PBL for the Teachers?

Photo by Karla Hernandez on Unsplash

When it comes to classroom management and instruction, actively engaging learners in the learning process is important.  Now, what do you envision when you think about the students in this case?  Are they adults?  If not then maybe they should be because teacher professional development and learning opportunities need to continue moving away from “do as I say” direct instruction to actively doing while learning.  This is because Active Learning engages teachers in their own learning process so that they can better apply concepts from their own training to their own teaching. 

“Active Learning engages  

  • teachers directly in the practices they are learning 
  • educators using authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide contextualized professional learning. 
  • teachers by incorporating the elements of collaboration, coaching, feedback, and reflection.”  (Trotter, 2006) 

By applying research-based approaches in combination with standards-based practices like the ISTE Coaching Standards, we, as an educational community, can greatly increase the value and effectiveness of year-round professional learning experiences and opportunities. There are many ways to approach this, but why not start with something that most adult learners have at least heard of like PBL?

ISTE Coaching Standard 5  

Professional Learning Facilitator: Performance Indicator 5b: Build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback. 

PBL Engages Students in Active Learning, Why Not Teachers Too? 

A great example of active learning in the classroom is PBL (project/problem based learning). In PBL, students engage directly in the learning by working through a series of involved and individualized steps as part of a group project focused on solving a problem.  Adria Steinberg’s “Six A’s of Designing Projects”, as adapted to the The Six “A’s” of PBL Project Design in an article by Andrew Larson, provide a good basic outline of what active learning via PBL looks like.  The Six “A’s” identifies the following PBL characteristics: authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active exploration, adult relationships, assessment.  Students engage with peers in project-based learning that utilizes authentic artifacts and interactive activities at rigorous levels to explore possible solutions and then apply lessons learned—all while interacting with adults as mentors or authentic audience members and being assessed in an authentic manner.  This very active learning provides students opportunities to collaborate, be coached, receive relevant feedback, and reflect on their learning both during and immediately after the process.  So if all of this active learning happens for student participants in PBL then the obvious question is why not for adult participants?  The answer is that it can and should. 

Translating Student PBL Practices for Active Professional Learning 

As adult educators, there is a lot of value exploring and learning like a student.  This, in and of itself, can be beneficial for the educator looking to empathize with student’s perspective and identify areas for improvement by meeting students where they are at.  Beyond, this, experiencing PBL is an effective means to learning concepts at all levels.  So teachers immersing themselves in an authentic learning process can explore concepts relevant to their training which increases engagement.  In Get a Taste of PBL Before Your Students Do, Andrew Miller speaks to the benefits of utilizing PBL for adult learning, “We know the value of PBL for professional development. Teachers work together on an authentic challenge to become true learners, exploring a driving question and participating in a launch, receiving instruction and feedback to support learning, and sharing their work and learning publicly. This helps teachers reflect on the experience of PBL, see challenges students will face, and create engagement and excitement for doing PBL in the classroom.” (Miller, 2017).  

As part of a teacher-focused PBL in a professional development/learning experience, authentic artifacts can be provided (such as student work samples) and make for authentic teacher learning, which can increase the relevance as well as the ease of application back to the teachers’ respective classrooms.  PBL is also interactive due to the group work and research and so provides teachers with active learning opportunities as they explore the provided activity, often learning  through and about protocols for discussing and interacting as well as experiencing opportunities to work in teams and take on roles/jobs within their groups.  Both PBL and Active learning involve collaboration, coaching, feedback, and reflection, so they blend well and provide good opportunities for teachers to actively learn in an adult professional learning.  Teachers learn valuable lessons when they engage as active learners in their own professional learning, “Through the experience, teachers learn that a project-based-learning classroom feels a little like chaos — managed chaos. It is definitely clear PBL is active learning. They also learn that the power of performance can motivate even the most reluctant learners.” (Lenz, 2007) 

Where to Begin When There’s So Much to Do? 

There’s a lot to PB so it’s probably still challenging to envision what PBL for adults look like, especially when time is at an extreme premium.  Where to start and how to do it all?  Well, maybe one doesn’t have to do everything all at once, how about a slice of professional learning PL PBL pizza? “Project slices—condensed project-based learning for teachers—give educators a student’s perspective on what it’s like to do a project.” (Miller, 2017).  The idea is very much worth exploring.  The key is starting somewhere so that the benefits can begin to be realized through the transformation of professional learning experiences for educators.  In this way, active learning can be realized outside of the classroom as part of the teacher’s professional learning experience and then back in the classroom where the teacher can bring active learning to the students.  When teachers are authentically engaged in their own learning then they can more effectively transfer that learning to their own teaching context,”Teachers quickly move from making generalizations about the experience and its implications to applying what they’ve learned to the teachers’ future classrooms, their integrated project-based teams, and their schools as a whole.” (Lenz, 2007). So, just maybe, the question should be less about where do we begin and more about when? 

References 

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches 
  2. Miller, A. (2017, September 7). Get a Taste of PBL Before Your Students Do. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/get-taste-pbl-your-students-do  
  3. Lenz, B. (2007, August 29).Teachers, Like Students, Learn by Doing: Project Learning at Envision Schools. Edutopia.  Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/envision-schools-PBL-professional-development 
  4. Larson, A. (2019, June 12). The Six “A’s” of PBL Project Design. Magnify Learning. Retrieved from https://www.magnifylearningin.org/project-based-learning-blog/the-six-as-of-pbl-project-design
  5. Rivera, A. (2016, August 1). Why Do So Many Schools Want to Implement Project-Based Learning, But So Few Actually Do? EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-08-01-why-do-so-many-schools-want-to-implement-project-based-learning-but-so-few-actually-do

Puzzling Over Protocols

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Who, When, Where, Why, What, How? 

Who, when, and where we teach are often set by extenuating circumstances.  Whereas why we teach is both deeply personal and different for every educator.  What we teach can be set by state level standards, curriculum guides, and a number of other external factors.  Sometimes we have some level of control and sometimes not.  As instructors, we arguably have the most control over how we teach.  Deciding how to teach content can be both fun and overwhelming because so often we reinvent the wheel in education and therefore put a lot of extra work into designing the how.  Sometimes this is fine.  However, it’s nice to choose when we as instructors invest so much energy in teaching versus utilizing prepackaged options.  Sometimes curriculum provides a prepackaged option, but having a library of possible prepackaged choices to choose from can make a big difference by saving time, effort, and headache. Combine this with technology considerations, and there are some helpful connections to ISTE Coaching Standard 5 (adults in this case but also applies to kids).

ISTE Coaching Standard 5 

Professional Learning Facilitator: Performance Indicator 5a: Design professional learning based on needs assessments and frameworks for working with adults to support their cultural, social-emotional and learning needs. 

What’s a Protocol? 

Perhaps the most well-known protocol is the Jigsaw activity.  Honestly, this is with good reason, though, as The Distance Learning Playbook cites Chris Hattie’s meta-analysis work listing an effect size of 1.2 for Jigsaw as an instructional strategy.  Here’s also where things become challenging as there does not appear to be standardized language across education.  Whether we call these approaches protocols, learning strategies, professional learning practices, or something else, the intent is not to play with semantics but focus on the effectiveness of the approach itself.  So, for our purposes, let’s consider a protocol a structured “how” for facilitating a given learning activity.  Protocols don’t usually address the content directly, but they do provide a vehicle for learning the content by providing a structured activity. 

Discussion, Instruction, or Learning Protocols? 

Okay, so we’ve narrowed down to protocol, although, that can still mean a discussion, instruction, or learning protocol, depending on the source.  These three different descriptions can all mean the same thing and, at the very least, there is a significant amount of overlap whether one is more focused on discussion versus instruction versus learning.  Ultimately, the intent is to structure interactions among the participants.  The protocol outlines how time will be managed, when different aspects of an activity will be done, and how individuals will interact.  The Jigsaw protocol, again, can serve as a good example since it is relatively well known (it’s worth noting that there are different variations).  In an example of one kind of Jigsaw, participants have a home group and an expert group.  After receiving overall instructions from the instructor, participants first go (physically or virtually) to their expert group. In the expert group, participants study a resource unique to their group and become the “experts” on that topic.  Experts then go back to their home groups and take turns sharing about newfound areas of expertise, both teaching the group about their area and learning from the group members about other related areas.  Thus, once finished, there has been a completed jigsaw of new information by combining all of the individual pieces of learning. 

How can these support an Andragogical Instructional Framework?  

