User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘Education

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

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Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

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Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Breaking Things as a Form of Education

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One of my learners’ favorite things to do at my maker education summer camps is taking toys apart – breaking them and then putting back together in another form. This got me thinking that breaking things should be part of every teacher’s and learner’s education. These include:

  • Breaking physical objects apart to see their components and how they work.
  • Breaking apart how the physical classroom is set up and letting learners help create the setting where they will learn.
  • Breaking down barriers of communication . .  between educators and learners; between learners and other learners; between the school and parents; between school and the community; between the community of learners and the rest of the world.
  • Breaking apart and crushing stereotypes about different genders, ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientation when age appropriate.
  • Breaking down walls that keep schools isolated from the world outside of those walls.
  • Breaking attitudes that “we’ve always done it that way.”
  • Breaking a system that believes children should be grouped by age and grade.
  • Breaking (and throwing away forever) the current assessment systems and the related belief that standardized tests actually measure student performance and achievement.
  • Breaking apart the idea and practice that children and youth cannot nor should not be teachers.
  • And one big NOT . . . NOT breaking the natural passion and excitement that humans have to learn.

These are just my initial thoughts. What would you add to this list of breaking things as a form of education? I want to create an infographic on this list so please add to it!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Maker Education: Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy

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Maker education is currently a major trend in education. But just saying that one is doing Maker Education really doesn’t define the teaching practices that an educator is using to facilitate it. Maker education takes on many forms. This post provides an overview of how maker education is being implemented based on the teaching practices as defined by the  Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy (PAH) continuum.

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created by Jon Andrews

Traditionally, Pedagogy was defined as the art of teaching children and Andragogy as teaching adults. These definitions have evolved to reflect teacher practices. As such, andragogical and heutagogical practices can be used with children and youth.

PAH within a Maker Education Framework

The following chart distinguishes and describes maker education within the PAH framework. All teaching styles have a place in Maker Education. For example, pedagogical practices may be needed to teach learners some basic making skills. It helps to scaffold learning, so learners have a foundation for making more complex projects. I do, though, believe that maker education projects and programs should go beyond pedagogical oriented teaching as the overriding goal of maker education is for learners to create something, anything that they haven’t before.

Driving Questions

  • Pedagogy – How well can you create this particular maker education project?
  • Andragogy –  How can this prescribed maker project by adapted and modified?
  • Heutagogy – What do you want to make?

Overall Purpose or Goal

  • Pedagogy – To teach basic skills as a foundation for future projects – scaffolding.
  • Andragogy – To provide some structure so learners can be self-directed.
  • Heutogogy – To establish an environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products for making.

Role of the Educator

  • Pedagogy – To teach, demonstrate, help learners do the maker education project correctly.
  • Andragogy – To facilitate, assist learners, mentor
  • Heutagogy – To coach, mentor, be a sounding board, be a guide very much on the side.

Making Process

  • Pedagogy – Use of prescribed kits, templates; step-by-step directions and tutorials.
  • Andragogy  – Use of some templates; learners add their own designs and embellishments.
  • Heutagogy -Open ended; determined by the learner.

Finish Products

  • Pedagogy – A maker project that looks and acts like the original model.
  • Andragogy – A maker project that has some attributes of the original model but that includes the learner’s original ideas.
  • Heutagogy – A maker project that is unique to the learner (& to the learning community).

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Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

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There is a huge disconnect between how people learn naturally and how students are taught in public education. Mark Twain once quipped, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

In school, students are expected to . . .

  • Sit in uncomfortable desks and chairs, and expected to pay attention for long periods of time.
  • Learn out of textbooks specifically designed for the institution of education – books that almost no one buys in real life.
  • Be quiet, interacting with peers occurs only periodically and only with permission from the teacher.
  • Learn and understand isolated content and topics often without a real world context and in a very linear manner.
  • Learn with same aged peers.
  • Not connect and learn with others outside of the classroom population.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. (How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?)

In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts.

I am continually baffled about the gap between what we know about how people learn and the learning practices used in school settings.

