and highly skilled individual.

Unfortunately, with the myriad of subjects to teach, and a vast array of curricular tools, teachers are often presented with a room full of children at the start of the school year with only basic directions pertaining to “how” and “what” to teach (http://prospect.org/article/teacher-autonomy-paradox). While some teachers thrive in the “ultimately malleable” gray area, other teachers carve out a unique path that may not align with their co-teachers or the following year’s instructional plan.

So, while there are certainly identifiable pieces in the core subjects that are necessary for completing a grade, in systems with unchecked autonomy, how subjects are taught can vary greatly from teacher to teacher. When this is the case, the actual student learning is in danger of becoming too random. Compounding that idea is the idea of autonomy in assessment. Freedom to assess, or freedom to choose what needs assessed is a great liberty for a teacher, but a great curse on a student body if left too subjective.

So, how does a teacher maintain autonomy and a sense of creativity, while still allowing for a cohesive standards-driven educational system? This paradoxical question can cripple the effectiveness of a school if not answered in a way that the entire teaching staff can comprehend. First off, the school should have a curriculum map tied to standards, that clearly outline the specific content areas to be taught, length of time for each content area, and calendared schedule for each area of content. This helps establish boundaries around the “what and when” in a classroom. Additionally, grade level teams should be lesson planning in tandem.  This allows teachers within a grade level to share ideas and coordinate plans so that their classroom instruction is relative across their grade level.

But, how do we ensure that teachers will assess in a way that measures true student mastery or conceptual fluency of the instruction? The answer to this question involves backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe (1998). Understanding by Design.). With backwards design, the goal of the instruction and assessment always comes before the lesson plan.  In this fashion it is important for teachers to understand the state standard that their content supports. If the standard is “Math: Numerical Operations”, then the content should represent the standard, AND the classroom assessment should measure capacity against the requirement of that standard. In order for this to work, the teacher must work backwards by starting with the standard, understanding the assessment, determining the appropriate content, and finally, getting creative with writing the lesson (http://www.carla.umn.edu/assessment/vac/CreateUnit/p_1.html).

Too often, the “cool classroom idea” is the driving force behind a lesson or unit. In these cases, the state standards needing taught, or qualities of assessment to measure capacity or growth can become afterthoughts in the educational process. And, when standards and assessments are afterthoughts in your educational program, so is your overall school performance! In other words, autonomy will represent a problem if standards and assessments are allowed to become a low priority.

To sum up, teachers crave autonomy, but ground rules must be set to ensure that both curriculum mapping and skillful standards-based lesson planning are happening within the creative autonomous environment. Administrators and lead teachers must ensure that these processes are in check by regularly reviewing detailed lesson plans and cross checking curriculum maps against day-to-day classroom instruction. And, while the term “micromanaging” gets abused as a negative verb in education, it is a necessary component when ensuring that your school systems are setup in a way that allows for creativity and autonomy. In other words, one must micromanage in order maintain autonomy.

Paradox? Perhaps.

But, the micromanagement is in the setup and maintenance of a creative, high-functioning, autonomous system.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN



 
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
                          -Peter Drucker


Great leaders inspire others.  They motivate and make decisions that are going to impact change.  They might make mistakes, but they learn from these mistakes. According to an article by Paula Davis-Laak, JD, MAAP entitled Seven Things Successful Leaders do Differently, great leaders possess certain qualities that set them apart from others. 

1.  They put relationships first.  Successful leaders make time for their relationships.  They make people feel they are important, and continuously work to strengthen these relationships, whether it’s with clients, colleagues, people they mentor, or people in their personal life.

2.  They know that meaning matters. Great leaders have a vision of how their work is going to make impact on the world, and work towards that vision.  

3. They use humor. Leaders have to deal with stressful situations on a daily basis.  Successful leaders use humor to help reduce this feeling of stress and build positive emotions.

4. They lead and live with their strengths.  The most successful leaders know their strengths, and build a team with people who understand their vision and can be effective.  They understand the needs of their team. 

5. They manage pessimistic thinking. Successful leaders focus on the areas they have control over, and know when to move on when strategies aren’t working.  They also keep the mindset that bad situations will pass, and that they can only learn from the situation.  They do not allow one bad situation affect other areas of their life.  

6. They make their own luck. Strong leaders have a goal and pursue that goal.  They don’t give up when challenges arise. 

7. They manage their energy. Great leaders know when they are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, and keep this in check by stepping back and taking a break.  This allows them to feel renewed and reenergized.  

