Student Voice: My Goal Is to Change the Face of the Healthcare Profession

By: Kaci Anderson

This is a daunting time to join the healthcare industry. A raging pandemic, budget cuts, and limited access to resources such as PPE have made working as a medical care professional exceedingly difficult. However, when the first signs of the pandemic surfaced in March, I was inspired to learn I had been offered a summer internship at PCCI, a leading nonprofit, data science, artificial intelligence, and innovation organization, affiliated with Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

As part of my training, I joined a team of medical professionals tracking and analyzing COVID-19 cases in our region to advise the Dallas County health system in monitoring trends and establishing guidelines. It was an experience that solidified my decision to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.

I’ve wanted to become a nurse practitioner since I was in middle school, when I visited my local clinic for a broken ankle. The nurse practitioner reviewed the X-ray with me and walked me through a plan for how to care for my ankle, what the healing process would be, and when I could expect to feel better.

When I returned to the clinic six weeks later, I was treated by the same nurse practitioner. I’ll never forget his excitement when he showed me my follow-up X-ray indicating my bones had healed. Seeing how the plan he made for my recovery had worked made a lasting impression on me. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do: come up with treatment plans to help people and witness them get better.

Today, I still intend to pursue nursing to help people, but I no longer want to stop there. My new goal is to start my own practice, so I can begin to reshape what the healthcare industry looks like. At a time when health care workers are rapidly becoming our most in-demand professionals, I regard my internship as a critical opportunity, one many students—particularly students of color like me—don’t receive.

High school career preparation programs, such as the one I am enrolled in with NAF, are already expanding and diversifying our future workforce by equipping students to start careers in industries like healthcare that are sorely in need of gender and racial diversity. Today, there are 86 NAF Academies of Health Sciences in America, and NAF has prepared nearly 40,000 healthcare professionals. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 70% of NAF students were people of color, and more than two-thirds—67%—came from under-invested in areas. Students like me have interned with prestigious research institutes, doctors’ offices, medical clinics, and hospitals, and have learned about nursing and counseling services in local universities.

My internship was also valuable in teaching me how we can transform the industry to better meet our needs. Currently, the healthcare industry is extremely lacking in diversity, even though it serves diverse populations. As of 2018, more than 77% of advanced nurse practitioners were white, according to U.S. census data. Less than 7% were Black. This does not come close to reflecting our demographics. Here in Dallas, for example, most residents—71%—are people of color.

As a young Black woman, this disconnect affects me directly. Black and Latinx communities are much more likely to get sick with COVID-19 than the rest of the population. Sadly, they are also far more likely to receive lower-quality healthcare and have higher mortality rates than white populations.

As clinics across the U.S. administer the coronavirus vaccine, people of color are more likely not to have access to this treatment while COVID-19 cases in their locations continue to rise.

The healthcare system must change how it operates by building a talent pipeline to meet growing health concerns and ensuring medical professionals represent the demographics of those in need. This can start as soon as students enter high school by advocating for school districts to obtain resources to provide opportunities for students of all backgrounds to see themselves as future members of this critical industry.

High school career preparation programs like mine have helped open doors for young people all across the nation—something too many students get a late start on.

My generation faces one of the most daunting job markets in history. Last April, the unemployment rate among Black workers was nearly 17% compared to a white unemployment rate of 14%. The unemployment rate among Latinx workers was nearly 19%. What’s more, high school students preparing to graduate this year are less likely to attend college than ever before and face limited job prospects.

While this reality feels bleak, I am optimistic about my future because I was given the chance to explore career options and learn a variety of skills at any early age. Having the NAF advantage will prime me to achieve my dreams later in life while giving back to my community.

The moment I learned I had gotten the internship at PCCI was meaningful not just because it’s a step toward achieving my own ambitions, but because it signaled to me that NOW is my time to make a lasting impact. My education connected me with a career path where I can help close the opportunity gap by creating jobs for people of color and new graduates. When I start my own nursing clinic, I will be changing the image people have when they think of medical professionals while helping to better our world.

For more, see:

Kaci Anderson is a high school senior at The Innovation Design Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA HS) in Dallas. 

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Organizing a Modern Edtech Stack for Modern Pedagogy, Part II: The LMS

As we discussed in the first post of this series for evaluating your student information system (SIS), the software we use in our edtech stacks are the tools we use to stay organized and keep instruction moving forward which are used by the largest swath of our learning communities. Specialists throughout our schools and in our district central offices may use other tools for productivity or supporting compliance and daily operations, but those platforms in which we invest our instructional intellectual property are the spine of our digital ecosystems tied to the core mission of helping kids grow.

Evaluating the learning management system (LMS) is the focus of this piece. The LMS is where instructional interaction occurs. It’s been said that the teacher is the learning management system and that learning transpires not in schools or in classrooms, whether digital or brick and mortar, but in the learner. Keeping in mind that these sophisticated platforms don’t usurp or displace the exchange between a teacher and learner is an excellent stance for evaluating whether or not the LMS (or how your current LMS has been used thus far) is serving your needs and respecting the agency of both the teacher and the learner.

The goal of this piece is to sharpen discernment for edtech planning and calibration, not favor one vendor over another. Knowing a bit about the other popular options in comparison may assist with continuing further as edleaders plan not just for improving learning this spring semester as well as facilitating a well-designed learning experience for the coming school year.

There are valid reasons to stay with the vendor that you are already familiar with, as long as the sunk cost fallacy isn’t keeping you from exploring other options — a typical roadblock to change. This is an opportune moment for making sure the vendor’s solution is meeting your needs in the present without undermining longer-term growth opportunities such as new learning models or other strategies edleaders are desiring to cultivate and nurture with teachers. For example, a consideration for a change might be to enable deeper engagement in personalized learning amidst remote or hybrid models of support than prior solutions afforded.

Across Texas, schools use a variety of LMS and have for some time, and there are clear frontrunners that have pulled away from other options as a combination of the product’s quality in breadth and depth of features, affordability, and ease of use. The top three cloud-based LMS are:

  1. Canvas by Instructure
  2. Schoology now owned by PowerSchool and offered free of charge by TEA
  3. Google Classroom

There are other vendors to add to the list, both emergent and established, but for the sake of this evaluation exercise, we will start with a high-level comparison then introduce a few prioritized topics as a frame for evaluating any vendor’s offering.

A Quick Comparison

Starting with this year’s major LMS headline, when TEA chose Schoology over other options and partnered to execute a wide-sweeping vision for equipping all Texas schools with a high-performing LMS, it should’ve piqued the interest of current PowerSchool users since the world’s largest SIS had acquired Schoology in November of 2019. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean such data interoperability between the two platforms is superior. There are so many other contributing variables that such a conclusion is too simplistic. Canvas and PowerSchool have had an integration for years and it behooves both companies to uphold it given the millions of users on each. Also, PowerSchool’s unified classroom was built largely from acquiring other edtech companies more than creating new solutions with features that span both SIS and LMS categories in the edtech stack.

In 2014, Google Classroom came along and snuck into thousands of schools as a new part of their already established cloud-based productivity suite with tight integrations to each of those tools teachers and students alike had been using in lieu of Microsoft Office. It’s hard to believe children born when Classroom first launched are now old enough to be students using it in kindergarten or first grade. That ease of use has been quite attractive to teachers of younger learners. Classroom is free and it feels like a free offering, missing core functionality that would put it on par with Canvas and Schoology. Early on, Google Classroom wasn’t an LMS as much as it was a teacher-friendly “content management system” for curating and posting learning activities. As such it was a boon for teachers with their Google Drives loaded with lessons in Docs or Slides, right alongside the Forms and Sheets they were using to track formative assessment data. For many teachers, that was and still remains enough. And for many administrators, free is worth criticisms about the data ethics arguments that flare up on occasion. Google is committed to Classroom continuing to expand its functional footprint, but seemingly uninterested in taking the bait to toe the line with Canvas as Schoology did.

To that end, if you ask a hundred teachers and administrators what features should be included in an LMS, you’ll get a hundred different lists. Presuming the vendor itself is a healthy company with excellent data privacy and security measures, let’s try to consider the software’s essential feature inclusions itself. All LMS should have the best user experience in the following categories:

  • A flexible design workflow for building a course of study: the ability to easily create and post a course of study by building out a series of learning experiences in written text but also including the ability to record rich media, but flexible enough to allow a variety of learning models.
  • Equitable and accessible UI/UX design for each role: dedicated usage of an LMS with students means a near minimalist’s approach to the design for screens facing teachers and students to avoid confusion and fatigue while the learner works through an activity. With regards to accessibility, this means accounting for the needs of all learners regardless of literacy and language development or an accommodation from an IEP.
  • A flexible means for assessment feedback: whether one or many students, the ability to provide written and verbal
  • Device ambivalent (not device agnostic): the user’s closest internet-connected device is the right device. If the vendor doesn’t develop elegant solutions that aren’t hampered by the size of the screen or the method for interaction, they’re coming up short for students and teachers alike.
  • Extensibility: For all the features an LMS can offer, the content that doesn’t come from original instructional activities authored by the teacher, planning team, or district must be curated from other sources. Canvas and Schoology have relied upon the Learning Tools Interoperability specification (LTI) from IMS Global for offering content and skill app developers to connect securely. Google Classroom has its own bank of API documentation for developers to integrate with their platform, including the capacity to access other material created with Google apps.
  • Backend monitoring and analytics reporting: LMS developers offer their admin-level accounts access to the user behavior data in a set of “canned” analytics reports such as number of times and duration for users logging in, by student, class, and activity. Yet these are only useful for informing certain decisions and should not be exclusively referenced for calculating attendance or similar reporting requirements that aren’t as relevant as they once were before. Such user statistics can function as an early warning signal and serve as a conversation starter when engagement drops, but the better indicators lie in the learning data as students attempt projects and activities with more qualitative responses. For administrators, aggregate reporting from the LMS can reveal patterns in certain skill adoption by students, which teachers are exemplary at translating those skills and subsequently promote those teachers’ efforts during professional learning.

Getting the most out of your LMS

The curse of any enterprise-grade platform is that it’s a significant effort to be an expert on all functions and how effective they are at solving the problem for which they were designed. Even so, staying close to your account representative and subscribing to any published literature or online forums can further the value for your students and teachers. Consider the following prompts for getting the most out of your LMS.

  • Consolidating and eliminating third-party apps in favor of native ones as long as there is parity.
  • Leaning on your rep for understanding all the features, choosing which to implement, and chunking that roll out with your schools without frustrating your high-flying teachers desires to use certain functionality.
  • Scheduling regular professional learning experiences each grading period to calibrate usage from backend data.
  • Joining the user groups if established, or helping start a pilot user group based on role or a particular school model.
  • Appointing a small task team of naturally inquisitive staff to lead the way on maximizing the usage of the LMS and other apps in your edtech stack.


Like we were told about computers entering the workplace decades ago, they’re only as smart as what we put into them. LMS are no different. And because of the interconnectedness of the edtech ecosystem, their effectiveness is fluidly evolving and requires the intention to yield results in the user experience we provide of both our students and the teachers tending to their growth.

For more on auditing and developing your tech stack see:

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The Adult Learner: Understanding Their Variability to Customize Their Learning

By: Barbara Pape

COVID-19 has laid bare a long-standing challenge to America’s economic landscape: an underpaid, underappreciated, and underprepared workforce that has recently faced the harshest of economic blows. Part of the solution for economic justice is an education and professional development system that recognizes the unique backgrounds and needs of each adult learner.

In partnership with educators, researchers, and training providers, Digital Promise’s Learner Variability Project has developed an evidence-based Adult Learner Model.

The model is built on a whole learner framework of adult literacies, cognition, social-emotional learning, and learner background—all of which research shows are essential factors of learning. The goal? To place learning sciences research for adults at the fingertips of adult and continuing education leaders and edtech product developers so they can provide evidence-based strategies that ensure each adult learner meets their potential and is prepared to thrive in a 21st-century job market.

“Many people recognize a range of essential skills adults need to succeed in the workplace and community—digital literacy, communication, problem solving—but fewer understand the myriad connections and context in which these skills reside,” said Medha Tare, PhD, director of research for the Learner Variability Project. “Our Adult Learner Model places learners in context and shows how their cognitive abilities, emotional skills, and background factors weave together so we can better understand their ability to learn and more appropriately build skill development across contexts.”

Brendaly Drayton, Ph.D., Scholar in Residence, Learning Communities, Pennsylvania State University, on why it is important to include LVN’s whole person framework when developing programs for the adult learner.

The Adult Learner Model is not a curriculum. Instead, it can be used to supplement and support any program or edtech platform being used to provide rigorous instruction for adult learners. A key function of our Learner Variability Navigator (LVN) is the ease with which the web app can tailor instruction to meet the individual needs of each learner. Based on the factors a facilitator or product developer selects, connections are made to strategies that aptly consider those factors.

“When instructors, trainers, and edtech developers are designing learning experiences for adults, the strategies selected should build on the strengths of the individual learners, clearly support their needs in meaningful ways, and build on their lived experiences,” said Trisha Callella, product partnerships director for the Learner Variability Project. “The Adult Learner Model Strategies identify how to support the full diversity of adult learners aligned to selected factors.”

A few strategies unique to the Adult Learner Model that support cognition, social emotional learning, and unique learner backgrounds include:

Todd Windisch, Assistant Professor, English as a Second Language, College of San Mateo; on the importance of considering the evidence-based factors of learning when working with adult English Language Learners.


Many adult learners enter the workforce with less-than-adequate K-12 schooling or training as a result of longstanding systemic inequities in our country. Individual anxiety may have also swelled over time, weighing heavily on their current ability to learn. The LVN, through the Adult Learner Model, personalizes the learning experience, encouraging a deeper understanding of each learner that creates a sense of belonging for each adult learner.

An underlying principle of the Adult Learner Model is that people are experts of their own experiences. The framework is built to encourage educators, providers, and edtech developers to first learn about their students in order to co-design more meaningful learning experiences.

“We often design education and workforce training programs with the best of intentions, then recruit adult learners for participation and measure rates of completion to mark success,” said Sarah Cacicio, senior project director of adult learning at Digital Promise. “The Learner Variability Project’s Adult Learner Model makes clear the need to throw out assumptions about what people need, and learn more about the whole person to create meaningful opportunities for learning and achievement.”

For more information, visit the new Adult Learner Model, read “The Science of Adult Learning: Understanding the Whole Learner,” and watch the webinar Learner Variability Among Adult Learners: Strategies for Programs and Practices.

This post was originally published at Digital Promise.

Barbara Pape is the Director of Policy and Communications for the Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise.

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An Equity-Driven Approach Towards Assessments and Grading

By: Sophia Kwong Myers, Ed.M

A couple of years ago, all of the leaders in my organization were asked to complete an online personality quiz. Upon completion, we received a detailed report of our individual strengths. From there, our Human Resources team gathered all of us into a large hotel banquet room, and we attended a mandatory session called “Strengths-Based Leadership.” This theory of organizational leadership posits that leaders that focus their energy on leveraging and amplifying their team members’ respective strengths will yield faster results, higher levels of productivity, and more positive outcomes than leaders that focus heavily on remediating and improving weaknesses.

The concept of strengths-based coaching is not in and of itself remarkable – many companies across many industries ascribe to it. What is worth noting, however, is that this hotel conference room happened to be full of PK-12 school leaders and district administrators. And while I furiously jotted down notes in my conference-branded notebook, the irony was not lost on me that the philosophy of measuring and evaluating adult performance seemed so at odds with the practices we were using to evaluate children within our own schools.

While debates around assessment and grading often seem fraught, in my personal experience, there exist surprisingly high levels of consensus among practitioners regarding what is NOT working. Here are a few examples:

  • Multiple-choice standardized tests are woefully inadequate in their ability to demonstrate higher-order learning or real-world application of 21st Century Skills such as creativity or collaboration. Their narrow design also prevents diverse learners from demonstrating their understanding through alternative, but equally valid learning modalities.
  • Compliance-based behaviors such as “participation,” “effort,” or “completion” are highly subjective indicators that have little to no bearing on content mastery. I would also toss “attendance” and “homework” into this category.
  • Point-based grading systems are designed to penalize deficits (often arbitrarily), rather than reward growth or learning. This is further exacerbated by punitive practices such as class ranking or curves, which competitively score students relative to each other, as opposed to objectively measuring against learning standards.
  • Traditional point systems often calculate grades as averages. In essence, it penalizes students for not mastering concepts right away, while diminishing the significance of subsequent, more long-lasting growth (which is ostensibly the desired outcome of learning).
  • Absent specific, targeted feedback from the teacher, assessments and grades are meaningless metrics of student learning.

With these challenges in mind, I find that many educators have an aligned vision for their ideal state. Educators and practitioners know there are many better, fairer, and more equitable ways to assess and grade our students. Where these dialogues hit a wall and inevitably break down is when the discussion veers towards the context of a larger “system.” When it comes to assessment and grading, public schools are beholden to external interests including state Boards of Education and other state education agencies, the federal government, college admissions officers, the local school board, and frustrated parents on teacher conference night. Students are frustrated, too, as teachers report seeing test anxiety emerging as early as kindergarten. We have still not conquered the myth that without “good grades”, students face imminent doom in their chances of ever achieving post-secondary success or thriving in our capitalistic society. Not forgetting what we learned throughout the pandemic, we can change this.

If we were to glean a silver lining out of the COVID 19 pandemic, it would be the realization that even some of our most seemingly entrenched systems are perhaps more flexible than we have been led to believe. For example, in the case of higher education, we have observed a recent trend of college admissions offices forgoing traditional application requirements in favor of “test-optional” and “holistic review” selection policies. While these admissions policies are not yet widespread (mostly occurring in pockets of selective liberal arts colleges), they are signs of positive, if only incremental progress.