There’s a tension in education right now as educators reluctantly part ways with our old reliable teaching methods—an orderly, silent classroom with students organized alphabetically in rows and a teacher lecturing from behind a desk—and begin to accept novel, research-based approaches to learning, such as student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning. (Educating an Original Thinker)

It wouldn’t take that much to change classrooms from places of compliance to places of learning. When I taught gifted elementary students, my classroom was set up with a long table with chairs around it, two sofas, coffee tables, rugs, lamps, bookcases with books and games. I did purchase a lot of these items out of pocket but most of them were bought from a local thrift store for minimal costs. The walls were filled with posters and artifacts created by the kids themselves. The kids would come in and put their shoes in a crate at the front door (this evolved due to their desire to do so). As I had each grade for one full day of the week, many would say, “I love coming to this classroom.”  Other teachers who found their way to my classroom would note its homey appearance.

I rarely stood in front of the learners to lecture, only to explain the learning tasks or show them how to do something. We would start the day outside with a group challenge-team building activity. I would offer hands-on activities and choice menus throughout the day to study interdisciplinary topics. . . a mix of language arts, science, math, and arts. They could work anywhere in the rooms. Some stayed a the table. Some went to the sofa. Others worked on the rugs. The last hour of class was spent on choice time. I had computers, educational games, construction kits, art supplies. My only rule was that they had to be doing something “educational.”  The energy in my classroom was joyful, happy, engaged, and focused. The only thing I would add to my mix, given I had the choice, was having mixed ages to reinforce proximity of learning and scaffolding.

Kids learn social skills best by interacting with other kids, and a wide age range (age four and up) allows older kids to “create ‘scaffolds’ for the younger ones, bringing them up to higher skill levels,” Gray notes. “In turn, the older kids gain a sense of maturity and learn to be nurturing. Explaining things also helps them consolidate and understand the information better.” (Harnessing Children’s Natural Ways of Learning)

I written about school being more like camp. I have a hunch that if these ideas were to become a reality, more kids would love going to school, love learning, and most of all develop attributes, attitudes, and skills for lifelong learning.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

An Educator’s Gift to Their Learners: Seeing Each One of Them

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SeeingStudents

One of the greatest gifts an educator can give to their learners is to see each one; really seeing each and every one of them. . . . seeing each student’s uniqueness and interacting with each one based on that uniqueness. Some strategies to do this include:

Listen More Than Talk

If educators talk to their learners more than listen to them, then this is a problem.  Traditional education models have focused on the teacher being the content area expert – disseminator of information. But we are living in an age where traditional education should no longer be the norm; where the educator should be doing a lot more listening to their learners.

In an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.” One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs. (Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners)

One of the first skills counselors are taught is how to listen. This should be the same for teachers. All pre-service teachers should be taught effective listening skills. Strategies for developing listening skills as an educator can be found in Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners.

Set Up the Conditions to Give Learners Voice

A corollary to listening to learners is giving them voice.

In essence, giving students voice in their own learning is allowing them to express their views, opinions, and thoughts on how they feel they should be taught. If we truly believe in making our classrooms student-centered, led and directed by students, then we need to give them that voice. (Giving Students a Voice Models High-Quality Learning Processes)

Students want to achieve in school. They want to find purpose being in school. They want to discover their talents. Without students having a voice, we cannot collectively ensure that this will all happen for every student. (How Can Students Have More Say in School Decisions?)

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

  • Giving learners an opportunity to use their unique voices to show what they know-what they learned (see UDL’s multiple means of action and expression).
  • Giving learners options to use their voice in a way that works best for them. Some may want to write, some may want to use art, photos, videos, and others may want to talk.
  • Helping learners find authentic audiences with whom they can share their voice.
  • Giving learners a say in how their school and classroom operate – being part of a democratic process.

Act Upon What Learners Say

The ultimate way to show learners that you’ve heard them is to act upon what they’ve said. For example, some learners might mention an interest in Minecraft. The educator can offer those learners an opportunity to use Minecraft to demonstrate their learning in one of the content areas. It is pretty magical watching a learner’s reaction when an educator implements a practice based on a learner’s comment. In such cases, learners often seem say with their nonverbal behaviors, “Wow, you really heard what I said!”

Give Learners Choice

Giving learners choice gives them an opportunity to self-differentiate and to be responsible for their own learning while giving them the message that the educator respects who they are as unique individuals. Giving learners choice also respects their need for freedom as discussed by John Dewey:

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.

– John Dewey
Democracy and Education

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

Personalize Learning

Personalized learning is yet another way to see each learner – it honors their individual needs, interests, penchants. Personalized learning, as described in http://www.personalizelearning.com, is all about the learner and starts with the learner. It is about the learner self-directing and driving their own learning. Personalized learning means learners…

  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

Personalizing learning gives learners the message that they are valued for who they are not who others want them to be.

Be Present

In order to be aware of and make the most of the interactions you have with your students, you have to be able to be to be “in the moment” with them in the classroom. In order for teachers to extend student’s learning, we must first “be present” with them. This means being aware enough of our own thoughts and emotions that we are able to adjust them and tune into the student’s immediate thoughts, needs, and emotions. This is no easy task, especially during busy classroom activities. In order to stay in the moment, teachers have to purposefully set aside thoughts about a) what just happened; b) what happened yesterday or this morning; c) what we have to do next; d) how we need to prepare for later; and e) we they feel about XYZ. Specific suggestions for staying present in the classroom can be found at Teacher Tips: Being “In the Moment” with Children.

Put the Learners at the Center

In these days of accountability and high stakes testing, too often the lessons, the curriculum, the standards, and the tests are put at the center of teaching rather than the learners.

The term student-centered learning refers to a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students.  The term student-centered learning most likely arose in response to educational decisions that did not fully consider what students needed to know or what methods would be most effective in facilitating learning for individual students or groups of students. (Student-Centered Learning)

Putting learners at the center of learning translates into in honoring and leveraging their strengths and interests, grasping onto those teachable moments based on learner inquiry, and having the learners develop and explore explore their own essential questions. Most of all, putting the students at the center of learning translates into assisting them in internalizing that their own unique selves are of utmost importance in the learning setting.

Acknowledge  “Blend in the Woodwork” and Disengaged Learners

The idiom “to blend into the woodwork” means “to behave in a way that does not attract any attention; to disappear or hide.” These are the learners who aren’t the best students nor are they the worse. They do what is told without making any noise or a big deal about it. They are the learners who when asked years later about them, the educator has trouble remembering them.

Seeing each and every learner means that the educator also looks for and acknowledges the achievements of “blend in the woodwork” and disengaged learners. This acknowledgement comes in the form that works best for these learners – a note or quiet comment showing that the educator sees them; that s/he recognizes that they are an important part of the learning environment.

Develop Strategies for Dealing With Annoying Learners

Educators are humans first and there are going to be learners who get on an educator’s nerves. An effective educator acknowledges that s/he might not like all students the same but works hard to treat them all fairly. To do so, though, educators need to first identify when a student is touching upon a nerve, and second, to develop strategies for dealing with that student.

By developing some personal intervention strategies, the educator is actually owning the problem with a self-acknowledgement that: “This is my problem not that student’s problem. I need to develop strategies to help me cope with his or her annoying behaviors.” Although, that student doesn’t know it, the educator, in this case, is showing the utmost respect as s/he attempts to develop effective and unique ways of building an authentic relationship with that student.

Overtly Show Learners That You Care

Many, too many in my opinion, teacher education programs instruct teachers to not get emotionally involved with their students. I believe the opposite. Effective and caring teachers do get emotionally involved with their students to the point that they actually love them. This is actually congruent with research that indicates that relationships are key to student achievement. The teacher-student relationship needs to remain at a professional level but teachers can use their own individual style and techniques to show that they care for each and every learner. It can be as simple as giving a handshake or high five with eye contact and a smile to each learner as she or he enters and leaves the classroom.

Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When students are asked about the qualities of good teachers, they confirm the truth of that statement—caring is always at or near the top of the list. Caring is evident when you recognize students as unique human beings with different learning needs and preferences, and when you “check in” with students through actions such as walking around the classroom, talking to everybody to see how they are doing, answering their questions, and expressing confidence in their ability to improve. (6 Ways to Let Students Know You Care)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 2, 2016 at 11:48 pm

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