Podcast: Promoting Staff Beliefs That All Students Can Learn in Rigorous Tasks - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Promoting Staff Beliefs That All Students Can Learn in Rigorous Tasks

Promoting Staff Beliefs That All Students Can Learn in Rigorous Tasks

Instructional coaches and administrators need to build conversations with teachers around key standards. How is the teacher planning for instruction with an understanding of the depth of the standard? What decisions is the teacher making as she observes students’ engagement in rigorous learning tasks? Dr. Tracy Ocasio highlights the need for curriculum leaders’ interaction with coaches and principals to build support for teachers.

Contact Tracy: drtracyocasio@icloud.com

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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.

Steve: 00:28 Promoting staff beliefs that all students can learn in rigorous tasks. Joining the podcast today is Dr. Tracy Ocasio. Tracy is currently working in a K-8 setting with a focus on coaching and developing teachers in math curriculum, but she has a extensive background in other areas of curriculum, as well as in teacher training and development. I had the opportunity to work with Tracy years back in a district setting and we we reconnected. And Tracy used a statement that caused me to invite her to come onto the the podcast today. We recorded an earlier podcast for teachers and the title of the podcast we did for teachers was, “The More the Rigor, The More the Students Move.” So Tracy welcome. And I wonder if you’d start off by by giving folks a little bit more of your background.

Tracy: 01:37 Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk. This is definitely my area of passion. I have a varied background in curriculum and instruction. Mostly, I’ve had the opportunity to work as an instructional superintendent and assistant superintendent focused on curriculum and instruction focused on special education and pupil services, a chief academic officer. So this area of passion is definitely something that I most enjoy. I love talking about the teaching and learning process and how we can do it in order to improve student achievement. And so most of my settings have been in urban settings with some challenges and varied sizes of districts. I’ve worked in very large districts and also smaller districts. And so one of the things that I really have enjoyed is talking about how do we reduce and the barriers. And in many cases, it’s about intentional instruction. And I had the opportunity to do some consulting around the country with state departments, as well as different districts of varied sizes, varied types. And it comes down to effective teaching. We change teaching. And we do that through great leaders, great who support effective teaching, not in just one classroom, but in promoting it across classrooms. And so this is definitely my area of passion.

Steve: 02:52 So Tracy, when coaches or administrators are observing in classrooms and having conversations with teachers, what would jump out to them that that the focus is on rigor or maybe what jumps out at them that says rigor is missing?

Tracy: 03:15 And so I think it’s really important to begin with the standard, but it’s not just about the standard, there’s a curriculum connection to that standard. So as a leader, or as a coach, as someone that’s observing other teachers, I first need to understand what is the intention of that standard? What do we want kids to be able to do? And it’s really about focusing very relentlessly on what am I seeing in the classroom and how does it relate to the standard that the teacher has said, this lesson is anchored to, and are the students actually doing what I would expect from that standard? Because every standard has an inherent level of rigor. In some cases, it may be at the comprehension level, in other cases, it’s way up there in the analytical or evaluative level. And so falling short of that, doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten to the fullness of
that standard.

Tracy: 04:03 And it’s very important, especially today, after what we’ve been through with the unfinished areas of learning, whether it’s been a result of the pandemic, but I would suggest that it probably has existed previously, we’ve just exacerbated it and we’ve highlighted those areas of unfinished learning as a result of what we’ve all experienced recently. But I think it’s really important to lead that observation with what does the teacher intend to accomplish related to the state standard. And then also to look at the curriculum, to see what the curriculum is doing, because sometimes that can help expose any gaps between what we’re seeing and the level of rigor that we should be seeing.

Steve: 04:44 So connect what you’re talking about with rigor with the post-COVID conversations of accelerating rather than remediating. Is there a connection here?

Tracy: 04:57 Oh, absolutely. And this is my 32nd year in education. I started as an ESL teacher and I worked as a reading specialist and way back when we had instructional support teachers, I worked as an instructional support teacher as well. But when we think about this, we are not focused on remediation and we call it intervention. But what I think is really important is, especially in our areas or our school districts, our schools that have large numbers of students that are not reaching grade level expectations on the various forms of assessment that we’re giving them, whether it be that entry level benchmark screener, or it would be the benchmarks throughout the year, we know that some of our students have what has been described as gap skills. I like to call them unfinished areas of learning because all students certainly can finish that.

Tracy: 05:45 And I think if we’re intentional and we’re efficient about addressing those in our core instruction, I think that’s the important part of this, is that we know even in the best of circumstances, there may be students in front of us, maybe larger numbers of students that have misconceptions, or they haven’t learned something that’s prerequisite. And knowing what the prerequisites are associated to that standard is going to be essential because I wanna do that efficiently. I can’t let students live with that unfinished area of learning, or they’re not going to get the outcomes, the proficient measures during the lesson. They’re not going to get that problem correct if they have those unfinished areas of learning. And I need to find ways that I can scaffold in opportunities to address that as I’m presenting my core lesson. I always use that example of you’re only going to be 15 one time.

Tracy: 06:39 A child’s only going to be five one time. We need to get it right now. And so part of getting it right is figuring out ways to address whatever it is that might hinder their performance at grade level, and really tailor our instruction to meet that need. Let me give you an example. I know that at this point in second grade, I’m teaching three digit addition or subtraction. I may also know that there are students that did not understand the place value skills in part A of the cluster of those numbers, the MBT standards. And so how can I, either in my warmup, how can I rest something that they may be missing that I know is going to be essential during my lesson that they have to understand that. And what are ways to differentiate? If I’m doing that actual work and I’m using a place value chart, I can use place value discs, but if for a student that’s struggling and doesn’t have that strong sense of number on those prerequisite skills, I need actually use place value blocks because the disc in the one’s place looks the same as the disc in the hundred’s place. But not when I use place value blocks, I can see it.

Tracy: 07:48 And that’s part of what we want. Mathematics is very visual. We want kids to see it. And so if I know I have students that are fine working towards the place value disc, the more abstract, yes, that’s fine for my lesson and my textbook may suggest that, but if I know I have students with significant gap skills, I need to do certain things. I need to either change the numbers they’re working with to make them a little easier first and then lead up to the more complex where they’re going to need regrouping and I may also find that it’s useful to give them more concrete manipulatives. Because concrete is the lowest level pictorial is next and then of course the algorithm really isn’t to that grade level, but we sometimes resort to that procedural knowledge. But I need to make sure that I help the teacher understand at this grade level, this is what they need to learn.

Tracy: 08:38 We do this in reading very simply. We shorten the margins of the text, we provide assisted reading methods, but we should still be requiring kids to think at the grade level standard. So while a fifth grader may struggle with the words that are associated to that text, they still need to be able to analyze the interaction for standard three of those ELA standards. They still need to come out with main ideas for that ELA standard and standard two. But how I get them there is I provide that additional support. We do the same with mathematics and knowing the progression associated to a standard is one of the ways we can support our teachers to say, did you consider they might not have this, if this is what you’re seeing in the classroom and what can we put in place to scaffold – eventually take it away, but put it in place today.

Steve: 09:24 Here’s the piece that’s rattling me. So I’m working on leadership development with administrators in a district with the focus on and supporting teachers in the acceleration work they’re doing with with students. And it’s striking me – I think pieces are coming together and you clicked on one here for me that in many cases, I really need the curriculum people in the district to be working with the principals and assistant principals who are supporting things at the building level, because iit’s unlikely that without assistance in what to be looking for, that administrators across the board have a broad enough curriculum understanding in the different areas to be able to be able to look for it. Does that sound make sense?

Tracy: 10:23 That makes perfect sense. And in my experience leading that curriculum development, I’ve had the opportunity to supervise principles and also to lead curriculum departments in different settings. And one of the things that I think is really important, everybody has skin in the game in a district. And that was something that we were designing and looking at and revising the leadership evaluation model in one of the places that I had worked. We looked at how does everyone fit into helping us work with students? Because it’s not just a teacher’s responsibility and it’s definitely not just the principals, but I think that one of the things we think about is what can we do to help the teachers be able to implement instruction. Teachers do not have time to develop curriculum. They don’t have time to write it while they’re planning great lessons. And the more effort I put into planning takes away some of my energy for great implementation.

Tracy: 11:14 What we need from our curriculum people is yes, working with principals, walking classrooms and saying, here’s what I know of the standard, because they tend to receive very specialized training, whether it’s from the state departments or other places that they go as a result of being able to do the position that they have or being better at doing it. And so it’s good to have them share. So walking with a curriculum person, we should see the lens of here’s what the standard says, here’s the implementation of the curriculum, here’s what I know about good teaching. And I think that’s one thing that we have not always married is here’s the standard, here’s what it requires, here’s a great in instructional strategy that will get you to that standard. I think that we have a lot of districts implementing the science of reading, for example, but we’re not seeing the same great progress, but we see people know it.

Tracy: 12:01 We see people understand it, we see people incorporating activities that look like it, but what’s missing, and sometimes it’s the marriage to the instructional strategy and being effective at not only delivering that instructional strategy, but then monitoring for the outcomes related to the instructional strategy. So what’s my desired effect for the strategy that I’m using, kids can do the following. And so I think curriculum people are good at supporting that, but the other thing is curriculum people have the responsibility of reducing the noise in those curriculum resources. And I like to use that word because I think everybody understands what you mean when you say reducing the noise. The stuff that distracts us, the stuff that makes it difficult for us to focus. And so I think that it behooves a curriculum department to have great curriculum and instruction guides that identify, here’s the key standard, here’s what they’re really focusing on because publishers have a tendency to list a laundry list of standards and you’re not really doing all of those in one lesson, or it’s going to be a very long lesson.

Tracy: 13:04 But here’s the key thing, here’s the learning intention for that standard. Here’s what we wanna observe in our students. And then, here’s some suggestions for differentiation. And I think a curriculum person can put that – and it does take time, and I’m sure it probably takes a lot of energy and I’ve had some great curriculum people work with me over the years in departments, but it’s an important product to, like you said, give to principals so that they better have a chance of understanding. And they don’t have time. We usually have departments that are focused on one content area. Principals are required to look at every content area. And so I think that having those curriculum people to give their expertise, to help lead the focus and those observations, because really in every observation of instruction, we wanna be able to say, what was the standard it was aligned to, what should the outcome, the learning intention that a student demonstrates look like, and then what did we see students doing? What learning can we say we have evidence for? Does that match? And if there is a discrepancy, what would we think would change this lesson to arriving at that standards aligned outcome?

Steve: 14:20 I’m wondering if a critical part here is assisting instructional coaches and administrators to have some of the key questions to be
asking the teacher that triggers you to sense that the teacher does have that depth of knowing what it is they’re zeroed in on versus a teacher who’s covering the curriculum. And not that the principal or the coach has to necessarily have the answer, but would be signaled to know that we’ve
gotta get the curriculum support for the person, or maybe it’s teaming up with another teacher that we know has that depth of understanding.

Tracy: 15:07 And I think it’s really important to know that sometimes lessons look engaging and we get excited about them. I walked the classroom one time, the kids were dissecting a cow eye, which, you know, that itself was a challenge for me.

Steve: 15:20

Tracy: 15:20 But they were matching up what they saw in the dissection, which was awesome with what they saw on a video to identify the different parts, definitely part of the standard, but the real standard in that Pennsylvania classroom and what would be measured on that Keystone, which is the assessment that’s used as end of course in Pennsylvania for that grade level, is that the kids could do that, they could identify, but that was the bottom. They needed to be able to talk about how that, that component of this particular organ help to support the organism and achieve the outcomes that are necessary for life and successful life in the organism.

Tracy: 15:59 And so it’s much different than saying I can identify something. That’s simple matching. That’s not matching at the level where I’m using my inductive and deductive reasoning, which is required of the standard. Another lesson that I saw earlier this year was a seventh grade lesson where the teacher was looking at teaching the multiplicative inverse. But when you look at the curriculum, and what I looked at in the classroom was he had an example of 18+3x. Students in third grade should be able to get that without the multiplicative inverse. I shouldn’t need to use other than my understanding of multiplication and my varied experiences with it to understand that that x should be a six. I don’t need a multiplicative inverse there. However, the outcome that was required or the learning that we should have observed, the understanding that teachers should have led the students to achieve, or the conceptual understanding, what I’d like to call the claim that a student would make in that lesson was that if they understood the content to this point, they could make four different claims.

Tracy: 17:03 One was adding the same number to both sides of the equation and what that means for the equation. The other claim was that I need to subtract the same number for both sides of the equation, if that was important. So it’s statements like if A equals B, then A minus C equals B minus C. Multiplying the same number was another claim, that I multiply the same number to both sides of the equation that I divide the same number to both sides of the equation, because they started with the additive inverse moved to the multiplicative inverse, but the content was about students making those claims and then proving them because those are true claims and getting students to be able to do that. Sometimes our lessons, even if they seem like the students are excited, or kids are getting what we think is the correct answer, it’s not really getting at the depth of the learning that we need

Tracy: 17:48 And students, if they can’t articulate that procedurally, they may be able to do something, but when this becomes more complex, then they’re going to struggle. It’s the same as understanding that I can graph an equation and I can look at functions, I can also use the substitution method and I can use the elimination method. Those pieces of content are all related to getting the two unknown variables. But the learning that I want a student to know, or to be able to do is how are those related? Why do all three of those methods work? And which one works best for you? And would it work your strategy that is, to solving this problem? Would it work if we changed the numbers? That’s what I want kids to know, and that not every ordered pair works in both equations.

Tracy: 18:43 That’s important to know. I could find a non-example. So I need to look for this particular pair and here’s what it means when I’m graphing it. Here’s what it meant when I did the substitution method, here’s what it meant that I did the elimination method. So what’s important is for me to do that at the high school level, I really need to understand my content at those previous grade levels. And in order to do that, I need to make sure that every lesson is not only anchored to a standard and a learning outcome or a learning intention for that standard, but that kids are actually reaching it and they’re not just mimicking what I told them to do. And it’s hard to not want to see kids look like learners, but it’s really about understanding it and understanding it at a deeper level.

Steve: 19:29 A story’s running through my mind, I was doing a a coaching workshop and teachers had brought video clips to share with each other and a middle school math teacher showed this video clip where, to show you how far back this goes, it was an overhead projector she was using, but she had colored discs for positive and negative numbers. And so she was showing how to add positive and negative numbers by putting a negative on top of a positive and they’d kind of balance each other out. And then there was one negative one left so the answer was negative one. But we’re watching the video to coach the teacher in the middle of watching it, a teacher in the audience yells out, “oh my God, I get it!”

Steve: 20:23 We had to stop and she confessed that she was understanding the addition of negative numbers for the first time as a teacher here, as she’s watching this other teacher demonstrate. And filter that back as to the problem across the elementary level of how many of us came through a background of not having enough depth of understanding. So we end up teaching the elementary mathematics at a level of the student getting the right answer, but not building that, that deeper rigor that you’re describing, because as a teacher myself, I didn’t recognize where it plugged in.

Tracy: 21:02 And I appreciate that completely. And we want kids to look and see, feel successful and getting the right answer has always been our measuring stick across the country, across populations, getting the right answer, who doesn’t want that? But it’s bigger than getting the right answer. I was working with a teacher not too long ago and I was talking about this idea of making claims. And the teacher has a large number of students that walked in the door this year in the red, so to speak, because we use red for the kids that are at the lowest quintile. And one of the things that I know the teacher has been a little overwhelmed because there are definitely lots of unfinished areas of learning, but you’re a third grade teacher and you don’t have time to teach K and 1 and 2. And so what I’ve been trying to help teachers do is look at the coherent standards.

Tracy: 21:51 Let’s focus in on what are the coherent standards. So here’s my content. Here are the things kids need to be able to do and understand up until this point. And we don’t focus on everything, just the things that are aligned to the standard, because in some cases, and we know this from even the work that was done on priority standards during the pandemic, not all of that content is necessary to know at this moment. It’s sometimes nice to know. And at this time, we need to make sure that kids definitely know the necessary to know, and we add those other things in as they’re applicable, but many times to further their understanding. And so last week when I was working with a four fourth grade teacher, we were doing angles and they were obtuse angles and they were looking at complimentary angles and they were trying to look at what angles they would have in a line segment of 180 degrees.

Tracy: 22:42 And so one of the things that I had mentioned to the teacher is that kids are really furthering their sense of number. What are these different combinations to compose and decompose to equal 180? And that’s the area where you have noticed as a teacher, they had some gap skills, they had some place value issues in the early parts of the content and that they had some gap skills. These were the kids that were performing in that lower group that we give an additional dose of intervention or more additional doses. And so one of the things that we need to understand is really what do I wanna teach here? And the most efficient pathway to get it is to look at those areas of unfinished learning. What are they missing that they wouldn’t understand this well, they can’t, they’re having trouble comparing numbers. Well, in this case, we need them to understand hundreds, tens and ones and intimately in order to be able to find this unknown value of the other angle.

Tracy: 23:32 And so it’s really important that we are able to provide very intentional, efficient instruction on those areas. And we know that when we change the system to MTSS, multi-tiered systems of support, we just didn’t rename RTI. We recognize that there’s a professional development component to this and that professional development component cannot be curriculum agnostic. Teachers have to be able to take this very rich resource and deduce it to what I need it to do and then they need to understand at the end of every lesson, or even throughout the lesson, a student has to make a claim and that claim is anchored to the conceptual learning. That happens in every content area while we’re focusing on math, it happens in other areas. President Obama’s inaugural speech – if I were using that with my 9th graders or my 10th graders on that ELA standard of understanding rhetoric and how it applied, I want the kids, maybe they can pick out and identify forms of rhetoric, but that is not where the standard lies.

Tracy: 24:32 I do need to do that in order to reach the standard, but I have to understand how that influences the overall message and then ultimately, any claims that are being made by that text. And then in that circumstance, why is he conjuring memories of the four freedoms document? Why do I need to understand the four freedoms document and have a more global view of this comprehension of this document? How does this speech fit with that? I may also scaffold by getting them to watch more of the speech to hear the delivery because rhetoric comes alive in the delivery. So I need to think about what are the things that are going to cause interference with learning and allow kids to make mistakes, but it’s about getting them to resolve the mistake and the key and the power in that is monitoring that instruction in the moment based on what I’m seeing in the classroom from my students.

Steve: 25:22 So let me take one last twist in a different direction here. What would you say that school leaders and instructional coaches should
be doing to engage teachers, educators in rigorous learning?

Tracy: 25:37 So I think first we go back to those curriculum documents. So we use those in our professional development. We use the curriculum documents, we use the curriculum and sometimes, there may be an absence or a void in curriculum documents and that’s fine, but our curriculum resource, whatever that is, we match it up with what do we know about the standards. But then we understand how the standard fits for my grade level, because there’s a progression that happens. For example, in math, many times we’ll pick up a standard, put it down, add a little other sense of learning in another area or another domain, pick that standard back up and reinforce it with a little more depth. You see that a lot, especially in the early grade levels, but then what we need them to also consider is what would I need to do instructionally?

Tracy: 26:21 What do the kids have to do? All of this is a clear sense of alignment. What I’m I know that I wanna reach at the end of my lesson, then drives what I have students do. And then it drives my monitoring. So when I’m working with a group of teachers as a coach, or as a principal, or even as a curriculum leader, providing professional development, I consider, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We may look at it from a lesson level. We may look at it then from a unit level, but I think it’s really important to talk about what do we think would accomplish that outcome? What are the instructional strategies? What do we know about great instruction and where do the students need to go in terms of their levels of thinking? I think those converse are crucial. We talk about collaborative analysis of student work, and I’ve been a little around the block.

Tracy: 27:07 I’ve been doing this for a little while. I’d like to say, I was five when I started so I’m in my late thirties now.

Steve: 27:15

Tracy: 27:15 But in 32 years, we have talked about a lot of different things. And I remember 20 years ago, even before I left the classroom to become an administrator, it might have been a little longer than that, we talked about collaborative analysis of work. Well, it’s also not just weighing what we’re doing, not just getting the scale measurement of it. Did they get it? Did they not? And sorting it out into groups, but it’s really looking at what was the standard and what’s the progression. What’s the ladder to get to that outcome on the, the standard? That learning intention, that understanding that demonstration of skill. And then figuring out where is the student on this what’s causing the misconception and what grade level was that attached to? Because I can do a quick fix up.
Tracy: 27:52 And a student that’s scoring in the low quintile, I should be doing something different for that student than a student that’s around the 50th percentile. I probably can go with core instruction and maybe they’re going to have a problem in the moment, but then what that does for me is it also allows me to identify here’s the exemplar, this is what I want my kids to do. And so you mentioned about the teacher that had the a-ha moment. If that teacher was led and supported, here’s what I want my kids to demonstrate, and the teacher did the problem and so this is the anchor or the exemplar for this work today, then they’re monitoring with an outcome in mind. This is what I wanna see in every student.

Tracy: 28:33 And then they strategically monitor the performance of kids and based on what I know in prior data and my collaborative analysis of work experiences, I know he’s going to struggle, she is probably going to struggle, because I’ve seen gap skills. I know that she’s still working on things associated to other learning areas that we’ve done or covered, I know this kid, he always gets it right. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get it right. And I’ll need something else to occupy him because he may get into trouble if I let him go because he’s gonna finish quickly. So I may have something that I think about for this child, but it’s not personalizing to something that we had heard years ago. Like 10 years ago, I remember the teachers that I was working with at the time when they heard the word personalized learning, they thought every kid gets a specialized packet.

Tracy: 29:20 That’s not what we’re talking about. It’s looking at students from a group lens of here’s where I anticipate their performance because I’ve already done the work myself and what I think is the exemplar of that work. But then here’s what I’m gonna do if they they’re not reaching that outcome and I have something in my pocket so that when I’m monitoring the moment, I have a flexible group situation for that student based on where I think they may have some unfinished areas of learning or difficulty and performance. And for some students, they may do well every day, but that day it just didn’t work for them. And so I bring them to the table for this quick time while the others are working and practicing the new skill that I’ve taught.

Steve: 29:59 Well, thanks Tracy. I appreciate it. You wanna tell folks how they could get in touch with you if they have questions they’d like to follow up with?

Tracy: 30:07 Yes, absolutely. I invite anyone who would like to follow up or even have any other collaboration, I love talking about this, so I’m always open to that. I invite them to email me. My personal email is drtracyocasio@icloud.com So it’s all lowercase, no periods, no punctuation, drtracyocasio@icloud.com.

Steve: 30:36 All right. And we’ll be sure to stick that in the lead-in to the podcast so folks can find it. Thanks again.

Tracy: 30:42 It was my pleasure.

Steve [Outro]: 30:45 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to
rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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