“I can’t wait for and am so excited for the three day ‘sit and git’ professional development in-service at our school” said no teacher possibly ever.
“Let’s face it: Professional development, as we have known it for years now, has yielded little or no positive effects on student learning.” Thus complain the many weary professionals who flinch at the mere mention of the word “workshop.” In the collective imagination, the term “professional development day” conjures only images of coffee breaks, consultants in elegant outfits, and schools barren of kids. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104021/chapters/Professional-Development-Today.aspx
I recently discussed teacher agency in Teacher Agency: Educators Moving from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset.
Teacher agency is typically viewed as a quality within educators, a matter of personal capacity to act (Priestly et al., 2012) usually in response to stimuli within their pedagogical environment. It describes an educator who has both the ability and opportunity to act upon a set of circumstances that presents itself within that individual’s leadership, curricular or instructional roles. The educator described would then draw from acquired knowledge and experience to intercede appropriately and effectively. Teacher Agency in America and Finland By Roger Wilson, GVSU Faculty
Teacher agency can be applied to teacher professional development. What follows is a model of professional development driven by teacher agency.
The Teacher’s Choice Framework
Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli in her ASCD book, Teacher-Centered Professional Development, proposes a teacher’s choice framework which are characterized by:
- Teachers are talented and devoted individuals who have gained enormous experience by interacting with students, and possess a wealth of knowledge that must be explored and shared.
- Teachers differ from one another in terms of their theoretical and professional knowledge and the stages they are at in their careers. This diversity offers a wealth of resources and experience.
- Teachers’ professional development should be embedded in their daily schedule; they should not be expected to devote their own free time to programs that are divorced from the context in which they work.
- In order for teachers to develop ownership of professional development, they need to be active participants in its construction, tailoring programs to their needs and motivations.
- Professional development should not be regarded as an administrative duty, but rather as a career-long endeavor aimed at disclosing the factors that contribute to the success of all students and teachers. Mandatory professional development offered only when it is convenient to administrators has little to offer to teachers.
Teacher Empowered Model of Professional Development
- Develop a vision and a mission of an ideal classroom and optimal student achievement.
- Identify gaps between what is and the ideal.
- Establish and/or identify self-driven professional development activities to close the gap.
- Develop plans of action for implementation.
- Engage in an accountability system.
Develop a vision and a mission of an ideal classroom and optimal student achievement.
As part of their teacher education, students are often asked to develop their teaching philosophy. This is a good initial exercise but several problems exist with it. First, this happens during pre-service teaching and often prior to any extensive time spent teaching in an actual classroom. Second, it does reflect the continuous and evolving nature of education. Finally, it does not reflect ideas and teaching practices shaped and learned while one is a teacher.
We’re all learning and growing all the time – we can’t not learn. The difference that creates success is deciding and directing your learning direction. If you don’t know what you want your work to look like in 1 or 2 years from now, you’ll be likely to have your career direction determined by other people or circumstances, rather than your personal values and desires, so get clear on the picture of work you’re aiming for. How To Drive Your Professional Development With A Self-Directed Learning Program
Part of an educator’s continuous growth and development process practices should be, on a regular basis, identifying an area of current interest, studying the current best practices of that interest, and creating a vision of a classroom and student achievement based on those best practices. For example an educator, a group of educators, and an entire school could decide to study one of the following areas of 21st century education to explore best practices in that classroom-instructional practice:
- Best practices in a specific content area. Examples include STEM and STEAM; next generation science standards, common core standards, civics education, arts integration, etc.
- 21st Century Skills
- Educational Technology Standards and Integration
- Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom
Based on this focused study, the educator develops a vision of an ideal classroom and instructional practices.
Identify gaps between what is and the ideal.
The educator then compares current practices to that of the ideal to identify gaps. From these gaps, professional development goals are established. This process provides a foundation of “need”, focus, and relevancy for the educator’s professional development. Professional development then becomes “just-in-time learning” rather than “just-in-case it is needed”.
The following visual metaphor is a model of this process.
Identify Current Reality: On the left cliff, list of keywords that define your current reality. You’re basically outlining where you are right now in your classroom teaching process. Sketches and symbols can also be used to describe your current reality.
Identify Desired Reality: On the right cliff write down a list of keywords that define your desired classroom environment and practices based on your vision of the ideal. You’re essentially defining the type of classroom that you would like to create by the date you specified. Represent these keywords (your desired reality) using a series of sketches, symbols or both. Completing these sketches will help you to create more meaningful associations.
Identify Obstacles: Within the gap between the two cliffs, write down all the obstacles that are standing between your current reality and your desired reality. Write down keywords. Alternatively, you can represent these words in a visual way, as described above.
Identify Key Resources; On the tree branches outline five key resources and training opportunities that you have at your disposal that you could use to help you overcome the obstacles that are standing between you and your desired reality. (Identifying resources will be further expanded upon in the next section.)
Bridge the Gap: Now that you are clear about where you are, where you want to be, the obstacles standing in your way, and the resources you have at your disposal, it’s now time to build a bridge that will take you over the cliff towards your desired reality. This bridge is going to be built using a series of steps that you will take over a certain period of time that will get you to where you want to go.
Establish and/or identify self-driven and directed professional development activities to close the gap.
