PLC: Readings

Week One:

Theory Into Practice, pg 281-290
Professional Learning Communities: Teachers, Knowledge, and Knowing
Diane R. Wood

Canadian Journal of Education 32, (2009) pg 149-171
Who is the "Professional" in a Professional Learning Community? An Exploration of Teacher Professionalism in Collaborative Professional Development Settings
Laura Servage

Professional Learning Communities and Communities of Practice: A Comparison of Models, Literature Review
Selena S. Blankenship and Wendy E.A. Ruona

Week 2:

The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, Winter 2010 pg 10-17
Professional Learning Communities: Overcoming the Roadblocks
Nan Lujan and Barbara Day

California Schools, Spring 2010, pg 4-9
Professional Learning Communities Allow a Transformational Culture to Take Root
Kristi Garrett

Reframing Organizations pg 240-269
Ch 12 Organizational Culture and Symbols
Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal

Week 3:

Academic Leadership Volume 8, Issue 2 Spring 2010 pg 1-7

Continuous Inquiry Meets Continued Critique: The Professional Learning Community In Practice And The Resistance Of (Un)willing Participants
Youness Elbousty, Kirstin Bratt

Teachers College Record, Volume 112, Number 1, January 2010, pg 182-224
Learning From Success as Leverage for a Professional Learning Community: Exploring an Alternative Perspective of School Improvement Process
Chen Schechter

Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, v83 n5 p175-17
Leading Deep Conversations in Collaborative Inquiry Groups
Tamara Holmlund Nelson; Angie Deuel; David Slavit; Anne Kennedy

Professional learning community


Point Slope and Slope Practice

I've been trying to come up with more ideas where students solve problems with more than one step as well as a way for them to self-check and kind of monitor their own progress.

And now I would like to share them with you. :)

First of all, index cards are a teacher's best friend.

Second of all, I'm finishing up (*fingers crossed*) my linear equations unit and I used basically the same idea to practice two different concepts.

My first idea was to make two sets of cards, one with point-slope form equations and the other set with the same equations but in slope-intercept form.

The point was that the students with slope-intercept form cards would graph their equations on their handy dandy whiteboards. Then the other students who have point-slope form equations would solve them for slope-intercept form and then go find the student who has the matching graph.

The bad part of this idea was...I never actually did it. But aren't my cards pretty? =)

Idea number two was much better and actually implemented.

I took one set of cards and wrote two ordered pairs on the front.

Students were in partners. The first partner uses the slope formula and finds the slope between the two points. I wrote the answer on the back so tiny that they wouldn't see it through the card. The second partner flips the card over to make sure they have the correct slope.

If not, they go back and look for the mistake. If they are correct, the second partner now takes one of the points and the slope and writes the equation in point-slope form. Then, they solve the equation for slope-intercept form.

I had all the cards (there were more than this) laid out and the pair had to come up and find their equation.

If they couldn't find it, then they knew their equation was wrong (since they had already checked the slope).  And, from looking at the equations and their slope, they could usually pick out what their equation should be and that helped them to find their mistake.

Once students thought they had the matching pair, they flipped both cards over. In the top left hand corner I had written a tiny capital letter on each set. If the cards matched, students knew they were correct.

I gave them a new card of ordered pairs and the partners repeated the process, switching roles each time.

I hope this doesn't sound too complicated. It was somewhat confusing at first but after the first set of cards, students knew what to do. Of course, I was there to help them correct mistakes but my biggest job was to make sure students weren't just finding the letter and then searching for the right card. I kind of played gateway to the cards and made them tell me their equation or show me their work before getting to choose a card.  Like any other activity, teachers need to circulate the room, check and correct.

If this doesn't work for you, I hope it triggered some other idea of how to use index cards, get students up and moving around, or just to break up the monotony of your routines.


PLC: Week Two

A mission statement is why we're here and a vision statement says where we'd like to be. It's our driving force. We should own it. It should be simple, realistic, and straightforward.

Organizational culture: 'how we do things here'.

We need leaders to craft space for teachers.

We need self-observation as well as pure observations.

We need infrastructure for PLC type of learning.

Results on one test don't tell you everything you need to know, but it does tell you something.

What are you taking away from collaboration? Do you want collaboration? Are you comfortable with observations?

Are we really willing to commit to everyday, continuous improvement?

PLC: Week One

PLC: We plan and implement common assessments, review data, and analyze individual student learning. Every student matters. We come together to decide what should be taught, how it should be taught, and how to achieve mastery.

