Sunday, March 11, 2018

Change the Narrative

No matter our level of digital proficiency, educators grapple with the rough-and-tumble pace that professional connectivity demands in our new age.  A change of thinking is in order if we are to face a hyperlinked world of education.  We facilitate learning and lead schools today, preparing our digitally and socially savvy students for success as adults in a future where many of their jobs haven't been created yet. To do this successfully we have to take a critical lens to our work and determine what can be done differently.  

In these changing times, opening the door to sharing and the transparency it brings in a digital age may make you pause. Let's be honest. The old-school one-way messaging behavior for leading a school doesn't jibe with our engaged, digital communication environment. A paradigm shift is in play. It is important to recognize and lean into it: Our community of stakeholders wants us to engage with them-starting with our students and ending with the world beyond our school. In this ever-evolving world of digital communication, a world where information arrives at our digital doorstep without being invited, we have to reset traditional thinking. Our stakeholders' lives are now about exchange powered by inbound social and digital forces. As outlined in BrandED, a new educator mindset is in order: one that calls for the clear, connective, engaging concept of storytelling to build trust and powerful relationships. The bottom line is that if you don't tell your story someone else will. 

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In today's engaging, digitally empowered school setting, questions arise as to whether schools are best suited for educating their learners. We have to do a better job of communicating what we do and showing how we do it. We must be part of the exchange. It gives us the best chance at connecting with current and potential stakeholders in order to win support for schools. Today's educators who embrace the power of storytelling don't need to be humble. In the noisy digital world, educators must proudly use stories of their classrooms and schools to convey a consistent message about who they are, how results are achieved, what they stand for. The importance of embracing a brandED mindset to become the storyteller-in-chief can't be overstated. 

I cannot overstate the importance of telling good stories to develop a new narrative in the education space.  Science has shown how storytelling impacts the brain and aids in getting importance message across to diverse audiences.  An article by Jonathan Gottschall in Fast Company sums it up well:
"Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning."
Today's schools exist in a digital town square where people meet daily. School value is one of the most discussed topics online. People, both with and without children, search the Internet and consult online real estate sites to find data about their prospective local school. Educators need to be cognizant of this fact and leverage the inherent power of their work to create a narrative that conveys value that speaks in an authentic voice to an audience. Adopting this strategy to benefit kids helps you attain a synthesizing view, preparing you to communicate with the varied segments of stakeholders who will research, observe, and engage with your work online on a daily basis. Today's digital world is driven by mobile content in short form and long form, in text and video just waiting to be taken advantage of. 

When adapted by all educators, the message of all the positive that takes place in classrooms on a daily basis becomes a beacon - the touchstone of why we act the way we do as a school, why we teach and learn the way we do, and how success is measured by so much more beyond a test score. Beyond the emotional connectivity, strategic thinking about messages shared enables educators to set measurable goals that ensure long-term trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. 

Change begins with each and every one of us. Together let's use our collective voices to change the narrative to one that clearly depicts all the amazing work that happens in classrooms, schools, and districts across the globe.  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Learning Transformed Course

The reaction to Learning Transformed has been truly humbling.  Tom Murray and I have watched many book studies and Twitter chats unfold since the release of the book in June of 2017.  We have also had the honor of co-presenting workshops across the United States. All of these experiences empowered us to think about and then create a deep learning experience that could be easily accessible to all educators across the globe.  As a result, an online course was created with the help of Participate. Anyone can register HERE.

Below you will see how the course is structured as well as learner outcomes.  The content is aligned to well over 100 research studies in addition to what successfully implemented innovative practices actually look like in action. The key to change is not telling, but showing how ideas can transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  We can't stop here.  The most important aspect of this course is pushing learners to not only reflect on their own practice but to also develop focused plans to take action through constructivist learning theory.   

Course Description

The Learning Transformed course is designed to support your classroom, district or school's transformation efforts! The current speed of technological and innovative breakthroughs has led to the coming age of workplace automation, dramatically altering the world of work that our students will enter. With all that is known about how students learn and the predictions regarding the world that our students will face tomorrow, a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning is educational malpractice. 

Built on the foundation of leadership and school culture, a redesigned learning experience fundamentally shifts the teaching and learning paradigm to one that's personal. It alters the use of authentic assessments, how technology is leveraged, the spaces in which the learning occurs, the way educators grow professionally, how schools collaborate with the community, and the sustainability of the system as a whole. The authors will dissect an approach to unlocking tomorrow's schools so that today's modern learners leave ready to create new industries, find new cures, and solve world problems.

Although not a required reading, the content for this course expands upon the book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today. Throughout the course, participants will be encouraged to reflect and share their learning using the hashtag #LT8keys on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

The course is structured in a way for all educators to take a critical lens to their practice in order to improve the learning culture in a classroom, building, district, or organization. Each module is designed to support your learning through self-assessment, content delivered by us, independent readings to extend learning, videos that showcase innovative practices in action, opportunities to reflect, and application to practice. Tasks in each module are listed further down.  Directly below are the nine modules that participants will work through asynchronously. 

  1. Vision for Change
  2. Creating a Culture of Innovation
  3. Redesigning the Learning Experience
  4. Return on Instruction
  5. Designing Learner-Centered Spaces
  6. Making Professional Learning Personal
  7. Leveraging Technology 
  8. Collaborating and Engaging with the Community
  9. Leading the Charge

Driving Question

How can classroom, school, and district leaders transform the student learning experience to one that better prepares them for their future?

Course Objectives

Participants will:

  • Self-assess current beliefs and established practices to develop a call to action.
  • Learn from Tom and Eric as to how research-based and evidence-driven practices can transform the learning culture in your classroom, school, or district.
  • Explore and reflect on video content and innovative practices in action from educators currently leading these change efforts.
  • Complete activities to support your individual, school, or district's transformation.
  • Actively apply what has been learned to initiate sustainable change and achieve efficacy.

Course Module Activities Include:

  • Self-assessment
  • Content delivery from Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger
  • Independent readings
  • Video case studies
  • Podcasts
  • Reflection questions
  • Action items for completion that align with your specific role and context

Learning Hours

20 hours.

What You'll Get

Learners will receive:

  • Digital badge
  • Guided lessons from Tom and Eric
  • Access to Tom and Eric when using #LT8Keys on social media
  • Activities to guide transformation and reflection
  • Articles and videos to spur conversation and push thinking
  • 50 additional tools and resources to drive innovative change 

We hope you enjoy this course and encourage you to take the time to reflect and dive in to support your school, district, organization, or classroom's transformation. Your brain might hurt at the conclusion of this journey, but rest assured you will be equipped with the ideas, strategies, and tools to transform learning for every student. Together, we can do this. You are part of the solution. Register today!

Consult with your local school or district as to how this course can be used to satisfy continuing education and professional learning hour requirements.  In addition to the digital badge awarded at the end of the course, once all requirements have been met we can also send a signed certificate of completion. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Empowering Learners to Think with Performance Tasks

Pedagogy has been at the forefront of my thinking and work as of late.  Decades of solid research have laid the foundation for current studies that bring to light how we can improve teaching, learning, and leadership.  As Tom Murray and I highlighted in Learning Transformed, this research has been taken to heart by schools across the world as they have transformed learning while improving results in the process. It is important not to lose sight of what has been found to work.  With all of the great ideas that educators are exposed to thanks to social media and live events, it is essential that we pause to reflect on what it takes to move from what sounds good in theory to successful implementation into practice.  Ideas shouldn't just seem right. They must lead push learners to think while providing validation of improvement through evidence. 

During my work as a principal, I wanted to transform the learning culture of my school.  For so long my students, like many others across the world, just did school. Learning, or at least what we referred to it as was more or less a monotonous task consisting of the same types of activities and assessments that occurred over and over again.  We weren't consistently getting our students to think deeply or authentically apply what they had learned.  Getting in classrooms more, taking a critical lens to our work, and working towards a Return on Instruction (ROI) helped us take the needed steps to raise the learning bar while expecting more from our students. We began by improving the level of questioning across the board.  From there, our focus was on the development of performance tasks that took into account objectives, learning targets, and curriculum alignment.  

Performance tasks afford students an opportunity to actively apply what they have learned and create a product to demonstrate conceptual mastery aligned to standards. Jay McTighe describes performance tasks as follows:
A performance task is any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and proficiency. Performance tasks yield a tangible product or performance that serve as evidence of learning. Unlike a selected-response item (e.g., multiple-choice or matching) that asks students to select from given alternatives, a performance task presents a situation that calls for learners to apply their learning in context.
Learning in highly successful schools enables students to know what to do when they don't know what to do. This is also referred to as cognitive flexibility, the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts and to think about multiple ideas simultaneously. To gain that competence, students need to acquire depth of knowledge and a rich set of skills and then be taught how to apply their skills/knowledge to unpredictable situations in the world beyond school.  This is critical if we are to prepare students for the new world of work adequately.  

By using the Rigor Relevance Framework as a guide, educators can begin to develop performance tasks that push learners to show that they understand while applying what has been learned in relevant contexts. McTighe identifies seven characteristics to consider during development:

  1. Performance tasks call for the application of knowledge and skills, not just recall or recognition.
  2. Performance tasks are open-ended and typically do not yield a single, correct answer.
  3. Performance tasks establish novel and authentic contexts for performance.
  4. Performance tasks provide evidence of understanding via transfer.
  5. Performance tasks are multi-faceted.
  6. Performance tasks can integrate two or more subjects as well as 21st-century skills.
  7. Performances on open-ended tasks are evaluated with established criteria and rubrics.

The GRASPS model (Wiggins & McTighe, 2004) can greatly assist educators in the construction of quality performance tasks. The GRASP acronym stands for the following: Goals, Role, Audience, Situation, Products or Performances, and Standards.

It is important to remember that the two critical elements in any quality performance task is evidence of learning and relevant application.  As we began progressing through our digital transformation at New Milford High School, technology became a vital component of performance tasks.  To see some examples, take a look at this post.  

