Category: Classroom Practice

Is Personalized Learning the Gateway for ALL K-12 Students to Attain Agency & Achievement?

April 9, 2015 by
Jilene Dachtler

Jilene Dachtler

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on February 17, 2015.

My recent tour of several NGLC Breakthrough Models schools was an eye opener, a paradigm- shifter and ultimately, shook up a few limiting beliefs I had gained during my experience teaching in traditional educational settings.

As a newly-hired teacher at The Incubator School, an innovative school in its second year, I was excited to participate in a recent NGLC tour. The experience has deepened my understanding of our own blended learning, design model. I now know that large-scale, radical innovation is not only possible, but also probable as word spreads about the phenomenal work being done by educational innovators! True social justice can be achieved through education, where learning is personalized and students develop the agency to unleash their inherent potential to create, innovate and become productive, dynamic citizens of the world.

My optimism for public education has been reinvigorated by observing firsthand the engagement, autonomy and agency of students from a range of grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds at schools in various stages of development. My personal perspective is informed by a corporate business career followed by 11 years of teaching, as well as my own experience as a parent struggling with traditional school systems that were often unwilling or unable to identify, nurture and support my own child’s gifts.

Since childhood, I have been passionate about working with “at-risk populations” and often volunteered with nonprofits. My experience spans every grade level K-12, every socioeconomic level, in a variety of settings including hospital schools, comprehensive elementary and high schools, a 6-12 leadership magnet, first-year pilot high schools, and a restructured high school where significant gains were made in standardardized test scores and in introducing a “college-going culture”. (more…)

How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way

April 2, 2015 by

Specific Standard (CCSS, graduation, exit standard)Competency-based education is not about reformation – it is about transformation. Old processes and models of teaching and learning do not get at the intrinsic value of teaching and learning with a targeted focus on standards and mastery. If how we teach must change, then how we plan for instruction must change, too.

Curriculum can no longer focus solely on content – it must shift to encompass skills. But which skills? What will enable students to attain high standards and expectations? Currently, the most efficient way to understand which skills will result in higher levels of achievement comes from the process of unpacking standards.

Ainsworth (and Reeves before him) realized that no teacher – and certainly no student – can expect mastery of more than fifty educational standards (in English/Language Arts alone) in one school year. When our district piloted a curriculum that encompassed all ELA standards in the Common Core for tenth grade, we found that each standard could only be directly addressed about four or five times a year. No one can master the ability to identify a theme and track its development over the course of a text by practicing it four times a year for about forty minutes per session (CCSS ELA standard RL9-10.1). Not only did we ignore the research regarding how the brain learns (Sousa 2011), we also ignored the interconnectivity of ideas and concepts and its power in acquiring new knowledge and skills (Demarest 2010). (more…)

Keeping the Focus on Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom

March 31, 2015 by

StudentQuite often, the focus of technology use from a student’s vantage point in a proficiency-based system is the production of evidence. Students are encouraged to use their devices to create products that demonstrate mastery of a standard. They do that with creativity and regularity. There are pages and pages of ways you can suggest they do this (check out Andrew Churches and Kelly Tenkley). Students love it and engagement often increases. So what’s the problem?

It’s the focus. Oftentimes, the technology becomes the center of the project. The evidence of learning takes a back seat as students get dazzled with “cool” transitions in presentation software or the multitude of effects they have available when video editing. Content moves from the center to the sidelines.

How do you keep this from happening? By helping students define the role of the technology they will be using. It is either part of the process of learning, or the production of products that show learning. Sometimes these two overlap—sometimes they don’t. In either case, most standards do not require you to assess technology use any more than you would be assessing the use of a pen over a pencil. Here are some tips to keep you and your students on track:

Address the learning goal first. (more…)

Doing It Yourself: From Independent Learning Plans to Organizing Your Instructional Path

March 11, 2015 by


This post originally appeared at Getting Smart and the Huffington Post on March 4, 2015.

