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9/8/2016

Owning Our Learning: What are you learning? How are you learning?

By: Virginia Ressa

This summer in my ExtraCredit posts, I wrote about professional learning, specifically personalized professional learning for educators. In Ohio, many teachers have Individual Professional Development Plans (IPDP) to plan their learning and earn licensure renewal. One of the goals of the IPDP is to allow teachers to identify their own goals and plan their own learning; this is a great opportunity to create goals that match your needs and interests! What are your goals in your IPDP? How are you working to meet those goals? Are you taking full advantage of available learning opportunities?

Last month, I challenged you to engage in professional learning, utilizing local and web-based resources to improve your practice. Since we know that modeling is one of our most effective teaching practices, I would like to share some of my professional learning with you.

My goal: To understand and apply Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to the professional development I plan and provide and to support districts and schools in implementing UDL systemically.

How will I know when I’ve met this goal? When I have successfully planned and led a professional learning experience modeling UDL principles.

How am I going to close the gap between what I currently know and my goal? My plan includes reading about UDL from two different resources in order to see more than one perspective. I’ve already read UDL Now by Katie Novak – I need to find a second source. I will review the resources available on the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) and CAST websites (both sites have videos, research papers, case studies, etc.) and read the research literature supporting UDL (realistically, I’ll read some of the research).

We often forget that our colleagues are great resources, so I’ll check with my work colleagues for recommendations and use outlets like Twitter, Pinterest and blogs to learn from colleagues beyond my local circle. I also plan to take time to reflect on my learning and practice (I wrote about the importance of reflection last month), so I can identify my questions about UDL as I’m learning. Then, working with colleagues at the Ohio Department of Education and OCALI, we will plan and lead professional learning for our staff.

That may all sound like a lot of work, but I worked on this plan all summer and am really enjoying my inquiry. It feels great to identify an area of study that I know will benefit my work and then take on the task of setting my own goals and finding my own path.

Here are some of the resources I have found for learning more about UDL:

I would love to hear what you are learning about and how you are learning. What resources are you taking advantage of? How will you know when you have reached your goal? Please share your thoughts via the comments below or through Twitter using @VirginiaRessa or @OHEducation and #mylearningOH or #ohedchat.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/5/2016

Reflecting on Our Practice: The Importance of Effective Feedback

By: Virginia Ressa

blog1.png In 2007, Hattie and Timperly discovered from their meta-analysis of almost 8,000 studies that feedback is nearly seven times as effective in improving student learning as reducing class size. They found that feedback is, “The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement.”2

In my work in researching, planning and leading professional learning around Formative Instructional Practices (FIP), I have become a strong believer in the power of effective feedback. For the past few years, educators have been talking about the highly effective practices that John Hattie identified. He found that feedback is one of the most effective practices for accelerating student learning; but not just any feedback can have the profound impact that Hattie found — it needs to be effective feedback.1

So, what makes feedback effective? The general answer is that feedback is effective when it results in increased student learning. The more specific answer is that feedback is most effective when it is specific, timely, accurate and actionable. Missing any one of these attributes, feedback can be confusing and may not result in moving learning forward.  

In my experience as a teacher, I can recall using phrases like “Good job!” or “Great work!” to praise students and encourage them to continue their success. I used to tell students to “Check your work again” or “Try harder next time” to help them focus more on their work and correct their errors. In hindsight, I’m not sure my feedback was all that helpful to students. I spent a great deal of time providing written feedback on my students’ work with very good intentions, but unfortunately, I’m now seeing that my feedback didn’t likely lead to increased student learning.

Success Feedback

When providing learners with feedback on their successes, we need to be more specific than “Good job!” Students don’t always know what it is that they did well or how to do it again. It also doesn’t challenge students to move forward in their learning or to keep improving. Instead, success feedback should identify what a student has done correctly in relation to the learning target and point the student toward the next steps in his or her learning.

Intervention Feedback

“Try harder” tells a student very little about what procedural mistake may have been made or what requirement a student may have missed. It is vague, doesn’t connect the learner back to the learning target and provides little direction for what action needs to be taken next. Think about how this example of effective feedback helps move learning forward:

“Read the prompt and rubric again. Your response partially addresses the prompt, but you are missing some important facts to back up your argument.”

The teacher has pointed the student back to the learning target via the rubric, identified the problem with the response and provided a suggestion that the student can act upon. You’re probably thinking that it is going to take more time to provide such specific feedback, and you’re right, it will. However, it is time well spent because the impact on student learning can be so high.1

Is Your Feedback Effective?

blog2.png Pearson & Battelle for Kids. (2012). Foundations of Formative Instructional Practices Module 3: Analyzing evidence and providing feedback. Columbus, OH: Battelle for Kids.