While we should celebrate any progress, we also know that systemic education reform and transformation often occur s at an infuriatingly glacial pace. While we wait for the rest of the various “systems” to catch up, there are several bold, attainable moves that teachers and administrators have within their locus of control to make meaningful improvements for students NOW:

Prioritizing Performance-Based Assessment Tasks: Increasing student exposure to high-quality performance-based assessments can have an immediate effect on student engagement and learning. Firstly, a task-based assessment, whether it be a project, presentation, portfolio, or lab, immediately widens the lens for both students and teachers. The inherent choice in performance assessments allows students to demonstrate learning in ways that highlight their aptitudes, interests and preferred learning modalities. Moreover, a rich, well-crafted performance assessment will provide opportunities for micro formative assessments and benchmarks along the way. This shifts the assessment experience from a discrete testing “event” to a more organic, ongoing learning process. The increased role of technology can be a positive accelerator for this change, as it further increases access to information, media resources, and immediate data and feedback.

Developing Student Voice and Agency: It is a commonly-held belief that schools should prepare students for the “real world.” As such, students need to become active, involved co-owners of their learning with a sense of voice and agency. There are a number of low-stakes, developmentally appropriate ways for students to provide input and advocate for their performance. To begin, students and teachers both benefit from increased transparency. Assessment criteria such as rubrics or proficiency scales should be published alongside the assignment. Specific, actionable feedback aligned to the descriptors should be provided throughout and after the administration of the assessment. Throughout the learning process, students should have opportunities to metacognitively reflect on and self-assess their own performance, ideally in collaborative dialogue with their teacher. Learning activities such as peer feedback and student-led conferences only further enhance shared understanding of performance. Over time, repetition of these practices should remove the sense of surprise (and hopefully some of the anxiety) that often accompanies tests and report cards.

Reviewing and Revising Grading Policy through the Lens of Antiracism and Equity: Reviewing existing school or district grading policies with a critical eye towards inclusivity and equity may be a useful exercise to start the necessary dialogue and self-reflection amongst stakeholders. If we accept the premise that the function of assessment is to measure student mastery of content, then we must acknowledge how long-standing practices around homework, late assignments, and extra credit have contributed towards inequitable student outcomes, often to the detriment of the most vulnerable student populations. Like many of the larger conversations that have consumed the country this year, these conversations can feel deeply uncomfortable. They may unearth implicit cultural biases and deficit-based mindsets that we do not want to admit to ourselves. However, it is my firm belief that acknowledgment of the problem is the first step towards lasting transformation.

The cumulative effects of poor assessment and grading practices can have long-term, irreversible impacts on a student’s outcomes and abilities to succeed. As we all collectively scramble to respond to the lingering effects of COVID-19, we should also capitalize on the opportunity to re-think and rebuild some of our outdated and ineffective practices. Rather than aiming for a nostalgic sense of “normalcy,” we can aspire for policies and systems that are better, fairer, and more equitable.

For more, see:

Sophia Kwong Myers is the founding Director of Strategy and Operations for Teaching and Learning at Uplift Education. Her previous roles in the organization include Senior Curriculum Coordinator and Director of IB Programming. Prior to her career in K-12, she spent 3 years working in international education, including a one year Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Argentina. She is currently a Legislative and Advocacy Fellow for Leadership ISD Dallas County and graduate of Leadership North Texas. She is part of the Executive Committee for the Appian Way Alliance, the first alumni of color organization affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

This blog is part of the TxLx Reimagining our Assessment Practices series. Teachers and administrators throughout Texas participated in our Design Sessions to identify challenges and highlight promising practices. The goal of the Texas Learning Exchange (TxLx) project is to generate iterative resources focused on equity, access and continuity of instruction.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

What is Vertical Coherence and Why Does it Matter for Equity?

By: Liisa Potts & Jamilah Hicks. 

What is vertical coherence, and why does it matter? Think of everything a student needs to learn across grade bands (e.g. K-5, 6-8) as a kind of baton pass—every grade needs to work together and every piece of content needs to be carefully chosen and placed to ensure stability and cohesion as students approach graduation. In other words, it’s the intentional selection of curricula over the span of K-12, each of which is logically-structured, builds on previous learning, and facilitates student mastery of standards in every grade.

Vertical coherence is a challenge in the best of times when teachers work physically side by side in buildings—talking during breaks, sharing plans, and co-creating lessons in person. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many teachers to work differently, often without the support of high-quality, coherent materials. Data from EdReports, the independent curriculum review organization, found that only 26 percent of English language arts teachers reported using a standards-aligned program once a week in 2020. This means that thousands of teachers continue to scramble for content on unvetted websites such as TeachersPayTeachers and Pinterest because they lack coherent materials that could guide what students need to learn all year long.

Why Does Vertical Coherence Matter?

Language arts standards are integrated by design: reading complex and rigorous literary and informational texts, integrating knowledge and ideas, building foundational reading and language skills, demonstrating increasingly sophisticated writing, and developing critical speaking and listening skills as children learn and grow. The standards outline an intentional progression and spiraling of key competencies across grades and should be applied in tandem with appropriate texts that increase in rigor not just across a school year but also across grades. So to align to the standards, ELA materials in all grade bands must reflect that same level of integration, rigor, and progression.

The absence of vertical coherence can have serious implications for student outcomes and equity. If curriculum isn’t coherent across grade bands, teachers may end up re-teaching content or students may be unprepared to engage with new work.

But the challenge is teachers simply don’t have the time to create and analyze scope and sequence documents across grade bands to ensure the content in the instructional path is aligned to what’s required in grade-level standards. Ideally, teachers would have this information early so they could be proactive in the planning required to support all learners.

Sometimes district curriculum teams provide this data as a resource or professional learning opportunity. More often, teachers are left on their own and may not perceive the lack of coherence in materials until after seeing the level of need and readiness in students.

Simply put, teaching redundant content (or failing to teach content entirely) leads to gaps and imbalances: students spend precious instructional time circling back to content they already know and not on the grade-level content they need. But when materials are vertically coherent, teachers have the option to thoughtfully scaffold content and make informed choices ahead of time about what content to review or when to introduce new learning.

If left unchecked, the lack of vertical coherence in curriculum compounds inequities for students; their chances of backfilling a skill become less and less as they get older. For example, middle and high school teachers depend on K-5 curricula to build foundational reading skills so that all students enter grade six as skilled and fluent readers. Students who don’t get access to that instruction risk falling through the cracks, or being misdiagnosed and requiring intervention.

