Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Pedagogical Shift Needed for Digital Success

In a previous post I discussed in detail strategies to help ensure the effective use of technology to improve learning outcomes. You don’t have to be a fan of technology, but you do need to understand that it’s a catalyst for some exciting pedagogical changes.  The purposeful use of technology can innovate assessment, transform time frames around learning, increase collaboration, enable learning about information and research thanks to unprecedented access, and provide a level of student ownership like never before. These are all outcomes that any educator would (or should) openly embrace. 

I get the fact that technology can increase engagement, but if that engagement does not lead to evidence of learning then what’s the point?  Like it or not, all educators are being held accountable in some form or another for improvement in learning outcomes that result in an increase in achievement.  This is why evidence of a return on instruction (ROI) when integrating technology is critical. Just using it to access information is also not a sound use. As teachers and administrators we must be more intentional when it comes to digital learning.  If the norm is surface-level integration that asks students to demonstrate knowledge and comprehension the most beneficial aspects of digital are missed. A recent article by Beth Holland for Edutopia reinforced many of my thoughts as of late on this topic. Below some words of caution from her:
“The dissemination of digitized, teacher-driven content is not full blended learning. Though this can be viewed as a first step toward new models of learning, the peril lies in complacency. When blended learning is equated with digital workflow, students remain consumers of teacher-directed content instead of becoming creators of knowledge within a context that they can actively control.”
Student agency is one of the most powerful improvements that technology can provide.  This is the ultimate goal in my opinion, but to begin to set the stage for consistent, effective use a uniform pedagogical shift has to be our focus when it comes to digital learning.  The Rigor Relevance Framework provides a solid lens to look at the learning tasks that students are engaged in and redesign them in ways that move away from telling us what they know and instead showing whether or not they actually understand.



This simple, yet powerful shift can be applied to all digital activities. Now I full understand there is a time and place for basic knowledge acquisition and recall, especially at elementary level. However, the goal should be an evolution in pedagogy, especially assessment, where students can demonstrate conceptual mastery in a variety of ways. Instead of using technology to ask students what the capitol is of a state or country ask them to create a brochure using a tool of their choice and explain why the capitol is located where it is.  When designing digital learning tasks think about how students can demonstrate understanding aligned to standards by:
  • Arguing  
  • Creating
  • Designing 
  • Inventing
  • Concluding
  • Predicting
  • Exploring
  • Planning
  • Rating
  • Justifying
  • Defending
  • Comparing
It is important to understand that the verbs above should apply to a range of innovative learning activities, not just those involving digital tools.  By moving away from the use of technology to support low-level learning tasks we can really begin to unleash it’s potential while providing students with greater relevance through authentic work.  This shift will take some time, but the ultimate learning payoff is well worth it. Below are some examples of how my teachers made this shift when I was the principal at New Milford High School:
Mr. Groff’s history classes utilized Paperlet, a participatory technology platform where students created digital stories that incorporated various multimedia elements including video, sound, and image files. The students worked with Mrs. Fleming on Google Chromebooks in the library to design their e-books. During the course of the activity students made recommendations to Paperlet designers on needed changes and enhancements, which were immediately made to improve student experiences.  
Students in Mrs. Groff’s Voices in Poetry and Prose classes had been reading independently since the beginning of the school year. They chose their own books to read based on their interests and reading levels. Students then worked with Mrs. Groff and Mrs. Fleming to create book trailers on their favorite books. Students used WeVideo, Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, and other available technologies to create their videos. These trailers were then loaded onto WeVideo and a hash tag was used to share and get feedback from all over the world. 
Jessica Groff and Joanna Westbrook created an ELA task that incorporated Twitter into their unit on Julius Caesar and built on content authentic to the play – i.e. social media repurposed with and for academic discourse. To accomplish their goals, these teachers began with an informational text on the history of the Roman Forum to ground their use of social media in historical discourse and academic content. In addition, the teachers worked with students to reverse engineer the rhetoric of Twitter and generate a list of the style of the tweets students see currently in their daily lives. They also used Mozilla Thimble to create memes that allowed both the tech-savvy and non-tech savvy to present their visuals in a more professional manner. The use of this technology allowed students to bring visual clarity, some humor, and some creativity to their responses.  
Mr. Devereaux's AP Biology class used the apps iMotion and Stop Motion Studio to create stop-motion videos showing the process of meiosis. They used iMovie to put voice-overs into their videos to describe the process.
Lend a critical lens to your digital learning activities to being to develop more activities where students demonstrate what they understand as opposed to what they just know. As pedagogy evolves in step with technology, a key to success will be to ensure that meaningful, high-level, and valuable learning results. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Agency: Important for Students and Educators

