Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Letter & Reflection on Academic Rigor

A letter to our teachers:

What are your thoughts on reflection? 

I've realized I reflect often whether it is through coursework, professional reading, by the request of Mr. Woiwood, together with many of you, etc. Below I am sharing a recent reflection, which is as a result of Assessing Academic Rigor, a class Mr. Myers and I just completed to continue our education and maintain our Evaluator licenses. I would greatly appreciate you giving it a read, and I would love any feedback you can provide me - this, that, or otherwise.

Background: This class is by far one of the best classes I have been through because it forced me to look deeply into what we are asking our students to do. Are we just scratching the surface of their cognitive abilities OR are we digging deeply and getting them to think at complex levels? What do you think about your own classroom and what you ask students to do? What could you do to take your students to the next level?

At the MS & HS levels, our Titan's JAM/PRIDE is a direct reflection of how deeply and complexly we are asking students to cognitively process.
(I go into more detail in my reflection.)
Elementary, I thought I'd share with you (as a parent) because I mention my children. I always hope that each day they are in your care, they are being challenged, meeting standards, reflecting metacognitively at your direction, that they are provided with frequent and inspiring feedback, and of course making gains. So far, I am confident that my children are being challenged! Thank you!!

Thank you to all of you PK-12 for showing up each day, reaching into your box of tools--growing that repertoire, challenging yourselves to be positive, professional, and effective, and most importantly making a difference through your impact on colleagues, students, parents, and community. On any given day, you are on the frontlines putting out fires, taking care of student emergencies that pop up, and giving all you have to motivate students to take charge of their learning.

Reflection is one of the most important things we can do as professionals and one of the most important things we can ask our students to do.

Thank you for your time in reading this; there's nothing really profound, just a regular reflection... thoughts about where I am, where I think we are, where we need to be... and for any of you who would like to respond - I love the insights you each offer.


Day Four Reflective Journal – 
Assessing Academic Rigor
Name: Teresa Alesch

What do you find interesting about the student work samples on the NAEP site and how might you use this information with teachers?
Our students think alike. :) The rubrics for the assessment are useful. Using these student work samples could be helpful in PLC work session time and in regular PD - comparing level of student work, assessment standards, types of questions, etc.

On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) I would rate my confidence with assessing rigor as a …
2 -- I have much to learn. It takes me some time to think through each step. Even in my conversation with Lois just now, we were talking about a very basic lesson, LOW level, and she and I together were hitched up wondering if it might be higher because of a step the students would take. Once you said to APPLY, you must follow a series of steps in a specific order, I thought, AH-HA! I knew that! SO, like you said, it will take a great deal of practice-practice-practice. In the short time I've been looking at rigor from this changed perspective, I have come to understand a great deal. The conversations with just two groups of my teachers so far have been beyond enlightening!

I will take the following steps to continuing building my confidence with assessing rigor:
I plan to continue practicing with my PLC groups, having them take turns aligning lessons. We’ll start by charting their objectives, instructional tasks, formative assessments, and summative assessments, AND THEN, we will begin working together to build those lessons not only into Quadrant D but also into interdisciplinary lessons with multiple teachers collaborating. We’ll reference the NAEP to check ourselves throughout the course of the year. As I mentioned in class, our Titan’s Journey of Academic Mastery and Titan’s PRIDE is a critical assessment not only of what students have mastered, but also, how teachers have instructed and how principals have led.

If I am honest with myself, I am not yet satisfied that we are consistently enacting a rigorous curriculum and challenging students to routinely think at complex levels. I will be challenging my staff to reflect upon what we are asking students to do, what students are doing, and whether or not we are “there” yet. We can, and will do better. 

The more Quadrant D learning, the more prepared our students will be to face complex challenges! The image below helps us to better understand what we want our students to be able to do.

Image Credit: San Marcos High School
I used to think that curriculum alignment was this… but now I think curriculum alignment is this…
That is an interesting one. I think my understanding or lack thereof has always been off in a distant fog! Years ago, I would have said curriculum alignment is the same as scope and sequence. More recently I would say curriculum alignment is still scope and sequence as it relates to the ICC and mastery as far as the student’s proficiency goes. NOW, I understand curriculum alignment to be related directly to Rigor and Relevance - with objectives, instruction, and assessment all in alignment with the level of thinking throughout the lesson or unit. If we are on track educating our students, then our curriculum is to be aligned and students should be growing from the timely and frequent feedback they receive from teachers.

Neither my teachers nor I should ever settle for less. There is always work to be done - if we are not improving, than we are stagnating. 

Image Credit: San Marcos High School
How often do ask our students to both think and work? Are we getting beyond the simple tasks of memorization? Are the tasks we are asking students to do tasks that extend beyond the classroom?

You are at a SIAC meeting where it is shared that the school is focusing on increasing rigor for students. A parent asks, what do you mean when you use the word rigor and your response is…
Rigor is really about academic and cognitive GRIT. By our definition here at G-T, Rigor is the expectation that students will be able to perform at levels of cognitive complexity necessary for proficiency at each grade level. We want students to be able to master the skills and competencies needed to be successful in post-high school endeavors and the world of work.

The parent then asks, why is increasing rigor important and your response is …
When I think about my own children and the education they are receiving, I want them to be challenged at school to mirror real life problems that you and I face on a daily basis. I want my children to be efficient problem solvers who are able to think on their feet and come up with multiple solutions to any given situation. I want them to be able to act. To me, rigor and the confidence to take action go together. It’s very important we provide our students with complex challenges to prepare them for the “real world.” I sincerely want my children's teachers to challenge their thinking and push their limits; as an educational leader, I am leading from this perspective... or at least attempting to!

Growing is rigorous work: 
for us as professionals, 
for students as young learners, 
and for people in general.