Authentic Learning

I was sharing with a teacher the other day as we reflected on a lesson of the advantage that as a lead learner and leader how I have the opportunity to visit all classrooms at East Side and see the progression of learning.  The discussion ensued about how it is fantastic to see students grow as learners, simply starting to turn to their shoulder buddy in a PreK classroom and talk about a question posed, to watch a 5th grade classroom simply go into a cooperative group, easily, to discuss characteristics of a novel such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardwrobe.  This isn’t just something that comes with osmosis, but is careful, systematic teaching and modeling that you all do throughout the years to get our students to this level of cooperative learninng, dialogue and discussion as you use protocols for inquiry.

It hasn’t always been this way.  Remember times of the end of the unit test, the memorization.  There are times when we do need to do this, but do we need to do it all of the time?  Gone are the days of the teacher led lecture, when the teacher is the ONLY voice and memorization of facts was the only method.  How boring is that?  Larissa Pahomov, the author of Authentic Learning in the Digital Age states that “When we ask students to memorize content that they are never going to apply to a task, they quickly forget it.  Why base education on a rudimentary skill?”  Think about it.  What would it be like to have students be able to  have authentic learning with inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection?  Where the teacher takes the role of the facilator and guide on the side rather than “sage on the stage.”  This is a total shift in mindset of how school run.  (Larissa Pahomov and the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA created this type of High School.  It’s a movement that is taking off in various areas.)

In the elementary grades, we need to set the foundational skills for our students, but this doesn’t mean we ignore fostering inquiry, project based learning, wonder, and imagination.  We cannot ignore what is happening in their world, like the blending of technology into the curriculum or project based learning activities.  But you say, “Vicki, we can’t do it because we are so tied to the common core curriculum, the modules, the SuperKids curriculum.  We are worried about our test scores.  We don’t have the time.  We are stressed.”  Yes, yes, and yes.  But, if we know what is right for kids, then we will figure out how to teach this in a way that will be not a “cookie cutter” approach.  Know the essential questions for learning, identify what students need to learn, build a flexible framework for assessment, and model inquiry on a daily basis.  Also, check out Larissa’s first chapter here.  It is geared to secondary, but we can glimpse into what our students SHOULD experience as high school students and where we need to get them to so they can be productive students and citizens!  Have a great week.


Other News

  • Bus Duty for Dec 8- Dec 19:  Team 8:  Jennifer Prevost, Marci Woods, Gina Caldwell Upcoming bus duty: Jan 5 – Jan 16 Team 9:  Jessica Serviss, Teresa Kiechle, Brandi LaRue, Denise Croasedaile
  • We will be sending out the 2015-2016 Budget Memo this week.  Please be congizant of spending next year.  Thank you!
  • Thank you Paula again for opening your house for our staff party!
  • There is a staff meeting this Thursday at 7:30a.m.
  • For teachers who received my email about the second walk through evaluation, please make sure you schedule a time with Mrs. Sheen on my calendar before the break.  Thank you for your help!
  • The Sheriffs Department will be here December 15th and 16th to get our students their picture id’s for the Operation Safe Child id’s for your planning purposes.
  • I have been published in my professional organization’s SAANYS Vanguard journal here about being a Lead Learner.  It is a reflection of our building and the East Side staff!  You ALL make me that much better!
  • What are the five things you are grateful for?  Make a list daily.  It does wonders!
  • Be the change agent for kids!  Be a champion for kids.  Every kid deserves a champion!   Just do right!

Other Items of Interest (Read at your leisure!)

  • Although more accurately called active participation techniquesrather than student engagement strategies, this list includes good suggestions, nonetheless.
  • Although it is unclear whether New York will adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, these sample assessment tasks can suggest a direction for science, nonetheless. There’s a lot to them.
  • The Upstate Cancer Center has a head and neck cancer awareness campaign going on now, through education and art. This explanation includes resources for learning about it.
  • The title of this post, “Investigating Authentic Questions,” doesn’t do it justice. There are many suggestions and resources here related to the goal of inquiry.
  • Here are some perspectives about Project-Based Learning, from students and from parents.
  • Not only is Project-Based Learning effective at the elementary level, it can also close achievement gaps. This paper describes a second-grade social studies PBL approach.
  • This list provides ten great reasons for Project-Based Learning (in plain, compelling language).
  • Grant Wiggins has some concerns about NY’s 8th grade math test… big concerns about the questions and their alignment with the Common Core, as well as with their construction. You can read about it here.
  • Don’t forget that students can’t learn from books that they can’t read, says Richard Allington. This points out the need for scaffolding and other supports.
  • Mike Mattos told us that most schools don’t have a Tier 2 or Tier 3 problem; they have a what-we-do-all-day-long problem. Asking (and investigating) these questions can help us develop a better system of RTI and for “all-day-long.”
  • The essential characteristics of a Professional Learning Community (PLC), explained in this infographic, will help you to build common understanding about just what it means to be a PLC.
  • The four questions of a PLC have been translated into student-centered language.
  • This Ignite! Session points out some common decisions in math classes that we never think about… but should. Annie Fetter points out the hazards of being “All what, no why.” By the way, many of these things apply to all classrooms, not just math! Cliques are stronger at some schools that at others. Size matters, according to this research. Tracking matters, too.
  • Watch the story of one schools’ implementation of technology in the classroom as part of a bigger shift toward a collaborative future (and away from traditional silos).