There is a great deal of talk and focus on the need to improve student agency in our schools and rightfully so (see my post on this topic HERE).  Empowerment and ownership need and should be associated with learning to increase relevancy, value, meaning, and outcomes.  The desire to increase agency in the form of voice, choice, and advocacy should be viewed as just as important for educators (teachers and administrators) as it is for students.  For sustainable change and innovative practices to take hold let’s evaluate the level of educator agency in our schools. 


Image credit: www.peoplematters.in

Voice

Educators, both teachers and administrators, should have a say in many elements that influence a school’s learning culture.  When we don’t listen to the ideas and concerns of others people will shut down and withdraw. This results in a negative impact on motivation, respect, enthusiasm and a willingness to innovate.  In terms of communication, the aspect of listening is just as important in leading and sustaining change as the use of verbal and non-verbal strategies.  Educator voice can be cultivated using the following strategies:
  • Flipped staff meetingsEveryone who plans a meeting works terribly hard to develop and then get through an agenda.  This results in a death-by-meeting scenario and is a main reason why most people hate meetings. Consider developing a meeting agenda using Google Docs. The added bonus here is that other documents, images, and videos can be embedded, which really creates a more dynamic agenda.  Complete this a week prior and then send out to your staff where they can add comments and content to the agenda.  Then during the actual meeting focus on one or two very important goals such as the following: How do we improve learning for our students? Have a back channel established and monitored using a tool like TodaysMeet to take educator voice to the next level.  Creating a trusting environment where staff can respond under the cover of anonymity amplifies voice even more.   
  • Planning professional learningHow many of us dreaded professional development (PD) days? Historically PD has always been something that was done to us, not something that we wanted to engage in.  The best way to change the paradigm here is to afford educators opportunities to use their voice and ideas to plan powerful learning experiences.  This could consist of speaker recommendations, workshop topics, hosting your own event, or even the development of an unconference.  Just as we want students to own their learning the same should apply to adults. 
  • Comment box – This strategy has been used in the hospitality business for ages.  Some people just want their concerns to be heard, but acting on certain concerns can be empowering on many levels.  Consider having some of your talented students create a wood box do this the traditional way and then leave it in the faculty room.  If digital leadership is your thing, set up a few tools (Padlet, TodaysMeet, Tackk) and allow anonymous comments to be posted.  Establish some ground rules prior such as including a solution to go along with the identified problem, as you don’t want this to turn into a gripe session.  The comment box should also be used as an opportunity to provide compliments and positive reinforcement.

Choice

In the classroom, agency empowers a shift where students can choose the right tool for the right task to demonstrate conceptual understanding and mastery. Various pathways to personalize learning and make it more personal are also emphasized.  Educators should have more choice over how they learn themselves. They should also have choice over resources that they, the experts who work with students the most on a day to day basis, feel are valuable to support and enhance learning.  Below are some ideas on how to promote educator choice:
  • Micro-credentials – The use of digital badges, otherwise known as micro-credentials, can afford educators choice over what they want to learn about as well as the specific time that they want to learn a new skill or pedagogical technique.  Accountability for learning is ensured through a vetting process and the badge represents the successful achievement of a learning goal. Thanks to the leadership of Laura Fleming we implemented a micro-credential system to acknowledge the informal learning of our teachers and administrators.  You can visit her site HERE and begin to earn your own badges through choice or work to implement your own system.
  • Genius Hour - Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.  This concept can be applied for educators as well.  As principal I created the Professional Growth Period (PGP) where in lieu of a non-instructional duty my staff were given 2-3 forty-eight minute periods per week to follow their learning passions.  A learning portfolio was required as part of this process and presented at the end of year evaluation conference. You can learn more about the PGP process HERE
  • Distributive budgeting – Distributive leadership conveys the importance of a shared, collective and extended leadership practice that builds the capacity for change and improvement. This can be applied to the budgeting process when it comes time to purchase learning tools, resources, and services (PD providers). The choice factor honors the expertise found in our classrooms and schools and can serve as a great catalyst for sustainable change. 

Advocacy

Educators need to be put in a position where they can actively advocate for system improvements without the fear of repercussion.  It is important to understand that there is no perfect teacher, classroom, administrator, school, district, or system. In education, we must focus on areas where our data tells us we can improve, but also continue to push the envelope by embracing innovative ideas and an edupreneurial mindset (learn more about this concept in my book BrandED). Advocacy educators consider voice and support for a cause to bring about needed change.  Let’s face it, even with progress in schools there still are many areas that need improvement. Forums should be established where advocates for grading, homework, schedule, curriculum, budget, and professional development reform can not only be heard, but also offer recommendations for improvement.  These need to be safe places where open dialogue is encouraged and action results. 

These are my thoughts on improving educator agency in our schools to compliment student agency. When looking at the three essential elements (voice, choice, advocacy) what examples would you add?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Is Technology Being Integrated Effectively?

In many cases, there seems to be a tendency to water down expectations when it comes to integrating technology.  During a recent presentation on digital pedagogy for deeper learning I asked attendees to discuss then share out on TodaysMeet how they were effectively integrating technology in their classroom, school, or district.  There was an emphasis on describing in detail what effective use of technology meant to them.  As the results poured in there were a few consistent responses that stood out. Most attendees flat out stated that they or their schools/districts were not effectively integrating technology. Others confessed that they weren’t sure what effective use constituted.  Many of the remaining responses centered on just a listing of tools that were being used as a measure of effectiveness. 

The question about effective use provides a great opportunity for all of us to critically reflect upon the current role technology plays in education.  There is a great deal of potential in the numerous tools now available to support or enhance learning, but we must be mindful of how they are being used. Take Kahoot for example. This tool is used in so many classrooms across the world to get students more engaged and add a level of fun and excitement to the learning process. However, most of the time the questions that students are asked to answer in a Kahoot are focused on the lowest cognitive domains and mostly multiple choice.  I have nothing against Kahoot and think it is a great tool that has a great deal of promise. My issue is how this tool, and many others, are utilized in the classroom. 

The burden of responsibility here lies with both teachers and administrators. In many cases the engagement factor is emphasized over learning outcomes and actual evidence of improvement aligned to standards. I get that this is not the end all be all, but nevertheless it is important. It goes without saying that effective technology integration should inform instruction and provide feedback as to the level of conceptual mastery students demonstrate. Then there is the unfortunate practice of putting the cart before the horse where acquiring technology and getting it into classrooms takes precedence over improving instructional design.  In either case, for technology to ever live up to the lofty, and at times baseless, expectations that have been established we must take a more critical look at pedagogy. 

For many educators SAMR is the preferred model often associated with technology integration. It’s a catchy model and does have some value mostly in the form of what we shouldn’t be doing (substitution). Take a close look at the tech-centric language used in each category and ask yourself what does the SAMR model really tell you about the level of student learning? This is why I love the Rigor Relevance Framework as a means to ensure that technology is integrated effectively.  It provides a common language, constitutes the lens through which to examine all aspects of a learning culture (curriculum, instruction, assessment), and helps to create a culture around a common vision. 

Technology should be integrated in a way that increases engagement through relevance. As students are utilizing technology are they just applying it in one discipline? I am not saying this is a bad thing, but we must eventually move beyond this typical comfort zone when it comes to tool use. When integrating technology does the task allow students:

  • to make connections across various disciplines and content areas?
  • to solve real-world predictable problems?
  • to solve real-world unpredictable problems?

The other aspect of this framework is the most important.  Are students working, thinking, or both? Successful technology integration is totally dependent on the level of questioning that is asked of our students.  This is why I always say that pedagogy trumps technology.  Think about the formative and summative assessments you either use or see in your respective role. Are students demonstrating high levels of cognitive thought? How do you know whether students have learned or not when integrating technology? What does the feedback loop look like? These are extremely important questions to ask as a teacher or administrator to determine the level of effectiveness. Check out this example to see how all the pieces (rigor, relevance, tech, assessment) come together to create a powerful learning experience).



