21st Century Literacy

Many of you have heard me speak about the explosion of data due to Web 3.0 and the “cloud.” Data can now be collected, organized, analyzed and synthesized to find trends, make predictions and make decisions in ways that just a couple of years ago was not possible. It is often referred to as Big Data.

There is so much data that it is becoming increasingly difficult to transmit it simply by text. More and more, we find that information is transmitted via sophisticated tables, graphs and charts. Consider the examples the data presents in the following examples:

Best Practice 1: Make Student Thinking Visible – Reflective Writing Across Content
Catherine Truitt, Diane Jones, consultants, International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE): Reflexive writing allows students to write about their own learning in a rigorous and relevant way. This approach offers both language arts and non-language arts teachers effective tactics to embed consistent writing assignments into lessons. Ask these questions:
1.     Reflect on a prior learning experience.
2.     Reflect on visual stimulus.
3.     Reflect on a reading assignment.

And so on. Teachers appreciate the simplicity of the exercises, while students enjoy the reflective nature of the writing assignments. Everyone wins!

Best Practice 2: Teaching Digital Literacy
Salmon River Middle School, Fort Covington, NY: School leaders realized they had to educate students to use technology in a safe and responsible way. They ultimately selected Common Sense Media’s free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum. The curriculum empowers students to think critically, behave safely and participate responsibly in the digital world.

Best Practice 3 — Student Literacy Growth Profile
Hamilton/Fulton/Montgomery BOCES, Johnstown, N.Y.: The Literacy Growth Profile is a longitudinal data tool used to track student literacy levels. It is based on the Lexile Framework for Reading and tracks the progression of a student’s reading over time. The profile monitors how well a student comprehends various sources, like high school- and college-level literature and textbooks, military texts, personal use items and entry-level occupational reading. Students are stretched throughout elementary, middle and high school and are at both college- AND career-ready literacy levels when they graduate.

Is this reading? Is it statistics? Is it logic? Is it probability? Is it measurement systems? It is writing? The answer is ‘yes’ to each of these questions. Twenty-first century literacy is in multiple disciplines!

Is your instructional program designed to teach these skills? They are in the nation’s most rapidly improving schools.

At this year’s 25th Annual Model Schools Conference, held June 25-28 in Nashville, we will showcase schools that focus on 21st century literacy.

Next week’s blog will focus on the effective uses of technology.

It's All About Literacy

Those of you who have heard me speak know I believe literacy is the single greatest key to student success.

A literate student will thrive today, and more importantly, thrive in the future – a future we cannot even envision. There are multiple ways to approach best practices for literacy. Here are several:

Best Practice 1: Literacy for All
Brockton High School in Brockton, Mass., was forced to address why students performed so poorly on a state standardized test. They assembled a committee of faculty and administrators who asked this question: “Is this the best we can be?” The answer was a resounding “NO!” From this came an epiphany: The school was not teaching students literacy, specifically reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. The committee concluded that literacy must be taught in all classes – including physical education and the arts. Furthermore, literacy would be applicable to all students, from the most gifted to those most in need.

The committee created four charts, called literary charts, to provide visual representation of skills and competencies. The charts listed the corresponding skills for each of the four components of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. The charts were posted in every classroom to serve as a constant reminder of literacy’s link to all subject areas and the school’s vision of literacy for all.

As a result, student performance improved dramatically, resulting in higher test scores across the board.

Best Practice 2: Close Reading
Central Dauphin School District, Harrisburg, Pa., developed a step-by-step process to bring literacy and reading comprehension to every subject -- in other words a close reading strategy:
1.)  The teacher chooses an article that relates to his or her unit’s current topic. The article must be at a high enough Lexile measure to warrant chunking and rereading.
2.)  The teacher selects vocabulary to pre-teach, chunks the text for students and creates text-dependent questions that increase in complexity as the lesson progresses.
3.)  The teacher uses a Frayer model after completing an activating strategy or hook with students.
4.)  The teacher distributes the article and reads it aloud; students read the article to themselves.
5.)  The teacher asks students to reread the first chunk on their own. Then the teacher asks the pre-planned, text-dependent questions.
6.)  This process continues, and discussion may ensue as the questions increase in complexity.
7.)  When students have read each chunk twice, they then reread the entire article to themselves.
8.)  The teacher gives students a summary writing assignment (written in the style of a prompt), along with a generic rubric. The question must be structured in a way that requires students to use evidence from the entire text to answer the prompt.
9.)  A performance task may be assigned, depending on time and/or student interest.