Design a self-directed learning plan for yourself by deciding what sources you’ll learn from, what programs or classes you might wish to sign up for, who you’d like to be mentored by, and what other sources of social support and accountability you’ll build into your learning program, in order to achieve your learning goals. How To Drive Your Professional Development With A Self-Directed Learning Program
During this phase, educators engage in self-directed professional learning opportunities to learn how to close the gap from the current state to the ideal one. The opportunities for educators to engage in self-directed professional development is basically limitless in this era of teaching and learning. As the British Columbia Teacher Federation notes, there are Many Ways to Grow Professionally
- Attend a conference/workshop locally.
- Attend a conference/workshop regionally/provincially/nationally/internationally.
- Attend a workshop/conference or summer institute/course.
- Becoming a facilitator, and give a workshop locally, regionally, or provincially.
- Begin/continue university studies.
- Form/join a teacher research group.
- Participate in group planning.
- Job-shadow in a related work situation.
- Join a professional organization/network.
- Observe another teacher, and talk together about the lesson/program.
- Read professional literature.
- Reflect, discuss, and research for the purpose of planning individual or group ongoing professional development.
- Develop the discipline of reflective journal keeping.
- Share with colleagues what you found at a conference/workshop.
- Subscribe to/read professional journals.
- Watch professional videos.
Four specific types are discussed in more detail: Teacher In-Services, EdCamps, Connected Education, and Professional Learning Communities.
Teacher In-Services or Professional Development Choice Days
As stated in the beginning passages a one size fits all type of professional development still offered by many school districts in the form of in-services is a thing of the past and creates high levels of dread among teachers. In-services do have the value in that educators are given the time and space to participate in professional development and are able to engage in face-to-face discourse with colleagues.
To adapt in-service workshops from a one size fits all to one that is personalized for the participating educators requires that the in-service designers take into account the needs of educators, find workshop leaders with both expertise in those areas and in teaching adults using andragogical principles, and offer a number of workshop choices within each time slot including a choice to “unconference.”
An example of this is the Techtoberfest in Idaho. It is a two-day conference for the teachers of that district and teachers from surrounding districts are invited to attend. The conference designers explore the needs of the teachers of that district, locate experts to bring in to run workshops, and provide the teachers with about a dozen workshop options per time slot. See https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_ZlE-JbwhcRN1JTbXlKcnJHZ3M/edit?usp=drive_web for the Techtoberfest 2012 agenda.
An edcamp is a user-generated conference – commonly referred to as an “unconference“. Edcamps are designed to provide participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators. Edcamps are free participant-driven conferences. Sessions are not planned until the day of the event, when participants can volunteer to facilitate a conversation on a topic of their choice. Edcamps operate “without keynote speakers or vendor booths, encourage participants to find or lead a conversation that meet their needs and interests. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EdCamp
It makes sense. If you have teachers together face-to-face, why not let them talk about what works? Why not let them ask questions of one another? Why not use the best medium available, the human voice, to learn from one another? It has me thinking that our weekly professional development ought to work in an edcamp model. By this, I mean offer multiple choices, keep the groups small and then lead a discussion. It could be a book study or a week-by-week discussion on a topic. It could be a new set of topics each week, depending upon the desires of the teacher. An edcamp model would empower teachers to share their expertise democratically. Ultimately, the value of edcamp is in the sharing of ideas and in the validation of one’s professional identity. Too often, that’s not happening at the weekly professional development that teachers attend. Yet, in a more democratic model, teachers begin to see that what they believe and what they know actually matters. Why Professional Development Should Be More Like Edcamp
The Internet and social networks provide an infinite number of ways to engage in self-directed professional development including, but not limited, to attending online webinars and virtual conferences, participating in Twitter and Tweet Chats, and reading, writing, and responding to blogs.
I teach a course entitled, Social Networked Learning, in which in-service educators learn how to use social networks for their own professional development. See Educator as a Social Networked Learner for more about this.
Professional Learning Communities
In professional learning communities model, teachers in either grade-level or content-area teams meet several times a week to collaborate on teaching strategies and solve problems. In the most sophisticated examples, teachers set common instructional goals, teach lessons in their individual classrooms, administer informal assessments to determine levels of student mastery, and then regroup as a team to analyze the data together. Then, they pinpoint areas of success, identify areas for improvement, and set goals for future teaching (Honawar, 2008). http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/professional-development/
For more on Professional Learning Communities, see
Develop plans of action for implementation, then implement.
If a primary goal of professional development is to affect what teachers believe, understand, and do on a daily basis, then offering “presentations” or “training” without intensive and sustained small-group dialogue, in-classroom coaching, and just-in-time problem solving is educational malpractice. Put another way, “head learning” abstracted from practice without abundant opportunities for supportive on-the-job feedback and trouble shooting wastes the organization’s resources and squanders teachers’ good will. Why professional development without substantial follow-up is malpractice.
This is the “do it” phase. Based on the educator’s self-directed professional development, he or she decides what changes, modifications, and adaptations will be implemented into one’s teaching environment. Some guiding questions to assist with this process are:
- What kind of experiences might I need?
- Who can help me? What will I ask of them?
- What has worked for me in the past?
- What have I seen others do that might work for me?
- What am I willing to try? http://www.aspire-cs.com/your-professional-development-action-plan-planning-the-action-steps#sthash.VeKwxIFG.dpuf
This phase will only be effective if the educator is given the time, support, and resources to implement ideas gained through their professional development experiences.
Engage in an accountability system.
The world of work asks the educator to show evidence of learning; to quantify it; provide evidence of professional development in some way. An accountability system needs to be set up that “requires”, acknowledges, and rewards educators for engaging in their own self-directed professional development.
