Thursday, August 10, 2017

Student Centered Learning and Data

Student centered learning engages every student regardless of skill level and prepares every student for college readiness, career readiness, and civic engagement.  

Principles of student centered learning include:
  • Learning is personalized
    • Together students and teachers create customized learning experiences based on development needs, skills, and interests
  • Learning is competency based
    • Students progress as they become proficient
    • Students given clear criteria for success and examples of exemplar work
  • Learning takes place anywhere/anytime
    • Credit for learning outside "typical" educational settings
  • Student exert ownership over their learning
    • Data is meaningful to them
    • Students reflect and provide feedback
    • Students practice self-efficacy and work on growth mindset
If we are truly going to engage in student centered learning then we must evaluate what data is collected and how it is used in education.  The reality of our current system is that data is used to rank and sort students.  How much of the data that is generated and used is actually meaningful to the individual student?  Does it actually guide/inform their learning?  We spend more time trying to make meaning of the data we have than actually supporting students in finding meaningful data to them.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Personalized Professional Development

One of my favorite books is Drive by Daniel Pink.  For me, this was a game changer in our approach to personalized learning at FHS.  Pink spelled out what really motivates people - autonomy, purpose, and mastery.  If you think about our current education system we do not provide our students, or staff, opportunities to leverage any of three drivers in their own learning.  Instead our current system is based on control and compliance which has lead to disengaged students and staff.

So, the question is "how do you incorporate autonomy, purpose, and mastery into the classroom?"  In my mind, teachers have to experience it first hand before they see how these can increase student motivation.  They have to feel these in action.  The only way to do that is to give up some control - something administrators are not always good at.

Over the past three years at Farmington High School we have experimented with various forms of personalized professional development.  We started by flipping some PD sessions and then moved to an EdCamp style format.  The flipping was a good way to introduce staff to autonomy.  They had some control over when and where they watched the video.  The EdCamp model introduced purpose and mastery to autonomy.  Sessions were created based on what staff wanted to learn more.  Each session was tailored to the specific needs and interests of those taking part discussion.

This progression laid the groundwork for our approach to professional development at FHS.  Today is a professional development day at FHS, but you would never know it by being in the building.  You do not see the traditional large group instruction that is associated with professional development.  Instead we set up a framework and turned over the 8 hours of professional development that would have been "given" to them today and teachers were allowed to set their goals for those hours, determine how they would meet the goals and decide how they would share their their learning.  This is exactly what we want our students to be able to do!!!

The results and feedback have been amazing.  Staff love the freedom to determine what they want to learn or improve.  My role has changed from a deliverer of content to a support.  I have more conversations with staff about their learning and how I can support them than ever before - the best part is it is something they are excited about.  My goal in this process is to model this process so they can apply it in their classrooms.  Teachers get to feel how autonomy, purpose, and mastery make their learning more valuable and to be honest more enjoyable.

How can we expect our approach to classroom instruction to change if we do not approach teacher learning differently?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Some times you just have to go with the flow.

I remembered seeing this video for the first time while watching Sunday Night Football last year.  I laughed out loud and then thought to myself "look how much fun those kids are having."  I then jumped into principal mode and thought "our classrooms need to look like this."

What do I mean by that?  Well, sometimes we need to lose a little control and not look at everything in our classroom as this or that.  These kids were dancing and playing football.  Obviously, they at the high school game to play a small exhibition.  The goal was to display their football skills.  Did they do that?  Yes.  Could have the coaches tried to regain some control to make the scrimmage look better?  Yes.  But I would ask at what cost?  What would have happened if the coaches tried to get the players to stop dancing?  Simple.  They would have spent all their time trying to regain control and to be honest it would have taken away the "fun" they were having.  They would not have been able to run another play.

These coaches were smart.  They let the kids go.  They understood they could play football and dance!!  These kids where having the time of their lives, even the ones who were cold and wanted to go home.

So remember you may have to give up a little control to engage all your students.  That's ok, but a little whip and nae-nae never hurt anyone!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What if all students approached learning like Audri?

I'd like you to meet Audri.  He may be only 7, but he gets what learning is all about . . . mistakes (he calls them failures).  He understands mistakes will happen and accepts them as part of his design process.

How do we get students to not fear failure?  How do we understand that mistakes are vital to learning?  Part of the solution needs is leveraging each student's natural desire for autonomy, purpose, and mastery.  We need to set up environments were the learning is authentic and based on student interest.  Just think of all the math and physics Audri had to apply to get his monster trap to work - these concepts will stick with him much longer and he will be able to apply them to other settings easier than if they were introduced and practiced separately (which is what we do now is school). Creativity and problem solving cannot be taught in isolation.

The real value of the video is that students will persevere through mistakes/failures when they anticipate they will happen and there is not penalty for making them.  Unfortunately our system penalizes mistakes and does not celebrate them.

The funniest part of the video is when the monster trap works. It wasn't that it worked, but it only took 3 failures!!  We need all our students to be that excited when they learn!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

What if the glass wasn't half empty or half full?

The one nice thing about break is that it gives us time to think and reflect.  My goal is to do a better job of writing my thoughts down in this Blog.  I had a chance to run every day over break . . . I have a lot of thoughts 😃!!

What do you think when you see this?

