Professional Developement

When Do Teachers Get to Practice?

By Dr. Sandra D. Jones

As developing a teacher evaluation system becomes a mandate at the state level, administrators who are also conscientious educators strive to comply. It is, however, proving to be quite a challenge for them.

I’m a literacy consultant and, for the past three years, I have been working in a district that just became a recipient of its state’s Race to the Top funds. District administrators are getting ready for the next school year by reviewing the teacher evaluation system designed by their state, which provides both formative and summative information on teacher performance.

There was a momentous shift in the administrators’ focus from the end of last school year to the beginning of this school year. For the first two years of the district initiative, I worked with the leadership team on how to conduct “learning walks” geared toward helping teachers develop the skills necessary to provide high-quality literacy instruction to all of their students.

We watched videos demonstrating effective literacy instruction, conducted countless walks and debriefings, worked as a team to achieve inter-rater reliability across the district, reviewed trend analyses, identified professional development needs—all the while assuring teachers that these “learning walks” were not evaluative.

While not completely won over, teachers were beginning to believe that the “learning walks” were instructional rather than evaluative in nature and increasingly welcomed observers into their classrooms.

At the beginning of this year, I was earnestly and politely informed by one of the principals that he was no longer going to conduct “learning walks” because he had to conduct teacher evaluation walks. Mind you, this comment was said in the presence of the superintendent and assistant superintendent.

He explained that the state-mandated evaluation walks had to be at least 15 minutes in length and had to be conducted a large number of times over the course of the school year. He said that there was “no way” he could conduct the teacher evaluation observations and provide instructional leadership “learning walks” at the same time. Furthermore, he added that at the previous state-sponsored principal training, his colleagues expressed the same thoughts. He and his colleagues all agreed that the new teacher evaluation mandates took precedence over other time-consuming observations. His declaration stopped me “dead in my tracks.” A multitude of questions were running through my mind as I listened to this educator, whom I respected.

Teaching is hard work! Changing how we teach is even more difficult and stressful. I recently re-entered the classroom to learn how to teach a strategy that was new to me. The resource teacher graciously allowed me to learn and practice in her classroom. Her pay-off was learning along with me; the students gained expertise and made significant progress. Despite my nervousness at being observed by the resource teacher and some of her colleagues, I felt “safe” trying out this new way to teach. After every lesson, we debriefed and discussed what went well and what didn’t. This was instructional collaboration at its finest, and it made me wonder, “When do teachers get to practice?”

If teacher observations are always evaluative in nature, teachers either do not get to practice new strategies in a safe and instructionally focused environment or their environment could inhibit the very fundamentals of effective embedded professional development.

Federal policy regarding teacher accountability has filtered down to the states, and from there to districts and schools. Educators are scrambling to figure out how to implement these policies. My plea is that, as we figure out how to conduct evaluative observations, we take care not to undo the gains we have made in helping teachers learn new data-based instructional practices.

If principals do not have time for instructional leadership because they have to collect a specified number of 15-minute evaluation segments over the course of a year, then we have a problem. Nowhere in the numerous Multitier System of Supports (MTSS) explanatory documents, the multitude of rubrics, or the many forms for collecting evidence is there a discussion of how to help teachers progress from one level to the next.

I’m not opposed to evaluation and teacher accountability, but I am insisting—begging, really—that we balance the new teacher evaluation mandates and accompanying time drains with the time required for effective instructional leadership. How do we help teachers make changes in their teaching or learn how to teach a new strategy if they don’t have opportunities to practice their craft? Time to practice new strategies with students in a “safe” environment must be part of the equation as we move forward with teacher evaluation.

Sandra D. Jones, Ph.D., is president of HILL for Literacy, Inc., and has been a school educator for 40 years, serving as a teacher, professional development coordinator, principal, and academic dean. She is a coauthor of Leading Literacy Change: Strategies and Tools for Administrators, Teachers and Coaches and a national presenter and consultant in literacy. Dr. Jones served as the professional development coordinator for the State of Massachusetts’ Reading First Initiative for six years. She was also the academic dean at The Carroll School, a nationally recognized school for children with language-based learning disabilities, and was an associate professor in the MGH Institute of Health Professions’ Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate program.

Categories: Professional Developement | 1 Comment

Myths of Bullying Prevention

Myth 2: Adults Know What They Are Doing When It Comes to Bullying Prevention (Part 2 of 3)

By Kathleen Keelan
Often, due to our overreactions or underreactions, well-meaning adults do not understand the complexities that children face when it comes to bullying situations. By trying to apply adult solutions to children’s problems, they make the situation worse.

In spite of our best efforts, most adults generally do not know how to deal effectively with bullying situations. Sadly, this includes the very people who need to understand the dynamic most, including teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, superintendents, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers, to name a few.

Then there are the TV producers, investigative reporters, researchers, movie makers, movie stars, public service announcement producers, pop singers, and talk show hosts, who are also trying to help solve the bullying issues of our youth and usually coming up short.

Lastly, we have the more well-informed but less connected researchers and college professors, who have studies and surveys and graphs, but fall short of producing real answers for real kids in real situations.  

Attempts to address the problem through movies, studies, one-day school assemblies, policies, legislation, surveys, and conferences don’t really help the children for a number of reasons.

