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VT-HEC Preview – Building Reading Brains

The Science of Reading: Language, Print and the Brain

The VT-HEC is very excited to be bringing Donna Coch Ed.D from Dartmouth College to Montpelier, VT on December 9 to talk about reading and the brain. In this interactive workshop, we will explore the reading brain from the perspectives of education, psychology, and neuroscience. We will examine scientific evidence related to developing a brain that can read, from visual processing of letters to making meaningful connections to what the reader already knows. As Donna describes the day:

My overarching goal is to help the audience think differently about reading, and I borrow from all kinds of research about reading to tell an evidence-based story that I hope will be both familiar and new – familiar enough to build on a common foundation, and new enough to support deeper reflection on practice. I don’t believe that neuroscience studies can tell teachers what to do in their classrooms, but I do believe that neuroscience studies can provoke teachers to think about what they do in their classrooms, and what their students are doing,  in new ways.

Learning to read is an amazingly complex task that requires the development, interconnection, and coordination of multiple skills and neural systems. A theme throughout the day will be the remarkable plasticity of the human brain: educators and students together are literally building brains that can read. We will also consider children who are struggling to develop these skills and systems.

Donna Coch, EdD, is an Associate Professor in the Education Department at Dartmouth College. In her research, she uses a noninvasive brain wave recording technique, in combination with standardized behavioral measures, to explore both what happens in the brain as children learn how to read and how the fluently reading brain works. She teaches classes on the reading brain and atypical developmental pathways. A goal of both her research and her teaching is to make meaningful connections among mind, brain and education.

If you are involved in teaching literacy from pre-k through grade 5, are parents  of young or elementary-aged children or working with students who are struggling to master literacy skills, you won’t want to miss this informative and exciting learning opportunity.

For more information and to register go to: vthec.org

VT-HEC Preview – Teresa Bolick, to Speak on ASD & Co-existing Disorders

A Remarkable Number of Individuals with ASD are Diagnosed with Other Disorders 

There are two things that just about every educator and parent knows about Autism.  The first is that the numbers are still increasing; over 1000 qualify under Vermont special education rules, up from 250 in 2000.  The second thing is that every person on the autism spectrum is very different. To emphasize that complexity is perhaps the lesser known fact that a remarkable number of individuals with ASD have been diagnosed with other disorders as well. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression are more commonly diagnosed in individuals with ASD than in the general population. Other individuals with ASD show cognitive or social/emotional differences that do not meet full criteria for separate diagnoses but add significantly to their complexity.

We are fortunate to have Teresa Boick Phd coming to Montpelier, VT on December 4th to shed some light on this challenge. In her workshop Dr. Bolick will describe the co-existence of ASD and other disorders as well as challenges that may not be recognized as separate diagnoses (such as anxiety or inefficient executive functions).  Teresa will focus upon practical assessment and intervention strategies for school, home, and community helping participants to:

  • Identify and describe the co-existing conditions that are most common in children and adolescents with diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders;
  • Describe a systematic approach to understanding the cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral challenges of individuals with co-existing disorders;
  • Identify evidence-based educational, psychosocial, and behavioral interventions for co-existing challenges.


Dr. Bolick is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst with a special focus on autism spectrum disorders. She has provided evaluation and treatment to children, adolescents, and their families for many years. An enthusiastic speaker, Dr. Bolick presents workshops for parents, paraprofessionals, and professionals across North America. In addition, she  teaches in the Rivier University graduate program for ASD and in the NH LEND program. Dr. Bolick is the author of Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Helping Preteens and Teens Get Ready for the Real World and Asperger Syndrome and Young Children: Building Skills for the Real World as well as numerous articles and book chapters.