When reading about leadership traits, we tend to picture those who have acted as leaders in our lives. But, it is important to consider that we are all leaders in someone else’s eyes and these seven traits point us in a direction for success in respect to those who depend on us!


Samantha Lingeman
Indianapolis, IN 

 
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“Children’s natural curiosity and desire to discover the world are integrated with philosophy” Prof. Mathew Lipmam. As a philosophy major in college and an intern at the Mayor’s office I took a unique interest in charter schools, specifically their ability to be innovative in education. As I sat in an ancient philosophy class, I was struck by a philosophical dilemma: if philosophy was the root of knowledge, why is it that we don’t teach it more in primary and secondary education? To be fair, we do touch on concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, this question was normally answered by concerns that children were just not capable of understanding philosophy. I would argue that this is in fact far from the truth.

Consider for a moment the child’s ability to learn a foreign language at a young age. Here at PSOE we are already taking advantage of teaching Spanish to children at a young age to increase comprehension. If this concept applies to the teaching of something as complicated as a new language, why should it not apply to philosophy? In fact, research over the past 40 years has concluded that even as a first year undergraduate in college it is too late to effectively develop reasoning skills (Marashi, 2007). This isn’t to say that without philosophy we don’t develop the ability to reason, but we will develop poor reasoning skills the same way native English speakers develop poor writing or speaking skills.

It is also important to take into consideration that there are two methods to the proper utilization of philosophy. The first (what you would expect from your undergraduate philosophy class) teaches who the philosophers are and explores their theories. The second method is more comprehensive, and something children do on a daily basis whether we want them to or not. Think of anytime that you have made a decision about the world. At one point you may have believed in a monster that lived under your bed, and you acted accordingly when you had to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. Through experience we grew out of these fears, but our experiences shape our philosophy of the world, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. A child who performs poorly at math isn’t bad at math or pre-disposed to be poor at math; they just don’t understand it yet. That being said, the child only has experience with not understanding math, and over the years this experience continues causing the child to believe that they are poor at math and that nothing can change it.

Findings in 50 countries indicate that teaching philosophy to children in school improves thinking skills and critical thinking. “Children should be taught how to try out, analyze and experience the subject matter rather than being taught how to memorize and recall the content” (Marashi, 2007).  This form of doing philosophy would take advantage of short stories and books to develop philosophical questions and cognitive skills. This educational philosophy is being supported by www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, which suggests using books already found in the classroom (such as The Giving Tree or Dr. Seuss). The site also provides modules and resources to help teachers develop constructive methods for teaching philosophy in the classroom. Teaching philosophy transforms the classroom and the role of the teacher and student. Instead of information being transmitted from the teacher to the student, information is received in a collaborative discussion. In this manner, the teacher only facilitates ideas, rather than trying to convince children or bring them to a specific conclusion.

In a study done by Keith Topping and Steve Trickery in 2007 a group of 105 students (age ten) were taught philosophy for one hour a week for 16 months. Compared with the control group of 72 students, the experiment group showed signs of improvement on tests of verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities after 16 months. Two years later the children were tested again and despite changing schools or moving from primary to secondary, the experimental group showed continued improvement while the control group continued to fall behind (Topping and Tickery, 2007).

The Greek translation of philosophy “love of wisdom”, is the goal of education. In other words, the goal is not to teach children to recall facts, but to teach children how to analyze material and critically evaluate it. It was the teachings of Aristotle that helped lead Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world; or what about the ideas of John Locke that lead to the writing of the United States Constitution. If the “love of wisdom” has lead to some of the greatest achievements in the history of man, why are we not teaching philosophy more?

Jacob Asbury
Guest Blogger
Indianapolis, IN



 
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            “But why?” my four year old asks.  In exasperation, this frazzled mom finds herself uttering those infamous words, “Because I told you so!”  Just as this response is unsatisfying to my own children so, too, is ill-phrased feedback often unsatisfying and unproductive to our colleagues.  As an internal coach or mentor, one of my responsibilities is to help guide and give constructive feedback to other teachers.  I’m a mom, and I like to “mother”-- to give advice.  Yet, is this truly effective feedback?  Does it simply leave teachers asking “why” while trying to silently please their mentor/administrator?  What kind of feedback is actually constructive in helping teachers achieve growth towards long-term goals?

            In order to satisfy my wonderings to these questions, I sought out current educational research.  In Grant Wiggins’s article “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” (Educational Leadership, Sept. 2012), he first defined true feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach our goal.”  This does not include comments that are advice (You need to ….) or value judgments (Great job!)  True feedback is geared toward long-term goals.  In his article, Wiggins outlines seven essential elements of effective feedback.  Effective feedback is:

  1. Goal-referenced- create clear goals; feedback should consist of information related to those goals
  2. Tangible and transparent- look at tangible results like video or audio; take counts
  3. Actionable- be very descriptive; information should be useful, concrete, and specific; facts should be neutral and goal-related
  4. User friendly- do not be too technical or overwhelming
  5. Timely- give feedback soon after the observation; the sooner the better
  6. Ongoing- give opportunities to reshape performance in order to achieve goals
  7. Consistent- ensure that observers are stable, accurate, trustworthy; built on a common vision of what high quality teaching is
            As teachers, we give feedback to our students so that they can grow and learn.  As mentors, our job is the same with our fellow teachers.  Before dispensing advice, the learner needs to first grasp and accept the descriptive feedback.  Then the mentor can ask, “Given the feedback, do you have some ideas about how to improve?”  This builds both confidence and autonomy in the learner.  “But why?” is unlikely to be an issue.

            What kind of feedback is truly effective in producing growth?  The key is descriptive observation based on long-term goals.  What have I learned?  This mentor “mom” needs to reign in my predisposition to dispense advice and accolades.  My goal is not to “fix” issues that other teachers might have but to guide those teachers in figuring out how to reach goals themselves.  Given with purest intentions, effective feedback results in greater learning for all.

Krista Bridenthal
Indianapolis, Indiana


 
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Change is difficult for us all, but when you are dealing with children between the ages of 12 and 15, it just seems to have a higher rate of difficulty.  When students move from an elementary setting into a middle school setting, so many changes take place that it is difficult to determine which end is up.  While in elementary schools, students are typically taught by one teacher, walked to the restroom and cafeteria each day, and are with the same 25-35 other students all day long. This all changes once they reach middle school.  The students are now expected to manage a locker, visit seven or more classrooms and teachers each day, learn the “ins and outs” of each teacher’s personality and expectations, and organize themselves enough to get everything completed and to the right destination each day. Add to that challenges involved with the physical, mental, social, and emotional changes happening to this age-group, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

As a middle school administrator and having worked closely with administrators at the elementary level, I understand the differences between the two environments and how it affects students (and parents). The first week of school is filled with silence, wide eyes, and multiple questions.  No one knows where to sit in the cafeteria because they are not assigned seats and there are six lines available to visit for a variety of types of food.  Now, granted, this wonderful silence does not last long and it only takes a few days for students to relish in the thought that they can sit wherever they want and run up their lunch bill by purchasing pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, and Gatorade each day, but the silence does exist in the beginning.

Helping students manage their newfound freedom takes many people.  Informing the parents early in the journey is a must. Conducting a parent meeting in the spring prior to students entering the middle school allows staff to fully inform parents of day-to-day operations, scheduling, communication techniques, and what their child will experience when coming to the middle school.  We have received great praise from parents following these meetings as their pre-conceived notions or “word on the street” has been clarified with true information. The parents feel more at ease and have had their nagging questions answered which, in turn, can help to calm the nerves of their children as well. Once the parents know what to expect, they are much more likely to ease the minds of the children and prepare them over the summer for the transition.

Another benefit for students is to have them visit the middle school during the last few weeks of their elementary experience. During a school day in May, we invite all of our 6th graders in the district to come to the middle school for a couple of hours.  This is treated as a field trip and students and teachers board buses and fill the gymnasium to hear staff speak, students perform, and tour the building. This allows the students to get a feel for the school while in session – a big difference from coming to a parent meeting in the evening! They experience passing period with 800 students crowding the halls, see the cafeteria (and the 6 lines they have to choose from), and meet multiple staff members in hopes of seeing a friendly face on the first day of school in August.

Summer registration is another opportunity for students and their families to, once again, come to the school prior to their first instructional day. This event brings families in to complete all necessary paperwork, order yearbooks, add lunch money to student accounts, provide students with their IDs and laptops, assign students lockers and locks (which they can “try out” to ease nerves on the first day), and pay any necessary textbook rentals and fees. This day tends to be more of a task-oriented experience, but has proven to be greatly beneficial to staff and parents – we are able to get the information we need and families have another chance to visit the building and get their questions answered.

The transition from elementary to middle school is daunting. By providing multiple opportunities for families and students to visit the school and communicate with staff, a comfort level can be reached.  So many of us have a fear of the unknown; once we know what to expect, everything seems to be much easier to handle.

Holly Frye 

Guest Blogger
Mooresville, IN

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    Our authoring staff is based in Indianapolis, IN and work in a multiracial, urban, K-8 school setting.

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