The presence or absence of vertical coherence is felt across other curricular areas, as well—because effective language arts instruction sets students up to read and comprehend complex text in all subjects. When curriculum is coherently structured from kindergarten up, students reach high school with the ability to comprehend, critique, explain concepts, and form arguments across all content areas—not just language arts. But without that coherence, teachers in grades 6–12 for literally all content areas face the daunting task of helping struggling students who haven’t been given the tools to navigate texts in their subjects.

4 Questions to Ask to Ensure You’re Selecting Materials with Vertical Coherence in Mind

Checking for coherence means comparing standards correlation and scope and sequence documents, and analyzing both student and teacher materials side by side. Some questions for adoption committees and curriculum decision-makers to consider include:

  1. Does text complexity ascend across grades—or is there a sudden shift in rigor across grade bands?
  2. Do informational texts account for at least 50 percent of elementary texts and 70 percent in 6–12, or is there an overweighting toward literary texts?
  3. Do you see intentional sequencing of academic vocabulary, unit topics, culminating tasks, and research projects across grades—or are they repeating year after year with little progression?
  4. Is writing instruction, practice, and application well-spaced with frequent, cyclical touchpoints that allow students to grow essential skills? Or do you see a skill being introduced at the start of one grade then not making another appearance until the end of the next one?

These questions apply both to the task of checking for coherence across successive grades within a curriculum, and to the task of assessing coherence between curricula for different grade bands.

The process of choosing curriculum is time-intensive and complex, and language arts materials are weightier than most. That’s why it’s important to have conversations about materials selection and to winnow down your options to focus on those that are the best fit for the needs of your students and the strengths of your teachers. And just as the selection of aligned, research-grounded ELA materials saves teachers time and ensures quality and equity, optimizing for vertical coherence enables teachers to deliver on the promise of the standards, setting up students and fellow teachers alike for success throughout their school experience.

Choosing high-quality instructional materials for your school or district is critical—both to address equity and to prepare all students for college and career-readiness. You’ll want to invest time and resources to narrow your options, and to engage key stakeholders in the comparison process.

For more, see:

Liisa Potts, Director of ELA Review at EdReports

Jamilah Hicks is a ELA Content Specialist at EdReports 

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What Does Your Ideal Learning Environment Look Like?

Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it. —Simon Sinek

I asked a district leader what his ideal learning environment looked like, and he responded, “It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I know it when I see it.” This response is common but also problematic. Think about it for a minute: If you can’t articulate what desired teaching and learning looks like, how can teachers be expected to meet the expectations?

Leaders commonly use strategic plans or vision statements that describe the desire to develop life-long learners, global citizens, critical thinkers, and the like, yet a misalignment often occurs between the vision, policies, and practices. The tension between what we say we want our students to know and be able to do and what we prioritize and assess often tell a different story.

The Texas Learning Exchange seeks to support district leaders to design a learning solution that aligns with their vision. The Texas Learning Solutions Case Studies feature world-class learning systems in Texas that can be adapted and scaled by other districts statewide. The case studies feature details on each learning solution, which we are defining as intentional, explicit, and coherent plans that include vision, success metrics, resources, and learning model alignment connected to impact student outcomes.

Each solution highlights the following:

  • At a Glance
  • Shared Vision and Mission
  • Theory of Action
  • Desired Outcomes
  • Learning Model
  • Staffing Model
  • Flexible Learning Models
  • Curricular Resources
  • Technology
  • Professional Learning
  • Partnerships and Funding
  • Impact

To empower educators to develop the type of learners and people that vision statements espouse, administrators, teachers, families, and the greater community must work together to develop a shared understanding of the desired outcomes for and align the vision, policies, and practices. Our hope is that these case studies can help as you engage in more conversations with your communities.

The following protocol can be used to structure a conversation and seek to better understand what’s working, what’s challenging, and what’s possible. You can leverage these resources and protocol to inspire conversations in a variety of contexts such as a district leadership meeting, staff meetings, or you can convene a cross-functional group to include administrators, teachers, support staff, families, and community members.

Step 1: Celebrations: Share what makes you proud of your school/ district. It can be helpful to capture these ideas in a digital document or on a chart to ensure equity of voice and to capture the many things that are worthy of celebration.

Step 2: If you have a learner profile, remind the group of your goals as you dive into these case studies. If you do not have one that is widely used or known, have the group share the most critical skills, knowledge, and mindsets you hope to develop in learners.

Step 3: Visit the Texas Learning Solution Case Studies for comprehensive models. For national examples of school/program level innovation dimensions to consider, visit our New Learning Models Library. These case studies are meant to inspire district leadership teams in design and implementation as you begin planning for the upcoming school years.

  • Option 1: Pick 1 or 2 that you would like everyone to read
  • Option 2: Allow each group member to pick a different case study to read

Step 4: Invite your team to make notes about the 4 As as they read each case study:

  • What do you Agree with?
  • What do you Aspire to?
  • What is misAligned with your work?
  • What would you Argue with?

Step 5: Share out in small groups. Ask a team member from each group to capture ideas on a shared document.

Step 6: Highlight big ideas from each group.

Step 7:  In small groups, answer questions and identify priorities based on the following questions:

  • What are the desired knowledge, skills, and mindsets?
  • How might we leverage bright spots or test our ideas out before scaling?
  • How might we measure success?
  • How might we define and share the desired learning model?
  • How might we allocate staff to support our learning model?
  • What curricular resources are necessary to support our model?
  • What is the role of technology? What tools do we need to leverage?
  • How might we create learning experiences that support educators?  professional learning
  • What partnerships might we consider to support our work?
  • How can we all work together to achieve our desired outcomes?

After going through this protocol you can use the input to identify next steps based on the conversation and what surfaced. You might consider reaching out to one of the case study communities to learn more or read additional case studies and go through this protocol with additional groups. The key is to keep learning and to improve strategic clarity. There aren’t necessarily any right answers to these questions as they will differ based on context, but we can’t assume the answers are the same as they have always been. What it seems that we are lacking in education is what renowned educators and authors Michael Fullan and Joann Quinn define as coherence or the “[s]hared depth of understanding about the purpose and nature of the work.” When systems struggle to meet desired goals, it is often a result of a misalignment between the vision, assessment, and practices.