In other words, what role can protocols play in adult professional learning taking place in an Ed. Tech environment?  Regardless of the adult learning framework being implemented for a given instructional context, protocols can play an important role in several ways. 

  • Equity of Voice: protocols make sure that everyone is heard by regulating airtime and encouraging reluctant participants to speak. 
  • Accountability: protocols hold learners accountable for their learning in a positive way by communicating to participants their expected level of engagement and contributions. 
  • Reducing Social Anxiety: protocols provide transparent expectations of participation in advance of the activity so that nervous participants know exact expectations which reduces anxiety-inducing unknowns. 
  • Equity of Expertise: protocols level the playing field within a learning environment by elevating new learners, empowering all learners with new knowledge, and limiting the ability of participants to “self-designate” as experts on the subject matter of the training activity. 
  • Engagement management: protocols can limit participants from dominating a group while also engaging more reticent participants by assigning jobs to participants so as to disperse responsibilities among the learners and lead to a more effective group dynamic. 
  • Time management: protocols provide a structured means for managing the length of a given activity as well as regulating the allotted discussion time in an equitable manner. 

These are just a few examples of the way protocols can function within an adult instructional framework, or any instructional context for that matter.  Protocols serve as an efficient and effective means for actively engaging participants in their learning.  If you’re looking for a list of possible protocols to explore then I recommend starting with this list from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In addition to the jigsaw protocol, the list contains 18 common suggestions (with more linked at the bottom of the list). Select one carefully with your instructional content and context in mind, then practice implementing several times to become comfortable before moving on to another.  In time, protocols can take care of the “how” of learning in an efficient way so that all involved can focus on investing energy in the aspects of instruction that drive the “why” behind their instruction and learning.

References 

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches 
  2. Schmoker, M. (October 20th, 2015). EducationWeek. It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-its-time-to-restructure-teacher-professional-development/2015/10 
  3. Pitzele, K. (2013, November 27). From Brooklyn to Jakarta: Teaching Teachers Well. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/brooklyn-jakarta-teaching-teachers-well-karali-pitzele 
  4. Teaching & Learning Lab. Discussion Protocols. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Protocols_Handout.pdf 
  5. Rothstein, S. and Rowell, L. (2021, January 25). Discover, Discuss, Demonstrate: Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Keep Students Engaged. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/discover-discuss-demonstrate-using-inquiry-based-learning-keep-students-engaged  

Professional Learning Can Be ‘Squirrelly’ Business

*3D printed squirrels used as part of the professional learning lesson

Guiding Questions

Recently, I was asked to ponder the following questions:

  • What is an example of professional development that has worked for you? 
  • What is an example of professional development that has not worked for you?
  • What does research say about planning professional learning?

The first two questions are relatively easy to answer as they bring to mind all sorts of examples as I’ve experience a lot of professional learning over my 20-year career in education.  Reflecting on what the research says about planning professional learning requires some more thought, reflection, reading, and research.  There’s a lot written about professional learning and sorting through any of it takes time.  All three are guiding questions are applicable to the following essential question and relevant ISTE Coaching Standard:

  • How should we plan professional development that utilizes educational technology?

ISTE Coaching Standard 5

Professional Learning Facilitator: Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning.

Good Professional Learning

The vast majority of what makes professional learning high quality applies to trainings whether they are focused on educational technology or not.  In fact, focusing in on cutting edge, advanced, or complicated technology as part of a professional learning example often distracts from the more general topic of good professional learning.  Since good professional learning is good professional learning whether technology focused or not, the guiding questions really kept bringing me back to particular low-tech professional learning experience that I had.  It was one of the best that I led as an instructional coach because of some very unique circumstances, and I think the lessons that I learned apply to all professional learning whether low tech, high tech, or even no tech.

Professional Learning Literature

I read several different articles published by Edsurge and Edutopia while pondering questions I was given to consider.  There were several things in common across what I read in terms of how best to improve professional learning opportunities for teachers.  A major theme was making sure that training is relevant whether by surveying in advance, careful observation, addressing known needs, and/or personalizing training.  Another theme was providing teachers with choice, which could be general choice of learning topics or differentiation within a specific topic.  Surveying teachers in advance can help in both cases. These things can help ensure that training is engaging and even interactive which was another theme.  Finally, being respectful of teachers’ time also reflects in all the themes as well as treating teachers like professionals and having the professional learning presented by someone who understands their experiences.  Even the advice mentioned only once across the four articles seemed like sound options to keep in mind: sustained over time, utilize protocols, include extension activities, acknowledge teachers’ well-being, and be transparent. Additionally, all of this advice seems to apply equally well to regular teacher professional learning as well as technology-specific professional learning.

A Nutty Example with Some Squirrelly Activities

As mentioned earlier, low-tech professional learning approaches can teach us a lot about professional learning focused on educational technology.  One example that stands out in my mind given the original guiding questions, is a low-tech STEM training that was arguably the most successful professional learning that I led as an instructional coach.  While there was definitely room for improvement, the experienced utilized a significant number of the professional learning recommendations already listed.  The training itself was one that I was asked to recreate a number of times for different audiences, and the lessons that I learned from leading this training are ones that I applied later across a variety of technology-intensive trainings. Essentially, the training was an introduction to the engineering design process from Next Generation Science Standards utilizing a limited number of common items as the “technology” in a design challenge designed to work in tandem with a picture book called “Those Darn Squirrels”.  There a lot of different ways to outline the details of the training.  I think the most helpful might be using the five professional learning recommendations from “5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves” by Karen Johnson.

Relevant: Each teacher received a copy of the book “Those Darn Squirrels” by Adam Rubin. I devised a lesson series that would take advantage of the “Those Darn Squirrels” book that each staff member received.  The premise was a vehicle for introducing the new NGSS engineering standards. 

Interactive: After introducing the standards and reading the book, teachers took the role of the squirrels and had to use a Ziploc bag full of everyday objects to design a squirrel launcher to help the squirrels.  The constraints were that they could only use the materials in the bag and they only had so much time.  The success criteria focused simply on the distance launched.  I’ve rarely seen staff get so into an activity before. They designed feverishly and were very competitive while thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Delivered by Someone Who Understands Their Experience: I had recently transition out of the classroom into the role of instructional coach.  I was excited because I was going to run my first Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) professional development (PD) training for the building and I wanted to have a “door prize” for the staff since it was an optional workshop day. My colleagues saw me as one of them and knew that I was familiar with the overall context of the myriad of challenges that they faced.

Sustained Over Time: The follow-up involved taking this mini-lesson with the staff and mirroring it through a series of lessons in each classroom 3rd-6thgrade at my school.  The result was one of the most successful lesson series that I’ve ever taught because teachers had already experienced the professional learning side of things and were able to apply their learning in the classroom by co-teaching alongside their instructor (me).

Treats Teachers Like Professionals: This one was extremely important to me then as I’d recently exited the classroom.  This is still as if not more important to me now.  I strongly believe that one of the biggest issues facing education in our country is that teachers are not given credit for the level of professionalism required on the job and the amount of respect they deserve for what is an incredibly hard, stressful, and challenging profession.

Final Thought

Again, all of the professional learning approaches applied in this low-tech setting are every bit as relevant, and perhaps even more so, to a high-tech focused training.  Good teaching is good teaching is good teaching. The same goes for professional learning, and it’s important that we keep that in mind for our teachers and ourselves.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. (2013). Home Page. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/ 
  3. Johnson, K. (2016, June 28). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves
  4. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf
  5. Lewis, V. (2015, October 25). Why Most Professional Development Stinks—and How You Can Make It Better. Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better
  6. Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2018, October 30). The Importance of Choice in PD. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/importance-choice-pd
  7. Mancinelli, D. (2020, September 16). 6 Things to Consider When Planning Professional Development. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/6-things-consider-when-planning-professional-development

Coaching the Coaches

Peer-Ed, 2018

Peer coaching in the teaching profession is a humbling job. Whether part-time or full-time, a peer coach’s job is to help his or her colleagues improve their practice. In his book, “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration”, Dr. Les Foltos speaks to the critical role that a peer coach can play in a fellow teacher’s practice, “This process of observation and reflection is the most effective form of formative assessment for educators. It is their key to life-long learning.” Given that a teacher’s practice is as much personal as professional, a peer coach’s job is to take this into full consideration while helping the observed colleague to reflect, ask questions, and improve upon his or her practice. On an annual basis, this is the fall focus of the Digital Educational Leadership (DEL) program at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) where Dr. Les Foltos and Dr. David Wicks coach a cohort of instructional coaches on the delicate art and science of peer coaching.

Essential Question

How does an educational professional take pedagogical and andragogical instructional theory related to peer coaching and practically apply this in practice with a colleague?

Coaching a Colleague

The overarching task of peer coaches in the SPU DEL program is partnering with a peer to practice applied coaching skills and strategies. One of the first things to consider are the various roles and approaches that a peer coach can take on: facilitator, collaborator, expert, and catalyst. There are times for each, however, a 1-on-1 focus lends itself well to collaboration. If the interaction were more of a large-group instructional setting then facilitator may have been the best option, whereas more of a one-time consulting-type interaction may have meant an expert approach. Growing into relationship over time can result in a catalyst role, however, this generally takes time and a significant level of relational capacity. With all of this in mind, my approach to working with a colleague was to focus on the role of collaborator so that we could grow our peer coaching relationship together. Our initial meeting focused on getting to know each other with relation to this task, agreeing upon relational norms of interaction, and setting goals for our time together. This naturally led into and supported the rest of our peer coaching work together.

Planning Together

After our initial introductory meeting, my peer coaching colleague and I arranged a follow-up meeting to focus on a possible lesson together. We looked at a relatively new project that covered six hours of professional development learning for teachers. This presented a good opportunity to practice all of the critical skills that Dr. Foltos describes as essential to successful peer coaching, “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” The skills of communication and collaboration were critical in our first session as well as leading into the planning session. My job was to actively listen and verify understanding through listening strategies such as paraphrasing and summary. Once my peer coaching partner verified mutual understanding then we could focus on the collaborative act of lesson planning together. Given that the lesson instruction focused around online teaching, information and communication technology skills became a critical part of the process by the very nature of the instructional context. We maintained the focus on the learning first and foremost, and then explored a variety of technology tools to support this process. Lastly, the third facet of lesson design was certainly part of the process from beginning to end. We approached lesson design based on the collaborating teacher’s experience, and kept this in mind as this would drive a lot of the reflection process.

Reflecting as a Team

The lesson reflection process centered around the Learning Design Matrix referenced and featured in Dr. Foltos’s peer coaching book. The matrix serves as the feature image of this blog post, and, as you can see, the focus of the four quadrants is on standards-based tasks, engaging tasks, problem-based tasks, and technology enables and accelerates learning. Fortunate enough to have established a positive rapport, my peer coaching partner and I were able to review the lesson of focus through the lens of all four quadrants from the Learning Design Matrix. Through the standards-based lens, we were able to look more closely at the learning targets. While the selected standards seemed well aligned, we were able to brainstorm ways to make them more explicit for learners. Engaging tasks take on a new dimension when learning online, so we looked at ways to build more interaction among participants. By keeping breakout group members consistent, we discussed how this would likely lead to more relational engagement by participants which would help increase task engagement. The lesson contained several problem-based tasks. What seemed missing, though, were ways to empower participants to better support each other so we brainstormed ongoing discussion board ideas. Lastly, we looked at technology–something that’s pervasive throughout online learning but can also become a distraction or impediment to application as a result. With this in mind, we looked at how technology could better support interaction and looked at learning tools that better support the human element of learning. The overarching coaching and reflection discussion had both breadth and depth as we explored numerous applications across the entire Learning Design Matrix for iterating upon the existing lesson design for future instructional improvements and implementation.

Next Steps

The act of learning about peer coaching became real through the practical applications of these lessons learned under the guidance of Dr. Foltos and Dr. Wicks. These theoretical lessons offered many possibilities for practice, while the application offered real-life examples. My personal goal is to continue to improve upon my utilization of these applied skills as well as to continue my overall study of peer coaching skills and strategies. As a lifelong learner, I realize this is a lifelong process where the process is the journey and the destination is an ever-moving target of growth where one never truly “arrives”.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.

Teaching by Design, Part Deux

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

Picking Up Where We Left Off 

The first post in this two-part series highlighted some key aspects from  Dr. Les Foltos’s book, “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” starting with his foundational outline of three general areas of skills that instructional coaches should possess: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.” When focusing on the lesson design leg of the stool, Dr. Foltos provides a “Learning Activity Checklist” tool for reviewing and improving lesson plans.  So far in this series, we’ve explored the “Standards Based” category and the “Engaging” category.  Both are critical quadrants of the four-part resource.  The two remaining categories to address are “Problem Based Task” and “Technology Enhances Academic Achievement”.  With the same ISTE standards and essential question in mind as the initial post, we’ll explore each category to round out a full review of the four categories from Dr. Foltos’s “Learning Activity Checklist” tool. 

Coaching Standards

  1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches: 1a. Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process. 
  1. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies. 3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning. 
  1. Learning Designer: Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students. Coaches: 4a. Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency. 

Essential Question:  

How does one approach lesson design in an ever-evolving classroom context? 

Problem-Based Task 

The “Problem Based Task” category draws on established PBL approaches.  I start with the acronym because there are various flavors of PBL, with Problem-Based Learning being one of the more prominent.  The original and most well-known is Project-Based Learning.  There’s also place-based, passion-based, and phenomena-based among others.  All of them are essentially different sides of the same proverbial coin in that the focus is on engaging students with real-world problems and applications of their learning.  Dr. Foltos speaks to this in his peer coaching book by citing relevant research on the topic, ”Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) remind educators that real-world problems have to have meaning to their students in their community and need to draw on students’ current knowledge, skills, beliefs, and passions.”  He goes onto address some of the critical aspects of Problem-Based activities, “…tasks often consist of two elements: a scenario that will stimulate students’ interest, give them an understandable setting, and define an audience along with an essential question that is designed to define the product the students will create (Meyer et al., 2011).” 

To say that there are a lot of PBL resources out there for teachers to explore would be an understatement, and pretty much all of these resources build on the foundational aspects described above: they tend involve real-world or “real enough” scenario-based problems that will engaged student interest, provide a defined audience, and align with a matching essential question that helps define student-created products.  A great place to start exploring PBL resources that help build on this solid foundation is Edutopia’s website.  PBL is an area that Edutopia focuses on and there is a lot of high quality content available.  One incredibly helpful five-part series entitled “Problem-Based Learning Research Review” walks the reader through a detailed and in-depth overview.  The article cites research to highlight four major areas as an introduction to PBL, “According to researchers (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008; Thomas, 2000), PBL essentially involves the following: students learning knowledge to tackle realistic problems as they would be solved in the real world, increased student control over his or her learning, teachers serving as coaches and facilitators of inquiry and reflection, and students (usually, but not always) working in pairs or groups.”  Additional research by Erdogan, Niyazi & Bozeman, Todd (2015), and called “Models of Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century”, evaluates common schools of PBL thought to identify unifying concepts across the varying approaches.  They identify four phases to the learning process that are common across different versions of PBL: “Initiation, Management, Deliverables, and Assessment”.  Taking all of these aspects together into consideration, educators can begin to identify certain patterns.  For example, it’s worth noting that there are some similarities in the identified PBL progression to the 5E approach referenced in the first post of this series.   

PBL can be a little overwhelming so starting small with a focus on Problem Based Tasks, as suggested by the structure of Dr. Foltos’s “Learning Activity Checklist”.  Many of the lesson aspects involved with an emphasis on problem-based tasks arguably come down to just good teaching.  The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards reference numerous aspects of PBL-related teaching, for example, “…understanding that information is not simply delivered to students but that meaningful learning requires students to employ new ideas in real world contexts.”  Ideas for activities and where to start are also important.  “It’s Debatable” is a book with several in-depth examples of modern socio-scientific issues such as whether or not to mine rare earth minerals.  The PBL Works website has a variety of examples and PBL-related resources.  This site is maintained by the Buck Institute which created one of the original Problem-Based Learning schools of thought and is considered by many to be the gold standard of PBL.  If you’re looking to dive deeper into a resource with a specific Problem-Based Learning focus then the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) has created a toolbox of resources to support this effort with manuals focused around four primary topics: “PBL Matters, PBL Design, PBL Coaching, PBL Assessment”.  IMSA offers the following description from their PBL Tool Kit, “Problem-Based Learning is focused experiential learning organized around the investigation and resolution of messy, real-world problems.”  In the PBL book “Problem As Possibilities”,  IMSA authors (Torp and Sage), also wrote “As an engagement process, problem-based learning empowers students as learners and doers to translate imagination and thought into actuality as well as to reflect on the process and proposed solution.”  So the idea in PBL is that students are engaged in opportunities for deep learning solving complex problems with opportunities for real outcomes, while, at the same time, all PBL units should be passion-based learning opportunities for students so as to build a strong foundational and lifelong love of learning. 