You could qualify it by hours spent (yuck), content curated (a little better), total resources shared (a tad bit better still), PD presented in person (not bad), alignment between content found and school and district needs (decent), impact on learning performance (nice), or some basic formula of several of these and more. Then turn that process over to them—crowdsource the recording-keeping with the only expectation being that it’s visible to everyone and simple to update. Personalizing Teacher Training Through Social Media-Based Improvement
Some ways to make the professional learning visible include teaching portfolios and digital badges.
Teaching portfolios, often known as dossiers, are compilation of teaching materials and related documents that teachers employ during teaching and learning processes. Portfolios serve as tools for reflection, a way to thoughtfully document teaching practices and progress toward goals. Portfolio entries can inform professional growth plans. As actual artifacts of teaching, portfolios help teachers to systematically ponder over their practice, reflect on the problems they face, and learn from their experience. They provide direct evidence of what teachers have accomplished. Self-Directed Professional Development: Success Mantra or a Myth?
Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Milford High School, is experimenting with Integration of Digital Badges to Acknowledge Professional Learning
I am proud to announce Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School, a digital badge professional learning platform. The idea behind this platform is to provide professional learning with a pinch of gamification. Digital badges can be used to guide, motivate, document and validate formal and informal learning. Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School provides a framework to allow our teachers to earn digital badges through learning about a range of technology tools and applications. I hope that New Milford High School teachers will be able to benefit greatly from this sustained initiative because of the professional learning flexibility an online platform provides as well as it being a means to document and showcase the skills they have gained and putting their learnings into practice in the classroom.
In summary, regardless of the type of professional development selected by the educational institutions and the teachers, themselves, it needs to have the following characteristics for effective implementation and sustainability in the classroom:
- Educators need to feel they have and actually do have a voice, empowerment, and support to self-direct their professional development.
- Educators should be given the time, resources, and ideas to establish their own professional learning goals which, in turn, would drive their professional development direction.
- Isolated, one shot professional development experiences such as in-services workshops, going to conferences, etc,, most often do not lead to any changes in the classroom practices. These experiences need to be part of a larger teacher initiated process of preparatory goal setting and follow-up support and implementation.
- An accountability system needs to be established where educators have the responsibility for follow-through and getting appropriate credit and acknowledgement for doing so.
It is a myth that we operate under a set of oppressive bureaucratic constraints. In reality, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the work they chose to do in their classrooms. In most cases it is our culture that provides the constraints. For individual teachers, trying out new practices and pedagogy is risky business and both our culture, and our reliance on hierarchy, provide the ideal barriers for change not to occur. As Pogo pointed out long ago, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/brian-harrison/2013/09/5/stop-asking-permission-change
Educational psychology has focused on the concepts of learned helplessness and more currently growth-fixed mindsets as a way to explain how and why students give up in the classroom setting. These ideas can also be applied to educators in this day of forced standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, and school initiatives.
Many educators feel forced into a paradigm of teaching where they feel subjected to teaching practices outside of their control. Then when they are asked to engage in a process of continued growth and development, many profess: “I don’t have enough time.”, “I don’t have enough resources.”, “I need more training.”, “I need to teach using the textbook.” ,”I need to teach to the test.”, “I might lose control of the class.”, “I have always successful taught this way.”
But these are external obstacles whereby the educator places blame for resisting change or engaging in a growth mindset outside of one’s own responsibility. The result is a fixed mindset of learned helplessness, “I cannot change because the system won’t let me change.” Sometimes educators are creating some obstacles for themselves that in reality don’t exist.
A mental shift occurs when a fixed mindset which often leads to learned helplessness is changed to a growth and positive mindset, believing that there are options; that one can grow, change, and be significant.
How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you. http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/
It becomes focusing on what can work rather than what is not working. This is not to devalue the obstacles that teachers face. It becomes about noting where change is possible and making some small changes in teaching. Small changes often result in larger, more systemic change.
The deeper issue related to a fixed versus a growth mindset in education is one of teacher agency.
Teacher agency is typically viewed as a quality within educators, a matter of personal capacity to act (Priestly et al., 2012) usually in response to stimuli within their pedagogical environment. It describes an educator who has both the ability and opportunity to act upon a set of circumstances that presents itself within that individual’s leadership, curricular or instructional roles. The educator described would then draw from acquired knowledge and experience to intercede appropriately and effectively. Agency is increasingly rare in the educational world of prescriptive improvement, and the term is too “often utilized as a slogan to support school-based reform” (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2012, p. 3). Teacher Agency in America and Finland By Roger Wilson, GVSU Faculty
But most educators would probably agree that out of all of the professions, they feel that their voices have the least amount of power; are the ones least heard of any profession when voicing desires, needs, innovative ideas. Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted in the New York Times opinion piece: How to Raise the Status of Teachers: Allow More Autonomy:
The way to make stars out of teachers is to let teachers be stars, to let them be as innovative as they can be, to let them find the path that works best for them and their students. If they are allowed to search for the best answers, they’ll find them. Instead, we’re doing the opposite: we’re telling them that if they want to keep their jobs, they have to do what people who know so much less than they do about education tell them to do. They have to dance to some constantly changing, politically created tune that is guaranteed to leave them demoralized and their students floundering.
The bottom line, is that teachers need to reclaim their perceived and real teacher agency, voice, and empowerment. They need to develop a growth mindset that they can and do have agency in their profession.
With all that is happening in the education profession today, it is important to remember that teacher’s have power to change the system. This power for change can be called “Agency” which is defined as the capacity of teachers to shape critically their responses to educational processes and practices (Biesta and Teddler, 2006). With all the external push from various sectors, ultimately teachers are the ones that can cut through all of the cross-purposed mandates and transform their own process and practices to ensure the best educational experiences for their students. Teacher Agency and Today’s Teachers
Some concrete strategies educators can do for gaining and increasing their agency include:
- Revisit and/or develop a strong teaching mission and vision. Use it to inform your teaching practices, broadcast it to students, students’ parents, and colleagues. See How Do I Write a Teacher Mission Statement?
- Create time and space to develop a classroom you wished you had as a child; would want for your own children. Be fearless and unapologetic about creating this type of classroom.
- Find and use your own voice in the teachers’ lounge, teachers’ meetings, via blogging or social media. Publicize your successes and accomplishments via social media. See my post, Every Educator Has a Story . . . Just Tell It.
- Develop and participate in strong Professional Learning Communities.
- Get involved in local politics – attend and use your voice at school board meetings, local political meetings.
In conclusion, teacher voice, empowerment, and agency is needed for the educational reform that so many desire . . .
More than ever we — teachers — must be a vital part of this national conversation. As teachers, we have a responsibility to our students and communities to share our collective wisdom in an effort to facilitate quality reform. To get this reform effort right, teachers must be seated at the table demanding the type of change that will be in the best interest of our children, our fellow teachers, and our country.
Reforming our great profession is a necessary step in the development of our nation in general. We have a unique opportunity to share our stories, the good and the bad, in an effort to equip our colleagues to more adequately prepare their students for the future that awaits us all. Teacher Voices Must Be Heard
There is a current breath-of-fresh air movement (in my opinion) in some education circles that is known as Maker Education or the DIY Movement. I wrote recent post on this topic, STEAM and Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating.
The hands-on, interdisciplinary, student-interest driven nature of Maker Education has always been a focus in my classroom environments. Because of the current interest in Maker Education, I wanted to revisit and share a semester long Maker-Enhanced Writers’ Workshop project I did with a group of gifted elementary students a few years ago.
Students began by developing their characters and plot – I am used selected sections from the free downloadable Young Novelist Workbook - http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/workbooks to guide them in this process.
Each learner developed a character using the Young Novelists Workbook to guide the character development. Their characters were further developed through drawing them,
An option for Character Development using a web tool is Scholastic’s Creature Creator – http://www.scholastic.com/underlandchronicles/creaturecreator.htm
Students were asked to group themselves by similarity of their characters. They had to clearly be able to articulate the commonality among their characters. [Interestingly, many of them really attempted to group themselves by similar characters rather than working with their friends, which I expected.] Groups contained two to four writers.
The groups spent several weeks of the Writers’ Workshop developing their story plot using the activities from Young Novelist Workbook - http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/workbooks. I, as the teacher, acted as the sounding board and feedback giver. Representatives from the different working groups would come to me to pitch their stories and would return to their groups to report on the feedback I provided.
In conjunction with their plot development, students created a 3D storyboard setting with “natural” objects. They then “wired” them with PicoCricket to have programmable movement, lights, and sounds.
An online version of the story’s setting can be created using http://www.citycreator.com/ or Minecraft.
Students made eBooks using their story line and plot from in the Young Novelist Workbook, scanned sketches and images of the characters, and the pictures of the 3D setting.
(Note: We used Tikatok. They changed their user agreement and we lost all of the books.)
A theme song was written and recorded for their stories. It was introduced as having them develop a song for their stories like a TV theme song. They used Songsmith http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/songsmith/. UJAM http://www.ujam.com/ is another option for students to record their own story theme songs.
Here is an example from three 5th graders’ book the Three Islanders:
Reader’s theater scripts were written in a scripting format using a Word program. Students practiced reading their scripts and then created a podcast using a web tool such as http://vocaroo.com/ or https://soundcloud.com/. See ReadWriteThink’s Readers Theatre about the logistics of creating one.
Zak Malamed of StuVoice.Org mentioned in a student voice panel that when given projects by teachers to complete, it was often just another “thing” to get done, just like a paper or worksheet. I have seen lessons shared by teachers that they called Project-Based Learning, Inquiry Learning, or Maker Education, but upon close examination they appear to be another form of direct instruction with a hands-on activity thrown into the mix. These activities had no connections and very limited relevancy to the real lives of students. Students using scissors, markers, drawings, or a Web 2.0 tool does not make a PBL or Maker Education curricular unit.
Just because it’s hands-on doesn’t mean it’s minds-on. Many projects, problems, situations, and field trips do not yield lasting and transferable learning because too little attention is given to the meta-cognitive and idea-building work that turns a single experience into insight and later application. Grant Wiggin’s Experiential Learning
As noted in the TLC High School Google site in Projects” vs. Project Based Learning’s What’s the difference or are they the same?
Projects done in school are usually the result of learning students have done. The typical approach is to learn about a topic through readings, worksheets, direct teacher instruction, then to create a project that demonstrates the learning that has occurred through the unit.
Project Based Learning is an approach that guides the learning, through driving questions and student inquiry, to uncover or discover the information needed to answer a question, solve a problem/mystery, or invent/create something new. In Project Based Learning, the project is not simply the visible result or culmination of the learning, but rather the cause of the learning.
This got me thinking about the necessary conditions for implementing PBL or Maker Education as a viable and effective instructional strategy. The guiding questions I developed are:
- Does the educator have a deep understanding the philosophical principles and theoretical underpinnings of the instructional strategy?