Empowering and inspiring those you serve to achieve great success requires leading with a unified vision, confidence, and sense of purpose. To better align schools with the world in which we live, it is critical to engage in conversations among diverse stakeholders to develop a shared vision and then work together to make it happen.

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Joining Clubhouse: Innovative PD for Educators

For educators today, it is important to find a space or a network to become more connected. Especially in the past year, being a connected educator has made a difference in what has been a challenging time, as we have worked to deal with school closures and figuring out how to provide the best instruction for all students. With all of those demands, finding extra time in our day to dedicate to professional development or time with colleagues, was difficult. Fortunately, there are many possibilities for building your Professional Learning Network (PLN) by leveraging some of the different social media platforms and online communities available to do so. We can find a way to build our network that meets our schedule, specific needs, and PD interests.

Through Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter, we interact through messages, sharing resources, or asking questions, and are instantly able to gather information from around the world without much effort at all. Some educators have taken the next step and have been “going live” or streaming, often through multiple platforms at once. These live formats offer something different, the power of voice with the ability to interact through the chat. We can actively engage by joining in the chats or simply just listen. There is a lot to be appreciated when it comes to the power of connecting using these spaces, especially now when we’ve been working through lockdowns and missing the yearly networking events such as in-person conferences and other meetups we look forward to throughout the year. Thankfully we have technology that enables us to still be able to see and hear each other, join in conversations, and keep learning together. And just when you think you know all of the spaces for building your network, along comes a new and interesting option: Clubhouse.

What is Clubhouse?

A few weeks ago I had an invitation to join Clubhouse, a new social media app being used by influencers, celebrities, industry experts, and now educators. Without knowing that it was limited to iOS (I have Android), I had already decided that I didn’t need another space where I felt that I needed to keep up a presence. However, after about a week, I decided to give it a try and thankfully, had an iPad so I could. I wanted to see what all of the chatter was about. I joined in on a Saturday morning chat to chat with some Buncee educators and was immediately hooked. It has definitely been worth adding on another platform, but it has led me to shift my use of others because I find Clubhouse to be highly rewarding.

If you haven’t heard of it, Clubhouse is basically an audio platform where you can listen in and also at times, participate in conversations happening throughout the day from around the world. You need an invite to join or else you’ll be placed on the waitlist. The more that you use the platform and interact you will receive additional invites to share with your network and people will be looking for those invites!

What can you expect when you log in to Clubhouse?

On the main page, you’ll see a list of upcoming events and conversations that are happening now. Just click on the room and you will join immediately, typically as an attendee who may be invited to speak. Also from the main page,  you can search for contacts or clubs to follow. There are many categories ranging from arts, business, artificial intelligence, education, emerging technologies, entrepreneurship, health, and wellness, to name a few. Within each of those, you can focus on specific areas and follow the topics that interest you, which leads to more conversations showing up when you log in.

If you’ve ever used Voxer or another audio chat type app, or even video conferencing, you can also set up your own separate Clubhouse room to have a quick chat with a friend without much more than clicking to start a room and inviting the contact. You can see who is available and also what rooms your contacts might be participating in. You can schedule an event on the calendar, and it will show up for anybody who follows you or you can start a discussion that is open to people in a club, a social, or public room to discuss a topic that you decide upon.

It’s kind of like listening to a podcast or a live radio show, but one in which you are part of the conversation as an attendee that may be invited up to speak, depending on the setup of the room. In some rooms, you can raise your hand to be invited up to speak if the moderators of the room set the permissions for this. With Clubhouse, real-time learning, and connecting, you can be an active participant or passive to listen and learn.

Having joined in several discussions, I decided to create my own room to hold a conversation about Tech Tips for Teachers. I intended to hold a 30-minute chat, but it is tough to end when the conversation is so rich.  It went on for well over an hour and could have continued. Many educators spoke, joining in from Beirut, the Czech Republic, India, New Zealand, and representing various roles and years of experience in education. I filled a few pages of notes and made a lot of new connections.

What I find to be the most amazing is that there are so many different topics being discussed. One night I joined in a conversation focused on artificial intelligence and the chatbot Kiku AI which had a room full of participants eager to learn about AI and take turns asking the chatbot a question. Another room had over 3,000 people, which was about FBI negotiation tactics from Chris Voss. In prior weeks, Elon Musk held conversations. I’ve noticed in the few weeks since I’ve joined, there has been an increase in the number of discussions and the variety and topics especially for education. Each day Angela Maiers and Giancarlo Brotto host a “Meet the Education Community” room, inviting attendees to share their work, questions, and ideas. With Clubhouse, anybody can join in at any time. It just reaffirms how amazing technology is and how powerful this space is becoming for educators.

How to get started

My recommendation is that if you can get an invite, try it out. First, create your profile and make sure that you put the most important information that you want people to know about you. You can add extra details to your profile however, only the first three lines will be visible when someone clicks on your profile picture. Be sure to include the most relevant information that will give people a good idea of who you are and what you are bringing to the conversation. Next, search your contacts and start following other educators. You may want to turn your notifications on if you want to know about rooms being led by your PLN or certain clubs you follow, or be “pinged” into a room by a friend. Find some clubs to follow and start exploring Clubhouse and see what you think. Be sure to check out the profiles of others in the room and have a notepad nearby to jot down ideas that you are hearing because this is fantastic PD. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and share your experience and definitely dive into holding your own room.

Clubhouse is becoming a popular PD option. I invite you to join in my ThriveinEDU chat held a few times throughout the week. It’s a great way to connect, get support and share your ideas which might just be just exactly what somebody else is looking for. See you on Clubhouse!

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Readiness Institute at Penn State’s Hope Moonshot Is Inspiring the Global Community

The Readiness Institute (RI) at Penn State, in collaboration with Global Moonshots in Education and Astrobotic, is inspiring hope through a generational mission called Hope Moonshot designed to give people around the world a chance to share their aspirations for a bright future.

The collaboration established for this project illustrates that hope is not an isolated expectation, but a global desire that emphasizes the importance of working together—not in silos—for community and future readiness.

