Category Archives: Teacher Practice

Teacher Practice

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?

 

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.

 

It’s Not About Blaming Teachers, It’s About Locus of Control

I keep writing about, and presenting about, how teachers need to teach differently… Pretty soon you'll start thinking that I'm blaming teachers for the challenges in our schools…

Most of what I write about in this blog is educational change, usually focused on instruction and/or technology integration (which, of course, is just a subset of “instruction”). But when you talk a lot about changing expectations for teaching and learning, and how teachers teach, and paradigms, and getting them to focus on the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and supervising for those changes, it's easy to start to think that I believe that teachers are the reason that schools aren't changing or that more students aren't learning.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First off, I write about the changes that need to happen and how to help teachers make those changes because they are things that most teachers have not experienced before themselves.

I believe that the rules for education have changed. The world of work has changed and we now need every child to learn in school what we used to only need the college prep kids to learn (well, actually what has changed is that we now need every kid to be college prep!). Second, new tools (laptops, tablets, cell phones, iPods, information access, personal broadcasting, the read/write web, multimedia, etc.) have changed how kids work, necessitating changing how schools have students learn (or risk becoming irrelevant to students).

As I described when Bea McGarvey came to Auburn, she points out that schools still do industrial age education, when we need an educational system for the information age:

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant. We got really good at that. But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another…

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

So teachers are now working in an environment they didn't really experience as students themselves, and probably weren't trained for professionally. Even if teachers need to be the ones making most of the changes, the reason is that the rules have changed, not because they weren't doing a good job.

But even more importantly, we focus on teachers making the changes because teachers are the ones who can solve our challenges. They have the power, the locus of control. When we look at all the factors that impact our students being successful, the one we (schools, educators) have the most control over is teacher practice: what happens in the classroom.

And if teachers have to make changes for a new environment they haven't experienced or been trained for, and if they are the ones who have the power to make the changes, then we have to be very, very clear that we don't blame teachers. Nothing could be more inappropriate, nor unproductive for achieving our new goals.

Instead, what we need to do is support the heck out of teachers.

We need to provide teachers support to a level like we never have before. Side by side with an expectation to teach in ways so all students can learn a high status curriculum, and that makes use of the modern tools for intellectual work, we have to be making a promise to support teachers in this work, making clear we believe in our teachers, and that we know that they can do this hard work. We have to provide training, resources, and time. We have to let teachers try, and allow them to make mistakes, and also to get better – and hold them harmless in this important work. That includes sticking up for them and their efforts, even when (maybe especially when!) it doesn't go well the first time.

If we don't, we guarantee failure: for our schools, for our teachers, and for our students.

 

We Must Do More Than Fill Students’ Vessels

I was especially dissatisfied with my own teaching when I started.

Early in my teaching career, I was presented with a paradox that continues to shape my interests in education. When I was teaching high school computer application courses, my students would learn to use a word processor (in the day when stuents were likely to only have access to computers at school). I was very thorough and made sure they learned how to use nearly every feature (although word processors then had many fewer features than they do today!). We spent a lot of time on it, and together we worked hard so that nearly everyone would be successful on the challenging word processing test.

What surprised me, however, was that a few weeks later, students would return to me, announce that they had a paper to write, and ask me to show them how to use “that word processor thing” again!

I couldn't understand why these students didn't remember how to use the program. These were bright students who had had no problems during class, and who had done well on the test. Very little time had gone by since we had last used the word processor. There was no reason that they should not know how to use it.

There was obviously something I didn't understand about learning. It was the first time I started to question how learning took place, and prompted my inquiry into how people learn.

I fear that during my first few years of my teaching, all I had really taught most of my students was that I was knowledgeable within my field. I tried to convey my knowledge to my students but I was simply trying to “fill their vessels.”

The way I organized the curriculum wasn't even oriented toward learning; it was organized for teaching. I was mostly concerned with questions like when were the standardized tests and what would be on them, when would other teachers be teaching related ideas, what would kids need to know for the next course? All my content was organized the way an expert might look at it. It was neatly categorized and sequenced like it might be done by someone who was already familiar with the information.

I never asked myself how people might learn the same information. I never asked how experts had acquired their vast knowledge; was it through a logical sequence or some other order?

Some of my kids seemed to do okay, but not enough of my students to make me feel like I had done a satisfactory job. I knew I was teaching the way all my teachers had taught me, so I knew I was teaching correctly. But somehow contradictions, like with the word processor, kept happening, and I started to doubt if it really were the right way to teach…

Those contradictions and doubts led me to question my assumptions about teaching and learning. Eventually, I found tidbits that helped shape my work, such as the quote from the classical Greek philosopher, Plutarch, “A mind is a fire to kindled, not a vessel to be filled.

My job wasn't to give students information but to inspire and nurture them. And like Ian Jukes says, “Teachers don't need to be fire kindlers, they need to become arsonists!”

 

What Makes for Good Learning Experiences?

The more we try to to help build the talents of every student and help every learner succeed in school, the more we have to be deliberate about creating good learning experiences in our classrooms. I have certainly added to the conversation about what I believe gives students good learning experiences.

The roots of those ideas are not just my own experiences as a learner and a teacher, and not just conducting research and reviewing research, but from actually asking people about their own good learning experiences. The Good Learning Experiences Activity is one of the ways I have explored different people’s perspectives on how they think they learn well.

“Think of a good learning experience,” the script for the activity begins. “It can be in school, or out of school. It can be when your grandfather taught you how to cast a fly rod, or when your teacher worked with you to write that really good essay. But think of a time when you had an ‘aha!’ or something finally made sense, or you could finally do something. Think of a good learning experience.”

I give small groups of participants a few minutes to share their stories. Next, I ask them to jot down on scratch paper what it was that made it a good learning experience. What were the characteristics of the experience? After a few more minutes to share their lists with their neighbors, we compile a class list on chart paper, an overhead, or on a projected computer.

 

Before reading on, just take a second to think about a good learning experience of your own, and what it was that made that a good learning experience.

 

I have conducted the activity with people of nearly every age group: upper elementary students, middle school students, high school students, college students, teachers, and parents. Only a few learners state that they can’t think of any good learning experience. Many of the learners state that their best learning experiences have taken place outside of school. No one has ever said that their best learning experience came from a terrific lecture, or an interesting textbook, or an engaging worksheet (although I believe each of these can be a useful teaching tool when applied wisely).

Having conducted this activity with so many groups, I am intrigued by the results. I was surprised to find that, regardless of the group involved, there were common elements with other groups’ lists. Since 1992, I informally tracked the results and found that certain characteristics of good learning experiences come up in nearly every list:

  • The work was well connected to other ideas and to the real world
  • The content of the learning experience was personally relevant, interesting, useful, or meaningful to the learner
  • The learner had choices, shared authority, control, and responsibility
  • The learning was hands-on and experiential
  • The learner learned from and taught others
  • The learner had the support of a patient, supportive, and nurturing mentor
  • The learning was individualized and although there were standards for the work, the learner could meet them in his or her own way
  • There was a positive aesthetic component to the experience: it was fun or left the learner feeling good
  • The experience helped the learner understand him or herself
  • The learner had success and accomplishment with challenging work

Now, these are my words synthesizing the lists I have collected over the two decades I’ve been doing this activity. Certainly elementary students aren’t going to use these word exactly. But doesn’t this list reflect what made your own good learning experience good?

Much can be learned by investigating how students believe they learn well. What better source for finding out what motivates students to learn than themselves?

But with knowledge comes responsibility. If you know what makes for good learning experiences, don’t you now have an obligation to insure that you model these in our own teaching? – Or at least start learning how to do these in the classroom?

 

(Note: I have been with educators who have used the prompt “think of a good experience” or “think of a good school experience”, and it never gets to the right information about when people learn well. If you are considering doing this activity with your own students or teachers or parents, I highly recommend that you stick with the prompt “think of a good learning experience.”)

 

Thinking of Instruction as Two Types

When our pilot teachers were visiting a school that is a little further along than we are at implementing Customized Learning, a colleague and I got talking about how we (us and our colleagues) had a lot of work to do on instruction if we were going to be successful with our implementation.

Then it hit us that a lot of teachers would say they already do a pretty good job with instruction and would object to being told that we had a lot of work to do on it.

