Tag: curriculum and instruction

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Moving to a Culture of Cooperation

October 7, 2016 by

paintThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 16, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The other week I sat in on a new teacher meeting at one of the elementary schools here in RSU2. The group, which included teachers new and new-ish to teaching or the school as well as teachers further into their careers, discussed ideas from the Responsive Classroom book The First Six Weeks of School. One comment in particular stood out, and has been bouncing around in my head ever since. I’ve even mentioned it to other teachers and teams who are working through culture building.

“.. it struck me this year that even with all the work I do in my room around building culture, the students still tend to see it as an adult-pleasing thing. When I am there everything runs well, but I often get notes from subs that sound like a completely different class.”

I think this is super important for all of us to think about. How are we working to make sure the culture we are building in our classroom and teams is also part of a larger school-wide culture? I have some ideas: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Starting the Year Off Strong

September 9, 2016 by

Back to SchoolThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 2, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Welcome back! Students are back, and the buildings feel alive again. It is the end of the third day, and we are already settling into the year. As you and the learners get ready to start new learning adventures this year, keep these ideas in mind:

1. School and Classroom Culture Is Dynamic
Many teachers spend time at the start of the year working with the students to build culture. This is a hugely important step to creating the environment needed for learner centered and proficiency based systems to be successful. Even more important is setting up a plan for maintaining culture, and keeping it alive throughout the year. Visions, codes of conduct, SOPs, Flowcharts, all of these culture tools need to grown and change in response to feedback from the day to day, week to week, and month to month life of the classroom. Here are some ways to plan for culture maintenance from pK-graduation:

– regular team/class meetings (as much as every day, as little as once a month)
– a Parking Lot
– regular, simple self reflection on the vision and code of conduct
– recognition based on the vision and code of conduct (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…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Constant Feedback

June 3, 2016 by

WalkingThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:

  1. It is goal referenced
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is timely
  4. It is ongoing

The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™. (more…)

5 Strategies for Fostering Independence in a PBL Classroom

May 27, 2016 by

Pic1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 28, 2016.

As a middle school teacher I understand that my students are at a developmental crossroads. They want to be seen as independent, responsible adults but at the same time still need guidance in order to be successful. This makes this age both challenging and rewarding to work with as it allows me as a teacher to help them as they become the independent students they see themselves to be.

It is not uncommon for teachers new to project-based learning to express skepticism or concern about “dropping the reins” and allowing students to take more control over the pace and scope of their learning. However, it is an essential aspect of good PBL. Ultimately, in order to be successful in the 21st century world, our students need to be able to manage themselves and work effectively with groups of peers. If it is true that the purpose of school is to prepare students for future success, then the building of these skills must start in the classroom. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Refurbishing for Personalized Learning

May 20, 2016 by

BinderThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Stop! You, yes you. The one perusing Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for the perfect already-made-resource you can print off and use with your students.

And you! The one flipping through your binders, hanging-files, or digital folders for lesson plans and resources to use again.

You too! Surfing PBS, The History Channel, and other providers of ready-made curricula and lessons.

Stop. And think…

Will using this resource or material support the goals of learner-centered proficiency based practice?

The answer may not be entirely clear at first. The reality is that most of the pre-made materials are not. There are, however, ways to use these resources and refurbish them for personalized learning.

I recently facilitated a session with some teachers around using non-Calkins resources within the context of writing workshop. To start the hour off, we played a “yes-no game” based on a concept attainment activity. The gist is that we sorted examples into positive and negative groups, then determined the categories and gave them titles. This chart shows the results of our game: (more…)

Meeting Students Where They Are: Academic Domains (Part 2)

May 5, 2016 by

Part 1 on this topicArrows focuses on accountability policies. This post looks at instructional strategies to meet students where they are.

Do Academic Domains Make a Difference in Strategies to Meet Students Where They Are?

