Category: Classroom Practice

Guiding Students in Reflection: The Gateway Process at Parker

February 28, 2017 by

notesThis post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on November 30, 2016.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

When we take the time to reflect, we take a moment to stop and critically think about what has come to pass. Without an understanding of why things unfolded the way they did, we rarely feel empowered to change the status quo. However, we often focus on the “living forwards” instead of “understanding backwards” – reflection.

Quite often, the time for reflection is the first agenda item to be compromised in a course or meeting. After powering through a class, educators often leave reflection as an afterthought, a final half-hearted question. After a couple students share out their brief, underdeveloped thoughts, educators often consider the subject complete and ready for assessment. Eventually the student receives a grade and moves on to the next task.

I recently sat in on a conversation between my cousin and my aunt about a low test grade. My aunt attempted to guide my cousin in reflecting about why he received his grade, her final statement being:

 “At the end of the day, I don’t care about your score as long as you understand what you got wrong and go back and learn those concepts well.” 

His response:

 “Are you kidding me?! You don’t care about the score?! That’s all that matters!” 

There are many reasons for my cousin’s response, but I would argue that one is that his learning does not intentionally incorporate reflection; he hasn’t discovered who he is as a learner.
(more…)

A Close-Up Look at How a Workshop Framework Can Enhance Personalized Learning

January 19, 2017 by

workshopWhen I started teaching first grade over twenty-five years ago, I quickly realized that I was going to need additional strategies and support in order to help each of my students become independent readers and writers. The research and work of Donald Graves had a profound impact on my teaching as a young educator. I can remember reading Writing: Teachers and Children at Work (Graves, 1983) and falling in love with the workshop approach. This was the kind of supportive, communal learning experience I wanted to replicate for my students.

It was this revolutionary research and work of Donald Graves and his colleagues Lucy Calkins (Calkins, 1986) and Mary Ellen Giacobbe (Giacobbe, 2006) that supported my early years of teaching. Donald Graves taught me how to create a safe space for children to use their voices to tell their individual stories through speaking, listening, drawing, and writing. This philosophy of personalization enabled me to really listen to my student writers and allow them to show me what they needed next for instruction.

Fast forward to 2008 when I found myself working as an Instructional Strategist in RSU #57 in southern Maine. Conversations were beginning in Maine about WHY we needed to transform teaching and learning in the twenty-first century. I listened to Tony Wagner, Co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, speak at an ASCD conference about his research. His research findings presented a strong case for reimagining our school systems and teaching the 7 Survival Skills of -21st Century Students to prepare students for college and careers in a new global economy.

My school district embraced this effort and hired coaches from the Reinventing Schools organization to guide us. Staff began to wrap their heads around the concept of “learning is the constant, time is the variable.” We were encouraged to start growing a personalized, proficiency-based learning model in our classrooms. What this would look like in practice became a focus of our collaborative conversations and work. (more…)

WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning Project

September 16, 2016 by

generic-schoolThis post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining about 30 educators for the summer leadership session of WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning (SAAL) project. Like many professional learning experiences, we spent some time watching classroom videos. But this time, we were instructed not to focus on instruction. Instead, we watched the students, who were giving each other feedback about strategies to decompose three digit numbers. Not checking answers, not checking procedures — discussing the pros and cons of how each student approached the problem.

Though there are many definitions of student agency, there’s nothing like seeing it in action.

WestEd’s SAAL project is a part of the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP), an initiative led by the Center for Innovation in Education in partnership with NGLC. The projects in the ALP network range from individual schools to state-level initiatives, but from different vantage points and with different levers to pull, they’re all asking the same core questions:

  • How can we design and implement systems of ongoing formative assessment that support student learning, rather than simply evaluating students?
  • How can we go beyond academic achievement to measure a broader range of the skills and dispositions necessary for success in college, career, and community?
  • How can assessment empower students to develop greater agency in their own learning?

The SAAL project asks how formative assessment practices — at both the teacher and student level — can contribute to learner agency. WestEd is working with three districts – Chandler Unified and Sunnyside Unified in Arizona, and Blachly School District in Oregon – to explore how teachers can cultivate student agency in learning and assessment. All of the participant teachers in these districts completed the six-month online digital learning experience, Formative Assessment Insights developed by the SAAL team and funded by the Hewlett Foundation, which laid the foundation for the current project.

Like all ALP projects, SAAL is testing a hypothesis, and it’s too early to draw final conclusions. But I was struck by the way that the WestEd team is structuring their inquiry. Through action research in close partnership with teachers and instructional leaders, they’re examining two essential issues: What does is truly mean to be “student centered?” And, how we need to think differently about instructional design and assessment to cultivate student agency?

The Power of Focusing on Student Learning

As part of the SAAL project, teachers will record videos of their classrooms, and use these videos to reflect on the learning behaviors students are engaged in. Specifically, teachers will focus on the degree to which students are self-assessing, and engaging in peer feedback discussions. The WestEd team has developed a prototype “continuum” of observable student behaviors related to these two learning practices. The project lead at WestEd, Margaret Heritage, noted that when people “rate” the teacher in the video we watched using rubrics for instructional practice, the ratings are uniformly high. But when they use the continuum of student behaviors, the result is much more mixed. (more…)

Celebrate the Flops (Then They Don’t Hurt So Much): 7 SEL Mindset Tips

September 1, 2016 by

Belly-FlopThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 13, 2016.

Our 15-year-old son loves to flip.

The challenge is, when you flip, there is a good chance you’ll flop. It’s part of the deal.

I bet most of us have experienced–or at least have seen–a pretty nasty belly flop (or “smack” as real divers call it). When I asked college diving coach Gabe Kortuem how he teaches his divers to handle them, his response was quick and convicted.

“We celebrate them. Then they don’t hurt so much.”

The underlying message is pretty obvious. Mistakes are part of the learning process. When we treat them as such, they give us reason to celebrate.

Schools across the country are placing a great deal of emphasis on social emotional learning (SEL), success skills, mindsets, social skills, habits of success and more (call them what you will). Framing learning opportunities with a phrase like “celebrating the flops” can be a great springboard (pun intended) to reinforce SEL habits.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), one of the goals of social emotional learning (SEL) programs is improving student attitudes about self, others and school. Cognitive science research shows it can be done.

What if it became second nature for our responses to have such a positive forward-looking tone. Instead of “fail,” how about “not yet?” Instead of “You’d better not do that again,” what if we said “What did you learn from that one?”

Here are 7 practical SEL tips for teachers and parents to reinforce such mindsets in young people: (more…)

Supporting Student Agency Through Student Led Conferences

August 26, 2016 by

Thrive-Public-SchoolsThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 24, 2016. 

In a world where young people are creators and consumers of media, where they have to navigate thousands of images and advertisements and hidden agendas on a daily basis, we are obligated to equip them to understand and direct their own experiences.

Student agency can become a schoolwide norm through Student Led Conferences. With a little bit of systems thinking and strategic instruction around this practice, Thrive Public Schools has put students in the driver seat.

At Thrive, a blended learning school in central San Diego, parent conferences have been replaced by Student Led Conferences (SLC). At the conclusion of each grading period, students from grades TK through high school led collaborative meetings in which they review their individualized goals around literacy, numeracy and social emotional growth, examine work as indicators of progress toward goal and set next steps.

We know that good facilitation (even for adults) takes preparation and practice. Here’s how students at Thrive prepare for leading conferences on their own work: (more…)

Three Big Ah-Ha!s for Teachers New to Learner-Centered Proficiency-Based Education

August 5, 2016 by

BulbThat time of year is getting close! Some of us will be back with our students in a matter of days, some weeks. Without a doubt all of us are thinking about how we want to do things this year and starting to get our plans ready. Here are some of the biggest ideas I support teachers through when it comes to learner-centered proficiency-based education. Whether your district is working toward a vision of personalized learning, or you are a curious educator ready to redesign your class, take a think through:

  1. You Will Not Be Writing 25 Different Lesson Plans For Each Class

When some people hear “personalized learning” they immediately imagine a classroom in which twenty-five students are doing twenty-five different things. Twenty-five learners with different needs. Twenty-five learners with different interests. A teacher popping around from kid to kid and never teaching a whole class at once, ever again.

That will never happen in an effective learner-centered proficiency-based system. The odds of it happening in a lone personalized learning classroom are slim to non-existent. Why? Because they, and we, are humans. It is much more likely that in any given class, for any given set of procedural or declarative knowledge, there will be a small number of core groups with a sprinkling of outliers. Further, a teacher who has been practicing for at least three years likely has a good sense about what those different groups will be, in terms of understandings and skills. The same is true for student interests! We can all think of at least five different interest areas that will hook most of our students. Sports, animals, pets, dance, music, visual arts, video games, outdoors, cars, what else? Teachers knows these things about students, and it doesn’t change too drastically from year to year. I am not saying “you already do this” because there are some important differences between this kind of grouping and tracking. (more…)

Student Ownership of Non-Curricular Cognitive Competencies

July 8, 2016 by

WSP BlogThis is the fourth and final article in a series specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.). Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and at times, this has caused frustration. We were very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

The previous articles in this series may be accessed below:

Article 1: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions.

Article 2: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Article 3: Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Walking through the classrooms of our teachers this year, there was a palpable difference, but I could not put my finger on precisely what it was until delving deeper into the metacognitive aspect of the Essential Skills and Dispositions frameworks. I realized that it was the students’ self-awareness, their understanding of themselves as learners, that was making a difference in how they approached learning. It truly was reflective of a more learner-centered and personalized approach, and was a powerful catalyst for many of our students.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to developing greater awareness, understanding, and ownership of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of how CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) translate not only within their classroom, but throughout their day as students, friends, and members of their family and greater community. (more…)

Developing a Competency-Based ELA Classroom

June 8, 2016 by
Stephanie Price

Language Arts Lead Teacher Stephanie Price (right) and Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Simms (left) collaborate on DSISD’s around competency-based approach.

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on June 1, 2016.

When I started my journey at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) in spring 2015, I was excited. After nine years of teaching in a traditional model of education, the new possibilities at my disposal sparked my creativity. Little did I know how much I would feel like a first year educator all over again once school started in the fall. I was embarking on uncharted territory, and no amount of summer planning could have prepared me for what was next. Now, a year in, I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned, and offer a bit of advice to teachers and school leaders who might be interested in this model.

Discovering Pacing for my Students

As I learned what competency based education meant, it was my understanding that students could and should move through acquiring content and skills asynchronously, or at their own pace. Our learning management system, Summit Public School’s Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), allowed for students to access content, assessments, and projects on their own.

My initial approach prioritized the pace of the learning over the personal needs of each student. Students could move as quickly or slowly as they wished through their work, choosing supports and enrichments as they went along. This student-led approach didn’t account for the fact that students weren’t ready to identify their own needs without my guidance. Many of them lacked the self-directed learning skills and agency. It became messy, and it started to feel like each student was isolated. I missed the collaboration I was so used to in a traditional model. I also realized that about a third of my students were ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement coursework while about one tenth of them were struggling to keep up at an appropriate pace, even with the scaffolds provided for them to choose from. This was all useful learning for me, and at the end of the first trimester, I developed and implemented a differentiated grouping system that I called a “cohort model” in response to these challenges, and influenced heavily by student voice.

Implementing the Cohort Model

The cohort model simply allows students to choose their own adventure in the language arts classroom. Although all students work in small groups at their own levels, they are connected through common themes, tasks, and texts. My class has three cohorts: Introduction to Literature, AP Language Cohort, and AP Language Veterans. An example of a typical day would include the Intro to Lit students reading leveled versions of Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for writing a short response on figurative language in the text while the AP Cohort analyzes the whole letter for a rhetorical analysis essay. Meanwhile, the AP Veterans read Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau alongside Letter to Birmingham Jail to write a full compare contrast analysis on the figurative language each author used to support his argument. (more…)

Moving from Theory to Practice: Designing a New Competency-Based High School

June 6, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on May 31, 2016.Screenshot 2016-06-07 08.53.23

Every school leader wants to create their dream school. They want the kind of opportunity that would allow a passionate team and community of learners to cast a shared vision, to side step the bureaucratic elements of schooling, and to create an atmosphere and experiences that educators and students long for. However, when the opportunity of a blank canvas for school design arrives, there are a number of unspoken challenges in moving from theory to practice. In December of 2014 we embarked on this leadership journey with Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD). As we look back on our first year, there are many lessons that contributed to the success of our first year and our goals moving forward. Most importantly, our strong foundational systems and goals allowed our leadership to steer DSISD through the uncertain waters between theory and practice.

North Star: DSISD Vision

Our theory from the start was that a competency-based approach would make our school truly student-centered from startup to launch. Moving from theory to practice inherently means that an organization will need to navigate uncertainty and change. Many of the daily structures that ensure confidence and coherence in an established school or organization do not exist in a startup situation. What does exist in a startup situation is enthusiasm and excitement about new possibilities. However, enthusiasm is a finite resource that can be whittled away as challenges, which are sure to come, arise. To navigate uncertainty at DSISD, we built a compelling vision to anchor decisions in and test designs against.

The DSISD vision is “To empower ALL students to OWN their learning, SHAPE their dreams, and CREATE a better world.” This simple statement paints the picture of what we hope to instill in all of our students. It is also the first test for all of our decisions and school design elements. From identifying staff dispositions, to curricula choices, to student experiences—if the choice doesn’t align to the vision, then we don’t do it. This simple stake in the ground creates unity and confidence among the staff and provides consistency in the midst of uncertainty and change.

Map and Compass: Year One Goals

But vision alone is not enough—leaders also need to provide concrete criteria to know whether the group is heading in the right direction. Having clear benchmarks and goals helps generate momentum and secure early wins. This positive momentum is critical for counteracting the challenges of change and uncertainty. To secure these wins, the DSISD leadership team set three core goals for a strong first year: (more…)

Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

April 7, 2016 by

ClassroomThis is the third in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.) Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and, at times, this has caused frustration. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices, for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

To read the first article in this series, please click on the following link: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions. The second article may be accessed by clicking here: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Growth in these areas, for our elementary students, will not happen all by itself. It is imperative that teachers willingly and mindfully plan lessons that will help students to make connections and assist them along in their learning journey. It is also imperative to debrief, reflect, and provide meaningful and timely feedback, just as it is within any type of formative assessment that is happening within a classroom.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to the instruction of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of the CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) within their own learning are having a tremendous impact on not only the individual learner, but the entire classroom community as a whole. (more…)

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