Best Practice 3: Literacy Workshops to Improve Literacy Across Subjects
Brockton High School, Brockton, Mass., equipped its faculty to teach literacy wherever possible by creating Literacy Workshops. Faculty members were appointed to guide teachers through a systematic and results-driven approach to teach a certain literacy skill. The workshops were particularly important because by improving literacy skills, students would gain the reading comprehension and language skills to improve in all subjects.

Finally, I’ve included here a few examples of ICLE model lessons around literacy to help guide your instructional efforts, and offer practical resources related to the best practices I mentioned above:

At this year’s 25th Annual Model Schools Conference from June 25-28 in Nashville, we will showcase schools that focus on literacy for all students.

Next week’s blog will focus again on literacy, but this time literacy for the 21st century.

Best Practices of the Nation’s Most Rapidly Improving Schools

As school leaders determine how to respond to the new opportunities available from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I have received many requests for information about best practices in the nation’s most rapidly improving schools.

In our ongoing study of these schools, we at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) have learned that there is no specific formula or program that works. There are, however, consistent practices these schools use at the organizational leadership, instructional leadership and teaching levels.

My next several blog posts will showcase best practices from schools and districts across the country. To kick off this series, I’m sharing perhaps the most important practice of all:

Best Practice 1 — Create a culture of high academic expectations and positive relationships.

Here are four examples of how these schools and districts helped establish this culture:
  • Johnston County Schools of Smithfield, NC, used budgeting to create a student-centered culture. Every proposed budgetary item—no matter how small—needed justification about how that expenditure would likely impact student performance. The assistant superintendent of instruction had to approve all budget requests. 
  • Pembroke Central School of Corfu, NY, needed to address the lack of positive relationships within the district, mainly to resolve a bullying problem. In 2012, the district created a “Safe and Supportive Learning Environment” committee to help create a plan of action to establish a positive culture. The committee used Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a framework to guide actions within the district and across the community. It led to the implementation of Covey’s The Leader in Me  program across the district. It has turned around the culture for both the schools and the community.
  • Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School of Bear, DE, a large elementary school (1,100 students) with a very diverse population, made a commitment and took action to create a positive culture where everyone — from students to teachers to parents — galvanized around a shared vision of growth and achievement. They accomplished this through a series of pep rallies, videos, daily announcements, songs, back-to-school nights, and community activities built around the following theme: “We are WILBUR, we are INSPIRED, HARD WORKERS, GREAT THINKERS, WE PERSEVERE.” In addition, the school created “Dream Teams” of teachers who presented their “best practices” on rigor, relevance, and relationships twice a month to all staff. Wilbur has become a place where each and every student and staff member develops a growth mindset and is supported to succeed.
  • Brooks-Quinn-Jones Elementary School of Nacogdoches, TX, developed an initiative with staff, students, and the community to begin to develop strong relationships. Inspired by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who notably said, “Why not me in the Super Bowl?”, Principal Thomas Miller led a series of activities that allowed all stakeholders to demonstrate their interest in and support of students, championing them on with signs and songs, and challenging them to commit to the theme of “Why Not Me?” It has led to a culture of support and high expectations for all students.

At this year’s 25th Annual Model Schools Conference, scheduled for June 25-28 in Nashville, we will showcase multiple examples of schools which have created a culture of high expectations for all students.

Next week’s blog will focus on districts and schools that have experienced success by making organizational and instructional changes in their schools.

A School for Today’s Students

An incredible challenge—how else could you describe our expectations for today’s classroom teachers?

The challenge begins when students arrive on day one. Teachers know that their students come to them at very different levels of development. Some are gifted. Some may be disabled. Each one has a different learning style. And we’re not even discussing what goes on at home.

I was a teacher way back when. I shudder to think how I would teach my five now-grown children today. I wouldn’t know where to begin!

The Proficiency Model
The current system is dysfunctional. If you’ve got 25 kids in your classroom, all kinds of upsets and trauma can occur during the school year. Illness. Divorce. A death or injury to a parent or loved one. Substance abuse. The list is long.  But count on it—these will, in fact, happen.

Yet somehow, magically, we expect teachers to take all these diverse students and diverse situations and get them to a predetermined level by the end of the year. Sheer madness! Welcome to public education’s proficiency model.

