Navigating Difficult Conversations

“… communication is at the heart of everything educators do. Our schools are only as good as the conversations within them.”

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2015)

Coaching is an Art, not a Science

As I look ahead to my second year as an instructional coach, I am excited to continue practicing coaching conversations. At times – while reading books, online articles, connecting with other coaches on Twitter, learning with and from my colleagues – I have felt overwhelmed about the ‘right’ way to coach. On many occasions, I have been reminded that coaching – like teaching – is an art, not a science. I am also reminded that coaching conversations (and effective communication in general) can be very simple. As mentioned in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (2016), instructional coaching does not have to be overcomplicated, overly theoretical or overthought. I also really appreciate Kathy Perret’s recent blog post The KEYS to Coaching Conversations which also recommends that coaches keep things simple. I am looking forward to using these resources, as well as re-reading Elena Aguilar’s books The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation (2013) and The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools (2016) to remind myself of what I learned at her workshop, as I continue to discover and refine my own personal coaching style during coaching conversations.

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Difficult Conversations

While I want to continue to practice and reflect on my coaching conversations so that I can improve, I have also spent much time this summer thinking about how to navigate difficult conversations in a broader sense. During my first year as an instructional coach (within a newly-adopted coaching model), I found myself involved in – and sometimes facilitating – many difficult conversations. Perhaps surprisingly, these difficult conversations were rarely with the teachers I am responsible for coaching; my experiences with difficult conversations during my first year were not often related to one-on-one coaching. More often, the difficult conversations I found myself in happened when collaborating with peers, other colleagues or administrators.

“Crucial Conversations” need to be “Better Conversations”

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2012), Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler define “crucial conversations” as those that involve opposing opinions, high stakes and strong emotions. Sometimes the difficult conversations I participated in left me inspired, uplifted and in awe of what a team can accomplish together. However, there were times when I should have spoken up during a difficult conversation, but I remained quiet. There were times when I felt frustrated, dismissed or undervalued. There were times I saw others silenced, or noticed tension, and did not know how to shift the dynamic. Perhaps there were times others were uncomfortable or frustrated, but I was unaware. The perspective of my new role helped me realize that for much of my career I was probably able to avoid many crucial conversations, or perhaps I sometimes reacted with silence by withdrawing or avoiding when conversations become difficult. Crucial Conversations explains that when people feel unsafe, they become either silent (masking, avoiding, or withdrawing) or violent (controlling, labeling or attacking). In my current role, moving to silence is not an option, since “better conversations” are needed to ensure trust building and strong relationships. In his book Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to be More Credible, Caring and Connected (2015), Jim Knight says “one of the most important and powerful ways we can improve our schools is to improve the way we interact with each other.”

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Constructive Conflict

During the past year I learned about many aspects of Adaptive Schools through colleagues who have previously been trained. (I am very much looking forward to receiving this training at my school in the upcoming year!) Not surprisingly, I have noticed many similarities between The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative GroupsCrucial Conversations and Better Conversations as I reflected on my own “communication beliefs and habits” (Knight, 2016). Crucial Conversations refers to the importance of building shared understanding, ensuring everyone feels safe enough to put ideas on the table, and the need for clear decision making processes. Adaptive Schools uses the terms “constructive conflict”, “ways of talking” (dialogue vs discussion) and “The Seven Norms of Collaboration” (toolkit linked here).

the adaptive school

Areas of Growth

In addition to continuing to focus on the work of Adaptive Schools, my summer reading has given me some new areas of focus to help me improve my ability to navigate difficult conversations without ‘overcomplicating things’.

Crucial Conversations explains that mutual purpose is an “entrance condition” and mutual respect is a “continuance condition” in order for constructive, healthy conversations to occur. The book also recommends simply asking yourself the following questions during – or in preparation for – difficult conversations:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Knight outlines the following Better Conversations Beliefs that also seem simple but necessary:

  1. I see conversations partners as equals.
  2. I want to hear what others have to say.
  3. I believe people should have a lot of autonomy.
  4. I don’t judge others.
  5. Conversation should be back and forth.
  6. Conversation should be life-giving.

