About Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 14-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he did time as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example (readingbyexample.com), tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book about digital portfolios will be published by Powerful Learning Press in the coming year.

Three Steps for Becoming More Engaged in Google+ Communities

These three screencasts were created for members of our Google+ Community around digital portfolios. I am hosting a book club on the topic in the next couple of days. After making the three tutorials, I realized they might also be applicable to anyone looking to become more active in their respective online groups on Google+.

Enjoy!

New Page at readingbyexample.com: Recommended Reads

I’ve reviewed enough educational resources now that I am starting to have a hard time remembering where they are all located. :-)

With that, I have created a page on this site that organizes my favorite reads. My reviews are located on Goodreads, Middleweb, Nerdy Book Club, and this site. You can follow the linked text in blue to read my review – click here to go to the page. Or, select the menu item located near the top of this site.

recommended-reads-

I will continually update this page with both new and old reviews. I am also listing books that I am currently working on a review for and will post soon. If you have a book to recommend, please list it in the comments of this page. I can’t promise to read it – so many books, so little time, right? – but I will consider it, and I am sure the author appreciates it. Maybe another reader on this site will follow your suggestion.

IMG_0956

Happy reading!

Backward Design: The Right Kind of Work

Someone saw me outside of school, shortly after leading a dozen of our school faculty in developing a content-based unit of study. “You look exhausted.” I nodded in agreement, even though the most physically demanding thing I did that day was set up lunch.

3953233580_4e8d9a55b7

photo credit: Forward backward via photopin (license)

The concept of backward design was developed by the late Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, in their professional resource Understanding by Design (ASCD, 1998). If you are not familiar with their work, they propose that teachers plan units of study by first considering the end in mind.

  • Stage 1: Determine the big goal, essential questions, and enduring understandings for the unit of study.
  • Stage 2: The teacher crafts a performance task that reliably assesses whether or not each student truly understands the content and skills of focus.
  • Stage 3: The learning plan, which is too often the first step in lesson planning, comes last. It is the journey that will lead students on the path toward the ultimate destination, already determined.

Students can benefit from this type of instructional planning because it gives them better opportunities to develop mastery in a specific topic of study. In a follow up to Understanding by Design, or UbD, Jay McTighe and Carol Ann Tomlinson explain in their text the connection between backward design and differentiated instruction.

Far more students would be successful in school if we understood it to be our jobs to craft circumstances that lead to success rather than letting circumstances take its course. Even the best curriculum delivered in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion will be taken by a few and left by too many. (from Integrating Understanding by Design + Differentiated Instruction, pg. 18)

In other words, teachers are preparing instruction that will better ensure all students can experience success in school. While at first glance this may seem like light duty, planning with the end in mind is different and certainly more complex work for our faculty that attended. “I am so used to writing up my plans for the next day based on the previous lesson and how students responded to my teaching,” noted one teacher. Because UbD goes against the grain of what teachers might normally practice, it requires a higher cognitive load for educators to construct situations in which students develop deeper understanding of core content and skills.

Here are a few images from our time together earlier this week:

We started by reviewing our shared beliefs about literacy, and aligning them with our current practices.

We started by reviewing our shared beliefs about literacy, and aligning them with our current practices. This is an activity suggested in Regie Routman’s book Read, Write, Lead (ASCD, 2014).

Using the KWL tool from Read, Write, Think (www.reading.org), we explored what we already know about UbD and curriculum design.

Using the online KWL tool from Read, Write, Think (www.readwritethink.org), we explored what we already know about UbD and curriculum design.

(You can click here to read what we collaboratively shared and documented on our KWL.)

Using an example lesson unit that was not applied to the UbD framework, I demonstrated with the group how to develop a unit on plant life for 2nd grade using this framework.

Using an example lesson unit that was not applied to the UbD framework, I demonstrated with the group how to develop a unit on plant life for 2nd grade using this framework.

Once we developed my unit as a team, teachers worked together to develop a unit of their own. Amy and Val, our music and art teachers, respectively, discuss possible ideas for big goals in their classrooms.

Once we developed one stage of my unit as a team, teachers worked together to develop a unit of their own. Amy and Val, our music and art teachers respectively, discuss possible ideas for big goals in their classrooms (Stage 1). This process went back and forth to ensure success.

Gabi and Renee, 1st and 5th grade teacher respectively, compare their essential questions to determine if they are open-ended and engaging.

Gabi and Renee, 1st and 5th grade teacher respectively, compare their essential questions to determine if they are open-ended and engaging.

Gabi and Michelle, 3rd grade teacher on the right, realize they are both designing a unit on geography and maps. They get together to ensure that they are addressing the correct social studies and writing standards, as well as calibrating the complexities of their instruction.

Gabi and Michelle, 3rd grade teacher on the right, realized they are both designing a unit on geography and maps. They got together to make sure that they are addressing the correct social studies and writing standards, as well as calibrating the complexities of their instruction.

