Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shelley Wright on Ownership as Framework for Learning

"I used to think that compliant, well-behaved students were the ideal; now I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for the kids who think that scoring 90% actually means something in the real world. I’m afraid for the kids who believe the academic hoops they jump through so effortlessly guarantee that they will be successful at life. I’ve come to believe that being good at school might mean you’d make a decent academic, but it isn’t a guarantee of much else."
Shelley Wright is a high school educator in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. In her post, “The Flip: End of a Love Affair,” she wrote,
 “As I shifted my classroom from teacher-centred to student-centred, my students began to do lots of their own research. Sometimes this resulted in them teaching each other. Sometimes they created a project with the knowledge they were acquiring. But the bottom line was that their learning had a purpose that was apparent to them, beyond simply passing the unit exam.” 
As time went on, Wright saw her role changing to more of a guide and partner in learning. In one year, the flip disappeared. What happened?

Her students took over. They did the research, discovered, and shared their own resources. It was not about the technology either. Wright explained that she does not have a 1:1 classroom. 
“We used whatever devices my students had, which often was a couple of iPads, a few computers, and student cell phones. There were students who didn’t have a device, so other students shared. We made it work and everyone learned.” 
We interviewed Shelley over a month ago and realized this is someone who is growing and changing daily. So we followed her blog, Wright's Room, where she tells her story and journey as a high school teacher and now consultant, coaching other teachers. We are learning so much from her and wanted to make sure we presented how changing how she taught is now helping other teachers. This post is only a snapshot of how transforming her classroom to a personalized learning environment has completely changed how she teaches and her students learn now. We also wanted to share her new role as consultant supporting teachers.

Shelley shared with us how she and her students have changed since she changed her teacher role and let go so her students took responsibility for their learning.

Teacher as Partner in Learning

Shelley played around what it was like to have her students teach each other using feedback loops. They discussed what worked; what didn't work, and what they would do different next time. Students loved doing case studies such as trying to solve a real medical problem. They had ownership in their learning because they chose the problem, selected the resources to find solutions, and collaborated on how to solve the problem.

Shelley facilitated discussions on how their brain works and how they learn best so they could drive their learning. What they found out is that they had to go through a process of unlearning so they could understand this new way of teaching and learning.
"Every student I’ve taught could learn, just often not the same thing, or in the same way.  And when I’ve asked my students about it, I’ve always found they love to learn; they just don’t like school." [The Problem of Student Engagement. 1/11/13]

Shelley talked about her first project was a Holocaust Museum with her 10th graders. She started with the question "what do you need?" She used Carol Kuhlthau's work on inquiry and the Information Search Process.
"Technology opens up learning. Inquiry opens up minds."

From Carol Kuhlthau's site: "Inquiry requires that we dig beneath the surface to explore a topic, dwell in it, wonder about it, and find out information. This deeper understanding is forged with long-term memory." (Harvey, 1998, 2)

Culture Shock and Process

Shelley realized she was the only teacher in the school where her students were in charge of their learning. When they went to other classes, they were back to traditional teaching methods. This is when Shelley was asked to coach other teachers and started working with seven teachers through a process.
  • Sit down with the curriculum.
  • Choose outcomes and entire unit.
  • Determine how students were going to learn it and how to assess what they learned.

She asked them: If you designed school, what would you do?
  • Start with the negative -- what don't you like?
  • What would the opposite look like?
"The process is really messy. Everything falls apart. When it falls apart, these are the most important teaching moments."

A New Framework for Learning

"As my students worked with me to invent our own version of student-centred learning, we realized that the three questions every student in our classroom had to answer were: What are you going to learn? How are you going to learn it? How are you going to show me your learning? This became our mantra — our framework for learning.  This is what it means to give students control over their education.”

A snapshot of Shelley's English Classroom

Dean Shareski talks about learner-centred learning in Shelley's Classroom

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Culture Shift: When the Learner Owns the Learning

Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning
Alliance for Excellent Education's report on Culture Shift provides facts that point to learner-centered instruction and the use of technology to "guide students toward greater ownership of their learning."

"It is not about instruction or technology. It is about the learner owning and driving their learning." Barbara Bray / Kathleen McClaskey

The facts in the report are alarming and meant to inform and shake up the system: "One in four students now fails to graduate from high school on time, and African American and Hispanic students drop out of high school at nearly double the rate of their white peers." We know that school today is designed for the industrial age. It's not working for students who connect, text, and share in a digital world. Learners today use technology and will continue to use technology in and out of school.

What is the definition of culture shift in schools? 

To ensure deeper learning - to encourage problem solving and thinking skills and to develop and nurture highly motivated and engaged learners, for example - requires mobilizing the energy and capacities of teachers. In turn, to mobilize teachers, we must improve teachers' working conditions and morale. Thus, we need leaders who can create a fundamental transformation in the learning cultures of schools and of the teaching profession itself. The role of the principal as instructional leader is too narrow a concept to carry the weight of the kinds of reforms that will create the schools that we need for the future. [The Change Leader. Fullan, M. Center for Development and Learning]
 “If culture changes, everything changes.” Michael Fullan 

Rick DuFour wrote in his article "Leading Edge: Culture Shift Doesn't Occur Overnight--or Without conflict." Journal of Staff Development. 4. (2004) "Culture has been defined as 'the way we do things around here." Schools have been doing things the same way for hundreds of years. Changing teaching and learning takes time and some educators and parents aren't ready about changing to a personalized learning system. To transform an entire system to a learner-centered culture, all stakeholders in the school community need to agree on the shared vision and goals.

Culture change or shift is defined as lasting changes to the shared ways of thinking, beliefs, values, procedures, and relationships of the stakeholders. A school needs trust in changing beliefs, values, and relationships. Change is a difficult process. There are so many types of relationships in schools that impact how people think about school.

Learner-Centered Instruction vs Learner-Centered that Starts with the Learner

This report on Culture Shift stated that learner-centered instruction prepares students for college and a career and that such instruction is:
  • rigorous and based on college- and career-ready expectations.
  • personalized.
  • collaborative, relevant, and applied.
  • flexible, with learning taking place anytime, anywhere. 
But what do they mean by learner-centered instruction? The report writes that it is focused on the needs, abilities, and learning styles of individual students. There is no scientific-based evidence that learning styles exist. [Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence]

"We learn lots of things in lots of different ways – while there are parallels, I learned to drive in a different way to how I learned to use a computer, and to how I learned to speak as a child, and to how I learned to look after my children, and to how I learned to teach." Sam Shepherd [Blog on Learning Styles]
When the learning starts with the learner, the learner takes responsibility for their learning. The report states that the learner owns their learning. There is no evidence in the report how this happens. The teacher, data, and technology guides the learning in the model provided in the report -- not the learner. It needs to be about the learner first.

Personalized vs Personal

During Connected Educators Month (August 2012) sponsored by the DOE, we participated in the panels and It's Personal Forum. One of the conversations was about just this topic. What is it? Personal or Personalized Learning? This report on Culture Shift is framed as "personalized" as Will Richardson states:
 “Personalized” learning is something that we do to kids; “personal” learning is something they do for themselves.  
The idea of learner-centered instruction is teacher-driven. The focus is on the teacher differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  The learning is not personal nor does it start with the learner. Jim Rickabaugh, Director of CESA #1 in Wisconsin, responded to one of the posts: 
"Whether we call it personal learning or personalized learning is less important than whether learners and their voices are fully and impactfully represented in their learning. I disagree with the characterization that personalized learning is done to the learner. We, at the Institute @ CESA #1, have been doing what we call personalized learning for two years and the learner has always been at the center and a co-designer of the work."

Page 6 ends with "Finally, and consistent with deeper learning and twenty-first-century skills, learner-centered instruction must guide students toward greater ownership of their learning." Learners learn best if they know how they learn best. We did not see anywhere in the report any reference to the learner taking control of their learning. On the same page, there is reference to the U.S. Department of Education's national education technology plan that states, "Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs [i.e.individualized], tailored to learning preferences [i.e. differentiated], and tailored to the specific interests of different learners."

The terms: Personalized, Personalization, and Personal are used interchangeably and tend to confuse educators. Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. There is no learner voice and choice. We created the Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization chart to demonstrate why personalized or personal learning starts with the learner.

Personalized learning means learners...
  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • have quality teachers who guide their learning.
  • use a competency-based model to demonstrate mastery.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

    [source: Personalized Learning is the Umbrella]

Data Does Not Describe the Learner

On page 5 of the Culture Shift report under the heading Learning is Personalized uses data to create learner-centered instruction. "This involves the use of strategically embedded assessments and data to understand a child's individual needs and learning style, and the most effective instructional strategies." This is disturbing. The human element is critical to determine who the learner is and how they learn best.
It is not about the data. That only shows one piece of the learner.

