Tag: instruction

More Reflections on Why

Another impact of the Simon Sinek book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is that I have been giving thought to how I could put my why into one concise, easily understood statement. While not ready to declare it as final, the following is the current incarnation:

To facilitate meaningful and engaging learning experiences that equip students to reach their dreams.

Here are a few key elements:

  1. Facilitate–my role is to provide tools, training, resources needed for learning.
  2. Meaningful–meaning is a highly personal thing, and we should look for and offer diverse learning opportunities and technologies reflective of the outside world
  3. Engaging–while digital learning tools are exciting to a large percentage of kids, they do not equal engagement by default. The focus still needs to be on powerful classroom practice that pulls learners in.
  4. Experiences–with a nod to John Dewey, learning is most effective within the context of powerful experiences. Do the technologies and strategies I promote create these?
  5. Equip…their dreams–we as educators are beholden to standards. Goals for our students are dictated from ivory towers and governments. Ultimately, however, I think most of us could see no higher level of success than if our students returned to us to tell us of big dreams we inspired and how they achieved those dreams.

Finally, another thought hit me yesterday: What would it look like if we taught our kids to articulate their whys? How might making these concrete affect how our students approach learning? Would our schools even fit their whys at all?

The Teacher’s Role in the Blended Learning Environment

Source: https://flic.kr/p/5KS8nD

Beth Holland has a great post in Edutopia on what is necessary for blended learning to be disruptive, transformative, and powerful. There are so many excellent discussion points in Beth’s article that it’s hard to begin to respond. What resonates most with me at the moment, though, is the role of the teacher in a blended learning environment (BLE).

Very significantly, Beth makes the point that the BLE should take control out of the teacher’s hands and make learning more individualized and learner-centered. As she points out,

“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process.”

The blended classroom should offer students not only a variety of means to get information, but options for communicating and applying learning. Contrary to this, many so-called BLEs merely digitize the traditional, teacher-centered lessons, activities, and assessments of yesterday. Paraphrasing a point I made in a recent conversation with a wonderful, forward-thinking educator, “Simply substituting the teacher’s voice on a video for a lecture is not transformative and is, in fact, quite likely to be less engaging.”

Source: https://flic.kr/p/dryrWw

If Beth’s points about moving away from the teacher-centered, traditional mode of instruction are viewed as valid, what, then, become of the teacher’s role? I have a few roles I think are as or even more important in a BLE:

  • Stage Setter. There is a real art in catching hold of the imagination and engaging students in learning. Teachers should be skilled at asking head-scratcher questions, provoking debate, stimulating questions, etc. This is also where scaffolding and differentiation of instruction can take place.
  • Resource Gatherer. The teacher likely has a broader range of sources for information or creating/sharing products than many students. Once a student is hooked and engaged in learning/doing, the teacher should actively provide the tools (websites, books, software, outside experts, etc.) to get them where they want to be (as needed).
  • Model Learner. Students are not born with the complete set of skills needed to be powerfully equipped, independent learners of everything. Teachers should model skills such as asking deep, open-ended questions, evaluating the quality & usefulness of information, organization, effective communication strategies, collaboration skills, empathy, and more.
  • Co-Pilot. Even enthusiastic learners engaged in powerful, student-driven learning often benefit from redirection. The teacher in a BLE should be actively communicating and monitoring every learner to identify misconceptions or guide students to more effective strategies, resources, etc.
  • Assessment PartnerUnless the robots take over, the teacher will always play the key role in the assessment of student learning, both formative and summative. In a BLE, students’ roles in assessing their own learning and doing should be amplified, but the teacher should be the highest authority in classroom assessment.
  • Motivator. The best teachers have always made children hungry to learn, hungry to achieve. That doesn’t change in a BLE–teachers provide leadership and motivation for learning by helping students understand the power and benefits they can expect. They create a welcoming and positive atmosphere that makes the classroom a desirable place to be.

Blended learning has been proven to be effective and impactful, but it can only reach its potential when the classroom teacher abandons the roles of the past. As Beth states,

“Blended learning can mean a step forward toward something greater—giving students agency over their own learning, but that is dependent on the direction chosen by the teacher.”

Many of our students will embrace the computers, the websites, the iPads, the videos regardless of how we teach, because students simply love the resources. We have to teach differently, better, though, or we should consider spending our education dollars in more worthwhile places.

60 Seconds to a Better PLN

VERY quick video follow-up to the previous blog post and podcast. Hopefully, this will answer some of the questions I’ve received from a few Twitter newcomers.

TCEA Areas 10/11 Conference Links

Thanks to all who participated in my sessions/workshop today at the area TCEA conference. As promised, here are the links to the resources that were shared and a few more. Let me know if I can provide anything else! Also, if you attended either my own session on Voicethread or another on the tool, please add your implementation ideas to the Voicethread Wallwisher wall below. Thanks again!

Workshop: Collaborative Storytelling with Voicethread

Image collections

Not Again! Presentation Tools That Aren’t Just Another PowerPoint

PowerPoint sharing/collaboration/tools

Alternatives to PowerPoint

Spread the Word: Generating School or Classroom Buzz with Web 2.0


Social Networks

Video Sites for Creating Your Own Channel

Streaming Video Channels


21st Century Skills Resources

    21st Century Skills and Standardized Testing–Not Mutually Exclusive (Pt.1)

    One of the most frustrating things for me, as an Instructional Technology Specialist, is breaking down thebarricade barriers created by the present-day environment that places standardized testing ahead of so much of what the real-world actually demands. Skills such as problem-solving, collaborating, creativity, and the like are pushed aside, often only rearing their heads late in the school year, once the standardized testing is completed. Teachers and administrators are under such pressure to perform on the exams that they often reply with, “I would love to use technology, but I need to get my kids ready for the test,” or, “I don’t have time for extra stuff right now–the test is coming up soon.” What is most unfortunate is that bad practices have been preached for so long now (repetitive practice tests, worksheets, skill-and-drill, etc.) as the solution that many educators have come to believe that they are THE way to raise student achievement. What results is that students end up with a limited, narrow skill-set focused on only strategies that will nudge up test scores.

    This practice runs contradictory to much educational research, which supports the idea that students truly achieve more when taught broader skills, and when the curriculum is enriched, meaningful, and engaging. It also shows a disregard for the cries of business and industry, who want graduates who can perform much higher level tasks. So, then, what is the answer? How does a school balance the demands of a poorly-crafted accountability system while still preparing its students for life in the new millennium? While I don’t pretend to know all the answers, I can see some possible steps in the right direction, based upon the research of respected educators and the experiences of many educators and myself. This will be part 1 in a series that will attempt to offer some practical ways that teachers can utilize technology, specifically the tools of the Read/Write Web, to accomplish both goals.

    First of all, it is important to understand what is meant by 21st Century Skills. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these include:

    • Creativity and Innovation
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
    • Communication and Collaboration
    • Information Literacy
    • Media Literacy
    • ICT (Information, Communications, and Technology) Literacy
    • Flexibility and Adaptability
    • Initiative and Self-direction
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
    • Productivity and Accountability
    • Leadership and Responsibility

    (Framework for 21st Century Learning–pdf)

    It is fair to say that these skills are not reflected in today’s standardized tests, which focus on basic skills almost exclusively.Students testing 21st Century skills require learners to be able to look at information from many sources at many angles, to twist and shape it, to seek the input of others, and to create a product that is new, unique, and useful.

    Fortunately, there are some basic skills and instructional concepts that have practical applications towards both the demands of the testing system and the demands of the real world. And I believe the tools of the read/write web can be utilized to foster these skills in our students and create learning environments that encourage higher student achievement, not just on the tests, but in their broader academic pursuits. It is possible to do all of this without boring students to the point of disengagement or even rebellion with the standard, drill-and-kill or pre-packaged approach of too many educators.

    In their book, Classroom Instruction that Works1, Robert Marzanno, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock touch on several key skills, including:

    • Identifying Similarities and Differences
    • Summarizing and Note-Taking
    • Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
    • Homework and Practice
    • Nonlinguistic Representations
    • Cooperative Learning
    • Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
    • Generating and Testing Hypotheses
    • Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

    The authors examined and combined dozens of research studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of these skills, not only as general tools, but in actually bringing about higher student achievement on the tests. What Marzanno et al propose is that more emphasis is placed upon skills that overlap the curriculum areas and provide students with tools that will help withTest almost any academic task, rather than simply teaching a 5-step procedure to finding a square root.

    In addition to teaching students broadly applicable skills, teachers can foster an environment that encourages students to be more engaged and to perform at a level that will push them beyond the basics. In his book, Working on the Work2, Phillip Schlechty proposes that teachers focus less on specific skills and more on the nature and quality of the work students are asked to complete. By getting students truly, deeply involved in what they are doing, they will work harder, learn more, and retain that knowledge better. He outlines ten design qualities for student work that can encourage such performance:

    • Content and Substance: Educators, in collaboration with the community, identify the essential learnings and skills that students must master.
    • Organization of Knowledge: Content is organized so that access to the material is clear and relatively easy for all students.
    • Product Focus: Engaging work almost always focuses on a product or performance of value to students.
    • Clear and Compelling Product Standards: The Standards for assessing the products or the performances are clear and important to students.
    • Protection from Adverse Consequences for Initial Failures: Students receive feedback on their work and have opportunities to reach the Standard throughout the process.
    • Affirmation of Performance: Student products are observed by persons other than the teacher.
    • Affiliation: The design of the work requires cooperative action among students and adults.
    • Novelty and Variety: The work is varied in methods and format so that students use a variety of skills, media, and modes of analysis.
    • Choice: Students are provided with choice in the ways of doing the work and the methods of presentation.
    • Authenticity: The work has significance and is related to consequences in the present lives of students.

    (Source: Fife Public Schools)

    By putting more thought into the type of work students are asked to complete, Schlechty asserts, they will achieve greater heights in terms of daily performance, behavior, attendance, and, of course, on the tests.

    What I will be trying to do in this series is to focus on student use of Web 2.0 tools to learn and apply the skills Marzanno outlined, as well as to create the type of academic environment envisioned by Schlechty. By doing so, I hope that it can be demonstrated that it is not necessary to abandon the good practices of quality teaching and learning in the name of state-mandated testing. Rather, the narrow goals of such testing can and will be reached by teaching a broader, more meaningful curriculum, and through the use of web-based tools that will foster true student engagement. Reader feedback will be greatly appreciated, as this is something of a brainstorm, so please chime in with suggestions, disagreements, or questions.

    Coming next: Classroom blogging

    1Marzanno, Robert J. et al. Classroom Instruction that Works. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005.

    2Schlechty, Phillip C. Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

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