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Friday, December 31, 2010

Put Thinking to the Test! A Great Book!

Here is a book that builds on comprehension strategies to move to thinking strategies for general test taking.  It is worth your while to take a look at the text.  It is pertinent to the assessment challenges we are facing.
                                                       Preview the book online!Preview the book online!

"Just as comprehension strategies have helped millions of students learn to read like proficient readers, they can also help students think like effective test-takers. The authors show how students can use background knowledge, mental images, synthesizing, monitoring, inferring, questioning, and determining of importance to understand the genre of tests and to think through the problems they are given. Instead of engaging in artificial and disconnected activities to cram for upcoming tests, students learn skills and strategies that will serve them throughout their school careers and beyond."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What engages the brain?

Following is a post from ASCD.  It provides a base line for us to reflect on our classroom practices and understandings on brain research.  Enjoy:)

What is true thinking and how can a student's environment nurture this important brain process? Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham discusses engaging the student brain in his book "Why Don't Students Like School?" Willingham's classroom strategies for brain-friendly student engagement are highlighted in a recent ASCD blog post. Read on

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Learning Styles

An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are


                within one or more cultural settings. 
During the 21st century our medical research lead us as a culture to focus on a new understanding of the brain - physiologically.  In other words, we now had to take a hard look at truths revealed through science about how learning occurs.  Howard Gardner's work was pivotal in this area when he identified 7 intelligences (8 now) and scrutinized how this information should impact our classrooms.  His perspective was based on a global view of cultures - rather than a national one.  This lead to the identification of several essential truths about learning.

Here is a summary of the U.S. implementation, taken from Education World.

"When asked how educators should implement the theory of multiple intelligences, Gardner says, '(I)t's very important that a teacher take individual differences among kids very seriously … The bottom line is a deep interest in children and how their minds are different from one another, and in helping them use their minds well.'
An awareness of multiple-intelligence theory has stimulated teachers to find more ways of helping all students in their classes. Some schools do this by adapting curriculum. In "Variations on a Theme: How Teachers Interpret MI Theory," (Educational Leadership, September 1997), Linda Campbell describes five approaches to curriculum change:
  • Lesson design. Some schools focus on lesson design. This might involve team teaching ("teachers focusing on their own intelligence strengths"), using all or several of the intelligences in their lessons, or asking student opinions about the best way to teach and learn certain topics.
  • Interdisciplinary units. Secondary schools often include interdisciplinary units.
  • Student projects. Students can learn to "initiate and manage complex projects" when they are creating student projects.
  • Assessments. Assessments are devised which allow students to show what they have learned. Sometimes this takes the form of allowing each student to devise the way he or she will be assessed, while meeting the teacher's criteria for quality.
  • Apprenticeships. Apprenticeships can allow students to "gain mastery of a valued skill gradually, with effort and discipline over time." Gardner feels that apprenticeships "…should take up about one-third of a student's schooling experience."
With an understanding of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, teachers, school administrators, and parents can better understand the learners in their midst. They can allow students to safely explore and learn in many ways, and they can help students direct their own learning. Adults can help students understand and appreciate their strengths, and identify real-world activities that will stimulate more learning."

Author: Anne Guigon

One of the challenges we need as educators to address is a balance of opportunities for all children to learnThis is often difficult for two reasons:
  1. we teach the way we learn or have been taught
  2. we don't know what type of intelligence we possess and don't recognize the students' learning styles as separate from ourselves.
Here is a link - Multiple Intelligences - that will allow you to take a quick online assessment that will identify your learning style.  I suggest you take a few minutes to log in and complete the survey and then reflect on the mode of learning you teach to in your classroom.

Could it be students fail because they can not process and comprehend the information/process we teach them due to their learning styles?

I a time of assessment, assessment, assessment, this is a question that needs to be asked.

For further information on Howard Gardner go to: Concept to Classroom  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Meta-Cogniton and Engagement!

Elements of Meta-Cognition lead to student engagement.

Read the following article - courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief.

