Tag Archive for learning

Three Kinds of Engagement

A wonderful, new synthesis of research identifies a main reason why students do not thrive in school and provides clear directions for improvement. The study, titled “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development” is published by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. While focused on public schools in Chicago, the study applies to any school where a gap persists between teacher expectations and student performance.

The study elegantly identifies three areas of student engagement: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. The problem? Behavioral engagement is the most visible of the three, therefore teachers tend to focus on student behaviors more than their emotional or cognitive moments in the class. Most course and lesson design overlooks student emotional states and cognitive work. Interventions for low-performing students often focus on student behaviors and ultimately fail. From the study:

Lesson planning, content coverage, and test preparation can take all of educators’ time, leaving little time to reflect on why it is that not all students are fully engaged in the work that has been asked of them. A focus on student engagement requires a change in priorities from not only identifying how well students are meeting expectations, to also working to get all students able to meet those expectations.

The study is a potentially useful tool for school leaders, instructional coaches, teachers engaged in reflective self-improvement.

Beyond Measure Film Explores Next Generation Learning

Originally published on University Prep

On February 18, University Prep hosted a public screening of the film “Beyond Measure,” which was attended by about 80 U Prep families and members of the public. The film visits several schools across the country to tell the stories of students who are disengaged from conventional forms of schooling, in which standardization, testing, and content coverage feature prominently. The students speak eloquently of the difficulties of staying motivated and working hard in such programs, as their teachers and principals grapple with how to fully realize the potential of their students.

These school leaders, as well as one enterprising student, find examples in innovative schools such as High Tech High in San Diego and the New York Performance Standards Consortium. Throughout the film, experts such as Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Yong Zhao share their thoughts on the best ways to teach for intellectual courage and global citizenship. Individualized learning, student-designed projects, and alternative programs are highlighted, and the students featured in the film find both inspiration and academic success.

After the film, Head of School Matt Levinson, senior Matan Arad-Neeman, English Department Head Christina Serkowski, and Science Department Head Brent Slattengren fielded questions from the audience. The discussion explored the ways in which University Prep has been upholding some of the film’s recommended practices, including teaching for depth over breadth, assessing students on a performance rubric, encouraging student presentation, designing interdisciplinary projects on contemporary topics, and fully supporting teachers to collaborate and innovate.

The panelists also explored University Prep’s ongoing efforts to develop further changes to the schedule and calendar, interdisciplinary learning, social and emotional learning, online learning, and student-designed projects. The school’s newly adopted strategic plan features Next Generation Learning as one of its three key components, and several faculty-student working groups continue to research and design options and opportunities for program innovation at University Prep.

Co-curricular Innovation Council

We have launched a “Co-curricular Innovation Council” so that co-curricular program leaders can more easily consult with each other, work together on common projects, and build stronger partnerships with classroom teachers. The committee includes directors of the global education, urban studies, outdoor education, teaching and learning, athletics, robotics, community service, Knight Scholars, and instructional technology programs. These program directors have historically directed their programs mostly by themselves or in partnership with one or two other people. This committee creates a systematic way for program leaders to request feedback from each other and launch projects together.

As co-curricular programs have evolved from mere “activities” to fully-fledged experiential learning environments, it has become more important to coordinate these programs and build stronger connections between co-curricular programs and classroom teaching. Students often refer to outdoor trips, robotics projects, or urban planning presentations as their most memorable learning experiences. Why should they experience dramatically different teaching styles between classrooms with and without four walls?

Organizing program directors together allows us to strengthen what we have in common: a focus on 21st century content domains (global citizenship, environmental stewardship, technology, etc.) and skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, etc.). Facilitating ways from program directors to work more closely with classroom teachers creates potential for more experiential learning opportunities within classroom instruction. Our classroom teachers have been creating terrific experiential learning opportunities for years. Now they get more potential partners and conceptual support for their project work.

So Long, Learning Profiles?

NPR reports this morning:

Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely
Psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia, who studies how our brains learn, says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He says we’re on more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how our brains learn. And it’s a mistake to assume students will respond and remember information better depending on how it’s presented.

I was trained in the early 2000’s in the All Kinds of Minds approach and taught at a school that specialized in mainstreaming students with specifically identified learning differences. The learning center was a focal point in this school, all students identified learning their own strengths and weaknesses, and teachers individualized instruction to cater to the strengths and accommodate the weaknesses.

I am open to new studies that refute old techniques. If it is the case that learning profiles do not much help students learn, then I am happy to no longer individualize instruction for these strengths and weaknesses. We all learn, evolve, and improve our teaching over time.

However, the danger exists that educators will take this study as justification to teach in a traditional format dominated by oral presentation in class and reading and writing for homework. At Gateway High School, we did not just individualize instruction. We also varied instruction for heterogeneous groups. That is, we presented material in different ways in the class, orally, visually, through hands-on exercises, simulations, role plays, student presentations, problem solving, long-term projects, community-based activities, and so on.

In fact, the study cited supports this heterogeneous approach: that studying material in varied ways promotes learning. You will have to listen to the audio version of the NPR story to hear this part, as it did not make the printed synopsis. In a positive way, the study supports the efforts of educators to vary instruction. At Gateway, many students who performed at an average level at previous schools excelled within our multi-modal, heterogeneous model.