Ultimately, feedback is only effective if it moves student learning forward. Take some time to reflect on your feedback practices and how students are using the feedback you provide. How could your feedback be more effective? Do you provide both success and intervention feedback that helps your students move forward in their learning? 

Effective feedback is one of the core practices of FIP because of its high impact on student learning. To learn more about effective feedback, you can complete module 4 of the Foundations of FIP learning path. This is a great module for teacher-based teams to work through together.

The FIP Video Library has examples of Ohio teachers and students using feedback to improve learning. Watching how other teachers make feedback part of their daily practice and involve students in providing feedback to each other may give you some ideas to try in your classroom. Here is an example of effective feedback provided by the teacher and students, as well as some self-assessment feedback that work together to move the learning forward for everyone.

1Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, England: Routledge.
2Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback.
Review of Educational Research.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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12/1/2016

Reflecting on Our Practice: Teaching Behavioral Expectations

By: Virginia Ressa

The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places strong emphasis on evidence-based practices. The intention is that educators should use practices that have been proven to be effective through significant research studies. For example, in October I wrote about effective feedback which has been shown through multiple studies to improve student achievement. We know this practice to be highly effective in making learning goals or expectations clear to students. Being clear about learning expectations helps students focus and provides them with goals to work towards.

As we begin our transition to ESSA, I suggest we think about putting together two highly effective, evidence-based practices. Through Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional development, teachers find the value of using clear learning targets to teach academic knowledge and skills. Ohio schools use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a proactive approach to improving school climate and culture that is evidence-based. PBIS helps schools establish positive expectations and classroom rules for student behavior. When we put FIP together with PBIS we have FIPPBIS… I’m just kidding we do not need an acronym or fancy name to implement effective practices. When we put them together we have evidence-based practices we can apply to the teaching and learning of behavior.

Here is a great video on teaching students how to speak respectfully to their classmates from the Teaching Channel!

Putting two practices we know are effective together – clear learning targets and behavioral expectations – would lead to the use of clear learning targets for teaching behavioral knowledge and skills. We could go beyond just posting “rules” to creating and sharing learning targets that would lead students to be able to meet the expectations of the rules. For example, we often post rules that are broad or even vague: “Complete classwork on time.” We expect students to meet this rule because we agreed on it as a class. And then, what happens when they don’t meet the rule? Students are often punished for not meeting classroom rules – a phone call home, maybe missing recess or detention.

But, what if we changed how we think of classroom rules? What if we thought of them like we do academic standards? When we have an academic standard we want students to meet, we make that standard clear to them and provide steps they can take towards mastery of the standard. If our expectation is for students to understand the causes of the Civil War, we would break that down into smaller steps, provide learning opportunities, assess student understanding and reteach if necessary. We can do the same thing with classroom rules.

Going beyond the posting of rules to breaking them into smaller behavioral learning targets can help us teach students how to meet the rule. We take the time to teach students academic content they don’t know, so why not take the time to teach students how to behave in a school setting? For instance, in order to complete their classwork on time, students need to know exactly what we mean – we need to make the expectation clear and possibly break it down into smaller steps. How do you make sure you complete your classwork on time? First, students need to know what “on time” means. Is it when class ends? What time does class end? Next, students need to practice budgeting their time and break large tasks into smaller steps. Students may also need to practice starting their work on time. Understanding and practicing these components will increase students’ ability to meet the behavioral expectation.

When I reflect on my time teaching middle school, I remember struggling with students not following rules. I thought my rules were clear and I even engaged students in writing the rules. After learning about PBIS, I realized that my rules were negative and included “don’t do” or “no” to this or that. Clear learning targets could have broken down vague and ambiguous rules into smaller, clearer expectations.

Take a minute to think about the rules in your classroom. Are your students meeting the rules? Are they stated positively? What if you thought of the rules as standards and taught students how to meet them? Could you increase students’ ability to meet the expectations in your classroom and school?

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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1/10/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Setting Goals

By: Virginia Ressa

As a new year begins, many of us set goals for improving ourselves or accomplishing something we have always wanted to do. Yet, so many of these New Year’s resolutions end up unfulfilled. I’ve asked myself, year after year, was I not committed enough? Did I pick the wrong goals? Did I not try hard enough? Did I just get lazy or distracted?

Research tells us that setting clear goals that are “SMART” is important to our success. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Though the acronym can be defined multiple ways (the A can be attainable or achievable), the big idea is that we set goals that are clear and within our reach. When we set a goal that is too far beyond our current ability it is likely that we will lose our focus and commitment before we meet the goal. Is running a marathon a realistic goal for you? Or should you start with the goal of running a 5K?

video1.jpgWe also need to know exactly what we are working toward – goals need to be clear and specific. “Get more exercise” is vague and can’t be tracked and measured. A more specific goal would be: “Build up to exercising three times a week by the end of March.” That is more specific, measurable, time-based and likely achievable.

