Novi Teachers Use Late-Start Days to Align Curriculum, Assessment
Five late-start dates throughout the school year give teachers time to work together to improve learning.
On Wednesday, Novi Community Schools had its third late-start day, a day on which school starts a couple of hours later than usual for students while teachers work on professional development.
The district’s goal for these days is to have better coordination among teachers of the same subject or grade level. Five late-start days are scheduled throughout the school year on Sept. 28, Nov. 9, Dec. 7, March 14 and May 16.
RJ Webber, assistant superintendent for academic services, said the district wanted to give teachers a structured time to collaborate.
“What we really wanted to do is create a space for all of our teachers to work in and interact in," he said.
"I think, sometimes, you think that teaching is a very social type of business to be in, but what we often find is that our teachers don’t get together to really communicate as much as we’d like," he said. "They’re teaching kids.”
So on five Wednesday mornings throughout this school year, teachers in each building take 2½-3½ hours to work together.
“We chose to do late starts in the morning because with after-school events — many of our teachers coach, many of our teachers tutor — doing stuff after school is very difficult to make sure everyone will be there,” Webber said.
He also said the district wanted the teachers to be able to work on these important goals while they were as fresh as possible, which means in the morning — not after a fatiguing day of work.
The late starts also meant adding two days to the academic calendar.
Although some parents have expressed concerns about how to get their children to school later in the day, Webber said he hopes they can see that the time is valuable to their students’ education.
“The sense that I hope parents are seeing and feeling is a much more coordinated approach to what we do as a district,” he said.
Professional Learning Communities
The professional development days center around a concept called the Professional Learning Community (PLC).
A PLC, as Webber defines it, is a space where professionals can work collaboratively to answer core questions.
On the first late-start day this year, all the teachers studied an article by Richard DuFour, a retired superintendent from Illinois and a national expert in PLCs. His PLC model focuses on the idea that education should concentrate on students learning, rather than just being taught.
On subsequent late-start days, teachers have begun working on addressing these four main questions:
- What is it we want all students to learn?
- How will we know when each student has mastered the essential learning?
- How will we respond when a student experiences initial difficulty in learning?
- How will we deepen the learning for students who have already mastered essential learning and skills?
The idea is that a third-grade student in one teacher's class will have the same experience as a third-grader in another class, for example.
This alignment of curriculum also ties into the district's goal to align assessment.
Webber said he hopes the school district can build its own system during the next five years that allows schools to give parents and teachers multiple measures and data about how each student is doing, since MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) and ACT scores don’t always provide enough information.
Professional Development at the high school
This is the first year the elementary buildings have started doing professional development, and Webber said they are still finding their way.
Novi High School has been doing professional development for about four years, but it was never given a district direction.
Now the high school meets in more than 30 PLCs to follow the four main questions and fill out a report to the principal at the end of the day.
Brett Meyer and Jeff Burnside, who teach seven classes of Earth Science at Novi High School with approximately 200 students among them, used the late-start day Wednesday to evaluate how students did on past exams and to plan lessons.
They use a website called Moodle, which allows them to collect data on exams. Students take the exams online, and the website records how many students chose each of the answers to the multiple-choice questions.
If more than 80 percent of the students picked the correct answer on a question, Meyer and Burnside decide that the students met proficiency. If the percentage is lower, however, the teachers look to see what went wrong.
The teachers might look at whether the question needs to be altered or clarified. Or the two might decide that they need to teach that concept better.
The data also help the teachers evaluate whether the students are learning what they are supposed to learn. When they create each question for a test, it is coded to show that it fits a certain benchmark from the course unit.
Meyer and Burnside said they like having the time to get together for professional discussion. In fact, they said they wish they had more of it and could meet more frequently.
“We need the time to work together to align the curriculum,” Burnside said.
In an English classroom at the high school Wednesday, 11th-grade teachers Corey Markos, Mike Ziegler and Bill McCord used their PLC time to coordinate their courses for the next unit.
Ziegler said he likes having PLC time before school because he finds it difficult to find time to meet after school when students have so many activities, and he has to meet with many of them for extra help.
Ideally, Ziegler said, the school would have a late-start day every week to allow the teachers to collaborate.
“But we don’t like the idea of taking that much time out of class time, either,” he said.
Webber said the district will assess the late-start days at the end of the year to determine whether they worked well or whether they should be done differently.