Tag Archives: Bea McGarvey

Life-Long Habits of Mind: Curriculum for Customized Learning

Districts in the Customized Learning Consortium have expanded their curriculum model beyond simply content knowledge. Lesson planning and unit development happens at the intersection of Content Knowledge, Complex Reasoning, and Life-Long Habits of Mind. Life-Long Habits of Mind is the third domain of our curriculum model.

The Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum is where Customized Learning schools will be addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students, built around foundational work, such as the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets. All students must be guided in developing the “soft skills” that are so often left dormant in our populations (e.g. resilience, self-confidence, mental toughness).

Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are working with Bea McGarvey to create a Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum.

Educators collaborating on this writing effort, will create teacher materials for Life-Long Habits of Mind in a similar format to the Dimensions of Learning: Teacher's Manual, used for the Complex Reasoning curriculum. Also as with the Complex Reasoning curriculum, instruction in the Habits will progress from helping students develop an understanding of the “habit” through examples, to providing students with written guidelines and graphic organizers, and then to lots of modeling. Once the teacher materials are developed, the curriculum may be organized into the Marzano curriculum framework, to facilitate the tracking of students' development of thes skills.

The current draft outline of the Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum includes the following:


Reflective Learner (Understanding Oneself)

  • Understanding One’s Learning Style
  • Cultivating Creativity & Imagination
  • Maintaining a Growth Mindset
  • Responding Appropriately to Feedback


Self-Directed Learner (Improving Oneself)

  • Meeting Quality Standards
  • Persevering
  • Setting and Monitoring Goals
  • Managing Impulsivity


Collaborative Worker (Working with Others)

  • Working Toward Team Goals
  • Listening With Understanding/Empathy
  • Seeking To Be Understood
  • Seeking to Resolve Conflicts

This approach of looking at the intersection of Content Knowledge, Complex Reasoning, and Life-Long Habits of Mind allows student to not only master critical academic content but to also develop skills and traits important to career and life readiness, such as goal-setting, teamwork, perseverance, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and problem-solving.


Complex Reasoning: Curriculum for Customized Learning

The second domain of curriculum for Customized Learning is complex reasoning.

Lesson planning and unit development happens at the intersection of content knowledge, complex reasoning, and life-long habits of mind. We want learners to be – doing these reasoning processes – with this content knowledge – to practice getting better at these life-long learning habits.

Not only is the focus on complex reasoning a key component of Customized Learning, but represents the higher order thinking that is one of the Focus 5 strategies for motivating students.

We are using Marzano's framework for higher order thinking. The Complex reasoning curriculum includes the following:

Complex Reasoning Curriculum

Comprehending Knowledge

  • Symbolizing
  • Integrating

Analyzing Knowledge

  • Comparison
  • Classification
  • Error Analysis
  • Deduction & Induction
  • Perspective Analysis
  • Constructing Support

Using Knowledge

  • Decision Making
  • Problem Solving
  • Experimental Inquiry
  • Investigation
  • Invention

The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning has partnered with Debra Pickering and Bea McGarvey of Marzano Associates and are using the curriculum outlined in the Dimensions of Learning: Teacher's Manual as the foundation for our Complex Reasoning curriculum.

The plan is to organize it into the Marzano curriculum framework of measurement topics, learning targets, scopes, and scales, just as the content knowledge curriculum has been. Teachers will be trained to explicitly teach students the strategies. The instruction in each strategy would happen when students might logically apply the strategy (not in an out-of-context separate class), and includes helping students develop an understanding of the process through examples, providing students with written guidelines and graphic organizers, and modeling, modeling, and modeling.



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.


Customized Learning in Auburn and Across Maine

Are you interested in knowing more about customized learning?

There is some great information from an unexpected source: the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Principals Webinar series. Right now, this webinar series is focusing on Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwahn’s book Inevitable.

On February 28, Mt. Ararat Middle School principal, Bill Zima, and I were featured on the webinar to highlight what our schools/districts are doing around customized learning.

In the webinar, I discussed how Auburn is approaching customized learning across the grade levels: Advantage 2014, the iPads for literacy and math initiative in the primary grades; Expeditionary Learning and project-based learning at Auburn Middle School; and RISC, Multiple Pathways, and Projects4ME at Edward Little High School. Additionally, I talk about the four pillars we’re using to organize out work.

Watch the Webinar here. (Sorry, iPad users – this is a Flash-based stream. You”ll have to pull out your laptop for this one.) You can explore the entire archive of MLTI webinars here.


Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Curriculum Creation for Customized Learning

Apple’s announcement about selling interactive textbooks, iBooks Author for creating interactive textbooks, the iTunes U app for iPad, and opening iTunes U to K-12 prompted me to blog about my reaction to textbooks in general, how Apple’s tools might be useful for students to create products in PBL, and how the tools might be used as a platform for on-demand PD for teachers.

I think there is at least one other area of potential for Apple’s new tools: as a curriculum creation tool for educators working in customized learning environments.

In Maine, there are currently 12 districts who are members of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (MCCL), and other districts and teacher preparation institutions are chomping at the bit to join.  MCCL has it’s roots in six districts that dove deeply into the work of the Reinventing Schools Coallition (RISC), and in the numerous districts who have read Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwan’s book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  These districts are working to start implementing some hybrid of ideas around preformance-based, standards-based, student-centered approaches which we in Maine have come to think of as “customized learning.”  In fact, Commissioner Stephen Bowen had all departments heads in Maine’s Dept. of Education read the book, and his new strategic plan focuses heavily on reinventing our schools to provide customized learning and having students work toward a standards-based diploma, not one based on seat time and credits earned.

Teachers are getting trained.  Cohort members are collaborating on converting the Common Core and Maine Learning Results into “measurement topics.” Schools are working on fostering a classroom climate of student voice and choice. And educators are exploring the kinds of instruction and school structures that can make this happen.

I also recently wrote about how we might consider structuring the curriculum as a series of shorter seminars, instead of semester-long and year-long courses.

What if MCCL had its own iTunes U account, where they posted videos of their best instructors (or their instructors’ best lessons). And what if teachers in Cohort districts created their own texts for seminars and these were shared across the Cohort (many hands make quick work). What if seminars could be set up as “course” in the iTunes U app, linking various videos, assignments, teacher-generated interactive texts, and other resources.

Focused collaboration with tools such as these could be a powerful way for teachers doing the grass roots work of customized leaning to restructure their curriculum.

It’s Your Turn:

How else could these tools (or others!) be leveraged to help organize curriculum for customized learning?

Cross Industry Borrowing, Scouting, and Organizing the Curriculum

Yesterday, I wrote about how Cross Industry Borrowing might help us think about how we should organize the curriculum for Customized Learning. When I think about one group that does an exceptional job organizing curriculum and operating from values similar to those for Customized Learning, it is Scouting. Where Customized Learning recognizes that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes (within a culture of voice and choice), Boy Scouts recognizes that scouts need choice and voice, ever Increasing responsibility, learn by doing, and learning at their own pace.

So, let’s explore how the Boy Scouts organize their “curriculum” to see what those of us working to implement Customized Learning might be able to borrow.

Merit Badges are certifications for small chucks of knowledge and skills. The requirement booklets and checklists for each badge clearly delineate what a Scout needs to know and be able to do, while providing some choice know they master it. Each Merit Badge has one or more Councilors who oversee the scouts’ work on the badge, but will also lead seminars for groups of scouts working on the badge. Seminars are offered as often as there are scouts actively working on that badge.

Merit Badges, however, are only half the Scouting curriculum. Scouts also have clearly defined advancement paths through various rank. Each rank outlines a combination of specific tasks and Merit Badges the candidate must earn. Some Merit Badges are required for a specific rank, some are “either/or,” some are choice, and some are required for Eagle Scout, but the Scout chooses a certain number to tackle for each rank prior to Eagle. Each level of rank also requires serving in certain positions of responsibility. Each scout earns Merit Badges and rank at their own pace, but all the supports are offered, either in an ongoing way or at specific intervals designed to facilitate scouts moving at a “normal” pace.

