There is nothing like 800 educators working towards a common goal. This is exactly what happened at the Winter 2017 Standards Institute. Teachers, administrators, and school leaders from across the country came together to disrupt the status quo, close the opportunity gap, and do what research says is right for kids all in the name of helping their students meet the challenges set by higher standards.
Twice a year UnboundEd convenes educators at the Institute so they can explore the research behind the Standards, dig into what the standards mean, and learn strategies to improve instructional practice. UnboundEd’s aim is to give educators and leaders the resources they need to meet each of their students where they are today, no matter their background or skill level, and accelerate all of them toward grade level mastery.
The five-day conference brings to life UnboundEd’s guides that focus on the application of content related to the standards in the classroom. At the Institute, attendees can choose from one of three pathways: ELA, Mathematics, and leadership, each with two grade-specific tracks. Each pathway provides educators and leaders approaches they can take back to their classrooms, schools, and districts to continue to build on the foundation they gain at the Institute. Many participants attend as a team to ensure a network of support is in place after the event when they put what they learn into practice.
In addition to the pathways, this year’s 2017 Winter Institute featured inspiring keynotes from former Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., director of the Teacher Professional Development Program at WestEd Dr. Aida Walqui, literacy expert Tim Shanahan, president of EduTron Corporation Dr. Andrew Chen, and UnboundEd’s own Kate Gerson and Doug Sovde.
With so much happening, a detailed recap is challenging — though some of it is captured in our UnboundEd Storify — so we’ve distilled a few key takeaways below!
Equity must be addressed now
It’s true that high standards define readiness for each grade. But, we also know that, today, the majority of students are not ready for the grade in which they find themselves — especially children of color and from low-income families. Often gaps in readiness levels and classroom performance are framed as an achievement gap. This naming is a mischaracterization of the problem. It’s really an equity — and an opportunity — gap, and understanding that is central to effectively teaching to the standards. Overlaid across the Institute were ideas about how student demographics impact students’ opportunities to be successful and how unconscious biases that we have in all of us can appear in the classroom. To learn more about this opportunity gap and how to close it, check out Kate Gerson’s keynote presentation, keynote video, and the research behind the presentation. You can also check out the UnboundEd podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud where an audio file of Kate’s keynote is available for on-the-go listening. You can also follow Kate Gerson on Twitter @kgtara. Follow along and say hello!
The significance of scaffolding
We know scaffolding in everyday life as a framework that is made of wood or metal, placed around a building or large structure while it is being built or repaired. In the classroom, scaffolding relates to ensuring students have the adequate background and context to engage with a lesson. For example, if an assignment involves reading and discussing life on a farm, but a student has no context about farming and agriculture, it might be more challenging for them to engage in the discussion and comprehend the text. Similarly, in math, a student without full understanding of how arithmetic operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying and divide) function might struggle with higher-order concepts like rearranging algebraic expressions. To learn more about setting the proper context for students, check out the Institute’s resources on scaffolding.
Finding comfort with the uncomfortable
Not knowing the answer to a question — especially as an educator — can be stressful. So, at the Institute, educators were encouraged to get comfortable with this discomfort. Only when teachers and leaders give themselves the permission to “fail forward,” does the real learning start to happen, and each session was designed to allow plenty of “failure.” This approach is also designed to help teachers view students struggling with lessons in a different light.It can feel natural to jump in and provide an answer to a student who is struggling with text or a math problem. But, teaching to the rigorous standards– defined as deep, authentic command of concepts — means students will struggle. The Institute helped educators see their role not as answer-keeper in these situations, but as guide and coach. To learn more, take a look at the resources shared about rigor.
Balancing conceptual and procedural
Adopting an “experiment” before “rules” approach may seem backwards to most educators, but at the Institute it’s encouraged! The standards can be complex, and they are focused on mastery, which intentionally moves the focus away from rote memorization. By allowing students to deeply explore concepts before learning rules or procedures, they will be able to apply lesson more widely.
See the Forest for the Trees
It’s easy to get lost in one standard or one lesson, or in other words to miss the forest for the trees. However, the standards are strongest when viewed as a set: this focus on progression of and interplay among the standards could be found in all the sessions at the Institute. Educators engaged deeply not just with one standard but with relationships among standards, spending time to see how each built on each other and learning about the importance of full grade mastery before students move on to other grades. To learn more about this, check out the Institute’s resources on coherence.
We want to thank all of the educators who were able to attend the Winter 2017 Institute! The takeaways above are just a snapshot of what was discussed, and we are certain the learning will continue as participants return to their classrooms and schools. To encourage and support that learning, all Standards Institute materials are available for free and can be downloaded for teachers to use and adapt to meet the needs of their students, as can UnboundEd’s content guides on the standards and free, high-quality curriculum materials. We can’t wait to hear how attendees continue to build on the knowledge they gained at the Institute!