The Growth Model
Teachers on the front lines know the proficiency model is flawed. That’s why they oppose performance evaluations. Can’t you hear them? “You’re going to tie my performance to my students’ performances? Come on! That’s not right! That’s not logical!”

So the question becomes: What is logical?

What we are seeing from the nation’s most rapidly improving schools is a shift from a proficiency model to a growth model.

How It Works
As most of you know, the growth model takes each child from where they are today and moves them as far as they can in the time that they have. Simple!

Not quite. The growth model will force the classroom teacher to fundamentally change how she does her job. No longer is she “the sage on the stage.”

But technology will smooth the transition. Students today have lived their entire lives in the 21st century. They are used to today’s technology.  They are comfortable with it and use it practically every waking hour.

Teachers working in a growth model school use technology as almost virtual teaching assistants. With the right technology and the right software, the teacher becomes the manager of the instructional process, not the disseminator of knowledge. She breaks down her classroom into like-minded groups or teams and moves from group to group, helping, showing, encouraging. She transforms the learning process.

Repeat After Me: Culture Trumps Strategy
How do you get there? It takes work, work which can’t be done in one- or two-day personal development sessions. You must create a new culture which supports finding a different way. Those of you who know me also know my signature saying: Culture trumps strategy. By that I mean: Until you can change your culture, any strategy you adopt will ultimately fail.

Here’s How to Get Started
Creating a new culture is a deep, ongoing process, but the experts at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) can show you the way. Creating a growth model school will also be the focus of our upcoming signature event, the 25th annual Model Schools Conference, held June 25-28 in Nashville. Please consider joining us so we can help show you how to create an effective educational system – one which benefits all students.

6 Ways to Boost Student Engagement

What Is Student Engagement?
I define student engagement as all the positive behaviors students show which indicate full participation in the learning process. When students are engaged, we can hear, see and feel their motivation in completing a task – they take pride in their work and move beyond doing the minimum required. Engaged students demonstrate a feeling of belonging by the way they act, the positive things they say about school and through their passionate involvement in class activities.

That’s why the student engagement element of the Learning Criteria is arguably the most important – because it’s really all about engaging your students. With today’s focus on state assessments, combined with the many distractions affecting young people, it is not surprising that many schools are concerned about an increasing number of disengaged students. This has moved student engagement to the front burner, where it needs to stay if we want all students to achieve the skills and knowledge that will provide them with the basis for success and fulfillment throughout their lives.

Not an Easy Task
Experienced educators know that increasing student engagement is not easy. How many times have teachers – as well as parents and most adults, for that matter – heard students say, “Why do I need to learn this stuff?”

The reality is that students must understand why it is truly important for them to learn a specific topic.  Teachers should continually work to provide a relevant contextual base for the knowledge and skills they teach. Education is boring—if not meaningless— when it is reduced to an unending list of content topics where the student quickly learns the facts, takes the test and then forgets it all. Focusing on a narrower list of priority skills and knowledge makes the importance of learning clearer.

Both Teacher and Student Must Engage
It is easy to observe a lack of student engagement: Students are slouched in their chairs, not listening to their teacher and not participating in classroom discussion. Many teachers who see disengaged students lament that they could be better teachers—and show better learning results—if only they had the opportunity to work with a “better” group of students. But classrooms with high levels of student engagement are not simply a result of “student quality.”

Prior experiences, attitudes and perceptions impact how engaged students are in the classroom. But teachers are not limited to poor learning results because students are not engaged. Teachers must begin to reflect on the elements that contribute to student engagement before they begin to deal with poor student performance.

After all, teachers have direct control and can make changes instantaneously in some areas. For other changes to occur, it will take time to develop new skills for both the student and the teacher. What follows are elements that support and encourage student engagement:
  1. Cultivate one-on-one relationships. The one-on-one relationship between student and teacher is the critical element which can lead to increased student motivation and higher levels of engagement in academic achievement and school life.
  2. Learn new skills and habits. Teachers can learn new skills and habits that help them to develop, polish and enhance their natural inclination to motivate and engage students.
  3. Incorporate systematic strategies. Teachers can learn systematic strategies and approaches which make it easier for students to engage. For their part, students also can develop behavioral skills and habits which lead to increased academic achievement and greater involvement in school life.
  4. Take responsibility for student engagement practices. The teacher’s primary responsibility is to engage students—it is not expecting students to come to class naturally and automatically engaged.
  5. Promote a schoolwide culture of engagement. The best way to achieve high levels of student engagement is to develop and maintain a schoolwide initiative dedicated to creating a culture of student engagement. This means getting students involved in school activities, while providing a rigorous and relevant education for all students.
  6. Use professional development to increase student engagement. Staff development, combined with staff ownership and recognition, is a critical part of developing and maintaining a culture of effective student engagement.

