Category Archives: Customized Learning

Customized Learning

Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.

 

Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above:

 

Capacity Matrices: Examples & Overview

As Quality Learning Australia points out:

A Capacity Matrix is a tool to describe, document and monitor our learning. It allows us to clearly identify what is it we wish to learn, derived from the curriculum and student interests, and then track learning over time. It can be very effectively used with the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle and supported with a portfolio that provides evidence of our learning. Capacity Matrices are also used for self-assessment as well as peer assessment.

In Auburn, we are starting to use Capacity Matrices in this way. Our teachers are wondering where they can see examples and where they can learn more. Below are a handful of resources to help address that need.

General Information about and Examples of Capacity Matrices:

Multiple Pathways Blog: Top 5 Posts From 2013 and the 5 Most Popular Posts

Top 5 Multiple Pathways posts written in 2013:

#5 – The Series on the New MLTI: Choice, Auburn, and Learning – This year, Maine's 13-year-old learning with “laptop” initiative offered schools a choice of devices. This series describes the change in approach to the state initiative, why Auburn chose iPads, and what we still hope to get from our technology, despite the changes.

#4 – The Phases of Implementing Customized Learning: The SeriesOne lesson our district has learned from working with other districts further along with implementing Customized Learning is “not all at once!”

#3 – Life-Long Habits of Mind: Curriculum for Customized Learning – Districts in the Customized Learning Consortium have expanded their curriculum model beyond simply content knowledge. Life-Long Habits of Mind is the third domain of our curriculum model.

#2 – We Need Keyboards With Our iPads. Not! – While some believe that schools should buy keyboards to make iPads useful, lessons from experienced iPad schools suggest the opposite.

#1 – How Does Auburn Select Apps? – Ever since we started Advantage 2014, our primary grades 1to1 iPads initiative, we’ve had educators and parents ask us what apps we’re using.

 

The 5 Most Popular Multiple Pathways posts in 2013:

#1 – What Makes for Good Learning Experiences?

#2 – 10 Key Components of Customized Learning

#3 – Tone of Voice Matters (In Surprising Ways)

#4 – Motivating Students: Focus on 5 Strategies

#5 – Student Motivation: What Level of Engagement Are Your Students At?

 

Is the Problem Your Students, the Device, or Your Vision for Learning?

There has been a mixed bag of results for technology in schools lately. You certainly hear about districts creating exciting learning opportunities for their students by leveraging technology. But you also read about LA Unified's problems with their iPad initiative, or Miami-Dade schools putting their initiative on hold because of the troubles in LA and in North Carolina.

The blame for the failures in these districts is pointed in lots of directions, but includes students as “hackers” (although there was no hacking, just clever students figuring how how to make locked down devices function as designed), or lack of keyboards (don't get me started on how stupid that issue is – it comes from adults who haven't sat with a tablet long enough to know how easy the virtual keyboard is to use). Diane Ravich points to overly agressive timelines, poor project management, poor contract management, and a failure to evaluate curriculum resources, especially against district curriculum standards.

But I believe there is a much deeper problem at the root of these disasterous educational technology initiatives.

Let me come at this from a different direction… Recently a friend contacted me, saying she was working with a district that was trying to decide what device to invest in. Tablets? Chromebooks? Laptops?

Based on 13 years of working with 1to1 initiatves and all the lessons learned, my reply was to ask, “What's their vision for learning? Frankly, without such a vision, I'm not sure it would matter what they bought; it will be equally unsuccessful…”

How do you know what you want technology for if you haven't decided what learning should look like in your classrooms? A tool bought for no other purpose than to have the tool (or because you believe it is good to have the tool) fulfills its purpose by simply being there. Yet, later, purchasers are surprised that amazing things haven't happened by simply being in the tool's presence…

Or maybe you have what I have come to think of as a “default learning vision.” In the absence of a vision for learning driving the instructional use, the instuctional use becomes the vision for learning. The vision defaults to what you do when what you do isn't informed by a vision.

So, what may be the default vision for learning in these initiatives?

I look at these three well-publicized initiatives and I see a vision of learning that boils down to this: electronic workbooks.

There is no doubt that access to digital content and resources should be one slice of how schools leverage technology for learning. But workbooks (of any variety!) have always been wholely insufficient for quality learning programs. (If they were sufficient, we would have the best educational system in the world by simply dropping a box of textbooks and workbooks at each student's home each year…).

