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Author: Tom Vander Ark

10 Tips for Developing Student Agency

February 12, 2016 by

Influence of Teaching

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 22, 2015.

Agency is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives.

A new Harvard study, sponsored by the Raikes Foundation, suggests that student agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as basic skills.

The report, The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency, relies on the Tripod survey of teaching. Over 300,000 students in grades six to nine in 14 states were surveyed during the 2013-14 school year.

Developed by Ron Ferguson 15 years ago, the Tripod construction appears more relevant to traditional teacher-centered classrooms than student-centered approaches. As a result, there are some limitations of an instrument designed for measuring agency in low agency environments. However, next generation Bay Area models including Summit Public Schools and Education for Change (EFC) find the survey useful.

“Where this report is effective is in pushing us to think about agency in the context of what grown-ups have to do to facilitate it,” said Hae-Sin Thomas, CEO of EFC. “Tripod unfortunately is not a tool designed specifically to evaluate teacher practice specific to agency, but it’s as good as it gets with respect to student surveys and student-centered teacher practice.”

Why agency?

An important subset of Habits of Success (discussed last week), agency, the capacity and propensity to take purposeful action, is key to success in life.

Albert Bandura said:

Through agentic action, people devise ways of adapting flexibly to remarkably diverse geographic, climatic and social environments; they figure out ways to circumvent physical and environmental constraints, redesign and construct environments to their liking… By these inventive means, people improve their odds in the fitness survival game.

(more…)

Engagement Templates: 6 Ways to Structure Learning Experiences

October 15, 2015 by

Students in lecture

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 11, 2015.

How to engage learners? It’s a perpetual question for teachers and trainers. If it’s human development you’re after, engagement isn’t the goal but it is the engine. You won’t achieve your aims without it, especially if the desired learning requires hard sustained work.

We’ve been studying engagement and cataloging templates drawing from traditional research and new technology-enhanced approaches to user experience (UX) and learner experience (LX).

Many instructional designers use Terry Anderson’s interaction framework: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to peer learner interaction. These are important constructs but they don’t tell you how to structure a learning experience.

David Merrill provides a bit more guidance in his five principles of instructional design:

  • learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems;
  • learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner; and
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.

A designer admitted that “Designing an effective and efficient “instructional transaction” is the great mystery.”

While there are many variations, there appear to be six basic strategies for capturing engagement and initiating a learning cycle: (more…)

Non-Cognitive Skills: Bad Name, Really Important

August 27, 2015 by

BlocksThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 15, 2015.

The research is clear, so called non-cognitive skills are key to success in college and work.

  • A 20-year study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that kindergarten students who are more inclined to exhibit “social competence” traits—such sharing, cooperating, or helping other kids—may be more likely to attain higher education and well-paying jobs.
  • A University of Chicago literature review funded by the Lumina and Raikes foundations said, “Students must develop sets of behaviors, skills, attitudes, and strategies that are crucial to academic performance in their classes.”Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners outlines categories of non-cognitive factors related to academic performance including behaviors, perseverance, mindsets, learning strategies, and social skills. It’s not just struggling students that benefit, “all students are more likely to demonstrate perseverance if the school or classroom context helps them develop positive mindsets and effective learning strategies.” The report outlines five key learning strategies, 1) study skills, 2) metacognitive strategies, 3) self-regulated learning, 4) time management, and 5) goal-setting.
  • Research done by Penn prof Angela Lee Duckworth determined that grit and self-control predict success in life. On the other coast Stanford prof Carol Dweck found that a “growth mindset”–the belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—was critical to success compared to a belief that intelligence is fixed.
  • Bill Sedlacek partnered with the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (GMSP) to study what attributes were predictors of college degree attainment for students of color. He found eight noncognitive competencies that were higher predictors of success in college than either GPAs or SAT/ACT scores. The non-cognitive competencies include realistic self-appraisal, navigation skills, focus on long range goals, leadership, work experience.

(more…)

The End of the Big Test: Moving to Competency-Based Policy

May 25, 2015 by

TestThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 19, 2015.

What’s next? With all the frustration surrounding NCLB and big end of year tests, what’s the new policy framework that will replace grade level testing? For a state ready to embrace personalized and competency-based learning, what are the next steps?

This post suggests the use of assessment pilots and innovation zones where groups of schools apply and become authorized to operate alternative assessment systems. But first, some background.

Jobs to be done. To get at the heart of value creation, Clayton Christensen taught us to think about the job to be done. Assessment plays four important roles in school systems:

  1. Inform learning: continuous data feed that informs students, teachers, and parents about the learning process.
  2. Manage matriculation: certify that students have learned enough to move on and ultimately graduate.
  3. Evaluate educators: data to inform the practice and development of educators.
  4. Check quality: dashboard of information about school quality particularly what students know and can do and how fast they are progressing.

Initiated in the dark ages of data poverty, state tests were asked to do all these jobs. As political stakes grew, psychometricians and lawyers pushed for validity and reliability and the tests got longer in an attempt to fulfill all four roles.

With so much protest, it may go without saying but the problem with week long summative tests is that they take too much time to administer; they don’t provide rapid and useful feedback for learning and progress management (jobs 1&2); and test preparation rather than preparation for college, careers, and citizenship has become the mission of school. And, with no student benefit many young people don’t try very hard and increasingly opt out.

But it is no longer necessary or wise to ask one test to do so many jobs when better, faster, cheaper data is available from other sources.

What’s new? There have been six important assessment developments since NCLB was enacted in 2002: (more…)

Leave Retention Behind in Favor of Promotion on Mastery

October 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.24.48 PM

Getting Smart website

Originally posted on October 3, 2014 at Getting Smart.

 

The pastor was livid, he was so mad he could hardly talk (and he’s really good at talking). He had just come from a second day of school meeting that didn’t go well. The day before, his son came home and told him that all of his friends were in a different math class and his class was using the same book as last year. When he investigated, the teacher told him that in order to “promote college readiness” for his son, he was going to repeat 7th grade math. He had passed the class with high marks and the pastor and his son had attended three parent teacher conferences the prior year. With no notice, teachers had decided that 30 students, including the preacher’s kid, were going to repeat a math class.

 

When retention means repeating a grade, it is outdated and ineffective. It presumes that we don’t have any information about what the student struggled with and it wastes a year–for a student and a school system–repeating everything rather than pinpointing assistance. “No independent academic study suggests it works,” said former NYC Chancellor Harold Levy in a WSJ post. Retention without communication is malpractice (and when it comes to the son of town’s biggest public education supporter, well that’s just dumb).

 

The movement to end “social promotion” was part of state standards-based reform in the late 90s. Promoting kids based on birthdays ran counter to the goal of helping all kids reach high standards. But the decision to link No Child Left Behind accountability to grade level proficiency rather than harder to measure growth rates help solidify the old age cohort system. Schools become preoccupied with figuring out which kids they can get to pass the proficiency test at the end of the year and forget about kids that are two or more years behind because they don’t have a chance of passing. (more…)

EAA Pioneers Flexible Blended Learning Spaces

August 18, 2014 by

Originally posted Aug. 3, 2014 at Getting Smart.

Students at computers

From Getting Smart.com

Five Detroit schools utilize flexible learning spaces to accelerate student learning. These innovative environments reconsider four components of teaching and learning:

  • Space & time: creative ways of using space, furniture, scheduling and location to promote student learning;
  • Staffing and roles: rethinking flexible ways to use staffing to personalize learning;
  • Grouping of students: different approaches to grouping students and providing individual work time to ensure growth; and
  • Resources: maximizing supports from the teachers, technology, and peers to promote deeper understanding.

The flexible learning space, called a hub, provide a student-centered environment where student responsibility grows from primary grades to high school.

Students participate in a blended instructional program where they access information from the teacher, technology, their peers and their own inquiry. The same content is provided in 3 different ways—independent virtual courses, hybrid courses and as individual searchable libraries of content aligned to the standards. (more…)

7 Ways State Policy Can Promote Competence

August 12, 2014 by

Originally posted Aug. 8, 2014 at Getting Smart.

Boys studying

From Getting Smart

Since Horace borrowed the idea from the Prussians, we’ve been batch-processing kids based on birthdays through a print curriculum. This batch-print system was moderately efficient until we tried to retrofit it to work for all kids. It just created a mess of tacked on services and a crazy patchwork quilt of courses. As educational demands of society increase, it becomes increasingly obvious that the batch-print system doesn’t work well for at least two thirds of our kids.

Many of us believe that personalized learning environments where students progress as they demonstrate mastery hold the promise to boost achievement and completion rates for struggling students while speeding accelerated students through the K-16 system several years faster than is common today. However, the transition to a competency-based system is pedagogically, politically, and technically challenging. Despite policy barriers there are thousands of schools creating these next generation blended and competency-based environments. To accelerate the shift and improve outcomes, states should address these 7 things now.

1. Standards. Embrace a broad view of college and career readiness expressed in standards and graduation requirements. Maine went a step further and adopted a requirement for a proficiency-based graduation (discussed on CompetencyWorks). (more…)

Next Gen Accountability: Ohio & Beyond

July 22, 2014 by

Originally published July 16, 2014 by Getting Smart.

Ohio Council of Community Schools

From ohioschools.org

Accountability is a gift. We don’t often think of it that way but, done right, it’s a bargain that provides autonomy, resources, and supports in return for a commitment to a set of desired outcomes. That’s how it’s supposed to work with your kids; that’s how it’s supposed to work with schools. At work, accountability provides role and goal clarity like when your boss explains, “Here’s what I expect and how I’ll support you; if you don’t achieve desired results, here’s how the situation will be remedied.”

The University of Toledo and its designee to authorize schools, The Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS), hosted a  school leaders conference today to discuss the next generation of accountability. As the Fordham Institute Ohio staff noted, there were a number of changes made to Ohio testing and accountability system in the last session including accountability provisions.  Following is a discussion of how accountability should work–from students to universities–with a few comments about where Ohio is on the curve. (more…)

Good Work: Tapping the Dark Matter

April 26, 2013 by

3  This post was originally published by Getting Smart on April 14, 2013.

“Education is like the night sky; edreform offers a few points of light and the rest is dark matter,” said Nick Donohue.  “The real opportunity is deeper public engagement–tapping the dark matter.”

Nick Donohue has been a high school head master, a college trustee, and a state chief.  These days he leads The Nellie Mae Education Foundation.  In addition to being a big advocate of innovations– particularly competency-based learning– Nick serves on the iNACOL board (with me) and supports the work of CompetencyWorks. (more…)

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