A perfect example is one-day assemblies aimed at giving kids the opportunity to let others in their class know about some hardships they have experienced. One-day assemblies that “challenge” children to stop bullying one another are generally effective for the rest of that day. This type of oversimplification of the issue is what frustrates children who are in the trenches of bullying.

Take antibullying programs that reward kids for what we consider “standing up for others.” Students may perceive earning these “rewards” as attempts to buddy up with teachers and other adults in the building to win their approval. As a result, the kids who buddy up with the adults may lose social collateral with their peers. Thus, there is a disincentive to “stand up for others” the next time a bullying situation occurs.

Another example: the public service announcement campaign that asks kids to wait out the frustration they may be experiencing at school because eventually things will “get better.” Many celebrities have lent their clout to the “It Gets Better” effort. Some children may have benefited from this message, but I feel that it is a message of false hope and can be misleading. It also gets adults off the hook in terms of making the environment better for kids.

I feel strongly that kids who are teased for issues such as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) identity—who have been the target of this message—should not have to wait for things to get better at school. If there is a hint of this type of prejudice and we, as adults, are aware of it, then relying on messages that make promises of relief in the future is really morally reprehensible.

How Can We Really Help?

Where do we go wrong? In virtually all situations we are guilty of overreacting or underreacting. Remember, it is very difficult for children to come to an adult and ask for help when they believe they are being bullied. If the adult brushes it off, it can be devastating. Conversely, when we completely overreact by doing something like pulling a child from a particular school due to bullying, we are also doing the child a disfavor.

It is important to be aware of exactly what constitutes “bullying.” The research Dr. Dan Olweus did in the 1980s is still an excellent guide, which has helped me in this field many times. Dr. Olweus began his research in 1983 in northern Norway, where three adolescent boys died by suicide. The act was most likely a consequence of severe bullying by peers, prompting the county’s Ministry of Education to initiate a national campaign against bullying in schools.

Dr. Olweus, considered the “pioneer,” crafted the following definition, which is still widely used today:

“A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed repeatedly over time to negative action on the part of one of more persons. Negative action is when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words, or in other ways.”  

If we look closely at the definition, we can see it has elements that can help adults avoid overreacting or underreacting to bullying. Bullying is not just about one person having the power; it is also about the victim not wanting the particular type of interaction to take place.

More time spent with children and less time spent on statistics is one solution to reducing bullying. Our reactions and our attempts to deal with the problem are often to benefit ourselves, to make us feel like we are doing something. However, unless we actually talk with the children, we may be making things worse.

Adults’ knee-jerk reactions, albeit understandable, do not always help reduce bullying in schools. It would behoove us as adults to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out exactly the best way to approach a specific bullying situation in order to actually help a child.

Kathleen Keelan has dedicated her career to preventing bullying by working as a teacher, therapist, presenter, and expert witness in bullying cases. She has been conducting bullying prevention workshops in schools since the late ’90s and also conducts classes and webinars throughout the United States.

Categories: Family, General Education, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | 2 Comments

How to Succeed at Differentiated Reading Instruction, Part 1

By Jill Jackson

It’s funny. I travel all over the country with my team, and we often hear from educators, “You know, things are different around here …”

They will share a story or a sticky spot, or a reason why something isn’t working. The real deal? The story, sticky spot, or reason is typically the same as the one we heard the week before in a totally different region!

What you are struggling with is probably very similar to what others are struggling with. We have spent a lot of time in recent years perfecting the art and science of implementing core reading programs in elementary schools and systematic, explicit interventions in K-12. Folks have done a fantastic job, and many who have never seen great success with struggling students are experiencing unprecedented results.

The really cool thing? Nothing has changed, except for the teaching. And that change has made all the difference in the world for students.

But where so many continue to struggle is when the instruction goes “off script.” In other words, when we have delivered the grade-level material, and students still need a leg up into or beyond that grade-level content. This “off script” teaching is differentiated instruction. We are diagnosing the needs of all kids (even the benchmark and advanced kids who get lost in the shuffle) and prescribing and delivering instruction in ways that a scripted program is limited.

Core instruction is made more powerful by daily differentiated instruction. We don’t lose our minds and get away from explicit instruction, but we do open our minds and look at what students need skill-wise, right here and right now.

Differentiated instruction is where our professional judgment and expertise come into play—big time. It takes highly skilled teachers to effectively prescribe and deliver small-group instruction that makes a difference in getting students up to benchmark.

So, let’s step back for a minute and look at where differentiated instruction typically gets off track. This helps us get on the right track!

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is suffering from a lack of focus in planning. The teacher is winging lessons or focusing on “teachable moments.” The time in the group is never-ending (I call this the “life sentence of small groups”—it’s never going to end!), and there is little to no monitoring of individual lessons and weekly check-outs to make sure that students are actually learning what the teacher is delivering. Just because kids are in a small group doesn’t mean that they’re learning the right stuff. Attendance doesn’t equal mastery. If it did, I wouldn’t need to write this blog post.

