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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pathways in the Brain - Information Processing?

We have known for sometime that reading is a strategic process of problem solving.  Marie Clay and Frank and Yetta Goodman were among the first to receive public attention for their work in this field.  Later on, the idea was refined when the use of technology impacted the theory and people started to refer to the process as information processing - the brain using the sources of information (meaning, structure, and syntax) presented through text in order to "read" the material in front of the eyes.  Some of the core terminology we used indicates our concept of the process: predicting or anticipating, confirming, rereading to gather further information in order to make sense, etc.  Wilhelm received attention for his work on units of inquiry when he made the connection between reading strategies and thinking strategies we use everyday,  - This is a gross over simplification and I apologize.

For an example of this type of problem solving, go to the following site and think about how you are processing the text in front of you.

From this perspective, I don't believe the following articles hold any surprises. As I read them, they confirmed much of what we have believed for years, but gave educators a physiological basis for our observations.  The new standards for the 21st century confirm and expand on this knowledge.  Hopefully, we will be able to help our students develop the thinking strategies necessary for survival in a ever shrinking, information prolific age.

Taken from  ASCD Smart Brief.

Research shows brain connections improve with reading practice
Students who practice reading can strengthen their brains -- especially the white-matter connections essential to learning, according to research by scientists at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Researchers scanned students' brains, then enrolled struggling readers in an intensive reading program. Researchers again scanned students' brains, this time after 100 hours of reading practice, and found the training improved "not just their reading ability, but the tissues in their brain." National Public Radio (12/9) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette(12/10) LinkedInFacebookTwitterEmail this Story 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Habits of the Mind - In Classrooms

Following is a resource for those of you who are interested in developing habits of the mind in your students.

It is a great book!

Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools: An ASCD Action Tool

Habits of Mind are thoughtful behaviors that allow us to cope with a complex and rapidly changing world. ASCD's new action tool, "Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools" provides a series of ideas -- based on ASCD's groundbreaking Habits of Mind series -- to help secondary-school teachers plan lessons and classroom activities that teach students thoughtful behaviors and promote successful learning in the classroom and beyond.
Read a sample chapter

Meta-Cognitive Language

Recently, during coaching sessions, teachers asked for a list of core terms they could use when coaching peers.  Soo...I have begun to compile a list.  I am beginning by looking at what I consider universal cognitive processes - those we use every day.  Please add some by using the comment section at the end of the post.

Connections - making connections between self and text, text and text, and world and text. 
Connections can also be made between ideas - orally as well. 

Clarifying - asking questions or making comments that clear up confusions.

Rationale - explaining the thinking process or reason for a decision - tracing your thinking that lead to that choice.

Predicting - anticipating what will come next based on text or other information - forming expectations.

Monitoring - following one's thoughts or a process to be sure the thinking is making sense or the steps are being adhered to - checking to be sure it is done "right."

More to come!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Problem Solving Taught Through Engineering?

In a recent post about China, you will recall I made the point that Chinese schools are still focusing on retention while American schools are looking for ways to teach collaborative problem solving.  The Derby school district in Kansas has introduced engineering at the middle and high school to use as a platform to teach theses strategies.  Next year, they will introduce a similar program to their elementary schools.  This pilot program looks very promising to me.

Kansas school to be first to offer engineering at the elementary level
A Kansas school district is set to become the first in the nation to offer engineering classes at the elementary-school level. The Derby school district began offering engineering courses in middle and high schools this year, but a pilot program next year will bring aerospace engineering lessons to a district elementary school. The curriculum is designed by Project Lead the Way and will include hands-on and computer-based activities. The Wichita Eagle (Kan.) 

When discussing this project with Jake Bogar, physics teacher at Mt. Blue High School, he shared the following information: 

" Excellent article. I have been interested in the potential of incorporating engineering/technical classes in the elementary grades. Project Lead the way is an extensive program. I had looked at these interesting books to potentially use with younger students."

What a great way to teach young students strategic problem solving and develop their meta-cognitive awareness!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Information on Meta-cognition

   Meta-cognition has been researched for many years, but is still being questioned by many in education - especially the test makers. Sooo... I decided to take a few minutes and compile some key resources.  

The definition offered by Wikipedia is comprehensive:

Dr. Robert Fisher has done extensive research in the U.K. for 20 years on meta-cognition and teaching.  Here is a link to one of his publications: Thinking About Thinking: Developing Metacognition in Children.


Cora Reynoso Reyes, Ph.D.

Keywords: Teaching strategies, Reading performance, Self perception

This study was conceptualised basically to help improve instruction. Do
metacognitive strategies improve reading performance, metacognitive awareness, and
readers’ self-perception? The subjects were 282 sixth graders from the three schools of
Balara, Ateneo and Miriam taught by regular reading teachers following the traditional and
metacognitive lesson plans.
The strategies included think aloud, focusing, pupil-generated questions, reciprocal
question-answer, prior knowledge, teacher modelling, Know-Want-Learn, visual imaging and
fix-up. Metacognitive classes used these strategies, while the traditional classes followed the
procedures in the reading text.
Pretests included a Researcher-Made Test (RMT) and the Metropolitan Achievement
Test (MAT) to measure reading performance; the Metacognitive Reading Awareness
Inventory (MRAI) to measure pupil’s level of awareness of the metacognitive strategies; and
the Reader’s Self-Perception Scare (RSPS) to measure the pupil’s self-image. After about 7
weeks, the same tests were given again to find out whether there were significant gains in
reading performance, metacognitive reading awareness, and readers’ self-perception.
Based on the results, we can safely say that the use of metacognitive strategies had a
significant and positive effect on the reading performance of the students in all three schools
except for MAT and MRAI at the Ateneo. Ateneo teachers were already using many of the
strategies in their classes so the advantage of metacognitive teaching was not significant. The
overall impact of metacognitive teaching strategies was more effective at Miriam and Balara,
schools where the use of these strategies were new.

You will notice that both of these studies are done by researchers outside of the U.S.

I think it is time for us to begin to publish some of our own observations.

Does anyone want to share?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Metacognition and Inquiry Journals?

I have not posted anything for a while because I have been traveling in China - serving as a U.S. representative on a delegation for the International Reading Association.  The purpose of the delegation was to foster goodwill and the exchange of ideas between the Chinese educators and our own – 22 educators from all over the U.S.  This was planned to fall several weeks prior to Obama’s visit.
The tour began in Beijing, moved to X’ian, and ended in Shanghai.  The delegation visited schools, met with educators in various roles, and exchanged ideas with teachers.
Our delegation leader is Dr. Particia Edwards, president elect for the International Reading Association.  Dr. Edwards brings a wealth of information on international reading practices.  As part of our role as delegates, Patricia required each delegate to write a counter narrative on a specific school visit.   I was assigned to day 1 and our first in-country overview of the Chinese educational system.  Our presentation was made by Teng Jun, a Doctoral Candidate of the International and Comparative Education Research Institute, Beijing Normal University, who had just returned from the U.S. 

Following is my rough draft for my reflection.  I am offering it here because I believe the format requires the writer to think on a higher level and reflect – at least that is what it did for me. 
Please keep in mind this is a rough draft and is simply a reflection.
Date:  November 5, 2009
Place:  Swissotel, Beijing, China
        Hong Kong Macau Center
Delegation Leader: Patricia Edwards
Name: Darlene Bassett, Winthrop, Maine, and U.S.A.
From an American’s Point of View
This is my first trip to China.  As an American Educator, I have traveled and worked throughout the U.S. and in several European countries.  My work in Europe has always been enjoyable – but with a full awareness of how others viewed me – as an American with a sense of entitlement and an attitude of “knowing it all.”  This was usually overcome during the course of my visit.  So it was with a certain level of apprehension that I approached our first “in country” overview. 
Added to this frame of mind, was what little I knew about China.  When invited to be part of the people to people delegation, I understood part of our focus would be on the role of women in China.  Like most Americans, I thought of China as a Communist state, still much as Mao left it.

When our guest speaker, Dr. Teng Jun, arrived I was surprised when she turned out to be a articulate, intelligent young woman who had traveled in America and visited several schools. She was dressed in Western style – a feminine, lacy dress - very Laura Ashley.
I thought this was odd and immediately wondered why the college would send a female especially one so young.
 It was in direct opposition to our assumptions.
She introduced herself, establishing her credentials, and then graciously invited us to participate in an interactive presentation as she explored the similarities and differences between our two school systems. This was done expertly by asking us what we knew, thought and needed to know. The instructional style – we were being taught – was similar to the beginning of a guided inquiry unit – establishing what we thought we knew and what we wanted to know as well as clearing up confusions. Several times she reassured us that we had already addressed what she had planned and then moved on to the next piece.
It was with this gentle but expert pressure, we moved forward. At Dr. Jun’s suggestion, we focused on the ways our schools were alike – speaking in generalities.
Several times, questions addressing differences were set aside, by Dr. Jun explaining we would explore these questions when we finished our discussion of likenesses.  We never arrived at this point because we ran out of time.
For me, reflection is always the best way to bring clarity to any situation.  I will admit to being confused at times during the presentation and thinking perhaps it was my hearing. However, as I revisited my notes and traced my thoughts, I had more questions than answers.  Following are the statements I question.
1.  China’s education is moving from a centralized organization to a decentralized organization, similar to the U.S. 
·      How far have they moved towards this goal when:
o   All students wear the same uniforms?
o   All students have the same daily schedules?
o   All students have two periods a day for “recitation” (undefined)?
o   All students are assessed at the same age and “counseled” by parents to follow predetermined career preparation early on?
o   All schools are funded by the government?
o   All schools follow a predetermined national curriculum?
o   All schools must meet national standards?
2.  The U.S. and China have similar overall organization.  Dr. Jun equated general organization of grade levels to the same education.  Do the same grade levels equate the same education when:
o   K is free in the states and usually focuses on social skills of the individual, but does not exist in public school in China?
o   Small group instruction, supported by the RTI and IDEA legislation, is the focal point of NCLB in schools across America, while in China the national curriculum mandates a core of material that must be “known” by everyone?
o   Guided inquiry is the focus of many of the 21st century standards in the U.S., but in China there is still a focus on rote, memory – emphasizing coverage?
o   Middle schools and high schools in the U.S. are moving towards 90 minute blocks in order to allow students and educators the time to develop higher level thinking strategies around content, but in China 40 minute blocks are still in place?
3.  The basic philosophical difference between our two
educational systems appears to be most obvious when we indirectly discussed the role of teachers.  This is the essential, elemental difference and it is pivotal to all else that happens in American schools.  Our roles as educators requires that we meet the needs of the children we serve, whereas the Chinese educators appear to be the purveyors of knowledge and students are expected to meet their expectations.  Is this not illustrated when:
o   In the U.S. we have federal money and mandates to be sure teachers provide the appropriate support for our students faced with learning challenges (RTI, Reading Interventionists, Title I or II, Special Education, IDEA, etc.) but in China, they are just beginning to think about this issue?
o   Retention in the U.S. is discouraged while in China; the student must meet the standards or repeat the year?
o   In the U.S. middle schools and high schools offer a variety of courses exploring modalities of learning, but in China courses deal with the core national curriculum and do not “deviate” in areas they consider enrichment?
4.  Dr. Jun indirectly addressed this issue when she shared an article – shortened – by a Harvard undergraduate student published in the New York Times Magazine. The article argues that the college the Chinese student previously attended delved in depth into the field of mechanics, described as the Soviet-style over-specialized Chinese college education, while U.S. colleges provide a liberal (and superficial) education.  The author argues both approaches do no damage, but feels sorry for all the American students will miss. Ironically, the article concludes all will be well as long as learners continue to “remain curious enough to make choices.”  The point of disagreement appears to be on how much time one should take to make individual choices. 
Following this line of reasoning, the ultimate issue becomes a political one:
In a democracy, as in the U.S.A., education is seen as a development of the individual, directed by individual choice.  This is consistent with our belief that individuals are the basis of government and everyone has rights to own and direct their own life.

