Results for: RSU2

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: Revisiting the Vision

February 10, 2017 by

calendarThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 4, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

January, the start of a new year and at the same time the middle of a year. In the rest of our lives outside of school we are all thinking about new starts, reflecting on the successes and struggles of the previous year and laying plans for embracing what we have learned in order to grow and move forward. In contrast, many of us in school are picking up with a new learning opportunity and continuing along the content marathon of the school year. This year, why not take some time for reflection in school as well?

We all know that using the first hours and weeks of a new school year are optimal for setting culture in our classes and buildings. Turning the culture over to the learners, by engaging them in vision crafting and creating codes of conduct, is a powerful move for establishing a learner centered community that fosters learner agency. It is even more powerful when sustained over the course a year. A culture that fosters learner agency is the cornerstone of learner centered proficiency based learning. It is worth taking the time to revisit, review, reflect, and revise.

Once we get into the groove of content and targets it can be a challenge to find the time for culture sustaining work. It is easy to fall into the pattern of valuing content completion over the nurturing of a learner-centered culture. Now is a great time to revive attention to the culture in our classes and buildings, and it does not have to be overwhelming or complicated at all. Here are some ideas to get you and the learners you work with reflecting on how the year has gone so far, and how to move even closer to their vision of the learning environment they want. (more…)

Red Flag: When Habits of Work and Learning Become Extrinsic Motivation

August 29, 2017 by

If I had only two choices between a thumbs-up and thumbs-down, I don’t know which I would use to comment on Portland School District’s new policy that will prohibit students from participating in extracurricular activities if they don’t meet the expectations for demonstrating the habits of work and learning. It is a great idea for a school district to embrace the idea of Habits of Work and Learning (I’ll use HOW as an acronym to indicate the behaviors and skills students need to learn only because HOWL raises images of wolves in my mind), since becoming a lifelong learner is essential to preparing students for college, career, citizenship, and their well-being as adults. However, in tying it to access to and the denial of extracurricular activities, the district has bureaucratized and corrupted the power of using HOW to engage and motivate students.

When you see a good idea at a school, it makes sense that district leaders would want to scale it to everyone. Certainly Portland’s Casco Bay High School a leading example of competency-based education highlights how a competency-based structure (referred to as proficiency-based in Maine) can contribute to a school that has a rich pedagogical theory of learning emphasizing inquiry, communities of learning, and horizon-broadening experiences. The problem is that when we do this, we take a practice out of the context of the culture and related practices that make it work. Implementing habits of work and learning as a gate for whether students can play football will simply never work to improve engagement, motivation, and academic learning, or to prepare students as lifelong learners. Here’s why.

#1 Opening the Door to Opportunities for Learning, Not Closing Them

In competency-based (or proficiency-based) schools, the practice is to shift how we communicate student progress. The traditional grading system is based on points (extrinsic motivation that works for the students at the top and does little for everyone else) for: 1) assignments and summative assessments (which may indicate how well a student understands the material but does little or nothing to motivate students who are not understanding, as they never have a chance to go back and learn it) and 2) points for behavior that may be related to learning or not (being helpful or bringing in cans for the food drive). Zeros for not turning in an assignment are nearly impossible to recover from and will actually chip away at a student’s motivation.

Underlying the traditional grading system are two beliefs: 1) extrinsic motivation is the best way to get students to put in the effort and 2) a focus on ranking students that believes some students are smart and others not so much, and there is little a teacher can do to help students learn. The second one is directly related to our ability as a nation to improve equity or continue to reproduce it – if we don’t think students can really learn, we just pass them on with Cs and Ds. If we believe that all students can learn, if we truly believe the evidence underlying Dweck’s theory of a growth mindset, then we should be constantly seeking out opportunities for students to keep learning and for educators to have opportunity to build their skills to better support students. Instead of ranking, we should be monitoring growth and seeking to discover each student’s potential.

