Author Archive: tfahumanities

Teaching Goals to Students


Our first blog post of the year was inspired by my recent visit to the wonderful Maddy Brown’s Spanish 1 classroom in Greenwood. What follows is a set of directly usable resources and a series of videos from her classroom. It’s all directly aligned to Priority 3 of our Humanities Vision this year:

Generating a shared vision with students and measuring progress towards that vision.

What was remarkable about Maddy’s lesson on Goals was that it took the time, over the course of a full lesson, for students to:

  1. Identify what strong Goals and Action Plans look like.
  2. Create personal Goals and Action Plans for this year in Spanish.
  3. Understand and feel invested in the Class Goals.

At the same time, Maddy made sure that she was being responsive to students, listening to their concerns about Goals (and even fielding the tough question “Why are we spending so much time on Goals? Why aren’t we learning Spanish?”). You can also see how Maddy seamlessly integrates Spanish cognates and love for the content as they set and learn about goals. Amazing!

Check out the resources and video links below to start implementing this in your own classrooms!

Way to go Maddy! Thank you for showing us all an awesome example of setting goals in the classroom!


What I Am Learning

Hey friends!

I recently got a piece of feedback from one of our awesome Content Leaders that reminded me of the importance of sharing the learning I am doing in order to continuously improve in my work. I believe that this is a key practice for all of us to maintain, both because I hope you will learn alongside me and discuss these with me, but also because it’s important for us to always be honest: none of us have ever “arrived” and finished our development.

In fact, that’s really valuable for you to share with your students: have you ever considered letting them know what you have learned at a PD, or something you are trying to work on? I feel honesty and openness about development is always key to building trust and understanding among us all.

So, for this week, I am sharing with you all some of the development opportunities I am taking advantage of, as well as some of the articles and books that have been particularly impactful to me recently.

Books and Articles:

The most consistent way that I seek development is through articles and books. Often, these will come my way through colleagues, but a lot of the time they also surface as specific issues arise, or as I recognize I need to inform myself for a session.

  • A Conversation with Linda Christiansen on Social Justice Education (Golden) – Sarah Franzen introduced this one to me because we are both working on designing a Unit Planning Series around Multicultural and Social Justice Unit Plans. Christiansen, who is interviewed here, is an amazing teacher and the author of Teaching For Joy and Justice and her perspectives on what Social Justice teaching should look like, and how to embrace it, and how to tackle its challenges is acute and inspiring. She keeps it concrete, too, which is often rare.
  • Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces (Arao & Clemens) – I read this article a while ago thanks to Sam Crenshaw, who presented it to a group of us after he had undergone a national DEI training with TFA. It’s been kind of an earth-shattering article for me because it has completely shifted the way I want to facilitate and be a part of challenging conversations about race, privilege, class, etc. This article is the foundation of many of my upcoming sessions.
  • Curriculum as Window and Mirror (Style) – Again, Sarah Franzen shared this one with me since we are planning a session together. It’s one that I have seen referenced in other sources, but there is nothing like reading the source itself. The article argues for a deeper caution in selecting texts and curriculum for students – one that goes beyond just selecting works that include identities that resemble our students’. Style argues that, instead, we must present students with a wide diversity of texts and perspectives, challenging them to not only analyze different viewpoints, but also to recon with their own. She calls these Texts “Windows and Mirrors” because they both reflect students back on themselves, and challenge them to look through to another world. Once you start reading, it just gets better and more on-point.
  • The DreamKeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Students (Landson-Billings) – We read this book recently as part of a Specialist Team book club. If you don’t know it, it is THE seminal text on Culturally Responsive Teaching. Gloria Landson-Billings focuses in on a selection of teachers whom she followed and supported in the effort to learn what it is that makes teachers (from any walk of life) effective with what has traditionally been considered the most challenging demographic to educate. Through this book, she not only demonstrates that African American students can learn, but also that at the end of the day it’s not about a one-size-fist-all strategy, but rather about some key dispositions towards teaching. While I was seeking something more in-depth, it was amazing to read the book that gave origin to the educational philosophy I feel most aligned to.
  • A People’s History of the United States (Zinn) – I have read many excerpts of this before, but the book is huge so reading it cover to cover is still a goal of mine. Especially as we have had more U.S. History teachers this year, I have wanted to increase my knowledge (and creative thinking) around the content. I have been jumping to it and reading a chapter here and there whenever I can. It is without a doubt the best account of American History I have laid my hands on, and it does an incredible job of keeping it engaging and focused on the history of the minority groups and people who actually made history happen. His retelling puts the power back in the hands of those who have always appeared most powerless. He has a student version of the book, which is A Young People’s History of the United States, for those interested in bringing it to the classroom.
  • The New Jim Crow (Alexander) – I read this book for the first time last year, and am re-reading it again now for another iteration of the book club this year. This is hands down the most important book I have read in five years, and one that has completely re-shaped my motivation for this work, and my commitment to it. It helped me learn a lot more about my privilege as well. This year, I am also pairing it with some of the awesome lesson plans that Teaching Tolerance created in collaboration with Michelle Alexander.

