Friday, February 22, 2013

Classroom Learning Community: A Video Overview

At Dunlap Grade School, Continuous Improvement is a journey. Implementation begins with one step and can flourish into increased student engagement, improved student achievement, and student empowerment. The promotion of classroom learning communities comes from empowered staff that embrace teamwork, collaboration and shared leadership. We are finding our greatness at DGS!

Enjoy the video below.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Classroom Learning Communities: Data Binders

Data binders are an essential component of a strong classroom learning community. Whereas classrooms track group data on a data center, individual student learning and goal setting is documented in a student data folder or data binder. When used alone, Data Binders can be meaningful, but when used in conjunction with the other elements of a classroom learning community, student data binders are a powerful piece of the puzzle that connects the student to the learning environment and engages them in their own learning process.

Data binders can take many forms, but the goal is the same: to drive student performance, improvement, and self-awareness. Research has documented that documenting individual student progress can improve student learning over time. Whereas data binders may all appear different, all have similar features. Included in a typical data binder would be the following documents:

1. Copy of Classroom Mission Statement and Ground Rules
2. Student definition of Quality Kid and Quality Teacher
3. Individual student mission statement 
4. Data charts and/or quality tools used to document progress over time
5. Student Reflections

Additional components to consider may include: 
1. Student Plan-Do-Study Act cycles
2. Documentation of progress in special area classes (PE, Art, Music)
3. Grades
4. Photos to document work toward goals 
5. Logs 
6. Agenda/Flow Chart for class meetings
7. Quality Tool Feedback template

The development of a student data binder is an ongoing process. To keep students engaged in monitoring their progress, there must be frequent opportunities for them to demonstrate their growth and chart their progress. As areas of opportunities develop, new or additional tools may be added to the binder. Furthermore, not every student data binder will look the same. Some students may include individual behavior charts, speech or special education data charts, or personal goals developed to assist them to challenge their own learning. The student data binder is really designed to be differentiated and allow for students to perform and progress at a rate that is matched to their needs and learning level.

We have found the Cedar Rapids School District's website:

to be a valuable resource for templates, documents, and samples of data binder information.  You may also find my school blog, The Royal Decree to offer some insights into the continuous improvement implementation at Dunlap Grade. The graphs and charts that students use to monitor their progress can vary from simple bar and line graphs, to radar charts, fishbone diagrams and Pareto diagrams. (click on the links for more information) Below are samples from Dunlap Grade School. These samples detail the ease of organization of a data binder.

The benefits of the data binder are endless, but can be summarized by:
1. Increased student accountability and engagement
2. Clear direction, focus and purpose in learning targets
3. Open Communication with students, parents, and teachers
4. Opportunity to reflect, develop problem solving skills, and goal setting.

Additional Resources you may find helpful:
Data folder resources from University of Iowa
Data for Student Success
Dubuque Schools Data Folders
Beaumont Elementary School

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Classroom Learning Communities: Data Centers

At the forefront of every classroom learning community is it's dashboard to learning, The Data Center. The classroom data center may look like another bulletin board with thematic imagery and letters, but the contents of the data center is what makes the impact on student learning and engagement so powerful.

Data centers in a classroom learning community have differences in design, but at the heart of a strong data center are the following:

1. Established Ground Rules (created by the students and discussed in previous blog posts)
2. Classroom Mission Statement signed by students and teachers
3. Classroom SMART Goals and Quality Tools (the goal and the data that supports progress toward the goal in the form of a chart or graph)
4. Feedback tool (Plus/Delta or other form)
5. What is Quality? A display of responses from students that indicate what a quality student, quality teacher and quality work looks like.

Other data centers may include a classroom plan on a page, district or building level goals, or quality tools related to the PDSA cycle.

I have been in the unique position as a teacher that has implemented continuous improvement components in a classroom as well as a school principal that leads the implementation of this in all areas of the building. As stated before in regards to CI, "No One escapes continuous improvement." This is evident with our transportation department, custodial department, and our food service department as well as our classrooms.

As illustrated below, our food service department has district established goals and norms that were developed collaboratively with leadership from each building. Their goals are proudly displayed in each kitchen. Ask a food service employee, and they can tell you what their goals are and what they are doing to reach those goals. 

