A Clearinghouse for Martensdale-St. Marys Community Schools Professional Development

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter Five

We are approaching the halfway point in our study of DuFour's introduction to professional learning communities. From reading your comments over the past few months, it is clear you and your colleagues are working through the text and not only grasping the content but also finding ways to apply your learning to MstM. Chapter five switches from the high school environment to the middle school model.

In addition to working through chapter five today, make sure you have taken the time to plan and schedule your peer observations. The original timeline for the fall indicated they needed to be done before December 8th, but that is not a reasonable expectation at this time. Make certain you have completed and "debriefed" from them by the end of the semester. If you are taking PD for credit this year, you will need to turn in your notes from the observation as well as a reflection. If you are not taking PD for credit, these are artifacts that you may use in your portfolios. Please see me with any questions you have about this or any other element of our work this year.

Here are the discussion questions for chapter five in Whatever It Takes:

1) Some critics of the middle school concept maintain that the model has been too focused on the social and emotional development of young adolescents at the expense of the academic rigor necessary for their intellectual development. What is your reaction to that criticism?

2) How did Freeport Intermediate . . .
a. Identify students who needed additional time and support for learning?
b. Provide that additional time and support?

3) Freeport Intermediate calls upon teachers to give common assessments to students on a regular basis and to share their results with each other in order to identify and replicate successful strategies a colleague might be using. What concerns might teachers have about this process? What steps could be taken to address some of those concerns in a productive way?


  1. Kim, Terah, and Rana
    1. The social and emotional issues are coming from their home life and society and to get to the rigor of the curriculum you have to deal with these things first. We don't want it to be at the expense of academics, we insist that you have to incoporate them together such as a book club. It teaches reading and how to function with a peer group, dealing with others and working together.

    2. They had an ample amount of planning time, and the support network to provide the additional time and support. They used funds from their summer school to support their interventions. The teachers were also paid for hours outside of the school day to work towards this goal. They also monitored their process and made changes as needed.

    3. Our concern- make sure that the assessments are quality and not teaching just to the test. We enjoyed the sprialing approach to teaching strategies for testing.

  2. 1)
    You can’t ignore the social/emotional development. All developmental areas are tied together. If students can’t deal with their social environments and emotional issues, how can they be successful academically?

    2) a.
    They used common assessments, common cumulative exams each quarter, in the spring they had practice tests for state exams, and then they had the state exams. Teachers then met and discussed the results of the state exams. They looked for success and then tried to replicate it through the team. The ongoing team identifies where the curriculum needs to be. They also restructured their day to have a 90 minute block.

    Restructured day, team taught for one hour per flexible grouping, continuous assessment, spiraling instruction, and benchmark testing

    3)When do teachers have the time to do all the collaborating? How should everyone make sure each person is doing the same kinds of assessments and figuring them the same way? Consistency needs to be addressed because it can affect the assessment outcomes. Because we have a small staff, how do the teachers share responsibilities among the ones who have the ‘expertise?’

    Teachers need to meet with teachers one grade above and one grade below to make sure the learning is progressing properly.

    -Amanda, Tish, Barb

  3. PLC Group #1: Caleb, Don, Noel, Paula

    1. This criticism isn't exclusive to just middle school though. We also don't think this criticism is completely accurate either. It's kind of difficult for us to say since we don't really have a true middle school here. We think both areas need to have increased focus. We don't necessarily think the academic part is being sacrificed BECAUSE of the social/emotional. We instead think there should be a greater focus on both.

    a) Administer brief common assessments to students in the same grade level on a nearly weekly basis, quarter cumulative exams, practice tests, benchmark testing
    b) 1 hour of team time, snacks to boost energy for working on needed areas before and after school and provide transportation to students who need it, change the schedule, tutoring.