Student agency changes the nature of the educational process. As students build their habits of learning, they can take on more and more responsibility of their own education. The more experiences they have in managing their education, the more opportunities they have to strengthen their skills in time management, project management, pacing management, and executing with professionalism. At it’s very core, this is what GenDIY is all about—students taking responsibility and ownership of their journey to a career of their choosing.

In many of the competency-based schools across the country, educators are creating opportunities for students to co-create or co-design their education. At Chugach School District in Alaska, all students have the opportunity to create Independent Learning Plans (ILPs). The ILP is a structured opportunity for students to build or apply skills outside of school. It’s a chance to focus on high interest contexts or inquiries. And, it’s a chance to learn the skills they will need in college as self-directed, independent learners. (more…)

Using Blended Learning in the Classroom

March 9, 2015 by

ChairsYou don’t have to be part of a proficiency-based learning (PBL) environment for very long to see the benefit of using technology. PBL shifts learning from the “sage on the stage” method to one where students are direct stakeholders. They are asked to be in charge of their learning, making decisions about how, where, and often when they will work through content.

Many schools in Maine are making this transformational leap. My district is one of them. We recognized right away the importance of providing an “anytime, anywhere” learning platform that gives students access to standards and content around the clock. What we haven’t given enough time to, however, is dealing with the difference between posting information in the school’s learning management system and structuring the blended learning environment to maximize learning rather than access.

Blended learning is more than just making a website, posting assignments, and waiting for the magic to happen. It’s a model of teaching and learning that helps move the walls of the classroom and provides learning opportunities (as opposed to homework opportunities) both in and out of the classroom. It is designed intentionally to require students to engage with the content in a variety of ways that suit their learning style. Collaboration is essential. Good blended learning uses strategies that provide opportunities for students to revisit their learning, reflecting on what they’ve learned, and that allow time to think about how all this becomes personal. It helps students apply what they learn rather than memorize facts. The tools and resources available in a blended learning environment maximize learning, plain and simple.

In a perfect world, developing a blended learning environment would look like this: (more…)

Out on a Limb: Holding Ourselves Accountable

March 5, 2015 by
Lydia Leimbach

Lydia Leimbach

This post originally appeared at Teacher Tech on November 30, 2014.

I had a conversation with a colleague on one of the last days of school that has stuck with me ever since. We were discussing classroom management (I had just posted my “Distracted by Tech” article). My colleague said, “I get so tired of listening to complaints from some of our staff. All I hear is what the students haven’t done or won’t do and what they (the teacher) isn’t going to do. I’d love to hear how teachers hold themselves accountable for student success.”

I write often about strategies for holding students accountable when using technology but rarely have I thought about my own accountability when teaching.

This post isn’t really about tech integration and may offend some people. It’s not my intent. My intention is to spur thinking for those who are stuck and frustrated and perhaps are thinking laptops and phones are the cause of the learning blockage.

Teacher accountability isn’t easy. It’s not about how detailed my lesson plans are or how clear my directions for projects are. It’s not about how much kids like me. It’s about how effective I am in my teaching practices. In a nutshell, teacher accountability means that I take a regular look at my teaching practices, my classroom management, and my personal pedagogy and see how well it is meshing with student achievement.

For me this falls into four segments: (more…)

How Can I Tell if a School is Using Performance Assessments?

February 23, 2015 by
Laurie Gagnon

Laurie Gagnon

Project-based learning, problem-based learning, projects, tasks, performance tasks, performance assessments…

When visiting schools over the last several months, I’ve found myself a bit confused about the variety of terms used by teachers to describe their pedagogical philosophy, instructional approaches, and assessments. It becomes even more complicated when teachers start talking about the variety of instructional strategies they use to develop a “personalized approach” for all of their students.

I turned to Laurie Gagnon, Director of Quality Performance Assessment at the Center for Collaborative Education, to help me figure this out. Below is a summary of our conversation:

Question: Laurie, how do you make sense of all of these terms: project-based learning, problem-based learning, projects, tasks, performance tasks, performance assessments… (more…)

The SAMR Model in Blended Learning

February 16, 2015 by

LaptopI’ve worked as a technology integrator and teacher for fourteen years. We’ve adopted a proficiency based philosophy for five of those years. It’s been a monumental shift, but one that is so important for students. No longer is it okay for them to know just 65 percent of the material as evidenced by an averaged grade.

As a teacher, I’ve had to learn to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning for each individual student. Most importantly, I’ve had to learn to let go of what works best for me and focus on what works best for each student.

The switch to a proficiency-based model means that teachers have to be much more intentional in their teaching. It’s no longer a matter of turning to the planbook and seeing what you are teaching that day. You may be teaching pieces of three, four, or five days (or weeks) of your planbook at once. Proficiency-based teaching and learning hinges on the premise that the student determines the pace at which they will work and the means by which they will learn. They expect to have access to learning materials, resources, and interventions as close to 24/7 as possible.

We all recognized early on that technology could be a crucial tool in supporting students in this new model. How well it is used remains a factor.

In technology integration, we have a tool called SAMR. It’s a model that we use to determine the value added to learning by the use of technology. It was developed by Dr. Reuben Puentadura in 2010 and has been used worldwide to move the use of technology in the classroom from simply replacing what we are already doing to transforming the kinds of tasks that students can do. (more…)

Negotiating Release

January 26, 2015 by
Ollie and Tobey

Ollie and Tobey

My husband and I have two dogs. Ollie is a springer spaniel; Tobey is a rather unfortunate cross between a Yorkshire terrier and a miniature husky. We live near water and enjoy spending time in the lake when the temperatures rise.

Ollie took to the water immediately. In no time she figured out swimming, and she could be counted on to paddle leisurely until we were ready to leave. Not the case for Tobey. He surprised us with his reluctance to put a paw in the water.

Tobey did eventually learn to swim and now enjoys a quick lap or two, but it involved a process. We had to introduce him gradually, making sure he had the skills and confidence to move from the beach area to deeper water.

I mention my dogs because they serve as an example of how we make assumptions. I assumed that all dogs instinctively knew how to swim. After all, they enjoyed going down to the beach with us. As teachers, we are tempted to make the same assumption: because our students like to use technology, surely they know how to use it effectively.

A tenant of proficiency-based teaching and learning is that students will determine how and when they will “show what they know.” This implies that the student will be asked to direct their own learning. We avail ourselves as facilitators, flip our classrooms, determine pacing guides, and do less direct instruction. Time, not mastery, is now the variable. (more…)

In Search of the Goldilocks Scale

January 15, 2015 by

Too hot? Too cold? Just right!

We have learned a lot over the past five years as our district has implemented a competency-based model of grading and assessing. Competency-based grading and assessment requires a significant shift in the way we think about assessment—its purpose and its meaning. Our school, Memorial School in Newton, NH and our district, the Sanborn Regional School District, moved to this model five years ago. We continue to learn more about what assessment of students truly means as our overall understanding of assessment practices (our assessment literacy) increases.

When we moved to this model of grading and assessment, our elementary teachers made a wholesale change to grading with a four-point rubric. There would be no number scale (100 point scale) and there would be consistency across grade levels horizontally and vertically. The grade scale rubrics we used would identify the expectations around each level. Our learning curve was steep as we created the rubrics, but we found that our learning was not going to stop there. It continues to this day.

Our first year, we identified our rubric indicators as E (Exceeding), M (Meeting), IP (Inconsistent Progress), and LP (Limited Progress). The chart below reflects this first attempt at our rubric scale. The first roadblock came after the first progress report was distributed. As an educational staff, we looked at IP as what the descriptor outlined—inconsistent progress. A student was able to demonstrate competency, but it was on an inconsistent basis. Many parents provided feedback that it just “felt negative” (the word inconsistent). We decided that “In Progress” was also an accurate indicator, and parents agreed. We made the change immediately within the “Level” while keeping the performance descriptor the same. (more…)

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