Author: Next Generation Learning Challenges

Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-Based Learning

August 17, 2017 by

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

However, the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.” (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…)

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