    3. Time is an issue to do this, we could potentially do this with collaboration. They are applying strategies within the same subject/grade level. You may have 3 8th grade science teachers collaborating on the same content/lessons. Here we are all teaching different subjects/grade levels and it can be difficult to align these strategies. Some steps we could take to address some of these concerns and creating and effectively using learning communities to run ideas off each other. Having additional time to do this as well as our collaboration time would be beneficial.

  4. by Mollie, Sara F., Jen P., Dianne R., Amanda P.

    1. We think there is a balance to be found between the social/emotional and academic/intellectual development. We think the social/emotional aspect is crucial at this stage of child development due to so many changes occurring in their lives.
    2.a. Students were identified with weekly assessments to monitor proficiency, quarterly assessments, and benchmark testing for the state exam.
    2.b. Additional time and support was offered in an hour long extra learning session before and after school a few days a week, alternating A/B block schedule gave teachers 90 minutes to work with their interdisciplinary team one day & their subject area team the next.
    3. Some concerns are the high amount of testing by students, time requirement on teachers to regroup students and plan for the next set of student instruction, finding time to explain to parents when their child is regrouped.
    To address the concerns of testing, less testing could occur - maybe biweekly instead of weekly.To address the time issue, teachers would have to figure out a common time to regroup students on a continual basis and decide who / what will be taught to the groups.

  5. #1. We think that within the curriculum social/emotional concerns and issues can be addressed while accomplishing the agenda set in the curriculum. The concept of development is a broad term and addressing the social/emotional needs of kids this age comes with the territory.

    #2. This school implemented TQM, total quality management which includes 8 steps. Part of TQM is weekly assessments of students, which then matches students up with a mentor teacher to either remediate skills or allow for enrichment.

    Restructuring the school day was necessary to implement these steps, as well as providing a before and after school program.

    #3. Concerns about common assessments, of course, include the time to organize and fully develop the plans,taking two-three years of professional development.

    Another concern is that students might get used to learning in the short term.

    Scheduled collaboration time could give teachers the opportunity to analyze the weekly data and make sense of which students need assistance or enrichment.

  6. 1. Middle school students are totally different from high school students in the way they learn and interact with their peers. We think we treat middle school students differently than high school students. We questioned the fact that we don’t hold back middle school students that fail core classes. That shows lack of rigor in middle school years. This practice dilutes the rigor that we expect in high school, especially for incoming freshmen. We referenced seminars that combine seventh grade through ninth grade.

    2. a. They identified students through testing on a weekly and quarterly basis. They used common assessments so there was continuity throughout. They kept using the same stuff every year and were able to “fine-tune” concepts and curriculum.
    b. They had an hour-long block at the end of the day for help or enrichment. Teachers had two separate planning times, one with their team, one for their core area. Before state tests they had tutoring before and after school.

    3. Our concerns highlighted evaluation based on student behaviors. If you are comparing classes and successful scores, a lot may depend on the makeup of your students and classes. Comments were made about varying test scores based on different classes that have been through our system. Would we narrow our focus so much that content was diluted just to improve test scores?

  7. #1 - The social/emotional issues of middle school students is relevant no matter where the students attend. In our situation at MstM, middle school student social/emotional issues are masked or do not appear to be prevalent due to the mixing of, not only 7-12 students, but 7-12 teachers. Yes they are here, but not necessarily the magnitude of a large, single standing, middle school building.

    #2 - A. They used common assessments at regular intervals to identify and classify students, from those that were proficient and in need of enrichment to those that were not proficient and needed intensive intervention.
    B. School day was restructured to provide additional time and resources to allow for enrichment and intervention.

    #3 - Teachers may have a concern for comparisons amongst peers. Time to complete this form of student evaluation, grouping/regrouping, and post learning activities(enrichment/intervention) is critical. Timely logistics is a major factor in any reform.

    *** Greater questions have come to mind within our PLC. Is what we are learning about through this professional development going to bring about reform within our own school? Is reform going to be a result of teacher driven ideas, or administrative agendas? If we cannot answer these questions head on, then are we truly making the best use of our time?