The four questions from Crucial Conversations and Knight’s beliefs about communication are helpful for both one-on-one coaching conversations, and difficult conversations in general. To be an effective communicator, one must be aware not only of the content of the conversation, but also have an awareness of others AND self-awareness. It is not always easy to manage everything going on in a conversation, but I know I will more confidently and effectively navigate difficult conversations with practice and reflection. The following advice from Better Conversations also resonated with me as areas in which I want to focus in order to improve my communication habits:

  • “see each conversation as a learning opportunity, not a telling opportunity”
  • “seek first to understand, then be understood” (from Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People)
  • avoid formulating a response before the speaker is finished
  • when it comes to questioning, “technique … is not as important as the mindset you bring”
  • do not be too busy with tasks to connect with others – be fully present and be persistent in connecting with others

Instead of looking back at missed opportunities or mistakes made in previous difficult conversations, I find myself excited and hopeful that I am better prepared for future “crucial conversations”. Elena Aquilar’s blog post Managing Conflict in School Leadership Teams reassures me that I have made some good decisions in the past by naming conflict, reflecting on when it is appropriate to address conflict, and referring teams back to their norms.

Empathy, Trust and Relationships

I ended the school year with a reflection to remind myself that coaching is all about empathy, trust and relationships. After much reflection and learning about how to best navigate difficult conversations, it seems I have circled back to the same realization. By asking myself the four questions from Crucial Conversations and by reflecting on my beliefs and practicing habits of communication as outlined in Better Conversations, I have found manageable strategies to empathize with others and build trusting relationships that will allow me to more effectively handle difficult conversations. I am looking forward to another year of growth in my instructional coaching role!

In schools, better conversations can dramatically improve educator and student learning. When teachers are clearer, ask better questions, and foster dialogue, their students learn more.

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2015)

Better conversations also stand at the heart of professional learning in schools. Instructional coaches who learn to be better at listening, questioning, building emotional connections, and fostering dialogue become more effective.

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2016)

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My Favorite NGSS Resources

One of my colleagues at Shanghai American School inspired me to gather all of the NGSS resources I have used and love in one easy to navigate padlet (see below).

I had a list of sites available internally for the teachers I support, but it was not visually appealing or easy to navigate. Hopefully this padlet is an improvement!

What are YOUR favorite resources for NGSS implementation? What resources am I missing?

 

Made with Padlet

 

Reflections on my 1st Year of Instructional Coaching

A New Role

This time last year, I was nervously excited after accepting a 6-12 science instructional coach position. It was not an easy decision to step away from my role as a biology teacher in an interdisciplinary PBL program; I had been wonderfully challenged more than ever before in my 16 year teaching career as I worked collaboratively with other Innovation Institute teachers to develop and implement the program, and to design interdisciplinary projects. However, instructional coaching seemed like a great opportunity to grow professionally by further developing interpersonal and leadership skills that I had been using as a collaborative team member, PLC facilitator, and Innovation Institute Program Coordinator. The focus on coaching science teachers was also a perfect fit, as I have been so inspired by recent shifts in education required by CCSS and NGSS.

The Importance of Relationships, Trust and Growth Mindset

I was certainly nervous about being hired as an instructional coach with no prior experience (particularly since the coaching model was also new!), but I also felt that the most important aspect of being a good instructional coach was to focus on building relationships and nurturing trust. I also knew that my focus on encouraging a growth mindset in students would also benefit me in my work with teachers. I have learned so much this year reading dozens of books, listening to podcasts, watching videos, attending the NSTA conference in Atlanta and the Marzano Lab in Denver, working with teachers, and collaborating with the rest of the K-12 coaching team at Shanghai American School. I am much more aware of my strengths – and also very aware of how much more I want to learn! However, I still feel very strongly that relationships, trust, and a growth mindset are the most important aspects of both successful coaching and building effective collaborative teams. I am also even more aware that it takes patience and time to build relationships and trust, as well as encourage growth mindsets.