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is suffering from a lack of oomph. The teacher is struggling to gain and maintain behavior control or is having trouble keeping positive and highly motivating to kids. I understand that when you’re working with the most struggling kids, they often come with a host of (learned or masking) behaviors that can get in the way of instruction. And I get that they take lots of patience. But I also know that without oomph or verve or whatever adjective you want to use to describe a fun, swiftly moving lesson, kids lose interest—and the lessons flop. And then we sometimes start to blame the kids, which is not going to fix the problem … ever.

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is focused so much on filling a gap with a supplemental program that we forget it’s our jobs to teach the kids, not just teach the program. Those who know me know that I am a huge supporter of explicitly taught, research-based core and supplemental programs in reading. BUT one thing I can’t support is blind teaching of those programs. What does this look like/sound like? It sounds like this: “Well, I taught it, so I’m not quite sure why they didn’t learn it. It was all delivered right to them!” The real deal? It doesn’t matter what we’re teaching if they’re not picking it up. The effectiveness of our teaching in small groups is not accomplished by what we delivered, but by what they mastered. So this “I delivered it” thinking has to be altered.

So, how do we make sure that our differentiated instruction is first-class instruction, focused on what kids really need and resulting in kids hitting the benchmark at record rates?

It all comes down to the Three Ps:

1.       Placement

2.       Planning

3.       Performance

Let’s talk Placement first.

In a grade level or department, you must first establish what criteria you will use to determine who goes in what group. For example, will you use unit tests, diagnostic tests, weekly tests, or progress monitoring tests and benchmarks to determine who will go where? Will you use a combination of all of these data points? The criteria are essential in ensuring that we’re not grouping kids based on gut-checks.  When criteria are not set or are set teacher by teacher, kids are put into groups based on behaviors (issues or nonissues) and past performance (“She is a low student” or “Oh, no, he does not need to be in the low group; he’s higher than this test is showing”), rather than actual need right at this moment.

So, once we sort kids according to the criteria, we know that when we’re talking about “the strategic group,” for example, we’re talking about the same kids. This helps with planning and reflecting on the lesson and sorting the data in the end. We can get stuck on this process of sorting students into skill-need groups, but the party hasn’t even started! We’ve got to get on to designing the instruction!

When you place kids in a group by common criteria, you then have to make a decision about how long you want to keep them in that group before making any adjustments. I typically look at 4 to 6 weeks (not necessarily scientific, but a pretty reasonable, realistic period of time) as the length of time that students will for sure stay in that group before we analyze the data for re-sorting purposes.

I find that when we’re too eager to move kids, we end up moving them out of the group or up into another group based on one data point rather than looking at the trend of data for that student. Students will often end up back where they started because we didn’t build in time for skill maintenance.

I also encourage you to focus not only on growth, but also maintenance of growth and benchmark status. If the instruction is working, let it do its work and don’t rush students out of the group until the instruction has “stuck.” However, if you find that it’s taking all year for instruction to “stick,” then we’ve got another problem (refer back to the beginning of this blog!).

Once we have sorted our kids by the common criteria and chosen a re-sorting date so that they don’t get life sentences in small groups, we’re well on our way!

I really do recommend that you look at the setup to differentiated instruction before you look at what you’re teaching during that time; so much of the cleanup of our practices can be done in the Placement area. It’s a quick fix-up typically!

Your homework?

  • Meet with your grade-level/department colleagues and walk through your current criteria for small-group placement
  • Analyze if your criteria is teacher-by-teacher or if you have a common standard for who goes where
  • Start to look at all of your data points and analyze what data you currently have (and I’m sure you have PLENTY!) that will help you make future small-group instructional decisions

Up next for us? Join me next week as we uncover Step 2 (Planning) and Step 3 (Performance). We’re on our way to massively transforming our practice!

Jill Jackson is owner and managing director of Jackson Consulting, a full-service literacy consulting and school improvement company serving the nation’s lowest performing/high-poverty school districts. Come grab Jill’s free tools at, send her a tweet at, or post on her wall at

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | 1 Comment

Cyberbullying: What We Know and What We Can Do

By Jeffrey Sprague

What we know

Cyberbullying, or electronic aggression, has emerged as another form of antisocial behavior as students have ever-increasing access to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009). This form of bullying refers to aggression that is executed through personal computers or mobile phones to send e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, or messaging on social networks (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Though research is limited about the extent of this new form of bullying, available studies report that 9–35 percent of students report being the target of cyberbullying, and 4–21 percent report being the aggressor (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009).

Most students report receiving electronic aggression (cyberbullying) via instant messaging, and about a quarter reports being bullied by e-mail messages, in chat rooms, or through posts on websites. Fifth-grade students report fewer problems with this type of bullying, and eighth-grade students report the highest involvement (Williams & Guerra, 2007). These electronic communications can include mean teasing, threats, playing mean tricks, and spreading rumors that are intended to harm the emotional well-being, social status, or peer relationships of another student (Agatston, Kowalski, & Limber, 2007).

Cyberbullying presents unique challenges for students as well as school administrators. Among these is the ability of the aggressor to remain anonymous—a situation that many believe increases the level of cruelty, mean tricks, and power of the student bullies. Another challenge is the capacity of the bully to engage in the aggressive behavior at any time of day. In fact, 70 percent of students report that 70 percent of the cyberbullying , and the extent to which he or she can send or post damaging messages to a wide audience well beyond the classroom or school (David-Ferdon & Hertz, 2009; Agatston, Kowalski & Limber, 2007).


