Monday, January 9, 2017

Five Things I Learned about Coherence and Standards at the Core Advocates Catalyst Conference

Full Disclosure: This conference was hosted by Student Achievement Partners, who graciously funded two days of meals and accommodations for the duration of the convening.

1. The Instructional Coaching Guide: Connecticut's teacher evaluation system is based largely on the Danielson Frameworks. While these rubrics are often helpful, it is entirely possible to craft a lesson that scores very highly within Danielson, but does not actually teach any mathematics. Achieve the Core's Instructional Coaching Guide emphases the idea that the three shifts (focus, coherence, and rigor) are non negotiable, but that not every instructional or mathematical practice may be observed in every lesson. To that end, the rubric may be used in parts, and there are spaces to note when a specific practice was not observed, rather than giving unnecessary negative feedback.

The only comment I might make is to take out the numeric scoring guide, and only use the descriptors in each category. Connecticut has been a bit inundated with numerical accountability measures, and removing the numbers might facilitate better conversations while taking away the stigma of a rating system. See the rubric here:

2. The Verdict on Time Fluency Tests (For Now): Timed fluency tests (e.g. Mad Minutes) were often used pre Common Core to determine a student's level of fluency. However, many critics noted that these timed tests can be damaging to a student's mathematical efficacy, and that they only reinforce the misconception that mathematics is about speed, not depth.

After some debate, the conclusion I came to is best described by thinking about fluency in a foreign language. A person who is fluent in a language is able to easily access basic facts and linguistic procedures within a context. While it may sometimes be useful to test how quickly someone can recite vocabulary terms in a foreign language, the learning should be done in context. Similarly, it may be appropriate to give a student a bi-annual benchmark, but learning basic math facts should always be done in within the context of "why" and "how". Moreover, if a student is having trouble with fluency in the upper grades, the solution is to work with these facts in context as much as possible without stopping curricula to focus solely on basic facts.

3. The Coherence Map: Student Achievement Partner's Coherence map is a great way to see examples of standards aligned tasks, learn about the prerequisite knowledge for mastery of a standard, and see how each standard will be used in later grades. Unfortunately, the map does not allow a user to start at a high school standard and trace the connections backwards. The best a 9-12 teacher can do is choose a 6th, 7th or 8th grade standard and trace it upwards to see what is is connected to in high school.

I had the chance to talk with Joanie Funderburk about her rational for leaving the high school standards out. Due in part to the many interconnections between the high schools standards, and in part to the lack of priority standards, they were unable to write an algorithm that accurately captured the connections. While the explanation made sense, I left still wanting an easier way to explore the connections between the standards. She suggested I create my own map, and while I wish these resources were already available, nevertheless, I think it might be a worthwhile exercise.

Another teacher suggested I check out Battelle's Vertical Progression Guide. Perhaps this is something to look into in the future.

4. Accessibility Strategies for Mathematics: We've seen many of these strategies before, but I like the succinct layout and the ease of use that comes with this document. I couldn't seem to find it on their website, but I have copied them into my own Google Drive here.

5. The Spectrum of Higher Education: There is a wide range of possibilities for me to take as I dabble with working both in and out of the classroom. I enjoy working with and coaching my colleagues on grade level teams and within the math department, but I'm not sure how these skills would translate to a whole school instructional coaching position, or to a district wide curriculum facilitator. And, if I wanted to move in this direction, I'm not sure what educational route to use. A sixth year? Administrator certification? PhD? Ed.D? The participants at this conference gave me a great deal of information, and more to think about than I could ever hope to write here.

6. (Extra Credit) Start, Stop, Keep, and Tweak: Adam Krupa shared one of his favorite frameworks for thinking about change or any kind (curricular, instructional, life changes). It's quite simple, and all it takes it thinking about implementing change in four specific ways:

Start - What should we begin doing at the end of this change?
Stop - What should we stop doing as a result of this change?
Keep - What should we continue to do at the end of this change?
Tweak - What needs to be reworked or modified during this change?