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Cooperative Learning Strategies July 30, 2013

Module 5 focused on cooperative learning strategies, particularly the Jigsaw model. Through this strategy each student in a group is responsible for meaningful and essential contributions towards a group goal. Students interact with each other, are accountable for their part of the task, learn and practice appropriate social skills, and reflect as a group on how well they worked with one another. (Del’Olio & Donk, 2007, p. 246)

As stated in Dr. William’s Module 5 lecture (Williams, 2013), the interpersonal and small group skills necessary for cooperative learning must be explicitly taught. It cannot be assumed that these practices will occur naturally. Such skills include communication, decision making, conflict resolution, leadership, and trust. In my particular school these skills are addressed in our character education curriculum (Kelso’s Choices and Peace Builders) along with our Social Studies curriculum “Social Studies Alive!” by TCI. It is important to refer to the skills learned through these curriculums as students engage in cooperative learning.

Further, cooperative learning must not be overused. (Dean, et al., 2012, p. 42) While the benefits of cooperative learning are definite and research based, students must engage in independent practice as well. When cooperative learning is used, the grouping should be varied as well. Dean et al. (2012) caution to avoid ability grouping on a consistent basis. This can lead to “group think” and restrict the knowledge available during the learning activity. (p. 43) Alternative groupings can be random, using name cards or popsicle sticks; student choice; purposeful heterogeneous groups (high to lower level learners distributed evenly amongst groups); or interest based, just to name a few.

Dell’Olio and Donk (2007) state that Jigsaw can be used as early as third grade “depending on the particular makeup, maturity, and social skills of the class.” (p.247) It would seem that there are many things educators can do to prepare younger students for cooperative learning as early as Kindergarten. First, young students should learn about and practice interpersonal skills such as conflict resolution and communication. Primary age students should also experience working in simple small groups such as “turn and talk” or “think-pair-share” as these experiences lead well into more sophisticated small group collaboration. Guided reading groups and thematic centers are other experiences that prepare young students for effective cooperative learning.


Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

Dell’Olio, J. M., Donk, T. (2007). Models of Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Williams, T. (2013, July). Induction models of instruction. Cooperative/collaborative learning. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA


Standards 1 and 3 Meta-Reflection: Instructional Planning and Curriculum August 15, 2012

As I look back on my thoughts about curriculum design prior to this class I recognize that many of the ideas I hung on to were the very things that made the building of a unit so frustrating. One of my main priorities was to craft lessons that had students creating products that were engaging and cute and that would satisfy or even impress parents once they were brought home. Additionally, while I realized that helping students make “connections” in their learning was a valuable component in lesson design, the connections I aimed for were more thematic and seasonal and didn’t really promote true authentic learning. At the end of a unit, I would have amazing pieces of work created by students upon the walls but I do not believe that the curriculum and its delivery did enough to connect student learning to the world around them nor to the world they are likely to encounter in their future.

Our module 6 readings and discussions did much to guide my thinking and curriculum planning more towards true authentic learning for students, which correlates directly with our course objective number 3, “ Understand and apply curriculum development processes”. Dewey (2010) states that authentic learning is enhanced when new learning is connected with students’ current knowledge and past experience. This makes sense to me at a whole new level now. Herbert Thelen (as cited in Parkay, 2010, p. 311) elaborated on this when he stated that student learning is authentic when students are emotionally involved and believe that they have something to offer on the subject. A student must be able to connect new learning to his/her own knowledge and experience in order to feel empowered to contribute to the learning of others.

Based on this new knowledge, I plan on engaging student families and home environments in a way that enhances the authentic learning of students. Much of a kindergartener’s current knowledge and experience has come from their families at home. Creating opportunities for students to bring some of these experiences into the classroom will allow all students to tap into sources of knowledge beyond the immediate district curriculum. For example, during our science trees unit, I imagine students taking a photo of a tree in their yard or nearby park and labeling the parts as a pre-test. We would put the pages together as a class book for all to use. I hope to expand our “Celebrations Around the World” unit to include visits from as many family members as possible to share special family traditions that reflect the wonderful variety of cultures our school community holds.

The many factors that influence school curriculum is another topic that has taken on new meaning to me throughout this course. (course objective number 1, “Describe factors and groups that influence school curriculum”)  Parkay (2010, pp. 49-62) emphasizes that there are significant social forces that shape the curriculum we present to our students.  He described such forces as cultural diversity, the environment, changing values, family, technology, the workforce, equal rights, crime, lack of purpose and meaning, and global interdependence. As I read this chapter I was struck by how important it is to consider what these forces are going to look like in the future as we plan curriculum and prepare students to be future ready.  At first glance, this seems like a daunting and near impossible task. How are we to know what the future will be for these kids or for ourselves for that matter?

