Tag: teachers and teaching

Behavior Management Tools Might Not Be Best for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on September 14, 2017. It is the first in a series on the practical side of cultivating student ownership of learning, produced by JFF’s Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative.

High-quality learning is often messy. It can be noisy and nonlinear and full of surprises. That may be why many of us seek to control it. We establish rules, plans, and procedures to contain the unpredictable outcomes of our students’ learning. And we distinguish behavior from academics as if the way learners are expected to accomplish their learning teaches them nothing about how to behave as learners.

The trouble is, many educators were taught to think about classroom management and behavior management as activities of control. Classroom management is seen as organizing and structuring the flow of activities and expectations to maximize efficiency and task accomplishment, while behavior management is framed as the teacher’s efforts to manage and respond to disruptions.

But what if control was the wrong impulse? What if our efforts to control behavior sometimes worked against our loftiest educational goals regarding college/career readiness, critical thinking, social-emotional health, and civic preparedness? What if there was another way to achieve our objectives besides control?

There is! With the explicit goal of fostering learner independence, student-centered learning calls for a different set of approaches, ones that are more akin to learner facilitation than learner control. Rather than prioritizing efficiency, order, and compliance, student-centered approaches draw from a wide variety of educational research (see the Students at the Center Research Portal) to create learning environments that inspire students’ academic, social-emotional, and metacognitive development. Recognizing that emotion is an integral component of all learning, facilitators of student-centered learning seek to personalize an optimal mix of risk-taking, disequilibrium, accomplishment, and confidence in each individual student. By intentionally modeling and coaching empathy, cultivating relationships with and among learners, and establishing a culture of partnership, trust, and support, learner facilitators move past merely controlling behaviors to cultivating motivations and inspiring engagement. And in the busy, messy, nonlinear world of high-quality student-centered learning, these approaches are used to drive the goal setting, self-regulation, and success that lead to social behaviors and mature thinking processes.

Here’s an example for one learner facilitator’s opening activities, well-timed for the beginning of the school year. After introductions, first-year teacher Nate Gray launches his classes by engaging students in collaboratively creating a T-Chart with the headings “Expectations of Me” and “Expectations of Each Other”: (more…)

Redesigning the Syllabus to Reflect the Learning Journey

October 9, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on September 10, 2017.

Personalized learning is still in its infancy—as are the curricular tools and resources available to support teachers in implementing it.

Currently, there is no shortage of articles offering a high-level look at how and why personalized learning will impact student growth, and conference sessions where teachers are encouraged to change the way they teach, but not given the tools to modify their instructional practices. There are plenty of resources with step-by-step guides and blueprints designed to walk teachers through a process to personalize learning. Additionally, there is a growing number of online platforms and prepackaged curricular products (both free and at cost)—not to mention the new stamp on existing tools—you know, the sticker that says “personalize learning with (insert product name.)”

But, for personalized learning to be personal—it must be less formal and formulaic. We need to design student-centered learning experiences and that takes time, practice and support.

The Syllabus Gets a Facelift

If we think about learning as a journey that gets compartmentalized in formal education, then the first experience for middle and high school students is often the syllabus. In many ways, the traditional syllabus places restrictions on when, what and how students will learn. It sets expectations for how growth will be measured and what penalties will be enforced for late work or missing class. Most syllabi lack flexibility and aren’t very engaging; which contradicts everything we know about high quality teaching and learning.

I currently work at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas, as the Head of Middle and Upper School and I teach one 8th grade geography class. Back in 2011, I was getting my feet wet with blended learning and experimenting with new pedagogical practices in my geography class. As a result of my recent transition to a blended learning environment and my desire to turn control of learning over to my students, I decided the traditional syllabus needed to be turned on its head.

Redesigning the Syllabus Starting With Student Experience

Conventional syllabi are developed from the perspective of the teacher—designed to present what he or she plans to include in a course. I wanted to develop an alternative version that looked through the lens of the student, and my vision was to tailor each one to reflect what a particular learner would be doing every step of the way throughout the course. This was not simply a more visually appealing version of a classic syllabus, it was a radical overhaul of the student experience with the primary goal of changing their perception of their role as a learner.

This drastic class redesign demanded that I ask myself some big questions: what content was required, what elements of learning could students control and what traditional and new measures I could use to gauge progress? Almost every question led to another. How much control could I give students over their modalities of learning, what would the challenges and successes of self-paced learning be, and if students had more control over how they demonstrated mastery, then what would rubrics look like?

