Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

In Search Of the Rigorous Classroom

desks full

It seems that politicians have suddenly discovered that we’re suffering from a high school rigor deficiency. Driven by the economic competitiveness of the “flat world,” numerous states are considering mandates for more rigorous core curricula and increased graduation requirements. New federal legislation puts the US Secretary of Education in the business of setting standards for recognizing “rigorous secondary school program of study.”

Let’s be sure that high school reform isn’t just “more of the same” formulaic and predictable seat time that can already make high school the least engaging part of a student’s day. Graduating with more credits won’t do much for a student’s employment prospects unless high school reform redefines who’s doing the thinking in the classroom.

A competitive workforce is made up of people who can think independently in complex and ambiguous situations where the solutions are not immediately obvious.  Meaningful high school reform must include freeing teachers from mindless test prep. Educators need resources and training to craft a rigorous learning environment where students can function as 21st century professionals – critical thinkers who can effectively collaborate to gather, evaluate, analyze and share information.

image credit: flickr/dcJohn

Ninth Grade Academy Planning Workshop – from “Idea to Implementation.”

There is a growing recognition that ninth graders flourish in the unique environment of a Ninth Grade Academy. These small learning communities improve freshman transitions with a supportive environment, dedicated faculty, counselor and administrator. (Note: See my more recent NGA blog post updates 2007 and 2010. )

Recently, I offered a one-day planning workshop for a consortium of high schools in eastern and central Kentucky. The session was sponsored by the Pike County Schools and the Kentucky Department of Education. The goal of our workshop was to guide NGA design teams from “Idea to Implementation.”

I was joined by Matt Laniak, principal of Eastridge High School at East Irondequoit CSD. Matt and I had collaborated in the design and launch of the NGA – Matt was the it’s founding director and I was then serving as the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.

Our workshop perspective was "from the frontline,” with activities, resources and discussion to help participants address planning elements – Making use of data, Selection of faculty, Fostering faculty teamwork, Working with feeder schools, Professional development, Curriculum development, Scheduling, Physical plant, Student conduct, Support structures, Partnering with parents, Working with stakeholders.

Participant evaluations suggest it was a highly successful session –
“The workshop had a tremendous impact on our planning, it gave us a blueprint to go by – thank you so much.”
“Engaging, interactive, informative, and very motivational.”
“Real life case studies from presenters who have walked the walk."
“I am so excited to implement the NGA at our school after this workshop. – thank you.”
“Well-organized, the presenters have actually faced the problems we have. So many ideas to make our planning easier.”

Workshop resources include:
Participant Planning Guide 39KB PDF
Q and A – launch a NGA 53KB PDF
PowerPoint Handout 1.1MB PDF

For more resources visit my Small Learning Communities Website and see video interviews with the Ninth Grade Academy students and teachers.

Here's a 55 minute RealPlayer video of a conference presentation I did for the Oregon Dept of Eductation called "9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community that Works."  If you need RealPlayer click here.

Literacy Strategies for the Multi-Ability Classroom: Part II

Teachers responded well to my tri-fold guide for struggling readers: Non-Reader, Word Caller and Turned-Off Reader. See: Literacy Strategies for the Multi-Ability Classroom, Part I

To help teachers incorporate literacy strategies in their classrooms, Pat Martin and I went on to develop a series of targeted kits for critical skill development: Tools for the Word Caller (440kb pdf) and Tools for the Turned-Off Reader (460kb pdf). Each kit features eleven tools gathered from research-based practice. The kits feature a guide for the teacher with suggestions on how they can modify each strategy to support even more rigorous and relevant instruction. A reproducible student organizer gives scaffolded responsibility for learning to the student. Students are invited to make each skill part of their reader’s toolbox and reflect on how it improves their comprehension. I’ll be using the kits at teacher’s workshops this month to get feedback from the field. If you use one, let me know how it went. For more resources see my website: Content Reading Strategies that Work

So why aren’t your students publishing their own books?

We all struggle to create authentic writing experiences for our students. Imagine if they had an opportunity to see their work in print – and we’re talking about a real paperback.  Let them go through the process of writing, co-editing, illustrating and designing a book. Rigor and relevance meets motivation and self-directed study. I’ve gotten so excited by the results that I’ve done workshops to train teachers. You can see material and sample student books at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish.

I recently discovered Lulu.com – a print-on-demand publisher. I’ve used it to publish five books for a dear friend and author – Abe Rothberg. He wrote the manuscripts. I formated them in Word and converted them to a PDFs. I designed the covers in Photoshop and converted them to a PDFs. I uploaded the PDF files to the Lulu website. Cost so far – nothing!

Lulu doesn’t actually produce any books until one is ordered. Then the magic starts – Lulu takes my PDF files and produces a perfect-bound book and ships it to the buyer.

The money side at Lulu is pretty straightforward. No charge for uploading a book. (If you want to give it an ISBN number, that’s $35). Book production costs are $4.53 per book plus .02 per page black and white (.15 per page color). Example: a 50 page book with b/w text would cost you $.5.53 plus shipping. No costs are incurred until a book is ordered.  As a book author you can limit sales to only yourself, and buy unlimited books at cost (with a break on author’s orders of more than 25).  If you want to offer the books for sale to the public, you can set the price. You get 80% of the mark up over production cost. Lulu keeps 20% and sends you the royalty checks. They will also host your book as a downloadable e-Book for free.

BTW -  Abe has had a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of seven published novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. He’s also a dear friend and mentor whose previous work had gone out of print. We decided to cut out the middle man. For more on Abe go to his website – Abraham Rothberg

PS – I don’t work for Lulu

What did Europeans see when they looked at the New World and the Native Americans?

beavers-build-a-dam-herman-moll-1732
Beavers Build a Dam ~ Herman Moll 1732 – click to enlarge

This lesson improves content reading comprehension and critical thinking skills with an engaging array of source documents – including journal entries, letters, maps, and illustrations. It examines European views of Native American and the New World in the Age of Exploration. While it is a rather one-sided account, the documents also reveal a great deal about the cultural “lenses” that the Europeans “looked though.”I developed this lesson to assist high school history teachers working with struggling readers. I wanted to show them how they could scaffold learning so that all students could participate in doing the work of historians. I built the lesson around a theme which was central to their curriculum. It was designed as an essential question that would engage students in reflection about how they allowed prejudice to color their perceptions. I selected images which could be “decoded” by students with a minimum of background knowledge.

The source material contains twenty-five documents in text and image formats. I modernized historic accounts at two reading levels – 5th and 8th grade. Each contains the same twenty five documents.  A series of six exercises accompanies the lesson to guide students through the process of extracting information from the documents and constructing their own answers to the essential question. Link to Lesson


Image credit: Library of Congress gm71005441

A new and exact map of the dominions of the King of Great Britain on ye continent of North America, containing Newfoundland, New Scotland, New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina. Herman Moll 1732.

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