You’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this line of thinking – we can apply this same to setting goals with students. “Do better in math” is not the same as “earn an average of 80% correct on math facts practice sheets.” When we help students set goals that are specific and measurable they are more likely to achieve those goals. One of the most effective strategies is to make learning intentions clear. When learning intentions are clear, students understand what the expectations are and can track their progress towards those expectations. Consider our math facts example: a student who improves from 50% correct to 65% correct on their practice sheets can see progress and know they are moving in the right direction. If the goal had simply been to do better in math, the student would have seen some progress but without the benefit of knowing what the measure of better would be. Has she met her goal at 65%? Does she need to get 100% correct to be better? This confusion is akin to our adult who makes a resolution to get more exercise – there is no clear goal to tell them when they are successful.

video2.jpg

As with every teaching practice or strategy we talk about, this one is not fool proof and will not work in every situation. However, it is a strong guideline to keep in mind when setting goals. If we want our students to be successful and meet high expectations, we need to be clear with them about what success looks like and what those high expectations are. Otherwise they are muddling through a vague set of criteria, trying to do better, not knowing if they are improving and lacking a clear destination.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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3/9/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Collecting Evidence of Student Learning

By: Virginia Ressa

I feel like I really know and understand something new when I’m able to create an analogy that represents the new concept in different terms. There’s a fancy word for that — analogical thinking. This month, I’ve been thinking about how we collect accurate evidence of student learning through an analogy with the changing of seasons.

ThinkstockPhotos-507302242.jpgIt’s March, and spring is on its way! As far as I can tell, it seems to be arriving early. How do I know that? Well, I know the vernal equinox is around March 20, because I learned that years ago. But beyond my recollection of the date, I know what spring in Ohio looks and feels like, and I see evidence all around me. I see bulbs starting to sprout up in my garden bed and the grass beginning to green. I haven’t needed my heavy winter coat in a week or so, and my gloves have been forgotten. Have you seen the trees starting to bud? Did you notice how much later the sun is setting?

These are all small pieces of evidence that we take note of as we wait for spring to start. Some of the evidence might be formal, like the meteorologist reporting changes in high and low temperatures. If we slow down and take notice, there is a great deal of informal evidence available, like the changes I see in the plants along the path where I walk my dog. There also is some dubious evidence of spring’s arrival that comes to us via Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day and misleading evidence in the form of a March snowfall. If we really want to be sure that spring is coming, we can put into place a plan to document the changes we see over time, with the hope that we’ll see those changes come together by the equinox as we expect.
 
Watching students learn and grow is remarkably similar to watching the seasons change. We set goals of what we want them to know and be able to do and then observe their progress toward those goals. As teachers, we know that some of the most valuable evidence is gathered informally by listening to students talk through problems or noticing their use of new vocabulary. We don’t always document this growth, but we see it happening and respond accordingly. Once a new word becomes a regular part of conversation, we might introduce more challenging words as students work toward the learning goal. We also can collect formal evidence — pieces of writing, completed math problems, responses to critical questions — and document student progress using rubrics or other grading methods to record where students are in their learning. We work hard to make sure our students are on track to reach their learning goals in the time we planned, but sometimes they get there faster than we expected and other times it takes longer — just like spring arrives late some years (hopefully not this year!).

Screen-Shot-2017-03-09-at-3-59-20-PM.png
In this video from FIP Your School Ohio, Mr. Cline shares and shows
how he uses clear learning targets in his Grade 7 Math classroom.

Evidence of student learning isn’t always straightforward and accurate. Sometimes we are confounded with unclear evidence delivered by characters like Punxsutawney Phil — which is likely a sign that it’s time to reassess. Maybe a group assignment misleads us into thinking all of our students have mastered a concept. A homework assignment may come back showing evidence of a parent’s understanding rather than the student’s. Our students may become confused during a unit of study and all of a sudden it’s snowing in March. Each of these pieces of evidence are worth considering and responding to. You might want to have the student complete an individual assignment to double check his or her understanding. Rather than rely on homework, an in-class activity may give you more accurate evidence. And if it starts to snow, you may need to go back a couple of steps and reteach the content that caused the confusion.

You don’t need a weather station to know spring is coming, and you don’t need lots of formal tests to know your students are learning. Evidence comes in many forms — from informal to formal — you just need to be a careful observer. If you’ve set clear learning targets with your students, you can look for those telltale signs of growth as you work toward the goal. And, remember, if you run into a groundhog or spring snowfall, take the time to reassess to make sure you’re all headed in the right direction.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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4/27/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Collecting Evidence of Student Learning, Part 2

By: Virginia Ressa

When I wrote my blog entry last month, I didn’t plan on writing a follow up, but assessment is just one of those topics educators can discuss and debate forever. As educators, we each have our own personal theories and experiences that color our assessment practices. Even the language we use when talking about assessment can differ. Our professional lexicon is full of synonyms, maybe euphemisms, for assessment: test, quiz, written response, essay, performance, project, presentation, etc. You get the idea, right? At the essence of all of these tasks — whatever you call them — is the goal of collecting evidence that will tell us where students are in their learning.

I know the phrase “collecting evidence of student learning” is a mouthful; assessment and test are both braces.jpga lot shorter and easier to use. So, what’s the difference? Why bother with the long phrase? The difference is in what kind of information we want and how we plan to use it. The term “assessment” carries with it a connotation of a singular event, while the phrase “collecting evidence of student learning” suggests a process of ongoing assessment that seeks to track student growth over time.

The purpose of assessment has traditionally been to assess students’ knowledge and skills against a set of norms or standards. We’ve given these types of assessments in Ohio for many years. Districts and schools use these types of assessments at the local level, too. For example, career-tech students know they’ve got to exhibit proficiency in order to earn their credentials. These types of assessments provide a snapshot of what a student can do at a certain point in time, not unlike your school picture from eighth grade. It provides us with important, but limited, information about who you were at that point in time — braces and all.

Each assessment event provides us with a snapshot of student knowledge and skills at a particular time Glasses.jpgand place. But, can one photograph show us a complete picture? Of course not. Take a minute and think about your high school yearbook photo. It provides a lot of information about you on the day the picture was taken, but the information is limited to that one piece of evidence. We know it doesn’t represent how you changed throughout high school, how you got taller or cut your hair to look like your favorite musician. It doesn’t explain why you chose those glasses and that tie. And, unfortunately, that one picture might not accurately represent you. Maybe you had a bad hair day or the photographer didn’t tell you when to smile. One snapshot can only provide a limited amount of information, and sometimes it may not be reliable.

In our classrooms, it is often more useful to think of assessment with the purpose of measuring student growth. Measuring growth requires us to envision assessment as a series of events over time rather than as singular, isolated events. What if we took a series of photographs over time? How would a series of photos give us different information than the single snapshot? When we have evidence we’ve collected over time, we can compare current performance to past performance to look for change, hopefully in the right direction. We can look for patterns of misconceptions, strengths and weaknesses or opportunities for acceleration — all of which can inform our instruction in order to meet the needs of our students.

If a snapshot is a single assessment event that measures achievement, then a series of snapshots of student learning is a process of assessment school-picture.jpgthat encourages us to measure and respond to growth. Collecting evidence of student learning over time and in different formats provides us with more details about what students know and can do. If we only have that one photo of you in your high school yearbook, we have no way of knowing if the picture is reliable. Why weren’t you smiling? Was your hair always that long? Multiple pieces of evidence help us to identify and account for evidence that isn’t reliable: a misleading test question, homework completed by a parent or maybe just a bad day for that student. Each photo we take can’t possibly tell others all they need to know about us at that point in time, and no single assessment event can tell us enough about student learning to inform our instruction.

Ohio’s Formative Instructional Practices modules include a course on measuring student growth. Click here to access the Department’s Learning Management System, which is free to all Ohio teachers.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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6/14/2017

There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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8/10/2017

A Great School Year Starts with Knowing Your Students

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-477634708.jpgHappy New School Year! My colleague and friend, Stephanie Donofe, ended her blog last week by wishing everyone a happy new year. I thought it was perfect — that’s exactly how I feel at the start of a new school year. It may not be Jan. 1, but you’re starting anew: redecorating, buying supplies, planning lessons, organizing resources. It is a fun time of year, as long as the weather doesn’t turn too hot.

One of the most interesting aspects of a new school year is meeting your new students. They may not be new to the school, you may know of them from your colleagues or even have data in a file, but you don’t truly know your students until you spend time with them. There are lots of “interest inventory” tools out there to ask the students about themselves. Some of these are probably a lot more useful than others. Do you really need to know Johnny’s favorite food? Maybe, but I bet there are questions you could ask that would reveal a whole lot more about your students and their lives than asking for their favorite foods. Maybe it would help to ask students about what comes “easy” to them and what things they consider “challenges.” I saw a set of writing prompts that asked “would you rather” questions like, “Would you rather be really tall or really short?” or “Would you rather live in the city or the country?” These types of writing prompts also are great conversation prompts and could elicit important details about students’ lives, their interests, fears and more.

