Tag: curriculum and instruction

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Increasing Engagement

April 8, 2016 by

icebergThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 23, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Now that we have thought about “pace” differently in a learner-centered proficiency based system, we can start to talk about the rest of the iceberg: engagement.

If a student is not engaged, and therefore running into the “problem of being behind pace,” there are really only two possible explanations for why:

  1. The content is above, or below, a student’s readiness level
  2. The learning environment is not engaging to the student

Humans, of all ages, don’t learn unless we want to and we can. If we are not interested in something or can’t see how it connects to our life in some way, forget it. Likewise if we are trying to do something that is way too hard, or way too easy. I’m talking about motivation theory and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Understanding and applying those ideas are essential to creating a learning environment that is engaging…. to the student.

Let’s start at the beginning of a unit of study. When we approach from the perspective of motivation theory and ZPD we first worry about figuring out what the students already know and are able to do. We also worry about getting them to want to learn the content of our unit. Using a strategy called “The Gapper” will help us get there. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Pace? Whose Pace?

April 1, 2016 by

PaceThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 11, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Pace, as it is commonly understood and applied in education, is at its root a concept that is in conflict with learner-centered proficiency based education. Educators think about pace as the rate at which the curriculum scope and sequence moves. One big problem with pace is that it is usually set by someone other than the one doing the learning. Another big problem is that teachers, schools, and districts use pace as a subjective measure of performance. In both of these cases, the learner is not at the center of the learning and the industrial model of education is perpetuated.

Who decides pace? Who should decide pace? Do we even need to have a pace? If we do, how do we decide what the pace should be? How do we know if it is too fast, or too slow? ​

A logical thinker might attempt to figure this out using something like the oversimplified steps below:

  1. Determine the learning required for a student in public education to graduate.
  2. Complete a statistical analysis of how long it takes a representative sample to complete this learning.
  3. Determine the median length of time to learn.
  4. Recommend that be the pace.

(more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Reining in the Checklist Mindset

March 25, 2016 by

CircleThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 26, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student autonomy is a philosophical pillar of learner-centered proficiency based learning. Transparency of expectations is another. Learning communities that believe in learner-centered proficiency based learning create tools that are intended to support this transparency and autonomy. Pacing charts, learning maps, capacity matrices and the like are standard in these communities. The intention is to lay out the learning path for students, so that they can progress “at their own pace.”

Unfortunately, many times this intention results in the “checklist mindset.” Students race through activities and targets. ​The goal is completion, a check in the box to show they have finished that target and can move on to the next. ​

Learner tools should, and can, be the heartbeat of learner-centered practices when crafted with the goal of deep learning in mind. Try these suggestions to reign in the checklist mindset: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Modeling

March 18, 2016 by

LettersThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 19, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Modeling, or making thinking around behavior, concepts, and skills explicit, is one of the most powerful instructional strategies an educator can use. It is also one of the hardest, especially when it comes to those skills and processes we, as adults, have internalized. These three tips are great way to grow your modeling skills:

Plan it Out

First, identify exactly what it is that needs to be modeled. Is it a behavior? Is it a physical skill? Is it a cognitive skill? Whatever it is, be sure to name it. I might decide that my students need to see a model of someone adding to a conversation, so that is what I will call the skill: adding to a conversation. Next, I am going to think about all the times I have done whatever it is I am modeling and break it down into super-obvious steps. This part can be hard, so take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to revise the steps! So for “adding to a conversation” I might come up with these steps: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Goal Setting

March 11, 2016 by

EggsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 11, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

I used to cringe inside whenever I heard the phrase “goal setting” in relation to my students. Images of ladder and step graphic organizers with goals like “get good grades” or “play professional basketball” with half-hearted steps like “work hard” or “make the team” made me want to give up before I even started.

​Now I think about it differently. Goal setting is about deciding to do something and planning to get it done. Simple as that. Big or small, lofty or humble, anything can be a goal. Stop and get eggs: goal. Get a PHD: goal. Learn to tango: goal. Stop losing my keys: goal. Answer emails: goal. Walk for 20-30 minutes every day: goal. Drink less coffee: goal. I could go on. The goal itself does not matter. What matters is the process, what you do between deciding to do something and doing it.

Plenty of learners can state a goal. It is in the planning and doing that they struggle. Chances are most of the learners in our classes have not actually been taught how to do this. Chances are most learners get limited instruction and practice with how to do this.

In learner-centered environments, goal setting and completion plays a critical role. We need to model for students a variety of strategies for planning and completing goals. Then we need to give them repeated, intentional practice with those strategies. Then we need to guide them to figure out which ones work best for them, and use them. (more…)

10 Simple Lesson Plans for Scaffolding Student-Led Projects

March 10, 2016 by

laptop-studentsThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on January 17, 2016. 