Or as Diane Ravich points out about this problem:

…the content of the tablets must allow for teacher creativity, not teacher scripting… The time will come when tablets replace the bulky, puffed-up textbooks that now burden students’ backpacks. The time will come when tablets contain all the contents of all the textbooks, as well as a wealth of additional resources, in multiple subjects. But they must encourage exploration and inquiry, not fidelity to a packaged program. Customized and individualized must become a reality, not a sales pitch for programmed learning.

Is it any wonder that these technology initiatives are a train wreck, given their vision for learning?

 

“Student Voice and Choice” is More Than Just Choice

Student voice and choice is a powerful motivator. It is one of the Motivation Focus Five, it can make extrinsic motivation as powerful as intrinsic motivation, and it is one of the foundational pieces of the Classroom Culture Phase of implementing Customized Learning.

But it is also a pedagogical element that many teachers don't understand as well as they understand others (mostly because we weren't likely to experience it much when we were students, nor were we likely to be taught how to implement it in our teacher preparation programs – hopefully both will change for our next generation of incoming teachers).

Surprisingly, it was working with adults that helped me understand an important nuance about “Student” Voice and Choice.

In the weeks before school started, I was involved with various teams in the design and delivery of 7 or 8 days of professional development for all manner of district projects. All of the sessions would be considered successful, and received positive feedback from teachers. But some were even more successful than others. And it is in contrasting the sessions that a pattern emerged.

At opposite ends of the success spectrum (recall that in this case the spectrum is from “successful” to “REALLY successful”) were a day designed to help deepen teachers' understanding of Customized Learning (CL) and 2 half days designed to deepen teachers' thinking about technology integration (especially in light of teachers and students replacing their laptops with iPads).

Both professional development opportunities provided participants with 3-5 sets of breakout sessions, each with 5-7 sessions to choose from. Both had sessions taught by peers. Both collected feedback from participants.

So what was different about the two events?

The technology PD had been designed by the district technology integrators, who brainstormed topics that they thought teachers would benefit from. The Customized Learning PD had also included the Learning Coaches brainstorming sessions they thought teachers would benefit from.

But the CL planning team also sent out a survey (Google Forms or Survey Monkey make this quite easy) to find out what topics teachers might want. Planners looked through the responses for patterns – topics requested repeatedly. They then sent out a survey with the compiled list of brainstormed and requested sessions to see how many participants wanted to see each session. This helped planners decide whether they would address a topic as a whole group session, or how many times to offer a topic as a break out session. By contrast, the technology planners used educated guessing. They were good, but not as good as getting the input from participants.

Another contrast was in what feedback was collected and how it was used. The technology group had participants provide feedback on the sessions after each half day of the PD. Their's focused primarily on asking participants what session they attended and general feedback on that session. There was also a general question about what other training and support they would like. The technology planners did meet between the two half day sessions and talked about how things had gone and if we were reach for the second half day.

By contrast, in addition to the feedback on individual sessions, the CL planners collected specific feedback on questions participants had, sessions they would like to have in the afternoon (including new topics that arose out of the morning sessions), and OFIs (opportunities for improvement). The planners then responded at the beginning of the afternoon session, answering questions, and describing how they adapted the afternoon schedule and program based on participants' OFIs and suggested session topics.

Notice that Voice and Choice is most importantly about the learners having voice and choice directly related to the learning (as opposed to all the other things they could have voice and choice about in the classroom).

Further, notice that choice alone was a help, but learner input & feedback and teachers being deliberate and explicit about using that input to adjust what and how things were taught had a more significant impact than choice alone.

 

Don’t Play Blind Golf: Formative Feedback

I'm not a golfer (and anyone who has seen me play mini golf will attest to that! – Stop laughing, Holly and Russ!!)

But I have a pretty good idea of how the game is played. You tee up your ball, and look down the fairway to the flag, so you know where to hit your ball. You swing and watch where the ball goes and reflect on your swing and how you can better direct the ball where you want it to go. Then you walk to the ball and try again, until you get it in the hole.

You don't play the game blindfolded.

