What I'm Feeling

There is no such thing as an “Education Company”

Colleagues sent me a link to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) webpage. The next convention is in Chicago, not far from where I live. “It’s not going to get any closer to us!” remarked one person.

The web banner promoting the next ISTE convention proclaimed the following statistics:

16,000 Educators

550 Education Companies

Endless Learning

Ugh.

There is no such thing as an education company. It is a contradiction in terms. Companies are focused on making money. Yes, some might have collective values in which they are committed to student learning and prioritize people in their actions. But their bottom line is making money. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a clear distinction. Education is/should be about guiding learners to help them realize their passions and potential.

There are technology companies, publishing companies, textbook companies, professional development companies, even educational product companies. In full disclosure, I partner with a number of these types of organizations. But there is no such as thing as an education company. Let’s do our best to remind ourselves of this fact as we decide what resources will best serve our students today and in the future.

 

Advertisements
What I'm Thinking

Draft: A Guide for Self-Directed Learners

During a recent instructional technology workshop related to self-directed learning, a few teachers asked for a guide for students.

At first, I was hesitant. “If we are telling students how to direct their own learning, are we defeating the purpose? Have we not taught them well enough how to create time and space for learning, break goals into small steps, seek out feedback, and publish good work for an authentic audience?” These four tenets – environment, clarity, feedback, audience – were described in my eBook. They didn’t disagree, but still…

Here is a draft of a simple guide for self-directed learners. I post this template here for feedback. Is this something you could use in your classroom? Does it set out to accomplish what is intended (to guide students to become self-directed learners)? What is missing or redundant? I appreciate your feedback!


Guide for Self-Directed Learners

1. What do you want to learn?

2. What do you believe you already know about this topic or skill?

3. What questions do you have about this topic or skill?

4. What do you hope to gain from this learning experience? What will you produce?

5. What do you need in order to be successful?

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Access
  • Mentor

6. Break down your inquiry project into clear steps that serve as smaller goals toward the bigger project. For each step, make time to get feedback about your progress:

  • Step 1:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 2:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 3:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 4:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self

7. How frequently do you need to work on this project to be successful, i.e. three times a week, 30 minutes each time? Make a schedule for your project.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 2.11.53 PM.png

8. How will you know that your work is ready to be shared?

9. How will you share your work? Who will be your audience?

10. What might you want to learn next?

What I'm Thinking

What Engagement Really Is

I write this post on a Saturday night, a time when I should be away from my computer and enjoying the weekend. Ok, let’s retract – I am enjoying my weekend. Just not like you might imagine the typical someone enjoying their weekend.

See, I’m a writer. I’m also an educator, an elementary principal to be exact. When I write, I find joy. It’s as simple as that. This “writing thing” has been a part of my life since 2012, when I first started my blog. That small online space has grown to almost 900 subscribers and is now a collaborative forum for literacy leaders to share their ideas.

So when I write, I have this twin set of feelings. First, I enjoy writing (I’ve already said this, I know). I can put down my thoughts, insights, and questions in an online space for others to read and maybe even respond to in the comments. Second, I also know that when I am writing, I am not attending to all of the other responsibilities and activities that I might otherwise. I’m not talking and listening with my family. I’m not watching television or engaging in recreational activities. I’m not present, at least with the world beyond my computer.

There is guilt with this reality. As a writer, I feel this to some degree anytime I open up my laptop. What could/should I be doing if I were not writing?

Enough of the self-involvement; let’s get to the point of this post. Engagement is not merely a passion for something that is of interest to an individual. Passion is only the half of it. To be truly engaged, a person has to not only have a strong interest in a topic or skill; they also have to dedicate themselves to this effort. Both elements have to be present in order for engagement to be realized.

Is this definition not clear enough? Then consider one of the oldest definitions of engagement. It comes from the agreement two people take when they elect to become married. Consider the typical vow one might hear at a wedding.

I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

This is engagement. It’s not all rose petals and open bar. These experiences are wonderful, but they are offset by driving your kids to urgent care at two in the morning and forgetting to take the garbage out on Friday. The celebrations benefit from the perspective provided through our challenges.

When we talk about engagement in the classroom or in our lives, it isn’t merely the presence of motivation or attention-grabbing activities. Engagement is much more than that. Engagement is when we decide to pursue a passion or a dream, experience setbacks and hardships, and in spite of these situations, we choose to continue to move forward toward our goals.

My third book is coming out in August through ASCD on digital portfolios in the classroom. The process was nothing if not incredibly challenging. I had to rewrite one chapter twice. Figures for the book did not resemble what I had initially proposed. The title changed, which forced me to go back through the manuscript, line by line, to redact one word to make sure there was consistency in the language.