I have come to realize that we need to approach this task from two directions. First, we need to work with members of our school community (parents, educators, students, etc.) to identify not just one but several possible futures that may be in store. Parkay (2010) referred to this as futures planning. As we study current trends in these social forces we will be better equipped to visualize and plan for a future that offers the most benefit for our society, and teach our students to do the same. I believe it is important to empower our students to interact with social forces and effect change where and when it is required.

Secondly, our curriculum needs to prepare students to be lifelong learners. They need to be able to continuously think on their feet by connecting new knowledge with previous knowledge and applying what is learned to their world as well as to the outside world. This needs to become a smooth and natural process for our students so they will continue to seek not just knowledge but understanding. We know that we truly understand something if we can “transfer what we have learned to new and sometimes confusing settings.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) This says it all. As we consider the social forces that our students will be dealing with the rest of their lives, these forces are nothing if not “new and sometimes confusing”.

It was the concept of backward design, though, that had the biggest impact on my current practice and perspective of curriculum design. Curriculum cohesion within a grade level, school, and district has always seemed to be one of the biggest challenges in my view. Backwards design directly addresses this issue. In stage one, Identify desired results (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005), we are called to clarify our goals and learning standards in a way that allows us to continuously refer back to them as we craft our assessments and learning experiences. As we collaborate with our colleagues to develop curriculum, this common focus on desired results keeps us on the same page and aligned not only with the intended objectives of the state and district but also with each other.

I focused my curriculum design project for this course on phonemic awareness and have attached this artifact here: Phonemic Awareness – The Building Blocks of Words. Applying the backwards design method to this unit enabled me to effectively design instruction and create assessments that address both long and short term learning goals (C & I Standard 1) as well as implement  these instructional plans through an aligned curriculum that promotes student engagement and success. (C & I Standard 3)

As I enter into another school year I will work towards advocating that backwards design become the standard procedure for curriculum design within my grade level. It is my hope that this practice could eventually become routine amongst my colleagues in my school, professional learning community, and district.

Dewey, J. (2010). Progressive organization of subject matter. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 327-329).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Parkay, F., et al. (2010). Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


A Critical Window of Opportunity August 14, 2012

Filed under: Standard 1. Instructional Planning,Standard 3. Curriculum — lktaylor @ 5:49 am

     Our readings in this module brought forth two important topics for me as a kindergarten teacher. One of these is the impact that early childhood experiences have on children, both at home and at school. Studies such as those done by Woolfolk in 2005 and Slavin in 2003 (as cited in Parkay, 2010) indicate that much of a child’s intellectual development is established by the age of 6. Early learning experiences, especially in Pre- Kindergarten through first grade, are critical to a child’s future learning potential. Additionally, Parkay (2010) stated that the background of students in these early grades is very diverse. While one may argue that this is true for all grades, what makes it so impacting in the primary grades is that the students have not yet had many, if any, common experiences with their peers such as those encountered in school. Boyer states (as cited in Parkay, 2010) that the experiences students have in school builds the foundation upon which all of their future learning will be based. These critical factors must be recognized when considering curriculum and other planned experiences for students in PK through first grade. A child’s preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classroom experiences encompass half of a child’s critical first six years of life. There is so much more at stake in these early years of school than many in the general public realize.

     Another important topic we addressed this past week was promoting altruism in the classroom. Most character education curriculums promote behaviors that benefit society as a whole, as well as the individuals themselves. Character traits such as kindness, honesty, sincerity, helpfulness, etc. play a major part in classroom based character education. Robinson and Curry (2010), however, label altruism as “the purest form of caring”. It is intrinsically based on genuine concern for others rather than on the expectation of a reward or the avoidance of punishment.

      I recently had a particularly challenging year in my class with many students practicing a “looking out for number one” mode of peer interaction. This resulted in a significant amount of what appeared to be “bullying” behaviors throughout the year. (In kindergarten!) Rightly so, parents were concerned and so was I. Having established good communication with my parent community from the start, our conferences pertaining to this issue were productive, frequent, and respectful of all students. A plan was put in place through which students were recognized when they exhibited behaviors that were caring to their peers, especially if they were having troubles or feeling sad. While things improved by the end of the year, I believe that focusing on promoting altruism from the start of the year might ward off potential conflicts of this type later on.

     As I researched topics pertaining to altruism in the classroom I found an article by Pauline Zeece (2009) that described the value of children’s literature in promoting kindness in children. She stated that developmentally appropriate literature provides an engaging way to present common terms that pertain to caring behavior. It also is a good spring board to class discussions on what kindness looks like and how it benefits everyone. Equally important, Zeece gives suggestions for books that lend themselves well to this topic. I have provided reference information for this article below.