But largely the way we use assessment in schools, especially testing, is playing golf blindfolded. We let you see the ball, have you put on your blindfold, tell you which direction the hole is, and you swing. Then we tell you what grade you got, and go on to the next hole.

This is called summative assessment. It tells us where a student is in their learning right at the moment. Traditionally, it is used right at the end of a chapter or unit.

Lately, it has been used as part of the rhetoric about accountability. (Which, by the way, if it were anything more than rhetoric, Russia would be a world-class economic powerhouse, since their students have traditionally done well on standardized tests…)

But it is formative assessment that helps us drive learning. It's that assessment that a student gets while they are learning that helps them get better. In fact, the word “assessment” is so often connected to grading, in a negative way, that lots of educators prefer to call it “formative feedback.”

The metaphor of playing golf helps highlight three critical components of formative feedback:

  • A Clear Target or Expectation: Learners need to know what they are aiming at, just as the flag down the fairway tells the golfer where the hole is.
  • Timely and Detailed Feedback: Learners need to see immediately how they did with meeting the target. They can gather the feedback themselves, such as watching where the ball goes, or a guide or coach can provide the feedback (or both). But that feedback needs to be as immediate as possible, and needs to be detailed enough to lead to improved performance.
  • Multiple Opportunities for Success: Learners need the opportunity to make corrections on their next turn, and the next turn needs to be soon after the current turn. This isn't about letting students just try and try and try until they get it. It is about strategically leveraging the clear target and the detailed feedback to improve their performance.

So even though summative assessment is getting so much attention in educational circles right now, lets not forget that formative feedback is the educational powerhouse.

Don't play golf blind!

iPads in Primary Grades: What Veteran Teachers Think – Jean & Chris

Auburn has had some real success with Advantage 2014, our iPads in primary grades initiative. Although many folks like hearing about the enthusiastic teachers who have done many inventive things with the iPads and their students, others wonder what veteran teachers might think; teachers who may not be so enthusiastic.

In March of 2013, I interviewed a handful of such teachers to see what their perspective was. This is the first in a series highlighting the veteran teachers' perspective of teaching and learning with iPads in kindergarten and first grade.

Both Christine Gagne and Jean Vadeboncoeur have taught first grade “for a long time,” as Chris says. Both were skeptical of having to use the iPads with students, and Jean admits that she is not a “pro screen kind of person.” In this video, Chris and Jean talk about their experience in the first year of using the iPads, and the impact the iPad, apps, and their professional development had on their students.

 

Highlights of their comments:

  • By March, all their students were meeting or exceeding standards.
  • The apps and using the iPads generated a lot of excitement in the students.
  • They saw students try harder and work more diligently to figure out the work on their own.
  • They were surprised at this year's students' progress compared to previous years.
  • They thought the amount of practice and the immediate feedback were secrets of the success.

 

What We Want from Technology – MLTI, Customized Learning, and School Vision

There have been many discussions around Maine since the Governor announced schools would have choice over which solution they select for MLTI for the next four years. But most of those conversations have focused on the device, or its capabilities, or why it is “my preferred device,” or why people are worried that the device they aren't that familiar with will not be sufficient for the task at hand…

I wish so much more of those conversations had instead been about school visions for learning, and what we hope to get from technology for learning. What role can technology play in learning? What is your school's or district's vision (ours is here), and what is the role of technology in fulfilling that vision?

And for Auburn, as I would guess for other districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, we are concerned about technology's role in helping us succeed with implementing Customized Learning (such a critical part of our vision).

Here is what we think the roles for technology are for learning, especially for Customized Learning:

  • Instructional Resources for Building Foundational Knowledge
  • Instructional Resources for Using Knowledge, Creating, Complex Reasoning, and Projects
  • Learning Progress Management
  • Supporting Independent Learning
  • Assessment
  • Home School Connection
  • Student Motivation

How are you currently using technology for each of these? What are teachers doing (maybe in your district, but maybe in another) that shows you exciting ways technology could be used for each of these? What is best technology practice for each of these roles?

But much more importantly, as Maine's districts think about selecting a solution for MLTI, how does each proposed solution measure up against each of these roles for technology?

You don't have to be interested in Customized Learning to be interested in these roles. But I don't beleive a school can make a satisfactory decision about which solution to select if they are only thinking about the device or the operating system…

 

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: