Sunday, January 31, 2016

Growing a Personalized Culture of Learning

Building Learner-Centered Environments through Coaching 

Guest Post by Patrick Riley, Cognitive Coach, Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District Grant ( @priles3000 )

Flowers are blooming in Kentucky. And, while I can no more indicate the exact moment when the roots started to take hold than I can tell you the minute and second of when the petals began to blossom, I can now see and see with great detail the vibrant colors, ever so brightly, here and there, in and around Kentucky…

“Celebrate learners when they soar and catch them when they fall.”

Starting with One Seed


Ms. Jessica Morris’s Burns Middle School science classroom was not for the pedagogical faint of heart... Learners hustled with collaborative intent as they created prototypes for energy efficient model homes. Project partners huddled around mini iPads while experimenting with the thermodynamic properties of insulated cardboard houses.  And, learners hummed with the collective, captivating buzz of curiosity in the self-paced pursuit of scientific insight. Alas, Ms. Morris’s class possessed an electric alchemy that radiated a “culture of learning.” 

To be certain, this personalized culture of learning was not the traditional, typical environment marked by forerunners twenty years ago. The personalized learning strategies used in this classroom were not the methods taught to pre-service teachers ten years ago. In fact, it was not even the learning style that Ms. Morris herself employed as recently as two years ago. For Ms. Morris and her learners, the learning taking place in this seventh grade classroom was an amalgamation of learner-centered, curiosity-provoking activities, galvanized in the fires of learner passions, that transcended even the most stubborn traces of teenage apathy. In essence, this Learner-Centered Environment was the maturation, the development of one tiny seed planted in the fall of 2014. The seed of personalized learning…

Planting the Seeds of Personalization

Through the $41.5 million dollar kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant ( awarded to 111 schools in 22 school districts in the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) and Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) in the spring of 2013, over 60,000 learners have been positively impacted by the personalized learning initiative and innovation. Fostering learner empowerment, project-based learning, and technology-enhanced instruction, the kF-RTTD Grant has enabled more than 300 principal-selected Teacher Leaders across GRREC and OVEC to “dare greatly” in their classrooms.

Organically Growing a Safety Net of Support

Throughout my coaching journey, the most powerful professional resource I can give Teacher Leaders is a safety net of support, in conjunction with school and district administration, for each teacher to grow and thrive at their own pace and level of commitment. My job is to foster the growth of each Teacher Leader, personalized to their individual needs and passions, much like each Teacher Leader is asked to do for their learners. My role is to encourage Teacher Leaders to take risks, to celebrate when they soar and catch them when they fall.

Undoubtedly, my most important role as a Cognitive Coach in promoting a Learner-Centered Environment is listening to the needs of my Teacher Leaders. An extremely perspicacious Cognitive Coach colleague, Ms. Shanan Mills, once quipped, “When your job as a coach revolves only around completing items on a checklist, you are not doing your job.” Daily, I endeavor to truly listen to my Teacher Leaders--to what is said, and what is not said--in an effort to anticipate barriers to learning, while gently coaching my Teacher Leaders to plan and produce solutions to overcome these classroom challenges.

Additionally, matching Teacher Leaders to other practitioners in the field and coordinating efforts among colleagues, be it virtually or face-to-face, has been another invaluable strategy for organically growing this safety net of support within personalized learning. For Teacher Leaders in the kF-RTTD Grant, support takes shape in two distinct forms. First, Teacher Leaders meet monthly (and more often, as needed) with their respective Cognitive Coach to engage in personalized professional coaching that provides opportunities for risk-free communication regarding the implementation of personalized learning strategies for their school, their classroom, their learners. Second, Teacher Leaders are encouraged to attend Learning Forums across Kentucky, sponsored by the kF-RTTD Grant, several times each year. Learning Forums allow Teacher Leaders to connect with other Teacher Leaders to share Personalized Learning strategies, stories, and successes to further impact learners. These informal and formal Learning Forum connections take shape through Teacher Leader-led roundtables and Teacher Leader presentations, respectively, on a variety of topics from “Personalizing the Physical Environment” to “Passion-Based Learning” to “Self-Pacing”--with Teacher Leaders self-selecting which roundtables and presentations to attend. 