PLCs can't exist without an organizational structure.

PLCs ask, what can we do about students who are not learning? How can we work together to find solutions?

All assessments give us more pieces of the puzzle of student learning. Everything is informative.

PLCs are:
  • a form of job embedded professional development
  • a formal title of what some schools already do through mentoring/collaboration
  • collegial professional learning. We need people to work and talk with. We want to find out what other people are doing.
  •  interactive learning as opposed to the "sit and get"
  •  learning by doing
  •  a variety of contact: face to face or online
  • results oriented; want to know the 'what' as opposed to the 'how'

PLC: The Start of Something New

Thanks to our school improvement grant, 20 teachers from my school have the opportunity to take a graduate level course for free. We are partnering with a local university and hoping that it will smoothly transition into a cohort where we can earn our master's degree in teacher leadership. So far, this is our pilot class and the instructor comes to us on Monday night from 3:15 to 5:45. The class is called Professional Learning Communities and Curriculum and the university developed it specifically for our school. If it  goes well, they plan to implement it into their regular program.

Our first class was January 24th. I plan to post some notes that I'm keeping from each session. We've also been given some readings and if you are interested in what those are, please comment and I'll try to post titles/authors.

The 20 of us have been broken down into smaller groups to try to simulate a real PLC type setting. Our first assignment has been working together to develop a PLC readiness survey that we will give to other teachers in our school who are not taking the class. To me, it seems pointless because regardless of whether we are ready or not, we're doing it.

We've started meeting on Wednesday mornings from 7:15 to 8:00 based on content area. We started the first week by discussing norms. The meetings are not mandatory this year and we are being paid for each meeting that we attend.  So norms were kind of hard to decide since technically, we don't have to show up.  Next year we are going to eight periods so that we can have built in collaboration time which will then be mandatory.

But anyway, I think it's going to be super hard to have PLCs when we don't have any common classes. I am the only algebra and geometry teacher. Every teacher is the only teacher. How are we supposed to collaborate? How do we create common assessments? Yes, we can implement strategies and games and lesson formats, but somehow I think we are missing the point. We are the first small school in Illinois to try this and we are supposed to be setting the example for other small schools. We are pioneers and the terrain is tough!

Yesterday was our monthly in-service and we talked about exciting things such as exit exams for every course, student portfolios that show mastery of every required standard (basically a sbg report card!), aligning curriculum K-12, and implementing grade level vocabulary standards.

I think we are doing everything I want to do but I get frustrated because there is no manual on how to do this.

I can't wait to get started!


How We ACT Test Prep

Last year, 15% of our juniors met the math requirement on the PSAE. Our goal for this year is 45%.  We have 20 juniors.

Um, yeah.

I only have 8 juniors. I teach Algebra 1 and Geometry so basically, my juniors are already behind.

This year my school won a School Improvement grant with a LOTTTTTT of money and some instructional coaches. We are looking for a good systematic way to turn our school around and improve math scores and student learning. But for now, we are in triage.

We have a built in zero periods where students are separated by grade level. So all juniors are together and they start out the year on the WIN computer program which simulates the WorkKeys portion of the ACT. Students take a pre-test to assess their level 1-7 and then do short lessons on their weakest topics to hopefully move them up to level 7. It is very dry, boring, and wordy. After that, the Juniors have been working out of the PSAE Coach books. They also worked on reading analyzing graphs, a weak point for us, but I'm not sure what resources they used for that. 

As of late, our math instructional coach took the top 7 students and very informally trained them on peer tutoring. They were then paired with the next 7 students. Right there, we've taken care of 14 out of the 20 students in class. The lowest 6 are then left for the teachers and instructional coach to pull out individually.

Our online grade book/assessment system is STI Information Now. While it has it's share of problems and bugs, the company has been working with us to write formative quizzes. They started out writing quizzes with 36 questions or more on them but we said that cannot work. Our students are already on burn out mode. So they dropped them down to 12. Each week we have an ACT Focus. The students are taught short lessons each day and then on Fridays, they are given the 12 question test. They see their scores on Monday, and students who score below 70% are pulled out individually by the instructional coach for remediation.

This method is working (I suppose) for now, but what happens when the instructional coach is no longer there? You guessed it. Something else for the math teacher to do. There's only 2 of us.

