Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Targeting Growth Over Outcome In High School

The race to achievement and college career readiness has invoked a paradigm shift in the high school experience. With an expectation that all students will further their education at the college level we have seen not just an impact on curriculum standards, standardized assessment, and rigor, but also change in mindset and decision making.

The amount of students applying to and attending universities has risen across the U.S. The introduction of the common application has simplified the application process. The end result is students applying to a significant number of schools and those corresponding schools breaking their own records each year regarding the number of applicants. The schools invite this increase as it increases their selectivity which improves their perceived status. For example, it was just released that UCLA received just over 100,000 applications this year for a freshman class that is expected to be 6,500. With a 6.5% acceptance rate, one could conclude that a tremendous number of fully qualified applicants are denied. This new pattern has turned the college admittance process into more of a lottery.  The reality of this is that a student who enters high school with a specific university as their goal and one who devotes all of their decisions to meeting that schools expectations has the greatest risk of minimizing what high school can be.

There has been countless research and discussion about the value of finding the right "fit" and the correlation of success and what you extract from your college experience.  This data contrasts the opinion that the most selective school will guarantee you the best possible outcome.

The shift in mindset experienced by students is a focus on developing a transcript that reflects high level of rigor and grade point average. With this comes a great deal of anxiety as students sometimes sacrifice physical and psychological wellness in order to remain competitive.This new path limits the greatest experiences that build a foundation for life long learning. That being, experiencing and overcoming failure or setbacks, taking risks, exploring courses outside of your comfort zone or that are of high interest. The extrinsic motivation created by this escalating race clouds perceptions as the goal to achieve can be viewed as intrinsic motivation when in fact is an outcome of the encapsulating competition. In the end, students shift their focus entirely to achievement at the expense of true learning.

My wish is to work to evolve this mindset to a new focus. Rather than focus solely on a specific outcome, I would encourage students to look at growth. Understanding strengths and limitations and making a goal to improve them incrementally. A high school student who finds the right mix of challenge, rigor, and intrinsic interest and who works to grow incrementally in each area will develop the attributes that have a greater opportunity for continued success. The ability to understand mistakes, failure and setbacks and your ability to improve on them as a valuable learning experience would be the greatest skill to graduate from high school with. The understanding that you have four years to appropriately challenge yourself and grow. Staying committed to follow your passions and interests and not be victim to "this is what I have to do" is invaluable. In the end, you can find yourself as a senior who did your best, properly challenged yourself, and expanded your interests. At that point you can then apply to a university that fits who you have become and what you bring to them instead of you trying to be what you think they want.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Promoting Collaborative Inquiry To Improve Intrinsic Motivation in Teaching

The Common Core standards were introduced in 2010. While there are varying views on the quality and expectations of the standards, this new framework offered a much needed benefit. It provided a common language across our country that answered the question: What do we want our kids to learn? This common framework gave a point of reference for all teachers and was a significant shift from the isolation of individual state standards.


My experience at the secondary level of education consistently identifies areas of isolation among teachers. The common standards have provided a uniform curriculum and a set of standardized assessments to measure student mastery of these standards. However, the instructional strategies, assessments and grading formula's utilized by teachers in many cases remain autonomous. Autonomy, flexibility and creativity are important attributes for educators. It is what enables an intrinsic motivation to thrive in the classroom. The ability to innovate and deviate provides opportunity for differentiation, personalizing and individualization of instruction. However, this sometimes results in inconsistency, burn out and a miss alignment of grades and mastery. It is my belief that a more balanced approach of autonomy and consistency will provide the right mix to ensure an effective learning institution.


When segmenting instructional practices into its menu of ingredients a closer look at the student experience in similar courses is necessary. When two teachers of the exact same content area are provided a significant level of autonomy without any required alignment deviation occurs. Weighting of assignments as a function of final grade, inflation of grades and a false representation of student mastery are all possible outcomes. If the experiences in one class over another are significantly different it demands a system of assessment that can determine the effectiveness of each decision.


