Personalized Learning

Who-says-you-can't-Promoting-experimentation

How to promote experimentation during the COVID-19 shutdowns

March 19, 2020

There are many, many real challenges associated with these school closings.  I don’t take them lightly and I appreciate the leaders working to ensure equity, provide services and promote a caring culture from a distance.  To those of you doing that, I thank you.

In the midst of this, though, we can find opportunities. 

Now is a time to ask ourselves how we have been constrained by our school calendars and daily schedules.  Now is a time to encourage experimentation and growth so that we might return to school with fresh ideas.

Here are few possibilities…

What if…

  • Instead of teachers meeting with their classes or sections, they met according to interest/need groups?  In high school and middle school, teachers teach multiple sections of the same course.  Why not mix and match students for new groupings? Some might be based on need and teachers could use the time for focused tutorials.  Others might be based on interest and might be more student-led while the teacher observes or facilitates?
  • Teachers dropped in, or even guest-lectured, in one another’s classes?  A fourth grade teacher might drop into a third grade class to get a sense of where her future students stand.  A social studies/history teacher might drop into a math class to get a sense of how his students approach that subject?
  • Teachers paired up to create optional interdisciplinary interactive lectures via zoom? Math and science teachers might come together to show students how their subjects merge.  ELA and History teachers might do the same.

There are so many more.  We have allowed ourselves to be limited by any number of constraints—the length of day and of classes, the limited time for professional interaction, etc.  We have an opportunity right now to go beyond class time and physical walls.  Let’s see what we can do with it.

I would love to hear how others are experimenting…

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teacher-with-students

Teachers, are you afraid to say yes?

March 11, 2020

Are you afraid to say yes?

I bet you are, at least a little bit.

Saying NO is easier.  It’s safer.  It lets you maintain control.  NO is the word of restraint.

I think that’s why it’s a first response for so many teachers.  Too many “yeses” and all hell breaks loose —or so we think.

And, like everything, that can be true when the response is reactive rather than proactive.

But a well-placed YES can change everything.

Just a few days ago, I was working with a team of High School English teachers who are working to make their classrooms even more student-centered.  One of the tools we’ve used to contemplate the shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning is Scott McLeod and Julie Graber’s terrific 4 Shifts Protocol.  We use the protocol to review lesson plans and determine a focus area for observation.  We then visit one another’s classrooms and provide feedback.

Sabrina had a terrific plan. She and her colleagues had developed a research unit on genocide.  Students first read The Book Thief, did some group research on the Holocaust and were now researching other genocides.  They then had a wide choice of methods for demonstrating their learning to one another—including infographics, slide presentations, etc. Thinking about the shifts, I asked her who had determined the assessment products–Was it the students, the teachers, or both?  It was the teachers, she told me.  Had they asked the students for ideas, I wondered? Or had they considered leaving a space for “other” in case the students wanted to try something different?  No, they just hadn’t thought of it–but she agreed that would be great.

In her classroom, we observed actively engaged students. Their curiosity was ignited and several were toggling between researching their topic and determining which of the products would be the best vehicle for displaying their knowledge.

The plan called for students to create individual products, though they could and were talking to one another to get feedback, discuss the pros and cons of presentation choices, etc.

One group of students, however, appeared to be collaborating at a deeper level and out of the blue they asked Sabrina if they could create a podcast as their final product. It was as though they had been eavesdropping on our lesson review conversation!

Sabrina immediately gave an emphatic “YES!”.

Later, she told me that a day earlier she might have said, ‘no”.

Why?

Because she hadn’t considered this possibility.  She was more comfortable staying within the lines of what the teacher team had created.  But, based on our earlier conversations, she decided to say yes and give the students more ownership.

So, what changed her mind:

  1. She’s convinced that more student ownership leads to deeper engagement AND deeper learning.
  2. She put the responsibility on the students to make sure their proposal still met the requirements of the assignment.
  3. She plans to have all students write a reflection about what worked and what didn’t and what they might do differently next time.

What’s the worst that can happen? The students might find this wasn’t the best way to demonstrate their learning. So what? In addition to self-reflection, students will also give feedback about their peers’ products.  All of this will build their metacognition while also providing Sabrina and her colleagues the information they need if they decide to use the project again in future classes.

Win-win.

And all because she said yes.

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Blended Learning is a Good Start

Blended Learning is a Good Start, but…

September 12, 2019

A model of personalized learning?

I recently visited a school district that  had recently implemented blended learning.  Specifically, teachers were using the station rotation model of blended learning.  It was a clear and welcome departure from the teacher at front, student in rows model that had been an instructional staple.

As the superintendent welcomed us, he said, that blended learning allows us to assess and intervene in real time, which he considered key to personalization.

Hmmm.  I’m not so sure.  

Let me be clear, I’m a big fan of using technology to personalize learning.  I applaud and push all schools—K-12—to get to a 1:1 learning environment so that all students can easily and quickly use technology for a variety of things.

And, I think that the station-rotation model of instruction represents a huge and welcome instructional shift.  Done well, it allows for rich collaborative time with peers, independent time to work and struggle productively, and time in small groups with a teacher who is using all forms of data to hone in on individual students’ learning.

But that doesn’t mean it’s personalized.

For learning to be personalized, students must own their learning.  They must have a clear sense of the what, why and the how.

The What: Standards and Competencies

If learning is to be personalized, we adults must clearly articulate what mastery looks like in a given course.  We must have determined power standards, unpacked those standards and created proficiency scales so that we, students and parents have clear indicators of what it takes to get to mastery.

Even our youngest students can and should understand what is expected of them, what they will be learning and what it will look like for them when they’ve “got it”.

The Why: What Will I Do With This?

Courses of study and units within them must be tied to Essential Questions.  Those EQs  put the learning into a larger context and transferability.  Additionally, connections can and should be made to real-world applications. We adults must also understand that the goal is deeper learning. 

The How:  How Will be able to demonstrate mastery?

Ownership, voice and choice. Station-rotation can be heavily teacher-directed.  No doubt, students are often more on-task in small groups than in the traditional teacher at the front model, but they still may not get to those higher levels of engagement in which they direct the learning.  Providing more opportunities for students to direct their learning and to truly engage with the learning, via long-term projects, for example would allow student to truly personalize.

Blended learning is a must for us in 21st century classrooms. Teachers can use a number of resources and platforms to allow students to dig deeper into content and skills, to take real-time assessments and get directed feedback, and to collaborate with peers in and out of the classroom using online tools.  It’s a necessary first step to deep, joyful and personalized learning. 

But it’s not the end.

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5 Questions to Get Students Engaged

5 Questions to Get Students Engaged

August 22, 2019

Engagement.  The magic word.  I’ve conducted countless Instructional Rounds, learning walks and other observations focused on engagement. Are kids engaged? It’s a great question.  It’s really THE question. And, unfortunately, all too often the answer is no.

Why? Part of it is the sense that stuff is happening TO them—and much of it is a surprise. Many of us advocate for greater student agency—voice and choice over their learning.  But first, we’ve need to provide a roadmap.

As educators, we often have the benefit of some curricula to guide us.  So, we know what we are teaching, how we want to teach and where we want our students to end up.

Often, though, students are left in the dark.  They show up with some vague idea of what they are learning. When asked, they answer with the subject—math- or maybe even the topic (fractions) or the text (The Great Gatsby) but not much beyond that.  And we wonder why they are not more engaged, more present, more excited.

Getting kids to be cognitively engaged depends on a lot of factors and lots of hard and great work by teachers.

To start, though, they …and we should be able to answer the following 5 questions. (Templates are at the bottom of this post)

Here are 5 questions that students should be able to answer:

  1. What will I know and be able to do at the end of this year?
  2. How will I show what I’ve learned?
  3. How will we learn?
  4. What do I do when I struggle?
  5. Why am I learning this?*

These questions will be familiar to those who have relied on the work of Dufour, et al, on building professional learning communities and those who have engaged in a backwards design curriculum process like Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design.

1) What will I know and be able to do at the end of this year?

Include your content standards—but not all of them.  If your district/school has identified power standards, use those.  If not, you determine what’s most important and let them know that’s the focus.

Also, include those life and learning skills that they will gain.  You might want to guarantee greater collaboration or problem-solving skills, for example.

2) How will I show what I’ve learned?

What are some examples of formative and summative assessments? Does the teacher assess HW? Is there a lot of writing? Is there a major project at the end of the course or each quarter? Will there be an exhibition of learning?

