Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Phases of Implementing Customized Learning

One lesson our district has learned from working with other districts further along with implementing Customized Learning is “not all at once!” There are many components to the school reform effort, and following a certain sequence seems to lead to successful implementation more often than other processes. Although there is flexibility in how districts implement each phase, successful implementation of Customized Learning moves through these five phases:

  • Awareness Phase
  • Classroom Culture Phase
  • Instructional Design Phase
  • Instructional Implementation Phase
  • School Structures Phase

Each phase focuses on building the capacity of teachers to implement a system of Customized Learning, but by making the transition manageable by breaking it down into doable steps. Below are the posts that will help you better understand and leverage the Phases:

How the Phases Help Support Implementation and Teachers

The Phases of Implementation are actually a tool to leverage in support of teachers and the school's or district's implementation of Customized Learning. The components of Customized Learning are certainly not new to schools, but successfully implementing CL depends on raising the level of level of implementation and the consistency of implementation across the school and school year so they don't simply occur in certain classrooms or during certain units. But learning to implement all those moving parts, in a sequence that actually works, can seem daunting! The Phases take a complex initiative (Customized Learning) and break it into manageable chunks, supporting implementation (and teachers!) in several ways.

The Phases Help Leaders Articulate Where the Staff and School are in Their Implementation
The notion of phases is helpful to leadership because they can classify their educators by the phase each is in. Not only can teachers be identified as being in a specific phase, but so can teams (grade levels, interdisciplinary teams, departments, etc.), schools, and districts based on the phase of the majority of their teachers. This helps with articulating to the district, parents, and community where you are on your journey toward implementing Customized Learning, and reminds everyone that this work will not be completed over night (our district has a 5-year plan for implementation!), and helps everyone manage expectations about what should be happening in our schools at this point in the implementation.

Keep in mind that teachers within a school will be at different phases. Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning have had success with having early adopters pilot a phase ahead of the rest of the staff, and even when the majority of staff in a school are ready to move to the next phase, there will be new staff needing initial training, or staff who are progressing at a different pace than their colleagues.

The Phases Help Teachers Focus Their Professional Learning and Implementation
The phases help educators know the “curriculum” of implementing Customized Learning, where they are in the scope and sequence of that curriculum, and what goals and next steps they might need for progressing to the next level. The goal of any phase is to develop proficiency in the skills related to that phase. This will lead to a strategic progression of more and more skill at creating a personalized learning environment for students, where we expect students to have an improved sense of having their learning needs met, resulting in increased competence, engagement, and academic success.

It is always okay for teachers to dabble, try out, and explore features of a phase or two ahead of where they are, but only within the context of informal learning (“dabbling”). Educators' primary responsibility is getting good at the skills of their current phase.

“Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust” is a crucial component of implementation at each phase, insuring that reflection, continuous improvement, collaborative problem-solving, supporting colleagues, and sharing ideas are hallmarks of the teachers' work.

The Phases Help Leaders Plan for Professional Development
Leadership can more easily plan for training, support, coaching, and professional development because of the Phases : (a) leaders can articulate where their staff are in their professional learning progression; (b) the kinds of resources, training, and coaching needed differs by phase; and (c) how much of that support is needed depends on how many staff are in each phase. Similar to how students will move through the curriculum via Customized Learning, teachers demonstrate mastery of components in one phase before moving on to the next phase.

The first three phases each begin with educators participating in specific training designed to kick off that phase by orienting them to the key components and the work that awaits them (I have come to think of them as “same page” trainings since they are intended to get everyone on the same page.). Other trainings (offered as teachers need them, see below) help teaching staff become more familiar with the curriculum organization, the complex reasoning and life-long habits of mind curriculum strands, various instructional strategies, learning progress management, student motivation, etc.

In fact, from the Classroom Culture phase on, we do not automatically provide teachers the “next” trainings and professional development until they have demostrated some proficiency with the skills, tools, and concepts of the phase they are currenty in. They must get good at the current phase before moving on.

The Phases Help Leaders Focus Positive Pressure and Support
Level of implementation matters, and leaders increase level of implementation through Positive Pressure and Support. Positive Pressure and Support has three pieces: Expectations, Supervision, and Support. We have just discussed support, but the Phases help focus Positive Pressure and Support, as well, by making clear the expectations (getting good a skills in the phase you're teachers are in), and by clarifying what to look for in classrooms when supervising and supporting (those same skills of the current phase).

Even if the Phases help provide clarity, leaders still need training and support themselves so they know the phases and what each phase's skills look like. For example, are teachers in the Classroom Culture Phase actually working within their phase toward getting feedback from students, or are they jumping ahead? Have teachers simply posted some of the tools (such as a Parking Lot) or are they actually providing students with opportunities and guidance on providing feedback using a Parking Lot. Is the absence of a Parking Lot a sign that a teacher isn't focused on Student Voice and Choice, or is the teacher simply using other strategies?

 

This approach to scaling the reform is successful specifically because, at any given moment, the work is personalized to the immediate needs of the teacher, team, school, or district. Team level, school level, district level, and consortium level. Shared leadership teams (a) determine where their educators and communities are in the process of implementing customized learning (using the phases as a guide), (b) design individualized implementation plans and interventions for their group, and (c) provide positive pressure and support for moving to the next level.

 

Form Follows Function: The Phases Inform Structural Change

One of the big mistakes schools and districts new to Customized Learning make too often is to make structural changes to things like grading, grade levels, courses, and student grouping too early in the change process.

I think this happens for a couple reasons.

One may be that much of the work in the early phases is to address a shared vision and burning platform, to examine our beliefs about learning, to explore what Customized Learning looks like in action, to build the right kind of culture in your classroom, and to make the curriculum more transparent and navigable for students and teachers. This is heady work that often doesn’t seem like action. Changing grading or the schedule is tangible and is action.

Another reason I think it happens is that it doesn’t take long doing even the early stages of this work to realize that how we currently grade, and schedule, and group students, and organize curriculum into courses probably will need to be changed to do Customized Learning well.

There is a major problem with these reasons (even if it is perfectly understandable why educators would feel them): change those structures to what?

It is understandable to want more tangible action. And it is obvious quickly that the structures will need to change. But until a critical mass of the staff have built a classroom culture of voice and choice, made the curriculum transparent and navigable, and have developed some proficiency at a balanced instructional model that provides for both learning higher-order thinking and lower-level thinking, it will not be clear what kind of grading will work for you, or scheduling, or organizing “courses” or “seminars,” etc.

Then there are the political or strategic issues around the public being ready for those kinds of changes (heaven forbid school look different than when they were students!). Making structural changes too soon has led to public backlash (this, for example). When the school is further along with implementation, and there have been strong efforts to build understanding and support among parents, the public understands why those changes are being made and sees a need for them.

Recently, I discussed the phases of implementation. You might have noticed how each of the early phases said “In the Current System.” This is a reminder that those big structural changes come later. The phases should follow the Biology principal of “form follows function.” The initial phases are implemented within the current school system, but the changes in curriculum organization, classroom culture, and instruction inform us about how school structures (student grouping, grades, courses, schedules, etc.) need to change. Even early implementation makes clear the inadequacy of the current approach of these components for Customized Learning, leading to educators often wanting to jump to making these structural changed early in the process.

But, in truth, we don’t know what to change them to until we’ve had a chance to get good at the components of earlier phases in the process.

They are important changes. And they will come. But wait until the right time.

Learning to Use the Common Core

A friend recently asked what teachers are doing to align with the new Common Core curriculum.

She wrote:

As I am working with teachers on the ELA CCSS, some are asking about examples of how the other content areas are using the standards in their curriculum. They are meeting with some resistance re: looking at their curriculums in light of the standards and are “waiting for their content associations” to publish new standards.

Educators being reluctant to put too much energy into the “New Best Thing” isn't surprising, given the speed with which innovations come and go in schools. But the notion of being clearer about what we are teaching and increasing the consistency of what is taught across classrooms, schools, and districts is not new, and is enduring enough that having a “new” curriculum is a good opportunity to be deliberate about getting better at that. (Now, if we could only get as strong and enduring a focus on quality instruction!)

We are working on transparency of teaching and integrating the Common Core in my district, and I shared with my friend what we are doing:

Introducing and Starting to Use the Common Core

In keeping with approaching implementing Customized Learning in phases, we are looking at using the curriculum differently as a phased implementation. I think I would label those phases as something like: Awareness, Models, Practice, Implementation.

