Slavin and “Evidence” Based Reform in Education

My first full time position as a homeroom teacher was at Veterans Elementary in Reno, Nevada. Veterans was a Success For All school and I was introduced to a reading program, with distinct reading components, as well as elements of cooperative learning. At that time, I also became familiar with the work of Robert Slavin, one of the creators of SFA, researcher and faculty member at John Hopkins University. Without getting into what I thought of the version of SFA I taught in the early 2000’s—I understand it has changed—I have always been impressed with Slavin and his devotion to research and evidence.

I recently came across a keynote Slavin gave that was posted to Youtube. Although I intended to watch for just a few minutes, I found myself impressed with Slavin’s blunt assessment of current educational policy and his obvious worry about how the term “evidenced-based” has been hijacked to maximize profit and sell districts on specious products and services. Here are several other key takeaways.

At minute 12:37 Slavin describes the constant “churning” of school reform. He notes that because the typical tenure of a district superintendent is 2.5 years, and because many superintendents are often embracing new policies, it never becomes clear what is working and what is not.

16:25: Slavin describes how in disciplines like medicine and agriculture, the best evidence wins out. He posits that in education this is not the case and notes that change in education often happens without regard to a thorough study of what is working. He analogizes education to fashion in that something comes into style and invariably falls out of style.

20:49: Slavin shares how “innovation” happens in education. That is, because everyone is moving vertically in the system, they bring with him or her a concrete sense of what should happen in a school or in the district. They are informed by their experiences instead of evidence or research. Thus, what they know well they advocate for.

At minute 22:29, Slavin gets specific and describes how we can build a system where “what works is what matters.” The keys include

  • There must be standards of educational reform that are refereed by an independent body. Those who fail to adhere to these standards would be challenged with legal consequences.
  • There must be demonstrative evidence of effectiveness. Things cannot merely look good, they must be proven to be good.
  • Any proven innovation must come with professional development, materials and fit with the capacity of a system.
  • The government would only financially support those reforms that have proven to work.

Listening to Slavin I found myself hoping more people will watch this keynote. I am continually being asked to do things in my classroom that lack evidence or contradict another established reform. Moreover, very little attention is really paid to how much time a reform or new effort might be required of a teacher or administrator. As a result, everything becomes muddied and nothing seems to work as well as it could.

You can access the keynote here.

Posted in Professional Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Free Resources I’m Using to Help with SBAC and CCSS

Trying to have students secure all of the skills and content they will need to be successful with the Common Core, the Nevada Academic Content Standards, and Smarter Balanced can feel daunting. (Rather, IT IS daunting.) Consequently, I am trying to incorporate resources that I can use during the school day and that students can revisit outside of the classroom—especially at home. Listed below are resources I’ve started using. I’ve limited myself to only those things that take a minimal amount of time to set-up (no more than 30 minutes), are free, and have teacher monitoring tools so student performance can be tracked and progress documented.

TypingClub: We all understand that students will be required to type written responses to questions on their standardized assessments. The degree to which students are already proficient with this keyboarding outcome is clearly limited. This is why TypingClub is helpful. You create an account for free and upload a student roster from an Excel file. Once you’ve done this, Typing Club gives you a unique URL from which students log in. Teachers can track student performance and monitor the frequency with which children are using the program.

For students, TypingClub works like a video game app. They receive points and stars for each level they complete and they can “redo” a lesson for a higher score or more stars (think Angry Birds). A leaderboard is generated for the class—I set mine at Top 10—that students can view; which for some kids incentivizes frequently returning to the site.

I already have students logging on weeknights and weekends, which they are doing because TypingClub has done a nice job of gamifying a pretty rote skill.

Below is an example of what I can see about student progress.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 1.11.38 PM

NoRedInk: won the Innovation Challenge in 2012 for its creative way of having students working with language and writing standards. After you have created your free account and added a student roster, you can choose from dozens of grammar lessons for your students to complete online. You can assign the same lesson to all students or you can target specific lessons (e.g., prepositions, capitals, use of colons) to students after reviewing formative data. These lessons are specifically tailored to individual students based on their interest and needs and thus remove some of the banality of traditional language lessons.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.27.14 AMWhen students login for the first time, they create a profile. From an expanse of areas including film, sports, television and music, students select favorite artists and content to be incorporated into their lessons. For example, if a child chooses the New England Patriots, and you want that student to focus on capitals of proper nouns, their lessons will incorporate the New England Patriots into their practice. Students can even add the names of family members, friends and pets so these nouns are included in their lessons.

You can see other free content I’ve curated for my students by clicking here.

Posted in Common Core State Standards, SBAC | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

8 Resources for Classroom Management

Below is a small glimpse of my classroom and some of the supports I’ll be using to increase engagement, group students, and keep expectations explicit. Many of the following likely can be purchased—and look prettier—online; but if you are partial to free, these should work. If you have been working long enough to think back to the days of Cooperative Learning (that’s almost 10 years ago!) you may see some pretty familiar strategies.Management

Agenda and Subjects in Word

Team Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Role and Numbers

Homework Log

Hall, bathroom and office passes in Word

3-2-1 Signal Poster

“We Can” Options

Wall Chart Options

Posted in Classroom Management | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment Continues to be Updated

I have received a number of emails asking if the website www.63000resources will be maintained with my return to the classroom. The answer is yes. Over the last four weeks, I have added a number of Core Knowledge supplements, new K-3 Document Based Questions, professional learning videos, and a few items I have developed for my classroom. Speaking of which, if you would like to see items from my first parent packet, I am previewing what will be shared with parents this Friday in the links below.

