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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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BOOK REVIEW: Teaching Better with Storylines and Lesson Study
July 20, 2016
By Cathy Gassenheimer
Movie and television directors use it; advertising agencies use it; and now teachers in Japan, and a growing number of teachers in America, are using it too. What’s the “it?”
It's a storyline. For educators, it captures a lesson from beginning to end in a way that is compelling, clear, and provides both students and their teacher(s) with lots of feedback.
For years, I had heard about lesson study as a key practice in Japan. I watched some of the videos that TIMSS researchers Jim Stigler and James Hiebert recorded of teaching in various countries, including Japan, Germany, and the U.S.
But I didn’t discover the concept of a lesson storyline until I picked up a new book titled Teaching Better: Igniting and Sustaining Instructional Improvement, by Brad Ermeling and Genevieve Graff-Ermeling.
The storyline begins with teachers working together to identify what they want the students to know and be able to do at the end of the lesson. This backwards design process becomes quite elaborate as teachers map out a design that is transferred to the chalkboard (most Japanese classrooms still use chalkboards).
In addition to mapping out the lesson, the storyline also “provides a record of problems, solution approaches, and key principles over the course of a lesson (p. 16).” This enables students to see the entire lesson, options for learning, and it can help them trouble-shoot in the case of confusion or misunderstanding.Read More
Transforming the Feedback Process to Accelerate Professional Growth
July 8, 2016
 By Cathy Gassenheimer
Quick, how many of you remember the days when professional learning was known primarily as “inservice training?” If so, you'll also remember:
► This type of inservice consisted mostly of a presenter, an overhead projector, and loads of transparencies full of words that weren't quite big enough for eye comfort.
► The learning style was most often "stand and deliver" – while you were "sittin' and gittin'."
► The only feedback you were asked to provide was through an end-of-session form that asked about the setting, the temperature, and the food.
Hopefully, we’ve come a long way since that type of “training” was the rule rather than the exception. More and more educators now recognize that the most effective professional learning (not training) happens when teachers work side-by-side to perfect their practice. Of course, there is still great value found in learning from people outside your own school or district, but whatever is learned still needs to be put to the test in real situations.
Unless the educator applies his or her new learning and involves colleagues in some deep consideration of the new practice, whatever has been learned will quickly fade. Whether we're classroom teachers or instructional coaches, we all benefit from a collaborative process that results in quality feedback.

Just what is good feedback?

I believe we need to understand more deeply the role feedback can play in transforming professional learning. And we need to add it to our repertoire if it is not already part of what we do.
If you agree, I’ve got a book for you!
Joellen Killion, the senior professional learning advisor to Learning Forward (and ABPC’s external evaluator), has written a new book that ought to populate the shelves of all instructional coaches/partners and those who spend time facilitating professional learning.

Titled The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning, the book offers insights into reinforcing both learning and continuous improvement through a process that helps the learner "construct" feedback by engaging others in observing and critiquing their application of new practices.Read More
Eric Jensen: Why the "Rich Classroom" and "Engagement" Mindsets Are So Important
June 20, 2016
by Cathy Gassenheimer
In my post last week about Eric Jensen’s new book, Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change (Solution Tree, 2016), I summarized the first half of the book (Parts 1 & 2), which addresses the relational mindset and the achievement mindset. I began with Jensen's essential question:
“If students of poverty are different, whose job is it to do the adjusting?”
In this second and final post, I want to share my learnings from parts 3 and 4, which he titles the rich classroom climate mindset and the engagement mindset.

Part Three: Why the Rich Classroom Mindset?

Part three of Jensen’s book is organized into five chapters, addressing these major themes: voice and vision, safe classroom norms, and academic optimism. The beginning and ending chapters in this section provide information about the secrets to the rich classroom climate mindset and strategies for how to “lock in” this mindset.
An important, yet simple take-away for me was Jensen’s differentiation of culture and climate, two terms that are often used interchangeably.
Arguing that there is a clear difference between the two, Jensen defined culture as “what we do” (e.g., behaviors and character) and climate as “how we feel." (p. 110) The connection point, according to Jensen, is when culture “invite[s] reflection on how our behaviors affect us, others, and our school.”
Focusing on both culture and climate is critical to the establishment of a rich classroom climate because doing so invites us to “focus on what students need to succeed, and build that environment every day." (p. 113)
As I read this section, I was reminded that, while most of this information will not be new to most of us, Jensen is inviting us to be very intentional about ensuring its use strategically so that students are engaged every day in learning.Read More
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