A New Coaching Model

When I started as an instructional coach at the beginning of this school year, instructional coaches had only existed at our school for two years. This year, our school shifted from having three instructional coaches in the MS and only one instructional coach in the HS to having a team of five subject-specific coaches working across both divisions. In this context, I knew that I would have to be patient while teachers, coaches, and administrators worked to build a shared understanding of the roles that coaches can play and the benefits coaches can bring to individual teachers and collaborative teams in our shared desire to improve student learning. Since instructional coaching is still so new at our school, it was really important for me to reinforce repeatedly that:

  • coaches do not evaluate teachers
  • coaches work with ALL teachers
  • coaches do not need to have all of the answers in order to help facilitate professional learning for individual teachers or teams

How to Build Relationships?

A blog post from Insight Education Group emphasizes that instructional coaching programs are more likely to “yield real improvement in teaching and learning” if they are “grounded in a strong, shared understanding of effective coaching.” Attempting to clarify the role of an instructional coach is one strategy mentioned by @MrsRyder58 in a TeachBoost blog post entitled Strategies for Building Relationships as an Instructional Coach. She also mentions classroom visits as another important strategy, which I hope to do in a more intentional and strategic way next year. I really like Megan’s suggestion to create a newsletter for teachers based upon “lessons in the classroom, teacher collaboration, and resources.” This would help teachers to be more aware of what is happening in the school, provide an opportunity to celebrate successes, and ensure teachers know how coaches can help improve student learning and support professional growth.

The Importance of Empathy

While I understood that it would take time for our new coaching model to be fully implemented, I also had to practice patience with respect to waiting for teachers to ask for support. It is not up to the coach to determine what changes or improvements could be made. Another TeachBoost post by @ShastaLooper entitled Bringing Empathy to Coaching reminds me that it is not only patience that is needed, but also empathy. As a new instructional coach, I have been learning the importance of the following aspects of empathy suggested by @ShastaLooper:

  • setting aside assumptions,
  • helping teachers to recognize their own strengths and areas in which they want to grow, and
  • listening to understand and question.

Areas of Growth

Listening to understand is one area in which I still need more practice and reflection, as there have been many times this year when I acted as a consultant or collaborator in order to help build understanding about pedagogy, instruction or assessment – particularly with respect to the shifts required by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While these roles are appropriate at times, I am very aware that much of the power lies in wearing the coaching ‘hat’. As I think ahead to my second year in this role, I am looking forward to creating and taking advantage of opportunities to coach ‘heavy’ much more often than I am coaching ‘light’ (Are You Coaching Heavy or Light? by Joellen Killion, Learning Forward).

Building a Culture of Collaborative Inquiry & Reflective Practice

I am beyond inspired that our K-12 instructional coaching team has been empowered by the leaders at our school to take our commitment to teachers and collaborative teams to the next level by working to build a culture of collaborative inquiry and reflective practice. While I am definitely looking forward to a restful summer and lots of quality time with my family and friends, I am already feeling optimistic and excited about my second year as an instructional coach. I am beyond grateful for this amazing learning opportunity.

 

I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.

I reflect and I learn.

– Carmen Freisen
(Costa & Garmston, 2012)

 

UbD+NGSS+5E Unit Planning

Have you struggled to find the right process for designing an NGSS Unit? It can feel overwhelming, especially if you are new to NGSS! There are new factors to consider when shifting to three-dimensional instruction and assessment.

Having worked as a science instructional coach this year (first time coach AND in a newly-created role), I have been primarily helping collaborative teams deepen their understanding of the NGSS performance expectations. Another focus has been how to implement the practices and what they look like at MS and HS. (I had some great discussions with teachers about the similarities and differences between constructing explanations and arguing from evidence. If you are interested in this, check out this Stanford Graduate School video & STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 1.) We have also had many discussions about how to incorporate crosscutting concepts into instruction and assessment.

Recently, several of my MS and HS science collaborative teams are naturally in a place where they are looking to design or refine NGSS units. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop on Understanding by Design (UbD) at my school earlier this year. This was the perfect refresher for me (and so nice to have it run by Jay McTighe himself!) Ever since that weekend, I have been trying to make sense of how to effectively articulate UbD to teachers who may be only vaguely familiar with the idea, while simultaneously ensuring that important aspects of NGSS are not forgotten. I was fortunate to also attend the NSTA National Conference in Atlanta, where I participated in several sessions related to NGSS unit design. While all of the sessions I attended were great, I knew that I needed to keep the NGSS unit planning process simple and manageable. Ultimately, I tried to take away what all of the processes had in common.