10 tips for engaging students in learning

High school technology-integration specialist Andrew Marcinek offers suggestions for reviving students' interest in learning. Marcinek set up a Wiki for his English 101 class and outlined a new set of classroom expectations that included reminding students to have fun with assignments and encouraging them to collaborate, share and not be afraid to make mistakes. |  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From Metac-Cognition to Visible Thinking!

"Visible Thinking is a broad and flexible framework for enriching classroom learning in the content areas and fostering students' intellectual development at the same time. Here are some of its key goals:
  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners' thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners' attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the "dispositional" side of thinking).
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners"
This is the opening paragraph on the Visbile Thinking site published by Harvard's research team.

The Visible Thinking Network is international and focuses on how humans think, regardless of language.

The site centers on best practices and focuses on the link between thinking and understanding content.

Take a few minutes on the site and you will find excellent strategies, routines, and examples of instructional strategies ready to be used in your classroom.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Think Alouds

Many teachers struggle with think alouds.  Here is an interview with Jeff Wilhelm, one of the educational leaders in the area of strategies and comprehension.  He addresses how he teaches think alouds in his classroom.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Collaboration Among Teachers Helps Students

Earlier this year, I discussed the importance of collaborating in schools in order to improve teaching and so student performance.  Here is data supporting this assumption - courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief.
Collaboration is improving scores, teaching at Pennsylvania school
Educators at a Pennsylvania high school are embracing professional-learning communities as a way to ensure that all students are learning the same material and are being kept on track. Improved test scores and more effective teaching are among the benefits of the collaborative system, educators say. "This is my 18th year teaching," one teacher said. "And it's making my life easier." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (9/14Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 2, 2010

Learning Teams and the Future of Teaching by Tom Carroll and Hannah Doerr

"Learning is no longer preparation for the job, it is the job. In a world in which information expands exponentially, today’s students are active participants in an ever-expanding network of learning environments. They must learn to be knowledge navigators, seeking and finding information from multiple sources, evaluating it, making sense of it, and understanding how to collaborate with their peers to turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into action.

What does this mean for teachers? It means that they should be constantly learning with and from accomplished colleagues and experts in the field, modeling for their students the collaborative learning and knowledge construction that is at the core of 21st-century competencies.

These are the opening paragraphs to Caroll's and Doerr's article, Learning Teams and the Future of Teaching.

The article looks at the role of 21st century and the role of collaboration in the profession of teaching.  It calls into question the present role of the teacher - isolated - and identifies the culture of isolation as the cause for failing schools and teachers leaving the professions.

The authors identify 6 key characteristics for successful learning teams:
  1. Shared Values and Goals.
  2. Collective Responsibility.
  3. Authentic Assessment.
  4. Self-Directed Reflection.
  5. Stable Settings.
  6. Strong Leadership Support.
These factors have also been identified in the SMART Schools resources we have been using as a basis for our definition of collaboration.

For an excellent real life example of these 6 characteristics, I refer you to the article written and submitted by Monique Poulin, principal of Mt. Blue High School.


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Collaborative Reasoning, Part III

As you will recall, I have been writing a series on collaboration in Maine schools.  Part I, Collaboration, What is it? and Part II,  Collaboration - The Role of Communication, were posted in March.  Today, I will post Part III - Collaborative Reasoning.

This time of year, I see many disappointed faces in the schools where I work.  These are usually found among committee members.

Because most schools form committees by asking for volunteers - members are immediately at a disadvantage.


For three reasons:

  1. members who volunteer usually do so because they have a position on the topic being reviewed by the committee.  Consequently, many come on board from a point of view of advocacy - hoping to convince others of their opinions
  2. many administrators are not clear as to the role of the committee.
In The Handbook for SMART School Teams by Conzemius and O'Neill, they suggest 4 possible methods of making decisions.

  1. Consensus Decisions:  all members agree to support the group decision - regardless.
  2. Voting:  committee members vote on options -51% is enough to carry the vote.
  3. Consultative Decisions:  team or one member makes the decision in consultation with others.
  4. Command Decisions:  Decision by Authority  or Expert Decision.
The confusion around this process can be cleared up by clearly stating ahead of time, the role of the team.