Technology Enhances Academic Achievement 

The fourth and final category from the “Learning Activity Checklist” tool is “Technology Enhances Academic Achievement”.  This category, in some ways, could also be viewed as an extension or application of the “Information and Communication Technology Integration” leg of Dr. Foltos’s peer coaching skills stool metaphor.  Tying this into a lesson review tool becomes important because of the ever increasing role that technology plays in schools, a role which Dr. Foltos speaks to in his book, “Adding technology hasn’t changed traditional teaching and learning, but it has made poor pedagogy more expensive.”  This potential pitfall is important to remember, and there is research to support successful approaches with technology, “It is not (never was) about technology. To make a difference, it has always been about good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning (Sylvia Tolisano, 2009).”  The well-established National Board for Professional Teaching Standards also support this approach throughout technology-related instructional standards, “The standards therefore explore how such tools [emerging instructional tools], including technology, may be used to support teaching and learning for themselves and their students instead of focusing on how to use specific tools which may change.”  That being said, the standards do reinforce the importance of utilizing instructional technology, “To support content-related and pedagogical goals, accomplished teachers integrate and use instructional tools, including technology, within the curriculum, ” with the emphasis being on the pedagogical aspect. 

With the established idea that sound pedagogy still fundamentally drives instruction when technology is involved, finding resources to support the pedagogically appropriate use of instructional technology can be challenging.  Researched-based approaches where the application is proven provide the best opportunity for successful classroom applications.  One such book, “The Distance Learning Playbook” by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, provides plenty of research-based support for careful technology integration.  They speak to concerns where “too much talk has focused on teaching and not on learning” by offering that “teachers should not hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than their student’s learning.”  In support of this, they offer suggestions for instructional strategies that can be effectively integrated with technology such as Classroom Discussion with an effect size of 0.82, Jigsaw lesson organizational strategies with an effect size of 1.2, Reciprocal Teaching with an effect size of 0.74, and more.  Liz Kolb takes a very research-based focus in her book “Learning First, Technology Second”.  As the book title might suggest, she offers that “Teaching with technology is about the learning first and the tool second,” and advises educators to “Focus specifically on how the technology is meeting the needs of the learner.”  Based on her research, Kolb offers her “Triple E Framework” as a means to helping educators accomplish effective integration of instructional technology through the lens of “Engagement, Enhancement, and Extension.”  One last example of research-based instructional ideas around technology integration is “Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works” by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski which applies the meta-research from Dr. Robert Marzano’s book “Classroom Instruction that Works” to instructional technology.  While many of the specific technology examples are dated, the core research-based concepts are sound, insightful, and proven.  The research-based reasons for careful planning around thoughtful instruction also remain the same, “Research indicates that technology’s use in the classroom can have an additional positive influence on student learning when the learning goals are clearly articulated prior to the technology’s use (Ringstaff & Kelley, 2002; Schacter, 1999).” 

Closing

There are a lot of different ways to approach coaching a colleague on lesson improvement.  The addressed areas of Standards Based, Engaging, Problem-Based Task, Technology Enhances Academic Achievement provide great starting point and reflective lenses through which to evaluate lessons.  However a peer coach is approaching a colleague, Dr. Foltos provides sound advice in that “Any coaching conversation about improving a colleague’s work must start with a clear statement that praises what’s good about the learning activity.” This advice draws on the first leg of Dr. Foltos’s instructional stool, “coaching skills (communication and collaboration)”.  These skills are critical to the peer coach’s success and must be present throughout his or her coaching interactions and work. In other words, tread lightly so as to “Begin with praise and honest appreciation” and “Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise'” to quote Dale Carnegie as you are truly try to win over your colleagues and influence them in the best possible way. 

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration.
  3. Corwin.Foltos, L. (January, 2018). Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  4. Parish, N. (May, 2019). Ensuring That Instruction Is Inclusive for Diverse Learners. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/ensuring-instruction-inclusive-diverse-learners
  5. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005).  Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  6. Marzon, R., Pickering, D., Pollock, J. (January, 2001). Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  7. Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks. Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
  8. Bybee, R. (2015). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model. National Science Teachers Association.
  9. Burgess, D. (2012). Teach Like a Pirate. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
  10. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  11. Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. Routledge.
  12. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA). (2013). PBL Network, Collaborative Inquiry in Action. IMSA.PBL Works. (2020).
  13. Buck Institute For Education. Retrieved from https://www.pblworks.org/
  14. Zeidler, D. & Kahn, S. (2014). It’s Debatable. NSTApress.
  15. Vega, V. (December, 2012). Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes
  16. Erdogan, N. & Bozeman, T.D. (2015). Models of Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century. Sense Publishers.
  17. Corwin.Kolb, L. (2017). Learning First, Technology Second. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
  18. Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development & Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
  19. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). (2016). NBPTS. Pearson.
  20. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.

Teaching by Design, Part Uno

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

In his book, “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” Dr. Les Foltos outlines three general areas of skills that instructional coaches should possess: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.”  Dr. Foltos uses the metaphor of a three-legged stool to describe how these skills are all critical to successful coaching, “Remove any leg and coaching could fail.”  The last of these three areas, lesson design, is perhaps the most nuanced to address.  Teachers start out writing detailed lesson plans as student teachers and slowly move away from this as they become more experienced.  Most, if not all, keep detailed lesson plan books for their own guidance but a lot of the less plan details are internalized.  Given the accelerating rate of change in education, how does a peer coach help teachers explore, reflect, and improve upon lesson and unit planning in their practice?  Dr. Foltos provides one such tool in his book that he refers to as the “Learning Activity Checklist” and divides this approach into four categories: Standards Based, Engaging, Problem Based Task, and Technology Enhances Academic Achievement.  A further exploration of these four areas, with the relevant ISTE Coaching standards in mind, provides some additional insights into the essential question raised around lesson design.

Coaching Standards

1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches: 1a. Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.

3. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies. 3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

4. Learning Designer: Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students. Coaches: 4a. Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.

Essential Question

How does one approach lesson design in an ever-evolving classroom context?

Standards Based

In his “Peer Coaching” book, Dr. Foltos is clear about the need for standards based instruction, “There are three groups of standards educators should include in their learning activities: curriculum standards, 21st-century standards, and technology standards (Meyer et al., 2011m).”  There is plenty of support for this approach across educational literature and research. “Understanding By Design” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe raises the critical approach of beginning with the end in mind.  In the case of standards-based teaching, this means the standards.  The standards will inform construction of learning objectives to be introduced to students at the beginning of the lesson or unit and learning outcomes to be evaluated as student success criteria at the end of the same given lesson or unit. Wiggins and McTighe focus in on this as defining the “why” of the instruction, “Answering the ’why?’ and ’so what?’ questions that older students always ask (or want to), and doing so in concrete terms as the focus of curriculum planning, is thus the essence of understanding by design.”

Not only are objectives important, but individualized feedback coupled with those objectives is critical.  This can take the form of formative assessment along the way or summative assessment at the end of the activity or unit.  “Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback” is so important that Robert Marzano cites this as one of the “Nine Categories in Instructional Planning” based on meta-research he conducted and wrote about in his book entitled “Classroom Instruction that Works”.  Dr. Foltos speaks to this as well with an emphasis on formative assessment of the standards based learning, “Educators must use formative assessment, which gives learners opportunities to receive feedback at benchmarks along the way, “to revise and improve the quality of their learning… while they are engaged in learning new materials” (Bransford, et al., 2000, pp. 24–25).”  While the objectives are classwide and the learning is standards based, individualization is important toward this end as well because every student is different. According to John Hattie’s book on meta-analyses of education research, Visible Learning for Teachers, formative assessment has a student learning effect size of 0.90 and individualized feedback has an effect size of 0.75.

Universal Learning is a valuable approach to consider when looking at lesson planning because it means providing individualized access for students whether they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 504, or not.  In the Edutopia blog post entitled “Ensuring That Instruction Is Inclusive For Diverse Learners” by Nina Parrish, she speaks to the idea that Universal Design provides a flexible model for adjusting instructional approaches.  She lists three key ideas for successfully implementing universal design in the classroom, “Teach content in many ways, provide choices to sustain student engagement, and provide accommodations for all students.” Universal Design creates a more student centered approach that is more inclusive across the entire classroom for all students.

Engaging

“Tasks are essential in learning that asks students to play an active role in solving real-world problems and develop 21st-century skills. They hook the students, engage their interest in a learning activity, and define how students will demonstrate their learning.”  The type of learning tasks that Dr. Foltos is describing in his book on “Peer Coaching” are authentically engaging tasks.  For a task to be engaging, it must be developmentally appropriate.  Chip Wood’s book, “Yardsticks”, provides developmentally appropriate descriptions that can be extremely useful for appropriate engaging students at certain ages.  He speaks to our establish knowledge in this area, “In the first half of the last century, the so-called “giants” in the field of child development—people such as Jean Piaget, Arnold Gesell, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Lev Vygotsky—observed, researched, and recorded most of the developmental patters that form the basis of our knowledge of how children mature.” Meeting students where they are at based on these established “developmental patterns” means we can better engage students.

In fact, “Engage” is the first of the five “E’s” listed as part of “The BSCS  5E Instructional Model” by Rodger Bybee.  The 5E Model is based on the work of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, among others, in terms of the natural and “engaging” progressions of learning. According to John Hattie, Piagetian programs have an effect size of 1.28.  By engaging student interest through a discrepant event that connects to previous knowledge, teachers can help student construct new knowledge by moving from equilibrium to the disequilibrium engaged by the discrepant event and eventually back to equilibrium through the processing of new learning in the “Explore” and “Explain” phases.  Teachers then verify understanding via student’s ability to apply new learning in a different context via the “Elaborate” and “Evaluate” phases.

As demonstrated by the three provided examples, appropriate engagement is key.  This is as much an art as a science and will vary teacher to teacher and even class to class with the same teacher.  The importance throughout different contexts is a focus on being intentional about engaging the learner.  Dave Burgess is a master at this as demonstrated through his “Teach Like a Pirate” philosophy.  His book, “Teach Like a Pirate, Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator” speaks to the importance of engaging students in their learning in a way that makes sense for each educator based on their respective passion, “It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, you can become totally engaging to your audience if they can feel your passion and love for what you are doing. You will draw students in as if by some magnetic force.”  Passion is engaging, and it’s also contagious and spreads throughout your learning practice and to those around you.  Passion is engaging.

Halfway Home

So far, with Dr. Foltos’s “Learning Activity Checklist”, we’ve looked at the first two categories of ”Standards Based” and ”Engaging”.  These are two critical areas to keep in mind when reviewing existing lessons and units as well as designing new ones.  There are numerous connections across literature and via educational theorists to support these approaches.  That being said, one is best off focusing on one aspect of one category at a time as opposed to trying to process and apply all four areas at once.  Over time, with practice, many of these approaches can become second nature and intuitive for the intentional teacher. The authors of “Understanding by Design” speak specifically to this process of internalization.  The remaining two areas of ”Problem-Based” and ”Technology Enhances Academic Achievement“ will be addressed in the follow-up to this blog post.  There are entire books written on each topic, so the intent will be to address key points from established resources like this introductory post.  Together, all four areas create powerful opportunities for intentional teaching of carefully designed lessons and units of instruction.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (January, 2018). Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  4. Parish, N. (May, 2019). Ensuring That Instruction Is Inclusive for Diverse Learners. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/ensuring-instruction-inclusive-diverse-learners
  5. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005).  Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  6. Marzon, R., Pickering, D., Pollock, J. (January, 2001). Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  7. Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks. Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
  8. Bybee, R. (2015). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model. National Science Teachers Association.
  9. Burgess, D. (2012). Teach Like a Pirate. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
  10. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  11. Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. Routledge.
  12. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA). (2013). PBL Network, Collaborative Inquiry in Action. IMSA.
  13. PBL Works. (2020). Buck Institute For Education. Retrieved from https://www.pblworks.org/
  14. Zeidler, D. & Kahn, S. (2014). It’s Debatable. NSTApress.
  15. Vega, V. (December, 2012). Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes
  16. Erdogan, N. & Bozeman, T.D. (2015). Models of Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century. Sense Publishers.
  17. Kolb, L. (2017). Learning First, Technology Second. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
  18. Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development & Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
  19. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). (2016). NBPTS. Pearson.
  20. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.
     

If You Say Tomayto and I Say Tomahto then Why are We Debating Potayto? The Importance of Communication and Collaboration to Successful Peer Coaching.

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Teaching is a hard job in the best of times.  Add in a pandemic that requires the ability to teach in-person, remotely, or some combination there-of, and more questions than answers will surely arise.  Teachers need help and support and hopefully this is where peer coaches can come into play, but where do coaches even begin to establish the complex level of support needed by teachers?  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he outlines key skills needed by coaches: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.”  All three areas are important, but the coaching skills of communication and collaboration are essential.  Both ICT integration and lesson design are dependent upon effective communication and collaboration, “A coach’s successes in incorporating lesson-design skills and insights into the effective use of technology “hinge on their success with communication and collaboration skills” (J. Linklater, personal communication, June 14, 2012).”  A closer look at coaching skills also requires relevant context since the peer coach takes on a variety of roles: “Facilitator, Collaborator, Expert, and Catalyst.”  Successful coaching requires that effective application of skills coincides with, complements, and even enhances the critical context of coaching roles.

Coaching Standards

2. Connected Learner: Coaches model the ISTE Standards for Students and the ISTE Standards for Educators, and identify ways to improve their coaching practice. Coaches: 2c. Establish shared goals with educators, reflect on successes and continually improve coaching and teaching practice.

3. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

5. Professional Learning Facilitator: Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning. Coaches: 5b.  Build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback.

Essential Question 

How do coaching skills, with an emphasis on communication and collaboration, translate into all of the different roles that peer coaches take on?

Facilitator

When the peer coach assumes the role of facilitator, this means “Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations,” (Foltos, 2018).  Regardless of the size of facilitation, the coach needs to be prepared to model risk taking, “Other Peer Coaches model risk taking and recognize that taking risks may occasionally mean failure” (Foltos, 2013).  This helps lay the foundation of safety that’ll be needed for collaboration later on. This is also a key communication strategy that the peer coach can reference later on when trying to navigate the tricky terrain of providing constructive peer feedback.  As described by famed communicator Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People, “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”

Acting as a facilitator, means being able to guide staff interactions and transitioning in and out of a peer leadership role.  This means being aware of group norms.  In the absence of agreed upon norms, pairs/groups will develop their own unsaid norms that may not be as conducive to effective collaboration.  By taking the lead in this area and developing norms together, the structure can help facilitate the relationships and learning: “Collaborative norms shape our conversations in ways that build trust and respect; they define accountability and build capacity. Collaborative norms are essential for effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).

Collaborator

Being a collaborator means “Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities,” (Foltos, 2018).  This means “Addressing the potential fear-factor of working with an instructional coach”, which can be accomplished by modeling risk taking as mentioned in the facilitator role and providing a safety net within the relationship, “Their efforts to encourage their peers to adopt more innovative teaching and learning strategies are always undergirded by the safety net they built with their collaborating teachers,” (Foltos, 2013).  When collaborating, you’re often preparing, planning, teaching and reflecting together with a focus on student learning. The reflecting is where the trust and safety net come in so that coach and teacher can “discuss what worked and what the peer would do differently next time” in a safe manner, (Foltos, 2013).

A critical part of effective collaboration is clear communication and utilizing strategies that support this.  A simple but powerful strategy that Dr. Foltos references in his book is paraphrasing, “In its simplest form, paraphrasing is the listener repeating, albeit in a modified form, what he or she heard the speaker say.”  This facilitates clear communication and ensures understanding while also demonstrating that the coach is practicing another critical listening skill that Dr. Foltos refers to as active listening: “Active listeners are focused on what the speaker is saying. They look right at the speaker, block out competing thoughts, and assess what the speaker is saying.”  This also ties into one of Dale Carnegies key strategies for building relationship, “Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves.”  Again, all of this builds toward the coach being able to grow the relationship with the teacher while helping the teacher grow in his or her practice, “Give honest and sincere appreciation” and “praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” (Carnegie, 1936). This strategy is so important and underutilized that it’s worth citing additional support from an Edutopia article on the topic by Shannon McGrath and entitled 5 Vital To-Dos for Instructional Coaches, “Be vocal about the good you see: Teachers rarely get focused feedback on the practices they devote so much of their time to improving. Be constantly on the lookout for small moves your teachers are making that shift students, efforts that go above and beyond expectations, or relationships that are making the difference for students.“

There are additional benefits in this for students as well, because “teachers who learned these communication skills from a coach turn around and teach these same skills with their students (P. Cleaves, personal communication, May 23, 2012),” (Foltos, 2013).  On top of this, good coaching is actually an effective teaching strategy per the meta-analyses of research done by Dr. John Hattie and as cited in The Distance Learning Playbook by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie (2020).  This also leads into and connected with some strong research cited around effective questioning strategies which support a lot of the work coaches do as a catalyst, but, first, let’s explore the often misunderstood role of expert.

