Bethann Carbone | Contributing Writer
Students and teachers in four different states were filmed recently as they participated in the creation of an upcoming video designed to help teachers improve instruction. Intense days of filming took place in January and February in six award-winning schools, which were selected to participate in a project funded by a partnership between the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a nonprofit educational leadership organization based in Alexandria, Va., and Silver Strong and Associates, an educational research and consulting firm in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ.
"We are excited to share with others the power of purposeful conversations occurring in our teacher learning clubs," says Mark Schultz, principal at Pioneer Central High School in Yorkshire, New York, where camera crews set up to begin filming on Valentine's Day this year. When asked what he felt was being accomplished through sharing these videos, Schultz explains, smiling, "Thoughtful Education is a process for improving instruction that has helped our faculty, enlightened our administrative team, and directly impacted student learning." He continues, "Even our most experienced teachers and administrators (myself included), always can learn more and do better. Teaching is a journey, not a destination. We also are proud to represent our community. This video will showcase this work globally, paying forward proven tools and strategies."
Susan Kreisman, Principal at Manhattan Hunter Science High School says she is proud of her staff's hard work. "Participating in this project was a natural outgrowth of the work we have been doing with Thoughtful Education," Kreisman said, while leading a tour through her building. She explained that the film crew spent 3 full days at the school, while teachers demonstrated 5 different teaching strategies: The Interactive Lecture, Inductive Learning, Metaphorical Expression, Reading for Meaning, and Reciprocal Learning. "We looked at this as an opportunity to practice what Richard Strong always called 'backporching'," said Kreisman. "We stepped back a bit and looked at instructional practices over enough time to really analyze a strategy, practice it and reflect on it," she offered. "That's the immediate plus. And later being able to use the completed video as a professional development tool will be awesome!"
The video (currently titled The Strategic Teacher: Voices in the Classroom) will feature students, teachers and administrators exploring the process of implementing successful research-based teaching strategies in the classroom. In addition to coverage of teachers learning and using the new strategies, the video will also highlight interviews with students who say their academic lives changed dramatically when the culture of learning and teaching improved in their school.
When asked why she agreed to participate in this project, Jennifer Antonson, Teacher Mentor at Fairview Elementary School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois explained, "Sharing a powerful strategy with one teacher, who will hopefully feel empowered to share it with her teammates, then encouraged to share it with her entire staff, makes the thinking, growing, and development process for teachers self-fulfilling." She paused to add, "And then to be able to share this process beyond just our own community, to demonstrate that these teachers are so capable of excellence, is just so rewarding." The featured classroom at Fairview was led by fifth-grade teacher, Stephanie Colgrove, who Antonson says demonstrated the Reading for Meaning strategy with her excited students. Antonson adds, "Stephanie will leave this experience with more confidence, a new strategy, a new experience, and having taken a risk that most veteran teachers might never have the opportunity to take."
One of the strategies to be featured in the filming is Cognitive Coaching. "Cognitive Coaching is a leadership strategy that school administrators use with teachers," explains Dr. Silver, President of Silver Strong and Associates. "It is a three-phase process where a teacher learns how to think through a teaching strategy, put it into action in the classroom, and then reflects on the results. Facilitating this process is a 'cognitive coach,' a fellow educator who helps the teacher get his or her thinking out in the open so it can be explored and refined." Silver says the video shows how teachers, school leaders, and students all play a vital role in making successful schools a reality.
"The real reason that we were willing to participate in this taping is that I have a personal belief in Thoughtful Education. I think the way it attacks the thinking skills allows for such a higher level of teaching and learning to take place." says an excited Jennifer Lewis, principal at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Elizabethtown, KY. "Also, the engagement piece allows for differentiated approaches to instruction, so that students at all levels—from special education to gifted students—have opportunities to excel." As she leads us past the room where educational consultant and coach Joyce Jackson asks a learning club of eight teachers for their feedback on the Compare and Contrast strategy, Lewis adds, "It is also a validation to our staff that their hard work and commitment to do the right thing for their students is paying off in more ways than just test scores."
Another strategy featured in the video is Task Rotation. Task Rotation is a differentiated teaching and learning strategy that provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in a variety of learning styles. In a Task Rotation lesson, teachers offer their students questions, activities, or assessments in four different learning styles: Mastery, Understanding, Self-Expressive, and Interpersonal. "These instructional strategies help all students learn in a thoughtful way and give learners ways of thinking and learning that will last a lifetime," says Sherry Grazda, 3rd-Grade teacher at Riverview Elementary in Durango, Colorado. "As a teacher, I have used these strategies for 24 years, yet I learn more each year about the power of this model of teaching to enable all students to learn." With obvious enthusiasm, Grazda continues, "The more teachers at our school and in our district can learn about this work, exchanging ideas and building a repertoire of strategies, the more students will benefit. We are truly excited that through this video, teachers around the world will be able to 'visit' our classrooms."
Sweet Home Middle School in Amherst, NY was filmed in early January of this year. Asst. Superintendent Larry Leaven explained that Sweet Home teachers utilize the 'Teacher Round' approach to integrate lesson design and development into their daily planning and department level work. He says teachers at the school have worked within the Thoughtful Education program for a few years, and have used the Teacher Round process to step outside of their specific subject area, understand the interconnectedness of the overall curriculum and create ways for students to learn in more creative ways. When asked about his observations regarding effectiveness of the strategies demonstrated in the video, Leaven offered, "The team who worked with the film crew spent a great deal of time reviewing the learning goals for the lessons, adjusting assessments accordingly and collaborating with interdisciplinary teams to ensure proper differentiation was in place for all learners. Rarely have I seen this level of trust and collaboration within a teaching team that has lead to more positive outcomes for students and student learning." He continued, "Interestingly, the science content that the team addressed during this round has consistently been an area of weakness for students. Following this Teacher Round lesson, students achieved at higher levels on the unit assessment than students in past years." Leaven explains that his appreciation for the Teacher Round process comes from observing Sweet Home teachers positively collaborating around the practice of planning and instruction—ensuring that students are authentically engaged in the learning process.
Dr. Silver says he hopes this video is a catalyst for many more collaborative projects between educators who wish to expand their learning communities beyond their own school in a visual and interactive way. "This video is truly about helping us listen to all the voices in the classroom, heard and unheard," says Sara Huisking, Project Director. "This includes the voice of the student, the teacher, the administrator, even the voice of the 'culture' of the classroom and school," she adds. The production team will begin the editing phase in March, and plans to make the final video available before the end of the school year 2011.