This is written in remembrance of Rick DuFour and Grant Wiggins who I studied for numerous years in order to become better at what we do as teachers to serve students.  I hope this entry brings some peace to what some call “mass confusion” amongst the masses in a district where I have spent 17 years and the students and teachers who I have given my heart to every day. I do love you all and try keep your best interest at heart. 

The last two years, under mandate, we were required to adopt the Marzano Framework for Instruction in our district.  I ask that for a moment that you consider our journey, our future, and the vision for this work and how it can unfold in our buildings to best serve the needs of our students and you, the professionals, who work tirelessly to support them.  This is not a plea for support of the framework.  Quite the opposite.  It does, however; beg us to look at the work we are doing in a different light.  It requires us to be open to something that some of us may currently resist.

Inquiry is a strong learning tool.  I use these four questions only for us to consider the right inquiry that it will take for our students to be able to find their passions and  to make their dent in this world.  These four questions can symbolize  our dent in the world.

What do we want our students to know and be able to do?

Now, more than ever, we must consider the question “What do we want our students to know and be able to do.” In the 21st century, technology and automation are changing our world at an astronomical rate.  We are preparing our students for a future for which we are quite uncertain.  There is also much division in our world.  One only needs to pull up Facebook for that reality.   The focus on what skills and knowledge are important for success on a national and global scale are paramount for our students and our future.    We are working hard to identify those skills and knowledge in our current curriculums. There is no script for this.  We also know that this process is very fluid and dynamic and it drives everything that we do.   Making  intentions known is critical for an intrinsic drive for learning.  By making our learning intentions known to our learners and all stakeholders involved, we create a vision and connection to the environments we create in our classrooms, our assessments and our instruction.  We also show that the the path to understanding and owning these learning intentions is a process and that deep understanding of any concept or skill takes time. It requires a growth mindset.  Much conflict has arisen from this question of what we want our students to know and be able to do.  How much time do we spend on content?  How much do standards drive this work?  What do our assessments require of our kids?  What do colleges require? Employers?   These are the right questions to be asking and debating.  When we are articulate and transparent about what we want our students to know and be able to do, we become more deliberate, intentional, and connected.  We cannot ask this question enough.

How do we know that students understand and are able to do?

After we have identified with some clarity, the skills and knowledge our students need, we must consider how we know that they have acquired them.  As we continue to explore  this question, conflict will continue to arise.  Do traditional assessments used in education really assess what students know and are able to do?   Formative Assessments, Checks for Understanding,  Tasks, Activities, and Techniques all drive the type of REAL data that dictate the direction in the classroom.  Yet, what should these look like?  Is there a sole focus on content?  Is memorization the primary means of understanding?  What should students be producing to show us the understanding of what we want them to know and be able to do?  In a 21st century world,  knowing we have no idea what the world will be or become,  how can we use assessment in a way that allows us to see a consumption of knowledge and a utilization of knowledge?  How will we know that students will be successful on our assessments?  These conversations take time..  They challenge some of the very basic assumptions that all of us have about our work.  Yet, this time spent debating is very much worth it.  How we assess our students is a critical point in the conversation.  After we have defined through a very critical and careful eye what we want our students to know and be able to do, how do we  figure out the best and most authentic  ways to use assessment to uncover these understandings?

How will we teach so that students understand and are able to do?

Teachers, including myself,  want practicality.  We understand the importance of time, structure, engagement, and teachers needing something pragmatic to take back to their classrooms.    It is only after we have defined what we want our students to know and be able to do that we can create the experiences  that will allow our students to interact, deepen, and utilize these skills and knowledge.   What processes will we use to  engage our students?   What types of environments and structures will we use in our classrooms that will cause students to interact with what we have defined as essential knowledge and skills?  How will we teach so that our students are successful on the assessments we create and those that they are required to take outside of our classrooms?  The quality of the teacher and the quality of instruction is one of the greatest predictors of student success in schools.   How do we ensure that the techniques, activities, groupings, strategies, and projects we utilize are leading kids to a deep understanding of what we want them to know and be able to do?  These questions must be addressed and sharing techniques with one another is one of the highest and most engaging forms of professional development.  Yet, we must know the intent. 

What do we do when students understand or do not understand?

As we dig deeper,  how do we carve out time to analyze student work.  How do we celebrate growth and success with students who are achieving at high levels and how do we support those students who are still grappling with the skills and knowledge?  What tracking mechanisms are we using to monitor student progress?  Part of our work in identifying what we want students to know and be able to do is to help them to monitor for these skills and understandings through assessment.  Through this assessment, how can we can be more specific in our feedback with students.  Exactly what gaps are we seeing in understanding?  How can we help them monitor  their own learning and identify where they must grow?  Lastly, how do we help students dig deeper into concepts when they have met our goals for them and are ready for deeper work?   

These four questions represent what the the Marzano Framework is driving without saying his name once.  It is more than any one man.  This is not his work.  It is ours.   The framework is merely a guide.   Scales (I said the dirty word)  are simply a tool that we are using as our starting point. .  They have received much attention in our district in a positive and negative light.  It is predictable.  Scales are concrete evidence in a very abstract profession. They are a tool.   My hope is that we continue to focus on these four questions within our work as schools to ensure that every student in our school finds success and we always exemplify all that is KCK.  I am not in charge of many of the decisions made in our district.  None actually other than the way in which I chose to deliver these messages to make a positive impact on students and the tired but resilient teachers who serve them.   We have made a lot of  mistakes.  We have done a lot of great things.  We still have much to do.   Learning is a process and we will continue to grow.  My hope is that we do not give up hope.  My prayer is that we do not continue to cast the stones but engage in the dialogue needed on all sides to become better.  I believe that we can.