 A Touch of Humor

Check out this Zazzle product!

Hope and Dreams

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Friday night, Scott and I walked the hallways at East Side.  It is a tradition he likes to do because he wants to see the work kids are doing in our schools.  You have to realize, my husband is a business owner in our community.  He treats patients, talks with parents about education, as well as hires GCSD graduates.  He is curious with what we do in our schools and wants to know how we educate our kids.

As we walked the halls, he was fascinated with the Hope and Dreams posted throughout the school.  Not only did he read the Hopes and Dreams of our kids, but also of their parents.  It was evident that the majority of our parents Hopes and Dreams where for their child to have a great and successful education.  What he noticed at the 1st and 2nd grade level is that there was a common thread from parents that they wanted their child to be able to read.  We always have heady discussions, why are our kids falling and failing, why kids are dropping out, why can’t our kids take advantage of what our country offers, you know, talk about the world and try to fix it.  It’s a moral purpose we both have in common and he likes to debate.  I get frustrated.  Ah, Sunday’s.  But, he makes me think …….  why???

So this brings me to where we sit as a district in our reading scores and why we need to look at what we have been doing.  There is a problem.  Last year, our district ranked 14th out of 18th in the county in 3rd grade ELA scores.  Not impressive in any of our eyes and below the hopes and dreams of the expectation of our parents.  So we are addressing this problem.  Sometimes, when a house settles, you have to build down to strengthen the foundation to prevent further settling.

In our school, we assessed our incoming 3rd graders using the Scholastic Phonics Inventory and we still have weaknesses in foundational skills.  It’s time to think about building down.  This is why we have implemented programs such as SuperKids, provided LLI kit training, working on a prescriptive RTI model, changed schedules, among other strategies.  It’s part of building down to provide a stronger foundation.

We’ve all heard, “I’m a good teacher, I get results.”  Yet the results we got in years past may not be relevant in these times.  And to remind all of you, this is in no way criticizing how hard everyone is working and what you are trying to do.  It is not pointing fingers at our PreK-2 teachers! Not at all!!  It is questioning the philosophy of teaching reading and writing in the era that we are in.

Maybe Tim Shanahan is on to something when he questions Common Core vs Guided Reading here,  here, here and here.  Maybe Dick Allington is on to something here with reading moves in the misuse of oral reading and questioning techniques.  I don’t know, but what I do know is that we have to have those hard conversations, be critical in what we do and do what is right for our kids.  Change is hard.  As a staff, let’s work together to have those hard dialogues and discussions. Let’s work together to move forward, as well as monitor and adjust and build the foundation.  Let’s work as grade level teams both horizontally and vertically to have those conversations with knowing where kids are, to where they need to go.  We need to be smarter and work in Professional Learning Communities and Networks to share strategies and build our professional capital and capacity.  We are educators, we can do this.  It WILL get messy, but that is what it’s about – hard conversations, using the tools that we have to assess and monitor and adjust as well as sharing good, reflective practices.  It takes all of us to do this!

So the question is – “Is what we did in the past working for us now in the present?”   Can we meet the hopes and dreams of our parents?  I think we can!  Have a great week!



Other News

  • Just a reminder that there is an East Side Staff Meeting on Monday, October 6th at 7:30a.m.  We will meet for some announcements, and then split out.
  • Bus Duty for Oct 6- Oct 17 Team 3:  Erin Gates, Beth Siebels, Gina Taylor Pat Williams.  Upcoming bus duty: Oct 20 – Oct 31:  Team 4:  Steph Plaisted, Brooke Crump, Kim Johnson.
  • Thank you Brenda for setting up and bringing in Kalli Dakos.  Great engagement in our kids.
  • Wow where did September go?
  • I will not be creating a Monday Focus for next week.  Please make sure you are checking the announcements as well as your emails!
  • What are the five things you are grateful for?  Make a list daily.  It does wonders!
  • Be the change agent for kids!  Be a champion for kids.  Every kid deserves a champion!


Other Items of Interest

These are the qualities of effective mentor teachers, from the perspective of a mentee.This article is a short and sweet, no-nonsense explanation of the Common Core math standards. It is something that you could share with parents.If you know anyone who requires reading logs from students, this description of one teacher’s experience might prompt a rethinking of making reading an assignment that earns credit.Watch Howard Gardner [briefly] explain the work he’s been doing about the brain and learning. The multiple intelligences are here, but he incorporates the idea of “grit,” too. These things are mutually dependent.In this talk by Tony Wagner, he explains how our system of education needs re-invention rather than reforming. What you know is no longer a competitive advantage – it is what you can do. Schools have to organize around this reality.Research about students in schools/networks that are part of the “Deeper Learning Community,” which includes the New Tech Network, points to the effectiveness of a comprehensive, future-focused approach to schooling.Our educational system is designed for the average student – yet there is no such thing as the average student. This video makes the point that averages are inappropriate for use in schools.This graphic demonstrates the overlap between the Common Core (ELA and math) and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Which kind of meetings do you prefer? How about the “let’s get things accomplished” kind of meeting?