In competency-based grading systems, we make two big changes from the traditional grading system. First, grading is no longer used to rank students. It is focused solely on letting students know how they are progressing toward mastering the material. A student who attempts a unit with misconceptions and/or gaps from previous years may stumble at first and take more time to do some more learning. The scoring system lets them know if they are just getting started, are making progress but aren’t quite there yet, or have mastered the material. All students have a chance of succeeding if they keep at it and if they receive effective instructional support. (It’s important to remember: Asking a student who has a misconception to just keep trying is totally unfair. They’ll never know that they have a misconception and will discover no way of uncovering it. It will only reinforce that they are dumb, when the fact is that no adult offered them the help they need.) (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: 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…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Exceeding is More Work

April 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 15, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When working in a learner-centered proficiency based system, it is really important that members of the learning community have some common understandings. I can’t think of any place where this is more important than with proficiency expectations. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on learning targets and assessments, and much of that work has focused on score 3 and foundational elements. It is equally important that we spend some time building common understandings about what it means to work a score 4, or exceeding levels of targets. ​

One of the most common mental wrestlings around the score 4 I hear from people sounds something like this:

 “A score 4 is not supposed to be more work, so then what does exceeding look like?”

This points to some confusion around what a score 4 actually is. And as we all know, if one person has the question chances are many others do to. So let’s take a look at some important features of score 4 work. We will use the following example to work through three important features:

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Grouping is a Strategy, Not the Goal

March 10, 2017 by

DesksThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 31, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

An essential component of learner centered proficiency based education is being able to meet learners at their particular readiness level in any area. Readiness level is another way of talking about the Zone of Proximal Development, the sweet spot of learning. In a personalized learning environment there should never be a moment when a learner is disengaged because they are being expected to work at a level that is either too hard or too easy. This is where flexible grouping comes in.

Flexible grouping creates the space for learners to work where they are ready, then move on. The groups are flexible, meaning that they do not have many fixed characteristics. Members of a group can change, the length of time a group meets for can change, when the group meets can change, and even who teaches the group can change. What is fixed about a flexible group, is the purpose. Once the purpose has been fulfilled, then the group dissolves.

At this point, I want to emphasize that flexible grouping is a strategy for personalizing learning. Flexible grouping is not a goal in itself. It never makes sense to group and regroup just for the sake of doing it. Flexible groups must have a purpose for being together, and the purpose will drive the rest of the “hows” about the group: how long, how often, how much, and even who. Here are some potential purposes for groups:

  1. To address individual learning targets
  2. To address a group, or series, of targets that fit together
  3. To explore an interest

The “flexible” in flexible grouping is extremely important. Once we form groups, and learners stay in those groups for an extended period of time without the ability to move on from the group, we’ve created a tracked system. We all know that tracking is not good for learners. Separating learners with different strengths prevents them from seeing, hearing, and trying out strategies and ideas of other learners. Grouping flexibly keeps the space for learners with different strengths to continue to be able to interact with each other. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Supporting Learners with Common Language

February 17, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 20, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Have you ever visited a classroom, or a team, or a school, and felt like there was some kind of secret code the members all shared? Perhaps the learners and teachers were using hand signals, or using specific words and phrases which clearly had a meaning that was understood by all the learning community members. The communication took very little effort, and happened quickly and smoothly. Classrooms and schools that have successfully shared and sustained a common language are special places with an environment prime for powerful learning.

Without a doubt, shared language contributes to a positive culture. When a group has special words and gestures that mean something to them, it binds the group together. The benefits of using a common language across classrooms and grades extends beyond culture, into academic learning as well. Common language removes barriers to learning, allowing learners to move between physical spaces without having to move between too many mental spaces. This in turn increases transference of skills and knowledge between contents and disciplines.

For example, a middle school team decided to work on the idea of problem solving with their learners. They had notices that the learners were waiting for the adults to give them solutions in a variety of situations ranging from a broken pencil to deciding what to write about for a story. Rather than have a different process in each classroom, the team decided to use a common set of steps for solving problems. The team also agreed to use the same language and explicitly make the connection between the problem solving steps and their content.

CB1

(more…)

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