A grading policy is helpful here as well.  (I’ve got lots of thoughts on what that can and should look like, but the important thing is that students understand the practices up front.)

If you allow retakes and redos, a clear explanation of how that’s done and the impact on grades is useful.

3) How will we learn?

What are the usual activities?  Do we take a lot of notes? Will we participate in socratic seminar? Are we expected to explore via cooperative lab work?

What skills are needed/will be developed?  Are we expected to read, speak, explain, draw, act, sing?

Here, I would give students an opportunity to reflect on their level of comfort with each of these and some strategies to ask for and receive help.  For example, the painfully shy student or one with a speech impairment might dread public speaking.  Knowing it’s expected and how they will be supported allows students and teacher to be proactive.

4) What do I do when I struggle?

This is a great time to reinforce a growth mindset.  Let them know and discuss how anything worth doing can sometimes be difficult but that we are all in this together.

This is also where kids need some specifics about their access to additional help. How and when can they meet with you one on one? Do you take email questions? Are they assigned a partner to work with first?

You can keep coming back to this by asking students to reflect regularly on where they got stumped and what they did —or continue to do—to make their way forward.  Of course, a grading system that doesn’t punish kids for not “getting it right away” or indeed a PBL system that is built on struggle is helpful here, but even in the most traditional environments, this can be useful.

5) Why am I learning this?*

Arguably, this should come first,  But I recommend that you explore this together through the school year.  Students can self-assess on this as a part of reflections after summative or formative assessments. This can be a homework assignment once a quarter or every few weeks—ask parents, grandparents, Google, etc—Why should I learn this? What can I do with this now? What will I do with this in the future? How does this tie into what I already know or what I am learning in other areas of school or life?

Come back to this often—weekly, quarterly, at the beginning and end of discrete units of study.  The more students know about the what, why and how  of the lean ringing, the more they can invest of themselves in the learning.

Templates

Here’s a course overview template teachers can use for their own course planning.

Here’s a template to use with  students and families.

Please let me know if this is useful and/or how the templates can be improved.

Wishing you a great year of deep and joyful learning!

Lori

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Personalize learning with empathy

How to personalize learning? Start with empathy.

July 1, 2019

I recently caught up with a  friend of mine, let’s call her Sheila.  We hadn’t talked in some time and I was glad to catch up on her life and, especially, to hear how her daughter, Carolyn, was doing.

A History of Illness

Carolyn, now  in high school, has lived with a severe chronic illness her whole life that has increasingly caused frequent and sometimes prolonged hospitalizations, which, of course, keep her out of school.  During her freshman year, Carolyn missed four months of school and was just transitioning back when her mom and I spoke.  Knowing that working with the school system to accommodate Carolyn has been akin to a part-time job for Sheila, I asked how it was going. 

An Empathetic School

Sheila told me the school had been great.  They have a program for students with chronic illnesses.  Not only does the team work together to provide tutoring, they also support students socially and emotionally.  An example of their accommodation, Sheila told me, was that Carolyn was allowed to show proficiency on major assignments, rather than being held accountable (I.e., graded down) for missing assignments.

I was overjoyed to hear this.  Navigating schoolwork and missed assignments has been a major source of stress for both Carolyn and Sheila, exacerbated, no doubt, by the fact that Carolyn attends one of the highest performing high schools in her state. KUDOS to this high school for creating such program and by doing so, showing empathy for students whose very real struggles would prevent them from passing their courses if not for these accommodations. Other schools offer similar alternative programs for students who, for a variety of reasons, need a more personalized approach.

Good for one or good for all?

But then, I have to wonder—are some of these accommodations just good practice that can be extended to all students?  If teachers realize that some assignments are simply not essential (and thus can be not “counted”) then it stands to reason that they’ve already done the hard work of identifying what is and is not essential—which standards must be mastered, what each student must know and be able to do to be considered proficient in a particular course of study and allowed to move forward. So why not apply this philosophy to the entire school?

This isn’t about missing assignments or not holding students accountable.  It’s about how we think about learning in general.  If we can allow flexibilities for some, let’s do the same for all.  Giving each student what she needs, when she needs it just makes sense.  If we do that, the learning will follow.

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