- Is there an authentic and relevant context directly related to the students’ lives?
- Does the educator incorporate student voice and interests in its conception and development?
- In its implementation, do the students have permission and freedom to go in a direction that interests them?
- In its implementation, does the teacher fade into the background with students coming into the foreground of thinking, doing, and discussing?
- Are there the venues, space, time, strategies for reflection so students can construct their own meanings and understandings?
Does the educator have a deep understanding the philosophical principles and theoretical underpinnings of the instructional strategy?
In order to use any instructional technique effectively, the teacher needs to understand the fundamental principles and assumptions upon which the specific technique is based (http://www.adprima.com/strategi.htm). Educators should go through a process of learning, understanding, and articulating the theory and guiding principles of a new teaching strategy-framework when considering the use of the strategy in their own classrooms.
Grant Wiggins recommends asking students the following questions about their learning within an experiential framework, but educators could benefit from also addressing these questions in determining and developing PBL and Maker Education curriculum:
- What are you doing?
- Why are you doing it?
- What does this help you do that’s important? Grant Wiggin’s Experiential Learning
Free and accessible content on the Internet provides educators with a variety and full range of opportunities to learn about the instructional strategies being considered for implementation in the classroom.
Resources for Project-Based Learning:
- Buck Institute of Education Project-Based Learning
- Edutopia’s Project-Based Learning
- Scoopit of PBL resources
Resources For Maker Education:
- Invent to Learn book by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager
- Maker Club Playbook
Why the Maker Movement matters to educators article by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager
Is there an authentic and relevant context directly related to the students’ lives?
The topics, content, and processes being introduced to students need to be relevant to the students themselves. It needs to have a context within their lives. School curriculum often presents content in these bits and pieces of facts and knowledge that are un- and disconnected to anything related to the students’ prior knowledge and life experiences. Because of this disconnectedness, this content often floats away. A relevant, current, and timely context provides students with the stickiness needed to make the content relevant, deep, and long lasting.
Contemporary views on learning see it as an active and recursive process. This perspective is driven by greater recognition of the pivotal role of the ‘learning context’ in knowledge construction and understanding. This is the constructivist perspective on learning. It is grounded in the belief that learning and cognition are most potent when situated within a meaningful context, and within the culture and the community within which learners live. (http://pcf4.dec.uwi.edu/learning.php)
“In education we provide problems separate from the relevance or the context in which they need to be used.” Ntiedo Etuk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC_T9ePzANg#t=345)
Without meaningful context and sensible processes, learning can become, well, merely academic. The learning system of the 21st century must be designed to deliver the right content via the right processes in the right context. The definition of “right” is whatever gives learners access to their own skills, creativity, and success. What works today could be obsolete in six months, so we must focus on creating opportunities for self-generated, relevant learning that allows people to discover avenues for self-empowerment in the future (http://www.fastcompany.com/73376/how-learning-relevant-me).
Project-Based Learning and Maker Education, when effectively implemented, have the potential to establish relevancy. Hands-on, experiential activities, the uses of all senses, a sense of play and fun, and immediate and authentic feedback are natural elements of these instructional strategies. They are multisensory, multidisciplinary, and multidimensional increasing the chances to be seen as relevant by the students.
Because the educator has the background knowledge and skills related to the PBL or Maker Education curriculum being implemented, s/he can clearly address each of the following questions:
- What? What are we doing in class today? What questions will we try to answer? What concepts will we address? What questions will we answer? What activities will we do?
- Why? Why are we studying this? How are today’s content and activities tied to the other areas of one’s life? What should I know or be able to do after today’s class? How can the information and skills be used in everyday life?
- How? How are we going to address the content? (http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/why-are-we-doing-this-establishing-relevance-to-enhance-student-learning/)
Add to this mix student voice and choice (see next section), then relevancy can be almost assured.
Does the educator incorporate student voice and interests in curricular conception and development?
If the educator develops the guiding questions, the methods of exploration and inquiry, and the expected outcomes, then it is the teacher’s project not the students’. The students still may be interested in the lesson, but the ownership is still that of the teacher.
Effective PBL and Maker Education are often driven by guiding or essential questions. If the educator is serious about students voice, then s/he will involve students in generating these questions. As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:
The most important questions of all are those asked by students as they try to make sense out of data and information. These are the questions which enable students to make up their own minds. Powerful questions – smart questions, if you will – are the foundation for information power, engaged learning and information literacy. ( (http://fno.org/oct97/question.html)
. . . and if students are helping to generate the guiding questions for the PBL or Maker Education curricular unit, then it follows that their interests, passions, and wonderings will also be incorporated
As both PBL and Maker-Education are process-oriented instructional strategies, these questions should be re-visited throughout the process by the students to see if they need to be changes, revised, or re-generated.
In its implementation, do the students have permission and freedom to go in a direction that interests them?
PBL and Maker Education entails the educator becoming a tour guide of learning possibilities; showing the students the learning opportunities and then getting out of the way. This translates into letting go of expected products or outcomes; letting the learning process naturally go in the directions that students take them; expecting and embracing failure as learning opportunities; and listening to and validating student suggestions.
In its implementation, does the teacher fade into the background with students coming into the foreground of thinking, doing, and discussing?
Another one of my beliefs about good education is that the students should be doing more talking, doing, and thinking than the teacher during instructional time. This literally means the educator becomes the guide on the side and the observer from the back. Students naturally emerge as co-learners and peer tutors as the PBL and Maker Education learning activities evolve when they given the permission and freedom to do so.
Are there the venues, space, time, strategies for reflection so students can construct their own meanings and understandings?
PBL and Maker Education, when done “right”, become discovery-based learning leading to students constructing their own understandings and meaning. It is a constructivist approach to learning.
Discovery learning is an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory that takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned. Students interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments. As a result, students may be more more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own. (http://www.learning-theories.com/discovery-learning-bruner.html)
Incorporating reflection into the instructional process with the goal of articulating learning insights helps insure that learning is not left up to change. Moon points out the conditions for reflection include time and space, a good facilitator, a supportive curricular, and an emotionally supportive environment (https://sites.google.com/site/reflection4learning/why-reflect). It needs to be intentionally built into the curriculum and as with all aspects of instruction, student voice is the primary voice during the reflection process. To read more on the reflection process, visit Where is reflection in the learning process?
I had the privilege of being on a Reform Symposium Conference 2013 panel to discuss transforming education. Here are my thoughts related to the questions I was asked to addressed.
As a means of introduction, what are a few successful technology projects you have implemented?
I described three:
- First is a teacher in-service course and workshop I developed, Educator as a Networked Learner. This course assists educators in becoming connected educators in order to more effectively drive their own professional development and incorporate social networking into their own classrooms as an integrated part of their instructional practices. See http://socialnetworkedlearning.weebly.com/ and http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/educators-as-social-networked-learners/ for more information
- A second project I want to highlight is a wiki project for 3rd through 5th grade gifted students. Creative Web Tools For and By Kids was a project designed for students, ages 9 to 14, to use emerging technologies for engaging, thinking, learning, collaborating, creating, and innovating . This Wiki was the workstation for exploring, interacting with, learning from, and creating with emerging technologies. Students identified a topic of interest. A WIki page was created for that topic. This page was used to identify specific learning goals, to locate and post links to sites that support those interests, and to begin creating web-based projects to creatively demonstrate their learning experiences.
- The final project I want to highlight was one where I integrated mobile technologies via a bring your own device format into an undergraduate course on Interpersonal Communications. Here is a link to my website that describes these activities, see http://community-building.weebly.com/ and student reactions to the course can be found at http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/mobile-learning-end-of-course-student-survey-part-ii/
Give three characteristics of what constitutes good technology integration.
First and foremost, good technology integration is ubiquitous, transparent, not identified or labeled as learning about or using technology, and seamlessly integrated into learning. Teachers, learners, and observers don’t typically notice learning tools such desks, pencils, and paper used for learning. This should be the case for using technology in the classroom, too. In other words, effective technology integration just becomes a subset or embedded component of good pedagogy.
Second, we are living in an age of rich media and interactive web tools – much of these free online. These technologies provide the opportunity to address different learning preferences and the principles of Universal Design for Learning. Educators can present the content in a variety of ways and students can express their learning in a variety a ways. So effective technology integration takes full advantage of these resources to fully embrace and offer students a variety of ways to learn and express their learning. It is the key
Third, technology should be used to assist learners in coming out of social, intellectual, and interest and value based isolation. Almost every student I’ve ever met has some unique idiosyncratic talent, skill, belief, set of values, and interest. By idiosyncratic I mean that that none of those in his or her surrounding face-to-face environment has or possesses that “thing”. Social networking can help students connect with their tribes. Teachers should assist all students in becoming connected students; to help them find their tribes.
What is a pitfall teachers should avoid when teaching with technology?
The bottom line is that teaching with technology means changing one’s mindset as what and how teaching occurs. I’ve discussed the similarities of teaching to the evolution of the web beginning with Web 1.0 or Education 1.0 where the mode of information dissemination as one way from expert to consumer; teacher to student to Web 2.0 to Education 2.0 where there is more interactivity and two-way communication and now Web 3.0 or Education 3.0 where networks and interest-driven communities share knowledge, resources, and events; where these communities evolve and develop based on the members’ needs and interests; where the consumption of knowledge and resource transform into community production of ideas, opinions, strategies for continued learning and evolution, and production of community resources. See Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning Education 3.0 for a deeper discussion on this topic.
The pitfalls of technology integration is based on ignoring this evolution by teaching using a 20th century pedagogy and teaching Education 1.0. In other words, they are re-creating a 20th classroom using technology. An example of this is with the big push for ipads, 1:1 initiatives where they download a bunch of apps that are virtually (yes pun intended) worksheets on steroids, just another way for students to receiving, responding to, and regurgitating information rather than being the connectors, creators and contributors that technology affords.
Share with us a past struggle you had when teaching with technology? What did you learn from the experience?
A continuing struggle I have with technology is connected to teaching and doing professional development with teachers and related to teachers’ changing their mindset about what and how teaching should occur. Being a educational technology faculty has taught me perseverance, patience, problem-solving. When I do technology integration with teachers, I often see frustration as they try to learn new technologies. They want technology to work for them quickly and without any glitches – both inside and outside of the classroom environment.
This is related to a need for a change of mindset that was discussed in response to the previous question. This means changing one’s educator mindset from being an expert to being a learner; from knowing all the answers to learning to ask questions; from thinking of education a static archive of content to one that is evolving at a rapid rate of knowledge development. Integrating technology, as I mentioned, means changing the mindset that everything needs to go smoothing, as planned and structured in the classroom setting. Technology may or may not work as planned, keeping an open mind, learning how to problem solve, eliciting the assistance of students when things go wrong and looking at technology glitches and problems as just part of the learning in this age of technology.
How does a teacher begin the journey? Any favorite resources?
The strongest recommendation to being the journey of technology integration is to find a mentor or mentors, face-to-face and/or online. who have a lot of experiences and successes using technology. Nothing can top being able to get advice, resources, and suggestions from those educators who have successfully gone through this journey. Those new to technology integration don’t know what they don’t know.
So my favorite technology resource for this journey is without question is Twitter. On Twitter, educators can find and follow educators and others who have similar content and grade level interests. For more on Twitter for Professional Development, see http://socialnetworkedlearning.weebly.com/twitter-professional-development.html
I was teaching a Psychology of Adjustment course to undergraduates. Most of them were 18 and 19 years old. It was a college in Georgia with a class demographic of about 2/3 who were White and 1/3 Black. We got to the section on cultural diversity awareness. Because it was the South, we began our discussion about racial differences. At one point during the discussion, an attractive, blond, former high school quarterback said, “America is a free country. I have the right not to live next to any Blacks if I choose.” I contained my gasp, horror, and anger. I believe in freedom of speech in my classes even those that are vastly different from my own. So I bit my tongue and attempted to take a neutral stance. Even though his opinion nauseated me, it was his opinion. He made no threatening nor overtly derrogatory comments.
Fast forward one class session, I did the “White Privilege” activity with the students. It contains a series of statements such as, “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” and “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.” As I read each statement, I started with “You may sit down if this applies to you.” Not surprisingly by the end of the activity, two Black young women remained standing. I simply asked, “How does it feel to be still standing?” One of the beautiful (both physically and from within) women began her articulate, passionate response with contained tears in her eyes, saying things such as, “You cannot know what it is like to walk into a store with your friends and be closely followed by a White clerk the whole time. You cannot know what it is like to be walking down the street in broad daylight, step off of a curb, and witness the White driver overtly slam down the lock of his car door.”
I told this story to a colleague. She said maybe the young man heard the voice and the story of a Black person, who he got to personally know through the class, for the first time in his life. Maybe he might has changed his prejudicial views just a bit. So did my neutral, accepting responses to both these students permit them to express their honest perspectives possibly resulting in some attitudinal change? I cannot be sure, but hope so.
Given the way the US politicians communicate regarding the country’s issues, they could have benefited from learning how to communicate, listen, debate, and compromise over diverse issues and ideas. So I ask and try to address in this post, “If students aren’t learning how to do freedom of speech in school, where will they learn it?
Topics covered in this post include:
- A Rationale for Learner Voice in School
- The Role of the Teacher
- Suggestions for Establishing and Encouraging Student Voice
- Learning Voice in Online Environments
- Socratic Seminars for Learning Civil Debate and Discourse
A Rationale for Learner Voice in School
Schools in the United States (as well as in many other countries) propose that a major purpose of education in learning and engaging in principles related to democracy.
In 1916 Dewey wrote extensively about the necessity of engaging student experience and perspectives in the curriculum of schools, summarizing his support by saying,:
The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts. http://www.soundout.org/article.100.html
To do so, school personnel need to be intentional in promoting and living the ideals of democracy.
Schools should endeavor to be relevant and inclusive of students’ daily lives. Educators and students alike benefit when schools open dialogue on contemporary issues of race and justice. To do this, schools should be deliberative in broaching difficult issues with students, in age-appropriate ways. They should focus on opening up discussions to multiple points of view. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/09/25/05knight.h33.html
The benefits to the learner as well to the entire school culture cannot be understated:
In its simplest form, voice is characterized by the ability to speak one’s opinions and ideas. However, simple should not be mistaken for trivial. In fact, the act of empowering a young person to express her opinions and ideas is powerful. When students are consistently encouraged to ask questions, wonder aloud, and offer opinions, they develop an ability to see the world as endlessly full of options and a place where they can confidently approach problems and seek out solutions. http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/825-fox.aspx
But as McDonnell, Timpane, and Benjamin state in Rediscovering the Democratic Purposes of Education
Public schools were envisioned by the Founders as democratically run institutions for instilling civic values, but today’s education system seems more concerned with producing good employees than good citizens. Meanwhile, our country’s diversity has eroded consensus about citizenship, and the professionalization of educators has diminished public involvement in schools.
The rest of this post proposes some concrete actions, ideas, and activities for making the learning environment a place for freedom of speech.
The Role of the Educator
First and foremost, the educator has to believe that student voice and discourse, regardless of the age of the students, has a place in the learning environment. Voice does not translate into students shouting out answers to content-related questions posed by the educator. As Catherine Cronin noted:
But what do we mean by student voice? The term tends to signify a set of values and behaviors which includes Sound (the act of speaking), Participation (student presence and involvement), and Power or Agency (see Cook-Sather, 2006). Making space for student voices confronts the power dynamics within schools, classrooms, and the relationships between teachers and students. Without addressing the notion of power in these relationships, student voice initiatives may be simply window dressing. When we truly value and create spaces for student voices, students feel respected and engaged, teachers listen, and students and teachers learn from one another. http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/making-spaces/
The role of the educator also means establishing a safe space for student voice (specific suggestions are discussed in the next section). Of special note, though, is the attitude and perspective of the educator. It is my belief that the educator needs to convey an attitude of acceptance even of those perspectives different than her-or herself. It is taking a neutral stance but permitting learners to voice whatever thoughts and opinions they value. As such, I do not believe the educator should express personal values and beliefs related to religion, politics, and similar value-laden topics. The educator in promoting freedom of speech and democratic values understands the power differential between him-herself and the learners, that expressing such opinions may shut down students whose values are different than him-herself.
Suggestions for Establishing and Encouraging Learner Voice
The bottom line for establishing and encouraging student voice is creating a safe environment of acceptance and that all voices are important and will be heard. Soundout: Student Voice in School recommends the following:
- Encourage mutual accountability between students and adults.
- Engage student voice in as many topics as possible, and don’t ignore it regarding others.
- Create ongoing opportunities to listen to student voice and engage students as partners.
- Encourage building-level and classroom-level student voice activities.
- Encourage different students to participate across education activities.
- Create “safe spaces” where students can share student voice.
- Engage adults and students as full partners in taking action on student voice. http://kcydn.pugetsoundoff.org/node/34967
Additional Suggestions are offered in Chalkface:
- Be aware of power imbalance between teachers and students. Offer choice to share voices in ways that suit their culture and preferences.
- Students are aware if their voices won’t make a difference – how will it be used as evidence for change? How much are we using it to reinforce trends, compliance, and productivity?
- To do student voice using different structure takes time and care to bring about change, and to challenge existing discourses and structures. http://karenmelhuishspencer.com/2013/06/12/from-voice-to-dialogue-meaningful-student-voice/
Learner Voice in Online Environments
A discussion during the recent Reclaim Open Learning Conference began around the following comment/question related to posting ideas and opinions online:
How can we post our “information without signature” . . . how do we create safe classrooms sharing where students opinions aren’t recorded?
For me, the larger discussion is not necessarily about “recording” voices in the online forum as any comments made online is virtually recorded. Strategies for creating a place for learner voice include, first, creating a safe online space to do so, and second, creating platforms where elements of privacy and anonymity can be afforded.
Catlin Tucker, in Creating and Maintaining a Safe Space Online, stated:
To be effective, an online learning platform must be a safe space where students feel their voices will be respected, supported and heard. Establishing clear guidelines for online interactions is a critical step in creating an online forum that will be successful long term.
The strategies she proposed for creating and maintaining a safe space include:
- Read questions and conversational postings carefully to avoid unnecessary confusion.
- Compliment your peers when they post strong responses or contribute original ideas.
- Ask questions. If anything is unclear or you want further information or insight on a topic, just ask. If you have a question, there are probably other members of the group who are confused and need further clarification as well. Remember: There is no such thing as a dumb question!
- Be considerate. Remember that your peers cannot see your body language or hear your tone of voice, so you need to keep your language direct and respectful.
- Avoid slang, jargon, and sarcasm. Some slang or jargon terms may be familiar to you, but not to others. Sarcasm is negative and can lead to rifts in what is meant to be a comfortable, safe online forum.
- Listen to all ideas presented. Remember there is no right or wrong in a discussion. A variety of perspectives adds depth.
- Stay open minded. If you expect others to respect and consider your comments and ideas, you must do the same for their comments and ideas.
- Respond instead of reacting. Do not write a response if you are angry or upset. Instead, wait until you have had time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
- Really read your peers responses. Avoid skimming. Respect the time your peers have spent articulating their thoughts by reading carefully and thoughtfully.
- Reread your messages before sending them to ensure that your ideas are clearly communicated and supported.
- Critique the content, not the person.
- Do not present your personal opinions as fact. Back up your ideas with information to strengthen your statements.
- Make I statements when respectfully disagreeing. Sharing an opposing opinion or idea is an important part of discussion, but it needs to be presented in constructive manner that encourages further discussion.
- Do not use all caps when writing. It is interpreted as yelling.
- Avoid emotional punctuation, like exclamation points, unless you are complimenting an idea shared. http://catlintucker.com/2011/03/blended-learning-creating-and-maintaining-a-safe-space-online/
The conversation of posting information without signature also had me rethinking about open content. I practice and promote using open platforms. As such, I keep my blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account open and public. But I am an adult, understand consequences, and as such, am quite intentional about what I post online. I promote having students use public sites to create a positive digital footprint. But now I see value in using closed and private platforms to discuss more controversial issues. Closed Google Docs, Padlets, Todaysmeet, Primary Pads, or Blogging Platforms can be established for learners to discuss more controversial issues. They can (should) be given the option to use a pseudonym. Added to the list that Catlin provided would be a promise of confidentiality – that what is said in the online forum stays in that forum. Also, the educator can commit to and insure that the forum is deleted after a given amount of time. It then becomes a form of Snapchat for education.
Socratic Seminars for Learning Civil Debate and Discourse
The Socratic Seminar is a more formalized instructional strategy that can assist learners in developing skills for intellectual and civil debate, giving them a voice in a structured environment, using rationale debate techniques to do so.
The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others. They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly. http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/socratic-seminars-30600.html
To learn more about the specifics of running a Socratic Seminar, see Scholastic’s Higher Order Comprehension: The Power of Socratic Seminar and Hubpages’ Socratic Seminar Guidelines: A Practical Guide
Socratic Seminars in Online Learning Environments
This post is also concerned with how to have a voice, develop civil discourse skills in online environments. Several technologies, including mobile learning apps, can be used to facilitate Socratic Seminars. These include Edmodo, Socrative, and Cel.ly. For specific uses and examples, see:
So I’ve offered lists of suggestions and suggestions, but the bottom line is twofold. First, a purpose of education, regardless of whether it is online or face-to-face, is to assist learners in developing civics education through respectful and genuine discourse, and second, it is the educator’s responsibility to develop and maintain a community and environment where it is safe for learner voice.