So what are teachers in the classroom actually doing to help boost scores? Teachers in all subject areas are given the weekly focus and some sample questions. The hope is that there will be a natural fit within the curriculum somewhere. I could not even tell you how that is going. All I know is that most teachers were using the literal sample questions and kids were seeing the same questions multiple times a week. Which may or may not be a bad thing. When I talked to the coach, it was communicated that the intention was not for them to literally use the sample questions but to use those as a guide. I responded with the seemingly obvious fact that if we knew how / were good at writing ACT questions, wouldn't be doing that already? Or working for ACT? To me, not the best plan of attack. I have scoured the internet for ACT practice test and I have a few books but here is a collection of what I've found. It isn't much.

For students in algebra and geometry, the principal looked at their previous PLAN and EXPLORE scores and using those, placed students who did not meet into an extra math class. The same was done for reading such that some students have all academic classes and no electives. We started out the year using Kuta worksheets to focus on specific skills. But that was really boring and I'm not sure how effective. We moved to the computer program ALEKS so that students could work at their own pace. A lot of students goof off and waste time doing other things. It's hard for me to monitor because every student could potentially be working on something different. That means I have to help on an individual basis instead of stopping the whole class and re-teaching one concept. So of course while I am helping one, the rest will be easily distracted. I started grading them by giving them participation points depending on how much time spent on a daily basis, but...they don't really care.

Other than that, we were doing Progress Checks each week (included in the collection) but there was more misunderstanding there. I wasn't teaching those concepts so what was the point of checking their progress? That kind of fell to the wayside.

The other thing that I know I have been doing is trying to kick my questions and assessments up a notch. In one of our SIP days, we talked about DoK levels and how most of our assessments are review and recall. I have been working to write questions and assessments that are multi-step. Students may have to solve, plug in, solve again, etc. In geometry, I'm always looking to incorporate and review algebra skills. I've been trying to get my students used to reading the question and answering what the question is asking instead of choosing the first number that they see in their work.

My most recent attempt is to incorporate ACT questions on my daily bell ringers. That way at least I know they are being exposed to the questions, the wording, the concepts.

Next up our (baby version) math instructional team is looking at this ACT curriculum review document to help align when and where each ACT standard is being taught. We hope to re-align from K-12 to make sure there are no missing gaps as well as come up with required grade level vocabulary.

In the future, we are thinking about exit exams for every grade....but that's for another post.

How does your school test prep?


Bell Ringers

Totally not a new idea.

But new to me.

My ideal scenario is that someone would create a large bank of ACT and WorkKeys questions that are arranged by concept, not score range. Then I could easily pick questions that review or preview our lessons and the students would probably not even notice that we were reviewing ACT material. Our juniors are way burnt out on ACT stuff. We only have 20 in the entire junior class. That's small, even for our small school . The math coach has been pulling individual students out and based on previous test scores, offering remediation. But, our coaches are only available foe the three year grant and we need a more sustainable program.


I decided to start doing bell ringers. I put two ACT questions and 2-3 review/preview problems from the current lesson. They are super easy to make. I make one for Algebra and Geometry in less than 5 minutes. I have them in a gray basket by the door. I told the students they are called bell ringers because when the bell rings, that's what they should be doing. I start the timer for 4 minutes and tell them to work on their own without talking. While they are doing that, I go around and check their homework as well as stamp their magical homework pass.

When the timer goes off, I tell them to check with their teammates to see if they got similar answers. Then I start with number one and ask how many people have an answer. I wait until at least half the class raises their hand. Then I ask them to tell me how they thought about it or solved it without telling me the answer. They have been really good about explaining what they are thinking and sometimes even why. I think that is the most beneficial part.

I've never mentioned ACT. I guess that they've noticed that the questions are multiple choice though. lol My hopes are that since I time them and make them not talk, it's a tiny bit similar to the real testing environment.  I have students keep their bell ringers all week and I collect the five on Friday. The date is included in the title so that I can easily make sure they are the right ones. If they have all five, on Monday they get an extra stamp on their magical homework pass. If they were absent or on a trip, sorry Charlie, no dice. I'm proud of myself for making that decision and sticking with it. Maybe it will be an incentive to actually show up.

I think that students are more willing to try and explain their thinking because it's not a grade so no harm done. I wanted homework to be that way but they aren't willing to do that for nothing. So I guess it's a trade off. I grade their homework so that they will do it and they are willing to try bell ringers because I don't. Anything for a stamp!

Algebra Bell Ringers
Geometry Bell Ringers