Expert

The role of expert is probably the hardest to navigate while maintaining the role of peer and “Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics,” (Foltos, 2018).  This is because growing the relationship means you “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely” per Dale Carnegie but you also need to posses a self-evident mastery of the relevant content.  Most importantly as the expert, the peer coach needs to be careful not to take learning responsibility away from the learner and inadvertently steal their joy of discovery because this engenders ownership of ideas: “Effective coaches, like Grace Dublin, make it clear to learning partners that “the responsibility to learn something belongs to the learner” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” Foltos (2013).  Even better as far as persuading individuals to a new way of thinking goes per Mr. Carnegie, “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

The following from Dr. Foltos ties together the ideas inquiry into the other teacher’s ideas and advocacy for the coach’s ideas, “Inquiry Over Advocacy: When is the right time for advocacy? How often can they [coaches] present their solutions? As I noted in earlier chapters, successful coaches feel that a little advocacy works, but only after a strong coaching relationship based on inquiry is formed. Too much advocacy, they observed, means the coach becomes the expert with the answer. Garmston and Wellman (1999) argue it is important for successful collaboration to balance advocacy and inquiry.”  In other words, one should refrain from playing the role of expert as much as possible in a peer coaching relationship.  It’s like yelling by the teacher in the classroom, which should be reserved for the rarest of instances (preferably emergencies) so that when actually needed it can be utilized effectively.  Otherwise, when over-utilized, the role of expert will lead to potential disagreements that inevitably grow into arguments, and “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it,” (Carnegie, 1936).  This is doubly important and true of the peer coaching role.  

Catalyst

After significant work has been done to grow relationships with teachers, coaches can serve in the role of catalyst: “Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers,” (Foltos, 2018).  There are many ways to build to this level.  The work done as facilitator, collaborator, and expert should help and go a long way toward establishing this level of relationship.  Additionally, efforts to grow teacher confidence through careful actions such as providing recognition for positive accomplishments can help, “Successful Peer Coaches use a variety of strategies to get teachers recognition for their work. Many coaches use conversations with their peers to recognize the strengths of the learning activities the teachers are using with students and work to help their learning partners build on those strengths,” (Foltos, 2013).

With inquiry over advocacy in mind, effective questioning strategies can be especially helpful in the catalyst role.  Dale Carnegie emphasizes the power of asking questions with regard to changing attitudes and behaviors, “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”  Practice can be built with regard to clarifying questions, which “… are simple and typically factual. They fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle…”, and then lead to higher level probing questions, “Why are they [probing questions] so critical? The answer gets to the heart of effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).  Research supports these strategies with regard to learning and so again there is an added benefit that teachers tend to turn around and employ these new strategies with their students.  According to Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, “Questioning has an effect size of 0.48.”  The right line of probing questions lead to deep reflective thinking which is even more powerful for learning, “Metacognitive strategies have an effect size of 0.55.”  One longtime peer coach, Dr. Greg Bianchi, wrote his entire dissertation on the power of metacognition.  When we keep in mind that any effect size greater than 0.40 greatly accelerates student learning then this is powerful stuff.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, it’s still important to remember the power of consistent small changes for continuous Improvement: “Successful Peer Coaches don’t push for one big, dramatic change, instead relying on an incremental process of continuous improvement,” (Foltos, 2013). 

So, What’s the Potahto? 

Teaching is a hard job and, by association, so is peer coaching, “Most Peer Coaches I have worked with know that they are trying to build these kinds of relationships in difficult circumstances. Many have worked in schools in which teachers work alone and in which collaboration consisted of teachers exchanging lesson plans and teaching resources,” (Foltos, 2013).  Building relationships is key to being able to make any progress with regard to effective coaching translating into student learning growth.  True collaboration is elusive because school systems are not designed to facilitate this.  So coaches must rely on relationship to bridge these systemic gaps, “Being friendly, positive, and supportive doesn’t guarantee innovation, but coaches won’t encourage innovation without drawing on these behaviors to create a safety net.”  To influence teachers, coaches need to be adept and adroit with their approaches to create that trust-based safety net so that they can “Arouse in the other person an eager want” and “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest,” (Carnegie, 1936). Creating a safe enough environment for positive change to happen is more challenging with teaching because it’s deeply personal, “Teaching is an identity and an action, not just a vocation,” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2020).  This means that, ultimately, “Peer Coaches can’t be the experts with the answers. Instead, as Grace Dublin insists, coaches are there to “help them formulate their strategies. It is ultimately their answer” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” (Foltos, 2013).  Coaches can truly effect change by believing in their teachers to arrive at their own answers because belief not only has a large effect size on learning, but it also does something even more powerful: it empowers the believer to “Give the other person a fine reputation to to live up to,” (Carnegie, 1936). This action persuades teachers to pursue the desired improvement by way of self-fulfilling prophesy because a coach knew that a teacher could be something more and guided them to that realization through careful facilitation, collaboration, and expertise that all lead up to a catalyst.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek 
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.
  6. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  7. McGrath, S. (2019). 5 Relationship-Building Tips for Instructional Coaches. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-relationship-building-tips-instructional-coaches
  8. Bianchi, G. (2007). Effects of metacognitive instruction on the academic achievement of students in the secondary sciences. Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007PhDT…….128B/abstract

Is Coaching Remotely Necessary in the Era of Remote Learning?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” —Mother Teresa

Image created by Digital Promise

“Educators often say that education is frustratingly isolating. And if you talk with them about collaboration, you quickly learn that they know it can be a powerful tool to improve teaching and learning—and many feel a growing expectation to collaborate.”  In an article written for Edutopia, Dr. Les Foltos leads off with this quote and captures the quintessential crux of the collaboration problem in education.  The teaching profession, by structure, inherently isolates teachers from each other and others in their profession, yet, collaboration is key to effecting change in education.  As Dr. Foltos goes on to write, “Reducing the isolation starts with the recognition that collaboration is a learned skill.”  Peer (instructional) coaching is one such solution that Dr. Foltos provides and an increasing body of research supports.  How do educators successfully implement this model under the best of circumstances, let alone during a pandemic that often requires remote instruction that’s done online?  We need to start out by looking at the why and what of coaching before we can begin to look at the how in any case, especially in regard to online applications.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 1

  1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches:
  • 1a Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.
  • 1b Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.
  • 1c Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals.
  • 1d Recognize educators across the organization who use technology effectively to enable high-impact teaching and learning.
  • 1e Connect leaders, educators, instructional support, technical support, domain experts and solution providers to maximize the potential of technology for learning.

Essential Question

What, why, and how can peer instructional coaching help to increase collaboration and effective professional development in general let alone in the midst of a pandemic?

Why Instructional Coaching?

Diana Lee writes for EdSurge, “A growing body of research confirms her theory, showing instructional coaching to be more effective for teacher growth than traditional forms of professional development.” The quoted research from Digital Promise is also strengthened by Instructional Coach Teresa Engler,  “I wish I had a coach in my long career as a teacher because there were times I felt like I was struggling and if I just had the support of a coach next to me, I would’ve been able to be a little braver, try to do more things or been just a little more confident in what I was implementing in my classroom,” she reflected. “Having a coach would have made a significant contribution to the quality of my teaching—expanding what my students learned from me.”  Peer coaches provide support based on personal experience, research, and professional development that also serves as a safety net for teachers to be brave and implement new learnings together.

The “why” for instructional coach grows with every passing research study in support of this practice as well as personal anecdote citing success.  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he cites research by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2009) in support of instructional coaching, “They found that teachers need about 50 hours of professional development to improve in a specific area.”  This proven need exists yet teachers often only receive training that’s “…episodic, myopic, and often meaningless.”  The cited key idea that most administrators miss is that ”Improving Practice Can Only Be Done by Teachers, Not to Teachers”. Most Professional Development only focuses on theory and how to put this into practice with a successful application by teachers no more than 15% of the time.  Training that includes “coaching, study teams, peer visits” demonstrates successful classroom implementation in 80-90% of trainings according to Dr. Foltos. 