Awareness: Have teachers do what they're doing now, but make sure that students know what the learning targets are for their activities that day (regardless of which set of standards teachers are using). At the same time, see if the teacher can identify which Common Core standards the activities they are doing that day are most closely related to. Some of this phase should be devoted to doing a 10,000 ft crosswalk between the curriculum they are used to using and the Common Core, to help identify how they are the same and how they are different.

Models: Have teachers visit (in person, on line, or in print) some examples of folks teaching from the Common Core in ways we might label “high level of implementation.” The goal, of course, is to help teachers find exemplars so they can experience what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, smells like, etc. Part of this phase is reflecting on how they might organize their teaching, lessons, or units differently to bring them more in line with the Common Core.

Practice: Teachers use the Common Core to design their teaching, lessons, and units, and try them out. Both feedback from knowledgeable, trusted others, and self reflection guide the revision and improved implementation of that teaching. The goal is to know you won't start out perfect, but that you are working to get better. Teachers here, in Cohort districts, would also be using the curriculum more and more to have students monitor their own progress.

Implementation: Teachers have gotten pretty comfortable with the transition and pretty good at teaching with the Common Core (these teachers don't have to be perfect or outstanding, just competent). Teachers in this phase become both places to visit and coaches (knowledgable, trusted others) for teachers in more novice phases.

Teachers in a builidng don't have to be all at the same phase at the same time. In fact, it's really helpful to have those teachers who are a phase or two ahead and can work with the more novice teachers.

We need to help teachers move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset (the ability to learn and adapt as things change and evolve around you), possibly by having them all read the book Mindset. You need to build a common language around Growth Mindset, and talk about it often to keep that idea in the forefront of their minds while struggling through change. Parallel to this is helping teachers know that the new constant is change, and we must learn how to constantly adapt to productively respond to new challenges and requirements.

And lastly, I suspect part of what is giving teachers a hard time is not the Content Knowledge piece, but the focus on higher order thinking and the application of knowledge (changes away from sacred cow units of study aside). I think getting them involved with the Cohort's Complex Reasoning curriculum (essentially Marzano and Pickering' Dimensions of Learning) would give them a concrete way to apply and leverage higher order thinking to their content…

 

If It Sounds Crazy, That’s Probably Not How They’re Doing It

Teachers can sometimes have wild ideas about how a new initiative will work, but a recent experience helped us figure out how to lower teachers's anxiety.

A while back, one of the schools I'm working with had a staff meeting where we talked with middle grades students what had been student reporters at a conference focused on Customized Learning and iPads.

The students were enthusiastic and passionate about their involvement in the conference, as well as what they were starting to learn about Customized Learning.

Other than a handful of pilot teachers, this school has not received any significant training on Customized Learning and is very much at the beginning of their journey to implementation. Therefore the teachers were very interested in what the students had to say and their enthusiasm, and started asking student all their numerous questions about CL and even started to ask the students lots of “how to” questions about how things worked in CL.

I had to quickly remind the teachers that these students had simply attended and reported on a handful of conference sessions about CL and had experienced very little of it themselves. All the questions were perfectly legitimate, and reflect the natural curiosity that you would expect teachers to have at the Awareness Phase of implementation, but that we should probably save our practical, how-to questions for teachers and students who are more experienced! (and we all laughed – the student passion had certainly left us all feeling for the moment that the students were all-knowing experts about Customized Learning! And, of course, these middle grades students never hesitated to create an answer if they didn't actually know it!)

What was really interesting, however, were the teachers' questions. They were asking how they could work with 100 students all in different places in their learning? How did they just let students work at what ever pace they wanted? And how did teachers create a 100 different lesson plans a day to customized the learning? And did teachers just let unmotivated students do nothing? And how could students learn things if there was no direct instruction?

These are all understandable and appropriate questions of teachers early in the Awareness Phase of implementation. But they largely represented enormously false assumptions about Customized Learning. But these were false assumptions that many teachers brand new to Customized Learning seemed to have. And these false assumptions generated an enormous amount of anxiety in the teachers (largely, of course, because the teachers didn't yet know that the assumptions were false).

And it dawned on me that there was actually a fairly simple heuristic that teachers could apply that would help tame their assumptions and lower their anxiety.

So I shared it with the staff at this meeting: There are lots of schools that are very successfully implementing Customized Learning. So if an idea about how it might work seems totally crazy or undoable to you, then that's probably not how they're doing it!

It was so simple!

Does doing 100 lesson plans a night seem crazy to you? Then that's probably not how they're doing it!