I’ve shared my take-aways about the crucial steps in designing units recently with most of the collaborative teams I work with. The process seems to bring clarity and focus to what needs to be considered when refining or designing NGSS units. The steps below are based upon elements from the following: Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction, Seeing Students Learn Science: Integrating Assessment and Instruction in the Classroom, the 5E Model for NGSS, Paul Andersen’s ‘unit planning protocol’, Quest-LC and, of course, Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design. I have also connect the stages of Unit Design with the 4 questions of PLC at Work, since collaborative teams have been a focus at our school for several years now.

In the steps below, note that DCI = disciplinary core idea (content), SEP = science & engineering practice and CCC = crosscutting concept. Each performance expectation (PE) is essentially a standard made up of a DCI + SEP + CCC. Also, keep in mind that prior to designing or refining a unit, there should be at least a tentative year-long sequence mapped out for the course. It is also helpful if there have already been discussions about how the PEs will be bundled into units.

Stage 1: Identify Desired Results  [“unpacking”; What do we want students to learn?]

  • What do students need to KNOW? (DCIs)
  • Create an ANCHOR CHART of main concepts (DCIs).
    • You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t! Just as the NGSS emphasizes the importance of modeling, you and your colleagues will also benefit from making your thinking visible and building a clear and shared understanding of what concepts should be included in the unit. The anchor chart suggested by @paulandersen will also help determine what order the concepts could be taught in, and perhaps which concepts are most important. For examples of anchor charts, go to The Wonder of Science site. Click on Teaching, select a topic and then click on a specific performance expectation to see anchor charts that other teachers have made.
  • Create a conceptual storyline using the DCIs.
    • A conceptual storyline means that the concepts are taught in an order or flow that makes sense to students. It allows the teacher or collaborative team to later create a coherent sequence of lessons.
  • What do students need to be able to DO? (SEPs)
    • If you have bundled PEs together, is there one practice that will be focused on more than the others? Will some practices be taught but not assessed?
    • For this step and the next, it helps to have printable practice and concept cards from Paul Andersen’s site. I suggest the ‘4 per page file’ so that the cards are small, manageable and easy to take to meetings!
  • How will students THINK about the concepts? (CCCs)
    • At this point, if you have not already naturally incorporated CCCs into your anchor chart, you may choose to do so now.
  • What ANCHOR PHENOMENON could drive the unit?

Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence [formative and summative assessment; How will we know if students learned it?]

  • What ‘END PRODUCT’ will students produce to demonstrate competency in the primary SEP?
    • It is crucial that one or more PRACTICES drive the assessment.
  • What MAJOR CONCEPT(s) from the “conceptual storyline” will be included in the ‘end product’?
  • What CCC(s) from the “conceptual storyline” will be included in the ‘end product’?
  • Is the assessment ‘three dimensional’ enough?

Stage 3: Learning Plan [“learning performances”; How will we design learning experiences for ALL learners?]

  • What 3D ‘learning performances’ will provide the required evidence of student learning?
    • Focus not on what the teacher is doing, but what the STUDENTS are doing.

Stage 4: Reflection (& Revision?)

This is not an official UbD stage, but I think it is crucial to make time to reflect on the unit. It can be helpful to jot down notes throughout the unit of things that worked well, as well as things you would like to change. At the end of the unit, a reflection with your collaborative team is very helpful. This could also be a time when revisions to the unit and/or assessments are made so that they are ready for the next year. This ensures that revisions are not forgotten.

 

NGSS UbD 5Es Template

The template below is adapted from Jay McTighe’s UbD template to incorporate some elements of NGSS and the 5E model.

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How do YOU plan NGSS units? Is your process different? Feel free to post a comment below or connect with me on twitter @foley_amy 🙂

Social Contracts

Are you a teacher who has wondered about the best way to create a classroom environment in which students felt safe to take risks in their learning?  Have you struggled with discipline issues? Have you wished that students could help to monitor each others’ behavior? Many teachers develop class rules at the beginning of the school year, but in my experience even when rules are co-created with students, they are not always effective. There may be too many rules for students to remember, or students might have multiple teachers who have different expectations. So what is a teacher to do? One solution is to develop a “social contract” for a specific group of students who work together frequently.

