Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Common Core, Technology, and the Danielson Model: It's all one song

I have a confession to make. I'm not ashamed of what I'm about to admit, but some of you won't understand.

I want to be this man
I am a lifelong Neil Young fan. There. I said it. Shun me if you wish.

From the late 60's folkie stuff to the early 70's dissonant freakout phase to the 80's (often unlistenable) experiments in musical genres, to his return to brilliance in the 90's as "the Godfather of Grunge", and then back again to the folkie stuff, and all over the place since, I'm into it all. Yes, even "Arc": the album comprised entirely of the snippets of feedback recorded at the beginning and ends of songs on the "Weld" tour. A half hour of feedback. Awesome.

At the beginning of Neil's 1997 live album "Year of the Horse", an audience member yells"It all sounds the same!" He yells back: "It's all one song."

How does this relate to education in any way

As I see it, the future of education is about to be seriously impacted by three major factors:

  • Technology and the ubiquity of devices with which to access millions of web tools,
  • New state-developed teacher evaluation systems and (in Illinois) the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching,*
  • The Common Core State Standards 

Actually education has already been seriously impacted by these three, thanks in part to our friends behind the "edreform" movement and Race to the Top, but the effects of these factors are going to accelerate quickly. I won't specifically discuss the potential harm done by the inaccurate use of student achievement data to rate teachers, though this is at the heart of most states' ed reform packages.  See Diane Ravitch's blog for a more brilliant and coherent rant discussion about the corporate reform of education. Also, statistics superstar Nate Silver recently weighed in on the problems with using assessment data to rate teachers.

However, I will discuss the Danielson Framework, as it is at the heart of the Illinois teacher reform legislation. Thousands of teachers and administrators across the state are getting familiar with this model, and teacher evaluation plans based on Danielson's rubrics are ready to roll out (if they haven't rolled already). For the record, I like Danielson's model quite a bit because it provides a highly focused and adaptable tool to define good teaching. Although Illinois' legislation may be problematic overall, more districts using the Danielson model could be a positive outcome.

Regardless, we're going to see some monumental shifts in how school is done as these evaluation systems are fully implemented, when the Common Core PARCC & Smarter Balance Assessments land in 14/15, and as technology evolves and changes all of our lives.

Alone, any of the above bullet points would represent huge changes for schools to deal with. Unfortunately, they're all hitting at exactly the same time for many of us, and it's almost paralyzing to think about.

But it's all one song. 

That is, it's all a lot to contend with, but if we're implementing these new standards using research based instructional methods and the thoughtful use of technology, we're pushing teaching and learning to the same place. Better yet: it's a good place. That's what I mean about it being all one song. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

I recently saw two social studies teachers present projects they and their students have been working on to a group of colleagues. Both teachers had worked with Leyden's Disciplinary Literacy and Technology Coaches to develop their projects. Here's a brief rundown of their efforts:

Teacher 1 asked groups of students to create Google Sites on a particular topic pertinent to this Psychology class. Their classmates then had to use the site to learn the material. She writes:

"The most recent project I created was during a Sensation and Perception Unit. I broke the content into sub categories and assigned the different categories to different students (in a group that consisted of various abilities).   Categories included Vision, Hearing, Touch, Taste and Smell, and ESP. Students were responsible for reading, interpreting, comprehending the material on their own. I gave them two days in class to break apart the text and design a presentation.They had a number of areas they needed to cover when presenting their presentation. (Short Lecture, Important terms, current issues, demo and assessment).

This helped them monitor their own comprehension. Usually they uncover that they don’t understand something by taking an assessment. For this project they looked at the assessments first. They then had to break apart questions and understand “how to explain the answers.”  They needed to paraphrase the information and not give me a detailed textbook explanation.  They really needed to take ownership of the material. I remained a guide but one that wasn’t in front of the class. As a result, they became aware of their own cognitive dissonance as they were forced to monitor and identify their problems.

Teacher #2 is developing a project with "reverse wikis". He writes,

"My presentation focused on the "reverse" wiki structure that allows students to effectively research within a content area. A reverse wiki provides students with an overarching question and credible source materials to eventually arrive at some answer. Students are forced to sift through the evidence, and farm out facts that contribute to an argument. 

Once they compile their data, they can use information from the sources to contribute to a complex thesis and defense of their argument. The reverse wiki structure forces students to analyze sources and produce authentic argumentation based on scholarly the research they read. I used two guiding questions in my reverse wikis: "What is the biggest cause of income inequality in America?" and "Is race still a factor in Modern America?"

For some reason, I hear Heidi Hayes Jacobs in my head sarcastically noting, "Or don't do stuff like that. Just give 'em a worksheet. That'll get 'em."

Bringing it all together: Let's see how these stack up against the "big three" of 1) effective tech usage, 2) the Common Core Standards, and 3) the Danielson Instructional Framework.  

1. Technology usage
 It seems to me that these projects represent a high level of technology integration consistent with the  "Modification" or "Redefinition" on the SAMR model. Remember that SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with some functional improvement 
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

The goal should be to move up the ladder toward using instructional technology to redefine what was previously possible. The "M" and "R"are described as "transformative practices. What these teachers did was not an "add on", it was using technology as an appropriate tool to achieve the goals of the lesson. For the most part, these activities could not have been accomplished without these tools.

2. The Common Core Standards
As I listed to the presentations, I pulled up a copy of the Common Core Standards for English and the Anchor Standards for Writing. Here are a few:

Production and Distribution of Writing

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. 
Just read through this selection of standards, Without trying, these teachers hit just about all of them.

3. Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching
Charlotte Danielson's description of a "Distinguished" (or "Excellent" in Illinois' evaluation system) teacher in the "Planning and Preparation" Domain includes the following: 

"Teacher's plans, based on extensive content knowledge and understanding of students, are designed to engage students in significant learning. All aspects of the teacher's plans - instructional outcomes, learning activities, materials, resources, and assessments - are in complete alignment and are adapted as needed for individual students."

Furthermore, Danielson's description of a "Distinguished" teacher (that is, "excellent" in Illinois) in the "Instruction" Domain states, 

"All students are highly engaged in learning and make material contributions to the success of the class through their participation in discussions, active involvement in learning activities, and use of assessment information in their learning."

I have to admit, I did not see these teachers implement these projects in the classroom, but I suspect that the activities directly translated to high student engagement, active involvement and high-level discussions. 

As I watched these presentations was so clear it became so clear to me that these: when we're  using tech effectively, with a solid instructional/disciplinary literacy base, we're also implementing the Common Core AND pushing towards that "4" on the Danielson rubric. 

Once again: It's all a lot to contend with, but if we're implementing these new standards using research based instructional methods and a set of technology based educational tools the power of which is unparalleled in human history, it's pushing teaching and learning to the same student-centered, highly engaging place where deep learning is the norm.

It's all one song. 

(From: Mikkel Storaasli)


  1. Doing this every day for five days a week is not possible. There is something to be said for reading, writing, discussing, and yes lecturing/note taking. There are students who can't do basic math in High School because they were not required to memorize their multiplication tables while in elementary school. Instead they learned innovation fun ways to "multiply". Also, is it not funny that we are suppose to teach in this highly engaging and interactive way but then the state assessment is a multiple choice test that does not differentiate for students....

  2. I do not believe that either project presented represents modification or redefinition along the SAMR spectrum. The first teacher makes no mention of technology in her description and everything the students did, they could have done with books or articles had the teacher been able to provide them. Obviously the technology made it easier to provide the sources for the students but technology only augmented what they did. If they presented to the class, again, the technology provided an augmentation to a traditional presentation mode.

    In the second example, again, the technology only provided a much easier way for the teacher and students to gather the requisite information in order to answer the critical questions. The ability to gather the sources augmented the traditional assignment for the teacher. Based on the description provided, it seems the students were not asked to do anything that could not have been done without a computer.

    I am a huge fan of the SAMR model. However, the more I dig into an understanding of this model, the more I'm convinced that Mishra and Koehler have it when they argue that successful technology integration into educational practice only comes at the intersection of deep content knowledge, deep pedagogical knowledge, deep technological knowledge, and a deep understanding of how all these can fit together to create optimal learning opportunities for students.