Monday, 4 December 2006

Principals' Collegiality at Daylesford

Last week principals of the Mount Alexander Cluster of Schools met at Daylesford for an end of year reflection and setting some plans for 2007. I was involved as educator for the cluster's Innovations and Excellence Initiative and ran a session on evidence-based teaching and learning. The principals group has been meeting as a collegiate for fifteen years and over time a sense of trust has resulted in an openness in sharing school data.

The focus on evidence-based teaching and learning is the result of wanting to improve our students' literacy and numeracy skills. You can ask a teacher if she can identify students in her classes who are learning at a higher level as a result of the teacher's work and if the answer is "yes", the next question is "How do you know?" We can only know if we have evidence and i don't mean anecdotal evidence. I first used this strategy with student readers after reading Aidan Chambers book Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk. If you haven't read it, you should.

At the conference I used the THINK-PAIR-SHARE strategy with cluster principals after they read a paper "An evidence-based approach to teaching and learning" presented by Michele Bruniges at an ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) conference in Melbourne last year.

Teachers are moving along the path of using evidence but in my experience most of the energy so far is in looking at results and comparing them with past years' results or state-wide results. The important development I think is what do you do with the data? It should lead to identifying weaknesses in the students responses, agreeing on strategies for improvement, having a go at teaching the strategies and then seeing if there is an improvement.

Mike Schmoker argues that there is a way for this to happen by focused structured teacher collaboration:

This simple, powerful structure starts with a group of teachers who meetregularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning, developcommon formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, setachievement goals and then share and create lessons to improve upon thoselevels.

Picture these teams of teachers implementing these new lessons,continuously assessing their results and then adjusting their lessons in lightof those results. Importantly, there must be an expectation this collaborativeeffort will produce ongoing improvement - and gains in achievement.

If there is anything that the research community agrees on, it is this: theright kind of continuous, structured teacher collaboration improves the qualityof teaching and pays big, often immediate, dividends in student learning andprofessional morale in virtually any setting. Our experience with schools acrossthe nation bears this out unequivocally.... Mere collegiality won't cut it. Even discussions about curricularissues or popular strategies can feel good but go nowhere. the right image toembrace is of a group of teachers who meet regularly to share, refine andasssess the impact of lessons and strategies to help increasing numbers ofstudents learn at higher levels.

This is the direction we are going. Early next February the collegiate is meeting to develop a plan for improving our approach in improving teaching and learning through the effective use of data.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Anne Tyler and writing

The blogosphere has lots of posts about writing and in fiction editor Margo Rabb grabbed the chance to ask Anne Tyler about her work, her approach to her craft, and, in particular, her latest novel, Digging to America. The last sentence in this extract will resonate with many of you:

You have said that you go through a "refilling" stage after finishing a novel - how long does this stage generally last? Once you return to work, how do you start -- by outlining, drawing up character histories, or jumping right into writing?How many hours do you write each day?

I spend about a year between novels. My decision to start a new one is just that, a decision, since I never get inspirations. I'll say, "It's time I stopped lolling about. I'd better think something up." Then for a month or so I'll jot down desperate possibilities. "Maybe I could write about who does such-and -such. Or wait: I think I already did that. Well, then maybe about about that woman I saw in the grocery the other day. What was she up to, exactly? what might her story have been?"

Eventually, one of these possibilities will start flowering in my mind, and I'll manufacture what's initially a very trumped-up,artificial plot. I'll write maybe one long paragraph describing the events, then a page or two breaking the events into chapters, and then reams of pages delving into my characters. After that, I'm ready to begin.

My writing day has grown shorter as I've aged, although it seems to produce the same number of pages. At most I'll spend three or four hours daily, sometimes less. The ironclad rule is that I have to try. I have to walk into my writing room and pick up my pen every weekday morning. If I waited till I felt like writing, I'd never write at all.

You can check out the full interview at