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Monday, September 23, 2013

When Great Minds Collaborate


Sitting down to design a Professional Learning workshop, Jean and Kristy collaboratively brainstormed a list of desired outcomes, things we felt teachers NEEDed.  Practices and skills teachers could walk away knowing how to implement,  having internalized these strategies so they could do any of the following for their students: 
  • Provide meaningful feedback that addresses student-set individualized goals
  •  Create authentic, real-world and purposeful learning opportunities
  •  Help facilitate students’ self-motivation, self-direction, and self evaluation
  •  Create an environment that encourages student wonder, student curiosity, and nurtures creativity
When teachers intentionally implement all of these core practices, student motivation, engagement and metacognitive learning increases. Visible learning and visible teaching:  provide students with limited instructions, stand back as students work with peers, provide each other feedback, suggestions, interpretations, mistakes, learning, and guidance. Peers must rely on trusting one another when it comes time to “test it out”. Exhilaration is high, trying something difficult, something never attempted before is very emotional, especially when you feel successes! 

John Hattie calls this the “…essence of good teaching. The learning intentions are very clear. The success criteria is absolutely obvious. The amount of peer work is dramatic.” This exhilaration at succeeding is what makes children want to do it again. This is what motivates children to stretch themselves, try something new, work with peers, trust and test out their theories. This is what makes students push themselves, far beyond what they are capable of doing. Listen as John Hattie describes this essence of effective teaching:


begin on minute 11:00 - http://youtu.be/sng4p3Vsu7Y?t=11m1s

Monday, September 9, 2013

Designing Learning


What impacts learning? Most learners need sustained engagement to thoroughly understand something new. This can be in the form of failure, making learning visible, making mistakes, multiple attempts and learning from those mistakes. Learning can be in the form of practice, repeated opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills, usually accompanied by encouragement and support by those with wisdom or experience. I am a huge proponent of teaching students to set learning goals, both big picture goals and short-term learner-specific goals. How do teachers juggle all this? How do teachers design learning that meets differentiated needs of diverse learners?

If learners need varying amounts of practice in order to sustain engagement, build time into lesson plans when designing learning goals, unit goals and coaching students to set individual, short-term goals. Grant Wiggins calls this "white space" and suggests teachers plan time weekly for this white space. White space gives learners intentionally scheduled and "needed" opportunities to learn important and relevant information, to wonder and explore, to discover, to practice, to reteach, to fail and try again, and to clarify misconceptions. Any piece of technology that will allow students to interact with, view and read resources online in real-time provides the access to the learner. Integrating tools that require students to react, reflect, summarize learning, share sources, communicate with peers and allows for both teacher and peer feedback will deepen the learning. This is where asynchronous and synchronous discussion tools are helpful, such as VoiceThread, Google Drive, Wikis and Blogs.

Use formative assessments to drive what happens during white space. Teachers create the unit goals, the big picture for learning. Allow students to create their own learning goals based on what they deem important, areas where improvement is needed, or areas of interest. Great lesson designers identify and communicate priorities so time is not wasted teaching content and skills in isolation. Often skills are strengthened when students are given opportunities to apply what they know to new situations, new learning. Digital portfolios -- no matter the tool used to create them (websites, blogs, wikis) -- used as a storing-house for an individual student's learning supports student reflection, collaboration, and can be used as a forum for evaluation and feedback from teachers and from peers.

Utilizing white space time to differentiate learning so that students can accomplish goals they have set for themselves helps ensure sustained engagement. Visible learning, goal setting, using formative assessments to drive instructional practices, identifying priorities and communicating long-range goals will impact metacognition and learning!