Welcome Parent Letter

Classroom Supply List

Posted in Instructional Shifts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nevada PTA: Summer Leadership Training PowerPoint

Nevada PTA: Summer Leadership Training

Linked below is the PowerPoint that Dr. Amy Weber-Salgo and I shared with the Nevada PTA at their Summer Leadership Training. I introduced the Common Core ELA Instructional Shifts and some of the evidence that informed the writing of the standards. Similarly, Amy shared the math shifts, some key evidence, and did a short Number Talks with the audience. You can download the PowerPoint here.

Posted in Core Task Project | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

7 Word Facts and Implications for Instruction

In a presentation for Reading Plus, University of California professor and founder Dr. Elfrieda H. Hiebert shares her “best stuff” around vocabulary and the Common Core (video here and Powerpoint here). Below are some highlights from her speech entitled, “The First Key to Unlocking Complex Text: A Generative Vocabulary” including her seven word facts and implications for instruction.

9:45: Dr. Hiebert notes that many teachers, when the text gets complex for students, are tempted to read the text for students. She challenges this approach and notes that when teachers read the text for students, only the teacher gets better at reading. Hiebert continues that when text is challenging for students, it is very likely a background knowledge deficit that then can be linked to a vocabulary knowledge deficit.

The word facts begin at minute 13:37. They are

  1. Knowledge is “stored” in texts
  2. English has a vast repository of words, making it impossible to teach all them.
  3. A small group of words does the heavy lifting in text (19:13). That is there is a group of 4000 word families that make up 90% of the words we read. This is exemplified in the table below. Being poor with these 4000 word families make comprehension very challenging.Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 10.28.21 PM
  4. Words are part of families. Morphological relationships are critical and students need lots of opportunities to work with morphemes and to study words.
  5. Words are parts of networks. The networks in narrative texts are synonyms related to story elements.
  6. The networks in informational texts are topical with interrelated concept clusters.
  7. Concrete words are learned and retained more readily than abstract words (minute 29:50).

At minute 31:43 Hiebert shares strategies for instruction including the value of exposing students to new topics and the vocabulary associated with these topics. One resource to help with this is the free magazine FYI for Kids (here). Additionally, to help students with word families, she highlights the use of E4 that can be downloaded for free here.

You can watch the full video here.

Posted in Academic Vocabulary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Essentials of Developing Reading Fluency

Dr. Timothy Rasinski, Professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University, describes the “essentials” of developing reading fluency in the video linked here. The claims he makes throughout the presentation are buttressed with strong evidence and, moreover, he is quite adept at sharing best practices that can be implemented immediately. The minutes have been marked to help in finding ideas and research that can be taken into the classroom.

2:07 Rasinski shares the “fluency exercise” that he has all of the struggling students working with each day. In short, students read and sing songs. Rasinski points out that this enables students to practice reading out loud a short text multiple times.

7:30 Rasinski explains how he was persuaded fluency matters with research about adults with Alzheimer’s disease who were able to retain songs and poetry despite obvious memory loss. He also shares a study of 1st graders who were consistently taught with songs and the strong reading gains students enjoyed.

14:03 Rasinksi explains where you can find fluency in the Common Core.

16:49 Rasinski outlines two strategies to teach students about words. The first is called Word Ladders and the second has students working with word families.

22:38 Rasinski describes how fluency is the “bridge” to comprehension. He makes the point that if too much effort is spent decoding, then students don’t have the mental energy to comprehend. The solution is to have students practice with fluency.


26:49 Prosody. Rasinski helpfully explains why this helps promote comprehension with reference to studies with 4th graders. In short, it matters.

32:02 Rasinksi acknowledges that finding time will be an issue but he notes how it can be embedded in the school day. To help this happen he developed MAP which stands for Model fluent reading, Assisted reading and Practice.

With assisted reading, Rasinski shares the value of doing choral reading, paired reading and audio reading. My guess is many readers are already doing this and having Dr. Rasinski quote the research to support these instructional moves should feel affirming. For example, struggling students who worked with strong readers on reading out loud showed three times as much progress compared to when they did not do this (35:52).

47:48 Rasinski concludes with what happens when a classroom teacher creates “synergy” which can be done with the Fluency Developmental Lesson (FDL). It begins with finding a daily text that you make two copies of.

  1. Teacher model reads the text
  2. Students and teachers chorally read (three times)
  3. Students practice with a partner
  4. Student perform with the text
  5. Class examines and plays with words from text (word study)
  6. Second copy goes home—never to come back to school—to read to family

You can view the presentation here.

Posted in Professional Development | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment