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February 2019

Feature Article

Cognitively challenging English language arts instruction

We have known about harmful effects of high-stakes state testing on students, teachers, and the curriculum for decades, yet we continue to perpetuate the belief that they test what students know and can do. Daniel Koretz (2017) demonstrates that they have become ends in themselves and take valuable time away from instruction designed to grow students' intelligence rather than their test-taking abilities. Teachers, caught in the punishment and rewards systems anchored to these tests, feel pressure to teach to the test by drilling students with exercises that mirror those on the tests. Schools spend months every year on this kind of test prep. Students learn that the tests are used to categorize them as remedial, basic, general, and advanced. They learn that once they test into remedial or basic, the odds of their escaping into classes that offer intellectually challenging learning are very low. Read More

Coaching Corner

Increasing cognitive demand and focusing on what students CAN do

As the supervisor of humanities (at the time) for New Brunswick School District, I have had the opportunity to work with the Institute for Learning (IFL) for the past 3 years, and one of the areas on which we focused during that time was increasing the cognitive demand in the classroom. During one of the IFL sessions, one of the teachers asked the IFL facilitator how her students could possibly engage in the kind of challenging work being shared during that session, especially since they couldn't even read yet. The response was, "Just because students can't read doesn't mean they can't think." Although this reply was in response to a particular question and a specific situation, I think it reflects what often holds teachers back from truly challenging students. Oftentimes, teachers see what students can't do instead of what they can. Read More

Improvement Science in Action

Searching for the root cause: An interview with Bridget Goree, NSI coordinator for North Dallas high school

Campus Network for School Improvement (NSI) coordinators learn to discover and understand the root causes of a problem of practice and find that understanding the problem takes time and requires a cultural shift. In this interview, Bridget Goree, an instructional coach at North Dallas High School, shares her own experience learning to approach this work. She discusses three considerations-what to stop doing, what is important to do, and what they are learning to build. Read More

Partner Spotlight

Working toward rigor: Implementing high-level math tasks

Designing for academic rigor in a thinking classroom starts with the choice of task with which students will engage. Likewise, when striving to improve student achievement, we ask our school partners to begin by analyzing the tasks students experience. If we want students to truly understand mathematics, as opposed to a series of tricks, sayings, and acronyms, then we have to ensure they have a regular diet of high-level tasks that require thinking and reasoning about mathematics. Low-level tasks do not yield student engagement in rigorous thinking. However, diving into the use of high-level tasks is intense and takes time. The two most common questions we receive are What is a high-level task? Is the endeavor of moving to a diet of high-level tasks worth it? Read More

Content Matters

Empowering teachers to analyze the demand of instructional tasks

We've recently begun helping districts use improvement science to work on problems of practice. To develop a more rounded view of the problems, teachers have been working in their schools to gather the stories of diverse students and other teachers about their experiences with teaching and learning. When we bring teachers and administrators back together to talk about what they've learned about the causes of low student achievement, we overwhelmingly hear talk about the quality of the instructional materials used in classrooms. Teachers state that students speak keenly about the lack of thinking required of them in the tasks they are asked to engage in, and teachers speak about the lack of quality resources afforded to them. Read More

News and Events

Achieving the Promise of Instructional Equity Through Improvement Science

Registration is now open! Mark your calendars and book your travel to attend the 2019 IFL Leader Summit in Pittsburgh June 4-6, 2019. This year's event- Achieving the Promise of Instructional Equity Through Improvement Science-is designed for district and school leaders to learn about and use improvement science as a means for leading meaningful change that focuses on equity as a primary driver. Read More

Bridges To Learning

Research. Practice. Results.

BRIDGES connects educators with knowledge and research that shows every student can learn when provided cognitively challenging instructional opportunities and learning environments can flourish when collaboration is valued, voice is honored, and agency is realized. Download entire newsletter.