Sunday, November 27, 2016

Developing a Common Instructional Language

Common Language
Creating a common language of instruction allows for a more consistent, effective, and efficient communication within a school district.  When language is consistent, it allows for one teacher to easily communicate ideas to another teacher.  Consistency of language leads to more effective communication and a more common understanding of why we do what we do.

Many teachers in Fremont Public Schools practice gradual release.  Gradual release is the idea that you begin a lesson with "I do," where the teacher does most of the work. The teacher explains or  models a strategy, concept, or idea.  The lesson then moves to "we do," where the instruction now focuses on shared instruction and guided practice.  Finally the lesson moves on to "you do," where the students do most of the work and practice independently.  I will go more into depth with Gradual Release of Instruction in a later post.  For the sake of this post, I use gradual release simply as an example.  This is a concept many teachers understand.  However, if we don't create a common language of instruction, teachers may have many names and many different understandings of the purpose of gradual release.  By defining this model of instruction as gradual release, we create a clearer definition of the model and create a more efficient and effective communication between educators.  Now teachers can have more clear and concise discussions with their grade level in their building and across the district.

Origins of the Playbook
Fremont Public Schools went through an exploration of an instructional model in 2016.  This produced what we now refer to as the "Fremont Public Schools Instructional Playbook."  This playbook is built upon the design questions from "The Art and Science of Teaching" by Robert Marzano (2007).  The playbook supports educators in selecting the best research based strategy to increase student outcomes.  Choosing the strategy best for students at a specific time is more of an art than a science.  However, much research has been done about the effectiveness of strategies and therefore, within this playbook, each strategy is correlated with the effect that strategy has on student learning.  Below is an example from the playbook:

Provide Clear Learning Goals and Scales
Effect on Student Learning
Create and Communicate Measurable and Student-Friendly Learning Goals
Learning goals are written, verbally communicated, or drawn with pictures in a way that all students can understand.

The teacher clarifies learning goals that state what students will know or be able to do at the end of a lesson, unit, or semester.  

Goals should be written in a way that you can evaluate and/or assess students learning mastery.

Declarative knowledge: Students will understand______.
Procedural knowledge: Students will be able to _______.
Establishing and communicating clear learning targets are the starting place for effective instruction (Marzano, 2007).  

Clear learning goals support  teachers in providing effective feedback (Marzano, 2007).

Goal setting enhances learning because students understand what they need to know (Marzano, 2007).

Clear learning goals allow teachers to provide effective feedback to help students grow (Marzano, 2007).
Shining a Light on Instruction
By creating a playbook of instruction, we shine a light on instruction.  At the district level, we often focus on curriculum, pacing guides, and assessments.  However, if we fail to identify important instructional strategies that are research based, we will not reach the full potential of a powerful curriculum.  

Development of the Playbook
The playbook was created by teachers from across grade levels and because of that, it includes strategies that can be successful in an advanced high school class or in a kindergarten classroom.  We intentionally put one teacher from each grade level in the elementary schools that also represented every elementary school in our district.  Specialists and a special education teacher were also included on this team.  Additionally, we had 4 educators from our middle level schools who represented different departments.  Our 4 high school teachers represent 4 different disciplines as well.  The instructional and PBIS coaches created the content of the playbook for the teachers to review and add to during about 5 sessions of approximately 7 hours each.  We began the process not knowing exactly where we were going but through lengthy discussions and research, we decided to start with an instructional playbook before moving to a full instructional model.  You will find the playbook below.  The instructional playbook is printed for every teacher in the district and is used regularly in our Professional Learning Communities and Professional Learning days, each of which will be discussed in future posts. In the document below, you will find an instructional framework that provides our key  professional learning points of the 16-17 school year.

Next Steps
Instruction is a focus within our district.  We will continue to work towards a full instructional model including a revamped evaluation that connects to the model.  In future posts, will will look at the digital playbook (which is linked above), resources that will be linked to the playbook, and our professional learning focus.
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