Monday, October 16, 2006

Collaborative Teaching Catching On

Last week the Couant reported on a Bristol school that's improving it's teaching effectiveness by having teachers share and complement each other's efforts. Those of us in software engineering know that bad data can poison any well-intentioned set of statistics or number crunching activity and we know from the fraudulent Bush claims about schools how numbers can be used to obfuscate reality so I always read this stuff carefully.

The schools the Courant talks about seem to be getting it right! Not only are they getting it right but the world is moving in the direction of gestalt thinking activities. Education will soon become less about what any individual knows than what an individual can contribute to larger problem solving.

Check it out.

Teaching Strategy Yields Results - Student Data Analysis Paying Off In Bristol by LORETTA WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer.

This year, 61 percent of the elementary students at O'Connell scored at or above the "proficient" level on the Connecticut Mastery Test, enough to make the school the first public school in the state to pull itself out of the "needs improvement" category. At Central, 72 percent of the sophomores taking the Connecticut Academic Performance Test scored in the proficient range in math - 3 percent more than the number required under NCLB.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," Wasta said. "It's an affirmation of the work we've been doing."

The technique, pioneered by districts in Norfolk, Va., Milwaukee and Indianapolis, took hold in Bristol about seven years ago. The interest grew out of work that administrators at the time were doing with Doug Reeves, the founder of a Colorado-based educational consulting firm specializing in student achievement and accountability.

For the last three years, teachers and administrators have been meeting regularly in an assortment of teams where they compare notes and calibrate instruction based on standardized test scores and other measures of how well students are learning.

If a trend stands out - for example, fourth-grade boys falling short of the goal in math - teachers try to come up with a common strategy and adjust instruction for that grade level. Administrative teams sift through data on the department, building or districtwide level to deal with broader problems.

That may sound simple, but getting educators to actually do it has been a challenge.

"Education is not a culture of collaboration. It's a culture of isolation. `Give me my kids, close the door and let me do my thing,'" Wasta said. "That's enough when you expect some of the kids to succeed. When you expect all the kids to succeed, it's not."

Veteran teachers, hardened by one educational fad after another, were the hardest to convince.

"Little by little, success by success, you don't see that so much anymore," Wasta said. "But it took three years to see those little islands of success."

Those little islands also caught the attention of state school officials, who studied Bristol's use of the technique before adopting it as a statewide model. Training is now being offered to all school districts in the state by the Department of Education.

Wasta and other Bristol school officials have either visited or been visited by district leaders from Southington, East Hartford, Vernon, Bloomfield, Region 10 and elsewhere. Bristol officials also have hosted two out-of-state delegations eager to learn how the approach works. Denise Carabetta, the district's director of teaching and learning, is at work on a book being published by an arm of Reeves' firm, expected to be released next year.

"Bristol has been wonderful in the way they have shared their lessons learned," said Nancy Stark, the manager of the school improvement unit of the state Department of Education. "Now we have many districts involved in this initiative."

"Most school districts are doing it in one form or another," said Michael Frechette, the superintendent of schools in Middletown, where disappointing results on last year's mastery test triggered a wave of data-mining and soul searching. "If kids aren't learning, then we need to change what we're doing. And if we don't change what we're doing, we'll continue to get the same results."

"It's not a script, it's an approach," Rabinowitz said. "An approach that advises you how to look at data, but it doesn't say all of you have to do it this way and get these results. Where Bristol has excelled is tailoring it to their own particular needs, but the beauty is that it can be done in urban, suburban or rural districts."
I would love to see this adopted at the elementary schools for math and reading where such an approach would be most effective in those areas (pre-fourth grade).

No comments: