Backwards Planning Professional Development for 1:1

6 03 2015

I love the Understanding by Design  (UbD) method for planning learning with the end in mind.  This makes perfect sense, no matter what you teach – if your goal is to make sure that your students learn. (it’s not enough to say you “taught” it.)  In my case, my learners happen to be teachers, and so modeling backwards planning when designing professional learning is essential.

Ubd Elements and BenefitsCurrently, I am working on a plan for professional learning to support teachers who may pilot 1:1 through BYOD  “Bring Your Own Device” in their classes next year.  In UbD, Stage 1 involves identifying the learning goals for transfer, understanding, knowledge, and skills, and an overarching essential question that can drive the learning.  I love how thinking through these learning goals can spark ideas for the “performance assessment” – which in this case will be the teachers designing learning that is focused on learning goals, and then designing a performance assessment and activities to support those goals – which is where the technology comes into play.

Here are the goals I’ve drafted–what would you add?

Transfer Goal:

Teachers create learning ecosystems that motivate students to own the learning by using technology to support deeper, more personal learning.

 Goals for Understanding:

  • What is possible to do with technology that could not be done without it
  • Understanding how to design learning that motivates learners to take ownership
  • Understanding how to give learners voice and choice
  • Understand that learning is a social endeavor
  • Understand that learner questions and questioning are at the heart of learning
  • Understand that real world problem solving motivates learners to reach higher
  • Understand that the more they release control, the more students will own the learning

Goals for Knowledge

  • Teachers know how to backwards design learning
  • Know what it “looks like’ when students are using technology in transformative ways
  • Teachers know how to design learning for authentic problem solving
  • Teachers know the 21st century skills
  • Teachers know how to facilitate, rather than just deliver learning

Goals for Skill

  • Basic troubleshooting  of devices
  • How to use a core group of apps and tools for creating and connecting
  • How to model, teach, assess and give students feedback on 21st century skills

Essential Question: How can we make the learning ecosystem meaningful for each individual learner?




Reflection from Educon 2.7: In Tweets

15 02 2015

I started this blog 4 years ago, after my first visit to Educon in 2011, being so inspired by the students and staff, under the leadership of Chris Lehmann, at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, who host this conference every year.  It remains one of the best examples I have ever seen of a school where students own the learning. This year’s visit proved that despite budget cuts and over-testing that they are experiencing along with the rest of the public schools in the country, it is still possible to remain true to your mission and core values .  At SLA, inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are the core values, and they are evident everywhere you look.

Below you will find a brief presentation I shared with the Digital Learning Coaches in our school district, in which I attempted to capture from tweets the reasons, for me, that visiting The Science Leadership Academy and participating in Educon is so inspirational. Educon has become the “un-conference” where I go to re-charge my batteries, and to be reminded of what is possible in public education with the right vision, leadership, and support.




LMS?!

31 12 2014

My Question:   In its current form, does an LMS  help, or hinder learning?

IMG_1268I share a lot of articles and resources with my PLN on a regular basis, usually adding a few words to share my reaction to the item. I often get retweets, and sometimes, a thank you or a few tweets exchanged,  but  every now and then, something really special happens.  Sharing  Audrey Watter’s blog post “Beyond the LMS” in September was one of those special moments. This blog post seemed to hit a nerve with several others in my PLN.  There was a desire to talk it out, exchange more thoughts and ideas, more resources, and gain a better understanding.  My friend and fellow Coloradan, Jessica Raleigh,  (@TyrnaD) responded to my comment in a Google Hangout, “This really made me think!” sharing that it made her think too!  She offered to put together a Voxer group to discuss, and proceeded to invite others to join us.  I had no idea how to use Voxer – I don’t think I had ever heard of it before then, so I was excited to learn this new tool on the way to gaining a better understanding of LMSs. Soon, we were joined by  Chris Rogers (@chrisrogers07) and Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur), as well as Lisa Goochee (@blubirding)

Thus, the stage was set for our learning. We had:

bullets

Note that there is no LMS in this learning scenario.  It is happening freely, serendipitously, utilizing social media of many kinds.  No one gave us this “assignment.” We all participated in this learning out of our personal desires to know and understand, in order to best meet the needs of the students we serve.

Over the course of 4 months, we have discussed, shared additional articles, and even wrote ( and  it was accepted!) a proposal for an unconference-style conversation on LMSs at this summer’s InnEdCo conference in Keystone, Colorado.  We have tweeted, blogged, Voxed, curated, and texted  each other sharing our “ahas,” additional resources, and further questions.   Some things we discussed included:

Image CC Licensed by Wikimedia Commons. Available http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_gate_into_the_Walled_Garden._-_geograph.org.uk_-_1423518.jpg

Image CC Licensed by Wikimedia Commons. Available http://commons.wikimedia.org/

-The word “management” is problematic.  Who should manage a student’s learning?   It seems to be more about control. It can stifle learning.

-The LMS is like a walled garden.   We need to open up that garden and let students interact in the “real world.”

-The LMS could best be viewed as “training wheels” – but eventually, those training wheels need to come off.

  • The LMS affords some level of accountability and safety.  This is why it may always be with us.  This means we need to find a balance between management & control and, well –  learning!

 

Here’s the thing.  We have been participating in really wonderful, self-directed, unfettered learning. On our own terms.  In our own time. With the tools of our choice. It has been a powerful, heady experience! Relationships have formed – even though most of us have never met face-to-face!

This is what I want for our students. What are the chances that this kind of learning could take place inside an LMS?  That is the question that continues to haunt me.

What I see in practice is that the LMS basically picks up the 20th century teaching and information delivery style, and transfers it into electronic format.  The LMS seems to make the S (substitution) in the SAMR model easiest to accomplish.  It is hard for a teacher and students to form relationships inside its electronic walls. It is hard to foster creativity.

When I have been a student using an LMS, I have felt isolated and alone, other than a very artificial sense of community in the “mandatory” participation in the forums.  Some comments there seem so contrived, they are laughable.

This is not the kind of learning I want for our students.

So, I will continue to seek answers, and try to find that perfect balance.  I am excited that we have an opportunity to draw even more people in our conversation at InnEdCo.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the LMS.  What do you think? Does it help, or hinder learning?

Ed-tech must not become an extraction effort, and it increasingly is. The future, I think we’ll find, will be a reclamation project. Ed-tech must not be about building digital walls around students and content and courses. We have, thanks to the Web, an opportunity to build connections, build networks, not walls. – Audrey Watters

 




Bringing Innovation to High School

22 12 2014

Do high schools today provide opportunities for students to innovate? This was the question that 3 high school science teachers in our “Creating Innovators” grant project kept asking themselves as they were reading Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators during our project’s book study.  It seemed apparent that very few of the innovators described in the book attributed any of their innovative nature to teachers or mentors in their high school.  Upon further reflection, these teachers, Kristi Follett, Heather Wendt and Niki Juhl realized that providing opportunities for innovation while still meeting content requirements and within the current school structure and time constraints is next to impossible, so they set out to do something about it.

In researching examples of innovation in the Colorado Springs area, they learned about a unique program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:  the world’s only Bachelor of Innovation Degree Program.  This program offers Bachelor of Innovation degrees in six different majors:  Business, Computer Science, Computer Security, Electrical Engineering, Game Design and Development and Inclusive Early Childhood Education. No matter which area students major in, all students in the program must complete 27 credit hours of the Innovation Core courses, to include courses in entrepreneurship, the innovative process, business and intellectual property law, technical writing, proposals & presentations, and innovation teams, to include analyze, report, research, execute, design, lead, and strategy.  Students in this program work with real clients, write grants, design programs, and solve real-world problems.

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. - Theodore Levitt

Kristi, Heather & Niki reached out to the BI program via the visionary founder, Dr. Terry Boult, and Co-Director of of Strategic Alliances, Dr. Colleen Stiles.  After multiple conversations, a true collaborative partnership emerged.  One of the UCCS BI Innovative Teams classes adopted these 3 science teachers as a client.  The problem they were trying to solve? How to bring RHS Innovatorsinnovative learning opportunities to high school science classes. The result?  The UCCS students worked with Kristi, Heather and Niki to design an elective science course, I.D.E.A.S. – “Innovative Design in Educational Alliances for STEM.”  The program is rooted in standards for Science, English, and Math, but also addresses all parts of innovation: funding, teams, process, and protection of ideas – and 21st century skills. Essentially, high school students will be mentored by UCCS BI students and participate on innovative teams applying science knowledge to solve real world problems for clients. The BI students are currently seeking funding for the program, and are prepared to assist when it comes time to request the new course before the school board. These BI students are highly motivated to make this happen, being recent high school graduates themselves.  They recognize the need to create more engaging and authentic learning experiences for high school students.

To read more about Kristi, Heather, and Niki’s innovative adventures, visit their blog, Innovation Adventures, and follow them on Twitter:  @follett_kristi, @heathernov8 , @juhlniki

 




Reaching “Technology-Reluctant” Teachers

12 10 2014

Creating Innovators slide 1How do we reach teachers who would probably never volunteer to attend an educational technology professional development workshop, let alone a full-year grant project?  During the 2013-14 school year, our IT-Educational Services department wanted to use some internal grant funding to try to reach out to some of these teachers in a meaningful way; to start them on the road toward innovative and transformative learning for their students.  We decided on piloting a peer-mentoring program, where we would select some of our innovative/early adopting teachers from 8 different schools to mentor 2-3 “technology-reluctant” teachers in their schools.  Here are the goals we drafted:

Creating Innovators Goals

Designing the Professional Development Plan

We use Understanding by Design to plan out our professional development workshops and programs, to help us assure that we identify meaningful learning goals for our teachers, activities were aligned with these goals, and that measures of success were in place.  For this project, our overall transfer goal was this:

ci transfer goal

Before meeting with the whole group of mentors & mentees, we had one workshop just for the mentors, to give them tips and Creating Innovators book coverinformation on strategies for instructional coaching, using many of the wonderful resources from ISTE’s Coaches PLN, including the ISTE Standards for Coaches.  Both mentors & mentees participated in an online learning community to do a book study of Tony Wagner’s wonderful book, Creating Innovators – from which we came up with the title of our grant project. Throughout the year, we offered four face-to-face workshops to the whole group. At each workshop, we  modeled active, hands-on learning, sharing strategies and tools that they could use in their classrooms. We used the University of South Florida’s Technology Integration Matrix for teachers to self-assess where they were in using technology and the videos to help them capture a vision of where they’d like to be.  We set up “think tanks” for them to benefit from small group brainstorming on how to improve a lesson or unit through the use of technology tools and innovative learning strategies.  We introduced them to the Stanford dSchool Design Thinking process. Additionally, we provided subs so they could visit each other’s classrooms, and we visited two innovative schools in the Denver Metro area – Adams 12’s STEM program at Northglenn High School and the STEM Launch K-8 school, also in Adams 12. In addition to all of this, the mentors worked 1:1 with their mentees throughout the year, offering just-in-time teaching of tools and strategies, advice, and encouragement.  All of these activities were designed with the end in mind: building the mentee teachers’ understanding, skills and confidence so that they would be willing to try some of these innovative practices for teaching and learning with their own students.

Academy District 20's Creating Innovators Mentor Team: Phil McIntosh, Toni Olivieri-Barton, Nancy White, Autumn Cave-Crosby, Doug Hinkle, Sandy Vuletich, and Kristi Follett

Academy District 20’s Creating Innovators Mentor Team: Phil McIntosh, Toni Olivieri-Barton, Nancy White, Autumn Cave-Crosby, Doug Hinkle, Sandy Vuletich, and Kristi Follett. Not pictured: Leni Schlieper, Alicia Needham.

I am happy to report that we were very successful in accomplishing our goal.  It was interesting that each team of teachers seemed to connect with one particular strategy from our professional development plan, and all seemed to branch out in  different directions, to  best meet the needs of the learners in their schools. Our mentor teachers presented as a panel at ISTE to an audience of over 200 people, sharing their challenges and successes in the Creating Innovators Project.

I’d like to share with you the impact on one of our elementary teachers. The video below was produced by Justin Crosby and mentor teacher,  Autumn Crosby, and features Autumn’s mentee, Cheryl Hammarquist, kindergarten Teacher, Michelle Sylvestri, kindergarten paraprofessional, and Dr. Kathy Pickering, assistant principal.

 

In my next blot post, I will share the story of our high school mentor/mentee team, who are taking innovation to a whole new level!




Leadership Day 2014: A Call to Innovate

15 08 2014

leadershipday2014_01-300x240

 

A comment made during this week’s #edchat,  for which the topic was “What are your 2 specific top priorities that you would put in place today for education reform? has inspired this writing for #leadershipday2014.  Justin Buckner (@bucknerclass), a 4th grade teacher from San Antonio and author of the Everyday Project Based Learning blog  tweeted:

 

edchat tweet

I wonder how many schools and districts have some version of the word “innovate” in their mission statements.   I also wonder how many of those schools and districts are prepared to back their teachers who truly want to innovate, within a system that is becoming more rigid and inflexible every year.

 

Innovation, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

 A new idea, device or method, or is the act or process of introducing a new idea, device or method. 

This is not research-based best practice if it is “new.” Because of this, there is a certain element of risk involved.  Will it work for one student? For some?  For all?  Teachers need to know that their educational leaders “have their backs” as they try to implement new tools and strategies in pursuit of helping each individual student to maximize his/her learning.

There are so many incredible technology tools available –and more are introduced every day. These tools open up a whole new world and the possibility of truly transforming learning for our Innovation-Compassstudents.   “Best Practice” needs to give way to “NEXT practice,” as students are learning through technology in ways that were never possible when those “best practices” were identified years ago.

Dr. John Sullivan describes it this way:

Best practices only allow you to do what you are currently doing a little better, while next practices increase your organization’s capability to do things that it could never have done before.

Educational leaders, empower your teachers to innovate, so that they can help students in ways they never could have done before.




“Technology” Initiative or “Learning” Initiative?

15 05 2014

ipad cartThere seem to be an increasing number of “1:1″ initiatives, “mobile learning” initiatives, “BYOD” initiatives,  and “digital learning” initiatives throughout the country, perhaps in response to Obama’s call for digital textbooks to be in every student’s hands within 5 years (from 2012) or in response to online testing requirements.  Perhaps, though, the purpose of these initiatives is something more.

Here is what I am wondering.  If we call an initiative by the name of the strategy, rather than the results we hope to see, will we actually achieve the end goal?  Have we even identified what the end goal is? Isn’t the end goal about more than access to technology?

Falcon Virtual Academy, Colorado Springs

Falcon Virtual Academy, Colorado Springs

I had a moment of clarity yesterday, brought about by tuning in to the first of Broward County Public Schools Webinar series (through the Center for Digital Education) on their “Personalized Learning” initiative.  The first webinar of the series was about planning.  As I listened, I thought how odd it was that the planning they were really talking about had everything to do with getting a digital device into the hands of every student.  I thought I was listening to a webinar about a 1:1 initiative, and that perhaps I had tuned in to the wrong webinar.

 

Then it struck me.  Personalized Learning is the end goal. (-or should be.)  A major strategy to accomplish this is getting a personal digital device into the hands of every student, so of course this is a huge piece of the planning.

targetWhat a simple concept. By labeling the initiative what it is, I believe there is a much better chance of achieving it. Why? Because the measures of success will be to determine the level of personalized learning that is accomplished, or perhaps even student achievement, growth, or skill acquisition.  If the initiative is just about getting technology into kids hands, then the measures of success will likely look quite different. They will be more quantitative in nature, and probably not as focused on the learning–or the student.   Re-labeling the initiative might even be the shift needed to get all of the right people to the planning table – not just the technology team, but leaders in curriculum, instruction, and assessment as well.

What initiative do you have in your school or district? What do you call it? What are the measures of success? Are they in alignment? Would it help to call it what it is?




Global Competency or Global Understanding? Reflections following an Extraordinary Week in China

7 04 2014
Standing on the Great Wall of China

Standing on the Great Wall of China

I was ecstatic when I found out recently that I had been selected by EF Tours for a full scholarship to travel to China last month for a Global Student Leadership Summit!  This was an opportunity to see student global collaboration and problem solving in action, and to brainstorm and collaborate with other educators from Colorado and around the U.S. to start building a plan for students in my district to address global competency in a comprehensive way.  Ever since my first travel experiences outside of the U.S. many, many years ago– to Mexico with my high school choir, and Europe with my college choir –I have understood that my thinking, my understanding, and my world view were different from those of my peers and my family, I believe, as a result of this travel.  Sure, I had participated in the obligatory “cultural” experiences of my schooling – making crepes in French class, having an “international fair” with my Girl Scout troop, and even exchanged some letters with a French pen pal.  None of that prepared me for actually being in another country, where not only many of the buildings, but the traditions date back hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of years.  This makes Mt. Vernon seem downright new – and brings an unbelievably new perspective to  a person’s thinking in a way that is difficult to describe. Not to mention the perspective gained through real relationships formed.  In both of these travel experiences of my youth, I was pushed way outside my comfort zone. Brief as they were, we were immersed in the culture, in my case, through the language, the music, the historical sites we visited, the food we ate, the personal stories shared by our excellent guides, and staying with host families at least part of the time.  I was excited to see this impact on the students at the Summit.

It is this kind of experience, I believe, that leads to global understanding.  People who travel abroad with an open mind can experience this. (Note –open mind required!)   It goes beyond “global competency.”   Don’t get me wrong – global competency is essential for our students’ future success – and certainly better than nothing, but there is a huge difference between knowing something –and really understanding something.

Judge's Choice Award: Innovation Village at #EFSummit

Winners of the Judge’s Choice Award: Innovation Village at #EFSummit

In China, in addition to the group of educators I traveled with, about 400 American and Chinese high school students were brought together  for the Global Student Leadership Summit to use the Stanford dSchool Design Thinking process to design and present solutions to  global issues. This was true global collaboration.  Students came together to address a topic they were passionate about, and in the case of the Chinese students, in a language that was not their own.  They had just two days to accomplish this!  (The rest of the week, we spent touring in and experiencing the culture  of Shanghai and Beijing.)  During the Summit, students were inspired by NPR’s Planet Money hosts, Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg, and by former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman Jr.  Click on the image below to see some highlights of the Summit experience:

Summit Students

Here is what I am wondering:   Can we duplicate the intensity of an immersion experience through technology – to go beyond global competency to achieve this kind of global understanding?  I believe whenever possible, we need to make travel experiences like this available to our students, but when travel is not possible, technology can and must help bridge the gap between global competency and true global understanding.  Veronica Mansilla and Anthony Jackson state in their book,  Educating for Global Competence: Preparing our Youth to Engage the World. Published by the Council of Chief State School Officers and The Asia Society:

 Videoconferencing, social networking, and other communication technologies now allow students unprecedented opportunities to investigate issues of global significance with students around  the world—much the way working professionals now operate in global teams.

The issue, though, is how in-depth teachers design these learning experiences to be. A simple cultural exchange about weather, holiday traditions, music, and foods, while students sit surrounded by their own comforts of home,  might be a good starting point for young students, but for older students, to really grow their global understanding,  we need to design opportunities for actual cross-cultural collaborative problem solving.  It is through this kind of experience that we will develop students as future leaders.

I encourage you to investigate EF Tours for future Student Leadership Summits, service learning, exchange programs, and  travel opportunities for students and educators – I am quite impressed with the programs they offer.   Also check out  Flat Connections for opportunities for technology-enabled global, collaborative problem solving.  On my Global Collaboration Wiki Resource page, I have listed several other  links to help students make connections through service learning and problem solving globally.




Student Curators: Powerful Learning

6 03 2014

During the past 2 weeks, I had the pleasure of working with longtime friend and 8th grade social studies teacher extraordinaire, Terri Inloes, to transform her students into curators of information as they learned about the Social Reform movements of the late 19th century in the U.S.  My head is still spinning from the many successes and highlights from this unit – and the powerful learning that occurred!  Here are some of the highlights, examples of student work, and some amazing feedback from the students. I am convinced that this is a strategy that not only helps to develop 21st century skills and address Common Core research standards; it also is a strategy that leads to personalized learning and motivates students to learn.

 

Day 1:  The QFTQFT

By the time students get to middle school, it is rare to hear them ask questions – other than to get clarification on what needs to be done for the assignment.  The good news is there is a great strategy to help get them back in touch with their own sense of wonder and curiosity –the Question Formulation Technique –or the QFT, which was designed by  The Right Question Institute. Terri prepared pairs of photographs representing each of the reform movements, one picture dating back to the late 19th century, and another representing where that social reform movement stands in today’s society.  After checking out all of the photos, students settled on the pair of pictures that most caught their interest. They brainstormed and refined questions, and then shared their thinking with the class.  This was how they selected the topic which they would curate.

Day 2: Defining Curation; Creating a Research Plan

PoemEverything happens for a reason, right?  Originally, students were scheduled to be in the computer lab and begin setting up their curation tool –Wordpress blogs–  on day 2.  As it happened, a snow day in the previous week caused the lab to be double-booked, and so we had to come up with a plan B.  In retrospect, not going straight to the computers that day ended up being one of the best things that could have happened. We spent this class period helping students to truly understand the difference between “collecting” and “curating” through a beautiful poem, The Curator, by Miller Williams.  You could have heard a pin drop as Terri read this to her students.  You will see the big ideas they gained from this poem show up again and again in their reflections and responses to the survey we had them fill out after the project. The other good thing we accomplished this day was insisting the students plan their research strategies.  We copied 5 different graphic organizers from the book Q Tasks, by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan, and students were allowed to choose the one that they thought would help them the most in planning their keyword search strategies.

Day 3:  Setting up a WordPress BlogBlog creation

Our school district has our own domain and server set up for WordPress blogs, and this is integrated with Active Directory, so every single teacher and student in the district already has an account set up there. This made “D20 Blogs” the best choice for the tool to be used for the student curation projects.    With about 57 minutes per class period, we were able to show students the basics of WordPress, and encouraged them to work on more sophisticated design features (if they wanted to) from home.  Most  of the kids worked in collaborative groups. By the end of the day, 130 students had created 70 different blogs and published their first post describing why they chose their topic for this project. The technology worked beautifully!

CuratingDays 4- 8 Curating

I was not able to spend as much time during the curating days with the students, but I kept up with reading their curation blogs as best I could.  Terri is the real hero here – commenting on every student’s blog every single night!!  She also kept me up –to-date on all of the cool stuff happening during her classes.

From Terri:

 

Things are really crystallizing for kids.  As I’m making comments to kids I’m noticing them commenting to one another with new questions! Kids are totally engaged, you can hear a pin drop in the computer lab.

 

This is my favorite story:

 

The class is completely quiet.  Riley says, “Mrs. Inloes, I’m also doing research on mental health care because it is in a lot of my research on prison reform.”

 

Jacob replies, “That’s what’s happening to me, I’m doing prohibition and I’m finding the women’s rights movement.”

 

“Well, I’m doing women’s rights and now I’m doing almost all the reform movements,” says Paige.

 

Pretty soon the whole class is piping up with the connections they are making.  I didn’t say a word!

Reflection and FeedbackCurating2

Terri and I were ecstatic reading the reflections and comments from the kids at the end of the project  These kids did an amazing job, and the learning went deep.  Here are some of my favorite student quotes –reflections on the project, as well as what their understanding is of a curator.

 

paintStudents Describe their Understanding of Curating:

“A curator paints with words. They describe what they are talking about so well that it doesn’t even have to be there for you to see it.”

“With curating, you are using heart. You use emotion and find passion to do that certain job or write about that certain topic.”

“A curator is someone who puts back the history into something and tries to find the story or background from where or what it is truly from.”

“A curator is someone who goes into the details of something to find its back story.”

“With curating, you become engrossed in your topic. You know anything and everything about it. You can talk about it with personality and passion.”

“The difference between curating and collecting research to me is that when you curate research, you have the passion to learn.”

Students Reflect on the Curation Project:

“Curating this project really got me thinking and allowed me to give my own opinion while staying on topic and informing others.”

“It taught me to take research, analyze, and organize it. I liked it because I had to collaborate and come to an agreement on what to post.”

I liked learning new things that I had no idea about before. I liked showing off my talent and curating what I knew.”

“The only thing I would have liked to do differently would be given more time to learn even more about the topics.”

“A project doesn’t have to be stale and boring. It can be fun. You can really care about what you are writing.”

“This project has given me a new respect for bloggers who curate their research because it is hard.”

“My thinking on learning has changed a bit. I suddenly feel like learning isn’t a chore, it’s an opportunity that can open so many doors!”

One of the questions we asked the students is how many would continue their research. Over 1/3 of them said that they would!   Want to see more?  Here are three student curation blogs:

Equality and Inequality Rights; Then & Now
Mental Health Treatments Past to Present
Prohibition Acts Project




School Libraries and Learner Agency

6 02 2014

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Jefferson County School District Tech Share Fair on the topic of school libraries and learner agency. This is a topic near and dear to me, after working in school libraries for many years, I understand that libraries are the heart of learner agency in a school.  Here are the highlights from my presentation, and the slides are embedded below. I’d like to thank Buffy Hamilton, “Fancy Jantzi,” and the Alaska Library Association who shared so many wonderful pictures of learner agency in action in libraries under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

————————————————————————————————————

 

I want to share with you today two documents you may not be familiar with, but hopefully, you will start to see that these documents can serve as a road map to the Learner Agency you are seeking for your students.

The first of these is the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

In 2007, the American Association for School Librarians came out with a new mission statement and standards. These standards were not meant to stand alone or to be carried out just by the teacher-librarian in a school, but need to be owned by everyone in a school setting, through collaboration with the teacher-librarian.

The mission statement embodies the very definition of Learner Agency. The library PROGRAM, (which reaches into every corner of the school), exists to EMPOWER students to be

  • Critical Thinkers
  • ENTHUSIASTIC readers
  • SKILLFUL researchers and
  • ETHICAL users of information

The standards document contains just 4 active standards, that can be summed up with these 4 verbs:

21st Century Learners can:

  • Think
  • Create
  • Share
  • Grow

To accomplish each of these, they must access or use

  • Skills
  • Dispositions in Action
  • Responsibilities
  • Self-Assessment Strategies

Although we did not label it as such at the time, I believe now that this document was foundational in defining a learning environment where Learner Agency can flourish.

In the Spring of 2008 – a group of teacher-librarians, technology teachers, classroom teachers from every level, administrators, and CDE personnel were convened in Colorado to dig deeply into the new standards.  The group unanimously agreed to adopt the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

The next steps would be to organize into subcommittees to create an action plan to carry out the new standards.

A vision committee was the first to form.  Here is what they came to realize:

Too frequently in schools, the focus is on content rather than skills. Assignments don’t require students to think at higher levels. Students are not given choice in how they learn, or how they show their learning. Library schedules are fixed and student time for independent exploration and self-directed learning is limited.

It occurred to the group that to give students an opportunity to practice and master these new standards, to truly empower our students, something within this learning environment needed to change.

It had become clear that something was missing in all of the content standards, educational plans, and accountability processes in education to assure students could really develop into 21st century learners.

The vision subcommittee pondered over what they could communicate or create to help Colorado educators realize that something needed to change so students truly would be able to develop these 21st century skills.

The group identified this simple fact: LEARNERS HAVE RIGHTS!

So much of a student’s school experience is contained within boundaries of time and place. Students stop their learning at the end of a unit or class period.  They don’t think of themselves as learners outside the classroom walls.  Yet, they are learning all of the time.

We needed a way to communicate not stop—but GO!

Here is where the group started.

A vision statement was drafted:

We ALL exist to inquire, create new knowledge, share knowledge and participate productively, and to pursue personal and organizational growth.

The new standards speak of responsibilities –but what about RIGHTS?

The Vision Sub-Committee members were: Jody Gehrig, Gene Hainer, Jody Howard, Becky Johnson, Stevan Kalmon, and Wendy Lee.

Jody Gehrig lead this effort. Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer in February, 2010, but her passion for empowering students to learn lives on in this work.

From Jody Gehrig:

These are learners who have a right to learn. if we as teachers want to be effective with our learners, WE must take the responsibility to construct inquiry learning experiences for them that allow them to blossom as learners. These experiences go much farther than just illustrating the right they value most. We as teachers and learning community leaders must guide their work so they can develop into 21st century learners.

At this point, their work was passed on to a new group, The Learner’s Bill of Rights subcommittee, also chaired by Jody.

After an intense brainstorming session, followed by a great deal of wordsmithing and refinement, the Learner’s Bill of Rights was born.  Let’s take a closer look – and see if you can see Learner Agency come alive in these simple statements.

The Learner has the Right to… Question and be Curious.

Students come to the library every single day with questions. What book should I read? How can I find information on this or that? Why do some nations not have daylight savings time? Why is the sky blue? And so on, and on, and on!

In classrooms, I think this is quite different. Content has to be covered. Standards met. Schedules adhered to.

During the last 3 years, I had the opportunity to observe in hundreds of classrooms in my district, specifically looking for examples of 21st century learning in action.

Sadly, I can probably count on one hand the number of times a student asked a question, other than just to clarify what needed to be done for an assignment.

Yet teachers find ways – such as through question walls using post-it notes – for students to ask their questions, which later could be addressed in class, or students might be given time in the library to seek answers.

We must find ways to keep student questioning and curiosity alive inside the walls of our school – where support systems exist to help students in their pursuit of answers.

The learner has the right to…  Have personal ideas.

A friend once suggested that this might better be stated as “EXPRESS” personal ideas.  This is a great idea, too – but as I recall, the reason our committee settled on HAVE personal ideas is that we believed that  somewhere along the way in formal educational settings, students forget that their ideas matter – and it is really OK to have personal ideas and opinions!  Once they get in touch with those personal ideas –then, yes! Let’s help them express them!

The learner has the right to… Choose how To learn and share understanding

Choice.  Where, oh where, does this fit in a standards-based, scope-and-sequence world?  Creative teachers find a way.

And—Thank goodness for school libraries!

Libraries have always been about giving students choice in what they read and how they learn. Multiple genres, points of view, fiction and non-fiction, print or digital. Today’s libraries add multiple ways to show understanding, to showcase the student voice, create in makerspaces, and share with a global audience.

The learner has the right to…  Plan and participate in learning at an appropriate level.

This IS learner agency.

Students set learning goals, following their own learning passions.  They go about meeting those goals – and have the appropriate level resources available to help them meet those goals.

School libraries are essential to this learner right.

The learner has the right to….Grapple with challenging ideas or concepts.

In school libraries, students can find the resources and help they need to go beyond class requirements – or simply explore a topic they are passionate about.  In libraries, students explore topics in-depth, and strive to make sense of ideas and concepts.

The learner has the right to…Access information and resources needed.

This is a primary mission for school libraries.

If students decide on the topic, ask the questions, decide on the materials to access and the procedures to follow, they are curating and meeting a personal information need, analyzing and drawing conclusions . The more students have control over their inquiries, and it is linked to their own personal questions, the higher the students’ agency.

The learner has the right to…Participate in and contribute to a learning network.

In libraries, this might be face-to-face networks, such as book clubs, or the teacher-librarian might make arrangements to share with a group of students on the other side of the world, through technology such as Skype, such as the case with this young man who is sharing his poem with a group of students in Africa.

The learner has the right to…Think critically, solve problems and make decisions.

If we want our students to think critically, we have to design learning that allows room for students to think critically.  Not lecture. Not listening to videos. Students need to do hands-on problem solving.  And, they have to care about the outcome. If you want them to dig deep and think hard, then add a good dose of real-world relevance to your learning scenario.

The learner has the right to…Make mistakes and learn from them.

Have you ever wondered exactly what it is about gaming that attracts us?

A student made this comment, “In the classroom, I feel like I’m being forced to learn. When I’m gaming, I feel like I’m using ‘it’.  I don’t feel myself being forced. “

Gaming is not just a safe environment for students to make mistakes and learn from them –its fun! Many of our libraries are recognizing the importance of this, and setting up gaming spaces for learners. Here, students are empowered to learn – on their terms.

If Learner agency = empowering students

And Agency specifically is the power to make choices – this is what happens in school libraries every day!

Teacher-librarians create the conditions and the environment where students are empowered to solve their own problems and find answers to their questions.  Students collaborate, network, share, and grow – not just to meet the requirements of a class, but also following their own needs for understanding.

I remember

  • Carolyn coming into the library trying to find everything she could about the state of Virginia. She was going to move there with her family at the end of the school year.
  • I remember Janelle, whose mother with diagnosed with breast cancer. She had so many questions and concerns. She didn’t understand what was happening to her mother, why the treatment made her so sick.  She struggled with finding information online, and when she did, it was too hard to understand. In the school library, she was able to find books written at a level she could understand, and get the support she needed in this difficult time.
  • I remember Robert, who learned about Japanese internment camps during World War II in class, and was surprised to learn from his father that he had a relative who was sent to one. The textbook information was limited, and so he sought help in the library to find the information he needed, to learn in a deeper way since he discovered this personal connection.
  • And then there was Jason, who was fiercely proud of his air force father – and just wanted to learn everything that there was to learn about the air force, jets, and flying. He sought to understand why his Dad was deployed in Iraq, and sort through the multiple mixed messages in the newspapers and online about why this was right, and why it was wrong.

There are a million other stories just like these of how the school library has helped children with their personal information needs.

Nick Rate, principal at Kumeroa-Hopelands School in New Zealand described learner agency with these words: Enabling, empowering, self-monitoring, goals, feedback, meta-cognition, active, responsive, self-directed and meaningful.

  • In school libraries, students are enabled.
  • In school libraries, students are empowered.
  • In school libraries, students practice self-monitoring
  • In school libraries, students set personal learning goals.
  • In school libraries, students receive feedback.
  • In school libraries, students practice meta-cognition.
  • In school libraries, students are active!
  • In school libraries, students are responsive.
  • In school libraries, students practice self-direction.
  • In school libraries, student find meaning.

Libraries are essential to Learner Agency.