For more information on this exciting learning opportunity see: http://www.vthec.org/documents/2015/08/asd-all-the-other-ds.pdf


VT-HEC Supports Vermont’s Only Award Winning Schools

Cabot, Twinfield and Harwood only Vermont schools awarded the Personalized Learning Initiative

“Twenty New England public schools in the League of Innovative Schools were selected  to participate in a new initiative that will help them develop personalized learning experiences that address the distinct learning needs, interests, and aspirations of individual students. The initiative’s goal is to help the schools remodel their academic programs to ensure that every graduate is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education, modern workplaces, and adult life.”  This was a very sought after award that looked at schools’ plans and progress in implementing a proficiency-based and personalized learning model. The League of Innovative Schools  is a regional professional learning community for schools consisting of 86 schools from across New England including 22 in Vermont. Cabot, Twinfield and Harwood were the only Vermont schools to be awarded acceptance into the Personalized Learning Initiative and all three have been working with TASS (Teaching All Secondary Schools). 

TASS is the  VT-HEC program that provides support to middle and high schools in their efforts to improve outcomes for all students by utilizing education neuroscience in a proficiency-based context.  TASS has been working for ten years to provide middle and high schools with an array of coherent learning and coaching supports that are tailored to the needs and goals of each school. All three of these schools, for instance, attended TASS offerings that introduced the principles of brain-based learning that would form the foundation for much of their work moving forward.

Following that introduction the schools took advantage of a variety of TASS offerings and supports:

  • TASS staff provided embedded professional learning opportunities and coaching throughout the year to teachers to implement a proficiency-based learning model in their classrooms
  • TASS leadership staff supported various school leadership teams and administrators in their efforts to address systems issues and ensure school –wide progress in spite of the many competing demands they faced.
  • Staff from these schools participated in the annual TASS series of WORKshops and graduate courses that focus on practical aspects of identifying learning targets, developing performance tasks, using standardized-based grading and reporting, and utilizing management tools to hold it all together.
  • Twinfield and Harwood have staff participating in the TASS Teacher Leader Certificate program in which staff are being prepared to take a leadership role in supporting their colleagues in expanding and sustaining the progress they have made.
  • The leadership team of Washington NE (Twinfield & Cabot) participated in both the 2014 & 2015  VPA leadership strand offered by the VT-HEC/TASS on how to utilize brain-based learning with their staff and students, and took advantage of the option to extend that learning by planning together with TASS staff for the start of the new year.  Those administrators have reported that the result of these planning efforts got them off to” their best start ever”.
  • Staff from all three schools worked together at a  TASS 2015 Summer Institute to further the work of their individual schools and prepare for the coming year. 

These are three very different schools in size and organization but each has made impressive gains and each has utilized TASS resources, in addition to others, to make significant progress and maintain coherence, while charting their own course. The VT-HEC is very pleased to be a part of this effort and congratulates the staff and leadership of these schools for their impressive achievement.

In the coming year TASS will again be offering the sequence of WORKshops, Using Neuroscience to Make Standards Work for ALL Students, which will be open to all and may be taken as a series, a three credit course or as individual WORKshops.

See more about these WORKshops here: http://www.vthec.org/documents/2015/08/neuroscience.pdf


VT-HEC & VPA Partner for the Third Year

Using the Principles of Neuroscience to Lead in the 21st Century

For the third consecutive year, the VT-HEC is partnering with the VPA to offer coordinated leadership supports to help administrators and their leadership teams utilize what we know about the brain and learning to work through the ever-expanding list of requirements and initiatives to establish a clear direction tailored to their school and community. The supports include:

  • Bring Coherence & Relevance to Your Leadership Work Through Brain-Based Principles – A strand at the VPA Leadership Academy with Bill Rich and Val Gardner on August 5 and 6. Participants will be using the principles from research on the brain and learning to make sense of the many competing demands that face school leaders to chart a coherent course for their school and staff.  (Register at vpaonline.org.)
  •  “The Best Start Ever” – Jump-Start the Year Planning Together  This year we are again offering the option for strand participants from 2013, 2014 or 2015 to participate in supported planning sessions on the afternoon of August 6 and August 7 following the VPA Leadership Academy. Strand participants can have members of their school leadership teams join them in applying the principles covered in the strand to their planning for the new year with the help of Val Gardner, Bill Rich and other TASS consultants. Administrators who participated in this planning last year reported they got off to “the best start ever”. For more info contact Dennis.kane@vthec.org

We are very excited to be working with the VPA to continue this component of our program.  It is clear that many school leaders struggle to maintain a clear focus given all of the challenges and demands they face.  It has been our experience that school leaders that can establish a clear direction based on common principles and develop a coordinated plan for the coming year have the best chance of hitting the ground running and making significant progress during the year.  We believe that these learning and planning opportunities will help leaders accomplish these goals.

