PLC Essentials

As a specialist I regularly support and work with PLCs and wanted to reflect on PLC practices and successes I am seeing at the campuses I work with.

Firstly, PLCs should be centered around four essential questions:

  1. What do we want students to learn? (standards and learning targets)
  2. How will we know if they have learned? (common assessments)
  3. What will we do if they don’t learn? (interventions)
  4. What will we do if they already know it? (differentiation)

With our new curriculum documents, I am really seeing teachers have authentic conversations around #1 and #2. The teachers I work with are writing learning targets together in their PLC rather than first turning to what activity they’re going to do each day. This shift enables teachers to know what exactly will need to be in the activity with fully fleshed out learning targets. Both the schools I work with are writing learning targets based on standards and this rich conversation is helping teachers understand and know the standards even better. I hope we can start to write “success criteria” soon in which we identify the thought process that our students should go through to have success on their learning target. I recently went to a training on this and I think writing success criteria is a crucial step for allowing students and teachers to measure learning. By making these visible, students can also start to take more ownership in their learning.

Another key component of the PLC is creating common assessments before the activities. It is so important for teachers to know what students will be assessed on before actually teaching it. The commonality of the assessments enables teachers to look at their assessment data and analyze misconceptions and errors. One goal I have is that I want to be more of a part of this data debrief this year and help teachers identify interventions they can do daily/in the moment as well as after an assessment.

Lastly, PLCs are not meant to be just an hour meeting separate from the daily work in our classrooms. I love to see and hear the teachers I work with collaborating in the hall in between classes together. The way in which they authentically and naturally talk about how well it went in their class or seek out advice about the lesson is inspiring. I’m not even sure they realize they are addressing the 3rd and 4th PLC questions when they do this, but as a specialist, I get to see how these discussions lead to positive changes and additions in their classrooms from period to period. With this collaborative environment I see more student success and teacher efficacy.

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Pre-AP PD

This week, I gave a Pre-AP/GT training for my district and I have to say, I learned a lot in preparing and delivering it. As a pre-AP/GT teacher, I thought I was doing best practices by giving my students real world scenarios and extending their thinking with scaffolding probing questions, and while this was great, I had NO idea I was lacking a huge component of pre-AP by actually connecting to AP topics and/or the AP exam. In my training I hoped to have teachers learn about our district’s philosophy and framework of Pre-AP, analyze data from the AP, and then take this knowledge to find ways to “Pre-APify” their performance assessments and projects.

After the introduction of Pre-AP, we dove into some AP data and provided teachers an opportunity to see AP topics and how students performed on the topics in the test results. Then, I showed teachers this performance assessment which I actually had to tweak for this training…as I mentioned, I was missing that piece linking to an AP topic. This new version still asked students to find midpoints and distances on a map then I added the part that had students extend their thinking with an AP connection of optimization.

After presenting this task, I created a process for teachers to do the same with their own tasks and projects. I had teachers sit by content and map out their year of performance assessments/projects. By sitting together in content teams, teachers were able to discuss ideas they had done and collaborate on how one teacher’s idea might look in their own classroom. We rarely get a chance to talk to other teachers from other schools, so I think (and *hope*) this was a really valuable collaborative time. Some groups even made a Google Folder and compiled project ideas together. As they mapped out their calendars, I asked teachers to list the AP topic they thought they could incorporate into their project, then they noted the Pre-AP routines, practices, and formative assessment structures they do as outlined in our district framework. They did this with a document I created that organized their thoughts according to our Year at a Glance documents. Next time we meet, I am planning to have teachers create the lesson plan and student materials needed to make these projects/tasks happen.

This training really opened me up to exploring higher level content and how we can help our students be exposed to them early on in Pre-AP. It put me a bit out of my comfort zone, too, because I haven’t studied these topics in so long so I had to admit I wasn’t always sure how we could connect the topic, but that I would research along side them. I wanted to have all the answers and an easy way to incorporate the AP topics, but it’s harder than I thought to really understand how to provide authentic opportunities!! For example, one group is thinking about doing a project on roller coasters and polynomials and in the moment while they were brainstorming I wasn’t sure what AP topic connected. But since the training, I have been researching some ideas about rates of change (average and instantaneous) with polynomial graphs and I think this could fit perfectly. I hope we can scaffold some questions as to how to find the rate of change on a polynomial graph and why this is important/what it affects in roller coasters. Finally, one teacher mentioned that they would like to have AP teachers involved in collaborating ideas to connect Pre-AP content to AP topics, and I totally agree…they would be so helpful in this, so I hope to have some AP teachers present next time as well!

I look forward to the next time we meet and hope these projects give students more challenge as they explore AP topics.

7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom

I recently gave a professional development focusing on the book, 7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom. If you have EL students in your classroom and/or struggling learners, this book is a great, easy read. I was actually trained several years ago on these strategies so it was nice to have background knowledge as a participant and be able to take things I liked from the training and make it my own as a presenter. My goals in the training were 1. To increase student participation in a teacher’s classroom and 2. Develop strategies for EL learners to help them acquire and use academic language in the classroom.

I began the training with this video as a way to simulate what it feels like to be a struggling learner without scaffolds or procedures in place to help process the information. After debriefing, we then dove into the book as I presented chapter 2: Have Students Speak in Complete Sentences. I chunked the chapter and asked participants to read sections focusing on key question/sentence stems. The groups paired up and discussed using sentence stems before sharing out (sentence stems is one of the strategies the book highlights as helpful to ELs and struggling learners.) After the training, one participant commented that she got more out of this training than most others because I forced them to use these sentence stems in their conversations, therefore structuring and focusing their table talk…in other trainings she said she and her group would veer off and side talk. That was my intention and with that validation, I will definitely continue to use sentence stems in my future trainings! 

I then Jigsaw-ed the rest of the chapters

(1 Teach students what to say when they don’t know what to say

3 Randomize & Rotate when calling on students

4 Use total response signals

5 Use visuals and vocabulary strategies that support your objective

6 Have students participate in structured conversations

7 Have students participate in structured reading/writing activities)

by having participants create a summary poster with explanations of the chapter strategies and key quotes. After each group presented, I asked participants to record what strategy they planned to use in an upcoming lesson during the first few weeks of school. I told the participants that in a few weeks after school has been back in session and teachers *hopefully* feel a bit more settled, I will send out an email following up with each participant as to how the strategy they chose is going and if I can do anything else to help them with that particular one. I am excited for this because I feel like at the end of some trainings, I receive so much information and have grand plans, but I don’t actually follow up with my ideas. This way I can help teachers stay accountable to themselves and also provide support. Stay tuned for how it’s going and new tasks I get!