All educators want to improve what they do for kids, but they need help doing so. On a daily basis, we’re thinking, planning, and taking steps to improve school climate and culture, provide high-quality curriculum and instruction, be leaders, assess meaningfully, engage our families and communities, support our own professional development, build staff capacity, and more. How do we balance these multiple school improvement priorities in our schools and with one another?
What does "college and career readiness" mean? The Common Core State Standards suggest some clear and reasonable criteria. Consider the example of critical thinking. The Common Core documents suggest that students must be able to examine claims, arguments, and evidence and determine whether or not the evidence supports the claim. In addition, students should be able to advance arguments and support their ideas with evidence. The Common Core also places a heavy emphasis on informational writing, a need highlighted by college professors frustrated by the poor writing skills of even high-achieving high school students.
Educators today face many exciting challenges: preparing students for life and careers in the 21st century and helping every student overcome obstacles and experience the joy of learning. To meet these challenges, every teacher and every administrator must work together within their schools and across schools, breaking free of their silos and collaborating. Just as principals can no longer stay in their offices, administrating behind closed doors, teachers also cannot seal themselves inside of their classrooms.
Research proves that when teachers collaborate effectively to analyze student performance, create interventions for struggling students, and continue their own professional learning, they can increase their efficacy. When principals empower teachers to do what they know is best for kids, children learn more and teachers find more satisfaction in their work. Collaboration creates a win-win-win situation for students, teachers, and administrators.
Discover the kinds of formative and summative classroom assessments that best coordinate with the new generation of testing consortia for the Common Core State Standards. Join ASCD author Susan Brookhart in a discussion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments and discover how to create classroom assessments that form a balanced system that supports student learning and aligns to the Common Core State Standards.
You don't have to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) alone! District, school, and classroom personnel can collaborate and create communities of support toward successful implementation. Join ASCD author Judy Carr as she discusses how to create the communities and shares specific protocols and processes that attendees can use immediately.
The first question about Common Core State Standards, What will they look like?, has been answered. The answer is: Very different. The internationally benchmarked standards will emphasize creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, presentation and demonstration, problem solving, research and inquiry, and career readiness.
The second, more challenging question is, How will we teach these new standards? For several years, the winds of change have been howling in one direction, pointing educators toward greater focus on depth rather than coverage, thinking rather than memorizing or listing, and demonstrating and performing rather than "hand it in and grade it." With 46 states endorsing the Common Core State Standards and half of those planning for full implementation in the next three years, we've moved into hurricane status. Quite soon, we'll land on a distant, unknown shore. Teachers will have to teach differently.
Project-based learning (PBL) can create engaging learning for all students, but that depth of learning requires careful, specific design. Part of this engagement is the element of critical thinking. Complex problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, coupled with other elements such as authenticity, voice, and choice, create an engaging context for learning.
One of the essential elements of a PBL project is the teaching and assessing of 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The key takeaway here is teaching AND assessing. You cannot assess something you do not teach. How do we teach critical thinking? Through intentional instruction and intentional experiences. Therefore we need to make sure that the overall PBL journey is one that has both.
Here are some elements of a PBL project that you can double- and triple-check to make sure your students are critically thinking.
We shouldn’t simply teach to the test. We need to teach for understanding, and assessments are tools to gauge that understanding. When used effectively, assessments can facilitate high levels of student achievement by providing ongoing information about students’ grasp of key concepts and how to enhance their learning to help them meet or exceed academic requirements. States, districts, and schools should provide a more comprehensive picture of student achievement through multiple assessments of and for learning.
The subject of ethics is a great opportunity to explore learning without the burden of standardized tests because (so far) the topic is considered a difficult one to measure in discrete bubbles on an answer sheet. So, this dimension of our schools and curriculum is relatively safe from the assessment wag-or-dog controversy other subjects present. Take advantage of this opportunity! In any class, in any subject, teachers can feel free to explore their students' values-based reasoning skills without worrying about "covering the material." The more teachers do so, the more they will find that such exploration deepens understanding and contributes to content, rather than slowing things down or feeling like an indulgent add-on.
A comprehensive formative assessment (FA) system should fit seamlessly within the daily flow of the classroom. But in many places, FA requirements signal an end to instruction so that students can be tested. In a recent webinar, Nancy Frey discussed an ongoing approach to FA that enhances the give-and-take relationship between teachers and students to promote learning and shared examples from elementary and secondary classrooms.