What we can do

First of all, as educators it is imperative to know what our responsibilities and rights are regarding cyberbullying. If we see it or suspect it, then as professionals there is an implied responsibility to act in a systematic and coordinated manner. Some questions to consider include the following:

  • Does your school have a school-wide program that teaches pro-social skills to all students, creating a respectful social climate such as PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)?
  • To what extent is socially aggressive behavior, bullying, and harassment (including cyberbullying) a problem in our school?
  • Does our school or school district have a specific policy about cyberbullying?
    • If so, what does the policy require us to do?
    • What is the proper response if a student reports a cyberbullying incident to you?
      • What should you say to the student?
      • What information do you need to collect?
      • To whom do you report the socially aggressive behavior or bullying?
      • Does our school have a specific plan or program for bullying prevention and response?
        • Do students know how to report bullying properly?
        • Do students know how to respond to a bullying incident …
          • When they are the victim?
          • When they are “standing by” and watching it happen?
          • How do we respond when the bully won’t stop?

It is important to understand your rights, responsibilities, and available resources regarding prevention and response to bullying and its many forms, including cyberbullying.

Our new book, Best Behavior: Building Positive Behavior Support in Schools (Second Edition), provides the framework to achieve a more effective context for prevention of all forms of problem behavior. We also specifically and simply describe how to integrate school-wide PBIS practices and bully prevention in practical, easy-to-understand terms.

Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., is a professor of special education and director of the University of Oregon’s Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior. He directs federal, state, and local research and demonstration projects related to PBIS, RtI, youth violence prevention, alternative education, juvenile delinquency prevention and treatment, and school safety. Sprague is coauthor of the Best Behaviorprogram, several guidebooks and reports, and more than 150 journal articles and book chapters. He currently directs an R01 research project from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct the first evaluation of the effects of PBIS in middle schools and is co-principal investigator on four Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 development projects.


Agatston, P. W., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2007). Students’ perspectives on cyberbullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), 559-560.

David-Ferndon, C., & Hertz, M. F. (2009). A CDC issue brief for researchers. Electronic media and youth violence, from

Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(4), 368-375.

About Jeffery Sprague

Books by Jeffery Sprague:

Wholeschool Leader

Best Behavior

Categories: Family, General Education, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Unraveling the Common Thread of Big Ideas in Geometry and Measurement

By Dr. Michele Douglass

Student achievement in the areas of measurement and geometry has been lacking for years, as evidenced by TIMSS data as well as state-to-state student achievement data. Two contributing factors are that textbooks typically spend less time developing these concepts and teachers often don’t spend the instructional time that is needed for them.

Now is the time to address this deficiency in mathematical understanding by beginning to understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The CCSS bring about many changes from state to state. One of the biggest adjustments is thinking about the topic of geometry as a separate entity from measurement or data and statistics. As evidenced in the standards, statistics is not introduced as a topic until students have had years of working with data, especially as it relates to geometry and measurement.

So, what really is the difference between geometry and measurement, and how do we support in-depth student learning of these concepts?

  • Measurement helps us describe shapes by quantifying their properties. Angular measures, in particular, play a significant role in the properties of shapes.
  • Geometry is the branch of mathematics concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space.

Mark Driscoll describes the importance of having a geometric habit of mind that involves: reasoning with relationships, generalizing geometric ideas, investigating invariants, and balancing exploration and reflection to improve student achievement (Driscoll, 2007, Fostering Geometric Thinking).

These categories of thinking are certainly one way to think about geometry and its connection to measurement. However, when you look across the domains of measurement and data, along with geometry, one might see a blurring of these ideas. It isn’t these categories that will bring clarity to instruction or build deeper knowledge in students. We need to change instruction to include the connections among and between the standards in terms of common big ideas that thread through all the standards.

The big ideas that are important to use as you design your instruction are as follows:

  • Visualization
  • Properties that define relationships
  • Dimensions and measurement
  • Problem solving

Visualization. This is where everything begins. We ask students at an early age to visualize the differences in shapes to sort and categorize them. Categorizing shapes visually leads to the connection of seeing and learning properties. For example, think about quadrilaterals. Students can sort these shapes into parallelograms, or more specifically to see the differences and similarities among squares, rhombi, and rectangles, which connect to the learning of properties of shapes.

Visualization also connects to building meaning of congruence and finding congruent shapes within other shapes, which connects to symmetry and geometric transformations. Think about how a shape might be transformed when you see it appear in a real-life situation. Not only does the shape need to be recognized, but you must also be able to accurately identify the properties of that shape. Think specifically about Pythagorean Theorem. What happens if the right angle of the triangle is actually in the upper right corner of the triangle? This different orientation requires changes in the visualization students have about the location of the sides or legs of the triangle versus the hypotenuse.

Finally, visualization connects to the measurement of perimeter, area, volume, and surface area. Here one must see that, even when a triangle has been rotated and shown in a different orientation, there is still a base and a height, even if the base isn’t in its traditional location – the length at the bottom of the triangle. Furthermore, visualization is a basis for building meaning of the relationship between finding the area of a trapezoid and finding the area of a triangle. One must be able to visualize the triangles that exist in a trapezoid to make meaning of this relationship.

This same type of visualization must occur to build meaning in finding the surface area of three-dimensional shapes. One must be able to visualize all the faces of the three-dimensional shape when it is drawn on a two-dimensional surface in order to find the area of each of the faces. Likewise, it takes visualization to see the two-dimensional shapes that exist within a specific plane that intersect a three-dimensional shape. We need students to have visualized the shapes such as the circle or ellipse prior to learning their specific properties and transformations that occur when graphing.

During your planning, think about how you are providing opportunities for students to visualize the object from multiple vantage points. How do they need to see the shape? Do they need to be able to decompose the shape? Is there reason to make sense of how the object is composed of various other shapes? Do they need to see a shape within an object to build connections to understand a specific relationship or property? These are some examples of questions you should be asking yourself as you are planning with visualization in mind.

Properties That Define Relationships. We often think about our own geometry experience and remember proof, proof, proof. Yes, we must know properties, but what we often miss is that properties define specific characteristics, and many properties connect to one another due to specific relationships. For many students, the learning of properties is extremely challenging because the list of properties is so long, and the relationship of these properties is not explicitly taught.

For example, think about learning the properties of a triangle. This topic begins in third grade and extends into high school. If we think about the relationship of the properties to the triangle, it provides students with a hierarchy as well as an organization for learning the properties. Think about the properties of angles of a triangle. First, angles can be acute, obtuse, or right. Likewise, a triangle can be classified by these same words. The relationship is that these words describe properties of the types of angles that exist within a triangle.

We can also look at the properties that exist for the lengths of the sides of the triangle. The length of the sides of a triangle defines it as being scalene, isosceles, or equilateral. Some of these same words can be used to describe the properties of a trapezoid. When a trapezoid has one right angle, it is a right trapezoid. When the two nonparallel sides are congruent, we name the trapezoid an isosceles trapezoid. As we move up in grades, additional properties of the lengths of the sides of a triangle are discovered and learned, including Pythagorean Theorem as well as trigonometry functions. The use of these two sets of relationships is defined by the type of angles that are present within the triangle.

While you plan your instruction of a geometry or measurement standard, you want to extend beyond visualization to think about properties and relationships. You should consider these questions focused around the big idea of the properties and relationships that exist. What are the properties that you are teaching that link to the concept? How do these properties show a relationship? How does the property connect to another shape? Another formula? Think about the connection between the properties and the relationships so that students are not seeing every property as a new  entity, but rather as an extension of a relationship they already know. 

Dimensions and Measurement. Dimensions and measurement is where the properties that we just discussed become quantified. Measurement is an issue of understanding the attribute that is being quantified. Attributes are measured in various ways and with different tools. For example, length is an attribute that is often measured in feet or inches using a ruler as a tool, whereas a table has the additional attribute of the space it takes up in a room. Space is the attribute of volume, which could be measured using cubic inches or cubic feet.

The dimensions of an object dictate the type of attributes that can be measured. For example, a line is in a plane, and when two lines intersect, you have two attributes that you could measure: length of a segment or angle measure. However, if you think back to the table, which is three-dimensional, you have multiple attributes. You could measure angles, lengths, area, volume, weight, and more. Each of these measurements is determined using specific tools such as a protractor for angles, rulers for lengths, and scales for weight.

Measurement has another aspect to it in the concept of conversions. The idea that is often lost in the act of unit conversions is making meaning of the inverse relationship that exists between the measurement and the unit of measure. More specifically, think about measuring the length of your bedroom using inches vs. feet. The length could be 120 inches or 144 inches versus 10 feet or 12 feet long. Notice how the quantity of units decreases. Many times students get confused if they only are paying attention to the total measurement without considering the size of the unit. Good instruction involves building meaning of the relationship that exists between a measurement and the unit size.

Since we are now measuring with a unit that is greater in length, it takes less iterations of that unit to match the length of the object. This is the inverse relationship – a greater unit of measure takes less iterations of the unit. Notice how understanding this relationship is critical in building meaning of dimensions and measurements.

Measurement also connects to some properties that we learn are specific measurements, such as a right angle or complementary angles. If you think back to the dialogue about properties, you may recall the number of properties that exist based on the angle measures of a shape. For example, when you have a regular polygon, you know all the angles are congruent. Vertical angles are two angles formed by intersecting lines, and they are congruent. A square has four right angles. While we often think of measurement as area or perimeter, let’s not forget the impact angle measures have within geometry and measurement.

As you are planning to teach a specific standard, you should be asking questions about measurement as well. Consider some of these questions:  What is the attribute that is being measured? Is one unit of measure better to use than another? Which tool would I use to make this measurement? How can I help students understand the inverse relationship that exists between the measure and the unit size? How does the measurement link to the properties we know about the shape? 

Problem Solving. Most likely, the hardest part of geometry is the problem solving. This is hard for many reasons, but at the top of the list is that students don’t have enough opportunities to see how the visualization, properties, and measurement connect to everyday life. For this reason, problem solving must be a focus of every lesson. From classifying shapes to solving for a missing angle, students need multiple opportunities to connect the learning to everyday life, as this is most often the way the concept is tested.

Student achievement will not improve if the instructional approach is not enhanced to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. You can make a difference for students by investigating the standards to see the connections described in this blog.