If our hopes can make it to the moon, then our hopes can become true on Earth.

Students, educators, and members of the global community are invited to submit messages of hope that will be included aboard a mission to the moon in the second half of 2021. The hopes will be saved on an SD card and will be placed in a storage capsule that will be sent to the moon’s surface. Participants have an opportunity to receive mission updates, images, and to attend a virtual launch party. To date, more than 30 countries have participated, and thousands of hope messages have been submitted.

Lesson plans are available to assist educators including an information outline, video, and discussion prompts, as well as a brief presentation deck. The Hope Moonshot project is a powerful tool available to educators that can inspire a hopeful mindset for students. Teachers that have participated in the project said their students are putting a lot of thought and effort into their hope submissions. As for the teachers, they said planning strategies to help their students reach for their hopes has been an inspiration for them. One school district in Indiana, Pennsylvania hosted a district-wide #HopeMoonshot day where students watched a video throughout the district and submitted hopes.

Why send messages of hope? The answer is simple for Hope Moonshot organizers.

“Our mission at Global Moonshots in Education is to enable every person to reach their fullest potential. The RI at Penn State Hope Moonshot is the canvas for students to contemplate what reaching their fullest potential means to them, to their community, and to the world,” Esther Wojcicki said. “I am excited about this opportunity and think it will help many people in this difficult time we are facing.”

Justin Aglio, Senior Director for the RI at Penn State, said Hope Moonshot is the world’s chance to share aspirations for 2021 on a larger than life stage.

“Community and future readiness begin with hope. If our hopes can make it to the moon, then our hopes can become true on Earth,” Aglio said. “The collaboration established for this project exemplifies that hope is not an isolated expectation, but a global desire that emphasizes the importance of working together—not in silos.”

Dan Hendrickson, Vice President of Business Development for Astrobotic, said Astrobotic’s goal for the mission and in general is to make space accessible to all.

“From nations with new lunar ambitions to the general public who is now able to send a slice of Earth to the lunar surface, we’re truly embarking on a ‘space for all’ model,” Hendrickson said. “The RI at Penn State Hope Moonshot initiative is a natural fit for joining Peregrine Mission One to the moon.”

Overall, the Hope Moonshot project is a powerful tool available to educators to inspire a hopeful mindset for students. Teachers that have participated in the project said their students are putting a lot of thought and effort into their hope submissions. As for the teachers, they said planning strategies to help their students reach for their hopes has been an inspiration for them.

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Christie Black is the Assistant Director of News and Communications at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. Follow her on Twitter at @ChristiePittPSU.

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Why send messages of hope?  The answer is simple for Hope Moonshot organizers.  

“Our mission at Global Moonshots in Education is to enable every person to reach their fullest potential. The RI at Penn State Hope Moonshot is the canvas for students to contemplate what reaching their fullest potential means to them, to their community, and to the world,” Esther Wojcicki said. “I am excited about this opportunity and think it will help many people in this difficult time we are facing.”

Dan Hendrickson, vice president of business development for Astrobotic, said Astrobotic’s goal for the mission and in general is to make space accessible to all.

“From nations with new lunar ambitions to the general public who is now able to send a slice of Earth to the lunar surface, we’re truly embarking on a ‘space for all’ model,” Hendrickson said. “The RI at Penn State Hope Moonshot initiative is a natural fit for joining Peregrine Mission One to the moon.”

Overall, the Hope Moonshot project is an opportunity for participants to look into the night sky and be reminded of their hopes, and how they can contribute to the greater good of their communities and the world.

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Green School Infuses Nature-Based Learning For Sustainable Education

After years of homeschooling, John and Cynthia Hardy wanted their daughters to attend a school in which they believed. After reading Alan Wagstaff’s Three Springs and watching Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, they were compelled to take action and opened up their first holistic and private learning community focused on sustainability in Bali in 2008. Aptly called Green School, they have also opened up in New Zealand last February and are opening up in South Africa this month. Additionally, they have a future site opening in Tulum, according to Chris Edwards, Head of Curriculum at Green School International.

However, according to Edwards, their original mission remains the same. He describes Green School as a firmly purpose-driven and globally influenced school that welcomes families from every corner of the world who want to embrace a new way of life that is more in harmony with nature.

“Our parents and communities want to inspire a lifelong love of learning in their children and understand that while their own schooling may have helped them succeed in today’s world, that their children will need a different approach in order to succeed in the world of tomorrow,” said Edwards.

Although each campus is unique in many ways, Edwards said that each values the concept of ‘local to global’ as part of a larger mission. This focuses on developing a new, innovative learning model that relates to the ever-changing real world.

“This is challenging,” said Edwards. “It takes unusual levels of commitment, ingenuity, and ability to work outside of the established norms and protocols of public institutions.”

According to Edwards, the way they empower learners to take on the challenges of today’s world is not by overwhelming them with the daunting realities of global climate change all at once. Instead, Edwards said that Green School demonstrates to learners small examples of how things can improve in their own sphere of influence and then empowering them to take solution-oriented action.

“Local to global also means really plugging into and understanding the local culture and community of which you are a part,” said Edwards. “Each Green School campus pays homage to its local heritage – teaching the traditions and celebrating the festivals of the local Balinese, or sharing Maori culture and food in New Zealand, or growing and preparing local ingredients and teaching students English and Afrikaans in South Africa.”

The Green School uses the term ‘nature-based learning’ as a foundation of their approach. Edwards said that it’s very challenging to compare any type of online learning in any meaningful way to what is done at Green School.

“You use two senses online,” said Edwards. “However, one uses five senses every second of every day at Green School because we incorporate nature in every lesson.”

Edwards works to make this contrast come alive as he shares specific examples of learners’ experiences at Green School. He recalls seeing a couple of one and two-year students measuring plots for pumpkin planting. They’d been asked to devise a plot and work out how many pumpkins they could plant. They were expected to use their math skills, demonstrate what they learned in biology, and get their hands dirty as well.

“It was amazing to observe their learning from the entire process from planting to harvesting,” said Edwards. “For me, it’s the best encapsulation of what we’re about.”

Edwards said that he’s seeing, on a daily basis, research-based educational practices working in real-time with their learners that are truly transformational.

