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The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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How We Went About Revisiting Our 1-Page Instructional Target
August 21, 2014
Many schools who participate in the Instructional Partners Network develop a one-page instructional target through a powerful collaborative process proposed by Jim Knight. In this recent post in the IPN virtual community (at Ning), Courtney Horton highlighted the steps she and her colleagues took to revisit and revise their target three years after it was first created. We thought we'd share her report, and wonderful pictures, here! – Cathy Gassenheimer

by Courtney Horton

Instructional Partner
Liberty Middle School
Madison City (AL)

Last May, my principal and I decided it was time for a target re-visit. We had used our schoolwide instructional target for 3 years, and realized neither one of us were at the school when it was created. Not to mention, we have added quite a bit of new staff.  

I wanted to share with you our process. We didn't really know if there was a "correct" way to re-visit the target, so we did what worked for us! Hope this helps anyone who is thinking about this next step.  
1. We had our faculty create an affinity map of what good teaching and learning looks like during a faculty meeting. We of course discussed our results.

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We can help our students become 'lifeready' by teaching what is 'lifeworthy'
August 13, 2014
by Cathy Gassenheimer
As your students and you begin a new school year, here’s a question for you to ponder:

What’s worth learning?
Alabama’s College and Career-Ready Standards provide a road map to help you answer that question. The standards challenge teachers and students alike to focus on deeper learning. But, with so many topics, areas, concepts, themes, where should you focus? What are the most important things for children to learn?
This question – what’s worth learning? – lies at the heart of many of my favorite education books, including the just-published Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World (Jossey-Bass/Wiley), written by David Perkins, a senior research professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of Making Learning Whole (2010).
Perkins, who is senior co-director of Harvard's famous Project Zero, begins with an all too familiar story that many teachers experience regularly. A student raises his or her hand and asks: “Why do we need to know this?”
Perkins says the question is one of his least favorites – in fact, he calls it an “uppity question” – and acknowledges that it's often hard to come up with a good and pithy answer. “Because it’s part of the unit goals,” or “Because you’ll need it for the test,” or “Because you’ll need to know it next year” really aren’t satisfactory.
Perkins contends that the question, however uppity, is a good one. In fact, he argues that it is an “uppity version of one of the most important questions in education, a question with only three words: What’s worth learning in school.” (p. 2)Read More
A Successful Summer Program Boosts Achievement & Builds Student Confidence
August 8, 2014
Educators often ask, "How do you prevent summer learning loss for yourself as well as for students?" ABPC consultant and Tarrant educator Beth Sanders joined a team of teachers in "The Brain Forest" this summer to discover not only how to avoid a learning slide but also how to accelerate academic and social-emotional learning through engaging projects and student voice & choice. And as Beth relates here, the teachers did lots of learning too.
by Beth Sanders

Regardless of when the opportunity to grow comes to you, summer or not, if you get the chance to say yes -- you should almost always say yes. After my fourth year of teaching social studies at Tarrant High School in Birmingham, AL, I was feeling the strain of the daily grind like I never had before. So much so, in fact, that I was genuinely considering taking my first summer “off.”
No sooner did I get comfortable with that decision than I received an email from my ever-supportive and door-opening mentor Cathy Gassenheimer, introducing me to Ann Sikes and Meridith Hoover of the Montgomery Education Foundation and their summer learning program The Brain Forest.
MEF was looking for an instructional director for the program, which serves rising 5th and 6th graders. The program would be five weeks long, and was focused on ensuring that the 100 young adolescents involved not only caught up on learning they'd missed during the school year, but also finished the program confident and ready to enter the next grade.
MEF was excited to do things differently. They weren’t afraid to break out of predictable patterns of teaching and learning, and they emphasized that it should be a summer where the adults learned and grew as much as the students.

The learning was designed around the novels Wonder for rising 5th graders and Out of My Mind for rising 6th graders. Both novels are centered around two universal themes: choosing kindness and celebrating differences.
These themes allowed our two grade-alike teaching teams (including Michelle Brewster, Rita Doyle, Jeff Wood, Brandi Douglas, Stan Reese, and Hunter Wolfe) to design projects and learning deeply rooted in character development and social-emotional learning. In the process, students mastered multiple skills and created real world projects to help the learning stick.

To learn more about the Brain Forest program and the outstanding results achieved by students and teachers, just click Read More!
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