My introduction to the idea of a “social contract” came from a previous colleague (instructional coach) who was helping Innovation Institute teachers understand how to help students build healthy relationships with each other and encourage a trusting, empathetic environment in which students could more effectively collaborate. The social contract comes from the Flippen Group, which at the time had resources for the social contract online. However, this work now seems to be encompassed in their Capturing Kids’ Hearts professional training offerings (which look amazing). The social contract encourages students to manage their own (and each others’) behaviors by providing a shared understanding and clear structure for what is – and what is not – acceptable.

The social contract should be developed with a group that has newly formed, although it helps if the group has has had some time to get to know each other prior to creating the contract. How it works:

  • Seat students in small groups of 3-5. Students can be assigned roles such as time keeper, scribe, spokesperson, etc.
  • Introduce the idea of a “social contract”, and ask students why it might be helpful to have one.
  • Have students individually answer these questions on paper:
    1. How do you want to be treated by the teacher?
    2. How do you want to be treated by each other?
    3. How do you think the teacher wants to be treated?
    4. How will we handle violations of the contract?
  • After students have had individual ‘think time’, have them share their thoughts in their small groups.
  • Next, ask each question one at a time, and have each group share out to the class.
    • Encourage all ideas to be shared, and record every idea (as single words or short phrases) on a large piece of paper. Ideally, the social contract should be kept posted in the room.
    • If any ideas are repeated, use a check mark to indicate that it was stated more than once.
    • Students should be as specific as possible. For example, ‘respect each other’ is perhaps not specific enough. What do they mean exactly? What does respect look like? sound like?
    • Ask for clarification of any terms and/or ideas that may not be universally agreed upon or understood. However, as much as possible, the ideas shared should be written exactly as the student shared them.
  • Once all ideas are recorded, it is important to agree upon how to hold each other accountable. Students can call ‘foul’ on each other – or a teacher – if someone says or does something that is deemed to go against the social contract.
  • Everyone needs to sign the contract, including the teacher. 
  • When can someone call ‘foul’? Whenever they perceive that someone has said something or acted in a way that goes against the spirit of the social contract – either towards them or another classmate.
  • What happens when someone calls ‘foul’? A foul cannot be questioned or negotiated. If someone has ‘foul’ called on them, they cannot argue it. They must offer two ‘put ups’ to the person they have been deemed to have mistreated. The ‘put ups’ must be something positive about that person’s character – it cannot be about their appearance or anything superficial. Teachers may need to model genuine, quality ‘put ups’.

In my experience, students came to the realization that the answers to all four questions are very similar. Everyone really wants to be treated the same way. Although there will be many ideas recorded in the social contract, it starts to become apparent that everyone should follow the ‘golden rule’ – treat others the way you want to be treated. This is what makes the social contract easier to follow than a list of specific rules. ANY behavior or words that are deemed harmful in some way can be called out as a ‘foul’.

What could cause the social contract to fail?

  • Inconsistency. Teachers need to hold students accountable and encourage students to call foul on both students AND the teacher, if necessary.
  • Sarcasm. Teachers should be willing to be called out for using sarcasm.
  • Students have already been together for a long period of time. My team first implemented the social contract with students in their second year of a program. We were new teachers for these students, but they had already spent an entire school year together and had built a dynamic without us. It felt almost impossible to have students ‘buy in’ to the idea of a social contract.
  • Multiple teachers. All teachers must ‘buy in’ to the social contract. If your students have multiple teachers, ensure that they are involved. Ideally, they are a part of the process, but students could also share and explain with other teachers after it is created. All teachers should sign the contract.

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Ideation (Brainstorming)

Do your students need help to effectively brainstorm? Perhaps they default to sharing out ideas in an unstructured, open discussion? If so, they would likely benefit from being explicitly taught some useful strategies for brainstorming (ideation). This will ensure students are aware that there are a variety of ideation strategies that they can choose from, depending on their team needs at a particular time.

Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School relies on ideation as part of the design thinking process for each interdisciplinary project. However, it is not always easy for adults – let alone 9th or 10th graders! – to come up with great ideas as a collaborative team. I’ve been doing some prep work with other instructional coaches at SAS in order to help guide some discussions around choosing specific ideation strategies to be a focus in the Innovation Institute program.

I was thrilled when an Institute colleague shared several great sites with me that she has used on occasion when ideation strategies were needed. The Interaction Design Foundation website, which is very useful, says that ideation is the heart of design thinking. That article, in addition to MindTools and this Wrike article, list numerous ideation strategies. I combined strategies (predominantly from these three sites) to make a useful overview that lists the what, why, when, and how of 17 ideation strategies. I would never share that many strategies with students, but I appreciate having so many strategies in one place in order to make easy decisions about which strategies are most appropriate to teach students at a specific time. The image below is of a document that summarizes some fantastic ideation techniques, predominantly from the sites mentioned above. As an instructional coach, it will also be helpful for me to refer to this overview if I need an ideation strategy for a meeting or workshop that I am facilitating.

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Are there other useful sites for ideation strategies? Are there any great strategies that are missing from this overview that should be included?

How can NGSS practices transform science teaching & learning?

Have you ever heard someone unfamiliar with NGSS ask “Don’t good teachers already know how to teach science well?” Yes… and no. Adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) should lead to a transformation in how students learn science, as outlined in Appendix A of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.  It is crucial that students are applying their knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas through the science and engineering practices. But what exactly does this look like in a science class?

3-dimensional learning means that both the crosscutting concepts (CCCs) and the science & engineering practices (SEPs) are as important as the content – also known as disciplinary core ideas (DCIs). I recently wrote a blog post focusing on incorporating CCCs, but it is equally important to consider how students engage in the SEPs. Teachers may think that science class already naturally incorporates the practices, but that is not necessarily true. We should be asking ourselves whether students are acting like SCIENTISTS. Are students doing what scientists would be doing?

Check out this Teaching Channel video about NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (6min). Traditionally, learning science often involved the teacher acting as a knowledge authority to provide content, then students would be given a lab activity in order to confirm results that they are expecting based on what they already know to be true. The shift with NGSS is that STUDENTS should be the ones DOING science – asking questions, designing and conducting investigations, analyzing data, finding relationships, etc. Students should be given more experiences to think deeply, and have more opportunities to think like a scientist. These NGSS parent guides include a table that outlines what there should be ‘less of’ and ‘more of’ in a science classroom. This is a good starting point for thinking about how science classrooms can be transformed.

What are the NGSS science and engineering practices? They are listed below, and are explained in more detail in Appendix F of A Framework for K-12 Science Education:

  1. Asking Questions (science) and Defining Problems (engineering)
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  6. Constructing Explanations (science) and Designing Solutions (engineering)
  7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

How can teachers begin to understand what they are already doing well with respect to the SEPs, and where they might improve? The article Assessing Science Practices: Moving Your Class Along a Continuum by Katherine L. McNeill, Rebecca Katsh-Singer and Pam Pelletier is incredibly useful. First, it has a ‘Science Practices Continuum Assessment Tool’ which allows teachers to assess where their students fall for each practice – Not Present, Emergent, Proficient, or Exemplary. This can help teachers to plan instruction that helps students to move along on the continuum. Second, the article also groups the 8 practices into the following categories:

  • Investigating Practices
    • Asking Questions
    • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Sense Making Practices
    • Developing and Using Models
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Constructing Explanations
  • Critiquing Practices
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information

This makes it easier to envision how to incorporate the practices when designing a unit. Ideally, a unit should start with introducing students to a phenomenon, so that they begin by asking questions. A few years ago I came across the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute. However, at NSTA this year a couple of sessions referred to Questioning for the Next Generation (QNG), which is QFT adapted for NGSS. Love it! Using QNG is a great way to get students to help make sense of a phenomenon and perhaps even having students help to craft a driving question. Near the beginning of the unit, students should often develop a model to explain the phenomenon. Ideally, students’ models will be improved throughout the course of a unit as their understanding deepens through engaging with other practices, such as planning and carrying out investigations and analyzing and interpreting data.