The overall goal when integrating technology should be to provide opportunities for students to work and think. Another key strategy for successful integration is to use technology when appropriate. Technology will not improve every lesson or project, thus a focus on pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate with help ensure success. Many aspects of the Rigor Relevance Framework can be used to guide you in developing better questions as part of good pedagogy including:

  • anticipatory set/do-now
  • review of prior learning
  • checking for understanding (formative and summative)
  • closure

The most important aspects of pedagogy are assessment and feedback.  If technology (and innovation in general) is going to have a positive impact on learning, let’s ensure these areas are improved first. Then going forward always lend a critical eye to how technology is being used to address standards and inform instruction.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ideas That Power Lasting Change

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Some are good and extremely creative while others are not realistic or applicable to a certain situation.  As social media continues to evolve, there now seems to be an endless sea of ideas as to how education should change and what educators should do to improve professional practice. I will go as far to say that just having an idea is not good enough. It doesn’t take much effort to develop a sound bite that sounds great in theory, but if it is challenging to implement in practice, especially at scale, then we need to reconsider the relevancy of that idea.  

We all struggle with a tug-of-war of sorts when it comes to ideas.  In many situations we are asked to either implement or embrace the ideas of others, particularly those who we are accountable to or so-called experts in the field. This can be problematic at times if the groundwork explaining the what, why, when, and how has not been clearly articulated.  Then there are those that we develop on our own.  Throughout my career and even up to this point, ideas are constantly flowing through my mind.  There tends to be a bias towards the ones that we come up with, which throws another wrench into the process of moving an idea into actionable change.  

Being open to new ideas is extremely important in these disruptive times.  If we continue to employ the same type of thinking, then the chances are we will probably have to settle for the same old results…. or worse.  Great ideas are the seeds of change. Many of them don’t have the opportunity to germinate because of our fixed mindsets. For the most part nobody likes change. This is just how our brains are wired, unfortunately for many of us. I can tell you that this was the case for me early in my administrative career.  It is important not to fall victim to idea voodoo.


Don’t let idea voodoo cloud your vision as to what is possible.  Embracing a growth mindset can put you in a better position to lead change in your classroom, school, district, or organization.  This is only half the battle though. Don’t assume that just because you are open to new ideas that everyone else is.  This is where the hard, and at times frustrating, work comes in. The real challenge of change is getting the resistance to embrace and implement your idea(s). So what makes a great idea that others will embrace and take some calculated risk to implement? Great ideas are:

Innovative
Doable
Energizing
Aligned
Sustainable

Innovative: here are so many words associated with innovation.  Some popular ones include new, change, transformation, improvement, better, and success. Innovation to me, in an educational context, is creating, implementing, and sustaining transformative ideas that instill awe to improve learning. Fresh Ideas are needed that take into account dramatic changes in society, technology, and learner needs.  New is not necessarily better. That is why innovative ideas must focus on improving existing culture.

Doable: This goes without saying.  Great ideas consider financial resources, time, and mandates. Doable ideas can be associated with lofty goals, but a meticulous effort on articulating the what, why, when, and how must occur to overcome fixed mindsets and an entrenched status quo. 

Energizing: If an idea doesn’t inspire or motivate someone to embrace different and better then it might just be a crumby idea. Great ideas should be energizing and create a buzz. When people believe that a change will lead to improved outcomes embracement is more likely. Initially this might not be the case. Coming up with great ideas is a start, but the differentiator is how the idea is rolled out. Energizing ideas bring an increased joy to learning and professional practice. They are also presented in ways that motivate and inspire.

Aligned: Great ideas should complement and then enhance what is already in place. This includes curriculum, standards, mandated assessments, and other elements associated with school/district culture.  They should also be aligned to research, evidence, and professional development. Take a critical lens to all ideas to ensure efficacy. 

Sustainable: If an idea fizzles out then it probably didn’t meet any or all criteria listed above. Great ideas lead to changes that become embedded into school culture and professional practice. They withstand the test of time and thus become the new normal way of doing business. 

Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean that it will lead to an improvement. It is time to weed out the bad and so-so ideas while striving to make good ideas great.