Tag: teachers and teaching

What Does Personalized Learning Mean for Teachers?

April 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on March 28, 2017. 

As families, communities, parents, teachers and students around the country have deep conversations around how to transform schools to better prepare each student for future success, many schools are implementing personalized learning models to best meet the unique needs of each student and prepare all students for a lifetime of success (simultaneously).

Good teachers have always sought to match their teaching to the unique needs of each student – by offering options to dig deeper into an assignment for advanced learners or by offering additional support or a modified assignment to struggling learners.

Yet, doing so for a class of 20 to 30 students has been simply impossible for every student, in every lesson, every day with a single teacher and a single textbook.

It’s time for empowering educators to personalize learning. Now, thanks to new designs, tools and approaches, teachers can provide every student with powerful, personalized learning experiences. Teachers find this empowering and motivating.

In personalized learning models, educators’ roles are more important than ever as they design customized approaches, their professional expertise is valued and respected. In fact, many teachers explain that one of the biggest benefits of personalized learning is that they can “get back to the reason I became a teacher.”

Teachers prefer personalized learning for these reasons: (more…)

Five Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: How Competency-Based Education Has Been a Game Changer

April 27, 2017 by

Donna Harvey-Moseley (Photo by Mark Giullucci)

The traditional social studies classroom that I participated in as a student has experienced a steady evolution thanks to the introduction of competency-based education. Gone are the days of teachers dispensing knowledge from behind a podium at the front of the room while students memorize dates and names to pass the next test. Indeed it was a big change that was intimidating; it was a learning experience and I didn’t always get it right the first time. I had to be flexible and forgiving but the rewards are great and I have learned many lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Competency work can not be done in isolation.

You must collaborate with other teachers to identify the knowledge and skills you want your graduates to have after they have completed the program. For us, this meant meeting K-12 and deciding what content students needed to have in order to successfully complete an International Relations course as seniors and which grade levels would be responsible for the individual pieces. Further, you need to evaluate and re-evaluate how your school and district are going to define competency in the social studies, and that means you need to research. I have spent years working with my colleagues and administrators to set competencies, continually looking at what other schools and districts were using and what national options were out there. We are now using the C3 Frameworks at all grade levels, K-12, which I love! Among the greatest benefits of the C3 Frameworks is that in addition to history, civics, geography, and economics, it also includes Dimensions 3 & 4, which are skills-based and linked to the Common Core. One adjustment that we did make was to create language that is student-friendly and to make sure that what we expect of our students and the material that is delivered is specific and developmentally appropriate.

Lesson #2: Focus on the big ideas and the big picture.

The beautiful thing about competencies is they offer targets to aim for but do not prescribe the path to take to get there. As a teacher, I have the freedom to be creative and selective when I am designing lessons, activities, and assessments. I am no longer bound by the textbook. Instead, I can let student choice drive the class or focus on problem-based tasks that allow students to demonstrate competency. I can also relinquish some control over what is happening in the classroom and allow students to take on more leadership roles. For instance, I have a project that I am planning to do with my psychology students called “The Psychology of…” that will allow each student to finish the thought with a topic of their choosing. We will work together on a rubric, and I will provide them with benchmark assignments along the way to make sure they are on the right track and moving forward, but what they do and how they do it will be up to them. It’s an exciting opportunity and a little bit intimidating. As I tell my students, it is either going to be awesome or awful, but either way, we will all learn from the experience.

Lesson #3: It’s not all academic but it’s all important.

Competency-based assessment forced me to take Work Study Practices (behavior) out of the academic grade and challenged me to assess them in new and objective ways by collecting data throughout the quarters, semesters, and year. I am no longer sitting when grades close guessing at scores for work study practices because I have been paying attention to them and recording data all along. Most importantly, I am working with my students to define what they mean, practice what they look like, and improve how they apply those skills. It can be as simple as talking to students about collaboration when it is time to start a group project or activity. Take five or ten minutes to make sure everyone has the same understanding of what it means to work collaboratively and identify the types of behaviors students should be demonstrating, clearly define what you are looking to see but give them input as well. Finally, give them the opportunity, again five to ten minutes, to reflect on their performance providing examples of how they demonstrated collaboration and how it helped the group to be successful. It will be time well spent as your students become more efficient and effective collaborators. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: A Move to Increase Agency

April 21, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 4, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the core questions in creating a learner-centered proficiency based environment is “who has the control?” Posing this question in a variety of circumstances can help teachers and staff in a learning environment take steps to increase the learner-centeredness of any place or experience. Today I want to talk about this question in relation to handing out papers or materials for assignments and tasks.