Did I do this out of passion alone? Heck no. At this point, I was emotionally ready to drop this project like a bad habit. Commitment? To the project…to a point, knowing that I was under contract to finish it. No, it was the combination of passion and commitment that helped me get to the finish line. This might be defined as “love”.

So…the question remains as to how true engagement relates to an educator’s position. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • If you are a teacher, do/will your students have time to explore their passions and interests during class time? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become engaged in authentic and meaningful learning experiences?
  • If you are a school leader, do/will your teachers have time to investigate better practices on behalf of their students? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become the teacher they have always wanted to be?

For the latter, I know I have not always lived up to this promise. No matter. Guilt is retroactive; it is always about the past, never the future. We have to move forward. Engagement is the key factor in student and teacher success. Passion and commitment are the twin roads to follow.

What I'm Thinking

How Technology Can Drive Your Beliefs and Practices

Integrating technology into education is a subtle process. It may seem like a big deal at first, especially when that interactive whiteboard goes up on the wall, or every student now has a Chromebook at their desks. But the process of technology becoming a part of a teacher’s practice is slow and indistinct.

It often appears at our doorstep for free. Either the operating system, such as Google Chrome, or the tools themselves, paid for by some district department, is made available. We think, “Okay, how can I use this technology in school?” So we look to our current practices and assess how they might fit into this new paradigm.

If our current practices do not fit, a couple things might happen.

  • We ignore the technology for some aspects of our instruction and continue as normal. This can be a good or not-so-good thing, depending on how effective our instruction was in the first place.
  • The technology and our practice make a nice pair, and we start using them in concert. Again, can be good or bad. Studies have found that this situation is what happens most often. The technology accentuates the practice for better or worse.
  • Teachers bend their practice so it can fit within the confines of the technology’s ecosystem. Accelerated Reader is a prime example. We stop conferring with kids because we start to depend on low-level quizzes to tease out understanding.

Technology companies know this. They realize that they won’t get every teacher to become a convert to their platform (see the first example). They also realize that the majority of educators, when presented with technology that is easy to implement, will adopt it. Easy to implement…this is a strong indicator that the technology is a) not improving practice, and b) is likely driving instruction. Nevermind that professional educators may have had zero input into the production of these digital tools. Technology becomes a solution to a problem we did not know existed until now.

So what are the problems? Likely, they were invented by the companies themselves. “Bogged down by grades? Try our platform to save you time and give your students better feedback!” Maybe this is a problem. Yet we can get rid of grades and provide more qualitative feedback on student work without a significant integration of technology. This work starts by examining our beliefs about teaching and learning, for today and for tomorrow. Our collective thinking then leads us to reassess our current practices, which finally leads to searching for tools that help us in our mission.

Through this process, will we arrive at the very technologies that were initially introduced to us? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say unless we have examined our beliefs about what good teaching and learning should be in practice to guide our way.

 

7691519996_162e98b0ec_b.jpg
Image Source: Mike Cogh, Flickr

 

What I'm Thinking

Technology Integration: It Should be Messy

Last week I flagged down a parent as she and her son were leaving the parking lot at the end of the school day. “What did your son think about the learning management system? Has it helped you as a parent be more involved in his school experiences?” We talked about how her son likes the system, but there were problems with the log in process. It wasn’t said, but I also suspect that more scaffolding from staff involved might be helpful. This is a new tool (Epiphany Learning) that guides students to document and facilitate self-directed projects. It’s a step in the right direction from your typical LMSs toward more personalized learning. We tried it on a small scale, only a couple of kids.

I am getting a sense from school leaders and educational articles online that the more fluid and streamlined the process is for integrating technology in schools, the better the outcomes. The most recent entry I’ve read on this topic comes from an article in the District Administration magazine. The writer, a digital integration specialist, talks about how smoothly handing out the 750 Chromebooks went to ensure all students had 1:1 access to technology in their classrooms. They cite evidence from the classroom to support the success of this initiative:

The level of engagement and collaboration for students—in and out of the school environment—has increased significantly. In the first month after device distribution, utilization of our learning management system to distribute and collect electronic assignments—as well as to facilitate classroom discussion and collaboration—increased more than 65 percent.

I’m all for a smooth rollout of technology in education. The last thing I would want to do is frustrate teachers and students when introducing something new. Yet…are these outcomes the results we would want? For example, how the LMS is being used (I suspect Google Classroom) seems more about paper chasing and facilitating conversations that could just as easily happen in the classroom, face-to-face. I don’t want to assume, but this seems like technology integration lite, in which a digital veneer has been laid over traditional instructional practices and then calling it 21st-century learning. In addition, my suspicions peak whenever I hear about a one-device-only rollout. If Chromebooks are the tool of choice, will that make every learning challenge conform to Google’s platform?

bartosz-wanot-133422.jpg

I believe technology integration should be a bit messy. True change in education is a hard process, digital or otherwise. This is primarily because we are asking adults to change their habits for the better as much as our students. Examining beliefs about teaching and learning, creating a vision for what’s worth learning in schools today, and exploring different technologies to make that vision a reality should be occurring before going digital at a schoolwide or districtwide level. It’s an arduous process, something I have personally gone through and documented in my first book on digital portfolios. In my experience, it’s a 3-5 year process. Mistakes and hiccups are a prerequisite for success.