Two common misconceptions are evident in schools:
  1. teachers thought the committee or team would make the decision and are angry and disappointed because that was not the end process
  2. teachers believe consensus is the only viable committee or team process   - AND  -
  3. teachers believe consensus is synonymous with collaboration.  
In an effort to clarify this point, I would like us to take a look at the new definition of collaboration for students - collaborative reasoning.

 "Collaborative Reasoning has a format that is useful for deepening conceptual understanding.  Collaborative Reasoning discussions do not foster reading consensus.  Instead, this discussion model requires students to seriously consider multiple perspectives on a text they have read and then engage in a thoughtful dialogue.  The discussions have an open participation structure; that is, students are expected to communicate freely.  According to Richard Anderson, “Reasoning is fundamentally dialogical.  Thinkers must hear several voices within their own heads representing different perspectives on the issue.  The ability and disposition to take more  than one perspective arises from participating in discussions with others who hold different perspectives (Reznitskaya and Anderson 2002). " Taken from Foundations,  Comprehending Texts, 2007, page I14

While I recognize this definition is for reading, look closely.  Is this not the process we want our students as well as ourselves to engage in when we discuss important issues or consider decisions we have to make?  

In the age of a shrinking globe, this is a more defined - meta-cognitive - approach to processing information and decision making than we have had before.  

Let's embrace it and implement it in all aspects of our personal and professional lives.  

I think we would grow!  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Final Reflection Paper: The Implementation of Literacy Integration at Mt. Blue High School by Monique Poulin

 Monique Poulin is the principal of Mt. Blue High School, Farmington, Maine. 

This is her second year as a principal.

Following is her reflection on the implementation of a literacy initiative at  the high school and her role as an instructional leader.

In reflecting upon the process of implementation of literacy integration here at Mt. Blue High School, many factors and layers are involved. I inherited this professional development initiative upon taking the position of principal at our school.  I truly had no concept of the depth of literacy issues, nor any ideas on how to address them in our school.  Enter the Western Maine Educational Collaborative (WMEC), our literacy consultant, Darlene Bassett, the University of Maine at Farmington, and six brave teachers from a variety of disciplines, who expressed an interest in addressing this concern in our school.

WMEC works with schools in our area to pool resources and to provide relevant professional development for our teachers.  The model that was presented to me in my first month as principal included several schools in the collaborative, credits honored by the University of Maine at Farmington for teachers involved, and the expertise and experience of Darlene Bassett.  Over the summer, I recruited six teachers who felt strongly that this concern needed to be addressed cross-curriculum.  They agreed to a commitment of a year’s worth of hands-on coaching and curriculum delivery in conjunction with other schools.  One of our administrators, Scott Walker, then assistant principal and athletic director, also participated in the class and acted as the lead organizer here at school.  Though I was not directly involved in much of the planning and details, I was on the periphery, and I could clearly see the benefit of such a model in our school.

As a leader, I believe that it is my responsibility to encourage reflective growth and to facilitate best practices in our school. With little knowledge regarding secondary literacy strategies, I believed that Darlene, as the expert, was going to give the teachers what they needed to begin addressing these concerns at the high school level.  Then, if she were successful, the six teachers involved would be able to work with their peers to expand the concepts.  This is what happened during the 2008-2009 school year. In referring to the Continuum of Self-Reflection: Coaches’ Model  (Hall and Simeral 41-42), our teachers involved in the cohort moved along the continuum from the unaware and conscious stages to the action stage, with Darlene as their coach. They found much success in applying the strategies directly and immediately in their classes.  The literacy strategies evolved into “thinking” strategies, which assisted in applying them cross curriculum.  Due to our professional development structure of department common planning time and early release days, we began to tap into the “coaching strategies that foster reflective growth” (Hall and Simeral 42).   This allowed us to spread the word of the success of these strategies, and other teachers asked about the potential of being involved in the literacy cohort for the following year.