As the kF-RTTD Grant has evolved to meet the needs of our representative schools and school districts, one thing has remained the same… To challenge each learner at a high level through the creation of Learner-Centered Environments, emphasizing a “Culture of Learning” with trust, risk-taking, and effective communication. 


PatrickRiley_BioPic.jpgPatrick Kagan-Moore, Centre College professor and Kentucky dramatist, once said, “each step in your journey prepares you for what comes next.” Over the course of his professional tenure, Patrick Riley has assumed a variety of roles, some with a non-linear progression, but each connecting and interconnecting with their respective responsibilities: actor, director, learner, teacher, speaker, writer, and program administrator. Currently, all of the aforementioned roles and responsibilities intersect at this nexus called “Cognitive Coach.”
As a Cognitive Coach for the kF-RTTD Grant, Patrick Riley works closely with more than 30 Kentucky Teacher Leaders (working in ten schools and three school districts) to embed personalized learning strategies in the classroom, helping them to further inspire, challenge, empower, and engage learners through the constructive process of learning.

For further communication regarding this post, please contact Patrick Riley (GRREC Cognitive Coach) at or @priles3000 (Twitter). Also, for further details about the kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant (, please contact Dr. Karen Barron (Program Manager) at

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Transformation as a Teacher

Guest post by Pernille Ripp, 7th grade teacher, Oregon School District, WI

Beginning of the End of Supreme Bringer of Knowledge

Today I shared the story with my seventh graders of how I almost quit teaching. How I hated the kind of teacher I had become. How I was so sick of making learners conform to all of my inane rule following that I would rather have quit than harm another child’s curiosity. To say that my learners were surprised would be an understatement. “You used to do those things, Mrs. Ripp? Really? You took away recess? You gave “F’?s” You talked more than you do now…”

The learners were not quite sure what to believe but I made them understand that one of the greatest things I ever learned was that I could not keep teaching the way I had. That not only did I have to get rid of many of my rules, but I also had to take a long look at how my learners were learning. That me being the main vessel of information in the room, the supreme bringer of knowledge, and also the lead commander of all creation was not sustainable. Was not inspiring passion, nor was it creating opportunities for learners to actually develop skills beyond what I found necessary.

So in my admittance as failed teacher, I changed and the biggest part of my change was that our classroom had to have room for all of the ways my learners needed to learn. For them to be able to find their voice and decide how they would learn best, because no longer did I want to be at the helm of their learning journey, I needed them take control, to steer the ship so to speak and to make major decisions that would shape the very school year we would have. I taught 4th graders at the time. I was terrified.

Embracing Personalized Learning

Now, almost six years into my transformation as a teacher who embraces personalizing learning as much as possible, I would never go back to the way it was before. The drastic changes I made back then have now become insignificant in the best possible way; they are no longer terrifying, nor are they dramatic, but instead they are woven into the very tapestry of the way we function as a learning community. It is a given that there is choice in our classroom, that there is an ongoing conversation regarding the way they are learning, what they are learning, and how they will be assessed. That learners may utilize the environment in the way that makes the most sense for them, and also use each other as they try to engage with materials.

The changes we have now are so integrated that I sometimes fail to see the marvel in them; we just work as a learning community, yet to others to try to replicate this type of learning community may seem just as terrifying as it did to me so many years ago. Yet the beauty of personalized learning is that even the smallest changes can make the biggest difference. That you should keep the end goal in mind but always keep your eye on the steps right in front of you. Because if you do not, then personalized learning can seem overwhelming at best, impossible at worst. So how does one start toward a more personalized learning environment even within our sometimes regimented public school system?