And then I realized that both perspectives were right. We just weren’t talking about the same kind of instruction in each instance.

There are two kinds of instruction.

There is Instruction for Lower Order Thinking and Instruction for Higher Order Thinking.

So, it doesn’t matter if you use Bloom’s Taxonomy, New Bloom’s, Marzano’s Taxonomy, or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, Instruction for Lower Level Thinking is focused on recall and simple application, and Instruction for Higher Order Thinking is focused on nontrivial application, complex reasoning, and creating.

Our teachers are really pretty good at Instruction for Lower Order Thinking. But we have a lot of work to do on Instruction for Higher Order Thinking.

The distinction, thinking of instruction as two types, doesn’t just help clarify our thinking.

This distinction would actually help us in a couple different ways.

We now could say, “You guys are really good at Instruction for Lower Level Thinking. But now, to do Customized Learning well, we need to help you get better at Instruction for Higher Level Thinking.” The message about getting better at instruction would have always been about support, but could have been taken as criticism of their abilities. Now, we can differentiate between validating their abilities, and identifying a need, and offering support to address that need.

And it helps us think about when should teachers apply each type of instruction.

And it will help teachers think about how the two kinds of instruction are different and which strategies support which type.

And it helps us think about leveraging what kinds of interventions to support teachers.

What would thinking of instruction as two types mean to you and the work you are doing in your school?

School is Boring

School is boring.

We all know it.

Kids know it.

Parents know it, but don’t want to think about it.

We teachers know it, too, but defend it. In some small way, I think we don’t want to think that the subject(s) we love could possibly be boring! But we do go on to say things like: It’s preparation for life after school. We all have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. Or, I wish students would start taking responsibility for their own learning. Or, it is the students’ job to learn.

My problem with putting the onus on students is that we are all quick to forget that kids are not in school by choice. They are in school by law. Ironically, it is we, the educators, who are in school by choice. In fact, we are getting paid to help kids learn. In fact, we are the only ones getting paid – if learning were the children’s job, wouldn’t they get paid, too? To me this all shifts the moral responsibility.

And we are quick to forget that kids are kids. And that being a kid when you are a kid is appropriate. It is what you are supposed to be!

And we are the adults.

And we spend WAY too much time trying every possible crazy thing so solve the problem, EXCEPT trying to engage students. It’s enough to make you tired!

I think teachers defend school being boring because we fear we will be blamed.

But I don’t blame teachers.

(Well, if you lecture through an 80 minute block, perhaps you should be blamed…)

Edwards Demming, the father of Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our problems come from structures, not people. And Roger Schank actually makes the argument that it is school being boring that is to blame for kids not learning more, not teachers! In response to Tom Friedman’s blaming teachers, Schank writes:

So one more time for Tom: the problem is that school is boring and irrelevant and all the kids know it. They know they will never need algebra, or trigonometry. They know they will never need to balance chemical equations and they know they won’t need random historical myths promoted by the school system. When all this stuff was mandated in 1892 it was for a different time and a different kind of student.

I’m not denying that it’s hard, or that teachers get frustrated when we are trying what we think we can and not getting any further than we do. Why wouldn’t we feel like we were treading water as fast as we can?! And maybe that even makes it (a little) understandable when we blame kids for not learning.

But, the the solution to ALL this is teachers doing more to engage students.

Not be because it is our fault.

Because it is what we have control over.

And if we want teachers to engage students, then we sure better support the heck out of teachers!

And even though its true, we can’t simply say to teachers, you just have to focus on these five things: inviting schools, higher order thinking, learning by doing, real world connections, and student voice and choice.

We need to get teachers training. And into classrooms with teachers who do a good job engaging students. And we all better remove the barriers that are keeping us from creating the conditions that students find engaging (even if it means changing our curriculum, or how we schedule students, or how we group and regroup students, or how we connect with the community and the potential classrooms outside the building).

And the good news is that when kids aren’t bored, they don’t only learn more (making teachers/us look good), they behave better (making teachers/us happier!).

We need to get beyond the (irrelevant) question of who is to blame, or the (senseless) debate of whether we should or not, and just do it! Just work to engage students!

Engaging students is a win-win! It’s good for kids and it’s good for teachers. Just do it!

 

How will you help make school less boring?