Monday, October 29, 2012

On Canceling School

I love my job.  I love coming to work (most days).  I love being in classrooms (always).  I love talking about school, thinking about school, doing school.  Often to my wife's chagrin, I am (too) often all-school-all-the time.  Thus, it was with a heavy heart that BVP cancelled school yesterday.  

Sunday morning I posted on the BVP Parents Facebook Page (an informal and unofficial closed group of parents for parents) that an announcement would be made in the early evening, by 8PM at the latest.  Between that post and our announcement at 5:30PM, lots of things happened:

  • Church and Sunday school.
  • Lowes run for batteries, water cooler, extra flashlights.
  • Kids soccer.
  • Grocery store run.
  • Phone battery died.
  • Read some books with Mollie.
  • Watched Dora with Mollie (it's a really, really, really boring show, but she is obsessed).
Even though I was busy with the above, until the phone died I was also monitoring announcements on the news, Twitter and Facebook: Governor declares State of Emergency; Coventry closes Monday and Tuesday, Providence Schools cancel....  Also monitored were the dozens of parents posting away about whether or not BVP would be open and why we should be open or closed....

The BVP leadership team had a call at 5:15PM, but by then the cancellation was a foregone conclusion.  Three of the four sending towns had cancelled, and during the call the Central Falls cancellation announcement went up on the screen.  We then briefly discussed the wisdom of having staff and teachers come in for the morning to collaborate and plan - then decided against that too.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.  I can't quite say that I would go so far as some of the posts on the BVP Parent Facebook page, including: 
  • "My kids love BVP so much. They are both upset that there is no school tomorrow."
  • "Mine went to bed in tears!"
But I'm bummed - no tears before bed, but....  (Note: Katie, my 2nd grade daughter at BVP is not bummed at all. She was dancing and doing cartwheels at the announcement - though she professes to love school - very curious....) 

The reality is that we have some urgent work to do - not to mention that too many of our scholars depend on BVP for what amount to the two biggest meals of the day - school breakfast and school lunch.  But canceling school is a far, far better outcome than jeopardizing the safety of our scholars and staff.

While this cancellation, at the end of the day, was an easy call, I do worry about the short and long term negative impact of any cancellation.  In the short-term, learning loss is real, routines get undermined, kids may be hungry.  For many, these days at home constitute a day locked inside, some home alone.  

In the long-term, if the storm lasts for days and we have a rough winter, we will be forced to mandate Saturday school, cancel April Break, or both.  To be sure, even though BVP has a ridiculous amount of additional time than a traditional public school in Rhode Island, the Commissioner and Regents have upheld that there is a minimum number of hours in school to constitute a day, but that extra hours cannot be combined to create makeup days.

Through it all, BVP will remain a strong team and family, regardless of what we need to do.  Please reach out if you need assistance during this weather event, we are here for one another.  In the meantime, my new favorite phrase is "batten down the hatches".  Get ready Sandy, because we are!


Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency
American Red Cross - Rhode Island
Rhode Island Shelter Information:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

(Re)thinking BVP Exit Tickets

BVP uses various forms of exit tickets in almost all classes almost all the time.  It is a part of who we are - it is one of the techniques identified by Lemov in Teach Like a Champion - and the practice is common at virtually every high-expectations or no-excuse charter.  An exit ticket for kindergarten art might look pretty different from 7th grade math, but the purpose of the exit ticket is the same...or is it?

The exit ticket, at a high level, seems to serve one of two purposes:
  1. Formative assessment of the scholar
  2. Formative assessment of the teacher
When you consider the first purpose, the exit ticket starts to look and feel like a mini-quiz that allows the teacher to understand how the class as a whole is doing and also how individual scholars are handling the materials.  This is very common at BVP.  Often the exit ticket will be a pen-to-paper response, or sometimes a whiteboard activity.  In our own work at BVP, check out this inspiring example from Mrs. Turner's art program:
Beginning art criticism:  after a lesson where a masterwork has been used as project inspiration, scholars are asked to pretend the masterwork won a contest and give it an award.  What award would you give this artwork?  (i.e. Best Lines?  Best Colors?  Coolest shapes?  Strangest title?  Spookiest? ...)  Scholars decide on their award criteria, fill it in on their award ribbon outline, cut it out and pin it to the masterwork copy when their table is called to line up.  This activity touches upon the four areas of art criticism: description, analysis, interpretation and judgement in one activity. 
As we look to continuously improve, how do we take this type of exit ticket to the next level?  (We will leave grading of exit tickets and grading practices in general for another blog.)  One BIG IMPORTANT idea is around differentiation in exit tickets.  Check out this video of a middle school math teacher using differentiated exit tickets and then using the results from exit tickets to inform instruction for the next day.  Moreover, excellence in exit tickets requires scholars need to see the result of their exit ticket - ideally in real-time - with a quick self or peer-grade.  Have you ever tried this?

The second type of exit ticket, the teacher formative assessment, is something that I have actually seen very little of at BVP. That said, I think implementing this type of exit ticket might push our work to a higher level. In last week's Marshall Memo (BVP staff check your email/spam - others click here), Kim Marshall summarized a recent article by Robert Marzano, "The Many Uses of Exit Slips" - this is what really got me thinking about how we might better engage scholars in ownership of their own learning through exit tickets. (That and a fun debate on Monday night with Ms. Emet and Ms. Afonso after a great grading workshop with Dr. Phil Thornton.) Read Marshall's summary (or the not much longer full article) and consider what responses you might get to an exit slip that would read:
  • What are you most confused about from class today? or
  • What is something that I (teacher) can do to improve your understanding of the content?
I have seen school leaders have great success with this strategy whereby they solicit feedback from teachers on how the school leader can better support them. (Colleen Colarusso takes this pulse weekly with her team at ES2 and puts the feedback into action...or certainly deeply considers the feedback).  Why can't we ask the same of our scholars?  Here's a quick and simple "smiley face" grid from a Rhode Island high school (yes, even high school kids love smiley faces).  