We avoided using technology right away, for the simple fact that getting our thoughts down on paper and pencil was the better way to develop a first draft. I believe there is a tendency to rush this work when bringing in computers right away. They become tasks to complete instead of work worth digging into with others. Computers also tend to increase isolation, as everyone is staring at a screen and not connecting face-to-face with colleagues. Not to say that the teachers didn’t use technology; several staff used the Common Core State Standards website as a reference while working. Also, once drafts were completed and peer reviewed, they wrote them up in a Google Doc to share out.

Unfortunately, I could only stay for the first day. I did bring in a local literacy consultant to guide the faculty the second day on developing Stage 3 of their units of study (the learning plan). I left everyone with an inspirational quote from McTighe’s and Danielson’s text in our work space:

Determining What is Lifeworthy Learning in School

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” -Yogi Berra

In a previous post, I asked those that I am connected with online what they feel is the one thing a student should know, understand, or be able to do by the time they leave their respective school.

I also asked this same question of the members of our school leadership team, our school’s parents, and our outgoing 5th graders.

Why do this? We have two days of curriculum writing planned for next week. Our goal is to develop at least an outline of six content units of study for each grade level. There’s so much to teach and not enough time. We have to be picky about what’s essential. These units will be scheduled throughout the year, hopefully incorporating literacy and other areas of instruction. Using the Understanding by Design process (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998), we also hope to create more useful assessments for our students, performance tasks that allow them better opportunities to show what they know.

By gathering input from more stakeholders, the idea is there will be more ownership in this process of designing instruction. Parents and students have also been invited to our actual curriculum writing days. Their roles will be as a representative voice for all students and parents as we work together to make their school experience even better. Our school definitely has some successes, but we also have opportunities for growth, such as making learning opportunities more accessible for our marginalized students, and to better integrate technologies so they are a transformative piece of instruction, instead of merely augmenting current practice.

I took all of the input provided by our teachers, parents, students and my PLN, and condensed their ideas down into six-word-or-less learning statements. They were written on large Post-its and displayed in our LMC, which will serve as our workspace.

IMG_20150612_155807.054

I left some spaces open, to allow for more suggestions for what we as a school community feel is an essential outcome of a student’s school experience. David Perkins refers to this idea of what’s essential as “lifeworthy learning”, from his book Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World (Jossey-Bass, 2014).  LIfeworthy learning goes beyond basic skills, preparing for an unknown future and expecting students to generalize bigger concepts across disciplines and experiences. It is more than just a personalized learning experience or a fun activity, Perkins states.

The basic curriculum can’t be molded around the individual enthusiasms of learners. We need to figure out what’s likely to be lifeworthy for most students, kindling enthusiasm there as much as we can while also making room for individual learning experiences. (16)

Here are a few of our proposed lifeworthy learning statements:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can view all of the statements by clicking here.

The purpose for this display will be to look for ways to include these skills and understandings within units of study when appropriate. This process will happen after we review our mission and vision, recommit to our beliefs and best practices, and introduce the Understanding by Design process.

Here are a few questions I’ll be throwing out to our group when we arrive at this point in our time together:

  • What is stated here and it should be?
  • What is not stated here, but you feel should be?
  • What is not stated here, and it should stay that way?

This last question might be the most important. I have found conversations around instruction to be very powerful when a faculty finds consensus on what to stop doing in classrooms. Writing these obituaries may have a larger impact than on anything we might add to our instructional toolbox.

What are your thoughts on this process? Have you had any experience in determining what’s essential and lifeworthy for student learning with a group of educators? How have you “trimmed the fat” from curriculum in a fairly agreeable manner? Comments on this topic are welcome here.

(For a good description of this unit design process, check out the post Planning for the Planning on the Two Writing Teachers blog.)

Do you want to develop digital portfolios with your students? Join our book club!

The single most important thing you could do tomorrow for little to no money is have every student establish a digital portfolio where they collect their best work as evidence of their skills.

-Dr. Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence, Harvard University

Developing digital portfolios with your students can be a game-changing action in your classroom. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Not sure where to begin? Then join our July Book Club!

IMG_0192

Here is how to get started:

  1. Purchase the book on Amazon (link), iBooks (link), or Nook (link). I am offering 10% off this month when purchased directly through me, if you don’t mind the brief lag in response and a PayPal request.
  2. Request access to our Google+ Community (link). This is where our conversations will be housed.
  3. Check out the dates below for a timeline of chapters to be read.

June 29 – July 3:   Chapter 1 – Purposes for Portfolios

July 6 – July 10:    Chapter 2 – Performance Portfolios

July 13- July 17:   Chapter 3 – Progress Portfolios

July 20 – July 24:  Chapter 4 – From Files to Footprints: Beyond Digital Student Portfolios

In August, we will keep the conversations going informally. It would be a good month to ask final questions and conclude our time together with a celebration of sorts.