In Ohio, we have a very diverse student population. Almost 3 percent of our students are learning English as a second language. That might not seem like a lot statewide, but it is significant if those students live in your district. Students with disabilities make up 14.5 percent of our population and are learners in classrooms across the state. The most startling of the statistics I looked at today is the percent of our students who are economically disadvantaged: 49.9 percent. That’s half of our 1.7 million students living in households struggling to meet their financial needs, which we know has many repercussions. Part of those students who are economically disadvantaged are the 1.2 percent who are homeless; that is 20,185 homeless students in Ohio. Right now, Ohio is experiencing a record number of students needing stable, out-of-home care as a result of the current opioid epidemic.

When we meet our new students, especially those new to the district, they don’t come with signs on their foreheads that tell us what their needs are. We have to work hard to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to understand what their environments are like when they leave our schools. I don’t say that to sound depressing — I promise, I’m not here to spoil your new year. I bring up these issues because it is essential for teachers to learn about their students so they can better meet students’ needs. This is not an easy task, and we often unintentionally revert to applying stereotypes and making assumptions. In such a diverse state, making assumptions about who our students are is definitely not best practice and reminds me of my mother’s admonition about the result of making assumptions (do you know that one?).

I’d like to share with you a personal story that isn’t all that pretty. When I began teaching, I was working in an urban alternative school with “at-risk” students. As a history teacher, I thought it would be fun to start the year off by making timelines of our own lives. I created a sample on the board with details of my life, then I asked my seventh-graders to draw a timeline of their lives. I wanted them to go back before they were born and include their parents and other family members on their timelines. There was one student who just would not get to work. As a new teacher, I felt that if I let him “get away” with that, it would set a precedent for the year. So, I urged him to get to work a couple of times. I tried changing my tone from friendly to stern. Still nothing on his paper. I set a consequence, threatening to send him out of the room if he wasn’t going to participate. He made the decision to leave the room himself and cursed at me on the way out. What I found out when I talked with him later was that he didn’t know much about his family or when or where his parents and grandparents were born. Because I never asked him why he wasn’t working, I didn’t understand his behavior or his learning needs. I was naïve in assuming this would be a “fun” activity for all my students. I hadn’t considered the complicated emotions it might elicit because I didn’t yet know my students.

That’s a hard story to share so publicly. I have to remind myself that it was many years ago, and I was very young. But that’s not an excuse and doesn’t make my naïveté okay. What helped to make things right was the frank and honest discussion my student had with me about his life and the apologies we exchanged as we both pledged to ask rather than assume.

As you meet your new students, remember that there are many things you don’t yet know about them. Ask lots of questions, provide opportunities for them to share their experiences and lives with you and their classmates. Share some of your own personal stories, even your strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to stop and think before you assume anything about a student. A student may be learning English for the first time, but she also may be proficient in reading and writing one or more other languages — she already has strong literacy complex thinking skills that you can foster. A student receiving free lunch may have a more stable home than the student who comes in with a full lunch box every day. The student identified as having a learning disability is likely able to achieve at the same rate as his peers if provided the right supports.

I encourage you to embrace the diversity of your classroom by getting to know your students and avoiding making assumptions about them. This is a lesson I learned the hard way — I hope this is a time when you can learn from another teacher’s mistake.

Have a very Happy New Year! 

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/5/2017

ENCORE: There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on June, 14 2017, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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12/6/2017

Formative Instructional Practices: Beyond the Basics

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-486325400.jpgWhat seems like ages ago, the Ohio Department of Education secured a Race to the Top Grant that allowed us to develop new tools and resources in collaboration with districts across the Ohio. Thus began my adventure into the world of formative instructional practices (FIP) and the challenge to lead the development of online professional learning resources with our partner, Battelle for Kids. The federal grant funds allowed us to create 57 online learning resources, including modules and guides, and a video library to support the improved use of formative instructional practices in all classrooms. The grant included a team of FIP specialists to work regionally with participating districts. We managed to reach half of Ohio’s districts and more than 40,000 educators!

Formative instructional practices are the formal and informal ways that teachers and students gather and respond to evidence of student learning. Notice that this definition includes students as an active part of gathering and responding to assessment information. FIP includes four core practices that research has shown to be among the most effective for improving student achievement. The four practices include the following:

  1. Using clear learning targets;
  2. Collecting and documenting evidence of student learning;
  3. Providing effective feedback;
  4. Preparing students to take ownership of their learning.

The FIP professional learning resources purposely focus on just these four core practices. This focus allows educators to improve their practice without the overwhelming feeling of having to change everything. During Race to the Top, the Department received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the FIP resources from administrators, teachers and even pre-service teacher education programs.