Seven years ago, that first course redesign was a big shift for me. I had been teaching eighth grade geography for four years at that point, and historically, I had used a textbook and pacing chart to cover the curriculum. I used traditional grading practices, assessing student progress through quizzes, tests, project, midterms and finals each year. I was confident that students were learning and their grades supported that. There was little urgency for change—certainly not from my administration or peers. But I had this nagging feeling that my students deserved better. I knew they could make more progress if they had more flexibility to make decisions—but that couldn’t happen within the rigid structure that existed.

The heaviest lift for that first redesign was figuring out how to parcel out the course in a way that would give students more flexibility and choice. Abandoning traditional units and chapters and coming up with new potential segments of learning was a strenuous process. For that first one, I divided my class into three segments: Foundation, Content and Skills, and Assessment. I worked tirelessly to gather old and new resources, align them to each segment, and upload them to a website so that my students could access them at their own pace. (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…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

September 27, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicSummit Public Schools published The Science of Summit, which describes the research and design choices made in Summit Public Schools. Chris Sturgis considers this a must-read. Someday every school will have a paper on the science of their school that describes the research, beliefs and values that are the foundation of their school design and instruction.

Social Emotional Learning

  • CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, is leading an effort to improve measurement of social emotional learning.
  • Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is releasing its first case study today, Putting It All Together, which discusses showing how schools and school districts across the country are enhancing learning when they teach a curriculum that simultaneously build students’ social, emotional, and academic skills.

Thought Leadership

Personalized Learning

  • In the blog “Let’s Put Personalized Learning in its Proper Place,” Andy Calkins explores personalized learning as part of a larger whole.
  • This article shows how personalized, competency-based education allows for deeper learning and gives students the freedom to follow their passions.
  • Atlanta educators reflect on lessons from their personalized learning initiative.

Grading

  • George Couros wrote an article advocating for a greater focus on mastery over grades, holding the same high standards for all students.
  • Kristy Louden, a teacher, wrote this blog on ways to get students to read and reflect on feedback through delayed grading.
  • A Parents website article says mastery-based learning could become the new standard, and that A-F grading could be eliminated.

Diplomas

  • Tom Vander Ark outlines a proposal for an Innovation Diploma in this Education Week article.
  • Learn about the Mastery Transcript Consortium, which is 54 independent schools that have banned together to rethink the high school transcript and change the college admissions process.

(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…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

August 22, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicThis VUE article, written by Scott F. Marion, Jonathan Vander Els, and Paul Leather, looks at how New Hampshire’s new performance assessment system focuses on reciprocal accountability and shared leadership among teachers and leaders at the school, district and state levels.

Grading and Transcripts

  • This article poses the question, what if your high school transcript didn’t include grades?
  • School District 51 is phasing out valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions for high school graduates, starting with this year’s ninth-grade students. The students who graduate in 2021 will receive recognitions similar to the Latin honor system used in colleges and universities — cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. School districts across the country are considering the change or have already gotten rid of valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions to focus less on grading and more on broader definitions of student success.

A Spotlight on Pittsfield Middle High School

Updates in New England

News

  • 100+ educators and administrators from 25 schools participated in Thomas College’s conference to innovate for the future of Maine’s education—an example of higher education responding to the changing needs of the K-12 system.
  • According to The Heartland Institute in Illinois, competency-based education is gaining ground nationwide.
  • Districts are recognizing the importance of teachers having time to learn, plan and collaborate.
  • This article shares promising findings from the recent RAND report analyzing Next Generation Learning Challenges schools’ implementation of next gen learning models.

(more…)

Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-Based Learning

August 17, 2017 by

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

However, the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.” (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…)

Equity for ELs: Learning English in a Competency-Based System

August 2, 2017 by

Laureen Avery

Across the country, educators and policymakers are coming to the same conclusion: the structure of the traditional system is a barrier. The premise of competency education is that the traditional education structure, which is designed to sort students, can be replaced with one that is designed for every student to succeed. When we design for ensuring mastery, we have to build around equity and draw upon the research that informs us about how students learn best.

Chris Sturgis, 2017. In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency- Based Education.

Public education (and public educators) has made a promise that every student will have the opportunity to learn and develop the skills and competencies needed for success beyond high school. It is clear that traditional, established structures have broken this promise for many students, and it is imperative that the developing models of education address these past inequities as core elements in their fundamental structures and design.

English learners (ELs) are one of the groups that fared poorly under the traditional models. Next generation education models (personalized learning, blended learning, competency-based education, and others) are slowly developing an understanding of how to translate beliefs and values into actual practices that transform the core experience of education for English learners. Creating new models that work for English learners must move beyond the need for cultural awareness and into a deep knowledge of how to nurture proficiency in academic language.

iNACOL recently published the results of a broad-based information collection activity in “Next Generation Learning Models For English Language Learners” (Natalie Truong, June 2017). One of the promising practices highlighted was the use of language progressions to support students in a personalized, competency-based system. (more…)

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