Online Resources:

  • Teaching Tolerance – This website is simply incredible, and it features everything from Lesson Plans to Curricula to Articles to Primary Resources and more! They created the Anti-Bias Framework as well, which has taught me so much about age-appropriate learning outcomes when it comes to the four domains they have outlined: identity, diversity, justice and action. Spend a few hours on here and you are sure to leave with more than you can handle.
    • In addition, they recently released the Perspectives for a Diverse America website, which allows you to find lesson plans and Primary Sources aligned to an essential question and one of the above domains. It’s a constant source of inspiration when I am planning example lesson plans, etc.
  • Zinn Education Program: Yep, it’s the same guy who wrote A People’s History of the United States but this time it’s a website chalk-full of lesson plans and resources and ideas for teaching students about the less canonical aspects of history. They always encourage exploration and inquiry rather than teachers telling students what’s right. Their lessons focus on everything from the Civil Rights movement to Art, to Music, and more.
  • Teaching Channel: Whenever I am seeking to re-align myself with what the best classrooms in America look like, I turn to the Teaching Channel to gather ideas. Their videos are simply awesome, and they share tons of great approaches to supporting learners, inquiry-based classrooms, and more.

Experiences and Opportunities:

  • Our most recent Whole Team Meeting, which was held on Wednesday, March 25th, was really incredible. We have recently hired someone to lead us in thinking about local issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness while keeping a focus and clear lens on students. They have been outstanding experiences. This time, we all traveled to the small town of Monsanto to visit the DELTAPINE seed company, a huge business and employer here in Mississippi. We started the day by looking at some of the highly technical jobs they have on offer but which they are struggling to find local Mississippians to fill. We asked ourselves the question: How are we preparing our students for these jobs, or any real-life opportunities? In what ways can we ensure that we are supporting them and our teachers to practice situations that are rigorous not because they are abstract, but because they are applicable and interesting? We then got a tour of the processing plant, and learned some interesting facts:
    • 30% of Mississippi works in Agriculture
    • 86% of farmers are White
    • 13.2% of farmers are African American
    • The average age of Mississippi farmers is 60.4

With this information in mind, we considered what the future will look like for Mississippi, as well as what the opportunities could look like for our students. It was a huge window into a part of our State that I so often see, but very seldom think about.

In the afternoon, we met with participants in a Greenville non-profit called Youth Builds. It’s an organization that works with high-school dropouts aged 16-22 to help them get their GEDs and into jobs around their community. They work with Habitat for Humanity on projects, have physical education aspects, and an incredibly strong culture of positivity, perseverance, and high expectations. We had the privilege of hearing the stories of the people whose lives had been changed by this program, as well as the vision of the woman who started it all. Needless to say, it was an incredible opportunity to expand our understanding of our communities and the assets within them.

  • Human-Centered Design Course – I am currently in a TFA-led course on Human-Centered Designing, which is completely online. Besides learning a TON about what a full-scale, semester-long course can look like (without too many webinars and mostly independent or small group learning), I heave been focusing on a set of actions that basically ensure that, as you design experiences and structures for others, you are listening to their feedback consistently while still keeping a disposition towards action – prototyping, testing, etc. It has been really cool to come up with crazy ideas and share them with partners (and some of you!).
  • Rural School Leadership Academy – While this hasn’t started yet, I am proud to have been accepted to the 2015 RSLA cohort. I am hoping to learn a lot from this experience, starting with examining and developing my leadership in Rural areas, and what it might look like for me to become more deeply involved in the communities I care most about here. I am also always wavering on whether or not I want to be a principal or school administrator one day, and I hope this program will give me clarity on what that might look like, and whether or not I would enjoy and have the impact I want to have in that role.

Okay, that is likely WAY more than you all wanted to hear, but I hope that sharing this illuminates some of the areas in which I am constantly seeking to grow and learn so that I can better serve you and your students. In addition, I hope this creates some touch-points for us: read an article or check out a resource, and let me know what you think!

Teaching Tolerance’s Collaborative Learning Strategies

One of the foundational aspects of every Humanities class should be “Creative Communication”. This manisfests itself in a lot of different ways: students producing writing, speeches, performances, artworks, music, you-name-it in order to express themselves and their ideas creatively.

However, what we often think about less is how we structure the day-to-day discussion and collaboration so that our students LIVE that kind of creative communication… how will students talk to each other? how will students talk to me, their teachers? how will they “talk back” to the content and to the world on a daily basis? how do we develop the communicative skills in our students so that the outcomes we expect are achieved out of confidence, bravery, and teamwork?

Today’s blog post is directly aligned to our Priority 2 for our content:

STUDENTS ARE ”On the hook” for their learning because they believe that the Humanities matter for their education, are working towards meaningful EOY goals, and have the opportunity to do so in collaboration with their peers BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE Ensuring students are advocating for their content, are motivated by a meaningful EOY goal, and are being given ownership of their own learning by facilitating strong collaborative structures around rigorous content.

Ultimately, this is very much part of our contents – what are we asking our students to actually produce in our classrooms if not this – the actual human interaction? How are we setting students up to “talk back” to the world if not by giving them the structures to talk to each other and learn together?

Our data shows, in fact, that there is a direct correlation between students being more active participants in our classrooms and reaching higher levels of rigor. How can they every analyze if the teacher is always the driver of their learning?

This table shows our classroom's current Culture of Achievement ratings compared to those same classroom's Engagement with Rigorous Content. The correlation between higher COA (and student ownership of learning) and students' ability to reach higher levels of ERC in the Humanities.

This table shows our classroom’s current Culture of Achievement ratings compared to those same classroom’s Engagement with Rigorous Content. The correlation between higher COA (and student ownership of learning) and students’ ability to reach higher levels of ERC in the Humanities.

Most importantly, I believe that without students talking to each other and debating the content they are learning, we set them up to believe that the content is static, and that knowledge comes from a teacher or a textbook. World Languages become another set of rules, Art becomes another set of procedures, History becomes another story written by white, privileged, old people. In order for our classrooms to be truly constructivist, students must be able to engage with in through collaborative learning. We need to remove ourselves as the sole source of power and knowledge in the classroom.

The challenging aspect of this, of course, is that this happens at the nexus of Culture and Rigor in our classrooms. I wrote about this previously in Supporting Student-Student Dialog and Questions and Tasks Worth Collaborating On. However, some fantastic new resources have been made available by Teaching Tolerance in the past couple weeks, so I wanted to share them!

Check them out below… Let me know if you have any success in using them!

Performance Tasks and Projects in the Humanities

Many of us in the Humanities, at this point, have either planned and executed a full project or performance task, or we are planning to do so as part of our end of year summative and celebration of progress with students. Projects and performance tasks are great ways to push students to apply the content-based understandings that they have learned this past year and apply them to real-world, unpredictable situations.

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe from Understanding by Design (2005) define performance tasks as:

Complex challenges that mirror the issues and problems faced by adults. Ranging in length from short-term tasks to long-term, multi-staged projects, they yield one or more tangible products and performances. They (…) (1) Involve a real or simulated setting (…), (2) Typically require the student to address an identified audience (real or simulated), (3) Are based on a specific purpose that relates to the audience, (4) Allow students greater opportunity to personalize the task, (5) Are not secure: the task, evaluative criteria, and performance standards are known in advance and guide student work.

At a time when testing is overtaking our students’ skill-set as well as their understanding of what education is really about, performance tasks can be particularly powerful tools.

With conventional paper-and-pencil tests a common problem is “teaching toward the test” or worrying more about how students will score on a test than about how they actually learn (…) but the “paradox of performance assessment” (…) is that if the outcomes are worth spending time on, if the tasks really are demonstrations of understanding, and if the criteria are clearly explained, then that’s what we ought to be teaching to.

– McTighe in Cohen, Philip. “Designing Performance Assessment Tasks”, ASCD Education Update (1995)

Performance tasks and projects are thus in direct alignment to our number 1 priority for this quarter in the Humanities:

STUDENTS ARE engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, aligned to a meaningful EOY assessment, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues. BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, are aligned to a meaningful EOY summative, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

In addition, they teach students the kind of Creative Communication that we want them to experience every day as they learn in rigorous but FUN environments in our Humanities classrooms.

Today’s blog post will share with you some of the principles of what makes a strong Performance Task and/or Project, share with you some examples, and then provide you with some resources for your own planning. It should be no secret that designing a strong Performance Task is genuinely challenging, but also that it is incredibly rewarding as it offers an awesome opportunity for students, and effective backwards planning for you as a teacher.

If, as a result of this blog post you want to collaborate with Jacob (and another teacher in your content?) to create a strong performance task, teach it, and gather student work and data from it, then let Jacob and your TLD Coach know and we can arrange for some potential Tailored PD Credit!

1. What Makes a Strong Performance Task?

This cute critter demonstrates what a performance task is NOT: it’s not something that measures just ONE of our students’ skills in a “either you can or you can’t dynamic” (like the ones we often encounter on multiple-choice tests).

One thing that needs to be clarified is that performance tasks and projects should not be considered just a whole bunch of fun work time. The best performance tasks ARE fun, and they are fun exactly because there are specific expectations and guidelines and timelines, but the way of reaching and meeting them is open to students’ own thinking, interpretation, and skill-sets.

Creating effective assessment tasks requires thinking through curriculum content to establish learning outcomes, then designing performance activities that will allow students to demonstrate their achievement of those outcomes, and specifying criteria by which they will be evaluated.