In a communist state, as in China, education is seen as a way to develop the individual to best serve the state.  Choices are made on individual abilities, channeling individuals into roles where they will excel within the framework of the needs of the society. This is done at a very early age.  We would argue too early for individuals to have a sense of who they are.
So the issue becomes do we maintain or do we continue to grow, develop, and change as a whole?
Interestingly enough, the highest academic achievers in this society have the distinction of being allowed the self-direction, the “freedom” the students referred to, the article cites as existing in the U.S.  Further, China’s society as a whole aspires, blatantly competes, to earn this academic privilege.  
This fact alone, belies the entire system…and forces us to question how far along the continuum China has progressed.

What I found most beneficial for me as a learner, was the deeper level probing around those statements where I felt dissonance – how could this be true if…  This process helped me sort through the entire trip and gave me a clarity I would not have developed otherwise. 
Pat built on this by having each of us respond to the other’s wonderings with counter thoughts or agreements to support the ideas.
This applies to our classrooms where we are struggling with inquiry.  I see many teachers attempt to have students write questions and/of keep an inquiry journal.  Some of the student entries are beginning to look as disjointed and unrelated as some of the early connections we allowed students.  So … I am thinking this process might help develop in students an ability to engage in inquiry.  I am suggesting that teachers might start with a format similar to what I have shared and then have students join in – adding more thoughts to counter those presented or to support what has been written. 
Good luck!  I hope the process is as productive for you and your students as it was for us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can a group demonstrate habits of mind?

I chose this image for this post because, like many people, I often understand concepts through images and the interconnectedness represented here helps me clarify my thinking about my answer.
It reminds me of the language pathways or neurons in the brain where electrical energy (we know as ideas) move along pathways, sending messages and eliciting responses. As responses become habituated, the neuron thickens, making the response quicker and smoother.  
Sometimes as I sit "outside" of a group and watch the interaction, I visualize a big brain.  If the synergy is good and the group is functional, the ideas ping around the group, gaining meaning, clarity, and engery as they move across the members.  Harvey and Daniels address this in their book on Inquiry Circles. 
As an agent of change, I have often analyzed groups and tried to focus on what it is that makes one group or staff more productive than another.  This year I have worked with the Mt. Blue year two teachers, our study of Costa's habits of mind has intersected with some of my group observations.  I am beginning to speculate that people who practice habits of the mind carry them over into their group interactions.  Here is an example.

Last Thursday we met as a group to review the literacy fair the staff participated in on October.  It was a pretty intense day and the different levels of buy in were apparent on this day.  As in all schools, every staff comes to a point when change is moving ahead and some teachers are hesitant.  How they handle this varies.

Clearly, this is a vulnerable time for any implementation, so we decided to address the situation during our debriefing - first thing.  
We began by reporting out separately.  We slowly recreated the day and identified our challenges and successes.   Next we analyzed the dynamics of the "change landscape."   We were soon into our problem solving mode, trying to formulate a plan for addressing the elements we had identified.

Here are the traits I identified at work in our collaboration.
1.  Persisting= Everyone was engaged and committed to formulating an effective, doable plan. 
2. Listening with Understanding and Empathy= Each of our team had different experiences during the early release day.  As they shared, everyone respected and supported the other's experience.
3. Thinking Flexibly= Moving through our options, we looked at all of the suggested solutions - building a model together =Thinking Interdependently.
4. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition) and  Managing Impulsivity =We carefully thought through our options and were sensitive to those present and those not present  - playing out a variety of scenarios = Striving for Accuracy,Questioning and Posing Problems, and Applying Past Knowledge. The level of reflection - emotional and cognitive - was shared freely, honestly and was received in a respectful manner.
5.  Remaining Open to Continuous Learning=The final solution we came up with came from the material that had just been introduced to the group.  However, the group took it in a completely different level, from a new perspective= Creating, Imagining, Innovating.
6. Taking Responsible Risks= After examining the proposed solution thoroughly, we devised a plan to put our solution  in place.

7. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision= the first part of our plan would be to present our idea to the faculty and then to gather input from them in order to work with them as part of a team.
8.  And of course as always, we laughed all the way through our time together=Finding Humor.
I am aware that this is a surface analysis of an indepth, complicated situation. This is my starting point, my basic thesis and I will be trying to categorize my observations in this manner, looking for confirmation or eventually reshaping my ideas or disproving them.
As my time with this group increases, it will be interesting to see how automated their problem solving becomes.  They work well together, always in a similar format and always ending with a solution or a next step that works. 
Stay tuned!  It will be interesting - and as always - join in the discussion. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hattie is Back with More Thoughts on Meta-Cognition

You will recall that in two of my earlier posts I introduced you to Hattie D., a teacher at Mt. Blue.  I shared with you the information regarding the masters' cohort she is working on and the thesis regarding efficacy and teacher success as well as her work on the literacy and technology pilot.  Just recently, I shared her information on the English Companion NING.  All of these endeavors are built on self- reflection and sharing or  - comprehension and collaboration -  as Daniels and Harvey wrote in their most recent book, Inquiry Circles in Action.

Hattie continues to publish on her blogs, Literacy Strategies in Action  for educators as well as her classroom blog, Welcome to Mrs. Deraps' Online Classroom for her students.  Her voice and reflection grow stronger with each publication.   She is a school leader who continues to fine tune her craft and share her insights generously.

Recently, a group of middle school teachers and high school teachers at Mt. Blue decided to get together and form a book club.  The purpose of this group is to review adolescent literature and discuss the book and its applications to their students.  Hattie is the chair and has created a NING on English Companion entitled, YA Lit Book Club.  Several of the teachers meet as a group in Farmington and others have joined via the NING.

Using this format, teachers experience first hand, all of the elements necessary to create a collaborative community in their classrooms as well as practicing reflective strategies including, but not limited to: meta-cognition, higher level thinking, inferring, conversing, summarizing, etc.  This experience is crucial for teachers who intend to teach literacy strategies.  Because strategic thinking is a process - not a content - we must experience the process ourselves in a variety of contexts - each time extending our own menu, developing flexibility, clarity and proficiency.

Click on the address and see if this is an approach you could use for yourself, your peers, or your students.  I promise it will be an enriching experience for everyone involved.

Thanks for sharing, Hattie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Habits of the Mind

I came across this quote a few days ago and it brought me back to Costa's work with habits of the mind.  

"The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led."    by Warren G. Benni

I had the honor of working with Costa years ago in Loudoun County, Virginia when he was still developing his concepts.  He impressed me as a quiet man, with a self-effacing demeanor who emanated a powerful energy based on his belief in mankind and its potential.  One of the strongest  beliefs he holds deals with IQ.  From his point of view, IQ is not genetically based, but a learned approach to life.  My experience has proved this to be true.

This quote voices his belief - although he is not the author - and makes us question other myths that exist in our society.

I am using this post to provide readers with some links to Costa's work, hoping that readers will consider the habits and their potential for students everywhere.

Following is some information  on the availability of Costa's work.
 Meet the "Habits of Mind" Series Authors on
Many teachers struggle not with content but with a student's attitude toward learning. That's why Art Costa and Bena Kallick, authors of the "Habits of Mind" book series, describe how to teach students to develop attitudes and dispositions of successful problem-solvers and effective learners. In new video segments on, the authors explain what "habits of mind" are and how 21st-century learning depends on students not only learning the curriculum, but also discovering the best avenues for effective learning.

I have also included a link to information on habits of the mind in elementary school.

Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools: An ASCD Action Tool
"Habits of Mind" are thoughtful behaviors that allow us to cope with a complex and rapidly changing world. ASCD's new action tool, "Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools" provides a series of tools, based on ASCD's groundbreaking "Habits of Mind" series, to help elementary-school teachers plan lessons and classroom activities that teach students thoughtful behaviors and promote successful learning in the classroom and beyond.

  I know many of the habits are taught in American International Schools through the International Baccalaureate.

Is anyone using the habits with their students?

Let us know what you think.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Key Elements for Metacognition

Recently I came across this post in ASCD Smart Brief.  After reading the article, I reflected on several key points that I have found are essential in the schools I work in implementing literacy strategies.

  1. Consistency of technique is important, but more importantly consistent language for all students is crucial.  Using the same terms and defining reading the same way allows the student to transfer their strategies and understandings across grades and subjects.
  2. Providing students with topics they are familiar with and interested in or providing them with background information on interesting topics, engages students through motivation - wanting to know - as well as activating prior knowledge. 
These two elements - consistent terminology for strategies as well as prior knowledge are key components for readers to develop metacognition and improve their comprehension.  

Given the limits of the brain's memory system, the on level reading frees the brain up to attend to the strategic processing needed for comprehension and higher level thinking.

Unfortunately, I think the article oversimplifies the subject and those commenting on the program look at surface features.

However, I am including it here because it has positive student results and might be a good option for some of my readers.


Instruction ties student interests to reading
A new program is credited with improving the reading ability of some struggling students in an Indiana school district. The READ 180 program, developed by Scholastic, engages struggling readers with videos and at-level reading materials in age-appropriate topics that are of interest to students. Instructional techniques include group and independent work for students. In the Perry Township district, 225 students bettered their reading by more than two grade levels after being in the program for one year. The Indianapolis Star (10/1)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

English Companion on Ning

New articles on the use of the internet for creating community and collaboration.

The World's Largest English Department

A Ning group for English teachers reveals the potential of online social networking to break the culture of professional isolation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Book Whisperer

On October 4, there will be a new book discussed on the English Companion.  The Book Whisperer is written by Donna Miller and explores how to awaken the reader in every child.  Teachers who have read this book thoroughly enjoy it and have found it useful in their classrooms.  It can be found online at

Donna Miller will lead the discussion.

Join your colleagues on line and explore your thinking together. 

Sharing your own thinking process makes it easier to share with others.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Role of Metacognition in Habits of the Mind

 This past summer, I spent time reviewing Costa's work on habits of the mind.  His work made me rethink our traditional definition of metacognition.  He has broadened the definition to include: Being aware of own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions; Knowing what I do and say affects others; Willing to consider the impact of choices on myself and others (number 5 below).

This broader definition addresses many of the concerns teachers share with me when I visit schools, i.e., students' inability to see the results of their choices and actions.

My thinking at this point in time is that metacognition is to some extent the lynch pin that supports the other habits.  If you can not identify your thoughts, feelings, and actions - can you engage in the other habits?

Throughout the year I will be reflecting on these habits.  I recently posted a reflection on  my blog, Literacy Strategies in Real Classrooms that began a conversation about the role of the habits in collaboration. 

His list of habits of the mind are listed below. 

Please let me know what you are seeing in your classrooms.

Post a comment.


(After Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series, Copyright © 2000) 
The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship.  The understanding and application of these 16 Habits of Mind serve to provide the individual with skills to work through real life situations that equip that person to respond using awareness (cues), thought, and intentional strategy in order to gain a positive outcome.