Imagine you are sitting a class, let’s say a social studies class. You know that you and your peers are learning about the responsibilities and qualities of effective leaders and how individuals have a voice in democracies through the driving question “Who decides who gets to lead?” You also know that you and your work group have decided to explore the connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign as part of your culminating project. You even know all of the foundational pieces you need to learn, and which input resources and processing activities match those foundational pieces. Your teacher has even given you access to a document that lay out all of that information so you can look at it at any time, there is also a big map on the wall showing the order of targets. Today started off with a self check in and goal setting for work this week. You have your plan for today and will start off reading an article about Gandhi before you meet with your group to talk about how what you did today connects to Bernie Sanders. One other person in your group chose to read about Gandhi too, and someone else is watching a video about leadership qualities with a few other people. You walk up to the teacher’s desk and wait for your turn to get the reading. They move your name along the big map, and hand you the text you chose. You head back to your desk and begin to read.

Who has the control?

The teacher still has control in a significant way. The teacher is the one who moves the names along the target map. The teacher is the one who hands out the readings. There are some great systems in place that support transparency, and turning some more control over to the learners would go a long way for increasing agency. Here are some things this teacher might do: (more…)

Why Teachers Should Free Up Their Time

April 10, 2017 by

Kelly helps a student with an online lesson.

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 8, 2017.

I am concerned when I see a classroom that is locked in teacher-led instruction. Of course, some good can come from an interesting lecture, demonstration, or lesson. If it is part of a Station Rotation blended-learning model, then teacher-led instruction can be a good opportunity for teachers to enhance the content their students learn online. So, the problem is not that teacher-led instruction is necessarily bad. The problem is that delivering instruction limits teachers from having time to do something even better.

Kelly Kosuga felt this limitation firsthand. Kelly teaches 9th-grade Algebra I at Cindy Avitia High School, part of the Alpha Public Schools network in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the start of the 2015–16 school year, Kelly implemented a Station Rotation that consisted of three stations: Solo Station (independent work), Peer-to-Peer (pair work), and Guided Group (teacher-led instruction). Each student spent 25 minutes in each station before rotating—a classic Station Rotation model.

Kelly gave most of her attention to whichever students were in Guided Group at the time. As the semester progressed, however, she became increasingly frustrated that she could not clone herself so that there could be someone to monitor and help students at the other two stations. Plus, she didn’t like that the structure made it hard for her to differentiate instruction to a smaller size than three groups. She wanted to be able to meet with one or two students at a time. She felt stuck. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Exceeding is More Work

April 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 15, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When working in a learner-centered proficiency based system, it is really important that members of the learning community have some common understandings. I can’t think of any place where this is more important than with proficiency expectations. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on learning targets and assessments, and much of that work has focused on score 3 and foundational elements. It is equally important that we spend some time building common understandings about what it means to work a score 4, or exceeding levels of targets. ​

One of the most common mental wrestlings around the score 4 I hear from people sounds something like this:

 “A score 4 is not supposed to be more work, so then what does exceeding look like?”

This points to some confusion around what a score 4 actually is. And as we all know, if one person has the question chances are many others do to. So let’s take a look at some important features of score 4 work. We will use the following example to work through three important features:

(more…)

Friday Focus: Cultivating Peer-to-Peer Feedback

March 17, 2017 by

NGLCThis post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges’ Friday Focus from February 3, 2017.

In this week’s Friday Focus, we discuss ways to help students and adults alike develop and strengthen their peer-to-peer feedback chops, an important and necessary skill for all learners.

Theories about Feedback

“Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent,” writes Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Giving and receiving quality feedback requires that we listen carefully, observe, and reflect, and then synthesize and frame our thoughts and critiques in a way the recipient can hear and be able to use. In our NGLC grantee schools where feedback is an essential component to the learning experience, we see an emphasis on building strong relationships in which learners trust each other and know that feedback is being given in their best interest. We also see a focus on having a growth mindset, in which the person receiving the feedback understands it’s a necessary part to learning.

Sometimes, in schools, feedback can be provided by a critical friend, “someone who is encouraging and supportive, but who also provides honest and often candid feedback that may be uncomfortable or difficult to hear,” as defined by The Glossary of Education Reform.

An Evidence Base for Feedback

When trained in protocols, practiced, and emphasized, peer feedback at the student-peer level and the educator or colleague-peer level, within and outside of school settings, has been shown to have an impact on performance, community, culture, learning, and more. Explore the research below to learn more about feedback’s impact and how feedback is being implemented in the learning process:

(more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Grouping is a Strategy, Not the Goal

March 10, 2017 by

DesksThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 31, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

An essential component of learner centered proficiency based education is being able to meet learners at their particular readiness level in any area. Readiness level is another way of talking about the Zone of Proximal Development, the sweet spot of learning. In a personalized learning environment there should never be a moment when a learner is disengaged because they are being expected to work at a level that is either too hard or too easy. This is where flexible grouping comes in.

Flexible grouping creates the space for learners to work where they are ready, then move on. The groups are flexible, meaning that they do not have many fixed characteristics. Members of a group can change, the length of time a group meets for can change, when the group meets can change, and even who teaches the group can change. What is fixed about a flexible group, is the purpose. Once the purpose has been fulfilled, then the group dissolves.

At this point, I want to emphasize that flexible grouping is a strategy for personalizing learning. Flexible grouping is not a goal in itself. It never makes sense to group and regroup just for the sake of doing it. Flexible groups must have a purpose for being together, and the purpose will drive the rest of the “hows” about the group: how long, how often, how much, and even who. Here are some potential purposes for groups:

  1. To address individual learning targets
  2. To address a group, or series, of targets that fit together
  3. To explore an interest

The “flexible” in flexible grouping is extremely important. Once we form groups, and learners stay in those groups for an extended period of time without the ability to move on from the group, we’ve created a tracked system. We all know that tracking is not good for learners. Separating learners with different strengths prevents them from seeing, hearing, and trying out strategies and ideas of other learners. Grouping flexibly keeps the space for learners with different strengths to continue to be able to interact with each other. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Supporting Learners with Common Language

February 17, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 20, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Have you ever visited a classroom, or a team, or a school, and felt like there was some kind of secret code the members all shared? Perhaps the learners and teachers were using hand signals, or using specific words and phrases which clearly had a meaning that was understood by all the learning community members. The communication took very little effort, and happened quickly and smoothly. Classrooms and schools that have successfully shared and sustained a common language are special places with an environment prime for powerful learning.

Without a doubt, shared language contributes to a positive culture. When a group has special words and gestures that mean something to them, it binds the group together. The benefits of using a common language across classrooms and grades extends beyond culture, into academic learning as well. Common language removes barriers to learning, allowing learners to move between physical spaces without having to move between too many mental spaces. This in turn increases transference of skills and knowledge between contents and disciplines.

For example, a middle school team decided to work on the idea of problem solving with their learners. They had notices that the learners were waiting for the adults to give them solutions in a variety of situations ranging from a broken pencil to deciding what to write about for a story. Rather than have a different process in each classroom, the team decided to use a common set of steps for solving problems. The team also agreed to use the same language and explicitly make the connection between the problem solving steps and their content.

CB1

(more…)

Teachers are Managers – So Let’s Give Them the Tools to Manage

February 16, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 24, 2017. 

julia-freeland-fisher

Julia Freeland Fisher

Good management is hard. Typically, employees grow into manager roles over time. In most industries, employees must first prove themselves effective at their own job; then, they may take on some administrative duties; and only much later do leaders oversee large groups of employees and become responsible for motivating, training, and retaining them.

But two major institutions buck this trend: our schools and our military. In both, newly minted young professionals are asked to take on management roles from the very start. And surpassing even the number of direct reports young military officers oversee, teachers must manage upwards of 30 people the moment they set foot in school: their students.

For any manager, numbers like these are daunting—and having the right systems in place to manage effectively can make all the difference. Good managers motivate and inspire; they move their charges forward toward individual and shared goals; they create structures that provide predictability; and they provide feedback that helps their employees improve over time. And amidst all of this, workplaces are changing and management practices have to adapt alongside them.

As theories of effective management have continued to evolve in the 21st century, teachers—some of our most unsung and overworked mangers—stand to benefit from developments in management science. This begs the question: how might teachers borrow from promising management practices in our country’s top companies?

In a new playbook out this week, our Adjunct Fellow Heather Staker tackles this question. “How to Create Higher Performing, Happier Classrooms in 7 Moves: A Playbook for Teachers” looks at vanguard management practices that are making their way into exciting new classroom models. The playbook summarizes findings from a yearlong pilot project in the San Francisco Bay Area. The project, led by Mallory Dwinal, David Richards, and Jennifer Wu, looked systematically at the structures and processes that high-performing managers at cutting-edge companies like Google, Zappos, and Geico have put into place to create their dynamic cultures. The researchers chose their target companies by consulting Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” list, case studies from Harvard Business School, and analyst reports.

What are managers at these firms doing right? (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Revisiting the Vision

February 10, 2017 by

calendarThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 4, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

January, the start of a new year and at the same time the middle of a year. In the rest of our lives outside of school we are all thinking about new starts, reflecting on the successes and struggles of the previous year and laying plans for embracing what we have learned in order to grow and move forward. In contrast, many of us in school are picking up with a new learning opportunity and continuing along the content marathon of the school year. This year, why not take some time for reflection in school as well?

We all know that using the first hours and weeks of a new school year are optimal for setting culture in our classes and buildings. Turning the culture over to the learners, by engaging them in vision crafting and creating codes of conduct, is a powerful move for establishing a learner centered community that fosters learner agency. It is even more powerful when sustained over the course a year. A culture that fosters learner agency is the cornerstone of learner centered proficiency based learning. It is worth taking the time to revisit, review, reflect, and revise.

Once we get into the groove of content and targets it can be a challenge to find the time for culture sustaining work. It is easy to fall into the pattern of valuing content completion over the nurturing of a learner-centered culture. Now is a great time to revive attention to the culture in our classes and buildings, and it does not have to be overwhelming or complicated at all. Here are some ideas to get you and the learners you work with reflecting on how the year has gone so far, and how to move even closer to their vision of the learning environment they want. (more…)

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