What is the Quintessential Quiddity of Instructional Coaching?

Moving from “why” to “what” with regard to peer coaching means moving from supporting research and anecdotal stories to what instructional coaching actually looks like.  Dr. Les Foltos outlines the core skills required in chapter 3 of his book: “Think of a successful coach sitting on the stool in Figure 3.1. The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” So first and foremost, communication and collaboration are the foundation of coaching skills.  While Dr. Foltos lists information and communication technology integration second, he actually describes the technology component as being secondary to both coaching skills and lesson design.  Communication skills are a recurring theme while learning is clearly emphasized as top priority with technology serving in secondary be essential supporting role, “It is not (never was) about technology. To make a difference, it has always been about good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning. (Sylvia Tolisano, 2009)”.

In support of these critical coaching skills, coaches take on a variety of approaches while supporting teachers.  Dr. Les Foltos describes these roles in the following manner:

· “Facilitator- Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations. 

· Collaborator- Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities. 

· Expert – Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics. 

· Catalyst – Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using questions strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers.”

Knowing the different roles involved with regard to supporting teachers is an important facet of the peer coach’s efforts.  When combined with a clear mastery of the skills required, the role of peer coach can be very powerful in effecting instructional transformation across a building.  As for whom, the role of instructional coach can be a fellow classroom teacher, a part-time instructional coach, or even a full-time teacher on special assignment.  As long as it’s a peer, the peer coaching model can be effective.

How does this Translate Online?

How does the why and what help us achieve the how of peer coaching in general?  This question needs to at least be addressed concurrently if we are to explore how to potentially implement peer coaching online. According to research from Digital Promise, there is a strong correlation between peer instructional coaching and technology implementation and instructional integration.  One question related to this is how does this technological connection translate to peer coaching that’s providing online.  What does instructional coaching in the era of remote learning, and therefore remote teaching, mean for educators in need of additional support more than ever.  The nature of effective professional development doesn’t change once everything related to school and education over all moves online, “When the program evaluators focused on one topic, technology integration, they found that 30 hours of collaboration produced increases in the teachers’ use of technology with students. More significant changes in comfort and use with students occurred when the coaches collaborated more than 40 hours (Cohen & Patterson, 2006).” This research quoted by Dr. Les Foltos makes clear the need for continued coaching support in an online environment.

Peer coaching still needs to involve the application of the three key skill categories cited by Dr. Foltos within the context of the four different roles that instructional coaches typically take on.    To be done in an online environment, educators must identify and implement effective tools and strategies that support communication and collaboration via a remote learning environment, instructional technologies that work remotely, and lesson design that remains focused first and foremost on effective learning pedagogues while accounting for the differences of online learning.  When educators can do this in support of their colleagues then they must also keep in mind that this looks different when serving in the role of Facilitator versus collaborator, expert, or catalyst.

More Questions than Answers?

This is a very high-level and relatively vague description of moving an incredibly complex role online and more details are needed for any sort of full explanation.  By tackling one at a time in future posts, I hope to further explore in a much more detailed manner how each of the three areas of coaching skills described by Dr. Foltos potentially translate online to a remote learning environment.  Additionally, I hope to explore what he writes on several occasions in regard to the power of the ripple effect in effecting change across the various systems that make up a school’s ecosystem.  Translating and transforming this ripple effect from in-person to online is critical in an era of online instruction and also raises the possibility of amplification in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of spreading positive instructional practices throughout a school community and beyond.  Being “the change” as referenced in the Ghandi quote cited at the beginning of this post means that anyone can “ripple” their influence far beyond what they observe on a daily basis just like Mother Teresa.  This powerful combination speaks to the potential of peer instructional coaching transformed for an online environment.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Lee, D. (September, 2020). How Personalized Coaching Can Kick-Start Your School’s PD (Sponsored content from Digital Promise). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-02-how-personalized-coaching-can-kick-start-your-school-s-pd
  6. Van Ostrand, K., Seylar, J., Luke, C. (2017). Prevalence of Coaching and Approaches to Supporting Coaching in Education. Digital Promise. Retrieved from https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Prevalence_of_Coaching_Report.pdf
  7. Johnson, K. (2016, June 28th). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Integrating Social Justice and STEM Pedagogy

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

As educators, we are constantly searching for new ways to meaningfully engage our students. Amidst a wave of requirements, numerous standards, and unforeseen circumstances, it is easy to get lost in the overwhelming list of “have to’s” forced on us. So much so that when students ask the inevitable “why are we learning this” question, it is tempting to default to the “because I said so” answer. This response is both well known and disappointing to students while also feeling empty and unsatisfactory to the adult providing the answer. We want to be better than this, we want our students to care about their learning, and we want the education we provide to be relevant. One meaningful way to approach this conundrum amidst the chaos is to look to social justice issues and ways that that they overlap with STEM. The intersection of these two pedagogical paradigms engages a wide variety of students, provides relevant learning opportunities, and all while potentially addressing a wide swatch of standards.

Why Social Justice?

If we as educators don’t start the conversation and work against the inherent injustices within the framework of systems that we and our students function then who will? When it comes to wealth, opportunities, and societal privileges, kids don’t get to choose these things. If our job is to truly prepare our students for their futures then our job is also to prepare students to change those futures for the better as well. Students are always asking why?  And, rightfully so.  When students see that they can help others and improve the world around them in a concrete way then that answers their why at a visceral level.

Why STEM?

Ensuring diversity of representation as we prepare all students for a future that doesn’t exist yet is important, and that future will be heavily dependent upon STEM understanding and applications. Someone who is “STEM literate” understands this and can apply that working knowledge in a variety of contexts and real-world situations. Overall, we need STEM literate workers to fill the employment gap while simultaneously addressing the wage gap. Just as important, we need STEM literate citizens that understand the consequences of their vote on issues such as climate change and genetic modification.

Why the Combination of Social Justice and STEM?

Social Justice is a collective effort toward addressing many of the issues facing society and STEM provides a way to address many of these challenges in new, unique, and innovative ways. Together, Social Justice and STEM can provide an effective platform for identifying, addressing, and even solving a lot of the modern societal issues that exist. STEM education opportunities provide a variety of ways to magnify student voice which is critical to empowering students’ ability to effect change on social justice issues. Ironically, a major issue of inequity centers around underrepresented populations in STEM fields. This in and of itself is a social justice issue.  These same populations are inherently interested in solving social justice issues so when STEM is introduced in this manner then the diversity of interest in STEM education increases.

What Does Combining Social Justice and STEM Look Like?

Combining Social Justice and STEM in education can take on a variety of forms. Social Justice issues can be big problems that occur at a state, national, or even global level.  The same is true for STEM issues.  One example would be the climate crisis and the social impact that this has on exacerbating equity issues across society.  A solution this combined issue would be one example. Global problems are often difficult for students to relate to so looking at the local community can help improve relevance, engagement, and understanding.  Food scarcity for local populations within the community may be addressed or even solved by a STEM-based solution. Younger students, and, honestly, students of all ages, may also benefit from looking at age-appropriate social justice issues in their school community.  Is everyone being included at recess regardless of differences?  How can this be addressed?  Is there a STEM-based solution that might help?

How Does One Begin to Go About Combining Social Justice and STEM?

Meaningful and engaging learning opportunities with the “why” built into the activities provide students with relevancy and reason for their learning. Starting with what students know is arguably the easiest way to build on background knowledge when attempting a new idea or approach in the classroom.  School-based solutions have the added advantage of students being able to help their peers and benefit from their solutions.  This could be something as simple as friendship solutions, conflict resolution, and addressing litter. Local community issues allow students to engage with what they know at a broader level.  Making a difference in what may seem like their broader world can also build confidence combined with important civic engagement lessons.  Issues such as retirement community support, homeless shelter needs, and overall safety provide some examples. Global problems provide an opportunity to raise student awareness to a broader level.  Many STEM-based resources allow students to now participate in a broader dialogue.  Looking at problems to evaluate and propose solutions for such as world hunger, education, and basic health needs are just some of the possible examples.