Teachers have to make hundreds of instructional decisions each day. Based on conversations with practitioners, we have found that it is worth starting the discussion with how to best meet the needs of students who have gaps in skills within each discipline. We’ve been focusing the initial inquiry on math, ELA, and social sciences, but it would be just as important to consider this issue within the sciences, arts, health/physical education, and CTE as well.

Below are some of the insights from educators about how to meet students where they are without falling back into tracking or marching through the standards in a linear manner. Each of the strategies raised by educators to respond to students whose skills are at performance levels below their grade level take more time and more instruction. In a world where learning is monitored over a semester, some might call this students taking longer or learning at a slower pace. That is not the situation at all; if they need to loop back or do close reading, they are actually doing more learning. In fact, the rate of their learning measured by performance levels will likely be at a faster rate than those students with grade level skills. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets

April 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine. This tip of the week is designed for those schools that are using the measurement topic/learning target model to organize continuum of learning. There are other models being used by schools for which this will not directly apply, although the insights in how we might begin to think about personalizing instruction will be valuable to everyone.

Being a teacher in a learner-centered proficiency based system can mean some big changes. One of the biggest changes in thinking to work through involves taking a step back from working with targets at a particular level, to working with a range of targets within the measurement topic. Remember, a Measurement Topic is a series of related targets arranged in a progression from simple to complex. Measurement Topics do not necessarily have one target, or level, per grade. Nor do Measurement Topics necessarily always make sense to begin when students enter the school system in preK or Kindergarten.

Think about this visual:

CB1

The boxes represent three targets, from three different Measurement Topics. In many places, right now this is how teachers approach their work with learning targets. Only the targets typically associated with a traditional grade level are on the proverbial teaching table. If students happen to be on a different target, they are in a different group or maybe even a different class. Planning of lessons and units revolve around this small set of targets. It is possible that the three Measurement Topics are combined in some way. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Going Back to the Targets

April 22, 2016 by

TargetThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the first things people share with me since coming to RSU2 in September is a frustration with learning targets. This is something I hear in every school, in every grade level, and in every content area. It isn’t that people don’t understand the point of them, quite the contrary. It is that people understand the point of them so well that they now see the need to improve them. Here are the most common points I hear:

  1. The progressions of targets don’t always make sense.
  2. The target itself is really hard to understand.
  3. Foundational pieces are missing.
  4. There is a lack of consistency around how the target is interpreted.
  5. It isn’t always clear how to “exceed” on a target.

Most of the Measurement Topics and Targets we are using were drafted and adopted about six years ago when the district first switched to a proficiency-based system. It was a classic Voltaire moment, not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Or, if you prefer sports, a Nike “Just Do it” moment.

Now, six years and a whole lot of growth later, we are realizing just how “not perfect” those Measurement Topics and Targets are. In order to make them what we want them to be, we have to take a step back in our understanding of Targets and Measurement Topics. And it is extremely important that we do. Learning Targets and Measurement Topics make personalized learning possible.

Here in RSU 2, we use the following definitions and explanations: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Connecting Learning Targets

April 15, 2016 by

MosaicThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 10, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we stop thinking about measurement topics and learning targets as isolated boxes, learning becomes much more exciting. Think of targets as mosaic tiles. Think of measurement topics as mosaic tiles of the same color. In a mosaic, there are a variety of tiles and colors working together to make a work of art. We need to do that with our learning targets.

Start by laying out all the targets you typically teach in a year. Take inventory of the mosaic tiles you have to work with. Which ones seem to go together well? Are there any that make an unexpected collection? Just as certain tile colors and shapes compliment one another, different targets can work together in different ways. And just as mosaics incorporate multiple tiles of the same color, engaging learning experiences hold room for multiple targets from the a measurement topic progression. This allows more multiple entry points to the learning experience. Another way to think of this is that it allows students to work at their readiness level while still engaging in the social processing of learning with their peers.

So let’s step out of our mosaic analogy for a moment and see what this could look like. Below are some targets that one might see in the 5th grade:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the physical features that are common and unique to various parts of the world
  • Is skilled at exploring and inventing art-making techniques and approaches
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

(more…)

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