Listening to my Learners

We start by asking our learners which needs they have that are not being met. We then listen to their answers and try to develop pathways that may include their requested modifications. One thing my learners asked for repeatedly was simply choice in what they created, something that is so easy to give and yet often overlooked. However, when it comes to creation the power of the times that we live in is remarkable; learners have access to so many tools that can support them in their explorations. No longer do our choices have to be between PowerPoint or poster, but instead can be left open to the tools that learners often access outside of school, outside of their supposed learning.

Simply by asking my learners more questions has my knowledge of what is possible expanded exponentially. Asking learners questions can be done in many ways. Now that I teach 7th grade, I do not have as much face to face time with my learners as I long for. Often our conversations happen through surveys or quick Google forms as I check in with them on their learning. Large group meetings, informal check-ins, small groups and one-to-one teaching all have a part in it as well as we grow comfortable with each other and start to trust the notion that we are learning together. And for that learning to be powerful, my voice cannot be the loudest.

Realizing Education is for our Kids and their Future

Six years ago, I set out on a journey that would challenge my belief that education was an institution that could not be changed, but instead had to be blindly followed no matter the collateral damage in its wake. I now know that the day I started asking my learners what changes they needed to become more engaged learners, was the day that I made a difference in the way education can be used. Yet this change is fundamentally not about me. It is about the learners I teach and it is for them that we must embrace a more meaningful way of educating. Call it personalizing learning or some other title, but in the end, we must make the very education that we are stewards of become about the kids that we teach again.

Screenshot 2016-01-23 11.33.30.pngMy pathway not a straight line, much like the pathways that my learners undertake to this day, but I chronicled it in my book Passionate Learners - How to Engage and Empower Your Students in the hopes that someone out there would find the courage that I so desperately needed when I realized that I was becoming another cog in the wheel of a broken machine. I wrote the book in the hopes that the voices of my learners would be listened to so that the voices of other learners may join them. That was my driving force 6 years ago when I decided there had to be a better way and it continues to be so today. We must never forget that ultimately the very education we provide is not for us, but for the kids, and that our future, indeed, depends on it.


Mass consumer of incredible books, Pernille Ripp, helps learners discover their superpower as a middle school teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin. She opens up her educational practices and beliefs to the world on her blog and is also the creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, a global literacy initiative that since 2010 has connected more than 1,00,000 learners. 

Her book “Passionate Learners - How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is helping teachers change the way learners feel about school. Her other book “Empowered Schools, Empowered Students” is meant to give others the courage to change.

Follow Pernille on Twitter @pernilleripp

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Really Seeing Each and Every Learner

Guest post by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D is adapted from her post on usergenerated education


One of the greatest gifts an educator can give to their learners is to see each one; really seeing each and every one of them. . . . seeing each learner’s uniqueness and interacting with each one based on that uniqueness.

Listen More Than Talk

If educators talk to their learners more than listen to them, then this is a problem. Traditional education models have focused on the teacher being the content area expert – disseminator of information. But we are living in an age where traditional education should no longer be the norm; where the educator should be doing a lot more listening to their learners.

In an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the
Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit
where Gaga stated,
“It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.” 

One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to learners is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs. One of the first skills counselors are taught is how to listen. This should be the same for teachers. All pre-service teachers should be taught effective listening skills.


Set Up the Conditions to Give Learners Voice

A corollary to listening to learners is giving them voice

In essence, giving learners voice in their own learning is allowing them to express their views, opinions, and thoughts on how they feel they should be taught. If we truly believe in making our classrooms learner-centered, led and directed by learners, then we need to give them that voice. (Giving Students a Voice Models High-Quality Learning Processes)

Learners want to achieve in school. They want to find purpose being in school. They want to discover their talents. Without learners having a voice, we cannot collectively ensure that this will all happen for every learner. (How Can Students Have More Say in School Decisions?) Some ways educators can give learners voice is by:
  • Giving learners an opportunity to use their unique voices to show what they know-what they learned.
  • Giving learners options to use their voice in a way that works best for them. Some may want to write, some may want to use art, photos, videos, and others may want to talk.
  • Helping learners find authentic audiences with whom they can share their voice.
  • Giving learners a say in how their school and classroom operate – being part of a democratic process. [Read more about Universal Design for Learning and Discovering the Learner]

Act Upon What Learners Say

The ultimate way to show learners that you’ve heard them is to act upon what they’ve said. For example, some learners might mention an interest in Minecraft. The educator can offer those learners an opportunity to use Minecraft to demonstrate their learning in one of the content areas. It is pretty magical watching a learner’s reaction when an educator implements a practice based on a learner’s comment.

In such cases, learners often seem say with their nonverbal behaviors,
“Wow, you really heard what I said!”

Give Learners Choice

Giving learners choice gives them an opportunity to self-differentiate and to be responsible for their own learning while giving them the message that the educator respects who they are as unique individuals. Giving learners choice also respects their need for freedom:

“The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.” 
John Dewey

Democracy and Education

Some ways educators can give learners voice is by:
  • Giving learners choice in how they want to learn content including through videos, text-based resources, podcasts, hands-on modules, or human interactions.
  • Giving learners choices to show what they know-what they learned through anything from writing a paper to creating a multimedia presentation to creating a performance art work.
  • Giving learners choice to study topics based on personal interests (see Interest Fuels Effortless Engagement).
  • Being a tour guide of learning possibilities – showing learners the possibilities and then get out of the way.

Personalize Learning

Personalized learning is yet another way to see each learner – it honors their individual needs, interests, penchants. Personalized learning, as described in, is all about the learner and starts with the learner. It is about the learner self-directing and driving their own learning. 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.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.
Personalizing learning gives learners the message that they are valued for who they are not who others want them to be.

Be Present

In order to be aware of and make the most of the interactions you have with your learners, you have to be able to be to be “in the moment” with them in the classroom. In order for teachers to extend learner’s learning, we must first “be present” with them. This means being aware enough of our own thoughts and emotions that we are able to adjust them and tune into the learner’s immediate thoughts, needs, and emotions. This is no easy task, especially during busy classroom activities. In order to stay in the moment, teachers have to purposefully set aside thoughts about a) what just happened; b) what happened yesterday or this morning; c) what we have to do next; d) how we need to prepare for later; and e) we they feel about XYZ. Specific suggestions for staying present in the classroom can be found at Teacher Tips: Being “In the Moment” with Children.

Put the Learners at the Center

In these days of accountability and high stakes testing, too often the lessons, the curriculum, the standards, and the tests are put at the center of teaching rather than the learners. The term student-centered or learner-centered learning refers to a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual learners and groups of learners. The term learner-centered learning most likely arose in response to educational decisions that did not fully consider what learners needed to know or what methods would be most effective in facilitating learning for individual learners or groups of learers. (Student-Centered Learning)
Putting learners at the center of learning translates into in honoring and leveraging their strengths and interests, grasping onto those teachable moments based on learner inquiry, and having the learners develop and explore explore their own essential questions. Most of all, putting learners at the center of learning translates into assisting them in internalizing that their own unique selves are of utmost importance in the learning setting.

Acknowledge “Blend in the Woodwork” and Disengaged Learners

The idiom “to blend into the woodwork” means “to behave in a way that does not attract any attention; to disappear or hide.” These are the learners who aren’t the best students nor are they the worse. They do what is told without making any noise or a big deal about it. They are the learners who when asked years later about them, the educator has trouble remembering them.

Seeing each and every learner means that the educator also looks for and acknowledges the achievements of “blend in the woodwork” and disengaged learners. This acknowledgement comes in the form that works best for these learners – a note or quiet comment showing that the educator sees them; that s/he recognizes that they are an important part of the learning environment.

Develop Strategies for Dealing With Annoying Learners

Educators are humans first and there are going to be learners who get on an educator’s nerves. An effective educator acknowledges that s/he might not like all learners the same but works hard to treat them all fairly. To do so, though, educators need to first identify when a learner is touching upon a nerve, and second, to develop strategies for dealing with that learner.