– Cohen, Philip. “Designing Performance Assessment Tasks”, ASCD Education Update (1995)

It’s also critical, as Cohen articulates above, that these performance tasks are in alignment with what needs to be learned in the content. Instead of thinking about “what is a good activity for students?”, performance tasks should be the product of thinking about “given what I want students to learn, what counts as evidence that they understood it?”

As such, the best performance tasks are made up of:

  • Aligned to Content Learning
  • Generated by Meaningful Context and Audience
  • Encouraging of the Thinking Process
  • Requiring Appropriate Product or Performance
  • Sharing of Strong Criteria

In this next section, we’ll start to unpack what that actually can look like, and some resources to help you plan.

2. How Do You Plan a Performance Task?

Most of what I am about to share comes from “Designing Authentic and Engaging Performance Tasks” by Jay McTighe (2010). Please use that document directly to gain access to some of these amazing worksheets and brainstorming supports.

First of all, start out by checking out the Performance Task Blueprint that McTighe provides for our planning.

Take a look at the tables below (generated by McTighe himself) which contain examples of different kinds of Performance Tasks for the different facets of understanding AND for many of our Humanities contents!

Some awesome examples of Performance Tasks in World Languages from McTighe:

Tour Director – (World Languages) You serve on a Welcome Committee to provide tours for new students. Plan a trip to three places (e.g., school, town, mall) in the new student’s target language. Incorporate the following vocabulary: directions (left, right, near, far, next to, etc.), places (e.g., classrooms, cafeteria, gym, library, labs, churches, police and fire stations, schools, restaurants, stores) and transportation (e.g., bus, bike, stairs, escalators, taxi, train, car, elevators). Remember to include a variety of locations, directions, and forms of transportation on your “trips.” Keep sentences simple and narrate in the target language.

He then also provides a worksheet that you can use to help you plan out a thoughtful initial Performance Task prompt. What is key here is that Stage 1 (before you even start thinking about the activity) demands that you consider (1) what it is that you want students to understand and what questions you want them to consider before (2) figuring out what evidence you need from students to show that they have understood these questions.

Finally, in order to present this effectively and with meaningful context for students, McTighe has created an acronym for what makes a strong Performance Task Scenario.

  • Goal
  • Role
  • Audience
  • Situation
  • Product/Performance and Purpose
  • Standards and Criteria for Success

With strong GRASPS, students have what they need to complete a Performance Task or Project.

Fortunately, many of the rubrics we provide can provide at least a foundation for your grading criteria, and you should share them in advance with your students!

3. What Do Some Completed Performance Tasks Look Like?

Click on the image above to check out how one teacher sets up and executes a Performance Task in his Wolrd History classroom.

Click on the image above to check out how one teacher sets up and executes a Performance Task in his World History classroom.

In addition, you can check out our collection of Performance Tasks in all Humanities Contents, as well as your own Resource Sharing Buckets (see below) for more!

Driving for Daily Rigor in the Humanities

We’re back in the swing of blog posting now, and with our exciting new Q4 Humanities Priorities, I am feeling an increased urgency to drive towards rigorous outcomes for our students in the home stretch of the year.

In fact, our #1 Priority for this quarter is:

STUDENTS ARE engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, aligned to a meaningful EOY assessment, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, are aligned to a meaningful EOY summative, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

This is particularly critical at this juncture of the year, since we are seeing only minor shifts in our students’ Engagement with Rigorous Content since the beginning of the third quarter (want more info on how this is determined? Check out my State of the Humanities blog post):


In this blog post, you’ll find the following three “launching pads” for increasing rigor in your classroom. I want to stress that these are beginning points, as they may inspire more questions and may not present direct solutions, but hopefully will simultaneously move you to innovate and use new ideas!

  1. The Rigor/Relevance Framework
  2. Using Your Summative
  3. Professional Development Suggestions

Okay! Let’s have it.

1. The Rigor/Relevance Framework

As I was researching for my Q3 Session “What is Creativity?“, I came across this new frameworkk that the International Center for Leadership in Education rolled out in 2014. Check out the main graphic below:

What I love about this framework is it actually expands and refines our understanding of what rigor actually is. In some ways, it helps us grasp what Grant Wiggins (co-author of the ever-important Understanding by Design) means by his definition of rigor:

To me, rigor has (at least) 3 aspects … learners must face a novel(-seeming) question, do something with an atypically high degree of precision and skill, and both invent and double-check the approach and result … The novel (or novel-seeming) aspect to the challenge typically means that there is some new context, look and feel, changed constraint, or other superficial oddness than what happened in prior instruction.

In essence, we reach higher levels of rigor not JUST by asking for more content knowledge, but by asking for the content skills and understandings to be applied in unfamiliar contexts and situations. Consequently, we can reach high levels of application (and engagement!) even on the first day of a unit when we drive for students to apply their thinking in real-world or unexpected situations, rather than just expecting them to engage in the content in isolated ways. The following flowchart may help explain this better:


Want some examples of lesson plans and videos that drive towards these higher levels? Check ’em out below!

