Author: Courtney Belolan

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: How New is a New School Year?

September 14, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on September 11, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The new year is underway. New classes, new teachers, new supplies, new buildings (for some). But how new should the new year be in a learner centered proficiency based environment? Is it really a clean slate, a fresh start, a brand new year of learning? Maybe the start of a new school year should be thought of more as a resuming of the learning rather than a new start of learning. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Planning to Hold onto the Learning

June 8, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on June 5, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

It is easy, almost natural, to see these last few weeks of the year as an end, something that needs to be tied up neatly. In some ways it is. But what would happen if we stopped thinking of the last weeks as the end, and started thinking of it as something else? Instead of closing the books and cleaning out the lockers, what if we found a way to keep the books open, so to speak? I’m not talking about summer work, I’m thinking a little differently here. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Yes They Can

May 18, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on April 30, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Do you remember hearing, perhaps back in your teacher prep program, about the study where a teacher was given a group of Special Ed students but was told that they were Gifted and Talented students, and then the learners performed at the same level as the Gifted and Talented learners would? Well, it is a thing. And it is real. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Three Ways to Bring More Learner Voice into Learning Opportunities

March 30, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on March 19, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Including learner voice and choice is a central principle in learner-centered proficiency-based practices, and here in RSU2. For the most part, learners have ample opportunities for choice in our classrooms and schools. Learners are choosing seminars. Learners are choosing topics. Learners are choosing final products. Learners are choosing input resources, and even practice activities in some cases. Including learner voice, on the other hand, is more complicated and happens in an authentic way less often. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: The Big Picture of Applied Learning

February 23, 2018 by

This post originally appeared on the RSU2 Professional Learning Blog on February 5, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

As more of us begin to work with the elements and tenets of Applied Learning here in RSU2 the concept of applied learning as more than an it is solidifying. There are many different ways an applied learning experience can look. The look and feel of any experience depends on the extent to which the elements and tenets are owned by the learners. Sometimes the driving questions are presented to learners by the teachers, other times the learners write their own and every learner works with a different one. Sometimes all the learners interact with all of the same input resources, and other times learners are given menus and options for which input resources to use. Sometimes all the learners produce a similar product with varying content, sometimes learners are tasked with deciding on their own final product. Sometimes an applied learning opportunity happens in one content area or class, in others a few content areas are in the mix. In any case, all applied learning opportunities provide the context for working towards learning targets, and all applied learning opportunities tend to follow a similar pattern of implementation. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Four Tips for Crafting Driving Questions

December 8, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on October 21, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A high quality driving question provides motivation for learning. Often when we first start working with driving questions, or essential question, to frame learning the questions we come up with can feel a little, well, off. Just like with any skill, crafting good driving questions takes practice. The four tips below can help you make some gains. For each tip there is an example of a driving question using the following learning target:

Understands the structures and functions of the major body systems

1. Focus on the enduring understanding of the learning target. Many standards, competencies, and targets come with a lot of foundational skills and understandings attached. When we only think about all the pieces, we miss the big picture. Pulling back and focusing instead on the big picture can help us see what the essence of a target is. Here is an example using our test target:

How do body systems work together to keep our bodies running?

2. Place the target in a larger context. Sometimes a learning target is interesting enough in itself to motivate learning for most learners, others are not. If a particular targets feels dry when you think it, or try to make a question of it, then try thinking about where the target fits in the real world. The target itself should rarely be its own context for learning, and putting targets in a larger context makes them feel more relatable and interesting to many learners. Think about this example for our test target: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Making Space for Learners to Wonder

October 27, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on October 16, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Socrates said “wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” This quote is incredibly powerful because it reminds us that in order for any kind of learning to happen, we first have to be curious about something. The desire to know something, the question, is what sparks learning. In a learner centered proficiency based environment, we must make as much space as possible for learners to be curious and wonder.

One of the tenets of personalized learning, is that learners build and demonstrate proficiency through their own passions and interests. Another philosophical underpinning is that there is a culture that cultivates learner agency. Providing opportunities for learners to ask their own questions in any learning opportunity supports both these tenets. When learners ask their own questions, and then follow through with exploring the answers to those questions, they have much more investment and ownership of their learning. Here are some ways to make space for learner to ask questions in any social grade level or content:

1. Wonder Walls and Community Curiosity: Make being curious a public practice. I have always loved the idea of a giant mural-like display in a hallway where learners post their questions. Of course, there are many other ways to make wondering a regular part of any learning environment. In younger social grades, this can be part of the morning meeting. In addition to sharing what is going on in their lives, they then also share something they have a question about. Older learners might do this as part of an advisory group, or informal thinking exercises at the start or end of class. While this type of wondering might not tie directly to any content it certainly provides space and time for practicing asking questions, which is something our learners are not necessarily used to doing in school. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Giving Learners MORE Voice

September 22, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on September 11, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

For most of us it feels like we are into the swing of the school year. Older learners are jumping into their learning targets, and our youngest learners are getting the hang of how school goes. Visions and Codes of Conduct hang on the walls, Parking Lots have some stickies, and we can pat ourselves on the back for including learner voice.

Remember that a strong culture that promotes learner agency is something that needs to be sustained all year long. While Visions and Codes of Conduct are important tools for sustaining culture and giving learners voice, there are many other ways to do this as well. I challenge all the adults in learning out learning communities to turn as much decision making as possible over to the learners. If we want a culture that supports learner agency, then we need to create as many opportunities for learners to be decision makers as possible in their learning environments as well as in their learning.

After all, having voice is having a say. How many decisions do we make on a regular basis for our learners? Thousands. Surely there are some that can be turned over to even the youngest learners. Here are some categories of decisions that can be turned over to the learners (with appropriate facilitation depending on age, of course, and lots of accepting of approximation and reflection!).

1. Prioritizing: The example I keep thinking about is one that we can reflect on for next year, or the next “new” class. We typically spend that first day with learners “preach-teaching.” That is, listing off all the nitty gritty of what WE think they need to know. How about asking the learners what THEY feel is most important to know that first day then support them to prioritize the order in which you talk about them? I know more than one teacher who apologizes for the day or says “I promise it won’t be like this.”

2. Organizing: From how the desks are set up, to the labels in the binders, this is an area where we can let the learners take over. Any time we as the adults have to organize something, we can turn it over to the learners. Sure, it will take longer and, sure, first attempts might not go well, but think about the amount of skills they will gain from taking on a meaningful task then reflecting on it. Not sure where to have the meeting area? Ask the learners. Need to set up portfolios? Ask the learners. Want to keep track of how many books the class has read? Ask the learners. Interested in having a more public display of who is where with learning targets? Ask the learners. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Including Multiple Readiness Levels

May 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 28, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

As we enter into the last few months of the school year, many of us are starting to turn an eye towards next year. It is a great time to think about the learning experiences we’ve put together for our learners, and how to grow them to be even more learner centered. One place to go is thinking about expanding learning opportunities to include targets at multiple readiness levels rather than only centering on one or two. We can describe this as having multiple access points. Some contents and measurement topics lend themselves more easily to this flexibility, while others take a little more thinking.

Last year I wrote two posts that can be helpful to review:

3/10/16   Increasing Engagement: Connecting Learning Targets
4/12/16   Thinking in Measurement Topics, Not Targets

Expanding our unit, or project, or applied learning, plans to include a range of access points allows for a more diverse and rich learning environment. When learners at different readiness levels have the opportunity to interact with one another in meaningful ways some wonderful things happen. Learners get to hear, see, and think about different ideas and strategies they may not have thought of or tried before. The culture becomes much more inclusive and learners practice essential collaboration skills. Learning pathways are opened up, and much more flexible, allowing learners to move through the targets more freely. So how could this look? (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, 2017. 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…)

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