By developing some personal intervention strategies, the educator is actually owning the problem with a self-acknowledgement that: “This is my problem not that learner’s problem. I need to develop strategies to help me cope with his or her annoying behaviors.” Although, that learner doesn’t know it, the educator, in this case, is showing the utmost respect as s/he attempts to develop effective and unique ways of building an authentic relationship with that learner.

Overtly Show Learners That You Care

Many, too many in my opinion, teacher education programs instruct teachers to not get emotionally involved with their learners. I believe the opposite. Effective and caring teachers do get emotionally involved with their learners to the point that they actually love them. This is actually congruent with research that indicates that relationships are key to learner achievement. The teacher-learner relationship needs to remain at a professional level but teachers can use their own individual style and techniques to show that they care for each and every learner. It can be as simple as giving a handshake or high five with eye contact and a smile to each learner as she or he enters and leaves the classroom.

Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When learners are asked about the qualities of good teachers, they confirm the truth of that statement—caring is always at or near the top of the list. Caring is evident when you recognize learners as unique human beings with different learning needs and preferences, and when you “check in” with learners through actions such as walking around the classroom, talking to everybody to see how they are doing, answering their questions, and expressing confidence in their ability to improve. (6 Ways to Let Students Know You Care)



Dr. Jackie Gerstein's byline is, "I don't do teaching for a living. I live teaching as my doing . . . and technology has amplified my passion for doing so." Gerstein has been teaching in-person and online for several decades. Currently she teaches master's-level online courses in educational technology for Boise State, American Intercontinental, and Western Governors' Universities.

She believes that one of the roles and responsibilities of the 21st century educator is to share resources, ideas, and instructional strategies with other educators.

Jackie actively blogs at and tweets at

Additional Resources referenced from Jackie's blog:
Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners
Giving Students a Voice Models High-Quality Learning Processes
Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice.
Show Learners The Possibilities and Get out of the Way

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moving From Standardization

How do you overcome the status quo and move to Personalized Learning?
That was our Big Question in #plearnchat on January 11, 2016 as we engaged with educators about how to Move From Standardization.

We discussed important issues such as; vision and belief systems, opportunities for learners' creativity and innovation and how assessments would change when making the move toward personalized learning.

Tom Whitford, a Wisconsin educator and former Elementary & Middle School principal for 12 years, was our co-host and asked thought-provoking questions of our PLN such as;

"Are you too busy to improve? Too many other initiatives?
Personalization means weighing what is important."

We touched on the idea that using content standards is not the same as standardization. When our discussion leads educators to say the following, we've had a good night: 

Debby Atwater @atwaterd
"I think content standards and standardization are two different ideas. No?" 

Carlie @cstigler28
"Great comment/question, I'll have to think more about this." 
We even had a few challenges such as this one by Heidi MacGregor @hhmacgregor:
"You need a variety of assessment methods. Challenge: how to put in a standard report card?"

We designed the questions with Tom around the Big Question and used the Q1, A1 format.

We were curious about others' belief systems and how their learning environments created a vision about learning. We also wondered if those visions or missions included personalized learning, creativity or innovation. We also discussed "one size fits all" learning. This was a very active #plearnchat that began trending on Twitter! Here are a few of our PLN's responses about vision, creativity and standardization:

Starr Sackstein @mssackstein
"Every child learns differently - requires different help & wants to feel proud, so the classroom must make space for that success."

Mr. Troy Decker @MrTDecker
"Schools should model society. Is there anything (truly effective) in society that is one size fits all?"

David Truss @datruss
"It is no longer our job to create factory workers and compliant employees... and it has not been for quite some time."

Rachel Murat @MrsMurat
"Nothing innovative end comes out of a comfort zone."


A few resources for you from the chat:

District Conditions to Scale Personalized Learning
We Can Do Better Than One-Size-Fits-All Education - Nick Donohue, Nellie Mae Ed Foundation


Congratulations to Melissa Emler from Potosi, WI who won our book, Make Learning Personal

Melissa Emler @MelissaEmler, host of On The Vendor Floor, strives to engage educators and entrepreneurs in conversations that enhance learning. 

Melissa interviews entrepreneurs from the Ed Tech community about their classroom solutions just as if these conversations were happening on the vendor floor of a major conference. The goal is to bring the vendor floor to educators not in attendance. Education is changing faster than most of the world is ready to accept, and Melissa is here to help bridge the gap.

"We must design for the margins...and involve them in the design. What is essential for some is good for all!"

"The economy is changing...#plearnchat this need for
change is bigger than an "education" movement."


Next #plearnchat Topic is "Learner Voice"
with Megan Harrington from the Nellie Mae Ed Foundation

Join us in 3 weeks on Monday, February 1st
7pm ET, 6pm CT, 5pm MT, 4pm PT


We would love to continue the conversation with you in our comments. We archive the entire chat below using #storify for you.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Continuum of Voice: What it Means for the Learner

Voice gives learners a chance to share their opinions about something they believe in. We adapted the Continuum of Voice chart we used from research from Toshalis and Nakkula at the Students at the Center in our post Learner Voice Demonstrates Commitment to Building Agency. We added examples that illustrate each level to support implementation using a design by Sylvia Duckworth.

Personalize Learning, LLC designed Continuum of Voice adapted from "Motivation, Engagement, & Student Voice" by Toshalis & Nakkula from Students at the Center @StudentcCntrHub - Visual designed by Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth  
The learning environment changes as you encourage voice and can see learners taking more control of their learning. This occurs across the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE) v4.

Stage One: Teacher- Centered Environment

As the teacher introduces the lesson, they request learners to offer background information to determine prior knowledge or to give feedback on the lesson. You will see learners working individually to develop and update their Learner Profile (LP) based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

Learners will consult with the teacher to share how they learn best and have conversations about their strengths, interests, and challenges in their LP.  This is where the learner develops a relationship with the teacher that grows as they learn. The learner shares learning goals in their Personal Learning Plan (PLP) with the teacher. and these conversations validate them as a learner.

Stage Two: Learner-Centered Environments

Learners define their learning targets in the PLP with the teacher, how they plan to meet learning goals, and articulate how they will demonstrate mastery with evidence of learning. Learners take on more roles in decision making in the classroom and school, i.e. committees, clubs, student council, etc. Learner voice is encouraged because now they are more invested in how and what they learn. Each learner designs how they will meet their learning goals in their PLP and showcases evidence of mastery.

Learners contribute to the design of lessons and projects based on their interests and questions. You will see learners in multiple areas in the room working in pairs, small groups, one or two learners in a corner of the room, or a learner one-on-one with the teacher. Some learners are sharing information virtually. You may even notice a group where one learner is leading a brainstorming session with his or her peers on the interactive whiteboard. The noise level changes and the teacher is walking around the room checking in with different learners.

Stage Three: Learner-Driven Environments

Learners have identified a problem or challenge that they want to tackle. You may see learners in the hallways or other areas in or outside of the school with an excitement about information or resources they discovered that could solve the problem. Learners are using technology effectively to make connections and build their personal learning network (PLN). Learners are showcasing evidence of mastery using how they tackled the problem. They may even create a call to action in an exhibition, on a website or to their peers.

This is where learners take a leadership role and self-direct their learning around interests or what they want to do to make a difference. They take responsibility for the outcomes. The teacher takes on the role of advisor, providing feedback and any support needed in finding connections and resources to meet goals around what each learner believes is their purpose for learning.

"Young people want to be heard. They have ideas and perspective on their lives and the world around them, and when their voice is incorporated in learning, good things happen." [Source: McCarthy, John. Activating Student Voice Empowers Learning. p.65] 

There are so many aspects of “school” where learners have not been given the opportunity to be active participants in their learning. Some learners, especially those that are concerned about extrinsic factors like grades, may not feel comfortable expressing their own opinions. Giving learners voice encourages them to participate in learning, to own and drive their learning, and eventually to discover their purpose for learning. 


Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth ( from Crescent School, Toronto, Canada for designing the graphic of the Continuum of Voice 1/10/2016.


Bray, B. and McClaskey, K. "Learner Voice and Choice Leads to Engagement." Center for Digital Education. December 16, 2015. 

McCarthy, J. Activating Student Voice Empowers Learning. Openingpaths. org

Personalize Learning, LLC and Institute for Personalized Learning. "Learner Voice Demonstrates Commitment to Building Agency." Post from Collaborative Blog Series. October 28, 2015.

Toshalis, E. and Nakkula, M."Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice" Students at the Center.


This page including the chart was created by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey of Personalized Learning, LLC (c) January 10, 2106 adapted from Students at the Center. For permission to adapt, distribute copies, or to use in a publication, contact Personalize Learning, LLC at

Links to other Continuums
Continuum of Engagement
Continuum of Choice
Continuum of Motivation
Continuum of Ownership

Friday, January 8, 2016

Putting the Power of Questions in the Learners' Hands

Guest Post by Starr Sackstein, High School English Teacher and author, WJPS, Flushing, NY


Every child has the power to develop the journey that is their learning. Unfortunately, too often they are robbed of this opportunity by well-meaning teachers who have planned so perfectly so as to create the questions and answers to all of the lesson. What teachers need to understand is that by planning the specifics of the guiding questions, we take away a valuable chance to include learners in the process and add value and engagement to the experience.

Children are full of questions. We must teach them how to focus them and then how to find their own answers within the content areas we teach.

Imagine providing learners with some background material for a text or history and then asking them to explore it in a way that works for them and then either in small groups at first and maybe later individually ask them to develop a line of questioning to explore for that content.

It’s time to start saying yes to learner questions instead of “we can’t go over that now because it isn’t on the test!”

In my own classes, I have found that learners develop a deep level of inquiry when we provide agency of some kind and freedom. For example, when reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, after learners did pre-reading Prezi’s about different historical topics directly related to the text, the learners networked with each other to develop questions about their interests. The conversations varied from charity in the 19th century to modern day iterations of the same as well as whether or not Scrooge actually changed. Learners led the discussion. They used text and then debated each other.

In order to get to a place where learners can do this on their own, a teacher needs to develop stepping stones in the classroom. Depending on the age and level of the learners, consider starting with building questions in pieces after teaching parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy. If learners understand what makes a “good” question, one that will be open instead of closed, they are more likely to ask a question that will yield more depth of understanding and improve their learning experiences.

Another option can be to teach learners to dissect questions and reconstruct them as needed. Although I’m not a proponent of test prep, teaching learners to approach questions differently will undoubtedly serve the dual purpose of helping them understand questions better. Having learners workshop questions the same way we would writing pieces will help them develop questions as a group and alone, digging deeper into diction choice and the subtly of word meaning.

Empowering learners with the control of the questions, puts them in the driver’s seat of their journey and progress. They follow their interests and we trust them to develop more questions as they go, unraveling the possibilities in their learning. This is a great chance for learners and teachers to learn together rather than just in a one sided manner with the teacher in control of everything.

It’s time to make this change happen. Where can you add opportunities for learner questioning into your lessons?


Starr Sackstein, @MsSackstein, is a high school English and Journalism teacher at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, NYwhere her learners run a multi-media news outlet at Starr serves at the New York State Director to JEA to help serve advisers in New York better grow journalism programs.

She blogs on Education Week Teacher at “Work in Progress” in addition to her personal blog where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher and education reform. Sackstein co-moderates #sunchat as well as contributes to #NYedChat.

Starr has authored the following books:

Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective, Blogging for Educators, Teaching Students to Self Assess: How do I help Students grow as learners?, Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School and The Power of Questioning: Opening up the World of Student Inquiry

Contact information:
@MsSackstein on Twitter
Starr Sackstein, MJE Facebook Fan page