“As a teacher, I can cite countless poems advocating the value of nature, but contrast that with watching students from around the world interact with and work in nature,” he said. “You suddenly realize that nature-based education holds up and it holds up across pedagogies, learners, and place.”

Edwards explains Green School’s focus on sustainability with an acronym they use known as R.E.A.L.: where the R represents Relational learning between students and their teachers, peers, and their community; the E stands for Experiential and Evolving, representing the co-creative and hands-on nature of education; the A stands for Authentic and how they apply traditional topics of study to real-world circumstances; and finally, the L represents the focus on Local-to-global, teaching students that they can enact their values meaningfully at both the local level and in larger ways across the globe.

“We go beyond ‘green studies’ or environmental studies,” said Edwards. “Each of these elements is taught in a way that is determined based on the developmental age of our students.”

Green School works to model sustainability every day through the projects that their learners produce. For example, learners at the Bali school are involved in the Innovation Hub – where students take real action through design and rapid prototyping of sustainable products. Other examples include sisters who launched their own NGO called Bye Bye Plastic Bags, developing a BioBus to help Bali move to a zero-waste future, or even saving frogs at a local pond called Bamboo To The Rescue. Many more can be found on their Green School Bali YouTube Channel that highlights student “Green Stone” projects – senior projects where each student chooses and presents on their own changemaker journey.

Ultimately, Edwards said Green School is about educating changemakers for a more sustainable world. Green School graduates have been admitted to universities in 18 different countries, traveled the world, and pursued every type of career imaginable. And now with the pandemic, Edwards hopes the world continues to closely examine how to re-imagine our approach to K-12 education.

“We are part of a movement that is joyful and where we help equip students with the skills to address the biggest issues of our time,” said Edwards.  “There has never been a more critical time in terms of our educational institutions in a way that helps preserve our world for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

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Reinvigorating Hybrid Learning Through New Tools

Having a variety of tools available as educators is a necessity. We are always looking for new ideas to bring into our classrooms, whether a different strategy or exploring one of the many digital tools out there. I have been adding to a list of ideas to try out with my own students. I always feel like the start of the new year (academic or calendar) or towards the end of the school year are great times to explore new options. After a holiday break, we sometimes need a way to kick back into the gear of learning in the new year and sometimes in the spring, we tend to notice a decrease in student engagement. There are always a lot of activities happening throughout the school year but typically in the spring, it’s a time of standardized testing, advanced placement exams, or other similar demands on our time and energy.

To boost engagement, I try to create opportunities that will promote more student choice, enhance the ways that students collaborate and communicate in the language that I’m teaching them while also helping them to build essential SEL skills. These goals are especially in this year where we have been in hybrid and virtual learning.

Beyond simply choosing something and starting, I also believe it’s important for students to understand why we implement a certain method or digital tool. Students should be part of the conversation and know why we believe that our choices will have the most impact or be the most beneficial for their learning. What I have tried to do over the years is to connect the content that I teach with real-world experiences. I want to provide students with the space to build their language skills, while building confidence and preparing them for whatever lies ahead in their future, whether that be in education or in the world of work. Because of this, it’s not uncommon that I’ll choose some different tools that have been used in business or in higher education, so that when students encounter similar experiences later on in life, they are better prepared and see more meaning in their learning experiences.

Here are five recent experiences that I designed for my students. The best part about it is that they of course got to practice the language that they’re learning, they were able to create and share with their classmates, and I also got to learn more from them.

Draw chat Is an online whiteboard that provides a free space to have a collaborative drawing that can be used during classes or even for meetings. You can draw, chat or even communicate with others through audio and video conferencing. Many educators might like that you can upload a PDF and have students annotate on it. You can also upload images or a gif and projects that you create are stored for at least one month. you can even use it on your phone without any time at all to get started .

Genially is quite a versatile platform to create pretty much anything that you might want for your classroom or for any purpose at all! You can use it to add interactive elements into your presentations, you can record sound you can add links and so much more. I decided to create my own story in Spanish using one of the templates and adding in some fun GIFS, other images and elements to each slide in the presentation. What I think is so awesome about Genially is that you can use it to create a class website, a newsletter, a book, a flyer, and so much more. My students enjoyed creating with it and having so many options to choose from.

Google Jamboard is something that many educators around the world have been talking about and sharing all the different ways that it can be used in the classroom. Here are some ideas that I think will be fun. If you are using Teams or a similar meeting platform, create breakout rooms and have students complete a collaborative task on the Jamboard. My students shared their midterm projects in their small breakout rooms and then posted what they learned on the Jamboard. Students enjoyed working in small groups and posting additional notes and images on the Jamboard. I also used it to provide an image as a prompt, and asked each group to come up with a description in Spanish. Google Jamboard is free to use, easy to get started with, and is a great option for whether you are in person, hybrid or fully virtual learning.

Puzz Grid is a fun game that I really enjoyed trying and creating but that my students enjoyed creating on their own. Using breakout rooms, I had them work together to come up with their own Puzz Grid game using vocabulary and verbs. It is kind of like “connect four” and helps students to practice the vocabulary and collaborate! I had students use my email address to send the grid to me so that we always had access to the link and if needed, we could edit it as adding an accent mark for example sometimes is not the easiest. The game offered a more engaging way for practice that pushes students to not only think about what the words mean but to think more closely about their connection.

Whiteboard chat Anyone looking for a free collaborative tool that is easy to get started with should definitely check out Whiteboard chat. There are so many possibilities for using it in any classroom. You can either create a whiteboard that you share with students or create individual whiteboards for students to use that you can view as they are working on them. You can embed media into the whiteboard and students can add to their space choosing from the manipulatives available. There are so many options available in the toolbar, you can even add a poll, a piano or xylophone, roll the dice and much more. There is even an option to have a video call. At the end of the session, the whiteboard can be downloaded into a PDF!

These are just a few quick ideas to try for promoting more interaction and collaboration in or out of the classroom. There are so many possibilities out there for providing our students with options to practice the content that they are learning and apply it in different ways. Having some extra tools in our toolkit is helpful, especially as we continue to navigate challenges of hybrid learning and seeking new ideas to keep students connected and engaged in learning.

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