At a recent staff meeting I participated in a panel discussion about the Cycle of Inquiry (COI), an element of TPEP in my district. Last year I volunteered as a “TPEP Pioneer,” or guinea pig for my administration to test out the new teacher evaluation system. As I discussed in a previous post, despite two weeks of TPEP training, I was completely blindsided when my evaluator requested I demonstrate student growth throughout a semester-long COI. I was the poster boy of how this SHOULDN’T work. A COI tracks growth within a semester, within a specific class, and then, within a specific class subgroup based upon gender, race, academic ability, etc. My PLC last year didn’t have a quantifiable goal for student growth, nor had I implemented pre- and post-tests in my units to track my students’ learning. It was evident to both me, and my evaluator, to successfully set-up a COI, it had to be driven by the PLCs. Then, each teacher within the professional community would have a shared SMART goal and be able to track student growth in their individual classes.
My principal asked each teacher on the panel to think of an analogy that exemplified the COI. The Science teacher compared the COI to a cell. The Social Studies teacher said the COI was analogous to Russian nesting dolls. I had a more unusual metaphor in mind. I said the COI was comparable to the Whole Megillah Relay at the Jewish Summer Camp of my youth. Let me explain.
Every summer as a kid I attended B’nai Brith Jewish Camp on the Oregon Coast. The highlight of BB Camp was the annual Maccabiah – a poor man’s, one-day Olympics. The camp was divided into four teams identified by colors – green, white, blue, and red. The final event was the Whole Megillah Relay. More Rube Goldberg than race, each team member was assigned a farcical activity to compete such as whistling the “Pledge of Allegiance” after eating a Saltine cracker, or properly setting a table while blind-folded. Each team sent a relay runner to go station-to-station. The event ended with one of the team leaders competing in a pie-eating contest.
I always felt it was a small miracle the whole thing went off without a hitch. There were so many moving parts. Each team consisted of over a hundred members aged six to sixteen. Whichever team won the race was more credit to the team, than the runner. Everyone had to successfully complete his task or there was no chance of winning.
I explained to my co-workers that the Whole Megillah Relay was analogous to the COI in three ways:
1. Be Smart in your Planning: The winning team wasn’t the fastest or the most skilled. Rather, they were keenly aware of their strengths and weaknesses. The team leaders successfully placed each member in an event they knew they would succeed.
This is a useful strategy in planning a SMART Goal for the COI. Your PLC must decide which Common Core standard your students will be able to meet by the end of a semester. My PLC is focusing on the category of Purpose in the SBAC Informative Essay Rubric. My goal is for African American boys in one of my English classes to improve their scores by one level on the rubric. I selected this group because, even though they have struggled with writing, they are coachable kids who are self-motivated to improve.
2. Collect Multiple Data Points: Over the course of the Maccabiah, the team leaders must assess how each team member can be an asset to the entire team. As one of the team leaders on the blue team, I made mental notes about my team members and plotted where I would place them during the relay.
This is also true of the COI. In planning a unit, create multiple formative and summative assessments to track your students’ growth. Your students, inevitably, will have peaks and valleys in their learning. The more data points you have, the more opportunity there is for them to succeed.
3. Events Build Upon Each Other: For the relay to be run successfully, each event must build upon the next. A team’s motivation and focus must be consistent from event-to-event. This pushes the relay runner to run faster, and for each participant to compete to the best of their ability.
Each semester’s COI should do the same. This semester, my PLC is tracking Purpose in our students’ Informative Essays. Next semester, we plan to track Analysis in our students’ Persuasive Essays. One PLC member suggested we should focus second semester on reading. Another member pointed out, if our focus is on writing first semester, we should make it our goal for the entire year. Everyone agreed.
If anything, the COI has taught me it’s a small miracle the entire cycle works out to everyone’s benefit. I have to trust my students will meet their goal. They need to trust me that I’ll guide them to be successful. With some luck, we can both celebrate this small miracle of achievement.