Sunday, June 19, 2011

Leaders get up-close view of new math, literacy approaches

Here's the full Prichard press release for last week's showcase...

LOUISVILLE - Teachers from school districts across Kentucky shared what they see as revolutionary new teaching strategies and lessons that will strengthen what students know in math and language arts. What started as a pilot program in nine school districts will soon spread across the state - and to other states as well.

An audience of 225 state education department officials, policymakers, college professors, and leaders of statewide education organizations got a first-hand look at the new wave of classroom teaching and learning strategies on Tuesday (June 14) at a showcase in Louisville. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and organized by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, the event emphasized an approach to math that puts students in the center of problem solving and language arts assignments designed to require deeper thinking and stronger writing in English, science and social studies classes.

Participants worked multi-step math puzzles, looked through real student writing samples, and asked questions to dozens of teachers who have been using new approaches.

"We want to show state leaders what this looks like in the most vivid way possible," said Susan Perkins Weston, a Prichard Committee consultant who is overseeing the work of the Mathematics Design Collaborative group and the Literacy Design Collaborative in Kentucky. Nine school districts across the state are involved in the project, with three of the districts involved in both projects.

Teachers explained how the math program focuses on building students' understanding of math concepts by working through problems, rather than memorizing formulas and plugging them into a page of workbook problems.

"This empowers students to own the work - they think and do the work themselves, building their understanding as they go forward," explained Jenny Barrett, a middle and high school math consultant for the Kenton County schools. She said the district has seen an increase in students' ability to "reason and think mathematically" through the new approach to math.

"This has changed the climate of my classroom," said Stacy Justus, a math teacher at Doss High School in Louisville. The math approach begins with a pre-test to show what students know about a given concept then shows them how to work through the topic. With challenging problems and teacher feedback, students emerge with a stronger handle on what they're expected to learn.

"My students can identify what they know and don't know, and they will tell you that this is constantly pushing them forward," said Justus. "Plus, I know my students a lot better - who's excelling and who needs help. This gives a teacher resources and strategies and a way for students to learn to become a team and accomplish a goal."
Meanwhile, districts in the Literacy Design Collaborative have worked to create "template tasks," or writing prompts that will propel students into deeper thinking and explanation of concepts in science and social studies while building their language arts skills.

Brian Toy, a science teacher at Lafayette High School in Lexington, said the writing tasks developed this year push students to read analytically, synthesize ideas from multiple articles and connect that kind of learning to what they've picked up from classroom lectures or labs. He said the more challenging tasks are the kind of work that will better prepare high school students for college and careers.

"I'm excited to use this because I can see how to use writing to improve content knowledge," added Robin Reid, a social studies teacher at Lafayette High.

Teachers from Daviess County explained how they are moving the approach into middle schools, a growing approach for districts that are part of the pilot effort. In addition to Fayette and Daviess counties, the literacy collaborative has taken root over the past year in Boyle, Jessamine, Kenton and Rockcastle counties as well. The math project, which has been underway for two years, is in Boone, Daviess, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton and Warren counties.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who sat in on showcase sessions, said the project is encouraging. "I got excited because it's about the learning, not the test scores," he said. "The question is how to get this to every teacher in Kentucky."

A recent grant from the Gates Foundation to the state education department will lead to the literacy and math approaches being spread statewide through regional leadership networks created to familiarize teachers and school leaders with the new Common Core Standards. In the coming school year, tools and approaches from the Gates-funded math and literacy programs will become a focus of the state's networks.

Weston said that the showcase provided a way to build a strong understanding about the program as it moves beyond pilot districts.

"This work is going to make a difference across the state and nation," said Stu Silberman, the Fayette County superintendent who is retiring and will become executive director of the Prichard Committee this fall. Indeed, educators from Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana attended the Louisville session to gather ideas as they start similar work. Representatives of national organizations and foundations working with Gates on spreading the approach were also among the 40 out-of-state attendees.

Commissioner Holliday added, "This is focused on college- and career-readiness and the answer to the question every teacher has about getting there: 'How?' "

1 comment:

  1. "Plus, I know my students a lot better - who's excelling and who needs help" from teacher Stacy Justus. In talking with her she said all the math teachers take personal responsibility for the entire junior math class - they are all her kids. Such a fine example of building relationships and advocating for the success of each student - two objectives in the Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle.


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