 2. Using Your Summative

Now that over 80% of us in the Humanities have at least a draft summative (check them out here!), we can really start using these meaningful End of Year measures of student academic progress to:

  1. Invest students in the idea that they will have an opportunity to show their growth on an End of Year assessment.
  2. Assessing the degree to which your students are prepared to meet this rigorous bar.
  3. Using those assessments and the Summative itself to plan rigorous, focused, and exciting lessons!

While more details on this are going to come with our “Working Towards an End” session (March 19th or March 31st), you can start thinking NOW about how exactly you can leverage the fact that you have a strong Summative to help your planning. Consider taking the following actions:

  • Start telling your students about what the Summative will cover, and why this will be an exciting testament to the progress they have made this year.
  • Start telling your students about how you planned your Sumnmative – what resources did you use? how does it align with your classroom vision?
  • Start breaking down the Summative: what knowledge, skills, and understandings about your content should your students have? Which of these do you feel you still need to teach? Which do you need to remediate? What do your students need to practice in order to be confident with the Summative?
  • Use your bell ringers and exit slips to familiarize your students with the structure and format and rigor of your Summative. Don’t feed them the questions directly off the Summative, but consider adapting the questions so they are relevant to the lessons you are teaching on the daily-level. Then, you can use the data you get from the exit slips (and weekly quizzes, if you like!) to consider further how you can support your students!
  • Start planning projects and performance tasks that help your students build confidence in thinking about the content in new contexts and with unpredictable outcomes. Doing so will help them feel like anything on the Summative – even if they haven’t seen it before – is approachable!

There is a LOT more you can do to support your students in this… Reach out to Jacob and/or your Content Leaders to start planning for higher rigor using your Summatives.

3. Professional Development Suggestions

Don’t be like the teacher above! Get your professional development around real priorities and by working with one another (albeit mostly by WebEx)… here are the PD offerings this quarter specifically aligned to our Priority 1 for Rigor.

Interested in one of these? Sign up here.

  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Writing Techniques for Students (03/17)
    • If you teach Social Studies, this session is EXCELLENT for collecting methods for keeping writing engaging and scaffolded for every student in your classroom.
  • Working Towards an End: Using Your Summative to Plan (03/19, 03/31)
    • This session, for all Humanities contents, is going to help you in using your Summative to create daily, rigorous plans starting the next day.
  • Culture and the Humanities: Planning for Rigor and Joy (03/23)
    • This session, planned in collaboration with our Culture of Achievement Specialist, will be an opportunity to consider how increasing rigor and culture in the classroom go hand-in-hand.

Have questions or comments? Contact Jacob or fire off in the comments section below!

State of the Humanities (End of Quarter 3)

Hey folks!

As we dive into the final Quarter of the year, it’s important that we take stock of the huge progress we have made, but also how much further we need to take our students while we still have time with them. Every quarter, I resort to the following information to help me define our cohort and student trends:

  • Classroom observations from me and your TLD Coach (aligned to Engagement with Rigorous Content and Culture of Achievement).
  • Student achievement data that you share with us.
  • Your responses on professional development exit forms.
  • Your First Eight Weeks and Mid-Year Survey responses.
  • Feedback from our Humanities Leaders.
  • Feedback from you at our Humanities Leader Summit and through our Quarterly PD Survey.
  • Anecdotal and qualitative data such as student work, responses in professional development experiences, and so on.
  • Much more!

These data points provide a fairly holistic picture of where our cohort is in regards to our Vision for the Humanities in Mississippi, specifically in relation to our four outcomes of academic achievement, critical consciousness, cultural competency, and student leadership. So what does this data tell us?

(Note: I’ve taken some of the language about these metrics from Ethan’s great post to the Math cohort – which, in turn, he credited to me! Anyway, if you haven’t taken a look at the Culture of Achievement and Engagement with Rigorous Content frameworks in a while, definitely take a quick look right now – some of the titles like “engaged and on-task,” “apathetic or unruly,” “passive and confused” and so on can actually be misnomers if they are read without the context of how the framework describes these bands).

Data Point #1: Sharing Data – Progress Known, %Benchmark Achieved, and Students

PK and %BA

  • What is Progress Known (PK)?

PK is basically a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “do we have reliable and complete data on where students stand in this classroom?” Since %BA (see below) cannot be calculated if we do not have this data, PK is incredibly important as a foundational piece of information.

  • What is %Benchmark Achieved (%BA)?

%BA is the percent of progress that students have made in relation to their quantitative goals for this time of year. This is calculated based on the data that you submit, and the strength of student performance that it represents. Basically, we would like students to be at 75% BA at this point in the year, since we are 3/4 of the way through the year.

  • How do you collect reliable and complete data?

The reliable and complete data comes from you teachers sharing it with your TLD Coach and/or Content Specialist. As long as you have data for student progress on ALL your Metrics , and you have shared a reliable assessment with us, then your students are PK!

  • What does this data tell us?

For the first time all year, during Quarter 3, we started to have a valid quantity of data to analyze! Now that over 80% of our classrooms are assessing students holistically and sharing that data, we can now start to really look at the progress our students are making. I thank ALL of you for prioritizing this in the past quarter, and ensuring that we have valid data to look at together and make decisions from. I believe a huge part of us seeing this result is that we are all committed to the value of our vision for the Humanities. That said, I also know that we also struggle with some of the rubric-rated data that we collect (DBQs, projects, performances, etc) both because it sometimes feels tough to assess, but also because it can seem subjective. I want to encourage us all to work together more to collaboratively norm on these and brainstorm the best ways to share that progress with our students. Sharing rubric data actually means that we are bringing subtlety and complexity to what it means to be a successful artist, musician, language speaker, etc. so this can be a key lever in us gathering our students’ investment in our contents. Ultimately, I think this is where we are struggling (and which is visible in our low %BA): getting students feeling urgent about the content! A big part of that will be in sharing our data with them more effectively.

Data Point #2: Culture of Achievement


  • What is Culture of Achievement (CoA)?

CoA is the quality of the classroom culture that your students enjoy as they are learning. Some people think immediately about “management” but CoA goes well beyond that: it’s the way in which your students actively maintain and foster a positive environment because of the way they care about their learning.

  • How do you collect data around CoA?

CoA is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Culture of Achievement Pathways rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.

  • What does the CoA data tell us?

As you can see in the above, our students are definitely experiencing more positive classroom environments (including some Joyful and Urgent ones!), but by and large this is a priority in which our classrooms are stagnating. Like at the beginning of the quarter, we are still seeing well over half of our students in classroom environments that are in the lower end of the spectrum, and thus less conducive to learning. This is consistent with the year-long trend we have seen of few collaborative structures taking place in the daily lesson. Key to changing this will be our collaboration and sharing of best practices, as well as an increased sense of urgency and joy for our content as we head into the final 8 weeks of the school year.

Data Point #3: Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)


  • What is Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)?

ERC is the level of rigor at which students are engaging with the content. Some people think immediately about “difficulty” of the questions being asked by the teacher, but this goes well beyond that: it’s the depth and sophistication with which students are thinking about and working within the content, as well as the purpose with which they do so.

  • How do you collect data around ERC?

ERC is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Engagement with Rigorous Content rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.

  • What does the ERC data tell us?

 Like with CoA, we are seeing some small and exciting gains in ERC, but also some discouraging signs of stagnation. In addition, it will be unsurprising to find out that the same classrooms that are on the bottom half of the spectrum in CoA are also often on the bottom half of the spectrum in ERC. At the end of the day, I believe that this is because we need to emphasize more student-centered learning, while also focusing on the purpose that our rigorous summatives can give us at this time in the year. 

How will we be supported based on these findings?

I have crafted three priorities for Quarter 4 based on these findings.  The priorities (grouped by student and teacher outcome) are as follows:


Head over to the PD Page of our Professional Development website to see what sessions will be driving towards these priorities, and sign up for them!

For more detail on all of this, as well as a some crucial context, check out Q4 Humanities Priorities document.

So what are your thoughts? What resonates with you about this data, these priorities, and these upcoming experiences? What else do you see in the data and in your own classroom? Fire off below!

An Independent Study in Sharing Data with Students


Hey All!

This week, my time for writing an extended blog post has been limited, so I thought I would actually connect you with a resource that could be really helpful for your classroom, but that someone else on the TFA Mississippi Team created… Shout out to Sarah Blackburn for putting an awesome Independent Study for Sharing Data with students together!

Plus, some of you DID say you wished the Culture Specialist and the Humanities Specialist would collaborate some more… Well, here is the start of it!

NOTE: You will need to ask your TLD Coach if it aligns with your development priorities first, but once you do, you can complete this independent study on your own (obviously), and then use it to share data authentically with your students. You will get a tailored credit as a result! Let me know if you are interested!

To help you with this, this blog post contains:

  • How this aligns to our Humanities Priorities
  • The Link to the Independent Study
  • More Resources for Sharing Data in the Humanities

How this aligns to our Humanities Priorities

This Independent Study is perfectly aligned with our 3rd Priority for this Quarter:

Students are invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and because they are aware of their progress. This is because teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.

At the end of the day, I simply believe that it is our students’ right to know – with subtlety and beyond the simple “you got a B+” – where they stand in relation to their goals. It’s a question of equity and leveling out the power differential in the classroom. Students should know where they stand and what they can do to change it!

The good news? As a Humanities team, we are in a really strong position to share data with our students. According to the latest information I collected from the Program Tracker, the Humanities Team is actually the strongest content team for data! And this is a first! Historically, we have been one of the furthest behind.

Check out some of the data break-down below, which also indicates that our students are well on their way to reaching their academic goals! There is always room to grow, and for that reason, we should be sharing the data so our students can use it to focus their learning, grown in confidence, and feel celebrated!

Progress Known

Has the teacher submitted valid and accurate data? Do we know where students are in terms of their progress towards goals?

Progress Known? Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
YES 75% 81% 86% 81%
NO 25% 19% 14% 19%

%Benchmark Achieved

Given our data, what percentage of progress towards goals do we see? (Note: we were not measuring this last semester)

Content: %BA
Science 19.1
Math 30.7
Humanities 38.5
Elementary 29.8
ELA 38.0

The link to the Independent Study

Okay, here it is! The moment you have all been waiting for. The link to the Independent Study is here. Remember to ask your TLD Coach if this is the right development for you before you start!

More Resources for Sharing Data in the Humanities


Teaching Resources for Black History Month


Hello All!

A wonderful opportunity:

It’s Black History Month! A really exciting time to explicitly connect our contents to Social Justice, Civil Rights, and African American History (past, present, and future). While I know that we have been proactively including questions of social justice and a diversity of people, themes, and ideas in our unit plans, this is an incredible opportunity for us to collaborate school-wide on building student leadership, cultural competence, and critical consciousness through focusing on African American heritage and culture.

Indeed, I think this is a powerful chance for us to really live up to our Humanities Vision for Content fully.

We believe that the Humanities are critical contents in the actualization of Social Justice and Equity in students’ lives. We thus move students towards Humanities Achievement, Leadership, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.

As such, we act with the knowledge that every Humanities classroom must aggressively pursue the dismantling of systems of oppression through the provision of rigorous Humanities content and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

A significant challenge:

That said, we often face a real challenge when we start to plan for this month. Mainly, we risk compartmentalizing Black History to a “February thing” rather than an always thing. In addition, since many of us do not share all of the same background – racial, cultural, economic, educational – of all our students, we often also run the risk of telling students their own history, acting like the experts, or, perhaps worse, simply making a cursory attempt at focusing on some key African American role models. This, and more, can be part of the challenge. But it’s an important challenge to meet head-on.

What we hope to accomplish:

I would hope that all of us, ultimately, want to build student leadership this month. At the end of the day, we want our students feeling proud of who they are (whether they are Black or not), critical of current injustices, and united in their creative voice to take action: whether that be a celebration of African American heritage and history, or some other kind of civic engagement. We want to make sure we are learning about Black History alongside our students, in partnership with them and the community. We want to make sure to show that Black History is alive, powerful, and beautiful.

To that end…

Over the past couple years, I have worked with people on our TFA Team and among our Humanities teachers to compile resources for Black History Month that would provide (a) guidance on best approaches, and (b) examples of strong lesson plans and resources for us to use.

How it works:

  1. Read Teaching Tolerance’s “Do’s and Dont’s of Teaching Black History
  2. Go to this spreadsheet.
  3. Check out all the amazing resources!
  4. Have a resource worth sharing? Include it in the spreadsheet for others to use!
  5. Pair up with a buddy to share ideas and get feedback.
  6. Ask Jacob and/or your TLD Coach to see the awesome stuff you are working on.
  7. Teach your heart out 🙂

Have an amazing February!

Summative Drafts Thus Far!

Hello again folks! Well, we have been back for a couple of weeks now, and hard at work bringing our students to not only depth but also breadth of content, pushed forward by a real investment and love for the Humanities.

In the background of all this, many of you have done incredible work to start thinking about the end of the year, and how you will measure your students’ progress in a capstone, celebratory, and rigorous final assessment!

As you all know, I have already written one blog post about Summatives, and connecting you with various resources! So I thought for this one, I would share how far we’ve come!

Thus far, 75% of our Humanities classrooms have at least a draft summative they are working towards!!!

This is very exciting, as it shows direct progress towards our Priority #1 this quarter:

Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues because teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

As such, I thought it would be a helpful for all of us to learn a little from one another as we push towards this effort. I have thus collected all of the most complete drafts we have created thus far in one folder! This should be an opportunity for you to explore and learn from what others are doing in their classrooms, connect with each other to find out more, and save precious time and energy rather than inventing the wheel from scratch!

Thus, I present to you, the 2014-2015 Summative Drafts Folder!

Here is a list of the awesome people whose work it contains:

  • Art: Cat Johnston
  • Music: Amelia Kundel, Tina Goodwillie, James Mitaritonna, Alice Hasen, Gabriella Sharpe, Heather Todd
  • Social Studies: Connor Bergen, Ali Hager, Chelsea Lewis, Stephen Fritz, Patrick Newton

World Languages – you guys have it easy! Just make sure you send me the date you plan on administering the 2009 Regents, and I will make sure to send it your way!