When planning an effective secondary program a focus on teacher collaboration must occur. Whether through virtual or physical means an investment of such will support a directive of collaboration. Teachers working together can share their best practices, align experiences and develop common assessments to align their progress towards standards mastery.  It is my belief that effective collaborative teams may invigorate the love of teaching as much as autonomy. The collective thought  provides teachers with a deviation from isolation. The sharing of materials and ideas can dramatically decrease workload as well as develop teachers depth of instructional practices.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Balanced Approach to High Tech Instruction

What has become a number of years ago now, I made a career change into teaching.  At that time technology was beginning to make its presence in schools with an expectation of high growth use. We saw the introduction of computer labs and the "computer special" in elementary schools. Middle and high schools introduced computer classes and electives. The instruction consisted of Microsoft Office training and the widespread use of educational software. The outcome was teaching technology tools in isolation of content and software as a supplement.

Fast forward ahead a few years and we found the shift from the computer lab to the classroom. Advancements in wifi, lower cost mobile devices, presentation platforms and cloud-based applications provided opportunities for the technology to move from the lab to the desk. Professional development focused on introducing teachers and students to the tools. Teachers were expected to attend workshops or self direct their own learning towards to mastery of tools.

The evolution continues. Ubiquitous access to technology and general acceptance of the disruptive innovation that technology brings to teaching and learning has shifted the focus from "I am using tool x to how can I individualize,  personalize and differentiate instruction in ways I could not before. In what ways can we develop the skills that allow students to be creators of content and knowledge rather than passive consumers.

As technology initiatives evolve a focus on asynchronous learning, publishing, collaborating, creating and connecting will provide our students with future proof skills, differentiated learning and an excitement connected to their perceived control over there growth.

As we embrace this change and explore the opportunities that are presented with technology it is just as important to recognize that a balanced approach to instruction is best. Recognizing the appropriate mix of instructional strategies including independence and self-directed learning is the new demand on educators. The most successful will be able to identify when and with whom to employ such strategies.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Social Network Approach to School Community




Technology has created disruption in Education. Districts have channeled resources towards supporting and expanding infrastructure. Our professional development and pedagogical approach to instruction has grown to expect a significant infusion of technology. To date, we have access to a vast variety of cloud-based applications that allow for the creation, presentation, and collaboration of content.   Professional development has also evolved from “check out these cool web 2.0 tools” to“ how to create a personalized and relevant, curriculum with technology”.

 

The implementation of various technologies and the increase of curriculum demands was a quick moving tornado of change. Our students are connected, collaborating, creating and sharing. They are developing a digital footprint that represents their academic growth.  The integration of technology based assessment has simplified data driven decision making and a feedback chain that has never been as effective. Teachers are exploring new web-based tools and integrating them into their content areas. We have seen a decline in textbook adoption and an increase in online, curated content. Students seamlessly shift between applications creating opportunities for the representation and assessment of knowledge that has never been so diverse.

 

During this era of disruption our students have evolved. As educators we struggle with addressing students need for constant connectivity, the management and interpretation of mass information, the desire for immediacy and an overall increase in stress and anxiety connected to our shift in education expectations. Our reaction to a global economy and workforce has fueled an increase in computer based assessment, increased rigor, and demand for competitive college placement.  In many cases, school has become much more difficult to manage.

 

Today’s students have to balance high expectations, a breadth technologies and increasing demands for time. Keeping track of “what to do” and developing personal efficiencies are vital for their success. Today, Students may find themselves with eight classes and eight different online resources for managing content and communication for those classes. For students at-risk, the ability for mentors, advisors, and parents to assist may be overbearing.  Consider the significant segment of classified students with ADHD.  How do students with executive function weakness manage the technologies and resources that are peppered by teachers, administrators or coaches?

 

In order to harness the plethora of digital content, the need for on-demand access, and communication & collaboration, districts may consider a learning management system (LMS).   A learning management system provides a central repository for course content and assignments. It provides a starting point for all blended classrooms to curate the information necessary for their courses. While teachers may ask students to use web 2.0 technologies to create content, the learning management system is where they are delivered their assignments and any supporting documentation.

 

In Chatham High School we were faced with an increased breadth of technology adoption. As more and more teacher’s embraced digital content and creation options for students we found that segments of our student body were struggling to stay organized. For example, a single grade 9 student may have one teacher that posted all assignments on a Google Calendar, one who utilized a website, another who emailed information to a student group and others who shared a Google Document.  For students classified and non-classified who demonstrate weakness in executive function the challenge was amplified.

 

Our focus shifted to providing a single platform to function as the hub for our course content. In looking for a platform our vision was a web-based application that would provide students and teachers with course/content management, calendaring and collaboration options.  A single platform to curate course information would simplify professional development and teacher collaboration by providing a common language for teachers and administrators.

 

Our implementation of a learning management system proved to be a success. We settled on an LMS that syncs with our student information system. The end result is pre-populated courses and student rosters. A student has access to all of their 6-8 courses in a single location. Our teachers post documents, video and website links, threaded discussions, and assessments. Teachers can post and collect assignments and even sync them directly with a popular plagiarism software suite without leaving the LMS. Events and assignments are automatically loaded to a class calendar. Students have the option of viewing individual course calendars or a single calendar that lists the events for all of their classes in a single location. This has proven to be the most significant change agent in that students, parents, counselors, case managers and advisors have a single location to know what assignments needs to be done and when. Most LMS providers offer mobile apps that offer immediacy and mobility for keeping up with changes.

 

There have been a number of unexpected advantages to creating this virtual network in our school. We have utilized the groups feature for all of our student clubs and activities. News, announcements and events are shared through these groups and published on the student’s calendar. Our faculty has taken advantage of these groups by creating collaborative spaces to share ideas, success stories and their questions. One of our more popular groups is the CHS Faculty Shelfie Wednesday, were faculty members share book recommendations. The CHS Think Tank is a group of teachers who meet physically and virtually to share innovative instructional practices across content areas. The Chatham Library for Information and Collaboration (CLIC) shares tutorials and how-to-guides for a plethora of web 2.0 applications and district software applications.  Our departments have created groups to copy and share course materials, assessments, primary sources and other valuable instructional materials.

 

Instruction in CHS has transformed by providing a blended experience with 24/7 access to course content.  Students have around the clock access to course materials. Teachers provide access to supplemental materials for remediation or deeper exploration into topics. Faculty members have begun to develop their own web-based textbooks by organizing content in unit folders in their courses. In some departments we are exploring the development of virtual only courses. This shift has started a conversation about flexibility in seat time and a typical school day structure. As the available features of the LMS evolve we continue to explore our options for deeper integration.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shifting from Recall to Discussion Requires Teacher and Student Training

Discussion and questioning are two of the most targeted areas of classroom observation and evaluation. The focus has resulted in modified classroom configurations ("u" shaped seating) , varied seating options (table vs. chairs), technology infusion (online discussion forums), and professional development regarding instructional strategies that promote collaboration (think-pair-share, turn and talk). 


At the heart of a collaborative classroom is the formulation of "good questions". The format of the questions dictate the result. There is a very defined  purpose for asking recall or recitation questions. It provides teachers and students an opportunity to check for understanding. In my experience, this is the most prevalent form of formative assessment used in schools today. The use of technology ( student response apps) and various other instructional  strategies (exit tickets, answer cards)  provides teachers with data that encapsulates the entire class instead of an answer from a single student.


There is ample research to suggest that when students engage in active discussion regarding a topic they develop a more thorough understanding. The engagement in discussion provides students the opportunity to  reflect, make connections, validate their knowledge and receive alternative perspectives from their peers.


Shifting from recall to discussion requires planning, preparation, scaffolding and reflecting. To be blunt, it requires training for teachers and students. Teachers and curriculum supervisors work collaboratively to develop "good questions". A good question allows students to form opinions, provide supporting evidence, make a personal connection, present their ideas and respond to feedback from their peers. When in development, teachers consider and anticipate student responses and adjust their questions to accommodate them.