Herein lies the BIG CRAZY IDEA: 
  1. Take a week's worth of exit tickets and divide them in half.  
  2. With one half of the exit tickets, think through what a differentiated ticket might look like (see the video above) and implement the differentiated ticket a few times a week (you would be wise to reach out to peers or special educators for ideas on how best to build this system). 
  3. With the other half of your exit tickets - throw them out and replace them with an explicit teacher formative assessment like one of the ones from Marzano above or the smiley face grid.
  4. Repeat.
You can actually get back the extra time spent on differentiating scholar-focused exit tickets by building a standard set of questions that you regularly use for the teacher-focused exit tickets.  

My challenge to all teachers at BVP is to attempt 1) a differentiated exit ticket, and 2) a teacher-focused formative assessment between now and the end of October.  Use the comments section below to share your experience, or, if you aren't interested in a public dialogue, shoot me an email and let me know how it's going!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Inspired by KIPP to push BVP to the next level

This week I had a fantastic experience visiting schools and classrooms as part of the KIPP: Leadership Design Fellowship.  I learned many things over the week, among them that BVP has already adopted and is implementing some great practices that will help push our scholars "to and through college."  As we all know, however, there are a many opportunities for BVP to continuously improve....

During the sessions, I divided my notebook pages in half: the right side was intended to capture the notes of the session to help me keep focused; the left side was for my ideas and inspirations to bring back to BVP.  I found myself writing on the left side non-stop.  Jumping to the top of my pages are two highly related actions that I am convinced will propel BVP to the next level:

  • Every teacher, every week is observed for fifteen minutes after which there is a fifteen minute face-to-face feedback session.  
  • The focus of the classroom visit is almost exclusively on the actions of the scholars.

The idea behind the first is that there is no better professional development than a one-on-one, highly focused conversation between educators.  The observation provides a platform for a focused and powerful conversation about what teacher actions can be improved to enhance student learning.  According to Paul Bambrick-Santoyo by keeping the ratio of teachers:observer at 15:1, these actions will become the most powerful 7.5 hours a week in a leaders calendar. This sounds eminently doable.

Focusing classroom visits on the actions of scholars is a little less intuitive. Jeff Rutel of 102 Group asked us how many of us use video to help teachers improve instruction - most hands quickly shot up. He then asked how many deliberately and almost exclusively point the camera at scholars - most hands shot back down.  He pressed us to really think about the "so what?" question.  Rather than give feedback on teacher actions, focus on the results of those actions. 

He asked us to complete the following statement in each classroom:
The teacher action was ____________, and as a result the scholars did ____________.
School and teacher leaders then use the weekly check-in to focus on the scholars' doing (often to ensure rigorous use of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) to engage 100% of the class).  Consider these examples where small changes in the teacher actions lead to much more significant engagement and potential for rigor:

An elementary example

The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book, and as a result 26/26 scholars demonstrated that they could sit in STAR.
The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book and ask questions, and as a result 26/26 scholars demonstrated that they could sit in STAR, and six scholars could answer a range of questions including recall questions and prediction questions.
The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book and ask questions, as a result the scholars demonstrated that all could sit in STAR, 22 of 26 scholars actively engaged in a turn-and-talk and appeared on task, and then 25 of 26 scholars wrote in their journal an alternative ending to the story.
A middle level example
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes.
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes while "asking for hands" 8 times scholars to read the notes aloud and answer questions, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes, 5/26 showed that they could read aloud, and 2/3 called on could successfully answer questions.
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes while "asking for hands" for scholars to read the notes aloud and use whiteboards both in pairs and individually to answer questions, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes, 5/26 could read aloud, 22/26 could answer the questions while working in pairs and 20/26 could answer the questions individually.
Clearly there is a ton more to cover than what is already too long of a blog entry, but get ready for a push in two areas:

  1. Far more and regular observation and feedback, and
  2. Looking closely at the actions of scholars to ensure that they are engaged in rigorous thinking.

If, however, you don't believe in HOTS, you aren't alone - check out this report about Texas via Valerie Strauss and the Washington Post! (Pretty ironic to cite Valerie in blog commending KIPP, but sometimes she's right on!).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roller Coaster Sharks

Ever hear of a roller coaster shark?

That was Ms. Harrison and the University of California- Santa Cruz Class of 2028, performing a celebratory cheer after practicing some strong handshakes during morning meeting.

One of our many ambitious goals for this year is to capture and communicate the dedication, joy, and collaboration that provides the foundation for the hard work that happens at Blackstone Valley Prep every day. With a longer school day and a longer school year, it's important to celebrate learning as a not only rigorous, but fun and exciting process.

You have received our new email updates, visited our revamped website (shout-out to BVP Parent Chris Horvath for volunteering to help with this work), and enjoyed weekly blog musings courtesy of Executive Director Jeremy Chiappetta.

Communication is a vital part of what we do because it allows us to connect with scholars and families and engage meaningfully with fellow educators and community members who also care deeply about this work.

Not to mention, who doesn't love watching NECAP celebrations at which the Head of School dresses up as Lady Gaga to motivate scholars?  Or teachers impersonate celebrities just to see their kids smile before rolling up their sleeves to take a tough test?

This is work we can look forward to celebrating all year.