Today, all students need high levels of skills and knowledge to succeed in adult life. Schools must develop a culture of engagement that challenges every student to achieve rigorous and relevant standards.

Bridging the Skills Gap

School is not all about the academics—at least it shouldn’t be. Look around you. The skills necessary for success in the world include far more than strong academic achievement. Businesses now expect effective personal and interpersonal skills, along with technical skills and overall competence. We suffer from a “workforce skills gap” in this country that threatens to become a national crisis.

Consider the following:
  •         53 percent of respondents listed “finding and retaining qualified employees” as a top business challenge, according to a 2016 HireRight Employment Screening Benchmarking Report.
  •         The Manpower Group found that 52 percent of employers say they have a hard time finding qualified employees to fill jobs. Yet we all know recent college graduates who cannot find jobs. Why, given that employers cannot fill positions?
  •         Today’s labor force is older, and more racially, ethnically and gender diverse than ever. These trends will continue to shape the workforce for at least until 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students Need These Skills
The skills gap is not simply the lack of academic skills or specific occupational skills. It is personal skills as well. I believe schools have an obligation to emphasize these personal skills along with academic skills. From my perspective, this is a call to action that no school can afford to ignore.

What skills are we talking about? Communication; problem-solving; taking initiative; self-direction; the ability to work with others. You get the idea.

Today’s companies look for high school and college graduates with demonstrated abilities in these skills. They expect schools to balance academics with workplace and personal skills. That’s not happening consistently.

The Hudson Institute’s Workforce 2020 report says the average manufacturer finds that five out of six job applicants lack basic writing or verbal skills. Many of these applicants are high school, or even college, graduates but their writing and speaking skills are limited to academic applications; schools neglected real-world writing and speaking applications.

In addition, employers report that a greater gap exists in personal skills than in academic skills. Only 50 percent of high school students are prepared for entry-level positions. Most lack these personal skills, according to the report, Meeting the Demand: Teaching Soft Skills.

Today’s workplace is a high-tech, high-performance environment. Companies expect employees to be independent thinkers and problem solvers. If we as educators truly want to prepare students for this 21st century world of work, secondary schools must integrate personal skill development into existing curriculums.

How You Do It
It starts with creating what I call a “culture of success”—for every student, not only in school but also outside the classroom.

Good teachers create this culture by continually adjusting their instructional approaches to meet students’ needs. Educators should focus on the whole student, and look for ways for them to interact with others.
Does your school have a requirement for volunteering? Do you allow students to hold leadership positions in clubs or sports? To you have a way to assess a student’s personal skills: time management, ability to plan and organize work? Do your students respect diversity? Can they work as a member of a team? Schools must focus on these skills – not just the skills and knowledge needed for the next standardized test.

If our mission is to prepare students for success in the world beyond school, then we must develop the whole student. The schools presenting at this year’s Model Schools Conference on June 25-28 in Nashville, have just that. More information on the conference and these schools is available by clicking on the following link:  2017 Model Schools Conference.


Let’s “Stretch” Our Students

Stretch learning is exactly that – it “stretches” a student to achieve their potential in individual classes, in school activities, and in their overall school experience. It pushes them to become all they are capable of being.

Most schools don’t stretch their students. Why not? Because most schools today are organized on a “proficiency model.” In other words, they believe their job is to get all their students to the same level by a given date, and then measure the results with a test.

That’s impossible!

Students come to us with different levels of proficiency. They have different learning styles, different interests and yes, different aptitudes.  As the father of five, I know!

Stretch learning is individualized. For one student it might be scoring well on the SATs; for a severely disabled student, it might include learning critical daily living skills or self-care habits. The IEP (Individualized Education Program) process for our children with disabilities often does this. All students would benefit from the IEP concept, without the layers of regulations built around it, to guide their educational experience. But in the end, stretch learning means moving students beyond their comfort zones.

We must move schools into what Carol Dweck calls a “growth model,” where we take each child from where they are today and move them as far as they can go in the amount of time we have with them.

