Monday, November 14, 2011

Revision of Model Curriculum Units, Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessments

[This is the second post on Massachusetts Race to the Top Revision of Model Curriculum Units by a collection of 200 teachers on October 25th and 26th]

Taking a test at the Real Estate Investing CollegeAfter receiving a wonderful introduction to "genre-based pedagogy" from Meg Gebhard (see previous post), teachers transitioned into a second workshop on Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessments* (CEPAs from here on out). This is an exciting shift or broadening of the concept of student assessment in the state of Massachusetts and is an attempt to grapple with the following charge of Barak Obama:
“I am calling on our nation’s Governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.” -President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009
What will this actually look like at this scale? How will governors and state education chiefs develop an accountability system that incorporates performance assessments that happen within the curriculum throughout the school year?  Where to start?  Massachusetts is starting with teachers.  In the U.S. the "beyond-the-bubble-sheet-assessment" has been done locally day-in and day-out by teachers, and to many teachers their day-to-day assessment of learning is far richer than a single two hour session that assesses students primarily via bubble sheet responses.

Each of the model curriculum units created by committees of teachers representing each discipline will incorporate a CEPA.  CEPAs are tasks or series of tasks integrated with curricula that require students to use their knowledge and skills to effectively create products or performances that demonstrate their understanding and ability.  These tasks will take place during and after relevant instruction, can include multiple tasks, and may take up to several days or even weeks to complete. The following is a further list† of possible design principles at play that focus on the "assessment" function of CEPAs:

  • –  Should include both formative and summative components
  • –  Should directly relate to classroom instruction so that it will lead to a greater understanding of the covered topic(s)
  • –  Will be subject-specific, but should incorporate other subject areas when appropriate
  • –  Should result in multiple, individually-produced, scorable products (there will be group work as well, but this would be scored locally)
    –  Should include assessment of communication skills and research 

Clearly this change will not assuage some engaged in the reform debate around assessment, but it definitely marks an inclusion of student performance that can be welcomed by many.  These assessments may be based on multiple products done individually and in groups that may include videos, business proposals, presentations, portfolios and the list of other products go on and on.  Much of the design framework used to develop these performance assessments are grounded in the training provided by Jay McTighe around his GRASPS format from Understanding by Design as well as the ongoing work in cohorts of Massachusetts' schools by Building Quality Performance Assessments Initiative.

The development of CEPAs within the model curriculum units are works in progress from their final look and feel, scope, pilots, implementation, local and statewide scoring, etc.  Despite the considerable list of items that remain to be figured out, it is a fascinating and new adventure that has been spawned by the common core standards and the funding provided by Race to the Top.  I am hopeful that this will lead to students demonstrating their learning both through the bubble sheet and a diversity of performances that occur within their classroom.  I am hopeful that the inclusion of teachers in the design, piloting, and implementation of model curriculum units will lead to a strong foundation for the future of this new endeavor in Massachusetts.

*Through a Looking Glass: Lessons Learned and Future Directions for Performance Assessment
Balanced, Multilevel ScienceAssessment Systems:A Massachusetts Perspective

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Revision of Model Curriculum Units, introductory talk by Meg Gebhard

(pictures from here)

October 25th and 26th educators, instructional leaders, and Department of Education staff met to continue the work on developing Model Curriculum Units through Race to the Top grant awarded the state of Massachusetts  The majority of the time was spent in small groups with fellow teachers and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) support personnel responding to a first round of revisions and finalizing a model unit.  I hope to get to that topic next post, but I wanted to do a preliminary post on the opening talk of the two days.

Participants received a compelling workshop on the role of "academic language" in the construction of knowledge and how to design curriculum that supports it development.  It was delivered by Meg Gebhard from UMass Amherst who opened with a wonderful task that got us thinking about her area of expertise, genre based pedagogy.  Here is the task:

Scenario:  Two weeks ago, I accidently ate some trail mix that had nuts in it while hiking up Mount Monadnock. I ended up in the back of an ambulance going 80 miles an hour with the sirens blaring in the middle of New Hampshire.  
Your Task:  At your table, in groups of four, take 3 minutes to begin writing (each person selects one of the following as the prompt):
  • A recount from the perspective of my 15 year-old daughter who gave me the trail mix and said it was nut free.  Pretend she posted this text to Facebook.
  • A narrative from my perspective that I might send to a magazine such as Outdoor.
  • The report the paramedic gave to the doctor at the emergency room
  • A scientific explanation of allergic reaction you might find in a biology textbook.
Share:  In your group, share your drafts.
  • Record how your texts are organized differently
  • Record how the vocabulary choices and sentence structures are different
  • Record your thoughts on the different relationship established between reader and writer in each text
  • Record the linguistic and cultural resources you drew on to get started with this task
  • Record what was hard or impossible about this task (besides time limitations)
She created an experience that situated academic language by focusing on how it uses language to convey meaning compared to other genres.  She transitioned from our writing to the demands of reading different genres and the various entry points each type of genre provides readers.  It gave this math teacher a great deal to think about as I entered into the process of revising curriculum.  What genres are being employed here? How do genres work in math?  How can students can access on the language in the directions, in a word problem, or in a textbook?  How does  my curriculum engage these genres so they are tooled to interact with them effectively both in collaboration with their peers and independently?

It was a great beginning to the two days!  Next post I will talk more in depth about the revision and finalization process.

She provided several resources on the topic that I will pass on to you:
Exploring How Texts Work, by Beverly Derewianka
Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing
The Language of Schooling, by Mary Schleppegrell

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Common core model curriculum design begins in Massachusetts, part 2 and 3

Time Window / Time Slot / Time Bucket / Window of opportunity
Window of Opportunity @

Well part 2 and 3 never happened as promised in my long ago part 1 on the initial gathering of teachers, superintendents, and department of education officials concerning the Race to the Top adventure here in Massachusetts.  My apologies.

Since that time and prior to the week long gathering on curriculum and model curriculum development, I have been browsing the web investigating plans to transition and implement the new standards.  I am strangely inspired.  It  seems that these new standards have created an opening for teachers and their expertise in the conversation on ed reform as well as the nature of the profession.  I see this happening for three reasons:

(1)  The scope of moving 44 states to a new set of standards and assessment is a monumental undertaking and must necessarily include teachers to make it a success.  States are reaching out to teachers to hear how this might work and how this can be an opportunity to move struggling schools toward success.  The task is so big that teachers are needed not just so they can implement a passed down policy, but actually to make meaning of it and give shape to it.

(2)  Standards are limited entities.  As Jay McTighe told the group of Massachusetts' educators, "Standards are a building code."  Standards provide the general frameworks that judge a curriculum in order to ensure it is covering agreed upon content and skills, but we can build thousands of different types of curriculum (buildings) from the same set of standards (building code).  Given the emergence of new standards and all the ways they can come to life, states are turning to teachers as experts for helping making the transition from standards to curriculum.   As I'll discuss in my next blog post, it was inspiring to watch fellow teachers from across the state gather and start to think out curriculum.

(3)  Budget shortfalls combined with a renewal of public awareness around education (NCLB, charter movement, TFA, international competition, expense of private education, heightened awareness around special education, pay for performance, the pros and cons of testing, etc.) has created a swell for some sense of change.  Public clamoring for change and the reality of limited budgets has created a window for the teacher to be drawn into making this happen.  This sometimes has the regrettable tinge of blaming the teacher for all ills, but states have also turned to us to make change happen.  We have an opportunity to do more than be blamed.

My next post will be on my experience developing curriculum along teachers from across the commonwealth of Massachusetts--stay tuned!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Common core model curriculum design begins in Massachusetts, part 1

In Marlborough, MA today 200+ teachers, administrators, district, and state personnel met to begin the design of model curriculum and embedded assessments for educators across the Commonwealth.  This initial gathering of individuals, who will spend time together over the next 3 years (till the summer of 2014), was introduced to the goals, scope and theoretical underpinnings of the "MA Curriculum Project: Building an Understanding-based Curriculum & Assessment System."

First, the goals of the project were largely defined in , but it was compelling to see the following words of the application come to life:
Principals and superintendents also identified model curricula and instructional resources as top priorities. The PreK–12 teaching and learning system will include model curricula units and lesson plans based on common standards that are aligned within and across grade levels. (p. 15)
The opening presentation demonstrated, on the one hand, a wonderful balance between the strong local quality of education in Massachusetts and the academic freedom of individual teachers, and on the other, a desire to bring the collective power of a statewide initiative to empower districts, schools, and teachers with resources and models to implement the new Massachusetts frameworks.  Furthermore, it creates, finances, and equips a group of individuals from across the state at all levels of education for the hard and time-consuming work of alignment "within and across grade levels," so that districts, schools, and teacher's can experience the new frameworks as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Second is the scope of these curriculum design committees.  In general each discipline (mathematics, history/social studies, ELA, and science) will produce 25 model instructional units with 25 associated embedded assessments for a total of 100 model units and 100 embedded assessments.

Third is the theoretical framework that Massachusetts will be using to achieve its goal of providing a coherent underpinning both for the model units but also the broad contours of how curriculum is understood:  Understanding by Design.  For the entirety of the project (till 2014), Jay McTighe will be supporting the development of the "macro" architecture of essential understandings and questions into which the model units will reside and reflect, and how these units can cohere K to 12 within a discipline.  Jay also introduced the idea of developing what he calls "cornerstone assessments" that provide "authentic" and engaging moments where students have the opportunity to embody and fulfill the essential concepts and practices of each discipline (more of this and examples in part 3).