Then, the inevitable happened, the grant ended. Our team of FIP specialists went their own ways, our contract with Battelle for Kids ended and I took on other work. A couple of years later, I am very glad to report that FIP has survived beyond the Race to the Top grant and my relocation to the Department’s Office for Exceptional Children. With the help of Allie Sberna from the Department’s Office of Educator Effectiveness, I am glad to announce the next generation of FIP professional learning, FIP 2.0, back by popular demand!

We have received many inquiries about what happened to the FIP modules. You can now find all of the FIP resources on the Learning Management System for Ohio Education (LMS). Educators can access the LMS through their SAFE accounts. Once they log in, they will see a link within their list of available applications. Within the LMS are resources from across the Department, including everything from early learning to career-technical education.

Allie and I encourage Ohio educators to explore the additional learning and resources that go beyond the introductory level. Many schools began by promoting the use of the FIP Foundations modules — a series of five modules designed to introduce teachers to the basics of formative instructional practices and provide a big picture of how they can improve teacher practice and school achievement. We encourage you to go beyond the basics and enroll in one of the courses with more in-depth content.

These six additional courses go beyond the basics, focusing on specific practices and content areas:

  • Leading & Coaching FIP;
  • Clear Learning Targets (broken down by subject area);
  • Reaching Every Student;
  • Designing Sound Assessment;
  • Standards-Based Assessment;
  • FIP in Action.

The FIP courses can be used for independent study or as part of a blended learning experience that includes face-to-face meetings with colleagues. Facilitation guides are available within the courses and can be used to guide discussions about evidence-based practices, reflection on current teaching practices and goal setting for implementing new practices. FIP courses also can be integrated into Resident Educator work, growth and improvement plans and individual professional development plans (IPDP).

Wondering what happened to the FIP videos? They’ve moved to YouTube and can be accessed here. All the videos include Ohio educators and students during real classroom interactions. Along with each video, you will find information about the class and teacher, discussion questions and connections to the standards. What can you learn from their practice? How would you coach them to keep improving?

Allie and I are working to update all the FIP resources to reflect current language. For instance, Ohio’s Learning Standards are no longer the “new” learning standards. All the FIP resources will get a refresh over the next few months, but we didn’t want to wait for that to be complete to make them available to you.

How are you using formative instructional practices? Share your work via Twitter using #MyOhioClassroom and #ohFIP.

For more information about FIP: Beyond the Basics, you can contact Allie and me using the information below.

Virginia Ressa
Office for Exceptional Children
(614) 728-6920
virginia.ressa@education.ohio.gov

Allie Sberna
Office of Educator Effectiveness
(614) 369-4071
alison.sberna@education.ohio.gov

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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2/7/2018

Using #MyOhioClassroom to Celebrate Teaching and Learning Across Ohio

By: Virginia Ressa

Butler-Tech.PNGI get really excited when it is time to visit a school. I know I’m going to get to talk to students and teachers, see displays of student work and listen in on lessons and classroom discussions. When you enter a school for the first time, it takes a minute to orient yourself, to get a feel for the atmosphere and culture. You might hear the sounds of students in the gym or see a line of kindergarteners headed for the art room. Some lobbies are full of trophy cases and pictures of graduating classes from 50 years ago. Others are modern and sleek, with announcements on bright monitors. Each school is different because it is the community of students, teachers, administrators and families that create the school. School buildings come in all shapes and sizes, and even those that may look similar on the outside are wholly unique on the inside. Then, as you walk through the hallways and peek into classrooms, you see that each classroom is as unique as the students and teachers working within.

Krohn.PNGWhen I worked for a district, I often had the opportunity to visit schools and observe classes. I frequently found myself thinking, “I wish other teachers could see what this class is doing!” I have seen great examples of instructional practice and wished I could capture the scene to share with other educators. Before smartphones, tablets and social media, this was difficult to do. However, in today’s world, it’s easily done. Smartphones allow us to take great pictures and videos, and social media allows us to share those images instantly. We have the tools to celebrate and share the outstanding work happening in our classrooms every day.

If you follow the Ohio Department of Education on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ll see that State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria has had the opportunity to visit many Ohio schools and classrooms. I love to see the pictures, and especially the videos, he posts. It’s inspiring to see our teachers and students in action, to see the colorful classrooms full of literacy materials and art projects, to hear students learning together. By sharing his pictures and videos, Superintendent DeMaria has taken us with him on his tour of Ohio schools, sharing with us the hard work educators and students put into the learning process and celebrating their accomplishments.

Wadden-1.PNGThe superintendent isn’t the only one sharing the happenings in our classrooms. When you search Twitter and Instagram for #MyOhioClassroom, you’ll find pictures and videos of elementary, middle and high schools from small districts and large districts, urban and rural schools — using #MyOhioClassroom, we can connect to students and teachers anywhere in the state and share in the unique learning happening in their classrooms.