This opportunities is also available to the schools that are working with our TASS, Teaching All Secondary Students, program that supports middle and secondary school improvement.  Recently, three Vermont schools were awarded grants working through the League of Innovative Schools and the Great Schools Partnerships – all three of those schools have worked with TASS. They were the only Vermont schools to win this very competitive grant.

One can’t do much better than having experts such as Val and Bill on hand to assist leaders in applying these basic principles of learning and behavior to the work of their schools and staff.  Together Bill and Val make a powerful team that works to practice what they preach by designing learning opportunities that give participants the content, coaching and feedback they need to apply the new learning to their own situations.

TASS New Middle School Supports

Supporting  Middle Schools in the World of Standards-Based Learning & the Common Core

TASS (Teaching All Secondary Students) has been supporting middle and high schools in their efforts to improve outcomes for all students since 2005 by offering embedded professional learning opportunities, coaching and leadership support. Now TASS is building on that foundation to offer schools and individual educators more ways to focus on the nature and needs of adolescent learners in the current world of proficiencies, graduation expectations and new testing.

1. TASS Middle School Endorsement Course Sequence

Beginning in the fall of 2014 TASS  will begin offering courses required for middle grades licensing endorsement.  The first course will be Nature and Needs of the Adolescent Learner.  These courses are designed to teach well researched skills, strategies, and tools, that will enable teachers to provide safe learning environments that will nurture students’ intellectual capacities, develop their leadership skills and voice, and differentiate instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners. The current course sequence is:

  • Nature and Needs of the Adolescent Learner (Fall 2014) Starts September 13 – Register Now!
  • Responsive Middle Level Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (Spring 2015)
  • Middle Level Organization and Structures (Summer 2015, mid-June)
  • Adolescent Literacy and the Common Core (Summer 2015, mid-July)
2.  Workshop Series – Teaching & Learning with Adolescents

This year TASS will be offering a series of three workshops to provide leaders and educators more examples of how they can respond to the special needs of the adolescent learner given the current environment of standards-based learning, Common Core, etc.

  • Designing Learning Opportunities for Adolescents – October 20, 2014
  • Self –Directed Teaching and Learning – January 26, 2014
  • Common Core Literacy Standards Across All Content – March 16, 201
3.  WORKshop Series – Using Neuroscience to Make Standards Work for ALL Students

A series of four WORKshops that can be taken individually, as a series or as a course that focus on the practical application of the principles of education neuroscience to standards-based learning in middle and high schools.  These WORKshops have been designed by Bill Rich and will be supported by other TASS consultants with plenty of time allocated for participants to apply the new learning to their own setting.

  • Crafting Student-Friendly Learning Targets – October 9, 2014; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Designing Performance Tasks to Power Student Learning – November 21, 2014; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Getting to (& Surviving) Standards-Based Learning March 8, 2015; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Data Tools to Keep You in Sync with Your Students – May, 1, 2015; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT


4.  TASS School Support Program

TASS is a VT-HEC Program focused on supporting middle and high school in their efforts to improve outcomes for all students. TASS delivers a comprehensive, coordinated and coherent array of supports and learning opportunities designed to apply the principles of Education Neuroscience in a standards-based learning context for the 21st Century.  TASS provides a long-term, integrated system of embedded professional development, coaching and leadership support within a system of collaborative implementation that is tailored to the long-term goals and short-term needs of each school.  TASS consultants include Bill Rich, Val Gardner, Wendy Cohen, Susie Girardin and Otho Thompson; all long-time educators working in Vermont schools. 

5.  TASS Leadership Support Program

Val Gardner and Bill Rich have designed a series of WORKshops for leaders interested in and committed to applying principles of brain-based learning design to create cultures of ongoing learning. This learning opportunity has been offered at the VPA Leadership Academy and will be offered as a series of WORKshops this year for education leaders.  This year the first WORKshops will be held on October 3, 2014,  Who Are Our Learners? Applying Brain Research to How We Lead our Adult Learners. This will be followed by three more support sessions for those who have attended one of the introductory sessions at the VPA or are from a TASS school.

TASS Middle School Progam  will be coordinated  by Susie Girardin.  Susie is a middle grades specialist who has worked in middle schools and with middle school teachers for 40 years.  She is a leadership and teacher coach for TASS and is also part of the design team for the TASS teacher leader Certificate of Learning Design program.  Susie has taught all of the courses in the middle school sequence and will be working to design the workshop series.

It would be hard to find someone more committed to middle level students and to addressing their unique characteristics. Susie is a dynamic presenter, coach and instructor who makes her passion about student-centered learning contagious.  She has been working in a number of schools around Vermont and is always in demand.  Susie is available for consultation and coaching in schools through the TASS program.


VT-HEC WORKshops Focus on Application

VT-HEC WORKshops Coming in 2014-2015

Research on professional development producing actual change in schools and classrooms has not always been great. To better ensure the practical application of the knowledge and skills presented in our offerings to the work settings of the participants, the VT-HEC is designing a special series of professional learning opportunities that will focus on application of the content topic in the classroom or school. These sessions will be designated as WORKshops.


Applying Neuroscience to Standards-Based Learning & Professional Learning Opportunities

TASS Consultants Practice What They Preach in a Series of WORKshops

This past year TASS consultants, Bill Rich, Wendy Cohen & Val Gardner, offered a very successful series of WORKshops focused on applying principles of neuroscience to the practical implementation of standards-based learning. The topics covered included developing learning targets, using performance tasks, instituting standards-based grading and utilizing management tools to  keep it all together.

Individuals and teams who attended experienced learning opportunities that were designed around the very principles from education neuroscience that formed the content of the series. They assessed their level of learning using learning scales, set goals and measured their progress. Participants devoted considerable time  working with the concepts to further their understanding and practiced applying the principles  to their own work with the support of Bill, Val and Wendy and others in the room. They were able to share their work, get their questions answered, see the work of others and get feedback on their efforts.

Participants worked with the teams they came with or with other participants to experience collaborative application of the principles. They were given access to resources and models that they could use during the session and in the future.  Not only was the content aimed at the practical issues facing educators implementing the Common Core and other sets of standards but they were able to experience the concepts in action applied to their own learning and work.

Based on this year’s success TASS will be offering this series again in 2014-2015. WORKshops may be taken individually, as a series or as a graduate course.  More details will be coming soon on how to register for these exciting and different sessions that will help educators put their ideas to work and reach their goals for the year.

  • Crafting Student-Friendly Learning Targets – October 9, 2014; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Designing Performance Tasks to Power Student Learning – November 21, 2014; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Getting to (& Surviving) Standards-Based Learning March 6, 2015; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT
  • Data Tools to Keep You in Sync with Your Students – May, 1, 2015; Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT


TASS (Teaching All Secondary Students) is the VT-HEC program that supports middle and high schools in their efforts to improve outcomes for all students utilizing the best from research on the brain and learning, education and systems change. TASS works to offer schools a comprehensive and coherent approach to implementing standards-based learning and improving outcomes for all students. TASS can deliver a tailored array of coaching and consultation to teachers and leaders as well as embedded professional learning opportunities designed specially for individual schools.  In addition, TASS offers a variety of learning opportunities that are open to all but built on the same foundation and research.  TASS has an impressive team of experts who can meet most any school or professional learning need – all based on the same values and principles of learning.

VT-HEC’s WORKshops are special learning opportunities designed to put into practice what we know from neuroscience about effective learning design to better ensure the content of the session is applied in the school setting.  Each session will present some key concepts on the topic that is the focus of the day along with examples and models of application of the concepts.  Participants assess their current status, set goals for their learning and mark their progress using tools consistent with the principles being covered.  At least half the day is devoted to the participants applying the principles to their own work situation along with their colleagues. Support will be available from the presenters and other participants who have had experience with the work.  Participants get feedback and support on taking their work farther and, if they are taking the WORKshop as part of a course, they will get continued support in putting their new knowledge and skills into practice in their own settings. 

Part II – What Works in Middle & High Schools

More Stories from TASS Schools

In Part II of this series Nancy Cornell, long-time Assistant Superintendent and Curriculum Coordinator  shares her perspective about working toward improving their schools in partnership with TASS – Teaching All Secondary Students. TASS is the VT-HEC program that supports middle and high schools with a tailored and coordinated array of coaching and learning opportunities over an extended period of time.  Nancy confirmed the TASS belief in the Michael Fullan statement about school reform:

“The main problem with educational systems and corresponding innovation and policy making is that they are, intrinsically, endemically, inevitably, overloaded and fragmented. Therefore, the main solutions have to be ones that contribute to coherence making and connectedness.” Michael Fullan

Nancy told  about how Mt. Abraham middle & high school always had pockets of excellence and a history of starting many separate initiatives, some even garnering national recognition. There was not, however, a coherence of purpose and action that saw the whole school working and moving forward together.  Nancy recounted that in her 20+ years she had hired  many talented consultants who often did great work, but they rarely coordinated that work with other consultants or other parts of the school. In contrast, the TASS consultants were clearly reading from the same page and coordinating their efforts which greatly increased their impact.  Nancy joked that when she hired TASS she knew that when even when the TASS consultants were not actually working in her building they were out there somewhere coordinating and planning what they were doing at Mt. Abe because she could see the difference they were making and knew she was getting the most from her investment.

Another point Nancy highlighted was the focus TASS has on making change through collaborative implementation. TASS has the capacity, she said, to train facilitators to help make the school’s collaborative teams and Critical Friends groups work more effectively. That in turn had a positive impact on making progress in multiple areas, even beyond those that TASS was working on. Nancy noted here that TASS consistently acted on the belief that collaborative work was key to making lasting whole-school change.  As examples, Nancy told of TASS consultant, Wendy Cohen, providing instruction and coaching to teachers on their work as facilitators and the whole TASS team meeting regularly with the leadership team to plan together.

Nancy also recounted that TASS consultants, Wendy, Bill Rich and Susie Girardin, designed many different kinds of learning opportunities to meet the  specific needs of the moment for the teachers they were working with including designing inservice days, planning staff and department meetings, providing in-class coaching and offering graduate courses during the year and over the summer. Nancy told us that some of these courses were offered with Mt. Abe staff partnering with TASS staff to instruct the course as an example of TASS developing and utilizing the expertise found within the staff.

Lastly, Nancy talked about the work that TASS consultants, such as Val Gardner, had done with the leadership to plan for the year including outlining what they wanted to prioritize and developing a calendar that outlined their work, meetings, deadlines, etc. The leadership team also worked with Val to define what they expected from the teachers and to identify what support the teachers would need.  Nancy noted that it wasn’t just the building administrators that TASS supported but also the Supervisory Union administrators and leaders of the elementary schools to facilitate district-wide planning.

Nancy ended by saying that she could not speak highly enough about how the comprehensive and coordinated work of TASS had helped Mt. Abe.

For more information about the TASS program, the services it can provide and the findings of its eight years of experience in Vermont schools, go to our web site at vthec.org or contact Seth Marineau at [email protected]

 Teacher Quotes:

“It used to be that we were always alone, in a silo, and it was uncommon for me to really examine student performance, to find the time to actually analyze an assignment, determine which kids have evidence of understanding…now we are able to support one another  Our conversations have been really productive and exciting”

 Today I was reviewing Tier III questions with my students  I thought it was so affirming of our work together when a student said ‘Hey, we talked about Tier III questions in such-and-such’s class today!’  I responded, ‘Freaky, I know.  We actually talk to each other!’ It was great evidence of the collaborative nature and common learning that TASS has supported.”


What Works to Improve Middle & High Schools

TASS School Stories – Part 1

On a snowy afternoon in February school administrators shared compelling stories relating their experiences in working toward improving their schools in partnership with TASS, Teaching All Secondary Students. TASS is the VT-HEC program that supports middle and high schools with a tailored array of coaching and learning opportunities. Each administrator in their own way confirmed the TASS belief in the Michael Fullan statement about school improvement: (more…)

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