Quick tip: Type “timer” into a Google search and you get a timer instantly? Very handy!

You can learn about the mindsets of your students in just ten minutes with this survey tool. Not only will it tell you about your students, it will also tell you about the culture of your class.

This collection of research about the Common Core is organized thematically.

This website has all sorts of free resources about Central America — a typically neglected part of the study of the western hemisphere in our 5th grade classrooms.

One way to engage students in the study of the US Constitution is the writing of a school constitution. This article describes one such undertaking and its benefits.

As you’d expect, @larryferlazzo has a resource page for learning about Ebola.

A Touch of Humor



True Grit


Saturday was an interesting day for me.  I had some evaluations to write, tweeted during some chats, and followed the Bammy awards.  (Don’t know what the Bammys are, click on the link.  Many of my friends won on Saturday!I took a break, and on PBS, the TED Talks for Education was on, the same one that Rita Pierson gave her “every kid needs a champion” speech that I showed you.

One of the speakers was Angela Lee Duckworth and it was about grit.  What is grit?  Duckworth states that grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.  Grit is having stamina.  Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality.  Grit is living life like it’s a  marathon, not a sprint.

Duckworth studied grit in the Chicago public schools.  She found out that grittier kids had more potential to get into college and significantly more likely to graduate.  One of the shocking things she stated about grit is how little we know about it, what is the science behind it and how do we build it in our kids.  Folks ask her and she doesn’t have the answer.  But she stated that talent doesn’t make you gritty.

During the talk, Duckworth brings up the work of Carol Dweck and her book Mindset.  Dweck talks about a growth mindset.  It is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed.  That it can change with your effort.  It is a belief that failure is not a permanent condition and students persevere when they fail because they feel failure is not a permanent condition

Growth mindset is a great idea, but Duckworth says we need more.  It’s a start and we need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuitions and test them and be willing to fail to   Duckworth said, “In other words, we need to be gritty to get our kids more grittier.”  The research is still going strong.  Check out Carol Dweck’s book Mindset on amazon.com.  It is worth the read.  Check out my friend Larry Ferlazzo’s blog about grit.  I thought it was interesting to share this with you.  Something different to think about than Common Core and standardized testing.  Enjoy and have a great week!


  • Bus Duty for Sept 23- Oct 4 Team 2: M. Backus, P. Mahay, B. Gauthier.  Upcoming bus duty.  Team 3:  Jessica Serviss, Teresa Kiechle
  • Oct 2nd we have a BEDS meeting in the library @ 2:45pm.  Please bring a #2 pencil.
  • SLO/LLO are due October 4th on the eDoctrina system.
  • Our Open House is this Wednesday, September 25th.
  • A great article from Responsive Classroom on “Teach Effectively”
  • My friend Peter DeWitt writes about the NYSED and how public is the public school system.  A must read.
  • Crickets are driving me CRAZY in my house!  🙂
  • I am continuing with walk through evaluations and will visit with you all soon.  Look for emails for my announced visit.
  • Please make sure you complete the math manipulatives order sheet that Mrs. Bushey sent to all classroom teachers.  These are materials that are needed to teach ALL of the math modules.  They have been collated so you do not have to “research” and look through the modules to see what you need.  



  • Please check the East Side Announcement page for updated dates, announcements etc.  Lisa is updating this continually!  http://gouverneurcentralschool.org/esannounce/
  • What are the five things you are grateful for?  Make a list daily.  It does wonders!
  • Be the change agent for kids!  Be a champion for kids.  Every kid deserves a champion!


Other Items of Interest:

This post is directed atfirst-year teachers. And, here’s a list of 10 things for new teachers.

One of the parent’s from Sandy Hook wrote a back-to-school letter to teachers. She says: “Walk with courage, with faith, and with love. And don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry.”

It’s not too late to provide feedback about the Next Generation Science Standards to SED. You have until October 15th to take the survey.

This collection of resources includes dozens of sources of inspiration for Project Based Learning project ideas.

This post provides some background about school lunches. It includes some common facts as well as a context for districts concerns about the revised guidelines and impact on school lunch volume.

What makes planning for teaching and learning in a Common Core, standards-based environment differentStandards-based planning is what effective and highly-effective teachers do. This course provides a comprehensive experience for teachers of all subjects at all levels.

Tony Wagner wrote this in 2003, but it might be more poignant now: “Beyond Testing.”
Principals image
October is National Principals Month.

A Touch of Humor

Sound familiar?

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