As you begin with a standard, go back to each of the sections above and use the questions posed as a starting point for your planning. Design your instruction to place emphasis on how visualization, properties and relationships, and dimensions and measurement can support students in learning the intended content.  Use these connections to support students to build a greater understanding of geometry and measurement.

Michele Douglass, Ph.D., is the president of MD School Solutions Inc., a company that contracts with school districts on content and pedagogy with teachers and leaders. Her experience ranges from math instructor to director of curriculum and instruction at Educational Testing Services. She has authored several math curricula, as well as professional development and technology programs.

About Michele Douglass

Categories: Math, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part Two

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck

Definition of Fluency:

reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read

Reasonable? Appropriate? Suitable? 

The above definition, which Dr. Deb Glaser and I developed for our training manual Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill(2012),states that reading fluency is comprised of reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody or expression. We conclude, along with most educators, that the performance standards for these three components of fluency should, in fact, vary depending on the demands of the task.

“Reasonably” Accurate

Poor accuracy leads to compromised comprehension and requires teacher attention to repair. However, precisely defined standards for reading accuracy have not been scientifically established. Some suggest that, for most reading tasks, we should aim for at least 95 percent accuracy (Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Thompson, 2011).It may be that, for younger emerging readers, acceptable levels for accuracy should be even higher (perhaps 97 to 98%). However, there are circumstances where much higher—even nearly perfect—accuracy is necessary, such as reading the directions required to complete an important task. In other situations, such as recreational reading, the level of reading accuracy is essentially unimportant.

“Appropriate” Rate

Norms for Oral Reading Fluency (ORF)—as measured in words correct per minute (wcpm)—such as those created by Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) have been established. Researchers generally agree that performance at the 50th percentile of these ORF norms can serve as a reasonable benchmark for determining an appropriate reading rate.

While there is ample empirical evidence that it is important, even essential, for students to maintain wcpm rates minimally at the 50th percentile, there is no research to suggest that pushing students to have wcpm scores above the 50th percentile has any benefit. It is preferable and more accurate to think about ORF scores like we think about blood pressure or body temperature or cholesterol levels: all three of these measures have established “norms,” and there are significant findings from medical research to indicate that it is important for healthy people to maintain their blood pressure, body temperature, and cholesterol at “average” or expected normative levels. Unlike I.Q. or athletic prowess, there is absolutely no benefit to having significantly higher (or lower) scores in these three areas! Likewise, ORF scores can serve as “indicators” of health and wellness, and scores at the “average” level are, in fact, optimal. While the data provided by Hasbrouck and Tindal demonstrate that there are students whose words correct per minute performance is above the 50th percentile, there is no research to confirm a benefit to these students in terms of higher levels of comprehension or motivation.

“Suitable” Prosody 

As with the other two components, there is no “one size fits all” for measuring optimal prosody or “expression.” There are times when we read—especially when reading silently—that expression is of little or no help to our understanding and enjoyment of the text. In silent reading, we simply want a reader to understand and attend to the diacritical markings of periods, commas, exclamation points, and quotation marks provided by the author to assist in the interpretation of the text. In oral reading, prosody is more fully evident. When oral reading sounds as effortless as speech, and mirrors the melodic features of spoken language, we can say that the reader is using suitable prosody.

Fluency Instruction and Intervention

In order to plan appropriate lessons to help develop students’ fluency or to provide intervention to students who are struggling, teachers must assess all the components (accuracy, rate, prosody) as well as the underlying mechanics of fluency (word and text fluency skills and comprehension fluency skills). Then, using the results of these assessments, teachers can plan instruction for students that is appropriate and effective.

Hasbrouck and Glaser (2011) suggest using the “AAA Rule” to guide fluency instruction: Make sure that the instruction emphasizes ACCURACY, AUTOMATICITY, and that students always ACCESS the meaning of what is being read.

Fluency is an essential, but not sufficient, component of successful and joyful reading. Professional educators must have an understanding of this complex skill to ensure that all students achieve solid levels of reading fluency.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates; an author; and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 


Hasbrouck, J., & Glaser D. R. (2011). Reading fluency: Understanding and teaching this complex skill. Wellesley, MA: Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates,

Hasbrouck, J. E., & Tindal, G. (Spring 1992). Curriculum-based oral reading fluency norms for students in grades 2–5. Teaching Exceptional Children, 24 (3). pp. 41-44.

Rasinski, T. V., Reutzel, D. R., Chard, D., & Thompson, S. L. (2011). Reading fluency. In Kamil, M. L., Pearson, P. D., Moje, E. B., & Afflerbach, P. P. (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume VI, NY: Longman.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part One

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck 

I started my career as a reading specialist nearly 40 years ago, initially teaching students who were struggling with reading at the elementary and middle school levels. I found that many of my students had learned the basics of decoding, and many even had sufficient vocabulary and background knowledge to understand what they were reading … but something was getting in their way.

In those days, teachers weren’t often using assessments to examine things such as accuracy and rate. But just by working closely with these students and observing them carefully, it was clear to me that the rate at which they were reading—and the many other components that we would now refer to as “fluency”—was often a major stumbling block.

Now, almost four decades later, we have learned so much about the process of learning to read, and specifically we know much, much more about the essential skill of reading fluency! This year, in a collaboration with my esteemed colleague Dr. Deb Glaser, I have finally had the chance to share some of what we now understand about fluency.

The following information is taken from a book Dr. Glaser and I cowrote titled Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill.

Learning to read is like constructing a structure with blocks. Fluent readers have established a firm foundation for reading by integrating various component skills so well that the act of reading occurs without the reader having to intentionally will the skills into action. When these various skills are fully established, reading happens automatically.

What is reading fluency? Many questions surround the definition of fluency as a concept, in part because fluency has many subtle mechanics that are interdependent and therefore difficult to separate. We define fluency as:

Reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read.

Component #1: Accuracy

We purposefully listed accuracy first to underscore its crucial role. In order for a reader to understand what a text means, clearly that text first must be read with a certain level of accuracy. This may sound simplistic. However, to read text accurately a reader must read individual words accurately, which requires learning letters (graphemes) have associated sounds (phonemes) that need to be accurately identified and skillfully processed. Irregular words must also be read accurately. The recognition of common letter patterns as well the correct spellings of words also play roles in text accuracy. Then, of course, the correct meaning of words must be accessed. All this must happen simultaneously and automatically for a reader to be fluent.

Component #2: Rate

Rate is often mistakenly used as a synonym for fluency. Fluency is far more complex than rate alone! An all-too-common fallacy about rate is that “faster is better,” although most teachers likely know from their own experience that this cannot be true. Teachers know students who read quickly but still may not have good comprehension. Certainly, the rate at which text is decoded and recognized represents an important aspect of fluency. However, reading fast is not the same as reading fluently!  


Component #3: Prosody

Prosody is the technical term for what most teachers refer to as “good expression.” Prosody includes the pitch, tone, volume, emphasis, and rhythm in oral reading. Another aspect of prosody is how readers “chunk” words together into appropriate phrases. There is only minimal evidence that prosody influences reading comprehension. At this point, researchers in this field believe that prosody may be an outcome, rather than a contributor, to comprehension.

You may have noticed that we used some rather vague descriptors in our definition of fluency. Accuracy must be “reasonable.” Rate “appropriate.” And prosody “suitable.” What does that all mean? Stay tuned for my next EdView360 blog, Part 2.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates, an author, and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Family, Literacy, Professional Developement | 2 Comments

Professional Development Must Engage Math Teachers in the “Big Picture”

By Dr. John Woodward

We understand the issue more and more every day. For years, we’ve been told that our students don’t stack up in math when compared with their peers in other countries. Our performance isn’t that bad at the fourth grade, but TIMSS and PISA data clearly show significant comparative declines as our students end eighth and tenth grade. One of many interpretations of these data is that math at the intermediate and middle grades is an exceedingly weak link in our educational system.

Were that not enough, the link between mathematical competence and success in the workplace is becoming ever clearer as the economy slowly emerges from a deep recession. A recent and fascinating issue of the Atlantic Monthly (Davidson, 2012) provides a lucid account of the extraordinary gaps in knowledge between highly successful manufacturing workers and their less-skilled counterparts who are employed, at least for now, on the same factory floor.  The former possess increasing amounts of quantitative knowledge, while the latter live in fear of automation or outsourcing. Success in math at the middle grades, which is obviously fundamental to success in high school and beyond, is a cornerstone for securing the future for American students.

Standards such as the Common Core are one way to renew our commitment to raising mathematical performance. Yet the challenges are significant, as evidenced in a recent survey of school districts from around the country (Center on Education Policy, 2011). Most districts agreed that the Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than most state standards and that, if implemented well, they will improve student math skills. Yet respondents also felt that new curricular materials, as well as fundamental changes in instruction, would be needed.

The Need for Professional Development

Every business organization, including school districts, wants to hire “turnkey” employees. These are teachers who can hit the ground running and deliver instruction at a high level. Yet with changing standards and what we know about how long it takes any professional to develop a high level of skills, this desire is unrealistic. The hope for turnkeys also puts aside the millions of teachers who already work in our schools. Again, the international message is clear and consistent: high-achieving countries hire the best candidates they can, but they continue their professional development through many years of employment (Akiba & LeTendre, 2009; McKenzie & Company, 2007). We need to adopt this thinking if we have any hope of raising the math performance of our students in today’s schools.

There are distinct features to high-quality professional development in mathematics for today’s teachers. First, it is crucial that teachers understand the concepts they are teaching. Some would argue that this means extensive refresher courses in college-level mathematics, most of which are taught in a traditional, symbolic fashion.

Learning more formal mathematics can possibly help some teachers, but it is an unlikely solution for most. Also, there is little guarantee that any of this kind of professional development transfers to the classroom. Instead, teachers need vivid demonstrations of key concepts (or “big ideas”) as well as opportunities to engage in learning activities that promote the kinds of instruction advocated in the Mathematical Practices component of the Common Core. Teachers – and their students – need opportunities to analyze, discuss, and reason about concepts. They also need to solve the kinds of problems that promote strategic thinking and persistence. Naturally, how to integrate thoughtful skills practice is also part of the picture.

Teachers also need to see the “big picture” within the different strands of mathematics. For example, they need to see how rational numbers develop in complexity over grades 3 through 7. This kind of connected understanding of a strand helps teachers see how the big ideas link together, how what was taught at a previous grade level needs to be reviewed, and how what students do at one grade level is important for the next grade level.

Vivid examples of classroom practice are also critical. How do I use fraction bars effectively? How do I orchestrate a classroom discussion with an eye toward students who do not normally participate? How do I assist students when they get stuck grappling with rich mathematical problems? Well-designed video examples can go a long way to improve practice, and they are something teachers can return to again and again.

Finally, teachers need a tremendous amount of assistance when it comes to instructional planning. Linking the contents of a district’s math adoption to Common Core State Standards is challenging in itself. Even more, creating opportunities within a unit of instruction for students to engage in mathematics at a high level is new to many teachers. It is easy to skip this kind of instruction, particularly if it is a new kind of classroom practice. Teachers need guided assistance doing this as well as developing a variety of assessments that tap into the kind of thinking we want today’s students to do in math.

There is good news.  We can provide the kind of professional development our teachers need. Our challenge is to accept the fact that this kind of work is an unavoidable feature of today’s successful school systems.

Dr. Woodward is a professor and dean of the School of Education at the University of Puget Sound. In a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education, he worked with the REACH Institute on a collaborative five-year program that examined teaching methods for helping students in grades 4-8 with disabilities succeed in standard-based instruction. Dr. Woodward is coauthor of the TransMath mastery-based intervention solution for middle and high school students and a lead trainer for NUMBERS math professional development.


Akiba, M., & LeTendre, G. (2009). Improving teacher quality: The U.S. teacher workforce in a global context. New York: Teachers College Press.

Center on Education Policy. (2011, September). Common core state standards: Progress and challenges in school districts’ implementation. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.

Davidson, A. (2012, January/February). Making it in America. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved January 26, 2012 from


McKenzie & Company. (2007). How the world’s best-performing countries come out on top.  Retrieved January 26, 2012 from

Categories: Math, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Stop Hitting the ‘EASY’ Button!

By Jill Jackson

I remember when my local office supply store started stocking the big red “EASY” button on the counters near the register. I had visions of carrying it with me when I embarked on my weekly, travel-for-work exploits! Just the thought of stepping out of the line as my flight is delayed for the umpteenth time and finding a quiet corner at O’ Hare and smacking that “EASY” button seemed somehow soothing … if only it worked that way!

Oddly enough, I think that quite a few folks in education are trying to bring that “EASY” button into their offices or classrooms.

Here’s what the “EASY” button sounds like: “Gee, teaching didn’t used to be this hard; what happened to the good ole days?” or “Wow! I need to figure out an easier way to do this!” or “Isn’t there a way that I can make this faster?” or “If only the parents/prior teachers/board/administrators/community would do ____, then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time.”

Here’s the secret: THE EASY BUTTON HAS LOST ITS POWER! Well, it never really had any power, but let’s not get hung up on that.

The real deal is this: Teaching is hard. There, I said it! Teaching is hard, and it’s not for the faint of heart —or the faint of spirit, for that matter.

So we really need to level with ourselves and change the conversation from “How can I simplify this?” to “How can I make this more powerful for the students?”

By switching the conversation, we are placing the focus on the STUDENTS we serve. We organize around what is best and most efficient and effective for the kids—even when it’s tough on the adults … even when it stretches us and causes us to stay a little later, prep a little longer, ask a zillion more questions, or ask for help and risk admitting that we don’t have the answer. And who benefits? The kids AND the teachers.

Why is dumping the “Easy” button helpful to teachers? Because we gain confidence in what we’re capable of doing for our students. That’s the way confidence grows: by trying something you didn’t think you could do and actually doing it! And NOTHING tops a confident teacher!

So once we dump the “EASY” button, what will things look like on our campuses?

  • We will discuss options for fixing teaching problems without the filter of “How much time will this take?”
  • We will analyze our current practices and ask: What practices serve me well, but don’t necessarily pay off for my students?
  • We spend the time in the lesson prep, knowing that excellent teachers make teaching look easy because they’ve planned for lessons so thoroughly.
  • We will remind each other during team meetings that just because something is difficult or time-consuming doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

I’ve been working with struggling schools for more than 10 years now, and what I have learned over time is that teaching is NOT magic, and it IS difficult. But more than so many other professions, it’s worth it because the return on the time/energy/expertise investment is off the charts!

Commit with me to working through the difficult, even when the “Easy” button seems like the thing to do. We won’t regret it.

Jill Jackson is owner and managing director of Jackson Consulting, a full-service literacy consulting and school improvement company serving the nation’s lowest-performing/high-poverty school districts. Check out Jill’s tell-it-like-it-is tools and tips at, Tweet her at, or post to her wall at

Categories: General Education, Professional Developement | 20 Comments

Be a Paid Education Blogger! Enter Sopris Learning’s Blog Contest

By Sopris Learning

Sopris Learning is looking for passionate educators to share their views with an online community of colleagues through our EdView360 blog. Enter by blogging about your choice of three given topics and submitting of a short video explaining why we should hire YOU! The public will vote, and the winner will write for EdView360 at $100 per blog! Click Here for contest details.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, General Education, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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