I think Scouting might tell us something about how we might organize curriculum into “courses” for performance-based learning, as well as about “grade levels.”

A high school I worked with in Philadelphia would award credit in tenths of a credit. Each year long course was divided into ten one-month units. Although a new unit was started every month, students could keep working on each unit until they had showed mastery. Each unit they completed earned them that tenth of a credit. And if they failed some of the units, they only had to make up those units, not the entire course.

This example makes me think that the “Merit Badge-like” organization of courses could work for schools. What if, instead of instead of having year-long and semester-long courses, those same courses were broken down into 4 or 5 or 10 smaller courses – for now, let’s call them seminars. Prerequisites could preserve scope and sequence where necessary, but we may find that there is much more flexibility in seminar sequencing than we think.

Also, rather than automatically scheduling all 5 or 10 seminars in a row, since we are recording and monitoring progress, we could simply offer a seminar when a group of students needed it. Our progess monitoring software should assist us with that scheduling. Depending on need, we might offer the same seminar over and over (or have several sections with different teachers) to serve a large group of students who need it. If students don’t need a seminar, perhaps it isn’t offered for some time.

Since curriculum is organized in smaller units, we should gain a great deal of agility with the curriculum. Most students would get exactly what they needed right when they needed it. A student who didn’t successfully master a seminar could either repeat just that one seminar (not a whole year-long course!) or take a different seminar that helps meet those requirements differently. A student who completed the seminar quickly wouldn’t have long to wait for the next one, making independent work in between seminars more palatable. The smaller unit of organization may also mean that teachers could create specialty, elective seminars, or different teachers might create different seminars with different pedagogical approaches to the same learning targets, allowing students even greater flexibility in the pathways they take to graduation.

Further, instead of being 4th graders or 8th graders or Juniors or Seniors, based on your age or how long you’ve been in school, we could establish rank (perhaps even call those rank what we currently call the various grades), but clearly articulate what is required to achieve such rank. And Scouting models for us that those requirements do not have to be a rigid, specific set of subjects or courses. It could be a combination of specific tasks, required seminars, and choice seminars.

For example, perhaps there is a list of 12 specific seminars that are required for the rank Freshman. So the requirements to graduate from 7th Grader to 8th Grader may include that the student has completed 8 of the 12 Freshman seminars, the Digital Citizenship Seminar, the Adolescent Health Seminar, 4 other seminars of their choice, completed their first research project, and participated in 100 hours of community service.

Perhaps some of Auburn’s educators should make a close study of the structure and organization of Scouting Merit Badges and rank advancement in preparation for thinking about how we want to structure the Curriclum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your thoughts on how to make the curriculum more flexible for customized, performance-based learning?

Customized Learning, Curriculum, & Cross Industry Borrowing

Since Customized Learning starts with the premise that how we design our educational systems needs to reflect the facts that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes, educators often get frustrated quickly with trying to figure out what they are going to do with 25 students each learning different things at different times, or what they will do with that student that finishes their course in March…

Some of that angst comes from folks, new to performance-based learning models, misunderstanding how most schools implement those models (totally understandable, since most teachers have never experienced performance-based learning themselves). But I think the challenge comes primarily by trying to fit Information Age teaching and learning into Industrial Age structures, like putting a square peg In a round hole. (For schools doing this work, I don’t think we can remind them often enough that Deming, the man who invented Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our challenges come not from people, but from our structures.)

The square peg is instruction that recognizes which measurement topic a student needs today, giving them instruction, coaching, and support while they master it, using assessment to provide feedback, until the measurement topic is mastered.  The round hole is learning organized into semester- and year-long courses where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, assessments simply tell teachers who knows the material and who doesn’t, but the course moves on to the next topic, whether everyone is ready or not.

Bea McGarvey points out that when teachers ask “Well, then, how should we structure our schools?” she responds, “Yes, how should we?” and reminds us all that creating the schools we need today will require educators to develop strong problem-solving and invention thinking.