As a teacher, one of my first questions would have been, "Where am I able to infuse my professional judgement and creativity into this process?" The truth is, Continuous Improvement is ALL individualized. CI suggests improvement in all areas of the school building. The philosophy does not dictate that those improvements are the same in every sector or classroom and that it needs to look the same way in each area of the building. So what is an opportunity for a first grade class, it may not be for a second grade class. Thus, as long as goals are aligned to building and district goals, there is room for teachers and PLC teams to use data to determine their areas of improvement based on the students and needs in their individual classrooms. 

If you look at the examples below, teachers are still able to put their individual style into a data center, but the hallmarks of a data center are all present.  A few of our teachers also maintain a virtual data center for parents and other stakeholders to interact with. Check one out at Mrs. Pitzer's 2nd Grade

Data centers will only be as effective as the teacher models them to be. It is vital that the data center be a 'living, breathing' part of the classroom. Keeping the data fresh, the information relevant and the students interacting with the board on a regular basis is vital. This can be done in classroom meetings, the feedback form, and teacher modeling. As it serves as the dashboard for improvement in the classroom, students need to know and understand the goals, be able to interpret the data and share that with visitors to the classroom.

Some tips from teachers I have seen are: 
1. Have a student helper job be to update the data center
2. Use the Plus/Delta Feedback form directly on the data center to gain feedback from students
3. Referring to the data center and goals during lessons and class meetings
4. Communicating in newsletters updates to the classroom goals. 
5. Demonstrate alignment by posting district, building, and classroom plans-on-a-page
6. Make it visually appealing and center to the classroom

Below is our Dunlap Grade School Data Center. Placed in the front hallway, all students pass the data center regularly. The data is updated as assessments or data is collected. Updates to students are delivered during morning announcements, on the school website, and on parent communications on facebook and our weekly newsletters. Classrooms achieving building goals are recognized with certificates of achievements that are then displayed on their classroom data centers.

Check out our real time data at: Dunlap Grade School's Data Dashboard


Classroom Learning Communities: SMART Goals

Establishing the remaining components of the classroom learning community relies heavily on this next component: SMART Goals. Establishing goals communicates direction and drives improvement. SMART Goals are created based on baseline data and are then monitored on classroom data centers, in student data folders, during classroom meetings, and discussed at Student Led Conferences.

Our mantra is, "What gets measured, gets done." That is, whatever is most important and valued in our system is what is monitored and tracked. To ensure alignment, the Dunlap Grade School Building Leadership Team met prior to the start of the school year to review our school data to determine areas for improvement or opportunities for improvement. This is done through a review of academic data, perception or survey data, and staff input. Furthermore, these goals are aligned to district level goals to ensure our systematic alginment.

As school goals are created, these are communicated through the school data center, staff meetings, and during PLCs. Grade level and content area PLCs then work with each other and their students to determine classroom and student goals related to the building goals. SMART Goals aren't just arbitrary goals that are written and displayed. The formula that applies to SMART Goals is suggested through its acronym:

S: Specific or Strategic
M: Measurable
A: Attainable
R: Realistic or Reasonsable
T: Time Bound or Timely

The closer the goal gets to the student, the more specific. To cite Dunlap examples,

District: Continuously improve student growth and achievement

Dunlap Grade School: All DGS students will read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension as evidenced by all students meeting grade level targets on bi-weekly reading assessments.

As seen below, students at DGS averaged just 83.3% of students meeting the goal at the start of the year. We are now at 95.7%. This is in large part to a school-wide focus on reading comprehension and reading instruction.

DGS 2nd Grade Classroom (on a classroom data center): All students will score an 85% or above on bi-weekly theme tests by the end of 2nd quarter. These goals are monitored by the whole class and discussed at classroom meetings. Quality tools can be used to review progress, engage students in problem solving, and enhance the critical conversations that need to occur for improvement to take place.

DGS 2nd Grade Student (in a student data binder): I will score an 85% or above on the comprehension component of the theme tests by the end of 2nd quarter.

SMART Goals can be developed to meet any building or district's needs based on data. Additional goals can be developed for social-emotional learning, development of 21st century skills, implementation of curriculum or initiatives, the use of technology, and more. Goals can and should be developed for teacher teams as well as for students. The importance of setting goals is to ensure they are meaningful, measurable, and have built in accountability. AT DGS, we align our 3 building goals to the 5 district goals. Classrooms typically have 2-3 goals they are monitoring continuously. Measuring the "big rocks" and keeping it streamlined can ensure that staff, students, and families can invest in the goals without becoming overwhelmed or confused.

The continuation of this series of blog posts will share insight into how these goals are monitored in classroom data centers, student data folders, at class meetings and in student led conferences.