When working with my high school students on implementing their own student-led projects, I adapted much of my project-based learning (PBL) curriculum from a guide titled Youth Engaged in Leadership in Learning (YELL), created by Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Families.

Adapted from the YELL Curriculum Guide (I specifically used Unit 3; Unit 1 is on Communication and Unit 2 is on Leadership- both have great ideas), this was my (shortened) version of my 10 lesson plan for scaffolding student-led projects in my classroom.

Getting Started with Student-Led Projects

  • Assess. Decide how you will access the project and student grade(s) ahead of time and communicate that at the start. I suggest some sort of electronic portfolio (I used Google Docs) where assignments and formative assessments exist at the end of each lesson. At the end, there I had a performance-based assessment with a rubric. There was also a final reflection paper due at the end of the project.
  • Adapt. Flex this up or down according to grade level and skills.
  • Relate to Content. This will work in middle and/or high school advisory, social studies, language arts, or other project-based block.
  • Plan. This can happen in 2 weeks or 6 weeks (or longer). You could also massively extend lessons, especially lessons 6, 7 and 8 and this could become a 6+ week unit. Use your creativity and know what will work best for your students. You are on your way to building successful student-led projects.
  • Involve. Involve other adults in the building, and let parents know this is happening. Line up adult mentors who could come in to the building and help students on particular projects that line up with their expertise, or use online tools to connect students to mentors/adult experts.

Lesson 1 – The World is Ours. What Do You Care About?

Have students brainstorm ideas, problems and concerns. In my classroom, we did this in groups and the list was LONG. It filled two butcher paper sheets long. Students can brainstorm. There are no wrong answers. Examples include: drug abuse, lack of internet at home, more access to video games (this will get listed as an injustice), too many stray dogs in your neighborhood, alcoholism, homelessness. Debrief. (more…)

Henry County Schools: What All of This Means for Schools

February 24, 2016 by
carla montgomery_HCS4

Carla Montgomery

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the fourth of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

During my visit to Henry County Schools (HCS), we stopped off at two schools for conversations with principals and teachers about their experience to date. Luella Elementary, led by Carla Montgomery, is in the planning stage. The nearby Luella High School was in its fourth month of implementation.

Luella Elementary

Principal Carla Montgomery walked us to the fifth grade math classroom of Ms. Davis to provide an example of what she hoped their entire school might look like in a few years. As I watched students work independently, in small groups, at computers lined up against the wall, or with Ms. Davis, my first thought was that I was observing a station rotation model. However, as I talked to students and watched them change where they were working or the tools they were using to learn, I realized they were moving around as needed. Montgomery noted, “It seemed very chaotic at first, but Mrs. Davis continued working with kids, acclimating them to making decisions based on their learning needs, and now they know what is expected.” (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Questions to Help Build Transparency

February 5, 2016 by

TransparencyThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 30, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Transparency is a key component of a learner-centered classroom. Being completely clear and open about what students are learning, what they have to do to show they have learned it, and where they are in their learning gives them the map and builds the capacity to direct their own learning.

These are questions I use to reflect on and build transparency of learning in a classroom:

  1. What learning targets are we working on?
  2. How does this task relate to the learning targets?
  3. How will I know when I have met this target?
  4. What comes next in my learning? Within the target or after the target?
  5. How does this learning connect to other learning?

(more…)

The Overwhelming Act of Assessing Writing in a CBE School

January 22, 2016 by

CB1If you’ve ever been an English teacher, you know what it’s like to teach writing to 95 students who all hold different skill sets in writing.

You know what it’s like to helplessly stare at a pile of 95 essays, knowing that your students need immediate, detailed feedback to guide their revision process.

You also know the frustration of grading those 95 essays, feeling hopeless and disappointed when students are still making the same mistakes as they were on the last essay, even though you went over it hundreds of times during class.

And then revision, arguably the most important piece of the writing process, never happens, because you ran out of time and they had to do it on their own.

And the cycle repeats on the next essay. You cry. You emotionally eat lots of cheese and chocolate.

But because you believe in a competency-based system, and you know that students need to continually practice their writing skills to get better at it, you figure out a better way to teach it. (more…)

Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”

January 21, 2016 by

HandsThis post originally appeared at Edutopia on May 11, 2015.

We all have students that just want to “get it right.” We all have students that constantly seek the attention of the teacher. “Did I get this right?” “Is this what you want?” Now while it’s certainly a good thing to affirm students in their learning, many times we want students to be creative with their learning. We allow them to own their learning and create assessment products where they can show us what they know in new and inventive ways. Because of this, there isn’t “one right answer,” yet our students are often trained to think that there can be only one. (more…)

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