Inviting others in to our classrooms using social media provides us all an opportunity to celebrate teaching and learning. As Ohio works to improve our schools, we need to look to each other to share ideas, motivate us to try new things and provide our leaders with examples of the high-quality teaching and learning happening in so many of our schools. I encourage you to search for #MyOhioClassroom to see what teachers are posting. I just found pictures of Butler Tech students starting clinical rotations at a local nursing home. I see that Ms. Krohn’s students at Moreland Hills Elementary are writing in their math journals. First-graders in Westlake City Schools are wearing surgical masks as they become “word surgeons” creating contractions. Third-graders in Crestwood Local Schools are having lunch with Principal Gerbrick as a reward through their Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system. If you regularly follow the hashtag, you will see that teachers are posting new items every couple of hours. What will you find when you search for #MyOhioClassroom? What’s happening in your school today that you could share?

Crestwood.PNGIf you aren’t familiar with Twitter, do not be intimidated. It’s much easier and more fun than it looks at first glance. Here’s a blog post from the International Society for Technology in Education — “Twitter is dumb! Or is it?” — that will help you get started. Once you get your account set up, you will want to follow @OHEducation to get news and updates about public education in the Buckeye State and @OHEducationSupt to follow along with Superintendent DeMaria as he visits schools and posts pictures and videos. (Fun Fact: If you follow his feed, you may get to see him singing!) I also welcome you to follow my account @VirginiaRessa, as I do my best to share evidence-based practices to help all students be successful.

Have a question? Post it in the comments below or write to me directly at Virginia.Ressa@education.ohio.gov.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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7/12/2018

Beyond Engagement: Empowering Students to Take Ownership of Learning

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-846567624.jpgSummer “vacation” is one of those things that non-educators sometimes misunderstand. Some people, even our family members, think teachers have three months off to lounge, sleep in and binge watch the shows we missed during the school year. We know differently. First of all, it’s not three months – it’s maybe two and a half after you factor in required planning and professional development days. But that’s not what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about how we use that time. Educators are also learners, using their time “off” to take classes to maintain their current license, earn a new license or an advanced degree.

What motivates us to continue our education and complete graduate classes?
What inspires us to engage in the learning process? To finish the vast amount of academic reading? And to complete the group projects that are so ubiquitous in grad school? I can tell you from experience, there are no rewards that give graduate students bonus bucks to spend at the university store when they complete the required reading. Rather than extrinsic rewards, we develop our own intrinsic motivations that keep us focused. We have ownership of our learning because we know why we are engaged in the learning. We know where we are going and what is expected of us.

Why don’t our students develop the same ownership of learning that we do?
Think about our K-12 classrooms and how we involve students in learning. Many of our schools and classrooms have rewards systems with stickers and bonus bucks in an attempt to motivate reluctant students. We try to provide extrinsic rewards because we have not given students the information and tools they need to develop ownership of their learning and intrinsic motivation. Teachers make the decisions about what students will learn and how they will be assessed. Teachers determine the timing of lessons and units of study. Teachers collect evidence of student learning. Teachers keep track of student progress. Teachers retain most of the control of teaching AND learning decisions, which leaves students as directed, passive participants.  

As classroom teachers or grade level teams, we can offer rewards and privileges that might work for a short time, but rarely result in enduring motivation. Most of our attempts at external motivation fall far short of creating the engagement we genuinely want to see in our classrooms. What we are actually striving for, and what we experience as students ourselves, is ownership of learning. Student ownership goes beyond engagement and motivation, and empowers students with a sense of control and responsibility for their learning. Creating the conditions for students to take ownership of their learning requires teachers to work with students to set and communicate clear learning targets, collect evidence of their learning, track and analyze their progress, and provide opportunities for self and peer assessment.

We often see students engaged in classroom activities – they are busy, on task and focused. But if we stop to ask them what they are learning and why, can students articulate either? They may be on task simply to complete the activity before the end of class so they don’t have homework. Maybe they are on task because they want to earn a spot in Friday’s field trip. They may not know why they are doing an assignment, but have been provided with enough outside motivation to complete the assignment. Yet, research shows that when students know why they are engaged in a learning activity and understand how their learning will contribute to their long-term goals, they are more likely to be self-motivated and to reach their goals. In other words, students are more likely to be motivated to reach goals they’ve helped to set. They are more likely to keep working toward their goals if they can see and track their progress.


