In this article titled Great English Teachers Improve Students’ Math Scores, the author explains how researchers found students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. Their motivation for this study was to try to understand what kinds of teaching produce long-term learning benefits when a concern is that many school districts were focusing on rating teachers based on short-term test gains.
Many teachers are exploring the connections between Common Core Literacy Standards and the 8 Mathematical Practice Standards. The Common Core Standards outline math practices that are applicable in any content area classroom.
For example, math practice #1 states:
“Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”
On the Common Core website, a “retranslation” of this standard is explained:
“Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”
Just a thought but if you replace the word “mathematically” with another discipline, wouldn’t this standard measure any student’s ability to comprehend a problem, or question, in any subject area? Why not even go further and replace the word “mathematically” with “Argumentative”? Granted my view is very limited, but I think the more we show how interdisciplinary the subject areas are the better off our students will be.
These standards are not limited for just math, but should be looked upon more universally across all disciplines.
Especially during a time when accountability is greater than ever, teachers may struggle with the challenge of “covering” all of the content the curriculum tells them they need to cover. This may especially be true at the secondary level where there is so much content to “cover.” Much of this challenge seems to be driven by periodic benchmark tests assessing objectives teachers have been directed to “cover” during specific segments of the school year. Some teachers have also shared with me they feel a sense of obligation to use their increasingly diminishing instructional time to “cover” everything that ultimately may be assessed on the end-of-year high stakes assessment.
I cannot say that I don’t sympathize with this challenge, yet I feel compelled to work with these educators by providing them with ways to teach the more-rigorous-than-ever standards in a manner that will result in meaningful learning. I have been driven by this compulsion for many years however it was kicked into high gear several years ago when my daughter, who is now a junior in college, was a freshman in high school.
Since her birthday is in early September, she has always been one of the oldest in her class. She has also always demonstrated a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics. Unfortunately, much to my disappointment, following fifth grade she was derailed from the accelerated track in math. Therefore, while the accelerated students took Algebra I in eighth grade and Geometry in ninth, she did not take Algebra I until her freshman year. Much to my even greater disappointment, she was struggling the first nine weeks of the year in that class. As a result, I requested a conference with her teacher.
He graciously agreed to meet with me within a few days of my request. Since we were meeting during his planning time, I knew our conversation would be relatively brief. Therefore, I came prepared with three questions. First I asked, “How do you relate what my daughter is learning in Algebra I to everyday life so she can make meaningful connections to things she already knows and understands?” He responded, “Mr. Dougherty, that is a good idea, but I have a lot to cover during the year and I don’t really have time to make those connections.”
“OK. Well, how do you connect what she is learning in Algebra I to other content areas such as showing how sequencing in math is like sequencing in history, science, and language arts?” To this he replied, “I agree that would be a good thing to do. However, like I said, I have a lot to cover during the year, so I don’t have the time to do that.”
“I understand you have a lot to cover. Still, since Algebra is abstract, do you use any type of visual representation to make the abstract more concrete?” I then drew some Thinking Maps to demonstrate what I meant. He again acknowledged that this would be helpful and even asked to keep the Maps I drew. Then, in a very direct teacher-voice he said, “Mr. Dougherty, you need to understand something. Algebra I is the foundational math class for every other math course your daughter will take for the rest of high school and on through college. If I don’t cover everything I have to cover, I will do her and every other student I teach a great disservice.” I was momentarily speechless then I merely thanked him for his time.
I cannot simply dismiss the reality of the challenge many teachers face regarding the “covering” of content, nor can I dismiss the fear that often drives such a mindset. However, encounters with such mindsets only serve to further fuel my passion to provide educators with ways to teach standards in a manner that fully engages every student and provides them with meaningful learning experiences. After all, I rarely meet an educator who has entered the field of education for any other reason than to make a positive difference in the lives of the students they teach. It is for this reason I am committed to helping them to be reminded of their noble purpose for entering the field in the first place. It is also for this reason I feel so fortunate to work with a group of people who are committed to providing educators with the tools, strategies, and systems that will equip them to be the agents of transformation they desire and deserve to be.
As we reflect on the success Saranac Elementary has had on our implementation, we realized it isn’t just one factor. We chuckle to recall the days of make-it/take-it PD or remember when we sent ONE teacher to a training expecting him/her to come back and “share” their learning with the rest of the 37 staff members? Research and common sense proves that doesn’t work. When we graduated to common professional learning topics we began to create a common language in our school. What we did differently with the implementation of Thinking Maps has made all the difference. Our implementation plan went beyond just “getting the training”.
We began with researching the power of Thinking Maps. We matched the goals of the Maps with the needs of our students and staff. The shift in CCSS requires a greater focus on thinking processes and for students to be able to articulate their thinking. Teachers then become skilled with framing questions to draw out conversation about how students got to an answer, shifting the target from answer-getting to THINKING. The Maps create a visual from which students can speak, helping them to show what they know and organize their thoughts so they can go deeper on topics.
Once we decided to implement, of course, we trained the entire staff. We chose the Train the Trainer model to keep a trainer in the building. We surveyed our staff throughout our first year and used their feedback to create activities in our staff meetings, PD days, and PLCs to help support the areas they were least comfortable. As most could predict, we struggled with Bridge Map, Multi-Flow, and the difference between Brace and Tree. Not only did we use the tasks from our manuals, but we brainstormed as a learning community for ways to create learning for staff. By bringing Thinking Maps to the forefront of our PD time after time, it was evident to the staff they were not going away.
In year two we added a home/school connection. We wanted our families to be aware of the language we were using and what all these Maps in our building signified. By following the 8 Maps in 8 weeks, we secured the certainty that every teacher would directly teach the maps. The accountability was clear. There have been other initiatives at Saranac Elementary School over the years, but it was the expectation that teachers and administrators would use and expose students to the Maps and support would be provided where needed that made this process successful for us. We all learned together which built a sense of school community.
The results of holding teachers and administrators accountable allowed us to make a culture shift in our building. No longer was the message, “I’ll send you to a PD and then you’re on your own.” The new message is “We can do this together.” We are already seeing students spontaneously draw Maps to help them organize their thoughts, and teachers are anxious for the next opportunity to expand their understanding and application of Thinking Maps.
The world of Thinking Maps was forever changed when, more than 17 years ago, Jane Buckner agreed to join us as a consultant and author. From the creation of Write…from the Beginning and Write from the Beginning…and Beyond, to the development of Path to Proficiency for English Language Learners, Jane has proven to be a prolific writer and trainer, with a passion to inspire learning at all levels.
At the end of 2013, Jane took her much deserved step into retirement. This week we have an opportunity to celebrate her and thank her for all she’s done for students, for teachers, and for Thinking Maps.
Jane’s professional legacy is defined by the difference she has made in the lives of others. Her work not only impacted student learning throughout the world, but her talent for mentoring and guiding her colleagues as they grew professionally left an indelible impression on all who have had the good fortune of working with her.
So Jane – thank you from all of us. But please note — we’re not saying goodbye, just wishing you a relaxing and fulfilling retirement. You’ve certainly earned it!
While the federal holiday is officially Washington’s Birthday, we thought we’d take the opportunity to educate ourselves about both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, via a Double Bubble Map (click to enlarge).
You wouldn’t use a hammer as a paint brush, would you? When schools decide on a device for their 1:1 programs, selecting the right device for your school has everything to do with learning objectives and the tasks that students will do.
Focus on Learning Needs
Debating the best technology platforms is what we do, and there is either a single winner (Kindle Fire HD over iPads) or divided camps (PC vs. Mac, Windows vs. Google). These rivalries are as much a part of our culture as rooting for our favorite team.
But they’re also the byproduct of marketing and for-profit businesses, not educational practice and policy. Rivalries can create a toxic lens when they divide communities within education or limit our understanding of what is possible.
As needs change over time, addressing them might mean switching devices. A focus on key technology skills will transfer from one device to another while a focus on being a device expert will not. Students will graduate into a world that will demand technological fluency, and they must have the ability to move and process information across various platforms and devices. (Remember using Apple IIe’s with a floppy-drive?)
What if one device is not the answer? If a school uses PCs, this shouldn’t prevent it from purchasing Macs for art programs where that technology might better meet the students’ learning needs. Tools for one subject often don’t easily translate or serve the best purposes of others.
Planning doesn’t stop when a device gets into the students’ hands.