1. Persisting: Sticking to task at hand; Follow through to completion; Can and do remain focused.
2. Managing Impulsivity: Take time to consider options; Think before speaking or acting; Remain calm when stressed or challenged; Thoughtful and considerate of others; Proceed carefully.
3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy: Pay attention to and do not dismiss another person's thoughts, feeling and ideas; Seek to put myself in the other person's shoes; Tell others when I can relate to what they are expressing; Hold thoughts at a distance in order to respect another person's point of view and feelings.
4. Thinking Flexibly: Able to change perspective; Consider the input of others; Generate alternatives; Weigh options. 
5. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition): Being aware of own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions; Knowing what I do and say affects others; Willing to consider the impact of choices on myself and others.
6. Striving for Accuracy: Check for errors; Measure at least twice; Nurture a desire for exactness, fidelity & craftsmanship.
7. Questioning and Posing Problems: Ask myself, “How do I know?”; develop a questioning attitude; Consider what information is needed, choose strategies to get that information; Consider the obstacles needed to resolve.
8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations: Use what is learned; Consider prior knowledge and experience; Apply knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.
9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision: Strive to be clear when speaking and writing; Strive be accurate to when speaking and writing; Avoid generalizations, distortions, minimizations and deletions when speaking, and writing.
10. Gathering Data through All Senses: Stop to observe what I see; Listen to what I hear; Take note of what I smell; Taste what I am eating; Feel what I am touching. 
11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating: Think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”; Propose new ideas; Strive for originality; Consider novel suggestions others might make.
12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe: Intrigued by the world's beauty, nature's power and vastness for the universe; Have regard for what is awe-inspiring and can touch my heart; Open to the little and big surprises in life I see others and myself.
13. Taking Responsible Risks: Willing to try something new and different; Consider doing things that are safe and sane even though new to me; Face fear of making mistakes or of coming up short and don’t let this stop me.
14. Finding Humor: Willing to laugh appropriately; Look for the whimsical, absurd, ironic and unexpected in life; Laugh at myself when I can.
15. Thinking Interdependently
: Willing to work with others and welcome their input and perspective; Abide by decisions the work group makes even if I disagree somewhat; Willing to learn from others in reciprocal situations.

16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Open to new experiences to learn from; Proud and humble enough to admit when don't know; Welcome new information on all subjects.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Students Need Knowledge to Think Critically

A great article to make us think about balance in the classroom.   This is an excellent article that supports teaching metacognition within the context of content area teaching.

A timely article for Maine teachers at the high school level as their students receive laptops.

Taken from ASCD Smart Brief

  • A single-minded focus on skills without teaching knowledge is a strategy that has never worked, writes Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and co-chairwoman of Common Core. Ravitch argues that schools can't teach 21st-century skills without teaching knowledge. "Until we teach both teachers and students to value knowledge and to love learning, we cannot expect them to use their minds well," she writes. Boston Globe, The (09/15)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Collaboration - A Best Practice for Adults as Well?

Best Practices work for adults as well as students. As a follow up to Stephanie Harvey's and Harvey Daniels' new book Collaboration and Comprehension, I am offering this article to provide some information to compare to the key ideas of collaboration in the book. Take a minute and read the article and let us know what you think.

School districts share effort to develop staff abilities
An annual leadership academy that brings together teachers and staff from two Georgia school districts is being praised by participants and district officials for enhancing professional development. The cooperative effort, now in its fourth year, includes training and sharing between employees of the Dalton and Whitfield County school systems. "It definitely focused my efforts and also refined my actions. It made me more efficient and effective," said a participating teacher. Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tenn.)

The Role of Metacognition in Coaching

Yesterday during a meeting with high school teachers at Mt. Blue High School, we began defining our roles as peer coaches. We were using the book, Building Teachers' Capacity for Success, as a jumping off point.

During our discussion, we kept returning to the role of meta-cognition in self-reflection - the end goal of the process. The conclusion we arrived at was: in order to shift thinking, adults and students alike, must be able to trace their thinking and establish links. How else can rationales be established or theory put into practice?

The challenge is how do we support others when developing meta-cognitive strategies? Best practices for students provide us with Vygotzky's theory involving the zone of proximal development - in other words, we assist or support by doing think alouds modeling our own thinking, connections, rationales, etc.

Does this work with adults? Why not? All too often in education we save best practices for students while staff development sessions employ well known ineffective instructional practices.

As a team, we made the decision to go ahead with what we know are best practices and follow the results of our efforts.

Stay tuned!

We will be updating you on this blog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

English Companion on Ning - Discussion Begins Today:)

You will recall that during my last entry, I shared with you the English Companion NING Blog - created by Jim Burke, author of many literacy articles and books.

This blog offers an incredible amount of information on literacy in a variety of formats. Teachers can join communities that focus on any issue discussed. One of Hattie's favorite communities is the book club - led by the author of the book .

Today, Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels began the discussion on their book, Comprehension and Collaboration, Inquiry Circles in Action. What a remarkable opportunity for all of us. Along with the authors, educators from across the country will be joining use to discuss the book.

This format is excellent for teachers - reading and posting comments when the time is available is ideal given the hectic schedules we experience.

This book is excellent. I will be using it with several high schools this year. If you are a teacher or a school working on literacy strategies this books will provide you with incredible down to earth information for implementing a inquiry approach.

I previewed the book today with a literacy team at a local high school - with the principal present. Their review was excellent.

We will keep you updated as we move forward with the discussion.

Please check in with us and post a comment. This type of posting and "discussion" will help you develop your meta-cognition and share your knowledge with your students.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Teacher Meta-Cognition

Hattie Deraps, alternative education teacher at Mt. Blue High School, and I spent the day together on Friday, July 3, 2009. We spent the day discussing literacy in general - mostly student oriented. However, as the day progressed, Hattie shared several blogs she follows as part of a teacher group. Her commitment to students, love of teaching as wel as level ofliteracy understanding, are amazing. We concluded the day with a high level of enthusiasm and many new understandings.

As I reflected on the day, my thoughts kept coming back to the power of collaboration - how sharing our thoughts had helped us clarify and build understandings of our own process and the thinking of others. What a terrific way for teachers to develop their own understandings and experience first hand the meta-cognitive process.

However, given our busy schedules and our geograhic locations, how do we find the time and the partner to share with? - AND - how do we teach a process we rarely have the opportunity to practice?

Hattie finds many opportunities in her professional life - staff members, a masters cohort sponsored by UMF, and attending conferences. However, she also shared some other opportunities via the internet. She belongs to several collegial groups. Here are the links.

NCTE Blog - current information on NCTE articles, publications, events, and current issues

English Companion NING Blog - created by Jim Burke, author of many literacy articles and books, this blog offers an incredible amount of information on literacy in a variety of formats. Teachers can join communities that focus on any issue discussed. One of Hattie's favorite communities is the book club - led by the author of the book . Go to the blog and see what's happening. There is something for everyone.

Here is one Hattie created to share:

Literacy Strategies in Action - created by Hattie, this blog shares strategies, articles and books she has used in her classroom. Her thoughts are concise as she considers how to apply the information to her students. A great read. Join us and share!

I hope you will find the time in your busy summer to visit one of these sites and enjoy the collegiality offered. Think about what works for you and how it might work for your students. What a tremendous experience to offer our students and help prepare them for the 21st century.

Thank you Hattie!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bagels & Books: Book Discussion Group Promotes Culture of Reading and Development of Metacognitive Strategies

By Cathi Howell, School Librarian, Livermore Falls, High School

It is 6:30 A.M., the sun has not quite made its way up in the eastern sky and the halls are dark and quiet. Light beams from the library, a treasure trove beckoning from the center of the long hall on the second floor of the high school. Scents of freshly brewed coffee and warm bagels and muffins, complemented by the smell of new books welcome the first visitors of the day, the early risers who trickle in, some bright-eyed, others looking sleepy-eyed and slightly disheveled, all eager to grab a bite to eat and talk about our latest Bagels & Books read.

Are you wondering where this library is and who these people are that gather at the crack of dawn to talk about books? Bagels & Books is a community literacy program I started four years ago at Livermore Falls High School, a small rural high school in western Maine. The idea for Bagels & Books began to evolve several years ago when I was working at local public library while completing my bachelor's degree. This library had a lavish budget and was able to provide copies of books, free of charge, for the members of their book discussion group. Knowing that some day I would work as a high school librarian, I thought to myself how exciting it would be to have a book discussion group for students and to be able to give them books they could keep – for free! Living in rural western Maine in a town with a high percentage of low income families and with the closest bookstore located over twenty miles away, I thought this could be a real incentive for students to become excited about reading.

Two years later, while working as the library assistant at LFHS, I attended the annual conference of the Maine Library Association and participated in a session presented by the librarian of Freeport High School. This librarian was dynamic and she talked about many exciting things she was doing at FHS, including a book discussion group that she lead. This group met in the morning and was open to students. Sets of books were borrowed from other schools and libraries to use for reading and discussion. Of course, this got me thinking again about that book discussion group at the public library and about how I could make this work for students at LFHS. I liked the idea of meeting in the morning because many of our students participate in sports and other activities or have jobs and responsibilities that make it difficult to schedule meetings after school. I knew that serving breakfast would be a bonus; generally any time we offer food, students will come. Still, I wondered how I could do this; I wanted to provide students with books they could keep for themselves and make it all happen without any cost to the students.

I decided to discuss my thoughts and ideas with some teachers and the media specialist I worked with at the time. The response was overwhelmingly positive; the excitement was contagious. Teachers wondered if they could participate too and I thought, why not? What better way to bring together students and teachers than in the library participating in a book discussion group together, reinforcing the idea for students that adults around them are reading for pleasure and continuing to enhance their lives through reading? As I continued to fine tune how I would present this program to the school community, it continued to evolve until it looked like this: Bagels & Books would be open to students, faculty and staff members, and community members as a way to promote literacy and reading for pleasure in the school and in the community. All members would receive a copy of each book that they could keep for their own collection or pass on to a friend or family member to promote literacy in the community. We would meet every six to eight weeks, depending on the length of the book, in the library at 7:00 A.M., prior to the start of the school day. The library would be transformed with tablecloths and elegant paper goods . We would serve carafes of coffee and hot water for teas and hot chocolate, juices, and muffins and bagels from the local Dunkin Donuts shop. Everything had to be just right; and then we would talk about the book. The discussion would be informal and participants would be free to talk or just listen. It was important to me that students view this as a pleasure reading opportunity, as opposed to more assigned readings where they would be expected to provide all the right answers. I hoped for engaging conversation about books between teenagers and adults. What I got, and what the school community got has far exceeded my wildest expectations!

Bagels & Books has grown from its initial membership of twenty students, faculty and staff members and community members to a range of thirty-five to forty people reading each selection. Participation peaked last fall when a record fifty-six people squeezed into the library one chilly November morning to discuss the popular vampire novel “Twilight” just days before the release of the movie based on Stephenie Meyer's debut novel. More importantly, Bagels & Books has helped improve the culture around reading at LFHS; reading is becoming the cool thing to do here. The selection of books offered through Bagels & Books has included a broad range of genres, featuring both fiction and non-fiction titles, and has exposed our readers to numerous authors. Recent selections include “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, and “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult. Our lively and engaging discussions, involving students, teachers, secretaries, administrators, parents, community members, and occasional guest speakers, enrich the reading experiences of every participant. In addition, these discussions complement what teachers are emphasizing in classrooms; metacognitive strategies that improve students' reading comprehension. Discussion questions are designed to encourage participants to talk about what they were thinking as they read the book and to relate what they read to prior experiences in their reading and in their lives. The group dynamic of Bagels & Books lends itself readily and naturally to adults sharing and modeling their thinking and students learning from the experiences of these master readers.

What is next for Bagels & Books? We will explore the possibilities of an online experience through a Bagels & Books blog. My hope is to continue to grow and to reach out to more members of our school and community. My expectation is that a Bagels & Books blog will appeal to two distinct audiences; first and foremost our students who already thrive in the online environment and secondly to faculty and staff members and community members who are not able to make our early morning meetings. Discussion questions on the blog will encourage lively discussion between readers, both teenagers and adults, and will inherently supplement our students' metacognitive development. Bagels & Books will provide the best of both worlds; an opportunity for enriching dialogue between students and adults around reading and an online opportunity for written communication and discussion about books that encourages students to think about their own thinking.

You can check out Cathi's blog at:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Administrators' Observations on Implementing theLiteracy Initiative and School Change for Teachers and Studens

Joe Moore, principal of Jay High School, and Scott Walker, assistant principal of Mt. Blue High School, pose for a picture after completing their first year in the WMEC literacy initiative. Both administrators participated with their teams during the training and spearheaded the implementation in their respective high schools. They have graciously agreed to provide a written reflection on the process in their respective buildings.

We begin with a reflection by Joe Moore who wrote on the implementation of the literacy initiative at Jay High School. His narrative is written from the administrator's point of view, including interviews from teachers and students alike. This is followed by Scott Walker's reflection on the implementation process at Mt. Blue High School. His focus is on the change process and the team's reactions - including quotes from team members.

The Jay High School literacy team for 2008-2009 has been comprised of seven individuals; the principal, two social studies teachers, an English intervention teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher and a business education teacher. The team met with literacy consultant, Darlene Bassett, over the year in four structured full day workshops, four structured on-site coaching sessions and presenting to staff members in sister schools during half-day staff development sessions on literacy strategies. The project included readings, implementation of content literacy strategies, consultation through coaching, data gathering on student achievement and peer coaching.

I have been really impressed with how the teachers involved at Jay High School took off using the strategies. They approached this work with a flair for the cooperative, collegial spirit of doing what works best for students. The teachers have dialoged together and promoted the literacy work openly with the staff. Members of the literacy team have presented strategies at six of our monthly staff meetings in great detail. This sharing has been well received and provided a good hook to build the next cohort at Jay High School.

I have seen teachers use the literacy strategies on a daily basis by incorporating them into their daily instruction. The staff has adopted strategies that fit their particular instructional style and content areas. They have bravely moved from the traditional, sometimes mundane, to strategies that better fit the interactive, fast paced world of our contemporary adolescent learners. The teachers have also incorporated the literacy strategies into technology formats, which really allow students to take off in using these strategies. The use of technology really connects to the contemporary world of our high school students.

I chose to talk to some of our students about the impact of these strategies on their class work and on their learning. I interviewed a number of students in the classes of the literacy team teachers and asked the questions:

1. What has (Mr./Mrs.____) done to help you improve your reading in class or in your

2. How do you feel about the reading strategies (Mr./Mrs.____) uses or has explained to you as
you use these strategies in class?

I selected strategies I knew teachers had introduced to students and in some instances taught extensively to their students.

A strategy that most of the literacy team teachers utilized was the Four Square/Frayer Model -
(see the diagram to the left). This is a vocabulary exercise where a term is written in the center of a diagram, students have four identified spaces to write a.) definitions of the term, b.) characteristics of the word, c.) examples of the word, and d.) non-examples. The nice thing about this concept is it is content neutral, it can be used across subjects.

In my interviews with students I heard the following comments about the Frayer:

"We had real things to identify with our reading. I like having things spelled out in a way that helps me make sense of the stuff. Mr. B. puts a word in the middle of the sheet and we find definitions, features and other stuff for it. I like to see things in a diagram. My grades on the quizzes and tests have gone up! I think it makes a difference in my learning to see new words organized like this."

"I like working in groups with the vocabulary words and the categories. This is a lot better than just studying the words and definitions. I like having the examples so we have a chance to learn the words better. Mr. S. leaves the diagram on the smart board for us so we won't lose our place in getting the work done."

Another literacy strategy that was commonly used by all teachers on the team was the GIST (description follows).

1. Teacher previews the text.
2. Teacher selects number of key concepts in paragraphs.
3. Students underline or use post its to identify key concepts as they read the

4. At the end of the paragraph, students write a sentence using the key concepts.
5. Statements are combined into final summary.
6. Pair/Share is an excellent format to begin the process.

This strategy has the teacher actively reading portions (usually paragraphs of a text) and stopping to highlight key concepts of the text with students. Students can identify key words and concepts as they follow along. The students play an active role in sharing their ideas of key words and concepts through strategies like Think/Pair/Share. Students seemed to like the interactive nature of the teacher reading and giving them th opportunity to share their thinking. The activity was engaging them in the reading process and teaching them to break down complex texts into smaller parts. Here is what I head from selected students about the GIST:

"When Mrs. B. reads the paragraph to us and we select some words we think are important I feel like I'm paying attention better. We get to post our key words on the word wall and see what others kids have picked for words. I get surprised when we agree so much on the important words. We always have fun creating sentences out of our words, it is like a story to the story we are reading."

"Mr. H. starts by reading the book to us. I think this helps me to get the history stuff better because when I read it I don't get it. I like to follow along and then listen to Mr. H. tell us what is important. We can work in groups to share what we think is important, then we put the ideas together. This helps me because I can talk with other kids and I don't have to just read to myself and daydream."

Teachers used a variety of strategies to dig into the prior knowledge of students related to content readings. Literacy team members used these strategies mainly as pre-reading exercises to help students set the stage for text readings. It helped to give students some confidence in their ability to grasp subject matter. Here are some comments about prior knowledge activities from students:

"I like it when Mr. B. lets us list what we know about science or any vocabulary words (brainstorming). He asks to give our own ideas in our own words. I don't feel so stupid when I can see what I already know."

"Mrs. D. lets us share what we all know about presonal finance like pay stubs, taxes, and sales receipts. Listening to each other is important. It is pretty cool to see what we all know. Mrs. D. tells us how our ideas help her teach what we need to know."

Literacy team members used a "word sort" as a vocabulary tool. I saw the word sort used as a pre-reading strategy. A neat element to see is how teachers incorporated this word sort into technology. One teacher of social studies would e-mail word sorts as homework to students. The teacher computerized these word sorts so students could manipulate the words into categories. The teacher then included the vocabulary in the lessons and required their their use in projects and tests. The students liked the interactive nature of the word sorts and the ability to be creative in how they assembled words for summaries of their readings. The following are student comments on their learning from word sorts:

"In Mr. S.'s room we play a great vocabulary game. He picks categories for us and comes up with a bunch of vocab words that deal with government. We have to choose the categories for the words. This is fun! We get to compare our categories. I like to make stories out of the words and it is easy to study this way. I keep all the sorts in a folder on my computer so I use them to study."

"I like using the laptop for the words sorts that Mr. S. uses in class. The vocab used to be boring but now Mr. S. sends them to us using our school e-mail. I can do the sorts better on the computer, it is like a game. I think most students like this because they words are easier to learn when we can take our time on the laptops at home."

I had a math teacher who chose a unique project of working with the two other math instructors at our high school to come up with a list of twenty-five common math vocabulary words (based or R. Morazano's work on aligning assessment language with instructional language) that they would concentrate on teaching and reinforcing during the year. This started in September and carried on throughout the year. I checked in with the three teachers peiodically during the year and conducted an interview with them in April of 2009 to see how things went with the project. I also interviewed a few math students. These are some quotes from the interviews.

Mr. F., math teacher, "It made sense for us to agree on a common vocabulary in our math courses to help reinforce what we teach. I found that by the second semester the students were actually anticipating the use of vocabulary words in class. We selected terms that are common among math subjects, such as, operations, functions, equations, summations, etc.. Student reaction was positive. I saw grades improve for some marginal students, maybe it was becasue these definitions of vocabulary made more sense to them."

Mrs. K., math teacher, "I used a maath word wall in my classroom. I put up the common math terms and referenced them as they came up during lessons. It got to the point where students would reference the word wall whenever words came up. I gave students extra credit when they used the common vocabulary words in a math related sentence on quizzes and tests. This was a great motivator and reinforced some writing and reading skills."

Emily, a student, " The math words turned out to be fun. We did a word wall in class and it helped me feel better about math. I could define the words and I took my time to break down some fo the equations thinking about how the word definitions fit into what we were doing."

The real plus of this literacy team project was the collegiality of the teachers they worked together. The Jay team also stepped up in presenting literacy strategies at every staff meeting. They tackled this project with a real positive attitude and a willingness to share.


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Literacy Work at Mt. Blue High School, The Teachers’ Perspective


Scott Walker, C.A.A.
Mt. Blue High School
Assistant Principal, Athletic Director

The literacy team at Mt. Blue High School began our work in August with expectations that ranged widely from none to idealistically all encompassing. Our team was made up of seven participants including an assistant principal, three English teachers, a math teacher, a social studies teacher, and a special education teacher. The group has much in common, but specifically for the purposes of our literacy work they have predominantly ninth graders (at least at some point during the day). This group worked with Darlene Bassett through the course of the school year in four full-day training sessions, four observation and coaching sessions, and two “field trip” dates where we worked in classrooms with our counterparts from Jay High School.
As stated previously, the expectations from our team were across the spectrum. Many felt a great sense of trepidation about being observed by other team members and moreover with the prospect of sharing our findings and strategies with the remainder of the staff. We have a large staff comparatively (in excess of seventy faculty members) and to present our work to them brought about some obstacles. After the first training and coaching sessions behind us, however, I witnessed a perceptible change in our team’s perception. There was a level of comfort that became pervasive with growing confidence developed through hours of interaction with each other and with the literacy team from Jay High School. According to one of the English teachers at Mt. Blue, “I love the cohort model of this program and the collaboration that's happened with the Jay teachers.” As the same teacher addressed our other area of concern (full staff sharing) the change became palpable, “I feel like our staff has responded kindly and positively to our efforts and that they are receptive to continuing in this direction.”
I realize that these seem like such small steps given where we are now, but looking through our eyes in August, we had real doubt that we were going to have success when we came together as a full staff. The social studies teacher on our team added to the positive reflections about our work with the entire staff, “I was very pleased with how well it [the literacy work] was received by the rest of the staff. I feel that many staff members are trying to incorporate some literacy strategies into their classrooms.” Again these comments are light years ahead of where we were in August.
I think I would attribute much of the nervousness on our part about this process to the unknown. We all had to step out of our comfort zones to a degree, whether it involved having an unfamiliar colleague observe your class, or the attempt to implement a literacy strategy in an applied math class. Regardless of where we started, the partially finished product demonstrates a value to this collaborative work that was not viewed as possible early on. A simple, but powerful outcome came from the special education teacher on our team, “we have been able to integrate a few strategies very effectively into our various content classes.” She goes on to say, “I found the strategies themselves easy to implement but at the same time very effective.” That fear of the unknown is nowhere to be found now.
When searching through our notes from the training sessions and reflecting on the work we did, many teachers had wonderfully positive views on the format in which we did our work. Another English teacher noted, “The most positive aspects of this work were having uninterrupted time to concentrate and work with my colleagues from other departments on a common goal [and] having the opportunity to collaborate with another school's team that is a few steps ahead of MBHS's team.” This honest appraisal of our progress and the methods is most valuable. Furthermore, the team shared praise for Darlene and her ability to bring the two somewhat disparate groups together toward a common ground, “I feel like Darlene has been an invaluable resource for our team. Her knowledge, enthusiasm, and instruction has been a great model for us all.”
With a year under our belt, the literacy team at Mt. Blue looks to the future with much more confidence about our progress down the literacy pathways. The obstacles of the unknown and the uncomfortable are certainly behind us, and we look forward to working through the next steps with new team members and more progress shared across the curriculum.