The Independent OpenCourseWare Study (IOCS) that we created is another excellent example. It allowed students to fully utilize OCW to pursue learning that focused on their passions, interests, and career aspirations.  They could select offerings from such schools as the MIT Harvard, Yale, University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford, applying their learning to earn high school credit. Students combined their creativity with their newfound knowledge to synthesize a unique product that demonstrated and implemented the new knowledge and skills they gained from the OCW. The aim was for students to produce an actual product, whether it was the demonstration of a new skill, the creation of a physical model, the designing and conducting of an experiment, the formulation of a theory, or some other creative way to show what they've learned. 

If it's easy, then it probably isn't learning.  Performance tasks push students to think more deeply about their learning while developing a greater sense of relevance beyond the classroom.  

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2004).  Understanding by Design Professional Development  Workbook. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria, VA.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Scaffolding Questions to Develop Deeper Understanding

Over the past couple of months, I have been working with a variety of schools and districts in the role of a coach.  Most of this work is focused on digital pedagogy so naturally, I am focused on observing and collecting evidence to get a handle on both the level of instruction and the learning that is taking place.  To allow educators to critically reflect on their practice I take many pictures of what I see, especially the types of learning activities with which students are engaged.  After numerous visits, we all debrief and discuss the good practices that were observed, but also areas needing improvement.

The message that I try to convey is that technology should not be separate from sound instructional design, but instead serve as a ubiquitous entity that supports or enhances curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  There are five main areas that are critical components of sound instructional design that I tend to focus on during debriefing conversations: level of questioning, authentic or interdisciplinary contexts, rigorous performance tasks, innovative assessments, and improved feedback. Of these five components, questioning techniques are something teachers and administrators can work to improve in every lesson. 

Here is what I struggle with based on what I actually see in practice.  In many cases, the "wow" factor of technology is placed ahead of getting kids to think deeply or authentically applying their learning.  Take tools like Kahoot and Quizizz.  There are no inherent issues with the tools themselves, educators just have to be more mindful of how they are being used.  Many of these tools add either a fun or competitive factor to the process of answering low-level, multiple-choice questions. Now I am not saying that foundational knowledge is not important. It is in many cases. However, if this the only way tools like this are utilized then we are missing a golden opportunity to challenge our learners to think deeply about concepts.

While conducting some coaching visits at Wells Elementary School recently, I saw Ms. Mican using Quizizz.  At first glance, all I saw were student responses to knowledge-based questions on the interactive whiteboard to check for understanding.  What I saw next really made me smile.  With the students sitting on the floor around the IWB Ms. Mican displayed the Quizziz results and then had the kids explain why they answered the way they did.  This is a great example of scaffolding and building on the content.  As I said previously, foundational knowledge provides a bridge to higher-level thinking and application.  They key is to make sure when using response-based technologies that the level of questioning is addressed through scaffolding techniques. The same can be said in regard to any type of activity without technology.

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. Questioning is an integral component of this process. NSEAD provides this synopsis on the importance of good questioning techniques. Check out the link in the previous sentence it contains a wealth of information to improve the level of questioning in any class. 
Historically, teachers have asked questions to check what has been learned and understood, to help them gauge whether to further review previous learning, increase or decrease the challenge, and assess whether students are ready to move forward and learn new information (factual checks - ie 'Closed' questions). This can be structured as a simple 'teacher versus the class' approach (Bat and Ball), where the teacher asks a question and accepts an answer from a volunteer, or selects/conscripts a specific student to answer. These approaches are implicit in any pedagogy, but teachers need a range of 'Open' questioning strategies to address different learning needs and situations. Teachers must also pitch questions effectively to raise the thinking challenge, target specific students or groups within the class.
The Rigor Relevance Framework provides all educators with guidance to scaffold questions.  It is an action-oriented continuum that describes putting knowledge to use by giving teachers a way to develop both instruction and assessment and gives students a way to project learning goals. This framework, based on traditional elements of education yet encouraging movement from the acquisition of knowledge to the application of knowledge, charts learning along the two dimensions of higher standards and student performance

Below is a breakdown of the four quadrants:

  • Quad A - Students gather and store bits of knowledge and information. Students are primarily expected to remember or understand this knowledge.
  • Quad B - Students use acquired knowledge to solve problems, design solutions, and complete work. The highest level of application is to apply knowledge to new and unpredictable situations.
  • Quad C - Students extend and refine their acquired knowledge to be able to use that knowledge automatically and routinely to analyze and solve problems and create solutions.
  • Quad D - Students have the competence to think in complex ways and to apply their knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.

Below you will see how questions can be scaffolded according to each quadrant of the Rigor Relevance Framework.

With and without technology it is important to empower our learners to think. Scaffolding questions enhance learning and aids in the mastery of concepts by systematically building on knowledge and relevance. The ultimate goal is to develop competent thinkers and doers who can not only use knowledge in new ways but also construct their own.