For teachers new to NGSS, what are some simple strategies for incorporating the SEPs in a way that honors the intention of the K-12 Framework and NGSS?

  • Posting medium size posters of the SEPs means teachers can easily refer to them during class. (These are from @paulandersen’s amazing site The Wonder of Science.) It is helpful to post cards for the main CCC and SEP (practice) with the content learning target(s) for the day.This helps students to understand the 3D focus of the lesson. Refer to these both at the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  • Teachers can refer to more than one CCC and/or SEP during a lesson, even if they are not all assessed. In fact, at times it can be difficult to refer to a CCC &/or SEP in isolation. (See link for STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 3 below.)
  • As you plan a lesson or unit, be sure to plan in advance for incorporating at least one practice each lesson. You can find the continuum mentioned above AND instructional strategies for ALL practices on the Instructional Leadership for Science Practices. Very useful!

 

Here are some other useful resources:

Matrix of Science and Engineering Practices

This translates appendix F from NGSS into teacher friendly language. It breaks down each practice by grade band K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. 

Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices

The intent of this appendix is to describe what each of these eight practices implies about what students can do. Its purpose is to enable readers to better understand the performance expectations.

Appendix I: Engineering Design in NGSS

STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 3

Practices should not stand alone: How to sequence practices in a cascade to support student investigations

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs)

I was fortunate to have recently attended the 2018 Atlanta NSTA Conference.  It was so inspiring! I was able to hear from amazing presenters and speak with educators, instructional coaches and district curriculum coordinators who are doing amazing work implementing NGSS. As a 6-12 Science Instructional Coach hoping to support teachers, I focused on attending sessions that would provide tangible tools and strategies for ensuring that instruction and assessment is three dimensional (3D).  I was not disappointed!

Perhaps the simplest and most high leverage takeaway for ensuring instruction and assessment is three dimensional relates to the crosscutting concepts (CCCs). The NGSS crosscutting concepts are:

  1. patterns
  2. cause and effect
  3. scale, proportion and quantity
  4. systems and system models
  5. energy and matter
  6. structure and function
  7. stability and change

In general, the DCIs (content) are what students should KNOW, the SEPs (science and engineering practices) are what students should DO, and the CCCs are how students should THINK.

Why are crosscutting concepts important? Karen Whisler is an NGSS Solutions Leader for Measured Progress. In her #NSTA18 presentation, she said that CCCs:

  • are applicable across all science disciplines
  • facilitate comparison and connections
  • provide an organizational framework and way of thinking
  • support understanding of disciplinary core ideas
  • enrich use of the practices

In multiple sessions, I heard both presenters and participants say that CCCs are often the most difficult of the three dimensions to include in instruction and assessment. It is not necessarily new for teachers to refer to the crosscutting concepts (perhaps previously known as themes or overarching concepts), although traditionally many teachers have not been explicit about teaching &/or assessing CCCs. However, there are some very manageable steps that teachers can take to ensure that the CCCs are being taught and assessed:

  1. Asking at least one question related to a CCC in each lesson helps to ensure 3D lessons. Plan for this in advance of the lesson using these small cards created by @paulandersen.
  2. Posting medium size posters of the CCCs means teachers can easily refer to them during class. It is helpful to post cards for the main CCC and SEP (practice) with the content learning target(s) for the day. This helps students to understand the focus of the lesson. Refer to these both at the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  3. Teachers can refer to more than one CCC and/or SEP during a lesson, even if they are not all assessed. In fact, at times it can be difficult to refer to a CCC &/or SEP in isolation.
  4. Modeling ‘think alouds’ for students helps them to understand how to use the CCCs as lenses for asking questions, making sense of phenomenon, etc.
  5. Aim to have all assessment questions (formative or summative) at least “two dimensional”, and ensure that summative assessments are 3D overall. STEM Teaching Tool 41 has a wealth of prompts related to all 7 CCCs. Ensure that some student responses are required to explicitly refer to CCCs. Some teachers have students highlight work in green if it explicitly refers to CCCs.
  6. Keep posters on the wall that have questions for each of the CCCs. Students should be encouraged to refer to the posters to help them think of questions they can ask during instructional activities, small group and whole class discussions, etc. This will help students to build an awareness of the different ‘ways of thinking’ that they can draw upon when doing science. Students who are more aware of ‘how to think’ can apply this in other disciplines and start to see more connections as well!
  7. It is very important to connect the CCCs to the “sense making practices” which are: developing and using models, constructing explanations, and arguing from evidence.

