Tag: curriculum and instruction

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Four Tips for Crafting Driving Questions

December 8, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on October 21, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A high quality driving question provides motivation for learning. Often when we first start working with driving questions, or essential question, to frame learning the questions we come up with can feel a little, well, off. Just like with any skill, crafting good driving questions takes practice. The four tips below can help you make some gains. For each tip there is an example of a driving question using the following learning target:

Understands the structures and functions of the major body systems

1. Focus on the enduring understanding of the learning target. Many standards, competencies, and targets come with a lot of foundational skills and understandings attached. When we only think about all the pieces, we miss the big picture. Pulling back and focusing instead on the big picture can help us see what the essence of a target is. Here is an example using our test target:

How do body systems work together to keep our bodies running?

2. Place the target in a larger context. Sometimes a learning target is interesting enough in itself to motivate learning for most learners, others are not. If a particular targets feels dry when you think it, or try to make a question of it, then try thinking about where the target fits in the real world. The target itself should rarely be its own context for learning, and putting targets in a larger context makes them feel more relatable and interesting to many learners. Think about this example for our test target: (more…)

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…)

Making Sense of the Learning Sciences

October 24, 2017 by

I’ve been spending a year reading about the cognitive learning sciences and also about John Hattie’s work to review the effect of different strategies. Even with Bror Saxberg’s coaching (for which I’m deeply grateful), it’s been slow going for me, as I started with a pretty blank slate. I was also simply stuck. I was learning and my familiarity with the high level findings was growing, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply it. I was simply having difficulty making meaning for my work at CompetencyWorks because so much of the power of the cognitive learning sciences impacts practices of the teacher at a much more granular level than I encounter on my three- to five-hour school visits.

I had two breakthroughs recently, and now connections are being easily made. First, when reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I realized that his exploration of different systems of thinking, with System 1 operating automatically and involuntarily and System 2 operating with deliberation and reasoning, opens a door for us to challenge the bias that we bring into our work and our relationships. It opens the door for us to be more cognizant of the types of bias and how they impact the learning lives of children in our schools. Perhaps we can use the learning sciences to cleanse ourselves and our schools of bias.

Second, as we think about the competency-based cultures, structures, and pedagogical philosophy (one of which is that teaching should be grounded in the learning sciences), it’s important for us to test out how districts and schools are supporting teachers to use the cognitive learning sciences as well as those that influence engagement and motivation. In other words, what are the structures and reinforcements that make it easy for teachers to use the learning sciences, and are there ways in which districts and schools are creating obstacles that we should address?

To get started, I’ll turn to the Deans for Impact Science of Learning, by far the easiest summary out there. Let’s look at one of the three principles under How Do Students Understand New Ideas?

Cognitive Principle: Cognitive development does not progress through a fixed sequence of age-related stages. The mastery of new concepts happens in fits and starts.

Practical Implications for the Classroom: Content should not be kept from students because it is “developmentally inappropriate.” The term implies there is a biologically inevitable course of development, and that this course is predictable by age. To answer the question “is the student ready?” it’s best to consider “has the student mastered the prerequisites?” (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Teaching Targets in Authentic Contexts

October 6, 2017 by

This week’s tip comes from Seth Mitchell, a technology integration coach in the Monmouth schools in RSU 2. This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on September 25, 2017.

Last year, second graders at HLC – ably guided by Brittany Brady, Winona Prince, and Katie Torrington – embarked on a year-long journey to apply their learning in a real-world context. Their combined efforts culminated in learners becoming trail guides and offering guided tours of a local hiking path. As students worked their way along the one-mile trail, they shared their knowledge about the flora and fauna of Whittier Woods, explaining how plants, trees, and various classes of wildlife have adapted to this particular environment. Trail visitors stopped at eight different locations to read student-created informational signs that not only synthesize what the students learned, but also display original, digitally produced artwork. QR codes on the signs provide access to videos featuring student experts, who explain what hikers might see at each location on the trail. It was a proud moment for learners, for the expert educators who guided them through the process, and for the parents who expressed admiration for what these young people have accomplished. The project began the previous school year with some important questions: How can we situate target learning within an authentic context? How can we bundle standards to provide greater relevance for new knowledge? How can we tap the valuable resources of the community as we design learning experiences?

There were several important factors that led to the project’s eventual success: (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…)

Help Students Hold Themselves Accountable

August 9, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on August 3, 2017.

The new report “How to create higher performing, happier classrooms in seven moves: A playbook for teachers” tells stories of teachers who improved student engagement and academic results by introducing seven specific, practical moves into their classrooms that replicate the successes of top managers in cutting-edge workplaces. For the next three months, I’ll be doing deep dives into each of these important moves.

The sixth move for creating a dynamic classroom is to help students hold themselves accountable.

Cutting-edge organizations that give employees ownership—as well as hire for and nurture the skill of agency—balance that trust with a thoughtful accountability system. Ownership and accountability, out of necessity, go hand in hand. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Medallia rely on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help their employees cycle through a system of setting transparent goals, learning, tracking their progress, taking stock of where they are, and pausing to reflect on how to improve before beginning the cycle anew.

The term accountability can stir negative associations in the education sector, as it conjures images of top-down oversight. That’s not the type of accountability that we have in mind. Rather, Move #6 is talking about any structures and systems that teachers can put in place to help their students learn to set goals, track their progress, and follow through.

Kelly Kosuga, a 9th-grade Algebra I teacher at Cindy Avitia High School, part of the Alpha Public Schools network in the San Francisco Bay Area, knew that her students would make better choices if they felt informed and accountable. She decided to make this move in two ways: (1) making the grading system and student progress transparent and (2) using tools to help students stay organized.

Making the grading system and student progress transparent

First, Kelly needed to make sure that her students clearly understood what they needed to do to succeed in her class and where they currently stood academically. She didn’t have a tool that allowed her to do this easily, so she created one. (more…)

The Importance of Modeling Student-Centered Professional Learning

August 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on July 7, 2017.

Creating student-centered learning environments is no easy task. Teachers often do not receive enough quality professional learning to provide them with the time to design student-centered learning environments. The major difficulties are that they lack the opportunity to actively provide choice and voice in their school systems and they are put under too much pressure to meet curriculum and assessment needs based on statewide testing mandates. In short: professional learning doesn’t often “practice what it preaches.”

Case in point, not long ago I sat through a workshop on differentiation with 300 of my colleagues, while a presenter shared the same information, in the same way, with us all day about how to tailor instruction for different students’ needsProfessional learning opportunities must be intentionally designed to show instructional-strategies-in-action, allowing educators to experience what student-centered learning looks and feels like. Period. If the goal of the school and/or district is to transition to a student-centered and personalized model, where transitioning can be messy and difficult, and requires the burden of the learning to be put onto the shoulders of the learner (while the educator maintains the role of the environmental facilitator and learning certifier), then professional learning environments must mirror those same design aspects. The realization of this need brought about the recent professional learning workshop focused on student-centered learning held by the Maine School Administrative District #46 (a part of Alternative Organizational Structure #94 [MSAD#46/AOS#94]). Here’s how it was designed:

STEP 1: LISTEN TO YOUR LEARNERS

As one of the organizers of the workshop1, I did some data collection using a Professional Learning Needs Survey several weeks before the workshop. I had also been engaging in conversations and listening to teachers struggle with the many challenges they face with student engagement, students’ mental health challenges, ensuring equity for all students, progress monitoring, and more.  After listening, hearing, and attempting to understand the challenges facing our teachers daily, the Professional Learning Needs Survey encouraged our staff to rank topics (highest need, moderate need, low need, and no need) in the following areas:

  • Student-Centered Learning
  • Proficiency-Based Grading and Reporting
  • Student Engagement
  • Special Needs
  • Technology Integration
  • Teacher Evaluation

Understanding that different grade spans and grade levels have different struggles and needs,we looked at those data through multiple lenses:

  • Pre-K-4
  • 5-8
  • 9-12
  • Pre-K-8
  • 5-12
  • Pre-K-4, 9-12
  • Pre-K-12

Breaking down the data this way helped us uncover common areas of need from a district level all the way down to a grade-span level, and helped us to create environments and opportunities for our teachers to solve the problems that they face.

STEP 2: EMPOWER, EMBOLDEN, AND ENERGIZE

(more…)

National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education Recommended Reading

May 24, 2017 by

We are now in high gear to get ready for the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. I continue to be both amazed and grateful for the collaborative spirit of the competency education field. I wanted to share with you the incredible list of resources that the Summit participants have suggested as the best reading and resources in the field right now. A bunch of them are new to me – so I better get reading!

Online Resources for Competency Education

Introducing Personalized, Competency Education

Case Studies

Accountability

(more…)

Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: Work Study Practices Matter in a Competency-Based High School

May 22, 2017 by

Competency-based schools work to separate the reporting of academic performance and behavior into separate categories as a part of their effort to move from compliance to competency. For many teachers and students, this is a very difficult transition. What we all recognize is that behaviors that lead to learning are still important and can not simply vanish from the school entirely. Instead we need to continue to address them and instruct them so our students are competent academically and possess well-developed employable skills. There are many names for these types of skills; our district uses Work Study Practices, developed by the state, and is working to improve how we instruct and assess them in our schools. It is a work in progress but essential to student success at all levels.

Lesson #1: All students at all levels benefit from instruction in work study practices.

Nothing drives me more crazy than when teachers talk about how students should already know how to do things, and this type of conversation happens a lot when talking about work study practices. We wouldn’t assess students on academic material we haven’t taught them, but teachers do that with work study practices. Teachers expect students to be mindreaders and know what they are looking for in terms of creativity, collaboration, self-direction, and communication even though it may look different with any given assignment. The simple truth of the matter is that students need developmentally appropriate instruction in order to understand the expectations for collaboration on a group project so that they can work to meet them, just like they need to know how communication might be different on a digital assignment versus an oral task. Just like with academic competencies, they need a target so they can navigate their path to success.

Lesson #2: Reflection is an important key to success for students who are practicing work study practices.

Providing students with the opportunity to reflect on work study practices is the key to them internalizing them and applying what they have learned outside of the classroom. Students have the opportunity to identify how their behaviors have impacted their success on a given task: are they contributing to or detracting from the results? I have found that asking students to write about how they have demonstrated one or more of the practices by providing examples of positive behaviors has led to increased success, and it doesn’t take very long to see changes. Another important factor when talking about collaboration is to allow for student groups to reflect together on what they are doing well and what they can improve on the next time they are together. Reflection may look different depending on the age of the students in class, but it needs to be present so students can take ownership of their progress and internalize the experience for future tasks, whether they are in school or in the workplace. (more…)

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