Parkay, F., et al. (2010). Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Robinson, E. M. & Curry, J. R. (2010). Promoting altruism in the classroom. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 420-426).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Zeece, P. (2009). Using Current Literature Selections to Nurture the Development of Kindness in Young Children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5), 447-452.


Authentic Learning From Humor, Student Contribution, and Making Connections August 5, 2012

Filed under: Standard 1. Instructional Planning,Standard 3. Curriculum — lktaylor @ 10:51 pm

This week’s discussions focused on authentic learning – what it is and  how we as teachers can deliver instruction that incorporates the elements of authentic learning.  Parkay (2010, p.311) states that authentic learning engages the student emotionally and mentally, offers choices and opportunities to make decisions, and allows the student to believe that the outcome is important and he/she has something to offer.

There are numerous techniques a teacher can employ to engage students emotionally. One of my favorites is the use of humor. This looks a bit different across the grade levels – in kindergarten simply donning a Dr. Suess hat as we explore word families goes a long way to engage students during this phonemic awareness task. Janet Elder, Ph.D (2012) suggests using music during transitions. For example, when moving into collaborative groups, the teacher could play silly song clips such as “Help” by the Beatles or “We Can Work it Out”, also by the Beatles. Elder offers numerous strategies teachers can use to incorporate humor in their classrooms. Here is a link to her paper “Brain Friendly Humor in the Classroom”.

Convincing students that they have something to offer in a lesson is another powerful element that fosters authentic learning. I see the positive effects of this strategy each time I implement our Celebrations Around the World unit. Students and their families have the opportunity to present a special seasonal tradition or celebration to the class. Students are highly engaged as they show elaborate traditional costumes, share special food associated with the celebration or culture, show photos of their families as they participate in various activities, and lead the class in an art activity. Another example of students contributing to their classmates learning is our “sound box” activity. Students bring in a collection of small objects from home and lead the class in a guessing game as to what sounds they have in common, are there any that rhyme, are there two that have the same middle sound, etc.

Dewey (2010) states that authentic learning is enhanced when new learning is connected with students’ current knowledge and past experience. While this consideration of a student’s existing schema is not a new idea, Dewey goes on to say that this is just the first step to a progressive and systematic process of introducing new knowledge. Teachers need to put just as much thought and attention towards the more difficult task of expanding this new knowledge out into even newer learning while simultaneously maintaining a connection with past learning.


Dewey, J. (2010). Progressive organization of subject matter. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 327-329).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Elder, J. (2012). Brain friendly humor in the classroom. Retrieved from website: http://www.readingprof.com/papers/Brain-Friendly%20Strategies/7_Brain-Friendly%20Humor%20in%20the%20Classroom%20(map).pdf

Parkay, F., et al. (2010). Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.


Educational Standards – A Good Place to Start July 30, 2012

     This module has reinforced my support for district and state wide standards. At the onset of my career in education, I viewed standards as a lengthy and intimidating list of student expectations that I, as a teacher, needed to account for as I delivered the curriculum. Over the course of my tenure as a teacher, and especially throughout this module, I have come to realize that standards offer a starting point from which all curriculum and assessments are derived.  They are in place so that all students can have the opportunity to learn content that will prepare them for a future that is undefined and ever changing. Glen Hass (2010, p. 275) states that learning goals and standards that are thoughtfully developed with input from scholars, parents, citizens, students AND educators will be better able to “prepare learners to meet problems that are new and that neither they nor anyone else has ever encountered before.” It is reassuring to see that our up and coming Common Core State Standards has sought input from these very same critical stakeholders. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers state in Common Core State Standards (2010, p.3) that they received research and input from “numerous sources, including state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, educators from kindergarten through college, and parents, students, and other members of the public.”

       Standards also set up the ideal opportunity for collaboration amongst educators. Teachers across districts can work together and design curriculum that contributes to a pool of tried and true units that focus on shared standards. Wiggins and McTighe (2005, p. 318) suggest that these units could be field tested, evaluated, adjusted, and reviewed by experts. Exemplary units could then be made available to educators. No more remaking of the wheel!

     I do understand, however, that there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding the implementation of state standards. In my opinion, it is the way that these standards and their aligned assessments are perceived and implemented that tends to cause grief and dissatisfaction amongst educators, parents, the community, and the students themselves. Conditions such as teacher isolation, lack of teamwork, inconsistent use of the standards, and low expectations serve to thwart the intentions of state standards and assessments. (Marshall, 2010, pp. 278-287) Further, opponents of standards based education claim that standards favor students from advantaged backgrounds, could lead to the development of a national curriculum, is politically biased, diverts attention from more meaningful reform, and are too vague. (Parkay, et al., 2010, p. 254)  To me, most of these concerns are based on unfounded political fears and a lack of faith that ALL students can learn complex ideas.

Hass, G. (2010). Who should plan the curriculum? In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 278-287).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Marshall, K. (2010). A principal looks back: Standards matter. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 278-287).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers.

Parkay, F., et al. (2010). Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Wiggins, G, & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


A Paradigm Shift July 22, 2012

The topic of this module, “Thinking like an assessor” requires a real paradigm shift. Wiggins and McTighe weren’t kidding when they said “To think like an assessor prior to designing lessons does not come naturally or easily to many teachers.” and “Backward design demands that we overcome this natural instinct and comfortable habit.” (2005, p. 150) By “comfortable habit” they are referring to the practice of jumping right to the lessons and activities after we identify our targets.

     I particularly identified with the description of an activity designer when the question “How will I give students a grade (and justify it to their parents)?” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 151) I teach in an environment where parents are very knowledgeable, goal oriented, and involved in the education of their children. For the most part this is a blessing, but it does make me as a teacher anticipate “justifying” a particular grade I may have given. I have been known to collect some representative samples of student work (“ activities”) and a key assessment or two just in case a parent needs more information behind a grade. While this saved work does a mediocre job of supporting a grade and usually satisfies parent inquiries, I am realizing that it really isn’t a purposeful method of gathering evidence that demonstrates authentic performance.

     Through our discussions this week I have also come to realize that photographs, recordings, and checklists are effective tools that aid in the observations and dialogues method of assessment on Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005, p. 152) Continuum of Assessments. There is an art to such anecdotal note taking and recording that I have yet to perfect! I plan to continue to collaborate with and observe colleagues’ practices in this area to gain more skill in this type of assessing.

     The topics of this module have brought to mind an interaction I had with a student in the beginning years of my career that indicated understanding on a deep level and clearly applied to the dialogs and observations methods on the Continuum of Assessments. We were in the midst of a math unit on patterns and I was having a conversation with a kindergarten student who was experiencing the recent separation of his parents. He was explaining to me how one week he will be with his mother, another week he will be with his dad, the next week with his mother, etc. As he was telling me this he stopped and said, “It’s kind of like a pattern!” This student was able to take recent learning from math and apply it in a way that helped him make sense of a situation that was totally out of the context of math. It would have been difficult to craft an assessment that revealed deep learning as well as this simple interaction did.

 Wiggins, G, & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Media Awareness in the Classroom July 16, 2012

Filed under: Standard 1. Instructional Planning,Standard 3. Curriculum — lktaylor @ 5:51 am

This module we delved into the significance of media in the lives of our students today. There is no denying that kids are surrounded by media every waking moment of their lives. It would not only be negligent as educators to ignore the media’s influence on our students, but it would also be a missed opportunity to utilize a widely available and rich educational resource.

One of our readings presented a model to follow when teaching about the media in the classroom.  Maness (2010) described 3 components educators should include in media education. First, a teacher should listen to the students to determine where they are in their media knowledge and understanding. Teachers should then activate and draw out the skills students already possess as they critically view the media with which they engage. It is important for students to know that they actively implement their own processes of discernment when they engage in the media that interests them, when they react to it in a specific way, and when they incorporate media influences into their own lives. Finally, teachers need to extend students’ media knowledge by correcting misinformation and equipping them with the skills to effectively connect this knowledge to their own lives and the world around them.

Learning about the media can start as early as in kindergarten and can be incorporated into most content areas. In reading, students can learn about fiction and non-fiction and how it is represented in familiar media. Environmental print in the media is a powerful reading tool in that it empowers young students to identify themselves as readers. Printed media, such as magazines, are useful in Social Studies as young learners can use them to identify a variety of human behaviors and emotions.

Much discussion during this module centered on technology use in the classroom and at home. There was concern regarding the amount of social interaction that takes place via technology and how this can impact communication skills. At the same time, students are experiencing an array of cultures across the globe through podcasting, video conferencing, or even email. These are experiences that would have been unattainable a few short years ago. It is clear that the media, and technology in particular, is a critical tool in our society today but it must be used with awareness and caution and viewed with a critical eye. Therefore, media knowledge needs to be purposefully embedded in our curriculum in order for students to grow to be discerning media consumers.


Maness, K. (2010). Teaching media-savvy students about the popular media. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 118-124). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.