Keep up the awesome work guys! Let’s strive for 100% complete drafts by the end of the quarter!

Annotating Unconventional Forms of Art by Shelby Goodfriend

For this week’s blog post, I invited the wonderful Shelby Goodfriend (MS and HS Art in Humphreys County) to share her thinking and planning for a recent art project. Not an Art teacher? Fear not! There is tons here to learn about analyzing primary documents, asking BIG questions, getting students excited to read and write, and more!
All of this, of course, is wonderfully aligned to our Priority 1:

Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues because teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

Without further ado… Here is Shelby’s post!


January has the least amount of school days in the spring semester, and with Black History Month right around the corner, I knew I wanted to create a short unit for my students that would be interesting and get us off on the right track for the new semester!

I came up with the concept of teaching unconventional forms of art to my students. I knew that with this small unit I could teach some things that would really hook my students, like body art, but I could also utilize this time to teach them about poetry, therefore making my classroom a supplement to ELA.

I’ve utilized the Internet and found some really great plans and resources to teach poetry and art at the same time. The overall mini-unit can be broken down into four lessons, which should take a total of six days in the classroom.

After reading all the awesomeness below, check out Shelby’s Frida Kahlo PPT!

Lesson One (one day): Teaching Annotating through Art

Extended Bellringer:  On a projector, I had my students look at two of Frida Kahlo’s portraits (Retrato de Dona Rosita Morillo, 1994; Retrato de Natasha Gelman, 1943)

Images used for the Extended Bell Ringer

Students looked at the images for one minute and then had ten minutes to write. I thought this would be too much time but the students honestly utilized every minute.

The rules for writing were as follows:

  1. Write the entire time
  2. Do not share your ideas until time has expired
  3. Have fun, relax, there are no wrong answers!
  4. Write quickly without letting the ‘critic’ in you escape
  5. While using this picture, think of the following: Who is the person? Is she happy with her life? How can you tell? What was happening before the moment was captured? What is she thinking? What is she wishing for? Make sure the picture is helping to guide your decisions; for example, if the person is wearing a coat, you may infer that it is winter.
  6. Write an internal monologue, you shouldn’t write, “I am a seventeen-year-old girl who is sad. Right before the picture was taken, I was…” Use dialogue to convey the voice of the person in the portrait

After students finished writing, I had three students and asked them to support the decisions they made in their stories.

Lesson: I explained what annotation is, and how it is typically used in English classes. However, the activity we did for the bell ringer is a form of annotation through art. I found that at my school specifically, they taught students that annotation is use of symbols, which caused some problems, but we eventually got to the root of what annotation is.

Annotation aides in the close textual reading of a work, whether it be a poem, book or artwork.

In my class, students often dissect a piece of art with a bubble diagram before we talk about it so that they are looking at the piece before I tell them anything. This is something we started last August, if you’re unfamiliar with using bubble diagrams, look to this lesson:–But-is-it-Art-/

Students were shown Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1949 on the projector

Frida 2

Students created their own bubble diagram in 6 minutes with the questions being:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you think it may mean?

After time was up, we came together and created one large diagram for the classroom.

Following this, I discussed the painting with the whole class, pulling out the symbols, asking them what they believed they meant and finally giving them what the critics believe the piece means.

Exit Ticket: I then showed 8 of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits for 30 seconds each and had the students choose their favorite.

Frida 3

Students selected their favorite, annotated it, and then wrote an analysis of the work, supporting their claims with reasoning and support from the painting.

Lesson Two (three days): Teaching Self-Actualization Skills through Art

Students are to create visual self-portraits about how they internally feel about themselves and their life, using Frida’s work as a model.

Students are to use a color symbolism chart when choosing the colors that they decide to use in their portrait.

Lesson Three (one day): Moving from Art to Poetry – Annotating Poetry

Students will utilize close reading strategies during this lesson.

I informed students that they are going to read a poem by a woman who wrote it specifically about the moment in her life that she was currently experiencing.

This should be tied back to Frida Kahlo and how she painted her self portraits according to how she felt at that exact moment..

First Read:

  • Students are to read and annotate the poem The Thirty-Eighth Year by Lucille Clifton
  • Student then should create a bubble diagram organizer for the poem.
  • Students will then work with a partner to talk about the text.

Second Read:

Third Read:

  • Students watch / listen as other students read and annotate on the white board

Fourth Read:

  • Students Reread to find answers and evidence

Questions: What message is conveyed through the voice of the speaker? What petic devices does the poet use to convey the message? What is the tone of the work? How does this relate to Frida Kahlo’s paintings?

Lesson Four: Personal Narrative Writing

  • Students look at their completed self portrait and use them as inspiration for a narrative poem about their lives
  • Students write a poem that captures who they are and where they are in their life journey. Students will use Lucille’s poem as a model.
  • Students share their poems as a class!

Identity Poem Assignment