Teachers returned this week in District 197 to what is affectionately called "Workshop Week." On Monday we kicked off the annual week of training and preparation and called it our "Great District Get Together," using the State Fair as our theme.
Our tradition is for the superintendent to open the event with a few comments. First, I shared some of our most significant improvements in achievement on the 2014 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs):
- Henry Sibley High School increased proficiency rates on the in math by 2%. This is especially noteworthy since last year's math test was a new test, and when a new test is administered there is typically a significant drop in the first year in Minnesota's schools. This totals a 14% increase over the last two years, moving from 44% in 2012 to 58% in 2014.
- Third grade MCA reading proficiency districtwide increased by 5%, compared to a statewide improvement of only 1%.
- Districtwide, 4th grade reading proficiency increased 7% compared to a statewide improvement of 1%.
- Districtwide in grade 7, the proficiency rate in reading increased by 6% over 2013, compared to a statewide improvement of 2%.
- At Moreland, the percentage of proficient readers on the MCAs increased 8% in grade 3 and 7% in grade 4 over the 2013 results.
- At Pilot Knob, there was a 16% improvement in the percentage of 4th graders reaching proficiency in reading compared to 2013, including an 11% increase in the proportion of students reaching the highest level of the MCA. This resulted in a 10% increase in reading schoolwide when combined with the 3rd grade results.
- On the MCAs in Math at Pilot Knob, there was a 20% increase in the proportion of 4th graders reaching the highest levels of the MCA, from 37% in 2013 to 57% in 2014.
Staying with our State Fair theme following the opening address, the professional development that followed was dubbed "Tech on a Stick". The focus was to engage teachers in professional development around integrating technology into classroom instruction. The event was organized as an "un-conference." An un-conference is participant-driven and best utilized when participants have a high level of expertise to share. We have teachers right here in our system that have a high degree of expertise in using technology, and they provided training to our teachers. Teachers selected the topics they wanted to learn more about in their morning together.
It was exciting to see the way in which our teachers embraced this fluid, alternative model for professional development. It was a way to differentiate training for teachers, just like we differentiate learning for students. Positive energy flowed from one session to the next as I went about observing and tweeting on the district Twitter account. What impressed me more than anything was the way teachers scooped up ideas and shared with one another. A domino effect ensued. One learning linked to another, then another, and another, often times from different people in the room. For those less comfortable with technology, the format was perhaps a bit more foreign, but in all cases there were people there to show the way and help alleviate uncertainty.
With technology as our theme for the day, before we broke into our un-conference I shared with staff six things that research shows moves a computer from being a simple replacement for a paper and pencil to a device that transforms the teaching and learning experience.
Contrary to what some people may believe, under the tutelage of a skilled teacher, computers can have a profound impact on student learning when used optimally. Of course, just having a computer in the classroom won't make a difference in and of itself. A computer is a tool. Its value is dependent upon the skill of the teacher and his or her ability to develop the skills of students in using the tool. Drawing from research conducted by John Hattie and published in his groundbreaking study, Visible Learning, I shared six themes that help us understand how computers can be used to maximum effect:
- Theme # 1: Use computers to diversify teaching approaches. When used as a supplement, rather than a replacement of instruction by a teacher, students experience more than one teaching strategy.
- Theme #2: Make sure teachers have adequate training in how to effectively use computers as a teaching tool.
- Theme #3: Computers are especially effective when used for tutorials and opportunities for programming and drill and practice. In fact, they are more effective than traditional teaching when used for this purpose.
- Theme #4: Computers are a particularly effective tool when students are allowed to be in control of the pace of their learning and are given choice in how to learn the material. This is a way in which computers can "differentiate" learning for students based on individual learning styles and readiness. It allows them to have as much practice as needed in order to master the material.
- Theme #5: Working in pairs or small groups is much more effective than working individually or in large groups on the computer in the classroom. Peers work together to solve problems, encourage one another, and persevere in finding the answer.
- Theme #6: The power of computers to provide students with individualized, immediate, and repeated feedback has been proven in the research. This is where I think the potential of the computer is virtually unlimited.
These are compelling reasons for why a computer is such a critical tool in today's classroom. The wealth of new applications and programs to do this has exploded in recent years. Our teachers and students are well on their way to embedding them in the classroom on daily basis. I see this demonstrated over and over again when I visit classrooms. It's hard to imagine turning back the clock to a time when there were a few computers in the corner of a classroom that were used intermittently. That is not the future, nor is it even today. Today's classroom is rich with technology and led by a teacher who is a facilitator rather than a giver of knowledge and information. It's exciting.