Wednesday, March 30, 2016

4 Key Personalization Practices to Spot in a Rotation Station Classroom

In my work with schools, I am often asked the question, How can I tell if the teacher PD around blended learning is working? What can I see in the classroom? These questions speak to the recognized nuance of effective blended practice. Kids on devices does not mean learning is taking place.

As the goal of blended practice is to personalize the learning for students, there should be evidence of this personalization in play when we walk into a classroom. In a classroom rotation model, where students move from station to station in small groups, the following indicators provide such evidence.

1. Different Paths at the Digital Station
Students should be engaged with digital curriculum that offers at least a few different learning paths. For example, if students are on IXL practicing grammar, teachers or students should have selected lessons aligned to individual or at least small group needs.

2. Choice
A personalized environment allows for students to participate as drivers of their own learning. In a rotation classroom, there are many opportunities to provide choice to students.
o   Project-based learning station with project options catered to different learning modes
o   Digital curriculum which allows students to choose a skill or starting point
o   The use of choice boards or personalized learning logs which empower students to choose their path and reflect on it

3. Voice
The best blended classrooms do not rely solely on digital curriculum to engage learners. Students need to share their learning with each other and learn from peers. Rotations designed to include student voice may offer

o   Discussion threads
o   Sharing via tools like Padlet
o   Student blogging
o   Face-to-face presentations of learning

4. Strategic Grouping and Different Lessons
A common feature of the classroom rotation model is the teacher station where small groups rotate into a mini lesson by the teacher. If designed with differentiation in mind, these mini lessons should be catered to the different groups and the groups should be formed strategically considering the following:
o   Different skills (finding textual evidence v. developing topics sentences in writing)
o   Learning modes (more visuals, tinkering, auditory, discussion)
o   Preferred learning flow (ex: are some students better at learning when they can tinker first then watch then discuss, while others are more suited to a traditional flow of discuss – watch – tinker)

A sign that teachers may be missing the mark in a rotation station model is when all students are doing essentially the same thing but in small groups and in a different order. However, this is also a very natural stage through which teachers pass as they hone their blended practice. It is therefore important to recognize the growth in implementing some important component of a classroom rotation model (e.g. using digital curriculum, setting up different stations, monitoring transitions via routine) while providing feedback targeting deep personalization.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Keep Teacher PD Blooming Through Spring

By spring, the flowers blooming outside our windows have far more life than many of our PD initiatives. Teachers are tired and have eyes set on real-time classroom goals before summer. It’s a tricky time to get teams motivated to learn and implement new practices. However, spring is naturally a more social time of the year. Creating time and space for teachers to share learning with colleagues can capitalize on this sharing buzz in the air. Consider the following:

Make it Social:
  • Create a Pinterest Board or Facebook Group for teachers to post resources they love.
  • Set up a coffee chat book or article share, or establish a reading nook for teachers in the teachers’ lounge or library.
  • Dedicate a physical space where teachers can post what’s on their shelves for professional reading.
  • Find social PD opportunities in your local community. For example, where I am in NYC, the NY Historical Society hosts a regular professional learning series with pizza and wine for teachers, either free or significantly reduced. EdCamps are also fun, social “unconference”-style PD events.

Engage Trailblazers
  • As you make observations and classroom visits, make note of innovative practices in action. Ask these teachers to share a noteworthy practice in faculty meetings or the Facebook/Pinterest space.
  • Focus the spring on teachers observing teachers, taking the focus of observations from evaluative to inspirational. Create a list of teacher trailbrazers to observe matched with PD outcomes and a place for observers to share what they most valued or noticed from their observations. This can be done in the social space created or a Padlet board where teachers can offer shout-outs and tips they gained.
Catch & Share
  • Take the time to share the innovative practices you spot by capturing them in action. If your school has a social media feed, send pictures or video to the social media manager to post innovative, engaging teaching practices.
  • Consider a positive “Caught in the Act” share space in the teachers’ lounge or the online social space where you can share innovative practices you spot.
Focus on Engagement & Personalization
  •  As the school year winds down, offer more engaging PD experiences by focusing on hands-on, collaborative, or personalized PD.
  • Allow for teacher to choose their focus as much as possible, providing resources that enable such choice such as an online PD platform with a variety of experiences.
  • Use the school’s LMS or a PD platform to allow for learning to continue into the summer at a self-selected pace. Some tools, such as the Redbird Professional Learning Platform we use at my school, offer a social component which engages teachers in conversation and motivates users through a point incentive system.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Engaging Parents as Partners in Supporting Our Digital Explorers

An important component of leading in a blended learning environment is engaging parents as partners in the digital citizenship journey. As students get older and begin to explore social media and the vast digital world, I often hear from parents anxious to understand how to support digital exploration in a safe and balanced manner. At my school, we put together a parent tip sheet and digital home contract to support parents in this home-school partnership.

  • Set clear digital boundaries for when, what, where and with whom. Allow these to grow with your child just as you would expand their radius for navigating the neighborhood.
  • Rely on age requirements. If your child asks to have an account on an application, prompt him or her to look at the usage policy with you. If there is a minimum age requirement, ask if he or she is comfortable misrepresenting him or herself and guide them to alternatives:
    • Wait until you are age appropriate.
    • Have a family account to use together and learn together.
  • Set up a digital home contract (see the attached template). Use the time to learn about what interests your child and to set appropriate guidelines.
  • Engage with your children in their use of technology. Share accounts before creating one for your child to practice together. A family Instagram can be a great way to teach responsible use before your child reaches the minimum age requirement of 13 for that app.
  • Keep safety in mind first, and have open communication about how to handle any stranger situations.
  • Set and stick to a power-down time, and after this time, store any devices with you instead of inside your child’s room.  

It is important to have open communication with your child, setting clear expectations and boundaries regarding their online presence. Here is a list of additional resources we have compiled to help you. Additionally, we encourage you to use an age-appropriate version of the attached digital home contract.

16 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook

Digital Home Contract

Family Members:


Child’s Preference
Parent’s Preference
Mutual Agreement
(ex: my phone, your phone, family computer, personal computer, desktop, laptop, iPad)

(ex: texting, group chat, email, games, blogging, video)

(ex: weekday hours, weekend hours, device storage & usage location)

Apps & Sites
(ex: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, iMovie, Youtube, WattPad)

(ex: password sharing, family accounts v. personal accounts)

(ex: information on profiles, networking with others, gaming with others, friending, etc.)

We will review and revise this family agreement every ________ months/years through childhood. We also agree we will communicate openly and honestly about technology.