Most people either see this as half-full (optimistic/positive) or half-empty (pessimistic/negative).  The metaphor of the glass being half-full or half-empty is used all of the time, but what if we approached the glass differently?  What if we didn't worry about how much water was in the glass or even if there was any water in the glass?  How would this transform your thinking?

Over the last five years our district has been on a journey to transform the learning experience of our students.  The one thing I have learned is that the current way of thinking about learning (no matter how you see the glass - half-empty or half-full) gets in the way of true transformation.  We need to look at situations/opportunities differently and develop alternative methods of assessing.  In other words we need to look at the glass differently.

What if we look at the glass like this?

What if we looked at the glass as refillable?  How would this change your approach?  I love this since no matter how much water is in the glass if we do something different we may spill some or all of the water.  This fear of having only a finite amount paralyzes us and prevents us from doing something different - something that may be better than what we are currently doing.

To transform we must think and do differently.  We must not let the fear of failure (or mistakes) prevent us from engaging all students in learning activities that are meaningful to them.  Trying to do this within the current system is difficult, but it can be done!!  We will spill some water, but that's ok . . . we have more!!  I challenge you to look at all situations through a different frame of reference.  An easy place to start is with a glass of water.

Here is the picture that got me thinking about this on a run earlier this week - saw it on Facebook

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Personalization In a Band Class

I had the opportunity to observe one of our band classes last week and was blown away by what I saw.  We all can close our eyes and see a band rehearsal.  The director stands up front, directs students when to start and when to stop - giving feedback to each section as they practice different parts of the piece and then starting that process all over again..  The director directs and the students focus on their instrument and section.  The student's responsibility is to make sure they take care of their part and the director makes sure everything fits.  The director makes every decision in the class.

This class was different . . . very different from any band rehearsal I have ever seen.  This class has been rehearsing this way since January.  Ms. Holmes (the band teacher) led the class through their warm-ups and then she took a seat about 10 rows up in the recital hall.  The rest of the class was directed by the students - not one or two appointed leaders - any student who had a thought, opinion, or wanted to give feedback spoke - over 20 of the 60 students in the band spoke during the period. Students had to decided how to get started, how to end, where to start, and where to stop.  It was cool to listen to students talk to different instrument sections and give those sections positive feedback and areas to improve.  Students spoke very specifically about the overall performance of the band using common language.  Ms. Holmes did stop the rehearsal to remind students to speak to the entire group and make sure they spoke loud enough to hear.  That was the extent of her influence during the rehearsal.

You may ask "what is the goal of this?" - just like I did in my pre-conference with Ms. Holmes.  Her response was simple.  She wanted students to open their ears up to what was going on with the entire piece of music and not just focus on their individual instrumental sections.  Students read their music not from their instrument specific sheet, but from the musical score.  Her goal was for students to get a greater understanding of how all the musical parts fit together.  It was apparent from the comments of the students that they have embraced this opportunity and responsibility and the music sounded great!!

Ms. Holmes ended class by giving students an opportunity to reflect on the rehearsal - "what went well and what areas do we need to continue to work on?"  She also recorded the entire rehearsal and posted it online for students to watch that night.  Her thought was to give students another perspective to listen to and watch from.  Students could use this information to help with the next day's rehearsal.

I talked to some of the students in lunch the next day to get their impression of this strategy and they loved it.  The were excited to be able to help make decisions regarding the rehearsal.  I was shocked to find out that not one of them had ever seen a musical score before.  They had no idea of what the director was looking at during a concert and really hadn't cared what the other parts were doing.  

Most people who visit our school want to see how we leverage technology to personalize and we keep telling them it is not about technology.  Personalization is about allowing students to have control over their learning.  The structure of this band rehearsal is a great example of a teacher turning over control to the students and the students thriving!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Learning Commons

As we work to personalize the education of every student we are continually looking at all aspects of what we do and how we utilize our space to meet this mission.  With that in mind, we are in the process of transforming our media center space from a more traditional library setting to a Learning Commons Environment.  The Learning Commons model is intended to be a flexible space where students are welcome to study, read, collaborate, and relax anytime the doors are open.   As we transform this space our media center staff is working with students to set the expectations while they are utilizing this space.  Something very different from a traditional media center is that students will be able to collaborate in this space, but conversions must be kept at a respectful level.   We do require all students to sign in to the Learning Commons, but the LC staff will not monitor students' comings and goings as long as their behavior in the LC is appropriate.  Comfortable seating, iPad charging stations, and two silent study rooms are available for students to use throughout the day.  Our goal is to create a space student choose to go when they have flexible learning time.  

Our staff can reserve a time for their instruction to be held in the LC just like a traditional media center.  The flexible nature of the environment allows our LC staff to establish the proper environment for each class and the intended activity.  The whole space can be flexible for whatever learning activities will take place that day.  Tables can be moved, outside students can adjust, the computers can be used, etc.  The area can be tailored to a specific class' needs.  This can truly become a flexible learning space!!

We do have times where the the entire space is reserved for one class.  On those days the LC staff will work with any outside students who are working in the LC during that time to make sure that they have a place work so that the class can use the space in a manner that best suits the learning activity.

The Learning Commons concept is a big change, but so far our students have loved it.  We are seeing students make good choices about where to go and how to use their time.  This is truly a case of "if you build it, they will come."