This led me to consider our school goals for the 2009-2010 school year.  In my educational career, I have experienced working in schools that either have no clear school goals, or who change these goals from year to year. As I considered all that we ask of our teachers, it seemed to make sense to continue with literacy as a school wide goal and to sustain this track of professional development. Darlene was available, there was definitely interest, teachers were seeing progress, and what could be more important that both literacy and thinking strategies as we consider the education of our students?

From my perspective, the second year has been far more successful than the first.  We have doubled the number of staff involved to 14, we have teachers acting as coaches to their colleagues, all departments are exposed to the concepts, and we are starting to use a common language across the disciplines.

In working with Darlene, UMF, and the WMEC, we were able to offer a second course for teachers. I participate with six teachers in the second year of training (EDU 591) and we have seven teachers in the year one course (EDU 590). The structure is such that the 591 teachers are matched as coaches with the 590 teachers. This has allowed our coaches to work as “mentors in the action stage and collaborators in the refinement stage”  (Hall and Simeral 42).  This has been amazing for me to watch, since it has been wonderful in opening up our classrooms. What used to be a school with highly individualized classrooms, with virtually only curriculum in common as far as instructional purpose, has opened itself up for feedback.  What better means of working as professional learning community than to welcome colleagues into classrooms and to ask for feedback to improve instruction?  The level of trust has increased, and, with thirteen teachers from five different departments trained to incorporate literacy strategies into lessons, we have certainly impacted the teaching and learning that is happening in our school.

We also added one more layer this year. We dedicated three early release days to sharing the work that our literacy cohorts are doing and have asked that the involved individuals work with their colleagues on implementing strategies in all classes.  We have tweaked the design of the sessions based on faculty feedback, and we have found that modeling the concepts, then working within departments seems to bring the most success.  The expectation that everyone use strategies in their classes, while allowing them both time and support to do so, has allowed the concept of literacy at the high school to expand.  We are not all the way there yet, but we continue to make progress, and we are seeing results with our students.  The even greater impact has been the staff directed professional development that has helped to initiate and maintain a school wide cohesiveness.

In the end, what impact has this initiative had to date on our school?  It has given teachers a voice in our professional development and has allowed them to collaborate across the disciplines on a topic that impacts us all.  It has unified us in at least one mission, and though we don’t have everyone on board yet, we continue to work toward that end.  It has allowed us to use a common language and to trust each other in our classrooms.  It has removed some of the isolation that we feel as individual teachers and within departments and has encouraged conversations around student work and the hurdles that exist for many of our students.

In reflecting personally on my role throughout the process, I refer to the Continuum of Self-Reflection: Administrator’s Model (Hall and Simeral 148-151).  I find that we have teachers at all stages of awareness.  My responsibility is to determine the stage, then provide feedback to encourage reflective growth.  I believe that this reflection applies not only to where our teachers stand in relation to the use of literacy strategies, but to all effective practices in the classroom.  All are at varied levels depending on the topic, and the more I can encourage them to move along the continuum, the more effective we will be in regards to improving teaching and learning at Mt. Blue High School.  This will not happen in isolation, though, and so the work and support of our coaches will be vital to this goal as well.

I look forward to future work and progress regarding literacy in our school.  We have proposed the continuation of our work with Darlene Bassett, who has been a wonderful guide in our journey, and we plan to have a literacy leadership team at our school next year.   We also intend to embed another school goal, the use of technology, into the sustained literacy professional development we have in mind for next year.  If it is vital that we help our students to make connections between disciplines and to the world around them, it is also important that we do the same for our teachers.

The true kudos go to our literacy leaders and teachers who have opened up their minds and their classrooms as we ventured down the road of literacy at the secondary level.  The thirteen teachers now involved have taken risks and have found success.  More kudos go to those who have taken advantage of the professional development that has been offered to them on our early release days, and who are currently applying these strategies successfully with their students.  Change takes an open mind and courage, and we are fortunate to have teachers who exhibit both here at Mt. Blue High School.

Works Cited
Hall, Pete, and Alisa Simeral.  Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success.  Alexandria:  ASCD, 2008.

May 13 - Reading Differentiation in the Content Areas by Darlene Bassett

This webinar with demonstrate how content area teachers can organize their instruction around curriculum based on the learning results, while differentiating reading levels according to RTI guidelines.

Darlene Bassett, literacy specialist and educational consultant  
    Date: May 13, 2010
    Time: 3:00-4:00 PM

Telephone Number:  1-866-910-4857

Pass code:  985399

Please Note: 

Perspectives on Blogging is being rescheduled.  The webinar was canceled due to circumstances beyond our control.  We apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you, Darlene 
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Does Technology Require Different Literacy Strategies?

 I received the following article via ASCD Smart Brief recently and quickly reviewed it, thinking I would post it on the literacy and technology blog.  However, as I thought about it, I decided to post it here as well.

In the introduction to this article, the author equates the use of the cell phone to higher performance on  assessments.   Unfortunately, the focus is on the cell phone - the use of technology - rather than the difference in instructional strategies.  

From a strategic point of view, the cell phone assignment to read and summarize the main idea of each stanza and then text it to the teacher is a very different process than reading, reciting, and discussing.  The cognitive task of summarizing, requires comprehension of the content and the text structure as well as prioritizing the terms - usually key concepts - used, and then restating the main idea in ones own words.  This is a much higher level of thinking and students have traditionally struggled with this process.  

Technology does play a role.  While we all agree the cell phone provides engagement,  the medium of texting  requires short and limited - reinforcing the idea of summarizing.

However, many teachers are still uncomfortable with technology.  I suggest we look beyond the technology itself and think about the literacy strategies required in these various mediums and how it is slowly changing our idea of literacy.

Take a few minutes and read the following article.  Please post a comment and let us know what you think.

Remember to join us on May 6 from 3:15-4:15 to hear about the literacy  strategies developed through blogging.

Text messaging is used to help students learn poetry
Students in a New York state middle school who used cell phones and text messaging to learn about poetry outperformed their peers who learned through traditional methods. Students used the phones to text the main idea of poetry stanzas. Those who did got 80% of poetry questions correct on state exams, while those who were taught in traditional methods of using reading, reciting and discussing answered 40% of the questions correctly. The Times Herald-Record (Middletown, N.Y.)

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Monday, April 26, 2010

May 6 - Perspectives on Blogging by Hattie Deraps and Jake Bogar

Blogging is one of the most beneficial, but frequently overlooked uses of technology available to educators and students.  Used within a classroom framework focused on higher level thinking skills, blogs prepare students for the 21st century. 

This is not the same things as writing.   

               Two high school teachers, one Alt Ed English and one physics/engineering 
               teacher, share their experiences in using blogs with high school students. 
               The pros and cons, challenges and successes of blogging will be shared.  
               Student perspectives will be included. - Participants will be encouraged to                 offer suggestions and ideas.       Presenters: 

  Hattie Deraps,  alternative ed. English teacher

Jake Bogar, physics/engineering teacher

Date:  May 6, 2010 
Time: 3:15-4:15 PM
Telephone Number:  1-866-910-4857

Pass code:  985399

Blogging provides students with:
1.  Engagement: (Take a look at this data provided by a high school class at Mt. Blue.) Many students use their computer independently and have access to the internet at home.

2.  Aunthenticity of Task:  Students want to have an immediate audience and use technology (including their computers) for communicating with their peers.

3.  Collaboration: Communicating with their peers means sharing or collaborating when thoughtful comments are posted on blogs.  Teaming -  debriefing, sharing, summarizing - provides another level of collaboration.

4. Literacy Strategies are strengthened through the use of laptops

5.  Information Processing: can be taught through laptops.  This is extremely important in the age of information and is critical when we consider that most students dislike and can not read nonfiction on grade level by the time they reach high school.

 Following is a summary of comments from students on the pros and cons of laptops (metacognitive reflections).

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Announcing: Webinar Series on Literacy and Technology - Archived

I have received several inquiries regarding our previous webinars -

Technology Integration in a First Grade Classroom by Alison Prescott


Using Wordle in a Dynamic Way by Lynn Oullette 

     The webinars have been archived and are available on  our Literacy and Technology Pilot blog in the right hand navigation bar.  Simply click on the webinar you want to view and you will be taken to the webinar and automatically admitted. 

     If you have any other questions, please call me or e-mail me.  I have been out of the office the past week and am trying to catch up, so please be patient.   -   If you don't hear from me, please contact me again.  My grand daughter had access to my phone and has erased all of my messages:( 

     Thanks for your understanding.  Enjoy:)  Darlene

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 13 - Using Wordle in a Dynamic Way by Lynn Oullette

 On April 13, from 3-4, Lynn Oullette will present a several ways to use wordle in order to further your students' ability to prioritize.  For any of you who have ever had difficulty teaching your students to revise and/or create a definition in a collaborative group format, this is your answer! 
This is a excellent presentation and you don't want to miss it!

Tune in at:

Telephone Number:  1-866-910-4857

Pass code:  985399

Topic: Using Wordle in a Dynamic Way
                   This webinar will cover how to use Wordle to edit and prioritize when 
                 creating definitions, etc. Small group and individual use of Wordle will be 
     Presenter:  Lynn Oullette middle school language arts  teacher, MLTI team leader   
Date:  April 13, 2010 
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM

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Technology Integration in a First Grade Classroom by Alison Prescott

If you were unable to join us on April 8th to hear Alison's presentation, you can login at the following URL:

This is a great presenation.  Kudos to Alison and her kids.  
Thank you for sharing your expertise, Alison.  The teachers and students appreciate your hard work! 

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 8, 2010 - Featuring Alison Prescott

On April 8, from 3-4, Alison Prescott will present a comprehensive overview of a first grade classroom.  You will be amazed at the higher level thinking and independence these students demonstrate.  This is a excellent presentation and you don't want to miss it!

Tune in at:

Telephone Number:  1-866-910-4857

Pass code:  985399


 Topic:  Technology Integration in a First Grade Classroom     
                   This webinar will provide an overview of a first grade classroom including the following topics:
   - What the students think of 
   - How to get started: podcasts,  
     skyping, teacher tube 
     videos (curriculum based)
    - Learning the toolbar and "lingo" often used
    - Claymation - Science Unit on Plants 
    - I-movies - Social Studies, Science, and Literacy              - Podcasts with photo and music - Literacy
Presenter:  Alison Prescott, first grade teacher 
Date:  April 8, 2010
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM
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Monday, March 29, 2010

Collaboration - The Role of Communication - Part ll

Over the last 10 years, I have observed a marked decrease in students' ability to communicate clearly with one another in a group.  Consequently, it is an area we need to address as educators especially due to the emphasis placed on our students ability to collaborate in the 21st century. Classrooms provide learning labs for these strategies.  Following are some guidelines.

According to To the Handbook for SMART School Teams by Conzemius and O'Neil there are 4 types of communication essential to collaboration.
  1.  Sharing:  Information needs to be shared with everyone involved.  This can consist of keeping records, inviting feedback during team meetings, sharing information outside of the team, and checking with team members between meetings.  During school implementation, the failure to share information in a timely manner can be viewed as an attempt to exclude others.  This can sabotage the best of intentions and programs.  With the technology  available, it is easy to create one center for posting information and sharing with everyone.
  2. Discussion: Individually, discussion has to do with clearly expressing one's thoughts.  However, in a team, collaborative format, members of the team need to have the skills to stimulate thinking in the group and keep the team productive.  Here is the list from the SMART Handbook.  You will recognize many of them from the work we have done around purposeful language in EDU 590 and 591.
    • Leading: Introducing new topics and keeping the discussion moving.
    • Innovating: Introducing new ideas and strategies in order to think outside of the box.
    • Summarizing: Restating key ideas and decisions, checking to be sure everyone is on the same page.
    • Clarifying: Identifying confusion and asking clarifying questions.
    • Advocating: Challenging underlying assumptions in order to rethink roadblocks.
    • Resourcing: Bringing new information and strategies to the group that is pertinent.
    • Integrating: Merging disparate conversations, ideas, and concepts together into an integrated whole.
    • Initiating: Initiating new models of working together and working to implement them.
  3. Dialogue: Balancing Advocacy with Inquiry - The SMART Handbook defines dialogue this way, "Dialogue is a special way of talking together.  Its purpose is to explore meaning - to create mutual understanding, not necessarily to come to an agreement,  a decision, or a solution.  Dialogue is a balancing act - balancing speaking and listening, reflection and assertion, advocacy and inquiry." Page,47.
Here, advocacy is defined as making your thinking or personal point of view clear including assumptions, the rationale for your assumptions, and how you feel about the topic.   Inquiry is defined as asking others to share their thinking, points of view, assumptions and feelings and listening in order to understand.  The  glitch occurs, in my experience, when members come to the collaborative group, committed to their point of view and unwilling to listen or consider others.This is often based on strong beliefs about what is best for students, but does not make the mind set any easier to change. 
 4.   Active Listening:  Providing feedback to the person who is talking.  Following are some
        suggestions from the SMART Handbook.

    • Paraphrasing: Repeating or summarizing what is said to the speaker to clarify what you heard, i.e. "If I heard you correctly..."
    • Perception Checking: Interpreting what is heard and stating to the speaker for accuracy, i.e." I hear your frustration."
    • Probing: Taking the conversation deeper by expanding ideas, going deeper in understanding, getting clearer about meaning, unearthing assumptions, and exploring applications - all within the comfort zone of the speaker.
 These strategies must be taught explicitly and practiced consciously - by adults and students.
Remember to practice the conventions of conversation: don't interrupt, respect everyone's opinion, and keep an open mind. 
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Collaboration - What is it? - Part I

This is the time of year I always focus on the level of collaboration present in the groups of teachers I have worked with throughout the year.  I am holding final sessions and know from experience the change we have initiated will only become embedded in their teaching, schools, districts if they can truly collaborate together on the implementation we have begun. 
This year it is particularly poignant for me because I have been visiting classrooms where teachers are meshing technology and literacy and my observations keep taking me back to collaboration.    Collaborative reasoning is key to the intelligent use of technology and I keep wondering - How can teachers instruct students in collaboration if they themselves do not understand it? SO... I am writing to clarify my thinking  and hopefully assist you in thinking about how it works for you and your school.

In my opinion, collaboration is one of the most overused and misunderstood pieces of educational jargon today.  In my role as an educational consultant, I often "sit outside of the circle" and watch the human dynamics of meetings dealing with implementations in schools - alternately teacher based and student based.  What I have come to understand about Maine schools is this:  many schools equate collaboration with consensus and see the purpose of collaboration as decision making about issues in their schools.   

If this is the case -  unfortunately, for whatever reason - the issue often becomes political, effectively blocking the process of collaboration. 

" Collaboration," according to The Handbook for SMART School Teams by Anne Conzemius and Jan O'Neil,  "for its own sake is not enough.  Collaboration is a process we use to achieve shared goalsHaving people share their knowledge, expertise and experience gives us a better understanding of the challenges we face.  The end result of collaboration is both a better solution, program or idea, and a greater commitment and capacity to implementing that solution, program or idea...  When people come together around a common purpose, each contributing his or her unique perspective and skills, and ultimately achieve a mutually defined goal, there is an infusion of energy into the school that is unmatched by an single initiative or program."

According to this definition, collaboration is a creative, problem solving process involving invested individuals.  Productive collaboration transpires only when the following elements are in place on the team:
  1. Approaching the process with an open mind - no presupposed individual agendas
  2. Willingness to work towards a new solution as a group
  3. Respecting each person's expertise
  4. Focusing on shared goals 
From this perspective, collaboration is the precursor of consensus.  

Consensus becomes just one way to agree on the solution created by collaboration.  

This sounds too simple, yet it is the core of the change process and until we can understand and embrace it, our schools will be stalled, locked in power struggles between the yeahs and nays of change - rather than committing to effective problem solving.

What does meta-cognition have to do with it?  Each of us needs to reflect on our thinking and purpose regarding collaboration. 

Here is a framework for our thinking. 
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