Part 2 to this post will delve deeper into the details of the meeting, specifically as Web 2.0 applications were discussed as part of the curriculum design process and in what ways technology will be harnessed to disseminate the model units (the creation of PBS MediaLearning was announced--a joining of teachers' domain and PBS).

Part 3 to this post will provide a description as well as the organizing visuals and maps for the project. I hope to have those to share within the next two weeks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Librarians link common core to Web 2.0

Scouring the web for all things related to the common core and its implementation, I happened upon the American Association of School Librarians crosswalks to the common core.  While math does get left out of the picture, the spirit of their crosswalks is exactly the type of thinking I have been looking for as my school moves forward in its implementation.  Here is an example of one crosswalk by the ALA:

C9-10RS/TS7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.
1.2.3 Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.
2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.
3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
4.3.2 Recognize that resources are created for a variety of purposes.

The common core standards are "linked" to the American Association of Librarians standards for 21st century learning and as a result the common core standards start to take on a meaning relevant to digital learners.  I hope, and please hold me to it, as the work of implementation proceeds in my part of the education landscape that I can narrate how we made these standards come to life for a 21st century learner.

I am interested to know if anyone out there has worked to move their classroom,  school, or district to take the spirit of these 21st century learners and crosswalk them to the common core math standards.
I hope to start moving in this direction in the closing months of this school year and over the summer.
I'll post how we choose to organize and structure our curriculum 5-12 and welcome current and future feedback on this endeavor. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

An opportunity for design being lost?

Will a new set of standards create an opportunity to reimagine our curriculum in its overall design (a la UDL) in order to be accessible to a multitude of different learners interacting and generating content in a multitude of different ways?  Will both the content standards as well as the standards for mathematical practice be intertwined in such a way that we actually start inspiring learners and mathmeticians?  Will all of these reflect the new demands of digital literacy and the power of Web 2.0? One answer to this (from a key curriculum press blog on the common core standards) from a review of the textbooks displayed at the NCTM conference in Indianapolis this past week is NO.   Key Curriculum Press says the new textbooks stamped with "common core" on the front take the following two approaches to implementing the core:

  1. Textbooks with new covers and the same exact lessons contained between the covers.  Sure, the state standards that were previously cited are now replaced with Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  But, the lessons and assignments are the same as last year’s edition.
  1. Textbooks with new covers and additional lessons interspersed in the book, but the new lessons have no connection to the rest of the material."
Obviously a textbook publisher looks at books as ways to embody and deliver these standards (and it seems that this is being poorly done), but how will these standards encourage us to review the overall design of what we are doing and how can they come to be part of 21st century digital students' lives?  This is an opportunity being lost not just by textbooks companies not revisiting their products in a serious way, but by many others who are not redesigning these standards in a way that is web 2.0 informed.

Take for example this recent posting of how to embody the standards of mathematical practice.
"1. After presenting a problem and having students briefly think about it themselves, they discuss their solution pathway and accompanying reasoning with a partner. Their ideas may be validated or tweaked, but are always recognized.
2. As students solve the problem, allow them to seek advice and help from their partner. This builds a sense of confidence and teamwork.
3. After solving the problem, invite students to share their results and reasoning in small groups. This reflective practice allows students to revisit and justify their thinking, learn the approaches of others, and identify relationships between different solution pathways."
This example of implementation talks about collaboration, partnership, and sharing work, minus the central component of how students and we now communicate, share knowledge and collaborate--e-mail, google, facebook, twitter, diigo, youtube, etc.

It is hard not to feel like an opportunity might be slipping away as we re-look at our curriculum.  Stay tuned for the coming posts as I attempt to narrate how one school tries to retain the best of traditional and non-traditional modes of delivery as well as integrate technology into our revamped curriculum.  We are taking these new standards as a moment to start reimagining our curriculum and to not lose out on the opportunity this moment allows.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Will we take this unique opportunity of shared standards to collaborate, reflect, and innovate together?
Wordle: Common Core Standards in Mathematics Wordle: Common Core State Standards 3
How will math teachers across the 44 states who have adopted the new Common Core State Mathematics Standards bring them to life? Will individual teacher's work it out in their classrooms but leave the person across the hall outside of the conversation? Will one district work toward a solutions while others struggle to find a way forward in their schools? Or, Will we take this unique opportunity of shared standards to collaborate, reflect, and innovate together? The hope of adding the little numbers "2.0" to the title of this blog is to introduce the power of personal learning networks, social media, and online tools into the conversation on the Common Core Standards. My hope is that by harnessing communication mediums like twitter (see feed at left), social bookmarking sites (like Diigo to the right), visualization tools (like Wordle used above*), and blogs (like this one!), to name only a fraction, will allow us, as math educators, to leverage the web to aid in the planning and implementation of the Common Core. Let's start talking!

*These Wordles contain every word in the Common Core Mathematics Standards, and the size of the word indicates the frequency of its use.