As we think about next year, I hope we consider a value-added approach to technology integration in our classrooms. A primary question might be: How can digital tools help us realize our school’s mission and vision on behalf of our students? Parents, students, staff, and the community should be involved in the planning. One way to measure the effects is by developing indicators of success. I list several guiding questions as indicators in my last book, 5 Myths About Classroom Technology (ASCD Arias, 2015, pg. 48-49):

Figure 2. Technology Benefits: Necessary or Nice?

  • Are learners an active part of instruction through modeling and guided use of technology?
  • Does the technology accommodate and differentiate for all learners’ needs?
  • Can the technology help facilitate reflection and deepen student understanding?
  • Are students and the classroom part of an authentic learning community?
  • Can learners create content and develop new ways to present information?
  • Does the technology bring in an audience for learning, both near and far?
  • Are students provided both voice and choice with technology, thereby increasing ownership and engagement?
  • Are there opportunities for students to engage in peer feedback and collaborative work?

Technology integration is not about ensuring the sailing is smooth; it should be about successful navigations of uncharted waters in the name of improving student learning.


If you are in the southwestern or western part of Wisconsin this summer, I am facilitating technology workshops through CESA 3 and CESA 4. Check out my Workshops and Events page for more information. I may also be available this summer and in the future for personalized learning experiences for teacher teams and schools. There is a contact form on the page previously linked.

event

Join me at the @ASCD Annual Convention in Anaheim this Sunday! #digiportfolios #EMPOWER17

In a couple of days, I will be flying out to Anaheim, California for my first visit to the Golden State. Purpose: I am facilitating a session on digital student portfolios on Sunday, 3/26 at 3 P.M. Click here for location details.

url.png

This session will be an opportunity to share new resources and ideas from my upcoming ASCD book (August) on authentic assessment and technology. The confirmed title is Digital Student Portfolios in the Classroom: Celebrating and Assessing Student Learning.

If California is a bit of trek, consider attending one of my upcoming summer workshops in the Midwest (click here for schedule). I may also be available to facilitate one- and/or two-day workshops in your neck of the woods; reach out for more information.

event

Exploring Classroom Innovations at the AWSA/WASDA Summit for Data-Informed Leadership in Green Bay

Data is a four letter word, literally and sometimes metaphorically in education. Educators need data to drive instruction and making informed decisions about student learning. When students have information about their own learning progress, they know themselves better as learners. Yet when data does not serve an important purpose, it can also monopolize our time that is better spent teaching and learning.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about the challenges and promises of this topic at the Wisconsin Summit for Data-Informed Leadership this week in Green Bay. This event, co-facilitate by WASDA and AWSA, gave administrators and teachers the opportunity to develop a better understanding of data in the context of schools today.

Beyond the Gold Star: Strategies for Nurturing Self-Directed Learners

This first session guided participants to explore innovative classroom approaches that gave students more autonomy in their learning. Data in this context wasn’t necessarily a number or letter; video, audio, and images can also serve to inform teaching and learning.

Educators tried to create a story using an unknown digital tool with little direction. This activity gave participants, especially school leaders, an opportunity to experience the anxiety that teachers and students might feel working with technology. Some of our tensions are healthy, as we sometimes don’t challenge ourselves enough.

Attendees were directed to a simple Google Site with several pages devoted to innovative approaches for classroom instruction: http://bit.ly/classroominnovations. Right now it is pretty bare bones; I hope to add more ideas and resources to it as time goes by.

Digital Student Portfolios in Action

This session was much more technology-focused, around one approach to facilitating qualitative assessment. Our goal was to “rethink our plates” instead of trying to add one more thing to our busy days.

Participants had a lot of time to explore different digital portfolio tools, as well as new ways for students to represent their learning. This group already had a strong understanding that data was not limited to quantitative information. They offered smart questions and creative ideas for making their classrooms more student-centered.

Having studied and experimented with digital portfolios for students for almost five years, it was probably the most comfortable I have felt presenting on informational technology. It was a good way to prepare for my presentation on the same topic at the ASCD Convention in Anaheim on March 26.


I will be facilitating a number of workshops this summer on these two topics at CESA 3 and CESA 4. If interested in learning more about classroom innovations that work, as well as having time to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. please reach out!

Classroom Technology for Self-Directed Learning (1).png