The following framework by Brett Moulding was mentioned in more than one session, and I find it to be an incredibly useful way to organize the CCCs. Those in blue are used for explaining CAUSES, while those in green are related to SYSTEMS.

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Here are some other useful resources:

Matrix of Crosscutting Concepts in NGSS

This translates appendix G from NGSS into teacher friendly language. It breaks down each crosscutting concept by grade band K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

NSTA Webinar Series: Crosscutting Concepts

Appendix G: Crosscutting Concepts

The purpose of this appendix is to describe the second dimension— crosscutting concepts—and to explain its role in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Crosscutting concepts have value because they provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the differing areas of disciplinary content and can enrich their application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.

— A Framework for K-12 Science Education, Appendix G

Together We Are Brilliant

“Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.” Steven Anderson

I have been so inspired in the last week to actively reach out to other educators – to learn from them, but also to share innovation that I have been a part of. I also want to encourage sharing within my school so that we create an environment where risk-taking is encouraged.

In my experience, it is true that when you are trying to do something new (and hopefully better!), it is very easy for others to criticize. ‘Pushback’ from parents and colleagues can be discouraging, but not if you know to expect it as part of the process. It is important to have a good support network to help you continue forward until people start to see the benefits of what you are doing. It is also important to focus only on what you can control, and to try not to let negative talk or criticism get you down. It will pass. And, it helps to remind yourself and others that “our thinking must focus on what learning truly can be, not what it has been.” George Couros #IMMOOC

I’ve decided that I need to really commit to using Twitter more regularly. First, I want to start by sharing amazing things that are happening in our school. We have an incredible open learning environment for our science department and our Innovation Institute program, so it should be easy for me to take pictures and post them to my twitter account so that we can appreciate and recognize each other’s efforts. Second, I want to share out important parts of our the final project for the year in the Innovation Institute. I want to share what we are doing in the Institute beyond the walls of Shanghai American School.

Here is my first item to share (already posted on twitter @foley_amy) about the Innovation Institute:

This week, 9 student “project managers” determined the groups for their final project. All 37 students shared their top strengths, preferred role (art or tech in this project), as well as students they would prefer not to work with (often that they have worked together several times on projects) and students who they would really like to work with. The main rule during this process was that project managers could only discuss students’ strengths – no negative talk. We gave the project managers a few tips, and they ended up determining groups in a very similar manner to what the teachers have done to make project groups this year. I was so proud watching these students through the process. They have grown so much throughout their two years in the Innovation Institute. It makes all of the hard work worth it, and I am so excited to see where this final project takes us. What a wonderful journey this year has been…

 

Innovation = New & Better

Educators are so much more likely to be innovative if they work together with their colleagues. At a recent workshop – Math Specialists in Internationals Schools (MSIS) with Steve Leinwand and Erma Anderson – it was inspiring to create a new and improved lesson to introduce students to calculus that is connected to the real world (skateboard ramps) and first develops a conceptual understanding. This is not a huge mind-boggling innovation, but it is something new and better for students. I’ve said in earlier blog posts that these 5 MSIS workshops have been transformative for myself and the other math educators who attended.

I love that Katie mentioned in the live session this week that often teachers’ innovations are not shared and do not leave their classroom. I feel fortunate that my high school (Shanghai American School) has embraced the PLC at Work™ model. It is powerful to be able to plan instruction and assessment as a group of teachers. I think some teachers may feel more comfortable ‘taking risks’ and implementing change as a PLC instead of on their own.

I do not tend to see myself as a risk taker in life (no plans to go bungee jumping any time soon!), but I do like to constantly reflect on my teaching practice and I do love to try new things if I feel confident that there could be an improved outcome for students. I would like to work on being more networked. Hopefully this #IMMOOC #IMMOOC2 will help!

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