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.