But she and her co-author, Chuck Schwahn, also point out in their book Inevitable, that we do not need to invent from scratch.  In fact, in most industries, they participate in something called “Cross Industry Borrowing,” (see Chapter 2 of Inevitable) where they see how other industries solve similar problems and then adapt those solutions to their own situation. For example, what would it mean to education if every day we could tell how many students where on benchmark with a math concept, just as Walmart knows at 5pm how many pair of sneakers have been sold that day.  Or if students received recommendations for how they might enjoy learning the next measurement topic, just like Amazon.com suggests other books you might like.

So when educators start looking at the structures they might employ for organizing the curriculum for customized learning, where might they look, if they don’t want to start from scratch?  For me, the question gets reframed as “who has structures in place for certifying learning?” 

Bea is quick to point out, for example, that if you want to become a CPA, you can retake the test as many times as you need to, and you only need to retake the portions you did not pass (teachers newer to the profession know the same is true of the Praxis tests).

Modern manufacturing and assembly plants have new employees master individual skills before progressing on to the new skill, and aren’t certified in the position until they master all the skills for that position.

They U.S. military has a performance based educational system. Ironically, I think most people equate military training with boot camp and it’s focus on taking direction. But once through boot camp, most advanced training is a well organized combination of skill development, and cognitive training. There is great transparency.  Manuals are available for almost any desired advancement or certification, and service men and women can find out exactly what they need to know and be able to do in order to achieve their goal.

But for me, as I think about how the curriculum might be organized for customized leaning, the model I keep coming back to is the Boy Scouts. 

Tomorrow, I will look more closely at this model and what it might mean for schools looking to organize curriculum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

Where do you see ideas from other “industries” for implementing customized learning?

Why We Need To Change Our Schools – Bea McGarvey

I don’t know about you, but on the one hand I see our schools working and on the other I don’t.  

I see a ton of kids who show up every day, do their work, get good grades, graduate, go on to college.  But I also see the kids who show up half the time, do little work, might graduate (but barely) or just choose to drop out. Anyone who knows my work knows that I’m trying to create educational programs that work for this second group of kids.  But it’s also no wonder that so many folks look at the first group and decide that schools are working and wonder why the second group can’t “get it together”…

So the question seems to be are schools working or not?

I know Auburn (and other districts) have decided that our schools aren’t working.  Where others see our schools working for 70% of the kids, we see our schools not working for 30%. We want our schools to work for all our children (or at least a whole heck of a lot more than they are now).

We’re looking for help from several areas, including: customized learning and Maine’s new Cohort for Customized Learning, Reinventing Schools Coalition training, and ideas from a variety of books, including Inevitable.

On Monday, January 23rd, Inevitable‘s co-author, Bea McGarvey spend the day in Auburn.  It was our workshop day, and she conducted two workshops with our teachers: the morning with the middle and high school staffs, and the afternoon with the elementary school staffs.  That evening she also led a community event focused on why we need to change our schools (you can watch a streaming video of the evening event – sorry, requires Flash).

One of the big aha’s for me was finally having a clear understanding of why things both seem to work and not work…

Bea shared that throughout her work with schools on how to change, she would have some teachers come up and ask, why do we need to fix schools if they seem to be working?

After really chewing over the question, Bea finally seemed to know the reason: schools aren’t broken.  They work great.  They do very well at what they were designed for.  The problem is that that goal has chanced.

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.  (Bea says about this change of goals and the mismatch between the system and the goal: you can be cranky about this, but if this makes you really cranky, then you just have to leave education and do something else.)

This mismatch between our goal and our system made me think about how different the strategies are for each.  No wonder we’re “insane” – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…

But I think even once we understand the need to change our schools, it makes us educators crazy in another way. 

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…

And why wouldn’t this scare teachers whitless?

But being difficult isn’t a reason not to do the right thing.

And this is why Bea McGarvey says teachers need to get good at problem solving thinking and invention thinking. And it’s why “PD for Paradigm Shift” is one of the components of the Lead4Change model.  Teachers deserve to be supported, trained, and involved in the problem solving and invention needed to help our schools get good at our new goal.

It’s Your Turn:

How are you and your school working to develop the talent of all students?