“Formative instructional practices involve students throughout the teaching and learning process. These practices – done well – enhance student efficacy and motivation to learn.”
-FIP Learning Modules


If you have participated in any of the Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional learning, you will recall it emphasizes four core practices: Creating clear learning targets, collecting evidence of student learning, providing effective feedback and supporting student ownership of learning.

The most critical element of student ownership and FIP is the creation of clear learning targets. Clear learning targets are the keystone in this set of practices because we cannot successfully implement the other practices if we do not have well written, aligned and easily communicated learning targets. Most significantly, clear learning targets provide educators with the key to empower students to take ownership of their learning.

This summer, Ohio’s teachers will have many opportunities to participate in professional learning. it is now easier than ever to learn about formative instructional practices. Free resources are now available on the Learning Management System (LMS). I’ve given you an introduction to student ownership of learning, but there are modules in the “FIP in Action” course that will help you to envision the practices in the context of content area classes. Once you have had a chance to take some time for yourself, visit the LMS and look at the many options available for improving your use of formative instructional practices.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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9/28/2018

Getting to know Future Ready Ohio — An Introduction to the Framework and Available Resources

By: Virginia Ressa

Ohio recently hosted its first Future Ready Schools Institute, which I was lucky enough to attend. Prior to the institute, my knowledge of Future Ready was limited to an understanding that the focus was on personalizing student learning. As a specialist in the Office for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Department of Education, I was hoping to learn how the Future Ready Schools initiative supports teachers in meeting the needs of Ohio’s diverse learners, including our students with disabilities, gifted students and English learners. It turned out to be a great two days and well worth the travel and time away from the office. I learned more than I expected and was left thinking about how the Future Ready Framework and its focus on personalized student learning can help Ohio work toward supporting the whole child.

Future Ready Framework

The Future Ready Framework has seven key categories or “gears,” with personalized student learning at the center. The outside rings emphasize the cyclical nature of transformation and the importance of collaborative leadership. Check out the framework on the Future Ready Schools website.

The Future Ready Framework

What I like about this graphic is that personalized student learning is right there in the middle, at the center of all of those other important pieces that are essential to successful school improvement. The framework details how each of the gears supports the goal of personalized learning. Clicking through and reading the content in the Future Ready Framework is a bit daunting at first — there is a great deal of content to engage with. Self-assessments can be used to encourage leadership teams to question and analyze their current practices, an essential step to any improvement effort. You’ll also see links to many evidence-based resources, research reports and case studies of successful reforms. There are even rubrics to assess our adult practices! Another nice feature of the site is that the content links take you back to the ideas in the seven gears — a consistent reminder they are all connected.

Personalized Student Learning

Being at the center of the framework, personalized student learning is called out as having the greatest importance in this model. You might think defining personalized learning is easy or obvious, but a quick Google search told me otherwise. So, how do the folks at Future Ready Schools define personalized student learning? They offer a couple of different descriptions depending on which “gear” you are focused on — I like the description connected to Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment:

Educators leverage technology and diverse learning resources to personalize the learning experience for each student. Personalization involves tailoring content, pacing, and feedback to the needs of each student and empowering students to regulate and take ownership of some aspects of their learning.

I like how this description uses the phrase “learning experience” because it acknowledges that learning is ongoing and not a set of isolated events. The description also includes two high-impact, research-based formative instructional practices: feedback and student ownership of learning. However, the most important word in that description is “empowering.” We can and should empower our students to be active participants in planning, regulating and assessing their learning. Empowering students to participate in decision-making provides opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, think critically about their work, self-assess and determine next steps toward success.

Personalized Student Learning in Ohio

The State Board of Education and the Ohio Department of Education recently approved a strategic plan, Each Child, Our Future. One of the plan’s three core principles is equity, stressing that, “Appropriate supports must be made available so personal and social circumstances do not prohibit a child from reaching his or her greatest aspiration” (Ohio Department of Education, 2018, p. 10). A focus on personalized learning will accelerate Ohio’s work toward implementing the principle of equity.

Aligned with Ohio’s strategic plan, Future Ready Ohio is working to advance authentic, personalized learning experiences. Future Ready Ohio helps districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes by 1) transforming instructional pedagogy and practice while 2) simultaneously leveraging technology to personalize learning in the classroom. Future Ready Schools and the Future Ready Ohio effort can help districts as they work to contribute to Ohio’s strategic plan.

I encourage not only educators, but families and community members as well, to learn more about Future Ready Ohio. Did I mention the FREE resources available? Free self-assessments and rubrics are available to assist districts with creating and implementing action plans focused on empowering students to be ready for the future. I’ve just touched on one aspect of the framework — there is so much more to learn about the resources available to Ohio districts. For more information, contact Stephanie Donofe Meeks, the director of Ohio’s Future Ready work, and be sure to read her excellent blog posts.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM