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December 21, 2018 Previous day Next day

Recently Eric Sheninger posted the following graphic as part of a blog post about taking a critical lens to instructional design:

I've been thinking about the above concepts on a regular basis as our teachers are going through the process of creating units in our learning management system, Canvas. I believe there are certain times that just lend themselves to reflection, revamping and reorganization such as:

  • When a lesson plan flops
  • When curriculum mapping is being updated
  • When a learning management system (LMS) is an option
  • When you have a vision for a lesson plan that could use a little ummph
  • When you start wondering if there is a better way to....(fill in the blank)
So what do the above high agency options look like?
  1. "Facilitate" learning - you were probably both taught from a "sage on the stage" model of learning and if you are my age you also were probably taught to teach that way as well. While there are definitely times that lectures work, high agency education moves the teacher from the giver of all knowledge to the facilitator of the learning happening in the classroom. In the age of digital learning, the teacher can have options for students to learn more on a topic- for instance: access to primary source documents or video conferencing with subject matter experts.
  2. Student-centered - Does the learning happen based on the teacher's actions, steps, words, timing? Or does the student have access and the ability to be in charge of parts or all of their learning? Do students have voice and choice in the things they are learning or sharing? Student-centered activities lead to engagement. 
  3. Learning anytime/anywhere - Most teachers balk at this concept. "I don't teach an online course!" but do your students have to be sitting in front of you for learning to happen? Are you utilizing tools like a learning management system that allows students to use their time well? If seat time was not an issue, could your students access you when they needed more details or direction but basically could move forward with learning even if a sub was there for weeks? What if they are sitting in your classroom? Are there ways you could utilize an LMS that would allow you to have more one-on-one planning, mapping, and teaching happening with EACH student (or small groups of students)?
  4. Personalized, differentiated - Are you meeting the needs of ALL your students? For hundreds of years, educators have taught to the norm. Those that caught on quicker were bored out of their minds and those that caught on slower felt like a failure. Technology can allow students to have different outcome paths. In Canvas, our LMS at CCS, we have a math classroom that uses mastery paths. Students cannot move on until they are "ready" but they can move ahead at a faster rate as well. Personalization and differentiation are tricky in a traditional school structure but it can be possible and is definitely beneficial to ALL students. One of my favorite, easy to implement option for this is software that adapts to the student learning in the process. For instance, if a student doesn't do well on a math problem then an easier problem is given to allow for scaffolding that student back to the level of understanding needed. Also, algorithm-based software that assigns the next "to do" objectives to students meet those students where they are and take them to their potential.
  5. Do to learn - Parents often question the time it takes for homework and have a hard time seeing the validity and purpose, and so do I. What is the purpose of "doing?" Or your students doing to learn or just going through the motions of doing? It is our job to spark learning and a desire to learn. Are your students good at following instructions and jumping through hoops (for example: do the odd problems 1-17) or are your students doing it to learn- are grades associated with the learning process? In other words, are your formative assessments given to formulate feedback in order to know what students know or is it another grade in the grade book because you need more grades? If students have the freedom to fail and learn from the process with feedback then they don't fear the process. Think about the freedom you have while playing a video game. Students don't get upset when they "lose a life" or have to start over, then click play and go again because they realize the way to learn how to do it is to keep doing it. Unlike the culture of a school, there are no repercussions to getting it wrong. Can we as educators learn from this concept?
  6. Application focused - Look for ways to teach your curriculum authentically. Project-based learning lends itself to giving students the concept of WHY.  Apply the learning to real life. For instance, in our lower school STEAM program when our fifth graders are learning about structure and function, I plan to connect the concept of their drinking straw made projects to a video of a local architect explaining who he is, what he does, and how what they are learning relates to his job. Application focus gives meaning and while it might be quite obvious to us what the application is, it might not be to a student. Share the why and make the learning applied when you can.
  7. Develop Thinking - Make learning more about the process than the end result. We tend to focus on summative tests as our end result but the process of learning and learning how to learn is a beautiful thing. Be intentional in helping students get to the end result, not just being able to answer multiple choice questions correctly because they are a good memorizer. We are currently going through a whole school design thinking process in our lower school. To teach students how to critically look at challenges through the eyes of empathy, to then ideate those concepts, storyboard your process, and come to a conclusion or prototype can be a skill that has the ability to be applied to all learning processes. Teach your students how to think. 
  8. Integrating curriculum - Segmented curriculum often feels intimidating. By integrating the curriculum into a project or problem to solve changes biases. Students that use to walk into math class saying "I'm not good at math" may feel less angst when it is integrated with a subject they do like. Integration focuses on relevance for students and directly correlates to the application focused discussion above. Integrating curriculum isn't always easy, especially in the middle and high school grades but when done well, there is an embedded connection that naturally happens that spurs the learner forward. Think about it, all day long a student goes from Subject A to Subject B, etc that have a high level of learning taking place but no connection whatsoever...between each class they have 3-10 minutes to decompress and get ready for the next stand-alone idea. What if their day was more fluid? Connected learning seems more manageable from the student perspective. 
  9. Active learning opportunities - "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." - Chinese Proverb. Take a look at Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: 
    Look at your mode of instruction, how often is active learning happening with your students? How often could it happen with some adjustments? Active and interactive opportunities support all the above high agency learning concepts. It can get loud and messy but often the level of engagement in the learning process becomes organic and freeing for the learners.
Nothing mentioned above is meant to say "you're doing this wrong." It's more just a challenge to us all to look deeper at the way we teach and consider alternatives to the process. How can you get all your students involved in the learning? Not just the same 5 that always raise their hands. We default to what feels easiest, it's human nature. But what if we took a moment to be a learner in this school year and challenge ourselves with learning based on the above? What if we changed our perspective towards what works best for our learners instead of what works best for us? We might find that some of these ideas fail miserably for us, but even when we fail, we learn...remember the video game idea? 

My thoughts on the benefits of digital objective testing:

  • Automated grading- My number one reason for loving digital assessments is the ability to automate grading. 
    • Using digital testing gives teachers the opportunity to quickly perform pre-assessments that can guide teachers forward in a curriculum. 
    • Using digital testing gives teachers time. Teachers often spend hours a week grading papers, projects, homework, and tests. Digital testing frees up some of that time for them to be able to spend in planning. 
    • Using digital testing allows for an increase in feedback for both the teacher and the student. Exit tickets give teachers immediate feedback on how the lesson was received and understood for the next day (or even the next period). Automated grading gives the teacher the opportunity for students to have a better sense of their knowledge along the way. I would even go as far to say that there are definite times assessments should not be in the grade book. Use this option as a tool to help students learn what they need to learn. In many digital platforms (like below in the LMS Canvas) when setting up quizzes you can actually give students multiple attempts so that it is not only an assessment tool for the teacher but it allows the student the opportunity to master the concept by going back and practicing/studying and taking the assessment again. 
      CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: Are you assessing in order to have grades in a grade book or are you assessing to know what your students know to get them to the ultimate goal of mastery of your curriculum concepts?
  • Paperless- There are definite pros and cons to being paperless but I'm going to share the pros in this. No longer are there stacks of paper on your dining room table, desk, and crumpled in the bottom of your computer bag. Digital testing leads to classroom management. Tests can't be "lost" and because it is paperless there is no waiting on a teacher to give back the grade. Feedback can be immediate.  CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: Do feel led to embrace pathways of sustainability for our world? Do you feel you have a responsibility for teaching your students how to steward our natural resources (such as trees/paper)? Creating paperless opportunities in your classroom supports that line of thinking. 
  • Individualization- Digital testing lends itself to being able to differentiate learning in a more streamlined, less labeled manner. No one knows that one student is getting a different "level" of a test than another. For instance, when setting up a quiz in Canvas (see below),
    you can assign quizzes to certain people. Instant differentiation or personalization. With the use of digital instruction and testing, teachers can actually spend more time meeting individual student needs than ever before. "This isn't just about algorithms and technology, it's about increased face time with teachers" when your class becomes more of a blended learning environment by utilizing tech for what it does best and utilizing your skills as a teacher for what you do best. https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=416 This aspect allows you to also hit on the next two ideas of "remediation" and "acceleration." CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: If you aligned the questions you entered into a quiz with an outcome (i.e.- standard, essential understanding) and you then knew what individual concept your students were not understanding, would you use that information for each student?
  • Remediation - Let's assume you said yes to the last challenge question. Because your desire is for all students to succeed, you could then create paths of learning that would allow those struggling students to master the curriculum set before them. In Canvas, there are options called Mastery Paths (see below)
    that would allow you to differentiate instruction/ resources/ testing based on the level of understanding achieved on their digital testing. CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: If you had data that showed you where your students had gaps, would you use that data for their good? Would it be worth the effort? 
  • Acceleration - In many classrooms across the world, it is the common, accepted practice to teach to the average student. But just like those kids that are below that norm have issues that can be addressed with digital testing, we also have the ability to push those higher achievers further in their learning with the mastery paths as well. They can either go farther faster or deeper into the concept for understanding. You're the teacher, the path is for you to decide but you've seen those bored faces waiting for the next chapter. CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: How are you, your school, and your district helping students progress that could accelerate through the curriculum? How do you support those students that could move on? 
  • Data for student progress -  Any teacher worth their salt can grade a stack of tests and see patterns of lack of comprehension, it's part of being a teacher. But with digital testing, you have the ability to look at that data in a whole new way. To drive instruction forward for your entire class, select groups, or individuals. Not only that, what if you could see the mastery from year to year? What if last year's math teacher could tell you the fundamental struggles the students you are about to teach have? Data is a four letter word but it doesn't have to be a bad word. We as educators tend to think of data as something being done to us, but: CHALLENGE THE EDUCATOR question: What if data helped you drive your day to day instructional strategies? Would that immediate feedback be useful to you? Could you adapt your standard mode of operation to include rethinking the next day's curriculum instead of grading papers for 1-2 hours every day? ###

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