Monday, October 28, 2013

Send Me Your Stage One's for Feedback

Several of you have sent me your Stage One's for feedback, and I would love to see additional units.  Please take this opportunity to get some feedback on your unit.  Remember, my email is  Also, Jay McTighe has put together a terrific collection of websites to help with Stage One.  Access that useful resource in the Pages section of the blog. 

Having Questions about Essential Questions?

If you are struggling with drafting your essential questions, there are lots of resources out there that can help you.

Grant Wiggins discusses essential questions in this short video: video  There is also an essential question exchange that might help get a stuck mind moving.  You can find that here: exchange 

Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins have a brand new book out about essential questions that is really good...and you can access the spectacular first chapter that gives all kinds of examples of essential questions in various content areas and a wonderful description of what makes a question essential right here: book.  

Still questioning questions?  Email me:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Reminder of the Power of Mental Models to Shape Behavior

Developing Curriculum In Essential Schools

I have posted a great article on curriculum design in Essential Schools.  While they do not use UbD, there are tremendous similarities in the way they think about curriculum and the work Grand is doing.  Please take the time to read it and think about what designing curriculum means for the school, for your department, and for you as a professional.  How would your life be different if your class was governed by a textbook only? I would also encourage you to revisit the learning principles Grand teachers developed during the first two days of our work.  Those are also posted here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From the Designer Mind of Amber: A Great Example of the Iceberg Model

Iceberg Model (Team Juice): Homework

Events: Students coming to class without homework completed
Patterns of Behavior: Students do not write down homework or keep assignments in one central location. They often forget what the homework was, lose it or forget to do it.
Systemic Structure: There is no consistent system for how students should track homework or how homework is given. It varies from class to class and teacher to teacher. Most teachers go over homework with students and write it on the board every day.
Mental Models: Teachers believe it is the student’s responsibility to write down their homework and create an organizational structure. As they get older, they have to become more responsible and self-motivated. Students believe they get too much homework, and it is overwhelming to keep track of it.



 A point has been added to the score below.

Deanna's Reaction to The Art of Possibility


I want to thank you for the gift, “The Art of Possibility”.  I just finished reading it and I was
encouraged, challenged and brought to deep thought.  What a perfect gift for an art school
teacher!  One topic that encouraged me most was the fact that it is okay to make mistakes.
 It’s interesting, I emphasize with my students that it is okay to make a mistake and that is
where learning takes place.  I also even give them candy if they catch me making a math mistake.
 However, in front of my peers and  supervisors, I don’t want to make any mistakes and many
 times I am fearful of them seeing me make a mistake.  How silly!  I’m going to try to follow
 Rule No. 6 and not take myself so seriously. J

Another idea of the book that I absolutely agree with is “giving an A”.  How refreshing to
believe the best of your students and know that they can succeed!

Deanna Breedan

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Department Meetings on October 17

I am so looking forward to seeing you all on Oct 17.  Our format will obviously be different from our earlier meetings.  On Thursday we will be meeting in departments to discuss your stage 1 work.  Please remember to bring your stage 1  units with you--enough copies for all of your department.  Here is what we will be discussing on Thursday:

1. Unit Summary
  • Have you completed the summary of the unit by writing a brief description that gives others a clear understanding of the major content and approach of the unit?
2.  Goals
  • Have you identified appropriate content and process goals by looking at state grade level and course level expectations? Common Core Standards? National Documents when necessary?
  • Do you have an appropriate number of goals identified given the length of the unit? (Remember we are aiming for thorough and thoughtful teaching of these standards, not superficial coverage. Any more than 5-10 is probably too many.
3.  Enduring Understandings 
  • Are the enduring understandings genuine big ideas or processes that are at the heart of the discipline?
  • Are the understandings written in clear, kid language? (You can still use the vocabulary of the discipline, but be wary of making these into statements filled with jargon or professional language.)
  • Are the understandings specific enough that they mean something? Are they too vague or general to guide instruction or assessment?
  • Have you avoided using truisms or straightforward statements of fact as enduring understandings?
4.  Essential Questions
  • Are the essential questions important and thought-provoking?
  • Do the questions have more than one right answer and require debate and discussion rather than recitation of a correct answer?
  • Do the questions provide a unifying focus for your teaching?

5.  Knowledge and Skills
  • Are the knowledge and skills identified (where appropriate) with the correct numbering system that will refer back to the Grade Level, Course Level , or Common Core Expectations?
  • Are the knowledge and skills addressed in the unit clearly defined and will they help build students’ understandings? (Do they support the enduring understandings?)
  • Have you been realistic about what students will be able to know and do at the end of the unit or have you tried to touch on everything? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Remember to download your online materials from your textbook for terrific examples of units.

Silver Rhino Points to Date


The competition continues. With Deanna's brilliant analysis of the ladder of inference, Team MM pulls ahead!

Team MM................... 7 points
Team Dazzle............. 6 points
Team Juice................ 5 points
Team A Cubed...........4 points
Magnificent 7..............3 points
Jet Sharks...................3 points
Merengue----------------1 point

Below is a great piece analyzing a department meeting using the ladder of inference.  My congratulations to Deanna and Team M and M.  Well done.

Recently in the Math Department, the teachers had a discussion about giving partial credit or taking full points off tests and quizzes for each problem missed.  The topic came up to consider if all teachers should grade in the same way.  Each teacher seemed to be strong in their opinion based on their mental model for this subject.  This event challenged me to take a look at my mental model and why I do what I do in giving partial credit.  This event forced me to climb the ladder of inference.

Observations are made at the first rung of the ladder.  Standardized tests don’t give partial credit.  As we move to benchmark testing, they also do not give partial credit; the question is either right or wrong.  I am challenged to examine my way of thinking.  I also observe students.  Many students do not like math; they are discouraged about math, feel it is too hard.  As I move up the ladder, I realize I have basic beliefs about teaching and wanting to be encouraging to my students.  I draw conclusions and make assumptions that if I don’t give partial credit many middle school students will get discouraged, and will not try as hard to show their work.   Many students are afraid of math and scared to try.  I want to reinforce their effort of trying.  I draw my conclusion that I am grading in the best way for middle school math students and remain in my belief system that giving partial credit will encourage student engagement and will encourage them to keep trying.  I then make my action of giving partial credit on tests and quizzes.
 Each teacher seems to be strong in their opinion of why they do what they do with grading tests and quizzes.  I do wonder, did I move up the ladder to quickly?  Is my mental model too strong or should I take a look at this subject again?   

So  Deanna and her department need to continue this important conversation. Using the tools of advocacy and inquiry, they can hear each other, lay out their mental models and come to consensus. This takes time and a passion for shared understandings.  That is what makes a school strong.