Does numerical data really describe who the learner is and how they learn?  Data does not provide enough information to design strategies to support the learner. It only tells you what they are weak in not their strengths. We need to look closer at motivation, engagement, and voice.

The Trifecta of Student Centered Learning 
Motivation - Without motivation, there is no push to learn 
Engagement - Without engagement, there is no way to learn 
Voice - Without voice, there is no authenticity in learning
For students to create a new knowledge, to succeed academically, and to develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences.” 
[Toshalls and Nakkula. Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice. Students at the Center]

The Culture Shift report continues to refer to access to data and assessment, ideally including learning-style preferences and feedback from other teachers, and to focus ore on formative assessment to drive instructional decisions. [Page 13]. As stated earlier, there is no scientific-based evidence that learning styles exist. Using this as the data that defines how the learner learns contradicts everything we know about motivation and engagement.

Culture Shift means we are changing the focus from teaching to the learner. It is not about reforming our educational system. It is about transforming teaching and learning. George Couros wrote on his post "the Flipped Classroom and Transforming Education"
Want to transform education? We are going to have to do it one learner at a time because each and every kid we serve deserves that. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

OMG! Teacher Roles are Changing

When you create an environment where learning is personal for each learner, your role as a teacher changes.
So what does personalized learning really mean? 
Personalized learning means it starts with learners having a voice and choice in how they learn. They create their Personal Learner Profile using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens determining how they learn best indicating their strengths, challenges, aspirations, interests, and talents. They know how they prefer to access resources, engage with content, and then choose the best ways to express what they know. They self-regulate their learning. They own and drive their learning. It is does not mean technology personalizes the learning for learners. It does not mean that your role as teacher is no longer needed. Your role changes in a personalized learning environment more than ever as a partner in learning with your learners.

Teachers only know what they know -- right? For hundreds of years, teachers were and continue to be trained in traditional teaching strategies. It started over 120 years ago with Charles Eliot, President of Harvard who chaired the Committee of Ten who developed the Carnegie Unit and structured time-based schedules that we have today. This is all most of us know. Schools are set up as institutions where learning is the only place it is supposed to happen. Actually, that is where the teaching happens, and it doesn't mean that all learners are learning.

It is not that easy to start personalizing learning in a traditional system. Yet, there are teachers all over the world who take risks and try new strategies. They transform lessons to interactive real-world projects. You know who we're talking about. It might be you. It could be the teacher next door or those you know in your PLN (Personal Learning Network). You might be in a school where your administrators encourage risk-taking, flexibility and creativity. We know we are leaving out some very important people here, but we want to share a few of the  transformational teachers who are on their own journeys to personalize learning:

Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson are co-teachers in a K-2 team from Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wisconsin who shared their journey:
Upon reflection, we found that really, we were “missing the boat” when it came to truly personalizing learning. We don’t have all the answers by any means, but we are certainly finding that we are on an exciting path at this time! Currently, every child in our classroom has a PERSONALIZED Learning Plan.

Kevin McLaughlin is an ICT Coordinator / Primary Teacher at Old Mill Primary School, Broughton Astley, Leics, UK who shared his journey:
I  envisaged personalised learning in my classroom as one that involves every learner in the development of their learning journey, that includes their own learning themes as well as those that the curriculum requires of them and allows them the opportunity to explore this learning in any way they see fit to achieve it.

We recently interviewed Shelley Wright, a high school educator in Moose Jaw, SK, Canada who shared some of her journey and about what she used to think. We will be writing more about Shelley soon:
The most important skill I can model for my students is how to learn and how to talk about learning. Instead of seeing my students as empty vessels, I believe they are reflexive learners, capable of change, who have much to offer to my own learning. My students have proven themselves to be competent researchers.

It is not about teaching subjects, curriculum, or standards. It is about learners learning how to learn -- how to think for themselves -- to problem solve. The teachers we talk to who are letting go and encouraging learner voice and choice have changed their learning environment and role as teacher. They see and share how learners are taking responsibilities and ownership for their learning. These teachers are finding that they will never go back to traditional teaching methods.