What you can expect from me:

  • A thought-provoking question posted once a week day in our Google+ Community throughout the four weeks. Also expect possible follow up responses from distinguished members of our community and/or me.
  • Full access during these four weeks to me for questions and demonstrations you might request regarding digital tools, processes, and leadership strategies. I will include my personal phone number and offer Google+ Hangouts to chat in real time.
  • An update on what our school is implementing regarding digital portfolios, current tools of choice, and our school’s brand new process for helping students reflect on and respond to their important and lifeworthy work online.

Not bad, right? I am also willing to issue very formal (~ahem~) certificates of participation for this book club, assuming frequent and thoughtful activity in our Google+ Community. This documentation may be used toward professional hours/accreditation within your district or university. Please check with your supervisor before assuming anything.

In closing, I can confidently state that the teachers I’ve observed who have experienced the greatest growth in their students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions are those that a) highlighted their students’ best work, b) provided time for them to reflect on their progress, and c) gave feedback on their current capacities and allowed for personal goal setting.

If these descriptors sounds like the teacher that you might want to be in 2015-2016, I highly encourage you to join us for our July 2015 book club. You won’t regret it.

20140228-213002.jpg

The reason I am replacing my iPhone with an Android smartphone

Google, of course.

15707819731_fc5c9b4118_b photo credit: iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 5S via photopin (license)

Don’t get me wrong. I really like the iPhone. Last year I upgraded from the 4S to the 5S, and I was seriously considering purchasing an iPhone 6. The plethora of apps that allow you to create and share original content is impressive. Being able to take a picture and have it synced with iCloud, available both on my iPad and my MacBook Air is very nice. And it is not like I will be giving up my iPhone. I’ll still use my 5S like an iPod Touch when wireless is available, which is helpful when controlling our Apple TV at home, or as a remote for a Keynote presentation at a conference.

But Google has become such a part of my professional life. Our district adopted Google Apps for Education about five years ago. The Apple versions of their apps work fairly well on iOS, but the experience is much better within the Android operating system. I will be getting the Motorola Droid MAXX. Playing with it at a local cell phone location, the navigation and transitions between Drive, Google+, Gmail, and Chrome are very efficient.

A lot of communication and collaboration that occurs for me as an administrator is now housed within Google Apps. For example, our elementary level administrative team houses all of our minutes, spreadsheets, and schedules in Google Drive. Sometimes I need to bring certain documents up quickly. The native environment provided by an Android phone is certainly a plus in these situations.

I’ve also gotten better about saving images in Google Photo. These pictures become much more accessible when I want to write and share a post on our school blog, housed on Blogger. These images are also accessible within Google+, a social media platform I am finding more helpful to me as a professional every time I use it. Beyond the Community I formed for my book last year, I am a part of a number of other Google+ Communities focused on digital tools, as well as local and global educational organizations. These more focused spaces for learning have become communities of practice for me.

Another benefit is Google Calendar. The iPhone worked fine for the functionality, as it connected well between both platforms. But again, it comes down to practicalities. By choosing to use an iPhone because I love the content and creativity it provides for me, am I giving up time and organization as I try to get things done efficiently using Google products on a platform that is not optimized for that product?

I am sure other professionals have (and may be currently dealing with) this dilemma, which probably seems minor if I were to gain more perspective. Nevertheless, here it is. What are your thoughts on this topic? Please share in the comments.

What to do when you have done everything you can

This has been a rocky week for Wisconsin teachers and administrators. That’s saying something, in the era of Governor Scott Walker and a very polarizing debate around public education. For K-12 schools, teachers may no longer be required to have a degree in education, or even a degree period, to teacher courses in secondary schools. For higher education, our legislators proposed a $250 million dollar cut and opened the doors for the University of Wisconsin system to get rid of tenure. For a solid summary of these happenings, check out Valerie Strauss’s commentary for the Washington Post.

For my part, here is a list of how I have personally advocated for public education recently:

  • I wrote a post on our school blog that provided details about the decisions our lawmakers were considering regarding K-12 education.
  • I personally invited our legislators in our voting district to visit our elementary school.
  • I spoke with parents regarding these cuts to public education, in hopes of them advocating for our students and schools.
  • I submitted an original commentary for the editorial page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which was an adaptation of a post I recently penned.
  • I asked two major software vendors on Twitter, who our district partners with regarding student learning, on where they stand with these cuts to public education.
  • I have encouraged my faculty to contact our legislators personally, not just as teachers, but as community members and as parents concerned about students.

As I read this list, it sounds like a pat on the back. Maybe I needed it. :-)

But with that, I know that I cannot advocate in isolation and expect true change to happen. It has to be a group effort. I thought Senator Elizabeth Warren embodied our feelings perfectly in a recent public interview.

When you come down to it, it is about money as we fight the privatization of public education. This is the kind of fire we need to see from everyone who cares about public education and democracy in general.

For me, I feel like I have advocated quite effectively. What I need to do now is relax and enjoy being with my family over the weekend. I can do this because I have confidence that I am not the only one affecting change. In other words, I am assuming that it is you, the reader, who is also a change agent of a better outcome for our present and future.