Does letting unmotivated students do nothing seem unproductive? Then that's probably not how successful schools are doing it!

Does letting students do what they want seem untenable? Then that's probably not how they're doing it!

So next time you begin to wonder about a specific way you think folks are implementing Customized Learning, apply the Crazy Test. If it doesn't pass, then that's probably not how successful teachers are doing it!

 

Overview of The Phases of Implementing Customized Learning

Implementing Customized Learning can certainly seem like a daunting task! I have written previously about the need to find a way to think of approaching implementation in a manageable way.

In reviewing the work of other schools and organizations further along in the process of implementing Customized Learning than we are, there are lessons for school leaders about effective and less effective approaches to implementation. By looking at the contrasts between the implementation efforts of an initiative that works and those that do not, educators can learn something about what the successful schools have done and what the less successful schools might not have done.

One of the major lessons for leaders has been “not all at once!”

There are many components to the school reform effort, and following a certain sequence seems to lead to successful implementation more often than other processes. Although there is flexibility in how districts implement each phase, successful implementation of Customized Learning moves through these five phases:

  • Awareness Phase
  • Classroom Culture Phase
  • Instructional Design Phase
  • Instructional Implementation Phase
  • School Structures Phase

Each phase focuses on building the capacity of teachers to implement a system of Customized Learning, but by making the transition manageable by breaking it down into doable steps. Below is an overview (the “deliverables,” if you will) for each phase:

Awareness Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goals for this Phase: Examine our collective beliefs about learning and school; Start to build a mental picture of Customized Learning
  • Own the Learning Training (Customized Learning Awareness)
  • Shared Vision, Burning Platform, Beliefs of Learning Documents Established
  • Able to Articulate Beliefs of Learning, Vision, Mission
  • Explore How Beliefs Match Practice
  • Familiarity with Curriculum Organization
  • Start to Make Learning Transparent to Students
  • Able to Articulate Basic Information about Customized Learning and a Student Centered Environment

 

Classroom Culture Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goals for this Phase: More consistently create a learner-centered classroom culture, including procedural efficiencies; Make the curriculum more transparent and navigable to students
  • Classroom Design & Delivery Training
  • Create a Learner Centered Culture that Honors Student Voice and Choice
  • Create Procedural Efficiency in a Learner Centered Classroom (e.g. Rules, Student Input, Standard Operating Procedures)
  • Tracks Student Progress on Specific Learning Goals/Targets vs Activities/Assignments
  • Learning is Transparent so Students Can Navigate Their Own Learning (e.g. Student Goal Setting, Use of Curriculum Organization)
  • Initial Use of Mission, Vision, etc., as Decision-Making Screen
  • Recognize It Is Not About the Tools, But Rather About How the Tools Are Used (Parking Lot, SOPs, PDCAs, Code of Cooperation, Affinity Charts, etc.)

 

Instructional Design Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Designing lessons and units for Customized Learning that reflect instruction for both lower-level and higher-level thinking
  • Instructional Design & Delivery Training
  • Balanced Instructional Model
  • Unpacking Learning Targets with Students
  • Instruction Organized Around Measurement Topics (Curriculum Model)
  • Student Self Pacing & Acceleration
  • Instruction for Lower Taxonomy Levels (e.g. identifies online resources for Level 2 Goals)
  • Instruction for Upper Taxonomy Levels (e.g. Seminars, Projects, etc.)
  • Consistent Use of Mission, Vision, etc., as Decision-Making Screen
  • Separates Academic Feedback from Non-Academic Feedback

 

Instructional Implementation Phase (In an Evolving System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Become skilled at consistently implementing the practices (motivation, interventions, grading and assessment, etc.) to carry out the lessons and units.
  • Has and Uses an Explicit Model/Language of Instruction (e.g. The Art & Science of Teaching)
  • Uses a System of Recording and Reporting Student Progress
  • Use of Individualized Learning Plans
  • Applies Assessment for Learning (Formative Feedback)
  • Uses Formative Approach to Calculate Progress and Rubrics, Instead of Points and Percentages
  • Applies Effective Practices in Student Motivation & Engagement
  • Demonstrating Proficiency on Learning Targets Through Different Approaches (Multiple Pathways)

 

Structure Phase (The New System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Design and implement the schools systems and structures to support pedagogical practices developed and implemented over the previous phases.
  • Grading and Reporting System
  • “Rank & Advancement” (Grade Levels)
  • Scheduling Students
  • Grouping and Regrouping of Students
  • Course Organization (Seminars, “Merit Badges,” etc.)
  • Understands and Embraces Invention Reasoning

 

We are quick to point out that staff are alway free to “dabble” a phase or two ahead of where they are now. In fact, their explorations often help us figure out how to better implement the coming phases. Using the term “dabble” also helps make clear that, although their explorations are welcome, their task is to get good at the deliverables for the phase they are currently in.