All of these potential problems, topics, and approaches make for potential classroom projects. A guiding pedagogical structure can be very helpful when trying to figure out how to plan for multiple areas of focus within the scope of the overall learning. PBL pedagogies are a great place to start. Select a school of thought such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, place-based learning, or another, and then start small. A great STEM mantra to keep in mind when designing a potential lesson or unit that blends social justice and STEM is to KISS: Keep It Super Simple, learn alongside your students one step at a time, and “be the change you want to see in the world”.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Careless, J.E. (2015). Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework. JOURNAL OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, VOL.10 (NO. 1), pp. 13-26.
  3. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Lochlainn, C.M., Mhichíl, M.N.G., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Whitelock, D. (2020). Innovative Pedagogy 2020. National Institute for Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://iet.open.ac.uk/file/innovating-pedagogy-2020.pdf
  4. Miller, A. (May, 2015). Avoiding Learned Helplessness. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller
  5. LEXICO. (2020). LEXICO Powered by OXFORD. Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/social_justice
  6. Teaching Tolerance. (2016). A Framework for Anti-bias Education. The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/social-justice-standards
  7. Basham, J.D. & Marino, M.T. (2013). Understanding STEM Education and Supporting Students Through Universal Design for LearningTeaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45 (No. 4), pp. 8-15.
  8. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf
  9. Hall, T.E., Cohen, N., Vue, G., & Ganley, P. (2015). Addressing Learning Disabilities With UDL and Technology: Strategic ReaderLearning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 38 (No. 2), pp. 72-83.
  10. Reed, M. (2018, July 9). Making STEM Accessible to All. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/making-stem-accessible-all

Social Justice Pedagogy in a Digital Age

According to the Lexico website (a collaboration between dictionary.com and Oxford University Press), the definition for social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”  Often a misunderstood and ambiguous term for most, this succinct definition of social justice provides a foundation for basing social justice education efforts in the classroom.  Social justice is about closing opportunity gaps in regard to education, wealth, and societal privileges.  Still, how does one define Social justice as a pedagogy?  The 2020 Innovative Pedagogy Reports provides the following description, “Social justice pedagogy is founded on the idea that education can be liberating and can help people address injustices in their own lives and in society. It aims to educate and enable students to become active citizens who understand social inequalities and can contribute to making society more democratic and egalitarian.”  Student are not powerless, and through empowerment they become powerful change agents across their various communities.  Technology in education provides a powerful medium and platform that magnifies student voice in the world.  By modeling personalized support for educators, we can support them in providing individualized learning opportunities that empower students.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 3

3) Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches:

3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

3b. Partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.

3c. Partner with educators to evaluate the efficacy of digital learning content and tools to inform procurement decisions and adoption.

3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

Essential Question

How can educator support be personalized and modeled in such a manner that effective use of technology improves student learning to the point of individualized empowerment?

The What of Technology to Improve Student Learning

There’s so much out there in terms of technological options that we, as educators, need to be really careful and focused in terms of the tools that we utilize.  There are too many relevant technology tools to list ad nauseam, so general function in terms of general concepts is a better focus in lieu of an attempt at a comprehensive list.  From there, educators should focus on tools that facilitate the desired functionality and that are available and supported within the current educational context.  This is the type of individualization needed to support teachers with implementation.

Tool functionality should scaffold student communication, ease student management for the teacher, and safely facilitate communication with an authentic audience.  Student communication benefits from software that assists students in typing via word prediction, voice to text software, audio/video recording, etc; a few select examples include co:writer, Dragon Speak (most modern word processing applications support this feature), and FlipGrid.  Student management software should allow teachers to easily set up, manage, and provide feedback for students among other classroom management features; a couple of platform-specific examples include Google Classroom and Microsoft OneNote.  Publication software should prioritize student privacy above all else and provide a mechanism for students to share their work with an authentic audience of some kind; for this, classroom management apps like Class Dojo that allow private communication with parents work well, postings on the school website without identifying information can work, FlipGrid can also work in this setting, social media with careful permissions and guidelines can accomplish sharing, as can limited access student blogging sites, among others.

Skipping Straight to the Why with Social Justice

Social Justice provides students with a “why” for their learning and work.  Providing students with purpose dramatically increases engagement in their learning.  Without a “why”, the only thing that students have to go on is “because I told you so” from the authority figure.  This approach primarily teaches compliance and most schools depend upon a compliance-based model.  Compliance requires constant monitoring and an external behavior incentive system that is often complicated, extensive, and time-consuming to enforce.  Providing students with meaning to their work moves students toward intrinsic motivation.  Ideally, social justice pedagogy can even move students to a level of empowerment where they see the positive impact that they can have on their community.  One of the challenges in modern society is that too many educated citizens think that they alone cannot effect positive change in their community.  This is because this was not taught or modeled for them.  Instead, compliance to the system was instilled, and this perpetuates the system’s status quo at the expense of the individual while also at the expense of missed opportunities to improve the system by effecting positive change.  Ironically, social justice themes were more prominent in early education and became diminished with the advent of the industrial revolution, as cited in Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework, “While social purpose education was intended to help citizens live and participate in a democratic society, the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries fueled a focus on education for skills training and citizenship programs for immigrants (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007)”. Historical anecdotes of education being a threat to a monarchy or dictatorship are good examples because the “dangerous ideas” taught encouraged people to think for themselves and to seek change in the freedom for their own betterment as well as others. While we wouldn’t dream of burning books today, we still have modern-day versions of these systemic issues.

Since schools can function as microcosms of society at large, it is important to teach social justice concepts that empower students to positively effect change within their community and the various systems around them.  Not least of which to consider is the school system.  Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Frameworkprovides another research citation that speaks to this is, “Social justice education is a ‘praxis’ that includes a theoretical account of oppression and privilege, as well as practical strategies for changing social institutions. Schools are primary sites for this critical transformation since they reproduce inequality. Educating students to overcome internalized forms of oppression – such as racism, sexism, classism and homophobia, offering them a framework for understanding the external structures that are the source of these different oppressions, and empowering students to become agents of change, are all important goals of social justice education.” (Kohli, 2005, p. 100).

Teaching tolerance and, beyond that, acceptance are basic concepts that are accessible by K12 students.  The more nuanced and advanced concepts involves around race, religion, language, gender, and socio-economic status among other demographic categories need to be carefully considered based on what’s grade-level appropriate.  That being said, the basic idea that you are different but I should still accept and respect you can start with something as simple as animal caricatures that include a different animal being included even though it’s different.  From there, building into more advanced concepts around acceptance and inclusion regardless of the type of difference can be developed.  Beyond the need for the individual to practice this, there is the concept that we must advocate for others to be treated equitably as well.  When students realize they can effect change for the better treatment of others then they can be empowered through practicing basic advocacy within a safe environment.  As student understanding develops, then more complex concepts like systemic bias can begin to be addressed as well as the need for every individual to work toward equitable systemic change.  Students can eventually understand their own individual circumstances through the lens of bias, opportunity, and privilege relative to others and what that means in terms of their responsibility to work with, through, and against adverse contexts that they or others may face.

As we look to find space in an overcrowded curriculum and schedules, it’s also worth noting that social justice pedagogy overlaps with and ties into social emotional learning and service-based learning and can be integrated via PBL units.  SEL is a newly established and fast growing focus and area of student education.  The latter, service-based learning, is still nascent but so important in terms of providing students with a positive means to impact their environment.

How Do We Become Change Agents for Empowering Students?

One key to empowering students is identifying technology already supported within our teaching context and with which we have some experience.  We, as educators, can then adapt the technology to meet the needs of fellow educators and students.  Using ISTE standards to help guide this implementation can play a critical role in meeting multiple needs at the same time.  For example, we can look to ISTE Coaching Standard component 3d, “Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.”  Personalized support that meets educators where they’re at can help them in the process of empowering their students.

In addition to finding technology that empowers students, providing opportunities for students to address social justice issues within their local context is important.  Starting small with simple and accessible lessons then building from there.  Lessons can be geared around historical social justice efforts such as the women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement.  Providing opportunities for anti-bullying and inclusion lessons can help make the concepts more concrete and accessible for students.  Additionally, projects that advocate for accessibility or cleaning up litter at the local park or playground can empower students to make a difference within their relevant world of experience.  These examples barely begin to scratch the proverbial surface of what is possible, as the possibilities for making change, no matter how small, in the local community are endless and create a positive ripple effect that grows over time and beyond the community itself.

Beyond identifying technologies and potential lesson examples, standards can help facilitate and guide efforts toward effective implementation within education settings by providing carefully researched and written educational targets.  One such set of potential standards has been crafted by a national organization called Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to social just education.  Finding social justice teacher resources is key in order to provide teachers the ability to teach social justice concepts effectively, given how limited teachers’ time is and how thin their bandwidth is stretched.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Careless, J.E. (2015). Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework. JOURNAL OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, VOL.10 (NO. 1), pp. 13-26.
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