Monday, May 22, 2017

Building Student Agency Through Flexible Station Rotation

@RAndradeK's Flexible Station Model

In my last post on Teacher Trailblazer Appreciation, I used a picture I took while working with teachers at Bang Elementary School in Houston, Texas. One reader asked me about the picture, so I thought I would share what I observed that day which caused me to pause and capture such a great #BLinAction strategy: flexible station rotation by student choice.

When we think of student agency in learning, we often think older. But this practice came from Rosana Andrade's Kindergarten class where students were actively engaged in designing their own learning paths and setting their own paces. Ms. Andrade set up a station rotation model in her room where devices are limited - students worked on digital adaptive tools, offline practice, reading, and collaborative activities. However, she added an agency-building twist. In this Station Rotation, Ms. Andrade allowed for student choice over sequence and pace completely. Students selected where they wanted to go, moved their clothespin to that station and began work at it, later moving to another when finished.

In many ways, this model is a hybrid of Station Rotation and Playlist in the shuffling aspect of stations. In using a flexible rotation model with more student agency, some additional structures in place will make for more success within that freedom. Here are a few tips to make it work:

  • Max Students - If there are only a certain number students permitted at a particular station due to space or devices available, then this can be outlined ahead for students. 
  • Start Point - To avoid a rush-to-favorite-station moment, randomized grouping method or intentional grouping method can be applied to decide a starting point with flexibility from there if needed. 
  • Assessment - For students to stay on task and efficient, or at the just-right stretch for their learning path, it is critical for ongoing assessment to take place. Specifically, in the absence of timers, students benefit from setting a predicted time and learning goal for each station and then recording both after learning. Additionally, teacher checkins to provide coaching moments help maximize learning amidst more student choice. 

Giving flexible station rotations a go? Share out your practices and reflections at #BLinAction! 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Teacher Appreciation - #BLinAction Trailblazer Style

For me, teacher appreciation week 2017 began in the Dominican Republic where our school was wrapping up its fifth annual service trip. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the whole experience and the love and learning from the children at Orfanato NiƱos de Cristo. But I had a special appreciation for our team of teachers, those who agreed to join me in giving up a weekend to take 21 teens out of the country and those holding down the fort back home. And caffeine...I was very grateful for caffeine.

As I recovered from some lack of sleep and settled back into the flow of the week, I reflected on the experience of teacher appreciation. A week is a short time to spend in acknowledgment of the nearly Herculean feat teachers are called upon to perform on a daily basis (see every little thing, connect with each child, monitor ongoing progress, gather data, read the data, differentiate on the go, meet those standards, teach creatively...but ace the test...oh, and don’t forget to smile!) But still, it’s important we pause and bring awareness to what we ask of teachers, and how much teachers put forth that is unasked for and often done without anyone else knowing.

As this week progressed, I found myself thinking about the impact of the work being done by teacher trailblazers in the blended learning space. For these teachers, there are unique contributions being made for which we should all be appreciative. Through them, we are engaged as a profession in the transformation of learning from a passive, industrial experience to an engaging, personalized, and meaningful one. Here’s my top 5 list...please share out yours #BLinAction as we bring teacher appreciation week to a close.

#5: Empowering Human Connection
Blended Learning teachers have all stumbled upon the hidden gem of technology - the way it helps connect humans on a deeper level. This is especially the case when teachers open multiple pathways of communication between peers and between their students and themselves. As a BL teacher, you come to see the children who are disappear in a large face-to-face group; you hear their voice and bring recognition to the importance of that voice. Through this deeper knowledge and connection with our students, we build a bridge for those who would otherwise remain inside and insecure in the power of their voice.

#4: Cultivating Leadership & Agency
The best Blended Learning practices follow the PAACC hallmarks: personalization, agency, authentic audience, creativity, and connectivity. By following the PAACC model, blended learning teachers are not just planting seeds for tomorrow’s leaders but providing leadership opportunities in real-time today. Students who have choice and voice in their projects and who co-author their learning path alongside their teachers are engaged in personalized leadership and relevant learning.  

#3: Modeling Growth Mindset
Teachers who innovate embrace a “fail forward” mentality. They realize there is no “good at” or “bad at” in the process of tinkering with technology. Everyone is learning alongside one another, trying out new ideas and committing to reflection and iteration. This is immensely helpful in contributing to a positive faculty culture, but it is also critical to shift the mindset for student from an early conditioning centered around good or bad, talented or not talented, succeed or fail to one that is much more centered around process and growth day to day.

#2: Adventurous Learning in Action
As an adventurer myself, I highly appreciate fellow adventurers in my pack. Blended learning trailblazers see new tools or models, and they get excited! They ask questions like where can I go with this? What can I see and do? Where and how far can I take my students using this? There’s a gearing-up-for-action mentality that plays out, and just as gearing up for an adventure in life sparks anticipation and excitement in a travel group, so too does such gearing up in a blended environment spark anticipation and excitement for students to learn.

#1: Teaching the World 1-1
Blended Learning trailblazers are teaching 1-1 in a group environment. They are coaching, personalizing, and communicating on an individual level with students even in the midst of group movement and conversation. But that’s not all. They are teaching everyone because they share practices and engage in collaboration and conversation both within their schools and within PLNs.

For all these reasons and more, thank you, thank you, thank you to the teacher trailblazers out there! Each day I learn from those around me, and through this process remain inspired, challenged, and hopeful of the adventurous future before us.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Model Magic for Blended Learning PD Success!

image credit: noun project
In Blended Learning in Action chapter 3, we discuss the keys to PD success, including ways in which leaders can best support teachers through blended learning implementations. One component of PD support is modeling the standards of blended learning for teachers. As school leaders think about building positive culture for blended learning, it is essential to conjure this model magic in the following areas:

If teachers are to help students gain more agency, they must get comfortable releasing control over some of the learning experiences, pace, and outcomes. School leaders should model this release of control by engaging teachers as co-creators of PD experiences. Using forms to solicit input for PD content and type of experience, creating individual pathways for teachers via a choice menu or playlist, and giving teachers control over how they participate in and demonstrate learning are all ways in which agency can be modeled.

Online collaboration is a large component of blended learning. Students share documents and project platforms and engage in an ongoing feedback loop. Leaders can model this type of collaboration by replacing standard evaluation documents with shared PD plans and observation tools in an environment like GSuite. Teams can replace dusty binders with live curriculum folders within the shared space.

Digital Learning
For teachers to understand how students can learn from digital tools, they too must engage as learners within a digital space. Designing flipped PD or rotation stations with digital content can provide experiential learning for teachers and set leaders up as lead learners who practice what they preach. Similarly discussion groups for online faculty lounges within the existing LMS can help teachers experience the online space from a learner point of view. With GSuite integration of Google Keep and add-ons such as Kaizena voice comments, school leaders can also model the integration of robust toolkits.

Authenticity is a hallmark of effective blended learning. Without it, we remain in the realm of doing the same things with new tools. We have the opportunity to hit authenticity in both the personalization and relevance of PD when we take the time to understand where teachers are in the the roadmap and the next iterative step within the zone of proximal development. We also have the chance to model authentic audience by sharing practices outside our schools via a PLN or inter-school network between schools within a district. A school-specific hashtag is a great way to share and promote innovation within schools while modeling the hallmark of authentic audience.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Playlist Model - Opportunities & Challenges Workshop Reflections

At the recent McGraw Hill Education Stanford Personalized Learning Forum, Jason Green and I had the opportunity to lead a workshop on personalizing learning through the Playlist model of Blended Learning. Since we wholeheartedly believe that the mindset shift to a blended learning culture requires experiential understanding of the models, we put participants into a Playlist model simulation. Here’s how we did it and the takeaways from participants.

We opened with a discussion of the Blended Learning Hallmarks: Personalized, Agency, Authentic Audience, Creativity, and Connectivity. We then discussed the importance of balance in a blended learning model, especially one that has a fair amount of independent, asynchronous learning like the Playlist model does. From there, we put participants into a Playlist rotation via Google Form. The Form simply listed the Playlist activities learners could choose and allowed learners to select them in their preferred order of completion. In a classroom Playlist, we would encourage even more choice and personalization beyond order and pacing. This could include an ongoing personal project or the creation of a few different playlist paths based on small group learning targets. Following the asynchronous Playlist rotation , we moved the group into synchronous group work, discussing benefits and challenges of the Playlist model amongst the members of their group and then sharing these takeaways on Padlet. We closed with a whole-group reflection, examining the interesting data from the Playlist, which showed that learners tackled the tasks in multiple orders.

Participants shared the following benefits of the Playlist model:

  • ·      Personalized for each student’s needs
  • ·      Cultivates student agency through semi-controlled choice
  • ·      Offers a variety of learning modalities
  • ·      Makes flexible learning at your own pace the norm
  • ·      Creates time for teachers to work 1-1 with kids
  • ·      Planning could be done weekly so kids have a go-to playlist during Playlist rotation

While the benefits were easy to identify, so too were some of the challenges of the Playlist model. Here’s what came to light along with some suggested solutions.