Here is a phases chart you can share with your staff.

 

How Does Auburn Select Apps?

Ever since we started Advantage 2014, our primary grades literacy and math initiative that includes 1to1 iPads in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, we’ve had educators and parents ask us what apps we’re using. (We have an apps page on our web site with 2 links, one to just our list of “district recommended” apps and one with the correlation of those apps to our curriculum – at least for one academic area…)

But occasionally, I’ll be asked how we select our apps.

For the most part, teachers guide our selection.

Teachers are free to use what ever apps they would like (especially free ones), but they are responsible for organizing their app library and syncing the devices in their classroom. This, by itself, eventually leads to teachers being more selective about which (and how many) apps they use! (One kindergarten teacher spent a couple weeks taking home a few iPads each night to spend the evening deleting the couple hundred apps she no longer wanted on the iPads!). 🙂

In general, we made “educational resource selection” part of our professional development. We didn’t want app selection to be some centralized function, and we wanted teachers to get good (and deliberate) about how they selected the resources they used with their students (which never happens if “someone else” is responsible for deciding which resources are ok for teachers to use). In a post about our professional development, I referred to our it as using a Constructivist approach:

As we thought about designing PD for our teachers, we didn’t want to just hand teachers information or resources; for example, we didn’t just want to hand them “approved” apps. We wanted teachers to have an intimate understanding of various components of the initiative they were on the front lines of implementing, including app (educational resource) selection. We decided to take a constructivist approach. For example, we had our teachers start by simply exploring apps. They had a limited budget for apps, but could also download as many free apps as they wanted. Then teachers made recommendations for apps that they thought would be the “core collection” of apps, those apps the district would purchase for every classroom. We would give teachers two similar apps and ask, “which one’s better?” to get them thinking about criteria for app selection; this eventually was developed into a rubric. Finally, we correlated apps to our kindergarten curriculum. The constructivist approach insures a deeper understanding based on their own experience.

We decided we didn’t like the term “district approved” apps, and now refer to them as “district recommended” apps.

Also, with teacher input, we revised our app selection rubric a couple times. Then we came across Tony Vincent’s work with iPads and his fabulous resources. We now use his rubric, since we think it captures our thinking about app selection better than we did. (Here are some other recommendations by Tony Vincent on how to evaluate/select apps.) Now, when a teacher requests that an app be installed on all the classroom iPads, we start by asking how it faired against Tony Vincent’s rubric.

In all cases, we tried to focus app selection (and teacher practice with iPads) on our goals for the program. From our PD post:

Content of Professional Development – All of our PD and training has focused on a couple of topics. We wanted to expand our teachers’ skill at applying literacy best practice, and to insure that our teachers and specialists working with kindergarten students had the capacity to select and apply appropriate apps directly toward student academic needs, as well as how to manage the iPads and work within the unique demands of this initiative.

Through our professional development, we also worked with teachers to create expectations for iPad use in the classrooms (which further helped us with app selection):

iPad Use – Minimum Requirements

  • iPads are used daily during centers.
  • iPads are used daily during whole group and/or small group instruction.
  • iPads are used as an intervention tool with below benchmark students.
  • iPad apps reviewed by the district are used.

This year, recognizing that we need to address both instruction for low-level thinking and higher-level thinking, we have some teachers exploring “Using iPads for Projects, Problem-Solving, and Creating.” So even with new explorations, we are working to link app selection to the best practices.

I haven’t really talked about how we pay for apps (mostly district volume purchase program vouchers, and iTunes cards purchased by various groups), and I recognize that budget does have an impact on app selection, and when a district purchase is involved, we involve the Tech Director in the decision (or the Special Ed Director, if it is a Special Education related purchase). But as much as possible, we try to give the teachers the lion’s share of the say in what apps we get. Leadership’s job isn’t to tell them which apps are ok to use or what best practice is, but rather to support their individual and collaborative work toward becoming their own experts in best practice and educational resource selection.