The above mentioned does not come naturally. It must be modeled and reinforced. How have you provided students the classroom "norms" for effective discussion? Are students aware of the expectations for effective discussion. Have you posted them in your room?


Students need to be instructed on how to dissect a question and participate effectively in a group discussion.  How do you dissect the question and establish your personal connection and need for clarification? How do you create "mental space" for peers to formulate responses and contribute to the group? How do you ensure everyone shares their connections and is an active participant in the group? What roles can you assign to group members to ensure a productive exchange? Is it necessary to provide a graphic organizer or outline to guide students progress? How will the ideas of a group be shared with the whole?


There are a variety of resources and publications that assist teachers in the development of effective discussions and productive group work. My goal with this post is to spark a self  reflection regarding your own classroom. How effective is your classroom discussion and should it be an area to further explore?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What's for homework? Be ready for a question.

The use, value, and effectiveness of homework has been a long debated topic. Homework serves a number of purposes. What becomes a point of contention is the difference in opinion regarding the purpose. The primary rationale for homework tends to lean towards practicing what has been introduced in class or reading content to prepare for the next day's lesson.

The use of homework as a method to check for understanding or assess student understanding is not effective.  How students complete their homework can vary with the availability of tutors or crowd sourced answers. Even the standard process of homework review is flawed. I have observed countless classes in which the opening of the lesson goes like this, "Take out your homework. Does anyone have any questions or problem with any of the questions?" This then transitions to a whole class lesson in which a few problems are reviewed based on a choral response to the teacher's question.

Proponents of the flipped classroom have turned the table on this approach by having students view recorded lectures or read instructional content for homework. When the students return to class they are provided opportunities to apply what they learned. The instructor facilitates this application of knowledge, checking in on students, and providing small group instruction when necessary.

I believe their is value in homework for those who need it. I propose making homework optional.  A better approach for teachers to ensure understanding is to begin class with a question. A skillfully designed question or question set that provides the instructor with immediate feedback regarding student understanding. The results of which may guide the lesson towards moving forward or reviewing the previous topic. This type of assessment must provide aggregate and individual data. Using fingers or ABCD cards is a low tech option to a posed question. Class clickers, cell phones or learning management systems provide high tech solutions that can quickly aggregate results.

By implementing formative assessment at the start of the end of a lesson we can move away from "who does not understand?", and transition to  "let's take another look at ......, it seems to be challenging"

Monday, September 28, 2015

Remember these elements when planning your lessons

The newly issued ASCD publication The Motivated Brain, by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt reminded me of a few simple yet frequently overlooked lesson planning components. When we design lessons structure and consistency will ensure that we have designed a lesson with the potential of success.

My experience as an elementary and now high school educator provided the opportunity to see two different types of classrooms. Typically there are classrooms that are organized and those that are not. Establishing routines, norms and expectations allows for not only the efficient use of time, but it simplifies collaboration, communication and individualized learning. Provide students with an expectation of what to do as soon as they enter a class with a "do now" or other assigned task. Consider reviewing the procedures for group work or what is expected when students complete an assigned task.  The research cited in The Motivated Brian points to lower stress and a more comfortable classroom environment in classrooms with this type of forethought.

Another essential component that is frequently minimized is the establishment of learning objectives and agenda of activities. By publishing your objectives, essential questions, and planned activities in advance you provide a road map for the students. This provides students an opportunity to self assess their progress towards meeting the objective and manage time and resources as the tasks progress. For your next lesson, write the objectives on the board and display an agenda of activites.

Providing students with opportunities to collaborate with peers is an essential lesson component that will impact classroom cultures. This type of collaboration such as turn and talk or larger scale group work provide students the opportunity to learn from each other, communicate ideas and feel comfortable needing clarification.

An interesting take away from the text is the focus on movement. Research has proven that individuals who are active increase blood flow which impacts mood, motivation and stress reduction. Making a point to incorporate movement into your class can have a profound effect. A simple change in structure like having students stand and discuss with a peer may result in more engaged class and fruitful dialogue.