Let us use this study to move forward, not back.

Botswana Trip Curricular Goals

Source: cordelia_persen on Flickr

We leave for Botswana in two weeks. What curricular goals have we realized so far, and what remains to accomplish?

Collaborations with discipline-based classes
We (the two trip leaders) proposed to invite teachers to include the topic of HIV/AIDS in Botswana in their classes. Our method was simple: we raised the opportunity with teachers by email and impromptu, in-person conversations. To our pleasure, a half-dozen teachers responded with interest.

Pathogens and Parasites students wrote a guide to malaria and HIV/AIDS in Botswana for trip families. I presented some basic facts about the country and then organized the students into groups to co-write this document.

Statistics students analyzed data on AIDS prevalence in Botswana.

Second grade students wrote introductory letters (w/photos) to primary students in Gumare, in support of the yearlong theme of global awareness.

Media Arts students created short films from poems that Maru-a-Pula students wrote.

Advanced Biology students studied the intricacies of the immune system, or viruses and on the specifics of the HIV virus and it’s effect on infected humans.

Collaborations with co-curricular programs
We hold an annual diversity conference, planned and led by students. One trip participant shared excerpts from a book on HIV and AIDS in Botswana and shared clips from a film then facilitated a discussion of both.

Two teachers work with students in the Global Citizens Club to offer a series of film viewings throughout the year. The Viewfinder Global Film Series included the film Miss HIV, introduced and facilitated by two trip participants.

Non-collaborative activities with curricular links
While the curriculum of trip preparation remains firmly embedded in the school’s co-curricular program, some conversations demonstrated links with the school’s curricular program.

Trip participants spoke with various HIV/AIDS experts about Botswana.

Cascade AIDS Project
Botswana-Harvard AIDS Partnership
Médecins Sans Frontières
Providence Health
Botswana-Baylor Pediatric AIDS Initiative.

The trip group organized and delivered a presentation at Upper School assembly, including dramatic role play.

Trip participants organized on-campus fundraising events to benefit support organizations in Botswana.

Trip group read and discussed Saturday Is for Funerals.

School Change Through Experiential Programs

Independent schools have increasingly created specialized positions to lead or facilitate new, experiential learning opportunities for their students. Do you have these positions at your school?

Director of service learning
Director of global programs
Educational technology specialist
Urban studies program director
Director of student life
Outdoor programs coordinator
Director of diversity

These programs feature a common thread: experiential learning. Students engage in hands-on activities grounded in an authentic context such as service, the outdoors, global travel, or multiculturalism.

Where do experiential programs live within the school? How do students access them?

One model: students experience two separate courses of study, a “core” of discipline-based study plus a “peripheral” set of experiential programs.

This structure implies an “influencer” model of school change. The school creates new positions for experiential program leaders. Students participate in these special programs outside of the regular class schedule. Most teachers observe from a distance. If the experiential programs are exciting and the program specialists effective at outreach, then teachers may increasingly partner with the programs to introduce more experiential elements into subject-based instruction. Experiential programs only affect the core as much as they influence from a distance.

The contrast of teaching methods may send students unintended messages. Discipline-based classes may use more recognizable forms of teaching: holding classes, facilitating class discussion, assigning readings, and assessing student mastery through papers, presentations, and tests. Experiential programs may take place in the woods, on Skype, or through a blog. They may emphasize student construction of the learning environment, partnerships with local organizations, special events, and interdisciplinary study. Experiential programs may gain a reputation for being optional or less rigorous.

Another model: students experience a “core” program that incorporates experiential components.

This structure adopts a rapid, comprehensive model of school change. The school makes a decision early on to broadly adopt specific experiential learning themes. All teachers are involved, and all courses integrate experiential learning in some manner. If the school creates special program director positions at all, then these individuals are few in number and partner closely with teachers to create student learning experiences. They do not offer separate programs to students. The weekly timetable is organized to facilitate experiential learning opportunities. Students experience a relatively consistent learning experience across the school program.

How may an existing school integrate experiential programs without completely reorganizing itself?

1. Assign experiential program responsibilities to core teachers. Partly discipline-based teachers, partly program specialists, they are more likely to influence their colleagues to try something new.

2. Mandate special, schoolwide initiatives to introduce more experiential learning, supported by program specialists.

3. Facilitate democratic, teacher decision-making processes to introduce specific types of experiential learning into the school program, facilitated by program specialists.

4. Provide program specialists greater access to school change vehicles, such as administrative leadership and curriculum review committees.

Case studies: schools trying different experiential programs

I would like to list these schools now and write short case studies in the future. What other independent schools would you add to this list?

Urban School: Innovative Teaching

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences

Lick-Wilmerding School: Public purpose

“Leading from the Middle”

A summer institute offered by the Santa Fe Leadership Center

Undergrads and IT

My principal challenge in schools is to encourage thoughtful, useful adoption of technology to strategically support teaching and learning. Along the way, I encounter varying attitudes regarding technology in schools. We have early adopters, heavy users, techno-skeptics, occasional users, and more. I often wonder what is the best way to reach different types of technology users so that each makes the most effective use of technology for his/her educational context.

This October 2009 Educause study of undergraduate students and information technology provides some useful information that helps inform my efforts and may help temper fears that our IT department wants everyone to use IT as much as possible.

80% of students were using a learning management system (e.g., Moodle) during the quarter or semester of the survey.

63% found the experience of using a learning management system “positive” or “very positive.”

45% of students indicated that most or almost all of their instructors use IT effectively in their courses.

70% found that IT made working in their courses “more convenient.”

49% felt that using IT improved their learning.

60% prefer moderate use of IT in their courses. Only 4% preferred exclusive use of IT, and 2% no IT. Students appreciate the face-to-face learning experience.

This provides some useful language for explaining our current approach to IT integration to support teaching and learning. We would like for all teachers to explore using IT. A learning management system may smooth class operations, leaving more time to focus on learning. Face-to-face learning is still most highly valued.

Extending the learning community

Publication of student work on the website extends the learning community beyond the classroom to the entire school community. Key to this effort is a school website that includes a community publishing platform. Students and teachers choose whether to make the work viewable to the school community only (students, staff, parents, alumni) or the public, depending on the pedagogical goal of the work. Learning becomes a community endeavor rather than only a classroom pursuit, increasing authenticity and mutual understanding of the work that happens at school.

Click on each title to view the content at Catlin Gabel.

Urban Studies blog

Students tackle topics of sustainable development in Portland, “The City That Works.” During the school year, we offer a semester elective. The summer brings an intensive program with students from different schools.

Science Projects blog

Students report on their independent research plans, progress, and results. The teacher provides feedback in the form of comments. Only one of the students has made her blog public, so you won’t see the work of the others on this page.

The Catlin Coverslip

The science department invites all Catlin Gabel community members to contribute items of interest to this blog.

Nepal 2010 blog

Blogging about global trips increases the sense of community experience. The 15 lucky students who go on the trip become ambassadors for the rest of the school, no longer the sole beneficiaries of the experience.

Spanish V Honors blog

Students get out into the community to research the hispanic presence in Oregon. Through the blog, they report their findings back to the community and help educate us all. This project includes a lot of primary audio and video footage from Portland.

Honors Arts Projects portfolios

Students attach photo galleries to their blog posts to create a portfolio, in this case to support their  college applications.

Fifth grade Fractured Fairytales

Students create “alternate” versions of classic fairytales, then we publish them so that parents and others students may read them as well.

Sixth grade Language Arts Poetry Box

Students write poetry, but then the teacher publishes both the text and an audio version for parents and the rest of the community to enjoy.

Senior Project blogs

We have now collected two years’ worth of blog posts from seniors reporting and reflecting on their spring projects. Up until now, all of the posts have been for the Catlin Gabel community only. This year, students will make the public/community-only decision for each post. Watch this page in May 2010 to follow their progress.

Experience and Education

We read Dewey’s Experience and Education first in our graduate program. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of the necessity to make authentic student experience central in the design of a educational environments.

We introduced fourth grade students to web research with a simple activity. Ask them to find ten discrete facts on the web using Google Search. We modeled good search techniques in class and provided two paper resources. One listed the ten facts to find, and the other described a cyclical method for refining search terms in order to improve results. We talked about authority of websites and how to scan a web page for content. This introductory lesson went really well. Students learned the protocol, proceeded through the activity, and found the facts.

More recently, students applied this knowledge in a plant research project. Each assigned one plant they had seen in the Oregon woods, the students searched for the taxonomic name for the plant, its ideal growing environment, nutritional value, average height, and other facts. Students took much longer to find this information. Many got stuck partway through and needed help.”I can’t find the scientific name!” “Where can I find ‘food value’?”

Why the difference? The second activity was more authentic and experiential. Students were engaging with real information about plants they had found and held and searching for them on the “real” web. These searches had not been tested in advance to compile a worksheet. Rather, students had to understand what a taxonomic name actually is, rather than look for the term “scientific name.” They had to be flexible and understand that “nutritional value” or comments on why an animal might eat these plants made up the “food value” they were seeking. Charting their own course through an authentic environment produced far more useful learning than completing a structured, finite activity.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian disaster are very present in our minds these weeks. We are exposed to frequent reports from news sources and support our students’ efforts to raise money and awareness for Haiti. However, all of this does not compare when one’s colleague relates her stories of past trips to Haiti, nervous attempts to contact friends post-quake, and informs the school community that her doctor husband has just left for Haiti with a medical team.

She writes:

It is with those computers that were donated by CG and the Rotary, [my son’s] help, albeit small, in setting them up that has allowed some of the connections and relationships with others around the world. The people of Matenwa are still able to communicate and receive email/news, which is amazing. It is so important to them to know others care and are trying to help.

In the long-term, these experiences are without a doubt more “educational,” but they are messy, difficult to manage, and complicated to assess. We should show the confidence to accommodate the short-term disorder and uncertainty that accompany kids’ struggles with authentic content in order to foment powerful learning.

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!