Competency alignment & tracking
For skills tracking, the use of adaptive tools can greatly reduce the challenge of creating personalized pathways for students. The most robust tools available right now are in math and language arts. For competency alignment outside of skills, it’s essential to have a clear list of targeted outcomes and to design backwards from there. Teachers should not have to do this heavy lifting on their own. As more open resources become available, schools and districts have the responsibility of allocating resources to curriculum leadership to help curate and align these resources.
Accountability & Assessment
Teachers can hold students accountable for demonstrating the pace and order in which they complete Playlist activities via tools such as Google Forms or learning logs. Catlin Tucker has an outstanding post on how to replace clunky binders with multimedia blogs and critical conversations with students.
Transitions & Organization
In a rotation model, it is essential to set the expectations for movement, device use, noise level, and productivity before putting student into a rotation. Expectations for participation in online discussions and for submitting work also must be set. In Blended Learning in Action, chapter 8 focuses on effective practices for “onboarding” students.
Quality & strategy within choice
While student choice is key to fostering agency, co-creation of the playlist can help ensure that students are making quality selections at their level. By having conversations about learning paths and identifying learning goals, students can be better empowered to make strategic choices when given choice.
Buy-in & Understanding
To gain teacher buy-in in implementing a Playlist model, teachers should understand how the model can help solve a pain point in their instructional process. Coaching should focus on identifying what is most challenging to then find the solution to that challenge through the new model. Further, teachers can feel more confident in implementing a new instructional model if given a specific model of how to do it and experiencing it themselves through personalized PD. Teacher support and professional development is another area that must be supported as districts migrate through transformation.

Saturday, February 18, 2017 Live!

Over the past few months, my coauthors, Catlin Tucker and Jason Green, and I have worked on a companion site for our book Blended Learning in Action. We have created a space where our readers and anyone hoping to incorporate blended learning strategies into their classes can gain insight, follow our #blinaction book chat, and gain access to curated resources. We plan to add more and more resources to correlate to the book's chapters and to spotlight many voices from teachers and leaders implementing blended learning. Please check out the site and we would love to hear from you via the "Contact Us" page or Twitter @teachontheedge@catlin_tucker @jasontoddgreen!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Blended Learning Transformed Our School" - Via ISTE

I'm often asked whether blended learning works for younger students. The answer is absolutely! We are using it throughout our younger classes. In this ISTE article, there are some excellent #BLinAction details for younger students.

Blended learning transformed our school

Blended learning has affected our school community in many ways over the last three years. It's instilled independence, confidence and a new passion for learning for many of our students. Perhaps the best way to illustrate these improvements is through the success stories of our students.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wired for Blended Learning Success in Science

I recently observed and recorded a whole-group rotation in our Fifth Grade science class, taught by Mike Noll, a teacher trailblazer for hands-on, inquiry based blended learning. Students had already made a circuit offline and were using the simulation software Gizmos to create more complex circuits than they had been able to offline. I wanted to capture and share how blended learning can fit with our inquiry process and the hallmarks of effective teacher practices during this type of lesson. Here’s how the lesson was “wired” for success.

Pre Lesson
Prepping for Personalization: The teacher selected a discovery platform in which students could explore a range of circuit designs, providing a very open-ended creativity path easily aligned with student level of understanding. He also set up the transition materials to give students when they demonstrated the target level of proficiency in the opening task.

Offline Modeling: Prior to the digital learning experience, students had build a single circuit model offline. The teacher was able to point to this model and refer students back to it as needed as they created more complex circuits in the digital space.

Onboarding Effectively: Prior to beginning, the teacher circulated the room to ensure students were on the correct platform, setting expectations for use of the Gizmos platform. He also demonstrated the tools within the Gizmos platform and explained how students were to use them.
During Lesson
Guide on the Side: Through the activity, the teacher circulated the room frequently to provide feedback and prompt further learning based on each student’s progress. This role was mainly to provoke further inquiry and to help students reach a more complex application of their developing understanding.

Formative Assessment & Adjustment: There were many moments for the teacher to receive formative assessment data as he circulated and viewed the student work on the Gizmos platform. He was able to spot where students were excelling to push them to a more rigorous application and where students were struggling to provide more support via the offline models and analogies.

Personalizing Challenge & Pace: Based on the formative data, the teacher provided different paths, encouraging students to be creative and complex in their designs, then transitioning them to the offline written tasks which would require them to demonstrate their understanding in a different manner. Students transitioned to the next level of the assessment tiers at different points throughout the lesson.
Post Lesson
Assessment: In science, students are able to share their understanding beyond individual assessments via Schoology discussions and class presentations, further extending the blended balance and balance between individual exploration and shared experiences.

My Chat with Dr. Will on Blended Learning in Action #BLinAction

I had the great opportunity to kick off the 2017 year with Dr. Will Deyamport. He is a passionate Ed Tech and innovation evangelist and leader. We discussed Blended Learning in Action and how to build culture and support teachers and students through a blended learning implementation. Conversations like these always provide the inspirational fuel for creating positive impact at scale. Thank you Dr. Will!