Why Stretch Learning Is Important
Take a look at the world we live in. It’s unpredictable. It’s rapidly changing. It’s interconnected. It’s diverse. Technology dominates. Students will not succeed in this world if all we’ve done is prepare them to pass the latest state assessment test. They’ll need much more: Creativity, innovation, teamwork, problem solving, collaboration and tolerance, for starters. In today’s world, it’s not about what you know, it’s about acquiring new knowledge and skills.

We cannot continue to replicate the past. We must create a 21st century education system that promotes lifelong learning, where students are not afraid to go beyond their current boundaries. The world will pass us by if we don’t.

How Do You Teach It?
How do you teach students to stretch? In different ways. Think about music classes. Or art classes. Career tech ed. Physical education. Sports. Classes like that stretched us. We lost sight of their value somewhere along the way. Educators de-emphasized these classes to focus more on the next standardized test. Big mistake!

One of the important benefits of classes like this is they engage students. Students are not passively sitting at their desks as the “sage on the stage” tries to impart knowledge. Instead, students actively participate! Their teachers teach differently. Think about it. The glee club teacher or the football coach is on the sidelines, coaching, showing, cajoling, encouraging. Teachers and students are engaged – and an engaged student is a strong, well-rounded student ready to take on the unpredictability of the 21st century.  

Reversing Course for Success

Our country’s most rapidly improving schools are seeing dramatic improvements in their test scores. That’s really not a surprise. What is surprising, however, is that they spend far less time focused on standardized tests than most other schools.

What’s their trick?

They take a step back, slow down and ask themselves three important questions:
·       “What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?”
·       “What must our students do to succeed in the world beyond school?”
·       And finally, “What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school?”

Three Ways Forward
The answers may or may not surprise you:
·       Students must develop and use what I call “guiding principles.” These are attributes like responsibility, respect, perseverance, initiative, adaptability and trustworthiness.
·       Students must stay focused and fully engaged in their learning environment.
·       Students must stay focused on getting better at what they do every day. Basically, they need to adopt a growth mindset.

Changing Things Around
Educators at these schools decided to emphasize those characteristics, not just test scores. They changed their report cards to stress these characteristics. When they did, students’ academic performance dramatically improved.

The approach of these schools is if you focus on the soft skills (which I refer to above as guiding principles), student engagement, and simply trying to help all students grow academically, then state tests will take care of themselves.

A Powerful Tool to Help Achieve Success
Welcome to the Learning Criteria.

Based upon the success of these rapidly improving schools, we created the Learning Criteria to help schools we work with evaluate their students. It is also a tool for teachers, administrators and parents to evaluate classroom experiences and focus on high-engagement learning opportunities. The goal is to create well-rounded individuals ready to succeed in school – and beyond!

          The Learning Criteria consist of four components:
n  Foundation Learning.  This is knowledge a school requires all students to achieve. It is measured through standardized tests, and often is related to achieving “Adequate Yearly Progress.”
n  Stretch Learning. This learning takes place when students push beyond the minimum requirements. Stretch learners participate in interdisciplinary activities, enroll in honors courses and seek specialized certificates.
n  Learner Engagement. When learners engage with their teachers, peers and the overall school community, they become more motivated and eager to participate in the learning process. When students are engaged, they feel a sense of satisfaction, belonging and accomplishment.
n  Personal Skill Development. Basically, working on leadership and social skills. Does a student show empathy? Can she control her emotions? Can she collaborate? Can she work as part of a team? Through personal skill development, students will be better prepared for lifelong success in business, at home and in their communities.

Racing the Wrong Way
Most schools focus first on foundation learning before moving on to the other three criteria. Sadly, many students never get past this initial stage. One way to think about the Learning Criteria is to envision a race with four hurdles. Most schools try to clear the hurdles in this order:
1.     Foundation Learning
2.     Stretch Learning
3.     Personal Skill Development
4.     Student engagement

Many schools can’t get their students to clear the first hurdle. But they double down anyway in an effort to score well on state standardized tests. They never reach the three other hurdles. They’re running the race in the wrong direction.

Reverse Course!
Our country’s most rapidly improving schools run the race in the opposite direction. They focus on student engagement first, then move on to personal skill development and stretch learning. Guess what? When you run the race this way, foundation learning takes care of itself.

In future blogs, we will focus on details of student engagement, personal skill development and stretch learning.

Stay tuned!